Ethan - 35 - Cook/Barista
I grew up mostly in California, graduated High School in Colorado, attended several colleges most recently in Illinois.
We moved from CA to CO when my dad had to relocate for work. I was halfway through High School. It was difficult to leave friends but it felt very stifling to live in CA. Lots of outside pressure to succeed; almost tangible.The pressure to succeed is partially a class thing and partially just a California thing. We moved to Longmont, CO, which seemed more of an accepting city. In the way that you could try something and if it does’t work, try something else. In San Jose you have to keep up with your neighbors; there’s a lot of class pressure there too.
I’m the oldest of 3 siblings, I have 2 brothers and a sister.
After I graduated HS, I decided to go to film school. I’d never made a film before, I just thought, “I like movies. This is something I could do.” So I applied to 3 schools, and RIT accepted me basically before I finished the application. So I took that right away. My parents I think were nervous but they weren’t really guiding me in a particular direction. There’s been times where I’ve even been angry that they should have been more persistent or demanding. I figured out in junior high that I didn’t have to get straight A’s. So I didn’t. I was a pretty good obedient kid, though. So I still did well.
I didn’t get my film degree. I went for a year and then had a freakout moment where I realized film wasn’t what I should be trying to do for a career. So I moved back home and went to community college Gen Ed classes that would transfer. I worked a lot of retail at that point in my life.
After that I visited some friends at Trinity college in Illinois. I was raised Christian. I liked the vibe of the school so I asked a bunch of students what people hated about the school but it was the same stuff that you hear about every school. I just wanted to finish up college and get on with my life. So I enrolled and started as a history major and ended as an English major. After 2 years at Trinity I realized that I’d just gone to college because it was what you did after high school. I still had no idea what I was doing, or what I wanted to do with my life. I was 22 then. I dropped out of Trinity. Because I hopped around so much, I still had many semesters left to an actual degree after 4.5 years of college.
It was nice to see someone doing something; like, “I have this job to pay the bills but I want to be doing something else.”
While I attended Trinity I worked at a Barnes and Noble in Deerfield, and I’d moved to Arlington Heights after that second year. They promoted me to manager, so I just stayed working there and living in IL. I actually worked with Jeffrey Brown there, I didn’t really get to know him that well but I know he’d just finished Clumsy and was shopping it around to various publishers and was selling it on consignment at some bookshops in Chicago. It was nice to see someone doing something; like, “I have this job to pay the bills but I want to be doing something else.”
Eventually all my roommates started getting engaged and I realized that my time in the place I was living was coming to an end, and I had been talking with some friends of mine that lived in Madison, WI and they were going to be attending this sort of alternative bible school thing where you go part time to classes and did some traveling missions work. I wasn’t super keen on being a part of another Christian community but I’d met some of the people who were going to be involved with it and saw it as an opportunity to at least move and start something different and see where that goes.
I moved to Madison in 2001, I had some money from B&N and had some money saved up. They paid me pretty well as a manager. I unintentionally took about 6 months off work, spent a lot of time exploring Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, basically the upper midwest.
Most of my regrets about not finishing school are the opportunities not available to me because I don’t have a degree. I felt like in high school, if you want to be a doctor you need a medical degree. If you want to be an educator you need to have a teaching degree, etc. But I found out much later on that most employers really don’t care what your degree is in. It’s just the showing of “hey I did this; I can finish something.” Some things require specialized training and you have to do it. But you can take the bar exam in most states without having a law degree.
Currently I’m a barista and a cook. I cook at a corporate training center for a big commercial and consumer appliance corporation and I also cook for a catering company. I’m also a barista at a coffee shop that my friends own. I mentioned that 6 months of unintentional sabbatical after I moved to Madison. It left me pretty broke and I started getting really desperate to work again. I was totally out of money and had to call my student loan lenders to ask for forbearance because I had no income. I started to look for jobs at the end of summer when all the college kids move into town, and quickly realized that when there’s 35,000 people looking for jobs in this city, it can be hard to find one. I was just trying to figure out how to make ends meet when I walked into a fast food burrito place and they basically offered me a job as I walked in to ask if they were hiring and I jumped at it. That was my gateway into cooking.
I love cooking but I can’t see myself doing this long term. I don’t really want to be a chef because there’s a level of responsibility there that I don’t really find enjoyable and to be honest there are some aspects of it that I’m just not good at. I like cooking but I don’t want to be the guy in charge. Plus, it’s really hard on your body; you’re on your feet all the time, sometimes for hours in the same spot doing these repetitive things.
There were some really valuable things I learned though; like just general life and social skills. It’s funny; it’s stuff I feel like I should have learned in high school as opposed to say, differential equations.
Nothing really came of my time with the “Christian Community” thing. I mean, it was a lot like a bible college and I made some great friends and had some amazing experiences but currently I’d say I’m probably closer to agnostic than anything else. I think the agnostic thing was part of the fallout of going to more bible training but also partially being able to think for the first time, “What do I really believe? What do I think is true?” There were some really valuable things I learned though; like just general life and social skills. How to focus on things day to day and how to treat people as adults and as human beings. How to take a goal you have and make a plan to head towards that goal. It’s funny; it’s stuff I feel like I should have learned in high school as opposed to say, differential equations.
I like Madison, though; it’s a good city. I like the size, there are times that I wish it was bigger but I like how I never feel as anonymous as I do in a big city like Chicago or Boston. And with the university we have a great arts scene and music. I also have quite a few friends here that I don’t want to just move away from. Not that those relationships would be severed; it would just be more difficult. There’s times where I feel like I can’t move because I’ve made some fantastic decisions regarding college and not finishing so I have all this debt so I’ve got this stuff hanging over my head. If I move to a bigger city I feel like I’d have to make X-amount of dollars more use because I’m moving in with this debt in addition to cost of living being higher.
Also there’s this feeling that like, I’m 35. Have I forgotten how to make friends?
Also there’s this feeling that like, I’m 35. Have I forgotten how to make friends? If I go somewhere new am I gonna be like, “Alright, I don’t really like the bar scene very much so what do I do to meet people?” School is easy, they put you in a class and it’s forced. It’s like making friends in prison; you do it because you have to.
There’s places I’d like to live but I don’t know what I’d do for work. I don’t necessarily want to cook but I have experience doing that. I don’t have a degree, but that’s not stopped many people over the course of history so… I don’t really know. I’d say I’m moderately content. There are probably things I’d rather be doing but a lot of times it seems like it’s going to take too much work or energy. Like when you watch the dishes pile up in the sink and it looks like so much work but when you actually go to wash them you’re like “Oh, that took five minutes.” But it seems like it’s going to take an hour so I put it off longer. Or I don’t know where to start or it’s like any thing you try to do outside what you’re used to. There’s a nervousness around it. You don’t want to fail. It’s like writing a book; realistically every author’s first book they write is going to suck. So if I was to try to write a book I’d probably just need to write one and throw it away. But nobody wants to think about that.
I don’t want to ever be that washed up guy who let himself go; always talking about my glory days. I hope mine haven’t even come yet.
In 5-10 years, I’d like to be somewhere else. I think naturally seeing the same thing over and over, being in a routine generally produces a bit of wanderlust. Even down to driving or riding the same route to or from work every day. I don’t want to be the old man reminiscing, “I remember when that used to be…” I never want to be in that suburban reactive state where you give in to what happens to you: playing softball with the same people every week at the same time, going to the same fish fry every Friday night, taking the kids to soccer practice 3 nights a week, etc. I don’t want to ever be that washed up guy who let himself go; always talking about my glory days. I hope mine haven’t even come yet.