The Path Not Taken

Response to the prompt: Tell the story (true or fiction) of trying to learn a new talent or hobby that you only pursued briefly.

* * *

My mother was an artist.  That is, when she wasn’t wrangling children, managing a household, and trying to be a military wife.  From what I could tell, she enjoyed painting, sketching, and sculptured arts.  I’d throw music in there, since we had an organ, and my mother could play it – but I never saw it as anything but a tool in her hands, and thus my exposure to music was never as a form of entertainment or pleasure.   Rather it was forced down my throat as an obligation.  My father, on the other hand, was an Army officer, and when not saving the world from Communism, he enjoyed sailing and reading, and the occasional bout of peace and quiet.  I mention all this, not as a means of blame, or any other sort of implicit, direct, causal connection, but rather as a set of influences on my life.

When kids grow up and look at what their parents do, they may decide they either like or hate their parent’s professions, then use those influences along with personal preferences to make their own decisions about hobbies they want to pursue or talents they believe they have.  My mother, whose life mission was to eradicate my father’s influence, tried her best to get me to pursue art.  The end result was that I spent time down at the civic art center drawing pictures of jets napalming my teachers and church elders, and drawing German tanks taking pot shots at the Apollo lunar lander.  But before you get the idea that I was totally a closeted fascist militarist, let me add that my astronauts had lasers that could strip the flesh off the Nazis, thus saving the world from Nazi attempts to colonize the moon.  Those sociopathic doodles aside, I soon learned principles and rules of art — those principles that bound the borders of the sandbox, before free-thinking could escape unchecked.  Once I accepted those boundaries, I found I could create nothing that subscribed to them, and thus, never achieve perfection, which led me to decide an art career was never an option.  Only many years later did I realize that art is actually in the imperfection, that to be considered a master, and be allowed to break the rules you must first understand what the rules are.  Now they tell me!  So if you want mirror image replication, you should just get a digital camera and a copy of Photoshop.

From the ashes of that career choice, I moved on to dreaming of being an Olympian.  After watching Mark Spitz win seven gold medals at the ’72 games, I decided that swimming was the sport for me, and that I was destined to be an athlete.  The problem with this pipe dream was, of course, that I neither had the talent nor the self-discipline to pull it off.  Plus I was living East Armpit, Illinois a location that was on nobody’s radar, except perhaps the Russians for targeting by their ICBMs (due to the rail junction).  Anyway, my efforts started inauspiciously enough; my first race I could not make it to the other end of the pool.  I will give myself credit though, I stayed with it, practicing with kids in the age group below mine, and eventually beating them.  Take that you eight year olds!  I topped out with swimming in my junior year of High-School.  My entire senior year all I wanted was to be somewhere else, and was never even able to make it to state competitions.  I don’t blame anyone but myself for that result.

In High-School I played with the idea of going into marine biology, and did quite well in the biology courses I took.  Sadly, once I got to college, that talent disappeared, along with my GPA and my future medical career as well.  Taking stock of the ruins, I decided that perhaps my father’s profession might be what I needed, and that a soldier’s life was for me.  So off I went into the Army reserves, only to discover a military career held even less interest to me than swimming.  I did okay, and was a fairly decent military policeman — I could “police” up cigarette butts with the best —  but once I discovered that MPs were considered cannon fodder for Russian Special Forces, I decided that a long-term career was not for me.

By that time I discovered computers, and programming.  To me, programming was like a combination of tinker-toys and art.  You could engineer an art form essentially, and I was smitten.  Of course twenty-plus years later, computers have become less of a playground and more like a set of information Ginsu knives that will slice, dice and do your taxes.  That is not say that you can’t play games of course — Angry Birds, Words with Friends, etc.  But unlike sitting down and playing a board game, now you can play against people you will never meet and perhaps never want to know.  Nowadays, of course, computers are ubiquitous, and social networking has become omnipresent, such that you are being tracked, logged, monitored, and marketed to every time you do anything online.  Friendships, like letter writing, have been reduced to digital shadows, which only exist as long as the Facebook account isn’t deactivated, your computer power stays on, or the battery remains charged.  Sometimes I wonder if all this “reality” we’re fed, isn’t just some illusory fantasy concocted by corporate marketing, designed to get us to sell our souls.

That, to me, is why writing remains a constant.  A friendly reminder of the humanity that still exists in this world, that has yet to be eradicated by the politically correct thought police, and those who want to create a world of like-minded thinkers, whose goal is to save humanity by stamping out free-will and making us play in the same sandbox, with same toys, and to have the same thoughts – all in the name of progress, of course.

So what does this have to do with learning a new talent or hobby that I pursued briefly?  In truth, I’ve done nearly everything “briefly,” but I’ve never forgotten to live and to love, and that has made all the difference.

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