Thank An Artist

No one told me to go to business school
But they raised their eyes all the same
Sitting down, telling stories of a far away place
Holding onto ideas like precious gems
//
Writing and playing
Dancing and painting
Picture an uneven life
Without the promise of money or being known
Exposing your soul
Sometimes more than once
Speaking in a tongue only some can understand
//
Art
In all it’s mediums and interpretations
A second voice
An outlet for intense emotion
A puzzle for that which we can only try to grasp
Expression of experience
And desire
//
It teaches you how to feel
To fall in love
To fight for what matters
And find your way back
When you hit the bottom
Talk about it
Weep for it
Celebrating all that life is
The good, bad, and incredibly ugly
//
Chords, colors, words alike
No one is niave to their power and movement
Yet some of us run and rage against it
While others savor the sweetness
//
Like it or not, we need it
So before you tease, or complain, or point fingers
Remember all that is that has moved you
That keeps your sanity
That fosters connection and builds bridges
That saves and sustains
That heals
//
Thank an artist
For what you don’t have the guts to do
For bleeding when they can hide
For giving their time to their heart and mind
Expecting little to nothing in return
//
Except to show and be who they are
Colorful, breathtaking, and always evolving
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Love Alive

Raised on boybands and princesses
Nothing was messy
The 90’s was where it was at
A writer and a wordsmith
Telling stories on end
Hell, I made volleyball sound romantic
A first kiss in a bar
Relationships became a rollercoaster
Now what do you say about that?
//
The life raft
The mirror
The runaway
The free spirit
The Rock
They all gave me something so beautiful
And it hurt just the same
How do I risk enduring it again and again
//
Role models are few
Formulas are cheap
But walls aren’t worth it
And love runs deep
//
Looking to the horizon
Having faith that all works together
But how does one allow whole hearted togetherness
When pain and memories prickle
Like needles to the skin
//
Art has a purpose
Imagination is limitless
The possibilities full of wonder and romance
A balance of realism and whimsy
The music we sing and dance to
The stories we hear
The way we root for others
And the way we hold each other
//
But it’s choosing and trying
Again and again
It’s declaration followed by action
Not despite imperfection, but because of
Scars and beauty marks
Here for it all, baby
Every moment
Gratitude
//
There is wisdom, and there is noise
Pain does not have to become cynicism
It’s hard to grow from bitter thoughts
That are not without value, but not worth blood
//
Believe in meetcutes and meeting halfway
Passion and compromises
Slow dances and running together
Flowers and basic needs
Arguments and fighting for what’s right and real
Over and over
Now until kingdom come

Why Mental Health Is About More Than Just Self-Care

If you’re struggling, reach out. There is help. There is hope. [insert number for crisis text line]

I’ve seen this kind of message shared in droves over the last couple of years, and admittedly I used to do so whenever I would hear of a prominent celebrity passing away. The intentions are good, but the wording reeks of privilege and implies that society should only do the bare minimum in order to address a widespread crisis. The reality is that verbally disclosing that kind of struggle, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or any kind of mental illness, as not as simple as most PSA’s imply. It’s hard when you’re directly in the midst of a dark moment/season, one that is so emotionally paralyzing that you can’t find the words to articulate what you’re going through. It’s hard when you don’t know how someone will react, and telling them could possibly hurt the relationship and make you feel even smaller than you already do. And it’s hard when you don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience, and then have it held against you later on.

I read and hear a lot about self-care, and the fluffiness behind it all. Yet, I feel like we should be doing more: we need to take care of each other too.

But how do we do that in a world prides itself in individualism and a “do it yourself” mentality?

How do we do that when everyone seems to keep score of who reaches out to whom, and then holds a grudge if you go a long time without talking?

It starts with one question: How are you today?

If the person says that they’re struggling, you could ask the following: What do you need? How can I support you?

Maybe they need to just get out of the prison that is their own head. Maybe they need to get something off their chest so that it has less power. Maybe they just need to be affirmed that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Maybe they need help, and have no idea what help looks like or how to get it.

