Tagged: NYC

Schoolin’ Life: Melissa Wong

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

20151026_Melissa_26

Photo credit: Ren Yagolnitzer

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

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

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

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

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

When you were in your 20s:

What expectations did you have for yourself in the decade?

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

What was your first job like?

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

What was your first apartment like?

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

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

Did you experience any big life changes?

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

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

In what ways did your friendships change?

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

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

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

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

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

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

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

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

How did you change intellectually?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schoolin’ Life: Crystal Skillman

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

crystal skillman

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

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

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

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

What was your first job like?

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

What was your first apartment like?

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

Did you experience any big life changes?

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

In what ways did your friendships change?

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

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

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

How did your relationships with your family change?

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

How do you feel society viewed you?

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

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

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

How did you change intellectually?

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

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

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

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

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

What was the most embarrassing moment?

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

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

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

Who was your biggest influence and why?

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

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

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

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

Schoolin’ LIfe: Katie Goldman Macdonald

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

Katie Goldman Macdonald

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

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

When you were in your 20s…

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

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

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

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

What was your first job like?

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

What was your first apartment like?

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

In what ways did your friendships change?

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

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

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

How did your relationships with your family change?

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

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

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

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

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

Who was your biggest influence and why?

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

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

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

Schoolin’ Life: 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: Stacy-Marie Ishmael

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet digital media expert Stacy-Marie Ishmael.

© Clay Williams / http://claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / http://claywilliamsphoto.com

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

I’ve been describing myself as a “Trinidadian-at-large” for a few years, which is a good summary. I grew up in Trinidad and then spent time in France, the UK, and the US with a bunch of travel to other places in between. I’m mostly in NYC these days, and trying not to feel too guilty about not practicing yoga or getting on my bike(s) as often as I tell myself I should. I work at the intersection of news and technology, specifically in the universe of mobile, and I love it.

When you were in your 20s…

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

That I was going to have a Ph.D. and work for FIFA. Neither of those things panned out. This has very probably been for the best.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I grew up in a family that is extremely high-achieving. So being good at school – and a Ph.D. is like being good at school on steroids – was very much a part of that. And I went to a fantastic all-girl high school that is directly responsible for a lot of how I am today, including the fact that even though I taught myself to code as a child and built computers for fun and profit, I didn’t pursue a computer science degree. My options were limited, or so I was led to believe, by what was offered on the curriculum. So I took French, English Literature, and Economics instead of technical drawing or CS.

What was your first job like?

I worked for several summers in a tattoo and airbrush studio. I wasn’t allowed near any of the needles, obviously – I was the receptionist/accountant/gopher. I spent a lot of time running between the studio and another place in the mall where I would make photocopies of tattoo designs that people wanted. And sometimes I airbrushed some t-shirts. It was fun. Weird, but fun.

What was your first apartment like?

It was called the Liming House, and I loved it. It was a small apartment in Trinidad in the same apartment complex that my parents lived in, and I was allowed to move in there at 16 or 17 as long as I paid nominal rent and did my own laundry and cooking. It meant that my floor and sofa were always taken over by a rotating cast of friends. We’d have study groups that turned into band practices and jam sessions. I lived there until I moved to France. It was just the best time.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I moved from a tiny tropical island where everyone pretty much looked like me to the other side of the world and a city where no one did. I’d never seen snow before I moved to Europe. That was quite an adjustment.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Many of them ended when I came back – one of those not with a bang but a whimper situations. I’d changed, they’d changed, we no longer had very much to say to each other. The ones that didn’t endure to this day.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

That, with one notable exception, I am better at being independent than I am at being committed.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder 😉

How do you feel society viewed you?

I suppose people don’t quite know what to do with someone who has repeatedly taken on the kinds of challenges that involve “move across the world by yourself, figure it out as you go”. The TSA especially thinks I am incredibly suspicious. I am never not randomly selected.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

There were a few things that almost broke me, and I survived. I gave myself permission to go on.

How did you change intellectually?

This might come as a surprise to people who know me, but I became better at listening to people with whom I fundamentally disagreed. And I stopped fetishizing theory and became obsessed with execution.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I started to identify more with being considered someone from an ethnic minority, rather than as a “mixed” or “red” person as we say back home.

