Tagged: writer

Schoolin’ Life: Meg Lemke

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know editor and writer Meg Lemke.

Meg Lemke

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

I’m an editor and a writer, about in that order. I run/edit MUTHA Magazine, which was founded by Michelle Tea. MUTHA publishes diverse parenting stories, essays, interviews and “some of the finest comics about modern motherhood” (Nat. Brut). My essays and interviews have been published at places like Paris Review [here’s the most recent], Seleni, MUTHA, other places. Also, I chair the comics and graphic novel programming at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Before my daughter was born, I was a career book editor (at Teachers College Press at Columbia, Seven Stories Press, and Houghton Mifflin). Now “how I spend my days” is part freelance and part playground. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn.   

When you were in your 20s…

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

I turned twenty in 1999 – partying that New Year’s listening to Prince, natch, dancing drunk off of the cheapest of red wine with my closest friend in my parents’ basement. I was nostalgic even then, realizing what a strange period of change we were entering. My twenties were the first decade of the new millennium. I started it in college, going into my senior year, and wanted to travel, to write and create, to find love. I expected to continue in academia, that’s what I envisioned—to be a professor. But that isn’t what happened—I went into publishing instead, where I have had the privilege to read and edit the manuscripts of many a Ph.D without having defended one myself.  

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

To say the least, I was intensely self-conscious in that decade. I have always felt pressure, from all around me in society, to present as doing a good job and to try to stay pretty doing it. (And not talk so much/too loud, at which I particularly fail). Society transmitted into me the expectation that physical beauty for women could trump other accomplishments, that beauty was value—and it would not be possible for me to ever quite make the grade. But yet—even if it would never count quite as much as it would to be, say, thin–it remained my duty to be a good student, a good worker, a good helper, to be of “merit.” While I had felt shamed by classmates in high school about how often I raised my hand—going into college, I fought against this expectation that women should not “act smart.” I kept asking questions.

In my early twenties, maybe in rebellion to all of this, I’d wear overalls with purple leopard-print velvet skirts, did the thrift shop and flannel thing, influenced by a grunge and riot grrrl aesthetic. This was also because it was fashionable, since I grew up in Seattle in the ’90s. And, I dove into sex-positive literature and movements, which were burgeoning also in the waning grunge years of the Northwest. I read feminist thinkers, queer writers. I cannot claim I ever shook my body consciousness, but I did become more thoughtful, mindful, conscious of that consciousness.

As I went first into assistant-level publishing jobs and further in my career into my later twenties, I was also yoked by the expectation—implicit and often explicit—that I should not ask/expect to get paid well for the kind of work I wanted to pursue. That one, especially a girl-person, should joy in working long hours perpetually in literary gratitude rather than ask for a raise, ever. It never went well when I did, it always was a humiliating conversation where the bosses were very troubled that I was bringing it up. It is an industry teetering on the backs of many young (more often female-identified, at least in my time) interns and assistants. Though, that said, I did love my jobs; and I had many wonderful (often women) mentors.

What was your first job like?

I had many first jobs all at the same time. From when I was nine years old, until my mid-twenties, I babysat. Though, I can’t imagine hiring a nine-year-old now to babysit my own kid… But, I was an ALL-TIME BEST BABYSITTER. (When I read Raina Telgemeier’s revamped Babysitter’s Club graphic novels, I cried with nostalgia). I’ve had friends advise me not to let my own daughter babysit when she is older—as in, offer her only the opportunity of career advancing early work, instead reinforcing a primary caregiver role for women. But, for me, I loved it. Aside from the fact that I dig kids, I liked being in different people’s houses and visiting their lives, imagining their stories. Once I babysat in someone’s docked boat—not a yacht, but like a small boat tethered somewhere in the dark waters… (think of Charles Burns’ landscapes). I sat for actors and artists, who were fascinating and unsure about their new life as parents–who I think of wryly today. I’m in the same boat now.

