Friday, July 18, 2014

Testing the Waters (Or Why I Think It's Good to Come Out and Explore)

8:06 AM

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“What are you passionate about?” asked my friend (and The Thing's art editor) Jan one afternoon, while we were waiting for the mac & cheese noodles to cook at our friend Miky's kitchen.

I panicked for a bit because I had no idea how to answer. After a short (and really awkward) pause, I blurted out the worst possible answer you could give to such a question: “I'm not sure.”

Jan and Miky told me that there had to be at least one thing, like writing, or books, or whatever else – but at the time, I couldn't name even one. “Passionate” was such a strong word, one that I didn't think I could attach to interests that I have been constantly re-thinking.

This happened around the same time I was working on getting The Thing up and running. You'd think that after going through all of the trouble, I would be super ecstatic about it, but all I felt at that moment was something slightly parallel to emptiness, but not quite as charged.

Honestly, it bothered me that I had such a hard time answering such a basic question (sidenote: I also tend to overthink things). Car rides are usually great for reflection, so it was on the way home that I thought about it some more and ended up thinking back to the root of it all, which started when I was a kid.

Full disclosure: When I was younger, I never really had a solid picture of what I wanted or who I wanted to be. My parents would often lecture me about the importance of decisiveness and having your own opinion, but it is only now that I take what they said to heart.

“’I don't know again, Gaby? Why can't you make up your mind?” 

The truth is, I've been deciding on plenty of things about myself for as long as I can remember.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been branded as the silent passive one–that girl from your class who barely recites but who you know actually knows the answers to all your teacher's questions. That is how people saw (see) me, and I accepted the label and slowly let it define who I was. So you could say that I had made a decision—the decision to be that girl. It's just that instead of setting myself apart, that decision (as well as most of the others I made) did pretty much the opposite. And for some reason, I tried really hard to live up to that persona and burned myself out in the process. Because of this, it was even difficult for me to talk about myself for a long time.

“About Me” forms were always a burden to fill up because I felt limited to what other people thought of me. The only thing I was truly certain of back then was my favorite food (CHOCOLATE!!!), so the “three words to describe yourself” portion always ended up as this: shy, quiet, small. I was the dullest 10-year old ever. As a result, I always went with the flow and followed trends (or whatever my friends and classmates were into at the time). There were certain points in my grade school life where I even went up to the point of relying on other peoples' interests to shape my own. Okay, I know: it's perfectly normal for that to happen. What bothered me was that even amidst that kind of environment, all my friends had their own things going on that I felt made them interesting, different and way more awesome than me.

I turned 18 recently, and one of the gifts I received was a book called “Best of a Lady.” Most of the points were painfully old-fashioned and geared in the favor of the patriarchy (cue Jimmy Fallon “Eww” sound bite), so I didn't really flip through the whole thing. I did come across a section that I found to be relevant. It was on personality, and it was this quote that stuck with me the most:

“Every young girl ought to care for her personality. Personality means the beauty of the soul and all those qualities and accomplishments which make a person interesting and sought after.” 

This was followed by a few statements saying that physical beauty isn't the only thing that'll get you a husband, which is completely beside the point (and totally wrong in the sense that you aren't obligated to please anyone at all!!). However, I do agree that everyone needs to care for their personality. Why? Because our personalities are what make us different from one another. If you ask me, this is a pretty darn good privilege to have as beings on this planet! Imagine living with a bunch of like-minded robots who act exactly the same. Bo-ring!

Entering college, I met people with the most diverse personalities. You can read more about this in my coming out story, but the main point is that I have always struggled to be. The realization brings me to what I think is the root of all these insecurities: How could I be myself (as all those self-confidence articles had been instructing me to do) when I didn't know who the me in that equation even was? I wanted to simply be something, to have a personality that isn't characterized solely by the labels silently assigned to me.

The solution to this self-imposed problem? A journey of self-discovery, coming-of-age-film style, of course. I'm sure that the experience is different for everyone—but I can tell you that mine was fueled by the media I surrounded myself with at the time. I started building a media library by bookmarking links to articles I enjoyed reading, watching more movies and t.v. series' until I was hooked on them, and exploring YouTube for all kinds of music until I found the sound I presently like. The online magazine Rookie was one of my greatest influences, as were fearless '90s television heroines Lindsay Weir and Angela Chase.

In other words, you've got to let someTHING (hehe) define you, be it a favorite movie, food, or color. Once you have that, OWN it! Know the reasons for your interest in whatever it is. The important thing is that you get to a point where you really know what you like and that you stick to your beliefs of that time. If anything is enough to evoke a solid reaction or emotion (whether it be of anger or enthusiasm) from you, then you know you're passionate about it. That being said, sticking to one interest isn't bad, but it's also great to be open to trying new things.

The Internet makes it really easy now, but also very poisonous in the sense that you could end up with an elitist mentality where you hold yourself on a much higher regard than others (a.k.a. me for a while in high school—I was the silent judger). You have your interests, so respect what others like as well.

You will get there eventually, but even then, the process isn't definite. Things do change, and you have to be prepared for that, but that's a whole other topic for another day (and another article).

So... after going through all those realizations and making you suffer through all that (semi)useless banter on my path to self-discovery, it's about time we get back to Jan's question. My answer? Well, I've finally come to realize that there's more than one. I'd like to say that I am passionate about The Thing, my team, our mission, and our sections. I'm also passionate about my love for Taylor Swift, washi tape, and old issues of National Geographic—all for tangible reasons that I cannot mention for the purpose of staying within my word count.

I know that this topic might seem unnecessary, even trivial to some (“Do we even need people to tell us this?”)—but that's okay. It was a big problem for me, and I'm glad that I'm working to make things better for me. I'm not an expert on the subject, so everything I'm putting out there is for myself, and for everyone else who might be going through the same experience (Unless I'm the only one. In that case, nothing to see here people).

In the end, what matters is that I know who I am and what I like.

What about you? What are you passionate about?

Article by Gaby
Art by Nikki

Gaby is used to working quietly in the background. The Thing is her first big attempt at taking the lead. She isn't sure how it is going to go, considering that most of her time is spent trying to get her dog to listen to her. On most days, you would find her at her computer, excessively bookmarking links to DIY projects and articles about teenage wunderkind.

Nikki is a girl that sometimes feels like a boy, and is also an all-around art enthusiast and a linguist that likes the mysterious sounds words make. She likes wearing round spectacles of any sort, playing with her makeup when she’s bored, and envisioning outfits for various kinds of occasions. She has a style diary here and maintains a twitter that experiences extreme lows and highs of activity.  


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