Things to do on Earth Day

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For those looking to celebrate Earth Day, here are some fun, and simple suggestions.

  • Join a group for a beach clean up.

Or gather a group of friends and family and do it on your own. Also applicable to nearby parks, lakes, neighborhoods, and more. Make it a fun event so that more people will want to go. Here’s a local option in Orange County, if you are around.

  • Make a habit shift.

For example, when you do groceries this Sunday, try our No Plastic Challenge. We make an effort to never leave a grocery store with single-use plastic containers, even if they ARE recyclable. There are many habits worth shifting. If this challenge is too difficult, then start with something small, such as carrying a reusable water bottle.

  • Ride bikes everywhere you go.

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Every weekend, Mike and I make an effort to bike and walk everywhere. Last week, we biked to our coffee shop to refill our re-usable Cold Brew Howler. We walked to a restaurant when we wanted to dine out, and we bike to the library when we have to drop off books. Anything to try to limit car usage. In Mexico, I was very impressed to see that every Sunday, they close down the roads from 8 am to 4 pm so that people can bike and roller blade all day. It not only promotes physical activity and community, but also eco-friendly habits. Once we realized how close and accessible everything was on a bike, we started to use it more and more. Try it out for yourself!

  • Plant an herb garden.

While planting trees would be ideal, some such as ourselves do not have a backyard (or front yard for that matter). But I DO dream of planting an herb garden on our balcony one day. Why not start on Earth Day?

  • Simply get outside.

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Notice the sun warming your face, the sound of trees moving in the wind, the smell of an ocean breeze. We can’t learn to appreciate the Earth if we don’t take the time to acknowledge it’s worth.

How about you guys? Doing anything fun this Earth Day? Leave comments and suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Thoughts On: Why I Was So Adamantly Against An Engagement Ring

There are things in life that we grow up learning as expected pre-requisites toward the next stage. These expectations are formed from previous generations’ own experiences and life journeys, wherein older folks have already traversed the path towards a certain life goal. As a child, I have always been one who challenged these expectations. I was stubborn, curious, and a down-right resister of things that I was told I “had” to do. I would have likely formed my own resistance, and I sure did try to create movements with my sister, much to the frustration of my parents, no doubt. A lot of these life expectations are societal norms that are entirely, all too bogus in my opinion, engagement rings being one of them.

I had a normal childhood. My parents are not divorced. I did not have any hateful relationships. I watched Disney (in fact, that was ALL I watched), and grew up with the Princes and the Princesses. Even though television was limited at our house, I still saw advertisements for jewelry stores and movies with proposals in them. All of this to say, I did not live under a rock and I was not traumatized, which I consider is a necessary statement considering the looks some people gave me when I told them that there was no engagement ring.

When we started telling our family and friends that we were getting married back in 2016, the first question was either “Where is your engagement ring?” and “How did he propose?” To which we replied that there was neither a ring nor a proposal. The first thing my family did was look at me with a quizzical look. But I think they knew me well enough to immediately deduce that I was the mastermind behind this decision-making and did not question us further. Those who didn’t know me, however, ganged up on poor Mike, who was only following my wishes. They questioned why he didn’t just get one anyways, despite my request (demand?) not to have an engagement. They were upset that he did not come to them first for advice, as if they knew better what was best for us. They told him it was a mistake and it was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. The poor soul. And then they came to me and said that I definitely wanted to get a ring from him, to secure the deal, as if a rock on a gold band can keep a man from leaving or changing his mind. As if I would want to keep the man who would prefer to leave. The whole traditional thinking behind the matter is quite laughable to me.

So why was I so against engagement rings? I find engagement rings to be ridiculously expensive, utterly useless, and an honest offense to, dare I say it, REAL displays of affection? I am mortified at the idea of someone needing to give me a highly expensive item to convince me to stay with them for the rest of their life. I am not so useless that I need someone to buy me an expensive ring, either. If I wanted a ring, I can buy it myself, thank you very much. I never looked forward to the feigned surprise of those being proposed to, as if they actually did not know, or never gave it a thought. Firstly, if they never gave it a thought, then maybe there shouldn’t be a proposal in the first place. Secondly, if they actually did not know that he was interested in spending the rest of his life with them, then I suspect there is a lack of communication, somewhere.

