Category: Schoolin’ Life

Schoolin’ Life: Gisele Jobateh

In the final installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator Gisele Jobateh.

Gisele Jobateh

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
Being a queer person of colour society left me feeling generally negative about myself. Add on to that a bunch of body image issues and it was a rough couple of decades for me. My skills were usually questioned or downplayed, as well as my intelligence. Thankfully, I did get to meet some people who helped me through these stigmas: high school teachers and the few long lasting friends that made sure I knew I was valued.

What was your first job like?
It was fast-paced and tiring. I worked as a camp assistant for local art summer camps for children. But this summer job did teach me patience, to an extent, as well as being around minds that engaged with things with complete earnestness and interest (if you could keep their attention on the task at hand, of course).

In what ways did your friendships change?
Over time, I stopped making friendships based on social survival and instead on actual common interests. The amount of abusive friends I had diminished greatly when I started to recognize my worth and dropped anyone who tried to diminish it in my eyes through “playful” bullying and name calling, especially of the racial kind.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I learned that I don’t like cis men, and that I am decidedly gay. Also, that I would rather be alone than with someone who I didn’t like out of some sort of romantic necessity.

How did your relationships with your family change?
I’ve become a little more open to understanding them and recognizing that they have their own private lives. As I grew up, I saw them more as individuals who are learning and growing themselves, instead of as a unit that I was also a part of. I am still close to my family, but there’s also a comfortable distance between us.

How do you feel society viewed you?
Generally negatively, considering the demographics I am a part of. I feel you can gauge your place in society based on how grating you find advertisements, and I’m pretty much the mirror image of the kind of customers most corporations want to appeal to, especially since I no longer desire to change myself to fit that image.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I think I’ve become calmer. I still have bad days where I get anxious, but it’s no longer to the point that I’m incapacitated by it. I also like to think I’ve matured emotionally.

How did you change intellectually?
I’ve shifted away from book smarts and more towards people smarts. I’ve gotten better at interacting with people socially, sometimes even volunteering to meet new people and even do public speaking. In the past, I’d much rather be the person doing the behind the scenes work, mainly research, or nothing at all, just watching and learning.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
In many ways. I feel more self-confident, as much as the world around me tries to bring me down. I’ve gotten out of the habit of asking for permission to seek out my ambitions and happiness.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
As much as my inner confidence has grown, my confidence with the outer world has diminished. I feel slightly more jaded than I did when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I still have some hope for the future, but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the people in power got their power by cheating, and they will keep it with more cheating. It’s frustrating to think about.

Who was your biggest influence and why?
There wasn’t just one influence on my life or my drive towards success. My mom is a big one, of course. I’ve known her all my life, and although we’ve had a couple of rough patches, I still see her as an inspiration.

My former Media Studies teacher from back in high school, who taught me the foundations of critical thinking, was also a big influence. Her classroom was always open and she let me hang out in it during lunch because I preferred quiet, secluded places to eat. She leant me a lot of books and even gave me a couple, believing in my intelligence. I would return most of them thoroughly read and we would have short book club meetings about them.

And then there was my high school English teacher, who was a black woman and helped me connect better with one half of my race. She taught me about the past and present civil rights movements, and although I didn’t understand the importance of these lessons at the time, looking back she gave me a very important foundation upon which I am now building myself up.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I often tweet about my regret of going to university at all and wasting all that money on tuition, considering that I’ve been developing a skill that can be self taught and is my main source of income. But even though I feel silly for sinking 30K and 5 years of my life into two degrees, I can’t fully regret it, considering it is what has made me the person I am today. I like what I had become.

Schoolin’ Life: Meg Lemke

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know editor and writer Meg Lemke.

Meg Lemke

Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m an editor and a writer, about in that order. I run/edit MUTHA Magazine, which was founded by Michelle Tea. MUTHA publishes diverse parenting stories, essays, interviews and “some of the finest comics about modern motherhood” (Nat. Brut). My essays and interviews have been published at places like Paris Review [here’s the most recent], Seleni, MUTHA, other places. Also, I chair the comics and graphic novel programming at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Before my daughter was born, I was a career book editor (at Teachers College Press at Columbia, Seven Stories Press, and Houghton Mifflin). Now “how I spend my days” is part freelance and part playground. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn.   

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I turned twenty in 1999 – partying that New Year’s listening to Prince, natch, dancing drunk off of the cheapest of red wine with my closest friend in my parents’ basement. I was nostalgic even then, realizing what a strange period of change we were entering. My twenties were the first decade of the new millennium. I started it in college, going into my senior year, and wanted to travel, to write and create, to find love. I expected to continue in academia, that’s what I envisioned—to be a professor. But that isn’t what happened—I went into publishing instead, where I have had the privilege to read and edit the manuscripts of many a Ph.D without having defended one myself.  

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

To say the least, I was intensely self-conscious in that decade. I have always felt pressure, from all around me in society, to present as doing a good job and to try to stay pretty doing it. (And not talk so much/too loud, at which I particularly fail). Society transmitted into me the expectation that physical beauty for women could trump other accomplishments, that beauty was value—and it would not be possible for me to ever quite make the grade. But yet—even if it would never count quite as much as it would to be, say, thin–it remained my duty to be a good student, a good worker, a good helper, to be of “merit.” While I had felt shamed by classmates in high school about how often I raised my hand—going into college, I fought against this expectation that women should not “act smart.” I kept asking questions.

In my early twenties, maybe in rebellion to all of this, I’d wear overalls with purple leopard-print velvet skirts, did the thrift shop and flannel thing, influenced by a grunge and riot grrrl aesthetic. This was also because it was fashionable, since I grew up in Seattle in the ’90s. And, I dove into sex-positive literature and movements, which were burgeoning also in the waning grunge years of the Northwest. I read feminist thinkers, queer writers. I cannot claim I ever shook my body consciousness, but I did become more thoughtful, mindful, conscious of that consciousness.

As I went first into assistant-level publishing jobs and further in my career into my later twenties, I was also yoked by the expectation—implicit and often explicit—that I should not ask/expect to get paid well for the kind of work I wanted to pursue. That one, especially a girl-person, should joy in working long hours perpetually in literary gratitude rather than ask for a raise, ever. It never went well when I did, it always was a humiliating conversation where the bosses were very troubled that I was bringing it up. It is an industry teetering on the backs of many young (more often female-identified, at least in my time) interns and assistants. Though, that said, I did love my jobs; and I had many wonderful (often women) mentors.

What was your first job like?

