Tuesday, May 8, 2012

the way we were

First time sister, meeting baby Jeb!
A month or so ago I was reading On Beauty by Zadie Smith.  I read it because I found it in a book exchange and I liked the cover.  It's a strange story and I don't really recommend it.  There was a section that struck me and I wanted to remember it.  In the story, three siblings run into each other unexpectedly and go to a coffee shop to visit: 

"They caught up with each other's news casually, leaving long, cosy gaps of silence in which to go to work on their muffins and coffees.  Jerome - after two months of having to be witty and brilliant in a strange town among strangers - appreciated the gift of it.  People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two lovers, but this too was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating.  Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel - before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets [emphasis mine].  After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been.  Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls.  He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth.  He did not consider if or how or why he loved them.  They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away."

The imagery of there being one other person in your life as a child, your sibling, was startling to me.  I realized that I personally never had this experience that I now assume is common to many.  When Ryan was young, his sister Kristen of course would have been among the most significant presences in his life.  Because I was an only child for six years, my experience has always been as a big sister....slightly removed because of the age difference.  I notice it when my brothers and sister are reminiscing about their childhood and I don't relate to some of the stories....presumably because I was gone to college or working.  This gap has diminished as all my siblings and myself have grown older and age doesn't matter very much.  My experience and role in my family is unique and I don't regret it.   But in any case I think this concept in the story is lovely. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

it feels like home to me

When we were in Thailand these past few months that line "It feels like home to me" from Chantal Kreviazuk's song just kept running through my head again and again. 

Our connection to Thailand keeps getting stronger, and as our intentions develop I find it overwhelming to share what we're thinking....especially because we live in a manner of flux that doesn't always make sense to people.   But I want to try.  

Most people probably know that Ryan and I keep returning to Thailand every chance we have because our lives have become intertwined with lovely people there....people in several different places including those at the Bamboo School (BBS).    I haven't really talked about Bamboo School on the blog but it has become a significant factor in our life trajectory and feel that it's time I did.  

After our first year of living away from America, I had determined that I wasn't interested in returning to the states to my former career (media/marketing).  I love home and I love being near family and friends.  Visiting home is a priority for me and I am slowly but surely brainwashing my family into coming to see us as well!  But as much as I miss the people who are special to me back home when I'm gone from America, I also miss the people who are special to me around the world when I'm in America.  There is nowhere that I can go that I'm not missing someone, somewhere.  I've written before about some of the reasons that I believe Ryan and I are more at peace living in a foreign country.  Ryan and I both truly and sincerely love living cross-culturally.   After determining that working for a corporate company in the states wasn't what I wanted to do or felt like I was even supposed to do , I felt freed to start exploring an alternative life of working in social justice which had been my desire even years ago when I was working in America.  The first time we went to the Bamboo School our intention was merely to explore and learn from a couple different organizations in Thailand.  We spent a couple weeks volunteering at The Well....a beautiful place that assists women interested in escaping the sex trade by hiring them for paid employment which includes classes (in business, English, etc) and creating products (jewelry, stationary, clothing) to sell via fair trade in USA and England.   I was very excited about The Well as I particularly connect with young adults and am convinced that women's empowerment and education is the best investment we can be making into the global community (Give a Little by Wendy Smith and Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDun are both excellent books that expand on this topic).  We love the women at The Well and can see very clearly a life working with the staff there long term.   We would love to have that opportunity and maybe we will.  We resonate with the staff's intentions and approach and we respect them very much.   Some of the staff at The Well are also starting a new rural project that will focus on an array of things including prevention efforts to help minimize the factors that make rural Thai women particularly susceptible to being trafficked..   I'm so excited about this and hope to be involved!  

When our friends told us about the Bamboo School we thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about another type of organization, but since we prefer working with older students and adults we were not prepared for the way these kids would change us. It was like a ball from left field unexpectedly hitting us in the face, and we couldn't and wouldn't want to shake the connection we now have with the Bamboo School family.  

