One Year: Body Talk

I’m unreasonably obsessed with TimeHop. For those unfamiliar, it’s an app that aggregates your social media posts and photos from years past on that date. It helps me celebrate, and celebrating is one of my greatest skills. I’ve celebrated the anniversaries of concerts, of meeting friends, of other people’s weddings, and today, I’m celebrating the first birthday of Yoga Farts.

Yoga Farts was a project to motivate me to write, reflect, take care of myself, and connect with others – and wow, it has not disappointed. The blog transformed from a Tumblr to an honest-to-goodness website. Since then, I’ve written about exercise, skincare, eating, mental health, and so on, ad infinitum. One of the greatest self-care skills the blog has provided me with is the power of reflection. So much of life is mindless – the snack you have at 3 pm, the scrolling you do before bed, the “lol” texts you send in response to a well-timed gif – but Yoga Farts has given me a space to say, here’s what I’m going to do, and here’s why.

That said, in a series of posts, I want to return to some of my favorite pieces from the past year and explore how I’ve been doing.

First and foremost: food.

In January 2017, I wrote a post called Weighing In. This has been my post popular post on Yoga Farts to date, and I have some theories as to why. First, weight is a huge struggle for so many people, and we’re often curious about other people’s journeys. Second, the subject can be so taboo – this post was insanely difficult to write, as I struggled to love myself as numbers piled up on the scale. I wondered how many had noticed as I put on pounds, but more than that, I wondered how many people had experienced similar struggles. So I wrote.

In a follow-up post about how I felt about my weight gain since 2010, I wrote, in painstaking detail, about what I was doing about it. This was maybe the third hardest thing I’ve ever written. Dieting is so incredibly personal. Since I wrote that post, I have fallen on and off the food tracking wagon. I have suffered from debilitating injuries. I have had too much wine. I’ve eaten cakes. I’ve celebrated with margaritas – hell, I’ve just celebrated margaritas. But I’ve held fast to the principle that food can be my power instead of my downfall. I’ve gained weight since those January posts – I’ve cried about my body, I’ve lamented salads, I’ve sat in support groups. Most recently, while listening to an episode of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast I usually love so much, I felt a simmering rage at a “body positive” take-down of diet culture. Just as I cannot stand, I cannot support, the crippling societal message to women that their value is their thinness, I found myself feeling the same strong emotions about these women telling OPRAH that she has been tricked by diet culture and that she’s perpetuating the oppression of the cult of undereating. I still struggle with throwing off the yoke of thin-centric body image – but have found the body positive movement telling me how I should feel about my body equally demanding and demeaning.

Woo! That one was a doozy. Takeaways: I’m still striving to love my body. It’s a process. I’m learning not to listen to anything Society capital S has to say about who I am. The inimitable Zelda Barrett put it thusly: “Your body is yours and yours alone and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel at home again.”

As the inimitable Emma Marie Martin put it, “Society can call me when it decides if it wants me to be thin or fat. I’m just gonna be over here doing me.”

Side A

I’ve been on a tear. I’ve been tearing through creative pursuits, work projects, new albums, favorite recipes, and self-help innovations. I’m riding the wave with the ducks I have in a row for the first time of my twenties (and it’s about damn time): a balanced brain, a happy relationship, a decorated home, a great job, at least $100 in my bank account right now maybe (unclear). The thing about waves is that they crash, and for me this happens when I’m required to sit still. The other night, after exhausting all the creative work I could do, I cried because I was bored, because I was hungry, because it was Sunday, because life is expensive, 🎶 because because BECAUSE – because of the wonderful things I’d done 🎶and had left me listless.

There’s no one self-care experiment I’m trying right now, so here’s a post as mixed up and energetic as I am. Lately I’ve been up to some:

Listening

I got the idea early (can’t sleep past 5 am club!) yesterday morning to create a playlist of songs about loving yourself. Obviously it’s mostly Lizzo and Beyonce, but also some Santigold, Amber Coffman, and Avey Tare. I’m opening up this playlist to everyone! Please share with me your power songs.

