My year of movies

2020 was a year where many of us sought out small comforts to deal with the weight of the world’s issues, even if our own lives were not as terribly affected as others. If there’s one comfort I returned to time and time again the past year, it was watching movies.

I’ve always been a movie person. I used to love going to the video rental store up the street and using my report card A’s to get free rentals in the summer during middle and high school. I would pick an actor/actress I was into and rent only their movies for a week, and my friends and I were always jumping to see the latest comedies or blockbusters in the theatre. I’ve saved all my ticket stubs starting from age 3. When I was a freshman in college and my dorm was right down the street from the local theatre, I could walk there at 9pm to see a random indie movie just for fun, or after a tough week I’d look forward to immersing myself in a new release to take my mind off my stresses. After I moved back home, I loved catching old classics or obscure films on Turner Classic Movies on a Friday or Saturday night. But the last few years I had fallen away from movie watching. I shifted into less fiction overall, more self-improvement and shorter-form content, mostly podcasts and youtube videos, or the occasional good netflix series, and that was what I needed for a time.

My love of movies was rekindled with a new intensity when I took a History of Motion Pictures class in fall 2019, as I talked about in a previous post. My interest was so reinvigorated that I followed that up with a Foreign Film class this past spring. After the pandemic hit, and once my spring classes wrapped up, I was not ready to slow down my film viewing any time soon. I had also joined a social media platform for cinephiles, Letterboxd, and started rating and reviewing films as well as connecting some family members to the site so we could share our movie viewing activity. It became an addiction, really, but Letterboxd has given me a wonderful outlet amidst everything that has happened this past year. It’s pure hobby, and I’ve never before had a place like it to process and share thoughts after each viewing as well as being able to read other casual viewers’ current opinions of practically any movie ever made that hasn’t been lost to time. It also makes it so easy to discover countless movies you may not otherwise casually hear of, so a neverending watchlist is both a pro and a con. Movies have been on my mind in a big way this year, and I absolutely love to geek out over film history and what makes movies great. (I’m not the only one: according to the NY Times, Letterboxd has seen a big surge of new users and average user activity in the last year.)

In 2020, I watched a grand total of 196 films (undoubtedly the most by far that I’ve ever seen in one year, even though that includes a dozen or so short films), broken down into about 152 first-time watches plus around 44 rewatches of films I’ve seen before. Naturally, after all that I got to reflecting on what watching movies does for me. For sure, the biggest thing is empathy. Reading, watching movies, shows, etc., anything that puts you in a character’s shoes or shows you an experience you may or may not be able to relate to at all, helps with empathy. I’ve never lacked empathy, in fact I often feel like I’ve been blessed or cursed with too much of it, so maybe watching movies helps me to exercise it, to both strengthen it and burn off the excess a bit. This year brought an overwhelming amount of issues to weigh on the mind, and whether or not the film I’m watching has anything to do with a specific present or past issue of interest, I find that watching various stories play out onscreen can be a safe space to subconsciously process feelings, with a little separation from direct personal confrontation. Despite my natural sensitivity, there are still new things that I have never challenged myself on before, new perspectives I have been able to uncover or sit with, and I think I’m an overall better person for it. Sometimes movies can bring realizations to the surface, or surprise you with something that you didn’t expect would trigger a strong emotional response.

So yeah, empathy and letting the emotions flow is a pretty expected answer, but I think it encompasses why people even bother to make movies at all. To share stories, to provide entertainment, escapism, to elicit reactions and contemplation, to give voices and spread messages and perspectives, to bring ideas and worlds to life. Movies are one of the newest art forms, because the technology needed to create motion pictures has only been around for under 200 years. And there are so many creative ways to use the medium, that combine almost every other art form: writing, acting, music, graphic design, costume design, illustration or animation, set design, photography/cinematography, editing, there’s so much that can go into a film. There are so many options out there, movies for any taste, any mood, any language and culture. Plus, if you’re an avid crossword puzzle or Jeopardy! fan like I am (RIP Alex Trebek 🙁 ), knowing about movies helps as there are often movie-related questions or categories. 😉

