Saving While You’re Spending: Self-Care with Meredith Graves
by Fariha Roísín
Meredith Graves is constantly inspiring. She’s articulate to a pulse, persistently engaged with her diurnal observations. As an astute Virgo, she can give language to feelings that are so ephemeral, making thoughts tangible. Her ability to ascertain her exact feelings and then relay it poetically is magnetic. Her video on Stylelikeu was deeply affecting for many reasons — but primarily because she was able to dissect so much of what was causing her pain, which has/had been my singular pursuit, well, for a while now.
After this talk I considered a lot of things. Again, she left me thinking, feeling, searching for answers. There was one thing she said in particular that I’m still trying to grapple with: she said that she doesn’t care if she’s beautiful, because she doesn’t think she is. It struck a chord — if Meredith could say with such steadfastness that beauty didn’t matter, why was I so concerned with it? What was wrong with me that I was so obsessed with the idea of beauty, too concerned with mine, or my ‘lack of,’ sometimes? I’m still processing it, still coming to terms with it, almost everyday I’m engaging with what she said, and it keeps shifting. Did she say that? Did she mean this? This is her power: she makes you think.
There’s been an impulse in my mind since the interview to tell her: but you’re so beautiful! Which is whack because I’m aware that what I think about Meredith doesn’t matter. What matters is how Meredith thinks about Meredith — and how she navigates this world with that. Her addendum to the beauty point was that as a privileged person — someone who is cis, able-bodied, tall — she had to reconcile the truth that she felt ugly sometimes, and that was okay. That was her reality. And in order to be true she needed to accept the contradiction. Needless to say, I admire her completely.
What brings you joy?
Writing and music. I’ve been doing both of those things since I was five. Writing and language are the only two things I’ve ever been about: writing about music and making music about writing — reading scripts, learning how to read music; there’s always been this incredible link in my mind between sound and text. So when people come into my life and they want me to write, they want me to interview this person, at first I was so shy about it. I would think “Oh, they’re asking me because I’m in this hype band, I’m not actually very good.” And then I realized I had twenty-six years of practice, and maybe I could just once in a while say to myself, “Oh, you’re asking me to do this because you like what I do.”
Yeah, you’re good at it.
It’s hard for me to say that to myself. It’s very hard.
I think that’s more common amongst women. I was talking to a male friend last night about this and he was like, “No, that’s not true, there are obviously men who don’t like what they’re doing.” I respect that — I don’t necessarily think it’s true, or on the same level, especially because women are not given those resources for support as readily, or some in cases, ever, as men.
When people talk about gendered violence, men are very quick to say: “Oh well, there are facts that say this, that and the other thing happened.” But women always say: “No, it happened to me.” Men feel it in terms of a theoretical abstraction, whereas women see it as a practical everyday reality. I’m reminded everywhere I turn that I’m not supposed to be here, everywhere. Men have self-esteem issues, and kind of ‘feel it,’ and there might not be any direct proof. But people look at me and tell me I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t deal in a world of ifs and maybes. This actually happens to me all the time.
I once dated this guy that went to Africa and he came back from his trip and told me that he knew what it felt like to be a minority, and I was like, “Uh, sorry, what?” I feel like white men are constantly trying to understand what women, or minorities go through in a very theoretical way like it’s a puzzle that can be solved. Once they have the missing link that’s all it takes; they’re not sociopaths anymore! Or something.
They base their experiences by how they treat other people. Like being gawked at — “Oh I know how it feels like being a minority because I was gawked at!” What is the axiom then? The reason men are terrified of feminism as this sort of ideological matriarchy thing they’ve imagined is because they’re deathly afraid of us turning around and treating them the way they’ve treated us.
“I know what it feels like the be a minority, people looked at me weird.” Fuck off.
Now that we have that taken care of, what do you think of self-care?
I think it’s important, as in the acts of self-care are important. I also think what a lot of people have come to label self-care isn’t.
I’m going to employ a word that I’m trying to cut out of my vocabulary, for obvious reasons: I think that self-care is problematic. I think a lot of people designate a lot of things that are essential to self-care when they really rely on the denigration of the livelihood of others. I mean it’s like any capitalist exchange, it involves taking something away from someone else, and I don’t think people question that. I think practices that allow you to heal and retain balance in your life are very important but I think people forget how their particular practices affect their surroundings.