I also pulled coffee all through college, at different shops in Seattle including the “red-headed stepdaughter” (as the owners called it) cart outpost of the hipster-y Bauhaus, which was located inside the University bookstore.  I think Bauhaus itself is gone now; that was a great coffeeshop…. I also became a bookstore clerk there for a while (yay book discounts); definitely I advise working in a bookstore if you want to work in publishing books.

When I was 21, I started work “for real” in publishing–as an intern at Elizabeth Wales’s literary agency, and a reader for the Seattle Review (edited by Colleen McElroy, a beautiful poet, teacher, and human). Later I managed to get hired by Elizabeth as her assistant. Then I moved to Boston and then New York… I took the internship because I wanted to be a writer, but then discovered my passion as an editor and advocate for authors.

What was your first apartment like?

I moved out of my parents’ home when I was 17, first into a dorm very briefly, then a couple months later broke out of there and into an apartment in the heart of Seattle’s University District. I had two roommates, and it was a funky space—salvaged furniture, we put up ratty art (and some porn) on the walls, laminated the table with photo postcards, made messes. We rehearsed theater and all wrote stories and plays, threw parties, and often had stray acquaintances sleeping on our couch/floor/beds. Hungover kids would wake up and I would give them tea and ask them about their love life. I had a reputation for asking personal questions of people I didn’t know well enough to ask, which I suspect that remains true. Mara Siciliano, who is a playwright, lived across the street, and Brandon Graham, the comic artist, basically lived with us—we certainly fed him most days. Whenever I see him now I have the impulse to microwave a burrito. I’ve kept many friends from that time and place, who showed up often on that dirty floor; Chris Burkhalter, who was a comics reviewer and is great writer, Olivia Gunn, a poet and dancer and now a professor at UW; Alissa Mortenson, who started a theater company and now is doing theater-influenced therapy…  

Did you experience any big life changes?

Yes.

I studied in Italy when I was twenty, and took a multi-month life-changing solo backpacking trip across Europe, crashing in hostels and having adventures and affairs. Then, I got my first job(s), as noted, and later I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast–Boston and then New York. I moved between jobs, got laid off once, got back in and found my niche(s) in the industry. I got married when I was 26, and when I was thirty I started trying to have a baby.

I gave birth at 31. That was a change like nothing else before in my life.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Entering my twenties, I had had various tumultuous and serially monogamous attachments—one with a cast member of the local Rocky Horror Picture Show troupe, one (briefly) with a drug addict, some jerks and some sweethearts. Finding and losing lovers, desire and the overwhelming longing to be desirable, these were primary drivers in my choices and actions. I was swoony, lovesick.

Then, at 21, I started dating my best friend, who I had known for some years. He said he loved me, somewhat all of a sudden. We moved in together a few weeks later. We had our ten-year wedding anniversary this month.

Instead of searching for romance in my 20s, I had the luck/challenge to learn to love and be committed to one, complicated and particular and adored, person, over time. We have stuck through a lot together. We have made each other.

I first met my husband, before we were dating, when I was seventeen and he was seventeen, in the basement of a shopping mall, where I was making espresso under the escalator and he was helping to make the new internet economy upstairs in an office, both of us paid under the table (hello ‘90s Seattle).  One irony that has been apparent to me, since, is that I thought in my naïve youth that I would remain the cooler half—that I was artsy and he was math-y. But that decade became the real revenge of the nerds. (Certainly he now has more twitter followers than me, to my deep burning rage). He turned out to be a good risk. I take pride in his work and I know he takes pride in mine. How important that is—to find your partnership in love to be a ballast for your other identities, your work and ambitions. This requires allowing each other to change over time, to grow up together, which can be very difficult (imagine me biting my tongue here and sitting on typing fingers) but worth it.   

How did your relationships with your family change?

As I became an adult, they became less immediately responsible for me and therefore less worried about me constantly. Because in my family, to love means to worry. My mother might dispute this; I still give her lots to worry over. I moved across the country—so I see them only a few times a year. But we talk weekly at least, often daily. I fly home to Seattle enough that I have considered putting that I am bicoastal into my little online profile boxes, except that looks ridiculous – like the guys with “NY/LA/London/Bangkok” but you know that they live down the street 99% of the time.

