Pursue Your Dreams! (A Better Endings memoir)

Having moved back to my high-school hometown for over a year and a half already, I have had time to reflect on those formative years of my life, as this not-so-little village I live in now did indeed propel me into the adult life adventures and careers I have forged.  Adventure is the keyword here, as I was fortunate to have had a highly adventuresome life as a teen and through, well, the rest of my life and forth!

As a teenager, I had a best friend Barb, who is still but twenty minutes away today.  Barb and I claimed our own freedom, regularly.  For one type of frequent adventure, we snuck out!  We never did anything “wrong” or illegal; we just enjoyed the thrill of escaping into the night from her or my basement, to walk, talk, and be free. A few of our escapades were particularly memorable, and I realize now how they were a setup for me to learn about the creative principle of ‘better endings’.

It was sometime in January, 1971.  Barb and I were 17 yo each.  She was the best artist in our high-school class, and I was a would-be poet/dramatist/creative writer.  We entertained the goal of living in New York City, where our art and creative juices could be better harnessed and thrive.    Since our art was our ideal, we felt at 17 that we were ready; impatient to have to wait yet another year to graduate and launch into our ambitions. So one night, having met a pair of guys in Niagara Falls saying they were from New Jersey and would be returning there the next morning, we talked it over and decided it was time: we would sneak out and walk the seven miles or so to the Falls to meet up with these fellows who could take us to The City, where we would begin our artistic careers.

As it was winter with deep snow outside, we decided that rather than carrying suitcases—which would have been too obvious for anyone looking for us anyways—we would stay warm by wearing all the clothes we would need to get a new start. We wore three pairs of jeans each and several shirts and sweaters under our coats. And as we did not have watches (long before cell phones!), we would chain-smoke (yes) Virginia Slims to keep track of time, around seven minutes per light (In retrospect: yuck!).  We left letters for our families: we loved them but we were old enough and ready to launch our artistic careers.

Then we left. We got started probably around 2 o’clock am.  We silently maneuvered up the stairs from Barb’s basement and out the sliding doors to the back yard.  We were free!  We walked quickly along the road and through backyards until we reached the Escarpment (carved out by giant glaciers and defining the upper boundary of the village community we were leaving).  We started climbing through the woods and deep snow, straight up to the top of the escarpment, which took us a couple of hours or so, so we reached the top of the escarpment around 5 or 5:30 am.  From here we would need but to walk the six miles to the Falls by 8 or so to meet up with the fellows who had offered us a ride to NYC.

But then, I realized: my grandmother was visiting.  I could bear leaving the family with the letter we had written, but my grandmother would be very disappointed.  I could not do that to her! Okay, so we decided to go back to Barb’s, but now we had a short time before her mother would be up.  So, we literally SLID down the escarpment using our coats as sleds, surely in record time had there been any means for comparison!  Then we ran, again literally ran, the mile or so further, and slipped back into Barb’s basement by around 6:45am. Fifteen minutes later, Barb’s mother was up and soon came to the top of the basement stairs to announce that breakfast was ready! 

So here is the ‘better endings’ aspect of this memorable adventure: First, the experience itself contained a ‘better ending’ twist: we decided to turn back and not complete the journey as planned, but rather to complete high-school and then go after our creative dreams. 

Second, Barb did become a highly successful artist—a painter and a wax figure sculptor who has filled whole museums with her work in the US and Ireland.  And I have become an author in addition to being a professor of Anthropology, both of which I love dearly.  We pursued and have achieved our creative ambitions, and I feel that our teenage escapades were a big part of our later determination to follow our bliss, as Campbell would say, and Live Our Dreams, Now!

pictures are from pixabay.com

So, pursue your dreams! Allowing that you may find even better ‘better endings’ along the way, every step forward carves out the direction you choose to forge into the reality of the life you CHOOSE to live!

So, how about you? Were there formative experiences in your younger years that set the stage for your own self-realization through the years? Is there an escapade you could plan yet today to propel you even further, to fulfill your deepest ambitions? 

My Parallel Life as a Nanny


I was 22; it was the summer before my senior year at college in Buffalo, New York.  I had been working as an usher that summer at Artpark, a then newly established performing arts center in my beloved home town of Lewiston, New York.  This summer I was serving as head usher.  Somehow connected to that role, I met the world-renowned conductor of a visiting symphony orchestra.  After chatting a bit with him and his wife, they invited me to come with them the next day (!) to New York City, to become a nanny for their two young boys.

There’s a backstory to relate.  I had long wanted, since my early college years, to go to live in New York City. I wanted to be a writer there, hanging out in dimly lit coffeehouses, writing poetry and stories on copious napkins while sipping tea and tuning into the folk music scene of emerging NYC artists. The sudden offer to move to NYC as a nanny to a famous conductor’s family seemed like manna from heaven; a golden ticket to the life of my dreams.

I didn’t go.  I told myself it was because I needed to finish my last year at college and to go on from there to graduate school; both of which, I did.  But for several years I wondered, what might have happened, if?  If I had answered ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to that once-in-a-lifetime offer? So let me imagine now, in this Better Endings blog, what might have followed if I had been adventurous and brash enough to ‘seize the day’ back then?

Johnny and Marcelo grew up to become a folk musician and a chiropractor, fulfilling their own personal ambitions and well supported by their loving parents. Though they had been privileged as youngsters, their parents’ values and my own as their nanny had taught them the value of self-reliance, hard work and altruism. They matured to become not only well mannered but also kind, considerate, thoughtful human beings who were also quite generous, each in their way.  Johnny married a songwriter and formed a musical family of his own; Marcelo moved to San Francisco with his longterm partner, a ballet artist, and he established a thriving chiropractic firm.

Through the years as the conductor’s family nanny I was able to travel to many wonderful cities and countries around the world. I finished my B.A. in English by taking night classes at Columbia University. Eventually, after the boys were grown, I earned an MFA in creative writing. I became a journalist and a part-time writing teacher and coach, author of a regular column for over a decade in The Village Voice that promoted and researched the offerings of up and coming NYC writers. I published a small book of poetry of my own when I was thirty, and I landed quite a few stories in The New Yorker and in the Atlantic Monthly magazines, among others, over the years. I never wrote the Great American Novel, although I reviewed quite a few promising young authors aiming to succeed in that direction. I never discovered my now seemingly inherent passion for science fiction or quantum physics, nor for anthropology or linguistics, much. I did explore spirituality and discovered the very approach that I practice today. I never lived in Arizona or in Zuni, New Mexico or Colorado, so I never met the friends I have been close to there.  But I improved my fluency in French and in Italian and I aim to retire to Arles, where Van Gogh found such vibrancy in the quality of light and in the interconnectedness of a community from which he himself, however, felt removed.

It was a good life, one parallel to the life I might have lived had I answered ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ to an offer to be a nanny.


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