A Conversation With ML

Posted by Leela Kiyawat on Jul 28, 2020
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Hi everyone! My name is Leela Kiyawat, and I am one of the ServiceSpace 2020 Summer interns. It's such an honor to do service work in the company of all of you amazing people - I'm so grateful I've found this wonderful group.

As you know, one of my projects this summer includes interviewing teenagers in my community about the various acts of kindness that they have either done or experienced this summer. I also wanted to hear, in a more general sense, their experience with grappling with the future in a world that has come to a pandemic-induced standstill. Generation Z is going to inherit a tumultuous world, and I want to show you all some of my incredible friends who are ready to attack any challenge that's been thrown at them. From online AP tests to lobbying for gun safety laws to the negative affects of performative activism, these interviews will cover it all! Last time, I spoke with Sarah Schecter, a teen artist, activist, and chef. Today, I present to you my interview with ML, my amazing friend (who preferred to be anonymous for this interview).

This is the transcript from our conversation on Monday, July 6th, 2020.

LEELA: What’s an act of kindness someone has done for you? How did it make you feel?

ML: My brothers cook for me. That makes me feel cared for.

LEELA: Aww, what do they cook?

ML: Well, like Gavri made dinner for everyone tonight. He made falafel, and then was it yesterday or the day before? Me and Eli made macaroni. A few days ago me and Eli made, um, burritos.

LEELA: That’s so sweet. Aww. Okay, next question. What’s some important lessons you’ve learned over the years?

ML: I’ve learned that...can you be more specific? Like lessons in what category?

LEELA: Okay, tell me a lesson you’ve learned about love.

ML: Ughh. Hmm. I’ve learned that eventually, if it’s a relationship that goes on and off, when it’s really over, you’ll know. Because you won’t miss them, if that makes sense. You won’t have a need to go back, you can see living forever without them. That’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean you should’ve done it sooner. It’ll all happen on its own time. No matter how many times you have to go back, and take a break, and go back, that’s okay. You’ll get through it eventually. Taking a break in a friendship or relationship isn’t a bad thing. You can always go back to that person, it’s a very healthy thing.

LEELA: That was very wise.

ML: Thanks. That was about [redacted], not [redacted], just so you know. I’m never going to leave [redacted].

LEELA: Okay, cool.

ML: Just in case you were hopeful.

LEELA: I was thinking it was, but I guess it wasn’t!

ML: Yeah no, some people don’t apply to that.

LEELA: So what’s a lesson that you’ve learned about -

ML: You’re wearing a hat inside!

LEELA: I always wear a hat inside! It’s cold in my room! Okay, what’s a lesson that you’ve learned about the future?

ML: I’m not Raven.

LEELA: Okay, then one you’ve learned about preparing, or working, for the future.

ML: I don’t do that!

LEELA: Okay, what’s a lesson that you’ve learned about maybe, okay, have you experienced any loss?

ML: Oh yeah, my grandma died.

LEELA: What?! Like recently?

ML: Yeah.

LEELA: Oh no, I’m so sorry.

ML: Thanks, thanks.

LEELA: Did you learn anything from reckoning with that loss?

ML: No. Well, I learned that it just wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never experienced loss before, but I don’t think this prepared me to experience loss either, because it was expected. And people say that no matter how expected it is, it’s still death, but no. I think being expecting made a very very big difference.

LEELA: Yeah, totally. What about a lesson that you’ve learned in friendship?

ML: People are fake. Hmm, what else have I learned about friendship? Well, I kinda covered it already, like it’s okay to take a break if they get to be too much. I’ve learned not to take things too seriously. Not everyone has to be forever, and if they are, not everything has to be super deep. You can be casual friends with a lot of people. Not everyone is going to be your best friend. The ones you really are good friends with, that bond is going to happen naturally. Like you are one of my closest friends, because it happened naturally and casually. But me and [redacted] were best friends, and had a “title” which put so much pressure on it. But me and my other friend were best friends long before we even used that term, but it feels so much more natural. When you don't take it too seriously, there’s room for it to happen naturally. And also, it’s not normal to have too many ups and downs. Yeah, you should be able to recover from a disagreement, but having ups and downs is not a “cute” thing. It’s not a normal thing. It’s not a healthy thing. It really shouldn’t be like that. When I was little, my mom used to tell me this thing.

LEELA: Yeah.

ML: You can imagine me as a little kid, I was very dramatic. Me and my elementary school friends, we would always get into it. And my mom would say, “oh, if you don’t argue with your friend, that’s not a real friend.” And that was so terrible to tell me, because that’s just not true at all. And I don’t know if it was just the girls in my elementary school, because once I got to [Oakland School for the Arts] I was like, oh, not everyone is like this. I felt like that stuff was so normal, but no. In a good friendship, we communicate with each other. Me and my friend, we communicate with each other, and she understands perfectly and clearly. There’s never any room for anything negative at all, because that’s not normal.

LEELA: Totally. So, how are you feeling about your future, now that the pandemic has hit?

ML: Eh. I didn’t care before, don’t really care now.

LEELA: Do you feel like all the outside stress is just too much sometimes?

ML: Uh huh!

