Karri’s always wanted to be a mermaid. I want her to be successful but I don’t see a lot of future in it as a career. Maybe when she gets a little farther along, she’ll go to college.
Ronald Holliday, commenting on his daughter’s career choice, in Mermaids Past and Present Keep Things Real in this Sunday’s New York Times.
My big sister once aspired to be a mermaid, and I’ve long wanted to interview her about that aspiration for detritus. Reading about Karri Holliday’s working world in this morning's New York Times gave me the impetus to get it done.
suttonhoo: When did you first know that you wanted to be a mermaid?
suttonhoo’s big sister: When I was 5 years old and and I read the book Peter Pan. They were just so lovely siting there on the rock in the lagoon and that just seemed like a good place to hang out (perhaps it was the glamour of the aerial shot). It’s more like a vanity thing: I wanted to be a pretty mermaid sitting on a rock in a lagoon.
What about the job appealed to you most?
The being lovely part -- I just adored those mermaids -- it’s probably something to do with being adored; sitting on a lovely rock and being admired by Peter Pan and whoever flew over.
What are the chief responsibilities of being a mermaid?
Handling all that admiration with the style that only a mermaid could possess. Pretty much sitting around being admired -- just being gracious about the whole admiration thing; being worthy of the admiration. I didn’t want to be a jerk mermaid -- I wanted to be a kind, benevolent mermaid.
This reply spurred an exchange about my sister’s career as a cheerleader -- when we were in school she made a name for herself by being a “nice” cheerleader, not a “stuck-up” cheerleader. (I, on the other hand, was the farthest thing from *any* kind of cheerleader. But we won't dwell on that here.)
Looking back, do you see any ties between a cheerleader and being a mermaid?
Definitely -- cheerleading is a way to be admired and it’s a way to get attention; it’s a way to be popular.
What are the chief perks about being a mermaid?
All that admiration -- it’s all about being loved, really. I had no concept back then about what you needed to do to be successful; I wonder if it’s also about being a girl -- it’s maybe just a societal thing of “you’ll get what you need if you’re pretty”. I didn’t want to be a cancer-curing mermaid: I wanted to be a pretty mermaid.
Do you think your professional career was influenced by your early desire to be a mermaid? (My sister was regional director of a national non-profit before she became a full-time mom.)
Yeah -- on some level -- the way I behaved in my career had roots in my desire to be a mermaid; my competitiveness, the things I did to be admired; the things I did that I didn’t even enjoy doing in order to be admired -- here I was in this career that I had no real joy in doing, but I excelled at it because -- because I wanted to be mermaid.
Would you encourage America’s young people to pursue a career as mermaid?
I think there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be admired, but I think that you shouldn’t get your self-worth based on what other people think. I don’t think that’s the ticket -- but I think that if being a mermaid makes you happy...
A lot is lost in the pursuit of admiration, if it’s not feeding your soul.
So I would say: Be a mermaid with caution. I’m not sad that I ever wanted to be a mermaid, because it kind of opens you up to figure out what’s important and what’s not.
You can’t tell people not to do their stupid things -- you have to let them do their stupid things so that they can figure it out.
It’s a funny story -- my wanting to be a mermaid -- and the reason I decided not to -- when I finally decided I didn’t want to be a mermaid wasn’t because they were imaginary -- it was because they didn’t wear tops. I was so adamant about wanting to be a mermaid and our babysitter told me: “Oh you don’t want to do that: they didn’t wear clothes”. I was 5 & 1/2 when that happened -- this dream was not a lifelong thing -- it lasted about 6 months -- I didn’t hold on to it forever.