Just Breathe

If you had to sum up what I am most passionate about in terms of what I blog about most often, that list might look something like:

Women’s Rights

Self-Care

College Life with Bipolar Disorder

Poetry

And if you added in coffee, I would not mark that as wrong. But I want to come at those things from a different angle today. I’m gonna do a humdinger post, where literally all the things come together and we hopefully have a work of art. Might work, might not.

I have a couple months before my lease is up, and my husband and I are looking for a place to move that we can afford with just the two of us (we currently live with roommates). We have one car, and while that doesn’t seem to be bad right now, it means that we don’t have a bunch of space for moving everything all over hell’s half acre. We’re probably going to move again when we graduate, and that’s okay. It also means that there is one fatal flaw to this process.

  

(This isn’t my personal stack of books, but it’s basically the same thing.)

While I may not be a hoarder, I happen to attach emotional value to lots of things-namely books. Every time I approach moving, I discover that somehow I have accumulated a large quantity of knick-knacks. What happens then is something I like to call Purge-aggedon. I go through all of my clothes, my books, movies, general stuff and everything I own and start throwing away or donating whatever I have that I don’t need. It’s akin to shedding off a layer of skin, or getting several feet of hair cut away. It may cause me exceptional amounts of stress, but once it is gone, I feel loads better.

The thing is, like so many people, I create barriers around myself to protect myself from life. I used food as medicine for the longest time, creating a layer of fat to protect my feelings. It was like I had a protective coat which wasn’t me, but would take on all of the negative things from other people. Some walls are not physical, but completely mental and mostly subconscious. I broke through one on accident this semester and it was a disaster. Some walls are very much physical and yet mean so little. I keep clothes which do not fit either in hopes that one day they will or because I feel “rich”because I have multiple things. And while that is all fine and well, sometimes it’s more important to be completely okay with myself as myself rather than the illusion I make of myself. I really hope that makes sense.

  

Anyway, I sat down this morning and actually drank my coffee while watching the sunrise. I took a pause in life, looking at the bigger picture. I didn’t weigh myself down with worries and stress, I just was. And it was wonderful. I know that not everything can be solved by stopping what you’re doing, but one of the most helpful things I learned from a counselor was that if you spend too much time in the past, you’re depressed. If you spend too much time in the future, you’re anxious. If you spend just enough time in the present, you will live life to the fullest.

I’m not an expert in the way life works-or even the way I work. I have good days, bad days, days with both and days with neither. But I know that I left my hair down today, watched the sunrise, drank my coffee slowly and just breathed. I have no idea what the rest of my life holds. But for today, all I need to know is today. And that’s something very doable.

So, it’s clear where two or three of my list comes to play, but what about poetry and women’s rights you ask? I’m glad you brought that up.

Part of what I’ve been doing at work today is working on some ideas about how to help children with body safety (as a stand alone project). And if you can’t see the poetry in a cup of coffee and a sunrise, then I will add in some very lovely words to close.

My eyes, once the vision saw

Melted into the watercolor sky

Without so much as a hello

Without needing to say goodbye.

My heart, once the sun rose 

Fluttered once then stood still

The life which beat within me paused

Then soared out from it’s window sill.

The Start to a Great Day

This past week was a brutal week for human beings. Earthquakes, bigotry, hatred, fear and on my own campus there was a display of some very xenophobic graffiti. But there were also some wonderful things which happened. The grafiti was covered over by messages of acceptance and love. The bigotry and hatred was combatted with hope and kindness. Aid was given to those who needed it.

Yesterday was one of those weird days when I missed something from my old life: routine. Not the kind that I’d expected, but I missed having songs to sing to my deity. I had seen a video of someone singing “It Is Well With My Soul” and vividly recalled all the times I spent in church singing that song (and playing it on the piano) and then all the times I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t even want to sing the song. I wanted to revisit a time when there was a routine in my life that made everything seem simple. That is the way it is because is is that way. You know?

It was a weird feeling, but I think the point of it wasn’t that I found a hole in my belief system, it was that in those days, everything was simple (for me at least). I lived in a small town of people I knew and who knew me. I could walk all over the county by myself without fear. I could stop by people’s houses if I needed to call my parents or get a drink or hang out with people roughly my age. I missed the simplicity.

