We’ve endured more than 330 days in quarantine, and I’ve spent my entire time as a 21 year-old in that period. It probably goes without saying that I didn’t have the most typical “21” experience. My birthday is on April 12, so there was no bar-hopping or get-togethers last spring. In fact, I actually spent my birthday completely alone. My mom had to work that night (a job she couldn’t call out of, as a nurse on the frontline,) and my boyfriend at the time couldn’t travel out to see me because it was Easter (yes, my birthday occasionally falls on Easter.) I’m pretty sure I spent the day eating cake, drinking pink moscato, and watching reruns of Jeopardy!, so unaware of what was to come.
Within less than a month of my 21st birthday, I was living away from my mom in an apartment in Boston with two other housemates. I had no job, no license, and no money to my name, but hey, at least my useless art degree arrived in the mail just in time for the economy to tank!
I applied to over 200 jobs that summer and burned through all of my tax money, savings bonds, and help from my mother to pay my rent. I started getting food stamp benefits to take the burden off paying for food. I landed a job at Starbucks in July, which I was actually excited about; the only problem was I had to walk four miles a day to get there and back. That was fine for the summer and most of the fall, but when the November chill hit and the sky began darkening with dread at 4:00pm, I began to panic.
I transferred to a closer Starbucks at the end of November, which downsized my daily commute from 2-3 hours to only about twenty minutes. Towards the end of December, Starbucks began cutting my hours due to COVID-19 policies and overstaffing. In less than the span of a week, I found myself balancing filing for partial unemployment, losing all my life savings to fraud, and going through a tremendously painful breakup all at once. Meanwhile, both of my parents were hundreds of miles away from me and not exactly on-hand for me to run to for a hug.
Needless to say, 21 has not been the dreamiest year of my life.
With that being said, I didn’t write this to complain about how hard my life is or throw a pity party about being poor and tired all the time. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. I wanted to talk about the past year of my life as something I’ve learned an enormous amount of lessons from, something that I am appreciating and learning to take in stride. After all, I am so privileged and fortunate to admit that I haven’t (yet) lost a loved one to COVID-19. I haven’t lost my home or my job or my pets, I haven’t gotten sick and been stuck in a hospital for weeks and weeks hooked up to a ventilator. And even though I haven’t been able to hug my parents or talk to them in person in so long, neither of them are dead. They’re only a phone call away, ready to love me and support me when I need them.
I think I’ve cried more tears and felt more stress at the age of 21 than I ever have before in my life, but I’ve also laughed so much and made so many beautiful memories in this messed-up, absurd world we’re living in. I’ve made friends for life in Boston and bonded with the customers in my coffee shop. I’ve cherished each and every dollar of tips I’ve ever made, saving them up for weeks so I could buy that new eyeshadow palette I’ve been pining for, or a new bed set, or a fresh set of toothbrushes from CVS. This year, I’ve learned not to take anything for granted and love each and every thing in my little apartment that I bought with MY money. I’ve learned how to be a responsible spender, how to earn a few extra dollars here and there with Facebook Marketplace and Etsy so I can worry less about paying my rent and more about the things that matter.
There’s an analogy from a book I really love. It talks about how we all have invisible veils hanging down in front of our faces, and while they make the world a little bit blurry, we like it that way. We like to walk around in our own little bubbles of ignorant bliss, only staring at what’s in the way rather than the big picture ahead of us.
If my ignorance and comfort was my veil, then 2020 really yanked the hell out of the veil and ripped it away from my face. At 21, I’ve lived through historical protests against police brutality and racial injustice. I’ve lived through one of the worst presidents this country has ever known, the most tragic disease outbreak of the century, a broken economy, and violent political turmoil and division. The last year of my life has taught me that it is my privilege to use my voice, and I am ready and prepared to do so to help keep this world full of kindness and acceptance.
If you had told me on April 12, 2020, that this is how the next year of my life would pan out, I probably would have been dejected and scared. And truthfully, I still do have moments of being frightened of the world around me and hurt by the big-ness of it all. But in retrospect, I think the past 330 (or so) days of my life are something I really needed to grow up. And growing is painful- that’s why they’re called growing pains.
I hope that everyone reading this can find some comfort and ease in knowing that you’re not alone. Especially young folks like myself who’ve found themselves confused about their direction and their identity in a world that feels so out of control, I see you and I understand you. And truthfully, I’m looking forward to 22. I’m hoping it’s filled with more cocktails, more pretty girls to kiss, more yoga and journaling and confetti and pets, more time with my parents, more special memories to make and hold onto, and more lessons to learn.
The roaring 20s may turn out to be the best time of my life. ✩
The debate of whether or not you can separate the art from the artist is one that may never end. Can you truly separate a piece from a whole? A servant from its master? An ideal of perfection without failure? Love from hate? Nothing from everything?
Each individual creates their own reality based upon perspective. It is all mental. We all have our own set of rules, constructs, values, and beliefs – that is okay. It may be hard, but it is important to accept that.
As individuals, we are different for the same reasons we are alike. There is a reason opposites attract a magnetic force, no matter how far away. We thrive off of one another to live. Everything we do is just a mere projection of ourselves.
Once we have accepted ourselves, our purpose, the risk and uncertainty that comes along with us on our life journey, then we are truly able to open ourselves up to vulnerability. Upon reaching this moment is when we are finally able to create for ourselves. This is up for interpretation, but I believe this is when you are truly free.
I am grateful for all of my experiences as an artist. Others showed me the ropes so I can control the reins for myself. I do it for myself in hopes that one day I may be able to inspire and teach others as was done for me.
This number of how many does not matter, it has always been about quality, not quantity. History and oracles speak of what it’s like to let power fall into the wrong hands. We create history every day.
Every time I create, I leave a piece of my soul within my craft. Whether it be on watercolor on Stratford, oil on canvas, ink or graphite on paper, or even the words you are reading digitally on this screen, I am leaving a remnant of my carbon copy.
I think, therefore I am. This is my consciousness, it is important to be aware of yourself in relation to others.
Likewise, my fellow creators, the masters, and my predecessors, I am an artist and my work is my way of expressing myself.
