Summer ’22 – Long Island City, NY
Over the last five years, I have found myself around an incredible number of uniquely talented people from fascinating backgrounds. These people are writers, teachers, filmmakers, designers, and organizers from all over who are out in the world authentically doing dope sh*t (read: work).
In My Room is a photo series I started as a way to capture the remarkable people behind the art, lens, film, writing, etc., in the spaces that reflect the rawest and most vulnerable aspects of who they are: their bedrooms. With Frank Ocean’s song of the same title (not a coincidence) playing in the background, I started creating an outline for what I envisioned this project to be–who I wanted to spotlight, what I wanted to talk about, and where I was willing to go to make it happen.
This visioning brought me to my first series subject and muse, Jalena. We met over a year ago, working together on various projects and articles for Imanigold, and I’ve been one of her biggest fans ever since. As a social media wizard, brilliant content creator, and all-around creative powerhouse, Jalena is a constant source of inspiration. She’s a beloved member of the Imanigold community and one of the hardest-working people on any team. So, it was an honor to be welcomed into her room to highlight the beauty behind the badass.
SF: On social media and in your work, you advocate for mental health. You also speak openly about how our external environment shapes how we care for ourselves internally. How would you describe the relationship between you, your mental health, and your space?
JS: Oof—think for me, it’s more of my space affecting my mental health more than the other way around. I realized early on in life that when I’m sad or anxious, my “comfort spaces” often get messy and overwhelmed. I started making a point to do the little things: ALWAYS making my bed before I head out, using those candles that I had only reserved for special occasions, or rearranging my space like it’s about to be featured in a magazine. I make myself feel safe and special.
I focus on creating an environment that’s more than just livable because that’s how my best self deserves to live…even when I don’t feel like it.
SF: You constantly have to give the best of yourself to other people. It’s so important to remember to give back to you. Thinking about your “best self” and the badass version of you that has to go out into the world—what version of Jalena do you feel like you get to be here at home?
JS: I feel like a social chameleon so often that there are times I don’t know who to be when I’m alone. When there is no other person to please or to reflect. It’s only recently that I’ve gotten closer to seeing my most authentic self at home. While my entire career is built upon aesthetics and social media, honestly, I’m not too fond of it. Spending so much time curating an image…It feels suffocating.
The version of me I get to be at home is who I wish I could be everywhere else. “Jalena off the grid.” Not relying on external validation. In a state of following my instincts instead of walking on eggshells around accommodating everyone else.
SF: know that navigating the New York City housing crisis was a major hurdle for you this year—can you share a little bit about that and how you got here?
JS: I was humbled to my core back in May. I thought I had seen it all after living in a windowless and AC-less room in Bushwick for a year and a half—I was wrong.
After searching for an apartment for three months, the day came when I finally had to move out, and I had no lease or place to move into. Luckily, I have an aunt and cousin that live in the city. I reached out and we gathered all of my belongings in trash bags and old cardboard boxes to stash in their places. I ended up finding an apartment a week later. But those seven days were hell. I was sleeping on a couch, wearing clothes out of a bag, and navigating to find an apartment, all the while working a nine-to-five job. Within two hours of posting, I would show up to apartment listings on my lunch break to discover the place had already been rented. It was ruthless.
SF: Settling into your own space is really about the rituals you create for yourself. After so much transition, what rituals transformed this long-awaited apartment into your home?
JS: My number one ritual, or way of living, is filling the air with music. I grew up playing vinyl 24/7. My parents even engraved the words “music and love forever” on their wedding rings. From the moment I move into a new space, I need a good song and Ari Lennox’s New Apartment is usually my go-to. Once I’ve been somewhere long enough to settle, I play all my favorites like Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, and Al Greene.
Making this room feel like me when I’m still learning about myself is interesting. I’m learning that plants, music, and sunlight are what keeps me the most connected to myself. Everything else around me could change (and it does), but my rituals have to keep all those elements in the mix.
SF: When you think about what helps you stay grounded outside of the comfort of your room, is there anything you take with you on the go?
JS: When I feel really thrown for a loop, I usually grab an old piece of art or a sketchbook and go outside. Sometimes it results in me just staring at a blank page and other times, I come back with something to hang on a wall at home.
SF: Who do you get to be here that you don’t get to be anywhere else? What aspects of yourself feel the most free?
JS: At home, I get to be young, sometimes ignorant, and utterly confused. I tend to put up this facade of having my shit together. I constantly receive compliments like, “wow, you’re so mature for your age.” I’m just over twenty-one and landed a job where people a year or two from thirty report to me.
In my room, I get to find myself, be myself, and lose myself with no expectations. I can lean into whatever emotions come my way, feel them, and express them without worrying about how that will impact the perception other people have of me. I get to be me.
Want to read more?
Check out Jalena’s article below on navigating social media with healthy boundaries and keep up with her on Instagram @jalena.nyc