Thursday, August 03, 2006

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

When you look at my frequent misspellings, oddly phrased sentences that sometimes defy the laws of English (and physics) and the long-windedness of my thoughts, you might have surmised that becoming a writer and/or editor wasn’t my first choice in life. As it turns out, becoming a writer/editor wasn’t my second choice either, and I don’t think it was even my third choice now that I think of it. So, what did I want to be when I was a young idealistic kid? What kind of career did I aspire to during a nice but brief romantic and unrealistic time in my life before I came to the hardened conclusion that you cannot be anything you want to be when you grow up and that you can’t do anything if you set your mind to it? Wait a minute, I’m not being sarcastic or cynical, but practical and sensible when I say this: People can’t do anything they want and I think telling your kids “you can be anything you want when you grow up” sets them up for a sudden smack in the face from Old Man Disappointment in the long run when they discover that being an engineer you have to be good at math or if you want to be a good ballet dancer, it helps if you have a good sense of balance. You get the idea, as sometimes there are obstacles that are insurmountable, and these thoughts aren’t incorporated in the phrase: “You can do anything you want.”

You want to be President of the United States when you grow up? Sure thing kid, go for it. “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up and there’s nothing stopping you from success”… except for the odds, of course, and if you’re a girl, I hate to say it, but that’s a tick against you. There are currently 300 million people in this country, yet only one President, and let’s just say that over the course of the last 230 years of American history, there have been 43 people that ended up holding the office, 43 people out of at least a billion that have lived in this country.

That’s a heck of an obstacle, and I hate to set up Natalie or Matthew for that kind of disappointment if they want to be President one day. But, then again, if that’s what they want to do, I’m not going to say anything to stop them except that it is a hard road to the golden gates of your dreams and that they’ve got a lot of work to do. (As an editorial aside, I’d hate it if one of my kids as President; sure I could spend the summer in the Lincoln room, which would be cool, but I don’t think I want half of the country hating one of my kids just for their political ideals). What will I tell them when they profess that they want to be the first astronaut to walk on the surface of Mars? I’m not sure, but maybe it will go something like this: “If that is what you want to do, then you’ve got to work really hard at it, but I’ll be here to help you with it.”

Well, when I was a kid of around six or seven, I wanted to be a doctor, one of those up-to-their-elbows-in-blood kind of doctors where streams of crimson hemoglobin splash across my clean white scrubs. Sure, I would save lives, but altruistically I would be a hero, adored by millions and revered as someone who can change the very course of history like… like… I don’t know any famous doctors. Louis Pastor. There’s one.

There’s one catch with my dream, one that I wasn’t expecting, of course, and one that I couldn’t have foreseen when someone told me that I could do anything I wanted. Back when I was younger, I didn’t like seeing blood; I didn’t like my own, others, fake blood, red food coloring mixed or even an oozing jelly doughnut. Well, last time I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” (or read the book), doctors spend most of their time around the vital liquids. That just wouldn’t fly.

Over the years, I lost interested in saving people’s lives and altering the very fabric of history and time, and I lost my queasiness toward the gore. Almost. I remember one time during a fraternity pledge class meeting we had a presentation by one of the sorority girls who was a victim of a hit and run on campus. She came equipped with a slideshow of her operation that resulted in the amputation of most of her foot. After about five slides, all of the blood left my head, sweat squeezed itself out of every single pore on my body and if I didn’t leave the room to lay down in the hallway, bad things would have happened involving a reiteration of my lunch, I’m sure. And I don’t mean this to be disrespectful to her or her horrible accident… but I just wasn’t able to stomach seeing it. I don’t know why, but it wasn’t the first time I had that reaction and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Okay, doctor’s out, what next? I always enjoyed drawing residential plans of houses. Yeah, I know, sounds weird for a kid to be into residential architecture, but I can’t deny what interested me. When you take a blank piece of paper and create a house or a building, you’re in complete control of what goes where, how well-organized the triangle of efficiency is in the kitchen, where the toilet sits in relation to the sink. Yep, it’s strange, but I enjoyed it, the straight lines, the order, the organization. Hey! I’ll be an architect. How fun.

That course of career choice lasted for a number of years, up through high school and into my applications for college. UCLA, USC, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal Poly SLO, Boston University and University of Colorado-Boulder were the six universities I sent applications to and of those six wonderfully accredited universities, guess which ones I was accepted to? That’s right, none of them. Not a single one wanted me, and over the years I have formulated some conclusions: 1) I’m white and therefore low on the totem pole in this stupid affirmative action-minded racial system of admissions; and 2) I chose to major in architecture, which turned out to be horrifically impacted, meaning there were too many people wanting to be architects than there were spaces available. Nice.

