Growing Pains #13: Mirrors

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There is no “right” way to be black, but because of how culture works, there are similar or shared experiences. Being a member of the culture and seeing myself as different caused me to reject some ways of displaying culture norms and widely accepted behaviors. Trying my hand at archery, being a gymnast, camping (which I’m still not sold on, but I’ll do because I love spending time with my friends), and a variety of other things are examples of “non-normal black people activities” (Stereotype).

My context has most often been US-based so my perspective is influenced by the culture in the United States. Consciously and unconsciously, I received information about what it meant to be black in the world from all sides. From how to speak and dress to the types of lives we “lead” and what we’ll be successful at. I needed to find representation. I needed to unlearn the stereotypes I, myself, held about blackness and black people, while also being true to myself. I needed to find present-day mirrors that reflected me back at me, while I worked to embrace blackness as a whole so not to exclude others.

I found a treasure trove of artists, friends, family, peers, icons, people larger than life and historic figures that transcended generations. I think of Donald Glover who is as creative as it gets. He continues to dive deeper into the work that inspires him, while also addressing issues affecting black communities through shows like Atlanta. I think of Andre 3000 who challenged the notion of black masculinity, while giving us great music and meaningful messages. I think of rap music and all its form. I think of Ava DuVernay who’s given us amazing films and commentary on issues that affect our people generation after generation. I think of Michelle Obama, and the grace and commitment she shows through her health and women’s initiatives. I think of where I was when Barak Obama was first elected. I think (often) of James Baldwin, who shared the feelings of wanting to leave or escape the US, but ultimately felt compelled to come back. (In some places around the world, the grass is actually greener for black people.)

I think of Nikki Giovanni who said “If you don’t understand yourself, you don’t understand anybody else.” I think of Ta-Nehisi Coates who discussed stolen moments created by fear as he explored Paris with a new friend he thought might bring him to harm because of what he experienced growing up in Baltimore. I think of Chadwick Boseman, John Boyega, and Idris Elba as the superheroes I looked for in all my Saturday morning cartoons. I think of my parents, black barbershops, family, laughter, creativity, travel, fellowship, and community.

I found mirror after mirror, all of different shapes and sizes and colors. I was seeing myself in my community. I learned that it’s not how you show up, but rather showing up at all and being authentic. A lesson learned early on, but later forgotten and learned again later, is that people just want you to be real. No two-way glass. No distorted funhouse mirrors. Just a mirror that might hold a reflection from time to time.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #14: Curiosity will be up and ready for your reading.

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Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point

Poverty is a beast!

It was the November 29, 2008, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was listening to Dear Life by Anthony Hamilton. At 12:06am (I have this weird thing about remembering specific times), we pulled into the driveway after taking Kyle, my brother, back to school in Kentucky. It was his first year of college. It was nearly pitch black out except for a few dimly lit, orange street lights and the light on our porch. I stepped out of the car, followed by my parents.

“Give me the bag. Don’t move” A gun pointed directly at me and two men standing in masks demanding everything we had. There are very few moments that are as memorable as being robbed at gunpoint in your driveway. I was helpless.  In a moment that seemed to last forever, my resentment turned to hate. I hated the person standing in front of me. I was angry that there was nothing I could do. My hate was unfiltered and uninhibited. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

A week later, we received a police report that read like a grocery list. Bread, milk, peanut butter, chips, juice, and a two-liter Red Faygo. Less than two miles away, they bought groceries from a gas station. They lived in my neighborhood. Why would they rob us only to go buy food? Why were they in those circumstances? Was this normal? Why us? Why? Why?

Poverty. Poverty. Poverty. The anger lingered, but it was joined by confusion, compassion, fear, and uncertainty. The next two years floated by in a fog and I just moved on. I left Detroit for college with the intention of never going back. I didn’t have answers or solutions. I couldn’t fix anything. I walked away. Little did I know just how important my blackness and my community would become to me. A shield. A target. A reminder. It was the end of one story and the beginning of another, or so I thought.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #7: Bad Genes will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #5: Resentment

Everywhere I turned, I saw someone to blame. Everywhere I turned, I saw someone who looked like me. Everywhere I turned, I pointed the finger. Everywhere I turned I saw no mirrors. Well, there were mirrors… I just didn’t see myself. I didn’t want to see myself.