At the Bamboo School we currently have 54 kids (the number fluctuates as new children come to live at BBS and as students move on to university).  Bamboo School is in Thailand on the border of Burma (Myanmar).  A huge number of refugees are now living in this area of Thailand after fleeing Burma.  The children at Bamboo School are from the hill tribe called 'Karen' (pronounced Kah-rehn), an ethnic group that is being murdered and tortured by the Burmese government.  The Karen people have been at war for basic human rights in their own country for the past 60 years.  Restless Souls by Phil Thornton is a good book to read for more about the situation.  The kids at BBS have varying stories.  Some are orphans.  Some have no father and their mother cannot care for them.  Some have parents who don't want them anymore.  Some have family still living in Burma.  At Bamboo School our goal is for the kids to have a family, a home and an education.  To be physically, emotionally and spiritually at peace. Their first language is Karen, second is Thai and third is English (some of the children also speak Burmese).  The children are enrolled in the local public Thai school.   The Bamboo School also runs a clinic for the local village and an ambulance service to take villagers to the hospitals (30 minutes and one hour away) when we cannot treat them in the clinic.  The Bamboo School was started by a New Zealander named Catherine Riley-Bryan (everyone calls her Momo Cat).   She has run the Bamboo School for over a decade with the help of volunteer staff who come and go on a continual basis.   Momo Cat has been dealing with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and now has a lesion on her skull.  When we left Thailand to come to Korea she was awaiting brain surgery where they planned to replace her skull with a plastic one.   Now they are doing more tests and exploring some other possibilities but things are still very unsettled in regard to her health.  

We have finished teaching our winter camp in South Korea and on Tuesday we will be returning to Thailand.   We are slowly transitioning with the intention of living long term in Thailand.  Finances are the primary hurdle (aren't they always?).   We are very comfortable with living outside of the states for a long, long time, maybe forever.  If we have kid(s) we would like to raise them cross culturally and bi-lingually.  Even the financial issues should be relatively short lived.  Our costs in Thailand are extremely minimal.   And living in a community of bamboo huts and kids that routinely go barefoot to school makes things like new jeans and iPads seem pretty expendable.  We hope  that in the future we will be able to teach one or two short term camp jobs in South Korea each year and live the rest of the year in Thailand with what we earn.  Our current issue is we have Ryan's student loans from his masters degree to pay off and that may drive us back to South Korea for another year at some point soon.  We had seriously considered staying now to do another year of teaching in South Korea but couldn't shake a deep sense that Thailand is where we should be right now (especially with the uncertainty about Momo Cat's brain lesion).  We anticipate having about $2,000 to live off of for the next 6 months (until we can return to South Korea to teach a summer camp) and to be honest that's a sort of scary prospect.  However, it's a conscious choice we made.   We've learned not to run our life based on fear and we are confident we'll be fine.   We're experts at stretching a dollar to its limits!  :)  

I'm so excited to be going back to Thailand.  We intend to visit some of the kids' villages.   We hope to spend some time in Mae Sot (the major border town between Burma and Thailand where many refugees live).  We want to start Thai language school although that is not really feasible for now.   One of the former Bamboo School students has opened a similar school to BBS and we plan to help teach there for a couple weeks.  At some point we want to travel to Burma and would like to visit some of the kids' family members that are still living there, although there are limits on where white people are supposed to go.  

We do not know yet if Bamboo School will be our long term home in Thailand but we will forever be connected there.   If we need to live in Bangkok to have access to teaching jobs we may do that and spend weekends and holidays at Bamboo School.  These kids are our family now.   They are funny, resilient, stubborn, hardworking, affectionate and in some unexplainable way....ours.  We share them with an extended community of workers we have met at Bamboo School.   We dream that a long term staff will grow to help support Momo Cat in maintaining a stable place of belonging for our kids.  

