Welcome to the Crescent City Crush Premier Feature!
This project is dedicated to boosting up the multi-faceted, multi-talented, kick-ass inspirational women of New Orleans who are crushin’ it. It takes so much to juggle our jobs, our creative pursuits, our philanthropic endeavors, and still manage to be wives, girlfriends, mothers, best friends and simply ourselves. I want to spotlight those women who are doing it all and find out what their secret is. We have no greater resource than each other and through this project I hope to connect New Orleans’ Crushes so that we can all get out there and kick some ass.
Choosing a crush for the premier feature was a no-brainer. Midori Tajiri-Byrd (@midori_stories) is the embodiment of what Crescent City Crush is all about. She’s a Makeup Artist, Milliner, Drag Performer, Survivor, Krewe Captain, Costumer, Animal Rescue Advocate, Wife, Friend, Collaborator and more that I’m still discovering as I get to know her. On top of all of that awesome she’s just about the friendliest person you’ll ever meet. She’s as colorful as she is thoughtful and has this powerful energy that isn’t to be denied. A one-woman-show of fabulous weirdness, Midori leaves a trail of magic behind her and I was fortunate enough to catch a little pixie-dust in her trail.
LR: What is your story? Who is Midori?
M: I think the biggest learning experience is that most people in my relative peer group probably haven’t lived half of their life. Maybe you’ve lived a quarter of your life but you probably haven’t lived half of your life. So to make any judgment calls about how to classify yourself at this point in life is just too premature. People who say “I’m too old for that” or “I missed that chance in life” realistically, 10-15 years from now, they think “I should’ve done that thing” “I should’ve worn that thing” “I should’ve gone back for that degree”. I wouldn’t say I’m someone who lives in the moment because I’m always overthinking things, but I try to appreciate the moment and be cognizant of where we are in the bigger picture of life so that I can not hold back from really great experiences whatever they are.
In terms of who I am, it’s just a constant evolution. I can look at a year ago, five years ago, any point in my life and I call them “past lives” because I was into a different thing, wearing a different thing, whatever. I think that the older I get the closer I come to figuring out who I am. I think I find myself through a process of deduction. I try on a lot of things and eventually the pendulum swings closer to the center and the things that stick in any of those incarnations define my future self. There’s a quote that says “life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself”. I tell my husband, if you’re sick of what I’m wearing right now, don’t worry and wait six weeks. I’ll probably have a completely different haircut and look.
LR: How are you crushin’ it?
M: I try hard to focus on the things that I really, really enjoy doing and try not to look at the dollar signs. I know a lot of people-especially when you are in a creative field-won’t get out of bed unless they are making a certain rate that day. Which is fine, I think you shouldn’t undersell yourself and you have to know where your cut-off point is and what’s worth your time. But I try as much as I can to focus more on the achievement of what I’m doing rather than what I’m getting paid for it. I think that over time putting the passion into your work will pay off and you can command the rate that you want more in the future and do fewer jobs for more money. I find that I do better in life when I really focus on the quality of the work, what I’m getting out of it and what I feel like I’m accomplishing rather than how much I’m making doing it. Especially in a town like this with so many talented and creative people, there are people who are just as good if not better so the only reason people will include you in a project is if they like something particular about yourself. So being able to constantly focus on your work and what it is about your work that makes it stand out is the only way you will get there and be able to perfect your craft.
The other thing I try to think about is the saying that to be an expert at anything you need to have theoretically 10,000 hours of doing it. So I try to constantly try to be producing so that I can get closer to being good at what I do or at least proud of it in the moment. The other thing is being cognizant that any of us can go at any moment and I don’t want to have missed out on anything fun in the meantime. People talk about FOMO, the fear of missing out, New Orleans is the worst town or the best town for that because there’s always twenty fantastic things to do right now. It’s hard for me to say no to a job because I think “then I’m going to see pictures on facebook and someone else is having the fun I should be having!”. So I try to do as many as I can without killing myself in the process.
Some people are good at one thing. I’m OK at several things. I’m good enough at several things to get by but because of that I’m good enough that there’s too many temptations to keep doing all this stuff. If I was just good at one thing, that would be great. I would probably have an easier, more constructive life. But I’m a Jack of all Trades.
LR: What are some of those things that you are good at and enjoy doing?
