A Lesson from Ballet’s Reverence, or How Not To Quit Violin Lessons.

Sofia walked into her lesson yesterday and told her teacher, “I think I’m quitting violin,” with what I imagine was the same teenager-y slump of her shoulders and monotone voice with which she told me about it.

I’m trying to learn the boundaries between funny versus shaming kid stories, since this digital trail of mine may someday be theirs to discover — but today’s lesson in manners and gratitude is being shared with Sofia’s permission, so here goes:

Over break, we talked about whether or not she would quit violin lessons mid-year. She’s at 2.5 years of lessons under the same instructor; we are lucky to have an incredible Suzuki program within LCS with two classes per week during resource hours, and only the cost of the instrument rental.

But Sofia has not committed to practicing regularly, doesn’t particularly enjoy the instrument, doesn’t love being on stage, and while she’s competent in the songs she’s learned, it’s just not clicking as her thing.

Our rule has been two years of any particular endeavor; year one will always be awkward and halting and perhaps not even enjoyable. Year two is when perhaps a little bit of competence begins, the repetition having built some degree of fluency with rules and notes, muscle memory sets in, and enjoyment of the sport or instrument can begin. After all, who enjoys something they’re mostly confused over?

(This is entirely my own theory, maybe one year is sufficient, maybe three is ideal?!?)

So: when I found out just now that Sofia walked into her lesson yesterday and told her teacher, “I think I’m quitting violin,” with what I imagine was the same teenager-y slump and mono with which she told me about it; her teacher said ok and sent her back to class.  



Every fiber of my being was horrified, both for just how rude the delivery was, but also because of my years of ballet and practicing reverence.

For those who are not familiar with the practice, at the end of every ballet class, you perform the beautiful act of reverence: a slow movement of the arms, with a curtsy to thank the instructor, the accompanist (if there is one,) and your classmates.

Reverence is a beautiful, formal way to show gratitude for the time and talent that was shared, a practice that acknowledges each tedious step of the teaching journey is valuable and necessary. It’s not reserved for the stage, though the ballet curtain call is a beautiful example of what it looks like with costumes and lighting. In the class, you’re exhausted and sweaty. 

You may have spent nearly a half hour working on adjusting one single muscle placement for a grant battement (those high kicks!).

You may have toes that are blistered and desperate to escape the pointe shoe. But first, you gracefully extend your arms and bow to thank everyone who has helped you grow.

Sofia’s a kid. Violin’s not her thing. I’m supposed to be teaching discipline and manners, sure. She gets grace here, but she’s also going back on Thursday with an apology and a thank you card and gift for all of the time that her violin teacher has invested.

In the meantime, I’ve already emailed an apology and asked whether she can withdraw now or if she needs to finish the year. And if she’s finishing the year, she’s ready to do so with grace and gratitude.

A Busy Mom’s Friend: Two Shopping Apps I Love!

This post recommends two apps I’ve been using that have been saving me money this year. Referral links are included, so you’ll get a little bonus for signing up through these links!

Ibotta – get cash for groceries!

First up: I’ve been using the Ibotta app casually. Ibotta rounds up rebates on everyday items (note: rebates, not coupons, so you pay full price at checkout and then get reimbursed by Ibotta for the rebate amount). Any given week you might find paper towels, lunch meat, frozen fish sticks — the variety and selection will vary. You’ll receive anywhere from $0.25 to a few dollars depending on the item (the higher items tend to be one-time purchases like cookware).

Your rebates add up in your Ibotta account, and once you reach a threshold (usually about $20) you can cash out your balance in a variety of ways: PayPal, or giftcards like Amazon or Starbucks.