The important thing is to simply hold space, for whatever it is in that moment; no problem solving or preaching about being positive.  Do not assume that they want or need advice unless explicitly asked. Yes, it is unbelievably difficult to see someone in pain. It might seem impossible to listen to anybody try to explain the intensity of their experiences without wanting to run or cover our ears. But it’s not about you, or your comfort. This is about demonstrating love in action through empathy and allowing people to just be who they are, where they are.

Village Care, as I’ve come to call it, doesn’t only have to involve sharing and being vulnerable. It could be offering to help find a therapist or treatment program, driving people to and from appointments, or offering to babysit if they have kids. When I was going to a support group for my eating disorder, I very much appreciated when family members or friends would go with me. It showed me that they wanted to learn about what I was dealing with, and how they could love me and walk with me in my recovery.

Having been both the listener and the talker, there should always be boundaries. I do not keep my phone on at night unless specifically asked, and I don’t have the energy to keep my DM’s open all the time. A child, regardless of age, should not have to play a role bigger than themselves in their parents’ crumbling marriage. In dating relationships, a significant other should not pay the price or be the solution to their boyfriend/girlfriend’s previous relational pain. If a loved one knows they need professional help, yet continues to expect you to act as such instead of seeking it, it’s okay to draw a line. I care about you and I support you, but this is beyond what I’m able to do for you. Can I help you find someone more qualified?

Setting boundaries might feel like abandonment at first, but no relationship is worth compromising your emotional and physical health over. You’re not leaving them as much as you’re recognizing that you cannot save them, and they have to do their part too.

And sometimes, there are seasons where we just don’t have the energy or stamina to be there for someone in the way that we’d like to. It might be too painful, too triggering, and end up setting us back in our own journey. There is absolutely no shame in that, but the response should always be with love and compassion.

Lord knows I have failed at empathy many times, and I am still learning. It is never too late to learn how to do something, especially if what you learn might help save someone’s life.

We say that we are not alone, and I believe that. But it’s about time we stop saying it to merely pay lip service, and start making an effort to make it a reality.

Be Brave enough to go first. Set your pride, ego, or whatever it is aside and go to them. And then keep checking in.

You are wanted and you are needed. Probably more than you know.

When Your Squad Scatters

It was the summer of 2014, and by late July I was saying goodbye to life at the University of Iowa. I was terrified of the unknown, and it was honestly one of the hardest things I had to do at the time. Not only had I found my independence, but for the first time in my entire life, I felt like I had made some of the best friends that I’ve ever had. I hated leaving them, and what’s more, I didn’t like the idea of starting all over again. But life would go on whether I liked or not, and I could either figure out how to move forward or allow myself to be paralyzed by a number of fears that I have when it comes to relationships (both platonic and romantic).

Nearly five years later, I’m finding that there isn’t exactly a full-proof way to make new friends and keep existing friendships going. But it does take a lot of intention, patience, and loosening my grip on the ideals that have been ingrained in me since childhood.

 Be Open and Be Grateful

The fact that anything can happen post-grad is both overwhelming, yet full of so much opportunity. Many people end up in new corners of the world, or they go back to their hometowns in order to regroup and save money. Some are lucky enough to reconnect with friends from high school or even further back, but most likely are not going to be surrounded by peers within a particular age bracket. It’s completely normal to meet and spend time with those who are younger, older, and completely across the board as far as seasons and backgrounds go. Whether you join a church, a meetup, or stumble across a Facebook event, it’s about showing up and being consistent. It might be just a season, or it might be the beginning of something incredible.

Unfortunately, time doesn’t always keep us in the same place (especially in your twenties). Life can feel like a revolving door of people coming in and out, creating a lot of anxiety and wondering if it’s realistic to allow ourselves to relax and get comfortable. The best thing I’ve learned is to not take seasons or people for granted: be present when you’re around them, and put your phone away unless you really need it. Ask questions and make an effort to genuinely listen. Take pictures, even if they’re not worthy of posting. It’s not going to protect you from the pain if and when that time does come to an end, but it helps when you know you made the most of it.

Create New Traditions

This is a lot easier said than done, especially when you live in different states and have bills to pay. But we should always make room in our lives for things we want to do, as opposed to merely what’s necessary for survival. Whether you meet up one day a year for a football game at your alma matter, or pick a weekend to celebrate a birthday or two, put it on the calendar and go. It doesn’t even have to huge or expensive; it might just involve meeting up with someone on a weekly basis for coffee, or catching up over the phone. But adulthood does not wait for those who merely wait for the weekend before making commitments.

