2020 in review

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

like…I graduated college!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From bare wall…to color explosion 🙂

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

Paris: An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

latest Coeur de Pirate album, anyone?

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

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

Renew

I have a chatty post today interspersed with a fun little gallery of creeping phlox photos for your enjoyment. (pics taken in May with my Fujifilm xt1, 18-55mm lens)

Welp, it’s official–I’ve renewed my domain here at lunamothlife for another year! Or rather, I let my hosting service auto-renew. The blog isn’t quite a year old yet, but it’s coming up quickly, and it’s crazy how fast that year went by. I remember setting it all up, unsure where this blog would take me in its first 52 weeks of existence and thinking it would be such a long time before I even had to think of renewing. Yet, here we are, seemingly just a few blinks from last July despite the fact that I know so, so much has happened in all those days since.

My blog has definitely seen very little growth as far as views and comments, but it has been immensely valuable to me for the reason I started it, which has very little to do with outside engagement anyway. Despite my wavering consistency, I have connected with a small community through my blog account on instagram, which has been nice for a start. Plus, I receive much more frequent batches of spam comments to delete, so that must mean I’m getting somewhere? 😉

I know my posting has slowed down a bit in the last few months, but believe me when I say I’m not going anywhere…I’m still just getting started and recently built up the itch to experiment more. I’ve been delving deep into “youtube university” this past year and I tend to only be able to consume so much of a certain creative medium before I want to try it myself. I don’t have any major intentions of starting a youtube channel as I’ve always preferred to be behind the camera rather than in front of it, but I have been realizing how satisfying video can be and I think it would be fun to try making a short film or two just to experiment with creative B-roll-type shots. I have a slight ulterior motive that filming little things I do throughout a day in creative ways might motivate me to be super organized and productive for a change, haha. Plus, it would serve as a fun dynamic visual journal entry to look back on…if a picture is worth a thousand words, video can finish the story.

Those are my little thought processes of the moment…now for an announcement: you may have never heard of this before (I hadn’t until last year when I was in the beginning stages of establishing this blog), but this upcoming week (July 21-29) is National Moth Week! Since this is Luna Moth Life and I always enjoy learning more about the science behind living things and our environment, I thought it would be a fun tradition to take advantage of, so I’m going to try to put together a few interesting posts celebrating our inspiring furry lepidopteran friends. Follow along here or on instagram next week for all the cool moth facts (and opinions probably, this is a blog, not an academic journal guys). Thanks for reading! 🙂

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)!