Spring Renewal

Spring is definitely in the air out here in Portland, Oregon, and as is usual, this time of year has spurned a lot of changes and transformations outside and inside.  While I’m still trying to keep up with everything in my own head, I thought it would be a good idea to write some of it down.

I’ve had most of the month of February off, but not intentionally.

On February 1, I decided to lace up and go out for a run.  I’d been feeling a bit panicked, a bit anxious about the fact that the scale hadn’t shifted for me in a while, even while my measurements were going in the right direction otherwise – muscle growth, reduced waistline happening (slowly – but happening).  The sun was bright and the air was cool and damp.  It was a perfect day for a jog.  I set off with a basic idea of where I wanted to go, but because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make a loop or just a straight line to a distant point and need the bus or light rail home, I stuck my bus pass in my pocket alongside my phone.

I stretched for a bit, and then took intentional time warming up with a little bit of brisk walking.  I wanted to activate all of the things needed inside.  My feet felt good, and as my breathing went up, I could feel that drive to move faster building, as it always does.  Soon I was doing a slow lope, kind of a fat-man-running movement that lives just above a walk, but not a full on jog, and about two or three steps beneath a full-out dash.  I am, after all, just getting back into the saddle of putting pavement under my feet again, and I don’t want to hurt myself.

I made a right turn, and proceeded up a street I hadn’t gone running on before.  I love taking side streets that I’ve not been on because it keeps my interest piqued – and keeps me from focusing too much on the pace of my breath or my body’s natural tendency to want to stop.  Up the street, there was a piece of sidewalk that was closed off to foot traffic – a very, very common occurrence here with all of the new construction and rebuilding that our housing market is fueling.  So, like I good pedestrian, I crossed the street, ran up the half of a block or so past the construction, and then went back to my side of the road.  As I hopped back up onto the curb and sidewalk, I also pivoted left.  In that moment, in that act of taking a step and then attempting to turn on the ball of my foot – something we all do unconsciously when we walk – a huge pop sounded off in my knee, followed by a flush of raw agony that spread down to my foot and up my thigh.  Immediately, I stopped, almost falling over.  “Shit!” was my first word.

I could bear a little weight on it, but something was really, really wrong.  I started to panic and called Ray, but I knew he was busy picking up our roommate from the airport.  I remembered my bus pass, thankful that I’d stuck that little jewel in my pocket, and set off towards the nearest bus stop.  About a half-hour later, I was home, on the couch, leg elevated along with my heartbeat and anxiety level, so damn mad at myself.

That started off the medical journey that culminated in yesterday’s arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of torn cartilage in my knee – a corner of the medial meniscus – three weeks after the injury occurred.

In the down-time between the injury and the surgery, I’ve been plagued with frustration, a heightened sense of anxiety, shame, and rage all surrounding the way my body looks and how I still feel like such a blob in my own skin.  I had more than one moment with Ray, crying, admitting how mad I was at myself for pushing myself too hard because I’m so angry at getting so out of shape since he’s come into my life.  I’m mad at getting old.  I’m mad at my wrinkles, baldness, and waistline.  He, being the angel that he is, has more than once reminded me that he’s not with me just because of my looks, and while he still finds me exceedingly handsome, he knows that beneath this messy outside, I am a decent man within.  Him telling me this directly, and holding me close, really has done a number to soothe my nerves.

His support has also led me to using my downtime pretty effectively with regards to my writing.  I have been able to work my way through a redraft of about four chapters of my memoir.  This time around, it’s really up-close-and-personal, first-person, blow-by-blow.  My writing groupies have praised this massive turn around in my words, and I’ve even sent off a couple of query letters to possible agents regarding their interest in my story.  I haven’t felt this confident about any of my writing in a long time.  The words now are coming from an authentic, unhidden place.  I roar onto the page in very detailed and intimate flashbacks coming straight from my point of view.  The act of putting the reader right there, in that moment of time, has such power, and is *exactly* what I wanted to produce for a story.

Now that the surgery on my knee is over and I’m feeling like I can get back on both feet again, things will resume their normal course of events.  At least for a little while.

Ray and I have been also discussing the shifts in his life, especially with regards to his future job plans, and what that means in terms of our living situation.  Later this year, in July, he’s going to be taking his Level 1 Master Sommelier exam up in Victoria, BC.  It’s the kind of test and certification that will bump up his resume, especially as he also starts to transition away from table-side serving of food and wine as he currently does, and moves into tasting room/vineyard work out in wine country.  The Oregon wine industry is growing in leaps and bounds these days, and will continue to do so as the climate shifts and wine production done in central and southern California has to divest of cooler-climate grapes – grapes that will do extraordinarily well up here.  Ray wants in on it, as it is a huge passion of his.  He’s also working to incorporate his skills in design, with an eye to work on label and marketing material for vineyards throughout the Willamette region and around the Pacific Northwest.