Recently one of my friends who is on staff with The Well asked if we felt particularly connected to a certain people group or human rights "issue" (for lack of a better word).   I guess the simple answer to that for me personally is that women's rights and sex trafficking is the area I have seen myself working in.    But there is something bigger for me than that.  More than anything I am simply drawn to these people in Thailand who I have come to love and it's not so much about where I work as it is being able to continue to be in their lives and express to them every day that they have value.  I believe that people need people....we are a gift to each other and I love more than anything to bring people together and especially to create environments where people can belong (whether is the living room of our apartment in Korea or the veranda of our bamboo hut in Thailand).   When I was a senior in university I wrote a personal mission statement for one of my classes and the two words I clearly remember were "facilitate community".   I was reading somewhere recently that it's a good idea to find the thing you can do all day long without tiring.....relating this to the idea of what you can offer to the world that not everyone can. I'm not sure if I entirely agree with this quote but I've always liked it: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go and do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Harold Whitman.    Hands down, the one thing I can do hour after hour after hour without tiring and that makes me feel the most alive is relationally connecting with others.  I love sitting with people, listening to their stories.  I've learned that I'm more of a mother than I've ever wanted to admit.  I hope in my life that I can help others feel loved, accepted and that they belong.   For me, knowing that we are valuable and belong represents everything that I believe spiritually about God.  If I can play a facilitating role in sharing that sense of home with the women at The Well and my kids at Bamboo School then I think that I will feel alive....and Thailand will continue more and more to feel like home to me.  

Thank you for reading.  For as transparent of a person as I am, sometimes I'm not very good at expressing myself about the things I care most about.  It's not that I don't want to, it's just hard for me to put it into words.   I also hope I haven't been too mushy.  I really don't like that. 

Dok Mai has been stealing hearts since day one when she was left by a very afraid mother at the hospital after giving birth on the way there.  Her name means "flower" and she flits easily between Karen, Thai and English.  Sometimes she translates for us in the clinic.  She's changing from a toddler to such a little lady.

Bathachore and his little brother Parquet were new to BBS this last time we came.  It took Bathachore maybe a day to realize I'm a constant source for cuddles and he loves em.  His new job was to clean one of the boys bathrooms.  I had to walk him through the process one time and after that he was SO excited to run up and tell me that his job was done.  He is so sweet and eager to please.
Puikoh and I have something special and I'm so excited that her English keeps improving.  She loves looking at books and I want so badly to be able to share some of my favorite children's literature with her.....someday I hope we can read Anne of Green Gables together! 
I can't look at this picture without smiling.  So innocent and so naughty!  Jaw Deh Bleh, More More Chore and Heygyemoo....Each one their own little bundle of personality. 
I love all the babies but since I've always been drawn to older kids and adults, all my big bamboo "babies" have my undying devotion.  Porsue is on the left - he's an English whiz, has unending energy and is a chatterbox about Karen culture.  He doesn't like to be pushed to do anything but on his own accord he helps out the other students more than most do.    Narget is on the right - I haven't met many young adults as multi-talented as him.  He is motivated to learn anything from sewing to typing to violin.  I told him I love the way he thinks because I can see it happening behind his eyes even though sometimes I can't quite read him.   In the middle is Muna.  He's Narget's younger brother and has the most beautiful smile and the worst singing voice (which he belts out with unashamedly).  If you catch him in the right mood he's quite the gossip as well.  Haha.
Cerechai is just simply brilliant.  He's quick witted, grins easily, loves bboying and is an artist.  He says he might be a doctor but he says he might change his mind.  I'd like to provide him with some more exposure to graphic design.  Thai people generally enjoy comic books more than reading so comics are a good way to spread health information, etc.   Cerechai is talented enough that I think the sky is the limit for him.
These kids can eat and eat and eat.  I love it.

My beautiful girls are forever on and on about how they want to be taller and thinner so I redirected a little of that attitude into a spur of the moment exercise session on the kitchen floor. 
Triple trouble.  These beauties (Goh-la-bah, Pawn and Kwanchai, left to right) vie for attention and seem to finally be learning that we have enough love to give all of them!
MomoCat and Heygyemoo sharing a secret belly laugh.
The gorgeous women and children at The Well when we first volunteered there.  I want to be everywhere at once!  These women speak so much beauty, worth and restoration to me.