I had many first jobs all at the same time. From when I was nine years old, until my mid-twenties, I babysat. Though, I can’t imagine hiring a nine-year-old now to babysit my own kid… But, I was an ALL-TIME BEST BABYSITTER. (When I read Raina Telgemeier’s revamped Babysitter’s Club graphic novels, I cried with nostalgia). I’ve had friends advise me not to let my own daughter babysit when she is older—as in, offer her only the opportunity of career advancing early work, instead reinforcing a primary caregiver role for women. But, for me, I loved it. Aside from the fact that I dig kids, I liked being in different people’s houses and visiting their lives, imagining their stories. Once I babysat in someone’s docked boat—not a yacht, but like a small boat tethered somewhere in the dark waters… (think of Charles Burns’ landscapes). I sat for actors and artists, who were fascinating and unsure about their new life as parents–who I think of wryly today. I’m in the same boat now.

I also pulled coffee all through college, at different shops in Seattle including the “red-headed stepdaughter” (as the owners called it) cart outpost of the hipster-y Bauhaus, which was located inside the University bookstore.  I think Bauhaus itself is gone now; that was a great coffeeshop…. I also became a bookstore clerk there for a while (yay book discounts); definitely I advise working in a bookstore if you want to work in publishing books.

When I was 21, I started work “for real” in publishing–as an intern at Elizabeth Wales’s literary agency, and a reader for the Seattle Review (edited by Colleen McElroy, a beautiful poet, teacher, and human). Later I managed to get hired by Elizabeth as her assistant. Then I moved to Boston and then New York… I took the internship because I wanted to be a writer, but then discovered my passion as an editor and advocate for authors.

What was your first apartment like?

I moved out of my parents’ home when I was 17, first into a dorm very briefly, then a couple months later broke out of there and into an apartment in the heart of Seattle’s University District. I had two roommates, and it was a funky space—salvaged furniture, we put up ratty art (and some porn) on the walls, laminated the table with photo postcards, made messes. We rehearsed theater and all wrote stories and plays, threw parties, and often had stray acquaintances sleeping on our couch/floor/beds. Hungover kids would wake up and I would give them tea and ask them about their love life. I had a reputation for asking personal questions of people I didn’t know well enough to ask, which I suspect that remains true. Mara Siciliano, who is a playwright, lived across the street, and Brandon Graham, the comic artist, basically lived with us—we certainly fed him most days. Whenever I see him now I have the impulse to microwave a burrito. I’ve kept many friends from that time and place, who showed up often on that dirty floor; Chris Burkhalter, who was a comics reviewer and is great writer, Olivia Gunn, a poet and dancer and now a professor at UW; Alissa Mortenson, who started a theater company and now is doing theater-influenced therapy…  

Did you experience any big life changes?

Yes.

I studied in Italy when I was twenty, and took a multi-month life-changing solo backpacking trip across Europe, crashing in hostels and having adventures and affairs. Then, I got my first job(s), as noted, and later I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast–Boston and then New York. I moved between jobs, got laid off once, got back in and found my niche(s) in the industry. I got married when I was 26, and when I was thirty I started trying to have a baby.

I gave birth at 31. That was a change like nothing else before in my life.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Entering my twenties, I had had various tumultuous and serially monogamous attachments—one with a cast member of the local Rocky Horror Picture Show troupe, one (briefly) with a drug addict, some jerks and some sweethearts. Finding and losing lovers, desire and the overwhelming longing to be desirable, these were primary drivers in my choices and actions. I was swoony, lovesick.

Then, at 21, I started dating my best friend, who I had known for some years. He said he loved me, somewhat all of a sudden. We moved in together a few weeks later. We had our ten-year wedding anniversary this month.

Instead of searching for romance in my 20s, I had the luck/challenge to learn to love and be committed to one, complicated and particular and adored, person, over time. We have stuck through a lot together. We have made each other.

I first met my husband, before we were dating, when I was seventeen and he was seventeen, in the basement of a shopping mall, where I was making espresso under the escalator and he was helping to make the new internet economy upstairs in an office, both of us paid under the table (hello ‘90s Seattle).  One irony that has been apparent to me, since, is that I thought in my naïve youth that I would remain the cooler half—that I was artsy and he was math-y. But that decade became the real revenge of the nerds. (Certainly he now has more twitter followers than me, to my deep burning rage). He turned out to be a good risk. I take pride in his work and I know he takes pride in mine. How important that is—to find your partnership in love to be a ballast for your other identities, your work and ambitions. This requires allowing each other to change over time, to grow up together, which can be very difficult (imagine me biting my tongue here and sitting on typing fingers) but worth it.   

How did your relationships with your family change?

As I became an adult, they became less immediately responsible for me and therefore less worried about me constantly. Because in my family, to love means to worry. My mother might dispute this; I still give her lots to worry over. I moved across the country—so I see them only a few times a year. But we talk weekly at least, often daily. I fly home to Seattle enough that I have considered putting that I am bicoastal into my little online profile boxes, except that looks ridiculous – like the guys with “NY/LA/London/Bangkok” but you know that they live down the street 99% of the time.

Do you feel you changed emotionally?

Eh, maybe. I am an emotional type, which has sustained. I hope I have become less flighty (though sadly I think not much less anxious). I am better able to appreciate the various ways that love demonstrates itself, the value in stability as well as thrill.

I am bound up emotionally in my child, right now, in a way that makes it hard to take stock of myself separate from being a new-ish mother. I’m still in the thick of it, even though she’s somehow already four years old. Check back when she starts kindergarten; or middle school perhaps.  Ayun Halliday wrote some lines, as I recall them, in her memoir THE BIG RUMPUS, which I would like to find to actually quote, but in my memory she said how having a child can be the shocking intense reciprocated love sought in so many romantic movies/stories, but you also have to take care of them every minute of every day (or hire someone else to do it), so it is a lot to feel.  I am full to bursting.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

So… this is an early one in my twenties; my later disappointments feel too fresh to describe with clarity. But, right at the start of that decade, I was still bummed about how I had wanted to go to college in New York. I had a much ballyhooed (by spoiled me and of course my sweet proud parents) national merit scholarship to NYU that we then turned down because the expense to make up the difference was too much for my family, who were doing fine financially but not willing to like triple-mortgage their house for me to go to the big(ger) city for a ridiculously priced school. This led me to complain frequently about my bright lights dreams going out. Instead, I was able to pay more affordable tuition and study with excellent writers at the University of Washington, including Charles D’Ambrosio, Charles Johnson, Heather McHugh; could afford travel and study abroad, worked while also got support from my family through school, and then later graduated with zero student loans. Then I moved to New York anyways. Some East Coast folks are very snobby about schools and pedigree, name-dropping that never stops (and anyone reading this of that persuasion might think, look we’re not talking about missing out on Yale here… get over it). I see now the benefits long-term of not going into debt for college, I wish that were even possible now.  And how schooling is what you make of it, taking advantage of the resources that are presented. Follow your teachers after class to talk—this goes for work-life mentors also, if you can do it in a not-too-annoying fashion.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Well, I turned 22 on September 12, 2001. It is obvious to state that 9/11 defined the decade in America, shifted national politics and our culture profoundly. From it was created the ubiquitous surveillance that feels rather normal now, but isn’t.   
Also: The Internet pretty much happened that decade. Social media was not really a thing yet when I turned twenty, though there were bulletin boards and chat rooms. As it became dominant, the connectedness and need to constantly broadcast, both in my work and in my friendships, became the other new normal. Though I’m still not on facebook personally, as I have little interest in rekindling grade-school connections.  I think I’m going to have to go on soon though, that’s another story, but FB is making it impossible to update the MUTHA site without me having a personal account; super frustrating as I don’t want to be forced on that network… (I like twitter though! You can find me there).

