Caption: A picture of a picture of me as a freshman in college.
When I started my Ivy League career a decade ago, as a shiny blond freshman at Dartmouth College, I was intimidated by how interesting everyone seemed. Delphine grew up on a Pacific atoll because her parents were stationed there for Peace Corps. Matthew interned for a documentary film about elephant poaching in Kenya. Talia was a world-class free style kayaker and Chelsea went to a high school without grades.
I grew up in middle class suburbs of Pittsburgh. I worked as a day camp counselor and waitressed at a mediocre Italian restaurant. I was on the track team at a high school that had grades. I was boring.
Caption: My (WPIAL champion) high school 4×800 relay team. OMG we’re so blond and boring!
But within a month the illusion faded. I realized that just because people have done interesting things, does not mean that they are interesting. Talking to some* of these people—who played squash in Sri Lanka, took a gap year to organic farm, sang at the Mets home opener—was like talking to a resume. They delivered dry recitations of their accomplishments without an ounce of narrative spunk.
I could tell a more entertaining story about buying a Slurpee at the 7-Eleven than Delphine could about spear hunting tuna in the Marshall Islands. Being interesting is not so much about what you’ve done, but how you observe and frame your experiences.
And it turned out that my experiences in a stereotypical American suburb were fascinating to Delphine and her ilk.
Delphine: “So you like had a senior prom and dressed up for it and took pictures all standing in a row?”
Me: “Yep, and I wore a hot pink dress inspired by Beyonce.”
Matthew: “That is un… real.”
Chelsea: “And did you like go to parties when people’s parents were out of town that got busted by the cops?”
Me: “Yep. And one time the cops waved a gun at us and another time they played beer pong with us.”
Matthew: “That’s so cra! It’s just like in the movies!”
With this crowd my ordinariness was exotic. They were enthralled by my stories of an American Pie-like upbringing.
But I can offer you something better than recollections. For the most authentic perspective, here are real excerpts from my childhood diary. Note—I struggled then as I struggle now with spelling.
November 18, 1993 (Penn State trip)
Mom, Dave, Chris, Dad, and I, we whant [went] to Penn State. We whant to a pizza plas [place]. Then we whant to bed.
November 19, 1993 (the Penn State trip continues!)
We whant to feed the squirrels. They have white bellies. We whant to breakfast. I had a Bearclaw. Then we did stuff. I got to stay up to 10:15.
December 25, 1993 (Christmas)
I woke up and woke up Mom, me, Dave, Daddy, and Chris. The first gift I opened was the one from Chris. It was a ball. The 2 thing was Dave’s. It was two books. The 3 thing was from Dad. It was a blouws [blouse]. On and on it went.
March 4, 1994 (Normal day)
I woke up and watched Garfield. I got ready for school. For breakfast I had a smores poptart. I went to school. Our spelling words are words. By the end of the day it was raining. I got dranst [drenched]. I went to gymnastics. I had a head eck [ache]. No body is paying attention to me.
April 22, 1994 (Busy Saturday)
I woke up and went into Mom and Dad’s room. Mom told me to go downstairs and watch cartoons. I watched The Little Mermaid and Garfield.
In jazz class we had a boy teacher. He taught us a new step with sashays. Then we danced it Hawaiian style. It was time for drama class. We only had one teacher and she was a substitute! We sang songs, danced, and sang “Under the Sea.” The song goes: “The seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake. You dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake.” That is all I remember. Then it was time to go to Voice. We sang lots of songs. I sang, “Chicken Soup with Rice.”
It was time to go home. Chris, Dave, and Mom were waiting for me. We went to the Town Fair. I played lots of games. I won 71 tickets and won two balls and a ring. The rest of the tickets went into an account. Then we went home.
Then I took a shower for Cats (the play). We got a flat tire. We took the green car. By 8:03 it started (Cats). It was great. A cat came up to me. I loved it (the play).
[this is apparently when I discovered parentheses]
December 16, 1995 (the WORST day)
It was the worst day. First I was putting the toy soldier on the tree and Chris got mad at me so I went to my room. I came down later. When I came down I burnt the pan for rice krispies. I went to my room again. Please let tomorrow be better. Oh it will!!! The Christmas party for church is tomorrow. I’ll wear my pink suit I think.
(I hope B+D = L)
PS: I love my new pens.
December 6, 1996 (Older, introspective)
It’s been awhile and I’ve changed a lot! For one thing I’m in fifth grade. My writing has changed in three ways I think. #1 I finally hold my pencil write [right]. #2 I write neater and, #3 I personally think it sounds better. What do you think?
Lately I’ve been reading two great books. Strangely they are not comedies and I can’t put them down. The first I already finished. It was titled The Fledgling. The other I’m still reading and it is titled The Island[these were Gary Paulson books]. Somehow they encouraged me to write more. Now I have a journal called “My Writing Book.” In it I put down good descriptive sentences that pop into my head. I also think I’ll do what Will, the main character of The Island, does. I’ll write paragraphs on my thoughts and feelings about certain subjects.
INVITING PEOPLE OVER
Today I went over Clara’s house. I had fun. We went to Markham [my elementary school] and just hung out. Then we played a stupid game.
When you invite someone over they invite you over. This just keeps on happening until you’re not friends.
Some boys are strange and think we (girls) have cooties and stuff like that. Some boys are dorky and gross. Some boys are okay, not mean or gross, but not really nice and kind. And some boys are nice and treat you the same, if not better as other boys. Strangely enough these boys, the nice kind, I might even have more fun around than a lot of girls I know. I don’t feel uncomfortable around them either. Well I guess every once and awhile it takes guts to start a conversation with Drew, but once it starts I feel fine.
[I’m ashamed of my 10-year-old self for writing about boys before jobs]
I want to be an actress when I grow up. But sometimes I start writing and want to be a writer. And sometimes I want to be a teacher, lawyer, doctor, dentist, waitress, and many others. I would love to be all of them, but I can’t. Luckily if I’m an actress I might be able to play all of them. Unluckily acting is a very hard job, and maybe by the time I’m old enough they’ll have robots instead. So maybe I shouldn’t want and dream about a job. Or maybe if I don’t it won’t happen. Who knows?
* * * * * *
So I became an archaeologist. I travel and adventure more than the obnoxious kids from college. I can write about skiing in Tsakhakdzor and clubbing in Belgrade, but my best stories are about the same stuff I’ve always written about: friends, boys, and what I had for breakfast.
Caption: Me, skiing in Tsakhakdzor. That’s in Armenia, didn’t you know??
Caption: A S’mores Poptart–just as interesting as skiing in Tsakhakdzor.
*And others with fantastic backgrounds also had amazing personalities. They became my cherished friends, who just happened to have grown up all over the world, nationally ranked in obscure sports (e.g. Lizzy: http://cruxcrush.com/2014/05/01/girl-crush-of-the-month-lizzy-asher/#more-8150). I don’t mean to imply that everyone with an interesting resume is dull. Just 98% of them.