The first few weeks (okay, let’s be honest, months) after I graduated were the most difficult of my life. I say that not to be depressing or self-deprecating, but because it is a simple fact and I now (and you should) treat it as such. To be flung from a close-knit group of peers and mentors full of routine, tradition, and inside jokes into a world full of uncertainty and borderline solipsism is incredibly trying and, at its darkest points, starkly existential.
The hard truth: I graduated with a degree that roughly 99% of the US knows nothing about. Not only do I have to answer the haggard question, “What are you doing now?” but I must also answer the unstated (and more ireful), “…what is dramaturgy?”. A paragraph of every cover letter I write is dedicated to an explicit definition of what it is and how it applies to the specific position. (All the while knowing that the skills I learned achieving my degree in dramaturgy applies to almost every position if only I could explain it in exactly the way they want to hear it.) I’ve applied to corporate positions, non-profit gigs, housekeeping ads, everything. Perpetually screaming, “Hello world, I know that I have a weird sounding degree that makes you go ‘huh?’ and is hard to pronounce BUT I possess great talents!”. I then list the skills it takes to be a good dramaturg: proficiency in writing and researching, an eye for detail, self-motivation, ability to look at a problem through multiple lenses, calm under pressure, very articulate, skilled at multi-tasking. Inevitably the interviewer interrupts at some point with, “So, wait, it’s pronounced ‘dra-mah-turj’?” to which I irefully respond, “Oh, actually it’s ‘drah-mah-tur-gee’. When I work professionally I’m called the ‘dra-mah-tur-guh,’” placing an emphasis on each syllable praying, please god MAKE IT STOP. I am overjoyed every time, as a freelance speech coach, I get the chance to teach high schoolers nice and early about what dramaturgy is (read as: one less stranger I’ll have to explain it to at an interview or over pumping bass at a bar).
In the weeks that immediately followed my graduation from The Theatre School at DePaul University, I found myself pouring through the varied literature in the self-improvement section of Barnes and Nobles like a preschooler slurping down a juice box after recess. Because, I thought, all of this literature must have the answers to all my questions between their glossy covers. And, in some cases, they did. What follows is, frankly, what I liked the most.
- Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (once a column in the New York Times, now a published book), in which he outlines 10 steps to unlock your creativity in an aesthetically pleasing and just plain real way. Stunners like: “Don’t worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don’t worry about unity—what unifies your work is the fact that you made it. One day, you’ll look back and it will all make sense.” Also, things to noodle on like this: “If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew?” Not to mention quotes from Frances Ford Coppola: “We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you,” amongst others. Oh and great diagrams:
- Life After College by Jenny Blake. At first I thought it was pretty pathetic and Girls-esque to actually purchase this book, but it turned out to be less condescending than I assumed. The first exercise is the only post-grad survey I’ve ever actually filled out, and it helped me get things in perspective. Essentially you have a long think about which of life’s common values are most important to you (roughly equivalent to a couple slaps to the brain). Take this list, the same one as the book’s, and pick your top 20 life values. Cut it down to 10. Cut it down to 5.
- “How I Work” series on Lifehacker.com and “What I Read” column of The Atlantic. The entire left-hand column of http://www.brainpickings.org/. I’m not even going to explain these ones, they’re too good. Just go.
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Okay, so this one is essays and not self-help, but if reading Joan Didion doesn’t help me, then, I don’t know what does. She shows that stark honesty is the best policy with, “…innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself,”…woah. And in the timeless “On Keeping a Notebook,” “I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.” Sometimes it scares me how much I love her.
- And then a few nuggets that seem to condense pretty much what everyone’s saying. I’ve picked them up throughout all of these books and countless hours on the Internet reading these same things:
a. Read more than you’ve ever read before.
b. Learn marketable tasks in your spare time (juggling, a new computer program, how to fold napkins in fancy ways).
c. Keep your home clean and free of clutter.
d. Find a way to pay the bills that doesn’t make you 100% hate life.
e. Surround yourself with people you love, who inspire you. Have many conversations and lots of fun.
f. You should be your harshest critic AND your biggest fan, equally.
g. If things are ever looking grim, take a walk outside, and you’ll find that everything is where you left it.
Photo: Some of what I’ve read since graduation.
My college career consisted of a collage of interests, projects, and experiences. My post-collegiate life is very much the same. I now consider myself a freelancer, which essentially means I juggle multiple jobs and projects at the same time. I’m simultaneously serving as dramaturg on Dog and Pony Theatre Co.’s COUNTERFEITERS (opening February 16 at Collaboraction’s Pentagon Theatre in Flatiron Arts Building buy your tickets here!), serving as a public speaking coach for two high schools, serving as a ticket broker, and just plain serving (at Oiistar, a new restaurant in Wicker Park). I’ve by no means “figured it out” (whatever it is), but my mantra ever since this whole graduation thing started is “ride the wave” and, at times it’s pretty gnarly, but I’m having an awesome time trying to crush it.
Brittany Squier graduated in 2012 with a B.F.A. in Dramaturgy & Criticism from The Theatre School at DePaul University. She is a freelance dramaturg in the city and is currently working with Dog and Pony Theatre Co on COUNTERFEITERS. She has served as a research assistant, speech coach, script librarian, journalist, in various customer service positions, and is currently a ticket broker and server at Oiistar in Wicker Park. In her free time she tries to be as funny as possible in written form and she curates and produces art shows and events. Contact at email@example.com.