exploring vulnerability and transparency one bath at a time

Ariel Atkins

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Date of Interview: Aug 21, 2018

Name: Ariel Atkins

Age: 26

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

How often do you bathe or shower?

I try to shower every day, but a lot of times it ends up every other day. I shower every other day, and then I take baths whenever I need to take a bath. Like, if I’m stressed out or if I just really feel like I need a self-care day. And then in this apartment, I can see the TV from the tub. So [laughter]. But most of the time I like to either read or listen to music. It’s a good place to think. I like the tub a lot. We used to take a lot of baths when I was kid so, whenever I meet people who are like, “Oh, I don’t like baths. They’re weird.” Like, “Y’all are weird.” Baths are the best thing in the world.

How does bathing now compare to when you were a kid?

I think other than when it was required when you were a kid and you didn’t want to take one– Did you ever do the thing where your mom’s like, “Go take a bath,” and then you just run the water for a long time and come out like, “I totally took a bath.” You just sit there. It would have been less work for you to just take the bath [laughter]. But instead, you like sit, and wait, and run water. Oh, it’s the dumbest thing. So, then it was a chore but, sometimes it was play. And that was fun. And now it’s like a moment that I can take to myself. And that’s really important because I don’t think I get a whole lot of those. So it’s really nice to be able to just take a bath and ignore everything else for a bit.

If you were an underwater creature, which one would you be?

Okay. This is really interesting because I read Wild Seed by Octavia Butler recently. I know. It’s so good. The character is Abu– No. That’s not her name. I cannot remember her name at the moment, and I’m so sorry. She becomes a dolphin and lives as a dolphin for a long time and talks about how intelligent they are and how loving they are, and this idea of family. And so I feel like I would probably be a dolphin if I was anything. Like constantly traveling and trying to take care of everybody else. Such is my life.

How does that manifest in your everyday life?

Just constantly checking in on people and being an activist. I think that’s one of the biggest things that brings me to being an activist is I feel like I can’t sit back and watch anything. Anything wrong that’s happening, I feel like, as an able-bodied person, as an intelligent person, that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Which feels really good, but also is very stressful. Very stressful. I’m passionate about Black Lives. I’m passionate about helping people, but mostly, in this moment, helping my people then all people. A lot of my focus is in decriminalizing Black Lives. Decriminalizing poor people. And then, hopefully, getting us to a point where we can fight poverty in stronger ways, clearer ways. So, like right now, the way that we think of poverty, I think, as a whole, as a country, is just like, “Oh, people are poor; people aren’t working hard enough,” as opposed to really looking at it for what it is, which is there would not be poverty if there wasn’t capitalism. And so people have to be poor in order for people to be incredibly wealthy. People have to be poorer in order for there to be these different levels of goals that you’re reaching for. There has to be a bottom, and it shouldn’t be that way, especially in a country and in a world where there’s so much wealth. And, of course, what also goes into that are what keeps capitalism going when you’ve got racist systems, such as policing, and, of course, the prison system, so pretty much the justice system as a whole. Everything that goes into– When you break it all down, it just all goes back to capitalism [laughter]. And so, I guess, in the end, I’m fighting capitalism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. You can’t have capitalism without poverty. You can’t have capitalism without anything that is oppressive to human beings.

When did activism become your way of life? Or has it always been your way of life?

No. Not always. It’s weird because most people say I’m old for an activist. Once you get to like 20, then everybody’s like, “You’re old for an activist,” because you start at like 15. But I did not have that experience, especially growing up, like I was not comfortable being black at all. I went to high school and middle school at a very white school. And then, just being black growing up, it’s very difficult because you’re constantly being told that you can’t be black, but you are black, and that your life is going to be harder because you are black, and then, you have to work 20 times harder, which was something that my parents hounded into us. Like, “You can’t just get good grades. You have to get great grades. You can’t just speak well. You have to speak eloquently. You have to be better because everyone is going to automatically look at you and see less.” And so it was very frustrating. So I was very uncomfortable being black. And, oh, this is going to be sappy. But it wasn’t until like three years ago, I was– like it had been leading up to this moment because watching the death of Trayvon Martin, Kalief Browder, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, just all these people just being murdered one after the other. And just feeling this increasing discomfort, and while at the same time while all of this is happening, I’m coming to terms with my blackness. And I’m able to say out loud that I’m not comfortable being black, and working through that and becoming very intentional about falling in love with myself and who I am and who I’m supposed to be. And then, one night I was watching the PBS documentary – it had just come out – Vanguard of the Revolution, which is the history of The Black Panther Party. And by the end I was just like– It was kind of like a spiritual experience. I don’t always like to say that, but it was because I just couldn’t stop crying; like my whole body was just crying. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Such a weird thing to say out loud. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And I was like, “This is why. This is it.” I’m moved by the story of Fred Hampton, somebody who had this idea of how you can bring everyone together, and how you can really build a movement, and this strong belief in everything you do should be for the people. And it’s like, “If you’re not doing it for the people, then why are you here? And if you can’t do it right now, there is no later.” Like, “Someday I’m going to do this, or someday I’m going to be involved.” And it’s like, right now, in this moment, I am able-bodied. I have a clear head. I have all this energy. This is what I should be doing and dedicating my life to. And so I was like, “Well, that’s it.” So I spent a year reading as many books as I could and researching. And then, suddenly, you get Trump elected. And I was like, “Well, I guess this year is cut short. I’m just going to have to jump right into it.” And then that was, “Here we are. Here we are.” Oh, God. Yeah.

