National Moth Week 2019

It brings me a lot of joy to make moth week illustrations.

Another year, another #NationalMothWeek! I discovered this annual occurrence as I was about to create my blog almost two years ago, and I love that it happens every end of July, just before my blog turns another year older each August 1st. It’s the perfect celebration for my borrowed Luna moth brand, and while some people may look at my blog or instagram and think the name is just a random quirky choice I made, I think it has layers that make it a great representation of my little corner of the internet and more fun to have on a logo than just my own name or something.

I love moths because they are such a great example of how everything (everyone) has an inherent value and purpose for existing. Some moths are pretty, some start as silkworms that produce thread which can be made into beautiful fabric, some live only long enough to mate and die, some best serve as another link in the food chain to nourish other creatures, but no matter how small or plain the species, their absence would be felt. You can check out last year’s moth week post here, and now let’s get into this year’s roundup of cool moth news and interesting links.

Moth coloring pages! For your kids or if you’re a kid at heart. A friendly instagram commenter alerted me that these exist on the moth week official site after my cousin suggested I should make a moth coloring book. That would be a fun future project, but for now, I turned my logo into a Luna moth coloring page that you can print or download by clicking here! Or you could color in my moth illustration above if you really wanted to 😉

The Moth Book – a cool old book on moths published in 1903 that you can read for free at this link, kind of…many of the pages are scanned poorly so it’s more just to flip through for fun.

Tips on how to do the whole “mothing” thing – in my two years of being aware of National Moth Week I’ve never officially set up a mothing experiment, my house is a bit more in the “city” (though I live in a very small city) and not near any woods, so I don’t often see many moths larger than a quarter at my home, but I would love to try “mothing” in my local park someday, I bet there’d be a ton of cool moths around.

Pretty cool new moth species discovered in Costa Rica – there are estimated to be anywhere between 160,000 to 500,000 species of moths in the world, many of which are yet to be discovered!

A lovely gallery of high-quality photos of some of the prettiest moths out there. Actually, I found so many crazy interesting and beautiful moths once I started browsing Pinterest that I made a whole moth board you should definitely check out.

When I laid eyes on the Baorisa hieroglyphica moth it immediately became one of my new favorites, what a work of natural art. I had to draw it, of course, and I just went for realism this time because there’s no need to take creative liberties with something that’s already this beautiful.

Alright I think that’s quite enough for this year. Needless to say, there are plenty of interesting things to mention about moths! Hope you’ll check out some of those links, until next time — same moth week, same moth channel 😉

Envy

As much as envy can be poisonous, I think it can also be one of the best motivators when used in a healthy way. I don’t think anyone is immune to some form of envy, jealousy, covetousness, discontent…it comes in various forms and it strikes in big and small ways. It makes you uncomfortable, wanting something you don’t have. Sometimes it’s something really silly and shallow, like wanting a new phone or pair of shoes. That’s fairly harmless and often fleeting, although it can be a mask for deeper discontent. Sometimes it’s wishing you had a certain physical feature or personality trait that you don’t naturally possess. That’s more complicated, where it’s probably advisable to just reroute your energy to being the best version of yourself that you can.

The form that you can harness, however, is jealousy of a certain talent, skill, creation, or achievement. When you see someone making art that you wish you made, or playing an instrument you wish you could play, or speaking another language you wish you could speak, etc. etc. This is the type of envy you should really pay attention to, and use it to propel you. My digital media professor this past semester said once, “jealousy is a motivating factor to get what you want, and is a giant clear flag of what you want. Don’t bury it.”

I like to check in with myself whenever I feel a flash of dislike towards someone, because I usually don’t make a habit of disliking people. Anytime I encounter someone, in real life or online, who seems cool but I instantly react negatively towards, I try to step back and identify why. Often, it’s a form of jealousy. Like, whoa, that person is a really good artist. I wish I had thought of that thing they made and made it myself. Or, hey, that person is not much older than me and has published a children’s book, that’s something that I want to accomplish in the near future. Or, wow, that person is working really hard and achieving some cool things, I would love to do the same.

Honestly, I think part of the reason I started this blog and have become more proactive about creating things–working on my writing, design, illustration, and photography–is partly due to envy. I was jealous of all the artists I had started to discover through Instagram that were making stuff that felt like stuff I could make if I tried. I was feeling some cognitive dissonance, starting to tell people that I wanted to illustrate a children’s book but not really practicing or sharing any art. I was discontented with where I was creatively, feeling like I had a lot of ideas that I never did anything with, and I decided that I was uncomfortable enough to finally take action. Because really, these feelings were motivational envy. It was wake-up-call jealousy. Why am I feeling like this? Oh right, because I’m being passive and lazy in this area. If you want to be a good artist, you have to show up and make art, not just do it on the rare occasions that you feel like it. I’m still working on that, but I’m getting better, because I’m motivated.

Now, I open Instagram and I get super inspired by all these great artists that I follow, because I’m starting to make stuff of my own that I kind of like. It’s like the Ira Glass quote, to paraphrase: you get frustrated in the beginning because the stuff you’re making doesn’t seem good to you, because you have good taste. But if you keep pushing through, if you keep working until your stuff starts to measure up to your own taste, then eventually, you get better, and you close that gap. But it takes work. And that sort of jealousy of the work you admire is a great motivator to keep putting in the work.

Going on Instagram keeps me motivated, because I have my art/blog account where I exclusively follow artists I love, and looking at all the beautiful stuff just makes me want to keep contributing my own beautiful stuff. I just really love pretty things, whether colors or objects or animals or plants or whatever, so I love that I can also sort of steal these things I admire or covet and make them my own through making art. I was watching a random old movie on TCM a little while ago, and I wrote down this line from it that stuck out to me:

“Well that’s one consolation about being an artist: at least you can paint the things dearest to your heart even if you can’t always have them”

– Whiplash (1948)

And I don’t mean to exclude non-art situations here, because I definitely employ this concept in other areas, too. My family and friends have always motivated me immensely to be a better person by wanting to be more like them, with their various admirable qualities and strengths. People in my community who are contributing their talents to make our small town better inspire me to contribute what I can as well. Watching a few productivity-themed videos or vlogs online can be super motivating. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has turned from literally your next-door neighbors to the whole world with social media, so for better or for worse, there’s unlimited inspiration to tap into. You just need to turn envy from a downer into an asset, and you totally can, even if you need to follow or unfollow a few people to help with the process. And then, maybe it’s not “envy” anymore, maybe it’s an entirely different, positive thing.