I think, too, I was shocked to hear of people our age taking out loans in order to buy engagement rings? I mean, talk about starting marriages with financial hardship. Trust me, I would know, what with my massive student debt, that this is not where anyone would want to be. And I was absolutely not okay with accepting whispered words of requiring a ring equivalent to three months worth of pay.  I remember thinking to myself that the world has gone mad. Do we no longer rationalize things for ourselves? I think it is very important to discuss with younger generations why we are so brainwashed to think that an engagement ring is necessary, or even a coveted thing. The simple answer is that a company (DeBeers) in the late 1800s decided that they were going to take this rock and make it shiny and create this idea of scarcity around it so that it could be equated with a high social status and then sell this rock to the wealthy people of the world. Eventually, he figured out that to make this mainstream will earn him even more income, and thus, this excessive social status that was once only available to very very rich people, started to be advertised to the middle class as something covetable, and worse, attainable and necessary.

The sad thing is that while women covet the darn thing, the men are the ones who are entirely afraid of not buying it. When I told Mike that I did not want the ring, he must have asked me “Are you sure?” over the course of a half a year. Because if he did not get it, what would people think of him? Would I turn around in the future and use it against him? Would we regret this decision? Do I want to be surprised? This assumption that ALL women want an engagement ring is part of what fuels ALL women feeling like they need an engagement ring. Therefore, equally as important as having a discussion with younger generations is having a discussion among partners. I hear guys all the time say they want to propose to their girlfriend but have no idea what to buy for the engagement ring. So then obviously, my immediate question to them is, “Do they even want an engagement ring?” To which they say, “I don’t know. What girl doesn’t want one?” Obviously, we need to communicate better. Ask them. “What of the element of surprise?”, they would say.  Well, then maybe girls should be equally accountable for bringing this subject up, as well. I can’t have been the only one bothered sick with the notion of receiving one, can I?

How did it get brought up for us? I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, but it was entirely my doing. I straight out asked Mike in a very matter-of-fact way, the following questions: “Do you think we will ever get married? When would you expect to get married? Where do you see us in __ years? What are your thoughts to no engagement ring?”, most probably in that particular order. The answers weren’t immediate or hurried, as all answers to big decisions ought to be. In fact, it took us a few months to rationalize whether it was optimal to even get married. And after we finally talked it through and made our decision, as two equals weighing in on something that affects both of us, without the pressures of answering a question at one particular moment while one suffers on bended knee and the other suffers from feigned surprise, I started to list out all the things I would rather have than a rock.

I couldn’t list a single reason to want an engagement ring, but I could list hundreds of things I would have rather spent that money on. Upon the realization that I would hate to see money go to waste, we decided to allocate some money towards a vacation, prior to announcing to everyone that we were going to get hitched. When I say some money, I still mean way less than three months pay, and I entirely mean splitting the trip evenly between two equal partners. It’s 2016 (or it was at the time) and I do believe in equal contributions to any relationship. The vacation was a four day get-away to the Bahamas, and it was our second international trip as a pair. We knew from the get-go that travel was very important to us. It has been an underlying theme in our relationship, and this was another commitment to each other that travel will continue to be a way in which we grow together as a couple. So yeah, I chose to travel instead of strap a band on my finger.

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That’s just it. Just because engagement rings worked for your parents, it does not mean it works for you. My advice? Talk about it honestly and openly. How do we ever expect to break the chains that keep us on a hamster wheel if we are too afraid to ask people questions that could hurt, or more frequently, questions that require even an ounce of thought or soul searching?

And if for some reason it’s difficult for one person to break free from the thought of engagement rings, look, I get it. Advertising is strong, drug-like almost. But then, DO talk about the finances of it. More specifically, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to have it. Prioritize your future goals as a couple. If you want a house or a lifetime of travel or financial independence or the freedom to do whatever you want, try to calculate how many years you would be willing to take off from your other priorities in order to have that ring. Maybe, then, you’d come to a different conclusion.

A fantastic read about engagement rings, and the history of, here.

 

Having Less is Good, Wanting Less is Better

I have difficulty writing about de-cluttering and simplifying at times, mostly because I don’t want to enforce the misconception that de-cluttering is the end game. It would be wrong to assume that the act of de-cluttering and separating yourself from your stuff will somehow fix all of your life problems. In a world constantly on the go, people seem to be searching for quick fixes. Correct the situation, then move on. No one seems to want to learn about the process. But it’s the process of the thing that will teach you about character. The process is what will shape you and the lifestyle you lead. It is the part that contains self-discovery, and builds self-worth. De-cluttering is just the very beginning of that process.

