2019 Book List

Every January first I sit down with my journal and I write down five personal and five business-related goals, then consciously forget about them until the following January when I finally quantify the progress I’ve made. Then I make new goals. Sometimes I’ve not met the previous ones to my standard, so I repeat them, acknowledging it’s a process and not a failure. Some goals I’ve repeated several years in a row.

As I get older I realize that for inspiration to find me, I must always be learning. The perfect Liz cocktail therefore includes: A specific amount of solitude (mental stillness or quietness alone with my own thoughts), time set aside for writing and writing alone, and a steady flow of books. Reading great stories helps me to learn style and flow, story construction, new words, and most importantly, new and different ideas. Reading brings me back to my real and true self, writing aids me in showing it.

At times, reviving my creative self has felt like waking up from a sleepy but satisfying hibernation, hungry to come out of my den for new ideas. Other times it feels like a violent reviving of my soul, shocking myself back from unconsciousness and a kind of temporary creative death.

As a strategy to read and create more, which ultimately makes me connect with my true and happy self on a regular basis, I implemented some strategies in 2019.

1) Read 30 minutes every morning before work when you’re having your coffee.

2) Try to also read on your days off instead of watching TV, or being on your phone.

3) Aim for completing one book per week.

4) Write one blog post per week for one year to see how it goes. It can be any length.

5) Set aside about five hours per week to write. Divvy it up however you want. Write about whatever you choose.

6) Try to freelance at least one article.

7) Start a book club.

Reviewing this list overwhelms me with gratitude for the progress I’ve made getting to (re)know my creative self this year. I mostly stick with goals one, two, and five on a regular basis, with some room for improvement of course. I only missed a couple of blog posts this year, but published one almost every single week. I freelanced several articles, and did in fact start that book club, and we’ve met twice so far. As far as the books go- I read 21. I plan on reading a couple more before the year is through, but I wanted to share my list with you for two reasons. One: So you can get new book ideas! And two: So you know that I didn’t even make it half way to my goal. But I don’t at all consider it a failure- I still read about fifteen more books this year than last, and I have no doubt that I’ll read even more in 2020.

Liz’s 2019 Book List

These are simply listed in the order I read them, with asterisks next to the five I most highly recommend at this time, based on how interesting they were, how much I learned from them this year, and their ability to influence my research and work. I read very little fiction, therefore I feel that the couple novels on the list deserve an imaginary and automatic asterisk for being amazing.

1) Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk

2) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

3) The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule

4) Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Laura Jane Grace

5) Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston

6) Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, David Goggins

*7) Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

8) Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

*9) Deep Work, Cal Newport

10) Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport

11) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara

*12) How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence, Michael Pollan

13) Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg

14) The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

*15) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh

16) Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking it All with the Greatest Chef in the World, Jeff Gordinier

17) The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, Stacy Schiff

18) The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, Shawn Achor

*19) Into The Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro, Rachel Slade

20) Shit the Moon Said: A Story of Sex, Drugs, and Ayahuasca, Gerard Powell

21) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next on the List / Will Read Before 2020:

22) The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker

Frozen 2 Isn’t Just For Kids

Simply put, I think Frozen 2 was written for adults trying to find our way.

I’m not writing this post to debate whether or not the Frozen franchise is feminist, or to analyze how well (or not well) Disney represents indigenous cultures and tackles the humongous feat of teaching young minds about colonialism. Those are fantastic topics for a blog, and I’m sure there are hundreds of posts out there deconstructing every Disney film with a fine-tooth comb. So I’m taking a far different approach – spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, much of this may not make sense.

Oprah introduced me to the idea that in our lives we will be guided by what she calls “whispers.” Subtle and sometimes tiny signs from inside of ourselves (or possibly from a larger force, like the universe, “god,” or whatever you believe in) guiding us to our purpose, if we take the time to listen. Often we ignore these signs because the thought of disrupting our predictable lives to pursue anything different is scary, and journeying into unknown territory isn’t something that many of us do willingly. After a period of ignoring the whispers, the universe makes the signs bigger, and louder, and if we continue to refuse action the whisper will turn into a life-altering scream. Forcing us out of our perceived comfort zone, and right into the unknown.

“What do you want, because you’ve been keeping me awake? Are you here to distract me, so I make a big mistake? Or are you someone out there, who’s a little bit like me, who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?”

I think everyone can relate to this scenario in one way or another. You struggle with your job and consider quitting to do something more meaningful. Years go by, and every sign is pointing you to move on, but you’re afraid to leave. Then you get fired.

You’ve been in a relationship that you know is bad for you. You’re not growing and flourishing but never leave because of the consequences that action could bring on. And who wants to be single again? Then you get dumped.

