Alyssa Fenix: Neurodivergent queer artist discusses art, identity, and inclusivity

00;00;10;10 - 00;00;26;09
Rob Lee
Welcome to the truth at its heart. I am your host, Rob Lee. And today my guest is a neurodivergent queer artists of color and owner of the. If I knew then letters project. Please welcome Alyssa Fenix. Welcome to the podcast.

00;00;26;21 - 00;00;28;12
Alyssa Fenix
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

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Rob Lee
Thank you for for popping on. And, you know, in going into it's not a torture chamber. I was going to say the torture chamber, that is this podcast. But it's not that it's always a really fun and enlightening conversation. But before we get too deep into the into the fun, I want you to share your story. And if you could, Hayley, the first experience that you had, like working with art and knowing that art was something you wanted to spend a fair amount of your life and your time toward.

00;00;57;18 - 00;01;25;03
Alyssa Fenix
Well, that's like always a good interview question, right? Like, try to sum it all up as much as you can. The imposter syndrome in me wants to say, like, now pick another book. You don't in the next story, but. All right. So basics. Born and raised in Maryland. I'm black. I'm queer. Neurodivergent. I. I live in Baltimore with my two kids and my partner and my dog, and probably more plants than I even care to admit.

00;01;26;17 - 00;01;59;16
Alyssa Fenix
My a lot of my educational background is special ed psychology, queer studies. I like to say I'm a certified lesbian and my claim to fame and and I, you know, I was mostly in education just up until this last year, which is actually probably the first time I really like earned the title of being an artist, which is really bizarre at 38 years old to kind of just suddenly feel like I can I can say that, but I think everything kind of masked it underneath that.

00;01;59;16 - 00;02;38;05
Alyssa Fenix
So as far as my experience with art, I think I say back when I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of summers with my Aunt Jean in Virginia, and she used to teach me all this kind of like crafts and sewing. And it was usually out of like all those, like, hoarded craft supplies that now I've taken on, you know, myself and and just kind of started making just random shit and between that and then she would buy me one of those like multipacks of disposable cameras and then to take me to like random or just until I closed parks and everything because she knew I loved, just like the way the

00;02;38;05 - 00;02;58;01
Alyssa Fenix
trees reflected on the water. So I think at nine when she would start doing that, that's when I really started to kind of like think about art in a way that, you know, and as something that like fills my cups. So I think I was kind of my, my initial experience, you know, I've kind of dabbled here and there, but I'm sure we'll get into that, too.

00;02;58;16 - 00;03;17;11
Rob Lee
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for for walking us through that a little bit. It's it's always interesting to hear when people say, yeah, this is what I realized, you know, looking back on it and it's funny, it was almost like, yeah, you know, I had this really interesting sandwich. I was like home. But it was like, you saw that.

00;03;17;12 - 00;03;45;22
Rob Lee
But it's interesting to see where people kind of have that, that, that, that reference point, I suppose. Mm hmm. So could you share a life experience that helped shape your creative sensibility? Because I think, you know, there are many things that, like, pop up or what have you. Like someone may say, I'm a hard worker and I really put that towards my, my, my word for, for instance, for me in this month where we recording, I'm never a person that really gets sick in this time.

00;03;46;00 - 00;04;00;24
Rob Lee
So with it, I have a day job, you know, like a lot of us do. And I'm somehow doing 45 interviews this month. So, you know, that's that's just I grew up in that was kind of like hard work. This is what you do. And I would say that that's something that shaped me as a creative and as a person.

00;04;01;06 - 00;04;30;23
Alyssa Fenix
Right. Absolutely. And trying to, like, fit it in where you can and just knowing that that's what sustains you, right? Yes. Yeah. All right. Oof! Again, one of those narrowing it down questions. I got to say, given the fact that I only probably recently gave myself permission to kind of like, you know, adhere to somewhat of an identity, I would say about this time last year, I was doing some research for a contract that I was doing.

00;04;30;23 - 00;04;58;04
Alyssa Fenix
I do a lot of professional development and everything through my Diversity LLC that I have. And, and I was doing some, some looking at the diagnostic criteria and some of the biases in terms of access and all of that fun stuff around my neurodivergent skin, gender identity. And as I started taking some of these questionnaires myself, I realize all of the ones are related to autism spectrum disorder.

00;04;58;05 - 00;05;38;02
Alyssa Fenix
We're coming up as highly likely. So I, I decided to go through an assessment myself and it turns out I'm very much on the spectrum and with a background of, you know, 12 years and teaching special education, all that kind of stuff. And it's something that I think just never had occurred to me. And I think the more that is coming out in terms of how it presents in different populations and and just what some of the actual symptoms and observable traits are, it's like me to a T and for me I feel like it actually kind of unpacked this weird, arbitrary rubric that I had on my on my identity.

00;05;38;02 - 00;05;58;09
Alyssa Fenix
You know, there were like all these, like, sets of rules that I somehow gave myself where I was like, well, I can't be an artist because I technically never formally integrate or I can't be a person of color because or I can't be black because I technically am only a percentage of, you know, like there were all these weird rules that I gave myself.

00;05;58;09 - 00;06;19;28
Alyssa Fenix
And I think I think that kind of gave a lot of light as to how I viewed the world. Yeah. And so. So then when it came to art and just that, I use that as a form of self-expression that kind of unlocked a freedom, I think, in my creating things because I didn't give myself the same rules, the same parameters.

00;06;20;11 - 00;06;38;29
Alyssa Fenix
I didn't look at other artists as like threats or things that like I would never live up to because I realize it ain't about them. Like it's it's never been about that and it's about me and how I'm connecting with the world. So that kind of like loosen the reins and actually like open up a lot of possibilities for me.

