Starting this month, Rosewater will be having a “featured author” each month. The editors choose a contributing author, ask them a few questions, and focus that month on publishing many of their pieces. This month, we have chosen Alex Creece, a dedicated Rosewater contributor. Alex’s pieces have historically crossed genres, focusing on personal narratives, virtual reality and occasionally the overlap between the two.
Where did you grow up? How did it shape your writing?
I grew up in Australia and Dubai (UAE). I’ve always been extremely shy, but I think this trait has helped me become perceptive and find my voice through written words, rather than pressuring myself to talk for the sake of merely filling the silence. I’ve also met lots of vastly different people in my life so far and I try to strike up a good balance between upholding my ethics, but still being open to new information and making sure I am respectful of diverse opinions, not just ones I already agree with. I am passionate about my principles, but I like to make sure I am never too proud or righteous to be wrong or learn something new.
Which authors have most shaped your writing style?
Octavia E. Butler, H.P. Lovecraft, Margaret Atwood, Franz Kafka and Maya Angelou. I love oddities and honesty in literature.
What is your favorite Rosewater piece that you’ve written?
Witchcraft in the Modern Workplace. It has a lot of heart. And witches.
Share your work. I used to be terribly secretive about my words, even with my friends. At some point, I think I just became more interested in getting the feedback than I was afraid of it anymore. I’m so glad for that. Keeping my writing to myself didn’t give me enough opportunities to improve and expand on my ideas. It kept me in a bubble of self-preservation. Vulnerability is one of the most refreshing aspects of literature, and it’s even more wonderfully vulnerable if others can engage with your words too. No piece of writing will ever be universally appreciated, but if it matters to you, it will probably resonate with at least one other person. Your words cannot hold as much freedom if you clutch them too close to your chest.
Some of your pieces have dealt with difficult topics, like cat calling, mental health, and body image. Is writing your self-care? Do you have other ways to take care of yourself?
Writing is an important aspect to my self-care but I try to make sure I do lots of little things to help myself, just as I like to do for others. I was talking recently to my beautiful friend Tyran about stress management and he told me that I needed to make sure I was setting aside some time every day, even just fifteen minutes or half an hour, to dedicate to writing or any other kind of thoughtful catharsis. This has been helping me a lot, as I am trying to frame my own needs and well-being not as a pipe dream, but as a daily priority. Even in small bursts, dedicating regular time purely to my own interests makes me feel less suffocated, and as if I am switching off the other channels so I can listen to myself and properly tune in.
I’d like to write some more short stories when I get a chance. I’d also like to get out of my comfort zone and try a new style or genre, or attend a workshop, or even read some words out loud where other people might hear them. As for what’s next in general, I’d like to continue finding ways to use my powers for good while still dressing like a villain. I hope that takes me somewhere interesting and helps a lot of people along the way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I miss the days when my biggest fears were not getting thirty or more notes on an edit I made on Tumblr, or not seeing my crush walk by my locker before fourth period. Mind you, I was fourteen at the time, so my fears don’t seem so scary now. I’m seventeen now; I haven’t posted on Tumblr in over a year and it’s been almost two years since I’ve had any feelings for that crush. Fear is a four letter word that I’ve spent most of high school trying to detach myself from, but sometimes it’s not so easy.
I fear publishing editorials that are too specific to what I truly am feeling or what I’ve experienced, because I fear people from high school discovering my writing online. I fear opening my college admission letters in front of people, because I know I will most likely end up crying, regardless of the result. In my freshman year, I feared joining a sports team. I feared talking to him because I thought it would be too obvious I liked him, but now we just don’t talk anymore. And despite many people telling me that I appear to be completely apathetic towards the world with my resting bitch face, I fear judgment from those around me. I make self-deprecating jokes about not getting accepted into colleges, and about myself, but it’s different when I hear those same words coming from others. When I hear it from them, a sense of panic washes over me, making me feel as if I’m destined for a grim future, despite the fact that I myself always joke about having a grim future. It’s as if I’m realizing, Oh god, someone else believes I’m not destined to be great. My fears coming to life would feature me confronting the fact that maybe it’s not all in my head, maybe the worst parts of me actually are real.