A possibly unexpected benefit of the way I have approached movie-viewing this year is that I feel like it has helped me to be more present in my life. It sounds a bit backwards, because while movies do require your full attention for a couple hours, they of course transport you out of the present, especially for me since I tend to watch mostly classic movies (1920s to 1960s) which are even further removed from anything current. But what I mean also ties back into the empathy thing, in that I tend to readily connect the movie I’m watching to my present life, whether identifying a character’s experiences with my own, or even finding similarities or references to other movies I’ve watched recently. I find I often accidentally or semi-purposely watch multiple movies in a row that share themes, or a same actor/director, etc. I love the closure of watching a movie compared to watching an ongoing tv series or reading a book, and writing little reviews/journal entries on Letterboxd helps me to process what I’ve seen right away, so that even though I’m watching movies frequently, I am fully sitting with and absorbing each one before moving along to the next.

Letterboxd has sort of taken over my social media habits, and I spend more time on it lately than Instagram or Facebook, which has honestly felt more fulfilling, being able to connect to other people over a shared passion rather than mindless scrolling through stressful and pointless news and opinions. But also, I have noticed that for the first time in years, I have not been as wistful for the past or future as I have tended to be. I’m still a nostalgic person, I’m still a daydreamer, but in the past that wistfulness has taken me out of enjoying the present, so it’s interesting that in a pretty terrible year, I feel like I’m somehow more content than ever to take each day as it comes. Perhaps in effect, watching movies has become my way of concretely participating in a little dose of nostalgia or daydreams while being able to snap out of it after its 1.5 or 2 or 3 hour runtime, and call it a hobby/enjoy an artistic creation in the process. Or maybe I’m delusional. But regardless, movies have helped me through this year, and in a way, watching people make it through all kinds of situations onscreen gives me hope and motivation to make it through whatever life throws at me as well.

Now for a fun my-2020-in-movies review:

Favorite new (to me) movie of the year? The Apartment (1960), 5/5 stars for me! An instant favorite (in my top 4) and I even watched it 2.5 times this year (I didn’t fit in a full rewatch for new year’s, but I couldn’t resist viewing a few of my favorite scenes, including its perfect new year’s eve conclusion, to mark the occasion).

Honorable mentions? Here’s a list of my top 50 favorites of the movies that I saw for the first time this year. Wow, don’t know if I can ever top this many great films in one year. There were still quite a few more enjoyable classics in the 152 new films I watched, but I cut it off at top 50 for brevity’s sake.

Lowest rated movie of the year? Love on a Leash (2011), 1/2 star out of 5 from me. This movie is one of those you have to see to believe (it’s on youtube if you’re really curious). I’m not a harsh critic, but it’s hilariously bad…it’s at least a good time being incredulous about how it came to fruition.

My most-liked Letterboxd review? Letterboxd likes aren’t much to judge by, but it still feels pretty good when a few people acknowledge what you wrote. My most-liked review was for The Lady Vanishes at 6 likes, it’s nothing major but I had a lot of fun with that movie and it evidently came across in my review.

My personal favorite of my reviews? Hard to say, since I’ve written quite a few, and I try not to overthink them. These blog posts go through a lot of revisions, but with my “reviews” (which are meant to be casual on Letterboxd, they’re more “diary entries”) I try to string a few thoughts together the best I can, post it and move on, in order to keep it fun and spontaneous and not a chore. That said, my reviews for some old favorites, like Rear Window, Amélie, Spirited Away, and White Christmas (strangely two of those are from 1954 and two from 2001, just noticed that) are longer and more contemplative/personal than most of my reviews, so those are probably the ones I like the best.

Click here to see my full year in review. I upgraded to Letterboxd Pro with their black friday sale and I’m so glad I did, I love all the stats! I may or may not ever have a movie-watching year this prolific again, who knows.

Bonus: my hottest movie take?: The Wizard of Oz is practically a horror movie. I know it’s supposedly one of the all time great movies but it never impressed me and I certainly don’t find it heartwarming…plus if you read some of the trivia, it sounds like it was not fun behind-the-scenes, with multiple actors suffering from injuries and discomfort related to their makeup and costumes. Lol, sorry if you’re a Wizard of Oz fan, but it’s just one of those classics I’ve always had mixed feelings about.

Alright, I’m sure you’re like “cool it with the links already, not gonna click them all” but my organizing/archiving-obsessed self is loving having a well-designed social media site specifically for movies. I especially love finding others who appreciate classic film (1920s-1960s), and I think more people should try to venture back a few extra decades in their movie-watching…in fact, let me know if you need some convincing and think I may try to write a post sometime about what I love about watching older movies. Please feel free to geek out to me about your favorite movies of any decade or genre (or share film-related hot takes) any time. 🙂

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.

