Last year, while taking a class on the English Romantics, I absolutely fell in love with Dorothy Wordsworth's journals. As in... I was underlining every single line of my reading homework and writing my favorite bits in the margins of my notebooks and trying to read out snippets to my mother. I had never felt so connected to a literary work or author before! But despite her gorgeous prose and raw talent, Dorothy is often written off as being little else save the sister of famed poet William Wordsworth.
So, for my senior capstone project in the English department, I knew I wanted to return to Dorothy's journals and show her a little lovin'. Dorothy's prose is so ethereal and organic and alive, that I knew I wanted to translate her words into the visual sphere. I toyed with a few ideas, one being a children's picture book, but my visceral reaction as a videographer was to create a short film. I pitched the idea to one of my favorite professors, who was thrilled by the creative possibilities and let me run with it. Quick little "raise-the-praise" moment: I'm so, so grateful for my professor's kindness, encouragement, and thoughtful suggestions, all of which helped bring my vision alive.
So here it is, folks. The product of several months of reading, researching, and planning, of renting lenses and hiking mountains and (gently) bullying my brother into being in a few frames. I think he definitely has the whole pensive/omnipresent/elusive William Wordsworth thing going on...
What a joy it is to have pals who are willing to drive twelve hours just so we can be together for thirty! Please enjoy this video of the silliness that ensued. It features my best buds, Kaitlin (patron saint of seascapes, SQL, and the left lane of the freeway) + Kelsey (patron saint of movie references, humpback whales, and unfinished cups of coffee).
I have a little bit of fun news to share. I've placed second in the California Pluralism Contest! My video, along with the other winning videos, will be part of lesson plans + lectures for high schoolers and early-college students to celebrate California's religious diversity + promote religious literacy.
What a sweet opportunity to share a bit of my heart and encourage others to delight in their faith and heritage! Thank you so much to the Religious Studies Departments of the University of California, Santa Barbara; San Diego State University; California State University, Fresno; California State University, Chico; and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Joyfully in Christ,
Hi, friend. This post is a little more serious in tone + content than what I usually post, but I hope you find encouragement from it.
On November 22, I was fine. On November 23, my world looked unrecognizable.
Living with a chronic condition sucks. I may be an English major who knows lots of prettier and more sophisticated words to use, but there is no other word I would put there. It just really sucks. And although keeping it bottled up inside is also quite sucky, I've had a lot of hesitations about writing about my experience. I worried that writing about my chronic condition would make me feel worse—that writing this post would only make me more aware of my challenges. I worried that I would sound like I was complaining or asking for sympathy. I worried that people would scoff and testily remind me how other people have it so much worse. I worried that my words wouldn't help anyone. But as I neared the one-year "anniversary" of living with a chronic brain condition called Visual Snow and started experiencing an ironically timed flare-up in my symptoms, I knew I had to put pen to paper. It was time to find some sort of creative release.
You've probably never heard of Visual Snow. My doctors hadn’t either. As an extremely rare, under-researched condition, Visual Snow is only "treated" by one doctor in North America. And just why did I put the word treated in quotes? Visual Snow is untreatable.
Visual Snow is a condition in the brain that causes me to see television static ( “snow”) in my entire field of vision in both eyes and in all light conditions—even with my eyes closed. It’s hallucinogenic, meaning that this thick layer of little tiny dots moving and swirling and pulsating are not actually present in my physical environment. My Visual Snow causes double vision in the very center of my field of vision, light sensitivity, and palinopsia. It makes me feel like moving objects are flying at me much faster than they are, and that nonmoving objects are moving. It's a struggle to read a sentence without accidentally skipping up or down several lines, and I have trouble transitioning between focusing my eyes on something near and then far (or vice versa). I see stars à la old-school cartoons. Visual Snow has also caused my tinnitus, dizziness, heavy pressure in my head and face, lack of concentration, the feeling of my whole body buzzing, bright red eyes at the end of the day, and general cognitive fogginess. (Here I am sounding like an elderly lady at the ripe, old age of twenty-two. Pass the prune juice.). Looking at me, you probably would never guess that I have a brain condition. Since VS is traced back to the occipital lobe, knowing that Visual Snow is "all in my head" doesn’t make it any less real—it actually makes it worse, as it means my condition is completely inescapable. The problem is inside my brain.
It's hard to put into words what Visual Snow looks and feels like, but there are several online simulators to help you with visualizing it. Click here, then click on each of the five options ("text on a page," "text under difficult lighting conditions," "the countryside," "sunsets," and "solar eclipse") to see what Visual Snow looks like in different situations. As I didn't make these animations, they don't perfectly align with my experience. If I could edit them, I would make the dots more transparent (which means I can still definitely read and drive and do all that, but it's like there's this staticky layer in my vision that I desperately want to peel away).
To someone who isn't afflicted with Visual Snow, this all sounds hard to comprehend. I get it. In the early days of my VS, I remember the pure frustration of trying to explain to the urgent care doctor what was going on. He was baffled, took X-rays of my neck (all clear), and told me to seek medical help elsewhere. A few weeks went by, and my weird symptoms hadn't cleared up, so I went to the emergency room and got a CT scan of my brain. The scan came back clear, and the ER doctor told me it was probably a migraine aura that just so happened to be lasting for a month. He gave me a muscle relaxant and shooed me out the door. I then went to my primary care doctor. He had no clue what I was going on about, but he ordered a cervical spine MRI for me, as I had experienced a low-key whiplash event (slamming on the brakes in the car—not even a true car accident) right around the onset of my Visual Snow. The cervical spine MRI came back clear, so I was then referred to an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. After several tests, the ophthalmologist said that my eyes were structurally fine, and that there was nothing he could do to help me. The neurologist also did several tests and ordered a brain MRI for me. The tests and the brain MRI came back clear, so she told me to wait it out and come back in six months (!) if I were still having problems. It felt like one very frustrating game of hot potato. I, the patient, was the potato that none of them wanted to deal with for more than a few minutes. I so badly wanted to hear a doctor say, "wow, you're dealing with a lot, but we're going to work hard and figure out what's going on and get you back to normal." Instead, I was passed on from one doctor to the next, none of them wanting to take on my case and advocate for me.
