It’s Forking Hard, Man: Creativity in the Time of COVID-19

Hello my Internet friends, and long time no see,

I had a real good cry the other day. I’ve been carrying some self-loaded burden this year—I’m sure I’m not the only one—and I think I’m finally ready to set it down. But to tell the story, we need to wind the clock back to December 31st, 2019.

New Year’s Eve morning, I was on an airplane with my boyfriend. We were heading back from spending Christmas with his family. I don’t think of plane cabins as being particularly aesthetic locales, but sitting next to him, with the white morning light flowing in, I knew I was in a moment I’d never forget. I just knew that this was the year. The year that all the pieces were finally coming together. Not only was I starting the new decade with my lovely, supportive boyfriend, but I was moving into a new role at work, which was going to give me much better work-life balance, and therefore more time + mental energy to write. I was thisclose to having a first draft of my book done. This year, I was going to finish it, edit it, and figure out how to publish it! Was that a lot to expect? Maybe! But at the time, it really seemed possible.

I’ve watched a lot of TV this year. “Good Place” is my new favorite show. “Forking” is the main character’s adverb of choice (kind of). (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

And through January and February, it still did. I was so happy, and for the first time in a long time, the writing was just flowing. I was not only getting the pages down, but I was having fun with it. I’d regained my playfulness with words that had been hard to access for a while. Finally, I thought. All the work I’d done, to get my mind and life in a conducive state for writing, was paying off.  I’d made it. Back to my voice, and forward to the writing life I’d been trying to create.

Then March came around. Like many people, I imagine, the first weeks of our community responding to COVID-19—gatherings being cancelled, schools and workplaces going remote—felt surreal to me. I felt shock more than anything. But once the jolt wore off, it all started to wear on me. Not getting to do the little things I’d taken for granted—the mornings I went to Starbucks to write, trivia nights with my brother and sister-in-law. I began to internalize the (very understandable) stress and fear in the air, to the point where I was often anxious about things totally unrelated to the pandemic, like challenges at work or random past mistakes.

Unsurprisingly, my writing started to suffer. Sometimes, I would sit down at my desk and struggle to focus. Other times, I couldn’t get myself to sit down at all. I kept telling myself, next week will be different. Or, tomorrow’s the day I get back on track. Suddenly, those days and weeks had flown by, spring became summer became (almost) fall, and nothing really got easier.

Until, admittedly, I had a bit of a meltdown moment a couple weeks ago. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed by my feelings but not yet ready to accept them, I start aggressively cleaning. (Lovely, I know.) I was going in on the kitchen when, thankfully, my aforementioned lovely boyfriend intervened. As soon as we sat down on the couch, I started sobbing. This year has not been what it was supposed to be. I haven’t been who I was supposed to be.

I let out all the disappointment, sadness, and anger—with myself and the situation—that had been building up for quite some time. Throughout the past six months, I’ve often been reminding myself (and saying out loud) how fortunate I’ve been. I’ve stayed healthy, and so has my family. I’ve kept my job and my house. So many people have experienced so much loss and suffering this year. Who am I to complain, about anything? But in my efforts to not appear selfish or ungrateful—even to myself—I failed to acknowledge how I was struggling. Being creative in 2020 is forking hard, man.

If I were to write creativity out as a formula (for myself, anyway), I would say creativity = purpose + time + mental energy. I’ve had a sense of inspiration and purpose for my book for years. On the other hand, the time and mental energy I have at any given point varies. This year, I made the mistake of thinking that since I have plenty of free time on my hands—can’t be distracted by going to movies or hanging out with friends!—I should be plenty productive. But I failed to acknowledge the brain drain this year has been. I’m grateful for my own health and safety, but I’m still sad for our communities. I’m still anxious. I’m still waiting for the day I can hug everyone I miss.

I stuffed down my feelings of frustration about my writing progress this year, because I thought they were selfish or unwarranted. The funny thing is, now that I’ve let them out, I’ve found mental room to reevaluate what I want the rest of this year to be. How I want to spend the creativity I do have. Because I do have it, even it’s a little more strained during this incredibly difficult time.

I’m not going to say I’m feeling the New Year’s Eve buzzy excitement again (who can even imagine?), but I feel a little more clear-headed and confident in my ability to create than I have in months. I’ll take it.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. I am sending you love and light through whatever challenges you’re going through this year.

Ten Years

Hello, my Internet angel babies,

My ten-year high school reunion is happening this month. In one sense, it’s kind of crazy to think about that amount of time passing. Ten years ago, the Obamas had yet to move into the White House, Taylor Swift had only released one album and was still considered a country artist (“Teardrops on My Guitar” forever!), and neither Instagram nor Snapchat existed.

In the scheme of my own life, though, it’s easy for me to accept that a decade has passed. I used to think it felt like I’ve gotten to live multiple lives in this one, but I think it’s more accurate to say that the different phases of my life have felt like distinct chapters, boookmarked by heartache and friendships, unbelievable opporutnities and challenges that at times felt impossible to overcome (they weren’t). Not to mention all the haircuts and dye jobs. So yeah, ten years sounds about right.

Notebooks
It has taken a lot of notebooks to get to this point.

But to be honest, this summer marks another ten-year anniversary that for me feels more significant. On June 4, 2008, I started my first blog and began my journey as a writer. It was one of those experiences that may have held little significance to an outsider (my blog was by no means super popular, and that’s okay!), but on the inside, it felt revolutionary. After spending so much of my tween and teen years feeling unsure or unfond of myself, I’d found my voice and a way to share it. I was ecstatic in the knowledge that I knew what I wanted my life to be for. What I felt that summer seemed to be made of the same magic of falling in love.

