A letter to my 18-year-old self

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Dear 18 year old self,

Happy Birthday, sweet thing. You’re about to turn 28 and — surprise! — almost nothing has gone as planned. Well, to be fair, you do have that adorable house and dog you always wanted, but not the accompanying husband or 2.5 children.  That’s right. You didn’t end up marrying your high school sweetheart. You stayed together until the very end of college. You missed out on meeting new people and trying new things because of your relationship. Things got ugly and you both did really hurtful things that you still regret. The good news is that you had enough courage to walk away from the situation. The bad news is that being in an unhealthy relationship is a trend that will follow you into your late-twenties. These relationships will hurt you and mess with your head. But, there’s a light at the end of the long and dark tunnel. Remember that when things feel hopeless. Okay?

Oh, and you didn’t become that well-known photographer.  In fact, you followed the majority of your family into the field of education—something you swore you wanted nothing to do with. How ironic, huh? Parents sometimes do know what’s best for you. But, you know what? Becoming a teacher will feel so rewarding. You will meet some of your best friends through it and have experiences that will truly alter how you see the world around you. That being said: don’t stop taking photographs. Feel the weight of that camera in your hands and keep capturing those moments. Explore the world around you through your lens. You have a unique perspective to share and will regret giving up on it. A lot.

Another thing: you are unspeakably beautiful. Stop it. You are. I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to admit it. Even writing it now is bringing me to tears. Quit looking in the mirror and seeing a distorted reflection of yourself. And, for the love of all things holy, quit relying on men to affirm your beauty before you believe it. Please, please, please be able to see it all on your own. This is so important.

While we are on the topic of men: let’s get this messy part out of the way. Fresh out of college, you’ll meet another man and he’ll move in with you almost immediately. Things will be good for a while. He will buy you things just because and cook for you almost every night. God, can the man cook. He’ll treat you like a princess and you’ll lap it up like a dog. The attention he gives you will replace your need to deal with your own internal lack of self-worth. You will put too much of yourself into the relationship. You will depend on him for everything—physically and emotionally. You’ll pressure him to commit to you fully. Eventually, he will give in and ask you to marry him. The proposal will feel hollow but you will say yes anyway. You will begin planning your wedding and looking for a home together even though a voice inside of you is telling you something doesn’t feel right. Don’t ignore that voice.

It will happen not even a week after you move into your new home together. You will find out what he has been doing behind your back. It’s not worth going into the details here, but it’s an unforgivable act in your eyes. Your entire world will crumble in a matter of seconds. Your plans are derailed and you are immediately left to deal with the fact that you are alone for the first time in years. Instead of stretching your wings, you will begin ferociously trying to fill that void with someone new. But, the wound is too fresh. You aren’t ready. Give yourself time to feel the pain. It’s like trying to run a marathon on a broken foot. You won’t heal properly if you don’t give it time. Learn to be alone again. Learn how it feels to walk into your home and cook dinner for one. Learn how to enjoy your own company. This period of time is necessary in order for you to ever make someone else happy.

That brings us to the present day. I wish I could tell you that we had everything figured out by now. But, we don’t. You are still struggling to figure out how to find worth in yourself. After possibly too short of a break, you are dating someone new. He is kind and understanding. You love him. But, you are constantly fighting the urge to sabotage things because you’re scared of hurting again. You’ve got major trust issues, darling.

Just, please be good to yourself. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Sometimes it’s okay to look foolish. Even—gasp!—in front of others. Make the most of every moment and try to do things just for you. Don’t build such a private world for yourself. Reach out to others. Make connections. Feel alive.

Most importantly, I love you. I do. I know that sometimes I say or do things that convey the complete opposite. I know that sometimes it feels like I’m your worst enemy. But, in the end, you are worth the world and deserve every good thing that comes your way. Don’t fight it. Accept it.

Sincerely,
Present-day me

P.S. You totally started the owl trend. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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Free Wallpaper: “A Cup of Tea”

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I came across this quote by author Jeff Foster on his Facebook page. I’m including the entire passage below because it truly resonated with me & where I am in my life right now. It’s always good to remind yourself to keep things simple. I hope you will enjoy this wallpaper & use it as a reminder to yourself to live in the moment.

In the end, as in the beginning, there is nothing more spiritual than having a cup of tea.

We can talk about the absolute presence of the witness, the subjective objectivity of subjective conscious presence, the ecstasy of transcendental states, the pathless path to glorious enlightened futures, the spiritual realms with all their compelling promises of perfection.

But soon, we tire of the words, however beautiful, and we long for simplicity, realness, a truth that cannot be broken. We long for the moment, however paradoxical that sounds. We long for our ground, our home. Connection. To get out of our heads and into the Heart.

