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Ben Picks Ten: Things I’d Like to Be September 12, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“What I’d like to be when I grow up” is such a fun game to play when you’re a kid. Our friend Ben thinks it still is. (Of course, some of us are more grown up than others.) So today, I’d like to give you ten (plus one, of course) things I think it would be really fun to be.

Note that defining criterion: fun. Maybe somebody thinks being a lawyer or a stockbroker or a titan of industry would be fun, but our friend Ben is not among them, so you won’t find the usual professions in this list. Our friend Ben loves life, so anything that increases the chances of my being separated from it, such as being a general, mountain climber, or explorer, is definitely out. Much as I admire Sir Richard Francis Burton, battling venomous snakes and insects, scorching deserts and tropical swamps, exotic diseases and ravening beasts is not for me. It’s enough excitement for our friend Ben to battle tomato hornworms, powdery mildew, slugs, and the occasional raccoon in the garden.

Ditto for that often-touted position, king of the world. Being king of the world, or any king, pharaoh, emperor, or what-have-you sounds like way too much work and no fun at all to our friend Ben. And there are always too many rivals lining up for the throne, with a cup of poisoned wine in one hand and a dagger in the other. World domination? Ugh.

Mind you, there are things that our friend Ben thinks would be a lot of fun that didn’t make the list, either. Winning the lottery, receiving a Nobel Prize (or two), and getting a MacArthur Fellowship spring to mind. Our friend Ben would be only too happy to receive any or all of the above. But these are things one gets, not things one is. Of course, you could always up the ante by putting, say, “Nobel prize-winning…” in front of any of the things that did make my list. Speaking of which, let’s get to it:

1. Paleontologist. Because fossils are so cool. Our friend Ben’s earliest memory is of sitting in my parents’ driveway in my diaper, separating out the crinoid fossils from the gravel. If we had that kind of gravel here at Hawk’s Haven, you can bet our friend Ben would be sitting out there today. Our friend Ben’s favorite fossils are trilobites, which are even cooler now that the actual paleontologists have found out that they were all bristly. I’m saving up for a super-bristly one.

2. Archaeologist. Our friend Ben actually almost became an archaeologist. I’d been fascinated by archaeology and the discovery of lost civilizations throughout my childhood, and had spent innumerable hours reading about the discovery of Mayan temples and the palace at Knossos and the city of Troy. I spent the summer after my sophomore year studying archaeology in England and participating in a dig at the Roman city of Verulamium, present-day St. Albans. Fortunately, it dawned on me just in time that archaeology was really just glorified grave-robbing. But I still love the idea of treasures in the earth, whether they’re geodes or onions or cities of gold.

3. Pope. Let’s face it, it would be fun to be the head of your own religion and be addressed as “your Holiness.” (“Vicar of Christ” has a certain ring, too.) Of course, our friend Ben doesn’t think it would be too much fun to be Pope these days—more like torture, probably. And there were plenty of other times when it wasn’t fun, either, such as during the reign of Henry the Eighth or during the Protestant Reformation. There was also the little problem of various rulers attempting to capture the Pope and/or the Vatican, a popular pastime among kings and emperors through the ages. But there were undeniably good times, too: the Renaissance springs to mind. It must have been amazing to have the greatest artists, architects, and composers of the day at your beck and call.

4. Artist. Speaking of which, our friend Ben envies anyone who can draw or paint exactly what he or she sees (in real life or in his or her head). Poetry, our friend Ben’s own talent, is an imprecise art at best: You create a work and hope that those who read or hear it are able to see what you saw. But with art, you can show them your vision unambiguously. Watercolors are a special favorite, and our friend Ben would love to have effortless skill with them.

5. Rock star. Yes, our friend Ben has the name of the band all picked out. Too bad I can’t sing, dance, or play an instrument, and especially not all at the same time.

