Some Thought on Career Building in the Age of Freelancing

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156 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    I will say that other perma-tempers (on the internet and in real life) can give you a smack down and accuse you of being Pollyannaish if you make the observation that careers can take decades to build and things can get better and this also annoys me.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      What is the difference between skilled labor and unskilled labor?


      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m not following…Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        One of the reasons that careers might take decades to build is that the best way to get 20 years’ worth of experience fixing toilets is to fix toilets for 20 years. (Feel free to substitute with any other task.)

        To be honest, I can’t think of any other way to do it.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t disagree.

        There are easy ways and hard ways to get those 20 years worth of experience though.

        Right now I am getting experience because Lawyer X hires me for Task 1 and Lawyer Y hires me for Task 2. This is piecemeal skill-building. Much easier to build the skills as a straight up associate and most people do get associate offers in their first year or two out of law school. I wonder if there is research on people who get it after a few years or whether the chances decrease.

        I do have friends who started their own law firms because no one would hire them but they folded up their businesses as soon as they developed enough skills to make someone hire them. I find it telling that none of them felt the need or desire to stick it with their own solo practice. I’ve approached fellow law school friends who are in my situation about starting our own firm and everyone has declined the offer.

        In other words, once a contract lawyer/freelancer are you always a contract lawyer/freelancer?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        I keep hoping that the boomers will start retiring in numbers unimaginable and corporations will hire/promote people just because they happen to live in town.

        They keep not retiring, though.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

        @jaybird or anybody else, is there any information on how many American baby boomers, especially those born during the very early part of it, are still working and what percentage of American full time jobs are held by them? I have no statistics but it does seem that an inordinate amount of baby boomers are working longer than previous generations and holding onto their positions with a death grip.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


        Some thoughts on Boomers.

        1. President Obama is considered to be part of the Baby Boom. So are my parents. My parents were born in 1946 and 1947. Barack Obama was born in 1961. There is a big gap between them and my dad is no where near ready to retire and I can’t imagine people born in the early 60s are ready to retire either.

        2. Why aren’t Boomers retiring? My guess is that they really like working and/or are sacred shitless that their lifestyles will decrease if they retire.

        3. I was born in 1980. This either makes me the penultimate year of Gen X, the ultimate year of Gen X, or the first year of the Millennials. Probably one of the last years of Gen X. Even if the Boomers retire en masse on Tuesday, there are plenty of older Generation Xers who are waiting in the wings to advance.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Even if the Boomers retire en masse on Tuesday, there are plenty of older Generation Xers who are waiting in the wings to advance.

        Yeah, you can move into one of their spots.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

        @leeesq @jaybird

        I suspect that the Greatest Generation retired quicker because of their experiences growing up in the Great Depression and WWII. The poverty of their youth probably made a more modest retirement seem positively heavenly.

        There were also probably more mandatory retirement ages a few decades ago.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        It’s not the years, it’s the mileage. When I was a kid, life expectancy was just over 70. Now it’s just under 80. (Men a few years below that, women a few years above.)

        On top of that, when I was a kid, 60 was *OLD*. False teeth, hearing aids, trifocals, and canes. Now? Jeez louise. These people are running triathlons.

        I just want them to retire and enjoy their triathlons more fully.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:


        Well, there is the small matter that a lot of people aren’t actually living longer (

        But, I get it, so that taxes may remain insanely low, people in the bottom 50% must work longer, even though they’re not living any longer.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jesse, the people who I plan on replacing after they retire (IF they retire) are, in fact, in the upper 50%. (Who, you may notice in the data you posted, are, in fact, living longer.)Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Plumbing is hardly unskilled labor.

        The difference between skilled and unskilled labor is options. I suppose that’s privilege.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        Baby boomers are, what, ’46 to ’64? I expect most of the 68-year-olds are retired (or gone), but few of the 50-year-olds.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

        On getting 20 years experience, I know kids getting hired by {my employer} just out of college. This is their first job. My first job, at their age, was pulling network cables through ceilings. They’re working on complex software for a company you’ve heard of.

        Granted they can’t quite do what I can do. They don’t have the hard years. I’ve written a lot of code to do many things. I’ve ridden projects into the sky. I’ve seen them crash and burn. So, yeah, experience. I have it. They don’t.

        But these kids are starting in such a good place. Full time, high salary work with amazing health coverage. 401k. Stock grants. I had nothing like this stuff for many years. This makes a huge difference in life trajectory.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Plumbing is hardly unskilled labor.

        I didn’t mean to imply that it was. If anything, I was trying to point out that it requires a level of skill that would result in, all other things being equal, someone who has been doing the job for 20 years would be better than someone doing the job for 2 or 3.

        One thing that many (most?) of us benefit from is that we generally don’t *NEED* master/expert level help for most of our day-to-day existence. We can get by with the help of enthusiastic amateurs or people who are working on getting their next year of experience under their belt instead of needing someone who’s been doing this for decades.Report

    • I think accusations of pollyannaishness depend largely on the circumstance. I’m inclined to think that someone just out of college is likely whining, but talking about a couple decades of perma-temping is pretty harsh.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        Interestingly it was a guy with a few decades of perma-temping that got me to consider law school seriously for the first time.

        When I was trying to be a theatre director, I worked as a freelance legal proofreader through agencies. At one job, I was with a guy in his late 40s or early 50s who just didn’t get out of trying to be an writer/artist soon enough and was very very bitter. He said something along the lines of “I think that tooth died, I guess I don’t need to go to the free dental clinic now…”

        I think a lot of the stress is many people wonder whether the perma-temping or freelancing thing is going to end for adjuncts to new lawyers, etc.Report

      • For lawyers, it’s not an unreasonable concern. Especially if they are insistent in working as lawyers.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        This guy was a legal proofreader to be clear.

        Honestly, no one really wanted to hire me as anything but a lawyer. I’m getting more work as a lawyer (even if it is freelance/contract) than I ever did as anything else.Report

      • I know a JD who works as a manager in offshore drilling. Another who works as a manager of account managers in the mortgage industry.

        Most are lawyers, though.Report

  2. zic says:

    I had a freelance career as a journalist; I have one as a designer, and my sweetie is a freelance musician, computer programmer, and adjunct faculty (which is really freelance teaching).

    So first off, there’s the blessing of ACA, which makes health insurance affordable. Before ACA, because of our ages and our state, a $15,000 deductible plan cost us over $500/month. This is a huge advantage for anyone wanting to make it on their own.

    Second, for small businesses, freelance skills are essential. The word here is consultant, of course, but a consulting HR specialist, CFO, marketing person, etc. frees the business owner to focus on what they do well instead of having to wear every hat in the world.

    Third, I know a lot of people who freelance; it’s about the best way to make ends meet in rural America where the costs of living are lower and the jobs are fewer. All of them juggle things; but the ability to build your schedule to your needs — children’s schooling and vacations, hobbies that are seasonal (like kayaking rivers in the spring rush) are often worth the tradeoff of lower pay.

    Most of the successful freelancers I know belong to professional groups appropriate to their field and have strong social media skills.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to zic says:

      My health insurance costs went up because of ACA by a bit over 100 dollars a month. The plan is better in many ways though.

      I do belong to several professional groups. I hate social media self-promotion and boosting. Twitter is a plague.

      See my comments on why I will always be a city/inner-ring suburb kind of guy.Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    I’m looking forward to the comments on this one. Now that I no longer have a dog in this particular fight :^)Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Do you think I’m in for a bashing?Report

      • What I expected was not you getting bashed so much as a lively discussion about how many fields will be amenable to what my friend the anthropologist calls “the gig economy.” He’s a depressing fellow to talk to, since he believes far more jobs are amenable to the change. He talks about an entire lost generation until the kids figure out that the private sector has abandoned them, and “benefits” like health insurance and retirement will have to become functions of the public sector.

        I really didn’t anticipate having the comments hijacked by a discussion over snobbish arts :^)Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I expected a lively discussion on the gig economy as well but either people think it is always been this way or gigging is just more politically-socially-culturally acceptable in these parts.Report

  4. ScarletNumbers says:

    At best you are an exotic curiosity.

    1) Do you look Jewish?

    2) Do you have a Jewish last name?Report

  5. Will Truman says:

    For the record, I think it is perfectly reasonable not to want to move to South Dakota or Montana. It’s also understandable to prefer not to move away from family, though not always reasonable unless you are willing to sacrifice for it or you’re lucky and you don’t need to.

    Where my patience is more limited is when people are fixated on a couple other areas, and then want my sympathy when they can’t find the job they want in the place they want to live. Life is a bunch of trade-offs, and some people think they are entitled to avoid any.

    For the most part, my relationship with my parents is through Google Hangouts. I hate it, but those were the tradeoffs. Historically, more people have moved from the city to the country than vice-versa out of economic necessity. A lot of them didn’t want to leave their families behind, either. The great urbanization didn’t occur (solely) because people wanted to be able to go to the opera.

    Ultimately, though, nobody has to move anywhere (even The Kansas City Plan is about bribery). It’s just a question of how sympathetic you want me to be to not being able to get the job you want, and what you want me to do about it (or vote for our government to do about it).Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

      “Historically, more people have moved from the city to the country than vice-versa out of economic necessity.”

      I think you mean the other way around.Report

    • On a more conciliatory note, I am very sympathetic to people who went to law school around the time you did, or before. I remember all of the hype when I was in college. I came close enough to falling for it that I took the LSAT and didn’t go that route due to chance more than anything else. There was a lot of bad advice, and it ended up screwing over a lot of people.Report

      • @will-truman

        I did the LSAT in 1995 or so and did pretty mediocre, like 75 percentile on most metrics, or something like that. I also took a polisci class on the US Constitution that was supposedly taught in the way law school classes are, although probably made simpler for the fact that we were undergrads. I found that course incredibly hard, although I learned quite a bit from it.

        The mediocre scores and the difficulty of that class nudged me to think that law school probably wasn’t for me. That was probably a good decision for me.Report

    • For the record, I think it is perfectly reasonable not to want to move to South Dakota or Montana.

