Tagged: United States

This American Life, 101

This American Life, 101

My family has a tendency to nag my sister about her repudiation of the national criterion that expects all nineteen year olds to immediately enroll in a four year college upon high school graduation, lest they wish to toil through a life of welfare or, God forbid, work a blue-collar job for the rest of their lives. When I was still enrolled in fastidious studenthood, I might have agreed with my family’s concerns for my sister. After all, she’s an incredibly bright human being with a charming personality and the same fierce drive that makes all us Moon-Woods workaholics. If she had found a college program that appealed to her, there’d be no doubt in my mind that she would excel at it. But thus far in her life, nothing a college degree can offer has yet to beguile her into attendance, and surprisingly, I commend her for standing by that fact. I’m probably going to be ostracized from the family for the newfound beliefs I’m about to confess, but after making the decision to adhere to The Official Timeline of an American Life, I wholeheartedly support my kid sister’s decision to deter from the norm.

For some reason, the overarching sentiments of this country seem to suggest that adults who veer from the expected college track will become work force pariahs, too burdened by ignorance to climb the occupational ladder and attain the life of monetary leisure the American dream extols. We have a tendency to completely discredit other forms of learning in the face of institutionalized academia, and pity those who reject the increased opportunities a diploma provides. But it’s an obvious fact that the boot of school is not tailored to every foot–especially since many of our schools operate under the delusion that packing young, overworked brains with a winter quarter’s worth of knowledge and then testing them to assess and grade their intelligence is a universally beneficial system. For some students, this rote methodology works wonders, but for many–including obsessive-compulsive grade point extremists like myself–this system is incredibly faulty, prioritizing a numerical outcome over the individualized educations every child would receive if all schools truly fulfilled their self-referential mission.

While this is certainly a cynical take on institutionalized learning, I’m not discrediting the value of education in the slightest. I think actively broadening your mind in the pursuit of knowledge is far more important than seeking a degree for the future income it might secure, and therefore I’m a huge proponent of the academic value of continuing on to college after high school. Sadly though, elements of my schooling reinforced the fact that monetary gain takes precedence in the eyes of our Capitalist system, demonstrated by my required enrollment in several courses that were entirely useless, taught by so called “educators” who had nothing to teach and instead comprised an obligatory conveyor belt in the production line that is contemporary college.

Based off of my experience, college is a business bent on perpetuating the larger mechanism of national wealth. While the notion of putting a price on knowledge is completely counterintuitive, the idea of coupling education with the exclusivism of astronomically high tuition is outright idiotic. Yes, garnering an education at a community college is a much cheaper route, but for those who can afford and choose to attend a community college, there’s still the stigma that their educational institution is merely a stepping stone for a more expensive school, where greater resources supposedly ensure better academia and, in turn, more profitable jobs.

But when we talk about the value placed on today’s “premiere educations,” we’re talking about exorbitant prices. Even with the incredible, four-year scholarship I received, the 16 hour days I worked without breaks, and the nerve-wracking amounts my parents had to proffer up every quarter, the remaining bill still weighs on me like an unmanageable dumbbell, and I’m officially a statistic on the long list of post-grads facing a lifetime of staggering college debt.

To make matters worse, I’ve now witnessed the fact that many college graduates who’ve been roaming the “real world” much longer than I have are victims to the twisted notion of the internship. This concept might have once meant a brief, occupational transition between school and adult responsibility, but has since evolved into an interim period of strenuous unpaid labor that (like my boyfriend’s internship) can demand seven straight days of serious work, imperative to the company’s success. All of this sans the pay that an uneducated fast food employee makes in one hour.

Because the American system condones the idea of unpaid labor and demands five years worth of experience for numerous entry level jobs, many recent grads have to become fast food employees, waiters, sales floor reps, and grocery store parcels just to afford residency in the city that hosts their internship, which in the arts industry that my former college caters to, means the extremely expensive cities of New York and Los Angeles. Enter a restaurant in LA and if your server isn’t an out-of-work actor, they’re likely a post-grad with a bachelor or masters under their belt and at least five internships on their resumé. And I’m not over exaggerating. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve become friends with law school graduate who has to waitress here in the City of Angels and can cite the impressive degrees of everyone on her restaurant’s waitstaff, and I’ve met innumerable people who shake their heads in exasperation when they tell you that yes, their fifth internship is also unpaid.

This whole transitional interlude is an incredibly stressful time, and if you took International Baccalaureate classes in high school in the hopes of attending a prestigious college that supposedly guarantees a comfortable job, you’ve been extremely stressed since you were sixteen. I accommodated this stress into my life as a natural part of living, and thanks to cautionary familial examples of the toll eschewing college can take, I always figured I’d made the right choice. But then my sister chose otherwise, and I had a new example to behold.

My sister works at a job that many would consider undesirable. In fact, having worked in the same establishment, I can vouch for those dissenting opinions myself. But my sister and I are two very different peas from the same pod of sweat and determination, and despite some displeasing elements, my sister loves her job. She’s incredibly popular amongst her coworkers, supervisors, and the customers she serves, she gets to arrange her own schedule (which happens to begin at four in the morning, at her request), she gets paid well and receives numerous benefits, and she has plenty of time to engage in her favorite after-work hobby of toning those buns and thighs at the gym she frequents. She may not have the salary of a med school-trained neurosurgeon, but she has an even more beneficial facet of life: she’s happy. And all those six years that I was tearing my hair out in academic exasperation, she was approaching life with a relaxed mindset that maintained her persistent, bona fide smile. Yes, there’s no telling what her monetary future holds without an official stamp of institutionalized approval, but is that really the most imperative crux of a human life?

