Tagged: Brooklyn

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: 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: Cecilia Ruiz

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet author, illustrator and graphic designer Cecilia Ruiz.

CeciliaRuiz_AuthorPhoto

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

I am a 32 year-old author, illustrator and graphic designer from Mexico City. I moved to NYC in 2010 with the purpose of getting an MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts and ended up staying. I now live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with my husband and no pets.

I like sad stories that make me laugh and I spend my days working (or trying to) from home while drinking strong coffee. You can see my work here.

What expectations did you have yourself over the coming decade?

I don’t really remember having any clear ones. I think I was just (pathetically) excited to feel more like a grown up even though I pretty much still looked and behaved like I was 14.

What was your first job like?

My first job was what I had always thought would be my dream job. It turned out it wasn’t.

Right after graduating from college, me and some close friends decided to start our own design studio in Mexico City. Without any upfront capital or the slightest clue on how to run a business (for some reason, we didn’t consider any of those things as that important), we managed to survive three years at a shared office that, among other things, had a ping-pong table on the roof top.

I think we all had a very romantic and idealized idea of what it would be like to have our own company, but that was soon overshadowed by millions of decisions we had to make on things that had nothing to do with design/art making—which was what we were really interested in.

Looking back, I feel nostalgic of that era. It was exciting, unstable, stressful, but most of all, it was FUN. It was a complete mix of very contrasting things: being able to come in at noon wearing pajamas if we wanted to, going to business meetings at fancy intelligent buildings, with fancy non-intelligent clients.  Working non-stop without sleeping for 48 hours, designing beautiful websites for clients like Coca Cola, talking to lawyers and accountants, implementing rules that we didn’t follow, and having ping-pong breaks that would turn into day-long tournaments was all part of the experience.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that we needed way more than design skills to run a successful business, but three years of daily struggles had to pass before we came to the conclusion that what we didn’t really want, was to own that kind of business.

I still consider that first job a success story; we learned a lot, we didn’t lose any money and most important, we remained good friends.

What was my first apartment like?

In Mexico, in your twenties, you don’t usually leave your parents house until you get married or move to a different state/country. That was my case. I went to Barcelona to do one year of college and that was the first time I rented an apartment (with my parents’ money, of course). I shared a three-bedroom apartment with other four Mexican friends and I was the lucky one who didn’t have to share the room. My room was tiny and so incredible dark, that if I didn’t set my alarm,  I would wake up at 2 pm feeling extremely guilty and confused.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I think the biggest life change I experienced was leaving Mexico City in 2010.

When I was 27, I moved to NYC to pursue an MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts.

At that point of my life, I was pretty settled and comfortable with myself . I had a full time job that I was happy and good at, and family and friends that would laugh at my jokes.

Moving to a different country put me in touch with parts of myself that I had forgotten were there. It reminded me how painful shyness and self awareness can be, especially when you have to interact with strangers in a different language.  

That first year in NYC was the most intense of my life. It is the year when I can say I became an illustrator and it is the year when I met the love of my life.

In what ways did your friendships change?

My old Mexican friendships, the important ones, survived the distance. Even though we don’t see each other that often, technology has helped us to stay close.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

One of many things I learned is that being in a relationship where you fear to say something stupid or make a fool of yourself is not a good place to be.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I feel like being away from my family brought us closer in a way. I don’t know if it is just growing older, or if it has to do with the distance. I just feel like I share more with them now and I feel like we have more meaningful conversations. I am more open to take advice from my parents now, too. We fight less and we are more appreciative of each other when we get to visit.  

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I have always been emotional but, from the second half of my twenties up until now, it has just gotten out control. I used to make fun of my teary mom and aunts, but now I am just one of them.

How did you changed intellectually?

I think most of my intellectual growth (if there’s such a thing) has been through literature and film. More through film than books, though – I am a better watcher than I am a reader.  I think a lot of the books and movies that I was exposed to in my twenties; they really shaped the way i think and have been a huge influence and inspiration in my artwork.

In what ways your identity changed?

I don’t think there were major changes. I just think I have gotten to know myself better hence it has become so much easier to identify what I  like, think and believe in and I what don’t. And most important, I’m able to articulate why.  

What was the most embarrassing moment?

This one happened in my mid-twenties, in a time when having multiple chat windows opened while working was common practice. I wrote something pretty horrible about a person, clicked SEND, and realized that I had just sent it to that very person. I then crowned my stupidity by saying: hahaha, just kidding! I felt so terribly ashamed, that later that day, I drove to the person’s office just so I could apologize to her face.

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

One big disappointment was getting a rejection letter from the University of the Arts London when I applied for their Master’s degree in Illustration. Even though I was pretty bummed when that happened, just a couple of months later I was in New York realizing that that rejection letter was the best thing that had happened to me.