M: I’m largely a visual artist. I really love doing makeup because I love people and it gives me the chance to interact with different people. And when you are a makeup artist, your canvas is different every day. I think the most satisfying thing for creative people is overcoming an obstacle. So I feel if I go to work everyday and I have a new obstacle to overcome, a new challenge that I haven’t faced before I get the satisfaction of overcoming that obstacle and then I get to put that brush down at the end of the day.
I still enjoy doing hat design although I don’t always have time to do it. I don’t really do cakes anymore but I do a few cakes here and there as a part of other projects. The challenge for me with food art is that it all has to be edible. You can’t cheat and put fillers in there somewhere or even if it’s something like rock-hard rice krispie cake, if you’re not going to eat it I feel like it doesn’t count.
But I think it’s just creating magic. Creating the magic of those moments you had when you’re a kid when you could look at something with wonder. It’s why I like being in parades- when you get to look at an adult’s face watching something magical happen and they have that same light that you had when you were a kid on christmas morning, for one split second to really believe in magic- to be a part of that and however that translates into other things is fine with me.
The unbridled imagination of childhood where you don’t have to have things look or be a certain way, they can just be illustrations of your imagination. I think the same goes for performance or parade stuff. Being able to- for just a short period of time- create a world where people can put down whatever their daily life is and have a piece of magic for a minute. There’s nothing better than that.
There was a time in my life when I stopped doing all art because I thought “Oh, I’m not contributing to society” “Who am I helping” “I’m just creating frivolous imagery” . I didn’t do anything at all. I didn’t think it was contributing enough to society. I felt I should be doing something more concrete like, you know, feeding the hungry. One day I saw a piece of artwork that moved me to tears and it made me realize that a successful piece of art, particularly visual art, can do without even words, crossing all language barriers can make you as a human feel like you’re not alone in the world. Whether someone agrees with your political point of view or has been in the same emotional space as you, art touches you in the moment and makes you feel like your human experience is not alone in the world. When art can instill that in society it is hugely important. It shouldn’t be dismissed. Of course food and oxygen and safety are important but when someone is in a dire situation making them feel human through artwork is really important to survival.
LR: So what is one project that you are most excited about right now?
M: I’m always doing makeup and that’s the most successful part of my world business-wise. If I can continue to do photo shoots and be involved in the fashion side of makeup, that’s just fantastic to me. The challenging part of what I do is that I feel like I constantly have to scare myself. If I become complacent in what I do I feel like I become a craftsman rather than an artist. If I’m constantly giving myself a really scary challenge, that’s still exciting to me. In performance, there are a lot of things I’ve never done or I don’t feel I’m really good at but I’m forcing myself to do them anyway because the only way to get good at something is to get a bunch of those mistakes out. In performance and in drag, which I love, I’m doing more work on stage and talking to people and trying to work on comedy and interaction with people. So that there’s less hiding behind the facade of the image I created and there’s more drawing people in which is the exciting part to me- interacting with other people. It’s really scary when I thought I would go up there and maybe it would be terrible but I was going to do it anyway. Then I will have done it and it will make a good story. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, even if it’s a tragic thing, if it makes a really good story I’m usually satisfied with that. I’m like “oh this’ll be a page-turner for the old autobiography.”
LR: Do you have a specific project right now that you’re working on or something that’s coming up that’s pushing those limits within yourself?
M: I am starting the TMI Talk Show. It’s one of those ideas that just kind of happened in the middle of a conversation but then you decided it’s an idea that you’re going to do. TMI Talk Show, which is too much information, is based on the idea that sometimes in our social akwardness, you stumble into conversations that are probably not completely appropriate but sometimes those turn out to be the best conversations.
When I interact with humans on any of these levels of performance, my goal is to connect a really personal piece of them and myself. I wanted to create a format where I could have a discussion and interact with the audience, and maybe we will all get a little uncomfortable for a while with the subject matter but once we start sharing and giving back some of those shares, maybe it’s funny, maybe it’s touching, maybe it’s weird, maybe it’s like “Ugh! I never thought I would talk about that in public!” I think it could be interesting. So it’s The TMI Talk Show: It’s Drag, It’s Talk, It’s Too Much Information. It will be hosted by Liberaunchy and Eureka Starfish and it will be at the La Nuit theater on Freret. The first show is October 22nd. It will hopefully be a monthly show after that. It’s just going to be what it is. But it’ll have drag and performance, we’ll have some guests that are local personalities who maybe also have something to plug, somebody who can do a weird performance that they want to do. And maybe somebody who has a business or something that is TMI. That’s also great.