All of this, for us as a couple, translates into moments of transition, possibly out of Portland, Oregon.  We both have dreamed about having our little spot somewhere, where we could raise a garden, chickens, and have a dog or two.  Right now, in the current state of Portland proper, those kinds of things are way out of our reach.  The average home price here is up in the $300k range, and rentals on single-bedroom spots (most without any outdoor access or pet options) is over $1500 for anything comfortable.   Given our love for the outdoors and access to the stars and trails and mountains and ocean, we are keeping our eyes out for spaces that would accommodate us both better without being too much of a burden on our wallets.  This year will see us both focusing on getting our credit card debts down, getting our finances in further order, and figuring out our next move forward, as a couple.

The fact that I have him in my life, to share in his exploration of self, watching as he comes into his adult form, is amazing.  I saw great potential in him when we first met, but now, two years in, it’s clear that we’re sliding into a far greater, stronger place as a couple.  His friends have started ribbing him about marriage, and it’s adorable to see him squirm about it a little.  I’m not driving that conversation at all, and have told him it’s all in his court – I’ve been there and done that and I know that if we do get married, it’s going to be unlike anything either of us has ever experience.  He’s making grown-up decisions about his career, and is deliberately seeking a balance between making the money to pay the bills and having a life that brings him joy daily, where he doesn’t always feel like he’s just feeding into a machine, but taking an active role in growing and shaping in cooperation with a team of like-minded people.

So, yeah.  2016 has started with a lot of shake-down, a lot of shifting away from the old and transitioning into the new.  While I loathe that I’m older and can’t beat up on my body like I always have, I know that this month to reflect and change gears has done me a lot of good.  Ray has also had to shake off some of his own doubts and fears and is making some earnest moves towards the life he envisions for himself.  The daffodils are blooming.  The crabapple trees are too.  Spring’s renewal is a welcome thing this time around.

On a Break

Today, I attempted to sign up for my summer schedule. It didn’t go as I’d hoped, but I still have a chance at mapping out a summer that will allow for loads of time off. Like last summer, Ray and I want to do so much camping and adventuring. There’s still so much of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest that we both want to see, and as I am able to align my schedule with his, we should be able to scheme and plot and plan to go just about anywhere.

I just competed a book called Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty by Jennifer M. Silva. This book, a read I highly recommend, touched on so many things that are relevant to my life and experiences. From avoiding adulthood through constant education, realizing my degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, having to reconcile my past with my present, and redefining stages of adulthood that are unlike any measurements that generations before me have ever used, this book really got my head spinning.

I’ve been struggling to accept that I’m a blue-collar worker. I know that sounds classist, but the fact is, I was led to believe that a degree (or two) would be my pathway to living a class better than my parents. I mortgaged my brain with student loans, but have not been able to reap the expected benefits of doing so. While I don’t regret the college and graduate school experiences I’ve had, I still feel as though I’ve been slighted. All of this has come into even stronger relief as I watch Ray go through the same adjustment in his life. While he managed to skirt around taking out too many student loans, and is a little better off than I am, fiscally-speaking, he still feels like his life was short-changed because of forces outside of his control, namely the 2008 recession and its prolonged drag on the creative economy he once belonged to. For him, it’s become clear that to be a member of the creative class means having fiscal support from a benefactor, whether it’s a parent paying rent, or a partner with deep pockets. It’s frustrating not being able to provide enough for both of us in a way that would enable him to achieve his goals, and given my current station in life, I’m not sure it will ever be possible.

While we are leading a pretty amazing life as a couple, and as individuals, money and such seems to be a constant worry and concern. I only hope it can improve. I want him to find a path forward that appeases him and leaves him feeling good at the end of the day. I want to be able to share in this sense of happiness knowing I’ve done my part to support him. I’m not certain, though, that this will ever materialize.

We will persevere. It’s going to be a series of conversations and concessions on both our parts to make this all work out. As touched upon in the book, our relationship isn’t a matter of set roles and expectations that have been mapped out for us. Instead, it’s a situation that is constantly in flux, and remembering to remain flexible is at the heart of what keeps us going strong. It’s not always easy, and it does require work, but it is fulfilling. So long as we remain open and honest with our individual needs and keep making incremental progress towards shared and individual goals, we will last.




