Monday, July 25, 2011

High temp + humidity = sticky gross

One of the biggest adjustments to life in DC was the humidity.  As I stepped out of the Baltimore airport, it settled upon me with about as much welcome as a sodden black wool blanket in the middle of a desert.

Hold the phone, A, you say.  (I envision you saying this in a Shrek-like Irish accent.) You actually DID live in a desert. Jordan had to have been hotter than DC, right?

Well, yes. Yes it was.  But it was a DRY heat.  I never bothered with the whole Celsius-Fahrenheit conversion thingie, so I can’t quote you exact temperatures, but I am sure that Jordan had a dry heat.

 Here, the humidity gives the heat an extra set of boxing  gloves.  And maybe a few sharp rings underneath, with  a quick shot of steroids, just in case.  Make it really  hurt.  Actually, that’s too sudden an analogy – humidity  is like a huge boxer sitting on your chest, slowly  squeezing the breath out of your lungs.

Some say I exaggerate (it makes for better reading).  But I challenge you: come to DC this week.  A slow heat wave is crawling across the eastern United States, scaring people indoors and giving our AC units heart palpitations.

The forecast is for triple-digit temperatures, with scanty clouds and high humidity.  101 degrees, they say, but it feels like 115.  (115!!!)  That’s the new catch-phrase: “feels like.”  84 degrees; “feels like” 95.  101; “feels like” 115.  Gee, it’s warm; “feels like” death on a stick.

This is the image that Google gave me for
"death on a stick." Wanted to share. Smoking kills.

In short, this Friday will be really hot.

Caffeine Buzz

Can I just take a moment to say how much I love caffeine?! It can take a person of average mental alertness and transform them into a zip-zopping bolt of energy! You want a spreadsheet of radio stations in the Middle East? No problem! The metro is delayed due to “unscheduled track maintenance”? That’s ok – I’ll run to work!

Many of you are probably slapping your foreheads and wondering, “Geez, A, didn’t you go to college? I’ve had a coffee drip feeding me intravenously for the last four years!” All of you: shush. I’m on a caffeine high. Don’t kill it.

Let me be clear: I am not a coffee addict. I just like my lattes once in a while. It’s fun to go from a lackluster automoton to a magical ball of creative energy. Wheeee! This is fun!

My problems with the word "fleeting"

Every college student knows that the academic year holds several points of transition: we adjust back to school after a long summer, we adjust to a relaxed home at the start of the holidays, we adjust to new schedules and living situations.

Times of transition don’t go away simply because we graduate. On the contrary, “graduation” seems to be life’s codeword for “Quick! Assault the wee human with change!”

Still living out of a suitcase.
I know this isn’t the case for some of you, but it is certainly the case for me. And since this is my blog, this is my space to complain.

I am sick to death of living in transition.  I want a dresser. I want a lamp. I want a frickin bed.

Some people, like my father, try to encourage me by saying that this moment in my life is “fleeting” and “exciting.”  Hmm.  Maybe life will get more exciting when I can finally stop living out of a suitcase or sleeping on the floor.  (Futons and air mattresses will be your best friends.)

And “fleeting”? Fleeting?  I think of fleeting as a short horse race, or as the time it takes me to eat three chocolate muffins.  Or an entire pizza.  But fleeting as applied to this transition time just feels…unfair.  “Painfully sluggish” would be more appropriate.

But wait.  When I began college, people warned me that it would “go by so fast.”  I scoffed – four years away from my family and my mountains and my dogs and horses is an awfully long time.  But in retrospect, yes, it did go by quickly. Much too quickly.  It was almost…fleeting.

Odd. Fleeting = college experience = times it takes me to eat an entire pizza.  ...Those shouldn't match.

I have a theory.  “Fleeting” is a special word, one that people use to refer to events that have passed, events that are now “past.”  In particular, special events.  (Yes, I classify "eating pizza" as a special event.)  College was fleeting.  Someday, I will be able to say that this time, too, was fleeting.

When that day comes, I will treat myself to a fancy drink at the nearest bar.  Maybe a couple fancy drinks.  Cheers.

A roof over my head

So you know that picture I posted at the end of my last post, as kind of a joke? The one that said “And then the plan went horribly awry”? This is where I explain how that joke isn't such a joke anymore.

One skill that all recent grads need to master is flexibility. As an experienced international traveler, I thought I dominated this. Yeah, I thought smugly to myself, I am SO flexible. Flexible like a rubber band, flexible like Mr. Fantastic, flexible enough to handle pretty much anything, because I’m a GROWN-UP now.

Hmm, maybe I was a bit prideful, too?

