Our Blurry Sunset is Our Own

Upon reaching home this evening, I noticed the violet peeking out above apartment roofs in its very last moments before fading into the dark. I was worn after driving through a rainy rush hour on 101, and before that a full day of answering emails and phone calls while my mind wandered to Hawaii and Alaska and beyond. After arguing with myself if it was worth it to stay out longer to see that violet, I called you from outside and told you to come with me.

We’ll have been living in Pacifica a whole year this April, but we still get lost to our sunset spot. Panicking over GPS, we circle around neighborhoods and hills, watching the violet begin fading away. We give up on our sunset spot and instead settle for the post office before a sandy cliff, parked with emergency lights on the red zone. There are others who have stopped in the end of their day, when they are weary from work and parenting and school and life, to see the violet fade into the sea. I step out and walk to the sand and see and smell the waves crashing upon one another. The ocean does not roar today, rather hushes me again and again. Not quiet or calm but sure of itself, comfortable in its cycle. The waves are high, reaching and failing every time to reach the moon, hiding behind clouds. It is cold and drizzling and I am in my work clothes, but we stand with others with our cameras pointed, trying to catch the remarkable violet.

I endeavor to capture this scene, playing with scales and buttons but never quite getting it. You get a few pictures of me — blurry and unfocused. But within the pixels and awkward posing there is that violet, now fading into the last explosion of reds and pinks as the sun makes her way down under the sea. The others fade away, drawn to the rest of their lives after getting that perfect shot. We sit in the car with the emergency lights still blinking and watch out the window, catching last glimpses of that violet as it fades into black.

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Up with Makeup

There was a moment in my life where I never let the sunshine touch my skin. Before I stepped out into the world, I needed to paint over my acne scars, flick a wing at the edge of my eyes, and color in where the hallows of my cheeks should be. I played with pinks and reds and purples and spent unfathomable amounts of time and money on figuring out how to look flawless, chiseled, highlighted in order to make myself feel powerful, fierce, capable, beautiful.

For a bit of context, I spent most of middle school looking like this:

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I was in the midst of the existential turmoil that comes with puberty, and looked up to  punk icons like Sioxsie Sioux and Brody Dalle, thence the awful haircut that definitely broke my mom’s heart. There were many instances where it was me versus the daughter she had imagined: a daughter who would have had long hair and worn clothes besides her brothers’ band t-shirts and the godforsaken Jack Skellington hoodie I refused to take off. I remember crying one evening before church because my mom insisted I wear a green and yellow floral top; we begged each other without much avail to understand the opposite sides of that blouse. On another instance, she confided in me the painful embarrassment she went through over how I looked, all because someone had mistakenly referred to me as her son. This was also the time where I was beginning to explore my sexuality and gender identity: I started researching about the LGBTQ community and came to realize that not only was I queer, I didn’t really identify with the standards placed onto women. I wasn’t beautiful or feminine and didn’t want to waste my time on striving to be either of those. As the sole girl in a litter of 4 rowdy kids, I had abandoned my Barbies in 3rd grade and turned to WWE, Tekken, basketball, and all other things that frustrated the hell out of my mom and dad. So I abandoned society’s preset principles of femininity  and embraced the fact that I just happened to look like a pudgy teenage boy. But freeing myself of these expectations didn’t make me happy — quite contrarily I was still miserable about being ugly even though I had already accepted it as my fate.

The melancholy of middle school began to wear off towards the end of 8th grade. My friends and I, the Nerd Cave Crew, shunned the idea that girls had to be petite and cute and have shiny long hair while we proudly rocked our completely-punk-and-NO-my-mom-did-NOT-buy-this-from-Hot-Topic identities. I comforted myself from the fact that I was not conventionally attractive by completely disregarding society’s expectations of attractiveness, but I still avoided mirrors and stooped my head in social situations in the hopes that I would not be seen.