Yet Another Realization

Today was a rough morning.  Well, not rough, so much as it was a moment of clarity drawn out by writing – as is often the case with me – about why I’ve been grappling with a deep-seeded anxiety with regards to Ray.  This morning, he took off on his journey to Iowa where he’ll be visiting with his family and attending his brother’s wedding.  It’s the first time in our relationship that he’s taken off without me on a journey and where I won’t see him for about a week.  As I type that, it sounds so damn insignificant.  In fact, that is kind of the point of why I’m writing this all down here and sharing it out loud.

We’ve been together for just over six months now.  That’s about thirty-two weeks of getting to know each other, getting a better understanding of what’s going on behind each other’s eyes, and figuring out the ways in which whatever this thing is between us can enhance both our individual and collective lives.  In the course of that time, we’ve gone on some pretty damn amazing adventures, camping, seeing the world around us, enjoying deeper conversations about how our lives should be versus what they actually are, self-actualization, and what it feels like to be growing up.  We’ve also had a lot of sharing about our pasts, what things have shaped how we react to current issues, and how we cope with these old wounds.  As you all know, I have a book full of them.  Ray, as it turns out, has his own pile of skeleton bones that he’s dragging around too.  As he packed up and headed out for this trip back to the midwest, some of my deepest anxieties came flying to the foreground, and have remained there since we parted company at the airport.  Sure, it’s only been a few hours, but you know me – I can’t just pause a thought.  I have to chew on it for a while and figure it out.

I have separation anxiety.  It’s a legit panic attack about what might happen to us while we are apart.  In the past, and anyone who’s been close to me can attest to, I have broken down and sobbed, lashed out in anger, unable to control my emotions and simply just implode in a way that is both saddening and grotesque.  I’ve lost my shit more than once over a break in space, and as crazy as it seems on paper, it’s even more insane from my point of view.  It all comes down to a matter of trust and just how much trust I am willing to put on the line.  After some deeper consideration, though, this time, I think I may have figured it out.

Before I get into that, it should be said that I’ve done a really, really good job of remaining in control of myself as I sent Ray off and wished him well.  Instead of turning into a real monster, apart from admitting one really intense dream sequence to him about one thing going terribly wrong, I’ve managed to keep this anxiety under wraps.

I did, however, wake up from a brief nap this morning with a tightness in my throat and a vision in my head that was really disturbing.  It was my brain, and my anxiety, winding me up illogically in order to pump my body full of the kind of energy I need to protect and defend myself.  Hormones are powerful little chemicals, and this morning, as I woke up startled and simply got out of bed to shake the visions and put myself back in reality, I knew that this was something I simply had to come to terms with.  I needed to take some time and really be honest with myself about the places where this kind of real, debilitating anguish comes from.

I sat and journaled for a bit here at the house, and then opted to take myself for a quick stroll and a cup of coffee before the summer heat really cranked up here.  I’m glad I did.  I found myself talking to myself, reminding me that not only do I have absolutely no reason not to trust Ray, but that none of what my visions are screaming at me are actually true.  I am in control of my actions, body, and mind, and it’s up to me to figure out what is causing this much disruption in how I think and feel.  I think I made some headway, and I think it stems back to some really old, remaining issues with how my parents divorced.  Not to be too Freudian, but I think it has to do with my reaction to having my mom break the trust I had placed in her and in our family.  She was the one who left, and as much as I have forgiven her over the past twenty years for having done so, a part of me refuses to let it go.  So far.

She tore my whole world apart.  Her actions made all of the ways in which I both saw my family unit and depicted my family unit to those I knew null and void.  No longer was I from a normal family with both parents.  No longer was my life a sort-of fairy tale experience where I could believe in the love that I thought existed in our home.  Instead, all that I knew suddenly became a lie.  I couldn’t trust in a promise made between two people.  That blind faith in that sort of pact between my father and mother simply evaporated.  It left a giant hole in me that never truly closed.

My relationship with Nathaniel was marred by this huge lack of trust in what we had.  When he’d take off on little trips with our mutual friend Scott, I’d be an absolute monster.  Crying, shaking, wailing, weeping, screaming…it all happened, multiple times, simply because I thought he, like my mom, was abandoning me and abandoning the promise and relationship that we’d forged.  Something inside me short-circuited.  At the time, I was totally out of control, and it frightened me.  For some damned reason, I had projected the emotions of the past – ones I simply refused to deal with or couldn’t handle at 17 years old and instead departed for college and too much booze and pot – onto the present.  I did this with Nathaniel.  I did this with Nathan.  I promised myself this time, with Ray, that I would not do this.  For the most part, I haven’t, but I’ve caught myself on the verge.  I let one of my nightmares slip out, and it was clear that it spooked him.  I’ve explained a little bit more to him, and he and I are totally fine, but I promised him I’d spend some time getting to the bottom of this.  I think I may have just done that this morning.