What are some examples of that?
When people go to get their nails done. When people mistreat their nail technicians. They go into spaces, for self-care, and criticize someone’s accents and ability to speak English. That shit. That’s what I’m talking about.
It is really interesting because what we’re trying to do with this self-care column is to do the opposite of that, I mean if you want to talk about nails — power to you, but it’s more than that. Self-care is much more complicated. Sara and I are trying to talk to women about their bodies, and themselves; their minds, in a transparent way.
I think about this a lot because there are people hurting others out there by doing it wrong. And I don’t want to seem morally superior — because God knows I’ve used alcohol and drugs and called it self-care — and that’s a grey area that I think is very interesting: self-medicating. Medication to meditate anxiety and depression can be a form of care, but for a lot of people, including myself, it can be very dangerous. So drinking and doing drugs can help me cope, and can sometimes feel like self-care because it puts off a problem, until I feel ready to deal with it. Is it really self-care if it hurts you?
Do you ever self-care with alcohol and drugs and feel like it is actually doing the thing that you need it to do?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m a very anxious person, especially on tour. If I’m about to go on stage in front of 5,000 people — then, yeah, let me tell you my complicated relationship with beer. When it comes down to it, in that moment, self-care for me is often doing the best I can do in the moment. To make it to the next moment..I don’t live the kind of life where I’m allowed a Saturday where I can take a long bath and read my books. I don’t have the kind of life where self-care means sleeping in. Sometimes for me it’s all about moving on to the next moment.
Then what do you do to self-care? For example, in your ordinary life, in your apartment in Bed-Stuy, what do you do for yourself?
When I’m home the biggest thing I can do for myself is eating. There’s this inextricable link between tour and home life, they play off one another. When I’m home I’m constantly thinking about the road, and when I’m on the road I’m constantly thinking about home — because I have to meditate what’s going on between. So for me, when I’m on tour, my eating is abysmal. I’m really wrapped up around food, but I can’t be picky about what I eat on tour. I have to eat what’s available to me. When I’m home, taking what money I have, going to the store and picking out exactly what I like, being able to prepare the food, knowing exactly what’s going into what I eat. Deciding what I do and don’t want. Making time to eat. Even little things like choosing when I eat, simply saying — “it is 10:30AM and I’m hungry.” Because when I’m in Portugal for at least six more hours, I have to wait. Or smoke cigarettes and try and stave off the hunger for a few more hours. It sucks. So when I’m here in Brooklyn, I live on the same block as a grocery store. If I went kale at 6:00pm, I can go down to the market and buy some. That’s immense to me. So, my self-care is choosing to do that.
I travel a lot. I travel for work. My mum lives in Australia and my dad lives in Abu Dhabi. Sometimes I’ll go see them. I went to see my mum this summer and when I came back it took me two weeks to recover, emotionally. I couldn’t see anyone or do anything. How do you deal with all this travelling back forth? How do you deal with constantly switching modes? Because I think you’re probably as sensitive as I am.
I’m probably the most sensitive person in the world. The way I dealt with it for the last year was never staying home for more than a week. I just stayed out. That worked for me for a minute.
A lot of self-care for me is mental. I wouldn’t say that I’m the kind of person that needs a physical activity to feel good; sometimes just sitting and thinking is huge for me. I will sit and ruminate and consider my options. Having time to think; thinking is a luxury. And you’d think seven hours in a van you’d do a lot of thinking, but you really don’t. You’re kind of exhausted, staring out the window, trying to play your Gameboy, doing nothing.
We decided we were going to stay on tour for a year to prevent fatigue. You make your contract, and you stick to it. It’s like being pregnant. You know what you’re getting into you, you have a time commitment, and at a point it will end. And things will change. Right now is the first time I’ve been in a period of change. I moved to New York the first time we had more than a week and a half off. I think the longest time we had off between tours was less than two weeks. I’d be home, or whatever home was, for less than two weeks — and then we’d leave again.
Do you feel tied to your home? Do you feel like you want to make a home that is a tangible sanctuary, or can you make a home wherever you go?
