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.
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.”
I remember the day I walked into Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and laid my eyes on the novel Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. I’m sure other bookworms agree: sometimes you just lay your eyes onto a new title, and instantly, you know what book is yours.
Apparently, my instincts about the book were right- this unique mystery novel drove me in and kept me hostage to the pages until I’d devoured it. Unsurprisingly, Disappearing Earth is now a national bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. And, according to The New York Times, “A superb debut…a nearly flawless novel.”
Today I had the honor of speaking with Julia Phillips, whose personality and answers to my questions were just as crisp and graceful as her writing.
Analog Magazine: What is your background as a professional writer and when did you decide to pen your first novel?
Julia Phillips: I wanted to be a novelist from the time I was a little kid. It was always my dream. While drafting the manuscript that became Disappearing Earth, I worked as an editor at a small publishing house, then as a freelance corporate copywriter. The whole time, I fantasized about this project emerging in the world one day as my first book. It’s the dream of my life.
AM: Are there any authors, books, and writers who you feel have inspired your writing style or shaped you as a writer yourself?
JP: Oh, so, so, so many. Every book I’ve ever read has inspired and shaped me. While I worked on Disappearing Earth, I thought a lot about the writing of Louise Erdrich and Alice Munro, two master storytellers. Some of the particular works that informed this novel include Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman, and Dead Girls by Nancy Lee.
AM: Your debut novel, Disappearing Earth, takes place in the distant, remote area of Kamchatka, Russia. Why did you choose this setting and location to be the backbone of your story?
JP: Russian and fiction were my two main academic pursuits in college, but I struggled to find a way to combine the two. When I studied abroad in Moscow, I felt far from English-language storytelling. In my creative writing classes, I didn’t know how to capture what had excited me abroad. The best way forward seemed to be setting a book in Russia. Writing a novel in Kamchatka became my dream.
Kamchatka was a compelling setting for a few reasons. Though it’s one of the country’s most remote territories, the peninsula more clearly illustrates the effects of Russia’s shift from socialism to capitalism than larger and better-known cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg might. Before 1990, Kamchatka was classified as a closed military zone; no foreigners were permitted there and even Russians needed special dispensation to visit. It was an isolated area of an already insular state – an intensified version of mainstream Soviet culture’s self-reliant course.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, though, restrictions on Kamchatka were abandoned. The peninsula’s undeveloped land, rich natural resources, and distance from the government’s seat in Moscow made it attractive to everyone, from foreign investors to adventure tourists to poachers. Suddenly globalized, radically changed, Kamchatka remained a microcosm of its nation, which now had a different name.
There was no way for me to understand all of contemporary Russia, I thought, but perhaps I could get to know Kamchatka. The region is huge – the size of California – but self-contained. No roads connect it to the mainland. Most of its population lives in one city. Living in that isolated place for a while, I would be able to meet many people, hear their stories, collect the details that underpin convincing fiction. And beyond all of that reasoning, there was a romantic motivation: Kamchatka is very, very beautiful. Volcanoes and geysers. I wanted to go there because I loved what it looked like.
AM:Disappearing Earth breaks away from the ‘normal’ novel structure and instead tells the story through several smaller, unique anecdotes. What inspired you to array the novel in this way?
JP: This novel is the story of a group of people, a whole community affected by a single event, so I wanted to structure it in a way that drew out the connections between characters. Their shared experiences were just as crucial as their unique qualities in moving the plot forward. To me, the moral argument of the book is that we survive by coming together. In our most desperate moments, we save, and are saved by, each other.
AM: What was the research process like for you to pen this story? Did you run into roadblocks along the way?
JP: I learned about Kamchatka from the US for two years, then spent a year living on the peninsula and gathering material for this book. After I returned to the US, I started writing the book; I went back to Kamchatka in 2015 with my first draft in hand in order to do more research and start filling in the things I’d missed. I kept revising the book with the help of peer writing workshops until 2017, when an agent, then an editor, took the manuscript on and edited it with me. There were certainly roadblocks along the way. The most substantial ones were always logistical: it costs a lot of money and time to get to Kamchatka from the US, so it took years for each trip to come together. In comparison to that geographic challenge, everything else felt relatively straightforward.
AM: Was there ever a point within writing the story that you considered scrapping your original idea and going in a completely different direction?
