Jewish People and Black People Share Intergenerational Trauma, Which Makes Black Lives Matter a Jewish Issue, too.

When I was a kid, I accidentally wore my Jewish star necklace in a passport photo. My mom didn’t notice until after the photo was taken. That’s the first time I remember being told that some people hate Jews just for being Jews, and some countries would not let me in or out if they knew. Luckily, the passport photo was small enough that the necklace wasn’t visible.

MOTHER WITH BABIES, 1974, ROMAN HALTER

When I first started dating I asked my mom, “do I have to only date Jews?” Her response was that she’ll share what her mother told her: I didn’t have to only date Jews, but 6 million Jews died for being Jewish, which means Jewish family members were taken too soon. If I marry a Jewish person and have Jewish children, I would be doing a mitzvah (good deed.)

In High School, a classmate made a fake myspace profile of me named “Ingrid Jewburger” and talked about turning me into smoke. My family wasn’t surprised that someone could put that evil into the world and explained that this was a lesson about being cautious.

The Jews, collectively, have been in pain. In 2018, a gunman opened fire on the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jews while they were praying on Shabbos. The act of terror didn’t surprise me or start a new fear for me. Rather, it confirmed a fear that my ancestors had warned me about. It confirmed a fear that the Jewish people have always been training for. As anti semitism continues to rise in the US, many Jews have been asking themselves “will I know when it’s time to run?” and “Have I learned enough from my ancestors about what to look for?”

Just as my parents had explained to me, I find myself explaining to my convert husband to make sure our passports are always up to date and to do our best to have emergency money tucked away. This planning is a trauma response triggered by the intergenerational trauma that holocaust surviving grandparents passed on to their children, and which was then passed on to their grandchildren.

Two nights a year, we gather around a table with our family and read a story about when Jews were slaves in Egypt. We recline with comfort and cushions while taking stock of our privilege. There are so many stories that include “and they tried to kill the Jews.” That’s the knowledge that we carry with us wherever we go. Crises where Jews were enslaved or forced to flee their homes have been traced back for over 2000 years, and Jewish tradition influences us to continuously remember and reflect on the tragedies and oppression our people have survived. Our traditions frame our history as resilient.

Learning about the trauma we inherit from our parents and grandparents teaches values in anti-bigotry because it exposes us to the fact that even small acts of anti semitism can have dangerous systematic implications. There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which translates to “repair the world.” Tikkun Olam is the motivation behind much of Jewish giving and social activism, because responsibility is on both the Jewish individual and on the Jewish people as a unified community to do good for this world. Along that same logic, Jewish people can’t be separated from the bad behavior of individual Jews. There’s an understanding among Jewish communities that when one Jewish person acts badly, it creates risk for hatred of all Jews. Just look back at the scandal of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. His crimes served as a “lighting-rod for anti-semitism,” fueling harmful stereotypes that date back to biblical times, encouraging “acceptable” Jewish bias. Our actions speak on behalf of many and have lasting impact, so we must work to be good to the world so the world sees the Jewish people as good.

Image by Adam Garvey

16 year old, Adam Garvey, understands Tikkun Olam as a direct call to support Black Lives Matter because “standing up against injustice is a huge part of Jewish values.” Garvey understands that policy change and being vocal against bigotry is positive representation of Jewish core beliefs. He’s using his statement “Tikkun Olam means Black Lives Matter” to raise funds for the NAACP.

As protests soar across the US (and the world,) it’s undeniable that white consciousness of racial injustice is growing. The similarities between Black trauma and Jewish trauma are palpable. Black people demand we Say Their Names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade as they mourn over the same sentiment that Jews have expressed, that they’re not surprised but rather tired and rightfully angry.

In Jewish history, numbers hold symbolic value. Romans destroyed a Jewish temple and the oil menorah burnt miraculously for eight nights. Jews wandered the desert displaced for 40 years. Six million Jews were tortured and murdered during a holocaust, creating a need for the word “genocide.”

The history of racism against Black people has some astounding numbers, too. 246 years of slavery in America. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Black mothers are 3.2 times more likely to die during childbirth than white mothers. Jews can be racist against other Jews, too. In Israel, 90% of Ethiopian Jewish youth convicted by the court were sentenced to imprisonment, compared to one-third of other Jewish youth. Racial Trauma plagues a community when they have to gather statistical data about their race being systematically and lethally oppressed to prove theres is a national and system-wide problem, while simultaneously having to demand to be treated as a person and not a number. Monnica T. Williams, PhD, ABPP says racial trauma is the reason why people of color have a higher rate of PTSD than white Americans.