Schoolin’ Life: Ariel Ries

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet animator Ariel Ries.

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Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a 21-year-old animation student by day, creator of the webcomic “Witchy” by night. I’m from Australia but I’m into my second year of living and studying in Denmark at the moment. In all likelihood, I’ll be living here for another two years.  I draw a lot, watch cartoons a lot, and cook a lot.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

My 9 year (number of years until I’m 30) plan at the moment is: finish school, get a storyboarding job in LA, live there for somewhere between 2-5 years, either build a big enough audience that I can just make comics and live off my patreon, or be well known enough that I can get a steady stream of freelance and move back to my hometown, Melbourne, Australia (while working on comics on the side!). Hopefully it’ll work out.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Most of my personality crisis happened in my late teens. I was a mixed, white/Southeast Asian confused about my sexuality and how I should label myself in a whole bunch of ways. I had an athletic, bulky body, brown skin, and a big chin, and the only Asian women I ever saw in media were wispy, pale-skinned east asians. many people told me I wasn’t “Asian enough” but my appearance prevented me from ever feeling “white enough” or “feminine enough,” too. Learning about intersectional feminism has helped me so much. Learning about the social constructs of gender has helped me shed doubt about myself and learn to be proud of every part of myself, be it queer, Asian, masculine, or feminine.

I’m thankful that I never had to have this same problems with my career goals. I’ve been interested in art since I was 8 and my parents supported me wholeheartedly in my ambitions. I’m friends with a lot of people with very healthy views about art, authenticity, and the toxic opinions about artists held by people both inside and outside the animation industry.

What was your first job like?

My first long-ish term job was at an art supply chain store, and it was like working for Big Brother. The head office would send in people disguised as shoppers to spy on us, we had to up-sell everything, and we went through about 1 manager every 6 weeks because the bosses blamed the company’s performance on the workers, rather than, say, bad business decisions. We had to stalk everyone in the shop and ask if they needed any help constantly. It was definitely aggravating for the customers, but it was part of the business’s employee protocol. I hated a lot of it, but at least it taught me how to talk to strangers!

What was your first apartment like?

I’m still living in my first apartment and hearing horror stories from other people makes me feel blessed about the roommates I share it with. Rural(ish) Denmark is a great place to have a first apartment because you have easy access to cute furniture and all the apartments are super charming.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Well, I uprooted my entire life in Australia to study in Denmark, so that’s a pretty big one. I do occasionally feel homesick, and I do miss my friends and family a lot, but my friends here are cool too and I consider myself a pretty well adapted expat. the fact that everyone here speaks perfect English makes living here a lot easier.

If all goes to plan too, I’ll be living in LA in a few years. I visited LA earlier this year and I’m not gonna lie, I don’t love it, but I have good friends there and at least you can actually get good Asian food, which is almost non-existent in Denmark.

In what ways did your friendships change?

It’s very hard maintaining long distance friendships, especially when you have at least 10 friends that you wish you could keep in contact with. The time zone in Denmark is almost the reverse of Melbourne time, so I can only Skype people on the weekends, and there’s only about 5 hours in which I can call people! It blows. That’s not to say all my friends have forgotten about me, when I was back home in the summer everything with my best friends clicked perfectly back into place, so I’m lucky that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could be there for my friends though.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Since I’ve moved out, it’s a lot easier to deal with my mother. She’s super dependent on me and my sister for self-worth, and I think having both of us out of the house will help her to find fulfillment and self-worth elsewhere. so, less of a relationship change, more of a dynamic change. I think me and my dad’s relationship  has improved actually. I probably talk to him more now that i set aside an hour a week to talk to him and mum. he’s worked 9-6 my whole life so I didn’t see much of him when I was back home. hopefully our relationships will continue to head along this path!

As for my sister, I think we’ll just miss each other. we get along super well but we’re both busy people and that’s hard when you’re 30 hours apart.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

i don’t know how much my worldview will change in the next decade. When you’re a world builder, you naturally learn a lot about economics, people, and the structure of societies. I take a vested interest in social justice and the progression of humanity. I’m cautiously optimistic about our ability to overcome the climate crisis, the cannibalistic nature of capitalism as we know it, and the bigotry of the privileged. I only hope that in time I will become more optimistic, not pessimistic.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Thankfully, I haven’t arrived at this point yet, but I just assume it will be something job related.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I can’t say he’ll remain my biggest influence, but we had a teacher last year named Mike Nguyen. I’ve always valued being sincere in my work, and when he lectured us on the importance of authenticity when creating something, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. He told us that as long as our art is honest, it will resonate with others. Hearing an industry veteran say something like that helped me believe there was a place for someone with sensibilities like mine.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I mean, I’m still kind of hoping that one day a talking animal is going to give me a magic wand and tell me I’m a magical girl, but I’ve seen enough anime to know how that can go wrong.

Schoolin’ Life: Melissa Wong

In the latest edition of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with tech maven, yoga student, and side hustler Melissa Wong.

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Photo credit: Ren Yagolnitzer

Quick bio: who are you, what are you into, what do you spend your time doing?

I am a curious, inquisitive person. Whether it be a speaker series, workshop, or gathering with friends, I like to stay busy learning! Fortunately, living and working in Brooklyn lets me do just that.

I work for Kickstarter, just completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training, and am hungrily learning more about the art of facilitation. These days I wake up, eat, breathe and subway thinking about my passion project, Up Speak: an organization which facilitates intimate career support groups for women navigating similar professional terrain.

As someone still learning about what kind of work I find most meaningful, I created Up Speak to provide a collaborative space for kindred spirits to help hold each other inspired and accountable to their goals.

If you are interested in joining the first 2016 session, let me know here!

When you were in your 20s:

What expectations did you have for yourself in the decade?

I’m in my late 20s so I’m not in the clear yet!
I recently went to a Lady Boss event and was comforted by one of the speaker’s stories. She said she’s been working for 30 years: the first ten years she was just figuring out what she wanted to do; the second ten she spent getting good at it; and it has only been in the last ten years that she’s finally getting real traction. I hope that by the time I exit my 20s I will have passed that first milestone of refining what it is that I am not only good at but feel great doing.

What was your first job like?

My first real job was hostessing at my dad’s seafood restaurant in San Diego which was just up the street from my high school.  
Working at The Fish Merchant, I got my first taste of what it’s like trying to please people and the idea that “the customer is always right”. It was a formative job in that it spurred me to work part-time throughout college, building a resume in hospitality. It also allowed me to save enough money for backpacking travels during my summers. I have dedicated a large part of my 20s to traveling and eating!

