A Bit of Writing

It has been quite a long time since I’ve written in this space. And honestly, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve written at all. Until recently. I met some great ladies through my husband, and I’ve begun writing for them over at their site, Upwrite Magazine. You can check out the couple of things I’ve done here and here.

Then, as these things tend to go, the Upwrite ladies introduced me to some more great writing women, and I have a piece in the upcoming (print!) issue of Tapestry Magazine. I’m not sure if it will be available online, but if it is, I’ll link it up here.

Finally, the month of March was the release of a podcast I was invited to be a part of at work. Fuller Theological Seminary’s president, Mark Labberton, has a podcast called Conversing, and him, my friend and colleague Jeanelle Austin, and myself got together to discuss implicit gender bias. I felt very honored to be a part of such an important conversation.

I’ve been feeling the itch to write more, lately. While I’m not typically the committal type, I’m hoping to begin making more use of this space. I’m realizing that I don’t have to have something profound to say in order to write it down. What a concept, eh?

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Shades of Grey

Gray 4

Gray 3

Gray 2

Gray 1

I love these photos from Kinfolk Magazine. As much as I may think I’m not susceptible to the idea of “eternal youth,” it still creeps in unexpectedly, because our culture is saturated with it. That’s why I so admire these beautiful women. The photo essay these appeared in was titled, “The Grace of Gray,” and I don’t think there is a more apt description. These women are so beautiful, in the most natural way one could be. As I continue to get older, my goal is to embrace the lines of life on my face, for they showed where I felt beauty and pain. As difficult and counter-culture it may be, I hope I have the courage to be crowned by the beauty and grace of gray and silver. I want to appreciate my body more the longer it is around. I want to nourish and care for it, not try to hide it. I’m not sure now how I will feel when I get closer to the actuality of wrinkles and streaks, but I hope that no matter what the color of my hair, I will embrace who I am and the body that’s carried me so far.

Scarcity as “The Great Lie”

I’ve recently started Brené Brown’s newest book, Daring Greatly, and it is fantastic. She begins by talking about scarcity, what she calls the “never-enough problem,” and this quote she offers by Lynne Twist was more than a little convicting:

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life…”

Spring

Even in a place of endless sunshine and perpetual spring, there is still a sense of renewal that happens in California come March and April. The clock turns ahead an hour, and suddenly the evenings seem to hold more opportunities. The perennials begin blooming, filling the air everywhere with their intoxication. The farmers markets’ tables weigh even heavier with early spring vegetables, and windows are thrown open to let in the warm breeze. Here, where the shift in temperature is barely noticeable, signs of spring are felt elsewhere- in extended dinners held outside, in the realization that the evening shawl is not needed, in the bright colors in shop windows, in the itchy noses of the allergic. Food is brighter, fabrics are lighter, hikes are longer. While I may no longer experience the earth thawing, I still feel it growing and showing off its beauty, and I am grateful for the barely imperceptible shift that happens when flowers unfold and hearts are warmed by that extra hour of sunlight.

Please, No Thank You

We hear about the insecurity of people all the time. We are always talking about “owning who you are” and “walking with your head held high,” “not worrying what people think.” I’ve always felt fairly confident in being the weirdo that I am, and I really like the life I am living. But I have finally realized that even though I haven’t thought of myself as being the insecure type, I actually am. My insecurity, however, doesn’t lie in how I dress or in what school I went to, or the people in my life. My insecurity manifests itself in a totally different way, masked as something less obvious: people-pleasing.

I am a people-pleaser. I have finally realized that most of my anxiety issues lie in my incessant need to please people. I care so much about the people in my life, that I never want to do anything that will upset, annoy, or inconvenience them. Part of it is because I see myself as someone with an acute intuition, so I feel I should know better than to do whatever it is I think I did that possibly upset them. Because I understand them in a way others don’t! (Next post: my pride issues.)

I think part of it is the fact that I am an introvert and keep my friend circle small; as a dear friend said last week, “There are a lot of people I like, but there are very few whom I really love.” A lot of people might not understand that sentiment, but it really rang true for me. So when I have a few whom I spend most of my love and energy on, I really want to hold up my end of the relationship and be the best version of myself for them. This is not to say that they don’t see my selfishness or my laziness, but that I want to remember to honor them in the best way that I know how. The trap is that I get really anxious if I feel I’ve done something to upset them. My friendship circle is small, but incredibly meaningful to me, and a potential “falling out” would be devastating to me. I want to protect and enrich the relationships I’ve surrounded myself with, and ultimately I will at some point sacrifice a part of myself to make sure everything stays on the right track.

