Last year, while taking a class on the English Romantics, I absolutely fell in love with Dorothy Wordsworth's journals. I found myself underlining every single line of my reading homework, 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.
For months, I pored over Dorothy's journals and read every biography on her and her brother that I could find. I then dismantled her prose in the Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals, sifted through my favorite bits, repieced them into a new work, and translated that "new" work into film.
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 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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
"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 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.
I still pore over those hardcover, yellow Nancy Drew books with the same genuine enthusiasm and admiration as I did when I was in elementary school. Nancy, though a fictional character, is still one of my greatest role models. And Carolyn Keene, though a pseudonym composed of several different people, will always be one of my favorite "authors."
Nancy Drew has been a formative influence since her first appearance in the 1930s. Wholesome, even tempered, and fearless, Nancy Drew is adored by equally kick-butt women like Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Hillary Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Laura Bush. One of the original Nancy Drew authors, Mildred A. Wirt Benson, was fed up with what she called "namby-pamby" girls' books of the 1930s and made sure that Nancy was just the opposite: feisty, charming, and wildly intelligent.
I also love the inherent old-fashioned texture of the book. I love the Nancy Drew series for the sweet and dated lingo—George, one of Nancy's best gal pals, always says "Hypers!" instead of "Wow!" People are "nifty," not "cool." Telephone calls (from a payphone or house phone), telegrams, and letters are the mediums of communication. Nancy and her best friends, Bess and George, often stop for lunch at little roadside farms for sandwiches and large glasses of milk. Ned takes Nancy out on dates (though they usually end up sleuthing) and to dances at Emerson College, which I know must be nothing like today's college dances.
And then there's the fact that Nancy gets attacked, framed, kidnapped, robbed, whatever in just about every book, and she still manages to be calm and quick thinking. I love her practical, reasoned way of assessing situations and her innovative solutions to complex problems. Though Nancy has been around for 85 years, her spirit is timeless. Her character has since been modernized, sporting puffy 80s hair in the Girl Detective spin-off series and donning a cell phone in the Nancy Drew Files, but I will always be unabashedly partial to her original character from The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.
“Ned said, ‘Nancy Drew is the best girl detective in the whole world!’ ‘Don’t believe him,’ Nancy said quickly. ‘I have solved some mysteries, I’ll admit, and I enjoy it, but I’m sure there are many other girls who could do the same.’” — Carolyn Keene, Nancy’s Mysterious Letter
Focus on What's Important
“Chuckling to herself, Nancy said aloud, ‘Romance and detective work won’t mix tonight!’” — Carolyn Keene, The Bungalow Mystery
“Do act mysterious. It always keeps them coming back for more.” — Carolyn Keene, Nancy’s Mysterious Letter
Follow Your Curiosities
“'When one is intensely interested in a subject, he never becomes tired of it, even on a vacation,' [the professor] said. 'Look at Nancy, for instance. I suppose she was invited up here [to the lake] just to have fun, and now she’s involved in all these mysteries.'” — Carolyn Keene, The Secret of Mirror Bay
Expand Your Skill Set
“Who knows, Hannah, the trick [horseback] riding may come in handy someday when I have a mystery to solve.” — Carolyn Keene, The Ringmaster’s Secret
Think Clearly; Act Courageously
“‘But The Clue of the Black Keys is not yet finished,’ Dr. Anderson spoke up, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Not until Nancy Drew has visited my classes at Clifton [College]. I want you to tell my students, Nancy, that the best way to discover treasure is to have an observing eye and a brave heart.’” — Carolyn Keene, The Clue of the Black Keys
Have an Open Mind
“‘And now,’ she added, laughing, ‘I’m ready and willing to take on any new mystery that comes along.’” — Carolyn Keene, The Clue of the Leaning Chimney
Set a Good Example
“‘You earned it, Miss Drew, catchin’ up with a couple of pirates like Fay and Lane. You taught me a good lesson,' [said the thief].” — Carolyn Keene, The Secret of the Wooden Lady
Treasure Your Friends; Express Gratitude
“The pretty detective gave an exclamation of delight and admired the gift for a long moment…At last she turned to Laura and said with genuine sincerity: ‘The ring is priceless and I’ll always treasure it as a reminder of you—although no one can place a value on a true friendship like ours.’” —Carolyn Keene, The Bungalow Mystery
Have a Servant’s Heart
“[The suspicious stranger’s] face softened and she stood for an instant, looking intently at Nancy. ‘You’re a good girl to help a stranger like me [when I fell and turned my ankle]. I wish—‘ The woman turned away abruptly.” — Carolyn Keene, The Secret of Red Gate Farm
I leave you with one last thought. When researching Nancy Drew history, I stumbled across a compilation of all of Nancy's talents and interests. It was, in short, intimidating and inspiring.
