Snow Highway

I hate shoveling snow. I imagine shoveling dirt is worse. If Camp Green Lake from Louis Sachar’s beloved novel Holes were a real place and I had to go there, I would not have lasted a day. Shoveling blows. Honestly, so does snow at this point. I’m over it!

But today, I took up the task of removing the three inches or so that had accumulated on our driveway and deck…or what was left of it. The sun still proved to be on our side against Mother Nature’s raging winter boner and most of it had melted…except on the cars. Three to four inches of snow blanketed the three vehicles on our driveway, smooth and pristine as can be. Hoorayyyyy.

The nice thing about shoveling and sweeping snow (besides the fact that it’s good exercise and I am under 35, which means I am less at risk for a heart attack mid-dig) is that it’s repetitive, which gives you time to think.

A blessing or a curse.

In my case, it was immensely helpful in piecing together something I had started to figure out once I shook hands with the GM and finished my new hire paperwork at Chipotle Mexican Grill: that I was free.

Free from what, exactly? I still live at home. I’ve maxed out my student credit card. Wages are still too low to account for the rising cost of living. Trying to save money is an art I’ve yet to figure out, especially when pink moscato and Ben & Jerry’s remain the most delicious concoctions known to man. Gas prices in Maryland aren’t terribly horrendous compared to other states, but nowhere near the good ole days. Trying to find a nice apartment near a city that doesn’t cost an arm or a leg is a gamble and a half. But, as our government that’s ten times more of a spendthrift than I will ever be constantly reminds us, we are the most well-off of any country in the world. So free from what, exactly?

Well…I managed to graduate from a four-year college debt-free thanks to a very generous trust fund left to me by my father’s late aunt. My parents allow me to live at home rent-free as long as I help around the house, have some semblance of a steady income, pay my portion of the cell phone bill and they’re free to waft heavy waves of disappointment in my general direction at intermittent times. A small price to pay, really. And honestly, these are two big, big things to have on my side right now. Plus, I have just one more class to take before they actually send me my diploma (long story) and then I can hang it up proudly in my room as it accumulates dust from not actually being necessary in my field (electronic media and film, where knowledge is certainly power, but the 80,000 dollars it took to meet the right people is worth far more). For all intents and purposes, I am free from the educational system unless I absolutely want to not be sometime in the future, which is looking more and more likely as 50 is the new 40, orange is the new black and a Master’s is the new Bachelor’s. Don’t ya know? Everybody’s getting an undergrad degree now! It isn’t special anymore! Sado-masochism runs rampant in higher education. It’s a dungeon that would make a dominatrix weep.

For the first two months after graduation, life sucked. I had left my retail job in Dundalk on Christmas Eve because I wouldn’t be living near the area anymore and the higher-ups were just terrible (another very long story) and had nothing lined up back home. So from Christmas Day until a few days ago, I had nothing except a couple baby-sitting gigs to my name. The rest of my time was spent wallowing in abject self-loathing and a whole lotta Netflix, much to my parents’ chagrin and my own. It didn’t help that I was rejected by a national cinema chain for an entry-level position at one of their nearby theaters. I (almost) have a degree in film, I’ve worked in customer service since I was fifteen, I live in the area, and the manager even said in his follow-up email that I aced the interview. Oh, and did I mention I have the most open availability possible? They went with someone else. What more could they have possibly wanted from me? According to friends that are former employees of the cinema chain, the answer is the ability to assimilate and never ask questions. Whatever! I will 1984 the heck out of that job if it means steady income and my foot in the door to somewhere better than watching an entire season of Law & Order: SVU in one sitting for the umpteenth time! I love Big Brother!

I was also still not used to rejection, which became evident the other day when I drove past the movie sign outside the very same theater that once again declares “NOW HIRING” in stark black letters and I laughed bitterly all the way home. I think in this case it’s a little different because Quentin Tarantino could not have been more qualified than I (he has terrible people skills). But for someone that suffers a cocktail of mental illnesses that exacerbate the inability to handle rejection, it just served as a reminder of how little I was accomplishing. It was time to buckle down.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I stop into the local Chipotle with a friend to grab a steak bowl and follow up on an application (by the way: ALWAYS follow up! You stand out better). One of the managers comes out and we end up having a full-blown 45 minute interview talking about my previous experience, how the place is run, and the levels of advancement. Apparently, you can train to become a restauranteur managing several Chipotle restaurants and make around six figures with a company car in less than five years. Nothing to sneeze at for a fast food place!

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was also terrified that I had shot myself
in the foot by explaining that I was also a freelance production assistant and needed a job with more steady (albeit less, though I left that part out) income in the meantime. We talked about prioritizing and I made it clear that being a PA would come first, but I would also make every effort at Chipotle as well. That means if a PA job comes up on the same day I have a shift, find someone to cover for you. And if I somehow landed a paid long-term gig, bye-bye Chipotle.