You get the point. You knew all along that those things weren’t right for you, but since you didn’t take the “whispers” advice to take action, you were shoved back onto your path in a different and more disruptive way. And most of the time, it works out for the better. Because the truth is: Everything is the unknown, so you should take the risk. The mythical and symbolic river who is “full of memory” is inside of you all along.

“In her waters, deep and true, lie the answers, and a path for you… Yes she will sing to those who hear, and in her song all magic flows. But can you brave what you most fear? Can you face, what the river knows?

The idea of a comfort zone is a false construction of our minds, because anything can happen at any time and we have little control over the outcome. Sure, staying at that job that makes you chronically unhappy may be “predictable” and “safe,” but is it really? No, because you could lose it anyway. Our brain does have certain evolutionary mechanisms in place to keep us safe, but typically our everyday risks don’t include whether or not conditions are ideal for leaving the village to slay a wooly mammoth. They include things like starting a blog or going to the gym. Going on a date with someone new, or starting that Etsy shop. The only things that never change are the inevitability of time passing, our inability to control it, and the very unpredictable nature of life: Everything can and will change. So we may as well live our lives and treasure the moment.

“Some things never change, turn around and the time has flown. Some things stay the same, though the future remains unknown. May our good luck last, may our past be past. Time’s moving fast it’s true. Some things never change, and I’m holding on tight to you.”

Then we have a piece of this equation that I think is often omitted from the “life’s purpose” discussions: The idea that since we’re adults we know everything. I believe that a huge piece of the happiness puzzle is related to realizing that we know very little, almost nothing. As an adult we have constructed a complex memory of truths: How things are and should be, what is safe and what isn’t, how our lives should be lived, and what is ridiculous and unbelievable. Our sense of wonder and unknowing evaporates over time, and I think for a lot of us disappears altogether. Again, these shortcuts have been constructed in our human brains to make living easier. If we looked at everything with new and wondering eyes each time, we’d be a lot like Dory wandering through the ocean and we wouldn’t get much done. But there is definitely an argument out there for why that might make us happier, even if evolutionarily we may not last long. We essentially train ourselves to see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. This can be depressing if we focus on what a small and myopic version of our world this lets us in on, or it can be exciting if we realize that there is so much more to discover if we allow ourselves to open our eyes in different ways to see something new.

Ultimately, the realization that we know almost nothing and understand very little can lead to a sense of peace with the unknown (which is everything). And I think it can help us to see more of our life and world through the wondrous eyes of a child (or a magical snowman) if we realize that nothing makes sense once we’re older, we will not feel more secure, and we’re okay with that.

“Growing up means adapting, puzzling at your world and your place.”

We’re never done growing up, so the universe is full of possibilities and magical things we can’t even begin to comprehend. We may as well keep learning and growing. The real unknown, in my opinion, is positive. It’s the journey you go on with yourself as you discover who you can be. Self discovery can be difficult, and simultaneously rewarding. Shedding your old skin to inhabit a new one should constantly be happening on our journey to becoming more of ourselves and discovering our purpose. Stepping into your power, or “showing yourself” will be disruptive, life-altering, and you may even feel like you’ve lost everything to get there. But it is possible to struggle and to be more empowered than ever in the same moment. “Do the next right thing” applies to everyone, and I think is particularly useful advise for adults who find ourselves constantly lost. A live-in-the-moment step by step approach can help us through difficult times, but can also help us to appreciate the great ones, once we’re ready to learn.

“Show yourself. Step into your power. Grow yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for, all of your life. Show yourself.”

3 Lessons From My Husband

Today is my husband’s birthday. I’m up at 5am to write while Kanan sleeps so we’ll have the day to spend together once he wakes up. I know that I haven’t given much history about our relationship, and rarely divulge details about his life specifically, focusing mainly on relevant information for our topic at hand. So today, in an attempt to shine light on the person that my husband is, I’m going to share three big lessons that my husband has taught me about life in our last (almost) six years together.

If there’s one thing about Kanan’s personality that has always perplexed and fascinated me, it’s his ability to consistently be one step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to matters of “zen.” I use that term loosely and metaphorically to mean calm, collected, and unchanged by his surroundings. When we first met I mistook his disinterest in most things as aloofness, dismissiveness, and an overall indifference or dispassion, but I know now that my husband cares more deeply than anyone I’ve met, he’s just remarkably good at choosing what few things he cares about.

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Lesson #1: “Structure Your Life Differently.”

If I had a dollar for every time this phrase exited my husband’s mouth or came through to me via text message, I’d be rich, and I wouldn’t need to structure my life differently.

Over the years Kanan has seen me grow from a mid-twenties employee with undefined dreams to an early thirties small business owner with fairly clear goals for our future.