I still need to file for divorce from Nathaniel.  It has been over four years now since we’ve separated, and I’ve found myself putting the impetus upon him to complete this step.  Stubbornness has made me dig in my heels.  I’ve told myself time and time again that if he wants to not be with me then it’s in his court to file the papers.  Legally, up until recently, because of how gay marriages are recognized, I’ve not lived in a place where I could do the filing myself, and would have had to go to Massachusetts in order to do so.  Since Oregon has overturned it’s ruling against gay marriage, though, the option of petitioning for divorce is now something I have.  I now have the power to move on from that broken relationship.  What this also means, though, is finally breaking the promise I had made to him over five years ago before the state and our families.  I finally have to accept that breaking that agreement is a matter of actually moving on, and actually taking back control over my life.  It also means, to me, finding peace with my mom’s actions towards my father, and finally appreciating why she did what she did.  I need to let go of my stubborn pride, and simply cut the thread.  It’s overdue.  I think, in the end, this will help me resolve this anxiety inside me.  I can be an oath-breaker and not a bad person.  I can still believe in the actual ritual and higher-resonance vibrations of a union between two people, and yet let this kind of union in my own past fall apart.

No, I haven’t been harboring thoughts of returning to Nathaniel.  I’ve met Ray, and I can appreciate the possibilities that lie between him and myself, and see that they never existed between Nathaniel and me.  I see the difference.  I see the potential for something far more profound in my future as a possible-maybe.  In order to get there, though, I need to take this step.  If I want to be the person I should be for myself and for what Ray and I share, then I need to make peace with my past – all of it.

$280 in filing fees to begin with.  From there, I do not know how much it will cost.  Still, in the end, that’s just money, and it does not matter.  I’ve been saying all along that one cannot put a price on sanity, and for me, this has never been more true than it is at this moment.


What If?

What is going on in Washington, DC these days is something else. But this isn’t the first time I’ve been hit on the head by how appalling our current political climate is these days, and it’s not going to be the last time I sit back and shake my head in disgust at the ways in which power, money, and greed all play out in how the country I am a citizen of.

I want to take some time and just ruminate on something, and perhaps just put this out there. Bear with me.

I am a member of a generation that, from what I see and what I’ve experienced, is stagnant and simply stuck waiting for our chance to take the mantles from our parents and grandparents, and step up as leaders. In four years, I can technically run for President of the United States. So could people of my generation. We can stand for Congress, we can be the ones sitting on those committees and in those positions that make the decisions about the direction of our country. We are on the verge of being the generation responsible for the way things are done in America. Soon, I will be electing representation from my peers, not my parents or grandparents.

My generation is one of a huge blend of culture, energy, expression, and color. We are not the “typical” American generation. We are educated. We bought into, and continue to buy into, the push from our parents to seek higher education. We have gone through the motions, as prescribed to us, and have ended up on the margins of a society where we struggle to find our place, struggle to find a way to feed ourselves, and in our struggle, are able to still celebrate diversity and empowerment of the individual. We are disillusioned with religion, generally speaking, and if given the chance to come out from under the systems of control held over us from previous generations, can find our way to a middle ground more often than not.

I’m talking in broad generalizations here, but damn it, this is how I see the world. Again, bear with me.

What if we simply revolted? And by revolted, I mean stood up to be counted? What if we just took over? What if we used our collective voice, our over-educated minds, and found a way to enact the changes we generally agree should happen in this country in order to bring us in line with the rest of the developed world? And what if we stopped accepting those older than us who tell us we are selfish, self-centered, and only interested in me-me-me? What if we could caucus, organize, and build a movement that put real pressure on those in charge currently until we could step up and take the reins?

I see an America that has a government that reflects the actual people who live in the country being governed, and not the rich and powerful elitists that currently hold the reins. We don’t need flashy campaigns and never-ending membership to the houses of government. We do, however, need to see actions that are beneficial towards the entire country, and not just a fortunate few. Kick out the lobbyists, the deal brokers, the corporate powers that for too long have bought every vote, or held the majority of the country hostage because of the needs their shareholders have.

