Beach Therapy

In my stress relief practices, one of the major things I recommend is to take a trip for yourself, no matter how near or far. This summer, I had made a promise to myself that before the end of August, I’d take a trip to Orchard Beach in The Bronx. Sure enough, Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, I was able to keep that promise.

After taking care of a few personal tasks in the early part of that Saturday, I made my way to the Bx12 local, the main bus line to take to Orchard Beach in the summer. After Labor Day weekend, the bus lines to that beach are discontinued until Memorial Day the following year, so it was my last opportunity to get there this year. Thankfully, I made it to the bus with plenty of time to spare.

The bus ride was unusually dreamlike, with little to no traffic, which is unusual for a holiday weekend. The feeling of pulling up to the beach entrance was a feeling of joy and relief, making it there with 3 hours until closing. I walked through the paved path through the trees, and when I saw the spread of the beach, it was as if I had found a paradise a stone’s throw from the city.

After grabbing a hot dog and a bottled water, I started my walk along the paved path beside the beach, admiring the view of the Long Island Sound as it stretched toward the ocean. I couldn’t help but snap picture after picture of the seagulls as they flew over my head. The further I walked, the less crowded the beach became.

Soon, I found myself compelled to walk on the sand, keeping my sneakers on, and walking as carefully as possible to reduce how much sand could seep into my shoes. It felt good to walk on the beach, feeling the coolness of the wind on my face, the smell of the salt water. I ended up walking so far down the beach, I had made it to the edge.

This was my first time climbing the rocks at the edge of Orchard Beach. I could see the yachts and other boats sailing down the ocean water, the jet skis zooming towards the land. The calm ripple of the ocean waves were so calming, I had to close my eyes and listen. When I slowly opened my eyes, I couldn’t help but look into the distance to my left. I saw two small islands, the Twin Islands, out in the distance. I had to get a closer look.

I found a small, sandy path just beyond the end of the paved walkway, and as I walked that path, I could see a small group of people along the rocky edge. A lone fisherman, a father and son fishing together, two men drinking beers and laughing, and a woman looking off in the distance. Just past the lone fisherman, I could see the Twin Islands perfectly. It was the first time in my life I had seen them. So many people have been to this beach, but so few of them have ever heard of the Twin Islands, let alone seen them. As I snapped pictures, the lone fisherman gave me a thumbs up. Funny thing is, I didn’t notice until days later as I showed my pictures to my co-workers.

As I made my way back to the main entrance, I looked up, and I could see a small rainbow peeking through the clouds. I looked around, and no one else noticed it but me. It was a solitary and special moment as I made my long trek back to the bus, a way to end my trip that I can never forget.

Sitting on the bus as I made my way back to the hectic mayhem of the city, one repeating thought dwelled in my mind: It’s amazing what beauty awaits us if we’re willing to push further beyond the roads paved for us.

Greener Pastures

I was born and raised in The Bronx.  I’ve lived here for over 3 decades of my life.  Everything in my life is practically synonymous with this borough, from the early days of hip-hop to the Yankees.  I had met Peter Gunz and DJ Kool Herc in the same summer just walking around my neighborhood.  I loved the fact that I was walking distance from Yankee Stadium, both the “House That Ruth Built” and the “House That Jeter Built”.  Every movie and tv show that was ever filmed in my borough, I’d be able to tell you exactly where that filming location was. Sadly, I’m getting a feeling that it’s time to leave the place I’ve called home.

One major drawback of The Bronx is that it’s ripe territory for greedy real estate agents to plunder. More people have lost their apartments here in the past 5 to 7 years than in the past 2 decades. Apartments that used to be $900 a month are now $2,500 a month, unless you qualify for section 8. Homeless shelters are popping up left and right, and people just can’t afford to live here anymore, unless they work 3 jobs and only get 3 hours of sleep a night. Currently, I’m living with my parents, and it’s a frustrating feeling to be in your mid-30s and having to answer to them. The job I’ve managed to hold onto for 5 years is driving me up the wall, and even with the city increasing minimum wage, the cost of living doesn’t get any easier, as the price for anything from groceries to entertainment just keeps rising.  I finally understand why so many of my friends who grew up here and raised their kids here have moved away.

A friend of mine had been trying to get me to move to Philadelphia for some time.  While living in the city of brotherly love has always been tempting, it wasn’t until now that it has become a necessary option. Living in The Bronx would mean that I’m stuck living with my dad and stepmother, and moving out to Long Island’s Suffolk County would mean living with my mother, as expensive as things have become out there. And as much as I love my mother, I can’t afford to have her doting over my life like Marie Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s a frustrating feeling when your folks keep asking when you’ll get a new girlfriend, yet quote Bible scripture about premarital sex and start fear mongering with images of hellfire and eternal damnation if you don’t do what they say.