What do you feel most accomplished with?

I think right now I feel most accomplished with my life. It’s been a very interesting year. So, I deal with depression. This is so much. I deal with depression, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital a few times. That year I decided– The morning after Trump was elected, I was in the emergency room — It was my second stint in a psych ward. So I got out and I was like, “Oh, well, I guess we got to do this now.” But it had been a rough 10 years. And so this last year– I had been on and off of meds for five years because nothing was working. And then I went and saw a new psychiatrist in October. No, November 1st because it was the day after Halloween. No, it was Halloween. I saw her on Halloween. That’s crazy. I saw my psychiatrist for the first time on Halloween. And she was like, “You have bipolar disorder, and we’re going to put you on a mood stabilizer.” And then after a few months, I finally felt the, I guess – what was it? – starting in February or March, I started feeling like a metal plate had been lifted off of my brain, and I had never seen anything so clear. I had never been able to– I started to get up for work again, which I thank God I have a great boss because I could not get to work before 11:00AM for a year. And she still kept me. She’s great. Oh, my God, she’s great. But I couldn’t get to work until like 11:00AM. First, I started getting to work at like 9:30AM. And then I started getting to work at 9:00AM. And then like 8:00AM and 7:00AM. So then I could focus on things. I could do more things at once. I wasn’t having as many breakdowns. And then I realized like, “Oh, I am gay.” I’m not just unhappy. I’m not broken. I am like 100% gay. And then, we should deal with this. And I started, unfortunately, seeing somebody while I was with my partner, my boyfriend at the time. I met someone and started really kind of falling. And I broke up with him, of course, maybe like a week later. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m so sorry.” Because I wasn’t really seeing them. I started talking to them. And I was like, “Okay. This is a big confirmation for me that this is not what I want.” And so I broke up with him, and then, in a month, found an apartment, moved out of that apartment, got into this apartment [laughter], and I’m living my best gay life [laughter], my best very gay life. So this, right now, my life feels like my biggest accomplishment, like being able to get to this point of being able to live alone, which is huge because I wasn’t allowed to do that for a long time. And then being able to be happy in a relationship, which was something that I haven’t been able to do for a long time, and be open about my sexuality. Also, to just be involved in activism and really realizing where my life is supposed to go for the first time. So, it’s been kind of big deal.

What are your thoughts on relationships? Platonic, familial, sexual and otherwise.

I think as long as they’re healthy [laughter], relationships can be really good, I mean are really good. I think that they are– I think it’s for, depending on the person– Like I’m non-monogamous, which is– because I couldn’t be that before. And now I get to be in a relationship where we are in agreement that we are ethically non-monogamous, which is great. And I feel like that works for me because of how I see people and can get to know people. And then, I feel like platonic relationships are really big because my best friends, my friends– I’ve had the same friends since college, and we’re all super close. And I don’t think I would be here without them. I feel like those are super important. I think those might be more important than romantic relationships, honestly, because your friends are always going to be there. The other people come and go. But I’ve had the same friends for almost 10 years now. So it’s like, they’re not going anywhere. They’re going to be here. Even if they piss me off, they’ll be here [laughter]. I guess, overall, I think relationships are super important.



Shalyn Welch


Date of Interview: Aug 20, 2018

Name: Shalyn Welch

Age: 24

Pronouns: She/Her and anything nice

How often do you bathe or shower?

Usually once every three days or so. Three days is like, “I got to take a shower now. I got to do that.”

How often would you like to shower?

