Future Beyond Plastics

We’re taking a break from Plastics. Maybe forever.

It’s not that we don’t like writing, or that we don’t care about giving you expert insight/self-deprecating anecdotes about preparing for life beyond college. Don’t think that for a second. You’d break our hearts.

We started Plastics because we were concerned that we’d never be able to enjoy ourselves as adults. We thought that writing about it and exploring some issues related to adult unhappiness would help.

What happened though is that in the process of constantly wringing our hands about the future, we became pretty goddamned miserable. And it didn’t help us think of what we wanted to do after graduation.

We learned a lot this semester, and one of the biggest things we learned is this: The world is really, really messed up. Pretty much everything is messed up, from the economy, to the ozone layer, to the political climate, to globalization, to post-colonialism, to the whole college industry. It’s bonkers out there.

Recently, we realized, there’s really only two sensible reactions to all the crazy shit going on:

1. Absolutely freak out. Become crippled by fear of the crumbling world.

2. Have tons of fun while there’s still time.

In the past, we would have gone with the first reaction, simply because it’s our natural tendency to worry. But freaking out doesn’t make the world any less insane, and meanwhile, the small window where we can be young and wild grows smaller.

So instead we’re just going to have fun. And we’re really going to go for it. The only thing stopping us is all the neuroses and anxiety (in a word: Plastics) that dominated our lives this semester. In that case, Plastics has to go.

Ceasing to imagine our own futures in plastics is an easy enough step — our other resolutions for 2012 will be the more challenging but ultimately important endeavors.

This year we need to put ourselves out there: We’ve got to snap up writing opportunities at the most winning publications on the whole internet and exercise our brains by maintaining a very very casual book club.

We’ve also got to become friendly with other young journalists who wear similar oversized glasses and strike up witty banter with all the hoppin cats we will surely meet at swing dance parties in urban barns.

So one chapter ends and another begins. We hope you’ll join us on the other side, in real life, where the fun is. Hit us up with deets for your next adventure or shindig. We’d love to crash your party.

Until then, we wish everyone a happy new year and the best of luck.

— Jordan and Arielle


Graduation Nightmare

So I was at the beach when somehow I was rounded up and placed on a bus. The understanding was that I was being taken somewhere where I would be killed.

Somewhere on the journey, I summoned my courage and jumped off the bus onto the highway. There I wandered until I found a gas station. I was thirsty and all I wanted was orange juice, but I couldn’t find any in the store.

Outside my classmates were preparing for graduation. In my dream the graduation was at my old high school, which happened to be just down the road. Eventually everyone started leaving but I still hadn’t started getting dressed.

Finally I pulled out my cap and gown, but I put the gown on backwards by accident and for some reason I had to detach a veil from the back of the cap with a zipper. Then I sprinted for miles and caught up with my class.

Cheerleaders were already on the field doing an expressive dance. I found my family up in the bleachers and sat with them. My mom noticed that my watch was running on the wrong time and wanted me to fix it.

Then in a bizarre climax, a girl from high school I marginally knew came up to my mom to thank her for several ceramic bowls that she had given her, but requested a plate to go with it so that she could eat a waffle. My mom said she would see what she could do. Meanwhile I was furious because I thought the girl was being ungrateful and rude for asking for additional gifts.

The last thing I remember was moving to sit away from my family, watching the cheerleaders, still brooding about the plates and the bowls.

Then I woke up.

Now I have to finish my assignment that’s due at 3:30.

If anyone would like to interpret this dream in the comment section feel free to do so.

Don’t follow your dreams.

That’s what Jeremy Reff might tell you. Reff is the round-faced, jovial vice president of corporate outreach for D.E. Shaw & Co., an investment firm based in New York City. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 2004. With a degree in English. And a specialization in modernist poetry, of all things.

Reff wears signature college bro plaid and jeans to work, and his shoulder-length hair and unshaven scruff might look more familiar in the quad than on the polished floors of a New York investment firm. He admits he used to fantasize about holing himself up somewhere to craft achingly beautiful poetry.

Now the closest Reff gets to such existential ecstasies are his lectures to the firm’s young recruits, where he discusses the importance being a lifelong learner and a responsible citizen.

