By J. Sam Williams
My personal story of employment has been zig zag up to this point. The earliest occupation I ever remember wanting was to be a writer. I loved to tell stories—when I was three I took a microphone in church and walked up and down the pews telling a story. Then as I attended pre-school in the DC area and we had astronauts and firemen and police officers come and talk to us, I wanted to be all those cliché boyhood dreams.
At six-years-old I was introduced to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Up till that point I hated reading and—like many boys my age—I started to read because of these books. But for me, I didn’t just start to read, I learned to read. My mother originally started reading Sorcerer’s Stone to me allowed, but I made her stop and I sat down and started to read. I asked her all sorts of questions about what words meant and how to pronounce things, but eventually I learned to read.
Reading Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoners of Azkaban—had to wait for Goblet of Fire by that point—rekindled a love of storytelling in me. An honorary aunt of mine came over each week so her daughter could take voice lessons from my mom. During those voice lessons the aunt would sit with me and take dictation for my newest story idea (one of those ideas being a Pokémon/power ranger mashup). For the next eight years, all I wanted to be was a writer.
Flash forward to high school. I’d written about 100,000 words of a novel I’d scrapped. Tried to write six other books—almost finished one of them, and had still managed to get a C in English class during 7th grade. I’d also had the “writer” beaten out of me. All the negativity that surrounds being a writer had made its way in. “How will you make money?” “You’ll need a real job.” Etc. This pressure from adults and teachers had made me think I’d never be a writer.
In early May of 2007, I watched a Red Sox game now called the “Mother’s Day Miracle”—Red Sox were down five to nothing in the bottom of the ninth and scored six straight to walk off with the win. And I was hooked. I’d follow the Red Sox loosely since my family moved to New England in 98’—and heavily through the 03’ heartbreaker against the Aaron Boone Yankees. I watched religiously in the ’04 playoffs, fell in love with David Ortiz, and watched Boston sweep St. Louis in the World Series. But at the time my interests were much more Star Wars and Harry Potter, and I didn’t really fall in love with sports.
That game in 2007 changed it all. As a 15-year-old I became a sports addict. I started watching the Celtics that fall—good timing too as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen had just come to town—watched Sox win their 2nd World Series of my lifetime, witnessed the Patriots undefeated season come crashing down (Gosh do I hate the Giants), and screamed as loud as I’ve ever screamed when the Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals. Great year for New England, and it hooked me in. My next goal was to become a Sports Media Guru. I wanted to write, to talk, to announce Sports—either Basketball or Baseball—and my writing dream faded away.
That’s what I thought at the time. But looking back my writing dream never really faded. Though I wrote fake articles about myself on the Celtics, or rewrote how the Patriots beat the Giants to go 19-0. I was also spending nights after homework (or ignoring homework) writing my own fiction still. By the time I was sixteen I had another 80,000 word book that I decided to scrap, and I started the journey of the novel that I’m currently on.
My high school in Bow New Hampshire, did career counseling and I job shadowed an elementary school teacher my sophomore year (an honorary uncle who is still the most innovative teacher I’ve ever met) and I job shadowed the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ radio broadcasters and quickly learned that broadcasting games was not my cup of tea, but that radio shows and article writing was much more what I wanted to do.
In the last two years of my high school I became a member and then co-president (though admittedly not a great one) of my local Gay-Straight Alliance chapter. I became involved in following politics with Former President Barak Obama’s campaign on Change and successful bid for the Presidency, and I learned my personal preferences for politics were left leaning—especially when it came to social issues.
While my High School had tools and programs for students to figure out what career they wanted to pursue I both didn’t understand how to take advantage of it and didn’t care too. My parents absolutely tried to impress how important my decisions in high school were. But the message never sank—especially when my career goals kept changing. I didn’t have the tools to really focus on how to accomplish what I wanted—and I realize now that was because what I want is not as conventional as “I want to be a Constitutional Lawyer” and then taking the path to do so.