I had exhausted my local options. I suddenly felt like I was so, so alone in dealing with my mysterious condition.
I had always pictured doctors as these all-knowing superhumans who, with their incredible intuition, could quickly figure out what was wrong with a person, treat them, bandage them up, and send them home with a lollipop in a matter of a few hours. Through my several-month escapade trying to find treatment for my Visual Snow, I realized that doctors and researchers are just humans. And that in the case of this exceptionally rare, under-researched condition, their guess was as good as mine. It was a very, very scary realization.
There are Facebook pages and support groups and websites and forums populated by people suffering from Visual Snow and trying to find relief. And although I looked at those resources for a short while, I quickly realized that reading about other people's struggles with VS made me feel worse—reading other people's posts made me feel helpless, anxious, hopeless, and ultra-aware of the jumbled, whirling visual mess in front of me. I needed a plan to help me cope.
...so I did nothing.
Well, I very strategically did nothing about my Visual Snow. I decided that if dwelling on my condition made it worse, then I needed to do the opposite. I needed to teach myself to forget about my condition. So I clicked out of the forums and Facebook groups. I stopped reading the jargony medical literature that I could barely comprehend anyways. I told my family to not even utter the words "Visual Snow" in front of me unless it was absolutely necessary. And I almost never brought it up with my friends. I was carefully guarding myself from spending any extra mental energy on my condition. I then turned to a twofold plan of my own invention:
1- get my anxiety attacks under control, and 2- be very, very busy to distract my mind.
The latter was undoubtedly the easier of the two. Anxiety is something I haven't written about much here, as I try to keep my public writing centered on more joyful topics. But anxiety has had a presence in my life for a very long time, and its sharp edges make VS all the more mentally painful. Once I started reeling in my anxiety—which is probably worth a post of its own—I turned to part two of my coping strategy. I needed to be very, very busy in order to distract my mind. I thought about the things I was passionate and curious about (Religious Studies, filmmaking, literature, nature) and began pouring out my heart and soul into meaningful organizations, activities, and relationships. And after a few months, a strange and wonderful thing began to happen. I started to forget (at least on a surface level) that I had a brain condition. I just sort of stopped noticing that I was seeing the world through a very muddled lens.
Of course, it hasn't been a perfect plan. I mean, it basically centers on denial. And there are certainly days or weeks where I have flare-ups, and my symptoms feel worse than usual, and my brain can't stop obsessing over it (...like this week, for instance). But I try to forget. I try to stay busy. And I try to stay calm. I am, of course, praying for new development in the medical world. I'm praying that the research currently underway in Europe is fruitful. But until then, it's reduce anxiety and do really neat things so that my brain has other thoughts to occupy itself with. So, friend, if there's something you're going through that's leaving you bruised and battered, I encourage you to sit with it and figure out a plan of action. Unlike mine, it probably won't include techniques for forgetting. It just might be one of those bear hunts (à la Helen Oxenbury's picture book), where you can't go over it, you can't go under it, and you've got to go through it. I'll be praying for you.
Abounding in hope,
"May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 15:13
Between working for a publishing house, filming for several start-ups, and studying for the GRE, I've been craving a change of scenery and a bit of a break. Luckily, flights were cheap, and my globetrotter of a brother has never been known to say "no" to a trip...
We packed our bags and headed off to Portland, Oregon, for a little soul food. Here are some of our recommendations from what turned out to be an incredible visit.
Stay - The Society Hotel
My oh my. I can't even begin to express how utterly obsessed I am with this hip little hostel. The building originally functioned as sailors' lodging in the late 1800s and then transformed into a Chinese dance hall, movie set, and housing for gypsy royalty. (Luckily none of these transformations damaged the absolutely stunning original wooden staircases...swoon). The Society Hotel now serves as a dreamy little landing place for the adventurous and community-minded traveler, and it will completely change your perception of hostels. They offer a few different boarding options ranging from a hostel-style bunk in a communal room to a private (read: tiny) room with communal bath, to an entirely private bed and bath. The space also boasts of several communal living areas, including a homey reading room (complete with gorgeous leather chesterfield sofas and a fireplace), a rooftop deck, and a cafe. The aptly named Society Cafe was so wonderful, I was tempted to list it below as one of the best places to eat and drink, as Kyle and I kept stopping back in during our adventures for iced coffees or slices of avocado toast.
Eat - Ned Ludd
Ned Ludd was quite possibly the best meal we had all week, which is a tall order since Portland is such an excellent food destination. The restaurant only cooks with fire (!) and uses local ingredients, which pairs nicely with the very eclectic pioneer-esque decor. Kyle and I split an order of spring radishes with green garlic butter (life-changing) over fluffy spiced flatbread, and I also had the handkerchief pasta with local zucchini, fresh cheese, pine nuts, and mint (...are you drooling yet?). It was the kind of place where the chefs make you extra food that you didn't order just so you can try whatever it is that they're perfecting at the moment. Bliss.
