Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: January 2022

Francis X. Tolbert, his book cover, and a Texas-style bowl of red.

A Bowl of Red

By G. S. Norwood

We are in the middle of what passes for winter in Texas. Not like the deep freeze we had last winter, thank goodness. A typical Texas winter means we have many days when the temperatures hang in the mid-fifties during the day, sometimes dropping into the twenties overnight. And when temperatures drop in Texas, Texans make chili.

Frost on the grass in Dallas, with “Forrest Gump” meme: “And just like that everybody was making chili in Texas.
When temperatures drop in Texas, Texans make chili. (See credits below).

A Bowl of Red

Chili looms large in Texas mythology. Cue the image of cowboys sitting around the campfire, eating bowls of chili while someone plays a harmonica in the background. Back in 1966, beloved Dallas journalist, restauranteur, and historian, the late Frank X. Tolbert wrote what remains to this day the definitive work on chili. In A Bowl of Red, Tolbert offered up recipes, profiles of chili masters, and lots of tasty historical tidbits, all collected on his way to founding what is now called the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff, held every November in Terlingua, Texas.

For more than 50 years now, folks have been flocking to Terlingua, or simply starting their own chili cookoff competitions, in pursuit of the best, the ultimate, the absolutely perfect bowl of red. Along the way, the Terlingua competition has spawned many legends and inspired at least one classic outlaw country recording—Jerry Jeff Walker’s ¡Viva Terlingua!—all of which have only added to chili’s mythic stature.

Please note that ¡Viva Terlingua! has nothing to do with chili and was actually recorded in Luckenbach, Texas. But the wide-open craziness of the Terlingua Chili Cookoff has resonance in Texas, and somebody must have figured the name would sell a lot of records. Which it did. (Luckenbach is a whole ‘nother story.)

Wide views of vehicles, tents and people at the Terlingua Chili Cookoff, 2021, over a map of the Terlingua area.
Photos from the 2021 Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff. (See credits below).

Beans? No Beans?

Chili con carne is a basic of Tex-Mex cooking, but modern Texas chili has evolved far beyond a simple sauce of chili peppers and meat. Traditional Tex-Mex cooks treat chili con carne (chili pepper sauce with meat) more like gravy than a hearty stew than can make a meal all by itself. Chili con carne, like chili con queso (chili pepper sauce with cheese) is ladled over enchiladas and added to huevos rancheros. You can slit open an individual size bag of Fritos corn chips, drizzle a little chili over them, and add a whole pile of shredded cheese for Frito Pie. Uses like these give rise to the scornful snort you’ll often hear from chili purists: There are no beans in chili.

But c’mon. Let’s flash back to those cowboys, gathered around the campfire, out on the rolling plains. If you’re the camp cook and you have to provide a hearty meal for some hungry ranch hands, what are you going to do to make that chili pepper sauce with meat stretch? Add more expensive meat? Or throw in a bunch of beans?

That’s right. You go for the beans. Beans are cheap. When dried, they’re easy to transport from Beaumont to the trailhead in Abilene or Fort Worth without going bad. Your cowboys, whether Anglo, Black, or Hispanic, all grew up eating beans. It beggars the imagination that pintos, red kidneys, or navy beans never found their way into a pot of chili until folks from up north or back east started messing around in the chili pot.

Two historic photos of cowboy and chuck wagons.
“Cookie” had to feed a lot of hungry men out of that little wagon. (See credits below).

Man Mysteries

But that protest from the purists is a clue to another aspect of the chili saga. Like barbeque chefs, chili cooks are often men, and they raise the act of making chili to the level of a men-only sacred ritual. No girls allowed.

They do this by turning chili into Man Food, which is generally hotter, more complicated, and more extreme than the kind of food mere females create for mundane purposes like feeding the family. You think jalapeños make your chili hot enough to start brush fires? the chili men ask.  Try adding habaneros or ghost peppers. Wait! How about habaneros AND ghost peppers!

I firmly believe that food should not be painful but then, I’m a girl.

