On Perfectionism

I sent out my graduation announcements last week, & now I'm feeling all sorts of nostalgic.

What a sweet five years it's been! I am so thankful for the English and Religious Studies Departments at Cal Poly for teaching me what it means to be tenacious and purpose driven but gracious, gentle, and kind. What a gift it has been to know and be known by this community of brilliant, open-hearted people.  

Of course, it wasn't always peachy. Peppered among the joyful moments and rich friendships were stress tears, quarter-life crises, and heartbreaks. But most consuming was the perfectionism that seeped into every inch of my life during my last year of college. 

Before I fully grappled with perfectionism myself, I had a hard time taking seriously any person who claimed to be a “perfectionist.” Wasn’t that just a dramatic way to say that someone puts effort into their life? And didn’t it seem a little… pretentious? I felt that nestled in the word “perfectionist” was a self-righteous claim that the person in question produced flawless work or lived a perfect life. But as perfectionism gained a firm grip on my life during my last year of college, I realized just how serious and harmful that mindset can be. 

Let’s turn back the clock two months. 

It’s the middle of March at 3:00am on a Tuesday morning, and finals are quickly approaching. I’m sitting crosslegged on the floor, surrounded by thick literature anthologies and miscellaneous stacks of paper. The town is trudging through a heat wave, so my windows are flung open in the attempt to coax a sea breeze inside. But instead, my studio is filled with stale, hot air. I've stripped down to my skivvies with a fan pointed at my face and my chin propped up in my hands. I’m underfed, underslept, and probably overcaffeinated. I can’t remember the last time I slept for more than five hours or had three balanced meals in a day. All I can think about is the Israeli-Palestinian War and literary surrealism and Hindu metaphysics and Emily Dickinson and the impact of artificial intelligence on monistic and dualistic religion. It’s all melding together, and my strands of thought are tangled so tightly that I can’t even remember which topic is for which class. I’m struggling with nightmares, panic attacks, and food aversion, but I don't know how to stop. 

Up until this point—we’re still frozen in that moment at 3:00am on a Tuesday morning in March—I had never gotten a B at my university. Never. I had received a few A- grades in the past, all of which left me feeling deeply disappointed in myself. It was like those minus signs were little malicious smudges on my transcript, soiling an otherwise-perfect record. But this quarter, having taken on too many units and responsibilities, my grades were suddenly teetering not on the familiar edge between an A and A- but between an A- and a B+. Numerically, this is a very small difference. But in my mind, this was of towering significance; if A- meant mediocrity, certainly B+ meant failure. 

Strangely, this dichotomy I had cleaved onto (that A = perfect, A- = mediocre, B+ = failure) was not something I projected upon anyone else. I rejoiced with my friends when they received a B on a term paper or a C in a challenging class. I was able to celebrate their achievements and see their lives more clearly than my own. 

I wish I could tell you that after that 3am morning in the middle of March, I was able to push through the quarter with straight As. Instead, my very last quarter of college was pockmarked by an A- and three B+s. Yes, three of them. The girl who had never gotten a B received three all at once. I wish I could tell you that despite those three B+s, I still graduated with highest honors. Instead, I missed graduating summa cum laude (the highest of the three honors levels) by 0.006 grade points. Yes, 0.006. And no, they don't round up. 

I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I can't do it all, and I certainly can't do it all flawlessly. By putting so much pressure on myself, I had made "perfect" the enemy of "good." I felt like if I couldn't do something perfectly, it wasn't worth it to just do it well, so maybe it wasn't worth it to do it at all. 

After finishing college, I started working in a startup incubator—a fast-paced environment where perfect isn't an option. When we work on a product or design, we shoot for 80% satisfaction. For one thing, it's impossible to make 100% of customers, investors, and mentors happy. For another, we're a small team, so we don't have the luxury of lingering over tasks for long periods of time. Startup culture has quickly taught me that aiming for perfection is unreasonable, and that it's much more productive to set small, measurableattainable goals.

I recently stumbled across a passage in John Steinbeck's East of Eden that has guided my mindset over the past two months. Steinbeck writes about accepting imperfections and mistakes as part of the human condition, and allowing yourself to be good rather than perfect. His words are already plastered across my graduation cap in preparation for the official ceremony in June, and I know those same words will help guide my efforts in graduate school next year.