I can make a home wherever I go. When I was in college I moved around a lot. I think the total was I lived in thirteen different houses in five different cities in four years. And this is when I was in college, commuting to school. Then also: going to West Coast during summer. Getting grants to live in other cities. And then I started touring when I was 19. Around that time I realized that the life for me is one spent mostly on the road. I’ve never really been the kind of person that’s interested in settling down, so home has to be everywhere.
Do you think this is something that you’ve adapted to, or that’s just who you are?
Adaptation carries with it this idea of evolutionary advantage. I’ve never felt naturally good at. I love getting on stage and performing — it’s something that I’ve always done. Feeling like, “It’s natural” and “I’m naturally good at it” is different. It’s an extension of me, that doesn’t mean I’m great at it. Moving always has a harmful side — staying transient, not getting close to people, not committing to anything. But, I would argue that is a form of self-care — knowing what I need, and executing it. Nobody is missing out by not developing a relationship with me. Trust me. I’m a loner. I’m not good at relating to people. I take care of myself, anyone who really knows me, and I’d say I only have a handful of close friends, would know that if they don’t hear from me for two months that I’m okay. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I guess I’ve adapted and I’ve adopted practices to allow me to take care of myself and who I really am.
Adapting is important.
Getting my nails done doesn’t enrich my personhood. A big self-care practice in my life is learning to say no, or learning that just because I was invited doesn’t mean I have to go.
I think the more public your image becomes, the more people want to access you. I’ve experienced that too. I’m very social, but I’m also like you. I need about ninety to ninety-five percent alone time. And it’s a struggle for me because I don’t necessarily feel like I owe anyone an excuse, I don’t need to explain to people why I can’t write back, but that upsets people. It’s weird and flattering when people want to see you, meet you — I can’t say that I don’t like it — but it also means I’ve become much more protective of myself. I feel like you’re experiencing that on a very intense level.
I just got into social media. I made a Twitter when I moved to Brooklyn. I had deleted my Facebook for over a year before that. But I made a Twitter so I could socialize with a buffer. I would feel as if I was putting someone out if I called them up and said: “Hey, I just moved here, can you help me out?” But, I heavily censor myself, and I think that’s okay.
Why do you think you do that?
Because I see people embarrassing themselves on Twitter every single day and I absolutely refuse to become one of those people. When people go on drunk. Or when people go on after a breakup and they say things like, “I never thought you’d betray me like this.” And I’m like, “Dude.” There’s a reason I spend ninety percent of my time alone, and it’s because ninety percent of me is made up of those thoughts. So I filter myself. I try to keep it very positive. And I don’t think it’s deceptive, or dangerous. I guess I’m harping on ideas that are free and don’t rely on the labor of others when I’m talking about self-care. I think creating a space for yourself and saying “This is where I’ll do something positive” is very simple. I’m trying to have a place where I can exhibit positivity especially because there is this prevailing idea of me as someone that is very negative.
Does that bother you?
Yes, well, no — because the person that people are critiquing isn’t me. It’s what they think is me. So it doesn’t really bother me anymore, though it used to.
What are those opinions based on? Their past experiences with you?
It’s what people intuit from interviews. I would get interviewers calling me and the first thing out of their mouths would be: “I’ve heard of you and I just want you to know I won’t ask any stupid questions.”
Well, I actually think that’s kind of great. I think it’s brilliant that you can dictate what you expect from people. There’s that Nicki Minaj interview where she says, “If I had accepted pickle juice, I’d be still be drinking pickle juice right now.” And it’s a response to her being labelled a “bitch.” And she just goes off in the interview! She goes right in and says: “If a man is determined — he’s a boss, but if a woman is determined she’s a bitch.” And it’s just so beautiful. And it reminds me of what you’re saying.
Because if you ask for what you want, next time the interviewer won’t be a fucking asshole. And I think as women we’re not allowed to demand things. Kind of related, something that I’ve been doing for the last year is that when someone gives me a compliment I just say: “I know.” Actually, I was in a cafe in Montreal yesterday and the owner was talking to a customer. I overheard him talking about beautiful Montreal women and then he turned to me and — whilst still talking to the customer said, in French — “Like this woman is one of the most beautiful women in Montreal.” And I smiled and said, “Yes, I agree.” And he switched to English, dumbfounded, and asked me, “Did you understand what I said?” And I just smiled and said yes.