So, as of February 1991, four months before I was to graduate from high school and go out into the world to make my fortune and fame, I didn’t have a place to go. Isn’t that a nice kick in the pants. “You can do anything you want kid, but you can’t go to college.” Within a couple of weeks of completely crapping out in college admissions, I contemplated the Army, the Peace Corp, joining the workforce, or doing absolutely nothing with my life, but since I was on the verge of being the first male Price to attend a four-year university, I had to go to college. It was an especially difficult time, certainly since only days after my final rejection came in the mail (all of which I still have) I spent the weekend at the University of California at San Diego with Tina McDonald and Tara Giberson while they decided if they wanted to go there (Tina did and Tara ended up at UCLA). Talk about working for the last four years on baking a wonderful cake and then, not only not being allowed to be eat it, but having to spend the weekend with those that get to. I had fun of course, as I can have fun at a hanging, but it was hard nonetheless.

Deep breath, make some life decisions… but wait. If you can’t get into college by the usual avenues, sneak in through the back fence when nobody’s looking. Of course, it helped that I had someone leave the gate unlocked. The father of two brothers in my Boy Scout Troop was the Dean of Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. It would have been nice if he was the Dean of something at USC or Boston College, but it was Pomona. A good school for engineering (and architecture) and it was close to home and affordable. I called him and explained my problem. He seemed to have a lot of pull on campus as he asked me what my second choice was. I told him English, as I enjoy writing stories and I was always good at composition and English. After all, it is my mother tongue.

A couple of weeks later, the acceptance package to Cal Poly came in the mail and all was right with the world again. But why English? To this day, I’m still not 100 percent sure. When I finally started Cal Poly, I had every intention of changing my major to architecture, but life takes turns. I joined a fraternity, met Kara and decided that I really didn’t want to be that good of a student. I enjoyed writing the stories, but I hated the learning process. The irony of college, is that every time I was in class, I found myself wanting to be at work…. And when I was at work, I reminisced fondly of being in school and having very little responsibility.

Over time, I honed my career into what it is today. I write articles for magazines and I write automotive mechanical chapters for books. Sometimes it is exciting and fun, and because of it, I’ve had a lot of great adventures (I wouldn’t have driven a Ferrari or passed out in the lap of a nun if it weren’t for the English language), I’ve met a lot of interesting people and in some places, my name is in the history books. Go ahead, Google me!

But there’s a dark side to my craft. Sometimes I feel like I’m forcing myself into a career that perhaps I’m not that great at. Granted, so far, I’ve made a comfortable living on my ability to turn a phrase (however lame), and lucky for the Internet, there has never before been a larger need for writers to fill content. My “talents” are in demand…. now wait, I said that wrong. Talents that I sometimes pretend to possess are in demand and I’m pretty good at pulling the wool over people’s eyes when it comes to writing. But I’m not that good at it. Fine-tooth comb this page and I’m sure there are a half-dozen mistakes that I won’t or can’t see to fix. I’ve always had a tough time editing my own material and that’s an important step in the writing process. What a liability, so much so that there’s a joking phrase I like to use when I make some grammatical mistake: “I should be an editor.” (You can apply it to anything. Leave some gauze in a patient, you can announce to your nurses with much sarcasm: “I should be a doctor,” or cause a couple of planes to collide on the runway and say: “I should be an air traffic controller!” Ah, hilarity among your coworkers will ensue.)

However, much like most actors in the world, my career has more tales of failure than stories of success. I’ve been fired and/or laid off three times (but none of them had to do with talent), I wrote a novel that was rejected by 25 publishing houses and the mere act of writing a story is a torturous, laborious process for me. I place every word on the page with trepidation, arduously trying to chose the proper one to say exactly what I want to convey. Most times, I’m not satisfied with the results.

Then again, I make more money today than I have ever in my life, but if that was the ultimate goal in my life, I would have changed jobs by now. A fry cook’s gotta do better than this.

The long of the short of it is that I don’t know why I do what I do. I enjoy writing. I am passionate about the language and the syntax, etc., but then again, I think I would have been an excellent architect too.

Well, we started this little diatribe on one topic and we ended on another, which is very typical of these entries. I guess what I’m saying is that you can’t do anything you want in your life and don’t let any optimistically over-encouraging yea-sayers lead you down a road toward a dead end. It is an impossible dream fraught with disaster, disappointment and depression, but then again, be careful what career or lifestyle you wish for, you might just get it, as the outcome of your dream can produce the same adversities.

After all, you could grow up wanting to be a writer.

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