What was your first apartment like?

My first time renting an apartment on my own was in a different country where I had to trust other people to translate what was going on. I was teaching English in a small city in Spain and was only going to be there for 9 months. It was admittedly a quirky, pretty hideous apartment but I still sought refuge there from a city that made me feel like an outsider.

That said, I just had dinner with the girl I lived with during that strange, transitional time and feel fortunate that I made a lasting friendship in the unlikeliest of places.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Yes! Let me try to count them… I’ve lived in many different cities in different countries. I’ve only had one 1 year lease, instead opting for sublets that don’t require rental agreements. I’ve had several serious relationships. My parents got divorced. I’ve had over 10 different jobs.

I realized along the way that it is harder for some people to brave moving outside their comfort zones and harder for others to stay put where they are.
I happened to fall into the latter group but felt a shift a few years ago from simply wanting to drink in the world, to wanting to have experiences that had more long term impact. Now I’d much rather travel to a new place and be involved in a project there, then just be an observer floating through. I’m happy to take on the challenge of finding newness in the everyday.

In what ways did your friendships change?

When you move around a lot, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold close everyone you care about. The tradeoff to having the freedom to move and experience new places is that it will never be possible to have all the people you love in one place. That has been a reality I’ve had to accept over the past decade.

Fortunately for me, my best friend and I have lived parallel lives. We haven’t gone very long without being in the same city and able to see each other on an everyday basis. She has been a grounding force for me through all of life’s changes, a constant that I feel incredibly grateful to have had during periods of growth and self-discovery.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I think a lot of people today put so much pressure on their partner to be their everything — their best friend, their fiery lover, their roomie, their travel companion, and on and on. These shoes are too big for any one person to fill!
I’m still trying to be able to distinguish between these high expectations society has created for us and what my real hopes and needs are in a partnership. It’s a constant education. When it comes to what it means to grow with and alongside someone else, to understand how we as individuals and us as a couple can symbiotically flourish, I’m still very much a student.

How did your relationships with your family change?
I feel lucky that I’ve had strong family connections that have supported and anchored me throughout all of the fluxes in my 20s. After my parents divorced, my younger sister and I found a silver lining in really cultivating individual relationships with both our mom and dad. Now that we are all adults, we’ve had to navigate what it means to have these relationship ”2.0s”.  It’s a process but we’re getting better and better at it!

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I like to think I’ve become both more self-aware and also self-assured. I’ve gotten clearer on what makes me feel like my authentic self and accepting of who I am. I have also had more practice at being attuned to what someone else is feeling or needs. Turns out, empathy grows with experience.

In high school, I remember feeling irritated once when my mom read a tragic headline in the newspaper and started to cry about it. I didn’t understand how just reading something about people she didn’t even know could elicit such an emotional response.

How did you change intellectually?

If college is there to help you “learn to think”, my 20s was about getting more “street smart”. Moving away from academia toward the workforce I wanted to do more and conjecture less.

I’ve learned the importance of presentation, confidence, and connections throughout my professional career. These are invaluable skills that they just don’t teach you in college.
More recently, I’ve shifted my thinking about the malleability of thought patterns themselves. I always thought that one’s propensity toward certain thoughts was largely inflexible. I’m coming around to the idea that your mind is like a muscle — you can actually train it to form different pathways, to choose alternate ways to view your reality. It’s an incredibly empowering feeling to know that we have more control over our thoughts than we think.

 

Welp, now I get it. After doing, seeing, and feeling more things, it’s easier for me to put myself in someone else’s shoes and really physically process what they must be going through. Just the other day I was fighting back tears after reading a news headline…

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
After being a student for so long, it was difficult to emerge into the working world and find my footing. Without grades to validate my worth, I felt a palpable dip in self-confidence. I didn’t know how to market myself because I didn’t know what I had to offer aside from being a critical thinker who could write essays and talk about ideas. I was one of many educated young people trying to find the uniquely shaped hole in which I could curl into perfectly. The “How to Conquer Your Quarter-life Crisis” book that my mom gave me upon college graduation, unfortunately, didn’t help.

It was challenging to enter a workforce that seemed to only want to employ people who design or engineer products. I’ve had to work hard to identify and embrace the interpersonal, intangible skills that I possess and to find the best home for them. The good news is, I truly feel like I am just inches away from getting there. *Cough* Did I mention my project Up Speak?

Who was your biggest influence and why?
The person I consistently seek input and feedback from is my amazing best friend Elisa. We’ve been through so many stages of life together (ever since the 3rd grade!) that we know each other in a deep-rooted, historic way. Aside from sharing many values and interests, a strong element to our relationship is that we make decisions in different ways. If I am the “Why?”, she is the “How”. She is someone I look to when I need clarity about which way to move, as she’s a genius at breaking an issue down to its most important elements. She’s a crazy smart, modest, go-getter and someone who I plan on rocking my chair next to in retirement!

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

One of the most challenging things I’ve had to do is admit to myself that the life I was living didn’t feel like my own. I quit or changed my job and moved away from friends not once but twice in order to maintain romantic relationships. Separating myself from people I loved but who ultimately were not going to be my “forever guys” was incredibly difficult, but it was necessary to find a path that felt like my own.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

When I look back at my former selves, I feel empathy for them. I think this is the biggest reason why I don’t have regrets. If I’ve ever done something that didn’t have a net positive result, I can flip back to that time in my mind and still understand why I chose to do what I did.

Plus, I’m happy where I am now and I think there’s truth to acknowledging that all the little moments, even the false steps, contribute to where you currently stand.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I remember a night when Elisa and I had a most depressing dinner that ended in laughter. That night, we picked some greens from the house’s garden and took some eggs from the chicken in the front yard to frugally make dinner. I was crashing her house sitting gig in Berkeley after having returned from a year in Spain. I was jobless and she was working part-time. We were both single and feeling unlucky in love. We got quiet at one point, chewing in silence, and then lamented that we were feeling so pathetic and lost. Since the only other option was to cry, we just laughed really hard about it.

Yeah, that’s how I think I’ll remember my 20s — constantly trying to figure things out but having a lot of fun doing it!

Schoolin’ Life: Fiona Smyth

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator/painter/cartoonist Fiona Smyth.

fiona smyth at 24 and now

Quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a feminist artist whose practice includes drawing, painting, illustration, and cartooning. I’m into zine collecting, comics, and snacking! I teach illustration and cartooning at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) and the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’m the illustrator in collaboration with writer and sex educator Cory Silverberg for the picture book What Makes A Baby and the newly released follow-up Sex Is A Funny Word from Seven Stories Press. My first graphic novel, The Never Weres, was published by Annick Press in 2011.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I graduated art school in 1986 but I was already exhibiting my paintings the year before. My expectations were to spread my work internationally and live off my art. I managed to establish myself as an artist, illustrator, and cartoonist in Toronto and get a bit of a reputation beyond Canada.  Sometimes there were day jobs and there was a brief stint on welfare.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was inspired by what was happening in New York City’s Lower East Side’s art scene- fast creators and ever present artists like Keith Haring. Toronto was a real boys’ club in art and comics. I knew as a woman artist (in Toronto and beyond) I was an exception and so was the content of my work/what I had to say. I was creating sexy, in your face, colourful work. I was driven to show my work often, and also outside the gallery system through posters, murals, clothing, and zines.