There is something extremely dangerous yet attractive about the way an artist works. Artists wear their hearts on their sleeves. We love to give, but we also love to receive. Our wounds are open, you will see us bleed.
We express vulnerability outwards. It’s hard at times, although it is vital in our process of personal growth and reflection, along with deepening our understanding and connections with our surroundings and others.
The true beauty of life resides in the foundation that everything is up for interpretation. While we may be similar, as we are all created from stardust and matter, our individual experiences are what guide us and pull us together through our separation and differences aside.
Can art truly be separate from an artist’s work?
I know the answer, it’s a no from me. Alas, everything is subjective, relative, and up for interpretation, I’d love to hear your side of the story.
I believe memory exists not only to remind us of where we’ve been or where we’ve come from, but to guide us and help us heal. It interests me that the older I get, the less I can remember from my formative years, however, what I do becomes the most important.
Memory comes back to me in photographic flashbacks: the good always remains but fades with time, the traumatic resurface slower, but intense and vivid all at once. I was born in 1998, old enough for my first “real” memory to be of 9/11, although I truly can’t say I knew what was happening. Then, a month later my younger brother was born.
The next is disoriented screaming, flashing lights through my bedroom window, muffled sounds of gunshots down the block as I was upstairs in bed. The SWAT team was guarding off my street and knocking on our door. Nearly 20 years later, I can finally understand that this was due to a Vietnam Veteran who lived on the corner, and whose PTSD had triggered him to shoot.
My earliest happy memories date around the same time frame. Sometime in 2000, probably about 2, almost 3 years old, holding a lilac ball playing catch outside with my father. I remember sitting at the small farm-animal-themed table in our old vile yellow kitchen with the forest green floor tiles as I colored in a coloring book.
I remember painting purple stars on the walls with my father when I graduated out of my crib and into my new “big girl” room upstairs. I remember coloring over the puke-yellow walls in Crayola crayons before my parents decided to tear our kitchen down for demolition.
Vividly I can picture myself in elementary school art class, the tables new and unscratched, the crisp room smelling of fresh cobalt blue paint on the walls. We would gather around our teacher, Ms. Halpern, who would drop a pin and ensure we all heard it grace the floor before she spoke. I was always quiet, more interested in which artist we would learn about as opposed to the anxiety-provoking multiplication test that awaited in the class upon our return.
I remember recreating Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in oil pastel, the soft waxy feel as it molded to my hands and created rainbows under my fingernails and the earthy aroma of red clay on my hands as we created pottery. I only cared about what day it was for the sole purpose of whether or not it was time for the weekly art class – it was my escape. I can’t remember most of what I retained from grade school other than forming a keen interest in the arts.
This seems to be a common theme: those who excel and form interests in the arts foster them at a young age. I started playing the violin and joined the chorus in the third grade, although colors and forms stated their permanence in my life. I developed a fixation on transferring images from my mind into a physical form, my notes covered in drawings and doodles. This was and still is my way of creating a sense of our world.
Throughout middle and high school I continued to find shelter in the art rooms. I created during my time of struggle. I won’t speak much about my depressive manic and self-destructive states as an early teen, but visually creating has always been one of my only methods of accurately channeling and representing my emotions.
It was around this time I began to spend my summers in Manhattan, taking pre-college courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Art galleries and museums were now at my disposal on a level much higher than my suburban home town on Long Island. These galleries and museums became a sanctuary for me.
Years later and I’ve devoted myself to structure my life around the arts. My passion for the visual arts has followed persistently throughout my entire academic experience, my lifestyle, and is now reflected in my professional career.
I’ve been an artist for as long as my memory allows. What can I say? Creating comes naturally. It keeps me grounded, consistently allowing me to portray my emotions and relay my memories in a universal language for each to resonate and reconcile as their own.
As a visual artist and writer, I seek to educate and inspire others. I have an intimate understanding of how hard it is to spread our stories to the world. While it may be pain-staking, it is vital to recognize the importance of passing down our stories. We are not drastically different from one another once we allow ourselves to open up.
Whether this is conducted through visual imagery or words, it is how we relate and learn about ourselves, our relationships, our friends, our partners and lovers, and the generations both preceding and succeeding our own.
Businesses and empires may be bound to fail, but there is permanence in the arts and culture. As Dali would say, there always has been, and always will be, a “persistence of memory.”
Have you ever wondered what defines good or bad art?
Yeah… me too. As a painter and illustrator, this happens on a near-daily basis. To be honest, it’s a whirlwind.
The foundations of my career as a visual artist was based upon realism. Pulling inspiration from other illustrators and painters who focused on hyper-realism, pondering how it was even possible to reproduce on such a level. I vividly picture 14-year-old me on my bedroom floor spending countless hours hauling over my works, meticulously honing in on every little detail while I attempted to create each piece to be as close to the reference photo as possible.
I can’t tell you where this fixation in society derived from – or maybe it was just my ADHD and anxiety telling me everything I had to do needed to be perfect, but at least I know I wasn’t alone. Nearly all of my other artist friends and I, at this time, were starting their artistic career in the phases of drawing eyes in the corner of notebooks and working on perfecting a portrait of the lead singer in our favorite alt band. But up until I started studying art in college and gained greater exposure to the art world, I swore by the rule that for my art to be considered “good” it needed to be grounded in hyper-realism.
Of course, there’s a reason the basis of teaching visual arts is grounded in figure drawing, still lives, and copying master studies. Similar to any other craft, artists are expected to learn the roots of the trade before bridging out to develop our own style. You need to build the foundation of a house before you can decorate the exterior. (Unless you’re an outsider artist, but that’s a topic for a different time.)
A few of the most valuable words one of my painting professors ever shared with me was, “The photo is for reference, a photo is not a painting and your painting should not look exactly like it. Your goal is to be able to part with it – if you keep comparing your work to a photo you will never be satisfied.”
All in all, your art, nor anyone else’s, does not need to look like you can reach out and grab it for it to be good. Some of my most successful, and most loved, creations are those based upon spontaneously throwing paint on canvas out of frustration and seeing what I could make from it. And if you know me, it was probably a mushroom or had something to do with hands or eyes.
