Art tells us who we are

Sandy and I met at a Jens Lekman concert. I saw her, petite and singularly fashionable, giving her ID to the bouncer at Lincoln Hall, and I was nervous to say anything. She was an internet friend of a friend and I was not yet numb to the awkwardness of meeting people on the internet – thanks Twitter. Eventually, we connected at the show and that was it. We’ve been through Big Star margaritas, music festivals, bad boyfriends, bad jobs, grad school stresses, life revelations, and vintage shops together.

Sandy works at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC and, fittingly, the advice I snagged from her comes from her work with artist Ai Weiwei. I just about died when she posted the following Instagram:


Ai Weiwei infiltrated my consciousness because his sculpture Forever Bicycles made its way to Austin. I know next to nothing about the artist, but I’ll leave that to the curators and art historians out there. What I do know is: that’s some damn inspiring advice. Let’s break it down:

1. Learn a new skill

This week, I made a lasagna. That might seem like no big deal, but it’s one of the few holdouts of my mom’s recipes that I just have been too intimidated to make. I looked at the recipe, realized it might take around three hours, and balked. But that Saturday afternoon, it was raining, Sam was with Buddy the dog, and I had three hours. I did it – and it felt amazing. This was a new task, not a new skill, but it made me feel good as hell. Using muscles that hadn’t been discovered yet made my whole self feel strong and ready for whatever comes my way.

2. Travel places your parents never went

My spin on this is a little different, since my parents travel more than I do and never invite me to Hawaii. I try to live the lives that they didn’t have, to make them proud of the opportunities I take advantage of. To be clear, my parents have lived lives I can barely dream of (insert joke about millennial home ownership), but there are still worlds to conquer for the Martins. For me, this means living in three major cities, going to grad school, and moving cross country at the drop of a hat (okay, like three months of the hat dropping). These are opportunities that they have helped me meet, and I hope to continue to have experiences that they can ooo and ahhh over for years to come. I also hope to continue giving them heart attacks over my whimsical tattoos (Mom, it’s just the one).

3. Find things to tell stories about

This is really my passion: telling a story through non-fiction writing, through painting, and through archiving. My dreams tell me stories. My friends give me stories to tell. This is one of the great surprises of life – the stories that unfold and that just get better when repeated. I wonder about new ways to tell stories, about how to gather the stories of other. I’m always looking for your help with this, for your stories, for help telling my own.

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When I asked Sandy if I could share Ai Weiwei’s advice, she added a bit of additional wisdom. The artist said, “Art tells us who we are.” The art we make reflects not only who we are at the core, but it reflects the art we’ve taken in and devoured – the nourishment that life and art has given to us. What others create can be just as much (or more!) about ourselves than about those who made it.

Stay hungry, my friends!

Doughnut Day

Every week, I wait on pins and needles for Jeni’s pictures of Doughnut Day – the day her daughter gets to eat, you guessed it, powdered sugar doughnuts. Jeni is great at celebrating something small every week, and those pictures of little Leah grinning, covered in sugar, make my day.

It’s no surprise that someone who brings a little light in a dark world would have a great self-care tip. Hers is simple: “Come up with a list of stuff you like about yourself, without any ‘buts’.”

I’ve written about a couple of lists before. For Thanksgiving Advent, I made a list of things I am grateful for. I made a list of things I like about my best friend. I made a Big Bad Things List. Before job interviews, I often take the time to list my strengths – but I’ve never done so for myself. To kick off our Mondays, why not give it a shot?

Here are a few of mine:

  • Good hair life
  • Funny
  • Kind
  • Good chicken noodle soup
  • Good long-distance friend
  • Great list-maker
  • Creative

Don’t be shy! I’d love to hear one of yours. Oh ya – and happy Doughnut Day, to those who observe it!

Reader’s Choice

Cultivating natural, routine self-care is not something that comes from within, it’s a matter of harvesting the best ideas and making them work for us. If left to my own devices, self-care would be a bag of Ruffles, two pedicures a month, a bottle of champagne to myself, and a new wardrobe. Other voices help me to find effective self-care methods rather than just doing what feels good in the moment. For instance, the best self-care tip I ever got was to talk to myself like I’m someone I love – and eventually, I’ll become the person I love the most. I could never have come up with that crap on my own! In a previous post, I wrote about Russell’s tip for doing stuff we liked as kids. Here are a few of the other tips I’ve gathered.

