Across America, college students are resigning their summer internships to return to studying a field of their choice that may–or may not–lead to gainful employment right out of the gate.
Recently my college, having discovered that I have cobbled my English major into a not-terrible career, invited me to sit on a panel to advise current English majors on how to be less unemployed.
On my drive home from south-central Michigan, my car broke down in the Ohio grasslands five miles north of rural Paulding, Ohio (population: 3,544).
So listen up, kids: forget everything I said. I made most of it up anyway. Here’s how it really works.
11. Ride Fiction As Far As You Can Before Ditching It.
Let’s assume you learned somewhere between Homer and Billy Collins that solving real-world problems begins with confronting reality. But unlike your classmates who will soon hold STEM jobs and own two Hondas to your inherited Buick, you understand that reality is more fluid than fact. (Think about it: The Odyssey isn’t factual—but it is true).
So if the facts are telling you to have a mechanic check out your sporadic electrical surges and power failures before a 200-mile trip—who cares? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You have miles to go before you sleep. Drive on.
10. Build Momentum Before Crossing Railroad Tracks.
This isn’t a metaphor. There are actual railroad tracks carrying fast trains like the ones you never should have read about in Atlas Shrugged. Some of these move over ground uphill of you. If you get stuck on them while Ayn Rand is approaching, you will die. So drive up to them with enough speed to hurtle your fledgling vessel across them.
9. Block Country Road Intersections.
Eventually your car will stop functioning. When it does, don’t embarrass yourself. When was the last time you thought, “I’d like to help that idiot flailing his arms six inches from a speeding vehicle?” Never. The trick is to roll or push your dying car to a T-intersection consisting of the highway and a country road leading God-knows where. Travelers seeing you will think, “No idiot would stop there unless he had to.” They will infer—for the moment–that you are neither an idiot nor a Truman Capote psychopath, and pull over.
8. Get (and Charge) a Powerful Smartphone.
For your first few years living in relative poverty, you’ll console yourself that you studied literature because you, like Thoreau, didn’t want “to waste your life earning a living.” Congratulations. But before you hit 30 you’ll realize that (a) Thoreau left Walden after just two years, and that (b) Thoreau built his own cabin, with his two hands, for like $8. What can you build, other than loan interest? Nothing. So, poor as you are, you can’t afford to forego a decent smartphone. A good one empowers you to do anything. It’s like a liberal arts education, only cheaper. Just remember to charge it. When all the mechanics have closed for the day, you will need at least 2 percent battery life for #7.
Suppose a Good Samaritan comes along. He wears a General Motors shirt, and he appreciates the irony that he works the line but cannot fix your car. Instead, he helps push your car across the highway to a nearby driveway, yelling, “Not yet, dawg, there’s a semi!” Use your dying phone to search for hotels, which he swears you will not find in Paulding. Your smartphone will prove him wrong. Once you book a room, ask him to drive you to the B & B you found, which he won’t believe exists until he drops you off there—half a mile down the street from his own house.
6. Join a Labor Union.
Do what it takes to avoid getting tossed from his vehicle:
“Where is it you’re coming from?”
“Visiting my college.”
“Ohhh. Your college. Right. You’re lucky I stopped. I never do this.”
“What is it you do?”
“I was a teacher, then a political consultant. Now I guess I’m a writer.”
“Political. Democrat?” [Hopefully.]
“I knew I should have left you back there.”
“My wife’s uncle worked for GM. He had a union.
“Hmmm.” [Shaking his head; decelerates.]
“Also my brother-in-law’s dad. He was a GM man in Michigan all his career.”
“Ohhh, yeah, Flint. Big GM plant up that way. [Accelerates.] You’re alright.”
You are indeed.
Continue reading #5: Pray for God to Drop Money Down from the Sky…
5. Pray for God to Drop Money Down from the Sky.
After settling into the B & B, walk a mile into town. Given the choice between two proud local restaurants, choose one farther away. This increases your odds of finding $20 beneath an abandoned bench, with no one around to claim it. If this happens to you as it did to me, thank the Lord for providing not only manna, but a measure of quail. Then wash it down with a nightcap and walk back.
4. Earn a Memento.
The next morning, after your car has been towed and you have walked another mile to the local diner, sit at the breakfast bar and make the locals jealous by how much lovin’ you collect from the cooks, who, it turns out, are the owners. After three hours, ask if you can buy the mug from which you have been guzzling coffee. The owners will gift it to you. Save this for #1.
3. Make Powerful Friends.
Power is relative, because power is regional. The day may come when you would rightly trade the friendship of the frat brothers behind you for an honest mechanic in front of you. And if you pay attention, you also can win the friendship of S. (who topped off your nightcap the evening prior), A. (whose brother ran for state auditor—for the Dems, but as far as A. knows, you are one), C.W., breeder of quarter-horses, and K., who didn’t charge you for the hash browns.
2. Keep in Touch.
They call it the “humanities” because after dropping $150,000, you should know something about humanity. Proof that you do may come in the form of a text message from the GM worker with whom you hitchhiked:
“Hey, it’s D.R. U get home OK?”
“Wow. Thanks for asking. You’re the man. Yes, thanks.”
1. Write About It.
You majored in stories. If you want to work in the field you studied, you must either teach stories or tell them. Real writers stop asking “What happened to me today that I can write about?” and replace this with “What happened to me today—that I must write about.” So you’d better hope your car breaks down someday. Remember your training, and it won’t matter where.
Image via Shutterstock