Stillness

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re embracing stillness in life, but if it’s always stillness in front of a screen, it doesn’t really count. In the spirit of Lent (and the weekly theme from @astillsmallpoint ) I’ve been trying to embrace the more refreshing type of stillness by devoting more time to screen-less activities, such as trying to give more care to the living things I share a home with: replanting and propagating house plants, and spending more time with my pet bunny. I think they appreciate the extra attention.

My priest said in his sermon last Sunday that we would all benefit more if we focused on fasting from screens and guarding our hearts as much as we worry about fasting from various foods. He makes a valid point…food isn’t necessarily the biggest distraction from our spiritual lives for most of us in this age. I’m still pretty bad at picking up a real bible or prayer book instead of the ease of an app on my phone, but I’d like to try harder to separate those kind of soulful, important activities from the glow of a screen.

I’m thinking I might try an occasional “instagram blog” like this instead of always just linking away to an article on my blog. I know some people never really read blogs anymore, and prefer a long instagram caption, or maybe don’t even read the long captions, but I’m going to try this here and there anyway. I’ll still post this “mini blog” on my actual blog if you prefer to read it here, it will just originate as an instagram caption instead of the other way around. 🙂 Also, @elsielarson just released a new filter pack for #acolorstory and Moon Stone might be my favorite filter of all time.

(P.S. I haven’t used categories or tags on my blog at all yet…I sort of decided at the beginning to delay until I had posted for a while so that I could see what kind of categorizations would actually be useful and not overly specific, and then apply them retroactively. I think it’s about time I come up with those and get a bit more organized around here…)

Serving

1 Peter 4: 8-10: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

I have been doing some daily devotionals with a couple family members recently, and one touched on the fact that we are called to serve others, and through this we can find true feelings of purpose and security. Serving others has been a big topic on my mind lately. Giving of ourselves–using our time and talents to benefit and help others–is so important in life. Lent has just begun, and I’ve been a lot more of a homebody lately outside of general obligations, so I’ve started to feel that itch to do more for other people.

One thing I’ve always struggled with is finding bigger ways to serve others. I know that the little ways add up, but they also require a lot less effort and therefore are fulfilling in a smaller way. I love making a homemade card to send someone as a surprise to brighten their day, or to do a small chore for my parents that I know will help them, or to just give out compliments or encouragement on social media to friends and strangers. But, these are easy things, so I am trying to be better at seeking out more challenging ways to serve others if I can, or at least to be more open to going out of my way to help with a larger task or project where needed.

I know that I am not exactly in a position to serve people in very big ways at this point in my life, so I’m not exactly disappointed in myself for not being able to build a school in a third world country or donate large sums of money, but I do feel that keeping this topic in mind is important in challenging myself, and I don’t think those types of goals are all that unrealistic. One of my first blog posts was about stepping out of your comfort zone more often in order to grow as a person. I am very comfortable with doing small things for people on a daily basis, and that is wonderful, but that means that I can probably be doing more. When you become comfortable, it is time to move forward to the next level, and I want to keep that in mind for Lent. Whether it is using my talents to help my church or community,  making more time to connect with others to offer support, or just trying to do a bit more of the daily small things, serving others is an important habit to keep.

I am very excited to participate in a new community on instagram that was just established with the goal of bringing together creative Orthodox Christian women: #astillsmallpoint. This is another way to serve, by bringing people together, fostering connections and a space to encourage/be encouraged. On Sunday evening, I attended the Forgiveness Sunday vespers service that I had not been to for several years, and it reminded me of the beauty and necessity of having a community of like-minded people to hold you accountable and to pray for you as you navigate life and all its challenges. I believe that someone praying for another person genuinely is the most beautiful, loving thing, so that is another way that I try to remember to serve others–by including them in my prayers. I think it is an even more profound, pure expression of love for someone when you pray for them without them asking; just because you care about them so much that you interrupt asking for your own help to make sure to ask God to help them also.