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 

joyfully + imperfectly, 

 
 

Life with a Rare Brain Condition | Visual Snow

Hi friends, due to the massive influx of emails and messages I've received about this post, I will no longer be responding to messages. Thank you for understanding! Please check the FAQ at the end of this post for my answers to questions I receive the most.   

On November 22, 2015 I was fine. On November 23, 2015 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, 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 below is a simulator to help you with visualizing it.  As I didn't make this animation, it doesn't perfectly align with my experience. If I could edit it, 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 a doctor to fully commit to helping me find relief. Instead, I was passed on from one doctor to the next, none of them wanting to take on my case and advocate for me. 

At that point, I had exhausted my local options, and I felt 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, entrepreneurship) 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.  

 

Abounding in hope,

 
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FAQ 

As a reminder, I no longer respond to emails and messages I receive about VS because there are just too many! My heart goes out to all of you, because I know that VS is scary in the early days. Since my story has been a comfort for a lot of people, here is a recap of the questions I'm asked the most, as well as my answers.

1. How do you deal with your Visual Snow? 

I try my absolute hardest to not let it control my days. I make a very concentrated effort to stay very busy and fill my life with things that bring me joy.

2. Isn't that easier said than done? 

Yes, in some ways. I've had Visual Snow for almost three years now (at the time of writing these FAQs), and staying busy has been the most helpful thing for me--I can actually forget about my VS on some days! It takes a lot of mental toughness and tenacity to stay busy and focused on my goals and daily joys, but it becomes easier with practice. My advice is to keep pushing yourself to continue the activities you enjoy (if possible) and spend time with people you love. Don't let your vision take those things from you--you do have power over your VS, even if it doesn't feel like it. 

3. What about visual snow-related anxiety? 

I like to journal to stay calm and work through my anxieties. Talking with a therapist also helps. I've found that anxiety makes my VS seem worse, so being extra gentle with myself and tackling my anxiety helped my VS as well. 

 

California, My Hippie Heart, and a Beachy Buddha

Being San Diego bred, my soul is naturally infused with those hippie, sea-salt-encrusted, save-the-whales, be-one-with-the-earth type of beliefs.

“You’re so Cali,” people in Texas tell me.

I cringe and stare down at my mint Vans or chocolate brown Rainbows. Never say Cali in my presence. It is truly not a real word, but it is the best indicator of who is not from California. I can just feel all of my California readers fervently nodding their heads along to the rhythm of this paragraph. Cali is a horrible, horrible word. But alas, we are all rooted to different corners of the Earth, and so things like this are forgivable (when I push my little California attitude aside).

I cannot, however, push my California soul aside.

I am a free spirit, a dreamer, and a happy soul seeker. I crave sunshine as others do richly hued wine. The ocean nourishes, recharges, and refreshes me; it is my medication and meditation. Wading to my knees or slicing through waves, the ocean is everything—a place for solitude, gathering, thinking, laughing. The ocean is core work, balance and breathing techniques, subtle scares of seaweed around the ankle, and melting layers of sunscreen. The water is liquid magic. It is like this icy radiance that swirls around my body, enveloping me in sloppy, lapping hugs and salty kisses. Navy water is stitched with white foam, spilling over from wave to wave.

Overcome by the brilliance of creation, I think of the artist Himself: “The Earth is full of His unfailing love. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars. He puts the deep into storehouses.” (Psalms 33:5-7)

I am (unabashedly) a Christian. I am also a religion major, and so it is my “job” to examine a multitude of religious traditions utilizing epoche, a way to bracket off personal biases. Being so firm in my faith and my adoration of Christ, I am able to see other people’s religious traditions as just that—other people’s religious traditions, which neither offend nor threaten me or my beliefs. There are certainly practices that I am uncomfortable with or don’t understand, but the beauty of Christ is that he loves everyone, so I strive to cultivate the same loving, open mindset when I explore these traditions. 

