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. 😉

Fear

Sometimes I write two whole new posts before what I really want to talk about next comes out. I write one, finish, realize it’s something I want to save for another time, save it, start a new draft on a different topic, write more, save it. Then, the next day, realize that once again what I wrote doesn’t quite feel relevant, feels like thoughts that need revisited in the near future…because I’ve realized what I really want to post about, right now. Sometimes I feel like I could find something relevant to say about any topic, but this blog is a lot of figuring out what is most applicable to my life in the very present moment, and hashing it out like a therapy session in mini-blog-essay format. Today’s topic, that I finally uncovered, is fear.

I’ve been listening to The Shins’ latest album a lot (didn’t love it at first, but it grew on me) and one of my favorite songs on it is called “The Fear.” The lyrics touch on that detrimental habit of living in fear of things going wrong instead of just enjoying a happy time while it lasts. I can relate to an extent, because I’ve always sort of been a fearful person. I’m sentimental, I don’t love change, and I occasionally find myself worrying about how I’ll get through inevitable sad and stressful things in the future. I also have tendencies to imagine worst case scenarios involuntarily, dark thoughts that creep in usually just for a second, but it’s enough that I have that sort of inherent fear inside.

Some people are fearless types, those who love challenges and will jump into anything headfirst without considering what could go wrong. But I was always a careful kid. For example, if I was climbing a tall tree, I couldn’t help but have a brief picture enter my mind of losing my grip and plunging down through the branches to the ground. A gruesome thought, for sure, but that is a peek into the head of a non-fearless person, always considering consequences. Luckily, my cousin is a fearless type who motivated me to keep climbing anyway, to an exhilarating view at rooftop height, until the neighbor’s own fear of us falling (on her property) led her to call and ask us to stop.

Year after year of learning to trust myself and continue to embrace challenges has made me more fearless than ever, and I can usually push aside any dark warning thoughts with more realistic, not-so-fatalistic outcomes. Honestly, I’ve always been pretty good at trusting God to keep me safe as well, the fear really only creeps into situations where I’m in control (or, as in-control as I can be). But as the song lyrics say, “this fear is a terrible drug,” a hard one to quit. It still numbs my rational senses with silent panic at times, making me want to avoid things that trigger that I-can’t-do-it mentality. In yoga class, any thought of doing a handstand without a wall or a spotter for security makes my palms sweat. I have fallen out of inversions plenty of times without getting hurt, but that nagging fear is still there. On one hand, it’s a sign that I probably need to get a bit stronger before I can solidly balance in a handstand without some help, but it also kind of holds me back from really closing the distance towards making it happen.

Perhaps the top of the list of fears, though, is that fear of the unknown. The fear of the future that we all have to an extent, not knowing what our decisions will lead to or whether we’ll be able to reach our loftier goals. The fear of failure even despite past failures that turned out okay. All those variables that seem like they’ll never line up the way we hoped. Again, it’s a fear to strive to abandon for faith if you have that belief in God looking out for you as any good parent would, and ultimately there’s nothing to be gained from fearing the unknown, nothing but unnecessary pain and worry and paranoia.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

See what I said about my posts being like mini therapy sessions? I don’t know about you, but I already feel a lot better about those silly fears I hold on to so tightly. I’m gradually learning to loosen my grip. If you have something that’s been weighing on you, I highly encourage you to do some writing therapy of your own. In a journal or a word document, however you prefer, just get down some streams of thought until you get to what’s really bothering you, and try giving yourself advice as if you were writing a blog post or a letter to a friend. Grammar doesn’t matter, just connect some dots, past memories and current struggles, quotes and stories you’ve read. It really helps, I promise.

Home

Homes bring me so much joy. I love old doorknobs, nooks and crannies, third floors, sloped ceilings, built-ins. I get so attached to interior spaces that I spend any length of time in and every time I drive past a house that has some kind of intriguing detail I wish I could knock on the door and ask for a full tour. I love having grown up in a house nearing 100 years old, with drafty, wavy-glass windows that shift in the frames when the wind blows, a bedroom door with a skeleton key lock that now only unlocks from the outside (I’ve tested this and accidentally imprisoned myself twice), such creaky wood floors that I am completely desensitized to bumps in the night, laundry chutes to the basement (so convenient) and an old door upstairs that leads out onto a flat section of the roof for optimal sunset viewing.