Channel your inner Nancy today-
P.S.: I just found out about this book, The Official Nancy Drew Handbook: Skills, Tips, and Life Lessons from Everyone's Favorite Girl Detective, and I'm in love with it. All of the pages are outfitted in blue and yellow (the iconic colors from the original hardcover books), and it has chapter titles like "How to Tap Out a Morse Code Message with Your High-Heeled Shoes," "How to Savor the Important Things in Life, Like a Rich Cup of Hot Cocoa," and "How to Determine a Man's Character by the Shoes He Wears." Interested? Click below to visit the book's Amazon page.
1. Finals are [finally] over:
After taking six finals (six finals...21 units was rough this semester), I am relieved to be free of the burden that is finals week. I don’t mind school (okay... I actually love school), but I do suffer from mild bouts of test anxiety and a (not-so-mild) case of perfectionism, making for a stressful testing situation. Of course, most of the relief comes when the grades are finally in the books and submitted, but being able to have free time now is exhilarating. I love waking up in the morning and thinking, “So Rachel, what shall we do today? Surfing? Baking? Peruse cute neighborhoods? Take a road trip?"
2. The weather turns drippy and cold:
Living on the California coast means that we have a 0% chance of snow (unlike the many ice and snow storms I got caught in when I went to school in Texas). Despite the snowless forecast, I love winter on the coast because the sky turns grey, and the weather gets “cold” (think mid 50s-60s) and rainy—perfect for curling up by the fireplace with an old Nancy Drew book and a mug of decaf.
3. Decorating the house:
I love nesting—carving out my own little niche wherever I am. I’ve moved several times over the last few years, which has helped me fine tune this nesting habit. One of the sweet parts about the Christmas season is getting to unload the (several) dozen plastic boxes from the attic or garage, as I put those skills to use and transform the home. With warm, rich tones and soft fabrics, the house becomes cozy and inviting during December.
4. Wrapping gifts:
As a creative little soul, I am always searching for projects (today I painted black chalkboard paint on a wood slab...). And though gifts are absolutely not the foundation of the Christmas season, I love being tasked with wrapping. Patterned paper, endless supplies of pens, ribbons, and tags... drool. I think I’ve asked my mom every day for the past two weeks if she needs anything wrapped. ("Brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things...") My fondness for detail means that all of the gifts match, ornamented with sprigs of pine needles or tied up neatly with burlap twine. So satisfying.
5. Christmas music (on repeat):
I’m one of those people that listens to Christmas music all year long. I definitely have a lot of friends that are opposed to this, but from my layman’s perspective (Polar Express reference), celebrating Christ’s birth through song should happen all year. I love sitting down to the piano or grabbing my guitar and pouring my heart into Little Drummer Boy or The First Noel. Christmas music is classic and pure; the soft sounds of Sally Harmon's Cozy Christmas instantly warm my heart and the home.
6. Light, light, light:
I’m scared of the dark (admittedly). But falling asleep to the subtle twinkling of the neighbor’s Christmas lights or going down for a snack at night and being greeted by the glittering Christmas tree is incredibly soothing.
7. Christmas newsletters:
My family sends one out every year; each person in the family writes a few sentences about what’s been going on in their life the past year, and we slap it all together on cute paper and add a letterpress Christmas card. It’s so neat to get Christmas newsletters in the mail from friends and family both near and far. Since I have moved so much (and I don’t have a Facebook), it’s a little harder to keep up with past neighbors, elementary school friends, old sports coaches, etc. But the sweet thing about a newsletter is the small, albeit significant, effort to stay connected at least once a year—to share the joys and triumphs and delight in friendship.
8. Advent calendars:
A piece of chocolate every day keeps the sadness away.
9. [Old] Christmas movies:
I don’t really like movies... my inattentive ADHD + highly sensitive soul + hatred of any sort of conflict (even just in a movie plot) means that movies are not my favorite thing, but my favorite movies happen to be Christmas ones (and are played all month on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas). My all-time favorite is Eloise at Christmastime—Julie Andrews, Gavin Creel (I would quite like to marry his character, Bill), Christine Baranski (Martha May Whovier in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Cinderella’s stepmother in Into the Woods, Tanya in Mamma Mia, etc.), and Sofia Vassilieva make for an incredible cast. Also, one of the main character’s names is Rachel, which makes me very, very happy. Did I mention the movie is set in the 50s? Swoon.
10. Quiet time:
Because of item one—no more finals—I finally have time for quiet, soul-nourishing, time-consuming activities like puzzles and baking and painting. Happy heart.
