Peddling Backwards

As we travel through life, we tuck our tales of experience into our repertoire, eager to pull them out for just the right audience, convinced that we can make the journey easier for others through caveats or by nudging them towards the doors easiest to open.

But when I look at my son, I realize, it’s best to stay quiet.

As a youth I was bold and brave, fearless in a way only innocence can allow. At nineteen-years-old, I eagerly walked into the Los Angeles Bureau of the Associated Press with a meager portfolio of black and whites and asked to work as a freelance photographer for the summer. The Bureau Chief looked me over and reached for my portfolio, an ugly fake wood-grain file held shut by an elastic band. He pulled the 8x10 glossies from the enclosure and rifled through them as I saw my life’s moments whiz by.

“The pros are much faster than college,” he said, dismissively tossing down the highlights of a year’s work upon his desk.

“I know,” I said, reaching to gather my photos. “But how can I prove I can do it if you don’t give me a chance?” Our eyes met and right then I knew I had won, my spirit more important than my expertise.

That night as I climbed down the stairs of Dodger Stadium, the fans screaming with enthusiasm, the artificial lights more jarring than daylight ever could be, I felt myself trembling. Weighed down by three cameras and my fear, I moved onto the field to the stares of the crowd and fellow photographers. At nineteen and a wisp of a girl, I couldn’t have looked more out of place or felt more disoriented.

But the crack of ball hitting bat sparked instinct. I focused and clicked and missed every important image.

The next day I dragged myself before the Bureau Chief, embarrassed, guilty, like a dog who’d misbehaved.

“How’d ya do?” he asked.

“Terrible. I was really nervous.” I could barely look up. “I need another chance.”

And I got it. And I shined, outshooting the staff photographer accompanying me, and getting published across the nation in assorted papers. The rest of that summer I shot for AP in L.A., and when the time came to return to college for my sophomore year, I started working for the bureau near my university thanks to the recommendation of the L.A. Bureau Chief.

So this should be my tale of courage and perseverance, but really, it is my tale of luck. When I walked into AP that day, I arrived with the perfect balance of innocence and guts and stumbled upon a willing recipient of my style. I could boast and advise my son to go after life in just the same way, and it could completely backfire.

The real story of courage is to sit back and allow my son to find his own path.

Sometimes it is better to reinvent the wheel, to ignore the advice of those who have traveled before you, and truly believe that you know how to do it in a bigger and better way because maybe you just do. I’d hate to see seasoned wisdom drench the fire of inexperience, for too much is lost as a result.

I no longer have the spirit that pushed me through the door of AP. Skinned knees and broken hearts, exploitive employers and senseless wars have robbed me of my priceless innocence. While I’ve learned from the rejections and the missteps, I’ve also grown more polished and practical along the way. That may serve me at times, but I also see that the adult me would politely walk out the door if greeted by a disinterested bureau chief.

So I’m coming to the defense of innocence and pledging not to tell my son of all the ways he can’t do something or all the ways he can. I will only seek to feed his confidence so that he too can have his turn to deny the impossible, a unique state best associated with dreamers and the young.

I will strive to keep quiet, and when I slip up and proudly start to share a piece of wisdom with my son only to be greeted by his rolling eyes, I will smile and think back on my younger self longingly, envious. Maybe my son’s disdain can help me peddle backwards and return to the place where absence of knowledge was the key to courage. Rather than teaching my son, I will look into his eyes and try to learn from him. Maybe I can still blaze some trails of my own.


Emily said...

I loved this story of your brave young self! Have you read Anne Lamott? Your writing of your son reminds me of her writing about the relationship she has with her son.

Unknown said...

Yes, here is to innocence. I believe we all have the ability to realize our dreams.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have run across your story. At 48 years-of-age I am embarking on a new career in film production of all things - certainly no guarantee of success. Yet, I have never been more excited or enthusiastic about a venture nor more ready to meet a challenge. I attribute it to the same innocence you cite – I just don’t know any better. Even though life has dragged me “beneath the wheel” as Hesse might say, I have chosen to believe as Picasso has said, “Youth has no age.”