Dame of the Day: Tu Youyou

Tu Youyou

Today’s Dame of the Day is Tu Youyou (December 30, 1930-). During the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh charged Chinese scientists with the mission of discovering a cure for malaria. At the time, this seemed like a daunting task: researchers had already tested over 200,000 compounds without success. In spite of these odds, Youyou drew on her extensive knowledge of ancient Chinese medicine and discovered a cure for malaria; she published her findings anonymously in 1977. Her work later earned her a Nobel Price in Physiology or Medicine, making her the first Chinese Nobel laureate in either physiology or medicine.

Schoolin’ Life: Melissa Wong

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

20151026_Melissa_26

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!

Dame of the Day: Miki Gorman

Miki Gorman

Today’s Dame of the Day is Miki Gorman (August 9, 1935 – September 19, 2015). Gorman took up long distance running in her 30s and debuted with a 100 mile indoor race. (!!!) Four years later, she won the Boston Marathon and set a new course record. Gorman is the only woman to win both the Boston and New York City marathon twice and is one of two women to ever win both marathons in the same year.

Dame of the Day: Hilary Knight

Hilary Knight

Today’s Dame of the Day is Hilary Knight (July 12, 1989-). As a kid growing up in Illinois, Knight spent plenty of time on the ice playing hockey. After high school, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led the school’s women’s hockey team to a national championship, and scored the most career points of any lady Badger to date. Following graduation, Knight began playing professionally and represented the United States at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics; she won two silver medals.

Dame of the Day: Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs

Today’s Dame of the Day is Grace Lee Boggs (June 27, 1915 – October 5, 2015). After earning her Ph.D from Barnard College, Boggs opted against the exclusionary politics of professorship and took a job at the University of Chicago’s Philosophy Library. There, she met her collaborators C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya, joined the Worker’s Party, and refocused her energy into the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. After marrying her husband, James Boggs, the couple relocated to Detroit and continued to found youth programs, community-based projects, and grassroots organizations. Boggs died last month at the age of 100.

Schoolin’ Life: Crystal Skillman

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we catch up with playwright and screenwriter Crystal Skillman.

crystal skillman

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

You know, as an artist I just thought I’d create the work and it would get done. But I also didn’t really know if I was a good artist. I thought I did, but in the 20s, you just have no confidence, you know? I mean, it’s hard enough to figure out how to make dinner on your own (I ate beans and rice for a loonnnngg time). So I’m not sure what kind of expectations I could form. I had a lot of surprises – I had no idea that the business side of being an artist would be that difficult. I’m a playwright (though I first studied photography at Parsons School of Design). It was hard to factor in just how much networking plays in all the decisions made in getting a “greenlight”. As well, the amount of sheer momentum it takes for anything to “lift” or “live on”. That said, if I met the 20-something me right after I came out of a time machine and was like – “Man, years from now you’ll get three great NY Times reviews – and have an awesome fan base – there’s an audience that wants to see your work and who think you’re a great writer!” I would have looked that time traveler me (and I assume I’d have a fabulous helmet) and have thought I was nuts.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I’m an only child raised by a kooky set of parents from upstate NY who filled me with relentless humor and confidence. Which I needed … as I was a “geek” from when I was really young, I was pretty much made fun of until I went to college. So I learned very quickly at a young age that it was up to me to change society, and that much of society wasn’t geared to “do the right thing”. A good example is that I was made fun of on the bus in middle school. I returned home and said we have to find a solution – that wasn’t right and I wasn’t going back to school on those conditions. My mom, bless her heart, drove me to school each day. As I got older, I tried to demonstrate more as a leader by standing up for what I thought was right. Society is constructed around the idea that money is the most important thing – as artists we need money, but understand that isn’t true. I also knew that I had to stick to my guns of pursuing what I was passionate about, in order to actually make money from what I want to do. Most of society doesn’t understand that concept I’ve found! The harder part has been finding ways to make peace with reality (society). When to fight and when to be like – okay you want me to fill out this dumb form? I’ll just do that and move on. I finally have all the right forms of ID. That’s the best I can do for society…

What was your first job like?

OMG! Oh lord. This is the Way Back Machine here… I do believe it was the Just a A Buck store in the Poughkeepsie Gallery mall. I was terrible at math, so that was a job I could actually do.

