I’m going to prove all you freaking people out there using scare tactics to keep me chained to this desk that there is nothing to fear but the economy itself. I don’t know what kind of job you people are looking for, but I’ve had pretty good luck thus far.
As a matter of fact, I was contacted this morning for a position I was drooling over for a week or two at Harvard. There are obvious benefits to working at Harvard — walking to work, tuition reimbursement, cool burgundy insignia sweatshirts, lunch with rich young lawyers — and to top it all off, I get to say, “I work at Harvard.” I was applying to be a Faculty Assistant, which is
Oh here let me go back to the beginning.
The whole scare tactic thing.
I don’t want to be a marketing whore for the rest of my life. We’ve established that. I’ve spent my whole life torn between being Practical, as advised by friends and family, and following the Romantic part of me. The part of me that hates restrictive clothing and not being able to use the word “fuck” freely. Usually I get torn on weekends, and make peace with my Practical side by Monday morning, allowing me to dress pretty and place nice. Then Romantic can come out and raise hell on Saturday and Sunday. I clean up well, but I have to tell you, my heart ain’t in it.
When I was looking at colleges at 17, I wanted desperately to go to Emerson. Emerson has a Creative Writing program, and I applied there. This was not my Practical side. Romance had the reins on that one.
For some reason, older people have the impression that your major in college somehow dictates what you will do to feed yourself four years later. I have two theories on that. One, education is a process, not a piece of paper, and two, they have obviously not tried to live in a major metropolitan area on a journalist’s salary.
So those pulling for the Practical party said, “What are you going to do with a degree in Creative Writing?” and of course I wasn’t thinking about using the degree to get the job I wanted, I was thinking of the work I’d do to get the degree, and what a fantastic process those four years would be. I believed this. I told members of the Practical party this. They assured me they’d save me a spot at the grocery store in suburban CT when I was done ringing up my useless four years in the big city — which, I might add, comes to approximately $120,000 these days.
I was adamant. I applied to nine colleges, eight to appease the Practical party and one for the Romantics. I applied to Emerson early decision. They accepted me into the Honor’s program and agreed to pick up the tab for my tuition.
The Practical party, however, pointed out that a major in Journalism, not Creative Writing, would guarantee me a secure nook in the job market upon completion of my educational gig. I was 17, mind you, and afraid. I was looking at my sister, a failed-writer-turned-English-teacher, who had majored in the liberal arts and had nothing to show for it but control over a teeming class of 30 high school freshman who didn’t speak English but were supposed to understand Shakespeare. I certainly didn’t want to end up being a teacher. I wanted to be a writer.
And I certainly didn’t want to be a journalist.
Honestly, I think by the end of the whole ordeal I was exhausted defending my position against an ever-burgeoning fleet of Practicalites who were ganging up on me day and night. Especially when BU matched Emerson’s offer and tossed in a little work-study money for room and board while they were at it.
The first day of COM 101 at Boston University, Dean Baker gets up in front of the class of four hundred freshman Journalism majors and shows us a news spot of a 12-year-old boy getting decapitated by a freight engine. The stunned silence that follows betrays our inexperience. He paces the stage before us. “How many of you would interview the mother at the scene of the accident?” Five people raise their hands. Dean Baker says, “The rest of you can leave. You’ll never be journalists.”
Welcome to the first year of my Practical Education.
I didn’t want to tell the truth. The truth involves little boys being decapitated by trains and hysterical mothers. By junior year I was writing obituaries and traffic reports. I just wanted to tell pretty stories.
I softened the blow a little bit by switching my major from Print Journalism to Photojournalism. Just as much writing, but now I could hide in the dark room as well. I was blacklabeled, though. There were only six Photojournalism majors in my class of four hundred students. And the professors hated us, felt we were not true journalists, saw us as hangers-on of their academic lineage. My favorite was Dr. Moyes who tried to embarass me in class every chance he got and always called me “the photographer with the writing problem.” If he only knew. I had already written two novels by the time I showed my face in his class.
Even Photojournalism offered no escape. Deadline News Photo was pure torture. I’d show up at 9:00 AM and get the day’s assignment. I would then have three hours to find a person in a red shirt, get their permission to be photographed and interviewed, ask them who they voted for in the last election, take a properly-exposed and composed photo, get their name and contact information, develop the film, print the negative, process the print, write the caption — all under deadline pressure, three hours, don’t forget — and put it on the editor’s desk by noon. I can’t recount how many of my prints were handed in soaking wet — perfectly acceptable as long as you could get the caption to stick to it. We were graded on the photo, the time limit, and the quality of the interview. Half the time I took the pictures without the person knowing and made up the information because I was terrified to talk to anyone I didn’t know.
My Romantic side hated news photo because the pictures I wanted to capture on film forever were already vivid in my mind. I just hadn’t photographed them yet.
