Coping Mechanism is a column by Mackenna Manidis exploring the care practices of creative people she finds inspiring.
Alexis Page is a self-described late bloomer.
Despite being the first to go through puberty and inherit her adult body, and despite always being the tallest in every class, she’s always moved a little slower. Alexis is soft and warm with a presence that feels like the way orange and pink fold together in a sunset. But more than that, she is a quiet force. As the eldest daughter in a matriarchal family, embracing her femininity has never been an issue for her — aside from in the workplace. As a character designer who spent the formative years of her career at one of the most massive animation houses in the world, Nickelodeon, she often experienced the restrictive nature of the boys club that dominates the field. For instance, a literal quote pulled straight from Disney rejection letters states: “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men.”
Clearly, the historical discrimination of the boys club of is still going strong, so as a young woman of color, Alexis has been challenged, to say the least. Daily work in an industry that is not only dominated by men but that has long been shaped by discriminatory attitudes —with no shortage of men who wax poetic about their “glory days” in cartoons — is a major source of anxiety for Alexis. “One of my biggest stressors is the fear of not having longevity in my industry,” she explained when we met up for brunch recently at Bon Vivant in Atwater Village. “Animation is constantly changing, and I’m scared that there won’t be any room for me. I’ve never been into competition, so it’s a bit rough for me to exist in this part of the industry.”
In animation — and plenty of other industries — personal Instagram pages have become portfolios for young artists hoping to be recognized. But a potential side effect of that, in the era of social media and viral fame, is that it’s almost impossible to keep work separate from every other facet of our lives; most young creatives identify their workplace in Instagram bios and entice new followers with insider info and behind-the scenes photos. Feeling the constant slow burn of having to prove herself in and out of the workplace was a turning point for Alexis as far as separating her career from her personal life on social media. “I try not to post as much art as I used to on my social channels,” she explained. “I draw all day for work and started to associate my career stress and expectations with drawing in all ways. I needed something fresh to devote my time to.”
For someone as creative as Page, finding an outlet for her artistic impulses that she could differentiate from work was surprisingly easy. “I wanted to make things I could wear,” she said, ruefully referencing her tendency to be a total clotheshorse. From the outside, I’ve always seen her as a style icon, never without fantastic, jealousy-inducing accessories — but knowing that she’s actually begun to create her own clothes and jewelry? That’s great news for me! Designing jewelry for her label, Late Bloomer,has allowed Alexis to create for herself and the people she loves. “The materials are sold in bulk so I thought, ‘what if someone else would want to wear this, too?” she remembered. “ I started making extra sets, and the orders started rolling in.”
Aside from extending labors of love to her closest, she’s been working on extending labors of love to herself, too, finding small, tangible ways to show herself care, creating effective, reliable coping mechanisms. “Not overworking myself was definitely one,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the time overworking is seen as normal for people in their careers, especially creative ones.” As a chronic people-pleaser and overachiever, this observation feels like a call back to my own tendencies to spread myself so thin, padding every hour of my days with work and activities. Relaxing can feel like a death sentence. “Once I clock out, that’s it; but that mindset took me a while to be comfortable with,” she noted. “I had to remember that self care wasn’t just soaking in the tub and going on hikes, but it’s also protecting your mental, emotional and physical energy. I can’t let the company I work for steal my brain power. I have to try my best to leave the best parts for me.”
Leaving the best parts for me sounds sacred and romantic and honestly — realistic. Being an over-extender takes so much out of me that I find it hard to deliver, even for the people I most want to show up for. But it also makes it hard to show up for myself, the person who is most in need — and most deserving — of my own focused attention. Alexis’ perspective taught me that putting myself first isn’t selfish, but in fact, will help me be better for those around me, too. She taught me that I can be everything at once, as long as I take some time to remember me in all of it. I’m allowed to be the center of my own universe.