Tagged: Schoolin’ Life

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.

Schoolin’ Life: Annie Koyama

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet publisher Annie Koyama.

Annie-1

 

Photo credit: Robin Nishio

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

I’m a publisher of alternative comics, art books and zines in Toronto, Canada. I love working with and promoting emerging artists as well as more established artists. I am trying to curb my workaholic ways by taking at least one day a week off to appreciate nature and bad movies with my fantastic partner.

When you were in your 20s…

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

I was probably too busy just trying to get by since I’d left home during high school. Although I had already ruled out social work after doing some volunteer probation officer work, I was hoping to find some work in the arts. I was enjoying being a set painter for the National Ballet of Canada and Canadian Opera Company.

 In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was the eldest of six kids and a visible minority. There was an expectation to excel for sure.

What was your first job like?

My first job when I was of legal working age was in a women’s clothing store in a suburban mall. I certainly didn’t fit in as the store sold spongy, synthetic clothing to middle-aged women. Customers would pee in the dressing room wastebaskets and I’d have to take the wastebaskets downstairs down a long, dark corridor to get to the washrooms. I was making some of my own clothing at that time so needless to say, I never used my employee discount.

What was your first apartment like?

I left home during high school and found a roommate to rent a cheap two bedroom apartment in a mixed industrial/residential area of town. I had to take two buses to school. The two most lasting impressions were that I learned to co-exist with cockroaches and silverfish. And the local cookie factory was nearby so there was a sickeningly sweet smell to the whole area all the time. To this day, I can’t eat those cookies.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I finished University, where I studied arts, languages and criminology; then I got a chance to travel with my sister and a friend of my father’s in Europe. I discovered that social work was not for me, which saddened me, but at least I could move on. I discovered that while I am a competent painter, I was not a really creative painter. However, I got a job at the National Film Board of Canada, which turned out to be my entrance into the world of film production. I loved working in film and felt as though I had found my niche. I’ve stumbled into virtually every job I’ve had in my life. My 20s was the decade where I tried out jobs in different professions allowing me to eliminate the ones that were not for me. However, being an A-type, decisive personality and a person who didn’t want to do a job unless I could excel in it, I was pretty merciless in terms of evaluating my skills.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I kept in touch with some friends from university, but there was no social media in the 80s so some people fell by the wayside when I met new groups of friends. People moved away for jobs afterwards and it was harder to keep in touch.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Whoo boy! What didn’t I learn? I learned that I’m good at cutting my losses in general which has helped me in other parts of my life. I often felt like the protagonist of “My Brilliant Career.” I turned down a few marriage opportunities that decade.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Growing up, I was close to several of my siblings, partly because, with six kids, we had to share bedrooms but having a bit of distance wasn’t a bad thing either.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I definitely experienced racism and sexism from an early age, but you have to begin to think about how you are going to engage with others during those instances. Being one of two female set painters and feminists in a union shop full of men was challenging but once I was able to prove myself as the job involved quite a bit of physical labor, things leveled off a bit. In North America, we tend to be viewed by what our profession or job is. It’s a narrow view and it’s always bothered me that there is more to people than what they do for a living.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

Because no job I’ve ever had was planned, I just stumbled into a variety of kinds of work. I guess you have to keep growing as you take on new challenges but I don’t recall that much changed emotionally. I feel as though I grew much more emotionally in my 30s.

How did you change intellectually?

As an avid reader and one who mostly enjoyed school, I had to continue to go from book smart to street smart. When you have the safety net of a tight family, you may be protected from making more mistakes. On your own, you fall more often but if you learn from each fall, I think you get smarter in a way that is more valuable. I still feel that you should surround yourself with people who you believe to be smarter than you in as many disciplines as possible. You can’t help but learn from them.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

As an eldest child in a large family, I always felt that I had to lead the way. I felt an affinity to the arts and figured that I’d somehow end up working in some art-related job as it was where some of my skills lay. What I didn’t notice consciously was that my organizational skills were becoming strong and that basis has served me in everything I’ve done since. I certainly became way more independent in my 20s.

