When Genevieve came over to artist Megumi Arai’s apartment that afternoon to photograph her for the feature, it was rainy. Frankly, it was the time of year when everyone and everything in Seattle felt like rain on the inside and on the outside.
When you meet someone who can show up in the middle of this dreariness and make the whole room warm, sometimes it can be intimidating. That’s Megumi. A woman who has gone through so much, who split her childhood between Tokyo and the US, who is in five years of sobriety, and who openly talks about her depression and the normalcy of it. But this intimidation is important. It makes us realize that the best people are the ones who have faced their demons, and aren’t afraid of ours. This comes out in her art, creations that are surreal and gorgeous. They examine human connection, the immediacy of beauty, and the struggle with identity. From cloth to photography, her art is both ethereal and seemingly unbreakable.
There are some people who when they arrive, they really arrive. She wasn’t afraid to open up, to put down her day and her stress and connect. Over hours in her apartment, and then a drive to catch the last light of the short winter day, Megumi listened as much as she talked. She was warm, kind, and laughed at everything. She is so much energy and lightness that you’d think she was an extrovert. As Genevieve says, “Megumi is one of those people that if I ran into her on the street, within one second I’d have told her all my secrets.”
But underneath all that is a woman who has overcome hardship to create her own path. Someone who is so present with people because she seems to see that we may need each other more than we let on.
And nothing makes the winter clouds break like being seen. Megumi sees people, and from that creates things that feel as though they came straight out of our own dreams.
In less than 250 words, tell me your life story:
I was born in March. It was supposed to happen in Tokyo, where my parents were living at the time, but my grandmother was very ill. My mom traveled back to Portland, Oregon to be with her. That’s how I got my middle name Shauna. In the Jewish tradition babies are named after recently passed loved ones. Megumi is the name my father chose for me. The Kanji he picked is hard to read and people are often confused in Japan. It means compassion, the Buddhist term loving kindness.
My mother is a cultural anthropologist, specializing in Japan, and my father is an economist who works abroad. I am the older of two girls. We grew up moving back and forth between the US and Japan. Being equally Japanese and American was very important to my parents. We were surrounded by mountains of books and my parents were always reading and writing. We watched a lot of movies. I believed in every story as if it were real and happening right in front of me.
I ran around a lot as a kid. I was always too rambunctious and ill behaved to be a “good Japanese girl”. I laughed too loud, I cried too much, I got obsessed with things and couldn’t let go.
Being born biracial for me has meant existing in the world as a constant other or becoming the most apt chameleon in the world. Being a chameleon is a beautiful experience, but if you aren’t careful you will constantly be what other people want you to be and your true self will never develop.
Tell me about your art.
Making work is my passion. It is my livelihood. Other than my sobriety it is the most important thing in my life. It is and will be the longest relationship I ever have, because I interact and relate with the world in this way. I feel grateful that I get to be a practicing artist, though it comes with it’s own struggles and uncertainties.
Talk about the importance of your books:
Each time I pick one up I feel like I dive into a world. They are beautiful and give me so much inspiration, excitement and hope!
Genevieve mentioned that you consider yourself impulsive – how does that affect you?
I think spontaneity makes me really fun! Impulsivity is the other side of that coin. It can be ugly and painful. I keep working on growing my spontaneity and lessening my impulsivity.
Can you talk about the role that depression plays in your life?
Depression is a family disease, like alcoholism and many other things. It’s passed down through the generations and very difficult to stop the cycle. Some of the most charismatic, brilliant people suffer from depression. Some of the funnest, funniest, most exciting people suffer from depression. What goes up must come down ya know?
Tell me about the dynamic with your sister:
She is such a badass. She’s incredibly driven, such a hard worker, and smart as a whip. She speaks five languages and currently getting her doctorate at Berkeley. She is very important to me. I think she is very brave and I love her fire. We didn’t get along for a long time. I think it was hard to have a sister who was an addict, disappeared a lot and created havoc. I would be lying if I said I don’t compare us. Sisters do that. But it puts a wedge in between us and our relationship is too important for that.
You’ve been sober for over five years – that’s fucking incredible. Can you talk about what led you to the decision to stop drinking?
Hah well it really didn't start off as my decision if you know what I mean. It became my decision after a while. It took a lot of failed attempts and a lot of doing the wrong thing to make me what to do the right thing for myself. I was privileged. I got the best help, the best care, and a lot of chances. It’s not like that for many people.
I crashed and burned really young. I was a high school drop out, a college drop out. At the end I couldn’t stop overdosing. Nothing I could get my little hands on would get me high or drunk enough. My life was basically a cycle of detox, hospitals and rehabs.
Honestly, the funny thing is, the longer I stay sober the more I realize I feel everything like I’m high already. The difference is it’s more stable. It comes from some deep place within me and it’s not depleting or fleeting.
When do you feel the most yourself? Why?
When I am full heartedly concentrated in making. When the judgments and all other distractions have slipped away and I don’t care what other people will think when I show the work. When I see beauty and feel inspired. Being in love. And when I’m dancing!
When do you feel the least yourself? Why?
When I give into fear. It happens much more then I would like to admit!
What do you love about yourself?
My passion, the way I feel excitement, feeling inspired with my entire being, my ability to be adaptable and teachable (sometimes it takes a while but it always happens eventually! ;) wearing my emotions on my sleeve (which I used to hate but now see as a strength).
What don’t you love about yourself?
My self doubt, my simultaneous ADD and obsessive tunnel vision (it makes no sense!), I think anxiety can sometimes make me selfish.
Talk about an instance in your life that made you feel the most vulnerable:
So much is vulnerable! I think you’re probably doing something right, taking chances, living fully if you feel vulnerable.
Name one of your girl crushes, and why you are crushin’ on her:
I’ve always been in love with Louise Bourgeois. She was so vulnerable, so passionate, brilliant and feisty. When I saw The Spider, The Mistress & The Tangerine I got shivers up my spine. She made work for something like seven decades! She persevered in a male dominated art world and leaned into her feminine qualities. She saw her sensitivity as strength.
When was the last time you were guilty of judging a woman too quickly?
Probably yesterday! I am totally guilty of snap judgments. I find that my judgments of others are directly correlated with the amount of judgment I am having for myself.
What frustrates you about the way women treat each other?
We see each other as competition, we exclude and are cliquish, we tare each other and ourselves apart, and for what? I dunno.
What do you love about the way women treat each other?
We have infinite ability to understand and supportive each other. The way we laugh together! I love the women circles I am a part of. When we get together I feel this deep primal need met. I believe a lot of us (people in general) are missing community and gathering. We are so isolated in our delusional technological togetherness.