What’s in a name?

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. 

And lastly, 

  • 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.

What is calendar blocking- and why do i do it?

Hello fellow humans; it’s your favorite Earth sign coming at you with some great organization tactics.

For the vast majority of my life, I believed I was an unorganized person because sometimes my room gets a little messy and I don’t make my bed every morning. For 18 years, my very organized mother and the public school system really kept me on track, as every event or task had a start and end time, for the most part. When I entered my first year of college, I was thrown for a huge whirlwind, having lost a consistent school schedule and the main person who kept track of my life. After floundering for a year, and adjusting poorly to life on my own, I decided something needed to change. I entered sophomore year of college with an 18 credit schedule, as a new resident advisor, in a new relationship, and after one day of training for the school year I thought- “I’ve gotta get my shit together”.

I’ve been using Google Calendar since August of 2017 to generally keep track of my daily going-ons. In college this mainly consisted of classes and meetings, working in tandem with the most ridiculous amount of to-do lists crowding my notes app or sketchbooks. 

(Look at all that open time to just… vaguely “Get work done??)

After graduating college and formally entering the workforce, I started feeling ridiculously lost on a day to day basis with the way I was still attempting to handle my scheduling. I would also often forget things I had scheduled but not entered into my calendar, and no one likes to miss or have to reschedule something they promised they’d do.

(Seriously what is that? I was unemployed but still-)

That was until I found a concept called Calendar Blocking. By happenstance, a video popped up on my feed by a YouTuber named Amy Landino, about how she uses Google Calendar in a very different way than I had been doing for years.

https://youtu.be/LvZp-ogt1vw

What is Calendar Blocking? Let’s start there. Calendar Blocking is a method of scheduling where you plot out your calendar with all of your major, necessary events, thus making time for smaller things you never knew you had the time to do. It’s an amazing tactic for time optimization, because personally, something I’ve often said is “I just really don’t have time to relax”. With all your larger tasks already laid out in front of you, it is so much easier to see the extra time you didn’t know you had in a day.

[I will disclaim that I am a decently busy person, and I put this upon myself. I work a full time 40 hour a week job, (which pre-COVID I was making a daily 4 hour commute into the city for my job), while also working 4 other part-time/freelance jobs, hosting a weekly podcast, being part of a monthly book club, going to an average 1-2 concerts a week, working out, sleeping 4-6 hours every night and going on random dates/keeping up a pretty decent social life. I am very well aware of what a psycho I must look like, but if this can work for me, it can definitely work for you.]

To start my Calendar Blocking journey, I utilized the “My calendars” tool on the left most side of your Google Calendar. (I would highly suggest starting your GCal journey on a laptop for clarity’s sake.) Didn’t know you could create different calendars for yourself within GCal? Me neither! I wrote down a list of the most major things I consistently do and would need separated/categorized. For me, that was Work, Travel, Routines, Workouts, Friends, Family, Concerts, Dates, Personal, and “General Get Stuff Done”. That sounds like a lot, but stay with me. When you separate out these calendars, you can label them, and make them different colors. For more visual people such as myself, once my week is plotted out, I can look at a calendar and know just how much work, personal etc. tasks I plan on doing that week. (The colors are also personal to what I think deserves each color and it makes it look pretty). You can also turn off certain calendars if you only want to see, say, what your work schedule looks like for the week.

Once I had my calendars set up, it was time to get to work in putting in my daily/weekly schedule. Knowing I had my full time job from 9:30am-5:30pm every weekday was a fantastic start. I scheduled in my “Work” calendar a weekday repeating event labeled “Work at [My company]. From there, I wonder, how long does it take me to get to work? After looking up train times, I schedule a “Travel” event for my trains to work and home every day, plus the drives to and from the train station. With 12 hours of my day already plotted, looking at the next 12 hours was easy. 8 to sleep, 2 to eat, 1.5 for getting ready and daily hygiene, all in “Routines”. You heard me, I schedule my showers. Sometimes you don’t remember you need to make time for things like that! 

The basics

Okay, so I know looking at this makes some folks want to vomit, and trust me, I understand. This is not for the faint of heart. For me, this brings the Earth sign in me extreme peace. Why? Because now I know where I’m supposed to be for all those hours and at what time. And what you don’t see in this screenshot is the open hours from 7pm-midnight everyday. I personally would maximize my time by doing all of the freelance work or book club reading I could on my daily 4 hour commute. This leaves time for all the other things I want to do.

