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Hold Fast to Dreams

| This is the 605th story of Our Life Logs® |

Picture this: you’re gliding along an aisle in a library, absentmindedly sliding out a book or two from a shelf, then slipping them back, unopened. You so badly want to read something, to wander into another world for just a little bit, but nothing seems to call to you. Then, you turn into the graphic novel section. You feel a smile tug at your lips. It’s what you’ve been walking towards all along. The first comic you slide out of the shelf is open in your hands, its world spreading out of the pages, unfurling, pulling you in. Your eyes dance on the page, across colorful panels, across familiar characters and lands that exist only within the two covers of that book. You stand there, immersed, your worries melting away under the warm glow of the story— and, just for a little while, everything is okay.

A scene like that is one I experienced similarly many, many times, both through my middle and high school years, as well as in my adulthood. But hold on. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back a few years—say, back to 1987…

In 1987, I was born on the island of Guam to my Filipino parents, both of whom were (and still are!) hardworking nurses. As a child in Guam, I had many wonderful memories, most of which I can say I shared with the kids I had around me. In my neighborhood, everyone knew everyone, so since all us kids’ families knew each other, so did we. We spent our days playing together, dreaming together, just being with each other, no matter what. Even amid power outages, we all still potlucked and enjoyed each other’s company in candlelight. It was these memories that redefined my friends as family and gave a feeling of magic to that period of my life, even though it was a magic that I didn’t realize until it was in hindsight, five, maybe ten years in the future.

Group photo of me and my wonderful family of friends!

The great parts of my childhood didn’t only extend to free time, though. School was also something special to me, and I owe a lot to my teachers, especially in high school. My parents sent me to a private school, so they worked hard to make ends meet and help me get a good education. As a result, I didn’t see them much, so I often looked for parent figures in my educators. I was like a sponge, soaking in their advice and encouragement, joining clubs, and making my school experience the best I could possibly make it.

Thinking about it like this, it sounds like everything’s all sunshine and rainbows, doesn’t it? School’s great, life’s great, everything’s great—right? Back then, I told myself that, too.

The truth is, throughout my life, I constantly pushed myself—pushed myself way further than was best for me. After all, there were so many expectations. With my parents working so hard for me, I knew I had to make them proud. So, grades were a pretty big deal. I went for As and Bs, memorizing everything I could even if I didn’t end up retaining much. Nights were spent at my desk in the lamplight, drumming away at the wood with my pencil, notebook pages, index cards filled with terms and facts, and a hundred other things I tried to cram into my head. When I realized I wasn’t learning anything by just memorizing, though, it hit hard. Years of school, years of chasing those letters that start off the alphabet—and it felt like I had nothing to show for it. That put more than a chip in my self-esteem, which was already quivering from the weight of comparisons and the weight of all the expectations I felt I had on my shoulders. My whole world was a globe, and I was Atlas, barely keeping it off the ground.

So, I decided to take control and start a new learning style, one where I felt like I could retain a lot more—but that brought on its own challenges. Grades were harder to keep up. Though I was retaining more, I was falling behind from my other goals, the ones that looked best on my report card. Along with that, learning itself at times was a struggle for me. Being expected to sit quietly, attentively, and listen to my teacher’s lecture… I just couldn’t soak up as much as I wanted to. Now I know it’s because I’m a more kinesthetic learner—I had to be moving, doodling, drumming a little tune on my desk, doing anything to be able to focus on my work best—but in the classrooms in my high school (despite the kindness of my teachers), they weren’t too happy with me getting up or moving around during class.

Me in high school (second from the right)

I had to mold myself into the perfect student, the perfect daughter, the perfect person, like a rubber band stretched in one too many directions. I let others blame me if things went wrong in, say, a club competition. If someone thought one thing was best for me, I strove to live up to that expectation. I did, I did, I did—but never for myself. I wished that then I took a step back—reevaluate my priorities, myself, my own health. But still, I urged myself forward, despite my energy and mental health rapidly dwindling, into the next step in my life: college.

When I started my higher education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, (UNLV) in 2005, it was meant to be a brand-new beginning and the start of the path to my dream career in secondary education. I wanted to be a teacher and I picked a major in history, but too late I realized that many of my classmates were on track to grad school or a career in law. As a result, I threw myself into overdrive and worked hard to define myself in this field. Through that, I grew to love history more than I ever imagined, especially women’s history, which I decided to focus on after encouragement from my mentor, Dr. Joanne Goodwin. Despite finding that passion, though, things got steadily harder as college trudged on.

Me (bottom center) in UNLV

Like in high school, at UNLV, I constantly tried to be the best me I could be—or rather, the one others thought was the best me. Yet, there was one key difference, one that I can say was a step in the right direction. It was years late, but I was finally asking myself: what the heck is going on with me? I was working so hard to please everyone around me—my professors, my friends, my family, everyone—that I no longer wanted to keep going. It was then that I was finally diagnosed with flat-out, textbook depression, and, though there wasn’t a term for it then, burnout.

