While other little girls harbored dreams of becoming ballerinas or princesses, I was busy flying over Neverland. No, I didn’t want to be Wendy or Tinkerbell. I had my sights set on being Peter Pan. Or Simba, that rascally jungle cat from The Lion King, whichever paid more. Needless to say, I was a delusional (and gender confused) little kid.
Nevertheless, by the time I was about six, I had decided that I should choose a more attainable career. Preferably something that didn’t require me to become a large cat or a little boy who could fly. After all, I was in kindergarten and I needed to get realistic, the odds of either of those things happening without some sort of extreme surgical procedure were slim to none. Also, confined to a desk most of the day, I had refined my skills with a crayon. So it was decided: I would become an artist. But not just an artist. Why have one career when you could have two?
You see, it was also around this time that I saw my first Broadway production, The King and I. Coupled with my obsession with Celine Dion, my second career choice couldn’t have been any clearer: naturally, I would become a singer. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always reply “a singer and an artist.”
For the next several years, I was never without a sketchpad and pencil. At restaurants, I would happily entertain myself for hours, drawing little scenes and beaming when the waiters complimented my handiwork. Nearly every Christmas, Chanukah and birthday, I could expect to get at least one art set.
I also honed my singing talents; I joined the school choir and took voice lessons, although most of my practice was done alone in my room. I would don a (hideous) blue and white polka dot dress and sing along to The Sound of Music soundtrack. Or, I would put together a sort of ragamuffin costume, and presto! I was a blonde orphan Annie, belting out “It’s a Hard-knock Life”.
I was always a character or a storyteller. I was never just Jennifer. There was always a costume for my songs, always a story for my pictures. As I write this, it occurs to me that I have never wanted to be something grounded fully in reality, like a teacher or a doctor. I think I always wanted to be someone other than myself, because myself by myself was never good enough. Myself would not suffice. I couldn’t simply be Jennifer; I had to be Jennifer the singer-artist. Later, it was Jennifer the dancer. I didn’t need to be spectacular. I just needed to be something.
Even now, in moments of panic when I question if I really want to be a writer or a student or anything else, I suffer an identity crisis. Because if I’m not a writer, or a college student, or fill-in-the-blank, then what am I? Nothing.
Fortunately, I rarely question my aspirations. I love writing, and frankly, I don’t have too many other marketable skills. I think I may have previously mentioned my sub-par math and science skills, so a physicist or rocket scientist is out of the question. Which is unfortunate, as those are indeed more lucrative endeavors. Still, I thank my lucky stars that I know what I want to be ‘when I grow up.’ Now all I have to do is graduate, land that job at Elle, Vogue or Marie Claire and acquire a fabulous apartment in New York City. And, you know, work on staying in sync with reality. Or marry a stockbroker, whichever pays more.
By Jen Weiss