How it works: select your rebates from the app (most are quick surveys or info screens, a few will be 15- or 30-second ads), then shop at the specific store you selected (some rebates don’t transfer to other grocery stores), scan your receipt and the app will automatically load money into your account.
I have mixed feelings about it; most of the brands are name-brand, it takes a few minutes to scroll and select my rebates, but recent app updates have streamlined some of this and I particularly like the option to add previous rebates back into my list. Long story short: for budget purposes, I stick to my list and see what’s in the app that I’m already buying; I’ll buy generic brands . But if you’re willing to adjust your menu, you could really stack up some savings (especially since you can use coupons alongside the app). I don’t use the app every week, and it obviously won’t work at places like a farmer’s market. But for only sporadically using the app, and sticking with my meal plan at that, I’ve earned about $250 in rebates.

Want to try it out? You can get a $10 credit using my referral link — just click here to try Ibotta.


ThredUp has been really fun for my wardrobe. It’s a giant online thrift store with really great brands, but its easily searchable categories makes it really easy to find exactly what I’m looking for, and I can save search settings to pull up my personal favorite brands in my size (or my kids sizes!).

I found a few maternity gems (without having to go try things on at the store!), and I’ve  had luck finding like-new leather flats or cute, new-with-tags name brand sweaters on ThredUp. I‘ve saved a few searches, like my size in my favorite style shoes or dresses, in certain brands that I love or in cuts that I know tend to work for me (they have everything from LOFT to Anthropologie!). I love the saved searches because I don’t have to waste time sorting through the wrong size.

Because they have a range of brands, some of the designer brands are still expensive even at a discount, but it’s worth browsing their sales or popping in to see what’s new. Their app is so well-designed and easy to use, you can score something fun while you’re waiting in the carpool lane.

A note about selling to ThredUp: I’ve tried this feature a few times. The pros: They make it really seamless: they send you a bag with a preprinted shipping label, and you fill it up and drop it off. They’ll sort through things and issue an account credit for whatever they think they can sell (and they recycle the rest!). The cons: I’ll be honest, I’ve never gotten a lot of credit, even for like-new brand name items. I can make more money selling it on our local Facebook page. But, that’s more work and there’s no guarantee it will sell there, either, so it’s nice to have an option like ThredUp that’s simple and quick.

If you want $10 to shop for something fun this fall, you can use my ThredUp referral link – just click here.

Neither Ibotta nor ThredUp know who I am and these are genuine reviews based on my own experience using each company. However, this post does contain referral links and I’ll receive account credit for anyone who signs up for either program via links in this post. Beyond that possible credit, I have not been compensated for these reviews.

#MotivationMonday, Part II

LaShonda Delivuk’s Motivation Monday has been a fun, inspiring weekly read. She takes local women (and occasionally men) on a photo adventure, and then introduces them in a blog post.

This summer, after years of wearing braids, LaShonda decided to go natural with her hair (doesn’t she look fabulous??). This transformation sparked an idea of doing a unique Motivation Monday post where we photographed each other during the session. We met at Speakertree on 5th Street for some exploring, conversation and photo-making.

LaShonda is one of those highly driven women who is always inspiring and on-the-go. By day, she’s half of Life Focus Pictures, a local video production company. She also brought the 48 Hour Film Project to Lynchburg last year, an instant hit doubled in its second year, is a member of our local Rotary Club, and sits on a few local boards and committees with an eye for the arts in Lynchburg. Her true love is theater, something she studied at Liberty, and can still be found in a local production from time to time.

Perhaps the only complaint about our photo session is that we didn’t have much time to talk since we were alternating between photographer and model! But that just means we’ll have a coffee date sometime soon!

Without further ado, here’s the radiantly joyful LaShonda.