God has been teaching me that no matter how much I think I’ve developed a certain skill, I can always use more practice.  Case in point: Playing musical-housing-situation in DC with scarce funds and limited mobility.  It’s a really fun game. You should try it sometime. You get to meet interesting people (like strangers on the sidewalk who inform you that your chosen apartment is in a really unsafe neighborhood), sleep in unusual places (floors, futons and couches), and mooch off your friends (sorry guys, I’ll have my life figured out eventually). You learn to function on a bare minimum of sleep and an absolute max of stress, and you try to rationalize an hour-and-a-half commute to work.

Perhaps some background information would be helpful?  I moved to DC. I stayed with some friends for a few days, then I lugged my bags 7 blocks away to my own, new apartment. Enjoyed about 2 days of feeling accomplished, then met multiple random strangers who told me I hadn’t chosen the safest neighborhood.  Enter period of self-doubt and inner turmoil. Run frantically around the city like a naive little chicken with her head cut off searching for alternate housing. Put new roommate and landlord in a predicament because they *might* have to find a new tenant, but then again, they might not.

I told myself I would have a definite answer to my housing question by this weekend, but due to events beyond my control that isn’t possible. Maybe in another week?

This is the key phrase: due to events beyond my control.  Recent grads will have to learn to make peace with this phrase.  I cannot control all the variables that make up my life. And it is futile and frustrating to try.  Maybe I should sit back and let Someone else take charge? Maybe I should pause to reconsider God’s sovereignty?

Maybe I should count my blessings, instead of my woes.  I have a friend in a much more terrible housing situation than I.  One of my buddies has an even longer commute to work than mine.  I pass people in the street everyday who don’t have a place to live, who don’t have a family supporting their every step, who have much less hope. 

Despite my uncertainties, I know I’m taken care of.  When it rains – literally or metaphorically – at least I have a roof over my head. Even if I haven't officially signed the lease on it yet. (And even if the AC unit leaks water into the house when it rains, as I discovered a few minutes ago.)

A Woman Armed with a Plan is a Dangerous Thing

So, *cough cough * , I guess you all may have noticed that I haven’t lived up to my promise of the last post. Sorry. But are you really surprised? It’s summer, I’m at home in the best place in the world with the best people in the world (only lacking a few best friends), and I’m on vacation dangit.

The other reason I haven’t posted is, well…I haven’t really had anything noteworthy to say.  I sent out a bunch of applications for jobs and internships and hadn’t heard anything from anyone.  Not even a simple line saying You’re unqualified, please desist in contacting us.  The world would be a better place if people believed more firmly in open lines of communication (and that can be applied to a variety of situations).  If an employer doesn’t want me, that’s fine, but at least inform me that you don’t want me.  It doesn’t have to be a long, detailed We regret to inform you…but we would welcome your application at another time.  I appreciate the politeness, and the false statement at the end, but I would really appreciate the truth.  We reject you, please move on. 

I digress.  My point is, it’s not really interesting to read, “Well, I’m still waiting,” over and over again.  (It’s even less interesting to live it.  Boredom ensued. Compounded by rain preventing me from escaping into outdoor pursuits.) But you don’t want to hear me complain, right? Bless you for reading thus far.

The real point: after so many weeks of not having a plan, and being jealous of those others with plans, guess what? I HAVE A PLAN.  A company in DC called me, and they want me to intern with them for the summer.  When the HR Manager called me to officially ask if I would accept, I was articulate, professional, and prepared.

HR Manager: "Would you like the position?"
Me: “Yeah….?”
HR Manager: “I’ll take that to mean…you want the job?”
Me: [something clunking into place in my brain] “Yeah! I mean, yes! Ahem, I would be pleased to accept the position.”

So. I have a plan. I’m gonna get my cute Montana self out to DC and live like a city girl for a while. (But I’m still a country girl, always remember that.) And I’m gonna act like I know what I’m doing.

‘Cause I do. Know what I’m doing, that is. Ahem. Totally.

If something like this happens, at least it will make for interesting reading.


So, I have a confession to make.

This blog was an assignment for class.  It wasn’t a spontaneous genesis of creative energy, but rather an obligation.  And I bet, as readers, you can tell exactly when it no longer became an assignment.

…..Sorry, those of you who were faithful readers.  I had fully intended to post somewhat regularly, but that kinda failed.  Kinda epically. BUT I do still plan on posting. Just not at the three-times-per-week-craziness that was demanded from me before.

Now that I’ve been home for a few weeks and had some time with my head happily buried in the sand, I am ready to re-enter the land of the living. Or at least the land of the socially-conscious.

You know you're a senior when...

It’s a late Friday afternoon at the library and you’re the only one there.  The staff eye you oddly, wondering if you have friends.  They want you to leave so they can go home early, but you know you won’t because you have three end-of-term projects due in 3 days.

You go home anyway.  The projects will get done at some point.

