Travel, Making Art, & Permission

Record Shop, Lancaster PADo you remember the Amtrak Writers’ Residency craze that was happening several months ago? It felt like everyone I knew was talking about it some capacity, most of them longingly. What could be done with weeks on a train to write one’s heart out? Artists wanted in on it too, calling for an artists’ residency.

I have a trip coming up myself, and in the midst of a busy 9 to 5, a booked-solid freelance schedule, and a recent move, I can’t wait for the mental break. I recently stumbled across a printable form to be filled out with self-imposed travel arts residency information. You fill out where you’re going, what you’ve created, who you’ve talked told about it, and a bunch of other information. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but just enough that if I filled it out, I’d feel committed to creating something while traveling. It’s a really great idea and something I would totally do if I ever find the link again. (Have you seen it? Please tell me if you know what I’m talking about and where to find it!)

But perhaps the most interesting and powerful thing about the concept is that it gives you permission. It’s a promise you make to yourself (and maybe to your seatmate on your flight?) to be playfully productive during your explorations, but without the pressure of doing actual “work.”

So now I’m wondering what would happen if, even if I can’t find this form, I give myself permission to create my own traveling artist’s/writer’s residency. No excuses, no self-consciousness, no feeling like I have no business with creativity or that I’m not good enough. Just a pressure-free assignment to be where I am and document the journey.

Is the world better or worse than it used to be?

fernsA few months ago, Chad was thinking about writing a story that would take place in the future. He started thinking about what the world would be like in 100 years, and whether it would be better or worse than it is now. He started randomly asking people if they thought the world had gotten better or worse over time.

The answers were interesting and, at times, incredibly contrary to each other based on the answerer’s worldview. I don’t know how I could even answer that question. My favorite answer came from someone who coworks with Chad: “No man, I don’t do those kinds of dichotomies.” A very West Philly answer. It leaves room for paradox and tension and reality. Things are of course better in some ways and worse in others.

I have a bunch of blog post ideas, but I can’t bear to write a floofy round up or something. Not with what’s going on in the world. It’s been a difficult several weeks to wrap your head around, and I don’t feel that I have anything wise enough to contribute to the cacophony that more eloquent people haven’t said already. Right now, my privileged, first-world, upper middle class, white heart is incredibly heavy.

Mike Brown. Ferguson. Gaza. ISIS. Christian children being beheaded in Iraq. Ebola. Friends who’ve suddenly lost loved ones. Injustice upon injustice. They need to be acknowledged.

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. And though she is oft-quoted, I still think this is appropriate:

Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken – those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, and you bring them juice and graham crackers.

This world feels like the emergency ward. I don’t know if it is getting better. I hope it is.

Spain on the Brain

Salamanca, SpainIt’s been over seven years since I left Spain, where I spent six months studying during undergrad. While I was there, it felt so much like a second home that I naively thought I’d return often — it would never be a stranger to me.

Well, seven years later I’m planning my grand (albeit short) return. We’re headed to Spain at the end of the month and I’d forgotten that I miss it so much it hurts. The past couple nights when falling asleep, I start blabbering about Spanish fast food joints that I’d totally forgotten about. Pans and Company. Telepizza. El Gran Shanghai, a Chinese place ironically located in the middle of Salamanca where I could get arroz con pollo and a jasmine tea for four euros. Slowly but steadily, memories of cities that have just become names to me are sneaking in and I want to go to all of them. How do you revisit six months in a week?

Puente Romano | Roman Bridge, Salamanca SpainI can’t but I want to. Do we try to cram in three cities in a week? Or do we park ourselves squarely in Salamanca for the week and take leisurely day trips to places like Segovia and Zamora or, if we get really bored, Madrid?

Do we subsist on La Vaca que Rie (Laughing Cow cheese), crusty baguettes, Nutella, and a box of table wine like we did when I had $70 to last until the end of the semester and a long-haired college boyfriend with a part-time computer lab gig to fund our travels? Just for old times’ sake? Really. These are the silly questions that have been consuming me of late.


Five Years

fifth anniversary

Credit: Jessica Bush

When you’re 24 and you tell people you’re approaching your second wedding anniversary, they often look at you askance. At least they do in more cosmopolitan areas of the world. This is less likely to happen in the rural spot I’m from. It’s obvious to me what the sophisticated side-eyers are thinking. Too young too young too young. Stupid stupid stupid. I wonder how that will turn out. Everyone’s suspicious. This made me self conscious for a long time. I’m still almost apologetic when telling people how long I’ve been married. But something interesting has been happening more recently.

When you’re 27 and tell people you’ve been married for five years, they look at you in disbelief, try to politely ask how old you are, and then, wistfully, tell you that’s awesome. They say it’s sweet. They are congratulatory.

fifth anniversary

Credit: Jessica Bush

Somewhere between 24 and 27 people freak out less. Maybe it’s that five years is a lengthy enough amount of time for some things to have gone drastically wrong and your marriage to have proven its worth to the world. Maybe it’s that somewhere in their mid-twenties people start thinking about life and how short it is. Maybe they start thinking about how having a partner to deal with the mid-twenties quarter-life crisis might be nice rather than stifling.

At any rate, today is our fifth anniversary. We are 27 years old. We’ve been married long enough for some things to have gone drastically wrong (though thankfully they haven’t), and our marriage has proved its worth to us from 22 on, regardless of what it looked like to the world. I wouldn’t have done a thing differently. We’re a family, whether 6 days in or 60 years.

fifth anniversary

Credit: Jessica Bush

Funk Busters — What to do When Nothing’s Right

Queen Anne's LaceI had planned to sit down and write any number of aiming-to-be-brilliant-and-engaging things, but today’s got me in a funk. I don’t feel like writing. I don’t feel like working. I don’t feel like anything. So here’s a list of things I have done or should do to snap out of it. They’re mostly the tried and true things I can rely on if I catch an existential crisis in the early stages.

  • Go for a run. I totally should have done this when I got home from work rather than slumping on the couch and eating a popsicle.
  • Read a book with a plot. I’ve been trucking through things like JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development and The Creative Habit lately, but what really does it for me is well crafted fiction. I just busted through The Signature of All Things at the beginning of the month, and it was some kind of healing to be lost in fiction again. There’s just something about story and plot that self-help and nonfiction lack.
  • Roast and freeze a chicken. I’d be remiss as a Mennonite if I didn’t include some form of food preservation. Something about making the house smell all warm and delicious while knowing that you’re about to nourish yourself is really helpful. Pulling all the meat off the carcass and preparing to make stock with it requires you to work with your hands and be in your body. It’s meditative. You have time to think, but also something outside yourself to focus on. Same goes for washing dishes and any number of other housekeeping tasks I usually resent because of gender baggage.
  • Cuddle a cat. Or any animal really. If I had been near one, I would have hugged a cow this afternoon. They’re warm, and they look you in the eye without judgement.
  • Drink water. I tend to feel worse if I’m dehydrated. Sometimes the difference between feeling kind of schlumpy and feeling like the world is ending is just water and maybe a snack.
  • Write on paper with your hands. Write three pages without stopping. No editing, no self-judgement. Just write whatever stupid thing comes into your head.
  • Go to bed. Maybe things will feel better in the morning.