The adult life sometimes feels like a role-playing game. A small part of you is wondering when your mom is going to call out “dinner’s ready!” so you can just stop playing and go home. At the dinner table, while listening half-heartedly to your parents talking about their work, you think about how you could have played better today, and how you plan to play tomorrow, or another day.
I came across Alexa Meade’s work recently. Her works have the surprising effects and I’m sure I’ve already seen some of them on my social media feed somewhere.
Alexa Meade challenges our perception of art by turning the relation between life and painting to the opposite direction. Art usually means “coming from life”; life informing art. But she managed to show us there’s the possibility to something opposite, something new: art can come to life, literally.
Life imitating art.
Meanwhile, every piece of her work is not just three-dimensional, but four. There’s a time element that’s crucial in her work process. The painting is done on models who are there, on site. They will be there as an existence that is only there for a period of time. And that time is the main part of her artistic work. What remains afterwards – the photos, the memories of the viewer who were there, the making-of videos like this one – is, again, only the description of her work. Her work is timed in that way.
But her work is also timeless. In a society where everything, especially ourselves and experience can be commodified or materialised, Meade’s work challenges our perception of our own existence. Can we live in a painting that’s more beautiful like a dream than our own life?
Meade creates the “canvas” in the three-dimensional space, and puts her objects on that canvas and paints over them to make them fit into that seemingly two-dimensional space.
Alexa Meade’s work reminds me of the work of Johannes Stoetter.
Both artists use painting on human body to create illusions. Both artists wow their viewers by challenge their perception of “what they see = what is” to “what they see = what it can be”. Their works are memorable and timeless.
How we can try to challenge ourselves and our viewers with our work?
What we can we challenge to understand and appreciate?
What can we break to preserve?
Genre is like an index. You are put there so people can find you. We always need to think about how others can find us. How they can hear us, can see us.
When they do, it’s what only we have that keeps the right people around.
Genre is a labeled box.
Genre is a platform.
Genre is a stage.
Genre is index.
Genre is an opportunity given by the stability of an ecosystem.
But in the core, genre is the part of what you do that shares with a bunch of other people’s work. It’s the general theme that connects different paths.
Idiosyncrasy is the reason for people to stare, linger, and stay.
Idiosyncrasy is the texture, the smell, the waves on the surface of a still lake.
Idiosyncrasy can be a disruption, too, when it’s strong enough. When it’s so disruptive that others might follow your lead, so that they will need to make another genre for you.
But idiosyncrasy is also going to be the reason why you are remembered for being who you are.
I think the way I’m putting it makes everything daunting to me. My first reaction was like “I will never be able to ‘disrupt’ anything”, “oh gosh I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself!”
But the way to do it should be simple, right?
I’m learning to sound like myself. I’m learning to listen to how I sound like when I’m being myself. But the answer always appears where I’m not looking. Not to sound too “Asian mysterious”, but “sounding like yourself” is something that you can only find when you are not actively looking for.
So I’m just reading, and writing.
I’m figuring out what I like, what I don’t like. I’m writing by imitating the things I like, avoiding the things that turn me off, believing one day I will be able to say: “This is me. This is how I sound like. This is what makes me remarkable.”
I’m a new mother. I’m 24/7 now fully on my baby daughter. I’m not ashamed to say I get annoyed often and wonder why I wanted to be a mother from time to time.
These moments come and go. They don’t stay in my mind longer than an hour. In terms of any relationship, this is an extreme short period of “off” time.
We are social animals. Of course, every relationship with anyone in our life is a “relationship”. Why should “mother and child” an exception?
I feel the need to write this because I was told to “never think of things like this and be thankful.”
I hate it when older women say this to me. And they say it a lot. Like a mantra.
“…be thankful. Be grateful.
You are suffering? Don’t. Just be thankful…”
This is the kind of crap I have to get out of my life. Because I don’t need to be thankful for shitty things that happen to me, or traumas I have to live through, or sufferings that I am experiencing.
I’m not a victim and I don’t need to be thankful for the things I’m not thankful for.
I think I made my eyes worse so that I could wear glasses.
I was 12. I had no idea it was a bad idea.
There were only a handful of kids in my class who wore glasses. Out headmaster, an old, respected woman also did. And my father also. That were probably the reasons why I wanted to wear glasses too.
Well, primarily for the first reason.
Wearing glasses was a scarcity for me. I really thought it was cool to have a little glasses case. When the class started, I could get the case out, open it, and put my glasses on.
Like… a professional looking.
Then I came to high school and the coolest kids I knew were all free of glasses. And I already couldn’t read the whiteboard without my glasses.
What seemed cool changes. So never make an important choice for it if you can’t go back.
I’ve never been a person who’d stand in front of a mirror and inspecting her face often.
