Don't Sweat The Small Stuff
The people who raise us are the ones who teach us how to function in this world; they teach us the rules and expectations of life as they have come to know them. But then we grow up, we leave home, go to college, and we're on our own, deciding for ourselves who we want to be — and who we want to become. One day we realize that we get to take what our family has taught us and mold it to fit the person we want to become. Logan and I interviewed four wonderful, unique individuals — Edwin Bates, Marisa Jones, Jordan Puhala and Julia Estrada, artists who live in New York City — about coming into their own.
What was your childhood like in terms of what you were taught, or how you were expected to be?
EB: I was always a flamboyant kid. Before I was purchasing clothes for myself I would wear traditional masculine clothing, because that’s what my mom knew. My mom is very religious, and she wanted me to share in her experience of religion, but she never forced me. It was complicated. I had a life at home that was drastically different than my life with my extended family, but religion was at the core of it and that’s how I filtered everything.
MJ: My mom’s side is Jewish, and my dad’s side is Episcopalian Greek Orthodox. My dad was incredibly religious and most of the rules we had growing up were associated with the rules of the church. It’s interesting having a duality of expression and play, and then the religious experience.
JE: I recently took this character test and I was able to see which traits I was raised with that have stuck with me. Those were traits like fairness; my mom has been a lawyer for over 20 years, so her whole mentality has been about fairness. She always treated my sister and me with a certain amount of autonomy; we were responsible for our rooms and our pets, and it was all about teaching a lesson. So, it was a lot about fairness, responsibility, justice. She always taught us the difference between wrong and right. My dad was so much more of the loving and caring side. He taught me so much, and raised me in a loving household that’s all about forgiveness. The traits of loving, forgiveness, fairness, and justice showed up as my highest traits, because those are the ones that have stuck with me since childhood.
Was there a moment when you realized you didn’t have to share your family’s core beliefs?
EB: I went to a performing arts high school with a bunch of crazy eccentric people, because of them, I started to take risks on my own. I remember the first thing I did that was authentically me, being brave, (had to do with) attire. The way I dressed effected people more than I thought it would, as far as masculinity was concerned. I purchased my first vest, and it was more flamboyant than anything I was allowed to wear before. Nobody made a big deal about it at school; in fact, I received validation for it. It felt right. I was also receiving validation from my professors, who were like, “Wow, we really see you slowly becoming who you are.” I realized things my family told me were right might not be right for me.
MJ: When it comes to my moment of self-phoenixing, it had more to do with my peer group than my family. I was shy as a kid and we moved around a lot, because I was a military kid. When we moved to Mississippi, all the cool kids were wearing Aeropostale polos. We were poor, so we didn’t shop at Aeropostale. So at the beginning of the school year, I got a $50 allowance and my mom said, “Well, what do you want to get for school? This is going to be it.” And I was like, “$50! I can get two Aeropostale polos!” I remember going and getting a green Aeropostale polo, trying it on, and being like, “This is not me. I look fat. But whatever, this is what people are wearing.” Then Hurricane Katrina happened, and I will never forget the moment I walked into our house and there was the green Aeropostale polo with a water stain. It was no longer wearable. I had this epiphany of, “I’m not the shirt. I’m not that girl, either, and I don’t have to be.”
What are your core beliefs?
EB: I have my core moral beliefs, such as be kind to people, but as far as family, culture, or religion, my beliefs are fluid — which I think is what makes life exciting; the fact that nothing is rigid. Being good to people and respecting myself are constant beliefs of mine, but the way I think about things shifts. I know how I feel, but it’s hard to put things into words.
JP: I believe in always trying to be a good person and always aiming to do better and be open- minded. The times I’ve noticed my relationships not going well, or when I’ve noticed someone struggling, it’s always because they haven’t kept an open mind. I believe in being curious about the way you live your life, and also being curious about what being good means.