And yet, there are things I would not change about today. I braided my hair for the first time successfully all by myself. I got up on time, I dressed up today (I’m channeling my inner Snow White-red lips, blue top, yellow skirt) and I even managed to get rid a bunch of homework done. I didn’t panic when my husband drove us in this morning, even though I’ve grown accustomed to driving by myself. I got in to work early and successfully set up for the day. I’m a stronger, more independent person than I was six months ago. And what’s more, I accept myself for who I am more so than I did when I moved here. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to be a little different, but it means that I am not ashamed of who I am now.

  We are all products of our pasts. For me, that past means walking barefoot through grassy fields on the way to a raspberry patch to get my fingers completely covered in red dye. It means traveling downs dirt roads covered in arching trees and watching baby rabbits run across your yard right before a huge buck comes sniffing for roots and tulips. It’s picking apples off the trees while waiting for the bus to take me to school and bonfires with burnt marshmallows (which my parents had to eat). It’s dressing up on Sunday’s because that’s what respectable people did and then going home to pick garden produce.

  And we choose what becomes our future. Coffee dates with friends, and making time for people. It’s proving to yourself over and over again that you’re not the mistake you thought you were. It means taking the time to capture life’s little moments, watching a sunrise even when you’d rather be sleeping, making the best sandwich you’ve ever eaten and then being surprised that it tasted that good.  

  It means choosing to feel good about yourself and “I’ll be damned if I let other people shame me out of my own life”. It means giving up every reason you have for not being happy and just taking chances anyway-because you’ve finally decided that it’s in your best interest to believe in yourself.

  At the end of the day, we’re not always going to listen to the naysayers. And doing so will only hold us back. We’ve got to start living with love and passion, or else we don’t stand a chance of living at all.

(All photos today were taken by me and as you can see, are on my Instagram. Ya’ll can hop on over and browse about if you feel so inclined, but this is basically what I take pictures of. Only now it’s my dog and campus, but hey.)

The Science of You…and Me.

I’ve been trying to get acclimated to the new semester, and I think it’s okay to take a break from constantly ranting and raving. Today, I want to speak honestly about life. But the stuff that weighs on my heart is the issue of self-identification.

In one of my classes this semester, we’re discussing classifications of organisms (as a prequel to the rest of the material) and the question was asked: Why do we classify things? The answer was: to order a chaotic world. I think that for the most part, that’s pretty true. But I think we, as human beings, also want to belong. We have a sense of longing to be part of something greater than just our own individuality. And maybe that seems a little naive, but maybe it isn’t.

  

I think I’ve mentioned this a couple times throughout the life of my blog, about where do I as an individual fit in to life’s big puzzle. But I invite you all to also think about it. How do you identify yourself? Is it just through your name? Your preferences? Your associations? What about who you are as a single individual, without regard to someone or something else? How would your identification change? It’s no difficult task to put yourself in a category. It’s an entirely other matter to design the category that you alone fit in.

Allow me to demonstrate. I am a pretty much run-of-the-mill midwestern woman. I tie my hair up in ponytails, I drink coffee, I know how to shovel snow, care for sick animals and even how to field dress carcasses (I really don’t enjoy it though, but if the great earth mother gives unto us, it is disrespectful to waste that gift. And I try not to partake either.). I am a wife, a cat-loving-dog-owner (he’s my little cat-dog), a sister, a daughter, a student, an employee and a coworker, a friend, a dreamer, and I’d say most definitely an extroverted introvert (yea, I know. It gives me problems too.). But take away anything that has to do with someone else (so-daughter, wife, sister, worker, etc) and take away the references to religion, geography, capabilities and preferences. What is left?

I call that “left” stuff the essence of me. But I don’t really know what it is. Is it emotion? Because I have quite a bit of that. Is it personality? I think I have a decent amount of that too. Is it what I am made of? Atoms, cells, blood, skin, organs, memories? I mean, I suppose that would have to be included. So what am I that no one else is? I am me and you are you. And I couldn’t be you if I tried, but I wouldn’t want you to be me either.

I know, you were all expecting for the meaning of life. And I shan’t disappoint! Because each and everything that I have said is both true and false. And I hope you’ve stuck around long enough to see why.

