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Writing job? Kids shun `poorhouse’

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I recently had the opportunity to speak to a class of sixth-graders in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The sixth grade is a period when kids begin to decide who they are and what they want to be when they grow up. When I was in the sixth grade, I wanted to be either an auto mechanic or a writer.Much to my dismay, I've discovered that the average auto mechanic makes more money than most good writers, but I'm happy with my decision, and I wanted the kids to know that.

A giggly girl named Kristina said she would like to be a writer but was concerned about "having to live in the poorhouse."

"Don't worry about money. You should follow your heart."

Then, in a dramatic tone, I said, "Let me be frank. If you want to have a high standard of living, you would have to be a very good writer."

"Well, duh. If I was going to be a writer, I'd be a good one," Kristina said in a huff.

As I redirected the discussion, I made an observation about boys and girls that age. It's about this time that boys and girls begin to assert the differences that eventually will render them so alien to one another that they will struggle to communicate.

For example, most of the girls were honor students and took notes during my talk. The boys, on the other hand, made spit-wads out of notebook paper and also made armpit noises.

However, as the kids told me about themselves, I noticed the one thing they had - confidence.

Heather described herself as a very helpful honors student who would some day be a famous scientist. Jade said she was attractive and would probably be a model or do pretty much anything she set her mind to do.

The boys responded the same way. Andrew, speaking through three sheets of notebook paper, wanted to run a large, publicly held corporation some day.

By the end of the program, it was clear that no one wanted to be a writer. It made me question our society: Have we forgone art in this country for the pursuit of riches?

Then, as if a glimmer of light had struck me, a boy named Brandon asked if I had a minute to talk to him about writing.

"I've been kicking this writing thing around and wanted to know . . . ."

"Yes," I interjected. "It's honorable and rewarding. If you have a writer's heart, you must be willing to forgo wealth to pursue your dream."

"Wow, that's cool. Do you have any advice for a well-intentioned but misguided sixth-grader who accidentally struck a duty guard on the side of the face with a football and isn't allowed back on the playground until he writes a letter of apology?"

"As a writer, I'd suggest you start with `I'm sorry.' "

"Boy, that's great. Tell you what," he said. "Since you don't make that much money, if I give you $20, will you write it for me? I want to get back on the playground so I can pursue my dream of becoming a pro quarterback."