The meat in chili con carne also begs for masculine refinements. Beef is only a starting point. Some chili cooks swear by pork, others by highly spiced sausage. Or, hey! Why not a combination? Beef, and pork, and sausage! Or venison! Yeah! That’s the ticket. There’s probably even a cult following for Varmint Chili, using rabbit, raccoon, opossum, or rattlesnake as sources of meat. I wasn’t able to find a link for it, but you know if I thought of it, the manly chili connoisseurs are way ahead of me.

Francis X. Tolbert, his book cover, and a Texas-style bowl of red.
Frank X. Tolbert put Texas chili on the map with his classic cookbook, A Bowl of Red. (See credits below).

My Personal Chili Odyssey

Do you remember last week’s blog, where I said my mother thought Italian food was too spicy? Well, that went double for chili. It was a forbidden food at our house when I was a child—so much so that it became a bonding opportunity for my father and me. Several times when I stayed home sick from school, Dad took me to the doctor. Mom was a full-time high school teacher, but Dad, a college professor, had a more flexible schedule. It became our little secret that, on the way home from the clinic, we would pick up a can of Hormel and some saltine crackers and have a clandestine lunch of chili.

As an adult, I switched from Hormel to Wolf Brand—the preferred chili of Texas if you have to eat it out of a can. And, while Warren was very much a devotee of the Man Mysteries school of chili cooking, I discovered that he sometimes took a shortcut. He’d buy a Wick Fowler’s Two Alarm Chili kit, which is a prepackaged collection of herbs and spices for your chili-cooking pleasure. Wick Fowler being the legendary chili cook who upheld Texas pride in that very first International Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua.

After Warren’s death, when I became the sole chili cook in the household, I fell back on Wick Fowler’s False Alarm Chili, which turns out to be a dead simple recipe for delicious chili that won’t burn the back of my throat away. Did I mention that I don’t think food should be painful? I’m not a chili purist, and I’m definitely a girl, so I feel no shame. Now, when the weather turns cold and I’m hungry for that bowl of red, I pull out the Wick Fowler’s, a can of Ranch Style Beans, and my big red cast iron Dutch oven. Because when the temperatures drop in Texas, even transplanted Missouri girls make chili.

Beef and tomato sauce, Wick Fowler’s chili kit, and Ranch Style beans make tasty chili.
A transplanted Missouri girl makes chili. (G. S. Norwood).


All montages are by Jan S. Gephardt. The frosty Dallas lawn photo is courtesy of LawnStarter, and the meme came from America’s Best Pics & Videos. Many thanks to Ghost Town Texas for the panoramic views of the 2021 Terlingua chili event (it’s worth a look at all the photos on their page – especially if you thought sf convention-goers wore weird costumes!). Thanks also to Google Maps for the satellite view of the area.

We deeply appreciate the archive of historical chuck wagon photos by Erwin E. Smith at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas! Jan used a little “Photoshop magic” to make the details easier to see on The Shoe Bar Outfit in for Dinner (1912) by Erwin E. Smith. That one is definitely from their collection. We found the other photo, Erwin E. Smith stops for a cup of coffee on the LS Ranch (1907) on Pinterest. The Pinterest poster attributed the photo to Erwin E. Smith (he did take several photos of himself) and the Amon Carter Museum – but we couldn’t find this exact photo in the Amon Carter’s online collection of photos, letters, and other materials by Smith.

Thanks very much to Alchetron, for the photo of Frank X. Tolbert. Amazon provided the cover image for A Bowl of Red, and the delicious-looking Texas-style “Bowl of Red” photo came (with a recipe) from Dad Cooks Dinner. Finally, G. S. Norwood herself photographed the stages of her own “Bowl of Red” recipe.

Mouth-watering photos of a poot roast, pot roast tacos, roasted chicken, a plate of spaghetti, and pizza, cover a week on a calendar page.

Cooking? Oh, Joy!

By G. S. Norwood

Way back in July 2021, I wrote a blog post about how cooking your day-in-day-out meals can be fun, if you don’t get too hung up in the snobbery of hobby cooking. I even wrote a follow-up post about comfort food. And here I am, still at it. Still searching for those perfect recipes that are tasty, nutritious, and enjoyable enough for me to think, “Cooking? Oh, Joy!”