Savor - Salt & Straw
Although I'm a chocolate lover to the core, the gal behind the counter at this (mega-famous) ice cream shop gently bullied me into trying "sea salt" (And no, not caramel with sea salt. The ice cream was actually sea salt), and it rocked my world. I also tried "olive oil" (which was stupidly delicious) and ended up with a generous portion of "honey lavender." We were bummed that we discovered this shop on our last day in the city, as we wanted to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths (although I think Kyle mostly wanted to go back because he took a liking to the girl working there...).
Sip - Heart Roasters
Heart was a refreshingly understated little shop that served as our pivot point between a morning of shopping and an afternoon nap (if you know us, you'll know it was Kyle, not me, who did both the shopping and the napping). I'm still thinking about that basil iced tea that I downed much too quickly.
Shop - Alder & Co.
This sweet shop was pure magic. For starters, it smelled heavenly, and the ambiance was something out of my most decadent daydreams (think Anthropologie, but about seven thousand times more lovely and soft and pure and wonderful). Every item had me absolutely in love, and if I weren't a penny-pinching college student, I would have bought the entire store. (Also, Alder & Co. houses just about the sweetest little flower stand in all of Portland.)
Wander - Horsetail Falls
We were trying to get to Multnomah Falls, but we couldn't find parking (it was a perfectly blue, sparkling day, so everyone else in Portland had the same idea as we did). In looking for a place to turn around, we stumbled across Horsetail Falls, which is where we ended up spending the most soul-nourishing afternoon. We picnicked beside one waterfall, munching on Oregon berries and creamy bites of brie, before packing up our knapsacks and heading up the trail. I wasn't wearing hiking shoes, so I wasn't sure how far I could make it before the soles of my trusty white sneaks gave out, but the hike turned out to be more of an uphill stroll. During the hike, we turned a blind corner and were faced with the most spectacular sight of a huge waterfall and pond nestled amongst the forest. Jaw dropping. We sat behind the roaring water, soaked up the perfectly green, lush foliage around us, and thought about how crazy beautiful this world we live in is. How's that for a little soul food?
P.S.: You can find Kyle over on his site, Edward Imaginative.
I headed to San Diego for twenty-four hours to surprise my best pal for her twenty-second birthday. The weather may have been "June gloom," but boy, oh, boy was it a joyful day!
P.S.: That sweet little flower shop is called Native Poppy.
I was honored to take college-graduation portraits for my friend Melissa. I've known her since I was eighteen months old—where has the time gone?
Joyfully in Christ,
A sweet little weekend in San Diego to celebrate my best friend's recent engagement + the beginning of spring break...
P.S.: All photos taken with Canon T2i camera body + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II lens
Hi friends! Here's a quick video I shot this weekend in one of my favorite places—San Luis Obispo, California—with some of the best people I know.
Now that school has resumed once more (bittersweet), I find myself lingering over photos from winter break and wishing I could live it twice more. Here are some of my favorite moments from the season...
Happy 2016! I hope your year overflows with love, intentionality, and lots of dreamy seaside mornings.
2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...
1. Treasure your health (and your mama).
Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health.
2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive.
Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail).
3. Savor the little things.
Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day.
4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally).
With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).
5. Let yourself dream.
As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).
Happy (almost) New Year, friends!
This video won second place in the statewide "California Religious Pluralism Video Project," a contest put on by the Religious Studies Departments from California State and University of California schools.
I think we tend to forget that diversity exists even within the terrain of a single religious tradition. This is the story of my ancestors—of four diverse forms of Christianity—and how California was the very place where my international ancestry (and their respective forms of Christianity) converged. This is my California Religious Pluralism story.
Joyfully in Christ,
This past year marked my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. In light of this, my older brother, Kyle, and I reflected upon the life lessons our parents have instilled in us over the years. Without getting too nostalgic or saccharine, here is an A-Z list of some of our favorites.
A: Allow for U-turns.
Plans change and interests shift. Be compassionate toward yourself and change direction if need be. High school, college, jobs—these are all evolutionary experiences, and adjustments are sometimes necessary.
B: Be a Good Samaritan.
Be kindhearted, and go out of your way to help others. Do things that make Jesus smile.
C: Character over comfort.
I can't emphasize enough how many times I've heard this phrase. My parents were all about pushing us to do the right thing, do the hard thing, do the uncomfortable thing on our own so that we could learn (rather than them rushing to our aid and fixing all of our problems for us).
D: Doing what's right is probably not the same thing as doing what's popular.
I am such an unabashed rule-follower. Although rules can feel superfluous at times, they usually exist for a reason. And even though blatant defiance is "cool," it's usually not right (unless it is—use your best judgment).
E: Eat your veggies.
...and your fruit! Especially if it comes from the garden.
F: Follow your passions.
During her first year in a biochemistry Ph.D. program, my mom realized that although she liked science, she didn't love it. Prior to college, her parents told her she could only pursue math or science, even though her real passion was writing. So when I wanted to change majors (and then change schools), she was nothing but supportive.
G: Gossip is destructive.
Stick up for others, change the subject, and walk away if need be. Gossip isn't worth the repercussions.
H: Hold others to a high standard.
Sometimes my brother and I can take this to extremes, but for good reason. Build a community of accountability. Hold yourself to a high standard, humbly accepting critiques on your poor judgment and actions, and do the same for those around you. Push one another to be better.