In the very beginning of time, before history, before science, before everything we know, there were stars. And these stars grew until they could grow no more, exploding when they reached their peak. When these stars explode, they create a bunch of atoms, in the order of the periodic table. First Hydrogen, then Helium, then Lithium, Beryllium, and so on and so forth until at least Iron (which is the 26th element). Each atom mixes with the others, out in space, combining and pulling apart. Now why am I telling you this?

  

There is a law in science called the Conservation of Energy. Now, in science, a law means that hundreds, if not thousands of test have been done and for all intents and purposes, the law is a scientific fact. This is why no one disputes gravity-even though you can’t see it directly. Anyway, the Conservation of Energy can be simplified down to the following: no energy can be created or destroyed in a system. There is also the law of the Conservation of Mass. This also is simplified down to: no mass (the stuff everything is made of) can be created or destroyed in a system. So what does that have to do with anything?

Well, we know that a human is made up of a lot of water, but what else? If you look at the most common elements that a body is made up of you get: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine and Magnesium. Now if you look at a Periodic Table of Elements, you’ll see that those elements are numbered: 8, 6, 1, 7, 20, 15, 19, 16, 11, 17 and 12. Iron, as I said is 26, which means that all of the elements that make up most of us come before Iron. That further means that the stars that exploded made the elements I have listed here.

  

If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m very glad! Because the laws I mentioned, they come into play here. Since absolutely nothing can be made or destroyed, the atoms (which make up the mass of everything) which make up you and I came from the explosions of the stars. So here’s the deal. We are all made up of the little tiny particles which first originated in stars. So when you hear people say “We are stardust”, believe them. Because although this information is all paraphrased from other sources, it remains true. And just incase you wanted to know more about the meaning of life, let me explain death.

Before I really go on, let me tell you a story (you know that’s my thing!). I once went to a funeral of a family member and sat in the back, just observing. I watched the widow sit in the front row, the handkerchief crumpled in her hands, her eyes puffy and red from crying. But what I had not expected to happen, was the moment I caught her eye. I looked away immediately, not out of shame, but out of the understanding that I could not bear the weight of her pain. It would have been far easier if her eyes had been dead, the windows to a soul lost to the oblivion. But they weren’t. They were the windows to summer basketball sessions between her late husband and her kids, the early mornings when snow would lightly fall and she would watch him sleep. They were the windows to a thousand more “I love you’s” which would fall on deaf ears and the echoes of petty fights that would haunt her recollection for years to come. And at the funeral of a childhood friend, I remember looking at his body, thinking about how many times that might have been me, how even in death, he didn’t seem so happy, but maybe that’s because his body was pumped full of gallons worth of chemicals and the makeup could not hide the way his neck curved ever so violently, the ghost of a rope ever so snug around the collar of his dress jacket.

  

If no matter and no energy can be lost or created, what happens at death? Quite obviously, there is still mass. You have a body almost always, a quiet shell of a person lying still. But a person while living maintains the energy of thought, of breath, of circulation. And once ceased, that energy cannot be destroyed. The body heat rises into the atmosphere, reuniting with the clouds, the rain and the air. The breath that once ran through them now runs though the atmosphere. The memories which gave fuel to their every move, their every sense of self, they belong now to the people who need them most, to those with whom they were shared before. And I think that is a lovely thing. We are both part of the universe and made up of it. We cannot be created from nothing and we cannot disappear to nothing. The life of each and every one of us was determined by the star explosion, the energy and life of others, the ability to continue on. And that’s why it’s entirely okay if you could not define yourself as just yourself before. Because in all honesty, you really can’t be you without others. But it’s okay. Because the others couldn’t be themselves without you either.