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

It’s difficult to avoid becoming cynical when you see injustice around you. I’m not a born optimist, so it’s really easy to become disillusioned by the shitty state of the world. Both my parents were interned during WW2 and their families lost everything they had and had to build again from scratch in a hostile environment. It would be easy to carry a chip on your shoulder after that kind of traumatic experience but, to their credit, they chose to go on with life. That kind of fortitude influenced how I try to endure the terrible things that take place in the world.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Since none stand out, there must have been too many of them!

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

Probably realizing that I wasn’t destined to become a really good painter. That experience taught me to move on and not look back.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I didn’t really have one in my 20s. I was certainly inspired by writers as disparate as Doris Lessing, E.M. Forster, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Yukio Mishima, John Knowles, P.G. Wodehouse, Fritjof Capra and John Berger. My mom was a music lover and took us to concerts even when we were pretty young, she instilled a love of music that I’m sure all of my siblings carry today.

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

Maybe the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I lost many friends to AIDS related deaths. It was unexpected, confusing and unbearably sad.

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

I try not to look back but sometimes I wonder what would have transpired had I’d accepted a scholarship to a university arts program that was offered. I will always regret not travelling more due to lack of funds. You could travel pretty cheaply back then. I wasn’t as comfortable travelling alone then and if you waited for a friend, it wouldn’t happen.

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

They’d all involve sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, so nothing original, sadly.

Schoolin’ Life: Sarah Klinger

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know illustrator Sarah Klinger.

Sarah K

Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

When you were in your 20s…

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

I’m still not clear on my expectations for myself, but I was especially frantic in my early 20s. I saw what looked like two clear paths emerge before me. The first was to find a steady job at a company where I could work my way up, doing something I could stand. This is what most people I knew did, and it seemed like a sensible and realistic expectation—to be comfortable and somewhat unsatisfied existentially.

The second option was to pursue something I was passionate about, which I assumed would mean a very unpredictable and stressful existence.

 In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

As per my answer above, I think that society tells you that as an artist you must either suffer, sell out or give up art to be financially successful. Why can’t we have it all?

What was your first job like?

My first “real” job out of college was very much along the first imagined career path because it had little to do with my passions or interests. But I got to work with a lot of really smart, interesting and compassionate people, and that counted for a lot.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was kind of shabby and not terribly functional, but I am still kind of in love with it. Kind of like most things in my 20s.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I didn’t expect my friendships to grow closer in my twenties—I figured that we would be too distracted by trying to carve out our places in the world. But, as I should have realized, that struggle makes having close friends even more important.

How do you feel society viewed you?

It feels like society views young people, young girls especially, as reckless consumers. In every sense. But I admit that didn’t try very hard to prove them wrong. Actually, I still feel that way.

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

It’s such a cliché, but the more I see of the world, the less it feels like I understand it. I love to speculate and generalize about other people’s feelings and motivations all over the world, but my own experiences have been so narrow that I don’t have a good perspective at all.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My collective family and friends were my biggest influence. Who else can you trust?

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

In my early twenties, I remember telling my mom that art wasn’t important because nobody ever died without it. Even if I could admit that art brings happiness to people and makes the world fuller, I wasn’t talented enough to make a difference.

But the more I traveled, the more I started to feel the obvious thing that people have been telling me forever, which is how lucky I am. I felt it more than ever when I took a trip to India with my brother. Another cliché, I know!

Most people (and women especially) don’t get to decide what they do in their lives, but I do. What an arrogant waste it would be to throw away my chance to do what I want. Does it even matter if art is important to the world? I’m responsible for what art means to me, and I’d be an idiot to let the opportunity pass me by.

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

Of course I wish that I had really felt this urgency to go into the arts when I was in college, or even high school. I might be much further along in my career by now.

But another part of my counters that maybe starting out in art would mean I didn’t want it as much? Ruminating on what I ought to have done is pointless because nobody grows in a perfectly straight line. Things just get better and better.

Schoolin’ Life: Eleanor Davis

For today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis.

eleanor


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

My name is Eleanor Davis, I’m 33 years old. I am a cartoonist & illustrator. I like talking, eating, and riding my bike. I spend a lot of time at my desk.

