Monica Zielinski : Stay tuned!

21.03.2021
fot. Iga Maćkiewicz

I saw Monica Zielinski on a TV talk show devoted to America that was broadcasted on Polish television last fall. She is a native US American, but with purely Polish roots – both her parents are Polish. Born in the States, she went to school there, and then to university – she graduated with a degree in journalism. And then she decided to move to Poland in 2016.

She worked for a magazine, writing mainly about business, culture and current affairs. Currently, she works at a startup, where she creates content about unique accommodations. To me, a man who’s no longer young (to put it lightly), this term "creates content" immediately hurts my eyes and ears. But I decided to use it because I know that there already exists - at least in English - a name for such a profession: content creator. How would it be in Polish: twórca treści? That doesn't sound right. But there are such ‘content creators’ and they earn their living that way. An example is Monica Zielinski. She told me more about it in the interview.

What else can I add when introducing my interlocutor? She runs a YouTube channel, where she talks about her life in the US and now, and how they differ. She likes to travel around Europe and the world – recently, however, she mainly visits her grandparents in Ostrołęka because of the travel restrictions. She reads crime novels, rides a bike and conducts – I assure you: legal – experiments in the kitchen. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Monica Zielinski!

Władysław Rokiciński: I would like to talk to you about the creative life. What it is, what it could mean. My son, an architect, included this quote in his e-mail signature: "He is always creative, even when he is idle." Apparently, this is how Jerzy Sosnkowski, co-designer of the Warsaw cinema "Atlantic", which opened in February 1930, expressed himself about the "spirit of an architect". In the book "Japan Lost" - by Alex Kerr - there is a chapter with this title: "Letterati. Doing nothing". There is a reference to All Souls College at the University of Oxford. This college was founded in the 15th century and is the only one that does not educate students, it only brings together fellows, i.e. professors of the University. Among them was also the Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski. The college does not educate students, so in an educational sense it does nothing, and yet its membership is considered the highest distinction in the British scientific world. Its members meet and talk. As much or as little? Can a creative life have anything to do with "lazing around"?

Monica Zielinski: I can tell you what it looks like from the perspective of a content creator on social media. Thanks to algorithms and mobile apps, anyone with Internet access can create something and become instantly famous for it. Occasionally, this stroke of luck came with virtually no effort. Silly, unedited videos can be viewed millions of times and launch the creator into an overnight sensation. However, turning that popularity into a creative life does take effort. Suddenly there’s this pressure to keep posting new videos that will have viewers coming back and following your content. Of course, someone who has a creative soul and ideas come to their mind quickly and naturally may have it easier, but producing that content requires time, dedication and some work. Even some content that appears to be effortless and thrown together probably took more time than we assume. It’s easy to judge someone’s work when all we see is the finished product and not the entire process. But on the other hand, the Internet is a strange place and some people may want to be known just as being lazy and they produce content based around that such as lazy cooking, lazy travel, lazy life. But again, you can’t be too lazy to turn this into a creative life.

That's right, in the common understanding, the term "creative" has nothing to do with idleness. One might even say that these are opposites. Maybe creative life is closer to another term that is often used, and certainly well-known: the American dream. Although perhaps it was more often used in the past than now. What is the "American dream"? For me, it is a mixture: a place - which creates opportunities, because it gives equal opportunities to everyone - diligence and - what else? The proverbial stroke of luck? What does the American think about the "American dream"?

The American dream, more than anything, is a feeling – in your heart. It’s the true belief that you can achieve your goal of having a better life. I’ll start by saying that Americans are very optimistic and positive people and they have this idea ingrained in them that if they live in the “country of opportunity”, there’s nothing holding them back from going after what they want. This can mean something different to everyone - whether that’s becoming a millionaire, starting a small business, or simply owning a house and starting a family. This is what drives them, what motivates them to work so hard - the pure pursuit of happiness. Even if they don’t achieve it, they’ll spend their entire lives working toward it. But the American Dream can be achieved anywhere if you just believe in yourself. Americans have confidence and personal drive to try something new, to go after a bigger opportunity rather than just settle and accept their fate as it is now. They also have many examples of people who achieved their vision of the American Dream so they believe even more that they too, can make it happen. Yes, the US does offer opportunities that may not be as easily available in other countries, but you need to have this mindset that tomorrow will be better, tomorrow you’ll get that promotion, that raise, that business contract, that ‘big break’.

You studied journalism at one of the universities in the United States. The United States has a very large number of universities, it’s a large country. There are universities that take the lead and certainly those that lag behind. What is it about American universities that the best ones are also world leaders?

