It never occurred to me to want to “be” anything when I grew up. Raised to be the perfect wife, mother, and hostess, I was expected to follow the rules, not rock the boat, smile, and be flawless. This became my method of survival – my go-to solution.
I grew up on the cusp of change when few women veered from getting a degree in nursing, education, or library science. At my mother’s insistence, I graduated high school in December and started college in January at The University of Kansas. I was not given an option. I grew up in a medical family. My father was an orthopedic surgeon. Medicine wasn’t a consideration; nursing followed suit.
Across the hall from my father’s practice was a dentist who suggested dental hygiene. The hours and the pay were better was better than nursing and all prerequisites were the same.
Something to Fall Back On
I applied and was one of 50 students out of 250 applicants accepted to the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Dentistry. At KU I was an A & B student - as long as I only took the minimum science requirements. But nothing could prepare me for Morphology and Occlusion, Microbiology, Pathology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology. At the end of my junior year, the dean called me into her office to tell me I was failing two classes. She offered to help me get through the program.
At age 19, I didn’t have the courage or wherewithal to listen to my instincts. My parents believed the arts to be extracurricular. Dental hygiene was something I could "fall back on" should I need to support myself.
In 1974, I graduated with my BS degree in Dental Hygiene, passed my boards, and was licensed to practice in four states. Unlike most of my classmates, before that time, I’d never set foot in a dental practice other than as a patient. It was no surprise that I felt out of place and disliked being a dental hygienist.
Approaching Life Creatively
I needed something more. So, to feed my creative beast, I took professional ballet classes and danced with Kansas City Ballet Company.
Three years later, in 1977, I moved to Minneapolis and started my own business: becoming the first independent, temporary dental hygienist. I thought it would make my job more flexible, leaving time to travel and dance. After a few years, having grown tired of last-minute calls, I took a contract position in a large dental practice.
Then I met the man of my dreams, dating him during the years he wrote and released “Funkytown.” Nearly four years later, the magic carpet ride ended when he left me for a woman with whom he’d had an affair. With our worlds and friends intertwined, I sought out a more creative career option. I had a few dates with a guy whose ex-girlfriend was a graphic designer. That sounded fun, so I researched the qualities of a graphic designer and it seemed a perfect match.
Believing the solution was to move, I spent the summer studying design in Chicago and then moved to NYC where and finished my completed my AA in Graphic Design.
Between classes, I took daily professional ballet classes and explored the city until the spring of 1987 when I moved back to the Twin Cities. I once again "fell back on" dental hygiene to fill in the gap.
That first year back, I took a class from a group of seasoned graphic designers called Rent a Mentor. Students ranged from little experience to those rekindling careers. One teacher kept insisting that I needed more classes in typography. My response, “I need a job to gain experience!” The class concluded with an evaluation and feedback. One of the mentors posed an unforgettably profound question:
“Did I study graphic design because I wanted to be a graphic designer or because I wanted to get out of dental hygiene?”
It struck me like a ton of bricks and I took notice. Though I did a little work for a graphic designer friend, I knew it wasn’t the answer.
Two years later, I took the opportunity to buy a diet and exercise business from a friend. He ran the diet program and I taught cooking classes and managed the resistance-based studio. But, we couldn’t compete with the corporate competition and 3.5 years later, when my lease ended, I closed the business.
My mother was right – at least I had dental hygiene “to fall back on.” With dance and designing jewelry as my creative outlets, I steadfastly held onto the dream of marrying a man who would take care of me while I passionately pursued my art.
About a year later, I dated a man in the film business which ended too soon when he left to manage Lyle Lovett’s national tour. While together I shared my desire to do something more creative, he suggested I location scouting or wardrobe styling for commercials and feature films. I followed through and thus began my career in production. I loved it!
For several years, I worked exclusively on features, commercials, and high-end corporate videos until 9/11. Budgets were reduced budgets and technology resulted in less projects and opportunities.
In 2001, I again began doing temporary dental hygienist.
Following the recession in 2008, I added to my income stream by working for a friend’s non-profit. The contrast and diversity was ideal. And through it all, I had learned to embrace and appreciate dental hygiene. I had created the perfect balance.
Continuing to freelance opened up my life to more creative ventures.
I joined the board of directors of MN Women in Film & TV in 2006. I’ve served two terms as Vice-President, and I'm currently in my 3rdyear as President.
On July 2nd, I’ll be 67 years old. I plan to work for at least another three years, continue designing jewelry, finishing my book, producing a reality series, writing a bill for legislation…
In my wildest dreams could I imagine a pandemic that would turn the world upside down.
I’ve had abundance and blessings in my lifetime, as well as suffered a great deal of loss. I grew up with privilege, expecting my life would follow suit. It was not until my twenties that I realized my parents had not championed my talents and gifts, that I’d not been encouraged to take risks and trust my instincts. My survival go-to was to “be compliant,” “be the good one,” and “be forgiving." I learned my lessons well. At the same time, I grew up with intelligent, strong-willed, and innovative parents from whom I learned relentless fortitude.
Though I’ve chosen an unusual path, I reflect on my life with gratitude, I’ve managed all my endeavors as a creative that I alone created.
To be continued….