11. Christmas Eve Festivities:
My family is Norwegian, so our Christmas celebration is a little different than that of other American families. As is tradition, after church we eat dinner (tacos... not sure where that came from) then open all of our presents under the tree—Christmas Eve is our “main” Christmas celebration. On Christmas day we open our stockings, have brunch with family, and spend the rest of the day together (usually in pajamas). One of the things I love about the holiday season is that it makes me feel connected to my past; by upholding our Norwegian traditions generations after my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Norway (and great-grandparents from Italy), I’m reminded of where I came from. (Fun fact: On the Italian side of the family, my great-grandfather never even learned how to read and write in English! E' pazzesco... that's crazy!)
The alpha, omega, beginning, and end, He very well could have been numbers 1-12 on this list. Christmas has become increasingly commercialized—Santa Claus and his elves, though a lovely symbol of generosity and love, have overpowered the Christmas season, shrouding the real reason we celebrate. I was shocked the other day whilst watching the old Lizzie McGuire episode where Lizzie is building her Christmas float. She forgets what Christmas is all about, and her brother Matt quotes the book of Luke (as does Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Movie). I was surprised in the best way that the gospel was on Disney Channel, even though the episode was also laden with images of Santa Claus (played by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, no less). The sad part, though, is that I don’t think that would happen on any mainstream TV show in 2014. But I hope, hope, hope it will. Christ our Lord is the reason for the season.
“ ...And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
"Try to give your intellect as much food as possible."
- Leo Tolstoy
General education classes aren’t usually a cause for celebration. They’ve been stereotyped—and fiercely so—by college students nationwide as insignificant and uninteresting, with syllabi spilling with “busy work” and required texts. Gen eds are, essentially, just another box to check off on the degree progress report and one step closer to graduation. As a freshman in college, I felt the same way. Faced with statistics, Italian, speech, and economics, exploring the thrilling world of marginal benefit and economic efficiency was, well, hardly thrilling. I had tunnel vision, and a bad case at that, focused on my major classes for the content but on my gen eds for the grade. It was the classic case of “study for the 'A,' then forget everything.” But with time (and multiple completed general eds), I've recognized the joy and value in general education. It's a chance to explore uncharted waters—to learn about something out of your comfort zone from professors who have made that topic their life work. It's a chance to learn from classmates with richly diverse backgrounds, as everyone is bound by the general education requirement but simultaneously following different paths.
This breadth of knowledge is a staple of the college experience. I think we're lucky to have to take general eds; I don't know that I would find the time to pursue things like oceanography, British literature, or reasoning and rhetoric were they not all required. And I truly think I would be missing out had my college experience not been stitched together with underwater storms, Mansfield Park, or the examination of fallacious statements.
Five Classes, infinite lessons:
- Bits of Joy in General Eds -
1. Introduction to the Bible
My previous university had a religion requirement that elicited groans from the religious and non-religious alike. Religion classes had the reputation for being "like, impossible," but it was an unavoidable requirement, and so I tentatively settled into my Bible class day one of sophomore year. This single general education religion class changed my entire life. I fell in love with the material, examining theological underpinnings and researching historical context. I had been feeling for a while that my previous major wasn't my calling, but abandoning a 1/4-completed major seemed impractical and intimidating. Nonetheless, my passion for religion couldn't be ignored: I met with my professor a few times throughout the semester and finally worked up the gritty courage to change my major. Change my path. Start over. Reevaluate. It was equal parts scary and wonderful, as change tends to be. One class altered my entire future plan, as I replaced my goal of writing for a fashion magazine with the ambition of earning a Ph.D. in religious studies.
And how nice does "Dr. Rachel _____" sound?
(insert relevant future last name when I'm married in a billion years.)
2. Oceanography & Marine Biology
Leaving my previous university in pursuit of another meant a year of additional required classes, which of course encompassed subjects that I thought I was done with—namely, science and math. Luckily, California has its perks: my two additional science classes came in the form of oceanography and marine biology. Science became, for the most part, fun again. Labs were completed in a kayak, as salt water sprayed my face, and my triceps (and nose) burned happily in response to being outdoors. I learned about all the different ways a wave can break on shore, why the California coast is so foggy in the summer, and that if I could, I would most definitely be a whale shark.
3. Reasoning & Argumentation
My major character flaw: I like to be right much too much (all the time), and I don't always go about it in the right way. Though most of the time, the "right way" means demonstrating humility and tactfulness (letting go of the petty, insignificant disagreements), my reasoning and argumentation class was fundamentally about how to "fight right" in both oral and written forms. It was in the context of this class that I turned my borderline-draconian view of social media into a written argument, directly countering a peer's argument that social media is fine in moderation. I have written about social media on my blog before (here, here and here), but learning to shape those thoughts into something more calculated and purposeful is a skill that will benefit me forever and ever and ever and ever.
