Allison Page is here to blow your mind and it won’t cost you 25K a year.
In my mind, if you’re reading this it’s because you’re horrified beyond belief that I didn’t go to college. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who’s gravely disappointed.
It’s been a few months since this happened so I feel fine talking about it… It all started one magical day when someone proposed that we change the spelling of “actor” to “acter.” The internet conversation had turned to whether or not you call yourself an “actress” or an “actor.” As in, if you say “actress” clearly that denotes that you are covered in estrogen, and if you say “actor” you’re sort of going against that… ya follow me, here? I sincerely doubt it’s a topic that anyone outside of the theatrical world knows or cares about. Anyway, it’s one of those threads that is primarily a harmless list of people’s one-word responses to that inquiry. I add mine, which is that I say “actor.” My reasoning for that being less about “TAKE THE GENDER OUT OF THIS, NOW,” and more about the fact that I don’t like the actual sounds of that word “actress.” It’s like “panties”, or “moist” or “girth” for some people. I just don’t like the mouth sound. And it does sort of sound like I’m parading around in a ball gown carrying a teacup poodle, assisted by two strong men who are… god, that doesn’t sound so bad… anyway, I say “actor.” That’s just what I say. And a lot of us do so, actually. “Actress” sounds much too glamorous for what goes on in my life. I don’t think actresses should eat as many cheeseburgers as I do. An actress shouldn’t drink this much Guinness or swear like a sailor who got kicked in the dick. So – I’m an actor. Many other people add their two cents, and naturally I get a cute little notification every time that happens: “Slamalamadingdong also commented on blahblah.” So I take a gander at the responses. Many of them are the same as mine. Some are different. And then – UH OH – someone has jumped the shark, kids. I see an “acter”.
Basically, she’s proposing we start spelling the word “actor” with an E, like “acter.”
Well, here’s the first problem: it’s not a word. And here’s the second problem: if you say “acter” to someone out loud… IT’S THE SAME. IT SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME. IT’S ONLY DIFFERENT IN YOUR MIND. Now, how many times has someone asked you what you do, and you’ve written it down on a flashcard and shown it to them? Would it be fair to say zero times? Never times? Not one times? None of the times? Because that’s how many times I’ve done that. I said that it seemed a little nonsensical to me, and that if someone wrote down that they were an “acter,” it would be hard for me not to laugh – which is fucking true. Now, did I have to say that? Did I have to say anything at all? No, I didn’t. I could have just sat there – probably eating cookies – and that would have been fine. It’s just that sometimes, especially the place where this particular conversation was happening, I get frustrated with the all-inclusive “Let’s support everything no matter what it is because that’s us being an encouraging group of women – never questioning each other’s ideas in any capacity. THAT’S how we grow,” mentality. And I guess, on this day, I just decided I didn’t want to watch one more shark-jump and I said something. Well, she wasn’t happy about it. And she definitely wasn’t happy that more than one person disagreed with her. Her response was that we’d made her “very tired”… okay… and that (and this part was directed specifically at me): “I’m a friggin’ Harvard Law grad and Mensa member… the end of that sentence leads to an insult, so instead, I’m off this string.”
All of the records screeched just now, in case you couldn’t hear that.
What’s the end of her brilliant sentence? How does she know I’M not a Harvard Law grad? How does she know I’m not the Mensa-iest Mensa Member this side of the Mississippi? Is she gleaning what information she can from the “about” section of my Facebook profile? Did she call Mensa to make sure I didn’t sneak in when she wasn’t looking? Facebook was likely her only source of information.
The thing is – yeah – I’m not a Harvard Law grad. (And if I were, I would say “graduate” because “grad” sounds stupid – like “Cali” and “totes.”)
It’s true. My only “higher education” is in the form of a year and a half of cosmetology school at Northland Community and Technical College in my teensy hometown of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. And guess what – I didn’t even graduate!
I realize I’m disappointing you right now, person-who-is-reading-this, and I’m sorry. I wish I had gone to college. It’s one of the big regrets of my life. The thing is, I didn’t come from a family of people who said things like “Strive for excellence! You can be anything you want to be! Get good grades and go to a stellar college! ACHIEVE!” That just wasn’t my reality. So many people never leave my hometown. They work at the same snowmobile factory their parents worked at their entire adult lives. My mother has, for the most part, been a housewife since she married my dad at 19. That’s what she wanted for me. Get married, make babies, live within blocks of my parents’ property, shut up, ride a horse once in a while, grow old, and die. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic… but it’s not too far off course.
So for the first chunk of my “adult” life, I tried to live her way. I got engaged at 19 (PARALLELS, Y’ALL) to a very nice boy who had been the captain of a neighboring town’s football team. I was going to cosmetology school because she knew I was just independent enough to need to get an actual job and thought that would satisfy me, and was trying to be happy with that. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t happy at all. The only happiness I could find was in the theater company that I had started at 18. I worked tirelessly at producing shows for a community of people who really only wanted to go to the local community theater to see a production of Oklahoma because it had a shitload of kids in it. I gave them something different and developed a following, which was surprising and great, but it just made me want to do more. Each show was more ambitious and took more of my time because I hated reality to an absurd extent. I didn’t give a shit about giving my grandma a perm. I did the bare minimum at school because it was the last thing I wanted to waste my energy on. Pretty soon I was spending less and less time with my fiancé, and when I did see him, I tried desperately to engage him in deeper conversations – but he just couldn’t do it. He didn’t have opinions about anything I had opinions about – or really anything else, either.