The fear Jews hold is internalized because our intergenerational trauma has trained us that we always need to exercise a degree of censorship on our Jewishness, to protect us from possible anti semitism. It’s as little as knowing I shouldn’t wear a star of David necklace in a passport photo and the thought that if the wrong person knew we were Jewish, they might come after us, too.

The keyword in knowing that Jews experience oppression differently than Black people is “too,” as we are reminded every day that Black lives are stolen at a disproportionate rate while white Jews benefit from our privilege. Our own internalized fear makes racial injustice feel so personal, especially if you’re a Black Jewish person who has to navigate the fear of anti semitism, racial injustice at a national scale, AND micro-aggressions from your own Jewish community. Addressing these differences are instrumental within activism for policy change because they afford white Jews privilege that can be used to uplift Black people, which includes Black Jews. We may all share similar fears about white supremacy, but we have unequal power in social agency.

Judaism could be considered a religion and a culture, with a geopolitical force. Diaspora (which Black people have also experienced in their history,) created a racially diverse Jewish people, which has made the Jewish community torn on whether anti semitism is racism. Intergenerational oppression has occurred differently for Jewish people than Black people and other people of color, as many of us are able to walk in public without being detected as Jews. At the same time the media was quick to blame Jewish people for the spread of Covid, someone explained to me, “I didn’t know you were Jewish! You don’t look Jewish!”

Jewish people can be riddled with fear, planning for the next time we have to run from something, and yet so many of my friends have told me they’d like to be Jewish. I find myself repeatedly explaining to my convert husband that we need to have exit strategies, just in case. While Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song plays for laughs sandwiched between sets of a dozen Christmas jingles: “All Jewish people are funny and rich!” with no recognition that there’s lifelong planning to feel safe as a proud Jew in the world.

When I first saw white people sharing the compassionate quote, “I understand that I’ll never understand, but I stand with you,” I felt like I did have some understanding. After some self-reflection, I recognized that though I was taught to be alert for signs of anti semitism, it doesn’t compare to a black mother training her black child how to talk to those who protect and serve not to shoot you for existing.

I can acknowledge my privilege and that I benefit from racism as a white person, while also understanding that as a Jewish person, I experience forms of oppression.

Many well-meaning Pittsburghers shared a Pittsburgh Strong Jewish graphic after the Tree of Life shooting, yet I’m still meeting people who think I’m the first Jewish person they’ve ever met. It makes me wonder, is anti semitism less of a threat than racism or is the violence labeled less as a hate crime because who knows the face of a Jew? I’m still trying to understand this phenomena, but I think it speaks to a level of privilege that allows me to censor my Judaism to protect me from the dangers of anti semitism.

We have a reoccurring joke in my house: When examining the Torah or Jewish history, the Jews are always being hunted. “What a surprise!” one of us will exclaim. “Haman wanted all the Jews dead!” I can understand that there’s no humor in a sarcastic joke like that for Black people, when white Jewish people have a dark history of minstrel shows and blackface. Though Jewish and Black people have experienced similar crises and oppression, white Jews have to own up that we’ve used our privilege to keep Black people down in social equity.

At the height of my fear in 2018, I wrote “There are times where the world seems so small, but in these times of crisis it feels gigantic. It feels scary and unpredictable. Each time someone sings a song of peace or a Jew leaves their house even though they’re scared, the world gets smaller and more comfortable again.”

For Black people mourning lives that shouldn’t have been taken, there is no place proven to be safe for them. They’re pulled from their cars, held down and suffocated in the streets, and shot while they’re sleeping in bed.

For Jews, we call on our ancestors to teach us how to stay safe.
Molly S. Castelloe Ph.D. says, “Transgenerational transmissions take on life in our in dreams, in acting out, in ““life lessons”” given in turns of phrase and taught us by our family. Discovering transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative, one from the preceding generation.” We read the Torah or listen to our grandparents for experiences on how to protect ourselves when people come for us. Black crisis is happening right now, in front of our eyes, relentlessly for more than 400 years. While our plight has similar themes from diaspora to micro-aggression, it is not the same. They’re not holding life lessons from their parents and looking out for a possibly dangerous white person that they may encounter. Hundreds of years of consistent community crises at a universal, unconditional level means that there are no trustworthy white people.

Internalized and intergenerational trauma gives Jewish people the unique ability to transfer our learned coping to lift up Black folks. Since Jews have experienced similar community violence and oppression across generations, we have the tools to educate white people about racism so that Black people don’t have to carry that labor. We have an understanding of mourning the result of large-scale hatred, so we can hold space and take on some of the work. All the while, we must recognize that Black people who are also Jewish carry the weight of thousands of years of this trauma, without specific hashtag activism to support support them.

