A Door Opens

I am reading John Irving’s latest novel Avenue of Mysteries this week. At one point, two of the characters disagree over the meaning of a line from Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”

“Well, of course the future begins in childhood—where else would it begin?” Juan Diego asked the Iowan. “But I think it’s bullshit to say there is one moment when the door to the future opens. Why can’t there be many moments? And is Greene saying there’s only one door? He says the door, like there’s only one.”

I am on Team Juan Diego in this, although I’d offer the following twist: if you believe the passage of time should equal the growth of wisdom, all the time we have lived through on the way to this day is a kind of childhood, leading to the adult we can claim to be on this day. And if that’s true, that “childhood” can have many moments and doors.

One of my doors opened in the summer of 1986, and the future came in. In that summer I made a decision, and I have been living with the consequences of it ever since. It may have been inevitable, but whether it was or it wasn’t, my future was affected by it, from that summer to this one.

During the first eight years of my career, from 1978 to 1986, radio was it for me. There was simply nothing else, no Plan B. I wanted to be on the air (and later, to be a program director) more than I would ever want anything else, ever. I clocked my time at the station every day, but I when I wasn’t there, I thought about it constantly. After I became a program director in 1984, I listened all the time. I was on 24-hour call for emergencies, and that was exactly what I had always wanted to be.

By 1986, in addition to being the PD, I was doing mornings, which seemed like necessary career evolution. I didn’t have a plan for my career beyond that, however. I didn’t have the goal of being in Market A by the age of 28 and larger Market B by the age of 31 or anything like that. I naively assumed that in the fullness of time, my talent would take me up the market ladder. And although I didn’t know it, that lack of a plan was building a door for me.

But the decision that made the door open involved something else. Some morning DJs are in bed every night by 7:30, but I didn’t want to live like that. So I went to bed at 9:30 or so, got up at 4:15, and started napping for an hour in the afternoon, sometime around 3:00. That way, I could be functional and pleasant when The Mrs. got home from work, and we could have our evenings together. But I had trained my staff to call me if they had questions or problems, any time of the day or night, and several times in those first months of 1986, my nap was annihilated by the telephone. So in the summer, I started taking the phone off the hook. My desire to live a halfway-normal home life had become more important to me than dealing with radio emergencies.

We don’t always see the doors as they open, and it can take us a while before we understand the future that’s been let in. Only much later did I realize how important that phone-off-the-hook decision was, because it marked the end of my youthful obsession with radio.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We age, we change. You can’t stay 26 years old forever. But once I lost that youthful obsession, my career was never the same. I would spend seven more years working full-time in radio stations, but the drive I needed to propel me toward new opportunities diminished. I settled for jobs I could get instead of going after the ones I should have had. And eventually, disappointed by the course my career had taken, I decided I didn’t want to do radio anymore—something that would have completely flummoxed the guy with no Plan B.

In the years since, I have been a writer, mostly, also a teacher, and a radio guy as a sideline. That future was let in through a door I didn’t know I was opening, 30 years ago this summer.

One response

  1. How similar our backgrounds are – pretty much the same for me. Get into radio, do a morning show, be a PD. I, too, learned to “split-shift sleep”, as the sleep clinics call it, so I could do a morning show that started at 5 and still have a night life. In my 20’s, I would do that afternoon nap thing, except my nap would be from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. I lived in a six-plex apartment building at the time, and I slept SO soundly between 11:30 and 1:30 that at least once a week, some other resident of the apartment building would knock on my door early in the evening and say “here’s a package the UPS guy left down at the front door (of the building) for you.” The UPS guy would knock and knock and I would sleep right through it.

    Years later, doing early morning news, which required being in the studio by 3 AM, I’d sleep from 11AM until 2 PM so I could deal with the kids after school, have dinner with the family, and hit the hay around 9 and sleep until 2:30 AM.

    When I started to have sleep apnea problems, and wound up getting fit for a CPAP machine, the sleep clinic people did NOT attempt to change my split-shift sleeping, thank God.

    And Jim – when I got my first morning show, it came at the same time I got my first PD job. The morning man/PD who was moving up the market chain said to me “learn the power of the nap. Don’t sacrifice a night life for the morning show. Get out at night, watch prime-time TV, and do all that stuff so you can have a relatable morning show. Going to bed at 6PM will give you a lifestyle that won’t allow you to relate at all to your audience.”.

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever got.

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