Now that we have the concrete, immovable tasks/events in place, we can move on to the things we want to do! When someone asks “when are you free?”, it is clear as day that according to this schedule right now, that I am free, say Wednesday night for dinner with an old college friend, and Friday night to watch The Mandalorian with my dad? Of course!

Now that I’ve scheduled both the “have to’s”, and the “for funs”, all things to do with other people, I consider myself. Things I need to do or would like to do, that only concern me, or can be moved. Something that scares people a lot about calendar blocking is the seemingly inflexibility of this form of scheduling. Bear in mind that this is just a “block”. It’s just an estimated amount of time in which you promise yourself you’re going to do something. It’s important to keep your goals realistic, and also make a promise to yourself not to beat yourself up when you have to extend a task by an hour or so. That is perfectly okay, it’s Google Calendar, it’s not set in stone.

And voila! We’ve got a week planned! Personally I like to normally fill each day, even if I just put up a personal block for “dicking around on my phone” or “talking to my mom on the porch”, because it’s so important to schedule some downtime in your busy schedule. Calendar Blocking for me is part organization, part time maximization- and in the least captialistic way possible. I have a really hard time conceptualizing in my head how long something will take to do, or what my week looks like if I don’t have it right in front of me. Having those big open white spaces after I’ve scheduled all of my necessary tasks for the week brings me peace and freedom to plan for time to relax and do things specifically for myself, which I’ve never prioritized in my life before now.

I personally am a person who needs structure but malleability in that structure. Seeing the things I “must” do allows me to be able to do the things I “want” freely and without worry. I think this way of scheduling your life is super beneficial for people who love the in-betweens, like yours truly. The number one reason I love Google Calendar as the vehicle for this kind of scheduling is that it is available across any device you have internet, your phone, your iPad, your laptop, so you can access it anywhere to look at or alter. The last helpful thing I do is have a reminder set on all events to notify me 10 minutes before an event is happening. This is very helpful for those of us who have an “out of sight out of mind” tendencies, because the calendar will literally tell you you have things to do or places to be. 

Now, during COVID, ironically enough I have the most time I’ve had in a while to get things done, especially working out, because I don’t have to give up 4 hours a day on a train. That’s why when everyone was freaking out about staying busy inside and adjusting, I just looked at my GCal was like, oh we’ve got this babe.

If you’d like more information on Calendar Blocking, I would highly recommend watching the video by Amy, linked above. While this article is basically a pitch as to why you should Calendar Block, she does an incredible job walking you through actually using Google Calendar. I’m eternally grateful I found this way of scheduling, and I hope this provided you some insight on how to potentially better organize your days. I think at this point in my life I can formally say, I am an organized person. Happy scheduling folks!

21 Life lessons

I turned 21 today, and while there is still a pandemic and no way for me to really celebrate with my friends, I decided to share with you all 21 life lessons that I’ve learned throughout my life. I am doing this because with life being so bleak lately, sometimes a little optimism is what just one person needs to see. These are things that I was taught by loved ones as well as people I’ve never met. 

  • You never have to do today again.

This resonates with me the most because of my struggles with anxiety and depression. Some days are worse than others, but ultimately I learned that saying ‘you never have to do today again’ helps me feel better. There will always be tough days, but you never have to handle that same day ever again.

  • Do no harm but take no shit.
  • Being alive in today’s world is one of the bravest things you’ve done.
  • Do or do not, there is no try.

#livelaughloveStarWars

  • Turn your guilt into action.
  • Don’t sell yourself short.
  • Tell others when they hurt you. You can learn a lot about a person from the way they react.
  • Loving yourself is hard. But it is worth every second of struggle to see the result. 
  • You are not a bother. You are not a burden.

This can be the most difficult journey. I’m still working on changing my mindset to match this idea.

  • The way you perceive yourself is often different from how others see you.
  • Do what you think is right.
  • Never be afraid to be the real you.
  • Be selfless but don’t be afraid to be selfish. Do what you need to do.
  • Sit outside in the sun.
  • You are your own fairy tale.

