I suppose all early 20-somethings are used to having the same conversation over and over with perfect strangers regarding their educational choices and future career plans. These perfect strangers (referred to hereafter as PS) include, but are not limited to, doctors, dentists, receptionists, bank tellers, parents' friends and co-workers, and distant relatives. My version of this conversation invariably goes like this:
PS- So what are you studying way up there in the North?
PS- Ooooooooh! How exciting! Following your dreams! That's just great!
ME- Thank you! I really enjoy it.
PS- Now, I didn't realize acting was something you had to go to school for. I thought if you were good at it you just went on and did it.
ME- Well, there's actually a lot to learn and a lot to get better at.
PS- Huh. I never would have guessed. How do I know you're not acting now!?
ME- I'm not. Haha.
PS- Hey, do you know [random high school student whom PS knows peripherally through church]?
ME- No, I'm sorry, that name doesn't ring any bells.
PS- Are you sure? Because [said random high school student] does a bunch of drama and acting. S/he's REAL talented. I bet you know him/her.
PS- You're planning on teaching, then?
ME- No, I'm planning on acting. You know, in plays and stuff, and possibly films and commercials, depending on what I get cast in. Although I enjoy teaching and will probably do that at some point, too.
PS- Oooooh. Now, when you graduate from this program of yours, are you guaranteed a job?
Then I realize the PS is asking a serious question, not demonstrating a malicious but welcome sense of humor and wit for the first time since we began speaking.
ME- Oh. No, of course not. No one is guaranteed a job when they graduate these days. Unless they get recruited by the NFL, I guess, but I gave up on that a long time ago.
PS- Haha! Hey, do you know [alas, another random young person to whom I have no connection]? He's REAL good at playing football. We're all thinking he'll go pro. You ever seen him play?
ME- No. Um, I mean, yeah, maybe I have!
At this point I am terribly relieved the focus has shifted from my career ambitions to high school football, a safe subject which, like the weather, is always acceptable and interesting to discuss!
ME- You know, my sister's a cheerleader!
PS- Oh, that's just great! Now, when you start this acting business, will you make a bunch of money?
I'm thinking yet again how funny such a remark would be if it was made in jest, but sadly I understand that it, too, is a sincere albeit ludicrous question.
ME- No, almost certainly not. It's an extremely competitive industry and the popularity of live theater continues to decline. Not to mention that I'll work from job to job- getting cast in one show and immediately scrambling to land the next thing. Which is why I want to join or maybe start an independent theater company.
PS- Well, I'm sure you'll be rich and famous. And one day, when you're on TV accepting your big award, you'll have to remember little me, who gave you your first __________ [teeth x-ray, flu shot, pelvic exam, checking account, etc.]!
Since these conversations inevitably occur while I'm undergoing a medical procedure or at the very least while I'm running an errand, sometimes I lie when asked about my field of study and say "elementary education," which is met with a knowing smile and an approving nod. Not because the perfect stranger in question understands any more about the trials and tribulations of a professional educator than they do about those of a professional actor, but because elementary education is a college major that seems to make sense for a girl like me. It doesn't raise any questions and it doesn't sound suspicious, the very things people wish to avoid when making small talk. Oddly, I get the same response when I lie and say I'm a communications major. As if that's a lucid discipline that obviously translates to a 9-5 job upon graduation. I mean, what?
Fortunately for my peace of mind and for perfect strangers everywhere, I've outgrown my righteous indignation phase where theater is concerned (I AM IN CLASS AND REHEARSAL 14 HOURS A DAY, 6 DAYS A WEEK! THIS DISCIPLINE DEMANDS INHUMAN PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL FITNESS! I AM A CREATIVE ARTIST SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE HUMAN CONDITION!), because everyone works hard and no one likes listening to mission statements. Instead of indignant, when I find myself having the above conversation, I simply feel baffled at the bizarre assumptions of those kind or curious enough to ask me what I'm all about.
It could be worse. Like Shawn, I could graduate with a degree in philosophy*. Then I'd have to grin and bear it as perfect strangers unloaded their unsolicited "philosophies" on me, confusing a few generic world views with a critical, systematic method.
The point is, I wish just as much as any normal person that my professional aspirations fit into a familiar category. Namely, the category known as "Easily Explainable, Even During a Teeth Cleaning." I wish my career had a steady path and a certain outcome. I wish I could count on health insurance and an income large enough to repay my student loans and cover rent. While I'm at it, I wish success in the entertainment industry hinged more on skill and less on networking, and that Art would always triumph over Commercialism. Hahaha!
But I refuse to let the bleakness of my professional future get me down. If theater doesn't work out, I'll likely take up goat herding. I'll homeschool my children and employ them like elves to help me spin and dye yarn and produce award-winning chevre. I'll regale them at bedtime with stories of my Drama School days, imparting the same paramount Life Lesson every time: "Major in business, children. Major in business."
*Shawn wishes it to be known, however, that with his BA in philosophy he intends to pursue a perfectly acceptable and legitimate career in law. Because philosophers are no fun at parties.