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My Friends

Once upon a time, a truly terrible thing happened to me. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did — a calamitous catastrophe that upended my life and left me terrified, hopeless, and miserable.

I graduated from college.

I graduated with my English degree in May of 2002, seven months before my wife expected to get her degree. At the time we had a cushy $300 rent payment for our 400-square-foot apartment, and I had a job on campus that easily covered that expense.

When I went to sign up for summer hours at the computer labs where I worked, though, I was informed that it was a workstudy position and as a graduate I wasn’t eligible. Worse yet, when I went to the student financial aid office for my exit interview, they reminded me that I had just a few short months of grace period left, before I needed to start paying off my student loans.

With “adulthood” no more than three or four days away, I realized with a sudden, crushing desperation that — smart as I am — I had done nothing to prepare for my real life. I’m not one to dismiss the value of a college degree, but I had not taken a single step┬áto try to leverage that degree toward a paying job.

I panicked. I had a really bad week. I beat myself up, called myself all kinds of names, searched websites and newspapers for job listings, and finally scheduled appointments with every English professor I’d ever impressed (which, let’s be honest here, was all of them).

I went into their offices one by one, and confessed my great shame. English degree in hand, I had no plan for my future, and I was wondering if they had any suggestions.

I got incredibly lucky (which is the story of my life). The last professor I spoke with — Dr. Lamascus, chair of the English department — happened to have in his shirt pocket the business card of the uncle of a prospective student he’d just met at a school function.

That uncle was the Senior Tech Writer for a manufacturing company in Tulsa that was just beginning to consider hiring another writer. Dr. Lamascus sent him an email with a recommendation, and a day later had me send him an email with a resume and writing samples, and a week later I made the ninety-minute drive up to Tulsa for my interview.

I got the job. Within a year I’d be miserable and depressed and hate having to go to work there, but that was my own childishness. Fresh off campus, I recognized the opportunity for what it was: a blessing.

It was awful leaving Oklahoma City, though. I had friends there. I had contacts, and resources, and I could find my way to all the Taco Bells in town. It was home.

So I traded one nightmare for another. Instead of ending up unemployed, I ended up hundreds of miles away from all the friends I’d come to love and depend on over four years at school. It felt like a brutally unfair sacrifice, just to get to be a grown-up.

Except…it wasn’t. It didn’t turn out that way. Not because I made a bunch of new friends, or because I matured and gained a better appreciation for contributing meaningfully to society. Nothing like that. No, it didn’t turn out that way because the friends I left behind were too good of friends to stay behind.

We stuck together. Toby moved to Tulsa a few months behind me, landing a job at the same company I worked for. He moved in right next door, so we were able to run a network cable between our apartments and have LAN parties whenever we wanted.

And the rest of them stayed in OKC, but that didn’t stop us seeing each other. At least once a month they’d make that same ninety-minute drive up I-44 and spend a whole weekend hanging out at our place. Or they’d have us down to crash in one of their tiny apartments for a weekend.

Sometimes — far more often than any of our budgets could allow, really — we’d do both in the same month, so that we barely saw less of each other from 115 miles apart than we had across the courtyard in the married housing on campus.

That’s the kind of friends I’ve had the pleasure to keep in my life. Surrounded by people like that…how could I not accomplish amazing things?

My Readers

Eight years later, they’re all still in my life today. For that matter, they’re all reading this blog.

I actually started my first blog during those same years, as a way to keep in touch with them. Six months ago I started Unstressed Syllables to do something considerably different, something unfamiliar and a little bit frightening, but there was always a certain confidence knowing the same people who stood by me through all that, would be around to help me through this, too.

This week I’m going to follow through on a writing exercise I gave you several months ago. I’m going to talk about my readers here at Unstressed Syllables — about the message I’m trying to communicate, and the type of people I’m hoping to help. I couldn’t possibly start that conversation, though, without first mentioning the people who’ve been listening to me ramble all along.

Come back tomorrow for something a little less sentimental — the business plan and mission statement for Unstressed Syllables, and with that as groundwork, I’ll give you my audience analysis…of you.

Photo credit Kris Austin.

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