I graduated last month. (If you don’t know the long, winding journey it took to get here, check out this video.) And though I should be excited—everyone in my life is—I find myself a little underwhelmed. Because of the “unprecedented times” that we find ourselves in, my graduation was a pretty lackluster affair. After uploading a photo for my graduation slide, I spent two weeks waiting for more information. It wasn’t until commencement week that I was told that, on the day itself, we’d be sent a link where we could peruse the speeches and slides at our leisure. (I.E., choose whether or not we wanted to watch the two prerecorded speeches.) As for those slides, a lot of them were blank which left me wondering if my fellow graduates had gotten any emails at all. Or if they’d given up on getting any since communication was few and far between. It also left me thinking about the Zoom and Youtube Live graduations that, even though the graduates couldn’t assemble still, I felt, maintained a sense of community.
On top of that, I had already been feeling a bit insecure about my chosen degree. I didn’t have these qualms when I planned to double major in psych and English because the latter would be secondary to my main career. Or even, after my accessibility issues, when I chose to drop psychology, and I discovered just how much I enjoyed language, both writing in and learning about it. But now, with only an English degree and no plans to shift immediately into graduate school, I started comparing myself to my friends; to the future teachers, lawyers, doctors, computer scientists. And then I stumbled across the articles discussing the uselessness of a Bachelor’s degree these days and that didn’t help either.
I think there’s importance in telling one’s story and, as a book editor, I could help get those stories out into the world. But I’m a fantasy reader and writer. I think there’s value in fantasy stories too. But I could not stop myself from thinking of the far nobler-seeming professions that everyone else was pursuing. Also, I know that I’m burnt out and continuing school would not be good for me right now, so that won’t be happening. I’d gotten over the above or, more accurately, forgot about it for awhile. Until yesterday.
I don’t remember what my friends and I had been talking about beforehand, but the relevant bit of the conversation began with one of them saying that she would not allow her child to be a musician. I interjected, explaining about all of the things musicians can do beyond aiming for stardom.
“But if they’re not a teacher, can they claim unemployment?”
Beyond teaching, musicians can have other, equally stable employment: conductor, regular performer on a cruise ship or at a hotel, composer, etc. They don’t only have to be teachers.
“Yeah well it’s still not stable enough for me.”
Then one of them talked about how much her family pushed her. “You want to be a lawyer, aim for judge.” Or “Don’t just be a social worker, you can do more.” It was a reminder of how—despite a general shift in opinion—many people continue to view the arts.
I’ve heard stories of people trying not to pay freelance artists for their work, or not thinking the service being provided was worth the agreed upon price and trying to under pay (after all, it’s not like they’re a plumber or doctor). This, then, threw me back into the spiral of doubt I had been feeling about my WIP (work in progress). I might as well just stick with editing then. I’m already in a rut and had found myself wondering before, what’s the point of even telling this story? Will anyone actually want to read it? Or, maybe they’ll think it’s good, but not worth paying for.
Tonight, I talked about some of this with one of the friends from yesterday’s conversation. Her response:
“But I thought your primary goal was to be an editor.” And something along the lines of, “What we say shouldn’t really matter but either way, it’s not like we don’t respect you for being a writer.”
It made me wonder, but would you not respect your child? Do you feel that you couldn’t then hold them to high standards if they want to be an artist, like you feel you can in more traditional fields? It gave me very, “well that’s nice for you but not for my kids” vibes. I don’t think that was how she meant it, but it doesn’t change how it felt. And yes, editor is a primary goal, but so is writing, both my own pieces and as a freelancer. I actively identify as a writer. And having the first comment be “but you want to be an editor”, which does not involve me writing, felt a little bit minimizing. Like, “look, you’re not actually trying to make it out here in that way, right? So your fine.”
And no, it shouldn’t matter what people say. But they’re my friends, and so many people feel this way about the arts: it’s frivolous, can be cut from curriculums if budgets are tight, etc. They completely ignore how much art they consume, how integral art has made itself in their lives from visual media like paintings, movies, video games, dance to music and books. The perceived lack of security—which, of course, can be a problem—trumps passion and talent. And on to talent, I’m usually confident in my writing abilities. I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the English language and people tell me that they like my “realistic dialogue”. But I haven’t made it past the second round in the last two writing contests I entered. And I think receiving my third job rejection today—from an editorial position—didn’t help with my mindset either.
Teaching English abroad is something I’ve considered and, even though it’s something I think I would enjoy doing, as I looked up the information about certifications and teaching online while the pandemic persists, it also made me wonder if that’s what it will ultimately come down to. Teaching. The only thing you can do in the arts. I know that’s silly—I’m looking into editorial work and want to freelance edit—but that doesn’t stop the thoughts from filtering in.
Maybe I’m just too sensitive. Maybe I’m spending too much time in my head. The dangers of having so much time with no schoolwork, I guess. Either way, I usually get over it. But I still wanted to write it all down. Maybe someone’s feeling similarly.