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depression is de rigueur when you aren't your true self


My name is Letitia. I'm an aspiring domestic goddess, but I was a homemade virgin. Here is my story.

Growing up as a seemingly intellectual young black girl in a statistically stereotypical minority neighborhood, everyone just assumed the budding journalist in me admired Oprah, and no one else. They always assumed it was her I wanted to be. And, for a long time, likely out of pure subconscious agreement, I thought the same. I'd dream of having a talk show, scurry at every chance to put together a make-pretend interview segment for Humanities class presentations, and even plan the different schools bearing my name that I would open when I got older. But it was all for show- a fleeting aspiration wrapped up in the world's perception of me like the airy strands of cotton candy. It wasn't until I became a pubescent teenager that my true idol emerged like a stark willow tree from the thickest of shadows. Martha Stewart is her name, domestic goddess is her game. And you know what did me in? Those gosh darn EasyBake Ovens! Yup, that was me: straight-A student, young, black, and obsessed with a small pink made-in-China pastry maker. I was like an anomaly. I represented everything I loved, but that just didn't exist at the time. Where were all the girls that looked like me on TV? Why wasn't there a legion of them baking away, throwing DIY sewing parties, or interviewing the latest fashion guru? It was Martha, and only Martha, and slowly over time, out of sheer disconnect with my identity, Martha and I grew apart.

Then one day in my twenties, I found myself content at home - a Ken & Barbie-like existence I had created with my then better half - perusing the web when I discovered that Martha was being sentenced to prison. Prison? Whaaat! Who knew money could get one into so much trouble with the law. Well, apparently not Martha, and off she went. It was then that I felt an almost gnawing feeling eating away at my being. Though it was me who voluntarily ended our relationship years earlier, knowing she would really be gone made it all the more real, and I realized then, that the gift of time, just as identity, shouldn't be taken for granted. If domesticity is what I yearned for, then I saw no reason why I shouldn't have it. I bid farewell to Martha, turned to take a look at my apartment, and my life, and set out to make something.

Make something. Ha! Sounds simple right? You'd be mistaken. In fact, no one really tells you just how hard it is to jumble together your maze of creativity with the actual non-procrastinating will to produce. And what...what on Earth could I even do? Little ol me with only the talent of thought and gift of writing to my name. What would ever come of that? I took a peek into my past, unshelving dusty treasure boxes and cracking open childhood diaries. Peeks turned into delves, and days became weeks. That whole period of self-discovery is wonderfully summed up by a chapter I read a while back from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. She wrote short and sweetly, "you are what you love". It was clear to me then as it should have always been, I was and am an artist, simply because I never go a day without aiming to produce exceptional aesthetically pleasing works.

In the summer of 2008, I woke up one morning and, the way a hungry person would decide to cook breakfast, decided I would work for or create a fashion magazine, as if it were the most natural progression - to barely be of drinking age and an editor. But just as I would bake a batch of cupcakes with sprinkled frosting and dulce german chocolate filling, I saw the magazine idea as a recipe and I would just have to concoct my own creation. My little magazine was as handmade as it gets, both figuratively and literally. I snatched up a domain name, and spent the next season engulfing myself with the project of building upon my ideas from scratch. Summer turned into winter, winter became spring, and before you know it, I was making something that went out into the world for all to read. But even with the magazine's overnight cult fame and global takeover, I felt something was missing, as I felt it always was, and it was the day I saw Martha Stewart Living at the book store, perched up on the shelf like a gleaming star on the holiday tree, that I realized just what it was.

To live a homemade life is to live a handmade one. The two couldn't exist without each other. Even when I think back on my most barren apartments with not a drop of paint on the walls, there was still the four poster bed we built together, and the Thanksgiving meal I slaved over from scratch, and the silly photo collage hanging for dear life on the wall. It was never much, but it was something. Before I knew it, I had a vintage Singer sewing machine which hijacked all the pennies from my rainy day piggy bank, and the kitchen foyer nook was inhabited by scraps of fabric strewn across the floor like rag dolls in an all-girl nursery room. I felt at peace. I felt at home. What came next was organic, but nonetheless horrifying. I discovered something on premium cable called the FoodNetwork channel. After that, life as I knew it would end. There were days I wouldn't leave the house; instead I'd be sunken into the couch, the source of an indeterminate foul smell I denied came from me. The days I did decide to rise up from my transient state and shower, I'd be in the kitchen with full force, testing my own original recipes for honey mustard breaded pork chops and caramel rocky road cupcakes.

These days, as I spend my sleepless nights doodling in my journal, harvesting new ideas for the pages of L Magazine, my only wish is that I would have discovered photography back then, the way it is so prevalent in my life now. Maybe then would I have proof of my Barney & Friends inspired curtains (don't ask!), or the half dozen Louis XVI chairs I reupholstered in Tiffany blue suede, or the housewarming party I threw that had a menu with more homemade dishes on it than the menus of Olive Garden and Starbucks combined; maybe then would I have proof that I finally became who I should have always been. For now, I'll always have the trail of written pages I leave behind. And that's enough for now.

p.s.- This post was inspired by two bloggers entirely more brave than I am and put it all out there. People always ask why I blog in a sea of blogs and my answer is (and sadly might always be) that there aren't bloggers who look like me. Hopefully that will change, but its made for a terribly unjust and depressing identity crisis growing up. As if fashionable intellectuals can only be porcelain. I mean, have YOU ever seen an Asian or Latin Martha Stewart-type on television? :)


What about you? Do you ever see a disconnect between who you feel you are and how you live your life?