Reading

I lose the term “reading” loosely here – perhaps scrolling would be more apt and honest. Out of the thousands of memes, I plucked an amazing thread on free/cheap self-help that I found really helpful and I want to keep as a lifeline during harder times.

Experiencing

We all know I love #bossbabesATX, especially their fantastic meets where you can mingle and share projects. Lately they’ve been crowdsourcing answers to discussion questions and posting some of the answers on their blog. I found the conversation about self-care right up my alley, and laughed out loud at some of these cute and honest answers.

Striving

I find myself working through health and fitness goals and being so discouraged by my setbacks, which spawn new and harder setbacks. After some soul-searching, I’ve found a coach who can help me through some of these tougher hurdles (the frequency and consistency of my exercise; drinking; mindless eating). She’s something of a life coach, a dietician, a motivational speaker, and a personal trainer (easy on this aspect). So far, one of the greatest things is telling her some small victory for me and having it be celebrated and claimed, like a mountain climbed. I’ve learned that asking for a little extra help can do wonders. I’m sure some of her wisdom will spur future posts.

Showing up for myself

In an effort to harness some of my creative energy for good, I created an Instagram just for my paintings. This puts all of my (admittedly poorly documented) work in a single place I can point to when people ask what I create. The results have been astounding to me. People have been loving my work and dreaming up custom painting orders. I do my paintings for little profit – I spend a good deal on monthly supply orders and charge about $35-$60 a painting – but I decided that some of my extra cash would be used to help my neighbors in Houston, through the Houston Food Bank. Painting orders are open now – just shoot me an email at martin.emmamarie at gmail dot com!

• • •

That’s my self-care mixtape for right now. It didn’t require too much rewinding or hitting record at the exact time a song came on the radio. It wasn’t given to me by a high school boy in the 1990s. There are no Promise Ring songs about it. Nevertheless, I’ll hope you’ll submit your own tips for me to explore and songs for me to sing along to in the shower. Don’t leave out Hüsker Dü.

Anatomy of a sick day

Some people have perfect pockets of the week where self-care easily fits in: Wednesday night yoga or early Sunday aromatherapy or Thursday afternoon therapy. The soothing routine of it is a big part of its healing properties. When things get tough, that Tuesday lunch meditation session shines like a lighthouse in a sea of (pardon my French) bullshit.

I have some of my own routines: Sundays, Sam sleeps in and I listen to soft music, light all the candles, and paint. Every other Wednesday, I get a half-hour table massage and chat with my massage therapist Lee Ann. Every other day, I take a walk or a jog before work. But some of my most potent self-care moments are unexpected or or out of the ordinary.

Last week, I got a bug. Something was going around, something very rude to the tummy, and I caught the fever and exhaustion of it – but my iron stomach resisted the rest. I powered through most of the week but found myself completely unable to get out of bed on Thursday. After calling in as the next victim of whatever jerk germ had taken hold of our agency, I saw the opportunities ahead of me: I could really rest, hydrate, and catch up on the lower-impact activities that sometimes fall by the wayside during the five-day, eight-to-five work week. I found myself pondering what would heal me the most in mind and body. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. I’m a strict three-liter-a-day kind of girl, but when I’m sick I tend to not want to go back and forth between the sink and the bathroom. Thursday, I gave myself permission to crack open sparkling water after Topo Chico after ice cold tap water.
  2. I busted open that dog-eared Soup Box Cookbook and made some really nourishing food. My mood lately is to cook two things at once, that way I can have food for lunches or for a second meal. This time, I made low-fat, veggie-heavy cream of chicken rice, while roasting chicken and artichokes in the oven. The smell itself was a miracle worker for my headache. Plus, vegetables are supposedly very good for you? Huge if true.
  3. I got a little fresh air before it got extremely hot out. It was just a quick walk, but it cleared my head and tired me out enough to go back into my nap coma.
  4. I found a calming, easy listening podcasts, a bit by accident. A podcast I listened to occasionally about (a show I do not watch) The Bachelor, Rose Buddies, converted into a podcast about enthusiasm, Wonderful! No, that wasn’t just me exclaiming – that’s the name, punctuation and all. Every week, wonderfully sweet Rachel McElroy and Forbes 30-under-30 media luminary Griffin McElroy talk about one thing each of them is pumped about. Examples include the phrase “no worries” and the notes Carly Rae Jepsen sings before the chorus in “Cut to the Feeling.” The podcasters talk just above a whisper as to not wake their baby, which was just the volume I needed when my head was pounding.