00;06;39;26 - 00;07;06;08
Alyssa Fenix
I think since then I also left my full time job in education and started focusing on my LLC and doing an art fellowship full time. And that's been like incredibly liberating just to be able to spend my time surrounded by other folks that I either share the world in a similar lens or at least like recognize be the different ways that you can, which is this is really powerful.

00;07;06;08 - 00;07;22;11
Alyssa Fenix
So I think that that's just been like a it's been a huge influence. I think for me and I think in terms of my art and I'll kind of dove into it a little bit further later, but that's really influenced to the way that it's manifested in what I create, too.

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Rob Lee
Yeah, I have a side question with that.

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Alyssa Fenix
Yeah.

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Rob Lee
And this is this might even fall as a rapid fire question, but so, so I think looking at that, that kind of like those rubrics and all that we have in mind, I have a really broad kind of sense of and this is this is also could be this but then in other spaces, especially when it comes to food, I'm like, that's not shrimp and grits is no rule in there way, you know so but and I find like for a long time, my my favorite color is has been gray.

00;07;55;02 - 00;07;57;27
Rob Lee
Mm hmm. You know, that's just like it's not this, so it's not that.

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Alyssa Fenix
It's not like, why did you.

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Rob Lee
Do you have a favorite color? And do you see any connections to maybe your personality or some of the things that you've discovered? And maybe those things relate that you have something that's like that or.

00;08;10;13 - 00;08;28;27
Alyssa Fenix
That's it's so it's like it's really interesting that you say that because one of the things that I've explained to people, you know, because inevitably you get those reactions of people being like, I would never think that you are blah, blah, blah, right? And they say it about literally everything they get. I never would have thought you were gay.

00;08;28;27 - 00;08;46;13
Alyssa Fenix
I never would have thought you were, you know, like I mean, it's just like about everything. They have to put their own $0.02 in, right? So in terms of like the one of the things that I've explained to people, I was having a conversation with another friend that was kind of questioning their own kind of thought processes and relation to Neurodivergent.

00;08;46;16 - 00;09;06;17
Alyssa Fenix
And, and we were thinking about like the way I picture it as almost like, you know, remember that, you know, there's like photo collages and everything and like or the so everything you zoom out, it looks like just a black and white photo or just like gray kind of scale photo. And I feel like for me a lot of my experiences.

00;09;07;26 - 00;09;32;15
Alyssa Fenix
Okay, so backtrack for a second when I got the diagnosis, there were certain things I didn't realize were not other people's realities. So like, my lens has always been my lens. So if that's the only thing you have to compare it to, a lot of times like that, you're going to assume other people's norms are right. So like one of the questions had to do with like you pick up mannerisms from other people or other like expressions or something like that.

00;09;32;15 - 00;09;54;02
Alyssa Fenix
And I was like, Well, yeah, that's a human, that's this language. Or like that's just like human nature. You learn by observing and kind of mimicking my doctor. Part of life was like, just to a degree. And so I was thinking about, like, this, this mosaic kind of analogy where I feel like my life when it comes to certain, like, behaviors and like understanding how to react in certain situations.

00;09;54;17 - 00;10;19;07
Alyssa Fenix
There's like this giant photo mosaic where like at any time I can zoom in on a picture of like what happened in a certain scenario and go, Oh, that didn't work and improve before. Maybe I'll draw on this. Oh yeah, this one. I'm going to do that, you know, and it was like this giant, like it looks from behind, like there's this seamless spectrum or not a spectrum or just like, you know, scale of this image that looks like like a seamless.

00;10;19;07 - 00;10;36;03
Alyssa Fenix
But it's really this intricate, like, you know, collection of experiences that you learn from and then you can draw on. And that's actually where it kind of sometimes neurodivergent is like a superpower because you can kind of like retrieve these things that you can call on later, you know? And it's not really instinct. I didn't know people can just act on instinct.

00;10;36;03 - 00;10;57;05
Alyssa Fenix
That sounds like sorcery to me. But I don't know. So anyway. Okay, so sidetrack. There goes the ADHD part of me too. So color wise I would say, you know, purple has always been my favorite color. Teal. Teal has been drawing to me more and more. But it's it's really interesting depending on the mood, you know what I mean?

00;10;57;05 - 00;11;07;27
Alyssa Fenix
And so I have feel I felt like I've been more connected to the shades in that sense and just kind of like what that looks like as opposed to just what it feels like. You know?

00;11;08;22 - 00;11;31;19
Rob Lee
Yeah. Burgundy for me because I like to call it Oxblood and say, Oh, it's just the blood of animals that, you know. No, but I think it's funny. I sometimes I look at certain rooms that I'm I'm in and I kind of use this the mosaic sort of I kind of look at like in terms of diversity, if I were to pixelate this room, how white is it or how black?

00;11;31;19 - 00;11;40;08
Rob Lee
And I start doing that and it's a preset for me. And I was like, Should I be in this room? And I the only piece of you know, pepper here is that really interesting?

00;11;40;19 - 00;11;47;14
Alyssa Fenix
Oh, yeah, I'm going to do that now. I'm going to be like thinking about like B, you know, spectrum of don't know.

00;11;47;14 - 00;12;01;28
Rob Lee
I don't know if you're a coffee drinker or what have you, but go into a coffee shop and ask for your is colorism. I'm not going to say it's not ask for coffee, add the complexion of your favorite celebrity that's black. So it's like, oh, let me get that Bob Marley, which is like coconut milk.

00;12;02;03 - 00;12;03;22
Alyssa Fenix
And I'm like, why.

00;12;03;23 - 00;12;04;06
Rob Lee
After.