LEELA: Hah. You responded so cheerily to that. Do you see yourself anywhere in ten years?

ML: Noooo. Well, living in a tent.

LEELA: Okay. You see yourself living in a tent in ten years.

ML: Yeah.

LEELA: What’s the outside scenery look like?

ML: It’s under a freeway, so that the rain doesn’t destroy our tent.

LEELA: Do you think that’ll be fun?

ML: No!

LEELA: Then why do you see yourself there in ten years!

ML: Cause I’m lazy!

LEELA: You’re really funny. What do you think your daily meals will be?

ML: I’m very bad at stealing, so maybe I’ll have a garden.

LEELA: Aw, that’s nice -

ML: Zucchini.

LEELA: You like Zucchini?

ML: No, but my brother’s been growing Zucchini so it seems easy to grow.

LEELA: That’s so cool that your brother is growing Zucchini.

ML: Yeah!

LEELA: Okay, well -

ML: Or probably like soup, you know?

LEELA: Oh, totally. So how do you feel about the general response to COVID in America?

ML: It’s so stupid! It’s very annoying, like why are [people] going to parties? First of all, they’re twenty years old. Like read a book. Second of all, just...that’s so gross. And then they look stupid wearing a mask at a party when your bodies are all so close to each other. What’s the point?

LEELA: What about government wise?

ML: Terrible. I mean, it’s just terrible, like, you know how I feel. I feel the way most people in our area, in our generation, feel. Why? It’s very, very frustrating.

LEELA: Totally. What are your thoughts on Gen Z, and our response to everything that’s happening around?

ML: I think everyone is super hypocritical about coronavirus. They try to criticize people by saying “don’t go out, this and that,” until they want to go out. And then it’s like, “oh, but I was being safe, and this and that.” Even I’ve done that, but not to the extreme of some people I see. I went on a hike with my friend, once. But yeah, a lot of people are hypocritical. I’ll see them posting [on social media], “Don’t go out.” And if you want to do something safe, that’s okay, but don’t go talking about everyone else. With social movements, I think our generation is relying too much on social media. Now they’ve decided that Yemen is “cool” to post about, and they’re posting petitions. What is a petition in a whole other country going to do for - like, am I missing something? I could be wrong, but from my common sense, I don’t see how a petition in a whole other country...how are online petitions going to help them? It’s going to take way more than a petition to solve Yemen. And that’s nothing new. And it’s definitely not the only country in that situation right now. What else? I mean, it’s fine. People care. In the [Black Lives Matter] protests going on right now, there’s a lot more allies than before, and I think that’s really good. The protests I’ve been to have been really welcoming.

LEELA: What do you think people should be doing instead of performative activism?

ML: Do whatever you feel is right, but if you’re going to be always posting about it, that says something. Also, people don’t check their facts when they post, or when they repost something. Make sure you do that.

LEELA: People are quick to take advantage of tragedies around them, especially to profit off them.

ML: And they just post anything. Someone posted saying that masks would bring your chances of getting COVID down a certain percentage, which is true, but where are you getting that percentage? Some masks are made out of different things, different filter levels. So people really just repost anything they see, they don’t think about it.

LEELA: Yeah. So you’re saying there’s a lot of misinformation being spread over social media, and a lot of performative activism.

ML: And it’s not necessarily misinformation, but it’s not checked. I think instead, people should be...I mean, protesting is good, petitions are good, donating is good. I’m not a young activist myself, and I would never claim to be, so I don’t really know the right way to go about things. I haven’t done my own research on effective ways to get change, but I’d trust someone who actually is very involved with activism. You have to get involved with the people in power. Go to the city meetings. Write letters. All that stuff.

LEELA: Yeah, I agree with you. My next question would be, what are some ways that we can think positively about the pandemic and its effects?

ML: My mom gets to work from home. She doesn’t have to take BART into the city everyday, she likes that. I’m saving money, because I’m not spending it that much, but then again, I’m making money either, so that’s not really positive. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

LEELA: Well, do you have any last thoughts about being a teenager during this time?

ML: It’s just hard because we don’t know when it’s going to end. My parents are old, so that’s worrisome. And it’s more frustrating now that people are starting to go out more, because when no one’s going out, it’s easy to stay home. When other people are, you see everyone else having fun and you want to go too, but you can’t. It’s not fair. I just want to have fun and go out, but I don’t know when this is going to be over. People are like, “the world is never going to be the same [after the pandemic],” but no. There’s some people who haven’t even changed in the meantime! It will be exactly the same. People are not as smart...we’re smart compared to animals, but we’re not as smart as we imagine.

(They both laugh)

LEELA: I think that’s a good place to end. I love those last words. Thank you so much.

ML: Thank you!

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Comments (2)

  • Audrey Lin wrote ...

    Thank you for this, Leela and ML! It was so fun to read your conversation, and get a little more insight into how the pandemic affects teens. That's such a great point about fact-checking social media posts. And I agree -- growing zucchini can be easy! :) It's great to learn from how ML and Gen-Z at large may be processing these uncertain times. Thank you for this lens!

  • Jerry wrote ...

    Your service is not going unheeded Leela! Thanks for inspiring this community and engaging with our next generation!