everyday-creative-living-2

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I like to think I wear many hats.  I like to think I can flit from writer to consultant to scientist to dancer to student and beyond.  Wearing this many hats means I can be versatile.  It means I can chameleon my way through life.  But this many hats also means that sometimes I have to sacrifice breadth for depth, and that doesn’t always suit me.

To simplify, my hats slot into two boxes: that of the creative, and that of the scientist.  This is not to say that the scientist isn’t benefited by creativity, nor that the creative doesn’t sometimes require precision.  It just means that these two realms have some sort of fundamental separation between them.  It means that what people expect out of me as a scientist and a researcher is not the same as what people expect out of the writer.

This leaves me with two problems: the problem of breadth, not depth, and the problem of separation.  These two problems are what I’ve come to know of as the root of my struggles since graduating from my undergraduate.  They are problems that look and seem simple to resolve on the surface.  But I promise you – they are not.  I’ve had to dig for solutions.  I’ve had to throw caution to the wind at times, while often struggling to keep silent at others.  It feels wild because this has become a balancing act in the search to find balance.

And no, I haven’t succeeded yet.  I probably never will, at least not in any consistent way.  But over the past year and a half I have found a lot of ways to manage and a lot of ways to learn.  Seeing as I’m a reader through and through, books have been some of the best resources.  I’ve started developing a stack of memoirs (mostly by female authors) and travel guides, self-help books and advice from creatives.  I call it my “avocation reading list” because it exists to help me employ my passions.

I plan on sharing more from the list in the coming year, but I wanted to start by talking about two books that really kickstarted this reading journey.  One is a travel advice text and the other is one for creative living, but both tout the benefits of simple lives and creative outlooks.  Neither tries to give the reader a one-fix-all kind of solution, instead offering many different examples and situations for the reader to relate to.  I listened to both as audiobooks and both are narrated by the authors, so while I personally still prefer physical copies I can mark up, I can definitely recommend them as short and easy listens.

The first book is Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts.  I think I had heard of this book years ago but not in any interesting way.  Instead, I found it organically in my Audible “suggested listens” list.  Vagabonding is about long-term world travel, not creative living, but the precursors to that travel involve a change of lifestyle and outlook that I consider fairly inherent to an everyday, creative life.  The book is full of practical tips and hilarious anecdotes, as well as stories from travelers all over the world.  However, I think the most important part is Potts’s continual insistence on openness to experience (which is part of psychology’s big five personality traits, so this is was a surprising example of creative/scientific crossover) and simplistic choices.

The other book wasn’t about travel, though the author has done plenty – instead, it was a book specifically on creative living.  Big Magic is Elizabeth Gilbert’s foray into the self-help side of memoir, and I have to admit that it felt pretty successful to me.  She speaks from the experience of decades immersed in creativity, but she’s always honest about the fears and issues that arise in the process.  Her words are amazing (particularly in audio form) because she gives you permission to try and fail.  She literally gives you permission.  (I think it’s around chapter three.)  Because I listened to this after Vagabonding, I felt like I was listening to an echo that had grown stronger and more self-relevant: it seemed like the universe was trying to tell me to embrace fear as a part of life, but to live on in spite of it.

Listening to these books, and being able to listen to them on consecutive drives from and to Orlando, felt like a tiny contained bit of depth in my life.  It felt like an open door or a sudden bit of empty space in my otherwise cluttered life.  In the few weeks since I experienced them, my life hasn’t changed dramatically, I haven’t picked up and left my work or done anything wildly creative – but I have felt more open.  I have felt more possible, in a way, like being is a little bit easier when you notice the sky every morning or the rain at night.


Have you ever tried to embrace creative living?  Do you have any book suggestions for my reading list?

rejuvenation-in-savannah

I had a pretty idyllic undergraduate experience.  Sure, there were some terrible moments, some tragic moments, and some moments I imagined were terrible and tragic but ultimately weren’t.  There were also wildly amazing moments, like every trip abroad and 90% of my interactions with the faculty.  But all these moments (wonderful and otherwise) were rooted in the friendships I developed while at Washington and Lee.

Of course, we’re all pretty scattered now.  Some of my friends are on the other side of the country and some are literally on the other side of the world.  We have different jobs and day-to-day lives and our experiences are no longer synchronous.  But fortunately, even during this disparate era, we still manage to carve out time for each other.

