Empowerment

poets

Every couple of weeks, the veterans’ writing group tackles a prompt. These challenges are often related to their military experience – sights and sounds that made an impact, a place remembered fondly (or not).

Sometimes the prompts can apply to life in or out of the service. I lifted this week’s from Poets&Writers’ “The Time Is Now.

“Let it be known: I did not fall from grace. / I leapt / to freedom.” The ending of Ansel Elkin’s poem “Autobiography of Eve” is packed with confidence. Write an essay reflecting on a time when you felt a similar sense of empowerment. Maybe you ended a stifling relationship, or went back to school to train for a new career? Write about the initial fear and the certitude of your actions.

Nothing can compare to Eve’s empowerment as she leaps, “wearing nothing but snakeskin boots.” Here’s my lesser contribution.

During the 1980s I practiced law in Philadelphia. It was a time when the city experienced an avalanche of crime because childless adults could no longer receive any form of cash assistance. The city became known as “Filtha-delphia” because of the piles of trash littering even the upscale areas. The craters in the streets required twice-yearly alignments to my ancient Volvo. Worst of all, the FBI came a’calling on the judiciary. Eventually fifteen judges (if memory serves) bit the dust for taking bribes. It seems the roofers’ union was handing out Christmas presents.

When a second prospective client asked how much it cost to buy a case, I cried “Uncle.” And I cried, a lot. I was depressed and scared, not knowing what I would do, except that I couldn’t function in that atmosphere.

As I was closing out my practice, I happened on a career-planning workshop. Modeled on What Color Is Your Parachute?, it offered a workbook and seminars that explored skills, interests, aptitudes, geographic preferences, and so forth. The group I joined consisted of eight people, including four lawyers. I felt better already.

As I was exploring what to do next, I needed income, so I sold subscriptions to The New York Times. I made enough money working three or four hours a couple of days a week, plus occasional weekends at trade shows to pay the rent. I liked everything about it except for the inky fingers left from handing out free samples. This was before the Internet, and if I positioned myself at the exit from the commuter trains that spilled out the suburban masses to the new glass and aluminum high-rises, I’d have people waiting in line to sign up.

The rest of the time I worked at a small independent theater where I did any number jobs, including running a workshop for playwrights. It paid almost nothing, but I spent much quality time with creative writers, designers, and actors. The experience convinced me that I needed to return to the world of words.

Seminar and theater dovetailed. I was able to step away from corruption, return to journalism, and eventually launch a career as a book author. It all felt absolutely right,

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