I’m tired of having to deal with dysfunction at a national level. I’m tired of living in a country that brings shame upon its citizens. I’m tired of being recognized as a member of the sullen teenager nation at the dinner table of nations. It’s time for us to grow up, time for us to act like a reasonable adult, and time for those of us who actually do know better, have the energy, and the will to enact the deep changes this country needs in order to be a full-fledged member of the 21st century.

My generation consists of scientists, engineers, tech-savy geekery, educators, skilled craftspeople, talented and passionate artists, and thinkers. We have been taught to question, taught to be experimental, and taught to communicate. We have been granted degrees and diplomas that heretofore have been made null and void by our current state of economic and political affairs in this country.

I also think we are a generation of optimists. We want the better. We want the good. We want to take the high road. We are hopeful, even in the midst of our current darkness. I say, it’s time we rise up and do something about it. We can play within the rules, and get our voices heard. We can form our own parties, our own strategies. We can be a force. You say you want a third way? I say we could be that third way. Balanced, forward-thinking, respectful, knowledgeable, and eager to get to work.

What if?

What I’ve Found

I’m not alone out there.  I’m not the only over-educated, under-employed, struggling thirty-something.  I’ve had some earnest discussions about this with a few people in my community here in Portland, Oregon, and what I’ve learned has actually had me pause quite a bit and think.

Where this whole experience really has me trapped is when it comes to social interactions.  As a single man, I find myself facing times when the company of another would be most welcome.  Even in the darkest parts of a long, seemingly-endless search for work, or just those days when I haven’t got any money and I’m stuck with my own thoughts, I still find myself reaching out across the void for some human interaction.  I usually keep it light and friendly, using one of the many dating apps one can install on their phone.

More often than not, though, the standard question of “What do you do?” comes up, and it’s then that I feel myself shutting down.  Every. Damn. Time.  It’s as if, suddenly, I’m being measured against a stick.  Where do I fall on the income scale?  What does this say about my value?  Will this person with whom I’ve struck up a conversation and might have an interest in suddenly find themselves looking down at me, and finding a way away from the misery that they know I’m in economically?  Every time I set out, I come up with a better, more appropriate way to indicate that I’m “seeking future opportunities.”  I have a degree in English, and a Master’s in Creative Writing.  Finding a way to say “I’m unemployed” that is as genteel as possible comes easy to me.  The thing is, what I’m finding, is that the reaction is hardly as egregious as I expect it to be.

The other night, I was on a date, and the person across the table from me, fully employed and still finding ways to be creative in his life, expressed his opinions on the job market and the economy pretty well.  His thought were something akin to: You’re not alone.

He went on to explain that, here in Portland especially, the job market has been tight for years.  People who appear to be successfully and gainfully employed today were once in my shoes, usually not that long ago.  The amount of people migrating here for a better life, usually from places where the job market is even tighter and the cost of living soars well over and beyond that here in the Portland area, is exponentially growing, and for better or worse, it remains to be seen if all of them will find what they’re looking for here.

I came here under different circumstances than most, but I still came, and I’m still trying to live here, somehow.

In this swirl, I have come across more than a few resources and articles that take on the current economy and the generation of people I find myself among.  Here are a few:

From OnPoint Radio with Tom Ashbrook: A Generation’s Changing American Dream

Found on Amazon: Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

From The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Burdens of Working-Class Youth

Just doing a Google search for “Working-Class Youth” revealed a lot to me, in fact.

I don’t know where we’re all heading.  I don’t know what this all means for me personally, as an American citizen, or a member of a large global community (we aren’t the only place on the earth dealing with this – France, Most of Europe, and eyes on Asia as well), but I know that eventually something will have to give.  Something will have to change.


I Shouldn’t Have Gone To College

I shouldn’t have gone to college.

At least, when I scan through the job listings found online, that’s how I feel.  I should refine that.  I shouldn’t have gone to college and came out with an arts degree.  It hasn’t served me well.

When I began my college experience, it was full of all the anticipation and excitement of being able to achieve more than my parents had.  I had stood back and watched as they struggled to get by on more than one occasion.  I didn’t go without, mind you, but our lives were comfortably simple.  We had warm food in our bellies and a roof over our head, but it was a very sheltered life.  We didn’t travel much.  We couldn’t afford things like the piano lessons I had always wanted, or the sports camps for my brother, or to hire out contractors to do the never-ending remodel work on our old farmhouse.  My parents made do, and we got by, but I always felt that I was lacking something.  I always felt that, if given the opportunity, I could do better.

