For What It’s Worth

dirt-road-to-nowhereA good while ago I got involved in a discussion flowing from a question from a soon-to-be new college graduate about entry-level jobs, appropriate salaries, etc.  As usual, I probably offered more than was requested, but that’s what you get for asking me in the first place.
Since there is never a bad time for graduations and new beginnings, I offer the substance of that advice once again, for what it’s worth.

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When I got out of college in 1975 I had a shiny new bachelor’s degree and limited prospects.  The academic stars in my fraternity were bragging about newly-acquired jobs in business and engineering that paid in the $10,000. to $12,000. per year range.  As for me, I snapped up a position with a small architecture firm in downtown Chicago for the princely sum of $8,400. per year (that’s right–per year), then bounced around to a few more firms for awhile, maxing out in my chosen profession at about $18K annually.  Tops.  But I had a ball.

It’s been said many times that as a young person starting out, you should go with your heart–to do what you love.  Please, if you do nothing else, follow this advice while you can.  It is wisdom.

You will, in life, basically spend or otherwise commit the sum total of whatever it is you earn, except for the odd set-aside saving plan, 401(k), et cetera.  Believe this–you will.  The art in managing an income lies not in making a certain amount, but in crafting your personal expectations to fit what you can reasonably anticipate earning.  Don’t get sucked into conforming to a scale of incremental progress shaped by what others think you should be achieving; it’s your life, not theirs.  Do what gets you jazzed and either (a) the money will come; or (b) you’ll find out that it just doesn’t matter.  The latter is actually the more defensible truth.

You already know what this is, if only unconsciously.  Once you make some of the destiny-altering decisions we’re traditionally called upon to make, a lot of the “choice” in life gets removed and your options become irreversibly limited:  If you marry.  Whom you marry.  What material things you (or she) feel(s) are necessary. What your parents expect.  What her parents expect.  What you think your contemporaries expect.

Screw that, while there’s still time.

I know this has nothing to do with the original question, yet it has everything to do with it.  I’m just suggesting that you discard salary as a measuring stick now, while it really isn’t necessary.  One day it may be, and then it will be the only relevant metric if you’re not careful.  By then it will be too late. Satisfy your heart now and set your course in that direction, while you have the opportunity.

One thing I tried to tell my then college-aged son (who wouldn’t listen, of course, because he’s a son and I’m his father) is that the most important thing he’d have after graduation from college is freedom of choice, so he shouldn’t indenture himself with excessive loans and obligations just to be able to say his degree came from a prestigious private college.  The power that money represents and only sometimes enables is itself, in the end, freedom of choice.  That’s why people whose options are limited want it so much.  Money requires a measure of allegiance and fealty, though, so the cost of acquiring and maintaining it also has to be accounted for.  When you have the luxury of such a fresh, unfettered start without that cost the freedom is, well, free.  Take it and run–it’s the last free thing you’ll ever see.

I had the most fun I ever had (employment-wise, that is) working in architecture, in those bottom-feeder wage structures.  It wasn’t the money that was so attractive to me or my colleagues of like mind and values, it was the creative energy and passion that came with the job.  I truly think that in the throes of that passion none of us really appreciated how poorly we were compensated or how unsustainable those salaries were.  We just loved the work, and each other, and the rest took care of itself, at least for awhile.  We were like those in the Garden who didn’t know they were naked because, at the time, it just didn’t matter.

Later on I ate of the fruit of knowledge and got “wise”.  I acquired a law license, got a really good position and ended up waist-deep in the muck of competition just to maintain myself right where I was standing.  Prestigious law firm, higher salary, more pressure and the inflated expectations of others.  It nearly killed me.  Awhile ago (quite awhile ago now) I made the decision to flee from that trajectory to pursue a path with more heart.  I feel better now.  I don’t make much money, but the expectations of those around me have been adjusted for the better, whether or not voluntarily.  I shit-canned the big law career, have recurring money concerns that will likely never end, and feel great.

Peace.

GFG

Love Note to a City

Love Note to a City

I’m a native Chicagoan, but for a good part of my life I was a happy resident of Saint Paul, Minnesota, where they’ll know you’re an outsider if you abbreviate the “Saint” part.

This is a bit of sentiment I wrote years ago, in praise of that humble but vibrant town.  It was crafted and submitted to a local publication entitled the Saint Paul Almanac, or something like that, and was in fact selected for publication, but never actually made it into the printed volume for one reason or another.