As quoted from Amanda Lovelace’s book of poetry Break Those Glass Slippers.

  • Be unapologetically passionate.
  • It’s okay to have bad days.
  • The only person that can bring true happiness is yourself.
  • The best things in life are priceless.
  • It doesn’t matter where you started, but where you end up.
  • Surround yourself with people who love you.

Bake Bread With Me

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While in quarantine, I’ve been journaling a lot about the different hobbies I’d eventually like to pursue and make time for. One of those hobbies is baking bread, because it’s such an intricate and patience-requiring art, I feel like it would bring me a lot of joy to try it. And guess what- I was right! I absolutely love baking bread.

The bread recipe I used was probably the most basic artisan bread you can find- flour, water, salt, and instant yeast. I specifically bought a specific bread flour that is designed for baking loaves, pizza crusts, and biscuits with, so I’m really looking forward to cooking with that again in the future.

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The first step for me was to combine all of the ingredients and mix it together thoroughly. I used 3 and ¼ cups of bread flour, 2 teaspoons of instant yeast, 1 and ½ cups of cool water, and 2 teaspoons of coarse salt. Personally, I just used regular coarse sea salt, but I imagine you can use any salt that you wish. I also added a few good shakes of rosemary garlic seasoning (probably about 4-5 good shakes,) and mixed that into the batter as well. After I finished mixing it, I just covered it with some cling wrap and let it sit in the bowl for about two hours. As you can see, it looked pretty sticky and rough at first, but that was normal and to be expected. After I let it sit out and rise for a couple of hours, it got much fluffier and doughier. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doubled in size.

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After this step, I read that you can either immediately continue with the cutting and the baking, or you can refrigerate the dough and use it for up to three days. I’ve read from a few different sources that it’s better to let it sit in the refrigerator than to use the dough immediately (it has something to do with the air bubbles,) but it really doesn’t make too much of a difference. I didn’t refrigerate my dough, and as you’re soon to find out, my bread turned out just fine. 

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After the 2 hours were up, I cut the dough in half (which was so satisfying) and formed two individual loaves, about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide each. After that, I preheated my oven to 450 degrees and left the loaves to sit AGAIN for another 45 minutes or so. The dough did flatten out a bit during that time, but it was easy enough to just push them back in and narrow them out again. After that, I made 3 slits in each of the loaves, about half an inch thick, and then I baked the loaves for about 25 minutes. Don’t forget to flour your hands and the baking sheet for this step! I think I might have used a bit too much flour, but it didn’t change the flavor or the texture of the bread.

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You cannot imagine my pure joy when I checked on the bread 25 minutes later and I saw that it looked absolutely delightful! It looked perfectly cooked and browned on top, and the loaves had lost their heaviness and became light and fluffy. And they smelled absolutely amazing, too, which I owe to the rosemary garlic seasoning.

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When I cut into the bread, I was very happy with the color and the density. It wasn’t as airy as I had expected- it was a bit denser and there weren’t a lot of holes- but that’s probably because I didn’t leave the dough to cool for 12 hours in the fridge. Instead of using butter or olive oil, I put mascarpone on my bread as a topping, and oh my goodness- it was absolutely divine. Mascarpone is a very soft, creamy, Italian cheese spread with a subtle taste, and I think it balanced perfectly with this bread. Because I made two loaves, I saved one for myself and froze the other one immediately so I could give it to my boyfriend’s family. I definitely don’t need two loaves of bread, so I was happy to give some away!

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Overall, I think my first experience with baking bread was very successful! I can’t believe the bread came out decently; in fact, I’d go as far as to compare the flavor and the density to the white Cheesecake Factory bread. Speaking of Cheesecake Factory bread, I found a copycat recipe for the brown bread. Should that be my next baking endeavor? Let me know below! In fact, drop any other bread suggestions you have below! Right now on my horizons, I’d like to make sweet dinner rolls or pumpkin loaf next. Eventually I’d like to work my way up to sourdough bread, but not until I’m a bit more advanced.

I Don’t sound like a whiny bitch

January, 2020:

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.

***

April, 2020:

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.

