Thursday, April 30, 2009


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.

Dr. Earl:

“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.”

Lawyer Earl:

“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.”

Teacher Earl:

“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.


Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that most comedy writer's "skills" qualify you to make either $8,000 a year or $800,000 a year... and he was right. Outside of the TV world, my education and skill earned me next-to-nothing, but I was the funniest guy working in the department store. Inside the TV world, well, I've become a decent, steady, middle-class wage earner and while maybe not being the funniest guy in the room, I've always fit in and have eeked out a nice career of singles and doubles... never really hit the homerun... but I'm still suiting up every day and playing... at 55. And the nice thing to know is I can always go back to JC PENNEY.

rms said...

Hell, I'm over 40 and still trying to figure out what to do when I grow up. (Maybe if?)

MikeThe Blogger said...

Earl, I thought you always wanted to be a Viking. ;-) Amazing what we remember, eh?

growingupartists said...

Earl, if it weren't for you I'd be graceless.

PD said...

So you were taught History by a Gym teacher. Maybe this explains why you think Canadian history is lame?

A. Buck Short said...

Coming full circle.

Earl said: my eyebrows arch quizzically, and there’s this questioning smile playing skeptically on my lips.

Of course you know, but maybe a reader or two doesn’t, the Latin word for raised eyebrow is -- supercilious.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard comics, writers and a few other successful creative types explain to somebody that if it weren’t for what they became, there wasn’t anything else that they thought they could do well. I’m not sure if that’s a calling or just hearing voices delusionally.

growingupartists said...

Oh, like a dictator Buck Short. Obama should try that.

Willy B. Good said...

People laughed when I told them I was going to be a pirate when I grew up and now thanks to Somalia I'm the only one laughing now.

Joe said...

Ya shoulda told him your theory -- with which I happen to agree, incidentally -- of "funny numbers."