I’ve discovered that when I have an end goal in mind I will work relentlessly toward it regardless of the time and energy that it takes to get there, even if it means depleting every resource I have in the process. Sometimes this takes years to complete. Sometimes the “end goal” is so obscure and far off in the distance that it’s almost impossible for anyone else to see, let alone support. But I see it.

Kanan may not notice what I’m able to predict. He observes my chaotic life, chalk full of work and stress. I see myself lay one more brick down each day I wake up with intention. It may not look like much now, but someday I’ll build my castle, revel in it, then move on to something new. I thrive on accomplishment and projects. I find happiness in the process of building, not necessarily the “finished” result – consequently this means I’m never really done and I’m almost never satisfied.

He watches me struggle and sometimes doesn’t realize that I share his same vision. Laying a brick a day will get us there, I promise, but you need to trust me. A decade later, and the foundation is complete. Still a lot of castle to build, but it’s got something solid to stand on. Structuring your life differently takes time. Great things aren’t built overnight. Strategies take trial and error to perfect; systems take years to run smoothly. I’d work seven days a week, and teeter on the precipice of burnout – he’d say “structure your life differently.” I’d be at the end of my rope spending every “personal” moment on my phone working. What should I do? Structure my life differently. To him, its easy. A simple answer to any of those parts of my life I am not satisfied with.

His point: When I’m “done” I’m never done. So I may as well create a life I love to live in the process of building. Structure my life differently. 

It’s not that I didn’t understand this concept before – I feel like I have quite a clear understanding of what it takes to create a life you actually want, basically full of work I enjoy, people I enjoy, and activities that give me joy, purpose, and meaning. But for me it will take years to even define what that looks like, and I imagine it will be fluid and constantly in flux. But I feel like when he emphasizes that point to me, it’s his subtle and effective way to reiterate that I am the creator of my life and I do have the power to change it, and make it however I dream. It’s up to me, and he knows I can do it. After all, if I’m not happy with something in my life, all I need to do is do it differently.

Lesson #2: Leveling up is hard, but a great partnership will force you to level up constantly, and forever.

I resist what my husband tells me to do. My husband resists what I tell him to do. Together we end up stubbornly encouraging each other to become better people.

What I’ve discovered is that my husband and I chose each other for big reasons, and each one of us has greatly valuable qualities to bring to our table. So when we resist each other because of our strength and stubbornness, eventually one of us will rise to join the other. And when we really clash, it’s because one of us just hasn’t quite figured out how to get up to that next level yet. But with enough encouragement, we will.

This happens in small ways, like snoozing my alarm. I used to be that person. Snooze the alarm every single day for however long it takes to get out of bed in the morning. Kanan explicitly hated this behavior because it disrupts his sleep, and we had many arguments about it, until stubbornly and angrily I made it a point to get out of bed immediately, every single day as soon as my alarm went off. Annoyed and stubborn, I now am a more productive person who loves the morning and looks forward to quiet time alone with my coffee, my books, and my computer. Why would I want to waste that wonderful peaceful time snoozing?

This also happens in big ways, like eating more plant foods, a significant and long-term lifestyle change. Over the years Kanan has resisted my dietary choices being “pushed on him” and has explicitly made it clear to not tell him what to eat. It turns out, the squeaky vegan wheel gets the grease. When I see my husband packing his mostly (if not entirely) raw, plant based lunches for work everyday, coming home for his post-work kale, ginger, celery smoothie it does two things. It instantly makes me happy that we’re headed down this healthy, long path together, but also makes me realize that I can do better too. I don’t eat kale everyday; there’s always room to improve and grow.

When my husband and I seem to disagree, I now try to step back and look for the lesson inside the clashing of two stubborn individuals. We both want what’s best for us, so who needs the boost up to the next rung? The other one of us will be more that happy to provide it.

Lesson #3: Protect Your Time.

This last lesson I’ll share with you wraps back around to the initial idea of my husband as the “zen master.” Kanan is not a meditation expert. He doesn’t do yoga. He’s certainly not Buddhist. He has fairly liberal beliefs but is in no way carefree or someone I’d call a free spirit. He has not reached enlightenment. Nor is he wearing a poncho and selling beads in the park. My point: he’s neither a true zen master, or a wannabe zen master. He’s just himself.

He is an adamant nonconformist in his own way. He’s so punk rock about his time that it fascinates me and encourages me on my digital minimalism journey. Simply put, Kanan understands with no degree of uncertainty that his time is his own, and he is allowed to selfishly protect it. He can exist amongst the chaos and remain himself, a calm center.

