Jourdain Searles: Affirming Value Through Positive Excellence

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Jourdain Searles is a writer from Augusta, Georgia. In 2014, she moved to New York City to attend graduate school and further her writing career. In 2016, she graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with an MFA in Dramatic Writing. She has written for Paste Magazine, OFFTHARECORD, Affinity Magazine and is the creator of feminist film blog Fishnet Cinema. She is a lover of film, television, and theater. In addition to her writing, Jourdain co-hosts a weekly podcast (Bad Romance Podcast) and pursues stand-up comedy. Every month she hosts the stand-up show Madams of the Universe at QED Astoria.

I’m curious about your earliest memories of the arts, or writing specifically.

My grandmother taught me to read very early, so I was reading at five and became obsessed with words. When I was a kid, I wrote a book called “My Glasses and Me” that was never published.

Do you remember what kind of stuff you read early on?

I used to read a lot of book series about girls. I inhaled “Nancy Drew,” read every single “Little House on the Prairie” book. Lois Lowry’s known for “The Giver” and “Gathering Blue,” but she had this Anastasia series about a girl with big glasses who was a dork. I read a bunch of those.

When did you realize this was something you might be able to do professionally?

I was really into “Degrassi: The Next Generation” which aired on TeenNick. The TeenNick website had a whole fanfiction section. I would write stories there. That was fun for a while. Then I got my period and became obsessed with sex, so I started putting my writing on a message board for an R&B group that isn’t popular anymore.

Which one?

Pretty Ricky. They had a really active fansite for some reason. I don’t know what was wrong with all of us, but I wrote so many erotic stories for that site. I would show excerpts of the stories to my friends and they liked them.

I was really into literature so I took AP English classes. In my Junior year, my teacher was never really impressed with me, which always made me feel like shit. The one story that impressed her was a fictional piece about a girl who was bullied for the exact same reasons I was being bullied, except this girl beat the shit out of one of the bullies and had to go to alternative school. For some reason, everyone liked that story—even though it was an obvious revenge fantasy narrative.

You talk about privilege in your writing and that can be a hard topic to normalize. How do you deal with that for your writing?

You always have to check yourself. As much as my childhood was challenging, I went to a school that had opportunities. School put me in proximity to people who were way more well off than me.

Sometimes excellence as a person of color can feel isolating. It’s an interesting thing when you encounter people who see you as more white when they see your excellence.

There has been a lot of discourse recently on Twitter among Black writers about the Black girls in high school who mostly hung out with white people and didn’t really know their place, didn’t really feel close to their blackness. For me, checking my privilege means remembering the access to resources and encouragement that would not have been afforded to me, if not for those White teachers thinking, “Here’s a smart one.”

That can happen to you in any school because so much of education is set up that way. I had a friend in high school who wanted to take an AP class. When he went to the advisory to get into the class and they were like, “I don’t think you want to do that.” He said to me, “I felt like the adviser didn’t believe I could do the work because I’m a Black man that hadn’t shown ‘excellence,’ according to them.”

He was so angry. It’s moments like that when I question how much of my intelligence was assumed based on the way that I spoke, and how little that actually matters. He was a really smart dude and should have been treated better.

Where do you think you got the confidence to advocate for yourself?

I figured that out in college.

How so?

My confidence changed when I took a film class, and I was treated like my writing could actually go somewhere. I took a playwriting class, and they actually ended up performing my play in a one-act festival. It was around that time that I decided to minor in English and major in Communications with a focus on Film & Television. I met my mentor, who really encouraged me to pursue screenwriting and go to film school.

What was your concentration at NYU?

My undergrad thesis ended up being a television pilot, so I submitted that to [the Department of Dramatic Writing]. I also submitted a “Girls” spec. So, when I got there I mainly focused on television writing. Playwriting was my second love.

What has been the biggest challenge in self-care for you?

It was always hard because of my visual disability, which I’ve had my whole life. In many ways, moving to New York was the biggest self-care move that I could have done because I moved to a city where I could be visually impaired and live independently. I don’t have to rely on other people’s time and space. I can go out, live my life, go home, and do it all by myself. As a disabled person, that was huge. It was part of the reason why I chose to go to school here. I was very deliberate.