College. College started and in my first quarter I took a sociology class with a Professor who is still one of my favorite beings, and a religious class with another professor who has made an incredible impact on my personal faith. It’s no surprise I ended up with a Sociology major and a Religion minor. At the beginning of College all I heard was “your undergrad major doesn’t matter.” And I took that too heart. Sociology provided new information, and the skills to research deeply. It pushed me to plunge into the deeper end of personal, political, practical issues rather than scraping the surface. And at the beginning of College I got the sociology fever, and thought I’d become a social justice lawyer. That became my goal.
Looking back five years now I feel as though I was pushed too soon—for me that is—to make a decision on what I wanted to be. College provided all these open opportunities and I went headfirst into what made me passionate. And once I realized what I really wanted I was already too far along to back out.
The social justice lawyer direction faded by the middle of my sophomore year—around the time my college newspaper, The Principia Pilot, needed a Liberal Perspective Columnist to counter the Conservative writer already in place. I was asked by the Editor-in-Chief to come aboard and I did. I started writing, and I fell in love with journalism. I raced through my sophomore year and during the summer before my junior year I tried to think how I could switch to a Mass Communication major. The problem was I already had most of my credits for a Sociology major, and if I switched Majors at that point, along with all the other Liberal Arts requirements of Principia, I’d have to stay longer than four years.
This is what really got me. I found during that summer that I wanted to be a journalist and a writer. My love for fiction writing—never gone but forgotten—had come to life as I wrote for the paper. However, the means to accomplish this were now out of financial reach. To stay a couple extra semesters at Principia would mean the loss of my scholarship and financial aid. I couldn’t afford it, and having recently lost my mother I didn’t want to put that pressure on my Dad or family to pay for me because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted. I put the pressure on myself to finish my degree the way it was—and tried desperately to get a Mass Communications and Creative Writing minor. But because Principia had switched to Semesters and the way the classes fell, I couldn’t get either done.
In between my junior and senior year of college I got married. Some say it was too young—I say my marriage is pretty awesome almost four years later, and we’re doing great. Anyways, I got married and my wife gave me the courage to pursue my writing passion. I started my own sports blog, started writing fiction again, took creative writing classes. I applied for media and journalism internships—couldn’t get them because I wasn’t majoring in it.
Nobody told me this: your major in college does matter, and that are multiple options to accomplish what you want. I always though college was what I needed to do. Nobody told me I could go to community college for a couple years then transfer into an ivy league school and get the same Harvard diploma as everyone else without the same amount of debt.
During my first semester, senior year, my wife—graduated the year before and working for the science department at Principia—started applying to graduate schools in marine biology and coastal area management. I was hit with the idea of grad school—feeling a spiritual leading towards it. I thought long and hard about a Masters in Journalism vs. a Masters in Creative Writing. I applied to a bunch of graduate schools, got into a couple, and decided to attend the less expensive and more social justice oriented Antioch University of Los Angeles—to get my MFA in Creative Writing.
This is the first academic and career guided decision I felt like I made on my own—not allowing the pressure of others or finances to get in the way. This was my decision and I would not take it back.
Out of college I got a job as a sports writer for a bit before they stopped paying. I took retail jobs and labor jobs through graduate school. I also worked as an online editor for a literary journal, Lunch Ticket for all the years I was in graduate school. And I’ve been published in a couple different online magazines. My MFA has given me the tools I need to be a published author, and has improved my journalistic writing. Antioch was the best academic decision I could have made, and yet:
One of the reasons I decided to pursue my MFA was because it’s the terminal degree needed to teach college and community college. The only problem is that college education positions are a mess right now. There’s an adjunct epidemic (though I’m still applying for adjunct positions cause I need money) and this isn’t the 80’s where if you got an MFA you could find a teaching gig.
I graduated this past December with my MFA in hand. And have been job searching since.
Also, getting my MFA only helps to supply one aspect of my life goals. I mentioned earlier that what I want is unconventional, well here’s a list of what I want to accomplish in life:
A list of things I want to accomplish in my life:
· Get a book published
· Run my own podcast on politics, sports, and pop culture.
o Do a podcast with Bill Simmons, Jalen and Jacoby, and Mark Hammill (among other celebrities)
· Get my PhD (Media studies, English, Sociology, Political Science, Film)
· Write for an established media outlet (The Ringer, New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Sacramento Bee, Boston Herald, ESPN, etc.)