Mouth-watering photos of a poot roast, pot roast tacos, roasted chicken, a plate of spaghetti, and pizza, cover a week on a calendar page.
Check out the credits below and you’ll find links to recipes for all of these dishes. Based on G.’s “Classic Five.”

The Classic Five

I read somewhere that most cooks really only have five basic meal plans in their repertoire. A standard week’s dinner menu might read:

Sunday: Pot Roast

Monday: Reheated Pot Roast

Tuesday: Pot Roast Tacos

Wednesday: Baked Chicken

Thursday: Spaghetti

Friday: Take Out, Because, C’mon, it’s Friday!

Saturday: Pizza

Or maybe that’s just me. Cooking for one can be a challenge when I want to cook something that renders more than two servings. Even pizza gets old (really old) after the second day. That’s why I’m always on the hunt for new things I like to cook, like to eat, and that also hold well into the next day or two.

“Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” and “Jamie’s Food Revolution” are two of the titles in G.’s library.
Two of G.’s go-to cookbook resources. (See credits below).

What’s in Your Library?

I have a small collection of basic cookbooks, from the classic, orange-covered Betty Crocker’s Cookbook—mine dates to 1979 and features a lot of Jell-O molds—to chef-driven entries like Jamie’s Food Revolution, by Jamie Oliver.

My mother was an advocate of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, which has apparently been “new” for at least 75 years. Jan even has an old copy that belonged to Mom’s mother, so well-worn and stuffed with recipes clipped from the newspaper that it was kept in a bag to prevent it from falling apart. It dates to some early era before they started using the classic red and white checks on the cover.

But how many of the recipes did Mother actually cook? Certainly not the pot roast, and probably not spaghetti, either, since she seemed to think Italian food was “too spicy.” Mom was really good at a lot of things—she was an excellent art teacher, for instance—but cooking was not where her imagination found fertile soil. And somebody should have taken that electric skillet away from her years before it died. For real.

The 1935 cover for “My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook” and a harvest-gold West Bend electric skillet from the 1970s.
The Weird Sisters’ grandmother cooked out of a 1935 “BH&G” cookbook, but they’re not sure how often their mother consulted it, before turning pot roast to shoe leather in her Harvest Gold West Bend electric skillet. (See credits below).

Finding the Joy

Let’s just say that I don’t have a deep legacy of great family recipes to rely on at suppertime. Is it any wonder I perked right up when novelist Hallie Ephron wrote about her own mother’s cooking skills in a recent post on the Jungle Red Writers blog? Hallie’s mother, who was never one to cook at all, struck culinary gold when she came upon a recipe for chicken paprika in Irma S. Rombauer’s classic Joy of Cooking.

I realized that I had known about Joy for Cooking for eons—it was first published in 1931—but had never owned a copy, or even spent much time browsing through it in the bookstore. I went straight to my computer and ordered it for my cookbook library.

Oh, my goodness! It’s not just a cookbook. It’s an encyclopedia of cooking, with detailed chapter introductions about ingredients and prep work, thousands of recipes in quite small type, no chapter divisions or thumb tabs to guide you, and no fancy color photographs of carefully styled food. What it is, is comprehensive. You want to know how to hard boil an egg? It’s in there. You want to know how to roast a pheasant? It’s in there, too.

What it isn’t? It’s not very daring when it comes to spices. As I dipped in and out of the various chapters, I noticed that seasonings often began and ended with salt and pepper—at least on the core Middle American White Folks recipes. Mother would have loved it.

G’s deviled eggs in her carnival glass egg dish, with an apple pie in the background, next to the cover of “Joy of Cooking.”

Purist or Adventurer?

Joy of Cooking does offer a wide array of variations on some basic comfort food recipes, however. People who follow this blog my recall that I’m a purist when it comes to deviled eggs. Rombauer starts out that way, but includes optional spices like chili sauce and curry powder (yes, salt and pepper are in there, too). Plus a whole long list of “additions” including anchovy filets, garlic, smoked salmon, dill pickles, pesto, several kinds of onions, capers, caviar, and bacon.

I was appalled. My good friend, who has a more adventurous palate, cheered when I told her. She makes her deviled eggs with Grey Poupon mustard. Her husband and son-in-law like mine better, but it’s a free country.

