The Road So Far: Back Home

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In December of 2001 I was back home from school after a year and a half. I struggled to find a steady job full-time job for almost a year. I eventually stumbled upon a bakery that was hiring retail sales people. I spoke with the manager and gave him my resume. I called to follow up several times until he finally put me on the schedule. It started part-time and I grew to really enjoy working there. It was a relaxed workplace where I easily learned and quickly took on new tasks. It taught me a lot of patience and great people skills. Working at the bakery my goal was to pay off my debt and eventually return to school. However, as my role at the bakery continued to grow I became comfortable and in no hurry to return.

Not expecting the bakery to be long-term I occasionally looked for work and made attempts at improving my skill sets and experience. I searched for internships that didn’t require school credit and found a work at home program promoting bands. I was sent a package of promotional posters, cd’s, stickers, etc. that I was to post and give out around the city, then take pictures and send them back to the company. I wasn’t motivated enough to do the work on my own, especially since I had no interest in the band I was assigned and quit very early. Since I was interested in writing for the web I tried learning HTML with a self learning kit. I learned basic coding easily but I didn’t really have a way to put it to use. I wrote stories and poetry occasional. I also tried to improve my writing with free online classes and joined the website DarkPoetry.com. The site is a community for writers to post work, receive commentary and support. I also submitted for publication once in a blue moon. But due to a lack of discipline my I wasn’t very consistent and easily let other things in life take priority over writing.

After several years at the bakery I moved into a full-time position handling wholesale business. But I was getting restless and there wasn’t much more room for growth. I still wanted to work in a field related to writing but lacked the experience or degree to gain a position. When I did start applying to jobs, the only offer I received was in accounting for the food service industry. I don’t mind accounting work, it’s easy and I’m good at it. But it still wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. With my failed efforts on my own to gain the experience, knowledge and skills I would need to move to something else I realized it was time to go back to school. I turned down the offer to stay at the bakery after negotiating a raise and a flexible schedule, both of which I would need to return to school.

The Road So Far: Wasted Years

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When I was younger I didn’t really plan ahead long term. I did well in school each year to move up to the next grade and eventually go to college, get a degree and a good job. What college that should be and what job it might lead me to wasn’t something I thought too hard about. I imagined and day dreamed about different careers but it seemed so far off that I’d have plenty of time to plan for the future. I was also over confident that everything would just fall into place as they had in the past. I didn’t really put much effort into applying for college. I waited until the last minute to take the SAT’s, didn’t research many schools and didn’t visit any.

I stumbled upon DePaul University as part of a scholarship program I applied for. I wanted to go because of their communications and journalism program. I didn’t get the scholarship and ended up at SUNY Brockport. I was also accepted to Nazareth College but financial aid only covered half the tuition and boarding. I didn’t see anyway I could afford it and didn’t think it really mattered where I went anyway. I went mostly because I felt obligated. I didn’t think I’d learn anything useful, it was just a hurdle to getting a better job later on. My main motivation was to get away from home. I was very independent, wanted to get away and experience different places. I didn’t even look at any schools in New York City. I’m not sure if I would have gone to school right away if I stayed home. I was tired of learning in the classroom and more excited about hands on experience.

I admit part of me was trying to run away from a life that I was unhappy with. I thought maybe leaving home would change how I felt. It didn’t work, my heart wasn’t into school and it possibly made things worse. I ended my first year on academic probation because of my low grade point average. Having little else to do in the small college town I let myself get wrapped up in partying and enjoying the freedom of being away from home. I focused on enjoying the present instead planning for the future. When I returned to school in the fall things didn’t get much better. By October I realized I was wasting my time upstate and it would be my last semester there. I came home depressed and discouraged.  I owed the school my full tuition for the last semester because I never finished the financial aid paperwork and had bills I neglected to pay. Before I could think about planning for the future I had to get a job, any job in order pay my debt. I planned on going back to school after I payed off the debt and had a better idea of what I wanted to do. I still occasionally wrote but didn’t invest any real time, money or energy into writing. Instead I pushed it aside for later when the time was right.

So I’ve made a lot of mistakes, we all do, right? I would have made just as many no matter what I decided. So I would probably do it all the same if I had a chance to do it over. I may not have learned anything in classes but the experiences were well worth the time upstate. My writing career may have been stalled because of the lack of planning. Then again I’m not sure if I would have a writing career if things played out differently. I needed to make those mistakes and take some detours to realized what it is that I actually want. The only thing I regret is not making writing a priority in my life. I let it become something to do when I had the time, instead I should have been making the time. I got caught up living life and trivial little things seemed very important. I wasted many years because I forgot what was really important to me.

The Road So Far: School Days

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When I was a kid, I was a natural over achiever.  I was probably the kid most people hate, not probably, I was. I always got high grades without trying hard, did every assignment even if it was extra credit, was well behaved and liked by teachers. I enjoyed learning in school and always did my best. It gave me a sense of pride, pleased my parents and impressed others that I did well in school. My high grades got me accepted into a gifted program in middle school. There was a lot of pressure to do well but most of the work was easy to me. I managed to slack off and still get pretty good grades. I focused on the things I wanted to learn realizing I didn’t have to be great at everything. English had been my favorite for a long time. I spent a lot of time outside of school at the library, still going with my mother most of the time. I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I quickly exhausted the kids section and would wander through the rest of the library. I started reading poetry and a lot of random non-fiction. At one point I started reading about different religions out of curiosity. It made me happy to be able to learn about the things I wanted to. I was often bored at school, studying things that I didn’t care about or see a purpose for.