I loved my maternal grandparents’ sprawling split-level mid-century ranch in a rural small town, with room after room after room (having housed ten people once upon a time) of special custom-built details including a dumbwaiter, a furnace, and a fireplace. Garage, carport, side paths, looping driveway, a rock garden extending in tiers off the back enclosed porch stocked with gardening supplies. Large windows overlooking an expansive backyard dotted with islands of greenery, an old metal swingset and slide, and a stone shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Bird feeders and birdbaths in front, a purple martin house high above the pond in the back at the end of the sloping yard where you could find patches of bluets, mushrooms, a few lost feathers, the occasional fallen robin’s egg, and a certain Mr. Toad. A mulch pile, a woodpile, flower gardens throughout. Indoors, lots of pastel paint colors and a few instances of shag carpeting. Stowed in every room were artifacts of 100 years lived: books, love letters, tools and supplies, table settings, records and well-loved toys. A time capsule of a 20th century immigrant doctor’s family, most idyllic in the spring and fall, the property covered in blooms or blanketed in leaves with family gathering for Easter egg hunts and Thanksgiving feasts.

My paternal grandparents’ home was much smaller in contrast though it housed almost as many people and details: a simple two-story home in a large suburb of a Midwestern city with a small attic and basement, some furnishings updated/some old. The mantle above the fireplace covered year-round in layers of framed photos and birthday cards and spare keys and bowling trophies. Stacks of books and photos of family on every surface, art on almost every wall: a few oil paintings by my grandmother and a couple pieces by her oldest son (my dad). A stone path leading around the house past various flowering bushes and the side door to a front stoop painted brick red and shaded by a few trees and rhododendrons. Opposite, a narrow driveway curving to an end at a double garage and an aging basketball hoop, the tiny backyard framed with seasoned apple and pear trees and a well-tended vegetable garden, grapevines and berry bushes wrapping around the garage, and a couple of chairs and benches for warm-weather seating. A perfect image of the family of high school sweethearts, at peak magic when overstuffed with visitors, decade-spanning decorations, homemade gingerbread, conversation and piano-playing as snow fell outside the bay window on Christmas Eve.

As I’m sure you could surmise, I immediately love any story with immersive descriptions of interior spaces, gardens or grounds. I remember The Little White Horse as having especially magical descriptions of the properties and interiors in the story, it’s one of my favorites, though I haven’t reread it in some years. Mostly when I think of art I’d like to make or stories I’d like to write, they either revolve around idyllic nature settings (the home of animals or fairies), or magic interiors full of character and specific detail. I think it’s a large part of why people love Harry Potter or Wes Anderson films…there’s something about a castle full of nooks and secret passageways or a stunningly detailed bedroom that feels like magic, whether magic is literally involved or not.

On a darker note, I think my obsession with homes is also why I (and most others, I’m sure) find stories of haunted houses, home invasions, living in war-torn countries, or even hurricanes and natural disasters especially disturbing; the home is supposed to be the ultimate place of refuge, and to feel vulnerable and unsafe in your own home is a terrifying thing. I count my blessings that my home experiences have been so ideal and comforting my whole life so far.

I love thinking about the living spaces I’ve experienced, and writing out my favorite details of my families’ homes was quite therapeutic seeing as one is long ago emptied and sold and the other is beginning the same process. I could write forever on my love of interiors, gathering spaces, sacred spaces; such a distinctly human thing. I know I often throw around generalizations in these essays I write, saying “most others” “many people” “we” “humans” etc. Those are the kind of the topics I like exploring: human nature, things that seem so broadly relatable once I step back. I mean, if I’m being honest, I guess I feel that every topic is broadly relatable in some way. As much as I often have felt like a weirdo or an outsider in my life, I know that we all come from the same place. Your life is yours alone and you are the only you that will ever exist, but the heart of your experiences are universal. Emotions are universal.

If you made it all the way through this, I hope you enjoyed as I got carried away in nostalgia paying homage to the homes I grew up in.