On finding (and owning) your creative style

Developing your own style is often the biggest challenge of any creative endeavor. We all have an inherent natural style, but usually it’s not quite what you want it to be, or what it could be, without a lot of work. I’m still in the process of developing my style, and I’ve been drawing and making art since I could first hold a crayon, so it’s been a solid 22 years for me and I still feel a bit lost half the time. This blog turns 3 years old today, so even after three years of “official” development, I’m really just getting started.

While I haven’t always been concerned with developing my style, I was definitely always experimenting with it, even from a very young age. I have drawings from age two or three where my mom or dad had drawn something for me, like ducks in the park, and I had attempted to mimic their drawing. I loved drawing the cartoons I watched on TV, from Powerpuff Girls to Pokemon. I drew a lot of Pokemon. Inherently, my drawings were unique to my hand, but I was initially copying a lot of other people’s art to learn, and just because I liked it. In third grade, I borrowed the Ms. Pac-Man ghosts (Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Sue, for the uncultured) for easy-to-replicate characters in my comic strip drawings. I eventually developed characters of my own invention after lots of practice creating pages after pages of comics in my free time at school, figuring out what I liked, what I found funny, and what I could easily draw frame-after-frame without fully resorting to stick figures.

3rd-grader humor…

In middle school, I would fill up a notebook of what I imagined the characters to look like from my favorite book series at the time (Redwall, so lots of anthropomorphic woodland creatures) and I would draw my Neopets in a more stylized and customized way based on what I imagined their personalities to be. In high school, I often doodled ballerinas and 1960s-inspired florals and patterns. As my interests changed, my inspirations changed, and I would draw my own iterations of whatever I was paying most attention to. I wasn’t trying consciously to develop anything, just imitating what I liked for fun, bits and pieces of my interests slowly integrating into my own art creations.

a page of doodles from the week before I graduated high school

Style isn’t really a conscious thing, for the most part. You can maybe describe your personal style and tastes in a handful of words, but there is so much more “why” to it all than you may even realize. You might love the color apple green because it’s the color of the walls at your aunt & uncle’s old house on a hill with the smell of spring and Easter dinner in the air when you were younger, feeling so at home surrounded by family, and you kind of forget about all that and just know it’s one of those colors that just feels right to you. Or maybe a character in a movie you saw ten years ago wore a really cool outfit that subconsciously influenced what you like to wear. Or you read a certain picture book over and over when you were young, so the art style in it is very appealing to you. You may be conscious of more recent or memorable influences that you can visualize and describe, like the tip of the iceberg, but your actual style is made up of immeasurable life experiences like the examples I mentioned, extending far deeper below the surface.

So, whatever you make as a creative will unavoidably have an imprint of your own experiences and tastes. Krista of @hername_ismud posted a wonderful discussion of this in her instagram stories a while ago that stuck with me (in her highlights under “create vs copy”). She mentioned that it is often hard and uncomfortable work to get to know yourself, to find your creative voice, but it is extremely valuable to do and crucial if you are trying to contribute something new to the world. I love one thing she said especially, that you have to “invite yourself into your work.” You need to allow your unique experiences and gifts to shine through in what you make. She mentioned that while you can look at Pinterest for inspiration and copy other artists’ styles for fun and to learn some things, at a certain point, imitating the work of another just becomes detrimental to your own progress if your aim is to grow as an artist. You won’t find your own voice by borrowing others’ ideas, which likely cost them years of experience, failures, and effort. At the very least, you should give proper credit to your influences if you’re going to use their hard work as a shortcut.

This is a constant discussion in the artist community online, where art is so easily circulated now that some artists find that their work is being stolen and sold by overseas businesses, or even popular companies and big brands. Originality seems to be harder than ever now that we are all bombarded by pretty designs all over our social media, but in a way, it is more valuable than ever for those same reasons. I love Pinterest, but I have also needed to majorly shift how I use it as I begin to really try to uncover and shape my own style. I still pin illustrations and art and design that I admire, but I try to pin more photos of things and places and people and a variety of art mediums in order to find more unconventional and indirect inspiration, and when I do really want to emulate a certain illustrator’s style, I try to only borrow elements of it, mixed with other elements and styles, in order to make it my own.