My diagnosis was the first of two wake-up calls that finally made me step back and look at my life through my own lens, rather than the hundred-and-one others that were held over my eyes for so long. Since this was pretty new to me, one of the ways I tried to make sense of everything was by drawing comics, something I began doing in 2010, about a year after I graduated UNLV and began to work in foodservice.

Why comics, you ask? Well, I guess we can finally head back to that library in the beginning, since you’ve got the 411 on me. Comics had always been a place of solace for me, especially as a teenager. Through high school, in my lowest points, settling down with Sailor Moon and my other manga friends helped me forget—which was what I needed the most sometimes. So, naturally, that’s where I turned.

My first piece was called Pushover, a story about me being a student leader and pretty much sucking at it. Upon putting pen to paper, though, I realized not only how cathartic it was, but how much I was really carrying Atlas’ globe on my shoulders, and how desperately I needed to get out all the negative, painful feelings that were pent up inside me for so long. Taking inspiration from the mangas of my teens, but with my own special twists in inclusivity like portraying chubby me, being open and honest, and just letting my words, my experiences, my feelings flow, Pushover grew from a small project into a four-part series and a five-year journey.

Copies of my comic, Pushover

Through Pushover, I also grew closer to the Southern Nevada art community, particularly in Las Vegas. Though my family wasn’t happy at first, as they felt it was an unsteady path to take (way less secure than a job in teaching, they often said!), through a lot of emotional labor and a lot of patience, in 2015, they finally began to accept that I set my mind on this path.

If it wasn’t for Pushover and my journey into art, I may have never come to the final realization that made me really make me break free of the mindset that held my wellness hostage in the past. Though I had taken that leap as a creative, I still worked in food service, and in 2016, I worked a job at a bakery where the love I felt for the staff and customers was mutual. One day, though, as I was cutting meat, I cut a part of two of my fingers off. When I rushed to a clinic, I was told it was an injury that would take over two months to heal—yet, even with this news, my job wanted me back at work the very next day.

I had done everything for the people there. Now, I had to do something for myself. Normally, just one person saying, “Please, don’t leave!” would have kept me there. But I knew I had to quit. So, I took my apron off for the very last time and headed into the unknown. Despite being jobless, not really knowing what I wanted to do next, it felt right. I listened to myself when I made the decision to quit, so I listened to myself now. Right then, that was what I needed to keep going.

Being unemployed at the time, I decided to apply for the Program Manager at the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada (WRIN) after being encouraged by Dr. Goodwin. After I was hired, I made it my goal to absorb my talent and passion for the Institute. But even that came with difficult work dynamics after Dr. Goodwin left the position. I sought other opportunities on campus like the Department of Art Fellowship. Though I didn’t get that position, my CV was held and reviewed again for a part-time instructor position. All in all, I got to keep the best of both worlds! I get to help foster potential leaders and artists from campus.

Teaching a class

It’s not all comics and rainbows. There are days where it feels like I’m going nowhere, days where keeping myself going doesn’t seem like it’s worth it at all. But on the other end of the spectrum, taking this risk, putting myself, my work, my soul out there—it’s liberating. I’m saying what needs to be said, and I’m doing it all in my own words, my own style, my own special, special way. I get the chance to honor everything and everyone that brought me to this place, their bits and pieces shining through my work.

At a comic book signing for Pushover.

In those really bad days, the thing I remind myself is something on the back cover of Pushover: No one likes to think they are a pushover until they are over being pushed. And, you know what? I’m over being pushed.

This is the story of Jean Munson

On the island of Guam in 1987 is when Jean Munson began her incredible journey. A hard worker, she often went out of her way to please the people around her. However, she pushed herself too much and ended up burning out. When she learned this, she began doing the things she loved—creating comics, and, from then, becoming a part of the creative community. While she knows being a creative is a leap of faith, she is happy with the work she does and hopes to do more for the creative community and help raise awareness about mental health.

Jean Munson now works at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in the Women’s Research Institute (WRIN) and in the UNLV College of Fine Arts as an art professor. In addition, she also established her very own publishing company in Henderson known as Plot Twist Publishing, where she helps local creatives get their work out to the public. She also hosts a variety of other events in Southern Nevada to help local creatives foster their talents and have a space to share their work.

In her free time, Jean hosts a podcast called Bruha Baddies—a comedic, yet informative podcast where Jean and other Filipinas talk about mental health—which can be found on PodBean, Apple Podcast, and Spotify. She also loves visiting her peaceful place, the dog park, with her dog, Stitch, and if you asked Jean what she’d do with all the money in the world, she’d visit Guam to not only revisit the fond memories she holds there, but to experience the place she loves the most again.

This story first touched our hearts on July 20, 2021

Writer: Safiyya Bintali | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker



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