When Your 9 to 5 Don’t Love You

As a child, my parents made it very clear that when I grew up I had two options: go to school or go to work. Going to school, being the more encouraged “option,” was supposed to all but guarantee me both financial success and the approval of my parents. As far as they were concerned, no child of theirs would grow up to be a bum. They made sure I was successful academically. They saw to it that I completed my homework. They checked every report card and got to know every teacher. They came to every parent-teacher night until 11th grade. While I eventually slacked off later in high school, my parents and early educators had already laid a solid foundation for me.

See: Elementary, My Woe

As I grew up, I saw the toll that the daily grind of employment took on my folks. Both of my parents worked consistently my entire life. Long or frequent periods of unemployment were never a thing in my house. Neither of my parents had college degrees, but while we were miles from wealthy, the lights stayed on. They were working class, 9 to 5 or 2 to 10 having folks. The paycheck-to-paycheck way of life was no doubt a struggle, but it was perhaps better than what they knew growing up. Over the years, I watched them grow tired, irritable, and disappointed with what life had offered them. It took a toll on the relationships they had with both one another and their family members.  This included their children. The exhaustion after decades of being overworked and underappreciated with no pleasant outlets strains the spirit. It causes one to search for release any way they can. Whether it manifests as an affinity for liquor, sex, or overspending, the soul will search for nourishment. So many people end their lives left unsatisfied.

I was determined to never live my life that way. I wanted what my parents wanted for me: a career, not a job. I remember growing up thinking that if I graduated college, I would automatically be rich (Whew, chile! The imagination!).  As I became aware of the ways of the real world, I did not seek riches, but instead happiness and passion. A Bachelor’s degree was the way to avoid the entrapment of a lackluster, tedious 9 to 5 job. So you can imagine my surprise (and disappointment) when shortly before graduating, I learned that my little degree would only land me a slightly higher-paying 9 to 5. Despite the four years spent chasing a 4.0 GPA to secure that magical piece of paper, I would be waking up at ungodly hours to sit in a cold, dark office for 8-10 hours a day like everyone else. After my graduation day, no one ever asked me about my GPA again. Literally not one single time ever. It’s like college didn’t even happen honestly. At the very least, the offices I worked in had good lighting. Yay me.

With every day job comes a huge lack of appreciation. The typical 9 to 5 can make you feel so small. So insignificant, ignored, and isolated. You probably aren’t working in a field you’re particularly passionate about, and you probably don’t have any friends at this job. You are far from making the six figure salary of your dreams, and if you do make that much, you aren’t happy either. Your parents think you are rich because you have a degree and live on your own, but you are merely (hopefully) comfortably paying rent. Every day, someone over the age of 45 will make a “joke” about millennials and our entitlement before they ask you to do a part of their job for them. They may have a point, but at least we can follow the directions on a printer. Nobody works all day at their job, so you sit on Twitter and Instagram all day watching people tweet about money and freedom from their own cubicles (or offices if they’re fancy). In my particular case, this was where I was, so I had to do my best anyway. It was the way I was raised and I needed to pay the rent. Unfortunately, sometimes your best just isn’t good enough, and your 9 to 5 will simply not care about your GPA or your formidable upbringing. Bring in the axe.

“When your 9 to 5 don’t love you, they gon’ throw your ass out with the trash.” – YGTUT

It is completely against your best interest to fully commit yourself to any one job, company, or even industry. They are in no way committed to you.  Chances are, you will be fired or driven to quit a job at some point in time. If you find yourself in that position, use it as an opportunity to make a change for yourself.  Change has been forced on you anyway, so you may as well take advantage of the circumstances. That time that you will spend unemployed could be used to build your own creative outlets while you look for paying jobs. Start that YouTube channel. Take up that course you’ve been thinking about. Do at least one of the random things you’ve googled this month. Do anything but waste your time feeling miserable and end up stuck in the same cycle of dissatisfaction and lackluster living. Enjoy yourself. Spruce up your resume and get to it. In the meantime, take care of your credit and health.  Tap into your talents and, take control of your own life, and make these jobs work for you.

Elementary, my Woe

If I were to take an honest look at my early-childhood education, I would have to admit I was more blessed than I’d previously believed. Despite going to a public zone school in one of the many hoods of west Baltimore, I had teachers who showed me genuine care, support and love. For the most part, I felt respected, safe and guided.  I went to school close to my home in Easterwood with many of the other children from this low-income, African-American neighborhood. My classrooms were usually led by Black women who looked like me and the women in my family. They spoke to us in the language we spoke. They identified with our struggles, and did not judge us for going through them. Even with all the awkwardness that a young child feels as they adjust to an environment outside the comforts of home, I felt at home.