Friday, January 6, 2012

chronologically speaking

Living in the jungle is a great way to practice living in the moment.  When we're living at Bamboo School I find that usually the urgent and everyday chaos is all consuming.  So much so that one day I opened my computer and saw my "BLOG" folder on the desktop and realized I had completely forgotten I even have a blog! 

Right now Ryan and I are in South Korea until the end of January to teach at an English winter camp.  I'm not very good at or even interested in blogging chronologically about our life.  Still....I had hoped that the blog would be a way to keep people updated on what we were doing and where we were because I know that changes too often for anyone to really follow.  

Ryan and I spent last summer in the states.  We stayed six months and hopped around visiting friends and family in LA, Seattle, Kentucky, Michigan, Chicago and Canada.  We hadn't planned to stay so long but Ryan's brother Stephen and his girlfriend Rachel got engaged and we stuck around for the wedding in August.  I danced harder at that wedding than any other before!  It's always good visiting home.  There are things about being in the states that are strange.  We experienced more culture shock this trip back than we have previously.  We find that we're happiest and most comfortable being in a foreign culture for whatever reason.   We don't have any desire to move back home any time soon, if ever.   But I still love going home.  I'm not a traveler who is running away from something at home and I never get bored when we're home.  It doesn't matter how long we go home, it never feels long enough! 

When we were home we had a photo shoot for our 10 year anniversary. This is one among many favorites

When I wrote the last post (about my 30th birthday) we were traveling in Italy for said birthday and our 10 year wedding anniversary.  We were heading back to Thailand from the states and were able to make our flight a multi-city ticket so we could do some special traveling and friend visiting on the way.   We spent a little over three weeks in Italy (Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Capri/Anacapri, Rome, ) and about a week in Spain (Barcelona and Sitges).  We had the best time in Europe.....Spain was so much fun thanks to our gorgeous friends Will and Sara and Italy didn't disappoint any of my lifelong fantasies.  On my birthday we were staying in Anacapri (on the island of Capri).  On our way back that night we stumbled across a community dodgeball game happening at some sort of outdoor community center.   We soon discovered that the referee's name was Luigi as the players shouted/whined his name every time they wanted to complain or argue about his calls.  By the end of the game there was a circle of guys in each others faces shaking their fists and fulfilling every stereotype I could imagine.  Happy birthday to me! :)   I would live in Italy for an extended period of time in a heartbeat.

The next leg of our flight was an extended layover in Egypt (Cairo and a little jaunt to Alexandria) for about a week that only added about $20 to our ticket cost!!.   Stayed with a friend there and felt like the luckiest people alive.  Can't properly explain how it felt seeing the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx in person.  Saw mummies (including Rhamses'!) and couldn't get over that I was looking at real people's bodies who had lived 4,000 years ago (their hair, toenails, seriously surreal) .  Stood staring at King Tut's famous mask for a long time....I could have touched it if I wanted to (and wanted to most likely spend the rest of my life locked away in some Egyptian prison).  Had dinner a couple times on the bank of the Nile River and took a sunset felucca (boat) ride there as well.  Pretty much felt like I was living in a National Geographic magazine.   

Giddy to finally be in Italia! 

Met up with Kelli and her lovely friends in Rome.  Being touristy at Trevi Fountain. 

Truly surreal. 

Our favorite day outside of seeing the pyramids and Egypt museum was a day we spent wandering in Islamic Cairo.  We turned down into a little neighborhood and felt uncomfortably conspicuous with our big camera but couldn't help stealing a shot of these little guys. 
Felucca on the Nile!  The Egyptian sun is truly different than the sun anywhere else I've been.  

