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.

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. 😉

Subconscious successes

As we’re approaching the end of the year (and the decade!) I was thinking back on my new year’s resolutions and in what ways I had grown over this year. I realized that aside from my more conscious goals, I had quite a few “subconscious successes” and bits of growth that I thought it might be fun to discuss and consider. Here are the things I feel like I “accomplished” this year outside of my resolutions:

1) Calling people out more. Okay, to preface, I don’t mean this at all like the toxic “cancel culture” phenomenon that’s been coming to a head this year. I don’t think it’s productive to shame people, punishment should never be the point. But I decided somewhere along the line to be less passive about comments or behavior from my loved ones (mostly just my parents since I live with/interact with them daily) that I recognized to be harsh or unfair or misguided. So, for example, if one of my parents made a scornful or judgmental comment about something, I wouldn’t laugh or brush it off, I would challenge it, gently, or maybe play “devil’s advocate” just to encourage seeing both sides. And this isn’t to call out my parents or anything, we all have certain ingrained beliefs or notions about something or another, maybe especially little things, that come from our upbringing seeing only one side of something, that might be worth reconsidering for empathy’s sake.

I’m definitely not a social justice warrior-type, I have a pretty passive, inoffensive and hard to offend, go-with-the-flow personality overall, but I am very passionate about empathy. I think that’s why I love movies so much, and why my love of movies was rekindled so strongly by watching a lot of really thought-provoking films in my History of Motion Pictures class. I think it’s so stunning when you get to the end of a movie and your initial reactions are, “what was the point of that??” or “why did it end that way?” and you have to dig deep and think about it, and you realize that maybe the point was just to allow you to see a new perspective or empathize with a character that you don’t relate to, or paint a portrait of a way of life or a place that you’ve never experienced. Or, the point is just to show that there’s not always a clear resolution or a simple lesson or answer. Sometimes the best movies are the ones that feel like a slap in the face for no good reason, because you have to pull your own reasons out of it.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m some variation of mediator/peacemaker in most every personality test I’ve ever taken; I think it’s my gift. I decided to really try to use that gift more this year, even just quietly within my own little circle. I think it’s helpful to challenge people’s perspectives sometimes, because sometimes we say things or react without thinking, and we need to be mindful of whether we’re leading with love and empathy rather than with close-minded or hateful thoughts. “Love your enemies” is a humbling extreme of this practice, but I think it’s really not that extreme if you make a habit of it. It really feels wonderful to practice leading with love. I just feel like I’ve seen so much spiteful content on social media this year, and we all could benefit from thinking twice now and then, I’m not exempting myself at all. One of my favorite quotes you’ve probably heard:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

2) Finishing my Duolingo French tree. This year I’ve been more conscious and accepting of how my priorities necessarily shift in different seasons of life, and while I still hope to continue working towards fluency in French, I just haven’t had the time or desire to concentrate on working on it right now. However, a few months ago, about 1.5 years after starting my daily Duolingo habit last year (shifting to only sporadic usage this year) I completed my French language “tree” on Duolingo. It’s a fun accomplishment and it means that I’ve covered all the general categories of vocabulary, and theoretically have learned over 2000 French words. Now hopefully I can find a way to put that base of knowledge to use in developing actual conversational skills…

3) Letting go. This is one of those vague phrases that can mean a lot of different things, but like I mentioned above, I’ve realized that sometimes priorities shift in different seasons. I’m a person of many interests and so I just have to accept that there’s a time for certain things. At the beginning of the year I was hardly practicing piano anymore, but by fall I was learning three new songs and sitting down to play any chance I got, and loving it. Sometimes you have to let go of something for a bit to rediscover it down the line.

I also mean this in terms of my self-image and perceptions. I realized this year just how much time I have spent in my life worrying about what this person or that person thinks of me, and whether I’m “good enough” in so-and-so’s opinion, that I realized it was crushing my spirit more than a little bit. I finally feel like I’m coming to that point where I am content in my own skin and not constantly trying to play some kind of ideal character that I’ve written for myself for various situations. That’s a lifelong process, I think, but I feel myself shedding the last of the old teenage hangups of “am I cool or not” and I’m finally just like, there’s no such thing as cool. I’m me and you’re you and we are all great in our own ways and there is just no comparison or gold standard of how to look or act that’s worth getting stuck on. The people that like you will like you as you are and the people that don’t care for you won’t be swayed by you trying to cater to their tastes, you’ll just lose yourself in the process. It’s amazing how easy that is to say but how hard it is to take to heart.