00;12;04;07 - 00;12;04;15
Alyssa Fenix
That?

00;12;05;00 - 00;12;07;28
Rob Lee
Yeah. Oh, yeah. That's the way that's the way that I order coffee.

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Alyssa Fenix
That's amazing. Do people usually get it right? Like. Like.

00;12;12;08 - 00;12;23;20
Rob Lee
Yeah, I only have one person get it white. Right. And it was a it was a person that was a part of the tribe and they were like, That's really funny. Okay. I was like, You got it, and you got.

00;12;23;20 - 00;12;27;23
Alyssa Fenix
It is real because, you know, people are paying attention to like that person, you know what I mean?

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Rob Lee
So can you can you tell us more about your work and what are the main ideas that your work aims to express?

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Alyssa Fenix
Sure. So in terms of let's see, we're not even start with it. So some of it that I'm going to start with talking about some of the things I randomly dabbled in in terms of like art. So things that, of course, I didn't name as art because I didn't think that it qualified in art as art. But I guess I'd been kind of doing it all along.

00;12;58;13 - 00;13;21;07
Alyssa Fenix
And so so some of the things, something I do, I do word wood burning, I do photography. I think a lot of my, you know, my first kind of admission to some sort of art history would be the photography. But then a lot of it is like crafting with just kind of varied various materials which, you know, in retrospect actually is kind of collage art anyway.

00;13;21;07 - 00;13;42;17
Alyssa Fenix
But I just never really saw it as, as that. And then I mean, all the way to like I did some African dance and I did some drum drumming. I collect international percussion instruments. And then and then I did Drag King performing Once Upon a time, too. And so, like all these different elements of me were just ways, I mean, they were all self-expression.

00;13;42;17 - 00;14;05;01
Alyssa Fenix
They were all they all kind of had a common thread of communicating some part of myself with the rest of the world. And what I realized, you know, I think I've known all along, but I think only recently I've been able to put words to it has been the idea that, you know, I don't always have I can't always rely on words as much as, you know, I'm actually a logo file.

00;14;05;01 - 00;14;29;19
Alyssa Fenix
I love words and I am really like I love the intricacies of them. But when I'm mad or I'm upset or whatever, I cannot draw on them for shit, you know, unless I'm writing. Like, if I'm writing like a heated letter, you can bet your ass. I mean, it's like every, you know, four or five syllable, whatever. But for the most part, like, I don't always have the words, I don't always have the social means to communicate things the way that I want them to.

00;14;30;15 - 00;14;48;22
Alyssa Fenix
And I'm routinely walking away from conversation being like, Oh, I should have said this or I should, you know, I'll probably email you like a, you know, a novel of everything I probably forgot to mention in this to. But, you know, a lot of it is just my own way of connecting with the world when I don't always have the tools to do so.

00;14;49;20 - 00;15;17;28
Alyssa Fenix
And I think that's something that I've carried a lot into my work with students, into my work, with my, you know, with my own kids and clients and stuff like that, just that there's so many different ways you can express yourself and that that comes from a deep rooted value. So it's not even just about self-expression, because part of the thing is, you know, at a young age and even even depending on, you know, different people's experiences, you can be a certain age and still feel like you don't know who you are to express.

00;15;18;11 - 00;15;42;28
Alyssa Fenix
And so it gives that kind of intangible element, but it also communicates the values that are, you know, that you need to get out there. And so and that is all part of like who you are and who you're representing. So, so I know like a couple examples. One of them is, you know, during the pandemic, I was one of the, you know, one of the zillions that started a business and was like, hey, I'm going to do this or whatever.

00;15;42;28 - 00;16;11;12
Alyssa Fenix
And at the time, it was jewelry making because I was, you know, in the education world when we were doing everything virtual, we were trying to get really creative about reaching our students and creating more safe virtual spaces for them. And and it was a little bit trickier. It's not like you could, you know, they could walk into my rainbow field office or whatever, you know, and students being limited to, you know, this part of them or, you know, whatever they could see on the screen.

00;16;11;21 - 00;16;33;09
Alyssa Fenix
We're getting misgendered all the time. And so so anyway, one day with my wood burning, I started making like pronoun jewelry because for some reason we couldn't change the platform that we were using. We couldn't. We couldn't change our pronouns that we were using or like even just the name that students were being referred to. So there was all kinds of like people not feeling like their identity was being acknowledged.

00;16;33;20 - 00;17;01;14
Alyssa Fenix
So with the pronoun jewelry, at the very least, I could normalize pronoun sharing. I could making it make it available for others because I started offering it to other people. And just like promoting this message of like visibility means volumes. So even in those like stupid meetings where you're like involuntarily muted, you know, and you're just, you're just confined to this little image and like Brady Bunch scene or whatever, but you can't say anything.

00;17;01;23 - 00;17;32;18
Alyssa Fenix
You can at least make a statement and you can still feel like you are the core of who you are inside is still mattering outside. So, you know, that's that's one element of it. The other thing I started to realize is with one of the things the common experiences for people that are late diagnosed autistic is that you can feel like this questioning of who you are is like, am I just a mirror image of everybody I've seen?

00;17;33;05 - 00;17;54;26
Alyssa Fenix
Am I just reflecting everything around me? Because Natori, you know, historically, that's kind of the supposedly the trend is not the trend, but like the pattern is that there's like a mimicking of your surroundings, right? So and you start like thinking deeper about it, you're going, Well, who am I really at the core if I've really just matched other people's energies my whole life?