I: Intentionality makes for strong relationships.
Back your words and actions in careful thought and lots of love, and watch your relationships grow deeper and stronger.
J: Jump on opportunities.
Admittedly, my brother is much better at this than I am (I am much more cautious, which comes with the territory of being an introvert). But when I voiced interest in transferring high schools to the brand new one, trying out for varsity cheerleading, going to college out of state (and subsequently transferring to a college in state), my parents encouraged me to try new things and say "yes."
K: Keep your standards high.
Don't settle—in friendships, academics, jobs, and certainly don't settle in romantic relationships. Keep heart, and keep your standards high.
L: Look for the intention behind words and actions.
Thinking about why people behaved the way they did makes for increased empathy and understanding. Did they have good intentions but bad execution?
M: Make it a great day.
My dad would always say this when he dropped me off for school (that one glorious year in elementary school that I didn't take the school bus). Make it a great day. Actively make your day excellent, rather than passively letting the day happen to you.
N: No TV on weekdays
I was rather unpopular for this in middle school and high school, as I was that one "weird kid" who wasn't up-to-speed on Pretty Little Liars or what have you. My brother and I weren't allowed to watch TV during the school week, which encouraged us to spend our time outside, in the pool, or with our nose in a book. And although I could watch TV on the weekends, I still wasn't up-to-speed on the trendy television shows—I opted for Scooby Doo, Phineas and Ferb, and Lizzie McGuire reruns.
O: Offer kindness.
Be kind, be kind, be kind. It's so simple.
P: Pray unceasingly.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Q: Question your motivations.
My brother and I have always been encouraged to be introspective about our motivations. Why did I want to take singing lessons in the seventh grade? Because I loved to sing? Or because I wanted to be Hannah Montana? (It was, undoubtedly, the latter, and the dream didn't last very long.) I ask myself the same questions now. Why do I want to post Picture A on social media? Because I genuinely want to share it with my friends or because I'm searching for attention? Be honest with yourself about your underlying motivations.
R: Remember birthdays.
Send a card. Send a text. One minute of effort can brighten someone's entire day.
S: Send thank you notes.
This was such a strictly enforced rule in our household that it eventually became second nature to me and my brother. I know that I feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone sends me a thank you note, so I want to extend my gratitude to others.
T: The clock keeps ticking.
I hated my first "real" summer job—working retail at a beachside surf shop. The hours were long, the breaks were short, and the tourists were both plentiful and generally unpleasant. Although I felt lucky to have a job at all, I dreaded going to work every day. My mom reminded me that whether I'm having fun or not, the clock keeps ticking. Even if I was having a lousy time, I could trust that the seconds were still ticking by, one step closer to closing time.
U: Understand the opposing point of view.
Be it small disagreements, political debates, or the world religions, understanding the other side is extremely valuable. While this understanding may help you better argue your case, it can also deepen your feelings of empathy toward the other person/party.
V: Verbalize (“use your words”).
I was, admittedly, a bit of a quiet pouter when I was little. Instead of sticking out my lower lip and sulking, I was encouraged to "use my words" and verbalize what, exactly, was upsetting me. As an INFJ and an HSP, I tend to feel and think deeply and internalize those thoughts and feelings, so the reminder to use my words is still significant.
W: Wear sunscreen.
Growing up in a family of swimmers (sans my dad), slathering up in orange-scented sunscreen was part of the daily regimen (and for good reason: skin cancer runs in the family).
X: Extend compassion.
Push yourself to extend compassion even when it takes a great deal of concentrated effort. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "it is easy to be heavy, hard to be light." (Can you tell that empathy, compassion, and kindness were the major themes of our childhood lessons?)
Y: Your sibling is your greatest supporter
...and competitor. :-)
Z: (Get your) Zzzzzs!.
Early to bed, early to rise. As you can see in the photo below, we have always taken our naps very seriously (I was three; Kyle was seven).
Joyfully in Christ,
Hello friends! I spent this past weekend in San Francisco, so I took the opportunity to film another little lighthearted video.
I seem to be on a sort of video kick as of late! As with the last video, I used a Canon Rebel T2i camera with a 50mm lens, and I edited the footage in Final Cut Pro. I'm still just starting out with cinematography, but I feel like the practice is already paying off in subtle ways (i.e., I actually understand some of the buttons...). Enjoy!
P.S.: If the embedded video doesn't load properly, you can access the video by clicking here.
I love lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, bucket lists, shopping lists—my thoughts feel much more streamlined when they’re written down in neat, little bulleted columns.
And although I can’t deny the convenience of typing away on the notes app on my iPhone, I am overwhelmingly partial to pen and paper. A fresh notebook and an uncapped pen hold the (naïve?) promise that with a few focused minutes of list-making, I can, indeed, create order from chaos. The downside of paper lists, of course, is that they are everywhere. My lists are in my journal, in my philosophy notebook, on the backs of receipts, on sticky notes, and in the margins of my Spanish textbook. They're on the back of the church bulletin, on the back of envelopes, on the back of the Trader Joe’s ad, and on the back of my hand. I am, at my core, a highly organized person, but my proclivity for list-making has been testing my tidiness.
I recently purchased a vintage Pee Chee folder to collect all of my list-y bits and scraps (the same folder that my mom used when she was in high school—I love old fashioned things), and there’s something so satisfying about having all of my papers in one place, neat and accessible. What I need to do, what I want to do, things I’m curious about, things I’m anxious about, people that inspire me—a little rifle through the papers is a little rifle through my mind. It's become a non-linear diary of sorts.