To be honest, living with a friend rather than a parent or relative may just what I need right now, and living outside of New York may just be what my bank account needs.  As much as I love New York, I can’t keep up with things. And make no mistake, I love New York.  I love being about to take a bus into Harlem and walk 125th Street, whether it’s for DVD shopping or going to the Magic Johnson Theater. I love being able to take a train down into midtown or lower Manhattan, visiting comic stores, book stores, and pizzerias. I love being able to go down to Chinatown and visit every restaurant on Mott Street, even the back alley 4-for-$1 dumpling spot that no tourist has ever been to. I love being able to go arcade hopping, from Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade by NYU to the Barcade on St. Mark’s Place.  There’s so much to love about New York.

Yet, at the same time, every other thing I love about this city is vanishing, because of greedy real estate practices.  My favorite comic book store, St. Mark’s Comics, was forced to close after 35 years of business. My favorite retail store in Harlem, Kiss Electronics, was forced to close after decades of business. So many music stores, including my favorite record store, Second Hand Rose’s, had gone out of business. Even the landmark Katz’s Deli had been forced to shut down. Legacies that had shaped New York into the stuff movies and sitcoms were made of, forced to go out of business because, “The rent is too damn high.”  And politicians like Mayor Bill de Blasio, and his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could care less. It was under Bloomberg that the city became so unaffordable, and when New Yorkers expected de Blasio to turn things around for the people, all we were left with was higher costs of living, and our only options being to stay in the city and become homeless, or leave the city for a more affordable quality of life.

Of all the places I’ve considered moving to, Philadelphia might be the most feasible. Of the times I’ve visited Philly, I’ve never really gotten to do what most people do down there. I’ve never gotten to see the Rocky statue from Rocky III, or run up the “Rocky Steps”.  I’ve never had a Philly cheesesteak made in Philly.  I’ve never even been to a Wawa’s! Even my late Uncle Lenny would tell me about the times he’d visit Philly just to see the Penn State Relays. My friend’s sister-in-law ran the Relays, and I never even got to see her win.  But most importantly, my best friend lives there, and has invited me down there with open arms. He had mapped out in his mind ever scenario to get me to move down there, and now, I’m doing the same.  While he’s offered me a place to stay, I’m still eyeing apartments down there as a plan B, so I have a contingency just in case. I’m researching what kinds of jobs I’d qualify for, in case my writing endeavors take longer to come to fruition. And if worse comes to worse, I’d be only 2 hours away from NYC, and 3 hours away from my mom’s home in Suffolk.

Change is hard, especially when you’re leaving the place you’ve called home all your life.  But if you’re to truly grow, change is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in the same self-destructive cycle you’ve been in. So, I’m making a change.  I’m going to miss The Bronx when I’m finally gone, and I’m going to miss NYC, but I’ll have a friend waiting on the other end for me.

Of Fragile Egos and Swollen Eyes

One day ago, an 18-year-old woman from Manchester, England, was punched unconscious by a man outside of a club at 3:30am. The reason for the assault? She simply told the man, “Sorry, I’m not interested,” after he and his friends harassed her.

In this era of immediate gratification, where even dating has become a matter of “swipe right/swipe left”, have men forgotten how to be gentlemen? More importantly, have they completely forgotten that women have the right to say no?

Speaking as a man who has been rejected more than his fair share of times, yes, I’m aware how much it sucks to be shot down by the opposite sex, to have that girl you’re trying to approach say that she’s not interested. Yeah, it can bruise your self-esteem.

The right thing to do is dust yourself off and move on. You pick up the pieces, reflect on it for a moment, then move forward.

What you DON’T do is attack the woman who politely turned you down.

Because of that man’s fragile ego, a young woman is now disfigured for all of the world to see. And this isn’t the first time an assault like this has happened under the same circumstances.

I’ve heard from women who are afraid to socialize because of the fear of something like this happening, beautiful women who have to deal with random men trying to flirt with them, when all they want to do is go about their business. I’ve never been in those women’s shoes, but I absolutely understand their frustrations and fears.

Recently, I watched a YouTube video of the online gaming personality Sweet Anita, and in the video was a clip that hammers this point home. While she was playing an online game of Overwatch, a man harassed her by asking her to let him lick her p***y. When Anita politely declined, he continued to make obscene requests. When she finally had enough and insulted him, there were people in the comments section of the video saying that Anita was wrong to do so. My reply? “Well, let’s see how well any of you handle unwanted sexual harassment.” And the point was made.

No woman has to say “yes” to a man’s advances if she doesn’t want to. Every woman should have the right to say “no.”

