When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a professional hippie. I wanted to perfect the art of meditating and maybe gardening, but that almost sounds too ambitious, too active. At the time, I had a boyfriend who was very precious to me, and he and his family were everything that my family wasn't. They were happy and complicated in a very transparent, appealing way, and they lived in this house that was covered in art, and it was all so refreshing. His mom kept this fairy tale garden in the backyard that was just stonework and ponds and fountains, and there were turtles, and chives that we ate. We sat around in this really beautiful space together, and I just saw myself wanting to do that for a very long time.
I can see now that I romanticized it; I definitely look at it differently now. But at the time, they were so good to me and I just fit right in with them in a way that I didn't at my own house, where things were unfolding in a very standardized way that my parents had laid out. I saw myself in a completely different context, and so I wasn't thinking at all about a career because these people didn't really have a career. It was equally an act of rebellion and an act of deep authenticity.
How did you decide to attend University of Connecticut?
I hated high school so much that I had two options. One was to drop out, but instead I graduated high school in three years. I accelerated all of my work, earning a C across the board just to get out. There was no job to be had realistically. I was in a suburban Connecticut town, and I worked at Dairy Queen. I just hadn't thought anything through, and my parents were not terribly helpful in directing me towards career exploration. I think they were just so worried and they didn't know how to focus any of my angst.
I guess to their credit, they had always promoted college as the only option, and they set it all up for me and there were no barriers. So I just said, "Cool, I guess I'll try this." I ended up at my local community college, which was luckily one of the best, most reputable community colleges in New England, Manchester Community College. And it just changed everything out of nowhere.
Within weeks, I was into it and suddenly I thought, "Oh, maybe I care and maybe I'm smart." In the first year, I got a 4.0 both semesters, and that changed my life. It was a massive transformation to being driven by something I cared about learning for the first time, and I realized how passionate I was.
My community college had an enrollment agreement with [University of Connecticut], and that was fine to me. I had explored other options casually, and even though I was really excited about moving on in my education, I still had some apathy about institutions as a whole. I never wanted to live on a college campus and have that experience. I just wanted to read the books, and I didn't care where. UConn is a good school and I knew I wasn't going to live there, so I thought, “Cool, I'll go there and I can commute and I can still work at this bakery.”
I was at Manchester for two and a half years and then at UConn for two and a half years as well, which I thought was kind of cool the way it balanced out. High school sucked, so I did three years there; college was excellent, so I did five years there. To this day, I don't understand why people rush through college. I know there's a financial element in a lot of cases of, but when there's not…
How did you choose your major?
I was briefly intent on social work, and then I found it too boring. It all seemed very practical and I just wanted more art in my life. So I transitioned into a general studies degree while forming these really great connections with the English Department. By the time I graduated [from Manchester], I knew that I was going to attempt to go on for an English undergrad degree.
So I sat around and read books that I loved and wrote papers and it was great.
Even throughout growing up and not caring about school , my personal routine was to read and write every night. That's just what I did, even when I was floundering as a teenager. Growing up, I read a lot of memoirs, novels; I remember one of the most profound things I ever read was I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb, and he was a professor at UConn. I think there was something about his work, it was intense and dysfunctional and ugly, that I realized you could capture this level of real living and feeling.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
After I graduated, I was applying for jobs in a very aimless fashion, just anything related to writing, which I now know was totally unfocused. I applied to so many jobs, and I ended up with the craziest position at a small hedge fund due diligence reporting firm in central Connecticut. I was doing really templatized legal research on the wealthiest people in the world and the hedge funds that they managed or were thinking of investing in.
I knew nothing about the financial world, but I got the gist of this very niche, Wolf of Wall Street subset of the world. It was also very lucrative. I don't even think I was told when I accepted the job that I earned commission on everything I did. So I worked my ass off, and started aggressively saving money.
Then 2008 happened, and it was the strangest thing to be involved in but actually understand very little about. There was nothing challenging or creative about the writing that I was doing, but it was an introduction to the things that you sometimes have to do in the working world, and hustling your skillset, and being that flexible figure-it-out-on-the-go kind of professional. And eventually it was an experience of learning what I never wanted to do again.
I was one year in and realized this was not how I wanted to spend much more of my time, so I started applying to grad schools. This job, although there was nothing bad about it, was just a very standard, average professional existence. Because my first job search had been so confusing, I didn't know what my skill set was. I just knew that I needed to figure something else out, and because I had had that really unexpected success in academia, I thought, “This is where you go to figure things out.”
Grad school ended up being kind of disappointing. I guess I can't say it was a surprise because I honestly did very little research. In retrospect it was the wrong institution for me and probably the wrong program and maybe the wrong course of study even. Had I done a little bit more legwork, I think I would've just had more confidence to ask better questions. But I didn't feel informed enough and I didn't feel like I had the right to, and so there was a lot of just going with the flow and figuring it out as I went along. I think in some cases, you figure it out and it all works and it all clicks into place, but it didn't and that was fine.
I had a vision that I would be the kind of empowering community college teacher who had impassioned me. I immediately got a job teaching at the community college I had gone to, which was so beautiful to come full circle. Even though I was 25 and pretty scared and had a sense of, "Oh, my God, I'm so transparently unprepared," I also knew that it was exactly where I belonged and I could do it. It just absolutely worked, and it was where I wanted to be.
My first semester, I was teaching Introduction to Literature and a developmental composition class. It was great. But I realized that there was very little money in teaching [at a community college], so I was also working a couple days a week as a proofreader at a marketing and fundraising agency that served nonprofit clients. After a few months, I transitioned into a freelance writer and then into a full-time copywriter.
I was there for a total of four years. It was a really formative professional experience that is a huge part of my life today. I work with a lot of people now on a freelance capacity that I worked with then, and it's a really beautiful, feminist sisterhood that we have created. It's this great story of these professional connections that have carried us all through for eight years now. It's been really nice.
I currently work for Kronos as a copywriter. Something I've been thinking about recently is that some people from those early days in my career are working in these senior positions as art directors and creative directors, and I’ve asked myself, "What am I doing that I haven't gotten that promotion?" But when I have conversations with myself about it, it's super clear that I've been teaching, I've been freelancing, I've been traveling, I've been living this huge, beautiful life. And I don't want to do the whole corporate ladder climbing thing. At the end of the day, I'd rather have all these things that work for me than have this one title.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
Community college as a whole, and the individual professors I had, were a realization for me that life is about finding your people and finding those people who see you. Teaching community college has given me so many different relationships. We have a huge international population here in Boston, and it's just humbling and beautiful to meet people in so many different life circumstances. And to get to write recommendations for people, professionally or academically, is amazing.
I would honestly say don't take it all so seriously. It's so easy to get wrapped up in where you're going to go to school and what you're going to study, and I think in many ways it really doesn't matter. I would say don't underestimate the wisdom of your own angst, because as you mature, it'll probably turn into a passion. Also, don't let yourself be underestimated by people in systems or institutions that don't feel quite homelike to you, because you'll graduate or emerge from them someday and their opinions won’t really matter.