The other day, while on line for a burrito*, I overheard a snippet of conversation between two young, comely ladies, one in a polka-dotted halter top, the other wearing red Chuck Taylors:
Polka Dots: Yeah, man, I don’t know what to do. I mean, I could work there forever and, like save money and shit, then maybe go to back to school or something.
Chucks: Word. I totally think I’ve gotta go to grad school. I mean, what else am I going to do, right?
Polka Dots: Yeah. Do you think they can make the chimichangas vegan?
Nearly every one of my friends, after being released from school with a degree and finding the world a cruel, inhospitable place, came to the conclusion that there was only one solution. In an economy that seems to be held together by chewing gum and wet newspaper, with a housing market that is only reminiscent of a GHB-fueled game of Monopoly, my friends and, hell, even myself at one point, have decided that there actually is hope.
Hope is ivory pillared and smells of stale pulp and ink. It is elite and competitive and is accompanied by a giant chip to put on one shoulder and an equal pile of debt to put on the other. This idyllic, leaking life-raft is referred to by most as…graduate school.
At first it seemed that the reasons for going back to school were simply for my friends to better themselves, to further their careers, to gain that competitive edge by acquiring yet another piece of paper. But soon, within a few years’ time, I found that for both myself and others the idea of continuing education existed to delay the inevitable. Let’s face it, we’re not kids anymore. This generation of mine is known for having a few, shall we say, minor issues with growing up. We’re stuck. The quarter-life crisis has become a permanent reality. And graduate school is the shiny, new pacifier quelling the tantrum against responsibility.
Now, as a freelancer, with no “steady” job and a cynic’s amount of hope for my future success, I wonder if I, too, shouldn’t throw my hat back in the ring. Sure, I’ve applied, an undisclosed number of times, and have been accepted, also an undisclosed number of times, but the idea of even more debt, especially on a teacher’s salary, convinces me that a life of waiting tables, where I don’t owe a cent to monolithic organizations, is at least an existence free of a certain amount of strife. I mean, take the base definition of life in this day and age, combine it with the daily news and even a modicum of expectation, and you wind up with the bottom line: you will be poor.
I don’t even know who you are, and yet I can say it, and be right.
At least I know I am poor, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Why make it an interminable set of circumstances?
I’ve heard of people applying to grad school because they didn’t know what they wanted to do, similar to the ladies dining in that fine Mexican establishment. This, to me, seems like a very expensive period of self-discovery. I mean, if you want to be a doctor, you have to go to med school, fine. But if you want to work in an office and climb your way up the corporate ladder, or if you’re just not sure what professional direction to take, I’m not really sure how valuable another degree is. Again, this is coming from someone who is trapped in the empty freelance well. Any ropes that are dropped are appreciated, but it’s still up to me to climb my way out.
It’s a blessing to know what you want to do, to feel passionate about something and dedicate your life to it, even if it’s terrifying and you don’t know when — or if — the next paycheck will come. Eventually I’d love to get a degree so that I can scope hot college ass…I mean, so that I can assist in furthering the future of the craft. I would love to be an editor, or work with a publication, and it’s true that a graduate degree could potentially augment my somewhat spastic resume. (“You worked as a fish monger in New York. Why is this on your CV?”)
I’m not sure if I found myself jealous of those two betties waiting for burritos ‘cause I wish for stability, or because it’s a semi-reflexive response. If I had a MFA I could, in theory, teach, and live a life filled with meetings and lectures, all of my time parceled out into well-organized chunks, a meager paycheck arriving regularly. Hey, at least a teacher’s salary is a salary.
But I wonder as well if it isn’t just another safety net for those of us in the almost-thirty set. To “know” what’s going to happen, well, that’s the sort of security that allows us to be irresponsible for that much longer. (This gross generalization excludes those individuals who are in school because their desired careers require it.) It’s normal to not know yourself and to flounder, at least that’s what my dad keeps telling me. Just like with walking, however, there’s only one way to learn, and that’s to fall.
Again, I have no answers here, I can’t even afford to apply to graduate school at this point, even if it were necessary.
I know what I want to do, and that is to write for money. I don’t need to go to school to figure that part out. I guess my bottom line is that school won’t tell you what to do, kids. You’re the authority on that now.
* I was informed that my very favorite burrito joint up here in North Portland is not vegan. I have two options: to go to the other, more expensive, not-as-good burrito joint a block away, or to pretend that I don’t know it’s not vegan. Or to just stop being vegan. I guess that’s three options.
AinsleyDrew at gmail
Thank you to everyone who donates. It keeps me fed, which keeps the fingers moving. Without you there would have been no burrito.