      It should already be obvious that people are allowed to have feelings and that you’ve never said that they aren’t allowed to. All you’ve said is that acting on feelings have trade-offs. My wife is now living literally 12 time zones away from all of her family pretty much entirely so she could get a better job.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    “My general thought is that there are three kinds of people who can work in the arts: The independently wealthy (because it places you out of the realm of normal economics), people who were raised poor and think destitution is the norm, and/or people who are absolutely incapable of any kind of office work/corporate structure (aka true bohemians.) I know people in all three categories.”

    What about people who are talented enough to carve out a successful and fruitful career? Which group are they in?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


      The very lucky which can be a forth category and also a very small category.

      The truth is that art operates on an extreme curve. There are some people who can turn art into a viable career that pays good money but many artists even those who work regularly as artists often make very little money. A lot of writers/novelists have day jobs including very well-respected writers. Often but not always these are academic posts. It can also be jobs in publishing but those are getting rare. Many fine artists like painters also teach to supplement their income.

      Liz Lecompte is the director of a well-respected experimental theatre company called the Wooster Group. She only makes around 30,000 a year (according to a New Yorker profile that I read) which is not an easy salary to live on. She is also the ex-partner/wife of Wilhelm Dafoe and I don’t know she gets any money from a divorce/separation agreement if there was one.

      Daniel Sullivan is a highly prolific theatre director whose main source of income is probably from his professorial position at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champlain.

      The statistic I heard for actors in New York is that there are over 100,000 people in NYC who consider themselves to be actors and less than 2000 of them earn a full-time living from acting. Among the 2000 are probably a lot of really wealthy actors.…_Who_Was_in_That_Thing

      This a documentary about work-a-day and largely not famous actors in Los Angeles mainly. Every single one of them went through a long dry spell where they just were not getting any auditions yet alone getting cast and this was after they had been working professionally and successfully for a while, and they all considered throwing in the towel but then got another lucky break. I imagine there are people who are successful for a while but then get a dry spell and then do throw in the towel.

      A lawyer I know in San Francisco was a professional musician as a jazz pianist. He played in clubs, he played weddings, parties, receptions, brunches, etc. He decided to go to law school late in life because his wife got pregnant and he said that he couldn’t justify raising a son on musician’s wages.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


      Most artists will have cobbled together careers like Zic’s sweetie.

      Gene Hackman was famously working as a doorman in his late 30s before his acting career took off. It takes a lot of bravery and tenacity to keep trying for that long. I admire those that do have that level of bravery.

      At least in theatre (though I suspect in other arts), a lot of seemingly successful/working artists are actually independently wealthy and can afford to be “independently employed in the arts”. In short, they can afford to work for little or no money because they have very large trust funds and don’t need to depend on the money they get paid for things like rent and groceries. I know people like this and they are great people and seriously talented but you are in a different level of economics when grandma basically bankrolls your Broadway debut.

      Art is a very very harsh master/mistress. There would be a revolution if all jobs/careers had the same success prospects/chances as an artistic career.

      She is a very interesting case. She grew up in a nice but not super-wealthy suburb of Chicago and started a fashion blog before she when she was 11 or 12. Her fashion blog somehow earned the attention of a lot of really important people in the media. “How cute an 11 year old who is really enthusiastic about Comme des Garcons?” And she was taken under the wing of some very important people and able to use this to launch her own magazine and now she is making her Broadway debut with Michael Cera and Keirkan Culkin.

      I have a theory that there are lots of Tavi Gevinson’s out there who started fashion blogs at 11 that were peans to haute/alternative coutre icons like Comme Des Garcons. Yet they went completely ignored. This is nothing against Miss Gevinson but it does show the randomness of the art world. I would also not be surprised if her career petered out eventually.

      CUNY runs a TV show called “Working in the Theatre” on their own station. You can find the episodes on-line. The show is 33 years old. When I was in my second year of grad school, a professor made us watch an episode from 1980. The episode interviewed playwrights. I made a comment in the class about how I only heard about two of the playwrights on the panel. Keep in mind that when everyone was introduced, they were the talk of the town and had productions of their plays being done all over NYC, the States, the World, etc. My professor told everyone to pay attention to my observation.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Maybe I’m being callous, but I don’t necessarily see the “arts” as different than any other industry insofar as those who can hack it hack it and those who can’t are either chased out of the field or suffer through it. The arts are different insofar that there is less opportunity to make money in it. AND — similar to sports and other “hobby professions” — many people greatly enjoy them and WOULD LOVE to make a career of them.

        No one goes and reads legal briefs on the weekends for fun. But people do go play ball or strum the guitar for fun.

        I guess that paragraph stood out to me because it seemed a little whiney. As if you were saying that you didn’t make it in the arts because you don’t fit into those categories. The reality is, you didn’t make it in the arts because you weren’t talented enough to. Which is totally fine. The vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of people couldn’t make it in the arts. I couldn’t make it on the field or the court. Wish I could. But I couldn’t. But pigeonholing those who do seems unfair and decidedly unreflective.Report

      • For what it’s worth, @kazzy I am with Saul on this one. Few sectors have the surplus labor pool and talent surplus as do (most of) the arts. That changes the dynamics considerably from almost any other field.

        (It’s also whyReport

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Yes you are being callous and also silly and unrealistic.

        What percentage of people who try to be teachers end up being employed as teachers?

        Do you think it is less than two percent?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        It’s also why…

        Will can not complete his posts…


      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw and @will-truman

        It just seems unfair to describe the “three types” of people who make careers in the arts and not include among them people who are talented at the arts.Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        the solution is to prevent people from being interested in the arts as anything other than an enthusiastic paying customer.

        i am curious what qualifies as “poor” in this sentence, however:

        “people who were raised poor and think destitution is the norm”Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        To be somewhat fair to Kazzy, the idea of who is and who is not making it as an artist is a lot more subjective than it is in other fields.

        NYC has two apartment complexes that I know of that are dedicated to subsidizing housing for artists. Competition to get into these complexes is fierce. People are on waiting list for years before getting a spot and then they have to take what becomes free. If that apartment is too big or too small, you need to go back to the bottom of the list.

        Once in, the rent works on a sliding scale and recognizes that one year you can make a lot of money and the other year you can make not so much. You are allowed to teach and live in the building but I am not sure if they allow people to work as bartenders and food servers. I’m sure it happens under the table though.

        So is someone who works as a tenured professor of set design working as an artist or not? What if they design for productions at their university but haven’t had a professional credit for decades? What about someone who self-produces their own work in off hours (and loses money) while working in an office during the day. The whole calculus of what counts as “making it” as an artist is hard. What about the person who can design shows for Broadway for a small amount because their partner is surgeon or corporate executive or they are the heir to tens of millions of dollars if not more?

        I wrote about this in the League on my piece for Trip Cullman. He can afford to be a regional and off-Broadway theatre director and own a wonderful NYC loft because he is the heir to part of the Philip Morris fortune and I am sure that part of this was diversified a long time ago.

        Then again, there is a famous example of the composer Philip Glass also running a moving business (and working as a Taxi Driver) including after the triumphant opening of Einstein on the Beach. I remember watching a documentary and they interviewed one guy who saw Einstein on the Beach and then the next morning Philip Glass came to move his furniture to another apartment.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I thought I gave an example. Basically people who grew up knowing food and housing insecurity. There was a story about an up and coming actress in the Times who remembered that when she was a kid, the landlord will always give her “Pay the rent by X or be evicted notices” to give to her parents. That is pretty poor. Interestingly I think her parents were also artists but not successful ones.

        I agree with your idea to a certain extent and certainly know plenty of parents including artist parents who tried all means necessary to make sure that their kids did not become artists or hoped that their kids did not become artists. On the other hand, if someone really wants to try they are going to try. I know someone from undergrad whose parents refused to let her major in drama. So she majored in linguistics and is still working on starting an acting career in New York.

        On the other hand, I know some Jewish people from my parents generations and they were told “you can be a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant.” They all became lawyers, doctors, and accountants. I think that kind of perscriptivism is now considered unacceptable largely.Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        my idea was ridiculous. how do you get people to enthusiastically pay others for stuff they can increasingly get for free AND give up any dreams of doing what they want to do AND basically do this so some smaller group of people can benefit AND somehow spin the whole thing to be for “the greater good” or some such rot?

        if houdini and merlin had a baby and that baby was also a public relations miracle worker, it’s still impossible. you have to find a way to normalize “i can’t make money doing what i want to; which, by the way, the general public generally believes to be a cross between ‘easy money’ and ‘wanking around all day'” as a plea worthy of sympathy.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @dhex, here one run into a conundrum. People are increasingly unwilling to pay for the arts or at least some of the arts because they could get it for off the Internet or various other means. At the same time, artists need that money to live if only meagerly. I suppose we could all hope that love of the arts is strong enough or that enough people are hitting the jack pot that millions continue to go into the arts and use other means to scrap by. At the same time, quality is probably going to take a hit downward.Report

      • Mo in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I totally get @kazzy ‘s point. The existence of all volunteer community theaters are evidence of that. The vast majority of the people who do them aren’t looking for a break, they’re doing it because they enjoy it. There aren’t community bookkeepers of people who really enjoy accounting, but couldn’t hack it as a CPA, but still want to do people’s taxes for funsies.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Yes because the Des Moines Community Theatre Production of The Mikado is comparable to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart doing Pinter and Beckett on Broadway.

        Everyone (including Kazzy) would be really really upset if the arts (music, theatre, film, tv, dance, painting, writing, etc) only existed at the community theatre or bar band level. Don’t doubt that for a minute. Now the paradox for art though is that we respect people who make it but like to be rather cruel to people who try and make livings from the arts.

        The amount of disrespect that artists get is rather strange to me. Even people who just really love doing community theatre also probably love seeing professional theatre, music, TV, film, etc.Report

      • @kazzy I take talent as a given. More often than not, anyway. It’s usually – though not always – required, but almost never sufficient.

        By way of example, consider the attractiveness of the Hollywood actor. It’s not that there is a great correlation between attractiveness and being a talented actress or actor. It’s that there are so many talents out there that Hollywood can demand more than that. They barely have to make any tradeoffs. You don’t have to be great looking, of course, but like talent it’s usually necessary.

