striving for my perception of fulfillment

“Do what makes you happy” is a message that we constantly hear and absorb; through social media, entertainment, news, and relationships, we are encouraged to do whatever it takes to live our best, most joyous, most fulfilling lives. To most, this often translates into personal enjoyment and development: climbing the corporate ladder, taking splendid vacations, going to shows and concerts, finding the best restaurants, meeting all kinds of people, and so on. I have certainly tried to follow this sentiment for most of my life too: my parents have always urged me to chase my passions for art, music, and juggling; I love being able to travel the world with friends and family; I relish great food; and I love relaxing with great television and music and attending Broadway shows. Like most people I know, I strive to have a fulfilling career, spend time with those I care about, and have fun.

But, in my burgeoning adulthood, that sentiment of enjoying life has morphed into a more complicated question, in a couple of ways. The first is how I’ve acquired a greater understanding of myself as an introvert. As a younger kid, the idea of fun precisely equated with going out with friends and doing “cool” or crazy things; and with some friends currently, it sometimes still does. But I have learned in the past few years, in clearer terms, about my heavy inclination towards introversion, which suggests that, while I do thoroughly appreciate being with loved ones and exploring the world’s activities, I am most psychologically at ease when in solitude and I enjoy being lost in my internal thoughts and inklings. Accordingly, I tend to be apprehensive in unfamiliar social situations and stay in my comfort zones, which are issues I am working on moderating; but I also have come to terms with allowing myself to have gratifying times outside of socializing—particularly dating—and expressing this to others.

The second, and more significant, way involves reflecting on the idea of serving my own interests and happiness. While working on my company’s NewFront last year, I periodically heard this statement from filmmaker Ava DuVernay, as recorded for the video series Badass Women from InStyle:

“I feel really energized and electrified by the time that we’re in; these times will be studied! So the question is: what did you do? What did you do during this time?”

It was a rather casual, fleeting quote in its context, but it has stuck with me ever since as an important, contemplative inquiry. Now that I’ve come out of my education and set out on a path for the rest of my life, I find myself often questioning: what do I want to make of my time on this earth? What do I want to be remembered for? What do I want to give to this world? I certainly want to continue to indulge in my personal interests and enjoy life’s pleasures; but, with the privilege of being mentally, financially, and physically well-off, I know there is more I could do to contribute to the communities and environments around me.

This process of finding not only what brings me happiness but also what value I can bring to humanity is a never-ending and complex one. Sometimes it can be hard to balance activities and interests that serve only my interests versus those that serve some sort of greater good, and I acknowledge that I am still figuring out that balance. I have taken the most pride in outwardly exploring gender discrepancies through fashion, though I know this is a very small-scale effort and is also a hobby that, despite it typically confining me to my room, simply brings me joy. I have expanded my environmentalist efforts a little bit—I have stripped way back of my plastic usage and have begun to contribute to composting—but there is clearly much more I could be doing and researching. As I continue to follow these pursuits, I hope to become the best version of myself that I can be—a version that includes not just a personal fulfillment but also giving back to the world that has let me lead this life.

nonissues of sexuality with "schitt's creek"

Click to view possibly the most romantic television scene of 2018.

Click to view possibly the most romantic television scene of 2018.

I started viewing Schitt’s Creek a couple of years ago after a previous roommate (who was Canadian, like the show) recommended it. So, without any high expectations, I dove into the two seasons available on Netflix—and I don’t think I’ve ever burned through so many episodes so quickly in my life! The premise was perhaps familiar—an out-of-touch rich family loses everything and starts over in a humble small town—but with its amazingly specific, quirky characters, sharply funny dialogue, and underlying warmth, I could see how exceptional the show was, and it quickly became a favorite of mine to watch and rewatch over and over again.

But more than its entertainment value, Schitt’s Creek does a wonderful job of conveying positive messages about fluid identities. David Rose, the acerbically witty and boldly stylish son of the family (who has partially inspired my own clothing tastes), is revealed to be pansexual in season 1 and has experienced a number of sexual and romantic events throughout the show, such as sleeping with his best female friend Stevie, dating the same man as Stevie, and presently exploring a relationship with his business partner Patrick. All of the main characters are written with full, layered development, but this is particularly evident with David, who is hilarious in personality, has inspiring professional endeavors, and is thriving as a sexually-fluid person.

Beyond this mere representation, the show’s portrayal of queer identities feels groundbreaking in its quiet normalization. In other depictions, a character’s queerness is often given a lot of weight, acting as the butt of jokes or the subject of debate or attracting ridicule and tragedy; but on Schitt’s Creek, sexuality is but one facet of a person, as equal as any other part, and it is not treated as a problem or something that needs to be noted regularly. One may have expected particularly more fanfare around pansexuality, a part of the spectrum so rarely represented; but, in truth, the word “pansexual” has only been mentioned once (in that first-season episode). Instead of addressing this topic with argument or scrutiny, the writers simply allow David and the other queer characters to simply live through their identities, letting the idea of non-heteronormative lifestyles to be seamlessly integrated within the show’s world.

And this idealistic depiction was a purposeful choice: Dan Levy, co-creator of Schitt’s Creek and portrayer of David, has asserted that he will never incorporate bigotry or intolerance into the show and will instead always illustrate queer people existing as normally as anyone else. As he stated in an interview with People, “If you talk about it, you’re giving it weight. If you can just show people how life should be, then they can’t help but open themselves up to it.” Besides definitely supporting this viewpoint—it is refreshing to see a queer story that does not involve homophobia or repression—I found myself relating to those words dearly, as I’ve come to realize that I choose to live by a similar philosophy. I don’t discuss my asexuality because I consider it a nonentity, and I hope for a future in which sexual orientation becomes a nonissue and sex and romance in general are not so heavily emphasized by society. The principle also applies to my feelings about gendered clothes: when we continue to categorize fashion as women’s and men’s, it just gives more weight to the harmful and reductive gender binary, and I wish to work towards a world in which the deterministic, automatic power of gender is no more.

