Interview: Jennifer Sakarian
Can you start by telling the readers a little about yourself?
Being creative has brought me comfort throughout my life, it has always felt like it was something that I was meant to do. I remember drawing album covers on the weekends spent at my dad’s house. We would watch cool movies like The Fifth Element and Demolition Man and I would grab my sketchbook and draw wizardy albums from the Moody Blues. Drawing was like a meditation for me—my happy place and still is. I then went on to study printmaking for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I went to Detroit for graduate school at Wayne State University and was exposed to so much life and vibrancy—a city that breathes and is constantly changing. I loved the art scene there and showed my work as often as the opportunity arose. I love making images that are expressive and have stories to tell—stories that are truly my own but that others can relate to as well in some obscure way.
A big moment in my life that changed my perception of myself was my decision to leave the Midwest after graduate school and work at Yellowstone National Park as a housekeeper for 4 months. It was transformative in so many ways—I had gone somewhere I had never dreamed of going and met people from all walks of life on the same path to discovery as I was. As a creative person inspiration and introspection was everywhere. Where else can you see a bison, mother elk and calf or Grizzly bear crossing the same path that you walk to work? I was in an experience of true awe at the world and was entering a period of personal transformation. I haven’t been able to shake this feeling since Yellowstone—thus my true love for nature had continued to evolve. The colors that you see in Yellowstone are enough to send one to tears. Gazing at the Grand Prismatic are like nothing else found in the natural world—let alone Michigan.
My husband Artur is a huge influence on my development as a person. He has shown me the true beauty of the world through a positive mindset and to relish in the slowness of a sunset. I write his love poems as often as I can.
Your new book I'm Okay, Okay is poetry mixed with intense and beautiful drawings. Can you tell me what inspired the book and its name?
I’m okay, okay is a collection of emotions, research, and personal experience. Reflecting, to understand me in this place and time, and hopefully placing a mirror back to you, the reader. My writing, much like my visual art, works as a guttural response to let things go, to let them live in the beautiful confusion of collective experience. My aim is to peel back the layers of skin that I’ve worn so proudly over the years. The same skin that broke apart when I decided to open my heart on this journey of self-acceptance. I have decided to title this book, I’m Okay, Okay, because it references a question, we rarely ask…
Are you okay?
With life’s dizzying spells and pendulum shifting orchestration at work; it’s something we need to linger on and take time to address. Not just for our own happiness but for the wellbeing of everything around us, our loved ones, the people we interact with or don’t, and the flora and fauna that make the complexity of our natural world. Many of the poems included place an observational bow of admiration to nature as it is a place where I find true comfort and joy. We are all part of this interconnected web of life and need reminders of its omnipresence and true vitality; to look deeper into the miracle that is the orchestration of life, of all things great and small that took millennia to create. I truly believe that we need to place more value on our planet so it can be a safe haven for generations to come.
What are you hoping your readers take away from this book?
I am hoping this book offers a chance to do some mental pruning for my readers.
When was the last time you looked deeply into the mirror and asked yourself,
"Are you okay?"
Through both image and written word, this book is a meditation on that exact question. The question that initiates self-care and understanding of one’s self in space and time. A question Jennifer wants you to ask yourself.
“Are you okay?”
And once you feel good about yourself, you should look around and start asking the people, places and things around you. Make small observations, notice the good, bad and the beautiful. How can they become better? How can we become better? This book places emphasis on the natural world as it is the ultimate creator and place of comfort for the author. It is a place we can all improve our relationships with if we take the time, energy and effort to ask what it needs from us and consider what we can change and/or provide for it.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing this book?
I learned that the writing process is integral to my well being and that I have a lot to say to anyone who might have the time to listen.
Do you have any advice for other poets or writers?
I would say do what feels right, you and your work will change in so many ways throughout your life. I can’t even bare to look at journals from my teens because they are so angsty and sad. I am proud of the woman I have become, and I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. I heard a quote where someone was asked, what would you tell your 20 year old self? and she responded, “This too shall pass.” I always tell myself this in my seemingly darkest hour.
