A Quiet Desperation
Today, everywhere you look, people are telling you that desperation is the key to success. That if you are desperate, you can take any risk, you can do anything — you must do whatever it takes to survive to create to be your very best self. Jump from airplanes, swim with sharks, shoot guns, do whatever you can to get your heart racing so you can enter the mind of the desperate individual to find your true power.
These are the blathering of people who have never been truly desperate. These are the affirmations of the well-to-do, who have never been under duress, never hid from creditors, never wondered: medical care I desperately need or rent, so I have a place to live while pondering the philosophical question of having medical care without knowing where you will be living in thirty days.
For those of us who have lacked the blessings of a silver spoon, the opportunities of a good neighborhood with a well-endowed PTA, and the security of a gated community, desperation was wrapped around our necks at birth.
You know who you are.
You have always been desperate unless you were born into wealth. You were simply not aware of it.
Your parents raised you in it. They were always looking for something, trying to achieve something. They didn’t want you to struggle like they did. They dreamed of a better life for you and as a result, did things they always regretted but did anyway, for the greater good.
They neglected you from time to time in their quest for it. Fame, money, power or some other intangible. It simply was the way. They were gone by the time you got up to go to school. They were not home when you got home from school. While you were doing your homework, they arrived, bleary-eyed, bone-tired.
They faked enthusiasm for your homework before patting you absentmindedly on the head, reminding you there were leftovers in the fridge, and fell into bed for the sleep which does not refresh: the sleep of exhaustion. The sleep which gives you just enough capacity to get up and enter your hamster wheel one more day.
Unless they didn’t. Perhaps they were not quite so desperate and you grew up well-adjusted, achieving in school, were driven to be the best student you could be because that’s where you’re told the sweet spot is for poor people. To seek that holiest of holy grails: a scholarship.
Alas, in our philanthropic, autocratic paradise where the rich don’t pay taxes, our school systems are simply unable to keep up with the needs of everyone. There are far too many deserving over-achievers than there are scholarships, a consequence of our kill-or-be-killed social mentality.
For you, dear over-achiever, there is nothing but the loan. A dip into the pool of desperation. You can handle it. You didn’t grow up rich, remember. You know what its like to do without. You know what it means to work hard. You have watched it kill your parents, not their bodies, but their souls, their spirits, their dreams until they have only one dream, for you to make it.
They seek for you to achieve what they could not, prominence, significance, a meaningful existence capable of bringing honor upon the family, to sustain them for their sacrifice.
It’s what you now live for.
So you take the loan and you do without. You take the part-time job and the loan and you see those who do neither, walk by you, smug, confident, well-rested. On their way to class with a beautiful head of hair, designer clothing, owning the latest in wearable technology with the bleeding edge of computing power they barely make the effort to use.
Because they don’t know desperation. Things will happen for them. It’s their lot. It is their manifest destiny.
When schools done, with too many late nights, too many missed parties, too many missed opportunities, too many retaken classes, you’re finally done with your first degree. So much work, for such a modest piece of paper. You thought you would feel better about it. All you can remember is the blurring of your day job and your night job and your schoolwork and the classes and the years disappearing under your feet. Your tired feet.
Unfortunately, for many of us, its not the first degree that even matters. It’s the second degree which makes the difference. Back onto the treadmill for another two years and even more money with less in the way of grants and more in the way of loans.
It will be worth it, you tell yourself. You have no evidence to support this claim but you see your wealthier classmates already making incredible salaries thanks to their fortuitous birth lottery and their family connections so you double down on your efforts. Nothing can stop you. Not poverty. Not systemic racism. Not microaggressions. Nothing can keep you from your impending success. You have earned it.
But deep in your heart, you know desperation and deprivation remain bosom buddies and closer to you than you’re ever comfortable admitting.
It will be worth it, you tell yourself. The weeks turn into months, days blurring into one another, one test looks like any other. You’re smart enough. Driven enough. Even sleep-deprived, frustrated, socially-challenged, you’re desperate enough to succeed.
