Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Writing Myself Alive

I have recently finished a 30 day writing course hosted by one of my all-time favorite creative thinkers, the writer, the beautiful Andrea Balt. And not to forget the talented, melt your heart like-a-popsicle-on-the-fourth-of-July (In the words of Darla from the Little Rascals), word warrior of our generation, Tyler Knott Gregson.

This experience was such an enriching journey of self-discovery. It was more challenging than I had expected, and I found myself more disappointed than pleased with my own work and ability to conjure inspiration. I started this course in a very balanced and slightly jaded-with-existence mindset with the goal of tapping into a muse of some sort. Coming out of it, the scales in my life have tilted a bit, and while I can see how much more uncomfortable that can be, I am also aware that these feelings of vulnerability, volatility, passion, borderline madness, and whatever other intensities we experience are where inspiration is born. It is actually necessary to be out of your comfort zone in some way if you want to create anything worthwhile. 

I am reminded of quote from a refrigerator magnet I once had when I lived in New York. It was one of those cliché black squares (that they also sell as greeting cards) with a brightly colored font and inspirational quote of some sort on the front. This one was Nietzsche:

“One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star”

I’ve found that the only times I have truly created what I considered to be above average work or writing (for my own standards), have been when I’ve been facing some sort of inner struggle. Creative expression is, in a way, a pursuit of freedom from the pain, sadness, and fear… or, a way of sharing joy, love and hope. The obvious problem is, these interactions with the muse can be unpredictable, fleeting and evasive, especially when you are seeking them for the purpose of creation.

Recently I have been seeking inspiration because I want to feel more. More passion for my life…the surface of mine has felt a bit lackluster over the last few years. I want to be driven to create again. Isn’t it strange that what I am wishing for is my scales to tip left and right? Which will require discomfort and vulnerability (which is my best worst friend. Or maybe my worst best friend, I am not sure yet). I do know that it’s one thing I have been running away from in recent years. And that action has shown me an underwhelming experience. And I can only see this perspective after being thrown slightly off balance again.

Anyway, to get off of this tangent, it has been great to have something forcing me to put words on the page every single day. Even when there are no creative emotions, no ideas, just a tired-from-work, want to get this over-with and go to bed brain. Even when it’s absolute shit, one word at a time.   It’s no less a practice of creation. The meditative qualities of it are fantastic as well. I’ve learned more things about myself that I want to change or improve than coming out having pages of beautiful work, but in the end I realize this was the point all along. 

We all know the only way to improve at anything is to just start doing it. Journey of a thousand miles and all that. So, I'm gonna be faithful l this time. And when events fall into place to make me crazy, mental, exhilarated, and needing to bleed beauty onto the page, hopefully my fingers will instinctively know exactly which notes to play on this keyboard of freedom.  xx

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Day 5: What if you only had a week to live?

This letter will be brief, as my time is limited, and while writing is a beautiful art that touches many and can live long after the writer has passed... Living, to me now, is even more important.

I am trying not to let my short time left make me feel rushed to live. For, I must remember that it has been a worthwhile journey. When you are at the end, it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Yet, while it is happening, there are times you feel that is has been going on for eternity, similar to anything you reflect on, I suppose.  I am lucky to acknowledge that I've lived a full life. One with many tiny infinite moments of love and beauty. I caught on to the idea that I better make the best out of it. That's luck. Nothing is luckier than knowing to view life in a beautiful way while you have it. I met lovely people who illustrated, and taught me these truths through their own living.

Some of these people I happened upon during my years, other I grew up next to, and others still, I met through the magic of the words they left behind in the pages of their books. I am grateful to them all.

And life is so fucking beautiful. How is it possible that existence can be so heartbreakingly beautiful? It could have been anything. And maybe to other existences, our life is ugly. I guess, how could we know without comparison? But, to us, to me, this thing called life is the ultimate manifestation of love. And what else could we have possibly been "put" here for?