It’s the nature of things.

But apparently, that didn’t deter them because I got a second interview and I start orientation tomorrow at 10 AM sharp. And I’m really excited! Chipotle is not your average fast food chain and even in this economy, I don’t apply for jobs willy-nilly. I don’t need to waste my time and others’.

I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, “what does any of this have to do with a damn epiphany? Did you suddenly realize that your addiction to brown rice and guacamole is now so powerful that you’ve resorted to gainful employment at the source?” Actually, yes. But more importantly, I realized something else very important: I have been holding myself back.

What? I’m working fast food! From what am I possibly holding back? “Oh yes, Mister Tarantino, I would simply love to be the assistant producer on Kill Bill Vol. 3 and of course I’ll marry you, it isn’t too soon at all! But alas, I’m far too busy slinging burritos to even begin thinking about location scouting and wedding venues!”

No. What I am free from is the feeling that I am 100% obligated to hold myself accountable to my degree or to what I think or what other people think I should be doing. This probably seems like a major cop-out to doing something bigger and better with my life, but I promise it isn’t. I am not one to take life for granted, but that does not change the fact that I am only twenty two years old. Of course people have accomplished amazing things before they hit that particular milestone, but it’s confirmation bias that makes us think that’s the rule and not the exception. Not that it shouldn’t be that way or it’s bad to hear about young people doing great things all the time. I think every twentysomething should strive to do great things, but on their terms.

My twenties so far have been awesome, don’t get me wrong. I have amazing friends and the best brotherhood possible in my college film society. I’ve worked hard and played harder. I have done a lot of things to be proud of. I (almost) graduated college against all odds that I didn’t think a privileged white girl could run into (jeez, I need to take that last class ASAP. The amount of ‘almost’ in this post regarding my education is disgusting). I mean, heck, I learned about filmmaking from the ground up with no prior experience and could confidently produce your short film. But most, if not all, of my struggles have been internal and on the brink of devastation. I’ve only just started to become open about some of them. It’s terrifying, raw, disgusting and makes you vulnerable in a way you never thought possible.

If you’re in your twenties right now, you may feel like a wad of Play-Doh in the middle of daycare full of toddlers that have so many ideas on what they want you to be (although the definitive and majority answer is in their mouths). You’ll be stretched in all directions, pounded, molded, rolled, squashed, chewed, all in attempts to make their tiny fantasies a reality. But little do they know that this hunk of Doh is sentient and has its own ideas on what it wants, and it probably isn’t totally in line with theirs. And suddenly this analogy is very strange and in line with surreal British comedies. The biggest thing to remember is that it’s okay for your aspirations and work to line up with what you want and no one else. It’s also totally okay for your dreams to be fluid and nuanced and constantly changing. In fact, I encourage it. It’s scary to not have a concrete idea on what you want right away, but how do you know what you want if you don’t explore the vast amount of options out there?

The key is to not become overwhelmed with decision. When you walk across the stage at graduation, you are exiting the decades-long routine of academic structure and, in most cases, relying on your parents for basic needs like food, shelter, gas money and weed baggies (“Honey, this is the fifth box of Ziploc bags we’ve bought this year! How many snacks is she taking with her to school?). Now you’re free to create your own structure, or have no structure at all, and that is the most terrifying prospect I can think of. The biggest paradox about freedom is that it’s actually paralyzing. You become wrought with trying to decide what you want to do, what you should do, and whether or not those things are mutually exclusive.

Here’s my epiphany, which is also my advice to you that I myself am still trying to follow: Stop. Breathe. Prioritize. If you are in a position to not move out straight after graduation and have to go back home, seize it. I don’t care how demeaning it seems to your fragile independent ego. Use that time at home to save money. Apply to every single job you want, even if it isn’t in your field and not your first choice. My first choice is to be a production assistant and work my way up the chain. In order to do that, I need to move closer to where the work is. I can’t afford to. So my plan is to work service jobs and save up until I can. Make gas the foremost thing I spend my money on so I can drive to my local job and to PA jobs. If it’s dead season for film and TV, work my ass off at home. Start hunting down gigs and secure at least one long-term job before I move. Make sure I have enough money for several months’ rent and emergencies. Don’t get caught off-guard. And if I fail and start at square one? If I hit rock bottom? Good. I have a solid foundation. Try, try again.

I have a lot of work to do ahead of me and it doesn’t scare me anymore. In fact, I am empowered by it because I realize I have a lot more going for me than I thought before. I have connections. I have skills. I have a place to live and call home where I can shovel snow if the need arises. I am twenty two years old, I am a hot mess, and I have never felt better.

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