From the teachers, to the administrators to the volunteers, I was surrounded by Black women and men who cared at least a little bit. I never fully appreciated the diversity of the staff and parents at this school.  We had people from an array of cultures, family structures, age groups, gender identities and personal styles. The teachers and parents sported various hairstyles and colorful clothing. I particularly recall one administrator named Ms. Bullock, about mid-50s, who rocked this glorious, curly gray high-top fade. The fade stayed clean, okay? I think she even had hard curls at the top. The haircut was very much reminiscent of the Living Single and Martin-esque styles of the time. Thinking about this definitely reminds me that I started school in the ‘90s. A different time.

There was a queer, masculine woman named Ms. Florence who volunteered at our school almost every day. She was very kind and funny, but also delivered the necessary stern approach that teachers could not. She would remind whatever unruly student like “Hey, I’m not your teacher, I’ll beat your butt and tell your muva I did it!” Despite the opposing opinions of people who never have to deal with children, you do in fact have to be firm with them sometimes. And they will live if you roast them back a little. Anyway, Ms. Florence was probably around from grades K-4th, and made every lunch time, recess and movie time a fun, yet structured environment. For those of you who use the “my children will be confused” excuse in attempt to keep the existence of queer or same-gender-loving people away from children, I’ll tell you some of us were confused. I wondered why we called her “Ms.” even though her clothing and persona were more masculine than I had been taught to associate with women. Perhaps a better word would be curious, because that’s how I would describe my thoughts at the time.  I certainly wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and one day during movie time, I did. It went like this:

Me: “Ms. Florence, are you a boy or a girl?”

Ms. Florence: “What are you?”

Me: “A girl.”

Ms. Florence: “Well, okay then.”

That answered my damn question! No more confusion and I went on about my third-grade life. It was that simple. Talk to your kids!

There was also the very colorful, young, gay Mr. Ellis. He was the best art teacher I ever had. I loved his bold, sarcastic sense of humor and how his pastel crayons matched his many pastel sweaters.  He somehow planted a seed of confidence in me that snuck up on me later in life. He taught for a couple years then left after being struck by a car for the second time in two years. From what I heard, he was fine but no one really answered our questions about this situation. I certainly never forgot Mr. Ellis.

We had a classmate’s mother volunteer with us as well. This woman was the poster child for Lexington market in the early 2000’s. If you know, you know. She was a very kind, gentle, and funny woman. Every time I saw her, she was sporting a long, greasy dark brown ponytail, a black bubble coat and a big Styrofoam cup full of half-and-half (iced tea and lemonade). She was an either white or biracial woman who stood close to six feet tall with a very slim figure. Her teeth were somewhat crooked and discolored, but she still had one of the brightest smiles in the whole school. She, like many other parents, often brought her daughter a fresh chicken box for lunch a few times a week. She may not have been an official volunteer, but rather a parent who showed up often and shared her warmth with the other students. Her daughter was one of my earliest friends, and stayed my friend despite the fact that I threw up on her a little when I had the flu in kindergarten. She was as kind and gentle as her mother. Of all my memories of loving parent-child relationships, they will always stand out to me. I hope they are doing well.

I could go on through the entirety of my elementary school experience and the impact of each teacher because it was just that important to me.  So many kids in this city grow up ahead of the average child in traumatic experience, yet behind in all the resources deemed necessary for success. Somehow these teachers, administrators, and parents managed to provide me with a hilariously unconventional education that has kept me grounded two decades later. This is where I fell in love with the passion that would never leave me: writing. I saw my friends fall in love with drawing, dance, and music. I had no idea how fortunate we really were.

To many people (likely including my classmates) this school would be dismissed and condemned for both its location in central west Baltimore and the backgrounds of the students and parents who attended. It would be deemed unworthy of mention and assumed to offer nothing of value to its students. Just another ghetto Baltimore school. To be real, the school did have its fair share of issues, and maybe some things happened there that should not have. I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t have watched Scary Movie 3 AND Set it Off in the same week, but we didn’t die. I understand that many of us have been hurt at our schools in ways we believe others cannot understand. I understand that many of us feel that we have been cheated and abandoned because being born Black and poor disqualified us from a quality education early in life. I also understand that we look to our wealthier and whiter counterparts for what a good school environment should look like, and see that we didn’t have that. No, we did not have horseback riding and state-of-the art computer labs. We did not have organic chicken nuggets in the cafeteria and luxury hypo-allergenic reading rugs in the classrooms, but we had people like us who cared. We had the benefit of being under the care of people who were reflections of us. They effortlessly related to us and never had to be reminded of our humanity.  We were educated within our own culture, and never had to question our identities in the process. We were enough for ourselves.  This is an important difference between knowing and being proud of who you are, and having to spend your adult life trying to discover it. Two and two makes four no matter where you learn it. It’s everything else that counts.