*Context*

I saw being black as a detriment. I believed being black was a setback. I saw being white, and even non-black, as better. In school. At home. In the activities I participated in. In life. I saw myself as better because I believed I was “non-black”. I was “50%” this, “20%” that. The last thing I was, and most times by default, was black. I would only claim to be black because it was so obvious that I was. I didn’t want to be associated with blackness. I hated that part of my life. The black experience in the United States was, and still is, defined by struggle and suffering. More than that, it seemed like everyone around me was defined by struggle and suffering. You know how tired I was of hearing about and seeing struggling and suffering. You know the type of hopelessness that creates?! It’s all you see. It’s all you hear. It’s all around you. In not owning my blackness, I felt like I didn’t have to deal with it. I was 10 years old and exhausted from life. How does that happen?

Even now, it’s exhausting to always explain to people what’s going on and things like Black Lives Matter or systemic oppression. It’s exhausting to deal with systems that ruin lives everyday.  Eventually, I saw a way out – getting through middle school and high school as soon as possible. – *exhales after getting that out* (Scroll below for content.)


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*Content*

By the time I was in sixth grade, I changed schools five times. There was a cycle. Start over, make a few connections, change schools, start over, make a few connections, start over. My parents just wanted to find the best education for my brother and I, which meant trying schools out and seeing what happened. I just floated through school.

I was part of another environment that seemed to drain imagination and creativity rather than cultivate it. In sixth grade, I was testing two years higher in all subjects and my teacher brought up the discussion to promote me to the eighth grade. I WAS OVERJOYED. It was happening! I’d get to leave sooner than I thought. You can imagine the pride and joy I felt about having this opportunity.

After thinking about it, my parents declined. “I wasn’t socially ready to be in the classroom with eighth graders.” “I was already young for my grade and I wouldn’t be prepared for the changing environments.” I was devastated. I was defeated. I RESENTED THEM more than I ever had before. I couldn’t make lasting connections anywhere. School was failing me. I was fed up. I was a grudge holder. I was so damn tired. They took away the one chance I had to leave it all behind sooner than I anticipated. That chance was gone before I could even blink.

I shut down. I checked out. I didn’t even try. The same feelings of arrogance and disdain toward my peers came back around. My frustration and anger even reached my brother. Kyle and I would’ve been in the same grade. For the longest time, I thought my parents were trying to protect him. I took every opportunity to bring up being promoted publicly to jab at them and remind them that I was angry. I can never apologize enough for how vindictive I was.

*I want to be a parent some day, but it scares me. I can’t thank my parents enough for how they handled me as a child. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done in this situation. They just loved me through it. In hindsight, they made the absolutely right decision. There are so many things I would’ve missed had I moved on too early.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #3: Space (The Beechdale House)

The Beechdale house was in my family for three generations. Decades of family history filled the walls. It is a four bedroom house. My favorite part of the house is the French doors that separated the living room from the dining room. Twenty-eight small windows filled each door. Anytime you entered either room, it felt like a grand entrance had to be made. There are seven stairs from the bottom floor to a landing with two windows that let light in halfway up to the top floor, and eight stairs followed upward after a short turn. The living room had three beautiful bay windows, a fireplace, and enough room for everyone. I loved that house. I didn’t love living in it.

There are plenty of happy moments. Like setting up my mom’s old gymnastics mats to have wrestling matches with my brother and our cousins in the living room or playing hide and seek in the dark with 10 people. Even family dinners at my grandmother’s victorian dining room table were very much enjoyed. Those happy moments will always be a prized possession. They also gave way to some of the pressure and anxiety I felt as a child.

I felt like I was suffocating more and more each day. I couldn’t wait to go in my room and shut the door. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted my one space. Everywhere you turned, despite having an immense amount of space, there seemed to be no room for anyone. Throughout my childhood and teenage years someone lived with us –  a cousin, an aunt, a family friend, another cousin… multiple people at the same time. Honestly, the list could go on. I didn’t fully understand the role poverty played in creating these circumstances. I didn’t know people chose between paying rent, buying food, or buying school supplies. I didn’t understand how difficult it must have been to ask for help. I just saw the people taking up space as a burden.