It was not just because I was not 100% satisfied with how I look. (“How stupid is that? I know… but it’s the problem for another time…) Plus, I was raised that way.
Most children I’ve seen have such a phase: they like to see themselves in a mirror. They can’t help themselves but looking at their reflections. They make faces, or try on household items like a pretty pillow cases or something on their heads… (What? Is that just me?)
I was one of these children.
There’s a big mirror in the hall way of the apartment of my grandparents, where I spent most of my childhood. It’s facing the apartment door and right in the center of the T section connecting all the other rooms. Since I was in kindergarten, I was good at doing performances like singing and dancing. Every adult said to my parents and grandparents that I was talented and very cute. Hearing that, I spent even more time making faces and pretending I was in a movie scene and appreciating my own performance in front of that mirror.
While other adults in my family making comments about me being “crazy in love with how I look”. They didn’t want to make me self-conscious on purpose. But they way they said it made me feel that looking at myself is something bad.
It’s self-indulgent, self-obsessed, shallow, and narcissistic.
Gradually, I stopped. When I passed by the mirror, I tried not to look at myself in the mirror; or when I did, I tried to do it without anyone seeing me.
My two cousins, who are boys, did the same. They got the same comment. And worse. “You have it worse than girls… so self-obsessed with appearance. Are you a girl?” The grownups said to them.
My mother was no advocate for a good and polished self-image.
She was very beautiful and everybody said so. But she seldom put on makeup and she said she was “too lazy” to take care of her skin. Oh, and makeup meant “lipsticks” for her. That’s all. In her family, caring about one’s own appearances is so bad that it’s like a crime. There was no mirror in her childhood home. She had to go to the bathroom in school to see if she had dirt on her face if no one told her before that.
When I went to college, my two best girlfriends from high school told me about what they’ve learnt in their first semester. One said: “I’m able to put on smoky eye makeup in 5 minutes.” The other one said: “I discovered how to re-apply my makeup quickly in this very humid climate… thank God!” I said: “I think I haven’t washed my face for the last three days… since I had no class and I just stayed in my dorm, watching movies and writing. And if I want to look at myself in the mirror, I will have to go to the shared bathroom for the whole floor…”
I took pride in that.
Because I value inner beauty more. I value knowledge, wisdom. I’m not shallow, not self-obsessed. Even if people tell me I’m pretty, I don’t look at myself in the mirror anymore because I’m just so not image-obsessed that I even get offended by thinking about my skin problem.
It turned out that, when I did notice my appearance and started to get self-conscious about almost everything with my body. And what made it worse? Feeling judged by others and by myself for I felt ashamed even by looking at the mirror.
For years I was insecure with my body and my face. My body was not toned and my skin is not smooth. When I started living abroad, far away from my family, I started to look myself in the mirror and judge myself for being “not good enough” and then for “caring about appearance too much.”
Pregnancy changed everything for me. Because I was absolutely in love with my changing body. I can’t explain how it happened. One day I woke up, went to the bathroom, turned on the light.
There I was.
I didn’t know how great I would look with a big baby belly. People say it’s the hormones. But thank God the hormones stayed because I still like how I look now.
I’m back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I have a belly still hanging. It was a sweet home for my baby daughter for 37 weeks and it’s perfect as how it is. It was never really about my body or my face. It was simply my relationship with the body. The vessel.
Now I still don’t look at my face closely every day in the mirror. But I always keep showing my baby our faces every time when we pass our mirror in the hallway. Yes, we’ve got a mirror there, too. It’s at the corner which you will definitely pass by on the way to the bathroom. Every time when we walk by, I would stop and make faces to her in the mirror. She always laughs after staring at her own face and mine in there for a while.
She still thinks it’s another baby. And that baby is her friend now.
We are all her friends.
“Does it worth it?” A good friend of mine asked me when I said that I was very tired from taking care of my baby.
It’s not easy to answer this question.
Of course the answer is “yes”. But the question needs an elaborated answer.
How do I know it’s worth it? Just because she’s my baby? Because she’s cute?
When do I know it’s all worth it?
“It’s so exhausting. My head hurts from lacking of sleep. My back and arms are hurting from carrying the baby. I have no time to socialise with others, no time to do sports, no time to do whatever I want to do for myself, and my own career. I’m pushing myself physically and mentally to the extreme…
“She’s going through a big growth leap now. She eats more often but doesn’t sleep well. Every time she cries for comfort, and I’m not quick enough there for her, she sounds so desperate that I feel that I was killing her… I try to be a good mother. But when I’m sleep deprived, I’m just not a good mother.
“I’m up every two to three hours now at night to breastfeed her. Sometimes even every hour. One morning it was already getting bright outside.
“My husband just got up. I heard him making his first cup of coffee in the morning. It had been another long night.