So how the hell did this guy end up in finance? And why does he encourage other humanities graduates to abandon their lofty academic goals and follow the same path?

  • Reff got a job straight out of college at a firm he hated. But he soon quit, joined D.E. Shaw, and fell in love with the company’s values. He cautioned questioning youngsters to ask themselves what kind of people they want to work with when applying for jobs. “Are the people leading this company excited about the things I am deeply interested in?” Reff asked himself when he considered a position at D.E. Shaw. Evidently, the answer was yes.
  • I should mention that Reff and his colleagues are allowed to dress casually. Apparently there is no stigma attached to looking like a total hipster in the D.E. Shaw office, so what’s not to like?
  • You should know that your dream job is similar to a unicorn: You will probably never find either of those things, so stop looking now. “I think that there are unicorns out there and that they’re fantastic, but mostly they’re just painted horses,” Reff said. In other words, abandon those unicorn dreams and settle for a dependable 9 to 5.
  • Don’t go into academia. If you do, you will watch the circle of people you associate with grow smaller and smaller, until you are only capable of discussing your upcoming book on the racial politics of postcolonial Bolivian sculpture with the five people on this planet likely to read it — other professors in your department.
  • “Academia often provides a culture in which you don’t interact with a lot of people from different perspectives … In graduate programs and beyond you sort of specialize and you start having smaller and smaller conversations with people in your subfield,” Reff said. As opposed to the world of finance, where your colleagues will all be so very diverse!
  • Don’t pursue your passion as a career. Once you start getting paid to perform a task, that type of project will forever be linked with dirty capitalism in your mind: All the intellectual passion will disappear behind crushing pressure to make a few bucks.
  • Friends used to ask Reff, a notorious bookworm, whether he would consider a career in publishing. He always had the same answer ready: “No — I love books, but I wouldn’t want to go into publishing. I also love sex, but I wouldn’t want to go into working in a bordello.”
  • Ultimately, no matter which job you land after college, Reff said it’s healthy to ask yourself one important question from time to time: “What do I want to be doing next year?”

Well, Jordan and I have got the question bit down, and as for the rest … ahem, one step at a time.

Image via

— Arielle

Good News Bad News: Student Debt Roundup

Oh hi there. We’ve been out of touch for the past week, but I’m pleased to report that the last tofurkey coma of my undergraduate career was delicious, and we’re that much closer to … something.

While we wait, let’s think about student debt. Everyone else certainly seems to be, thanks to the efforts of a working group sponsored by some of the students and educators at our very own fine institution.

The Occupy Student Debt Campaign, launched last week, is asking students to stop paying loan payments after the campaign’s pledge gets one million signatures.

Below, the group’s major claims:

* We believe the federal government should cover the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities.

* We believe that any student loan should be interest-free.

* We believe that private and for-profit colleges and universities, which are largely financed through student debt, should open their books.

*We believe that the current student debt load should be written off.

Since this group is organized in New York City, most of the folks behind it are NYU, New School, and CUNY students and faculty. Unfortunately, a student debt campaign advocating for free public education is slightly awkward coming those of us at NYU supporting an institution that charges $200,000 per diploma. From one comment on a Huffington Post article about the group:

Does anyone else find it amazing that two professors from two of the most expensive schools in the country – one high on the academic list – the other known as a “party school” are helping with this idea of causing problems for:
1) these students that took out the loans
2) the financial institutio­ns that made the loans in good faith to these kids.

I do not see either of them or OWS suggesting that students boycott colleges until they lower their tuition.

True, but lots of people seem to be in trouble with their loans, or at least there are some very visible forums on which they can now voice their complaints. Adding misery to misery is a new Tumblr devoted to telling people’s super-sad student loan stories, in the style of the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr.

Here is a sampling of what you will find there:

I went back to school in 1999 to earn a law degree. I initially agreed to student loans, expecting to be able to repay while practicing law. But shortly after graduating, I was shot three times and left for dead. I survived, but since had no health care and was unable to work at all, I had to live off my savings, and was unable to take the bar exam, or even afford a bar review course. I had to re-learn how to walk, everything. Now I am disabled, and my student debt exceeds $100,000!!!

