I started my junior year of college wearing a pencil skirt.
As in, “I woke up to drive my mother’s packed van to Malibu with all my sh** loaded in the back while wearing a pencil skirt”. I even had a French twist in my hair and was wearing painful heels.
Why, you ask? Because a mere few weeks before, I had found my ~calling~ and wanted to start off right. And starting it right meant that I wanted to drive up to my new dorm and get out of the driver’s seat looking like Lois Lane. Even though it was 5am. Even though the important “meeting” I was getting ready for started at 3pm. It didn’t matter.
Let me back up, cause this is a good one. Seriously. I’m snort-laughing while I write this.
Here’s what happened. My sophomore year of college, I went to Germany. Pepperdine has an amazing study-abroad program that has campuses on several continents. I chose Germany because Heidelberg looked like the town in Beauty and the Beast – the one where everyone goes “Bonjour!” never mind that that’s French. That’s what the city looked like. And that’s about how much thought I put in to where I wanted to study abroad. Also there was STRUDEL? Sold.
And I thought, as most nineteen year-olds do, that this trip was going to change my life. Maybe it would have, too, had I not expected it to do so by changing me.
It was wonderfully cold and there was a charming Christmas Weihnachtsmarkt with string lights in the streets and I lived on a mansion over the river and our classes were on the top stories above a café. I traveled to Milan and Interlaken and Edinburgh. I made new friends and even met my husband (though I didn’t know that at the time – he was just the redhead wearing Liederhosen and a tie-dye shirt singing The Sound of Music in the kitchen while making pasta).
But I flamed out by November, because even though everything was perfect… I was still the same. My anxiety still stood by my bed at night, eyeing me over the top bunk. I was still prickly and judgy and angry. So I gave up.
I got on a plane to visit home for Christmas and never went back.
And that’s when things got interesting, because I couldn’t go back to Malibu, either. I was a nomad, given permission by the Dean to take a semester off. So I did, and it was a hot mess. I joined an eighties rock band based out of a nearby community college. I still remember sitting outside the auditorium during Battle of the Bands before our set, reading Atlas Shrugged while wearing black leather and bright blue eyeshadow because GUESS WHAT I WAS STILL ME AND DIDN’T WANT TO TALK TO ANYONE.
I tried and failed a math class taught by a woman who wore embroidered cat vests and didn’t allow coffee in our 7am section. She reminded me of Dolores Umbridge and was always writing “see me, please” on my half-finished assignments with increasingly manic-looking smiley faces because she didn’t understand that I was enrolled in her class solely to stay on my father’s health insurance.
I walked in to local businesses to look for jobs, but no one was hiring.
After several months of “caccooning” (at least, that’s what my father called it when he’d find me wrapped in blankets watching The Office at 2pm. Example of proper usage: You’ve seen this season six times you need to stop caccooning and get out there).
By the time August rolled around, I was desperate to get back to Pepperdine. But I didn’t just want to go back, I wanted to go back ready. I wanted to be a new person. I wanted to know exactly who I needed to be. I’d stay up until 4am, watching movies and journaling, looking for that spark that I’d lost. Because I had to have lost it. The thought it simply burned out was too painful to consider. I wasn’t broken. I was just in pieces. I could find all of them and put myself together and wind myself back up and everything would be fine.
Then one night, I was watching Superman Returns and it hit me. I wanted to be Lois Lane.
I wanted to be a journalist.
Ah-ha! That was it! I wanted to work at the Daily Planet and uncover corruption and fall in love with the hot nerd in the next cubicle. Done.
I went to the newspaper office at school and asked how to sign up. It turns out there was an informational meeting the next week. What a coincidence! I’d be there!
Which is how I wound up teetering up to my dorm in stilettos, pit stains creeping down my tan tank top as I tried to carry boxes up to my second-story dorm room. Cause I was Lois Lane. A future journalist.
I went to the meeting, and it was… fine. Whatever. All dreams start out, rough.
I enrolled in journalism classes and wore that same effing pencil skirt to my first class. Afterward, I sauntered up to the teacher and introduced myself with a brusque handshake and a “I look forward to working with you”. He looked confused but I gave him my best future-Pulitzer Prize-winning smile and stalked off like I was THE COOLEST. People parted for me, seriously. In retrospect, it was probably because they’re like a) why did she just shake the teacher’s hand b) why is she catwalking down the center aisle and c) is that a pencil skirt?
So, the semester started. I wrote articles for the paper, which was… fine. I even made the front page, which was… okay. And then I stopped really doing the homework for my journalism class. I started failing pop quizzes and sitting in the back. I stopped wearing pencil skirts and started questioning all my decisions. Lois Lane didn’t wear sweats. She didn’t eat peanut-butter crackers, loudly, I might add, while the acclaimed professor taught.
Then, one day, while we were discussing ethics, I realized I’d crash-landed in the wrong effing profession. We were talking about the best way to approach the family of a victim, focusing primarily on a specific case where a journalist won an award for snapping a picture of a mother screaming over the body of her drowned child. Was it ethical? was the question, along with how do you go about asking for a quote for your article?
I realized my answer was YOU DON’T YOU LEAVE THEM THE F— ALONE AND RESIST THE URGE TO ACT LIKE A BIRD OF PREY AROUND A GRIEVING MOTHER WHY ARE WE EVEN HAVING THIS DISCUSSION
I left and walked down the steps of the building, realizing that I’d made a terrible mistake. Again. I’d taken the wrong path. Again.
Then, two things happened, and I believe the culmination of events was divine intervention. The first – I wound up in Dr. Julie Smith’s office, near tears and confused. After a half hour, I walked out of her office an English major.
It was what I’d always wanted, but never let myself consider. It wasn’t a “real” major. That was the “have fun waiting tables” major, wasn’t it? Better than the ‘how to insert yourself like a crazy person into someone’s face and ask them to talk about their deepest sorrows’ major, I figured.
Second, I read The Lovely Bones.
I’ve always been a sci-fi/fantasy type person. The bigger the world, the better. Bring on the magic and the forbidden love and the ancient prophecies. But, for some reason, I picked up Alice Sebold’s book and it just did something to me. Her language was like a silk spider web, weaving somewhere deep in my chest and tying up all my loose ends. This is what I wanted. I wanted to chase these words. I wanted to study this.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
And I was changed. I found me when I wasn’t looking. She was sitting there between the pages, ready to bitch-slap me and ask me what took so long.
This time was characterized by two other things: a) I stopped wearing pencil skirts and b) I used a specific lotion from Bath and Body Works that Santa had left in my stocking. I forget the name, but it was like Cherished Chocolate Daydream or Belief Serum Glitter Gel or whatever. It was delicious and I used it daily.
Anyway. Today, I opened the bottom of my desk drawer at work and found a bag. A sweet friend over in the planning department got me some lotion for Christmas and I’d forgotten to take it home. It’s not the same as the one from junior year, but it’s pretty close. I opened it and the smell took me right back to my bed next to the window on Lower Dorm Row, the rain beating against the glass as I read. This lotion is called “Ten Thousand Wishes” so you know it must be good stuff.
Then I remembered what it felt like to change course, like that. I was knee-deep in Journalism credits, but I jumped ship, anyway. It wasn’t too late and it was the best academic decision I ever made.
Then I looked up the requirements for the Columbia Publishing Course this summer, because it’s time for another daring move.