JP: Hmm…I don’t think so. I worked on this project for ten years, so there were loads of times I felt discouraged, sad, and frustrated about it. But I don’t remember a moment where I felt so down on it that I seriously considered scrapping the whole thing. The project always compelled me even when I doubted my ability to pull it off.
AM: Several readers, including myself, have picked up on the tone of women’s issues and repression in your novel, particularly through the lens of sexism and homophobia. Why is it important to include these issues in your writing, and do you feel like the novel accurately depicts the scope of these issues in Russia?
JP: The theme of violence against women was essential to the project from the very start. This novel is structured polyphonically, with every chapter focused on a different woman’s point of view, because it is intended to explore the spectrum of harm in women’s lives—from the rare and highly publicized (an abduction by a stranger) to the mundane and hardly spoken about (a difficult doctor’s appointment, a social slight). I wrote Disappearing Earth to run the range of violence in contemporary womanhood, because I’m fascinated by how those hurts echo each other, overlap, and connect us.
And that’s a great question about whether the novel accurately depicts women in Russia. I very much hope it is resonant with folks there, and I tried hard to make it reflect my perception of this particular place as much as possible, but everything in the book is coming through my American filter, and it is inevitably biased because of that. It’s an American work, an American point of view, created by someone American. It’s hard for me to gauge therefore whether it’s an accurate depiction of someone’s real-life Russianness.
AM: From your perspective, what is the importance of leaving the conclusion of Disappearing Earth purposefully vague? Have readers reached out to you and for more clarity in regards to what the ending means?
JP: I’ve been surprised and gratified to get to talk with lots of readers about their reactions to the book’s ending. It’s probably the most frequent topic that comes up in conversation with folks who have finished the book. That’s been a fantastic craft lesson for me, because I don’t see the novel’s conclusion as open-ended; to me, it is about a specific and concrete thing. So getting to learn from other people’s interpretations and reflect on my writing going forward has been a real gift.
AM: What was your reaction to the overwhelming success of Disappearing Earth?
JP: This is a really kind question. Really, every bit of the publication process for Disappearing Earth, from the book’s acquisition to its editing process to its release, blew my mind. The whole thing has been a dream come true.
AM: How would you feel if a studio approached you with interest in turning Disappearing Earth into a film? Could you see that potentially happening in the future?
JP: That’d be incredible! My fingers are crossed.
AM: What are your other hobbies and interests besides writing?
JP: Reading, for sure, and listening to loads of podcasts. Cooking, seeing friends, going for walks. Watching TV and movies, especially comedies. Reading DIY/decor blogs and fantasizing about restoring some gorgeous old house.
“I wrote Disappearing Earth to run the range of violence in contemporary womanhood, because I’m fascinated by how those hurts echo each other, overlap, and connect us. “
AM: What is something you wish everybody/more people knew about you?
JP: Ha! To be honest, there isn’t anything I want everybody to know about me. I often get nervous about the bits of personal information that I’ve shared too casually in the past.
AM: What are your general goals and aspirations for the future?
JP: I want to feel immersed in my writing, and challenged, stimulated, and pushed to grow by creative work. I want to support other writers and artists in sharing their works with the world. As I look forward, I hope to publish multiple books and tell stories that move their readers. And one day I’d love to have my own room to write in. With bookshelves on all the walls!
AM: Can we expect another novel from you in the future? And, if yes, will you stick with the mystery/thriller theme?
JP: Absolutely. I’m working on another novel now. I don’t know what themes will compel me far in the future, but for now, I love a mystery – I love a book that begins with a thrilling question and gives us some answer by the end.
AM: Lastly, what advice would you give to other young writers?
JP: I’d offer anyone interested in writing three pieces of advice: first, read as much as possible; second, write as much as possible; third, embed yourself in an artistic community. Through reading, you’ll learn so much about storytelling and craft. Books offer an education with no equivalent. And through regular writing, you’ll sharpen your skills, learning what works for you on the page and what doesn’t. The third piece of advice, community building, might be the most important. It’s so challenging and limiting to create art in a vacuum. Connect with the folks around you (whether in person or online), read and cheer on their work, participate in conversations around creativity, and get feedback from others on what you’re producing. In those ways, you’ll not only fuel your own growth but also help foster a world of stronger, better, more supported artists. ★
“The best thing about being a drag performer is being able to show the world a side of you that you’re not usually able to show.”