A big component of this is to make sure your self-esteem is in the right place. If you don’t believe that you are capable and deserving of your idea of success, then you will struggle with celebrating the successes of other people, and you will struggle to tap into that positive comparison as opposed to hurtful comparison. You need to believe in your own worthiness for this to work. Again, it all boils down to being mindful about your feelings and how you live your life, to turn the negatives into positives wherever you can. I think I could end almost every post I write with “MINDFULNESS, yo.” and it would be relevant, which is good because that’s the point of this blog. And I think I’ve become overly mindful of how mindfulness applies to everything, haha. mindfulness, yo.

P.S. You may notice some links throughout my little essays on this blog. They may seem random, but usually I try to link videos or other articles that inspired my writing or that may be helpful and relevant resources. It’s my way of unobtrusively sharing some of my best curated finds, because as much as I love to create, I am constantly consuming as well. So I definitely recommend clicking the things I’ve linked for further exploration!

Slow

I’ve had a bit of time to slow down this past month for what feels like the first time all year, and I’ve been enjoying it a bit too much. (: However, it’s had me thinking about how slowness is a virtue in a way, or at least, it can be. I’ve always been more of a “slow” person. I didn’t run around like crazy as a kid, I would sit and draw for hours, or paint, or make shoebox dioramas, or put together model toys. I’ve always liked to sleep in. I like to do active things as well, but I was never the type to be jumping out of my own skin with energy. Energy is a precious, limited resource for me, and I can be prone to laziness sometimes. Laziness is a vice for sure, I won’t make apologies for that. But in recent years, even just months, I’ve had to really make peace with my natural slowness.

I have been both scolded and praised for my slowness. I once was given the leading stage entrance for a modern choreography piece, because I was the best at miming the heavy movements of wading through water, and I remember being complimented for my performance as a slowly transforming sculpture in another piece. But in ballet class, my dégagés and petit battements were never quite up to par; the fast and sharp movements would earn me plenty of corrections and shouts from my teacher to speed up. My legs were fine with fluid movements but struggled to execute the quick punctuated steps. Nowadays, those steps in my repertoire are better than they used to be. I have learned to overcome the slowness in many areas of my life, or at least to fake it, to keep up.

This world moves so fast, that busyness, speed, never stopping, sprinting through days becoming the norm. Meditation and yoga have gained mainstream popularity, but it seems to be only because so many people are searching for ways to force themselves out of this nonstop lifestyle they’re all living. Even relaxation has turned into marathons of binge-watching television. It’s enough to make you feel inadequate if you’re not working hard and playing equally hard. It’s like everything is a competition, and I’ve just never been that competitive.

So, while I think a good, strong work ethic is one of the most valuable things out there, I’ve had to come to terms with my own place in the world in order to accept the fact that I am a hard worker in my own way, even though it often doesn’t feel like I measure up in comparison. Sometimes I look at other people who buzz around like energizer bunnies, working nonstop and exercising and socializing and just accomplishing large quantities of things in short amounts of time, and I just feel useless. Should I be working harder? Sleeping less? Exercising more? Socializing more? I mean, maybe. But what is making me feel inadequate? My own perception of my life, or my perception of my life compared to others? When I remove those filters of comparison, I feel pretty good about where I am and what I am accomplishing. I think I could do a little more here, schedule my time a little better there, but for the most part, I am doing the best I can.

And therein lies the key. I can’t do another person’s best, I can’t live another person’s life, as they cannot live mine. There is really no comparison. We can’t all be high-ranking CEOs and hustling entrepreneurs and tireless doctors and olympic athletes. The world needs those people, but it also needs the “slow” people, too. It needs the artists and the supporters and teachers, the people who just want to help others in small ways, not big ones. The people who want to reach their community and not necessarily the world. And that is more of the kind of person that I am. For me, small dreams feel big. Small accomplishments to another person may be major milestones for me.

I just feel like a very eyes-wide-open kind of person, always impressed by the simplest things. Some days I would find myself still noticing new interesting details as I drive the same repetitive 25-minute backroads commute to class, and I kind of wonder at how I find beauty in the derelict old buildings and homes lining those streets, even after experiencing the stately, historic atmosphere of a place like Paris, for example. Of course I’d love to do a lot more traveling before my life is done, and I think it would be amazing to experience actually living for a time in a country with an older, richer history and more exotic landscapes. But sometimes I wonder if I’m one of those people who is always meant to live in the simple town, the underdog city, the place where the beauty isn’t so obvious. As much as slower-living types like myself might love to imagine life in a quaint village somewhere with tall trees and cobblestone streets and wildflower fields and an ancient castle somewhere up the road, I think many of us dreamers would be overwhelmed with surroundings so idyllic. We are simply too used to appreciating the beauty in the simplest things, too practiced in creating beauty out of the painfully ordinary.

So, I write this post not at all to condemn productive people or romanticize laziness, but rather just to ponder that we need slow and fast movers alike, that we all play different roles in the world, and for good reason. It’s all relative, and it’s all balance, and I think that is the reason that social media can be stressful for many–it tips the scale and sometimes just averages everyone out, making it seem like we are always going either too fast or too slow, when really most of us are just out here giving our individual best efforts. Life isn’t about tallying a list of accomplishments, or constantly working toward the next thing without ever enjoying the present. It’s time to quit the comparing and just observe and let go and move on. Move to your own set tempo, and don’t rush to over-correct to match the person next to you or you’ll just capsize your own progress. Although, I have also written a companion post on thoughts about positive comparison…so, life musings: to be continued! (always)

Twenty-three

Here we are at another birthday…I turned 23 today! I don’t think I’m the only one who does this, but I tend to get ahead of myself when it gets closer to a new birthday and I’ve basically been considering myself a 23-year-old in my head for the past couple months. My friend and I were talking the other day about how people tend to say on their birthday that they’re looking forward to their 23rd year or whatever, when in actuality, turning 23 means you have just completed your 23rd year and you’re really beginning your 24th year. Haha, it’s just a technicality but it’s a bit of a pet peeve that I was happy someone else shared. And I guess it’s a way to illustrate my point that age is something that sort of changes every day, not all at once on one day a year. At least that’s how I like to think of it, that getting older isn’t this big surprise that pounces on you, but rather a gradual, constant process of letting go of one age and moving toward the next. But I do really like birthdays.

