Dear Dirty America


Graduation 2012 Made Me A Master of Something

May 16
20:00 2012
Los Angeles

This is not my graduation photo, but if you look close, it does capture that latent desperation of young American go-getters who will, inevitably, be extremely disappointed with the reality that awaits.

I graduated with yet another college degree this weekend. I’m proud of myself. I’m a Master of…something. Congratulations are in order to me, and my fellow 2012 graduate and undergraduate students, as well as the 40,000 plus USC graduates, and however many tens of thousands at UCLA. And the probably million other American graduates wrapping up that particularly harrowing college education chapter in their lives.

It is now time, once again, to march out into the world and make that difference every college president talks about at every Commencement ceremony. He probably just means, try like hell to find a job. Any job. Forty or fifty percent of us won’t find a good one, or land positions that have anything to do with our newly acquired expertise. Those are the hard numbers.

After this weekend, my head was still spinning from the graduation ceremonies, receptions, and general hubbub that surrounds these joyous occasions. On Saturday, everybody threw their hats into the air after the college president announced his final congratulations and, by the power vested in him by the state of California, psychically thrust his blessings into our yawning souls. Then we enjoyed cake and sweetened tea.

I didn’t feel any different on Saturday, and I still don’t today, except I’m now floundering in a sputtering society without any obvious direction to take. I’ve done this before, after my undergraduate days wrapped up. I had that typical sense of nowhere to go, nowhere to be, and that awful feeling of dread when I understood that my happiest days might have been behind me.

So what am I trying to say? I don’t know anymore. I’m now a Master of…. And the rest isn’t important. For a title and a few really good classes, I traded the rest of my life, and possibly part of the next. My name has been attached to something I hate: money. The numbers have a glaring ‘minus’ sign next to them. But even if they had a plus sign next to them, I wouldn’t be much more excited. There is very little out there I want to buy. Except one coffee every day. A small cup of straight black. That’s all I want.

Either way, the numbers are red. And the numbers are large. Student loan debt is over 1 trillion dollars in the US and growing every semester. Why did I put myself into that snarl to get a degree? Frankly, I don’t know, but there also wasn’t anything going on in the job market when I decided to re-enter school. Three years ago I was working forty hours a week for poverty level wages. That didn’t make sense to me.

So I went to school. I like school. In exchange, I frequently woke up gnashing my teeth because the debt incurred is so astounding I can’t imagine most people ever make that much money in their lifetimes. Of course, if I big publisher took on my novel, I might have a chance. I could cut a check to the bank, square up, and enjoy that daily coffee.

Today I strolled through a particularly bourgeoisie area of Los Angeles. The sun felt especially positive in that area, and the people were extra pruned to appear successful. They made me think of my own financial numbers, and how I dug a hole so deep I wouldn’t be able to crawl out with any dignity in tact, and I thought about how many others must be pondering the same as me.

The idea of being in debt is a scary one. It creates hostile environments. It creates desperation and madness. It stirs the primitive “slit your throat for a nickel” mentality. Those 40,000 graduates at USC alone are flooding the system looking for great jobs. Not to mention the grads of NYU, U of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, and so on. Bright fresh workers with honed CVs and too much self-esteem goading HR departments everywhere for a coveted position. How is someone who isn’t interested in dollars and financial success supposed to compete? I mean that in a very serious way. Thankfully I have this serious website to publicly poke at these caged ideas.

Our society is set up with the idea that competition is god. It moves the Invisible Hand that is also supposed to regulate the markets and the economy and the flow of money. Competition separates the grain from the chaff. Except I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind, and it’s certainly not what I’m sensing is good and right. The Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, said a month ago that Americans who are struggling should work harder. That’s appalling considering the economic realities of America in 2012. Work harder where? I can dig holes all day, but unless the tip of my spade hits a golden chest, I won’t be better off financially.

Is Paul espousing the idea that whoever is creative and driven enough in this land of opportunity shall receive the abundance that he surely deserves? Because as far as my life experience goes, that is hardly the case. Professional writers, for example, work incredibly hard, and most of them make very little money. Writers are only one tiny part of the economic and career sectors, but they are what I know best. Writers work all day. Weekends. Holidays. They have to. And they’re very, very poor. Most of us don’t mind that.

So pick another field, Rand Paul might say. Pick a career that pays well. Like…accounting. But we can’t all be in business. We aren’t all entrepreneurs. Or salesmen. That seems to be the goal of these “job creator” folks. If you’re brilliant, you’ll obviously figure out a way to create a product so good, or start a business so desirable that you’ll make your millions and be done with it.

I’m still not sure where I’m going with all of this, but maybe that’s the beauty of blogs: you can make a lot of shit up and not lose much sleep over it. It’s not like I’m writing for Time. Or Newsweek. Anybody can write a sensational headline with the words ‘president’ and ‘gay’ in close proximity. Let me close by describing the image I continue to see in my mind:

thousands of capped and gowned students sitting in tight orderly rows in stadiums and school halls across America, every last one of them chewing on the idea that they will score a good job and make a difference in society. The bundled student masses of the years before, and the years coming hang like blackened storm clouds over the economy and every year’s graduates. Where are they going to make their money? What opportunities do they have? How much does a person have to make over a lifetime to have a home, a car, health insurance, and a livelihood? Five hundred thousand for a working lifetime? Is that enough money to live a moderate, middle class life in 2012 and beyond? Where is that money to be earned? Who’s shelling it out?

The system seems unsustainable. But that’s just me. My dream is a very small studio apartment with an airbed, and located in a bad part of Los Angeles. I want time to write, to read, and to digest the great gift of life. I’d prefer if nobody bothered me. I would happily let the other millions of eager students and young professionals box it out in group interviews and career fairs. I’m not interested in fighting. Or blowing up my self worth. Or “selling myself”. I’m not interested in making somebody else a lot of money. Or climbing the corporate ladder. Or asking for a raise. Or a promotion. Or highlighting my experiences and working skills.

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