White Jews owe black people reparations because we’ve had a hand in racism and have benefited from it. White Jews should be a source of compassion and a proponent of social change in support of all Black people with direct donations, emotional energy, and sharing the intergenerational healing we’ve learned from our story-telling traditions. Tikkun Olam DOES mean that not only do Black Lives Matter, but that any other viewpoint is against Jewish ethics and therefore, a Jewish issue.

The People Who Treat You Differently After Sex

It’s not your imagination. You had an intimate encounter with a friend, and somehow, it seems that your genitals zapped them through to the Twilight Zone. Suddenly, they are calling you “bro” and “pal”. Or perhaps planning your wedding? Or even serving you up some cold, fresh apathy?

What gives when you give someone head one time and they let it swallow every meaningful thing that previously happened within your friendship?

I thought I had intimacy issues. And I do. I can’t stand to be touched unless I’m very comfortable or familiar with someone. Even then, it’s no guarantee – not by a long shot. Most of the time, proximity is a poison to me, but I have a lot of experience with my own idiosyncrasies and my own inexperience. I try to respect my own boundaries, but at the same time, assure others that the problem is mine and I’m working on it. My own mental health issues and my social unbecomings are points of sharp awareness and clear visibility, perhaps to the entire universe. No matter how embarrassing, I like to explain myself and over-explain myself, just to make sure no one is seeing my issues as a reflection of themselves.

I think lots of people with higher self-esteem and a more experienced touch than me have intimacy issues too, but rather than clumsily acknowledge them, it is far more unspoken. The blame ends up falling upon whoever stumbles into its haphazard path. It’s difficult not to take other people personally in respect to what they make you feel, but it’s important to live through that emotion and observe its patterns. Eventually, the results will come back negative: it really isn’t you, it’s them.

Sure, sometimes it seems initially awkward to interact with someone after a sexual encounter. But it becomes quickly apparent when temporary awkwardness morphs into a completely different beast. Genitals may look like aliens, but friendships shouldn’t feel that way.

I have known some amazing creatures and some utterly bullshit humans. Mostly, though, they have fallen somewhere in between. The complexity of imperfection is that it is difficult to distinguish who is a good person treating you badly, and who is a bad person who treats you well when it suits them. Even my life’s villains have not always been figureheads of cruelty. Generally, they are apathetic, selfish or just emotionally reckless. People don’t tend to realize they’re doing something unkind, either through denial or ignorance. If they did, I like to think that they wouldn’t do it. Nonetheless, the accountability is still there, but so is forgiveness for those who deserve it.

Dysfunction sometimes comes to a head during intimacy – pun intended. Other than their flesh, people are a bit like computers. And while sometimes you might need an expert’s help to tinker and debug you, it’s pretty handy to have some basic savvy with your own circuits and to understand malfunction in those of others. You can’t learn anything about why someone operates in the way they do without cracking open some motherboards to see what makes them tick, even if it doesn’t always go as expected.

Perhaps I cannot expect everyone to be super in-tune with their thoughts and actions at all times, but I can sure call attention to it and see if they respond with a willingness to communicate openly. Sometimes, the plain truth can shock others into sincerity. “Is there a reason for the fact that ever since we fucked, you’ve been refusing to stand without a six-foot buffer zone between us, as if you’re standing at an appropriate distance in an ATM queue?” may sound like a horrifying mouthful, but it’s scarier on the receiving end and its directness commands a similar directness in return. When it incites defensiveness or cock-and-bull excuses, there is an answer in that behavior as well. Bare butts are a lot less frightening than looking someone in the naked eye and owning your words.

Sex shouldn’t have an impact on how humanized or dehumanized someone makes you feel. Hang up on their hang-ups.

If they try to make it weird, make it weirder.

 

Tell Me Your Stories

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Wikimedia Commons

Lately, I have discovered that I love to hear people tell me their stories. My past few jobs have been in the service industry, and gave me the opportunity to interact with the public on a daily basis. In all of those roles, the part I liked best was listening to what customers would share about their lives and what journeys brought them to my workplace. 

 Recently, a woman came in tea shop I barista at, and I ended up having a short conversation with her and one of my coworkers. She told us that her son plays the organ and because of that was able to spend a year at Eton, a private boys school,  in the UK. While attending there, he got to have a brief conversation with the Dowager Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the current monarch. I was incredibly impressed. How many of us can say we got to converse with the Queen Mother herself?

Queen_Elizabeth_the_Queen_Mother_portrait
Wikimedia Commons

I can’t quite explain why I like hearing about other people’s experiences so much. Maybe it because I’m a writer, and real life can be some of the best inspiration. Or maybe it’s because I’m an empathetic person and I want to know what the people around me are feeling.