You ooze it from your pores. Your desperation has become your antiperspirant, your bath gel, your shaving creme. It’s no longer a thing you deny. You get it a cup of coffee in the morning when you’re making your own.
It will be worth it. Repeat it until you believe it.
You leave school with the certificate of your dreams. A master’s degree, or whatever they call it where you live. Again, a sheet of paper, nice paper but you are even less impressed with the second one than you were with the first. Yes, your family is proud. Your friends cheer you on social media.
But no one truly knows the heartache this has caused you. No matter. You shake it off. Opportunity awaits. The opportunities that will leap into your arms, snuggling you with the warm embrace of employment, of meaningful work which shall satisfy you, fulfill you, sustain you and your family in the future. Yet…
Your arms remain empty for some time.
They’re lovely arms. But there are so many empty ones and so few snuggly jobs to go around. Instead you pick up prickly jobs. Jobs which are uncomfortable. Jobs that don’t challenge you, don’t stimulate your active mind, jobs which frustrate you with their lack of complexity. You would kill for a third choice on any page.
But most frustrating of all, the most galling is no matter what prickly, piece-of-shit employment you take, it’s going to disappear into the inescapable sucking power of your student loan.
The student loan which gave you a piece of paper you are not currently using. As far as you’re concerned if you get any poorer, it might end up working the poop chute before that final flush.
At least it can be useful once.
But your student loan? That thing will go on forever.
Undead, it cannot die. Vampiric, it will absorb half of your shit job’s earning potential. Zombie-like, no matter how much you pay on it, the interest never goes down. You do the math, after all you did get a degree, and realize it will take you twenty years and twice what your education originally cost to pay it off.
A fate designed to keep you living in your desperation, now a redolent perfume, a daily balm rubbed upon you liberally now. You have given up trying to get rid of the stink of it.
There will be decades between you and freedom. You won’t be able to write it off. You won’t be able to get free of it, except temporarily, by ironically, returning to school for more debt.
The circle is now complete. The perfect circle of desperation has been revealed. If you didn’t end up in the job you expected, you will probably fall behind in your payment. Fall behind, watching your credit score drop. Watching your opportunities lessen as more people check those scores. Watching as you can’t buy a car. Or a house. As your credit worthiness is challenged by this perfect circle of impoverishment. Especially perspective employers.
Should you fall too far behind, you will become the proud owner of a desperation swimming pool where you will be required to dip yourself twice a day, at least.
Because if you’re really unlucky, you live in one of twenty states where, when you are too far behind on your student loans, which currently hang over the nation as a trillion dollar debt, you can lose your license or professional paperwork which may be the only thing that can get you the job capable of alleviating your impoverished, miserable and highly desperate state.
Not to worry. At this point, desperation is a way of life; you’ve become accustomed to it. It is, for you, the only way of life you have ever known.
You recognize that you will die as desperately as you lived.
In a nation where the possibility is: the education you sacrifice for will most likely be the thing responsible for four out of six adults remaining impoverished, through the legislation and shortsightedness of their richer, more lackluster, less empathetic brethren.
Those same bastards who looked down upon your work and for whom opportunities lit among them like flies upon dung, would maliciously decide for you, what degree of poverty you may be assigned, for the rest of your lives, no matter how educated you may be.
So when you open your social media today and they tell you that desperation is the secret sauce of success, you can tell them to kiss your ass. Your ass that has been well-oiled, seasoned, stewed and basted in the desperation of a society designed to ensure its best and brightest remain trapped in a cycle of poverty which pretends merit matters when the truth continues to be buried in every conversation. Only money matters.
I don’t have to tell you about the power of desperation. You know what it’s capable of. Desperation is a tool of last resort. You have to wonder why it is being sold as a panacea when it should be the last thing intelligent societies depend on for their society’s future success.