Plus, writing the argument and consequently seeking out evidence helped me feel less alone in my choice to not use social media (although I do have, like, two Instagram pictures which is sort of bizarre for a twenty-year-old). It frequently feels like I'm the only one without a Facebook or a Twitter, so reading well-articulated thoughts of likeminded people was reassuring. There is great joy in exploring ideas different than your own, but the "me too"—someone who feels the same way—is a comfort.
4. Early American History
I have never enjoyed history, which is curious because so much of religious studies is history. And it's enjoyable in the context of religion! I think that A.P. U.S. history in high school left me a bit jaded; I never did remember all of the presidents (which, of course, my A.P. test score shows). But here I am again, in an American history class, and I've taken a different perspective. In reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thích Nhất Hạnh, I came across the loveliest thought:
Studying history is, by that logic, an act of respect and a way to nourish our own sense of belonging in the community, nation, and planet. The pages in my American history textbook aren't arduous; rather they are a reflection of "the jewels of our own tradition." I like that.
5. European Literature
Although I study English alongside religion and I love to read, I much prefer writing to reading literature (or so I thought). We read Homer's Odyssey and Dante's Inferno in high school honors English, and I admittedly didn't care for either work. In my college European literature class, however, I found myself swooning over bits of prose and cross-referencing soupçons of history found in the footnotes.
There is something to say for revisiting a work of literature. Some books are a bit dense on the first read. Just as I get used to hot bath water by getting in, getting out, and getting in again (does anyone else do this?), revisiting literature makes a big difference. Besides, I don't think that such venerated works are meant to be read and tossed aside. They need to be dissected, read aloud, discussed, and read again. And even then, we may never "get it." The intentions of ancient Roman and Greek authors sometimes appear to be nothing but a mystery (if you've read the ending of Virgil's Aeneid, WHAT was Virgil thinking? Although... he did pass away before he had the chance to revise the work, and Augustus published it as is. If Virgil had been given the opportunity for revision, would he have changed the ending? The world may never know...).
Joyfully in Christ-
(and my mom let me have chocolate before dinner tonight, so I'm thrilled)
The other night, one of my dearest and far-away friends sent me this quote from Cold Tangerines, a book by Shauna Niequist.
And before the evening was over, I found myself buying the whole book on my Kindle—a whopping seven-dollar investment (for a college student, that’s like a Panera You-Pick-Two)—happy to support sweet Shauna because I adored her book Bittersweet, but surprising myself nonetheless. I mean... I didn’t even try to snag a dog-eared and faded paperback copy for less than a dollar from the hoards of used book offers on Amazon. No, that wouldn’t do. Overcome by a strange and compelling sense of urgency, I needed the book, then and there. And in my experience, anything but apathy is worth listening to, so the urgent little voice in my head and I clicked purchase and watched as it loaded onto my Kindle.
That night I began the book as I tucked myself in between the sheets. The first few chapters that I read in those fleeting evening hours (before sleep convinced my eyelids of their weight) were about making small, daily life tasks significant and pleasing to the Lord. I was captivated, but not convinced.
How could the monotony of my daily life—the making and unmaking of my excessive twelve-pillowed bed, the strands of dental floss that didn’t quite make it into the trash bin, and the granola bar I shoved in my mouth as I put the key in the ignition when I was running late be significant? Meaningful? Ecclesiastical? How could those moments be anything, really?
By the next day I had forgotten all of those thoughts, as deep thinking was temporarily lost to a laborious to-do list (and an impending marine biology exam). But in a moment of rest, I cracked open Jesus Calling and lingered over my comically large coffee mug: "Even the most routine part of your day can be a spiritual act of worship, holy and pleasing to Me."
So there it was again—moments of worth. Moments like diamonds and days like treasure. It was about bypassing the “Sunday morning show” and living in Christ’s truth as I made oatmeal and got the mail and ran out of the good shampoo. Had I been living like that? Had I really been doing life with God? Did I even know what that looked like?
So I kept reading Cold Tangerines. Shauna was on to something with this whole “celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life” thing. Through little bundles of chapters and bookmarked pages, I began to feel like she was this sort of older-sister-meets-mother mentor figure to me. And I felt God speaking to me through her.
Awareness of God—His love, His presence, His plan put to action in everyday happenings—makes all the difference. It’s in this awareness of the subtleties of His voice and the vastness of His love that we truly do life with Him. It’s in these small moments, like chopping apples and putting on socks, that we have the grand opportunity to dwell in His love and light and reflect it back out into the world.
