Recently, I was interviewed by Sean Dillon for his “Beyond the Mic” series. After fifteen minutes of digging into both books and boats (and an admission of how much he enjoyed Ferry to Cooperation Island), Sean ended our fun conversation with his signature “Rockin’ 8”: eight random questions designed to reveal “more facts than people knew before.” The only preparation was his instruction to say the “first thing that comes to your mind, no pressure.” So for once I tried to prioritize spontaneity over accuracy.
Most of the answers came easily. “What’s your favorite thing to cook?” (Artichokes). “What’s the last thing you bought?” (Groceries). “Most peaceful place you ever sailed?” (Hadley Harbor.) But two of his questions completely stumped me—and now that I’ve listened to the recording, I’m wishing for a do-over. To “Which character in your four books is the most like yourself?” I answered “Casey” (from Game of Sails). A more accurate response would’ve been “Spencer;” his casual sailing style is much closer to mine than Casey’s balls-to-the-wall approach.
And then Sean asked: “What career would you do if you could start all over again?”
(Cue the Jeopardy waiting soundtrack.)
My panicked thought process ran something like this: it’s gotta be near the water, because that’s where I’d want to be. And it also has to be a job that’s quickly understood by a non-sailing audience. “Sailboat rigger” and “boat nanny” would both require explanation; “outboard mechanic” holds absolutely no appeal. As the seconds of radio silence piled up, I desperately cast about for a non-boatyard shoreline job—and blurted out the only one I could think of: “Lifeguard!”
This answer obviously pleased Sean, because he included it in his closing remarks—which is when I realized just how ridiculous it sounded.
The Stress of Soundbites
Because we tend to dwell on the “wrong” things we say, I now find myself overthinking this answer. Does my unexpected choice tell me something about myself, reveal “more facts than people knew before”? Does it dig up a secret desire, hidden until now, which should make me glad it was finally ferreted out by a random interview question?
Or is it, as I suspect, just a fun but totally misleading soundbite?
I do like the idea of lifeguarding: giving back and saving lives, spending my workdays on a beautiful beach, paid to go swimming. In this fantasy world of starting fresh career-wise, my workplace would be shark-free and always boringly sunny and warm. And all the visitors would be both smart and respectful (and hence never get into any real trouble). I would start each day with a refreshing swim before climbing atop a shaded lifeguard chair to read #coastalfiction and blow the occasional whistle. What’s not to like?
Of course, none of that is any more realistic than the fantasy of starting over.
All of this overthinking reminded me of one crystal-clear self-truth, though: how difficult it was to come up with an occupation I’d enjoy even more than what I actually do. I’m so lucky to spend each workday creating my own worlds and editing stories (both fact and fiction) that include boats. And while that’s not the spontaneously revealing soundbite Sean was looking for… it’s much, much closer to “fact” than the first memorable detail he used to close of our conversation: “She woulda been a lifeguard.”
Fortunately, he included two others that are quite true: I am a strong believer of the Oxford comma. And the last thing I bought was (of course!) groceries.
There’s much, much more to this fun 21-minute interview, and the rest of it still rings true. Before you listen to it, let me know in the comments (or send an email) if you, too, believe in the Oxford comma—or if you think I would’ve made a good lifeguard.