Before I go, I have two things to say, in the hope that anyone who reads may stop and think.

All you will ever have is right now. Please don't throw away your presence. Don't live your now with your head already in tomorrow, or next week, or next year. The nexts might not ever show up. Find a way to change your thinking. Pull it out of the future, or the past, and into to lovely moments of now. You'll find that the beauty will grow and the fear and worry will begin to shrink. And your life will begin to evolve into an authentic shape,...something that resembles you. And it will be right.

And love. That IS the point of all of it. The more love you give, the better everything will be. Love your friends and your family, love your teachers good and bad. Love the people who wont let you off of the metro, love the boss who makes you feel stupid, and the boy who patronizes you. Love the homeless man in the square and the lady with the change cup and the deformity on her face. Love your mom. Love the noisy children, and the young mother with the baby who wont stop crying in the restaurant. Love the guy or girl that stops speaking to you. Love the dog chases you on your afternoon run, Love any and every form of life you encounter. You can find all parts of you in these beings and all of you in parts of them.

And in the end, I hope you have loved. Hard and open. And it will have been good.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Day 4: Write a letter/story/poem to the person involved in your last heartbreak

(…Be Sure to wear red feathers in your hair)

I started building it the day after I met you.

 But let’s rewind a bit more. 24 hours earlier. There I was, standing in front of my sister’s vanity mirror. During periods of high stress, sometimes our only escape is to focus intently on menial tasks. A way of forgetting about our worries… a therapy of sorts. So, there I was, trying to perfect my hair with the curling iron. Not because I had any real reason to look good that day. But because there was something niggling at me...pushing me to get it looking just right. I stood for more than an hour, contently wrapping each strand of hair around the barrel, and holding it for the perfect amount of time to allow the heat to create a beautiful curl. Maybe this hair-perfecting obsession was because it was a holiday, but I still think it was the fact that I needed a distraction from my anxiety.
A fact that serendipitously decided to manifest itself on the day I met you.

I rubbed the area behind my ears that was sore from this headband I wore with red feathers on top. I sat with friends, sharing overpriced beers under the warmth of the afternoon sun, the first sunny day we had had all summer, and listened as Jenny Lewis performed in the park.
“you are what you love, and not what loves you back
And I’m in love with illusions, so saw me in half,
I’m in love with tricks, so pull another rabbit out your hat”
Went the lyrics, …the very ironic lyrics.

When we met, I was already annoyed with you. Your stupid ponytail, and necklace, your dickhead way of speaking to me. Everything about you pissed me right off. I’ve never disliked someone so much in the first few seconds of meeting them.  Looking back, I wonder if I must have known deep down, maybe subconsciously that you could hurt me. I was so angry with you because I guess maybe I did care from the start. Even though I didn’t realize it. I mean, you don’t get angry about things you don’t care about, do you?

 So, a day in and I’ve started building this thing. This structure that I’ve put you on top of. 

And the more I focus on the things about you that make you unique to me: your accent that was so new and intellectual sounding, your questioning ideas and thoughts about life, your enthusiastic and youthful approach to life (at least that summer), your open mind….
I’m seeing all of these things, and I’m thinking “Wait, I USED to think like that”…what happened? Why did I let everyone around me condition me to think that I have to THINK a certain way? A way that doesn’t feel right.  And why have I NEVER been around another person like this one? A person who thinks all the things that make sense….and doesn’t seem to be affected by what other people tell him to think or not to think. And he’s not afraid to disagree. And he does it well! My mind is a little bit blown and pissed off with itself.

And then there was the physical chemistry.  The once in a lifetime, blow me away, set on fire, physical chemistry.
So, as I thought more and more about all of these things, the structure was being made bigger and higher, you on top, rocketing toward the sky. And I watched this happening in blissful amazement as that original inner turmoil, the stress, the anxiety dissolved. My mind had been freed by being exposed to yours.