Cooking? Oh, Joy!

And that’s the bottom line, really. The joy of cooking comes from learning how to cook things, then discovering how to combine the basics into tastier, more adventuresome dishes. Books like Joy of Cooking and Jamie’s Food Revolution aren’t just about finding new recipes. They’re about mastering new skills, so you can develop your own new recipes, and raise that dry, crusty pot roast your mother fed you up to succulent, fork-tender, new heights of ginger and soy sauce with orange slices. Or whatever strikes your fancy come pot roast day. So, the next time you step into the kitchen, be joyful!


All montages are by Jan S. Gephardt. Photos for G.’s “Classic Five” came from a variety of sources, all of whom we fervently thank! They are: Food Network for the pot roast. Taste of Home for the Mexican pot roast tacos. The blog “I Heart Naptime” for the roasted chicken. Delish, and photographer Parker Feierbach, for the spaghetti. And The Recipe Critic for the homemade pizza. Note all of these sources include their respective recipes! Many thanks to Amazon and At-A-Glance, for the calendar background (featuring this very month!).

Cookbook covers for Betty Crocker and Jamie Oliver are courtesy of their respective Amazon pages. The background photo of the stovetop full of good things cooking was taken by photographer Zubaida Abdallah, AKA “zouzou1,” via 123rf.

Our grandma’s copy of My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the 1935 edition) is considerably more food-stained and stuffed with recipes clipped from many sources over several decades. Unfortunately, it’s also in archival storage and Jan wasn’t able to access it quickly enough to photograph it for this post. Abe Books provided the photo. The Harvest Gold West Bend Electric Skillet in our photo is no longer available on Etsy, but we appreciate the access to the image.

Finally, G. took the photo of eggs she herself deviled (she also baked the apple pie in the background). This photo originally ran in her blog post “Stuff That Works.” The (latest in a long succession) cover for Joy of Cooking is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to all!

The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create. –unattributed.

The Future we Want

By Jan S. Gephardt

The header quote-image has been a consistent favorite (among my most-clicked-on images) since I first published it in January 2018. For a science fiction writer, “the future is something we create” has a double meaning, of course (I’ll get back to that in a bit). But if we’re creating our future through our collective choices and actions, what kind of future are we making? Consider the view from where you stand today. Is it truly the future we want?

Wait! Doesn’t COVID prove we’re not in control? That we’re at the mercy of random events? Certainly, out-of-the-blue events lurch into our lives. It’s inevitable. Everyone’s future comes packed with forces and events beyond our control.

Throughout time (and probably space, too), unexpected adversity has popped up to complicate things. We’re not responsible for what happens to us or how we feel about it. But we are responsible for what we do in reaction. Therein lies the test of our character.

The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. –John W. Holt, Jr.
Our reactions to adversity define the quality of our character. (See credits below).

The Future we Want for Ourselves

It helps to have a clear vision of what you want. As most dancers, martial artists, and other athletes will agree, if you envision doing something – and how you will do it – it helps you perform difficult plays or moves.

But when we apply that principle to life, we need to be careful what we wish for. I’ve known people who envisioned success in the form of tangible items. In my experience, that rarely ends well. You can envision driving a luxurious car or living in a gorgeous house, but how will that help you get there? As a result of that vision, will you do anything to get money?

My sister did an excellent job of explaining a better way to follow a guiding vision in the last two posts. Here are links to her How Did I Get Here? and What do You Want to be When You Grow Up? In her case, the guiding vision was “I want to work in the arts!” and she gave great illustrations of how that worked for her. I don’t need to cover that ground again.

Do something today that your future self will thank you for. – Sean Patrick Flanery
It took a while to find this quote properly attributed to its originator. (See credits below).

The Future we Want for Our World

Today, I’m more concerned with our collective view of the future. It’s a question that has popped up in my life, in one form or another, rather persistently in the last few days. Recent polling seems clear: if you asked a random collection of Americans if we’re headed in a good direction they’d say “NO!”

But are we, to paraphrase the common paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi, being the change we want to see? What needs to change, and what can we do, individually and collectively, to make that change happen? Ideas vary. But if you’re into New Year’s resolutions, how about resolving to think of people who disagree with us not as morons or buffoons, but as generally not that different from us. Maybe with some peculiar ideas, but not horrible people. Where are the points of commonality? Only from a place of connection can people begin to listen to each other.