00;17;55;12 - 00;18;31;16
Alyssa Fenix
And so I started, you know, I actually one of my friends, maybe a few months later after that diagnosis had sent me an application to this arts and arts integration and fellowship for Artists Teaching Spot, and I started making a collage for it and I was like, you know, as I'm pulling little clips from like my own photography and things from a magazine and everything like that, I'm realizing like, that's one of my favorite things to do is to pick little pieces of what I appreciate the most and the things that I find valuable and the things that speak to me.

00;18;32;00 - 00;19;02;10
Alyssa Fenix
And I put them together in a neatly arranged or like a very intentional arrangement, right? And then I started thinking like, this is going to sound super cheesy, but like then I started thinking like, that actually is kind of what I am, right? So if I'm even if I am mimicking my surroundings and even if I'm just portraying all of the things that I've seen and I've picked up along the way, it's still the art in which I would use them to arrange how you know, how I seem appropriate and how to communicate myself and everything.

00;19;02;20 - 00;19;11;18
Alyssa Fenix
So not only did it validate me as an artist, but it kind of validated me as a piece of art, which automatically kind of opens up the doors for a lot of things, you know?

00;19;12;10 - 00;19;46;14
Rob Lee
Yes. And it's funny you say that. I, I talk to people and they're like, oh, so, you know, truth. And it's how you talk about art I and the art. And I say and I say it with so much stank on it. I love that. But yeah. And I think in terms of normalizing things and I'll put this out there where my, my partner, we were both working at a, at a Jesuit college and she put it out there like just matter of factly at the time that she was identifying as bisexual.

00;19;46;16 - 00;20;12;14
Rob Lee
And she's she's identified as pansexual now, but she had mentioned she's I, I'm bi and I was like, okay, cool. And less like so so what's for lunch? You know, that was literally what my thing was. Whereas every other person in there is clutching their pearls, looking for their collective pearls. I'm like, It's fine. Or even, you know, this notion of having like one's video up in my day job is in higher ed, still in a different role in a different university.

00;20;12;28 - 00;20;32;16
Rob Lee
But there was such a fight in a push in terms of like how we did data, you know, as to, well, that's a deprecate. It feels like we should remove gender from these fields because it's deprecated. Yeah, I was like, is there a grant attached to this? Is there funding attached to it that I don't think anyone cares.

00;20;32;22 - 00;20;33;12
Alyssa Fenix
Right, right.

00;20;33;19 - 00;20;53;14
Rob Lee
You know, when even with like doing everything through like Zoom or some other app, you want to have that that sort of stuff in there. But I think one of the things in one of the ways that I've seen people share messages without being overt about it is, you know, touching on it, like having those pronouns up there in the screen when allowed or even what's in the background.

00;20;53;23 - 00;20;54;19
Alyssa Fenix
Mm hmm. It's like, Oh.

00;20;54;19 - 00;21;01;25
Rob Lee
Yeah, this book. This book right here is just like, yeah, how not to be a dick. You know, it's the title of the book. It's just.

00;21;01;25 - 00;21;06;26
Alyssa Fenix
Oh, that's amazing. That's also my motto, by the way. I just don't be like that. So.

00;21;07;24 - 00;21;33;20
Rob Lee
Yeah, I remember I had an interview with an artist a while back and they were non-binary or they're not like non-binary. And I remember throwing out one of the goofiest jokes I had because I like having bits that kind of fit and is like, it's not mean spirited is not bad. It's probably punish. Yeah. And I was like they them though I was like, this is the these are my pronouns, the old English pronouns.

00;21;34;06 - 00;21;45;24
Rob Lee
And they were like, You were stupid. I was like, I so so could you, could you tell us a bit about If I knew then Letters Project and what was the thinking behind it?

00;21;46;11 - 00;22;09;14
Alyssa Fenix
Sure. So I mean, even drawing back to the whole idea of like visibility and even, you know, like those things that we used to do, like especially during the pandemic or even maybe not right now because I'm in my ten year old's room. So you've got a ten year old's room, whatever, that's far behind me. But the you know, in terms of I see I've already lost my my.

00;22;09;21 - 00;22;11;27
Alyssa Fenix
So can you repeat the question?

00;22;11;27 - 00;22;12;14
Rob Lee
Yeah, sure.

00;22;13;04 - 00;22;13;18
Alyssa Fenix
That's fun.

00;22;14;03 - 00;22;18;18
Rob Lee
So tell us about the if I knew then Letters project and what was the thinking behind it.

00;22;19;07 - 00;22;52;06
Alyssa Fenix
Thank you. So okay, so if I knew then, you know, this whole idea of visibility, I at the time I was teaching I was teaching in high school and that was, you know, in a moderate conservative county. I would say more, more are more than moderate, at least. And, you know, our GSA or gender sexuality Lions Club was you know, we had just gotten it up to being able to be coined as either a gay gay Gay-Straight Alliance or gender sexuality lines.

00;22;52;06 - 00;23;18;04
Alyssa Fenix
It used to be have to be covered as like, you know, diversity club or whatever, you know. And so we were kind of making these progressive steps. And one of the things that I was so kind of inspired by from all of my students is the amount of like self-awareness and passion that they had at like 14 and and just, I mean, and this isn't meant to sound ageism in the sense of what you don't expect.

00;23;18;04 - 00;23;40;00
Alyssa Fenix
But like I think about me as towards I was not I didn't have my shit together. I didn't know where I stood on a lot of things, you know. And I think I was just so impressed by like the willingness for them to just create the change that they wanted to see, that, you know, I wanted to kind of I wanted them to even deepen that knowledge and I wanted them to see that like this.