(Link to reference article below)

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/woman-man-turn-down-beaten-unconscious-manchester-not-interested-a9005661.html?amp

Burning Bridges

This past Sunday, I had to cut out the most toxic person in my life: the first girl I had ever loved. We had known each other for 20 years, and even though she and I only dated for a few months back in high school, she was insistent that I stay in her life as a friend.  Unfortunately for me, that friendship consisted of using me as an emotional doormat. I don’t know why I allowed it for so long.  Maybe the nostalgia of what we had, maybe the need to be needed.  Either way, it was a bridge that I had to burn.

Where does this begin?  Back in 1998.  We were introduced to a mutual friend during our high school days.  I was a dork (and admittedly, I still am for the most part), and she liked that.  So, things blossomed quickly between us, and she became my first girlfriend.  Unfortunately, her parents weren’t keen on me (she was Chinese, I’m Black), and it got to a boiling point to where her father and older sister threatened to call the police on me if they ever saw me with her again. The breakup was one of the saddest points in both of our lives.  Here was this girl who looked past the norms of high school crowds and saw me for me, and it was either continue to see her or risk ending up in handcuffs. So I ended it.  It pained me to see her in tears as she walked away.

Unbeknownst to me, my older brother had pretty much swooped in on the rebound and ended up sleeping with her behind my back.  That’s right.  The first girl I ever loved had slept with my older brother.  It took me years to try to look past that, and to this day, I still have trust issues with him.  (But that’s a story for another day.)  The only reason I ended up finding out about this was because she had coaxed him into telling me the truth.  So the toxic undertone of my bond with her had begun.

Years later, in the Myspace era, we found each other and ended up talking again.  She had been married and divorced, in one toxic relationship after another, all while being a single parent, and she saw me as a reminder of a more innocent time.  I ended up keeping in touch with her as an open ear, listening to her vent about one relationship after another.  Every so often, she’d tease the possibility of her and I being a couple again, only for her to find one reason or another to go back on her intentions.  At one point, she had pretty much blabbed about my ties with her to an old classmate of hers that I had never met before, telling her every detail from my penis size to the fact that she slept with my older brother.  I kept my composure through the entire ordeal, but once I got home, I sent her a message, letting her know how disrespectful that was. In effect, I cut my ties with her for the first time.

For a good four years, not only did I not hear from her, but I was in a relationship of my own, and it was good for a time. Funny enough, when I ended up breaking up with my ex, she was right there to swoop in and mend the bridge that I had burned between us. From that point on, it was a cycle of her toying with my emotions and my libido, and every effort I made to distance myself from her made her pull me back in to play me again and again.

One particular time, she talked about going to dinner with me.  I was reluctant, but then agreed.  Yet while I was making plans, picking out a restaurant that would be close enough to her, she was on a date with someone she had met on OkCupid. I was forced to cancel my plans with her because she had fallen in “love” on the fly. Funny enough, a friend from high school had invited me to a bake sale in order to cheer me up. Not even two weeks later, guess who showed up in a Facebook post at one of her baking events? That’s right, the manipulative ex.  Her presence in my life was becoming a serious source of stress. And yet, somehow, she played on my good nature and the nostalgia of what we once had, almost effortlessly convincing me that I was her reminder of a more pure time in her life.

This past Sunday was the last straw.  A week prior, I had sent a few friends, including her, a pic I had taken at a Bronx festival on the first weekend of the summer. She wanted me to call her, so I did. I expected just a quick chat, but it ended up becoming a 3-hour conversation where she dangled the possibility of marriage.  To be specific, she stated that if she couldn’t find a husband by the time she turned 40, she wanted me to marry her. She had ended another relationship, and I’m guessing she felt vulnerable again, needing me to build up her self-esteem and fuel her need to be adored.  And mind you, it wasn’t just a simple pact.  She wanted details. Who I’d invite, where it would take place, how many kids I wanted. Serious talk, not just playful conversation.  At the end of the conversation, I promised her I’d call the next day.  I did, and ended up on voicemail. One week, no reply.

Until this past Sunday.

As I was checking my Facebook, I saw a picture of her.  Back with the ex she had broken up with, with the caption, “He Loves Me!” under the pic. I had enough.  I texted her, “Btw, next time we speak, don’t get my hopes up.” She said that if I felt so hurt, don’t bother texting her.  My reply? “Good.  Consider yourself blocked. Goodbye.”

There was so much more I wanted to say, to vent to her how much she had hurt me over the two decades I had known her.  But if I did, she’d find a way, some way, to flip it all, play it as if she never realized it, and win me back as a “friend”.  No. I was sick and tired of being her emotional doormat.  My toxic bond with her was hurting me, emotionally and physically, and I had enough.  This was a bridge I had to burn for my own sake.