I really like that Krista also mentioned she keeps a written notebook as an alternative to saving direct inspiration images, so that she can jot down ideas from things she sees and therefore already begin to separate them from the source and allow more room for interpretation and creativity. I really think there is major value in doing very present and physical activities as an artist, such as taking walks or flipping through old books, to find more unique inspiration. My graphic design professors have made a point in the past to assign us to check out any book from a section of our choice at the library, because it’s easy to forget there’s a ton of things out there that don’t even exist on the internet. I found a few super interesting old books on painting and design that were somewhat outdated but all the more inspiring for it, because it wasn’t something I would find online.

For as much as I was obsessed with books growing up, I have really drifted away from physical books in recent years, but I’m itching to get back to tangible sources like that. I was in this vintage shop in Boulder City last year that had some great Matisse and Calder and Degas lithographs, and this big selection of vinyl records that were so fun to flip through just because of the amazing old cover art, just random compilations of Tchaikovsky or Chopin, or some musicians I’ve never heard of, with the coolest cover designs. That’s the kind of inspiration that lights me up, not the same trendy design I’ve seen pop up in my Pinterest feed 10 times over the last year. But that’s the beauty of it, (and why I’m beginning to miss travelling this year, even just a day trip to a nearby city) some things you can’t find on the internet. Some inspiration has to be found 27 records deep in a dusty, disorganized pile you’re flipping through while simultaneously trying to keep it from toppling over in the back of an antiques store that you ducked into on a whim to escape the heat.

I keep seeing talk about “finding your style” everywhere lately, and it has been on my own mind for a while, so I wanted to write out some of my thoughts. It’s one of those topics that a lot of people seem to struggle with in the current age along with procrastination and indecisiveness, which I happen to think are all directly tied to the endless bombardment of over-stimulation that we’re all faced with as soon as we open up a social media app or the internet. Having just spent two weeks dogsitting a couple of golden retrievers at a house with a lovely front porch and back patio tucked at the end of a street by some woods, I spent more time just sitting outside and enjoying fresh air and solitude than I have in a long, long time. And I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. In fact, I started to wonder why I had endless to-do lists when all of a sudden it felt like I could count my priorities on one hand. I may have even had some major breakthrough realizations about my own artistic style that I’ll discuss in another post soon. I think honing your “style” is one of those processes that never ends, and while I look forward to evolving, refining, and finding more consistency, I also know that I am an admirer of many differing things, so my personal style will probably always be fairly eclectic and experimental. I just have to make peace with the process.

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.

2020

Welcome to the roaring 2020’s, a new year and a whole new decade!

Since I haven’t officially recapped my 2019 resolutions, let’s start with an overview:

  1. Go back to pointe class (✔) – not only did I get refitted for pointe shoes and go back to pointe class for the first time in 5 years starting in June/July, that pair of shoes is officially about dead and I have been rehearsing weekly since that time for a pointe choreography piece that will be put on sometime next spring. After performing in West Side Story in Jan/Feb and now this, I’m very excited to be back to the studio and stage with dance, and feeling in many ways even better than my high school self even though at that time I was in ballet class 5 days a week! I also love rehearsing and being in class with all dancers around my age or older…we aren’t flexible little teenagers anymore with nothing better to do, we devote our precious time and effort to it for the discipline, passion, and love of it.
  2. Digital decluttering (still in progress) – this one is going to have to be carried over into another year, but I have been making progress with organizing and purging my digital photos and other files. It’s a lot to tackle!
  3. Try rock climbing (✔) – already covered this in my birthday resolution check-in, but I checked this one off pretty early in the year! Unfortunately after spring semester I lost touch with my climbing buddies, but maybe I’ll get back to bouldering again sometime in 2020.
  4. Less screen time/more creative time (✔?) this one was kind of vague and hard to gauge. I definitely feel like I was able to really tap into my creativity the past year, especially involving my academics. I felt good about (and got positive feedback on) my graphic design projects this fall semester, designed posters for some of my communication class events, and made some fun personal illustrations too. I spent more time outside in the summer by keeping an activity journal, and made sure to go on walks outside at least an hour total per week (not a huge thing, but for me, whose daily activities/hobbies are mostly indoor things, it really helped to set activity goals and keep track of what I did daily. I could do a post about this if like 2 people are interested, haha, let me know). I also feel like I stepped away from social media more this year, so this is just one of those ongoing goals to keep in mind.
  5. Draw a lot more often (half success) – so I started with “draw every day” which was not a realistic goal for me this year, and revised it in my birthday post to doing the 100 day challenge, which I am doing…very slowly. Haha. I definitely feel like I have drawn a lot more this past year, digitally at least with having an ipad/Procreate, but I’m on #13 of the #lml100daysofillustratedpics that I set out to do…so maybe I shouldn’t have been so lax about it not being an “everyday” thing… which brings me to my 2020 resolutions!