00;23;40;00 - 00;24;16;10
Alyssa Fenix
They're not the first wave of folks that have felt these things. And if combined, you know, if you can combine that passion and that enthusiasm with like that timeless knowledge that kind of came before them and connect them to that, that sense of belonging or that ancestry, that that can be really powerful. And so what I did was I had I had LGBTQ adults for whatever it's worth in terms of definition, I don't know what you can define an adult, but I guess, like, you know, out of in or out past high school, maybe like in the early twenties or something like that, at least enough.

00;24;16;13 - 00;24;50;12
Alyssa Fenix
And so so adults would write letters to their teenage selves with the theme or even just the message of If I knew then. And, and so, you know, again, the intention was to help my students feel a little more supportive or supported and just feel validated, but also give them kind of like kind of fueled them even more to like be that change that I know they were capable of and then ironically, though, I mean, they thought it was cool as a lot of high schoolers, too, you know, they're kind of like, Oh, that's pretty cool.

00;24;50;12 - 00;25;16;25
Alyssa Fenix
That's Phenix. And then they like moved on. But it was actually the letter writers that that reached out to me with the most gratitude and the most reflection. I'm just like, that was really cathartic. I really didn't expect feeling like that or I didn't I didn't know that I was that proud of, of my story because I don't think a lot of us tell ourselves, like, I don't think we would think back and give ourselves credit enough from where we've come from.

00;25;17;10 - 00;25;39;19
Alyssa Fenix
And and so that was really cool because I think, you know, out of maybe like 50 ish letters that I've collected so far, the bulk of the letters, I mean, I would say probably 99% of our, you know, 48 out of 49 or whatever the number is, is actually like they were all more messages of, you know, they weren't about like regret.

00;25;39;19 - 00;26;07;03
Alyssa Fenix
They weren't about like if I knew, then I would have done this differently. They were more about like settling in for the ride, expecting the unexpected and just kind of like understanding that you're going to get there when you're going to get there and to like kind of tune in to the the present when you can, you know, but also just kind of like getting through some of the, some of the temporary and and bring with you kind of the resilience that's naturally going to come with it.

00;26;07;10 - 00;26;27;29
Alyssa Fenix
Something that it was really it was cool because by the end of it, you know, thought I was going to have all these like super inspired, charged high schoolers. I mean, they were they were still badasses. But like then I also had these adults that were, like, feeling really good about themselves and I think over the years I've rewritten my own letter probably seven times, and sometimes I've shared it, sometimes I haven't.

00;26;28;09 - 00;26;50;18
Alyssa Fenix
But, you know, it's really just about me and recognizing like the journey that I've come from, you know? So that's been pretty cool. But the thing that I wanted to do with it ultimately is I want to turn it into an anthology. And, you know, I even had a whole Kickstarter and it's definitely still on my like docket of things to do, especially now that I'm focusing on my LC more I can.

00;26;50;18 - 00;27;13;21
Alyssa Fenix
I have a little more mental capacity to do that. My thing right now is trying to figure out, like, I want to maybe couple those letters with art and maybe with queer artists that are also kind of depicting that same message through their art, or maybe even teens, teens, you know, creation of art or something. I will keep you posted as to what that really looks like.

00;27;13;21 - 00;27;36;23
Alyssa Fenix
But part of my intention and I, you know, somebody said you should do portraits since I do photography and my only thing is I didn't want people to be limiting themselves to like who they look like or who they look like in terms of when they read the letters. I want them to kind of see see that this is timeless and, you know, and still honor all the authors and have, you know, an index and that kind of thing, but not be directly.

00;27;36;23 - 00;27;41;14
Alyssa Fenix
I want people for people to see that it really expands beyond borders.

00;27;42;04 - 00;28;06;19
Rob Lee
Yeah, that that's great. And I believe that this, this idea of writing and in having in documenting and really being able to go through that sort of cathartic, cathartic process is important. And I find that writing down, writing things down has a lot of weight attached to it because, you know, at times I kind of dabble with this idea of our conversations disposable.

00;28;06;19 - 00;28;25;14
Rob Lee
And I think that's ultimately what I laid out and why I led into doing a podcast. I think, yeah, conversations they they're gone and once you but I think if you record them, that's the way to get it. But you know, there are some people who believe that maybe you should write down conversations, maybe you should document in that way and transcripts and things of that sort.

00;28;25;14 - 00;28;56;13
Rob Lee
But I think as a person and going through a process and in really trying to to heal and reminisce and even look back and think of like, yeah, I'm here, I got I got through that and it's good. And I remember this is ridiculous, but I remember a podcast that I really like. He found old tapes of him when he was a teenager and he would play them on the podcast and he would just make fun of himself like 20 years removed and say, I'm a dead, I was stupid.

00;28;56;21 - 00;29;12;28
Rob Lee
So you look at me all self-important and it gives you like, like context to what have you and it makes you kind of think back of, you know, when you're down like I am good or I am great or what have you. And, and it this kind of leads me to that this last question, which is the Malcolm Asian of things here.

00;29;12;28 - 00;29;34;28
Rob Lee
But I find that when entities that aren't really a part of a community are really kind of doing that sort of work, they do things that feel a little more performative than like, this is what you want to say. But is it? I don't think I don't think I want that thing. I just want like, you know, fair treatment, maybe something that feels equitable, maybe to be seen.

00;29;35;17 - 00;29;50;17
Rob Lee
Tell me about for for those who don't get it. How can we like McCurley, like the people that's listening? Like, hey, I don't know how to be more inclusive anymore, more understanding how how can how can that what what would that look like from your lens?

00;29;51;29 - 00;29;58;06
Alyssa Fenix
So I know you said there's the last question. So I'm trying to figure out, do you want the soapbox answer? Not that I know.

00;29;58;14 - 00;30;01;20
Rob Lee
Whatever, whatever one you want to shoot out there, you know.

