When trying to get the former mascot to consider going to college after graduation, she once sneered at me that I never used my degree so what was the point. Her reasoning was that I had a Bachelor’s Degree in anthropology with a minor in history. But I was drawing comic books and writing stories while making ebook covers and formatting for people for a living. My degree was going to waste, she haughtily exclaimed.
Taking into account that she had decided many years ago I was the bad guy and my efforts in life were pointless, I at first tried to explain and then gave up, I won’t go into the case of parent estrangement here. Just suffice it to say that in the end she chose to move away to Florida and, as far as I know, is not going to college.
Perhaps this post will help some other young person make a similar life decision – not based on misinformation but by knowing what getting a degree has to offer and how I am indeed using mine. And maybe it will help someone else who has decided late in life that college might have something to offer them.
The first thing I use daily that comes from getting my degree is life experience. When I first got out of high school I tried to go to college but it wasn’t in the cards for me. So I had to return to college later, after I had children. And one thing that hit me in the face was how very little I knew about life and the world for all I had been an adult in it for a while. Getting to know people who lived differently from me simply by advantage of education and thus a different mindset was a real eye-opener. There were things happening around me that I’d never known and understood. I could feel myself growing and stretching. And that was just on a social level.
The second thing I got is a damn degree. Now there are those of you out there who come from families that have college graduates going back to Europe. And there’s me: a first generation graduate of high school and a first generation graduate of college. I had to find out the hard way what the difference between an undergrad and a grad student was – by having one of my professors scream it angrily at me in the hallway because he took it for granted everyone somehow knew. That’s how out of touch with formal education my background is. I fought to get that degree through family fist fights, pressure to quit and just take a job at a grocery store, and even homelessness. It ain’t no laughing matter to me when I put down on my resume that I graduated from the University of North Florida. It’s a matter of pride, and it means I’m worth more an hour. If I wanted to I could use it, but I choose to use my degree in other ways.
The third thing I got was an education. Which also ain’t no laughing matter. I now know that such funny things have happened in this old world like the holy goose and it’s short crusade. I know that women have had more power in history than mainstream society originally has thought, that algebra is still fun, and why it is you usually take first hand written accounts with a grain of salt.
The fourth and probably the most important thing I got was a bit of self esteem. I became someone of worth, and I knew it. It was a hard process in which rumors flew, professors were professors, and I made my last bad decision regarding men. But the fires were worth it.
How is all of that used in my life now, you ask? First you have to look at my life. I had a hard time of it not because I was uneducated or educated. As a matter of fact, it’s been often assumed I was uneducated and downright stupid because of my accent. Things happened because I was a single mother with very little resources to turn to. I didn’t get child support, and any attempts to pursue it only proved to be a waste of time. I didn’t get welfare, and any attempts to pursue it only proved to be a waste of time because the child support was a waste of time. I’ve had people hang up on me after a tart, “I only rent to women who are married.” I’ve been sexually harassed by bosses and lawyers alike. I had a hard time of it because I was vulnerable. Period.
Getting that degree didn’t completely save me from such vulnerability – I’ve only ever had one formal job in archaeology and that was while I was still in school. It only didn’t provide me with a real job after graduation because when I weighed being a full-time archaeologist or continuing on to grad school versus being a mother, being a mother won. What it did was give me an edge that, when I finally figured out how to use it, let me cut through most of it. Once I stopped listening to everyone who told me I didn’t have the edge because I was a single parent and the archeology field is still largely stuck somewhere in the 50’s, I founded my own business. I went back to doing what I love, and this positivity brought me a good man – not because I needed him, but because we were good for each other. If only I had figured it out sooner.
My degree is used every day I live and breathe. First of all, my characters stopped being so freaking shallow. I suddenly had a plethora of outside knowledge to build my worlds upon. Things happen in my stories – real life things – and I no longer have to rely on a wizard popping up to make things happen. People make things happen, as it should be. And the scenarios can come from a wide range with broad topics filled with interesting bits that would make them realistic. If you read or write, these are important things.
Second of all, I stopped letting people push me around as much. Mind you I’m still a nice person and things happen out of that, but there’s a line now. It’s a nasty line. Try pushing it. See how hard I push back.
And if you really want a physical representation on how I’m using my degree, the Page of Cups is the best example I have right now. So third of all, I do choose to use my brain and my education in the way my education was meant for. I just do it independently. The story and truth behind the Page of Cups is that it started out as an essay my husband wrote to get his knighthood in a Medieval Re-enactment game. (Not the SCA.) It used to be called the Knight of Cups and some people consider it good enough to post on the internet.
He asked me to fix it up and maybe illustrate it. Asking a historian to fix something like that up isn’t always a good idea, he soon discovered, as the writing began. I checked all his facts. I dug up ancient references. I picked, prodded, and footnoted the sucker to death. We argued frequently. In the end, I ghost-wrote a part of the book as facts were corrected, parts were added, and other parts were rearranged. I did what I had been trained to do, after my fashion. And now it’s out there for people to find and read. Sometimes I even have copies at my con table.
Using my degree doesn’t end there. It probably will never end anywhere. Even if I never wrote another book, there are my stories or even how I relate to the world around me. Barring a shot to the frontal lobe of your brain, your education is with you forever. All you have to do is think outside of the box when you use it, and you’ll be successful at just about anything.
Of course you don’t have to go to college to learn and grow. You can also join the military, the Peace Corps, or even work for the White House. Walk the Appalachian Trail. Just don’t be afraid to pop your bubble, to go places. If you always stay inside your little home town and never see America, how can you know most of America is real? How do you know you won’t end up as that professor screaming at the ignorant first generation graduate in the hallway, or judging someone with more education than you because they have a Southern accent? Or the guy who screamed in the forum “OMIGOD I drove by the Reservation and there really are red men!!!” Do you really know anything? Might as well make sure and go learn something new. Now. Before it’s too late.
And for the record, I have not stopped using my degree in the formal sense. I am preparing for my next book – these things take time, I’m afraid. And when you have my budget and my available resources, they take slightly longer than usual. So if anyone is interested in buying me a copy of Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age, I would be very grateful.
The current going price for this masterpiece used is over $200… and we’ve been living without a refrigerator for a while. Um… book.. .fridge… book… fridge… oh well. Can’t afford neither. Carrying on, moving on, thank goodness life taught me how to rough it.
And to endure.