Do you feel you changed emotionally?

Eh, maybe. I am an emotional type, which has sustained. I hope I have become less flighty (though sadly I think not much less anxious). I am better able to appreciate the various ways that love demonstrates itself, the value in stability as well as thrill.

I am bound up emotionally in my child, right now, in a way that makes it hard to take stock of myself separate from being a new-ish mother. I’m still in the thick of it, even though she’s somehow already four years old. Check back when she starts kindergarten; or middle school perhaps.  Ayun Halliday wrote some lines, as I recall them, in her memoir THE BIG RUMPUS, which I would like to find to actually quote, but in my memory she said how having a child can be the shocking intense reciprocated love sought in so many romantic movies/stories, but you also have to take care of them every minute of every day (or hire someone else to do it), so it is a lot to feel.  I am full to bursting.

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

So… this is an early one in my twenties; my later disappointments feel too fresh to describe with clarity. But, right at the start of that decade, I was still bummed about how I had wanted to go to college in New York. I had a much ballyhooed (by spoiled me and of course my sweet proud parents) national merit scholarship to NYU that we then turned down because the expense to make up the difference was too much for my family, who were doing fine financially but not willing to like triple-mortgage their house for me to go to the big(ger) city for a ridiculously priced school. This led me to complain frequently about my bright lights dreams going out. Instead, I was able to pay more affordable tuition and study with excellent writers at the University of Washington, including Charles D’Ambrosio, Charles Johnson, Heather McHugh; could afford travel and study abroad, worked while also got support from my family through school, and then later graduated with zero student loans. Then I moved to New York anyways. Some East Coast folks are very snobby about schools and pedigree, name-dropping that never stops (and anyone reading this of that persuasion might think, look we’re not talking about missing out on Yale here… get over it). I see now the benefits long-term of not going into debt for college, I wish that were even possible now.  And how schooling is what you make of it, taking advantage of the resources that are presented. Follow your teachers after class to talk—this goes for work-life mentors also, if you can do it in a not-too-annoying fashion.

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

Well, I turned 22 on September 12, 2001. It is obvious to state that 9/11 defined the decade in America, shifted national politics and our culture profoundly. From it was created the ubiquitous surveillance that feels rather normal now, but isn’t.   
Also: The Internet pretty much happened that decade. Social media was not really a thing yet when I turned twenty, though there were bulletin boards and chat rooms. As it became dominant, the connectedness and need to constantly broadcast, both in my work and in my friendships, became the other new normal. Though I’m still not on facebook personally, as I have little interest in rekindling grade-school connections.  I think I’m going to have to go on soon though, that’s another story, but FB is making it impossible to update the MUTHA site without me having a personal account; super frustrating as I don’t want to be forced on that network… (I like twitter though! You can find me there).

Dame of the Day: Slavenka Drakulic

Slavenka DrakulicToday’s Dame of the Day is Slavenka Drakulić (July 4, 1949-). Born in Croatia, Drakulić began her career as a journalist writing about feminist issues for the country’s newspapers. In the 1990s, she left the country for Sweden after she received death threats for writing about the region’s civil war. While in exile, Drakulić wrote extensively about the Yugoslav wars and interviewed inmates of the International Criminal Tribunal. Today, she splits her time between Stockholm and Zagreb.

Schoolin’ Life: Colter Jackson

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator and writer Colter Jackson.

author photo final

When you were in your 20s…

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

In my 20s I had this agonizing, paralyzing ambition to “become a writer.” Hell or high water, I wanted to publish before 30. Guess what? I failed. But I needed that failure. It taught me a lot. I started having fun in my writing. I started drawing again. Letting myself play and pursue fun side projects – that’s when I started getting published and I think that’s not a coincidence.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Society shrank my expectations of myself. I grew up in a very small town in Missouri (500 people or so). In that culture, girls were encouraged to be pretty but not interesting, defiant or smart.  Also, art was not valued. It was considered something the weird kids were good at. And I was good at it and worked hard at it, so I guess I was a weird kid. Creative pursuits were unheard of and I’d never met an author or an illustrator so I didn’t understand that these were things you could be. Even though I’ve made a career of it, my family still refers to my artistic inclination as ‘artsy fartsy’.

