Alternate life threads. These three words struck a chord whose contemplative notes echoed throughout my mind as my eyes read them for the first time. Recently, another Michigan in Color (MiC) columnist wrote a reflective and soothing piece about a wholesome film and embracing averageness. In the piece, Allison crafted one inspirational sentence that would reverberate and linger inside my contemplative dome: “Because Evelyn has so many unpursued opportunities, left-behind hobbies and unfulfilled relationships, she has the most alternate life threads to embody and jump into multiple universes.”
I might have been — or continue to be — average in certain spaces, but I’ve never felt average because I’ve always felt out of place. In fact, I’ve always sought being normal or at least achieving a sense of normalcy. For example, I strived to do well in school, in part to obtain appraisal from others that would conceal my shame over my working-class background. I did not grow up in a nice house or with access to many resources, but maybe others would perceive me adequately if I could demonstrate that I was a curious, fast learner and a corny goofball at times.
Joining MiC during my final year at the University of Michigan was an alternate life thread I did not foresee as one I would fulfill. At no point before August 2021 did I ever anticipate the idea of writing for a student newspaper. But many portions of my past were also once alternate life threads that seemed (and still feel) surreal. My personal timeline features several pivotal moments where other alternate life threads would’ve led to alternate outcomes.
For example, my decision to transfer to the Ross School of Business after having already committed to another school was one nerve-wracking scenario where I was presented with and had to evaluate two significant choices within one week. Moreover, living outside of the New York Metropolitan Area for a few years was another alternate life thread that was once unfathomable to a former latchkey kid.
Even the seemingly-normal privilege of attending college was an alternate life thread. When I was a high school student, I remember being approached by a military recruiter at the mall. Given my limited familiarity with college, there was a point in time when I considered joining. Active duty enlistment is one frequent outcome amongst my hometown peers with similar backgrounds as me, and I had yet to learn about need-based financial aid and the overall college application process. There are numerous other smaller instances where the butterfly effect panned out.
One might be wondering: How did the alternate life thread of me writing for MiC arise?
During the first full school year, in the middle of the pandemic, I experienced extenuating circumstances which made virtual coursework excruciatingly difficult. Given that I was in a rut multiple times, I communicated my situation to my professors. I knew I had to express myself succinctly yet convey details that best illustrated my dire situation.
In a follow-up email, one teacher commented, “You are extremely articulate and a beautiful writer, and your words are a powerful medium through which you can convey your experiences.” Not long thereafter, during a Zoom call, the teacher reiterated their compliment and suggested that I look into writing within a publishing capacity. I can’t thank this teacher, mentor and friend enough for their encouragement and nudging me in this direction.
Despite their praise, I wasn’t sure if I was cut out to write for a student newspaper. Sure, I read Axios and Wall Street Journal from time to time, but I wasn’t familiar with writing from a publishing standpoint whatsoever. I can’t think of any family members — most of whom are blue-collar workers and Latino — who read the Opinion sections of major publications like the Washington Post (bleh).
My memories of how I learned about The Michigan Daily are vague, but sometime in August 2021, I eventually looked into which student publications were present at the University. Shortly thereafter, I began to browse the front page of The Daily and skim headlines and articles to get a general sense of The Daily’s content.
In one instance, there was a title that caught my eye under the “Michigan in Color” section: “White friend groups.” After accessing and reading the rest of Hugo’s articles off of his author page, I was inspired. I thought that if I could relate to him and his experiences, like struggling with the perceived validity of one’s Latino identity, and he could write these articles, then I could too! I continued to follow and read pieces from MiC and eventually applied to be a Columnist. I thought my application got canned a few days after submission, but eventually, I was notified and moved forward in the application process.
Gabrijela and Anamika, thank you for accepting me into this wonderful, precious space and offering me this platform. I’m not sure what you two saw in me. I thought both my application and interview were fine but not superb or good enough to stand out. I was worried that I wasn’t Latino enough or a stellar enough writer. Moreover, I was worried that I wasn’t the “right” person of Color, one that others might envision as ideal, palatable or interesting and worthy of praise.
Why I joined and wrote for MiC
So why did I write? Why did I divulge so much about myself? Why did I publish personal anecdotes for others to read?
