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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Paths Not Taken

When I was small, I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Astronaut was my number one pick, followed closely by actor. Writer came in third.

You pretty much have to be a genius to be an astronaut, so that career was ruled out early on. I did make a go of acting, performing in school plays from grade school right on up to high school, staying active in the drama club and, encouraged by my Grade Nine drama teacher, auditioning for a television role in 1984. I didn't get the role, but I did become one of the show's two co-hosts.

One failed pilot later spelled the end of my media career. Sometimes I wonder what might have been different had the pilot been picked up, or had I pursued an offer to work on other projects for the network. Instead I went back to school and found that I enjoyed writing more and more. By the time I went back to the CBC, arts degree in hand, the recession of the 90s had hit and they weren't hiring anyone, least of all a rookie with barely any experience.

I no longer dream of being an astronaut (except literally every couple of months), but I still feel the acting bug from time to time. I don't claim to be good, but I wasn't terrible - at the very least, I was good enough to make it through a round of professional auditions and claim a closely-related job.

At the very least, it would be fun to gather some friends again, as I used to do during my university years, and gently coerce them into playing roles in my terrible home movies.

I'm the first to admit that I've been very fortunate; since the mid-to-late 90s I've enjoyed a wealth of rare experiences, and I can actually make a living doing something I love. But one can't help but wonder how things might have gone otherwise.


"Power Jeff" said...

Tutorbot's logic circuits were warm almost to the point of overheat. The children in his class had done very well on their civics aptitude exam, but their datapoints were far outside the norm. Instead of the expected bell curve grade distribution, the students' grades were nearly uniform and almost perfect. Tutorbot suspected collusion.

Further to the point, the children exuded what could be interpreted as a self-satisfied smugness, almost as if they knew their grades in advance. Yet no class could ever pass the civics aptitude by cheating: the whole purpose of civapt education was to normalize social compliance over personal goals. The children simply felt good about writing their exam, and their confidence and proficiency gave them a substantial edge over their peers.

Tutorbot filed the remedial civics lesson until next term. Instead, Tutorbot launched a new program,

"Class, please engage your viewies, I have a new item for you."

In unison, the children directed their learndesk feeds into Tutorbot's server port. The viewie began:

"As you know, the ancient Imperial city of Liangu was founded on the edge of the mighty river Li.

Even in the early times, Liangu was a major hub of trade, culture, and industry. It attracted so many people that not all were able to live in comfort, despite the decree of the Emperor.

One such man decided to see for himself what lay beyond the city walls. The border guards, sufficiently bribed, docked his hukou card and sent him along the rocky path to the riverside. Unfortunately, the man's shoes were cheap, and by the time he had reached the river's edge, both shoes were broken beyond repair and his feet were painful and bloodied.

Yet the river provided decent refuge: a calm beach, a short cliff facing the water with a natural cave that was currently uninhabited, and sufficient food and drink as long as you did not mind drinking river water and eating fish. Interestingly, the river was also the conduit for an amazing variety of items that had been abandoned by the city-dwellers upstream. Furniture without cushions, empty spice boxes, flatboards, tureens, and even a valveless arena trumpet all floated in the gentle, constant river current, along with a thousand other things a day. The man was amazed at how wasteful a city could be.

Power Jeff" (a) said...


Living in the cave, he gradually came to accumulate a large number of cast-off belongings. He reasoned that he could return these things to the city for a substantial price. The terrible rock path stopped him from going very far.

The first few discarded shoes that had floated to him from upriver were the wrong size for his feet. Finally, the man found a waterlogged boot that fit, but there was only one. Despite his best efforts, all he could do with one boot was to succeed walking in circles. Embarrassed with himself, the man imagined his city friends laughing at his roundabout path.

The man decided to remain until such time as someone found him. Before long, he had a formidable collection of pieces, and to pass the time, he assembled the various broken and soaked bits of floating debris into tall and magnificent works of art. The longer he persevered, the more ornate the artwork became, and the river never ceased supplying materials to add to his collection. If anything as the months passed, the amount of things the city-dwellers threw into the river increased. The man envisioned that his towers of art were large enough to be seen from the distant city walls.

Perhaps they were, but as is the nature of rivers which are clogged with debris, the Li eventually piled enough junk downriver to form a natural dam. Overnight the waters rose and filled the cave and took down the majestic towers as easily as would a child grasp at long strands of grass. By the light of morning's dawn, there was no sign at all remaining that anybody had ever lived on the riverbank.

Such is the nature of rivers: after a complacency comes renewal.

A boulder left in a desert will eventually be ground into sand. At its heart may lie a fiery and indestructible diamond, but likely there will be nothing remaining. Even so, the rock becomes the sand, and sand has its own value to the universe."

The viewie self-terminated. The children fidgeted uncomfortably in the silence.

Earl J. Woods said...

Yes, I guess that's about the size of it. Beautifully expressed, though, Jeff, as always.

"Power Jeff" (b) said...

Thanks, Earl. I had written a sequence devoted to the sacking and utter demolition of Liangu by barbarians, thus potentially killing off all the city dwellers, and then another segment describing how the Emperor restored the city with the assistance of a single particular grain of sand...

... but that all was very lengthy and took away from the point. The other two parts would have just been wish-fulfilment anyways.