Dear Montecito: Julia Kupiec

By Stella Haffner   |   August 20, 2020
Montecito Union alum Julia Kupiec graduated from New York University last year with a degree in film

Managing this column, I’ve been put back in contact with quite a few individuals I used to look up to back in my elementary school days. This week we’re hearing from Montecito Union alum and New York University grad, Julia Kupiec.

Second grade Stella had myriad compelling reasons to hold Julia in high regard; she was four years my senior and played the very convincing character of “Queen” in our production of Cinderella. But I almost certainly held such reverence for this particular upperclassman because of that time she let me play ding-dong-ditch with her and her friends. In short, Ms Kupiec was a role model.

Today, albeit for slightly altered reasons, Julia continues to be a strong exemplar. Her open letter details the essential process of admitting ignorance to events that occur outside our dear bubble of Montecito. Shedding the idyllic film of coast-side scenery and hometown safety isn’t a straightforward path. By virtue of this, I think we can easily see the value in Julia’s words.

Dear Montecito, 

Peanut the Bear knows as well as anyone the challenges of staying in shape during the pandemic

When I imagined what my first year out of college would look like, I did not picture waking up in my childhood bedroom, met eye to eye with the ridiculous life-sized teddy bear that my high school boyfriend purchased for me at the age of 17. The bear’s name is Peanut, and he is slumped almost drunkenly on the opposite wall, stuffed between an array of odd objects and pieces of furniture my parents have apparently decided they no longer want, but which they haven’t gotten around to actually donating or dropping off at the end of our driveway. Perhaps I shouldn’t call it “our driveway” anymore and instead I should say “my parents’ driveway.” It is difficult to know when to make that transition. This is the crux of life I found myself in when the COVID pandemic swooped in and threw a wrench in the plans of practically everyone, but perhaps in a particularly odd way, those in my position: recent college graduates with an uncomfortably vague relationship with whatever their “next step” was supposed to be after graduation.

I completed my degree in film from NYU in 2019 and, afterwards, began making small steps in my attempted ascent from artist-who-makes-no-money to artist-who-makes-some-money-sometimes. For all intents and purposes, this was going OK. Then, ten months after my graduation, a major pandemic hit, NYC shut down, and I realized I was moving back to Montecito for the foreseeable future. Where I find myself now is uncertain. I am reckoning with an unspecified amount of time to reflect on what I want, who I’ve been, and how I hope to come out of “all this” into a strange new world, whatever that strange new world might look like. And in the meantime, I’m attempting to collect my thoughts into some kind of coherent form the only way I know how: by writing about it. This has not been altogether an unpleasant process, but as with any amount of self reflection, it is happening slowly (in that I do not yet have a better way to describe the current state of my life or the world in general other than by referring to it as “all this”). 

In discussing the odd point of life I and other college grads find ourselves in, I do not mean to imply that my small and distinctly privileged demographic (white, college educated, and without student debt) has been unduly affected by the strange and unfortunate shift this pandemic has caused. It is wildly important to note that the biggest problem the COVID pandemic has caused me is an uncomfortable amount of “me time” and an equally uncomfortable roommate status with Peanut.

I am not housing or food insecure. The most tragic thing that has happened to me in the last month is a scathing sunburn. I, like most Montecitans, have a beloved safety net. Perhaps this has become the biggest defining characteristic I’ve come to associate with being from Montecito: that strange sense of confidence that only comes from knowing that, if you were to fail, or if the world were to light itself on fire, you could come back to that place called home and lounge in the sun and not wear enough SPF and take the time to consider what you might do next. Most people don’t have that kind of luxury, but Montecitans – for the most part – do. And for better or worse, this is largely what defines us. 

I grew up with a strange feeling about being from Montecito, which took my leaving to identify. I knew it had something to do with the fact that I found myself, at parties, arguing heatedly with boys who played volleyball and drove Audis about political issues that would not affect any of us at all. Before I had the words to describe it, I was aware that Montecito did not necessarily bear resemblance to the vast majority of the country. It was richer, undeniably beautiful, and largely homogenous – and therefore somehow, an observer of, but not necessarily a participant in – the general chaos of the world. I guess what I felt as a young Montecitan was that my privilege was making me comfortably oblivious.

I find myself, now, thinking about that innate naivety I felt as a teenager and I realize that, although I ran away and tried to become “educated,” I still feel so stupid all the time. When the pandemic hit, I realized how many of my friends do not have the ability to fly home to a small paradise and chill out till it’s safe to emerge again. When the BLM protests began, I realized how little effort I, up to this point, had actually put into learning about systemic racism and the continued injustices against black people in the United States. It feels, in a way, appropriate that I’m coming eye to eye with my own continued stupidity after my college graduation, in the place that has seen me through all of my phases, and where I’ve always been able to be most honest with myself.

For the most part, I’m thankful for the timing of this lesson that, in the murky water of my early twenties, I might use as my guiding compass forward: The rest of my life is an education. And, for better or for worse, I am now entirely in charge of the battle to pass through the mist of my own obliviousness – with or without a consultation from Peanut.


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