My earliest known aspiration was to become a cowgirl-ballerina, hyphenated as such. I don't remember actually feeling this passion, but instead my mother frequently reminds me of this goal, as if she were the disappointed parent of a medical school dropout. Many years later, I haven't come any closer to deciphering how exactly this career path would function. Would I perform ballet amidst a field of tumbleweeds? Would I ride a horse on pointe? If I ever delve into the world of interpretive dance, I am sure this anecdote would serve as fabulous source material.
Once my fontanel had fully hardened and I was capable of rational thought, my dreams took a much more realistic turn: pop sensation. For my sixth birthday, I was blessed with perhaps the most life-altering gift I have ever, or will ever receive: a cassette tape of Britney Spears's debut, ...Baby One More Time. Just a few weeks later, and my entire existence was a shrine in her honor. My bedroom featured multiple life-sized posters, and I proudly carried my official fan club membership card with me everywhere.
Despite the warnings of neighbors, grandparents, and bible study personnel, I did not develop an eating disorder or a sex addiction due to my Spears-adoration. Yes, I received many a tut-tut from recess supervisors for attempting to contort my Space Jam t-shirt into something navel-baring, but I haven't stopped being fabulous since.
My rebellious phase came early. Perhaps this is fortunate for my parents and teachers, who had to subdue my desire to dismantle the establishment before I was capable of operating a motor vehicle or having sexual fantasies.
Instead, I discovered punk music at the age of nine. By fourth grade I was wearing a white armband to school, and forcing my parents to play my Anti-Flag and Dead Kennedys CD's in the car as they drove me to Fairytopia-themed slumber parties.
"I don't plan on going to college," I declared. "College is part of the establishment. If I want an education, I'll go to the library thank you very much." I did go to the library and ingest the likes of Noam Chomsky and Emma Goldman and assumed that one day, I would be joining the ranks of these great thinkers simply by filling neon green composition books with wisdom-bits such as "Ugh. I hate George Bush's face."
I like to think the career aspiration of punk prophet was fully realized when, in 2008, I convinced my elementary school to include independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the school-wide mock election ballot. He received 2.7% of the vote.
I wish I could say I hated high school solely for the fact that it would make a better story. I certainly didn't like high school--my lingering distrust in the authorities made that certain. Yet, high school was a completely ambivalent time for me, filled with ennui and increasingly pajama-based fashion choices.
Though I was sure of myself in this sense, for the first time I felt my future was foggy. I had reconsidered the no-college plan, but I hadn't quite cemented a plan-plan. In the meantime, I settled on becoming a nun.
I have never been devout to any religion (see my aforementioned thoughts on the man for more). I had a somewhat involved religious upbringing and my attendance at church was not exclusive to Easter and Christmas. By high school, though, my family had fallen into glorious heathenism and I was free of fire and brimstone at last.
Nevertheless, nunning was a thrilling prospect inspired not by renewed devotion, but by the strange and slightly grotesque writings of Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy. My best friend at the time, a Dali-level eccentric also named Katie, and I would spend hours reciting Anne Sexton to each other and planning bleak midwestern road trips where we would drink cold coffee at truck stops and ingest the dark underbelly of the American experience.
A stint as a chorus girl in my high school's production of The Sound of Music also turned me on to the fact that nun-wear is essentially a full-body Snuggie and hair care products are completely unnecessary.
I spent the summer after high school working at the shiny new Nordstrom department store in the mall near my house. I got to wear expensive lipstick samples and sell $7,000 handbags to women with illegal South American collagen injections. During this respite from the real world, I barely had time to notice college barreling towards me.
Upon my transplant to New York University, I was greeted by exuberant freshman hordes informing me that this was the first day of their scintillating futures as hedge-fund managers and middle school French teachers.
"How about you?" they would turn to me after their speeches, dewy-eyed with their own ambition. "What's your major?"
