Time to get back to the books

Happy (belated) new year! For the past several years, I’ve written some type of new-year blog post about my writing goals. The posts usually involve burning something I’ve been struggling with or that I need to move away from and what I’m looking forward to. This year, I didn’t really spend a lot of time writing. I did put in a bit of time on the sequel to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks but hit some snags that I didn’t feel I could solve easily. I suppose I could’ve burned that, but I also haven’t given myself any goals for writing. Instead, I’m focusing on getting my master’s degree finished. The past almost 12 months have been focused on work, prepping for school, doing school, and trying to unwind where I could. Come January 1, I felt I had nothing I could burn and I certainly didn’t set any writing goals for the year. To be clear, none of this means I’ve given up on writing. I just have a different focus for a little while.

I think I’ve said this before on this blog, but I realized a few years ago that writing wasn’t ever going to pay my bills. For most writers, it doesn’t. That’s why I have to go to grad school. Not because I need a better job, but because I’m not at all confident that the education and skills I bring to the table will continue to sustain my career without significant augmentation. (I’ve got a whole rant here about companies bitching about not being able to hire and not bothering to call qualified candidates – or pay wages that make any kind of sense at all, but I won’t treat you to that) So, here I am, readying myself to start a second semester tomorrow. Even as I write this, I’m starting to get the introductory e-mails to the two courses I’ve signed up for. It’s going to be 20-40 hours a week on top of a full-time job and parenting. This is nothing I ever expected I’d be doing, but here I am.

What I really wanted to say with this post though is that yes, school starts tomorrow and I’m going to be thinking about little else besides that and work, but I’m not done writing. What’s more, I think the break from writing to focus on other aspects of life has been good. Over the past few days, the last of my winter break, I’ve started to seriously get my writing motivation back. By the time I’m done with this degree, I suspect I’ll be ready to tackle several projects, and having gone through the rigor of grad school is certain to help me develop the discipline required to allocate time to writing, and the focus to deal with problems effectively. In the end, no matter what I do still won’t result in my turning my writing into anything profitable, but I’ll be more confident about my ‘day job’ and so it’ll be easier to remain focused when I do have time to write.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts, I expect it’ll be a minute before I’m able to get back out here to blog again, but I will be back.


Mid-life Career Path

Today’s blog is more a jumble of thoughts than anything. I know this blog is supposed to be about writing, and for 2021, it’s shaping up to be exclusively not that. On the bright side, today’s blog isn’t going to cover how I’m feeling. I will say that, if nothing else, I feel like I’m pointing in the right direction.

A couple of days ago, I posted a Twitter poll that asked:

Should I get a masters degree?

  • -Yes (32.7%)
  • -With what time, Dave? (24.5%)
  • -But why tho? (32.7%)
  • -No. (10.2%)

As the past two blogs have whined about how over-worked and overwhelmed I am, you might be wondering what the hell I’m on about. After all, I clearly have too much going on. Yeah, that is, without a doubt, true, but the question, “do I go back to school?” is a part of that problem. The idea is far from a new one for me, but the real consideration started about a month and a half ago.

Sometime in early  December, my workload suddenly became too much to cope with, and I realized that I might not be able to keep on. Naturally, when these things happen, you start looking for an out. I found several promising jobs, nearly 100% of which required an MS with some years of practical applied experience. It turns out, all I have is the experience. Without the education, I don’t qualify for jobs I’d be the most suited to. As you do, I filed that away and tried to focus on the here and now.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I offered an opportunity to review a set of proposed job class specifications for the Research Analyst series. The core of the revision focused on the ‘minimum qualifications.’ Typically, you see these as a bachelor’s degree in (some discipline or related) and some years of experience according to the job class level and experience necessary to succeed in the position. In this revised set of qualifications, the State of Alaska effectively jettisoned ALL experience and education requirements in favor of some incredibly squishy ‘behavioral competencies.’ As much as I think it’s a profoundly unhinged concept, I still spent an entire evening developing competencies that align with reality. Today I learned that my recommendations were largely adopted, though without any requirement for the applicant to actually demonstrate how those behavioral characteristics are shown through work history and education. So, partial win, at best, I suppose.