Half a Year in Isolation

A reflection by MJ Sullivan

Something I’ve noticed since the pandemic is that I’m literally never alone, ironically

It’s never quiet

There’s people and a felt presence always in my house

So much so that I stay where no one can go unless they ask for permission

I cloud my head with music or choppy digital voices or movies

So much so that I feel like I don’t have my own brain anymore

I even go to sleep every night and wake up listening to the same playlist, just for peace of mind

In between two songs last night, during the 2 seconds of silence I get every 3 minutes, I heard the crickets. I paused my music, hearing them in surround sound

I believe silence has a noise. It’s a slight hum in your ears, that for me when left too long turns into a ringing

During isolation, everything is right in front of me. Music in my ears, phone in my face, bed on my body

I miss the distance. I miss the more than 20 feet in front of me. I miss the tall skyscrapers or the open road or large mountains. I miss physically bumping into people on the streets, I miss sweaty white men’s armpits in my face at a concert, I miss being sardined with every type of person in a small metal tube under the biggest city in this shitty country

Everything now is so pointed. It’s all or it’s nothing. It’s hanging out with my family, or being completely by myself in my room. It’s seeing all my friends over zoom, and as soon as it’s over the room fills with absence until I feel like I’m drowning in it. I’m a sucker for a spectrum, or a grey area, and I miss it more than I can say

The idle musing of a nearby couple at my favorite coffee shop, where my nose fills with different flavors of bean water and my ears with the sound of the clacking of my own keyboard. The blaring shreds of a guitar and ripping vocals at the DIY show my band plays, followed by a soft “thank you for coming” by our sincere and soft spoken frontperson. The conversation you strike up with a person at the shitty college bar, the feeling of your lips on theirs with no consequence, the taste of their gin and tonic

I miss anonymity. I miss being a face in a crowd your eyes might glaze over instead of being forced upon you as pixels shown through blue light into your eyes. I miss the inbetween. There’s just so much this, and so much that, that I just crave thit or thas

It’s a small thing to consider, but I was wondering why everything seemed so overwhelming when in reality “little” is happening. But I’M happening. All the time. Too much. The outside world gave me an escape from me. I learned healthy coping mechanisms for when “me” was too much. They mostly relied on the world around me, hanging with a friend, driving my car, sitting in a coffee shop, seeing a live show, skipping around a target. Things that were once leisure are now essential, or obsolete. Things that were inconsequential now have massive consequences

When you have depression, or other mental health issues, they tell you to move, or go outside. Ironically, the pandemic has been both so much more easy, and so much more difficult for people who are regularly sad. On one hand, staying inside for days on end for me is incredibly easy, as I do it often and generally unpromptedly. So glad I could be a hero for just giving in to my own destructive tendencies

On the other hand, staying put goes exactly against everything I’ve worked for and been taught. How can something supposed to protect me be so evil in return?

I haven’t broken down in 6 months about the current state of the world, and I think that’s mostly because I’m numb. The ringing in my ears is deafening now, as the crickets have stopped and my toilet has finished its flush. I don’t know what to do or where to go from here, but I guess, no one else does either, right?

Right?

YouTube “Family” Channels: Exploitation or Harmless Entertainment?

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.

8 Passengers - YouTube
The 8 Passengers family vlog channel (Image source: YouTube)

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?

YouTube parents, do better.

2 Years Ago I Shaved My Head

2 Years ago I shaved my head. Yes, 2 years ago. It’s unbelievable to me.

I lived the first 21 years of my life sporting chest length hair (with the exception of the side shave I shaved myself in January 2017). I had always loved my long hair, and still do (hence the reason I’m growing it out). While in my early 20s, visions of shaving my head started to twirl through my thoughts, and I finally decided on July 31st, 2018 that if there was going to be a time to do it, it was now. I was starting my senior year of college, meaning  by the time I needed to start looking for jobs I wouldn’t be completely bald, and I needed a change. I had only bleached my hair twice in my life, but I will say that after many years of dying my hair over its natural color and sun/heat exposure, it wasn’t looking the hottest it could. I decided on August 1st, 2018 to shave my head. It has been a crazy 2 years since then, and I thought I would take you and I on a photo journey of my 730 day hair growth.

