Getting Started

Published on Mar 8, 2020

This is a work of fiction I wrote ~2014. 

---

I had become an English major because I believed I had a mind worth sharing. “A little humility could do ya good, son” my dad always said. But I couldn’t shake this feeling off that my ideas were somehow better than others’. My dad wanted me to become an engineer. I decided that I’d rather write the next great American novel.

College was the first time I admired someone else’s mind. There was something different about interesting people: the way they spoke; the way they made decisions; the way their nuances in topics—seemingly impertinent to intelligence, such as food—somehow further reflected their intelligence. I was addicted. I began modeling myself in their image, transforming to a nearly unrecognizable degree. Soon I found myself talking like them, indulging in the same cultures as them, and even being treated like I was one of them. My new treatment blurred the distinction between my genuine self and mimicry. When people are constantly telling you how cool you are, it’s hard not to agree.

As the semesters passed, I became convinced that the majority at my university were idiots. Worse, my university was considered an above average institution. Worst, it seemed as if grades had little correlation with intelligence. The Dean’s List had far too many imbeciles performing rote memorization only to subsequently purge their minds, to free up space for whatever drama they were consuming on Netflix.

My friends were different. Their talents transcended the contemporary measuring stick. They weren’t just good at getting grades, they also had talent in one way or another. Halfway into college, I found myself in a steady social network. I was friends with the intelligent among the mediocrity of my university. One of my best friends, Donny, was somehow smarter than some of the PhD students teaching my classes. I was concurrently pissed—at the quality of my education—and grateful—at the quality of my friends.

One of my favorite things was getting high and/or drunk, and sharing ideas to my friends. The feedback would be overwhelmingly positive. They would encourage me to write a book or song or to perform at an open mic night. Their encouragement fed my ego to the point where I became convinced that I could actually do it, which further fed my ego. I planned my social life around feeding this ego, like it was an organism whose life depended on it; and whom my vanity depended on. I inadvertently became the life of the party.

After a nearly two year drug binge—mostly psychedelics and alcohol—I was a senior in college with no real job prospects. I hadn’t written that great novel. Instead of using the encouragement from my peers as fuel to create something meaningful, I had consumed it like a drug. I wasn’t going to be the next Mark Twain or David Foster Wallace. I was bound to be an average person, just like everybody else I’d looked down on for the past couple years.

This notion became impossible to ignore after a conversation with my ex-girlfriend, “You’re a senior and you have no real job prospects.”

“I’ll go to grad school.”

“Yeah? Grad school for what?”

“English.”

“What is English gonna get you?!” One of the coldest texts I had ever gotten.

I didn’t really want to go to grad school, I just needed a better answer than “I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Honestly, my credentials weren’t adequate for grad school. I hadn’t had a job or worked under any professors, thus I had nobody to ask when it came to the three letters of recommendation that grad school required. I had no writing samples, not even a blog, a fucking blog! All I had were term papers I crammed for; a manifestation of my unambitious life. “How could you expect to be a good writer when you don’t even write on your own accord…?” my dad was rightfully disappointed.

During my senior year's spring break, I told my dad some bad news, “Dad, my adviser messed up. I have to take two more classes next fall to graduate.”

“…I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

I lied to my dad, blaming my college adviser for messing up my schedule. In reality I had made the mistake. The first time I even saw my adviser was when she had told me that I couldn’t graduate on time.

“I’ll still be able to walk this May though. I just won’t get my degree until after the fall.”

My dad sighed, “son, there is more to graduation than the explicit celebrations. You do realize that people receive their diplomas in front of a crowd as a reward for hard work. Frankly, I don’t think your time in college has been anything to be proud of.” I didn't know what to say. “I hope you know that I won’t be paying your rent or tuition any longer.”

Graduation pictures flooded my Facebook newsfeed. I didn’t tell my dad that I had decided not to walk. Apparently it didn’t matter. He never inquired the details of when and where the ceremony would be held.

Most of my friends ended up in grad school in a variety of disciplines. Some landed engineering jobs paying 40 bucks an hour. I got my first job since high school as a barista to get through my last semester. I was getting minimum wage plus tips. I avoided informing people of how I was still a student when possible. Superficial acquaintances assumed that I had graduated on time, only those relatively close to me knew that I had yet to.

The feeling of failure didn’t permeate until I completed the last semester. My only “congratulations” was an automated email from the university along with a diploma in the form of a PDF document that recognized my achievement. The following day the university emailed me asking for donations as an alumnus.

It was embarrassing to serve coffee to people I knew through the university, especially those who were younger than I. I always assumed the worst, that they would be questioning my dead-end job despite my degree. They still had potential. They were still bound for greatness. My life of mediocrity had begun, and it wasn’t going to change. Slowly I came to regret that I had not become an engineer.

I eventually accepted my life trajectory. I found a new group of friends amongst the full-time servers, bartenders, and baristas of my college town. Sleeping-in half the week and going out for drinks every other night with hipster chicks alleviated the feeling of failure. I also smoked a lot of weed and watched a lot of Netflix.

One day my old friend Donny came in. He had dropped his younger brother off at the dorms here and thought he’d visit his old favorite café. To his surprise, I was still working here. Donny came in during break so we were able to have a full conversation.

“How’s everything been? I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“Everything’s good. Just working you know. Staying busy.”

“Do you work a lot?”

“You know, just like 30, 35 hours a week.”

“Have you been writing?”

“Not really.”

I used to love that question. It reminded me that people believed in me, it made me believe in myself. I would imagine what great pieces I would write and how it would change people’s lives. I hated the question now. It reminded me of how my present-self sat around for four years assuming that a future-self would get it all started.

“Is it a matter of not having enough time?”

“No, I guess I have a lot of free time. Honestly, I’ve been an excuse maker.”

“What is your excuse?”

“I’m afraid of failing.”

“Well have you even gotten started? Have you given yourself a chance?”

I hadn’t.

“You know, you don’t make 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

The irony of trading a chance at success with a risk of failure for certain failure became too salient after speaking with Donny. The four hours of Netflix a day, the sleeping-in until 11, the two grams of weed a day. These amenities made it all too comfortable not to try.

That night the baristas were going to a bar next door with the servers from a healthy fast food joint.

“Yo you coming? We’re all going next door.”

“Nah. Don’t worry about me. I’m just gonna do some paperwork here and head home. I have stuff to do in the morning.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright, see you tomorrow.”

After everybody had left, I opened up my laptop and googled: “How to start a blog.”