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Volume XVII, Issue 12 - March 19 - March 25, 2009
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What to Do with My Life

‘You’re going to have to come visit me in the mental ward because that is the direction I am going.’

Weighing motherly advice

by Ariel Brumbaugh

My parents and I just had the marketable skills conversation. It’s been almost a year since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and I am still waiting tables at a local restaurant. With the economy and my not being able to find a job, I decided it was a good time to accumulate more loans and go back to school. So I have applied to graduate school for a degree in poetry. My mother is concerned.

She keeps asking me what I will do with a poetry degree after two more years of school. I tried to explain. I will write something brilliant, publish several books of poetry, become poet laureate and go down in history as a renowned writer. She didn’t buy it.

“How about being an audiologist?”

“But that has nothing to do with poetry.”

“You need a skill, something that you can put on a resume. How about hairdressing?”

“Mom, I have no interest in …”

“Or massage therapy. Massage therapists make lots of money.”

“If it was about money, I wouldn’t be pursuing poetry.”

“How about a dental hygienist? My dentist says that job is practically recession-proof. He thinks you’d be a good dental hygienist.”

“Mom, I would rather become a nun and spend the rest of my miserable life locked away in … wait, how does your dentist know I’m unemployed?”

“I don’t think it could be that hard. A person only has so many teeth, so there’s only so much that could go wrong.”

“You talked to your dentist about me? How were you able to talk with his hands in your mouth? Are you listening?”

“It will be great. We could come visit you at the dentist’s, and you could clean our teeth.”

“No, Mom. You’re going to have to come visit me in the mental ward because that is the direction I am going.”

When it comes to the way my mother thinks, I have always been a little hazy. I’m sure whatever she is saying has substance, and I know I should listen to her. But maybe these are the roles we were meant to play. I tell her what I want to do. She warns me against it. I do it anyway — and pay the price when it doesn’t work out.

I am aware of the risks of being a writer. In Scenario 1, I never write anything worthwhile and never publish anything great. This is only slightly worse than Scenario 2: I write something amazing and spend the rest of my career trying to write something better. Scenario 2 involves an overwhelming pressure to be brilliant twice. These are the situations that turn sound aspiring writers into manic depressives.

Edgar Allen Poe was known for being one of the first people to base a career solely on writing. Look what happened to him. He married his 13-year-old cousin to start with, then died at age 40 from causes attributed to alcohol, congestion of the brain, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide and tuberculosis.

Famed poet Sylvia Plath killed herself by sticking her head in a gas oven. Novelist Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in a river. Poet Emily Dickinson died of natural causes, but only after spending her adulthood locked in her bedroom dressed in white.

If I am anything like my predecessors, my future looks rather grim.

Perhaps my mother favors other career choices because they don’t involve this job-related pressure. It’s good to know that dental hygienists are likely to lead mentally stable, drug-free and probably well-paid lives. Massage therapists never get massagers’ block, and hair dressers don’t despair when their second haircut of the day doesn’t stand up to the creative genius of the first.

For me, I’ve resigned myself to a life full of doubt. My graduate school application is due tomorrow, so now I have to go be brilliant. I hope my brain doesn’t get congested.

Ariel Brumbaugh, Bay Weekly’s junior reporter in the mid-1990s, graduated from Arcadia University in 2008.


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