A Liberal Arts Degree at Work

So, here you are, fresh faced out of the old cap and gown, back-floating on chasms of debt. A steady stream of e-mails from Great Lakes Borrower Services tells you to start paying off your loan interest and currents of envelopes rush in from banks, offering credit card after credit card because credit is all your broke ass has.

Welcome back home, young one, because all the independence you thought you secured in your four years away from home were just a vacation. There is nothing wrong with moving back home; you are very fortunate if you can do so. You save tons of money and catch up on family bonding so you can remind them why they missed you so much while you were at school. But its quite a heady feeling when you realize time travel is very real and possible as you wake up every morning to a childhood bedroom, perhaps confronting the cartoon puppy border that never got taken off the edges of your powder blue painted walls or the piles of Jonas Brothers shirt lying in the corner you still haven’t sold on E-Bay.

Instead of focusing on the inevitable stress of paying off student loans, I began focusing on the struggle of getting off the couch–an equally harrowing task. So, as most do in similarly trying situations, I began the clingiest relationship I have ever had: the job search.

Indeed.com is now the emotionally unavailable boy I always pined after in high school. Attractive and full of promise on the outside, but he was playing me; I was not the only unemployed college graduate that was seeing him. I withstood rejection after rejection and swore I could do better, but I always ended up going back. I started to get desperate, checking my e-mail multiple times a day. Why haven’t they called? I thought they would call. Is it me? Why do I care so MUCH?!

Then, I found it. The one. Just like they say, you always find them when you aren’t really looking. For me, I actually wasn’t looking anywhere because I was fast asleep when I got the phone call. Fate was calling. Naturally, I perked right on up and spoke to the woman from the temp agency as if I was a person that regularly woke up before noon on a weekday not next to an empty bag of Doritos.

Now, here I am, employed as a copywriter. A college success story. A liberal arts degree at work. The American dream in the making. The agency didn’t even try to make me watch the clerical safety video or take the online test to prove I know how to use a computer before giving me the job because, in the agent’s words, I’m “college educated.” Its what I’ve been told all my life in practice; having a college education really does put you ahead in the job market. A degrees almost like a get-out-of-menial-tasks-free card.

Everyday, I sit behind a computer pumping out product information and photo manipulation like a first class white-collar sweatshop. I battle rage in 9-to-5 commuter traffic like the rest of the snails out there on the road. As a temp worker, I have about zero interaction with other humans. I spend my lunch breaks eating egg and cheese sandwiches that are half ice because I don’t bother wasting more of my free time on them being in the microwave, but I get to eat outside. Its not as glamorous as the jobs other people I know, who immediately went from the loins of college to living the life in young cities like Boston, to the height of trend and hipster-hood in Brooklyn, those that got hired by corporations which then paid for them to take more college business classes. But its easy work, I get paid, I come home to see my dogs everyday, and they think I’m doing a great job. There have been weirder shaped stepping stones, and I’m getting paid. Just look at me now, Ma. (I mean, I’ll see you at dinner anyways.)

 

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Want to Write Better? Notice Pockets.

It might sound crazy, but my obsession with pockets has made me a better writer.

It might sound crazy, but I think my obsession with pockets has helped in my struggle to improve my writing. Let me explain.

As part of the generation reared alongside a certain boy wizard, the memories of reading Harry Potter books the day they came to my door on hot summer mornings left an indelible mark on me. After the series ended, and I got older, I realized that I was consistently drawn back to the initial book in the series, and to many of the more mundane facts about this strange world. Chief among the objects of my fascination was Rubeus Hagrid’s moleskin coat. According to the Harry Potter Wikia, and supported by different passages in the book, the contents of this coat’s pockets were as follows:

  • a pink umbrella
  • a slightly squashed chocolate cake
  • a copper kettle
  • a packet of sausages
  • a fire poker
  • a teapot
  • several chipped mugs
  • a bottle of “some amber liquid” (I see you, Hagrid, I see you)
  • a live owl
  • a long quill
  • a roll of parchment
  • a dirty, spotted handkerchief, which might actually just be a tablecloth
  • a couple of dormice
  • bunches of keys
  • slug pellets
  • balls of string
  • mint humbugs (British impersonations of candy)
  • teabags
  • wizard money
  • moldy dog biscuits
  • Harry’s vault key

