Hello, dear readers of Sidewalk Ghosts, random curiosity seekers, and people who stumbled onto this project while looking for the newest celebrity train wreck (nothing here about the Khardashians, sorry)
You may notice a bit of a difference in this essay. There’s a reason for that; and the reason is simply this: I’m not Richard. Instead, you’re going to be treated to (or suffer through) a “guest author.”
My name is Michaelbrent Collings, and when Richard asked if I would help him out and write about it from my point of view, I approached it with a bit of trepidation. I’m a writer, so it’s not the words that scare me. I’ve actually written best-sellers and had screenplays produced in Hollyweird. But most of what I dowrite is either horror (ghost stories and books about serial killers) or light fantasy (kids who discover they are magic users and become embroiled in a battle to save the world). And Sidewalk Ghosts– or as he would probably prefer to say it, the stories of the people whom he chronicles–is neither of those things.
But I agreed to give it a go. Challenges are fun.
And almost immediately upon meeting his friend-now-stranger for the night, I started to regret my decision.
Not because she was awful, or difficult, or whiny. Quite the opposite. It’s because she was simply delightful. When asked if she would like to be a part of the project, she lit up. “Sure!” was her immediate response. And when she walked away after the experience, she literally jumped in the air and (I think) even uttered a “Yippee!”
Her name was (and, I suppose, still is) Janel. Richard and I met her after a long day on the set of a photo shoot he was doing. He and I went to dinner with the client and the ad agency people, and Janel came along as the significant other of one of the folks who was at the dinner.
And it was such a lucky thing that she did.
“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”
Some people are defined by what they take in. They are collectors of information, of wisdom, or (in bad situations) of other peoples morale and energy. Then there are those who are defined by what they give out. Janel was one of those people. She smiled. A lot. She wore her hair differently every single day. She did yoga. She was fascinated by humanity, but (I think) was still struggling to define her own. Not in a bad way, but in a way that highlighted the fact that she was still deciding what kind of person she would be.
And actually, maybe I ama good person to write this blog. Because I do write fairy tales. Tales of magic and fun. Tales where the good guys win, and the evil-doers are punished. And Janel, I think, was someone who was striving to discover the fairy tale within herself.
“Fit, healthy, and happy.” That’s where she saw herself in ten years. Not “in a fancy house,” not “surrounded by expensive things,” not “in this particular job at that particular company.” But “Fit, healthy, and happy.” She was energetic, spritely, and so it came as no surprise that her personal vision for the future was one that focused, not on the place, not on the thing, but on the energy, and on the feeling her existence would exude. “Fit, healthy, and happy.”
“If you had any words, counsel, or advice you would like to share with my readers, what would they be?”
Janel was also something of a contradiction. Again, not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. She had intricate levels that interconnected to create a person of unusual depth and passion. So while she was a person who looked like she could probably run a 10K every day of the week and step it up to a full marathon on the weekends, she could also be quiet, and attentive. She liked to talk, but didn’t mind listening. She seemed as happy to laugh at another’s story as she was to laugh at her own tales of life and its idiosyncrasies. Again, a rare quality.
So though at times she seemed as though she was wandering through life on a journey to who-knows-where, she was also possessed of a certain inner assurance. “I’ve worked for a three-star general,” she declared. “He taught me how to be competent.” I agreed with her that competence was a quality rarely found, and much to be admired. She wore her competence on her sleeve. If she said she could do it, I had no doubt that it (whatever “it” could be) would be done.
And along with that competence, as though to balance out the happy, energetic, almost childlike quality that captivated those around her, she also had the ability to say something directly, and to have it mean something.
“What counsel would you like to share with the world?” Richard asked her. And in an eyeblink, she sobered, and without hesitation said, “Quit if you need to.”
Not idle words. How many of us go through the motions, living our “daily grind,” and slowly dying inside all the while because we are too afraid to reach out and find something new – and better? How many of us find ourselves locked into something–a career, a pastime, a relationship – that isn’t right for us, but just don’t have the personal wherewithal to simply stop?
Not Janel. She told Richard (and me, the horror writer turned anthropologist for a night) of her experience in grad school. Pursuing a career she had dreamed of since she was eight. And then realizing that something about it was wrong. Something about it didn’t feel like it should. What it was that felt off? Simply this: she hated grad school.
So she quit.
The ramifications were enormous. Starting, and perhaps ending, with the fact that she was no longer sure what she was going to do with herself. Not that she didn’t work–she did, and probably did an excellent job at it. But “it’s not my dream job.” And she isn’t quite sure what it wouldbe.
Which was, it seemed, all right with her. Because better to be a bit unsure of what the future holds that to suffer the certainty of misery. She didn’t like where she was, so she changed it. Obvious, really.
But how many of us could have done the same?
And even in that simple statement that her job wasn’t her “dream job,” laid another implicit facet of Janel’s character. She believed in dreams. She never said that aloud, but it seemed from the twinkle in her eye and the dimples that were so deep you could almost see through her head, that she did believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow–the chance of a more perfect world.
In the hope, of hope itself.
Good night, Janel. It was a pleasure. And I hope your dreams come true.
Michaelbrent Collings is the bestselling author of RUN, Billy: Messenger of Powers, and numerous other novels. He can be followed on his Facebook page is at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michaelbrent-Collings/283851837365. He also has a website at michaelbrentcollings.com.