  

Role Models and Hope For A Messed Up World

I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say right away, so this post is coming almost a week after the incident, but the concept has been stuck in my head for quite some time. As an individual, I love being a singular version of myself. But I look often for someone else who is also a trailblazer. I wanted to write about why I look for and who I select as a role model for my life. I think it’s important for people, women especially, to have someone who is an upstanding, respectable example of the lives we want to lead. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people from older stories who could be role models (I frequently look to Joan of Arc, personally). The problem with using people from the past is that things were different. The world was not the same then as it is now, and we need people who are more like us than sword bearing warriors or queens from afar. 
  There is the social media factor, I suppose, which lends itself to a certain realm of role models, some good, some not. But it seems that the news represents best those who are not good role models for the young (and young-ish) people of today. I am of course talking about the celebrities like Nikki Minaj, Lindsey Lohan and to some extent even Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. They all represent the pandemonium of fame and the pit falls thereof. We could also examine outlets like Disney or Matel, who have presented the world with prestigious Barbie, Cinderella, and Ariel (just to name a few). It is these three which are both a great help and a hindrance to young women of today. I want to explore them and then propose my list of four individuals who are better role models for our generation. 

  Barbie: In almost every household you might find her, or a cousin or a friend. She is blonde, brunette, red headed, light skinned, dark skinned. She has had a plethora of jobs, donned an impressive collection of costumes and even manages quite a large variety of accessories. Over the years, people have yelled at her for being too skinny, too unrealistically proportioned and too shallow. I mean, there was even a brief moment in Toy Story 3 where she was introduced to public audiences as a complete and utter bimbo, followed by a weak attempt to reclaim her dignity. But the thing is, she’s too uniform. She has no individualized flaws. No scars, stretch marks, beauty marks, wrinkles, pimples, or really flaws of any kind. Her makeup is always done, she’s always smiling and there is nothing any of us can do about it.

  Cinderella: She’s Disney’s star princess. I mean, who didn’t want to be a princess because of her? She came from rags to riches, found a guy, married Royal and viola. She even had a set of killer shoes. But what does she have as far as personality? She’s got wishes, desire. But she lacks motivation and drive. She “asked for a dress, shoes and a night off”. I get it. But that’s not real life at all. And why do you need a man to provide you with everything? I mean, independence goes a long way. I know in the original story she was a teenager, but isn’t that kind of the point? In her time period, that made her basically an adult, and I know she would have been in need of a man, but this is the 21st century and we don’t need that anymore. Say it with me: I am a strong, independent woman who needs no man, but can have one if I so desire.

  Ariel: With a golden voice and perfect hair, who cares about anything else, right? Wrong. Again, you don’t need a man to be the best woman you can be. The thing is, Sebastian was right. Giving up everything, your soul and life included, just to get a man (or attempt to) is not the way to go. And by this point, wouldn’t you also need to make exceptions for finding the right partner-be it woman or man or just a good friend? As with Cindy, sorry Ariel, but there’s nothing that warrants me looking up to you if you’re going to change everything about yourself for someone else.

So I’ve given you a basic run down of my issues with the above, but I do want to mention that I know these characters are fake, but they are widely distributed and influential. I do not want to come across as impossible to reason with so the last person (it’s actually two people) are fictitious as well. And I also realize that the women I am looking at have flaws. But that’s exactly why I chose them. And I will go over them as well. These are, of course, my own personal opinions and you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments, as always. So,without further adieu.

Michelle’s List of Role Models for Women of 2015.

  Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo: You might not have heard of this woman, but she is the reason I’m doing this post. Seven days ago, she was sworn in as a judge in New York. She wore a headscarf, because she is Muslim and she was sworn in on the Qur’an. Now, none of this even really seems like anything out of the ordinary. But the amount of hate mail she received for being sworn in on the Qur’an is astounding. This woman vowed to uphold the law, as she has done her entire career. She is an upstanding citizen who was voted into office. I came across this story in my FaceBook news feed because of how many ignorant people are accessing social media to tear her down. You are permitted to swear into office on any holy book and even the constitution of the United States. She has done nothing above and beyond the average expectations I have for a law abiding citizen, but she is my candidate for a role model for the simple fact that she stuck by her faith, even when people threatened her and heckled her about it. She stayed true to herself, even though that path offered great resistance.

  Adele: Let me say that I am a huge fan of Adele. Her voice is so beautiful, and she’s gorgeous. She’s not stick thin, and I love her for it. She says what’s on her mind and once again, stays true to herself. She took time from her career to take care of her baby. We’re almost the same age and that means a great deal to me. Why, you ask? Because she’s proving that not all 20 year olds and 20-somethings are wild and crazy and awful. She’s a credit to our age group. She even works at a record shop. Her flaws? She’ so soulful in her music that she really only sings sad songs. Which isn’t like a huge flaw, but I don’t associate anything other than sad love songs and break up songs with her. 

