Losing your sense of belonging, racial equality training, bravely moving forward, breast reduction surgery, preparing for a life-defining test, and quitting your job to follow your dreams.
The Optimist, ET, Harvey Morrison, Lona, Nebraska, Emma
Esperanza, Perseid, Norman, Sea, Harvey, Leah
+ CLICK FOR TRANSCRIPT +
--- Intro music by B. Barbour of Psychic Skin ---
Hello! And welcome to another episode of Imagining Other People, a podcast where we explore what everyday life is like around the world through listener submissions and recordings. Basically a strangers-reading-the-diaries-of-strangers type thing. I’m your host Alex Serpentini and I wanna know what you did today!
So guys I’m so excited to finally bring you this episode - as you might remember, this project is a spinoff of a 5-year art series I started back in 2014 called Imagining 50 Other people. That project is really similar to this, except each year on June 15th, I ask the same 50 anonymous strangers from around the world to write me something honest about their day using a fake name, so we can check in once-a year to track the progress of several very different lives over half of a decade. At the end of the project I’ll release the collected submissions online, but I thought for this episode we could get a sneak peak of of the entries that came in for this June 15th, which was our 4th year, meaning next year is our last! You can read a few other samples from the previous years at 50otherpeople.com.
Today we’ll hear just a few sample submissions from this year, and they follow the same format of how this podcast regularly works - it’s still a batch of anonymous written submissions read aloud karaoke-style by completely stranger. The next episode will go right back to accepting written submissions from the public, and I still wanna hear from you! You can go to imaginingotherpeople.com for lots more information, frequently asked questions, directions and all that other good stuff.
--- Break 1 music by B. Barbour of Psychic Skin ---
So the submissions for June 15 this year were absolutely fascinating and I had SUCH a hard time picking just a couple of samples. Keep in mind these submissions came from strangers who have checked in with me once a year for four years now, and I gotta say it as the sort of ‘project manager’ for this it is always a little nerve-wracking. It’s like I feel weirdly responsible and want to make sure everyone is doing okay and has survived and is holding strong and pushing forward. Of course statistically I understand that can’t be the case for everyone, and some people I never hear from again, but every time another email notification pops up I’m just like “yes! fight on! you got this!” I have a hard time not feeling personally invested. laughs
So for this episode, I tried to show a range of what typically comes in. Today we’ll hear about losing your sense of belonging, racial equality training, bravely moving forward, breast reduction surgery, preparing for a life-defining test, and quitting your job to follow your dreams. I’d like to first warn that the second submission deals with colourism and racism, and the fourth entry, as it deals with breast reduction surgery, will explicitly mention breasts, surgery, knives, and all that comes along with medical procedures to modify your body.
Alright folks, you ready? Let’s do this. Here is what happened around the world on June 15th.
--- Break 2 music by B. Barbour of Psychic Skin ---
Hi this is Esperanza, I’ll be reading from writings by The Optimist.
"My biological clock is running backwards, sideways, and almost any other “-ways” there is. Perks of a jet lag that seizes to subside.
I think the most honest thing about my day (or this entire phase of my life) is the conviction that I don’t belong.
I don’t belong to my country
I don’t belong to my family
I don’t belong to the traditions of “my people.”
There are parts of me that sit here amongst the festivities of this month and feel so far removed from all that they stands for.
I don’t belong here, I’m in a state of suspended animation.
I have found myself in a constant struggle between connection and disconnection and I am finally that much closer to accepting that this is who I am. A fluctuating soul.
I type this and I’m pondering how much the name I gave myself at the beginning of this Honesty project may no longer be who I am..
Am I still the optimist? Maybe..
I guess a part of me will always be inclined to look at the world in an optimistic manner, but I am no longer blinded to the fact that I have always used “the optimist” as a cover to shield me from my own reality, which is far from optimistic at times."
Hello, this is Perseid, and today i’ll be reading something by ET.
