Skylar Mitchell on Black girlhood, navigating a quarter-life crisis, and her therapy journey
"I think that some people particularly view me as a very one dimensional version of a creative person... but they would be so wrong. I'm a very sensitive person. I'm a very emotional person."
*This month's profile is outlined below, but we have also attached the full recording of this interview in audio form above. We highly recommend you listen!
H: Tell us about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? All of the things.
I'm Skylar. I'm from Maryland. I’m a new, New Yorker and I'm going through a quarter-life crisis.
I wrote a lot in college- not expecting it to go anywhere, kind of just as a pastime journaling and the longer I stayed I think I tapped into a really informed literary community there and a Black feminist community there. I majored in Comparative Womens Studies and over the years tried to apply those teachings to whatever projects I'm working on and any work I do. My mission is to just be like amplifying those voices and liberatory perspectives on what it means to be in a femme body in the world.
H: That was so concise. You are really, truly a writer.
If only I could get that on paper.
H: Naturally after that, I must hear more about your quarter-life crisis. Please elaborate if you wish.
I'm turning 25 in three months, and it’s really blowing my mind that I'm this old. I know 25 is not old. I know it is not, and that's the first distinction, because it is literally not but I feel like I've spent a lot of years being an ingenue. I was the young girl in an organization, the random high schooler on a community committee, or just being like the underage girl in the club. Very, very much experiences where my youth and perceived naivete was like my entry there and in a way, made me stand out.
I've been dealing with the fact that I'm like, I'm losing that. I'm not the young girl anymore. I'm a fully grown woman and that's been really odd.
G: What type of things have you done to try to accept that or work through it?
I think, still trying to do the creative work, starting Smitch was a big part of that. For me, I relate it to notions of prettiness, which is like this fleeting thing. Like we're all pretty at some point and ya know my mom always told me “Pretty fades, dumb is forever.”
H: She took her own spin with that one.
She really did! It's applicable. I feel a lot more intentional and I'm a little more grounded in guiding that next part of my life when I feel like I'm doing something of purpose. And that itself, I would also say is maybe not the healthiest thing. I think I still have a lot of work to do to extrapolate my sense of self from notions of accomplishment.
H: I relate.
Definitely, oh my goodness.
H: Yes, I do smell the Spelman disease.
Exactly. I think as long as you're continuing to like do the internal work. I am in therapy. I've been in therapy actually a very long time. I'm very privileged in that sense. I've had the same doctors since I was like 19 and we just talk about those things, and she calls me out when I'm tying myself to my accomplishments too much. I’m trying to find hobbies, hobbies that are just for the fun of it. Not because I'm trying to show everyone how good I am at something.
H: Yeah. It's a difficult time to not want to tell everyone everything about you.
Yeah! I'm noticing that with every new thing you do, you can kind of be whichever version of yourself is most convenient at the time, most appropriate. And maybe that's where the new relationships start? People can see you for just that part of you. You don't have to carry the baggage of who you presented as in college, who you were trying to be in high school. I think distance also does a lot for me. I'm very much in different spaces than I was in previous times of my life, college included. It’s just constant reinvention.
H: That totally makes sense. I'm curious to hear what your move to New York has been like?
I like New York a lot. It is really wild because I feel like every day I have a challenge to myself to like New York a little more. In all honesty for me, it has been difficult because I moved here for a job. I moved here after wanting to move here for a really long time and having a really inflated view of what it means to be a New Yorker and what it means to be in New York. And I came here in September, meaning we were nearing into winter pretty quickly.
H: Yeah. And it's depressy season!
It's a little depressing. I feel like I've had different phases of disappointment with my living here *laughs* and one of them is just the fact that I do live alone. I spend a lot of time alone. And I was working remotely for a very long time. I think the solitude was new for me. I hadn't been in a situation where I didn't have anybody else in my house and it was literally just me.
I'll have days when the only people I'll see are like the doorman downstairs or someone else in the building and I guess that's a challenge. I'm assuming this is something that God or the universe, or I just need right now. It forces me to look more because I can be a very sedentary person. So that part of it is a little trying, but going out and discovering places where I can feel comfortable, that has been really nice. But also part of it is like, maybe I'm just at a place in my life where I don't really feel like looking. Maybe I just want to be home. Maybe that's fine too? So that part of it has been a bit difficult but I still feel so early.I got here 7, 8 months ago? I feel so unqualified talking about New York and anything about it really because I'm just discovering stuff every other day.
G: Yeah. I started going to therapy this summer, and maybe similar to both of you, realized that I’m floating in the world of possibilities, but also no possibilities? I'm just curious, what has your therapy journey been like and what has it provided you in life?
