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.

Go with the flow

Go with the flow has been a sort of unconscious life mantra of mine for a long time. I remember realizing in middle school that I was holding myself back by being too anxious and self-conscious, and I needed to change. I had been starting to notice the qualities that stood out in the people I really enjoyed spending time with vs. a person who I didn’t get along with. I’m not sure people-pleaser is quite the right word, but I’m definitely the kind of person who likes to get along with everyone, so in the rare occasion where I find someone I don’t particularly like, I try to understand why.

In this case, I found that the qualities I especially admire are a certain lack of self-consciousness and a more free-spirited, spontaneous, and up-for-anything attitude. The person who just enjoys having fun without caring about how they appear. Self-awareness is good, but self-consciousness can be a real buzzkill, for the self-conscious person and the people around them. Before, I was hyper-conscious of wearing the right thing, doing the right thing, saying the right thing. Now, I’m still a thoughtful person, but not worried about being impossibly perfect all the time. It’s human to make mistakes and look silly sometimes and it’s healthy to not be so afraid of it.

It’s been a decade since my middle-school days and I’ve come a loooong way, but it’s taken that long for this mindset to become second nature and I still sometimes have to remind myself not to try to control everything. In the early days of implementing this, when I was just a few months into high school, I was blindsided by a falling out with my previously lifelong best friends. It was a conflict of these very insecurities, where suddenly my friends wanted to branch out to new friends and climb the social ladder a bit, and I was too shy and complacent in what was familiar for their ambitions. I had been a much more outgoing kid than I was as a teen, and this was my wake-up call that that shift had been noted by others. In a matter of weeks I had confronted the conflict, officially took my leave from that friend group, switched lunch tables and subsequently felt very lost for a long time.

It was a classic high school scenario that I never expected would happen to me, but looking back it was the perfect catalyst to force me to take the leap for this self-improvement goal I had quietly set. I wanted to be more outgoing and better at making new friends, but I couldn’t get there using extroverted old friends as a crutch. There are no hard feelings, especially because being more or less forced out of my old comfortable habits allowed me to fully become my own person and grow independently. In the process, another old classmate of mine who had done her own share of independent growth became a true best friend once we realized how much we had in common, and is the one friend from high school that I still communicate with daily.

This was the first major lesson in my life that what may feel at the time like a door slamming in your face, leaving you in a dark and stuffy room, might actually be a door slamming behind you, forcing you outside into the light and fresh air. It just takes time for you to really open your eyes and look around. So, when I was trying to think of an encouraging quote to paint for that previously mentioned best friend for a college graduation gift, I ultimately remembered that simple old affirmation that made all the difference in my life. It’s also appropriate because we have an inside-joke sort of thing that she is a mermaid, so “go with the flow” is the perfect mermaid-associated advice. I happened to need to harness that advice during the making of the painting as well, because I actually painted something else originally that I just really didn’t like! Haha. See, it’s okay to make mistakes or do things you’re not happy with, just paint over it. 😉 That applies to art and life, of course.

Now, I think I’m in a place in life where I could comfortably call all my friends mermaids– they are all deep-divers in this often-shallow world. I find that all the people I spend time with nowadays really share some important values of being empathetic, compassionate, smart, resilient, and not complacent. They all work hard to improve themselves, achieve goals, find their purpose, go with the flow, and make whatever large or small positive impact they can manage in their lifetime. And having friends of all ages and backgrounds and perspectives with these few significant core values adds so much depth to my life. Isn’t it lovely to have friends that are mermaids?

I’ll leave you with this quote that I firmly believe in…

“There are no chance meetings: either God sends us the person we need, or we are sent to someone by God, unbeknownst by us.” – Fr. Alexander Elchaninov

Creativity

Sometimes I feel that creativity is like when you have a word “on the tip of your tongue” and can’t quite think of the one you’re looking for. It’s like I’m constantly having these fleeting visions and flashes of things I’d love to make happen but when I sit down to do it I’m grasping at wisps and clouds of ideas that blend together into a haze and dissipate. And sometimes, the word you’re looking for comes back to you right away. And sometimes those ideas materialize how I was hoping. Other times, a lot of potential options come to mind, but none of them feel quite right. Some of them take a lot of painful searching, or never come back at all.