00;30;01;27 - 00;30;29;20
Alyssa Fenix
Yeah. No, I still try to keep it somewhat to the point. I will say that, you know, there's a lot of there's a lot of buzzwords around diversity and inclusion and started to almost put a bad taste in your mouth, you know, because it winds up getting used incorrectly or inefficiently and kind of like in a way, in a very performative way, like you said, kind of just checking boxes and just all these these things.

00;30;31;00 - 00;30;48;18
Alyssa Fenix
And like, you know, I've actually had multiple clients say, can you just provide us with like a tips and tricks page? You know, how can we what can the thing look? What can we do? And and I can do that, but the truth is, that's just kind of putting a Band-Aid on like a leak in like a giant dam, you know what I mean?

00;30;48;18 - 00;31;26;08
Alyssa Fenix
It's really only going to buy you time while you do the real work, which is ultimately introspection. And the the hardest thing about that is like nobody wants to look at themselves at the time that they're trying to, you know, get a better performance appraisal or they're trying to grow their company or they're trying to or whatever. But until we're looking at like how each of us are kind of paying into the system that is keeping that oppression going and keeping people in these varying levels of like survival and just some people are thriving and some people are trying to keep their head above water.

00;31;26;08 - 00;31;55;06
Alyssa Fenix
And if we're not looking at that and we're not looking at like the the the underlying factors, that that's the part that's kind of problematic. And so this this idea of, you know, quick fixes or whatever is is challenging for me. And so what I was, you know, actually recently somebody asked if I would do like a ten minute, ten minute on how LGBTQ, how they can be more LGBTQ inclusive and telling you to do standup.

00;31;55;06 - 00;31;56;24
Rob Lee
Can you do a quick 10 minutes on?

00;31;57;14 - 00;31;57;21
Alyssa Fenix
Right.

00;31;58;05 - 00;31;59;23
Rob Lee
I was like, Why?

00;31;59;23 - 00;32;23;20
Alyssa Fenix
So I literally thought about for 10 minutes going, Don't be a dick, don't beat it, don't be like mean like how many ways can you possibly, you know, because at the root of it, it's not going to change anything if we're not kind of looking at how we're paying into that system. And so so one of the one of the things that I would say, you know, like I think it comes down to two elements.

00;32;23;20 - 00;32;48;14
Alyssa Fenix
And like the biggest things I would say is like, yes, don't be attacked. That's like that's the overall umbrella thing that I would like to see pieces of. It is, I mean, it all can kind of fit under their but more specifically is like honor individuals experiences. It is so amazing how many people just they're not putting the human element to it.

00;32;48;23 - 00;33;19;04
Alyssa Fenix
And you know, one of the things I know I've been asked before, too, is just kind of this how does storytelling talk about activism? And I think it's that idea of like connecting people's experiences to what's really matter, like what's going to move us forward as a community. And, and without that, like humanistic, without that personal experience, you can't actually develop that, that empathy, that caring, that whatever, you know, that that is rooted or like is required in order for change.

00;33;19;15 - 00;33;46;01
Alyssa Fenix
So because it's it's super easy for people to just turn their backs, they don't know anybody or they've never heard anybody experience something themselves. But that's just not like that's what we need to move away from. And most of the best, like rebellions and revolutions have been built on the back of people's individual stories. So that's kind of where a lot of my storytelling is like so integral in my art, whether people appreciate it or not, I realize I'm still telling the story.

00;33;46;02 - 00;34;12;11
Alyssa Fenix
You know, so, so yeah, I would say it's it's kind of other people's experiences, you know, break down some of the norms, make sure that people are not, you know, by setting norms, things like, you know, preparing students to act as neurotypical as possible, which is super damaging, is, you know, that that in itself creates that anything outside of that is abnormal and it's very alienating.

00;34;12;15 - 00;34;34;05
Alyssa Fenix
Yeah. Having this gender binary kind of system where students are getting, you know, emergency contact forms that say mother and father and or they're constantly saying mommy and daddy in classroom or whatever my kid was know it was not until kindergarten that my oldest son realized that it wasn't normal to have two moms, and that was a school doing it, not anybody else.

00;34;34;20 - 00;34;49;20
Alyssa Fenix
So, you know, like there's a lot of power in just redefining that. There's, you know, we don't have to adhere to these kind of outdated norms that are, in turn alienating and then we're having to put out these fires that we created, you know? So.

00;34;50;03 - 00;35;13;23
Rob Lee
Yeah, it's okay. Hey, thank you. Thank you for for sharing that because I think there there they're not huge changes, but they can be powerful changes. Like when you say, you know, mother or father, whatever that I don't have any kids. So it's kind of one of those things. But it's it's kind of like you could just be parent one or other parent or yeah, that's not.

00;35;14;02 - 00;35;37;15
Alyssa Fenix
Like emergence to be contact family member. Yeah, family member or guardian, that kind of thing. And like, and let's face it, how many students are like having that look like nuclear family structure these days anyway? Like no matter what inner I mean, like just people are living with all different kinds of family members and like, you know, there's a lot of norms that are placed on it which then perpetuate the stigma that are, that are keeping that kind of divide there.

00;35;37;23 - 00;35;57;01
Rob Lee
Yeah. And even looking back at it kind of, it caused me to think about it cause we're about the same age and this, this thing of, oh, you don't have both parents. It's like, Huh, you got to have both parents. So it is. I heard. Yeah, right. Both of mine. This person might not, but there is someone there and write it in in kids are.

00;35;57;12 - 00;36;10;05
Rob Lee
In my experience, kids are honest and they don't have that filter yet of they're going to talk behind your back and why you're why you got both parents right right. Like yeah who can you not ask me that. Can you. Yeah.