So, if you’ve made it this far and are still wondering then what defines good art? What makes bad art? I hate to break it to you, but the answer is nothing. Yep. That’s it – nothing at all.
Well, on a technical level, yes there are standards an artist might want to meet. Proportions, perspectives, and light sources are vital aspects of any creation. Although, if the work is meant to be conceptual then this truly does not matter.
Art is relative, and it is entirely subjective. Therefore, art in itself can neither be good nor bad alone. For art to be considered “good” or “bad” it is wholly dependent upon the viewer, the creator, or the critic. While some love Pollock’s poured paintings, others believe he was just a drunk who got lucky.
On a side note – this is exactly why as an artist, regardless of whatever your craft may be, you need to place value on and believe in yourself. There will always be a negative critic, and PSA people – there is nothing wrong with having a different taste!
There are many things in life besides taste in art alone that we cannot change, but that does not mean your work is bad. To ignore the critic would be even worse. Sometimes they’re the ones who we need to listen to the most. An artist’s work cannot grow without the push for change. While a critic’s words might be sharp and sting, they are often what fuels us the most.
I know, this sounds like bad news. But there’s also good news- just because you’re most likely the bad guy in someone else’s world, doesn’t mean you’re an inherently bad person. Which probably sounds self-explanatory to some, but for an empath like myself, it took me years to understand this.
I’ve been thinking about this unspoken reality for the last couple of weeks, since seeing a quote that more or less summarized this idea on Instagram. As someone who has gained (but also lost) a few friendships in 2020, I think it was a reminder that I really needed to hear. Because yes, we are all going to make mistakes at some point in our lives or make a personal choice that may not make the people around us happy. However, it’s important to realize that our mistakes do not define us and other peoples’ opinions of us do not paint a full picture of who we are, either. We are complicated beings and we are never going to please everyone.
I’m not the sort of person who likes to throw around dirty laundry or dig up old drama, but I did want to talk ambiguously about how I am almost definitely the “bad guy” in other peoples’ lives and how that has had an impact on me throughout my entire adult life. The story I want to tell you happened about seven months ago, when I was single and enjoying casual dating/dates, and spending most of my senior year of college just enjoying my final months with my close circle of friends. In short, here’s what happened last February: one of my good friends expressed that she found a guy at our school attractive, and shortly after, I started dating him. She was hurt and felt as though I had betrayed her trust. I was at fault for not telling her I had been seeing him casually, and that we were falling in love/going to start dating. If I had been in her situation, I probably would have been hurt and upset as well. Our friendship ended up falling apart, and since then, I have definitely become the villain in her story.
Although it was an all-around shitty situation for everyone (including me, even though I got the happy resolution of being with my wonderful boyfriend), I was very upset with the way this person decided to paint from that time forward (and how I began to feel confused about my own identity or morality). Like I said, I was now the villain and the shitty friend. I was the person who clearly lacked clear judgment and empathy. But what bothered me the most was the fact that I knew I was not that person. I am a good person, with strong empathy and a good sense of judgment, who made one mistake. And from this point on, whoever she chose to tell this story to, they would instantly judge me without even knowing me or hearing my side of the story. They would never know that this was a friendship I had to grieve for a long, long time, one that I truly felt remorse and pain for how things had panned out. And maybe that’s okay, because it’s not my version of the story to tell. I recognize that I am not a perfect person, but I am also just a person. I am also not going to allow other people to change my internal view of myself, and I am not going to push a narrative onto myself that I am inherently “bad” for my missteps. And neither should you.
Going through something like that and losing more friendships along the way has caused me to harbor less judgment for others, because I’m starting to think about the world in an external way rather than a narrative that the world is centric around my own existence. I know what it’s like to have people hate you when they don’t even know you and know what you are (and were) going through in that situation, and I think that’s something we need to remember when we are making assumptions about others. You don’t know what the second side of the story is unless you’re a part of it. People are free to believe whatever they want about you and your choices, but try not to be too hard on yourself if you know within yourself that your story is being mistold. You may be the villain in someone else’s story, but that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty about being your own hero when you need to for your own mental health and wellness. After all, at the end of the day, you’re the lead role of your own life.
Reflections on the Artist “Stigma” – from a recent art school grad.
So you went to art school? Yes, well not before I can blurt out that I double majored and have a degree in P.R. as well. Let’s address the underlying shame that no one seems to talk about, the kind that comes hand in hand with being an artist. The kind of shame, and that horrendous stigma, embedded in spending thousands of dollars for a PDF (thanks COVID) in any form of art.
“Oh that’s nice, so what are you going to do with that?”
Ahh, the question every art student absolutely adores.
Ask me that again, please I beg of you. No really, it’s not like I haven’t rehearsed this in my head several hundred times before coming to this function.
Now that I’ve graduated college, I’ve made it into the “It’s not practical. How are you going to pay your bills? What about insurance?” phase. (Thanks for the support, mom.)
Growing up on Long Island, came with the blessings and curses of every small, suburban, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Or what I can only assume, before college, I hadn’t lived anywhere else. It’s the trivial stuff like bumping into everyone and their mother at the local bagel shop in the morning, knowing exactly who cut you off by the sound of their obnoxious car horn, and the public school system that “supports” the arts yet funds everything but that. Pushing for STEM, and ingraining the standard into our young minds that success shall only come to those who will become scientists, engineers, doctors, or work in the business world.
Why is it that people are so impressed by my talent but so unwilling to support it? The stigma of going to art school and being an artist made me embarrassed to embrace my choice of major and lifestyle for way too long.
Four years later and amidst a pandemic has granted me a lot of time to reflect.
So, here’s what I got:
The definition of success is different for everyone.
For some success is monetary. Diritivive from the amount of money they make.
While art is much more than just a commodity, in the era of Amazon and manufactured crafts, people seem to have forgotten how much fine art can be worth. In this age, unfortunately, a significant amount of artists undersell their work in order to gain more exposure. Here’s my shameless reminder to support small businesses. Your local artists and businesses will appreciate you much more than the Bezos empire ever will.
For others, success might be grounded from stability and practicality. A reliable check and dependable insurance for some reason are not guaranteed to most artists in the world, and especially not in America. Can’t tell you I don’t know where the starving artist phrase originated from.