Which is what took me to Savannah, GA for the weekend.  One of my best friends, Morgan, is a teacher in this gorgeous and historic city.  When I visited her last year I wrote a blog post about our adventures, but this year, I’ve gone a bit pensive, so I’ll be taking a different approach to the trip.

There’s something special about being shown a city by someone you know well.  It’s what appeals to me about bringing people to my hometown or my current residence in Orlando.  There’s the concrete relationship you share with your friend, and the new, abstract relationship you’re building with their locale.  Your friend knows what you like so they can specialize the experience for you (which is something Morgan’s a pro at – she had me singing in a choir in under 48 hours, and I refuse to believe she only did it because it was convenient for her).  And because you’re with a good friend, you can make the decision to stay in all day and not do anything cultural or useful and still have a good time.

But yeah, Savannah.  I really, really like Savannah.  We didn’t do any exciting pub crawls or tours this year, but we did pack in several great meals at some local restaurants.  I’d recommend all of them – we had a late dinner one night at Corleone’s, lunch the next day at The Public (which had a phenomenal sweet potato soup of the day), and brunch on Sunday at The Florence.

// just a sample of the amazing coffee The Florence offers

// just a sample of the amazing coffee The Florence offers

However, my favorite meal of the weekend is one you can’t get in any of the squares or side streets that dot the city.  Morgan and I did Galentine’s Day, the Leslie Knope-style holiday on February 13 where you spend your time valuing the relationships with your friends with as much fervor as you have for your SO.  Together, we cooked ground turkey and diced up tomatoes and stuffed tacos full of delicious, wholesome ingredients.  And even though we now live three hundred miles apart instead of two, we ate and laughed and talked like this simple activity – sharing a meal with each other – was something we did all the time.  We finished the meal with peanut butter cups from River Street Sweets and a viewing of Pretty Woman, a movie that I had never seen and Morgan only half-remembered.

// secret ingredient? friendship 😉

And even though I didn’t learn any history, even though I didn’t get any pictures of art or scenic sites, I had such a rejuvenating experience in Savannah that I can only attribute it to the company provided by a true friend.

Not to say I won’t go back for the history, even after Morgan’s moved on to the next phase of her life.  Savannah’s pretty damn amazing. 🙂


Have you ever opted for time in with friends rather than time out in a new city?  Or have you had your own amazing experience in Savannah?  Let me know!

New Years and New (Old) Dreams

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It’s 2016.  This is just a little bit wild to me; when you’re a little kid, you never really sit and think about the years you’ll be alive in, only the age you’ll be when you get there.  But I’m alive and it’s the two thousand and sixteenth year of semi-well-documented history and I am really, really happy.

Before you keep reading, go take a moment to listen to classic Florence + The Machine: “Dog Days.”

The thing that always struck me about this song is that the protagonist is running from happiness – when she gets it, it’s because it hits her, even though she’s been hiding.  This speaks a whole lot to me.  I’m a firm believer that most of happiness – or any emotion, really – is rooted in the way you want yourself to feel.  You can influence your feelings by choosing which ones to foster and which ones to ignore.  This is how some people manage to find the best in any situation, and also why others can only speak of the negatives.  And as is the way in all things, practice can make your behaviors and thought patterns permanent, be they good or bad.

Now, I could list a slew of studies and empirical research that back up what I just said, but today I’m going to ignore that side of my brain and instead focus on why I find “Dog Days” so relatable right now, and what that means for the New Year of 2016.

I have spent a lot of time in the past two years choosing to be unhappy.

This isn’t to say events haven’t occurred that deserved my sadness.  This also isn’t meant to disregard the fact that emotions have a chemical basis, and all the willpower in the world can’t completely eradicate the effects of these chemicals on your overall brain chemistry.  But I have let things I should have ignored blow themselves out of proportion, I have spent time worrying instead of acting, and I have dismissed the fact that I’m a healthy twenty-something with the potential for years and years of life ahead of me.

But in order to shift from the negative pattern of behavior to a more positive one, I had to work really really hard.  More than that, I had to find new things that captured my attention, that gave me life, that fulfilled me on more than just a superficial level.  I’ve tried and discarded so many different mindsets over the past year that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to figure out what I needed out of life.

Finally it just hit me – I needed the same thing I had wanted all along.  The very thing I was trying to do by restarting this blog.  I needed to write.  I needed to suck in all the complaints I had and instead funnel all my time and mental energy into creating a story populated by characters I knew inside and out.  I needed to use this amazing form of creative expression to keep me from the doldrums I so frequently lingered in.