Finally, in the end of September, we landed back in Thailand.   And Thailand is what I want to talk about.....in my next post! 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

dirty thirty

For our ten year wedding anniversary, Ryan and I had some photos taken.  I also wanted a few pictures of just me, something I could keep from my 20s.  My mom made the quilt in the picture, I found the headband at my grandma's while helping her with some sorting and the book (Trudy Phillips New Girl by Barbara Bates) is one of my favorites I read so many times growing up. 

I am turning 30.  

When I was younger, I used to want to die once I had turned 30.  I believe when I felt this way was also when I thought 17 would be the perfect age and that I would want to stay 17 forever.  In all my wisdom I had determined by the time I was 30 all the fun things in life would be over. My opinion of fun included falling in love, getting married, and I can't remember for sure but possibly have babies.  Apparently I wasn't interested in raising those babies once I was 30, however.  

So now I am about to turn 30.  Thankfully, my perspective has changed and I have no desire to die.  I'm not too bothered by the idea of being older.  I have met so many lovely people with older ages but young souls.  I now am of the opinion that your lifestyle defines you more than your age.  I understand what people always say about not feeling old, no matter what their age is.  When I was 20 I used to think 23 was SO old, that 33 was ancient.....but I don't really view any age as old anymore.  I can imagine being 83 and not feeling old.  

While I'm not feeling too bad about entering a new decade (30 is the new 20 I've been told....and I keep consistently hearing that the 30s are better than the 20s for women), what really DOES bother me is I don't want other people to think I'm old.  I don't want to look old or be written off as old. I suppose that shouldn't matter to me but oh well, it does. I also don't want old people health problems. I've actually started considering what things I want to do in my life before my body can't keep up.  I took a contemporary dance class this past summer and realized that my body is aging and I won't be able to something like that forever. I was nearly a decade or more older than everyone else in the class.  

I have started using retinol cream every night but regardless I have wrinkles in my forehead and fine lines under my eyes that don't go away.  I look at pictures from when I got married and finally understand why everyone was telling me that Ryan and I looked so young.  Magazine articles always segregate fashion or makeup or skin care in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc.  Now I suppose I'm supposed to pay attention to the 30s section.  The bad news is that my best beauty fix ...to make me feel good/look good or feel like I look good...is still to get a tan (second only to the prospect but so far non-reality of losing 20lbs).  I don't get the chance to tan too often (which is probably a good thing) but I still feel a million dollars better when I have one.  Bring on the wrinkles and skin cancer! 

So on September 6th I will be 30 years old.  My little sister Cali will turn 21 on September 5th (tomorrow!).  I was 9 years old when I FINALLY found out that I had a sister, born the day before my birthday.  I've always said she was my early birthday present from God.  So while I've been thinking about this past decade and wondering about my next decade, I've compiled a list for my sister Cali that I thought she might find interesting.  

10 things I learned in my 20s: 

1) To not be driven by ambition as I was in my early/mid 20s....it makes me stressed, anxious and unhappy. 

2) That I'm happiest when belonging to a community and am able to invest in people and a life outside of work. 

3) How to be present and not so wrapped up in my head (started making it a habit). 

This article from the blog zenhabits.net really helped me.  I usually rush through taking showers because I feel like it's keeping me from my day....but I've started practicing presence and when I do, I enjoy showers and the a.m. getting ready routine so much more.  

4) To incorporate personal bliss often into daily life. 

5) Don't make decisions based on fear.  There will always be one good reason not to do things.  Not making a decision IS making a decision. 

I so often hear people making excuses not to do something based on fear.  It's easy to do and I try to be very attentive to fear creeping into my decisions.  I recently read this comment in a book and I think it is so true.  We too often let the one good reason not to do something stop us from doing it, despite the several good reasons there still are for going ahead.  

"I soon observed there is always one good reason for not taking a proposed action.  Often four good reasons may say 'go,' but one valid reason says 'stay.'  It has happened so often that I can almost call it 'Snyder's Rule.'  I was challenged when I came across Ecclesiastes 11:4: 'He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.' ...Ask yourself, 'If I don't do it now, when will I do it? Am I just taking the easy way out?'" - Al Snyder 

6)  If you are not proactive, life will happen to you.  Don't just talk about things you want to do, do them or schedule to do them. 

