Nearing the end of my final year in High School, my Guidance Counselor advised me that I should become an accountant. My Guidance Counselor was also my history teacher. I had another history teacher who was also my gym teacher. They doubled up. But my Guidance Counselor was really a history teacher. And my other history teacher was really a gym teacher.
I was instinctively aware that my gym teacher wasn’t really a history teacher. And my gym teacher was aware I was aware. This led to repercussions. One occurred during “Parent-Teacher Conference Night”, where my gym teacher told my mother, in reference to his history teaching,
“Your son looks at me like he thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
(My mother passed along this little tidbit when she got home. She thought it was hilarious.)
My blogging skills do not include the ability to show pictures. If it did, I would post a photo of me looking like I think that the person I’m looking at doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The best I can do is a description. My eyes kind of light up, my eyebrows arch quizzically, and there’s this questioning smile playing skeptically on my lips.
I never intended to embarrass anyone. (It was pretty much a secret exchange.) My reaction emerged spontaneously, the result of my gym teacher who also taught history saying something I knew he had cribbed from the text book – preparation for class had led me to read the same material he had – and getting it wrong.
I’d have been better off keeping my facial expressions to myself. The other venue of repercussion was at P.E., where my behavior earned me endless sessions of gymnatorial payback.
Okay, so this lightly trained career planner informs me I should become an accountant. Where did he get this from? Apparently he’d developed the impression that I didn’t like people, and was therefore more suited to working alone. The suggestion he offered during this abbreviated session meant to clarify my future was that I seriously consider working with numbers.
The advice wounded the directionless and impressionable almost High School grad that was me at that time. An adult had just told me what to be, and my response was an unspoken screaming
When I got home, I tried to cover my discomfort with a lame joke. After telling my brother my Guidance Counselor had advised me to become an account, I replied, almost manically,
“I can account. A-one. And a-two. And a-three. And a-four.”
It wasn’t just accountancy that portended a grim and terrifying rest of my life. It was every job I knew of. Doctor. Lawyer. Wholesale clothier (my family’s business). Investment Guy. Teacher. This was just prior to the sixties, with its anti-authoritarianism and its “Do Your Own Thing.” There were fewer acceptable options. And all of them looked horrible. “Horrible” meaning I could not see myself doing any of them till I died. Or a day, even.
This may sound weird to you, I don’t know. But for me, the best thing about being a writer is that I didn’t have to be anything else.
I couldn’t be anything else. Me, doing a “Grown-up” job? There’s simply no way I could handle it.
“I’m going to step out of the room now, and the nurse is going to come in and tell you that you’re going to die.”
“Sorry I lost the case. Here’s my bill.”
Wholesale Clothier Earl:
“Who knew people hated corduroy?”
Investment Guy Earl:
“I bought high and I sold low.”
“I have no idea how to get you to learn.”
These jobs have serious consequences. That’s not for me. Writer? You stink it up, you toss it in the wastebasket. You hit the “Delete” button and start again. The only victim of failed writing is time and paper. And with computers, just time.
I know it’s an accomplishment to have achieved success and longevity in a field that’s competitive and requires special abilities, an endeavor many people wish they’d participated in and, for whatever reason, didn’t. But the satisfaction pales when, deep down, you have the unshakable feeling that
“That’s all I could do.”
There is an “up-side” to this condition. When you’re sure you can only do one thing, you tend to give it everything you’ve got. The situation creates an urgency. It’s not like you’ve neglected to formulate a “Plan B.” “Plan B” does not exist.
So I wrote. And continue to write today. It’s a solitary profession, but I’ve always enjoyed working alone.
Wait a minute…
Okay, he got the “numbers” part wrong, apparently never checking my math grades. But the “working alone” part?
Not bad for a part-time professional.