June 14, 2012 —
As I am writing this, my daughter is having a nervous breakdown about finding a job after college. I am trying to ignore the caterwauling emanating from her room. I am on deadline, after all. This, of all the work I do in the world, is the one I am paid for dependably. Still, I can’t help feeling her pain and wanting it to stop.
In college, she was recognized for her keen intelligence, her good nature (generally not a caterwauler) and skills as a writer. A musician at heart, she resisted what she called the “easy out of being a music major” in favor of the American Studies program. By her senior year, her faculty mentors were showing her the way to a life in academia. She would get a Masters, then a Ph.D., publish books about social injustice and teach in a fine private university. Probably have five cats and live in faculty housing. This scenario failed to inspire her.
The only thing she really feels good doing is singing her music onstage. If she had never had the opportunity, she might never have known this and maybe she would be on her way to grad school in the fall. Alas, her talents are above average. Enough above average to attract the attention of the chair of the music department at Skidmore, who lobbied her to come over to the dark side—the life of an artist. But this life is the antithesis of academia. It is fraught with uncertainty. It is majestically unfair and subjects one to the whims of popular culture. To be an artist—a performing artist in particular—requires extraordinary focus and drive. Also rent money and food.
Some of her good friends are spending the summer working on the presidential campaign. Others have internships. She has resisted the internship route, afraid it will lead her into a career she doesn’t want and suck the life out of her creatively. She thinks it will be better to make minimum wage and have time and energy to gig. Anybody who has ever worked a minimum-wage job (her mother included) could tell her time and energy are sucked out at the same rate, no matter the salary.
My daughter has a flaw. She is, at least for now, unwilling to depend on others for her upkeep. During college, she rarely wrote home for a supplement to her work-study income. She learned to cook pasta primavera in all its permutations. Bought gas with her Price-Chopper card. Shopped for clothes in thrift shops. We have not thrown her to the wolves yet. We have not forsaken her, rejected her, or asked her for rent money as my own mother did. But she protests. She does not want our help. Although I notice she is fixing up her room at home, repainting the lime-colored floor of her youth a dark hunter green.
Soon, she will run out of the money she saved doing office and kitchen work at school. What has a liberal arts degree with honors given her? A grounding in Latin but no idea how to support herself as an artist. Did we think it would be different? No, we didn’t. We knew college would give her time to grow intellectually, develop socially, and sort out some of the big questions life poses. We did not expect workshops in how to get a retail job while gigging. That’s an education you get on the street. That’s when real life begins.
For now I try to encourage her to walk the dog and leave me alone to write. The nervous breakdown will have to wait.