2021

I think after 2020 we all might be a little hesitant to make big plans or resolutions for 2021. But life has a funny way of working out and moving along even when it seems like everything is falling apart.

For example, my “30 day challenge” resolution ideas for 2020 included going on a walk outside every day for a month, paint every day for a month, and cook a meal every week for a month…and without me even trying, those goals all still kind of happened for me by accident. I went on more family hikes than usual in the summer due to outside activities being the only safe way to spend some time together, and in December I dogsat for 3 weeks, taking the dogs out on 20 minute walks every day. So that’s an accidental month’s worth of daily walks. From September-November, I was part of a huge mural installation, so even though we weren’t painting every day, and even though it wasn’t me painting little detailed personal things for fun, a few months’ worth of painting for hours 2-4 days a week technically more than fulfills that goal. And lastly, while I was dogsitting this December, I got into the habit of cooking myself a few simple meals (mostly eggs or pasta…but we’ll count it because it got me a little more comfortable with the idea of cooking daily stuff and not as a big event) so I think that somewhat qualifies for the weekly cooking goal also.

So, is this a win for believing in manifesting/the law of attraction? I think so. 😉 I really do believe that the act of putting a concrete goal into your mind, the act of writing it down and telling yourself it is something you want to achieve, something you believe that you can do, will eventually make it a reality for you. Heck, I had even been more vocal about wanting to paint a mural someday this past year, and the opportunity fell right into my lap! It was truly amazing. It’s not magic, it’s maybe a little bit fate or chance, or it’s prayers being answered. However you want to look at it, I think a little blind faith is really practical in life, even if you don’t notice how many pieces fell apart only for the right ones to fall together until you look at it in hindsight.

In 2021, I don’t really want many “resolutions,” I just want one overarching goal: be more present. Don’t let unlimited possibilities and trying to look too far ahead overwhelm you. Don’t try to have it all figured out before you take the next step. Just take one day at a time. One day is never too overwhelming to face, it will be over in a matter of hours. It’s good to have long term goals and short term goals, but sometimes you really need to ask yourself what you need to do just today to bring you one step closer in what you think is the right direction. 2020 was full of days that blurred together into months of similarity, and I want 2021 to be filled with more individual days and more present moments. I don’t want to wonder how other people find time to sip tea and journal and be early to things and take walks every day, I want to find that kind of presence and space in my own life before it’s too late. It’s something that I’ve been striving for for years, but that I finally have tasted in small bursts. It’s finally within my reach. 2021 will be a year of growth, but slow growth. Steady, intentional steps.

Here are my few small, hopeful goals:

Read 12 books this year. I don’t think I’ve read even 4 whole books in a year in a while. But I used to devour books as a child and as a teen, and heck, if I watched 196 movies last year while also finishing college, I think I can manage 12 books in a year, I’m not saying they have to be long or heavy content. I just might have to cut out a few movie nights this year to make room. 🙂 I actually technically finished one already, though I had read over half of it in 2019…but hey, I’m counting it! Haha, follow along at my new Goodreads account if you want to see what I’m reading.

Get a decent job. This is a little scary to type because it’s like…whoa. The rest of my life starts now. My career starts now. And I fully acknowledge that I am extremely privileged that getting a job isn’t a survival situation for me, that my parents like having me living at home for the time being, and I am in a position of currently having very minimal expenses. So while I have the luxury of having more options than someone in a more urgent position, and I have a college degree…it’s also a tumultuous time in the world, so I’ll have to see what I can get and where I can hopefully feel valuable. I’ve never been the kind of person who is concerned with establishing a “career” either, I’m kind of expecting to do a few different things in my life, but that adds another level of uncertainty to approaching where to start.

This also connects to a conversation I had with my best friend on New Year’s…we are introverts and homebodies by nature, and we feel that while the pandemic and stay-at-home orders were more tolerable for us than for more social-natured people, we also feel that it has made us regress a bit as far as social skills and comfort zones. Champagne problems, perhaps, but they are still real obstacles to overcome. Part of why I want to focus on being more present this year is because I really am overwhelmed at the idea of jumping back into the “real world” and interacting with people every day for a job, because it’s going to be a bigger and stranger transition now after this past year. I know it will be 10x harder for me to put myself out there and adjust after months of being cozy and safe at home most days than it would have been in 2019 when I was used to a much more busy and social schedule, but of course a lot of jobs are also more open to work-from-home setups now, not that I necessarily prefer that. Just getting started is often the hardest part. We’ll see.

Make better art. Last year, I made a fair amount of decent art, but I don’t feel like I progressed amazingly. I still feel that my art is often too “childish” for my own tastes, even though that’s my own personal criticism, and even though children’s art is my goal…I like art that can appeal to all ages, rather than art that is made for children specifically, you know? I want to build better technique, go back to basics a bit and hone my skills, work on my weaknesses, refine my color palettes. Have the patience and perseverance to tackle bigger projects rather than just simple little one-off drawings.

Propose that mural. Like I mentioned before, I had to come up with my own mural design and a fully drawn-up proposal with timeline and budget for my mural class final project. My instructor was actually very encouraging about my particular proposal because it is very approachable and realistic, and I also received similarly encouraging feedback from some people that work in beautification and neighborhood development for the city after my instructor recently shared our final proposals with them. So really, now it’s on me to ask the owners of the building about making my mural happen. Again, I’ve been in my comfort zone too much this past year, so I even hesitated to type this out as a goal because getting in contact with the business owner, and the process of making it happen if they say yes, feels very intimidating right now. But manifestation and all that…I know I’ll kick myself if I never put this into motion when I have it all ready to go.

Embrace a little weirdness. I think every year I shed a few more iotas of insecurity. I’d like to embrace my love of weirdness a little more this year, especially creativity-wise. I get so jazzed seeing illustrations of made-up creatures or reading oddball/surreal stories, etc. etc. and I know the weird-factor is what my art is missing sometimes that keeps it from feeling right to me. It’s almost like I see something really out there and think, whoa, we’re allowed to do stuff like this? As if there are some kind of unwritten rules I’ve been trapping myself within. I don’t know how I’ll find my own slightly strange stride, but I know I’ve been trying to be “normal” for the last decade to my detriment. I don’t want to suppress my natural personality in an effort to be “normal”…it’s just not me. 🙂 (the Creative Pep Talk podcast is a huge motivation for embracing one’s true self, weirdness and all, and I so appreciate everything Andy J. Pizza puts out, including the fact that he goes by Andy J. Pizza.)

So, I know specificity is important in making achievable goals, and half of these are more on the vague side. But to me, these feel specific in ways that only I can define for myself, in ways I can’t really put into concise words, or maybe that I just don’t want to try to explain, if that makes any sense at all. If anything, 2021 is going to be the year of embracing the unpredictability of life, because 2020 taught us all that lesson that our plans are never set in stone. I don’t want my plans to be set in stone anyway, I much prefer when things evolve naturally. 2021 is for being present, and growing slowly.

My year of movies

2020 was a year where many of us sought out small comforts to deal with the weight of the world’s issues, even if our own lives were not as terribly affected as others. If there’s one comfort I returned to time and time again the past year, it was watching movies.

I’ve always been a movie person. I used to love going to the video rental store up the street and using my report card A’s to get free rentals in the summer during middle and high school. I would pick an actor/actress I was into and rent only their movies for a week, and my friends and I were always jumping to see the latest comedies or blockbusters in the theatre. I’ve saved all my ticket stubs starting from age 3. When I was a freshman in college and my dorm was right down the street from the local theatre, I could walk there at 9pm to see a random indie movie just for fun, or after a tough week I’d look forward to immersing myself in a new release to take my mind off my stresses. After I moved back home, I loved catching old classics or obscure films on Turner Classic Movies on a Friday or Saturday night. But the last few years I had fallen away from movie watching. I shifted into less fiction overall, more self-improvement and shorter-form content, mostly podcasts and youtube videos, or the occasional good netflix series, and that was what I needed for a time.

My love of movies was rekindled with a new intensity when I took a History of Motion Pictures class in fall 2019, as I talked about in a previous post. My interest was so reinvigorated that I followed that up with a Foreign Film class this past spring. After the pandemic hit, and once my spring classes wrapped up, I was not ready to slow down my film viewing any time soon. I had also joined a social media platform for cinephiles, Letterboxd, and started rating and reviewing films as well as connecting some family members to the site so we could share our movie viewing activity. It became an addiction, really, but Letterboxd has given me a wonderful outlet amidst everything that has happened this past year. It’s pure hobby, and I’ve never before had a place like it to process and share thoughts after each viewing as well as being able to read other casual viewers’ current opinions of practically any movie ever made that hasn’t been lost to time. It also makes it so easy to discover countless movies you may not otherwise casually hear of, so a neverending watchlist is both a pro and a con. Movies have been on my mind in a big way this year, and I absolutely love to geek out over film history and what makes movies great. (I’m not the only one: according to the NY Times, Letterboxd has seen a big surge of new users and average user activity in the last year.)

