What I learned from Lena

lena-dunham

Have you read Lena Dunham’s new book?

If you’ve seen her amazing show Girls, then the content of this book will be quite familiar. There’s an essay about working in an overpriced children’s store, there’s a mention of popping her own eardrum out of anxiety, and there is line after line where you could just swear that you were hearing Hannah Horvath.

Of course, one should expect this- it’s not a secret that Hannah’s character is not-so-loosely based on Lena’s own life and experiences, and this book is proof. And while overall I came away enjoying the book as an escape, and as the words of a woman whose work and ambition I so admire, there was something that left me feeling unsettled.

I wasn’t unsettled by the garish retellings of her most horrific stories, although I could see how some would be. I think I was unsettled because I had heard this all before. I love Girls because while the story it tells is relatable, the characters are so wildly exaggerated, and you laugh because thank God your friends aren’t that crazy. But in reading the book, it became clear the characters are barely exaggerated, and the stories she are sharing in the pages of her book are ones I’ve all heard before.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t some kind of wisdom being passed down, because there definitely is. She articulates beautifully why she loves being a woman. She defends the desire and necessity of sharing one’s story. And she wants girls to stop spending their time being made to feel bad about themselves by horrible men (both relationally and professionally). She is eloquent, and startling in the truths she shares. But I came away wishing I had seen more of writer-Lena, or director-Lena, or amazingly successful comedienne-Lena. But mostly what I saw was this now strangely confusing hybrid of Lena and the character she plays on TV, and frankly, I would never take Hannah’s advice, even if she is genuinely good-willed about it. I wanted to see a separation of Lena from her work. What I saw was that Girls is the real memoir, and this book is just a fun bonus-feature.

For me, I’m going to continue watching Girls, and I’m going to walk away from the book taking a few beautiful quotes with me, which I will leave for you to take as well:

“When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done. Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment. It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve. This is so simple. But I tried so hard to make it complicated.”

“Respect isn’t something you command through intimidation and intellectual bullying. It’s something you build through a long life of treating people how you want to be treated and focusing on your mission.”

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman. As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter…But I want to tell my stories and, more than that, I have to in order to stay sane.”

“I consider being female such a unique gift, such a sacred joy, in ways that run so deep I can’t articulate them. It’s a special kind of privilege to be born into the body you wanted, to embrace the essence of your gender even as you recognize what you are up against. Even as you seek to redefine it.”

 

So what did you think? Did you read it? Will you?

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A dream to remember

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Do you believe in dreams? By that I mean, do you ever wake and know that your dream meant something real? I’m a big believer in the power of dreams, and I had one last night that was so encouraging to me that I just wanted to share.

First, a little backstory. This last year has been one of questions for me. I’ve done a lot of self-examination, a lot of mental wandering…wondering about vocation vs. hobby, who I am vs. who I want to be, etc. I can visualize the kind of life and work and meaning I want to have and bring to the world, but I have such a hard time finding the way there, and so much impatience about how long it’s taking, that I often wonder if these visions of the future hold any weight, if they could ever come to pass.

Back to the dream. I dreamt that I was wearing my wedding dress, and my hair was down, and loose. I was in a large open field, under a tree. There were lots of people surrounding me, including some I admire and know only by their work. Everyone was smiling and connecting with each other. In front of me was hanging a rope, the kind you would use to swing into a lake. I knew that if I got on this rope and swung on it while wearing my wedding dress in front of all of these people, it would look really silly, but I also knew that it would mean I had come to my fullest potential and finally become the truest expression of myself. I was kind of nervous, but I was laughing and everyone around me was encouraging me, “Get on the rope! Do it! You have to!” Finally I just decided to give in to it, and I climbed on the rope and started swinging, in front of everyone. I was going higher and higher, my wedding dress and my hair were flying out behind me and I felt completely free, with the purest sense of joy. Everyone was clapping and just so happy. Joy was the only emotion anyone had. My field of vision kind of panned out and I saw myself, swinging, surrounded by all of these people, and I was totally free of any fears or insecurities, basking in complete fullness of self, joy, and purpose.

When I woke up, I just knew that this dream was meant as an encouragement. Despite all the fears and gnawing, daily insecurities I may have about my talents, my work, my passions, my life and relationships…if I just move forward and swing on that rope despite it, I will accomplish those dreams. And I have so much support. It was like the whole world was saying, “You have to lay down your fears and just start swinging…we’ve got you.”

