Category: College

Mademoiselle Needle’s École du Smokescreens

Sharon Needles

SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.

Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.

Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.

But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.

Laura Thudium Stage Makeup

If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.

Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.

Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.

While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!

Tusks

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Return of the Mac

Many people utilize blogs as a means of archiving life, the same way a chronic photographer observes experience through a pinhole and bisects it into truncated moments printed in silver or ink. But when life intervenes with these mediums of examination and reflection, the hobbies of writing and photographing are forced to clamber into the backseat and keep quiet while the driver attempts to navigate a slippery reality without these artistic chains fortifying their tires.

In less analogical terms, due to an adult-sized helping of work these past several months, my artwork–including the writing that I swore to revive via daily practice–has been sorely neglected. This blog and the numerous saved drafts in my post repository were put on hold in favor of tearing my hair out trying to transcribe inscrutable Welsh accents and rephotographing what seemed like an endless procession of holiday menorahs. Apparently that’s the life that happens when we’re too absorbed with our individualized distractions, so to all you ornery teenagers whose parents heckle you about your technological obsessions, simply retort, “Would you rather me join the real world and get a job trying to make photos of Peter Max’s comeback collection look decent?” Cause even your parents know you’ll get more enrichment out of “practicing your grammar” updating Facebook statuses than staring at something like this all day:

Peter Max Comeback Piece

Thus, I owe this incredibly latent blog entry to a Las Vegas vacation that both commemorated my sister’s birth and ushered in the free time necessary to dust off my artistic skill set–just in time for the New Year. As such, I concede to the hackneyed tradition of auld lang sine meditation and dedicate this entry to the year 2013.

In my adult life I’ve taken a cue from the Chinese calendar and assumed the habit of naming each year that passes based on its overarching character. For example, the year one of my houses was burglarized, my mom broke her leg on Mother’s Day, and my childhood home went up in flames was deemed The Year of the Happenstance Shit Fest. Likewise, the year I immersed myself in the stress of college, endured a nightmarish relationship that culminated in an equally inimical break-up, and met a N’awlins-scale parade of freshmen jackasses was christened The Year of Building Character Out of Tears, Eraser Shavings, and Godawful Cafeteria Food. As noted in a previous entry, zeitgeist symbols of misfortune seem to have an inverse effect on my family, and the thirteen attached to the end of this year’s moniker was no different. Thus, as 2013 comes to a close, I hereby declare it The Year of the Lucky Bastard.

For some reason, 2013 was all about close calls and seemingly unfortunate situations that miraculously paid off. Sure there were some irrevocable bumps along the way, such as the Transportation Security Administration damaging a plaque that served as the lone reward for my tireless four-year pursuit of a 4.0. And all those cockroaches that liked to host evening soirees under the sink of my very first apartment? That too was unpropitious. But beyond the fleeting disappointment of fruitless job hunts and undercooked pasta, I’ve been remarkably lucky, and figure I ought to thank the Fates in writing to hopefully remain in their favor.

At the very opening of 2013, I found myself illicitly holed up in my friend’s dorm room after her roommate unexpectedly transferred schools and invited my room change request to hang in the slow-paced limbo that is bureaucratic decision making. With a Residential Assistant just several neurotransmissions away from discovering my ploy and a roomful of my actual assigned roommates starting to ask incriminating questions, I was undeniably in one of Ulysses Everett McGill’s reputed tight spots. But somehow, a horde of angels must have possessed the pen that finally checked off my room application just before my fugitive fever could reach a critical degree and Dave Matthews (because that was actually the RA’s name) could sniff me out like a Tommy Lee Jones-bloodhound hybrid and hand me over to the authorities. It was my first utter relief of many to come this year, and as if one heavenly miracle wasn’t enough it segued into what will most likely be the nicest living situation of my adult life and the cherished friendships of my Peruvian-Chinese bosom friend and what has got to be the sweetest, golden-eyed girl in both Arkansas and the whole country over.

