COMBINE COURAGE AND INSIGHT WITH CLARITY OF THOUGHT AND A WAY WITH WORDS AND YOU GET THIS EXCITING PERFORMANCE ARTIST FROM NYC. WHAT A FUTURE!
By Moonah Ellison
Photography by Tony Gale
Styling Megan Mattson
Grooming/makeup Sisley Paris | Cecile Nida
Aija Mayrock is a survivor. And I’m not talking about a disease, a sickness, or some near-death experience. But to some, it might as well could be. I’m talking about bullying. I’m intrigued with who Aija is, her poems, and her formula of what you do and how she does it and how it came to be. She writes a lot about her childhood in my first book, The Survival Guide ToBullying, a story that begins in this city.
“I was born in New York. I have a younger brother. For the first—from the time when I was eight till about sixteen I dealt with bullying. I used to have a lisp and a stutter, and the bullying started there. As social media kinda became more um, social currency, I faced bullying that wasn’t just happening in the hallway at school, but also online. That part of my life really shaped what I would later do with my journey and my career because I really struggled with the bullying and with my mental health because of the bullying. It just wasn’t talked about as much as it is now.
Mayrock didn’t have the language to tell her parents and her teachers that she was being bullied and it was something that was rampant in her school. As she got older and experienced cyber-bullying, she also started seeing these stories of really young people around the world who had taken their life because of bullying. Angered yet sad that no one had shown up for these people, Mayrock wanted to show them she knew the pain of bullying, and there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it was possible to get through it. That’s when she started writing. She was around 16 when she started writing about her experiences and self-published her first book before it was acquired by Scholastic.
“Bullying is a very weird thing to tackle because it isn’t always visible. There are different types of bullying. There is social bullying, which could be excluding someone, spreading rumors about them. Then there is verbal bullying, which is the verbal—the most common that we hear about. There is physical bullying, and finally cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the most difficult to really conquer because, how can you? It exists online.”
It is inspiring to hear Mayrock gather the inner strength to turn a really bad negative into such a strong positive. She took something and found a way. “I started telling the people close to me about what I had been dealing with for so many years and how that affected me. I always talk about in my first book The Survival Guide to Bullying that you have to find a list of people in your life, preferably adults, that you can trust. You have to talk to them because going through it alone I think is very detrimental. Sometimes people won’t understand in the beginning and sometimes it takes many conversations but finding those people who you can go to is really crucial.”
Family played a huge role. “I remember specifically one day when I was in ninth grade, talking to my mom and really opening up to her. It took me a while to be able to fully go through all the layers because I wasn’t, as Aija, even fully aware of all the layers that had been going on for so many years because it started when I was eight years old.”
Mayrock didn’t write her book thinking it would actually go out into the world. She started writing it when she was sixteen as a way to work through everything she was going through, writing to find purpose. She thought to herself, “Okay, maybe I can take this and turn this into the thing I never had, but always needed.” That’s when Mayrock started turning it from her own diary into a half-memoir, half self-help guide.
I can relate to Mayrock. This talk is tough but invigorating. I was dyslexic who didn’t discover it until I made mistakes. As you grow up as a kid, I don’t think you even realize, or your parents realize there’s something wrong because they’re so involved in their world and are just trying to make the day-to-day happen. I remember when it was discovered, it was a revelation for me.
“I try to be as inclusive as I possibly can be about all of the different issues that are affecting different groups that are dealing with oppression,” insists Mayrock. “In terms of using my platform for all of these social issues that are affecting so many people today, I use my platform to amplify voices that are from those communities. I have this highlight on my Instagram where I amplify a lot of black activists, black leaders in the movement and writings and resources, and action steps that my online community can go to and be actively participating in. That’s something I’ve always felt really strongly about, which is using my platform to amplify other voices.”
Her new book, Dear Girl, out since August and published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, is a journey from girlhood to womanhood through poetry. It is the “search for truth in silence, the freeing of the tongue, it is deep wounds, and deep healing, and the resilience that lies within us. It is a love letter to the sisterhood.”
Mayrock wrote the piece The Truth of Being a Girl, three and a half years ago and shot a video with Buzzfeed that went viral. From there, she started writing all sorts of poems. Poems around gender equality, poems around female empowerment, mental health. From there, she built this community of young people, people from all around the world.
So what’s next for Mayrock? More writing of course. Maybe a tv show or a film, more books, poetry. A song. “I love creating and I love performing whether that be for theater or whatever it might be. I love the process of creating. I’m very open to any possible outlet. When I write, I hear it in my head. Usually the way I hear it is then the way I recite it. I try to have different levels and layers in the writing itself because I think it makes it more interesting to the ear.”
But the hellscape that is 2020 wouldn’t be complete without a general presidential election and she is a big supporter of mail-in ballots. “I think with this election there will be a lot of mail in ballots because of Coronavirus. I, myself registered to work as an election day worker in the polls in New York because most people who work on Election day are over the age of 60. Therefore, they are more predisposed to issues with Coronavirus, so I registered to hopefully that happens as well.”