By Sara Aranda
Maybe I should make it a tradition to write a birthday post, huh? A year in re-cap, since my birthday is conveniently near the end. But honestly, I’m not too fond of the all too similar “here’s what I learned this year/here are now my newest resolutions.” The last time I wrote something for my birthday was back in 2014, My Day of Birth, wherein I was still very much internalizing the death of my mother (something that may actually never end). It’s always a trip to revisit old writing—to see the contrast in how style, maturity, and word choice differs over the years.
Alas, here’s to change…and an attempt at not boring readers about life.
My Day of Birth, 2017: Persona
This morning I pulled up the first Instagram photo I ever shared, dated July 16, 2011. It’s a square snapshot of my shadow on a sunlit wall—my head in profile, off-center, hair in a messy bun—amid the other shadows of window panes and furniture. You can see a wooden limb, more or less, at the bottom of the frame, but you do not know what piece of furniture it belongs to. While I know that it is my upright piano in an open wood-floored room, with several windows and a bookshelf, this snapshot is merely a glimpse into a corner of an abstract house: dissected brown, black, red, and yellowed light with a shadowed effigy of a young woman. Fittingly abstract, but alluringly stoic. She is obviously not facing into the light, but she is pensive…who is she?
If I had to pinpoint the questions I asked myself the most this past year, they would be thus: Who am I, really? and What are my intentions?
When I joined Instagram, I had just graduated from the University of California, Riverside a month prior with a B.A. in Creative Writing (emphasis in Poetry). For two years I also majored in Fine Art Photography, meddling with analogue, digital, Photoshop, dark rooms, printing, and of course, art theory (I dropped the major when I learned it required me to stay a fifth year, f-that). I wasn’t necessarily drawn to self-portraits more than other art, but being my own subject was not only of relative convenience as an introvert, it was also strikingly impulsive and self-aligning. It made me reflect on my personhood in ways that were new, difficult, illusive. In retrospect, I find it fascinating for the fact that it is evidence of a past persona and the encompassing stasis. The photo I had described earlier is justifiably a portrait of a young woman I once knew very intimately.
To truly know the woman in the photo, you have to know her context. All of it. But that is impossible. As the narrator of her existence and the vessel through which her memories are cast, I can only successfully string together so many moments to gift to the reader; something I also exemplified in my 2014 Birthday post when echoing this notion of past selves:
I am no longer that baby, or the girl who star-gazed from the back of her dad’s truck. I am not the girl who dug holes in the sand in Kindergarten, who climbed the sterile pear tree in the backyard because the tree was a friend… I am not the lover who stared into my ex’s eyes last year. I am not the girl who strolled the beach in Nicaragua, jumped from a rock into the ocean, let herself sink, wanted to feel the kelp at her feet… I am not the girl who wandered Joshua Tree with her dog, Dune; who watched him dig for shade, laid there while on shrooms. I am not the girl in all these memories of a girl.
It’s an interesting position to take. Intrinsically, I am still that baby, that girl, that woman. But I enjoy this twisted mantra, as it forces me to never dwell on the past. I obviously can’t bring back these old states. They might as well be dead. And more often than not, I’m grateful for their passing. Imagine, that with every morning, when waking from sleep, you are effectively embodying a new version of you; advantaged, because you have memory at your disposal. The you that you embodied yesterday is gone. So what will you do with all the information today? Hopefully you strive to better the collective self, stay present, ask some important questions: Who am I now? What are my intentions?
This year has been quite the experiment with intention. I dove into freelancing. I committed to being the writer I’ve wanted to be since grade school. It wasn’t easy. It was both strange and intimidating to introduce myself only as a writer to others, empowering when I actually began to believe in it, excruciating when I discovered being a writer in the outdoor arena was the new hip gig. Questioning intention, however, has allowed me to remain steadfast, content, and genuine. Where was I even going with it all? The social media, the blog, the portfolio? Was I chasing fame? Money? Social points? Vanity? Self-preservation?
Since 2011, I’ve posted well over 1,000 photos to Instagram (can you believe that when I joined, “selfies” weren’t a social taboo yet?). If you were patient enough to scroll through my entire feed, you can clearly see specific stages to my life. Back then, it was suburban life, pets, friends, my affinity for nature. That first photo? My sister was the only person to “like” it. Then I moved to Yosemite National Park and casually posted about trail running, climbing, and friends. Then I moved to Colorado where myself as a rock climbing, travel, adventure-porn “athlete & writer” became the dominating theme. I still question my own legitimacy (which sounds funny, but I’m hoping that it’s a healthy habit?). I’ve deleted hundreds of photos, too. I’ve filtered through. I’ve adhered to the status-quo and have also fought it. I’ve posted strategically. I’ve craved “likes” and “Insta-fame.” Sometimes I attach social media to my writing career so interchangeably that I forget what my origins were or why I’m even posting anything to begin with. I fear the “persona,” and I truly fear fame even if I do want a small part of it.
So why did I want to be a writer when I was a child? I liked imagining places and people. I liked love stories and mermaids. The wild west. And I wanted to take others with me. I wanted to write novels that would breathe. But whatever it is that I’m writing nowadays, from poetry to creative nonfiction, my greatest intention is for my work to function as genuine art:
“Genuine art, we might say, is simply human creation that does not stifle the nonhuman element but, rather, allows whatever is Other in the materials to continue to live and to breathe. Genuine artistry, in this sense, does not impose a wholly external form upon some ostensibly ‘inert’ matter, but rather allows the form to emerge from the participation and reciprocity between the artist and [their] materials, whether these materials be stones, or pigments, or spoken words. Thus understood, art is really a cooperative endeavor, a work of co-creation in which the dynamism and power of earth-born materials is honored and respected. In return for this respect, these materials contribute their more-than-human resonances to human culture.” – David Abram
My materials? The written word. The human condition. The readers. I want to create reciprocity between them all, co-create in the reading of particular words, allow the reader to emerge somewhere new, somewhere “more-than-human.” In the age of postmodernism, it has certainly been difficult to create something intrinsically “new.” But that shouldn’t stop us from re-thinking and re-defining what is already there, in a forward progression. This is Remodernism. Defined from Wikipedia:
“At an artists’ talk, Kevin Radley, an art professor at the University of California, Berkeley said, “Remodernism isn’t about going backwards, but about surging forward.” In an essay that accompanied the exhibition, Radley wrote: ‘…there seems to be a re-emergence of confidence in the artist’s singular voice—a renewal of the belief that an artist can explore their own natures without the restraints of the ironic, the cynical or the didactic. To re-contact the notions of presence, reinvent their sense of beauty and renew our need for intimacy.’[1
While is it popular to write and create things as a reaction, in admiration of, or in replication of something someone else has already said and done, it’s important for artists to remain motivated with their own cause, to experiment with the boundaries of language and semantic intimacy; and if we are utilizing something already “said and done,” it should be our duty to instigate metamorphosis through iterative transformation, not to let it steep forever in redundancy.
So I guess this is my current manifesto. This has defined my newfound journey into the career world of writing. This has been my trajectory for all of 2017. It is the intention I have to remind myself of, continuously. This is the underlying characteristic I truly wish to continue embodying—for the intention is there, alive in the girl digging holes in the sand, in the woman forged into shadow across a sunlit wall. Human as any human, burgeoned by time, yet transfigured nonetheless by memory and words.