MJ: I used to think that life was like a bunch of boxes that you got to stack like Legos but the older I get, the more I realized life is more like a river. My core values are becoming more relaxed [when it comes to] the whole idea of kindness and forgiveness, [I don’t think you should have] so much forgiveness that you become a pushover, or that you inevitably harm yourself. I think that’s a fine and delicate line. I try to genuinely [be open-minded] — which can be hard for artists because we’re passionate and have such strong points of view about the world — but especially when you’re dealing with a non-artist, I find becoming a blank page and trying to see where they come from is important. The No. 1 thing that’s popping up now is our political climate. My father is very conservative, and because he’s my dad I’ve chosen to respect but not necessarily agree with him, and I think that’s OK. Other core values of mine are to take risks, self-activate, and believe that people can change, things can get better, and people can grow.
JE: One is that you should always be nice to everybody, because everyone is human. That’s something I learned the hard way. I admit, especially early in college, I was super judgmental of people in ways that I’m not proud of. I was critical of other people in areas I was self-conscious of in myself, and it kept me from making relationships. If you want people to respect you and give you space for the growth you need in your life, then you have to do the same for them. Everyone is going through something, even the people who are shitty to you. You can’t take it personally, because so often it’s a defense mechanism. It’s hard to think about that because I’m sure some people’s ideas of me were formed during the time when I was being a really shitty person. I’m still very self-conscious about the relationships I formed during that time of my life, and I feel the need to prove that I’m not that person. It really just takes time to be the person you want to be, opposed to trying to over-correct and force something.
How do you relate with your family now?
JP: Very, very, well. It took so long for everyone to change, there were times when I couldn’t talk to them. We’d go through months of shutting each other out. Then it got to a point where we went to therapy and talked through things, and it got so much better. That was a time when I realized, “Wow, my parents are so cool. They’re open-minded and they just want to be good people.” Now my relationship with them is wonderful, because we’re able to talk to each other.
EB: It’s changed drastically, specifically since finally figuring out my sexuality. That was a huge turning point in my life, and it directly affected my relationship with my family. I could rationalize the possibility that maybe my mom’s love for God outweighed her love for me, and that was a genuine concern for me before coming out to my mom. But I had to do it for myself, because at that point I felt like I was going to burst. And when I did, she was like, “I love you. Of course, I love you. I knew this whole time and I’m so happy that you’re finally where you’re and accepting who you are.” My mom has become such a major ally in ways that I didn’t think were possible. I had to choose to not care what my family thought about me in order to make progress as my own person.
MJ: My mom is so different than me, she’s very analytical. My mom and I are tighter now than we ever have been, and I can see ways that she has come into her own. A flourishing of herself that I think I may have helped her achieve, like she’ll dance for fun. We’ve definitely bonded more, have been more open and have had more honest conversations. But it all takes time, time to get away, time to go on your own and then come back.
JE: I’m super close with my family. My mom and I have been through this crazy rollercoaster relationship, but we’ve come out the other side in a really beautiful way. My brother is much younger than me so my parents’ focus is really on him, but it’s come at the perfect time, when I need to have my own space. In the past few months, since I’ve moved out of their apartment, I’ve noticed that space has given us even more room. Definitely, my relationship with my mom has changed and bloomed in a really beautiful way. We still have our ups and downs, and right now the thing that’s creating a wedge on my behalf is jobs. My mom is incredibly supportive about what I’m pursuing, but for any actor it’s a major self-confidence issue of knowing that you’re going out there and doing the work, but there’s no way to measure it. So it’s the idea that you have to keep proving yourself to people. But they’re probably not wanting me to prove myself to them; they just want to be as supportive as possible.
My dad is so loving and caring and wonderful and sweet. Same with my little brother — he’s 11 — although my next step with my brother, now that I’m out of the house, is to find where we fit into each other’s lives. It’s sort of weird growing pains right now. He’ll say things like, “I haven’t seen you in a month.” And I’m like, “I was literally here a week ago.”
How do you best navigate being different from the people you love/raised you?
MJ: Patience, courage.