When you were in your 20s…

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

Oh God. I was a mess for a lot of my 20s. I had a lot of expectations and not a lot of them did me much good. I was torn between making art and making money and “making a difference,” I thought I somehow had to become perfect in every way. But in the meantime, I didn’t even know how to, like, feed and bathe myself. So of course I was miserable. Classic!

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think society contributed to my idea that I had to be perfect, and probably to the certainty that I was not. Not sure why or how exactly. A lot of women seem to struggle with that idea, though.

What was your first job like?

My first job in my 20s was working at an ice cream shop. My co-workers and boss were all really, really nice. The customers were usually nice too, although they were mostly tourists. I ate way too much ice cream. In the winter, it would get extremely slow and one of my co-workers made me watch the whole first season of Sex and the City in the back on her laptop.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment in my 20s was kind of a pit. But it was on the second floor and you could climb out my bedroom window onto the porch roof and eat dinner and smoke cigarettes. When you jumped up and down in the kitchen, the whole building would shake.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Oh man, these questions are tough. I mean, yes! My husband and I moved from Savannah to Athens where we live now. We got married. I worked really hard at getting good at art, and I basically did, to everyone’s surprise. I decided to quit making art and work at a co-op, and that was good too, because then I figured out that I liked making art after all. I made some friends. I fell in and out and in and out of love, and in again.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I started to have closer friendships. Friendships were hard for me when I was younger, especially friendships with women, for some reason. I don’t think I really understood what being friends with someone meant; I thought it just meant “people who like one another.” Now I think it has something more to do with communication, trust, and showing people who you really are. I used to have a very hard time letting myself trust other people enough to be open with them. I also wasn’t good at letting other people know they could be open with me. Now I’m braver and my friendships are stronger.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I’ve been with my husband, Drew, since I was 19, so I learned a lot about what it’s like to be with one person for a long time. We both have. We’ve learned that it’s really, really hard. We were co-dependent for a while and then we learned to be our own people a little more. We were distant for a while and then we learned to connect a little more. We communicated badly for a long time and pushed stuff down and then we learned to talk it out. Drew is very, very different from me: he’s quiet, and stable, and patient. I’m emotional, impulsive, and loud. We learn a lot from one another for that reason.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I’ve always been super close with my family, to the point that I couldn’t imagine wanting to be alive after my parents were gone. After I started getting better at making friends, I also started to be able to imagine a future where my parents were dead but I hadn’t offed myself. So I guess that’s a positive change.

We are still navigating the weird shift between parents-with-kids and parents-with-adult-kids. I hope I’m easier to be around than I used to be, but I suspect I am not. They are slightly harder to be around. They’re both retired now, & it’s like they’re developing their own arcane language just to use with one another.

How do you feel society viewed you?

A weird, spoiled, abrasive, wimpy, nerdy, asexual woman-child? Which is fine! I am cool with that.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I got a lot stronger. I started going to therapy and learned that self-hate wasn’t a good motivator. I learned to be kinder to myself, which strangely helped me get stronger, and helped me support other people more. That was good.

How did you change intellectually?

I got dumber! This is a really irritating thing for me. I’ve gotten a lot lazier, intellectually. I used to read more and stay more engaged with current events, partially out of guilt. When I stopped being motivated by guilt, I stopped doing a lot of things that really were good to do, like listening to the news. I’d like to change that. I don’t like willful ignorance, and I worry that my brain is getting soft.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

Simultaneously more masculine and more feminine. Weak and okay with it. More comfortable with considering myself “an artist” (although still – that word, yick).

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

My feminism got a lot stronger. I’m more okay with the upcoming apocalypse (not sure if this is positive or negative). More into meditation, hippy shit, etc.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Please do not make me think about this!

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

Disappointed that I couldn’t work faster, make more art, make more money. Disappointed I couldn’t be a better person, someone who somehow gave back. Disappointed daily in myself. Those things were bad, and they hurt, but I feel pretty good now, and it’s hard to imagine life having gone any other way.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

In my 20s? Personally or artistically? Probably my parents, and my husband, and my best friend, Kate. Like always, like now.

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

Ummmm. Good question. I was really, really excited about listening to the news in 2008 when the market crashed and it became ultra clear that the Republicans really were full of shit. That laissez-faire economics wasn’t just unethical, it was actively horrible policy. Why is anyone still listening to those idiots?

