Tagged: New York

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: Ayun Halliday

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we check in with illustrator, author, and performer Ayun Halliday.

Ayun Halliday

Photo credit:

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of The East Village Inky zine, a freelance illustrator and the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late and the graphic novel, Peanut. She wrote and performed in over 500 short plays and several full-length solo performances as a member of the Neo-Futurists and has a bottomless appetite for creating theater with teenagers. She will be performing in the world premiere of her play, Fawnbook in New York City this fall. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Greg Kotis and their son, Milo. Her daughter, India Kotis, just headed off to college in Chicago, and will turn 20 in less than 2 years.

When you were in your 20s…

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

In my early 20s, I thought I’d be doing a lot of theater, but despite a degree in it from Northwestern University, I wasn’t quite sure how. Shortly my 25th birthday, I was cast in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the NeoFuturist’s long-running, late-night attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. Being an ensemble member gave me plenty of opportunities to write and perform, as well as a professional identity that I took with me into my 30s.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

My expectations were forged in opposition to society’s expectations. In my teens, I learned – to my surprise – that I was a bit of a misfit, at least at the preppy school I’d attended since 2nd grade. Generally speaking, it led me to developed a distaste – some would call it a chip on my shoulder – for anything society deemed popular.

What was your first job like?

My very first paycheck job was extraordinarily undefined. I had just turned 16. It was at Ralf’s Deli in Indianapolis. I think I was a hostess – I didn’t get an apron or a paper hat –  but I also had to clean all the gunk out of the sink traps, which created a phobia I have to this day. A meat slicer in his 20s named Yuri thought I was cute and called me at home, which freaked me out. I knew my mom would not be down with that. I didn’t know that a hostess or whatever the hell I was wouldn’t be allowed to take two weeks off to go on a long planned family vacation, three months after she started work. That was the end of that. What a ding dong I was. I have since made it a policy to try to really train people in what they’re helping me do… I was at such loose, loose ends!

Sad to say, my 20s were full of jobs like this – impermanent, poorly conceived, a bit . I wrote about them in my third book, Job Hopper.

I guess the defining job of my 20s was waiting tables at Dave’s Italian Kitchen, just because the place itself had such an identity. I was proud to be considered worthy of slinging spaghetti there. It was definitely the best waitressing job I ever had, and I had a lot of those in my 20s.

What was your first apartment like?

Wonderful! I shared half a house in Evanston, Illinois, with two guys from the theater department. It had a big front porch, a backyard, a big kitchen for all my hippie cooking experiments, and my giant bedroom had a king size bed left behind by the previous tenant.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Yes. I traveled to Europe, Africa, and Asia on a shoestring budget. I went to massage school. I moved to New York City nine months before turning 30. I got engaged to my friend and fellow NeoFuturist, Greg Kotis —married him just a few months into my 30s.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Mostly they deepened. Many of us who’d been together at college remained in Chicago, and joining the NeoFuturists provided me with significant links to several other ragtag theater crews, notably Theater Oobleck, Cardiff Giant, and the Curious Theater Branch. We would go to each other’s’ shows and parties. I kept in touch with many of those who moved by writing letters – I just unearthed 100s of the ones I received in reply in shoeboxes under my bed. It’s a true time capsule. I encourage those of you in your 20s to print out some of your favorite emails and text conversations. Is it possible to print out texts? Clearly, I’m not in my 20s anymore.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I came out of my 20s with the understanding that my pattern of skipping out on relationships that weren’t officially over, to revel in a new love, was not the way to go. From the inside, it was quite easy to view myself as a victim of circumstance, gripped in the jaws of a desire I was powerless to deny… From the outside, it’s pretty tawdry…petty, not sweeping.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I doubt it was much interested in me. I was not a threat, just kind of an oddball. If society stopped to consider me, it probably thought, “She should lose ten pounds, cut her hair, wear makeup, shave her legs…” Actually my boyfriend’s agent told me that when I was 23, kindly adding, “But I don’t think you want to do that just so we can send you out for young mommy roles.”  That was the death knell for my commercial career.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

Gosh, did I? I gained experience, but I think the emotional make up remains the same. Keep reading, maybe it doesn’t. I’ve got no perspective here…

How did you change intellectually?