In 2020, I watched a grand total of 196 films (undoubtedly the most by far that I’ve ever seen in one year, even though that includes a dozen or so short films), broken down into about 152 first-time watches plus around 44 rewatches of films I’ve seen before. Naturally, after all that I got to reflecting on what watching movies does for me. For sure, the biggest thing is empathy. Reading, watching movies, shows, etc., anything that puts you in a character’s shoes or shows you an experience you may or may not be able to relate to at all, helps with empathy. I’ve never lacked empathy, in fact I often feel like I’ve been blessed or cursed with too much of it, so maybe watching movies helps me to exercise it, to both strengthen it and burn off the excess a bit. This year brought an overwhelming amount of issues to weigh on the mind, and whether or not the film I’m watching has anything to do with a specific present or past issue of interest, I find that watching various stories play out onscreen can be a safe space to subconsciously process feelings, with a little separation from direct personal confrontation. Despite my natural sensitivity, there are still new things that I have never challenged myself on before, new perspectives I have been able to uncover or sit with, and I think I’m an overall better person for it. Sometimes movies can bring realizations to the surface, or surprise you with something that you didn’t expect would trigger a strong emotional response.

So yeah, empathy and letting the emotions flow is a pretty expected answer, but I think it encompasses why people even bother to make movies at all. To share stories, to provide entertainment, escapism, to elicit reactions and contemplation, to give voices and spread messages and perspectives, to bring ideas and worlds to life. Movies are one of the newest art forms, because the technology needed to create motion pictures has only been around for under 200 years. And there are so many creative ways to use the medium, that combine almost every other art form: writing, acting, music, graphic design, costume design, illustration or animation, set design, photography/cinematography, editing, there’s so much that can go into a film. There are so many options out there, movies for any taste, any mood, any language and culture. Plus, if you’re an avid crossword puzzle or Jeopardy! fan like I am (RIP Alex Trebek 🙁 ), knowing about movies helps as there are often movie-related questions or categories. 😉

A possibly unexpected benefit of the way I have approached movie-viewing this year is that I feel like it has helped me to be more present in my life. It sounds a bit backwards, because while movies do require your full attention for a couple hours, they of course transport you out of the present, especially for me since I tend to watch mostly classic movies (1920s to 1960s) which are even further removed from anything current. But what I mean also ties back into the empathy thing, in that I tend to readily connect the movie I’m watching to my present life, whether identifying a character’s experiences with my own, or even finding similarities or references to other movies I’ve watched recently. I find I often accidentally or semi-purposely watch multiple movies in a row that share themes, or a same actor/director, etc. I love the closure of watching a movie compared to watching an ongoing tv series or reading a book, and writing little reviews/journal entries on Letterboxd helps me to process what I’ve seen right away, so that even though I’m watching movies frequently, I am fully sitting with and absorbing each one before moving along to the next.

Letterboxd has sort of taken over my social media habits, and I spend more time on it lately than Instagram or Facebook, which has honestly felt more fulfilling, being able to connect to other people over a shared passion rather than mindless scrolling through stressful and pointless news and opinions. But also, I have noticed that for the first time in years, I have not been as wistful for the past or future as I have tended to be. I’m still a nostalgic person, I’m still a daydreamer, but in the past that wistfulness has taken me out of enjoying the present, so it’s interesting that in a pretty terrible year, I feel like I’m somehow more content than ever to take each day as it comes. Perhaps in effect, watching movies has become my way of concretely participating in a little dose of nostalgia or daydreams while being able to snap out of it after its 1.5 or 2 or 3 hour runtime, and call it a hobby/enjoy an artistic creation in the process. Or maybe I’m delusional. But regardless, movies have helped me through this year, and in a way, watching people make it through all kinds of situations onscreen gives me hope and motivation to make it through whatever life throws at me as well.

Now for a fun my-2020-in-movies review:

Favorite new (to me) movie of the year? The Apartment (1960), 5/5 stars for me! An instant favorite (in my top 4) and I even watched it 2.5 times this year (I didn’t fit in a full rewatch for new year’s, but I couldn’t resist viewing a few of my favorite scenes, including its perfect new year’s eve conclusion, to mark the occasion).

Honorable mentions? Here’s a list of my top 50 favorites of the movies that I saw for the first time this year. Wow, don’t know if I can ever top this many great films in one year. There were still quite a few more enjoyable classics in the 152 new films I watched, but I cut it off at top 50 for brevity’s sake.

Lowest rated movie of the year? Love on a Leash (2011), 1/2 star out of 5 from me. This movie is one of those you have to see to believe (it’s on youtube if you’re really curious). I’m not a harsh critic, but it’s hilariously bad…it’s at least a good time being incredulous about how it came to fruition.

My most-liked Letterboxd review? Letterboxd likes aren’t much to judge by, but it still feels pretty good when a few people acknowledge what you wrote. My most-liked review was for The Lady Vanishes at 6 likes, it’s nothing major but I had a lot of fun with that movie and it evidently came across in my review.

My personal favorite of my reviews? Hard to say, since I’ve written quite a few, and I try not to overthink them. These blog posts go through a lot of revisions, but with my “reviews” (which are meant to be casual on Letterboxd, they’re more “diary entries”) I try to string a few thoughts together the best I can, post it and move on, in order to keep it fun and spontaneous and not a chore. That said, my reviews for some old favorites, like Rear Window, Amélie, Spirited Away, and White Christmas (strangely two of those are from 1954 and two from 2001, just noticed that) are longer and more contemplative/personal than most of my reviews, so those are probably the ones I like the best.

Click here to see my full year in review. I upgraded to Letterboxd Pro with their black friday sale and I’m so glad I did, I love all the stats! I may or may not ever have a movie-watching year this prolific again, who knows.

Bonus: my hottest movie take?: The Wizard of Oz is practically a horror movie. I know it’s supposedly one of the all time great movies but it never impressed me and I certainly don’t find it heartwarming…plus if you read some of the trivia, it sounds like it was not fun behind-the-scenes, with multiple actors suffering from injuries and discomfort related to their makeup and costumes. Lol, sorry if you’re a Wizard of Oz fan, but it’s just one of those classics I’ve always had mixed feelings about.

Alright, I’m sure you’re like “cool it with the links already, not gonna click them all” but my organizing/archiving-obsessed self is loving having a well-designed social media site specifically for movies. I especially love finding others who appreciate classic film (1920s-1960s), and I think more people should try to venture back a few extra decades in their movie-watching…in fact, let me know if you need some convincing and think I may try to write a post sometime about what I love about watching older movies. Please feel free to geek out to me about your favorite movies of any decade or genre (or share film-related hot takes) any time. 🙂

2020 in review

What a year guys, am I right…hah. I have to laugh looking back at my 2020 resolutions post I wrote last January…it was an optimistic little list of potential “30-day challenges” to follow throughout the year, and needless to say that barely lasted two months before I, like everyone else, began to struggle with motivation to even get through day to day life. I even wondered if I would have enough to write about to make a reflection post for this year, but then I realized that I absolutely do. Even in the strangest year in recent memory, there are some bright spots and some accomplishments that I’m really proud of.

like…I graduated college!!

It definitely looks different than my 2019, where I got to travel a lot, act in a musical, be in a wedding, interview one of my favorite working illustrators in person, help plan/design flyers for a charity Halloween party…all those things that you can’t really do during a pandemic. It’s almost like I somehow knew what was coming and really packed a bunch into the previous year, which was lucky I suppose, because in a way I didn’t mind a slower year following up all of that.

But while I have been lucky in so many ways, and (knock on wood) have not even had COVID, I don’t want to only talk about the bright spots without acknowledging that this year was a big struggle, even for someone like me who had it relatively easy. I graduated college on December 13th, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish, right up to the last day of finals practically. But I did, and it still seems almost too good to be true that somehow, while I’ve already taken longer than the “typical” 4 years, I managed to finish in 2020 during a pandemic when my motivation was taking major hits from all the subconscious stresses of everything going on. I definitely had some other low-motivation years in recent memory, but this year was hard for reasons outside of myself. So, let’s do a quick recap.