Random dance parties become a necessary expulsion of stress.

You use the library’s media/tech services to make life-size cardboard cutouts of Alex Trebek, rather than for class presentations.

Oh, Alex. You're such a charmer.

All the other students look like young children.

You would rather play with your Ultimate Frisbee league in cold rain, wind, lightning and potential tornadoes than go to class or do your homework.

You spend increasing amounts of time pondering your future.

You spend increasing amounts of time avoiding pondering your future.

You live at the local coffeeshop.

You’ve said, “Oh, well you’re only a sophomore.  You’ve got plenty of time to pick a major” at least twice.

You know about the secret loft in the English building.

Either you have access to, or you know someone who can give you access to, at least one restricted area.

Oh, those naive young days when I had
no special keys to anything...

You have been to the houses of multiple professors.

Your cap and gown are in one of two places: stuffed in the closet, or hidden under the bed.

You wonder if they will really refuse to give you a diploma because your academic requirements aren’t met yet.

You have attended one or more “senior dinners.”

You know the best places to go in order to snag free coffee or food.  (It helps if your college has a hotel on campus…a hotel with continental breakfast…)

You have underclassmen friends sneak you bagels and gummy bears out of the cafeteria because you’re no longer on meal plan.

Crossing items off the college bucket list becomes a frantic activity.

You take any excuse to go to the local pub: “It’s my last Stein Night.” “I have class there.”  “All the senior Spanish majors are going.” “It’s the twenty-seventh day after Labor Day AND the second Monday of the month. Hoo ra.”

You’ve learned how to nap and study at the same time.  Yes, that’s right.  Mastered it.

You’ve fallen asleep on top of this at least once:

You were expecting something else?

You get cool ideas to makes lists like “you know you’re a senior when,” and then you get bored and go do something else.

On Efficiency

I’m not the most academically minded student this semester.  In the past I could study like a champion, but somehow my efficiency has slowly leeched away and left me wondering where my hours have gone.  Seriously, I used to slam out at least two papers an hour, but now even the most basic intro paragraph takes monumental effort. 

No, really. This blog post has taken literally days to formulate.  I’m so lazy right now.  Instead of attending to that pesky reaction paper, I would rather sit on my bed and stare at the calendar on my computer, slowly watch time slip away as I quietly zone out. Ohmygoodgollygracious, I think dazedly, I think I’m going to graduate. 

I’ll glance at the clock, desperately hoping one of my housemates will call up the stairs and rescue me from academic prison. 

This is a new trend for me; I used to be a good student.  I did my assignments ahead of schedule and had plenty of time left over for other interests. Reaction papers were minor annoyances in life, took me only a few minutes to BS.  But now I struggle to find creative ways of saying, “This was a great event/class/speaker and I am a more complete person for attending.”  Why can’t I just say, “This was a great event/class/speaker and I am a more complete person for attending.”  Seems straightforward enough to me, but somehow my professors still think it’s insufficient. 

Occasionally I will go to the library and schlep all my books and bags up to the fourth floor, wrap myself in isolation and try to block out all external stimuli. I will be productive. I will be efficient! I will get work done! Yeah! Boo yah! I just need *one* good party song to get me pumped up…and after 20 minutes of my own private dance-party-in-a-chair (thank heavens the fourth floor is usually deserted) I realize that I have done nothing.

Bad Self, I mentally slap myself. Back to work.

I change the music to something more soothing, a nice piano mix on Pandora, and immerse myself in paper-writing.

Then the sun peeks through the window.  And it’s so warm.  And I’m so sleepy.  And the chair I’m sitting in isn’t particularly comfortable, but the one over there is a recliner-type chair…maybe just a quick break.  When I wake up with a snort a half hour later, I scold myself again.  Really bad Self.

Settling back into work, I’ll re-write my goal list, crossing out the things I know I won’t get to:

  • edit Courtney's paper

  • plan IR slides

  • read poems

  • column

  • blogs (2)


  • VWS response

At this point, I have accepted my sharp decline in efficiency.  Rather than crank through dozens of mundane reaction papers, I would rather hang with friends and bake cake at 1 am, or drink wine and cluster in front of the TV to watch Jeopardy!  

I know I’ll graduate. I don’t know when I’ll next spend time with the people who have become my college family.  So…it’s not actually laziness. It’s re-prioritizing.

That's my story and I'm stickin to it.

B.A. : It stands for...

In about three weeks I will walk across a stage, not trip in front of my entire class and their families, humbly accept my diploma, and officially graduate.

Great. Wonderful.  That’s just bloody phenomenal. 

It actually IS bloody phenomenal, but I don’t really want to talk about graduation.  (And I bet you don’t either. Especially if you’re also a senior.)  I want to talk about the value of my education. 