But, I am learning, that is not healthy. Anyone with sense will tell you that only a true relationship will stand up under pressure; they weren’t your friend anyway if they’re leaving you because of a disagreement or an inconvenience. And that is very true. But I hate confrontation and disagreements. I’m sure very few do, but I recoil from them like a bag of snakes. They make me extremely uncomfortable and I will do almost anything to avoid getting to that point. But I am finally learning that in order to grow and be my best self in the world, I have to give myself grace to allow for the fact that I can’t please everyone. Someone will always be annoyed, or frustrated, or even angry and hurt with me at some point. It’s inevitable. I’m learning that it’s not healthy to avoid confrontation or expressing your own hurt feelings for the sake of the other person. I need to speak up and be who I am so I can be an even better friend, wife, and daughter. Relationships deepen through tough times, and passing through awkward, embarrassing, or frustrating conversations will only make a true relationship stronger. If I want to grow, deepen, and enrich my life and the lives of the people I care about, I have to stop avoiding the negative aspects of life, and forcing only the positive. I have to speak up when I need something, rather than set it aside for what I think the other person needs from me. I have to trust the relationships that I am in. I have to learn to outgrow my insecurity of people-pleasing. Frankly, I’m not looking forward to it. This is so wildly out of my comfort zone. But I am envisioning the strong, secure woman I want to be, and I know this is the path I must start down.

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

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(photo by Josiah Norton)

What is the thing that gets you the most excited? What do you spend a majority of your free time doing? If someone were to ask you, “What is your favorite thing to do in the world,” what would you say? What gives you life? I’ve known the answer to these questions my whole life, and the answer is: read.

love reading. More than anything. There are very few things that don’t feel like they are stealing me away from time spent reading. It’s hard to explain the sense of urgency I have about books. I feel compelled by some inner force to read as much as possible, and it’s hard to describe why. It just seems that the stories people tell, or the language used to convey facts and meaning and nuance and depth and emotion are just so important. A book is the lifeblood of the person who wrote it. Someone cared so much about this story, this event in history, these emotions, that they could not contain it, had to get it out on paper, needed to share it with someone who would listen. I understand that compulsion, and I feel that same drive to honor their work by giving my time to the words they are offering me.

One of my “resolutions” this year was to read one book per week, and so far, I am a week ahead of myself. I adore spending time with each book, learning its characters, its author, its metaphors. But if I’m spending longer than I feel I should, I begin to feel guilty because there is just SO much else out there! How will I ever get to it all? A few years ago I bought the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book, and I calculated that if I read only books from this list, one per week, it would take me about 20 years to read them all. So that felt really disappointing, because how am I supposed to keep up with all the beautiful writing that is coming out fresh from the minds and presses of today’s writers? They deserve my attention too! And let’s not forget my three magazine subscriptions I receive every month, or all the blogs I keep up with. Or the news. I need to know the past to better understand my present, but I need the present to prepare for the future. It’s all necessary! It’s all beautiful! It’s all so, so important. 

I just find so much beauty in story and language. Somehow, through the turning of a phrase, a short but poignant description, or even in the silence of what isn’t being said, so much depth of human emotion and story is told, and that connects us. It brings up those emotions inside of us. If we allow it, language can help us heal. It can make us vulnerable or prickly as we choose, but often when we’re alone with a book, we feel a bit better about letting our guard down and feeling those emotions coming up from the well deep within us.

I need to read because I need to find out more about who I am, about what this world is like, about how others do life, about how I can become a better person. Reading wakes me up, makes me alive, excited, passionate. For me, it feels like the most important thing I do. It is the thing I love most in this world. It awakens the beauty in the world, transposes it, and gives me wings.

I Was Wrong About Creativity

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(Photo by Jasmology)

I have always thought of creativity as the birthing and formation of something new and never-before-experienced. Because I seem unable to do that, I have never thought of myself as creative. I do not paint. I do not write poetry. I am not a graphic artist. Picasso was creative. Steve Jobs was creative. Even advertising executives are creative. They create something completely new, or reinvent a new way of looking at something ordinary. A new perspective is offered.

More than ever before, technology has been an immense aid in the creative process. GarageBand comes standard on Apple computers. Anyone can start a blog. Instagram is one of the most popular apps in the world. Creativity and artistry seem to close in on us from all angles. How can anyone produce something truly creative when there is so much being produced?