Rest

“If you get tired learn to rest, not to quit.”

I’m not really sure whether this quote has a confirmed origin, but you can find it all over the internet, pinterest and the like. It’s one of those simple ones that takes a second glance to sink in. Learn to rest, not quit. Hmm.

We all get tired. That’s one of the biggest hurdles of being an adult sometimes. Everything is so much more tiring. Responsibilities are bigger, and energy is lower. You can’t eat sugar and junk and go running off to play for hours like a kid. You have to eat right and fit some exercise into an already busy schedule in order to keep up the energy you need to get through the day. And you have to make sure you stay on top of everything so you can also get enough sleep. It’s tiring to keep from being tired.

I’m definitely guilty of being an all-or-nothing type of person sometimes. I don’t consider all the options. It’s either do it or don’t do it. Get it done in one sitting or put it off until I can devote that much time at once. Go to the difficult yoga class and work till my muscles are dead or don’t go at all. For some reason, I forget that there are other ways; better ways. Break a large project down into smaller tasks. Go to the therapeutic yoga class instead, or just rest a minute in the middle if I need to. I’m getting better at recognizing these options, but sometimes I still get so caught up in the do it or don’t mindset that I forget the options until it’s too late.

It’s kind of funny, because I’m very much not a black-or-white minded person in other areas of life. I’m usually pretty good at looking at situations from different angles, realizing that most things are a big gray scale spectrum and not one end or the other. It’s just when it comes to the everyday tasks and boring responsibilities that I let myself get stuck and overwhelmed. I mentioned on this blog several times about struggling this past semester. I was very physically organized, more so than ever, so I thought I was golden. But mentally, I was still getting a bit jumbled. I still had that mindset that prevented me from doing things bit by bit instead of all at once, and I learned that that’s the real killer of productivity. The key to is to approach things little by little, because all at once is a gamble. You might run out of time, energy, or ideas. I think I definitely hit a burnout because of that. I did not want to get out of bed most mornings. So going into this semester, when things weren’t coming together and I really wanted to just quit, I took it as a sign that I needed to rest. And I really felt a lot of peace with that decision.

When talking with my friend last week, we both were reflecting on how much we’ve learned about navigating college that we wish we had known ahead of time. All the little things that people try to tell you in high school that don’t really sink in, or weren’t articulated well enough. All the things we wish we could go back and change. But hindsight is 20/20, and some people seem to find those answers earlier than others. With all that said, we are each on our own path with our own timing, and while I feel like my college experience has really altered my life plans, I’m making peace with that. I’ve learned to leave a lot in God’s hands and let myself be guided rather than giving up and getting frustrated when something doesn’t go as expected. I know I have to keep improving and doing my part to work smarter and move forward, but I also know that I can’t control everything, and I sure as heck can’t go back and change anything.

So when it felt like everything was becoming extra tedious, things kept going wrong and I just wanted to give up, I realized that it was ridiculous to get so worked up over school and things in the past. Sure, school is very important, and I’m lucky I have a support system so that I can afford to mess up a little and learn from those mistakes. But if I was so ready to give up on everything just because of some setbacks and frustration, I realized that was a sign to chill out a little. Sometimes every setback feels like the end of the world, and it’s important not to be tricked by the American (and social media/comparison-influenced) go-go-go culture, thinking that your life is over because it slowed down a bit or took a detour. My cousin and I had a great conversation recently about a podcast she sent me that emphasized having an “eternal mindset.” The here and now isn’t everything. You have to look at the big picture, and realize that where you are is a tiny part of it. And from the Christian viewpoint, even our whole life on earth is just the beginning, the preparation for eternity. So why am I so stressed now when there are going to be so many bigger things to conquer in my life?

I hope this is somewhat encouraging. I want to do so many different things, and I already have done so many things, so I’m making a promise to myself not to get too bogged down by setbacks. If I keep learning, working harder and smarter, and resting instead of quitting, I think anything is possible. That’s the mindset I strive to keep, anyway. When you’re no longer excited to wake up in the morning, it’s time to change something, reevaluate, or just rest for once if you can. Whatever you do, don’t quit.

