Summer has been overwhelmingly boring, yet stressful; these states of being do not exist well when one jumps from one to another. I have also been agitated, underemployed, and lonely to boot, reading books and watching films has either added to or subtracted from my overall essence. Though teaching one online class, strike that, facilitating one has been interesting, my absence in the classroom has led to me to either think a.) I should really be taking a break anyway to avoid possible burnout or b.) I should be doing fieldwork, I have the time. Unfortunately since I have decided the college attendance gap that shows more women than men are entering and receiving diplomas from universities is a problem and that it begins as a malignant reality in elementary education is itself a problem, since everyone is on break.
Of course, I have been reading what the “other side” says and this is basically that men still have an advantage even without a degree, they can go into a trade, for instance. Having been married to someone in a “trade”, I still wasn’t convinced that this was something that anyone would really want to do, it’s hard, grueling work. But then I saw the film The Company Men and I changed my feelings on this for 3 days or so. I had a week previous also watched the film Margin Call, which like the former film dealt with the Great Recession. Both made me cry and both made me realize that although men may be less able to accept their sudden unemployment in these times, due to machismo or something, it affected women too and where were we represented? The Recession took away a chunk of my 30’s, not the best time to be idle, really, although I was lucky enough to know it was coming. Having graduated with my Master’s in August 07′, I went immediately into magazine advertising and other marketing ventures. I had my hand in no less than 5 jobs out of college with 2 of them being promising on the resume and 3 being transient catering/waitressing/freelancing stuff to make money, so I could keep up the guise of being successful in the 2 that mattered. Yes, Ben Affleck, we all know the importance of keeping up with your contacts at the country club.
Of course, the people with money and lots of it, were the ones I would go to for advertising space. It became clear very soon after I began this that people were not letting go of their money very easily. I was warned….I remember that at some point a very wealthy potential client told me soberly that things were going to “get bad”. I knew the concept of things getting “bad”, so my only question was “how long?”. I can’t remember the exact answer of if it wasn’t an answer at all, but just a look. I was as prepared as any new graduate could ever be, I suppose. But I never thought that my moving in with my parents in December 06′ on my birthday(my 30th) just a week after my divorce would end up in me being there 5 years. Had I not had two small children, I would have went to any of the four corners of the earth rather than be there, but they needed stability, life was horrible. I was the sole breadwinner, not primary, but sole breadwinner. Only in my darkest hour did I ever ask for child support. That was over 5 years ago and though I see the same dark cloud looming over me, this will never be an option. So yes Ben Affleck, I felt the same feelings that your character did, I was afraid of my children losing faith in me and I felt like a “loser” too only I didn’t have a supportive wife, who went back to work in the nursing field and I didn’t have an uncle to give me a construction job….a construction job?
I too remember those years of looking for work after the magazine fell apart and the internship at the marketing company in New York just.ended. I was either underqualified or overqualified and the rejection after rejection ate away at me until I couldn’t even do it alone anymore. My parents in their archaic baby boomer mentality criticized me nonstop, I was told by my kids’ school that I was technically “homeless” because I was “doubling up” with another family; my parents. I gained weight, I got a job coach, because I qualified for that assistance. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I realized it when I watched the films that if the Recession had been caused by a terrorist attack, if people actually saw mass casualties right on CNN or Fox or whatever, it wouldn’t have been so bad. We wouldn’t be looked at as “losers”, we wouldn’t have felt like losers. People would have seen that this was real and not because of a lack of trying, and trying, and on and on…
But then I got my 3rd choice of a career as a professor, actually we are called instructors where I work or adjuncts or no one realizes we exist, except for our students and the Department Chair. My career coach or whatever his title was, considered this a success and I did too. Three years later and my full time teaching load has been cut in half due to Obamacare and every other person unlucky enough to not be full time or tenured is in the same boat. But life goes on, people understand if a bomb actually explodes in front of your face your life forever changes, but like with the Recession, no one actually sees this. Life goes on and people go on vacation and they feel secure, and they might blame you as a woman for remaining single, although being a wife was the job I was always the worst at.
Suddenly I began doing odd things like sending off for free samples or clicking on emails to get two cents, because those two cents will eventually add up to that $30 check that can put gas in the car. I went on more interviews, I was asked if I “had issues with urine and feces” or if I would “enjoy working with small children”. I felt my Feminism raging because of course I had a problem with feces and I didn’t go to school to work with small children. Couldn’t I just build something? What the hell was I thinking even caring about this college attendance gap? Then today I finished a book and I got an email. It has changed everything.
