"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Writing is Like

Writing is like trying to piece together a puzzle from a bag of puzzle pieces you found in the back of your closet: no picture on the box to follow, no way to know if the pieces you have are for one puzzle or several.

Writing is like trying to take a decent picture of the sunset on an iPhone. The colors never come out as beautiful as your brain interprets them.

Writing is like cracking pistachio nuts and then dropping them into a box. The pistachios are words, and the box is your novel. You can't see the progress you're making because the box is opaque. You crack open a nut, discard the shells, and drop the little green kernel into the darkness, hoping it's enough. The only way to know how far you've gotten is to pick up the box and shake it, to hear the satisfying rattle, to feel the weight. But actually see your progress? Harder than it seems.

Lately I've been feeling jealous of visual artists. Not because I wish I was better at art (though sometimes I do) but because their progress is so obvious. From a blank canvas, an image emerges. The pieces of a quilt come together, square by square. A sweater is birthed from the apex of two knitting needles. The results of this kind of effort are tangible: you can touch them, see them.

Writing a novel is different. It feels transient. Your progress is marked by pages and word counts, by how long it takes you to scroll. When I open my word document, I don't immediately get a sense of how far I've come, or of how far I need to go. All I see are the last few paragraphs and a little blinking cursor. It's the same no matter where I am in the process, which makes it feel like I'm starting from the same place, every single time.

I suppose it was different before computers. When you pulled a finished page out of your typewriter and placed it on the stack of pages that came before it: physical, tangible proof of something that was once in your brain. I like the idea of this, but the truth is, I've tried writing big projects on typewriters, and the form is too rigid for me. I can barely get through one page before I'm dying to change something and frustrated that I can't.

In a lot of ways I love how mutable writing on screens is. I can sit down and put whatever is in my brain on "paper", knowing that it is instantly changeable whenever I feel like it. It's freeing. I can tell my inner-critic to take a seat and not interrupt until I tell her it's okay to do so. On the page, anything can happen, and if I don't like it, no big deal. One click, and its gone.

The flip side of that coin, though, is that something so changeable is hard to hold onto. A novel in itself is hard to picture all at once, while if I asked you to visualize a painting you could do it, no problem. I feel as though I'm trying to hold water in my hands but it keeps slipping through my fingers. I want to be able to hold something up, to say, "Look what I'm making. Look how far I've come." But all I have are word counts. All I have are page numbers. They work as markers, as flags. But they don't feel substantial. You can't glance at them and see the whole picture.

Instead, I just catch glimmers. A shape appears out of the fog. I hit milestones, and compare them to things I can visualize more easily. For instance, I recently passed 50,000 words, which is about the length of The Great Gatsby. When I don't have a good frame of reference, I try to make time the thing I can measure. I've been logging my writing using a time tracking app. There at least I can see how much of my day goes to this thing, this growing, changing thing that is impossible to see.

Most of the things I want to make are intangible. Things like novels (which will hopefully be book-shaped one day, but probably won't be for a long time) and podcasts and blog posts. It's been plaguing me because I want to share my progress, to have something to show for my efforts, but all I have are these words and pixels.

And so, I build my days around them. I carve out the time and record and measure and make due with flags and markers. When my first draft is done (and it will be soon, I hope) I will print the entire thing out (warts and all) and hold it in my hands. I've always imagined myself lugging a manuscript around with me to coffee shops, marking it up in different colored pens, but honestly I'm not sure that's the fate for this project. This feels almost like a practice round, like the challenge I cut my teeth on. I may come back to it, I may not. Either way, I'll have it. Physical proof of something I made. And that will make all the guesswork worthwhile.

Until then, I'll just keep dropping pistachios into the box.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ten Things I Learned from Taliesin West

Last month my family and I went to visit my friend Ruth, who is currently the graphic design fellow for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation at Taliesin West. (Yeah, I'm proud of her, too.) It was a lovely weekend where we were continually in awe that such a place could exist and that we had the privilege of being there. I've been trying to write about it for a couple weeks now, but while I've seen more of Taliesin West than most people ever will (it's only open to the public through tours), I feel like I've just barely scratched the surface. Listed below are a few things that struck me, thoughts that sparked other thoughts; in short: ten things I learned from a few days in a fascinating place.