Stammering my way through at least fifty of these conversations a day compelled me to formulate a plan: I would simply tell people I was a writer--or, going to be at least. It was too easy: my "quirky personal voice" was something adults had been patting me on the back about for years. More conveniently, writing was something I enjoyed doing and already did regularly in the form of online rampages, community newspapers, several failed blogs, and years of diary entries. Now, I just had to assert myself into the world of professional publishing and I too could have a real plan as to how to sell my labor for the rest of my life.
Via Craigslist, I found an internship as an online-content writer and editor for a slowly-dying feminist magazine. Once the powerhouse zine of the 90's, I walked into the office on my first day to find a group of agitated ex-riot grrrls trying to figure out where to place this month's ad for an online pagan warehouse. I didn't find the bathroom for three weeks because I was too nervous to ask anyone a question, lest I be reprimanded for my ignorance. Though, I now conveniently have knowledge of every public toilet within a five-block radius of 27th and Broadway.
Soon, I was churning out seven articles a day on topics such as reusable menstrual cups and the corporate terrors of gluten. But writing for someone else quickly grew hollow and unsatisfying (though the constant free cheese samples certainly were neither of those things). I had reached yet another impasse on the road to becoming an average human. I quietly exited, gift basket in tow.
Being a film director is more or less a dream reserved for children who have a dog they can dress up in a dinosaur costume, or bitchy teenage boys who had their first orgasm while watching Pulp Fiction. Somewhere along the lines I guess I became both of those things.
One very bored summer in the midst of my college career, I began writing scripts. I put my brother in a cape and made him run around a field and edited it into an experimental short film about a wizard. I filmed my friends and created a fake reality show about our boring lives. It was all quite a hoot.
That fall, upon my return to NYU, I thought "How convenient! I already go to the best film school in the world! It's as if the seeds were planted all along!" I signed up for a handful of directing and screenwriting courses, thrilled to be intaking the same knowledge once imparted upon the likes of the Coen brothers or the guy who directed the Great American Classic National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
During the semester, something became very apparent. I liked the idea of film school and drinking coffee and spending all night "going over raw footage" and not to mention I had a real knack for applying the lens flare effect in iMovie. Yet once I was immersed in the film school environment, all I could think was "Gee, I absolutely hate everyone here."
I know that sounds a little negative, but I assure that you would feel similarly if forced to spend every waking hour of your life hearing two men's rights activists grumble about the fact that Zooey Deschanel has never done nudity.
"You should be a lawyer," my mom said. I was home for Christmas and we were driving to get our hair cut. I had been in the midst of a 45-minute groaning session about how unclear my future remained and how Swedish youths aren't forced to make decisions about their career until they've backpacked through the Himalayas.
"You're just saying that because I'm good at arguing with you," I responded, proving both her own point and mine simultaneously. I let my head rest against the car window and envisioned myself as a high-powered attorney, wearing a red Vivienne Westwood suit and getting paid an average salary of $200,000 a year to turn my internet rants on women's rights into legal action. I could see the freshly-inked headlines: "Former Societal Malcontent Proposes Game-Changing Legislation to United Nations!" I mentally shrugged. Worse plans had been hatched.
But what would my inner nun have to say about this? Would my ten year-old self look up from her Anarchist Essay Collection and scoff at the idea of fostering the atrocities the American justice system? Would my career amount to nothing more than a throwaway article on The Huffington Post?
Within the year, I will graduate from college and be the blessed recipient of an English degree. Relating this status to others will almost always cause a raised eyebrow and a slightly suspicious inquiry into "what exactly I plan to do with that." You see, most people think that an English degree is a doorway to absolutely nothing. Perhaps this is true on some level, but I think it serves my purposes perfectly. I needn't a doorway to anywhere.
Truthfully, I do know what I want: personal success, overwhelming joy, and the role of King Ad Rock in an all-female Beastie Boys cover band. I've never changed course for a lack of confidence, but rather an innate desire to taste absolutely everything. In the words of my favorite Ancient Japanese proverb: "Gotta catch 'em all."
I'm beginning to think I wasn't born to settle.