A lot of kids are stressed out these days trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, which seems to them like a long time, even though a percentage of them are going to be culled during Spring Break. And it makes sense to have a plan, I guess, if you’re bent on spending the equivalent of a house mortgage on some crappy education. I think it’s a shame, though, because that having-a-plan business isn’t how life works.
When I was a college freshman, I was concerned that I didn’t have a major yet, and everyone told me not to worry about it. I was planning to major in psychology when I applied to college, but that infatuation lasted only a couple weeks and it seemed like the worst idea in the world once I got there. So I took English and German and music and literature and logic and calculus and something else and waited for a plan to materialize. All I knew was it was going to be something in the liberal arts. By the next year I was taking science classes and knew it was going to be something in the sciences, but I didn’t know which one. When my four years came to a close and the music stopped, I happened to be closest to the Biology chair and that’s where I sat. I even got a sort of job in a closely related field (mouse torture).
Here’s how life actually works. You wind up with a Classics degree in some cool college town with a bunch of other kids you know and you get any kind of job you can, and then someone at a party mentions a great job opportunity in another town far away. And it’s not in your field or anything, but it’s in your girlfriend’s field, and off you go with your girlfriend and try to find another job. And you don’t, and your girlfriend seems kind of high and mighty all of a sudden, and you complain beerily about that to the woman at the end of the bar, and she knows someone, and you wind up with a part-time gig in Inventory at a department store, and after about ten years enough people have dropped dead that you can slide right into a slot in Sales, where being able to insult people in Latin comes in handy, and meanwhile some of your sperms have accidentally made something of themselves, so you bump up to Management and stay there, and then you die.
There were the rare kids who knew exactly what they wanted to do in their lives. And they marched straight through and took all the right courses and slid down the Greased Path of Inevitability to their goals, and then one day they woke up miserable in their forties and said “fuck. I’m a lawyer.” But they can afford good enough toys to distract themselves for a while, and then they die.
When I was young, I wanted to be an author. I didn’t really have any other ideas. I wrote a lot of awful stuff. You know what they say: “write what you know.” Which presents an obvious problem when you’re a teenager.
I was dismayed by not being acclaimed as a genius and eventually quit writing altogether, and lurched my way into that biology degree, and drifted to Boston, and got a job slicing up mice, and broke up with another boyfriend, and moved to Oregon just because, and made scrimshaw for a few years, and got a job Moving the Nation’s Mail for another thirty, and then started writing again, and now I’m an author, just like I planned it.
You might not believe me, but I can prove it. I have actual physical copies of my book Trousering Your Weasel, with my name on the front and everything. And, by the way, there’s no more perfect or inexplicable Christmas gift than that. Your friends will be rendered speechless with gratitude. So if you want a couple dozen autographed copies, fire off an email to me and we’ll talk. We can go ahead and leave Amazon out of this–they’re already set for life.
Never had much of a plan myself. I'd probably be worse off now if I had.
It's an oddity of our culture that we think of "what we do with our lives" as consisting mostly of choosing the means by which we earn money. To me, that's very peripheral. I kind of drifted into accounting the way you did into letter-carrying, but accounting is not "what I'm doing with my life". It's just how I keep the bills paid so I'm not worrying about money all the time.
So I took English and German and music and literature and logic and calculus
Können Sie noch Deutsch verstehen? Anyway, it's well worth learning a broad range of things like that even if you never use them to make money. People are really missing the point when they think of university as a sort of glorified vocational school.
Ich kannst hardly der Deutschy verstehen. I thought I was going to be good at languages, but every word of German I learned pushed out a French word. Swiss people understand me.
I was very fortunate to have a father who saved up for my college and who believed that an education was important whether or not it led to a job.