Some background: Taliesin West near Scottsdale, AZ is the "western" campus of the apprenticeship-turned-architecture-school Frank Lloyd Wright founded in order to shape a new generation of architects. The original Taliesin is in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The word Taliesin means: "shining brow."

1. Be prolific. On our official tour of Taliesin West we learned that Frank Lloyd Wright designed 1,141 architectural works in his lifetime (the majority of which were late in life). 511 of these were actually built. I mean think about that. 1,000+ designs. 511 buildings. Imagine how fewer Wright buildings would be in existence if he'd only created half as many designs. Or a third of that. Those numbers reiterated my desire to be the kind of person who makes a lot of things. I want to find a way to bring creativity into my daily routine. I'm a long way out from that (a lot of thinking, not enough doing), but hearing those numbers made me inspired to start again, to make more than I ever have.

2. Help people see your work the way you want it to be seen. Wright is notorious for being unwilling to compromise his designs for a client's personal preference. His ceilings are often comically low, partly because he was short, but also because he believed that houses should be "human sized" and that they shouldn't tower over the people living in them. In the guest-house we stayed in on campus, you could really only see out the windows unless you were sitting down. As such, all the chairs were perfectly aligned so that when you sat down you were at eye level with the landscape. While it's not a good idea to be so uncompromising that you alienate your audience, I think artists can take cues from Wright when it comes to nudging people in the right (ha!) direction. His designs force you to experience the architecture in the way he wants you to experience it. I couldn't help but wonder if there's a way to translate this into other mediums.

3. The kindness of strangers goes a long way. Everyone we met at Taliesin was gracious and kind. Even though it's a close-knit community of students, teachers, and staff, we never felt like we weren't welcome, and everyone was happy to answer our questions and ask some of their own. That kind of openness seems like it's getting rarer and rarer, and it was a nice surprise to be surrounded by it, even just for a weekend.

4. There's nothing desolate about the desert. I'd forgotten how full of life the desert is. We chose the perfect time to go because the aloe and the bougainvillea were in full, astonishing bloom. It seemed like everywhere we turned there were flickers darting between the trees, flocks of quail skittering about, and flashes of hummingbirds among the flowers. One night we even heard the eerie sound of coyotes yipping in the distance.

5. Sometimes the greatest luxury is to do nothing in a beautiful place. Despite Ruth's best efforts to keep us busy, we spent a large chunk of the weekend doing nothing, and it was glorious. I sat in what little shade I could find and did watercolors or read. We went on walks, visited the gift shop and the cafe, and just generally watched the light change. The whole time I kept having to pinch myself that it was real, that the sunset and the mountains and the strange spiky plants weren't some sort of dream. What a luxury to just be in that place. What a luxury to be able to truly enjoy it.

6. Compress and release. Another thing we learned about on our tour was the concept of compress and release. Often we'd enter a building through a dark hallway, or some tight, cramped space, before it opened up into a long, light-filled room, usually with a view that stretched on for miles. I'm not really sure what the takeaway here is, except that I've been thinking about and noticing this concept ever since. Maybe it's that you appreciate things more right after they've been taken away from you.

7. Life-long friendships are rarer than you think. Every time Ruth introduced me as "my friend Laura, who I've known since the second grade," the most frequent response we'd get was "Wow. That's amazing!" It's far too easy to take really good friends for granted. They've always been in your life, so there's no reason to think they won't continue to be. I've been lucky enough to have several friends like this, so it often doesn't occur to me that not everyone has kept the friends they made in elementary school. Their reaction reminded me to cherish the friendships I have and not to grow complacent about them.

Side note: It's amazing to me how Ruth and I can fall right back into normal routines, even in a completely different setting. One of my favorite things we did that weekend was hang out at a bubble tea place in Phoenix and chat about our creative projects. It's something we do all the time when we're in the same city, and it's nice to know that some things never change.