Reflection

Wow, what a year 2017 has been. I have honestly had some of the best and worst experiences of my life this year, but one of the things I remember from our many discussions in yoga teacher training is that it’s beneficial to not jump to label experiences “good,” or “bad,” because truly, everything is an opportunity to learn. Failures and hardships are often much better teachers and motivation than successes and good times, and I have certainly had that reinforced this year. I had some major personal successes and took some leaps, reformed some bad habits and overcame some obstacles. My family experienced a major loss together, but also has quite a few happy things to look forward to in the coming year. My faith has strengthened and my confidence in my value as a person has grown. I started this blog, and by quietly showing up here again and again to put my creations out into the world, I’m accepting that improvement comes through doing, perfection doesn’t exist, and everyone needs to start somewhere.

This year I cemented some new goals and plans and learned to be especially patient when I’m feeling especially impatient (because instant gratification is not actually gratifying). I learned a lot of similarly contrary-seeming things, actually. Less really is more. Owning less makes me happier and frees up a surprising amount of my time, focusing on less allows me to accomplish more (still working on that one), and less perfectionism in my individual work allows me to improve more. I’m a quiet person by nature, and I’ve learned to appreciate the power of listening, but also to not hesitate to speak up a little more sometimes. Plus, I’ve learned to embrace that there will always be light and dark, (literally and figuratively) and to appreciate both for what they are. I’ve always been drawn to a little darkness and I used to think I was destined to be a night owl forever, but now I’ve learned to appreciate the mornings and try to get as much daylight as I can, because too much darkness and solitude can weigh on you. It’s all about balance.

Also, after diving into self-improvement this year, I have become a lot more comfortable with being myself. I still have plenty to work on, but I’m definitely not the insecure teenager I was just a few years ago. I don’t overthink as much. I “like” things on social media that I like. I give people compliments when I mean it. I’m more open to opportunities and experiences, and I say yes as much as possible, but I recognize the importance of saying “no” as well. I’ve also gotten better at letting go of what I can’t control or change. My personal values are firm and well-considered, and I know that I am capable of functioning as an adult, even when everything feels overwhelming, because everyone has to get through life and figure things out the same and no one has all the answers.

So, 2017 is definitely a year that will be clear in my memories, but I’m praying that 2018 will bring more goodness and growth and challenges, because I’ve finally learned that praying for an easy life doesn’t work. It’s never easy for anyone; it’s better to pray for strength to handle the things that come your way, and learn to roll with the punches. I even came down with the flu these last 3 days of 2017, and since I’m not one to get sick very often, it was sort of a last, humbling reminder that I’m not in control. It’s important to learn how to take care of yourself even during the times when you just want to give up.

Hi 2018, cheers to a new year full of new surprises!

P.S. I made a phone background as a little present for anyone reading! You can use it by clicking here and saving it to your photos, then set it as your background if you like 🙂

Comfort & Joy

The last few weeks of the year tend to be pretty hectic, but I love them. People are returning home, meeting up with old friends and family, exchanging gifts, enjoying treats, watching movies, talking the night away and slowing down a bit to prepare for the start of a new year. It’s a bit of a reset button where you can wrap up the year’s projects, catch up with your loved ones, and savor all the Christmas cheer. I know my last post addressed the more melancholy, stressed feelings that can surface at this time, and those are valid feelings. Everyone has something different that might be weighing on them especially during this season, but I am still so excited for the Christmas holiday and the fast-approaching start of a new year. I think it’s always a good reminder to try to find the joy.

My family has a nice pattern of gathering with my dad’s side of the family on Christmas Eve for a traditional Eastern Orthodox Christian fasting meal, then my mom’s side of the family on Christmas Day, and the reverse on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. This year certainly will be different as it’s the first where people have moved and we have no one able to pick up hosting duties for Christmas Eve, but we are embracing the break in tradition and just planning a more low-key, different way to celebrate. I must say, I never thought I would miss that sour mushroom soup until suddenly, pretending to like it alongside my cousins wasn’t part of the plans for the year…haha!