Oftentimes, people are accused of curating rather than creating. With agents like Pinterest and Tumblr, one can reblog and repin something posted by someone else, who did the same thing with someone before them. The original creator of the image or object becomes lost in the shuffle. I have always felt more of a curator than a creator, because I have never produced something new, or so I thought. Designers, poets, chefs, painters and sculptors, those are creative people. They create something from nothing. I was merely a sad copy artist.

It wasn’t until recently that I thought of my own writing as being creative. In the past, if anyone tried to tell me otherwise, I would rebuff them saying, “They’re just my thoughts. There’s nothing special about my thoughts. It’s not making something new, or saying anything special.” But how wrong I was! Just by being who I am, my words are creative. Only I think the crazy way I do. Only I make the bizarre or beautiful connections in the way that I do, and that is creativity. I do not have to paint, or make my own cross-stitch pattern, or think up my own recipe in order to be creative.

I’ve learned that creativity is sharing yourself in whatever way moves you. Words move me more than almost anything else (although food is a close second), and so that is my creative outlet. Some people are best able to express themselves through drawing or writing music. Those may not be my skills, but that doesn’t mean I’m not creative and original. But, I’ve also learned to change my idea of what originality is.  As C.S. Lewis said, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence about how it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

Everyone is influenced by something or someone, whether or not they even know it. We slowly accumulate knowledge and influence throughout our lives, and eventually it comes out of us. The things we love become a part of us, and expressing ourselves is essential to a healthy life. Keeping everything to ourselves is first, lonely, and second, selfish. Why deprive the world of the beautiful things you can give it? Even if no one reads your words, or sees your drawings, or hears your songs, you have taken risk by putting it out into the world. By writing, singing, painting, composing, and articulating emotion, it slowly spreads that creativity throughout the world, making it a better place. What would the world be if only the things deemed “good enough” were put out into the world? We would have far less art and beauty, that is for sure. People are their own worst critics, and it is incredibly risky and vulnerable to put yourself and your creative expression out there for people to criticize.  But as I’ve learned recently, that kind of vulnerability can be extremely liberating. People can be cruel, it’s true, but I’ve been surprised to see that most people are far kinder than I expected them to be. I’ve learned that I need to be creative not for others and their accolades, but for me, because I need it. I need to express myself, unburden myself, share my gifts, be vulnerable. It’s healthy. And liberating.

Cooked

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I have been a fan of Michael Pollan’s work for quite a few years now, and I’d been meaning to read his newest one for almost as long as it has been out. I finally got around to it this past week, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. In Cooked, Pollan enters into the world of cooking and why it is important via the four main elements: fire, water, air, and earth.

From the beginning I was hooked. In the introduction, Pollan comes to the realization that many of the questions he had in his life could be answered singularly: cook. “What was the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being? And what would be a good way to better connect with my teenage son?…What is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the American food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable?…How can people living in a highly specialized consumer economy reduce their sense of independence and achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency?…How, in our everyday lives, can we acquire a deeper understanding of the natural world and our species’ peculiar role in it?” (Cooked, 1-2). He argues that in America, we have become so dependent on the industry and its companies for our sustenance and it has affected our health, the welfare of farmers, and our society as a whole. We have forgotten how to cook. We eat in separate rooms from our family members, or in the car with our customized meal, and we have lost the art of conversation and creation. Pollan takes us back to our roots and explores why these things have happened and how bringing back home cooking can turn things around.

Using the four elements as guides, the reader is brought through the secrets and mysteries behind barbeque, braises, bread, and fermentation. What we learn through all of this, is that the more intimately acquainted you are with your food- when you see where it comes from, learn how to prepare it, invest your time in it, and share it with loved ones- the more self-sufficient you can be, and a tiny vote is made against the system that has been in charge of how we eat. You become the one in control, and Pollan argues that the control is over more than just what food you are eating. “I also learned things about the natural world (and our implication in it) that I don’t think I could have learned any other way,” Pollan says. “I learned far more than I ever expected to about the nature of work, the meaning of health, about tradition and ritual, self-reliance and community, the rhythms of everyday life, and the supreme satisfaction of producing something I previously could only have imagined consuming, doing it outside of the cash economy for no other reason but love” (p 12). Cooking is a way of carrying on traditions, of building community and self-sufficiency, and improving our general health, happiness, and relationships.

