Seven months ago, I found my feet pounding the New York City pavement as hard as they could, peddling all their power into keeping my Flintstone-car of a poetry BFA moving through basically the worst economic conditions facing new college graduates ever*. I moved into a discounted summer sublet with two strangers in the same Brooklyn neighborhood in which I’d gone to school. My shit was piled up shoulder-high in boxes in the living room. I was sleeping in my friend’s bedroom with all of her stuff while she studied in Paris (god bless her for saving me from the streets–or more realistically my parents’ basement in Colorado). I had a few grand in savings and graduation money, with one more paycheck coming from each of the three part-time jobs I’d cobbled together to keep myself in free housing, booze, and used books during school. I was a good catch for an employer. I had a resume packed with real skills, work and internship history non-stop from age fourteen, a kick-ass GPA, exuberant and dynamic recommendations, professional interview skills, and the kind of ice cold determination that would make Hillary Clinton quiver in her pumps. I had massaged every cent out of my private education, leveraging opportunity like Archimedes himself.
The first two weeks of my unemployment were awesome. I put on my pretty summer dresses, slept half the day away, applied for a hundred jobs on my laptop before dragging myself to the kitchen to eat something out of the cartful of non-perishable goods my parents bought me to stave off what they clearly feared would be my imminent starvation, and then got drunk with my friends and a bag of paper umbrellas on the roof of my apartment building while we blathered on about our potential and strategies to beat the heat.
The next two weeks were good, too. I interviewed with a temp agency and for a handful of shitty admin jobs, but received no calls back. Nevermind that, though, my middle name was Perseverance. My friends and I watched a season or two of Will and Grace on DVD, and that was enlivening enough.
The next two weeks got harder. It was so hot in Brooklyn that my roommate’s cat was laying in the puddle at the bottom of the bathtub, panting. I thought the cat was going to die of heat exhaustion, but not before I did. I started sleeping through the daylight hours, waking up at sunset, and going to bed a few hours after dawn. It was so hot that we couldn’t go to the beach–the sand burned our asses and the sun burned our joie de vivre.
By that time, I truly believed I was in hell. I started babysitting when I was nine years old and hadn’t been without my own source of income since then. The thing about me is that I really like money. And I really hate being hot. One day, it was so hot in New York that my MVP (my best friend to the layman) and I went to IKEA all day so we could sit on airconditioned couches and drink Gatorade to ward off ER visits. I finally broke down and decided I would shell out the couple hundred bucks it would cost to buy an air conditioner and get it to my apartment, but when I got to the electronics store, they were sold out. I checked another store–sold out. New York City was sold out of window a/c units. That’s pretty much when I gave up and told my mom that if I didn’t have a job by mid-July I was going to plan my move back home. Thank god my parents are realists. They said, “Okay, kiddo, we will welcome you back into our basement, but you should probably stop buying into the anxiety-miserable complex and see the big picture: you have been looking for work for a few weeks. You were expecting it to take at least a few months.”
I kept on keeping on and by late June, one of my professors had hooked me up with an interview at the law firm where her husband worked. It was a perfect fit–I was inexperienced but competent and could pass a background check; they offered a strong starting salary with benefits. I spent an ecstatic month back home in Colorado, stocking up on slacks and visiting old friends, then started work at the end of July. Six months later, here I am, loving my work, paying my bills, and feeling a lot less trapped than a kid with thousands of dollars in debt should reasonably feel. So what if I am not working in my field. As I have maintained for the duration of my young life as a poet, poetry isn’t a career, it’s a lifestyle.
At the end of the day, I am happy. At the beginning of the day, I am happy, too. Sure, I am pissed off about failed financial products. I am pissed off about the Tea Party, too. I am pissed off about the state of primary, secondary, and post-secondary education. I am pissed off about the coinage of the term “Obamacare”. I can muster up a lot of rage, for sure. But there is no need for that. I have plenty. And almost everyone I know who is a member of the “suffering” middle class has enough, too. Our standard of living in post-recession America (it ended in 2009– this is now the slow but painful recovery phase) is nothing to bitch about. Some people got fucked, sure. Those people– the now homeless, the eighty-year-olds hustling for jobs as Wal*Mart greeters–need some freaking help. The rest of us just want things. It is a fine American tradition. We do not value happiness, we value the pursuit.
So this year, like every year, I am going to work my ass off. I am going to pay my taxes. I am going to vote with both my intellect and my conscience, and I am going to figure out how to make a positive change in the country. I am not going to whine because I struggle to make ends meet; I am going to continue to struggle. I am not going to act out of fear or resort to destruction. I am going to lead the good life that I have always imagined. And I am going to write this blog.
*Okay, so, fact: the recession that began in 2007/4 (the latter half of my first semester of college), is the worst economic downturn seen in the United States since the Great Depression. Do not get me wrong, I am not even going to try to say that the downturn in the standard of living facing young adults today has anything on the struggle that confronted FDR-era kids. I will, however, make the point that graduating with a four year college degree and acompanying debt today places a college grad at a severe financial disadvantage. My degree is worth less in the labor market, and my loans have essentially indentured me to making lifestyle choices that will enable me to make timely payments rather than seek out the best route for personal and/or professional growth. When I graduated in May 2011, I carried my bags out of my dorm room knowing that I would have to have a job–not a career, a job–by November or I was going to be completely fucked. See, eighty years ago, the average young adult entering the workforce looked very different from me. I would be a seventeen year old girl looking to keep myself afloat until marriage. I would have the option of moving in with any number of relatives and farming for my keep or whatever. A dime in my pocket meant that I could walk into a boarding house and buy a dime’s worth of roof over my head. I could structure my personal finances around subsistence-living without worry of long-term financial backlash. That is to say, having no money for my first five years of adulthood would suck for the first five years of my adulthood. I would be hungry and cranky. I would hate my family and hate my womb. But when the economy started kicking again, I could pick my finances right back up. Not so today. Today, everyone has a credit scores. We have unmanagable healthcare costs, even for the healthy. We have a debt system that both provides for and resists against greater prosperity. So today, people like me enter the workforce as twenty-two year old adults who are overqualified to compete with townies for minimum wage jobs at the local Kentaco Hut and underqualified to compete with recently laid-off baby boomers scrapping for 401K-providing “real” jobs. We get a dime to put in our pockets and our net worth rises to $29,999.90 IN THE RED. Now ain’t that some shit. It’s our own fault, though. We bought the loans. We are actually paying creditors to harass us. I knew damn well when I started school that I was committing myself not only to four years at an institution of higher learning but also to ten additional years of paying off the experience. And it was worth it to me, as a person, even if it turns out that it wasn’t worth it to me as human capital in the labor market–therein lies the rub, all the Occupy Wall Street misplaced frustration.