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Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

September 9, 2012

We Bought Zoo Book CoverI have just finished reading “We Bought a Zoo”, the ‘amazing true story of a young family, a broken down zoo, and the 200 wild animals that change their lives forever’, by Benjamin Mee (you may have seen the movie of the same name starring Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee; if so, I strongly recommend reading the book to get the real story behind this family’s amazing journey – it is far more compelling than the watered down, more ‘romanticized’ Hollywood version; BBC2 also produced a series – “Ben’s Zoo” – about the first four months of the family’s adventure [the film crew lived with them during the purchase and initial refurbishment process] that I’d love to get my hands on).  In any case, the book brought back a rush of memories from a period in my life (I would have been about 20 years old) when I seriously considered applying for a job at the zoo.

Toronto ZooI’ve always loved animals and when the ‘new’ Toronto Zoo was being built (it opened in 1974), I desperately wanted to apply for a job there (any job, I didn’t care … the idea of working closely with wild and possibly endangered animals sent shivers down my spine).  The problem was that I lived well over an hour’s drive (in ‘good traffic’) from where the zoo was being built (in the Rouge River Valley at the eastern end of Toronto) – and I didn’t own a car, anyway (I didn’t even have my driver’s license).  And public transit was out of the question – I would have to have taken a bus to the train station, the GO train to the city centre, the eastbound subway, then three busses (albeit with free transfers) to get to the zoo; total commute time would have been over 2½ hours (each way, 5 days a week). And moving to Scarborough (the area where the zoo was located) wasn’t an option either – I was newly married at the time and my then-husband wasn’t willing to relocate and look for a job in a strange town (away from all our friends and family) just so I could (maybe) work at the zoo. So I left that potential avenue to adventure behind and just kept doing what I’d been doing (at that point in my life, I was a working as a production and sales secretary for a local manufacturing company).

Toronto TelegramThere are, of course, other careers/jobs I briefly considered over the years.  The most compelling was a career in journalism. I’ve always loved writing – the flow of words, the syntax of sentences, the impact of a piece of well written prose – but it wasn’t until a field trip to the (no longer in existence) Toronto Telegram in Grade 11 (I was taking a course in Journalism, as well as Advanced English that year) that the concept of writing for a living became a real possibility (in my own mind at least).  I can still remember the intensity of the newsroom – men (and, yes, they were all men) typing frenetically with two fingers (there were no computers in 1968; they didn’t even have electric typewriters) while phones rang and people hollered at one another and the teletype machine rattled in the background (just like in the movies of newsrooms of the time).  Unfortunately, my parents weren’t all that keen on the idea of me going to college (even though the brand new Community College in my home town had a journalism program).  The tuition was something like $600 a year – a sum that my parents simply couldn’t afford (student loans were exceptionally difficult to obtain in those days), and my high school guidance counsellor was adamant that journalism was NOT a career for a young woman. Added to both those ‘minuses’ was the fact that my father was of the opinion that girls generally only worked long enough to find a husband (and then quit), so any money spent on ‘higher education’ for me would simply be wasted.  So I enrolled in a one-year ‘secretarial’ course instead (my options at the time basically being: nurse, secretary, teacher, hairdresser) and went to work as a junior legal secretary when I graduated (in 1971).

Casa LomaSomewhere around 1978 (when I was working as an instructional design assistant at the same community college I didn’t take journalism at) I saw an ad for a Museum Tour Guide at Casa Loma in Toronto. Funnily enough, I’d never even BEEN to Casa Loma, but the idea of working at Sir Henry Pellatt’s famous “House on the Hill” was intriguing (and I could easily picture myself moving on from there to working at castles in places like England, Ireland and parts of Europe).  Unfortunately, the commute was a problem once again (located at the top of Spadina Avenue in the heart of Toronto, it would have taken approximately 1 ½ hours to get to Casa Loma by car, and at least the same amount of time by public transport) and the idea of living in Toronto was out of the question for pretty much the same reasons as living in Scarborough (plus the cost of living in Toronto was exorbitant, even back then).  So I let that dream die as well.

Funny enough, I never really considered teaching as a career option. When I was in high school, ‘teaching’ meant dealing with a roomful of five to twelve year olds six hours a day (high school was a whole different ball game).  I liked children well enough in small numbers (I’d been babysitting my brother’s three boys and numerous and sundry other neighbour’s kids from the time I was eleven years old) but I just couldn’t see myself teaching whole gaggles of them day in and day out.