Lastly, happiness. The great debate – money or passion. Money doesn’t impress everyone. If you’re going to devote most of the hours of your life working – why would you sacrifice your happiness for money? That’s just me, anyways. If you’re truly passionate and devoted to what you love, there will always be a way to pursue it.
Defunding leads to disinterest.
The system here is comparative to the Uroboros, the ancient symbol originating in Egyptian Iconography, of a serpent biting off its own tail in an infinite continuous circular motion. My middle and high school art classes and teachers played a significant role in my development as an artist. Without this exposure, I would have never known pursuing art would be where my future career would lie. As arts defunding increases and programs are removed from education curriculums, the less aware future generations are. Which, you guessed it, leads to more defunding – and the toxic endless cycle continues.
Jealousy and envy, of talent and freedom.
Do I need to elaborate? This one is pretty self-explanatory.
Straight up ignorance
“Oh, but art is fun and easy!” “You get to make pretty pictures all day!” Hmmm yeah sure, how about you say that again after spending countless nights awake slaving over the several hand-stapled canvases nearly as tall as you for the mid-year critique for something just not to be “working” in the eyes of your professor. Or the countless gallery and exhibition rejections, with little to no reason why besides the “it’s just not my taste” from curators.
Critiques and critics can be harsh and blunt, and no it’s not just like getting an individual test grade. All your peers are present as you get ripped to shreds.
The tools for our craft are anything but cheap. I walked into Blick (an art supply store for all you non-artist readers) the other day, and walked out 65 dollars lighter from only purchasing two small paintbrushes, two 37ml tubes of oil paint, and one relatively small canvas that happened to be 40% off.
Not to mention the physical exhaustion, sore arms, callused fingers, and the toxic chemical highs that can come along for the ride too.
You are not just an artist.
Your work does not just sell itself. With taking on the title of an artist, you also take on the responsibilities of becoming your own marketer, publicist, social media specialist.
Being an artist is more than just a title, it’s a whole lifestyle.
When it comes to creating art there is no right answer. There isn’t a textbook model to follow. While there are inspirations and references, the ever-evolving style artist spends years developing is purely our own.
Art allows the freedom of authentic and raw self-expression. Us artists pour our hearts and soul into our work. Creations often stem from our utmost vulnerable states. And we really just are throwing it out there for the world to see, hoping others resonate as well.
Hey, I get it, pursuing an arts-related career might not be for everyone. Trust me, I dreaded every moment of chemistry. Luckily for nearly every other professional, society does not work against them. On top of all the stigmas, judgment, and pressure to succeed – to be an artist it’s anything but easy. The lifestyle might not be for you, but there’s absolutely no reason not to support and encourage those who are brave enough to face the world as artists.
Graduating into this pandemic has given me a lot of time to embrace my artistic side and remind myself the world would not thrive without the arts and humanities. Art gives a voice to the voiceless – platforms to the powerless. History would cease to exist otherwise. So to all you creators who’ve read this far, keep pushing, keep creating. At least we already know we’ll be worth more when we’re dead anyway.
I have no idea how to express the emotions that I have inside of my head.
This essay has been written now a total of four times. Each time, I have attempted to write the same story of self-discovery and finding the word that describes me. Each time I delete the essay (well, not delete. But I delete it from my mind) and open up a new, blank document. I try to find the words to describe how I’m feeling again. As if the new, empty white landscape will somehow stir the correct word out of the hibernation happening in my brain. Each time, I’m shocked it doesn’t work.
In the first attempt at writing this essay, I wrote about the label I put on myself in the first sentence. I use this word as an act of defiance of my fingers. They don’t want to type the word out. They want to type anything but that word. I wrote it in order to see the word written out in front of me and know that it describes me, but yet I am still so scared to say it aloud. I am scared to say it to the wrong group of people. I am scared that I will have to change my mind.
I think that’s the worst part about putting this down in words. That I’ll be wrong and I’ll have to change my mind, yet again. The warring sides of my brain violently tear each other apart as I try to decide whether I want this label. The thought of writing it down in words is the worst part, I think. Writing it down on paper makes it permanent.
Speaking it out into the world is different. When I speak them to myself alone in my room, they dissipate into the air as if they were never there are all. The hit the walls around me and reflect back on myself like a gleaming spotlight. I can be proud of knowing who I am in my room. I can walk up to the microphone and say with the prestige and poise of the Queen of England. In reality, my hairbrush suffices as a microphone and my crowd of applauding audience members is just my collection of Funko Pop figures.
When I said it to the small group of people that know – not at the same time, of course – it was different too. Wrapped in the confined space of their endless support and appreciation. As the words fall out of my unprepared mind and into the shared space, their eyes light up with joy as I finally tell them one of the many secret aspects of my confined mind.
I stopped scrolling. It’s May now. I am not afraid of the words anymore. I have come out to not only my family, but myself.
There are a lot of things to unpack. Not only in this first section, but rather throughout the whole essay. I was in an insecure spot in my life in these days leading up to writing this piece. Thinking back to when my fingers flew over the keyboard, I think I was trying to reason with myself in this piece.
I learned a lot after this. A now good friend taught me how to become comfortable with myself. I want to thank her for all of the support and love she’s given me after finally coming out.
I know now that my feelings are valid, and I am not alone. I don’t need everyone to know and accept it. All it matters is how I’m feeling now. That’s what this text should represent.
I told my father first before anyone else. Before I even admitted it to myself, actually. Lying on the couch, listening to him make a comment about how one day he’ll be able to walk me down the aisle to my husband.
“I don’t like guys, dad.”
“Really? Not even a little bit?” He asked me with his full attention taken away from the television.
“Not really.” I expected him to tell me that it was a phase, that it wasn’t right, or that he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t like guys. I had been raised that way. Actually, conditioned would be a better word for it.
To my surprise, he only said “You can love who you want to love. As long as you aren’t lonely.”
“I wouldn’t mind being alone. I’ll just have cats for the rest of my life,” I replied with a chuckle.
He didn’t laugh but smiled wearily at me “That’s what you say now. But it sucks to be alone.”
