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Warning: Long post, but good. Really.
There is one tiny personality quirk that separates me from millions of other second-generation college grads who went into the career field they studied and now bring home mid- to high-five figures (if, alas, they are still employed), pay a mortgage (well…), and own a flat-screen plasma TV: incurable wanderlust.
It’s this wanderlust that first sent me to Sweden at age 16, then to the Dominican Republic five years later, and now to a life of indefinite and bittersweet self-exile. Not that I’m anti-American or anti-9-to-5; I’ve just always felt called toward a less traditional path to greatness. My problem, however, is that I haven’t the foggiest idea about the actual endeavor in which I will become great.
From elementary school until about the 10th grade, I wanted to be a great architect. Then I failed algebra. I entered undergrad a broadcast journalism major and graduated with a degree in political science; I just knew I was going to be a congressman and eventually a senator representing the Sunshine State in Washington. But after working in state and national government, I learned that, sadly, if “they” can’t find any dirt in your past, “they’ll” make something up. I saw many a young, promising, politically-inclined brother sidelined this way. So, I gave myself two choices: grad school or the Foreign Service. I applied to both; passing the written Foreign Service Exam, but declining to take the oral because I had been accepted to the University of Miami‘s creative writing program with a full scholarship (and W. had just been elected, and I couldn’t, in good conscience, defend that bastid or his policies). After a year, I transferred to the American University in Washington, where I snagged a TESOL certificate along with my Masters. From there, I headed to Colombia with the intention of teaching English until my Big Break – essentially “waiting tables” until the heartbreaking work of staggering genius also known as my first novel was published.
Four years and a very-close-but-no-cigar-moment-with-a-big-publishing-house later, I’m at the crossroads of another major life decision. Youthful, foolish, uncapped discretionary spending sent me from a stimulating-yet-poorly-paid university teaching post to a lucrative-yet-lunacy-inducing high school position (résumé titles for this job include Booby Hatch Babysitter and Shawshank Security Staff). And despite glowing references from supervisors and unexpected appreciation from students, I realize that teaching ain’t where my greatness lies (or, at least, not my greatest greatness).
I am surer than ever, though, that the astonishingly intoxicating Brazil is indeed the place where that greatness will come to fruition, and no matter where I see myself in the very-short-term, I’m poisoned with a visceral desire to live there soon.
There’s still a persistent, nagging hope that writing is the path (and that six-digit student loan debt was not accrued in vain), hence this blog and several oft-discussed fiction and non-fiction projects. Some suggest my photography, which is decent and has been occasionally published. Considering that teaching has always been my fall-back plan, though, it’s no wonder that I’ve been more successful at my fall-back plan than at my other pursuits; considering that I hardly have the time or energy to pursue those pursuits because my fall-back plan is full-time. (Are you noticing that I like to use hyphenated words, repetitive conjugations, and “considering” in my writing?) Still, a brotha gotta eat.
Over the last 18 months, I’ve pondered several possible paths to greatness, considering my talents, expertise, experience, education, interests, and desires:
PhD candidate in history and writer: I contacted faculty members at the universities of Florida, Miami, and Emory in Atlanta about history doctoral programs at their institutions. Both Florida and Georgia have all-expenses-paid fellowship programs for students of color (click the state for more info), and I was definitely hip to the idea of teaching for a few semesters, traveling in-between, going on sabbatical for a year to write, then completing that cycle again for the next thirty years. Then I read this. And this. And this. So basically, according to The New York Times at least, I can forget about that little pipe dream.
Diplomat and writer: Inspired by Presidential Fly Brother Obama’s pledge to increase the agency’s reach, and having passed the written FSE once before, I figured I’d make a dashing, culturally-informed addition to the U.S. Foreign Service. However, being sent from Baghdad to Astana to Ouagadougou every three years before finally getting to choose my posting, plus not being able to go to certain neighborhoods or cities or use normal forms of transportation seemed to shackle the very freedom that travel and living abroad is supposed to represent. I’m a dictator, I don’t get dictated to. But then, who knows what I’ll decide after five more years of unfettered globetrotting?
Model and writer: Why not?
Flight attendant and writer: Seriously. Before the bottom dropped from under the economy, it dropped from under the aviation industry during the gas spike last summer. Before that, I was actually considering a job as airline steward for Delta, which publicly advertised for Portuguese-speaking hosties and privately intimated that they needed more men on the planes for security reasons. Though my personality and physical being is better suited to the position of pilot, I had not the money nor the time/patience to enrol in flight school, and I certainly didn’t want to spend years of my life flying Flint-to-Fresno when I should be traipsing off to Dubai for the weekend and writing about the associated exploits. But on a 5:45am flight from JFK to Miami last year, I realized that the passengers were better off not having me as their in-flight server, lest coffee be spilled not-quite-accidentally on some besuited Neanderthal’s head.
Writer: Ain’t nothin to it but to do it, right? I could take my pithy little savings, all $4,500 of it, set up shop in some shoebox with a magnificent view of São Paulo, eat lámen noodles, take photos of this megacity, and write prose and posts for the six months my tourist visa grants per year, before starting a translation program which would let me translate fiction and poetry from Brazilian authors into English, or before working with Brazil’s first historically black college, Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares, whose noble mission is to create a class of professional Afro-Brazilians.
Or I could work for another year in, say, Korea, saving more money, exploring Asia and the Pacific, and cleansing my mental palate before returning to Latin America with a better financial cushion.
Or I could do Korea and then get a one-year Masters in literary translation in Barcelona (hot, right?), gallavanting around Europe and Africa before settling in Brazil.
But I really want to do a round-the-world trip before nesting someplace.
See the problem? Curses!
My parents gave up along time ago on encouraging me to settle in one place and get a job like everyone else; I haven’t ever been everyone else. They’re just content knowing that I’ll probably make it back States-side when I’m 40 with a family (I want my kids raised in Florida, summering in Brazil, of course).
Now, I realize that to many people, this whole jet-setting “lifestyle” seems decadent and irresponsible. But my résumé is indeed solid and consistent. What concerns me most, and what keeps me up with anxiety many nights, is whether or not the decision I take makes the most long-term financial and professional sense, vis-à-vis mental and emotional security. Every choice is a gamble. My curse/blessing is that all of my options are great ones.
Greatness, here I come.