By Friday, I was well-rested, enthusiastic, and nourished, ready for the last push before the weekend. I avoided the pitfalls of a sick day: sleeping the entire time and being just as tired the next day; eating junk food; and feeling unproductive. Being away from a screen for most of the day helped most of all, though perhaps it was second to Carly Rae Jepsen appreciation.

What are your best sick day sanity home remedies? How do you push through a fever without ODing on Gatorade or falling into a Netflix shame spiral – or is that your cure?

Keeping up with the Scorlazys

Twitter is a scary place to a lot of people. Even people whose entire career and ~brand~ was built on Twitter routinely tweet things like, “this website is a trash fire lol” or “logging off forever.” People take year-long Twitter breaks. People do log off forever. For me, Twitter has been a lifeline. After a big falling out with some of my IRL friends in Chicago, people I met through my most Twitter-savvy friend became my closest pals – some even became like family. I find that a lot of my self-care gurus are irreverent, silly folks from that “trash fire” of a website, from @imteddybless to @yayfrens to @emilyvgordon. Just this week, Chance the Rapper tweeted some of the best advice and encouragement I have heard in a long time:

canceling plans to read is ok. skipping a party for the gym is ok. staying home to cook is ok. lets encourage it & respect self improvement.

In the spirit of Chance, world’s cutest Chicagoan, I’ve embarked on some Twitter self-help. I’m ready to share it with y’all, perhaps as a little encouragement for the long trudge coming out of a three-day weekend. Last week, someone retweeted the brilliant @alliewach’s unofficial endorsement of the Google app Keep as a mode of self-care into my timeline. Always game to improve my self-care routine based on the advice of total strangers, I checked it out. Part Pinterest, part Notes, part alarm clock, Keep gives you one button to click to access your inspiration, your calendar, your grocery list, your self-care reminders, etc. etc. forever.

What am I keeping in Keep?

  • My dang grocery list, which I now actually keep up with (har har)
  • A picture of that girl who pulled a sword out of a Cornish lake
  • Chance’s great tweet
  • A reminder to run (“you ding dong”)
  • A reminder to drink 3L of water at the end of the day if I haven’t yet already
  • Blog ideas
  • Things I need to buy eventually (a couch, Malört, printer ink – the essentials)
  • Notes from events like BossbabesATX

So far, Keep has become a good friend, something I look forward to hearing from throughout the day, something I enjoy looking at in my downtime, and something that sets me on the right track. Adding another app to the mix has proven a great way for me to stay off Notes and alarms and also saves me hours searching “girl sword England” every time I want to send it as a funny (arguable) response.

Now that that’s all out in the open, logging off forever.

Tiny Bahamas

I used to do this relaxation exercise where I’d imagine I was in an elevator that could look however I wanted it to look. I’d usually decorate it like a drawing room in a European palace – lots of luxe fabrics, gold ropes, purple pillows, and plush ottomans. As the elevator went up, I added items that relaxed me: my cat, a scented candle, a framed, signed photograph of Peter Jennings – you know, spa stuff. The elevator would get to the top floor and I’d get out and step into my ultimate place of bliss and calm. I always imagined this place as the sandy beaches of Saugatuck, Michigan. The most underrated state in the union (in my extremely correct opinion), Michigan has clean, tan sand beaches and warm August waves. I’d float there on my back until all of that pesky reality stuff slipped away for a few minutes.

