[Guest Post] art and things by Cami M. '23
zine making + what makes us, us + thank you cambridge + yomp
Hello hello! I am Alina S. (‘24). Briefly:
- I am a course 2A (mechanical engineering) with a focus on learning machines. I live in Next House.
- I am Vietnamese and Filipino and a first-gen immigrant on both sides. I’m from the East Bay of California.
- I share a birthday with Mitski (most important bullet point IMO).
You go here and it becomes abundantly clear that this is a tech school. Outside of classes, people are making video games from scratch, doing tech startups, competitively solving math problems while planking…01 this isn't even a joke it's the MathCounts Plank Tournament in the Next House Olympics it’s part of what makes things exhilarating or exhausting, depending on the day and just how enthusiastic you personally are about UI/UX or computational efficiency. Even still, there is – yes, truly! – an arts side of MIT, and for those who are so inclined, there are a billion ways to hold onto the parts of you that are not busy with eigenvalues and electron spectroscopy.
This summer, I had the chance to live in an apartment in Cambridge while I was doing research in a robotics lab on campus. Specifically, I lived right off of Mass Ave in a room overlooking Starlight Square: the arts and community hub that launched in Central Square in 2020. In the sticky heat, music, spoken word, and community discussion would drift through my open window almost every evening.
Living on my own for the first time and spending most of my day on research/self study, I began to realize that I needed something for me, outside of academics. I wasn’t talking to many people, sometimes going whole days without speaking. I was becoming a bit of a husk. During periods like that, I have learned that for me, one remedy is to create. I decided to pick up art again – specifically, I became fixated on mini-comics and zines: small, self published booklets on topics ranging from sci-fi to personal memoir. I picked up a sketchbook from an art store nearby, and after coming home and making dinner, I would spend time filling it up, trying to build the confidence to create something publishable. So many evenings were spent with ink staining my fingers and the buzz of people from the window below. Somehow, it was less lonely like that.
In late August, Starlight Square hosted the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, also known as MICE! During this weekend-long event, independent comic artists from around Massachusetts came to sell and trade their art and meet the rest of the community. Stepping into the square, you could feel the excitement in the air. Artists were set up side by side in tents as people mingled from one to the next. There were prints, zines, art anthologies, and everything in between. People stood at booths, trading tips on where to print, their favorite inks and paper, how they storyboard, stories of what it’s like to be a queer artist, a Black artist, a Filipino artist. Over both days, I ended up chatting with pretty much every artist who had a table. I loved every moment. One of the things that struck me most was just how many of the artists were doing things for fun. Were they artists full time, I would ask? Nope! they would laugh – they would do this after coming home, while their children were sleeping, when they were done with homework. What about me? they would ask. I did art, but I wasn’t an artist. They shook their heads. “You’re an artist if you consider yourself one,” someone insisted. “If art is part of your life, you’re an artist.”
A few of them urged me to consider the MICE Mini-Grant: each year, MICE will fund around 30 artists02 see this year's grant winners at https://www.micexpo.org/showcase/. to offset the printing costs of an original mini-comic or zine. I’m someone who will write poems in my free time or when there’s something on my mind, so I decided to create an illustrated collection of four of my poems with the themes of Asian American identity and the connections between generations. The fall semester was starting and my time was dwindling, but I managed to get together enough to apply for the grant and was ultimately chosen! Thus, Carried was born.
These poems are the types of things that I write first for myself in an attempt to make sense of things. They’re not necessarily from my point of view, but are more like a kaleidoscope of many stories and feelings and dreams and nightmares. I don’t like saying that I am a product of intergenerational trauma. I feel like that is intensely unfair to my mom, to the childhood that she and my dad worked so hard to let me have. At the same time, and talking to my other friends in parallel situations, the collective experiences of our families has had a nontrivial effect on the way that we navigate the world. This is the story of all of us – of our parents, of our grandparents, of our people. Carried is a snippet of that story – of the ways we were carried from place to place, of the things we carried with us and the things we left behind. That’s what it’s about to me, anyway – I think that art is a superposition of the artist’s viewpoint and the audience’s viewpoint that will form a unique story depending on who you are.
The zine is 16 pages and free to read at this Google Drive link. If you’re interested in a physical copy, Carried can also be purchased at my gumroad! Every copy is hand assembled and hand stitched and comes with a complementary serving of good vibes. Support your local zinester muah muah
This experience was amazing because it reminded me once again that attending MIT doesn’t happen in a vacuum – when you come to Cambridge, you have signed up to be One Of The People That Live Here,03 Honestly, through just living in Central Square I really got a chance to think about how we as MIT students engage or ignore the neighborhood we live in. I think it becomes easy to see Cambridge as the backdrop for My Awesome MIT Experience - that’s actually a shame. Given how much influence we ultimately wield, that mindset can be pretty detrimental: Who are we voting for? Where are we putting our start-ups, what are we buying out? Maybe those are thoughts for some other time. and that’s pretty neat! Through MICE and through the whole mini-grant process, I’ve been able to connect with a bunch of artists around the area and they have all been so supportive and wonderful.
All this goes to say, college (even college at Nerd School) is not just about grades and resume building and academics. This zine took me a while to make, from writing the poems to sketching, inking, scanning, printing, and assembly. At the same time, I would not have traded that time out for extra time studying for midterms or doing psets or running robot simulations. Am I going to be making the money of my life with my sales so that I can actually pay off my loans? No way. Am I going to be able to put this under Relevant Experience on my resume? Also no. Is this a talking point at UROP mixers? No. It is very possible that this was just a Cool Thing that now sits in my box of art on the shelf in my room – but if my work is something that someone can relate to, that can make someone feel seen, or even if it is just something that makes me feel like a complete human being, I think that it’s worth it. I feel like we spend a billion minutes working toward The Future and job and apartment and career but I think we can forget that we are alive right now, too. So why not live?
- this isn't even a joke it's the MathCounts Plank Tournament in the Next House Olympics back to text ↑
- see this year's grant winners at https://www.micexpo.org/showcase/. back to text ↑
- Honestly, through just living in Central Square I really got a chance to think about how we as MIT students engage or ignore the neighborhood we live in. I think it becomes easy to see Cambridge as the backdrop for My Awesome MIT Experience - that’s actually a shame. Given how much influence we ultimately wield, that mindset can be pretty detrimental: Who are we voting for? Where are we putting our start-ups, what are we buying out? Maybe those are thoughts for some other time. back to text ↑