Archive | March 2012

My Story

My story.

To add to the life transition/ moments of clarity, of late, I was talking with my photography teacher (Mr. K) after class last night.

For a little background, since January I’ve been taking a Digital Photography class through the local community college. We meet for 4 hours on Tuesday nights. I’m an avid photographer documenting nearly everything from what I eat, to life events, to a particularly interesting road sign or flower bed. And I’d been wanting to upgrade my point and shoot Samsung to a more formalized DSLR (as my old SLR used 35mm film). So I made the switch and signed up for the class for a refresher, and to get the most out of my new camera.

The class has been excellent – we spent time reviewing the mechanics of photography (focus, aperture, lighting, exposure, etc.), and learning how to manipulate and use the functions on our DSLRs. The best part of the class (I think), has been our photo journals – each week we have a homework assignment (portraits, still life, etc.) that helps us apply what we’re learning. We take specific photos, print them, and record the settings used to create the photo as well as any notes on time of day, weather, location, or any random thoughts. I’ve really enjoyed looking back through my journal and seeing how my skills have progressed, as well as remembering each photo – where I took it, why I took it, how I composed it, etc.

Yesterday, it was class as usual. We’d gone to City Hall (which is a great location for portraits in the late afternoon, by the way) for a class trip, and once the sun went down, Mr. K spoke a bit about lighting for outdoor portraits and then we all packed up and got ready to head home around 9pm.

I stayed behind to ask a couple of questions about group portraits (here’s what I learned in a nutshell: use a smaller aperture for greater depth of field to try and get more folks in view, and try to position the subjects on the same plane as well as create warmth/connection between them by having them lean in/sit or stand close, etc.). And Mr. K gave me some tips, and then offered to drive me to my car (since I parked a couple blocks away; parking in Downtown Austin can be a pain).

While he was driving me back to my car, he remembered a series (collection of photos) I’d discussed with him. My series was going to be focused on chairs (why chairs? well, with a back injury, I have a love/hate relationship with chairs of all kinds; I’ve never felt such emotion toward a physical object before).

I explained that I hadn’t done much with it lately. I tried, but the chairs I’d been using were cumbersome and difficult to lug around to photograph. I’d taken some photos of “found chairs” (i.e., NYC subway seats, benches in parks), but it wasn’t quite the same idea I’d been going for. And plus, with my recent level of stress and schedule craziness, I’d honestly been doing all I could just to complete the homework assignments – chairs had mostly faded from the forefront of my mind.

Mr. K encouraged me not to give up on the chair idea, to keep trying. He actually suggested I search for an older chair, one made of of lightweight material (e.g., wicker, or hollow wood, etc.), and one that “spoke to me” in some way.

But then he asked me the most meaningful question:

“Sarah, what’s your story?”

He explained that he was working on a series of wet plate (yes, photography circa the 1800s – Google it, it’s really neat) photos that were telling a story of two men who made decisions to become either good or evil through physical items (for instance, pitchforks). But then he said that in general, there’s always an undercurrent to one’s photography (of any kind, wet plate, digital, etc.). He said one photographer might choose to make a comment on society with his/her photos – they feel that the world is consumed with materialism, for instance, and so they focus their photography on showing society engorged with money and things. And so again he said:

“What’s your story?”

As you might have guessed, this rang true on many levels (see an earlier related post on Personal Mission Statement). With the recent news from grad schools, sitting in pre-trial limbo from the lawsuit, and realizing that the me of today is not the me of just a few years ago, “my story” is on the forefront of my mind these days.

What do I want to share with the world? What do I find most important? What moves me?

I thought I had those questions all figured out; crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s.

Now, not so much. Or maybe, I did have it all figured out, but only relative to what I knew at the time. Now I have more information, and as I said, I’m not the same me. Well, I’m still Sarah, but I’m a different Sarah. the quest for self-identity and self-expression has been reframed, redirected.

So I’ll be thinking about my story for awhile. But I’ll figure it out again.

What’s your story? And how did you determine it?

Thanks for reading, S

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Stuck

U2 has a great song (well, one of many) called Stuck in a Moment.

You’ve got to get yourself together,

You’ve got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.

