By Sharon J. Anderson
Fantasy Jobs (in chronological order)
Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”
Maria in “The Sound of Music”
Barbara Bain in “Mission: Impossible”
Stephanie Powers in “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”
Diana Rigg in “The Avengers”
Margaret Mitchell and/or Scarlett O’Hara
A keyboard player for Carole King, Judy Collins or Joni Mitchell
A gang member in “A Clockwork Orange”
John, the beloved disciple of Jesus
Vanessa Redgrave in “Julia”
Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens” and/or Newt, the child she protects
A mother with two children
Cherry Jones’ lover
Mary Oliver and/or Anne Lamott
An Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker
Actual Jobs (in chronological order)
FBI Laboratory File Clerk
College Student Newspaper Editor
FBI Crime Laboratory Digest Editor
Book Marketing Manager
Director of Communications
Senior Marketing Writer
Part-time Music Store Employee
Part-time Gas Station Attendant
Independent Creative Director & Storyteller
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Here I Am – Miss America
By Sharon J. Anderson
The first job I was determined to have was Miss America’s. In the early 1960’s, the crown came with an eye-popping $10,000 scholarship, plus Bert Parks announcing to the entire world precisely where and who I was. For my talent, I would play Beethoven’s, “Fur Elise” on piano, and then hope for an in-depth question about current events that I could tie to the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations, my obsession at the time. I pictured myself wowing America with a detailed explanation of the amazing similarities in the bullet trajectories inside the Presidential skulls.
There I was, embodying both beauty and tragedy on a stage. And here I am, still pretty much doing the same thing. “Drama, drama, drama . . . always such drama with you,” my mother would say whenever she passed me nose-deep in The Day Lincoln Was Shot or newspaper accounts of the 1966 kidnapping of 17-year-old Peggy Ann Bradnick on her way home from school in Shade Gap, Pennsylvania, not far from our house. Holding Peggy at gunpoint, William Hollenbaugh, the kidnapper, led police and FBI agents through the thick mountains of central Pennsylvania for eight days. An FBI agent with my same last name — Terry R. Anderson – and a police dog were killed in the final shootout with the deranged loner, who was also killed. I was both entranced and frightened. I was lonely, too. Would I kidnap or shoot somebody one day? I needed to know.
I gave up the Miss America track and became an investigator. I had questions. I wanted answers. I wrote letters. I wrote to the makers of Lifesavers candy: “How do you get that hole in the middle?” I wrote to NASA: “How do astronauts go to the bathroom in outer space?” I wrote to Betty Crocker: “Why do you always look the same?” I wrote to the U.S. Mint: “Why is Lincoln on a penny? Don’t you think he’s worth more than that?” The answers came in large envelopes or boxes that included free Lifesavers, autographed photos of all seven Mercury astronauts, boxes of muffin mix and a spanking new Lincoln penny on a special card with my name on it, as though the coin had been molded and pressed just for me.
Intent on developing my investigative skills, I began to read detective stories and watch detective TV shows. I fell wildly in love with “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.,” Cinnamon from “Mission: Impossible,” and, most of all, Emma Peel from “The Avengers.” I secretly carried their pictures in a small file folder that also included newspaper photos of Barbara Eden (in her genie outfit) and June Lockhart, with a desperate look on her face, talking on that wall telephone in a scene from “Lassie.” I began to practice kung fu kicks and comb my hair to one side so I could fling it back seductively. Walking to and from school and while on family camping trips, I stealthily wrote down the license plates of suspicious cars and trucks in a small spiral-bound reporter notebook like the ones I saw on “Dragnet.” Once I tallied 1,967 licenses (the same as the year), I was going to send the notebook to the FBI for further investigation.
My fantasy sleuthing ended abruptly during my senior year in high school. That year, I pretended to be an undercover “student” cop a la “Julie” from “The Mod Squad.” To the members of my lunch table I whispered enough details about mysterious drug dealing to pique their curiosity, and later, their cruelty. One day, I opened my hall locker and discovered a plastic bag filled with white sugar labeled, in embarrassingly large black scrawl: ILLEGAL DRUGS!!! An attached note said, “You are such a liar!!!”
Yes, I was. Why? Why did I lie? Why did I create a fantasy life so believable that when I first saw the white sugar in my locker, I pulled out a pen that I had told others concealed a two-way police transmitter?
Investigating my behavior now via this writing exercise (using a pen) and with years of living and therapy behind me, I see that my fantasy life was safer than my real life. When the fantasies stopped at age 20, after a born-again Christian experience (I was dressed like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” at the time, complete with white jump suit, bowler hat and one false eyelash), all hell broke loose. I came face to face with my profoundly disturbed and wounded self. I became suicidal, wanting to be with Jesus sooner, rather than later. Thanks to grace (embodied in countless beloveds demonstrating inhuman patience and unconditional love) and my own steely determination, I turned my investigative eye on myself.
The tools of my investigation are on display for all to see when one enters the stage of my home. Peer closely at a bookshelf and see The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller or Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture by Armando R. Favazza or I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 or Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton or The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich or The Illustrated Gospels. See The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright on my nightstand. See a documentary movie camera on a tripod in one corner. Hanging or propped against walls, tables and chairs, see more than 230 original paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture – collected over 30 years — focusing primarily on the female form.
See beauty and tragedy embodied together. See me. Crying one minute and laughing the next. See me. With exquisite taste in art and women and lousy taste in clothes and home furnishings. See me. A small independent creative director for large public corporations. See me. A lesbian Christian. Look. Here I am: Miss America.
About writing, Sharon says: My regular writing process is similar to the one undertaken to complete this post. Pairing dissimilar words together (such as “wizened” and “baby”) always sparks ideas. My first thought when I read about this “Help Wanted” topic was how much I wanted to be Miss America when I was younger. I then compiled a fantasy list of jobs I’ve wanted during my life, followed by a list of actual jobs I have had. Next, I literally placed the two lists next to each other and stared at them. Then, I actually heard myself say out loud, “Well, there I am,” and began to write.
To begin a writing exercise, I often compile word lists based on two contrasting words. The time I contrasted “death” with “joy” led to a story that begins, “The first time I talked out loud about death was with a girl named Joy.” I also force myself to sit with images. One simple, stark image haunted me as a child: a black rectangle. Go to my website: www.sharonjanderson.com, click on the “Read” link and read my published story, “Black Rectangles,” to see where my pen went after I wrestled with this image.
I see writing much like my matron saint, Flannery O’Connor, who once said, “I work from such a basis of poverty that everything I do is a miracle to me; however, don’t think I write for purgation. I write because I write well.” And for that, I give simple thanks.
-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – JOB! WHAT JOB!