When I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut, an astronomer, and a writer. One out of three isn’t too bad, I suppose. But most of my life, other people’s jobs have often seemed more interesting than my own. Perhaps it is an example of the grass being greener. Perhaps I am just easily influenced by what I see and read.
As I write this, I am two-thirds of the way through Bruce Springsteen’s remarkably well-written, and remarkably honest memoir Born to Run. The more I read it, the more I find myself wishing I was a member of a legendary rock and roll band. This is only the most recent occurrence of a phenomenon that I’ve experienced as far back as I can remember. Here are some other examples:
- After reading Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon in 1998, I desperately wanted to be an astronaut. Eventually I took flying lessons and got my private pilot’s license in the dim hope that such a mark of achievement would give me an edge.
- When I finished reading Longitude by Dava Sobel back in 2001, I wanted to take up clock-making.
- After I read Linus Torvalds’s book, Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary in 2002, I wanted to be a Linux hacker.
- Reading anything by Andy Rooney makes me long for a job as a nationally syndicated columnist. (I could do without the exposure on 60 Minutes, however.)
- Tom Kelly’s Moon Lander: How We Developed the Lunar Module made me want to be a project manager. My job eventually evolved into project management. The reality somehow doesn’t match the glamor depicted in Kelly’s book.
- Any time I listen to Bing Crosby, I want to be a crooner signed to Decca records sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. I want to have my own radio show and banter with Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, and George Burns.
- Speaking of George Burns, when I read few of his books (Living it Up, and Third Time Around) in 2006, I wanted desperately to be a self-deprecating comedian.
- Reading anything by Will Durant makes me want to quit what I am doing an become a globe-hopping historian.
- Reading Richard Winters’ memoir, Beyond Band of Brothers made me wish I was a captain in the U.S. Army paratroopers.
- Stephen King’s On Writing makes me wish I was a writer every single time that I read it. (I’ve read it at least three or four times.)
- When I read Great Baseball Writing: Sports Illustrated 1954-2004 edited by Rob Fleder, I wanted to drop everything and become a baseball writer. Indeed, I wrote my favorite story, “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” (published in the May 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show) because of this desire.
What is it called when you want to do everything? Does that phenomenon have a name? Am I the only one who this happens to? I sometimes feel like a bibliophilic chameleon, taking on the shade of whatever it is I happen to be reading at that moment in time.
There are a few exceptions. Despite having read many Presidential biographies, I have never had any desire to be President. Reading books about the law or legal practice has stirred no desire in me to be a lawyer.
I know that I should be content with the job that I have. For the most part, I am. But I can’t help but daydream about what I want to be when I grow up, and the books I read provide the seeds for those daydreams. Maybe my New Year’s resolution for 2017 should be to learn how to play guitar, write some songs, get a record deal, and go on tour, perhaps even opening for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. That sounds like a reasonable resolution, right?