 

(photo of my sister-friend, Jen, in La Casa del Árbol Baños, Ecuador)

Missing out

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As an introvert, talking to people I don’t know is not something I really enjoy doing and it’s usually not very high on my priority list. I tend to keep my head down when I walk, avoiding eye contact unless absolutely necessary. I can make small talk just fine for a while, and I sometimes even enjoy the kinds of spontaneous conversations that can come up, but the truth is, if I don’t have to, I’m most likely going to choose not to.

However, this sometimes conflicts with a deeply held belief of mine- to be kind, warm, and inviting. Often times we are not given enough time with people for them to “break through” the quieter introversion to see and feel the real warmth that lies underneath. Sometimes, only five minutes, sometimes two, are given to make a connection. And, as someone who has worked in customer service for almost a decade, I can attest to the real impact an amazing two minute conversation can make. I’ve always admired those who can make you feel seen, heard, and appreciated within such a short time span, and I’ve wanted to be that to those I meet as well. But I think I’ve let my own idea of what being introverted looks like get in the way.

What I’m trying to say is, in the past couple of weeks at my new job, I’ve been forced to meet an enormous amount of new people, and I have found that being able to make a quick, but genuine connection has been extraordinarily and surprisingly…wonderful. I haven’t let my nervousness about new people get in the way of showing them who I really am, and I’ve even felt emboldened to be the one to initiate contact! If you know me at all, you know I’ll avoid initiating just about everything, so this has been a huge (but positive) learning process for me. I’m learning that kindness, humility, gratefulness, and playfulness are really great connectors- and that making those kinds of connections are actually really, really wonderful, and not as difficult as I kept telling myself they would be. I’m learning that I can be true to both sides of myself: the one who enjoys quiet alone time, and the one who is kind and inviting. It looks a little different than how I imagined it to be, but I’m finding something great I never even knew I was missing out on.

(photo by Small Measure)

What’s your creative process?

typewriter


“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” -Chuck Close

“I’ve never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think that the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them, you will never write again.” -John Updike

For all you creatives out there…how do you stay motivated? I’ve read lots of writer’s routines, and Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is a real staple of mine. But sometimes (most of the time) that just doesn’t cut it. The day to day of creative activity and thought comes much harder. There are an abundance of quotes regarding inspiration and hard work that I try to remind myself of (like the ones above), but I’m hoping to develop a manageable routine. Do any of you have a routine you stick to? Or are you more of a “as the wind moves me” type of person? I’d be interested in hearing how you keep the work and juices flowing.

P.S. I have found John Updike’s quote above to be incredibly true. Isn’t life outside of work always what we’d rather be doing?

(photo by my wonderfully talented friend, Josiah Norton)

A Steep Learning Curve

Amelia Earhart
I started a new job last week.

There’s nothing quite like a new job to remind oneself that there is always much, much more to be learned. It’s one thing to say in an interview, “I can do that” and think to yourself “I can probably figure that out” and then actually come into the job and realize that you haven’t figured it out yet…and you don’t quite know where to begin. Figuring it out can be very stressful.

But in the midst of the stress, I have this little feeling of pride. Here I am, figuring out how to do things on my own that before I never would have thought I could do without training! It’s amazing what you can learn when you have no other choice but to jump in and swim.

This week has shown me that I put so many limitations on myself. There is so much more I can do, so many more skills I can learn, than what I’ve thought about myself before. And that’s very liberating.

This week I am very grateful- for having this job, yes, but mostly for it teaching me so quickly that I am capable of more than I ever thought.

