Like most well-parented, middle class children, I was told I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. Even my dream of writing short stories was encouraged. But senior year of college (I majored in Creative Writing), my parents fell off-message. They started asking what I wanted to do, instead of what I wanted to be.
After one miserable post-college year in the workforce, I applied to MFA programs and was mercifully accepted. My parents seemed to understand; they both have Masters, and besides, my program was fully-funded. Now, however, two years post-MFA and toying with the idea of a PhD, they are less supportive. My friends don’t understand either. “But what will you do with a Creative Writing PhD?” they all ask. “Who cares,” I say. “I’ll worry about that in five to seven years.”
But this is the heart of my problem: I don’t like to do anything, at least not in the conventional sense where doing equals getting paid. And it’s not that I haven’t tried. I spent a year in customer service at a corporate travel company, where panicked travelers and/or their extremely panicked parents berated me through my headset. I quit for a job with at-risk teenagers, which was great material, but even more emotionally taxing. These positions only increased my terror of the nine-to-five with two weeks vacation. Teaching seemed a good alternative. Both my parents are college professors, and they enjoy three-month summer vacations and long winter breaks. The problem is I’m a horrible teacher. During grad school, one of my students wrote in his evaluation that mine was the worst class he’d ever taken.
What would I like to do? My friends and family ask this all the time. The only answer I can come up with: I’d like to have money, somehow, and I want to write short stories and get people I don’t know to read them. I am well aware these are unreasonable goals.
The other day I had a conversation with two older women who are “in design,” as they put it. When I told them about my MFA they became excited. I could write copy for Trivial Pursuit, they declared. I could edit game direction manuals. It turned out they’re both employed by toy companies. One admitted she works sixty-hour weeks. When I told her I don’t think I want a career, she said, “Well you have to eat.” I do, but I hate to cook, and I’m convinced there’s another way to put food on the table.
I began my new career as an anti-careerist by moving back in with my parents. My boyfriend came too; he supports my mission. Plus, he’s a chef. We pay very little rent, and we live in a beautiful New England farmhouse with wifi and satellite TV. Next, I got a day job as a part-time receptionist. I work Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I have a long weekend and a day off in the middle of my week. The schedule’s just about perfect.
Of course, there are problems with this arrangement. The biggest is answering the “What do you do?” question. Unfortunately, in the status obsessed Northeast, this is the question. A bad answer kills the conversation; a good one leads to smug self-fulfillment on the part of the doer. My loved ones visibly wince when I answer spitefully, “Nothing!” But the truth is, more than anything, more than actually doing something, I want a good answer to that question. I’m a writer doesn’t seem honest, I’m a part-time receptionist is a decidedly bad answer, and I’m an anti-careerist draws a blank stare. My friends have all sorts of suggestions: become a blogger (because that’s a moneymaker), freelance (and spend half my time promoting myself and the other half on other people’s projects), give teaching another try.
As I see it, I have two options: marry rich (this would mean throwing over my current boyfriend) or endure the shame of living with my parents for the rest of my life. But what happens when they retire and can’t supplement my meager income with large checks for my birthday and Christmas? I guess this is what they were afraid of when they encouraged me to do something back in college. At least my gainfully employed brother gets it. He made me the sole beneficiary on his life insurance.
Trivial Pursuit Anti-Careerist Edition
Q: What is the most productive way an anti-careerist can spend her time?
a) Reading the New Yorker while listening to NPR.
b) Practicing yoga at sunrise, or, you know, 2 pm.
d) Applying for jobs.
Q: According to Urban Dictionary, which of the following is NOT a definition for funemployment?
a) a happy time in one’s life when one is not employed and is not wanting to be employed.
b) unemployment where one is not looking for a job either because she is on unemployment or because her sugar daddy/momma is paying the bills.
c) unemployment indicative of a total lack of life goals and a contentedness therein.
d) unemployment while obtaining benefits with no desire to find a new job. Instead, the time is used to do other things, like travel, chill, etc.
Q: Who (which?) of the following is a famous anti-careerist?
d) All of the above.