19 January 2008

At age 25? J'aurais éclaté de rire.

In a comment a few days ago, Claude of Blogging in Paris told me she thought I should answer a meme she had answered on her own blog. I resisted at first, but then the questions kept swirling around in my mind as I was trying to go to sleep at night or starting to wake up in the morning.

A meme is basically a questionnaire — the same, or « même », set of questions that other bloggers have answered on their blog. Autolycus, for example, who sometimes comments here, has also responded to this meme. (I recently realized that I know him from an Internet forum we both participate in.)

Okay, on to the meme. The task: list five things in your life now that, when you were 25 years old, you would never have imagined would be part of your experience.

I turned 25 in 1974. By then, I had already left my native North Carolina to go to Illinois for graduate school. As a student and teacher, I had spent 6 months in Aix-en-Provence and 9 months in Rouen. France was already a big part of my life and I think I knew it always would be. Learning to speak French was and is my life's biggest accomplishment. I got my masters degree in French literature when I was 25. I was working toward a career in teaching, and hoped to become a university professor.

Walt. The most important part of my life that I couldn’t predict at age 25 was to be my meeting Walt six or seven years later. That meeting radically shifted the course of my existence. At 25, I knew I wanted the kind of relationship that he and I now have and that we have had for 25 years now. I just didn't know it was possible.

In fact, one day years later an old friend asked me how it all happened, and whether it was a surprise to me when it did. I told her no, that somehow I had always known I would meet Walt. Then I realized that was silly, because of course I didn’t know. It’s just that I knew that I wanted to meet somebody like Walt, and I was ready to try to build a life with him when I was lucky enough to meet him.

If a clairvoyant had told me I would end up meeting this person in Paris, I probably would not have been surprised. And that’s what happened.

Washington. I had wanted to live and work in Washington for years, so at 25 if a fortune-teller had predicted that I would do so I wouldn’t have been surprised. Washington was the natural big city for somebody from North Carolina to end up in.

When I did leave Paris in 1982 to go to DC, I lucked into a job as a translator. I worked on the French edition of a magazine published by the U.S. government. The editor who hired me is one of my closest friends today, and I learned more about the French language from him than I had learned in 7 years of university classes and 7 years of living in France. I wouldn't have been ready, of course, or hired, without the basics and the literary references I learned in school or without the conversational fluency and real-world experience I had gotten in France.

After a couple of years I left the translator’s job and became a reporter/writer/editor. If at 25 someone had told me that in 10 years’ time I would be traveling around as part of the press corps covering the charismatic president Samora Machel of Mozambique and president Seyne Kountché of Niger, with his band of gun-toting bodyguards; interviewing Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King’s sister Christine Farris for a magazine article about the King Center in Atlanta; and flying off to Africa on Air Force II with Vice-President George H.W. Bush (and 250 of his intimate associates and invited guests) for a tour of famine relief camps in Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, and Mali, plus a UN conference in Geneva, I would not have believed it. I can hardly believe it now.

California. I certainly would never have predicted that I would end up spending half my work career in California, and at 25 I would have laughed if anybody had told me that was going to happen. I needed to leave Washington because the policies and politics of the Reagan years were just too depressing. However, I was so focused on France that I had never had the least desire to relocate to the U.S. West Coast (with all the other fruits and nuts, as we said back then).

Walt did have that desire, however, because through work connections he was able to go to California to complete his university studies despite our lack of resources (he ended up with a couple of masters degrees from Berkeley). And I had two good friends who had moved out there after spending time in France and Champaign-Urbana, so I said, "Why not? They love it. Let’s go." After I agonized for a year, of course. The California dreaming lasted nearly18 years.

Software. In 1986, I had no idea what I was going to do to make a living in California. I was in my late 30s and needed to get settled in a career or at least a job before I turned 40. I had fantasies about working as a writer, maybe in the wine industry, and about using my French in San Francisco, which I hoped would more resemble Paris than Washington DC. I did go back into teaching French, but only part-time, giving evening or weekend classes at S.F. City College for several years.

Neither of my main career ideas panned out, though. I ended up working for three years as managing editor of a computer magazine. Then one of my above-mentioned old friends, who had moved to California nearly a decade before I did, called me and said I should come to work as an editor in the software company where she was working. It was a top-flight company called Software Publishing Corporation. I interviewed and got the editor’s job. That led to a job at Apple Computer’s software subsidiary, Claris Corp. Then I got laid off, and the nature of the Silicon Valley software industry changed from a focus on end-users like me to a more corporate orientation, and I hated it. Actually, I never really liked working in software documentation, even though I worked with a lot of very talented and interesting people while I was there.

Country living. Now if at 25 I had been told that I would be living in France by the time I was 55, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But if somebody had told me I would be living out in the country, I would have laughed. Paris, okay. But tromping around in the mud, walking a dog? Hanging clothes out on the line to dry them outdoors? Ha ha ha. Heating with a wood stove? Spending most mornings doing nothing more challenging than blogging and cooking something good for lunch? Going for days at a time without starting the car? You're kidding. Never getting on a bus or subway any more? Plowing the ground with a rototiller to plant a vegetable garden when I am nearly 60 years old? Scraping, sanding, and painting the walls in several rooms of my house? At my age? Naaaa.

This would all have seemed perfectly hilarious when I was 25.

What ever happened to that old song about keepin’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? We’ve put a new twist on that one.


  1. Loved this entry...What a great, interesting and I'm sure satisfying life you've had so far.

    Thanks for sharing so much of yourself and your life in this blog. I look forward to reading it everyday.

    Victoria, Bellingham,WA

  2. Fascinating what this tells us about how our own perspectives on our lives change, isn't it?

  3. Once again, I'm extremely flattered by what you say about me, even though it is grossly exaggerated. Our association, in Washington, D.C., was a lot of fun, but it was not a one way street. I also learned a lot from you, notably the perception of the English language which was so useful, and necessary, in our line of work. And, in the process, I got myself two very close friends. Thank you Ken.

  4. Thank you for giving us a peek of "votre cheminement personnel"

  5. This is a masterpiece! Your achievements in life, step by step, and the writing of this entry. Congratulations and thank you!

  6. This was fascinating to read. It sounds like Walt and France are the constants in your life. I'm glad you have both. Sharing your lives with us daily is a gift we readers appreciate.

  7. Wow! What a story! And I really like the perspective...

    Thanks for sharing it. I feel like I know you a lot better.

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  8. Ha ha ha! I knew it! Resistance is futile when one sees a good meme! :)
    I just loved the way you wrote this one.
    The other day, I read that meme meant me me, moi moi? Wish I could remember where I read that, but maybe the person was mistaken. Still, I think it's a good description of what a meme is. Memes are rarely interesting but I thought this one with a focus on things past was a good one. I enjoyed reading it, but that is no surprise ;)
    I like reading you!

  9. Cool post, cool meme. And thanks for reminding me that we were all once 25...

  10. Betty C , this reminds me of Charles Aznavour's song Hier Encore:
    Hier encore j'avais vingt ans
    Je caressais le temps et jouais de la vie
    Comme on joue de l'amour et je vivais la nuit
    Sans compter sur mes jours qui fuyaient dans le temps

    J'ai fait tant de projets qui sont restés en l'air
    J'ai fondé tant d'espoirs qui se sont envolés


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