        So accepting talent and/or good looks (where looks matter) as a constant. What else is there? Well, I think Saul is mostly right. You need to either be materially comfortable, or you need to have a tolerance for destitution, or you need to be incapable of doing anything else. I’d add a fourth category, which is that you are doing something else and stumble on success while moonlighting (lawyer-authors being an example of this).Report

      • Now the paradox for art though is that we respect people who make it but like to be rather cruel to people who try and make livings from the arts.

        How are you defining “cruel” here?Report

      • Mo in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw Way to completely misread my point. The point was not that they are equivalent. The point is that people are willing to do the arts for literally no pay because they love it. Add in pay and you’re going to get a market flooded with people trying to get in. People that shouldn’t be trying to get in and also people that are depressing wages because there’s lots of “good enough” talent out there. The exceptionally talented still gets paid because talent wins out, but the middle class will not do as well because that market is flooded by people for whom success is secondary and they’re in it for the love of the game.

        I also think part of the love of the game is also why I’m not worried about the arts in the long term. The arts were never a good way to make money, the phrase “starving artist” is not some sort of neologism. The arts have always been an area where there are a few successful artists and then everyone else eeking out a living.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Saul’s statement just read as “I’m not rich enough or poor enough or crazy enough to be in the arts and that is why I’m not.” I don’t know how to parse the statement any other way.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Generally is the butt of jokes and disrespect. This is not necessarily new. Moliere was denied a Christian burial because he was an actor and playwright even if he was the Toast of France at the time of his death.


        I think you often have a way of getting overly defensive with what I write from time to time. Would you get away with talking to the students at your independent school with what you are saying to me if they talked about having a career in the arts?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The tartuffery of Moliere’s era is something that probably wouldn’t have surprised the guy.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        First off, do you want me to talk to you like you’re a four-year-old?

        Second off, I have no problem with you — or anyone — pursuing a career in the arts. If that is your bag, more power to you. What I have an issue with is avoiding accountability. Saying you weren’t rich enough or poor enough or crazy enough seems like avoiding your role in the matter.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        That is why I analogized it to sports. Sports is super top heavy with talent. The Peyton Mannings of the world pull down 10 figures. Even low level pros are making solid six-figure salaries. But everyone else? Either they’re playing in the park for free or they might eek out a few beans here and there on whatever minor circuit they can. Hell, some guys pay to do it.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        There are a couple of major differences between sports and the arts..

        First, no one spends decades in obscurity hoping to have the chance to break into sports, for the obvious reason that your chance goes away by the time you’re in your thirties. The best sports example of rags-to-riches I know is Kurt Warner, and he got his shot at 28. If you see a baseball player who finally made it to the majors at 30, good for him, but he’s not going to be more than marginal, or hr’d have been up much earlier.

        Second, if you display athletic talent, you’re given the chance to compete from a very young age, and the system ruthlessly separates those who succeed from those who do not, from middle-school kids all the way up to the pros. There’s no equivalent in the arts, no scouts attending high school plays to find scholarship students for Julliard, or poring through yearbook essays to find people to offer book deals. You’re never going to play with someone at a pickup game and think to yourself “Geez, if that guy could just get a tryout, he’d be an NBA starter tomorrow.” On the other hand, it’s not at all unlikely to see a performance in a local theatre production that outshines one you saw in a film or TV show earlier that week.Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        “People are increasingly unwilling to pay for the arts or at least some of the arts because they could get it for off the Internet or various other means. At the same time, artists need that money to live if only meagerly.”

        “piracy did it” didn’t work as an excuse for the riaa, and i’m not sure it’s going to work very well across other mediums.

        i dunno man. i know a lot of people who are artists. like, a lot. they live to varying degrees of good. they all work their asses off to varying degrees. the really successful ones tour and perform constantly. but it’s always been as such – margins are squeezed due to the sheer amount of options.

        people love doing what they love. i don’t see why any amateur or semi-pro effort should care if “a professional” is getting the lifestyle they believe they should get because something something something “the world owes me a living at the level of which i desire”.


        “Everyone (including Kazzy) would be really really upset if the arts (music, theatre, film, tv, dance, painting, writing, etc) only existed at the community theatre or bar band level. ”

        i’d be fine with that. #pigdestroyerkennedycenterspecial

        also that’s not what’s going to happen. it’s not like “the arts” don’t continue to make money for very many people. your particular hobbyhorse isn’t very profitable, but it never was, and things wax and wane. such is life. maybe it’s a dead form that doesn’t know it yet? maybe it was replaced by larping? it can hang out with opera until both fade into vaudville.

        but expecting pity from the general public is a nonstarter. you can call it “disrespect” if you like, but that’s a bit self-absorbed. which may be why folks in “the arts” (which only comprises a small amount of actual art in this country, but see again #pigdestroyerkennedycenterspecial) can’t see why this attempt at persuasion is absurd.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        you can call it “disrespect” if you like,

        How do we distinguish between disrespect and disinterest?Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        “How do we distinguish between disrespect and disinterest?”

        for a certain kind of personality type there is no difference.Report

      • Yes because the Des Moines Community Theatre Production of The Mikado is comparable to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart doing Pinter and Beckett on Broadway.

        Sigh. Phrases like that contribute a lot, in my opinion, to the “cruelty” you say unsuccessful artists face. Such phrases aren’t the only cause, mind. And I’m at least partially open to the general claim that things are peculiarly and unfairly rough for artists.

        No, they’re probably not comparable. But it’s possible the Des Moines Community Theatre is a lot better than you think it is. It also just might, in some ways and in some cases, be more innovative than NYC-Broadway, Inc. is or can be. Note: I’m not insisting it’s “just as good as” NYC-Broadway, Inc. You’re the theatre specialist, not I. But I understand there’s a pretty large diversity and variety out there.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @will-truman @gabriel-conroy

        There is a lot of good theatre that does not happen in New York. The Bay Area has the Shotgun Players, Berkeley Rep, Marin Theatre Company, Aurora Theatre, etc. Boston has the American Repertory Theatre and the Huntington. Seattle has a good theatre scene. Chicago and Minneapolis also have excellent theatre scenes.

        Many times these are artists with day jobs who do not get paid a lot but they are professionals and they do take their jobs seriously. This is not a hobby for them. They do not go up on their lines and look for old comfort food productions. They take risks. Now this is not to say every professional production is good or does not feature an actor doing a really serious screw up. I’ve seen professional productions where an actor went up (forgot) his lines and it really destroys a production even if the cast largely recovers from the moment.

        The problem with community theatre is that they can often bite off a lot more than they can chew and also do inexplicable casting decisions. I saw a community theatre production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia in the East Bay. Arcadia is one of my favorite plays, it is also an incredibly difficult play to do well because it alternates between past and present and discusses really serious ideas like romanticism and the second law of thermodynamics while also being about the triumph of love and emotion and desire over cold-hearted reason. There are also parts of Arcadia that are straight up bedroom farce with difficult puns. There was also a serious miscasting. The main male character in Arcadia is 22 years old. He is supposed to be young, sensitive, smart, sly, and romantically dashing. The amatuer production I saw cast a guy in his late 30s or early 40s as Septimus Hodge and this makes the role creepy especially because Septimus falls in love with the 16-17 year old girl he is tutoring.

        I trained in theatre and have rather strong opinions on this kind of stuff and maybe these are opinions that many people don’t have. Maybe most people can see this production and not get as angry as I did because they just see amatuers having a good time instead of what I saw which is a butchering of a play I love very much.Report

      • Much of what you say is probably right, although I also wonder if it’s not impossible there be some original stuff that goes down in community theatre. I also wonder–and I really don’t know–if NYC-Broadway, Inc., gets some of their “original” ideas from non-NYC-Broadway, Inc. sources.

        But if you are going to say things like “[y]es because the Des Moines Community Theatre Production of The Mikado is comparable to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart doing Pinter and Beckett on Broadway,” you’re going to get pushback that perhaps is not what you want to hear. And then the “snob” epithet comes into play, perhaps rightly, but also unfortunately, because I imagine the possibilities for discussing the differences between community theatre and NYC-Broadway, Inc., haven’t been exhausted.Report

      • Yes because the Des Moines Community Theatre Production of The Mikado is comparable to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart doing Pinter and Beckett on Broadway.

        So many ways to go from a remark like that. It’s not like there’s nothing in between. Local professional productions (yes, Des Moines does that). Professional touring productions. People in Des Moines that want to see professional theater can take in a dozen or more shows per year. Stewart doing Beckett is the Super Bowl; that doesn’t mean the next step down is high-school football on Friday night.

        Professional theater has an access problem, which in turn leads to a pricing problem. The medium requires a certain degree of intimacy, which limits the number of seats per performance, which supports high ticket prices. When Wicked runs for a few weeks in Denver next summer, medium-good seats are going to be priced somewhere over $125. That’s not a price-point where very many people are going to “take it for a test drive.” Even at the arts center in my suburb, which has a couple of very nice theaters, good tickets for professional productions run $75 and up. Most people are simply never going to pop $300 for a family of four to go to the local theater for the evening. As an aside to one of James Hanley’s points elsewhere: that family is more likely to spend that kind of money to see Wicked than they are for Waiting for Godot.

        Community theater can be quite good so long as your expectations are reasonable. This summer I went to a production of Annie done by a small suburban community theater organization that draws on the resources of Omaha. Small outdoor amphitheater (with surprisingly good acoustics), no sound reinforcement. Minimalist sets, with interesting transitions between scenes. The orchestra was… eclectic. During intermission, I spoke to the volunteer music director, who spent an insane amount of his own time arranging the score to fit the instruments at his disposal. But “the magic of the theater” was there, and the $12 per seat was a more than fair price for the product.

        If live theater is going to survive, it has to find a way to incorporate more mass market features. The NFL would never be what it is today if it had been confined to the revenues it could generate from stadium ticket sales. Nor would they be able to fill their stadiums without a way to entice the customer with a lower-priced product. I know any number of people who go to a Broncos game once every few years for the stadium experience; but they wouldn’t if they didn’t have the TV experience first. You know what would tempt me to spend the money on a seven-foot 4K TV? Stewart doing Beckett, on a screen big enough to give me a theater feel, for $12. Or Wicked. Not movie “adaptations” of the stage show; theater, with all of the limitations that implies.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Stewart’s very excellent MacBeth is available on Netflix.