Last year for my birthday post on the blog, I did a little new years resolutions check-in, which works well for me since my birthday falls a third of the way into the year. Ok, whoa, saying that feels weird, how is 2019 already 1/3 through? I don’t think I ever actually realized my birthday is literally 1/3 of the way into the year until I typed that just now lol. Anyway, I also had another kind of silly realization a few days ago when thinking back on my 2019 resolutions and watching this video on youtube from Aileen of Lavendaire. Yearly goals are great, but I realized some goals make much more sense to break down into sections, or a month or 3 months at a time, like the “draw every day” one. I mean, I do draw a lot, and I intended my resolutions to have some flexibility, but literally drawing something every single day for 365 days is a huge goal that I didn’t actually think all the way through, haha. Duh. So needless to say, I haven’t quite kept to that one religiously! This blog is about my efforts in mindful and intentional living, but you can see how there are so many layers to mindfulness that it’s still super easy to mindlessly set an intention, like this one that was unrealistic for my current self.

So with these recent reflections I have also had some fresh ideas on how to reintegrate some of my goals in a more realistic and concrete way. To start with the drawing example, I was reminded on instagram recently about the #100daychallenge, which is where you draw/create something basically every day for 100 days following a theme of your choosing (or if you miss days here and there, you at least have a goal of making it to 100 eventually). So, because I am constantly gathering inspiration online and love saving photos and pinning things on pinterest as reference for future art/drawings, I decided to do #100daysofillustratedphotos! Probably over the summer months, I will try to choose 100 photos I’ve pinned or taken myself, and illustrate each one to practice drawing from reference and stylistically interpreting real things.

As for my other goals, I still have to work on the digital decluttering, I have so far just looked through a lot of old photos and condensed some folders recently so I have a better idea of what I have. That’s just something that takes time. Another one that hasn’t gone as planned is going back to pointe class. With West Side Story being pushed into the new year and taking a lot of classes this semester, not to mention leaving the country for a week in March, my ballet class attendance has been pretty disrupted, plus I still need to get refitted for pointe shoes and get a new pair as it has been almost 5 years. So I’m okay with not rushing this one, as I need to be able to commit to it fully when I do get back into it.

The last goal I want to refine a bit is the “one hour a day of no screen time/creativity without screens.” This isn’t as much of a goal as it is sort of habit-building, because like I said in the resolutions post, I’m obviously not using screens 24/7, and it’s hard to implement a solid hour of creativity at once depending on the day. I realized that I’ve been craving more outdoors time lately and that getting outside and being creative kind of go hand-in-hand for me. So I’m tentatively keeping the original goal and leaving it somewhat vague, but I’m going to add that I want to try to more consciously get outside and get some fresh air and quiet time a little bit every day or most days as part of it.

Lastly, the one goal I have actually already completed is to try rock climbing, and it went exactly as I’d hoped! I showed up to a beginner climbing class at my university at the end of January, had fun, made some new friends, and just tried out a new bouldering gym with them last week that recently opened up nearby. I really love climbing (more specifically I learned that I prefer bouldering, which is shorter heights without a harness) and I’m so happy I made this a goal because it pushed me to just do it and not put it off! I’m looking forward to going more often and getting better at it.

In the youtube video I mentioned/linked above, Aileen offers some helpful journaling prompts, beginning with reflecting by asking yourself, “what are the lessons I’ve learned in the past 3 months?” I really like this, because when I think back on the year as a whole, it’s kind of a blur, but I’ve done and learned so much just in the last few months. I wrote a post on what I learned from being in West Side Story, I wrote about traveling out of the country for the first time to visit Paris, and there are many other little things I haven’t even mentioned. Such as that for an assignment for my Interviewing class, I emailed one of my favorite current artists, Dinara Mirtalipova, who happens to live somewhat close to me, and asked if I could interview her, and she graciously agreed. (!!) Talking with her in a coffee shop for an hour, even though I felt like I was pretty awkward because my brain was in nervous autopilot, was such an awesome experience. Just to be able to ask her questions and gain a lot of helpful insight into the career I want to pursue, especially with her experiences being exactly the sort of things I’d love to do in my own career. It was one of those experiences where the idea popped into my head and I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask, and it meant so much to me that she said yes (and I got an A on that assignment, haha).

I like to write these occasional reflection posts and talk candidly about my goals because it really helps me to see more clearly what I have accomplished, what I need to work on, and when I need to readjust my goals or methods. Plus, I hope that reading me ramble about this stuff is somewhat helpful, to see the imperfections in another person’s journey, but also to see that things are achievable if you just start trying, if you just plant the seed. My name means “green shoot” or “blooming” and I feel like I’m always just trying to sprout ideas and to grow and bloom in different ways and encourage others to do the same. I just love growth and flowers and new beginnings. I’m a lot more fearless than I ever used to be, and sometimes growing up feels more free than being a kid, because you finally learn enough to know you’ll never not have a lot to learn still. I liked being twenty-two, but I think I’m going to like being twenty-three even more.

The Rise and Fall of the Wolf Face Emoji

Or, the emoji formerly known (to me) as the ambiguously dog-like fox face.

Okay, listen up. Look at the date. It’s April Fool’s Day. Is this post a joke? That’s up to you to decide. Honestly, I’m just going to pretend that it is to soften the fact that I have real feelings about this issue. This is important journalism. This is justice…

Justice for the fox face emoji. No, not the current obvious orange fox face that we all have gotten to know in recent years. We’re talking about the OG emoji that was callously usurped by the profile of an unimaginative gray wolf in late 2016’s iOS 10.2 update. We’re talking about this guy:

That blank stare. That vague skeuomorphic shading, singular beady eye and puppet-like mouth. Those oversimplified features that left the true identity of this creature open to speculation, perhaps best summarized in this screenshot from a HuffPost article:

This was all I never knew I wanted in an emoji. What purpose did it serve? None that could be quantified, but that is ultimately what made it ideal. No context made sense of it, and so every context lent equally to its usage. It was the quintessential nonessential emoticon, and I reveled in its uselessness. That paradox was its draw, as poetic as they come.