My initial goal was to help increase first-generation college student visibility but in a different capacity. Rugged individualism and noble bootstrapper qualities are often touted in glowing profiles about upwardly-mobile trailblazers. I wanted to share the “less glamorous” and authentic feelings and experiences of being the first in one’s family to go to college in a gritty, candid manner.
Eventually, my goal shifted to expanding class consciousness in others through my writing by highlighting my working-class upbringing. Sometimes the limited or lack of awareness of working-class experiences in elite spheres, like our campus, can make individuals like myself feel invisible. Moreover, navigating esoteric, wealthy spaces like the University can be discombobulating as it sometimes feels like there are numerous unwritten edicts.
But class consciousness is difficult to obtain and express since one must skillfully decouple the influence of class from other salient forces. Writing about class is a delicate act and requires many literary scalpels to achieve. It can feel icky and crass to recognize and talk about. If there is class, then it disrupts the image of a rosy American egalitarian culture. Some prefer to look the other way, as it would disrupt their pristine worldview.
As a result, it’s never my intent to instill guilt or shame, as it is not in my nature to hurl diatribes — “Rossholes” are the only exception. Social class is intertwined with other systemic forces and is not within the realm of individual control. My intent is merely to point out and expedite the recognition of social class in others.
Ultimately, I hope that elevating class consciousness gives others a more holistic outlook of the world. Others have informed me that my writing helps them better understand their parents, their significant other and their friends who are also the first in their families to go to college. Each of my pieces thereby serves as another point of reference for others to understand where first-gens and working-class students come from in terms of general lived experiences.
I’m not sure where my writing capabilities come from. Maybe my writing prowess was bestowed upon me by the heavens since I’m a Gemini rising — I think. I just learned about astrology charts a few months ago, and Geminis supposedly make great writers and artists. Perhaps this is why G-Eazy always mentions that he’s a Gemini!
The most likely answer is that the themes, ideas and experiences I’ve written about have been incessantly bouncing inside my head like pinballs. I’ve harbored them for so many years that these thoughts became refined over time. A few pinballs are larger than others, while the rest are smaller but more numerous. The pinballs eventually melt, brewing into a potent concoction waiting to be poured into an alloy mold to form a literary piece.
Throughout the past year, sometimes I’d tell editors that it always feels like I’m rummaging through my mind, shoehorning extraneous items and rambling about topics whenever I write a piece. In other instances, out of curiosity, I’d ask columnists and editors if they kept a journal. I was surprised that some didn’t, though to be fair, I don’t really journal myself, at least not in the traditional daily-journal-entry manner.
In fact, my writing process is loosely structured and fluid. Sometimes, I can churn out a draft in one sitting. Most times, my writing process consists of jotting down singular words, sentence fragments and incomplete paragraphs. I scribble them down either on paper, in the Notes app on my phone or in various Google Docs.
Over time, I’ve accumulated disheveled piles of sticky notes and loose leaf papers, as well as digital folders that contain numerous rough-rough-drafts and disorganized “lists” of stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Sometimes, I revisit thoughts that I jotted down, and other times, I forget or don’t bother to filter through all the messy, incohesive and sporadic note clusters for potential gems.
Sometime around late March, I shared my first-gens and mental health piece to one friend. He subsequently read the rest of my published work and told me that my writing was fantastic. In fact, he believed it was so great that I should trim a considerable portion of my pieces by about a third to avoid being verbose. Although the metaphors and fancy words were crafted masterfully as well, the content by itself could stand alone.
Reflections on my evolving writing style and sense of self
Heuristics are essentially mental shortcuts. They link two or more entities and form an instant connection in our minds. For example, pop songs can evoke memories of a night out with friends or carefree summer days. As MiC editor Sarah Akaaboune eloquently examines and notes in one of her pieces, some malicious heuristics — like those from trauma — can become deeply embedded into one’s decision making and overall thought processes.
After publishing my recent piece about physical spaces, it hit me how ashamed I was of where I lived for more than a decade. My shame over the appearance of my shabby house and not inviting anyone over was emblematic of how I did not open myself up to others sooner.
A few months ago, I asked several friends when was the last time they cried. I was surprised at how recent and devastating the reasons that made them sob were. This brief check-in reinforced how we’re sometimes unaware of a friend’s moments of vulnerability.