When deciding on high schools I applied to some vocational schools to study business. It was something that interested me and I always liked working with computers. Since most school work bored me, I wanted to focus on gaining skills and learning about things I was more interested in. I ended up at Chelsea Vocational High School, a small school located in SoHo. I wouldn’t say it was a bad school but I probably could have gone to a better school. Most of the teachers seemed to have low expectations and not many students wanted them to raise the bar.  But for the most part, it wasn’t such a bad place. There were a few teachers that seemed to care, did what they could and encouraged us to work harder. The small environment helped me be less introverted and I learned to be more outgoing. I was on the honor roll, worked on the school paper and was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America club. At a larger school, I would have faded into the background, never really gaining confidence to be more social and outspoken. Though the lack of a challenge and relaxed atmosphere encouraged my slacker mentality. I stopped taking school so serious, it just seemed like a hurdle to getting a job.

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A quick look at my high school days.

While I had dreamed of being a writer it wasn’t something I took seriously. I figured I needed to find a real job. Through the school I got a part-time job as an office assistant at a small company. Though at first I was given trivial task like organizing the bosses office and filing, I enjoyed working and making my own money.  I was challenged to learn new things and I had to show up to get paid. I began working on important bookkeeping tasks. Not too long after, the office manager left and I basically took over her job. I dealt with the responsibility well but eventually became bored and frustrated with the job. While the owner took his time replacing her, I was basically responsible for all the company’s bookkeeping. That was a lot of responsibility to place on a sixteen year old. He finally hired a replacement, I trained her. A couple months before I was going to graduate he decided to downsize and I was laid off. I was upset but I got over it really quickly. I wasn’t happy there and only went in to do what had to be done.

Although I became unhappy with the job, I still enjoyed the work. I started to imagine working on the business side of publishing or working in marketing and advertising. I also contemplated business journalism. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I considered a lot of different possibilities. While I still had hopes of being a writer, I didn’t really pursue it too actively. I began to read about writing, and discovered magazines like Poets & Writers. I entered a few contest and maybe tried submitting to a magazine. Mostly I only received offers to be published in an anthology I had to buy, in other words scams. Becoming a writer seemed like a lot of work for very little payoff. Intimidated by the idea that only best selling authors made enough money to survive off writing alone, I didn’t think I’d have a chance. While I started contemplating other career paths it was the dream job, if it came easily enough. By that time my full slacker attitude had been cemented. School was a breeze and socializing had become more of a priority. Being more social I was able to connect with kids outside the classroom and make some close friends. I felt I had missed out when I was younger and made up for the loss time. I frequently cut classes to hang out at the handball courts on West 4th street and spent time outside of school hanging out with friends. I let writing and working fall into the things I had to worry about later on. I wanted to enjoy being a kid, instead of rushing to grow up and figure out what I wanted to be. I thought that eventually things would just fall into place. I’d go to college figure out what I wanted to do, then get a job. Things didn’t really turn out that way.

The Road So Far

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The Road Ahead

Photo by MysticMoon14 via Flickr

They say you can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you came from, or something like that. Not a fan of cliches but it fits the theme of this series of posts. As I feel the progress in my writing career has stalled out, taking a look at how far I’ve come might help. I feel no closer to my goals than I did when I first began to envision a future as a writer. Reflecting on how I got to this point and the work that I’ve put in may just reveal how far I’ve actually come. Hopefully, it will also encourage me to keep putting in the work.

I’ve always been fascinated with writing, asking my parents what every sign we drove past said. I learned to read early, about three years old. Once able to I proudly read every sign out loud to anybody that would listen, or not in most cases. One of the fondest memories of my childhood were weekly trips to the library with my mother. I’d go through books, reading the first page to decide on my book for the week. One of my favorite show’s as a kid was Reading Rainbow. I loved books, reading and writing. Once in school, I loved English class and it just encouraged my voracious reading appetite as I grew.

I can’t really say that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, because even as a child it was more of a daydream. I don’t remember ever thinking of it as a real possibility. I didn’t put much thought into what would be required to achieve the status of published writer. I didn’t even realize how many different ways you could make a living writing. The idea of being a famous writer was simply a fantasy. The kind of thing little kids think up and you continue to fantasize about as you get older. It felt similar to the dream of being a famous singer. Something to this day I still dream about as an alternative life that might be cool, though I doubt I’ll be starting a singing career anytime soon. I discovered in middle school I have terrible stage fright and am not that good of a singer.

But writing was something I could do and it didn’t matter if I was good. I still have stories I wrote in elementary school and notebooks of horrid heart wrenching poetry. I wasn’t very sure about letting others read the things I wrote. I wrote mainly because I enjoyed it. It felt therapeutic, a way to get out all the emotions from childish drama. It was something I thought of as a hobby, to pursue while I worked away at a job I tolerated. Even in adolescence, I was much too practical to think that I could make a living off writing. I got over the fear of showing my work to others, and submitted work for publication. I thought it was always worth a shot and might be cool if I did get some work published. But it still never really occurred to me to make it a career.

I never really pursued it out of fear. There was the fear of rejection and failure. I was also afraid to venture into the world of publishing, it seemed so foreign and unknown to me. I had no idea where to start even if I wanted to pursue it. My biggest fear however was of losing my love for writing. I thought that if I turned the thing I loved so much into my job, I might not love it so much anymore. I liked writing because it was for me. I didn’t have to do it. There were no deadlines, no directives, no guidelines, and it wasn’t an obligation. My biggest fear was that once it became an obligation, something I had to do to survive, I would ruin the one thing that I loved doing.

Until a couple of years ago, I still never thought of pursuing writing as a full-time career. Even now I question myself and am unsure of my future plans. I’ve overcome most of my fears, but I still worry about losing my passion for writing. I have multiple back up plans and am not ready to fully commit to writing full-time. I have realized though that if I don’t at least try I’ll never know.