Stories from middle America

I’m sitting on my couch eating kimchi. It’s delicious. Kimchi used to be way too strong for me, taste wise. Since I like it now, I worry my taste buds are dying.

Last summer, I tried to make kimchi and have yet to try it. I bought the wrong kind of spice at the Asian Market, and it turned brown instead of the vibrant red I had expected. “That looks disgusting,” my friend Miranda observed as I hand mixed it. I now wonder since I am not of Asian decent, if making kimchi in my kitchen using Mason jars makes me a special kind of culturally illiterate asshole. I throw the jar out.

It’s almost weird to be in this moment, with these things. At the height of the Recession, I started a long unemployment journey that often left me with barely enough money to pay my bills. Buying kimchi on a whim at Whole Foods was a luxury I wouldn’t go near.

Despite my sudden financial trajectory, I still lived a life of privilege. I had parents who stepped in when I called. I had friends give me cheap housing and others got me a job when my unemployment benefits ran out.

For about a year, from 7 AM to 3 PM, six days a week, I would transcribe handwritten comments into typed text. Since I couldn’t afford the parking garage, even in the dead of winter I walked over a mile to my building. When my productivity slowed or I made too many spelling errors, I would get lectured about “increasing my output” for approximately five to seven minutes by my manager while her subordinate listened in. I was allowed two 15 min breaks and one 30 min lunch during the day, and was encouraged to work all major holidays for no increase in my hourly wage (which I did, because I needed the money and not a day off without pay).

I still job searched in my field, which ironically was copywriting and marketing. I was the finalist for so many jobs in exotic sounding cities like Seattle, Boston and New York City. So many times, I would lose out in the final interview round and be forced to return to my beige, windowless cubicle. So many times, I would cry the whole day.

Years later, eating this over-priced, Whole Foods kimchi – I’m mortified by how I looked down my nose at that job. It was a job; it helped me pay my bills, on time, every month. I worked next to Lyndsey – an aspiring self-taught photographer who loved her mom. And Gunther, a talented musician who came to work, got his shit done, and went home to his beautiful wife. To be ashamed meant I thought I was above the work and these people. Now I understand – you’re never above honest work.  

Dreams and reality don’t always mash up. But you do the work to get you there. Fanaticizing about a certain lifestyle or job won’t put the skills on your resume. Appreciating the here and now, the actions you’re taking to reach your dreams – that’s when you look back, connect those dots and think, “I got through that so I could be here.” So often, I’m reminded that many people never get the resources to pull themselves up.  If you’re able to better your situation, remember to not be an asshole  – life doesn’t owe you a cushy career trajectory paved in nice salaries.

 

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