Monday, May 26, 2008
On Lost Possible Selves
"The individual who has made him or herself vulnerable to acknowledged regret can be seen to adopt a courageous stance toward life: Despite acknowledging the risks of expecting anything from life, the happy and complex person maintains a heroic commitment to continue to do just that." Laura King and Joshua Hicks
"It is never too late to be what you might have been." George Eliot
ROBERTA: For a new book idea, I've been doing some research on happiness. I came across an interesting article in the AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST about what the researchers call "lost possible selves," meaning unattainable ideas about what you might have been or done with your life. (Keep in mind that it's supposed to be a sign of maturity to grapple with this lost possible self!)
That article got me wondering about what I might have done if I hadn't become a psychologist and a writer. And I don't mean a rock star. Yes, singing like Bonnie Raitt or Patsy Cline would be a dream, but I have not one whit of talent to back it up.
Instead I was thinking about paths I might have gone down if I'd recognized them as possibilities before I hit my mid-fifties. Like maybe owning and running a bookstore such as Roxanne Coady's RJ Julia in my hometown. Or starting a small but lucrative publishing company. (I know, I know, neither of those paths is anything but rocky these days.) I'm good at running things. Could be I'm just bossy, but I can't seem to join an organization without ending up in charge of a lot. (Just a case of not getting my hand down fast enough?) I enjoy working in a group of smart, dedicated people like the Sisters in Crime board of directors and steering committee of the New England Crime Bake.
So how come I chose two fields that require long periods of solitude and introspection? Did I misfire in my twenties or just evolve in new ways? I think it's the latter. Or maybe simply procrastinating on the new book!
How about you guys? Any lost possible selves?
RO: If you're not going to be Patsy Cline, can I? Hmmm..I seem to wind up exactly where I'm supposed to be, even if I get there a little late - met my future husband and lost touch for years, so got married late, wrote my first book late, etc.
If there's one regret I'll admit to, deep down, I wish I had learned to play a musical instrument. Not that I have any fantasies about Carnegie Hall - btw -someone on the street in NYC asked me the classic question recently, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" (Practice?) The diet Red Bull nearly came out of my nose. But I'd love to be able to sit down at a piano and make music. I'm a bit jealous of people who can do that.
HALLIE: In 1968 I had a summer job lined up. I'd gone around New York getting internships for African graduate students and earned one for myself in Ghana's capital, Accra. My then boyfriend dropped me off at the airport and I made my way to the airline counter, hours early. Through a really dumb mix-up, I ended up temporarily misplacing my passport. By the time I found it, the check-in area had turned crowded and chaotic. When I finally reached the front of the line, the plane was full--a shady travel agent had overbooked it by about double. I was devastated. In tears at the prospect of returning to my parents apartment, tail between my legs. I tried calling my boyfriend to pick me up, but I would find out later he was already off with his not-so-ex-girlfriend.
I ended up spending the summer in Manhattan. I sublet an apartment on 118th Street and found a job working for the manager of Butler Hall, a Columbia-owned apartment/hotel. And I started dating a City University graduate student whom I'd dumped a few months earlier. By the fall we were engaged--we just celebrated our 39th anniversary.
I've often wondered who I'd be if I'd gotten on that plane.
RO: My god, what a great story!
Have you ever seen the movie Sliding Doors? Two parallel stories ...what happens to Gwyneth Paltrow if she makes the train or misses it....good, but not as romantic as Hallie's story.
HANK: Well, there's no way to follow Hallie's story. I always wonder about the choces we make, and the choices the universe seems to make for us. The road less travelled by, all that.
In high school, nerdy over-studious me was on the track to being valedictorian, getting into any college, etc. But in the summer before my senior year, I went to Germany to visit my Dad (my real father) who was in the foreign service there. Working at the embassy in Hamburg.
It was 1966, and I got all caught up in anti-war stuff. Music. Politics. The world got bigger. I stayed overseas through my first semester senior year, and when I got back to suburban Indianapolis, I fit in even less than before. I ignored college applications, figuring if I didn't get in becuase it was too late, I could go back to Europe where people "knew stuff." (Mom says that's what I told her.)
Mom and my step-father managed to force me into a very good college--where I sometimes even went to class. But when Kent State happened, I was done. I left, and went into politics, working in a political campaign as a press secretary. And my love of reporting, and journalism, and the news, was set.
It was those months in Germany--if I'd have stayed home, taken the road more travelled, lived up to "expectations," I never would have been a reporter. And certainly not a Jungle Red Writer.
(Hallie, what happened to the snake boyfriend?)