6. Composer. While we’re on the subject of music, our friend Ben has always thought it would be fantastic to walk around like Bach or Mozart with glorious music filling my mind and pouring out of my hands. Our friend Ben is a poet, so I know the effortless ecstacy of pure creation, the gift of it, when you and your talent are single, not separate, one and the same. As Mr. Yeats puts it, “How can you tell the dancer from the dance?” When you look at what you’ve created and wonder where in you it came from, and you know, with awe, that you could not have been alone in that creation. I’m sure that natural athletes, the ones who don’t have to work at their particular skill but simply have it, are it, must feel like this, too, when they’re running or dancing or swimming or playing tennis or whatever it is they do, their gift. I would love to feel music that way.

7. Ping-pong champion. While we’re on the subject of sports, everybody has a favorite sport. Ping-pong (aka table tennis) is our friend Ben’s. Sadly, coordination is definitely not us, so you’ll never see our friend Ben in a ping-pong competition. I was never able to learn how to spin the ball, or counter an opponent’s spin. But games of aim are something I can do: hit the basket or the bull’s eye pretty much every time. Our friend Ben could send a ping-pong ball to any part of the table, have it touch down and ever so subtly slip off the edge, or hug the top of the net, then sidle down on the opponent’s side at the last possible second. Our friend Ben loves ping-pong because, unlike other sports I love, like horse racing and falconry, it doesn’t involve dominating another species. Yes, I would love to launch a falcon from my wrist, see it shoot up into the sky, and have it return to me, volleying down at warp speed only to pull up at the last second and settle gently on my arm. Yes, I would love to ride my own horse in race after race, breaking away from the field to win endless lengths ahead of all the rest. But I wouldn’t want to keep a falcon hooded and tied to its perch. I wouldn’t want to risk my horse’s life and limbs every time I raced him. Ping-pong is fun, and safe, and it still involves a show of skill. Now, if I could only learn to spin the ball…

8. Inventor. Our friend Ben loves to imagine the life of an inventor, with all kinds of games and gadgets and gizmos spinning around in your mind and taking shape in your hands. I often think of inventions myself, but since I’m completely mechanically inept, and not being a titan of industry, can’t command an army of folks who aren’t mechanically inept to flesh out my creations for me, I simply can’t get from A to B. My inventions are born and die within the space of my skull. But I admire all the folks whose inventions are born into the world and enrich our lives. While it’s true that many inventors have sold their wonderful creations to others for a comparative pittance, or have had to hand them over to the companies they work for and watch said companies become wealthy and powerful while they continue to slave away on their pitiful salaries, some lucky inventors have held on to their creations and reaped their just rewards. Rightly or wrongly, these are the ones whose names we all know: Edison and the lightbulb, Henry Ford and the Model T, Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, the Wright brothers and their airplane. But I like to think that all inventors enjoy tinkering so much that their work is its own reward, recognized or not.

9. Best-selling author. Our friend Ben is already an author, so I just have to get to the “best-selling” part. I can’t imagine a more delightful thing than writing novels for a living: doing something I love that brings enjoyment to others. Talk about fun!

10. Universal genius. Our friend Ben would love to be a towering genius like Ben Franklin or Leonardo da Vinci, totally engaged with life, interested in everything, excelling at everything. (We tend to picture Franklin as a portly old man, but in his younger days, he was a superb athlete on top of everything else.) The mind boggles. It’s interesting to our friend Ben that both these great men spent a good deal of their time and energy trying to make life better for the ordinary person. But it must have been a lonely life, living in a mind as far above those of the people who surrounded you as heaven is from earth. Still, our friend Ben thinks it would be worth it. 

And the bonus:

11. Cartoonist. To be able to capture the human condition with the stroke of a pen! If only our friend Ben could draw. Imagine creating Dilbert or Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side or Maxine, or being Booth or one of the wonderful political cartoonists. It’s a talent most of us don’t even see, enjoying the cartoons without ever thinking of their creators. Our friend Ben never wanted to be a professor, but I would get a huge kick out of this gift, the ability to teach with humor in a painless visual medium.