Social media? Not worth the time or energy. Texting? Only if absolutely necessary, or to appease his text-happy wife. Facetime is a solid no. Calling is a sometimes and only for the most important in his life. He refuses to make plans if he even has an inkling he may not want to participate in something or may want to just relax and do what he wants. He doesn’t feel the need to answer to anyone about how he spends his personal time, and most of the time that philosophy does apply to me. And while this can frustrate me sometimes as his behavior can appear to be noncommittal or selfish (which it is), he generally encourages me to live the same way. Selfishly with my time, even when it pertains to matters involving him.

This has taught me that being selfish with my time is okay, and that respecting each other’s time is important. It’s taught me not to dole it out indiscriminately, and to really decide if something or someone is worth letting into my life and space. My husband is basically a minimalist at heart, and someone so confident in himself that he can live his life from his own center, allowing in only the things that mean most to him. That is a skill most of us have to actively cultivate with things like exercise, meditation, learning – strategies. I joke that Kanan has had it figured out since I met him. I thought he was antisocial and afraid to commit. It turns out he just wanted to make sure I was someone he wanted to give his most precious resource to before he decided to marry me. What a way to live.

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Wedding Photos:

https://www.hennygraphy.com

Self Care Won’t Save Your Mental Health

This blog post was supposed to be about float pods and their mental and physical health benefits. Which are real, and I have personally found to be quite amazing. Consequently, I found myself reflecting on all the “self-care” we do in an attempt to be happy, or to curb anxiety and stress. To distract ourselves from our daily lives, to escape. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of what has now been popularized across social media platforms as “self care.” I think treating yourself to spa days, bubble baths, and Netflix binges on occasion can be a good thing. I think the problem is that we’re treating symptoms and not causes. We’re oversimplifying mental health and putting a pretty band-aid on a much bigger problem: Why do we need to escape in the first place? Incorporating relaxation and taking time for yourself is one small piece of maintaining a mentally healthy lifestyle, but lying in a float pod is not going to treat my depression.

When it comes to becoming the most physically healthy version of myself, I feel like I have the puzzle pieces identified. I may not always put them together correctly, or at all, but I’m at least aware of their existence. The method in which I need to put them together to create something that’s organized, beautiful, and that makes sense is a formula that I understand. Consistency. I try to eat mostly whole plant foods, I no longer eat refined sugar, I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs, and I work out six days a week, mixing pilates, yoga, lifting, running, and leisure activities. I sleep at least seven hours a night. I’ve been on a three-year-long mission to become healthy. And although I do recognize my body as a lifelong work in progress, at least I’m not confused about how to maintain my lifestyle. Eat whole plant foods, sleep, exercise, and stretch. If I don’t take the time to do these things, I do not feel my best. For me, staying active with intention is the key – filling my life with fulfilling activities gives me purpose, creates goals, and gives me confidence that my future with my husband will be long and meaningful.

Mental health is not the same. Lately I’ve been feeling like all the puzzle pieces in my head are jumbled – thrown together on a garage sale table or tossed into a thrift store bin. The kind where kids have taken key pieces out, swapped them, crinkled them into balls, or mixed them up to the point where they’re unrecognizable. The Thomas Kinkade missing key elements. The castle without the flag. Do we just piece together what we can and ignore the holes and scratches? Do we try to jam things into spaces where they don’t belong? What if I don’t even know what goes there? The startling realization that the answer to all of these hypothetical questions is literally: “I don’t know” is confusing and overwhelming. Typing the word overwhelming seems silly because sometimes it feels more like the end of the world, and less like a task that can be overcome with enough hard work.

If you were to ask me if I’m doing okay, my answer may likely be no, even though I’m very happy with my life. I have no idea where to go from there.

In a nutshell: Being overweight and developing type two diabetes is common on both sides of my family. So I eat healthy and exercise. Simple enough. But alcoholism, addiction, and mental health disorders also appear frequently and on both sides of my family. I stopped drinking and put systems in place to support organization, a meaningful schedule, work I enjoy, and healthy habits, but simply put, I struggle constantly with depression anyway. As I lay on the massage table and drift away (every other week), or as I’m getting my nails done (every other Tuesday), my hair done (every six weeks), or a facial or pedicure (about every month) I am painfully aware of the fact that we are fragile, and one day I could wake up changed for the worse. Unable to recognize it or go back. I could already be there. And from there the anxiety begins and grows into a depression that takes over my mind.

What pulls me out of that cycle is my real life, that is wonderful and meaningful. My husband, friends and family, my hobbies, my writing, my work – the life I have constructed intentionally and make the effort to maintain daily drowns out the fear until I forget it for a brief moment. And in that moment I feel like I can rise above the cloud, and get just enough air to fill my lungs. And then I struggle to hold my breath until the next time I can come up.