What was your first job like?

I was a waitress at a diner and I got fired. They said it was for my terrible handwriting. I was devastated. I thought it meant I was destined for a life of failure.

What was your first apartment like?

I was 15 when I moved out of my mother’s house. It was a small one-bedroom subsidized by the government. My English teacher had to write a note for me explaining that I was a responsible kid and would pay the rent. I hated the apartment then – the dingy carpets, the dark rooms, the leaky faucet, but I love it now. The idea of it. I can see myself up late at night at the kitchen table working my ass off on my college applications. Doing everything to get myself out of that little town.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I had a health scare that really transformed my life. I was working in advertising as a writer but I had always dreamed of writing books and pursuing my illustration more seriously. Then I got sick and realized I didn’t have all the time in the world to squander at happy hours and late-nights at the agency. After they let me out of the hospital, I quit my job, went freelance and started making things (novels, comics, illustrations, kids books) furiously and with absolute abandon.

In what ways did your friendships change?

In my 20s, it seemed like I had a million friends. But a lot of those friendships were shallow and based on nothing more than shared space. I have fewer friends now in my 30s but life feels so much richer because the connection to those friends runs very deep. I feel so fortunate to have found a tribe of people who all really love and respect each other and want good things for each other.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I learned life is too short to put up with shenanigans. Find someone awesome and wake up and love them with all you have every day.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Family is so complicated. I’m the baby of five, so I think I had to get far away in order to carve out my own version of myself. Being the youngest child, I had a bit of hero worship for my older siblings. I had to grow up and realize they are just humans and their approval of me doesn’t make or break my life. Their beliefs about the world, don’t have to be my beliefs. That was very freeing. I stopped trying to make everybody happy with my choices. The strange result of that was deeper, more authentic relationships with my family. I enjoy most of them. I’m friends with them.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

In two large ways. I let go of the reins and this constant feeling of wanting to control the direction of my life because there is so much out of our control. And I let go of the crippling desire to make everyone happy. I realized people would still love me if I made choices they didn’t approve of and if they stopped loving me – they weren’t the kind of person I wanted in my life, were they?

How did you change intellectually?

I’ve always been a reader but I think I started to understand the value of reading books that are really challenging and not just entertaining. That books actually get inside of you and make you bigger and better in a lot of ways, opening your eyes and opening your heart.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

The adjectives changed. I went from striving to be pleasant and pretty to striving to be interesting, tenacious, brave, intelligent and kind.

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

I grew up so insular. Travelling and reading really opened my eyes to how connected we are as human beings. How we should do everything we can to minimize the suffering of others.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My high school English teacher had a profound affect on my life. She was always so fiercely intelligent and well-read. I grew up in a cultural desert and she was this magical oasis of knowledge and poetry. She encouraged me in my outlying interests and it’s the only encouragement I can find when I look back.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
The things I regret aren’t really missteps or mistakes – I think those are valuable. I regret time wasted and I regret anytime I’ve ever hurt anyone.

Dame of the Day: Thuraya Al-Baqsami

Thuraya Al-Baqsami

Today’s Dame of the Day is Thuraya Al-Baqsami (1952-). As a student, Al-Baqsami studied art in Egypt and obtained a master’s degree in Graphic Design in Russia before returning home to Kuwait. Her work is part of private and public collections worldwide and received praised from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; the UN commissioned her for a sculpture project that traveled around the world. She also received awards for her short story collection, Cellar Candles, and her children’s book, The Recollection of small Kuwaiti Fatuma.

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.

Dame of the Day: Cherrie Moraga

Cherríe Lawrence Moraga

Today’s Dame of the Day is Cherríe Moraga (September 25, 1952-). Moraga channeled her own experiences with racism, passing as white, and her own sexual identity into a collaboration with Gloria Anzaldúa titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Moraga, along with Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde, founded Women of Color Press, the first United States publisher to focus on women of color.

