Mari Andrew's soft, colorful illustrations trace the magic, the mundane, and the misfortune lining the path to inner growth and self-discovery. Her Instagram page is a safe haven for more than 750,000 followers, a source of solace and humor, a testament to facing your darkest parts and finding pockets of light along the way. In Andrew's first book, Am I There Yet?, she reflects on her twenties, navigating memories of joy and sorrow with wisdom and sensitivity. PAPER talked to Andrew about her new book, becoming the person you want to be, and getting to know yourself and your surroundings.
Could you tell me a little bit about your new book?
I wrote the first essay that appears in the book when I was 22 and I'm 31 now, so it's been a long time coming. I had been writing essays about growing up through my twenties for the past 10 years. Originally it was going to be a book of just essays without art, but then I started drawing two and half years ago and now it is a book filled with art.
It's about the journeys I've taken metaphorically and literally through the world and growing up as a twenty-something who is really sensitive and had a few twists and turns in the process. There's so much pressure to know yourself better than you do in your twenties, but I think the whole point of it is the getting to know yourself, which is not the part that looks great on Instagram. Figuring it out takes a long time.
So did you start out as a writer?
Yes, definitely. I've never done it professionally, but it was always what I wanted to do. I actually consider my illustrations to be sort of like mini essays because they convey some pretty large ideas or metaphors in a quick little sketch. I'm sort of getting to know myself as a visual artist now because I started that so late in life. But I think it all comes from the same sort of writerly place.
You started a drawing at 28. What what were you doing before that as a career?
I've had so many different types of jobs, I never thought that my day job was going to be the thing that I really love to do. I never totally connected with that idea — which is a pretty millennial idea — that you have to be passionate about what makes you money. So I did a lot of jobs that were interesting to me in some way. I worked in a boutique, I got a job in marketing at a non-profit, I was an English teacher, I was a barista for a thousand years. All of these jobs gave me a lot of fodder for creativity.
I was writing a lot in my journal and on my blog while working those jobs and living in different cities and I figured someday I would share all of these stories in a book. It's totally new for me to have a job that is my quote unquote passion. Although I don't really know if that's accurate either.
Do you think it's necessary to have a five year plan? That's something I've been thinking about a lot.
When I think of a quote five year plan, I think about the person I want to be at that age and how I'm feeling and what I surrounded by what I'm doing on the weekends, where I'm traveling, who's in my life, what I'm up to, and I kind of work backwards from there. So what are the things I need to be doing now to be that person in five years? So it's less about career goals at it as it is emotional goals. How do I want to feel? And work backwards from that.
I knew that I wanted to have a book deal by 30 because I knew that I wanted something to show for all of my life experiences in my twenties. And so I thought about myself as a 30 year old and I hustled really, really hard and I made it happen. But I don't think that's because I had specific goals. It was more, "This is how I want to feel at 30: really accomplished," and then, "What would make me accomplish that: Having a book."
That's great advice. How did you reach this point of enlightenment and being in touch with your emotional self?
I've been very fortunate to have really good friends who have helped me see myself a little better. I've always been super sensitive and super observational because growing up I didn't have a lot of friends and so I was always just kind of watching people on the outside. I think all of that observing and then writing in my journal and being really reflective made me feel like an outsider. But then when I got a little older in my twenties and made really good friends and realized, "Wow, I'm not alone and I actually have something to offer the world." I'm really encouraged to see a lot of my friends being artistic and creative and I think that motivated me to be a little more expressive myself. My advice is to definitely make friends who are smarter than you are.
It's sometimes hard to find inspiration and observe what's going on in the world when everyone's kind of just observing it through their phones, but you seem to do a really good job. Could you expand on your relationship with your phone and social media?
That's such an important question. Anyone who is a thoughtful person is thinking about their relationship with their phone and social media. Humans are animals and we can only really take in so much. I think that we're overwhelmed easily, but we're not always totally aware of that. I've been very aware of my animal self lately and how I just cannot handle everything that is available to me on my phone. It doesn't feel good.
But, you know, my whole career as on my phone. So what I personally do is log into Instagram in the morning, I post and then I log out and don't really touch it for the rest of the day. That said, I think that Instagram is only as good or as bad as the people using it. We do have to be really responsible about what we consume. I try to only look at accounts that make me feel inspired and it and good and not follow so many that are aspirational and make me doubt myself. I've gotten so much from the community on Instagram and I try to remember that these are all real people with a phone and feelings, but I think we all have to just pay attention to how we're feeling when we're on our phone because it can get to be a little much very easily and quickly.
Do you use drawing as a type of coping mechanism?
Yeah, I do use drawing to process some thoughts and ideas, but there's a big difference between what I talk about and draw privately and what I put on Instagram. I try to process what I'm going through and heal before I put it on Instagram, so I often will post about things that happened years ago or things that I've already completely processed. I tap into the emotions that I was going through at the time. So it is a way for me to process, but it's not a way for me to heal.
To process things I definitely do a lot of journaling. I'm a social introvert so I love to talk out what I'm going through with people. I think it's very important to externally process what exactly you're feeling. Brené Brown, who is a fantastic writer and a big influence on me, says that the way that shame disappears is to speak it. So to tell someone, 'I'm feeling really ashamed' or 'I'm feeling really embarrassed' is a great way just to begin processing. I also love taking baths. I dance a lot. Physical activity is such a healer, it's really a great way to let out anxiety.
How do you motivate yourself? I know you were diagnosed with a pretty serious autoimmune disease last year. I can't imagine motivating myself in that position.
It's on a day-to-day basis when you're going through something so hard like that. I always try to get back to the root of why I do what I do, which is to make people feel less alone and to express hidden parts of myself.
When I'm going through something really dark and overwhelming, it can be so helpful to put that out there as it is. When I was healing or recovering, which was the hardest part of being sick, I did an illustration that was just about like how hard it was to do illustrations at that time. I try to use even a lack of motivation as motivation.
How did you come to internalize self-love and self-care?
I think I came to really love myself when I created a life that I love to live. I can look back on the past couple of years of building it and say, "Wow, I'm really happy today because I knew myself well enough to make the friends I wanted and to get the career I wanted and make my apartment look the way that it looks and live in the city I wanna to live in, and I did all that for me." That was such a, an act of self-kindness. So I think I'm getting there, but it's probably as a lifetime process.
Your work has a lot to do with travel and finding love. Can you talk a bit about that?
Yeah. It's funny you say that. Those are the two experiences that I consider to be the best experiences of my twenties, dating and traveling alone. I think they both taught me so much about myself. They're both challenging and you have to really struggle to make them happen, but there are moments in both traveling and dating that are so magical, like you'll believe you can fly. Those moments from both traveling and dating have been my favorite moments of life. And I think it's such a special thing to be able to do both of them and just explore the world and yourself a bit before settling down. It's a really, really lovely gift to give yourself.
What was the last book or article or essay that you read that you really found inspiration from and are connected to?
Back to a Brené Brown who I mentioned earlier, she wrote Braving The Wilderness. I really love all of her books, but that one particularly resonated with me. It's about how to really belong to yourself so that you can better make other people feel like they belong. It's about being really true to your story and honoring all of the parts of yourself that aren't the most glamorous. It's a really calming book for anyone who feels like they're constantly messing up, which I think anyone who's remotely sensitive probably feels.
Am I There Yet? is out 3/27. Pre-order it here.