Now, I cannot claim to have discovered its charms on my own merit. It was almost as though I needed to witness it fully misused in order to appreciate the art of its very existence, and I was awarded that privilege when my own father first began utilizing the emoji keyboard in text communications in 2013. Historical documentation notes the following:

So you see, while initially my unenlightened mind could not grasp the full weight of this discovery, my eyes were eventually opened, and henceforth my longstanding devotion to the fox face emoji was established.

edited in the correct version of the emoji to simulate the tweet as it was meant to be viewed

On the surface I took it for granted, trusting that this pixelated companion to my communications would always be available at the tap of a finger, hoping that it would achieve longevity through mass recognition of its iconic appearance. Alas, my subconscious mind seemed to come to an awareness of the fragility of the digital realm, alerting me to the inherent ephemerality of my beloved unit of expression with an ominous premonition a year and a half before its fated demise:

Somehow I understood that this emoji I had cherished would be destined to remain underappreciated. I do not remember the exact moment I fully realized it was gone, but I still feel the pain of absence from this senseless loss when reliving that prophetic tweet each year as it reappears through my Timehop summary, ironically punctuated with the updated emoji I had dreaded. In all technicality, our friend never really left, simply assuming the newly clarified identity of the true Wolf Face emoji. However, the crisp contours and stern gaze of this fresh design will never compare to the delicious ambiguity of its predecessor.

Fox face or wolf face, dog or puppet, etc., its legacy lies within that ambiguity. I would fight for its right to be reestablished, to own its indescribable identity, but it would be a lost cause. It was cursed from its inception to become an artifact of a generation, an image left behind in a graveyard of early smartphone interface design, overcome by ceaseless innovation. All I wish is to finally tell its story, to give voice to the voiceless, to let these long-buried feelings come to light. Let this stand as an epitaph written out of love and respect for an old friend.

Today, we remember. Justice for the OG wolf/fox face emoji, 2008-2016. RIP.

Paris: An Introduction

A few weeks ago I had never been on a plane or in an airport, and had never been out of the United States besides a drive to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls when I was about 3 years old and long before a passport was required. Due to a spring break study abroad opportunity this semester, I got to change all of that very quickly and spent a quarter of this month in France!(!!!) Since it’s no secret I have been trying to work on learning the French language for a while, this was a pretty exciting development, as I’ve always envisioned Paris as my ideal first overseas travel destination. While I’ve had a busy semester and could have really used that week break, I am so grateful I chose this experience instead. It’s cliche to say that traveling abroad is life-changing, but it really does open your eyes to different people, different culture, geography, politics and norms, etc. It’s just one tiny new sliver of the world that is no longer part of a big unknown, one extra sliver to expand your heart to all that is contained in the world. And above all, even though European culture isn’t the most contrasting to American anyway, it’s also a fresh reassurance that all humans are more similar than we are different.

Because it was a media communications study abroad class, I got to participate in visits to a few social media and news organizations local to Paris, and attend a few lectures and discussions with journalists and other media professionals that offered a more inside perspective of the culture, in addition to visiting the major tourist destinations and exploring the city. I will say that I typically prefer to skip some of the touristy stuff in favor of more niche exploring, so the one major con of a short study abroad like this, for me, is that you’re kind of chained to the class itinerary and the group as a whole most of the time, or at least that was the case for this trip (we were told we would have more free time than we were actually given, but that’s a whole other story). Therefore, I didn’t end up with the freedom to explore certain things that I had hoped to, however, I also experienced so much that I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. All the more reason to start plotting a return visit… 😉 So, with that preface, here’s Paris from my perspective…my first and then general impressions of the city of light.

We landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport around 8am on Saturday, March 9th (quick fun note: we arrived in Paris the day before our daylight savings began in the US, but France’s daylight savings doesn’t start until March 31st, so for the first day it was the full +6hr time difference from home, but the rest of the time there it was a +5hr time difference) and took taxis to our hotel on Avenue de Clichy in the 17e arrondissement. That first taste of France was so surreal. The highways seemed fairly similar to American, and in France the cars are similar as well (steering wheel on the left as usual) just generally smaller, and more motorbikes, so it wasn’t a huge culture shock. It was just the subtle differences, passing trees and looking closely and realizing they’re just….different from the types of trees I’m used to and such. We arrived at our hotel and had to wait a bit to check in to our rooms, so we all just wandered down to the bakery on the corner to get espresso and treats. A café crème and a croissant became my go-to breakfast. Once we were able to settle in to our hotel rooms, the group voted to rest for a couple hours, being tired from the overnight flight. However, one of the other girls and I agreed we’d be better off if we kept moving, so while everyone else napped/rested, the two of us set out on a walk to explore a bit of the surrounding neighborhood and wear off some of the excited jitters of being in this beautiful city for the first time.

