One year ago, in October, at the halfway point of my Master’s degree program at NYU, I was experiencing quite the identity crisis. I had gone to NYU, the very definition of my dream school, to study theater. I had planned to spend the majority of my time in the Performance Studies department researching and learning more deeply about theater than I ever had before, with the intention of launching a long and happy career in show biz. Whether behind the scenes or on stage, or a combination of both, it didn’t matter. I wish I could tell you more specifically what I had intended to be the focus of my thesis, but the fact of the matter is that, before that time came, my identity crisis hit, and hit hard.
In a class called Memoir & Ethnography, our project for the semester was to write our own mini memoir, on any subject/event of our lives that we wanted. Mine, originally, was inspired by the question asked by Yale University on the application to their graduate Dramaturgy & Dramatic Criticism program, to which I applied (and was rejected): Why have you chosen a life in theater? Quite a question to answer, though before I had even written a word of it, before it had gotten out of the planning stages, I knew…my project was dead. I had no interest in it. And it wasn’t just this one, either. Every time I tried to look at my schoolwork through a theatrical lens, I felt bored, uninspired, uninterested. What I really wanted to work on, the project that excited me the most, more than any of my academic work, and what I was filtering every philosophy book through, was a work of fiction. It was (and still is) something more ambitious than anything else I’ve ever worked on, and I’m glad I decided to take the plunge and dedicate myself to it. But at the time I was terrified to make the shift in focus from theater to literature. Why abandon what had gotten me to this point? Was I giving up on something I loved, leaving an old friend for the prospect of something new? Was I disappointing those who had supported me all this way? And if I made this change, if I pursued this new passion…what then? I was a stranger in that world. Choosing it felt like starting everything over again. My degree, my career, my life.
Starting over was scary. But it turned okay, at least so far.
Until this month. Another October, another identity crisis.
I’m not considering changing careers again. Instead I’m just trying to find a career. Something that will support me so that I can dive into writing, into the refuge that once saved me from academic mediocrity, that reignited my passion as an artist, the one thing that I could happily lose myself in when I felt intimidated and confused about the direction of my academic life. I’m not changing careers again, but I am in the midst of changing my life. And as I do that, I am facing another identity crisis. I am broke. I am frustrated. I am angry. I am tired. I am confused. I am weary. I am a whirl of emotions that are not me. I am restless and not myself.
But just like then, I have a refuge. There is an eye at the center of this storm that grants me a kind of stillness and peace that I have yet to find anywhere else. And in the middle of all of this nothingness that I am facing right now, all of this stagnation that is the source of this identity crisis, I still have the essence of myself as an artist. And if that’s all that I have…
I guess I’m doing okay after all.
I felt I should include a segment of that Memoir project, which did end up incorporating both my theatrical and literary lives. The project became my way of writing myself out of crisis and into a state of peace with my decision. I think this section gives a better idea of what I was feeling than what I wrote above. So here’s a piece, if you’d like to read.
“I am here because of you.
I am here because of what you said to me that day.
I spent three years in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere trying to learn how to become an actress. In three years, you were the only one who made me believe I could do it. Maybe you were the only one who did believe I could do it, myself included. But you also believed I could do more. You told me one day that I had a gift, a unique way of seeing, of understanding, a way of writing about theater the way few, if any, of my classmates could. You told me I could teach. To help shape the minds of others. You, who nearly every student feared because your standards were so high. You, who admittedly never gave “full marks” (as you’d say) on any homework assignment, yet still returned to me two difficult papers with blue “100”s written triumphantly across the top margin. You, who opened a door to me that changed my life. I am here because of you. I couldn’t bear to disappoint you.
Is that what would happen now, if you were here to see all that I’m doing? If I sat down and told you how my dreams have changed, how my mind and my heart have changed, would you be disappointed? Would you feel I was throwing it all away, those gifts that you said I had, the gifts that got me here? Would you feel I was wasting my time and my talent? That I had wasted your time and talent, your investment and your confidence in me? Would you say you don’t understand why I would give up? Is that how you would see it, as I see it in my deepest fears – that I have given up yet again? That I’ve failed yet again? I said in my statement of purpose that I was a writer. You helped me realize that. Would you be angry now because I’m not the writer that we thought?
Or would you see it differently – would you be proud that I’ve finally found firm ground to stand on? Would you be able to see the much bigger picture and know that this new dream does not need to entirely push the old one into the wings forever? And even if it did, would you still support me no matter what, tell me that this is good for me and that you expect great things, like you did years ago? Would you be able, again, to make me feel that I have the ability to make a dream into a reality?
I wish you could reassure me again, but for now the thought of disappointing you is too great a fear, too great a chance to take.
You brought me here. That hasn’t changed, although my path may have. Everything that you have done for me has brought me here, though this may not be the conclusion – or the start – we had originally intended. Without you I wouldn’t have had the courage to walk a different path, this one or any other. I am here because of you.”