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

I am much less of a misanthrope these days.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

As a baby reporter, I fell for a prank and wrote a story based on a fake press release. That was awful.

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

I have never quite gotten over not getting one specific academic prize, one that I had worked toward for the whole of primary and secondary school life. And I know I disappointed a few professors when I decided not to pursue an MSc and then a Ph.D. A feeling of academic inadequacy has haunted me since.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Paul Murphy, who was my editor at the Financial Times and more than anyone helped me understand news on the internet.

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

The day that Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup I was, as usual, on the other side of the world. That sums up how I felt about my 20s – never quite where I most wanted to be.

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

There is one relationship that ended badly, and not because of anything either of us had any control over. And then we lost touch, and he died in a car accident. I regret not having made sure he knew just how much he meant to me.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?
The early years of my twenties were marked by a period of global financial frothiness; the middle with recession and crisis; and then as I was staring 30 in the face we seemed to be heading back to recovery. And I covered a big chunk of it as a finance reporter. So for me I can’t separate that decade from that story.

Schoolin’ Life: Maelle Doliveux

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet and get to know illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer Maëlle Doliveux.

MD_headshot-bw_150225-web

 

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

I’m ¾ of the way to 27. So I’m sure that next 3-4 years will be another host of interesting life revelations. But so far in my life, I’ve gone by the name Maëlle Doliveux, and I’m a French and Swiss illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer living and working in New York City. I spend my days making things, all kinds of things, for different people. I’ve worked for Newsweek, The New York Times, Sesame Street, Motorola, UCB and others. Almost every day I walk my little dog to and from my studio space in Greenpoint in an old rope factory.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself for the decade? In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I should start this by saying that I’m still in my 20’s! My expectations were definitely far too high. I think I read somewhere that anyone ‘successful’ already created some kind of ‘masterpiece’, or at least was well known before the age of 24. And I read that Craig Thompson (one of my comics heroes) published Good-bye, Chunky Rice by age 24. I had this notion that unless I got a comic book published by the time I was 24, I would never make it in the industry. In the end I didn’t get a comic book contract, but I did get published by the New York Times, which meant a lot, and of course I’ve also come to realize that people’s trajectories take different amounts of time, and giving yourself no-pressure space to be creative is vital for the actual creation of ‘masterpieces’. Nobody sets off to create a masterpiece and then accomplishes that.  And obviously, being ‘successful’ is not necessarily being published, and definitely not being famous.

I thank my parents and my international school teachers for never having imposed expectations on me about who I was as a person or my career – I always felt like I could be anything and do anything I set my mind to, if it’s what I truly wanted and I worked long and hard enough at it. This is an extremely privileged way of looking at the world, and I’ve been very fortunate that it has worked out for me. I think I’ve been insanely lucky that I haven’t been confronted with sexism more in my life (apart from catcalling New Yorkers).

In terms of romantic relationships, I had very false and dumb thoughts about how they worked, and about what kind of woman was considered attractive. I assumed independence and wit intimidated men, so I deduced that nobody was really interested in me for a long time. Also, I think that we are told there are these ‘rules’ to dating, when in reality, all relationships are different, whether friendship or romantic interest.

What was your first job like?

First ever ‘real’ job was as an architectural assistant in a small architecture firm in Lausanne, Switzerland. I’d just graduated from Part I of my British architecture degree and had to do a minimum of six months as an apprentice. It was the first time that I realized that most of architecture in practice was not at all what it was like academically. The amount of time spent on concept and design is probably less than 10%, with most of the time being spent on technical detailing, administration, negotiating with a client and the contractors, researching materials and so on. The people I worked with were very friendly, and these things are important, but I personally found it all excruciating after 6 months. It made me want to try something other than architecture. In a big way, having a job that I disliked so much is still a big motivator for me as a freelance artist. When there are moments of doing something I’m not completely enjoying, I always think “well, at least it’s still better than sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day drawing technical details of suspended ceilings”.

What was your first apartment like?

The first apartment where I lived alone was a tiny little apartment in Lausanne. The kitchen was a small sink and a foot of counter space and two burners, and I could practically brush my teeth, shower and cook all at the same time. Sadly, someone broke in during the time I was away over Christmas, and stole the only few precious things I had, including some family jewelry my grandmother had left me, and my mother’s beautiful coat, which she had bought with her first ever paycheck as a young woman. Bizarrely enough they also stole my dishwashing liquid. I was pretty sad and worried about the whole thing, so I moved back in with my brother soon after.