January-February: started to become an early bird with an 8am class I didn’t hate, kept up a reading habit every night before bed
March: lockdowns hit, classes switched to online, started a Letterboxd account to track my movie-watching
April: celebrated a quarantine birthday/turned 24, interviewed another of my favorite illustrators through video chat for my senior project
May: passed all my classes (even managed to ace a couple) even though I had gotten behind after the sudden total switch to online in mid-March
June: realized my Graphic Design minor was needlessly dragging me down and made the decision to pivot to an Interdisciplinary Art minor, which would make use of some old transfer credits I had floating in limbo, and lighten my last semester
July: housesat/dogsat for two weeks, Taylor Swift surprise-released Folklore, lost my (great) Aunt Marge to cancer, lots of family hikes outside in the summer

Clockwise from top left: Aunt Marge with her daughter (my godmother), her in the middle with friends in 1952, with her sister (my Aunt MaryAnn) almost 30 years later (though she barely looked like she aged from that photo up to this year!), her on the far left with friends (don’t know the context with the giant Schenley whiskey bottle, but they look like a fun group).
I’m so glad I recorded my Aunt Marge telling some stories with her siblings (she’s the oldest, my grandfather is the middle child, Aunt Maryann is the youngest) last year on the 4th of July…because who knew 2019 would be our last July 4th all together. I really miss her already.

August: got my wisdom teeth out, found out my last minor required class overlapped timeslots with my last major requirement, so long story short I was serendipitously allowed to sign up for a special new mural-painting class as a substitution
September-October: started work on largescale collaborative public mural! A dream of mine
November: Finished mural! designed a solo mural proposal for a local business
December: Graduated college!! Taylor Swift surprise-released Evermore, housesat/dogsat again (a different family) for 3 weeks over the holidays

taken on one of our last work days, November 9th

So let’s talk about this mural…it was my literal and figurative bright spot in 2020 (besides, yes, the two surprise Taylor Swift albums which I had to note because they were truly morale boosters also), and the physical work involved was ideal in a year where it was really hard for me to focus on mentally-taxing work for any stretch of time. The ability to show up to an outdoor class, keep socially distanced/wear masks, paint for hours at a time, and get college credit for it, was truly life-saving these past few months. I was definitely one of the stay late/volunteer for odd jobs people in the class because it felt so good to be able to throw myself into the work to the point of physical exhaustion. The instructor/orchestrator of the project, Dragana, might honestly rank as the best professor I’ve had over the years. She handled the class and the project with such energy, grace, flexibility yet firmness, and empathy, she is just one of those people with very evident emotional intelligence.

Abstracting landmarks, concepts and memories, designing the imagery, assigning numbers to colors, then color coding each section (and still changing our minds as we painted) was definitely a tough mental workout though
Projecting and tracing our sketch
I’m the one standing on the middle of the scaffolding in this pic

I’m very proud to have been a part of this project, where we were able to collaboratively design, transfer, and hand-paint a gigantic mural that the community can enjoy for years, adding color and subtle abstractions of nostalgic local memories and proud history gathered from Youngstown natives to a very industrial corridor of the city. While I had a senior research project I had to design and conduct using interviews for my Media Communication major, I consider this mural the true final project to end my college career (though for this class I also had to design my own, much smaller mural proposal for a local business that with any luck may come to life in the future).

Here I am again on our last work day finishing up the logo section honoring all the businesses that helped us bring this project to life.

It feels very fitting that we completed this mural in 2020. It represents community, working together, supporting each other, celebrating our town’s trials and history, connecting past, present and future, bringing color and brightness to a neglected spot on a fairly busy road. I can’t even count how many people honked enthusiastically or shouted words of appreciation and encouragement to us as they drove past the wall while we worked the past few months. The donations of funds, supplies, and services, and support from the city and local businesses that allowed it to happen. The fun, long days working (with an accidentally all-women class of artists!), laughing and chatting and putting the radio on, climbing ladders and moving scaffolding and freshman volunteers showing up to help where this was maybe one of the few in-person activities they’ve been able to participate in their first semester. And now we’ve left our own bright spot to last years and inspire more similar projects to come. (All photos in this post are my own, except those with me in them, which I borrowed from our mural website)

From bare wall…to color explosion 🙂

2021, let’s see if we can all work together to make you a brighter year ahead.

Pairing movies with folklore songs

This is absolutely nothing like the usual post I write, but ever since Taylor Swift released her surprise album folklore I have been so inspired by it, aesthetically, lyrically, and sonically. It’s one of those rare albums that makes you want to create more art inspired by it, and I love that! The perfect quarantine album release.

See, I even made a folklore-inspired wallpaper pattern

I had already made a playlist pairing each folklore song with another song it reminds me of, and as I’ve listened to the album in the car on repeat, the songs started to remind me of movies as well. So I thought it would be fun to do a movie recommendation list (since I’ve been on a major movie-watching kick this year) of films that I have really enjoyed that match the tone or story themes of each song. Like my own buzzfeed-esque listicle. Before we start, here’s the corresponding movie recommendation list and honorable mentions list on IMDb so you can easily check out any movie that piques your interest while you read, and believe me, this was all a labor of love and a couple months in the making.

Plus, I’m very excited to have my cousin Theresa as a guest writer on this article! There were a couple songs I was stuck on that I knew she’d have some great movie picks for, so I asked her if she would like to help me out and she definitely delivered. Thanks Tree! Her picks are noted at the beginning of their descriptions, and be sure to also check her out at healthtreeliving. Now, without further ado…

If you like the 1, try watching La La Land

La La Land (2016) is the perfect film to go with leading track “the 1,” as they share the theme of passionate relationships fated to burn bright for a time, then come to an inevitable end. The classic “one that got away” that will be looked back on fondly despite knowing it wasn’t meant to be. (Theresa and I both love this movie, so consider it doubly recommended if you still haven’t seen it!)

Lyric: In my defense, I have none / For digging up the grave another time / But it would’ve been fun / If you would’ve been the one

Movie Quote:I’m always gonna love you.” “I’m always gonna love you, too.

Honorable Mention: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

If you like cardigan, try watching Splendor in the Grass

I watched Splendor in the Grass (1961) the day after folklore was released, and I couldn’t help but think this movie fit some of the vibes of the album pretty well. The poem that the movie’s title comes from is by William Wordsworth, whom Taylor happens to reference with a play on words in the lyrics of “the lakes” so maybe I’m not far off with this classic recommendation. It’s a film about teenage first love in a culture of repressed emotions that drives the protagonists to heartbreak and mental breakdown.

Lyric: A friend to all is a friend to none / Chase two girls, lose the one / When you are young, they assume you know nothing

Movie Quote: “I saw the way you were looking at her.”

If you like the last great american dynasty, try watching It Happened One Night

Taylor’s storytelling in her lyrics is on point in this album especially. Several of these songs could practically be adapted into movies of their own, especially this one, which is heavily based on the true story of Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of Taylor’s Holiday House in RI. But after recently rewatching It Happened One Night (1934), I thought it could make a good pairing for this song. Having just eloped with a fortune-hunting aviator, twenty-something heiress Ellie Andrews runs away from her controlling father, intent on traveling to New York to reunite with her new husband. After missing the bus and losing her luggage, however, she finds herself stuck with journalist Peter Warne, who agrees to help her get to New York in exchange for exclusive rights to report her story.

Lyric: And they said / There goes the last great American dynasty / Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen

Movie Quote: “He despises everything about me. He says that I’m spoiled and selfish and pampered and thoroughly insincere.”

If you like exile, try watching Merrily We Go to Hell

I randomly caught Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) on TCM as part of their “Women Make Film” feature series, and it immediately drew me in. The main characters are so sweet together in their private moments, but their relationship begins to deteriorate when one’s alcoholism and discontent drives a wedge between them, leading to desperate, mismatched attempts at communication before things begin to fall apart. Its ending is not all the way happy but not all the way sad, and the plot fits well with the lyrics of this song.

Lyric: I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around) / ‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)

Movie Quote: “If you love me, you’ll lock that door so that I can’t get out.” “I’m no jailer.”

If you like my tears ricochet, try watching Black Girl

I’m trying to include some lesser-known/unexpected film choices here and the lyrics of “my tears ricochet” reminded me of the main character’s inner dialogue in the film Black Girl (1966). Diouana is a young Senegalese woman who dreams of a better life in France, until she takes the opportunity to work for a French family as a maid/nanny and finds her freedom restricted, her pride wounded, and her spirit wilting in a new country away from her family and friends where she does not feel wanted or respected. The following lyric fits so specifically with the end of the film in my opinion, but I won’t spoil it.

Lyric: I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace / And you’re the hero flying around, saving face

Movie Quote:She’ll not lie to me again. Never will she lie to me again. She wanted to keep me here as her slave.