I had to stay abreast of the news to pull my weight with the NeoFuturists. George H.W. Bush was president, and there was a real sense that women might lose their right to safe, legal abortions. I wrote a lot of plays about that. I listened to NPR and read the Utne Reader, read the newspaper every day.

I was much better informed in my 20s than I am now – then I was only responsible for myself (and the world). Now I have a family and the Internet blowing big holes in my attention span.

I also lived in fear that I might be called upon to do improv, and I would be too ill informed to act intelligently upon an audience member’s suggestion. Actually, that happened to me just last winter. My audience member’s suggestion was “Bernie Madoff” and internally, I was like…hmmm…uh…oh yeah, that guy who screwed people out of their investments…I think he maybe went to prison…hmm…he was in the news a lot but the financial industry is so boring to me. Needless to say, hilarity did not ensue.

I think you meet a lot of people in your 20s, who’ve gone to different colleges, and have this whole other set of references than you do. I began to get a feel for what they were teaching over at Oberlin, the University of Chicago, etc.

I was a voracious reader, then, as now. Lately I’ve taken to rereading some of the books I loved in my 20s to see how they hold up. Grapes of Wrath and Ship of Fools definitely do. Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, not so much…

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

My ongoing work with the NeoFuturists let me claim to be a professional, without the need to behave like one. Since we almost always played ourselves,  people who recognized me in the subway, felt comfortable coming up and starting conversations, a recognition I enjoyed for the most part. I liked feeling accessible, and sought after. My 20s definitely gave birth to my voice, even though my first book didn’t appear ’til I was in my 30s.

I also got a lot less guarded. I was shy when I was little, and didn’t know much beyond the conventional expectations. I would rather hold my pee for hours than have someone see me walk into the bathroom, because then they might know that I – gasp!- actually used the bathroom. Menstruation was kind of a horrorshow of embarrassment.

Interestingly, I was pretty uninhibited when it came to romance, but I think that was because I was so down to be loved and cherished. I still didn’t want those guys knowing I peed! Even when we lived together! I think a combination of massage school, the NeoFuturists, and global travel on a shoestring are to thank for that… I realized there’s little profit in being uptight, particularly when the people who gave you these hang ups in the first place aren’t part of your daily life anymore.

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

You can’t travel the way I did without expanding your worldview. Obviously, I was very familiar with the Save the Children, Concert for Bangladesh, South Asian, and Southeast Asian countries before leaving home, but traveling, I met many happy, multigenerational families, living in the equivalent of an American garage. Really. They’d roll the door down at night, then roll it up again in the morning, their lives exposed to the street for most of the day. I was impressed by the way the entire family would coalesce around the baby. The baby was always king. The furniture might consist of a couple of plastic stools and a plastic bag of mangoes hanging on a nail, but there would be this giant, blown up photo of the baby hanging in a place of honor. And the baby was invariably so well behaved!

My college sweetheart was the youngest of eleven children – he always said that his feet never touched the floor. Those babies were like that – so adored that their feet never touched the floor.

I saw that people were able to live and be very happy without a lot of stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly materialistic in the designer handbag / pristine interior decoration sense, but I do have a lot of things…souvenirs, books, little indicators of personality. Traveling, I saw a model in which personalities could exist free of stuff.

And it’s definitely an experience to travel around a place like Rwanda a year before civil war or some other catastrophe befalls it. It makes you appreciate what you have, and also come to the sobering realization that knowing your complaints are comparatively petty does not necessarily mean you’ll stop making them. I’d be scribbling in my journal about how someone hurt my feelings… meanwhile, back in Rwanda, neighbors are slicing each other to ribbons with machetes.