After ransacking and rummaging through my belongings to rid me of that which does not “spark joy” (which I know realize is such a funny measurement to go by), I got to a point where I’ve siphoned my heart out and was left surrounded by only that which made me happy. Reaching the end, however, did not make me feel complete. So I started the process over again (and again, and again…). With each re-start, I found even more things that I could let go of, which taught me a lot about my perception of this idea of stuff. Initially, when I finished de-cluttering, I felt a sense of pride in my success with clearing away 80% of my belongings. Why shouldn’t I? It IS a success to take the little steps that add up to something bigger. But then I kept thinking to myself, well, I could do better. So when I tried a second time, I found even more stuff that did not bring me joy. And the same went for the third, and fourth, and fifth… Eventually, I learned the lesson that the stuff itself does not spark joy. Seriously. It took me long enough! How could an inanimate piece of furniture, or a piece of clothing spark joy? It can’t. Therein lies my first lesson in de-cluttering. Surrounding myself with things that spark joy is a whole bunch of baloney!

Of course, the immediate result of de-cluttering was not the freedom from things. The immediate result was an additional problem to deal with, which was the sorting of and pawning off of the newly unwanted stuff. If you’ve ever looked long and hard at a pile of, (may I say it?) trash, you will understand the sadness I speak of when I say that our decisions to consume will directly impact our children’s ability to see green grass and turquoise waters. I embarked on a journey to try and re-sell the stuff, at thrift stores and Craigslist. The problem was that the thrift stores were already getting a large load of “donations” from other people that they had to be very selective in what they can take in. Most of the time, that was hardly anything at all. And people were not scouring for used items on Craigslist by the thousands. Meaning the rest of the stuff either gets sent to a landfill, or to another organization that then has to sort through the trash. The truth is that at the end of the day, a large percent of the stuff that you never even needed in the first place cannot be saved and will end up in a landfill. Even pulling up to the back of a Goodwill, you see trash bins into which donators can drop of their unwanted stuff. As kindly and gently as I’ve tried to drop my things, there is still a loud thud as they reach the bottom of the large abyss, where my short arms cannot quite reach. I feel the same thud as my heart drops to my stomach, knowing that Goodwill may also decide that this too, is unsavable.

Some thrift stores will actually incentivize you to buy even more stuff, amidst dropping stuff off. They will give you a higher monetary value if you choose “store credit” instead of “cash back”. An early mistake that I used to befall involved choosing the more “bang for buck” option and going home with, you guessed it, MORE stuff. Which I had to go through a few months down the road and de-clutter anyway. What I realized was that, we just have to cut our losses, and use the loss of money (by choosing the cash option) to constantly remind our future selves that we do not NEED anything more. No more stuff, no more money (which would tempt you to buy more stuff), no more de-cluttering projects, organizing parties, and wasting of time doing said things.

With every session of unburdening, I was able to detach myself more from the things. More importantly, I had a better grasp on the things that tie us down. Like having to work five days a week in order to save money for stuff. Or spending my hours on a day off cleaning objects that were collecting dust. Or organizing them into storage bins so that they didn’t collect dust. Or de-cluttering them so that you didn’t need to buy more storage bins.

I also had a better grasp on things that mattered. That tugged at my heartstrings and broke me down. When my dad had a heart attack last year, I was reminded that people matter more than things. As I started to need less, I started to work less. As I worked less, I had more time to grab lunch with my friends, cook dinner for my parents, spend one-on-one time with Mike. I had more time to talk to my brother about his career, and to hear a new-grad’s view on life. I also started to focus on actually living. I took many classes, delved into hobbies, started writing, tried to learn guitar (and three new languages), and more. I dedicated time every morning to give back to my body by doing daily yoga. I stopped adding back unnecessary things right after I’ve gotten rid of them. I simplified everything, and learned how to avoid turning around and complicating it again. We are so attracted to complications these days. “Life is so hard”, or “Life isn’t as easy as it used to be”. These statements are being thrown around carelessly, as if we’ve somehow forgotten that we are in control of our lives and that we have the ability to make the decisions.

This is what I mean when I say that de-cluttering is not an end-all, fix-all thing. You can de-clutter your entire home, from the foyer to the bathroom drawers, but nothing will ever change until you also stop adding stuff back in. Decluttering itself does not simplify your life. It is the process (which I recommend doing repetitively), that will define your values and solidify your character. And when you’ve done that, THEN you will have more control. When you no longer have a complicated life, your judgement is not clouded. You are not too busy to stop and lend a helping hand. Life isn’t going so fast that you don’t have time to do the right thing, which usually is the hard thing. The process will never teach you anything if you are just doing the same thing over and over again. If after de-cluttering, you add back in only to land back on square one of the game board. De-cluttering is not only about letting go, but also about understanding WHY we want things. We learn how much society plays a factor in determining for us what we want. It’s about having less, but more importantly, wanting less.