Immediately there’s this desire for men to take it away, like all of a sudden you’re not sacred anymore because you’re an arrogant woman. Which is apparently the worst thing you can be? As if, there’s no point in telling you that you’re beautiful because they won’t be getting any advantages if you know it for yourself already.
I’ve gone buck-wild with this idea, it’s kind of like a tick. It started off as an inside joke with an ex-boyfriend and now it’s become this thing that’s bigger than me where I won’t wait for someone to compliment me. I will make egregious, sweeping, unrealistic statements about myself in casual conversation with complete strangers. I’ve been working at a record store in Brooklyn, and it’s been really fun. One of my male colleagues will say, “Oh you filed all of these things.” My response will be: “And don’t forget — I’m also pretty.” I will load and shoot the fireworks myself. Or I’ll say, “Yes, in addition to being a genius I’m also friendly!”
I love this.
I love it too because it’s funny! It entertains me.
I do the same thing. It started off with not wanting to wait for someone to compliment me. Or waiting to be validated by someone else. I have a mother who’s mentally ill, so she didn’t give me the skills to feel as if I was enough. She was incredibly abusive and blah blah. So I started relying on men, as clichéd as this is, to fill a void. But there was never any stability on my own. So, now, as I’m older, a way to counteract that is to compliment myself. And it’s so hilarious the way that men react to it. It makes them ill. They feel like they’re the only ones that are the bearers of compliments. But why do I have to thank someone for recognizing something that is inside of me?
I completely understand. For me, I think it’s a little different only because without six inches of makeup, I’m not actually very pretty. And that’s very transparent to a lot of people who know me. Being covered in tattoos, shaving my head, not being a size two, not dressing in a way that people find conventionally attractive — it’s something that I have had to come to terms with. We tell ourselves when we’re younger: if I exercise, if I use skin bleach, if I tan, if don’t eat — — we can be pretty. It is liberating to look at yourself in the mirror and to think: “I am not pretty, and that doesn’t matter.” It literally doesn’t matter. That’s why I’m not here. I’ll still be playing shows in Paris. I’ll still be able to write. I’ll still be able to be a good friend.
I’m reminded regularly that my actions on stage and my politics prohibit me from being pretty. So, if I want to go out into the world and be treated like a ‘pretty person’ I need to spend an hour on myself and use a hundred dollars of products all so an old woman will smile at me on the subway. And most days, I want to do that. It’s like being a superhero. It’s liberating to know that on a scale of 1 to 10 on a good day, maybe, you’re a four, and not letting that bother you. I’ve taught myself to be lovable in other ways, to me. It’s like diversifying my investments. You’ve got to know your worth from all sides. We live in a world where physical attractiveness is considered 90% of the pie and if you’re like me, you’ve got to understand the other ways you’re worth more. If I were terrified of being pretty I’d never go on stage.
I look at you and obviously I see a beautiful person. Our mutual friend told me about you and was like, “You have to meet Meredith, you two would get along.” Then I saw your interview on Stylelikeu and it floored me. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time of my life. I don’t want to dimiss you and your own feeling, but to me you are so beautiful and I guess I don’t understand how you could feel like this? Sorry if that makes me sound…
It’s important that I specify when I talk about this that I understand that it might make me sound like an absolute fucking weasel. I want to be honest about this, not being afraid to fuck up is important. Obviously people look at me and think: “Well, you’re perfectly fine looking!” I understand when I talk about my self-esteem that I’m not acknowledging the immense privileges that I have being cis, being white, being able-bodied, being relatively thin. When I talk about coming to terms with not being attractive a lot of it has to do with the industry that I’m a part of. It has to do with the times that I don’t get picked for fashion magazines because I’m a size 8, not a size 0. I don’t fit the clothes. My career would look a lot different if I was a sample size.
Well, can we then talk about your body? How do you reconcile certain things?
I’ve adopted a certain practice that I think is good for everyone. I would never posit that anything that I do universally great, but I do think this is awesome. I see more pictures of myself than I ever have before. I used to run away when I saw a camera, which developed into me being the person that held the camera. In so many photos I look awful, I’m sweating, my hands are flailing, I have three chins, but the practice I’ve adopted has been to look at yourself and not rate, score, or qualify it. Look at a picture and just say, “Oh, look it’s me!” You’re being a person, existing. I’ve cared more about one unflattering picture than I have about a performance. You don’t have to attach a value to it if you choose not to.
