Since grad school, I have been continually broke. I barely make rent each month.
Who would have thought with a Master’s degree I’d be a strugglin’? Maybe because there is so much emphasis on STEM and a lean away from the humanities. Maybe because the economy still stinks… you can read Aimee Picchi, Tom Blumer, or Steven D if you don’t want to take my word for how bad the economy is. Or maybe I’m broke because I’m just not working hard enough, or maybe I’m not working the right way, or I won’t suck it up and take a job at McDonald’s—which, by the way, pays the same as what I’m doing right now: teaching writing.
Whatever the case, I still manage to pay rent. I still manage the groceries. My son needed new shoes again the other day, and I wish just for a little bit he would stop growing, but not because I can’t afford the shoes. I bought him the shoes. I’d like him to stay little for just a bit longer. My daughter already has grown up too quickly; she’s staring down college ferociously, like a rabid animal ready to bite my hand, ready to take on the world in her own unique way—and that is exciting to watch too, but, oh man, sometimes, I wish she was still seven when I could push her on the swing and she thought that was the greatest thing in the world.
You would think attempting to figure out how to work the monthly bills every month would put me in a bad mood, but it doesn’t. I remain upbeat and positive, hopeful. Ready to run the metaphorical marathon. I have wisdom in the form of art to impart to the world, and that is vitally important to me.
My novel Wasteland is about enduring hope in the face of tragedy. Banana Sandwich deals with the general insanity of the world. My work in progress is how to reconcile the fallen American Dream with personal grief. The novels are messages to the world, and I am thrilled every time someone picks one up to read. Because it is the message and not the money that is important.
On Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink blog, Anna Quindlen says, “If you can put the question of money aside—a stretch, I admit—being professionally relevant is seriously overrated.”
If I had been worried about money, after I had been told a million and a half times that Wasteland wasn’t published because the writing lacked a specific audience, if I had been concerned about what people would think of me when I wrote about torture, when I wrote about drugs, worried that my mother would think what I wrote really happened, Wasteland would have never been put up on Amazon. If I had been worried about writing from a woman’s perspective, from a bi-polar schizophrenic, about the don’t ever break the sacred fourth wall, I would have never even begun Banana Sandwich.
And last night, someone bought another book. Someone took a chance on the message and the art I’ve been seriously trying to communicate to the public for the past three years plus. Being told you can’t do something, that you are not good enough, being told you aren’t capable is not a good enough of an excuse to quit.
“Being professionally relevant seems to consist largely of being written about by people who don’t understand what you’re doing,” says Quindlen.
Sometimes I will have a student who comes through my classroom with a passion for a certain career path that has been told not to pursue that particular dream because that dream, that spark of an idea, is not paycheck worthy. And maybe I’m giving out bad advice, but the conversation they have with their spouses, friends, parents is a familiar one. So long ago I came to my own parents after my first semester of college in 1991 and said I wanted to switch majors from comprehensive secondary science education to English. They looked at me like I was crazy back then, said there was no money in that field, and besides, what was I thinking, Bowling Green State University placed me in developmental writing, I wasn’t even good enough to get into regular college English.
If I had had a backbone when I was eighteen, my career in the arts would have looked severely different than it does now. But I was written off by people who didn’t understand what I was trying to do. They were well-meaning, trying to help, but the best advice I ever got in grad school was from Dr. Jason Baskin: “No one has to give you permission to write a paper. Write the paper you want.”
And Quindlen says, “I think if you can look at your own work and say to yourself, self, that is good work, you’re on the right track.”
So go after what you love. Be passionate about life. Live dangerously. You can only be what you allow yourself to do.