I have always been a “field person”, as a Sociologist there is nothing I love more than being “out there” and the farther out, the better. My first day of Spring Break, I interviewed at a farm, horticultural only. I was told I could work with migrant farm workers and others come July when the fields were ready to be picked. I figured it would solve my money problems that always came with the lack of courses to teach in the summer, even if it would only make a difference in buying my boys new or used football cleats or allow us to go to the county fair for a night and actually buy something instead of going just to get free stuff in the merchants tent. I had just finished reading Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski and I wondered why I didn’t just trek off to Thailand or some other place. But that email “what is your availability next week?” saved me. I wasn’t building anything, but it was hard work and it could be again like it was in my first practice fieldwork, I would be immersed in Spanish like I had been with the immigrants that lived just a county away. Maybe Anthropologists might understand this more or maybe they are as depressed as I was if they aren’t tenured. But, buying a new pair of cleats is the best I can do for my youngest, who is the only one who hasn’t lost faith in my ability to make their lives okay. My oldest two have decided that I will always be poor and have given up and given in somewhat to “free fun” like sneaking in to the pool for homeowners and not renters. Of course when I announced I would be a farmer next week, they assumed I would get something free out of it….we all know that nothing is free, but actually I will get some fresh produce out of it and I won’t feel like a loser, because I picked it in the sun and in the dirt and in the heat and in the rain. So please don’t tell me I’m not trying.
There is one absolutely awesome thing about being a parent, certainly there are many, but my absolute favorite is being able to scare my children via stories. This may sound cruel, but it isn’t, because I can say with about 90% certainty that my sons will never fall into a lake, become Carnies, pick up hitchhikers, or wander out into traffic. Mind you the boys are tweens and a teen, so things that I used to scare them away from are useless and the interesting part is they have realized that my stories (even when they are completely made up) are interesting. They now know there is no such thing as a “swamp witch”, an evil creature that was said to lurk at the end of my parents long driveway, but they stayed away from the road and the snapping turtles throughout their youth.
Some of these stories really have no purpose other than in telling them, they create a legacy. Stories live on. For example, stories that end in “and this is why you should never camp by a river” or “that is why jumping on railway cars is a bad idea” have no moral, but they are fun to tell. Of course, I have to construct an elaborate tale of the time I jumped on a railway car and ended up in Missouri where I was mistaken for a wanted criminal, who had escaped on a railway car from Mississippi. I then had to stay in jail for days until the police sorted the whole thing out and my picture was in the paper in St. Louis and this is why you stay away from the railroad tracks and/or never ride on a train.
There is always some grain of truth to these stories, as I would not consider my life boring in the least. I don’t tell them these tales because it makes my life seem interesting, I tell them because I can. I have tried to write stories, but who am I, Aesop? Telling stories requires a certain type of gift to weave in truth and fiction and captivate your audience through inflection or other rhetorical devices you can only do with speech. You must also be prepared for questions and demands for future stories…the latter inevitably leads to me saying something like “well after I picked up that second maniacal hitchhiker, I think I learned my lesson, wouldn’t you?”
Of course we can always tell stories that are 100% true, but what is the fun in that? Actually I have told some of those, but only in dire times. The story of being rufied by a female bartender and calling the National Guard in (and yes someone from the Guard did come to the bar I was at, but I forgot what I called them for…it remains a fuzzy picture of someone in uniform with weapons ready) has been told and my kids are more afraid of ending up doing something ridiculous than something bad happening to them. The story ends with “and this is why you don’t drink….do you want to call the National Guard and embarrass yourself?” It remains a funny story to them and it actually isn’t funny really. I simply chose to remember the more dramatic parts of my life (a theme) then an actual plot (everything else). There does remain a moral to that story and it is that you have to be careful who you trust and The Hangover was a funny movie, but that tiger could have eaten them…. “and this is why you never feed animals at the zoo…”
I seriously doubt other mothers do this. The only thing even close this that I have ever seen is in the movie Big Fish, which admittedly makes me cry every time I watch it. Ironically I also have a story to tell as to why it makes me cry that ends up with “and this is why you never fall in love with someone who is dating a princess”, although I don’t actually tell that story, because it is of no use to boys at all. I have strived to be more elaborate in my stories as I have grown older and it was something that I remember, really one of the only things, about my Grandpa. He told “tall tales” about catching alligators and armadillos although he lived nowhere near those kinds of animals. I used to think it was a Southern trait, but I realize that isn’t the case, even though Big Fish might have a person think otherwise and my Grandpa being from the South and all…
The only problem with this is that people never know when you are telling the truth or weaving a fiction. This isn’t the same thing as lying, of course, but it does effect the quality of time I have together with my kids and I have learned the hard way to tell these stories on neutral ground where they feel safe. They will refuse to sit by a campfire and listen to a story, for example and they cringe when we go fishing and I have a Loch Ness monster story to tell. But when the power goes out and we have nothing to do other than to talk to each other or we are in the car, I begin “Don’t ever think it is a good idea to become a rodeo clown…” and I just bet that they will remember every last detail even though I will forget it as soon as I have told it. They can now, after all, describe the swamp witch in vivid detail and to my delight, I think that have added some extra details to the story…
I could easily write a list of awesome badass “Life Hacks”. A “Life Hack” is a time-saving, money-saving, productivity inducing, or just sanity giving “tip” to help you live your life better. These are usually tips that you already know but have no actual interest in implementing. For example, you already know that spending oodles of time on FaceBook is lame, useless, and bad for your soul – but you do it anyway. You already know that drinking pop (even diet) is bad for you, but you drink it anyway. You are well aware that you could save money (and time and your soul) buy not stopping at Starbucks for your morning latte-chino, but you do it anyway. And, you already know that television is shit, that cable companies gouge your pockets and rob you blind, but you still insist on keeping 1-4 T.V.’s in your home equipped with all…
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