Posted in Life

Watering the Drought

Playing-in-the-Rain

Last night it rained, and we all completely lost it.

Since I moved to this area there hasn’t been a drop of rain.  The first thing I noticed when I moved here is that there are never any clouds.  Ever.  Occasionally I’ll see a few distant wisps lurking behind the mountains, and recently we’ve had the clogs of smoke blowing over from the wildfires, but never any cloud cover and never any rain.  Every time I check the seven-day forecast, I see a little line of suns.  It’s been a hot and dry summer that led into a hot and dry fall.

Then out of nowhere, the forecast showed lightning and heavy storms.  Rumor flew that we’d be getting the tail end of the hurricane, which had largely blown out but would still mean more rain than we’d had all summer.  But every day those little storm clouds on the forecast would be pushed back.  “It’ll rain on Tuesday!”  “Actually we should get more rain on Wednesday.”  “It’ll be coming down hard on the weekend.”  “It might rain by October …”

Then last night around 9:45, while I was sprawled out on my couch studying, I glanced out the window and saw my neighbor waving his arms and leaping like a maniac.  My roommate and I dashed outside.

Rain.  Lighting illuminated the water-logged courtyard, thunder barely audible over the rain pounding on the rooftops and sidewalks, the sheer volume of water seeming comparable to the monsoons of my childhood.  Heads began popping out of apartment windows, and all at once everyone was outside, abandoning homework without a second thought despite our looming midterms, staring, laughing, crying, filming, shouting their joy.  Without thinking we ran into it, spinning and dancing like fools, getting thoroughly soaked.  We didn’t care–it was raining, and from the new freshmen to the eternal grad students, we were all children again.

I’m not over-dramatizing, that is literally what happened.  We felt so liberated.  I’ve never been more aware that I live in a desert, and I haven’t been happier all month.

I’ve always loved rainstorms, but this one seemed to have unblocked me somehow.  For those moments in the storm, we all shed our professionalism and social pretenses and need to be adult-like.  For those moments in the storm, I was a little girl splashing in puddles again.  All the stress and worry and doubt that I’d let build up inside me cut free, like a long exhale, like the water pouring from the sky.

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Posted in Life

Death, Unity, and What Really Matters

My grandpa died yesterday morning.

I tried to think of any other way to segue into this, but there it is.  I had a big fancy post planned for today and planned to finish it up yesterday, but then I got the news and couldn’t really think of much else.

Everyone says they’re sorry, and I understand that there really isn’t much else to say.  I tell them not to be sorry; he is much happier where he is now.  Were we close?  Yes.  Do I miss him?  Yes.  Am I okay?  No, but I will be.

In the immediate aftermath, this is what I have learned.  It’s true, nothing can really prepare you for that kind of news.  At the same time, nothing brings people closer together.  I’m reminded of this quote from one of my favorite shows, spoken by a pastor after the death of a community leader:

And surely if a life as robust as Major Kirkpatrick’s can be ended so abruptly, it reminds us of the unavoidable truth – that all life is tenuous.  So how is it that this, this universal truth leads us to feel so alone?

We can deny the feeling all we want, we may even try to hide away from our feelings.  Like a wounded animal we separate ourselves from the pack, go off, lick our wounds, alone.  Not a bad instinct perhaps, but let me suggest an alternative.

If this life is precious, and if anything good can be found in a tragic circumstance like this, it’s that death exposes the lie.  The lie that we are separate, that we are not one.  Christ prayed that his disciples might find the unity that he had with his father.  That we might be one.  For if we are not one we are not his.  Here we are, a community come together to say goodbye to one of our own.  We are one.

Granite Flats Season 2

This weekend I’m going to have my whole family together for the first time in a long time, including some uncles and cousins I usually only see about once every six years.  While we were making plans and shifting schedules there was such an overtone of love in that group text.  Perhaps death reminds us not to take each other for granted, jolts us out of our numbing daily hustle and opens our eyes to what we really care about.  Suddenly I’m cramming my midterms and trying to accomplish the entire week in the next few days, and some things might slip through the cracks, but my academic stress has taken a backseat.

I don’t have any conclusion for this post.  A lot of things aren’t concluded right now.  I will say this: we all need each other.  Take some time today to reach out to your friends and family, and stop worrying about appearing to be put together.  We all need some clear emotional honesty from time to time.