The first time I remember actually studying my face and seeing that it really wasn’t that bad was the night of the 8th grade formal dance.  Having no makeup of my own, I used one of my mom’s Estee Lauder palettes and swiped a pale glittery purple on my eyelids, then smudged a bit of eyeliner on my lower lashes just like the girl on YouTube showed me. After applying mascara and curling my eyelashes with the terrifying metal contraption, I looked in the mirror and saw a girl. It was the first time my Nerd Cave friends saw me in a dress or wearing makeup, and the first time in my teenage years that I felt pretty. I couldn’t help but feel a bit more human because I finally resembled what I assumed society, my mom and dad, what the world expected from me.

At first makeup was liberating because it gave me control over how I could look like. I was never the pretty girl, so to finally have these tools to emulate some sort of beauty felt like finally grabbing hold of mjolnir after a long battle where I had been fighting naked and vulnerable.

I began buying my own makeup and religiously watching beauty videos on YouTube during my freshman year of high school. I experimented with eyeshadows and lipsticks, developed a detailed face routine with foundation, contour, and blush, and perfected the art that is winged eyeliner. High school was pretty fun for me: I still wasn’t skinny or as pretty as the other girls but every morning I sat in front of the mirror and studied the canvass of my face, thinking Yeah, I can work with this.

makeupdina

Of course, plastering one’s face every single day with cheap foundation and powders in the throes of puberty is going be rough on anyone’s pores. My skin had never been the greatest, but throughout high school and my freshman year of college it was constantly a cycle of covering up those swelling, pus-filled bumps on my face, scraping off the makeup at the end of the day with expensive acne-fighting products and desperate hopes, then finding new inflamed bumps the very next morning. Makeup was my tool to feel human and deserving of social interaction, but what good is hammering a few nails on a wall with no foundation?

Studying abroad in high school and college did wonders for my self-esteem because I had proved to myself that I was smart and brave enough to explore the word. I lived in cities I had never even dreamed of visiting, and met and befriended people of different walks of life. But being the teenager that I was, neither intelligence nor courage did not suffice. I still felt like the one in the friend group who had to be funny and outrageous to make up for what I lacked in looks. Looking back now, I can’t help but regret all the time, money, and space I wasted lugging around my makeup to different parts of the world. I would wake up in my dorm at school or whatever hostel we were staying in and rush to the bathroom to put on my face. Without the comfort of foundation, contour, and eyeliner I didn’t want others to see me, see the red mountains lining my jaw, the bulging lack-of-cheekbone, and the short and straight eyelashes that left my eyes dull.

It was after I had dropped out of NYU, started working at Starbucks while finishing school online at Arizona State, and discovered my love for the outdoors that my relationship with makeup began crumbling. At first it was sheer laziness — the early mornings and 6-8 hours of steaming milk and pouring espresso shots just didn’t seem to call for any makeup.

Then, seeing my bare face on a daily basis began to desensitize me to the insecurities I had garnered over the course of puberty and my young adult life. I found that the shape of my eyes were actually quite pretty, and that I do indeed have cheek bones. My features are not as sharp or defined as others’, but why do they have to be? After years of abusing it with pore-clogging concealers and powders, and harsh chemicals to negate the effects of the former, I began taking better care of my skin and body. In turn it thanked me by clearing up the acne that had riddled my face and self-esteem for so many years — the less makeup I wore, the more beautiful I realized I actually am.

20190317_150436So here I am at 23, with a full-time “big girl job” at an office and a dream to travel the world while helping others while I do it. One of the ways I want to help you is to open up a discussion about makeup and insecurities. Sure, makeup can be used as a medium for self-expression and empowerment. AOC’s iconic red lip and hoops are a way of paying homage to her Bronx background and a big “Fuck you” to those who don’t think fashionable or pretty can exist alongside intelligent and strong. Frida Kahlo was known to  accentuate her unibrow and facial hair despite the ridiculous expectations that women should not grow hair anywhere besides where society has deemed appropriate. Drag queens bake and highlight and carve out impeccable eyebrows while questioning gender identities that are forced upon us by social norms. These are just a few examples of how makeup is freeing and empowering.

But when it becomes the crutch upon which one desperately leans in order to feel worthy to face the world, I’m afraid it’s the makeup that is wearing you.

