What Comes Next?
Lately I’ve been considering if I want my life to have a new chapter, and if so what it will be. For a long time my goals have been prescribed. In school I fell into a rhythm and got through classes one day at a time with the intention of graduating. I was a student longer than necessary and went to graduate school which included an internship. The internship had a time restriction so again I found a pattern and counted down the days until termination of the contract. My current job does not have a time limit, and it’s felt strange not having an end date on the horizon. Part of the reason I went to grad school again was to have something else to put on the calendar. Most students in my current university complete the Master’s program in 2-3 years and I’ll probably stick around as long as possible just so I can keep marking off days of as many semesters as I can.
This could be the pattern for the majority, or even the rest, of my life. I could take a year or two off to focus on my day job, then register for grad school and struggle with balancing the two just to celebrate when I complete the degree requirements. After all, as much as I enjoy chemistry I’m far from the brightest student in the university. With my academic history it’s doubtful that I’ll find a position in a high-end laboratory and do the kind of research I read about in magazines like Science or Nature. The more likely outcome is finding a position as a lab technician just like I had one summer after completing my undergraduate degree. I wouldn’t complain if that were to happen. Completing basic operating procedures in a lab isn’t a bad way to pass the time, even if it is repetitive and gets boring. I also wouldn’t have any reason to complain if I kept my current job and re-enrolled in school occasionally. I know some people older than myself who stayed in school their entire lives and seem happy.
There is another option, and it’s one that I never would have considered if my books weren’t published. I could find a way to make a living using the creative part of my brain, rather than the analytical one. There are independent bookstores in town which cater to local authors. I have come to rely on them for distribution of my book and one time, on a whim, I asked the owner about the process of purchasing and operating the space. I’ve never thought of myself as a business owner, but if I had my own place where I could prioritize helping other writers make their work public, it would be one more future that I wouldn’t complain about.
I’ve looked up independent bookstore owners online and talked to other people around my neighborhood. The common piece of advice I’ve heard is that just selling books isn’t ideal. Most places hold events like live readings from authors and charge admission. The common secondary source of income is to designate a section of the store to selling arts and crafts or setting up a café. Most places don’t seem to have anything fancy; just a display of charms, or maybe an espresso machine coupled with a rack of scones.
I have plenty of things that aren’t anything fancy. I’ve maintained my hobby of weaving superhero logos to serve as wall hangings or coasters. I’ve brought them to comic conventions to sell along with my books and last year I almost sold out, so there is at least a small audience for them. I’ve also been an amateur baker for years. I make sourdough bread every week and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Lately I’ve expanded into practicing small pastries like muffins, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and scones. The recipes are simple: a few cups of flour, some sugar, an occasional egg. This week I focused on muffins and doughnuts and despite the simplicity, they took a long time to prepare. That should improve with practice. Kneading bread used to be tiring and take a long time, but now I can do it even when I’m half asleep.
In all honesty, opening a bookstore is not probable. Even if the weavings and pastries sell, I’ve heard it’s difficult for young businesses to stay afloat. It’s especially troubling now since I have a deeper appreciation for how quickly a global crisis can derail any hope of turning a profit. But I’m going to keep practicing and preparing. I’ve started looking at storefronts for lease both in and out of Albuquerque and have found a few locations where I can imagine myself setting up a shop. The main library in town has monthly sales which I’ve been taking advantage of to increase my used book collection. I’ve been weaving every night to find out how many wall hangings or coasters I can complete in a month. I’m also going to keep practicing baking and my goal is to have a sample menu prepared by the end of the year. While I don’t know if I ever will pull the trigger on this dream, it will take a few years before I’m even prepared to attempt it, and it feels good to have another countdown. There was a time when I’d wake up every morning and think to myself: “in X more years I’ll be done with school,” or “my internship will be completed.” Now I’ve set an arbitrary date to quit my current job and open my own store. I don’t know what I’ll do after that. Perhaps by that time I’ll be ready to stop counting down and start settling down. Only time will tell.
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