I was left looking at him, having a newfound understanding of my father. The man who called himself a ‘Florida Cracker’ really did understand me. He wanted me to be happy. All of the offensive jokes he makes or the brutal slurs he yells while driving may start to define his surface, but deep down he cared. He always had.
As I smiled at him, my father, lovingly said as a Subaru commercial came on the tv “Do we have to get rid of the jeep and get you one of those now? Subaru’s are lesbian cars, you know.”
I had, and continue to be, worried about labeling myself. What if I changed my mind again? I thought at first that I just wasn’t attracted to anyone and that I never would be. I was okay with the idea of being alone because I thought that’s what my label wanted me to be, which is entirely not true. I focused myself on doing research to find out that the word didn’t mean ‘alone forever’ or ‘crazy cat lady for life.’ It just meant that I felt the way that I did when it came to relationships, and that I could still be loved and feel love.
The first, and only, boy I dated was named JD. We had been friends all of middle school. I never thought before him that I would ever have that moment where someone would have a crush on me. At the end of eighth grade, he texted me saying that if I didn’t feel the same way that he did, he wasn’t going to be upset. He still wanted to be friends with me. He liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.
My fingers went in circles around the keyboard buttons of my iPod touch. I eventually came up with the response: “My parents won’t let me date until high school.”
In ninth grade, I thought that he had forgotten about that comment. I didn’t feel “butterflies” in my stomach, or my thoughts always revolving around the idea of being with him. I never wrote my name down repeatedly in my notebook with his last name plastered next to it. Besides, DeBoer just didn’t roll off the tongue quite right.
In the middle of the summer leading up to our sophomore year, he texted me again. It was practically the same message. He wanted to be with me.
It took me a long time to type out the simple message. I wanted him to know that I cared about him and that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I had worked so hard on it, I wanted it to sound like I was saying the words. I wanted it to come from the heart. I told him I thought that I liked him too.
It’s easy to look back at the time in my life and understand that this wasn’t just me wanting to please everyone. Being able to look at this situation four years after the fact makes it so easy for me to point out every single thing I did wrong in that moment. I confused what friendship and a crush were. Even then, I find that to feel like an excuse because I’m giving a reason as to why I wanted to please him. I honestly think that I did it because I truly thought I liked him, and because it was drilled into my head starting at a young age to please a man.
He made me happy. He made me feel appreciated. We had the same sense of humor and we both got along with each other’s friends. JD volunteered to build care packages for soldiers overseas. His family helped out with the local elections. He lived on a farm, and he took care of horses. He never said a negative thing about me or my friends. Every step of the way in our friendship, and relationship, he was kind, considerate, and thoughtful.
I learned a lot about what a crush meant to me in that relationship. I knew that it had to have similar feelings as being in a friendship. You had to have similar interests to them, be able to spend time together consistently and be able to respect one another. Romantically, I still question what my personal definition of a crush is. I know that you have to be attracted to the person in some sense and that you want to be willing to learn and grow. That sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.
Sometimes I wish I had that stereotypical coming-of-age movie moment, where I’m sitting in my car crying because my boyfriend cheated on me with the girl that I thought was my best friend. I wish I had the moment when I realized that my real best friend was in love with me and that I loved them too. I wish I had the moment where everything felt okay in the end. I want the credits to roll and I want to have my life figured out.
I desperately want to label myself in the hopes that having this community around me will suddenly make me feel like those end credits are rolling by. The community would give me a place to feel safe, and to be able to express myself to the fullest extent. I see people around me who consider this part of their identity and envelop themselves in its warmth. They don’t label themselves with it, they make the word become theirs within their own personal definition.
I want it to become my own word. I don’t want it to just mean what it means generally, but rather what it means in my life, in my experiences, and in my standards. I want it to become a part of my identity. I am aching to have this sense of embracing this word and connecting myself with it at a spiritual level. To have it collide within myself and soul. There is a desire within me to pull this word close and wrap it around my fingertips and write this word out.
I can’t do it yet. I can’t write it down. I don’t trust myself at this point to not change my mind. The fear of being wrong about my label, again, drags me deeper and deeper down into wanting to keep it out of my writing. I know that it is who I really am, but it is difficult to embrace the thought when I am covered in cactus pricklers. It’s as if there’s a piece of my brain that never wants me to make up my mind and make a concrete decision. I’ve changed my major several times, thought about changing schools, and most of all thought about changing who I am so that I can fit into the general norms surrounding me.
The heteronormative lifestyle around me within my hometown suffocates me at every turn. There is no obvious representation, but rather that the prom king and queen get the most attention for the year. The theatre departments never do shows involving the communities outside of what we see as ‘normal.’ These ideals were pushed upon me beginning with the simple cartoons I watched as a child, to my parents pressuring me into calling my boy friends my boyfriends in elementary school. Just a little space in between the words caused change within my mind as well as many others who feel a similar way.
I have told numerous people about my confusion in writing this. I have told people that this essay has changed four times. I have told people what this is really about. What I haven’t told people is that this is the way for me to actively get these feelings out of my brain and into the light. It gives me a chance to read out what my brain really means. It gives me a chance to talk about the word that I long for and strive to avoid labeling myself with. It gives my brain a chance to breathe.
Since writing this piece, I have become much more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Not only within myself, but with other areas within myself. I want to tell my past self, though it is only four months later, that she is valid. Even now, sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’m going to have to come out again. If I’m going to have to tell everyone that I was wrong, again.
Well, self, that’s okay. Past Colleen, you are a strong and brave woman. Your feelings and anxiety of the situation is valid. You can change your mind in the morning. It’s okay.
I understand the appeal of starting a “family” YouTube channel, and I also understand that it usually comes from a place of goodness- not malice or greed. However, the older I get and the more YouTube continues to deform and change, the more uncomfortable I become with the concept of a family YouTube channel. Let me elaborate and provide some background.
