How do you stay sparkly in a world of structure & sameness? I am honestly a little afraid of growth right now. I don’t want to grow up into a version of me made by/for society. How do I find a way to blossom outside of that? How do you stay sparkly as you grow up?
“Mari Andrew is so fucking booooring and inauthentic these days - it's unfortunate because she used to do some great work and now it’s just regurgitating the same saccharine pablum over and over.”
I read this comment in the back of a cab on my way home from a dinner party, the first result that popped up when I googled ‘Mari Andrew Reddit’ after a friend at the party reported that “There is a Reddit thread about everyone and everything you could possibly imagine.”
Everyone? I thought. Hmm…
And here it was: a whole thread with 143 comments devoted to ‘snark’ about my work on Instagram. My stomach sank the way it sank in middle school when I learned that the guy who asked me to the dance had done so on a dare, the way it sinks when a friend is upset with me.
I’m used to getting troll comments and hurtful direct messages, but the Reddit thread felt distinctly nauseating as it wasn’t directed toward me: It was a group of people talking about me behind my back, and these people were smart enough to use words like ‘pablum.’
I didn’t read more than a few comments for obvious reasons, but the ones I saw lodged in my brain. Allegations of my posts being “boring” (er, “booooring”) seemed like a waste of time to analyze; I know my writing isn’t exactly thrilling and the inner workings of my soul won’t have anyone on the edge of their seats, but…inauthentic? That one sent me spiraling.
I thought about how it was impossible to judge someone else’s authenticity: How could they possibly know what’s genuine to me and what isn’t?
That’s always true in any case, but it seemed particularly true in the case of someone like me who actually revealed so little of herself in public. I made a conscious decision years ago to never share what was actually going on in my life in real-time; I didn’t even want to post what I’d eaten for breakfast on instagram.
While there’s a lot of pressure on creators to promote a personality, I’ve always felt protective of Real Mari, sharing only details from Artist Mari. Whereas Real Mari lives in Real Time, Artist Mari takes inspiration from various memories, conversations, and scenes from Almodóvar movies to create work that reflects different times periods and perspectives, sometimes in one sentence.
It's VERY difficult to judge authenticity of someone who you really know nothing about, right? From a cursory skim of the comments in the thread, it seemed clear that they agreed that I USED to make authentic work, and NOW it was no longer authentic.
Authentic to who?, I wondered. How can they possibly know what’s authentic to me when they’ve never spent time with me, much less spent time in my brain?
After far too many hours of analysis, I realized that they were using “authenticity” the way I might use the word “consistent.” In their defense, ‘authenticity’ is such a ubiquitous word these days that it serves as a catch-all for all kinds of critique.
‘That’s inauthentic’ can mean anything from She’s too positive to I don’t like this. In the particular case of the Mari Snark Thread, it seemed that most of the crew were using ‘inauthentic’ to simply mean ‘different than it used to be’ or ‘different every day.’
They mentioned how I’m constantly contradicting myself to the point of gibberish, and how disingenuous it reads when I write about two distinct yearnings at once.
OHHH, I thought. Okay well that makes sense. Fair point, Redditors. Yep, my work got a lot more saccharine when I got a lot happier. Carry on.
My work has not been consistent. I’ve changed my style a few times; I change my mind a lot. I doubt, I struggle, I listen to a different opinion and then change my perspective. I’ve felt both tender and irritated on one subway ride, I’ve missed times of my life that were objectively kind of terrible, I’ve been jealous and resentful and compassionate and curious toward the same person at once. I’ve moved in and out of anxiety and elation and documented both. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that personal art would reflect these normal human complexities over years?
I’m not trying to be defensive here. I do put myself out there, after all, and I don’t blame anyone for their criticism. But your question, Lovely Reader, reminded me of this experience that I haven’t thought about in a while, because it got me thinking about what authenticity really is, and how we live it.
I know you’re really asking how to remain “sparkly,” and not asking me for a whole analysis on my creative output. And I love this question you asked, as I love the word! I have always been enchanted by sparkle, and I’m proud to say I have many positively SPARKLING people in my life, as bubbly and twinkling as my favorite champagne.
Here’s something that all of the sparkly people have in common: They allow themselves inconsistencies.
They are people who say, “I work at a traditional office, but I’m a different person when I leave the building.”
Or “I adore being a mother, and I long for independence.”
Or “Travel is a big part of who I am, and I really prefer to be at home these days.”
Or “I have empathy for someone I think is wrong.”
Their Spotify Wrapped might present a mix of blues, emo, Brahms, and Ukrainian folk ballads.
Their favorite films might span the Criterion Collection to Marvel blockbusters.
They don’t judge themselves for reading fluff, and they pick up books they may not agree with.
And they embrace overlapping, contracting, changing feelings that are free to grow and expand right along with them.
