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I'm Only Here for the WiFi
A Complete Guide to Reluctant Adulthood
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Format:ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 6, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Walk into a coffee shop this Wednesday afternoon. What would you expect to see? After all, it’s the time of the week when most people should be attending to whatever activity they’ve chosen to contribute to society—leisure time, as we were raised to understand it, is usually relegated to evenings and weekends. And yet, as if the whole world has just stopped turning and the laws of economics have ceased to apply, the coffee shop will be filled with young, able-bodied humans. Physically adept, intellectually curious, they have all coalesced to nibble on the same stale muffin for four hours and do all but build a makeshift shelter at the back table by the bathroom. With almost no regard to the idea that WiFi, as well as table space itself, costs money, the entire entity of a coffee shop has been usurped by people determined to linger over the same cup of drip coffee for an entire afternoon. Tapping away on $1,500 computers, you’ll see a whole branch of society hard at work doing, well, whatever it is they do.
And what is that, exactly? It could be any number of things. Sure, there will be the vacant horde who have long since given up on their dreams and have resigned themselves to aimless Facebook cruising. There will be the networkers, updating their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles (just kidding—LinkedIn is for people who have to go to offices), making those powerful social connections. There will be freelancers, whose incomes range from “whatever my parents put on the card this month” to “secret billionaire,” but those are deceptively hard to spot in a crowd. What is sure, though, is that this is where they are safe. This is where they won’t be judged, save for the occasional hateful glance from the guy picking up the empty cups and resenting the fact that somehow he got stuck having to work an actual job.
We’ve all read endless articles and studies about how monumentally directionless our young people are, in everything from The New York Times to Slate, and while it’s so easy to turn up your nose and tell us to indiscriminately “get a life,” it’s not hard to see why the situation is so bleak. Since we were old enough to know the sweet, sweet ecstasy of a gold star on a sheet of paper, we’ve been told to go to college. We’ve been told to dream big, because there is nothing we couldn’t do. We’ve been told to pursue any- and everything, from ballerina to astronaut to teacher to doctor, and promised that with enough vigor and tuition, we’d achieve it. Several years and trillions of dollars of student debt later, we’ve realized that it’s just not like that. We’ve moved grudgingly back into our parents’ basements, or in hopeful flocks toward the Great Cities on the hill—Portland, New York, Philly, D.C., L.A.—to continue to pursue a dream, only this time with well over $1,000-a-month rents and jobs we always haughtily imagined would be beneath us at twenty-three. Reality is repeatedly splashing us in the face with ever-colder water, and our preconceived notions about everything have turned out to be, at best, wrong, and, at worst, incredibly expensive.
Those of us who moved to cities, though, have the added bonus of being surrounded by those who did “make it” in whatever sense we’ve long imagined that to be. Somehow affording an extravagant wedding at twenty-five, working a respectable position at a high-powered PR firm (who even believed those still existed?), or living in an apartment that seems too well-decorated to belong to someone who still does beer bongs—these are all proof that it’s possible. We come across people who walk around with all this “money” we’ve heard so much about, with places to go and a reason to look down on those who’ve been left behind. You don’t know the true existential cruelty of the social hierarchy until you’ve been forced to go to a brunch with twenty-two-year-olds who make $55K a year doing something they love. People who, a few mere months ago, may have been your close friends, now see you as something to be pitied, to be studied—a cautionary tale. “Oh, what are you doing? That sounds . . . fun.” No, it doesn’t. Working days at the Gap and nights babysitting does not sound fun to anyone, and your condescending lies aren’t canceling out your Marc Jacobs purse. We get it: Some people are more successful than others, and now, more than ever, that makes the special ones even more special.
Navigating just a single day as a young urban human being—whether professional or whatever the politically correct antithesis of that is—is an exercise in adaptation. We’ve learned to be entitled, to be fragile, and, yet, to be hopeful. All these things, in varying measure, prove to be in need of an extremely large grain of salt. Sure, great things can happen, but they likely take time. Yes, you should want success, but you may want to be flexible on the definition. Sure, emotions are necessary, but they cannot dictate your entire life. And if we don’t learn to accept these truths and adjust our lives accordingly, we could end up like so many of our fallen comrades, spending days on end at the coffee shop, inciting the ire of every barista to ever glare at us over the pastry case.
But from waking up in the morning, to slogging through public transportation (in all its urine-soaked forms), to putting in hours wherever we’ve chosen to put them, all the way down to deciding between a yardstick of shots with someone you just met waiting in line for the bathroom or going to bed at 9:00 p.m. like an adult—it’s all so much. We were promised that life was going to be riding around on a unicorn in a business suit, collecting gold coins, and moving into apartments that are less and less dependent on IKEA. We were promised the world.