Did you experience any big life changes?

A career change and a big recent (ongoing) romantic relationship. After this experience in Lausanne, I wanted to take a year to figure some things out, and thought that taking some improv classes and studying ‘illustration’ in New York sounded really fun. I had no idea what illustration was. But my feeling was that I’d do that for a year and then figure out my ‘real life’. Of course this very quickly became my ‘real life’, because I was having a lot of fun.

I realized illustration was exactly what I loved the most in architecture – concepts, visual problem solving, storytelling, drawing, sculpting/model-making, working with your hands, making something beautiful. I did several wonderful internships with some great mentors who encouraged me to switch into the Masters program at SVA, which was a really great move for me. After that I knew this was the right career path. I also got a dog in my early twenties! It was definitely a way to commit to illustration, because I didn’t want to have a dog and work in an office and get a dog-walker all the time. I didn’t think that was fair to a dog. But I knew that if I worked as a freelancer I could be with my dog all day, and she would give me a better rhythm to the day.  

In what ways did your friendships change?

Since I was a kid I’ve moved around quite a bit, so I’m now somewhat sadly used to the ebb and flow of friendships. But I know that with true friends, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend apart – when you see each other again it’s like you saw each other only yesterday. I hope to be better at spotting those friendships now, as opposed to the fleeting ones. But I’ve never really been into having a mass of friends- I like selective friendships that know me well and bring me joy and energy.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I came to see my parents as people, and to love them just as much, but as people, not just as all-knowing, all-powerful superhumans. Kind of like the first time you see a high-school teacher outside of school.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a stereotypical French artist girl, with a dog and ukulele and an artist’s space in Brooklyn— wait a second, that IS what I am. Am I a stereotype?

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’m much more confident and less intimidated than I used to be. I remember that making a professional phone call or email when I got my first job as an architectural assistant was absolutely frightening. I kept on thinking I wasn’t doing things right, or faking it. When I interned with some incredible illustrators, and they admitted the same feeling to me, I realized that that sensation never goes away, for anyone in any field.  And also that everyone was their 20’s at one point, and didn’t know things and was learning. It would be insane to get angry or upset with someone for something they weren’t aware of. When I started seeing other people as also ‘faking it till they make it’, that made me much more confident in myself.

How did you change intellectually?

My tastes have broadened, and I hope to be more open-minded now than I was, particularly in terms of visual art. I think I’m more able to recognize and analyze what I like and why I like it, and also to be understanding and admiring of art that I like, but isn’t necessarily to my sensibility.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I think my identity is more defined now than at the beginning of my 20’s, probably because I’m very passionate about my career, and present myself to others as ‘an illustrator’. I think wandering and figuring things out and being open to things and not defining yourself is an important part of your early 20’s. (And one should stay open to new things later in life too!)

Though my career doesn’t define me entirely, I think working as a creative person merges your personal and your professional life a lot.

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

Having grown up with a very international education, I think I’ve always been aware of how countries’ boundaries are non-existent, and how interconnected we are. Also how we as human beings are essentially the same at our core, and that culture is all the different ways that humanity can become specific. I don’t think my worldview has changed in that sense, but I hope that I’m more informed and more interested than I was as a teenager. I listen to the news on the radio now and try to keep in touch more.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hmmmm… I feel like I’m a fairly hard person to embarrass. I’ll usually try to spin it to make it funny, or embrace the embarrassment. That was my high school survival tactic that’s stuck around. Last year I created a 13ft long dragon costume and performed as that dragons’ talking anus and threw a whole store-bought fish and multiple chocolate and rice pudding cups out of said anus. That didn’t embarrass me in the slightest. I’m only embarrassed when I don’t stand completely behind the work I’ve done.

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

When I came to New York to study illustration I also chose SVA because it offered cartooning classes, which I was very curious about, but knew that a full-on cartooning degree would frighten my parents. I’d grown up with comics and in my university years had discovered American indie comics, which completely opened up what I thought the medium could do.

