A Jack Handey Saturday Night Live quote puts it best: “I’d rather be rich than stupid.”
Sometimes, I wonder if being stupid wouldn’t also be helpful at this point in the game. Alas, I am neither rich nor stupid, just partly naive.
Last fall I lost my job, and since I was already feeling the pressure of jumping into a higher paying bracket but seeing no options opening up with a degree in History, the same day I was laid off I enrolled at Tacoma Community College, an ethnically diverse campus with mostly a single-degree focus: nursing.
Nursing is something I vowed to never get near nor even discuss as a career possibility, but as the field becomes more open, and the pay scale is jumping high, I cannot help but look as a real opportunity. My brother’s friend earns $56 an hour in Hawaii as a nurse. I lust after that kind of pay.
On the first day of my evolutionary ecology class, we formed a circle and practically held hands as a support group while listing off our majors. I was one of two that listed Doctor of Physical Therapy as an intended goal. The rest were either nursing or pharmacology. A few of the older students (yes, older than me) had lost their jobs as well, and figured that since billboards and job hiring ads around Tacoma are begging for nurses, they might as well bite the bullet and jump right into Microbiology and the Anatomy and Physiology sequence.
One of my best friends, Kenneth, lives in Portland and is going to be graduating as a certified “Murse” this coming June; one of the few Male Nurses that was attracted to the field before the economic bust of October, 2008. Since then, a growing population of males are enrolling at community colleges around the United States, such as my very own brother and 54-year-old father, who both have business degrees and were, at one time or anther, decently successful in the business world. My dad competes with 18-year-old kids, studying twice as hard to learn the same material, but is focused to get the next two years out of his life so he can obtain the Aztec City of Gold that a nursing degree promises. Heroism comes in varying packages, and while nursing might be my second choice, according to my brother “it takes a nurse hero to wipe ass” — and who doesn’t want to be a hero?
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I wonder, if everyone is going into nursing, will there be a glut of nurses within the next five years? Tacoma Community College’s enrollment office told me most laid-off people are enrolling here as nurses–what happens when there are too many of them? Kenneth already knows the answer, because in Portland, with the highest unemployment in the Union, nurses aren’t finding jobs in the metropolitan burbs.
I have only been out of college a few short years, but already I feel the “Sluggish Brain Syndrome” and early-onset of old age dementia flushing throughout my system. What was once an easy all-nighter of frantic working due to a high level of procrastination is now a methodical listing of “to-dos” in an organized calendar book and an early bedtime of 10 p.m. in order to get up for that 7:30 a.m. outdoor biology lab of identifying the flora and fauna of Tacoma. It hurts going back to school, but I also feel my brain being sharpened as I force her to recall, remember, and retain new scientific notations that have never previously stuck around for more than five minutes (remember, I was a history major, for gods’ sake!).
I glow with jealous fervor whenever I hear of other successful friends who still have jobs and are financially bringing in anything over the national poverty level. Even my boyfriend, who is trapped in a scholastic sweat shop of grading standardized tests of middle school children, has a paycheck for the next three weeks. Yesterday he told me some young boy gave a big middle finger to standardized testing by writing one short paragraph, stating his friends were honest lenient hearts, and he hoped the grader of that essay would be a lenient heart as well, and he had nothing more to say. My advice to this particular child? Good job on trying to stay in middle school for as long as possible! I admire you! I wish I could take afternoon naps and have mom’s snacks after school, and go to soccer practice with my girlfriends! Lucky!
By the time I am done with a DPT degree (assuming I get accepted into the program next fall) I will be 30 years old, and will have missed a historically established prime age of wage earnings from my 20s to my 30s. I question the future of my retirement funds, which as of now, has been halved since last year, leaving me nothing but a small pittance of saved Christmas and birthday money from by-gone years–perhaps I should have spent it on a new car instead of investing my hoarded goods. How many other young 20s are out there in a similar predicament, and what will our retirement futures be? Even if I wanted to settle down with the white picket fence and really get into the breast-suckling scene of kiddies, I don’t have the financial resources to do so. After Obama won the election, many people went on a procreating binge–I wonder how they feel now, five months later? “Oh, shit! We’re pregnant!” has got to be hitting their psyches right about now. This isn’t the booming 90s. This is the slumping of the twenty-first century, with Obama feeling smug on reminding us that he wasn’t the one who got us into the mess. Will the population growth slow-down in developed countries and see the rise of alcohol consumption peak at pre-prohibition era standards?
My parents’ phrase, “I told you so!” clangs in my ears. Yes, I should have gotten a more practical degree, or at the minimum, a teaching certificate to accompany my history degree. My impracticality kept my head in the clouds until my bank account screamed expletives at me, pulling me back to the reality of stereotypical brunt jokes that ring true: “What do you call a history major? A burger flipper.” I never smile anymore when someone says that to me. In my brain, I am giving them the middle finger.
All I know is, I feel grateful to be in school and not home banging my head against the wall. Something has to force me out of bed every day at 7 a.m. and if a solid steady paycheck is the golden ticket to lure me onwards, so be it. It is tough going back to school, but if my experiences have taught me anything, it’s that life itself is tough, but worth it. I’m too curious about what’s around the next corner to stay in bed forever. Now is the perfect opportunity to get an internship or volunteer for Parks Recreation Day on April 18th, or attend a noxious weed seminar at Snake Lake, or plant a garden with other community members and write for The Melon. Or, become a nurse.