        Though in my opinion there is always something a bit odd about watching recorded theatre but your mileage may vary.Report

      • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The Met broadcasts operas in HD to movies theaters around the country and world. The Wife likes opera but it costs to much to get an opera touring company up to Anchorage more than once ever 2-4 years. So we go to the local movie plex so she can see a high quality opera 2-3 times per year for the price of a movie. Is it the same as seeing it live, of course not, but its better than never seeing it.Report

      • Though in my opinion there is always something a bit odd about watching recorded theatre but your mileage may vary.

        Two thoughts. (1) Sometimes I want to see a play. Performers telling a story within the limitations of a stage. Not a movie adaptation of the story, which is necessarily different. Not an MTV version of the stage presentation, with sixteen cameras and pans and zooms and cuts, all delivered at dizzying speed. A play. (2) You’re the one who says that theater is slowly dying. If, when you say “theater,” you mean only live performances to limited numbers of seats and $150 tickets, then yes, theater is committing suicide slowly. Something has to give.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw :

        Yes you are being callous and also silly and unrealistic.

        What percentage of people who try to be teachers end up being employed as teachers?

        Do you think it is less than two percent?

        You realize Kazzy is a pre-school teacher, right? The number isn’t quite as low as two percent, but it’s pretty nasty.

        In general, there are three ways to get a job as a teacher: Teach a subject nobody else is willing an able to teach, Teach at a school nobody else is willing and able to teach at, or be way, way, better than the many other candidates with whom you are competing for the same job. I’m mostly Column A and a little of column B. Kazzy, as best I can figure out, is all Column C.

        Similarly, when it comes to theater, It’s awfully hard to get jobs directing artistically fulfilling live plays. I don’t know the director’s market particularly well, but I suspect it’s a bit easier to get jobs directing commercials for microwave dinners. And of the people I know who work in lighting or costume design, Zero of them have trouble finding work.Report

  7. Will Truman says:


    I also think part of the love of the game is also why I’m not worried about the arts in the long term.

    I feel pretty much the same way. The only real concern I have is about capital-intensive stuff. Which is to say that while it’s never been less expensive to write and publish a book or record and release music, it’s really expensive to make a movie or TV show. I mean, you can do it on the cheap, but the cheapness is much more apparent.

    On the other hand, we live in an age of piracy and free or flat-rate availability (in contrast to the old days of DVDs and the like), and there are more rather than fewer entrants into creating original content (Yahoo!, Amazon, Netflix) and the Golden Age of Television and all that. It may have played a role in Hollywood’s changing priorities, but not much beyond that, and even then it’s not clear what role what has played in that.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

      There is also the fact that theatre is largely dying and a very slow and prolonged death.

      Now I have a theory that theatre is very good at creating new generations of would be theatre artists but not very good at generating new generations of would be theatre audiences for the most part. It seems like when kids are exposed to theatre, there are generally (but not always two reactions):

      1. I want to do that; OR

      2. Absolute boredom.

      I know I’ve gotten into arguments here with people about whether the low-bones minimalist aspect of theatre are brilliant or boring beyond repair. I generally have much more respect for someone who creates a world convincingly with 5000 dollars and theatre magic over Peter Jackson and his army of CGI tech wizards.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        theatre is very good at creating new generations of would be theatre artists but not very good at generating new generations of would be theatre audiences for the most part. It seems like when kids are exposed to theatre,

        When was theater ever for kids? And how many writers want to write plays appropriate for kids?

        Whenever our local community theater does productions that are targeted to kids, kids enjoy it. Every high school production in our town has performances for the elementary and junior high kids, and the youngsters enjoy it.

        But if all theater people want to do is experimental theater, or deep incisive explorations of the human experience, then the problem of building an audience for the next generation is very self-induced. And of course writers don’t want to be known for being simplistic and child-friendly–that’s not considered artistic.

        An intentional commitment to a mixture of shows, some geared toward a younger audience, is necessary.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        How do you define experimental theatre vs. non experimental theatre?Report

      • I dunno, I was somewhere in between 1 and 2. I enjoy live theater. I suspect I would prefer Des Moines over Broadway, though. The talent differential being more than compensated for by the venue. Clancy and I regularly went to the local theater in Deseret. We have intended to since, but have failed to make the time. (We also intended to watch Hedwig on Broadway, but failed there, too.)

        * – I feel the same way about live music and sporting events. All other things being equal (except talent level and venue), I’d rather go to a Sun Belt Conference game than an SEC one. I also greatly enjoyed the live music scene in Colosse, and went to only a few arena shows, which I didn’t enjoy as much.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m sure a deeper and more theoretical distinction is possible, but for present purposes I’d just say it’s about how far it goes in violating audience expectations/comfort level. Deeply committed arts people often enjoy having their expectations violated–it can function as a signal that the playwright a “serious artist.”

        Art, qua art, thrives on violating people’s expectations. But the cutting edge is always attractive to only a niche, at least initially (the Rite of Spring now raises no eyebrows, of course). That creates a difficulty dynamic–you can only push the boundaries by pushing away much of your potential audience. If everyone eagerly ponies up to see your work, then you’ll finally make some real money, but you may be perceived not as an artist but as the dreaded “c” word, commercial.

        You know what people come to see at our community theater? Musicals. You can pack the goddam place for another production of The Sound of Music. Because they’re the masses, and they’re comfortable with it–they know the story, they know the good people win and the Nazis lose, and they can sing along with the music, if not out loud, at least in their head. People will come to the theater to see what they already know they like.

        But that’s not satisfying to serious artists in theater, nor should it be. But there’s the inevitable dynamic–to be a serious artist very often means to push away the paying public, at least for a generation, until people can become comfortable with one’s product.

        I don’t imagine for a moment I’ve told you anything you don’t already know, please understand that. I’m just focusing on the inevitability of that dynamic. And to bemoan the lack of paying customers for real art is to contradict the very nature of real art.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I don’t disagree with anything you like. There is probably a lot of theatre that I enjoy seeing that is not mainstream like Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia which was a 3-play and 9-hour epic on 18th century Russian intellectuals like Herzen. Now that is theatre for a very select audience.

        I largely dislike musicals but there are some I enjoy like Sondheim and/or Kander and Ebb and Guys and Dolls. Plenty of serious theatre people are musical geeks. My introduction to theatre was via musicals but generally the whole breaking into song destroys it for me and modern musicals have this light-pop style that annoys me. For some reason, I can accept Opera more than musicals.

        The reason I ask is because even among serious theatre artists, there is debate and attack about experimental vs. non-experimental theatre. The Coast of Utopia would not be considered Experimental Theatre. This is what I would consider experimental theatre:

        I’ve seen the Wooster Group do Eugene O’Neill and I am largely on the negative side. They do a purposefully super-flat and unemotional acting style that I find distracting and often unmoving. Or at least they did with O’Neill. The production above does look interesting though.Report

      • It seems like when kids are exposed to theatre, there are generally (but not always two reactions): 1. I want to do that; OR 2. Absolute boredom.

        You know what convinced me that live theater was cool? Due to a completely accidental situation, my ninth-grade English class produced a small three-act play. We were fortunate that the school had a real theater (Depression era construction project). So some of us acted. Some of us painted flats. Some of us learned to run the lights, and the system for raising/lowering the flats. Make-up. Props. One girl with a phenomenal memory and crushing stage fright shamed those of us with speaking roles by sitting in the little prompter’s cubbyhole and memorizing the whole play faster than we were learning our parts. I remember two 15-year-old guys who normally had all the sensitivity of rocks making us go through the opening part of a moonlit scene for an entire class period while they tinkered with the lighting. The original plan was to do one performance for parents. That somehow expanded into five or six, to various groups of students as well. Curtain call included not just the cast, but all the backstage work as well.

        I don’t suppose there was anyone in the group who decided “I want to do that.” But there wasn’t anyone who was bored.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’ve seen the Wooster Group do Eugene O’Neil

        It all began one day at the flat, while I was entertaining Bobbie Wickham and her most recent fiancé. “It’s a new drink Tuppy Glossop showed me, called the Stinger Cocktail. Attend very carefully. I take an ordinary cocktail shaker, and in it I pour two shots of brandy, and one of creme de menthe over …. Jeeves! Are we out of ice?”Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

      I largely agree with this essay but I am not sure what a reasonably priced ticket would be in the age of 7.99 a month for Netflix. I am almost sure it would not be a rate that would allow the theatre to pay the rent.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:


    I think you are largely correct.

    There are people who look for talent early on but it often requires connections like Lena Dunham.*

    I think the Internet does help some people achieve fame easier but they also usually need to attend an elite university or some such.

    Marissa Keegan started getting noticed because of an Essay she wrote called “Even Artichokes Get Doubts” for the Yale Daily News. The article was about how it was kind of sad that 25 percent of Elis went to work in finance and consulting. A sample:

    “What bothers me is this idea of validation, of rationalization. The notion that some of us (regardless of what we tell ourselves) are doing this because we’re not sure what else to do and it’s easy to apply to and it will pay us decently and it will make us feel like we’re still successful. I just haven’t met that many people who sound genuinely excited about these jobs. That’s super depressing! I don’t understand why no one is talking about it.”

    Is this an interesting observation? Yes. Does it help that she is writing about Yalies and Wall Street instead of graduates of the University of Connecticut and the Insurance industry?* Also yes. Sadly Marina Keegan also probably got published because she tragically died in a car crash less than a week from her graduation at Yale. People love a tragic story of beautiful youth cut down too soon.

    Now Tavi Gevinson who I mentioned above is an interesting case. It always seemed to me that she was overly precocious and adopted like a kid sister/pet of the high fashion industry. Great for her that she was able to work this, great for her that her parents allowed her to do so. I wonder how many kids also start precocious blogs for adult subjects and are:

    1. Completely ignored by the industry they are intoxicated by; and/or

    2. Even if said industry wanted to adopt them as a kid sister/brother, they had parents who said hell the fuck no for whatever reason.

