Sunday, August 9, 2009

Two weeks until takeoff

"I wanted out. That was partly why I’d chosen Columbia. I like how the city seethed up against the school, mocking its theoretical seclusion with hustle and noise, the din of people going and getting and making. things that mattered at Princeton or Yale couldn’t possible withstand this battering of raw, unironic life. You didn’t go to eating clubs at Columbia, you went to jazz clubs. You had a girlfriend— no, a lover — with psychiatric problems, and friends with foreign accents. You read newspapers on the subway and looked at tourists with a cool, anthropologicial gaze. You said crosstown express. You said the Village. You ate weird food. No other boy in my class would be going there." -- Old School by Tobias Wolff
There are two reasons why I picked out this passage. First, it embodies everything about Columbia University that I hope to understand in the next four years. I'm thinking about studying Art History, Political Science, and Human Rights in order to gain a wide understanding of culture and society and what I can and should do about it. Second, Tobias Wolff is a beautiful writer and I think everyone should read his short stories, novels, and memoirs. I'm jealous that he's a professor at Stanford University.

This brings me to a topic I've always wanted to write about. Actually, no -- this brings me to a rambling of many topics, some of which I have never told anyone in person. And actually, no -- I didn't envision putting my jumbled thoughts in writing until last night, when I was in the car with a girl friend who would be attending The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania this fall. We started talking about college ambitions, graduate school, good careers for women, balancing family and career -- everything that two 18-year-old girls dreaming of bright futures could talk about.

And then she asked me how much I could make starting off in fashion publishing.

"Well, editorial assistants make around $35,000 a year, I think," I replied. That was about how much our high school tuition cost every year, to put things into perspective.

"You need to find another option then. There has got to be something else for you," she replied matter-of-factly. I stared ahead at the cars zooming in front of me.

Is there something else for me? Possibilities will always be endless -- there very well could be something else out there. Earlier this year, I revealed why fashion meant more to me than a law degree ever could. Fashion -- drapery, embellishment, reconstruction -- makes sense to me. Words -- beautiful, searing words -- make sense to me.

After interning at Seventeen last summer, there was nothing else I wanted to do more than to work in fashion publishing. To write. To edit. To publish. To create. To be in awe.

Sure, I know "money doesn't buy happiness" and I firmly believe that success is not measured by the size of one's bank account, but I want to give my children the best opportunities in life -- just like my parents did for me.

My parents came into this country with $200 in their pockets (borrowed, of course), and they've sacrificed plenty to achieve the American dream. My mommy wanted to be an artist; she would sit on street corners all day and sketch with charcoal. My daddy was a smart slacker who learned to work hard after he graduated college at age 19 (he would have graduated earlier but he skipped class for an entire year). However, both of them entered the United States as starving graduate students and eventually became successful professionals in their medical and engineering fields. My mommy gave up her creative dreams to have a well-respected and stable career -- and to give me the opportunities that she never had.

My parents didn't teach me about how to tie a scarf and they still don't know the difference between Vogue and Elle. My mommy comes to me when she needs to shop for make-up. They definitely didn't push me to love fashion or writing. However, my parents always did push me to be independent, from the day my mommy brought me to the lab and told me that I had to occupy myself with a copy of See Spot Run for the next few hours (I was three and I was teaching myself to read) to the first out of sixty days that they left me alone in New York City last summer. "Shut up and think for yourself," my daddy growled at me when I was six. I didn't learn to shut up, but I did learn to think for myself.

So I began to write. I won elementary poetry contests with rhyming dictionaries and terrible syntax. My first short story was in fourth grade -- about an Egyptian warrior princess. My teacher told me that I had a great voice, but I became lazy at the conclusion. I kept writing. I wrote a short story about fairies in seventh grade. My teacher gave me a "C" on the manuscript. My first "C' grade ever. A month later, I got my short story published in the Stanford Anthology for Youth. "Well, people have different tastes," she shrugged. I was published for the first time, and I realized that the only way I could become a better writer was by writing more.

I don't know where I'm going with this piece, which goes to show that I still haven't overcome my biggest problem in writing: conclusions. My fourth grade Egyptian princess story had a faulty ending and this blog post will also have a faulty ending. What am I trying to say? What have I always been trying to say?

I am surrounded by brilliant schoolmates from high school and college who will achieve great things in their life. All my friends know that I dream of being a published author and fashion magazine editor and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and entrepreneur, but as you can tell from the 152 comments under Lauren Conrad's intern blog entry on Teen Vogue -- a lot of impressionable girls dream of the same things as me. My biggest fear is not that I will fall short of expectations for myself (for I always set lofty goals), but that everything my parents sacrificed for me will be in vain.

Miss Couturable

Note to self: Enroll in a creative writing class at Columbia. Figure out how to make that conclusion happen. And then keep making other things happen. Let the city and the school "seeth" up against you.
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