Then there was the absent period. And everyone knows what happens with absence.
It grew, higher and higher like the beanstalk from the fairytale. You must have looked like a tiny spec from down where I stood.

Finally, the stars (and I do mean the stars) crossed once again.  And the way it happened forced that damned thing  to grow even more. I should have known it was impossible when I couldn't even see you anymore from where I stood. But hope is a beautifully brutal thing, isn't it? It wasn’t really my fault that everything got so ridiculously blown out of proportion. I mean, come on, Valentine's Day isn't my style. But I think with a love that big, for me, it was inevitable. Sometimes I do wish I could go back and do it again. With the brain I have now, I mean. Just to see what would happen.
 You have to believe in magic sometimes. And that second go round was laced with a little magic.

 But one of the truths of life is the ebb and flow. The birth and decay and pain. All that.... And for something that had become that big, what can you expect to happen?

(This is where things gets sparse as I prefer to glaze over this part)

Even worse, the cruelty of truth….and trying for so long to understand. To make some sense of it. To convince myself that…

Realizing that I don’t need to convince myself of anything, but just to get rid of the pain

And time...and silence...And more time...
And less pain, but sometimes pain
And more time...

And someone else, and even less pain

And as all things do with neglect, that structure has finally decayed, and you have fallen right through it. Leaving me standing, staring at an empty space. As with any disaster, there are of course ruins. And yours is a permanent imprint on my heart. An explosion that left everything inside of me burned, except a positive shadow where you once stood. Always positive.

But every now and then, on a night that doesn’t feel particularly special, I’ll spend a little extra time in front of the mirror, making sure my hair is just perfect. Just in case I run into someone that I can’t stand in the first few seconds of meeting him.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Day 3: Invent a Word

Leave it to Andrea Balt and Tyler Knott Gregson to keep us on our toes. As part of this 30-day online course I am participating in, called “Write Yourself Alive”, we are given daily writing prompts, and each day has been surprising and more challenging, yet at the same time loads of fun! Today, we have been given the assignment of inventing a new word to replace a feeling, action or idea that we think the world needs, and have found no way of expressing.

 So, here I am, absolutely stuck. I decided that the best thing to do, though, is to just start writing about it.

 Recently I was on a run here in Madrid, and thinking about how one of the students in my class had said something a bit too honest to me. Something that, in the good old US of A would have been considered down-right rude. I took it with a grain of salt, as I know kids can be unaware of the fact that something is inappropriate to say. And also because one of the interesting things I have learned about Spanish culture in almost three years of living here, is that the majority of Spaniards are quite direct.  They do not beat around the bush, or sugar coat things as much as most English speakers. In both American and English culture, we often take into account the person’s feelings, so as not to offend, and don’t always give the most honest answer.  In every day conversation, if you ask a Spanish person’s opinion, you will usually get a very honest, and straightforward (while still polite) answer. This is great, as it makes the conversation and intentions easy to understand. However, if you are sensitive, and not aware of this nature of Spanish conversation, it can sometimes come off as rude. Don’t make this mistake!

 I once worked at a summer camp, and went caving with a group of kids. We had to crawl under and around narrow spaces, and there was this one kid behind me, that, in the friendliest way ever, told me “Beth you are too fat to fit!” Of course, this could have been a language barrier issue, as I know I am not actually fat. But, I have noticed that this sort of comment is not completely abnormal. I have discussed this with other teachers, and most of us have found this to be true. As a result, Spanish people tend to be a bit less sensitive than Americans (though, I think almost everyone in the world is less sensitive than Americans). I find that I love this aspect of Spanish culture, and it makes the people here more endearing to me. It also makes me more aware of the way language can affect personalities, and how people from similar nations tend to have similar sensitivities, many of which I believe stem from language.