    Probably more of 1 but there are certainly people who were in category 2.Report

  9. Saul Degraw says:


    “How do we distinguish between disrespect and disinterest?”

    Good question. And I will say this as someone who is largely disinterested in sports especially professional sports. There are also times when I wonder why it is culturally and socially acceptable to brag about marathon and tough mudder completion in social media but talking about wrestling with Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake will get a person labeled a snob.* I’d love it if people were able to generate likes on facebook because they talk about wrestling with difficult art like the way they talk about running marathons.

    I would say that the disrespect comes ideas that dhex showed above and that working in arts or trying for a career in arts is not “real work.” I think @dhex is correct when he wrote that many people see the arts as easy money and mucking around all day. Now sometimes people think this is very cool and that they can do it (“Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.”) but I think there is always hostility lurking behind that envy.

    The disrespect can also manifest in the “my kid could do that” attitude that is often given to modern artists especially the abstract expressionists or other experimental artists. No your kid could not be Dan Flavin or Donald Judd.

    *It took me three attempts before I was able to read Ulysses and understand it and even then I needed to read very slowly and I am a pretty good reader.

    **I do admit and find it interesting that there is still a huge debate over the abstract expressionists and other modern artists. I find it pleasing and mystifying that Pablo Picasso and Matisse are still shocking and controversial even though the Armory Show happened 101 years ago. I also find it perplexing that many people think art stops at realism and/or the Victorian era artists. I loathe Victorian painting for producing stuff like this:

    Too romantic, too false, too sentimental in my eyes. Yet most people find this highly pretty probably.Report

    • For the record, I read Ulysses once and probably understood only about 5% of it. I didn’t even realize

      [….SPOILER ALERT!!!!!….]

      that Molly Bloom was having an affair with Blazes Boylan.

      Maybe someday I’ll try to re-read it, with the help of the Blamires book I bought to guide me through it.

      I do think being able to read and engage a difficult piece like Ulysses is an accomplishment. But I don’t quite see the point in being congratulated for it or in bragging about it. The fun I think is in the engaging and perhaps discussing this or that aspect with others and not, say, in bragging one has engaged.

      For some reason, however, I do think that completing marathon deserves congratulations. It’s quite an accomplishment, one that I’ve never done and really have no desire to do. If someone runs one, especially if it’s their first, I’ll say “congratulations.” I probably would not want to hear much more about it, though.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I speed-read Ulysses, finished it in an hour and a half. I think it was about Ireland.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        I don’t disagree. Running a marathon is an accomplishment.Report

      • greginak in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Thank you for asking. I did just run my first marathon five weeks ago. ( adjusts 15 single spaced typed pages of notes, rubs finishers meddle)

        But anyway certain activities like reading literature have a connotation of being snobby so its sort of assumed you must be a snob if read them. Same thing with much theater or classical music. Is that silly, yeah it is. Certainly more so since US american football fans will twist their man panties into a giant bunch about the thought of soccer as a sport. Pure snobbery.

        Now to continue….it was a sunny and brisk morning……Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Re: the Victorian painting. The not-realistic realism, the over-the-top romanticism, the prettiness, the mythologizing — that’s the point of a painting like that.

      Another contemporary artist is Thomas Kinkade.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Thomas Kincade is another artist I have an especially strong loathing for.

        I dislike him mainly because of his shameless commercialism and hubris. He trademarked the phrase “Painter of Light” for himself. Painter of Light was the description that John Ruskin gave to the much more superior J.M.W. Turner and I find it extreme galling that Kincade took the phrase for himself. A compliment by painter of light can be given by others but it can not be a self-description.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I wonder why it is culturally and socially acceptable to brag about marathon and tough mudder completion in social media but talking about wrestling with Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake will get a person labeled a snob.*

      Well, because it is rather snobbish. Whatever it is we’re talking about–literature, bourbons, religion, politics–to have elite tastes and damn the masses for not sharing them is to be a snob.

      Myself, I’m a political snob. All you liberals are, in my view, the unenlightened masses spilling beer and mustard all over themselves at a tough mudder. 😉Report

      • dhex in reply to James Hanley says:


        i disagree on the snob thing. the component is the looking down, the presumption that taste and activity elevate someone above others in some inherent way.

        i’m married to a joyce scholar. if you met her you’d hear nothing but excitement and enthusiasm for literature and for helping people understand and enjoy these works. she loves introducing her students to these authors and their writing. she’s definitely forest for the trees-y but that comes with being an obsessive.Report

      • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

        But it is artisinal, non-GMO, gluten free mustard. So there.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        I think my “damn the masses” equals your “looking down on.” I’m not critiquing the elite taste itself.

        Mustard snob! If yellow dye #2 mustard was good enough for George Washington, it’s good enough for any real American.Report

      • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley I don’t have time for this, i’m trying to find my Grey Poupon for our BBQ later. It goes great with PBR.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        I don’t look down on people who don’t read Joyce. I do have a slight mourning for the idea that reading difficult books is often considered the opposite of fun as Rebecca Mead pointed out in the New Yorker recently.

        I will probably get defensive and maybe snobby if I hear someone say something like “People only pretend to read Joyce because it makes them look smart but no one can sincerely enjoy Joyce.” This kind of populist rebel rousing is fairly common these days.Report

      • dhex in reply to James Hanley says:

        “difficult” is a term i’d retire. it’s meaningless. entirely arbitrary and preemptively judgmental.

        one man’s decemberists is another man’s aube.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to James Hanley says:

        I will probably get defensive and maybe snobby if I hear someone say something like “People only pretend to read Joyce because it makes them look smart but no one can sincerely enjoy Joyce.” This kind of populist rebel rousing is fairly common these days.

        No need to put Joyce on a pedal stool.Report

    • Snobbery typically implies a cultural component. Marathoning isn’t quite that. But marathoners can be obnoxious.

      There’s nothing snobby about reading Joyce. It’s only snobby when you look down on people who don’t, or consider yourself or your tastes superior if you do.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Will Truman says:

        Do you even lift, bro?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        I have it on good authority that he is a 25 year old powerlifter.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Will Truman says:

        I’ve never met a marathoner who wasn’t obnoxious.

        That is why the schadenfreude kicks in when something bad happens to someone running a marathon, such as a heart attack.

        Don’t even get me started on the 2013 Boston Marathon. The Tsarnaev brothers are my heroes.

        Then again, I’m someone who has to psyche himself up before driving 26.2 miles.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        The Tsarnaev brothers are my heroes.

        Ha ha. Ha. Whew.

        The Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent related shootings were a series of attacks and incidents which began on April 15, 2013, when two pressure cooker bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon at 2:49 pm EDT, killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others.[4] …The suspects [then] allegedly killed an MIT policeman, carjacked an SUV, and initiated an exchange of gunfire with the police in Watertown, Massachusetts. During the firefight, an MBTA police officer was injured but survived with severe blood loss. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot several times in the firefight and his brother subsequently ran him over with the stolen SUV in his escape. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

        I’ve never met a marathoner who wasn’t obnoxious.

        And some people just decide, for reasons unknown, to embark upon a veritable marathon of obnoxiousness.

        Don’t you ever get tired of it?

        If you are trying to be funny, maybe work on your material and delivery a little more. Because seriously dude, it’s not working.


      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Will Truman says:


        If you are trying to be funny, maybe work on your material and delivery a little more. Because seriously dude, it’s not working.

        Big talk from someone who has made the same reference three times.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        Eh, whatevs. I’m responding to tediousness tediously. Guilty.

        And I shouldn’t feed the trolls, and that’s obviously what you are going for. Because why else would you joke about the Boston Marathon bombing? Ha. Hee.

        So listen, I don’t expect you to take it to heart, because why would you, but seriously, you’re coming across as a boor. If you are trying to be funny or clever or edgy it really isn’t coming across that way. I’m not even from Boston and it’s just a crappy thing to joke about.

        Anyway, trollers gotta troll and I guess I got got. Enjoy the rest of your night.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Will Truman says:


        1) At least you admit you are tedious.

        2) No one likes a white knight. So far you have come to the “rescue” of Renaissance Faire go-ers, the polyamorous, and marathoners and their fans.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        People around here have been intemperate, unkind, unfair, and just plain mean to each other at times – as a general rule, I give a little slack when that happens while they are talking politics because, well, people’s self-images and complete belief systems are at stake, and getting hot under the collar happens sometimes.

        But you just throw out these personal attacks and inflammatory stuff, completely unconnected to any significant topic. It’s the very definition of personal, and it’s the very definition of trolling IMO.

        I don’t think of myself as a “white knight”; the people you’ve named are just fine and don’t need my rescue, especially from just some loudmouth on the internet (even those “fat chicks showing off their tits at the Ren Fair” – eyyyyyyyy, amirite, brah? You know it!) and my typing some words in a combox would be a poor defense anyway. I was responding to you, not them.

        In a weird way, if there’s anyone I’m trying to help here, it’s you, though admittedly I lost patience and went about it poorly. Not all your comments are jerky like these, some are quite pleasant and on-topic, so I wondered if it was just a communication issue – lord knows that making a joke that goes too far or doesn’t land the way you meant it to is something that happens to everybody. Or maybe you are younger than I think you are, and some of this is just immaturity. I don’t know, and these words I have been writing to you are a real attempt to find out (well, as real as one pseudonymous person writing to another can ever be). The difference between your two extremes is so great that I briefly wondered if there were two commenters with the same or similar handles.

        I am curious though – if you think I am “white knighting” – what is it you think that *you* are doing, that anyone might even think your interlocutors might need rescue?

        You just razzing them, it’s all in good fun in your mind?

        You making some trenchant critique about their lifestyles and beliefs (a while back you asked a commenter ‘what was wrong with them’ when they admitted they were a virgin – now you tell a poly person that ‘someone else is getting their cow’s milk for free’ – from this I must conclude that you think that having no sex is risible, and having too much or unconventional sex is perverse. The correct sex is obviously the amount and type you are having.)

        Something else?