So here I am. My heart a bit more empty than before, but with a new beginning. I don’t care if I never find the one or fall in love again, as long as what’s left of my heart isn’t broken. Some have tried to build my hopes up, but honestly, I’m just sick and tired of it all.  Not everybody was meant to find that someone, and I’m learning that now.  They say that single people live shorter lives than someone married, but I don’t care. I don’t care, as long as I’m not stuck in a toxic cycle.  One of the last things she said to me was that if she married me, it wouldn’t be for love.  That’s proof enough for me that I’m better off alone.

Your Life, Your Goals, Your Time

On April 29th, one of my favorite directors, John Singleton, passed away after suffering a stroke the week prior. At the age of 24, he was the youngest director and the first Black American director nominated for an Academy Award for his now-classic directoral debut, Boyz N Da Hood (1991).  The next 27 years of his life, he spent help pave the way for Black filmmakers with directoral efforts such as Poetic JusticeHigher LearningRosewood, the 2000 reboot of ShaftBaby Boy, and other movies, not to mention his efforts as an executive producer of projects such as Hustle & FlowBlack Snake Moan, and the FX television series, Snowfall. All before his death at 51.

A month prior, Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Nipsey Hussle was tragically murdered in front of one of his privately-owned retail stores. He had built his musical career with a series of mixtapes, one of them an infamous mixtape that he charged $200 per unit that generated waves of hype. He had done so much independently, by the time Atlantic Records approached him for a record deal, he had the option to refuse and stay independent. Instead, he agreed to a distribution deal that gave him complete creative control. He was also an avid business entrepreneur, opening stores in his own community, and a vocal supporter of the STEM program, in efforts to bring science, technology and mathematics courses to underserved communities. He had done more by the age of 33 than most people do by the age of 60.

Why do I bring up these two tragic deaths of men who have lived extraordinary lives?  Because there are so many of us approaching these ages who have not taken the opportunity to live out our dreams.  We are constrained by work, among other circumstances, and have put our own dreams on the back burner for the sake of our day-to-day. It has brought so many of us to the point of saying “I can’t do it” when we revisit our old dreams. Some of us say that we’re too old for one dream or another, others look at the financial side of things, the cost seemingly outweighing the reward. But for your own sake, don’t give up on your dreams.

If you believe you’re too old for a certain dream, there are people out there in their 40’s taking their first martial arts class, people in their 50’s taking their first art classes, even an 80-year-old grandmother in Japan who moonlights as a DJ after taking DJ-ing classes.  If you believe that money is an issue, there are people building careers as percussionists with nothing but wooden boxes or plastic buckets. And don’t assume you need the most expensive equipment to make your dream happpen. Affordable alternatives are always being made available; all you have to do is Google the right term and click on the right site. And if you believe you don’t have the time to pursue your goals, all you need is at least 10 to 20 minutes a day to make it happen, just enough time to make gradual process.

Don’t let your goals wither up and fade away. Use the time in your life to make a difference for yourself. You’ll thank yourself in the long run for not giving up.

Thanksgiving Reflections

As I’m at the tail end of my work shift as a direct care counselor, having stemmed the tide of residents cursing staff out at random and a slew of dirty grown-man diapers and clean wipes, I do wish I were with my family this day. On the other hand, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’m thankful for. In spite of working a job that pushes the limits of my patience and sanity, and in spite of a socio-political climate that’s pushed most of us in the states at wit’s end, I’m finding myself taking moments to reflect on the small things that can actually say I’m blessed to have.

I’m thankful that even though my job as a direct care counselor is difficult, and the employer that I work for is frustrating, it allows me to have something to pay the bills, keep me fed, and able to be self-sufficient to a fault.

I’m thankful that even though I still live at home with my parents, I still have a roof over my head, and I can contribute to their well-being financially. 

I’m thankful that I don’t have a gym membership yet. I’ve trained harder in the comfort of my own bedroom than I ever could in a Planet Fitness or some other gym chain.

I’m thankful for being in a city with options. Even with the dividing line between the haves and have-nots widening in New York, I’m finding more opportunities to take advantage of now than I did 10 years ago.

I’m thankful for being single. Although the loneliness can get to me at times, it’s allowed me a lot more time to understand myself and what I need, and it’s given me more time to pursue my interests than being in a relationship would.

I’m thankful that at 34, even though I’m seen as “too old” for some things, I’m young enough for a fresh start.

And I’m thankful to be alive, most of all.

Balancing My Diet

(Personal note: I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. Between work, life changes, and friends getting married, I rarely had a moment to sit down and give you an update. I’m glad to be back on here, and I hope to keep this blog updated on a regular basis.  –D.T.)

In the past few weeks, I made small changes to my daily diet to reflect my renewed insight to health, especially after recovering from a shoulder/chest injury. (How did I end up injuring my shoulder and chest? Well, I learned the hard way not to do hindu pushups and overhead presses on the same day.) In the world of exercise and fitness, everyone is trying to follow one diet trend or another. Either they’re following the Paleo Diet, going vegan, or some other fad like eating 30 bananas a day. To be honest, recovering from an injury taught me something important: balanced nutrition is essential.

