Introducing: a new blog series by Kin Ship Goods. We’re talking with creative folks who share our values and remind our readers what’s important in life (hint: it’s not making money, obtaining internet fame, or landing a dream job). In these interviews, we ask our guests to slow down and contemplate what inspires their livelihood--not just their work, but everything that makes them a person. We're here to show you that life shouldn't be one extended time lapse where you pack in as much productivity as possible. Our first guest is Alex Simms, a writer, photographer, and teacher.
How do you cure a bad mood?
I am very much someone that can feel completely different depending on sensory details, if that makes sense? Whenever I become aware of how my emotions are affecting me—like bad ones— I get very practical about them. For instance, I might light a candle I like because I know it can transport me into a specific feeling of comfort, but most of the time I might repeatedly play music I know I like (lately, St. Vincent’s latest album) or replay a movie clip I really admire (lately, any art class scene fromGhost World). Feelings come and go, and if bad ones arise, I just see it as another chance to understand how to wrangle them a bit better each time.
Who do you look up to?
Creatively, right now I’m very inspired—and look up to—much of the works in film from this past year. Specifically, having seenLady Bird andCall Me By Your Name last year, I still think about both films quite frequently. From a writer and reader’s point of view, the script forLady Bird was so honest and endearing. Director Greta Gerwig was able to craft a really wonderful film that respected adolescence, and it’s clear that her role as director shines through given her experience helping shapeFrances Ha a few years prior. Greta is also from Sacramento, which is whereLady Bird is set, and I also love the idea of being inspired by my hometown and my neighborhood growing up. WatchingCall Me By Your Name pushed that even further for me, which made me heavily nostalgic for when I first started photography when I was fourteen. Each scene was executed with a thoughtful and tender jab at how setting was so vital in developing and reflecting the characters. Watching both films was quite jarring and left me a bit overwhelmed, as I hadn’t realized until then how important setting and place were to me visually, and how clear it is when I look at my past work that I would purposefully prioritize setting when composing a photograph, with the subjects in the photos often having their faces obscured in some way, so I guess I put them secondary unconsciously.
I would also have to credit—and remain inspired by—actors Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet for their amazing performances in each respective film. Right now, I would say they are both good sources of people I look up to. We’re all three around the same age, and while age doesn’t entirely measure success, I do admire those that work hard to get where they want to be.
How do you stay cozy on a Sunday evening?
WatchingGreat British Baking Show! Although, I’ve finished each episode for every season on Netflix, so now I browse my bookshelves and see what I’m in the mood to read. I can’t really read during the day because I feel some sort of guilt that I should be doing something else—usually something more productive—like my schoolwork or grading papers. This time of year is great for unwinding with a book in one hand and a hot drink in the other. But if I had to pick, the coziest Sunday evening would be at my parents’ house—during the summer—in their patio in the backyard. It’s a nice refuge from the lingering day’s heat, there’s still enough daylight to read, and my parents’ dog would lay on her bed beside my chair until she’d fall asleep.
How do you find your balance?
Short answer: I reread parts ofA Little Lifeand/orThe Lonely Citypretty frequently. Long answer: I try to approach everything I do in life as an opportunity to learn. When I was a teenager I gravitated to photography, and throughout the last couple years it’s been reading. Sometimes I look at books I’ve read and think about how they came at the right time, how some didn’t, and how ultimately, I’m getting to know myself better because of reading. It’s like after (almost) every book I read, I feel like a better-rounded person that can approach things and life and people a bit more deeply. My friends joke that I pick up on things easily and seem to be able to understand the rules and perimeters of any certain activity (insert here: bowling, skiing, predicting TV series endings, etc.). But, by far the most challenging with how I’ve been learning is with my time in my master’s program. There are infinite starting points when it comes to learning in academia, and I get excited with the prospect of studying and doing research and finding ways for its real-world functionality. Perhaps my longest duration with learning so far, while in school, is being offered to teach undergraduate students for “beginning composition.” My students all come into the classroom with their own interests, ideas, and experiences. I’m naturally a reserved person. I don’t tend to talk unless I feel prompted to, and I’m usually too engrossed with paying attention to what’s happening in front of me—happening to others—and put myself on the backburner. I approach teaching with a surprisingly extroverted version of myself. Teaching is something I’ve never done before so I use it as a space where I remain surprised by how I continue to learn what does and what doesn’t work for me.
For example, I start each semester by having students write a memory of their choice on a sticky note. Then, I draw a scale on the board, with one side saying “emotional” and the other side saying “objective.” I then ask if they could indulge me, and come up and place their sticky note where they deemed fit. Eventually, after one brave student begins his/her approach to the board, the rest don’t hesitate in where to place their memory. More often than not, the majority of students place their sticky note on the “emotional” side. The sticky notes, most often, are also filled corner to corner with writing. Later, after all students shuffle out the door and carry themselves to be dumped in their next class or dorm or wherever else, I pry each sticky note off the board and read each one. Students usually say to me, “I like to read and write, but hate doing it for school.” I tell my students that we can still hold onto our ideas about writing, (or in this case, our emotions) while still being represented “for school.” Perhaps most importantly, by having this visual component with sticky notes on the board, students in the classroom can collectively wonder and interpret how the semester will progress by getting to know a bit about where fellow classmates also placed their sticky notes, but everyone still gets to secure their emotional agency. Writing can be a lonely enterprise, but hopefully in this way, it can give a student solace and perspective that he or she is not alone. Understanding balance means understanding the people you find yourself surrounded by too.
I’ve always depended on stories and storytelling, whatever the medium. Right now, I’m trying my hand at creative writing, but who knows what else it could be? Exposing myself and talking about and understanding stories isn’t just what helps me find my balance, but also steers a big part of my life. I don’t know what I’ll be doing even five or ten years from now, but I know it will have something to do with stories.
Alex Simms is 23 years old and from West Virginia. His photography has been featured in group exhibitions, through clients such as Urban Outfitters, and in publications like Rookie, Oh Comely Magazine, and more. He likes Instagram and thinks about his Animal Crossing villagers often.