As a scholar of religion, I delight in drawing similarities between Buddha’s teachings (500 years before Jesus), and the teachings of Christ—my rock and salvation and gentle shepherd. One of the things I love about Buddhism is the Eightfold Path, as part of the Fourth Noble Truth (the path to the end of suffering). The Eightfold Path is divided into three sections:

-       Mindfulness: Meditation practice

-       Virtue: Morals and being a good little earthling and buddy to others

-       Wisdom: Learning, blooming, growing, and evolving every day

The other thing I love about Buddhism is the strong emphasis on the Earth—preserving it, loving it, nurturing it. Way back when (and potentially still in some areas), Buddhist monks and nuns were not allowed to travel during rainy season, for fear that they would accidentally step on insects and other creatures lodged in the mud (the same is true in Jainism; Jains believe all sentient beings have “jivas,” or living souls).

About a month ago, I was browsing through Mind Body Green and came across this explanation of why “om” (or “aum”) is significant to those who practice meditation and chanting.

“Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating – nothing is really standing still. The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. As such AUM is the basic sound of the universe; so by chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe.”

(Radical)

The way I see it, living beings, nature, and the universe are all created by God. This element of creation binds us in relationship with the Earth—just as God cares for us, he cares for how the lilies grow.

And so, in a sort of "Beach Buddha" manner, I leave you with this nugget of wisdom (let’s say crystal of wisdom, and make me even more of a hippie soul):

“With each inhale, lift your heart closer to the sun. With each exhale, root your feet more deeply in the ground (or perhaps... the sand).”

Be in this world, not of it. Believe in the magic of creation. Be gentle to the earth. And while you’re at it, eat wholesome and clean foods, seeds instead of grains, lots of leafy greens, and meet me at the beach.

Namaste.


Joyfully in Christ-

(And happily en route to California for spring break)

The Reflection Phase: 25 Things I Learned from 2013

A year is a small bundle of moments, sewn into the pages of a calendar, and smudged in the top right corner of our history homework. There isn’t enough time or power in one little year for life to radically shift...right?

Every December 31st, teetering on the brink of a brand-new year, I think life can’t really change that much in 365 days. Entering into 2013, I felt that I had sipped every last drop of novelty that life had to offer; I was a second-semester freshman, and would later be a friend of summer, followed by a first-semester sophomore. By January 1st of my freshman year, the sheer newness of college was whittling away into a stale, albeit intellectually nourishing experience. My mind was still being stretched and pulled in the classroom (Italian classes, statistics, oh my!), but after a whirlwind of an autumn, I felt like Life could not possibly have new tricks up her sleeve.

Of course, I was dead wrong. Three small days of 2014 have gone by, gifting me a chance to quietly reflect on the path behind me, as I turn my sights to the yet-to-be. Below is a collection of lessons learned from 2013, some tender, some tough, some comic.

1. Being an introvert can be a blessing.

I really cannot do the topic justice with words when Kristen Hedges has already said it best: “I embrace my introversion with pride. Why? Because it’s awesome. All the best thinkers are introverts. In order to develop brilliant ideas and understand your place in the universe, you must turn inward. Meditate. You go on a solo journey into the very center of your heart, and cultivate a garden there. Then, you can spread your ideas and your creations to the world...Introverts are also incredible listeners. We are sensitive lovers. We’re caring, and nurturing, and we make lifelong friends. And the best part? We throw the world’s best double date game nights. Just don’t invite the whole block. So no, I don’t want to go to that party. Yes, I would rather stay home and scribble in a notebook. Yes, we are still friends. No, I’m not mad at you. You know what I would love to do? Get coffee. Or read next to each other. That sounds good.”

 2. Bravely reject the norm.

Just because seemingly everyone is dressing up and going to the bars does not mean you (or I) have to. Don't feel sheepish just because you find joy in (very) different activities than everyone around you. Follow your passions and seek meaningful fellowship.

3. I really did not need my belly button pierced.

Growing up in San Diego meant that anyone who’s anyone had a belly ring. Long story short, I got one and let it close up 3 months later.  I live in Texas most of the time, with a big coat covering my tummy, and no respectable beach (sorry to the Galveston lovers). The ring got pulled and tangled, fell out twice, and was more infected then I care to divulge. Impractical. 