 

(photo of Amelia Earhart via NBC)

Sweet Potato-Apple Salad

sweet potatoes

Last week was the first full week of September, which means fall in my book. I planned five or six meals for the week in the spirit of cooler weather. And then, the LA heat wave hit- hard. It’s been 105 for the last two days, and high 90s the rest of the time. Suddenly, our air conditioner-less apartment was feeling the opposite of fall, and all of those pumpkin soups and risottos were sounding like the last things I wanted to be making. The idea alone of being in the same room as the oven was enough to get me to start sweating. Luckily, there was one meal I planned that sounded even remotely enticing. It still required the use of the oven, and I sweated a lot for those 30 minutes, but after that first bite, it was all worth it.

dressing onions

Now, I am not one to rave about salads. I eat them because I know my body needs those nutrients, but it’s not a very common occurrence where I crave a salad. This one changed that. I could eat this every week. And it fit this odd weather perfectly- it was refreshing and light, but still full of all the fall treats that I was really wanting- pumpkin seeds, apples, maple, and roasted sweet potatoes. I don’t think I need to mention how amazing onions caramelizing in maple syrup smells. The combination of roasted sweet potatoes, creamy goat cheese, crunchy nuts and seeds, and crisp apple slices was simply perfect. I promise you, A/C or no, this one is worth making. I think you’ll find it just as amazing as I did.

Apples and Roast

finished salad

 

Sweet Potato-Apple Salad
adapted from The Kinfolk Table

for the salad
1 extra-large, or 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into rounds 1/4″ thick
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small, or 2/3 large yellow onion, sliced 1/4″ thick

for the dressing*
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp honey
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

also…
4 cups kale (I found black tuscan to hold up the best)
1 apple, cored and sliced 1/4″ inch (I used pink lady- the crispness contrasts wonderfully)
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
3-4 oz crumbled goat cheese

instructions
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375.

Toss the sweet potato slices with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, 2 Tbsp of the maple syrup, and the cinnamon on a foil-lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time.
Transfer the sheet to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and remaining 1 Tbsp of maple syrup and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until caramelized.

Make the dressing: whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and 1 tsp of honey together in a small bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and additional honey to taste.

Toss the greens, apple slices, sweet potatoes, onions, nuts, seeds, and cheese together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

*note: if you are vegan and need to skip the goat cheese, I would double the dressing

The Faces of Truth

Doors

 

“Three things cannot be long hidden- the sun, the moon, and the truth.” -Buddha
“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” -Mahatma Ghandi
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” -Jesus (John 8:32)
My husband and I had a long, complicated, but ultimately enlightening conversation last week about truth and how it relates to faith and religion(s), and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What is truth? Is truth the same for everyone? Are there universal truths? What about when the truth is coming from a sacred text- does one have to believe in the god of that text in order to accept the truths found within it? These were just some of the questions we were throwing around. This is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Raised in a conservative, evangelical home, I was taught that all truth came from one place- the Bible. Everything else should be understood in light of what the Bible has to say, taking great care and discernment about things that aren’t from the Bible. I think I still subscribe to this belief, but in a more open-handed way. Here’s what I mean: I was taught that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). I still believe this to be true. But there’s another way that I read this. Jesus isn’t just the truth, as in only things spoken by him are true, but rather Jesus is Truth. This necessitates that anything that is true is therefore of God, because God is Truth. Even if the words of truth being spoken are not coming from a Christian, or are from some other sacred text, or even from a person who usually shares negativity instead of truth.

I have to be able to see and accept truth, wherever it comes from. I’ve heard many times growing up to be careful about listening to people who are not Christian. But I have to say this- I think it’s wise to take the truths you know from the Bible and see if the statements you’re hearing reflect that, but I think it’s unwise to cast aside something that could bring life and meaning simply because it’s not from a Christian source. I sense this fear about what might happen if we get too far away from the words of the Bible- we tend to grasp on to the “wise as serpents part,” but kind of forget about the “gentle as doves” part.

I want to be the kind of person who is open-hearted enough to see truth for what it is, no matter where or who it comes from. Part of the balance of life I’m seeking is to be more open-hearted and open-minded to people and beliefs different from mine, and to be able to be guided by Truth in and of itself, wherever I may find that. (This reflects back to when I said I wanted to be confident, but open.)

Ultimately, I believe that seeking out truth is one of the surest ways to find God.
Thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have a measure you use to determine if something is true? I’d love to hear- from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds!

The New Essential

Essential Oils

In the last couple months, I’ve grown a real interest in finding more holistic, natural remedies for everyday ailments. There’s this whole world around us filled with plants, flowers, and herbs that have been used medicinally for centuries, and I think it’s absolutely fascinating. I’m amazed that people figured out how to utilize these gifts, and I’m awed that the earth provides for us in that way.

