Mommy, I want to be an abortion provider
Like any 27-year-old desk jockey in a position I’m obviously not going to be in for the rest of my life, I checked in with my past selves to see who I had wanted to be when I grew up.
People always say you’re supposed to follow your dreams, and there you will find your bliss. But that’s the one and only time we assume 18 years olds have the lived experience to make major decisions about their futures, and that logic seems a little flawed.
For instance, 18-year-old me decided I wanted to be a Russian teacher when I grew up. But 18-year-old me did not account for not getting into grad school and landing in a comfortable if soul-crushing freelance writing career.
If I could have kept the momentum going in my first career – who knows? But fortunately for all of us, the bottom fell out of that market, and I was propelled back into the real world.
I’ve been paid to maintain listervs, Instagram pictures of food, speak Russian, lip sync to Melissa Etheridge songs, do makeup, tell jokes, write erotica, serve chicken salad, move shopping carts to and fro, and that’s just the tip! How do I know what the hell I’m supposed to do with my life when practically anything’s ok, at least for 45 minutes?
The most practical dream job I probably had as a child was teacher. Probably English. A lot of people in my family are teachers or teacher adjacent (I think they call them paraeducators these days), and it seemed like a pretty solid career choice – subtracting out the fact that I’ve never, ever met a truly happy teacher.
My childhood dream of being a therapist met a similar fate on career day in third grade. Our town’s only child psychologist came to talk to a group of children about how much she hated her job. Career day speakers are apparently not screened in Hillsdale, MI.
In the fourth grade, we had to write about we wanted to be when we grew up. At the time, I was watching a lot of fashion shows on this new thing called cable TV, and I decided, for the purposes of this report, that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I even got to use the computer with the encyclopedia to research being a fashion designer, as there weren’t a lot of people in my area to ask about breaking into the world of haute couture. I imagine at this point my mother got a sternly worded note that went something like: “Your son shows great promise, mostly of becoming a flaming homosexual.”
That same year, I remember turning to my mom and telling her I wanted to be an abortion provider when I grew up. My mother, accepting and graceful nurse that she is, told me that I had better study hard. I believe she employed a similar parenting tactic when I asked her to dye my hair green when I was 15. “Sure, I’ll take you to the salon and we’ll get that temporary hair dye, and if you like it, you can dye your hair whatever color you want.” I didn’t dye my hair until I turned 26.
Will & Grace (or should I say Will and Jack) inspired some of my career aspirations as a teen. Near as I could tell, gay men could either be wildly successful lawyers without really doing icky law things, or we could be talentless dreamers with hearts of gold (nay, platinum!) kept afloat by our relationships with boozy middle-aged socialites. Really, I wanted to be Jack gay and Will successful, or, failing that, Karen happy.
I remember declaring to my high school English teacher – because, yes, there was just the one – that I was going to grow up to be a secretary. In that moment she sprouted hissing dinosaur gills, rising up on her haunches, and shrieked, “OH NO YOU’RE NOT.” So that was settled.
When I was 16, I got a catalog of teach-yourself language programs in the mail. I already spoke Spanish pretty well, and I decided to have a looksee at the catalog. In a move so ridiculous that my friends refuse to believe it even happened, I opened the catalog, closed my eyes, and thrust my right index finger at the page. It landed on Russian.
If you’re supposed to go by your ‘god-given talent’ or whatever you want to call it, I should be doing something with language. My brain is extraordinarily well suited to learning other languages. I know other people are sometimes jealous of this ability, but, if it makes you feel any better, my brain isn’t particularly suited to doing anything else. Like, I have full-on throwing shit/rending my garments meltdowns when I do my taxes, and I use fucking TurboTax. Before Facebook, I didn’t remember anyone’s birthday, and I have to meet people a solid five times before I can confidently say I remember their name. I can’t do basic math or change a tire, and in all honesty I probably haven’t heard of that band.
The problem with being ‘naturally’ good at something is that you can still get totally tired of it. When I had to learn Czech on the fly by myself because my thesis advisor was lazy and absent, I did it, but without any gusto or enthusiasm. I can multitask while watching a foreign movie, but I’m constantly being volunteered to translate things or explain “just what’s goin’ on with that Putin feller.”
Getting a degree in Russian – and then having the lull between then and now without any further education – has made me seriously question my decision to get a degree in Russian. Sure I speak Russian – but, um…so fucking what?
I actually have this fear that I would have grown to hate whatever I decided to study, at least a little bit. Frankly, that’s why I’m really glad I don’t have a degree in writing. Maybe I’m just too cynical for life, but it seems like getting a formal education in something seems like a surefire way of spending the rest of your life rolling your eyes about it.
“Yeah, silly me, I went and got myself a degree in Russian. Oh, yeah, you like Dostoevsky? Mmhm, yeah, that’s a good one! So many bulging neck veins in that book. It’s Karamazov, actually, with a Z. Yep, sure is a pretty wild alphabet! Hey, um, I have to go slash my wrists now, ok?”
And…well, I don’t want to cut myself too much slack for being a directionless millennial, but I think this is in part what’s holding me back from picking a career. I mean, on some level, doesn’t everyone hate their job?
I’ve had post-collegiate career aspirations, but I’m afraid of spoiling things I love. I declared that I was going to become a makeup artist – but wouldn’t I end up hating makeup? Drag queens almost seem to professionally hate their coworkers. Even professional YouTubers post videos about how hard and stressful their jobs are, and they wake up and talk to a camera for a living.
When things in the freelance world were going well, the best thing was that it gave me just enough time and money to do the things I really wanted to do in my spare time. I had the time and money to become a drag queen, and make some paintings, and get my first chapbook published. I didn’t love what I was doing, but I didn’t hate it , and, according to my taxes, I was a writer.
Part of me realizes that I can’t run forever. Mostly the part of me that nervously checks my bank account both before and after I pay a bill. It’s not that I don’t want to succeed, or that I don’t have dreams. It’s just that I’m terribly afraid of that old line about being careful what you wish for.