Date of the Interview: May 14, 2016
Name: Elise Whitaker
Location: Washington, DC
When do you feel the most powerful?
I’m kind of a control freak about specific things. Not about everything but projects I work on like, whenever I’m organizing, especially if I’m on a film set. I like to problem solve, so I guess I feel powerful at those moments. Especially when it’s something useful, to people or an endeavor, or to a project. It feels really good when I’m in those roles successfully.
When do you feel the least powerful?
Kind of loss of control, or especially if I have adopted a problem and I see what, to me, is a very clear path forward and if that isn’t being heard. I don’t have a super, I mean I think I’m right a lot, I’m not like super emotionally invested in being RIGHT, but it’s really important to me that I feel heard. SO if I feel as if my voice isn’t being heard or my voice isn’t being respected or acknowledged, then I feel very powerless.
What are you most passionate about?
Stories. People. Community. Everything that I’ve ever done or that I pursue, it’s always been about finding ways to connect people. Like when I was a kid I did a lot of theater and was a voracious reader and started out acting and started doing a lot of tech stuff and I really enjoy all of the pieces of that. I don’t think I’m an especially good writer, but I think I’m getting better at it and better at finding my voice within, which has been really nice. So yeah, like, reading, theater, film, and it’s all about getting stories out. Even within organizing, getting narratives out, it’s all about the people’s stories. Organizing is really important to me. I think that human connections are really important.
Do you think that where you grew up had an impact on this?
I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I don’t know if where I grew up did, but I think that some of the circumstances maybe did. Growing up, I always envied people who had some really big families or were super super close with their extended families. Or also felt what is that problematic white American thing of envying people who have really strong cultural identities within the american landscape. Because there were, what ever it was, big gatherings or big weddings, you know like, weekly or monthly get togethers with their whole extended families and I was really envious of that. My family, it was just my mom and my brother growing up and my mom was sick a lot so that could be really isolating and NOW a lot of my family lives closer within the same area. You know, within the Indianapolis area, and my mom is now pretty good at organizing get togethers for my aunts and uncles and cousins and everyone goes and brings all their kids. So I’m getting that now, but I didn’t as a kid and I think that I missed out on those connections that I wish I had. Support maybe, that I wish I had.
What are you most afraid of for yourself?
I don’t know… I have to think about it… Maybe loss or failure? I’m afraid of people feeling unsupported by me or like I’ve dropped the ball. Yeah, stuff like that.
What are you most afraid of for the world?
Apathy. And it’s something I’ve struggled with a lot because there are so many problems. Environmental stuff is just insane, and the world is going to end. We’re going to hell on a hand basket, and things are closing in on so many fronts. And in terms of just like the state of our country, and the world, and war, and racial injustice, and migrant refugee injustice. There are all these things. But what is so frustrating to me is that I feel as if I can see so many clear paths and I can see how to solve all of it, but like its frustrating to not be able to get people engaged around it. Like when I was home last week and I really appreciated this but one of my friends said, “That’s amazing, please, keep doing the stuff you’re doing so we can all stay at home and be lazy.” I appreciated the sentiment and everything, but my immediate thought was WHAT IF ALL OF US WEREN’T LAZY AND WE FIXED IT!, ya know? But it’s just like, the injustice of all of it too. I am really afraid of how disconnected people can be and what kind of psychopathology that has to manifest for people to feel okay. Living in and perpetuating the social ills that we have from whatever you want to call it; class, welfare, sexism, and racism… One of my exe’s always used to… So I used to have these really deep funks and he would always say, “Listen… Just try and remember that the world is in an empirically better place than it’s ever been. Every day it’s the best. Like, the best living conditions so far in history. Everybody is doing better than they ever have.” and my response always was, “THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.” We have the technology, we have the fucking information, we have the knowledge, and we should just make a world that’s GOOD. Good for everyone and we don’t. Better isn’t enough, you know?
What are five things you wish you could have told yourself when you were 15?
It gets really hard, and it gets better.
It’s okay when you don’t, but strive to love yourself, because you’re worth loving. And the more you can do it, the easier it is for other people to as well.
Don’t pay attention to any of the fucking magazines, or body image bullshit, or your mother, or anybody, who makes you feel any type of way about your body other than pure love. Because it’s not worth it, and it’s not worth feeling awful about all the time. You should also tell your 25 year old self that, umm… a lot.
Don’t waste time being afraid. Don’t let fear paralyze you or stop you. Which, I don’t think it did a ton of times, but you know, lean into it.
You don’t owe anything to anyone. Not time, or energy, or your body, or excuses, or explanations. Like you can just be unapologetically authentic. Get therapy sooner.
Do you have any thoughts you would like to add?
Interviews should be in bathtubs. I feel so relaxed. Art matters. No gods, no masters, no dads. Strive to be happy.