These intimate moments of connection with strangers are some of the more meaningful parts of my day. Life has infinite possibilities and we are never going to get to experience all of them. But our lives are enriched when we learn about someone else’s background. When I am empathetic, I feel like I can live vicariously and experience people’s lives alongside them.

 The show Bojack Horseman on Netflix has a line that has stuck with me since I watched the episode it’s said in.  “In this terrifying world, all we have are the connections that we make.” The more I think about it, the statement holds true. We often define ourselves by how we connect to others.  Everyone is someone else’s something. 

So many of life’s most important moments happen because of the smallest things. Moments become memories, memories become stories. Stories are shared and the circle of connection grows. I feel such joy when I realize that by hearing people, I become part of that circle.

With all of the ugly events that have happened recently, more than ever we need to connect. We need to listen to each other. And this isn’t meant to be a simple blanket statement about sharing good feelings. We really need to listen and try to understand the experiences of those who we share the world with.

Please don’t stop sharing your stories.

 

Contour Queen: The Power Of Makeup Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called “Send In The Clowns”. As a photography student who was enthralled by feminism and bodily autonomy, I captured my thoughts on makeup through a series of pictures that expressed my confusion- whether weaing makeup was feminist or not. Two years on, I would’ve never thought that my makeup journey would have progressed this much, and my thoughts around feminism related to makeup have finally become clear.

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I’ve had to defend my choice to wear makeup amongst feminist circles countless times, which was disheartening, to say the least, when I started out experimenting with makeup. I’ve always seen makeup as a form of self-care, so to be met with negativity (especially from people I looked up to) made me question whether I was damaging my feminist integrity.

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I can’t say when the turning point was. I just stopped caring. I slowly began to realise that I loved what makeup could do for me, and starting owning it. Being a perfectionist, I would spend hours upon hours replicating beautiful looks I’d seen, getting frustrated when I couldn’t get it 100% right. However, slowly but surely, I started getting it “right”. I didn’t have to meticulously plan out every look I was doing the night before, making sure I had all the right palettes ready for me to start first thing in the morning. It was so empowering.

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I still had thoughts that were harmful to myself and others around me; maybe I was better without makeup on, more natural, maybe I would be seen as intimidating to others by having strong brows and bold lips. Was I supporting an industry that makes it’s money by tearing women’s self-confidence down, telling them that a blemish is the end of the world, and that no one will love them if they have chubby cheeks? After some tough talks with myself, I came to realise that it was the intention behind my cosmetic obsession that what was really mattered in my personal journey. I wore makeup as an extension of my personality, as a creative outlet, and as part of a self-care routine; and identifying this felt profoundly feminist. 18579307_1898696840350555_2027954573_n

From this long and exhausting journey, I started to love my own skin. I became aware of why my skin would break out, and learnt to forgive myself for mistakes. I became more conscious on what would give me the best value for money in regards to what products I was buying, and hugely boosted my creativity. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and reaped the benefits of it. As I realised that I was good at what I do, I was being told that I looked confident, and I felt it.

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I have become aware of the flaws in the beauty industry. I try not to ignorant. I give advice where I can, and I learn as much as possible. I dedicated my Instagram to purely makeup (give it look here), and I practiced, practiced, practiced. I write makeup pieces for Rosewater. But most importantly, I feel confident, inside and out. This weird and wonderful art of makeup has allowed me to embody the sharpness of my eyeliner wings, the glow of my highlight, and the holographic wonder of my glitter. And even after a long, hard, exhausting day, if my cheekbones are contoured sharp enough to kill a man, it’s all worth it.

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Bring Yourself Back ~ Free Desktop Wallpaper

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Take time for yourself this Summer. You are important.

 

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Interview with Art: Pippin Lee Truman

We sat down with animator and illustrative artist Pippin Lee Truman to chat about their artwork, intersectionality, and their advice for fellow artists! Check out the interview below!

V: What inspires your artwork?

P: I would say that my inspiration mainly comes from the media around me, especially things like comics, because they’re such an interesting way of telling a story. At the same time, I’m really inspired by illustrations that incorporate different types of media, that maybe are part digital and part traditional. I often make comics out of everyday things that happen around me, like dreams that I’ve had- it helps me communicate abstract thought through art. It’s really a combination of lots of different things, but definitely other artists, especially ones that I grew up admiring. I love James Baxter, and classic Disney artists too.

hands practice

 V: Do you think the mundane, everyday experience is more inspirational than huge, impossible things? 