4. My passions aren’t random—they’re my calling.

I struggled with this a lot when I was deciding on a major. I love the written language and I could geek out about religious history for eternity (pun). Just because what I like seemed different than the other girls didn’t mean I was random or weird (though I am for other reasons).

5. Be Rachel.

Similarly to above, 2013 has really helped me come to terms with the fact that what’s fun for other people might not (and often won’t be) fun for me too (and vice versa--I'm aware that not everyone likes puzzles, pie, and pajamas). 

6. When going to bed in embarrassing pajamas (particularly lime green footies with monkeys and peppermints), set sweats and a jacket by the bed in case of fire alarms.

My apartment complex has been testing my patience, and has had four lovely, earsplitting alarms this past semester. Each time I am in horrible, socially unacceptable pajamas (that I love to the ends of the Earth). Ratty t-shirt that barely covers? Check. Lime green nightgown? Oh yes. Footies of all patterns and colors? But, alas. Just learn from my mistakes and have fire alarm clothes handy. Please.

7. People aren’t thinking of you as much as you think they are.

They don’t notice you’re walking to class alone, and don’t care that much about the picture you just posted. Inhale some oxygen and keep movin’, friend.

8. Choose magazines like friends.

Celebrity gossip is a sugary trap: the buzz and then the crash. Just as the modeling agency was toxic for me, dwelling on successful models and celebrities can be just as dangerous. This year I’ve become a huge fan of Kinfolk and Darling magazines, filling my thinking cap with thoughts with worth and innovative ideas.

9. Keep your standards high.

When it comes to boys, don’t settle. End of discussion.

10. Thou shalt not go anywhere without a Camelbak water bottle.

 

11. Thou shalt also not skip morning coffee.

During the last week of school, my slice of Texas was hit with the “ice-pocalypse.” Slipping on solid ice all the way to Kroger was not on the to-do list, and it was finals week, so I settled for vending machine energy drinks for two weeks. Boom, crash, burn, cry, panic attack. Lesson learned.

12. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

I’ve written about my anxious nature plenty of times. This anxiety absolutely transfers over to the classroom. If my hand is raised, my heart is probably pounding. I don’t really mind speaking in front of the class, but I’m dreadfully afraid of being labeled “the smart girl.” You’d think it’d be flattering when people are over-the-top eager to be your partner on a group project—high school proved the contrary.

13. Twenty is too old for your high school denim shorts.

Goodbye white denim and green Hollister low-riders. You will be missed. (You make me look like I’m longing for 14, and that is an age I truly do not wish to repeat.)

14. Running is not the only kind of exercise.

Growing up a competitive swimmer and being a cheerleader in middle school and high school taught me that while the rest of the world trudges along in tennis shoes, I can have a lot more fun while I sweat. (Though, I did do summer cross-country freshman year of high school. Luckily, for the sake of my point, it didn’t turn out so well.)

As Kinfolk says, “Do some aqua aerobics or just jump in a lake...Skateboard across town. Try to resist grabbing the back of a truck...Chase small children around a muddy field: They cannot get enough.”

15. What you enjoyed doing as a 10-year-old is probably what you enjoy doing now.

I read the line in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, and was captivated. Ten-year-old Rachel, with chubby cheeks and short, blonde hair, loved to play dress-up, color, play in the backyard, read, and make food for others. Almost-20-year-old Rachel enjoys the very same things.

16. Leggings can be pants if you want them to be pants.

Please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

17. Chose your company wisely.

The quote is infamous—you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Think about those people. Would you be proud to be a mirror image of them? A melting pot of their qualities? Chose friends you respect, value, and look up to.

18. Make small moments special.

The little things are the best things.

19. Walking is the best way to think.

20. Wake up early.

Seize the day. Though having a lie-in on the weekends and reading amidst rumpled covers is a satisfying treat.

21. Eat well, feel well.

22. Gossip breeds more gossip.

And suddenly, you’re the subject of the gossip. And you feel quite glum. Avoid it, walk away from it, and literally run away from it, if need be.

23. Unplug your phone.

Technology sings a lovely siren song, but there is such thing as too much.Way too much. Check here and here.