So I took a cartooning class, and loved it, but immediately tried to be like the artists I admired, and to make an opus that would “stand the tests of time”. It was ridiculous and entirely unfeasible. Anyways, I started working on this huge graphic novel when I’d barely had three little short stories penciled, and outlined this very intense noir/sci-fi dramatic epic. Very kindly, the wonderful, talented and extremely generous Tom Hart sat down with me to look it over, and about halfway through the conversation asked me, “Have you read Osamu Tezuka’s Road to Kirihito?” I replied that I hadn’t, and he suggested I read through it. When I did I realized that Tezuka, the legendary master of long-form comic storytelling, had basically created a version of my story that far exceeded and surpassed anything I wrote or could have written.

I realized his was successful because he was passionate and knowledgeable on his subject matter, while mine was juvenile and only half-studied because I felt like it was what I was ‘supposed’ to do, rather than what I was actually interested in doing. This was a pretty discouraging event, which made me falsely think that I wasn’t cut out for comics for a while. Only later on, when some grad school friends recommended me for some short-form comics projects, did I pick it up again. And by then I was far more confident with what I was interested in and the kind of art I wanted to make, so the work reflected that and was far more successful when I wasn’t inhibited by what I thought ‘good’ comics were, or wasn’t trying to cram in everything into one story.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Sam Weber, Brian Cronin and Richard McGuire have been three huge influences. I interned and worked with Sam and Richard, and Brian was my thesis advisor for my final MFA project. Not only do I admire their work, but they are also exemplary in their professionalism, and really showed me how to be successful as an illustrator. I interned with Sam and his studio mate Chris Silas Neal for over a year, and they showed me everything including how to file taxes. This sounds simplistic, but I had absolutely no idea how to do anything like that, and they were true examples for me to know that it was possible to make a living and work full time in this field.

Brian and Richard helped me be more comfortable with my voice, and I’ve always admired the breadth of their work in terms of style and form. They never limit themselves because they think ‘this isn’t illustration’ – they will make the work they feel is interesting to them, in the medium they enjoy at that moment, and then find the right place for it. As someone with a wide range of curiosities and who gets bored fairly quickly, it was a godsend to see that this was also a way to make a career.

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

Probably Facebook? Not sure it’s a ‘moment’, but it probably will be seen as one in the future. For all its’ glory and awfulness.

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

It sounds cocky but I don’t really believe in regrets. I think if I were presented with the same set of opportunities I would always make the same choices. And I believe that ‘mistakes’ are just as valuable as ‘successes’. Maybe even more important because they provide opportunity for learning and changing.

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

I very recently and very briefly met Amy Poehler, who complimented me on my work. I’d just done several posters for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre annual improv comedy marathon, and as a founding member of UCB, Amy attends almost every year. At the end of the weekend, I was walking home from the wrap-party, when I bumped into the artistic director of the theatre, who quickly turned around and introduced me to both Amy and Matt Walsh. I was very flustered, and giggly and excited, and tried not to make a fool of myself.  
To me it sums up this decade well: work hard, do things that interest you (improv comedy) without overthinking it, make friends, interesting projects will come along from all of that, and if all goes well you will make some people happy. And maybe that makes you happy. Which is an ego trip that I probably have to address… still not sure how healthy this is mentally. But right now, making art makes me very happy.

 

Schoolin’ Life: Jenn Baker

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with writer, baker, editor, creator, and producer Jenn Baker.

Jennifer Baker

Jennifer Baker is an African American writer of fiction & nonfiction; a native New Yorker with a penchant for baking (and eating desserts), writing about relationships, seeing new parts of the world, and biking. She spends her days working as a production editor and freelances as a copy editor/proofreader and reviewer of restaurants. In addition, Jennifer volunteers with the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books and is the creator & producer of the podcast Minorities in Publishing.

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

Funny enough, I had a “checklist.”

  • Get married. (Done!)
  • Go to grad school. (Done!)
  • Establish a career. (Done!)
  • Write a book & get published. (Sounded easier when I wrote it down.)