Posted in education, Writing

#TBT: The Boring Professor

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The Four Stages of 3 pm Lecture

His voice washed over the class like warm honey, trapping us in a stupor of profound boredom.  We were long past fighting to understand his long monotonous drone and were now fighting only to remain semi-conscious.  A few had already succumbed to his soporific power.  They slipped into blissful oblivion, their gentle snoring adding to the stagnant ambiance.

I stared at a small knot in the carpet.  It was the most captivating thing I’d seen all hour.  I gazed at it as though it was the only real thing in the world.  A break.  An irregularity.  A small respite from the boredom.

A blank buzzing filled the room and invaded our brains.  Drowsiness hung thick and heavy, smothering the class and stifling every intelligent thought.  I’d never thought that boredom could be physical pain.  Now I couldn’t think at all.  I felt my mental processes breaking down and my very identity dissolving.

There was no purpose to life.  There was no life.  Only a meaningless muddle of mesmerizing, meditative, mesothermic, mozzarella …

Snap out of it, I told my brain.

Mozzarella, my brain responded.

–World History lecture, 2014

Some teachers open our eyes, some change our lives, and some are so completely boring that they are immortalized in desperate prose.

Happy fall semester everyone 🙂

Posted in Life

The Reality of Self Care

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Being extremely honest with one’s self is a good exercise.

–Sigmund Freud

“Self care” has become ubiquitous.  If you search the term, you find millions of articles and posts giving you five ways to give yourself what you deserve, seventy inspiring quotes, and why it’s important to take care of yourself first.  If you don’t search the term, you’ll still find dozens of references on your friends’ Instagram or in almost any conversation with people who practice yoga or blog about whole foods.  These people and articles tell us that we have to take time for ourselves and it’s okay to spend time and money on ourselves.  “Love yourself!”  “You deserve it!”

In one sense, this movement is great.  In an age of rushing and cramming and stressing, it’s important not to run ourselves raw or try give more than we have.  If you don’t ever take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else.  Never tending to your own needs and wants isn’t a healthy way to live.  In the past, topics like mental health weren’t discussed in a positive light, and it’s wonderful that we’ve moved forward to promoting positive mental health instead of just telling people to “suck it up” or “deal with it.”

All of this is fine and good.  But too often, I see this concept go way too far, to the point that it is frankly appalling.

Chelsea Fagan defined “internet self-care” this way:

The act of doing (or not doing) literally anything, regardless of long-term consequences or impact on others, as long as it makes you feel good in the moment. … justifies essentially any activity, behavior, spending, or opting out as not just productive but morally right, if done under the guise of self-care.

Under this definition, you are the center of the universe, and only your desires and comfort matter to you.  The theory is that you are totally justified in doing what you want– taking a day off of work, not answering the phone, spending money on expensive luxuries, not getting your homework done, eating a quart of ice cream–and anyone who gets mad at your for it is victimizing and unfeeling.  You have to take care of you.

This mindset has taken off, most notably on the internet, and to test the idea I ran a quick experiment with google autofill.  When I typed in “self care is” the top results included, “not selfish,” “so important,” “how to take your power back,”  and “a divine responsibility.”  When I typed in “self love is” the top results included “the best kind of love,” “important,” and “the greatest medicine.”  I tried every variation I could think of to try to find a negative result, but I couldn’t do it.  “Self care is bad” returned the suggestion “self care badges” and “self care after bad day.”  “Self care is wrong” returned no suggestions at all, as if the internet was shocked that I would even suggest this.  I managed to find a few articles that called self care into question, but they were a minority bordering on nonexistence.

kidnotlistening

It’s not hard to understand why “self care” has taken off.  This way of thinking is extremely satisfying in the short term.  No one wants to hear that they need to grow up and do the responsible thing.  When we indulge our impractical desires, “self care” lets us justify ourselves and think we were actually doing something wholesome.  It lets us feel good about doing what already feels good in the moment.  It lets us celebrate our laziness, appetites, whims, pettiness, and general childishness.  It lets us temporarily let go of our responsibilities.

But therein lies the problem.  This only works and only feels good in the short term.  When we open our eyes, it is very obvious that our immediate cravings are not the center of the universe.  We are surrounded with people who all have their own agendas, plans, needs, and immediate cravings, and we have to consider them.  We have our future self to think about too.  This model of self care only emphasizes what feels good right now, and not what is better for us in the long run.  

