Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Pointless Necessity

I'm reading Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. This post isn't really about that, although, if you have six weeks to devote to serious reading, you might want to try it.  It's not easy.  I'm having a terrible time keeping track of all the peoples--the Megarians, the Boetians, the Chalcidians, the wily Corinthians--and who is on which side.  I don't know who to route for.  I sort of assumed I'd be on Athens' side, but sometimes I like the Spartans.  The real beauty of this work is the elegant speeches.  The Hellenes argue, persuade and threaten in language that is as beautiful as poetry. These people had a way with words, which makes them fascinating and more than a little sexy, even after 2,600 years. 

Ian is a classics major, which may be why I turned to Thucydides.  When he still lived at home, Latin and Greek texts were piled on every flat surface.  Everybody says, "What's he going to do with a classics major?"  I always say "teach," because that is reassuring to people, but he might not teach.  He might wait tables and live in a drafty attic apartment cluttered with books, beer bottles, and overfilled ash trays.  It's cruel to take a kid who is passionate about something ephemeral and force him to be an accountant. It's sad that higher education has become glorified trade school.  Responsible people, we are told, major in something that is guaranteed to generate an income.  Is that so?  What losses would we suffer if everybody restricted themselves to business, law, or medicine?    

I was an accounting major for my first semester of college.  My father pushed me into it. I tried all kinds of arguments to persuade myself I wanted to be an accountant, but I knew it was a hopeless endeavor.  Accounting may be sensible, but to me it was pointless.  I began the process of joining the business sorority.  This was run by a truly dreadful group of girls who gave new pledges a list of tasks--a veritable cleaning of the Stygian Stables-- that we had to complete if we wanted to be allowed in.  These were mostly collecting the signatures--daily--of a long list of professors and members of a business fraternity.  I believe there was an absurd, prissy dress code as well.  I left the sorority office in a daze and ran into Jon--we were just friends then--and sobbed out the whole story.  He calmly took the paper on which I was supposed to collect all those signatures and scrawled FUCK OFF across it in huge block letters.  Thus ended my brief foray into the business world and also began a relationship of mutual loathing between myself and the girls of the business sorority.  I switched majors to English.

But I am forgetting my point.  Something about Thucydides and being impractical.  After college, my life plan was to have lots and lots of babies and be a domestic goddess while writing brilliant American fiction.  I had the babies, and if I wasn't exactly a domestic goddess, I practically invented shabby chic, long before Rachel Whatshername, and I baked all our bread myself and made little hand-smocked dresses and quilts and hand-knit sweaters, but the fiction never materialized.  I know, the same story as about 10 million other people.  I became a brief devotee of the practical and went back to school for something that guaranteed an income.  When I got my job, I actually thought that now, at last, I would be able to write.  My reasoning went something like, "I'll be divorcing 'source of income' from 'writing' and so will be truly free to write. Didn't Anthony Trollope write all those novels while working full time for the postal service?"  Hah!  Hah hah fucking hah. 

Now I am thinking that if I really want to write, I need to chuck nursing and wait tables.  Then my job will be mindless and stress-free.  Going to work will be like going to a party and I will pocket generous tips and then spend glorious mornings writing.  Or so it seems from the ugly world of running my ass off for sick people, twelve hours a day.

Am I seriously going to quit the job for which I earned a second degree and had to pass a national licensing exam?  To serve food and drinks?  Probably not but I do feel that by buying into the practical, I sacrificed something more important than a guaranteed income.


  1. Stumbled onto this blog and just love this post. Can completely relate on so many levels. I finally took "the plunge" in July after years of working practical jobs, one of them at a hospital, so can relate to that aspect too. Becoming a full-time struggling writer is the best decision I ever made :) Keep writing, you're very good at it...

  2. I was quite relieved to find out that you and the sorority didn't quite make it to first base.
    I always used to tell myself that Keats was a doctor and a writer, but since he died of TB at 24 perhaps he's not the best medical person by day, literary colossus by night, to emulate.

  3. It's kind of ironic to read this just after telling my husband that I'm ready to chuck it all and find a job at this point.

  4. Since nobody is in a hurry to pay me to perfect my sugar-free muffin recipe, I'm brushing up my resume to get back into the medical field.

  5. It seems to me that you're already writing. Your blog is by far the most entertaining blog that I read. You should pick out your best entries, and there are many, and create a book of short essays about, well, your life.

    I'd buy it.

  6. I've said it before and I'll say it again. You are a talented writer. Some of your posts are breathtaking. Maybe you could nurse part time and start writing more. You are probably a talented nurse also! But it sounds like you NEED to write so go for it. Now.

  7. I too would buy a book of your short essays. I would even pay money to read your blog. Not a lot of money (because I'm a cheap bastard), but still.

  8. I am proud of you and will support whatever endeavor you take. Like a big wave I am ready to surf!