Achieve the greatness I think many expect for you, or you really expect for yourself, when you’re an overachiever. I did the marriage and grad school thing, which I now regret for various reasons  of it being too soon and not the right choices (in mate & school). I started my career in publishing. I wrote a half-assed book with obnoxious characters before starting one that would kick my ass for several years (still working on it). I sincerely thought that I was doing everything I was “supposed” to do in my 20s by following a methodical path that really wasn’t the right one for me.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I’m lucky that I always had a supportive family. So what stood out for me was that many of the women in my family held things down and got things done while the men were more sideline characters. So even if I wasn’t seeing strong women, particularly strong Black women in media and in books, I was raised by them. And I noticed that the way they handled things by themselves, whether they had a spouse or not, that I couldn’t always count on anyone besides myself which lead me to have a very independent, must-get-this-done mindset leading to the overachieving (and overly naive) ideology of “If I do everything, right things will turn out well for me. The reason things didn’t turn out well for others is because of bad choices.” Don’t you know that mindset got fixed real quick as I got older and entered collegiate and then professional life.

So many aspects of life are unpredictable and no matter how many “rules” you follow, there’s no set guide on how things will turn up. The way I’ve been received by others in society took away the shield I had as a kid/teen of having family always looking out for you and protecting you from the larger ugliness of the world. Mind you, NYC is not the cesspool some may think it is. I’ve encountered lots more kindness than anything, but that’s not to say that living in this city and building a thick skin because of the way you’re treated as a young female of color means others may not be as receptive to you as you’d think. So while I always expected the best from myself, be hardworking, do right always, put others before yourself, but rarely ask for help, I saw that these were also hampering how I felt the world would (and should) return on my investment.

What was your first job like?

My first real job out of college was for a literary agent and I had to quit that one due to a family emergency. After that I became an editorial assistant at an academic publisher and the person who hired me left soon after I started. The new boss and I didn’t have a great rapport which I think hampered my first job experience.

All the assistants and I worked in what people called “cubeville.” We were all recent graduates. We were all trying to satisfy our bosses. We were all overachievers who got really upset when we made mistakes big and small. We ate lunch together often and some of us cried on occasion. We also looked out for each other by over-ordering food whenever we had thankless tasks (e.g., stuffing CDs into envelopes and sticking said envelopes into workbooks for hundreds of books) so we could get ourselves (and each other) free breakfast/lunch from the nicest places on our bosses’ tab.

I made great friends at that job who I’m still in contact with today. The job itself didn’t lead to any upward movement for me and was the first of several assistant jobs I’d take on before finding my fit outside of editorial and in the production department.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I lost my virginity. I got married. Had a miscarriage. Initiated my career. I found the stories I wanted to tell while finding my voice as a writer (and I’m continually finding that voice). But in terms of big personal losses or catastrophic/life-altering changes I can’t think of many. I think emotionally I was still developing and perhaps achieved a lot of personal reflection that was very necessary so that the growing unhappiness I felt in my 20s would potentially be rectified in my 30s.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I was the first of my friends to get married. And I think I may have felt a bit of hierarchy in that. I would later become the first of my friends to get divorced which shed light on how they pursued and grew in their relationships and I how I had pursued mine.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I finally owned up to the fact that the reason I wasn’t happy in my marriage wasn’t solely because something was wrong with me. Even after going to couple’s therapy I figured that my periods of fluctuation in feelings for my mate, and in some instances was encouraged to think, that I was running from a problem when the fact was the marriage was the problem. I chose to remain in a relationship that was no good for me purely because of perception. I forced myself to really pay attention to the bad signs and no longer ignore them at the end stage of my 20s to the point that I pulled the trigger in my early 30s.

The biggest thing for me was acknowledging my fear of being alone and starting over and not knowing everything I thought I did as a married woman. At some point it hit: I already felt alone in my marriage; it would be less stressful, and perhaps somewhat redemptive, to feel alone and be alone.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I became less concerned with making other people happy and focused on me. It’s freeing but can also lead to misunderstandings because I went from being a very timid, silent person to a direct person. One thing I came to understand when I think on the independence aspect of the women I was raised by is that they often did more for others than themselves. They were single mothers who worked long hours and multiple jobs for their children. These were women who remained unhappily married until later in life. And when I got into my first relationship which resulted in marriage and I also got my jobs I did whatever it took to get people to like me and make them comfortable.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to be a comfort to others or to try and help others or to do the job you’re paid to do. But when you’re losing aspects of yourself, when you’re making compromises that don’t sit well with you, when you’re unhappy on a deep level something has to change and often times that’s an inside-out change not always an outside-in one. So instead of taking what others thought all the time I formed and spoke of my opinions. I also needed to be a better listener so as not to barrage with my opinions while not hearing others.