I resented my parents for always welcoming people in. I resented people who seemed to always lean on my parents in a way that took them away from me. At ten years old, I remember breaking down to my dad. We sat in our basement for what felt like hours. He asked over and over again, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Help me understand what you’re feeling. What’s wrong?” Each question landing on my ears the way a sledge hammer lands on a wall being knocked down. I searched for the answer with each question. I clawed deeper and deeper to find nothing. Uncontrollably, I responded “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know.” With tears pouring down my face “I DON’T KNOW!” I didn’t have the words to communicate what was crushing me. We left that that moment unresolved, hanging over us like a storm cloud. A few weeks later, I went to a few therapy sessions and it helped a lot. All I wanted was my family. (GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT! THERE IS NO SHAME IN TALKING TO SOMEONE.)

Even to this day, I am very selective of who gets to meet my family. The few people who have met my family have done so mostly because of circumstance. It has absolutely nothing to do with me not wanting people I care about to meet my family. It’s more so about privacy and separation. You see, I love people and I learned that from my parents first. The values my parents demonstrated were love, compassion, humility, and dignity for all. Give as people need. The values communicated by their actions became my core values. People are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. It took so long for me to learn that.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #4: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

HUMAN – A Reflection on the Film

With a vision to truly capture the essence of what humans experience, Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years taking photos, recording stories, and creating a deeply personal and effortlessly human film that allows people to be vulnerable, authentic, honest, and free to share parts of themselves that we can all find in our own lives. (Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist.)

HUMAN the movie (Link to VOL. 1) strips away the complexity of human life to date and shares it with viewers who can immediately empathize or connect with the people who are sharing their stories. Universal themes are at the center of the film – disappointment, love, hate, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, change, isolation, difference, belonging, anguish, trust, kindness, and uncertainty.

Many have said, and will continue to say, that technology has isolated us. My usual response to statements and situations when it comes to human interaction, belief systems, and how we treat each other is “It’s more complicated than that.” HUMAN makes the perfect case for that. In the wake of seeing how it has divided us, Arthus-Bertrand demonstrates how technology can be used to bring people closer together.

Right now in the United States, we are publicly seeing people treat others an inhuman. We are desensitized to the reality that we are all people first who have lives, emotions, experiences, needs, desires, ambitions, love, pain, worries, fears, and people that we care about. We are being crushed by adding layer upon layer as to why we are so different from one another, why we have disdain for people, and why we could never even be in the same room as some people. Whether you are liberal or conservative or neither. Black or white or multi-racial. Gay or Straight or Neither. Even if you fit into not of those categories, you are a person first. I am a person first. Though our beliefs may differ, we are people first. Though our ideologies may differ, we are people first.

I understand that how we come together is much more complex than that. There must be acknowledgement and reconciliation from past and current injustices. There must be progress made in achieving equal rights and human rights, as well as in the enactment of those rights. Poverty must be addressed. Decades of work or harm must be undone in order to create a more peaceful world, a world that thrives through collaboration, mutual trust and respect, and honesty.

Even as insurmountable as it may seem to build a better world, it starts with taking a deeply honest look inside to say, who do I see as not worth of life, support, love, opportunity, friendship, happiness, joy, rights? Why do I feel this way? What has brought me to this mindset? How can I get out of the way of others? How can I change the minds of people close to me? Do I see others as human beings? If so, I know what it means to feel pain, be forgotten, and unloved. But I also know what life is like when I feel joy, connected, loved, and appreciated.

When we can acknowledge one another’s humanity, we will be able to have better conversations about our differences and gain understanding about one another’s lives. Even if we do not agree, even if we do not reach a place of true consensus, we have taken the time to acknowledge one another’s humanity and treat each other with dignity.

I’ve included the trailer for a short introduction and a link to VOL. 1 of Human The Movie near the start of the blog.

 

 

But I’m Not That Creative…

Are you Creatives

To some, creativity has joined the junk drawer of buzzwords that currently houses inspiration, and innovation. In some cases, it fits the context in which it is used, but in many cases it seems to only translate into a filler word. *Skip to the bottom for tips and practices on increasing creativity.*

I’ve been wrestling with the question, what does it mean to be creative? After thinking about this for a few days, other questions followed: Am I creative? Can anyone be creative? How can I increase my creativity.

What does it mean to be creative?