More important than the way writing brought new life to me, however, was the fact that starting a novel was my first step toward making choices that were for my own good, regardless of what others wanted from me.

More important than the writing itself was also the feeling I had when I finished my first novel, on Christmas Eve.  I had friends that had supported me along the way and who were ecstatic for me, but my primary cheerleader throughout the whole experience was myself.  And because I was spending so much time being my own cheerleader in one part of my life, suddenly that incessant positive voice was spreading to the rest of my life as well.  Instead of stewing on problems, that inner voice wanted me to find a solution, lickety-split.

(This is the part where my mother would probably add, “I told you so.”)

I could parse this out and tie it back into the research related to emotional growth, but I’ll save that for my memoirs and instead draw it back to “Dog Days.”  I relate to that song so much right now.  In a lot of ways, I feel like happiness jumped suddenly back into my life.  But while I love the emotion of the song, it would be a discredit to the mental gymnastics I’ve put myself through to give “chance” or the “universe” a commendation for how I feel right now.  I am happy because I am doing what I love, and because I continuously choose to make the best out of my situation.

And let’s not forget that I am pretty damn blessed.  That’s another thing I shouldn’t take for granted.

Of course, all of this has been a dramatic lead in to what many participate in every January: the development of resolutions for the New Year.  I’m not a frequent participator in this tradition (I’ve always thought if you want to change your life you should just go for it, re: everything I just said in this post), but I want to share the plans I have for myself in the coming months.  They aren’t resolutions, they’re the steps I need to take to keep following the path I’ve chosen in the best possible way.  Let’s get to it:

In 2016, I want to

Live out this music video.

Save more and spend less.

Travel more, both within America and outside.

Accumulate memories, not possessions.

Save up for one of these jackets.

Learn to speak Spanish.

Be kind to myself.

Better discern what I need to remove from my life.

& then remove those things.

Cuddle with my cats & drink tea.

Write. Edit. Create.

& finally:

Fill my house with more of these wine-induced masterpieces:

exploding tardis painting

It’s odd to think I’ve been in school for more than 18 years now.  That’s more than three quarters of my life; aka, a really long time.  It’s been equal parts fascinating and tedious and informative and fun.  Education has been the center of my life, and I imagine that even after I’m finished with my formal studies, learning will continue to be a prominent focus.

Today marks the official start of my second year at graduate school.  The first year was such a whirlwind of emotions and experiences.  I’m not sure how year two will compare with it.  I certainly hope I’m better off in the the family realm: I lost two of the women who had supported me throughout my life last fall, and my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I also have high hopes for the academic realm.  I did well in all my classes, but I didn’t feel attuned to my lab work or the research I’d been attached to.  This year will really show me what I need to learn and do to feel satisfied in my work.

I thought about writing a list of goals for this occasion, but honestly, they would have felt artificial.  I have hopes, like I mentioned.  I have plans and dreams and moves to make, both within the frame of my program and without.  But I also know that I am in a pretty strong state of uncertainty these days.  This isn’t new.  This uncertainty was part of what brought me back to blogging, after my stint in Ireland so many years ago.  This uncertainty led me to reading challenges and travel plans and days spent wandering alone and with friends in an effort to spark something in me.  It’s an uncertainty I never really had before I moved to Florida.  If I could tell you its root or its reason I would.  But all I know how to do is keep moving forward with it, holding out for the moments when clarity shines through the haze.

I know I need to keep learning.  I know that will never stop, not even for one day.  I know that sometimes you make massive strides forward, and sometimes you have to retrace your steps.

I’m enjoying this journey, even the moments when it feels like no one is on my side.  Especially the moments when I remember everyone who is on my side.  People don’t have to understand you in order to want to help you.  That’s why we have sympathy and empathy in the English language – so that even if no one can feel what you’re feeling, they can certainly want to help you through any and all of you trials.

So instead of goals, I’ll give you optimism.  Each new year is a fresh slate, even when you’re working with the same people and on the same projects.  And I want this year to be phenomenal.  I want to be a success not only as a student, but also as in my family and as a friend.  I want to determine my impact and how to hone it into something stronger and better.  And I will do these things.  I will be successful.  Because I know I can, and I want to.

So I will.