Camping in the Oregon woods with a bunch of wonderful kids’ book authors and illustrators I’d met over the internet was also really something.

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

Oh, Christ. I don’t know.

I wish I hadn’t signed the two-book contract for my first kids’ graphic novel. I wish I’d started going to therapy sooner.

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

America elected Obama (good, great) and decided that meant we’d gotten rid of all racism (obviously horribly untrue).

Schoolin’ Life: Hannah Means-Shannon

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know Hannah Means-Shannon. She’s Editor-in-Chief of Bleeding Cool.com and Bleeding Cool Magazine, a comics scholar, and a former English Professor.

hannah means shannon

When you were in your 20s…
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

Entering my 20’s, I was already conflicted about my future career, but was happy to continue to be a researcher, finish my Ph.D., and work in a library to support myself. I hoped to gain more recognition as a creative writer and travel much more widely since academic study had limited my ability to travel once I was a graduate student. I was an American living in the UK at the time, and I honestly didn’t know where I would end up, though I hoped to have more freedom once I completed my Ph.D. to make that choice. I saw the decade as a route to empowerment but was also conscious that I wanted to enjoy my life rather than just become absorbed with work.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I found the expectations that I had experienced as a young woman in America somewhat limiting. I also came from a Southern background, which was fairly conservative, expecting girls to dress up and wear makeup from a young age. When I considered whether to go to college in the USA, I was told that since I was a girl, it was best that I didn’t go to college more than an hour or two from home. It took a big leap to break from that and study overseas instead. That was an important step where I looked for a different set of expectations for myself. I feel that British society was more encouraging of my intellectual pursuits and also allowed me to feel freer about my appearance and self-expression.

What was your first job like?

My first job was as a summer camp instructor for young children at a “day camp” meaning the students didn’t stay there overnight. It was quite a jump into the deep end since my first class was 4-5 years old and there were many pupils. I learned a huge amount about child development, and the ways in which young children can surprise you with sophisticated thoughts as well as seeming at times like they are only one step beyond their toddler years.

What was your first apartment like?

Well, I lived in my own lodgings from the age of 16 and also in university accommodation that was never shared. The first classic apartment I rented was in my late 20’s and it had a sitting room/kitchen, a bedroom, and a kind of alcove as well as bathroom. I found that to be plenty of room, especially to keep clean since I don’t relish house cleaning. I had a lot of books and managed to make them fit. I think I realized that having a ton of space isn’t necessarily what you need or want at certain stages of your life. I worked at home and went out a lot socially and that was just right for me.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Sure, absolutely. Let’s see—I was engaged for a few years in my young 20’s and that didn’t work out, which was a big emotional experience. I made decisions to move back to the USA and then to Japan for a year, and then back to the USA. I got my first real college teaching job full-time, and got engaged again. My 20’s were probably the most changeable in my life. Having said that, I am quite a changeable person so life has continued to surprise me.

In what ways did your friendships change?

The friendships I formed in my early 20’s have stayed with me, actually. I was fortunate in that some of the people in my life were in proximity for several years during that time, and though the decade moved us all over the world, those are still my formative friendships. If you don’t have enough in common, those friendships will fade away. You get used to not necessarily celebrating friendship through the same rituals—now we use social media and e-mails to stay in touch. But by my late 20’s and even now, I’m crossing oceans just to see these people and it’s worth it.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Let’s see if I can say anything wise: you probably have a lot less control over who you care about than you think. Trying to turn off your feelings isn’t a good idea, so that means you have to endure change and not every relationship will work out. But my conclusion based on my experience is that it is better to take risks than to close yourself off from life-changing experiences.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Pretty drastically. I went from the perpetual graduate student to finally having an income. I think that my family saw me in a different light once I was in charge of hundreds of students, but then again teaching runs in the family. My siblings and I went through changes in our relationships. I think we became even more of a support system for each other the more we moved into the adult world.
How do you feel society viewed you?