EB: My mom, the way she grew up, her circumstances and her upbringing and her experiences as an adult person all melded together to form the person that she is, so I don’t judge it. I think the person she is is beautiful, and I can acknowledge it’s different from the person I am. My mom is gentle and kind and accepting. I have to acknowledge that that’s who she is, and this is who I’m learning to be — there’s validity to all of it. If we were all the same and shared the same beliefs and opinions, that’d be so boring. It’s refreshing to be different than my mom and people I care about. It feels wonderful not judge anyone for who they are.
JP: The curiosity stuff and the open-minded stuff, and being like, “Wait. OK, why are they the way they are?” and realizing that they have it a lot worse. I think a big moment was when I asked my mom and dad how they grew up. When they talked to me about their upbringings, I was like, “Oh, this is why you fell in love — you both had really shitty upbringings, and you understood each other.” And I could tell that they wanted to have a family that was so different from how they grew up. My parents were two hurt people and were like, “We’re going to make a good family.” Everything they ever did was out of them wanting my brother and I to feel supported and happy. I realized it wasn’t because they were manipulative or cared about how I looked; it was because they thought that’s what would make people treat me better and, ultimately, what would make me happier.
JE: I’ve been lucky, in terms of a lot of my core beliefs are similar to my family’s, but there are a few things we deal with differently. I’ve come to understand that we’re not going to change each other. There are times when I read a book I think is life-changing, and I’ll want my mom to read it, but it’s sort of an ulterior motive, thinking she could really benefit from this. So I’ll share it with her, and then she’ll go on the defense. I don’t realize sometimes that something in that book could be challenging a core belief of hers. It’s more about treasuring that person as an individual, and understanding how they’ve influenced you, but also understanding that they’re their own person. If I want them to respect me as my own person, then I have to do that for them.
How Has living in NYC affected the relationship between you and your family?
EB: Living in a free and wild city where anything is possible has expanded my mind and scope of the world, and that directly affects how I communicate to my mom. It opens up conversations between us that we hadn’t had before. The negative is the distance. I’m so far away from her, and I don’t see her often. So the thing that’s tough is the distance, but the bond is somehow getting stronger.
JP: The distance is what we needed to become best friends. Living in NYC has given me an outside perspective on what it means to be your own adult. I realized how hard it must be to be a parent. There’s something about that where you’re like, “Ohhh, I should’ve been easier on you. You’ve been flawless.”
EB: Even our parents’ flaws are beautiful. Now I realize that whenever I would see my mom struggle, it was teaching me how to go through my own struggles. The way my mom navigates her life struggles is beautiful. It’s cool to see how I’m similar to my mom, but also how I’m becoming my own adult.
MJ: It’s an investment going home; it’s something you have to save for. So that’s difficult. I’ve been independent since college, as far as financial stuff, but it’s different being in the city — especially being in Brooklyn. While New York is accessible when you get here, it’s a hustle to make your rent, do your auditions. The hustle to have time for everything and also have time for yourself, for me, is very different.
JE: My family lives in the city, so it has been really nice. At first, I was nervous about it, because no matter what I’ll have a safety net a lot of people don’t get the privilege of having. It’s a safety net that I’m really privileged to have, even though I was nervous about it. I’ve had some discomfort around admitting to the fact that my parents are so incredibly supportive that they moved to New York City so I could do this. I have to be OK with that discomfort of being, like, my family is going to be here for a while and they’re always going to be loving me and supporting me — which is fantastic, and I don’t know why, for so long, I had so much shame around that.
How do you find comfort in being different than your family? How do you find comfort and confidence in yourself and the beliefs you have cultivated for yourself?
MJ: Being able to laugh at your flaws, being able to find the light in any situation, even if it’s awful. Like, “OK, I can laugh about this at the end of the day.”
JP: That’s it for me, too, the humor thing. I used to be overly serious about things and then I realized, “This isn’t helping, I just get more sad.” It’s realizing that nothing is that big of a deal and that it’s cool to be a unique individual in this world.
EB: I found I love disagreeing with people. I’m entering a phase where I love having differing opinions because it helps me learn about people and how their minds work. Sometimes they learn from me and sometimes I learn from them, and I love that it directly reflects who I am. Just hearing what other people think directly effects the person I’ve become.