Two weeks ago, I got to really go to that place, not just in my imaginary elevator. It was my first time back in five years, and this time I got to show my boyfriend around. My parents organized a lovely vacation for me, my brothers, our partners, and their pals. After a cleansing week of ciders and roses in Portland, I got to extend my relaxation time in Michigan, where our tiny private beach had flooded, and the waves were lapping against the 94-step staircase down the bluff. I am back to work now, refreshed and renewed, but because my next vacation is in December, I want to take this magic feeling with me as long as I can. Here are some of my ideas for incorporating vacation into my daily life:

  1. I went to bed early and woke up early on vacation, so early that my fellow vacationers, who slept to normal hours, weren’t up until I had long bottomed out my Twitter feed (mainly populated by New Zealanders who were on my schedule). I started reading to pass the time, and wouldn’t you know, I felt fulfilled and less antsy. I’m not saying I’ll be up reading War and Peace on a Monday morning, but it’s something I am going to incorporate into my Saturday and Sunday mornings.
  2. I didn’t feel pressure to do anything at all unless I really wanted to. This meant smiling and saying no to riding someone else’s bike, ducking out of dune buggy rides when the line was too long, and walking on the beach only when I wanted to. This gave me time to really savor and enjoy what I did end up doing, which included a good deal of reading and napping and swimming. I am bad at this at home. I often say yes to things that don’t satisfy me, as a way to fill up my time. In fact, the empty space in my life, unoccupied by obligations, is what makes me happiest.
  3. I wandered a lot, down beaches and streets, more than I ever would in my ordinary life. In Portland and Michigan, I didn’t drive, and this was a huge change of pace. It reminded me that I can walk in Austin too – I can drive to fun neighborhoods, then walk around and check out the street cats. I can walk along the golf course. Heaven help me during this heat, I will enjoy a stroll in the early morning now and again.
  4. I ate lots of seasonal produce, including my favorite fruit in the world, sweet cherries. As I try my darndest to eat healthfully, I found this great guide for what’s in season, which can also double as meal inspiration.

∙ ∙ ∙

I feel very cliche and privileged to say that vacation has been a godsend for my mental health, but here we are. I want to reframe everyday events as vacations – my day trip to see Zelda in San Antonio, my bi-weekly work massage, and my time sipping Topo Chico in the sun can all be experienced as tiny vacations. Fellow non-millionaires, we can put on the Banana Boat, eat some pineapple, and feel maybe a fraction of the refreshment of a vacation to the Bahamas, but hey, it’s something!

Myself being myself

When I read The Waves in during my BA in English, it was utter gibberish to me. I had devoured To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s writer’s diary, and her letters, but The Waves eluded me. It was like reading French as a non-French speaker, mon frere. I would listen to my very favorite professor, a tidy British woman with endless quiet enthusiasm, talk about this book and want so badly to understand it.

Years later, I returned to The Waves and found myself transfixed by its poetic rhythms and powerful character-building. I was incredibly surprised that maybe I had gotten smarter, or at least more equipped to understand this complicated text, when I felt like I had mostly been drinking Malort and riding my bike. Sometimes during times of anxiety, I turn to a random passage and get carried by the motion of the waves. Today I returned to this:

How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.

In my last post, I wrote about slowing down enough to make things manageable; to make manageable the things that make me anxious about having fun. I’ve written about my failed attempts at meditation, about the “capacity for delight” in small things, but this passage is a different frame.

Last night, I had a dream that someone in my life rejected me after telling me to be myself, and being turned off the moment I took this advice. To be myself is something I think about a lot – something I struggle with. Parts of myself are cobbled together, the pieces taken from other people and works of art and memories and pop culture. Sometimes I hope to reject these pieces that seem foreign to me: the moments when I fly into a rage like so-and-so; the endless worries like you-know-who; the desire to walk out of a restaurant with that glass of wine like Rihanna.

There are parts of me that feel quintessentially myself: my penchant for listening to Beach House and lighting candles while I drink coffee on Sunday mornings; my kindness; maybe also that Rihanna desire to steal glasses of wine.

On a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia, a guest posited, “You have a vocabulary of the self – a range of people who you become.” This struck a chord with me: it seemed a statement of profound possibility.