On the relationship front I owned myself more and when my partner kept saying I was “naive” and “young” I took it for what it was rather than considering who I was. In my 20s my insecurity of being wanted romantically was full out on display. I threw myself (not a joke, I actually did that one time at age 20) at men which makes me cringe thinking back on it. I didn’t know much about relationships but I readily knew the body could be a key attractor and I used it in an attempt to get what I wanted, which was companionship that I hoped transformed into love. I was not aware or didn’t wholly understand that I should be enough for someone.

That I should be wanting to be better for myself but also to be with someone who made me want to be better. And it’s when that realization struck, and I mean really struck, that I felt strong enough to realize who I was as a young woman and embrace my body in a way that I had more control over it and who I shared it with.

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

The big thing was becoming more attentive to politics and social issues. The more I paid attention to what was happening in the real world the less enamored I became with celebrities and the life of riches paraded on TV. My insecurities weren’t simply because there was something wrong with me in all instances but because the world viewed women and/or black women and/or vocal black women in a certain way. I had to comprehend that my behavior spoke volumes, that perception was constant and that people may very well prejudge me before I walked in the door or opened my mouth based on whatever information (be it banal or not) they had of me.

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

To me a major turning point for the 2000s was the Gore/Bush election. I continually wonder what would have happened if Gore had won. Would 9/11 have taken place? Would there have been a war and mass killings? Would this have lead to the latest recession as well as so much dissension in the U.S.? That one election seems to have set the stage for a whole new way of life and a real need to see things differently for those in my generation specifically.

In 2003, straight out of college I attempted to get a full-time job, yet I saw many people were being laid off due to the repercussions of 9/11 and the impending war creating a lot of concern in various industries. It was as though a continuous spotlight had been cast on corruption taking place in all areas of government and corporations. When the situation arose where I was the sole means of support for my husband and I, there was very little around to help us because even though my salary in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. helped me skid by it still wasn’t enough to require any kind of subsidy to help us not struggle.

The growing financial concerns and visible discrepancies between those who worked hard and those with expectations made it clear that we all needed to pay more attention to the world around us. The “War on Terror” made me face the fact that those older than me, those in office, those with power, were not always looking out for others.

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

My biggest regret was being too cautious. I took fewer chances and always worried: about money, about pleasing my partner, about being alone, about doing the wrong thing (and wrong was really society’s expectation of what a woman should do: be married, have kids, maybe work as well). This hesitation meant I didn’t do more traveling. That people I was attracted to and who may have been better matches that crossed my path were people I distanced myself from when I flashed my engagement and later wedding ring out of resigned loyalty, not devotion. My thoughts on pleasing my partner had me consider conceiving a child I knew full well I was not ready to have.

I wish I had paused more to think about the larger things I wanted from life, or consider what to explore sexually or otherwise. I did things that didn’t make me happy because I thought that’s what you should do. You should get married even if you have concerns about the person you may be marrying. You should get a job even if it’s not one you want simply because you have to pay rent. You should move in with said partner even though he snores extremely loud and constantly reminds you he has more life experience. You should get a graduate degree and take on some debt because you already have a bachelor’s. I think my quest for success and to “check” all my boxes stifled me more than I would have liked. And seeing that I had more money to burn in my 20s when I was splitting all my expenses with a partner than I do now supporting myself I do wish that I’d traveled more, risked more, just did more than be a “good girl.”

There’s no doing it right, and even when you aim to be a good person you can, and may very well, get screwed time and time again. So the aim should be to be happy with yourself before making others happy with you.

Bike Life: Miss Fires in Manhattan

This past week, Hotswag left for Michigan in preparation for his sister’s wedding. He’s spending the week grilling all the foods, swimming in the lake, and (if luck serves him) fixing up his motorcycle for a ride back to New York. His late grandfather left him a Honda cafe racer and, with a little work, he aims to return it to fine working order. The idea of cruising through the Midwestern United States on a bike sounds glorious, and I wish him the best of luck.