I was a bit afraid of going to work without makeup, terrified that people would think I don’t take myself seriously or care how I present myself. While I do reject what society says how I should dress/act/feel/speak as a woman, I also care deeply about the image of myself that I put out into the world. But I can paint myself just as well and even better with words, action, and work as with some blush or eyeliner. So I am dumping you, makeup. As the title suggests, this is my official breakup letter.

Dear Makeup,

We have had a long and complicated relationship over the past few years. I discovered you when I was young and quite vulnerable, and you embraced me with open arms and showed a side of me I had never thought to look for. Thank you for helping me find and accept my femininity, and thank you for being on fleek for so many years.

Having said this, there were parts of our journey that weren’t so great. I spent so much time and resources on you, time and resources that could have gone to things that make me feel happier. I missed out on precious sleep and countless breakfasts because I was so dedicated to you and thought you were the only thing that could help me face this world.

What I have come to realize is that I simply don’t need you anymore. I can’t say I’m sorry that I’m ending it like this, so I just want to you to know that we’ll still be friends. There are still weddings and parties in the future where I might reach for you, but only because I want you. Not because I need you.

So thanks again for making me look skinnier when I thought that was an important thing to strive for, thanks for making me feel powerful when I wore red or purple lipstick, and thanks for the fierceness I found with winged eyeliner. I am so grateful you helped me find these things, but I am beginning to realize that I can feel powerful, fierce, strong, capable, and beautiful without you.

All my love,

Dina Klarisse

 

Snapshots of Big Sur

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The first glimpse of it is almost shocking. After miles of winding greenery and fruit stands, the highway begins twisting around hills and hugging the coast. At first, the water is subtle. It peeks between hills and trees and you roll down the window to see if you could smell the sea. The subtle hint of salt teases your nostrils, just as the small glimpses of water do. The car makes a final turn around a hill and suddenly it’s a blanket of brilliant blue to your right. From the passenger seat, you stick your right hand out the window and move it up and down through the wind, feeling the waves of the ocean riding with you.

Your first weekend getaway with him was in Big Sur. You made up a story about sleeping over at Abby’s and packed your backpack and rode off in his rickety Honda Civic. The awkward first weeks of dating had passed, and you were wondering where this relationship would take you. This first place was paradise.

In the Julia Pfeiffer State Park, there is a small trail that starts at the edge of the road and begins taking you down through a short tunnel and then onto the side of the cliff. The ocean is larger here than it was from your window, up on the road. You are suddenly reminded of how small you are, how the tiny creature that you are is standing on the edge of the continent, staring into a sea that eventually grows into others, together blanketing the earth. The trail leads you to a viewing platform. Down below, on the other side of the curved edge of the cliff is a small beach with the McWay Falls. The water comes down from crevices on the mountain and hits a pool in the sand, less than a mile away from the waves coming in and out.

He parked the Civic on the side of the road and you both slept in the back, drunk with supermarket whiskey. Every so often a car would pass by, shining through the windows and waking you up. Sometimes you would forget sleep and look up through the windows. He had chosen a spot under a mass of trees, but in between the branches you could see the stars, so plentiful in comparison with the city sky under which you grew up. You imagined how the ocean must look, mirroring those small, twinkling lights, the waves crashing against the cliffs and lapping at beaches now abandoned for the night.

You woke up in the early morning as the sun was still peeking in the horizon. The stars that had shown through the trees were gone, but you saw the premature rays of daylight sparkling in the dew. Your phone blinked with unread messages and missed calls from Mom. She had checked with Abby and found that you weren’t there. He drove to a gas station where you had service and you called, explaining where you were and who you were with. It was the first time she’s ever heard about any boy. There was a feeling of regret, of shame for lying and getting caught. But as much as you felt sorry for sneaking out and lying, you couldn’t help that feeling of satisfaction. Satisfaction that your overdue teenage rebellion had brought you to an Eden, just hours away from home.