What does my BA really stand for?  I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t rhyme with Rad Grass.

Haha, I bet I just made you think a naughty word.

Seriously though.  A B.A. is supposed to stand for Bachelor of Arts (though since I’m a woman, maybe I should have a Bachelorette of Arts? …Nevermind, not important). It shows that I spent four or more years attending to my education, “expanding my cranium and popping some neurons,” in the words of Mrs. Doubtfire.

I feel a little gypped, though.  In the Good Ole Days (notice the respect I accord them with my capitalization), a high school diploma was an advanced education.  It ensured men that they could run a store or a farm, and be financially responsible for both their business and their family.  It ensured women that they could…be teachers. Or get married.  (Ok, let’s change some things about the Good Ole Days.)

Not only was high school as far as you could go up the education ladder, it was free.  Major plus right there. 

Today, a Bachelor of Arts (or even of Science) is not free.  In fact, my college is about  120,000 times the opposite of free.  Furthermore, I’m not convinced that my modern-day college education is worth the price – the job market is telling me that my BA, my four years of intensive study, is not enough anymore.

Somehow, college is beginning to feel a bit like high school.  Like something everyone does because they are supposed to and because it’s the minimum requirement for the job market.

I ran across some statistics.  Let me share them with you.

  • 84% say that it is extremely (37%) or very (47%) important to have a college degree in order to get ahead.

  • 87% strongly (68%) or somewhat (19%) agree that a college education has become as important as a high school diploma used to be.

  • 78% strongly agree (38%) or agree (40%) that college is not doing its job if its graduates are not prepared to enter the job market.

  • 96% say that career training is a very (72%) or somewhat (24%) important goal for colleges and universities.

  • When asked in another way about the relative importance of a well-rounded education versus job training, the public is divided. Half (51%) of the public say that if they had a child in college, it would be more important for their child to get a well-rounded education; 40% think that training for a well-paying job would be more important.

Statistics compiled by from surveys done by a variety of sponsors, including Time, CNN, and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

So, according to these statistics a college education is vitally important but it might not be doing its job in preparing me for a job, and 40% of America thinks my time would have been better spent training for a specific job rather than making myself well-rounded.

Well.  Isn't that encouraging.

Can I get my money back?

Before the class of 2011 jumps en masse off the nearest cliff, let's think critically for a bit. (Since that is, after all, what we're trained to do.)  In this reluctant economy, the odds of us being able to survive long-term at ONE particular job and vocation are very slim.  Most of us will bounce around a bit, and will probably switch careers a couple times -- and that is why we WANT to be well-rounded.  It gives us the ability to be adaptable.  Which is attractive to employers.  I know I'm gonna talk up my adaptability during job interviews.  I'm pretty much a chameleon. 

The other reason we should be glad we went to college: other people think it's important. By "other people", I mean parents and employers.  And your friends.  And your average Joe.  And your average Jane (since I am gender-inclusive).  The only ones who don't agree are those who didn't go to college, and yet found success anyway. Buggers.

The most important reason we should be glad we went to college: Uh, it's fun. Duh.

Blame it on the...stress

I stole the title of this post from a song, “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” by Jamie Foxx.  Good song for running and dancing.  Maybe not so good for attaching to my name in the public blogosphere. So...blame it on the alcohol stress.

Really. I don’t drink copious amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, so I can’t usually blame my klutzy behavior on being tipsy.  Thus, when you see me acting klutzy…that’s just me. Totally sober.  For a while I aspired to be like my sister (the Sis), the graceful ballerina, but I’ve kind-of given up on that.  (Kind-of…)

Actually, I have another theory.

Sometimes, I believe STRESS makes us do or say things that a normal person wouldn’t do or say.  Stress negatively affects us in a variety of ways, ranging from exploding at a friend because she asked you to pass the salt (couldn’t she see I was busy?!) to tripping in public (from lack of sleep, of course).

Allow me to list just a few ways in which stress can de-rail your life:

Sentences that don’t make sense.

“My, what quiet feet you have!”  Clearly an insensitive individual has snuck up on a stressed student, and the stressed student responded in a charming but unconventional way.

[To a guy]: “Your hair inspires poetry.” …No explanation.  Stress level must be off the charts.

Forgetting or mentally re-arranging the times of important meetings.

You drag yourself out of the warm cocoon of bed to show up for an 8 am appointment.  Realize that you’ve nearly beaten the receptionist there, as she is just setting down her coat and purse.  She tells you that the business isn’t even open at 8 and she doesn’t know how you got in the building.

Increasing inability to read.

You might explain to your housemate, “Huh, this feta cheese tastes funny...kinda flavorless. Like it’s fat free or something.  But I know it’s the same feta I’ve always bought.”  You look bewilderedly at the plastic container.
Your housemate says, gently, as if to a child, “Um, it says FAT FREE on the label.  In big blue letters.”

