• Tawanda Mulalu

Messing Things Up

I miss being able to mess things up more. That’s my response to a question I ask myself sometimes: if I could go back to college, what would I do differently? Nothing. I messed up so many times during my undergraduate years, and the messing up was great, really. I know there are all sorts of skills I should have learned to boost my resume, but those innumerable hours I took working on my poetry classes instead of learning how to code— How could I want to change the person I am now for something that, given enough interest and focus, I could probably learn online anyway?

Though to be fair, the same thing could be said of poetry. There’s plenty of great online classes for nearly everything now. But the point I’m trying to make is that I didn’t do the “right things", i.e learn the skills that would be most lucrative for post-college life, and I think that I’m pretty happy about that. Searching for a job without skills that are clearly monetarily viable has been interesting to say the least, but those brief flashes of happiness I had while working on my writing aren’t something I'd ever be willing to give up.

Herein lies my real problem: I am now in the real world. I am no longer allowed to not do the right things. There are demands on me that require monetary considerations that can’t be wished away by the nature of my dreaming. There exists no set of poems that will render me capable of affording rent, lest I suddenly become famous overnight; and even then, many of my friends out of college make more than most of the well-known living poets. In short, I am no longer allowed to mess things up. In many ways, I simply cannot afford it.

Where can somebody like me add value in such a world? (Leaving aside, for a moment— but only just for a moment— if value ought to even be tied to money). There’s a few ways. For one thing, I’m leveraging my writing skills to write blog posts like this. Maybe I should keep focusing on the kind of writing that people might pay money for. That's one way to make a living, sure. Though the media landscape continues to be decimated, journalists still write. Start-ups and tech companies frequently seek skilled writers to work on content for their websites and work on creating good user-experience platforms on their apps. I could ghost-write. I could edit kids’ college application essays. I could help someone who’s made money already tell their story in order to help others’ make money. I could...

How much messing-up does this sort of writing work allow for? I already said earlier-on that the real world does not allow for this after college, but what if the sense of play that words have inherent in them were carried across every piece of writing we read and wrote? So many newspapers seem so difficult to read because of their dry “objective” tone. And so many voices, so many people’s inner fears and struggles get swallowed-up so quickly by that (lack of) tone. Sometimes I think we forget every new tragedy that happens because they are explained so poorly to us. Or in the case of writing for start-ups and tech companies, their frequent use of the same light tone of possibility in their content frequently annoys. That airy style of voice often comes without the actual delivery of the futures they promise, futures that will "change the world" for the better (though to be fair, I can’t blame the tech-world’s complacency with regards to social justice solely on mediocre writing— but I do think that mediocre writing inspires complacency with regards to social justice). Similarly with the other sorts of writing I described above: each can become so useless without a sense of play, of the belief in words to mess things up in a good way— that speaking strangely might inspire strange thoughts and even stranger actions.

Oh well. It seems as if I’d like to keep messing things up for myself, despite my best intentions. I’m sure I’ll add value somehow, because everybody adds value somehow if they try hard enough. But what value I might add won’t be clean and might be a little tough to justify to an employer, or to my parents, or to anyone really. Though there’s the real danger that this might make me happy. It’s hard not to try for something like that, even if it’s not one of the right things to do.

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