That first walk ended up being one of my favorite memories from the trip. It was so great to just leisurely soak in our new surroundings apart from the larger group. To get a feel for the area, for the particular energy of this city and our little section of it. Parts of it definitely reminded me of past experiences of Georgetown in D.C., and NYC, especially at night. But it was of course distinctly Paris, packed with beauty and character and history unlike anything I had ever experienced in the US. I immediately felt like I could explore this city for the rest of my life and never see all of it, never run out of interesting things. There were charming cafés around every corner, every building had its own interesting architectural details, every door was beautiful and unique. That’s one of the first things I noticed, as someone who appreciates little details like interesting/colorful doors, I very quickly realized I couldn’t keep stopping to take a photo of every cute door or I’d never get anywhere, haha.

turned a corner to find a little dog in a windowsill, omg

The people are friendly, as long as you remember to say bonjour and merci. But really, I found no proof of “the French are rude” stereotype in my experience of Paris, quite the opposite, really. I also think the stereotype that Parisians wear lots of black and very little color is a bit over-exaggerated. Black is always going to be a common apparel color, especially in cooler seasons, but there seemed to be plenty of pops of color in the streetwear I observed, besides plenty of camel and mustard as the other dominating neutrals. A common trend seemed to be women in feminine skirts with sheer black tights, paired with either short boots or stylish sneakers of varying styles (for a comfortable commute, I imagine). Sheer black tights toujours. Lots of variation in coats, but I definitely felt right at home with the gray wool overcoat I brought as I saw many similar versions on women and men. There were so many cute kids and so many cute dogs. It seemed like every other person was walking either a small dog or a small child down the street, and yes, often with fresh baguette(s) tucked under an arm as well. People watching really is the best, especially when taking the metro or sitting outside at a cafe (every Parisian restaurant or cafe had outside seating of course, and often heat lamps above so it really doesn’t matter the weather, day and night, warm or cold) and everyone looks interesting in Paris so it’s impossible not to people watch. It was all a bit of sensory overload, but in the most satisfying way possible. Everything felt both familiar, and life-changingly new to my eyes.

I quickly absorbed details of the surrounding streets of the neighborhood where we stayed, after a few days it was easy to recognize certain shops, graffiti, and the architecture. The same went for the metro as well, despite the multitude of trains and stops, if you get to know your “home” station(s) and just check out the map, it’s not too hard to figure out which line to take to get where you need to go. If you’re taking it during the typical rush hours, get ready to embrace the lack of personal space, because people pack into the cars like sardines. But hey, it’s kind of fun quickly searching for a spot to wedge yourself in…at least it was for the week, maybe not for a long-term daily commute, hah. A good time to perfect saying pardon in your best French accent. You might even get lucky and end up in between a couple of flirty Italian guys who speak only enough English to tell you “your face is nice” like one of my friends on the trip. 😉

every metro station has a different look, gotta catch ’em all

Speaking of language, it was certainly interesting finally getting to put my French to the test. Initially, any speaking/accent abilities of mine went out the window from the nerves of interacting with actual native speakers and I kept it minimal, but over a few days I started to get a little more comfortable and eventually there were even a couple occasions where someone didn’t immediately assume I was American. I really only got to use the basics, but it was nice to be able to order food competently and understand a few menus and signs that didn’t have English translations included, or pick up bits and pieces of overheard conversations. Also, the most helpful thing for me was that I was the only student on the trip who has been actively studying French, or at least the one with the most experience with it, so I became a sort of go-to French dictionary and pronunciation guide to many of the other students. I’m still on a very elementary level, but it felt nice when the others asked me simple questions and I was able to offer help and answers. It kept me on my toes, testing my comprehension in a fun way, though I definitely still said “I have no idea what that means” or “let’s try google translate” a few times as well. 😉

latest Coeur de Pirate album, anyone?

Initially, I was planning to give a chronological recap of my trip, but I think it will be smoother if I break it down into categorical sections. So, these have been my impressions and general observations, and I will follow up soon with a post about the classic tourist destinations I visited (the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, etc.) and then possibly another post about the lectures and educational activities (the “study” part of this brief study abroad), maybe even a post about the food or other details, we’ll see. My cousin (shout out healthtreeliving.com) and I were just discussing blog post ideas, so while I’ve had quite the lull in posts the past few months, it’s looking like I have a fresh wealth of things to write about, not to mention some old drafts that could use finishing. Although, this one already took way too long to write, so it’s always a matter of finding the time. Between you and me, I’m also itching to give the blog a fresh redesign…again, time.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed a taste of Paris from my viewpoint, à bientôt!

What West Side Story Taught Me

This is definitely the longest post I’ve published on this blog so far, so fair warning: a lengthy, indulgent personal essay ahead, reflecting on everything I learned from rehearsing and performing in my first musical.

Last weekend, we finished the final two shows of the production of West Side Story I had spontaneously joined the cast of back in mid-November. I have mentioned here before that I grew up in ballet, and so I’m really no stranger to the stage, having been in the occasional dance recitals from age 3 to 8 and then 2-5 different ballet, choreography, or theatrical shows of various sorts per year from age 8 to age 18. It had been 4.5 years since my last show before college, in August of 2014. Naturally, having been away from performing for the longest stretch of time in my life, I had been missing it; that camaraderie bred from long rehearsals, the process of learning choreography and cues, and the excitement and certain high of dancing and acting on a stage. The experience of being in this production of West Side Story was similar and yet different in many ways from my lifetime of other performing experiences, and it really had me wanting to document and savor all the memories I’ve gained from the last couple months of hours of rehearsal and performing with this group of kids and more experienced actors. It felt so deliciously ephemeral, and the whole process made me feel more present in daily life than I have in a while. I just fully surrendered myself to it, and while the commitment involved missing a lot of my typical yoga and ballet classes and consumed my free time, I was poignantly aware of how much I would miss it when it was all over. I guess it was quite the blessing to have grown up in a consistent company of performers, because every final show was never too final, just a farewell to certain choreography, knowing more would soon be around the corner with mostly the same people to spend more hours in rehearsal with.

This is the first show where I was a solo performer in a way. I was still just a small part of a cast, but I didn’t really feel like just a faceless corps dancer in this context. Because it was set up as an extracurricular program for local students, and also because of the nature of West Side Story itself, where each character has a name (not just “village girl” or “baby swan” or “friend of Giselle” like in ballet), there was somewhat more of a focus on the individual than I’m used to. Additionally, with the few other non-high-school local actors like myself, as well as a few professionals brought in as guest artists, there was such a variety of backgrounds, ages, and experience among the group that made it so interesting and fun and easy to get along because most of us were new to each other. After almost daily rehearsals every evening/afternoon over a couple months, it seems so odd that many of us may never see each other again now that it’s all over. So many hours spent together in such a short few months kind of puts the shallowness of social media into perspective, like, sure you can keep in touch at a sort of base level, but there’s nothing that replaces spending actual time with people, especially in the extra vulnerable context of something such as the performance arts. I am so impressed these kids hung in there with all their other high school obligations, but I also understand the addictive nature of it, because despite being exhausting at times, it simultaneously renewed my energy in many ways. On one hand, I felt a bit novel and mature being 5 to 8 years older than many of these kids, but on the other hand I felt accepted in that teenage confidant sort of way, where any chance to make new connections and friends over a shared experience is embraced. The choreography was also novel to me, a bit more frenzied and bold than anything in my past repertoire, allowing me to discover what I had suspected but hadn’t quite yet proven to myself: that I truly am a freer, more expressive dancer than before.