8. Never underestimate the importance of a good hat (and sunglasses). Both the hat and sunglasses I took on this trip were last minute decisions. I almost couldn't find my sunglasses before leaving, but I discovered them on the kitchen table literally moments before walking out the door. The sun hat had been sitting unused in the car for the past month, and I made my dad grab it as we were loading our stuff into the shuttle that would take us to the airport. Both were completely invaluable and made being in the hot, bright desert WAY more pleasant.

9. Environment matters. One of the most amazing things about Taliesin West was that most of the architecture students live in structures called desert shelters. The shelters are built by previous students and current students can choose to design or modify a shelter for their final project. Most of them are completely open-air with a platform for a bed and place to build a fire on cold nights. What's amazing though, is how different each one is, and how they are tailored to the environment. Each one takes into consideration the heat of the day and the cold of the night, the way the breeze flows through the space, elevation from the ground, and how a person might spend their days in this tiny piece of the desert. While it takes a special kind of person to want to spend an entire semester in a desert shelter, I love the idea of being so connected with the environment around you, and of building structures that allow for that connection. These structures are built for the uniqueness of the desert, rather than in spite of it. I feel like there's all sorts of metaphors here for creativity that I haven't quite figured out yet. Something about tailoring your creative practice to your environment rather than trying to muscle through all the time. Or maybe just about paying attention to your surroundings and bending to them, rather than expending so much energy trying to shut them out.

10. Details, details, details. And lastly, what would Frank Lloyd Wright be without details? Everything in his buildings is meticulously planned. No piece of decor is out of place. I try to imagine living with that kind of cohesiveness and intention. Honestly, it sounds exhausting. But I can't help but admire someone with that kind of vision. And when you're surrounded by it, like I was for a few short days in March, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

"As we live and as we are, Simplicity–with a capitol S– is difficult to comprehend nowadays. We are no longer truly simple. We no longer live in simple terms or places. Life is a more complex struggle now. It is now valiant to be simple: a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means." - FLW

**This blog post would not have been possible without Ruth: For being an awesome human being, and a wonderful host! **

Friday, February 23, 2018

Books & Clothes

My parents are planning to move soon, and we've been feeling overwhelmed by sheer amount of stuff we own, so this past weekend we made a pact to clear out the two things that take up the most room in our lives: Books and Clothes.

Books and clothes. I often joke that I could almost be capable of becoming a minimalist, if it weren't for all the books. I love my bookshelves. I find the presence of all those words, written by some of the people I admire most in the world, extremely comforting and inspiring. I also have a very hard time walking into a bookstore and leaving empty handed. Needless to say, working at a bookstore has just thrown fuel on the fire.

I know too that I don't like being surrounded by books I know I'm never going to read. Or books I have read but only remain in my memory because they're sitting on my shelf. In an uncharacteristic turn of events, I was actually excited to get rid of books.

A cute outfit and some current reads
Clothes, on the other hand, were a little more amorphous. I tend to go through phases where I'm obsessed with clothes and phases where clothes are simply functional. The obsessed phase looks like this: pinning style ideas on Pinterest, pining after gingham tops and velvet dresses, mixing and matching things in my wardrobe in a half-desperate attempt to shake things up. The "meh" phase looks like this: not caring if my Darlingside t-shirt is too informal to wear to work, ignoring half the jeans in my drawer and alternating between the two most comfortable pairs, and generally not being bothered by clothes except when putting them on.

Recently I've found myself at an interesting cross roads with my wardrobe. A lot of the things I wear are perfectly acceptable for a college student (and frankly, above the "t-shirt and sweatpants" standard of most college students), but not quite for a young-adult woman with a big-girl job. While the bookstore is pretty lax in its dress-code, the things I'd wear in the summertime in my home just don't quite cut it. It seems obvious to me now that as your life changes, you clothes might have to also, but seeing items that I used to wear constantly relegated to "weekends only" was a little disconcerting.

