Alumna of the Moment: Eileen Ramos

Updated: Jan 4

We're so excited to introduce our newest Alumna of the Moment, the amazing Eileen Ramos! This IFC17 & 18 alumna is a mental health advocate, literature nerd and powerful writer. Learn more about her below, or join us on IG Live @infullcolorus_ as we chat with Eileen on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 7 pm EST.

EDIT: See the IG Live video here!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your passions

I’m Eileen Ramos, a bipolar Filipina American writer, mental health advocate, and editor. I experienced suicidal ideation, overwhelming self-loathing, depression, mania, delusions, anxiety, hallucinations, and psychoses. Whew lol. Some of which I still struggle with to this day. I’m extremely open about my mental illness. Just today during my work’s Toastmasters meeting, the table topic was what was the kindest act you did this year. I answered with how I told a deeply despairing stranger my mental health journey and how I gained stability. They then sought professional help for their own bipolar disorder and now they’re happier than ever. We’ve become friends actually and I’m working on sending them a care package, hehe.

I’m an obscene and obsessive hoarder with piles of unread books, zines, and literary magazines and a ton of ephemera and stationery. It’s gotten to the point where I order a book, not realizing I already have it haha ugh. It doesn’t really stop me from buying more though lol. Support indie! I love attending readings and zinefests and I actually interned and/or volunteered at Kundiman, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and The Asian American Literary Review. All literary nonprofits that are incredibly dear to my heart and have kept my writing and dreams alive. Even igniting new ones. I’ve been on a spree of taking online classes since stay at home orders. I think it’s been at least fifty including the wonderful Bloom Virtual Summit. They range from creating a book in a tin to beeswax collages to mail art to writing creative nonfiction about mental illness to manifesting magic. All through which I’ve grown and enjoyed immensely.

Right now I’m taking The Art of the Walk with Kamau Ware, where we are learning how to create a walking tour. It’s such a wonderful class and I’ve always wanted to curate my own walk but in a fictional format. I’ve held that desire for so many years and I can’t believe I can make it happen now! I felt the same when I finally attended the Introduction to Artist Books workshop with Matt Runkle and it’s so strange to know these once far off dreams are real and happening. I also just wrapped up Text and Image with Simone Kearney, and that was fantastic too. It’s another art form I’ve always desired to play in and it’s been fun manipulating copper wire into words and overlaying photos.

What projects are you working on now?

Sitting right beside me is my incredibly thick “Taste Victory” goals notebook which I bought from my talented friend Roni and I’ve added a ton of pages and ephemera. You can watch a flipthrough here. The three book ring format upgraded my LIFE, where I can hole punch any piece of paper I want and move it all around to improve flow. I’m no longer beholden to bound notebooks which I do love, but the last bucket list notebook burst causing the front and back covers to fall off lol ugh. For this current incarnation, I write only one daydream per page, espousing how I came across it, any details to fulfill, timestamp, and gluing down any related ephemera and stickers. When I can strikethrough, I fill up the page with how I did it and the hopefully happy results, including any paper proof, photos, and selfies hehe. I try to add three goals for every task I cross out, ones I can do in the next three months. Yet that can be limiting or I’d forget a dream, so I’m just going to write whenever my heart strikes. I struggle with believing I have a future due to my psychotic breaks where I’M the apocalypse, and I’m always scared that another one is imminent & permanent. Even though it’s been eight years since my last. lt’s hard to let go of who I was and accept & love who I am today, but I think crafting these blueprints over the last four years has made that bridge easier to cross.

I’m figuring out my folio to submit for Unsettling the Wor(l)d workshop with Joey De Jesus at The Operating System’s Liminal Lab. The OS was gracious enough to provide my classmates and I space to share the work we’ve developed during the course and afterwards. I learned so much from Joey like Black Feminist cosmopoetics, concrete poetics, redaction poetry, and a lot more. I’ve never been this challenged in my worldview and their prompts are way beyond anything I’ve encountered. Through their guidance and my classmates’ critiques, my writing has grown tremendously and I feel more creative than ever. I wrote creation and destruction myths, a rant against “normal” people telling me how I should self-identify my mental illness, found text from objects in my living room, a world where potential is in floating snow globes, and the next project I’ll describe hehe. I’m going to edit and expand and I will ask my friends for feedback. I want to make them as strong as I can as it’s been awhile since I’ve been published and I love the class so much. The workshop ignited my brain and I hope I’ll continue this experimental and learning follow through.

For an assignment, originally I was going to perform redactions on a derogatory book on how to get rich by a supposedly Asian woman, but I couldn’t find it on my shelves. I found my baby sister’s decade old SAT practice book instead and decided to perform blackout poetry there. It felt good to sharpie over the questions and answers, revealing a truth I couldn’t deny. I showed the outcome to the workshop and Joey and my classmates loved it! They were going in depth on how much of a classist scam the SATs are, how there’s barely any changes from each edition to the next, how it removes students from seats, and I just sat there in awe of their support and sharp analysis. I honestly didn’t think deeply about the SATs and the system and their impact on the youth. Joey said that this could be a book and there’s readership there and I honestly happy teared when he said that.