Overall, it was just so different than anything I have performed in the past, and teenage me was frankly too self-conscious to have ever been able to fully enjoy such a production, so I’m even more impressed at the talent and maturity of the kids in the show. I ended up with one line as well, which was a first for me, and it was kind of a silly/cringey one at that. However, just having a line, even (or especially) one that I didn’t like, made me feel even more clearly how much I’ve grown as a person. I felt like myself, and like a character at the same time. I felt like a performer. One of the guest actors sent us all a write-up of character development tips, and while I didn’t dig too deep, I ended up lovingly channeling a bit of my Baba’s personality (my dad’s mom). She was always a firecracker, and would tell me stories of her high school days, boldly trying to catch my grandfather’s attention by strutting past the basketball courts where he and his friends were playing in her short-shorts on her way to the grocery store. I knew she would be a good inspiration for my character, Velma. In fact, the original Broadway production of West Side Story debuted in 1957 and she was 22 that year, like I am now. She was bold and sharp and sweet, and the older I get, the more I see both of my grandmothers in the person I’m becoming. I wish I could talk to them now and show them I’m not the timid kid I used to be; to show them how I’ve grown to mirror some of their strength and wit. And sure, for this production I wasn’t scrutinizing my dancing in a mirrored studio for hours, and maybe that contributed to some of the looseness. But I felt more comfortable in my skin all the same.

I hope I can keep randomly joining the cast of productions my whole life, because that performing bug sticks with you. It’s addictive, and it’s a lot of fun, and you really do feel a fast connection with your fellow actors and actresses. We may sometimes not even remember each others’ names at first, but there’s an ease of conversation and communication that comes from just having the simple common thread of sharing a stage. And I think sharing a stage really opens people up, because it’s so easy to forget that ease of connection in most daily life situations…unfortunately, a classroom or office doesn’t quite have the same looseness, it’s often more of a stiff environment that can wear on one’s social confidence. Weeks of performing had left me a bit overfilled, I think; high on human interaction and exchange of energy, and I have been crashing back to reality this past week. I had gotten too used to going to my college campus each day and being surrounded by people with barely any interaction, which can sometimes feel lonelier than solitude.

I was beginning to wonder if these life observations from returning to theater would thread through my 2019…I wondered if this might be the year I shed some of my lone wolf tendencies and start actually getting to know more people, be friendlier, a bit more outgoing. I think WSS has definitely changed me, and I do feel like I’ve been more open in my daily interactions and in my new classes so far this year, even making a few new friends. It’s almost as if being in WSS in my spare time had given me a fun alter-ego, a tiny extra burst of charismatic energy to channel. I have no idea if I can sustain that charisma, absorb some of it back into my identity, but I do want to try, because I think I’ve earned the identity of a performer after almost two decades of it.

Some distilled points and bonus bits of what I learned from being in my first musical:

-Most “talents” are learned skills that can be improved. I had to do some singing as part of this cast, and even received a few one-on-one voice lessons in the process. It’s like working a muscle and needs warmed up and trained. While I wouldn’t consider myself a singer, I definitely feel like my voice has improved!

-It’s never too late to start something new. I was surprised to learn that two of the professional guest actors that joined our cast did not even start acting until they were in their early 20s.

-Don’t be afraid to open up to people and put yourself out there. There’s nothing like acting to remind you that it’s okay to look silly, or be a little bold or crazy or emotional. Acting can be very therapeutic, giving your fellow actors and the audience permission to feel and express different emotions with you through the story you’re telling. Theatre is a more artistic and vulnerable environment than real life, but people are often so unreasonably uptight and self-conscious in normal situations. Be more vulnerable in real life, loosen up a bit. It feels better.

-Fun busyness feels so much better than laziness. I could have been like “no thank you-oo, ooblee-ooo*” to this opportunity and spent my winter break with a lot more free time, but I was so happy to be busy with something fun and fulfilling. I was in rehearsals during finals week and during the first month of this semester, and it reminded me that I can handle a variety of obligations and have fun doing it. I think time management gets easier when you have less free time to fill, hah.

-It’s okay to be under-qualified. Learn on the job, improvise, learn from the people around you. I grew up performing but still, every performance is something new and different, and every one teaches me that I still have a lot to learn. Embrace the fun in not knowing what you’re doing.

-You will meet lots of people in life, and sometimes you are destined to only know them for a short time. These are still valuable relationships and connections. You can’t keep all your friends close forever, sometimes the people that are in your life for a brief time leave a significant impact, or maybe they’ll come back into your life unexpectedly in the future. It’s bittersweet, but c’est la vie.

And if I’m being honest, I suspect all of life is bittersweet in some way or another, with other flavors dominating at times but really no other possible undertone. So that’s my main takeaway. Be more present with your life and experiences, because they’re all temporary, but if you savor them and learn, then you’ll miss things fondly rather than bitterly when they’re over. I have so many good new memories from my first return to the stage since 2014, and if I grow a bit from each role I play in my life, then I’m excited to take a dash of Velma’s boldness with me moving forward.

*that’s it, that’s my line, okay?? It’s silly but it grew on me and now it’s iconic, lol

2019

Last year I wrote a post on my specific resolutions for 2018, and it was the first time I had made concrete goals in a long time. I always have ideas and goals and lists of personal projects I want to work on, but I used to accomplish these sorts of things more on whims and never really with much planning. Last year, however, my list of resolutions turned out to be fairly effective and now I’m firmly on the bandwagon of detailed goal-setting.