24. Read.

25. Christmas music year-round is not breaking the “rules.”

It’s celebrating Christ’s birth daily, rather than “saving it” for a certain season. And while we’re at it, Christmas movies are good for the soul and make my heart smile. Don’t you dare tell me I can’t watch Eloise at Christmastime tonight (because I’m going to).

 

Lots of love and warm wishes.

Here's to a brilliant 2014.

L’arte d’arrangiarsi | The Art of Making Something Out of Nothing

"Edison? Sebastian? Whiskey? Franklin?"

We laughed, looping through Northern California, watching the sun peek through the pines and brainstorming puppy names (for a Golden, naturally).  Twisting around the corner, fleecy patches of snow emerged, their surface area increasing with each bundle of moments. We yawned forcibly and laughed again, trying to remedy our popping ears from the steep elevation.

We arrived at the condo and lit a fire, warming our hands, faces, and bundled-up bottoms, dissolving into the squashy couches and fur blankets. I brewed a cup of coffee, carefully boiling water on the stove and pouring it like molasses over the bittersweet grinds. Mug in hand, I began to unpack.

Coat, hat, thick socks, sweats, plain t-shirts, some hair elastics, toothbrush, running shoes, snow boots.

No makeup. No jewelry. No nice clothes. No planned outfits. No hair straightener or curler or brush. No $100 perfume, sorority gear, or mainstream, tasteless magazines. It was just me, a fresh face, some comfortable clothes, a stack of books, and an open heart.

On the first day in our beloved Tahoe, we took to the pathways—dusty, gritty, and icy. We trudged through our favorite lakeside neighborhoods, Kyle shamelessly checking house prices on his phone while we all dreamed of a more permanent winter escape. The sunlight dreamed along, meeting us at every corner, tickling our frosty cheeks and shade-soaked backs. Through large windows on larger houses, we saw peeks and glances of the horizon, a sparkling lake, bushy pines, and frosting-dolloped mountains.

Once we were lakeside, all we could really do was breathe. We stood, silently swallowing gluttonous gulps of crisp, mountain air. We were peaceful, and grateful, and free.

Kyle took a few pictures, but I indulged in the landscape with naked eyes. I had made a quiet promise to myself my phone would stay in the warm, little cabin at all times, safely tucked away in my duffle or resting quietly on the shelf. I was forcing myself to rebuild my technology habit, jumping on the opportunity to begin my resolution before the fresh, new year came knocking.

One night, the boys ventured into town for some rotisserie and a few light-hearted rounds of penny slots while my mom and I stayed home. We closed our books and got cooking. First came the quinoa. Mom boiled it over the tiny stove, and we listened to the water snap and evaporate. Stirring the hearty seed with a thick wooden spoon, I drizzled oil in another pan with my left hand. Once the oil began to dance—leaping and cracking and popping around the pan—I added the garlic, along with fresh onions, carrots, zucchini, and baby tomatoes. The sautéed veggies mingled with the white and red quinoa; the rich, mouthwatering smell of garlic and onions curled in the air. We made a little toast on seed bread and poured towering glasses of ice water, studded with perfect, square cubes. Happily, we furnished our plates, dishing out towering piles of goodness. When we sat, for the first few moments all we could do was stare at our lovely, little feast.

The art of making something out of nothing—L’arte d’arrangiarsi, in Italian—was richly satisfying. Our tummies and hearts smiled much broader from our nonchalant, strewn-together meal than had we gone for a lavish dinner in town.


L’arte d’arrangiarsi. Making something out of nothing. Living simply. I’m so often caught in the trap of excess, enveloped in More’s sticky clutches. More makeup, more ginger ales and macchiatos and text messages. More consecutive movies and Netflix shows and snacks.

More friends (less depth), more videos (less films), more cheap laughs (less clever wit). Blame it on society, blame it on my generation, blame it on my dreaming, pining soul. Whatever its root, I have a resolution on the mind. I want to make somethings out of nothings. I want to throw together simple, hearty meals with what I always have on hand—fruits, vegetables, simple seeds and grains. I want to call a few friends over and bless the food to our bodies, growing in faith and loving Christ together. I want one cup of coffee, thoughtfully made, in which to sip leisurely in the mornings from my hammered copper mug.