Honorable Mention: Vertigo, Laura

If you like mirrorball, try watching Clueless

I know older movies aren’t everyone’s favorite thing (why not though? 🙂 ), so I’ll throw in another more modern classic with Clueless (1995). Mirrorball might be my favorite song on folklore, or at least it made the strongest impression on first listen, and Clueless is a movie that makes a pretty endearing impression in my opinion. Plus the dreamy quality of the song just makes me think of throwbacks to ’90s teen movies. Teenager Cher Horowitz seems like she’s got it all figured out, but between trying to be a matchmaker, mentoring the new girl, learning how to drive, negotiating her grades, attempting to impress the new guy, annoying her ex-stepbrother…she realizes she’s been trying so hard at everything that she keeps missing the point, and has to admit to herself that she might actually be clueless.

Lyric: I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try / I’m still on that trapeze / I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me

Movie Quote: “She’s a full-on Monet.” “What’s a Monet?” “It’s like the paintings, see? From far away it’s okay, but up close, it’s a big old mess.”

Honorable Mention: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Circus

If you like seven, try watching My Neighbor Totoro

Seven is such a bittersweet and wholesome song about a childhood friendship. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is one of the sweetest films about childhood I’ve seen. Two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, move to a new house in the country with their father to be closer to their mother who is convalescing from an illness in a nearby hospital. The girls are eager to explore their new home, and eventually meet the friendly forest spirits that live in the woods near their house, Totoros, who come to the girls’ aid when Mei runs away one afternoon and gets lost.

Lyric: Please picture me in the trees / I hit my peak at seven

Movie Quote: “Well, I’m not sure, but I could’ve sworn that I saw both of the girls up in the treetop, laughing.”

Honorable Mention: When Marnie Was There, A Little Princess

If you like august, try watching 500 Days of Summer

For “august” it was only natural to think of 500 Days of Summer (2009). Both the song and the film recount relationships in which the protagonist is in love and only in hindsight realizes that the object of their affection was never really in love with them in return, only an on-again-off-again fling that they were initiating most of the time. Is that a spoiler? I haven’t watched this film in years but I’m pretty sure its plot trajectory is not exactly a secret, I mean the first line or so of the film is something like, “this is not a love story.”

Lyric: So much for summer love and saying “us” / ‘Cause you weren’t mine to lose

Movie Quote:I just woke up one day and I knew.” “Knew what?” “What I was never sure of with you.

If you like this is me trying, try watching Ordinary People

(THERESA’S PICK:) This is one of my favorite movies, and it pairs so beautifully with one of my favorite Taylor Swift songs. The film follows the life of a boy named Conrad, following his older brother Buck’s death. Conrad struggles with depression and attempts suicide, feeling the weight of guilt about not only his brother, but also not feeling good enough for his family. I love the raw emotions in this movie, you can’t help but put yourself into the family’s shoes because to some extent, we have all felt many of the emotions they are going through. The emotions that come with loss, not feeling understood, not being good enough, or just feeling broken. Be prepared to cry when you watch this movie, but in a very cathartic way.

Lyric: They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential / And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad / I have a lot of regrets about that

Movie Quote: “Why did you do it?” “Uh… I don’t know. It was like… falling into a hole. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and you can’t escape. All of a sudden, it’s inside… and you’re the hole. You’re trapped. And it’s all over. Something like that. It’s not really scary… except when you think back on it. ‘Cause you know what you were feeling.”

Honorable Mention: Dead Poets Society

If you like illicit affairs, try watching The Apartment

The Apartment (1960) is one of my top favorites and a natural pick for a song about “illicit affairs.” It concerns a NYC insurance company clerk, Bud Baxter, who begins lending his apartment to the executives for their extramarital affairs when he realizes it could help him climb the corporate ladder. However, things become complicated as his personal life starts to get stepped all over in the process, especially after a particularly eventful Christmas Eve. It may not sound like much, but it’s funny and heartbreaking in equal measures, and while this song isn’t necessarily one of my top favorites, this movie is one I highly recommend.

Lyric: And that’s the thing about illicit affairs / And clandestine meetings and stolen stares / They show their truth one single time / But they lie and they lie and they lie

Movie Quote: “The mirror… it’s broken.” “Yes, I know. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel.”

Honorable Mention: The Graduate, Love in the Afternoon

If you like invisible string, try watching Amélie

Invisible string is one of my favorites from folklore, so it’s only natural that it pairs well with my favorite movie, Amélie (2001). Amélie Poulain is a shy young woman who serendipitously discovers a hidden tin full of childhood treasures in her apartment wall and decides to track down its owner. The outcome of her good deed inspires her to devise ways to brighten the lives of all the people she knows, while trying to find the courage to pursue her own happiness when she stumbles upon her potential soulmate and begins to fall in love.

Lyric: And isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?

Movie Quote: “When Amélie lacked playmates, Nino had too many. Five miles apart, they both dreamed of having a brother and sister to be with all the time.

Honorable mention: Whisper of the Heart

If you like mad woman, try watching Revolutionary Road

(THERESA’S PICK:) This film shows the viewer the intimacies of a seemingly-normal 1950’s couple. Although from the outside they seem to have their life perfectly planned out, the reality is that they are struggling to cope with the ensuing breakdown of their marriage. April (Kate Winslet) embodies the “mad woman” role by sticking up for her desires of living a more eventful life like they had originally planned. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) is fine with their “ordinary” life and, given that it is the 1950s, gets the last say. The rest of the film shows how April responds to that, which from the outside, may seem “crazy” or “mad”. I love this film for its realism, and raw emotions that make you feel like you are a fly on the wall of an actual couple’s house in the 1950s.

Lyric: Every time you call me crazy / I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry / I get more angry / And there’s nothin’ like a mad woman / What a shame she went mad

Movie Quote: “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane.”

Honorable Mention: Atonement, Hunger Games: Catching Fire

If you like epiphany, try watching 1917

I know this song is inspired by Taylor’s grandfather’s war experiences with parallels drawn to healthcare workers in the current pandemic, but I can’t help but think Taylor must have also seen the recent film 1917 (2019). This song immediately reminded me of that movie, which was inspired by the director Sam Mendes’ grandfather’s war stories. During WWI, two young British soldiers are ordered to deliver an urgent message to a nearby regiment to call off an attack planned for the next morning, in order to avoid a strategic ambush by the German army. The mission seems futile, and they have very little time to make the dangerous journey.

Lyric: Only twenty minutes to sleep / But you dream of some epiphany / Just one single glimpse of relief / To make some sense of what you’ve seen

Movie Quote:I hoped today would be a good day. Hope is a dangerous thing.

If you like betty, try watching Dogfight

This song has the perfect awkward, naive, and earnest tone of being a teenager and the drama that can come with first love before either person knows what it takes to make a relationship work. There are a lot of great coming of age films that address this type of story, but a particular new favorite of mine is Dogfight (1991). Eddie Birdlace, an 18-year-old about to ship off to Vietnam in 1963, spends his last evening in San Francisco looking for an unattractive girl for a game with his fellow Marines called a “dogfight,” in which the one who finds the ugliest date wins prize money. He winds up with a shy young waitress named Rose, who soon finds out the truth of the situation from another woman at the party. Eddie has already started to realize his mistake in misjudging Rose and resolves to spend the rest of the night trying to make it up to her.

Lyric: The only thing I wanna do / Is make it up to you

Movie Quote: “You and me, against the pricks. Are you with me?”

If you like peace, try watching They Live by Night

Okay, so you know the classic Rebel Without a Cause? Well, They Live by Night (1948) is the debut film from the same director, and while I see the appeal of James Dean’s tragic legacy, I think this one deserves to be just as much of a classic. Its stars feel more like real people than actors, and you can’t help but root for their happiness even though their romance seems doomed from the start due to being on the run from the law. I love the world-weary but earnest hopefulness of both the characters in the movie and the lyrics of this song; “peace” could’ve practically been written based on the plot of this film.

Lyric: I never had the courage of my convictions / As long as danger is near / And it’s just around the corner, darlin’ / ‘Cause it lives in me / No, I could never give you peace

Movie Quote: “Say something happened to me…they can’t pin a thing in this world on you. The only wrong you ever did was to marry me.”

Honorable Mention: The Bourne Identity, Chocolat, Spider-Man 2

If you like hoax, try watching Three Colors: Blue

Another great film/song matchup. I’m sure there’s another Taylor Swift fan out there who has seen more movies than I have and could find five other solid options for every song, but from my own limited repertoire it’s been fun managing to dig up some good films with surprising ease for most of these songs. Three Colors: Blue (1993) is a very poignant film dealing with the main character’s complicated process of grief when she loses her husband and young daughter in a tragic car accident and has to find a way to keep going afterwards, while people from her past keep interrupting her attempts to numb and forget.