To conclude, I applaud your decision to take things in stride, little sister, to live for the moment even though we can’t resist heckling you about the future, because we, like the rest of the country, abide by the fear that if you don’t acquire financial security there’s little hope for happiness. If you should ever want to learn a new skill set or venture into a new occupation that requires a piece of verifying paper, I encourage you to look into colleges or trade schools. Resist being swayed by money-hungry recruiters who’ll sing any school’s praises, and conduct your own research about the professors and the real success stories instead of the advertised statistics. Find an institution that will really give you your money’s worth, and attend it with a desire to learn, not a desire to merely graduate. And should you ever find yourself suddenly living a cautionary tale of your own, do what most narrators don’t: make an effort to change it. Life is too dang short to spend it mimicking the rest of society because that’s what’s expected of you, so go out and garner wisdom, work, and happiness however you see fit little girl. Keep approaching life with the sense of excitement and wonder you’ve always possessed, and I know you’ll do just fine.

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Reverie Interrupted

Original Artwork © Emily Moon

Besides learning how to complete tax forms and fill out checks, one of the saddest, inevitable aspects of aging is the gradual diminution of daydreaming. That isn’t to say that there aren’t adults out there who still pass the hours with their head in the clouds, seemingly idling away while their imaginations rev with steam power, but I beg to proffer a generalization when I say that most adults in our Capitalist system don’t have the time or mental energy to dream like they used to.

This unfortunate phenomenon occurred to me last night after seeing Pacific Rim in IMAX 3-D at Universal’s neon-lit CityWalk. Despite the obvious holes that even Guillermo Del Toro admits to, this film was an increasingly rare personal experience in which I was actually able to relax and enjoy a summer blockbuster and all the giant, sword-wielding robots it had to offer. But while beating back motion sickness for the thrill of prismatic kaiju-jaeger carnage, the thought occurred to me that if I were a twelve-year-old kid watching this movie, my mind would be racing to fabricate a myriad of subplots and potential characters, and as soon as the movie ended I would hurry home to manifest my alternate narratives via writing, illustration, or a long bout of daydreaming. As it was, the movie ended and I hustled home to collapse exhaustedly into bed.

It’s a real shame that daydreaming seems to be a pastime literally and ideologically reserved for children. Even for those adults fortunate enough to still possess the active reveries of juvenescence, our culture seems to perpetuate a social stigma about daydreaming after a certain age. The phrase, “get your head out of the clouds,” comes to mind when pondering the fact that idle behavior in adults is generally chastised by the United States’ emphasis on productivity. Since youth, aging in America runs parallel to an exponential loss of time: our homework starts to amass in middle school to ensure that we’ll be ready for high school; or social lives have to be marginalized in order to complete all the high school work that prepares us for college; college buries us so deep in post-college preparation that sleep becomes an irregular recreation; the five unpaid internships a city like Los Angeles demands from us and the secondary jobs we fill just to make rent consume every waking hour of the day in preparation for a career; and unless we’re lucky enough to secure a relaxing schedule and ample time off, our careers become synonymous with “life.” Of course it all peters out eventually, and one can only hope that the reinstated free time of retirement might kindle some sense of contemplative woolgathering… as long as the exhaustion of the years prior doesn’t preoccupy the mind.

I think hispanic countries got it right when they established midday siestas as a cultural repose. Providing people with an opportunity to regain their energy and cerebrate at their leisure is a genius social strategy that not only aids in employee stamina but also in creative output. Daydreaming, while criticized as mere inattentiveness, self-absorption, and absentmindedness, is a progenitor of art and innovation. Back when I had the time and the energy to simply explore the contents of my imagination for as long as I saw fit, my artistic output was tenfold its current yield. Today, if I’m lucky enough to have a writing implement and jot down a creative thought when it galavants my way, I have to seek time to flesh it out, and by then I might already be preoccupied with the next fleeting fancy.

But I shouldn’t be so quick to bellyache about the future to come, for having attended art school, I’m geared up for a career in creative ideation. Despite these occupational prospects, the expectations of most middle and lower class vocations that I grew up amongst are worrisome on the creativity front. Unless you have a job at Pixar or in an advertising agency, work schedules are not conducive to imaginative thought. And even with a creative occupation, daydreaming just isn’t the same when you work to produce creative ideas versus spontaneously slipping into hours of free associative contemplation.

I suppose if there’s any consolation to be garnered from this predicament, it’s that even though the American system demands that we work hard to afford the necessities of life and work even harder to live leisurely, creativity continues to flourish. Eccentric couture designs continue to catwalk their way into fashion shows, anonymous muralists continue to adorn city streets with whimsical illustrations, teachers continue to create innovative curriculum to engage their students, architects and urban planners continue to brainstorm new strategies for cost effective living, and artists like those assigned to Pacific Rim continue to dream up bigger, more fantastical monsters. With creativity manifesting all around us every day, it’s clear that innovation is not solely the product of excessive daydreaming, and with the help of these imaginative adults, creativity will continue to augment social progress. Yet despite this propitious silver lining, I can’t help but wonder what this country would be like if everyone still had the time to dream with the same fervor that propels a child to build castles in the sky.