What follows is the circuitous account of a woman in the process of becoming. My life certainly hasn’t worked out the way I’d planned, but read on to find the story of my blood, sweat and inspiration.
If you had asked 5 year old me what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have looked up at you with an eager and nubile expression and confidently claimed she would be a singer. When I was 8 my mother got me involved in musical theater and from that point until I graduated with my BA in Theater: Performance from Wagner College, I believed whole-heartedly that I was meant for the Broadway stage.
Thinking back on it, it makes me laugh to think that a glasses-wearing, pimply, little fat girl honestly believed she could find enough jobs in this field to feed herself. But shortly the question became moot. After my parents passed away of cancer, (my mother during my Sophmore year of college and my father just after graduation), I lost my nerve. It’s hard to describe to those who have never experienced it why constant preoccupation with family illness should cause long lasting PTSD; but just know that for years when the phone rang, I was paranoid it would be someone telling me another family member is dead.
I floated from retail job to retail job, looking for a new direction. They were the only jobs I could get, considering we were in the height of a ‘Recession’ and I had graduated with a degree that most employers find difficult to relate with office work. I was hopelessly lost. So with no better idea, I took the suggestion of my Godmother and enrolled in a Masters program for Library Science from Pratt Institute.
My original intention was to be a children’s librarian and get my teaching certificate. However, through my contract position as Assistant in the Children’s Programming Department of the New York Public Library, I met Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. I interned with her for an incredible year, learning everything about the children’s editorial process. If you had asked this 27 year old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a Children’s Editor. But my life wasn’t done throwing curve balls.
My grandfather, the only remaining family member I had regular contact with, started to develop dementia. His health faded with his memory and it wasn’t long before my studies were suffering from regular travel to his one bedroom apartment in my hometown of Middlesex, New Jersey. The time came for making a choice: helping my grandfather or finishing my degree. I, of course, chose family and as my bank account was also suffering, I elected to live on his dusty 1980s corduroy couch for a long and tumultuous year.
His hospital visits became a frequent regularity. His dementia worsened and he began to convince himself that he didn’t really need help, even though he consistently needed me to make his meals and dispense his hourly pill regimen. He started to argue that I wasn’t helping him, but that he was helping me by providing room and board. And he made it very clear that despite my exhaustive efforts, I was wearing out my welcome. Our relationship disintegrated into viscous arguments and angry name calling, and I soon realized that I had to remove myself from the situation for both of our sakes. I encouraged him to get as many visiting nurses as his insurance would allow and ran, screaming, into the arms of my ex-boyfriend’s family, who were kind enough to let me stay with them until I could get back on my feet.
There, I was still having trouble finding a full time job and I began to rely on my self-taught creative skills to scrape together a part-time job’s worth of money. I sold crochet jewelry at flea markets, I made sample afghans for crochet magazines, I rewrote website copy for SEO, I designed graphic elements for web and print and I illustrated a playing-card game distributed by a friend of my ex. Yet apparently all the experience I could rack up in this short time, was not enough to attract full-time employers who insisted their applicants have a graphic design degree.
It was a long and hard road, but after two more retail jobs I eventually found a coveted full-time Receptionist’s position at a Bioresearch Lab and have happily rented my first big-girl-no-roommates apartment in North Plainfield, New Jersey. My grandfather passed away a week after I moved into this apartment, but my experience with him left me with a clearer focus.
It is now my intention to use my lengthy list of creative skills to speak out for the voiceless young women who are equally as oppressed by societal injustice as they are by the requirements of family.
The lessons and insights from our generation are in danger of being lost amidst the rush of established people scrambling to ensure their security. We are the first generation to benefit from the pedagogical advances of aging 1970s revolutionaries, but we are also the first generation to be ruthlessly studied by these same revolutionaries with constant and rigorous standardized testing. We are the first generation bred to think of ourselves as statistics and we are the first generation to experience the disconnect between education and job availability.
We were raised with technology and can understand it’s possibilities better than those before us. We were raised in the philosophy of feminist second wave thought and know where it needs tweaking. We were inundated with marketing ploys and entertainment value; and because of it understand their purposes and their potential for good, not just for wealth accumulation.
I don’t know how my life will unfold. But I do know that now I have something to fight for and a large arsenal of unusual skills to accomplish my goals.