When I compiled my overabundance of lists, I came up with a sort of “best of” collection of all the things, people, and events that I have been enjoying recently. As highly idiosyncratic as “favorites” are, I love to read about them on other people’s blogs or watch them on YouTube, so I'm sharing mine in hopes that it will be just as fun for someone else to read as it was for me to create. Here goes...
For the sartorialist...
Madewell: I'm not particularly passionate about fashion, but I do have a sartorial vice that goes by the name of Madewell. My wardrobe is very small and minimalistic, as I'm drawn more to versatility, fit, and quality than I am to trendiness. Also, I keep my wardrobe edited down to about 40 items maximum, so I can be incredibly picky when I do decide to make a purchase (farewell to the almost perfect jeans that I sent back this week), and I am consequently more willing to spend a little extra money for a well-constructed, practical item. My favorite pieces in my wardrobe from the tomboyishly cool and artfully effortless brand? These magically flattering black pants (currently sold out, unfortunately), this simple bag, and this practical coat (also sold out as of now).
For the intellectual...
MIT Open Courseware classes: On this site, you can access free course materials from 2,260 MIT classes. On my to-do list? Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism; History of Western Thought, 500-1300; Politics and Religion; and Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times. (Yale has a similar program called Open Yale courses.)
The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.: This graphic emphasizes the high degree of specialization that a Ph.D. student pursues and contrasts it with the whole wide world of human knowledge. I'm planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in Religious Studies in the near future, so this graphic was relevant to me, but I think in general it's just humbling to think about the vastness of human knowledge and innovation.
Printable Sudoku Puzzles: I love sudoku so much that it's concerning. Sudoku puzzles make for the perfect study break, as they require concentrated effort but are still very soothing (see, I told you, it's concerning). The rules are simple, and starting out on the "easy" puzzles makes for a luxurious little confidence boost. P.S.: I may or may not have asked for (and was generously given) a book of sudoku puzzles for my 21st birthday. I am a very wild 21-year-old, can't you tell?
Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk: I highly recommend watching Monica's TED talk (TED standing for Technology, Education, and Design) on cyberbullying and her experiences as a scapegoat (she even mentions how many rap songs that her name appears in, which is just so saddening). She is a skilled public speaker, and her message about cyberbullying is both powerful and heartbreaking (I told myself I wouldn't cry, but I did). If you click on anything from this list, please watch this.
Cal Newport's Blog: I have been reading Cal Newport's blog for at least five years, so I don't even remember how I stumbled across it (but I'm glad I did). On his blog, Newport explores concepts like deep habits, focus, and efficiency as they relate to school and work. He received his Ph.D. from MIT and is currently an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, specializing in the theory of distributed algorithms. He also has written a few books, with his latest being So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
For the old soul...
The Invention of Teenagers: LIFE and the Triumph of Youth Culture: This article explores the creation and evolution of "American teenaged culture" in the 1940s. After you read the article, don't forget to scroll through the slideshow at the top of the page (Image 14 is my favorite, by far). As an old soul, this had me dreaming of what my life would have been like seventy years ago.
For the adventurer...
Imagining the Universe: Cosmology in Art and Science: If you enjoy outer space, science, and art, or dreamed about being an astronaut when you were little, you'll love seeing how these topics relate. (Make sure you spend some time zooming in on the moon—I thought that was nifty.)
Autocamp: Santa Barbara's "Autocamp" is a boutique airstream hotel that is so darn hip and cute. They also have soon-to-be-open locations in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Francisco. I love seeing how hotels are becoming increasingly innovative and funky—they don't all have to be characterized by ugly carpet and low-quality chocolate chip cookies.
For the bookworm...
Snacks of the Great Scribblers: This New York Times sketch illustrates the not-so-normal snacks of choice of some of the world's greatest writers. I think I would get along quite well with Michael Pollan, Joyce Maynard, and Emily Dickinson.
J.K. Rowling's Hagrid Hut: J.K. Rowling is building a replica of Hagrid's hut in her yard in Scotland. Some have speculated that this will be where she'll work on the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, I might add, I am so excited for, the unabashed Harry Potter fan that I am. Additional and slightly related side note: I love asking people which Harry Potter house they see themselves in and who their favorite character is. Harry Potter is a great way to get to know a person—I would definitely be a Hufflepuff, and I see myself as a hybrid mix of Hermione and Neville.
For the entrepreneur...
The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People: This infographic illustrates how some of the most famous creative people structure(ed) their days. I sent this to my brother (a self-proclaimed creative), and he loved it, so naturally you will too.
Kinfolk: Issue 15, The Entrepreneurs Issue, focuses on the spirit of entrepreneurship in the workplace and seeks to encourage a healthier work-and-leisure balance than what is currently the norm. In general, I love this magazine company for its depth and attention to aesthetics.
#The100DayProject: 100 days of creating more than we consume. Whether it's coding, writing, photography, whatever, this is a cool project that encourages diving deeper into your craft and making time for it every single day.
For the artist...
Nobody Likes Me (Street Art): This street art is ridiculously cool, and I think there's a lot of meaning we can glean from this piece regarding self-esteem and attention span. I do think that the typical Millennial's sense of self-esteem has grown dependent on a constant influx of social media notifications and positive reinforcement (speaking to the common phrase "technology is a good servant but a bad master"). Also, the age of the subject is concerning (on purpose, I think), sparking a discussion on what age is appropriate for cell phones and social media. It already has me thinking about at what age my future child will have a phone—I hope to be the parent that facilitates outdoor and imaginative play over apps and computer games.
