I read somewhere that when he was a kid, Jeff Bezos wanted to be an archeologist. A young Jennifer Lawrence planned to pursue medicine. George Clooney dreamed of playing baseball for a living. Life often takes us elsewhere. But isn’t it interesting how a life-time hobby can spring from a failed fantasy career? The more that I think about it, most of my favorite pastimes could have been professions, if only I had the talent, or the drive, or the paycheck.
Take my love of Harding basketball, for instance. My father and brother both played the sport well in high school, but somehow, the gene skipped me. I liked shooting hoops in our backyard, but making layups all alone is hardly a measure of talent. After a disastrous summer at Lipscomb Basketball Camp — where I may have caused the legendary coach Don Meyer to weep — I gave up on going pro. Now, I’m perfectly content watching on the sidelines.
Or consider this column. I’ve been writing weekly articles for “The Bison” since 2005, which is the fulfillment of a life-long dream. Having grown up reading Lewis Grizzard in “The Atlanta Journal- Constitution,” I just knew that I would someday be a full-time humorist. I’m grateful to have a space and an audience for all my nonsense, but clearly the goal of national syndication hasn’t panned out. And that’s OK. Even the book I published five years ago only brings in a tiny royalty check once per year. It just about covers the February water bill — with some left over if I don’t shower on Tuesdays.
Incidentally, that book also grew out of a shattered dream. Beginning with the day I saw David Copperfield perform magic on television in 1981, I set out to be the next great magician. And when a magic shop opened two doors down from the salon where my mother got her hair done, I suddenly had access to the tools of the trade. As I began to stockpile props for my touring illusion show — already Vegas-bound at age 11 — I had visons of my name in lights.
As amateur magic acts go, mine was not bad. I opened by putting three separate colored handkerchiefs in a clear plastic tube and then — poof ! — they came out knotted together. Miracles followed one after the next. I pulled yards of paper ribbons out of a seemingly empty box. I changed the colors of three 45 records. I turned a lighted candle — with a real flame and everything — into a bouquet of flowers. All my show lacked was an assistant in tights who could transform into a leopard.
Unfortunately, gigs were few and far between. My fourth-place showing in the school talent show wasn’t exactly the springboard I needed for the agents to call. I did a couple of free birthday parties, but the word-of-mouth advertising I hoped for never materialized. I did travel 457 miles for one performance at the Rotary Club in Obion, Tennessee, only to be paid with an egg-salad sandwich and a complimentary Obion County board game.
It did not take long to realize that I was no Houdini. So, as a favor to the art form, I retired at age 13, packed up my props and decided to pursue a career in teaching. But I’ve maintained my interest in magic and its history. The book I wrote is a biography of a pioneering female magician, which allowed me to combine my love of both writing and sleight-of-hand.
I’ve even gotten a few public speaking gigs out of it. And get this — one of them was at the Searcy Rotary Club. When I got up to give my talk, I mentioned that I had performed my magic act for a Rotary Club when I was 11. Then I gave the punchline: “This is the first time I’ve been invited back in 35 years.”
You never know quite where life will take you. A few lucky people can make their childhood career dreams come true. But you can also count yourself lucky if you find work that you love and can still hold onto your dreams by way of a hobby or two. I’ll never make a living as a writer or a basketball star or as a magician, but I love teaching English, and I still have a toe dipped in all the ponds of my childhood fancies.
So, I never became the next David Copperfield. But you won’t believe what happened a few months ago. He called me — yes, the man himself. To ask a question about my book.