Passed lives*

MY OCCUPATION was, of course, newspapering. I never called myself a journalist. Sounds hoity-toity. Guys like Dan Rather and Brian Williams were journalists, and look at them now.

They’re bums.

I got into newspapering by fortunate happenstance. I was good at it — better than average — but unlike many people, I never choose a “life’s work.” It kinda chose me. Had I chosen, I would have chosen something different.

Jennifer Rose and Steve Cotton chose lawyering. My wife chose civil engineering. My daughter chose social work and counseling, as did her mother, and — rather late in life — so did my sister. My father chose newspapering, and Ray Clifton chose forestry.

All those people chose. I simply went along.

I got out of newspapering for a couple of years in my early 30s, but finances forced me back. Down through the years, three options — possibilities I never pursued — remained in my mind, a “life’s work” that I wish I had chosen … I think.

Sutherland1. Actor. Had I not spent my newspaper career toiling in the evenings, I would have joined a theater group to get my feet wet, but theater groups invariably work at night. They don’t do it mornings or afternoons. There was the fatal rub.

I would have progressed from local theater to Hollywood. I would have been rich and famous. I would have lived in Brentwood, dodged paparazzi and driven an Eldorado Biarritz.

I am not making this up. I would have liked to be an actor.

Lama2. Monk. A second field that has long intrigued me is the monastic life which is, of course, about as far from Hollywood and the Eldorado Biarritz as you can get.

I cannot explain this stunning contradiction.

On leaving the Air Force in the mid-1960s, I went immediately to Paramahansa Yoganada‘s Lake Shrine Retreat in Pacific Palisades, California, and asked to be admitted as a novice. They said no. Go home and study. I did go home, but I did not study. Not that, at least.

Monasticism has fascinated me since. If only I did not love women so.

Jones3. Archaeologist. I followed my father into newspapering, but we had another connection. My father’s dream was to be an archaeologist, but the Great Depression and distance from the nearest good archaeology school in those days squashed that ambition.

It is one I have long shared. And with a bit more focus, I could have done it, but I did not.

I picture myself brushing desert sands off the Egyptian crypt of some yet undiscovered Pharaoh’s 12-year-old concubine while keeping detailed observations in one of hundreds of spiral-bound notebooks stored beneath my wind-tossed tent. I am a detail man extraordinaire.

* * * *

But it’s too late for all that. It’s come down to this, a layabout atop a mountain in the middle of Mexico, wondering what might have been. It could have been far better — or far worse. You cannot know.

* * * *

* Get it?

17 thoughts on “Passed lives*

  1. I didn’t choose lawyering. It just happened. A law degree was the easiest and quickest doctoral degree, and it would not lead to teaching, something I definitely wasn’t interested in. I had zero intention of ever practicing law. At most, I thought I might go into journalism. Passing the bar and hanging out a shingle was the farthest thing from my mind at the time.


    1. Ms. Shoes: You protesteth too much. The fact that it was “easiest and quickest” does not mean you did not choose it. You could have “not chosen” something else, but you didn’t. But I feel your pain. I would be hesitant to admit to being a lawyer too. In short, don’t be embarrassed.


  2. I too wanted to be an actor. I’ve only told a few people this until now. Life got in the way as far as earning a steady income. But I would have loved to be involved in this art. I was lucky to retire from Ford Motor Co. doing support work in an engineering office. I was able to retire at 52 and have never regretted leaving. I have interests and activities that keep me busy, although I have always known how to relax and get rid of the stress. There are a lot of things wrong here N.O.B. but I could never be where I’m at now had I not been born and lived and worked here.


    1. Francisco: Interesting that we have this in common. And the United States was very good to me too, but that was the past — for both of us. It’s now that things are going so badly in your country.


  3. Ah, choices. Did I choose or was the choice already made for me?

    If I had it to do over, I’m almost positive I’d choose something else. Probably newspapering.


  4. Sometimes I think of taking up a second career. I’m at the age where my late, great-aunt went back to dental school after having spent 20 years as a mother, and then went on to practice endodontics ( until she finally retired at the age of 85.

    But at the end of the day, I think I’m much more interested in what I’m doing now, so I’ll just keep at it.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where acting too held some appeal.


  5. Unlike Jennifer, I consciously chose my profession — even though, I was under the false impression that it would be a stepping-stone to what I really wanted to be: a politician. And I too dabbled with the idea of acting: until I figured out that being a lawyer or a politician would give me all of the acting opportunities a man could ever want. I was correct.

    I could easily see you as a monk.


  6. I was a plumber — pipefitter by trade. Necessity became the mother of invention. My ex-father-in-law (contractor) wanted his daughter to have a worthy husband. My choice in another life would have been a singer — entertainer, a Ray Price wannabe. I still play guitar and can mumble a few tunes. I found teaching the trades the best job I ever had. That came later in life. I could see you in Monkdom, were it not for the love of the fairer sex.


  7. I fell into cooking, mostly out of desperation. I’m not talking Haute Cuisine; more like fast food. What those jobs lacked in creative opportunity did compensate by teaching me basic kitchen skills.

    After a few years of low paid, pinche jobs and general exploitation, I realized that I could work in a bakery. Overall, it was a much better gig, with actual benefits and pay considerably above the meager pittance I had been getting in fast food.

    There were some downsides to baking; namely the early morning hours. Eventually, (after 5 years) I tired of following prescribed bakery formulas and kneading premixes, and set out on my own “to find myself”. But that’s another story.

    Don Cuevas


    1. Don Cuevas: I know the inconvenience of pre-dawn hours. I only did it for about five years too. Then I switched to the other end of the spectrum, working evenings, which required me to sleep late in the mornings, which is totally contrary to my nature. Now I do as I please, which is get up very early. Quite nice.


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