Heck, if everyone made a New Year’s resolution (and then stuck to it) to only leave comments online that they’d be willing to say to the other person’s face in real life, we’d be well ahead.

If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction. -Martin Kornfeld
Here’s a good way to start “being the change.” (See credits below).

Envisioning The Future We Want Through Science Fiction

I’ve written before on this blog about ways that science fiction and speculative fiction has occasionally shaped public understanding. When authors explore complex or unusual ideas in compelling stories, they make them more relatable. The “Robot” novels of Isaac Asimov offer just one example.

Many of the most famous and influential science fiction novels or movies are thought experiments about how a new idea or trend or invention might change things if taken to a certain extrapolated level. Often, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, things are taken to an extreme that makes the point hard to overlook.

Unfortunately, all too often the impulse to explore an idea in an extreme version distorts things. The author must downplay or ignore safeguards in the real world, many times without much (or any) explanation of why that safeguard failed in their story’s universe.

Book covers for Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the “Robot Trilogy” of Isaac Asimov, “The Caves of Steel,” “The Naked Sun,” and “The Robots of Dawn.”
Visionary science fiction books from earlier decades. (See credits below).

The Two Novels That Inspired this Post

I normally have several books going at once, but rarely two novels at the same time. More often it’s one novel or anthology (for both pleasure and to keep up with the field) at a time. There usually are at least two nonfiction books for research on different topics. And there also is normally at least one book on the craft of writing.

However, this time (for complex reasons) I’m reading two different science fiction novels in parallel. I’ve only just begun them, so I can’t in fairness say anything yet about my sense of the stories. One is the military sf novel Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. The other is more “general sf”: The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz.

Neither is a newly-published book. Ninefox Gambit is Book One of a trilogy. It’s set in a larger universe of stories that range from novels to short fiction to games, and more. As far as I can tell, The Sol Majestic is a standalone. Both were published by established publishers. But wow! Are they ever different.

Book covers for “Ninefox Gambit” and “The Sol Majestic.”
Jan started these novels at roughly the same time. The comparison inspired this post. (See credits below).

Worldview and Approach

Neither universe seems like a very good place to live, but the tone of each world is quite different. We’ll see where they go from here, but the two setups lead me to believe they’ll open out into very different experiences.

My point in mentioning them is to say that opening oneself to new views and ideas can change how we look at the world we live in now. The stories we choose to consume shape our worldview in ways that range from subtle to profound. When we read wildly different books, set in wildly different places and worldviews, we grow more mentally flexible.

The opposite is also true, however. If we only ever tell ourselves one kind of story, over and over and over, it distorts us. What kind of stories should we not get too comfortable with? I’d suggest that too total a diet of conspiracy theories, myths about the Lost Cause, or even science fiction stories that are always predicated on “we destroyed Earth, so we have to find someplace new” might become a problem.

Does it help us create the future we want? That’s a question we probably should ask, especially if we get really, thoroughly dialed-in on any particular worldview or philosophy, to the exclusion of everything else.

Whenever you read a book or have a conversation, the experience causes physical changes in your brain. --George Johnson
What you read and what you discuss really does make a difference. (See credits below).


I’m sorry to say that QuotesHunter (my original source) doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but you can still find the header image on my Artdog Adventures post “Creating Well.” I found the words for the quote from John W. Holt, Jr. on Quote Master, but the quote-image format wasn’t right for this blog. So I made my own, using a stormy background by plus69 on 123rf.

Many, many thanks to Quotespedia, for the often-unattributed Sean Patrick Flanery quote and the nice image to go with it. We also want to thank “Sheila Pennies of Time” on Pinterest for the “random act of kindness” quote-image with the quote by the mysterious Martin Kornfeld (I can find his quote many places, but nothing about the man himself). I can’t find a source beyond that Pinterest page. I first posted it as an “Artdog Quote of the Week” in 2017. For this post, I have adjusted the format to take up less vertical space without losing any of the picture.