You stare at the container.  You feel ashamed.  You also wonder why anyone would buy fat free feta cheese; you might as well sprinkle snow on your food for all the flavor that fat free feta adds.

Not seeing things that are right in front of you.

Like one of those huge yellow plastic triangles that proclaims, Caution! Wet floor!  You will either slip and fall on the wet floor, or you will avoid that clichéd ending and simply trip over the sign itself, sending it clattering across wet tile.  In either case, you will feel like an idiot.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll fall in a public place so everyone can watch.

I personally experienced ¾ of these events, and I’m quite certain that all of them were due to stress.  It had absolutely nothing to do with innate clumsiness.  Nothing at all.

Beware: if it happened to me, it could happen to you too.  Or maybe it already has – feel free to post your own advice or experiences in the comments!

Wanted: Experience

As I’ve waded through the Internet searching for jobs, I’ve been lucky enough to find a few that I really like. As in, I would kill to get that particular job. (Okay, not really…)

The point, though, is that the world DOES indeed have jobs that sound right up my alley.  For example, doing research for the Middle Eastern desk for the Council on Foreign Relations. Or filling the junior editor position at an online publication about politics and world events.  Or working for an Arab media production company.  I DO speak some Arabic; that should help get my foot in the door, right?


Turns out, employers don’t care all that much about my international experience, my extra-curriculars, my ability to adapt, my sociability and work ethic.  I think employers look for one main thing, and if that thing is not stamped boldly on your resume then your application is thrown out before you can shout Wait, I’m a quick learner! 

Here’s a comic to give you a hint, in case you’re not a senior and you have no idea what I’m talking about (and in case you missed the title of this post):

Employers want experience.

That’s fair of them, I guess, but sometimes their expectations seem as ridiculous as the comic above.  For an entry-level position, something as straightforward as research or answering phones, they want 2 – 5 years of relevant experience?

Or a junior editor position, they want 10 years of experience?

Holy Jimminy, how are we supposed to gain experience if no one will hire us because we lack it?  And furthermore, after 10 years of experience why on earth would I apply for your lousy Junior Editor position? I think I’d rather go to my hometown and take over the local paper there.  Be the Editor-in-Chief.  In your face, Junior Editor.

You see, it’s a vicious cycle.  I don’t have experience, you don’t hire me.  But in order to gain experience, someone somewhere someday will simply HAVE to hire me.  Someone will take a chance on the recent grad, right?

I sincerely hope so.  However, I believe that the only escape from this paradox is…the internship.

Ahem, let me re-phrase: the UNPAID internship.

This leads me into another topic and another completely separate cycle of helpless rage, so I’ll leave it here for today.  Quick preview though: My undergraduate education, for which I paid $30,000+ for four years, is no longer sufficient to catapult me into the working world.

End of the Long-Term Plan

As grads, we face the end of the end of the long-term plan.

Before in life we always had a long-term plan, something farther down the road to look forward to. In middle school we looked forward to high school, in high school we looked forward to college.  College was always the ultimate goal: it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the student rainbow.

Problem: it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the student rainbow.  What happens after that? What’s beyond the pot of gold, other than the rough dirt of hard ground?

This is one reason why so many students freak out at the end of their college careers. We face the end of the long-term plan.  Our lives no longer have a built-in structure, a firm schedule with recognizable expectations.

As students, we knew the schooling system: 2 semesters, with a Christmas and summer vacation. This was a constant, beginning as early as kindergarten.  As we grew older a few things changed – we began having different teachers for different subjects, or if we were really cool we actually went to different classrooms for different subjects.  The cocky among us began throwing around the word “homeroom,” a definite sign of maturity.  

When college hit, we adapted to the changes: doing our own laundry (but only some of us…I know who you are, you students who still made Mom do it), picking and carrying out our own major, only going to class a couple times a week (or not at all, depending on the class and depending on the person…I’m definitely not thinking about you partiers here), or for the really brave, cooking (aka learning to burn things in 301 different ways).

Despite the changes and new realities of life, we college kids still lived around the basic structure.  Semester, Christmas break, semester, summer break. Repeat. Throw in a May term.

After graduation though, the structure breaks down. There is no structure.  Grads face a vague and uncertain future.  Some of you, I know, are thinking, Hey, quit trying to freak me out.  I have a job lined up already.  If that’s the case, my heartfelt congratulations. I hold almost no bitterness toward you.  But my point is still valid for you, and it’s still valid for those of you going on for more schooling, or for those who plan to volunteer.

My point is, what will you be doing in five years?  Or even just two?  Or one?  My point is, life is no longer about the long-term plan.  It’s about the short-term plans. Plural. 