You ask how someone stays sparkly as they grow up. I agree that most children have a sparkle, and that flame tends to fade out as adulthood builds a structure. But I believe an adult only loses their sparkle when they lose their ability to hold multiple truths at once, or lose the multitudes of their personality.
“She talks about how being single is so empowering but she’s clearly obsessed with relationships,” I’ve read about myself. Sure, isn’t that how a human heart works? Wouldn’t my heart stop beating in its tracks if I believed it had to be absolutely certain?
Perhaps there was a time when I didn’t allow myself that overlap: I thought I had to be 100% empowered or 100% relationship-focused. I know there was a period in my early adulthood when I thought working at an office meant that I couldn’t be artistic. I’m sure that I’ve told myself lies about how I couldn’t hold too many beliefs at once because you have to be sure about your convictions.
I thought that people would only like my creative work if I stuck to one topic, one idea, one feeling. Now, clearly, according to at least 143 people, I’ve let that fear go.
What I want to write about changes as I change, and the most inauthentic thing I could do is try to please an abstract audience who I don’t even know. As I follow my interests, I lose some people. But if I don’t follow my interests, I lose myself.
There’s a line I love in a corny, fantastic Spanish breakup song: ‘Quién llenará de primaveras este enero?’ Who will fill this January with springtimes?
I love the line because it’s so sweet and brings to mind pink blossoms in a muted month, but I also love it because springtime is such a frustrating season and I like that the singer compares it to the romantic ideal. Springtime isn’t all blossoms and chirping; it’s also rain, grey mornings, and—depending on where you live—a huge blizzard right after a streak of warm days.
So it’s no wonder that we think of “springtime” as synonymous with youth, and we call a youthful old person a “spring chicken.” Young people are all over the place: emotional, contrary, experimental. Spring is a wild time, magical in its unpredictability.
Both our culture and Alejandro Sanz acknowledge that Springtime is an ideal: It has connotations of vibrancy and joy of life. But how does one maintain that springy sensibility through the confines of adulthood, through the boundaries of identity, through the drudgeries of entry-level work, and through the reality of responsibilities?
Inconsistency, my friend. Let it out.
Let it out like a tempestuous springtime day that is volatile one minute and docile the next. Let rain and sunshine coexist, and allow a 20-degree difference between two days in a row. You still have to pay your bills, but let the inner springtime rage.
In order to stay sparkly, celebrate being wrong. Get excited when your opinion flips. Embrace having two competing emotions at once. That means you’re a living thing and not a lampshade.
I’m 35 now (which, as someone who identifies as 11 years old, I cannot believe), and I’ve seen a lot of folks my age become smaller and smaller versions of themselves as they grow up. They stick to the same bands they loved at 16, they refuse to take new technology seriously, they grumble about neighborhood changes—not recognizing that they were part of a similar change, ten years ago.
As you express, they’re stuck in the limitations of structure and sameness, which society prizes at every turn. They say things like, “I can’t wear this—I’m a mom” or “I have a great life, so I can’t feel dissatisfied.” When people are younger, they let themselves poke around at their personality more: I can wear this! I’m allowed to feel what I want!
In preparation for writing this response to a question about how to maintain sparkle, I did some light research on gemstones (I suggest that everyone spend some time learning about gemstones to cleanse their mind after a Reddit binge). I learned that what makes a gemstone sparkle isn’t the cut of it on the outside, but light bouncing off different facets on the INSIDE of the gem.
So, even though you might feel less sparkly because you get a corporate job or you have to wear a uniform or you stay in one place, or any other external markers of “structure and sameness,” what keeps you sparkling is all those different facets on the inside. If you keep those alive by embracing all different sorts of feelings, yearnings, hopes and despairs, you will keep your sparkle. I promise.
As you embrace growth, people will probably call you inauthentic—to your face or behind your back. You might feel like this cartoon sometimes.
People are going to say “I never thought you’d be the kind of person who…” or “You used to be so much [adjective]-er.”
They might tell you who they think you are: “But you would never do something like…” or “You’re not the same person I knew in college.”
And if you make creative work, you may find indirect criticism about how you’ve failed to remain consistent for people who once liked you.
You might even question yourself: “Am I still me if I take this job? Am I the kind of person who lives in Milwaukee? I always thought I’d be a nurse, but here I am a stockbroker. I don’t like metal, yet here I am at a Metallica concert.”
You’re the only person who can answer the questions. Not your friends, not Instagram, not Redditors, not your aunt, not a quiz called "Which Golden Girl Are You?" that pronounces you a Rose when you identify as a Blanche.
Nobody can judge your authenticity but you. And, to stay fully, sparkling, vibrant YOU, you’re going to have to give yourself a lot of wiggle room as to who YOU are.
The human species never stops evolving and neither does the individual human spirit. This is our right: to be paradoxical, to shift our ways of being, to change the way we create, and to change what ‘being yourself’ means.
The inner glimmer is as complex as the sparkliest sapphire you’ve ever seen. Don’t deprive yourself of all those brilliant facets.