I tend to focus on physical health because even though it can sometimes be hard, it’s mostly easy and I can control much of the outcome. And it does help my mental state to a degree. The stress and anxiety has become slightly more manageable because every minute of my life is planned, scheduled, calculated, weighed for importance, and placed in categories. Lifting weights doesn’t hurt. It’s more difficult to lose your marbles amongst an extraordinarily predictable and intentional life, or so I tell myself. 

But after three years in the fog, and another three years hovering slightly above it, I am confused and exhausted trying to fix myself. Because I love my life and yet I still struggle, almost daily, to keep myself above the cloud. So I thought I’d write to contextualize my current choices, and to explain my reality. Digital minimalism is just one concept helping me unpack my mental baggage. I’m actively beginning my mental health journey, and I am thankful that I have a strong foundation of healthy habits to build from. 

Currently I’m experimenting with everything from CBD to meditation, and have been actively learning about how to heal myself without pharmaceuticals. I start therapy on Wednesday morning at 9am. (About six years too late.) The receptionist explained that since I am a new patient, my therapist would like us to note some reasons for my appointment, and I said: “How long do you have? I bet everyone makes that joke.”

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Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

http://www.photosbykimberlyann.com/contact.html

3 Reasons It’s Hard Being Vegan

“It’s expensive.”

“My family isn’t supportive.”

“I can’t get the nutrients I need to meet my fitness goals.”

“I can’t eat anything.”

“The jokes and public ridicule never stop.”

“My husband only eats meals with meat.”

“I crave animal products all the time.”

NONE OF THOSE ARE THEM.

Do you notice any vegans complaining about these things? No – not anyone who commits to a vegan lifestyle in full for a time period long enough to reap the benefits. Why is that? Because these are actually excuses or ideas perpetuated by dominant culture, and by people who aren’t vegan. These may be occasional annoyances for vegans, but things that are truly, actually hard? No. They’re reasons people give themselves to not go vegan, because if you’ve never done it, how would you know what’s hard about it? The interesting thing about choosing to omit as much harm as possible from your life is that your perspective on what is “hard” drastically changes, because your priorities and the way that you view the world shifts dramatically. Let me explain.

1) Dominant culture assumes that vegans think we’re superior to everyone. That we’re “preachy” and believe that our moral framework is the only one that matters. The hard part about that: We are vegan because we DO NOT believe that we’re superior to anyone. Illegitimizing and silencing social movements is the norm, therefore dominant culture and what is accepted as truth is what takes on an actual role of superior “knowledge.” We are actually challenging that superiority with a different framework.

The idea that humans are the superior species is rooted in religion and history (patriarchy and white supremacy) and science has been used to justify colonization and destruction of our planet based on this assumption. Animals are here for us, not with us, and therefore we should dominate them and consequently dominate nature and the earth. Even so, throughout history only the most privileged groups of humans have truly benefited from this thinking. From my experience, even the vegans who stop eating animals for health or environmental reasons eventually conclude that we are not superior to all the other souls on this planet, we were just lucky enough to be born into the body of the species that happens to be on the top of the food chain for this very short blip in time. But the universe is vast, and to assume my life is more important that anyone else’s is not only foolish, but naive and selfish. The proof is in climate change, preventable disease, species extinction, world hunger, and institutionalized inequality.

Ultimately, I do not think that we can break down systems of power and inequality without realizing that each day, 99% of the population is choosing to dominate and kill other species based on the idea that we are inherently superior. And these choices are not only killing animals, but our earth and ourselves as well.

2) Watching my friends and family members pay to perpetuate a system I strongly want to dismantle is hard.

The closest thing I can compare this experience to is the connection people are now making with “the personal is political.” Whether you choose to admit it or not, the food choices (and basically every choice you make) is a political one. You vote for the world you want to live in every single time you spend money or make a choice. How you live your day-to-day life is your political position whether you’re willing to admit it or not, just by existing and navigating throughout your day.

Some people are beginning to realize this, and it makes it harder to separate our friends and family from their political choices. Rightfully so. It seems that until recently many of us were willing to overlook our loved ones’ behaviors and somehow compartmentalize them into a political box separate from their identity. In my opinion, that is absurd.

Therefore, choosing to be vegan is a political choice. Watching friends and family claim to love animals but then eat and wear them makes no sense. Having those closest to me seem disturbed by violent and horrific factory farming practices pay their hard-earned money to keep these businesses afloat shakes me. Most people claim to be kind and compassionate – in theory we want to do as little harm as possible because we are empathetic beings. But we have separated ourselves from our food production to the extent that our values directly contradict our behaviors. And many of us are complicit to continue down this path of least resistance even though the cost is so high. We’re consuming death, and therefore we’re dying and our planet is dying. It’s impossible for me to accept that once you know these things your behavior wouldn’t change. But most of the time, for most people, it doesn’t.