  Angelina Jolie-Pitt: Did this one take you by surprise? I really thought that this spot would be occupied by many other people, and indeed it could have been, but there are lots of women who could have taken this spot who simply aren’t as well known. And while you are all entitled to have your own individual role modes, for the purposes of this blog, I needed someone visible. She adopts underprivileged kids, she works with charities and organizations, speaks on behalf of underprivileged people to the UN. And on top of that, she preventatively had a mastectomy so that she didn’t have to worry about breast cancer. I mean, that sounds like a very personal thing and she’s known for her body. I remember a lot of people were upset at her for taking charge of her own body, and that is why I commend her for doing it. She did what she had to do so that she could live her life to the fullest. Also in this spot, Emma Watson for similar reasons. 

  

  Molly Hooper/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I told you I would bring in some fictitious characters. I chose one from my younger adult life and one from my current adult life. So I will start with Buffy. She was a kick-ass teenager who saved the world a lot. And the thing is, that was badk when TV series were filmed with people who looked like teenagers playing teenagers, and incorporated flaws and diversity of character types. Buffy had an attitude, she was impatient and made mistakes. She needed help and asked for it, she complained about life and then grew up and made sacrifices. She represented real teenage life, apart from vampire hunting. And her friends were just as painfully realistic. But they all had a moral code and they represent a lovely era of beautiful story telling.

   Molly Hooper. I have great aspirations to be Molly Hooper. For those of you who do not know who Molly Hooper is, allow me to tell you. The BBC produces a show called Sherlock, based off of Sherlock Homesfrom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the BBC version, there is a medical examiner by the name of Molly Hooper.  She has an enormous crush on Sherlock, does everything dignified she can to get him to notice her including buy him a present at Christmas. He’s rude about it and she calls him out on his bad behavior. Later in the series, she also tells him he’s throwing away his gifts and that he should apologize for various actions. Sherlock comes to respect her. And she didn’t change herself. She stayed true to her personality and persona, all while being a valuable asset to a team. Honestly, I know that this is all fiction, but really, if I were ever to model myself after someone who never existed in real life, it would be Molly Hooper. If you haven’t watched Sherlock, I HIGHLY recommend it. I can discuss all manner of theories with you. I’m a true and devoted CumberCookie and Sherlockian.

Anyway, this has been my short list about female role models in modern society. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. 

Thankfulness, Day 9

  
I first read The Fellowship of the Ring when I was in middle school. I was captivated by the story, even if it was just a smidge over my head. But this particular portion of thebook was lost to me completely. It wasn’t until the movie came out and the internet boomed that I even recalled ther was a poem. This is the most widely recalled line, and for good reason.

Today’s theme is aimlessness.

A few years ago, I did a facebook post on this very day about being thankful for being aimless. And I found it today, believing that I had been a genious. You see, in the end, it isn’t really the destination, is it? It’s always been about the journey. But so many footsteps are solidifying for me that I am enthralled by my own wanderings.

I started college Autumn 2011. I had to immediately withdraw (within the first week) because I listened to my peers and drank far too many energy drinks and my kidneys couldn’t handle it. I was in the ER multiple times, my PCP (Personal Care Physician) too and it was determined that my energy drink habits were killing me. Before that fall, I’d spent my summers drinking Monster BFCs (Big Effing Cans-the equivalent of 4 Monsters in one can) and Rockstars and Venoms (these were my favorite). I was always seen with one in my hand. Now it’s coffee and the occasional soda for me, marginalized by gallons of water.

I didn’t return to college (or technically even start college) until Winter 2012. We were still on quarters then. I was a bio major, determined to be a pediatric oncologist. My entire life was dedicated to this. Only my heart didn’t seem to be. For two years, I fought with deciding if I was doing the right thing with my life. Ultimately, I wasn’t. I had the heart for the job, the brains too, but it wasn’t what I longed for. And so I became an anthro major.

Even then my wandering (and wondering) was not over. What kind of anthropologist would I be? I couldn’t decide, wanted to do everything and ultimately picked cultural. But that isn’t to say I haven’t had a couple moments where physical sounded like a much smarter idea. Even this left some questions.