Thus, my college career came to a close on a very positive note. I managed to secure all the classes I wanted, I got to reap the mental benefits of working myself to the bone one last time, I got to accumulate some funny anecdotes about the unnerving process of valedictorian interviews, and I got to gaze proudly upon a shiny graduation plaque, sans the impending scratches it would procure and the future realization that Los Angeles employers don’t look at your summa cum laude portfolio unless you happen to know Jim in accounting. The last few months of college were a gloriously bittersweet time in my life, and somehow, despite the anxieties, the few atrocious professors, and the awful consistency of Southern grits, it all worked out perfectly.

The next big risk that I took in 2013 was the decision to move out to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated, despite the fact that the only thing I’d secured in that town was a mere interview with a digital teching company in need of unpaid labor. Thus, with no apartment and no assurance that said potential internship would even be worth while, I packed my bags, kissed my family goodbye as soon as I got home, and headed south to the city of opportunity, my boyfriend, and smog.

And there she was, Lady Luck waiting for me in the guise of a 2000-car pile up on the I-10 East. Within two days of the big move I’d secured my first internship and within two weeks my very own back seat of a sedan-sized apartment two miles from the Arts District of downtown LA. My situation certainly didn’t merit boasting on the SCAD alumni forums, but I had a home, I had resume-worthy responsibilities, and I had a tan. Based on the numerous post-college alternatives, things were definitely coming up Milhouse.

The rest of my time in Los Angeles was speckled with an array of auspicious occurrences: from the fact that my brand new and wonderfully endearing step-cousin just happened to live several blocks away from my boyfriend; to the instance in which a club owner eschewed his own rule of no open-toed shoes and welcomingly admitted me into the bar he’d hidden behind a barbershop storefront; to the glorious sunshine that beat down on us while we waited in line to see Flight of the Conchords and Dave Chappelle at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival; to the unprecedented ease with which we moved my boyfriend to Hollywood; to the remaining tickets for Nick Offerman’s stand-up book tour that we learned about one day in advance; to the miraculous parking spots I always found after work in my boyfriend’s reputedly over-crowded neighborhood; to the incredibly friendly corporate Christmas party host who invited four of us strangers in and gave us the huge roll of remaining free drink tickets; to the fact that we always got front row seats at Upright Citizens Brigade’s free Sunday show; and to my boyfriend’s friend’s sister who just happens to know Hugh Hefner’s chef and got us an exclusive free tour of the Playboy Mansion and the cutest monkeys centerfold money can buy.

Hugh Hefner's Monkeys

And that doesn’t even begin to cover everything that went so well in Los Angeles. Sure the basement of my apartment building was covered in literally thousands if not millions of dead flies, like a scene from a Dario Argento film, but there was something nice about the simplicity of living with naught but a bed, fridge, armoire, and hotplate. And when a new job called for me to stay with my boyfriend in Hollywood (another stroke of luck, considering the beau’s very graciously accommodating roommates), the hardest part about breaking the lease–an unnerving concept considering my stingy, suspicious landlord–was sitting in three hour’s worth of traffic to get from Inglewood to downtown. Even more surprising still, Mr. Conniving Landlord even uncharacteristically called me “sweetheart” when he signed my ending contract with a kindly flourish.

Finally, when spending more than two days with my family for the first time in a year became a priority, I was lucky that my dad and sister’s Las Vegas vacation timed perfectly with all my settled LA arrangements so that they could simply shuttle me home upon their departure. And even if we did run into massive ice-storm traffic just outside of Medford and sit at a standstill for the duration of a whole movie and three-quarters, we’re all very lucky that my dad’s skillful driving kept us from sliding off the side of the Siskiyou mountains. Thank the cliff-side ice gods.

So even with the ups and downs promised to accompany life after college, some deity with a thirteen fetish has looked kindly upon me yet again. I may not have discovered the secret to post-grad billionaire status, but the overarching sentiment of 2013 was one of providential happiness. I’m no where near to surfacing victoriously from this transition into adulthood, but with a little luck-overflow and the same sense of positivity that carried me through the major changes of the past twelve months, perhaps 2014 will prove to be just as felicitous.

