Today just after lunchtime I filed the paperwork to change my major here at the college.
I am not a Physics major. I have left Isaac Newton’s posse, probably for good. My three-year journey into a science degree is over.
I am now a Mass Communication major and I am seriously considering a Creative Writing minor. Next semester my classes will not be Organic Chemistry and Gen Physics II, but Screenwriting I and Newswriting. My God.
Today is the day that I decided, for what feels like good and all, that I have been stupid to study for so long from my places of weakness and not from my place of strength. As I wrote to myself in the little box on my desk that holds all my good ideas, “You are a writer. Who are you kidding?”
My advisor is now an 84-year-old former television professional who has written for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and who still has contacts in the television industry. And as I met with the head of the MCOM department, strange words left my mouth:
After a long period of reflection, I have decided that I no longer want to be a science writer and that I no longer want to be a science major.
I think about writing for television. I think about writing for cable. I think about writing television fiction, a series. I also think about writing television documentaries.
Writing’s a great job for someone like me, who’s always changing her spots. Being a writer is a sort of insurance that I can reinvent myself by doing very different kinds of writing, yet have the stability of sticking to my field. I may have left Isaac’s posse, but I hope to visit them to write about the worlds I still and will always love, math and science. If anything, really, I am not so much changing my focus as widening it to hold possibilities of so much more than science writing.
God, would I EVER love to have been part of the writing team of the Walking With... series! Ooh, I can see myself happily writing BBC documentaries. (I really am obsessed with BBC programming recently.) I feel excited about my future and my studies in a way that I have not felt in a very long and very unhappy time. The thrill died over winter break but I kept slogging on, miserably and in one of the most dreadful ruts of my entire life.
There were many signs it was time to change. My mental mailbox was stuffed with unopened letters from the universe. I wrote a research expectations paper for my chemistry prof that was little more than a list of my weaknesses as a scientist, clearly the work of a person in a crisis of confidence. I went to a friend’s ping-pong party that I’d been excited about for a week and sat at the table in a heap, too tired to play.
And I went to the Physics Lab, a place of physics homework help, and it was there I realized I was doomed to fail and doing the wrong thing. I asked for help from the young tutor, and she explained the problem, and her explanation dripped onto me and not into me, an alien substance my body could never absorb. And I had done everything right. I’d tried to work my homework problems, read my textbook, watched the little java physics movies, never missed class, listened, taken notes, studied hard… All for failure. All for failure.
I began to wonder what on Earth was so wrong with formally studying writing. Why had I turned from it with such condescension? I had said I’d study science to see where it could take me, to see how far I could go. Could I not do the same thing with something that I was actually good at?
Today I feel very writerly in a way I never have before in six years of writing professionally. I feel like I am coming out of the closet somehow. I suppose it’s a classic case of coming back to where you started from and knowing the place for the first time. I don’t know why I have always felt vaguely fraudulent and unworthy at calling myself a writer, as if it was an honor that I never quite deserved, despite the fact that I have been one for years and plan to keep on being one. I finished a new knitted scarf last night and wore it today, thinking of it as The Scarf I First Wore the Day That I Decided to Quit Fucking Around and Actually Accept That I Am a Writer .
Because I think that’s what I am.