What would I focus on? People was far too broad a focus, culture wouldn’t work either. Religion. Now that could work. But what about it? Eventually, I landed on something both practical and interesting. Religious Extremism and Violence as a Diplomatic Interference. Now that sounds snappy, doesn’t it? I only really settled into that idea. Now comes the new wave of questions about jobs and such.

But as I said: it’s really all about the journey, anyway, isn’t it? Sometimes the lights have to go out, the path needs to disappear before we can find ourselves. There isn’t really a way to make it easier, or less scary. You just have to take the plunge. Interesting.

Chapter 5

So today, I’ve been madly noveling, and although I am glad to have a break from homework, it’s interesting that I never really escape it. Today’s thankfulness comes from being 1/6 of the way to where I was before. But the thing is, I’m writing an entirely new book, and so I think I’m really only about a tenth of the way there, which is even more exciting to me. Anyway, what I’m truly thankful for is inspiration. For me, it comes from life, coffee and great playlists. I think that’s really great, and there’s something quite amazing about taking a blank page, a nothing, and creating an idea, a something. So, in honor of that, I’m going to offer a small segment of my WIP (work in progress) and go back to work. I chose this because it’s one of those scenes I can’t descide how to rework. [This is part of Chapter FIVE, the main character Kat is reading from an old book called The Love of the Queen of Souls. It’s the scene I just finished, and it’s easily the flimsiest but it serves a purpose and well, PLOT TWIST.]

           There was once a summer princess who longed for the chill kiss of winter. She craved the balance and poetry of the cold and the warmth. Her heart was met each day by the warmth of the sun and she could take it no longer. On the evening of her twenty seventh year, she ran from her life and met a stranger in the woods. He was just the frost she’d waited for and she invited him to accompany her to back to her home and immediately fell in love with him.

           They were forbidden to be together, but the summer princess could not forbid her heart from feeling and she secretly married the stranger in the woods. They were very happy, each completing the other in ways they had never known before. They were warned about growing hostilities because of their love, but the summer princess had more news: she was with child. Still, their union did not make everyone happy and the forces of summer and winter, ever at odds, went to war.

           By the time the princess gave birth to not one child, but a pair of twins, the winter and summer courts were rapidly running through their supplies and soldiers and a truce could not be found. The summer princess and her stranger in the woods were betrayed by a most beloved friend and were forced to give up their children, a son and a daughter, in order to spare their lives. As the children were taken away, the summer princess sacrificed her life so that her children would have a chance. A great fire was set to their home and trapped within, the stranger in the woods and the summer princess became spirits, collecting the souls of the winter and summer folk who could not pass on. In a final act of desperation, the summer princess offered the sky people, who ruled the earth and all those within, her life forever in exchange for her babies, that they might be free.

           But the sky people were a vengeful sort, and did not suffer the summer princess lightly, as they blamed her for disrupting the harmony they had created. A curse was placed on her daughter, that she might never find happiness until the war between summer and winter was over. Her son was not cursed, but was stripped of his memories and destined to return to the winter, who would betray him. One of the sky people, a young mother herself, took pity on the children, knowing that all that had happened was because of love, and they were the product of good intentions. She knew that the curse of the daughter and the fate of the son would be what came to pass, but in the event that they found each other, a great alliance would be formed, one that would cause peace to regain control.

           For their unwillingness to compromise, both the summer and winter were forced to live out their lives and fight their wars amongst the humans. They would never be allowed to return to the sky people and their homes, nor could they pass on to the land of souls until the princess and prince are reunited and the war is ended.

           
Katerina came to the end of the story and looked up. Natalia’s eyes were glassy with tears and she couldn’t look at Kat. At the end of the story was a page that looked like it had been added in, but Katerina couldn’t read it. It was in some sort of loopy lettering in some language that she’d never seen. 

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

Years ago I had an art teacher tell me that I was no good at drawing, or coloring, or creativity. Those concepts carried into my time as a high schooler, making me avoid art class with a passion. I chose instead, to put all of my efforts into music-where I learned to play various instruments with adequate skill and sang my  heart out in groups and solo. It is the story of my music education that I will hold onto for another day. When I found myself in a visual art class one year, I went to the teacher and explained that “I sucked”. It wasn’t because I had been certified as an individual without artistic powers or that I wanted mercy in the expectations, but because someone had told the impressionable child-me that I was no good and I carried that with me as my own truth. My high school art teacher told me that I didn’t suck and kept after me to keep trying. When my first entry on a larger project was complimented by TWO art teachers, I was confused.