LaShonda MM 01 and 05 LaShonda MM 03 and 04 LaShonda MM 04 LaShonda MM 05 LaShonda MM 06 LaShonda MM 07 LaShonda MM 13 LaShonda MM 11 LaShonda MM 10 and 12 LaShonda MM 08 and 09 LaShonda MM 15 LaShonda MM 14 LaShonda MM 16

Renaissance woman; or, my mantra for 2015

I just had a meeting with a friend/consultant (there needs to be a word for that), and it was one of those conversations that you see yourself reflected in so many ways [edit: that sounds so narcissistic….I mean it in the kindred spirit way]. This time, it was her entrepreneurial drive and desire to do so many things just like, oh someone I know. Because I write and photograph and quilt (!?!?) and paint and want to own a cafe and well, yes, hello. This feels like such a theme among my friends, who are teachers AND mothers AND writers AND quilters. Etc. I know more than a few business women with multiple plates in the air, and we’re all insatiably curious and hungry for projects and possibilities.

I’m learning that I can do most or all of those things, but not all at once. That any aspect of my life needs time and attention to thrive: first and foremost my relationship with my children and husband, but throughout my professional pursuits. And the seams of my quilts, which show my impatience oh so well if I don’t slow down.

And, as I tell the students I work with so often, you cannot be everything at once. That there can be stages in life, that I can do one thing and then maybe do another later. That we’re never, ever stuck.

This is short, but sweet: patience, attention, time, quality over quantity. I want to simultaneously create my list of dreams and narrow it down to what I can realistically do well. To create a list of things that could wait until a better time.

So, my mantra for 2015:

I cannot be everything at once. I cannot do everything at once. My dreams are worthy of pursuit. I will learn that patience and dedication are as important as dreaming big. I will allow my current work to flourish by giving some dreams time to incubate until I can give them my full attention, too.

some dreams will wait

Blog Hop: Thoughts on creative process and where I’m at now

….so, a few months ago, my friend and fellow Hope creative writing alum Katie Budris (sidenote: the photo in that post was one I took on film in 2006, when she visited Schenectady, NY, where I was living at the time) asked me to participate in a blog hop with her. I asked a few people to keep this going and participate with me, but it was a crazy point in the semester and I had no takers. I just realized I didn’t hit publish while I was waiting for responses, and well, here we are.

Not much has changed, so I’m posting this now. Creative friends, if you want to join after the fact, let me know!

Some thoughts on my writing and photography these days….

I am preparing a collection of essays that I hope will be part of a graduate school application and eventually a full-length manuscript. Part of this process will involve submitting for publication in journals, which terrifies me. I completed an undergraduate degree in English with creative writing emphasis a decade ago (!!!) and chose not to pursue graduate school at the time because I felt burnt out and like I hadn’t really had material to begin with. I’m very grateful for the experience as it was a workshop-intensive curriculum that taught me how to give and receive constructive criticism on my work, and I do feel I grew as a writer during those four years. But I left knowing I needed to just go live, and let the stories accumulate.

And, they have. I now feel like I have more stories than I have time to write, which is a new and frustrating problem! I have three children and work fulltime as a commercial photographer, which leaves exactly no time for writing unless I drag myself out of bed in the morning to do it. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I largely failed this summer, but I did write and am working on making it more disciplined practice. I have a finished room in my attic that’s my art/craft/writing studio. I’ve had this space for five years and have let it just scare the shit out of me, seriously. I have gone out of my way to avoid this room. And I have only just realized how much time I wasted, that I could have been up here writing (where I am now) in this little haven all this time. So last weekend, I took a few hours to clean it out, to prepare surfaces and organize things, and create up here.

My writing is almost entirely creative non-fiction. I want to write lines that snap. I want to pull from my life experience and write a story that hums, that is beautiful and tightly written. Most of it will draw from my feeling of being constantly between cultures and never fully in one (I am half-Cuban, and my husband was born in Pakistan). Identity politics matter a lot to me, as well as the varied details that make us human: how we dress, what we eat, and why.

I just finished re-reading Naomi Shahib Nye’s short non-fiction piece “Mint Snowball,” and it’s this sort of poetic essay that I’m most drawn to, I think partly because I can’t really give up poetry and am still writing some in the background. And maybe publish that, but it’s not really my focus at the moment. But I do think and write and photograph like a poet, zooming in on these glowy or messy little moments that focus in on a tight glimmer of the human experience.