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Image courtesy of the Miss Fires

I’m a nervous person, so city rides aren’t for me. While my enthusiasm for motorcycles wanes in inverse proportion to the population (just thinking about riding up First Avenue on a bike floods me with anxiety), there are plenty of badass women cruising urban streets. For the past 18 years, the Miss Fires have recruited women across NYC to share their love of bikes. How do you become a member? All you need is a bike and a valid motorcycle license. Women who are into mopeds, classic cars, and racing bikes are also encouraged to join.

In addition to gaining a new set of riding and drinking buddies, Miss Fires members expand their skill sets with workshops and out-of-city adventures. Recently, some members rode to Connecticut to practice trail riding at a certified clinic. No matter where they ride, the Miss Fires love sharing the stories behind their bikes. Some members have been around since the club’s inception while others are fresh on the scene; member Kristen Reed recently shared her own story in the documentary series Stories of Bike.

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Image courtesy of the Miss Fires

While I think I need to get more comfortable with biking NYC before I spring for a motorcycle of my own, I fully support the Miss Fires and their badass brand of biker sisterhood. Follow them on Facebook or check out their website for frequent updates. Ride on, ladies!

Art Beat: New Work By Erin Morrissey

As you can tell from our masthead, us LC members go way back. With over ten years of friendship in the bank, we’ve watched as our work change and progress. Since she works in the arts, our girl Erin Morrissey generated a particularly amazing visual timeline over the past decade. For as long as we’ve known her, Erin has been drawing on a daily basis, experimenting with new techniques, and constantly pushing her work to the next level.

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Image courtesy of Erin Morrissey

We think Erin’s latest collection is particularly awesome because it’s such a departure from her usual style. While she’s a phenomenal artists capable of producing lifelike work, this new series is all about experimentation and abstraction. First, she creates a portrait sketch. Then, she painstakingly silkscreens the sketch onto a canvas, cleans up the lines, and creates a clean print. For those of you who haven’t silk screened before, the medium doesn’t necessarily lend itself to precise, clean lines. Creating a quality print requires patience, a good eye, and a steady hand.

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Image courtesy of Erin Morrissey

Once she pulls the print, Erin adds individual details by hand: a swatch of copper ink here, an additional flourish there. The final piece catches your eye, invite you to explore the details, and look great on any wall.

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Image courtesy of Erin Morrissey

Want an Erin Morrissey original? You’re in luck; she’s just launched her own shop and regularly posts new pieces. Take a look, snag a print, and share the link with a friend. Way to go, girl!

Schoolin’ Life: Sabrina Majeed

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know designer Sabrina Majeed.

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In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I grew up in North Texas in a very white, very Southern Baptist school district. I’m half Chinese, half Pakistani and was raised as an only child in an Islamic household, and it was very lonely. I was the only kid who didn’t eat pepperoni pizza or didn’t go to church. My dad’s side of the family put so many restrictions on what I could and couldn’t wear. I realize that I still had a very privileged upbringing but at the time, everything felt unfair. My parents got divorced when I was eight, which was very hard for me, but after that, my mom’s views on Islam seriously relaxed. I became very “Americanized” and loved it. I knew the expectations for me on my dad’s side were to stay in Texas and go to college, but to meet a husband, not to build a career for myself. I’m not really ‘bout that life, so there’s always been a drive inside of me to prove them wrong. In a way, society’s expectations only gave me higher expectations for myself.

What was your first job like?

While I don’t regret leaving my first job, I do think I took it for granted while I was there. I was fresh out of design school and all my friends were getting jobs at well- known design studios or start-ups. I ended up working at Intuit on small business accounting tools. Very sexy. I spent a lot of my time wishing I was working on something more consumer-facing or having angst over their very corporate style guide. Looking back on it though, that experience has really shaped the rest of my career. People like to bash on big companies but having since worked at some dysfunctional small start-ups, I can say that I know what a healthy and professional work environment should look like and I know what standards to hold future employers to. Also, Intuit gave me complete creative freedom and the opportunity to work on my first iPhone app when that was still a relatively new platform, which basically catapulted my career as a designer and gave me a nice niche to establish myself in. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

What was your first apartment like?

