Welcome to the real world

A phrase I’ve come to hate is ‘the real world’, as in ‘you should try living in the real world’ or ‘welcome to the real world’. My world is just as real as yours; or rather, there’s only one real world and we’re all of us in it. This is what the American poet Richard Hugo (1923-82), who worked as a technical writer for Boeing before becoming a poet and creative writing teacher at the University of Montana, had to say about this ‘real world’:

‘I hate that phrase “the real world.” Why is an aircraft factory more real than a university? Is it? In universities I’ve had in my office ex-cons on parole, young people in tears racked with deep sexual problems, people recently released from mental hospitals, confused, bewildered, frightened, hoping, with more desperation than some of us will ever be unlucky enough to know, that they will remain stable enough to stay in school, and out of hospitals forever. I’ve seen people so forlorn that I’ve sat there praying as only an unreligious man can pray that I don’t say something wrong, that I can spare their feelings, that I might even say something that will make their lives easier if only for a few moments. Sad drug addicts too. Not people you usually meet in industrial offices. Often they are coming to me because I’m a poet and I’m supposed to be wise, to have some secret of existence I can pass on to the forlorn. In some ways the university is a far more real world than business.’

(From The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (New York: Norton, 1979), p. 99)

3 thoughts on “Welcome to the real world

  1. I love it when I hear about “reality shows” on TV. If I want to experience reality, I turn off the TV and watch my own household, friends, work associates, my fellow AA member, my relatives, the guy next door or the people up the street. I live in the real world, and love it, despise, feel it fret over it and experience it.
    Joe, keep up the good writing!


  2. As a high school student with episodes of depression, people are always telling me that “school isn’t like the real world”, or, “you need to smarten up for the real world, kid”. And all I can think is that my worlds just as f**** up as your’s.


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