And so we are sitting with a friend in a café on a summer’s morning, kids screaming in all directions, the reflection of sunlight on a tea-stained spoon, and THIS, THIS is life. Not life as abstracted by thought, not life as spoken by well-intentioned gurus and philosophers, but life as lived first-hand, life as nothing more than immediacy and presence and wonder, life as a tea bag, life as a sleeping dog, life as the shattering of glass, kids wild at play, oblivious to the seriousness that approaches in time.

I once had a concept of the ‘spiritual’. I once sought enlightened states. I once had an idea that I, or anyone, was an authority. I once felt superior to sleeping dogs and broken glass.

I am now a tea bag.

- Jeff Foster

P.S. Yes, I drew that little cup of tea & I’m kind of proud of it. So, be nice.

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Flash Fiction: “The Necklace”

You still wear the necklace he gave you beneath your clothes. It serves as a personal sanctuary for you. You find yourself reliving the day he gave it to you—in that little unassuming black box. You’d never received anything in a little black box before. You remember how nervous he looked with it cupped awkwardly in his over-sized hands like a fragile baby bird. For once, he couldn’t look you in the eyes. You knew it was a sacred moment, so you made sure to open the box carefully with it still nestled in his palms. Now, sitting on the near-empty bus entirely too late at night, you close your eyes & focus on the feeling of the thin silver chain brushing against your skin. You pretend it’s him touching you again— the simple thought of it making you purse your lips & cross your legs. You smile sadly.

Song: Birdy – “1901 (Phoenix Cover)”

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Welcome, Tessa Rose. You are loved already.

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It’s been a week filled with love for me. On Wednesday at 10:47 in the evening, my sweet niece Tessa Rose came into this world. She is beautiful & I’m already completely smitten with her. I’m also so proud & in awe of my sister! She is such an amazing mother already to my nephew Elijah.. She simply exudes  grace & patience. She is most definitely one of my biggest role models in life.

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Sometimes, it’s easy for me to get caught up in my head. I retreat & fall into a pattern of feeling very “woe is me” whenever things don’t go exactly as planned. However, seeing & experiencing this new little life renews my faith in …well, everything. I’m so hopeful. I think that’s the best way to describe things. Welcome to the world, Tessa Rose. You are so loved already!

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What’s at risk.

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been listening to the podcast RISK! quite a bit recently. If you’ve never heard of it, here is a brief description from their website: “RISK! is a live show and podcast ‘where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.’” The stories that people tell are often jarring. They cover just about every topic you could imagine— death, love, heartbreak, abuse, sex, depression, and the list goes on. These people stand alone on a stage in front of a microphone and completely spill their guts to a room full of (I’m assuming mostly) strangers.

Sometimes, their stories are hard to stomach. I commute a decent amount for my job, so I typically find myself listening while behind the wheel. I’ve missed an exit or turn several times because I’m engulfed in these brave individual’s stories. I’ve gasped and cursed and cried and laughed and paused and rewound and fast forwarded.

Amongst the wide range of emotions that this show elicited from me, there was one in particular that consumed me entirely: jealously. Why wasn’t I brave enough to tell my story so unapologetically? Why was it so hard for me to risk being exposed as my authentic self? I was jealous of the raw, imperfect edges of these storytellers—of the way they were able to look their audience square in the face while admitting these private (and at times extremely painful) things about themselves. The podcast was certainly aptly named because these people were truly taking a risk.

I wanted that. I wanted to expose myself and share my story. I wanted to make people gasp and shake their heads. I wanted them to laugh at the absurd parts and blink away tears at the painful, unfair parts. I wanted acceptance and affirmation and that cathartic, relieved feeling that they surely had to feel afterwards.

But, then, I realized I was nowhere near ready to risk telling my story. Even as I write this sentence, I can honestly say I don’t even know where I’d begin. Does this all have a point? Not really. Am I going to leave you feeling inspired and empowered after reading this? Maybe not. But, I guess I’m okay with that. I take small risks every day. Like writing this very post or wearing a dress with heels when I really just want to put on a sweatshirt and jeans. I live every day as bravely and authentically as I can.  I make mistakes because I’m human. I put myself in situations that make me uncomfortable. Because I’m human.

I hope that some day I will be able to stand in front of a microphone in a room full of strangers and shout at the top of my lungs, “Look! This happened! This is me and I’m totally okay with it!” Until then, I carry on humbly and risk getting out of bed to live another day.