During my recovery process, I made a quick hospital trip to get examined. I had my blood pressure taken, and, to my shock, I was at 161/110. Thinking that it was because of my sodium intake (in spite of getting a decent amount of fruit in my diet and drinking water regularly), I made the resolution to go vegan. For 3 days, I kept my diet strictly plant-based, and in 3 days, I dropped from 289 lbs to 280lbs. That may sound good, but I was becoming easily irritable, and developing a case of insomnia on top of that. Also, my lack of protein was making it harder for my body to repair itself. The rapid weight loss wasn’t worth it.

The day I ended my vegan streak, the first thing I ate was a lean beef burger. I could feel the pain in my aching muscles melting away, as if that beef was the missing link from my recovery. Within 3 days, I put on 3 pounds, moving up to 283 lbs. Deciding to balance my plant-based nutrition with a small amount of animal-based protein (mostly chicken or fish), I kept a steady routine of eating at least 2 bananas and a salad (with a small cheat food like oatmeal cookies) during the day, and at night after work, indulging in a salad with a meat of my choice. By the end of one week, I had dropped 1 pound to 282 lbs. Keeping the regimen up, I dropped another pound, and as of today, I weigh 281 lbs, 8 pounds lighter than I was 3 weeks ago, and only 1 pound heavier than when I ended my vegan period. Keep in mind, this is combined with a steady exercise regimen that includes boxing, kickboxing, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and moderate resistance training.

With all the fancy gimmicks out there and people punishing themselves by denying themselves their favorite foods, the best way to eat is just by getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet, not forsaking pizza and burgers completely, but balancing their intake. In fact, the more I got into eating salad and fruits on a daily basis, the less I needed to eat pizza or burgers on a regular basis. And on that occasional cheat day, make sure you eat some fruit to keep your system craving healthy food. My last cheat day before my most recent weighing, I indulged in Taco Bell and Little Caesar’s pizza. I still ate a banana after my indulgence, and it kept me from getting too hooked on junk food. And I still managed to keep my weight going down.

So in the end, you don’t need gimmick diets to lose weight. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables along with a bit of protein, and you’ll be just fine. 😉

(End note: Btw, if you’re wondering why my blood pressure was so high that day, it was an effect of my body recovering from the chest/shoulder injury. Once I recovered, my BP dropped down to a healthier rate. 🙂 )

Make A Difference in Someone’s Life

Last Friday marked one year since my grandmother passed away. I should have been sad, but for some reason, an aura of positivity washed over me, as if she were embracing me with goodness. Every time I wanted to feel sad, I not only felt joy, but wanted to motivate others to feel that joy too. Thankfully, when you’re a direct care worker, there’s ample opportunity to spread positivity to your consumers. Little things such as listening to their day, playing darts with them, even doing a corny impersonation of The Swedish Chef from The Muppets was all that was needed to brighten up what could have been a downward day for any of them.

I learned a lot about spreading kindness from my grandmother. She was one of the most welcoming, warm, loving and caring people I knew in my life. From an early age, she instilled in me the value of being kind to others. She was the kind of woman who would be a mother figure to children who weren’t her own. Everyone from neighborhood kids to my cousins’ friends referred to her as “Nana”. Her kindness and guidance was the backbone of so many in her community. When my family held her memorial service days after her passing, it was standing room only. My grandma wasn’t a famous celebrity, but her kindness was the kind of thing that brings people together. Anyone who’s been to her summer barbecues can vouch for that.

I invite you to do something to make a difference in someone’s life. It could be as simple as offering your seat to someone on the bus, inviting an old friend to hang out, or even lending an open ear to someone who’s feeling like they’re had the worst day ever. You can decide how you want to spread positivity in this world, but the most important thing is that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, no matter how big or small. That’s what I learned from my grandma.

Valentine’s Day: At Peace With Being Single

I’ve been single for 3 years. The first two years, when Valentine’s Day would approach, I’d be a complete Grinch. I couldn’t stand all the imagery of happy couples being pushed into the faces of the masses, all in order to get them to fork over their money for chocolates, flowers, and even the shiniest jewelry money could buy. I hated the feelings of longing that these images would invoke, and I’d curse the existence of February 14. Suddenly, that time of year has come around again, and for the first time in a long time, it simply feels like another day.

My parents and relatives always like to bug me and point out that I’m single and not getting any younger, asking me who my next girlfriend will be, or when I’m getting married. Truth be told, I don’t care at this point if I’m destined to stay single or not. Between focusing on improving myself and pushing toward my personal goals, the supposed emptiness of being single has been replaced with a sense of solitude and peace. Being alone with my own thoughts has been a blessing in recent months, allowing me to rediscover myself. Sometimes, solitude can put things in perspective.