I decided for my 2020 resolutions, I wanted to focus on little things that I’ve brushed aside in the past as “I can see this being beneficial, but it seems like it could be difficult to stick to and I’m skeptical it won’t make that much of a difference in my life.” I want these resolutions to be somewhat flexible in what I have to do, but pretty rigid in that I have to do them consistently. They will be structured like Matt D’Avella 30-day challenges (linked his youtube channel there, definitely a good one to check out). So, each month, I will choose something different to focus on for the entire month, and I won’t be planning them all out ahead of time.

For January, I decided I will read something printed for 20 mins before going to sleep each night, not anything on a screen. I think I have a pretty healthy relationship with my phone and social media. But, I do really miss reading actual print books because I choose my phone or the internet over them nine times out of ten nowadays, just because there’s more options at my fingertips with a screen, not even just social media. I feel that I have a pretty normal attention span, probably better than many of my peers, but I do feel that urge to switch to something else when concentrating on one thing for a long time. I want to try to reclaim more of that ability to focus longer. So, I’m trying to establish better bedtime habits to start the year by kicking myself off of overstimulating technology for a bit before sleep, and making space for reading books again.

As for other resolutions/challenges, I think for February, I’d like to pray or meditate before bed for 10 minutes a day. It’s not enough time to be too intimidating, but my spiritual life needs a little more devotion on my end and 10 solid minutes is enough that it will be something I need to do intentionally and not passively. I’m hoping that by the end of two months of different mindful bedtime habits, I’ll have a new and healthier routine established (did I mention I have an 8am class this semester…).

For March, I’d tentatively like to do 3 at-home yoga practices per week. These can be relatively short, just a bit of stretching, sun salutations, or planks, and will be in addition to the yoga/ballet classes I already attend. For someone who is yoga teacher certified, I really don’t have much of a personal practice of doing yoga alone in my home. I love classes and I’m lucky to have a great studio with great people close to home where I have accountability and where I’m pushed beyond what I would consider my limits in fulfilling ways. I want to test myself to practice more at home just for the practice of it.

That’s as much as I will plan out for now, and I’ll be sure to check in with the results of my challenges, either after the month is over, or for sure in my next birthday post in April. Other ideas that I will hopefully implement in other parts of the year:

  • keep a daily journal in French for a month (maybe for April?)
  • draw in a sketchbook every day for a month (May?)
  • write a mini fun poem every day for a month (June?)
  • go on a walk outside every day for a month (July?)
  • paint every day for a month (August?)
  • Read the Bible every day for a month (maybe I’ll choose a book of it to focus on, like Psalms)
  • cook a meal every week for a month (I live with my parents so this isn’t something I do hardly ever, I’m more of a baker but would love to be a better cook)
  • write a short story every day for a month (like a tiny story, maybe a paragraph or two)

That’s almost an idea for every month, but depending on how these go I might decide to just repeat a challenge, if I feel like it would be helpful to do it twice, or come up with something else entirely if it strikes me. I’d say a few of these are somewhat ambitious, all of them will be challenging to do consistently, but none of them are huge or unrealistic, especially if the timing is right, which is why I want to pick the challenge each month based on what I think will work best with my life and daily schedule.

Ultimately, I came up with these challenges as practical ways to get closer to personal goals of mine or help me grow various skills, or things that would feel really fulfilling when looking back after a month of consistently doing them. I really feel that consistency is the key to anything, and I struggle with consistency because I often try to do too many things at once. In a way, 2020 will be a year of trying to find more consistency in my life through manageable, separate monthly focuses.

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.

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.

Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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