A “family YouTube channel” refers to a channel that vlogs their day-to-day life as an entire family, so yes, that includes vlogging all of the children and filming their daily struggles and triumphs. I can understand how a family vlog channel could be entertaining or even informative, particularly if the channel is offering helpful advice or insight along the way, but I still truly believe that the cons and the dangers outweigh the pros in this situation. Because, at the end of the day, we cannot ignore the cold-hard facts. Being a YouTuber is a job and a business. Being a family vlogger equates using your children as your JOB and your BUSINESS. Like I said, it may not be malicious, but it is still child exploitation in its simplest sense.
Let me remind you of the definition of “child exploitation.” According to Justice.gov, child exploitation refers to using children as a “commercial transaction,” both sexually and not. While most channels are (thankfully) not using their children for sexual purposes on the internet, several parents are still exploiting their children for clicks with clickbaity titles, advertisements strewn throughout the videos, and the oversharing of personal moments and interpersonal conversations. If your child is under the age of 18, he, she, or they cannot give consent to be exploited onto the internet for income. Particularly for channels that focus on their infant or toddler children, your child does not even HAVE the voice to say “no” to family vlogging or exploitation. How do you know your child is not going to grow up someday and feel dread or embarrassment over the fact that millions of strangers have watched them grow up and commented on their lives? You DON’T. Stop making these monumental, life-altering decisions for your children who don’t have prominent voices.
And by the way, some parents DO exploit their children by taking advantage of their sexuality or promiscuity. Take Danielle Cohn, for example. Troubling enough is the fact that her age is already being disputed among the internet- is the thirteen? Fifteen? Nobody knows for sure. Regardless, she is still a minor and her money-hungry mother is exploiting her daughter using sexual thumbnails, titles, and pictures to garner more views and clicks. This includes orchestrating a fake wedding and fake pregnancy- both of which were later proved to be stunts.
And I’m not the only person who feels disturbed by this. In fact, many articles and videos have been made about this subject, which I will be sure to link down below. One article in particular posted by The Guardian summarized this concern perfectly: “As scripted content, the cost to the child is one of time and effort, but more than that, perhaps, one of perception. Most of these children are young – barely out of toddlerhood – when to perform an idea of cuteness and be made aware of its currency is to usher in early a plague of the age: self-consciousness” (Brockes.)
In recent news, Myka Stauffer, a family vlogger and Youtuber, came under quick fire for giving up her adopted child to a new family. That sentence is horrid enough, but when you take into consideration the millions of dollars Myka and her husband had made off of their autistic adopted son (and then uploaded to the internet,) it stretches from horrid to downright disturbing. Another family channel, 8 Passengers, recently came under fire for the harsh punishments their eldest son has been receiving (and, again, uploaded in full-detail to the internet.) For pranking his younger brother, the eldest son had his bedroom taken away and was forced to sleep on a bean bag for several months. Bad enough is the fact that these punishments were carried out in the first place, worse is the fact that these moments are documented and put onto the internet for millions of strangers to judge and make comments on.
So what’s the solution to this? It’s pretty simple to me- stop pushing your children on the internet so you can make easy money. If you want to be a YouTuber and share some of the best moments of your life, then that’s fine, but please take into consideration the fact that your actions do not simply affect YOU. They will affect your children, their relationships with others, their self-esteem, and altogether, their development into healthy adults. And what, all for a quick buck?
Here at Analog, we are proud to support Black-owned businesses and companies as a way to show our support for the Black community. Here are some of our absolute favorites that we’d love to share with you, too.
“As a makeup lover, I have been absolutely obsessed with Juvia’s Place for the past few years. Not only are the prices extremely affordable (and there are usually huge sales on the site on top of that,) the quality of the products is so impressive. Seriously, Juvia’s Place does not play around when it comes to pigmentation and blendability. If you’re looking for a great first palette to try from them, I highly recommend the Magic Mini palette. Beauty Bakerie is another great black-owned makeup brand I love, and their bakery-themed products are so adorable and creative.”
“Juvia’s Place is a makeup brand I have been meaning to purchase from for years (I am just not one to ever spend money on myself and makeup always feels frivolous,) but I’m SO glad I did. I bought a 4 set of their eyeshadows, including The Violets, The Berries, The Nudes and The Browns and I have genuinely never owned better eyeshadow. These six color palettes have a mix of sparkly and matte eyeshadows with the best pigment I’ve ever seen. They last through an apocalypse and the colors chosen in the palettes work together to make some beautiful eyeshadow looks. They are also very affordable and they arrived at my door in less than two days. The quality and overall experience was immaculate.
I also recently purchased from the Etsy shop ChanelleNovoséy. Oh my god. I am a huge lover of candles but I love smelling them in person, for obvious reasons, but because of the pandemic I didn’t really have a choice, as I try not to leave my house for unnecessary reasons. This shop has a wide variety of scents and is decently affordable for soy candles. I bought the candles from their Black Lives Matter series, where a portion of the proceeds go to BLM organizations. I cannot rave about these candles enough. The scents just of the candles unlit by themselves- immaculate. When they burn, they smell exactly like they do in the jar. ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’ smells like a beach I can’t currently be on. ‘Coffee Shop’ smells like the coffee shop I can’t sit in because of quarantine. It genuinely smells like a warm hug of fresh coffee and caramel. ‘Fresh Linen’ smells like you just did the laundry you’ve been putting off for weeks without having to do the work. The candles are in reusable mason jars in the $16 version, and take about two weeks to get to you, but it’s well worth the money and the wait. Huge fan, will purchase again.”
-MJ, Assistant Manager
“Wingz & Tingz has been my go-to place since I started college two years ago. I can not tell you how many times my friends and I have had to make a pit stop for their Jamaican style food. Their variety of chicken wing flavors is both daring and too damn good. I’m not kidding. It’s like… dangerously good. Dangerous as in “i’m-fully-prepared-to-pack-on-some-pounds” dangerous. With over 50 flavors of wings, it is easy to get lost in the true Irie Jamaican food, especially on a Friday or Saturday night!”
