You know, it’s funny. Growing up, NYU was my dream school. The pipe dream. The one I could *maybe* get into, but could never afford. The one that, even if I could afford, I’d never be able to attend because I had so much transfer credit. Still, it was nice to dream about. Seventeen-year-old me thought it would be so great to live in a big city, surrounded by people from all sorts of places. I grew up in the suburbs, and most people around me had grown up there, too. I imagined what it would be like to be surrounded by so much opportunity — to go to the art museum, or a concert in the park, or the opera, just because it was there. Most of all, I wanted to be in New York because that’s where I thought writers went. Actors flocked to L.A., but all serious writers eventually made it to New York.
I imagined myself surrounded by artsy friends, sitting around small apartments where we’d gathered to talk about our art and the insane cost of living. I knew it was a far off dream, even then. The kind that spurred my mom to start calling me “Hollywood”, both because there have always been stars in my eyes, and because there isn’t a similar moniker for East Coasters. She bought me an NYU sweatshirt for Christmas that year. It was the kind of embroidered university sweatshirt that’s super expensive, and I let it wrap me up in it’s deep purpley-ness as often as my teenaged laundry schedule would allow.
I didn’t end up going to NYU. I don’t think I even ended up applying. I landed at a public school, nestled in the Appalachian foothills, in a city of 10,000 people. Knowing how much I’d dreamed about a big city, my mom asked, “Are you sure?” fully aware of my escapist fantasy about leaving our small town. “I’m sure,” and that was the end of it. I lived out a different kind of dream, the one with mascots on sweatshirts and leafy campus walks and red Solo cups on front porches and discussion circles held on grassy hillsides. I never forgot about NYU, and I would sometimes daydream about it. I’d think about how different my life would look, wonder whether I wished it had gone a different way. I wore the sweatshirt around campus sometimes, just so folks would know what kind of place I’d turned down.
It’s been a decade and change since then. I overshot NYC by a few thousand miles, but I’m surrounded by people and stories and food that’s all so different from mine. I get to drive through the big city at night, watching all the lights twinkle from within a maze of buildings and bodies and motorbikes. It’s been two years, and I’m still looking up like a tourist everywhere I go. I’m surrounded by so much opportunity — there’s a Louvre fifteen minutes from my house. I’ve been there often enough to have a favorite painting, a favorite sculpture, and a favorite object. There’s music and dancing and opera — if I were into that.
I’m surrounded by artsy friends. Writers, of course, but also painters and poets and an architect and a scientist or two. We come from everywhere, no corner of the globe untouched, and sit in an empty cafe on Sunday evenings to share our art. Recently, we piled into a downtown apartment in our Halloween costumes to eat copious amounts of falafel and cake. I was so busy laughing, I don’t remember if the subject of rent prices ever came up.
But I’m not just among writers. I am a writer. A published one, with a degree in creative writing. And today, I’m driving to NYU’s satellite campus and picking up my badge. It’ll say “Writing Instructor” on it. And then I’ll get to do the only thing I love to do as much as I love to write — teach. I made it to NYU, just not in the way I expected.
At the risk of sounding like an aspirational Instagram influencer, I guess what I’m saying is that the universe gave me everything I wanted. It just happened that the blink in the universe’s cosmic span of time was a decade in mine. I don’t know yet where to park, or where I’ll go to eat lunch, or who I’ll sit with. But I know that seventeen-year-old me would be overjoyed to know that this is where I am. Dreams don’t have expiration dates. Not even the big, stupid, pie-in-the-sky, please-be-sensible-about-this dreams. Sometimes, the oddly specific but very big dreams do come your way. Seventeen-year-old me, in her oversized sweatshirt and jeans, full of fear about the future and all sorts of dreams (only some of which she had the courage to name) would be so, so proud of me. The sweatshirt is still around, too, although it’s coming apart and has a weird orange bleach stain and my sister wears it for pajamas because it’s been washed soft.
You know, I have a little tradition whenever I start a new job. No matter how desperately I need the money, I take a little part of my first paycheck and buy something just for me. I have a feeling that this time, despite the fact that I live in the desert, it’s gonna be a new sweatshirt.