Curse of the Paraskavediatriaphobic Birthday

The Curse of the Inauspicious Birthday

Despite the cultural ballyhoo that inflicts a mere calendar date with a barrage of black cats, shattered mirrors, and ladder-strewn walkways, both my sister and I are in agreement over the fact that nothing earthshaking has ever plagued us on Friday the 13th. In fact, we quite often find find ourselves accruing fortuitous luck on said ominous date. But the cultural obsession with a day that condones the old wives tales of yesteryear has got me thinking about another day that’s amassed some bad juju in the past couple of years–and thinking further still about how these negative stigmas manifest in the first place. Are people so smitten with the notion of an unlucky day that they’re personally responsible for aligning the negative cosmos in their lives? Do my sister and I enjoy Friday the 13th simply because we’ve always concentrated more on the positive aspects of what’s most likely nothing more than another average day?

While Friday the 13th produces feelings of trepidation, birthdays are calendar dates that operate on a more subjective level, and from my experience, people either love their birthday, hate it, or (for the family and friends keen to celebrate) are aggravatingly apathetic towards it. As a child who bore her fair share of witness to the birthday cynicism of parents inching towards middle age, I’m well accustomed to what it means to dread that extra candle atop a seemingly mocking cake. But to the fortunate contrary, I’ve always enjoyed my birthday, just as any juvenescent child, egocentric teenager, and party-savvy young adult should. Recently, however, I’ve begun to feel slight disdain towards a day that’s supposed to celebrate life, and now that it’s right around the corner from what is proving to be another unremarkably peaceful Friday the 13th, I feel an explanation is in order, if to at least appease the gods of fate and cure me from what may very well be a birthday imprecation.

My birthday blues have absolutely nothing to do with the typical thanatophobic fear of getting one step closer to death. While I’m a day dreaming idealist in many facets of life, realism pervades whenever the subject of death comes up: my parents taught me well, I have no delusions of immortality, and I quite look forward to the day when I can officially call myself the female equivalent of a silver fox. So instead of stemming from a Friends-esque terror of the “decrepit” age of thirty, my birthday nerves relate to personal anecdotes enveloping my last two birthdays.

Everyone and their grandma looks forward to their 21st birthday in this country, the age when the whole world (sans the rental cars needed to get you there) becomes your playground, a number that officially resonates with adulthood, and a tradition that’s been kept up since 21 connoted the physical strength necessary to bear the weight of armor and achieve knighthood. While our values may have altered greatly from the honorable intentions behind donning 110 pounds of hindering steel armor to attempt to rescue damsels from evil sorcerers and the likes, even people who aren’t in the market for a good 21st birthday shwasting still look forward to the party that commemorates their transition into liberating adulthood. Rather than living it up with my compadres and relishing the act of showing my ID to every waitress, bouncer, and unfortunate passerby, however, I spent my 21st birthday in a hospital. And no, it wasn’t because of the expected culprit: a wheelchair was in order before anyone had time to consume any alcohol.

I turned 21 while enrolled in my junior year of college in Savannah, Georgia, and despite the mild flavors of small Southern city cuisine that this Northwest foodie always complained about while living in Savannah, I wanted to round up a large group of friends and celebrate in chic, indulgent style. Thus, we met up at the slickest (and only) tapas joint in town, prepared for an evening of jazz and pampered taste buds, and anticipated enjoyment that was quickly snuffed by a hostess who refused to seat us due to two late guests, a waitress prone to sneering, and the insatiated hunger pains of a primarily male entourage when we were served the smallest tapas plates I’ve seen to date. So, to salvage my reputation as a good host and to simply revel in the summer air that persists well beyond late September, I suggested we walk down the block, buy some big pizzas, and revive the merriment that had been quelled by our disappointing (and jazz-less) tapas experience.

On the way to the pizza place, we passed through Ellis Square, and despite my newfound adult sophistication (and supposed armor-bearing prowess), some deep southern magic in the autumn air evoked the overexcitable ankle-biter in me, and I was compelled to turn on my heel, disregard the snazzy attire I’d compiled for tapas, and run straight through the dancing fountain that’s made Ellis square a hotspot for many a mother in need of respite from her clinging children. Rather than chuckling nervously and continuing onward to Americanized-Italian goodness like some of them probably wanted to, my friends followed suit, proving that inebriation is not a requirement for being a nut in a fountain. In this way, the evening was ushered along by splashes and shrieks of laughter for some time, when suddenly I turned and saw one of my friends outright sprawled on the concrete between multicolored columns of water. I knew it in that split glance: the joyousness was over.

