Now that I have this DVD player, L has loaned me her copy of Fight Club. Since she doesn’t have a DVD player, she figures I’ll get more use out of it. There’s this one scene that seems to have additional resonance for me lately. For a homework assignment, Tyler Durden and our hero abduct this convenience store clerk. Tyler puts the gun to this clerk’s head and demands his wallet. As Tyler rifles through the guy’s wallet, he stumbles upon an old student ID card. Tyler then begins interrogating this clerk, and learns that the clerk was once taking biology in university, with the dream of becoming a veterinarian. Tyler then puts the gun down and tells the clerk that if he’s not back on his way to becoming a vet in six weeks, Tyler will hunt him down and kill him. And the clerk takes off into the night.
Why does this scene haunt me so? Well, at work, we’ve just begun bringing out the Easter candy. I face those chocolate bunnies with a certain sense of dread. For you see, I began working for Extra Foods just a few short weeks before Easter 2000. As the chocolate bunnies march forth, they bring with them my one year anniversary of being a bagger. For a job that was going to be temporary, it sure got permanent. And this is why the scene haunts me. If Tyler were to come in the store some night and put a gun to my head, and begins interrogating me about my hopes and dreams, what would I tell him?
The sad truth is, I have nothing to say. On my journey of self-discovery, I am in the exact same place that I was a year ago. No plans, no ambitions, nothing. I’m just living from moment to moment, paycheck to paycheck. And while that life has appeal to some, it’s nothing until you have to live it. I look around at my friends. They’ve returned to school. They are pursuing the educations required to fulfil their dreams. They’ve got plans. I don’t. And, nature abhors a vacuum, so the subtle pushes are beginning.
I have a few friends telling my that my future lies in education. “There’s going to be huge teacher shortage in the next year or so, Mark,” they tell me. “With your physics and math degrees, you’d make a great science teacher.” And then I give the reply that offends them. I do not want to be a teacher. Too many people have gotten into teaching for all the wrong reasons. They prove the old adage, “Those who can’t, teach.” They think that it will be a simple 9 to 5 job, where all they have to do is show up in the morning, regurgitate a lesson plan, then go home. They burn out after one or two years because they discover that the students aren’t cooperating with that plan. To be a good teacher, you can’t just spew facts at the kids and hope that some sticks. You’ve got to engage them. Challenge them. Make them want to come to school. The average teacher being thrust on to the job market has no concept of this. Teaching is either in your heart or not, and just too many people don’t have it in the hearts. I am one of those who doesn’t. And how do my friends find this reply offensive? Well, I have had a few who turned to me and said, “Well, I’m going to be teaching next year.” Then I hope to God they have it in their hearts.
And then there are the “linear thinkers.” Those who look at your education and say, “Degrees in this are only job for jobs like that.” At the mention of a physics degree, they tend to say, “Well, that’s not to different from engineering. Get your engineering ticket and go work in the oilfields!” I find it ironic that, in the current provincial election, the Liberals are accusing the government of being a one-trick pony, over-exploiting the oilfields, and yet my mother’s Liberal supporters are telling me that the oilfields are the place to work. And then, I find myself throwing at them the statistics that have been thrown to me: “Physics is one of the most general degrees you can get, with applications everywhere. Some are even starting to say it’s as good as an MBA.” But they don’t hear that. They just hear physics=engineer=job in oil patch. Whatever happened to thinking outside the box?
So, then I need something to resist this subtle pushes. Attempt to be the immovable object, as it were. I have taken to responding with, “Well, I always liked broadcasting, heck, having done the radio show at college and all, so I’m looking into taking broadcasting at NAIT this fall.” Which is partly true. I’ve got the website bookmarked, and I’ve been skimming it. But still, there is that doubt in my mind. Is this really what I want to do? There was a time when I really enjoyed physics and math, too, but now you can’t get me to open a textbook. I just grew sick of it. How do I know I won’t grow equally sick of broadcasting?
But there is one thing that is painfully obvious: I need a plan. Some of the latest statistics say that you need to know what you want to do with your life by the ninth grade. The ninth grade was the one where my plans started to fall apart; the ones where the dreams ended and I started thinking, “OK, it’s time to take this future thing seriously.” And it’s a decision making process I have yet to complete. But then, how vital is it to have a plan? Statistics also say that I will change careers at least three times in my lifetime. What’s the point of obsessing over a plan now if all I’m going to do is scrap it in three years time?
The point is I don’t have to be thinking big picture. I don’t have to have my life planned out through to retirement. I just need a goal. I need something that I can work towards, and if it involves building a brighter, stronger future, then more power to it. So what should my goal be? That one requires very little thought. At work, I was recently shorted 10 hours on my paycheck. When I work extra hours, the Regional Manager accuses me of being lazy. And a black bow tie is not a black tie, according to management in Edmonton. When I look at my other job prospects in and around Entwistle, I find more minimum wage jobs managed by slave drivers, and numerous oil patch jobs. My goal is clear: Get the hell out of Entwistle.
But then the question is, what do I do outside of Entwistle? Well, perhaps there is some merit in that going to NAIT. I mean, I did enjoy doing the radio show. Why else did I keep doing it week after week even when no one was listening? There was love there; there was commitment. But then, the question is, do I have what it takes to make it in the real world? It’s one thing to do a goofy little show to make my friends laugh, but can I appeal to more than 12 people? Too many questions, just too many questions….
The gun is to my head. Tyler is cocking it. He’s asking the questions. I stammer for a response. My hopes. My dreams. Do I really have them? Or should I cave to peer pressure? Go teach a classroom full of students to be just like me? Sling wrenches on an oil rig? Gamble all on an uncertain future in show business? I don’t know. He wants an answer. I can’t give him one. He pulls the trigger. “Life is just a series of down endings.” — Dante Hicks.