College was to be that opportunity.  For years, starting with my decision to attend a smaller high school instead of the larger, public high school that almost all of my classmates from elementary school were graduating to, it was understood that I was going to college.  Somehow.  I was going to get a degree and get a good job and live a comfortable life.  I was gifted in a few abilities, and where I didn’t do so well, it was on me to work harder (though I often just skated by).  I was a scholar.  I was a model student.  I kept my nose clean.  When the time came, I attended a college fair, and was shown a world of possibilities in the colorful brochures and friendly ambassadors from each place.  We didn’t have the power of the internet back then to really do the investigation into the campuses from our own home.  It was a stack of brochures, applications, and the like that I trundled home to my room and poured over.

Each school had it’s own application fee, I quickly learned, so I had to be smart about where I applied.  I couldn’t just send out fifty applications and hope for the best.  It was far too expensive.  I applied to two schools, both state schools, and both not far from home.  I figured, well, it’s college, and it will have to do, given the limits of the means I had to pay for it.  My parents had offered to pay for four years at the University of Maine, but being the precocious son who wanted more, I settled for them paying one year of out-of-state tuition for the school of my choice.  I was accepted into the University of New Hampshire, exactly one hundred miles away from home, and it was there that I was going as an undergraduate in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.  I was going to study biochemistry and become a scientist.  I was going to make a boat load of money, and live in a way that would make my parents proud.

My first semester, however, proved to be more than I had anticipated.  Upon returning home for the holiday break in December, I opened the letter addressed to me from the University.  Because I had failed not one, but two of my classes, I was placed on Academic Suspension.  I was not allowed back into school for the following term.  I had failed out of college.  Immediately, I thought about the check my parents had written for my tuition.  I thought about the actuality of being a failure.  Like I had when I had gotten lower than an A in all of my elementary classes, I panicked.  I was promptly on the phone with the university, and set up a meeting with the associate dean of the college.  I had to be let back in.  I had to find a way.

I managed to work out a deal with her, which involved changing majors.  I was to retake at least one of the classes that I had failed, which would bring my grade point average up to a level that was acceptable to remain at school.  I switched to Microbiology and retook the calculus class that I had failed.  The chemistry class that was also a failure for me would simply have to remain that way.  I couldn’t even balance a chemical equation, let alone pass that class.

I made it through my first year of school by the skin of my teeth, and during the summer between my first and second years, I found an apartment to live in off campus, along with a job to work near school.  I would move down to New Hampshire a month earlier than the rest of the students.  I had my car, and a job, and obtained a permit to park on campus.  I also did something that was very independent.  I took out a massive private student loan to cover the out-of-state tuition bill.  It was in my name, and from that point on, it was me who I would have to answer to when I didn’t pass a class.  It was my reflection in the mirror, along with me who had to write the checks to pay back the loan for classes.  It was up to me to make my way forward.  As soon as I could, I changed my major yet again to the area where I excelled the most – English and English Literature.

At the end of my second year, I had managed a massive turn around in my GPA.  I had taken courses that challenged and delighted me.  I made sure to address some of my core required classes, like making up that physical science credit I had failed to earn during my first semester of my first year.  Primarily, though, I spent my seat time talking about poets, novelists, and dramatists from all across the English-speaking world.  I found great energy and movement in the words on the page, and engaged on a level that, for a simple country boy from Maine, was profound and enriching.  I learned a lot about what it meant to be my race, gender, and class.  I learned about my roots, and the roots of the people around me.  I was able to critically examine my own life and communicate about it in a way I had never been able to before.  All the while, I was earning really good grades in my classes.  I was answering questions.  I was writing papers.  I was reading more literature and literary pieces than I had ever dreamed of.  It was exactly what college was like in my early adolescent fantasies.

My life took a turn and I had to withdraw at the start of my third year, but eventually I did return to finish my degree.  Two more years of surprise, delight, critical thinking, and further developing my understanding of the literary and cultural world around me, and eventually I graduated.  My GPA wasn’t as good as I had hoped (it turns out I can’t draw, and so a failed art class happened), but it was solid, and I had earned enough credits.  128 to be precise.  I bought my cap, my gown, I tossed the hat, and felt very proud to have accomplished something I had dreamed of for years.

It was nearly immediately, though, as I added my degree to my qualifications to the resume I had drafted in the Career Services workshop prior to my graduation, that I realized how unmarketable my skills were.  I was an English major, which meant I was good at one thing: words.  I could type, copy other peoples’ words, and arrange them in a way that made sense to someone else.  After trying and failing to break into the publishing and editing world (I had no idea I should have done an internship), I settled for a data entry job at a company close to where I grew up.