You’re probably wondering why I bother to spend time with people who judge my every move. I’m still working up the courage to understand the answer to that question. Whenever I hear snide remarks about my desire to pursue a creative career, it takes a few seconds to recover. The immediate reaction is betrayal – how can these ‘friends’ who say they support everything I do, also be the ones that try to tear me apart from following my passion? Do comments about ‘unemployment’ or remarks like, “your only career option is teaching” have the power to derail me from giving up on a future that makes me happy? I try to compose myself and to remind myself that it’s my future and I will most likely never see these judgmental people after graduation ever again. Judgment from others about my interests – academically and personally – has suppressed my ability to open up about who I am and what I love. I’m trying my best to undo this.
I never thought that my passions could end up being one of my biggest insecurities, due to the criticism of those who cannot respect me for who I am and what I love. I love imperial Russian history and I love Björk and Jamie xx. I love boys who are wittier than I could ever imagine. I can’t wait to take printmaking and media classes in college. I want to fully dive headfirst in and experience what the world has to offer. I want to unafraid to shamelessly flirt with boys beyond a smile or gaze; I want to be able to confront my enemies with words that can be interpreted through a simple middle finger gesture. As schmaltzy as it may be, I know now that fear isn’t the worst thing in the world. Sure, it’s hard to jump headfirst into something I want to do but am scared, but nothing beats the feeling of achieving something that I originally was afraid to do.
Does imperfection really make us animalistic? Or is it just another excuse to dehumanize? A scapegoat for our apparent cloven-hoofed wickedness?
It’s ironic, I guess. Be too human, and you will be banished as a sub-human she-beast. Maybe I should show them true beastliness. Instead of simply shedding tears, I could tear them to shreds. I could succumb to the succubus of my femininity.
But I will not.
I know that somehow, it’s still my responsibility to prove that I am not a monster. It’s not assumed as a given. I have to be conspicuously, flawlessly human, whether I am faced with a sneering suitor, a domineering dad, or bombastic businessman whose skin tags nearly rupture across his brow at the mere concept of treating others with respect.
I wrote this inside the cover of Black Beautyabout five years ago, and while I haven’t read the book itself in since long before then, I think of my own rambled words often:
I don’t like horses because they can’t see behind themselves, and their solution to this evolutionary limitation of their species is to kick backward wildly every time they sense something uncertain or sinister within their peripheral surroundings.
And everyone just accepts this as a part of nature, but when I do, I am apparently a rogue and a menace to society.
I don’t like horses, but I envy them so.
It is not that I necessarily want to kick backward wildly at people. Well, not usually. It’s more that I don’t want to be treated as if I have already done so, when actually, I’ve barely scuffed up a little dirt.
My conviction is crazy. My defiance is difficult. My verity is villainy. My life is a liability. My existence is an Eldritch Horror.
I often think about the jaggedness of my edges. Of my unpolished surfaces and of the unforgiving way I say things even if they make my voice tremble. It seems that the moment I evolve from manic pixie fantasy to regular human being is the same moment that morphs me into a monster. The second I do not click into place, I am pushed out of the fold of humanity.
I guess that’s the thing about edges – I have them. So I might as well use them to sharpen my wits or cut some foolish tongues. I ought to look things in the eye that make other people flinch because so often, I have found myself as one of them.
Jamie Oliveria is a nomadic poet, visual artist and all-around creative person. The 24 year-old self-published poet hails from San Francisco, yet prefers to be known as an inhabitant of the world. She received her B.A. in documentary film production from San Francisco State University. It was actually Oliveria’s film background that helped craft her knack for storytelling. This traveling artist has many stories to tell one medium at a time.
Give me a little summary/background about yourself and your work.
I’m a nomadic poet / visual artist that’s been working throughout the West Coast, India, Nepal and China since completing my documentary film degree in San Francisco a few years ago.
When did you start writing?
I’ve kept a diary since I was in elementary school. When my childhood best friend and I were young, we used to read our journal entries to each other in my bunk bed. Then we began writing poems and songs together. The act of writing has always felt second-nature to me.
What got you interested in poetry? And why that platform?
Well, learning to communicate my emotions has been a series of mountains and obstacles. I’ve always been drawn to poetry’s power to communicate feeling. I loved the way other poets could describe the nuance of what I was feeling in a way I could understand (through imagery, subtlety, and metaphor) and I liked that I could share my experiences, process and reflections in a language simultaneously abstract, indirect, and tangible.
How would you describe your poetic style? What are some of the recurring themes in your art?