Don’t say that later will be better, now you’re stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.

Those lyrics have rung true a few times before…teen angst, break ups, family issues…

And well, now again.

For those of you keeping track, I received replies from all of the graduate schools I applied to for Fall 2012.

I was rejected from all seven programs.

I could heed U2 – really try to un-stick myself- but wow, this is a bit of a larger rut than normal.

For years, since the beginning of undergrad in ’04 actually, I’ve been steadily planning to pursue a PhD in Organizational Psych/Organizational Behavior. I methodically mapped out the courses to take, read the readings, completed the thesis, fulfilled internship requirements, attended a Masters program, read the latest literature, joined the APA, worked hard on an independent proposal and study, found a job in a research related field, honed my skills…

But the universe has decided otherwise.

Now to be fair, I struggled with the GRE (took it a few times), and I knew that at this stage, my scores alone could be enough to thwart my admission chances. But I hoped for a a holistic review, and I hoped that my GPA, experience and thirst for knowledge and furthering the field, would carry me through.

Close – I made it to the 3rd round at one school – but no cigar.

Also, a few months ago I began wondering whether this path I had so meticulously adhered to and set into action, was still the best fit for me. These thoughts came about due to my physicality (the post-effects of my accident in 2009, which I still can’t fully disclose but the lawsuit is nearing closure, so I’ll write more soon), my life goals, and my relationship with Dan. I know that I will forever need a very flexible professional situation from now on – I can’t sit for long periods of time, nor stand; I don’t want to be married to my work but I want something intellectually stimulating and self-fulfilling that helps others; and I want a strong, stable partnership with someone I love (plus, great friendships and colleagues). And I wasn’t sure a PhD in Org Psych/OB would fit those criteria anymore.

But, what do I do when the stoplight flashes red without a green arrow to follow? Or even a yellow?

I have no side project I’ve been nurturing, no Plan B.

What now?

On the one hand, I’ve been given the ultimate golden ticket – the pass to pursue whatever I want, because I “completed” the entirety of my prior task/journey, and that chapter can be closed with me knowing I did everything I could. Now I can go uninhibited and without regret into the future, the bright, big, shining future.

Here’s the thing – what future?

When you’ve been holding onto something for so long, building into your life, your identity, it’s very hard to let it go. Even if doing so feels a bit freeing. Even if doing so feels a little more right.

Where to now?

I don’t know…I’ll have to figure things out. Or as Dan said, “we’ll figure it out.” I should allow him to help me with this – I have to be willing to break free of my past and embrace something different.

Sigh…change is a challenge, especially when my first instinct is to revolt at all costs, kicking and screaming. “No, no, no!”

But, what can I do. To spend lots of energy on self-pity, stubborn attachment to what no longer exists, and pining for things that will not be, while gratifying to the sorrowful ego, is hardly food for self-improvement.

But how do you pick up the pieces of a dream that has died?

Do you cradle them and try to piece them together with glue?

Or do you pick them up at all? Do you leave them by the wayside? Do you give them a funeral?

Or do you wave goodbye and move forward hoping to find a new dream further on?

Life seems to provide more questions than answers. On I go.

Thanks for reading, S

Partner Dancing – Year One

For a slight diversion from the mostly life-path oriented self-reflective streams of late, I’d like to write a bit more about partner dancing.

It’s been just about a year since Dan and I started partner dancing.

Our very first exposure to the experience came about as a means of an interesting date idea.

Dan discovered my intrinsic, long-time love of dance (seriously, I have been dancing in some form since age 3, it’s true – I started dance lessons at age 3 and when he and I met I was taking tap classes). Thus, he thought it might be a fun activity to try together. So we started where many a couple might – YouTube. We came across an instructional video for the Box Step in Waltz and attempted to follow the pattern around my living room floor. It was a valiant effort, but we both decided that maybe attending a class in person might be a better fit.