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Novels and short stories and plays have always provided excellent source material for the big screen.  I even took a class in college dedicated entirely to film and television adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.  It’s amazing what different script writers and directors can pull out of a text; it’s even more amazing how a basic plot line can be translated to entirely different eras or countries (have you seen Bridget Jones’s Diary? Renee Zellweger plays a crazy relatable version of Elizabeth Bennet).  I’d hazard a guess that most movies opening in theaters these days are based on some form of literature.  Yes, comic books count!

But what we don’t see are many movies based on poetry.  “But wait, Sarah!” you protest, “I’ve seen every possible Shakespeare adaptation!  Plus, The Odyssey gets remade left and right!”  Yes, yes.  But making movies out of plays and epics is, dare I say it, easy.  (Anyone reading this who may be involved in the creative development of a film, please don’t hurt me.)  Both forms come with a fairly standard narrative structure.  They’re chock full of plot and character development and ubiquitous conflict.  There’s a reason why you might find either form in a standard literature class, while large swathes of poetry get shunted into more specialized courses.

When I turned to good ol’ Google to help me find movies adapted from poems, the responses were sparse.  Wikipedia offers a brief list, with epics such as Beowulf or the Greco-Roman sagas taking up a major portion of the page. I even extended my search terms to include movies about poetry, which only increased the list by a few (albeit excellent) pieces that are most often about the lives of poets, rather than offering a narrative retelling of a poem.

That isn’t to say I didn’t find a few movies that could be considered as adaptations of poems.  Edgar Allan Poe boasts one or two, but that’s probably because he wrote excellent fodder for the horror genre.  However, the pickings were lean.

In an effort to fill this very disconcerting void, here are my top five suggestions for poems Hollywood could easily turn to movies.


 

  1. Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers-” – I watched a lot of Touched by an Angel reruns when I was young and avoiding swim practice.  The whole “otherworldly guidance when at a crossroads” which permeates that show would be the basis of the movie version of Dickinson’s poem.  Lily Collins would play an indomitable twenty-something weathering every storm life throws at her (I’m thinking something along the lines of losing valued family members or finding out she has a terminal illness) and Nicholas Hoult will play opposite as the guy who thinks his (comparatively average) life is tragic but realizes its value through his friendship with Collins.  May include plot elements from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
  2. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” – Wes Anderson would direct this film.  You may have heard that the traditional message of positive divergence most take from this poem is possibly a sham; however, the Anderson treatment would focus on the quirky stream-of-consciousness of an unnamed narrator as he uses his life experiences up to that point to determine which road to take.  Spoiler alert: it’s the one less traveled.
  3. Elizabeth Bishop, “I Am In Need Of Music” – I couldn’t decide if this movie should be about a young music teacher in a mid-90s elementary school facing cuts in the arts or a mermaid.  Maybe a music teacher becoming a mermaid?  Disney opened that can of worms with movies like The Thirteenth Year. (Am I showing my age? I think I’m showing my age.)
  4. Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” – My father’s greatest fear is living out that Twilight Zone episode where the last guy on earth is sitting in a giant library – then breaks his glasses.  All those books and no way to read them… that’s the kind of movie that would break me.  Thomas wrote this poem about his father’s gradual blindness, so it would be easy to make that story the center of this movie.  Hire Adam Shankman (of A Walk to Remember fame) to direct, find an acting pair to really rock the father-son dynamic, and break out the tissues.
  5. T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” – This long poem would play out like a horror movie version of Love, Actually.  Or maybe follow run a la Cloud Atlas and cast the same actors to play a variety of different characters.  Either way, there are endless ways to portray the eeriness of this piece.  I’d personally love to see a director deal with the skips between time periods and environments, and how character would develop throughout the film.  The Wachowskis would probably have a field day with a script based on this seminal poem.

Would you check out any of my suggestions in theaters?  What are some poems you think would make excellent movies?

As it is currently National Poetry Month, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on the process of writing a poem.  Writing a first draft, mind you – not necessarily the process of developing a polished piece!

I’m notorious (in my own mind – I don’t know if anyone else has ever noticed) for writing fragments of poetry or lyrics and depositing them somewhere I’ll never look again.  I can say with confidence that I’ve probably written over 100 poems in the past year.  How many have I edited?  Closer to zero.

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hill walking in Ireland

Two and a half years ago, I spent a month living in Dingle, Ireland.  That month involved an immersion into Irish culture and history, one I documented with a photo (and sometimes a written entry) each day.  May ended and I returned to the United States with an expanded worldview.Continue reading