I took the class because it seemed interesting and found validation and affirmation of my abilities. I want to try to redact the entire book, including the math questions. Though the paper is very thin so there will always be bleed through. I was thinking of scanning it and redacting on my phone but I love the physical aspect of black marker against the words. So much more fulfilling and grounding. But I’d lose half the book if I use black marker, maybe half and half? Or buy another used copy? This feels like an endeavor I can truly grow from, and not just my vocabulary but my detailing, focus, and layering. I want to try to add designs and decorate it somehow. I’m sure the pages will speak to me and show me the way to utilize the space best. It’ll be a challenge in many ways but I know I’m the right person for it.

I resurrected two of my bookstagrams: literary instagram accounts. The first is just my regular bookstagram account: @booksiheld where I review books, literary magazines, zines, and artist books as well as share book hauls from independent bookshops, presses, and zinefests. I like the idea of maintaining a separate account for literary endeavors, and I’d keep a better record of what I’ve been reading. I also want to write works that are inspired by what I’m reading and do literary experiments.

I have my heart set on creating care packages composed of written works, catered to the recipient, including a custom experience with seemingly random objects that they’ll get to use. I’ve also collected cigars boxes I got for as low as $2 that I plan to fill up and send to them as well. I learned how to create an experience that you can do at home during quarantine from Odyssey Works, an organization that creates an experience that can last for months. I’m currently reading their book “Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One” and it inspires and thrills me. I’m so guinea pigging my friends lol.

I just need to create a survey and (re)read the books and zines I want to gift them so I can figure out what kind of experience they should do. It can be a meditation I record, a bedtime story I narrate, notebook full of writing prompts which they can do within its pages, something that leads to some sort of inner discovery. At an auction for Brooklyn Art Library, I won 100 scout pocket notebooks which I can customize the front cover. I have a design in mind, but I think I should create an experience and mail off the books a few times before I’m sure of it. I’m thinking of an illustration of me, showing the bottom half off my face smiling and holding a closed book with “for ______” on the front cover where I write their name. It’s fitting since my handle is “booksiheld” and they will all be books from my excessive hoard, though I have bought zines I think they’d enjoy. The notebook could be where they can keep notes or answer my prompts. I’m still figuring out the instructions format. To gift a book I love to someone I adore makes my heart swell.

My other bookstagram is my @abandonedb2dbc project, where I leave behind (loosely) connected books, zine, literary magazines, small gifts, and my own written work inspired by the previous for strangers to keep. It’s for Bored to Death Book Club, a really cool English literature site based in Amsterdam. You can read my posts here. It’s been over a year since I abandoned a set, largely prevented by Covid. But that above mattress was stranded in my neighborhood and it inspired me to start again, pandemic be damned haha. I really wanted to leave books on top of it, and scrawl a message across the white, but sadly, it was taken away before I could do anything. But I think I’ll move forward with it anyway, and after I edit that text image, I’ll create a large print from CVS and tape it to that stop sign and leave the cigar box and the above works. I picked books that feature the bed in some way, whether it’s the body, sexuality, dreams, vulnerabilities, etc. It’s been interesting discovering passages in Lapham’s Quarterly Flesh issue that connect to the “Palimpsest” novel by Catherynne M. Valente, and I’ve only just begun reading them.

One of the projects I want to focus on from the Text and Image class is creating flash fiction using instant photos and objects. Every story represents someone changed by something from their past or an object from another era, and they move forward, no longer in stasis. I want to try to make them nest somehow like russian dolls, to echo each other in some way or form, to connect even tangentially. Maybe the characters can be in the same setting or are in the background. It’d be cool to make my own little universe.

What impact would you like to have on others?

For my well-being I’ve normalized talking about my mental illness to the extent I don’t feel any shame for it anymore. To be honest during my job interview, I actually talked about performing monologues on being severely mentally ill and having psychoses. I think it was in response to my proudest accomplishment. I did preface it by saying that this might be improper to say, but they hired me anyway and I’m grateful my company is open to accepting me despite my mental health history. I want to build a world where we can freely talk about our mental health and mental illnesses without any guilt nor shame. It took experiencing a psychosis with full-blown paranoia and conspiracy theory delusions before I finally told my family I needed a psychiatrist, despite being suicidal and severely depressed for years.

I do not want anyone else to reach that point in order to get psychiatric help. I wish I knew I could’ve gone to my parents and to my college counselors way earlier without having to stay at a mental ward. Though I will admit I don’t regret that either, I slept and ate the best there than I did at any other point, before and since. Still it took that emergency hospitalization and medical leave for me to finally take a break from college when I desperately needed it before. But I had a scholarship, a job I love, classes I adore, and dear friends, so leaving college didn’t seem like an option, even though I wanted to drop out so badly.