One of the ways we can utilize these plants’ healing properties is through essential oils. Essential oils are made by steam-distilling the plants to release their natural compounds. They can be distilled multiple times, but the strength of their properties weakens each time, so for the best effect, it’s best to use a first distillation oil (Young Living is a great example of a company that exclusively uses first distillations for their oils).

I’ve only begun to delve into this enormous world of herbal remedies and essential oils, but here are a few common ailments that essential oils can help relieve:

  • Headaches
  • Sore muscles
  • Allergies
  • Minor cuts, burns, and scrapes
  • Insomnia
  • Sunburn
  • Blisters
  • Insect bites
  • Skin, hair, and nail health
  • Nausea and digestive issues
  • Lack of concentration
  • Emotional fatigue
  • Strep throat
  • Household germs
  • Arthritis

There are SO many things to learn, and most oils can be used for well over a dozen different things. When combined, the possibilities really multiply. I’ll give you just a few examples of how I’ve noticed them working in my own life:
I have restless leg syndrome, and it’s often very hard for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. I take one of Young Living’s blends, Peace & Calming, and rub it right above the hip on my lower back, and diffuse it as well and I fall asleep so quickly and sleep more deeply than usual. This happens every single time I use this oil. Michael requests that I diffuse this one at night all the time, because it helps him sleep so well, too!

When I have a headache or neck tension from sitting in an office chair all day, I rub a mix of peppermint and lavender on my temples and on the back of my neck. Within 5-10 minutes, my headache is gone.

My hay fever leaves me super sneezy and itchy all over my face and eyes. I rub a mix of lemon, lavender, and peppermint behind my ears and on my wrists and there is a noticeable diminishment in my symptoms.

I occasionally get a small hive/allergic reaction to my wedding ring. Previously, I would have to go at least a week without wearing my ring, and I’d spend the whole time trying not to itch it while I watched it only get worse, despite the cortisone cream I religiously applied. The last time this hive showed up, I rubbed one drop of lavender on the hive. By the end of the day, the spot was completely gone.
All of this to say, essential oils really work! I’ve even begun using them as part of my beauty routine, and I’ve made my own all-purpose cleaner with them as well. I feel good about using them because I know exactly what they are, and they have zero synthetics or additives.* I’ll be posting about different oils as the weeks go on, highlighting a new one and its benefits each time. If you’re interested in learning more in the meantime, check out my Pinterest board, where I post lots of “recipes,” facts, and information. There’s a lot to learn, and I’m excited to see the difference oils will continue to make in my health and happiness.

*Note: this is not true of all essential oils. Unfortunately, a large majority of oils have synthetics added. Do your research! If there isn’t mention that their oils do not contain synthetics, then they probably do! I use Young Living because they are one of the very few who absolutely never will add synthetics to their oils.

Becoming Balanced

Lemon Tea
I’ve been thinking a lot about balance as of late. It seems to be the distress of our time to be surrounded by extremes. We gorge ourselves over holidays and then starve ourselves in the new year. We work ourselves into the ground during the week and then can’t get off the couch for the whole weekend. We give all our energy away and then can’t understand why our own lives are a mess. It seems that we are always looking for the next Thing that will help us, or fix us, but the problem is that we often look outside ourselves for it. We are so out of tune with our own bodies; we’re constantly taking in information and not giving ourselves time to sit with it and process it, or to feel stillness or silence. We rarely create space and time for ourselves. I am guilty of this myself. It was in contemplating these things that I then began to explore where I am learning and desiring balance in my own life.
I’m learning balance in my rest. Having a work/life balance has always been important to me; I am not the workaholic type. I enjoy and need rest and time to myself. However, my rest time is often very unproductive, and rather lazy. I forget to use my time towards the things I say I love, like writing, practicing French, or baking. This is something I always struggle with, but want to get better at.

I’m learning balance in my spiritual practice. I see many people who are all or nothing in their faith (whatever that faith is), and I just can’t reconcile that for myself. I want to find a balance where I can see and accept truth for what it is, no matter where it comes from, while still being strong in what I believe. I want to be confident in my convictions, but open and willing to listen.

I’m learning balance in how I eat. For almost my whole life, I’ve been able to eat whatever I want, and I rather scorned “health” food in favor of weekly nachos, pizza, and cheeseburgers. Now I’ve been introduced to super delicious healthy foods that I love. I feel good about what I’m putting in my body, and am interested in eating to be healthy, but I don’t place restrictions on what I won’t or can’t eat. I’m trying to find that middle ground.

