I didn't set out to be a writer. I always wrote, you know, but it was just this thing I did; what I intended was to become a terribly famous artist, perhaps with a stopover as a singer. And I can't say I made much of a go at that. I got out of high school, and didn't go to college. My folks had spent most of their lives telling me that college was a waste of time and money, and that what I needed to do was get out of school and get a job. And in spite of the fact that I graduated in the top ten in my class (not top ten percent - top ten) and had taken all college preparatory classes, I believed them.
Which turns out not to have been the only stupid mistake I made in my life that turned out well. For the record, college is a good idea for most people, and if I still had my heart set on being a professional artist, it would have been important for me. Singing ... well, that takes more talent than I have, and I never wanted it enough to fight for it anyway. I had my moment in the spotlight there and that was enough.
But getting out of school and getting a job is what you do when your life has other plans for you, and just hasn't let you in on them yet. I discovered that the world is not panting in breathless anticipation for eighteen-year-old high-school-graduate artists. So I started to work at a newspaper, selling advertising. I found out quickly that I don't like working for other people - but I also acquired a little vega station wagon that had to be paid for. When selling advertising turned out not to be my dream job, I dumped it for the first art job that came along. I began painting signs for a commercial artist, and discovered that that entailed working in a cold warehouse and dealing with people who hadn't been paid by this guy in months, and smelling kerosene all the time, and getting chapped fingers and chapped lips and paint in the cracks that the turpentine and the cold made in my hands. So I started teaching guitar at a local music shop, and while I was at it, picked up a couple of gigs at local restaurants as a singer. What I found from these jobs was that I was working lots of
Holly Lisle hours for not a lot of money, and if I ever wanted to move out of my parents' house (and I did, let me tell you) I was going to have to do something that paid regular money, and a fair amount of it. I added McDonald's, so that technically I had three jobs at the same time, but while I was sure as hell employed, I wasn't making enough money to feed a dieting cockroach.
My mother (who also wanted me out of the house sometime in her lifetime) was working at a local hospital. She ran into some of the nursing students there, and came home from work one day and told me i ought to go to nursing school. it was cheap, it was local, and the uniforms were cute. (They were also polyester and hot as hell, but they were, indeed, cute.)
so i went to the community college, boned up on algebra, and took the test. i passed easily, and found myself at the very top of what was for some people a two year waiting list. And with about that much forethought, I started into two years of hell as a nursing student, where I discovered that the uniforms might have been cute but the work wasn't. i discovered more than that, though. i discovered the enormous variety of humanity, and life and death, and pain, and hope, and love and hate and fear.
Ten years of nursing following that put me in touch with the basic themes of my life. That people matter. That love and our time are all we have to offer each other that means anything. That death is a mean bastard, and that he comes for all of us. That life is worth living, no matter how painful or scary it sometimes gets. That magic is real.
That i hate the assholes who gravitate to administration.
Yeah, well ... not all themes are uplifting. I had to get out of nursing. The patients and the actual work were wonderful, but the paperwork was bullshit, and i don't know where hospitals dig up the creatures who end up as administrators and head nurses, but i swear, they need to bury them back where they found them and hire humans for the job.
I'd been writing all along. Short stories, poems, twenty-page "I'm going to write a novel now" false starts. I finally got serious. Writing was how I was going to make my way out of the increasingly bitter world of nursing. And to make a long story a little shorter, I sold my first fantasy novel, Fire in the Mist. I sold a couple more. And I quit nursing. I quit too soon, and I've had to run like hell to keep in one place most of the time since then. But I did it. I'm out of nursing. I work for myself (and I really am about the only person I willingly take orders from). And writing, for all that it's harder than nursing ever was, is also more joyous, and more fun, and a lot less dangerous. And the major themes of my life have become the major themes of my writing, too - so it has all worked out pretty well.
And everything I ever did prepared me better than college ever could have for what I do today. Like I said, this has been a long, hard road, but skipping college was one of the best dumb mistakes I ever made.
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