Many people (especially those who know me personally) who have both already read and will be reading Quarter Life Crisis when it officially releases in August will see a lot of parallels between me and one of the main characters, Sean. Though I personally tend to think I have more in common personality-wise with the other main character, Lauren (she doesn’t hate life nearly as much as Sean does, not to mention she’s a movie fanatic), I can definitely see how somebody could read Sean’s chapters and label them autobiographical.
Sean went to Florida State University, my alma mater. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, which was my minor. He has a mild obsession with video games (seriously though…who doesn’t?). He has a younger sibling, immigrant parents, and grew up in Miami, all true for me as well. Sean has a streak of self-destructive behavior going at the beginning of QLC too, which I admit I was able to write about from personal experience (I like to think that I was subconsciously conducting research in my late teens and early 20’s for the future manuscript that would become Quarter Life Crisis while I was sitting around in my underwear drunk and stoned, listening to angry music and playing violent video games and harboring suicidal thoughts–it’s all about artistic expression, people!–but really I was just a whiny kid who blamed all his baggage on everybody else. Probably smack the shit out of him if I saw him right now, open-handed and all)
Sean also teaches himself to play the guitar in the novel, something I did myself and previously explained was the true source of inspiration for me even sitting down to write this thing.
Which is also indicative of the largest similarity between me and him: Sean just wants to be happy.
That said, one difference between Sean and I is his outlook on his career choice. In the novel he constantly contemplates the purpose of the degree on his wall, lamenting the fact that he spent four years in college, racked up a bunch of student loans, only to end up bartending at a restaurant that, frankly, doesn’t give a shit about his university credentials. They just want him to serve drinks and take people’s money. Which is a fact that drives Sean crazy, keeping him in a depressed state until he figures out a way to get out of it, via his guitar.
This is definitely not how I see things though, which is obvious when you consider that I recently quit my job as an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College to become–once again–a full-time bartender.
Why? Because, contrary to popular belief, I’m happier that way.
In the weeks since I made the decision, my intentions have been questioned a lot. I mean, what person with a Master’s Degree and a three-page long resume would willingly go back into the restaurant industry after being away from it for so many years? Who would quit a professional job that requires the years of schooling he struggled through to take the same job he had before he ever even went to college?
This guy. That’s who.
People who know me know that I have mixed feelings about higher education. On the one hand, my time in college adds up to some of the best years of my life. I grew exponentially as a person and as a writer during that time. I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without that experience, and seeing as how I love my life right now, I have to be thankful that I had the privilege.
On the other hand, in light of the crumbling job outlook for college grads and the overabundance of student loans each of them is juggling–and just the general failing confidence that I see personally from my peers regarding college education as a whole–I can’t rightly sit here and say that college is a necessity for everybody. Or even most people.
Which gets down to the core of the reason why I quit teaching to become a bartender again: I was tired. Tired of being an academic, tired of defending academia, tired of trying to make that part of my personality become the dominant part, tired of forcing myself into a box, and–most of all–tired of being a hypocrite. Because the truth is I’m not a professional person, and I never have been. I’m a bum, when you get down to it, and I like it that way. The simple life fits me, and when I’m not writing, there’s nothing I love more than to do mindless activities with my friends and family (and there’s not many things more mindless than bartending, let me tell you).
There’s no worse feeling than standing in front of a bunch of people telling them that something is best for them when you don’t actually believe your own words. Which is exactly what I’ve been doing for four years now, in UCF and Miami Dade College classrooms.
Sometime in the past couple of years, I lost faith in the institution of higher education, and I know I’m not the only one. It started as an inkling of doubt, then steadily grew until I realized the desires I used to have–that want and need to be in the classroom, learning, expanding my knowledge in different areas–had changed course, and now all I wanted were the life experiences and happiness that can only be gained outside of college.
Which is to say (long story short) I’m tired of consciously teaching and consciously learning. I just want to experience life as it is, day to day, and channel those moments into my writing.
Honestly though, I’ll admit, this is the theoretical reason behind my departure. Practically, there’s the issue of adjunct faculty members being paid shit (in my first week back at bartending–a 35-hour week, split between 4 shifts–I made almost twice as much as I did in a two week paycheck teaching…do the math, that’s four times as much every two weeks bartending than I got for two weeks of teaching). But even then, none of these really top the list of reasons why I chose to leave.
Teaching is time-consuming. Between preparing lectures and actually lecturing, grading papers and coming up with assignments, answering student emails and participating in faculty seminars and workshops, there’s not very much time for anything else. It’s also extremely solitary, which I thought was a good thing at first–that being basically my own boss had this huge upside–but then I realized the lack of social interaction outside of my students was getting to me.
I always used to hear that teaching was something you really had to love to do if you ever hoped to stick with it, but I never really knew what that meant until I hit my fourth year of doing it. Then I just woke up one day and realized how I actually felt. It was taking away from my writing time. It was taking away from my personal time. It was taking away parts of my personality, parts I couldn’t afford to lose if I wanted to keep writing the things that I write, parts that shunned the feigned professionalism and the impersonal nature of academic departments and bureaucracy.
It was making me not be me.
Who I am in public plays a large part in my overall happiness, and dressing up to go stand in a classroom and pretend to care about material in an overpriced textbook just didn’t suit my new-found desire to be actually comfortable with my life.
If there’s one thing I’ve realized about myself in recent years (I’m not going to throw this under the label of humanity-at-large, because I don’t know how other people think), it’s that–just like Sean in Quarter Life Crisis–all I’ve ever wanted was to be comfortable, by any means necessary. That’s what keeps me writing every day, publishing when I can, and waking up in the morning with an itinerary in my head, a list of Things That Will Make Me Content.
I used to do a lot of things not on that list, teaching being one of them. Then I turned 30 and realized that life’s too short to not be happy.
One of the few good things that came out of my own Quarter Life Crisis.