Not everyone can say they went to college with a fabulous drag queen, but I am lucky enough to say I have that experience. I met Dylan, also known by his drag persona, Mercedes Benzover, at my university’s pride club this past year. Not only is he extremely funny and animated, but he also has a kind heart and a loving personality that I immediately admired. I knew I wanted to interview him when I saw him perform live at a campus event, which absolutely blew me away. Some people are just born with strong stage energy and charisma, and trust me when I say Dylan has it. He describes himself the same way many other people describe him: outgoing, fun, and independent. “And crazy,” he adds.
Like many young people, Dylan started getting into the art of drag after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in high school. From there, he began getting into makeup and the intricate craft of drag culture, which ultimately led him to create his drag persona, Mercedes Benzover. “I came up with this name by putting two of my favorite cars together, Mercedes Benz and Range Rover,” Dylan says in regards to how he crafted the name. And, of course, it offers quite the laugh when spoken aloud.
The turning point for Dylan came during his senior year of high school, during which he decided to show up to the Thanksgiving Rally in drag attire. “I decided to not care about what people were going to think about me, and I put on a pair of heels from Savers and a grey wig,” Dylan says about that day, “I walked into the gym and felt so powerful. People ended up coming up to me and letting me know how proud they were of me.”
From there, Dylan’s confidence in his abilities as a drag queen only flourished. This past September, he performed in his very first drag show and sang “Sorry Not Sorry” as his first number. He recalls how beautiful it felt to perform in front of many people, even despite a potential mishap. “I remember my wig almost falling off when I tried whipping it around,” he says with a laugh.
However, things haven’t always been easy for Dylan, especially in the face of unsupportive parents. Dylan hid his interest in drag for the first two years of practicing it and resorted to watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in his basement. When his parents finally discovered his passion, he says that they treated it with disgust.
“They didn’t find out I was doing drag until about 2-3 years ago through a photo on my social media,” Dylan says, “My mom is kinda on the fence that she doesn’t care, but she does. The big thing is that she wants me to have a ‘real job’.”
Sadly, Dylan’s story of rejection from his parents isn’t uncommon for LGBT+ youth. Gay, bisexual, and transgender children have been shown to have significantly higher rates of mental illness and depression, usually as a result of disapproval and shame from their families (NCBI). However, Dylan tries his best to stay positive in the face of prejudice and hate and instead focuses on all the wonderful aspects of his craft. “The best thing about being a drag performer is being able to show the world/your audience a side of you that you’re not usually able to show,” Dylan says in regards to the best aspects of drag. If he had to pick the worst aspect, he says it would be the lack of acceptance around the art.
Over the past few years, Dylan has built up a unique and stunning drag image for himself. He cites bougie girls, Sasha Velour, Chanel, and really “anything rich” as his inspiration for his hair, makeup, and fashion. Beyond that, however, Dylan says he can draw inspiration from almost anything. Besides performing drag arts, his other hobbies include watching YouTube videos, hanging out with his friends, and playing around with makeup and fashion. As a fashion design major, a large majority of Dylan’s time is spent in the sewing room designing new, exciting looks. “I believe college has opened my mind to so many things- personally and professionally,” Dylan says about his college experience thus far, “Ever since starting college, I’ve felt more open about many things and have become more independent. I truly think I’m living a meaningful life.”
In the future, Dylan aspires to continue his drag career and hopefully build a bigger name for himself. He wants to start his own fashion company, for which he would craft both special occasion dresses and custom drag pieces. Ultimately, Dylan wants to be happy, content, and continue to live his life to the fullest. Before we end the interview, Dylan has a piece of advice for other LGBT+ youth trying to make a name for themselves in the world: “There will be hard times and people might not respect you, but don’t care what other people think about you, and live life the way YOU want to live it. It’s your life, nobody else’s. I’ve learned that sometimes in your life there will be hard obstacles, but you’ll get through it, do better things, and help others.”
It’s always such an honor to sit down and interview artists for Analog, but Dylan is especially such a treat. His energy and his humor is so vibrant and inviting, it’s hard not to be immediately drawn to him. If you’d like to learn more about Dylan “Mercedes Benzover,” you can find him on Instagram @dylan_alves123. All the best in the future, Dylan!