I. Photoshop Concubine
My favorite nights from last year were the ones I spent in my friend Jared’s apartment. I loved looking at his walls because they were covered in bizarre collages he’d made, like a cadmium red square of cardstock with a dollar bill, Washington defaced by a toothy Sharpie grin. I’d look at his computer and he’d be clicking furiously between Photoshop and Tumblr, pasting herds of sheep atop a big blue ocean.
I’ve always wanted to know how people came up with these things, how to find what to include and figure out where to include it. I had this impression that to create work that was as loud or as quiet or as quirky as you wanted it to be, you needed to create a strong sense of self first. But I didn’t know what having a strong sense of self meant; I still don’t now. In part, I think it’s because I’m young and disorderly. But I admired how Jared’s collages made order from disorder without any order at all. I admired that they were his and that you could tell.
What does it mean to make something of ourselves? What does it mean to make ourselves?
My name is Kylie. I like brewing coffee in a way that verges on pretension. I cuff my jeans because my legs are short. I listen to too much Mitski and to too much Charli XCX. My favorite word is “earnest.” I forget these details mean I know myself fairly well. But I want to be sure that I know myself enough, and I want to know how to know myself enough.
I’ve figured from Jared—and art therapy—that collaging seemed like a good place to start.
II. “God, that’s insane”
Days with Aspen meant visiting the four good thrift stores of the Kansas City metro, where they taught me three basic guidelines they always followed when they thrifted.
One, nothing above ten dollars. “That’s stupid, unless it’s something really good.” Two, look for a very specific type of shirt collar when you go through the racks. “That’s how you know it’s probably something insane.” Three, find something for whoever’s going with you. “I have a list on my notes app of stuff my friends like. Try this coat on, it’s insane.”
The clothes I think people recognize me for are mostly from Aspen. A black shirt with skeleton motorcyclists declaring “Husband and wife, riders for life!” A University of South Carolina tee with “Cocks” in big white letters. Sweaters more befitting senile old women than a nineteen-year-old college student.
From Aspen, I learned how to curate myself, carefully seeking the materials to make a collage of my own. I didn’t realize that it involved an aspect of shamelessness — you can like things that seem stupid, but they work because you know that you like them and you’re happy with other people knowing too.
Aspen chose their own name. I’m very fond of it.
My breaks at work began with a toy in my car’s door handle, the stuff you get in Kinder Eggs. I’d line them along my dashboard, mismatched and stupid and fun to look at during red lights. This led me to a constant search for squishy colorful creatures. The ones that melted under the sun were the best.
I don’t know how my tradition with Paige started. I think it was because we needed something to look forward to in a really difficult time. I think that we didn’t feel like ourselves from the way we’d talk about looking down at our hands and not comprehending that they were ours. Our exchanges helped us feel like ourselves again. At one point, I wasn’t the type to actively seek out little trinkets and keep them. I was afraid of wasting the money and space, and I doubted they were worth much. The worth, I think, was in the act of finding things for someone, of thinking about how they’ll fit into their spaces.
Paige also loves tattoos. She collected them like stickers and pushed me to slowly do the same. I didn’t think I was the type to get tattooed because I was afraid of the presentation they would make of me. I felt like they required a justifiable meaning and a plan. But from my walk-ins with Paige at a studio downtown, I’ve lost interest in planning. I have an arm full of stupid little creatures, and I want to get more.
I think I’m trying to describe the idea of agency and our respective attempts to claim it. I had more work to do than Paige, whose unchecked impulsivity gave her a leg up. I understand being influenced by this doesn’t always produce best results but I appreciate the mix it’s left me with, from the memories I now cradle to the ones I am trying to move past. I want to believe I am better from it.
Paige wrote to me in a letter once that this life was mine. If things don’t work out, punch a box and keep moving. I like to think that this is a lesson in collaging. Try things, even if you don’t know how it’ll end up. If it looks like shit, paste over it. You can add to other people’s collages too, if they’ll let you. I appreciate the way we shared our things. It’s given me the support to put myself together.
IV. Will you take a photo of me here?
Despite her 50-hour work week, Venus always made time to chat with me. Whenever we talked, we had a lot to unpack, thoughts to chew on, advice to exchange. Venus is the older sister I would’ve liked to have growing up. She told me I am the still-growing sister she wants to look out for.
We mostly talked about ourselves from before we’d met and who we’d wanted to become next. I was reeling from an emotionally turbulent autumn. She was confined by the desire to build a life of her own without the resources to do so. The difference between her and me is that the ideas are there for her. She knows what she wants. She knows what she has to do.
Venus is an actress. She likes taking photos and making music videos. She is doing five hundred things at once. She thinks ahead. When I talk about the future, I talk about the past. I told Venus that I was going to miss everyone when I left home. That I loved the way everyone and everything existed in that specific time and place.
Venus likes to remember her friends by taking candids. I enjoy looking at the album of everything she’s sent me, eight hundred and sixty five items total. I see the bigger picture we’ve all put together, little by little. I see the patchwork of the things that make me and the people that have given me them. I’m still not exactly sure what I’d like to make of myself, but I have a better idea of what I’m working with.
Thank you for fleshing me out.