Turns out, several of my friends had taken to outright sprinting through the fountain instead of practicing the careful little pansy hops I’d been performing all night, and rather than merely slipping on the wet concrete like I’d feared, two of them had collided into one another–at a sprint. The less fortunate of the two now lay drained of color on the concrete with a tooth broken in splinters and a possible concussion. Fortunately for my injured friend and my completely shocked self, the more levelheaded party guests took charge and organized a trip to the hospital, during which I sat completely stunned, friend’s tooth in my palm and tears tending to whatever mascara hadn’t been affected by the fountain water.

While I hate the fact that my nerves seemed to be jiving to the tune of, “it’s my party and I’ll cry it I want to,” for the rest of the night–disabling me from the mien of strength and reassurance I should have adopted for my friend–I can’t eradicate the memory of how terrifying it is to see someone you care about devoid of color, toothless, and practically unconscious. On top of that, I felt entirely at fault and still wonder to this day, if I hadn’t been drawn into that fountain like an eight year old failing to masquerade as a 21-year-old, how peaceful that evening of pizza would have been.

Flash forward a new tooth, a new year, a new E-Learning schedule from home, and another birthday. While turning 22 is about as societally exciting as scheduling an optometrist appointment, I was looking forward to the first birthday celebration with my family in three years with a reinstated sense of optimism. And just as I expected, the day started out wonderfully.

I’ve stated it before, but my sister might as well be a conjoined twin with the amount of adoration I feel for her, and while my father was at work and my mother across town, I was looking forward to a whole birthday of my sister’s company like Charlie looking forward to his rendezvous with the chocolate factory (pre-Gene Wilder’s psychopathic tunnel song). And boy howdy, does that girl know how to show you a great time. We started out the downtown celebrations with lunch at the swanky Heathman Hotel where I was buried in an avalanche of gifts that I still overwhelmingly can’t believe she doted upon me. Because one of the presents was a weighty gift card and because one of my favorite past times is trying on ridiculously embarrassing things with my sister, we figured when in the market, shop!, and proceeded to the shopaholic enclave that is Pioneer Place.

Our excursion began like any other as we thumbed through racks of things we coveted and, more importantly, things that would look hilariously heinous when donned on in the dressing room, and even though this statement plays right into the hands of cliché feminine tropes, I honestly thought it was a great way to spend my birthday. But that was before I realized my sister was no where near me, and I was shopping alone, an activity I take very little pleasure in because once the jokes stop flowing and camaraderie dissipates, the fluorescent lights, pushy crowds, and superficial floor staff make for a nightmarish ordeal.

But I wasn’t too put off by my sister’s sudden absence. I allowed logic to coerce me into the reassurance that this store was only two floors tall with few visible obstructions beyond five-foot tall racks and hordes of nattering women. So I went about my shopping, aura of birthday bliss intact. When I’d acquired a stock worthy of changing room scrutiny, however, my sister was still awol, and without the desire to relinquish full feedback privileges to a mirror, I decided it was time to initiate an active search. I can’t tell you how many times I went up and down those stairs, back and forth through various partitions, and in and out of the changing rooms to call her name, but by the time the stairwell was beginning to draw a sweat and phone calls had only connected me to her voicemail, I figured I might as well just try on my accrued ensemble in silence and hope she magically manifested on my way out.

When she didn’t, my sweat became more a product of panic than physical exertion. Because this store really wasn’t that big, and because several more trips up and down those stairs still weren’t yielding any results, the nervous wreck in me assumed the obvious answer must be that someone had abducted her out of this crowded, security guarded shopping mall. After all, the phenomenon of just missing someone by a millisecond when you comb every inch of a store only happens in crappy rom coms like Serendipity, right?