To be creative is to have: “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” – Dictionary.com

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In practice, creativity is:  “The use of imagination and original ideas to create something new; inventiveness.” Oxford Dictionary

To me, these definitions serve as a frame of reference, a sort of launching point to discover what it means to be creative. Historically, creativity has been a badge of honor assigned to artists, musicians, writers, designers, and the like. Now, it has become a commodity for communities, businesses, classrooms, non-profit organizations, and largely on the internet. People are constantly creating (not hyperbole). People are literally creating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most importantly, in my opinion, people are using creativity to solve problems that our world faces.

My initial reflection led to surface level questions that were directed outward: Is that really creative? Am I being a hater (a check we all need sometimes)? Is that what creativity really is? After my doubtful, judgment-filled questions subsided, I looked inward. (We all have these moments… At least I hope we all do. ha ). My reflection birthed different, more interesting questions. How can I become more creative? How can I think creatively? What skills and passions do I possess that can be used to solve problems?

My curiosity led me to painting. I drew inspiration from Jesi Ekonen, who owns justfollowyourart, which is an Etsy Shop for “Hand Lettered Pretty & Witty Gifts & Decor.” Her products are amazing and she donates some of each purchase to a given charities. I painted small canvases with a variety of colors and patterns. I enjoyed the process, but it didn’t stick for me. So I tried something new.

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Next, I tried writing. In my last role, we were tasked with keeping a blog. I wrote about 50 blog posts, over two years, which is basically one every other week. Also, my 4-line poem career on Twitter was short lived. It was less than 7 Tweets. I enjoy writing, but not enough to do it consistently. My desire to write comes in waves. Then I found my niche, cooking. From start to finish the process of creating a meal was methodical, passion-filled, and deeply enjoyable. I focused on the process and other people. An idea on paper translated to the plate and enjoyed at the end by myself and others.

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Creativity is imagination, original thought, trial and error, pausing, practicing, and learning. The questions isn’t “am I creative?” The question should be “how can I become more creative than I am now?” Think of creativity as ranging from coloring outside the lines to painting Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It can be enhanced through effective practice and consistency. It also doesn’t matter where your creativity is directed. Clarify your interests, refine your skills, and take risks. It’s how we use our creativity and connect with others that matters.

*Tip: Spend some time identifying one problem that exists in you life and 50 ways to solve it using your skills, passions, and interests. (Inspiration for 50 – Kid Cudi sampling Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover to make 50 Ways to Make A Record.) Try all of those

I needed to find where my interests, skills, and passions worked together to solve a problem or produce something useful/meaningful. Even in practicing the two that didn’t work best for me, I realized that the process of creating and the outcome have to be equally important. You have to enjoy what you create and you have to enjoy how you are creating it.

Various processes revealed that I enjoyed painting and writing, but not enough to practice them consistently. I also realized that the outcomes for both weren’t tremendously important to me. With cooking, I enjoyed the process and I also was invested in the outcome – Does the food taste good? Is it plated well? Are there various colors on the plate? Will the people I share this meal with enjoy the time we spend together eating it? Did we feel more connected as a result of dining together. Keeping these specific things in mind intensified my creativity in the kitchen.

I was able to build deeper and more meaningful connections with people I care about by using creativity – my imagination, skills, passions, and interests, . It wasn’t that we weren’t close friends to begin with, but I wanted to create a shared experience that resulted in us being more appreciative of each others’ presence.

Creative pursuits add value to my life in unexpected ways.

Now more than ever, I believe creativity is necessary to solve people problems. “People Problems” are problems, simple and complex, that effect people in various ways. We have to use our imagination, empathy, skills, and passions to make life better for others. It is no longer true that we reserve the title of creative solely for artists, musicians, and writers. WE ALL must use our imagination, passions, originality and creativity to make our world better. We must create a better world by listening to others, practicing our skills, collectively finding solutions, and making space for different types of people.

I’m excited to see how you bring creativity to life.

What does it mean to be creative:

  1. Using your skills, passions, and interests to solve problems that exists in unexpected/original ways
  2. Enjoying the process as much as the outcome
  3. Taking into account your head and heart when you generate original content
  4. Using your imagination to see the world around you differently

How to be more creative:

  1. Identify your skills, interests, and passions.
  2. Find processes that are enjoyable and outcomes that are important to you.
  3. Look for a problem that you can solve with your skills, interests, and passions.
  4. Enthusiasm is important! Enjoy what you do. (Taken from Tina Roth Eisenberg’s 99U Talk)
  5. Try. Try. Try Some More.