Well, I guess these slackers should have just gone to a school they could afford, and worked hard to stay out of the path of gunfire and ensure their loans and interest didn’t spiral out of control. Not necessarily true, says yesterday’s Huffington Post article, which focuses on students who choose lower-cost schools and take on multiple jobs while in college to stay out of debt.

“Students who take extreme steps to avoid debt at all costs, [educators] say, may get stuck with something much more financially damaging than moderate student loan debt. They may not wind up with a college degree.”

There’s lots of doom and gloom here, but it the good news is that all this angst about student loans seems to be sparking some frank discussions about student loan debt and restructuring higher education.

— Arielle

The Barn Fantasy

Yo guys it’s crunch time. Man up and write your essays. But first:

You know, I have this crazy dream. And this dream usually comes up whenever I’m stressed and don’t feel like doing my homework or succeeding or whatever.

In my dream, I would quit pursuing anything that would impress anyone. I’d throw my degree in the trash and you know what I’d do?

I’d build a barn. But not just any barn.

This barn would house the Jordan Teicher Performing Arts Center/Party Space. Simply put, it would be my palace. It would be a space for plays, music, and weird poetry readings. There would be dancing and stupid art and every hipster for miles would be there.

What’s interesting is that this is also Arielle’s dream.

One day I brought it up, and she looked at me and was like, “WUT NO WAI.”

And I was like, “Girl, wai.”

Ever since then, we talk about what it would be like if this dream ever came true.

It would be something between “The Great Gatsby” and “Summer Stock.” We would dress all fancy and serve (or invent) cocktails that no one had ever heard of. We would spare no expense to make every party we threw as decadent and bizarre as possible.

Why a barn? I don’t know. Maybe because we like to misappropriate symbols of the American heartland. Or maybe we have some longing for physical labor that we’ll never ever ever experience because we are too wimpy. Or maybe it’s because farming is really in right now.

Of course this barn would only happen if maybe we were members of Arcade Fire (A: “Isn’t it THE Arcade Fire?”) or some shit.

But we can dream can’t we?

Today we were talking about it because well it’s raining and Arielle’s got an essay due tomorrow and we happen to be in the library.

A barn sounds good about now.

Oh by the way if anyone would like to donate to the barn fund, please email us at plasticseditors@gmail.com.

— Jordan and Arielle

Your Parents, Your Degree, and You

The New York Times is talking about college graduates who are moving home with their parents. The statistics are alarming:

14.2 percent of young adults are living with their parents, up from 11.8 percent in 2007. Among young men, 19 percent are living with their parents.

But mostly the article focuses on the the effect that has on the economy:

The actions of the young are self-perpetuating. Young people are reluctant to set off on their own until they have greater financial stability. But the economic conditions necessary to make them financially secure are difficult to achieve while consumers like them are still too nervous to start making big purchases, on housing or anything else.

In the spirit of this conversation, I talked to one recent NYU grad, Todd Selby, who has been living with his parents for three weeks now.

Todd graduated early, and quickly found a full time job, a fellowship with a non-profit in North Carolina. After two months, however, he wasn’t meeting fundraising quotas, and was let go.

So he moved back home to New Jersey with his parents. Now he’s in a band and working on music, while working part time at a Hot Topic.

Jordan: Did your parents support this move?

Todd: My parents luckily have been very supportive. They were like, “It’s understandable. You lose jobs. It doesn’t work out. Whatever.”

They also understand how common it is for college graduates to live at home considering the high price of college. They also realize that this is kind of unprecedented, that no generation has paid this much for schooling. So they certainly understand that I just need a little time to recuperate and figure out what I want to do.

Also I’m still only 22. I’m just out of college. It’s not like I’ve been living here for years. I’ve only been here for  three weeks. It kind of  seems like I should be getting my ass out  but I might stay here for another six months, maybe a year, I don’t know.

Jordan: How has your dynamic with them changed since high school?

Todd: I certainly have been trying to like go out of my way to help them with things. I’ve been on my best behavior and stuff like that. I’ve refrained from drinking excessively or like smoking pot around them or whatever. I really want to respect what they’re doing for me.

Jordan: Do you have chores?

Todd:  I’m here just because my parents are really nice. And so I will just do things without question.