Give Some Grace

I cringe whenever I see a passive aggressive quote involving communication and keeping score. People already have so much to keep up with, along with trying to manage their physical and emotional health in the process. I’m learning that equal give and take, while ideal, is not exactly black and white (especially when mental illness is involved). We need to stop being so harsh each other and declaring that someone is cut off just because they haven’t texted or called in a while, although I’m aware that it’s a slightly different story in regards to dating and romance. I love to encourage and lift people up, and I’d rather have them know that I’m thinking of them, rather than hold a grudge over a lack of response. We might only talk every so often, but that doesn’t mean we love and care for each other any less.

It’s not always personal, and we need to stop vilifying others when we’re the ones who refuse to accept them as they are.

Enjoy Your Own Company

The majority of us have been conditioned to be social and eager to be in groups at all times. Much of my college experience involved having a variety of friends with all kinds of interests, and the dreaded fear of missing out had me constantly on the go in one way or another. I had it in my head that physically being by myself meant that something was wrong with me, and other than drinking my coffee in the morning, I was always uncomfortable with the concept.

Whether you’re brand new, or your friends or all in different places, you will confront that head on, and it’s ultimately up to you to deal with it. I’ve learned to be perfectly okay with a Friday or Saturday night filled with Netflix and my favorite food. I love going on walks for an hour or two at a time. And I definitely wouldn’t grow and evolve if didn’t carve out time to pray, journal, and read. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go to restaurants or concerts by myself yet, and the former I’ve only done before or after an interview and I know I need food.

Love and Let Go

This has always been the hardest part for me. I’ve naturally grown apart from friends over the years due to distance, different interests, or just being in different seasons. But it’s another story all together when I haven’t been able to see it coming, and the only way to cope with that kind of change is to blame myself. A couple of years ago, I noticed that one of my really close friends had stopped responding to me checking in with her, and eventually she told me that she needed space. It was like a gut-punch, because we had never experienced any conflict up until that point, and she had always been kind-hearted and inclusive in the times we spent together during undergrad. I was on the tail-end of a very dark season, where from November of 2016 to March of 2017, I was the lowest I had ever been with my eating disorder, and was also trying to deal with a relationship where I was in way over my head. I had never felt so insecure and impulsive, and unfortunately I projected that onto other people that I cared about.

But sometimes life just happens, and there are things that we’ll never understand. When I love, I love deeply, and sometimes that gets mixed up with holding onto seasons or relationships too tightly. I’m not going to get overly angry or curse someone out merely for being honest about what they can and can’t handle. I don’t have the energy to be visibly pissed off, even if I have the right to. I believe in setting boundaries, but I do not believe in building walls. I often ask God to take care of such people in the ways that I cannot, and trust that He will do the rest.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to have everyone be in your life, or at least certain aspects of it. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t hold them in your heart. Some will go in, and some will go out; but the ones who are meant to be there will always be standing in the doorway.

Friendship is a kaleidoscope of the ever-changing, one that can either bring out the best in us, or the worst. I often wonder if Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist, would we be really all that concerned about the size of our circles? The answer is both a riddle and a masterpiece, a wrestling match between how we think our lives should go and reality.

When you miss someone, send them love and give thanks. When you’re searching for someone, always try your best to be that kind of someone to others. It’s not a competition, or even a race. Life is always abundant, and what you have now is there for a reason. Savor it. Learn from it. And keep going.

Coffee and Tea

Beans

Such bitter beans

I tasted at a tender age

When sleep stopped coming easily

And make-up nor heels

Didn’t make me feel grown up

One for waking, another a jolt of energy

With more cream than brew

A bittersweet blend

Of deliciousness and sophistication

Carrying me through

Early mornings, long lectures

A welcome reprieve from a boozy headache

Designated mugs for different days

 

Leaves

Scented but seemingly tasteless

Reserved for sickness

In the cabinet my mother kept

A sore throat in winter snow

Or icing in a pitcher on a sunny day

Ease and wellness, not productivity

 

Rising before the sun

A train to city for work

Anxiety: Can I? Should I? Would I? Would they?