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

Not really, though I know there are plenty of times that I wished I had listened to myself earlier.

Schoolin’ Life: Jen Breach

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with writer and business analyst Jen Breach.

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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 35 year-old Australian living in Brooklyn.  I’m a writer – picture books and graphic novels – and have a day job as a business analyst for systems implementation projects at Barnard College.

When you were in your 20s…

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

Oof.  So many.  I truly thought that by 30, I would have a PhD in archaeology and my first novel published.  I was raised with very unhealthy ideas about achievement and perfection.  When I did get to 30, I had an abandoned master’s program and I’d not even finished, let alone pitched or published a book.  Although I understood intellectually that it was okay not have met those unrealistic expectations, I still felt like a failure.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I completely internalized the idea that young women should be pretty, quiet and compliant. How destructive is that?  Those were expectations I could meet, though.  For all the world, I seemed at ease but my own skin grated against me like sandpaper. Oh, to cause a ruckus.

What was your first job like?

I’ve always worked.  I can’t even remember what the first one was. Cleaning houses with my brother?  Or ironing business shirts for a neighbor? It was certainly shitty and poorly paid ☺

What was your first apartment like?

Apartments aren’t common in Australia.  Most students and young people will live in a standalone multi-bedroom family home, sharing with other students. The first place I lived out of my parents’ house was a cute-as-a-button pale yellow weatherboard cottage in a Greek-and-Italian neighborhood in Melbourne. The whole bit: rose garden out the front, concrete back yard with a huge old nectarine tree that the nonna next door would precariously climb the fence to steal from.   I shared the house with an alcoholic, a narcissist and a film student bodhran player.  The arrangement fell apart is a spectacular way after two years but when I think back on it, the sun is shining on that house and the yellow looks lovely against a bright blue sky.

The first true apartment I had was in the East Village when I moved to NYC at 30.  It was a third floor walk up, the smallest space I have ever occupied and completely awesome.

How did your relationships with your family change?

At 19, I came out as bisexual to my parents.  Their response was a quoted bible passage and then we didn’t speak for six years.  It was catastrophic. When we did speak again we didn’t have a single conversation about the estrangement. It took me another nine years for me to talk about it with them and to understand that while ideally a parent will love their child, it’s not always true.

The change, in all its big and tiny ways, was understanding and accepting that the fantasy that mine could be a close, loving, nurturing family was impossible.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I grew up in rural Australia in the 80s.  While Australia is a wealthy, educated Western country, attitudes are still very provincial, especially out of the cities.  I did not even entertain the idea that I was attracted to women until I moved to the city for college at 18.  Understanding that I was bi was like wearing a bespoke suit after two decades of ill-fitting hand-me-downs.  When my parents saw my new suit and disowned me, I was really lost. In some ways I am oddly grateful for that catastrophe – it galvanized the way I saw myself. if I’d paid that enormous, painful price to understand and live my sexual identity, it didn’t make sense to be half assed about it.

The other change in identity came much later in my 20s when I shifted perspective from “I want to be a writer” to “I am a writer”.  I went to the Emerging Writer’s Festival in Melbourne one sunny cold early winter day and had my idea of what it means to be a writer turned completely on its head. I had thought that it meant you had to be published, you had to make a living off it, you had to be a bestseller – you had to have soaring achievement that proves your “claim”.  None of that is true.  You’re a writer if you say so.  I can’t remember the first time I actually said it out loud, but in my imagination I am timidly squeaking with a grimace and an apology.   In the States I see people way more comfortable with calling themselves a writer, or illustrator, or designer or game maker – which is right.  There’s a greater acceptance here of creative pursuit and activity, that you’re a professional if you say so regardless of how you pay your bills. In Australia creative pursuit is a hobby, not a career, especially in comics.  It’s not true though – if you write, you’re a writer.

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

I don’t go in for regret. Aren’t we all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got in front of us?  So how can a choice be wrong?  There are always reasons – good or otherwise – for our choices, actions, or lack there of.  Of course, some choices are bad and we misconstrue some reasons as excuses.  But unless we know we are acting intentionally cruelly or unreasonably or evilly, then we could all stand to be a little kinder to ourselves about our choices and cut ourselves a break.

There’s such a disconnect between what we think a thing is and what it actually turns out to be.  We make decisions based on what we know, what we feel and what we can imagine, not on the actual, real future outcome of a choice.  How can we?  If it turns out to be a bad choice then we have more information to work on to make new choices – either with forward momentum or backwards reflection to make amends for past wrongdoing.
Regret is an inability to see the threads of one’s life and an inability to act without shame or ego in the face of our own less-than-ideal choices.  Conscious action of this kind is the hardest thing in the world to do, but it’s a better place to put energy than in regret.