· Write a screenplay for a movie.
o Work with Stephen Chbosky on a screenplay.
· Write a Children’s book series.
· Teach a college course.
· Attend the NBA Finals, World Cup, Olympics, and an English Premier League game.
· Potentially Run for Political Office—if the political course continues with Trump.
· Get JK Rowling’s permission to write a Wizarding World Universe novel.
· Interview Emma Watson on her feminist beliefs.
· Write a DC Comic.
· Support as many progressive institutions as I can.
My MFA helps with maybe 5 of those things, which is one of the reasons I pursued it. I’m almost done with my novel, I’ve had a meeting with a literary agent, I’ve met Stephen Chbosky during a grad school seminar. I’ll probably get to teach a college course at some point.
But there’s this whole side of me that it doesn’t help, the journalist one, something that I feel I have the entry level credentials for, or at least an internships, but I don’t have the connections or the label of mass communication or journalism to get something. I had job interview in Los Angeles last year for an entertainment writing website. They were really excited about me, and told me that. It turns out I was their second choice, and the reason I didn’t get picked is because I didn’t have the journalism degree they said.
There’s also another big thing I’m missing. I graduated high school in the middle of the Great Recession. It’s been well documented how difficult for millennials it has been in getting jobs that aren’t low-paying or dead-end. Entry level positions have become unpaid-internships. Many internships are for people who are in school so once you’ve graduated you’re screwed in a sense.
Now at this point in life I’m coming up against these issues of “If you want to be a writer, you need a day job.” Why? Well I’ve graduated now and it’s time to start earning money, but also, I don’t have long until my Student Loan payments start. It’s well documented how buried with student debt my generation is, and how if effects life events.
It’s not as though I’m not trying to get a job. In 2015 I was offered an internship with the Christian Science Monitor—I accepted, though wasn’t looking forward to three months without my wife. A week before the internship I had to decline due to a personal family situation. I’ve gone about conducting informational interviews, creating connections in my field of interest, applying for jobs I’m qualified for, and keeping close tabs on companies I’d like to work for.
I continue to keep up to date of the political, sports, and entertainment scenes so that when I do get my break, I can immediately contribute with a broad and deep base of knowledge. I’ve taken a hip-hop teaching gig to pay bills, and will soon be moving to Sacramento with my wife, where I’ll need to find new employment.
And yet there’s a that lingering desire to just be a novelist, but I won’t be able to reach there if I don’t take some type of work—and I’ve learned that if the work is soul crushing, I don’t write, and if I don’t write I won’t accomplish what I want.
I feel I’m in this rut right now. Do I go back to school and get my masters in journalism, something I can’t afford? Do I get my PhD now—having to wait till next year to apply? Do I continue the path of rejection and hope at some point I make a connection and that connection gets me a job (Btw, if you have any connections feel free to pass them by me. Also if anyone knows JK Rowling personally, please please please refer me to her. I just want to shake her hand!)?
This I feel, is similar to many writer’s journeys. The balance of money making and art. And sometimes I feel too frightened to just pursue the art, and that makes me feel guilty and like I don’t deserve the art. But I also feel like this is my fault. I wish I’d figured things out sooner. I wish I could go back and get my BA in Journalism then do my MFA with a joint MA in journalism and come out swinging as the best candidate no matter the competition.
Part of me just wants to run to JK Rowling and knock on her door until she gives me a job as her assistant and some of her writing magic will rub off on me.
But right now, I feel like a wanna-be, trying desperately to find validation in my perceived talents, and hoping for some type of safety net that doesn’t involve my wife’s salary (thank goodness she’s got employment world more figured out). And I realized this whole piece may validate the “millennials complain a lot” statement, and that I’ve been very fortunate in this world with what family I got, and what status in life I have—yet I cannot feel a sense of desperation for something out there.
So that’s my journey so far lovely immix community. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org