I highly recommend Cooked. I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who made lunch and dinner for her family every day, but it has been only in recent years that the desire to produce my own food has come about, and this book increased the desire even more. I see a world filled with the sick and broken, and while it may sound trite, I really believe in the healing power of a good, healthy meal. As Pollan says so well, “Is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love” (p 23)? I think not.

Let the Light In

It always amazes me when people share themselves so willingly- not just their thoughts about a subject, or their ideas, but what is happening in their personal lives and how it is really affecting them. I have quite a bad weakness of hardly ever doing this. It’s too hard, and frankly, I wonder if it is really anyone’s business. But it is healing.

It is healing, not just for the person sharing it, but also for the listener. I am more comfortable being the listener in such situations. But I find myself being changed when someone is sharing some dark, scary detail of their inner life, because they have the courage to put it out there, and it makes me so proud of them, and it gives me the courage to do more of that, too.

We need people. I often forget that. I am quite comfortable being alone much of the time. Especially when hard times are hitting, my natural impulse is to curl up in bed by myself. I think part of this impulse comes from my very wrong idea that showing “negative” emotions like sadness, depression, anxiety, or anger is a sign of weakness. I’ve always felt that I should just quietly “get over” whatever my problem is and move on about my day; there is no sense is burdening anyone with my problems when everyone has enough of their own.

I have slowly come to realize, with time and support from my husband and friends, that this is not true. Vulnerability and asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. Brené Brown has devoted her life to researching vulnerability and shame, and her book The Gifts of Imperfection has been extremely influential in my life. America is not a shame culture, so it’s easy to believe that I am not acting out of shame when I hide myself and my problems from people. I’ve always thought that my problems just weren’t anyone else’s business, and I didn’t want to bother or burden them by asking for help. Instead, I kept them to myself or (even worse) tried not to think about them. But Brown says, “There’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing…when we numb the dark, we numb the light” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p 72-73).

This small phrase has become more and more self-evident the more I share myself completely with people. I find that when I share the “negative” emotions, I exorcise them a bit, and that creates space for healing, light, and love that the other person is trying to share with me. In order to receive that positive, I have to expel the negative. But boy, is it hard.

I really want to learn how to accept and feel the “negative” emotions in my life, but to also begin to share them with people whom I trust and cherish. This morning I was talking with a friend and she used the phrase “become comfortable being uncomfortable.” I really liked that idea- I want to become comfortable with the uncomfortableness of sharing my fears and anxieties, when I’m feeling a little blue, or when someone has hurt my feelings. I want to learn who I am, and I am really beginning to see that in order to do that, I have to recognize not only what I am feeling, but share those feelings with people. I need to make myself vulnerable in order to grow personally, and to deepen my existing relationships.

I’m going to need to work really hard on not letting my pride get in the way of my vulnerability. My wish is that I grow softer, kinder, and warmer as I share myself with others.

New Habits

I’m not sure why some people dislike making New Years’ resolutions. Maybe we all have a bit of perfectionism in us, and can’t bear the failure we deem inevitable. Or maybe it just seems like a waste of time. But I appreciate the opportunity for a new start. Since I fail all the time, I’m constantly in search of a fresh beginning, and a new year is just the perfectly timed event I need.

I’ve never been the type to make strict resolutions with quantities and qualifiers (will run 3 days a week! will only eat meat once a week!). I don’t work well with such strict guidelines; I am a much more fluid, self-forgiving person (even if I forgive myself a little too easily). I prefer to make a list of general changes, phrased positively about things I want to do more of, rather than things I need to cut back on.

This year, Michael and I wrote down a list of all the things we wish we did more, or healthy habits we wanted to include in our lives this year, and then my crafty husband made miniature signs for us to write down our top 12. I plan to display my list over my nightstand, because if I don’t have it in front of me every day, I WILL forget them, however much I want to remember.

Here is my list of resolutions for 2014- Happy New Year!

1. Practice piano
2. Do yoga
3. Study French more consistently
4. Extend hospitality {have people over more often}
5. Write daily {but not necessarily publish}
6. Read a book a week
7. Seek out creativity
8. Intentionally listen {to a new album, to a friend, to how my husband’s day was}
9. Pause the impulse {this is to help me be more mindful about my purchases, but applies in other areas, too}
10. Go for walks
11. Learn to appreciate mornings
12. Write more letters to my grandma & pen-pals

 

What healthy habits do you want to include this year? I’d love to share in them with you.