LSS: Crooked paths and careers

My friend Denise Young from Reno, Nevada, had a clear idea of what she wanted to be all along. Denise loved pigs. Her entire home was decorated a la porky, with porcine accoutrement adorning every pink pig-face knob and handle. Since she was a child, she raised pigs for 4-H competitions. Blue ribbons papered the hallway of her mom’s house with its first-class pigpen in the backyard. Denise’s prize-winning sow was named Wilma. Wilma paid for a significant portion of Denise’s college by producing plenty of prize-winning piglets. When Wilma died, Denise had the giant head stuffed and mounted.
I kid you not.
Pigs became her trademark. When Denise was sitting on the sofa reading a magazine, chances are high its name was something along the lines of Swine News. She picked her college based on which state had the best barbecue. And, of course, she went to there to study pigs.
I was a tat envious of Denise for how clear she was about her career path. I love to be around people who are pigheaded about what they’re interested in — to the point that they don’t care what anyone else thinks. Personally, I’ve never been as interested in any one thing as Denise was. Instead, I’d like to believe the list of all the jobs I’ve had since and including college reflects that varied interest as opposed to some lesser character trait.
I had to include college because my first college job was working for a nearly mad scientist who made frequent trips to the Amazon jungle. He would clip hundreds and hundreds of plant specimens, press them and bring them back home to be placed in one of many stacks of press plants — all waiting for me to carefully glue them to a special non-acidic paper. I lasted a semester.
My list of jobs includes a stint as a movie theater auditor, a 411 operator in training, answering calls for a team of janitors, three months as the social services director at a nursing home playing Bingo and serving snacks. There are also a string of editing, writing and English teaching positions I’ve had through the years — teaching English from its most basic to its most lyrical.
Plus, there was work that just doesn’t fit into any of those categories. These are the jobs that aren’t easy to explain. Some of them may seem incredulous even. I once spent a weekend as unarmed security for Nelson Mandela. In Eastern Europe, I coached a high school girls’ basketball team that did not speak English. Let me repeat that. Not a single player spoke English. Our practices were like episodes of I Love Lucy with me flailing all over the court as the team stood on the sidelines stone faced.
Unlike my friend Denise, I never had a clear idea of what I’d be when I grew up — and it shows. All in all, I’ve had 25 different jobs doing 25 different things.
I never saw that coming.
But that’s the way life works, isn’t it?
Even for people like Denise, life’s projected trajectory takes unexpected turns. When she went to graduate school and started taking statistics, she turned out to be a statistics wizard. Instead of spending her adulthood working with all things piggy, she’s ended up teaching and practicing statistics professionally.
Life is not a straight line.

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