Probably about that much. Yeah. If it’s a stressful day or week I might hop in the shower a few more times, but I’ve got really into not wasting water when possible. And I’m a pretty clean person, so I don’t really need to any more than that.

If you were an underwater creature, which one would you be?

Turtle, sea turtle. I’ve always actually felt super connected to turtles. I grew up in Florida, so I was swimming my whole life, on top of the fact that I don’t have much of an upper lip. People always told me I look like a turtle. I just kind of like their soft nature but hard demeanor, I guess [laughter]. More on that, maybe. I don’t know.

Do you identify with them because of their physical quality, or because of how they exist?

Kind of both, right? They glide through the water, they catch coasts, but that doesn’t really– things can still affect them, but they’re indestructible and cool, and are in charge of their own– I don’t know, they just seem in charge [laughter]. They can go in when they want. They can come out when they want. They can wade when they want. They can soar when they want. They can have families if they want to have families, but they can also be lone if they want to be lone. Yeah.

Being in charge of your life in that way, is that something that’s important to you?

Definitely. I’ve found, since moving to Chicago and doing my own thing, it’s important to understand that you can control that. You don’t have to give yourself to people all the time. You can take into yourself and take charge of yourself when that’s necessary. But you can also– you don’t have to do that too [laughter]. Yeah.

How is the learning process of figuring that out?

Boy. It’s been a lifelong thing [laughter]. It’s been a constant struggle of not knowing when to protect myself for when it’s good for me versus when I just feel like I always need to. I’m like a crab too [laughter], very hard shell. I spent a lot of my life on the flight-or-fight survival mode-esquen lifestyle, and I’ve lost out on a lot of getting close to people and push people away. I have protected myself from getting too vulnerable with even my family, everyone and moving here and doing everything on my own. I mean, it’s always been that way, but now I’m kind of in a city really far from lots of [laughter] important people. And I found that they can still affect you from afar, so it’s all about you embracing when you’re ready to be affected by other people, when you’re ready to affect other people in that way.

What are you passionate about?

Everything [laughter]. Art. I’m an artist, I’m an actor. Everything it’s art and everything is alive. And I found a lot of passion in that, learning from other people. I’m super passionate about learning from other people, listening to other people. Music. The way people express themselves authentically through art and find themselves, and in certain moments of, I don’t know, glitter and absolution [laughter], people just come alive. And I am passionate about those moments when I can see people who are alive and doing their thing totally unapologetically, and yeah.

When did you first realize how much art affected you?

Super young. Super young. I started with physical art and drawing. I was super into drawing. I was kind of a lone wolf as a kid, I was weird [laughter]. So I would just draw everything I saw and people I saw. And I would after school just sit in my house and draw everything I saw. Which, I guess I started realizing how much other things were important to me and how they were a part of my learning process with who I am as a person in this world. Then I started– I mean, early on, I listened to music– I mean, more times when I was listening to my head, I just always had music on. My CD player was my shit [laughter]. Avril Lavigne’s- Let Go played on repeat until it scratched, and I still listen to it [laughter]. Still have it. Yeah. And it was never-ending from there. Did it in high school, found my way to college, did it in college [laughter], and I’ve just never stopped doing it.

The way that you talk about your involvement with others. What are your thoughts on relationships with outside people and within yourself?

It’s always back to the turtle [laughter]. The last few years, I really developed strong social anxiety, which is odd because most people tell me I’m very charismatic, and my best friends would say that it’s so shocking that I have such strong social anxiety [laughter]. Even talking about it makes me nervous. I struggled for a long time just talking with people I didn’t know, even though I knew that was something I needed to do, I loved it so much, I loved hearing about people and learning from them, but anytime the questions came back to me, my voice would start to shake and I’d find a way out. And that was it for a while. And then I started therapy [laughter]. And I’m in a business that makes me talk to other people, and I got sick of being scared, so I really just dove head first into getting to know people and letting people get to know me in reverse. And I’ve really garnered some really fantastic friendships that have changed my life [laughter], which is so great because I really struggle with my familial relationships. They’re not the best [laughter]. My romantic relationships are really difficult [laughter]. One year’s usually my cap [laughter]. I am working on them in a grand scheme of things. I’m very comfortable as a lone wolf and I often joke about that, but I get really– I struggle with depression, so I have to be around other people because they would bring me joy. Yeah.

What do you feel most accomplished with?