As an exercise, I decided to make two lists: one of moments and activities that give me that Virginia Woolf feeling – that myself is as tangible as the coffee cup. Next, I decided to make a list of people I’d like to be, that I could contain within myself. Here’s an excerpt:

Myself being myself

  1. Taking notes from a podcast
  2. Floating in the pool or the lake
  3. Talking to my cat
  4. Doing a gesture of friendship
  5. Getting to the airport 12 days early

Myself being Rihanna with the wine glass

  1. Virgie Tovar: Virgie, in addition to having a dope name, is an activist who writes about accepting and celebrating women’s bodies, particularly fat women, who are so often marginalized for their bodies. I first heard her on Call Your Girlfriend and I was taken by the idea that fat women often dress in dark colors or neutrals as not to call attention to their bodies, and Virgie’s fight against this! As someone who struggles with body acceptance, I love the idea of celebrating myself in bright colors and textures and being unapologetically myself in my body. Virgie is someone I aspire to be more like in my pursuit of loving myself just the way I am, even as I aspire to grow and change.
  2. Lorde: Lorde is my favorite barely-not-a-teen-anymore except Tavi of course. Lorde has an #aesthetic for sure – she’s the good witch of New Zealand. She isn’t afraid to sing about things that feel youthful and frivolous, while still maintaining a strong identity. At the ripe age of 29, I hope to move past the fear of judgment when I write about things that feel silly or less serious than some of my other subjects. I also want to dress more like a Stevie Nicks in sneakers.
  3. Jane Claire Hervey: Speaking of looking up to women who are younger than me, I have to recognize Jane Claire Hervey for transforming my life in Austin. Jane founded #bossbabesATX, an organization that puts on meet-ups, talks, festivals, political events, you name it. #bossbabes gave me the courage to promote this here blog and has given me some of my favorite people. Jane puts it all out there. She dreams it, she does it. I know I have this within me: I’m thinking specifically of former projects like Thanksgiving Advent and Side Dish Literary Mag (RIP). The power of Jane compels me.

I love the idea that I can both be myself and contain multitudes, to have selves I haven’t yet discovered – and to have role models that motivate me to explore these selves. 

Take it easy

When I moved to Austin, I was struck by the slow pace of life. The summers make every activity languid or halted – crowds of people stand and sit drowsily in fancy complex pools, linger over their melting frozen drinks, and skip afternoon runs in exchange for naps in front of fans.

Lately, I find myself frustrated with the slowness in my life. I’m ever-so-slowly modifying my activity and diet habits. It takes me approximately 10 years to write a blog post or read a book. Most of all, I’m frustrated with the halting start-stop of self-care progress: one giant step forward, two baby steps (ice cream cones) back.

Don’t get me wrong, my heart still races. There’s this feeling I get when two major parts of my personality crash into each other: anxiousness and playfulness. I get it when I’m power walking from the bus stop to work at 6.45 am to make sure I can leave early for an event. I get it when I’m waiting for a friend I haven’t seen in years at arrivals in Austin-Bergstrom. I get it, non-stop, during the music portion of SXSW. And lately, I get it at 5 pm, when I arrive home and I see that beautiful beacon, my tiny oval shaped pool, staring back at me, and I know there are dishes in the sink, plants to be watered, and poop to be scooped. My relaxed Austin attitude is replaced by a heart-pounding feeling of FOMO and immediacy. 

Leave it to me to be anxious about fun.

I’ve been pondering a piece of self-care advice about slowing down that I got from the inimitable Zelda. She says:

When I really don’t feel like cleaning/doing tasks that will make my tomorrow better, I do the thing(s) and count to 100 aloud. Sometimes when I hit 100 I go okay cool fuck this and sometimes I have momentum and can do more.

Yesterday, I got home in the beautiful, temperate (for Austin in July) 95 degree heat and all I could do was picture me on my mac-n-cheese-colored float, sipping a seltzer. I debated if I’d wear my tropical swimsuit or my other tropical swimsuit as I turned the key in the lock. I opened the door and saw litter on the floor, dishes on the counter, a full dishwasher, and shoes everywhere. Shopping bags obscured my beautiful mac-n-cheese float. That SXSW flutter in my heart that tells me (Aerosmith voice) “I don’t wanna miss a thing” began to rise up in me.