When I think of my first apartment, I think of the first one I lived in by myself. I had been living in San Francisco in a spacious and affordable apartment with two other women, only paying $1000 a month. After some time, I got this strong desire to nest — to start investing in furniture and put effort into decorating my home. I found a tiny one bedroom in Alamo Square for almost twice as much as what I had been paying, though still a steal by today’s standards. It was kind of like a dollhouse; all the rooms were very small, but the bedroom even had bay windows and french doors! I even started my own blog documenting my decorating efforts. Sadly, I only lived there for six months because then I got an offer to move to NYC for work. Now that I’ve had a taste of NYC real estate, I’m pretty sure that losing that little one bedroom is going to haunt me for life.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I went through a really bad break-up in my early 20’s. It wasn’t even my longest or most significant relationship, but I had basically been going from one serious monogamous relationship into another. I had never been truly on my own before and when it happened unexpectedly, I was terrified and devastated that my life wasn’t turning out the way I thought it would. I couldn’t have gotten through it without my best friend. We were newly single around the same time and we learned to embrace it. We got into all kinds of trouble, but it was fun and incredibly freeing. I’m in a relationship now but I still look back on those two years I was single and am like… that. was. the. shit. I have so many crazy memories that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I really came out of that break-up a lot more independent and not just comfortable, but happy, to be alone.

How did your relationships with your family change?

As I grow older, I’ve become increasingly more sentimental about my family. When I graduated high school, I wanted to get as far away from my hometown as possible. I was pretty sure I would never move back to Texas, yet lately I’ve been thinking about eventually doing just that. I think I needed that space and some distance to really appreciate what I have, which is incredibly supportive parents who have come to trust me and my decisions. My mom was also older than average when she had me, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more acutely aware of that and wish that we could spend more time together.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As someone markedly different, which could be good and bad. It was bad-different growing up in north Texas. I got used to being people’s token “ethnic” friend growing up, and their first exposure to a non-Caucasian lifestyle. When I went to college and eventually San Francisco afterwards, people seemed to think my mixed-race background was cool and unique. I liked that it set me apart from everyone else. Eventually though, it got to a point where people— men in particular— would fixate on that, which felt weird. They’ll say things like, That’s a rare mix; I’ve never encountered one of you before” which makes me feel more like an endangered animal than a person.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

As a kid, and even into my college years, my identity was very conservative. I always tried to do things by the book. I was very shy in high school and actively avoided standing out so I never broke any rules, and didn’t really challenge authority or even myself. There’s a lot of things I don’t like about the tech industry, but at the same time, working in this industry in my 20’s has made me much more comfortable taking risks, challenging assumptions, and having the confidence to do my own thing regardless of what other people think about it. Every risk I’ve taken in my 20’s has paid off and the more that happens, and the more positive reinforcement I get, it becomes easier to just do what I feel like instead of overthinking it.

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

I definitely entered my twenties believing in meritocracy, and the idea that you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and if you weren’t successful, you weren’t trying hard enough. I also had a very individualist every-woman-for-herself mentality and approach to my career. In my early 20’s, I would hear women complaining about the workplace and I just didn’t get what the big deal was, but the thing is my expectations were so different and so much lower for how my career should look as an entry-level designer. I was just happy to be there. Eventually, you grow, and that’s not enough and I began to understand what all these other women were talking about. Then I realized it’s not just women; there’s so many different vectors that affect one’s livelihood such as race, orientation, and ableness, and merit has a lot less to do with it than most people would like to believe. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely come to embrace the fact that I am a bleeding heart liberal, which is something I felt but actively tried to suppress showing early in my twenties.

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

There’s a story about London, which is a city that has a lot of meaning to me. In my early twenties, I dated three different guys from the UK. My friends still make fun of me for it; I guess I had a type. There was a common theme where they each talked about the idea of taking me to London or having me visit. In one of those relationships, I was actually in the early stages of planning a trip when we broke up, which sucked because it was something I was really looking forward to that now felt out of reach. I hadn’t travelled that much at this point in my life. About a half a year later though, I ended up getting accepted to speak at a design conference in London. It was my first time public speaking and my first time traveling alone internationally, and I think it’s so much more romantic that I made it there on my own merits instead of going with some guy— especially the type of guys I liked in my early 20s. Turns out, I really enjoyed traveling alone, too. It’s a very significant story to me because it taught me that I don’t need to wait for someone else to go after the things I want in life. I’m very capable of doing it on my own.