Samuel J. Tanner 5 minute read

Peak Earning Years

I'm 37.

Did you know these are my peak earning years? I read that somewhere.

Where? Who knows?

The internet is a cesspool of errant and unvetted information. The Russian literary theorist Bakhtin might have described the internet as heteroglossic. What is heteroglossia? Imagine that language is born out of all of the utterances people make within a shared time and space. This language becomes a heeteroglossic system. It is possible to communicate, only with the language that the co-constructed, heteroglossic system allows. This is discourse, in some ways. Narrative. Improvisation or disruption in closed heteroglossic systems becomes difficult. Reality becomes cemented. Social media could be thought of as a heteroglossic system, maybe. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapcat, whatever. Co-constructed utterances form a reality where alt-right, libtard snowflakes, selfies, and ads for Pizza Hut blend to create some sort of normalized reality. Certain things are possible in such a heteroglossic system. Certain things are not. It feels claustrophobic to me.

Forgive me. I was writing about my peak earning years.

I'm healthy. I'm in the prime of my life. I ought to be reaping a financial harvest. I'm not.

I left my career as a teacher to become a professor. I took a paycut from my job teaching high school. Can you imagine? I actually found a job where I make less money than public educators. I'm losing my shirt as I'm trying to inspire people to want to be educators. Talk about an achievement, baby!

It's not lucrative to devote your life to education in this nation, I guess. Oh well. Chasing money for the sake of chasing money seems creepy to me. Not a great way to live. But I've still got to pay my student loans, send my boys to preschool, and keep up with the mortgage. It's a racket.

I've got a thing for Kurt Vonnegut. What a writer. I read "God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater" when I was a teenager. The book captured the absurdity of chasing money to chase money. It captures the awfulness of it, too. The Money River.

According to the book, "The Money River" is "where the wealth of the nation flows." Rich people, according to the book, "were born on the banks of it." They "can slurp from that mighty river" to their hearts' content. And they "even take slurping lessons," so they "can slurp more efficiently."

Who provides the wealthy with slurping lessons? Lawyers. Tax consultants. Economists.

Ultimately, Vonnegut wrote that anybody in America can have access to the river. Provided that somebody tells them - when they're young enough - that the Money River exists. According to Vonnegut, "there's nothing fair about it" and we "better forget about hard work and the merit system and honesty and all that crap, and get to where the river is." Vonnegut wrote that the only way to gain access to the Money River is to "go where the rich and powerful are and learn their ways."

I love the way Vonnegut ends the section about the Money River in "God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater." Here it is:

"(The rich) can be flattered and they can be scared. Please them enormously or scare them enormously, and one moonless night they will put their fingers to their lips, warning you not to make a sound. And they will lead you through the dark to the widest, deepest river of wealth ever known to man. You'll be shown your place on the riverbank, and handed a bucket all your own. Slurp as much as you want, but try to keep the racket of your slurping down. A poor man might hear."

Peak earning years? Bullshit. I should've been seeking access to the Money River. Instead, I've spent my life teaching high school English. I write. I teach. I've tried to learn how to be a more kind and empathetic human.

I guess I don't really care about peak earning years, even though the realities of month-to-month living in America do weigh me down. So many of us in this country, the moderately wealthy included, take what we can get. We don't actually get anywhere near the Money River, even if we hit six-figures. A very select few drink from this river, and they dictate how the river flows, even if it runs roughshod over people. And, I hate to say it, but I don't think that posting things on Facebook alters the course of the Money River. The heteroglossic construct of social media, for me, does not allow for real improvisation from the normalized reality that allows for a tiny population of human beings to wield real power.

Those jerks.

I many not be drinking from the Money River at 37. But I'm productive. Write, write, and write some more. I'm still teaching, too. And I'm making things. An improv troupe. Books. Art. Time to be with my family. Love. These are worthy pursuits, I guess. At least in terms of the heteroglossic system in which I've been swimming. Big fish eat the little one? Screw that. Let's be friends, instead.


Vonnegut, K. (1965). God bless you, Mr. Rosewater: or, Pearls before swine. Dial Press Trade Paperbacks.