Anyway, all of this was going through my head as I was running the other day, and the word “Spandor”, (a combination of Spanish and Candor) popped into my head. I sort of smiled to myself and thought about adding it to Urban Dictionary. A good word for expats in Spain to use to describe this difference in language, however not one that I believe is necessary in everyday life. While I wanted to share this moment of word-creation that I had, I want to clarify that I think we have to be very careful when creating words or ideas that are related to the way we view different groups of people, whether it be race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. I never want to contribute to a negative view of anyone, as I believe much of the hate in this world comes from a misunderstanding of cultural, religious, social, (etc.) differences. And after all, we all came from the same place, and headed in the same direction.

So, until I can find a word that I believe the world is looking for, enjoy this silly one.

Spandor- the specific, candid nature of the Spanish people.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Write Yourself Alive Day 2: Narration of a day in my life.

* This assignment was a bit more challenging for me. I decided to narrate a day in my life during one of my happiest times.

It is my favorite time of the year. Spring is about to give birth to summer, and Madrid is quickly moving towards the height of its seduction. It’s a Saturday morning, and the sun is pouring in from the slanted window above my head and onto my face. I can see the red backs of my eyelids and I open them to a glorious royal blue sky. There is a slight, cool breeze coming in through the crack in the attic-like window, the fading dregs of winter, and I feel a few of my long hairs dancing and tickling my face. The apartment is quiet, and I slowly pull myself up into a satisfying stretch.

I walk down the creaky, narrow wooden steps and into the disaster of a kitchen. It looks like my male roommates decided to indulge in a few late night snacks and beers after the football match. I remove a stack of plates from the sink so I can fit the coffee percolator under the faucet. I have never been a morning person, but something about this city, and the fact that everything is getting warmer makes it easier to wake up early on a Saturday. Even with a messy kitchen, I can’t complain. I wander out onto the terrace as the coffee pot is heating up. The day is absolutely beautiful, and I can feel the warmth of the sun on my back and shoulders. I can just see the beginning of the sierra in the distance; the blue mountains a dull, hazy grey contrast to the vibrant sky.

While starting on my second coffee on the terrace, I open my ipad. Twenty seven facebook notifications. All messages from a group of expat friends here in Madrid. Most of the comments are rubbish (as my British friends would say). Hilarious rubbish, though and I find myself giggling out loud. We are all broke English teachers trying to “suck the marrow out of life” as Thoreau once put it. One of the things I love most about my group of friends is how different we all are. We come from all over the world, and have different ways of expressing ideas. My British roommate calls a ham sandwich a “ham buttie”, but would deny the fact that we are roommates. To him, we are flatmates. My other flatmate, if you will, calls a banana a ba-nonna. And I wont even get into how many times I day I hear the term "wanker." The two girls that live here are very lively, beautiful, and bubbly Americans. They keep me feeling young, and always have plans and ideas for creative group activities.

I walk back inside and smile as I observe the paintings on the wall of our living room. Months earlier, I had a completely different set of roommates. They have all moved back home now, but the paintings on the wall are a reminder of the good times we had together. On one of my favorite days the summer before, one of my roommates knocked on my door on a Saturday morning and informed me that I had to come downstairs “right now” as we were having a painting party. So, we spent the day together painting canvases, all of the results completely different and unique. Then, we went on a tour of our own city, a cable car ride, and trip to the most popular Mercado here in Madrid. For a flash of a second, an unhappy thought comes to me. The reminder of how fleeting this lifestyle is. Most expats come here for a year or two, teach English, travel, enjoy the culture, and move back home to find a different job. I quickly erase this thought, and focus on what I want to get done for the day.

Upstairs, I pull on my running clothes, and grab my ipod. Running is my therapy, and this is the best time of year for it. I head out of my apartment and onto the crowded main street of the neighborhood where I live. I’ve been averaging about four miles a run these days, but today the weather pushes me to go a bit farther. I try to erase all thoughts and worries from my head and focus on each step.

