It’s a funny thing when you reach adulthood and you find out how many lies you were told throughout your life. They’re mostly innocuous “white lies”. Things adults will say to keep you in line and out of trouble, and with hopes that you’ll make something of your life. That’s all adults who give a shit about your life ever want — a good life for you, and not having to worry you’ll be another sad story about a person who flails around, hopping from one minimum wage job to another, wrapped up in drugs and crime, dying penniless in your late-20s of an overdose. It’s a respectable goal, and I’ve certainly met more than my share of people who have ended up that way. Alas, no amount of positive or negative motivation will work after a certain point, which is why these white lies start young.
The perfect example of a white lie told out of hope for one’s future is schooling. When you’re in elementary school, they tell you that you’ll need to know this information later in life. When you’re in middle school, they tell you that you’ll need this information to get through high school. When you’re in the early years of high school, they tell you that you’ll need this information for college. In the last year or two of high school, they focus on all the requirements colleges have, and the education is supposed to prepare you for “the real world”. Because I never went to college, I can only make assumptions, but I’m guessing most of college is more of that “we’re preparing you for the Real World” bullshit. Meanwhile, having skipped college, almost everyone I’ve ever worked with who’s had the same job as I had at the time treats it like college. They take their time, deadlines are eschewed in favor of “creative expression”, and mistakes mean little more than a bad grade. In the Real World, however, no one has time for your fucking creative expression. Projects are scheduled to be finished yesterday. No one cares what your personal deadline is. Mistakes need to be owned up to, and fixed before deadline. There are no bad grades, there’s just unemployment and a dwindling salary if you can’t keep up. I’m far from the best web designer out there, but I don’t miss deadlines. And I fix mistakes, even if I’m taking it on the chin pro-bono months or even years after the work is done.
That digression aside, the challenge my mother laid out for me post-high school was to get a real adult human person job. After all, I needed to get myself a car and an apartment in short order. My sister didn’t graduate high school, which my mother had told me many times throughout my high school career was a detriment to her ability to get work1. When I graduated, I felt like I actually accomplished something. Like I was a special, super-smart snowflake. Ready to take on the world. Tremble at the mighty power of this high school diploma, world! I’m comin’ for ya!
I spent a few weeks early in the summer after high school getting technical certification for computer repair. I think they called it “A+ Certification” (and a quick Googling says they’re still calling it that). It meant, ostensibly, that I could repair computers. It meant, in reality, that I fucked around in a computer lab for a few weeks in my free time and they handed me a document that I could wave around in people’s faces and use words they wouldn’t understand to describe systems I couldn’t understand.
When I went in for an interview for a Graphic Designer position at a local newspaper in Phoenix, the Boss Lady asked me what my qualifications were. Since that newspaper had just recently run an article about the A+ course I took (and I was present for the photo-op), and they ran graduation announcements for local high schools, I proudly picked up the paper and said “well.. your own paper mentions my two most recent qualifications”. She was intrigued, until I explained what I meant.
It was at that moment that I realized : no one gives a hot shit about a high school diploma. And A+ Certification may as well have been “I’ve opened a computer tower and took a piss on the motherboard” for all they cared.
My only saving grace as proof that I knew what the fuck I was talking about was this exchange with the Boss Lady :
Boss Lady : Do you know Adobe?
Me : Adobe… what?
Boss Lady : Ohhhh… so you don’t know Adobe? We need people who know Adobe
Me : Adobe is a software company. They make a lot of products. Do you mean Adobe Photoshop? Adobe Illustrator? Adobe PageMaker?
Boss Lady : (looks confused, and a little embarrassed that her “gotcha” back-fired on her) Uhh… let me check
She brought in the lead Graphic Designer — another woman — to finish out the interview. We got along well, and I answered her questions to her satisfaction. She said “can I test him?”, and Boss Lady gave her the go-ahead (probably hoping I’d fail, frankly). I did well on the test, but I learned in a matter of minutes how fucking slow I was at using Quark XPress2, because I was used to having an entire class period to finish what took this department head less than 10 minutes to accomplish.
All of this posturing and pandering was for nought, really. I didn’t even work in the department that required me to use things like Quark Xpress, or even Photoshop for that matter. I mostly helped write the copy for various ads, and work along side the Graphic Design Lead — the woman who tested me, whom I’ll call Sarah — in manually laying out page masters with actual paper and glue and x-acto knives. As time went on, Sarah was cool and would involve me in larger projects as her emergency backup on tight deadlines. This made Boss Lady unhappy, since she wanted me in her own department and didn’t trust me to make any design decisions. But it’s hard to put one’s foot down when you have absolutely no actual work for your employee to do.
Everything about that job sucked, and waking up in the morning to go in and sit in a lifeless cubicle doing shit work for a shit paper without actually improving my skills in any way was fucking brutal. My only moments of joy were sneaking secret dicks into the ads that we ran in the paper by cleverly re-working logos with a ballpoint pen in areas no one would notice (and surprisingly no one ever did notice any of the 20+ dicks I drew all over the ads). But, I told myself that’s what real adult human people do. They go to jobs they hate, doing tasks that are beneath their skill level, surrounded by people they don’t like, for a paycheck that barely mattered, and sometimes found tiny moments of solitude in quiet rebellion.
Thankfully, that’s an adult lie I told myself. Life isn’t at all like that if you don’t want it to be. You just need to know when to say “go fuck yourself”. But the day I did that is another story for another time.
spoiler alert : it totally wasn’t. My sister’s raising 3 kids alone in a big house in Phoenix and she’ll probably text me when she reads this to ask me not to mention her not finishing high school. It means so little in the real world that no one’s ever even asked if she did ↩
if you even know what that is, you cringed a little just now. Quark XPress was a giant pile of shit, but it was the de facto standard in desktop publishing and Quark rested on their laurels for over 5 years, until Adobe finally re-made their own top tier desktop publishing software and Quark was obsolete and abandoned within less than 2 years ↩