How would you rate accessibility in New York City?

For my blindness, it has worked out. There are things that I wish were better. I wish there were more crosswalks. There are many areas, especially in Brooklyn and Queens, where there are no crosswalks at all. It stresses me out because I can only see with one eye, so crossing the street is doubly stressful if there’s no crosswalk to make me feel safe.

I’d imagine it’s so much harder here for those who have physical mobility issues. There isn’t enough wheelchair accessibility in this city.

What else do you do to take care of yourself?

It was a huge self-care move to move this far away from my family. A lot of my writing at DDW was working through the guilt of leaving them.

I didn’t really write autobiographically early on, but when I got to NYU, I got way more explicit with writing directly about my life. This made my writing experience at DDW such a mess because I was constantly trying to work through family issues. It wasn’t what I went there for, but that’s what I ended up doing.

Now that I’m out of school, I stay creative. I keep myself on a schedule, like with my Bad Romance podcast. It’s something I can count on and rely on every week. My Patreon warms my heart and pays (some of) my bills and shows me that my work is actually worth something monetarily to people.

That’s been huge because I’ve had so much trouble with employment because of my eyes. I can’t do a lot of the same minimum wage work that most other people can. I can do the tasks, but I have to do them slowly, which leads to problems. It became so hurtful that for a while I was just doing Patreon because it’s the only job that didn’t make me feel like shit.

Twitter has actually been really helpful. I’ve met other filmmakers, critics, poets, and artists. Their support and encouragement has been really helpful.

I’m trying to say as much as I can before I mention my boyfriend. [Laughs]

[Laughs] You don’t want to be that person?

Another thing I’m into is keeping house, keeping things clean, keeping things organized.

It’s all about making your environment friendly to you.

Also, Rosé is wonderful.

[Laughs] And you have a supportive partner like Kyle.

Yes I do. I met him right after I graduated from DDW. I’m really thankful for that. I met him at just the right time.

If you saw someone struggling in a way that you related to, what would you say to that person?

When it comes to supporting each other it’s important to constantly affirm their value. You know what I do most of the time on Twitter with other writers? I read their work, comment, and tell them what I like. I almost never tell them what I don’t like. If someone is having a bad day, I’ll find something they wrote that I enjoyed, then tell them that I enjoyed it.

To show that that their voice matters.

When I’m feeling terrible, I just start supporting everyone else. People create content and put it out into the world, and a lot of the time you only hear when something is bad. It’s really important to tell people when they’re doing good work and that their work actually has skill behind it.

Artists suffer from so much comparison and yet we’re all so close and have to support each other at the same time.

I have to constantly remind myself what I love about work. I write about things because they touch my heart. I wrote about “Girls” because it touched my heart. I recently wrote about “Transparent” and how it should end, out of love. When I write about stuff, even when I’m being critical, I try to do it out of love. When I straight up detest something, I think it’s my worst work.

That’s really beautiful.

In a lot of ways, I’ve gotten less angry, and it really has to do with deciding where I want to put my energy. If someone has bad shit to say, a great thing to do is to not uplift it.

There’s been this conversation in the film critic community, in terms of film and television criticism. Why are we so obsessed with saying things are bad? We should be making sure that we uplift the art that is good because if we don’t, we could lose it.

Community” was a show that was constantly in danger of getting canceled and the rally around it is a great example of critics and viewers getting together and saying, this is something that we love and something that we want to continue. It makes me happy to know how much people like “The Good Place.” It warms my heart to know how much people like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” especially because the ratings for that are really low.

I think so many good films and shows get ignored when we don’t write about them because we’re so obsessed with talking about how things are bad. I struggle with that too.

I know what you mean. It can be costly to being a Debbie Downer all the time. There’s almost a cost on the person giving it a voice.

Yes!

Is there anything else that you want to impart onto fellow artists and writers?

Find a writing community that will support you and that you can support, but be willing and open to accept someone new into your community. The thing that made me feel the most welcome in the film criticism scene is just other film critics being nice to me, getting drinks with me and not making me feel like crap because I don’t really get paid to do it.

Us freelancers should be closer together.

[Laughs] So we can unionize.

I’m very pro-union. Freelancers get treated like shit and kill fees really aren’t enough.

 

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