Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What My Parents Can't Teach Me

I've stolen some thoughts today from someone with a little more wit and time for editing on her hands. Listen to Sandra, first. (she's a non-fictioner/poetesse from D.C. and someone I know very little about other than somehow the Academy came to love her enough to include her in the Poem-A-Day emails, and that she seems to know the pain of feeling vocationless-- or vocationfull perhaps.)

by Sandra Beasley

For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I'll file your 1099s.
I'll make love to strangers of your choice.
I'll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it's your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job, and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.


Since becoming an adult citizen, (for easier division of time, let's say that this miraculous change occurred after college graduation- June, 2006) I've been:
  1. an archivist
  2. a public relations rep
  3. a craft sales person
  4. an editor
  5. an Americorps volunteer
  6. a Panera Bread employee (for a record 2 days!)
  7. a phone salesperson
  8. a babysitter
  9. a waitress
  10. a hall counselor
  11. a substitute teacher
  12. a signmaker
In four years and several months I have accrued a jumble of job experiences in 12 different positions. Some experiences may have overlapped in positions as I wore several hats, but the count only goes down to 8 when you compress them by employer, and 7, if you decide that a couple months of regular babysitting isn't really a job.

In addition to that laundry list: I have received federal support through food stamps and unemployment (let me tell you- acquiring those benefits was at least the equivalent of a part time job in itself.) I have lived in 5 different apartments and two cities (+my hometown in Kentucky for the first couple months of it all) and have lived with 8 different housemates not counting the 75 teenage girls I lived with last year.

There was a point last summer when it became clear that my life had taken so many twists and turns that my parents no longer had any advice for me. Long before, I had realized that they didn't know everything. Every child has that moment- when their parent shows weakness and, poof! the facade is gone and they're suddenly falliable. Even worse, they are just darn wrong sometimes. But this was a separate realization. Not only are they not the experts on living, but they have no experience-related insight on many of the decisions that I am facing in my life. Their young adult lives, in comparison to mine, were linear and mostly planned. They went to school, got a degree, found a position and worked there for on average(ish) 7 years. My father has held three major positions in his adult career. My mother ceased working due to illness sometime in my teenage years. I can't even fathom these paths taking place in my own life.

In addition to an inability to understand my career conundrum, my parents have never been unmarried in their late twenties. Though I hear them and choose to believe them when they console me on my lonely days or commend me on my independent, adventurous days, they have no idea what it's like. They have no advice for the emotional or economic hurdles my singleness might create.

All this adds up to mean only one thing and it isn't sad: I am a ground breaker, a forager and a leader. The first in my family to take on these challenges. And I think I'm succeeding swimmingly. I am the oldest, wisest, unmarried cousin with years of experience in shooting from the hip and going with the flow. Drop me and a smattering of my relatives into the middle of a dastardly forest: I bet a few of them might find their way out, a few might famish scrapping uncertain berries into a meal, but I'd be the only in the woods with a lean-to, grass skirt, feather pillow sipping on a homemade moonshine mojito while bubbling in my hotspring hot tub, figuratively speaking. Simply put- I'm my family's greatest survivor.


  1. Found your blog via some facebook stalking.. hope that's not too creepy. And I must say that I think I feel you on all of this outsider business. Different values, opportunities, dreams, and capacities than the rest of the gang or something, I suppose. "Chutzpah," maybe.

    Can I join you in the hotspring hot tub?
    You're welcome to make one of those mojitos in Nairobi any time.
    Love you.

  2. Vocation.
    That's why I get up in the morning as well.

  3. That was the story of my summer: coming back to find my parents pretty incapable of anything outside their comfort zone. There's an odd strength to being young - you're doing new things all the time, so it stops becoming a particularly scary thing. My parents, on the other hand, have built up a complete routine over the last dozen years. They've stopped trying much new except in small doses. :(

  4. Enjoying your blog, Sarah! I too am vocation-less and I've found there's a whole other aspect to it: guilt. All this money and time spent on a top-of-the-line education, and here I sit. As if floundering around weren't bad enough, I feel guilty about it too. I did go and get married and knocked up (can you picture my brother as an uncle?), but I'm not at all convinced that being a mother is all that I'll do with my life.

    Keep writing. It might not solve the "vocation problem", but it certainly can't hurt.


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