Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I've been reading too much Faulkner.

You know how in the movie October Sky (or, really, any movie that takes place in a West Virginian mining town), the main character is this high school kid who isn't a football player and thus unable to attend college because his family is too poor to pay for his tuition and he can't get a sports scholarship so he either has to be a coal-miner like his father (who is lovable in a slightly creepy Chris Cooper type of way) (who is also dying of undiagnosed lung cancer from the coal dust) or be really, really good at science, the type of really-good where he has a natural grasp of astrophysics and can build rockets that actually fly instead of the shitty kind that his friends build that just blow up (because his friends don't share his instinct and abilities for flying rockets), so that he gets a scholarship to Virginia Tech and eventually works for NASA building real rockets that don't blow up, thus saving himself from suffering through an impoverished life like his parents?

Or, if the main character is a girl, she can either live on some hollow (which she pronounces "holler") with her eight siblings that her coal-miner father (who is lovable in a creepy Levon-Helm-without-a-beard kind of way) (who is also dying of undiagnosed lung cancer from the coal dust, which is evident from the frequent nose bleeds, but because he and his family are uneducated, they don't realize that something minor (ha!) like a nosebleed is a symptom of cancer, which makes me thankful for WebMD telling me that my sore throat means I have AIDS) can barely support where she'll eventually grow up ("grow up," in this case, meaning "turn sixteen") and get married to some tubby holler boy with sparse facial hair and then have eight babies of her own, or she can get married at thirteen to a much older WWII-vet-turned-moonshine-vendor and move to Washington state and have lots of children and then become an incredibly famous and rich country singer with her own hundred-acre ranch in Tennessee and twenty-pound wigs, thus saving herself from her parents' impoverished life of butter-churns and pie-baking contests?

You know what I'm talking about?

Well, sometimes I feel like those characters.

I know I'm not the son of a poor coal miner and I have a few more options than Homer [Whateverhislastnamewas] and Loretta Lynn, but I do feel, at this point, that I am destined for a career in academia. I want to go to grad school and get a PhD and then I'll probably teach freshmen in college how to appreciate literature and write about it, meaning I will be THAT professor that everyone hates because they're all business majors and they don't like to read and they only signed up for my section of the class because they read online that I'm an easy grader and I don't take attendance.

Part of that life seems somewhat fulfilling, but, you know, do I really want to do that? Do I want to be underpaid by choice? Or do I want to do something about it?

I feel like a career as a college professor might be my version of life in a coal-mining town, and that my only option out of that is to be a successful writer who goes on book tours and writes novels that don't blow up. (Okay, I just had to make a connection with Homer [HICKAM! That's his name!] on that last part, so just work with me here.) So that's why in the next few months, while I (hopefully) take some classes at DePaul (by the way, I have to give my undergraduate transcript to my boss today, since she is the one who admits non-degree applicants, and I hope that's something I'll never have to do again), I can do some more creative writing and actually stick to it / churn out something worth reading.

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