That's not to say that I thew out all of my summertime clothes (you can't live in Houston without a great pair of shorts and a breezy tank top). It's not even that my dividing line was really "work appropriate" vs "not work appropriate" because a lot of the things I own could go either way. Cleaning out my closet made me realize that maybe I'm growing out of my wardrobe. A lot of my "summer" clothes feel like high school me, and a lot of my "work" clothes feel only tangentially like something an adult would wear. I'm in this weird in-between phase where I don't want to dress like an old lady but I also want to look a little more put-together than my high school self. And if my style isn't "college girl chic" anymore, then what is my style?

Am I overthinking this? Probably.

Am I strangely fascinated by it? Absolutely.

So what did I do when faced with the task of cleaning out both my closet and bookshelves? I went with my gut, and I'm pretty happy with the results.

The books were easier than I thought they'd be. I gave myself room to let go of books I'd once wanted to read but not longer had any desire to. I gave away books I'd read but hadn't loved, or that I knew I'd never want to re-visit. I did a slight re-organization of my shelves so that now I have one full shelf and two half-full bookshelves with room to grow. (As they inevitably will ;) The one nearest to my bed only has books I'm most excited to read right now. If that changes before I get to them, they either get donated or put on another shelf until I feel like reading them again. With so many new books coming into my life, I either have to read faster, be vigilant about culling, or both. Preferably both.

[Side note for people who care about what I'm reading right now (pictured above): Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, Too Much and Not in the Mood by Durga Chew Bose, and Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Annihilation is currently at the top of the list because I'm planning to go see the movie this weekend and what if I actually read the book before the movie! That never happens! Wish me luck :)]

Anyway, what I'm trying to say with all of this rambling is that cleaning out my bookshelves felt really good. I'm now surrounded only by books I love and that I'm pumped to read. Strangely enough, cleaning out my bookshelves felt a little bit like de-cluttering my brain. Now, when I look at each book on my shelf it sparks something: whether that's an idea I had while reading it, or simply excitement to pick it up.

As for the clothes, I think I did well pretty well. I got rid of the things I never wear, kept a few things for sentimental value, and even though I know my wardrobe won't change overnight, it's heading in the right direction. Right now I'm in the "meh" phase when it comes to clothing but I know when the pendulum swings back towards "obsessed" I'll be ready to tackle all of my wishy-washy feelings about clothing and growing up and what I want my wardrobe to say about who I am. I also think it's important to note that I don't hate all of my clothes. In fact, I like most of them. But I'm looking forward to seeing them evolve and change with me.

Some people might think it's silly to put so much thought into inanimate objects, but I would argue that books are anything but inanimate because they engage our minds so fully, and that clothes serve a similar function because they are an active form of self expression -- they literally move with us. I don't know where any of these thoughts will take me. If they don't go any further than  "thoughts I had while cleaning out my room," so be it. But something tells me there's more to it than that. And I'm going to follow it wherever it leads.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Bitter Sweet (Or Songs I've Cried To)

I. It is March of 2017. I am in the bedroom of my on-campus apartment. It is chilly outside, and I'm longing for sunny days, for the first time I can wear dresses without tights to keep my legs warm, for freedom, and in this case: the unknown. My first summer not bookended by school. The summer of the rest of my life. Instead of the overhead I just have lamps lit so my room is full of warmth, the darkness pressing against the glass. I'm laying in bed with headphones on, trying to find something to listen to. I turn to an old favorite on a whim. Alela Diane. I liked one of her songs once but not the rest, her voice dipping away from folk, too close to country twang for my liking. I find her most recent album: Cold Moon. Hit play. The songs are otherworldly, slow. They meander, Alela's voice lifting like a white sheet on a windy day, floating, longing to break free.

The ocean is the color that you saw
The ocean is the color it will always be
with or without your hands to paint it

As I sang into the night sky
I knew that you were stopping by
to say goodbye
Goodbye, Goodbye

I listen to the album all the way through. I don't move. I am transfixed. Even for all the talk of the ocean, the album makes me think of the desert - the way sounds carry, the sky so vast you can barely see the edges. As the album progresses I begin to sense the story the lyrics tell, of loss and questioning. Of wondering what happens when we die. By the end, I want to believe in souls.