3) Being less materialistic. This is something that I’m sure precipitated from the previous changes that I mentioned in the last point. I think any materialistic tendencies often come from a place of insecurity or unhappiness/discontent. As I have gradually begun to really take to heart and accept my worth as a person, just as I am, flaws and all, I have genuinely stopped desiring more “things.” I used to love shopping cheap fast fashion for new clothes whenever I could in high school and early college, but now I really value those pieces in my wardrobe that I’ve had for years and worn over and over, and I’m much more thoughtful and practical-minded when it comes to clothing purchases and any purchase in general nowadays. I’m usually trying to replace something old or worn out rather than add something new, and many of my current favorites in my wardrobe were purchased secondhand. I love pretty and cool “things” as much as the next person, but now even if I initially see something and think “ooh I want that,” 2 out of 3 times I just end up reconsidering and losing interest. For me, the long-term peace and happiness of having less things has mostly overcome the short-term thrill of getting something new. I mean, I’m super lucky that I really do feel that I have everything I could possibly need right now.

This year for Christmas I got just a handful of gifts (that I picked out and got myself, lol), a few small practical things and a few fun things, nothing major…a hairbrush, a scarf, a new record album, stuff like that. To not really even have anything to open on Christmas morning besides some chocolate in my stocking, and being perfectly at peace with that…to go to church and be fully present…it’s a wonderful feeling to me, a feeling of growth and finally stepping away from unnecessary desires. I am absolutely not insinuating that getting gifts for Christmas is bad, it’s just that there is a difference between wanting some gifts for fun/practical reasons, and feeling like you need certain things in order to be happier in some way. This season and this year, I have felt more detached from my “wishlist” and more present in general. I was way more excited to go see the Nutcracker and spend time with family these past couple weeks than about any physical gifts, and I’d like that to always be the case. I think a sense of creative fulfillment replaces the urge to have things as well.

4) Complimenting people more. I may have mentioned this in the past, but I really feel like I’ve gotten better at just giving compliments without overthinking it. I used to be like “oh I don’t want to make it weird, or give someone too many compliments” but it’s like, really? Too many? I mean, I guess you could maybe cross that line at some point or start seeming disingenuous, but for the most part if you have an urge to compliment someone, you probably just should without thinking twice about it. Pretty much everyone really appreciates it, and some days someone might really need to hear it, even if you’ve said it before, and especially if it’s something deeper than “you look good” and an affirmation of their character or something. Although people definitely appreciate being told they look good, too. 🙂 I never regret complimenting someone, but I usually regret not saying something if it strikes me. I’ve been given a few memorable compliments this year and it always warms my heart to receive any such thing.

5) Being more proactive than reactive. I always need to work on this, but this year I think I had a lot more success with avoiding burnout in schoolwork and other such areas by recognizing when I would be extra busy and prioritizing accordingly, whether that meant sacrificing something else, reducing other obligations where I could, or trying to work ahead or at least plan out what needed to get done and try to focus on one thing at a time. I admit there were times this past semester, whether weeks or even individual days, where I felt like I was just not going to make it through and get everything done. And there were times I just woke up and gave it to God and said “please just get me through this day” and somehow, things would work out, even if my own plan went completely out the window.

As a person who is not a type-A workaholic, I really need a balance of work and play in my life or I burn out quickly, so it is definitely important for me to put in a little extra time and effort in planning and looking ahead to make sure I can be mindful of where I can afford some time to do things I enjoy in between necessary work things, or even spontaneously recognizing when I need a break even when I can’t fully afford it, and making it work by making it intentional. Like, OK, if I sacrifice some sleep, I can chill and watch some youtube videos for a bit because I need to mentally decompress from the day more than I need sleep tonight. Or hey, I need sleep, so I’ll tell my ballet teacher I can’t come to class tonight so I can work on this and go to bed early, or work through lunch on it tomorrow. It’s not always ideal, but when life gets a little chaotic, sometimes you just need to be a little creative in your solutions to keep the balance. Also, sometimes it works out that you can still do a good enough job on something in a lot less time than you initially planned to spend. In the past, I would just let things get chaotic, get overwhelmed, procrastinate instead of taking intentional breaks, and then I would feel burnt out because I was trying to keep too many balls in the air at once instead of thinking about which ones I could temporarily drop to keep juggling the important ones in a sustainable way.