Recently I’ve gotten into the habit of skipping over my usual Spotify playlists and listening to my “Jesus music” while driving. Little by little, driving has shifted from a tedious, basic task, to a time where I can reflect, recharge, and gear up for/wind down from the day’s happenings. By letting God into these otherwise insignificant ten or twenty minutes, my mood improves and outlook shifts.
By pouring out love and intention every day, we’re consequently filled up with Christ. It’s the crux of the Creator–creation relationship. As instruments of His love and purpose, we’re called to worship in all moments—both big and small—and make disciples as we cut the grass and chat with the UPS guy. There is worth, power, significance, and love in the non-events. And so today: be intentional. Pour out. Be filled up. Harvest joy. Practice gratitude. Every moment is your testimony.
Although San Diego was my hometown for a solid 90% of my life, my affections for its sun-drenched streets and sea-salty air have only heightened over the past two years that I’ve been elsewhere.
It’s human nature to take things for granted—even if those “things” were glassy, salty sliders (a.k.a. gnarly waves, brah), perfect weather, and bare feet. But it’s also human nature to romanticize these fragments of life that we’ve long since left behind. So when I went “home” to San Diego last weekend to visit my two best friends, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Maybe San Diego wasn’t as all-around-lovely as my memories were insinuating. I knew my friends would be amazing (as always), but was San Diego still my home? Did it still feel magical? I was a little worried.
And yet, the moment I arrived, I knew my memories weren’t idealizing San Diego in any way—if anything, my memories fell short of the real thing! Hopping in the car with one of my best friends (and clutching a sweet yellow bouquet of flowers that she had brought to welcome me), we took to the back roads, looping through one of San Diego’s most beautiful and unabashedly wealthy areas. Between shout-singing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs (current favorites: Age of Worry by John Mayer and Leave the Night On by Sam Hunt) and ogling over the sprawling estates and palm tree-lined sidewalks, I realized how lucky I was to have multiple places to call home, but mostly how fortunate I was to have such sweet friends to come home to.
We spent the weekend engaging in all sorts of shenanigans.
Between creamsicle shakes at our favorite beach-side café and visits to Trader Joes to stock up on “supplies” (those big tubs of tiny chocolate chip cookies and sea salt pita chips), I felt God’s light and love in both of my two friends. Their laughter was contagious, their attitudes positive and adventuresome. We did a photoshoot with a friend-of-a-friend photographer, melted over Jack Johnson’s sweet melodies whilst stretched out on blankets with thousands of other concert-goers, and even managed to make it over to Michael’s for craft supplies (we ended up spending an hour drawing out our favorite bible verses and worship song lyrics—tune my heart to sing thy grace).
In the midst of the joy, the workaholic part of me felt gluttonous, spending three days with my favorite people, eating nothing but my favorite food, and doing all of my favorite activities. But don’t we need those kinds of weekends? My soul felt entirely refreshed after Labor Day weekend, and I was reminded of the real urgency in taking care of myself and mixing in ample play time with work time.
As a perfectionist taking 20 units of school, nursing a fascination in interfaith dialogue/microfinance/social business-meets-religion books (there are six on my bedside table right now), and big dreams of getting my Ph.D. in Religious Studies, I forget to play. I remember to lie in front of the television watching cartoons and eating cereal out of the box at 9 p.m., but I forget to play. To gather up friends, release the stresses and responsibilities for a few days, and just romp around town.
Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe your workday is long, your sleep cycle is out of whack, and your friendships are fraying. Maybe your grades are perched between a rock and a hard place, you’ve run out of mac and cheese (sincerest condolences), or your family is driving you mad. The washing machine is broken, the gas gauge is on empty, and the jury duty summons came in the mail. You’ve cracked your iPhone and shattered your patience with this whole “life” thing.
We’ve all been there, friend. So my humble call on this Thursday evening is this: work hard tomorrow and play hard this weekend. Go surfing. Go hiking. Make dinner with your family. Go on a run with your best friends. Think. Dream. Talk about something meaningful.
In closing, I’d like to mention something about that last line: talk about something meaningful. Last night I was talking to one of my best friends (the same one who brought me flowers when I arrived in San Diego), and she said:
“I have a question for you. Do you think you are who you believe you are, or you are who you choose to be? C.S. Lewis thought the first; I’m more inclined to think the second. And it’s been rattling my brain.”
We ended up having the best discussion about valuing action over passive thought, and we decided on a prayer that we both want to start praying more frequently regarding turning our actions into a stronger faith in Christ’s presence and steadfastness. I feel lucky to have friends that are sisters in Christ. I feel lucky to have San Diego as one of the many places I call home. I feel lucky that God blessed me with an incredible weekend to recharge.
Passing on a little positivity this evening-
Life is messy, but here's what I know so far...