What was your first job like?

My very first job ever was when I was 15 at a deli/café named Sweet Gallery but later in my twenties my day job was working the candy counter and ticket sales at a repertory cinema. I was doing illustration commissions, painting clothes and murals, and making comics during the day. I worked with Reactor Art & Design for illustration, Vortex Comics, and Weller-Potovsky Gallery in Toronto.

What was your first apartment like?

I lived in the basement of a student rented house. There were at least 4 other roomies. I had a studio at the time that was shared with 3 other artists. At some point I decided to get a cat, which the roomies were not psyched about.

Did you experience any big life changes?

My family moved to Nova Scotia and I was on my own for the first time in Toronto. It was a much bigger adjustment than I realized- freedom but also dealing with emotional issues.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I knew a lot of people but had a handful of close friends. I got into a bad habit of finding “surrogate parent” friends, or troubled and depressed folks like myself. There were many bad decisions in relation to friends, living situations, and partying during those days.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

There weren’t romantic ones until I met my partner (of now 23 years) when I was 28.  Before Craig Daniels entered my life, it was drug addicts, alcoholics, and genuine jerks- territory that was familiar.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Distance and time helped me build healthier boundaries and self-esteem (plus the stability and support of my relationship with Craig, and therapy).

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a woman artist society tends to judge your work in relation to what you look like in a way that doesn’t happen to male artists. When I was younger, folks were often surprised by my demeanour in relation to the sexy, violent, outrageous content of my work and they also made assumptions because I was a punk rocker. I find now as an older artist, folks are surprised I don’t look like a punk rocker. I can’t win!

Also you can be pigeonholed as a particular kind of artist- for example for years I’d have art directors say something like: “We love your work but we don’t want erect penises or flaming vaginas in this kids’ illustration” –well, duh!

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

At the time I was making bad decisions and acting out in ways I wouldn’t understand until years later. I’ve gained understanding and empathy for my younger self since then.

How did you change intellectually?

When I first made a name for myself as an artist I was afraid of the F word. I would call myself a humanist. That didn’t last long, I am a feminist artist and fiercer about that stance the older I get. Personal experience and feminism opened my eyes.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I discovered my art acted like an alter ego and that was an okay way to deal with being in the world.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My worldview was becoming more and more fatalistic, especially with the occurrence of family illness.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Apart from not calling myself a feminist for a time? Being 15 minutes late for a friend’s wedding for which I was the “best man”.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

There was a chance I might have gone to NYC as part of a studio residency. For many years an established artist teacher/mentor of mine would bemoan the fact I hadn’t gone but in retrospect I often think of it as missing a bullet not an opportunity. I needed the stability and slowness of Toronto to discover my healthiest self and my visual voice. I think I would have been burnt out on drugs and the fast pace of NYC, I don’t think my 20’s self would’ve survived.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Punk rock and hip hop DIY culture (this was pre-Riot Grrrl and Queercore) which taught me to be wary of the establishment, not give a fuck, and promote and disseminate my work outside the gallery system. Keith Haring showed the way in creating populist iconic work fast and effectively, and including social justice themes. He taught me the personal is political, and can be accessible and universal.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

The murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989: I remember hearing the news, being in denial thinking they were murdered because they were engineering students- and having the nauseating realization they were murdered because they were women.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I wish I’d done more comics- I pursued art more fervently but comics travel in the world better.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I had some adventures in Detroit- showing art, and visiting with Craig and his band, The Leather Uppers. The grit and rawness of this dystopic American city was juxtaposed with an amazing music scene (The Gories). This culture was at its most punk and resilient, grounded by broken glass and burning cars.

Schoolin’ Life: Duretti Hirpa

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we catch up with senior software engineer Duretti Hirpa.

Duretti Hirpa

Who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

My name is Duretti Hirpa, and I’m a senior software engineer at Slack. I’m unabashedly into people, Beyoncé, snacks, and the ever changing role of technology in our lives. I spend my days making Slack better, working on my snack podcast (snackoverflow), as well as trying to make the tech industry a more welcoming and equitable place for lady-identified and/or marginalized people.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

Growing up, I was inordinately obsessed with being an “adult”. Now that I’m here, I realize we’re mostly winging it. Additionally, my expectations were really normative – spouse, baby, house, but conversely, I told myself my twenties were for me, that I get every year in my twenties to myself, to figure out what it was I wanted and how to get there.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I come from a family of immigrants (shout out to East Africa), and as such, I had a lot of dissonant societal views coming at me: women should have a career, but being married with babies is your most crucial function. It took me a long time to see myself separate and apart from my family, or as something more than a potential wife and mother.

What was your first job like?

I moved to the Bay Area in 2008, at the very beginning of the recession. I had just graduated from university, and had approximately $500 to my name. I found a contract position at an educational startup and I felt so lucky to have found something that I could live on (years later, I’d find out that it wasn’t that much, and I was supposed to be withholding taxes from my paycheck. Tax season 2009 was rough). The job itself was mostly scut work, but I felt so thrilled to be earning money at something I truly liked. I couldn’t help but feel I getting away with something.

What was your first apartment like?

My family is quite a large one, and we have always loved the hustle and bustle of living with others; as such I’ve never lived alone. After graduating, I lived with a friend from university who had done all the leg work – she found the apartment, she got the lease sorted, all of the adult unpleasantries that go with finding a place to live (shout out to Kristen). It was a two-bedroom, one bath apartment. It was carpeted and homey. We hung our handmade crafts on the walls. It was located in a huge complex with lots of children, and a tiny, tiny dive bar in the parking lot.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Not really. Worked, paid student loans; rinse, repeat. (I don’t really have an answer for this one!)

In what ways did your friendships change?

Growing up, I believed that the friends you made in college were your “forever friends”, and as such, I had a hard time leaving university and learning to put down roots elsewhere. Eventually, I learned that the people who really care about you figure out ways to keep in touch, conversely, it’s possible to feel intensely lonely while you make friends in your new city. It gets better, though.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

That we all play at intimacy, and embodying true vulnerability and acceptance is the hardest thing we do as people. In the words of Rilke:

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

How did your relationships with your family change?

