On Display

I am 26 years old but still figuring it out as much as I was at 12 or 17 or 22.

I spent the last few months privately reviewing my offline and online presence, trying to understand why I do what I do, why I post what I post. I love social media as much as (alright, maybe more than) most, but had this unsettling feeling that it wasn’t serving me or others in the way I intended. Jaded and on autopilot, my habits sucked up time but didn’t seem to ladder up to anything meaningful.

Over the holidays, I moved back in with my parents for a few weeks, for the longest time since I proudly ventured on my own, into an East Williamsburg sublet at twenty-two. I could still recall the countless hours spent dreaming in our near-perfect white house. The days were slow and the years were fast, as they say. Making collages in the attic and listening to mix CDs freshly burned on the family computer. Sewing my own clothes, cutting and gluing collages from my cherished issues of Teen Vogue. Ten years later, here I was, sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table making scrapbooks, laying on my sister’s bed talking about our future careers, listening to my grandparents retelling old family stories at the dining room table, reading books, driving to the beach, deciding to slow down and just be. I looked through all my old memorabilia boxes and photo albums, my old closets full of clothes I would never have a chance to wear again.

I performed a similar analysis with my online accounts. I reviewed my old Tumblrs, abandoned blogs, tweets and Facebook posts and I realized how long I’d had the same thoughts and dreams. Notebooks from the ‘90s, letters and emails from family and forgotten acquaintances, bookmarked websites, handmade projects, Word documents — I found they all had the same themes. Fashion, entrepreneurship, DIY, thrifting/recycling clothing, minimizing waste, scatterbrained side projects, desire to create more, solve problems, further a social mission, collaborate with people I admired. I found notes I don’t even remember writing, notes that mirrored what I would have written last week or next month. To put it simply, I had long been bothered by waste and wanted to make a business out of selling cool fashion. Combining the two was essential. Why hadn’t I started yet?

This in-your-face proof of my stubborn daydreams, realization that they weren’t going anywhere unless I at least attempted to make them a reality, motivated me to take action — to start somewhere instead of someday.

The advice I wish I could give to my younger self is this: it gets easier, but more crowded. There are times when you will have to stop and clear things out (literally and metaphorically) and remember who you were, who you are now, and who you will always be. It’s funny and counterintuitive but as you grow up and accumulate stuff (knowledge, friends, material items), you then have to work hard to get rid of lots of it in order to focus on what matters most. Less, but better.

When you discover your old drawings and home videos, you’ll see glimpses of your former self stuck with you all these years — both the good and the bad sides. That’s what makes humans such curious creatures. Technology and media and physical environments will forever change. We will have new friends come in and old friends leave. It’s up to us to find the balance, to grow while still remaining the same. There are no maps for the ever-expanding digital frontier. Sometimes you have to follow your guts instead.

I learned, or perhaps remembered, family and friends are there to gut-check you! For too many years, I didn’t talk much about my ideas because I thought people would think I was crazy or dreaming too big, destined for disappointment. I thought I had to have it all figured out before I could tell people what I was thinking, or else they might find mistakes or gaps or illogical arguments. In reality, the opposite is true. As one of my favorite books says, “A mind that feels only on itself soon is undernourished.” Keeping stuff to yourself too long crushes your confidence. Open up to move forward, or sometimes to move on.

I decided to publish a blog post about what I was up to and why. Going on display was a way to organize my thoughts into a coherent storyline. To make sense of the noise and where I wanted to be in the next year, the next five years. To set a place and time and go live, no matter which stage I was at in the process. When I put myself on display — and not in the “picture of my brunch/concert tickets/new haircut” way — when I poured my guts out into the open to share how I’d been feeling and what I’d been doing and my hopes and dreams for what would come next, I was only planning for it to be a personal cathartic experience. I made it public to make myself accountable. Instead, I received an outpouring of support and love and offers of help from all kinds of people I could not have predicted. Turns out those fears of vulnerability were all made up in my head. Rather than judging, people have been encouraging and honest and I found out many were also secretly working on their own cool projects and experiments. It’s way more fun to learn, play, create and share together. I’ve never felt this exposed, nor this secure.

Sometimes, putting yourself out there is the only way to calm your inner worrywart and push forward, the only path to progress. My heart and soul feel for all those struggling on the inside. I was there, and sometimes still am. Opening up is scary but there’s no other way to find the magic around you. Humans were put on this Earth for each other. Talk to someone and find yourself along the way.

Recommended further reading/viewing:

>> this piece was written late December 2015 as a submission for Rookie mag. i’ve continued to write, make, fail, triumph–in public and in private. the sentiment still rings true as i remind myself to strive for simplification, seek freedom from overwhelm, and (literally and metaphorically) form space to create and share.

>> there are no answers. that shouldn’t stop us from trying to find out.