Thursday, August 03, 2006

Quarter-Life

Your parents moved out of a one-bedroom, roach-infested apartment in a shitty neighborhood and bought a house in the suburbs. This tiny three-bedroom ranch house was like a mansion compared to the closet you used to call home and you and your siblings ran around the living room with your mouths hanging open. When the summer ended, you became the new kid at the local elementary school and you cried all week and vomited in the middle of the cafeteria while confused classmates stared at you with wide doe eyes. Grade school became junior high. Thrust for the first time amongst children you hadn’t grown up with, making new friends and becoming popular became paramount. You failed and no one liked you, but junior high only lasted two years, and soon enough you were in high school. You smoked your first cigarette, got drunk, went on your first date, smoked drugs, got a body piercing, swallowed pills, snuck out of the house, adopted a bizarre fashion sense, screamed at your parents and packed your bags for college. You spent your college years figuring out where you fit in while watching super-super senior frat boys convert their student loans into liver damage. You found yourself in your first serious relationship, funneled your first beer, became a theatre and creative writing geek, survived for weeks on ramen noodles and popcorn, spent a semester in Ireland, made out with someone ugly and graduated with a degree in English.

And then life began.

When I was a kid, the idea of twelve years of school, plus four more years of college, and possibly another two years of grad school was beyond my comprehension. Time existed in hours and minutes, and the concept of years was beyond me. But the time somehow manages to speed ahead and send you barreling headfirst into the reality that exists outside the safe confines of education and dormitories and office hours and classes and teachers who hold your hand on the way to the bathroom. Suddenly you’re sitting alone at an interview for a job you don’t want, fidgeting in your suit and trying to remember what you’re supposed to say as opposed to what you want to say. You’re applying to entry-level positions that require a minimum of two years experience and wondering if there is a parallel universe you were supposed to slip into between graduation day and the application process where you collect experience points via office challenges—make three pots of coffee within five minutes, file 50 documents in ten minutes, copyedit four manuscripts in one hour. So you suck it up and take that crappy job figuring any experience is better than none, and at the end of the day, when you finally abandon it all to get on the road to do what you want to be doing, everyone’s closing the door because somewhere along the line you fucked up and your resume has been stamped with a big red “unemployable.”

Yes, there was a time in my life when I wanted to act. I can’t say for certain that that time has completely passed, but I did what all successful people don’t do and decided to be realistic. Now, as I truly begin on the road towards a career in writing, I’m doing everything within my power not to be realistic. I’m trying to shut myself away from the chorus of pity, the “you should go into marketing instead”s, the job offers in finance, the silence that fills my inbox. I keep applying to the positions I know I won’t hear from, steadily lowering my compensation standards, reading websites about how to freelance, how to get an agent, how to write a proposal.

“What do you want to do?” my coworker in London asked me as we sat in the Snooty Fox drinking pints and discussing the steps I need to take to get a job as a writer.

“Everything,” I said, without missing a beat.

She laughed. “I’m laughing because I know you’re completely serious.”

I want to make a living being creative. To be able to wake up in the morning and love the work laid out before me. To have the liberty to travel. To have financial security. To do things the right way.

I don’t want to sell myself short. To be chained to a 9-to-5. To have to answer to someone else. To set my standards on someone else’s terms. To have a routine. To have to wait.

As I slowly discover the process and the politics behind getting where I want to be, it grows increasingly difficult to remain hopeful. You can have talent, but if you can’t prove your marketability, you’re useless. Proposals, much like auditions for an actor, go against everything you learn as a writer. You spend years making sure every word in a 300-page manuscript serves the function you intend for it, and an editor asks you to summarize, in three pages or less, what the book is about and why they should publish it. Vivid descriptions and character development take a backseat to tales of drug use and lewd sexuality. Bloggers sell book rights based solely on the merit of the internet persona they choose to embody. Much like the silicone-infused actress treks to Hollywood fame with a brief pitstop in Soft Porn City, mainstream writing becomes a joke. So, I stand at a crossroads. I can give up and resign myself to a lifetime of steady paychecks and dull routines, or I can continue on this road, one that does carry the potential to lead to ultimate failure. I can continue doing what it is I'm supposed to do, make every effort not to compromise my ideals and blindly rest my faith in the belief that hard work and dedication lead to success.

But what happens when you do everything you need to do to get where you want to be, and the ride that was supposed to meet you in the middle never shows up?