So one Friday night we went to a nearby studio for Newcomer night and took two short 40 min lessons – looking back, I think one of the lessons was a type of East Coast Swing and the other maybe Foxtrot? – and then we found a community focused on Lindy Hop, and migrated to an inexpensive local group of experienced social dancers who offered lessons, and then bought an unlimited pass for a studio, Dan decided to try competing with a dance partner, we attended Swing City Chicago, and well…

Over the last year we’ve taken lessons and danced: American Waltz, Viennese Waltz, American Tango, Jitterbug, Jive, West Coast Swing, Country Two Step, Nightclub Two Step, Country Waltz, Hustle, Blues, Lindy Hop, Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, ChaCha, Rumba…and there might be others I’m forgetting. Needless to say we’re both hooked.

Lately, we’ve been focusing mainly on West Coast Swing, Country Two Step, Nightclub and Waltz, American Waltz and Blues.

West Coast Swing – this is definitely a favorite of mine, but perhaps one of the more technically challenging. Connection in West Coast is a challenge for me (well, it’s a challenge across all partner dances, but especially in WC), but I think I’ve improved in some aspects compared to a year ago. Styling is especially fun in this dance because the follower has lots of options for incorporating footwork or gestures. I love the contemporary R&B, Hip Hop and Pop music you can dance to (also some Country, Rock and Blues, too), and how Dan can invent new patterns on the fly by combining the elements of different patterns or steps. I can spend hours and hours watching videos of accomplished West Coast dancers. Currently my favorite professional duo is Tatiana Mollman and Jordan Frisbee. Check them out here at a 2009 competition.

Country Two Step, Nightclub and Waltz- country dancing is lots of fun; the music is especially unique (I hear a few snickers and a few “yee-haws!” out there), but I’m not just talking about Americana – moreso the timing and musical accents. I’ve found Two Step to be fairly easy to pick up, though a challenge to execute correctly – the follower can spin almost endlessly in Two Step which has definitely caused me to step up (no pun intended) my turning abilities. Nightclub is very graceful and romantic, though the timing is perhaps the most tricky. Waltz is fun and depending on the style (we’ve found there is one commonly used that progresses and another that is more traditional like American Waltz), can be a good dance to mix in when you’re tiring of Two Step. We’ve also dabbled in Triple Two Step, but I’ve never taken a formalized class in it nor danced it extensively, so I can’t quite add that to our country repertoire.

American Waltz – as an almost incurable romantic, I love the Ballroom Waltzes (American, International, Viennese, etc.). Although I listen to quite a bit of Classical music, waltzes one can dance to tend to be a bit more akin to contemporary adaptations of Blue Danube or Hollywood Glam era show tunes, than a composition from the greats. But nevertheless, waltzes are beautiful and picturesque to watch when done by an accomplished dancer. Waltzes are also very technically challenging with particular foot placement and postural requirements. The beauty is not without great care and effort.

Blues- as one who listens to a wide range of Jazz and Blues music already, I’m familiar with the rhythmic components and pairing that to dancing has been fun. Blues dancing is often referred to as “slow dancing” but it’s much more than the side to side sway a-la- high school prom. Connection is paramount to blues, as it is largely improvisational, and in my experience, blues really tests the communication between dance partners. From what I’m told, Blues and West Coast Swing both belong to the smooth/swing category of partner dances (which also includes Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing variants like Jitterbug and Jive), but Blues is just…well bluesy, and unlike any other dance I’ve done. Here’s an example of a duo local to Austin actually: Campbell and Chris, who are incredible to watch.

Beyond learning the dances though, what partner dancing has done (maybe not surprisingly) is:

– forced me to confront my flaws and faults (both physically and mentally/emotionally) – and this is something I’m still working on

– opened up entire communities of people (new friends!) with a shared interest in dancing

– taught me how to dance (and in place of “dance” you could insert “work with” “co-exist”, etc.) with others – as a long-time individual dancer, partnership dancing has brought an entirely new vocabulary and awareness of how my body moves and interacts with that of others

– caused Dan and I to constantly re-evaluate our relationship and our lives, because if there’s something going on with either of us individually or between us, it will find its way on the dance floor

It’s been an incredible journey and I’m looking forward to year two.

Thanks for reading, S

I found this post especially insightful today. Thanks David (and Paul Graham) for reminding us about life’s quest for work that we love, and having the guts to look within and take the steps to find it.

Live & Learn

We’ve all either given or received the career advice: “Follow your dreams.”  “Do what you love.”  “Love what you do.”