And wondering what the day would hold

A knotted stomach

Could only be untied by sipping chamomile flowers

And perfectly hot water

Mint, plantation or refresh

Sometimes chai

Rarely green

Never black

Cozy comfort

Sip by sip

Reading or watching

No headaches

Just warmth

 

This or that? So it goes

Either one extreme or another

As if choosing somehow locks you in

A requirement of narrow-minded opinion

Perhaps an element of priveledge

But not life itself

 

For such ebbs and flows

Light follows darkness

Feelings come and go

Twist me into what I’m not

And I’ll just reshape again

Discomfort only fazes the ignorant

The ones who can’t reflect

Or face their own shortcomings

 

Each day is different

Good and bad

A sight to behold

But not always necessary to decide on

Selectiveness doesn’t apply to everything

Especially stories

Especially if anyone wants to tell the truth

Twenty-Seven

“Most people try to forget their birthdays, but you revel in it!”

I wasn’t sure if this was sarcasm or a compliment, but I couldn’t deny that I was trying to put some effort into making my twenty-seventh birthday worth celebrating. In previous years I’d struggled with expectations and feeling loved on this particular day, and it’s taken a lot of learning how to be vocal about what I want while also being present and appreciating things for what they are. I was filled with awe and gratitude over what happens when I allow whatever it is to unfold and not get caught up with the anxiety of the prison that often is my own head.

Twenty-six was unexpected, and a lot happened to where I still reflect and wonder how I got here. There were career ups and downs, most of which I didn’t see coming. Some of my dating experiences were amazing, but some were also disrespectful and even violated my personal boundaries. When it was good I was on top of the world, but when there was pain my first instinct was to close myself off and allow bitterness to seep in. I’d like to think that I’m a resilient person, but there were a number of times where all I could think about was, “I don’t want to go through this again.” I’d even get angry when a blessing that came after a long season of waiting seemed to be taken away faster than I could blink.

Life changes, and Life happens. You can hustle and pursue and try like hell to be perfect, but there will always be circumstances out of your control. I’m still learning, but I’d say the best resistance toward unforeseen storms is to be present and not take any of what you have in this moment for granted. It’s the balm that softens the loss of a job, the change in a relationship, or being rejected for whatever reason. And you have to allow yourself to feel and process before you can even think about there being a reason for it.

It’s been a constant back and forth between connection/closeness and feeling threatened, as though I’m in some kind of danger. I don’t like the extremes, and I want a kind of balance that allows me to interact with the world while still being aware of it. I believe in being both soft and kind-hearted, while being strong and not allowing what might just be temporary to break me.

Soft and Strong.

To not let the size of an opportunity make me feel small and insignificant.

To heal and cope with what I’ve buried in the back of my mind over time.

To not let the harshness of the world turn me into a shell of who I truly am.

Amen, and here’s to another life-changing year!

How We Love

The world we live in

So dark and gray

Unlike what I was used to growing up

Neighbors looking at each other

With judgement and disdain

Families divided, separated

Who they are is not enough

 

Whether it’s the skin you’re in

Or the way you pray

Language and heritage

Walking or wheelchair bound

Recovering or running around

 

Can we pause for a minute?

Strip away the signs and speakers

Deep down we’re afraid of change 

What we can’t control

“This is the way it’s always been”

Excusing without seeking to understand what it means to be human

On this side of heaven

 

But what does love look like in such a divisive time?

Love includes

Building kingdoms over castles

Discomfort, not distraction

Grace on the ground level

Freedom over inconvenience

 

To be love is to be a light

A light that shines not just for one community, but for all

Lighting the way for building bridges instead of walls

Not relying on power, but promise

Promise of hope, joy, and contentment

A foundation that can be trusted

 

Without pain, there is no fuel to produce light

The purpose of the hard seasons

Where love is rooted, and growth can occur

To give

To broaden perspective

And deepen

 

A lack of love is a lust for power

And power benefits from poverty

But such does not make one a real man or woman

It just makes you blind

Stunting in body and heart

And without a growing heart

One cannot love at all

Inspired by this recent but timeless message.

Perfectly Enough

Celebrating a year in recovery.

Vacations to several of my favorite places.

A job loss that led to something better.

Meeting awesome people.

