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Monday, November 10, 2014

The color of my parachute.(The Peppler Sonnet Service)

Reposted from eight years ago...

Remember that book, What Color is Your Parachute? It was recommended to confounded job seekers by career counselors back when I was in college. It exhorted us to figure out what we really wanted to do, and then to go find a place to do it, and if necessary, to create a job within which we could follow our passion.

Very inspirational, but at the time I had no clue what I wanted to do, or how my talents could be utilized in the marketplace. Let's see - I was good at:
  • Writing - quickly - bad poetry which scanned correctly;

  • Every kind of fiber art from sewing and quilting and embroidery to macrame;

  • Papier maché;

  • Russian - however, I was a Russian major during the Cold War. Career options included teaching (but I knew I could never survive graduate school) or working for the government (but I was bad at keeping secrets and hated the administration);

  • Transcribing Bulgarian songs;

  • Listening to people, talking with them about their dreams and fears, and making them laugh when they were down.
I used to explain, about Peppler's Sonnet Service: "Well, I'm good at writing poetry but I have no wish to express myself. Writing for other people gives me something to express." When I thought this up in the late 1970s I was interviewed by Susan Stamberg for Morning Edition on Valentines Day; I got written up in the Boston Globe, Yankee Magazine, and the (ahem) Christian Science Monitor; I wrote hundreds of sonnets or rather "sonnets" for customers who were ALWAYS satisfied. I could knock off a correct sonnet in about twenty minutes, lauding the client's girlfriend or his mother's potato salad.

As it turns out, I never did have a career, I never did pull in a paycheck. I've spent my life slithering through ad-hoc, oddball person-for-hire situations. For a while I made my living cutting out xeroxed articles of various sizes and shapes, waxing them, and pasting them up on boards so they could be re-xeroxed for student coursepacks. I sold animated (flip-book) greeting cards; I rode a moped out to remote suburban adult education centers and taught "Songs for Non-Singers"; I learned to typeset and was the part-time head typesetter for a tall and rotund redhaired hippy in cowboy boots who unpeeled twenties from the roll in his pocket and shoved them at me when I'd done a good job. I used my papier maché skills making props for the Solstice Extravaganza, a yearly behemoth of a show I devised and produced.

Looking back, I now see what I've been best at all along:
  • Getting people excited about their dream projects, and then facilitating those projects;

  • Creating something where nothing existed before;

  • Working in obscure fields.
In other words: I'm a good muse, for those who dwell along the long tail. No wonder I'm so excited about helping my tv-producer friend with his wish to take a one-man show of Yiddish stories (some never previously translated) on the road! Would you call it quixotic for a 52-year-old woman to start from scratch and learn Yiddish? At any rate, in a week and a half I'm off to my three-week adventure, in an immersion Yiddish program at the Bibliothèque Medem. I've rented a flat, I've started packing my bag. I've found an online group at Yahoo with native speakers who are sometimes willing to help beginners, even though they can be a little testy. 


At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a person who decides to start such an endeavor at any age is a person knows how to stay young. So perhaps the older we get the more we should rethink what once may have been dreams and do our best to turn them into realities. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't, but at least we have taken the journey. Bon voyage!

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I accidently came upon your website while googling the question of whether or not deer will eat tomatoes (!)
Answer is obviously: "With RELISH!" but I stayed reading all about the various avenues of your life, which is very familiar in flavour and style to those of several of my friends, and was happily amused by all your musings.

Just thought I'd say so.
See my webpage at: and happy gardening with out deer eating everything with relish. :>)
Jen Cluff

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Jane,
Thanks for this uplifting blogpost! Googling on "Golliwog's cakewalk" I found your blog on the origins of the cakewalk and the discussion about its racist tendencies. You make some noteworhty remarks!

Really inspiring to see that you keep on learning at 52. As I like to say: once you stop educating and developing yourself, you die.

Anyway, I'd like to give you a tip for someone you might want to contact: Nisandeh Neta of Open Circles Academy. I don't know if he speaks Jiddish, but he is Israelian and native speaker in Hebrew. I think that you will like his ideas and mission.

Warm musical regards, Marie-Astrid Zeinstra


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