We’ve all made decisions in our lives that have taken us down one path rather than another. Whether to get married. And to whom. Whether to have children. Whether to take this job or another. Whether to pursue further education. Of course, some of these decisions may have been made for us.
I often ponder writing a novel, or two, based on some of the life decisions that have sent me one way rather than the other. What if? It would involve imagining what my life would have been like had I gone down a very different path. But I tried my hand at fiction writing once and I’m very happy someone invented the paper shredder. Nevertheless, I still toy with the idea from time to time.
When my father became frustrated with his job at the telephone company in Toronto, he looked into buying a farm. Never mind that he hadn’t grown up on a farm or ever worked on one. I was 14 years old and very excited at the prospect. I don’t recall what kind of farm it was, but all I could think of – having watched too many Bonanza episodes – was riding horses, rustling cattle, wearing a cowboy hat and living in a rustic log house. Having now worked on a farm – for precisely three days – I realize what a shock it would have been for this city boy to have confronted the hard reality of farm life. It has the potential for a good coming-of-age story, though, entitled something along the lines of Mike of Mucking Stables. My parents bought a restaurant instead.
At 16, after my second year of Grade 10, I announced to my parents that I wanted to quit school and go into the fruit and vegetable business full-time. I’d spent the previous two summers running a very popular fruit and vegetable stand outside my parents’ restaurant and was bitten by the entrepreneurial spirit. A local farmer delivered piles of fresh corn early every morning, along with potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, green and yellow beans, red and green peppers. It was a rare day that I didn’t sell the whole lot. I should do this full-time, I reckoned. My father, however, poured cold water on that half-baked scheme when he asked what I planned to do during the winter. Had I pursued that path, it would have led to either a success story – The Merchant of Lettuce – or, more likely, a disaster – The Fool Who Quit School.
At 20, unemployed, newly arrived in Vancouver, and unable to get newspaper work, I applied for just about every job posted in the classified ads, including work in a nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba. And I was disappointed I didn’t get it. I shudder now just thinking about what my life would have been like had I been hired, in an industry I knew nothing about, in a town I’d never heard of, in a job involving, I’m quite certain, considerable physical labour, which I’ve spent a lifetime trying to avoid. But if I used my imagination, I’m sure it would provide great literary fodder. I could call it The Rockface Files.
When I finally did find a job, it was in a menswear store catering to a clientele of modest means. Having gained considerable weight while unemployed, I had to borrow some of my father’s sports jackets, dress pants and dress shoes until I could buy my own. I started at minimum wage, hoping someday to graduate to commission like the older salesmen I was working with. When the opportunity came to take a job as the sports editor of a community weekly newspaper, I was torn, but I eventually opted for storytelling over suit selling. Again, what if? The book title would be obvious: Gasher the Haberdasher.
Years later, I quit newspaper reporting to pursue higher education, with no idea where it would lead. One of my first thoughts was to teach French immersion at the primary school level. I was studying French after all, such programs were very popular in B.C. at the time, and there was considerable demand for qualified teachers. Of course, I’d never taught before and had no experience presiding over large groups of pre-teens. “Hey kids, let’s conjugate être!” That notion crumbled very quickly. I imagine the story would be titled Le Misérable.
Of course, should any of these pie-in-the-sky notions turn into an actual novel, the next step would be pitching it to a publisher, deciding which genre would be most appropriate. Humour? Or horror?