Honestly, I’ve been asking myself the same question.
Other than my horrendous teenage Tumblr blog, I’ve only blogged two other times. I wrote about my first academic research experience at Northwestern University and described the culture, political climate, and secondary education of Madrid, Spain during a semester abroad. Most of my writing gigs have been solely about advancing further into this industry or getting paid.
In 2017 and 2016, I wrote my own graduate-level theses at two different Big Ten Universities. I loved the process of creating my own thesis and then researching to defend that thesis. The resources were plentiful and the universities paid well. The writing and research styles of academia strengthened my current writing voice, style, and semantics. As much as I loved spending hours in the library reading lovely, empowering texts, it was so solitary. My friends and family didn’t understand the vocabulary I was using to describe my research or what came after the paper was written (which was essentially nothing). I felt so passionate about my work and its importance to me, but it felt so disconnected from the people I wanted to share it with and the impact I thought it would have.
Universities are rich with privatized knowledge and intellectual property and push students mentally and emotionally beyond what they can handle. Instead of continuing on with academic writing, I tried to focus on exchanging knowledge without stratification.
After graduating with my Bachelor’s in 2018, I craved something different. I was a photography instructor, a substitute teacher, a hostess for a quasi-bougie restaurant, and more. I walked around the city, took the train, and began engaging with the serendipity around me again. I wasn’t in the library just reading and theorizing about encountering these experiences, I was living them. Life experience can be the best teacher. I kept having meaningful conversations that connected me to distinct people and places in the city, and I wanted to write about the lessons I was learning. I thought that pitching articles to news publications I admired was the answer- and in part- it was.
Something I’ve noticed is that freelance writing can feel like just another academic institution. In a much shorter, digestible way (than a 30-page research paper), I am able to thread sources and stories to finish a complex puzzle. It’s fun to find excuses to talk to people I usually wouldn’t approach, listening to their voices on my phone later, clicking through the pictures I took of them, having 15 tabs open on my computer about one specific topic. It feels exhilarating when I finish an article, but the process can feel complex, time-consuming, and political. I am interested in sharing stories about disenfranchisement, gentrification, and the people that make Philadelphia. Nonetheless, if powerful, wealthy people stand to lose money behind investigative work, an article may never see the light of day. It shouldn’t be this way, but there are many hidden costs that come with telling the truth, especially in a world dominated by white men.
My creative work is probably the most important to me. I can relax into experimenting with style, formatting, and imagery. I most enjoy submitting prose, poems, short stories, and essays sporadically to different small publications. I get way more rejections than I get acceptances, but what matters most to me, is choosing publications that actually value anything that I create. I usually do not post drafts of this kind of work online.
This year, I want to utilize the blog on my website to synthesize some of my experiences and interactions with the music, tv, podcasts, and news that I find thought-provoking. I’ll still be freelancing, but I am excited to write blog posts that involve some of my other interests. I also want to translate my posts into Spanish and (potentially) Brazilian Portuguese to engage more readers.
On the car ride home from seeing The Farewell, I sobbed openly as we drove on the highway back to South Philadelphia. I wailed as if someone had punctured my heart and I was watching the blood pool into the car and drown me.
The film follows Chinese-American Billi and her family as they gather in China to say their goodbyes to the matriarch of the family Nai-Nai. Nai-Nai’s contracted cancer and she only has a few weeks to live so the family guises their gathering as a wedding celebration so that they may say their farewells. However, Nai-Nai doesn’t know that she is sick or dying. All she knows is that her family is together again. Watching Billi deal with the pressure from her family and handle her grief within the bounds of her culture connected with me. When Billi asks why they won’t just tell Nai-Nai about her prognosis, the family tells her that this burden is not for Nai-Nai, but for the family.
I recently started seeing a new psychiatrist and as we worked through intake and I droned on about my family, he gently stopped me to ask,
“Do you resent your parents?”
I paused and rustled in the silence.
“I know they’ve known nothing else and after years of therapy, I’ve come to not blame them, but understand where they are coming from”
“Do they try to understand you?”
“No, but it’s ok.”
“It seems you’re ready to forgive everyone but yourself.”
I was showered in silence again. He had caught me and all my guilt red-handed and this time I could only turn my eyes away. I imagined myself at 6, 9, 12, 14; carrying the burdensome understanding of my parents and twisted my hands in the static.
So when Billi’s family says that Nai-Nai’s illness is their burden to carry, I wonder if her family knows of the other burden that she carries trying to understand them and not receive their understanding in return. There is really no place to put the guilt of being a first-generation immigrant. It eats you when you’re flourishing and devours you when you’re struggling. You blame yourself for not being enough like your people, but it’s no one’s fault you’re a cultural mutt. Your parents were just trying to survive.
Tears stung my face as we shipped down the highway. Even though I felt hot with the validation of seeing my experience, it still felt like a pain that kept growing in my heart like all the rooms of my memories were merging together in my chest.
To be truthful, I used to resent my parents with a fervor for all the guilt and pain I’ve gone through, for the insecurities I pushed into other relationships. But the only way that I can be free from the hold of this affliction is if I let myself be free. The only person aware of my personal burden and how it makes me feel is me. But this time, I forgive myself and bid farewell to the personal guilt I’ve burdened for no one but myself. For me, The Farewell doesn’t suggest a place for me to put my guilt or recognize someone else as needing to hold it, but it has loudened a silence experience for me and helped me move toward letting that guilt go.
All of my marginalized identities are frequently pushed aside to accommodate the default narrative— by people who hold power. At times, I can become so critical of my positionality that I forget that I am allowed to find joy in this world, too. There are few things in life that feel as powerful as seeing representation through the art and labor of women of color, and Mitski’s live performance in Des Moines, Iowa on July 17, 2017 was one of them.
In her book, Citizen, Claudia Rankine talks about the way that women of color as willed invisible by society, but used frequently as vessels of entertainment. I frequently spend days passing through glances on the street, and prolonged looks, but it is not often that I feel Seen— that I am gently and consistently reminded that I am real and validated. I am even willed invisible by men who enjoy the music of women of color but press their desires into them. They wish Mitski would be more silent about her pain, smile more in photos, and talk more about her life during her performances. They say this as if we already aren’t receiving gifts from her labor and vulnerability— like these gifts should be molded just for them and their emotional intelligence.
I can only wonder how it feels to listen to someone else’s truth, and demand inclusion of my own narrative.
But even through the sold-out crowd, I stood three rows away from the spotlight she was flooded in, and for a whole hour, Mitski made me feel Seen. As she played, I felt a changing, a rushing, a smallness, and a largeness all inside of me. One part of me beat so strongly and the other stood still to let the perfectly crafted moments happen to me and to take in how she was giving it to all of us.
Sometimes watching Mitski feels like the golden hour — the way the heavens move through your memory when you’re drifting to sleep. Sometimes it can feel too loud in your head— to be you, to be invisible, but seeing Mitski live let me glimpse at her focused and poised performance that I can hold around with me whenever I start to feel like the world is making me disappear.
Originally written in 2017 and self-published on Medium.com
The Work is unlearning all our phobias and traumas and biases,
being confronted with hurtful and honest truths.
The Work is hard, enduring, and embarrassing, but it needs to
“Amidst every conversation about Nice White People feeling silenced by conversations about race, there is a sort of ironic and glaring lack of understanding or empathy for those of us who have been visibly marked out as different for our entire lives, and live the consequences. It’s truly a lifetime of self-censorship that people of color have to live. The options are: speak your truth and face the reprisal, or bite your tongue and get ahead in life.” -Reni Eddo-Lodge