At any rate, I really enjoy these last days before Christmas. I have been really lucky, my Christmas wishlist is more like a list of people to see, and it looks like I’m going to be able to cross off quite a few! I had a great, super chill two-night sleepover with my cousin over the weekend, my mom and I had a wonderful catch up with a family friend for brunch this morning, I hope to spend some time with my best friend (and maybe bake some cookies!) on Friday as well as see some old ballet & yoga friends at the annual candlelight yoga, and then have a nice gathering with some other great friends on Saturday. Hopefully I’ll also get to see most of both sides of my family for Christmas and New Year’s to round it all off.

Today I’m planning on a lot of handmade gift-making, so wish me luck that I don’t get in over my head with that, I’m pretty last-minute as usual! Plus a yoga teacher training deep hangout/meeting later tonight. Is it odd that I don’t feel “busy” when I have lots of hangouts with close friends and family planned? I definitely consider myself an introvert but when it comes to people I love, socializing fills me up till I’m bursting with joy.

I hope whatever your plans are, you can be filled up to bursting this holiday season as well.

Gratitude

This can be a stressful time of year. Usually I get kind of internally frustrated with people who are unreasonably negative during the holiday season, because c’mon, it’s such a beautiful time, celebrate!! Be happy!! But this year I’m one of those feeling a little more down and stressed. My typical unrelenting optimism and general excitement is a bit dampened at the moment. I feel a little odd looking back at the serious tone of my blog posts the past few months, but then again, maybe I only ever want to write when I’m feeling more serious. It does tend to be the pattern in my personal journal, but it is quite a contrast from my off-paper(-screen?) self, where I’m constantly laughing and joking around and never taking anything too seriously, whether by myself or with others. So I guess with that said, I feel more comfortable talking seriously in writing than in speaking, and it feels good to write it out so I can keep laughing and joking elsewhere. 🙂 Anyone who can’t be serious sometimes and silly sometimes is a robot, I tell you.

So yeah, I’m just not feeling that great lately; my semester hasn’t gone too well. My last one went really well despite a lot of things that could have derailed it, so this one in contrast feels pretty defeating. It “should” have gone fine, but I just had a hard time keeping up with everything for no good reason, only myself to blame. I don’t feel super stressed, I’m not one to carry much tension, but I was just looking through some pictures from the past summer and I can see a difference in my face. I looked so fresh and happy compared to looking in the mirror today. I notice a subtle, tired shift in my features when I’m weighed down. Right now, I’m ready to move on but I can’t fast forward, I just have to keep going, even though at the moment everything feels impossible (and I know I’m just being irrational). I’ve heard from a few others lately who are feeling similarly stuck, so I know I’m not alone in this…when it gets to this time of year where it gets dark so early, it’s no joke that it just gets harder to function.

All that said, though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I think the season of extra focus on gratitude should linger well into the new year. Christ is almost born. We need to remember to glorify Him and be so grateful that we can live our beautiful lives knowing that He humbled himself enough to be born on earth, to our beautiful mother Mary, (Theotokos, what a wonderful title, the mother of God!) to eventually die for our sins so that we may receive God’s mercy and have an opportunity of eternal life to look forward to even after our life on earth ends. I look back on especially defeating weeks I’ve had, where everything seemed to go wrong, and see that there were still so many blessings in every day.

A season where things don’t go as you planned is never the end of the world. It’s just even more of an opportunity to pick out all the things that still go right, all the small beauties. Even if you just smile at the fact that if you hadn’t been running late, you wouldn’t have seen that bubblegum pink Volkswagen Beetle pull up behind you at the red light. Or that plane gliding through the sky low enough to make out the detail of its wings. The little, funny things are worth appreciating even when you just want to cry. Gratitude makes all the difference. It really does turn what we have into enough. And in first world countries like America, most of us really do have enough, more than enough. The older I get, the less I want material things for Christmas. The more I just want quality time with people I love, and the chance to sit in silence and be grateful for everything, even the challenging seasons.

Questioning

My posts have gotten gradually fewer and farther between lately, but it’s not for lack of ideas or effort. I’ve been writing and rewriting, saving drafts and rethinking. I only started this blog under four months ago, and I started strong and with excitement. I still get really excited about what I can write and make for this space, it’s truly a just-for-fun project and creative outlet for me. I don’t really mind if almost no one is reading. But that initial “yay I started a new blog, I need to fill it with posts!” stage has worn off and I’m starting to question if I should be hitting “publish” at all.