It’s funny to make this connection, but I have been watching Marvel’s Daredevil and the Defenders on Netflix with my parents lately, and that also kind of brings serving to mind. It helps that Daredevil/Matt Murdock is a Catholic, but when you think about it, superhero-type stories kind of center on the most extreme level of serving others–devoting your life to protecting (and potentially dying for) the lives of civilians. “Superheroes” have been given extraordinary gifts, and so they use those gifts in extraordinary ways to keep innocent people safe. That is pretty much the essence of the bible verse I quoted above: we are each given certain gifts, and the level of your gifts equals the level that you are expected to serve others.

Thank goodness I’m not a superhero…they don’t seem to get much sleep. 😉

Consistency

Did you notice the sneaky mini re-design? The logo I’ve had up for these last six months was decent, but I have to be honest: it was more like a draft than a finished product. The filename even had the word “temp” in it because it really was meant to be temporary. It was not my best craftsmanship, and it’s really quite amazing how much my digital art skills have grown just in the months since I made it. Where the last header had too little going on, this new one might have a little too much going on, but the difference here is that I now have so many ideas popping up (like little mushrooms in the grassy meadow of my brain–to tie in the photo above lol), I can hardly keep up. I’m going to throw out a quote here that again, I’m sure I saw on pinterest at some point:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

Can I just take a second to say: this is THE TRUTH.

I have never really had a shortage of ideas for projects, usually I’m in a constant state of more ideas than time. As a person who enjoys all manner of creative expression, my brain is just used to finding inspiration for all sorts of projects in everyday life and continually filing ideas away, although I’m also kind of lazy when it comes to actually committing to pulling out supplies and making things, so most of that inspiration gathers dust for a while before finally being used in an occasional burst of energy, sometimes all combined into one experiment, or I get tired of an idea before even getting around to trying it.

Since starting this blog and having a more regular habit of creating (drawing/digital illustration/graphic design), I find that I have more ideas than ever, but I’m also way better at executing them and improving them. When I used to create more rarely, every effort felt more significant, so the results were usually worse than expected because my expectations were too high, or I tried to do too many things all at once. Now, the nature of my creations is more ephemeral, it’s about the practice rather than aiming to create something great. As a result, I find it much easier to call something finished and move on rather than giving in to perfectionism, and honestly my creations seem to be better as a result. I also find that all the inspiration in my brain is finally translating more smoothly. Because I’m more consistent with my practice, my own style is starting to come through, whereas when I used to make something once in a blue moon, I would get caught up trying too hard to achieve a specific thing and it would look forced or copied.

I’ve noticed similar results in my yoga practice. Last semester when I was in a bit of a rut, I wasn’t consistent and I wasn’t making much progress. Since I have some more time this semester, I have been making sure to show up to classes consistently and the progress is kind of crazy. I can feel my strength building week to week, and I am suddenly making breakthroughs on little things I was never able to fully get before. I’ve also made surprising progress in a short time since going back to ballet class. Last week, Miss Jill said that I had great energy in my dégagés, and Miss Abbey complimented my jumps–and we laughed about it because those were not my strengths in the past! Funny what comes out when you return to something after some time off.

It all makes sense, but it’s still kind of mind blowing how fast progress can build when you strive for establishing habits instead of specific goals. Consistency really is the key, but it can also be the hardest thing to start and maintain. Looking back on the resolutions I’ve made for this year, they all basically involve building consistency in various areas of my life. I’m doing pretty well with that so far, but it definitely involves daily intention.

Luckily, that’s what this blog is all about. 😉

Home

Homes bring me so much joy. I love old doorknobs, nooks and crannies, third floors, sloped ceilings, built-ins. I get so attached to interior spaces that I spend any length of time in and every time I drive past a house that has some kind of intriguing detail I wish I could knock on the door and ask for a full tour. I love having grown up in a house nearing 100 years old, with drafty, wavy-glass windows that shift in the frames when the wind blows, a bedroom door with a skeleton key lock that now only unlocks from the outside (I’ve tested this and accidentally imprisoned myself twice), such creaky wood floors that I am completely desensitized to bumps in the night, laundry chutes to the basement (so convenient) and an old door upstairs that leads out onto a flat section of the roof for optimal sunset viewing.