I never had a "plan" or any overwhelming desire to enter into a particular profession when I was in high school. Even then, I wondered how they expected adolescents to know what they wanted to do with the entire rest of their lives. That seems like asking an awful lot of a kid. As a result of my indecision, my family suggested I take secretarial courses, and as I didn't have a plan of my own, that's what I did. "You'll always have a job, if you know how to type," they said. So after high school, I joined a temp service and gave office work a try. I HATED IT!!! Tried sales. Was horrible at it, as I couldn't in good conscience tell people they looked wonderful in something and maybe they should buy it in several colors, when they didn't. I also didn't feel good about profiling and watching customers that were deemed "potential thieves". I was always "let go" from sales positions, which wasn't too bad because I at least had unemployment, which is the closest thing to a paid vacation that people in retail get. It was during one of these periods when I had to just get names down on the unemployment form of places where I applied that week that I began applying anywhere, just to get a name down. So I was completely taken aback when I was hired by a restaurant as a waitress, despite my lack of experience and the fact that I didn't even dress up to make an impression. I didn't actually want the job, and it never occurred to me to even try applying, as I had no experience. There was, of course, a reason why they hired someone so feckless: the owner was a horror to work for. But I stuck with it, and I actually liked the work. Didn't like the owner; started working on an ulcer while I was there. But I enjoyed what was essentially acting as the hostess of a party all day long. I was actually good at it. I proceeded to work for better restaurants over the years, and earned more in tips working fewer hours than I would ever have earned in retail or office work.
I know that being a server isn't everyone's cup of tea, and some even find it demeaning. But it's an example of how things usually seem to work: You can make plans and go with them despite your lack of enjoyment and mediocrity at what you're doing. OR, you can just rely on synchronicity and serendipity to guide you into where you might really be a good fit. This latter way has worked for me so many times in various aspects of my life that I've come to trust it.
I appreciate and admire good servers. Because, for one thing, they do something I can't do. I was the worst waitress on the planet. By the way, you're a good writer.
Thank you so much!
Agree with both of you. One of the best things about Murr's blog: reading the comments & Murr's replies.
Kinda the way my life has gone. And I'm still waiting to buy the e-version of your book. My Honda Fit can not accommodate paper. There is only room for cookware, linens, clothes and the important stuff like a bike, canoe, scope, camera, computer, reader, etc.
Can you visit someone with a copy on his toilet tank? That might work. I don't know if we're ever going to get around to the e-book. It'd be easier without the illustrations.
I wanted to be a drama major and when I got to the classes and saw that a skinny girl with long stringy hair was not going to be able to compete with the lovely girls who were already there…and thus I started out teaching.
Did you like it? Are you good at it?
Music, french, linguistics, anthropology major=water quality scientist turned farmer. Huh. Still don't know what I'm gonna do with myself!
I think you're doing it. With GOATS! Oh wait, that didn't come out right.
Geology, photography, literature, botany, geography and American Studies = Massage Therapist/Reiki Master
You work on people's personal tectonic plates.
I always had a plan, but it never involved college and it never involved writing. I followed the plan (with a few detours for drugs and disorderly conduct) and when the it ran its course and then morphed into writing I realized, "Well, damn. This is what I was supposed to do the whole time." Who would've thought?
I have your book by my bedside and open it randomly when I want a giggle right before going to sleep. It never fails me. Glad you became a writer, too.
Thanks! I forgot about the detours for drugs and disorderly conduct. They were in there, too.
So true. And so hard to advise youth because of that.
I'm glad you got back to being a writer!
I was writing all the time in my head. Never got anything down. That's kind of weird, now that I think about it.
Man, dunno where I slid off track. I knew from an early age I didn't want to be a logger or work in the mills. At forty I was a bit too busy to do a lot of soul-searching.
I did have a couple relatives ask me when I was ever going to have a real job.
At this point in my life 'busy' isn't a word I use anymore, but I'm largely satisfied.
A counterpoint to some of the above might be my best friends daughter (my goddaughter) who's in her first year as a Cal PhD candidate. Alas not in English Lit, but physics. Her dad, chair of the local university chemistry dept, asked her a year or so ago what she wanted to do with it all. The summer before undergrad at OSU started she had worked at a local taco joint, and it left an impression. "I'm not sure, but I know I don't want to work for a living." she said.
Physics was the one science that made no sense to me, but I think I had a horrible teacher. I kind of get it now, but not ph-D get it. Okay, actually, I still don't get it.
Fuck. I'm a lawyer. I'd rather be a writer.
What exactly is the weasel that one must trouser?
By her book and find out!
What she said.
You sure make it sound easy. I still feel like I am just stumbling through life, but I'm getting pretty good at it.
I think even the people who don't feel like they're stumbling through life will, at some point, stumble hard. Enjoy the trip.
Majored in English because I liked to read! Still use it every day editing apostrophes out and correcting the grammar of others.