I am guilty of this as well. I never told anyone about when I wept on my birthday after receiving a call from my mom during dinner with Dwight and Sylvia, two mentors who were also the first in their families to go to college. The anecdote only surfaced six months later through my Call Me Tavo piece.
Why didn’t I confide this to anyone at the time? Firstly, I was preoccupied with other matters and didn’t want to bother others, whether it be friends or a project team, about my personal life, especially if I was still able to get through the day and assignments just fine. Moreover, I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal compared to more pressing matters.
Whenever others describe my writing, one adjective typically surfaces: visceral. Most, if not all, of my pieces are visceral in nature, which is apparent in the personal anecdotes, metaphors and themes that I infuse throughout my writing. Needless to say, I’ve experienced many hardships whose insights and lessons have influenced my writing. As a result, I write about and reflect on matters that are infused with intense emotions.
This visceral writing might stem from knowing what it’s like to not feel seen. One can feel like a phantom on social media where posts, stories, data and interactions rapidly whisk away in front of you through your phone. Personally, sometimes I have felt like a phantom in the terracotta edifice of the Business School, a space that is teeming with upper and upper middle class students, a few of whom are “Rossholes.” Given the lack of socioeconomic and racial/ethnic diversity, the Business School can be an isolating space for working-class first-gens and/or underrepresented minority students.
When one feels truly alone, there are very few sources of comfort. Listening to music from one’s favorite artists is one source. Hobbies of any form are another. Art is also a possible source, and for some, that means reading or writing — including me.
Much like how there are an innumerable amount of written works in existence, there are thousands of people one encounters throughout life. Whenever people instantly click with and befriend someone they meet, contact information is exchanged to keep in touch, plans are arranged to link up again and conversations flow across different mediums — anything to keep the friendship vibrant. Similarly, people utilize bookmarks, crease pages and make notations to easily access a profound article or specific pages of a book.
During the darkest of times, sometimes written works are all that we can turn to for comfort. Sparks of creativity and inspiration emanate off the pages or digital screen and inside our minds whenever we revisit an inspirational passage. Void of any energy, love and hope, the embers from these sparks provide much needed warmth and serve as life support.
I know what it’s like to cling to a series of words, sentences or paragraphs. To sew them together into a fluffy blanket to snuggle and hold dearly. Pressed against your skin for months because it’s the only thing that connects with, touches and warms your psyche amidst desolation.
Enduring mental health struggles by oneself, like anxiety and depression, is brutal. Mental filters dissipate and release an overwhelming wave of thoughts and tears. This torrential flurry can cause one to get trapped and meander endlessly through catacombs in their mind.
It can be tempting to adopt a stoic G-Eazy-Me-Myself-and-I mentality approach. Self-editing can serve as a temporary band-aid, but I know that it can further suffocate one’s spirit and induce a state of unsettling stasis.
I have cried and stumbled and stifled myself many times over for one specific conclusion to finally sink in — I don’t have to be alone.
Moreover, I was never really alone. An amazing professor from the Business School once told me that every student he has seen over the years has gotten to where they are because they were loved and supported by family, friends and people along the way. Looking back, I have many more people rooting for me that I can trust than I realized.
At times, I questioned who I could trust and reciprocate affection to. My mental health struggles and working-class upbringing are integral to who I am. In the past, some people were indifferent or unreceptive when I shared these personal matters with them. Given that writing has also shaped and become a part of me, if others dismissed my writing, it would feel as though I am being rejected yet again.
Every time I’ve questioned whether to write something into existence out of fear that no one could relate, there is at least one editor, one friend or one reader that informs me it deeply resonated with them.
I didn’t expect anyone to relate to many of the experiences I wrote about. The experience of living in a dilapidated house whose kitchen teems with cockroaches. The experience of the alienating pursuit of upward mobility and the subsequent mental health challenges — like feeling perpetually out of place and stuck in a gray area on the basis of social class. The experience of having parents whose romantic love for one another was difficult to discern as they seldom expressed visible signs of affection toward each other. The experience of growing up with the embarrassment of free-and-reduced lunch and the fear of stigma over being perceived as poor by peers.
When my first few pieces were published, it was intimidating to be seen, since writing means showcasing one’s thought processes to the world. Fortunately, it has been liberating to know that others can relate and empathize with me. I think it’s fascinating to connect with others on a spiritual level as they read my pieces. Last semester, I clicked with and swiftly became friends with two peers that I could deeply relate to. After I sent them both my first-generation mental health piece, they told me that they spoke for hours about it with each other shortly thereafter.