What do I know, y’know? I try to write about my honest and relevant experiences, but I’m also becoming more careful. I don’t want to write and publish something that I later realize was worded in a way that doesn’t properly convey my values or my purpose. I’m only human though, and I realize anything can be misconstrued. The comfort of having a private blog or journal is that I can look back on what I wrote and shake my head if it was something silly or that I no longer agree with, or I can flat-out type “I don’t know if this makes sense, I’m just getting it out” and it doesn’t matter. I mean, I’m pretty sure mostly the only people that read this are a few friends and family, so I know I don’t have to be press-release perfect.

But that’s the thing about our social media era. Everyone can have a voice on the internet. Anyone can be an influencer. I have enjoyed reading blogs, watching youtube videos, and following people on instagram for years. I have my own few favorite “influencers” that I’ve honestly come to trust for opinions like a close friend. If I’m looking for a good recipe, I’ll often check a blog that I’ve followed for eight years before I would ask a family member I’ve known my whole life. So you see, having a voice on the internet is a responsibility. It’s easy to think yours doesn’t matter, but I’m a firm believer that no matter how small, your voice had better be intentional, well thought-out, and true to your values if you’re going to hit “publish,” and in fact, hitting publish is probably a bad idea nine times out of ten.

As a high school senior, somehow I was voted “most likely to be famous” along with another old friend. I joke about it sometimes, because I have to wonder if it will ever come true, or may even be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of that little thing in the back of my mind, will I seek out opportunities to put myself out there, like writing this blog? Or did the few classmates that voted for me in that category recognize that I already always tended to put myself out there creatively? I do keep telling people that my dream is to be a children’s book author/illustrator, because it honestly is, and I intend to pursue that dream. In fact, starting this blog was sort of step one in that process, to practice building a style and brand identity. But, unlike my high school superlative twin who was the more deserving of the “most likely to be famous” title, I have honestly never truly desired fame.

I’m not afraid to attach my name here, as I know I am being authentic and always will. But I think that aversion to fame is why I’m hesitant to post a picture of my face on Luna Moth Life. (although for anyone reading that doesn’t know me, my face is probably not hard to find from here if you snoop around a bit) I understand that nowadays, anyone not showing their face on the internet is hard to trust and relate to, and I try to make up for that by writing as personally as possible.  I love to create and share, but I don’t want it to be all about me. I don’t feel entitled to recognition. It’s just, a byproduct of a creative life, and potentially a creative career, is that you have to have yourself in it somehow. Creativity is personal.

If you noticed in my playlist a couple posts back, I included a few Taylor Swift songs. I think she’s talented and I enjoy her music more than most chart-topping pop of this era. When I first became a fan of her a little under a decade ago, she was probably the least controversial person in the music business…a cutesy teenage rising star writing country-pop hits about love, friendship and heartbreak. Now, because of her exponential fame, she’s about the most controversial artist to be a fan of. Everybody knows who she is, and everybody has an opinion of her, usually love or hate. She was able to write a whole album centered on her crazy reputation and living with the consequences of being famous. A perfect example of what the modern media and fame in the 21st century can do to a creative person (as in, anyone doing anything).

So I guess my whole point in this rant is that this is truly an experimental platform for me, one that I might have to continually question, rethink and reorient. It’s personal, it’s real, and it’s intentional. I try to be consistent for the sake of it, but I really don’t want this to be tainted by any goal of fame or about being an influencer, just about sharing my life, and for those few who might stumble on this and not know me personally, to just connect with you across the interwebz. I’m not trying to influence you, just to sort of give you a virtual wave, a smile, a handshake, or a hug as we cross paths in this life. I write here mostly to influence myself, really. In a way, it’s just one big accountability project to get me creating more, connecting the dots more, doing more. I may decide I want to grow this blog and put it out there more in the future, but if I do that, I would probably shift the focus to be more about illustration or short stories or something not so personal. Anyway, if you got this far, thanks for reading, truly. 🙂