Me, fifteen, as photographed by me, fifteen.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my grand ambition in life was to be a mother. I wanted to have three or four kids and I wanted to devote my entire existence to their care and keeping. I even wanted to have a child immediately after finishing my undergrad career. The way I saw it, the best way to make the world a better place was to add wonderful people to it one by one.
I had changed my mind by the beginning of senior year of high school, but only after enough people had told me that my maternal dreams did a disservice to my potential. It took a lot of convincing for me to believe them. I think I'd defined changing the world as either ardent, drop-everything activism or the domestic-scale one-by-one model.
These last couple of years, I haven't known what it is that I want to do. I've daydreamed about professorship, I've contemplated teaching photography, fantasized an entire career as a creative journalist. But in the last couple of months, I've gone through a whole sequence of epiphanies and eurekas. I realized not only how absurdly knowledge-driven I am but also how important it is to me that I push myself to the absolute maximum of my opportunities.
At the end of winter quarter in March, I sat writing essays in my co-op house's computer cluster for almost three days straight. One of my housemates asked what I was writing about, and I quickly launched into a breathless explanation. I'm sure I must have smiled, and I know my eyes must have taken on that stillness of focused thought. When I finished describing my project, my housemate remarked that I was one of the few people she'd met who loved learning with such an earnest curiosity and sense of personal investment. I felt flattered, but it seemed like an exaggeration to put me in that group of people.
Later that day as I put the finishing touches on my paper, I began to weep. Just a few leaky tears, but tears nonetheless. Part of the assignment required completing a supplementary reflection essay, and I sat down on my couch, laptop resting on my legs, and began to type.
There’s something deeply fulfilling about academic writing for me—the sudden flash of inspiration after hours of fruitless research, the moment when those ideas galvanize into a thesis, the incredible adrenaline rush of discovering what I’ve been trying to say and writing with an intensity and purpose that keeps me awake into the night.
It’s almost manic at times. I find myself chewing on paper ideas as I walk to class, arguing with myself in my head, clenching and unclenching my fists as I try to make sense of the article or essay or book that I read.
I am at my best when I am written on the page. All of my faults—pretentiousness, egotism, perfectionism, obsessiveness, I could go on—transform into strengths. There is real love in what I write because I write to solve the problems and answer the questions that I grapple with. I write to find solutions.
Looking back at the document, I can't help but think to myself, "well, that's certainly a bit repetitious, saying variations on 'writing' five times in as many sentences" or "what the heck did I mean by 'real love' anyway? What could I ever purport to know definitively about reality or love?" But I think the sentiment is clear, and it probably gains something from not being chained to my usual penchant for qualifiers.
I've been known to change my mind about what I want fairly frequently, and, beyond that, to declare with relative certainty that whatever it is I Want To Be is really IT this time. I see no contradiction in such claims. I know full well that I might change my mind, but my guesses are still my best bet based on all of the knowledge I've acquired up to that point and the culmination of self-interrogating thought.
I avoid saying words like "know" or "true" when I make any sort of statement to which I want to attach grand meaning, so the way that I can convey this most accurately to both my place in the world and my intended meaning is this:
I was born into unimaginable privilege, and I have thus far managed to capitalize on it to great success. However, at age nineteen (young enough to want to mention that I'm going on twenty), I can hardly claim to have achieved much at all. The opportunities I've been afforded up to this point, boundless as they are, only represent the beginning of what I believe will be an illustrious career of educated guesses, fortuitous connections, and an unwavering loyalty to accuracy. There is little reason to imagine that I would be unable to achieve the goals I set for myself; stated in the positive, a huge body of evidence, as well as logical extrapolation, suggests that I can realize my ambitions.
And I willl go forth and achieve. I'll become a museum curator or director, or maybe an academic. Perhaps a department head, someday. And at some point, I will have a child (probably just one), and he or she will better the world in his or her own way, small- or grand-scale as that might be. Mostly, though, I'm worrying about capitalizing on my own potential myself. I've already started, and I can't wait.
It seems appropriate for me to exit adolescence and begin adulthood utterly empowered. In one final, triumphant gesture toward teenage insecurities:
Me, in a swimsuit, sporting a facial expression that could not be construed as conventionally attractive. Nineteen. Having a great time.