Dame of the Day: Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria E. Anzaldúa

Today’s Dame of the Day is Gloria Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004). In spite of her family’s presence in south Texas for six generations, Anzaldúa felt the sting of discrimination against her Mexican heritage and her female identity. While she began her career as a preschool teacher, Anzaldúa continued to study and share her perspectives on Chicana history, feminism, and the dangers of binary definitions. Most famously, she edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, a text calling for greater focus on intersectionality in feminism.

Schoolin’ Life: Shawnee´ and Shawnelle Gibbs

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to meet writers, animators, producers, and sisters Shawnee´ and Shawnelle Gibbs. They release many of their projects through their production company, Reel Republic.

Gibbs-New-Orleans

 

Shawnee´Gibbs and Shawnelle Gibbs (The Gibbs Sisters) are writers and television producers based out of Los Angeles, California, who also work collaboratively on independent comics and animation.

When you were in your 20s…

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

Shawnee´: I definitely had awesome expectations for my twenties before I entered them. In my pre-twenties vision, I’d be married with a home and two kids by the time I was twenty-seven. I’d be a journalist for Essence Magazine and would be off traveling the world and experiencing fabulous things. Of course, none of that has happened, so my 18-year old self would probably be quite disappointed in not getting all that checked off by twenty-seven.

I’d just get my teenage self a real estate guide with how much it costs to buy a home in Los Angeles these days and she’d probably cool her jets a bit. Though my life hasn’t been exactly what my early expectations were, I’m pretty happy with where I am at this point in my journey.

Shawnelle: Oh, Shawnee and I would always joke that we would “take the world by storm by 25,” so expectations were pretty high out of the gate, haha. Those expectations involved breaking into Hollywood, walking onto a film set, and becoming a baby Spike Lee weeks after leaving home in Oakland, California, for Los Angeles. Needless to say, those expectations have had to be reassessed over the years. I feel more mature and grounded for it.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Shawnee´: I think as a kid in the 1990s, with phrases like “nineties kind of girl” being thrown around (thanks, Living Single!), there was almost a sort of expectation from society that we should try and achieve as much as we could. With so much groundwork having been laid by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the feminist struggle of the 1970s, and the push for women to succeed in the workplace in the 80s and 90s, by the 2000s I think we wanted to have our cake and eat it, too, but it’s definitely a big balancing act that this generation is still trying to figure out how to manage.

Shawnelle: Oh, the ‘90’s taught a lot of young women of our generation and background to be confident, fearless, independent, etc. There was a lot of focus on being “strong,” I believe to the detriment of a lot of young women during that time. Especially towards the end of my 20’s, I’m glad that I got to experience the strength in actually acknowledging my weakness. It gets exhausting trying to knock down walls all the time.

What was your first job like?

Shawnee´: I’ve been working since I was about 12 years old, (which is probably why I feel like I’m almost ready to retire). Shawnelle and I both used to work for a program called Project Y.E.S. (Youth Engaged in Service) in Oakland, California, where we did lots of community outreach and city beautification work. I then went on to employment with the Mayor’s Summer Job program, a great program that placed Oakland teens in jobs around the city during the summer months. I’d done everything from clerical work to removing graffiti around the city of Berkeley, to selling newspapers door to door, to folding and selling denim at Old Navy. Shawnelle and I were our mom’s only two children, and she was a single mother, so learning how to get out and make a living early was an important part of our development. It’s one of the reasons I have a hard time sitting down today.

 

Shawnelle: We both had been working since we were 12 years old, primarily with city-initiated youth jobs, which involved lots of physical labor like community beautification and graffiti abatement. Haha. Which later evolved into summer job gigs with places like the housing Authority and Children’s Hospital.  But my very first official grown up job where I got to dress up (I couldn’t wait!) in A-line skirts and pumps was Bank of America as a teller during college. It was terrifying because I was (for all intents and purposes) a poor girl counting hundreds and thousands of dollars that, at the wage I was earning, would never be mine. So frustrating! I did surprisingly well at it, though. But I knew, without a doubt, that my calling was in the arts.

What was your first apartment like?

