Why do people hold graduations outside? Who does that? Did we all look too pale? I could see that. There was that one guy in my creative writing class who looked like Edward Cullen. This makes sense. But has anyone ever passed out at a graduation? Must remember to look that up later. Oh Lord, boob sweat. Here comes the boob sweat. When will they call my name? Will my row know when to stand up? Oh, that's nice, an engineering major.
I sat under a blistering June sun, waiting for my name to be called. I was about to leave behind a life of mopping floors, waiting tables, and schmoozing guests until the late hours of the evening. I was moving up. Armed with my Liberal Studies degree and a can-do attitude, I was on the verge of becoming my greatest self. Would I be an author with a devoted readership, praised as the next great writer to watch? Or would I be an editor at Bon Appetit, ruling with kindness and badassery, a sort of foodie Meryl-Streep-in-Devil-Wears-Prada-Meets-Meryl-Streep-in-It's-Complicated. Which is to say, I'd be an amazing editor. (And Nancy Myers may or may not write a rom com based on my career rise, best case.) Because that's how that works, right? That's why we all suffer through the endless works cited pages and the hours of studying pointless information about triangles and octagons? We gave four years of our lives in exchange for a life of six figures and tenure. We paid our dues with MLA headings. We did our time.
Soon, my row stood up, ushered to the side of the stage by miscellaneous faculty members. As I subtly aired out my sweat situation, I watched one "C" after the other get called, inching closer to the stage with each name. You probably already guess it, but my own name eventually got called. With cheers in the air from my family below, I walked across the stage, struck by how quickly they handled me my diploma in contrast with how long it took me earn it. But no matter. Soon, this period of life would fade away, replaced by an exciting and monetarily bright future. And maybe a Frenchie. And a graphic designer with nice arms. Nothing too crazy.
"We're so proud of you Maddy," my parents said on the patio that night, as my dad dished up the salmon. I felt their pride. I knew they meant it.
"So, you're heading to grad school next? Off to take on the world?" another family member asked.
"Yeah, that's the plan! I guess we'll see if I get offered the right packages! *cue awkward laughter around the table* That would be my dream," I responded.
And it was. The bit I just told you about being an editor or a writer was absolutely true, but I also loved the idea of inspiring and nurturing a whole new generation of writers. It sounded so... prestigious? Sacred? I wasn't even sure which word described the way it sounded to me, but it sounded fulfilling in any case. Professor Churm. Maybe not the best ring to it, but hey, maybe I wouldn't be a Churm for long? Magical things were said to happen in the adult, post-college world, so maybe my last name would change?
Fast forward 6 months and some change. I've moved in with my 90-year-old grandma Eunice, living in Vancouver, WA, in search of the big kid writing job that doesn't seem to exist. My parents have moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I need a place to live, and my grandma needs someone to bring her Panda Express. I've started working at a wine bar at the airport, using my storytelling abilities to talk people into expensive bottles of Pinot Noir over a cheap bottles of moscato. The Meryl version of me is on a hiatus of sorts. I'm picturing her recharging on a pristine beach, with a Mai Tai or mimosa in hand, flirting with the pool attendants but maintaining an er of mystery. As any fabulous, badass woman would on a tropical vacation. But the me of the moment, the me that barely landed the wine bar job, that me feels like a waste of potential. Because if there were three things I was certain of, it were these:
1) I liked drinking Oregon Pinot Noir more than selling Oregon Pinot Noir.
2) This was not what Meryl would be doing. She would be making croissants on a date with Steve Martin and eating late night ice cream with Alec Baldwin. All while slaying at her career. Obviously.
3) I had no clue what was happening with my life.
And that's the head space I lived in for a while.
Fast forward once again, this time, to now. The version of me writing this in real time. The wine is out, a coffee job is in, and a future in freelancing is on the way. I've been in the Portland area for over two years now, and it's shaped me into someone that's not bitter, or jaded, or someone who feels scorned by the world, but someone who has perspective. When I graduated college, I wanted to badly to believe that the rest of my life would be struggle free, and that hard work would always, always, equal success and acclaim. But what I was actually telling myself was something different than that. It was this strange notion that the world somehow owed me something. I'd conformed to the college and a job route, and because of that, I was suddenly bequeathed a life where I needed only to wake up, brew some coffee, and work the bare minimum for maximum results. What? Are you kidding?
I wanted something that I know now to be both impossible and unfulfilling: a life handed to you. A career you don't have to earn. And to be honest, that's not what Meryl would do.
The Meryl of my most beloved movies, the Meryl who is effortlessly fabulous, isn't effortless. Her characters forged their paths, through the fire of an oven or the jungle of a publishing world. So maybe the me that was hustling and trying and failing just a little bit was exactly the Meryl me. That was a version of me I could believe. And better yet, that was was a version of me I could respect. And that means everything.
So as I continue to fall on my face, figure it out, and try again and again, I get to be the actual Meryl me. Maybe closer to the Meryl of Mama Mia, but my butt doesn't look as good as Meryl's does in denim overalls. But I like the idea of singing through the weirdness, embracing the current moment, and realizing that I don't have to have everything together. Just a loose path. Just progress.
But I'd like to leave you, dear reader, with five lessons to learn from Meryl.
1) Walk into a room as if you're a woman to watch. Because you are.
2) You look most beautiful when you're happy. The kind of happy where you look in the mirror and smile at the woman on the inside and outside.
3) When in doubt, sing it out. The bathroom, the car, the street, wherever, sing it loud, sing it proud.
4) Work like a badass, love like a softy.
5) Be fearless, always.