Budding Writer, 1978: The turning point

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself and other writers career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

This supplemental journal entry from 9 December 1978 pretty much speaks for itself. I spent the summer and fall of that year at home with my mother, who was living alone after a divorce. I share it here because it illustrates some of the thinking any next-generation will go through while deciding to go off on their own. It’s also a crucial turning point in my writing career.

I am on the horns of a dilemma, which might explain why I’m so disturbed. Today it’s particularly heart-wrenching, and I feel I have to record and address it.

I have targeted Jan. 1 as the date I’m going to start my working life, one way or another. This means that on that date I will either be in New England, looking for a place to live and work, or I will be here, working. Which means I have to choose between two different lifestyles: basically selfish, or basically selfless. The former is I-centered: finding myself and my place in life. The latter is duty-centered — staying here with Mom and with the church and doing what I can for them both. But the problem is: They merge.

If I stay here out of duty, I’d have to live a less-shared life with Mom in order to work. This could be even more devastating than leaving. On the other hand, going off on my own seems to confirm the principles of the “I” generation* — but my talents may be of greater use there than here. I would probably be of wider impact for more people elsewhere. I don’t know. This is how things break down:

Work alone (in basement) and live semi-aloneWork alone, live alone
Work for a newspaper or TV (cable)Work for a newspaper or TV (NNE)
ChurchFind another church(?)
Friends mostly at churchFriends mostly at house
Minimal expense, but taxGreater expense, less tax
Most economic use of 906Minimal shelter needs
Staying out of sense of duty, but isolating myself from dutyLeaving out of sense of self, but available for (new) duty

CONCLUSION: 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other. But I think I should try to get out on my own first — after that, or failing that, I can return here as needed. I can’t help but feel that God is testing me, though … which way should I turn?

I turned to the north. Mom understood and chalked it up to me “finding myself.” Eventually I found not only myself, but a job, a wife, and a family. We brought the grandkids down to New Jersey about once a month for visits.

When she was in her 80s and could no longer live on her own, we helped Mom move up to an assisted living community in our Connecticut town, where we visited frequently. She became the biggest fan of my columns and bragged about us all to her friends. We were with her when she passed at age 96.

Could we have had all that if I’d stayed in New Jersey? Perhaps. By then I’d already been reconnecting with my future wife. We would have married and my move to Connecticut would have been delayed by only about three years.

When we look back at the turning point in the paths of our lives, we don’t always realize that the paths often eventually lead to the same destination.

Oh, and one footnote: In the 1970s, Baby Boomers were tagged the “Me Generation,” not the “I Generation.” Me should have known that.

“Southbury Snow,” December 9, 2021. Forty-three years earlier, I faced a turning point on the path that would eventually bring me to this Connecticut life. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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