I’ve since settled back into an equally comfortable place for a person of my sensibilities–Wheaton, Illinois–but maintain my abiding affection for that place to the north.

stpcathedral

     The city of Saint Paul is the capital of the State of Minnesota.  It’s the seat of its government and the repository of its soul.  By Midwestern standards, at least, it’s an old city; a riparian trade outpost formerly frequented by the likes of Pig’s-Eye Parrant and Ma Barker, depending on the century.  Some maintain that it’s still merely a convoluted, provincial and somewhat in-bred settlement–a quaint municipality of stocky build, ruddy complexion and contrary attitude.  All true, to a degree, but all at odds with some of the more profound reasons to celebrate the place.

The Twin Cities, in general, can be a haven to those hailing from more congested and complicated places.  Taken together they have a split personality much like Chicago’s.  Just as Chicago has its near north side and trendy suburbs on the lake, the Cities boast of Minneapolis, a place of promise and pretense, fashion and flash, where form is at least the equal of substance, and often its superior.

Saint Paul, conversely, is a first cousin to Chicago’s south side.  Genuine and honest to a fault it stands, bare-fisted and unapologetic, home to genius of its own sort.  It is a rough-hewn sibling involuntarily joined at the hip to the feigned urbanity to the west, yet still managing to exert its own power against that glib presence.  A city so obstinate that even the most intractable north-south watercourse on the continent, in deference to the very will of the place, docilely tacks northeasterly through it until leaving town, quietly and without incident, only then to resume its intended direction.

Minneapolis is a venti decaf latte macchiato with sprinkles; Saint Paul is a cup of Joe, black.  Where Minneapolis may tease and cajole, Saint Paul double-dog dares.  Across the river, you may well start a meal with an amuse-bouche and a Campari.  Here, it’s garlic bread and a boilermaker.  In other words, Saint Paul is the South Side, north.

It would be too pat, too dismissive, to allow the comparison to stand just there.  To do so would ignore the complexities of a culture that could spawn F. Scott Fitzgerald, embrace August Wilson and exalt Garrison Keillor while at the same time giving aid and comfort to bawdy Winter Carnival traditions such as Klondike Kate and the Vulcan Krewe.  The mixture is what gives the place its charm and makes it something of an enigma on the bluffs.

The spiritual reach of this small, shimmering port far exceeds its grasp, and to those of us who have fallen under its spell, that grasp (more like a grip) remains fast, no matter how long we’ve been away.

I can remember a time in Wisconsin, just before our family decided to return to Saint Paul after an eight-year absence.  I was musing about the very possibility such a move while vacantly contemplating the flow of the Mississippi as it coursed southward past LaCrosse.  My gaze fought off the direction of the current, as my mind broke free of that movement to shift northward toward the Cities, almost subliminally.  I remember then feeling the kind of longing the soul generally reserves for a lost love.  My love, it turned out, was about 130 miles upstream of that bend in the river I was staring at, and the pang in my stomach told me I had to make it beyond.  I knew then that I had to come back, and that’s just what I did a little more than two months later.

To me, Minneapolis isn’t the evil empire we on the other side of the Mississippi make it out to be; it’s just an amusing and convenient foil to our own vanities.  We like it just fine, right where it is.  Chicago, in my mind now a place of pleasingly distorted recollection and fuzzy personal history, is my birthplace and the birthplace of my sons, but it’s somehow not home. Saint Paul is.

GFG

Welcome.

Welcome to Station Point.

As explained elsewhere on this site, I think it of ultimate importance to evaluate the value of information with, among other things, true knowledge of whence it came.  One corollary of this belief–and the gist of this metaphor– is that the substance of any assertion needs to be judged, as a threshold matter, with full consideration of the beliefs and biases of the one making it.  This takes no small amount of effort, not to mention insight, a lot of the time, but in the end it’s well worth the work.Perspectives-Two-Point-Distortion-&-Complications-06

A side benefit of cultivating this way of looking at things is the resultant habit of playing Devil’s advocate when confronted with opinions or conclusions that seem to be, on their face, beyond any reasonable contention.  In my experience such things usually prove out to be anything but incontrovertible in a disturbing number of those instances.

So–having said all that let me go the other way for a bit and assure you, gentle reader, that this site is not intended to be a platform for contrarian social or political opinion but rather will contain whatever subject matter strikes my fancy, writing-wise.

As it happens, I find myself emerging from a very long hiatus from writing, so on these pages you will see random pieces of work that may be ten years old, juxtaposed with ramblings fresh off the keyboard.  I’ll apologize in advance, also, as this site is and will be for some time to come, the proverbial work-in-progress.  I will attempt to bring some order to the madness, as time progresses, hopefully with greater success than I’ve had with my own life to date, but in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes”.

GFG