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I was an English Teacher at an Inner City School for Two and a Half Years

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I was fresh out of college and had just completed my student teaching at an excellently rated suburban high school within a close-knit community. During my student teaching experience, I had technology and resources and administrative support! The kids thought I was cool (in a nerdy way)! They did their homework (most of the time)! I created these awesomely creative projects! I was officially the best English teacher ever (seriously a student gave me a mug on my last day to prove it)I was so ready to go out into the world and SAVE ALL THE CHILDREN BY FOSTERING IN THEM A LOVE FOR THE WRITTEN WORD!

Shortly after I finished my student teaching, I stumbled upon an English teaching position that was posted for a local charter school. I remember thinking, “Wow, there are a lot of charter school positions open! Whoever said that there were no teaching jobs out there was full of it.” I knew I was going to be “working with a different student population” than I had been during my student teaching experience. But, I mean, I’d watched Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. How hard could it be?

After my first day, I quickly realized why there were so many charter school job vacancies. To put it bluntly, it was rough. I could tell you story after story about the fights I witnessed and the verbal abuse I experienced and the lack of administrative support I was up against. Honestly, my skin simply wasn’t thick enough nor my heart hard enough.  I had students from broken (more like shattered into oblivion) homes, students who were literally homeless, students who were fifteen and pregnant, students who came to school hungry.

Yet, I was supposed to make them give two shits about A Tale of Two Cities and proper MLA citation? I was supposed to prepare them for state testing? It all felt like some sort of cruel joke that I wasn’t in on. These kids needed so much more than I was capable of giving them. I drove home crying many days. Sometimes, I drove to school crying.

The day I decided I was going to finally give my two weeks notice, a particularly volatile young man in the 11th grade threatened me. “Man” is definitely the best way to describe him. He was at least two heads taller than me. He pushed a desk over and had to be escorted out of my classroom by school security. I was visibly shaken. This student had not liked me from the beginning. Maybe I reminded him of someone in his life who had hurt him. I had tried everything and failed to gain his trust. It destroyed me and I knew I couldn’t handle anymore of the stress or anxiety.

So, I gave up. I did. I quit mid-year and it was one of the most selfish things I have ever done. I left them. Because I couldn’t do it. I felt like I was doing them as well as myself a disservice by staying. But, honestly, I just couldn’t handle it. My heart hurt too much every day when I got home.

That is not to say that I didn’t experience moments of brightness. My students touched me in ways that I still am figuring out. They were so resilient. They opened me up to an entire world that I’d heard existed. However, to see it first hand is an entirely different story. Teaching also taught me a lot about myself as a person. It revealed both positive and negative qualities within myself.

I still stay in touch with some of my students. I had one of my seniors who is now attending college message me recently on Facebook to tell me that they were reading and discussing a book  that we had read together in class. She told me she felt confident and thanked me for preparing her. I teared up.

Would I go back? I never say never. I could see myself— years down the road—- going back. Sometimes, I miss it so much. But, right now, I’m just thankful for the experience and all that it taught me about myself.

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Ten Books That Changed Me

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There’s no hiding my love for the written word. Books have an uncanny ability to pull at my heart strings. Although this is not necessarily a complete list, I have chosen ten books that have changed me for one reason or another. They may not all be great works of literature; however, they all came into my life at the perfect time & served a purpose. I could write paragraphs on each of these books. But, I won’t do that. Not yet anyways. I’ll just list them. What books have changed you? I’d love to know.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  7. Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
  8. About a Boy by Nick Hornby
  9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Free Desktop Wallpaper: Don’t Give Up.

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Hello, everyone! I’m back  & feeling inspired. We all know that the period of time after the holiday rush is a tough one. But, I’m trying my hardest to stay as positive as possible. I made this little desktop wallpaper for you to hopefully inspire you to keep going. Don’t give up, my friends. Even though it may see like the easiest thing to do. I know I’m not going to. Feel free to use it & share it!

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An Interview with Jessica Robinette.

I was first introduced to the lovely Jessica Robinette months ago when she sent me a friendly message asking for information about my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. She was planning on moving here from Kansas City, Missouri to pursue her MFA at the University of Cincinnati — which just so happened to be my Alma Mater! I could tell right from the start that Jessica was a genuinely kind and creative soul. Although we haven’t gotten a chance to meet in person yet, I know we will get along wonderfully when we finally do! As for her work, it’s simply beautiful. It is delicate and thoughtful and has this warmth to it that makes you really stop and take notice.

Jessica was gracious enough to sit down and answer some questions for me about her photography and her plans for the future. For more information, check out her portfolio website or visit her blog to see her latest work. I hope you enjoy!

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself. (Where are you from? Where are you currently living? What did/are you going to school for?)