Recently, there have been an increasing number of counterarguments making the case that if we were all going to “do what we love,” we’d starve doing it.

I came across a 2006 post by Paul Graham: “How To Do What You Love” that offers what may be the best thought-leadership on the subject that I have read.

Graham is an essayist, programmer, and investor. In 1995, he co-developed the first web-based application, Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. He has an AB from Cornell and a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard, and studied painting at RISD and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.  Graham’s blog is one of the most followed in the blogosphere.

It is an essay (longish for those of us with…

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Patience & Persistence

If two words in the English language could get married, I bet it’d be patience and persistence.

Both complement and almost require one another in order to exist.

Patience had some interesting definitions around the web. Let me share a few:

the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset (google.com)

good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence; solitaire: a game played by one person (wordnetweb.princeton.edu)

the art of delayed gratification; an essential ingredient in parenthood and adoption. (godsfamilies.org)

Here’s Persistence:

firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition; the continued or prolonged existence of something (google.com)

(persist) prevail: continue to exist; (persist) persevere: be persistent, refuse to stop; (persist) stay behind (wordnetweb.princeton.edu)

(persist) (-ed) – not giving up, especially when facing difficulty (pinkpowergirlsrock.com)

(persistent) Deciduous leaf blades that remain on the tree for more than a year (treespade.info/)

Persistence is continuance despite difficulty and patience is tolerating difficulty.

I suppose one could exercise one of these traits without the other, for instance I can envision someone training for a marathon but having a hard time accepting that they’re not instantly able to run 26 miles after a few weeks (persistence without patience), but in general I think persistence and patience go hand in hand.

Lately I’ve felt not-so-willingly forced into the hands of both persistence and patience.

I’m awaiting the arrival of decision letters from graduate programs, which I have been readying myself to attend (in some shape or form) for the last 7 years or so.

I’m awaiting the closure of a personal injury lawsuit that started 2.5 years ago.

I’m awaiting the future for Dan and I, which may be influenced by graduate school and/or the lawsuit to some extent, but mainly our own experiences/ decisions, etc. Our relationship is something we are continually living and working on.

It’s pretty difficult to foster patience and persistence.

There are definitely days when I just want to know what the future holds – I want to know if I’m making the best decisions possible to achieve the end closest to ideal, and for goodness sake, I’m just weary of waiting. I want tomorrow to hurry up already. I want to live my life, not feel stuck in a perpetual limbo of potentiality.

Then there are days when I’m content in the present – I can appreciate sitting on the precipice of impending change and look around, survey the landscape, if you will, with staying still as the only action I have to commit to right now.

But for someone who believes in self-empowerment, individual choice, and simple independence, staying still is a challenge. It’s a test of persistence because I am committed to various paths which I must continue on, and it’s a test of patience because I want so badly to dance, skip or run down the paths but I’m being forced to walk, and walk slowly- at a pace undefined by me.

When I’m feeling the waves of frustration at the lack of control, stirred by the winds of anxiety seeping into my thoughts, I freak out (e.g., cry, furiously scribble thoughts on the nearest sheet of paper, lose sleep, eating copious amounts of chocolate, etc.) and I try to find solace. I try. Lately The Eagles’ Learn to be Still provides a soothing reminder of what I must do for now. Not forever, I remind myself, just for now.

And I try to accept the fact that life itself is not a sprint, but a marathon. So in some ways, it’s good that I am being required to exercise patience and persistence because these skills will surely help me far into the future in ways I am not even aware of at the moment.

But it is challenging – of body, mind and spirit – to be still. To continue. To wait. To continue. To wait.

For those of us needing a little zen while we progress in a waiting position, here is a link to I Am Waiting by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Thanks for reading, S

When I think I’ve Lost You

When I think I’ve lost you

I’m a frantic cliff climber

trying to grab hold of any semblance

of solid ground

or anchoring post,

in returning to (or near) the summit.

When I think I’ve lost you

I’m a desperate version of myself

grappling for sanity

praying for clarity,

seeking relief

craving resolution.

When I think I’ve lost you

I poll the sources

I retreat inside

in search of answers,

in search of hope.