1. “There is nothing wrong with loving the crap out of everything. Negative people find their walls. So never apologize for your enthusiasm.” | R. Adams
Negativity is draining. It’s human nature to slip into sourness and (shamefully) take it out on those around us. But because of the complexities of the human mind, changing your thoughts is possible. Gently step back from your next negative/hectic/stressful situation (sometimes physically) and reframe. How could this experience help you? Stretch you? Lead you? Next time negativity comes knocking, kick it out of your mind.
2. “I have sea foam in my veins; I understand the language of waves.” | J. Cocteau
I grew up on the coast and had a happy, sea-salty childhood studded with camping and kayaks, boogie boards and wetsuits. My weekends consisted of watching my brother compete in rough water swims, or donning a snappy one-piece for my own swim meets. A towel and swimsuit took up permanent residence in the trunk of my car by the time I was sixteen (for spontaneous beach trips). And at age seventeen I was baptized in the ocean with one of my best friends, redeemed by God’s grace and humbled by his vast, oceanic creation. Then came eighteen—Texas. No nearby ocean. No tide pools to wade in, dolphins to swim with, or shells to collect. When I returned to the California coast two years later, the ocean welcomed me with open arms. It was only once I left that I realized how much the ocean means to me. Find your happy place.
3. “We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve.” | T. D. Jakes
As a sensitive old soul, I often set really high expectations for my friends/family/teachers/etc. and can’t help but be disappointed when said people don’t live up to said expectations. I don’t think the error is (always...) in my high expectations, but in failing to forgive easily. I need to be more generous in handing out my forgiveness. I can get a teensy bit upset when a cashier doesn’t smile at me, or when the secretary at the doctor’s office snaps at me on the phone! Although they need to read #1, I need to exercise tenderness and grace. We're all only human.
4. “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” | M. Oliver
Boys boys boys. Most girls want a guy that's honest, charming, funny, and blah, blah, blah... All of that is excellent, but you know what I really love? Curiosity. And not in a gossipy shallow way, but in a thirst-for-knowledge way. Curiosity is the desire to know how to do things. How a gadget works. Why whales migrate. What someone else's stance on carbon emission is. Curiosity enriches our lives as we learn from our neighbors, share our own experiences, and delight in the sweetness of learning something new.
5. “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” | M. L’Engle
This lesson is challenging because discrediting other people or pointing fingers is often our automatic response (even if only in our minds). As a (world) religions major in college, I've been stretched and tested on a daily basis, studying other faiths and learning from/alongside people with different beliefs than my own. The gritty truth? It's hard. I remember calling my parents after my first world religions class, because I was having trouble relating to the diverse faiths in the classroom (present in both my classmates and in the textbook). But now, that's actually why I love studying all of the religions of the world—understanding other people and cultures is difficult without exploring the rhythm of faith that beats through their lives and hearts. As a Christian, I want to follow Christ with a servant's heart and act in a way that would make God proud.
6. “You can never get enough of nature. To be surrounded by it is to be stilled. It salves the heart. The mountains, the trees, the endless plains. The moon, the myriad of stars. Every man can be made quiet and complete." | A. Burns
I love being outside. If I could live in one of those open-air homes in Bali (outdoors and indoors at the same time!), I would. Even my best thinking (sometimes brooding) is done outside, as my feet lead me from one place to the next. I think just feeling the sun and wind on my skin and the grass or pavement under my toes makes me feel connected. Nature is humbling—I realize I'm only a small fragment of His creation. In my oceanography summer school class, we learned that over 70% of the Earth is covered by water—as if I didn't feel tiny and wonderfully overwhelmed enough by the 30% of the Earth that is land! As my favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says, "walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." Side note: does everybody have a favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk?
7. “May you live like the lotus—at ease in muddy water.” | Buddha
In my childhood home, we had a huge koi pond beside the front door. Though the water itself was sometimes vile, the pond was my favorite part of the house (except for the bird aviary... more on that another time). The koi fish were each over a foot long, and one of them was in love with my brother—if he stuck his finger in the water, the fish would "kiss" it and not let go (oh, the memories). The pond attracted Snowy Egrets, raccoons, Blue Herons, and most of the passing by neighbors. But the most incredible part of it all emerged in May through September, when the water lilies bloomed. From the brownish-green, gunky water sprouted the most incredible pink and white and yellow blooms. And that's really the magic of it—the lotus will only grow up through the mud (though water lilies and lotus flowers are not the same to a botanist, they grow in the same conditions). We can only flourish by growing up through our own mud: the little annoyances, the big challenges, the life-threatening situations and the stubbed toes alike. Live like the lotus and embrace your circumstances. Learn from your mud. Grow from your mud.
