She looks at me but she doesn’t see me. I can sense the wheels turning in her head. Her hippocampus scans itself for any type of clue — nothing. The cortex fails her as well. She doesn’t know me but she knows she is supposed to. I smile at her, with both sympathy and disappointment, and reassure her that it is okay. Not for a second longer can I bear witness to her frustration of trying to put together who I am. I turn my face away and pour her a glass of water in an attempt to conceal the frown deeply etched into my face. Who is this woman and what has she done with my grams?
“Keep in mind that I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” -Erykah Badu, Call Tyrone
The hardest part about creativity is anticipating how people will react to what I create. Including my future self. I need only to read my old Myspace or Tumblr posts to experience some major cringe at what I once thought sounded so profound.
There are things that we create for ourselves and things that we create for others. True magic happens when we create something for both. For me, this is writing. But I have to be honest. I’m not confident about my writing. Every time I click “publish” on my blog, I immediately feel an overwhelming sense of dread. Do I come off judgmental? Stupid? Immature? And god forbid if I catch a grammatical or spelling error AFTER my post has been published.
I write about random things. Things I will think about during a long hot shower or during a walk around the Pearl District when it isn’t raining hard but just enough to make me feel a sentimental kind of way. Being lost in thought is a strength (and weakness) of mine. One that inspires me to create. To take photographs. To film. To write. Puzzle pieces from the past, present, and future are constantly in a synchronous tango in my mind — all of them just waiting to be synced into a 2,000 word essay. Ultimately, I’m just trying to make sense of it all and my first instinct is to share that process with the world.
Our lives appear so different but really — we are all the same. At our cores, we simply want to love and be loved. Everything else is just white noise. When I write, I am attempting to break down those superficial barriers. Those mental blocks that keep us from relating to each other. If just one person thinks, “yes, me too”, when reading one of my posts — I have achieved what I set out to do: close the gap.
My blog is public, yes. But not really. I don’t send a newsletter to my friends and family whenever I post one of my musings. I don’t advertise it and I can’t say that I am proud of it. At least not yet. Because I’m scared of it. I’m scared of being vulnerable. I’m scared of showing you all my blue. My worst fear is that my vulnerability will be used against me. That someone will laugh at me for my truth.
Not everything I write will stand the test of time. Next week I may not agree with my own opinion. This makes me want to delete anything no longer relevant to me. But I fight the urge. The urge to cover up where I began. Where I came from. I keep it out there, visible to all, in hopes that people can see how far I’ve come. That I’m not perfect. That I’m not an expert (on anything). And that I’m growing each and every day to become a better version of me.
Whenever someone reads my post, I blush. I cringe. My heart beat picks up a little bit. My foot might tap repeatedly or my eyes might shift all over the room. And yet, it’s so worth it. It’s worth it to expose myself and scream, “yes, this is me!”. People used to share stories over campfires. Myths, legends, and witch tales used to be passed down from our elders to our little children. We, as humans, are natural storytellers and although this is a screen and not a campfire — these are my stories. I hope you enjoy them.
Rules for a modern woman:
Be sexy but not too sexy. Cover up but not too much. Be educated but don’t make men feel inadequate or stupid. Work like you don’t have children and raise your children like you don’t work. Be proud of your postpartum body, just make sure you cover up those stretch marks and extra weight. Breastfeed your children exclusively but do so only in private so that you won’t offend anyone. Don’t be a prude but don’t sleep with too many men. Have opinions but don’t offer them unless asked.
The list goes on and on. These are impossible to follow. They are misogynistic, contradicting, oppressive, and hateful. Yes, these standards are held by men, but they are dutifully enforced by other women. We refer to this today as “shaming”, or the humiliation and judgment of other women and the choices they make.
Dear 16-year-old me,
Oh, Jamakea. I wish I could reach back in time, grab you firmly by the shoulders, and let you know that everything is going to be okay.
You have been feeling abandoned this last year. Grandma fled to Mexico without a trace or any type of warning. Dad entered a serious relationship for the first time in 15 years — nevermind that his new girlfriend is only 10 years older than you. Times are changing and your relationships, the very anchors that give you stability, are not what they used to be. Especially the one that you have with yourself.