Faltering in my vulnerability

facing regrets and misunderstandings,

gingerly, I collect the pieces and

attempt to revisit

sometimes recreate

what we had,

when I think I’ve lost you.

Your Gut

Dan and I have had lots of conversations about communication and decision-making recently.

We’re at a stage in our relationship where we’re past the initial “oh my god you’re amazing” phase, but not quite at the “you’re my life partner” phase, and this journey traversing our current in-between state (if you will) involves lots of learning, communication, and decision-making.

And as we all know, any kind of long term close interpersonal interaction (not just between romantic partners but also close friends, family, etc.) brings with it a host of relational quandries throughout its development and progression.

There are many academic fields devoted to decoding our decision-making. The behavioral economists, marketers, psychologists, etc., have all contributed to the body of knowledge on how exactly we humans make choices and thereby execute behaviors.

But when you’re faced with a (seemingly, because sometimes perspective or hindsight will demonstrate otherwise) life-changing decision, it’s unlikely that you call up your local economist at a nearby University and ask him/her what you should do.

You could: seek research, history books, experts, academic studies, or other points of factual insight to try and gain an idea of what to do, or you could talk at length with friends, family, or colleagues, think about your past behavior or the behavior of others you know who have faced a similar situation, you could flip a coin, make a list of pros and cons, and the techniques go on…

The interesting thing though, is that if you were to ask folks how they often make the major decisions in their life (i.e., what profession to pursue, whether to marry someone, whether to have children, whether to opt for a major surgery, etc.), they will frequently tell you they just “went with their gut” or they “just knew.”

For those out there who don’t believe in intuition or the like, I’m not necessarily talking about some sort of prophecy or spiritual connectedness to the future, although those things could certainly influence one’s gut in some cases. What I’m really referring to is how when you’re faced with a decision, and for reasons you can’t quite explain, making one choice compared to another choice, just feels right.

Dan offered this academic article on the topic (PDF file): The Emotional Oracle Effect

And here is an article from the Financial Times published in 2010: Calculators Away

The Emotional Oracle paper provides evidence suggesting that individuals with higher trust in their feelings, tend to make better predictions about future outcomes. What I found especially interesting about this study is that it offers the idea that one’s gut essentially conducts a “meta summary” of all of the inputs one has (conscious, subconscious, emotional, factual, etc.) and thereby includes factors that may influence the ability to make a predictive decision that we may not be able to put a finger on in our conscious state.

The Financial Times (FT) article discusses how happiness can often be found in the situations we choose for ourselves (i.e., if my choice was to become an environmental lawyer vs. a corporate lawyer, I will in some sense, find sources of happiness in being an environmental lawyer and conclude that my choice was a “good” one), and how economic theory doesn’t always factor in the emotional components of a decision, merely the direct behaviors to lead one to a particular outcome. And how most people will resort to their “gut” at the end of the day.

I brought in these outside sources because so often I have been hesitant to fully trust my inner-most feelings when making major decisions. The decisions just seem too huge, and the results of a “bad” choice too costly, to completely rely on my gut. So I consult with all of those in my inner-circle, I deliberate for days/weeks/months (depending on how much time I have), I read articles, search the Web, consult with any needed experts/specialists, ask mentors and colleagues what they suggest, etc.

And (as the FT article suggests), at the end of the day, all that information gathering usually ends up reinforcing the initial gut feeling I started out with all along. Sometimes the data might have attenuated it or offered variations within the same theme, but generally speaking, I tend to end up with the same internal feeling.

So does this then mean that going forward I will make all my major decisions by simply listening to my gut first and dispensing with all the careful consideration, conversation and fact-finding? Not exactly. But I do think that over time, there’s the possibility that after having made decisions with my gut’s initial reaction as the benchmark, that I may become more confident in listening to my inner self sans as much external input.

After all, the sources, the research, and the people I consult are all useful, but at the end of the day, my life is my own.

Sometimes Nike’s slogan rings true: just do it.

Better We

In the age of i-this and me before you,

how different can we really be?

And when did “we” become “me”?

I don’t want to be

another mouthpiece for mediocrity.

Different; unique.

Let me be free

from the (in)visible binds of society.