Hard at Work, 1978

Hard at work designing computer courseware (1978)

Teaching adults didn’t enter my sphere of job possiblities until 1978 when – still working in the ‘Centre for Instructional Development’ – I was charged with developing ‘how to’ manuals and ‘tutorials’ on the use of computers and the simple software that was available for them at the time (basically math programs, basic word processing and spreadsheet applications); I was then deployed around the college to ‘train’ faculty, staff and technicians in their use (we’re talking very early in the use of PCs in business and education) and soon became the ‘go to’ girl for all things PC at the College.  I suppose it was only natural that when the Continuing Education department decided it was time to offer night school courses in basic PC usage, I was asked to teach them (I’d already taught a couple of ‘typing’ courses at night school, so the transition was fairly easy).

Long Service Award 1986

Receiving my long service award (1986) for ‘long and meritorious service as a part-time teacher’

I continued teaching night school courses for the next 20 years (when the boys were pre-schoolers, I stayed home during the day and taught 4 nights a week) and gradually added supply and part-time daytime teaching to my schedule (after the youngest entered school on a full time basis).  Eventually, I merged all the part-time teaching I was doing (night school, day school, corporate training for both the College and the local Board of Education’s adult training division) into a full time teaching position at the College.  I was very, very good at what I did – even though I’d had no idea that teaching was something I might pursue as a career back when I had to choose something to do ‘for the rest of my life’!  (NOTE: I left that College in 2002 to run my own web design business for two years, then accepted a full time position at another College, where I stayed until 2010; I guess I hadn’t quite gotten the teaching bug out of my system!)

Minnie Mouse at Disneyland

I could just soooo see me in this outfit!

Over the years, I’ve considered other job possibilities – Librarian, bookstore clerk, copy editor (all of these related, or course, to my love of the written word), tour guide at a winery (driven by a combined love of wine and teaching), continuity editor for TV shows/movies (it makes me crazy when I see clearly obvious continuity ‘goofs’ on the screen when there’s a person whose job it is specifically to make sure they don’t happen!), marketing assistant at the African Lion Safari (closer than the Toronto Zoo, but closed in the winter).  I also thought (for just the briefest of moments) that I’d like to work at Walt Disney World or Disneyland (the ‘happiest place on earth’); however, I quickly decided that the combination of really lousy pay and having to be ‘happy, happy, happy’ all the time might wear on me after a while, so I gave up that idea pretty quickly (although I think I would have made an AWESOME Minnie Mouse!)

All in all, I’m fairly content with the jobs I’ve had and the path I’ve taken to where I am today. Each job I held led me to something bigger, better and more fulfilling (most of the time, anyway) and I have eventually come ‘full circle’ and back to my goal of being a full time writer – even if I did have to wait until I was on … the other side of 55.

In The End Quote

  1. Teresa Cleveland Wendel permalink
    September 21, 2012 5:36 pm

    Hello Margo
    I found your blog through the award given to you by Sylvia Morice. I love the title of your blog, and I’m always on the lookout for stuff written about this enchanting period of life we’re in. Thanks!

    • September 23, 2012 2:35 pm

      I’m glad you found me and that you enjoy my posts!


  2. September 12, 2012 9:09 pm

    A wonderful journey indeed. I’m not far behind you in age, but miles behind figuring out how to get where I want to be, or even how to get there.

    • September 13, 2012 8:22 am

      Just keeping moving forward and listen to that little voice inside that tells you when you’re on the right track (or not). Eventually you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be. Good Luck.


  3. September 9, 2012 6:30 pm

    I enjoyed reading your journey. Congratulations on finally getting to your original goal.

    • September 10, 2012 8:34 am

      It took me a while to get here, that’s for sure. But I learned something new at every step along the way.


  4. September 9, 2012 1:10 pm

    Hi Margo–really interesting to read about your work path. I worked as an instructional designer and facilitator, too, only for a large corporation. Loved teaching people and seeing the light bulb go on in their heads when they understood a concept or a new computer program! I also taught Creative Writing for a provincial university’s extension programs a couple of times…had to design the courses myself, have them approved and then teach them to the adults who signed up. I remember the first night being soooooooooooooo nervous until I actually got in the classroom and started talking–then I was fine.

    I think, like you, this all stems from my love of the written word and the power that good writing can hold. Also, when I was finishing high school I wanted to be a teacher but there was a glut of them at the time and students were strongly discouraged from taking that route. And now that I’ve retired I’m writing more and more again, and I love it.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • September 9, 2012 2:16 pm

      It’s funny how the twists and turns our lives take always seem to lead us right where we’re supposed to be!


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