Computer programming turned out a better vocational possibility when I was 37 and newly divorced. That one served me well for nearly 25 years.
Thank God I didn't take my parents' advice to "get your teaching degree so you have something to fall back on".
My parents always figured I'd fall back on my insanely good luck. I know they didn't think I'd marry someone rich. Or someone at all.
I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in elementary school, because girls who got good grades became either teachers or nurses, and I knew I didn't want to be a nurse. Fortunately, my university had a very progressive (for the time) College of Education which sent its students out into real classrooms during their freshman year, hoping to prevent them from spending four years studying to be teachers and then discovering, during their last semester's student teaching, that they hated it. I say "fortunately" because that's what I discovered. So I became a History major (i.e., "future McDonald's employee"), but lucked into a secretarial job at a medical college, which eventually morphed into a job as a technical writer in Surgical Research where, after almost 20 years, I finally got to use the research and writing skills I learned in college. Funny how that works.
I think I'd love to be a teacher, except for the students. I probably should have tried to be a science writer, but there's no guarantee I'd have been any good at it, and I'm happy with how things turned out.
I think it was the students in my case, too. When I was in graduate school (yes, I doubled down and got a Master's degree), I had an assistantship that required me to teach freshman-level history classes. The first time, I was nervous as a cat. After that, I couldn't wait to get up there again. Talking to adults (or near-adults) is a lot better than dealing with ankle-biters.
Oh the long and winding road…after waffling around a fair bit, I finally finished a couple of degrees in English Lit. The Ph.D. got defenestrated (I love that word) when the twins got born because juggling those two and a full-time job was it for my multi-tasking abilities. The job was admn. assist. to a Dean at a college of a uni. There is no training available for not being afraid of faculty and undoing Gordian knots. The best position I have ever held is being retired with a pension. And yes, one day that book stuck in my head just might grunt its way out.
What's stopping it? Hmmm?
Weeding. And inertia.
I always write whilst weeding. So I am guessing it's mostly the inertia. Know what? What finally got me started writing was when a great friend decided to call my bluff and asked me to write an essay on any subject for him. In two weeks.
I wanted to be a dancer…artist…and marry someone famous. Three strikes…
I have your book and it is worth the price
Thanks! Of course, it IS cheap.
When I was young all I wanted was to be rich, so we no longer had to count every penny. Now that I'm grown, all I want is to be rich so I no longer have to budget every penny.
That may sound like no progress has been made, but I don't have outstanding accounts being eternally paid off like most parents did back then. I don't have much, but I owe nothing, that's progress.
I'll pass on the book deal for now, maybe for Christmas 2015.
These days, "not owing" is just about the same thing as having money. At least, that's my observation.
This is a great post, because that IS the way it goes down. Thank you.
You neglected to put down your personal trajectory!
Plans, schmans. I never did know what I wanted to be when I grew up. (The obvious solution was 'don't grow up', and I'm pretty sure I nailed that one.) I've been everything from an interior designer to a computer geek, but the one thing I knew for sure was that I'd never write fiction.
Trousering Your Weasel is fabulous! Hope you get lots of sales.
I have a distinct memory of not wanting to grow up. I was about eleven or twelve at the time. I saw what growing up entailed, and I had no interest. Part of adolescence is just getting past that horror and acquiescing. Bleah.
After seeing your wonderful drawings in your book, I'm surprised you didn't become an illustrator!
Oh I can draw, but there's no comparison between me and a real artist. Not a comparison in which I come out well, that is.
No career – lots of jobs. Best one was 12 years as a professional hand-weaver in the fabric design department of Pendleton Woolen Mills. Hobby turned success. Serendipity.
Compulsory National Service makes sense to me. Gets you through that awkward stage when you have to get out of the nest but you still don't know how to fly very well. AND, you learn how to iron your own shirts! Put all the 18=year olds into a labor corps for three years. Have them re-build bridges, do disaster relief, fight wild fires or support those who do (Learn what it takes to feed two thousand people out of a field kitchen.) Clean up inner-city vacant lots and plant vegetable gardens. And maintain them. Spend a year on a dairy farm. Get experience, meet new people, direct your youthful strength and energy toward concrete ends.
I've always liked that idea myself. I should have done it, because I was not ready for college. Everybody has to do something–if not the military, public service. Why hasn't that gotten any traction?