In her wonderfully explorative book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin tackles her overflowing closet. She stuffs trash bags with the clothing she constantly justifies—the “could wears,” “might wears,” and “would wears,”—and keeps what she does wear, day-to-day. One of her neat realizations was the newfound ease of getting ready in the morning; she felt like she had more to choose from in the morning from less, because what was left included all of her favorite items. Similarly, many Parisian women indulge in the 10-item wardrobe, investing in durability and class, and mingling the pieces with each other.

While I don’t see myself suddenly jumping to baggy comfort clothes as my daily style (cringing at the thought, actually!), the same simplicity can be translated into effortless sundresses, thick-knit sweaters and rich, solid colors. While leaving my phone at home when I go out isn’t the safest option, I can benefit from my experiences on the mountain by utilizing it less when nonessential. I’m learning a lot about balance here, and I’m excited to put simplicity in motion.

Regressing to Happiness

The other day, out of curiosity, I logged into my old Twitter account that I used freshman year of college.

I suppose by regular standards, my account isn’t particularly “old,” since I utilized it last year, yet I feel like I change so frequently that even my journal entries from last week are old news.

Scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through my tweets (illustrating a definite addiction to those 140 little characters), I had the strangest feeling that I was reading the tweets of a sweet and happy friend, or an optimistic mentor, rather than reading tweets of my own creation. I spoke to the world (in concise, twitterlike fashion) about the importance of attitude, the joys of Mondays, and the sweetness of random rainstorms. I rewind in my mind to this morning, trudging back to my apartment from class in the sticky heat and pouring rain—did I find that joyful? I used to.

I used to unearth the sweet and simple joys of life around me. I used to actively search for the good in chaos and conflict and confrontation, rather than quickly surrendering and moping. I used to smile a lot. I used to laugh so loudly that I would surprise others around me with my zeal and lightheartedness. I used to be adventurous and determined to live a life of “oh well’s” than “what if’s.” I want to return to this genuine, optimistic me. I miss my happy heart and light, cheerful attitude. I miss my sweetness that somehow has given way to extreme anxiety and stress that is often coupled with sophomore year (they call it the "sophomore slump").

I miss putting on a summer dress for class just because it was a sunshiney day.

Detoxify

As summer comes to a close, my excitement for the incredible year ahead intensifies. While my heart is filled with a lovely longing for porches and sweet tea and Southern football, something is off.

The minute I began the drive back from Texas to California, I knew this summer would be a challenge. The drive took two full days; we drove through Texas and into New Mexico on day one, and through Arizona and into California on day two. On the first day of the road trip there was a small smudge of discontent in my heart, as I felt dispirited to be leaving behind an incredible, magical, novel-worthy school year. This small smudge propagated rapidly; this sort of cancerous negativity began to envelop my mind and my heart. On day two of the drive, each mile crumbled me. I cried the entire way home—11 hours.

While I was overjoyed to have such a precious opportunity to spend time with my darling puppy and parents, this was the first summer that I would not be going “home,” by its standard definition. In February my parents moved up the coast and settled into a new little town, far, far away from my gorgeous, sea salty, seagully, sunshiny San Diego. My summer in the new, fog-rimmed, dirt road-laden, cow-infested town would be filled by working 40 hours a week and taking the most boring and painful microeconomics course that this big world provides. While I feel uncomfortable commenting on my job at this point, these details are crucial to better understanding the monotony yet pure exhaustion of this summer—sorry to keep you in the dark. Professionalism holds firm.

I’ve obviously had ample time to consider (brood over) my summer in “farmland;” I finally understand why my delight at the thought of returning to Texas is being overshadowed by a heavy presence. I need to detox. I feel like I need to be cleansed of microeconomics, retail, annoying neighbors, brown hills, technology, etc., etc., etc. I am thrilled that I will have a few days between my last day of work (and the end of my summer school class) and my departure to Texas. It is in this sliver of time that I plan to unwind, soak up the sun, and savor the time I have with my family. It is then—with the negativity gone—that the excitement can rush in.

Texas bound.