After an hour had passed, I gave up on the hunt, invoked my inner “stay in one place” boy scout, and sat down on a couch, my now purchased parcels around me as I blinked back tears of near-hysteria and envisioned an array of serial killer investigations involving the cheap fashion acolytes of Forever 21. She still didn’t pick up her phone or appear out of a rack of ponchos singing, “Jokes on you: you’re on Candid Camera!” and by this point I was too incoherent with worry to ask a sales person to conduct an all-store page for “the girl with flaxen hair.” So I sat there and waited for quite some time.

Obviously, this story ends happily, because if anything had happened to my sister this blog would have had a much darker tone since day one. Instead, she came bounding up to me almost two hours after her initial vanishing act, laden bags in tow and a bright smile on her face that was clearly miles away from the Ted Bundy and Ed Gein visions that had been tormenting me to the beat of the store’s hip playlist. To be angry with someone clearly so euphoric about the prospect of a larger wardrobe should be a crime in itself, but I was furious, and whenever I try to express my upset sentiments to my sister, she gets twice as furious. Thus, the rest of the day was spent in boiling conflict and pathetic bouts of tears until my dad arrived home and asked, “Who wants cake!?”

To fear that the negativity of birthdays past might affect birthdays in the near-present and future makes me no better than the worry mongers who think the number 13 was devised by Satan, but I can’t resist the cultural lore that bad things come in threes. While I should be ecstatic that this is the first time I’ll get to celebrate another year of life with my boyfriend (not to mention turn 23 on the 23rd, for all you old wives out there), I can’t help tainting thoughts of the oncoming date with some sense of foreboding. Yes, I’m well aware that dwelling on the negatives (like we’re practically taught to do on Friday the 13th) can’t produce much in the way of positivity, but with that uncontrollable accident in Ellis Square and that unusual solo shopping trip at Pioneer Place, one can only guess if the third time’s truly fated to be a charm.

This American Life, 101

This American Life, 101

My family has a tendency to nag my sister about her repudiation of the national criterion that expects all nineteen year olds to immediately enroll in a four year college upon high school graduation, lest they wish to toil through a life of welfare or, God forbid, work a blue-collar job for the rest of their lives. When I was still enrolled in fastidious studenthood, I might have agreed with my family’s concerns for my sister. After all, she’s an incredibly bright human being with a charming personality and the same fierce drive that makes all us Moon-Woods workaholics. If she had found a college program that appealed to her, there’d be no doubt in my mind that she would excel at it. But thus far in her life, nothing a college degree can offer has yet to beguile her into attendance, and surprisingly, I commend her for standing by that fact. I’m probably going to be ostracized from the family for the newfound beliefs I’m about to confess, but after making the decision to adhere to The Official Timeline of an American Life, I wholeheartedly support my kid sister’s decision to deter from the norm.

For some reason, the overarching sentiments of this country seem to suggest that adults who veer from the expected college track will become work force pariahs, too burdened by ignorance to climb the occupational ladder and attain the life of monetary leisure the American dream extols. We have a tendency to completely discredit other forms of learning in the face of institutionalized academia, and pity those who reject the increased opportunities a diploma provides. But it’s an obvious fact that the boot of school is not tailored to every foot–especially since many of our schools operate under the delusion that packing young, overworked brains with a winter quarter’s worth of knowledge and then testing them to assess and grade their intelligence is a universally beneficial system. For some students, this rote methodology works wonders, but for many–including obsessive-compulsive grade point extremists like myself–this system is incredibly faulty, prioritizing a numerical outcome over the individualized educations every child would receive if all schools truly fulfilled their self-referential mission.

While this is certainly a cynical take on institutionalized learning, I’m not discrediting the value of education in the slightest. I think actively broadening your mind in the pursuit of knowledge is far more important than seeking a degree for the future income it might secure, and therefore I’m a huge proponent of the academic value of continuing on to college after high school. Sadly though, elements of my schooling reinforced the fact that monetary gain takes precedence in the eyes of our Capitalist system, demonstrated by my required enrollment in several courses that were entirely useless, taught by so called “educators” who had nothing to teach and instead comprised an obligatory conveyor belt in the production line that is contemporary college.