 

Thoughts on: The Human Nature of Being Too Hard on Yourself

Today, I was sitting at home with my brother for my lunch break, and we were talking about my brother’s current progress with his studies for the DAT. With a month away, I think the pressure has been slowly increasing ever so slightly. This morning, he was having difficulty waking up, having stayed up late studying the night prior. He was so tired that he called out ofwork, unable to make his usual morning shift.

Now my brother and I, though similar in some things, are also quite different in other things. When I took the DAT the first time, I did not even study. In fact, I did not even know the sections that we were going to be tested on. I just walked in there and took it. Obviously, I didn’t do too well, but honestly, I didn’t do horribly either. The second time, I decided to borrow a DAT book from the library and study a little bit a day, not in any structured way, but rather, freely, whenever I had extra time. It was kind of a last priority. I entered the test without having finished the DAT review book, actually. The second time, I scored really well. I don’t believe it was because I studied the material so much, but rather, because I saw the test once before and knew what questions to expect and how to answer them.

I guess you can say I am a bit relaxed when it comes to these things. It’s partly due to an exorbitant confidence in myself (that may be misguided at times) and partly a feeling of, “Oh well, what happens, happens.” I guess that’s putting it in a bit too oversimplified of a way. It’s not that I don’t try, I try pretty hard in a lot of things that I do. But I never try so hard as to inconvenience myself too greatly. I have a tendency to put my best efforts in everything all the time, so I can comfortably retire at my usual sleeping hour every night, despite unfinished work, and sleep soundly knowing that I did my best in the amount of time that I had. I tend to have a sense of ease and trust in my ability to perform well. Some call that arrogance, but I swear, it’s never done in a malicious manner. I like to attribute it more to a c’est la vie mentality.

My brother does equally well as I but he is what we call in my language a “segurista“. He goes above and beyond the level of preparedness necessary to ace a test. If I could assemble a team to carry me through a zombie apocalypse, he would definitely be on it. I’m not sure if his zeal stems from anxiety (possibly) or insecurity (unlikely), but there’s almost this fear that if he does not put in the most of his efforts, all hell would break lose and the whole system would fall apart and it would all be for naught.

When he told me that he had stayed up until 3 am last night studying, I asked him why he didn’t study yesterday during the day, to which he replied, “I did.” I guess the kid studied 12 hours yesterday, which to me is mind boggling. The crazy thing is, he has already gone through all the study material once. Even crazier was when he told me that he was reviewing over the study guide and made 360 flashcards yesterday off of 20 pages of study guide. And while my frugal self borrowed whatever DAT book the library had on the shelf for free, my little bro has purchased every video, tutorial, and packet that was rated highest in pass rate for the DAT.

Which led us to the following discussion. I asked him why he felt like he needed to work that hard. I expressed that it’s a bit overkill, and certainly not worth it if he was not even able to wake up in the mornings due to exhaustion. He was trading in healthy, among other things, in exchange for something that does not even increase his feeling of security. I think the ultimate answer was that he did not want to fail. He really wanted to give his best in order to do his best, which is commendable, surely, but not exactly sustainable.

At times, I think, we are too hard on ourselves. We treat ourselves in really unkind ways, and push ourselves to crazy limits, and contain ourselves in such structured boxes. We can have such high expectations of ourselves and when we don’t meet those expectations, we feel disappointment in our abilities or lack thereof. We don’t like to see ourselves fail, and sometimes, we don’t allow ourselves failure. When we do, we feel very unworthy, somehow as if we are less. I don’t know what it is that trains us to be this way. Maybe it’s the weight of society and its judgements that fuel our need to succeed. I like to think it’s our human goodness that makes us want to carry the weight on our shoulders. Either way, it’s not entirely good for the human soul to be so harsh.  And so I asked him, “Why do you treat yourself that way? You don’t treat anyone else that way, so why do you allow yourself to do that to you?” 

When we watch a friend or a child try their best and then fail, we don’t go up to them and call them a failure. At least, I hope not. We are kind and lift them up and tell them that life moves on and there’ll be more chances and more opportunities. If they try again, we’re sure they’ll get it next time! If we treat other people naturally in this way, then why is it so easy for us to dump on ourselves? We recite the old addage, “treat others the way you want to be treated”, but do we follow our own advice?