Perhaps the “how is your work different” question is the one that stumps me most, about my writing and my photography. I spent a lot of years comparing myself to other writers in my program, or to other photographers locally, and that always makes me feel about two inches tall and like an untalented hack. So lately I’ve tried to focus on making my work really sing on its own, to focus on creating and presenting work to the world that I feel is polished and completed according to my standards for that project, and to worry much less about how it’s received or whether it’s different. For instance, a few years ago I started to try to only use my own editing process for photos, because I was worrying too much about the trends of portrait photography. That’s really allowed me to relax into my work.

For both writing and photography, I’ve found it’s really important to know the craft. I’ve spent a lot of time on learning off-camera lighting, for instance, so that I can worry less about technical concerns and more about the photo session at hand. It’s a really great feeling to walk into a shoot and know that I can usually creatively handle the lighting even if it’s not what I expect. For writing, it means reading more poetry and creative non-fiction to get back in that rhythm. And writing, often and freely. And need to go back to revisit some grammar rules that I’ve noticed are growing rusty in my craft!

At my office at work, I taped William Stafford’s poem “How These Words Happened” to my wall. And I’ve listened over and over to interviews with Natasha Trethewey and Elizabeth Alexander, loving how they talk about their craft and words and inspiration. Alexander talks about being a mother, too, about women who have written around the kitchen table.

Oh, and I’ve listened to PoetryFoundation.org’s recording of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Children of the Poor” close to 50 times in the past couple of months. The reading is beautiful — I don’t know who is reading it, but his voice is emphatic and sonorous and lovely — and every time I hear it, I notice something new she’s done with language.

Why do I work? I think beause I have to, because ever since I was old enough to write, I’ve strung words together. I still have a book of poems I wrote as a kid, and what cracks me up is that there’s a poem about snow. I grew up in north Georgia and probably only ever saw a dusting, so maybe it was reading Little House on the Prairie so many times, but there it is: lines about snow falling.

Writing and telling stories is my way of relating to the world, and trying to understand what I see and experience.

A moment on depression, with more to come

Hyperbole and a Half: Depression, Part Two.

I’ve shared her link before on my Facebook page, but it’s worth sharing again now. The descriptions of what it’s like to be depressed, or to have people try to fix your depression, are funny and sad and the most true to my personal experiences that I’ve read online (down to Blockbuster, which makes me feel old).

Someday I’ll write more about this, but one of the most sobering things for me to realize is that the deepest depression of my life occurred on and off as I was graduating college, and therefore going off insurance and any possible treatments I could afford. I am so grateful that the dark days, during which the weird combination of anxiety and dull nothingness made me want to do nothing but sleep away my existence (literally, thankfully I was not suicidal). For me, there was no magic fix, and some things worked better than others, but more so a gradual reawakening, if you will. For that, I am forever grateful.

And, I have family members who wrestled with suicidal thoughts, and it is among my deepest joys in life that they have found their reasons to live and are still among us.

Robin Williams was a celebrity, not someone most of us knew in real life. But, so many of us invited his films into our living rooms for entertainment over the years. It could not possibly be compared to losing a family member this horrible way, but the world felt genuine, collective shock that he would take his own life. His death is tragic and I don’t mean to make light of it or make him a hero in a twisted way. But for a moment yesterday, I saw countless listings of the suicide hotline, and I just hope that someone in the depths of the deceptive numbness and self-loathing, who might feel that they had no other choice, called that number.

(The link above is part two of her story, and part one is worth reading, too. Note: a few f-bombs.)

Strawberry Season: A Recipe Roundup

Strawberry Recipe Roundup from Meridith Creates

Our family went strawberry picking for Mother’s Day at Seamans’ Orchard, a location we love in part because of the amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a beautiful way to spend an afternoon together; we try to go every season, and we always stop for ice cream on the way home. I love making these memories with my kids, and I look forward to seeing seeing pictures of us there, especially as the kids change so much from year to year.