In a way, writing enables me to untangle, unravel and salvage the barbed wires that remain from the scorched ruins of mental battlefields. From the ashes, I can repackage the remnants and convert them into something meaningful. As my heuristics have evolved, so too has my writing style.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I produced the pieces that I have. Some pieces I probably can’t write or replicate, even if I tried. At the point of time my prior pieces were written, I was a different person with different thoughts. My psyche has shifted and warped so frequently that my soul back then seems like someone else’s.
Lastly, the pandemic demonstrates that we can all be vessels of transmission. But we can also be vessels of hope and knowledge that assist and revitalize others. A handful of people have noted that my pieces tend to end on an optimistic note, as though there is a beaming ray of hope. I know that I have imparted at least some wisdom and positivity onto others.
Below are a few music and reading recommendations that have helped me ruminate, unpack and gain deeper insights and inspiration on a range of matters.
Although I tried my best to match and channel the energies of various artists and songs in my writings, words sometimes cannot achieve and instill what mesmerizing notes and vocals can: an immediate, concentrated sense of enlightenment, loss and other feelings. Below are several visceral, yet uplifting, tracks that I listened to as I wrote several of my pieces and additional artists include Avicii, Audien and 3LAU. Alison Wonderland especially slays!
- Alison Wonderland : Something Real, Loner, Fear of Dying, Forever
- ODESZA: Just A Memory, La Ciudad, FOUNDATIONS, Thin Floors And Tall Ceilings
One of my favorite authors is Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. After receiving a question during one virtual panel, she noted in her response that “You can be a good writer and you can also not have something to say and there are plenty of people who do that and they’re successful at it… I think it’s best when if you are a writer who has something to contribute.” Below are some of my favorite pieces by authors who explore elements of social class through raw personal anecdotes and perspectives.
- Being gay and poor at the University of Michigan is an isolating position to occupy
- Bus routes along the Washtenaw wealth gap
- Winter coats, rent payments and other thoughts from a First Gen student
- What it’s like being a poor student at a wealthy university
- Don’t forget about first-generation students
- The ‘Unskilled Labor’ Paradox: Reckoning with classism at the University
- Removing the silver spoon
- Exclusivity in Michigan’s food spending culture
- Bonus: The elitism of writing: A deconstruction
There are many people to thank throughout my brief writing endeavor.
I’d like to thank a few individuals who inspired me over the past year and became ardent supporters. They are teachers and mentors, but, most importantly, they are friends. Thank you Alaina, Lisa, Sylvia and Dwight, Adan, Greg, Taylor, Vijay, Jeff, Jeff, David, Ted, John and countless others!
There are too many people to thank within MiC. For example, there are two editors who inspired me to write about mental health. Their exuberance, humility and boldness to speak candidly about mental health inspired me to write about and capture my own struggles and weave them throughout my pieces.
Given the outsized role and influence of Managing Editors, thank you Gabrijela, Anamika, Jessica, Eliya, Anchal and Andy for being wonderful MEs and dispensing kernels of wisdom whenever I asked for insight from any of you. Your steadfast leadership and deep reservoirs of empathy and kindness are always appreciated in MiC.
Thanks to MiC, I have another favorite word: Slay!
Thank you, the reader — an amorphous entity! I asked several editors how often readers reach out and if they’ve ever received fan mail. Every time someone reached out to me, I was surprised at how much my pieces moved them and that people I didn’t know were fans of my writing.
Thank you to any friend that I’ve ever felt comfortable enough to send one of my pieces to for their input. Whether it was a terse appraisal or extensive paragraphs of feedback, I appreciated any form of response and those that rooted for me to keep writing!
Over the past few months, I’ve been a bit surprised at how many people have asked if I’ll continue to write in another capacity in a post-MiC future. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “no” — at least for the near-term.
There are several topics I’d like to write about in a perfect world free of constraints. But these are topics I’m not ready to write about yet — and perhaps never will be since some potential pieces are too painful to complete. Such writing can be exhausting and devour invaluable mental bandwidth.