While my prose tends to go into great detail, I enjoy using poetry as a medium to express myself with minimal language to accurately represent a particular feeling or idea. Mostly, I explore themes of transformative healing, mysticism, relationships, and intersectional feminism, and then I just follow the rhythm of the heart and purge the excess. Instead of talking about the tip of the iceberg, I want my poetry to communicate the line where the water and air meet around the iceberg, while being aware of what is both below and above it.
How important is it to create work with a feminist lens?
Very! We absolutely need to take sociopolitical structures and the sensitivities of others into consideration while making and sharing art. I think that incorporating an informed, feminist lens (to the best of our knowledge) is one of the only ways we can create conscious socially-minded work.
What roles do gender identity and race play in your work? Is it important to blend activism into art? Or is art always political?
I hardly identify myself as any gender, especially since I have a tendency of disassociating from being a person that exists in general. However, I do move through the world as a mixed femme and this foundation influences most of the work I make that protests how others may see or treat me. While race and gender inform the work I make, which is often a response to the world, but not necessarily to how I view myself, the work that comes from my direct meditations is often transcendent of identities. Regarding the importance of incorporating activism into art, I think protest is as natural and as necessary a response to oppression as creation is. Art will always be political, because our backgrounds influence the ideas that we have and the ways we have the privileges of communicating them. Even if the act of creating and the ideas themselves were not inherently political, the moment we share our work, it enters the realm of the political. Politics inform which platforms we have access to, who will resonate with our work, and how our work will be valued.
Why is storytelling so important to you?
We share our stories to connect and heal, for ourselves and for others. I have never felt more alone than the times that I was too afraid to share. The weights we carry lift as soon as we begin to reach out. We need not always tell our stories in the form of art, but we do need to share our stories somehow. Speaking our truth, to at least one person, is crucial for our survival. We need to be witnessed — first and foremost by ourselves. Our experiences are worthy of seeing the light of day.
What inspires your craft? And who?
My environment, and my reactions to that environment. Lately I’ve been inspired by the resourceful people I encounter on my travels. People are constantly throwing useful things away, so I’ve been using found objects as my canvas as a way of combating waste and attempting to participate in capitalism as little as possible. There is only so much I can carry on my back or in my car, so what I find is completely dependent upon my environment. I have no way of planning for or anticipating what I will discover when I arrive to a new place. If I have the intentions of creating, I just have to trust that I will be able to find exactly what I need to make whatever it is that is desiring to come into fruition. The tools are nearly always there, right in front of us.
Do you think your background in documentary film changes the way you view your poetic work?
Not very directly, since documentary film making tends to come from a more cerebral dimension of myself, and poetry more of the heart-nature, but I do find that my film making background supports the way I organize and edit collections of poetry. I ditch what doesn’t fit and follow a cohesive story-arch.
How was the process of working on a photo heavy book, like ‘(more than) dust’ compared to a print heavy book, like ‘The Calming’?
Practically speaking, working on a print-heavy book felt a lot more mentally approachable. I really only needed a notebook, a pen and a laptop with me, so working on the go was pretty effortless. When I was working on the photo book, I felt a bit trapped in the spaces I was living because I thought I needed to have enough space to keep all of my materials. I would always tell myself, “I can’t leave until the book is done.” When my environments became too toxic to stay, and a friend helped me realize it’s okay to leave when projects are incomplete, I eventually found a way to make the next space work, too.
What inspired you to publish ‘The Calming’?
I needed a way to process what leaving toxic environments and listening to my intuition looked like for me. When I first moved into a friend’s cabin in the California Redwoods, I was writing every day, sinking more and more into my present space at the time. Once I started compiling the poems into a manuscript, I saw that Button Poetry and Where Are You Press were both having chapbook contests. I had put just enough poems together to apply, but almost didn’t apply because of (seriously minimal) entry fees, worries that I wouldn’t be able to promote myself enough to be published and confusion about whether or not either would be able to become full-length books if accepted. Luckily, on the last day, I applied anyway. After being chosen as a finalist in the Where Are You Poet contest, and being selected as the winner, I cancelled my application with Button Poetry. Clementine von Radics’ (author of Mouthful of Forevers and founder of Where Are You Press) suggested the book become a full-length, illustrated collection of poems, and The Calming began to take a clearer shape. While the book’s beginnings were in the Redwood forest, I ended up finishing all of the writing and illustrations while volunteering at a farm and living as an artist in residence in the south of India.
Whose work, regardless of the creative platform, are you feeling right now?
I just visited Guan Wei’s COSMOTHEORIA exhibition in the 798 Art District of Beijing and was absolutely moved. They brilliantly capture the yearning, strife, and resilience of the human spirit in relation to the cosmos in an accessible way.