Call it God
Call it whatever you like
to believe in souls
To believe that death is someplace
where there are no eyes
where there are no faces
no hands no war no death

Is it a colorless night
shrouded in white
do we return here again?

II. I am little, sitting on my parent's bed.  Joni Mitchell's "Little Green" emanates from a tiny first-gen iPod speaker. Her words, twisting like vines around the room. Her details, so tactile you can almost taste them:

Call her Little Green
For the color when the spring is born
There'll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
like the lights when the northern lights perform
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes and sometimes
there'll be sorrow

I'm filled with childlike joy - the kind that only comes from the simplest things like stacking blocks on top of each other or painting blindly on fresh paper. Joy for the beauty of the music and the melancholy of the words, though in my child's brain it isn't melancholy, just specific: Birthday clothes. Icicles. Northern lights. Sorrow. My mother tells me the song makes her sad. When I ask why, she tells me that Joni wrote it about giving up her child for adoption. I listen to it again, and the lyrics snap into place where before they were only pretty words:

Born with the moon in cancer
choose her a name she'll answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
call her green for the children who've made her

Suddenly, I'm crying. Suddenly the world seems bigger and more unfathomable. Suddenly the simple details take on so much meaning. I know my mom feels bad, but looking back I'm glad she told me what it meant. It cracked the song, and its details, wide open.

III. It is December 2017. I'm in bed again. I can't fall asleep. Too much coffee too late in the day and my heart feels like it's trying to patter it's way out of my chest, but my eyelids are heavy and my limbs feel like they're made of lead, like at any moment I could sink into the mattress. I listen to my "Sleep" playlist. I listen to "Cold Moon." Drift in and out of sleep. Somewhere in an old playlist: Anais Mitchell. I click on an album called "Xoa", hit play. Her voice, elvish, etherial, pierces and lulls at the same time. I'm more awake now, the opposite of where I want to be, but I don't care because I just want to listen to her words. Her songs are stories, tales of sorrow of grace of beauty and light.

Come out the streets are breathing
heaving green to red to green
come with your nicotine and wine
tambourine keeping time
you come and find me in the evening
Way over yonder I'm waiting and wondering
wither your fonder heart lies

Sometimes her voice molds itself into a wail. It tapers and grows, vibrates with something sad and beautiful and little bit jagged like unpolished crystal. I listen to it on repeat. Drift in and out of sleep. When I wake up, her voice croons softly through one earbud, the other slipped away from me in the night.

She's leading you home from the heat of the bar
to lie on the levy and look at the stars
you can hold her hand
you can kiss her face
go slow if you can
cause the world is a very sad place
cause when she leaves she'll leave no trace
and the world will still be there

Monday, January 15, 2018


In case you weren't aware, I'm writing a novel. Actually, you probably weren't aware because I've specifically not mentioned it on this blog until now. But yesterday, I hit an arbitrary milestone towards my arbitrary word count goal of 80,000 words, and it felt like time to announce: I made it to the halfway point.

Halfway. The term implies that something is in the process of becoming something else, but it's also a pause. On Dictionary.com the sample sentences for halfway are as follows: "He stopped halfway down the passage"; "She woke halfway through the night"; and "I'm incapable of doing anything even halfway decent." Besides the humor in these sentences (especially the last one), I find that the halfway point is a time for reflection. So I'm reflecting.

It's hard to know what to say about this book because for so long I've avoiding calling it what it is. I avoided saying that I was writing a novel (except to my family) because I didn't want it to fall into the ever growing category of "Projects Laura Says She's Working on But Never Finishes." Besides, the same goal has shown up on my new year's resolutions every year for probably the past ten years: "Write a book!" Always with so much enthusiasm. Always with so much hope.