The aforementioned writer also pointed this out:

“Self-care” doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean “what feels good in the moment,” because that is literally the emotional compass of a toddler. … Our personal definitions of happiness should have a horizon that extends way, way past “the end of the day,” because being an adult means being able to imagine our future, and being a mature one means taking a little discomfort now in order to shape it.

No matter how unpleasant, “sucking it up” and “dealing with it” are often the right thing to do.  We’re not toddlers; we’re adults.  If we really want to take care of ourselves, we need to think about our long term goals, what we will need in the future, and what others need from us.  We can’t just sing ourselves a lullaby of “you deserve it” and “love yourself,” curl up in a bubble, rock ourselves to sleep, and forget about real life.  Allow me to be frank; that is pure selfishness.  If that’s all we did, we’d never publish a book, never sell a painting, never move forward in any career.

Another angle is to consider what proponents of self care claim its basis is: “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”  From this perspective, one of the main purposes of self care is so that you are able to better care for those around you.  I fully support this purpose, but it regularly slips through the cracks and disappears.  In the words of Nitika Chopra:

[People will] do all this stuff to feel really good, but then they aren’t taking any time to go put that energy out into the world.  What are you doing with all this good energy and good vibes that you are making sure you have all the time?

Too often we spend time solely on our cravings justified by cute quotes–an empty lantern gives no light, you can’t serve from an empty vessel–and then do nothing to fulfill their meaning.  It’s understandable–we’re tired, we’re stressed, we just want to watch Netflix until our eyes glaze over and our problems fade away, and then we can resume life the next day as though nothing changed.  But this notion of instant self-gratification does very little to make our lives better, and does nothing for all those proverbial empty cups.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging, once in a while.  If you’ve had a long hard week, go ahead and take a bubble bath.  If you worked your tail off and earned your degree or got a big promotion, go celebrate.  Have some cake.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  If you’re having a really hard mental health day or you’ve truly run yourself ragged, take a moment to listen to your favorite music, go on a walk, or take a nap.  That’s okay.  But let those moments be the exception, not the rule.

Instead of always doing what is easy and pleasant, challenge yourself.  When you take a moment for yourself, use that positive energy to make the world around you better.  Work a little harder, wake up a little earlier, run a little faster–you have your whole life ahead of you, and it will be what you make it.

After all, the path of least emotional resistance doesn’t really lead us anywhere.

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You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

–Abraham Lincoln

 What do you think?

How much “self care” is too much, and how do we balance it with responsibility?

Posted in Life, Writing

New Blogging Schedule and Direction

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My (rather fitting) view walking home along the edge of campus today

In the past few weeks I’ve moved into a new state, started a semester of college, changed my major, started a new job, and completely overhauled my usual daily routine.  I’m meeting so many people and being introduced to new ideas and perspectives constantly.  Naturally, my writing muse has taken a corresponding shift.  I don’t have nearly as much time to write, but I find myself having much more to say.

Moving forward, I want to create a system that gives me freedom to explore various topics, works with my schedule, and keeps me accountable while also not stressing me out too much.  True to my title, I’m going to stay with my main topics of education, art, and writing, but also give myself space to discuss other topics that spark my interest and are relevant to my overall theme (“walking the line between creativity and practicality”).

 

I plan to stick to a schedule of posting twice a week, thus:

Tuesday:  Longer and more in-depth posts, covering one of my main topics

Thursday:  Shorter and more light-hearted post, covering whatever strikes my fancy

Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading my posts and helped me start this blogging journey!  You all inspire me to grow.  Special shoutout to  Kayla Ann Author,  Baroque Myriam, and Now I Have a Baby 🙂

 

If you can’t fly, then run.  If you can’t run, then walk.  If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.

–Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Posted in Writing

Cliches: The Best Advice I’ve Ever Heard

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As a writer, I run into these articles all the time: How to Avoid Cliches in Business Writing, Top Ten Most Common Cliches in Fantasy, Cliche Examples and How to Avoid Them, 681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing.

There are so many of these articles on the internet, and while several are insightful and helpful, several have become just as cliched and predictable as the tropes they tell us to avoid.  In writing this post today, I didn’t want to be just one more post telling you the same thing (saying a cliche is an overused phrase or theme, listing basic archetypes, etc.).  Instead this post is a conglomerate of the best quotes and advice I’ve heard on cliches in writing, hopefully with some ideas and perspectives you haven’t encountered before.