Describe the self-publishing process. Why go the self-publishing route, rather than go through a publishing house?
There are definitely benefits to both. If the opportunity to be published by someone else comes up and their vision aligns with yours, you have the gift of an established support system in place for your book. A publisher will help provide a timeline, help you edit, and help you promote, but if you have the resources to do all of those things yourself, then going the self-publishing route is just as useful. If you are naturally entrepreneurial, you will have more autonomy, you can work at your own pace, and you will receive a larger percentage of the royalties. Even if you have no desire to market your book whatsoever, you can still self-publish for the sake of it. Just upload your PDF to CreateSpace, order a few copies to sell or give away in person if you’d like, agree to let the book be available for folks to purchase through Amazon, and they’ll print and ship for you each time someone orders your book. Really hassle-free.
Do you have any advice for any young creatives who want to self-publish their work?
Create as much as you desire, share as much as you desire, and be deliberate and selective about what you decide to publish. When you are the primary curator of your work, you are the master of your voice, so it’s important that you give yourself the room to reflect all that you are in focused, cohesive ways. But then again, sometimes the self in process is completely chaotic, so a mess of a body of work can be fine too. Just make with love! Or anger! Whatever! The world needs your voice regardless.
This year has been a blossoming. This year has been a breaking ground, a pulling dirt, a growing root. For our birthday, I usually write a heart-felt thank you to the specific individuals who helped our little magazine continue to bloom. The truth is, we can’t keep on going unless we’re supporting each and every single person who writes for us, creates for us, and reads our work. I’ve asked some of our contributors to write out what they hope for our next year and for the future of feminism. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Thank you all for being a part of this garden of feminism minds. You all inspire me every day.
“I hope to see more people embracing feminism. It affects all of us, so I can’t wait to see others getting involved and demanding true equality — for everyone.” -VHG
“I hope to have more discussions.with people I do & don’t agree with, both to educate myself better on intersectionality and social issues, and to try to inspire people to be more empathetic & open-minded. Let’s all try to give more love, understanding, and support to people who need it!” – LW
“I hope to learn how to care for my mind, body + soul so I can life up and empower my fellow feminists.”
“I hope to broaden my perspective on what feminism looks like on a daily basis, explore how to implement that on a daily basis, and inspire others to do the same. 🙂 ” – NJ
“I hope to have more honest, open, and raw conversations about feminism – and to continue to grow as a women and to fight for my fellow women. Cis, trans, women of color, abled and disabled bodies, women of all shapes and sizes. To give a voice. To give a platform. To give a space. And to share a story for all my fellow women.”
I look forward to the day when all feminist narratives can be heard, without competition – when inclusivity means it’s ok to get it wrong, so long as you’re try to learn. (And perhaps when I feel more confident about this!)”“I hope to encourage others to make their feminism intersectional! We can’t fix anything if we refuse to include EVERY WOMAN in our spaces, in our advocacy, and in our support. Intersectionality HELPS US ALL! I am for every woman. I am for change, love, freedom, and for our VOICES TO BE HEARD” J-R “I hope the current political situation unites more people, creating a more intersectional,open feminist society, where everyone is proud to be feminist. I hope to be able to learn even more, be able to have diverse, interesting discussions with all types of people and become a better activist.” – India Rose Kushner“I am looking towards a truly feminist future. One that centers those most oppressed, one that follows the lead of our brown, black & trans sisters, and one that supports learning, listening and growing. If our movement is not intersectional, then we are not doing our jobs as feminists!” – APW
“I hope more voices shout out! I hope more bodies show up! I want to see people recognize their privilege & step out of the box to protect others. I hope we can strengthen our communities. Thank you for reading us.” -IRT
Catcalling has increasingly become a mainstay in my life. I’m not sure whether it’s the colder weather or simply the fact that my moving off campus has made my time on public transportation increase exponentially, but it seems nearly everyday I can’t escape the unwanted attention. I can’t differentiate between the innocent hellos and the gateway conversation progressing into an uncomfortable territory.