I’ve written in the past about getting out of your comfort zone, but in creativity, sometimes you need to keep one foot in that comfort zone to get over certain bumps in the road. For example, I love drawing with chalk on a chalkboard. Typically I would say pencil and paper is the most natural and easy medium for me, but I honestly think chalk might be it. There’s something about that white on dark background, erasing with the swipe of a finger, that always feels good to me. Plus, it can look more polished or finished, whereas sometimes a pencil sketch never graduates from a sketch, or the lines don’t erase as cleanly.

Of course, another artistic comfort zone for me is wildlife. Plants, animals, anything of the sort is a subject I can (and will, probably) draw forever. However, sometimes I get too stuck in my “favorites,” where every time I go to draw flowers I draw the same few ones in the same style. This is when it’s fun to go outside or even browse pinterest for different wildlife examples so that instead of the same old basic leaf or the flowers in my garden, I can discover some new or more exotic examples to interpret in my art. That’s what I did for this illustration today; combined a few different flowers and plants that I’m semi-familiar with but had never really drawn before, with a go-to luna moth 😉 as the focal point, and using chalk because all other mediums seemed too complicated for what I was going for. Another fun thing about art is that you can make up your own plants or draw several that would never be naturally found together.

It can be helpful to also search illustrations of wildlife and such to see other artists’ interpretations of things to try in your own style, however it does tend to stifle your own inherent originality if you’re constantly looking at the work of others. We were taught in one of my design classes early in college that “curation is creation,” which is very true, because your own taste will lead you to combine things in a way that no one else can, but if you are aiming to create your own fresh art, too much curation can overwhelm the doing. I find that sometimes I consume too much art and illustration just out of a love of seeing beautiful things that people are making and then get lost in that feeling that every good idea has already been taken. This is of course, absolutely not true. People are making new, original, lovely things every day, which means you can too! But that’s where it becomes important to separate yourself from all that virtual “inspiration” and just try to find inspiration from your own life and environment, because you will always be unique as your own person with your very own experiences.

That applies to pretty much everything in life: you always have a unique and valuable perspective to offer. In this rat race of a world we live in, especially for those in college or starting a new job or career and facing potential failure or rejection, that can be hard to remember sometimes, but that’s the one true thing you will always have to leverage: there is no one else who is you. 🙂

Photography

I got my first “real” (interchangeable lens) camera for my birthday and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve always liked taking pictures and had an inexpensive digital point-and-shoot as a pre-teen, then a better quality point-and-shoot with more manual options as a teen, and now an iPhone. Despite my love of photography as a hobby, I’ve never really had aspirations of doing it professionally, so my mindset has always been “convenience/accessibility is key.” Phone cameras may be rendering point-and-shoot cameras obsolete, but for good reason: the wonderful convenience of being able to take pretty decent quality photos without needing to carry multiple devices on a day-to-day basis. Of course, it does beg the question of what is really worth documenting on the daily, and now we probably all have thousands of excess photos that we’d be better off without, and there’s certainly the issue of getting so caught up documenting life that you forget to be present, but I won’t get into all that now.

Because now, I’m putting a bit of that convenience aside and loving the experience of getting back to “slow photography” as I’d like to call it. Tapping a couple times on a screen to take a photo can make you forget how satisfying it is to look through a viewfinder, adjust settings and dials, hold a lens and press down to activate the shutter. It’s like creating an illustration on a computer vs. drawing or painting, or listening to a spotify playlist vs. putting a record on; neither is better or worse, but I think in this digital age, sometimes you just need to experience the analog version. It’s more psychologically satisfying, probably (I didn’t research that statement so don’t quote me haha).

The camera I got, after a brief but thorough research session, is the Fujifilm X-T1 with the 18-55mm kit lens. It’s an older model with many favorable reviews from professionals and hobbyists saying they still love using it even alongside the newer version. The last time I bought a camera, mirrorless technology was still in its early years, but I knew that this time I wanted a mirrorless because I’m just not the type of person who would want to lug around a bulkier DSLR for hobby photography, plus I love the classic film camera look. Mostly, it feels good to have the option to take high quality photos, especially for potential future trips. I’ve heard good things about the pancake lens, so that’s next on my wishlist as it seems like a great option to make the camera even more compact and travel-friendly. So far I’m super impressed with the quality of the kit lens and how quickly I’m learning to navigate the camera controls (it has dials on top for all the main stuff so there’s no need to go through a bunch of menus, which is really nice and adds to the tactile appeal). I still love my iPhone, but it sort of feels like getting a new pair of glasses with a stronger prescription and everything is way more crisp and clear.

