Not Interviewing Mandela

Times I have interviewed a famous rock star: 0

Times I had to admit this fact at Career Day: 8

Kids I caught sleeping with their eyes open while I babbled: 2

I have never kicked back with Nelson Mandela. Or offered a Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut Bar to Daniel Craig.  Now that we have that out in the open, please pretend that you still respect me.

But really, Career Day and the five highly revelatory presentations I gave to the fifth graders were pretty darn good. I did sit through the cardio-thoracic surgeon’s presentation and wonder what I had to show for the last 12 years of my life that was equal to medical school, two residencies and specialized heart transplant surgical training, but otherwise, I came out unscathed.

Question asked with the most frequency: have I ever interviewed anyone famous? This is a loaded question. Maybe some of the people I’ve interviewed have considered themselves famous (writers, artists, politicians), but by fifth grade standards, I was forced to answer a definitive no. I watched as my shining “Writer” badge grew tarnished in front of their very eyes.

But I have held the shiny iridescent fabric to light a reporter’s face while they are speaking on camera. Is that amazing? No? Or what about the time when Steve Miller punched the CNN cameraman while I was working there? No? Or when I helped cover the 1992 elections when Bill Clinton was elected? Seriously. That was a lifetime ago, quite literally, for them.

The Career Day concept was to get the kids thinking about their interests, get them serious about making good grades in the long haul and give them advice about what kind of education they would need for a career in a specific field. It kind of made me tired.

All of the stress, angst, confusion, and self-doubt… it hasn’t even started happening to them yet. They are pre-career worry. They are fifteen career considerations away from an actual career. They haven’t had a nightmare about being back in college and the final exam is here, but they forgot to attend any of the classes. They still believe all that stuff people say about being whatever you want to be, right before you start failing Calculus (just a random example).

What I told them: keep up the grades, keep learning always, keep up your curiosity about the world around you. Take criticism and learn from it. And realize that the bog-standard, regular people around you are pretty amazing. Even if they’ve never interviewed Mandela.

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The Glamorous Life

Yes, Sheila E. was singing about me.

Fifth graders I will convince that being a writer is cooler than being a heart surgeon: 2

Loads of laundry I wash per week: 7

Loads of clean laundry in residence on our guest room bed: 7

So, Thursday is Career Day for the fifth graders at my kids’ school. Guess who’s representing the “Artist” category? C’est moi.

The super-organized, kind school counselor has followed up with me… twice. Whether she did this with everyone or only the ditzy writer-y types, I’m not sure. But I’m really going over what nuggets of wisdom I can pass along to inspire the artistically-inclined ones to come over to the dark side. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Freelance writers can wear whatever they like and work wherever they like.

What I want them to envision: Me, sitting at an outdoor cafe in Paris in the springtime, the color of my laptop matched perfectly to the shade of my strappy high heels. I am wearing an Anthropologie-inspired dress in an effortless, detached way, and my light-as-baby’s-breath scarf is being swept up in the wind. I have perfect posture. My agent will meet me in an hour to beg me for something, anything, because everyone is awaiting my next bestseller.

The reality: Me, slumping at the desk in ten-year-old pajamas and a bathrobe, taking breaks every now and then to check out the “Wonderwall” and notice the dust bunnies that my imaginary maid never seems to vacuum up.

2. Being a writer is a calling. It chooses you.

What I want them to envision: God lining up the writers of the world and doing some sort of knighting ritual that bestows us all with excellent word choice and endless amounts of inspiration.

The reality: When people started talking about e-mail and the Information Superhighway in college, I thought they were nuts. Although I had no inclination for techie things, my lack of vision eliminated me from the pool of 401K superheroes who laughed all the way to the bank when they fooled us all about the world coming to an end because of the “Y2K problem.” In addition, it took me too many years (but thankfully, I finally got it) to figure out that in choosing a partner, long hair and the whole “Artist” title meant “broke.”

3. Interviewing and writing about people is fascinating.

What I want them to envision: Me (in a tailored Tahari suit) sitting down to loaded nachos on the Isle of Capri with Eric Clapton, or the President, or no, someone they’d know, like Adele or Flo Rida.

The reality: It really is fascinating. I have met the most amazing people, from a chainsaw sculptor to a couple with two kids with cystic fibrosis who started a local road race to raise funds. For one story, I met a gracious family whose kids got backpacks filled with food so they wouldn’t go hungry over the weekend. The little kindergartner was sitting on the front porch, coloring in a coloring book… and all he had was a pencil. I gave him a pen I kept in my purse that had blue, green, red and black ink and I’ve wished several times over the years that I’d kept the directions and driven back with a pack of crayons.

All these lives, and all these people who allow me to listen to them. And then I get to write about it. How lucky am I?