Mama and Hannah at Seamans' Orchard. Can't wait to see how she grows in this photo over the years!
Mama and Hannah at Seamans’ Orchard. Can’t wait to see how she grows in this photo over the years!

Daddy and Hannah at Seamans' Orchard. Apparently this is her strawberry picking outfit; I dressed her in the same thing, head to toe, for our outing today!
Daddy and Hannah at Seamans’ Orchard. Apparently this is her strawberry picking outfit; I dressed her in the same thing, head to toe, for our outing today!

When I heard that The Motherhood Collective, one of my favorite organizations for local mamas, was going strawberry picking at Yoders’ Farm today, I was really excited (even if we hadn’t quite finished our haul from the last trip).

Because of work, I tend to miss most of the Motherhood Collective’s Monday morning meetings, and I’ve made a priority to go to their new working mama groups on Saturdays as well as any other Monday groups when I have a day off. I really love taking part in the group; while we come from all walks of life, together we’re a beautiful community of mothers who support each other. And I’m slowly but surely developing some friends in the group, even if we don’t see much of each other outside of the “official” meetings between parenting and work schedules.

And the outing couldn’t have gone better — I’m not exaggerating when I say it was absolutely perfect! We filled our baskets with juicy strawberries under the hot morning sun, then gathered in the welcome shade for a picnic lunch. My kids loved the goats, chickens and cows that were our lunchtime neighbors, and I had a great time getting to know some new mamas.

Let’s be honest: I’m loving the fact that we have more plump strawberries to snack on. Plus, I get to enjoy some of my favorite recipes again! I thought I’d do a quick roundup of some of them, with a few notes about my adaptations.

Strawberry Recipe Roundup

The classics: I occasionally do strawberry shortcake. If I have time, I also have done hand pies, but I find that a regular-sized strawberry pie will do the trick if I’m craving a good pastry crust and juicy strawberry filling (a favorite recipe is below), and frankly goes a bit faster. There’s always freezer jam, but we don’t eat a lot of jam in our house so I usually go for other uses.

Over the past few years, most of the following recipes have made it into regular rotation (I’m including one I haven’t actually made yet, but you’ll see why!).

Strawberry pie with orange zest, from Saveur. This is simple and delicious. If you don’t have vanilla beans, substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I’ve also swapped the orange zest for lime zest for a more summery pie. Omit the orange juice and/or zest all together if you like,  but it’s a really nice touch. I’ve got dough chilling in the fridge for tomorrow night, and will likely assemble this pie.

Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry summer cake. Many of Deb’s recipes get tested at Casa Khan within a couple of days of its original post…they’re so.very.good! This one is no exception, and I don’t usually make any substitutions here. This is what I made today for dinner at a friend’s house. If you’re able to bake it so it comes out of the oven just before dinner, I highly recommend it. It’s divine warm, and be forewarned: this begs for a dollop of homemade whipped cream (it becomes a sort of jumbled shortcake that way).

No link here, but a simple favorite of mine when I’m hosting a dinner party: strawberry and fresh mint dessert topping. Slice about a quart of strawberries. Take about 10 fresh mint leaves and muddle them with a tablespoon of sugar, either with a mortar and pestle if you have one, or use the back of a spoon in a wide, sturdy bowl (if you do it this way, it will be helpful to chop the mint to help release the oils). Stir the strawberries and mint sugar together. That’s it! This topping is really delicious served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream over a warm brownie.

Last but not least, Strawberries Romanoff, another simple but delicious use for fresh strawberries. I tried a variation of this treat recently at Cao during the Pastiche at Main girls night out. It was scrumptious, and if you prefer not to use alcohol, you could easily substitute a tiny bit of orange zest or flavoring, or forgo flavoring altogether. At Cao, they served this with dark chocolate shavings. Yum!

