Topic: Please submit a 'visual poem', in a style of your choosing, on the theme of overcoming a personal challenge.
Statement from 1800wheelchair
1800wheelchair is very proud to announce the winner of our Spring/Summer 2015 scholarship contest. Well over, 250 entries. This one stood apart for its arresting visuals and compelling story.
Winning Submission: Personal Statement
My personal challenge is regaining the knowledge of who I am and staying true to that person. I am not claiming to be ignorant of my favorite color, ice-cream flavor, or book; rather, I am referring to the deeper (and perhaps more important) part of myself. Despite multiple attempts, I have failed to explain what I’m talking about in one or two sentences, let alone put a name to the part of myself that I’m talking about. My current challenge is a result of choices I have made throughout my life, so I will explain my life in context of my challenge and hope that you understand.
For the majority of my life I have subdued my true personality in order to match my environment. As a child of the military community, I have had to adapt to six different schools (including Japanese public school, an international school, and American schools on military bases), three different countries, and three different continents. As a result, I learned that the quickest way to become part of a new community was to act like the people in that community. By acting the same, my classification as a new-person disappeared quickly. This “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”-type mentality helped me make friends and avoid rejection. However, that mentality was far from healthy. I think it is normal for a person to adapt that mentality while they transition into a new environment. But I also think that, as the person begins to feel comfortable in the new environment, they begin to reveal their true self. I didn’t.
My first major transition occurred when I was seven years old. My mom teaches for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools and in December of my first grade year, her job moved us from Iowa to Japan. Living in Japan was a unique experience. I became fluent in the Japanese language and culture by attending Japanese school from first grade through eighth grade, and (before I moved to an American school) I even identified more as Japanese than I did American. However, despite the fact that I felt completely amalgamated with the Japanese culture, I was never accepted by my peers – with my practically-florescent skin, curly red hair and blue eyes I was always too different to be a part of the homogeneous Japanese community. Still, I fought my differentiation with all my effort, doing every possible thing to fit in. I straightened my hair, wore the right socks, and even starved myself to match the Japanese standard of thin. I concealed my true self– hiding it from both myself and others – because I was afraid of how different I really was.
At the end of 2011 my parents divorced and, in June of 2012, my siblings and I moved to Germany with my mother. We moved from a city setting (where we had lived for almost 9 years) to a country setting, from Japanese culture to German culture, from the Japanese language that we could speak to a language we didn’t know. We transitioned from a two parent home to a single parent home. When we moved, it was a great deal of change all at once, but my chameleon-like nature (that’s what my mom calls my “When in Rome” mentality) served me well; I made friends, I ‘belonged’. However, I still wasn’t happy because I was being the person that I knew people would like. It was only after I had my first boyfriend that I realized the importance of knowing myself and staying true to that person.
My first boyfriend had a very clear idea of what he wanted – much of which I was not comfortable with. To make a long story short, he pursued what he wanted. I ended up giving into him one time and have regretted it ever sense. I don’t blame him for pushing for what he wanted or for making me uncomfortable because I never spoke up. I never said “these are my lines” or “I don’t want to do that” because I was stuck in the mentality that I should do whatever it took to make people like me. In fact, even after I gave in, I didn’t break up with him for that same reason. Instead, I passive aggressively removed myself from him, hoping he would break up with me. Eventually, he did.
Until that relationship, I thought it was perfectly okay to live life changing to match different environments, people, and situations. I learned, however, that compromising, changing, or hiding yourself to meet the needs of others or to make them happy was not okay.
This poem is a reflection of the time that followed my break up, after I learned that lesson. After I realized I needed to be true to myself, I had to figure out who I actually was. When you live in the military community, you learn to be flexible. When you spend your life moving between schools, cultures, and countries, you learn to adapt. When you do those things without making a conscious effort to remember who you are, you begin to forget. I am not entirely sure if I forgot who I was, or if I became so uncomfortable with people knowing who I was that I suppressed myself to the point of being unconscious of who I actually was. Either way, my personal challenge is regaining the knowledge of who I am and staying true to that person.
The committee asked Hannah to speak about the figure in the drawing, here's what she said...
The figure in the drawing is an abstract representation of my struggle to understand and define who I am. While there are definitely aspects of the drawing that were precise, concrete choices (such as the colors used) intended to relate the image to the poem, the majority of my artistic decisions were made in an emotional context. I wanted the drawing to expresses how the topic of my poem made me feel, rather than directly conveying the topic itself. I felt that the figure I drew expressed a lot of what I was feeling while writing the poem and analyzing myself, and I hoped it would convey those feelings to others as well. That being said, there are specific details of the figure that I very consciously chose to include. To start, the green clothing the figure is wearing directly correlates to the chameleon referenced in the poem. It is meant to be scaly like the skin of a chameleon (possessing the ability to change to match the environment), but in a removable form. My chameleon nature wasn't one that I was born with- it's removable, like a safety net or a cloak... Just like the green, scaled clothing the figure is wearing. The figure itself is meant to be as ambiguous (yet also as powerful) as possible, which is why monochromatic hues were used. In my poem, I describe my inner self as a "shape with no form" and this figure is meant to be to be that form.
I really enjoy art. It is one of the easiest ways for me to express myself, and that’s what this piece was about. The topic of my poem is one that I usually avoid discussing all together. It scares me how uncertain I am about myself, and it makes me really nervous that people will now know of my uncertainty. This piece, for me, expresses all of that – fear of not knowing myself, concern about how people will view me, the ambiguity of who I actually am, and the power that my uncertain identity has over me.