Don’t get me wrong. There are those rare days where I would like to wake up next to a wonderful woman. I sometimes miss those long, playful phone calls from my days with my last girlfriend. Still, looking at where I am now compared to three years ago, I don’t regret anything.

If you’re single, and you don’t have a special someone to be your Valentine, don’t worry about it. Focus on building yourself up. Don’t worry about finding somebody on that dating site, and don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t bumped into that special someone yet. Take time to do something for yourself. Hit up a bookstore and explore. Hit up a gym and get active. Take time to try something new that you haven’t done before. Be your own Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

5 College Degrees That People Don’t Need

Every day on TV, on buses, and even all over Facebook, I’m bombarded with adds for colleges, constantly parading around their degree programs for people who want to better themselves.  “Stuck at a dead-end job? We have a degree for you!” “Need to commute from home? We have a degree for you!” “Can’t count your fingers and toes? We have a degree for YOU!!!”  While having the right degree can sound appealing and make your resume look prettier, I have news for you: a degree isn’t a guaratee that you’ll land the job of your dreams. On top of that, it’s so easy to get suckered into a college program where their four-year degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. 
The first degree I ever earned was a two-year degree in multimedia development when was only 20.  I thought I’d be landing a big job, using my photoshop and illustrator skills for top dollar, editing videos for big companies in Manhattan. Boy, was I wrong.  The only company I worked for that used my skills in graphic arts was a sign business in Elmsford for 1 week.  Eventually, I went back to school and found a niche that was for me in the field of Therapeutic Recreation. (Never heard of it? Think schoolyard recess as a profession.)  I also picked up a few nifty hobbies on the side, including writing, photography, and computer repair.  Yeah, I fix laptops for fun.  Ha Ha.
Why am I sharing this little piece of experience with you? Because chances are, if you’re part of my generation, you’re either considering college, or you’ve already went that route.  With most of the fields of study that don’t involve medical studies, accounting, or some form of software design, you’re not likely to land that “ideal job” that you’ve been studying for.  Even worse, there are college degrees for fields that don’t require a degree, especially when it comes to creative arts.  There’s an old saying, “A sucker’s born every minute.”  When it comes to college majors, that saying couldn’t be more on point.  With that in mind, here are 5 degrees that people don’t need.

1. Philosophy

Okay.  Off the top of your head, name a philosopher that has or had acually made money.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Waiting…..still waiting…..waiting some more…nothing at all?  Oh, and if you’re naming ancient Roman philosophers, they definiely don’t count.  Name a philosopher from the 20th century to now who’s made money in philosophy who isn’t a professor at an ivy league college.  If you’re thinking Sigmund Freud, that’s psychology, not philosophy.  Okay, you can stop now.
Let’s face it. Unless you’re a top-tier historian on philosophers with a grant from some society or organization for historical preservation, there’s little to no chance on making money on philosophy unless you have the patience to write a book on it and a publisher willing to put it out.  An employer’s not going to hire you because you can sum up Aristotle’s stance on ethics.  If you’re going to aim for a degree, it should be something that can be used in the work field, not something that can be summed up as a dinner table discussion. 
When you get right down to it, philosophy is all about thinking and ideas.  Why should someone need a degree to share their thoughts and ideas on a matter?  Philosophers don’t need a degree to decide for themselves if a tree in a forest makes noise if it falls if there’s no one around to hear it.  It’s about viewpoints and perspectives, which we all have.  It’s all a matter of articulation, selling your viewpoint and wrapping it in a nice little bow for the world to see. At best, philosophy should be an elective to spark a student’s interest in perspectives of ancient scholars, not the foundaion for a career.  Unless you know someone who’s looking for some professors in philosophy, don’t choose this as a major, unless you’re looking forward to being the only burger flipper in town who can quote Socrates.

