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.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
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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.
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* Get it?