Tonight’s rendition of Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry summer cake, the perfect end to our cookout.



Note: I have not been paid to endorse or link to any of the above sites, just sharing the love for some favorite local folks and of course linking to my favorite recipes!


Writing the next step…

photo 2

Last week, I woke up ridiculously early, slipped on a Hope College Alumni sweatshirt, and started writing my personal essay for my low-residency MFA creative writing application. It’s currently in an embarrassing, jumbly state, but it’s a beginning. Next step: finish editing the manuscript essays — I need a range of 20-30 pages, depending on the program. I am close to that page count with two or three essays, but each needs a lot of slice-and-dicing.

All of that to say: ten years ago, I decided against graduate school because I wanted to live a little first. I was burnt out from words and workshops, and not even sure of myself as A Writer. But my writing has slowly started begging for this next step, and it’s about damn time. That morning, I was tired, but writing felt so good.

While writing that morning, Farhan woke up and said it was “still sleeping time.” And then asked me to build a Lego airplane from three pieces in his hands. I did, and he zoomed it around the attic studio. This is what an MFA program will look like for me: waking up before dawn, writing until the kids wake up, then breakfast before we rush out the door to school and work. Rinse, repeat.

I’m ready.

photo 1
Lunch workshop with my friend Nell earlier this spring.


One of my favorite poems, “How These Words Happened,” by William Stafford, has helped nudge me out of bed (ok, so it only took three years of being taped to my office wall).

Each time I sit down to write, it’s part of a litmus test I’m giving myself: can I discipline myself to write while the kids are sleeping (well, quiet time usually doesn’t involve sleep for Sofia and Farhan, but I can still hope!)? Can I pay attention for any particular essay long enough to not only write the first draft, but edit and revise, too? Some days it’s simply, can I put away my iPhone (games, Instagram, whatever) or ignore the laundry long enough to get a few lines done? If I can do these things enough times to produce an MFA application, it helps give me confidence that I might actually be able to sustain work during the actual program, too.

There is also a whole lot of “what the heck do I think I’m doing!??” in there. Some of this is the usual self-doubt, but there’s also the reality of my busy life with three small kids and a full-time job. But I finally realized that I can’t keep putting this off — there will always be a reason to delay, and I’m not getting any younger. So, I’m doing this madness. I’m taking my own advice to students at Sweet Briar: that cumulative effort adds up, to do a little bit each day toward a larger goal.

Here goes…

Wishful thinking

Hannah and mama in Asheville, North Carolina, this past September. I can’t remember if my brother or husband took this photo for me, but think it was my bro. Either way, I love this moment! And look, traveling with my kiddos! ❤

Every now and again, I try to revisit my list of life goals. Some I’ve managed to cross of, even wild ones like “Visit Cuba.” Others are still languishing in a teenager’s dreamy journal, like “write a novel,” or “be on stage with the New York City Ballet.” And while I haven’t ruled either of those out (though I doubt I’ll be the one dancing if the second ever comes true), I’ve had a few new ones kicking around lately and thought I’d share them here. Most of these are just lifestyle goals I’ve thought a lot about in these first few months of 2014, not events or projects, and there’s no rhyme or reason to their order here. Here goes:

1. Write a little bit every week.

I’ve learned that daily is probably unrealistic right now, with little kids who sprout teeth in the middle of the night, and work in general. But weekly is doable, and I think if I can do that regularly, I can build up to daily writing.

2. Mail something hand-written every week.

Again, not daily, or even an expectation of a letter. But slipping something in the mail that’s been hand-written and hand addressed? I think I can do that. I’m currently buying and trading pretty fabrics as part of my babywearing hobby, and I try to include a little note with each one that leaves for a new home.