I remembered two things in this moment: Zelda’s advice for slowing down and Caroline’s note that it usually only takes one song to unload a dishwasher. I imagined myself putting off the tasks until after the pool, and then after the pool wanting to take another drive in the relaxi taxi, putting it all off to tomorrow. So I decided to be an adult.

I counted to 30 (I do not have the attention span of Zelda) and felt my momentum rise. In the span of 15, count em, 15 minutes, I watered Nicole’s plants, my succulents, made sure all the dishes were where dishes live, made the floors look like humans are in charge of cats and not  vice versa, and put the shoes in a new pile, this time in my closet. It wasn’t so bad.

The moral of the story is, I conquered that panicky fun-anticipating feeling and was actually able to have unadulterated fun because I slowed down – what a concept. I slow cook, I slow walk, I slow shower, so why wouldn’t I slow fun down a little bit?

Anvils, Oprah, and the capacity for delight

Ever the wannabe Oprah, I cannot count the number of times I have told a heartbroken or struggling friend, “It’s okay to feel your feelings.” I mean, it’s not okay: it’s horrible and hard, and sometimes you’d rather feel someone else’s good feelings, god dammit.

I am neither heartbroken nor struggling, but lately, I’ve had trouble following my own advice. I’d rather have a cocktail or put on the television than be alone with my thoughts. Circumstances have changed. My lifestyle of long solitary walks, which allowed me to really digest my feelings about my situation, has lately been interrupted by chronic foot problems. It’s become more acceptable to throw back a wine spritzer every night of the week now that my companion is home. My writing and painting time has been interrupted by happy hour after happy hour, pool cocktail after pool cocktail, nightcap after nightcap: time to dry out!

But the problem isn’t truly that social drinking is clouding my connection with myself. The problem is that I’ve been using socializing, drinking, and TV to disconnect. What am I missing? What is it that I’m trying to avoid?

In an effort to use some creative energy to understand why it is that I’m so uncomfortable sitting with my thoughts, I’ve been rereading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book is prescriptive and self-helpy, with instructions about how to live creatively, unencumbered by the weight of other people and life situations. It’s a great read for anyone seeking a new way of framing their lives. I was struck by Julia’s insight about ways to cultivate happiness. She writes, “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.”

That may seem rather opaque or rather vague, depending on your point of view, but it totally blind-sided me. I had a moment of revelation where I felt the rug of my preconceptions of happiness pulled out from me. I was Wile E. Coyote meeting the unexpected cliff. What does Julia mean by the “capacity for delight”? She goes on to explain that the power of observation, the opportunity and willingness to be enchanted by the small things going on around us, can overwhelm the negative or creativity-squashing circumstances in our lives.

I vocally and steadfastly reject the notion that one can choose to be happy and for it to just be so. As a person who has known mental illness intimately, I know that happiness isn’t always a choice. However, the “capacity for delight” seems more doable, more possible, even in the throes of depression. Can you find one good thing in your field of vision? One good memory about the day? It’s a welcome new practice for me, someone who has been glossing over the small delights in an effort to disconnect from it all. By being more observant, more open to little sparks of joy, I hope to make my way back to my feelings, which aren’t so scary after all.

Some delights for me this morning: the cat is craning her neck to nuzzle my face; the man whose car alarm goes off every time he turns the ignition is leaving early for work today; I woke up on the first, not the third, alarm; the new coffee maker works like a charm. A night without a social engagement and the wine that comes with it has left me feeling my eyes open a little wider, my mind a little fresher.

Not everything will be a delight, of course. There are uncomfortable feelings there too, the ones I so often ignore lately, such as feelings of self-doubt and creative constipation; feelings of anxiety; and feelings of exhaustion. But today, it all feels more doable when I smile about the car alarm instead of glower. Contentment with my surroundings, even small pieces of it, is my gateway drug into the harder stuff. Not heroin, but the fiddly bits of my brain that are making noise.

Luckily for me, my Wile E. Coyote cliff has landed me in a placid pool full of cute ducks and palm trees (do these two things exist together? Whatever, it’s my imagination, I can do whatever I want!) along with the anvils and the puffs of smoke.

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:

sandy

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.

∙  ∙  ∙

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!