The next time you see Big Sur, it is after you two had moved in together. The rickety Civic has long since retired, and you drive in your shared white Honda Fit. Night time hasalready fallen by the time you set out from home, so the winding hills stood dark and glaring against the moonlit sky. The car twists and turns around the dark sentinels. Where small scenes of brilliant blue had shone in between turns and trees, you see glimpses darker than the sky. Finally, the familiar turn comes up. The car curves around the final hill and you are surrounded by black ocean. It is violent this night, sending wave upon wave against the cliff side. But every so often it subsides and the water is still for a few moments. And it is just as you imagined that first night: the stars twinkle in the still water, shining from above and below you. You open the window and stick out your hand, letting it ride in the chilly nighttime wind.

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Where I am at 23 and Where I Want to Be

Admit it, we are all whirling into the craze that is decluttering and have the urge to pick things in our lives that will either spark joy or will spark the donation bin. Every other Youtuber and Instragrammer has picked out the worn Forever 21 sweaters and five-year-old single tube socks from their drawer, but I have also come across some articles from the web that talk about decluttering the more abstract parts of life.

As I take heed of Marie Kondo and her ruthless demolition of all things unnecessary or unsparky of joy, I’m beginning to reflect on the things I want to be known for or what I want myself to focus on as I become (dare I say it ) a real adult. So here is a list of things of big picture things that I still care about. General life aspects that spark that anime joy in me or that I know are good for me even though I don’t wanna go to the gym dammit:

  1. Health: I’ve always been fat. I was a fat toddler, a fat kid, a fat teenager, etc. etc. While I appreciate the incredible and charming personality that came with having to compensate for my looks, I have realized in the past years that my body just wasn’t responding to my lifestyle in the way that I wanted it to. My legs couldn’t carry me up the mountains I wanted to climb, my lungs wavered at the thought of running or jumping or swimming. My boyfriend helped me immensely by reintroducing vegetarianism into my life (more on that later) and becoming my adventure buddy. While he led me to this new path, I developed my own rhythm by learning how to cook, joining the gym and finding a routine that I like, and focusing on foods and movements that nourish me.
  2. Deeper Relationships and Understanding: at the risk of sounding like every other aging Berkeley hippy, I must say that this is so important to prioritize now that we live in such a fast-paced, social media age. Our minds are becoming more attuned to novelty rather than deeper relationships and understanding. I have found that it’s gotten a lot harder for me to focus on one task as my mind has been conditioned to await a new notification or shiny new post. We’ve all read enough articles on Facebook (ironically enough) that social media will rot our brain and is the ultimate doom of the human relationship so I won’t go into that. And I won’t go depriving myself the bliss of scrolling through puppy Instagram, but I am also taking an initiative to be more present and selective with what I choose to spend time on.
  3. Writing! Here it is, my big goal for this year. Since I was about nine-years-old and reading aloud my stories about android 4th grade teachers, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I have always been a storyteller — one of my famous numbers was composed at the tender age of three, when I spun a tale about the paniking kalbo, or bald-headed bat, who flew into the mall and wreaked havoc. I’m sorry to say my ideas have become a lot less adventurous, but they are there nonetheless. After years of conditioning myself to search for a practical career path just in case writing doesn’t work out, I realized that it never will if I don’t give it the dedication it deserves. I’m making this promise to write once a day, either on this blog project or on my manuscript and you, my friend, or the 2 people reading this, are here to hold me accountable.

I made a goal last year to finish the first draft of my novel and to start a blog and while I did write a few posts, I am not proud of the time and effort I had put into writing. This is something that brings me joy and something with which I feel I can make a contribution to the world, so it deserves more than a few scrambled posts.

In order to juggle my endeavors to get healthy, work on my relationships, and write more, I’ll have to sacrifice a few things. I am limiting the amount of time I consume in order to make time to produce and create. This means that I’ll have to spend less time watching TV or the black hole that is YouTube, which seems daunting now because GAME OF THRONES TRAILER JUST CAME OUT!! But relax, Dina. Everything in moderation, even moderation. When you deprive of yourself you truly start craving it — I learned this the hard way when I tried going vegan and spent those two weeks eating more cheese than I ever have.

That being said, I am also reaching out to you, family and friends, to support my passion by reading and sharing my posts, and also giving me feedback! I will take constructive criticism, suggestions, requests, whatever you have to say about my writing as long as it drives me to work on my craft and will not piss on my hopes and dreams.

Thanks for reading!

Dina Klarisse