TANDY VERSYP Staff Writer
The Tams once sang, “Be young. Be foolish. But be happy.” It’s hard to follow their advice when money is an issue.
My impending graduation makes me queasy because it’s simply a bad time to be a writer. It’s a bad time to be anything right now.
There are many regular customers at my part-time restaurant job. But one is special. Her name is Ms. Mary and we named the cinnamon we put on our sweet potatoes after her. She sits at the bar, sipping her happy hour red wine and talks about how 15 of her coworkers—including herself—were laid off from their engineering firm due to the lack of business. Mostly she talks about what to do with herself, being 70 and unemployed.
In her spare time, she tries to make friends with her neighbor’s dogs so they don’t bark at her when she tries to pet them with her paper-like fingers—fingers that want to grow more calluses but can’t.
Ms. Mary isn’t the only person without a job. A friend’s mother was laid off from her job as an architect, clearing her desk the Friday before Mother’s Day. This is a particularly bad thing because my friend’s mother is an alcoholic.
Without the responsibility of a job, she may vodka-martini herself to death. As my friend informs me, this will probably be the case.
Then again, my roommate’s boyfriend was laid off from his job earlier this year, forcing him to move back to Tennessee. He’s a little more happy-go-lucky about his situation.
I’m feeling the economic crisis myself. Serving in a restaurant is a bad occupation when customers are counting their coins and nixing their ostentatious tipping habits. I got no money from Obama’s stimulus package, because I’m a single man with just enough money and I don’t own a home.
I’ve had my bank statements forwarded from Hawley, Texas to Savannah, so my parents won’t know when I am overdrafted. I eat pasta mostly—86 the sauce, add extra salt. I go to as many gallery openings as possible on the weekends to score free grub. (Desoto Row consistently has the best finger foods.) And I don’t go out anymore. No new clothes. Sometimes I have to wait a few weeks before I can buy more deodorant. Now I’m the smelly kid in class.
Don’t get me wrong. I get by. I’m lucky because I still have a home.
Last summer, I wrote an investigative/immersion journalism piece on homelessness in Savannah. In order to get a unique perspective, I spent the night in the Montgomery Street Salvation Army. Staying one night didn’t make me fully understand the struggles of the homeless, but one encounter induced many nights of insomnia.
One homeless man pitched his screenplay to me. He’s a writer too and he talked about his Catholic mythology inspired story with passion, asking many times if I thought it was groundbreaking and original.
I nodded pleasantly, all the while thinking, “No matter how much passion he has, this guy is never going to make it. He’s just walking on a dream.”
Everyone wants to root for the underdog. That’s why “Slumdog Millionaire” was such a hit during the sagging economy. It was a perfect escape from piling bills and dinner consisting of bread slices with no side dishes.
On January 26 of this year, “Entertainment Weekly” columnist Mark Harris compared “Slumdog Millionare” to “Wendy and Lucy”—a simple, overlooked film starring Michelle Williams and a dog.
In “Wendy and Lucy,” Williams plays a homeless woman with meager savings, a decrepit jalopy and only one friend—her dog. She is traveling to Alaska for a job. Alaska is one state in the U.S. where job loss is minimal.
Harris commented, “‘Slumdog’ is a movie that the heroine of ‘Wendy and Lucy’ would probably love. For two hours, it would allow her to escape her troubles and get happy, which is one (but only one) of the things movies are for. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, she can’t afford a ticket.”
In the end, Williams leaves her much-loved canine—her key to sanity—behind with a caring old man because she simply cannot afford Lucy. As the credits rolled on “Wendy and Lucy,” I wiped tears from my eyes—manly tears because no one saw them—and thought of the possible failure I will encounter while walking on my own dream.
I want to root for myself. I really do. But I keep picturing the greasy haired homeless man with the composition notebook similar to mine and the same starry-eyed expression I wear when I discover the perfect way to defamiliarize an old story.
It is time I face the possibility that becoming a successful writer could never happen. And upcoming graduates, whatever your desired profession, it might not happen for you either.
This realization doesn’t mean give up. It means push harder. It means understand the most important thing about success. It may smell sweet but it’s even more intoxicatingly saccharine when shrewdly fought for. Stop being young and foolish. Stop walking on a dream and start treading on reality. Passion is needed, but blind passion is detrimental.
When I listen to the Tams, I smile because they are stimulatingly naive:
“Life’s too short to worry about important things, but if you’ve got love that’s all you need.”
In one week, I’ll have to put away my own escapist entertainment in order to create fantasy for others, professionally. I’ll have to start being a big kid.
But most of all, I’ll have to learn to be sincerely grateful for my loved ones—because like Wendy, I may have to sacrifice them to survive.