        Because this stuff just comes across to me as akin to locker-room bullying, best left behind in middle school.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I am going to be a snob by stating that “disinterested” and “uninterested” are not synonyms.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        I’m being completely objective when I respond “Yeah, whatever.”Report

      • I’d comment more, but I don’t have a personal stake in the outcome.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        Dammit, he’s right.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        Dammit, he’s right

        It was bound to happen sooner or later.

        Hope the new semester is going well. Any updates on the class where you put the book online?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        I hate making such errors, even though I try to keep my linguistic prescriptivist side under control.

        For that class I’ve used the long weekend to work on my essay on the revolution and drafting of the constitution, which I think need to become two essays to keep them tightly focused, as is my goal, but which are listed as one essay in the syllabus. I got the revolution one done in (very) rough draft, which I’ll be putting online for the students. I need to write the constitution-drafting one, half of which will be cadged from a previous writing, the other half if which I still need to write before I fly to San Francisco Wednesday morning.

        When I compare what I’m writing with the lengthy chapters in the various textbooks I have, I suffer a crisis of confidence, even though I’m consciously trying to break away from that model. In part because of that, Despite working off some old unfinished writings, I found it slow going. In the chapter I put up here, defining politics, I set up a framework of three general classes of political problems: conflict, coordination, and collective action problems. I put the story of the revolution into that framework. It gives a good way to understand it, I think, but I skip a lot of detail. And even though I think that’s good because a) an American Government text should not be a history text, and b) I think too much detail overwhelms, and the concepts are most important, it’s non-standard enough that I still worry I’m being a simplistic hack, that it’s too nom-academic.

        But then I remind myself of the good populat literature in, say, economics and biology, and I think I’m on the right track. Then the crisis of confidence shifts to worrying about the execution. In college I won awards both for creative writing and for best undergraduate behavioral science paper, so I must have some potential. I just try to forget that those were decades ago.Report

  10. You’ve gotten a lot of pushback, and I’ve contributed to it in my own way. And frankly, you’ve already heard enough of what I have to say on the matter, so I won’t pile on much more than I have already.

    Yeah, it sucks to be in your early 30s and not be firmly on the path to a career. Just like it sucks to be in your early 40s and in debt on not be firmly on a path to a career or at least a steady job. It might be presumptuous of me to say this, but on some level, I do feel your pain.

    At the same time (and here I guess I’m piling on again) I’m not sure what, if anything, other people ought to do to remedy my own situation. And there are a lot of people a lot worse off than I am.Report

  11. Not that I haven’t commented enough, but here goes. I think there’s a glass-half-full and glass-half-empty dynamic going on with freelancing. And speaking for myself, I would much prefer a standard job to a freelancing gig or a permanent job to the one-year contract position I have now. But there has to be some advantages to it, just like there are to my current circumstances. It’s probably not all bad. What would you say the advantages are to your situation?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


      Honestly, I think the issue with your half-glass full approach is that it ignores the burden shifting that goes on with the shift from permanent or at least long term positions with benefits to adjunct, part-time, contract or freelance staff/employment in many industries.

      Let’s look at retail and service. Part of that article on clopening discussed that the fancy computer programs used to create optimal worker schedules also allow businesses to determine when slack times will be and send employees home early instead of having them hang out on the clock.

      This is burden shifting. Most Starbucks are not franchises. Why should the burden of a two or three hour slack time at one location suddenly fall on the worker at immediate notice?

      When people do the be grateful for what you have thing, it often sounds like social control from above.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


      Specifically for the law school crisis, there are a lot of people who are sincerely concerned.

      Various bar organizations are concerned, law schools and their staff and professors are concerned, the universities that the law schools are attached to are concerned.

      They are probably concerned more about their gravy train potentially ending though. All these organizations depend on membership fees, donations, and tuition for their livilhoods and that can come crushing down with fewer lawyers. Law School was a gravy train for many people for a long time because they are relatively cheap to run but easy to justify charging a high tuition. This meant that they were cash cows for many universities but that is ending.

      These organizations want their dues paying members and tuition but they are not willing to make any temporary sacrifice to make this happen yet. Instead of telling older and established members/alumni “hey, help these kids out”, they say “Now is the best time every to hang your own shingle.” In short, they are hoping nothing changes for them while putting all the burdens on those who can take it the least.

      This does not put them into my good graces.

      Or from another industry:

      “The problem is that in the end, Schmidt’s solution to the hardships inherent in globalized capitalism is … more capitalism. He senses a problem and conveniently lands on a solution that doesn’t involve any personal sacrifice on his part, or the part of other well-educated, well-paid folks he might run into on the thought-leader circuit. Which is pretty much why nobody learns much at those events, anyway.”Report

    • I can see why you’d think I’m saying “be grateful for what you have.” In fact, I guess I am saying that in part. But maybe there are indeed good things about freelancing in addition to just having something.

      I also think some of the pushback you receive on posts like this can indeed be attributed not looking at what can be good about the situation. Maybe the bad is outweighed by the good, but if you want to argue that point, it helps to acknowledge the good, too.

      I know we’ve had a thread about the entrepreneurial advice to law students before, and my takeaway from it was that these schools are trying to prepare students for the new market. Those efforts sound to me woefully insufficient–I’d be surprised one can learn how to hang out a shingle simply by taking a class–but it’s something.

      As for this question:

      Why should the burden of a two or three hour slack time at one location suddenly fall on the worker at immediate notice?

      I’m not sure why it *should*, although one might say why shouldn’t it. Or to put it less confrontationally, I’m not sure what the solution is to prevent it. Maybe retail worker unions? That might work. Maybe new laws? That might work. Those two options come with costs. Maybe the costs are worth it and maybe not.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I’m not sure why it *should*, although one might say why shouldn’t it.

        Because it is a greater burden on the employee than the employer.Report

      • That’s rather circular, no?

        At the same time, I’ll have to admit that my “answer” is really a non-answer to Saul’s question. The truth is, I can’t think of a reason why it should. I’m just not quite into some of the solutions on offer.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        The burden should be on the employer to take a small hit because the employer especially one like Starbucks has the most resources. How many stores do they have across the United States? How much money to they save by sending some workers home early? How much does it damage the workers and their earnings for the month instead?

        Starbucks should take the hit because Starbucks can afford it the most and they still haven’t invented the barista machine yet and if they did, there would seemingly be a reason Starbucks does not employ one.

        This is why some states have adopted minimum pay laws for temps. When I was a freelance proofreader, there was a rule that you had to be paid at least four hours when called up by an agency. This was by law and I think the law was probably passed after too many incidents of temps being called up and then sent home without pay because the job got delayed or canceled while the temps were in transit.Report

      • Despite what I’ve said above, I’m generally sympathetic to the idea that the employer *should* bear more of the costs. I think it’s an uphill argument to require them not to shift the costs, though. And limitations on how much they can shift will represent an added expense in hiring someone, so that fewer might be hired.

        And frankly, I don’t know if this is a new thing for Starbucks, but most service jobs I’ve worked at did that: made people go home early when sales were low and announced next week’s schedules only a few days before that week began. Now, “is” doesn’t imply “ought.” But I’m just putting my anecdatum out there.

        And for what it’s worth, I think the four-hour guaranteed pay for temps is a law I’d support.Report

  12. KatherineMW says:

    I’d be okay with moving pretty much anywhere within the country if I had work there. Heck, I’ve applied for a job in Iqaluit (as well as applying for quite a lot internationally).

    I like most of the place I’ve lived, and I enjoy seeing and experiencing new places, so there’s not a lot of ones I would be reluctant to go to. The list of places I wouldn’t be willing to go to if they were willing to employ me is short – less along the lines of “Nebraska” and more along the lines of “the Democratic Republic of Congo” (rural Haiti also didn’t work out).

    (It kind of goes with the territory when you study international development.)Report

    • @katherinemw

      I don’t know about your situation specifically, but I think that @saul-degraw ‘s point #8 makes an important point that in my opinion is under-discussed. It’s that there might be fewer options available for him, as a Jewish person, than, say, for me, when it comes to moving. (Again, I don’t know your situation.)

      If he does pull up stakes and move elsewhere, especially if it’s a smaller town, he’ll be taking a gamble that he won’t be welcome there while I wouldn’t be taking the same gamble. And not being welcome there could be more of the less harmful “being seen as an example of exotica” or it could be violence. I do dislike the way he’ll sometimes take a quotation from some small-town politician and imply that every smaller town everywhere in the US is exactly like that politician. But one doesn’t always know such things ahead of time. And once having moved to a smaller town, it’s harder to move if moving means getting yet another job and establishing oneself.

      In a larger city, however, one can usually find a neighborhood that’s more amenable to who one is. Or if one finds their neighborhood isn’t so amenable, one can often move to a different one without having to change jobs. That’s not a desirable state of affairs, but it’s probably better than the options facing one in a small town.

      Now, I do think Saul is quick to make pretty broad-brush assumptions about people and places he likely doesn’t know much about. And I think what he writes has a tendency to lend itself to the interpretation that he thinks we “owe” him a solid-paying job in the city of his choice. But his situation is definitely different from mine as a non-Jewish white person.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Well, there’s at least one place in the world that Saul can go and I can’t. And as a woman there’s some places that I should be more wary about going than a man would be (e.g., the oilfields of northern Alberta are reputedly not a good place for a young single woman; and there are some place internationally that are rough for anyone but worse for women), but beyond that I take your point.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Well, there’s at least one place in the world that Saul can go and I can’t. And as a woman there’s some places that I should be more wary about going than a man would be (e.g., the oilfields of northern Alberta are reputedly not a good place for a young single woman; and there are some place internationally that are rough for anyone but worse for women), but beyond that I take your point. Though I think assuming that anywhere smaller than a million-person city is anti-Semitic is greatly excessive.Report

      • Though I think assuming that anywhere smaller than a million-person city is anti-Semitic is greatly excessive.

