In sixth grade English we made a wish collage by pasting magazine pictures onto a glass bottle. We provided the bottle and the teacher provided the magazines. Without one classmate complaining I eagerly took hold of the full stack of old National Geographics. I spelled out T RAV EL IN T IM E in ransom letter style over maps and whales and pottery shards.
Then, as we all started to steal glances at each others work I added a diamond and gold bracelet cut from an advertisement. No other jewelry image could have more accurately represented what I was not. It also didn’t help me fit in with the cars, clothes, jewelry, or sports what-nots pasted on every bottle. By the way, the collaged bottle still sits on a shelf in my apartment.
In seventh grade English we were assigned a report on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote about astronauts — my math skills weren’t good enough, but it was the only career I thought a lot about. We also had to interview someone — anyone — about their job. I think I interviewed my ballet teacher. I was the worst dancer in the class. The assignment felt like an opportunity to write on what I was physically and mentally incapable of doing. The paper didn’t help me figure out a career.
In ninth grade Health (Health! Sometimes teachers liked to surprise us.) we were told to make an expressive collage by pasting pictures onto a large cardboard initial — in my case that was a B. The work would all be done outside of class. Since we didn’t have magazine subscriptions at home (except for Bon Appétit) I used old theater programs. My favorite shows, favorite dancers, best performance memories went onto that letter. Every student’s letter was hung from the hooks above the blackboard. Though I had enjoyed making the collage, I didn’t bother looking at the others. The class was like skipping the office doughnut so you’ll eat your packed salad — I was getting the class out of the way ’cause I had to and sometimes I actually enjoyed the assignments. I didn’t try to be anything other than very uncool.
In twelfth grade English we were assigned a report on what we wanted to be when we grew up. For my only high school research paper I wrote about astronomers — sort of. I kind of blew off the assignment. Every semester I signed up for an astronomy class the school didn’t offer. We had to interview someone in the profession. Not knowing anyone I sent an email with a list of questions to a random astronomy professor I found online. The response was vague. The assignment seemed like an opportunity to learn that, maybe, I wasn’t going to be much of anything at all.
I wasn’t going to get into an astronomy program and I wasn’t so convinced any longer that it was the only thing I wanted to be. Except I didn’t know what else exactly I wanted to be or if what I maybe wanted to be even existed. Thinking back on it the assignment’s timing seems a little off. College applications were already turned in. Your future is already set on a path that can only be changed with great expense.
I didn’t want to be a career — I wanted to have a career. What I wanted to be… I wanted to be brave enough to tackle the interview portions of those research papers. I wanted the confidence to be just me without looking for approval from my peers. I wanted the strength to call everyone my peer and no one my superior and no one my subordinate. I wanted the sensibility to accept my own past and eagerly anticipate my own future. I wanted to learn to laugh at myself. I wanted to find where I fit in and I wanted the intelligence to recognize what that place looked like. I wanted to have a career that allowed all of that and more.
It’s really doubtful either English teacher would have graded that paper any better than the paper I turned in. It’s not the grown-up party response either.
“Hi, I’m Brynne.”
“Joe. Nice to meet you. So, what is it you do Brynne?”
“Well, recently I went to the free Alice in Wonderland exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center on a weekday afternoon. It was really informative and I made an origami white rabbit. How about you?”
Actually, I find that way more interesting than any job I could list. I am changing the way I participate in all party conversations from now on. Assuming I am brave enough to participate at all.
Yet, sometimes I am brave enough to talk to strangers, confident enough to fight against my peers, strong enough to stand with everyone, sensible enough to respect my timeline, and intelligent enough to be happy where I am. Officially, I am now a grown up even if I don’t always feel like one.
I’ve also never seen a job description listing any of those in the Required Knowledge/Skills/Experience sections. As a grown up, without prior education or experience I have been a guide and adventurer through a land of princesses, dragons, mermaids, and molecules. Coccinellidae have called me murderer and savior. I have wandered an evergreen forest set on asphalt still warm from a Texas summer.
I have shuffled papers, set the clock for 9 to 5 and closely counted every minute in between. I’ve counted other numbers too. Ghosts have made their presence felt, but I learned not to fear them. I learned to work a phone and I learned to mimic paint strokes.
I didn’t want to be any of these things. Some of these jobs I enjoyed. Others…well, that goes for every career. Sometimes you will hate the job, but love the career. The odd part about my list of jobs that is longer than those mentioned here is that I wasn’t qualified — through education or experience — for any of them.
There is exactly one job I’ve ever held that fit my education and experience, abilities and passions. I was a writer…I am a writer…at different times and in different ways. Always part-time. Always on the side. Always having to convince someone that I kinda knew what I know.
The words that come so naturally to me — that gave the numbers sense, that I twisted into analysis in college, that I can use to show, communicate and instruct professionally — I am told I have neither the education nor the experience to succeed at. I am told that I don’t fit in. (Not always and probably not forever.)
These days I have a decent idea of what career I want to be when I grow up. Whenever that happens. I very much enjoy not feeling like a grown up. But, even as I type these words I wonder if maybe even that career isn’t so important as having a job I like that allows me to be the person I want to be. Sometimes I look around at all I have and think — proudly and happily — that I am very close to being exactly the person I want to be when I grow up.