What was your first apartment like?

It was a dream and the first with the love of my life, Fred Van Lente. It was in South Park Slope and had a red living room, a 50s looking kitchen, and I wrote in a little back room. We had a non-working brick fireplace. We got to fill it with crazy little things that made us happy and we had two kitties. Then a few years later, it became roach infested and a DJ moved below us who loved crystal meth so it later became Operation: Flee. Dreams only last for a moment; then you move on to the next dream!

Did you experience any big life changes?

The same as anyone else – the discovery of love, dreams coming true and being smashed and rebuilt, watching your parents grow older … learning that you can actually dress yourself to look good.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I have lots of creative friendships, as I’m always working with different teams on plays. I put my energy into those artistic friendships. I got a little traumatized by so many friends wanting “hang out” time or asking me to help them move all the time. I’m not great at hanging out. I like goals and fun! Also I like being there for important moments in people’s lives, but I’m not the friend-mover material. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings that I might not be into the same things they were. Now I feel like I’m friends with other driven, fun folk and we can return to some of those more deeper friendships. I’m kinda excited about that lately.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I actually got the chance to write about this! In the upcoming book with incredible comic book creators and writers. It’s called The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

How did your relationships with your family change?

As I got older, my parents who were awesome to me but not so nice to each other, finally found happiness again, bizarrely after my dad had a brain aneurysm. I think in that case, tragedy brought them together. They grew closer as a unit and lovey dovey.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I think this is a dangerous question. I think the goal of life is to not have this question in your head. One must keep focused on that work at hand and not think so much about others perception of you – then you do things for the wrong reasons.  

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’m still a happy, bizarre, funny, blubbering mess! Depends on the day and who I meet. I used to wish I was a robot. I hated having emotions. But as I grow older I’m able to ask WHY am I feeling this way and break it down. I know I’m really sensitive and that truly no one MEANS to hurt you. I try to take this into account when I feel hurt and just look at what I can do.

How did you change intellectually?

I don’t make as many assumptions. I’m more open and try to listen more. That makes my work better and as well makes me able to understand so much more … Listening is hard work!

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I feel pretty true to who I am actually. I hope I’m a little less defensive. I also realized that I was pretty in my 20s, and I now feel confident now about my looks.  I also used to feel that I could never be athletic and now I run.

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

I learned that forgiveness is the hardest thing for people. And I’m happy that I’m a really big forgiver. I’m a mistake maker myself and I get it. People need kindness and to be heard. That is the greatest gift you can give. Good plays, theater, and art does that when the audience can see themselves in the work. But maybe really getting that everyone needs to be forgiven?

What was the most embarrassing moment?

SO MANY! I’ll pick the most amusing. In the 90s, I had to go for a job interview to be that pesky girl that would knock on your door and get you to support the environment. This was one summer when I was back from college. I got off in downtown Poughkeepsie, and while walking trying to find the address, looking up at the building numbers, I realized I was sinking. I had stepped into wet cement. The workers were all laughing at me. I had to come back onto the sidewalk and get hosed off. I went to the interview with DRIPPING WET SHOES. There was a PUDDLE behind me as I walked. I wondered if I should say anything. I thought, “Fuck it. I’m not saying anything.” They didn’t say anything either! I got the job.  When I realized that the job would drop you off in isolated neighborhoods by yourself for hours at a time and I almost got bitten by a dog, I decided that was not the job for me. I’m also still, happily so, a bit of a hypochondriac.

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

A theater that had commissioned me seemed to be moving me along to production. Or at least in my naïve eyes. But, the point is, I felt lied to. Like really betrayed. Much time and work had gone into rewrites, etc. When I realized they weren’t going to do the play I saw two roads open up: one where I was going to keep going and find a way to enjoy life at the same time (or try) and one was pretty dark – like real anger in my heart. Bitterness. And those dark thoughts of – well what if I wasn’t here? What if I end it and let go of this journey? A few years later, a friend of mine passed away. He was young. As we laid him in the ground, I promised him I’d never think those dark thoughts again. The gift of life was so clear to me. That experience and other ones like it have done for me is reaffirm that I know that I can make it. We all can. Keep running at your own pace. Basically I learned that you might not have the answer or solution right then and there, but it will come. Have faith in yourself and your work and others will too. People talk about big breaks and such, but I think of it in terms of things in this world that you can and can’t control. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. SHOW them who you are.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My husband! Fred Van Lente. He’s my favorite writer in the whole world. And during our writing times while I’m writing away downstairs, he’s writing away upstairs!