Accepting that our friends and family are the ones working in direct opposition to our goals and their own best interest (even when most of them know the truth) is hard.

3) Going vegan will cause you to hold yourself at a higher standard of behavior, and therefore recognize that it is your responsibility to challenge this unjust world to help it become better. You have to do this through example, and some are waiting for you to fail. That is hard.

It’s an extremely complex thing to explain, but once you begin to reject violence as normal, everything in your life will change. There is a consciousness shift that occurs once you remove harm from your day to day life that will ripple positivity outward into everything you do. For me, this began with going vegetarian, then vegan, then I began asking myself what other ways I’m contributing to harmfulness in the world. How can I be better? I can shop locally, I can be more mindful of the clothes I buy, I can support companies who value animal and human rights above a larger profit margin. Going vegan influences all of your decisions, and I would argue, only in a positive way. It’s like you’re systematically eliminating the negativity from your life when you stop accepting it and paying for it.

Personally, I’m more motivated to reach fitness goals because I feel more physically capable. I quit drinking alcohol altogether and try to eat less processed foods which has vastly diminished my depression and anxiety. Intellectually, veganism has encouraged me to keep learning. For the first time in years I feel motivated to write so I started this blog and have been freelancing a bit on the side. And ultimately I’m realizing that my purpose is pushing me toward education and activism so I can more formally teach these ideas. And the best part of all these positive changes is that they multiply, and spread from person to person, making my relationships and community better.

Because all of this is so AMAZING and life-changing, vegans want to share it with everyone. And few people are willing to listen, and even fewer people are willing to change. So this can be discouraging, sad, and frustrating. It can be difficult to not feel defeated and depressed because the world is changing slower than we’d like it to. That is hard.

But I come back to that mantra: “Choose your hard.” I’ve chosen truth over convenience, and I believe that is the key to happiness. As Shawn Achor says: “Happiness is striving toward your potential.” Unless you’re willing to face these truths, I don’t believe you can achieve your potential as someone who can enact change outside of yourself to make the world better. Veganism helps to widen your lens outside of your own selfish ego and personal needs to recognize knowledge is peace and that these issues are much larger than ourselves.

The “hard” things in my life now stem from a place of compassion, kindness, and positive social change.

New Goals & My Life’s Purpose

Everybody Loves Raymond is one of my favorite shows. There’s an episode where Ray decides that there must be more to life than he currently has: A successful career, a loving family, a nice home, a retirement plan. His wife Debra confronts this idea with a response like: “Maybe you feel like there’s nothing left to achieve because you have everything you’ve always wanted.” Basically, you have everything; stop complaining. This throws Ray into somewhat of an existential crisis, unsure if his current routine will fulfill him for the rest of his years. He’s only in his early forties from what I can tell and the thought of there being nothing left to achieve makes life seem repetitious and somewhat pointless. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it privilege – sometimes I think we should acknowledge those feelings as subtle encouragement from ourselves (and the universe, if you’re into that) to pursue things that we’re drawn to, even if we’re unsure the reason. Because there is usually a big reason.

The idea that because we have reached a certain pinnacle of “success” we will be happy or fulfilled is completely false. Success is arbitrary and fluid. We’ve let others define what success means for us. Research has found that external conditions have almost nothing to do with internal happiness. Getting that job may cause us to experience temporary joy but does not predict long-term happiness. Why? Because there is more to being human than getting a promotion and making more money, but that’s what we’ve been taught to strive for.

This brings up the dilemma that I’ve been pondering recently. Can I simultaneously have gratitude and live with happiness in the moment while recognizing that I need more out of this life? While acknowledging that what I am currently doing is not fulfilling my purpose?

Five short years ago I was in the darkest place that I’ve ever been. Depressed, anxious, sad. I had lost my job and a person very important to me has unexpectedly died. But now I truly believe that without losing what I thought was everything, I wouldn’t have felt free to do anything I wanted to. Which brings me to my current life that I would’ve never had, had things not fallen completely apart.

Recently I’ve started to wonder if the life that I’m living now is the facilitator instead of the end-all be-all. I have my amazing husband, my dogs, my business, my awesome sister and supportive clients because I’ve really worked hard and changed my habits to create this life. Because I currently have certain systems in place, I am now able to pursue things elsewhere that are calling me, and that have been quietly pushing me to them since I can remember. But I also recognize how temporary everything in life is, so I struggle to find the balance to enjoy where I currently am without thinking of the future all the time. I always thought that once I had worked hard enough to create this life I envisioned, I’d be content to coast – shockingly I’m finding this not to be the case. (That is sarcasm, for those of you that may not know me in person.) Coasting is okay temporarily, but I know that for me to feel fulfilled I need to contribute to my community, and to making the world a better place to live in. I’m realizing that I didn’t go vegetarian almost half my life ago on accident, my journalism degree wasn’t an arbitrary choice. I didn’t lose my job for no reason. I believe all these events were pushing me toward my true purpose. I’m realizing that perhaps turning one of my talents (makeup) into a full time successful career path is not my life’s dream and purpose, but because of it, I can pursue whatever my true purpose is. It’s confusing and difficult to face that. But for me, even writing the words “makeup is my passion” seems silly to me. Because it’s not, and I’d be lying to everyone if I said it was.