Until recently, I lived in (beautiful!) Kansas City, Missouri. I received a BA in 2010 and recently got married. My husband and I just moved to Cincinnati because I’m beginning an MFA program here in the fall.

How did you become interested in being an artist? What inspired you to pursue this career path?

I credit a lot of my path to good mentors. Back in high school I was lucky enough to have an art teacher who sort of let me have free reign and she encouraged me to continue with art. I knew that it made me happier than anything else, and that was enough for me. In college I had a professor who clarified everything for me. As silly as it sounds, I looked up to her and wanted the life (of an artist) that she had. I have never looked back and I’m grateful that I’ve always felt deeply and honestly that this is the path for me.

 

What material(s) do you use to create your pieces? Why do you choose this medium?

In school I mostly took photographs, but I was careful to learn what I could about printmaking, drawing and painting because I knew that I wanted my future in art to be interdisciplinary. My recent work is still rooted in photography but most pieces get manipulated with string, ink, paint and/or additional paper.

I use photos because I’m interested in their realism and also the romanticism that photographs can evoke. The photos show what it is that I see…but I also like the work to be abstracted and sometimes the photographs are “too real” so I take it back a little with the abstraction. I also like the additional process that the sewing, collaging and painting takes. Sometimes a photograph lacks process.

 

Describe your artwork.

I’m very interested in human emotion and relationships. For years I have been making work about personal places (specifically the home) and how people connect with their most private and treasured spaces.

My work is often suggestive but not specific. I want the pieces to feel like a memory, a familiar place the viewer has been before. It’s all about the emotional connection and stimulating some sort of comfortable feeling.

What inspires you?

Other people’s work spaces, random and simple connections with strangers, and watching people do what they’re passionate about.

 

What are some other things you enjoy doing in your free time (aside from art, of course)?

Lately I’ve been exploring Cincinnati and trying to find those hidden gems that every city has. I love going to farmer’s markets, traveling, reading and lately I’ve become interested in baking…mostly because I’m interested in eating.

 

Who are some of your favorite artists right now?  

I spend a lot of time looking at photographs by Uta Barth and Laura Letinsky. I can’t get enough of Cy Twombly’s paintings. For things on the more conceptual side, I love Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July.

What’s your favorite thing about being an artist? What’s the most difficult thing?

Since I’m still in the early stages of my career, I haven’t had the opportunity to make art full time– until now. I’m just so excited to begin the MFA process and make art my full time job.

There are definitely times art making seems harder than it should. As an artist, I essentially run my own small business. I have to be the publicist, bookkeeper, secretary and the artist.

 

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?

I hope to have the time, space and money to make art. I also want to be teaching art to college students and raising a family.

 

If you had an entire day to do as you pleased, how would you spend it?  

I would sleep in, eat Thai food for lunch, maybe visit a museum or a park and then have friends over for dinner and cocktails on our balcony.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself/your work that you think we should know?

I just want to thank you and your readers for taking the time to learn about my work! I’m always interested in connecting/collaborating with other artists and creative types—feel free to shoot me an email!

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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

 

After reading all of the astoundingly positive reviews for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I eagerly bought it for my Nook to read on our long road trip to Baltimore. Now, I must let you know that I rarely ever actually buy books for my Nook. I usually just wait and download them for free from my public library (which is awesome, by the way). However, I thought that this book was going to be important enough to spend a little money on. And, well, I was right.

This is not the type of book that you think it’s going to be from its plot description. When I tried describing it to Kevin, I said something like, “It’s about two teenagers who have cancer and fall in love”. The premise makes it sound so unimaginative and dull which could not be further from the truth.

It’s about so much more than just that. This book is about loss, hope, anger, humor, courage, acceptance, beauty, as well as all the normal complications that go along with being a teenager and in love. John Green somehow manages to make you emotionally invested in his characters in an impressively small period of time. By the end of the first chapter, I was ferociously rooting for the star-crossed Hazel and Augustus. Certainly, as a high school teacher, there were some moments in the novel where it was hard for me to imagine such articulate and brilliant teenagers; but then again, Augustus and Hazel weren’t supposed to be your average teenagers. So, it worked.

As I mentioned, I read this book on a road trip with Kevin. I was so engrossed, I forgot that it was well-past my turn to take the wheel. I think he could tell how crucial it was for me to finish this book. He didn’t say a word. Maybe it was the intermittent crying and exclamatory “Oh my God’s” that convinced him to keep quiet. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the beautiful writing in this book. This thing is full of quotable passages that are begging to be highlighted.

In short, you must read this book. It will be slightly painful and hard for you to get over, but I promise you it will be worth it. If you do read it (or already have), tell me your thoughts on it!

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