My mother had instilled in me an intense fear of living. She had done it to protect me, and she didn’t understand how it could be a bad thing. She loves me, she’s my mom, she doesn’t want bad things to happen to me. But it was a bad tactic, because I didn’t know how to live. I always knew that I was different from her, but I was afraid to assert it in real ways because I hadn’t dealt with the fear of the unknown. What if I diverged from the path and just fucking DIED IMMEDIATELY? Even so, I started to change things for myself. I called off the wedding, left my fiancé, threw myself even more into my theater company, started working as a radio announcer, started writing scripts, started… STARTED… I was finally fucking starting my life. And by this time, I was done with cosmetology school. I hadn’t graduated because I didn’t care nearly enough for that, but I was licensed which is all I needed to get a job, which I did. I used the money I made trimming mullets at Walmart (not joking) to build a bigger and better stage, more intricate sets, get more elaborate costumes, pay higher royalties for shows I really wanted to do, and to give myself a cushion in case nobody came to see whatever weird show I chose next.
Then I went to Thailand, while I was there my best friend died, I came back home to Minnesota and then… that was it. I was done. I couldn’t live that life anymore. I moved to San Francisco with one bag and $500 I got from a medical study testing the side effects of muscle relaxers and here I was.
And then everything was really fucking hard. For 4-and-a-half years I was almost homeless. I slept on floors the majority of that time. I moved 10 times. I once lived in a 2-bedroom with 6 people in it. 3 people slept in my room. I was on the floor with a pillow and a blanket. That lasted for months. I once lived in a closet. I shared a futon in an efficiency studio with another girl and two cats for 6 months. I stayed on my friend’s father’s couch and ate Hormel chili every night because it’s what I found in his cupboard. I lost 40 lbs from lack of food and walking everywhere. I lived on 300 calories a day for a while. I worked as a man’s assistant – he did not treat me well, but every once in a while he would buy me a sandwich. I worked 5 hours a day for minimum wage 4 days a week, because that’s the job I could get. A coworker found me crying doing laundry in the back room and gave me $40 and I have never, EVER forgotten that she did that for me. I was lonely a lot. I was cold a lot. My shoes were full of holes. Sometimes I couldn’t afford toothpaste and deodorant and I would sneakily use someone else’s. I dated a man who turned out to be an alcoholic whose life was even more in shambles than my own. My mother tried to convince me to come home at every possible opportunity but I just wouldn’t. I did my best to hide the reality of my daily life from her.
Then I started doing standup. Then I started doing sketch. And improv. And then teaching it. And then booking shows. And then I got an agent. And then I wrote some commercials. And then I acted in some stupid, stupid Japanese TV show that meant I could finally BUY A BED. I had a bed. When I bought it, I cried in front of the woman who sold it to me. I didn’t have sheets for about a month, so it was just a mattress for a while, but I didn’t care. I had a bed. I got a job at an amazing bookstore. I didn’t make much money but I was extremely happy there. Robin Williams told me I was funny…and then it took me 2 hours to get home because I couldn’t afford anything but the bus and I didn’t have the money to go out with anyone for a celebratory drink. Then an opportunity popped up at a giant gaming company. For a writer. They wanted someone who could write comedy, make things short and punchy, be creative… man, I could do that! I did a million and two writing tests… the guy wanted to hire me!… and then he quit. Devastation. Depression. Still living in a house full of clowns with nut allergies. Then another opportunity pops up… same company. I did a million and three writing tests… AND I GOT THE JOB! They didn’t ask for my educational background until I had already been hired, just to put it in their files. I was able to afford my own apartment downtown. My own apartment. I started getting cast in things I really wanted to be cast in. I honed my skills. I practiced. I molded. I created. I wrote – and not just dialogue for games, but other things too. I wrote screenplays, short plays, play plays. I worked. I worked really hard. I still do.
Not going to college has been a big, ugly chip on my shoulder. I’m sad about it sometimes because I wish I had that experience. I didn’t have the resources to go – or I certainly didn’t feel I did at the time – and I didn’t quite have the gumption I have now. I was still in the gumption-development phase of my life. And Mensa has never come a-callin’. There are several opportunities I couldn’t take because I don’t have a degree. And that’s always going to be the case. There’s always going to be something I can’t do because of that damned piece of paper that doesn’t exist in my life. I hate to be cliché, but I’m about to be, so prepare yourself for it…
That does not define me.
My lack of college education does not define me and it never will.
Maybe I’ll go to college some day. I’d like to do that. I’d feel good about that. But for now, the 4-and-a-half years I spent on the brink of disaster is going to have to suffice, and I’m okay with that.
Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion. You can have yours, and I can have mine – but when you start throwing your education around like it’s an excuse for everything you’ve ever said to be taken with a heavier weight than someone else’s words? Well, I think they’d even frown upon that in kindergarten, and I totally graduated from that.
Also, Harvard says “acter” isn’t a word. Double also, Mensa says you’re a doodoo head.
Hey, Mensa’s words, not mine.
No Mensas were harmed in the making of this blog. You can find Allison eating a sandwich at work or on twitter @allisonlynnpage. And thanks to Cathy, who will probably never see this, for the $40 in 2009 – it was a really big deal.