This is probably how I arrived at my conviction that very few people would have actually stuck their necks out for Anne Frank, the way the heroic Miep Geis did when she was barely out of her 20s. All children get a pass from me, if they say they would save Anne Frank. Most adults do not. I think most adults are like me…horrified when they read the news, quick to express that horror over social media or cocktails, but just as quick to post a photo of our dinner or our vacation. We’re most of us in a position that makes it very unlikely to disrupt our lives, to take the risk that might save someone else. But I think, even if we were to strip away those responsibilities to job and family, we’d still find a reason to steer clear.

It gives me respect for what others go through, and respect for the people who do move mountains to help strangers.  It also makes me a bit impatient with certain American anarchist acquaintances’ knee-jerk “Fuck America” rhetoric. A lot of us, myself included, are guilty of inaction. Send money or give time. I guess I better send some money somewhere tonight.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

So many to choose from! Most of them wound up in my first four books. Fortunately there is a difference between “embarrassing” and “shameful”.

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

Hmm…there was no one crushing one, more a number of small lumps in the throat, mostly having to do with being passed over for some part or another, prior to the NeoFuturists. That probably contributed to me not pursuing auditions very vigorously…thought it could also be a temperamental thing. Either way, I wound up making a lot of opportunities for myself, a thing I continue to do, though these days I like to include others.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

The late performance artist Spalding Gray. Something he said in an interview in Tricycle magazine really resonated with me, that the reason he started performing his autobiographical monologues was because he got “sick of waiting for the big infernal machine to make up its mind” about him. It’s become a personal motto.

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

I did have the distinction of answering the phone at an alternative newspaper in Chicago when some random person called to report that Kurt Cobain had died…I ran into Editiorial to break the news to the music editor and the rest of the staff. That was my big scoop. That said, that event defined others’ decades much more than my own.

(Let it also be said that I, a 20-something receptionist, put the great Art Spiegelman on hold for like, 5 minutes, while I finished my salad, or whatever the hell it was I was doing. I fell all over myself when I finally got back on the horn and he told me his name. The arrogance of youth!)

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

Of course! See all of the above! But to quote Don Marquis’ alley cat, Mehitabel, “Wot the hell, Archie, toujours gai!”

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.

jen breach

 

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: Anna Raff

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with New York-based illustrator Anna Raff.

A photo posted by Anna Raff (@annaraff) on

When you were in your 20s…

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

I expected to reach a certain level of success in my career as a graphic designer. But what that benchmark was, I’m not really sure, and I didn’t consciously set goals. What I most cared about was doing creative work that I found interesting and challenging, and making enough money to support my travel addiction which I’d honed during and right after college.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Because of my family background, my friends, and the creative industry in which I worked, I was surrounded by a group of very open-minded people, who weren’t necessarily adhering to any one set of norms or expectations. Even if they were, they weren’t forcing it upon others who didn’t fit in—this was New York City, after all. Also, I never pictured myself as a parent, so perhaps that eliminated a big element of societal expectations for a young woman like myself.

What was your first job like?

My first job out of college was designing corporate brochures and presentations at an architectural firm in London. I had travelled there with some friends, after enrolling in a work exchange program which got us to get 6-month work permits in the U.K. Before leaving home, I had sent out a few résumés, but this architectural firm was the only place listed in the program guide that was remotely related to my main interest at the time, graphic design. My résumé had this logo I designed in school at the top—I still have a copy of it somewhere. The logo is okay, but the rest of it is crap! Based on that, and their random needs at the moment, I got the job. Ironically, here I was, an American kid, so happy to be working in London, on Oxford Street, surrounded by all this fantastic, historic, architecture, but working for a firm that designed the most hideous, god-awful, American-style shopping malls. Also, this was all before desktop publishing, and despite taking a few design classes in college, my knowledge of manual typesetting was minimal, so I mostly got by on my wits and earnestness. Kindly, they offered to do the paperwork to extend my visa, but I knew I was done. The nice thing was, the job paid pretty well, and enabled me to do a significant amount of traveling afterward to perpetuate my postponement of looking for a “real job” back home.

What was your first apartment like?