 

 

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Graduation

  1. Hiring Processes are Slow (most not all). When application closes to the start date of a new hire could take 3 weeks or 3 months depending on the organization. Even if an organization tries to move quickly, there are still factors that get in the way of an efficient hiring process. Go in with the expectation that you’ll be in a process for at least a couple weeks and it might reduce your stress.
  2. Moving to a New City/Town/Country is Difficult, Even if You Know People. It can be difficult to feel at home initially. That feeling can last a for a few weeks or a few months. Recently, I moved to East Lansing and for the first month, I just traveled between work and home, with the occasional outing when Maggie visited. However, I found some cool community events that happen consistently. From Community Reads to Music Festivals, there’s plenty to do. The challenge was finding these resources. Googling your city or town might help. There is usually some a website or calendar of events provided by the city or town, especially during the summer.
  3. The Workplace is Very Different Than the Classroom. Companies and organizations are trying to create value. The best way to create value is by solving problems in a way that is effective and efficient, especially when it comes to time and money. Organizations are looking for critical thinking skills, creativity, initiative, and execution. Some organizations may “want” that type of employee, but the organizational culture hasn’t quite caught up yet. Give yourself time to understand the culture and how you can use your skills to be effective. Also, autonomy and decisiveness are important in many professions. Your supervisor may ask you to work on a project, but provide very little feedback during the process. Use that opportunity to be creative and decisive while working within the guidelines of your role.
  4. Relationships Matter BUILDING AND MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS IS IMPORTANT. Small organizations may solely rely on teamwork and collaboration. Large organizations definitely rely on the functions of effective teams. Group project members don’t go away at the end of the semester, which makes it that much more important to build trusting, mutually beneficial relationships. Thinking, and working, like an individual only take you so far, and it may also leave you with few supporters. Acknowledge the contributions others make and be sure to extend gratitude when appropriate.
  5. Diversity and Inclusion is Paramount to Success. This statement is loaded in that there are some general perceptions about what this means. The common perception is that diversity comes in the form of numbers, while inclusion means being invited to the table to share your perspectives, which are valued and appreciated. Organizations NEED both. Creating shared experiences to build trust and respect among different people can shift a company culture. Individuals may feel more comfortable sharing and challenging ideas in an environment where trust is shared. The inclusion of diverse perspectives and ways of thinking enhances a teams ability to be more creative in their solution finding, more empathic toward different communities, and more responsible for a common social good. It starts with relationship building.
  6. Initially, Work Will Stress You Out, but Eventually You Will Get the Gang of it (Hopefully). Change is difficult. Learning new skills takes time. Understanding how you fit in an organization takes time. Recognizing your own talents and strengths in a new context takes time. You are capable of learning what you need to learn to be successful. If you don’t know, ask. While talking with various supervisors, I learned that they prefer that you ask for clarification or support rather than moving forward unsure of what you’re supposed to do.
  7. Give Yourself Time to Advance. Ambition is good. It’s even better when paired with discipline and diligence. The perception is that we should be holding executive level roles as soon as we graduate, or at least within a few years of graduation. However, this perception is just that, a perception. For many of us, it will take a lot of work, more time than we expect, more schooling, and maybe even switching careers for us to “climb the ladder” of success. (Sidebar: Identifying what success means to you personally and aligning that with what your organization’s definition of success is important). This can cause undue stress and create a sense of failure if we haven’t progressed. Gain new skills. Build new relationships. Enjoy the process. Be intentional about your learning. Embrace challenges as they come. Try to make your work meaningful.

Keep learning to see the bigger picture.  – VincePRofe (1)

Forging New Partnerships. Transforming Communities.

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Photos Taken by Arturo – Mujerave Staff Photographer

There is something beautiful happening in the countryside of Guatemala in Totonicapán. It’s happening quietly, too. Lives are being changed by the work of a community based organization – Mujerave, which was created by Kody Gerkin, a former member of the Peace Corps. I learned of Mujerave (moo-hare-ah-vey) after sitting on a panel with Emily Gerkin Guerrant, Kody’s Sister. She spoke about her brother’s passion with great zeal, which prompted me to dig a little deeper. I knew I had to find a way to get involved after learning of the values, commitments, and goals of the organization.

