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?

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!