It seems as though everyone lied to us. If you watched Sex and the City, you imagined that even if you look like Sarah Jessica Parker and have a personality akin to taking a cheese grater to the back of the calves, men will still fawn all over you. You will have your pick of the litter, and can go through dates, suitors, and engagements like a carousel that you only step off once every week or so to get drunk and go on a shopping spree with girl-friends. If you listened to college brochures and advisors, you imagined a long line of men and women in business suits waiting for you outside of college graduation wearing a name tag that says boss, and gleefully handing you a contract where you get paid $50K a year to gchat and have three-martini lunch meetings. If you listened to well-meaning relatives, you imagined that owning a house and settling down by the age of twenty-seven was not only what was expected, it was also going to be that magical line of painter’s tape across your life that designated the shift from “child” to “adult.” I think we can safely say that none of these things are realistic, and most are dangerous to believe in. To not feel like a disappointment in at least one category is to either be kidding yourself or to be too insufferable and perfect to even speak to. For your sake, I hope it’s the former.
Yet, every day is a new chapter, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and other clichés. I firmly believe that if we can just make it through this day, and the next, something is bound to pop up. Maybe just take yourself less seriously, accept that your mom may not be gloating about your job at whatever boring mom meet-up groups she goes to, and learn to laugh a tiny bit at the overall bleakness of the situation. I know that we’ll likely be reading endless articles over the next ten years about how the dating prospects are bad, the job prospects are LOL, and the real estate market is essentially breaking our collective kneecaps, but it’s really not so bad. You’ll see—deep down, we’re all in this together. Yes, even that girl on the subway every morning with the manicure, dry-cleaned skirt suit, energy smoothie, and not a hair out of place—she’s in it, too. She’s struggling to figure it out somehow. And if she’s not, well, we’ll push her off a cliff. I promise.
For now, though, we’ll all find a warm spot to congregate while we bemoan our respective difficulties in finding our place on the socioeconomic ladder. For some, it will be in the break room of a terrible temp job. For others, it will be at a house party on a Friday night where no one judges you for bringing a bottle of Boone’s or Mad Dog because everyone is broke. For still others, it will be at a coffee shop. It may not be the proudest moment of our lives, but at least we know that we’ll be able to work on our computers until the manager starts shooting us dirty looks around shift-change time. This is the land of milk and honey: The caffeine is hot, the Muzak is inoffensive, and the WiFi is unlimited. This is home.
Or, How Hard You Can Throw the Alarm Clock Before It Will Break
I should probably say, right off the bat, that I am not a morning person. I know that such people exist, and I know that they are the ones largely running society, inventing new technologies, and ridding the world of disease. I know that they are a necessary—if not the most necessary—part of society. But I, quite simply, am not one of them. I often wonder how much easier, healthier, and more lucrative my life would be if I were one of those people who jumps out of bed at 7:00 a.m. and butterfly kisses her motivational poster (as I imagine all morning people do), but I doubt I’ll ever reach such a lofty status. For me, and I assume for many of you, mornings will always be a bit of a struggle.
So things are already off to a bad start, reaching over and slapping the alarm clock. Depending on where you are in your twenties—and in your life—there could be any number of things you’re off to do. School, for those who are prolonging it painfully throughout as many years as they possibly can, perpetually deferring adulthood and paying off loans by accruing more loans (I assume in hopes of marrying a Saudi oil tycoon the day of their graduation with a master’s in creative writing). Work, for those who have either been lucky enough to get a “real” job or are slogging through with one that pays the bills and funds brunch two weekends a month. And then, for some of us, setting an alarm and giving us a time of day (arbitrary as it may be) to get up and join humanity is just a small, innocuous way to keep some kind of sanity, since being unemployed and living in your parents’ basement can become a slippery slope into delusion without a little routine.
Mornings, in any case, are full of checklists. Whether or not we write them down (and if you are the kind of person capable of physically making checklists and actually moving through them with some kind of accuracy, you will never know how I envy you), it is essential that we have at least some kind of routine. Some step-by-step process that we can hone and master as we grow up and begin to see life as not just one large obstacle, but a series of smaller, more refined obstacles that can be traversed if taken in small enough increments. And with any day’s tasks ahead of us, it is essential that we start things off on the right foot with our mental checklists, though it would be a lie to pretend that some things are harder to wake up for than others.
Perhaps the most unsatisfying of all the possible reasons to be waking up is for the menial work that many of us are forced to take to pay the bills, the kind of job that provides the Triple Crown of young adult despair and:
• Calls for long, tedious hours of barely compensated work that requires only a high school diploma (if that) to attain, and is filled with people we secretly despise/feel superior to on some sick level. Usually comes with a manager who is everything we want to avoid when we are his age.
• Has absolutely no value in terms of telling your parents; their horrendous, judgmental friends; or your own friends who have known the sweet taste of professional success.
• Leaves you perpetually in the hellish limbo of needing the job for the bare necessities it provides you with, and, despite your lack of respect for the position or your coworkers, finds you utterly disposable and replaceable.
Now, don’t get me wrong: Not every service, retail, or temp job is going to be such a soul drain, but it certainly makes getting up every day feel all the less satisfying. It promotes that ritualistic early-morning conversation with yourself, the one in which you debate quitting the stupid job because you could probably spread your cash super-thin and make it through the time it would take to find another job scooping ice cream or doing something like that. As the economy falters, this monologue becomes ever more a farce.