I grew closer to my siblings, and learned to humanize instead of idealize my parents. We’re all human people trying to make it as best we can.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I’m not sure! What I do think is that I stopped caring how it viewed me. I think if I concentrate too long on how I’m viewed by others, I wouldn’t done the things I’ve done (talk about your classic extrovert’s dilemma: act first, question later). I think I spend a far greater amount of time struggling with how I view myself.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I think I got better at self-regulation. That being said, there’s something to being unregulated. When I was younger, I made decisions with a lighter heart. I’d like to still have the wisdom that comes from making those choices and the bravery to do so.

How did you change intellectually?

I think I wanted to see the receipts more. I still pretty much believe everything I read in books though.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

It’s like the title of the David Lipsky book about David Foster Wallace – “Although of course you end up becoming yourself”. I was always me, things just settled more into place.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

I think got WOKE. Most of my early and mid twenties were spent trying to answer the question, “How should a person be?” I wrote lists and lists of admirable qualities, and tried to become the kind of person that embodies those qualities. I became more accepting of the humanity in others, but more skeptical of the systems we put in place.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Urnmf. I’m not sure! They probably have to do with being interested in someone and being shot down? You get over the intensity of that, too.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Yikes. I’m an intensely positive person. I don’t tend to dwell on disappointments (and I’m having trouble recalling one now). I’m of the attitude that if there’s a set back, that’s fine: there’s always gonna be setbacks. You can’t let it derail you. Ever forward, and all that. Ultimately, I’m stubborn, and once I truly make up my mind about a thing I want to accomplish, there’s very little that can stand in my way.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

It’s lonely being The Only One in the Room. I think the younger kids are more woke, they have this catchphrase, “you can’t be what you can’t see” – professionally, I don’t know of anyone that’s been my biggest influence. I guess my answer will be Beyoncé. The answer is always Beyoncé.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Michael Jackson died, and with it, a bit of my childhood. There’s a passage from Nick Hornby’s About a Boy that sums it up perfectly:

He hadn’t been shocked by the death of a pop star since Marvin Gaye died. He had been… how old? He thought back. the first of April 1984… Jesus, ten years ago, nearly to the day. So he had been twenty-six, and still of an age when things like that meant something: he probably sang Marvin Gaye songs with his eyes closed when he was twenty-six. Now he knew pop stars committing suicide were all grist to the mill, and the only consequence of Kurt Cobain’s death as far as he was concerned was that Nevermind would sound a lot cooler. Ellie and Marcus weren’t old enough to understand that, though. They would think it all meant something, and that worried him.

I was 23 the summer Michael died.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Of course – that’s thing about moving linearly through time: you never know if the decisions you make are the right ones. I cheer myself up by thinking about the multiverse version of Duretti, who has made the choice that I ultimately didn’t go with. It helps me be less indecisive, strangely, to think that some other version of myself is doing the other thing I’m waffling on.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

Not really..! Maybe a montage of increasingly vigorous eye-rolls at people telling dad jokes?

Schoolin’ Life: Colter Jackson

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator and writer Colter Jackson.

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When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

In my 20s I had this agonizing, paralyzing ambition to “become a writer.” Hell or high water, I wanted to publish before 30. Guess what? I failed. But I needed that failure. It taught me a lot. I started having fun in my writing. I started drawing again. Letting myself play and pursue fun side projects – that’s when I started getting published and I think that’s not a coincidence.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Society shrank my expectations of myself. I grew up in a very small town in Missouri (500 people or so). In that culture, girls were encouraged to be pretty but not interesting, defiant or smart.  Also, art was not valued. It was considered something the weird kids were good at. And I was good at it and worked hard at it, so I guess I was a weird kid. Creative pursuits were unheard of and I’d never met an author or an illustrator so I didn’t understand that these were things you could be. Even though I’ve made a career of it, my family still refers to my artistic inclination as ‘artsy fartsy’.

What was your first job like?

I was a waitress at a diner and I got fired. They said it was for my terrible handwriting. I was devastated. I thought it meant I was destined for a life of failure.

What was your first apartment like?

I was 15 when I moved out of my mother’s house. It was a small one-bedroom subsidized by the government. My English teacher had to write a note for me explaining that I was a responsible kid and would pay the rent. I hated the apartment then – the dingy carpets, the dark rooms, the leaky faucet, but I love it now. The idea of it. I can see myself up late at night at the kitchen table working my ass off on my college applications. Doing everything to get myself out of that little town.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I had a health scare that really transformed my life. I was working in advertising as a writer but I had always dreamed of writing books and pursuing my illustration more seriously. Then I got sick and realized I didn’t have all the time in the world to squander at happy hours and late-nights at the agency. After they let me out of the hospital, I quit my job, went freelance and started making things (novels, comics, illustrations, kids books) furiously and with absolute abandon.

In what ways did your friendships change?

In my 20s, it seemed like I had a million friends. But a lot of those friendships were shallow and based on nothing more than shared space. I have fewer friends now in my 30s but life feels so much richer because the connection to those friends runs very deep. I feel so fortunate to have found a tribe of people who all really love and respect each other and want good things for each other.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I learned life is too short to put up with shenanigans. Find someone awesome and wake up and love them with all you have every day.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Family is so complicated. I’m the baby of five, so I think I had to get far away in order to carve out my own version of myself. Being the youngest child, I had a bit of hero worship for my older siblings. I had to grow up and realize they are just humans and their approval of me doesn’t make or break my life. Their beliefs about the world, don’t have to be my beliefs. That was very freeing. I stopped trying to make everybody happy with my choices. The strange result of that was deeper, more authentic relationships with my family. I enjoy most of them. I’m friends with them.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

In two large ways. I let go of the reins and this constant feeling of wanting to control the direction of my life because there is so much out of our control. And I let go of the crippling desire to make everyone happy. I realized people would still love me if I made choices they didn’t approve of and if they stopped loving me – they weren’t the kind of person I wanted in my life, were they?

How did you change intellectually?

I’ve always been a reader but I think I started to understand the value of reading books that are really challenging and not just entertaining. That books actually get inside of you and make you bigger and better in a lot of ways, opening your eyes and opening your heart.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

The adjectives changed. I went from striving to be pleasant and pretty to striving to be interesting, tenacious, brave, intelligent and kind.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

I grew up so insular. Travelling and reading really opened my eyes to how connected we are as human beings. How we should do everything we can to minimize the suffering of others.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My high school English teacher had a profound affect on my life. She was always so fiercely intelligent and well-read. I grew up in a cultural desert and she was this magical oasis of knowledge and poetry. She encouraged me in my outlying interests and it’s the only encouragement I can find when I look back.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
The things I regret aren’t really missteps or mistakes – I think those are valuable. I regret time wasted and I regret anytime I’ve ever hurt anyone.

Schoolin’ LIfe: Katie Goldman Macdonald

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet fashion designer Katie Goldman Macdonald.