Hours and hours of mindless entry of figures and words into specific spaces on a computer screen numbed me.  I wasn’t challenged.  I wasn’t pushed in any way.  It wasn’t long into that job that I saw myself stagnating, never moving up, and never being satisfied.  After some heart-to-heart conversations with my partner at the time, along with other friends, co-workers, and my family, I decided to try my hand at substitute teaching.

I immediately fell in love with the job of being at the big desk in the classroom, and was soon enrolled in a graduate-level course at a local university to earn my teaching certification.  For two years, I was back in the classroom, engaging, rekindling my love of knowledge-gathering, and being asked to challenge myself in a way that brought me such joy.  I looked forward to every class, nearly every project, and succeeded at what I was doing.  My student teaching experience put all that I had learned to use, and along with that came the weird belief that my education and training had use, finally.  I was finally doing what was my calling in life – my vocation.

With the ink still drying on my certification, I set about trying to find a teaching post.  In 2006, there was already a glut of Language Arts teachers looking for a job.  It was typical, but I managed to find a number of job posting boards online.  I started by applying locally, in the state where I had become certified.  Then, I learned about the states that had reciprocity with Maine, and would recognize my teacher training in order to get a license to teach in their state.  My search broadened, and one after another, I would send all the documents and paperwork that each application required.  Beyond the curriculum vitae, most wanted a copy of my teaching philosophy, copies of lesson plans, detailed responses to upwards of three or four essay questions, and copies of my credential documents.  Each application packet was an investment of time and energy, and with each one I sent out, I pinned a little bit of hope to the outside of the envelope, or to the email (I loved the schools that accepted emailed documents).

Eventually, nearly at my wit’s end, I applied to a recruitment company in England who was bringing foreign trained teacher into the UK to fill gaps in the workforce for the country.  Within weeks, I was packing my things and traveling overseas to take up my first real post as a teacher.  I was in that job for two years, and all during my time there, I felt like I’d finally made something of myself.  I finally had achieved everything I wanted to.  It was a shame, though, to have to travel the three thousand miles and to a totally different country just to fulfill a dream, to feel justified, and to have that sense of satisfaction.  I had to give up that post, though, and return to the U.S. in the late summer of 2008.  The partner wasn’t enjoying our time overseas, and needed to be closer to his family, and so I obliged.  I figured that I had two years experience teaching under my belt and that finding a job back stateside would be easier than it was as a completely new teacher had been.

It wasn’t what I thought it would be.  There were still so few English Language Arts posts available to me.  I was tied to the Boston area, which meant I was applying for jobs where teacher who had earned their Master’s and Doctorate degrees were also applying for the same posts.  I stood no chance.

Then, just as I had resigned myself to having to look outside of education for a job, though I had managed to obtain my Massachusetts Teaching License and registered as a substitute for Boston Public, the economy tanked.  I watched it happen, in real-time, on the television, while I was sitting in the house of my partner’s parents, applying for work.  I knew instantly that any chance I had for finding a job had simply vanished.

The four months of unemployment were terrible.  Daily, I would wake up with hope, pour myself a “cup of ambition,” strong with a little cream and sugar, and make some more progress with the job hunt.  I would send off application after application.  I would reach a breaking point where I simply could not look at the listings on Monster or HotJobs any longer.  I simply had to step away.  As with every teaching application I had filled out, every job application had a small bit of hope pinned to it.  Every one of them I had invested energy in.  I had psyched myself up to making the commitment to the document, to play ball with the required forms and details about my previous work experience.  I would tweak my skills in order to align them to what I though the companies were looking for.  Time and time and time again.  By the end of the week, when everyone around me was celebrating Friday, I had really became unglued.

I had lost hope.  I had lost my sense of worth.  I was a total bear to be around.  I was mopey, lost, and disgusted with the choices I had made.  I didn’t regret going to college then, but it was close in my mind.  The student loans still needed to get paid.  Every damn month, hundreds of dollars were sent out in order to keep those wolves at bay.  Because of the way my private loan was set up, there was no way to escape it.  My father, the cosigner on the loan, would get harassed for payment if I didn’t make one, and I hated that.  It was just a reminder of how I had failed to make him proud, failed to do better than he had done.

Eventually, I did find a job.  It was an underpaid job working for a textbook publisher in Boston, where I did something similar to what I was doing before I had gone to get certified to teach.  Data entry, phone call answering, customer service, and light office work summed up my time from 8:00a till 5:00p every day, Monday through Friday.  I had the stuffy office attire.  I had the uncomfortable office chair.  I had the commute into the city.  I had something, but it was certainly not tapping into the part of me that was a teacher.  I constantly felt the need to work up the courage to go to work.  I loved my coworkers, and though my boss was tough, she had given me a chance to work, and for that I was grateful.