So what did the youthful Ben want to be when I grew up, you ask? A pioneer, of course, like my hero Daniel Boone, or a Victorian naturalist, amassing huge collections of eggs and fossils and butterflies and mercy knows what-all, or the greatest poet of the age, since I came into that talent early (by age two). All told, I didn’t stray too far from my grand childhood ideals, either: I’m still a naturalist and poet, and am still living out my pioneer fantasies here on my one-acre Eden with my plants and chickens. My adult reality may not have achieved the scope of my childhood dreams, but I’m here to tell you, it’s still a lot of fun. How about you?



1. Alan - September 12, 2008

There are some people I want to be like if I ever grow up Leonardo da Vinci, Edison, Joseph Campbell, and of course, independently wealthy.

Independently wealthy is good. Independently wealthy works for me.

2. ceecee - September 12, 2008

I always wanted to be vet for the San Diego Zoo. Since I live near Austin, you can see how that turned out. I’m crazy happy anyway.

One thing about your post that jumps out. Your choices reflect both ends of the financial spectrum—none in the middle. Many would make you wealthy beyond need, and others will make you have to have two jobs to make ends meet. I think my brain is set in the mode of a mom wondering what major her children will pick in college. My oldest is a Jr. in HS this year. I’m beginning to wonder if what he picks as his career will support him.

When I was at a conference in San Diego, I actually fell in love with the Wild Animal Park instead of the zoo. (Maybe it was because I got to pet a porcupine!) That’s an interesting observation about the financial aspect of my choices. I of course hadn’t given finances a thought, and was just picking options that have always sounded like fun to me. Despite two masters degrees, my own college career was not noteworthy for financial acumen—if I had it to do over again, I’d have probably gone to med school and planned to retire at 40 and spend the rest of my life doing exactly what I wanted. Instead, I had a great time and learned about all sorts of fascinating things, and it’s enriched my entire life. Hopefully, whatever your son chooses, he’ll enjoy himself *and* do fine in the working world afterwards!

3. nancybond - September 12, 2008

I’d have to agree with most of these; certainly fun to think about. 🙂

Thanks, Nancy! I certainly had fun thinking about them (though no doubt I forgot a few… )!

4. Barbee' - September 12, 2008

I can’t think of anything to write about this. I just want you to know that I was here and that I enjoyed your well written, thought provoking post very much. Especially the part about the creative process.

Thank you, Barbee’! I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Creativity, like pure thought, is definitely its own reward!

5. Cinj - September 13, 2008

There’s also photographer, farmer, poet, interior decorator, landscape architect, florist, genealogist, actress, fashion designer,… Oh, I better stop my list, I could go on all day.

I had so many problems settling on just one thing I wanted to do with my life, that’s one of the reasons I decided to be a teacher. Now I can dabble in just about everything on the list here and there without ever being very good at any one thing. Hmm, maybe not the best strategy if you’re out to be the best but if you are only worrying about living life and having fun I think I’ve got it made!

I agree with you, Cinj! Being a kindergarten teacher, especially, would let you dabble in all the arts and crafts stuff. And that’s *real* fun!!! Of course, the same could be said about being a parent!

6. Shibaguyz - September 13, 2008

One paleontologist here and one archaeologist… oh… and a writer(s)… two musicians, dog trainers, and gardeners. Pretty much covers most of it. Superheroes?? If not for the fear of heights… hhhmmm…

Ha!!! Lucky guyz. Alas, I too have a really bad fear of heights. And that’s no fun!!!

7. patientgardener - September 13, 2008

They all seem to have a sort of creative link – how very interesting. I wish I was musical and could play an instrument or sing.

Yeah, me too! If I could choose any single talent, it would definitely be musical. Sigh…

8. Benjamin - September 14, 2008

Now, you know ALL art is imprecise. If it wasn’t, well, that’d be dull indeed. It’s all about personal interpretation and perception, and if we didn’t have that, we’d all be worker bees or drones. Yes, I like baked apple cheese bread with guacamole. Wow, so do I. And me too. And me as well. Hey, over here. And then everyone gets sick and then what would the world be like? I am a bit tired and crazy tonight–just stuffed my poetry manuscript into thirteen envelopes (13 copies, of course). Go forth and be brave my little monarch butterfly fledgling manuscripts.

Wow, congratulations!!! May all 13 publishers vie for the honor of publishing it!

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