P: I’m a huge fan of absurdist humor, and that style that’s really popular on Tumblr. So making comics about dreams is a really fun way to explore communication, especially with those weird transitions that we all get in dreams. It’s a really fun way to explore as a storytelling device. I also make comics of my day-to-day life, conversations I have and little interactions I have, in order to capture those moments. Especially since I suffer from chronic depression, those mundane moments can be the nicest. Obviously, the everyday can be really tough when your feeling rough, but the mundane can be a really nice escape from it all. The little moments are really sweet to look back on, especially through my sketchbooks. 

V: So, you’re in university at the moment. What would you say are the main things you’ve learnt through studying art, and looking at it as a career?

P: The main thing I’ve found is that there is a huge separation between your working art and your doodling art. The difference between work and home has really helped me, especially when working in an industry environment, as my course is quite strict about that. I find myself much more productive when I’m in a stricter environment, working on tight deadlines, rather than at home relaxed. I set myself such strict goals, and then let myself relax when I was at home, so I can draw what I want. On such a tight schedule you don’t have the luxury of only working when you’re inspired- when you’re working on a project that is much bigger than yourself, you need to put that before your own inspiration. 

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V: What would be your advice to new artists to stop getting burnt out when working to a deadline? How to you keep the creativity flowing?

P: When I first started out, I would usually just doodle, and that’s where I did a lot of my growing. What worked for me, was studying other artists I really liked the work of. Years and years ago I came across some fan art for one of my favourite shows, and just started copying their style, because I loved their art. I gradually got better and better, because I was studying, but it was something I enjoyed studying. Obviously this only went so far- I found myself thinking that I didn’t need to study anatomy, because I had already got it. I now realize that made me look like a fool, because you need to study something in the 3D to properly translate it to the 2D. I started taking life drawing lessons, and still to this day take them too. Always try to be improving yourself, once you’ve learnt something, you can then break the rules too, which is such a lovely milestone to come to.  When you start to see your past mistakes, that’s when you know you’ve become a better artist.

V: Your work features a lot of people other than cis, able-bodied, white people, and it’s so great to see such intersectional artwork. What are your inspirations for creating such diversity in your characters?

P: I’m a massive believer that if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism. If you’re not including all kinds of women, disabled people, or trans people, it’s not feminism. I’m transgender, I’m non-binary and I use they/them pronouns, and I’ve always been very outspoken about that in order to demand respect. I have a character called Jules, who when I was younger was very much a mirror of myself and who I wanted to be, and he’s really androgynous. He’s actually his own character now, and I draw him every so often. He was born out of my own gender and sexuality questioning, so I like to draw characters that aren’t similar to myself, because other wise I wouldn’t be challenging myself as an artist. I live in Birmingham in the UK, so it wouldn’t occur to me to not draw people of diversity, because I grew up surrounded by so many different people. In school I grew up around people of different races and religions, so if you’re not drawing the people around you, you’re not representing them. I obviously still have some learning to do about racism, and ableism, and we have to find out our own information on topics like that. I constantly have to educate people on what non-binary is, or what transgender is. It comes along in leaps and strides, and sometimes it doesn’t. I see people saying that, for example, they can’t draw fat people, because it’s too hard- but it’s really not, it’s exactly the same as learning to draw anyone else. Everyone needs to be engaging with intersectionality, because we are all linked with it. ahahahahahaha

V: How has drawing people other than cis, able-bodied and white been received by your colleagues and lecturers? 

P: I’ve had a couple of occasions where teachers or fellow students don’t seem to connect with my work. A lot of the time, my main experience is with being trans. I’m completely out at university, and have been for a while. In the first few weeks of university they had my legal name on the registers, even though my preferred name is different. I wouldn’t respond to my legal name being called out, and would be marked absent, which was a huge problem academically. Another time, we had to choose a clip to animate a lip-synch to. The clip that I chose was with two voices, one being a higher pitch and one being a lower pitch, and I decided to do it with two girlfriends, with one being a trans woman. In my head, she suited the lower voice, so I put her to lip-synch with that voice, and everyone misgendered my character! Obviously in that situation no one was getting hurt, but it was very odd to have to deal with that. 15

V: What would be your advice to those who find themselves in similar situations? 

P:If anyone ever finds themselves in that situation where someone demands information, or just doesn’t understand, you are never obliged to educate anyone. If you want to give them a whole detailed run down of your subject, or who you are- go right ahead! However, you do not have to do that if you don’t want to. Hopefully in the near future, people will be educated on a base level on subjects like that, so we won’t be put into that sort of situation. If I’m not in the mood to go into details, I tell people to Google it! We have a wealth of information in our pockets all the time, and you never asked to be put in the role of a teacher. Obviously I’m speaking from a place of privilege, I’m a white person and a trans person that is generally at lower risk in the community, unlike my trans sisters or some of my other trans friends, and that’s always important to keep in mind. But keep in mind that you don’t represent everyone, and everyone’s experiences are totally different. 