I took the photo of my three copies of the Isaac Asimov “Robot” books (The cover art for The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both by Stephen Youll. Cover design for The Robots of Dawn is by Kiyoshi Kanai.) The cover image for The Handmaid’s Tale is courtesy of Bookshop. We’re grateful for the cover images for Ninefox Gambit and The Sol Majestic, both from Goodreads. And finally, Quotefancy came through for us with the George Johnson quote about changes to our brains (check out his appearance on The Colbert Report). Many thanks to all!

You have to create your own path and I’m up to the challenge. –Octavia Spencer

What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

By G. S. Norwood

In the previous blog post, I wrote about my career in the arts. That started me thinking about all the bad career advice I got along the way—back when I was still trying to answer that age-old question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Back then, in the Stone Age, little White American girls had two basic career choices beyond wife and mother. We could be a teacher or a nurse. Little Black girls were told they could be maids. Of course, even then, women performed a much wider variety of jobs, but society’s imagination offered us very limited options.

The newspaper’s Help Wanted section included columns titled “Jobs for Men” and “Jobs for Women.” Woe betide any women who aspired to a job meant for a man. I am, thankfully, a bit too young to remember similar columns designated for men and women of color.

A teacher, a couple of nurses, and a Black maid offer a glimpse of career paths for young women in the 1950s and 1960s.
“What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?” The well-meaning elders who advised the author had a limited view of young women’s career options. (credits below).

The Stereotypes Persist

Even today, in the stories we tell ourselves in film, the stereotypes persist. At 12:47 minutes into this 2016 interview for Vanity Fair, Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer spoke about how hard it was for her to find roles that offered any kind of variety.

“Right after I did The Help—it was barely in the can—I was all excited about the possibilities that were to come,” Spencer said. “And 90% of the roles were, ‘We have this great role for you,’ and it was a maid. ‘We have this wonderful role!’ and it was a maid.” And I was, ‘You know, I just played the best damn maid role written. I don’t have a problem with playing a maid again, but it has to top this one.’ And none of them did.”

Fortunately for all of us, Spencer got proactive about finding better roles, and followed the success of The Help by playing the strongly maternal Wanda Johnson in Fruitvale Station and mathematician/computer pioneer Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures.

You have to create your own path and I’m up to the challenge. –Octavia Spencer
Octavia Spencer passed up a lot of stereotyped roles to follow her dream. (Inspiring Quotes).

Be a Stripper

Young people are guided into careers in ways that are shaped by their family history and by the cultural norms of their time. When I was in high school, a new wave of feminism was just taking hold in America, although it hadn’t penetrated too far into my corner of Missouri. As seniors, about to enter our post high school careers, we were all given an aptitude test that was meant to identify jobs we might be suited for. I don’t know what that test was called, or what range of careers it included, but I do remember the ideal career it identified for me: Stripper.

I’m going to be generous and assume that a) the test was referring to someone who takes paint off industrial surfaces using solvents, or perhaps connects pieces of film into a continuous reel. And b) the test was primarily geared toward suggesting blue-collar skilled trades in traditionally male fields.

Editorial note from Jan, who worked in a print shop around the time G. got that test result: In the printing industry at that time, a “stripper” prepared photographic negatives to make photo-offset lithography plates to go on printing presses. It was a decent blue-collar job until the advent of desktop publishing a couple of decades later.

I don’t think “Stripper” was the test’s nod to my being female, with an interest in the arts. But where were the teachers and nurses? The college professors and directors of concert operations?

Adolescent test-takers in a classroom, circa 1978.
Bad career advice for creative people also may come from standardized aptitude tests. (credits below).

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

I profoundly hope that particular aptitude test is no longer on the market. But career options continue to be limited by society’s expectations. Not so very long ago nearly every college bound adult was told to go into computing, because that’s where the employment growth and competitive salaries could be found. Never mind that some of us have no aptitude at all for that kind of work.

A better approach, I think, is to guide people toward careers that use the talents and abilities they naturally have. As job seekers, we tend to believe that jobs have to be hard and involve ‘work.’ But the truth is, the best careers are built on the skills and interests we have had all along. The stuff we’d do for fun, for free. We discount our talents because those things come easily to us. We forget that they don’t come easily to everyone else and are therefore valued by the people who can’t do that stuff.