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Sarah says to wink at yourself in the mirror. “It started as a little joke to myself but as I continued doing it I realized that it gave me a little boost.” Sarah is so wise. She goes on, “Self-care often feels like something bigger than it really is. A simple wink can give me some encouragement when there is no time or energy to do something bigger.”

A wink is Sarah’s small way of reminding herself that she’s funny, she’s cool, and she’s her biggest fan. I never thought of the small things I do for myself as self-care, but her advice has me reframing. When I sing to my cat in a Louis Armstrong voice, I’m cracking myself up – I’m forgetting about “performing” for other people and instead showing myself my best assets.

Sam knows that I also give myself a boost with a mantra I learned from a past therapist. “You can do it, little Emma.” From the stairwell of the Catacombs in Paris, to the bathroom before my performance appraisal, to the dressing room when I’m swimsuit shopping, talking to the most vulnerable part of myself sets off a spark. If that isn’t self-care, I don’t know what is!

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This next one is HARD for some of us, myself included. Lexie, who has a great blog called Copper Oranges, writes about that gross, creeping monster, guilt.

“I’m not great at practicing guilt-free self-care. When I relax I tend to make a list in my head of all the things I *should* be doing right now. The best thing I have tried to practice is to allow myself to relax without guilt.”

Being self-aware about guilt is half the battle for me. It’s taken me years, but I’ve transformed myself, for better or worse, from a busy body to a proud lounger. My therapist pointed out to me that I often get down on myself even when I’ve done several hard tasks in a day, but take a break. Giving yourself permission to let go of that guilt could be a huge relief.

Similarly, I find myself taking on other people’s anxiety. A lingering symptom of middle child syndrome, I often “cluck” over the needs of other people. Is she having a good time? Do they feel comfortable in my home? Is this what he wants to be doing? Lately, I identify those worries and blow them away like dandelion puffs. Identifying these bad mental habits make them less and less of a habit, and more like a hiccup.

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Finally, some really great concrete advice from Libby: Take early and late bike rides; swim for free at Barton Springs from 9 to 10 pm; play board games; do yoga; flock to commercial A/C.

After and before work, I can be a lazy potato, but like a cute one. In Texas, those are the most precious hours! I’m going to set a goal for myself to get out of the house before work twice a week, and once a week to get a little dusk exercise!

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Keep those tips coming! I can’t do this alone. I literally made a red wine spritzer last night. I need all the hand-holding I can get. A free tip from me to you: do not make a red wine spritzer!


In summer, my self-care comes in the form of a vintagey swimsuit, the smell of sunscreen and chlorine, and a tequila, lemonade, and soda in a big orange tumbler. Never happier than when air-drying after a quick dip, my new home is not inside the apartment I share with Sam, but on the ratty old lounge chair at the side of our teeny tiny pool. Yesterday, we listened to Pet Sounds and took little forays into the pool as necessitated by the 100 degree heat. Life is good.

But of course, there’s always tweaks to be made and nuances to be learned in every self-care regime. Here’s what I’m up to.


Y’all gave me some pretty extensive and, in some cases, expensive skincare tips and I followed a few to try to get rid of my dull and sometimes acne-riddled skin. The most important thing I learned is that no one agrees about skincare, and you need to do what’s right for you. My skin clears up in the summertime, and I’ve finally found a system that works for me.

In the morning, I’m washing with Cerave foaming cleanser, recommended to me by skincare genius Megan. I sometimes use a facial brush, maybe once a week. I’ve noticed that this is a great way to lightly exfoliate without causing me to breakout or dry out. I got mine for $20 on Amazon. When I’m done washing, I moisturize my face, neck, and chest with St. Ives Collagen Elastin moisturizer, recommended to me by Lisa and Stefanie. I love this stuff. It’s cheap and I’ve never had a moisturizer that makes me feel soft and hydrated without making me feel greasy. I use Neutrogena Clear Face sunscreen in SPF 55 under my make-up. I top off with Pure BB Cream from Maybelline, which I love because it doesn’t clog my pores and it lightly covers my array of acne scars and lingering, cool, definitely not embarrassing adult acne. It also doesn’t cover what we can all agree are my very adorable freckles.

