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?)


  1. Hallie -- Your experience sounds like a romantic movie story.

    In '78 (or '79?), I was a studio tech at a Kentucky CBS affiliate. My specialty was a notoriously cranky computer graphics machine called a Chyron. Plus, one of the engineers and I seemed to be falling in love.

    Anyway, the station used to rent out a TV mobile unit to production companies for sports and other events. A former KY governor's staff had rented it to announce Louie B. Nunn's return to politics, but the tech they'd hired to operate the Chyron couldn't handle the machine or the pressure of live TV.

    With TV producers sputtering in high-freak mode, I was called to drive my junker car from Lexington to Louisville at the last minute to program the machine and then work the show.

    My bail-out job impressed the New York production company hired by the former governor's staff. The producer I worked with offered me a job with their production company in New York.

    Like any good small-town girl in the '70s, I was afraid of New York City, plus I'd be leaving behind my new boyfriend. Also, I suspected that, although the offer seemed exciting, maybe it wasn't really what I wanted for my life?

    So I said thanks-but-no-thanks to an opportunity to join Roger Ailes's production company. He was unknown then, but now he's president of Fox News and the former media consultant to conservative Republican Presidents.

    Back then, though, my Spideysense had told me that I wouldn't fit with his group. History has shown me that my instincts served me well.

    Most importantly, the engineer and I have been married almost 29 years now. He's a funny, sweet, smart partner in life. I'm glad I didn't leave him behind to become a right-wing "Mary Richards" in Manhattan.

  2. Rhonda--that's quite a story. Very sweet--and especially since you had been called in as the super-hero(ine) to save the day. And you don't regret it, right? Imagine how/who you might have been...yikes.

    When I worked in Atlanta in the 70's-80's, I got called in to a new enterprise for a job offer. It was 1980, and the fledgling company was this new 24-hour all news thing. It was not yet on the air, and they wanted me to open their Los Angeles Bureau and then be the Bureau chief.

    But I was so happy in my job as the on-the-road feature reporter at the NBC affiliate, that I thought, hey, I'll just say no.

    Besides, I decided, this all-news format wasn't going to fly anyway. What did they call it?

    Oh yeah, CNN.

    (I don't regret that decision either!)

  3. Wow Roberta, you've been reading my mind.
    I've actually been engaging a little too much in-the-road-not-taken lately. But one thing I think about the most-- I grew up working in my father's law office, every day after school from seventh through eleventh grade, and summers between a few college years. He always wanted me to be lawyer, but I was deadset in becoming a journalist and all that legalese made me nauseous. I wish more often than not that I'd gone to law school -- especially when I lunch with my Rhode Island prosecutor friend for my books and he tells me about his world. He's complaining about the skivvy bad guys and the system and I'm totally drawn to it.
    But who could have guessed?

  4. No, Hank, I don't regret my choice at all. That kind of environment would have forced me to change a lot more than just my political affiliation. :) A look back on that particular "fork in the road" prompts a smile of relief.

    But wow -- bureau chief of CNN-LA? Had you taken that job, you would have been management behind a desk. Despite CNN's unanticipated future prominence, I agree that you made a good choice, too.

  5. Rhonda, you're right! Hallie's story does sound like a great movie. And just so Jerry doesn't feel bad, I turned my husband down flat the first time he asked me out. When I finally realized I'd made a mistake, it took him months to recognize that I WAS interested after all.

    The thing is, Jan, do you think it's too late to go to law school? I'm pretty sure my age is part of what's bringing this question to the this too late? Is that too late? Am I happy with the choices I have made?

  6. Jan - Roberta's got a good point. Midlife nowadays is considered a time to explore new interests. Or roads not taken.

  7. I recently a birthday, a big birthday, and I think that's the reason this stuff is coming up.
    You are very sweet, Rhonda, but, I do think it's too late for me for law school -- not to mention unaffordable -- I'm in the midst of paying for two college tuitions for my kids!

    But Roberta, you are right, these are midlife regrets, which are okay, as long as I refocus on mid-life appreciations (is that the right word, here?)

    Happy Memorial Day everyone!

  8. I took my life stream a different way. Whatever opened up, I took it. I married young, had my children young, never finished college, but always seemed to be going to school. It has been an interesting life and I have no regrets.

    What would have happened if I'd gone straight through college and married a Pastor (a one time goal)?

    What would have happened if I studied art instead of Liberal Arts, which I took because it let you study anything you wanted to?

    We can look and reflect, then we can write a book where the heroine does some of these things. I love it. There is no end to the things my book characters can do.

    I enjoyed this a lot.


  9. Oh but you see, Roberta, I'm the complete example about never too late.


    I've had--am having--a wonderful 30-plus year career as a reporter.

    Then at age 53 (or so?), I decided to do what I've always wanted--write a mystery. So far, so fabulous. But it was a risk, of course. And I made a lot of changes in my life to do it.

    "You will if you want to." That's all you need to know. Remember? Jan, if you were obsessed with the idea of going to law school, you'd do it. But writing your books and your screenplay--you get to do the law part without having to memorize three million cases. Plus, you can make stuff up.