Sure, we’ve all had moments where we didn’t show up or we quit on the spot because we were so fed up with being tethered to a job for which there was zero respect on either side, but how long into “adulthood”—and financial responsibility—is that really going to be an option? There is a vast difference between an impassioned walk-out of your job at Target when you’re a carefree eighteen-year-old, and when you’re a twenty-five-year-old with evening master’s classes and a one-bedroom apartment to pay for.
So the morning routine. What is it supposed to be? What have we always imagined how “adults” transform themselves from a snoring pile of sweatpants into something that could theoretically interact with other humans? Well, at least in my imagination, it has consisted of:
• Set an alarm for a reasonable hour, allowing yourself at most one slap of the snooze button and giving you a perfect window of time to accomplish all that needs to be done before you begin your day.
• Turn off your alarm, get up, stretch, and make your bed behind you.
• Go to your bathroom, and take a relaxing fifteen-minute shower that gives you ample time to both cleanse and have the kind of soul-shattering philosophical epiphanies that only occur while standing naked under hot water.
• Dry and style your hair, apply your flattering but subtle makeup, and go back to your room (not before putting away the things you took out to get ready, of course).
• Stand pensively in front of your closet for approximately 1.23 minutes as you contemplate which outfit would give you the most effective combination of approachability, professionalism, and youthfulness to make the most out of every interaction you will have that day.
• After putting on said outfit, return towels to a drying rack so as not to leave them crumpled and moist on some unsuspecting bedroom furniture.
• Go to the bar in your kitchen (because you are an adult, and your kitchen has a bar on which to eat your less formal meals).
• Spread out for yourself a low-fat Greek yogurt, granola that you made yourself in your oven like a living Etsy doll, some sliced-up fruit (bonus points if it’s some crazy-ass Indonesian fruit that no one’s ever heard of), and a cup of tea or free-trade coffee with soy milk.
• Eat delicately while you read something for cultured, refined enjoyment, like The New Yorker, W Magazine, Newsweek, I’m a Pretentious Fop, or This Sweater Is Vintage Monthly.
• Clean and put away all your breakfast accoutrements.
• Get on your adorable bicycle (it’s always perfect bike-riding weather, and your bicycle has a basket in which to store work shoes/purses/necessities) and ride off into the fresh morning air.
Now, believe it or not, this has never managed to be how I get ready in the morning. Even on the nights where I chamomile myself into a sleep coma at 8:00 p.m. and psych myself up to the nth degree about how adult my morning is going to be the next day, I will inevitably live out the Groundhog Day-esque torture that is my perpetually infantile morning routine:
• Set an alarm for far enough in advance from my actual wake-up time that I can get some decent snooze action and still have wiggle room.
• Hit the snooze no less than six times, waking up only when I look at the clock and let out a muffled “Ohshitjesuschrist!” as I flop out of bed like a dying fish. Leave bed looking like it has been freshly napalmed.
• Take the world’s fastest, least efficient shower, not even fully rinsing off the soap before I stumble out and stand in front of the mirror.
• Shake the maximum amount of water out of my hair before putting it into the least aesthetically assaulting style, slap on some makeup (ten gold coins if you can apply liquid eyeliner—the Rubik’s Cube of modern cosmetics—without looking like a velvet-painted sad clown), and run back into my bedroom.
• Grab the first outfit that is clean, reasonably color-coordinated, and ironed enough not to look like crumpled-up aluminum foil and throw it on.
• Pick up something from the kitchen as I run out the door to grab some form of public transportation (it’s been a while since I’ve lived in a city that has an even vaguely reasonable ROI on owning a car).
• Find out that I managed to grab a Swiss Cake Roll and an ankle sock in my blind, early-morning haste. Grudgingly eat the Swiss Cake Roll as I avoid the stare of fellow commuters.
Taking time to make mornings a pleasant, refreshing, fulfilling experience just seems impossible. The early twenties is that strange limbo where your body—and your douchebag friends—are all insisting you stay out every night to enjoy all the wonders and mysteries your city has to offer (usually costing around $10 a glass), and your body somehow does not have the resilience of a rubber band when it comes to snapping awake in the morning.
THE THINGS WE’RE LIKELY TO DITCH WHEN PRESSED FOR TIME
And even if I were a morning person, there are so many steps involved, it seems just exhausting. Just eating a balanced breakfast has a myriad components—and people who take Instagram photos of their morning spread cannot honestly be rushing off directly afterward to some soul-crushing job. Who sits there, iPhone in hand, and thinks, “I want to make my entire Twitter community feel inadequate this morning. Look, you peasants. I’m eating sliced kiwi and yogurt with lychee syrup. Don’t know what lychee is? I thought you wouldn’t.”
- On Sale
- Aug 6, 2013
- Page Count
- 192 pages
- Running Press