Christine No on the Pressure to Constantly Excel at Excelling
An interview with Christine No, from The Write Stuff series:
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I giggle. I cringe. I shrug. I stand on one foot. And once I regain consciousness I tell them: “I’m a filmmaker and a writer.” Call it imposter syndrome, call it my mom; but I find it difficult to tell people I am a Creative. I feel like I should say “I’m a Dentist.”
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I would tell them to dive in, head first. I have always—sometimes irresponsibly—based decisions on whether or not I would look back and regret. Regret is a worse burden than money, I think; and I don’t come from money.
Diving in has taken me on some remarkable adventures and taught me unforgettable lessons. I’m not saying this is easy, though! Adventuring definitely has downsides—skinned knees, wrong turns, money woes, relationship strains, etc. When you commit to learning via trial by fire you’re bound to get burnt, sometimes battered, and sometimes you’ll just fail altogether and have to wait that whole dark business out; but so far it’s all been worth it.
I would also suggest at least holding down a whatever, blah day job; because adventurers need snacks and shelter.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
My biggest struggle is understanding, accepting, forgiving, encouraging and loving myself. But I think that may be the case for many of us, a lifelong struggle. I struggle with clinical depression and anxiety, which gets in the way of my work. It is frustrating to have to accept dark days and difficult feelings that sometimes come on with little warning. And, it’s hard to have to stop, breathe, and commit to self-kindness when you have other shit to do and your inner critic is telling you otherwise.
However, the older I get the better I become at managing the occasional slump. I am proud of this. The older I get, the better I also become at reaching out and relying on others during difficult times—I think that’s called trusting.
I like to talk about struggles—mine, yours, ours—in the hopes that we can one day kick the stigma of mental health in the butt. Bringing to light and connecting over our weird, broken, dirty, gleaming human-ness helps us maneuver our struggles. We don’t have to muscle through this life alone.
Because: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. (Rest In Purple)
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
I have a hard time taking off my jeans without getting my feet stuck in them at the ankle and then having to sit down or hop up and down on one leg trying to pull them off. So, answer is: I’d try and hope you find my hopscotch pants thing endearing (because endearing gets you laid).
And mood? Drake, baby. I gotchu.
What is your fondest memory?
Watching my grandmother clean and gut a fish in her tiny one window kitchen. My favorite parts: the shatter of tiny metallic scales that she scrapes off, tail down; the swift pull, two fingers under gills, separating rubies from spine.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
Depends on the day. I’m a fan of Tuesdays and Saturdays. Depends on where I am, who I’m with, too. Am I with company that loves like I do? Loving is infectious.
When I’m alone: some days I fall in love with everything; some days I don’t fall in love at all. Although, I always fall in love when I look at my dog, Brandy. Does that count?
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
We tell stories in order to live—Joan Didion. Y’know?
What are you working on right now?
My grammar (and failing). My time management (and failing). My enunciation (doing better).
I’m working on organizing and making sense of the bits and pieces of word and story and phrase and image that float in and out of my head. I’m looking for the connective tissue amongst all those thought-scraps. I’m working on my daily rituals. I’m working on breaking out of comfortable forms and playing with new styles, genres, and personas. I’m working on making stuff.
Recently I did a “four stories in four weeks” challenge and found it really gratifying. It forced me to look at form and perspective in new ways, taught me new “ways in” to a story, and I managed to get some good pieces out of it. I think I’ll try that again.
I’m also working on being more engaged socially and getting out more. I’m an introvert and tend to get too comfortable spending time by myself.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
Gosh, I’m still trying to figure this one out. I want to do work that enables me to share a part of myself in hopes that it will make someone else feel understood, a little less alone—like my favorite works of literature and film have done for me. I admire made up words, sounds jammed together trying to convey that somethingsomething. I admire writing that comes from a fearless, vulnerable, and empathetic place; writing that puts its naked on the page, unflinchingly, unabashedly, and asks you to do the same.
I just finished reading The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. The writing tore me apart and pieced me back together with so much love, compassion, and stark naked, real-talk honesty. I wanna do that.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Holy Moly Batman the traffic and bad drivers! I’m from LA and the traffic here makes me cry—literally bawl.
And the chasm between the privileged and not that seems to widen exponentially, daily. It’s incredibly frustrating because the divide is so visible, audible, vocalized, protested … yet it gets worse, not better.
To be honest the whole company-town culture prevalent here is a little foreign to me. I don’t think I could handle the pressure to constantly excel at excelling, no matter the pay, free lunches, laundry, childcare and massages meant to sweeten the deal. I can’t. And it’s taken me a while to stop feeling guilty about that.
Oh, and the fleece vests. Too much performance fleece, Velcro, cargo pants and Crocs, you guys!
What are some of your favorite smells?
Night blooming jasmine. Garlic. Coffee. Cigarette musk on an old sweater. Lavender!
Dirt after rain. New Mexico during chili roasting season. Cheese shops. Skin. Skunk.
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Photo by Christopher Willis