Today, I am on the second day of a racial equality training. It's been an interesting year ... a lot has happened. But ... those are details I'll keep to myself. Today was a day where I wish I were as happy as I were earlier this week. But today was rough. I loved parts of today --sharing cat stories with a fellow cat lady, looking at lovely memes, having a few moments with a new friend, taking a deep breath of my Corsican Mint plant, And it's not that I disliked other aspects of my day, but I am feeling lower on energy. In training, we learned about systemic and oppressive institutions built into the everyday fabric of the United States, and how that slavery, racism, and cross-racial conflict arise from greed. Pure, unadulterated, fucking greed. Fuck that, and fuck them. And when we were asked what we liked about our race (not ethnicity), and it came to me, well. I intersect various groups, and I cannot relate to any of them. I was the one person in the room who broke down and could not come up with one thing that I like about associating with my race. Sure, I may be proud of some things. But I was so deeply ashamed that I felt that way. That with every positive aspect I could think of my identity cultures, I found at least three negative counterexamples that led me to dislike it. I could only remember how hurt I was by each group that I identified with, but who did not identify with me. I could think of things I was proud of ... but not things I liked. I am realizing just how much I have internalized such oppressive attitudes. I feel more emotionally ready, and I feel like I am making progress that I did not think that I needed. Hell, I got a hug from the main instructor. Now, I've got a lot of conflicting thoughts: shame, fear, anger, validation. More. Like thunderstorms colliding and creating drums that pound the ground, I feel my heart pounding in my head and in my chest every few minutes every since. Turmoil. My heart is in knots. And I still have a little glimmer of hope: a little thread that I will not let the children I take under my wing to go through what I went through in the process of growing up. They will not be ashamed to take root in their skin, their nationality, their culture, their parents, their peers, their neighbors, their schools, their communities. I will be more knowledgeable with every waking day. That's my goal. That's what I've always wanted to do. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing. For now, though, my job is to untangle the knots within myself. Perhaps, one day, I will find something I like about my skin.
Hey there, this is Norman, and today ill be reading a submission by one supposed Harvey Morrison.
Today, dear reader, a revelation. I had been working hard over the last year on a new project, a new opportunity, for myself and hopefully for others. It had caused sleepless nights (literally, grant applications don’t write themselves) and strained relationships. It had unearthed rich seams of exhaustion I didn’t know existed and new kinds of stress; some are constructive, others are not. What had started as an exciting new chapter of my life became less and less palatable over time, until the negative outweighed the positive, and I had to draw the chapter to a close. This left me relieved, but sad, and as time has gone on the after-effects to my confidence are still being felt. I was being used, and in my excitement, I had told myself that it would be worth it in the end, but it wasn’t. I’m so very glad I had the bravery to cut loose, but it had left a hole. Until that is, today, when I realised I can build something with my own ideas, not someone else’s; that I do have what it takes. It makes the sun shine all the brighter knowing what value you can bring, even though others can make you forget it. Please don’t listen to them.
RECORDING 04: Hey everyone, my name is Sea. The following words were written by someone named Lona.
In a week's time, I'll go under the knife at [Redacted Name of City] Plastic Surgery off of [Redacted Name of Road], about two miles from our apartment, where I am now, sitting on the couch, imagining my body being sliced open.
Since I was eighteen years old, I've dreamed of having breast reduction surgery. Every photo of me from the ages of twelve to eighteen featured my barely-smiling head atop a shirt-tent (mostly always men's t-shirts from Goodwill), spine curved over for modesty. I've lugged them around more than half my life, and have been—like it or not-- defined by, or in spite of them. Along with other self-esteem cancers one has to endure through adolescence, body image was the most inescapable for me. My breasts had grown against my will and better judgment (“Who would actually want these?” I would ask myself) and I had no room for them.