At this stage of life, it’s unlikely that any position I have will offer viable longevity.  I’ll enroll in a journalism-training program in Costa Rica for three months, and then I’ll...   I’ll get a summer job in Montana somewhere, and then I’ll…  I’ll do AmeriCorps/Peace Corps/[insert volunteer program here] for [insert time period here] and then I’ll…[insert plan here].  

Someone affiliated with the DC Hope Alumni network recently told me that she had a list of all the businesses Hope Alum worked for, but that it was three years old and likely very out of date; job turnover is so high that they likely no longer work at the same businesses.

I don’t mind change. Actually that’s a lie; I hate change.  But I can handle it. I’m okay admitting that change will be a constant in my life.  (Huh, what a paradox…change as a constant.)  Actually, if I’m with a really optimistic person and a solid stein of beer, then so much change actually sounds kind-of exciting.  I could go anywhere. I could do anything. I am limitless! (But only as long as I don’t look at my bank account.)

After all these musings, I guess I do have a a decent short-term AND long-term plan.

Short-term plan: Get a series of jobs. Hope I enjoy them. Have them lead to THE JOB. 
Long-term plan: have THE JOB, a job for which I’m trained. Love it.

The Quarter-Life Crisis

~ Prologue ~

       Mid-life crisis: A period of personal emotional turmoil and coping challenges that some people encounter when they reach middle age, accompanied by a desire for change in their lives, brought on by fears and anxieties about growing older.
       The phrase mid-life crisis was introduced in 1965 by the psychoanalyst and social scientist Elliot Jaques in a study of creative geniuses. (Wikipedia)

Along with the above definition, Wikipedia was kind enough to include a photographic example:

Actual caption: some people will purchase both a motorcycle
and an expensive car during their mid life crisis.
~ End Prologue ~

Since I am looking to potentially move to the DC area, I figured it would be a good idea to go there and check the city out.  I had been there twice in high school, but that was 5 years ago – I needed to see how I currently felt about the area and if I could see myself living there.  (And I wanted to try and line up a job.  Yeah, I needed one of those.)

So a friend and I made plans to visit the city during our Spring Break.  We did the typical touristy things (museums, monuments, memorials) and congratulated ourselves on being “so not like typical tourists.”  Having both studied abroad, we were each familiar with the typical touristy tropes: fanny-packs, excessive pointing, visible cameras, lingering as if lost.

We did none of these things.  (When we ended up somewhere we hadn’t exactly planned on going to, that was not us getting lost. That was us purposefully exploring the city.) We found offbeat, out-of-the-way restaurants and enjoyed lots of walking.  We meandered at will, and it was lovely.

Throughout all of this, I felt myself thinking, Gee, this city doesn’t feel overwhelming at all.  Actually, it feels kinda small…I could definitely handle it.

For about a day I floated on a happy zephyr of sparkles and dreams, imagining myself a working girl in DC.

Then I spoke with another friend.

It started innocently enough; I asked him what he wanted to do after graduation.  He mentioned a few vague ideas, but was insistent that he wanted to go West, experience smaller-town living and be among the great outdoors.

I paused.  Right there, standing next to one of the clear fountains of the WWII Memorial, I had my quarter-life crisis.

 Quarter-Life Crisis: A period of emotional and sometimes financial turmoil experienced by people as they reach their early to mid-twenties, brought on by looming and completely justified fears related to careers, re-location, and the knowledge that they are now "an adult."
     The phrase "quarter-life crisis" was introduced by the soon-to-be-grad and procrastination expert Aftan in a random identity crisis. [Although apparently some other guy wrote a book about it before I published this....darn]

Actual caption: Some students will try to hide
under the covers during their quarter-life crisis.
"What? I'm...I'm not doing anything!"

Wait a second, some part of me wondered, dazedly following my companions around the National Mall.  Aftan, you’re from Montana. Hiking, nature, the outdoors – that’s a huge part of your identity. How can you even think about living in a city?

Another part of me reasoned, Look, you simply cannot live in a small Western town and do the kind of work you want to do.  Rural Montana – surprise! – doesn’t exactly have tons of connections to international diplomacy or journalism.

Silently I argued with myself, all the way up a bunch of clean white steps.  Finally I looked up and realized I was standing before the giant statue of Lincoln. I stared at his wise, gentle and troubled face and mentally begged him to give me answers, or at least solace.

Funny thing about statues: they never really talk back.

I was pretty quiet the rest of the day, wrestling with myself and with God and with my own ideas about dreams and home and what I truly want out of life. In many ways I’m still wrestling. God and I, we’ve come to a few conclusions, I think. Maybe. At the very least I’m not still in that paralyzed, scared place of a few weeks ago.