Let’s start with a recap, shall we? In 2018

I did not read more books, and I was online a lot. I listened to a ton of podcasts, watched lots of YouTube, and read a fair bit of online articles, as I like to do. Am I disappointed? Honestly, not terribly. I learned a lot from these resources last year and enjoyed it. I grew up reading a ton of books, and lately I just wasn’t ever in the mood to sit with long-form pieces of written material. I also grew up consuming almost entirely fiction and fantasy, and this past year I consumed almost entirely non-fiction. I do want to get back to reading the occasional book in 2019, but I’m okay with “failing” this resolution because it turned out I had other priorities this past year.

I developed sort of conversational level abilities in French! I spent the first part of the year using my Duolingo app daily, which did a decent job of building up my vocabulary, but then I had the opportunity to take Intermediate French in the fall semester to fulfill my language credit requirements. The classroom environment was exactly what I needed to take my French to the next level, as I was forced to practice conversing and listening comprehension in the oral portion of each exam, as well as in class four days a week. I really enjoyed it and I’m going to miss having that level of practice. I’m starting up daily Duolingo again at least to keep my skills fresh as I prep to go to Paris for a week in March! My abilities are still pretty basic, but we’ll see how much I get to put them to the test…

I went back to ballet class consistently! There were definitely weeks here and there that I missed, but for the most part I tried to get to one to two ballet classes per week all year, and it’s been great! My technique is stronger in some areas than it used to be, and weaker in others, but overall I honestly feel like a better dancer than ever.

I did not declutter my digital life or illustrate a book, though I did start the digital decluttering process and continued practicing and sharing random illustrations all year. Not exactly successes, but those goals are big to begin with, so it’s not a total loss, either.

Lastly, for my bonus goals, I did not practice ukulele hardly at all and I didn’t do any real cooking or recipe testing, but I will say my mom has made some good homemade soups and vegetable roasts this year, hah. As far as buying only 12 or less new clothing items, I ended up somewhat keeping that goal! I did accumulate some new clothing and stopped keeping track, but I think the number is low enough that it could be considered a success, since most of the items were replacing old basics or purchased secondhand. I was way more conscious of things I bought this year overall and extremely thoughtful about each purchase.

Now, my resolutions for 2019! This year, I want to:

1. Go back to pointe class

Now that I’ve gotten my body back into the swing of regular ballet classes, and at the prodding of my classmates and teacher, I’m feeling ready to go back to pointe as well. I’m going to start slow, because I don’t really know how my feet will respond after 4 years out of pointe shoes, but I’m excited. While it can be painful, it can also feel like floating…there’s nothing quite like dancing on your toes.

2. Digital decluttering!

This one is carried over from last year. I did a little bit of photo organizing and purging, and started some folder systems, but this year I want to really get it done. I want to go through all my old digital photos and files, organize them, purge things ruthlessly, back them up properly to my hard drive AND to a good cloud storage option (probably google photos? could use recommendations) and also improve my online security by signing up for a password manager and starting to change all my passwords. It would be ideal to work on this now in the wintertime as well, since it’s a solid curled-up-inside-on-the-couch activity.

3. Try rock climbing

I really think this would be an activity I’d enjoy, good cross training for yoga arm balances, and I have access to a climbing wall through my school. I’m a pretty low-energy person by nature, so I need exercise and activities that are fun and/or group settings for accountability (like yoga and ballet). This fits the bill, plus it wouldn’t hurt if I met some new people at my school as well, so I’m going to try to sign up for a beginner lesson and give climbing a try this year.

4. Less screen time, more creative time

Ok, last year my “read more books, be online less” and “illustrate a picture book” goals (as well as the bonus “improve ukulele skills”) didn’t happen, at all. So, this year I have a better idea. Often it’s more effective to create very specific goals, but in a few cases, I think being more vague can be beneficial. My creativity would benefit from more screen time boundaries, so this year my new goal is to come up with a way to force myself to do something creative every day. For my purposes, maybe an hour a day of no screens allowed, sort of like a pomodoro technique for doing something creative. It’s not like I’m on my phone or computer 24/7, but usually one or both are right next to me while I’m doing something else, and it would help to purposely make those distractions not an option for a bit each day.

I hesitate to schedule when that hour should be, as I feel like it should be somewhat flexible, but I’m going to make a concentrated effort to ban myself from too much mindless scrolling on electronic devices. After spending a couple months rehearsing West Side Story in practically all of my free time, I definitely haven’t had time to fill with pointless activities, and I haven’t missed it. Any time I feel the urge to bounce around between different social media just for something to do is probably a good time to put the hour into effect and try to mindfully switch to something else, whether playing an instrument, drawing, painting, sewing, writing, reading, or even experimenting with something new, like recording a “podcast” just to practice speaking and get some thoughts out.

5. Draw every day

To go with the last one, I really think practicing drawing a little bit every day would be an extremely beneficial and long overdue habit to establish. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just drawing something each day that’s not specifically meant to be shared online or with anyone necessarily, would make me a much better artist by the end of the year.

That’s it! I could probably name another goal or three if I wanted to, but I think these five cover a lot as far as personal motivation goes. I’m anticipating 2019 to be a busy year, so I’d rather keep it clear and simple and see what happens. I had this post mostly written 2 weeks ago but like I mentioned I’ve been in West Side Story rehearsals seemingly nonstop, haha, so it took me a while to actually wrap this up and hit publish. New years resolutions don’t really officially start until February anyway, right?? 😉

Have you thought about what you want to accomplish this year?

Testing

2018 has been a pivotal year in my life, a year of testing myself. Starting the year stripping away a large chunk of obligations by taking the spring semester off school, then piling them back on in autumn with a moderate load of 16 credit hours. Spending the majority of the year entrenched in Yoga Teacher Training, taking (and passing!) my YTT test in late August. Allowing myself to be roped into a few commitments that I was a bit afraid of, but knew I subliminally wanted to do because of the challenges, like teaching Pre-K Sunday School and joining the cast of a production of West Side Story. Trying a challenge on Instagram where I created and shared art daily for a week for the first time. Testing out a more sustainable lifestyle; finding ways to cut unnecessary and necessary expenses, building good habits that actually stuck and unraveling old ones that never served me well…

Ultimately, I tested a lot of preconceived notions I had about myself this year and tried to tear them all down to the best of my ability. I had just arrived at a point where I knew I needed to make some changes and let go of a lot of tightly held, unproductive ideas and mindsets. A lot of it was just a series of quiet, internal shifts that turned into a lot of strategic and surprising “no”s and “yes”s in my life. I admit that I thought I was a bit crazy to say no to spring semester 2018, to say yes to YTT, to teaching Sunday school, to being cast in West Side Story a week before finals…even smaller challenges like designing a cousin’s bridal shower invitations, and taking a solo 3-hour road trip to visit another cousin for a weekend. But this is definitely a year of decisions I don’t regret in the least, not that I make a point of regretting things. I’ve even signed up for a Media Communications seminar class in Paris for spring break 2019, and instead of weighing all the reasons it would be easier not to in my head like many past opportunities, I was confident that the timing was right for once.