Katie Goldman Macdonald

Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I was born in Northern California and grew up in a small coastal town called Half Moon Bay. I’ve been drawing from the time I could hold a pen. In my childhood home, all of the closet walls are covered in drawings of “ladies in fashions.” Now I’m a clothing designer designing womenswear, so I’ve stayed pretty true to my initial career inclinations. I’ve worked in fashion for 8 years and am starting my own line this year. I live at the very top of Manhattan in a tree-filled neighborhood called Inwood with my boyfriend, Ben.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

In my early twenties, I thought I’d be living in New York and designing for a fancy fashion house. I thought it would be glamorous.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think that my family more than anything shaped my expectations of myself. As a child I thought that I would follow in the footsteps of many of my family members and go to college and then get a Master’s Degree or Ph.D and become very educated. For me to become a clothing designer was a very different path than anyone in my family had taken, so I felt a bit frivolous for picking something that was not necessarily an intellectual career and was more about aesthetics and consumerism.

What was your first job like?

My first job was at a “paint your own pottery” studio when I was 14. I was running a studio by myself at a pretty young age, operating a kiln and getting paid irregularly by an absentee entrepreneur. Sometimes she would give me used makeup as an added bonus. It was a strange situation.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment after college was on Larkin Street in Lower Nob Hill in San Francisco. I lived with my best friend from college and we did most things together. We spent a lot of time and energy designing the space and making sure it reflected how “interesting and cool” we were. In our hallway, we curated a “wall of disasters” which showcased shadow boxes holding things like shattered teacups and burned out lightbulbs. We also did things like get super dressed up to go to the local Whole Foods to go grocery shopping because we had crushes on boys who worked there.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I’ve always had high expectations for both myself and the people around me. I think in my twenties these expectations sometimes made me a rigid and judgmental friend. This is not to say I wasn’t supportive; I’ve always been a very loyal friend. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to see the grey areas of friendship a bit more and have begun to understand that people are complex and don’t always have the same ideas about what it means to be a good friend. I’ve learned that people are who they are and accepting them for it makes friendship easier.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I’ve learned so much in all of my relationships! I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned over time, is that when I know something is over, my mind isn’t going to change. I’ve often let relationships drag on for a long time because I was scared to end things, hurt my partner’s feelings or just deal with all of the sadness and anger that goes along with breaking up. I feel like I have gotten better at being honest with myself and my partners about knowing when things aren’t working out.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Recently I’ve felt like my relationship with my parents has changed a great deal. As my family collectively ages, I’ve become more of a caretaker than I was when I was younger. My dad has had cancer twice now and my mom has had a lot of orthopedic issues so I’ve been really involved in their care. Since I’m an only child, it’s been hard to deal with, but it’s also taught me that I can handle a lot and am very competent when it comes to dealing with difficult family situations.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I think the older I get, the less scared I get. I’m getting better at things that scared me a lot as a younger woman, like quitting jobs. I think that one of my biggest fears has always been disappointing people and I am beginning to realize that the more I focus on pleasing others, the more I end up disappointing myself. Even though I still agonize over letting other people down, I think I get a little bit braver every time I take a risk and do something that might “disappoint” someone. I’ve come to realize that, as long as I am a kind and honest person, I can disappoint others if it means pursuing what I want, and the world will not collapse around me.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

I think I automatically adopted most of my mother’s opinions as a kid and teen. Throughout my twenties, I noticed that as I grew up and separated emotionally a little bit from from mom, I started to form more of my own world view. It was both difficult and refreshing. I grew to understand that I could still love my mom and value her opinions while forming my own. It felt both painful and liberating. It’s always kind of a blow when you realize your parents are just people and not everything they think and do is right.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

One of the most influential people in my life was one of my professors, Sue Sutton Palmer. She taught my first design course in college and I was completely impressed by the precision and perfection that she demanded from her students. I loved that she expected us to file the sides of our foam boards so there were no rough or uneven edges and use a special eraser to clean up any errant rubber cement that might have crept out of place. I think she inspired me to use my obsessive tendencies toward creating beautiful things and I liked that. She also always wore a uniform- a button-up collared shirt, a high-waisted skirt and Birkenstock sandals. We are still friends and I still admire her deeply.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I regret spending so much time feeling extremely anxious in my twenties. I had a hard time dealing with success and fear of failure. I had a business making terrariums for a while and I let it stress me out so much that I stopped enjoying making terrariums at all. After a while, instead of deriving any pleasure from the process of making them, I started seeing terrariums more as vessels full of anxiety rather than pretty arrangements of plants. It sounds really crazy (and it objectively was pretty crazy), but I’m trying to use that experience as an example of what not to do as I work on my own clothing line.

Schoolin’ Life: Vanessa Uhlig

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know filmmaker and graduate student Vanessa Uhlig.

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Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a 30 year-old film production graduate student at University of Texas at Austin. It’s my first year of graduate school so I am still adjusting to an intensive program of writing, shooting, and editing my own work and that of my other classmates. I’ve been watching a lot of films in my free time and have been revisiting one of my favorite genres, heist/crime thrillers, and have recently started learning jiu jitsu. This is also the first time I’ve been living back in the US in about four years, and it feels great to be getting to know the great city of Austin for the first time while being able to relax back in my home culture.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

Adventure. Around the time I graduated from undergrad at 22, I could feel my legs needing to stretch and get moving. After my first day at my first job out of college – an office job at a Bay Area solar start-up – I came home and cried. I was afraid that this was where I’d end up in life and there weren’t any more adventures to be had. I made a conscious decision over the next year to do whatever was in my power to fight against that kind of lifestyle and explore as much as I possibly could in the world while I was young. And for the most part I was successful at that; I spent the rest of my 20s living in foreign environments, learning new skills and languages, and eventually finding my calling as an artist.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I come from a lower-middle class family. I was lucky to have the support of my parents creatively, but I always knew that out of college I needed to be able to support myself with a full-time job. My family didn’t necessarily disparage art, but they did remind me to have an income and look for ways to monetize whatever I was interested in pursuing.

What was your first job like?

I can’t remember which of these I held first, but when I was 15 and 16 I had a few jobs: serving coffee at Starbucks, working the insurance desk at an autobody repair shop, and working the retail counter at a local perfume shop. I also did a lot of babysitting. It was exciting to have a job and a paycheck as a young person, and even though the jobs pretty much sucked, I still felt beholden to them with a strong sense of responsibility. I had to wake up at 3 am to open Starbucks at 4 am most days that I worked there, and it was rough, but there was something magic about being the first person that some customers would talk to each day and about starting the day that early in the morning. I think I also gained more of an appreciation for school since being at work was so much less interesting.

What was your first apartment like?