I had planned for my chest to be a no-boob zone as long as possible. But when that was not in my control, I used to fantasize about my future as an adult. In the future, scientists would surely have figured out a way to make detachable breasts, so you could just slip off your chest holster when you got home and wander around totally free. In the future, you could take multivitamins that would increase your IQ while depleting breast tissue. In the future, surgeons will develop boob-banks, where people can transfer breast tissue from donor to recipient instantly, and no one will have to have boobs they don't want-- these were the lullabies and bedtime stories I concocted for myself. I fell asleep every night praying to science gods that I could delete my chest someday.
For a girl who didn't want large breasts, the consequences of having them felt more acute, more spiteful. I worried that people might mistake my having large breasts-- and somehow showing them off-- as wanting their attention. Or maybe wearing anything form-fitting was salacious. I can only imagine where I got these ideas, and though I protested them, I still felt responsible—guilty-- for not being able to manage my body. It's heartbreaking when I think about it: the amount of work that goes in to divorcing a woman's mind from inhabiting her body is staggering.
I don't think I let myself be diagnosed with a proper bra size until well into college. And they hurt all the time.
These days, my breasts are at their largest, which also means I am compressing them all the more, which makes it harder to breathe, which makes it harder to run. Running, being, of course, the only thing I want to do. Run away from something, run out of something else, run toward another parallel universe. The irony of this isn't lost on me: I want to run, but they keep me still. By keeping me still, they force me to accept what I haven't wanted to: you cannot outrun your body like it is something that belongs to you. You cannot escape your body like it is a space or an object. Stupid girl, the body is you-- the swell and ache and chub. It is meat, and so it your brain, and so is your ungrateful soul.
I don't know how to sift through my feelings about surgery. My consultation with Dr. H was pleasant enough-- I could make my jokes about The Folk Singers (what I call my natural amplitude) and he laughed along. He listed the buzz words I needed to hear: “too big for your frame”, “back problems”, “posture”, “self-conscious”, and “straps carved up your shoulders.” He said he'd take me down to about a C cup, since I had hips, it they'd be most proportional. C-ups would cut the mass of both breasts by half. It sounds like heaven.
In all of this, I remember learning about the Amazons who perform a mastectomy of the breast on their dominant side, to better accommodate a bow and arrow. Precision at any cost. This summer, I've been steeping in a lot of feminist texts: Lidia Yuknavitch's Chronology of Water, Jill Soloway's adaptation of I LOVE DICK, and of course, Marvel's Wonder Woman. I haven't started Handmaid's Tale, and don't get me started on the Sylvia Plath poems I've been using as a salve since September. I've been hunting down all the voices the heroines in my head can be-- and there are so many I can't keep them straight. And they sound a lot like me, except I forget what I sound like.
The through-line in all of these texts to me is always persistence. In spite of. Like, See? She's still here. And here. And here. She was brave there. And will be stupid here. But she shows up and she loves and blunders and has to reintegrate her body into her identity and what does that mean how can you do that mainstream texts are about abstraction aren't they leaving the corporeal form of the body and creating an architected self out of free will self-mutilation is a sign of self creation break the self to see what is in side who said that I bet it was a super villain or part of some goblin curse but I'm sure it was a fashion editor for Vogue.
The surgery part doesn't scare me-- anesthesia, painkillers, summer vacation-- the recovery is mapped out with generous swaths of couch-time and Netflix. Nor am I scared of who I'll be on the other side of the procedure: someone whose patience is all spent, someone who's ready to get on with it. Maybe my apprehensions come from letting go of something I haven't identified yet. I'm shifting my body and the way it occupies the world. I am toying with the broth of past memory and future ones. My physical form is the nexus, the epicenter, of myself past and future, and I am f*cking stuck with its indecipherable narratives all up in my cosmos. So, there's that.
I think I'm most curious to see how all of this will stitch itself together-- past-self, future-self joined at a seam on my skin. How wondrous it must have been for the Amazons, slicing yourself off to see what grows in its place.
Hello everyone, I’m Harvey and as you might of guessed i’m here in England. The following is by someone who goes by the name Nebraska.