Wow, thank you. That's a really good question. I’ve been in therapy for five years. Therapy's interesting. You spend the first several sessions just trying to kind of get the person to know you a little bit. And it's really funny cause I think I almost bombarded my therapist with all the worst things that had ever happened to me. As the professional she is, she's never been spooked by my antics and she is very consistent in the goals that we have.
The biggest thing about my therapy journey as it stands now is that it has finally flipped from me talking about other people and other things to it being truly about me. I think that's where we are now. I have a lot of things that I'm trying to not even understand anymore because I'm tired of understanding things. I just want results and improvement.
I'm a very self-critical person. I'm very mean to myself. And I'm very good at hiding that. I don't know what was on me in college, but this presentation of confidence and accomplishment, I think other people can pick that up around me and internally I can just be a mess and it's a very lonely feeling. So she has been there to kind of talk it through with me, help me understand why I’m that way. Help me not feel guilty about certain things. And just working on forgiving myself and improving myself. It's ongoing.
I talk to her every week, so we're pretty close at this point. We weren't always, I used to go weeks without, or months without having an appointment, but I'm very strict on myself now because I need it.
H: Proud of you. That's hard.
G: And that's like a beautiful amount of time to spend with someone that's so invested in you. That's amazing you found someone that five years in, you still feel like you can come back to. You know, it's hard to find a therapist, and it’s hard to stay with one as well.
Yeah. I was very fortunate. My area of Maryland has a lot of private schools and a lot of very competitive, outside of DC, inside the beltway type energy. I'm sure you guys can relate with Chicago, like scenes being very similar with privilege in some parts. So my therapist is a Black woman and she's trained and focuses on kind of these affluent Black kids and teenagers who have an inordinate amount of pressure on them for some reason or another, maybe they put it on themselves, maybe it's their family, maybe it's their school.
H: She’s like ‘There's a lot of opportunity in this market’ *laughs*
It is a big market, and that's her specialty. I used to come out of her office and see kids I grew up with going in. We are all very similar in our self view because we have drawn it from all these other things.
H: You mentioned that you’re ready for the life that you want. What is that life? What does it look like?
I mean, I'm very impatient and I've been impatient for a very long time in terms of career. I've been working for a long time in the same industry, in the same company in the same industry, and I've seen now the parts that I think I contribute the most and parts where I don't necessarily contribute and….the corporate space and jobs space has been a really interesting area for me to navigate, because I think I always viewed myself and, romanticize adulthood as, ‘Oh, well, if you're the hardest working or you're the smartest or bubbliest or whatever, you'll just move up. That's just how things work’ And that is not how things work!
I'm able to admit that I probably don't belong in certain spaces. That doesn't mean I don't belong in the labor force or corporate market. I think that there are teams and spaces with requirements that I don't belong in, or maybe I don't shine as my best self. And I'm really getting assertive, I think in the next six months, especially since I'm here, I moved here for a job, where I will be deciding what spaces I'd rather be in. A lot of going back to school. Applying to grad school has been a big thing, because two years ago in 2020 is the first time I got into Columbia.
But I was presented with the choice at that time to continue in this really great rotational news program that I was in, in which to my manager’s credit her case to me was that this kind of is grad school. You're going to be working with all these people. You're going to be here in the super historic year. And that was January, before we even knew everything else that was going to happen in 2020.
I have a lot of experiences and realizing and making peace with not being good at things, going back to like high school. I feel like the best way to live my life is just be hyper aware of what I'm not good at and just leave those spaces unless it's worth it to me to try to advance and improve it. I know that certain things can't be helped. I think there was a point when I definitely realized that in this role, and frankly, it's been good because it allowed me to redirect to a lot of the freelance stuff that I was working on.
It was a big concern of mine that when you're on editorial in a media company, it's kind of hard to write for other news or other media outlets because the company you work for kind of has first review or first dibs on what you produce. It's a much bigger debate among more established journalists. And what I do is not journalism. I do a lot of cultural writing and art writing and things of that nature, but, um, I was getting really freaked out because I was like, ‘I really want to write’ and I was getting opportunities at other outlets but I was putting them forward through HR, and it was a whole review process and by the time I would get an answer, the opportunity was no longer there. So, I think that I've established that my passions are more on editorial and creative, and I need to be doing that one way or another. So if I'm not doing it at work, I need to be freelancing. And if I'm not freelancing, I need to be figuring out a way for me to do that in my nine to five. So, um, yeah, that's kinda, that's what I mean. I know that was a very long-winded answer.
H: No, you're fine.
Like, I know where I want my life to go because I think I've seen enough of what I don't want it to be. And I'm really just, I'm just ready to be happy.
I don't like dreading the next day. I don't like dreading Mondays. I really want to like what I do. Working towards that and self work in that process too.
H: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How does Smitch fit into all of that?