In the evening, I use a generic Walgreens sensitive skin makeup removing wipe (I only use this when I’m wearing eye make-up, which is just about never these days) and finish off with Simple Micellar Water. I love not having to suds up and throw water at my face at night when I’m winding down, and this stuff is fast, easy, and gets rid of my make-up. I started using a Neutrogena retinol cream at night, but I really hated it. I worry about wrinkles, sure, but not enough to keep using something that felt greasy and heavy when I want to go to bed fresh-faced. I hope one day I’ll get old and pruned up like Georgia O’Keeffe, and I will think fondly of the time I threw a tube of retinol into the bathroom trash. Unpopular decision: I stopped moisturizing at night. This has been a total game-changer for me. I am about 50% less greasy during the day, and this is a dream come true.


Carly Rae Jepsen “Cut to the Feeling” and Lorde’s Melodrama – end of list.


I finally learned that wearing DSW $40 flats is ruining my dang life. After a third bout of immense foot pain left me unable to walk normally for almost 3 months, my doctor and a shoe salesman brought me into the light. The man said I had “some arches” (sorry to be braggy) and thus a person who spends more than $100 on safe, stable shoes was born. Vionic, I live for you. The only non-supportive pair of shoes I wear are my Target sandals between my bedroom and my office (the pool).


The things that are keeping me happy so far this summer (summer starts in March here): my bluetooth speaker to keep the tunes cranking all summer; L’Oreal Kids swim shampoo so I don’t become a bleach-blonde scarecrow; nighttime AND morningtime showers; night swims; nightcaps on the balcony; ceiling fans; rosé spritzers; spin class; bike shorts; swing dresses; big Topo Chicos; Mexican Coca-Cola; and, finally, dogs.

Just kids

I recently asked my Facebook friends for help: what are their tips, tricks, and routines for self-care? I need advice – big league. The past month has been a stressful one and I’ve been knocked off my self-care game. This post is the first in a series of self-care tips from my friends.

Russell writes,

The self-care tip I’ve been investing some time into this year and that has really helped me is to kind of delve back into things that made me happy as a child and/or teen. This has taken the form of re-reading books, re-watching old animated TV/movies (which I probably never would’ve let myself because of the nagging voice in my head telling me I’m an adult now), and tapping back into a time when the only thing I had to worry about in a day was what I wanted to do to pass the time. It’s a small shift that’s really helped me a lot.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember really loving to dig holes and really hating to get in trouble. These interests were at odds, since it seems that adults don’t love you ruining their beautiful landscaping with a big old hole. Because of my limited memory of my childhood interests (hole digging – not such a great hobby to bring back into my daily life), I enlisted the help of my mom. Here what she remembers me liking to do:

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This is a blog mainly about how much I like soup. Thanks for reading!

But seriously, folks: my mom’s iMessage contains my new tenants of Summer ‘17:

  1. Be creative: this means being proactive about painting and (gulp) maybe getting into some Pinterest crafts. The fun part about this is that I have a new home rife with opportunities for me to hot glue somethin’ weird to somethin’ else.
  2. Get my hair wet: The aforementioned new home has a POOL, y’all. My new goal will be to get in that pool at least 3 times a week and to investigate exercises I can do in it (water aerobics here I come!).
  3. Use that table leaf: I love spending hours laughing with friends (I love to laugh – can you relate?), but my love of patio drinking and investigating new bars is getting a little pricey. I’m going to balance my expensive hobby with an inexpensive one: hosting meals at my house. We just acquired a small dining table that transforms into a large dining table. I will try to host friends at least once a week. Nothing like that 105 degree weather to get your soup appetite going!
  4. Read a book: Start with The Artist’s Way – Sue also mentioned how I loved to write. Seriously, Emma, just do it. Turn some pages. Scribble something down.

As for the media I consumed as a kid, I might find myself in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood or hiring the Baby-Sitters Club. I might also read a Shel Silverstein book or learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe. I might return to my teen years and watch Amelie and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. One thing is for sure: I’m going to be listening to a whole hell of a lot of Bright Eyes.

Please, please help me on my quest to try out my friends’ self-care regimes. How do you stay sane-ish? What’s the one simple trick that keeps you looking glowy and feeling brand new?