    Mid-life regrets. It's more like--mid-life assessments. And aren't we lucky that we can do that? The choices are just--doors we went through. And each one leads us to a thousand thousand other doors. I think the key may be to look back with self-approval, search for knowledge, and then focus on looking forward. With gratitude.

  10. This was exactly why I started my novel - which is now titled - "I.C.E., India and Old Lovers." The premise is directed at effecting change in a person's life by examining what their life belief's are and what truely excites their heart. It probes the central character's inner passion which is virtually unfathomable to her very wealthy family.

    The biggest issue with the story, even in its third edit, is that it has been called a challenging read. Yeah, in some ways it's a fun story - but the story forces the reader to go deeply into who they are, who they choose to be and what needs to be challenged to set free their own inner passion. But, it's their answers that will set them free. It's organic in that way.

    Hallie - Wow! Very, very interesting. Yeah, it does sound like a movie.

    Rhonda - very cool. As you can tell from my limited profile, I love being super hero. Fortunately I don't take that seriously. And, I'm glad you were happy with that choice.

    What I am slowly learning - is that we do is what we do. One way is not better than another - unless we want to say it is. The thing is you always must keep in mind how you got to where you are at. That is the life's path that you allowed to unfold.

    Me - I was an adopted tyke who roamed the streets, literally in Mario Puzo's godfather neighorhood, with the dream of attending MIT and becoming a great electronics engineeer. After my older brother was killed there two weeks before we were supposed to move, I became a north Jersey native, receiving scholarships to go to Stevens Institute, a prestigious engineering school in Hoboken. The town of Frank Sinatra.
    Changed my major to mechanical engineering with an electro-mechanical major. I wound up in automotive at Ford Motor because of a summer internship at the institute.

    About half-way through my time there, after a life threatening hemorrhage, I said time to play the guitar. Studied steel string acoustic for 3 years and classical for 4 years and have written a bunch of songs over time. Then in the mid-80's, while I was getting pre-req's for medical school, I woke one day and said - nope not gonna do it, not going to med school - conceived of genre I invented called transformational fiction and started writing that novel above.

    While at Ford, I developed 3 patents that save lives, one is used throughout the world. Since Ford, I've helped developed 4 more life saving patents.

    I was pitching my first movie - "Dummies Don't Lie" when the agent asked if I had anything else - I had just met my half sister the year before after 40 years. So... I came up with "The American Siblings" which is a story about how it all came to be. She was excited about it and so my partner, a prize winning journalist, and I wrote it. Then she cooled off a lot. Must have had other hot projects earning money more easily.

    Am I glad I did not go to med shcool? Oh, yeah totally. I assisted people in other ways i could never have imagined.

    Am I bothered about all the no's for publication and production? Nope it's how I want to show my love for people. If my story fianlly assists them either through it's way to publication or production or in the final product - great.

    I love my life - I have no regrets - I just ask sometimes - how can I be more effective? Given who I am and the knowledge I've been given - am I doing enough in this life? And, yet for everyone, when the student is ready - the teacher will so!!!

    In a very happy way - I am learning much from this blog - so the teachers continue to show and I love it! I truly love it!!!

    Yes - Happy Memorial Day to everyone!


  11. That's beautiful, Hank.
    Mike, too. I guess what you are both saying is that its all in the perspective.

    And Mike, you and I might have have to trade Jersey stories (or jokes) at some point!

  12. Remember how people used to ask you, "And little girl, what do you want to be when you grow up?" As if it was going to be one thing. I'm taken with Marilynne's comment: "I took my life stream a different way. Whatever opened up, I took it." I think those only *seem* like passive choices...

  13. Wow! You people are awesome!

    Hank - I have met few people that can nail things so right-on as you. No one ever got to where they are at by accident.

    And, you all know I can say tons about that.

    Jan - literally, my life is perfect. One of the great sayings of Montressa Tesworth, my central character - "Life makes perfect sense - there is no sense to make!"
    She says it like a Bhuddist Koan. "How you know your Bhudda nature from sound of cricket???"
    The longer you explore it, the more you uncover in it.

    Oh yes, Jan, Jersey? We could talk for hours. Let me know how, where, and when!!!

    Hallie - Yo! Absolutely. That is the truth of life revealed through you, no question in my mind. Anyone who thinks they are at effect of the universe - is missing a bigger picture.

    Roberta - Loved the opening remarks of this blog.

    Marilynne - Life is an open canvas, and you can paint anyway you want. The artist doesn't second guess his strokes - neither should any one of us.

    Wow! There is more wisdom per square inch of this blog than available anywhere else on the internet. Seriously, I'm continually blown away by the perception of the comments. It's like this blog is a magnet for wisdom.

    Thanks so much!


  14. Wow--it's hard to compete with some of the great comments here.

    I just wanted to add that I've always had a vision of parallel universes. Somewhere out there you are living in one or more of those alternate paths that you rejected years ago. In my roads not taken, I'm a tenured art-history professor at an Ivy League college, managing archeological digs during sabbaticals; or I'm a senior staffer in a U.S. Senator's office. Could have happened, but didn't, either way.

    But the writer's path was always running alongside, just waiting to happen.

  15. If I am living in parallel universes, why is this the one I am experiencing and not the one where I am wealthy?