Earlier in life you will talk about things you want to do someday or try someday or be someday....by the end of your 30s you have discovered WAY more things you want to do than you can fit into your life so start doing those things right away because if you don't you'll get to the end of your 20s and feel like you've lost of decade of opportunity.  

"As I don't know about tomorrow, I never save the best for later." -Paulo Coelho

7) How to eat to feel good (non-processed, slowly, etc.)   Thank you Michael Pollen! :) 

8) Minimalism!!  So freeing! 

9) I learned and keep learning a lot about love.  Writing about it would take pages and pages.  Maybe someday.  

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to... us. Love like that. Ephesians 5:1-2

10)  It isn't sacrificial or glamorous to love hurting, oppressed people.  It's the same as loving your family or friends.  Once you have created a space where you personally develop friendships with people who have suffered injustices, it will be the most natural thing in the world to fight for their dignity in any way you can.   If you allow yourself to romanticize it or believe that it is a huge sacrifice, it will be easy to decide it is too big for you to do.  It's not.  And in our globally connected world it is entirely possible for every single person to love at least one other person and make their life better.  

"We can not do great things, only small things with great love."
- Mother Teresa

I've been thinking a lot about my 30s too.  That could probably be another post but here are a few quick thoughts.  

I hope to learn/practice in my 30s:

- To actually do silent retreats, practice solitude, etc.  Creating space for solitude is one area of my life that always slips to lowest priority.  It's time.  

- To take better care of my body (yoga, dance, regain more flexibility).  Beach detox - DO IT.  

- Some activities that I am still waiting to do properly or haven't done in a long time (sailing, acting) 

- A few more travel destinations that are on the top of my extensive list.  I won't get everywhere in my life but in the next few years I want to be sure we travel to India/Nepal (climb to base camp of Mount Everest while my body can still pull it off!), Israel/Jordan, more of Southeast Asia (of course) and fingers crossed for Greece/Turkey.  

- And for anyone who is wondering....nothing set in stone but if we are going to be blessed with a kid/kids....we think by the time I'm 35 it'll be time to move in that direction.  

I just read a novel about a women turning 50.  I'm more than halfway there but for now I'm pretty satisfied with being 30.  I have at least one things going for me: my neck skin is staying more or less in place for now.  :D  


In one of my classes I was teaching to my university students in Korea last winter, we talked about bucket lists.  We talked about what bucket lists are and discussed some things we each had on our own bucket lists.  Bucket lists are kind of a fun thing to have but what I don't like about them is that they are future oriented, and a lot of the time people never accomplish the things on their list.  I feel that they are slightly worthless or else create a sense of wishful thinking.  I told my students that instead of a bucket list, I had created something I called my bliss list.   I've noticed there are some things that make me feel relaxed, joyful, blissful.   I'm not sure when I started doing this but I started keeping a list...maybe a few years ago?....to remind me of small, easy things I can and want to include in my life on a regular basis because of how they make me feel.  I like that most of the things on my list I can incorporate regularly in my life and when I can't....just reading this list makes me feel good.   I just thought that maybe this is my subconscious way of making my own list of "My Favorite Things" like Maria on the Sound of Music.  Which also makes me think I should add the Sound of Music to my bliss list.  Anyway....I'm posting my bliss list below.  And since that class I've strayed from my principles and started creating a bucket list (I know, I know...but a little wishful thinking might be okay) so I'll post that as well.  