00;36;10;28 - 00;36;31;26
Alyssa Fenix
Exactly. And that's, I mean that's the great thing is like, you know, I go from something like the kindergarten incident of, you know, my son first getting this idea of what's not normal. Fast forward to a few years later and both him and his younger brother are like rushing home excitedly to tell me that they have a non-binary teacher at school and they like, say their name just like so fluidly.

00;36;31;26 - 00;36;52;13
Alyssa Fenix
Right. I hear teachers like or other adults like say the word mix, as in like they're tripping over a curb with coffee in their hand. And it's like, that's so unnatural for some reason for adults. But the kids are just so like, I mean, they get it and they're excited about it and they're excited about that change. And I think it just goes to show that like, kids are the ones that are very capable.

00;36;52;13 - 00;37;13;11
Alyssa Fenix
I think we kind of get stuck in our own kind of haunches or whatever, you know, and I'm sure I've got my own short sighted elements of me. But, you know, I think we could just kind of, I guess, see outside ourself as like a really powerful movement. But that's hard. You know, I guess people are not as takes a lot lot more warming up to that idea.

00;37;13;11 - 00;37;36;03
Rob Lee
Yeah and I think one of the things that I've encountered is, you know, that the notion of kind of floats on both sides a little bit where it's just like, all right, this is a new person. They can mess up enough, they continually mess up. Then they're just being a dick. But if they mess it that initial time, like don't lose it.

00;37;36;03 - 00;38;00;09
Rob Lee
Because unfortunately, for better or worse, in some instances, you might be the only person they've met that falls within it, that sort of like said and has that sort of like background, that's their reference point and it's just like a situation. So, you know, that's that's kind of what that is. And I, I remember I looked at it because, you know, I get bios from people and stuff and like you have an updated you by.

00;38;00;10 - 00;38;04;29
Rob Lee
I was like, you're not going by those pronouns. Can you update your bio so I don't come off looking like a dick?

00;38;05;14 - 00;38;10;07
Alyssa Fenix
Hi. I had like three different thoughts all at the same time. It's like, Oh, which one do I go.

00;38;11;04 - 00;38;11;24
Rob Lee
To all the.

00;38;12;02 - 00;38;39;28
Alyssa Fenix
Time? You know? But I was going to say, yeah, I think there's, there's like a lot of the oh, just the idea that certain, certain institutions when it comes to and this is like kind of related. But I mean it kind of goes back a couple couple bits of a couple of minutes. What we were talking about. But just in terms of like, you know, one of the things that like I've had to draw for myself creatively there a boundary I'm drawing for myself creatively.

00;38;39;28 - 00;39;07;18
Alyssa Fenix
It's just been this idea of, you know, stifling a student's identity as themselves, you know what I mean? And that was something else I've noticed in like some schools and not others. And I'm just really appreciative of seeing that when it when it's able to play out, you know, and even just like having schools where, you know, I probably sound like I'm promoting my kids school, but it's just it's actually just the fact that they're not centering these, you know, the curriculum.

00;39;07;19 - 00;39;33;08
Alyssa Fenix
They're actually looking at the curriculum. They're recognizing that you can do all these other changes. But if you're not looking at the fact that like all of your characters, all your antagonists, all your events are based on like cisgender straight white males. And you know what I mean? So there's like all these different elements. I think it's just I would also want to tell people to just pay attention a little bit more to, you know, what is being represented and whether students can see themselves in that work.

00;39;33;17 - 00;39;33;29
Alyssa Fenix
You know.

00;39;34;23 - 00;39;45;07
Rob Lee
I mean, I always look for like the chunky protagonist. It's like, yo, where is the six foot four, £300 black guy? He's got glasses, he does a podcast. It's like you're just looking for yourself in all of these.

00;39;45;07 - 00;39;46;09
Alyssa Fenix
Right? Right, exactly.

00;39;46;15 - 00;40;14;00
Rob Lee
But in a sense, we are looking for that. We're looking for someone that we connect to and we can relate with and going to in a lot of these classics and a lot of these things that are in schools that are part of the curriculum, we, you know, don't feel represented in there even, you know, something that is, you know, having not the multi sort of hyphenated sense but kind of like I'm a black male, cisgendered, what have you, have you.

00;40;14;07 - 00;40;46;27
Rob Lee
And it's like I don't feel represented in that. So someone that has much more you a much more fuller, richer kind of identity, that representing I can imagine how they definitely don't feel represented and there has to be efforts to either bring in sort of work that's representative of that and really vet that stuff, do a better job of being able to vet what's appropriate and what represents in terms of is this scholarly, this is fit, these other criteria is subject matter aside, does it fit?

00;40;46;27 - 00;40;49;02
Rob Lee
These criteria is right and let's go from there.

00;40;49;13 - 00;41;12;12
Alyssa Fenix
Yeah, no, I think that's really powerful. And that's where, you know, I'm loving that this fellowship and then even just working on my LLC is giving me a chance to focus on like just supporting in ways where, you know, not having to fix everybody's problems. But I can at least provide some guidance as to like where some missed opportunities, you know, and, and really kind of, you know, that fellowship is about arts integration.

00;41;12;12 - 00;41;27;29
Alyssa Fenix
So it's a chance to kind of like infuse more perspectives where, you know, that curriculum has not changed too much since we've grown up, you know? And it really is a way to kind of build in more perspectives that are otherwise not being shared enough with the student.

