Chapter 17: So How ‘Bout that Bachelor’s Degree?

ch17

 

Wrath was released the same year I finished my undergraduate degree and I was in a bit of a funk at that point in my life. During high school, I and my fellow students were constantly pressed to go to college because that was the best route to a well-paying job. They pushed us towards it by showing statistic charts describing the average annual income based in level of education, and things like that. I didn’t wanna be the loser who worked at McDonald’s for the rest of her life. Heck, I’d worked for one of those horrid places for a mere month before I had to get out. I was a student athlete and the manager didn’t understand the concept of scheduling me around my practices and Track & Field meets, so I went with what I liked doing more: sports.

I enrolled in my local community college right out of high school, not having much of a plan of where I was going, but my heart was in Art at the time. I took Gen Eds alongside my beloved art classes, and for one of my prerequisites I had to choose between either a speech class or Acting I. Since I’m deathly afraid of talking in front of people, acting was out of the question. I didn’t want to take the speech class either for the same reasons but, since I had no choice but to pick one evil or the other, I went with Acting I. Speech class sounded hopelessly boring.

I fell in love with acting, finding it fun, instead of frightening, and got cast in The Hobbit: A Musical. Yep, I sang in front of people, too. My singing is passable but you’ll never see me audition for American Idol; however, I had such a positive experience with all that acting stuff that I had to do more when I transferred to the local university. I wanted to minor in Theatre for the fun of it, but I ended up completing a BFA in Theatre while minoring in Creative Writing. I was an English major for a whopping two hours before making the switch.

I veered away from majoring in Art because I realized I enjoyed drawing and painting more as a hobby than anything else, and I lacked the drive to stand out among the steep competition. At the same time, I’d written my first fantasy book at age eighteen and wanted to become a famous author. Back then, I thought what I’d written would become the next Harry Potter phenomenon, when in reality it was a novice piece of crap. But hey, we all gotta start somewhere.

By age nineteen I realized I had a lot to learn about writing and storytelling, so I needed a steady day job while honing my craft on the side. I figured getting a Bachelor’s in English would be smart, but all those dull literature classes made me grimace. On top of that, what would I do with an English degree? Teach? I’m not teacher material! But what else was there? Maybe I’d learn to enjoy teaching like I learned I enjoyed acting.

Fast forward two hours and one incredibly positive experience with the professors in the Theatre department, and I switched to Theatre as my major with a Creative Writing minor. I had no idea where I’d go with such a degree, but I finally felt like I was in the right place.

In retrospect, I realize life was connecting me with people I needed to meet. During undergrad, the relationship between my dad and I was shaky, so life had provided me with a surrogate father who helped me get through that tough time. Thankfully, my father and I now have the relationship we’ve always wanted and needed. It was quite the roller coaster ride getting there but we never gave up on each other; just took cool down periods here and there. We’re very much alike so it’s easy to butt heads.

When I stopped needing the surrogate father, I felt like I no longer belonged in Theatre. On top of that, I’d learned to tell the difference between good and bad acting, and I realized I didn’t fall under the good category. However, I was so close to done that I wanted to finish what I started, despite how awkward it felt. I was hyper aware of all the talent surrounding me, along with how dedicated and passionate these people were about acting, yet there I was, just passing through and learning a bunch of neat things along the way, my need to focus on writing growing more intense every day.

By my final semester, I realized I was about to graduate with no clue as to where to take myself next. I’d written a second book that was almost as terrible as the first, but I’d stopped writing for a couple years, even though I loved it. I felt so lost at that stage of my life. I wanted to be nothing more than a full-time author but I was clueless on how to do that, considering maybe 4% of authors could live exclusively off of their writing at the time. On top of all that, I had people on all sides telling me I needed to get a day job while pursuing my life’s passion. Of course they were right. I didn’t want to be some freeloader who was still living with her mom at age 40.

I asked my counselor what I should do with my degree. Teaching, go to Hollywood, go to New York, go to grad school, etc. Every last idea made my insides squirm. I didn’t want to teach acting when I knew I was lousy at it. Moving to a big city frightened me. I’m an outdoorsy person who enjoys peace and quiet. To drive the point home, I lived in Connecticut for 28 years, a mere two hour drive from New York City without ever visiting it, yet I’ve driven two hours many a time to hit Scarborough Beach in Rhode Island. I’ve got my priorities straight…

Grad school didn’t appeal either. I had no desire to try and become a better actor when I knew in my heart of hearts that I’m a writer and acting wasn’t for me. I was too scared to admit that to anyone at the time. I was comfortable for a while, but then I got tired of having the same stupid conversation almost verbatim every time I told someone I’m a writer. It went something like this:

“Oh, you’re a writer, huh? Written any books yet?”