Sometimes, people just need to hear that what they are doing is enough. Can we gift that same thing to ourselves?

My advice?

— Instead of being fixated on success, have a simple intention of improving a little bit every day.

— Instead of fearing failure, embrace the possibility of failure, with the understanding that failure will teach you more about yourself than any success would.

— Try your best in everything you do, without going out of your way to inconvenience yourself. Anything you do after your best efforts will no longer be considered your best efforts, once you’ve detracted from other aspects of your life. Know that you can’t perform your best at all, when you’re short on sleep, or are hungry, or are emotionally deprived, or are spiritually exhausted.

— Stop trying to control everything in life. Do what you have to do, but also learn how to roll with the tide.

— You can carpe diem, but also know, c’est la vie. It’s all about balance, in the end.

Letting Go of Perfect

I grew up in a world where perfection was taught as the ideal. I was surrounded by critical (yet loving) adults during my childhood, and each shortcoming that I had was never missed, and pointedly brought to my attention. While a positive take on this particular upbringing would include a constant desire for continual self-improvement, to which I attribute my acquisition of a wide array of knowledgeable tidbits and how-tos, I would like to argue that perfectionism in excess could be damaging to any human being, and even more so, to a child.

We are all human. Meaning we all make mistakes. Perfection is not attainable by any means. Yet it is societally portrayed as an achievable goal. At an early age, we are taught to reach for perfection. Examples of this include staying within the lines when you first learn to color. Using a ruler when drawing a line. Organizing your desks into rows and columns. Dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Aim for 100% on every exam. An A+ is the most covetable grade, would you not agree? This extends into our later school years, when we have to practice our speeches before we present. When we try out for Club sports teams, or for a part in the school play. And so the cycle goes long after we’ve graduated. When we see coworkers getting promotions, friends buying new cars or new homes, advertisements showing off the latest gadgets, Instagram photos of so and so still looking fly at age 30 while you’re trying to hide the dark circles under your eyes. We get graded our whole lives, judged, measured against our peers, our progress monitored with the hope of seeing some improvement. Alas, I am not saying improvement isn’t good. I am only saying perfection is not.

For the entirety of my first decade on earth, and for the majority of the second, I believed that creating a life as close to perfect as possible will yield a very successful life. I remember my personal frustrations when I would fall short of perfect. I would throw tantrums, loathing myself for my humanness. I would watch kids close to my age and aim to beat them in everything I can. My competitive spirit urged me to fight, until I left everyone behind in the dust. If I lost a game, I would be livid. If I didn’t get the highest score on a test, I would not allow myself any joys. Once I did start getting the highest scores on the test, it stopped being enough. I also had to be the first to turn the test in. I had to be the kid with the highest grades in the highest classes with the most volunteer hours while balancing multiple jobs. I was doing well at striving for perfect. I now realize that perfectionism is unsustainable, and if I had continued down that path, I would end up exhausted, burnt out, and defeated, because I would have never, no matter how hard I tried, ever reached the point of perfection. I would have spent more years of my life, afraid of being judged, but being judged anyway.

I got to a point in my early teens where I felt I was never good enough. My ego was deflated to something akin to paper thin. I think if striving for perfection is forced at a very early age on children, it can lead to a number of insecurities that, misguided, could have life-long detrimental effects. I, luckily, am not such a child, but how many teenagers today feel a vast emptiness in their lives? How many people develop eating disorders, depression, or suicidal tendencies? How many adults play “Keeping up with the Joneses”? How many people spend every day trying to be somebody they’re not? I was able to escape the rabbit hole towards perfection before it all together consumed me. It did however, define my early teen years. I was a very shy young girl, who was not confident at all in my abilities, despite achieving more than my peers. I felt like my accomplishments always fell short, although I kept on trying, and because of that, I had a tendency to undersell myself. More importantly, I lived in constant fear that whatever I was accomplishing in life was not good enough by other people’s standards. Because of this, I kept my accomplishments mostly to myself. I was afraid to share ideas, to ask questions, or to take a risk when opportunities arose. I was hesitant to meet new people, to start trends, and to step outside of my comfort zone, avoiding activities such as sports or acting. Public speaking scared the living daylights out of me. I once had to stand up and give a speech in front of a class for Academic Decathlon. I was so afraid, I remember shaking like a leaf. A funny classmate of mine yelled, “Is the wind blowing in here?” I remember starting to cry in front of twenty other students. Not exactly the best impression. The teacher never made me do a class presentation for the rest of the year, and I was forever ear-marked as a sensitive student. Ironically, six months later, I won third place for my speech, in all of Orange County, out of more than five hundred students. It’s not that my speech wasn’t good the first time, or that I improved my delivery dramatically by practicing for the competition. It was because I was presenting in front of twenty peers who I was afraid would not understand my writing style, my topic, or my delivery, VS speaking to two judges who I felt understood multiple writing styles, topics, and deliveries. I would have forever been doomed to this constant, insecure state, if it weren’t for art.