I think there’s also a magic to a really tragic show. I think there’s a magic to tragicness, when something is really bad people really enjoy what’s weird or awful about that.
LR: It’s like when you go to an open mic comedy night it’s either great or greatly terrible and it’s fantastically enjoyable either way.
M: The thrill of being a part of that rift is also what’s enjoyable to me. When people are willing to get out there, the lows make the highs all the more better.
LR: Adrenaline, my friend. Adrenaline.
M: Yeah. And I’m willing to go up there and make mistakes. I was in cycle two of the New Orleans Drag Workshop and was one of the only females- Mallory (@Miss_Malaprop) was the other one. I love Mallory. I think she is a fantastic performer. But I was aware from the first class that Vinsantos really thought she was good. It is really hard as an Asian to not be teacher’s pet. Just by whatever DNA is in Asian people, it’s really hard to not be top of your class. So it was a challenge. But the humbling part is knowing that you don’t have to be the best at everything. I’m not going to be the best at everything but I’m really enjoying the process of doing stuff and the satisfaction that it gives me. It also means that I work harder because I know a lot of those things aren’t going to come naturally to me. Being aware of that becomes part of the drive to keep producing things as well.
LR: If you could pick one woman, what woman would you say influenced you the most?
M: In life or in New Orleans?
LR: If you want to narrow it down, go for New Orleans.
M: If I’m going to pick one person in New Orleans, Katrina Brees. I say there are people in your life who gave you permission. Not explicitly but by being who they are or opportunities that they created either intentionally or unintentionally, they gave you permission to begin to blossom in certain ways. In the ways that she does a lot of DIY and interesting art seemingly without fear of judgment, she drew me into participating in her crews even when I wasn’t a crew member. She made me Queen of Kolossos a year ago. Before that I had been participating in stuff but I never felt like I had the attention of anybody. Her doing that for me gave me a little bit of a spotlight to develop my own weird things. That was a really big opportunity to me to have someone who I admired as an artist and as a personality share that with me.
My other friend Kanako at Kawaii Nola. I sometimes refer to people as a “quiet storm”. They’re not a big, loud personality but they do something in their own niche that creates opportunities for others. When I first moved here, I was still in a quiet working mode and when Kawaii Nola opened, I remember walking past and thinking “So cute but I’m too old for that kind of stuff” then I thought “I’m just gonna go in but I’m not going to buy anything” then it was “I’m going to buy one thing but I can’t really wear this stuff cuz I’m too old” and then I was like “you know what? I’m just going to wear all of this stuff. I don’t care anymore.” Then through all of the people supportive of that, you realize the only person holding you back with judgement really is yourself. Her presence there in my neighborhood gave me a permission for my costumes to become my outerwear, for my costumes to become a part of my daily rotation of outfits. It allowed me to express a part of myself I never thought I was going to be able to.
My favorite fictional character is Auntie Maim. I legally changed my middle name to Maim because she was my biggest inspiration. If she was a real person, she probably was super crazy. But she constantly created magic and made imagination into reality and made that OK to do. Every time they went back to her apartment it was completely redone in another style. She was never boring, never bored herself.
LR: Who is your Crescent City Crush?
M: There are so many crushes! If I had to pick one I would say Katrina (Brees). She’s a dynamic doer. I really like when people don’t just have ideas but they really get stuff done. I have a pretty diverse imagination so when somebody comes up with ideas that I would never have thought of I’m just like “What!? How did those synapsis meet? How is that even happening?” She has all the parade and art stuff but she’s doing a new thing now- Art Caskets. Hand decorated art caskets and a class to teach people how to decorate their caskets.
LR: Like their actual casket?
M: For funerals, yeah! This is the city to do it in.
LR: What advice would you give to an aspiring Crescent City Crush?
M: Give yourself permission to get out and make mistakes. Find a way to be fearless. Remove the judgment of what you anticipate others will judge you by or what you would judge yourself by and access that part of your childhood imagination where you really thought you could fly. Get to that point in yourself before you became an adult person, you can tap into a sort of bravery that allows you to do a lot of things. I don’t judge other people’s artwork because things come from a lot of different places. I might not always get or understand what other people put out there but I love the fact that they’re doing it and I would love to see more people putting their weird out there.
LR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
M: I don’t ascribe to a certain religion and I don’t know if I believe in life after death but I feel as long as you’re still breathing, your story isn’t written. You can always change it into anything else you want it to be. The sentence isn’t over. ♥
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