You have to remember that even if no one listens to the words you write or you don’t get the praise you feel you deserve—never stop making and being yourself. Don’t define your success by Instagram likes or facebook thumbs up. You are so much more than that. Take time away from your phone and plug into yourself, nature, real people in the world. Those small things you do for yourself are helping you to evolve into a more fully conscious person. Someone who is giving back to humanity through their self-expression—what is better than that?
We are never really done growing up. What do you hope to do in the future?
I have always been a dreamer, so my list is limitless. I dream of having my work reach all corners of the world—both visual artwork and through my poetry and short stories.
I also hope to do some writer in residencies at different national parks to have full uninterrupted time to write.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I am a list person so that usually helps. I love seeing a new day start. I love the way the light comes into my house and nurtures my plants. I have been getting a lot into homesteading etc. so that has been a lot of fun to make my own medicinal potions from the “weeds” in my back yard. I observe nature through various lenses. I am a big runner too and actually a lot my poetry happens while I am running—it’s always a challenge to remember it when I come back home to a computer or pad of paper.
I have been learning a lot about my local land so the runs are getting more challenging. I stop more frequently to listen to bird song and pick a wild leaf so I can identify it. It all sounds silly but those are the things that bring me true joy in my life.
Otherwise, it’s taking time to get into my writing or my visual work—I see them as interchangeable. The poetry is reminiscent of visual work and vice versa. They are symbiotic.
Do you have advice for girls growing up today?
I wish someone would have told me the following,
You are enough
You are beautiful regardless of your appearance
Respect yourself + your body
You are neither above nor below no one
Always be yourself
Be warm light that spreads
At thirty-one, these are my personal mantras. I had struggled a lot with negative mind chatter which resulted in low confidence growing up and it has truly affected the person I am today. I am just now learning how to be confident and how to love the skin that surrounds my bones. I stand in solidarity with anyone else who has these issues. May we all continue to pass our love around to one another—withholding judgement and lifting one another to our highest selves.
Do you have any female figures that you look up to? (real or fiction)
I look up to Oprah Winfrey and Krista Tippet for their ability to influence the consciousness of multiple generations especially through their podcasts (Super Soul and On Being). If you haven’t—check it out. ‘The Curiosity-Driven Life” by Elizabeth Gilbert resonates strongly with me. She talks about what she dubs the flight of the hummingbird—for those out there in the world who get joy from doing so many different things and the validity of those people in society.
I also really admire the poetry of Sharon Olds who is fearless in her writing, touching on subject matter that is deeply personal from female sexuality to being a witness to her mother’s death. She evokes so many emotions through her work it’s so powerful. I hope to do the same with my work.
Why do you think it is important to tell our stories?
Our stories are the tapestry that is the human experience. All of us our special and we have all have a story to tell. If we never told our stories for fear of failure-what is the point of it all?
What is something in life that you are most proud of?
Even though it's hard to say out loud, I am most proud of myself. I feel that I have died every day I have been alive and breathing. Every day a new version of me spills out into the earth. I hope to continue to grow and become the person I was meant to be.
Do you have a favorite:
This is a very hard question for me, 2018 + 2019 have been the years of reading for me. If I had to pick from this year alone, it would be a close tie between Forest Bathing: How Tress Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
More and more electronic music because of my beautiful warm-hearted husband. It tends to keep me in the present moment instead of reliving the past. Listening to Ben Bohmer’s Ground Control right now.
Please try and do the kindest thing
I feel like this is from Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild but am uncertain.
What is your life motto?
Be warm light that spreads, I saw this on a Bright Eyes CD many years ago, it was a quote by a woman who was from Toledo, Ohio—the same city I was born. Listening to Conor Oberst spill his heart out with awkward guitar stretches was my first insight into emotional intelligence. I try to remind myself of this daily.