I was at my sister's house a few years ago for a family function, not sure of the actual occasion, when my daughter Amanda, who was three years into her degree in journalism at NYU casually said, "You know, maybe I should be a doctor." I don't think anyone was prepared for my visceral reaction when I turned and said, "No, damn it, you are going to be a journalist. Someone is going to make a career from the creative talents that have been running through this family for years. You are not going to be a doctor!"
Even though my reaction may have been over-the-top I'm not to blame for this outburst. You know who I do blame? I blame my grandmother on my mother's side. She's the one that started all this. Sure, she's been dead for nearly 50 years but that doesn't get her off-the-hook. She knows what she did -- she's the one that put the curse on this family's creativity.
Let me explain.
When my grandfather came to this country he was an opera singer. Per their request he was specifically invited to America to audition for the Metropolitan Opera. That was his calling. That is until he met my grandmother Josephine. I'm not sure what power she held over him (okay, we all know what power all women hold over us men) but when he asked her to marry her she said no. She said she could not marry a man who did not have a trade or profession that would provide for a family (I'm sure the Pavarotti family was always worried about losing the house). Being a man in love, he did what he was asked to do and gave up his opera career and became a tailor. I'm sure he was an excellent tailor but, c'mon, it was the freakin' Metropolitan Opera!
My mother, their daughter, was an incredible artist; she was a member of the first graduating class at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I remember as a kid seeing some of her dress designs and charcoal drawings she kept in her portfolio; they were amazing. She had a short career working with a fashion designer in Jersey City but that ended when she had kids. The only other designing she had done after that was her and my aunts' wedding and bridesmaids' gowns. A benefit we had as kids was that we had some amazing Halloween costumes growing up. But as for her making a long standing career with her talent? That never happened.
Let's keep going.
My sister Diane can draw better than anyone I have ever seen, and that includes my mother. She went to school and earned an Art History degree at Seton Hall University -- after that she worked making costumes in New York City but that all ended when she had kids. (Side note -- maybe it wasn't my grandmother's curse that ended all the careers -- maybe it was us damn kids).
My brother Joe may well be the exception to all this. Although a great athlete (he came thisclose to getting picked up by a pro football team) he never was really creative in the arts. The only thing that I remember him drawing, and I mean the only thing that showed up on all his notebooks and random scraps of paper like 'Kilroy was Here' signs from World War Two, was the profile of some hybrid pre-Fonzie-post-fat-Elvis greaser with pompadour hair and pork chop sideburns. My brother did put a beauty mark on the upper left check of his creation, so that was pretty creative on his part.
I have been writing since as long as I can remember, pounding out really bad sci-fi short stories on my mustard yellow Smith-Corona Galaxie Twelve manual typewriter. Then I progressed to writing my first book (so bad I don't even want to talk about it). My writing eventually got better and I wrote my second book (never published, of course). But I think my best talent came about when I copied a caricature that my sister had drawn on my notebook. I copied it, modified it, then eventually found my own style that I promptly put on anything: notebooks, text books, drawn in pen on my desktops through my middle and high school years (Sorry Old Bridge Township Board of Education). After years of rejection slips for my short stories I decided to try and get some cartoons published. My first time out I had a series of cartoons published in the Missouri Review, a national literary magazine. It was incredible. It was also the last time I got any cartoons published. (Okay, maybe that wasn't so much a curse as just me being lazy).
My son Alexander is like my brother -- he is a very good athlete but I don't see much of a creative side to him. I had read some of his writing when he was younger and it was very good. He is going for a career in finance so I hope his creative talents don't come out while working on any corporate ledgers -- I don't want to see him go to jail.
I need to make one thing clear here -- when I talk about no one making a career out of their talents I am talking about a very specific branch in our family tree. I'm talking about the link between my grandparents, my parents, myself, my siblings, and my children. I have cousins on both sides of the family that are incredibly creative and successful. My father's side of the family is all musicians -- it's amazing how much talent they have. That brings me to my son Danny who has seemed to capture that talent from my father's side -- away from the curse my grandmother cast on the maternal side. Good luck Danny, we're rooting for you.
Now we circle back to my daughter Amanda. Last year around Christmas she grabbed a camera and took a picture of one of their family pets, Lucy. She looked at it and said, "I think I'll be a pet photographer." This time I didn't say anything -- being a photographer would at least be creative. She could become a pet photographer/journalist so at least I would feel like I got my money's worth out of NYU. Who knows, maybe it would be enough to break the curse unwittingly laid down by my grandmother so many years ago.
Okay, so maybe (maybe?) there wasn't really a curse, that it was just life getting in the way, or plain old-fashion laziness on my part that I never made a career from any of my talents. But with that said, there is one thing that I am absolutely sure about:
It was one damn fine picture of that dog.