I've never gotten as far with a project as I have with this one, and miraculously, it feels like I might actually finish it. But right, I'm supposed to be reflecting. I'm such a future-oriented person that I tend to see every accomplishment as a gateway to the next big thing. I need to stop doing that. I need to acknowledge all the work that went into making it happen.

So let's start from the beginning. This isn't like other things I've written, where I can pinpoint the exact moment the idea came to me. I do know when the seed of the idea appeared, though. It was the summer of 2014, and I was working at the Harris County Archives. The office was quiet, and white, and I was cataloguing the dates and contents of documents in a series of boxes, so I often listened to music and podcasts to fill up some of that quiet, empty space. I listened to two podcasts back to back: the "Wild Ones" episode of 99% Invisible and the Radiolab episode about the Galapagos Islands. I'd always had a passing interest in the Galapagos, but these two episodes filled me with curiosity. Who lives on the islands? What was it like in Darwin's time vs now? The islands loomed in my imagination: they felt untamed and magnetic and completely mysterious. I knew immediately that I had to write something set there.

I got as far as writing the first paragraph of a short story called "Mother and Daughter Go to the Sunny Galapagos," before in classic Laura fashion, I abandoned it. For a year. One day I re-opened the document, re-read the paragraph and let it grow into something larger. Something with more scope than a short story. Something that could, maybe, one day, be a novel.

I think there are a couple of factors that have made this project easier to write so far:

1. No re-reading. I hardly ever go back and re-read what I've written after writing it. That's not to say that I don't edit as I go - I can write and re-draft and tweak whatever I've written that day as much as I want. But as soon as 24-hours have passed, I don't look at what I wrote the day before unless it's just to remind myself where I am. If I did re-read whole passages with even that little bit of distance, I don't think I'd have the confidence to keep going, no matter how much I told myself "It's a first draft. It's supposed to be bad."

2. Loose structure. I think I've finally figured out an outlining technique that works for me. Basically I make a list of all the scenes I know I want to write, in somewhat chronological order. As I write, I move those scenes onto a list of existing scenes. That way I can see what I've written and what still needs to be written at a glance. I write in what is basically chronological order, but if I really get stuck, I let myself skip ahead to important scenes from my list that I really want to write.

3. Cutting myself slack. I want to finish this draft. I want to finish it so badly it hurts sometimes, because I know exactly how far I have to go, and how bad I am at writing every day. But I also know that I'm not the kind of writer who can just pound out 2,000 words a day and not care if they're bad. I like being happy with what I've written that day, even if it's only one sentence that I'm proud of. My goal is to write as quickly as I can without turning the experience into a chore. I even let myself "start over" when I thought – 25,000 words in – that the novel needed to be told from a different character's perspective. It took me 5,000 words of back-tracking to figure out that no, that wasn't the case.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm really proud of how far I've gotten. I still have another 40,000 words to go, but somehow they don't feel as daunting. Because I'm halfway. And I'm pausing. And that's a good feeling.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Eight Creators to Follow in 2018

The internet is a vast source of inspiration, but with the seemingly endless access to creative people and their work, it can be difficult to find the ones who are doing the things that truly inspire you. I spent most of 2017 being inspired by other people - mostly artists and writers and youtubers - and I felt like I should honor that inspiration by writing about them. I think they're all going to do great things in 2018.

1. Fran Menses: I tend to admire people who make a ton of stuff, and Fran definitely falls into this category. The sheer amount of things she creates on a daily basis - youtube videos, drawings, zines, travel journals, stickers, you name it - is mind boggling. I love her aesthetic - all pastels all the time - but more than that I love her quiet encouragements to her followers, her love for illustration, and her relaxed sense of humor. Plus she recently debuted a planner in her online shop, and it's literally the best planner I've ever owned.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite Videos:
A Week in the Life
One Scary Thing Every Day
Kew Gardens
Other links:

2. Synchronized Swim (Jessie Epstein + Amy Bornman): I've been following this blog since its inception, and oh. my. goodness. it is wonderful! Jesse and Amy write gorgeous, tremendously thoughtful personal essays about life, books, music, and faith (among other things). They are both so observant of their emotions and what it means to be a fledgeling adult, and every post has this richness to it that's hard to describe. If you read any blog in 2018, it should be this one.

