“Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” – Ms. Frizzle, The Magic School Bus
Children are taught to keep their ear to the ground, explore their crazy, dirty world, and make leaps of faith and creativity with learning and living. Who wouldn’t want to continue to live this way? So fearlessly?
Adults, on the other hand, are socialized through employment and social institutions to keep their nose to the grindstone, stay within culturally accepted paths to reach your goals, and “get through the day” with minimal risk. This is how you get what you “need” (jobs, promotions, $$) to get what you think you want.
Play Ethic advocate Pat Kane writes that we are bred to be both docile producer and hedonist consumer. Where is the room for passion, taking chances, or simply not fitting into the socially agreed upon perfect model of the human person? This model is who the economy favors, and with the current recession, this model is the standard of determining who may or may not meet the basic needs of their life.
This perfect model of the human person consists of being born in the United States, having a High School Diploma, knowing exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life at 17-years-old (before the decision-making capacities of the brain are fully developed), and going to college full-time for four years (and only four years). During this time, you had better have taken out a credit card (having no credit is bad) but not paid it off completely (monthly payments are better than getting rid of a credit line). In this midst of going to school full-time, you had better have volunteered and worked a job, and must not have repeated a course due to lack of study time to get rock star grades. That would take you more than four years.
When you graduate, before you can work, you must agree to do unpaid/small stipend work either as an intern or a grad student. Otherwise, how would you get the experience needed to apply to a job with a liveable wage? You better have had a great relationship with your parents/family, and they better have enough room and resources to support you, an underpaid adult, moving back into their house during this time. And ladies, don’t get pregnant, but don’t wait too late either or your baby will be premature/have Down Syndrome, or you may find yourself taking care of pre-teens and your aging parents at the same time.
Under these narrow parameters, you may have the basics needed to function in this society, mainly a home and a car. If you do not meet these parameters, you’re asking for too much. Because you have failed the criteria, you deserve to pack yourself into a crowded family home and can take the bus to the job you more than likely have to commute more than twenty miles to. Sure, low-crime, higher quality of life areas have most likely opted-out of providing public transportation, but you should have thought about your expectation of personal safety and access to good health services before you let all those setbacks happen to you.
With the growing influence of technology and social networking, employers also may check and see if your personal life conforms to their standard of the perfect human person. They may also restrict how you express yourself while communicating to your family and friends. In short, you are an extension of them while you are on the clock, as well as at home, discussing your Ramadan devotion, posting your favorite nut shot videos, or, I don’t know, free writing about the state of things as you see it.
I am not sowing sour grapes. My accomplishments are mostly mainstream. I’m not exactly “fringe”, so no punk band movements would’ve been started around me back in its day. I am, however, apart of a generation that is in danger of being “lost” in a near constant-state of job-hopping, benefits chasing, debt, and chronically underemployment. Our kids better be football players, because we may be cashing in our retirement plans early to pay our mortgages, if we were lucky enough to get a chance to build one. We better be willing to pay more for healthy food and for the ability to jog without being mugged (moderate to high crime areas are the only affordable ones and bus accessible, remember?), because with little to no health insurance we’ll have to overlook ailments we should be seen for (unless we want to add to our debt, tsk, tsk). So we better not develop conditions that more or less don’t depend on diet and exercise, but biological chance like infections, certain cancers, brain degenerations, or trauma-related illnesses.
There is no room for fearless while you drag a stone uphill, to reach a peak you may lose at any moment. On one hand, meeting socially approved milestones at just the right time makes it the most likely to be set up for a decent life. On the other, you’ll be spending your precious time pursuing a prize you won’t even win as your won in the end. There is no job security while employees are less valued for their skill than how much of their soul and livelihood they are willing to give.
I believe the better way is to protest the perfect for the sake of living your way. I admit I was, shall we say “gently guided” into this philosophy by life circumstance, but I would find it hard to admit I wish it was different. Even if I wished I was your typical worker bee, it doesn’t matter. Regrets won’t give me or you the life we want. Being in the present, self-honesty, passion, and resilience will. Mentorship, education (traditional or otherwise), and avoiding those diploma mills aimed at the lower-class will.
Being present, taking in some beauty, laughing, playing, and creating wouldn’t hurt either. In fact, they are essential. They are why I wanted to write. They constitute “real life” more than a job description ever will.