My savior came in the form of an art teacher in 11th grade named Mr. Welke. He was an older fellow who had a gray handlebar mustache, wore a leather jacket, a white tee, and jeans every day, played guitar, and rode a bright blue motorcycle to school. He was my hero. I decided to take art class because, well, I loved to draw, and paint, and make things out of nothing. I didn’t take an art class before that point because it wasn’t considered “productive”. I was only able to take it when I was finishing up a majority of my requirements to graduate and I still needed a fifth period class. Creativity has always been an attractive soul mate, a kindred spirit that stayed the course with me from childhood until now. My problem was that whenever I created something and showed it to a grown up, there was always room for improvement. Additionally, if I ever created anything remotely avant-garde, it would be scoffed at for being a bit too creative, which, little did I know, does not exist. Repeatedly redirected to copying other famous artists’ work, or redoing mine own to be a bit more perfect, I fell into a cycle of non-creativity. I was told I was making art, when really, I was RE-making art. The same art that already exists.

When I started art class, I thought I was going to be great at it. I thought it was going to be an easy course to add to my five AP classes (zero period included), and will allow me time to relax at school. However, for the first few months, I struggled. Not because I had awful hand-eye coordination or lack of attention to detail. Mostly, because my fear of falling short of perfect crippled my ability to produce anything. I fell behind due dates, turning in assignments such as drawing vertical lines without a ruler and making circles with the left hand very late. I remember I struggled most when we were asked to make a self-portrait of ourselves in pencil. I must have stared at myself in the mirror for a hundred hours, scrapping every attempt I made because I felt like none of them resembled a hard-copy photograph of the mirror. I think he recognized my struggles, and one day told me that I was trying way too hard. He gave me a small speech and though the words are now lost to me, the message never left.

You cannot be an artist and perfect at the same time. Aiming for perfection will handicap you in more ways than one. You will not be able to produce, and you will not be able to create. You can only copy what has already been done, and continue to re-do it forever and ever, because there is no end with perfection. True art, or any form of expression of self, cannot coexist with something so definite. If you want to be a genuine creative, you have to let perfect go. The point of art is to produce. At the end of the day, if you made one thing, regardless of what it looks like to others or to you, you have still made one thing. It’s a product that you can sign, or not sign, share, or keep to yourself. You can do whatever you want with it, because it is yours and only yours. A true artist needs to learn to genuinely express what is inside their being, without fear of being judged. An audience should never shape what you are trying to make, or else they will rob you of your true self. You would be a complete waste, if you do not create for the rest of your life.

While it took me many years to start implementing this advice, and I continually tweak it even today, it taught me what it meant to be the real me. At first, I applied it solely to my art. I started to turn in paintings and drawings that were unfinished, but on time. I learned that to finish something, I had to stop spending my time lolling, overthinking, overanalyzing, and scrapping. I stopped running in circles until I was ragged, and started drawing straight lines without caring about their lack of straightness. I stopped being so hard on myself, and I started to love the freedom of making a blob and calling that art. I started to answer questions, then ask them myself. I started to challenge multiple thoughts, and reach out to other people I didn’t know. I conquered the fear of tackling any task that might initially seem too big. I stopped believing in limits. I started living life, one day at a time. My goal is to no longer be perfect. My goal is to be free. Every morning, I wake up with one mission. To be slightly better than I was yesterday. That’s it. I don’t have to reach a milestone. As long as I work towards improving myself in even the slightest bit, then I have already created a better me in a better place. I can put my signature on it, and share it with the world, or keep it to myself. By wanting to become an artist, I learned to reach for something beyond perfect. I started to reach for something completely human.

Thoughts on: Inspiring Change

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t write for the sake of writing. I write about things that I want to change. Frequently, the topics I embrace include less plastic use, refusing fast fashion, supporting eco-friendly practices, buying fair trade products, standing behind ethical companies, amidst other things. I write not just for myself, but for the world, for young generations, and for future generations. The birth of this blog, and its subsequent series, did not come from a day of boredom, neither did it come from a place of self-interest. It comes from a desire to help people see the effects of their actions in a different, and more insightful, light. The hope is to at least get one person, if not a whole group of people, thinking about the impact their everyday life decisions make on the world. May Martin Luther King, Jr. be an inspiration today, and every day, to progress towards a better tomorrow.