I’m getting away from my main point here. What I’m saying is, I spent four years being Practical. I graduated with a degree in a Practical subject I not only detest, but suck at. To be even more Practical, I decided to abandon the creative project I was working on post-graduation in favor of employment at an Internet marketing company writing copy that I had no interest in but paid the bills. Handsomely. In other words, I was being Practical.
How’s that working out for me? It’s not.
I quit my job because I am sick of being Practical. Everyone is fighting me here. Everyone is telling me not only am I being self-indulgent by wanting to work on my own art, but that I’m insane to do so in this economy. You know what? Fuck the economy. I’m happy as a pig in shit to be eating beans and rice if it means I can put 1000 of my own words down on paper each day for myself and no one else. I don’t care if I have to spend the rest of the day shining shoes. I could run down the hundreds of jobs I’ve done over the years to cover my ass, from the graveyard shift at the meat packing plant to dressing up as the Easter Bunny and rollerblading down Newbury Street. When I lived in New Haven I was a guinea pig at Yale for psychological tests for $5 an hour. I put nuts on bolts 14 hours a day one summer to pay for my room and board. I’m pretty resourceful when it comes to keeping a roof over my head.
So I called my sister on Sunday to ask her about the whole Cover Letter thing. “You quit your job?” she asks me. Yes, I quit my job. “In this economy?” Yes, in this economy. I thought I could come live with you if things didn’t work out. “So, why don’t you get a writing job?” Arg. I just had a writing job. I hated it. I want to write my own stuff. “So why can’t you write your own stuff after work?”
“Because when you spend your whole day tooth-pulling words about high tech small business network security, firewalls, ISDN, VPN, IP, DSL, XML, DNS, FTP, antivirus software, blended threats, bluetooth, defragging, hackers, and password crackers, the last goddam thing you want to do is tell pretty stories. The last goddam thing I want to do is look at my computer, never mind write more. I’m sick of writing other people’s bullshit. I’m sick of dragging my ass home creatively tapped from fighting my Romantic side off with a big Practicality stick all day until I’m so confused and frustrated I just want to go listen to somebody else’s art all night. I’m sick of pretending that this money is enough to satiate my need to be heard in this world. I’ll fucking starve to death I don’t care.”
“Kris? It’s okay. You don’t have to. ”
I felt like screaming at her that she was the freakshow that put me through all this shit in the first place by insisting that I’d be fucked for life if I majored in Creative Writing, a similiar career path to her English major ten years before me. She scared me into the journalism thing, and I bought it. I’m not going to point fingers or say it’s her fault. But it is. She was the main candidate in the Practical Party. And if it weren’t for her, I’d probably be a best selling author by now. Bitch.
Anyway back to the cover letter issue. The problem is that the Internet is changing everything, especially the way in which people apply for jobs. I mean, the resume isn’t even Word format anymore. Half the places have you cut and paste the information in there.
So Sunday I cut and pasted for a few hours, and Monday I got a bunch of call backs.
There was one position in particular that I wanted so badly I could taste it. It tasted like Hasty Pudding. The job at Harvard.
The ideal job I’m looking for will require nothing of me. I will show up, smile pretty, answer the phone, throw together some PowerPoint presentations which for some godforsaken reason bring me more joy than almost any other computer application, organize someone else’s life a bit, proctor some exams, water some plants, and go on my merry way at 5:00 in my Harvard insignia hoodie to sit in Algiers Cafe and write.
I am aware that I will be taking a pay cut for this newfound freedom, but I know it will be worth every penny of mental health.
So Bianca wants me to come put her life in a PowerPoint presentation and water her plants. She’s thrilled with my experience, the fact that I type 250 words per minute and know the New York Times Styleguide and Libel Manual (I’m not sure what turns her on so much about the Styleguide — it might have just been an inside joke I was not a part of) in any case, Bianca is certifiably in love with me.
Bianca wants to pay me $19,000 a year less than what I’m earning right now.
I know some people who make $19,000 a year.
This is not an ego issue. It has nothing to do with that. At all. But even rice and beans in this city costs $12 a plate. Gas is what, a thousand dollars a gallon now? My rent goes up every year. And just last month I paid $250 in parking tickets. And then, well the truth.
My job has to support my music habit.
Which is making evenings in Chinatown flaunting my wares look pretty damn enticing.
So now we have the economy figured out. We can get jobs, just not ones that keep us Journalism majors above the poverty line. Or here’s the actual truth of the matter: I also applied to MIT and Tufts University. But the corporate venues, that’s where the compensation is. The same jobs pay ten grand more a year. You just don’t get that cute insignia hoodie and they make you work over school vacations.
The real issue is one of proper shoes. I just can’t bring myself to dress my age. I wonder if I told Bianca I needed a new wardrobe to come water her plants, that the dot com for the past three years has ruined my sense of proper professional attire, if she’d bump my salary up to six dollars an hour? What do you think, Bianca?