Where to follow: Blog
Favorite posts:
Green Light by Jess
The Braid by Amy
Airplanes, Revisited by Jess
Practice by Amy
Other links:
Sync Swim Shop
Amy's Shop

3. Ariel Bissett: Ariel has enough energy and enthusiasm for twelve people. When it comes rushing out of her, usually in the form of a video, it's impossible not to feel inspired. I've been following her Youtube channel for a while, but the past year has brought a noticeable change: the the quality has gone up, and she's branched out from solely talking about books to talking about her creative endeavors as well. Since then she's created a zine, launched a podcast, and started freelancing. Ariel is the kind of person who bravely follows her curiosity wherever it leads, and I can't wait to see where it takes her next.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite videos:
No Longer a Student
Writing a Book
Taking a Gap Year
Deep Talks
Other links:

4. Robin MacArthur: Surprisingly, this is the only published author to make the list. I first discovered Robin's work at the Texas Book Festival last year, when I read the first couple pages of her short story collection, Half Wild, and couldn't leave without buying it. I don't usually fall in love with short story collections, but Half Wild was different. The stories seeped under my skin and settled there. I've since learned that the author lives in a cabin she and her husband built from scratch on land that has been in her family for generations. Her first novel Heart Spring Mountain comes out this month and I can't wait to be swallowed whole by her words again. In the meantime, I'll keep myself occupied by enjoying her cozy Instagram feed.

Where to follow: Instagram
Favorite posts:
This one and
This one and
This one and
This one
Other links:
Design Sponge Profile

5. Fran Cacace: Fran is amazing. She's a filmmaker, writer, and youtuber who's putting herself through school with a full-time job. On her youtube channel she talks frankly about creativity and mental illness, and doesn't sugar coat the difficult parts of creativity. I love re-watching her old nanowrimo videos, where she filmed her progress every day while working on her novel. I've honestly learned a lot of things from her, not the least of which being that it's possible to write a ton of words AND watch a lot of television, and that it's important to prioritize mental wellbeing over productivity. Also be sure to watch her awesome web-series about working in a library: it is funny and true and heartfelt.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite videos:
NanoWriMo Day 7
I Wrote A Scene
Finishing A Book
Other links:
Web Series

6. Delita Martin: Delita is an amazing artist who makes beautiful, mixed media prints showcasing African American women. She incorporates pattern, fabric, and hand-stitching into her work in such interesting ways, and her portraits feel personal and moving in ways that floored me when I happened to discover her work in a show at the Galveston Art Center. If you can find a way to see her work in person, do it, because the scale makes them even more stunning.

Where to follow: Instagram
Favorite Pieces:
This one and
This one and
This one and
This one
Other links:
Behind the Scenes

7. Ashley Mary: I love Ashley's colorful abstract paintings, but I especially love watching her instagram stories, where she shows closeups of her work. Her instagram feed makes me want to take up oil paints, if only for the amazing textures and colors she creates.

Where to follow: Instagram
Favorite Posts:
This one and
This one and
This one and
This one
Other Links:
Online Shop

8. Leena Norms: Leena is another youtuber that I've been following for years, and I just can't get over her videos. My favorite series she's done is called 40 Questions with Leena, where she made an astounding 40 videos in 40 days answering questions posed by her viewers. I aspire to Leena's level of curiosity and playfulness, and I can't wait see what she does next.