Finding this passage again, I thought “This must be how it started.” You see, since I was a kid, I have always needed to have as many pockets on my person as possible, and if you were to stop me on the street and demand I empty them, you would find them all full. Hagrid’s coat was a kind of holy grail. Who would ever need to carry a bag if they had a coat where they could stuff an owl? Every pair of jeans I own has five pockets, every jacket has at least two outer and one inside pocket, and I usually wear button-downs with one or two breast pockets. Those who know me well might remember me jokingly challenging friends to “the pocket game,” where whoever has the most stuffed in each of their pockets wins. This was, of course, unfair, and you can probably tell that I was very popular. Yeeeeppp.

Anyway, “How does this relate to writing,” you might ask, if you were rude and enjoyed interrupting people. But you’d also be right in asking, because it does sound ridiculous. Here’s the thing: writing is all about practice. There’s that famous quote from Hemingway that “Ninety percent of writing is showing up,” and while that’s true, some percent of that is cultivating a mind that notices things, that seeks to tell the story of everything that the eye sees.

Do you have pockets? What’s in them? Where did it come from? Who made it? Would you give it to someone? What’s it for?

Do you not have pockets? What would you put in them if you did have them? What are you aching to tell the pocket-havers, and what can you share when you have nothing?

So yes, this is a strange and circuitous way of saying practice, damnit. But not just in sitting down to write. Practice thinking, noticing, and seeing behind what’s in front of you. Pockets are simple. Almost everyone has them, but you notice when they aren’t there. On the other hand, if you’re like many of the women I know, maybe you notice when they are, and especially when they’re fully functional. What else don’t you notice as much? Go out and write it. As an artist, you don’t have time off. While that might sound oppressive, it’s actually incredibly freeing. You might remember, if you’re like me, posting on author’s websites, writing in forums, or even (god help me) writing a letter asking for advice on how to get a book published when you haven’t written anything. I was eleven. It was to Christopher Paolini. I hope he never got it. Anyway, I’ve always been preoccupied with what I was going to do in the future. But when you take yourself seriously as an artist, really get into the habit of noticing things, it forces you to live in and appreciate the present moment. Get obsessed with life, with everything around you. And pay attention to the things that you are most caught up in. Chances are you’ve already noticed something about those that no one else has. So don’t freak out. Just sit back and watch, listen, and write.

Photo Essay: How to Not Make a Cup

When starting a project, it’s important to make sure you have all the proper supplies. Pictured here is our forge, crucible, some gloves and junk,  and I guess some lighter fluid.

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Oh, and it looks like he’s got some charcoal. I wonder what he’s going to do with it.

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Oh, he’s putting it in the forge, that makes sense. I’m gonna be real, I was day-drinking while Tom was doing all of this, so it’s all little fuzzy.

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It might look like he’s making a mold, but really he’s practicing making sand castles. It takes dedication to the craft to really create something beautiful, something that seems, for a moment at least, like it will withstand the harshness of the waves. But time destroys all, and he knows this.

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And now we see the cup used to make the mold. We can also see his scowl as he hands me the glass. Does he think he’s better than me?

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Focused, intense, he turns on the fan. Proper airflow is important as you bring aluminum to its melting point.

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This doesn’t look that impressive. I bet I could light that better than Tom. This is why airflow is important, Tom.

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Oh damn, that’s pretty cool.

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Fresh out of its crucible, the aluminum is smooth and beautiful. I stare into its surface, overwhelmed, and it reflects back at me.

Tom tells me that aluminum is dangerous because it doesn’t glow red as it heats up, just stays the same. Me too, aluminum, me too.

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After carefully removing the hardened metal from its earthen grave, Tom surveys his handiwork. His look is the same he gave to me earlier. Disappointed. Dissatisfied. Disgusted.

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Air was trapped in the mold, with no channels dug in to let it out. Imagine all of that air, crushed down slowly under boiling metal, its only victory in foiling the attempts of man. This cup cannot be used. It only serves as a reminder of our own imperfections, our own weakness.

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The bottom looks pretty nice though! A+

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by Carleton Whaley