V: Do you think everyone can use art as a therapeutic activity? 

P: When you’re frustrated or annoyed or sad, I always feel  a little better when I’m doing some art, even if it’s really shit! Communicating your feelings in a way other than just to yourself is a really healthy way to process your feelings. 

V: If someone booked you as an artist, and would give you unlimited money, and allowed you to do any project you wanted, what would it be?

P: I have a lot of projects living in the back of my head that I would love to make a reality! I have an idea for a video game where the protagonist is deaf, and you have to navigate the world using vibrations and very small amounts of clues- but I have lots of little ideas, that I’m constantly adding to. My character I mentioned previously, Jules, has an entire expanded universe and world that links with him and his best friend Adam. That story has been with me ever since my teens, and it’s been developing and growing ever since I’ve been developing and growing. I would love to make that a reality, but I would never trust anyone else with it, because they wouldn’t understand and connect with the characters the same way that I do! I would love to make a fun, experimental animated series for young adults involving all these characters that I’ve been developing for years. I’ve been trying to write a novel for years, but I never have time. So, if anyone wants to give me lots of money and time, I have about ten years of plot living in my brain- hit me up! 3

V: Can everyone be an artist?

P: I think everyone is an artist in their own little way. It might not be drawing a beautiful portrait, but it could be a beautiful singing voice or being great at drumming. There are a lot of ways to create art. Talent doesn’t get you that far- talent will get you a failed audition and a coffee cup full of tears! The idea isn’t to have talent and just see how it goes, it’s about working hard and putting heart into everything you do! Even if it a tiny thing, that’s more than you would’ve made if you just sat there and been sad (not that you can’t just have a self-pity day), but after that’s done, I pick myself up, take a deep breath and pick up the pencil again! 

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Check out Pippin Lee Truman’s portfolio here!

Please contact leeleetruman@gmail.com for information on artwork or commission enquiries.

An Open Life

I had been foolish, once again, to let my heart be torn open by men.

My mother had warned me about this once. Strict, autocratic, with a tinge of neuroticism dyed into her every nerve, she had ruled over my household with an iron fist. No wonder – she had escaped communist China with her family, shattered but alive. She had seen the horrors of war. There was no room for romanticism in a world that required survival. She had always talked about marriage in a practical way – marry rich, ensure a caretaker for your children and keep your bank accounts separate in case he ends up betraying you, as men are wont to do.

This was and still is the antithesis of my very nature. As a child, I started to rebel against the narrow guidelines of an Asian-American culture that my fellow first-generation children know quite well, in search of freedom where I felt there was none. Instead of math, I relished art and literature, consuming books by the dozen. In high school, when I was supposed to be studying economics and business, I worked for our theater department by day, then wrote short stories and plays by night.

Predictably, my mother and I clashed over my freewheeling approach to life. This included my relationships with other people. “Don’t give your trust so easily,” she advised, “and keep your heart not on your sleeve but firmly in your chest. Always smile. Keep a check on your temper. Never, never let people know how you really feel.” (And men – men, they will always hurt you.)

In all my loyalty to my truest of selves, I always balked at her advice. I hated wearing false masks, shunning duty for passion. People were something I felt unduly passionate about. As a writer, I understood that everyone possessed good and evil, that everyone was capable of hurting and being hurt. What was the point of human relationships if you couldn’t open yourselves to others and let everything good or bad in?

Of course, this approach has hurt me, time and time again. One may think I am masochistic for opening up my heart only to have its fragile contents trampled. I myself have wondered if it was foolish of me not to heed my mother’s warnings.

But I remind myself that life hurts. Life includes pain. I should feel so lucky, perhaps, to feel pain and be alive or to feel anger and fight for the things I believe in. It isn’t easy to concede that point, not after a good thing has started to crumble, and especially not after having to unstitch and unwind two lives that were deeply connected for two years, but here it is – I’m alive despite the pain.

And to be honest, pain and heartbreak has helped inform my writing and my art. I wouldn’t ever support the notion that artists must be emotionally tortured or clinically depressed to be successful but to know the depths of pain is just as important as knowing the depths of happiness in order to taste all the multitudinous colors of experience that we’re granted. It has allowed me to humanize others, to widen my understanding of humanity, and to search for solutions that benefit people I’ve never met. It reminds me that life is never a simple, straight line, but instead a road full of twists and tumbles. That to truly live fully, we must embrace all of its curves.

