It would seem that I may have been going about this whole “life” affair the wrong way. The curious thing is that if I really think about it, I’ve been aware of this fact for a long time. Yet I persist in ignoring the obvious. I persist in following some sort of path which seems to be the pragmatic choice, or at least my notion of what the pragmatic pathway is.
The pathway is really a load of crap though. It is a pathway of fear, uncertainty, and doubt: also know as FUD. FUD is a marketing or sales strategy, used to disseminate negative and vague information on a competitor’s product. I shall return to this concept of FUD shortly.
There are a few basics that are required for life. Breathing, eating, drinking. That kind of thing.
Most of the time these things are not free. If corporations or governments could figure out how, they’d charge for the air we breathe. That really seems to be the only thing on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we don’t have to pay for. To get food, drink, and shelter, we need money. To get money we need to do something that other people find valuable enough to pay us for.
This is an inescapable fact, regardless of where you fit into society.
On leaving high-school it became necessary for me to decide how I would maintain my livelihood. I looked at what was on the market and I saw competing products.
- The arty/journalistic writing career
- The technical/engineering/science career
I liked both products, and could see myself putting either product to good use, but I liked the look of Product 1 more. It seemed more free-flowing and unrestrained. Bohemian. Non-conformist. Quirky. Bizarre. A generally better fit for my many oddities and eccentricities. That was my perception. I was more in the target-market for Product 1 than Product 2.
That is not to say that Product 2 did not appeal to me. It involved gadgetry, and machines, and clever mathematics. Problems and solutions. Technicalities. High concept. The deceptive allure of intellectual snobbery.
Even then it was clear to me that Product 1 was like a perfectly fitting tailored jacket. Product 2 was a jacket bought from Markhams. Taken in isolation, the Markhams jacket looked pretty stylish on me. Compared to the tailored jacket, it made me look like an apartheid government official.
I chose Product 2 because of the FUD surrounding Product 1. It was really convincing. I thought it went a little like this:
- Writing for a living may sound romantic, but you’ll never actually get anyone to pay you to do that
- If you don’t choose Engineering, you’ll end up homeless, hungry, and begging on the streets, because no-one will give you a job just writing
- Even if you, through some sort of highly improbable chain of events, manage to trick someone into actually paying you to write things, they won’t pay very much. Nor will you have any form of job security
- Any literate person can write. Paying someone to write is like paying someone to breathe
- Engineering is safe. Engineers are in demand. Engineers get jobs. Engineers get paid well.
- Have you ever heard of a struggling engineer? But you don’t have to look too far to stumble upon a struggling writer
There might be some truth to the FUD, but it really was a skewed, slanted view of reality. There are plenty of successful writers, journalists, and novelists out there. There are plenty of careers in which writing is a core function. These writers are not starving and homeless.
Engineers do get paid better than writers, on average. This wasn’t relevant to me. My concerns were about getting enough money to live comfortably.
The FUD tricked me, but where did it come from?
I generated it myself. Strangely self-sabotaging.
Ever since embarking on my chemical engineering career path, I’ve searched for ways to make writing the focus. I haven’t actively acknowledged this. I’ve pretended that writing is just a hobby I have. I keep tricking myself into believing that I really want to be a chemical engineer, with some writing on the side. I’m not tricking myself any longer.
Over and over I stray back to writing, but cloak it in a technical or engineering guise. I gravitated to the Introduction to Environmental Engineering course. I said it was because I wanted to be a bunny-hugger. To an extent this is true, but the real reason was because it involved essay writing (a very rare thing in the engineering syllabus).
Late, I registered for a Masters degree. Ostensibly to save the environment again. Actually because it would involve writing a lengthy
manuscript dissertation. Writing something that long would prove that I could which would leave me with no excuse to actually write a book.
Never finished the damned thing, but that’s not the point.
Even before I embarked on the engineering career, there were other signals I ignored.
On the last day of high school, while collecting farewell signatures, my English teacher inscribed on my shirt, “Hope to see you in print.”
I’m finally sharing that hope, although it may be ten years later than she expected.