Bliss List 

Deep breathing
Basil and Cilantro
Smoothies (watermelon mint, grape we drank at Malcolm's in Manilla)
Meditation and Solitude
Reading - classics and nonfiction
Coffee shops (learn to make yummy drinks at home?)
Nature and Water
Chocolate - good quality and dark
Big windows and a lot of light
Paisley patterns
Yummy smelling candles (green apple, mistletoe, etc)
Taking walks
Key lime pie/ice cream
Jasmine tea (especially in a glass teapot)
Clair De Lune and Arabesque
Contemporary dance
Acting / Theater / Broadway Shows
Going to the movie theater alone
Art Museums
Relaxing music
Girl weekend trips
Old movies
Audrey Hepburn
Watching the Sound of Music 

Bucket List 

Spend Christmas and New Years in NYC (including a NYE party where we dress up and go to a big fancy party with champagne)
Be Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly 
Go to a Cirque du Soleil show 
Girls cruise, girls trip to Paris
Sailing (properly)
Road trips (Texas, South, New Orleans, Keys, Outer Banks) and (Maine, Vermont, Prince Edwards Island)
Have a wedding anniversary party 
Silent retreat (Abby of Gethsemane?)....detox retreat.....etc?  

Monday, May 2, 2011

thoughts on creativity with an uncreative title

Abstract Landscape Photography by Frances Seward - stunning art I stumbled across that I think is so intriguing.  I have no idea how she does this.  You can see more of her work here. 

NOTE:  I wrote this as a note on Facebook in September last year.  If you happened to read it on my FB I apologize but I wanted to repost it on the blog as I'd like to have these thoughts compiled in one place.  In re-reading it, I thought it was interesting how I referred to the idea of writing a blog and alas...now I have one!  :)   

Okay....on to the original post!  P.S. I have a couple update notes written at the end.  


"The longer you live, the better you will be able to understand your struggling inner nature, and you will be able to find an outlet for the power that it gives you.  Some people write, some sing, some raise a family, some join law firms, others plant roses.  How we express our sensual, spiritual and intellectual selves define who we are."  - Christopher de Vink in Compelled to Write To You

I have been thinking a lot about creativity lately.   I love this quote about how we all find (or hopefully find) outlets for expressing ourselves.  I am sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that my greatest outlet for expressing myself is through relationships.   Although I have found myself desiring more solitude in my life (at least in theory), I most certainly depend on relational connections to find fulfillment and purpose in life.   

The last few years of my life have been centered around a theme of community.  After university I struggled with the post-college life.   I threw myself into my career because working in media/marketing demands it and because I enjoyed what I did.  However, not belonging to a community in the sense that I had during school left me feeling empty and lonely.  Despite having many friends, the demands of working in corporate America left no time for pursuing depth in those relationships in a fulfilling way.  For me, balance was elusive.  Moving to South Korea and entering the world of travelers was like re-opening a door to a community-oriented lifestyle and I blossomed.  The further away I was from my work in America, the more I could see how unhealthy of a lifestyle it had been for me.  For the past three years, pursuing relationships and community has been a top priority in my life.  

Of course, while relationships are beautiful and valuable, there are always two sides of the coin.  People can "hurt you, desert you, break your heart if you let them" (truth via James Taylor).   Or less dramatically, investing in people can just wear you out.   I have many personal interests that I want to pursue.  I am sure that balance between relationship time and solitude time is a healthy way to live.  But it is natural and easy for me to push aside any individual pursuits  because there are always relational opportunities that seem more important or interesting in the moment.  

So to get back to the point, one outlet that I feel has taken a major backseat in my life is creative pursuits.  Ryan and I have started new jobs teaching English at a university in South Korea and will be here for about six months.  We live outside of Seoul in a small town and have a very easy work schedule.  We should only be working about 20-25 hours per week and have three day weekends.  I have been looking forward to this time as a period to rest and invest in some creative interests.  

In college I used to "joke" that I'm just not a creative person.   I was very involved in the communication department (my major). I was producer of our television program, editor of the yearbook, and filled almost every possible job available at the radio station.  But of all these commitments, I seemed to be at my best in roles where I directed and organized the truly creative people, rather then being assigned the creative projects myself.    

