Snake Milkers and Banana Gassers

Graduation time. This is the week when millions of future parents, the nations upcoming work force as well as tomorrow's leaders, begin their march into independent adulthood. I myself have several announcements received in my in-box; each graduate is to be genuinely and warmly acknowledged by their grateful families and friends for this commencement. Whether High School or University, Trade School or Technical College, all are commencing toward, or into, someplace. Stepping out into their future full of confidence and appreciation from their loved ones. Expectations are high. My advice, unsolicited – make some mistakes.

The day I graduated from college, finally, I drove around in an orange Volkswagen van with my oldest friend, Sherry and our mutual families, including our collective 6 children, drinking wine and celebrating accomplishments we had gotten behind us, a flourishing emphatic check mark of “done that! Now what.”

I had completed something that had taken me 25 years to do, and in doing that I filled in a divot, a hole in my personal landscape that I had only partially acknowledged was there, although that truth was always in front of me. My friend was at my side, as she has been through out so much of my life. My adolescent children had made it possible through their hard work to make my day happen; they took responsibility for themselves and home while mother worked, studied and typed.

I have thought some about the question of how one arrives at one particular beginning place, and not another equally propitious. Is it simply the quirkiness of the fates?

The path into one's life meanders through a mysterious wood, often vibrating between fiendish cruelty and undeserved grace for many of those early years. For most young people, lost in the swell of hormones, fantasies, realities and all of the vague fears that lie awaiting, it is a deep of unexplored territory, as we choose, most of us, between well-known routes and, as often, against familiar walkways. In both cases, the decision of where we shall set our feet is often made by selecting someplace between where we are expected to go and the allure of more intriguing other routes; routes made ever more intriguing by their mysterious, unknown qualities. Perversely, many of us throw a dart it seems, and just watch and follow where it lands.

I have no idea which of these trade routes is superior. I have spent too many nights in despair over some unsolvable problem, after a terrible mistake, not to know that mistakes are a part of learning; only when I am face first in some brick wall or another am I most likely to be willing to learn, to try some correction, to get creative. Luck really plays a part, and perhaps some fate does get thrown into the mix. We have to get a life, and getting a perfect life, like perfect happiness, seems to be a matter of illusion. Mine seems to have been built on outrageous fancy and some fortune. In my case, no different than other foolish people, I chose something, often the next something that I happened across, haphazardly. I pursued one direction for a bit then had to alter the plan when I hit a brick wall. I created, along the way, several very separate, sequential life plans and careers. My resume reads a bit like the life plan of Dr. Jeckel and Ms. Hyde, showing tremendous diverse changes and no clear straight path. I have owned companies, all small entrepreneurial sorts, had a bureaucratic career for 20 years, managed property, people, and worked in various unsatisfying jobs that seemed to have no end to them. My favorite perhaps was two years working with profoundly retarded people and their amazing staff, back when such work was funded. Each of these directions left it's mark on my skills and my understanding of something. Frankly, I have had to overcome myself within every one of them.

At the moment, I have three major part time activities, each quite different, and that seems to work well enough. None of them was the visionary plan I held at 17, namely, to enter a scientific field and create there fame, fortune and happiness. I have, however, developed many alternative skills and managed to build a life. It is interesting to me that the career fascinations that I had at 17, are not terribly different from my interests today, and I still avidly read medical journals, follow sea adventures, participate, though from more observatory distance, in humanitarian causes. I still love research, only now I call it genealogy.

It is a curious thing to me. Choices have perhaps never been greater for anyone entering into this realm of beginning-career-life, as there are fewer barriers to anyone's dreams than previous centuries. But how does one dream of things which are unknown in the first place? Does a fisher dream of plowing a field or dancing in the Bolshoi; a farmer's son of becoming a chef in China? What is the dream-scape for a silk-embroiderer, a nib finisher, an interpreter of old aquifers, a conservation biologist or a mud artist? Jobs are widely variable: Bananas do get gassed before they are prettily delivered to your grocery store after all, snakes do get milked and someone has to remove wrinkles from those Jimmy Choos shoes. What should I introduce a loved young friend to, if I were to try to offer suggestions? Where would I attempt to open a door, if asked.

There must be millions of interesting routes to be had, but when, and how does one get exposure to them, if one were to prepare? Does a Naval Chief beget a Navel Chief 25 years later? Probably. How does one's imagination get prickled with inspiration? Let me just admit that the world and it's possibilities are endlessly curious, and some part of my mind is still 17.

Maybe most humans wander blindly into their own futures, and create as they go, much like some exotic bird or worm might impose itself into it's own environment, and then having found itself there, continues being created by it. That isn't so bad, I think. It seems to be the way of things that first I chose, then the choice changes me. That changed person, the alteredmemakes other choices, and next I find myself morphing a bit, my stony edges being sanded down specifically by the abrasive actions of what I have put into my life.

But this one aspect of life-choices is a partial story, as the reader well knows. I tried to demonstrate to my children the examples of the middle class ethos of work hard, get ahead, educate yourself, develop values, stand for something. I don't think that they were reading the same script that I had devised, and maybe I forgot my lines as well; they received a more garbled message than I intended, of course. They needed to discover their own script, and write their own lyrics. Heck, I was still working on my own script!

We are often so worried for the safety of today's child,that by our own fears we conscribe her, narrowly and deliberately limiting her exposure and her experiences tosafe, unchallengedroutes through her learning years. It takes courage and perhaps a faith of a type to deliberately bring our children into contact with blacksmiths, artists or self employed brave souls who could model independence of thought. Do I really want my children to find their own muse, whatever that might be?

Fortunate are the children with sufficient knowledge of their own artistic, creative, technical or emotional talents, possibilities or needs before 20;or perhaps 25, when the brain's growth has stabilized. God Bless the Child that’s Got His Own, sang a youngLady Day, Miss Billie Holliday, a long time ago.

From experimentation can come maturity, and with experimentation comes risk, I agree. I can nearly hear you saying that, your voice in my ear even as I write these thoughts. It's a flawed plan. One must test themselves to find out who they are, and in our world, there is little available testing ground before one is already charted, educated and squarely marching into the partially known. So, we make mistakes. Maybe it's a so what!sort of thing- go ahead and make mistakes, at least something is happening. Making mistakes might be the most critical education of all, for some.

Graduation! It's both a beginning, and it's an ending. Sometimes our script has no punctuation at all, but just serves as a marker on a shelf; a life's hold-all that can store varied books, many stories, and perhaps a box of tissue, some bandaging and some magic. Welcome to your universe, you cap and gowners! May good fortune light your quests. I wish you the world!