Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stream of Consciousness No. 6: Thinking About My Future

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I'm about to get a little Benjamin Braddock-y on y'all for a bit, so bear with me.

So, a couple of nights ago, I was treated to yet another round of lecturing, pressuring and putdowns from my mother regarding how I don't have a plan for my future, how she thinks I'm not thinking enough about how I'm going to make a living after college, blah blah blah. In this lecture, she managed to belittle my Megamovies job, insult my love of movies ("it's fun; that's all it is"), and even suggest that I'd probably never become a very good journalist ("you're not curious enough," she says).

Does she have any idea how much she has a tendency to shatter my confidence at the most inopportune moments? Shoot, even my counselor at Rutgers, when she heard about this, said she felt angry at her for what she said to me. Stupid Asian parents; only thing they seem to know how to be is blunt as a sledgehammer. (Sound stereotypical? So be it.)

But enough about the whining. Some of you have heard it from me a million times before. I guess one good thing came out of my mother's well-intentioned but deeply misguided and unsuccessful attempt at reaching out to me: it got me thinking again about my future. Where am I headed after college? What should I do if I want to get to where I want to be, say, ten or twenty years in the future?

First of all, where do I want to be ten or twenty years in the future? Well, I guess the easy answer is: I want to be writing about movies, being a film critic somewhere. More complicated answer: film critic---and a respected one, not just one of these small-time film reviewers---but also able to make a reasonably steady living to support my writing. (Family? Well, I'm not really thinking about that at this point; I don't even have a girlfriend right now, heck.)

I could probably come up with a variety of different ways to achieve film critic-hood, I guess. Start out as a regular journalist and somehow advance to the ranks of writing about movies on a regular basis. Maybe join up with some film website---or create one, I dunno---and get some experience and exposure there. Something like that.

It's the "making a reasonably steady living" part that worries both me and my mother. Journalists, as most people probably know, don't really get paid all that much: maybe $20,000 a year for small-time journalists, maybe even less. Would I really have to think about doing part-time teaching on the side in order to finance my writing career? The prospect of having to do that makes me nervous; I've never considered myself teacher material. (But then, I'm not sure if I'm really journalism material, either; I'm not the most gregarious person around, and maybe Mom is right when she suggests that I could be more curious and knowledgeable about things other than movies.) But if that's what I have to do to pay the bills, I guess I'll have to do it. And what about health insurance, nice place to live, all that mundane stuff? Those are important things to have in this country; what if I can't afford them because I don't get nearly enough income?

See, most people would probably optimistically tell me stuff like "Oh, don't worry about it. You'll find a way; things always work out in the end." Maybe it's Mom's influence talking to me here, but that's always sounded just a little too sugary to me. Do they? I suspect they do only if the person himself has the wits to overcome such challenges---wits that sometimes I'm not sure I've come close to developing.

You know, I've told myself over these past few months that yes, I have to brace myself for challenges ahead if this is the path I want to take. I chose this path, even when my mother was ignorantly pushing the accounting thing on me (an ignorance that she has apologized for once or twice with only a modicum of sincerity, to my ears). But I sometimes wonder whether I'm just saying that, or if I'm actually genuinely ready to face the challenge of possibly starving for my art. (Am I falling into the Jonathan Larson Rent trap of glamorizing the starving artist lifestyle?)

I guess my biggest worry right now is: am I doing nearly enough right now to prepare myself for my future? Yeah, I'm writing occasional pieces for Pulse, and I'm slated to become an editor at the Inside Beat. But I'm still mostly pigeonholing myself in one field, movies. Shouldn't I be more enterprising, trying to improve, say, my interviewing skills or something? Shouldn't I be a lot more active than I am? And don't even get me started on my laxity in the whole finding-an-internship thing: the farthest I've gotten is finding some listings in an internship book. Little action otherwise. (Boy, sometimes it seems motivation is so hard for me to summon up for myself; perhaps a bad sign for my future success as a wannabe journalist?)

