Ask Jeannie: Advice from Jean Grae for December 2020/January 2021 - Believer Magazine
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Ask Jeannie: Advice from Jean Grae for December 2020/January 2021

A Bimonthly Column
by Jean Grae
Illustration by Kristen Radtke

Ask Jeannie: Advice from Jean Grae for December 2020/January 2021

Jean Grae
3 Snaps

Dear Jeannie,

I noticed that you minister your own church, the Church of the Infinite You. I’ve been noticing lots of new age or alternative churches and spiritual centers cropping up recently. I’ve always wanted to explore spirituality outside the confines of organized religion, and I think starting my own church would give me a chance to assess my values. But I’m low on resources, and starting something new takes a lot of energy and responsibility. How do you decide whether it’s best to be a parishioner or the creator of an entirely new church? 

Eniko

Asheville, NC

Jeannie responds:

Hi Eniko, 

As I tell everyone, we all do this thing where we wait for the resources for the thing we want to do to become available, ignoring the resources that we already have to do the damn thing. Maybe it won’t be done in the elaborate way we’ve thought of doing it, but at least the thing will have begun and we can go from there. Learn, tweak, figure out what you really need, in real-life time instead of just theoretically. The resource—is YOU!

However, yes. Being in charge of running a church absolutely takes energy and responsibility. In your message, in the way you deliver it, and just spiritually… it is a lot. In everything, I think it’s important to figure out what part of the team you’re best at being. Like right now, in the apocalypse. You gotta figure out who you are so you don’t get hurt or put anyone else in danger of getting hurt. Take a look at your relationships, the way you move through life. Be honest with yourself about where you are comfortable being on the team. Then be honest with yourself about how far you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone. Is the message so important that you need to push it yourself?

After every church service I do—online or not—I am physically and emotionally wiped out. I usually have to crash for a day. Spent totally. This happens more when I hold church online than when I do so in person, because I’m not in a room with people who have shown up, and I miss that shared energy we generate when we’re physically together. I just give it my all, and I can’t get the frequency of the total room energy back in any way. It is A LOT. For me, the message and the potential outcome of it being life-changing for others are worth me being wiped out. I’m tired just writing about this.

As the Church of the Infinite You goes, my message is always: DO IT.


Dear Jeannie,

My partner is a figure nerd, which means she collects action figures. Beyond just collecting, she plays with them, crafting creative scenarios with toys and documenting these scenarios in photos. She builds elaborate sets for her toys, and stages, directs, and photographs battles between various superhero-villain combinations. I’ve noticed she is spending lots of money on the elaborate photo shoots: lighting rigs, lenses, and new toys and accessories are cumulatively really expensive. I’ve confronted her about the costs, and she says staging these battles is akin to writing short stories, which is something I do. She says she doesn’t complain about the cost of my MFA program, so I should leave her alone about the toys. Do you think this comparison is accurate: Is toy photography really like writing fiction?

Irene

Detroit, MI

Jeannie responds:

Irene.

Both you and your partner are world builders. World building is awesome (as you know), but judging which worlds are worthy of being built is not awesome. I would think that the judging might bring on some sort of resentment, quietly built (see what I did there) or otherwise. The world that you definitely don’t want to be building is a world of pain between you and your partner—as fucking cool as the phrase “world of pain” sounds, both as the name of a fictional story or an elaborate action-figure battle made of magic. If you’re trying to compare forms of art and imagination to see which ones are respectable and which ones are not—Irene, I don’t often say this to people here, but you need to check yourself for kinda asshole-ing this up. I, for one, am very interested in seeing these photos of imaginary battles, and I’m super proud of her for continuing a magical practice that usually stops after childhood.

That’s a big deal and worthy of praise. 

P.S. Please ask for something to be built around the “world of pain” idea. Please also request that it include a short reference to the rap group House of Pain in some way.


Jean, 

How many times can you tell little white lies before you become a liar?

Dieter

San Pedro, CA 

Jeannie responds:

Dieter, 

I love your name. That is not a lie. The answer to your question is: One. One lie makes you a liar. We’re all liars, though we may not be pathological liars or criminals who hide our identities through careers in the arts, moving through life unassuming and stealth-like. Who said that? Not me. I don’t know what you’re talking about. 


Jean,

My boyfriend of six months is an indie-rap purist, and his allegiance to the golden age of hip-hop means that he doesn’t live in the moment, so when we’re together, I don’t live in the moment either. Whenever we listen to music in the car or in the house, he won’t abide pop music or even any recent rap; we are doomed to remain in the amber chrysalis that was 1988 to 1994. There is current music, and I enjoy it. How do I get him to stop being judgmental, and is his obsession with old-school rap an omen that he’s an inflexible partner?

Annette 

Las Vegas, NV

Jeannie responds:

Annette, 

Oh no—and I am not referring to the producer. (Your boyfriend will definitely get that reference.) 

Also, fifty gold stars for “amber chrysalis.” This is a tough one. Perhaps you can tell him that I said, CUT IT THE FUCK OUT. YOU’RE MISSING THINGS. You can’t just go through life enjoying chicken nuggets and Capri Suns and not building your palate. I mean… yeah, I guess you can, but that sucks. It sucks for you, it sucks for the new indie artists you aren’t supporting, it sucks for your friends and your partners who have to listen to the same fucking playlists over and over again—and, just generally, it sucks to be stagnant. Growth is important. In all ways. New things are important. In all ways. As an actual indie-rap professional who gets lumped into the “this is real hip-hop” category, I can say: tell him to throw that way of thinking in the trash. I listen to everything. I don’t dislike new shit because it’s new; I dislike shit that’s wack, from whenever. Also, the perpetual cycle of being all The music from my time, back in the day, was good because… needs to stop. This is how people felt about the blues, or rock and roll, or jazz and then… rap. 

Tell him to cut it the fuck out. 


Hey Jean,

I saw your Instagram Live event, where you played the “first Instagram-approved DJ set,” which featured lots of canned sounds and stock effects. What I took away from it was that everything cool and insurgent is eventually co-opted by the mainstream; thus, a DJ set approved by a tech company. Do you believe there is still an underground culture, or has the internet eroded this possibility?

K

Berkeley, CA

Jeannie responds:

Hi K,

There is ALWAYS, always, always an underground culture in every genre of every damn thing you could possibly think of and of things you can’t even think of and might not ever find out about—it’s the underground nature of things. One hundred percent, the coolest things are coming out of there, and the mainstream is always, ALWAYS, always listening and poaching. People think, Oh, those mainstream [whatever culture] people don’t pay attention to those obscure ———Oh yes, they do. Yes. They. Do. That’s how ALL things work. Internet or not, underground cultures gonna underground. Unstoppable. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a damn thing that’s new. Trust that. 

Without leeching, corporations would have no idea what the fuck they’re doing. Now, if only they would just pay some of these groundbreaking thinkers, creating financial stability and jobs for—now I have to pour some wine.

Dammit. 


Bonus:

Denise, 

You are a dark hole in my thoughts. When I think about this question, I pace endlessly. It needs to be the right answer. It deserves the right answer. I will see you again in a couple of months. You haunt my dreams, my waking life. I am an endless void of uncertainty. 

Why have you done this? 

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