I loved my maternal grandparents’ sprawling split-level mid-century ranch in a rural small town, with room after room after room (having housed ten people once upon a time) of special custom-built details including a dumbwaiter, a furnace, and a fireplace. Garage, carport, side paths, looping driveway, a rock garden extending in tiers off the back enclosed porch stocked with gardening supplies. Large windows overlooking an expansive backyard dotted with islands of greenery, an old metal swingset and slide, and a stone shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Bird feeders and birdbaths in front, a purple martin house high above the pond in the back at the end of the sloping yard where you could find patches of bluets, mushrooms, a few lost feathers, the occasional fallen robin’s egg, and a certain Mr. Toad. A mulch pile, a woodpile, flower gardens throughout. Indoors, lots of pastel paint colors and a few instances of shag carpeting. Stowed in every room were artifacts of 100 years lived: books, love letters, tools and supplies, table settings, records and well-loved toys. A time capsule of a 20th century immigrant doctor’s family, most idyllic in the spring and fall, the property covered in blooms or blanketed in leaves with family gathering for Easter egg hunts and Thanksgiving feasts.

My paternal grandparents’ home was much smaller in contrast though it housed almost as many people and details: a simple two-story home in a large suburb of a Midwestern city with a small attic and basement, some furnishings updated/some old. The mantle above the fireplace covered year-round in layers of framed photos and birthday cards and spare keys and bowling trophies. Stacks of books and photos of family on every surface, art on almost every wall: a few oil paintings by my grandmother and a couple pieces by her oldest son (my dad). A stone path leading around the house past various flowering bushes and the side door to a front stoop painted brick red and shaded by a few trees and rhododendrons. Opposite, a narrow driveway curving to an end at a double garage and an aging basketball hoop, the tiny backyard framed with seasoned apple and pear trees and a well-tended vegetable garden, grapevines and berry bushes wrapping around the garage, and a couple of chairs and benches for warm-weather seating. A perfect image of the family of high school sweethearts, at peak magic when overstuffed with visitors, decade-spanning decorations, homemade gingerbread, conversation and piano-playing as snow fell outside the bay window on Christmas Eve.

As I’m sure you could surmise, I immediately love any story with immersive descriptions of interior spaces, gardens or grounds. I remember The Little White Horse as having especially magical descriptions of the properties and interiors in the story, it’s one of my favorites, though I haven’t reread it in some years. Mostly when I think of art I’d like to make or stories I’d like to write, they either revolve around idyllic nature settings (the home of animals or fairies), or magic interiors full of character and specific detail. I think it’s a large part of why people love Harry Potter or Wes Anderson films…there’s something about a castle full of nooks and secret passageways or a stunningly detailed bedroom that feels like magic, whether magic is literally involved or not.

On a darker note, I think my obsession with homes is also why I (and most others, I’m sure) find stories of haunted houses, home invasions, living in war-torn countries, or even hurricanes and natural disasters especially disturbing; the home is supposed to be the ultimate place of refuge, and to feel vulnerable and unsafe in your own home is a terrifying thing. I count my blessings that my home experiences have been so ideal and comforting my whole life so far.

I love thinking about the living spaces I’ve experienced, and writing out my favorite details of my families’ homes was quite therapeutic seeing as one is long ago emptied and sold and the other is beginning the same process. I could write forever on my love of interiors, gathering spaces, sacred spaces; such a distinctly human thing. I know I often throw around generalizations in these essays I write, saying “most others” “many people” “we” “humans” etc. Those are the kind of the topics I like exploring: human nature, things that seem so broadly relatable once I step back. I mean, if I’m being honest, I guess I feel that every topic is broadly relatable in some way. As much as I often have felt like a weirdo or an outsider in my life, I know that we all come from the same place. Your life is yours alone and you are the only you that will ever exist, but the heart of your experiences are universal. Emotions are universal.

If you made it all the way through this, I hope you enjoyed as I got carried away in nostalgia paying homage to the homes I grew up in.