Not alone,

though possibly lonely.

My best self,

a better me.

I want to see

a vision of existence in clarity.

I’ll do the work

make the plans

take the bets

dance full time in a marching band

if only to be

a better me.

A me without i’s

traversing my own trail

but with you;

navigating together.

A better us

each free of i’s, back to we.

Effort

My apologies for not writing in quite some time.

I’m still not in a position to talk at length about what went on last week – the U.S. legal system is a challenge, at best. But soon things will hopefully reach a conclusion, and then I can go into further detail.

For now though, I want to write about effort.

Sometimes life takes lots of effort.

Effort: exertion of mental or physical power; an earnest of strenuous attempt; something done by exertion of hard work (dictionary.reference.com)

As a kid, you could be recognized for effort – that highly sought after gold foil star right next to your A- on that math test with all the partial credit gained for showing many a “good attempt.” But as adults, we need to exert energy and effort towards things without the incentive of a gold star or the encouraging comments of teachers. Sometimes we need to push through even when that extra ounce of push is the last thing we want to do.

I’ve been told that the final stretch is the most difficult – that last quarter mile in your marathon, the remaining details a week before your wedding, the last half a dozen PowerPoint slides for your end of the year presentation to your boss, the final draft of your novel.

It’s probably because throughout the journey of getting from the beginning to the end there is:

– a lack of closure/finality

– lots of work to do

– a need for perpetual motion; a lack of rest

And sometimes, we’re not even sure what the end result will look like. Will our efforts/work/energy spent be worthwhile once all is said and done? Rarely is there a concrete answer.

Plus, it’s not as though task completion is straightforward.

I mean, my to-do list says all the discrete steps it takes to plan a St. Patrick’s Day dinner (pick out a recipe, buy the ingredients, decide on a cooking/prep timeline, cook the food, serve/eat the food, pack leftovers into the freezer), but those steps don’t account for the myriad of external factors that could impact the entire process from conception to execution. For instance, last year when I cooked a corned beef in my crockpot for St. Patrick’s Day, I hadn’t stopped to consider how difficult it would be to find corned beef seasoning in Texas, where there is a limited Irish population (and ultimately I wasn’t able to find a ready-made version of the spices, I had to Jerry-rig my own).

Sometimes a little flexibility and creativity are required to make it from A to B, and that alone can certainly require more effort.

So when we’re down in the trenches of our journey (or journeys, as rarely is someone only in pursuit of one end result at a given time), how do we maintain forward movement when so many things are out of our control, or somehow intervening?

I wish I knew the secret to sustained self-encouragement – sometimes mine can often be found in the dessert section (cupcakes and cookies, please) or in a solid Rock playlist (ACDC, Boston, Journey, etc.) – but I think what I’m finding is that, even though I may feel as though I’m traveling alone on the way to some end-goal, I am actually bringing those closest to me along for the ride (willingly, or not).

For instance, when I was severely injured a few years ago (more on that in the near future; re: aforementioned legal stuff), while I was acutely aware of my own feelings/perspective/to-do list, I was often less aware of that of my closest friends, mentors and family who adopted the situation into their lives as well. Those who were there for me in the hospital, helped me through recovery, and continually provide support while I deal with the aftermath. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that if not for that community of folks, I would not be where I am today. And I am so grateful to them all; so very, very, very grateful.

But life continues on, and my day to day is largely just me making decisions and moving forward as only I know how.

Some mornings it takes effort just to get out of bed and show up for life. Effort to put on clothing, concentrate on work, participate in dance class, be available to Dan, my friends and family, and just exist.

I’m not sure where I get the energy, because sometimes I am exhausted and this last stretch to the end appears to be as challenging as everything leading up to it. But I imagine reaching deep down inside my self, down to the quarks, electrons and protons that make up the atoms that make me a living being, and giving them a gentle nudge: “please don’t give up just yet; we just need to keep going for a little bit longer.”

And another thing I try to remember is that: it’s often not important that we only made an A- instead of an A+, what’s important is that we made it to the end; we completed our goal, our task. We lived another day, dreamed another dream, achieved another accomplishment, furthered another relationship.

Sometimes the most anyone can ask is just to keep moving…keep moving…