Relationships growing and changing.

Welcoming a new baby into the family (for the first time in twenty years!)

Waking up the morning after an election, and experiencing hope instead of despair.

A reigniting of fire; to grow in my faith, and to grow closer to God.

And for the first time since I graduated college, actually wanting to celebrate the holidays.

2018 has been a plethora of things. An eclectic mix of joy and heartbreak. A mix that I struggle with summing up in a singular word. The magic wasn’t necessarily in the circumstances, but in the moments. As my sister said recently: It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly enough.

Oh, how perfectly enough.

I’ve noticed that reflecting often comes with the tendency to take it to the extreme; it was either amazing and we want to hold onto it for as long as we can, or it was awful and the end cannot come soon enough. But why do we always have to label anything as good or bad? Why can’t it just be reality, the kind where there are good things and there are hard things, but we can still say, “It is well”?

Yes, it is well, with or without the warm fuzzies to go with it.

I still have intentions for 2019; intentions in general aren’t filled with unrealistic expectations and leave room for grace and flexibility. They’re not centered on physical appearance or require validation, relying more on self-care, along with emotional and spiritual growth.

I would like to be as financially stable as I can be, and then move into my own place.

I want to write and read a little each day, whether it’s merely in my journal or a chapter in a book.

I intend to continue building my personal brand, and not get caught up in the numbers game.

I would like to join a small group again, and to focus on building relationships in person.

And I would like to get back into cooking, along with learning how to meal prep and plan ahead of time.

But most of all, I don’t want someone’s understanding or perception of me to determine whether or not I feel at peace with myself.

Let it be so, and may you have a joyful and prosperous New Year!

A Dilemma

For the last several months, I’ve been trying to keep up with working a full time job while simultaneously growing and maintaining my personal brand. It’s been a challenge, having little to do with time and more so with having energy. I knew that I would only be able to blog at least once or twice a month, and for the most part I’m okay with that. Most of the (self-imposed) pressure comes from trying to be consistent with Facebook and Instagram, though lately I’ve felt insecure and even afraid to post certain things:

Pushback (“Why are you always so dramatic? Can’t you ever say something positive about life?”).

Wondering if I’m oversharing, period.

Disliking how my voice sounds on recordings (why I’m hesitant to dive into Instagram stories and Youtube).

Not wanting to live life entirely through a filter, spending present moments wondering whether or not it would make for good writing or some kind of posting.

And not feeling entirely ready.

Yet there’s a nagging voice in the back of my head, one reminiscent of my first professional venture in marketing: Be one with social media. If you’re stats aren’t going up, you’re not doing something right. You’re supposed to get better and better!

What is better, if it makes you feel like you’re just a voice in one respect, and a face in another?

Do followers, shares, and engagement really matter if the numbers behind it are constantly going up and down?

And if you succeed at something, whether it’s ending up on a best-seller list or something going viral, do you keep at it while the going is good, or do you take a breath and collect yourself first?

The answer is different for every artist, but it comes down to this: tell the truth, and the rest will take care of itself. Be genuine. Engage when you feel led to do so. But don’t get so caught up in the neon glow of internet fame where you start to slide from creation to production.

Creativity is an expression from your heart, for yourself. Production is making things pretty, and it becomes more about the masses. Yes that first part is important, but not at the expense of feeling like you’re feeding into a machine for the sake of keeping your audience happy and fed. You are a human being before you are a brand.

Deadlines are there for a reason, and discipline should be cultivated. But there is grace for those who don’t post exactly the same number of times per week, as well as those who love to write but seek to balance living life as much as they write about it. There is power in not letting stats and strategy dictate how you use your gifts, and there is power in refusing to apologize for rest and figuring out what truly works for you.

I know I am; I would love to find a mentor and attend events where creatives can encourage and help each other out. As much as I love pouring into people, I need to have those same things being done for me too.

At the heart of it all, I’m a storyteller, and I want to be able to tell my story with as much truth and love as possible. If those things are missing, and if this so-called pressure becomes too great, then I’m obviously not doing it for the right reasons.

Dig. Sift. And then speak.

What Happened to ‘Hello’?

Did anyone ever teach you how to properly talk to a woman?