3. Learn Adobe Illustrator and expand my graphic design knowledge/portfolio

This has always been a hobby of mine, beginning with “books” I created as a child and continuing with my high school’s literary magazine and yearbook. I learned design on Quark and feel very comfortable with Photoshop and InDesign, but feel pretty clunky when it comes to Illustrator. I know my way around the software on a very basic level, but can’t make a vector drawing from scratch, and I’d like to be able to do that. I have a few paintings and doodles I’d like to digitize, and besides that, I would love to be able to work with original art instead of relying on stock vectors all the time.

4. Travel with my kids.

At the pediatrician’s office today, I explained what the Grand Canyon is and where, thanks to a mural that intrigued Sofia. I remember road trips to Tennessee or Miami with my family. If we could afford it (or if we can save up for it!), I would love to take them to Europe before Sofia graduates high school. I want my kids to be global citizens, and to understand that the world is more than America. Though, as I wrote that, I realized perhaps my half-Pakistani, quarter-Cuban and British-American kiddos will have a decent grasp on that fact.

5. Take better care of myself.

I’m falling into the mom trap. I leave the house with wet hair and no makeup most days. Now that Hannah’s nearly a year old and we’re sleeping better at night, I’d like to take a few more minutes each morning for myself. But more than that, I want to do the same thing at night. If I don’t make time for me, if I go straight from washing dishes to bed, I feel more stressed in the morning. Exercise fits here, too.

6. Go to more concerts.

I’ve missed this! I guess I probably go as much as is realistic with toddlers and work obligations, but I don’t want to forget the feeling of being in a crowd, getting lost in the sounds of a favorite band performing live. I’ve built up a pretty exciting list of incredible live concerts so far, from U2 to Gin Blossoms to Sufjan Stevens, and I never want to stop adding more to that list!

7. Go camping and rock climbing.

This one is surprising for me! But I had the chance to go camping for a couple of nights with a Sweet Briar trip, and fell in love again. We used to go camping as kids, and it had been nearly two decades since the last time I slept outdoors or ate a meal cooked around a campfire. I also tried rock climbing outdoors with the group, which was a first and I loved it! I’m hoping to blog about the experience, but suffice to say it was incredibly fun and surprisingly empowering!

edited to add: 8. Share more photos, ha!

I was about to share this post, and realized that, once again, the photographer has no photos to post. So I’m digging back and adding a photo of Hannah and I in Asheville last September. I was so inspired by the blog post that went around a couple of years ago, The Mom Stays in The Picture, and have tried to set aside my own self-consciousness and make sure to be in more photos with the kids. And so I’m taking it one step further: share more photos of me with my kids, instead of waiting until I have a thinner body/better haircut/etc!

I am stopping here for tonight, but will keep adding to this list, and I’m hoping to dig out the original list to see what else I’ve accomplished in the past couple of decades. Writing them down always feels good, and I’m surprised sometimes at what I accomplish later in life that I’d forgotten was important to me at a younger stage.

Feel free to share your own new goals in the comments — especially ones that surprise you!!

On being a creative person about to graduate from college

I spent yesterday traveling to Richmond, Virginia, to photograph a class trip to hear a Wurlitzer organ and see a silent film in the historic Byrd Theatre, and then stayed to listen and also photograph a Sweet Briar woman whose new band had their first performance. Elizabeth Wise and the Shooflies is a bluesy, sultry, soulful group, and leading it is Liz, whose pluck and determination I want to have when I grow up. She is an “old soul,” something I told her soon after we met yesterday, and something a fellow musician also happened to say when I asked him about working with her.

Before the show, while we waited for lunch at The Naked Onion (yum — real food, from scratch), I spoke with a colleague about film and making films and art and how I’m tiptoeing into video.  I know how to make a beautiful still image, I’ve practiced and trained and learned and improved still photography. It’s like what Ira Glass said about storytelling and taste, and I feel impatient and frustrated when I have jumpy footage or crappy audio because I know what I want it to look like and I can’t do that yet.

The conversations yesterday about art and struggle reminded me of an email I sent, unsolicited, to a few seniors last year who were art majors or otherwise creative souls. It’s a little rambling (surprise, surprise!) but I’m going to post it here, because it still says what I want to say.