  • To be inspired, read Martin Luther’s letter from a Birmingham jail, here.

If you have the day off today, and decidedly want to spend it browsing Netflix, might I suggest some documentaries that I watched last year that changed the course of my life in one way or another?

Plastic Ocean

Chasing Corals

The True Cost

The Minimalists

If you prefer to spend the day cozying up on the couch, might I suggest some of my favorite, most recently read, books?

  • The Measure of a Man by Sydney Poitier
  • The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams
  • Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

And lastly, if you are going out to spend this beautiful day with friends and family, might I suggest outdoors, in nature, responsibly and environmentally consciously?

Have a wonderful day celebrating the King.

 

Thoughts on: Why perspective matters.

I took an unpremeditated photo of my husband today as we were sitting over a cup (or three … each… ) of coffee. Waving my camera around and snapping random moments in our lives is a commonplace occurrence, to the annoyance of my husband. Unfortunately for him, it yields an extremely high number of candid shots (of only him), all of which I find attractive, some of which he does not. Either way, I was photographing our usual coffee scene (from above, as all Instragrammers do), when I noticed his flippant hair. Tousled and forgotten momentarily as he was scrolling through his phone for the next song on our queue, I decided to photograph its wild and crazy nature. The original photo looked like this:

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Half an hour later, my husband went downstairs to wash his car and I pulled out my cell phone and flipped through some of my most recent shots on my Sony Alpha 6300. I landed on the above photo and decided to post it on Instagram, with the caption “Wild thing” in mind. Then I went to crop. Accidentally cropping off too much from the bottom, I landed on this:

MIKE FLOATING HEAD

Immediately, my perspective changed. By cropping out the shoulders, the image looked like a floating head. Initially, I was slightly shocked, then excited. Suddenly, a whimsical and fairly meaningless photo became a work of art. If one stares long enough, the floating head is all they see. And without any context as to the original photo, I could see this one being featured in some gallery, with viewers ONLY seeing the floating head. Which then inspired this blog post, about the importance of perspective.

A change in perspective can turn your worldview upside down.

MIKE FLOATING HEAD upside down

I like to think of one’s perspective as a lens. We have our own realities, which are created by our individual perspectives. A person can see the world through a different lens from your own. Is that not true? Having the ability to see the world from a different perspective, ie: someone else’s, is a super power that can not only increase one’s empathy, but can also increase one’s happiness. The world can use more of both.

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Usually, when we are frustrated by someone else’s actions, it is because their actions do not mirror our own values. Our frustration, and anger, comes from our inability to understand why they would do such a thing or act in a certain way. A person who grew up in a well-off community may have difficulty understanding what a teenager is doing by roaming the streets as part of a gang at the age of fifteen. The first may see the latter as a rebellious vagabond who threw his life away. But perhaps seeing that this teenager comes from an abusive family may help one to realize that he isn’t rebellious, but rather, is lost, and finds the meaning of family in the only group that supports him and protects him.

Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.     –Scott Fitzgerald

 

As always, I can relate this easily with dentistry. A patient can walk in and refuse to take their mandatory radiographs every 18 months. They read from the internet that radiation can cause cancer, and they want to limit the amount of radiation they receive. A dentist can argue that the amount of radiation received from a set of radiographs equals the amount of radiation we receive from sitting in front of a television for ONE day. The radiation is only received once over the span of 18 months, while the average American sits in front of the television screen for more hours than that over the same time span. A dentist can also argue that the pros of taking radiographs (through early detection of tooth decay) can overcome the cons of the comparatively minor amount of radiation received. Without understanding the source of the patient’s aversion towards radiographs, a dentist can easily (and wrongly) assume that the patient is being non-compliant for the sake of being difficult. Not understanding the dentist’s interest of early prevention of caries formation, a patient can just as quickly assume that the dentist is only trying to make additional money by ordering the radiographs. Without seeing the other’s perspective, one can see how the patient can get offended that the dentist “doesn’t care for his well-being” and how the dentist can arrive at the conclusion that “I must dismiss this patient”. All of this leads to frustration, anger, and mistrust. Both the patient and the dentist may feel equally disrespected. By changing your perspective and understanding that the “non-compliance” stems from something else, something deeper, some different reality, you can bridge the gap between the two different schools of thought by simply asking, “Why?” By trying to understand another person’s perspective, we can begin to increase our empathy towards others. I like to think that people are not being difficult, for the sake of being difficult (also read as: for the sake of pissing you off). People are difficult to understand because YOU are lacking some missing piece that will relate you to them. This is how I like to practice dentistry, and how I try to treat people in general.