Lyric: Stood on the cliffside screaming, ”Give me a reason” / Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do

Movie Quote: “Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

If you like the lakes, try watching Moonrise Kingdom or A Room With a View

This one was a little more complicated, as I couldn’t really think of one single film that fit this song as well as some of the others, so I’m offering two equal recommendations (a bonus rec for the bonus track). A Room With a View (1985) is a sentimental movie for me, it’s beautiful and romantic, and takes place partially in England set in the early 1900s so it kind of fits the historic Lake District vibe/inspiration of this song, but is more lighthearted. Moonrise Kingdom on the other hand fits more of the “running away from society together” vibe of the song and shares similar atmospheric beauty, but still doesn’t quite match up in tone, as again it’s a pretty light and funny film, though each have their solemn or melancholy moments. At any rate, these are both great movies well worth watching.

Lyric: Take me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die / I don’t belong and, my beloved, neither do you

Movie Quote: “He doesn’t want you to be real, and to think and to live. He doesn’t love you. But I love you. I want you to have your own thoughts and ideas and feelings, even when I hold you in my arms.” (A Room With a View)

“We’re in love. We just want to be together. What’s wrong with that?” (Moonrise Kingdom)

Feel free to comment with your own suggestions for any of the songs if you thought of any alternates or similar films I should check out! I would love to hear your ideas, and I hope you paid some attention to the honorable mentions we listed, a few of them were pretty close seconds! Did you add any of these films to your watchlist? I definitely added Theresa’s picks to mine…thanks again, Tree. 🙂

On finding (and owning) your creative style

Developing your own style is often the biggest challenge of any creative endeavor. We all have an inherent natural style, but usually it’s not quite what you want it to be, or what it could be, without a lot of work. I’m still in the process of developing my style, and I’ve been drawing and making art since I could first hold a crayon, so it’s been a solid 22 years for me and I still feel a bit lost half the time. This blog turns 3 years old today, so even after three years of “official” development, I’m really just getting started.

While I haven’t always been concerned with developing my style, I was definitely always experimenting with it, even from a very young age. I have drawings from age two or three where my mom or dad had drawn something for me, like ducks in the park, and I had attempted to mimic their drawing. I loved drawing the cartoons I watched on TV, from Powerpuff Girls to Pokemon. I drew a lot of Pokemon. Inherently, my drawings were unique to my hand, but I was initially copying a lot of other people’s art to learn, and just because I liked it. In third grade, I borrowed the Ms. Pac-Man ghosts (Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Sue, for the uncultured) for easy-to-replicate characters in my comic strip drawings. I eventually developed characters of my own invention after lots of practice creating pages after pages of comics in my free time at school, figuring out what I liked, what I found funny, and what I could easily draw frame-after-frame without fully resorting to stick figures.

3rd-grader humor…

In middle school, I would fill up a notebook of what I imagined the characters to look like from my favorite book series at the time (Redwall, so lots of anthropomorphic woodland creatures) and I would draw my Neopets in a more stylized and customized way based on what I imagined their personalities to be. In high school, I often doodled ballerinas and 1960s-inspired florals and patterns. As my interests changed, my inspirations changed, and I would draw my own iterations of whatever I was paying most attention to. I wasn’t trying consciously to develop anything, just imitating what I liked for fun, bits and pieces of my interests slowly integrating into my own art creations.

a page of doodles from the week before I graduated high school

Style isn’t really a conscious thing, for the most part. You can maybe describe your personal style and tastes in a handful of words, but there is so much more “why” to it all than you may even realize. You might love the color apple green because it’s the color of the walls at your aunt & uncle’s old house on a hill with the smell of spring and Easter dinner in the air when you were younger, feeling so at home surrounded by family, and you kind of forget about all that and just know it’s one of those colors that just feels right to you. Or maybe a character in a movie you saw ten years ago wore a really cool outfit that subconsciously influenced what you like to wear. Or you read a certain picture book over and over when you were young, so the art style in it is very appealing to you. You may be conscious of more recent or memorable influences that you can visualize and describe, like the tip of the iceberg, but your actual style is made up of immeasurable life experiences like the examples I mentioned, extending far deeper below the surface.

So, whatever you make as a creative will unavoidably have an imprint of your own experiences and tastes. Krista of @hername_ismud posted a wonderful discussion of this in her instagram stories a while ago that stuck with me (in her highlights under “create vs copy”). She mentioned that it is often hard and uncomfortable work to get to know yourself, to find your creative voice, but it is extremely valuable to do and crucial if you are trying to contribute something new to the world. I love one thing she said especially, that you have to “invite yourself into your work.” You need to allow your unique experiences and gifts to shine through in what you make. She mentioned that while you can look at Pinterest for inspiration and copy other artists’ styles for fun and to learn some things, at a certain point, imitating the work of another just becomes detrimental to your own progress if your aim is to grow as an artist. You won’t find your own voice by borrowing others’ ideas, which likely cost them years of experience, failures, and effort. At the very least, you should give proper credit to your influences if you’re going to use their hard work as a shortcut.

This is a constant discussion in the artist community online, where art is so easily circulated now that some artists find that their work is being stolen and sold by overseas businesses, or even popular companies and big brands. Originality seems to be harder than ever now that we are all bombarded by pretty designs all over our social media, but in a way, it is more valuable than ever for those same reasons. I love Pinterest, but I have also needed to majorly shift how I use it as I begin to really try to uncover and shape my own style. I still pin illustrations and art and design that I admire, but I try to pin more photos of things and places and people and a variety of art mediums in order to find more unconventional and indirect inspiration, and when I do really want to emulate a certain illustrator’s style, I try to only borrow elements of it, mixed with other elements and styles, in order to make it my own.

I really like that Krista also mentioned she keeps a written notebook as an alternative to saving direct inspiration images, so that she can jot down ideas from things she sees and therefore already begin to separate them from the source and allow more room for interpretation and creativity. I really think there is major value in doing very present and physical activities as an artist, such as taking walks or flipping through old books, to find more unique inspiration. My graphic design professors have made a point in the past to assign us to check out any book from a section of our choice at the library, because it’s easy to forget there’s a ton of things out there that don’t even exist on the internet. I found a few super interesting old books on painting and design that were somewhat outdated but all the more inspiring for it, because it wasn’t something I would find online.

For as much as I was obsessed with books growing up, I have really drifted away from physical books in recent years, but I’m itching to get back to tangible sources like that. I was in this vintage shop in Boulder City last year that had some great Matisse and Calder and Degas lithographs, and this big selection of vinyl records that were so fun to flip through just because of the amazing old cover art, just random compilations of Tchaikovsky or Chopin, or some musicians I’ve never heard of, with the coolest cover designs. That’s the kind of inspiration that lights me up, not the same trendy design I’ve seen pop up in my Pinterest feed 10 times over the last year. But that’s the beauty of it, (and why I’m beginning to miss travelling this year, even just a day trip to a nearby city) some things you can’t find on the internet. Some inspiration has to be found 27 records deep in a dusty, disorganized pile you’re flipping through while simultaneously trying to keep it from toppling over in the back of an antiques store that you ducked into on a whim to escape the heat.

I keep seeing talk about “finding your style” everywhere lately, and it has been on my own mind for a while, so I wanted to write out some of my thoughts. It’s one of those topics that a lot of people seem to struggle with in the current age along with procrastination and indecisiveness, which I happen to think are all directly tied to the endless bombardment of over-stimulation that we’re all faced with as soon as we open up a social media app or the internet. Having just spent two weeks dogsitting a couple of golden retrievers at a house with a lovely front porch and back patio tucked at the end of a street by some woods, I spent more time just sitting outside and enjoying fresh air and solitude than I have in a long, long time. And I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. In fact, I started to wonder why I had endless to-do lists when all of a sudden it felt like I could count my priorities on one hand. I may have even had some major breakthrough realizations about my own artistic style that I’ll discuss in another post soon. I think honing your “style” is one of those processes that never ends, and while I look forward to evolving, refining, and finding more consistency, I also know that I am an admirer of many differing things, so my personal style will probably always be fairly eclectic and experimental. I just have to make peace with the process.

National Moth Week 2020

After last year, I had high hopes that this year might have been the year I actually organized a “mothing” group activity in my local park, but with 2020 going as it is, that didn’t quite happen. However, I had a pretty good moth week on my own this year, because I was housesitting/dogsitting for a family with a house that backs up to some woods, which made for more moth sightings than I typically get at my own home! I still have yet to spot any really interesting moths, but maybe 2021 will be the year I actually get an official moth week event going.

