Other careers

Posted on May 27, 2015


I could have been a painter. I wouldn’t have been a very good one, but I’d have managed. I’d have drawn three lines in blue, splashed on a few red dots and said it has meanings you have to cock your head and interpret. I couldn’t have been a chef, though. Don’t have the patience. Add this, add that, stir, wait. It’s not for me. My favourite dish is the boiled egg. It’s like sci-fi. You do nothing. Just add water. A meal is ready. Okay, a snack.

I could have been a singer. I can keep a tune. But no, my voice isn’t great. I wouldn’t want to inflict that on people. Well, maybe some people. That’s why I couldn’t be a newsreader either. And I couldn’t have been a stand-up comedian. I’m too needy. I’d require the audience to laugh at every joke I’m making. I’d require the faces I’m looking at to be laughing or at least smiling. And, even then, I’d probably begin to obsess about whether the laughs and smiles are genuine. An RJ, though, I could be – confined to a booth, my head filled with images of the world out there unable to kick-start its mornings without the engine of my good cheer.

Sometimes I imagine being a surgeon, cracking open a rib cage and plunging silver tools into a haze of red and pink. I’d have liked the godlike feeling of bestowing life. A judge is some kind of god too, bringing the gavel down on someone’s fate, but I wouldn’t like to spend endless days being reminded of how horrible we can be. I’d like to have been a competitive swimmer. I like the knowledge that I can move through water, with that tick-tock precision of gulping in air one moment, exhaling the next, arms cycling, legs splashing, the heart pounding in the home of sharks and whales.

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I wouldn’t be a very good farmer. It sounds like too much toil, and I am only capable of mental exertion. But I’d like to encourage farming in some way. I couldn’t be a florist, though, making a living by cutting the heads off plants. Twelve decapitated roses apparently say “I love you” in human-ese. If you think the relationship will last, get her some manure and a packet of seeds!

Filmmaker. Scriptwriter. Playwright. I could have been any of these and managed a degree of competence. Not excellence, mind – competence. What I couldn’t have been is a musician. This vexes me thoroughly, this awareness that I enjoy music, that it does things to me that mere mortals can never do, that I can articulate these feelings and delve into their core, and yet I cannot think about notes the way I think about words. That thing that happens to me when I face a blank page… that wouldn’t happen to me when I stare at a keyboard. What about schoolteacher, shaping young minds and all that? But no. Too much trouble, too little reward. I wonder if it’s okay to think about rewards in a career. Do I have it in me to be an activist, make a difference, be happy with rewards that aren’t financial?

But nothing to do with numbers, though. Economics. Statistics. Accountancy. Even engineering, with its Vernier calipers and its insistence on precision. I’m happier with the abstractness of art. I say a thing is this and you say the thing is that and both are true. Would I make a good new-age guru? I believe in things like positive energy and negative energy. Add a clutch of joss sticks and maybe I’d be good to go. I’d like to do something that involved animals – be the caretaker of a dolphin in a zoo, or run a doggie day care. There was a time I dreamed of owning a DVD rental store, stocking the rarest films and dispensing expert advice to customers. Who knew people would begin watching films on their computers? I’d have been bankrupt now.

When your work is in the public eye, there are times you want to be doing something mousy and nondescript. I’d like to be a librarian. The same thing, day in, day out. No surprises. Your day isn’t going to be thrown out of whack because an earth-shattering development makes your editor grab the phone and demand that you write something, deadline yesterday. You hear of a tremor in Nepal. You register the awfulness. You resolve to mail out a cheque (of course, librarians don’t make much, so you’ll have to check the status of your current account first). And then you go back to stamping return dates on books. And when the crowd thins, you read whatever you want. Right now, that looks like a nice enough reward.

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