**********

The question of graduate school has come back into my view.

Initially, I was thinking about trying my luck on the job market before jumping into graduate school somewhere. (I was thinking of Columbia; that's where one of my favorite film critics, Armond White, got his Film History-Theory-Criticism MFA.) But I'm starting to think: should I just try for graduate school right after I graduate from Rutgers? Hey, I'd be staying in school, and thus, in the eyes of some people (ahem, Mom, ahem), staving off the "real world" a little bit more.

But keep your options open, Kenji: what if you get some nice internship somewhere and impress your employers so much that they decide they want you to work full time for them or something? Well I guess that's something that I'd have to play by ear.

All these are half-formed ideas about my future that I've never really bothered to explain at length to my mother. Dunno if I care to, really. What does it matter? I have a feeling she'd poke some hole in my plan anyway and then suggest that I still have some more thinking to do.

I just wonder, though, if what I have in my mind is enough...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that going for some kind of internship would be a good thing to do. Graduate school is fine but you have minimal exposure to the real working world at this point and interning at a newspaper or other publication would open your eyes to what the real world of journalism is like. (Maybe your are too idealistic?) Continue your writing as you have been, it will sharpen your skills, but dealing with the working world is something you need to work on also. Working at the movies has taught you alot, hasn't it?--about the working world. Only its not in the field you are choosing; so go for some kind of practical experience in journalism--paid or unpaid. As to the financial aspect of the career----if you are really successful, the money will follow---you just have to research what are the possibilities of that happening are(becoming REALLLY successful, I mean)---if, in fact, as you mention, a journalist makes $20,000 a year, and only the exceptional journalist makes more---than that could be a problem. Money can be a stress point in life and while its easy to say that money doesn't count---that is really a myth---the truth is--it does. So scoup it out more in depth, learn what the field is really all about---the down and dirty of it. Its time. The result might be that you will say "I'm going for it." or you may switch gears and go in a totally different direction. That's ok too. Better to find out now than 20 years from now.

kenjfuj said...

Anonymous: Well, I appreciate the advice. I need all the advice I can get---encouragement, too, because I sure ain't getting it from my parents.

Here's the thing about my mother: she doesn't care a whit about film in the same way that I do. In fact, whenever she tries to "discuss" things with me, she maintains a subtly condescending tone regarding my love of movies. Yesterday the subject was brought up again, and she suggested that my writing about film was something that could be transcended: "you could write about plenty of other things; why do you have to write about movies?" And of course she doesn't read movie critics, nor does she believe anyone else really does, or cares to.

I've basically given up trying to talk her to my side, because it looks like it ain't gonna happen. I mean, what more does she expect from me? A point-by-point description of how I plan to make some kind of living after I graduate? I don't think I can give that to her, not now.

But you're essentially right that I need to start acting and stop overthinking. It seems like I've been doing way too much thinking and worrying this summer and not enough doing. For some reason, it just seems like motivation is difficult for me to summon by myself.

Anonymous said...

I would like to give you encouragement. You are doing a good thing this summer---after a long search, you did manage to land a job and are at least out in the working world. So that is something. Now....

I know its easy for an outsider to say, but you use way, way too much energy worrying about what you mother thinks, feels and says about your life. You are not living for her---you can't---you have to live for yourself. While she means well (Yes, I am sure she does!), she fails to grasp yoursensitivities and desires. Your passion for film is a wonderful thing, but she just doesnt get it; so what can you do? Nothing! It enriches your life but she does not grasp it. You have to just accept that you will be unable to change that and get beyond it. The more you stress yourself out about it, the more immobile you will become and you will just go around in circles. Your mother is your mother; love her, enjoy her company and try to relate to her as a son, but stop letting her get to you. It is not helpful.