        I agree with that. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s thinking of towns in the 10,000 population range.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        @gabriel-conroy @katherinemw

        Big cities can also have Jewish problems if the Jewish population is small enough:

        I happen to really like Seattle as a city but I find it disturbing that stuff like this can happen in a city as big and generally liberal as Seattle:

        “In Seattle, people tell me over and over that I’m the only Jew they know, which constantly amazes me. But, again, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The other night I was talking with a friend who said that before he temporarily left this city, at the age of 18, to attend college on the East Coast, he didn’t know what a Jew was. Even more astounding: The number of Seattleites who know I’m Jewish and yet ask me, year after year, what I’m doing for Christmas.

        There continues to be a basic and widespread ignorance in this city about some of the fundamental tenets of Judaism, an ignorance that is no doubt linked to the low number of Jews in this area, but one that continually leads to awkward encounters, annoying conversations, and embarrassingly ham-handed actions from public officials. Take, as one example of this region’s bumbling dealings with Jews, the silly contretemps that erupted this year over the Christmas trees at Sea-Tac airport. The whole thing was absurd and dripped with a thinly veiled small-town longing for national attention (no matter that getting this national attention involved boarding the “War on Christmas” crazy train). But it was nevertheless telling that after Sea-Tac officials were confronted by a litigious rabbi who wanted a menorah on display at the airport in addition to the Christmas trees, the officials temporarily took down the trees and publicly admitted that they had never given any thought to their exclusively Chistmas-y decorations. This would be too embarrassing an admission to make in a more Jewish city. However, in a region that tends not to think much about Jews, it was accepted as an understandable oversight.

        Similarly, last year, when a candidate for the board of the Seattle Monorail Project, Cindi Laws, suggested that her Jewish opponent was being financed by wealthy Jews in an alleged anti-Monorail Jewish conspiracy, her defense was largely the same—that she hadn’t thought much about Jewish sensitivities until some vaguely anti-Semitic sentences came tumbling out of her mouth.

        In the 2000 census by the Jewish Federation, 28 percent of Seattle-area respondents said they had personally experienced anti-Semitism in the past five years, and the most commonly reported experience was being singled out unfavorably in a social relationship. This doesn’t surprise me. In Seattle, I haven’t experienced anti-Semitism in the classic sense of being called a “kike” or checked for horns beneath my hair, or in any of its more violent manifestations, such as the shooting earlier this year at the Jewish Federation, in which Naveed Afzal Haq, a loner upset with Jews, killed Pamela Waechter, a 58-year-old Jewish fund-raiser, and injured five other women. But I do frequently find myself in social situations where people say amazingly stupid things about me, or Jews in general. Often, I chalk it up to them never having known a Jew. But at times it can seem an almost willful ignorance, one that makes me wonder whether, at the root of this ignorance, there is some anti-Semitic disinterest, or perhaps disdain.”

        FWIW when I was in Seattle last October, I saw a good number of signs that highlighted the Jewish especially the Sephardic Jewish history of the area including how many stands were originally run by Jews at Pike Place Market.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Saul, do you realize how weird that passage reads? Frankly, it comes of less as an exploration of minority hardship that it does as a lament at the loss of something very much like majority privilege.

        “People in area with near-zero Jewish population are ignorant of Judaism” isn’t a shocking headline–it’s practically a tautology. I get that that level of ignorance is really, really shitty. It’s a complete hassle to deal with. But it’s also the sort of hassle that every minority population besides Yours deals with on a regular basis.

        To say that “I’m more comfortable among my own community, and I’m willing to make some tough economic choices to make that happen” is fine and dandy. But saying that it’s completely unreasonable to ask a Jewish person to move to a city like Seattle to find a job ignores the fact that, for example, every single Sikh in the US lives in a place that is as ignorant of their culture as Seattle is of yours.Report

      • My original comment to Katherine was an attempt to find a way to agree with what you say. I wasn’t saying antisemitism is absent in towns of over 10,000 people. Neither, for that matter, was I saying that towns of ca. 10,000 or fewer people are peculiarly antisemitic. I was acknowledging what seemed to be implied in your OP point #8 that moving to a small town is more of a gamble for a Jewish person than it is for someone like me.

        You know this much better than I, but you’ll find antisemitism everywhere. Even in NYC (you’ve discussed about tensions between Jewish and African American communities, and while I won’t call the tensions motivated by antisemitism, it can manifest as an “us vs. them” situation where the “them” is sometimes “those who are Jewish.”) And I can tell you that Denver–one of the cities you have elsewhere suggested might be an acceptable place to live–is no exception to the “antisemitism exists there” truth. It’s not a horrible place, and I have known Jewish people who live there, but haven’t asked them about their own experiences. But that is where the shooting of Allen Berg happened in the early 1980s and as recently as the 1990s, the KKK did demonstrations downtown on MLK day.

        Again, I don’t know what it’s like to be Jewish and have to face a lot of the prejudices Jews or most non-majority people face. And I largely agree with @alan-scott .Report

  13. Tod Kelly says:

    @saul-degraw “Do you think I’m in for a bashing?”

    I don’t know about a ‘bashing,’ but I confess I can feel my parenting instincts are kicking in.

    I have to say, Saul, I’m not sure I understand you point of view at all. There are a few things that I have to say I think you’re mislabeling:

    Things You ‘Have’ To Do: I might be reading you wrong, but I have a sense that there are a number of things that you feel you have no choice about that are 100% in your control, which includes exchanging debt for higher education, that you have to be an attorney, and that if you are an attorney you have to do freelance work.

    Things You Can Expect In the Workplace: Again, I might well be reading you incorrectly, but I’m getting the sense that you feel like since you went to school you should reasonably expect to get a job in your choice of career, be paid X in salary and benefits, and that you should be offered this position in the city or cities you most want to live in. Unless I’m reading you wrong, the best advice I can give you is to stop expecting these things.

    Things Today Are Different Than Yesterday: None of this is different from the way it was when I was your age. (Well, the particular details are always changing, but the big stuff stays pretty constant.)Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      “Things Today Are Different Than Yesterday: None of this is different from the way it was when I was your age. (Well, the particular details are always changing, but the big stuff stays pretty constant.)”

      Now this is what my parents would say. I would largely agree but add you can’t see whether things are truly different until decades after the fact.

      According to this article, 76.4 percent of U.S. faculty are adjuncts meaning that they are hired on a course by course basis without tenure, benefits, and only payed per a class. A really ambitious adjunct might be able to teach 5 to 6 courses during a semester. Most likely the number is 1-3.

      I find it difficult to believe that this was true when you were in college. There have always been adjunct faculty and getting a tenure track position was never easy but I think the explosion to adjunct professorships is remarkable. Adjuncting used to be what you did as a PhD student to earn teaching cred from what I hear and read.

      So maybe it was always this way and in ten or twenty years all the current adjuncts will be gainfully employed and they will view the adjuncting as a battle scar that proved themselves. Maybe not. Only time will tell. Maybe the same will be true with lawyers who currently contract and freelance as well.Report

      • I find it difficult to believe that this was true when you were in college.

        He said the general phenomenon of having to make sacrifices or tradeoffs was true when he was young. He also said the details had changed.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        So isn’t it possible that @saul-degraw doesn’t think his is the first generation that has had to make tradeoffs and sacrifices for, but that he sees data that suggests the details of that are different and significantly more challenging than they have been for recent generations, and that that may be significant?

        It would be convenient for the generations for whom the details were sigificantly less challenging to say, eh, we had challenges too, the details are just details. If we’re going to entertain the discussion, why *wouldn”t* the details be exactly what matters.

        The way to dismiss all of this, in my mind, would be to just point out that we’re talking about the relative challenges of the privileged in achieving success, and that’s just too socially myopic to give any consideration to. But with that bathwater goes any comparative consideration of how difficult it is for one generation of strivers to succeed compared to her parent’s striving path to success. I think ultimately lots and lots of people are very interested in that question. And if such questions s can potentially matter, or even just if people are interested in them, then it will be the details that tell how great the differences are. It’s a red herring to just say that some generation isn’t the first to have to sacrifice to achieve success.

        “The differences are just in the details” is just a colossal dodge, that’s all it is.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        What GC said.

        Consider: When I was out of college, benefits (in almost all companies) were a thing not paid until you had been promoted to supervisor at best, but usually some level of middle or upper management. Then labor laws changed, so that you weren’t really allowed to do that any longer. Even prior to the ACA, for over a decade you have been required to treat employees equally from a benefit standpoint. (More or less; there are some rarely used exceptions.) And so since those changes, companies have essentially found a way to do what they’d done all along — which is have two levels of employees they had to pay certain things to.

        Today, you are a “freelancer” — or a “contractor,” or someone who isn’t allowed to work over 30 hours, or whatever. If you were in your same job in my out-of-school era, you still would have gotten a lower wage with no (or very little) benefits until you’d managed to work or claw your way up the corporate ladder a bit. You simply would have been clearer up front that it was something that you might or might not ever earn.

        I’ve never worked in academia, so I can’t say for certain how that system works, but I suspect that it’s similar… and that the increase in adjuncts over the past couple of decades is a way to loophole out of labor laws that have been passed since I went to college.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I had my doubts that Saul’s view could be vindicated by a look at the details, but the point is that now you’re addressing the details. Because they always were going to be what mattered in any discussion of this, not the fact that a claim that Saul didn’t make that his is the first generation to have had to struggle for success is false.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Odd. I’m a bit older than you are, I think, and I got full benefits in my first job out of school.Report

      • @michael-drew

        Yes, it’s possible that the details/differences now can be so great, or represent something like a “secular trend,” that what Saul describes really is something new. And for his profession, it seems to be new, at least if we look at the intermediate term of post-WWII 20th century lawyering. I suspect if we looked earlier in the 20th century and back into the 19th, we would find not contract labor necessarily, but a lot more contingencies in the system as entry requirements transitioned from the apprentice-style training to law school. I would bet a small sum of money that there were a significant number of people who “read law” but never or only very late in the game got anything like a career wage.