Also, it reminds me of my grandpa, always with a camera around his neck from the late 1930s to the ’00s. I have several old “toy” cameras from his collection on my bookshelf and I think he’d appreciate how many of his grandchildren wound up loving photography. Most of us seem to have inherited the affinity (or perhaps deep-seated need) to document our lives. I also perhaps inherited my favorite color from him (always comes back to green), and a love of nature, which is my favorite thing to photograph. Now if only more blooms would arrive, they’re running late this spring and I am anxious to have more subjects to practice on. 🙂 Happy Earth Day (and birthday, in my dad’s case)!

Simplicity

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of simplicity. I’m a believer in minimalism and less-is-more as I’ve mentioned before. However, when it comes to art, I think simplicity is the trickiest thing. I still generally believe simple is better in art and design, but it has to be done well otherwise it feels like cheating in a way. I’ve been kind of struggling with that lately as I examine the things I create and the works of other artists that I admire. Sometimes when you step back and look at more minimal art, it starts to beg the question of what constitutes art, and whether you can really communicate a vision or higher skill level with something that is not outrageously detailed or complex.

I mean, this is coming from someone who wants to be a children’s book author, so I guess I admire art that is almost childlike in simplicity no matter whether I think it’s a particularly impressive type of art. But still, sometimes I get that little bit of pride creeping in and I think, hmm, I should draw something really detailed and photo-realistic just so I can share something that proves I can do “real” art. Which is silly, because like I said, I’m a believer in simple art as well as complex art, and I don’t necessarily think one shows more skill than the other, because they’re both tricky in different ways.

Ultimately, I find that my favorite artists hit that beautiful balance of simplicity and complexity–there is enough detail in their art to keep the eye moving, but not too much that it becomes overwhelming. I like just enough detail to make an image feel alive but not so much that it feels like reality. Sort of an alive-but-in-another-world kind of vibe, the kind that makes you wonder how it can feel so real and yet so unreal at the same time. The ones that come to mind are all my favorite 20th century children’s book illustrators, such as Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Dahlov Ipcar, Tove Jansson, Ludwig Bemelmans, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, even Tolkien. Some more detailed than others, but all with an inherent simplicity of spirit. (Beatrix Potter and Tolkien, you might argue, put quite a lot of detail in their illustrations. I would argue back that though more realistic in style, they still maintain some restraint, keeping to simple vignettes with not too much going on in one frame.) All with the alive and otherworldly quality to their images. Modern illustrators that I enjoy following on instagram for the same reasons are Oana Befort, Teagan White, Dinara Mirtalipova, Maggie Cole, Anna Bond, Jon Klassen, Jacob Escobedo, and Rebecca Green.

Now that you just skimmed over all those names, rolling your eyes and thinking “what a geek!!” haha…I must say, it’s true, I’m a total illustration geek. It’s starting to feel like my industry. Just like I admired and researched the innovations of Charles and Ray Eames when I was interested in industrial design, now as an aspiring illustrator I find myself drawn to poring over the work of artists that inspire me, some that captured my eye even before I could read. As much as I feel the need to prove myself by doing a little bit of everything, I think I can’t escape an inherent simplicity in my own work. Is it laziness, incompetence? I don’t think so. I think those inclined to complexity will just make everything complex, and those inclined to simplicity will not be able to go into extreme detail without it feeling forced. Neither one is more “real” art than the other; the opposing style can be a good exercise but it does not “prove” true skill, per se.

I know I’ve hit another slow period on the blog, this is just what’s been on my mind recently, waiting to be worked out in writing, on the topic of art and my future aspirations for my own illustration style. Lots of pondering direction and not enough actual experimenting, which I will hopefully start to change soon, though my calendar is starting to pick up with a lot more events and plans lately. I still have a long way to go, but I’m going to embrace my natural inclination for simplicity, enjoy the journey and note the progress along the way. I’m not sure this post will be all that interesting to anyone not inclined to nerding-out over illustration, so if you actually read this, merci beaucoup, many thanks and kudos to you for supporting my rambling. 🙂

(P.S. Christ is Risen and Happy Bright Week!)