Not-so-little R. has a friend (M.) who is a very gifted pianist, and hopes to enter a conservatory after high school; but he is concerned that he has not been able to practice as much as he would like. As NSLR was telling me this, I thought of a conversation--many conversations, really--that I have had with my mother and others about work, art and single-mindedness. Specifically, we were recently talking about the fact that a person who is able to practice the piano four or five hours a day must actually like practicing the piano four or five hours a day.
MomVee: It seems really unfair that there is no such thing as professional reader, because that is really the only thing I have ever wanted to do for four or five hours straight every day of my life.
NSLR: Not even writing?
MV: Maybe. I mean, I guess if you were a literary agent, or an editor at a publishing house...but still. What I'm really looking for is a job where you read a novel, and at the end of the day someone asks you about it, and sometimes you talk, but other times you say you really don't feel like talking about it, and then they give you $800.
NSLR: A reviewer?
MV: Yes, but you have to be a journalist or an academic first, really. You know, one time when Grandpop was working at Big Corporation, they had a team-building exercise, and they went around the room and each man [they were all men] was supposed to say what his dream job was. Every single man there said he would like to work at Home Depot, except Grandpop. He said he'd either like to be God or a book reviewer for the New York Times.* Which Nana and I thought was so weird, because who wants to be God? That would be terrible.
NSLR: I was very surprised when M. told me he didn't want to be God. I thought everybody did.
MV: Two kinds of people in the world, I guess!
NSLR: Yes. In fact, I thought it was the defining characteristic of humanity. I spent about 20 minutes trying to convince M. he was wrong about how he felt.
MV: Attempting to exercise a Godlike power.
MV: Two kinds of people in the world: people who want to be God and people who don't realize they want to be God. Of course, that meeting was a spooky kind of déjà vu for Grandpop, because of the engineering thing.
NSLR: What's that?
MV: Oh, have you never heard that story? When Grandpop first went to Supersecret College, he was in the Engineering School, and they had a pre-orientation orientation just for engineers. You spent a week trying out all the different kinds--he did a little surveying, which he liked. Anyway, on the first day they went around the room and each man was supposed to say why he wanted to be an engineer. Grandpop said [this was less than two years after Sputnik] "Well, I like math, and my guidance counselor said I should be an engineer." And every single other person said something like, "Ever since I was a tiny tot, I have enjoyed taking apart radios and alarm clocks and putting them back together better than they were before!" And Grandpop thought, "Oh no." Turns out...
NSLR: He liked pure mathematics.
An interesting note: M. likes pure math, too. If the piano thing doesn't work out, his backup plan is to be a math teacher. So he's way ahead of many of us on several counts. I'm a little envious of M. and his self-knowledge, frankly.
*This is one of two stories that make me wincingly realize how much my father must have hated his job.