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Sunday, July 5, 2015

WHEN I GROW UP

So I'm in India to see the holy man Sai Baba. "At the feet of the Lord," as my father would say. If you go in for that sort of thing. I don't know what to do with my life. I'm 20 at the time, just having finished my second year at college. I still haven't declared my major. I'm thinking of maybe enrolling in Sai Baba's school for boys, which leads to a degree. I don't realize it at the time, but my desire may be to fulfill a promise made to my father several years before. When I was in sixth grade, I had made plans to meet my girlfriend Maria at the mall. But my father wouldn't give me a ride unless I promised to do boarding school in India. He even made me sign an agreement. I cried all the way to the Beverly Center. I don't think he intended to have me make good on my promise, or even remembered my making it. He probably just didn't want to take me to the mall, and was using our contract as a deterrent. But a promise is a promise.

Right before I went to India an attempt was made on Sai Baba's life. A guy who was actually a disciple of his had broken into the waiting area with a gun and demanded to see Swami. He killed an assistant but never got to the holy man. Also around this time there were some allegations made that Sai Baba had been molesting some of the male students at the school. It was never proved. High drama and heady times. I didn't view Swami as a pedophile, but with all the controversy I never did get around to applying to the college.

However, while there I did write Sai Baba a letter. This was customary for disciples to do. Some would get called in for a private audience, where Sai Baba would give advice, make predictions, sometimes even materialize trinkets, like the medallion he once made me. Most people never did get called in, but Sai Baba, who passed away in 2011, did accept their letters.

My family used to be among the lucky ones. On our first trip to India, when I was 8, we had a private audience with the sage most every day of our 10-day stay. Once Sai Baba looked at me and my two brothers and predicted what we'd do for a living. "I see no lawyers," he said, referring to my father who himself practices law. "I see a doctor, a scientific engineer, and an MBA."

Now at 20 I wasn't headed in any of these directions, and I was curious what to do and looking for guidance. So in the letter I ask Baba whether I should study medicine, or be a writer. Medicine not because I had any inclination to heal people; it was mainly because I was a good student. Writing because - well I'm not sure why actually. I'll have to get back to you on that. But it was a desire of mine at the time. Swami took the letter, but never granted me an audience. However when I looked at him imploringly and said, "Help me Swami," he leveled me with his penetrating gaze. I felt his current. More than words can convey, although I didn't know what he was trying to say.

I don't know if he ever got around to reading my letter. He took so many of them. Thousands of people from around the world were there to see him on any given day, and of these hundreds handed him their prayers. It was said that he was God, and so didn't need to read with his eyes. Omniscient, he could read minds. So what was the point of writing the letter in the first place? you might ask. For the disciple to organize his thoughts and put them into a coherent form, obviously. Maybe it was in writing the letter that I thought of becoming a writer. In any event, by the end of my letter, I knew my career would be one or the other, although I didn't think I'd do both.

I came back from India and a classmate suggested I enroll in an introductory screenwriting class. It was taught by the head of the screenwriting program at UCLA. Richard Walter has written books and still teaches there, 20 years later. Besides the class was cush. It was worth only 2 credits (not the standard 4) and only met for an hour once a week. I attended for the first 6 weeks and really enjoyed myself. I liked listening to the man speak, and completed assignments which included writing the first few pages of an original script. Then I found out that by some glitch in the enrollment system I wasn't on the class roster, so I stopped going. But in that short time I had been bitten by the screenwriting bug.

I considered becoming a premed but the hoops I'd have to jump through were too exhausting for me even to think about. Why does a doctor need to learn calculus anyway? And even the prerequisites had prerequisites. To get into pre-calculus I'd have to take a placement exam. Forget it. Instead I signed up for history. It was also cush. Lots of classes to choose from, and lots of essay writing. I have since written lots of essays like the one you're reading.

After graduating I started writing screenplays. Figured I was in LA, and Hollywood is where screenplays are made. I got a job at Arnold Schwarzenegger's restaurant, Schatzi on Main. My first screenplay, entitled Armageddon before the hit movie of that name came out, featured Arnold in the lead. I used my position at the restaurant to get the script to his manager. I never heard back. Hollywood is high on hopes, which fueled me for years. In all I have written 13 screenplays. None of them got made. And novels and non-fiction, and other prose, and poetry, whose fate was all the same. To be placed on my bookshelf in manuscript form or as a self-published book for few or none to read.

Desiring to pursue a career that actually pays dividends, where hard work translates into hard and fast currency, to actually do something with my life and maybe even make a living, I became a doctor. The funny thing was, though quite lucrative, I didn't find the practice of medicine at all enjoyable; unlike writing, which I liked, but couldn't make a dime doing. In the end I am both a doctor and writer, the two pursuits finally intersecting when I left the hospital and resumed my literary labor of love, as I call it, this time writing about health. But these are only temporary roles. Everything sinks back into the eternal. Until then, I can say it was my life that answered the question I put forth in yesteryear's letter, not Sai, at least not explicitly. But prophesies are often self-fulfilling. And what am I saying, I am Sai, if Sai is Self which is who you are too.

Speaking of prophesies, Sai Baba's did turn out in other ways as well. Sort of. One brother became a businessman, but the other died when he was barely legal. So finding a scientific engineer somewhere in Justin's brief life would be quite a stretch. You'd have to be really metaphorical to see some symbolism, like was Baba talking about some prior life, or future incarnation. But you can leave the symbolism to me. After all I'm the writer. We're good with metaphors. And also a doctor. Just like Swami said. Though I still don't make a dime. But in mentioning careers he didn't say anything about cash. He sure could croon about Krishna however. My what a voice he had. I sure do miss him.

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