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

For my generation, it was 9/11, particularly as a New Yorker. It changed me, not only because I was here and it affected people I knew, but because I had never seen a tragedy used for evil as the way Bush used this incident. I had never seen to that extent, in our country, that level of manipulation, and the despair at how the country went with it. Until then people operating on a mass level from fear I had read about, but not felt I was in the middle of. I saw that was literally the greatest thing to be afraid of – that kind of mob mentality.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I think this question is dangerous too, but a really interesting one. I think no one should truly regret, as the one thing they might have changed – you can’t know if it would help due to the variables around it. I wish I was a little less snotty about work that I thought was shitty (like movies, art) when I was younger. I wish I understood that takes just as much time to make those things and fail as it does to succeed. I know how hard it is to be an artist now, so I have that respect. But then again, I think the 20s is all about having the right to be snotty. I think you deserve to be a fuck up in your 20s.

Dame of the Day: Sylvia Mendez

Sylvia Mendez

Today’s Dame of the Day is Sylvia Mendez (1936-). As a child in segregated California, Mendez’s parents tried to enroll her in a “whites-only” school and failed. Instead of accepting defeat, they sued the system and the case, Mendez v. Westminsterbecame a landmark benchmark for ending segregated education. In 2011, Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her efforts.

Book Review: Mardou’s Sky in Stereo

Last month, I received a great gift: a copy of Mardou’s new graphic novel, Sky in Stereo. Set in 1990s Manchester, England, the novel opens with protagonist Iris explaining how her mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. While her boyfriend remained indifferent, Iris’s mother fell hard for the community and lifestyle the church offered. Eventually, Iris joined, too, and her life revolved around Bible study and wholesome social activities. But as she got older, Iris watched as her female peers married and had kids immediately after high school. Not content to let this path be her fate, Iris rebelled against her mother and the church.

sky in stereo

Although she escapes the church, Iris’s post-high school life is anything but easy. She and her boyfriend, John, part ways as university pulls them in different directions. Iris takes a job at Burger Loco and meets Glen, an attractive free spirit with a dark side. Struggling to assert her independence while still living with her conservative parents, Iris’s search for freedom leads her on a psychedelic adventure around the city.

Sky-In-Stereo-2

Portions of the story could benefit from a bit more editing. Iris and John allude to some characters who never make an appearance; what is the purpose of including them? The introduction of Iris’s drug use seems abrupt; one minute, she’s mourning her breakup and then next, she’s stoned in a car. And why does Glen, her burger joint coworker, call her Eyeball? What drives him down a path to harder drugs? In addition to raising unanswered questions, parts of the story tend to ramble. Aspects of the story line, like Glen and Iris’s stroll through a cemetery, don’t push the narrative along and feel like afterthoughts.

In spite of these aspects, Mardou pens a compelling story that encourages readers to learn more. Anyone who survived puberty can identify with Iris’s confusion and frustration as she navigates  post-grad life and come into her own. When, in the end, Iris’s journey takes a worrisome turn, Mardou’s storytelling and illustrations elicit genuine concern from the reader. With volume two already out, I’m eager to see where Iris’s story leads.

Dame of the Day: Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich

Today’s Dame of the Day is Svetlana Alexievich (May 31, 1948-). Following school, Alexievich worked at numerous Belarusian newspapers and, after college, became a correspondent at a literary magazine. Her projects interviewed survivors of World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the fall of the Soviet Union. In 2015, Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dame of the Day: Ana Blandiana

Ana Blandiana

Today’s Dame of the Day is Ana Blandiana (March 25, 1942-). Born in Romania during Soviet rule, Blandiana’s father spent years in Communist prison before his accidental death several weeks after his release. Blandiana wrote poetry and worked as a literary editor and librarian; as the regime grew more restrictive, her work became more protest-oriented.  Blandiana eventually entered politics and campaigned for an open society and an end to communist rule.