Whatever Happened to My American Dream?

So, I realize it’s been a while. I got into a writing bender last weekend, as some of you know, and I finished my novel. Being on a bender is a bit like doing drugs, but without the drugs. Instead of being awake because of meth, I’m up because my brain just won’t shut off. It keeps my fingers typing and working out the last chapters. I couldn’t have slept if I wanted to. I feel lucky to be living out this part of my dream. But there’s still something…something missing. Money. I’m always conscious of the fact that if my book doesn’t make it, if writing doesn’t eventually turn a profit for me, I’m never going to make a cent and I’ll die a pauper. The problem is that so much money has gone into preparing me for life as a writer, so much of my time adding to my qualifications that has been unpaid, that the return on investment is not even close to making my decision to go to grad school any where near financially appropriate. I read an article, a link to which I posted on my Facebook, and will post again below, that states how little “adjunct” faculty are making for teaching. This article strikes me hard because it shoots down everything in my life that I have been striving for. When I was younger, I used to believe that there was a place for me in this world. A place where, if I nurtured my particular set of skills and truly devoted myself to my cause, I would eventually be able to earn a living doing it. That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? You grow up relatively poor, lower middle class, and you work really hard. You take the opportunities that are given to you and maximize them. Then, society rewards you by paying you for your contributions. Right? Wrong. Especially if you’re a writer.  I suppose there is some kind of belief that because writing is fun and glamorous, it should be done for free. The countless hours I’ve spent novel writing, writing reviews, writing essays, critiquing work to make it better, teaching classes to the public, reading poetry aloud for entertainment, putting on literary shows and   studying to become better at my trade has been entirely uncompensated. Out of the sixty thousand dollars I owe so far, from my work I have made a total of $245. That’s less than I paid the cellist who accompanied my poetry reading for Works in Progress at Mills College. That’s a Return On Investment of…well you get the point. I’m not that good at math, that’s why I write! Science would probably pay more, though it’s hard to say for sure since our society seems to have a real hatred for reason and scientific theory. Then, I read this article stating how little those in the profession who have actually “made it” earn and it makes my heart skip a few beats. I feel like I’m dying inside really. For those of us who write, there are very few professional options. There is journalism, but the printed word from newspaper is dying, taken over by entities like AOL and Huffington Post, who can’t even be bothered to spell check, much less fact check. There is the writing of human interest pieces, but good luck getting into a magazine with so many people beating at the doors to get in. There’s blogging, but it’s mostly unpaid, unless you can get popular enough to be noticed by anyone with the power to help. There’s writing books, but only fiction pays anything. A good print run for poetry is considered to be 3,000 books, and even if you get that, there’s no telling whether or not you’ll really make anything. Fiction writing might get you something, if you can get anyone to invest in your book. That will undoubtedly take a lot of investment by yourself first. Today, not only are writers expected to write (which requires sitting for hours alone in the room at your computer), but they are also responsible for their own marketing and audience building as well. That could mean investments in book trailers, website hosting, self-publication costs, costly contests, and more. Not to mention, all those uncompensated hours of your time. So, sometimes it’s no wonder that I think, “What’s the point?” And here’s where the language poets have a point in that not everything has to have a point. Were we, as students, expecting closure? Were we expecting things to make sense? Even when I finished my thesis, I had the anti-climactic feeling that the amount of work didn’t match the eventual outcome: a single bound book in a library that I paid $40 for and the final question boiling down to, “Did you sign the right line?” I confess, I didn’t feel much different than I assume a person would feel after having purchased a masters degree online. I shell out the money, and you give me the paper. Only, mine required more work. I don’t mean to say that it wasn’t worth it, but to be honest, education these days doesn’t mean the same thing it meant back then. It used to mean an edge, a step up, the walking through a door to success. Now, education is a luxury purchase. It doesn’t actually give you anything. People look at you and think of your status, monetarily, how you were able to afford it. But it doesn’t make you more marketable. It doesn’t bring you closer to a profitable lifetime career. These days, we succeed in spite of the degree. Not because of it. Since I’ve received my Masters degree, I haven’t gotten one job interview in all the times I’ve applied. Do the employers look at my education level and automatically assume they don’t have the money to pay me? It’s a sad day when I’m considering leaving off my hard-earned and hard-bought degree, because having it makes me LESS attractive to employers, rather than MORE. The fact of the matter is, unless some miracle happens, like the hand of god, I’m more likely to fail at my endeavors than I am to succeed. The deck has been stacked against me, and even the university system, which used to protect the academic and nurture literary endeavors, has become part of the issue. Can we really, in light of all these sad truths, still argue in favor of the existence of an American Dream? Frankly, as much as I love my work, when I look too closely into the abyss of money I’ve spent to get here, and the likeliness of my future failure, it feels more like a Great American Nightmare. 


To read the article, click below: 



~ by ImaginaryCanary on August 24, 2012.

2 Responses to “Whatever Happened to My American Dream?”

  1. Your post reminded me of this quote from Fight Club: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/118593-we-re-the-middle-children-of-history-man-no-purpose-or

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