So Smitch was that choice. Smitch is my substack. I started it in, I think, July of 2021. And it was born largely out of Instagram, which is an offshoot of previous Instagram pages that I had managed back in college.
I had previously done that for a literary magazine called Aunt Chloe, which has played a huge role in my life. Aunt Chloe ‘A journal of artful candor’ is a literary magazine that started at Spelman. It went defunct for many years, and then when I came in as a freshman a professor asked me to co-helm it as the editor again, and over the next four years of being in school, I was organizing that editorial staff, and creating a multimedia platform for it.
And then I realized, you know, I'm graduating soon, I don't need it.
I ended up disassociating it with Aunt Chloe and I just turned it into like my personal kind of finsta, inspo page for awhile. I was really into archival photography and stuff, so I would go online to find pictures and find artists and post them on this page and cite who they were, and that slowly grew that page a following. And then somewhere around a year, I was like, ‘I'm going to like call this a thing. This will be my blog. I've been wanting to do a blog for a long time.’ And I called it something else. It was originally Sis Media.
I was like, ‘I want to start something called Sis Media. And I want it to be a base for my stories. And then other people's stories. I want to platform femme writers and creatives,’ so that mission has kind of stayed the same but what really made Smitch makes sense for me is I ended up tying it in with my thesis content. My thesis in undergrad was basically about coming of age stories and coming of age movies and TV about Black and Brown girls and made a genealogy. To this day, it's the most like bulky thing I've ever written. It's like 70 pages of feminist film critique and literary review. And I tied that into what became Smitch and said that this would be a platform to analyze and highlight coming of age narratives of Black girls.
So that's its core ethos, but part of it now is a multimedia space with the Substack involved and any other expansion that I hope that we do soon as we acquire funding. I want to publish stories as girls write them. So, hence that's kind of our draw for literary submission, short stories, and screenplays if people are comfortable. I'm finally working with Arieanne from friends on film adding some type of visual element to it. And I think that that really kind of hones what I see for it. Eventually kind of getting into the supplemental areas that I love like art book media. Even if you look around here, like there's coffee table books everywhere.
H: I love a coffee table book. They're so great.
So wonderful. I have an unhealthy connection to them, I can't count how many I have. I really think that print is a really important lens, the way that we keep our production alive. And so having this be like a printed platform is like, the penultimate for me.
G: That's amazing. I have hope that it will become something giant. I believe. As you are a writer yourself, what’s that process of writing like? What does it look like?
I think one good thing I can say about 2022 is I’ve gotten more diligent, because it has been chaotic, but I think this year I really found something that works. Maybe it's being in this apartment. I often actually just sit on the floor right here or like up here and I have my work computer and then my personal computer and I generally only write on my personal computer and I will create this little set up where I'm reading on one and writing on the other.
I have this continuous document that I just keep adding short stories to and essays to and keep myself honest and get some honest feedback on it. I'll try to join a writer's circle here and there. I was very fortunate to join a writer's circle led by Zeba Blay who wrote ‘Carefree Black Girls’ and is a culture writer at Huffington Post. It was the most rewarding, incredible experience and getting good feedback on my work was very moving. You kind of go in there to learn how to get better, and if someone says that it's already very good, that's very touching. I want to do more of that this year. I'm going to do more of that this year.
H: That's awesome. I'm curious, what is something that you wish more people knew about you?
I think that some people particularly view me as a very one dimensional version of a creative person. They see me, maybe they follow me on Instagram, and it's a combination of this thing of like, anytime I think that some men see a woman that they find attractive they kind of view that person in context of who they would be if they were with them or on their side, or like in, in their space.
And I've had more interactions in the last year than I would care for people I think projecting that. ‘You’re an artsy girl.’ I guess in essence, they're on the right track, but they would be so wrong. I'm a very sensitive person. I'm a very emotional person. A funny person. I am very self-deprecating and I'm someone who's actively trying to become a better person. Um, I think that that's the type of grace that we should all be granting people. Cause people aren't just one thing, you know?
H: What is your favorite book?
Their Eyes Were Watching God.
G: Do you think you’re ever gonna write a book?
G: What is one thing that without a doubt always brings you joy?
G: You mentioned that your thesis was talking about films that highlight Black and Brown femmes, what’s a film that you would always tell someone to watch it?
I love Selah and the Spades. I just, I love, I hadn't seen in a while a depiction of like just being a Black teenager and being dynamic and fun. I love that one.
I love Ms.Juneteenth. I think that one is like a really important commentary on pageantry and Black culture. There's this other pageant theme, short film by a Spelman grad, but it's called Brown Paper Pageant. It says a lot. It's a drama. it's a comedy. It's kind of funny, but like it's a dramatization of AUC pageant culture and it is like, it's accurate. Like, and even though she's like mocking them, like it's satire it's, but it's, it's so accurate.