Mujerave’s mission is to contribute to the alleviation of poverty, the eradication of malnutrition, and the reduction of preventable illnesses by empowering women through sustainable development projects in indigenous communities in the department of Totonicapán, Guatemala. As for the vision of Mujerave: Through increasing food security, expanding community-based education initiatives, and improving health-related infrastructure in underserved rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, Mujerave’s vision is a Totonicapán less burdened by preventable illnesses, chronic malnutrition, and debilitating poverty.

In 2011, at the LeaderShape Institute, I was asked the big questions, “what would you do for the rest of your life if money and time weren’t barriers?” or “what are you doing today to make the world a more just, caring and thriving place?” These questions stayed with me throughout the week and for many years to come. I still ask myself those questions year after year. My vision, though extremely limited and inarticulate at the time, was to make a division-less world. Nearly 6 years later, I can explicitly say that even back then, it had everything to do with ending poverty, creating opportunities for others to have better lives, and working with and on behalf of the global community.

After a few bumps and bruises, failures and mistakes, I began to realize that I didn’t have to save the world on my own. I simply had to do my part to make the world better in my own way, as well as find ways to support others who were already working in other capacities, industries, and communities. This led me to Mujerave, as well as a philanthropic partnership. I’ve made a five-year commitment to support Mujerave’s work to reduce poverty, increase gender mainstreaming in policy and action, as well as aid in sustainable development.

Many women around the world are powerful stewards in their communities, yet they are still overlooked and underrepresented in places of power. Mujerave provides resources and a space for women to use their voices, wisdom, and experiences to make their communities healthier, improve economic stability, and much more.

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To learn more visit: http://www.mujerave.org

Feel free to make a donation in support of the many projects that are currently taking place, as well as future projects.

A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

Friends Around the World: The American Artist in Italy

From conversations in hostels to exploring cities together, I’ve met some interesting people who all have amazing stories to tell. I’ll be starting a series that highlights friends that I’ve met around the world and their stories.

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This summer in Certaldo, Italy at the Fattoria Bassetto Guesthouse I had the pleasure of meeting Zoe Rayner, an American artist living in Italy. We became friends after three days of conversation and the sharing of wine, pasta, and personal stories. It didn’t take long to discover her amazing talent for drawing. As I journaled at the kitchen table, Zoe took out a sketchpad, several pens and pencils, and started crafting a masterpiece. Check out her Instagram page to see more work by Zoe, @zoe.illustration. Be sure to follow me for more updates @vincent_thurman1.

Though it may not  reflect in her work pre-say, she does pull inspiration from Arthur Rackham, Katie Scott, James Jean, Brett Helquist, and Jared Muralt. “I’m definitely not saying that my art looks anything like theirs, but I find their styles and the depth of their ideas endlessly inspirational.

Bellow you’ll find a short interview between myself and Zoe.

Vincent: Why drawing?

Zoe: I always loved art, and it became a sort of natural direction for me to take. The process of creating something can be so meditative and personal, so it’s interesting to see how others respond to what you’ve made and how you can use the personal process to convey something universal.

Vincent: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve drawn?

Zoe: One of my favorites is of an octagonal bee hive, with a few bees around it. I wasn’t really planning it ahead of time, so it just developed as I drew. It was one of the more challenging drawings that I’d done then, so it felt like a personal accomplishment, to push myself a bit further than usual.

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Vincent: Describe a moment that captures the spirt of your work?

Zoe: I guess one moment that stands out is when I realized that art was what I wanted to do for a living: I was avoiding a college paper, so I sat down to draw instead, and when the piece was done I suddenly felt this clarity. I like to be able to return to that feeling whenever I’m doing a new piece.

Vincent: Any last words of inspiration for other artists?

Zoe: Everyone has their own style, their own way of expressing an idea or emotion. Don’t compare yourself to others, but take inspiration from them and strengthen your personal style. It’s much more rewarding to reach that point of feeling unique in your work, and to be aware of the qualities that make it your own.

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 Artist Spotlight: Zoe Rayner – find her on Instagram to explore her work.