When I went to film school for college, my mother and I again fought viciously over my choices. Of course, she had wanted me to follow my sister into the world of finance, where the paychecks would be large and I would have no want for money, namely an easy and happy life. Art would afford me no comfortable life. In her mind, if I followed my sister, I could retire by age fifty and make art then, travel then, be happy then. It’s a sentiment that I would imagine is oft repeated to children of immigrants: toil now, reap the rewards later.

While that’s an honorable way to live, the more she suggested it to me, the more I resisted. No, I can’t make art later, when I’m fifty. I have to make it now, to save the parts of me that nothing else can save. Financial struggle is something I’m familiar with. It’s life without art that sounds inconsolable to me.

Of course I understood why she had been so insistent on my finding a financially lucrative career – after having a home and a life ripped away from her at age nine, then leaving everything for a new country where she didn’t speak the language, she had experienced poverty on the harshest of levels and didn’t want me to have to do the same. My mother didn’t want all of her sacrifices to be in vain.

“You”, she said, “you have had it easy here in America. You don’t know how much life really hurts.”

I thought of all the moments that had caused me pain in my life. Of all the friends who left me behind, all the lovers who said, “No” and thought me unworthy of love. Of all the mental illness caused by being raised by a mother who bordered on it herself. Anxiety, emotional dysfunction, neuroses caused by a war –  who could name them all?

“Yes”, I said, “I do.”

 

A Toothbrush Rabbit Hole

Not long ago, I heard a duet on the radio, in which country stars Dierks Bentley and Elle King tenderly croon,

“It’s different for girls when their hearts get broke

They can’t tape it back together with a whiskey and Coke

They don’t take someone home and act like it’s nothing

They can’t just switch it off every time they feel something

A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up

Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on

But it’s different for girls.”

My response was one of cavalier and effusive self-satisfaction, roughly along the lines of:  “What a crock. You’d never fall for the notion that men and women each have such uniformly one-dimensional responses to a breakup, probably because you’re evolved as fuck, self.”

Thereafter, I never thought about that song again, until a day when I opened my medicine cabinet. I was in search of a bobby pin, but instead found the toothbrush I had given to a guy I had been dating until about a week prior.

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I didn’t miss Jack. I wasn’t reminiscing about our time together. It wasn’t the pang of wistful sorrow. The source of my hurt was, annoyingly, the fact that Jack’s absence was making waste of an otherwise perfectly good toothbrush.

The toothbrush I’d given to Jack was aesthetically pleasing — rare in a toothbrush — and, in my opinion, its bristles represented the ideal compromise between hard and soft. Let me tell you, as a lifelong manual toothbrush user, this kind of toothbrush is hard to come by and now, after so little use, it was going in the trash – an utter injustice.

For five miserable seconds, I was reeling. Next, I found myself amused by my own melodrama. Then, a feeling that stuck around for a while — guilt.

I should miss Jack, I thought. I should reminisce about our time together. I should feel a pang of wistful sorrow. And yet, here I am, bothered only about a toothbrush. As Bentley and King sung it, I’m supposed to be heartbroken, unable to move forward.

I knew better, but this wasn’t coming from a place of knowing or logic. This was coming from years of internalized societal pressure to express myself and my womanhood in the “appropriate” manner.

I tried to convince myself that, actually, I was torn up about Jack and was using the toothbrush as a distraction from my true emotions, as any good armchair psychologist would posit. I even tried to muster up melancholy from deep within me, the kind I had felt when I watched an elderly lady singing “Tomorrow” to her Basset Hound on a commercial for Entresto. (Tangentially speaking, advertising prescription medications to the general public, as we do in the United States, is reprehensible, but that’s another article entirely, and plus — dogs get me every time).

I’ve since climbed myself out of the rabbit hole the toothbrush sent me down, and now I’m here to remind myself and you of something that, at once, seems obvious and yet is so often not expressed in our popular culture.

Your emotional processes are valid. You are no less of a man, woman, or person based on your emotions. I am not callous. I am empathetic and thoughtful and whole, and free to be sad — or not. And you are, too.

How Nightline Saved Me

Nightline Awareness Week runs this year from the 14th-20th November. This annual national campaign  seeks to raise awareness of the student-run, student-led Nightline services. These non-directory information and listening services offer anonymous and confidential peer-support (without advice) and are managed on University campuses all over the UK and Republic Of Ireland via phone lines, Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, Email and Skype.  Nightline Awareness Week celebrates the students who strive to keep these services open 7 nights a week during their host University term-times.

University Mental Health comes under relentless fire as we continue to battle student suicide, self-harm, and rising levels of mental illness amid funding cuts and other priorities. The importance of breaking down the barriers that surround these taboo subjects remains as paramount as ever, and the determination required to stand up and tackle these obstacles can seem insurmountable. This is evermore so true in today’s political climate. With Trump and Brexit reigning, the importance of standing true to our own beliefs, of tackling the bitter-tasting and ever-pervasive fear surrounding us head on is now key to our survival.