Working with amazing women who contribute to our community and world is one of my passions, helping women to feel valued is one of my passions, making deep and lasting connections is one of my passions. Contributing to making my community and world better is one of my passions. Each connection ripples out to create positive change and mutual support for us all. I feel like Two Beauties is a practical application of those passions meeting in one location. With beauty being the initial purpose that brought us together, but over the years meaningful relationships make those connections last. This whole time I’ve thought being a successful beauty professional was my end-goal, and now I’m realizing it’s not. But that doesn’t make me love it any less. After thinking this over for a long time now, I’m realizing it makes me love it even more. Because I realize how special and rare it is. How privileged I am to have created it with everyone else’s support. And how temporary all things in life are. So it encourages me to pour more heart into it. Isn’t that weird? When I initially began reflecting, I thought if I admitted these things to myself, it would influence me to put less of myself into my business, but it encourages me to do the opposite, because at the end of the day it isn’t really all about beauty, is it?

My current conclusion: You can have great gratitude and live in happiness each day even if you are pursuing new goals and dreams. As long as you’re not chasing them out of unhappiness. Why do we feel like we need to achieve something and always move on? Or correct our temporary problems by changing the scenery? Or think the next thing will be better than the last? Maybe we can add to our lives to make them more full and rich while appreciating what we already have just as much. We can love our lives already, while also adding in more lovely things.

For some reason, I keep visualizing myself in a huge open field of flowers, with a basket full of the ones I’ve already picked. Instead of dumping them out to find “new, better ones,” I’ve decided to add different ones that are just as beautiful, each one complimenting the last, until the bunch is overflowing.

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As part of this process, I’ve decided to say yes to things that make me feel uncomfortable, but that give me that gut feeling of pursuing my purpose. This is my first published article since college and my first freelance writing job ever. I have so much gratitude for the oppurtunity. It’s amazing how a little 250-word article in a local magazine can light me up and encourage me to ask these questions about my life. Being Vegan and using my writing to inform and inspire people to pursue it is what drives me, but it’s taken a long time for me to really figure that out. And I know this is only the beginning for me.

Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Edition: May 2019
Sensi Magazine, Emerald Triangle Edition: May 2019

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Check out the full issue at:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/document.issuu.com/190430165321-4dfd0e4d73e63dadcf57b1f32e9d7e1d/original.file?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIATDDRE5J76XO2TL4J&Expires=1556989386&Signature=J02FTsS40mqWz2vk7%2B6VTop70GQ%3D

Tattoo Stories

I went to my first tattoo appointment about four years ago, alone. I felt like I was being unreasonably impulsive to get it when Kanan was out of town working even though I had a consultation prior, and had been mulling over one of the ideas since I was sixteen years old. At this point I figured it was now or never, but for some reason I felt irresponsible, like a teenager making a choice they can’t take back. But if I’d had the idea for a decade, it probably wasn’t going to change. I had booked out months in advance for the artist’s soonest availability and he called me with a cancellation. Honestly, I’m not the fondest of needles but at this point I was so ready for new beginnings it didn’t matter to me. I had convinced myself that whatever pain I’d feel could only be a significant improvement over the last few years.

I had the idea to get the words “Constructive Deconstruction” tattooed on the inside of my left arm the first time I read Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, about ten years prior. In my previous post Why I’m Vegan Part 1 I go into detail about how the book influenced me to research factory farming and animal welfare, ultimately resulting in me becoming a vegetarian, and years later, a vegan. It had changed my life significantly when I was just sixteen years old, the protagonist’s mantra, the thread that tied the story together: Tear it down to rebuild. Constructive Deconstruction. If that idea made sense to me then, it’s crystal clear now.

Fast forward to college. I was taking one of my many Women’s Studies classes and we were assigned an essay by Audre Lorde. Her paper Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference would drive the “Constructive Deconstruction” point home with a intersectional feminist perspective so powerful, I took it as a sign that I had to carry those words with me permanently.

“The future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference. The old definitions have not served us, nor the earth that supports us. The old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions, of the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion.

For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

It gives me chills to this day even though now I have all but memorized it.