Today I woke up early, went to the library. Spent the whole day there. This has been my life for one month. I am preparing to take a test, a big test. I don’t know if I can do it. I seriously doubt my competence. I don’t even know how I got here and don’t know if I even deserve to be here. It’s hard. It will be over soon. I am learning to trust the process, learning to just relax- what is meant to be will happen.
I think about where I was this time last year, two years ago, the year before. I have grown. I have learned. I have made mistakes and I have been wronged. But with each passing year comes opportunity. I don't see that ending any time soon.
I am 22 years old. I am so young. I am sick of my peers who act as though they have one year to accomplish every single thing they need to do. Why are they so intense? I ask myself. Do I look like that from the outside? I sure hope not. I am working hard to be grateful of the small moments. To relish the simple. To take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to me, without asking why, without wondering if I am worthy.
The older I get the faster time goes. And in the grand scheme of things, none of it really matters. Yet, even with the knowledge of my mortality, I am happier than I have ever been in my life. And somehow that makes all of this matter.
Hey everyone this is Leah, today i’ll be reading a submission by Emma.
31 days to my last day of work. I’ll be leaving my current job in 31 days to go after what I’ve always wanted. In 46 days, I’ll be starting drama school. Almost three years ago, I took this job knowing I didn’t want it. From day one, I had one foot out the door. I’ve always known what I want, and this job was a means to that end. I’ve never admitted that to anyone at work. I teach children, and I always feel guilty for the real reason I am there.
I have one class of six-year-olds, the youngest age I teach, and this class is on Thursdays. Today.
Sara: My mummy said you’re leaving.
I hadn’t told my students that I was leaving yet. Sara’s parents must have received the official email from the school today and mentioned it to her. I hadn’t told my students yet in part because I was waiting for their parents to be officially informed, and in part because I didn’t quite know how.
I smiled at her. In that moment, I felt bad she hadn’t heard it from me first.
Me: Yes, I am.
Me: I’m going back to school.
She had a look on her face that made me feel like she thought I was abandoning her. My heart sank a little. I wanted to explain to her that I wasn’t, and was going to study what I love. So that I can learn to do what I love doing well and hopefully do it for the rest of my life after. But I couldn’t quite tell her I love acting more than I do teaching. So I went with –
Me: Don’t worry! I’ll still be here for four more weeks, and your new teacher will be really nice.
I had to start class and called the rest of the students to settle down. And just as I was about to begin –
Sara: But you’re so old, why do you have to go to school?
I enjoy watching Stephen Colbert, and every weeknight, I watch his latest monologues and interviews on YouTube. I live halfway across the world from Colbert, so the interviews I watch are usually from the day before.
Trevor Noah: You know what, I find I get my energy from doing the things that I love […] and I find if you do everything you love, and I know it’s hard in this world, we’re trained to believe that certain things are what we should be doing…if you do the thing you love you don’t get tired. You get tired because of the challenge, but you don’t get mentally and emotionally tired, you just go, ‘man that was a nice day, I did everything I loved.’ Imagine doing something you love, until you got tired. That sounded wrong, but you know what I’m saying.
Stephen Colbert: It sounds very right to me.
This is why I am going to school, Sara. It’s something I have to do. I strongly believe in going after the things you love. You fight for the things that set your soul on fire. I hope one day you discover what sets your soul on fire and fight for it too.
--- Outro music by B. Barbour of Psychic Skin ---
Thanks for listening to Imagining Other people. Again, I’m Alex Serpentini and I’d love to hear from you. Check us out at Imaginingotherpeople.com to learn more about this project and how to get involved.
This podcast is an offshoot of the Imagining 50 Other People Project, which we featured submissions from today. You can learn more about the project and samples of previous submissions at fiftyotherpeople.com.
The music was done by the incredibly talented B. Barbour of Psychic Skin.
The show was produced by Serpentindustries.
Thanks, and take care.