After my run, I wander the streets for a while, grabbing a coconut water from a shop for the walk home. My problem with running these days, is that I like to run on the interesting and beautiful streets that happen to be quite a ways from the neighborhood where I live. By the time I have usually finished my run, I am miles away from home. So, usually I try to walk home rather than take the metro. Depending on where I end up, this walk can sometimes take an hour or two.

I open the door to my apartment to find the living room full of my roommates and some friends who have come over to watch a football match. One of the guys makes a snarky remark, and I roll my eyes, but turn around and smile as I walk up the stairs. I love the brotherly relationships I have with these guys. Upstairs, I shower and then pull on a pair of bohemian harem pants and a tank top. I love how I can get away with wearing whatever I want in this city. To me, walking down the streets on Spring and Summer nights is so much fun for people watching. The tanks tops, top knots, maxi skirts and crop tops add to the sexy, feverish energy of the city. Freedom of expression has always been an important factor to me, and here, I find, I am at my most confident.

After the game, we head out of the apartment to the city center. Madrid is bewitching in the summer. The air is a hot, thick, enchanting veil that presses against our bare, golden limbs. There are around thirty of us that eventually end up together in our favorite bar in the Malasaña neighborhood. I take part in, and listen to various conversations ranging from philosophical to hilarious, but mostly just hilarious. Hours later, after sitting in a square drinking beers purchased from street vendors, playing cards, dancing, and getting kicked off of the square’s playground equipment, around nine of us remain.
As we start walking towards the metro, I can see that the sun has started to light up the sky in a brilliant display of pink, orange and shades of purple. I look around at these incredible people and in this moment I feel that everything is right in the world. Our hearts were brought together by chance, and for this I am truly grateful. We understand each other sometimes, and sometimes we don’t. But each of us, in small and large ways has helped save one another. Some of us are running from aspects of our lives, others running towards something. But for an infinite few seconds I feel like I have understood the point of all of the running.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Write Yourself Alive Day 1: A letter to myself 10 years ago

Dear Beth,

Today is the 28th of January, 2005. You are 22 years old, freshly finished with college, and feeling a bit lost. You’ve turned down a few job offers that felt wrong, even though the money would have been good. You’re doubting yourself as you watch all of your friends start big jobs with corporations and companies. You’re living at home with your parents, and your skin is breaking out. You’ve just ended a major relationship only to jump right into another. Was it the right decision? I understand how you are feeling and the questions that you have. No, I am not just saying that to make you feel better. I truly understand, because I felt it once, as you are feeling it now.

I have this idea that you will discover one day. An idea that came from someone else, but something a bit romantic and magical to believe in.

What if time isn’t linear?

What if, as I sit here and type this (from a different place than you- one I cannot tell you about as I don’t want to spoil the surprise)…what if you are sitting there, on those steps outside, or in your childhood bedroom questioning your worth?

 I am here to talk to you about a few things I have learned, and offer you some advice that I hope to either be futile or improve your mindset. If this letter is in vain, I don’t mind because the purpose is to bring you peace right now. But if it doesn’t, then that’s ok. Everything in this life will lead you exactly to where you should be. Trust your intuition, because I promise, everything is going to be alright.

In the next ten years, you are going to change far more drastically than you’ve ever imagined you possibly could. Your ideals, priorities and beliefs will not stay the same. I know you may be doubting this, as you can be quite stubborn. So, take it with a grain of salt if you must. Life will happen, and there is nothing you can do about it.

So, the first piece of advice I am going to give you, is to go with it. Open yourself to new people and ideas. You are drawn to this by your very nature, so stop being afraid of what people say that you should think. You don’t know this now, but that’s called dogma, and it affects everyone. You’re going to do and think what you want anyway, so do it boldly!  What others say and think will not make a difference in the end, other than to affect your self-confidence from time to time. So, don’t let it. You will be happier with this decision.