And man, what a wild ride it’s been. I’ve gotten to do so many cool things! I’ve interviewed amazing girls and shared their stories. I’ve provided advice in real time to tween magazine readers. I’ve published articles on subjects I’m passionate about for websites I love, and connected with some of my favorite authors along the way. In addition to all that, I’ve realized how happy writing makes me. And happiness is something I don’t take for granted anymore.

I’m so excited to be starting this next decade and chapter. My dream of publishing a book—the one I wish I had on my shelf ten or so years ago—is approaching reality. I can’t wait to share the journey with you, too. I have a feeling this next adventure is going to be one for the books.

xoxo

Marie

“Never Leave Yourself”: Western Media and Body Image in Fiji and San Andrés, Belize

Hello, Internet darlings!

Palm Trees
Photo by Sang Huynh on Unsplash

I apologize for my digital absence in recent months. I have been devoting my writing time to putting together a book proposal (!!!) for a book I would like to write and have published someday. Along the way, I have come across some really interesting research, and I wanted to share what I found with you.

One of the topics I have been investigating is body image. Each person’s body image (how you see yourself and how you feel in and about your body) is influenced by a variety of factors, and each person’s experience with body image is unique. However, media is often cited as having a powerful—and negative—influence on an individual’s body image.

A commonly referenced study, when discussing the negative influence of media on body image, is one that occurred on the island of Fiji. In 1995, television was introduced to the island, and with it came Western television shows, like “Beverly Hills 90210.” Fijian culture had traditionally valued and encouraged hearty appetites and “robust” body shapes.  Dieting was considered to be rare. However, three years after television had been introduced, 69% of the teen girls in the study had reported dieting to lose weight at some point, and 74% reported they felt “too big or fat” at least sometimes. This was perceived to be a major change, and Western television seemed to be part of the cause. You can read more about that research here and here.

My interest in the Fiji research led to to a related study that occurred in San Andrés, Belize. Similar to Fiji, San Andrés newly had an influx of U.S.-made media at the time of the study. What’s more, female beauty was highly valued in the culture; beauty pageants played a central role in the community. However, eating disordered behavior and attitudes were relatively rare. Why was that?

The researcher believed that part of the reasons girls in San Andrés were able to take in the media without being negatively impacted by it was a concept passed down by the older generation of women that in English translates to “Never Leave Yourself.” What that means is you protect and look out for yourself; you do not “leave yourself” by doing something—or letting someone do something to you—that is not good for you. While the concept was likely originally used in regards to unwanted sexual contact, the younger generation of girls had broadened it to include general self-care and protection. The researcher explained that in regards to food and body, “Not leaving—and further caring for—the self required eating when hungry, stopping when full, sleeping when tired, and not over-exerting oneself in exercise . . . These criteria for protecting and caring for the self were notably monitored by internal experience, not external measurements.” Meaning, the girls generally listened to their own bodies regarding what they needed, as opposed to being guided outside sources, such as diet advice or media imagery. In fact, since most girls were so in touch with their bodies’ needs, they tended to find the concept of eating disorders “almost incomprehensible.” You can read more about this research, including direct quotes from the girls, here.

This is not to say that the girls of San Andrés were without any challenges, including in the arena of body image. Unfortunately, at the time of the study there was a developing expectation of thinness among employees in the tourism industry, and its possible that such a standard could have an increasingly negative impact on girls’ attitudes and behaviors regarding their bodies as the industry grows. However, it appears that their guiding philosophy, of never leaving yourself, had generally protected them from the potential negative impact of Western media.

it’s so, so valuable to learn about other cultures, including how people in those cultures handle issues we all deal with. I think we sometimes take for granted that media is going to have a negative impact on the way we feel about our bodies until drastic changes in what is presented to us are made (if they are made). But these girls have shown that there is another possibility, for which I am incredibly grateful.

xoxo

Marie

Welcome to Girl Presence

Hello, friend!  Thank you for being here.  Life is packed and so is the internet, so I truly appreciate you taking the time to check out this blog.

Where does the name “Girl Presence” come from, you may wonder?  Excellent question.  “Presence” can be defined as “the bearing, carriage, or air of a person” or “the fact or condition of being present” (thanks, Merriam-Webster).  So by “girl presence” I am referring to the handprint, footprint, lifeprint a girl (any female in the process of learning or growing) chooses to leave on the world, as well as the simple act ofiPhone 003 being here, being present in this “girl culture” we both influence and are influenced by.

I hope we (and yes, I truly mean we) can use this space, as the tagline says, for “observing, exploring, & celebrating all things girl.”  I love girl-world things that shine and catch my attention, from the more superficial (sparkly Ugg boots, the latest ABC Family teen drama) to the serious (girls who embrace who they are and use their powers to make the world a better place), and I love observing and noticing them with others.  Typically, when I notice things, I wonder about them:  Why do girls talk about their bodies the way they do?  How does the rise of social media and celebrity culture affect the way we form our identity?  These are the types of things I enjoy exploring and discussing with others.  And finally, but no less significantly, I want us to start celebrating.  Being a girl is awesome.  Growing up is terrifying and exhilarating in the best possible ways.  Let’s enjoy every moment, together.

Most importantly, I truly want your feedback.  If there’s a topic or piece of girl culture you think I should cover, tell me.  If you disagree with my point of view, share yours.  The beauty of girl world (and just the world, period) is we shine brightest when we work together.  I look forward to experiencing, exploring, and enjoying Girl Presence with you.

xoxo

Marie