Enjoy!

 

As the moth is attracted to flame, less-than-vigilant writers are attracted to the bright light of intrinsically dramatic situations, where the drama is preassembled, ready to use—convenient. We’re drawn to clichés because they’re convenient. And convenience for writers—convenient plots, convenient characters, convenient coincidences, convenient settings or situations or strings of words—almost always spells doom.

–Peter Selgin, Writers Digest

 

Clichés once painted vivid pictures, but they’ve been so overused that their imagery has faded. For instance, the first time someone used the phrase out of the box it was a vivid metaphor to explain the idea of creative thinking. While being stuck in a box, we can’t come up with wild and crazy ideas. To be creative, we need to crawl out of that box. But now, the phrase out of the box is so tired, that nobody visualizes a box anymore. The imagery has completely faded, and that’s why it has become a cliché.

–Enchanting Marketing

 

It’s a bit cliche, but you can’t go wrong by writing what you know.  Even if you’re a horrible writer, your own knowledge and experience is unrivaled.  Nobody knows what you know like you know what you know.  The way you see things is pretty unique.

–Issa Rae

 

When writing, question any comparison or image you are about to use.  Cliches often sneak in the barn door (that’s a cliche by the way) when we are trying to be descriptive.  Is the phrase you’re about to use one that you’ve heard frequently in casual conversation, newscasts, and advertising?  If so, it is probably a cliche or on it’s way there.  Instead of using stock phrases and images, be creative.

–University of Richmond Writing Center

 

While you may be able to get away with tired tropes in certain circumstances, the fact of the matter is that fantasy readers are a die-hard, dedicated, well-read bunch. The majority of fantasy fans have read widely within the genre, meaning that they’ve practically seen it all when it comes to typical fantasy standbys.

Most of the time, if a fantasy reader picks up a novel that adds nothing new to the already well-established genre, they’ll do one of three things: drop it immediately, forget about it entirely, or review it poorly – none of which are good outcomes for authors trying to find an audience.

–Claire Bradshaw, B.A.

 

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’; (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word … But in between those two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

–George Orwell

 

Every oak tree is gnarled.

Sometimes, so are the faces and hands of old, white men.

Every gentle wave is lapping upon the shore. Every mountain town is nestled in a valley, every chimney produces curled rings of smoke.

Every politician is slick, every banker is soulless. Journalists are moral and hardworking. Teachers are worn out. Every woman is unsatisfied, every man is flippant. Mothers are worn out too, but fathers are emotionless. Every woman has jet-black tresses, and every day starts with bitter coffee (which might also be scorching) and ends with whiskey. Who drinks whiskey? That old, white man with ice that clinks.

Clinks? Chinks? Tinkles?

In the city, there are cars honking, lights blinking, and many things are incessant—noise, screams, cries. Oh, and blaring lights. Lots of blaring lights that sometimes flicker.

The country has chirping crickets and waving grass. Parched earth abounds, there is lots and lots and lots of dust. The moon is always bathing fountains, statues and white shoulders lucky enough to be right under it. Fog is thick or dense, sometimes both. Thunderstorms rage while thunder cracks. Lightning illuminates—what, I don’t know. The sun shines down, as opposed to up, and clouds really don’t do anything except float by. And occasionally they don’t exist at all.

Waves crash. Cars don’t, unless brakes are slammed or heard to screech first.

Tears roll down cheeks, and faces break into smiles while the eyes always crinkle when they aren’t sparkling or flashing. Hair shines or curls, always curls. People are clad in clothing, never just clothed in it. Necklaces dangle, and bracelets chink. Arms are thick and strong, and eyes meet more than people.

Thoughts race or sometimes pervade while anger boils. Chills run up or down spines, depending on where you live, and ideas aren’t just clear, they are crystal clear.

What is crystal? It’s what you drink your whiskey in. With the ice that clinks.

Things are notably pale, thick, greasy, cold, strong and dry, which they don’t need to be. If it’s a pillow, we know it’s soft. Ditto Coke and cold. Words like eat and run and speak are passed over for gobbled and raced and exclaimed. People can’t just hold, they have to clasp. They can’t cry, they have to sob, and they can’t stop, they have to come to a halt.