I think society viewed me as being a little wild and perhaps too emotionally connected to the arts. I had many weird haircuts, a few different hair colors, and at least a dozen different style changes in my clothing, none of them particularly sedate. But I also became known as a writer within my community and among like-minded people I often felt reassured by their view of me. I was probably fairly rebellious toward the status quo, which I probably thought of when I heard the word “society” throughout my 20’s. But conversely, I took a lot of inspiration from previous generations.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I have always been a very emotional person and still am. But the more experiences you have in life, the more grounds you have for comparison. I learned to panic less about things not going the way that I had expected or planned them to go by having experiences I wouldn’t have chosen turn out well. When I lived in Japan, the school I was teaching for had a lot of problems and I eventually felt I should leave the job. I found myself somewhat alone in another country with a couple of months to spare and not much money. I was forced to find a workable solution and it was a great time for me. I economized, found somewhere to stay, and spent my time traveling and writing based on practical needs. That was “me time” and it was great.

How did you change intellectually?

That may be the toughest question for me to answer in the list. I was intellectually engaged from a young age and I spent my 20’s in academic study. But the truth is, I got way more restless and inventive intellectually during my 20’s. There were my “official” studies and then there were my studies as a writer. I read tons of novels and plays that had nothing to do with my curriculum simply because I didn’t know about other cultures and wanted to. I came to realization that there are no limits on learning—it’s in your own hands.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I think I shifted from a scholar to a writer more fully in my 20’s, accommodating both. I think I became a lot braver about traveling and spending time alone and also about meeting new people and learning about the world. I stopped being as worried about fitting in and much more concerned with what made me unique as a person.

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

My worldview was somewhat global since I had moved around a lot as a kid, but as I’ve mentioned above, I also faced limitations based on gender and tradition. Exploring other cultures became the key to personal freedom for me—you can’t make choices about how you want to live fully unless you can see difference and options. As I told my students for many years teaching, the first advice I would give to someone in their 20’s is to study abroad. It will make more than an academic difference.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

I feel like I spent a lot of my 20’s embarrassed. Probably one of the worst moments was having a loud argument with my boyfriend early in the morning on a busy street corner and just not giving a damn about the looks people were giving me. Then an entire enclave of my professors walked by, walking up behind me so I didn’t curtail the loud dispute at all. Come to think of it, I think they were more embarrassed than me.

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

My biggest disappointment then, from my perspective at the time, was probably when I didn’t get a scholarship I was hoping to get that would allow me to do a graduate degree. I thought my life was over and was truly shaken up by it because I had wanted to do a graduate degree and teach from a young age.

I started packing up to move back home, even. I felt that life had made a decision for me that would affect my future and I wasn’t happy about it. At some point, when I had calmed down a few days later, I began making lists of long shots of what I might be able to do to continue my studies. It took some massive determination but through combining a series of approaches to scholarships and loans, I was able to continue. That made a big difference in my life because I followed through on my goals and didn’t let outward circumstances call the shots so easily.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My biggest influences continued to be my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, who had been big influences in my childhood. The last of them passed away when I was 21, but not before seeing me off to college. Both placed a huge value on education and intellectual pursuits, and my grandmother, having been an artist, was quite rebellious too. When I needed to reassess my own identity, I went back to them mentally and that helped me avoid conformity that might be limiting and kept me from underestimating myself since they had both led very interesting lives.

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

When I think about my 20’s, there are quite a few things to choose from, whether it was exploring Paris early in the morning, or taking part in fire festivals at night in Japan. Those are the kind of beautiful moments you hold onto. A lot of my big life-changing events have actually happened in my 30’s, so that’s a hard question to answer otherwise.

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

My regrets are mainly centered around the time I wasted worrying or disliking myself, or not thinking I looked or acted the way I wanted my persona to be. I would definitely advise to reject the urge to be constantly dissatisfied with yourself and instead spend your time focusing on something new to learn or experience rather than focusing on the negative. And also to keep in mind that you feel like you’re a fully formed adult, but really life is constantly changing on you and you’re at the beginning of something, not the end of a developmental period.

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

When I was finishing up my doctoral degree, I had a trip planned with friends for after I finished and submitted my thesis. It was the trip to end all trips in the South of France and it was going to be fantastic. Things were booked and paid for well ahead. Everything was on track. It kept me going through the days of nonstop work leading up to the end.