“The baby was drinking her fourth feed that night. When she’s hungry, or tired, it feels like she was taken over by a small animal. All the crying and screaming is so… primal. And when she drinks on my breasts, she’s also like a little animal.
“But then this morning she was drinking, and slowly she was full. And waking up.
“And then, she unintentionally looked up to me. Suddenly, her eyes brightened up. It’s like she was saying ‘hey! It’s you!’
“She was looking at me and smiling. That look I will never forget.
“That was a look filled with compassion. Like she knows me, and understands me.
“Like she understands all that I’ve been doing for I love her,
“she understands I’ve been trying my best even if sometimes I think I could do better.
“Like she feels me. She’s not a little animal anymore. She’s my daughter and she’s there for me. And she makes me feel loved, and safe.
“At that moment, I felt relieved, and somehow also forgiven. By myself.
“That’s the moment I know it. Why it’s all worth it.”
I dreamt to be a dreamer, when I was a kid.
A dreamer is someone who creates stuff in her mind, and tells others about them.
The things in her dream make her happy, and others hopeful.
She sees the world around her, and discusses the truth and the disguise with philosophers.
The things she creates in her dreams come from the inspirations she gathered from everything in the universe, from dust to galaxies.
So she’s gotta travel. Her body and her mind.
Yes, she’s also a traveler. And yes, she’s also a reader.
She’s a good listener, and speaker.
She’s not only smart so that she understands, she’s also empathetic so she can empathises.
She’s a dreamer who creates wonderful stuff in her mind.
She tells the world these stuff so everyone is hopeful, and healed.
Today, I am her.
When I first realised I was going to be a mother, the question with which I struggled the most was “how do I be a good mother and at the same time be myself and have freedom?”
The thing that drove me 7500km away from my parents and my home.
I guess freedom is not a thing; it’s a feeling. When I can decide where I want to go and what I want to do, the feeling I have filling up my chest and makes me feel brave, excited and invincible.
“I don’t want to lose my freedom.” I wrote in my diary, “Would i still be free when I have a child? I want to love it, protect it, be there for it. But if I’m there for my child, I won’t be able to be wherever I want to be. A friend told me that she was never able to completely focus on other things again after becoming the mother to her son. She said there was always a part of her that’s with her son, thinking about him, caring for him, and loving him. Like her soul was split into two… I’m not sure if I’m ready to give myself up like that… Will I still have that feeling of courage and excitement for the next destination in my chest again? Or is there only going to be breast milk in there…”
I thought I had to make a choice between being a mother to her and myself. I guess most girls who consider themselves independent and free-spirited think so too. That’s why we think that being a mother will be a burden to “us”, or change who we are.
But we are changing all the time. Nobody changes us. We change ourselves, or let change happen to us.
What’s more, by the time I was pregnant, I hadn’t been able to travel alone anywhere for three years. This so-called “freedom” that I was after is not a feeling anymore. It’s just a possibility of a feeling – its the ghost of the feeling that I had many years ago.
I can’t speak for every person who became a parent. But I didn’t have to choose from “myself” and “being a mother”. Because I became a mother. I’m still me. And I just have a person more in my life that I can love with all my heart and soul. That seemed to be a good deal for me.
I can still create, speak up my mind, stand up for others, care for the ones I love, see the world, listen to stories. I can still be me.
And the good way to be a mom, as I concluded in my diary, is being myself, to show my child that being oneself is the only way to love oneself; and loving oneself is the only way to love anyone and anything in this world.
Now my daughter is here. I feel that feeling again inside of me: I want to show her the world. My world. So that one day she can discover and explore her own.
One of my favourite childhood memories is going kite flying with my parents on the riverbank.
We went at least twice a year. Once in Spring, once in Autumn. “That’s when the wind is strongest.” My mother told me, when I asked her why I couldn’t go kite flying on a cold, winter day.
“But you told me once, that if the wind is too strong, it’s going to take the kite away. Because the string will break. Why would we still want strong wind?”
“Because only with the help of the wind can a kite fly. Even if the wind might break the kite, that’s the only way a kite can fly.”
Both my parents were very good at flying kite. And the riverbank was the perfect place to do it.
“When you grow up, you will be like this kite, flying up high in the world.” My father told me once, after our kite flying day outside. He’s the romantic one in our family. “And your mother and I will be on this side, holding the thread, waiting for you to come back once a while.”
“It’d be better if I could just… fly. You know? I don’t want to be a kite. I want to be a bird. An eagle, maybe. Eagles fly high and far. Right?” I was excited, imagining having my own wings.
“Yeah, they do.”
Parents think their children are the kites. They fly far and high. Always come back, if wind doesn’t break the tie.
But the children like to believe that they are eagles. They fly far and high, as if home is the sky.