For the spiritual...
Bible Journaling: I love that art can be a form of worship. Bible journaling weaves creativity into daily "quiet time," as beautifully demonstrated by Shanna Noel on her site Illustrated Faith. If you're a Christian with a love for painting, drawing, or calligraphy, you will probably love this. As a creative and Jesus-loving person that hates coloring "inside of the lines," I really connected with the freedom and deep, spiritual purpose of Bible Journaling.
Joyfully in Christ,
"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk" (Cain).
In part one of this small series on introversion, I explored the extrovert ideal that is engrained in American culture, and I shared my experiences of “faking” extroversion as a sort of survival mechanism in the high school halls. I have, since high school and early college, embraced my own introverted tendency, delighting in it, rather than fighting it. This post is about solitude, meant for likeminded introverts or curious extroverts who have an introverted friend or family member (half of my family is of the ultra-extroverted, hyper-gregarious sort; I do hope they’re reading).
I must preface this discussion with a few things: firstly, I am not a scientist, I am not a psychologist, I am not a doctor. My credibility lies only in my experience of being a highly introverted person with highly extroverted friends and family members, as well as being a decently well-read person. Secondly, I am also an HSP—Highly Sensitive Person—so my introversion is colored by this quality. This means that I have a high sensory processing sensitivity; HSPs are hyperaware of subtle changes in environment, process sensory input on a deep and thorough level, and, consequently, are easily overaroused by sensory stimulus that the majority of people aren’t bothered by (or don’t even notice). It is, essentially, a biological difference in the nervous system. About 15% of people are Highly Sensitive, and it’s also important to note that not all introverts are HSPs, and not all HSPs are introverts (if you are interested in learning more about this, The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron is a great read, as is The Highly Sensitive Child, if you have children). All disclaimers aside, let’s continue our look at introversion and solitude.
The life of an introvert is the life of the mind—rich, quiet, imaginative, thoughtful, and internally focused. The life of the extrovert, by contrast, is the life of the party—lively, vivacious, highly social, and externally driven.
The extrovert feels energized and inspired by networking events, endless chatter, and parties bursting at the seams with friends, acquaintances, and strangers (the latter, of course, are not really strangers by the extrovert’s standard—a stranger is a friend that is yet to be met). But introverts leave these experiences feeling depleted; in these situations, introverts spend their energy, and extroverts gain it. The common misconception? Introverts are antisocial. The reality: introverts do enjoy being with others, nurturing deep relationships, engaging in meaningful conversation (with a general abhorrence of small talk), and cultivating community. When I attend (read: get dragged along to) my dad’s entrepreneur networking events, his goal is to talk to as many people as possible, bounding around, making new connections and having a grand old time. My goal? Find one really nice person to talk to (and maybe find some snacks) and eventually retire to a quiet corner of the room to recharge and reflect.
A highly simplistic comparison of introversion versus extroversion from my non-scientific and experience-driven perspective is as follows: while the (college-aged) extrovert opts for weekend-long music festivals, theme parks, and standing at the fifty-yard line at college football games, the introvert seeks solitude, preferring quiet mornings at the beach, unhurried hikes (picnic lunch included), and wandering through bookshops. The introvert sees the extrovert’s activities of choice as exhausting, overly stimulating, and just plain noisy. The extrovert sees the introvert’s activities of choice as quiet, overly tame, and painfully boring. This is simplistic, as some people may enjoy activities from both categories, but the example is still helpful in painting the contrast.
To put this into a work-related context, “introverts enjoy shutting the doors to their offices and plunging into their work, because for them this sort of quiet intellectual activity is optimally stimulating, while extroverts function best when engaged in higher-wattage activities like organizing team-building workshops or chairing meetings” (Cain).
Cain uses Stephen Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, as the creative, introverted paradigm:
I love Cain’s discussion on Wozniak, because it highlights the importance of solitude as a catalyst for creativity (and I'm also an Apple fan). Woz himself encourages people to “work alone”—in his experience as an engineer, innovative breakthroughs are the product of quiet, solitary, intense focus, rather than of group brainstorming sessions and team meetings (Cain’s book also provides an excellent dialogue on how working in a group might not be as beneficial and efficient as schools and workplaces make it seem—perhaps more on that another time).
Cain's more unlikely example of this creative, solitude-seeking introvert? Dr. Seuss.
I was drawn to the Dr. Seuss example, because his cheerful, bouncing rhymes and brightly colored illustrations seem to radiate an equally unreserved, quirky, splashy, bouncy sort of extroversion (Tigger from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh comes to mind). This contrast between Geisel's temperament and his books' content emphasizes the rich, imaginative inner life of the introvert. It also reaffirms that introverts need to seek time alone to recharge, reflect, and create; Geisel's creativity was nurtured not by rambunctious meet-and-greets with his readership, but by the peace and quiet of his own home. (I'm sure his unobstructed ocean view was also helpful. I have kayaked past his house before, and it's stunning—if you ever find yourself on a kayak in La Jolla, California, I recommend paddling out near the cliffs and caves to see it from the water.)
Extending the example of the introverted writer, Cain says, “...it’s always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communion with writers...[that] I’ll never meet in person. Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader ‘that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.’ His use of religious language was surely no accident.” Besides their wisdom and creativity, Geisel and Wozniak are bound by their common introversion and the brilliant work that unfolded out of solitude. The mind of an introvert is intellectually fertile—both a sanctuary and a stimulus—and can produce great things if given quiet, even in a world that can’t stop talking.