Then one day I received a note from my supervisors that they had decided they wanted me to switch my citation method on my 300 page thesis. For those of you have done research, you might guess the avalanche of work that means focused on minutiae. They advised me to reschedule the completion of my degree and take an extra 6 months to do it. Either way the trip was off. I felt very angry that this decision hadn’t been made earlier and that it was affecting my life in this way.
I decided to try to complete the corrections before the summer was out, and moved the trip by 6 weeks, managing to keep things booked. For 6 weeks I basically slept in the library and showered in nearby dorms. I kept to a really specific schedule and I did it. One day ahead of schedule I handed in my thesis and shoved off on my trip on the date I’d set. My advisors congratulated me. They hadn’t thought it was possible and they had to give me credit for determination. And yeah, that was the best trip ever.

Schoolin’ Life: Sabrina Majeed

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

Sabrina

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.

Schoolin’ Life: Ernestine Hayes

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we meet writer and professor Ernestine Hayes.

Ernestine

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

I am a great-grandmother, a Tlingit woman. I teach composition and creative writing at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.

 

When you were in your 20s…

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

I was born in 1945, so I was in my 20s from July 1965 to June 1975.

Since it has been so long, at first I couldn’t really remember having expectations, or what expectations they must have been. After some thought, though, I remembered that it was the 1960s in San Francisco, so of course, I expected to be part of a beautiful, peaceful, new world full of love, free spirits, and organic gardens.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was born at the end of the Second World War in the territory of Alaska to a single woman who was Tlingit. Alaska then rested – and still does, truth be told – on a foundation of colonial attitudes and systems. As an Alaska Native child in the mid twentieth century, my expectations were shaped by those circumstances.

What was your first job like?

My first job at the age of fourteen was at a printer, where I mangled reams and reams of printed work while the print shop owner watched in horror, no doubt regretting whatever social guilt moved him to hire me in the first place.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was in San Francisco, near the Panhandle, an old estate house that had been remodeled into apartments. Each apartment was different, and the one I lived in had one of the fireplaces, although I never tried to use it.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Two of my sons were born in San Francisco in the sixties, and at the end of the decade I moved to the Sierra Nevada Foothills, having transferred my faith from a beautiful new world of peace and love to the back-to-the-land movement.

In what ways did your friendships change?

All the friendships I had after leaving my home in Alaska at the age of fifteen were shaped by the understanding that one day I would go home again, so the friendships I developed in my twenties were temporary.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Nothing. I never knew my father and in my memory, my mother had no relationships with men, so I had no idea what constituted a romantic relationship. I was unfortunate in that regard.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Everyone in my extended family was still back in Alaska, and we hadn’t kept in touch. My mother moved to the East Coast not many years after we moved to California. We spoke weekly, and she came to visit once or twice a year, but we were not involved in each other’s day to day lives.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I’d never fit into any sort of role that society would consider conventional, so I imagine the dominant society viewed me as an outsider.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for several years, and I suffered his tantrums and anger and criticism until my emotions were raw metal. It would be decades before I felt whole again, but I survived those years any way I could.

How did you change intellectually?

I searched for ways to survive and tried everything I could believe in. I tried to find reason everywhere.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I became someone else for a while.

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

Parts of my worldview changed with every new hope that I had found an answer, but the fundamental beliefs that I’d received from my grandmother didn’t change.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

We were out of food and I took my sons to a park so we could forget that all we had to eat was squash and tomatoes from the garden. Everyone at the park had barbecue and picnic lunches. I wasn’t so much embarrassed as I was ashamed that I hadn’t thought about that aspect and that I had put my sons in an even worse situation for them.

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

My relationship with my sons’ father; it almost killed me. When I decided to leave, it uncovered a deep capacity for determination.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

The man I lived with, who did everything to beat me down emotionally. He reinforced my lack of confidence by belittling and criticizing me at every turn. In those days before there was widespread organized effort to make information available, with the isolation that is part of abuse, and with my inexperience with healthy relationships, I allowed myself to be a victim.

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

The sixties, peace marches, the back-to-the-land movement, the Jesus movement, all those.

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

My life is full of regrets, but all those choices led me home.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?
The sixties turned into the seventies, then the eighties and on and on, and capitalism was the only thing that profited.

 

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.