Where to follow: Youtube
Favorite Videos:
Is it Bad to Age?
The Five to Nine
Congratulations, You Did Nothing
How to Get Everything Done
Other Links:

I encourage you to check out the work of these amazing women. I hope that you will watch their videos and read their books and appreciate their art, and if you can, support them buy buying something they made. Making it as an independent artist, wether you are freelancing or doing side projects alongside a regular job, is one of the most difficult things you can do, and it's even harder to constantly self promote. These women manage not only to make the things they love, but also to share the behind the scenes progress of almost everything they do, and to me that's what makes them so inspiring. I hope you enjoyed this list, and that it leaves you ready to take on the new year!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year Thoughts

So I always seem to have a lot of thoughts around the beginning of the new year: resolutions and goals and lots of wishy washy feelings around my birthday and what I want my life to look like in 2018 and all those fun existential questions. I've been working on a blog post about people who inspire me and who I think are going to do really great things in 2018, but that post just isn't going to happen yet, because I want to it to be as concise and well-written as possible (and there's a lot of people to profile!). So you're getting this instead, which I'm sorry to say is just a snapshot of my brain right now. Here goes.

1. Reading slumps. Ironically, I've been in a bad reading slump ever since I started working at a bookstore. I think it's because I've gotten so used to describing books to people that it makes me feel like I've already read them. Trying not to put too much pressure on myself and let myself fall back in love with reading when the time comes.

2. Days off. Since starting a full time job my attitude toward days off has completely changed. I used to think that I had to use my weekends to DO things - I had to be productive and go on adventures. I still want to go on adventures sometimes, but I don't feel quite as guilty for sleeping in or spending an entire afternoon reading. Today I literally wrote in my planner that I wanted to spend at least 2 hours curled up with a book. Now my days off feel like this magical, special time that's just for me to do whatever I want with. And it's a really nice feeling.

3. 2018 Bucket List. Okay, I know I just said that I feel less guilty about using my days off to actually relax, but one of my goals for 2018 is to do more activities that I love but don't get to do very often. Mostly things like kayaking, roller skating, and being outside. Some other things on my list are: become a regular at an establishment (coffee shop/library/bookstore), go rock climbing (nerve wracking because I'm not sure how I feel about heights, but it also looks really fun), and visit a museum/gallery I haven't been to yet. So yeah, I think I'll be happy if my days off are about 60% recharging, 40% putting in that little bit of extra effort in to go somewhere and do something new.

4. Writing. I had a bit of an epiphany the other day. I realized that writing itself, putting words on the page, isn't difficult. The hard part is everything that surrounds writing: the self doubt. The stress over deadlines. The wrestling with one idea over another. Every day we come to the page with all of this baggage, and every day we have to wrestle it to the ground just to even begin. It's exhausting. As soon as I embrace this fact that the physical act of writing is easy, the fear and self doubt don't have as much power over me. *Disclaimer*: That's not to say that figuring out story and character and revision isn't mentally strenuous, because it is, but in the first draft putting words on the page is so much easier if you don't have to deal with all the mental angst. I've been trying to focus on just putting one word after the other, and so far it's been working.

5. Turning 23. My birthday is the day after tomorrow, and I'm honestly surprised about how calm I feel about it. 22 was a weird birthday for me. It felt like the year I was "officially" a twenty-something, no turning back. I know there's never any turning back, but 20 and 21 still felt like a part of teenager-dom, you know? Anyway, I'm looking forward to a relaxed birthday surrounded by the people I love most in this world, and really, what more could you want?

6. This blog. I've had a lot of thoughts about where I want this blog to go in 2018. I want to post more, obviously. I want to write more about my writing process, and hopefully give some advice that might be helpful. I want to write less rambly and thought-dumpy posts and more thoughtful essay-like posts. (With obvious exceptions, because sometimes you just need to write down everything that's in your head. Case in point.) I want to share more photos of places I've been, and find more creative ways of conveying information. I want this to be a warm space, a comfortable space, a space for feeling and thinking and being curious. That's really what I want for 2018 in general.

Today was the first day in two weeks that the sun came out. Even though it was colder than most Texans would think possible, it was a beautiful, clear-eyed day. The kind of day where the sky is so bright that it doesn't look real and the air so cold that it bring tears to your eyes. The kind of day where you look at the sunset, a smear of pale yellow and rose petal pink, and can't tell if you're crying because of the cold or because of the beauty or both. Here's wishing you many more days like that in 2018. (Maybe a little warmer.)