Time for the yearly post-moth-week roundup!

Check out iNaturalist’s Moth Week 2020 page for all the moth observation photos and stats from this year. There were over 106,000 moth sightings reported by moth-ers worldwide!

This site has a daily moth activity! Under a photo of the moth, you can click the links to pull up a guide where you can check various boxes of moth characteristics and then hit “search” and it will come up with possible identifications. Plus there’s a link to the answer if you can’t figure it out. Pretty fun, and a good resource!

If you have 10 minutes, there is a great TEDx talk by the artist behind the National Moth Week logo, Belén Mena. I love her story of how she fell in love with moths, and she includes a lot of beautiful moth photos, her own moth illustrations, and interesting facts about moths (you can click the little CC button for English subtitles).

This past spring I took a biology class for one of my last gen ed requirements. For the paper assignment, we were allowed to choose any biology-related topic that interested us. Naturally, I wrote about moths! My paper is slightly more casual than I typically write academic-wise, so it’s not too dry…you can read it if you like.

Love the positive moth energy of this article.

A reminder that I have a pinterest board dedicated to cool moths 🙂

I made this moth gif and uploaded it to GIPHY…I’m not sure whether I can get it to come up through searching on instagram stories but I’m looking into trying! We need more moth gifs. And a moth emoji!

Not quite as much to report this year! For more cool moth content, you can always go back to my 2019 and 2018 posts, or alternatively, see them all together in the just moth things post category.

Black lives matter

Bear with me, as this post is somewhat long and tangential, and I have gone back and forth on whether I wanted to publish it at all, having started writing it three weeks ago on May 28th. I am writing this from my perspective, as a white person, and probably only or mostly white family or friends will read this, and that is who I am speaking to here. But I do think this is likely one of the most important posts I could ever write.

I went to every prom and homecoming dance in high school solo and with a group of friends, except senior prom. My class was small and close-knit, despite the typical cliques and friend groups. Most of us had known each other for years before high school, some even since preschool. For senior prom, every person in my class went with a date, most of us pairing up with good friends just to make sure no one felt left out. I was very happy when a classmate I had known since middle school, though we generally kept to different friend groups, asked me to go with him. It was a great last high school dance and I couldn’t have had a better date. The friend who asked me to prom happened to be black.

My family are the absolute best people I know. They’re kind, and loving, and don’t have a genuinely hateful bone in their body. They’re Christians who live the teachings of Christianity in all the right ways. My parents grew up with friends that were black, sure, they have friends and coworkers of varying races and backgrounds that they love. But they grew up in a generation where systemic racism was very real. It’s unfortunately still real. My grandparents were never genuinely prejudiced people, either. But they grew up in a generation where segregation was still a thing and civil rights movements were only just getting started. And so little bits of unconscious racism, unconscious prejudice, are a part of my family’s worldview (and therefore mine as well), even though they are the best people I know, who would never consciously judge or wish harm on someone based on the color of their skin.

My parents knew my prom date, they knew his mom. They loved him and all my classmates. But when they excitedly told family members that I finally had a date to a school dance, they couldn’t help but add, as an aside, “he’s black.”

I mean, my prom date’s family also probably made mention of the fact that he was going to prom with a white girl, but being a white girl doesn’t carry the same history of prejudiced undertones. Like I said, my family are good people. I know they didn’t actually care that my prom date was black, because they knew him as a good person. But something ingrained in them needed to mention it, needed to be accepting of it more actively than if my date had been white, when the color of his skin wouldn’t have caused a second thought or a reason to be suspect of his character. And that’s where racism is still pervasive, in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious. That’s why “race” still matters, even though many would prefer to claim they are “colorblind” or say that “all lives matter” or that “we’re all part of the human race.”

We are all humans, but unfortunately, prejudice is a human issue, one that needs to be actively recognized and fought in ourselves and our communities. And as a Christian, trying to outright ignore color or race is ignoring a part of a human being, a part of God’s creation. It’s not comfortable to confront prejudice in yourself, in your friends or family, we all want to believe the best in ourselves and each other. It may not be any more pervasive now than in the past, in fact, it may be less so. But, because of social media, it is more visible. It is being called out more, as it should be. Because when good people are still being killed because of their skin color, then even the most innocuous instances of prejudice can’t be passively excused. I don’t believe we should circulate traumatic videos of wrongful deaths, out of respect for the victims and their families, but we absolute should circulate their names, their pictures, stories of the good people they were. Because there is no excuse for killing a good person due to assumptions based on their appearance, especially assumptions based solely on their skin color.

My dad’s cousin found love a bit late in life, with a woman who happens to be black. We have never seen him happier and are of course very happy for him, and to have her in the family. Last year, they had a little girl together. My grandfather visited with his sister and family several months ago, where he got to meet this little great-niece of his (before all this global pandemic stuff). When I went to see him the next week and had asked about his visit, he couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful that little baby was, he was absolutely beaming. It shouldn’t be a big deal that he found a baby cute, but I suppose it is, when the baby is half-Black and my grandfather and his sister were both adults by the time segregation in America was abolished. For his generation, racial prejudices are basically the norm, so even though I know my family are good people, it was still a relief to hear him be so verbally supportive and loving. And what a relief that that little girl will never have to grow up to worry about her father being killed for no reason, because his skin is white. What a sad sort of relief. Maybe by the time she grows up, her Black family members will no longer have as much to fear. Maybe. Hopefully.

I haven’t actively kept in touch with more than a handful of people from high school, so I couldn’t tell you how my former prom date is doing now. I think he’s doing just fine. But I would be devastated to ever see his name in the news for something like what happened to George Floyd and so many others, and I would never believe it if someone said he was at fault, because he was undeniably one of the most considerate, funny, friendly, and kind people I went to school with. I have seen similar things said by those who knew George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, and so many others whose names have been more quickly forgotten but whose families can never forget. So, on behalf of all the wonderful people of color that I have been blessed to know in my family, at school, at work, and in my community, I have slowly been trying to educate myself to be better at recognizing small, pervasive bits of racism and privilege in my own life.

I’m certainly nowhere near perfect and have had plenty of my own unconscious prejudices. I have profiled people in my mind in the past, and have stopped and questioned myself on whether I’m judging someone based on their actions or just unfounded assumptions. Sometimes it’s so ingrained that it’s hard to tell. People in my class used to tease my classmate that he was “the whitest black person” because, I don’t know, he drove a truck and liked Starbucks. I probably echoed a variation of that to him at least once, not realizing at the time that statements like that, complimenting a black person on how “white” or “articulate” they are, are a subtle form of racism (which reminds me of this great TED Talk I found for a school assignment a couple years ago). Now I know better. I like to think we all know a little better than we did a few years, or even a few months ago. I like to think many of us are listening, and changing.

Over the last few years, I’ve been considering my personal values, what I want to achieve out of life. At the same time that I was realizing I really wanted to write children’s books, that I wanted to pursue illustration, I also realized that diversity is surprisingly important to me. It’s not something I had consciously thought about in the past, but as I jotted down ideas for books and art, I realized I felt a deep need for any characters I create to represent a variety of people. If I was going to write a book about a mermaid, or a fairy, I immediately knew I didn’t want them both to have milky white skin, nor do I find that realistic for characters that would spend a good amount of time in the sun. Why does magic and beauty have to be associated with being “fair?” I myself am fair-skinned, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and I was always more attracted to and fascinated with people and characters who didn’t look like me as I was growing up, and I related to characters more based on personality than appearance. I was so over-represented in dolls/toys and books/media that I was bored with how I looked, and in a way, that’s a big reflection of my privilege. I was bored with the blonde one always being the default character, and I think the “blonde ones” have a responsibility to challenge that norm.

I deeply believe in loving who you are, how you were made, but I don’t believe you can truly love yourself unless you can see someone like yourself portrayed lovingly in the world. As a white person, I think I have a responsibility to help portray non-white people/characters in a casual and positive way, by supporting artists of color in doing so with their own voices and talents, as well as doing so in my own life and art wherever I can. It shouldn’t be entirely up to people of color to work to make sure they’re represented. Classic children’s books like Corduroy and The Snowy Day, in which their white authors/illustrators explicitly chose to make their main characters black children, without ever mentioning their race or making a big deal of it, left a lifelong impression on me. I noticed that Lisa was black. But I also noticed that her race was never brought up, and that she was just a normal little girl, like me.