Still, I was unsatisfied.

It wasn’t until a little party after Thanksgiving in 2009 that the possibility of pushing myself intellectually again came into my mind.  My partner and I had been invited to this small gathering as a way to meet new people in the Boston area.  We had just moved into our small apartment in the North End, and were trying to make contact with other like-minded people around the city.   So, when we got the invite to come over after we’d spent time with his family, we both agreed happily, and would bring some wine along.

Sitting at the kitchen table, it was clear to me that I was a bit older than the crowd that had gathered.  The host and I sat and talked at length about the things we were doing with ourselves and in our lives, and the conversation came to my creative outlets.  I had been working on a small bit of writing, but it was just something that I did to keep my mind active. It was a way for me to deal with the mundanity of office worker life, and it was free.  He looked at me square in the face and asked, “Why haven’t you gone to grad school for writing?”

The truth is, I had never really considered graduate school.  I thought my chances for going were long since over.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I was done school, and that I needed to just get by with what I had.  Still, as we talked and sipped more wine, the idea stuck.  He had a contact at a small college in Vermont that he wanted me to connect with and talk about my options.  He put the bug in my ear, so-to-speak, and the more it crawled around in there, the more I wanted to take that step.  I wanted to earn my Master’s degree.  I wanted to at least be on some equal footing with the other people applying for teaching jobs in the Boston area.  Sure, it was yet more fiscal commitment to the government for loans – thankfully public loans, and not private – but in the long run, if I could land a decent teaching post, I could really make a go of the life I wanted for myself and my partner, and those loans would seem like a small investment over the long term.

I applied.  Within a few short weeks, I heard back from the program director, and was accepted.  I got myself to a very small campus in the middle of Vermont, and for a week, I spent my time attending workshops, talking to other writers, and setting up a study plan that would carry me through my first semester of graduate school for writing.  I was taking my English language training to a different level.  I was taking a sometimes hobby of mine seriously.  I was putting one of my greatest strengths to work for me.  Because it was a low-residency program, I would be doing all of my work from home, around my full-time work schedule.  It fit my life perfectly.  It would keep me busy, but it was something I could do and achieve.  It was a massive life goal within plain sight.

It also turned out to be more than the partner could handle.  In our time together, he had seen me go back to school three times.  Once to finish my undergraduate degree.  Once to get my teaching certification.  Once to now pursue my master’s in creative writing.  He was tired of waiting for his chance to go back to school.  He had never completed college, and was frustrated by my constant educational advancement.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t given him a chance to go to school too – he just couldn’t decide what to study.  He was keenly aware of the investment and money that going back to school would be, and was afraid to take that first step.  I, however, took the plunge boldly, and he resented me for that.

After leaving Boston and my forty-hour-a-week job at the publisher, I found myself back to square one, yet again, looking for work.  This time, though, I was a bit easier on myself when I went looking for gainful employment.  Since I was technically in school, the student loan payments had eased up a bit, and I could postpone making the big payments until I was done.  This freed me up to take on a part-time retail job as my source of income.  Sure, it was way below my skill set, and it didn’t really push my abilities very hard, but it was a job.  I had been working in retail and food service since I could hold a job (apart from the four years of teaching and office work), so what was required of me came easy.  Besides, I was in school again.  I was a student.  Again.

I got through my master’s program just this past summer.  I am now in Portland, Oregon, another highly educated liberal-minded town, similar to Boston.  I have my Oregon teacher’s license, and now my MFA in Creative Writing.  I’m ready to go.

At the time of this writing I have submitted over forty teaching applications since moving here in March of 2013.

In all that time, I have had one principal reach out to me for more information, and then I never heard from him again.

I’ve had my resume gone over by other administrators who work in schools.  I have all the right credentials and degrees.  I have teaching experience.  I have exactly what I need to be in front of the classroom.  Just like the other 200+ people who are looking to take on the role of Classroom Teacher of English for Portland Public Schools.

So, I’m once again back to where I started.  Only I’m further in debt, over-qualified for any job that will actually hire me, and wondering if this is really my lot in life.  Is this what I get after all those years of class time and expanding my perception of the world around me?

I’ve started applying for jobs that will not satisfy me because I simply must work.  I don’t know if it’s possible to achieve work satisfaction in America any longer.  I also do not see the relevance of going to college any more.  I feel like I was fed a lie and now I’m dealing with the outcome of that lie.  That saddens me