Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When I grow up I want to be a...

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I always wonder what children's most common answer to this age old question is. When we're sitting in our elementary school classrooms, what do we dream to be? The stereotypical answer for a boy is a fireman, astronaut or something equally courageous and extraordinary. But what do girls want to be? What is our version of "fireman" or "astronaut"?

From about the ages seven to nine, I was determined to be a veterinarian. I grew up with an excessive number of pets (four cats, one dog and eventually an evil hamster) and always considered myself an animal lover. But around age five or six, I'd gone to a doctor to test my allergies which were causing me to have breathing problems fairly regularly.

He told me I was allergic to the pet dander of cats and dogs. Still, I remained determined to be a vet for several years, even if it meant sneezing up a storm every time I entered a patient's room. But over time, I realized the watery eyes and runny nose did not constitute an equitable trade-off to the satisfaction of dealing with animals on a daily basis. I needed something more lucrative, something that made more sense.

Instead of the impractical, unachievable goal of being a veterinarian, I settled on a new, more reasonable plan: I would be a star.

One can assume that at some point in our lives, many of us XX-chromosomed individuals have ruminated on aspirations of pop-stardom. Watching Disney Channel until my eyes bled and listening to Hilary Duff sing about boys being "So Yesterday" and asking "Why Not" take a crazy chance, I knew that I was destined to sing in front of half-stadium crowds with a jeweled microphone, dressed in a crop top and bedazzled bell-bottoms.

I even dressed the part. For any mother, I feel it is my duty to extend the very important and unbreakable rule of never allowing your daughter to purchase a cropped halter or tube top. Even if it is in vogue, this is not a good childhood fashion choice. From personal experience, exposing my chubby baby fat belly to the world was not the proudest moment of my life. Maybe if my mom had heard this rule before enabling me to buy those ugly shirts at WalMart, I would not have the disturbing photos to prove that I had no nine-year-old fashion sense.

One very fortunate day, I looked in a mirror and realized that the cropped top chubster look was just not me. I was smarter than that. I was "gift and talented" (thank you GATE program for instilling these conceited values in me). I could do better than pursuing pop stardom and looking like a cheap baby harlot in the process.

But I was in a state of indecision. I'd given up the two best career options for me. I was not going to be treating sick animals, I was not going to be singing and selling millions of albums around the world. What other options did I have? The future seemed bleak.

I bounced around from idea to idea for a while. When I met my best friend, Tori, I toyed with stealing her idea of becoming a doctor. One Halloween, I even went to the trouble of buying scrubs and a stethoscope and proclaiming I wanted to be a pediatrician.

But I don't enjoy biology and I'm a germaphobe and a relative hypochondriac, so I realized that would not work out.

Then I considered maybe becoming a lawyer. In middle school we had a career day where we heard from various professionals about their jobs and career paths. After hearing a female lawyer speak, I started growing more interested in law. I confused myself on the real nuts and bolts of the profession, determining that if I came up with similar arguments as lawyers in movies, I would definitely have the chops to be an awesome lawyer.

One night, I was watching The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Try as I might to forget this movie, I remember that in between the scariest horror scenes of all time, there were moments of court drama. At one point, I predicted what the lawyer would use as evidence. I thought I was a genius. The Doogie Howser of law. If anything could confirm that I was meant to defend people in court, this was it.

I was wrong.

I am the most non-confrontational person you will ever meet. I hate arguing, much less fighting or trying to win a battle. If I really worked hard, sure, I might be able to put on an act and be a good lawyer - but it's certainly not an inherent aspect of my nature.

Not long after the career day spiel, I started watching Gilmore Girls. The main character, Rory, was determined to be the next Christiane Amanpour, traveling around the globe to report hard-hitting journalism that would have an effect on our sheltered and shortsighted United States.

I loved the ambition. Suddenly, a career I hadn't even considered became the most amazing sounding path for me. I wanted to be a reporter. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be Rory Gilmore.

Just like I had loved and aspired to be like Hilary Duff years before, my middle school self was ready to fill the shoes of another idol (even though this one was fictional). Rory was so intelligent and put together. Maybe, I thought, if I pursue journalism I will be just as intelligent and productive as her.

Needless to say, Rory Gilmore is not real. And I have never come close to reaching her level of success - reading Gogol's Dead Souls while she was in diapers or what not. I was always of just above average intelligence. And my ambition of being like Rory Gilmore, and by extension being like Christiane Amanpour, eventually waned.

But I stuck with the goal of being published.

I ascribe most of my success in journalism to one person: my high school mentor and newspaper adviser, Ms. Cummings. Before I even arrived in high school, she enlisted me to join her journalism class - talking with my dad in their respective cars outside my middle school at the end of the day.

Instead of taking biology in ninth grade (by this time I'd thrown both veterinarian and pediatrician out the window), I tacked on an elective: journalism. I studied all the basics of journalistic writing: how to construct a good lead, hard news coverage, sports reporting, feature writing and film reviewing.

I got A's on everything. If I had any inkling that this was not the path that I was meant to take, Ms. Cummings drilled it out of my brain, convincing me that I could do any type of writing I set my mind to.

The next year I joined the staff of my high school newspaper. I contributed primarily to the Entertainment and (mainly political) Opinion sections. At the end of the year I applied to be editor of either section.

When Ms. Cummings gave me the role of Entertainment Editor, I was both excited and slightly disappointed. At this point in my writing career I'd felt that political journalism was my forte and my highest goal. I wanted to be Rachel Maddow, minus the boy haircut.

But what Ms. Cummings saw in me was a proclivity for writing about the arts that I had yet to see in myself. I'd forgotten that during my time in her journalism class in my freshman year, my favorite assignments had been the movie reviews. I loved writing my opinion about art. And even better, I was good at it.

Now I'm at university studying journalism. Growing disenfranchised with traditional styles of reporting, I've endeavored to do primarily opinion writing outside of class. And most, if not all, of my writing is entertainment-based.

While I have written a couple of articles regarding political issues, over time I've realized that the level of polarization in political coverage, just like the necessity of argument called for by law, is just not me. It's like the tube tops of my youth: I realized I needed something different.

Early on in life I considered stereotypical women's job roles. I toyed with career choices that involved families and pets. I thought about taking on a very anti-feminist role and pursuing a career as a performer (sure, like that would've worked out). A few years later I switched to feminist job roles. I wanted to be a woman lawyer or a reporter at the front wearing camouflage and a helmet.

But once I came to terms with who I am and with what I want out of life, I realized a better-suited goal. With feminist strength in the back of my head and feminine tendencies floating around as well, I decided I wanted to be a film or theater critic.

I see nothing wrong with pursuing goals that fit gender roles. There are plenty of amazing male firemen and astronauts, female veterinarians and pediatricians. Even for the opposite genders these are great careers. But my middle ground is something that took me more than a decade to come to terms with. When I grow up, I want to have a career that represents me. A career that I love. A career that makes me feel like it's all worth it. It may have taken a while, but I found it.

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