2. Art

Now, before I go any further, let me break things down a bit.  Architecture?  A good degree to have if you know the field.  New buildings are being designed and built everyday.  Graphic Design?  Again, if you know how to play the field, a decent degree to have under your belt.  Big companies look for people who can work their magic in Photoshop and Illustrator, but be warned, this is mostly a freelance field, so if you’re not into working a gig here and a gig there with no steady salary flow, this isn’t for you.  Animation?  Same as graphic design, but if you’re creative enough, you can build your own character and develop a nice following. (Remember Happy Tree Friends?)  Painting?  Sculpting?  Now THIS is where I draw the line.  Take a few classes here and there when it comes to art, but don’t, and I repeat, DON’T, devote a college major to it.
Art is like philosophy, in the sense that it’s about expressing thought.  The main difference is that art is about visual expression.  You don’t need a college degree to express yourself.  Oil paintings, sculptures, pencil sketches, drawings, these things are just expressions of a person’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives.  The best artists I know were born with the gift to draw or paint.  It wasn’t programmed into them at a school.  If school did anything, it helped them sharpen their gift.  And the smart artists didn’t make art their only form of income.  For them, it’s a passionate side gig that they dedicate their free time to.  And for those who do make a career with their artwork, it’s usually in forms where they can sell their work in mass, such as t-shirts and posters.  The ones who get their work in galleries have to network and work their way up, getting their work recognized from the bottom up. The process of getting your work into an art gallery isn’t unlike a job interview. You have to sell the idea to the gallery owner that your art is worth being shown in an exhibit.
As for comic book artists trying to get into the industry, that’s all about networking and getting your name and your work seen. Rob Liefeld, the man who, among other things, created our favorite “merc with a mouth”, Deadpool, was a self-taught artist. While critics and fans have been divided through the years over his quality of work, he managed to not only score high profile gigs at Marvel Comics (where he not only created characters like Deadpool and Cable, but brought a slew of mutant superheroes into the 90’s era by creating X-Force), but also became a co-founder of Image Comics, where he continued to make his mark by creating the superhero team Youngblood. You don’t need a degree to get ahead in the world of art, no matter what the medium. Just hone your talent, and be ready to do a LOT of networking and portfolio building.

3. Game Testers (aka “Quality Assurance”)

Okay, this one is a VERY controversial one in the gaming community.  I think the turning point was when a little movie called Grandma’s Boy made its debut in theaters. In it, the lead character makes a living as a game tester.  That statement alone is an oxymoron, but we’ll get to that in a second.  Back to the movie, the whole portrayal of game testers is so Hollywood, it’s sickening.  They have their own cubicles, office meetings, and they have humorous dialogue with their supervisors. It’s basically an episode of The Office, but produced by Adam Sandler. With video games. And weed.
In reality, game testers (also known by the politically correct term, “quality assurance”) are put through hell when it comes to testing games.  Having to play through epic games like God of War and Grand Theft Auto may seem like a dream come true, but here’s the nitty gritty: Game testing is all about finding flaws, glitches, and other things that can mess up a game and documenting every glitch.  If the collision detection is off, it has to be documented. If the 3D models aren’t moving right, it has to be documented.  If the audio is out of synch, it has to be documented. So yeah, it’s not that dream job of playing video games and saying how fun it is.  It’s a nightmare job of playing the same video game again and again, looking for glitches hour after hour.  Not convinced on how bad it is?  I just described a game tester testing a good game.  Imagine testing a BAD game.  Ever play a game so bad, it made you want to throw your controller at the screen?  Imagine if testing that game was your JOB.  It’d make an episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd look like an episode of Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.
Now, with that image in your head, imagine some run-of-the-mill school offering you a degree in game testing.  Keep that image of a game tester in gaming hell in your head.  WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD WANT A DEGREE IN THAT????  In fact, WHY DO YOU NEED A DEGREE TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES?????? I know, there are some kids out there who would love to go to college and play video games, but the cold hard truth is that you’d be spending at least $10,000 on tuition alone for a degree in a field that pays only $20,000 annually, before taxes and deductions.  Not so wonderful now, is it, kiddies?  If you’re going to join the world of “quality assurance”, lots of luck to you, but just remember: don’t get a degree in it.