Since I had the opportunity to study at universities in both the United States and Poland, I can base my answer on my own personal experiences. The biggest difference is the immense focus on practical knowledge related to your specific field of study in the US rather than the theoretical aspects which are more common in Polish universities. As an undergraduate journalism student at a public university in Connecticut, for example, I spent four years reporting on real news, learning how to record and edit interviews on camera, we even practised live tweeting at a press conference which requires immense concentration, speed and accuracy. These are real-world skills employers look for when hiring graduates. In addition, professors in the US often break down the barrier between teacher-student and encourage class discussions to foster a dialogue between students so that they can also learn from each other. We were also taught how to find the answers on our own, to always be curious, and join clubs outside of the classroom based on our interests. Universities care deeply about well-developed student life. Students spend a lot of time on campus, thereby creating social capital and laying the foundations for the rest of their lives. Since higher education is so expensive in the US, students at my university took their studies seriously, worked hard to earn scholarships and tried to make the most of their education. There’s also no cheating. You can be expelled for this kind of behaviour. Finally, America has some of the best universities in the world because there’s a lot more funding for new technology, experiments, research and other fieldwork so students have a chance to participate in potentially ground-breaking work even before they finish their studies. I’m immensely grateful I had the opportunity to study in the United States. It’s definitely a privilege.

Maestro Jose Maria Florencio - conductor, musician and composer, Brazilian by birth, Pole by choice - said in an interview for one of the Presto issues: “In the USA or Brazil, the path of a man with initiative looks completely different than in Europe. In Poland, everything is regulated: you go to school, then you go to university, possibly earn a doctorate, and only then does your life begin. In Brazil, if someone has an idea, he can become a millionaire overnight, because the production volume of everything is enormous." Do you think that's right?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I’m not in the business sector, but as a journalist, I have written about startups in Poland so I can say that yes, the bureaucracy in Poland makes it harder for entrepreneurs to do business here, especially foreigners. The paperwork and processes to do anything in Poland can be a real nightmare for non-Polish speakers. This is something Poland should work on to improve and make it easier for talent to come to Poland and start businesses here. Despite these challenges, there’s huge potential for people with new ideas in Europe because the US market is quite saturated already. Plus, when it comes to regulations, I see the negative effects of the less regulated capitalist market in the US. I prefer to work and live in the EU because of the labour laws in place that protect workers. It may be harder to become a millionaire here, but I know first-hand that the quality of life is better in Europe. I recently heard stories from Americans living abroad who were shocked to learn about how many vacation days Europeans receive, how low the cost of healthcare is, and that there’s a higher level of worker protection here. So it is also worth looking at the business sector from the employee level. You may become a millionaire overnight in the US or Brazil, but at what cost?

I bring up various quotes, I tire you with them, instead of simply asking: what is a creative life to you? What does it mean?

I’ll tell you what a creative life looks like to me. My best ideas often come to me as I’m drifting off to sleep and I jump out of bed to write them down in my journal so that I don’t forget them. I visualize how I would edit a video before I even shoot a second of film. I piece together words for a lead to an article in my mind before I’m sitting in front of my computer. It means constantly looking for inspiration, experimenting with new techniques and styles, yearning to express my feelings and thoughts using new media. I like to think I’ve always had a creative soul - my grandmother taught me songs and poems, then I lived and breathed theatre until high school. I parted with that passion when I started university, but I still sang in the choir in between running the school newspaper and going to journalism class. Now as an adult, I’ve been using my creativity in my professional career but in my spare time, I try to connect with people just like me - Poles, Americans, and overall children of immigrants. My YouTube channel, Instagram and now TikTok allow me to share my digital media with the world. I see the incredible value in talking to the viewers on the other side of the screen. By breaking down the barrier between creator and viewer, we’re able to learn from each other, discuss shared experiences and provide support in a way that hasn’t been possible before with traditional forms of art.

And someone like me, someone who is already - as I like to call it: definitely closer than further to being over the life hill, but has not yet written a book, nor painted a picture, nor had a photo exhibition, is there still hope for someone like that? In the context of a creative life, of course.

It’s never too late to start somewhere. I recently met a well-known Polish painter whose art has been displayed in the most prestigious galleries in the country. He achieved the summit of his career and now what? It’s better to have more ahead of you than everything behind you because you have a reason to work towards something great. However, you do need motivation and a clear plan for what you’d like to create or achieve and you need to take steps that will bring you closer to that goal. That can mean taking writing classes, scribbling on scratch paper, or even taking pictures with a cell phone. When younger journalism students asked me about advice for a career in media, I always said - ‘Just do it. Write that article, make that video, start that blog.’ Even if it’s terrible or no one sees it, you took the initiative and you created something. Everyone can have unbelievable ideas in their minds, but that’s meaningless until it’s brought to life. Personally, I would like to write a book someday but I’m currently developing my writing skills and gathering life experiences because that same Polish painter told me artists put themselves into every piece of their art. So stay tuned!

Polish version HERE

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