Welp, those are my (somewhat long-winded) subconscious wins this year. It’s really surprising what you can come up with when you sit down to reflect on the non-concrete stuff. It never really feels like you’re changing that much, but when you look back at a year or a decade (!) as a whole, there’s a lot of growth and doors opened and closed that may surprise you. As they say…hindsight is 20/20. So here’s to a 2020 full of more small wins and growth to start a new decade that we can look back on clearly and fondly at the end of next year.

Breaking the silence

Hi, it’s been a while! I hadn’t missed more than a single month since I started this blog, and here I am casually waltzing in after two full months of no posts with little to no explanation. Well, I did wind up renewing my domain, but I transferred my website to a different host as my hosting rates were going up and I like to keep it professional around here while paying as little as possible. Unfortunately, doing the behind-the-scenes legwork of backing things up and transferring bundles of code ended up having a few hiccups, and didn’t go as smoothly as I was hoping. I couldn’t quite make it work to get everything transferred with the photos intact and re-uploaded/hosted at the new domain, so it kind of made me feel like I shouldn’t post anything new until I sorted that out, in case I had to clear it all out and re-import the site.

Long story short, I haven’t had the spare time or motivation to redo anything from the ground up, so I decided I will just manually re-upload all the media that goes with each post since I really don’t have that many to contend with, and might as well take the chance to start fresh since I’ll be at this new host for a while. So here I am, breaking the silence with a spontaneous post, once again ignoring all the half-finished ones in my drafts. I’ve been keeping busy the last few months so while I hope to get back to posting more on the blog, and restore the pictures that go with the old posts, for the moment I’ve been more active on Instagram, but that’s generally the case regardless.

What really made me want to pop in with a post today, oddly enough, is that today would be silent comedy film legend Buster Keaton’s 124th birthday. I’ve been having a blast this semester taking a History of Motion Pictures class to fulfill one of my last gen ed requirements, and little did I know within the first week of the semester, while still covering the silent era, I would see a film that would change my life (at least in some small way) when we viewed “Sherlock Jr.” (1924) during our second day of class.

I love movies and history and I’m generally at least aware of most of the legendary notable films and stars, even dating back to the early years of motion pictures, so it surprised me that I had never really seen anything of Buster Keaton, though I was vaguely familiar with his name and have seen at least bits and pieces from his contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. I had no real expectations other than to sit back and enjoy watching films for credit, I’m always up for a good movie and I trusted my reputable film-critic professor to have some interesting choices to show us throughout the semester. But as the events of this movie unfolded, I was completely blown away for the first time in a long time, and probably for the first time truly by a silent-era film, as all the previous ones I’d seen had been mostly just amusing, or inventive within their contexts in relatively primitive ways.

But Keaton, it was soon apparent to me, wasn’t just inventive for his time. He needs no qualifiers. His originality was immediately recognizable and immediately impressive, in almost every way, from the plot, to the visual concepts that played out perfectly, and the seemingly effortless and highly daring stunts that could probably kill a less skilled executor. If there’s one thing about early movies, it’s that you can tell pretty easily when something is faked, so I could tell pretty quickly that Keaton’s no fake. I was never really a big fan of slapstick, but the amazingly clever and perfectly timed sight gags in Sherlock Jr. showed me that there is definite ingenuity behind the best physical comedy that goes way beyond falling down and pie-throwing, though Keaton can do both of those things with true artistry as well. I grew up in the performing arts in a community where I’ve known some talented people with rare skills of physicality and bodily control that wouldn’t be out of place in a circus, so I’m certainly able to recognize extraordinary physical skill when I see it. Keaton started so young with his acrobatic falls and stunts that it was second-nature to him, and he knew his capabilities so well that when watching him you can’t help but trust him to make it out of every absurd situation he sets up, with panache.