It seemed witty enough when getting hit on in a bar or catcalled in the street, but most of the time I’d forget or was more focused on getting out of the situation as fast as possible. I didn’t feel safe enough to engage, nor was in right headspace to want to educate anyone. In my early twenties, it was a comeback meant to shut the guy up and nothing more. Yet I’m now a working woman who relies on walking and public transit, and it’s still a genuine question that echoes in the back of my mind.

Why do men tell women to “smile” when they have no idea what kind of day they’ve had, or the circumstances they might be experiencing?

Why do men call a woman beautiful or sexy, when they don’t even truly know what makes her so? And what about at first sight makes this so-called flattery appropriate?

And while rejection stings, why get so angry to the point of causing emotional and even physical harm?

I’ve had enough conversations to realize that it comes down to entitlement and ego; I want this, and therefore I deserve to get it. If you don’t like or appreciate my attention, then you deserve to be punished.

It’s disgusting and degrading; perhaps men who act this way already know this and don’t care, but I’m going to take the human to human approach anyway:

Life is not fair, and the world does not owe you anything. You can have back luck and a bad lot, but that does not give you the right to put that pain onto others, particularly those you don’t know. Being a good person does not always lead to the rewards that we believe we should receive, and there comes a point when you have to face your bullshit and admit that you just might be part of the problem. If you want to experience genuine human interaction, learn how to pay attention and pick up on social cues. But more importantly, learn how to listen and respect boundaries, even if you don’t agree with them.

And if you’re genuinely looking for a date, stop assuming that sidewalks, public transit, and various places of busyness are the only places you can go. I’m not opposed to meet-cutes, but there’s a huge difference between organic introduction and the feeling of being trapped to the point of questioning your physical safety. A couple of years ago, I went to a Starbucks on my lunch break for a phone interview. A man approached me saying that he had a question, and I politely tried to explain that it wasn’t a good time. He kept coming up to me throughout the phone call trying to ask me things, and then kept me in full view as he walked away again. I could tell that he was going to try to follow me out the door, so I instinctively went toward the front counter to explain the situation to a barista. I’m grateful that a couple sitting nearby saw what was happening, and offered to walk me back the office where I was interning at.

Being stuck between trusting my instincts and sparing a stranger’s feelings is exhausting; you should be ashamed if you ever put someone there.

There’s a popular quote that if you see something beautiful in someone, speak it. Most of the time I agree with it, though it’s definitely not applicable or appropriate when you don’t even know their name. If the first words out of a guy’s mouth are “Hey beautiful” (or something to that effect, whether online or in person), I cringe and the alarm bells automatically start going off. I absolutely hate it, but it’s my way of being able to tell when it’s meaningful or when that person is trying to butter me up. There’s a time and a place for commenting on a woman’s physical appearance, and a first meeting is not one of them.

In most situations, a simple hello or making eye contact will suffice; no pick-up lines or clever come-on’s necessary.

If she doesn’t respond or engage, you leave her alone, full stop. She might not want to talk or meet anyone. She might not be available. Whatever it is, she’s not interested and that’s all you need to know.

Being powerful does not make you better than anyone.

And wielding that power to dehumanize and harm others does not make you a man.

///

I’m aware that men experience harassment as well, but I’m only qualified to speak for myself and as a woman. Debating on who has it worse does not negate the gravity of harassment, and there should be no competition over who deserves more compassion. Reaction to rejection by intimidation and/or violence is never okay, and the only way to get that message across is by standing together.

It might take a generation or two to find a way forward. In theory, sticking up for oneself is ideal, but it’s an entirely different story when strength and size come into play. As I write, it’s easy to say that I would use self-defense techniques that I’ve learned over the years, but what about when anxiety kicks in or there’s nowhere for me to run? You can’t possibly know how you’ll exactly you’ll handle an aggressor unless you’re looking right at them.

One could argue that consequences infringe on the first amendment, but a freedom is a freedom until it is abused. All I want to do is to get from point A to point B safely and peacefully, and respecting that shouldn’t be so difficult.

I initially wanted to write more, but the different aspects of harassment, assault, and #MeToo became too much to unpack in one piece, so I’ve decided to split it up. I’ve been quiet as I’ve processed the daily headlines in conjunction with my own experiences, and want to respond rather than just react.