I have recently seen many enlightening pieces regarding Schitt’s Creek and its currently-airing fifth season, and I couldn’t be happier that the series has grown so immensely in popularity since its premiere in 2015. Outside of simply being an extremely welcome piece of entertaining and well-written escapism, its novel approach of celebrating same-sex relations and fluidity is, I believe, a necessary step towards normalizing queer identities in reality and one that more shows, films, and other items of media should take. Cultural transformation does not happen quickly, but through innovative series like Schitt’s Creek and hopefully more fearless successors to come, the beginnings of change can start now.

asexual or apathetic?

Call this my coming out, if you will: I identify as asexual. I have never been in a romantic or sexual relationship and have never prioritized finding one. I rarely initiate discussions on the matter: when family and friends inquire if I'm dating anyone, I always merely state "No, I'm not really into dating." For me, coming out, in the official sense of the phrase, has never felt necessary, as I don’t really try to actively hide my orientation.

Then again, I’ve only disclosed this part of myself to a handful of people, namely those who I know would pay no mind to it and accept it as normal; meanwhile, I have never spoken about the subject explicitly with my family, nor do I prefer to mention it amongst my conservative-leaning friends. I know my extremely supportive, open-minded family would not respond negatively in the least towards my queerness—but I stop myself from acknowledging the matter outright because I slightly fear that they may not understand the meaning of asexuality and would dwell on the matter further than I care to. And I'd like to believe that my less-than-liberal friends would be compassionate and mature enough to not reject me for not being heterosexual, but I cherish my friendships with them too much to take that risk (which I understand is another issue entirely).

I also hesitate to talk about my orientation more seriously because I wonder if identifying as asexual is completely correct. Sometimes I do find myself attracted to people and wanting romantic or sexual encounters, and at different points in my life I thought myself to be gay, straight, bisexual, or demisexual. So is my lack of a partner due to an inability to find one, as opposed to a disinterest? Perhaps I seek some sort of intimate relationship but without sex? I feel that—in a not wholly rational thought—asexuality somewhat implies absolute indifference towards romance and sex and dating; I do not wish to put myself in any such box that suggests I am completely closed off to these things.

Even with all of these issues and questions sporadically lingering in my mind, the bottom line is that I currently do not feel the need to investigate this aspect of myself. For many people in the world, delving into sex and relationships is a large priority of one's life, and this is not the case for me. I find myself more compelled to follow other pursuits I am more fundamentally interested in and want to attribute to my character and life, particularly creative outlets like fashion and music or, hopefully more so in the future, greater activist efforts. I acknowledge that my sexuality, or lack thereof, if you will, is certainly part of my identity, and hopefully, in a near time, I will feel more comfortable discussing it openly with everyone I hold close. At the present, however, there are other activities and passions that I have become more emboldened to and disclose to the world, and I am confident in my sense of self to do so with total pride.

the neglected call of environmentalism

In July, I attended the Lower East Side's New Museum, in which I was utterly captivated with one major piece: John Akomfrah's video installation Vertigo Sea, the centerpiece of his exhibition Signs of Empire. The work presents images of the ocean, in its natural forms and movements, alongside pictures of human history, particularly slavery and migration, illustrating the large impact of water as an environmental and cultural force. I found it simply beautiful and breathtaking, and I felt moved in a way that I had not been in a long time.

Now reflecting in hindsight, I believe that Vertigo Sea served as a striking reminder that the environment is the most powerful determiner of the course of humanity and society. The ways in which the natural world has been treated and used are the origins of both wonderful triumphs and, more importantly, massive problems. I’ve recently found myself drawn to environmentalism because of how such relevant issues touch literally everyone on earth and should receive more attention and care in order to ensure futures for generations to come. Don’t get me wrong: the many social issues surrounding gender, race, violence, and so forth also alive in our current culture are worth infinite consideration. But if the very physical world we live in is suffering, such other human problems can seem insignificant by comparison—and with regards to my personal inclinations, I wish to turn my sights towards where I feel the most good needs to be done.

I’ve realized that I’ve always wanted to care for the environment in little ways: I long ago refused plastic bags and have instead insisted on always carrying tote bags for groceries; I do not use any plastic cups or silverware when at work and avoid buying concessions if such items are included; and I have elected to stop ordering take-out food from restaurants. I have taken this fledgling passion a step further by attending events like New York’s Car Free Earth Day or the World Ocean Festival, at which I’ve aimed to substantially learn more about environmental issues like climate change and water pollution. Such education has been truly enlightening and has inspired me to actively support the cause in greater fashion.

This, of course, is easier said than done. This piece from Time exactly articulates the reasons behind people’s continuing neglect of environmental problems: personal inconvenience, no immediate results or consequences, and overall lack of awareness and education. Again, I have certainly pledged to change my daily actions to reduce my effects on the environment; but I struggle with how to contribute more and absolutely feel that I am making a concrete impact. As is often the case, the solutions most substantially lie with politicians and experts in the field, neither of which I am, obviously. For the time being, I know to donate money to foundations when I can and read their newsletters, and when the time arises, I will sign up for volunteer opportunities—and I can only hope to spread the word enough to make those around me also consider deeply this huge dilemma for the future of our planet.