The professor called me into his office. I didn’t want to be there. I’d just finished my post-grad year in the math department, and now I wanted out. But I knew, as everyone else did, he was going to ask me to stay. Would I find it in me to say no?
It wasn’t that I didn’t love math anymore. But the math I dreamed of had just slipped beyond my grasp, as I’d known it would. I ached for black holes and cosmological constants, but I’d come eleventh in the final exams, and those who came higher had already claimed those places. No studying under Stephen Hawking for me. I couldn’t prove I was good enough.
Climate science, fluid flow, partial differential equations and computer programs… Okay, the computer programs bit was interesting, but studying computers in a math department didn’t feel right. So I really did say no. I left my Cambridge enclave and entered the real world, using computers to design missile guidance systems!
Soon I was back in Cambridge, working for a small computer firm (no more weapons), dreaming how I really could have tried for that PhD if I’d been in the Comp Sci department… and writing stories, because sometimes it takes a long time for the changes to compile. Some programmers read the news. I wrote dreams. Still do (sometimes it takes a long time for the washing machine to run).
And I dreamed.
I had kids, told stories to kids, wrote stories for kids, resurrected those pre-math dreams and wrote more, found a publisher (more than one publisher), tried to advertise, and realized I’m still in that room. The professor’s still waiting for my answer. I’m good enough to follow my dream and work with that famous dreamer who’s now died. But I only came 11th in the exam. Those who came before me have taken up those places, and I shall always be invisible behind the scenes, running their programs (writing my code or writing novels), error checking (and editing), writing reports (or blogposts), just being me.
I have a choice, wherever, whenever it seems. And I choose to be me.
Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum and Subtraction, all published by Indigo Sea. She came 13th in her undergraduate finals, so 11th was kind of a triumph, if a small one. And she’s posting this blog on the 14th instead of the 13th because time (publishing, computers, stories and dreams all) slipped away from her.