One standardized test I recommend to young people now is Clifton Strengths, developed by the management consulting company, Gallup, Inc. It helps you identify your own individual talents and suggests careers where you can use them.

My auntie who brought me up all my life, all the time she was saying, ‘The guitar is all right as a hobby, John, but you’ll never make a living at it.’ So I got that on a plaque for her and sent it to her in the house I bought her. —John Lennon
John’s aunt lived to see what spectacularly bad career advice she’d given in reply to “What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?” (credits below).

Aim Low?

Your parents love you. They want you to have a steady income and secure employment. Maybe that’s why parents so often tell their children to curb their aspirations, as Mimi Smith told her nephew and future Beatle John Lennon. It’s safer than shooting for the stars.

Or, as novelist Deborah Crombie’s mother used to tell her, “If you go to secretarial school, you’ll always have a job.”

She wasn’t exactly wrong. What she should have said was, “Typing is a skill that’s highly portable, and can be used in many fields.” And that, I think, is the key to finding your career bliss. Have a lot of useful skills in your toolbox. Typing, coding, generating new ideas, balancing books, and listening empathetically are all useful in a wide range of careers. Even stripping.

End credits list visual effects artists for “Avengers: Endgame.”
It takes literally hundreds of creative people to make a movie. (credits below).

Your Job Hasn’t Been Invented Yet

But the truth is, your ideal job might not have been invented yet. I advise students whose parents don’t think they can make a living in the arts to take the folks to any Marvel movie. Sit through all the closing credits. Hundreds of names will scroll by—all of them people with jobs in the arts. Perhaps more importantly, many of those people have jobs that weren’t even invented when the adults who advised them last considered the job market.

When you combine your unique talents with the skills in your toolbox and the needs you see emerging in the world around you, you may invent a whole new answer to that age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”


We have a lot of people to thank for the pictures in this post. Photos for the “Women’s Work” montage and the John Lennon quote were selected and arranged by Jan S. Gephardt. All three of the vintage photos for the “Women’s Work” montage have backstories worth sharing!


Virginia Woodard is the tired teacher in her classroom. This was the end of her first day of teaching in 1960 at Mission View Elementary School in Tucson, AZ. The school still serves students today. Dan Tortorell photographed her for the Tucson Citizen. According to the information on, “She told the reporter she almost decided to turn back after getting within a block of the school.” For perspective, 1960-61 was also Jan’s first grade year.

The photo of the two unidentified nurses, taken by Gordon A. Larkin, dates to 1954. We used a detail. Scrubs Magazine identifies it as Photograph 825 from the Mount Saint Vincent University Archives.

Jan found the 1960s-era photo of an unidentified Black maid and White child on Bettye Kearse’s excellent post, “Mammy Warriors: An Homage to Black Maids.” It’s written from the perspective of a Black woman whose ancestors included slaves. She critiques the persistent stereotype and pushes back with a blast of reality.


The Octavia Spencer quote-image came from a compilation of the Oscar-winner’s wit and wisdom on “Inspiring Quotes.”

The classroom full of adolescent test-takers shows students taking a standardized test circa 1978 at Cook Jr. High. At least the decade is right, even if these kids are a little younger than G. was when her test results advised her to be a “stripper.” Lawrence Cook Middle School (current name) remains an active school in Santa Rosa, CA. Many thanks to the Santa Rosa-based Press Democrat for the photo!

Take a look at an (unidentified) 1970s-era print shop stripper in action. It’s the second photo down on this page of photos by Dan Wybrant. That guy looks a lot more like the print-shop strippers Jan knew, than her sister ever did.


Jan illustrated the widely-available John Lennon quote with a detail from a photo by Andrew Maclear and Redferns. It was captioned, “John Lennon of The Beatles performs with The Dirty Mac on the set of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus.’” She found the photo on

For a case-in-point for G.’s argument that a Marvel movie requires hundreds of (gainfully employed) arts workers, see this post on Polygon. It explains what the VFX (visual effects) artists did to create Avengers: Endgame. If you read it, you’ll also see where Jan found the screen-capture from the movie’s end credits.

The research was fun, and we thank all of our sources.

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