If you’ll indulge me, I must just take this opportunity (on my own blog, I know, I can say whatever I like) to rave about this one-in-a-million actor who was born almost exactly 100 years before me and yet seems to have a truly timeless quality about him, like he was dropped into history at the beginning of the 20th century to invent all the tropes we now take for granted in modern film, and to do them all better than anyone who would follow. Because at the core of it, Keaton represents a lot more than just an actor, director, comedian, or stuntman. He represents true mastery of a craft, wring-it-dry development and usage of talents, and downright fearlessness, or if not that, then real confidence in his abilities from years of experience. To put him in a very oversimplified nutshell, Keaton figured out what he was good at as a toddler and honed that craft, following it wherever it took him, for his whole life. He basically worked non-stop from age 3 (joining his parents’ vaudeville act) until almost the day he died at age 70, and the whole time he was doing what he loved. If that’s not a perfect example of a life lived to the fullest, I don’t know what is.

I’ve almost finished reading Keaton’s autobiography, found archived in its entirety online along with many of his films, which makes for easy gratification when someone like me discovers him and immediately wants to absorb everything I can about his life and work (I’m not alone, as there seem to be plenty of Keaton fans young and old even, or especially, in this internet age). One thing that I love as I read his innumerable stories from his 60+ years in the business of entertainment (seriously, this guy has hilarious and amazing stories involving seemingly every major early Hollywood figure, in addition to other performers like Harry Houdini and Anna Pavlova, I guess it was a pretty small world at the time) is that he never dwells too much, never over-analyzes, never glosses over the harder times he lived through, just acknowledges all of it with gratitude, not taking anything too personally. He seems to have had both an outlook of wonder at the experiences he was able to live, tempered with an easy acceptance of it all, as if it went exactly as it should’ve without him needing to think of anything but to keep doing the only thing he knew, finding ways to make people laugh.

In addition, his playful conversational tone reads like a lost Salinger novella, which is just delightful to me as you know I’m a big fan of Salinger, especially his Glass family characters. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Buster Keaton, his siblings Jingles and Louise and his vaudevillian parents Joe and Myra weren’t somehow partial inspiration for the Glass family’s ex-vaudevillians Les and Bessie and their children of various talents and interesting nicknames (Seymour, Buddy, Boo Boo, Walt and Waker, Zooey and Franny). It’s fun just to imagine a connection there between two things I admire, but Salinger and Keaton certainly at least share a proven distaste for anything “phony.”

So there you go, give me a long couple weeks of midterm assignments, tests, and presentations, and two months off from writing on my blog, and I come back with a fresh obsession to eulogize with the enthusiasm of an energetic puppy. I try not to get overly caught up in the whole “finding purpose” thing because I know my purpose, anyone’s purpose, is just to simply live my dang life the best I can, but it sure is inspiring to find examples of people who just seem to have been made for something in particular, and to see how that level of talent and mastery reaches through generations. At any rate, it helped to get some thoughts out of my head, business as usual, and if you ask me, Buster Keaton isn’t just any old actor to idolize, he’s a first-rate example of a true innovator with a tireless work ethic and no affectations, and I’m very happy that he was born 124 years ago today so that he could grow up just in time to get into the then-still-new medium of motion pictures and make delightful history without pretense, for people like me to find joy in his creations a century later.

I’ll end with links to two of Buster Keaton’s shorts that are some of my favorites of the ones I’ve seen so far (which is a lot of them). This version just recently posted was colorized using artificial intelligence which turned out pretty cool and feels almost modern compared to watching in black and white: The Goat (1921) (the surreal elevator gags at the end are great)

And one I just watched the other day that my parents enjoyed immensely as well, seasonally appropriate for October: The Haunted House (also 1921) (this one’s a little heavier on the gags, Keaton’s two-reeler short films all seem to have more to see on each viewing as you could blink and miss a clever joke the first time)

I hope maybe I can convert another few 21st century Buster Keaton fans, or at least give you something fun to watch if you have 20 minutes to kill. Happy Birthday to a screen legend who deserves the recognition. Ironically, it is also apparently “world smile day,” and Mr. Keaton was well-known as the Great Stone Face who never smiled in his films. 🙂

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)

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

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.

Teacher

Whew, August was quite the month, so much so that I started this post four days before it ended and here I am finally hitting publish already over halfway into September.