It’s hard not to say today. Every day that I wake up and– I’m relatively– been 100% self-sufficient since I was like– we’ll say like 95% self-sufficient from starting age 16 or so, through now I’m totally in 100. And I’ve looked back on that and, I don’t know, for a while I didn’t really see it. I was like, “Whatever. Everyone has to grow up and do their thing. And if you want things to happen, you got to make it yourself.” And now I’m like, “No, no, no [laughter]. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have other people in your life and they help you too.” And I’m just so proud of the fact that I’ve gotten myself to this point where I can accept other people and myself more than I have. And I’ve done a lot. I’ve put myself through college, I got myself here, I’ve been employed as an actor a few times relatively graciously, and other things to be proud of. And for so long I’ve struggled with recognizing that those are things to be proud of. And I’m finally there [laughter]. It’s great.




Date of Interview: Aug 16, 2018

Name: David

Age: 24

Pronouns: He/Him

How often do you bathe or shower?

I shower almost once a day, usually once a day. I very rarely take baths. I used to a lot, but I don’t set aside the time for that anymore, so this is nice.

If you were an underwater creature, mythical or real, which would you be?

I think I would want to be an octopus because they’re cool, and they can change their skin into looking like anything. They got all those arms, and they’re really smart. But I don’t know that I would actually be an octopus. I feel like I’d be one of those– not a clown fish but one of those fish that’s in a busy coral reef that’s and ducking in and out of crevices, and algae, and seaweed.

What are you passionate about?

A lot of things. I really have a passion for cities and how people interact with them and how they feel home in a space, whether that’s the home that they live in, or their neighborhood, or their city, and just how to build thriving communities. I feel like that’s a lot of hard work. And even outside my job, I try to cultivate that or look for it.

How do you cultivate that outside of work?

I mean, mostly just networking. Not in a professional way, I just really enjoy getting people I know to meet each other and creating spaces where people enjoy themselves and bounce off each other,. Yeah, stuff like that. And just being around my neighborhood as much as I can. I’m a sucker for good coffee shops, but I know that’s not everyone’s thing. I was actually thinking yesterday that I really wish there was a space like bars, especially fancy cocktail bars — to take that and just strip away the alcohol and just create a really pleasant space to be in, nice lighting, and good acoustics, and all of that. Because I feel like so much exciting stuff happens in spaces like that, but it’s, a lot of times, it’s just about drinking, and that’s not always what you want to do. So I wish there were more third spaces like that that were just nice to be present in.

It sounds like you’re very passionate about physical space. When did that passion start?

I used to want to be an architect really badly. I still have the glasses and the handwriting. I still write in that ‘blueprint’ all caps. I practiced that over and over again when I was in, I want to say, second grade. And I would always draw buildings and houses. There was this house that I passed on the school bus that I loved, and I would draw it over and over again, and would change it, and morph it to how I wanted it to be. But I always imagined not just the building, but the family that I would have in it, because I think that was like– it was almost less about the physical space than the people in it, actually, because I think I didn’t have that kind of space growing up too much, so I really wanted to cultivate that for myself.

What is something you feel accomplished with?

You can put long sigh in brackets in the transcript, if you want. Something I feel accomplished with? I mean, I guess on that theme, it is really nice to walk down the street and not only know people, but know their story and actually have a real rapport with so many people around me. So I think, literally, that community that I’ve cultivated is something I am really proud of, and the ways that has led to opportunities, not just for myself, but for a whole bunch of other people, of mutual support and mutual aid. And just even people popping over to each other’s houses when they’re feeling shitty. That kind of thing.

What are your thoughts on relationships? Platonically, familial, sexualy, and otherwise.

I really believe in almost that idea of choosing your family. I think that’s super important. And so I think, for me, a lot of my friendships bleed over into familial relationships. I’m trying to be more cognizant of when that means that I’m putting too much emotional work on other people, and so I always try to make sure that it’s a mutual exchange. But I think I only recently recognized that about myself, that I seek out really close, familial connections with a lot of people. What I really love is walking into a space and having it be so full of life, of not just friends, but people you feel really closely connected with. And I guess that’s really hard in your 20s or your 30s, as people are coming and going all the time. So for a while, I was very paranoid about the status quo ever being disrupted, so it’s something I’ve had to just grow a little more comfortable with.

What about your relationship with yourself?

It’s been getting a lot better. I’m excited about spending more time with myself, which is a new feeling. And there are days where I’m just like, oh, I’m so excited to just go home and write, or read, or just cook a big meal just for myself. And I don’t know, dance around the living room like an idiot, and just be happy in my own skin, and not have to seek validation from other people. And I think that’s made my other relationships a lot healthier.

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