Everyone has a catcalling story. The most impactful story for me occurred during one of the many times I missed the shuttle to the metro station. I decided to brave the 12 minute walk to the station as my feet and back weren’t yet at the point where they ached due to the weightof my too heavy tote bag or my black heeled boots. Walking down Georgia Avenue in Washington, DCis always interesting as one passes through the mixture of students, faculty, people waiting or the bus, street vendors, and those hanging around, everyone soaking up the atmosphere of faint GoGo music and construction work. As I was walking past a corner store with my earphones in, but not playing anything, two men having a conversation on the side of the street stopped to say hello. I gave a small nod and continued on my way, just wanting to make it to a train leaving the city. As I passed one of the men made an “oh” sound and asked for my number. My face warmed and I flinched, about to look back, but remembering that replying in any way was more trouble than it was worth. One girl, who I assumed was still in high school due to her backpack and khaki pants ,must have sensed my slight panic. As I continued to pass, much slower and more visibly uncomfortable she whispered “just keep walking.” I whispered back a “thank you” and continued down the street. Luckily, the man had no more words for me.
What this young woman did was one of the nicest things a bystander could have done at that point. In that situation I felt alone and embarrassed. What that simple phrase did was assure me that I wasn’t alone and that someone was paying attention and gave me a reminder that the best thing to do for myself is to keep moving. I had never had anyone do that for me, and I have never done that for another woman, but I will now.
I want to thank that girl again, even though she most likely won’t read this. Thank you, that small act brightened my day and encouraged me to help others. It reminded me that even during times I feel alone, I am connected. May bystanders continue to be brave in face of crappy catcalling.
We are back again, with Part 2 of our intersectional Instagram piece! If you’d like to check out Part 1, link is here. Below are some more fantastic beauty bloggers to make your Instagram feed more intersectional and way more feminist!
Brandi specialises in “monolid” art. Monolids are common amongst Asian people, so her Instagram would be very beneficial, especially since the common trends (eg. cut creases) fail to adapt for people with monolids. Brandi showcases some fantastic eye looks, ranging from trendy glitter looks to modern, bright colours. This account is definitely worth a follow.
Stefania Ferrario is an activist, model and an artist that is determined to #droptheplus. Priding herself on being an “andro queen”, she banishes beauty standards in the best way possible- by slaying all day long! This is more of a fashion blog, rather than makeup, but it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to Stefania’s attitude and confidence.
Jordan Bone is a beauty blogger who has a passion for glamorous makeup looks. After a car crash ten years ago, Jordan became wheelchair bound and a tetraplegic, so is unable to open and close her hands, but still can do her makeup flawlessly, despite physical setbacks.
As you can probably tell from their account name, Arzo specialises in beauty for olive skin, creating an account that showcases makeup not just for white skin. She also does a lot of DIY beauty at home, including DIY facemasks and hairstyles, as well as mini tutorials. A great account with a great balance of everything!
These mother-and-daughter accounts showcase a beautiful mother, Ellarie, who creates incredible makeup looks and mini tutorials, as well as her adorable daughter, Yoshi. Over on Yoshi’s account (managed by Ellarie), we see fantastic hair tutorials for kids with black hair, whereas on Ellarie’s account, you will find straight up glamour. Follow both for an overload of sweetness!
Serving barbie-pink glam couture, this account will have you begging for more. A non-binary makeup artist, Sebastien always delivers with their beautifully crafted looks. Full of diversity, we can see a super conceptual look one day, and then glittery glamour the next. Give it a follow if you like a little bit of everything on your makeup feed!
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?
God, I hate change. There is just something inside of me that clenches whenever the word is mentioned. I get this mental image of myself as a small child throwing myself face down on the carpet, beating my fists and screaming. And yet, there is an equal part of myself that firmly believes that change is good for me, that it is life-affirming and somehow some mystical change will propel my life forward, making it all so much better.
A New Year, in this respect, always sort of tickles me. We talk so much about change: throughout the year we seek to change policies, politics, societal attitudes, educational curriculums, equality laws, fantastical big advancements that could make huge strides for humanity around us, and yet, come January 1st, we all keep saying the same old things. Cliches about gym memberships, new diets, old diets, new ways to save money are often resolutions we made many years ago and yet still haven’t found a way to actually include in our regular lives. Because we really don’t change too much, in either our actions or our words. And that’s okay. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and some people thrive on change – living through one new adventure to the next, trying one craze after another, that is what works best. Perhaps in this circumstance, their change would be to just do one thing and not change. Patterns, no matter how they are shaped, are comfortable. Change is not.
