Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fits and Starts - by Janet Halpin

I honestly couldn’t nail down my blog post this month until almost deadline. I mean, there are a whole lot of times in our lives when we’ll have to make a fresh start, figure out who we are and what’s next that I couldn’t choose just one. Moving, going off to college, a breakup, a marriage, a new job, all present new opportunities but scary unknowns.  

I finally settled on the most unsettled time of my life—when I graduated from college.

Growing up, I knew two things: I wanted to be a writer and I was going to go to college. The first was my idea, but that other thing was my mother's. Though we didn't have a lot of money (or any money, truth be told), she was determined I be the first in our family to go to college. Anyone who ever met my mother found out fast she would not be defied and she made things happen, so...  

I went to college. I did pretty well grades-wise, made a bunch of lifelong friends, and did a moderate amount of partying. Junior year came and I had to decide on not only a major, but my future as well. I panicked—though my going to college was never in question, what I’d do afterward became the biggest question of all.

I knew I wanted to do something that involved writing, so I declared myself a Communications major. I know, right? I’m snickering right along with you. Seriously, what can you do with a communications degree? I had no idea, and when graduation rolled around, I had no prospects either. Especially in the early 1980s, when the economy went down and unemployment went up.

I did what any rudderless college graduate does—I went home, determined to figure my future out. I scoured the newspaper help wanted ads for any jobs that might involve writing, PR, marketing, media, and mailed out dozens of chirpy cover letters and my quite thin resume.

In the meantime, I had to make some dough, so I signed on with a temp agency that sent me on a variety of assignments that quickly taught me what I didn’t want to do. I typed and filed for a plumbing company, stuffed cancelled checks and monthly statements into envelopes for a bank, and worked on the line packaging pills and cold medicine at a pharmaceutical factory.

I hated that last assignment, but it made my dad happy. He’d worked in a factory since forever, assembling something metallic, widgets or valves or whatever. He breathed in metal shavings all day on the line, inhaled the toxic ambrosia of his Pall Mall cigarettes while on break, and stopped for a Schlitz and a shot on his way home for nearly 40 years. My following in his footsteps made him so proud, and he simply didn’t get my desire to write, for a future more challenging and creative than taping up cartons of Dimetapp and moving them to a pallet.  

I eventually did land a job writing. Nearly two years after graduating, I was hired as a stringer reporter for a rinky-dink little radio station that covered 20 towns and had a colorful cast of characters both on-air and behind the mike. It wasn’t the big time, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but it was a foot in the door that ultimately led to better jobs with better pay, where I could support myself doing what I loved most—writing.

Sadly, my father didn’t live to see me succeed. All those years inhaling metal shavings, his two-pack a day Pall Mall habit, and his fondness for Schlitz took their toll, and he died of a heart attack at just 64. My father probably wouldn’t have understood the person that following my writing passion helped me to become, but I like to think he would’ve been proud of me. 

Inspired by the genre fiction that enthralled her as a kid, Janet Halpin writes YA, mystery, Sci-Fi, and WWII-set time travel, all with a dash of humor and romance.

13 comments:

  1. I'm sure your dad would've been proud! My mom's goal for me was to be a lawyer, and I was, so I lived in dread of the phone call in which I told her I was going to quit law and write full-time. Shockingly, she said it was a great idea. You never know!

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    1. LOL, Mary, our parents surprise us sometimes, don't they? I'm glad she was on board when you started a new path!

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  2. When I graduated from Arizona State in 1970, my only goal was to escape to Canada instead of getting drafted. Unfortunately, I had no money and a beater car, so I returned to Maine and managed to convince my draft board I was a conscientious objector. My 2 years of alternate service turned into 27 years in a large mental hospital, two masters degrees and my eventual career as a librarian. All of that came with plenty of fodder for writing, something I gave little or no thought to until my mom and sister became published authors. I doubt many could predict their path following college and that's probably a very good thing since predictable people and paths are boring as hell for the most part. Thanks for sharing yours.

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    1. Thanks for posting, Berek, and thanks for sharing your story too--far, far from boring and predictable, that's for sure.

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    2. Berek--I am going to tape "Predictable people and paths are boring as hell for the most part" to the inside of my eyelids. I have recently been kicking myself for not being more conventional, but you reminded me not to.

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  3. Great post, Janet. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Janet Anderson-MurchOctober 3, 2017 at 11:00 AM

    I too started college as a communications major, which later changed to social work, my true calling. But during that first year, serendipity stepped in and I met a wonderful English professor who encouraged me to write. Thirty plus years later, I write during my down time at work as a therapist and have recently had a story published. Keep writing Janet, it helped with my own journey down memory land!

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    1. I appreciate you stopping by, Janet (excellent name, BTW!). Thanks for the encouragement and congrats on the pubbed story; may you have many, many more!

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  5. I thought I wanted to go into Advertising (because it was 'creative' and also could net you a job), so I majored in Marketing. Once I realized entry-level Advertising positions paid for dirt, I rethought my plan. I, too, graduated from college in the early 80's and started in retail management (don't get me started on the awful truth of that profession). Through a series of better and more substantive jobs (both in pay and activity), I ended up as a Director of Human Resources for AT&T Wireless--and loved it. I always wanted to write, however, and did, for my own pleasure. I even had the privilege, for a time in the corporate world, to write training material. Once my kids hit the upper grades in high school, I dove in and began writing as a career. I'm still pursuing the elusive book contract, but I'm getting closer. I can't imagine doing anything else.

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    1. Absolutely, Fenley, I cant imagine doing anything else either. Sounds like you've had a varied career and must have so many stories from your retail career you could probably write a series!

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  6. He would have definitely been proud.

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