4. Photography

And now, we return to a field of art.  It may not require any drawing or painting, but photography is an art of visual self-expression.  The idea of photography is to let the world look through your eyes.  If that summary’s too romantic for you, I’ll put it in blunt terms for you: you’re taking pictures, end of story.  And now, back to the less blunt imagery: Photography is about images and perception, how a person sees something in front of them.  Take a traffic jam, for example.  The average person will only see a bunch of cars stuck on an expressway and say, “Ugh, I hate traffic.”  A photographer will think to himself, “Hmmmm, look at the symmetry of the cars lined up, right under that highway sign.  And the way the sun is setting gives the backdrop such a glow.  Let me get my camera!”  Something that would be just an everyday occurence to the average person is a prime chance for a great photo to an artistic photographer.
That’s just an example of artisic photography.  Now, let’s get to the photographer on a daily grind.  When it comes to things like Kmart portraits and school photos, you don’t need a degree for that.  That’s basically just getting the right lighting, positioning, and taking a picture.  Then, you have the photographers who make a living taking photos for special purposes.  They specialize in doing glamour shots and head shots for aspiring actors and models, doing special occasions such as weddings, and special interest shoots such as maternity shoots.  These photographers make every day people into works of art.  They focus on getting the right lighting, scenery, and angles to make your next door neighbor look like a model for a brochure.  Oh, and the good ones do a lot of work for brochures, too. Further up the food chain, you have photo journalists.  They’re the ones snapping shots for newspapers and news stations.  If a photo journalist has a degree under his belt, it’s most likely in journalism, not photography.  Photo journalists are basically field reporters with cameras.  They’re the ones who get their pictures on the front page of your local newspaper or on your favorite news website.  And of course, you have papparazzi.  The ones always snapping celebrity photos for the tabloids.  They’re like the scavengers of photojournalism, hunting down pictures of your favorite celebrities for a quick paycheck.  No skill needed here, just a camera with a good flash and zoom lens.  I actually knew someone in high school who made money after school as a tabloid photographer.  It was like knowing the TMZ equivalent of Peter Parker, without the spider powers.
As someone who is into photography as a hobby, I can tell you that you don’t need a degree in photography to be a good photographer.  I learned everything that was important about photography in one high school semester, and this was back in the days of film photography.  In the digial photography era, everything has been made 100 times easier and accessible.  You don’t need to find a store that sells black and white film to take black and white photos, you just need a camera with that filter.  You don’t even need to limit yourself to 27 photos on a roll, you can take thousands of photos with one memory card.  And developing film?  Ancient history in the digital age.  (Man, writing those last few lines makes me feel old. Ugh.) As for the artistic side of photography, you can always take a weekend class and learn that, or you can subscribe to a good photography magazine or buy some books to learn the tools of the trade.  You don’t need a college degree to snap photos, no matter what kind of photo you’re taking.

5. Film

I know I’m going to get a load of flack for saying this, but you actually don’t need a degree in film to be a good filmmaker.  There are so many people going to prestigious schools, getting their BFAs in film. It’s a dream for so many young adults to be the next Scorsese, Spielberg, or Tarantino.  And while there are jobs in the film field for graduates who have their degree in film, the field is so cutthroat, a lot of them even wonder why they spent so much tuition money majoring in this, when a communications degree could have done even better? 
Let’s put it this way: while everyone wants to be a director, who says you can’t get your foot in the door being a director of photography (D.P.)? A D.P. is basically the man in charge of getting the good shots on film.  He’s the guy who helps set up the lighting, camera angles, and positions to make sure a shot comes out right. That’s just a rough summary. Remember Jan De Bont, the director of Speed and Twister? He started as a D.P. for a few 80’s classics you may remember. Die Hard? The Hunt For Red October? De Bont was the D.P. for those movies.  He built his reputation up, and eventually got a Hollywood studio to give him a shot at directing, and next thing you know, he’s got Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on a speeding bus in L.A.  Not an easy task, if you know how traffic in L.A. can get.
The point is, so many aspiring filmmakers want to start out on the top, but that’s not how the film industry works. The lucky few who do start off directing usually have a few top-notch indie films under their belt, like Fast & Furious director Justin Lin, who started off with his indie film debut, Better Luck Tomorrow (a damn good movie, btw). The rest of the industry’s top directors usually start off with lesser jobs and work their way up, be it by chance or reputation.
Want a truly inspiring example of a big filmmaker not needing a degree to be a great filmmaker?  Quentin Tarantino.  His film education came from working in a video store, watching everything from French cinema to Kung Fu flicks. His way of getting into the film industry? Teaming up with a then up-and-coming producer by the name of Lawrence Bender, who managed to get Tarantino’s draft of 1992’s Reservoir Dogs to Harvey Keitel. After some grueling filming on a shoestring budget with a talented and now legendary cast, the film became a cult classic, and paved the way for Tarantino and Bender to work on 1994’s Pulp Fiction, the film that made Tarantino an icon. No film degree, just passion, thinking and learning outside the box, and a LOT of luck.
If you’re looking to make a career in film, you don’t need a degree. There are plenty of jobs that will allow you to get some experience in the field and learn on set how to hone your skills. And while you may not be the next Tarantino, you could easily become the next Bill Pope. (You don’t know who Bill Pope is? He’s a well-known D.P. You probably saw his camera work in The Matrix and V For Vendetta. Cool, right?)

In the end, no matter what field you’re planning into, just remember this: a degree is simply a piece of paper. While you’ve worked your butt off to earn that piece of paper, it shoud never, EVER, be an indicator of what you’re worth. A degree can catch an employer’s eye, but only you as a person can build a career for yourself, wheher it’s a traditional 9-to-5 or breaking new ground. Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam Records and the founder of Phat Farm clothing said it best: “Some people get those degrees and go on cruise control. But you have to be willing to learn new things every day, every second. You can’t just depend on what you’ve already been taught. That’s why sometimes education can hold you down instead of lift you up.”  If you want to build a future for yourself, you have to think outside the box. Learn as much as you can, and decide for yourself whether or not you need a degree. And if you do decide to get a college degree, I beg this of you: Please….PLEASE…don’t get a degree in game testing.