July 31st 2018

Last day with an (almost full head of hair). I was genuinely scared shitless. I have never had shorter hair than shoulder length when I was 10. But, I figured, if I never take the leap now, I never will, or I’ll forever be left wondering “What if I had?”

August 1st 2018

And boy am I glad I did it. Wow. Look at them. Are you kidding? Any nervousness I had dissipated the second the first strand hit the floor. (No going back now right?) During the first full shave month, I can definitely say I turned some heads, and I felt amazing. Physically, daily life is a lot easier when you don’t have hair. Emotionally, I felt a little exposed at first, but after a while I grew to absolutely love how I looked.

September 1st 2018

I was feeling SUPER cute this month. I actually think this is one of my favorite months. I definitely wasn’t completely bald anymore, but I was at a cute length that I still didn’t have to style. I experimented with my gender presentation, and hats, and generally had a good time. When your hair is super short, it’s really easy to see the growth basically happen right before your eyes.

October 1st, 2018

October and 1 whole inch of hair brought the fun of being able to spike my hair in the front. I was still fairly happy at this stage, definitely struggled with the fact that when I had long hair I felt a lot more comfy dressing more androgynously, and I for sure over “feminized” myself for the first 2 months. This month I think I started to let go of the qualms I had in my head about this a little more..

November 1st, 2018

November was when I realized.. Oh… having no hair makes your head cold. I still felt pretty cute this month, introducing hair products like waxes and pomades to control the longer back and spike the front at the advice of my brother.

December 1st, 2018

I will be 100% honest here: I felt so fucking ugly this month. When all of your hair is like a little shorter than 2 inches off your head, it creates a very awkward style of “too long in the back and sides, but not long enough on the top.” It was depressing me in ways I cannot express. My general rules for this journey were: don’t cut your hair, and don’t dye or bleach it.

Well.

January 1st 2019

I – uh – did not abide by those rules, for good reason. I decided that I was going to keep the back and sides trimmed for my comfort, but the rule for no major chops still stood. I hated this haircut at first- it was my first time ever going to a barbershop and I was so intimidated that I didn’t say much, but after a week of it growing in and growing on me I fell in love with how I looked.

February 1st 2019

I *claps* felt *claps* so *claps* goddamn *claps* cute *claps* in *claps* February. Sigh. This is like the hair length I would keep if I actually liked having short hair. So cute, so easy to manage, huge fan of this shorter undercut, 3 inches of hair lewk.

March 1st 2019

This is where we got to the point where every other month was a new challenge/awkward phase to rediscover how to do my hair. At this point, the hair on top was a little too long to manage with pomades, but couldn’t just be left alone. It was a struggle.

April 1st 2019

And just like that, a month and .66 inches of hair later, I felt so much better. So strange. I reshaved my undercut (the third haircut since I shaved it), and my hair was long enough to swoop back. I loved this look.

May 1st 2019

Annnnnnd we’re back to ugly. This is the last blunt undercut I did, right before graduation, and I definitely shouldn’t have because it did create a bit of a problem for growing out to a bob later. Again, the top hair was a bit too long to manage, but we got through it.

June 1st 2019

Okay I’ll be honest, this is literally the best hair day I had in June. I started relying heavily on the dreaded straightener to give me any semblance of sanity. My hair is naturally curly, and that was just not working at this phase with just a clump of unruly curls on top and no hair from my mid head down.

July 1st, 2019

I was IN LOVE with this month. My undercut was growing out, the top was really just doing some good things, and I think the two just worked really well together. I was super uncomfy with my body at this point of my life, unrelated to my hair, so every time that my hair would hit an awkward point it would just make it so much worse, so I’m glad July blessed me with this look.

August 1st, 2019

And with that, year 1 was over! This was another awkward month, still heavily relying on the straightener to keep me sane, but I couldn’t believe how far I had come. Looking at this a year later I cannot imagine being at this length anymore. In one year, the hair I did not cut reached a little over 8 inches.

September 1st, 2019

So in September, I started playing around with putting up parts of it, because I was again having to grow out the sides and back and the fact that it all wouldn’t just do or go one place was… infuriating to say the least. 

October 1st, 2019

This picture was taken on the day where I remember thinking “I think I can wear my hair curly and down from now on”… and I was kinda right. At the time I was like “I have a bob” and in hindsight I’m like “okay pal”. 