Based off of my experience, college is a business bent on perpetuating the larger mechanism of national wealth. While the notion of putting a price on knowledge is completely counterintuitive, the idea of coupling education with the exclusivism of astronomically high tuition is outright idiotic. Yes, garnering an education at a community college is a much cheaper route, but for those who can afford and choose to attend a community college, there’s still the stigma that their educational institution is merely a stepping stone for a more expensive school, where greater resources supposedly ensure better academia and, in turn, more profitable jobs.

But when we talk about the value placed on today’s “premiere educations,” we’re talking about exorbitant prices. Even with the incredible, four-year scholarship I received, the 16 hour days I worked without breaks, and the nerve-wracking amounts my parents had to proffer up every quarter, the remaining bill still weighs on me like an unmanageable dumbbell, and I’m officially a statistic on the long list of post-grads facing a lifetime of staggering college debt.

To make matters worse, I’ve now witnessed the fact that many college graduates who’ve been roaming the “real world” much longer than I have are victims to the twisted notion of the internship. This concept might have once meant a brief, occupational transition between school and adult responsibility, but has since evolved into an interim period of strenuous unpaid labor that (like my boyfriend’s internship) can demand seven straight days of serious work, imperative to the company’s success. All of this sans the pay that an uneducated fast food employee makes in one hour.

Because the American system condones the idea of unpaid labor and demands five years worth of experience for numerous entry level jobs, many recent grads have to become fast food employees, waiters, sales floor reps, and grocery store parcels just to afford residency in the city that hosts their internship, which in the arts industry that my former college caters to, means the extremely expensive cities of New York and Los Angeles. Enter a restaurant in LA and if your server isn’t an out-of-work actor, they’re likely a post-grad with a bachelor or masters under their belt and at least five internships on their resumé. And I’m not over exaggerating. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve become friends with law school graduate who has to waitress here in the City of Angels and can cite the impressive degrees of everyone on her restaurant’s waitstaff, and I’ve met innumerable people who shake their heads in exasperation when they tell you that yes, their fifth internship is also unpaid.

This whole transitional interlude is an incredibly stressful time, and if you took International Baccalaureate classes in high school in the hopes of attending a prestigious college that supposedly guarantees a comfortable job, you’ve been extremely stressed since you were sixteen. I accommodated this stress into my life as a natural part of living, and thanks to cautionary familial examples of the toll eschewing college can take, I always figured I’d made the right choice. But then my sister chose otherwise, and I had a new example to behold.

My sister works at a job that many would consider undesirable. In fact, having worked in the same establishment, I can vouch for those dissenting opinions myself. But my sister and I are two very different peas from the same pod of sweat and determination, and despite some displeasing elements, my sister loves her job. She’s incredibly popular amongst her coworkers, supervisors, and the customers she serves, she gets to arrange her own schedule (which happens to begin at four in the morning, at her request), she gets paid well and receives numerous benefits, and she has plenty of time to engage in her favorite after-work hobby of toning those buns and thighs at the gym she frequents. She may not have the salary of a med school-trained neurosurgeon, but she has an even more beneficial facet of life: she’s happy. And all those six years that I was tearing my hair out in academic exasperation, she was approaching life with a relaxed mindset that maintained her persistent, bona fide smile. Yes, there’s no telling what her monetary future holds without an official stamp of institutionalized approval, but is that really the most imperative crux of a human life?

To conclude, I applaud your decision to take things in stride, little sister, to live for the moment even though we can’t resist heckling you about the future, because we, like the rest of the country, abide by the fear that if you don’t acquire financial security there’s little hope for happiness. If you should ever want to learn a new skill set or venture into a new occupation that requires a piece of verifying paper, I encourage you to look into colleges or trade schools. Resist being swayed by money-hungry recruiters who’ll sing any school’s praises, and conduct your own research about the professors and the real success stories instead of the advertised statistics. Find an institution that will really give you your money’s worth, and attend it with a desire to learn, not a desire to merely graduate. And should you ever find yourself suddenly living a cautionary tale of your own, do what most narrators don’t: make an effort to change it. Life is too dang short to spend it mimicking the rest of society because that’s what’s expected of you, so go out and garner wisdom, work, and happiness however you see fit little girl. Keep approaching life with the sense of excitement and wonder you’ve always possessed, and I know you’ll do just fine.