The only thing I find comfort in is the cliche of change. I find hope in the changes we all keep striving for on a daily basis and I find camaraderie in the fresh turn of a New Year, a calendar we have constructed to make sense of our world, a return or sorts to a new beginning of yet another spin around the sun. There is something truly special in a universal recognition of the one day of the year signaling a change for the whole world, on a date that itself never changes. We may change how we look, how we act, how we speak and how we smell, but we shall consistently be a sum of our parts. We can change, but never too much.
However, I worry that our desire and drive for change can leave us feeling uninspired and dissatisfied with the lives we currently lead. That we may be holding ourselves back by not letting go of past selves, past loves, past habits that were as comfortable as your grandmother’s old armchair. That when we focus on what we don’t have yet (equal pay), or what we could lose (LGBTQ rights), we lose sight of the great gains we have made (same-sex marriage) and we don’t necessarily recognize the great achievements we have accomplished. The ideal would be to do both, to celebrate our accomplishments as stepping stones towards our almighty goals. But I wonder if that feels a little too farfetched at the moment because as a society, the journey ahead of us is told to be so treacherous, so full of land mines and probable calamity that it can make our great achievements seem small. Those landmark historical arguments we won, that at the time felt like we’d surmounted Everest, can feel like molehills in comparison. And that feeling of dissatisfaction, of reviewing something you were so proud of and realizing you’ve got to keep doing it every day, all day, can push you to the point of despair. If we’re dissatisfied personally, we’re often dissatisfied politically; but it’s very hard to fight either when you’re holding this hurt deep within your person. How do we fight every day, all day, if we don’t feel that our fight has been good enough? And we’re wrong; our fight has been fantastic, but it’s hard and that light at the end of the tunnel keeps dancing just a little bit further on.
I still struggle with change. I might charge into battle tomorrow morning demanding that men’s mental health needs to be championed, that consent from all parties irrespective of gender needs to be respected and that I consider it my basic human right to be able to walk home without feeling afraid – gigantic changes I want to happen in society and the way we educate ourselves, as well as others . Yet, the thought of replacing my car from one that’s currently hemorrhaging money to one that isn’t – a clear change that makes life better for me – makes me want to vomit. I like my routine, and I like what I know. I like my comfort zone, and whilst I want something better and bigger for society at large, the change required to make my comfort zone more comfortable in the long-run feels too big. I think it’s because it’s so personal, and it’s on me; changing my car isn’t a decision I can ask a focus group to make for me. I wonder too where this fits with self-care, and the aversions we can feel to self-care that are often based on self-worth, only we don’t wish to acknowledge it. At this point in my life, driving a very nice ‘old banger’ fits my identity. It’s my first car, the one I’ve driven down windy country lanes, since I was eighteen, from high school to university to postgrad. It’s carried me through three different cities and three different eras of my life. While everything else around me has changed, my car hasn’t. I wonder if I feel that maybe I don’t deserve that change yet; if I swap it for a younger, sportier model, something that feels slightly more grown-up and dependable, do I think I can also make that leap in my feelings of self-worth? Do I deserve this change? Have I earned it? Can I live up to it?
Change is a wonderful equalizer, if not for the strong feelings it seems to stir and the decisions it seems to enforce upon us. We must either stand against the tide or bow to it. Personally and politically, 2017 signifies a great deal of tension and shift. Personally, I will finally finish my seven-year university career in May. Politically, the UK should be exiting the EU this year and with the uncertainties of Scottish Parliament being willing to move with this, my Scottish home could feel compromised. My passport will become something of a museum relic, with the title of ‘European Union’ no longer valid. I can’t even begin to contemplate America’s next hundred days. The changes that will applied due to democracy at home and in my second home (my treasured academic home) will bring personal and political changes to everyone. All identities (and self-worth) may feel shifted, altered or even unhinged by this change.
When I first began working on this theme of change, it was December and, trying to convince myself that upgrading my car would be a good thing, I began to believe that change was the thing that would save the world – that a Trump Presidency and Brexit would be horrific, but that their “change” could be the catalyst to make us shout louder, to reassess what it is that we want and what exactly we’re fighting for. That the change could be the making of us. As I struggle to remember how the buttons differ in my new car, and consistently stall the start/stop transmission, I’m also aware of how much of a fight one has to make to transition. How it’s a constant, daily thought pattern that must be almost reprogrammed. And I think of the Women’s Marches all over the world and hope that we can fly our flags and wave our banners daily, no matter how tiring and frustrating it may feel.
As we enter 2017, uncertain of just how much the world could change in the next hundred minutes, never mind the next hundred days, I wonder how we might transition next.