On How I Became a Purple Dinosaur (and Discovered My Inner Roar)

    My preschool’s Halloween parade was about to begin.

    My mother looked on in horror as I cast off the sparkly Snow White costume that I had insisted upon wearing in the weeks prior to the big event, salty tears streaming down my cheeks as I protested passionately. Even though I had been planning to go as a Disney Princess for months, I spotted a tattered old Barney costume at the bottom of the lost-and-found bin at the very last minute. In that moment, I knew I had to march in the parade as a purple dinosaur, and no one could change my mind. It was my destiny.

    My poor mother knew she had no choice but to capitulate to my revised demand. Defeated and desperate, she relented, handing me the cartoonish, oversized, dark purple dinosaur outfit. Being the reasonable six-year-old I was, I compromised by letting her put a tiara on top.

    I believe this vignette reveals just a small part of my essence: I have felt an unrelenting fire burning inside of me for as long as I can remember, prompting me to follow my instincts even when doing so may be unpopular or unconventional. For most of my life, this has caused me to feel undeniably different, almost as if the majority of my kind were extinct. I vividly remember being the only one who raised her hand when an obscure trivia question was posed in class, or secretly wanting to listen to David Bowie at middle school dances when everyone else was jamming out to Drake. Now, I realize that my willingness to embrace my eccentricity only means I have even more interesting stories to tell.

    For as long as I can remember, two things have always been true as I have navigated my life's path. The first is that my overprotective psyche tends to panic when confronted with a difficult decision. Perhaps this stems from the raw vestiges of a survival instinct perpetually tied to and informed by my diminutive size (five feet, to be exact). My spirit, while inherently the alpha-level equivalent of a mighty purple T-Rex, is tempered by my inability to see over most ten-year-olds in a movie theater. The second is that, notwithstanding the initial trepidation mandated by virtue of being a tiny human, I usually settle on the path of most resistance. This is because I am fully cognizant that we only get one chance at life and that the famous proverb about fortune favoring the bold is more than just a caption for artsy Instagram posts.

    I have learned that there is a name for the phenomenon of taking action despite fear: courage. To me, however, the title of courage is not the type of cause celebré it is for others. Rather, it is a nameless aching that has always driven me forward and has defined my life's journey. How, you may ask, have I experienced this type of courage in my life? Did I rush headfirst into a stream of biting bullets on my first military deployment overseas? Did I rescue an innocent old man from the raging inferno caused by a callous entourage of misanthropic thugs?

    In my life, courage has taken on modest but formative forms: running for (and winning!) the position of student body president despite being one of the shy kids in class, embracing my nerdiness and starting a YouTube channel that amassed over three-thousand subscribers, founding the first-ever film club at my school, and being selected as the Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper. These small victories, while potentially insignificant to the casual observer, have shaped me into the fearless human that I am today. As I began to discover my voice - my inner roar, if you will - I found a panoply of ways to use it.

    Public speaking, for one, pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone until I developed an affinity for oration. Whether I was introducing a film that I had directed in front of a schoolwide assembly or advocating for Alzheimer’s research during a meeting with my state legislators, I began to realize the innate power of language.

    My voice is not limited to spoken words, however. Writing acts as a cathartic release from the chaos of everyday life, providing me with a place to express my innermost musings and emotions. From screenplays to award-winning newspaper articles, I find so much freedom in only twenty-six characters. During my junior year of high school, I was nominated by the English department to serve as a peer tutor in my school’s writing center. For the final two years of my high school career, I met with students weekly to discuss whatever they pleased, from a challenging essay to a bad case of writer's block.

    Perhaps most importantly, film gives me a feeling of purpose. On the first day of my freshman year of high school, I sauntered directly onto a film set: the campus of my new high school was covered in C-Stands, apple boxes, and sandbags galore, with Star Waggons filling every available parking spot in sight. Gaffers and production assistants scurried about with a clear sense of urgency, as racks of colorful costumes swept by me. Although I had no idea what strange new world I had stumbled into, all I knew was that I wanted to be a part of it.

    When I pick up a camera, I see the world through an entirely different lens. In high school, I fully embraced the label of “film girl” at school, channeling my inner Greta Gerwig, Lulu Wang, and Agnès Varda as I went: I hosted film screenings on campus, shared my cinematic knowledge during biweekly Film Club meetings, and created short films, documentaries, and promotional videos at the request of the administration. In short, my role within my community brought me an inexpressible amount of joy.

    In this next era of my life, I hope to tell powerfully evocative stories that resonate with people. I want to send shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry by focusing on atypical heroes. Simply put, I want little boys and girls to look up at the screen and see their wonderful, weird selves - purple dinosaur costumes and all.