I shared an apartment with a girlfriend after college in Oakland, California. We both had boyfriends and all four of us had gone to the same college so we were all friends. We cooked a lot and drank a lot of wine, and there was always music or NPR on in the background. Strangely, a neighbor gave us a huge flatscreen TV, and much to my roommate’s dismay, my boyfriend and I watched a lot of Lost. It was my first time living in a more urban neighborhood, which was exciting – I could walk a block to the coffee shop or grocery store, and people came by campaigning for various political issues. One night, a girl was canvassing and I invited her inside. We ended up talking for an hour at my dinner table, just because I was so excited to meet someone this way.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Of course. I moved around a lot in my 20s – every few years at least. I felt like I had to reinvent myself each time, just to adapt to the new situation – I went from a small town in the Sacramento Valley to Oakland, then to Bangkok, Thailand for a year, then San Francisco for a few years, and finally a few years in a rural town in Guatemala. Each place had its own unique flavor and drew out a different kind of inspiration in me. And each time I think I recognized that I don’t really change much in the end, for better or for worse – wherever you go, there you are. By the time I hit 30, I could finally embrace that, which gave me the freedom to move back to the US for good and create the kind of life I want right here at home.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I think the general trend is/was from friendships that deal a lot with personal vulnerabilities to friendships that are grounded in love and respect. I’m fortunate to have maintained strong friendships over the past ten years. Even though we’re all busy and all living in different places, I consider these friendships one of the greatest gifts and accomplishments of my adult life. I try to stick to gratitude and respect to guide me in friendships rather than getting caught up in little daily annoyances or gripes. The little stuff goes away, and at the end of the day I’m still amazed and honored to have such great friends.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Let it go! Relationships are WEIRD and how they manage to stay alive can sometimes be an amazing mystery. It takes so much love and trust to be with someone else – give them the benefit of the doubt and move on. I have learned this, but I still make this mistake and have to relearn it about once a week.

How did your relationships with your family change?

My relationship with my mother evolved to be completely different in my 20s than it had when I was younger. I don’t feel like we have ever had as strong a relationship as we do now that I’m older. I think she and I are very similar and used to butt heads a lot, but now that we’re both older and have fewer opportunities to be in each other’s daily lives, we tend to let the smaller stuff go. We can laugh about each other’s neuroses more.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s definitely had ups and downs as I’ve moved between areas of very extreme wealth and very extreme poverty, “progressive” versus “traditional” cultures, etc. I think at this point I have an appreciation for the many different cultural textures that I’ve been exposed to, but I feel also more urgency to equalize the playing field. There used to be a novelty for me in the “developing world” – things like real people collecting your bus fare or making homemade ice cream on a three-wheeled cart in the afternoons on the city street, to sell for ten cents. More direct, pedestrian-oriented lifestyles. I still see the charm in that but I see also the way that technology and globalization is causing unbearable economic disparity and making it hard for people to have enough to eat, which is so much more important than how picturesque a culture is on a postcard or in a few months’ travel journal entries. Unfortunately, it seems the more I learn the more I feel like an outsider in other cultures, or the more aware of those disparities I become.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I regret having ever doubted myself. I do it every day, as we all do, but it’s a waste. There really just isn’t enough time in life to wrestle with your own doubt. If you’re thinking about something, just do it. Don’t overthink it.

Schoolin’ Life: Mildred Louis

In today’s Schoolin’ Life column, we catch up with illustrator and sequential artist Mildred Louis.

Mildred Louis

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I was fully expecting to have my whole game together! I think growing up there was this idea that once you’re 20, you’re an official adult, and being an adult meant that everything was going to fall into place. Definitely didn’t work out that way though, hahaha.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think I had a lot of skewed expectations of myself growing up. It took a whole lot of effort and work to rework how I saw myself and to detach the weird expectations I had being a WoC growing up in this society.

What was your first job like?

I worked at a bakery in a slightly well off part of the city. It was okay. In terms of first jobs, it was about as predictable as you can get. Getting by on tips with below minimum wage pay, a lot of intense people who want their coffee a very specific way and/or their cakes made immediately even though they put in the order last minute. It was… a learning experience for sure, hahaha.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was at college and I didn’t even have a door for my bedroom! It was a complete stereotypical experience with three other roommates in a two-bedroom (and one office) apartment. We eventually became one of the party apartments on campus which was pretty cool and made for a lot of entertaining memories.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I feel like the answer to this question is kind of complicated. I did in some ways but not like as if there were any major moments that suddenly happened to trigger these changes. It was more like a number of things happening, me learning from them and subsequently growing and changing from them.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Being at the end of my 20s,my friendships have changed a lot. I used to be friends with a lot of people who just kind of fed off of my insecurities. I spent a lot of time trying to feel accepted by people that I ended up letting myself become attached to, people who, at the end of the day, really weren’t that good for me. On a brighter note, I have some of the absolute best friendships I could have ever imagined now in my life, so that was a major plus side!

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I learned to definitely not settle, hahahah! I thought I had incredibly high expectations for a very long time and dated some people who weren’t quite up to par. When you’re in college, there’s a lot of expectation and pressure to date and hook up with people, so you end up rolling into whatever to keep up with people around you.

How did your relationships with your family change?

We talk a whole lot more now than we used to. I think now that everyone’s grown up and doing their own thing, it’s easier for us to connect since we have a greater sense of independence.

How do you feel society viewed you?

In a lot of ways I felt invisible. It always seemed like there were a lot of attempts at erasing myself or my identities because I wasn’t packaged in the way that society was saying I should.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’ve become significantly more secure in myself! I feel less like I need to go looking for someone to help fill a hole in me or to help reinforce how I feel.

How did you change intellectually?

I became a lot more aware of the things going on around me and even more aware of just how much I do not know.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

It became more secure and defined. I feel more like I’m me instead of being someone that I think a lot of people around me thought I was or expected me to be.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s become in a lot of ways more cynical but also weirdly stubbornly optimistic. Being so connected into the internet means that it’s hard to not be aware of the things going on not just in your own country but internationally as well. It’s hard not to feel like things are getting worse and worse because of it, but I think in a lot of ways, it’s caused me to feel very steadfast in holding on to hope that things can get better.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hahaha… I’ve had a lot of those but I’m not sure if I’m over them enough to share!

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

I don’t know if I had one singular experience was the biggest disappointment. But I think overall, they just taught me how to avoid being in those situations again

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I didn’t discover her until my slightly mid 20s but ever since then and to this day, it’s probably Janelle Monae. I just really admire how true to herself and her vision she is, as well as how incredibly aware of what kind of impact she can have on her surroundings she is. It’s something that I really hope to embody as I develop my career further.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I think there’s been a lot of moments that have happened. It’s like the world is finally at this point where we can’t actively sit and deny a lot of the travesties that are happening. The internet has made it hard to ignore and there’s active dialogue happening to hopefully try and change the current state of things.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently? You know, I was a person full of so much regret for so much of my life but I’ve finally gotten to this point where I’ve accepted the things that have happened and, in some really weird way, am grateful that I went through them. I don’t know how things could have been any different but I do know that what I went through got me to where I am today.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

Oh boy… I feel like there are a lot of things that have defined the last decade. I mean, the decade has had events spanning from the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement to the Curiosity landing. This decade has been full of incredibly impactful events that I’m not sure you could boil it down to one single story.