11 comments

  1. Dear Leti,
    You should know that I am a 60+ white woman, who grew up in the segregated South. You should also know that, to date, I have only subscribed to one blog -- yours -- although I Pinterest like crazy.

    Having been a creative director and also having started a successful lifestyle newspaper, which had a 17-year run, I am obsessed with giving credit to photographers, designers, artisans, etc. I found your blog by trying to find the source for a wonderful, but uncredited, Pinterest food photo that turned out to be yours.

    Ok, I'll admit that I was a little surprised to find out that you were African-American....wasn't expecting that....but I liked your style so much that I decided I would woman up and finally subscribe to a blog!
    You should pat yourself on the back for that.

    It's not easy being a trailblazer, like you're trying to do, but know that one day there will be Lola-wannabees, just like you were a Martha wannabe.

    FYI, I interviewed Martha for the cover of the first issue of my newspaper in 1994. Did you know that her first catering job came about as the result of just a little classified ad in the Westport (Conn) newspaper? And that the job was a summer wedding to which she brought oeufs en glee, which melted and ran all over the place? Or that her first married Thanksgiving dinner, she had a big-time turkey disaster?

    She had to fight hard to get those beautiful color pictures in her cookbooks (admittedly made easier by the fact that her husband was in publishing). You're young enough to think she popped out of the shoot fully formed but she had her own battles, which she fought and won.

    You don't have to admire her for lying to investigators (she was never charged with a tax crime; only for lying when she willingly cooperated with the investigators) but I think it's more than ok to admire her for paving the way for women to creatively combine domestic skills with business and marketing savvy.

    All the best to you!

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    1. Hi Morgan,
      It's taken me a long time to respond to all these wonderful comments. Clearly it took years to get to the point where I could actually blog about such a topic publicly, and was just not in the frame of mind to comment on it. But your comment and all the others definitely were read and filled me with great motivation and pride. Of course the therapy for things like this is always feeling as if you are not alone.

      So glad you found me on Pinterest. It is quite rare it happens due to wanting the original source! If I spawn wannabes down the road, a pat on the back I shall do, because it means I would have done something right! Nothing better than being a role model to others that otherwise don't have one.

      And I did finally read Martha's memoir which included the anecdotes you mentioned, plus tons more. Quite a refreshing read and great insight into what it really takes to look like an "overnight" success. Thanks so much again for commenting and hope you're still subscribed!

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  2. oops. Something happened to an "e" in oeufs en gelee. Oh....just realized it was my MAC "helping" me spell because it just did it again. Do wish it wouldn't.

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  3. Thank you for this very thoughtful post. "True self" is all the harder to find these days, when we are told how to live, what to do with our life and what success should look like. And when we follow these rails set up for us all our life, it is true that at some point, we can feel an inadequation of sorts, because we have done what we were supposed to do and not what we wanted to do. But in this case, it takes a lot of time to realize what is wrong, why we don't feel good. And it takes even more time and courage to act upon it and try to find out what our true self is.

    In France, society is very "alarmist" with young people. We are told that if we don't get a good education and a good job, we'll end up like a "raté", doing supermarket or restaurant jobs and struggling to get a decent income, or even end up homeless. This puts a lot of pressure on kids and students, which doesn't help getting the courage to find out what you really want to do and take the necessary steps to do it.

    But I think more and more people of my generation (I'm 27 years old) are starting to rebel against this in a way, and start doing things they want, creating more, traveling more, spending years abroad and starting to live for themselves. I have hope that the next generation will continue this movement and that people will not fear following their true self anymore.

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    1. You're so welcome Kali! Was so touched to see you respond with great insight from your own culture. As soon as you said "in France..." I was surely expecting a 360 from what we experience here in the states, but strangely enough that was not the case. As I read on, your comment simply mirrored how we are being bred in America. It's the same exact problems and propaganda which is why I find myself picking up to travel and explore what I want once again. Returning home to a "routine" quickly sucks you into everything you might have learned previously. It's a really tough battle to fight in this economic climate and low opportunity environment.

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  4. I hear about living in a stereotypical minority neighborhood! I lived in Brooklyn until I was 14 and they used to call me an oreo and so many other names. Whenever I tried to 'fit in' they told me I couldn't say this or that. And I will admit they were right, slang just doesn't sound right in my voice. But in a way I am glad because I never grew up with a big head or thinking I was cool and it definitely shaped who I am today. I had my own group of awesome friends thankfully, but boy did I miss Brooklyn when I moved to the suburbs. I discovered fashion and thought that dressing by all the other kids I would be happy or fit in, but I didn't. And coming to college made my finally discover my fashion identity and personal style and I am so glad I did! Thank you for sharing your story! It was nice to read :] Man I wish I could bake too!

    http://kelformity.blogspot.com/

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    1. Oh gosh, I hated being called oreo. That definitely made an appearance in my childhood journals many a time. Glad you came to the other side as well. Kudos!

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  5. Wow, you are a beautiful writer:) And, I am white and was born in Portugal, came to America when I was 4 years old but i can see what you mean and i thank you for opening my eyes to it. You are brave and courageous to follow your heart and very inspiring. thank you:)

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    1. Ah thank you so much Paula! Means a lot. To get over these issues Portugal was where I went for my sabbatical, what a small world! :)

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  6. I am so sorry I am so late to comment on this blog post Lola - thank you so much for the link love! This post is truly inspiring, thank you for a great read <3

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    1. You're welcome Maja...but thank you too!

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