The flat my friends and I rented in London was basic, but more spacious than my first New York apartment. We even found 400 pounds in an empty drawer when we moved it—that was a good day. We knew it most likely belonged to the previous tenants, but the jerky landlord would just pocket the money if we told him, so we used it against our rent. My first place in New York City—where I moved shortly after returning to the U.S.—was a small, railroad apartment in the West Village that would have been fine for one person. The landlord had put a thin wall down the middle of the bedroom to create two rooms, so my roommate and I could basically fit a twin bed into each, and not much else. Being the West Village, it was super noisy, especially on weekends. I remember motorcyclists tearing up the street several times into the early morning, setting off car alarms as they went. That was pleasant. Oh, and that was the first place I saw a water bug fly. Gross.

Did you experience any big life changes?

In my mid-20’s, I moved into another apartment by myself, which was incredibly liberating and empowering. Also, my best friend came out to me. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t figured it out, but it made everything make so much more sense. It really affirmed that he was (and still is) my best friend. This was during the AIDS crisis, and I remember the first thing I said to him was, “Be careful!” Then I think I told him how proud I was of him…at least, I hope I did. I’m still very proud of him.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Certain friendships that seemed very important in high school and college fell away, while others only got stronger. I came to terms with all that; it was okay for friends and friendships to evolve, and not always toward the same destinations. It’s better to let go, if it’s not working anymore.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

That I was completely naïve.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I’ve always been quite close to my family, so I think the only difference was that I was relating to them more as an adult.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a geeky-looking, somewhat athletic, artistic, straight girl who didn’t really like girly things, some people probably put me into a box of some sort.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I started to learn about what was really important, but to be honest, I made much more progress with that in my 30’s.

How did you change intellectually?

By the end of my 20’s, I’d learned the complete suite of Adobe products…oh, and Pagemaker and Quark. That’s probably not what you meant.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

Through work, travel, and play my confidence got a boost. I played softball for my publishing company’s team, and that was great fun. I hadn’t played at all since junior high, and I’d always been quite good, but somehow in my teens, felt it was too “butch” —a very ignorant assessment, I might add. Once I joined this work team, I realized how much I missed playing, and how I identified myself as athletic, and that that was okay. It was also great fun to get up to bat against these teams, where the men would see a woman at the plate, and come closer into the infield. Then I’d proceed to whack the ball over their heads.

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

Travel really made clear the isolation many Americans experience, having never stepped into another country and out of their comfort zone.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Drinking too much, and barfing into two plastic mugs while on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The most amazing thing is that the guy, who is still my best friend, carried the two cups through a moving train to the nearest toilet to dispose of them. In the middle of Siberia! And he’s still talking to me 28 years later. Now that’s friendship.

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

I had a few disappointments at work, like not getting a promotion as I thought I should have, but I chalk that up to not asserting myself enough. These moments also spurred me on to seek out the next thing, the next challenge. And at some point, I realized I really didn’t want to supervise others at work, so I had to seek out positions that allowed that. By my early 30’s, I’d landed a job as a one-person design department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I worked for ten years, until I returned to school to pursue a career as an illustrator.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Oh, definitely my parents. They’re just really lovely, interesting people who always made (and make) me feel like I can do no wrong…within limits, of course.

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

When I landed a job doing design at a children’s book publisher. I had found the industry where I belonged, and it’s where I work now, albeit as an illustrator.

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

Perhaps I could have drawn more in my 20’s. At some point, I stopped making handmade cards, and other projects that involved illustration. It took me almost a decade and a half to figure out that I really should be doing that as a career. But perhaps I needed the time, I don’t know.

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

I think that one about barfing in Siberia is a pretty good one.

Schoolin’ Life: Julia Wertz

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

julia

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.

Dame of the Day: Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon

Today’s Dame of the Day is Kim Gordon (April 28, 1953-). Gordon studied art on the West coast and even assisted Larry Gagosian before she moved to New York City. Captivated by the no-wave scene, she decided to try her hand at music. While she dabbled in a few bands, her career exploded when she met Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore. Together, they formed Sonic Youth and spent the next 30 years creating their own distinctive brand of rock and roll.