If you’re in that place, trust me, I know – it sucks.  But you won’t be there forever. I promise.

And sometimes, hiding under the covers (for a little while) really does help.

The Back-up Plan

Since I am set to graduate in 6 short weeks and still cannot boast of any job prospects, I thought I would boast about something else: the back-up plan.

The back-up plan is a beautiful and fluid concept. Let me explain why.

1. It can morph to keep up with your continually changing interests.
I thought I wanted to be a children’s author – turns out children scare me! Backup plan: I’ll write romances instead, because they definitely don’t scare ANYONE.

2. It can grow more or less outlandish depending on the degree of hysteria with which you view your future. Back-up plan: Skydiving! Skydiving forever! (Wait, I have no money…New back-up plan…)

3. If you mix a certain amount of irresponsibility with an appropriate amount of fun with a healthy dose of money-making, it will result in a back-up plan that will simultaneously surprise/dismay your audience and make them slightly jealous.
You: I’m moving in with my cousin for a while, gonna enjoy life and waitress on the side.
Audience: [thinking]…..Ooooo, what a waste; she’s such a smart girl….
You: Yeah, my cousin lives in Hawaii. I was thinking I would also freelance for a newspaper there, and that could lead to a more official job.

If appropriately applied, this method will elicit an “Oh, wow, that sounds wonderful…I wish I had the courage to do that.”

4. Make your back-up plan sound funny, yet still contain a viable option for the future.
What you say: “Instead of graduating, I’m going to purposefully fail all my classes. Stick around for another few years, pick up those other two majors I wanted.”
What you mean: stay in school and avoid the job search. [That’s the easy way out, grad schoolers.]

5. Make your back-up plan just sound funny.
I’m going to make this blog FAMOUS and then I’ll turn it into a book and make lots of money selling it to other desperate grads! Lots of money = job not necessary!

Personally, right now I’m betting on #5.

Procrastination: Our Real Job

I’m no numbers major, but I made this graph and I firmly believe it states pure truth.

On the x-axis we have the semester in school, and on the y-axis we have the scale for the necessity of doing things other than homework. This scale should normally reach an absolute maximum of 20.

Look at the graph again.

I believe that’s what my math and science friends would call a “positive , or direct, relationship.” Yeah. Is there a technical term for that huge jump at the end?

Second-semester seniors make it our job to procrastinate. Some have correctly labeled this a disease: senioritis. Debilitating, and extremely contagious.

Procrastination evolves over a student’s lifetime. It has to. “My dog ate my homework” just won’t cut it in college – neither will “I swear, Professor, someone broke into my dorm and stole all my books!” Students need upper-level excuses to match our upper-level education.

This means that “procrastination” and “excuses” are two words that must morph into something new. They must grow, stretch beyond their original boundaries, discover things about themselves that they never thought were possible. (Maybe that’s what we students are supposed to do too?)

“Procrastination” learns that she will actually become “re-prioritizing.” Yes, that paper needs to be written, but first let’s deal with the huge pile of laundry stinking up the room. Hmm, I should attend that evening guest speaker, but my friends are going bowling – it’s my last semester and I need bonding time with them; who knows when I’ll get it again?

“Excuses” fades into nothingness; by the time we’re all seniors we simply don’t offer them anymore. We are adults, well able to manage our time and arrive punctually if we wish/don’t wish. We also know our professors won’t believe our explanations anyway. (There is a caveat to this, to be explained in another post.)

Since I’ve already used this post to branch from my humanities majors into mathematics (remember my awesome graph?), I think I’ll delve into psychology as well. In future posts I will attempt to analyze student behavioral patterns in order to discern how our brains rationalize certain events, people, or circumstances as more important than homework.

Yeah, right.

Networking: Guy-with-a-famous-uncle

A word that most college juniors know, some enterprising sophomores might know, and certainly all seniors SHOULD KNOW is: networking. 
It’s a big, fancy word, and I spent most of my college career letting it intimidate me until I realized that networking actually means schmoozing, or rather schmoozing-and-remembering-all-their-names-so-I-can-later-use-them-for-a-potential-job.

In short, networking means building a web of wasta, which is an Arab term I learned while abroad that essentially means “connections”.  So networking means building a web of connections. Duh, some of you are thinking. Net-working = working to build a net that surrounds and supports you. Yep, you’re so smart.

Once I figured out what the term meant, I quickly discovered that my network was…well, lame.  Rather than an interconnected web joining numerous people and careers together, my “web” seemed to be…me, and one woman I had talked with at CNN.

I believe geometrists would call that a “line.”  Not a web.

How to fix this?  I wasn’t quite sure. All I knew was that it was Christmas break and my sister wanted me to go with her to her college-town for New Years. Fun with the sis + dancing all night + beer = Aftan not thinking about her network.