January 11, 2013:

You are a creative person who is about to be let loose from this place, and it feels horribly overwhelming and you maybe aren’t even sure whether you should pursue a “real” job, or graduate school, or build your creative portfolio and strike out as a freelancer, or…?

I imagine most of you don’t know where you’ll live or how you’ll pay for it. And I know those are all very overwhelming questions, especially when it feels like you have to know the answers by May 19 (oh, the morning after graduation…).

I don’t want to be another “older” person who gives you pat advice. But I do want you to know that, not too long ago, I was in your shoes. I ended up graduating without a real job, and I was broke, bouncing between relatives’ homes when I couldn’t afford an apartment, and stretching leftovers from a restaurant job when I finally had my own place. I worked at a coffeshop and as a dispatcher and full-time at Bed Bath & Beyond one point (I was grateful for the income but I don’t think I want to have to sign someone up for a wedding registry, my main job, ever again in my life).

My journey may not look like yours, or even be what you envision for yourself, so I don’t mean to say you should do what I did, and you will certainly find your own path.

But today, my friend Paul posted something to Facebook. You see, when I was about 24 and he was probably 21 or so, we were both working as baristas at our local coffeeshop. I had just graduated from our alma mater, and he was in the middle of transferring there while taking some time off. We both barely had enough money for gas most days. We listened to Coldplay and vented about relationships and kept dreaming. I bought my first digital camera in those days. I don’t remember if he had a video camera then; he was shaggy and in a band and he wanted to be a videographer but was just on the cusp of really pursuing it.

And then today, he posted this: http://vimeo.com/57182198. It’s his latest production reel. You’ve know my work here at the college, but if you haven’t  seen it, this is my own professional portfolio outside of SBC: www.mdkstudio.com.

You see, in the 6+ years since then, he’s been making his art, mostly still from West Michigan where we first met. And I’ve been making my art here in Virginia. Not all the time, for either of us. But as much as we could, as often as we could.

I’m sure he’ll tell you that he still doesn’t have it all figured out, and I certainly don’t (my latest dilemma is whether to enroll in a low-residency graduate school for creative writing, my actual degree). But regardless, our portfolios did not happen overnight at age 21. And I know this is true for a million other creatives, and that you already know this. But I’m sharing this because these are not folks in LA or New York, or someone who’s famous (yet). It’s my friend Paul and it’s me, and when we were in our early twenties, we were mopping floors in a coffeeshop and hoping we might make money doing what we love some day.

It won’t happen overnight for you, and I know that’s the hardest thing to hear from someone older right now. I know you want to do it all by May 19, to somehow leave this place and be established.

And you know what, I believe in you all SO much. You are incredibly talented people.

But if I can offer you anything, it’s this:

Keep doing what you love, a little bit each day or at least each week. Or even once a month. But do it. Even if your day job is slinging coffee or working at a desk for a company you don’t really like. I hope those days end soon, and that someday you support yourself doing something AMAZING. But remember that a portfolio is a body of work, and that work happens over time. So keep doing it. And you may find yourself looking back, in one year or six or twenty, and being really proud of a body of work that couldn’t possibly have happened overnight.

And I know that these are both commercial portfolios, and maybe you want to pursue fine art. But what I’m saying is probably true for Paige Critcher’s portfolio, or John Casteen’s poetry. And I hope in some way that helps you.

So, as you get ready to return for your spring semester of your senior year (!!!!!!!!!!!), I hope that my words are in some way helpful. You’re welcome to ask me (politely, I hope) to never offer you advice again; I’m a older sister so I’m kind of used to that. 🙂

I can’t wait to see what you do in this world!


And I need to take my own advice. I’m nearly a decade down the line from those coffeeshop days, but I need to remind myself that I’m not done yet. There’s still possibility, and there’s still adventure waiting. And there’s a whole lot of art to create.