00;41;28;18 - 00;41;47;18
Rob Lee
Well, they have it. And thank you, because now it's that part where all of the goodwill we've established here and and I talk about inclusivity and just better ways of thinking it all going to go to the wayside now because I got a couple rapid fire questions for you. Don't go for it. Don't overthink them. Don't overthink. I tell it to everybody.

00;41;47;18 - 00;42;06;11
Rob Lee
Don't overthink it. Brevity is key. When are you at your when are you most productive? Like, is it a time during the year? Like, I'm most productive in the summer because I'm inside, because it's hot as balls outside or I'm super productive in the morning because no one is up or everyone is gone. When are you most productive?

00;42;07;17 - 00;42;38;24
Alyssa Fenix
I would definitely say more in the morning in terms of time of day, more morning emotionally. I figure that that out that the the most creative side of me the most verbose when it comes to writing and all that kind of stuff is when I'm charged up and I'm mad at. It's so funny because it's like I'm not trying to like over, you know, tune in to negativity, but sometimes that like reminds me like what those things are like what are my responses, you know what I mean?

00;42;38;24 - 00;43;00;25
Alyssa Fenix
And so it's a way to get that get out those creative juices. And so sometimes, you know, it might be in response to something or it might be something that I had to kind of dove into and go, okay, if I don't do this, what could happen? Or my, you know, what, what has been somebody's response before? And it helps me actually formulate how I would present that training differently, you know, so time of day, definitely morning.

00;43;00;25 - 00;43;04;00
Alyssa Fenix
But emotional. Yeah, I like to be a little fired up.

00;43;05;25 - 00;43;09;02
Rob Lee
Uh, what is your oldest possession?

00;43;09;02 - 00;43;39;07
Alyssa Fenix
Oh, that is a good one. Shit. Maybe my. Oh, I have. Okay, so I do have a book of poetry. I have this binder of poetry and drawings and some of these drawings and no joke date back to like when I was nine years old. And so they're not my highest quality whatsoever. But it's really funny because there's also little doodles in the corner of just like, you know, I'm sure crushes I had at the time or whatever the case is.

00;43;39;07 - 00;43;54;26
Alyssa Fenix
And it kind of just it to me gives a little bit of a timeline of like, what was I what did I care that much about before? Because I'm sure I was not as world knowledge or whatever the case is now, you know, at 14 or something. That's probably one of my oldest possessions.

00;43;55;23 - 00;44;02;16
Rob Lee
And this is the last one I have because I'm very, very interested in what people eat, especially creatives. What is your favorite sandwich?

00;44;03;25 - 00;44;14;29
Alyssa Fenix
Hands down. And it might just be because I just had it. There is. Can I say restaurant's name? Sure. Okay. So Nicole, the smoke free, whatever.

00;44;15;28 - 00;44;16;09
Rob Lee
Sandwich.

00;44;16;17 - 00;44;19;00
Alyssa Fenix
There. Salmon, BLT, have you ever had it?

00;44;19;04 - 00;44;20;01
Rob Lee
That is my favorite thing.

00;44;20;21 - 00;44;40;09
Alyssa Fenix
To die for. It was combine that with the cardamom lemonade every once in while. Although I got a ton back on that because I guess I'm sure Lemonade's got a lot of sugar, but like the two of them combined are just like the best. I don't know, I only reward myself with that. And that was like that was like my hype myself up kind of meal that I had right before this actually.

00;44;40;21 - 00;44;43;01
Alyssa Fenix
So yeah, definitely recommend that one.

00;44;43;29 - 00;44;59;14
Rob Lee
You have it. That's that's great. That's a, that's a really good sandwich actually. Yeah. Yeah. So with that, I want to thank you for being on this podcast and to I want to invite and encourage you to tell the fine folks where to check you out, your work, all of that good stuff. The floor is yours.

00;45;00;05 - 00;45;37;19
Alyssa Fenix
Absolutely. I will. Okay, so one I suck at self-promote and like, I joke with one of my friends about this all the time where I'm like, Yeah, I help people just find it, but I guess I need to, you know what I'm focusing on? On my independent stuff more full time I should. So I do have a website called Phenix outspoken dot com and that that name inspired was inspired by a I had a boss one time tell me I can be part of a task force because my voice is too strong and I was like, All right, well, let's go.

00;45;37;19 - 00;45;58;26
Alyssa Fenix
Let's make my brand off of this. See, I told you that emotion just like brings me. Now, I would I would say yeah so okay so the website Phenix outspoken dot com or I have like multiple Instagrams that I'm hoping to dwindle down to one now that I can actually kind of recognize, you know, our industry can kind of cover a lot of things.

00;45;59;25 - 00;46;27;02
Alyssa Fenix
So I've got my Phenix rising photography, my Phenix flower creations, and then I've got my if I knew then dot com or whatever, if I knew then Instagram. So lots of different ways. I don't even know how to like narrow it down, but I guess follow one of those and I guess you'll figure it out soon. Now, probably Phenix outspoken is probably the best way to follow me because going to start updating the blog a little bit more and stuff like that.

00;46;27;13 - 00;46;52;01
Rob Lee
So there you have it, folks. I want to again thank Alissa Phenix for coming on to the podcast and speaking with me and fearless of Phenix. I'm Rob Lee, saying that there is art, community connection, inclusivity in and around your neck of the woods. You've just got to look for it.

Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Host
Rob Lee
The Truth In This Art is an interview series featuring artists, entrepreneurs and tastemakers in & around Baltimore.
Alyssa Fenix
Guest
Alyssa Fenix
a black queer neurodivergent artist, Diversity Trainer/Consultant, and founder of the "If I Knew Then Letters Project,” living in Baltimore with her partner, kids, dog, and plants
Alyssa Fenix: Neurodivergent queer artist discusses art, identity, and inclusivity
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