Jordan: Do you have to contribute money to live there?

Todd: They kind of won’t let me help out with things money-wise. They’re just insisting, like, “You don’t have any money. Just work on getting money for yourself.” So they’re providing money for stuff like food.

Jordan: They must like you a lot!

Todd: We do have a really good relationship. We’ve barely had any arguments since I’ve been home. I just do my best to just respect their house and they pretty much enjoy having me around.

Jordan: What would you suggest other people think about before asking to move back home?

Todd: Definitely before you approach [your parents] have some sort of plan, even if it’s kind of flimsy. Because the first question I think some parents would have, I suspect, is “All right, well what are you going to be doing while you’re living here? Are you looking for a job?” So even if they’re not all things you’d want to do, figure out some options.

Jordan: Any tips for cohabiting successfully with parents?

Todd: I’ve definitely gotten the sense from my parents that they want to spend a pretty good amount of time with me. So when my mom is like, “I’m going out to the store,” I’ll just be like, “Oh do you want me to come with you?”

You can’t cut yourself off the way you could from, say, roommates you met on Craig’s List. You’ve got to kind of become part of that family unit again.

Jordan: How have your parents changed since high school?

Todd: They’ve changed their habits a lot, their spending habits. They spend a lot more on themselves now, which is great. I’m so glad to see them basically happier.

Jordan: So what’s your plan? 

Todd: I’m working on music. I want to be a musician, me and everyone else. But I feel like I really have a shot at it. So that’s basically my goal, my ten year goal. Of course a more immediate goal is to find some kind of job. It doesn’t have to pay real well, as long as I can rent  a shitty apartment in Philly and  continue making the payments on my student loans.

I’m young. So there’s really no better time to make an attempt at getting into music. I’m just going to go for it now.

Jordan: Any issues you’ve had to work through with your parents?

Todd: One thing is I’ve been so focused on being independent and stuff that I’ve been actually been over-thanking them for everything. They said, “You do realize we’re family. We’ll do anything to help you need as long as it’s within reason. This is certainly within reason.”

It’s just walking the line between becoming too dependent on them and not being appreciative but also remembering that they want to do this for me. They get a joy out of being able to help their kid again, even if they are kind of done with parenting. It’s still something they want to do.

Jordan: So the lesson is that they’re still your parents and they still love you.

Todd: That’s basically it, yeah.

So let’s talk about this post

Business Insider provides us some food for thought today in an article about how one 20-something, Madeleine, is saving a ton of money on rent and utilities by hopping from friend’s apartment to friend’s apartment in New York City.

First, let’s talk about the most (initially) disturbing part of this post: the young woman, Madeline, is a staffer at Business Insider! Gah! Why should she have to do this if she has a job!

Well the comforting truth is she probably doesn’t HAVE to do this. It seems like she wants to do it. It’s a lifestyle choice.

On second thought, if she was truly rolling in the dough, it seems unlikely that she’d want to be effectively homeless. Unless she’s really, really super frugal. Or she has tons of student debt and wants to get rid of it pronto. OK enough speculating.

So does this work? Madeleine says her friends don’t mind her surfing because she doesn’t stay for long and she helps out with dinner, laundry, etc. And the only bad thing that’s happened is she’s lost some of her stuff. Generally, though she’s saving money! Hoorah!

Certainly there’s a stigma to this type of approach. Take commenter SoInspiredByYou’s comment:

You are a scumbag leach

Well that’s a little cruel, no? But at least it’s not as creepy as commenter Big Kahuna’s comment:

she can surf my couch any time!

A very nuanced and interesting response comes from commenter DeDe who writes:

I think that approach is a lot more common in younger people nowadays … In an apartment, you aren’t really using much electricity/heating and if you can sing for your supper, well that’s OK if you don’t cause any hassle to a lot of people … A few changes of clothes, make-up and meds – what else do you really need? I mean really? … It’s easy to scold but it’s awfully hard to make it in NY these days.

I happen to agree mostly with DeDe. Though I certainly wouldn’t try this lifestyle myself, I think if it works for Madeleine than all power to her. It IS hard to make it in NY, and sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve go to do.

You’ve got to hand it to this generation. If nothing else, we’re very resourceful.