November 1st, 2019

Enter the next awkward phase- I truthfully had no idea what I would wake up to everyday of this month. I mostly stuck to straightening the top and gelling back the sides as best as I could, but I also would let it just do whatever. My biggest issues for a while (and still honestly) is that my sideburns are just simultaneously too short to be put up but too long to keep down.

December 1st, 2019

Rejoiced in an even longer “bob”- felt like Rapzunel from Tangled after she gets her hair chopped off. Big fan at the time, wouldn’t do it again. I will disclaim- I loved having super short hair, and super long hair, it’s honestly August 2019-March 2020 lengths that deter me from ever shaving my head again.

January 1st, 2020

January looks the same as December because the straightening of my hair really does extend the length by a good inch or so. I was definitely starting to get more comfy with my hair here. It got to a point where I could just kind of wake up and let it do whatever and that’s all I ever want tbh.

February 1st, 2020

February marks the 5th and final (to date) haircut during my 2 year grow out journey! I was starting to get increasingly annoyed with the difference in length, so I got the back evened out with the front (which has still never been cut). In case any one is wondering why this is the case- all of your hair grows at the same pace but it just looks longer on certain parts of your head. Like, the hair framing my face took the longest to grow because it needs extra length to fall over my face and not just hang straight down like it does in the back and on the sides. I was very happy this month.

March 1st, 2020

We are really starting to get somewhere! To be honest, once we reached March, the only growth was just down because all of my hair is even, so the growth was a bit less visible, but the next goal in sight became finally getting all of my hair into a full ponytail. I was a fan of this month, I started to feel more and more of myself.

April 1st, 2020

I attempted to stray further and further from using any heat on my hair because part of the reason I shaved it to began with was to grow nice and healthy hair. Seeing my curls, now with a bit of weight, was really satisfying. Ponytails/just trying to put up my hair during these months was annoying admittedly.

May 1st, 2020

Speaking of putting my hair up, I wanted to show that I mostly could by May. With the help of bobby pins and hairspray, I would rock a pony/updo for most of May. During quarantine is a great time to go through some awkward phases with a hair grow out, I will say.

June 1st, 2020

In June, this became one of my favorite hairstyles, along with using a bandana as a headband, because my biggest gripe was not being able to put up my hair to just get it out of my face. I grew tired of having to make ponytails a full day look like in May, and wanted alternatives to be able to just throw my hair up or out of my face if I wanted, and these were good solutions.

July 1st, 2020

I really started falling in love with my hair again. I’ve never had any of these hair lengths in my teenaged or adult life, but we’re getting to a point now where it’s the closest I’ve been to “long hair” in 2 years. My hair is long enough that when I move my head it brushes my shoulders, and I never thought I would rejoice that much at something so simple.

August 1st, 2020

So, that brings us to today. Wow. I told myself I couldn’t severely cut or dye my hair for the first 2 years of this journey, so on my 2 year anniversary, I used Overtone to color it purple. I cannot believe how long its grown and how crazy this journey has been. It was full of ups and downs, but I’m so glad I made the decision to do it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I definitely am excited to be getting back to where I feel most like myself

On to year 3!!.

From the Team: Our Favorite Black-Owned Businesses

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. 

Beauty Bakerie is a Black-owned beauty brand that's inspired by baking
Beauty Bakerie

“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.”

-Sarah, Editor-in-Chief

New Makeup! Juvia's Place Violets, Berries, Nudes, and Chocolates ...
Juvia’s Place

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.

Meet Chanelle Novosey - Voyage ATL
ChanelleNovosey

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 and tingz (@WingzandTingz10) | Twitter
Wingz & Tingz

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

FEMMEMUTE
FEMMEMUTE

“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

Sewit Sium Creates Handmade Jewelry that Celebrates Black History ...
Sewit Sium

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.”

-Colleen, Head Editor

My honest review of The Lip Bar lipsticks and glosses | Revelist
The Lip Bar

Interview an Author: Wendelin Van Draanen

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.

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Pictured: Wendelin poses adorably with her books (Credit: newtimesslo.com)

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!

IMG_5747
Wendelin was happy to learn I have carried my love of the series into adulthood!

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. 

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Look at her with all her books. LOOK. 

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