8. “Be careful who you open up to. Only a few truly care—the rest are just curious.” | Unknown
Remember the little distinction I made in #4? Curiosity comes in many forms, and it's important to realize that not everyone has sparkling intentions. Although this seems like a lesson learned in high school halls, I think this is one of those gritty, uncomfortable learning experiences that we all face more than once. It may be someone at work, in class, in your club/sport/group/whatever—some people seem to prey on secrets and feelings and vulnerability. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), but don't shield it from those who truly love you. Be discerning.
9. “You have more to do than be weighed down by pretty or beautiful. You are a fiery heart and a wicked brain. Do not let your soul be defined by its shell.” | M.K.
As Ann Voskamp said, "Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things." You're more than lipstick. You aren't the frivolous, frolicking, fairytale princess that the world assumes you are and should be. You're a kick-butt, get-things-done, selfless, brilliant, fiery kind of gal. (Or maybe you're a male reading this. You rock too.)
10. “I used to wonder why I was busting my ass at calculus when I was interested in the arts, but I felt that there was a relationship between working hard at school and taking your dreams seriously. I still think that if you’re excited about something, you have to work at it.” | E. Koenig
I love school. I am, as Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote, "such a shameless student." The hand-raising, correct-the-textbook's-punctuation, set-out-an-outfit-before-bed type. Growing up, I was an okay student grade-wise, making As and Bs, with each report card praising my "citizenship" instead of my academic abilities. I felt like I had to try so much harder than all of the other kids: middle school homework would take me six or seven hours, I couldn't write notes fast enough in high school, and I had no real motivation other than to "get good grades" so I could "get into a good college." What's worse, my older brother was a superhuman student (Who manages to get only one B in an entire college career?! And it was actually a B+...). Luckily, there was a shift in the universe. It wasn't until college that I loved learning. Yes, I still think tests are scary and a red correcting pen is the devil's writing utensil of choice, but there is so much joy in knowledge! Books and documentaries, classes and speeches! I wanted to gobble up all of the facts and poems and paintings like a glutton. Working hard and appreciating subjects outside of your career path can be enlightening and can help prepare you for that disinteresting task you have to do/that internship that you don't love but want to stick with/etc.
11. “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” | C. Stanley (Isiah 64:4)
Patience is my Achille's heel. Learning to wait on the Lord is somewhat of a work in progress. I hate the unknown (anxious person problems) and always want to be in control of situations. Since my leap out of one university in Texas and into uncharted waters, God is making sure I'm getting my fair share of practice.
12. “Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” | R. Marston
Last Thanksgiving break, I found myself on an extremely turbulent flight back to my university. The plane was lurching and dropping in the air (planes ride in the air like boats do in the water. There are currents both good and bad...according to the pilot), and everyone was screaming. My little soul didn't know what to do, so I ended up holding hands with the woman next to me as we prayed and tried to comfort her little dog. "Jesus has given the pilot all of the skills he needs to fly this plane," she told her dog. "The pilot is very capable." I was taken aback by her positivity amidst the chaos. Maybe it was more to reassure herself than her pup (who surely had zero clue what was going on besides its little popping ears), but her positivity was leadership in those scary few hours.
13. “They want to see you do well, but never better than them.” | Unknown
I'm convinced that competition is engrained in our genetic makeup. As another one of those "human nature" things, we want to excel more than our peers, even if those peers are loved ones. In high school, there was a girl on my swim team who was both my biggest rival and closest friend in the sport. Every 50 freestyle we would end up 0.1 or 0.2 seconds apart, often with me as the loser (though not always... heheh). I was thrilled that she was doing so well—she was my friend, after all—but I didn't want her to be better than me. For some reason, it hurt more to lose against her since we were friends! With a rather "colorful" background of 10 sports under my belt (thanks, Mom and Dad), I know what it feels like to be the sore loser and to receive the negative energy from a sore loser—neither feel good. Can we just encourage each other? And hold hands? And all be friends? (Perhaps I also have a young soul—probably around kindergarten or preschool-aged—pining for the days of sharing crayons and making friends by sharing my cool big Ticonderoga pencils.)
14. “Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart—one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.” | M. J. Ashton
It's easy to yell at whoever left their stuff on the stairs (Whiskey, my Golden Retriever, is so guilty of this). It's tempting to snap at the cashier who forgot to take the security tag off of your new $200 swimsuit (I've actually been that cashier before...). It's second nature to do a little eye rolling here and there—when parents get a little too micro-managey, when someone in the group project shows up late, or when the professor announces a pop quiz. It's easy to tear people down in these small but significant ways. But you know what's even more significant? Nurturing. Flick the little devil off of your shoulder (à la childhood cartoons) and resist the urge to snap/yell/gossip/whatever. Channel that energy for good. Build someone up. Listen without judgment. Help someone out even when it's inconvenient. To think someone could be left better after meeting you is a very powerful thing.
