This is … there is no doubt about it … one of my more harebrained schemes. Lunching on the back deck after searching LinkedIn Groups for wildlife conservation groups, and finding but a few, kind of brought it home to me. Leaving a career predicated on the lawyerly skills I earned over the years, and deciding instead to land a job in wildlife conservation — preferably involving elephants — is a downright wacky idea. After all, there are no elephants in my little corner of Pennsylvania.
Then, however, I recalled other harebrained schemes I have hatched, pursued, and oddly enough, survived. Even succeeded at. I credit Colgate University and the old Jan Plan program for this propensity to succeed at harebrained schemes.
Back in the day, as all my old fart classmates will recall, you could come up with an independent study project, find a professor as wacky as you were to sponsor it, and then spend the month of January accomplishing the project for course credit before resuming the more traditional spring semester of coursework come frigid-in-Hamilton, NY- February.
One of my Jan Plans, for instance, involved writing a paper in French about how the Paris subway system was constructed, with a special focus on the tunnels underneath the Seine as this was, if my memory serves, a construction first for a subway system — underwater tunneling. Granted, this Jan Plan gave me an excuse to return to Paris for the month of January where my Lebanese boyfriend awaited, but I did read lots and lots about la construction du metro Parisien while haunting the Hotel de Sens in the fourth arrondisement, and got credit for the paper I wrote on the topic.
Another, perhaps more useful Jan Plan, involved getting approval to translate Albert Camus’ 20th century masterpiece, L’Etranger, into English as the then-existing translation was piss poor, and mangled just about every bit of Camusian symbolism that the unsuspecting Albert had worked into the original. It was a really bad translation. The then head of the Romance Languages department, Elwyn Sterling, agreed with me on that and the need for a better one.
Interestingly, Prof. Sterling never raised an eyebrow, or indeed expressed le moindre scepticisme, about the fact that I intended to translate an entire novel in four short weeks. By week 3, I was roughly at page 9 out of 85 fine-print pages in the Gallimard edition. Trust me on this: translating a major work of French literature is just not as simple as ordering a wedge of drooling Camembert from your local fromager!
I returned during week 3, hat in hand, to give him an update. “Love the project,” I declared enthusiastically. “I’m really learning so much. And I really want to continue it,” I said. But, I sheepishly informed him, I was not as far along as I had hoped, and would not be able to complete it during the Jan Plan month-long semester.
No worries, was his ready reply. (And, again, he had the grace to act not the least surprised that the project was taking longer than my absurdly naïve initial estimate.) “Take the spring semester as well, and knock it out by the time you graduate in May, and I’ll arrange for January and spring semester credits.” And so it was done. And by May, I was done. I had translated L’Etranger into a more respectable English language version of The Stranger. Someday, I should self-publish the darned thing because it was a heck of a lot of work!
Some other harebrained schemes that worked out well that I recalled over lunch include the following:
Pursuing a civil rights case that everyone declared a dead, bang loser, and creating the hostile work environment sexual harassment cause of action for my client Cathy Broderick and other women and men in the workforce. (That baby got international press coverage — my 15 minutes of fame — which was tarnished only by the fact that I had to hide softshell crab schmutz beneath a borrowed jacket when interviewed by the Today Show because the crab gunk had squirted onto my chest over lunch.)
Deciding at age 17 to spend a year abroad before college. It was the only thing my Mom ever forbade me to do. She thought I was too young. Colgate thought it was a grand idea and told me to take two years if I wanted to, my admissions place was secure. After heavily lobbying all my Mom’s friends, who also thought it a grand idea since it did not involve their teenaged daughter, I spent the most fun year of my life in the City of Lights. (That’s when I started to wonder, while of course riding the metro, how on earth does one put a subway tunnel under the Seine after all?!)
Swimming upstream in the Okavango Delta in Botswana after a long, hot day traveling in a dug out tree trunk — preferred travel mode in those parts. Our very pissed off guide informed me that the place was teeming with crocodiles, and was not amused when I asked, why then had he said we could swim. (He meant rinse off in the puddle close to shore.) Even the local villagers tried to warn me, but the confusion on my part was understandable since I didn’t speak Tswana. Thus, when villagers along the shore smiled broadly, waved, and shouted “kwena,” as I swam upstream, I smiled and waved back between breast strokes, calling out, “Yes, it’s a beautiful river.” Kwena, as you have wisely deduced, is actually Tswana for croc not river!
Okay, granted that scheme was stupid, but I did survive to tell the tale. Indeed, I thrived.
So, now you can understand how the most harebrained schemes are hatched, pursued, and how they succeed. It’s a Colgate thing. It came with our meal plan and Jan Plan, all neatly included in the fee for tuition. No matter how harebrained your scheme, if you had the confidence to try it, the professors backed you up wholeheartedly as you inched your way towards a successful outcome.
And that, gentle reader, is how a former civil rights lawyer/investigator hatched her plan to pursue her heart rather than her head in seeking out a career path in animal conservation. Yep, preferably involving elephants despite a marked shortage of that noble beast here in my backyard in PA. And I’ve insured my ultimate success by reaching out to Colgate’s Career Center who is enthusiastically backing my plan. So, I’m bound to succeed. And thrive. That’s the Colgate way.
Come along for the ride! Hold my hand! Send words of encouragement my way! I’m going to need it for this may be my most harebrained scheme yet! And doesn’t it sound like fun? Go Gate!