As I may have mentioned before, it’s strange having a job that keeps me busy for the full work day. Satisfying, in a way, but definitely strange. I am reminded of Roland Abu Habee, a character in the great Tom Robbins novel Skinny Legs and All, who, after leading a life of reckless indulgence, purged himself through the labor of washing dishes at his family’s restaurant. I kind of feel that way with this filing gig I’ve got right now. I leave work every day feeling like I’ve been scoured from the inside out — but in a good way.
There is, of course, a downside. At my old job, the endless down-time was where I blogged. It was almost easy to squeeze out three or for entries per week, because I literally had nothing better to do. These last couple weeks I have had to reserve my creativity for after work, when I want nothing more than to sit on the couch and watch the third season of Battlestar Galactica which I just procured on DVD. I missed the first several episodes when it first aired, as I did not have the SciFi Channel at the time. I was able to figure out through references what occurred, but it’s not the same until you see it. So when Galactica jumped into the atmosphere above New Caprica and launched its Vipers while being engulfed in flames from the air friction? Holy crap, that was awesome. And when Pegasus collided with the basestar? Frackin’ hell. And Colonel Tigh and his wife? Don’t tell me you didn’t almost shed a tear there. And Jammer, in the launch tube after the Circle sentenced him? Yikes, dude.
Where was I?
Oh, right. The point is, I’ve been lax in my writing. I’ve been trying to outline this idea for a novel that has been bouncing around in my head for about six months or so, but that has been slow going as I really don’t know how to outline a novel. Part of me thinks the outlining is just a way of putting off the actual writing. But part of me also thinks that this story idea could really use an outline. Either way, progress has been minimal.
I have the day off today. I took the day off because this afternoon I have to go down to Roosevelt University and take an assessment test to figure out what type of Gen-Ed classes I need to take. I haven’t taken a test in over eight years, and I’m a little nervous. I’ve been looking at the sample questions they have online. Some of them stress me out a bit, mostly with the math. I was never that good at math.
At some point today between now and when I leave I need to call the financial aid office, or at least spend some quality time going over all of the correspondence I’ve received and try and make some sense out of it. I think that schools make their procedures for such things deliberately obtuse as some sort of screening process. Every time I complete a step, someone tells me where to go next. But when I go to that next place, I am invariably informed that there were intermittent steps I missed, so I have to backtrack and complete those first. Which is why I am taking this test today. See, I was told that the next thing to do was to make an appointment with an academic advisor, and I was given the number to call. I called that number and (after a brief trip through call-transferring hell) I spoke to a very nice young woman who informed me that no, I was not ready to speak to an advisor. First, I need to take this test. So now I’m gonna do that.
And that’s fine, really. But I don’t see why this is so complicated. Why can’t I have some kind of checklist with every single step laid out in front of me, and then I can go through them one by one instead of having to make embarrassing phone calls every couple of weeks wherein I explain to some nice work-study undergrad who is, minimum, ten years younger than me that I have no idea what to do next?
Same with financial aid. I know that tuition is going to cost so much. I know that books are gonna run me a few hundred dollars per term. I know there will be fees. They obviously know that nobody just has that money ready. That’s why they have a financial aid office. But I really feel like I should just be able to fill out one or two forms saying, “Here’s how much money I need. Whatever you can get me in grants, swell. Whatever I have to pay back, just let me know what the interest is gonna be.” You’d think that’s what all that FAFSA crap would accomplish, but it doesn’t really.
Frustrating as it is, I know it will be worthwhile. I’ve hemmed and hawed about finishing school for years now, and I’m still terrified of, well, everything having to do with it, but it occurred to me recently that in my entire circle of friends I am the only one within ten years of my age in either direction who does not have a college degree. Not all of my friends are using their degrees, or are even working in the fields they studied, but most of them seem to be pretty satisfied with their lives. Some of them are buying homes, having children. Some have jobs that let them travel the world. I don’t know if my lack of a degree is what has been holding me back, but it certainly hasn’t helped.
Last July I wrote about how this was my Jesus Year, and that it was time for me to accomplish something. What I hoped was that I might, I don’t know, publish a book, or get that breakthrough acting job. But if my major accomplishment this year is just managing to point myself in the right direction, that’ll be good enough.
Yikes. tests. I hate them, too. Math freaks me out. I’m sure CW would be happy to go over some stuff with you. It would be a welcomed break from high schoolers.
Okay, you’ll find your own method. But let me say, from my own experience, outlines are more resticting than helpful. They hem you in. If you’re creating characters, the characters will guide you. It’s not bad to know where you’re headed, generally. And specific events are very useful goal-posts. But to say, X happens in chapter 5, leading to Y in chapter 6, you’re confining yourself more than helping.
My advice? Dive in. Not necessarily at the start, either. Write the scene that makes you excited. Build out from there. The original opening of MASTER OF VERONA is long gone (actually, part of it is in SAN BONIFACIO’S CURSE), but the first scene I imagined is still in there.
Anyway, pal, I’m sure you’ll find it. Hope the tests went well. And don’t put restrictions on yourself. Let your story breathe.