ORIGINAL FILM PHOTOGRAPHY & WORDS BY JANA
"I'm right there with you - you, me, and our weird new personalities."
I take film photos when I’m happy. It’s an extremely casual hobby I picked up during quarantine. I’m not artistic about it; half of the time, I hit the self-timer button and scramble into the shot myself. What I’m really, truly trying to do when I take a film photo is capture a moment and the way I feel in it, assubstitute-photography-teacher-who-lets-you-call-them-by-their-first-nameas that sounds.
Like many, I’ve grasped desperately for something useful, interesting, “productive” to do with this time-- something to give this long, lonely pause meaning. Looking back, I think I did, but not in the way I expected.
THE NOVELTY PHASE
This is Phase 1 of my quarantine experience. I wasn’t scared yet, not at the beginning. I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, but felt a weird, perhaps perverse excitement at the idea of life feeling different for a while.
I bought cute masks! I threw money at GoFundMes! I did Chloe Ting’s fucking 2 Week Shred! I never baked bread because of the Great Yeast Shortage of 2020, and also because I didn’t want to, but I felt like I was doing a good job at...something. I didn’t know what.
The first time I remember crying about lockdown, I was on my way home from Trader Joe’s listening to “Again” by Lenny Kravitz; I don’t know how I got there in 2020, but I remember it vividly. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to brush hands with a stranger in the grocery store (in the cleared-out yeast section, perhaps) without fear.
I wanted to make a project out of this odd blip in time, to have something to show for it. I bought a disposable camera off of a girl on Depop (because I refuse to use A*azon, though there is no ethical consumption under c*pitalism anyways) and took photos of my friends in their doorways, from 6 feet away. It was a great excuse to go out and see people, if anything. I had a feeling that this burst of energy, this desire to be productive, wouldn’t last. I was right.
THE MELANCHOLY PHASE
I sat in the same chair, scratching the same patch of eczema on my hand, day after day after day. Has anyone else developed this delicious ailment in their 20s? I personally love it and feel very edgy, sexy, and unique itching myself in public.
I craved the sun, but dreaded seeing it at the same time - one can only go on so many walks.
I scrolled endlessly. As violent attacks on Asian people grew more frequent and even more violent, I retreated. I had so much to say, but couldn’t speak. I felt a sick combination of wanting people to know how much pain I was in, and also not wanting to talk about it at all.
I felt so guilty - I still do; haunted by flashbacks of myself as a teen, turning away from any tie to being Asian, to try and be accepted by my white peers. If I could go back in time and learn Tinikling like my mom wanted me to, I would do it in a heartbeat. I wanted to scream, but I also wanted to forgive myself. I still do.
I watched Rachel Nguyen of @thatschic reflect on her high school experience and was overcome by how much I related to her, how she put my pain into words. I thought about the next set of weird, emotional baggage my generation of Asian American kids will pass on to theirs; it’s inevitable, I think.
I thought about every Asian “joke” I ever brushed off, every “friend” who called me their favorite Asian when they signed my yearbook. I thought about what my life as a teen could have been like if I’d found people on the internet, like Rachel Nguyen, or people in real life, like my roommate Amanda - who makes me feel like I am Filipino enough and I should be proud - sooner. Also K-Pop - not to be dramatic, but K-Pop changed my life.
Anyways, I thought about all of this every day. I still do.
THE COMFORT PHASE
My roommates and I started formally pod-ing with our two best friends (also roommates) a few months ago. They understood my melancholy phase and helped heal me from it, helped me feel like myself again. We got tested and committed to seeing only each other; it was, and is, the most stable committed relationship I’ve ever been in.
We have a saying: “Friday nights are for violence,” AKA getting belligerently drunk at home together, watching music videos all night, ordering a disturbing amount of takeout, screaming, etc. We occasionally throw an extra thing on the agenda, like making pizza from scratch or Andrew putting someone in full drag makeup. On Saturdays and Sundays, we grocery shop together, play tennis, go on day trips. Simple, mundane things that feel like important events when done together.
All of it feels good - our weekends, our new routines. I’ve spent months with only the people who know me the best, whom I never have to explain anything to; I don’t have the words to describe how good that feels. I’ve probably had more fun these past weekends than I’ve ever had in my life, and I am a VERY fun person (I swear)!
The weird side to this is the way I feel in social situations with other people now; I feel socially inept and awkward, in a way I never was before. Meeting new people is hard, where it used to be exhilarating. My sense of humor suddenly feels too niche; I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth.
And I think all of this is okay too. Yes I’ve changed in quarantine, and I think I’m going to be a fucking weirdo when we’re fully out of here too. But during this time, alone and with those closest to me, I can feel that I’ve started to know myself better than I ever have before.
I study my own thoughts, my natural reactions, and I understand myself. I embrace the things that feel like my personal brand (I can’t seem to think of a less girlboss-y way to say this, so there you go) like marabou feather-trimmed tops or a tattoo that says, “me.” My favorite things to hear are: “you would,” “that’s so you,” or “this reminds me of you.”
THE ??? PHASE
And here I am now - I do not know what phase is next! I don’t know what’s scarier - the idea that I’m a different person now, because of the past year, or that I haven’t changed at all. That I’m capable of changing or that I might like the new me better.
I’m unbelievably privileged - I’ve had the time and bandwidth to soul search in quarantine. The conclusions I have come to about myself, my epiphanies - none of it is profound. My reflections, which feel Earth-shattering to me, affect literally no one else. But as I write this, I do feel less alone than I did before, and I hope you do too, as religious-support-group-for-tweens-leader as that sounds. I'm right there with you - you, me, and our weird new personalities.
Whatever the next “phase” may hold, I’ve realized things that I can’t ignore and I’ve met a version of myself that I want to hold on to. One that sees and accepts me, in all of my Asian, dramatic, and itchy glory. So I will <3