I thought I sucked.

And yet here I am, a number of years later still and I find both coloring and drawing to be comforting. My skills are unpolished and although I find it relaxing, I would not say I am an artist. If you ever wondered what a difference havig art in classrooms can make, please use this story. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I have the utmost respect for teachers with passion, use this story. And when you combine the two, you’ll understand why this is one of the life-defining moments in my life.

I struggle daily with how to define myself. The labels which have been handed to me do not present a complete picture, and there are not words for the other parts of me. As I explored this, I realized that I am in a transient state, changing, moving and shaping myself constantly. I have no labels, because I do not need them. I am an unfinished work of art, still being planned out by an artist who hasn’t decided where this project will go.

I look back on that moment in high school when I struggled with my identity. Perhaps it’s just high school, perhaps I was different. I didn’t know that by breaking down the walls of my childhood-the misconceptions that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worth investing time in-I would be doing the best thing for myself.

It has been 8 years since I stepped foot inside the high school I would graduate from. I was a junior when I took the art class that convinced me I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful. 

I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful.

So here I am, almost a decade after I began my transformation into the adult I will become. I haven’t finished changing, and in fact, I imagine I will be someone new before I finish. But the thing is, those words stuck with me. The teacher I had in high school is both someone whom I admire deeply and a source of great inspiration to me. She pushes me still to see the world in a different way than may be easy, or colorless. And so one of the things I’ve been working on this semester is exploring that change. What I came up with I’ve been putting into writing, becoming more assertive in what I need to say. What I don’t show people often is that I also put my messages into drawings. Sometimes they are tattoo sketches far too big and detailed to be reasonably priced, sometimes they are metaphorical and drawn in an utmost surreal context. But then there’s this piece.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

  I so named it that because I wanted to show how my change is both reflective of who I am now, and the product of who I was. I’d like to take a moment and explain what I feel the message is. You don’t have to like it, just consider it.

The basic content is: a waterfall, a phoenix and two sets of hands. That much, I gather you could figure out for yourself. The next layer are the words in the background: Transform, Brave, Love, Acceptance, Beautiful, Hope, Life, Forgiveness, Growth. There is the color scheme to consider, the level of detail (and shading) in the hands, the size of the hands and the “decoration” of the hands, as well as the way the background is set up. 

The nine words are the ones I had to learn the hard way. They are reflective of self, things that were not always easy for me to fully grasp.

The background grows darker, more assertive as it approaches the bigger hands, more concrete. The waterfall is closer to the small hands. The left side of the picture in general is lighter, less defined, more washed out. 

And the hands themselves. On the left, you have a child’s hands. They are reaching out for help, open and expressive. The nails are painted black, and the waterfall is suggestive of losing oneself, “going off the deep end” and trying to “keep my head above the water”. The hands themselves are lightly shaded, as though the owner is becoming invisible. And yet there are bright red marks on the arms-dashes, hope and love. I can promise you that this isn’t a shock-and awe piece, but a true to life representation of the way my arms looked spring of my freshman year. I don’t talk about it often, it isn’t a story too many people know, but now they will. Those two words were the things I wanted most out of life-hope of a better life and love that would heal all wounds. And yes, I really did cut them into my arms with diamond Os and the Es facing vein length. It is honest and brutal.

On the right, there is the me that I am now. older, stronger hands with imperfections (like crooked fingers) reaching out to the younger me, the me that is representative of the 2-3 million people who engage in self harm each year. The right side reaches out, without judgement, offering safety and hope and love to those without. The nails are blue and a silver wedding band is there. But if you look closely, the scars are still there, silent reminders that what was done cannot be undone, but can make you stronger. 

In the end, it was never about being right or being wrong. It was always about being the person who broke free from their shell to embrace something new. I may not be perfect, but I made something beautiful: a new life. And that is the true evolution. Like a phoenix, I took my failures and created brilliance. I cannot wait to see what comes next.