-L

5 Comments:

Blogger lawsomnia said...

There's a bit more to this story (for me, at least).

So, you've worked a few years and realized the complete vapidity of the entry-level jobs. It is just barely possible to glipmse a job that you might like to do from where you are now: one that allows you to be creative while being well paid, but it is years and years away.

There are two possible routes: stay and try and claw your way up, the blood of your coworkers slowly coagulating under your fingernails, or jump off the track, go back to school, get even further in debt, and reenter the workforce several years later with a shiny new impressive advanced degree (and no experience with it).

Climbing your way up gives you experience, but also creates scars that last a lifetime-- and not everyone succeeds in the rat race. The education seems like the fast track to advancement as we live in a credentialist world, and might actually be fun, but carries risks of debt, and you have to start at the beginning again.

. . .

After 4 years of doing the climb, I went back to get the education. The degree I ended up with was not fun to earn at all, but it ended up giving me a lot more options, a 9-5 that I could have only dreamt of, and time to pursue my other interests.

You ask whether to resign yourself to a dull routine or continue on a path with the risk of ultimate failure. This is a false choice. Every path has the possibility of ultimate failure. The real question is what is the best choice available now in light of your long term goals?

Life is not linear. It is fractal. Ride out the waves and eddies and steer a course that increases the odds that you will bump into what you want. That's all you can control. That's all you can do. The rest is beyond your control, and all you can do is accept that.

You are fortunate in your knowledge of where you want to go. Few people even have that.

It may be better to be lucky than smart, but it's best to be both.

If you're ride doesn't show-- start walking, and maybe something even better will come along.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Do what you love and the money will come. One of my favorite quotes, though I have no idea who the fuck said it.

Easy for me to say when what I love pays a living, that being web publishing.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Justa Drifter said...

The real trick to doing what you love isn't waiting for the money to come, but to learn to live on what doing what you love will pay. Or, alternatively, learning to live on what you can make while leaving enough time and mental and/or physical strength to do what you love as an avocation.

And this from a pretty good writer:
http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/myjob.html

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Billy T said...

There is very little out there that will pay you to do what you love. That is why you are paid, since no other compensation for your time and effort is offered.

However, you can tell the difference between a job that is doable and a job that you loathe. Avoid the latter at all possible, and I wish you the best in something you can enjoy.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous carolita said...

Story of my life, kiddo! How old are you anyway? You seem young, and it's not the time to start losing hope.

I spent 15 years trying "everything," finally came back to NY and knew what I wanted to do. Dropped everything to do it, and somehow it worked out within a year. I did have to stay with my odious parents for six months, and make my boss fire me for my own good to actually do it.

The thing you have to remember is that maybe you'll be broke all the time. But it's worth it, because you do not seem to have the wherewithal to be gainfully employed by a boss. I don't either, and knew it from the beginning. I have a job tolerance of one year, and that's it.

Start selling your stuff, move to a shittier neighborhood, start meeting people who aren't looking for all the things you don't really want or need, and get a job as a waitress or something, while you start pursuing something that means something to you.

Alternatively, sell all your stuff, move to a shittier neighborhood, and get a massively well paying job, save it all till you have several thousand, then get on a plane to somewhere and start travelling.

Like me, if you travel and work illegally in other countries, you won't have any social security ammassed anywhere for your old age, you probably will come back, having been spit out by the country you've been staying in so long, with nothing but experience, like me, and there's no guarantee anyone will take you seriously when you do come back, or even if you stay there. That's just the chance you have to take!

Get rid of your interview suits. Teach english somewhere, translate stuff, do anything (keep it safe, and reasonably legal), have three freelance jobs like me, do whatever it takes not to work for some asshole in an office full of assholes you hate (unless it's so well-paid you will soon escape and yell, "bye, suckas!").

I have nothing but my three freelance jobs and a broken down boyfriend, but I LOVE my life and wouldn't trade it for a well-paid office job for anything. Not unless I forgot half my brain on the subway or something. I have sworn that if I ever lose it all, and can't find any work other than "employment", I'll go to a third world country and start digging ditches or teaching literacy, so that at least I won't be doing something useless.

I think you're just too used to being "good." And complaining about how boring it is! Dont' be good.
What's it got you so far?

There are five zillion people writing about their crappy jobs and thwarted desires. Not that you don't do it well.

good luck!

9:35 PM  

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