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John Boston: Where were the doughnuts?

How Beige Was My Valley

Posted: February 13, 2009 12:34 a.m.
Updated: February 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

 
"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
"Watch your words, for they become actions.
"Watch your actions, for they become habits.
"Watch your habits, for they become character.
"Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

- Unknown

About once a year, I participate in the Santa Clarita version of "Justify Your Life." It's where a dozen or so alleged professionals wander an elementary school and talk about what they do for a living.

Wednesday I spoke before about 60 delightfully fresh souls at Valencia Valley's Career Day. As always, it's a cathartic experience - part passing the cultural torch to the next generation and part an involuntary personal inventory.

Many Santa Clarita schools host a Career Day, and that's a wonderful thing. Doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs all donate a few hours to stand before children and paint a picture that not only can one survive adulthood, but growing up can actually be filled with hope and fulfillment.

It certainly is a way to force looking back at your own life.

I'm not sure I had a choice in becoming a writer.

One girl raised a tentative hand. With a soft voice she asked what was the worst part of my career.
That's a no-brainer.

"Rejection," I said.

A few had never heard of the word. Hang in there. You will.

I didn't share the complete, maddening angst of getting up sometimes at 4 in the morning or staying up to 4 in the morning to work on something for 10 years just to have a pimpled intern in New York City toss my manuscript into the trash without so much as a glance.

I've had many successes. But in 35 years of writing, I've been rejected now into the thousands of times. I still have the second-shortest rejection letter yellowing in a dusty frame. It was from Simon & Schuster and reads:

"Drop dead."

I'm not kidding. "Drop dead."

Sixty is not that far off. My dream to be that novelist/author I always wanted to be has not yet blossomed.

Yes. I've published books. I write full time. The paychecks are few, skimpy and far between.

Well. Let me clarify. The paychecks are few, skimpy and far between as of the printing of this, my 5,000th-plus reflection. You see, at my age, I still have Hope.

That one, impossibly large four-letter word was not at all mentioned Wednesday in the Valencia Valley classroom.

I talked about the differences between a career and a job. A job can be anything that brings in a paycheck.

I didn't share that there are far too many people with jobs and far too few with careers.

A career is ideally the object of your heart that makes you get up and go, that defines you, that unaging, captivating and beautiful mistress who makes you wiser yet forever young.

"What would you do if you had all the money in the world?" I asked the kids. "After you've spent time buying luxuries, indulging in whims, eating too much ice cream, after you're bored spitless, something in you would click, forcing you to your life, your art, your destiny."

I kept hammering home about what the poet Robert Browning said, that we must find a way for the imprisoned splendor to escape.

Whether we're installing mufflers or making movies, that's why we're here.

I so root for children. They're so pure, and life hasn't kicked mud all over that gleaming internal compass we all possess - Hope.

I have a carpenter friend. He's really a musician.

A gal I've known since childhood takes care of the elderly and sometimes cleans houses. In her 50s, she went back to college to pursue acting and graduated magna cum laude at USC. Today, she still takes odd jobs to pay the bills, but she travels the world and stars in stage productions - for money.

Another friend of mine runs the biggest local institution in the valley, but I know him. Really, he's a cowboy. And he works at his real career.

I could spend all day talking to children. There's mischief but not guile, and mostly there isn't that thick protective covering to keep the world at arm's length.

We chatted about the differences between Dream vs. Fantasy and they already knew the answer.

Two children, sitting next to one another in the front row, raised their hands. The rotters. They nailed the answer.

A Dream is something you physically work toward achieving. A Fantasy is that dreaded, devilish, clock-eating monster who robs you of soul and anima.

Well.

Me being the insufferable writer, I sort of paraphrased their more concise answers.

There was part of me that didn't really want to get duded up and drive all the way across the valley to lecture at the unholy hour of 8:30 a.m. But I'm glad I did.

I rediscovered that I could be doing a little better, but I'm doing all right and that maybe it's not such a bad thing that I became a writer instead of cop with the Burbank Police Department.

Like I could turn back.

With the help of four cups of Starbucks (and no darn donuts) donated by the Valencia Valley administration, I did OK in my speechifying. But one of the annoying things about Life is that sometimes a day or year will pass when the answer really hits you (I suspect it's because we're too busy yakking instead of listening inwardly).

I may have misspoke to all those children about the nature of career.

Yes, it's good to keep learning, do a little beyond your best and chose a profession where you can pay the rent and still manage a daily laugh.

But it was the poet e e cummings who really should have been invoked:

"to be nobody-but-yourself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

There you go.

Housewife, administrator, fifth-grader, retail clerk or monkey wrestler. Our career is to wonderfully become ourselves.

John Boston is a writer and a Santa Clarita Valley resident.

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