“You never know, hon,” my father winked at me, “you might meet some nice young man in a bar.”
“Yeah, Dad,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “I’m going to meet boyfriend material in a bar in Montana on New Years.”  I’m sure that is THE NIGHT all the classy guys go out to find all the classy girls.

My dad grinned. “Well, you’re probably right, but maybe at the very least you’ll meet someone with a job opportunity.”

“Yeah, Dad, maybe.” Again, it's a bar on New Year's.

So the Sis and I end up at a favorite bar with some favorite friends.  The Sis is super popular, so all these guys swarm us competing for her attention.  I sit back a little bit and nurse my beer, watching the show. One of her admirers has brought his roomies, and they look as out of place as I, so I strike up conversation with the one closest to me.

This guy looks a little younger, maybe a sophomore.  I’m sure he hasn’t even thought about his network.  We do the basic chit-chat, drink a couple beers. He tells me his major, his hometown (an East Coaster), what he wants to do.  I share the same.

“Wait,” he says when I explain my aspirations and my study-abroad career. “You want to be an international journalist, and you love the Middle East?”  Yep.  “You should meet my uncle.  That’s what he does.”

I stare.  I slide my chair a little bit closer.

“Yeah,” the guy goes on. “He’s a journalist and lives in New York.  When he was covering events in Afghanistan he got captured by the Taliban.  He got released last year and wrote a book about it.  His name is Jere Van Dyk.”

The guy has just become The-Guy-with-a-Famous-Uncle.

My network may have just expanded.

The Question

I’ve discovered -- through four years of dedicated undergraduate work -- that answering the same question over and over again is actually not so fun.

In my first year of college all the freshmen engaged in this.  We were desperate to make friends.  I developed a set of standard answers and grew accustomed to the standard responses:  “Wow, you have a really unusual name.  No, I mean it’s really pretty!” [Thanks….?]  “You’re from Montana?  Wow, that is so cool.” [I know.] “How did you end up in Michigan?”  “You’re a twin? Wow, that’s awesome…does she go here?”

When I studied abroad it was the same phenomenon.  Now, as a senior back at my home institution, once again I cannot escape it.  Only this time, the phenomenon limits itself to just one question.  Sometimes it comes in sneaky disguises, but it always strips down to the same thing.

What are you doing after college?

This question tends to inspire involuntary physical responses among students, ranging from the subtle and entirely concealable eye twitch to the completely unexplainable full-body muscle spasm. 

After recovering from this physiological distress, students have a variety of ways to answer the question.

ONE: You can tell the truth, over and over and over again, but let’s face it, that gets old fast.

Yeah, you know, I really want a job that combines writing with international affairs. Possibly something in journalism – I’m going to move to Washington DC and pursue careers in that field. I’ve always loved DC, but naturally I’m not closed off to other options.  I know someone who works at CNN in Atlanta…


TWO: Admit the real truth: I have no plan.

Yeah, ummmmm……..

You will take in the questioner’s understanding gaze, feel the soft and slightly patronizing pat on your shoulder [I have a real job, you ninny] and the inevitable, “That’s ok. You don’t need to know. You’ll figure something out, and it will be something you love.”

You’ll nod gravely, yet wisely. Out loud you’ll say, “I know. God and I have it worked out. I’m not worried.” Mentally, you’ll say (somewhat hysterically), “YES I need to know! Because what if I don’t figure something out, and if I do it definitely won’t be something I love – how can flipping burgers at McDonald’s be something I love? Who loves that?!”

Instead of engaging in this agonizing mental/verbal repartee, you could always resort to the third option:


THREE: Make up a cool story.

Yeah, actually I’ve accepted a position working with homeless cats. We’re going to slowly rehabilitate them to live in homes, through a combination of TLC, R&R, and overpriced vet bills.  It’s really rewarding work, I just know I’m making a difference in someone’s life!

Ok, maybe you make up a not-so-cool story.

The potential risk with this method is that your listener will chuckle good-naturedly – “Good one!” – and then ask, “No, really, what are you doing after college?” 

And that leaves you right back where you started.  Only slightly more frustrated.


Hey there. I’m a senior at a small mid-Western liberal arts college, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life. I have some thoughts, a few dreams, but am still not quite sure how to put those notions into action other than to write them obsessively in my journal. So this blog will be an exploration into the transition from hectic, irresponsible, do-whatever-I-want student life to structured, grounded, professional life.

Or something like that.

[Note: potential employers reading this, I am never hectic or irresponsible. I manage stress perfectly, and I always do what I know I should do. Statements to the contrary are little white lies.]

I hope many of you, no matter what stages of life you’re transitioning from, will relate to what I have to say