At the end of 2017, I was honestly feeling very jaded about my college experience and the place I was in. But now, a year later, I’m feeling a bit like I did those first couple months of my freshman year, seizing extracurricular opportunities and excited to do my homework for the first time in a long while, though this time the excitement is not from naive expectations, it’s with full knowledge of how much effort it takes to show up and do the work of working towards your goals. I’m going to go ahead and just let myself enjoy this moment as I tell you I got all five A’s this semester.

I do think about the past a lot. Too much, probably. It’s funny how even though I love seeing how all the pieces, good and bad, brought me to where I am today, which I’m very grateful for, I still often find myself thinking about the same old things I would change if I could. I finished Daredevil season 3 a little over a month ago (so good, so sad the show got cancelled), and in the last episode, Matt and Sister Maggie have an exchange about this. She says: “If God allowed that, there’d be no future, only people endlessly rewriting the past.” I’m not one to take serious quotes from tv shows (usually just funny ones, heh) but that line stuck with me. It’s true, things happen for a reason and we’re not meant to go back.

I love writing these reflective end-of-year posts and hope to continue this for many years to come. Each month seems to go by so quickly, but all those days and weeks of tiny decisions still add up to a lot of directional shifts and life changes. At the moment, I have absolutely no idea what this time next year will look like for me, and this time last year honestly still feels pretty fresh. But I’m super excited to take it one day at a time and see what I say “yes” and “no” to in 2019. I’m sure I’ll continue to find ways to test and surprise myself, especially now that I feel I’ve earned my adult sea legs, haha. I finally feel ready to embrace moving forward, to let go of gripping my childhood and past life stages as if I’m going to lose all my good memories by growing up. 2019 is looking like the year to embrace responsibility and fresh opportunities.

Sharing

October 2018 is officially the first month I haven’t posted a blog since starting LML over a year ago, and that missing link in the archives on the sidebar will probably bother me forever now, haha. I’ve had several posts started in my drafts for months, and I’ve wanted to write here more often than I do, but lately I’ve been a bit tired of our sharing culture.

I love being able to type out my thoughts and read insights into other people’s lives, and I think vulnerability is such an important virtue in the world, but I also find myself occasionally in seasons of wanting to be a hermit and not share anything of any depth and value with anybody. The thing about social media is that it’s prime territory for introverts. Extroverted people are good at sharing their thoughts and feelings in reality, but I feel like introverts tend to hold back and not say what we want to in conversation, so then we can find our outlet on the internet, whether writing blogs, tweets, instagram captions…because there’s finally a captive audience, time to think through what you want to say and word it thoughtfully before putting it out there, and the ability to go deep without worrying about being interrupted or sounding stupid. But it’s easy (for me, at least) to go from excited that there are now these virtual platforms to communicate more comfortably, to overwhelmed by all the people sharing their deep thoughts on the internet. Maybe I just happen to follow a lot of like-minded introverts, but I end up wanting to be like, “forget all you oversharers, I’m gonna be all cool and unaffected and post like two things with superficial captions over the next month” …and then I’m back to writing long posts on the internet again in a couple weeks. haha.

But really, I do love communicating, I love sharing my life and thoughts, and I love connecting with other people’s shared thoughts. Sometimes I wish I could be more open, and sometimes I wish I could be more chill and less bursting with things I want to get off my chest. It’s all a balance, I suppose. I think people tend to get more sentimental this time of year because fall is such a season of nostalgia. I’ve probably written a thought to that effect here last year, but then again I tend to bring up similar themes and thoughts often. Everybody goes mushy over pumpkins and apple picking and leaves changing, and I’m definitely not excluded, but I am having a pretty happy autumn this year and I think I’ve just been less inclined to be glued to instagram and whatnot because I’m not feeling that “fear of missing out.” I’m truly enjoying my own life at the moment even though I don’t have anything exciting going on. It just feels wonderfully normal, and pretty balanced for once.

Ultimately, I’m working to get better at balancing my emotional response to life. Obviously that’s a huge thing that most people have to always work on, but hey, there’s a reason dispassion is one of the highest goals in my Orthodox Christian faith and in the Yoga Sutras (and probably other belief systems but those are two I’m familiar with). I make light of things a lot and also add too much weight and melancholy to other things, so I need to strive towards that middle ground. I think I’ve been pretty happy lately because I haven’t been allowing myself to sink into anything. Feeling an unpleasant emotion and then just letting it pass without wallowing, being excited about something, but then stepping back and trying to be more enthusiastic about little non-exciting things like doing homework. Dispassion doesn’t mean feeling nothing, it means being human and experiencing emotions, but transcending their hold on you and gaining control over how you respond to those feelings, or at least that’s my interpretation.

I’ll always be prone to giving in to nostalgia and feeling melancholy sometimes, but I like to think I can’t appreciate the joie de vivre if I can’t grieve what’s been. Note that little french/english rhyming quip there. 🙂 I’m taking Intermediate French this semester and I am still just in awe of the difficulty yet beauty of language learning and feel really satisfied whenever I make connections between the two languages or find an interesting way to mesh them together. J’aime me some franglais. Oh, and I also have a blog on the topic of intercultural communication for one of my other classes, you can check it out here if you want, I’ve been enjoying the structure of curating educational content on a specific topic. I even interviewed my French professor for it, and he had some interesting and profound insights.

So, technically I did blog in October, just not here. 😉