 

 

Schoolin’ Life: Julia Wertz

For today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know cartoonist Julia Wertz.

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When you were in your 20s..

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

None. I had no expectations for myself or my life in my 20’s because I was really just living day to day. I was constantly surprised by any successes I had; none of them were what I would call “planned.” But most of the things I did were unexpected and caught even me by surprise, like moving to New York or becoming a cartoonist. They were very sudden, impulsive choices and were not part of my plan at all, although I didn’t really have a plan. I found that if I didn’t have any expectations, I was alright with whatever happened. There was nothing to be disappointed by since I didn’t expect anything. I still operate that way.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I’ve always felt slightly at war with society and its expectations of me, as a woman. Like I said, I didn’t really have expectations of myself, but I certainly can’t deny that there are societal standards for women, and everyone really, such as the basics of being in a relationship, having a steady job, having kids, etc…I’m 32 and have gotten along fine, and happily, without those things. Luckily, we’re living in a time when going against the norm is becoming normal, and those old standards are fading. It’s not so weird anymore to have an unsteady job past your 20’s, or to decide not to have kids. Going against the grain is more acceptable now, but I’d still be doing it even if it wasn’t.

What was your first job like?

My first real job was when I was 16. I washed dishes and then waited tables at a pizza parlor in my hometown. My first job in my 20’s was the same- waitressing at a pizza parlor in San Francisco. I was an excellent waitress but I hated the job. My first non-waitressing job was being a cartoonist, which I started doing professionally at age 25. I still do that job, and I work from home, which is great, but it’s also the fastest way to drive yourself crazy. I worry constantly that I won’t be able to maintain it and will have to go back to waiting tables, because that’s all I’m qualified to do. I have no computer or people skills, so if I can’t keep making it as a cartoonist, then I’m fucked.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was an in-law unit on the outskirts of San Francisco. I had two dude roommates; one was a hippie pothead musician and the other was a straight-laced business major. I only lived there for nine months until I found a studio because I can’t live with other people. Not because of them; I’m just a terrible roommate because I hate sharing my space or being inconvenienced by someone else in my personal space in any way. If I’m not fucking someone, I do not want to live with them.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Being diagnosed with systemic lupus in my early 20’s was huge. I was really sick for a long time grappled with being told my disease was chronic and incurable. It’s probably the reason I didn’t create any plans or expectations for myself, since being sick derailed me for awhile. After that, I just kinda went with whatever was happening or whatever crazy idea I had. Moving to New York was also a huge and very impulsive change. I was planning on leaving San Francisco but staying on the West Coast and almost overnight, I just decided to go to NYC for no reason. But coming here has helped shape my career in a way I’m not sure I could have done on the West Coast.

What did you learn through your friendships and romantic relationships?

The biggest thing I learned is to trust my instincts. If you suspect someone isn’t trustworthy, that’s not coming out of nowhere.Listen to that suspicion and proceed carefully. Also, people I was interested in during my 20’s are very different than people I’m interested in my 30’s, so I’m glad none of my relationships from my 20’s lasted. People change a lot during that decade; it’s good to let yourself grow and change.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

Part of my 20’s was spent learning how to actually feel my emotions instead of push them aside. “Feelings aren’t facts” is an important phrase I learned, meaning just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean it’s true. Feelings aren’t concrete, and they will fade or change soon, so there’s no reason to be afraid of them.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I don’t think it really did. I’ve kind of been the same person for forever. I’ve never really had a “crisis of identity” or been unsure of my opinions and tastes.  I’ve definitely changed opinions after further educating myself in certain issues, but I’m always felt very confident with my identity.  I’m not always happy with it, but I’m confident in it.

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

I became a lot more aware of how many political and cultural things are pure bullshit. I always suspected that as a teen, but I didn’t really have the education or tools to back it up, but in my 20’s I had more time to research, look into things, and affirm that suspicion.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Probably the time I drank a bottle of whiskey and crashed my friends car into an outhouse while on a camping trip.  Then I ran off and hid in the woods for an hour.

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

Quitting drinking was the most defining experience I had in my 20’s. I became a lot more open to the world and people and I softened up a lot (in a good way).

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

Not really. It’s cheesy to say, but all things that could be chalked up as regrets are just part of becoming who you are and learning valuable life lessons. So I don’t really regret anything.

Dame of the Day: Shirley Chisholm

Shirley ChisholmToday’s Dame of the Day is Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924-January 1, 2005). After earning her Master’s in Education from Columbia University, Chisholm taught in a nursery school and ran a daycare center. In 1968, she became the first black woman to be elected to Congress and served seven terms in office. Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the nomination.