Roman Sturgis Take care of each other and make good decisions.

June 16, 2009

A Reassessment of Expectations

Filed under: Blog — Roman @ 12:33 pm

Dear Friends and Family,

As my “sabbatical” comes to an end, I’m really starting to get nervous about the immediate future. I think my novel is good, but it’s still in the revision stage, and it is very likely one of these “first-novels” that ought never to see the light of day, but is very good practice on the road towards “first published novel” which is very rarely “the first.” Except for geniuses, but I’m not one of those, clearly. Bottom line: the time I’ve spent writing post MFA has been valuable in many ways, but at the moment, not monetarily.

Let’s put my anxiety into perspective. I’m not worried about being homeless or starving. Laura and I both know that we’ll always be welcome in our parent’s homes, but the fact of the matter is, there’s not a lot of opportunities for us on the beach that we feel are worth pursuing long-term. I haven’t been successful finding even menial labor jobs. My guess is no one wants to hire a college-educated brain to clean toilets or toss pizzas. It’s almost as if there’s distrust about someone with two college degrees wanting such a job. And from the employer stand-point, it’s a bad hire, as that person will probably not be happy at the job for long, and will leave as soon as something better comes along. Which is probably true, so I can’t blame them. I don’t feel entitled to a job for a split second.

But my reality is that my wife and I are both feeling some panic. We’ve devoted our adult educations to the liberal arts, specifically literature and creative writing, and we’re finding that jobs for liberal arts degree holders are hard to come by and very competitive, as there are many others in the same situation. My wife has the added complication of already having a decent paying, though seasonal job, which she’s very good at. She works at one of the best golf courses in the world, and the members love her. But in her own words: she wants “to have a grown up job” that requires the use of her brain.

More data points: Last night I met with a good friend who I knew at Emerson. Currently he’s preparing to attend NYU Nursing school, so we have similar ideas about the value of our liberal arts education, dearly paid for, and practical vocational education. “In high school, we called voc-tech, slow-tech,” he said. I remember learning similar discrimination from a young age. Always, the push was to go to a four-year college. It was the expectation—there was never a question that I’d go to college. My parents made shrewd decisions early on in my life, like, when I was an infant, to begin saving for college, as they’ve done for my siblings. I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t appreciate that, or my college education, which I’m very grateful for, but at this moment in time, my cousin, who is a year older than me and who went to a trade school to learn about cars and engines, is doing much better than I am. He built his own house, has a wonderful wife who is a nurse, and two beautiful children. His wife recently bought him a 1964 Lincoln Continental, just because he’s always wanted one. They can afford it easily, so who’s the smarty-pants now? Who’s stimulating the economy more?

Along those line, these days Laura sometimes says she wished she’d gone right into a trade school. Had she started a physical therapy program four or five years ago, she’d be making more than enough to buy a house today. Had I gone right into HVAC, I would likely have my own business now. The MFA could have come later. This is all retrospective, woulda, coulda, shoulda, and at the end of the day, I truly wouldn’t do it differently. My point is simply this: it’s been shocking to us.

Last weekend at my ten-year high school reunion, only a handful of us showed up compared to the 5-year, which was held during more positive economic times. I’m sure our low turn-out was jobs-related. Many of my classmates are doing very well, either in finance, or academia. One classmate, top of the class, is going on to get his masters in Greek while his wife, an archeologist, works on her PhD. Talk about competitive programs!! For folks like them, academia is a viable option. They’re very smart, hard working, look the part, went to Yale, etc, etc. For the middle of the pack folks like Laura and I, academia is likely not going to be a reality. The take away maxim has been this: Know your place.

I know that I don’t have a place yet in the published world. I’m still working on it, and hope to have a place on the shelf one day, but I’m realistic about how long that’s going to take. I don’t feel I have a place in a high school or a restaurant either. Maybe for another year or two, assuming I can get hired in that capacity, but I’ve been there and done that, and I know that it’s not compatible with my personality. I know that those jobs won’t make me happy in the long term. For me, it’s very important to have a job that I’m passionate about, but which doesn’t suck up my entire life. High schools and restaurants don’t fit into the latter part of that equation, as anyone in those industries will tell you. Teaching high school is especially demanding, and on top of never really being able to leave your work at home, no matter how hard you try, the pay is crap. In South Carolina, it would take me 12 years to start making $50,000 a year. Over a 12 year period, I would make much more as a garbage man, or an HVAC tech, or whatever. What does that tell you about how we reward the vast majority of our public school teachers? And we wonder why…

What has to happen next, I fear, is a major realignment of self-expectation and ideas about happiness. I never expected this to be easy, or handed to me–I’m not THAT much of a brat—but I do admit, I kind of thought that if I made good grades in college, participated in interesting extra-curriculars, worked harder than most, and showed up on time, I’d have decent options.

I’m willing to make a major adjustment. I’m being flexible and open-minded and all that crap. I know the field I want to go into, but there’s no getting around the fact that I need to be trained first. I’m willing to invest in a new education to get that training, but I have to find a job while I train to go into that field. What kind of job works well with a full-time school load? Answer: not much that’s appealing. I think when it comes down to it, I will end up at a grocery store or Wal-Mart or McDonalds.

On the bright side, there is probably a very good novel in that. Providing of course, I don’t drink myself to death, first.


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