Now, as you move on, do some searching out for practical opportunites where you can develop your writing skills as well as gain exposure to the real world of journalism. Maybe this will be in the form of an intership or maybe it will be a part time job or maybe it will be just to contribute articles to a local paper and get to know the staff there. Something, anything, that will take you from the academic world to the real world. If you look hard enough you will find these opportunites, maybe through Rutgers--talking to professors, maybe searching out publications in NJ or NY; maybe checking out other schools and opportunites that they might offer---I am not sure of the means, but I do know that this is the direction you need to work toward.

If, at any point along this journey, you decide that journalism is not what you want and you change career paths, that is fine too---it happens all the time.

Career choice is a funny thing. Some people know exactly what they want from the time they are 10 years old, they go for it and they get it. Other people think they know, but then it turns out completly different and they make changes along the way. Either way its ok; but the practical experience is the only way to find out. You will be fine; worrying is not helpful, remember that and you have to live for yourself and what will make you happy. Always look to get information so that your choices will be informed ones and your mom is NOT the place to get unbiased information. Oh, one more thing---no one can plan EVERYTHING about their future, so forget about that----as long as you have a general idea, that is about the best you can hope for. Don't get bogged down now trying to work out all the mini-details of what you are going to do. That just will hold you back.

I know that I am repeating some of the same things I said in my first post; but I feel the need to. I am trying to be supportive and helpful and I hope that you will think about what I am saying and how you can put it in practice and move ahead.

kenjfuj said...

Anonymous: You're absolutely right about everything you say. I know you are. I just wish it was that easy for me to just shrug my mother's immense pressure---worse now that I've been home during the summer---off. I guess I've always been an eager-to-please person; it seems almost like second nature to me to care what people think about the things I do, the way I look, the opinions I hold, etc. That includes my mother.

So, while you're being absolutely sensible to advise me not to expend so much effort worrying about what she thinks, the sad truth is, sometimes I can't help but care. Heck, I think I've been trained since childhood to care about what she thinks, since I used to be so damn obedient to whatever she asked me to do. Sure, I make occasional stabs at overcoming this---the biggest stab probably being the sudden move to drop accounting as a major and focus on journalism---but it always seems to get to me in the end, especially now that it seems like I have something to prove to her (or something to disprove). What if I fail in the way she expects? I know, I shouldn't worry about that now. But the future is just so unknown that I can't help but think of what might happen.

And I'm glad you think I'll eventually turn out fine. But will I? I feel so racked with self-doubt---about my ability to think on my feet; to adapt; heck, to actually act, etc.---that I seriously wonder about how well I'll actually manage in life. My parents have been supporting me for so long---aiding in paying my tuition, helping me out with health insurance, stuff like that---that I wonder if I've been too pampered to the point that I'll have trouble surviving out in the real world on my own.

Anonymous said...

Kenji, I know its hard. You have a lifetime of trying to please your mother so its not going to change overnight. I don't expect it to so you should not either. Just keep in the back of your mind what I have said. and...

You WILL be fine; you doubt yourself and your ability to "think on your feet" and adapt for this reason---lack of experience in the world. That will change. It does not have to change overnight, it's a process. The things you need to conquer are fear, worry and getting stressed out. Those are negatives that will impede everything else. Relax, give yourself a break and don't be so harsh on yourself. No one knows what the future will hold, for themselves or for anyone else. So you are not alone in that. What if you fail? Well, what if you succeed? What equals failure in your mind? What equals success? What is the worst thing that can happen? (Probably that "worst thing" is NEVER going to happen!) Maybe you'll be a college professor of journalism; who knows, and is that so bad? Or maybe you'll be a film critic for the NY Times, who knows? No way to predict that now. You have assets that others do not have. Your self doubts are perfectly normal in your situation. To care about what others think about how you look, the opinions you hold and the things you do again is normal---you are a sensitive person. Thats ok; its going to work out. Just try to work on your worrying and trying to please! Even if you make small steps in this direction; you cannot afford to be regularly stressed out about it.