I’m not tired, I’m fatigued. I’m not messy, I’m disheveled. I’m not sad, I’m despondent.

Ah, whatever. At least I’m not gasping for breath or not sleeping a wink over the use of clichésEvery writer falls for them, at some time or another.

Every oak tree is gnarled. Especially this one.

–Ellen Vrana, Quora

Posted in education, Life

The Fixed Mindset

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Today I’m going to talk about possibly the most important thing I’ve ever learned, the thing that has helped me more as a student, writer, artist, and employee than any other motivational speaker or self-help book has ever managed: mindset theory.

Mindset theory is very simple at it’s core.  There are two main types of mindsets: the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset.  The fixed mindset operates on the premise that our abilities are fixed, while the growth mindset believes that we can grow and improve.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Obviously the fixed mindset is wrong and we’re all supposed to have a growth mindset, right?  Of course people can change!  I thought the same thing when I first encountered this theory.  But the more I read the research and explored the deeper meanings, the more I realized just how fixed my mindset was.

The growth mindset thrives on challenge.  Someone with this mindset doesn’t see failure as a sign that they themselves are a failure, but instead see it as a new chance to grow.  They believe that even the most basic abilities and talents can be improved.

The fixed mindset balks at challenge.  Someone with this mindset sees failure as a direct reflection of their abilities; if they failed, they weren’t good enough, and there isn’t any point to continuing because they never will be.

People with the fixed mindset expect ability to show up on its own, before any learning takes place.  After all, if you have it you have it, and if you don’t you don’t.  I see this all the time.  –Dr. Carol Dweck

When I phrase it that directly, it’s pretty clear that this is unhealthy.  But the fixed mindset can sneak into our heads very subtly, in ways we don’t often recognize.

In school, fixed mindsetters can be seen slouching in the back row or trying to disappear whenever the teacher poses a question.  They don’t want to be called on–what if they mess up?  They might obsess over grades and lose sleep trying to pull perfect straight A’s and prove how smart they are, or they might take the alternative path of pretending they don’t care.  They’ll avoid classes they think they’ll struggle in, and can come up with anything to justify their behavior.

“Science just isn’t my subject.” 

“I’ve never been any good at trigonometry.” 

“This teacher is  setting me up to fail.”

In the workplace, fixed mindsetters can be found stressing out over performance reviews, afraid they might be falling behind expectations.  They’ll be at least a little upset that they weren’t named employee of the month or when promotions pass them up.  When something goes wrong, they’ll try to blame anything other than themselves.

“I totally deserved that promotion.” 

“I wish I could work up the courage to talk to my coworker.” 

“I’m so nervous for this meeting with the supervisor, what if I’m fired?

In all of life,  fixed mindsetters can be found robbing themselves of opportunities.  They use “I could have”s as badges of honor, reaffirming their skills without running the risk of trying and failing.  They think of themselves as having a certain amount of “talent” in any given area, some quantity they inherited but has maxed out now that they left early childhood or graduated, some inborn trait that they have to continually prove rather than improve.  They rely on test scores and awards that tell them how good they are.  When they see the success of others, they feel a little threatened.  When they mess up, they’re quick to be down on themselves.  When people suggest that they could get better, they feel their very identity is being threatened.

“Am I not good enough the way I am?”

“I’m just not smart enough for college.” 

“I could’ve gotten that award if I’d tried to.” 

“I could’ve been a professional athlete if my parents had started me young.” 

“Why didn’t I think of that?” 

“My essay’s not nearly as good as his, I bet he cheats.” 

“I’m not a talented enough writer to get published.” 

“Don’t judge me, this is just they way I am.” 

The problem with the fixed mindset is that, whether we have a fatal case or a small infection, it causes us to limit our own growth.  We don’t believe that we can fundamentally improve, and when we don’t consciously believe that, we do all sorts of damaging things.  We let opportunities pass us by.  We judge ourselves harshly without taking our potential into account.

Today, I challenge you to look for ways you have fallen into a fixed mindset.

Keep your eyes open in the next few weeks for part two, The Growth Mindset.

Did you see yourself in any of the above statements?

How has a fixed mindset held you back?

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.  That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise.  They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.  –Dr. Carol Dweck

(The terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” were coined by researcher Dr. Carol Dweck–click here to watch Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk summarizing her research and here for her website.)