I hope none of this is coming across as virtue-signalling, pointing fingers, or me pretending to be super “woke.” None of these things I bring up even scratch the surface, they’re just the simplest examples that come to mind. I still have a lot to learn, and a lot to do, and I’m trying to open my heart and my world up to more diverse voices, and to how God wants to speak to me and through me, if at all. I couldn’t have written any of this if I hadn’t been listening to people of color explain their experiences, and reading various resources people have been sharing, learning, having conversations with people I know, and connecting dots through my own life experiences, and I have just felt a lot of value through really paying attention to these things. (Another aside: my church hosted a wonderful lecture last year by Fr. Moses Berry about Christianity and the Black experience, so if you would like to hear his interesting story and watch some of those videos click here for the youtube playlist) But no amount of talk about the ways I want to show love and support to my fellow humans means anything unless I continually back it up with actions throughout my life, and to be frank, I think that posting on the internet is a double-edged sword.

You can post a black square, you can share information and talk about how you are trying to contribute, and maybe you look good, maybe you look disingenuous. I know many people that I love often “do” much more than they “say,” and so many of us haven’t just started caring about these issues now, even if this is the first time we’re publicly and bluntly speaking up about it. So, it is unfortunate that silence on social media can be interpreted as silence altogether or apathy, or conversely, that posting resources can look like you’re hopping on some sort of shallow bandwagon. If your actions are only performative on the internet and not genuine and ongoing, they don’t make much of a difference anyway. I’m just one small, quiet person, so it also doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks, because it’s not about me. But as these events and protests have escalated, I realized that despite my own prejudices and quiet nature, there has always been something deep inside of me that knows I need to do my small part to help fight injustice in the world using whatever skills I can contribute, and a nagging realization that I have enough privilege to also have a responsibility to not coast idly through life or ignore things that don’t affect me directly.

I finally watched a bit of the video of George Floyd’s death. I couldn’t bring myself to watch much of it. I’m an empathetic person, I couldn’t help briefly placing myself in his terror, imagining pleading for my life, struggling to catch a breath. Like a bad dream where you can’t run away, knowing you’re on the brink of death. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. It’s something I can only relate to through nightmares, but it was his reality. I saw Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do The Right Thing” in my History of Motion Pictures class last fall. I remember the discussion after the film, talking about how unfortunate it was that it still feels just as relevant 30 years after its release. The juxtaposition of the MLK and Malcolm X quotes at the end…what is the “right” thing in this kind of fight? Peace? Violence? Neither? Both? I believe in peace, but with something at this scale, sometimes violence is inevitable, or necessary to deflect and diffuse anger and frustration from hurting people to hurting replaceable things like objects and buildings. A rare exception for righteous anger that reminds me of Jesus overturning tables and driving the money changers out of the temple, an outburst reserved for an extreme injustice. I couldn’t help but think about how we’re basically living the last few scenes of Lee’s film. I had no idea that those scenes I was watching onscreen could months later be interchanged with nearly identical footage from real life, but then again, those scenes were inspired by many similar events in the past as well.

I saw people saying forms of this recently, but it must be reiterated: it is not the responsibility of black people to teach their kids from a young age how to not get killed in everyday situations. It’s the responsibility of white people to teach our kids from a young age to not judge, or God forbid, kill people because of their skin color. It’s not political, it’s not up for debate, it doesn’t negate the need to care for other types of people, or other injustices in the world. But we can’t keep saying Black Lives Matter and then ignore our nation’s history of prejudice and hope our next generation will turn out better without some real changes. We can’t continue to stand by helplessly as Black Americans are unjustly killed in the street. With the global pandemic and current socioeconomic uncertainty, it seems like this was the perfect storm to lead to these times of unrest. George Floyd was just the catalyst for something that has been simmering too long. It’s a matter of long overdue basic human rights.

I don’t have a solution other than to start the change with yourself and your family. Obviously there needs to be wide efforts to address many of the systemic issues and patterns that are keeping Black communities marginalized in the US. Individually, we just have to keep talking about it, approaching it head on, with empathy. It is my view that empathy can move mountains. There are a lot of things going on in our country right now that make introspection very necessary, putting yourself in the shoes of both your allies and your perceived enemies, feeling the fear and uncertainty from all perspectives. Recognizing that hatred or anger often stems from discomfort with something within yourself, and identifying those deep inner struggles that make you or others feel like lashing out at certain people or groups, because hatred and anger does not inspire true change in people like love and understanding does. Confronting the ugly things within ourselves so that we can heal the world from the inside out. There will always be hateful and misinformed people in the world, people who don’t want to or feel a need to change, but if there’s anything to be learned from all this, it’s that ripples start small and grow infinitely. One person or action can effect change, one more ripple at a time.

Twenty-four

I’m going to be honest, this birthday is one that I wasn’t all that excited for. For one, I’ve really enjoyed being 23, and I think I’ve made a lot of wonderful memories in the last year. For another, it’s a strange time to be celebrating a birthday at the moment, not that I’ve ever minded a low-key day…let me pick the treat and the movie and I’m set. And for a third reason, 24 is the first age that makes me feel unironically a bit old…like, I’m supposed to be a real adult now, and I still feel more half-kid, half-adult. I guess I’m just easing into my quarter-life crisis. 🙂

Also, this birthday is a bit of a strange milestone for me. When my cousin passed away from cancer at age 24 on April 19th, 2017, I had a bit of a personal awakening, as you do when someone close to you passes earlier than expected. Not that anyone is ever ready to die at a young age, but I looked to him, a person I had always seen as a role model throughout my life, and to me he seemed spiritually in the right place. I had just turned 21, and I thought to myself, could I face death at 24? And honestly, I felt very far from being able to be at peace with death. I realized that I wasn’t living my life with my heart in the right place, that I had a bunch of small hangups and fears and insecurities and bad habits that had gradually developed over my teen years and kept me from maintaining the right priorities. I had been doing a lot of surface-level personal work over recent years, but I hadn’t been addressing anything too deeply. So I resolved to work harder at not letting myself get in my own way so much.

In some ways I feel like I haven’t changed much at all over my lifetime. In others, I feel like I’ve completely transformed over the years, especially the last three. I don’t know which is closer to the truth, but I’ll accept the middle ground, that I’ve been growing and learning the best I can. And to be honest, I feel more spiritually at peace than I ever have before. So, in a way, I can now answer that I could more readily face death at 24. Do I want to? Absolutely not, there are so many, many things I still want to do in life. My heart aches for the life that young souls gone too soon could have lived, the people they could have impacted. But often, young loss has a massive impact of its own, and for the gift of true spiritual introspection, I am grateful. I wouldn’t be who I am today at 24 without my cousin’s life (the same could be said for many other loved ones), but also without his loss.

I was watching part of LOTR: Return of the King as it was airing on tv the other day. There was a scene that stuck out, that I hadn’t really noticed before, Gandalf and Pippin talking before the assault on Minis Tirith. Upon a little digging, I discovered that the dialogue was unique to the film but based on pieces from the book. At any rate, it resonated with me:

Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.

Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?

Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.

Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.

I didn’t really expect to spend my 24th birthday blog post talking about death, but honestly it’s just what’s been on my mind the past few months, even before all this stuff we have going on in the world at the moment. It’s just a more somber sort of birthday all around. And it’s of my opinion that we all should attempt to make peace with death the best we can, because it’s a path we all must take at some point. I forget where I heard this recently, but someone pointed out that when He was faced with His crucifixion, Jesus feared death, but He was not terrified of it, and I think that’s an important distinction. Jesus showed His humanity in that moment, because as a human, it is perfectly natural to fear death. However, because Jesus died for us, we do not need to live in terror of it, because it is not the end. We can make peace with our physical mortality, if only we endeavor to keep our spirits healthy.

So, I went into today with the lowest of expectations. I would do some schoolwork, take ballet class via livestream, watch a movie to end the evening. I would turn 24. Well, today ended up surprising me in the best of ways. I’m lucky that I have plenty of family and friends that take the time to text, call, or send a card, so I always feel loved on my birthday. But this might strangely be my favorite birthday in recent memory because of how low my expectations were. I received some really sweet messages, even from a few people I haven’t talked to recently. My Godmother called and we talked on the phone for 45 minutes, my other Godmother/aunt dropped by to leave me a little gift and chat from a distance on the porch, my best friend dropped off a super sweet surprise gift just after, I got some very thoughtful cards in the mail. Altogether, I feel so loved I could burst.

My soul needed this, truly. I was filled up by my loved ones today even from a distance, and now I feel so much more prepared to celebrate the Resurrection this Sunday, on the 3rd anniversary of my cousin’s loss no less, despite the sadness of not being able to gather with my family and my church family. My sense of hope in these times is being repeatedly tested and renewed in more ways than I can express. Who knew a “quarantine birthday” would be one for the memories, for all the loveliest reasons and not negative ones?