JE: In terms of core beliefs, our politics and social ideas are very similar. I would say something that I developed on my own, that my parents have grown to love, is my element of activism. That was something I discovered on my own in college — things like marching and learning about legislation in order to change it. I’ve been blessed to a have family that has similar core beliefs.
Let’s talk about life out of college. What has the transition been like for you?
MJ: I lose myself all the time on the subway still. Y’all, I’m awful at directions. Awful.
JP: In the city it’s hard, because everything can get so dark and serious and depressing. I was watching a documentary last night, “I AM.” It talks about how competition can make it hard for us to be happy. We’re always thinking we have to be better than somebody. It’s sort of insinuated that there’s not enough for everyone. When I start thinking that there’s not enough for everyone, I put the focus on myself and I start thinking I deserve more than other people. When I get unhealthily competitive, that’s when I feel I’ve lost myself. I’ve found myself when I’m feeling generous and patient, or when I’m really in my sense of humor.
EB: When I first got to the city I would work so often — like I would work too often, and not have time for anything. I was only making money and not living my life or enjoying it, because I wanted to be comfortable. Everyone’s like, “When you move to New York you need to have money for all of this shit, because even if you’ve saved up it’s going to be gone in the first three months.” When I found a job it was very easy to get lost in going to work, and I had to remind myself I’m not here to be a bartender. What am I here for? It helped me find my purpose again, or find myself when I realized I needed to find a balance between being able to support myself while still enjoying the life I have. I feel most myself when I realize I’m a tiny person in this huge city, operating as an adult. It’s cool to feel I have agency over myself, I’m my only keeper in this town. It’s cool feeling independent, and fully capable of deciding where I want to go right now. Even when I do work a lot, I’ve found a balance in a healthy way.
MJ: A year into my New York experience I finally had this epiphany moment — I’ve been running that rat race on that money train where I can’t go home because I’ve lost money. That’s my biggest fear; I can’t go home because I can’t afford New York. I’m realizing that I’m such a nature baby and I need sunlight. The times I feel the most myself are when I take the time to meditate and do my yoga. It’s this weird balancing act of knowing how to take care of myself and my vessel, and then taking the risk of having to go out into the world. I feel more myself when I’m with my friends, and with familiar people, but the second I’m on a packed subway with a bunch of strangers, sometimes my risk is to actively talk to the stranger across from me. I’m noticing that it scares me, so I should probably try that.
JE: There was a point where I was like, “My training from Texas State was so good, but I’m now so far away from my training in terms of time.” It felt like the further away I was getting from my time in college, the more I was losing and the less I had to lean on in terms of having the confidence I could pick up a song and do it. I know in college there were times when I didn’t put enough work into something, and you’re like, “I’m sure it will come to me.” Every audition I went to in the past month was that idea. This past month I felt like I wasn’t prepared. It sort of just happened. And I’m still working through the emotions of it. I think I’m out the other side, but it’s bound to happen again.
What is a quote or a word or a moment in time that you always come back to?
JP: Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff.
EB: We’re all born naked and the rest is drag. We’re all born naked, literally. Whatever else we pile on, whatever we choose to be, is like life’s drag. Who I choose to be today is the drag I’m going for today. I love that nothing is concrete and it can always change.
MJ: We all end. That may sound morbid, it’s like we’re all working toward something but, at the end of the day, we will all end. Even if that ending, depending on what you believe, isn’t an ending, there’s something about that which resonates with me. Another thing I come back to is — someone told me this, and this isn’t word-perfect — In stressful times, think about how heavy the weight of your thoughts are in relation to not only that moment in the day, but your whole lifetime. If it’s not that heavy, let it go.
JE: The book War of Art talks about when you pursue what you feel like you’re meant to pursue, there’s going to be resistance against it. Resistance comes in many different forms, but just labeling it as resistance and giving it a name weakens its power. I always come back to that. I’m reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. A lot of this book deals with the fact that you may be guilty of something and you may have done something wrong, but that doesn't mean you’re a horrible person.