Shawnelle: A one bedroom in Berkeley that I moved into during college with my first official boyfriend (now an old ex). The place confirmed all my inklings that I had a superior knack for decorating as everybody marveled about the living room and bathroom space I took charge of putting together. Haha. I spent a lot of time in the apartment alone because the BF worked nights at a hospital. I invested in an easel that took up the space that should’ve been a dining area in the kitchen and experimented with acrylics. The paintings live on in my mother’s home and maybe one or two other places. I learned a lot about solitude there.

Shawnee´: My first apartment was in Winnetka, California, just outside of Los Angeles. It was a place shared by four girls and two cats, Jimmy and Hendrix. It was an affordable space about 20 minutes from my first television production job at Bunim Murray in Van Nuys, and contained a pool I never swam in. Your first apartment feels like the sink or swim moment before you’re thrown into a pool–it’s like your first big test in the adult world. Once I got out on my own, I knew I’d have to make it work because I didn’t want to ever have to go crawling back to my mom’s couch—even though I knew it was always there if I needed it. There’s something about keeping up your own place in the world that finally makes you feel like a real adult person.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Shawnelle: If you call moving a 6- hour drive away to Los Angeles big. It definitely was at the time a little over 10 years ago. Losing my grandmother and aunt definitely changed my perspective on how important it is to have and build a family, which I’m still figuring out how to do myself. Work in progress!

In what ways did your friendships change?

Shawnee´: I think in my twenties and before I sort of ended up with friends. It was always people who I just happened to be around but now I find that I like to seek more meaningful relationships out, and try to surround myself with people who support, inspire and encourage me and share similar goals or life outlooks. It’s still a work in progress, but in my estimation, you end up with a stronger network of friends when you seek out those people who have value for themselves and can in turn add value to your life.

Shawnelle: I definitely learned that to have a good friend, you have to be a good friend. It informs all of my relationships and helps me to reach out to my girls even when I don’t necessarily feel like it. I became a bit isolated focusing on work in my early and mid-20’s and missed out on some very good foundational friendship years. Since then, I’ve actively built and rebuilt some quality friendships with particularly women (something I was missing for a while) and am a better, more well-rounded person for it, I feel.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

Shawnee´: I think I learned how to run for the hills sooner. I also learned to be more open and giving in relationships. In my twenties, the world revolved around me, now in relationships it’s important that it revolve around us.

Shawnelle: Men are people, too, (laughter) and it takes a surprising amount of courage to love someone the way they deserve to be loved.

How do you feel society viewed you?

Shawnee´: Shawnelle and I have always been expressing ourselves creatively, from screenplays and animation to television and comics. Film, comics and animation have been primarily a boys club, so Shawnelle and I have probably always been viewed as a little different by some of our peers but that’s totally fine with me. Being women, and African American, (and short to boot!) in television, I think we have had to prove to people who aren’t familiar with working with young people from diverse backgrounds that we really do rock as television producers, comic book writers, etc. I think we’ve learned to break down the walls of old ideologies without being jaded by it. It’s definitely important not to let other people’s opinions define you.

Shawnelle: Coming where we came from, I feel society viewed people like us as women who would eventually become a burden on the country’s resources. However, we were taught a very strong work ethic from our mom at an early age. This has helped us time and time again both when times are lean and plentiful. Early on in film school, I was very concerned that it would be a difficult journey to survive from my art alone, and several people over the years confirmed that fear. But through faith, hard work and determination, things have continued to come together. Sometimes I still can’t believe I’ve been able to sustain a creative career for over 10 years now. I am extremely thankful for it.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

Shawnee´: Getting older, I’ve mellowed out a ton. I certainly don’t drive as fast as I used to and I’m not as concerned about what people think of me. I think that’s the best part about transitioning from teens, (where what everybody thinks matter), to your twenties, (where you realize it actually doesn’t) to your thirties (where you’re able to start being a bit more comfortable in your skin and wearing it a bit more proudly). I think with each decade you learn a new life lesson, so I’m really looking forward to finding out more about myself in the next thirty years.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

Shawnelle: There’s something about slowly inching your way up a tax bracket that forces you to appreciate everything you achieve a bit more. In my 20’s I felt at times ashamed of humble beginnings, now it inspires me to do more and be more.