And I think eventually it morphs into respect for yourself. I have an obsession with looking in mirrors. It’s embarrassing. But these days I’ll look at myself and force myself to say: You’re beautiful. It’s about rewiring yourself. It’s about unlearning.
I admire you. I don’t think I could ever do that. I would feel like it’s a lie. But what I can do is look at myself and say: That’s me. For many years I shaved my head, I didn’t tweeze my eyebrows — it made me accept myself, it strengthened me. Getting up with a shaved head, no makeup, no bra and dirty pants and playing a show anyway taught me some stuff. The practice of looking at myself and saying, “It’s me,” doesn’t come with a side of, “And I look fat.” It doesn’t come with judgment. It just comes with: it’s me. I was sad yesterday, but I’m happy today. No feeling is permanent. My body is nothing if not temporary, but regardless it’s always me.
I know it’s sad. I know it’s weird. I know it’s strange to hear a person whose scope of existence is colored by the privileges they’ve been afforded based on the fact that they were born into the body they have, but I can exist in both of those realities. I can exist with the reality that my life has been made easier by my body but also that it’s been made exponentially harder. I have to take care of myself by giving weight to both.
Do you think you’ve ever felt as if you are beautiful?
I don’t care. I don’t think I care. I really don’t. I have to run errands, I don’t want to, I look like Jimmy Neutron right now, I’m bloated, but I have places to be. So I have to get on that train. You know what? I feel ugly today. I feel like a fucking bridge troll. But ugly isn’t going to stop me from going grocery shopping. Ugly is something that I experience for two minutes and then I’m like: “Well, my fucking eye is swollen shut, but I gotta go do an interview, gotta go record, gotta play guitar.” Ugly won’t stop me from playing guitar. Ugly is temporary. There’s being pretty. There’s being ugly. And then there’s just being. What really destroys me is when I don’t feel good enough intellectually. That’s what kills me. So I gotta work on that, too.
To come full circle, one that I really love doing, that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, is doing things that better me intellectually. That’s my go-to. I catch up on the news, I read poetry, I engage with my surroundings, that’s how I remind myself that I am bigger than the image-driven industry that I exist in. I’m sorry, I don’t know if this is any good.
There isn’t one-size-fits-all for everybody. Everything that I’ve been doing through writing is to create spaces for different women’s voices. What you want out of self-care, won’t be what I want out of self-care, but we don’t invalidate each other. We need more complicated ideas of what it means to be a woman, because I didn’t have that growing up. So all I want right now is space for women. It’s about making space.
I have felt the same way my whole fucking life. All I wanna do is make space! I feel like that’s why I run in circles on stage, I’m taking up as much as possible and I’m being as vocal as I want about my politics, or about everything, all the time. To the point that people find me annoying, pedantic and difficult. But if I clear all that space, people that don’t fucking belong won’t come in. So that means I can invite our fucking people in!
Exactly. Take from people who don’t do anything with their platforms.
I get into trouble for saying shit like that all the time, for saying that most of the bands right now are garbage. Or for saying that I don’t ever want to see another all male guitar band that talks about girls, drugs, and the beach.
But you have to keep doing it, right? I have been silenced for so long — because I speak too loudly, or because I’m too political, men feel like they have to publicly shame you for those things, especially ex-boyfriends.
My friend just told me a story about her ex-boyfriend and after she finished talking I just told her: “Drag Him.” Jenny Holzer has this great inflammatory essay where says, “I’ve been saving while you’ve been spending. Do you want to fall not ever not knowing who took you?” It’s the epitome of “Just you wait, motherfucker.” It’s that whole thing: “I’m coming for you. You thought you could get rid of me.” I have this ex-boyfriend and he was abusive. And I waited. And I saved. And I destroyed him.
That’s male privilege in a fucking nutshell. The audacity.
I spotlit a male journalist that hates me. He’s disgusting. I spotlit him by saying how should we, as a community respond when virulent, hateful misogynists are also raising daughters. I have complicated thoughts about him raising women.
I’ve been saving.
Fariha Roísín is a writer extraordinaire. Follow her rambunctious tweeting @fariharoisin.