While I like the idea that parallel lives and the past may still exist, I am going to tell you to live by an idea that is a bit contradictory. To your perception (and mine still), only the present exists. So, engage in it.  When your mind is amidst your potential misfortunes and failures, you are not appreciating the beauty of what you already have. And you have so much!  When I say this, I mean, stop worrying. Worrying is futile, and you do it often. It is so much easier to focus on the bad, and potential tragic events that could happen. Remember, we are biologically designed to think this way. It is evolution working to keep the human race alive. But, this doesn’t mean that bad things are always going to happen. Sure, they will. That’s life. But remember that you really can’t change this fact, and you ruin your chances at happiness if you engage too much with this type of negative thinking. Look around you. Focus on the beautiful details of nature, the wonderful friends and family that you have, let the moments that you are laughing or loving consume you.

Find your authentic nature and let your creative side run wild. Never stop looking for inspiration, and exercise your talents. Life isn’t a race, and you do not have to be the best at everything. If you can find pleasure in your work, you will create good work. The only person you are competing against is yourself. Keep trying to improve!

Stop judging other people, and be kind always. Train yourself to feel genuine happiness when something good happens to a friend. Imagine the good things happening to you! How would you want your own friends to feel about your successes? When you start thinking this way, you genuinely become a happier person, and jealousy- that ugly emotion that you create through your own feelings of fear, falls away. It is one of the most important personal tasks to teach yourself to be truly happy for others, even when nothing is in it for you.  Remember there is enough goodness in the world for everyone. It is up to you alone, to access this positive and light way of thinking and project it into your world. You and everyone around you will benefit, trust me (because I am you;)

Don’t sweat the small stuff or focus on petty details. If something is bothering you ask yourself, “Will this even matter next year”? Forgive people. Even when it feels like the most difficult task in the world. Remember, you have also made mistakes and hurt others. None of us is perfect, and we are all woven from the same fabric.

Bruce Lee once said “I am not here to live up to your expectations, and you are not here to live up to mine”.

Try to remember this when you want people to change, or be a certain way. Everyone is just trying to be happy, and that doesn’t always mean that your stars will align with theirs. If you love someone, don’t be selfish about them. Teach yourself to want real happiness for everyone that you love!
But by all means, have a backbone, girl! Re-evaluate your standards often, and keep them true to your heart.

Don’t forget to let your family know how much you love them. You lucked out in that area!

Finally, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to love. Love with an open heart and vulnerability. You’ll be embarrassed sometimes, and rejected others. You will also have to go through the agony of hurting people that you care about. But all of this will make you stronger, and give you the knowledge and strength that you need when the stars finally do align. Don’t ever stop believing in the good, in the beauty of this fleeting life, and hold on to hope.

It’s going to be great, trust me!

32 year old Beth

Friday, February 3, 2012

All My Love

A year ago today, in New York City,  I boarded a plane with 3 bags, a  ticket to Spain, and a heart full of fear and hope.

Last year, on the weekend before Valentine's Day, I was given the incredible honor of spending a weekend In beautiful Verona, Italy during their "Verona in Love" festival as one of the three winners of Il Club di Giulietta, or "The Juliet Club's" 2011 "Dear Juliet" Prize.


If you've ever seen the film "Letters to Juliet", then you may have heard about the Juliet Club. This association consists of a group of women in Verona known as the secretaries of Juliet. Throughout the year they respond to love letters from all over the world written to Shakespeare's heroine seeking advice and inspiration concerning this beautiful, universal truth. On Valentine's Day each year, the club awards the writers of the letters they found to be the most heartfelt and beautiful over the course of the previous year.

It is only now, a year later and an ocean away from where I first wrote my secret feelings to Juliet, that I feel the courage to openly share this tribute to my letter; one that a group of remarkable women, for some reason, found prize-worthy. I am grateful to them not only for this honor, but for voluntary work and time they invest in keeping the idea of true love alive. When so much of our world tells us the opposite, everyone needs the type of encouragement that these women provide; to hold on to hope, have courage, and most of all, never lose faith in love.

 Verona in Love Festival

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer: that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?-John Keating, Dead Poet Society