Huddling under the covers with a flashlight, I would escape for hours, exploring other worlds until the words blurred under my sleepy eyes, forcing me back to reality. I emptied my veins into diary entries and shakily coaxed my own new worlds onto the page. In my last semester of high school, I reveled in the daily play time of Law, History, Sociology and English (Core), English (Creative Writing) and English (Fantasy in Fiction). School had become pure fun.
Until it wasn't. One day I sat in creative writing class and stared at a blank page for the whole hour, sick of chasing words that were playing hard to get. It's okay, I thought. I'd always been more of a reader than a writer. Maybe I'll be an editor rather than a journalist. My welcome packages into several university English programs had already arrived, and I sent back my acceptance to the school offering the largest scholarship, ignoring the queasy feeling in my stomach.
I made it halfway through my first year of university before I acknowledged I had made a serious mistake. All pleasure in reading and writing was steadily being stripped away, the gorgeous stories breaking into motifs and foils and pathetic fallacies. I didn't want to look behind the curtain anymore. I just wanted to read and let the words carry me away.
So I became a chartered accountant instead, eliciting astounded laughter from my mother, the English teacher. "You can hardly add!" she exclaimed in her usual supportive way. "That's why we have calculators," I said haughtily, confident in my new career choice. Analyzing a business case and a novel had more in common than one might think, and accounting soothed the practical side of me that had always rolled my eyes when the incense at coffeehouse poetry readings got too thick.
After all, work would only take up, what, eight hours a day? That should leave at least eight hours free for reading and writing, which I'd be able to enjoy without critiquing every turn of phrase. Not to mention I wouldn't have to live in a cardboard shack with accounting as my day job.
What I didn't realize in my student days was that a full-time job doesn't take only your time (which is almost certainly more than eight hours a day in a professional career). It takes your focus, your energy, your self-esteem. And if the job itself doesn't wear you out, your commute to and from that job certainly will. When I envisioned reading and writing as hobbies, I didn't know I would feel like I'd just pulled an all-nighter by the time I got around to them at 11 o'clock each evening. In an effort not to destroy my passions, I've squeezed them out of my life completely.
In two months, my maternity leave is over and it's back to suits and briefcases. For the first time since I proudly hung my degrees on my office wall, I wonder if I've made a mistake.