Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The best things in life are free

but I need money.

I was at the bank this morning, counting out my nickels to the teller so that I would have enough in my checking account to cover the 100 dollar check I need to write to secure the room I'm renting in Arizona. It was embarrassing. I don't know what happened to my last paycheck; it probably got sucked into my gas tank. I'm too afraid to figure out how much of my wages goes toward getting me to and from work.

I got a call from my uncle last week; he's been pushing my resume at his company and they might be calling me up for a phone interview. My parents are positively giddy at the prospect of me working for a major consulting firm, writing proposals. As far as corporate jobs go, it's not completely soulless. The pay is real money, and I'd get benefits, which as one of the unwashed uninsured masses, is a sexy prospect. There are five million other reasons why I should take this job, assuming I can even get it, and my only counter-argument is I'd hate it. I'm qualified, but I'd be miserable, sitting in a cubicle, bullshitting Corporate-Speak day in and day out.

I've been thinking about why my parents are pushing so hard for this, and it mostly comes down to money. Class, more accurately. This is a nice, secure job, a career-track position, I could rent a nice little apartment in a nice little suburban neighborhood.
And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.
"Little Boxes", Malvina Reynolds

And I don't want that, even for a year. "You could save up some money. You can study massage therapy anywhere, and do that on the side," my parents suggest. Which is true, and probably the most practical thing to do. But I don't want to waste my time. The program I want to study is in Arizona. That's where I want to be. Life is short. It's a cliche, but a very true one.

It's not that I don't understand my parents' worries. I know I'm taking a big risk. And I know I'm probably being a bit naive about it. I can't really help that. I'm a nice middle-class girl, I've never been financially independant, and I probably won't be for another year. I've got a loan to cover tuition, a rented room for 400 a month, and with any luck I can find a job or two to feed myself. Even so, I'll still be dependant on my parents. And my parents know what it is to rob Peter to pay Paul, they've been doing it all their lives. They started their marriage living in a trailer, mom using the money from collecting bottles and cans to buy milk and diapers. By the time I was born they were better off; but the only reason I've grown up surrounded by McMansions and private schools is because my dad has worked two or three jobs most of my life. But I don't know what it is to be really poor; a life of genteel poverty, like a Victorian heroine, is what I'm anticipating. Even in Europe, I had some tight times, mostly due to my own money mismanagement, I was still rolling around in my middle-class priviledge. Most people don't get the chance to bum around Europe for a year, and afford to come home broke.

Working as a checker at the local grocery store has been more educational than I ever imagined. There's a lot more economic diversity than appearances would suggest. There are some stinking rich folks, generally my more unpleasant customers (their time is sooo much more valuable than mine, you know). Lots of families and elderly people, with fistfuls of coupons. White and blue-collar workers who stop and get their lunch. And more folks on welfare than I expected for an area with homes going for 300 grand at least. Mostly a lot of young single moms buying baby formula with WIC checks and foodstamps. Feministe had a great post about living off WIC checks recently. The folks using foodstamps try their best to look invisible. I once had a girl who was probably younger than me, baby in tow, red-eyed from crying. The stigma of being on foodstamps is something I'm terrified of. But if it wasn't for my parents, I'd probably be using them too.

So class is huge part of the pressure I'm recieving; but normativity comes into it too. A more unconcious motivation, but it's there. Okay, so their daughter's a dyke, and she looks dykey too, but at least she can get a normal, "real job" (their term). Massage therapy is not a real job. Holistic medicine is certainly not a real career, according my mother the registered nurse. It's okay for the meantime, to get you on your feet, make some extra cash on the side. I'm sure my parents (well, my mother especially) would be more comfortable with my sexuality if I looked more conventionally feminine; but at the very least I could get a conventional job!

It sucks, but I cut my parents some slack, because they'll still help me out when I go to Arizona. Their actions speak louder than their words, and that counts for a lot with me. I want to do something meaningful with my life, serve a useful purpose, and this is how I want to do it. I know I can't do it on my own, and I know it's going to be plenty hard even with priviledge and parental support, but I don't want to take the "safe" option. Every "safe" choice I've made turned out to be a trap. I won't trade dreams for security.


At 3:01 AM, Blogger Winter said...

I also think middle-class parents of young people in their 20s and 30s often don't take on board the way the world has changed in relation to employment.

Even though they're not consciously thinking in terms of you settling down, getting married and having kids, that (hetero)normative value system probably informs their thinking - must settle, must get stability, as soon as possible.

My Dad is very liberal about this kind of thing, but even he keeps having panic attacks about my pension. "Dad" I say "There won't be any pensions by the time I get to your age. We're all going to have to work until we drop!" The world has changed.

It's hard for parents to appreciate that a lot of people don't settle on a career until much later in life, if ever. I think the idea of a job or career for life is on its way out and that's a good thing. Many people now switch careers and re-train, sometimes many times over in their lives. I cetainly don't expect to be doing the same thing for 40 years. Why on earth would I want that?

But we really can't blame them for having anxieties. Things have changed so much since they started out.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Andygrrl said...

You're right. My parents are of the generation when you could support a family on a working class salary; you didn't need a college degree (which is pretty useless now anyway). And I know my mother is anxious because I'm not going to have a husband to bring in the necessary financial resources, she's said as much.


Post a Comment

<< Home