15. “Settling for less makes you feel less. It actually makes your energy smaller. Deciding to not settle might mean you have to wait longer or challenge the typical, but if you are passionate about what you are creating with your life, the way always appears.” | D. Claudat
Settling and apathy are dangerous drugs. As humans, we're often tempted by the safer option, the easier and faster option, or the higher-paying-yet-horrendously-boring option. Boys, jobs, universities, internships—we're seduced by Settling's instant gratification. But if that boy/job/university/internship isn't everything you've ever dreamed of, pull on your patience pants and be productive in the meantime. Patience is wicked tough, but often worth it.
16. “Be with someone who doesn’t make you want to check your phone.” | Unknown
This is SO big for me. I am so tired of going to dinner with friends only to look around the table and see everyone on their phone. While it feels natural to do a little Twitter scrollin' or to edit Instagram pictures right then and there, this actually sends the message that what's on your little screen is much more important or entertaining than those actually sitting next to you. Be with the people you are physically with at gatherings. When I can feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, it takes 110% of my mind-over-matter powers to ignore. But relationships are worth the agony of missing some notifications. Give people your attention. Be fully present. Set an example for others. And to be frank, when it comes to friends or relationships, you shouldn't even want to check your phone around them! This past weekend I was in San Diego with my two best friends, and although we snapped a few pictures at brunch, we all waited to post until after. Easy peasy.
17. “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” | M. Dell
It feels good to be the smart one. My former university required all students to take a general ed religion class, and since I was a religion major and was bound by this requirement, I excelled times 43,855,245 in the intro-level course. The professor would use my essay as a class example after every exam and everyone wanted to be my partner on group quizzes (though I don't think they even knew my name...boohoo). While it bolstered my self-esteem and confidence in the classroom, pridefulness snuck into the mix. Luckily, every subsequent course had me working harder and harder, humbled when the material no longer came easily to me. That's where the meaningful conversations, stacks of pored-over books, and the feeling of being so small in such a vast chasm of knowledge come into play. That's where the growth happens. (Growth seems to be the theme in this season of life.)
18. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. To be light and frolicsome. Improbably and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” | M. Oliver
I don't know if it's possible to change personality types while growing up, or if the "Type A and B" theory is even accurate, but I've always been a B: creative, reflective, and easygoing. By my second year of college, I was the hybrid mix: creative, reflective, driven, perfectionist, workaholic. It may have been the increased responsibilities or newfound passion in school that led me into Type A territory, but recently I've been missing my old "go-with-the-flow" nature. I think what I've gleaned from this is to enjoy every moment of youth—to say yes to adventures, be willing to go exploring, and get out of the monotonous comfort zone. As the 1600s proverb goes, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" (James Howell).
19. “The greatest cruelty is our casual blindness to the despair of others.” | J. Straczynski
I received an email once from one of those people. If you've ever read the comment sections on YouTube videos, controversial blog posts, news articles, or celebrity Instagram photos, you'll know exactly what kind of person I mean—they hang around on the internet, search for a vulnerable target, and hit them (hard) with sharp words and painful phrases. The email snarled with harsh opening words, going on to insult me in ways I didn't know possible. The final line of the email? He or she wanted to kindly let me know that no one cares about my stupid, boring life, and that I should really look into writing about something important for once. Particularly the starving kids in Africa. Ouch. Swallowing these words wasn't easy. That kind of speech, funneled to a stranger behind the safety and anonymity of a computer screen, is inhumane. This insensitive, remorseless email was cyber-bullying. I'd hate to sound like a Disney Channel commercial, taking about the dangers of the internet and why bullying is wrong, but my gosh, it's hard to really grasp how much words can hurt until it's directed at you. This experience left me with a whole lot of empathy for anyone who has dealt with cyber-bullying before. And again, it was a character-building experience. With 7.046 billion people on the planet, not everyone is going to like you or me. Pick your battles, say your prayers for the bullies, and "write hard and clear about what hurts" (Hemingway).
20. "To live content with small means—to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich—to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart—to bear all cheerfully—do all bravely, await occasions—never hurry; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony." | W. E. Channing
Mr. Channing [note: not Channing Tatum—think 200 years older] is a smart fellow. Not because he was a Harvard grad in the 17th/18th century, but because of his awareness of what's actually meaningful and essential in life. I feel like present-day society is gluttonous, driven by validation, entertainment, and shock-value. And it's easy to be seduced by fancy cars, night life, and lavish clothes—but does it really matter? They're just things. Man-made things. The real treasures are in the moments, the relationships, the laughs and tears, and the things that GOD cares about.