How did you change intellectually?

Shawnee´: In the last 5 years or so, I’ve become extremely interested in science and wish that I’d paid more attention to math as a kid. There’s a pseudo-scientist living in me these days that I try to nurture as much as I can. I find that in my twenties, I used to turn up the latest and greatest music album. Now I’m more apt to turn up an NPR broadcast while driving or learn about a cool subject from a podcast.

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

Shawnelle: Getting a couple stamps on the passport has certainly helped. I’m a lot more socially and politically aware than I was in my 20’s. Freelancing, traveling, reading, absorbing, and coming into contact with people from everywhere has certainly helped with that. In one of my jobs as a producer, I get to meet and talk for hours with people from across the world with completely different backgrounds and life experiences. It helps with understanding the complexities of the human condition on a more real level.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Shawnelle: When I was starting out in television…I made the mistake of trying to impress some pretty important people in a certain circle with an embellished story about my life that I nearly got called out on. I couldn’t sleep for days worrying about the consequences. I learned then it is just easier to be myself and let the chips fall where they may.

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

Shawnee´: Say what you will about President Obama, but there was something very decade-defining about him coming into his first presidency in 2008. I think that youth-fueled campaign really helped young people feel like they had a voice in this country and gave hope to people all across the U.S. Obama’s presidency was the first time I actively contributed money to any politician’s campaign and I think it did a lot to help bridge several divides in America. Obama’s 2008 inauguration was also the first inauguration I ventured to Washington, DC to attend. I’m gonna miss the Obama family in the White House. Like the Kennedy’s, there was something indescribably cool about them and I’m happy I was able to witness such a game-changing presidency in my lifetime.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Shawnelle: The life of my late grandmother was and is something I continue to reference for inspiration. She was full of great quotes that are on repeat in my head to this day. Like, “You don’t believe fat meat is greasy,” which she always used to highlight something you’d have to figure out through trial and error. I certainly did find a few cuts of some of the greasiest slabs in life.

Shawnee´: We definitely had great women in our family to be inspired by. From my mom, who always supported our dreams and was a great inspiration in seeing hers through to become a RN while we were in high school, to my aunt Iris, who would talk to anyone and everyone she came across. In lots of social situations, I ask myself, “What would Auntie Iris do?” and will usually find myself talking to someone when my first instinct was to be a wallflower. My aunt Saida, who is the family’s resident artist and photographer, was also a great inspiration for how to be an artist while holding down a day job. We had so many awesome and different women to look up to growing up who I continue to be inspired by to this day, that thinking about it makes me realize how lucky we were in life.

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

Shawnee´: I’ve got no regrets about life. There’s still enough time left to cross things off my bucket list and accomplish things I’ve yet to try. I think with enough good living and experience under my wing, any challenge that seems insurmountable today, might be able to be solved once I devise a plan for it tomorrow.

Shawnelle: I’ve worked very hard on accepting the things I cannot change about myself and the decisions I have made in life. Post-20’s have definitely been about being completely comfortable BEFORE making decisions and asking myself, “Can I live with this?” Or, “Should I say that?”  If the answer is yes, onward and upward!

Dame of the Day: Sybil Lamb

Sybil Lamb

Today’s Dame of the Day is Sybil Lamb. In 2009, Lamb was traveling across the United States when, one night in New Orleans, two men beat her with a pipe. Lamb survived despite sustaining serious neurological damage. She channeled the episode into her new book, I’ve Got a Time Bomb. Today, she continues to paint portraits and murals and write books and zines about her experience as a trans woman navigating queer and straight culture.

Dame of the Day: Xiaolu Guo

Xiaolu Guo

Today’s Dame of the Day is Xiaolu Guo (1973-). As a novelist and filmmaker, Guo’s work explore both the public and the personal. From discussing personal memories and struggles to examining China’s past and future, Guo’s fearless literary experimentation captivates both readers and critics. Her work has been translated into 26 languages and has earned numerous awards.