I first heard of Nightline whilst attending a University Open Day before leaving high school. There was a huge banner flying over one of the Student Unions; it was of the brightest blue and it seemed to wave so welcomingly at me. I couldn’t wait for a chance to sign up. It wasn’t until my second year when I finally got to apply. I was living in a house that terrified me, watching someone I cared about self-medicate away daylight,  desperately looking for a moment that would allow my voice to count for something.
In this desperation, I sought to make a difference somewhere, to someone. If I couldn’t save this friend, there must be someone out there I could save; somebody I could be of use to.

The basic listening skills that I learnt as part of my local service team, the hours I spent on that hotline after dark, the camaraderie I felt working belonging to that team; those experiences are priceless. I learnt to listen in a way that could be empowering to my speaker. I learnt that being able to talk openly about deepest fears without a restriction of judgement is a skill of immense strength, and something humanity will always need.  The thrill of doing something you believe to be so incredibly worthwhile made all those sleepless nights addictive. I’ve since worked on other hotlines, in other countries, with differing core values and differing policies, but nothing has ever come close to working with those hard-working twenty-somethings, who believe they have the power to change the world. That drive, that passion, that absolute loyalty to the cause is hard-earned and thoroughly  deserved; this team is out saving the world every night! Their work is making humanity just that little bit kinder. Their listening ears and empathetic responses are opening worlds of possibilities that may never have been seen before.

I’ve been thinking recently about a publicity night I ran a few years ago. It was the last night out before Christmas and we’d taken the mascot and a handful of volunteers to the most popular club with the stickiest of carpets (everyone has one). I’d just managed to retrieve our kidnapped mascot and had helped to barter for the head back with some sweets the Christian Union were handing out. I was beginning to question every life choice that had led me into this situation, when I could have been out dancing with my friends, or — even better — been at home in my pjs with hot chocolate and a Disney movie.
I ended up outside in the smoking area, trying to raise morale with our mascot when I was barrelled into by a complete stranger who threw her arms around me, collapsed into tears and shouted “Nightline saved my life, thank you!”
Suddenly, every life choice made sense.
The truth is, Nightline has seen me from that terrified 19-year-old who just wanted to make a difference all the way through to the 25-year-old trainee psychotherapist who is still convinced that one day she will save the world; one day she will make that difference. Every job I’ve had since training has always seemed to come back to that one decision. My late-application for my place on my Counselling and Psychotherapy course was fueled and supported by the hotline work I’d been involved with. I channel the confidence I gained working on hotlines every time I step through that Therapist Office door and sit in the chair that monitors the clock. It’s that confidence and the belief in those skills learned that has taken me back through the doors of a University Counselling Service this time as a service provider, instead of a service user. For me, it all began with Nightline.
And I am reminded that it’s alright to want to save the world, it’s alright to save just one person, and it’s really alright if the one person I save is me.
 nlaw-short-poster

To follow the Nightline Awareness Week Campaign, please follow the Tagboard, found here: https://tagboard.com/NLBreakTheSilence/search

If you would like to learn more about the work Nightline does and to find a Nightline service in your area, please follow this link: http://www.nightline.ac.uk

Image credit: Nightline Association

Welcome To Existence

sepia
Protest/Vigil Summer16 Jamel Mosely
You can make a me out of the most mundane things,

like dream

and drink and gravitational pull

and rotational calls

from beyond and forward reality

Flowing not Forcing. 
Not clasping hands around the direction of your own reflection

if it be going it’s own way

Some need halt it.

Some need crush and curse and thirst

to fault it.

To control it

no.

No!

No matter. 

“I”s can’t keep “we”s from where we are supposed to be. 

Loosened

Freed,

What might we Be,

Beneath the harshness

Dare Breathe

to,

Dream Free

to,

Just Leave.

Yet.

Something always brings me back.

For you.

And the ways that “I”s makes “We”saireals

and grow communities

Like gardens,

Here fallen,

Feeling you,

Holden

to a reinterpretation of time and sound

Song

Auld Lang on repeat like the seasons

Like

Snowflake, raindrops and a crystallized present tense

Us and we and you to share

like candy

Pristine, wrapped and proper

and sloppier than planning

A mess

A fragile beautiful mess,

each of us.

Ever strong in our malleability. 

Sculpted from the crust of imagination

Drenched in bottomless possibility.

Flourished in flow and synchronicity.

Welcome Home. 

-Amani O+ 

amanipoet.com