Sunday, April 3, 2011

Crisis of Conscience and Gingersnaps

Today is heaven, by the way--a bright, breezy April Sunday with the daffodils bobbing in the yard, my lawn chairs skirting across the patio, a cup of French-press coffee and freshly baked gingersnaps in hand. And my oven beeping at me.

Ok, no more oven beeping. Much better.

If you came for the cookies, by the way, feel free to skip my introspective blathering and nip down to the bottom. Today feels even more weekend-y than usual, because yesterday I worked--a prospective student fair for the university I work for. It was, to be honest, pretty fun--I like chatting with high school students about what they hope to do in the coming years, answer their questions, talk up the cool points of the program I work with.

Most of these students were bright, pleasant folks--some nudged forward by over-eager parents, some snapping up every brochure they could find in their own excitement. I asked all of them what they hope to do, so we could tailor what we talked about to what interested them.

And I'm still bothered by my reaction to one young woman. I asked what she hoped to do, and she replied that she wanted to study creative writing.

Now, my professional demeanor didn't change--I directed her to chat with the right folks at the fair, and congratulated her on finding her direction so early. I gave her a brochure on our program in case it sparked any interest (you can never have too many sparks going into your last years of high school). It was my inner conflict that startled me. The writer in me said "Yes! You go, girl--follow your dreams!"

And the pragmatist in me said "OK, let's hold on a touch and talk about what you hope to do after you spend four years on a pretty unmarketable skill."

That pragmatist is such a bitch.

I realized that this isn't about this girl--she's still got a couple years of high school ahead of her, and then that pivotal first year of college that, for many people, changes everything. And I hope she succeeds at whatever she chooses to do. This is definitely nothing against the non-career-oriented degree programs out there, by the way--not in the slightest. I don't believe school's purpose is something to sludge through in order to get a job. Nope. It was about me, and still having no confidence that my non-career-orientated goals are worthwhile.

That I can take pride in sewing a fab historical garment and researching the heck out of it. That I can spend hours writing and call it developping my art. That I don't have to plow through a career path that I may or may not actually enjoy--and that my ambitious, driven side can take a backseat once in a while and learn that success isn't always measurable in job titles or salary increases.

So, a bit of musing on a Sunday afternoon. I still don't have any answers for that young lady I met yesterday--just, perhaps, to really think about what you want your life to be, to know that you're allowed to be an artist with a crappy day job or a career-driven professional with an artistic hobby. That you probably can't be both. That you don't need to study writing, or sewing, or music, or cooking, or whatever your passion is, in order to make it something you enjoy your whole life--and that you have to accept the risks of making an art your career. That you get to keep changing your mind for a few years...before college...during college...after college...pretty much until you die.

Because obnoxious introspective, self-involved blogs go better with cookies, my gingersnap recipe! This is the closest I can get to the gingersnaps my Grandma Ruby made. By the way, they're not really "snappy"--more soft.

Grandma Ruby's Gingersnaps

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat 3/4 butter and 1 cup white sugar.

Add 1 egg and 1/4 cup molasses. Add in 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Add 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground clove.

Roll dough into balls (about a spoon's worth--use less than you think you need, they spread out) and roll in white sugar. Place on baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.

Let cool a couple minutes on the sheet--they're very puffy and fragile right out of the oven--and transfer to a cooling rack.


Gentlewomanthief said...

Yes, it is a difficult one. I'm trying to cobble a kind of middle path between the artist with a crappy dayjob and the career professional with an artistic hobby by currently training to be a lecturer, which should start me on an above average salary for the UK. But my aim isn't to earn lots working full-time - I hope to work part-time, but still earn enough from that to comfortably pay the bills, and spend the rest of the time being that creative person. Or at least that's the plan - we'll have to see how it all works out! I learned a long time ago that "crappy day jobs" make me lose the will to live and few things are more guaranteed to destroy my inspiration, so I decided I had to get a day job that I didn't hate. I don't hate teaching, but doing it full time takes a ridiculous amount of energy and time.

The down side of my plan is that if you want to get anywhere within the profession and become a manager and work your way up the college, you need to work full-time. So I'm sacrificing that to be able to work part-time and write and create the rest of the time.

It's so hard to get that balance, though. I hope you remind your pragmatist that she does get her own way sometimes - after all, you work to pay the bills, right? if you were ruled by the writer, you couldn't possibly contemplate such a thing ;) And of course, Ms Writer-Seamstress gets her own way - she gets you writing and dreaming and stitching. So I'd say your balance is looking pretty good. x

anachronist said...

Yeah, balancing your life is never easy. I faced such a choice once - go and pursue my dreams, studying art and history, or do something more pragmatic (economy). I chose pragmatic - my parents were overjoyed. I graduated and now I don't know...perhaps I would be better off following my dreams...

Hema P. said...

With a daughter who's going to face such dilemmas/future-shaping decisions in a few years (quite a few years actually, but then the mom in me is already quivering), I totally hear you, Rowenna! All we can do -- the members of the been-there-done-that brigade -- is nudge them gently in a direction that we hope will serve them well in the future and pray for the best.

Thanks for the recipe for the cookies, and I like them soft :).

Carrie C said...

What a great Sunday! I looove gingersnaps and thanks for sharing the recipe. I was in a similar mindset this morning, it seems, as I made some cranberry scones. Yum.

Anyways, I hope that young woman finds something outside of writing that inspires her and then, if possible, uses that energy and curiosity to fuel her writing. Just like you and your love for history! The best writers are, I think, first and foremost lovers of the world, then lovers of the word.

A.M. Kuska said...

I chose a slightly different path. A day job that I love and a writing career that fills in all the cracks my day job, however good, could never fill. My writing life is about to tae priority over my day job for the first time this coming month. I plan to launch my debut novel during my maternity leave--assuming I can find the time!

Abby said...

Hallo! I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for an award! Go to my blog to check it out! :) <3

Rowenna said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments--balance is so difficult to achieve! It's heartening to see so many smart people out there hashing things out for themselves and determining what fulfills them :)

Abby--thanks so much! I'll be over to claim it shortly :)

Caroline said...

I totally agree with you Rowenna. I chose the path of doing what I loved--historic preservation. I got my degree, got all the right internships, and then couldn't get a job that didn't require a cross country move. I ended up slaving--I mean working in an off shoot for a few years before landing my dream job. I felt like a rockstar for about six months, and then as an acquaintance recently put it--the rocks came out to play. Now I'm stuck with a degree no one understands and I can't find a job to save my life. Ok, rant over. What I'm saying is that in retrospect, I wish I'd chosen another career, and restored houses in my off time (not that I'm getting to restore them in my day job). :-(
I really worry about the future of students going into college. It seems like they are choosing careers that are in decline or tough to break into... They take out ridiculous loans for undergrad and then end going on to grad school where they take out more loans. It boggles my mind!