I have a fascination with what people wanted to be when they grew up. The question has a bad rap, as a throwaway, to fill awkward silences on blind dates, but I love asking and being asked. I want to hear about how you wanted to be a firefighter when you were a kid, and if I’m feeling generous, I’ll assure you that yes, the fact that you’re now your office building’s floor marshal counts. I mean, you EARNED that gig (by being out the day they chose.)
My first AOL screen name was Mo4Prez. Mo, because it was my nickname, short for Maureen, my real first name. “4Prez” because I had decided that I would be the first woman president of the United States. This was during the years that Clinton and Lewinsky were smashing but before we all knew about it. This job had everything I could ever want: it wasn’t located in Oreland, Pennsylvania, I wouldn't really have a boss (you know, besides the American people) and it looked great on a resume. I could picture myself, normally clad in leggings and sporting baby bangs, in a drab pantsuit, with a sensible haircut. When I hit age 10, that picture lost it’s anti-glam sheen as I realized how... administrative this job would inevitably be. I decided instead, that I wanted to be a famous novelist. Why not? I could do anything.
When I was a kid, our parents were all about telling their kids to follow their dreams, whatever they were. Maybe this was a knee-jerk rebellion against their own parents, who had sent them to Catholic school with nuns who beat them with Bibles, systematically scoffed at their dreams and threatened to make them take over the family business. If these stories are true, they were expected to pick something reliable, call tops “blouses” and retire after 40 years at the same company. It makes sense, then, that our parents wanted us to do something we love because then we could be Guaranteed Happy. In the early 2000s, it was rare that you heard of a set of parents ordering their child to return home to Peoria after Ohio State undergrad to run the family mortuary.
When I graduated from college, I set out on a path surrounded by incredibly creative people: musicians, primarily, but also visual artists, and writers. Sound was my future because I loved doing it. Simple as that. I was excited that I was able to listen to my parents and follow my heart.
For the first couple of years out of music school, I wanted to make sound my job. I interned at one audio post-production house, then another, while I took on my own projects that consisted mostly of sound edits for film school juniors and bored wealthy men in their fifties.
In order to pay my bills, I was a live-in nanny for a family with a terminally ill mother and a daughter who had been adopted after a multi-year custody battle. I willingly inserted myself into a situation that was fraught with emotion, disappointment, and anger. I lived in the attic and dreaded going downstairs to watch the wild child of a daughter and sustained daily bites from their cat, who suffered from Crohn’s disease.
I also worked a retail job where my job title was “stylist” even though my primary job purpose was to sign the citizens of Seattle up for store credit cards. Incidentally, I was the best at it at my store. As an addendum to the required sales pitch of “If you open a card with us, you’ll save an additional 15% off your purchase today” I would add “And if you’re worried about interest, as soon as we’re finished with this transaction you can go ahead and pay your account balance with your debit card and never use the store card ever again if you don’t want to. Here, you can borrow my scissors.” The highest card openers would both keep their job, and regularly get free clothing, which is how I managed to avoid being naked for probably a full calendar year.
I was miserable, but it allowed me to have something resembling a sound career, and that was the goal. And if it wasn’t still the goal, I couldn’t tell, because I was too busy working side jobs trying to afford to reach it.
For me, and for some of my friends, the directive to follow our passion kind of backfired. A large number of people in my life starting out doing what made them happy as a career. But they did it for so many more hours, and in a hyper-competitive environment where their creative work was constantly critiqued, that it made them miserable. I remember coming home from work and just not knowing what to do with myself. The last thing I wanted to do was to play around with audio files or write music. I had been doing that all day for a client who didn’t know what they wanted but kept repeating random adjectives at me angrily until they had finally grown tired, long after the studio staff had gone home.
It’s obviously not impossible to make your passion a career successfully. I know it isn’t, because Lady Gaga exists. But sometimes I feel like it’s maybe just as brave to.. not.
- One of the creative producers we’re working with thinks that the “stakes” in a story is spelled “steaks.” Told the creative lead that I would give him $20 to reply all to his latest email to the full team with just “Mmm…. steaks.” He’s thinking about it.
- I fucked up cutting my bangs a couple of months ago and I’m afraid to go to my hairstylist because I know I’m gonna get a very mild lecture that lasts about 10 seconds. Having disproportionate anxiety about it.
- How do you go about finding an old factory to live in? My heart is telling me that’s where I should live if I’m going to have a shot at being the best version of myself. My initial research, though, has told me that I may as well empty my meager savings account into a metal garbage can now and set it on fire. It'll be quicker and I won’t have to navigate zoning laws.