Joyfully (and rather quietly),
I’m frequently asked why I study the world religions. Isn't it enough to know the ins and outs of my own faith? Why bother studying a religion whose far-flung adherents live hundreds of thousands of long and ocean-drenched miles away?
How on earth are the 613 mitzvoth, or commandments, of Judaism relevant to me? Why would I ever need to know Buddha’s Four Noble Truths or the Eight-Fold Path? And besides, isn’t that dangerous to learn about other faiths? Doesn’t it put my own in jeopardy?
Some of those questions are harder to answer than others, especially when I’m just taken aback from being asked them, sputtering and trying to formulate an answer that is probably, in the asker’s mind, already the wrong one. But for starters, no, it is not “enough” for me to just know my religion. Before you decide how offended you need to be, kindly let me explain. On a spiritual level, yes, it is enough for me to know just the ins and outs of my religion. Christ is enough. His grace is enough. His love is enough. As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus died on the cross to save me from myself and my sin in order to give me the unfathomably amazing chance to spend eternity with Him.
But on an academic level, no, it is not enough for me to just know my religion. I need to understand more than my own little sliver of the world.
Huston Smith, a big name in the Religious Studies world (yes, there is such a thing), once wrote that the greatest reason for studying the world religions is “to enjoy the wider angle the vision affords.” He continues: “I am, of course, speaking metaphorically of vision and view, but an analogue from ocular sight fits perfectly. Without two eyes—binocular vision—there is no awareness of space’s third dimension. Until sight converges from more than one angle, the world looks as flat as a postcard. The rewards of having two eyes are practical; they keep us from bumping into chairs and enable us to judge the speed of approaching cars. But the final reward is the deepened view of the world itself—the panoramas that unroll before us, the vistas that extend from our feet. It is the same with ‘the eye of the soul,’ as Plato called it. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’”
Religion is the pulse that beats through our lives, veins, and hearts. It underpins politics, economics, relationships, and hardships. Religion soothes and shatters, heals and harms. It is quite possibly the most highly polarizing topic, and for good reason—it’s central to the human experience. Even those who don’t adhere to a particular religion or don’t believe in God or any sort of higher power are impacted by religion every day. Political decisions, laws, literature—if you listen hard enough, you can hear religion’s heartbeat, however muffled or emphatic, in every moment.
So why is this? Why does religion seep into every aspect of our lives? It’s because religion is alive.
“[Religion exists] not as a dull habit but as an acute fever. It is about religion alive. And when religion jumps to life it displays a startling quality. It takes over. All else, while not silenced, becomes subdued and thrown into a supporting role” (Smith).
Even when subdued, religion is still pulsating quietly. It’s pulsating in public schools. It’s pulsating in politics. And it is certainly pulsating in more places than just Christian churches. That’s the crux of it—to study the world religions is to realize the power and prevalence of religion, but also to recognize its global role and role outside of my own religious experience. The religious texture of the world is undeniable; to shield myself from the religions of the world is to, like Huston Smith’s metaphor, live with monocular vision, not unlike a horse with blinders, living safely but small-mindedly in a world “as flat as a postcard.”
Religion, of course, has its sharp edges. The media makes sure we’re aware of that much, pandering (unabashedly) to an entertainment-worshiping society. After all, “the full story of religion is not rose-colored; often it is crude. Wisdom and charity are intermittent, and the net result is profoundly ambiguous” (Smith). And it's easy to dwell on the darkness. As G.K. Chesterton said, "it is easy to be heavy: hard to be light"—a profound and paradoxical truth.
But religion also provides a sense of purpose, and the ability to glean meaning out of madness and comfort from chaos. It’s what drenches our earth in color, nurtures our tired hearts, and guides our steps. We can lose our health and our homes, our jobs and finances and friends, but in the face of uncontrollable circumstance, we can hold religion as tightly to our chests as we wish.
It is, in essence, all we really have.
When I woke up this morning, the familiar feeling of pre-exam dread filled every sleepy cell in my body (though it wasn’t quite enough to jolt me awake—even as a morning person, I felt far more tortured than exhilarated by my 6:00 alarm).
Luckily, I had packed my school bag the night before, ensuring that my morning would be as painless as possible: keys, wallet, textbook, flashcards, pleasure-reading book (an after-exam treat, to read under a nice, leafy tree), and five black ballpoint pens (just in case, you know, four of them stop working).
I planned to arrive at my exam appointment an hour early so that I would have a comfortable cushion of time for a little unexpected traffic and a little last-minute review. Much to my disappointment, only minutes after backing out of the driveway, I encountered much more than “a little unexpected traffic.” It was, to state it clearly, the messy, tangled, slow globs of cars that just can’t seem to go already, the light is green, for goodness sake! And so, what usually takes a few minutes of driving and walking time slowly percolated—twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour later, I was pulling into the parking lot. By the time I found a space, I had only a few precious minutes in which to trek a mile, so I set off at a speed walk that would undeniably make the snowy-haired ladies in my neighborhood very, very jealous.
With my extra hour of review time eaten up by the excess of cars and red lights and vindictive crossing guards (the latter of which made me stop at a crosswalk for five very protracted minutes as the entire teenaged population sloooooowly sauntered across the street), I had no choice but to leave my textbook in the car and review past perfect subjunctive conjugations in my head en route to my exam.
