Thursday, June 27, 2013

Choosing Both (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I was a member of the Class of 1984.

We were the ones measuring our world against that of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, wondering whether it would come true.


This edition of 1984 was EVERYWHERE when I was in high school.
Our parents were the Baby Boomers, the children of Camelot, the people who were going to change the world. We were Generation X. The generation with a name that wasn’t even really a name. (But at least it was better than what they called us before they came up with “Generation X,” which was, “the generation following the Baby Boomers.”)

Our parents had free love; we had the specter of AIDS hanging over us, a disease that was only beginning to be understood. Our parents had protested a war in southeast Asia; we grappled with the eerie Cold War, an invisible battle with its aura of spying eyes and ominous shadow of nuclear annihilation.

Above all else, we worried about finding jobs. We started retirement accounts while we were still in our 20s. We saw the beginnings of the disintegration of the social safety net. (During the late ‘80s, I witnessed the street population in Philadelphia swell from a few individuals to legions of homeless people camping on the steps of public buildings, laying out their blankets dormitory-style at the subway stations.)

At 17—my age when I finished high school—I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t believe I could support myself that way. My anxiety was poorly suited to the capriciousness, irregular paychecks, and high rejection rate of a writing career. I’d also heard this advice: “Don’t be a writer if you can be anything else.”

I could be something else. I was good at science, and interested in it. And I thought that if I made that my major, if I found a career in the sciences, I could still write on my own time.

Which is exactly what happened. All the while I pursued a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s Degree in science, while I studied environmental science and found a job helping clean up pollution, I kept writing. I kept sending out stories to literary magazines, and occasionally getting one in print. After years of that, I took a second look at the YA novels on my shelves. The ones I’d lugged with me through move after move: from the cinder-block dorm rooms of college; to the room in Atlanta where I used a cardboard box as a dresser; to the place in Philadelphia with burglar bars on the windows and mice in the kitchen; to the much nicer apartment in Philadelphia with a doorman and no roaches (at last, the fruits of a stable profession!). And I asked myself: why don’t I try to write a YA novel instead of just reading them all the time?

I’m glad for my experience in the sciences—not just because it’s been a good “day job,” but because it gives my life a whole other dimension, another way to look at the world, another base of knowledge, another way to contribute and have a meaningful life. But I could never stop writing.

At the end of high school, when I had that choice between writing and science, it may have seemed to the outside world that I picked science. But in my mind, I was choosing both.

My third novel, Until It Hurts to Stop, is coming out this fall. It features a main character who likes nature and the environment.



15 comments:

  1. I am a member of the class of 85. My how time passes... Isn't it interesting how all of the experiences we had so long ago somehow become more clear and more useful to our writing lives today? Looking forward to your new book, by the way. And that cover is gorgeous!

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    1. Thank you!

      Do you remember all the Orwell hype back then? (To be replaced by Y2K fear some time later.)

      "Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward."--Kierkegaard

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  2. Congratulations on the third book! Beautiful cover!

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  3. Choosing both isn't really choosing, is it? It's better - it's having faith that you can have both, and not have to choose at all. I'm so glad that you were proven right!

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    1. Thanks!
      Yes, our options are not always mutually exclusive.

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  4. I'm so excited for your new book! And I'm happy you chose both. I don't think life would be very complete, or that any writer could write fully, if all they ever did was write. You have to live first, and that almost always means loving other things outside of writing.

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  5. That's a cool cover. An image of a girl looking out onto the water can mean so many things.

    I've never been a science person, but one thing I've noticed about people who are good at science is that they can identify technical problems and think of creative ways to fix them. I imagine that might come in handy in your writing.

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    1. Thanks!

      The funny thing is that when I write nonfiction for work, I use outlines and am very systematic. But with my fiction writing, I'm a pantser. Preliminary outlines and character sheets haven't worked well for me. I need a character's voice and a situation and then I run with it!

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  6. The first thing I thought was 'that's MY copy of 1984!' And then that, although I'm a few years older, that there are so many of us from that general period of time who felt that we had to earn money in other ways first. But eventually, the dream pulls you... Love the new cover!!

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    1. It was the Y2K scare of its time ... ;-)

      Although some would argue the internet and ubiquitous cameras have brought us Big Brother, just a few years after Orwell predicted.

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  7. I'm class of '83 and remember the 1984 book too well. I also wanted to be a writer, but was told there's no money in it.

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