Direction

It’s officially spring and life has been a little surreal lately, for everyone. It’s both alarming and comforting, I suppose, when the whole world is experiencing something together. There’s not much else to talk about lately besides the Coronavirus pandemic, and the myriad ways in which it is affecting our day to day lives, jobs, studies, hobbies.

I’m torn, because the homebody and the optimist in me are enjoying the way the world has been forced into a more introverted way of life. I like to think many people worldwide will benefit from time with their families and the opportunity to be more creative and introspective to get through this indefinite time. However, I enjoy a counterbalance of leaving my house and socializing like anyone, so I am starting to feel restless with the lack of direction, structure, or variety. My college has moved classes entirely online for the rest of the semester, and while I have enjoyed taking some online classes in the past, having my whole semester of in-person classes switch to online is frankly overwhelming. At the same time I am trying to embrace the challenge of productively working from home, as that is always something I have hoped I could do in my future career.

In the midst of this I am also grateful in many ways. I’m grateful that I’m an unemployed student who does not have to worry about whether I’ll lose my job, although I did want to apply for summer internships and that is seeming a bit up in the air. I’m grateful both my parents still have jobs. I’m grateful for my family’s health, even though I miss visiting my grandfather on the weekends. I’m grateful for the extra time off school because I feel like I needed it. My heart aches for those who have lost their jobs temporarily, or permanently, or are graduating this semester and now are missing out on the experiences of their last couple months of high school, college, or grad school, but I’m grateful for this time without direction, as I feel like many of us are turning to God or otherwise learning to find peace in the uncertainty.

While it seems more trivial lately, I have been feeling a bit directionless in my art and my writing recently, too. I’ve been posting here barely once a month because it just feels like what I write or create is hardly worth sharing lately. I have always enjoyed writing and drawing just for the heck of it, but because I’ve been doing it my whole life, I’m hitting a quarter-life crisis of not being able to tell if I even like what I’m making anymore.

As I approach my own graduation later this year, I realized that I had let the experimental stage take over, and I don’t have as many professional portfolio-worthy things from my personal projects as I feel I should. My writing became basically all journal-style, and not enough marketable blog essay. As far as illustration, there are so many different styles and elements and mediums of art that I love, and I like to think one day I’ll find a sweet spot of blending these in a way that feels truly my own. But at the moment it just feels forced, even if I like what I make. I’m struggling to find a way to keep building on my lifelong drawing experience, yet at the same time undo all my years of drawing things certain ways to begin to refine my own style into a more clear direction.

My mom always tells me that I’m a great curator, whether it be art, movies, cute dog pictures, or topical articles and such. That’s certainly subjective, but I’ll have to agree with her in that I feel like I curate inspiration for myself so well that it paralyzes me with indecision sometimes. I definitely feel like I have more original ideas than ever before, so all this inspiration isn’t too counterproductive, but I need to get better at channeling that knowledge of what I like into creating things more mindfully. While I have this blog about intentional living, it is funny how many times I note that I haven’t been as mindful in creating clear directives for myself as I thought I was. It’s important to embrace both directionless and structured creating, rather than always hovering somewhere in between. Such as committing to a sketchbook practice and also finding prompts and projects that can showcase my marketable skills.

All this to say, finding direction is a lifelong struggle. It’s like being able to speak multiple languages fairly well, but needing to choose one primary one to become fluent in. The struggle of leaving behind certain things you love about some of the languages because you need to concentrate on the one that you know you can best communicate with overall. And sure, you can still speak the other languages or use special words from them when the opportunity arises, but you need to primarily stick to one, at least for a time.

It’s easy to get discouraged thinking I’ll never be able to really make a career out of art, but it feels like the one language I’ve always been more fluent in than the rest. I see so many people doing it in so many different ways and styles, and I see that there truly is a place for anyone with the heart to put into it, so I won’t give up on it. Amidst the internal struggle, I really am intensely excited about all the possibilities of things I could create in my life, and seeing communities of artists supporting each other online in this uncertain time gives me hope for my own future career.

I may start doing some posts about the artists that have inspired me the most and examples/explanations of what it is I love about their different styles. It may help me to clarify what I want to bring into my own stuff going forward if I get it out on paper. Maybe I could even do a variation of the “draw this in your style” instagram challenges, except making art in the style of my favorite artists to go along with each post. We’ll see, but thanks for sticking around for my occasional rants.

I hope you are well during this time of uncertainty and isolation, and I hope you are taking the opportunity to enjoy the extra slowness of this strange season, and maybe spending time on more creative pursuits in your own life.

Valleys

I know everyone has said a variation of this already, but January always feels like two months in one. It even seems to swallow up the first week of February, because I feel like every year I blink on Groundhog Day and suddenly it’s Valentine’s Day. And the older I get, the more I just seem to always make small talk about time flying and the weather. It’s so cliche but it’s like adults can’t refrain ourselves from talking about this stuff…I even kind of enjoy exchanging obvious comments on the temperature with friends and strangers alike. I also always seem to open up my blog posts with small-talky stuff like this, I’m just realizing. Haha, someone stop me! But it’s somewhat relevant, I promise.

Today I wanted to talk about those almost universal valleys of life. Like February. I like February, I really do. There’s stuff I like about every month of the year. But I do find that there are certain times of year where I slide down a hill into a deep valley, and February definitely feels like one of those. The days blur together and life feels like it’s shrouded in fog. And then one day in March my head clears the mist and I’m halfway up the next hill and climbing out of the clouds without hardly being able to tell that I was moving forward for the past month. And I know it’s not just me, because it’s all I hear this time of year, people talking about the late winter/pre-spring slump that hits many of us.

I will say that I think I’m learning how to better handle these predictably recurring valleys, so that they seem shallower in recent years. I’m noticing the patterns. I’ve realized that I do value simple routines and creature comforts built into my daily life, but after too much of the same, I get complacent, and I backslide a little. I always try to have little things to look forward to, but these slumpy times of year I do tend to get a bit tired of everything. I get tired of constant homework, mounting projects, the usual thing for lunch, going to ballet class two days in a row. I let go of productive side pursuits. I watch five youtube videos or play the same six songs on the piano over and over as procrastination instead of taking a productive break to draw something or plan out the next steps of a project I know that I need to tackle.

So…about my 30-day challenges so far? January went fine. I genuinely appreciate that January always feels long, it’s a nice head start to ease into the new year. I finished a book I had been reading on and off for a while, and picked up a new fun read as a mini-reward and to continue the habit (that’s a tip if you decide to reward yourself for a goal…make the reward something that compliments the outcome, not contradicts it). I’ll be honest, I nixed my 20-minute initial requirement, because I decided the more important part was just reading every night, not the length of time. Sometimes I would just read a couple pages and turn out the light. My bedtime routine did not magically transform into a screen-free hour of zen, but even if it was only 5-10 minutes, it felt good to not have my phone be the last thing I looked at before going to sleep. I also switched from music to podcasts on my daily commutes to and from campus, and I actually really enjoy my 8am class days for the most part.

But we’re really here to talk about February. This month started with good intentions. At first I kind of carried over the reading habit, but then I tried transitioning to the 10 minutes of prayer/meditation I had planned. I had a few days with more intentional prayer than I had done in a while, a few days where I really needed it. But like I said, February is often a slump month for me, and I slid into that foggy valley before I even realized it. And I always really need more prayer and true moments of stillness in my life. But this month I just failed at committing to it. And that’s okay.

Do I think my month would have gone better if I had successfully committed to this habit? Of course. That’s why I wanted to do it. But I’m getting gradually better at owning up to failures, big or tiny, and embracing the lessons from them. I know there are a lot of things I could have done better this month. I let my time management slide, did things more last minute, made excuses for myself, and allowed more laziness and distraction. But I also tried to give myself grace this month, because I recognized that I needed it a little more than I did last month. In the past, I would have continued to procrastinate and spiral in a domino effect over guilt of getting behind, but now, I let the past be past and try to focus on just getting back on top of things in the present. I always want to be striving to do better, but continually succeeding in anything is a hard expectation to sustain.

With these 30-day challenges, I wanted to embrace the inherent fresh-start of each new month, and I also wanted to embrace the inevitable failures that would come with my dozen mini-resolutions this year. I’m still thinking over what I want to commit to in March, but I’m hoping I can harness some post-slump motivation to climb up the next hill and be in a good place at the top for April. Every day is a new chance to start again. And hey, it’s Leap Day, so we even got a special bonus chance this year. 😉