“Yeah, two.”

“Oh, really? Are you published yet?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a lot of work and I’m still trying to get a literary agent.”

“Have you tried self-publishing?” That was just emerging at the time.

“No. That costs a lot of money.”

From there the conversation either went dead or the person would try to help me with something I knew far more about than they did. I don’t mean that pompously; I mean I did my research on query letters, synopses, how to approach individual agents, and the whole traditional publishing process, which is one hell of a hassle from start to finish, but so worth it. I knew what it took and these people, who were only trying to help, quite frankly didn’t. At first these people frustrated me to no end, but I learned to take them in stride.

The only part that never got easier to take was one of two questions: “So what’s your day job?” or “So is this your day job?” They’d ask it with a smile, thinking they were making a joke while I made their latté. I’d put on a fake smile and say something like, “Whatever pays the bills.” People often don’t realize that it takes a lot of time and effort to reach difficult goals. There’s no such thing as “overnight success.” In order to pursue writing, I needed something practical that allowed sufficient time to keep moving forward with my dream.

After I finished undergrad, I went into hiding for a year, steering clear of family since I felt so ashamed of having spent the last five years in college just to remain stuck in customer service. I got burnt out from waiting tables at my local Red Robin, tried switching to hostess, but dear god that was a whole different type of stressful. Grumpy hungry people are not easy to deal with. I then switched to line cook and found it enjoyable, until the coworkers who’d be a pleasure to work with quit and were replaced by far less pleasant people.

I reached out to some extended family for ideas on what to do next as a writer, and one of them suggested I work at a local bookstore.

Cue smacking my own forehead. I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked the idea all this time.

I had a choice of either Barnes & Noble or… Barnes & Noble. That’s it. I breezed through the interview process but, for once, my previous job experience worked against me. They were aching to stick me in the café, even though I was aching to be on the book floor. However, since I refused to pass up the opportunity to work so close to books and lots of readers, I took what I could get and bid Red Robin a fond farewell. To this day, it’s still my favorite burger joint.

Working in a bookstore wasn’t the dream job I thought it’d be. Fueling America’s caffeine addiction appalled me but at least I enjoyed making friends with my coworkers and our regular customers, all who loved to read, and could give me suggestions on which book to pick up next.

It wasn’t until I could look back on my time with Barnes & Noble that I realized life had once again put me where I needed to be. While there, I landed a super awesome job as Throwers coach for my local high school. One of my former coaches just happened to stop by the café while I was working, and she informed me that the town of Enfield was in dire need of a decent throws coach. And that was the only time I ever saw that former coach again.

Since I’d done Track & Field all four years of high school, had a school record in my name for indoor girl’s shot put (still might), and figured I could teach kids to do as I did, I applied and got hired right away.

It was scary at first and I wasn’t much of an authority figure, but I grew into the role and did well enough to coach kids into national-level competition, along with help break the boys outdoor shot put record. I motivated them with Oreos and flying footwear (yes, I threw sneakers to get their attention), and marveled at how much my athletes grew.

While I was coaching and making lots of lattés, yet another fateful customer crossed paths with me, some girl who was in WestConn’s MFA program in Creative & Professional Writing. It was extra fateful at that point because I’d stopped telling people I was a writer, but for some reason I told her.

Instead of getting that cookie cutter conversation, I got an excellent pitch on the aforementioned MFA program. I read up on it and WestConn became one of only two grad schools I applied. The first one was in Vancouver, some place that basically considered itself above the fantasy genre. I remember asking if I should bother, since their program wasn’t big on fantasy, and the admissions person said I could get in if my writing sample was good enough.

Yeah, it wasn’t. Oh, well. WestConn happily took me on and boy did they put me to work, but I was thrilled with the incoming mentorship in becoming a better writer and storyteller. And my online gaming friends were happy for me, too.

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About Angela Macala-Guajardo

Author, teacher, soon-to-be full time writer for two companies. Also a lover life in the Arizona desert, puppy butt wiggles, and kitties purring away on my shoulder.
This entry was posted in gaming story, life's journey, Uncategorized, world of warcraft and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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