        For what it’s worth, my first job after getting my BA was called a “1,000 hours” position as a bank teller. I was allowed to work only 1,000 hours in a calendar year, and it was obviously a way to avoid granting benefits. I started in June, so I got a lot of hours and continued to have almost a full-time schedule the next calendar year. By May or so, they promoted me to “permanent part time,” which carried benefits. In August, I quit to go to grad school (MA program). Not sure what that’s supposed to mean in the big scheme of things, but that was my immediate post-BA experience.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Here are my questions if things were the same when you were my age:

      1. Did you ever get frustrated and feel like things were more difficult as compared to your parents or things were somehow different. I will grant that the first time I heard “our generation is expected to do less well than our parents” was with the older Generation Xers in 1992 and they seem to largely be doing okay.

      2. It should be generally acceptable for people to vent frustrations as they live them because still based on your post, you are acknowledging that building a career has always been difficult and starts with lots of temping, freelancing, and contract work.Report

      • It should be generally acceptable for people to vent frustrations as they live them because still based on your post, you are acknowledging that building a career has always been difficult and starts with lots of temping, freelancing, and contract work.

        I think it’s acceptable, but one ought to expect the obvious pushback.

        Also, it didn’t seem to me that the main point of your OP was to vent. Maybe it was, but it didn’t seem to me that way. It seemed to me you were making the argument that things were somehow peculiarly wrong now and that things need to change so that freelancing is less of a necessity. There seemed to also be a correlative argument that your situation is all the more tragic because you were originally trained in the arts/theatre and couldn’t find a job there.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        My parents grew up in the Depression. My wife’s parents grew up in occupied Holland and Indonesia.

        I think your generation, however legitimate its frustrations, has a lot to be thankful for.Report

      • Mo in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @james-hanley I wonder how much of the current generational frustration has to do with how uniquely good things were in the years of their childhood and those good times are projected back in time. The 90s were the first time in the post WWII era where the specter of potential nuclear annihilation wasn’t around and the economy was humming along in part because we cashed in the peace dividend. That situation is pretty darn singular.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        There seemed to also be a correlative argument that your situation is all the more tragic because you were originally trained in the arts/theatre and couldn’t find a job there.

        You know, that was a pretty insensitive thing for me to say. I’ve had dreams, too, that I’ve had to give up or trade off for other things–some not as good, some equally good, and some better, but what was given up was always something lost, a possibility forgone. I realize you’ve had your dreams, too, and had to change them and it’s not easy. So I’m sorry for saying that.Report

      • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @gabriel-conroy , that’s how I saw it too. Like I said, personal choices projected onto the world as general trends.

        It sucks to have one’s dreams shattered. I seriously doubt that the rate at which dreams are shattered now are all that different from what they were in the 60s or 70s or 80s (or likely well before). Hell, having one’s dreams shattered is one of the most common themes in the modern world. That’s kind of what the modern world is about: realizing that the options one sees from a distance are largely unavailable when one finally gets close.Report

      • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’ll add, you had the opportunity to attempt to chase two of your dreams, theater and law. That neither of them has worked out quite like you pictured sucks, it really does. That you had those opportunities? That means that your trajectory sucks a lot less than those of a whole hell of a lot of people.

        I have a friend who was convinced that he was going to play in the NBA. He played Division 1 ball at a small school in Alabama, then played around some pro leagues in various countries for a bit, and finally got drafted by the Iowa Energy. He was cut in their final round of cuts before the season started. Went back to playing in Mexico for a bit, then gave up the dream, worked at a men’s store, drove a delivery truck, and just has not been able to get over the disappointment. He has a college degree to fall back on, but starting another career is just too painful for him, emotionally. It’s been sad to watch over the last several years. But man, he’s from Mississippi. He grew up dirt poor. He’s hurting, but he knows things could be much worse for him. They are for most of the people he grew up with.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “1. Did you ever get frustrated and feel like things were more difficult as compared to your parents or things were somehow different. ”

        I’m not sure how relevant how you or I feel or felt is. My sister certainly did felt that way for years; me not so much. That had everything to do with our chosen professions, andnothing to do with our generation. For that matter, in the years before my retirement everyone in their 20s and 30s that worked for me made far more than I made at their ages.

        “I will grant that the first time I heard “our generation is expected to do less well than our parents” was with the older Generation Xers in 1992 and they seem to largely be doing okay.”

        I will do you one further, because that was the rallying cry when I was in high school all the way through my 20s. According to my dad, it was his generation’s as well.

        “2. It should be generally acceptable for people to vent frustrations as they live them because still based on your post, you are acknowledging that building a career has always been difficult and starts with lots of temping, freelancing, and contract work.”

        Oh, I think it’s acceptable for you to vent about anything you want. Have at it.

        But because I am incredibly fond of you, as I say my parenting instinct kicks in. Which is why I feel like telling you: Starting a successful career is not necessarily difficult — it can be, but not necessarily.

        However, your post isn’t about starting a successful career. It’s about doing the job of X for Y dollars in Z city. That is a very, very different thing. Doing the job of X for Y dollars in Z city may be very difficult depending on X, Y and Z — it might be so difficult that it’s a very big (maybe even foolish) gamble for you to devote your life to trying to make that happen.

        But X, Y and Z are all variables, and there is no on win the world other than Saul Degraw that is making Saul Degraw define ‘success’ as that particular combination of variables. If that is your dream — big, overarching, I-don’t-care-about-anything-else-in-llfe-than-being-and-doing-that-no-matter-the-outcome dream, then awesome. As we kids of the 80s said, go for it. But if not, then consider the possibility that it isn’t that the system is broken so much as you’re running on the wrong racetrack.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “But because I am incredibly fond of you, as I say my parenting instinct kicks in. Which is why I feel like telling you: Starting a successful career is not necessarily difficult — it can be, but not necessarily.”

        That’s very sweet. Thank you. I’m sincerely touched.Report

    • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      You’re kinder than I. My comment was going to be, “Entitlement is not attractive.”

      I think Will has Saul’s number: he’s made certain choices, particularly about where to live, but also what kind of jobs to take, and he projects the consequences of these choices onto the world as unique contemporary trends. See also: the post on books.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Chris says:

        I think that entitlement has become such a loaded word that it is easy to forget that sometimes people are entitled to be entitled.

        After all, I am entitled to a paycheck every 15th and 30th. If I have a bad day at work, I am still entitled to the same amount on my next paycheck.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I’m pretty sure that in contexts such as these, “entitlement” is short for “unearned entitlement,” or even “undeserved entitlement.” It’s “You feel entitled to X when you are in no way entitled to X.”

        You are of course entitled to be paid for work you’ve done, but in that case it’s an earned entitlement.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        You can do any thing you want. You can probably do any two things you want. You might be able to do three things that you want, depending.

        Once you start wanting five or six things, you’re going to have to start choosing between them.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      @chris @tod-kelly @gabriel-conroy

      I was honestly going more for what @michael-cain’s discussion on the rise of the “gig economy” as his anthropologist friend calls it but apparently my writing attempt backfired based on using myself as an example or some other reason that was largely my fault. And then I got defensive in the comments which was also no one’s fault but my own when the comments went in an unexpected direction.

      Now I suppose you can argue that the “gig economy” just a temporary thing or it has always existed for people at the start of their careers and I tried to make concessions that a lot of the complaints and feelings of frustration could be “confusing today for tomorrow” but I do think there is a real feeling out there among many people that they have been gigging for a long time and it hasn’t ended. I know people who have been adjuncting for over a decade.Report

      • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        As I believe Michael was hinting at, the “gig economy” is largey a result of certain aspects of employment law that allow employers to avoid benefits, bonuses, etc., by hiring people as contractors rather than as full time employees. This is certainly not new, though it has gotten worse. Part of the reason it’s gotten worse, however, is that a bunch of people went into fields that were pretty much saturated, labor-wise, particularly professional fields like law. This means that there’s a ton of surplus labor for those firms, and they don’t have to worry about things like employment retention, because there are 1,000 more people with the same skills waiting to perform the same job. In a sense, ya’ll are experiencing what unskilled laborers experience all the time, only you’re still getting paid a hell of a lot better.

        I have a friend who investigates wage claims for Texas. The horror stories he tells about contract labor are really, really awful. And they seem to get worse and worse. It’s a rough way to go through life, getting paid $150/hr and then not getting your bonuses at the end because the employer terminates the contract just before they accrue. But most of the people I hear about who do that could, if they so chose, go into a different field, one less reliant on contract labor, make a bit less than $150/hr, and not have to deal with the headaches. That they choose not to says to me that as shitty as it is — and I am one person you will almost never hear siding with employers against labor — they prefer it to the alternatives.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        There is a school of thought that almost every career in the United States is at over-saturation including the STEM fields which many political and other elites tout as a cure-all. There are others who point out that politicians really mean sTEm because they are not exactly looking for the next Richard Feynman or Paul Dirac but the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sirgey Birn.

        Former OTer Freddie DeBoer had a good essay on why it is impossible to train education to meet the job demand needs of the economy is because education planning will always act behind the curve. We might need Ruby programmers today but that does not mean the demand won’t collapse in 4 or so years when the new crop of undergrads will finish their degrees.

        I pretty much agree with Freddie’s essay on this issue.

        For better or for worse, law school was seemingly the best option for me because my career trajectory at the time included a lot of freelancing, some part-time publishing work, and being an independent supervisor at a non-profit Board of Directors election. And for better or for worse, more people have hired me for law type stuff than anything else despite the law school crisis/crunch so I am grateful in many ways if often feeling that it might be different this time.

        I am of course hopping that you, Tod, and Gabriel are right and this is the same as it has always been.Report

  14. ScarletNumbers says:

    Perhaps someone on here could come up with a post on why no one likes whiners.

    Also, we have a fetish in this country for people taking “responsibility” for their own actions.

    I think whiners get a bad rap. Just because someone is whining doesn’t mean he is wrong. The reason why we like when people taking responsibility for their own actions is because people are inherently lazy. If they don’t have to figure out who is to blame in a particular situation, it is one less thing for them to do.

    This is why in school everyone is in involved in a fight is punished: it isn’t fair but if school administrators had to figure out who is right and who is wrong, it would take a lot of time.Report

    • Maybe it’s not an either/or. Maybe taking some responsibility for one’s choices while also addressing the systemic difficulties is a better way to go. In retrospect, that probably was what I wanted to convey in my “glass half-full” comment.Report