-Abi, Staff Writer
“During quarantine, I have found myself shopping online to fulfill my never-ending shopping addiction. Many of these purchases supported small businesses. During these times of injustice and uproar, I have been educating myself on racism and how I can support the Black Lives Matter movement. I have discovered many Black-owned businesses, especially on Instagram, and in support, I want to share three shops owned and started by hardworking and creative African American women. If you’re looking for cute clothes that empower women with every piece, check out femmemute. They offer crop tops, hoodies, tees, and much more with clever and sleek slogans and graphics. Next is circantiques, who feature several cool vintage finds ranging from antique mirrors to 1950s dresses. You can scroll through all of her cool finds on her aesthetically pleasing feed and shop at the link in her bio. If you have been on the lookout for some bold statement jewelry, take a look at sewitsium on Instagram. You can find necklaces, bracelets, amulets, and earrings that are all inspired by African history and culture.”
-Lauren, Staff Writer
“The Lip Bar is one of my favorite makeup brands that I keep finding myself purchasing from! Not only is their shade range incredible, but you can see every ounce of love that is put into their makeup. It holds up well, and it always adds a splash of color to any outfit or style.”
Often in life, there are books you discover in your childhood that stick with you forever. For me personally, that was the case with the Sammy Keyes mystery series, penned by award-winning author Wendelin Van Draanen. The series follows a junior high school girl, Sammy, and her journey through both finding herself and solving the mysteries of the world around her. It’s humorous, witty, creative, and filled with loads of fantastic characters.
Wendelin Van Draanen has written more than thirty books for young adults and teens, but her two shining stars are, of course, Sammy Keyes, and the novel Flipped, which was transformed into a beautiful movie, directed by Rob Reiner. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and as I’m sure you can tell, her work has had a large impact on my young adult life. For that reason, I was so honored when Wendelin agreed to be interviewed by my publication. She had much to say about her spunky heroine, Sammy, but she also gave me loads of invaluable advice on how to navigate the world as a creative person and a writer.
Analog Magazine: What was your upbringing like, and how did reading and writing lend itself to you in your formative years?
Wendelin Van Draanen: My parents were Dutch immigrants, and we lived the immigrant lifestyle in which we were frugal. My parents were working towards their American Dream, and they were very much about, “You come to a new country and you become part of the fabric of that new country”, so they wanted to raise their kids as Americans. We were kind of insulated (not necessarily isolated,) but we were different from the neighbors in that [my parents] had an accent and they approached life in a very vigorous way and there was a lot of work to be done. We were always working on something, so there were no idle hands. When my siblings and I did get free from the chores, we would go out and just be wild in the neighborhood, to counterbalance the restrictive nature of home. We had lots of wild adventures that my parents would not have approved of. Books were a big part of growing up because we could go to the library, so every other week or so we would go get a haul of books, bring them home, and take them back. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kind of readers, because we had a bedtime and we stuck to it. Then I could escape with my flashlight and my book and meet up with my friends under the covers.
AM: What were your favorite subjects in school and what did you excel at as a student? What were your challenges?
WVD: My favorite subject for all levels of school was math, because math was the only subject that totally made sense. If you understood the concept and the building blocks for math, it made sense and it was easy. My least favorite subject was language arts. Those English teachers, man- you just could not please them! No matter what you did, you were going to get back your essay and there were going to be little problems with it here and there and then you’d have to redo it. Ugh, it was so frustrating. As you can probably tell from my upbringing, we were encouraged to excel, so a B+ was a very frustrating grade to get. With math, if you knew what you were doing, you were good. I feel like people who don’t like math are missing one of the building blocks. When I was a teacher, the subject I taught was math. And people say, “How do you go from being a math teacher to writing mysteries?”, and that is kind of weird until you think about it. Because a math problem is just a puzzle, and I love puzzles. I think it’s my mind just trying to make sense of something and find a solution for it. So I’m very attracted to mysteries, because I want to put those pieces together in a way that makes sense.
AM: What different careers have you had along your journey to becoming a full-time writer?
WVD: Ramping up to become a full-time teacher, I did a lot of odds and ends. I drove a forklift…I did a lot of different things. But my career-job was becoming a math/computer programming teacher, and then it was while I was working as a teacher that I was influenced by the kids in my class and inspired to try writing a story.
AM: What inspired you to create the character of Sammy Keyes and flesh out her story into such an extensive, vibrant, staple of young adult literature?
WVD: I think it was being a teacher and seeing that students were still reading Nancy Drew, and that my students had very little in common with Nancy Drew. I just thought it would be cool to take someone who represented the kids who I saw every day in the classroom, and put them into situations where they would stumble their way through right and wrong. I think when you’re an adult and you can see the behaviors of people and recognize the mistakes that you yourself have made… there’s not a big reception on a teen’s part from an adult, you know? Their peers are very important to them, and so I wanted -more important than the adults- to create a peer who would have these experiences and think about things, and about right and wrong, and the steps to take given dangerous or stressful or emotional situations. I wanted to have her make the mistakes a normal teen would make, but then have her draw conclusions that she would then apply to the next time she was faced with a similar situation. I think that those factors are what drove me to write about Sammy. Growing up is hard- it’s much harder than calculus!
AM: The first Sammy Keyes book was written in the late 90s, and the last book was finished 18 years later. However, in the Sammy Keyes universe, only 2-3 years passes. Was it difficult for you to develop with modern technology while trying to keep up with the timeline of the story?
WVD: Technology, man. It is a beast and it keeps messing with you. Being a writer and including technology in your writing is a dangerous thing, because it may completely change in six months. Having a series that spanned 18 years which only spanned 2-3 in Sammy world was challenging. She doesn’t have a cell phone; how do you explain that none of her friends are texting? How do you make it relevant to kids now when all the technology makes the world such a different place? So, when they went and redid the covers recently, I asked if I could go through the entire series and emphasize little references to technology. When’s the last time you’ve seen a payphone? Sammy has a payphone! It’s like, “Okay, kids don’t even know how to use a payphone anymore.” But how do you change the series so that it is still relevant to today’s kids? And so, I went through and I would add a little word or I would subtract a little word, so that it would kind of mold to technology. Instead of flipping open your phone, you would tap on your phone. So I would change “flip” to “tap.” And I couldn’t get rid of the payphone- it was a big thing- so I would add the word “ancient” in front of it. So she goes to this ancient payphone. Just the technology and updating it across the series, and especially at the very beginning, there were some challenges. When we get to the end, Heather’s got a cellphone and technology’s referred to, but I had to get rid of CD players. There were things that were already outdated, like in Psycho Kitty Queen she had a CD player. I think with all the experience of writing over the years, I’ve become a better writer, but not applying my improved skills to Hotel Thief and Skeleton Man and Sisters of Mercy and other early books, I had to tell myself, “You’re just here for technology. That’s all you’re here for.”