Once at my proctoring appointment, I pulled out my five black pens, ready to take on the world (more or less), only to find out that the CD-ROM that my professor sent in the mail was faulty; she would have to send a new one, and I would have to reschedule, but have a nice day. And so, back into my pencil pouch went my five black ballpoint pens.
Upon exiting the building, my (now incredibly short) hair flew every which-way, as the wind picked up in the way it only can during the springtime. So, no reading my book under a nice, leafy tree.
I also tripped sometime after this escapade. A very visible trip. In front of many people.
Analytic as I am, I immediately started dissecting my day. Where did it go wrong? What was the exact point where things turned sour? How could I have better prepared? Should I have left two hours early instead of one? Called my professor three weeks ago to ensure she sent the correct exam disc? Brought six black ballpoint pens pens instead of five?
As the options got more and more ridiculous, I realized that the root of the problem was my fierce insistence that I should be able to control every aspect of my day.
But today illustrated that I have to have some level of dependence on other people—my professor, the proctor, that dictatorial crossing guard—and no number of extra black ballpoint pens can equip me for the unexpected.
No extra cushion of time can 100% guarantee that I’ll have ample time to get to where I need to go. And not all days are suited for reading beneath trees (the sad, sad truth). Certainly, it’s helpful to plan ahead, for had I not left an hour early, I would have been an hour late. These kinds of precautions help, like bringing a sweatshirt in case the fog rolls in, but they ultimately aren’t our safeguards or talismans against traffic or accidents or cancelations.
Today also made me realize that every person you or I encounter during the day functions as a domino in a lengthy line—someone’s actions affected someone else, and now that person’s actions are affecting you. So who, in turn, will your actions affect? How will you affect them? I made the decision while standing in the proctoring office, empty handed (and a little sweaty from my gnarly speed walk), to handle the situation with flexibility and poise and a whole lot of grace. And though I did a bit of healthy venting to my mom later that day, I sincerely think that my conscious (albeit reluctant) decision to handle my circumstances with a light heart and an open mind actually served to convince me that the day wasn’t so bad after all (except for the part when I tripped... I’m still kind of blushing about that).
“'Respect for individual human personality has with us reached its lowest point,' observed one intellectual in 1921, 'and it is delightfully ironical that no nation is so constantly talking about personality as we are. We actually have schools for ‘self-expression’ and ‘self-development,’ although we seem usually to mean the expression and development of the personality of a successful real estate agent'” (Cain).
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain explores the concept of the “extrovert ideal” that is so deeply woven in American culture, and, serving as the main theme and point of contrast, the concept of introversion. She highlights the alienation that introverts sometimes feel living in a world (seemingly) full of the chatty, gregarious, real-estate-agent types. The introvert, as defined by Cain’s book, is “reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned,” whereas “this person’s opposite number” is defined as the quintessential “‘man of action’ who is ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight."
Quiet also digs into the importance of authenticity: “If you’re a sensitive sort,” Cain says, “then you may be in the habit of pretending to be more of a politician and less cautious or single-mindedly focused than you actually are.” It’s within the pages of Quiet that Cain illustrates why introverts don’t need to—and shouldn’t—turn to this falsely extroverted façade.
This technique of fake extroversion resonated with me, because as a (younger) teenager, faking it is exactly what I did. “Adolescence is the great stumbling place, the dark and tangled thicket of low self-esteem and social unease,” Cain explains. “In middle and high school, the main currency is vivacity and gregariousness; attributes like depth and sensitivity don’t count for much.” Amen.
I began to feel this unexplainable pressure to be extroverted at my second high school. As a new student in a completely brand new school, I was faced with an overabundance of extracurricular activities to join, each with nearly empty sign-up sheets. ASB, class council, charity clubs, spirit clubs, sports—I felt like I needed to do everything if I was going to make friends, be liked, be successful, or get into college. I traded my lifelong (and rather solitary) sport of swimming for the cheerleading squad. I became a club president. I spent my lunches in the thick of the cafeteria, surrounded by girlish shrieks and gossip and fistfights. And while some of those experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone for the better, I can’t help but look back on my (second) high school experience and wish I had followed my intuition, passions, and curiosities more truthfully. I wish I had spent my lunchtimes painting in the art building or researching in the library. I wish I had made more friends who liked literature or cartoons or classical music. I wish I had felt blissfully unaware of the pressure to date, go to parties, be seen and be heard, join everything, and, for lack of a better word, brand myself.
“...Salesmanship governs even the most neutral interactions...every encounter is a high-stakes game in which we win or lose the other person’s favor. It urges us to meet social fear in as extroverted a manner as possible. We must be vibrant and confident, we must not seem hesitant, we must smile so that our interlocutors will smile upon us. Taking these steps will make us feel good—and the better we feel, the better we can sell ourselves” (Cain).
The same pressure—this “salesmanship”—followed me to college. I joined a sorority. I took fashion classes. I lived in the “good” dorm (read: rowdy). The pressure was more immense in college; living in the dorms, it’s highly noticeable if you, for example, choose to stay in on a Thursday or Friday night, rather than dress up and “go out.”
Now that I’m a few years older, I’ve realized that it’s much more satisfying to delight in my introversion rather than fight it. That’s what I had been doing—fighting it, hiding it, and trying to change it to fit in. Attending parties wasn’t going to make me like them any more. Avoiding the library wasn’t going to make me miss it any less.
As Cain says, “Free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz’s research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer.”
P.S.: In the second part of this post (coming in the near future), I want to discuss the power and importance of solitude for introverts and how said solitude can benefit the creative and intellectual process.