That first tattoo will always be the most deeply meaningful to me – it has become the mantra for my own life, giving me conviction to push forward and pave my own path through the pieces. Knowing that real change grows out of complete deconstruction gives me power. Knowing that I do not want to reform, and that I do not define the master’s house as my only source of support empowers me still.

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On that same day I got another tattoo that I believe is the counterpart to the constructive deconstruction idea: “Give me a reason to care, I’ll sing along forever.” A Bouncing Souls lyrics from their song Sing Along Forever on their 2003 album Anchors Aweigh. The script is my Grandma Brown’s handwriting, pulled, pieced together and traced from birthday cards and book inscriptions. She always encouraged me to read and learn, to do my own research and refuse to believe anything just because it was told to me. So I made a deal with myself. If I’m going to try to live a progressive life, if I’m going to tear things down to rebuild, I’m going to be open to the truth. I’m going to be willing to learn painful things and to relearn uncomfortable realities. I’m going to change the way I live when I learn my privilege. I’ll try my best to know better and actually do better. And if you give me that reason to care, I’ll make it one of my life’s goals to sing about it forever. Because what are ideas without action?

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I got my next tattoo a couple of years later on what I now call my “vegan arm.” I mean, my whole body is vegan, but my left arm is just more vocal about it. (Ha. Ha.) I essentially entrusted my new tattoo artist to create a half cow, half dog portrait with the words “Have courage and be kind” framing their sweet faces. And the work she did is perfection. We used a picture of a beautiful cow I found online, and a picture of my adorable border collie Moose. Connected with a flower crown, but split down the center, it’s meant to represent the idea that we’re all in this together, and we all have a responsibility to each other on this planet. Everyone’s soul matters, and the value that humans place on life is arbitrary and ignorant. I believe that everyone should have the right to their own life, and it shouldn’t be our choice to take it, no matter the species – they are a someone. The ironic part about this is that animals know this already, and they should be our teachers. They know how to be kind, and to only take life when necessary. It’s us humans that can’t figure that out.

I used the quote “Have courage and be kind” because it’s from one of my most favorite Disney movies: Cinderella. The remake. Her mother gives Cinderella this last bit of advice to her before she dies, and to me it’s simple but so complex. It’s something that I need to be reminded of daily, because having courage is only half of the equation. Finding a way to be kind in this life, to me, is the hard part. Not letting the world harden you as you discover inequalities and injustices, but being wise enough to push forward toward change with kindness in your heart and the belief that the world can be better. Hope. Knowing that kindness begets kindness, but you must have the courage to speak up and work toward change.

There’s a scene in the movie where the prince is hunting a stag and stumbles upon Cinderella on her horse in the woods.

Cinderella: “What’s he [the stag] ever done to you that you should chase him about?”

Prince: “I must confess I’ve never met him before. He is a friend of yours?”

Cinderella: “An acquaintance. We met just now. I looked into his eyes, and he looked into mine and I just felt that he had a great deal left to do with his life, that’s all… Please don’t let them hurt him.”

Prince: “But we’re hunting, see it’s how it’s done.”

Cinderella: “Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.”

She shifts his thinking of the stag as a thing, to a someone. With kindness. To me, there’s nothing better than working toward that balance.

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The most recent tattoo I have also has a complex story. In 2012, Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Against Me! interviewed for Rolling Stone Magazine, explaining she was transgender. I kept the magazine because it was revolutionary at the time and to me, she was so brave to announce to the world that she would be identifying as a woman moving forward. I also thought it was great journalism.

Over the years I’ve gone to a few of their amazing concerts, but actually had the opportunity to meet her in person at Humboldt State University at a small acoustic show she played for around $20 a ticket to promote her book Tranny. Which is amazing. I brought my magazine from years prior that I dug out from under a million books and papers, with the off chance she might sign it for me. And she did, with one of my favorite lyrics: “There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve.” I had my new tattoo artist place this on the back of my arm, opposite my Bouncing Soul’s lyric on what I now call my “punk rock arm.”

To me, the song The Ocean represents the undying persistence to discover your true self. It represents the not-giving-up during the tumultuous repetition of life that attempts to strip you of yourself, but in doing so makes you more authentically you if you let it. It’s about that night at their concert playing The Ocean when my sister and I knew it was that exact moment where the crowd would move from jumping in symbiotic unison to violently tearing through each other in an instant, so in a half second we grabbed each others hands and held on tight. It’s the strongest and the calmest. It’s the most volatile and yet the most flexible. The ocean grounds itself around whatever obstacles appear, while ultimately being uncontrolled.

“There is an ocean in my soul, where the waters do not curve.”

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Tattoos 1 & 2 by Henry at Sailor’s Grave Tattoo, Eureka CA

Tattoos 3 & 4 by Stacey at Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA