We had the good fortune of connecting with Valerie Gill and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Valerie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
To say that life isn’t risky would be false advertising; even for people who never take any risks, whether it’s because they’re scared or anxious. By never taking a risk those people could be taking the biggest risk of all, and that is simply that their life could end up feeling so underwhelming you’d have to question whether that’s a life’s worth living. I simply don’t believe someone could be content with only having a life that had nothing in it that was worth taking a risk for. That being said I am also that same person who can be consumed by my own fears and anxieties that I can miss my own chance to take those same risks. I’ve lived my life for a very long time in fear of my own wants and desires because I had always played the cards that were dealt to me in life. But I’ve reached an age where I now get to have some say of what cards I want to be dealt and in doing so I have won some of my happiest memories. I’m not saying that someone who never took a risk couldn’t live a happy life, but could they ever live their happiest life? Have you ever had the chance to fall in love with a friend, if you have then you know it’s risky. There comes a point when that friendship gets so tangled in other friendships and relationships that to ever confess could lead to an entire catastrophic mess that would leave more than the two lovebirds torn. And yet, many risk it. Because the possibility for a love that is already based on communication and understanding, well that’s a love that could flourish into something that very few people get to have in their life. The risk is there, we could lose friends, we could lose ourselves, we could lose hope in what our ideas of love may be; but then again you might not, and you might just get to have that opportunity to have your partner also be your best friend. Which at the end of the day isn’t that what we’re looking for, isn’t it what we’ve been promised in the media that we have so graciously consumed since our births? As someone who wants to work in this industry, isn’t that something that I too have to make you want? As a storyteller I have to feed off of your inner most desires and find an equally matching risk to make you ask the question, if you were put in the same position as any of my characters, would you have taken it? No matter what I write for my characters choice, I would want all of my readers and viewers to have been willing to be unafraid and take the leap. Because there have been so many times when I let my own uncertainties get the better of me, that now they are the regrets that plague my mind when I toss and turn and find myself unable to sleep. If you’re going to lose sleep, wouldn’t you want it to be over how happy and giddy you are rather than beating yourself up over what you were too afraid to lose? We do get dealt a certain hand in life and as we learn how to play this game, we will come to understand that in order to continue playing we all have to have a set in our hands. Some of us will show off our hands while others of us will play from a more mysterious angle, at the end of the day there are no real winners or losers, just a bunch of people with cards in their hands. Some of us will have the same cards, others will have better hands and others will have worse. The only way to get different ones is to start playing, some people might already have a good hand so they don’t see a point in going out there and playing, they could lose those cards and end up with a worse hand. But again it comes up that they might not, they might end up with a better hand. I didn’t mind the cards I was given when I was little, but when you’re little you’re not really allowed to play, you have to let the grown ups play for you. They played for me and because of that I was given a new hand, some of my cards where better some of them worse. But all I could see at first was the bad, I could only see what I had lost, for me that was a chance to live with my biological parents, a loss of my heritage, and for a while an educational setback. But after a while I realized it was too late to keep crying over the cards I’d lost, I’d just have to hope that I could have better luck in the future so I focused on the goods. What I thought were disadvantages became my biggest strengths. I learned what it was like to have two mothers, and two fathers, I learned what it was like to be an only child, and what it felt like to have siblings. I learned to understand and speak more than one language, and learn about my culture as an outsider and an insider, my disadvantages became my extra lenses to view the world through. It may be because of my experiences growing up that I have become afraid of how much a person can lose and be broken by it, the only reassurance I have is having seen the loss people can bounce back from especially when they are broken. So many of us are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and most of the time that does come from the losses we’ve experienced, but without those losses we would have never grown to understand our own strengths. That is something that we would have never known if it wasn’t for the risks, whether they were taken by us or by actions taken on our behalf. The world was built on risks, and because people continue taking them we continue to grow as a society and become stronger, we are more aware of one another now than we ever have been. We live in a society where we have to risk being unaccepted to ever find the people who would accept us for who are. Yes, it means the world has more labels now than it ever has, but because of that it also means we have so many more options. Could you imagine a world where there was only one type of food? I love food, I would literally go insane if I had to eat the exact same thing every single day for every meal. Someone at some point had to take the risk and eat all those foods we eat today, they thought the flavor was worth the risk of dying! But we come back to, “but they didn’t”, and now I have so many options of sauces I can dip my fries into. It’s the same thing for music, for books, for movies. We live in a time where everything is based around what we are consuming; that we need to have as many options as possible, because what’s the point of living if there isn’t something new to try. If we knew how everything would turn out, life would be so predictable and in turn so boring. Anticipation for a result that could prove worthwhile is the one thing that I truly believe keeps us going, because once we actually get the chance to find out, if the experience was worth the risk, it almost always ends up being so much better than anything we could have fathomed. Risks are what make food taste better, they’re what makes music sound better, they’re what make movies worth remembering; and hopefully if I take enough of them, it will be what makes my stories worth listening to.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, but over the years I’ve come to understand that not every story can be told the same way, because of that I’ve come to pick up different skills. From writing, to drawing, to making music, these skills allow me to keep my scattered brain happy and constantly working on something. I think what sets me apart is what also makes me like everybody else, what I mean is that I often like to refer to myself as a bit of a social chameleon. What that means to me is that I’m usually used to adapting to whoever I’m interacting with, I’ve had a very nice privilege not only engaging with all kinds of people, but also finding a way of interacting with someone that allows them to feel included. It allows me to wear different masks, but in doing so it does mean that I am often hiding a good chunk of myself from people. My work allows a moment for someone else to try and understand me in a way that I didn’t have to translate for them. And in turn I often find that many people don’t have much trouble understanding me, even though I fear they do. I think what I do with my work is create a space that feels safe because it allows for the audience a chance to get to be me behind the mask. When I was young I used to immerse myself in as many stories as I could just for a chance to escape from my problems or find a solution to help me work through them in a way that also allowed me to escape reality. I think that idea is something that I show now in my own work, I often try to find the line between what is reality and fantasy. I want the people and the relationships to feel real and complex and to make choices that would seem believable, but in a space that allows me to forget about my own reality. My work allows me a time and place to pose an issue I am having or have had and allow a possibility of outcomes that have no implication in the real world other than what the viewer decides to do with the information. Because for those who aren’t facing the same problems I am, I would hope that I am creating a clear enough picture that they can gain a different perspective and in turn at least sympathize. And for others who may actually be facing similar problems, well it often helps to just be heard, to know that someone out there at least feels the same way. I would hope that for them I could at least present their troubles in a way that more people could understand, and while I may not have the answers, perhaps we can go on knowing at least we aren’t alone. My work may not be for everyone and I understand that, it can often be dark and ugly, but it’s my way of finding the beauty in the ugly and light in the dark that I hope is what resonates.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If there wasn’t a pandemic and I could freely take a friend on a tour of some hotspots I think I’d have to start by taking them down to the Pike for a day around Downtown. One of my favorite places to eat is this cute little hole in the wall called Sura Korean BBQ, it is absolutely amazing, its one of those places my mom and I always ate whenever I visited, but the staff there is always so friendly and the food is absolutely delicious every time, each cook brings something a little different, its the same meal but each cook has their own spin on it which makes for a unique experience every time while also bringing you something familiar. Then we’d probably got to Fingerprints because that store was my haven in college, it’s a cute little record shop on 4th Street that sometimes has live performances, but honestly I was there for the little back corner of the store that had a closet size stock of movies. When I was trying to decide what kind of films I wanted to make that store was my playground I’d go in with ten dollars and walk out with like two new movies and sometimes a book. Because they don’t focus on catering to what’s popular it allowed me to branch out my taste in movies and music, and through their book collections I got to experience art from opposite side as a consumer learning about art. We would pick up a book or even maybe some music to take with us to the beach, and we’d just chill for the day with some mason jar pies from the Pie Par on Pine. For me I personally really like the beach, not necessarily the ocean, but like a day at the beach alway sounds like fun so maybe even two beach days would be nice because I love the fire pits at Bolsa Chica, and the sand there is honestly really strange to me. I don’t normally go in the ocean but at that beach you kind of have to because the sand will be a flat plateau in one area then drop off in another and then there will be another plateau you can stand on like ten feet out from where you just couldn’t touch the ground. Another thing we would definitely have to do is go to brunch because brunch in my opinion is the best meal anyone could ever eat, and for me the best brunch spot is this cute little place in Cerritos called Bakers and Baristas, one of my dear friends showed it to me for one of our brunch dates and honestly I’ve tried to show as many people since. I’ve had the opportunity of working as a Barista and because of that I’ve come to learn how to appreciate coffee and a good coffee pairing and the Baristas there are honestly amazing. My favorite thing has to be the chilaquiles and their honey lavender oat milk latte hands down that coffee alone is something that my palette had never known existed and puts most other coffee, I have had since, to shame. And all the food that I’ve had the pleasure of trying from there is absolutely delectable, every bite gives you just the right amount of favor, and tastes so bright and fresh, its just a really great day to start off the day. The last big place that I could think for sure that I would love to take them is the cute little Bar in Buena Park called The Cauldron. Its this cute spooky themed bar, all the drinks are themed which is always fun. But the Food! They serve a French menu, and up until I ate there I don’t think I had ever had any French Cuisine, but I tried something new and I ended up enjoying it so much, that its become one of my favorite places to go with my friends, it might also be that I like any excuse to go to anything that is spooky themed but I really enjoy the food there, and there is always something new on their nightly menu to try.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
A lot of my understanding of the world comes from the understanding of my family. My mother, Teresa has helped me understand what it means to be compassionate and for her I thank the kindness in my characters. My Guardians, Rico and Dede, have helped me understand love in all shapes and sizes and for them I thank the complexity that I am allowed to have in my everyday relationships with the people around me, and in my stories. I thank my nephew, Michael for showing me the fire that is capable in people’s souls, it has allowed me to understand that everyone has backstory and it’s important that it be allowed a space to be heard. I thank my niece, Marissa, for always showing me strength, because it’s important to understand that some things are worth fighting for but not every battle is fought the same way. I wouldn’t be who I am without my family, all of it, from the ones I don’t talk to, to those I still have to meet. It is all just part of my own history and like I said backstory is important.