I know some people will think this sounds great because it opens up opportunities. Speaking from experience, it does not. It’s one HUGE bait and switch that devalues higher education. Just imagine getting in on the ground floor as a Research Analyst I and working your up to running a research and analysis group as a Research Analyst IV. Then, you lose your job because of budget cuts… Guess what? You’re now not qualified at the level and pay-grade you are accustomed to, and you WILL BE starting over as a junior analyst. I know because I’m in that position now. My position, before today, allowed candidates to substitute graduate work with job experience. Now it doesn’t even require experience.

Setting aside the devaluing of education and the fact that my group lives and dies by grants that rely on those higher education qualifications, it’s got me realizing if I’m laid-off because of budget cuts, I’m not qualified for the job that I’m the most suited to do. What’s more, I am easily the least educated among my coworkers. Most of the people I work with are PhD, or have some form of master’s degree. It makes me feel awkward and pretty uncomfortable when we’re submitting grant proposals, and I suspect folks reviewing those documents absolutely notice that the lead data analyst doesn’t even have his MS. I used to feel like it was something of an accomplishment that I managed what I have without going through grad school. Now I realize it has been a pretty big liability all along.

Anyhow, that’s where I’m at—trying to find an online program that doesn’t suck balls and costs less than an arm, a leg, and the first-born child. I don’t know if I’ll end up following through in the end. After all, it’s fabulously expensive, and I’ve got kids now looking to their college careers.

Image by Nikolay Georgiev from Pixabay

Why are you counting days on Twitter?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that on Friday I started counting days. I’m on Day #6 as of today. What is that? You might remember that last week I wrote a post about how I was in something of a dark place. And so many of us are for all different reasons. I think I’ve heard it described that we’re all in a storm. Each boat we inhabit is different and some are sinking faster. Our norms have been destroyed and our daily reality changes almost by the hour. Regardless of someone’s financial or personal situation, a dark place means the same thing, and it can lead to bad things no matter who you are. My count is the number of days since I’ve decided to focus on getting myself out of that dark place by focusing on ways to cope that aren’t self-destructive.

What have I been doing on those days? To start, on Wednesday, I wrote a blog post, forcing myself to recognize I needed to fix some things. Thursday, I spent time on the phone with a friend who is going through some shit. I’d argue his shit is shittier than any shit I’ve got, but it’s been good to connect with him. Don’t think we’ve spoken this much in years. On Friday, I took steps to actively recognize an accomplishment —it’s an esoteric thing relating to my day-job, but could become one of the biggest accomplishments of my whole career. Yesterday, I slept in, cleaned the house with my family, played Microsoft Flight Simulator (I have a YouTube channel about Alaska if you’re interested in a bit of demography, history, and general sight-seeing), and then we watched TV together. It was nice. Today, I spent most of my day on Twitter.

*insert record screech* – What? Twitter? A wellspring of dystopia – that can’t have been good, right?

A week ago, starting the day on Twitter meant dodging anger, vitriol, and honestly a hell of a lot of misinformation, plus general reports of the US coming apart at the seams. It wasn’t fun. Today, it was a totally different story. I was greeted by a great thread about road trips and a mad uncle. It it made me think of my own last road trip, nearly 20 years ago now. As you do, I put out a poll about the longest road trip. To my surprise, most people (and as I write this I’m up to about 90 votes) who responded have traveled in excess of 3000 miles on a road trip. My longest was around 4500 —not unusual for urban-dwelling Alaskans. Better than that though were all of the stories. I met new people and got to hear their tid-bit.

My whole point? I’m working on it still and still holding myself to it. Today is better than Tuesday last week, but I have a long way to go. As I said before, I’ll likely continue to use this blog to just talk, because it keeps me on track.

Image by tigerlily713 from Pixabay