Thursday, May 26, 2011

This or That? Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Choices seem to be constant. Do I wear the blue shirt or the white shirt? Do I have eggs or cereal for breakfast? Do I ignore the guy who dangerously cut in front of me or do I chase him down and ram his expensive I’m-having-a-mid-life-crisis sports car with my completely unremarkable I’d-love-to-have-a-mid-life-crisis-but-I-don’t-have-the-time minivan? Some choices are more typical than others.

When you’re young decisions are made willy-nilly, indifferent to their ramifications. Do I wear the blue shirt from the top of the pile or the white-ish shirt from the bottom which is irretrievably wrinkled but smells better? Do I have Oreos or Twinkies for breakfast? Do I ignore the beautiful redhead moving down the hall towards algebra class or do I just let her ignore me because she does it astonishingly well? Some choices are more emotionally painful than others.

There are, of course, some decisions which have longer term consequences. Say you are an eighteen year old person who has always loved television and movies so when heading off to college you select film studies as your major. That decision made perfect sense at the time and it was arrived upon with deliberation and following all proper goal setting protocols. Then upon graduating, six and half years later, (some other choices were made which will not be gotten into at this time) you find you are qualified for working retail sales jobs. This leads to more choices some of which you made with the same uncanny ability to perfectly predict what would lead to nearly the right thing.

My own children have gotten to the point they are actual people, not just shorter facsimiles thereof, and they are making decisions which will create rewards or penalties on down the line. This means I have another choice. Do I step in and try to convince them to do the things I think they should do? Not so much because I made stellar decision after stellar decision but rather so they can learn from the bone-hea..uh, less than stellar decisions I’ve lived through.

Most every parent faces this conundrum. Do I simply encourage my children to follow their bliss or should I hammer home they must be responsible and able to support themselves with gainful employment? At this particular juncture in my life I am really leaning towards the follow your bliss side of the debate.

When it comes right down to it the lack of success in my field was due to my lack of gumption. I shied away from making the leap and putting myself in uncomfortable situations and simply stuck with selling books to people. Hey, I was really good at it.

Each of my children is talented and very interested in the artistic aspects of the world. Emilyjane is a singer and has shown great skill in musical theater. Alice loves playing her clarinet and dedicates herself to music. George has worked hard on his violin skills and spends his free time exploring literature and history. The likelihood of any of my children making tons of money and buying my way into a really swanky retirement village is slim to none. Which is just fine with me. (Hey, I can always fall back on my mad cash register skills.) I hope beyond hope they are able to follow their passions and also pay the bills for their own modest, yet safe, lifestyles. Poor and happy is possible while middle class and grumpy is much more prevalent.

Over the last few years I have communicated with a guy who is truly successful in Hollywood. He is not a star and does not pull in huge salaries. If I were to tell you his name I doubt any of you would recognize it. He is a comedy writer. He has worked on shows like The Drew Carey Show and The Simpsons (those are shows many people would recognize). He makes a living.

If a doppelganger is a replica of an individual this gentleman is my wishicouldaganger. He was inspired to become a comedy writer by watching The Dick Van Dyke Show and Johnny Carson, me too. He worked crummy retail jobs in his early years, me too. He wants to be funny, me too. He wants to work with funny people, me too. He wants to have a happy healthy family, me too. He showed the grit and sacrifice to get there, me…

Hey, kids, (not just the ones who live in my house) follow your bliss with determination.

Christopher Pyle feels the bliss when he is with his family and when he comes up with a solid joke. You can contact him at

Friday, May 13, 2011

This Isn't the Way I Thought it Worked

I have frequently complained about how the world works but truthfully I have a very good life. My whining is warranted in my mind but when compared with people who are living genuinely crummy lives I should just shut up. Will I? Nope.
This is my current rant: The people who do everything “right” do not get the occasional leg up that living right is supposed to afford them.

Here is my personal case in point. My daughter is getting ready to go to college so we have been jumping through more hoops than a trained poodle working for Barnum and Bailey. The main goal is to figure out a way she can go to school without setting up a standing weekly appointment for the whole family to sell our plasma. Higher education is expensive. I’m starting to think it might be cheaper to build a college and hire a bunch of professors.

This is what I thought I was supposed to do. Go to college. (Check) Get a job. (Check) Get married. (Check) Return to college to improve our lives together. (Check) Get a better job. (Check) Have children. (Check) Raise them to be individuals who value kindness, posses a strong work ethic, spread humor and stuff like that. (Check) Get a graduate level degree in order to improve all of our lives. (Check) Not get divorced. (Check) Avoid going into irretrievable levels of debt (Check, but that was a close one) Send my children to college so they can start their own adventure through the circle of life. (Not so fast my friend)

Because I swallowed the American dream hook, line and sinker my kids (and I) will now borrow something equivalent to the budget deficit of Texas to facilitate getting my children the college education which was always peddled to me as an integral component of success. This is proof that my own education was not complete. I never learned to use my own personal empirical evidence to the contrary as a method of contradicting the aforementioned reverie of the United States. I did learn to use big words and stuff.

Here is my empirical evidence. My first college degree was in Film Studies. This meant I was eminently qualified to work at a video rental store, which I did for the first few years out of college which was also what I did while I was in college. See the degree made all the difference in the world. I made more money after college because I had more time to devote to my minimum wage job. My second degree was in elementary education. This meant I no longer worked for an hourly wage. It also meant I got to re-live my college years because every other meal consisted of Ramen Noodles and my furniture came from stores which also sold tires, milk and shaving cream. My graduate degree was in Education Administration. I was now able to earn the money which made it possible to buy a house and go to an honest to goodness couch store but not to properly maintain college funds for the kiddos.

So even though all that book learning did not lead to financial gains and the posh life I still value the education I received because I firmly believe it made me a more fully rounded, intelligent, caring human being which is really what I was after. I hope my children can get that out of their schooling as well.

Now back to the point of my rant. So my wife and I both went to college and then proceeded to get advanced degrees. We worked hard, not coal miner hard or Afghanistan soldier hard or Goldman Sachs CEO hard (it takes a lot of effort to beat down basic human compassion to that level) but our noses have grindstone scars. We made sacrifices in order to give our children what we thought was most important for them (love, attention, solid nutrition, frequent hugs, giggles and belly laughs, bedtime stories and all that Ozzie and Harriet stuff). But now when we look for scholarships and the like we find the grand majority of those are designed for very distinct demographics described by characteristics we do not possess.

It turns out I should have dropped out of high school, divorced their mother, possibly even arranged to have my permanent mailing address be 25-2-Life Penitentiary Avenue if I wanted my 3.98 GPA oldest daughter to receive some federal aid to go to university.