This said, when I was younger I truly enjoyed being involved in the arts.  I used to write short stories and wanted to be an author.  I loved, loved, loved theatre in high school (I loved the spotlight and always preferred to be leading lady).  I played and taught piano and was involved in choir.  When I started university, I had piano and vocal scholarships which I eventually gave up because as I became mega involved in the communications department I gradually lost the time and motivation for the practice and involvement required to keep them.  I decided I had to prioritize and music fell through the cracks.  

I am drawn to TOO many artistic pursuits.  I want to be a photographer,  a graphic designer, a painter,  a contemporary dancer, an actress, a writer, and more.  But I also want to be good at all of these things, which is impossible.  My sister was a dancer for years and it required almost daily dance lessons. I don't want to commit that much to any art....but I also find it hard to accept mediocrity when I am surrounded by so many extremely talented friends.  Can I accept being a jack of all trades, master of none?     

I have been tempted by the idea of blogging.  I want to be a better writer and have an outlet for my thoughts.  Ryan and I were talking about writing and he brought up the point of how good writing is so much about being a practiced writer.  Every time I think of committing to a blog I face the reality of how I am.  Writing regularly takes discipline.  I have avoided blogging because I have little doubt that I will quickly let it become a pressure and something else on my to-do list rather than a joy.  

I have wanted to paint for a long time and have decided to try it during these six months.  Even so, I have hinting feelings that painting might also feel like drudgery rather than fulfilling. 

One night I was reflecting on why I shrink away from artistic outlets when in my head they seem so desirable.  Have I just become that lazy?  I knew that I truly loved theater and music when I was in high school.  What had happened to me since then?  I started thinking about when I watch So You Think You Can Dance (BEST show and not to be confused with Dancing with the Stars) and even Glee (guilty pleasure), how I am so drawn in by the relational depth and community that is experienced by the dancing partners or portrayed among high school glee club.  I resonate with it because I have experienced it.  There was something so binding about putting on a show in high school theatre.  And I miss it and I would love to experience it again.  

I realized that I was hitting on a personal breakthrough in what makes creativity meaningful to me. Again....the common theme of relationships and community!  

So now I am left with determining how to apply this in my life.  Traveling makes it  difficult to find creative communities.  They are sometimes available if you are willing to stay in one place for an extended period of time but when I have thought about searching them out while living in South Korea it has felt forced and unfulfilling.   I have generally thought that there are seasons of life and this is not my current season for theater or contemporary dance (probably the two activities that would bring me the most creative fulfillment).   

I do know that I have the ability and time to try some more individual creative outlets like painting and writing and possibly improving photography.  I don't know if I will find them fulfilling.  Maybe they will be a drudgery.  Maybe they are worth it as a discipline and maybe I will find joy in them.  

I think what I will do is try out the discipline and see if it turns to enjoyment.  If not, maybe I will accept that for me, creative outlets have to have a relational element and determine to find classes or group efforts.  If I ever do start a blog, I suppose I will have to learn to write shorter entries!  Or maybe not.  My writing tends to be a little self-absorbed and more for my benefit than for others (case in point, this post).  Maybe writing is the one area where I truly am more individually focused than communally....? 


1)  Obviously I haven't succeeded so far in writing shorter posts on the blog. :)   I started re-reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott today (lovely book on writing) and was reminded that I need to show up and write if I ever hope to improve! 

2) In this post I expressed my desire to explore painting.  While in South Korea I tried putting paint on canvas a couple times on my own just to see how I liked it.  I loved the colors and texture of paint but quickly decided I needed to take a class.  The purpose being both for the actual direction and because I hoped that having classmates would add a relational dimension that would help the process of painting match with my personality more.  Now that I'm in the states for the summer I'm taking an oil painting class and can tentatively say (after only two weeks) that I like it! 

3) When I was teaching my students at Konkuk University in South Korea we talked about the arts one week and on one night in particular we were talking about creativity.  I had found this article on one of my favorite blogs: The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People.  It's a great post....but in a nutshell it says that SOLITUDE is the number one habit of highly creative people.  It was then that I realized I'm doomed! :)