I’m learning balance when it comes to how I care for my body. I’ve never been athletic, so I’ve never exercised. I hated it. But I’m learning what I really dislike is running, so I’m finding other ways to strengthen my body and see what I’m capable of. For me, that’s yoga and barre classes. I love the way that it makes me feel more in tune with what my body needs, and I love feeling stronger and less achy.

I’m also learning more natural, holistic ways to treat ailments, and products to use in beauty care that won’t harm me in the long run. I’m still a firm believer in doctors and know they are vital, but I’m interested in finding that in-between place where holistic, more Eastern health care meets the more traditional Western health care.
This whole balance thing has really taken up a lot of my thoughts in the past month or two, and it’s become something I feel really passionate about sharing. This place, Dear Wilderness, is not going to become a health and wellness blog by any means, but it will continue to remain a place where I share what I’m passionate about, and so it might take a more “natural” turn in its focus. I want to talk about faith and spirituality, finding emotional expression, delicious recipes and restaurants, books that stimulate the imagination, natural health remedies, and general balance in all areas of life. Life is about the contradictions, the things that shouldn’t work but do, the unexpectedly beautiful, and finding the balance in the midst of it all. I want to extend my roots into this beautiful earth and reach up towards the heavens to search for beauty and wholeness. Hopefully I’ll have the courage to live out what I find.

Competition and Finding a Path

Foggy wooded path!

 

I’ve been doing some thinking about competition. Not the kind between teams in games, but the kind between people. The kind that I’m learning stems from comparison, and insecurity.

Funny enough, we (read: I) don’t tend to think of ourselves as insecure. It’s like admitting that we don’t like ourselves, or we don’t think we’re good enough. And that’s the opposite of how we like to present ourselves to others- as put together, talented, thoughtful, creative, or well-off. I think we are quite often trying to prove our worth on some level, both to others and to ourselves, whether we know it or not. It’s tough to really dig down when pricks of jealousy or comparison come up and ask ourselves why we’re having those feelings in the first place.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a jealous person. I have a small circle of friends, and I guard them closely. I don’t like “competition” from other people. I want to have something so special that I am irreplaceable. I want to be able to provide everything that person needs within our relationship. In my head, I know that is unhealthy, and impossible. No one can be all things to all people (or even to one person). The competition hits even closer to home when I see that the “competitor” (a.k.a. a super nice, regular person who has no idea they’re even in a competition) is so much like myself. Suddenly I’m not so special; in fact, I’m pretty normal and maybe even replaceable. Suddenly I feel the need to prove my worth.

Or do I? I’m finding that my personal insecurities stem from the fact that I am still very much struggling to figure out who I am and where my place is in this world. I don’t feel that I have anything special to give, because I haven’t found an outlet for my talents and interests. I don’t feel that I am contributing to any greater good. I don’t have anything that I represent. So when I see others who have passions and interests they are pursuing wholeheartedly, I am envious that they know the direction they are heading in, whereas I feel like I’m lost in a very foggy wood without a lantern. Where did everyone get those flashlights? And are there any more paths left for me to find? So, every time I see someone shining brightly on their path, a little barb pricks me right above my heart. I’ll notice it, so I’ll try to pick it out, bandage up the little wound and move on. But then I catch a glimpse of their damn light-filled path again! Stop shining your light all over me, you! I don’t even have a lantern, that’s just rude. And the barb comes in again, in the same spot, this time a little deeper. And so it goes- me seeing their light, feeling the barb, picking it out and washing the wound, seeing their light, feeling the barb, picking it out and washing the wound…

Ugh.

So, I’m trying to remind myself that there is enough space in the world, and in the hearts of my friends, for things and people besides me. There are enough paths in that great wooded world for me to find mine too. Sometimes, more than one person can share a path! Imagine that! As my dearest friend consistently tells me (as I’m sure she sees these insecurities in me), “I’ve never known another you.” And that’s true of everyone. There will never be another you. Or her. Or him. But there can be a great, harmonious We. We can join our paths together. We can shine our lights on those who are still trying to find theirs. Those without one can (painfully and humbly) learn to accept light from those who have found it. And we can all remember that there is no need for competition, because there will never be another like us.