It feels like I have been constantly moving the past few weeks, and (surprisingly) I’ve liked it. I slowed down quite a bit at the start of this year because I wasn’t feeling in control of my life, I felt like I was stuck in bad patterns that I didn’t have the time and energy to get out of. I took the spring semester off, more or less because I just couldn’t bring myself to register for classes. I think, subliminally, I felt very defeated that many of my former classmates were going to be graduating in May and I knew I still had a ways to go, and all the roadblocks of the previous four years resurfaced as doubt and despair. I had gotten too stuck on shortcomings and failures and had forgotten to tally all the small victories and successes, which were equally numerous. I let myself take the time to tear down those bad patterns and build them back up with good replacements, and while I kept trying to absorb all the motivational and self-help type information along the way, I also realized that I already had everything I needed to know to fix my patterns. I just needed a long, hard reset that ended in an honestly rather sudden return of motivation one day at the beginning of last month.

While I took a semester off of school, I definitely didn’t take a break from learning, in fact, I scaled up the learning in my time off. I still had yoga teacher training to fill my weeks and occasional weekends, and I was listening to all the podcasts on motivation, good habits, success stories, etc. in the meantime. I’m simultaneously curious about and terrified of how many hours I spent listening to podcasts/youtube videos this year…it’s probably a very high number. I certainly learned a lot and overall just love listening to others’ stories, experiences and perspectives, but I think the most important thing I learned is that while I needed the rest and reset, I didn’t need to learn some magic “how to be motivated/productive” key. I just needed to decide to start taking charge of my life.

I literally paused a podcast a quarter of the way through earlier this summer and started scheduling a meeting with my advisor for the next day, preparing to register for classes and just overall began resuming being an adult. The podcast I was listening to wasn’t even some life-changing advice, it was just some casual banter about what the hosts were doing that day or something, but it made me realize that I had basically let my willpower atrophy until simple responsibilities felt overwhelming. It probably has a lot to do with anxiety, but I guess I was sort of raised to not frame every problem I have in terms of mental health issues, for better or for worse. So, I decided right then and there that I was tired of feeling like a timid kid and that I wanted to start doing little things every day to build back up my “responsibility willpower” and feel more like a functioning independent person. And here I am a month or two later, 16 credit hours, staying on top of all my assignments, the most consistent sleep schedule I’ve had in years, and also with two new titles that include the word “teacher.”

I think you’ve probably gleaned the fact that I love learning by now, but I never really saw myself as a teacher. I’m a generally reserved, introverted person and it takes a lot of mental energy for me to be in a place of leadership over a group. I signed up for yoga teacher training a year ago because I wanted to learn, not because I necessarily wanted to teach. I’m very happy to say a year later that I made it through the training, led a 1.5-hour Ashtanga class, created and taught my very own class, and passed a 15 page test (that took me three hours) on my first try. It wasn’t easy at any point, but I’m so happy I did it, and I’m even a bit less intimidated by the teaching aspect with some experience under my belt. However, I’m still in it primarily for the learning, and if I’m being honest, I think any good teacher is a teacher that wants to learn from teaching and teach to learn.

So, shortly before taking my YTT test, I was also asked if I could teach the Pre-K Sunday School at my church this school year. I only have a handful of students, but saying yes to that was still a big deal to me. I love kids and think they’re the sweetest souls that deserve the absolute best, so I’m always a bit intimidated by interacting with them because I want them to feel understood, and sometimes young kids still learning to communicate are hard to understand when you’re not their parent, plus I don’t have that large, fun, extroverted energy that kids often respond more easily to. The reason that I want to be a children’s book author is because I can give special stories and images and lessons to children without directly speaking to them, haha. But anyway, I said yes, and the first two classes have gone well. I just have to keep them occupied for 15 or 20 minutes, so nothing terribly difficult, but I definitely give all the props to teachers because it takes time to prepare the simplest activities. I’m going to have to work on some batch planning so I can save myself some time in the future. It’s both exciting and intimidating that I will be working with these kids every Sunday until the end of next Spring…

So while I have the right to call myself a “teacher” in more ways than one at the moment, I still prefer to just consider myself a lifelong learner. That was such a long thought dump, but I wanted to update on my past month because it’s been a lot of new challenges and overall I’m pretty proud of myself for handling it all as well as I have managed to so far in a sustainable way. It just takes a couple months of having a pretty open schedule to make you realize that life isn’t fulfilling long-term without things to do and challenges to overcome. Do you consider yourself a teacher, a learner, or both? I think we’re all both to some degree.