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.  -John Steinbeck

 

From here you can see that changing perspective can increase one’s happiness. At the very least, it decreases the frustration, anger, confusion, disconnect, mistrust, bitterness, etc. that one feels when they refuse to look through a wider (or different) lens.

The Dalai Lama expresses in The Book of Joy that perspective is a pillar of happiness. It was actually listed as the first of the 8 pillars. The Dalai Lama was exiled from his home country, yet reacted not with anger, but with the realization of the opportunity to meet extraordinary people. Likewise, by realizing that someone is suffering, we are able to recognize a part of ourselves within their suffering.

Empathy is the lovefire of sweet remembrance and shared understanding.     -John Eaton

 

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been there before. I’ve felt lonely, misunderstood, neglected, and judged. You too, I presume. And from that suffering, we can experience happiness. We are more grateful when we are not in the same position that the other is in, because we remember how it felt to once be in their shoes. How many times have we said, “Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me!”? Usually, it’s because we recognize how it felt when it did happen to us in the past, and thus, we can extrapolate or conclude what it must feel like for the other person in the present. But we must go one step further, past the selfish happiness. Realizing that we have experienced suffering before, just as they do now, we can connect with others, and thus transcend pre-conceived differences, that are actually not differences at all. After breaking down those barriers that once separated us, we can help each other in our suffering. The social value which that brings is the one immeasurable thing that can increase our own happiness. And this is why perspective matters.

 

Empathy is the only human superpower – it can shrink distance, cut through social and power hierarchies, transcend differences, and provoke political and social change.     -Elizabeth Thomas

 

So next time you feel frustrated because of something happening in your life, try to change your perspective, become more empathetic, and experience more happiness, with the realization that we are a reflection of one another, in some way.

All of this, because I took a candid photo.

Shout out to my husband, who is always there to take photos of. Without which, this blog post would not have been inspired, and consequently, would not have ever been written. Sorry about posting your head shot a zillion times (not sorry). 

Thoughts on: New Year Resolution, Single Tense.

New Year’s is one of my favorite times of the year. Admittedly, that largely has something to do with the list-making and goal-setting, especially when handwritten frantically in early morning light. Additionally, it also has to do with the exuberant hope that spills from, well, what is now a collection of newsfeeds, but what was then age old friendly conversation. As a person easily inspired by positivity, the general atmosphere is euphoric, at worst. Listing goals and resolutions is what I live for, and it is constantly being done and redone throughout the year, ad nauseum.

Particularly, I reflect on my shortcomings in the past year and try to make a devotion to turn it on its head and make it my strength in the year to come. Quite like that loaded interview question, where they ask you to state your biggest weakness, and you think that the smart response would be a weakness disguised cleverly as a strength. The most lose-lose question in the world. Except there’s no losing in this scenario.

Like any other human being, I had many shortcomings. Luckily (or is it so?), this year, I can easily pinpoint my weakest attribute of 2017 and I will safely say that 2018 would be much improved, if only I lived more forgivingly. Not living so much in absolutes, for the world is not made in that manner. I think the world at large could use a whole lot of forgiveness.

To be happy – The stress and anxiety that so consumes us could be attributed to having too much expectation, too much ambition. If we only loosen the reigns, then we will find the room to breathe.

To be successful – We start the year with a list of resolutions, then give up by the following week on all of our goals. Trying to maintain a strict regimen, we suffocate the positivity that could be discovered in the change, and the motivation is snuffed out. We begin the year already exhausted, disappointed, and hopeless. If we just learn to allow ourselves a slip up, forgive ourselves for our failure, then we can continue on to success, rather than lose all hope.

To be present – By being more forgiving in our game plan, I guarantee that we can enjoy the present moment more thoroughly.

To be kind – Similarly, just as we forgive ourselves, we can be more forgiving of those around us. For who is to say that what’s right for you, is right for anyone else. Who is anyone to have the liberty to categorize others into good and bad? For no human is better than any other human. We are all equal, but different.

To be human – There aren’t many things in this life that are forgiving. Time is not forgiving. Justice is not forgiving. Success is not forgiving. Money is not forgiving. Traditions are not forgiving. Even religions, most times, are not forgiving. We have a choice to be the forgiveness that the world seeks. That we all need.

Starting with me.