Before I had kids, hell, before I even WANTED kids, I imagined that the diapers, sleep deprivation, lack of “me” and romantic time, and the overall 24/7 responsibility of caring for another person would be nearly impossible.
Surprisingly, those ended up being the easier parts. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I could use a moment to comb my hair and get out of the sweatpants I’ve been wearing for 4 days straight. But these incredibly exhausting things are bearable — for me at least.
No one warned me about what would truly be the hardest part about parenthood:
1. Family isn’t always blood – blood isn’t always family.
2. Micro-expressions >
3. A firm handshake goes a long way.
4. 99% of the time, it isn’t personal.
5. Relationships are bank accounts: you must deposit to withdrawal.
6. Love isn’t all you need.
7. The gift of life is the greatest gift of all.
8. You’ve only one set of teeth: take care of them.
9. Tomorrow isn’t promised.
10. Good nutrition doesn’t require killing animals.
11. Your parents are human, too.
12. No one has it figured out.
13. Nature is the best form of entertainment.
14. It’s not about what happens, it’s about how you react.
15. Being in control is an illusion.
16. There is no such thing as “too dry” when it comes to wine.
17. Kindness has no ulterior motive.
18. Retail therapy is never worth it.
19. People are generally good.
20. Love languages.
21. How you treat people that you don’t have to treat well is a true testament to your character.
22. Listening > giving advice.
23. We are all the same all over the world.
24. Intelligence is knowing you know nothing.
25. Happiness is a choice.
I am the last generation whose baby pictures exist in an old dusty photo album sitting on a bookshelf. Every blue moon, my mom whips out the album so she and my other relatives or friends can coo (or point and laugh) at a much smaller and shyer version of myself. I like it like this. Although embarrassing, it’s intimate and perhaps even — special.
25 years later, children are plastered all over social media. Monthly updates, baby’s “firsts”, and even delivery room pictures are shared instantly. Babies I don’t personally know fill my feed as mini IG models in “sponsored posts” for clothes, diapers, and carriers. Mothers today can build social media empires off of family-centric posts and heartfelt instagram captions. Admittedly, my favorite YouTube channel is about a vegan mom living in Maui with her three beautiful babies. I wouldn’t be the mother I am today without the inspiration of these mothers. However, I can’t help but feel like I am intruding on their personal lives. Why should I, stranger from the internet, know their child’s full name or what their first words were?
When my son was born, I started thinking deeply about privacy. It was no longer my life, but ours. Would he want to have his childhood on public display? Would he want my random old classmate from high school to know what his first words were? When he took his first steps? Or even, his name? Maybe the answer will be yes. But he isn’t even aware that he’s a human being yet, let alone what social media is. He can’t give me consent. He can’t give his say.
Knowing that what goes on the internet stays on the internet, I can’t justify sharing his baby pictures with the world. If my son someday chooses online anonymity, I want to grant him that. No amount of “likes”, comments, or convenience could allow me to take that option away from him. His identity on the internet is his to foster, not mine.
As the online world becomes ever increasingly its own social behemoth, I practice caution with what I divulge. I know can’t protect my son from everything. Chances are he won’t care that I did or didn’t post about him. Maybe he will even be disappointed that there’s not an archive to look back on later in his life. I simply hope that he will understand that I wanted him to choose. That this is my personal choice as the person who speaks on his behalf. A choice that’s understandably not for everyone. A choice that’s met with the occasional eye roll or “ok Jamakea, you’ve gone off the deep end” look. But that’s okay. Part of being a mom is accepting that you’ll look crazy sometimes. That what you think is best will be met with speculation and eye rolls. It’s part of the package.
I already have thousands of pictures of my son. Our camera rolls are bursting at the seams. I message a photo of him to someone at least daily. I mail prints to faraway aunties and grandparents. Our walls are covered with his happy little face. 25 years from now, he may not have a Facebook album to look back on but at least I will be able to embarrass him by whipping out that old dusty photo album.