My stint at The Daily was brief, like the fleeting presence of a ghost — the residual traces are ectoplasm in the form of my writing. Even though I don’t have any memories of certain experiences, like eating takeout in the newsroom, I will miss my time here. I will miss the ecstatic feeling of receiving the Google Drive notification about dozens of comments and edits left on a draft. I will miss socializing with the gregarious members of MiC.
Do I wish I had joined sooner? Although I already possessed some of the experiences, ideas and writing capabilities, I’d argue no. The pandemic was grim on many fronts, but it was the necessary anvil that forged my writing arsenal. In a utopian timeline? Of course! Yet, I am grateful for how my time at MiC has unfolded.
As I’ve reshaped some heuristics and severed others, I’ve probably altered others’ heuristics and expanded their repertoire of encountered archetypes and people.
Some are surprised when they learn I’m a business major, given my supposed sociology-public-policy-humanities vibes.
Some are surprised when they learn I’m from New Jersey, as they joke that they thought I was from California given my last name is Sacramento.
Some are surprised when they learn I’m Mexican and not Filipino or Indian. I personally prefer uncertainty over my ethnic identity, as it adds a subtle degree of ambiguity and opportunity to chat about with others as I get to know them.
Some are surprised when they learn that I own an Android phone. Much to the chagrin of others and myself, group chats are a hassle and I’m well aware that I have a green chat bubble!
Some are surprised when they learn my favorite genre of music is electronic dance music (EDM). I will always pick Avicii over Aventura (bachata)!
A few months ago, a friend I reached out to at one point messaged “You’re still fucking weird and awesome.” I concede that to most people, I’m probably an unusual person on at least one front. I’m not anyone special and don’t mind being average, though I still don’t know what normalcy means now or in my future. Who knows which alternate life threads are down the road.
I’ve accepted that my path will be just as unorthodox as my past — even the mundane portions. Although the days of overhearing Caso Cerrado and romantic telenovelas in my house are in the distant past, recently I’ve been bombarded with and flustered by the dreaded “TIENES UNA NOVIA?” question from relatives at quinceaneras and other family gatherings.
In Assassin’s Creed Revelations, there is one dramatic scene in which the digital realm that resides inside the Animus is disintegrating. Before one supporting character sacrifices himself, he blurts out to the protagonist, “What is a man but the sum of his memories? We are the stories we live, the tales we tell ourselves.” This quote highlights the importance of narratives, particularly how we frame the ones we’re each living.
Despite compliments from others, at times I rigidly viewed myself as unremarkable, inferior and disjointed from others. I was always stunned whenever others would describe me as easygoing, chill and cheerful since these remarks were in such stark contrast to my negative self-perceptions. The imposter syndrome, scarcity mindset and other self-loathing thoughts I fortified over the years: was I wrong?
The admission of being wrong can shatter and transform one’s outlook of their world. Like our mental frameworks and heuristics, the future chapters of our lives are malleable.
In order to construct this self-empowering narrative, sometimes it means letting go. Letting go of the past to escape negative thought loops. Letting go of pernicious heuristics so that we can reset what ruminates in our minds. Letting go to free up bandwidth — bandwidth that enables self-love to creep in, new people to enter our lives, new opportunities to arise and new outcomes to manifest.
We are all a moment apart from another alternate life thread.
Earlier, I noted how I frequently jot down my thoughts and have accumulated tons of fragments and ideas. Recently, I purged them from existence and discarded them all. Additionally, I mass-deleted all of my digital bookmarks. I don’t need to revisit these thoughts or articles anymore and can now draw inspiration from a clean slate.
Writing for MiC has been a gratifying journey.
I have loved creating written works for MiC and now consider writing a hobby of mine. Writing can be a vehicle that an author has full control over. Writing promotes structured thinking, deliberate inquisition and to meaningfully look inwards.
MiC provided a creative sandbox that I never knew I needed, which has proven to be very cathartic and formative. My pieces were imbued with my essence and each one I’ve published has lifted a weight off of me. Thanks to MiC, I no longer feel crippling hyper-awareness about social class stuck in my head.
Through my pieces, I am always here and seen, having been preserved as though I am in amber. My visceral tribulations, musings and meandering thoughts are ready to be excavated by future readers.
Through Michigan in Color, I have felt most seen, affirmed and understood by everyone this past year. Joining MiC is one alternate life thread I will always cherish.
MiC Columnist Gustavo Sacramento can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.