AM: The Sammy Keyes series is full of several diverse, unique, well-developed characters. Are any of the characters inspired by real people from your life?
WVD: That’s interesting, because the answer to that is pretty much no- Sammy’s a hybrid of the characteristics that I liked in the students I saw everyday. I would say that if there were, it would be an amalgamation of people. The ones who are the bad guys- they are more a person who has become a character than a character who was just a character. I usually start from a place with the bad guys, I start from a place of annoyance about a person, and then over time, they become the character. I usually hold onto who they were to begin with. You have people who are mean to you in life, and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. But if you do something about it on a page…it’s very satisfying.
“I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen.”
AM: One of the most notable aspects of the Sammy Keyes series is the undertones of real-life social and human issues, such as gang culture in Snake Eyes and environmental awareness in Wild Things. Did you purposefully add in these elements to introduce young readers to these topics in an accessible, creative way?
WVD: Absolutely. I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message. Mostly, I just want to present a situation and I want my readers to come away thinking about it, discussing it or expanding their view of it. In Wild Things, the whole thing about Sammy is that she thinks, “Why would anybody want to save a condor? It’s stinky and eats dead stuff, it’s ugly, what’s the big deal about saving a condor?” And then, by the end, she understands. But I think a lot of kids would relate to Sammy thinking, “Oh, well, it’s a bird who eats dead stuff. Who cares.” It’s like a game of basketball as opposed to running laps. You get to play a game, you get a little competition, you’re jumping and you’re running…as opposed to “Here’s the whistle, you’ve got to go around the track.” I’d way rather have my readers play a game of basketball than feel like I’m marching them around a track.
AM: Was it difficult for you to ultimately end the series after eighteen books, or did you feel relieved by the sense of closure to Sammy’s story?
WVD: Oh my gosh, it was so hard and emotional for me. She was like the daughter I didn’t have. First she was my peer, and then time went by, and she didn’t get any older and I did. I had two sons, so I didn’t have a girl. The eighteenth book came out about the time my son turned eighteen, so he was leaving home, and there were all these things ending at the same time. I was so emotional, and just the thought that I’d been with this girl and I’d lived in her world for all these years, and I’d think about her all the time. To create a story, you need to have a character and their world in your head, and I had her in my head all the time. And then, all of the sudden, it’s like I’m reaching the end and this was the last one. I do feel like a series should have what I call a “swan dive”: you should go out big and strong. You shouldn’t fizzle away. Anyway, I reached my goal, she had survived middle school (barely), but it was time, and it was really hard. People have asked me if I’ve planned to write a YA version of Sammy, and I just don’t. I think she belongs where she is; there’s a reason that she exists where she does. I think middle school years are the hardest years, and if you have a friend like Sammy to help you through those, I think you’re going to be alright.
“I always have a theme that I work with, and I have something that I want to say, but my approach to saying it is usually the backdoor as opposed to coming at you with a message.”
AM: Do you have a proudest series that you’ve written so far, or would that be like picking a favorite child for you?
WVD: I have two short series for younger readers, and I have Sammy Keyes. If we’re talking proudest series, that would have to be Sam. It took such a big part of my life to create. Picking a favorite title of any kind is not something I want to try to do, because they’re all special in their own way.
AM: What is something that you wish more people knew about you?
WVD: Wow. I’ve always tried to keep myself secret. I think that I have an initial impression that is not in keeping with what is actually me. I have blonde hair, I’m tall, I’m thin… but I’m not that person. I am someone who struggles with her ups and downs. I run a lot because it helps to stabilize my mood, and I get cloudy- let’s put it that way. I get cloudy and I feel misunderstood. I think it’s partly my own fault because I’m blonde (and I can’t help the tall), but this is just my structure. I think it projects an image which is not in keeping with who I am and my soul. You would hope that people would judge you on your work and the way you conducted your life, but in our society, we’re very snap-judgmenty. And so, I withdraw. I tend to withdraw as opposed to fighting a battle that I feel one couldn’t possibly understand. I guess that it seems from the outside, I have everything, and I realize that is, in fact, partly true. But there’s been a lot in the past that could easily have taken me down, and I’ve battled really hard not to let that happen. And so, just the notion that “You’ve got all that” doesn’t reflect what it took. Anyway, that got a little heavy.
AM: What are your other hobbies besides writing?
WVD: Reading, running, and rock ‘n’ roll. There is nothing more freeing than rock ‘n’ roll. My husband’s a drummer, and he’s also a young adult book writer. He and I, and our two sons once they became teenagers, started a band together. I have trouble sitting still, so rock ‘n’ roll is very physical for me. It’s just a fun release, and doing it with my family is so cool. Reading is what I do because I love to read, and running is for my health, my cardiovascular system, and mostly, my sanity.
AM: How do you think social media has lent itself to you as a writer and a creator? Do you feel like it has created a more personable relationship with your audience?
WVD: Yeah! I would say that for the positives, that’s true. I would also say that it helps me still feel connected to my career of being a teacher. Teachers on Twitter are very positive people. Twitter has a lot of negative people, but the teachers put forth support, they share ideas, they’re very forward-thinking, and I love feeling like I still have exposure to that community. That to me has been the best part of social media- the teacher presence.
AM: Lastly, what advice would you give to other young writers and readers?
WVD: To be a writer, you need to be a reader. I really firmly believe that. Read read read, and then to be a writer, you have to write. And writing, actually, is work. You have to sit down and do it. I have a lot of people in my life who have always said they always wanted to write a book. Maybe they got to chapter one, and then they discovered that it’s work. If you really want to be a writer, you have to read a lot, and then you have to write a lot. Like anything else, you only get better at it when you do it. ★
You can keep up with Wendelin by checking out her website or by following her on instagram @wendelinvand