A Lost Life Isn’t Lost Love— A Dedication

34124953_1563548653771896_7372034991028436992_n.jpgHave you ever stopped to consider the amount of people we meet on a daily basis and how those numbers add up to this moment? Classes, sports, work, colleagues, coffee shops, friends of friends… Take a moment to stop and think about that.

Thought about it?

I graduated high school two years ago and the world got a little bigger once I left home. Before coming to Cal Poly, I had never considered what might happen once I got here– I was so focused on getting in that I didn’t think about what happens next. But I integrated myself into the school, found friends in my orientation group and classes. I discovered little pieces of home in this place last year, and in one quarter, I probably met as many people as my high school graduating class.

And I realized, some homes we make, others we are lucky enough to find ourselves in without even knowing how it happened in the first place.

Tower 7 was that home for me last year. For those of you that don’t know, I lived in 3-story dorms last year, each floor containing maybe 40 rooms each give or take a few. The amount of people I met was astounding to me, there were just so many new faces. jian-xhin-281513But lucky for me, I made my spaces a little smaller and spent the majority of time in the third floor common room or over in Nick’s Tower 7 dorm– each floor had about 12 rooms. As much as it wasn’t even my living space, floor 2 adopted me all the same.

I’m even more thankful for it now than I was then.

Like I said, we meet a lot of people in our lives, but there are some groups of people that really change us. Maybe it took me a little while to see it, but I got lucky to have two homes last year.

In the last few months of my life, from my job to my friends, I’ve come to understand how fragile our mortality really is. It’s one thing to know that we don’t live forever, it’s another thing for the world to hand you proof.

Losing Bryce Adams has brought Tower 7 back together again, not only to miss someone, but to love everything he was and left behind. In the memories, photos, videos, laughs… It’s all there, everything that needs to be. And it’s been a beautiful thing to be welcomed into; to be allowed to feel a loss but also to appreciate a life. I know it sounds cheesy, but at my age I think it’s important to understand how to do both.

Too many of us don’t know how.

34067493_1563548540438574_3374910598830620672_nIt’s a reminder that we have to live while we’ve got the time to do so. We need to make time. Have a coffee date with an old friend and take a moment to forget about the grades or the schoolwork, take advantage of the youth that people keep telling me won’t always last.

It’s a process– figuring out who we are, navigating changing relationships, or even learning how to let people go. It’s something we learn along the way. Even though that’s one thing I’ve been trying to understand this year, just as I think I’ve got it down, life reminds me that I really have no clue what I’m doing.

I’m starting to see that none of us do.

Remembering someone and being okay with a loss, it takes time. It’s different for everyone, but we don’t talk enough about the ripple effects grief can take through things like our groups or friends or hearts or faith.

Because things will change.

It’s all a part of life and if you think about all those people you’ve met, they’ve all been through it at some point. Every single one of them is living their own lives carrying their triumphs or struggles or smiles. And that’s okay, whatever it takes to get back to where you need to be, it’s okay to do it.

I think of the people Bryce met, through wrestling and high school before the dorms and freshman year here, and the concept of that impact is beautiful to me. Tragic, but beautiful. And I am thankful to have been one more person to know him.

Like I said back in October, “Stop, take a moment, maybe two— take as many as you need— and you hold on to the blessing it is to know someone like that.34108605_1563548620438566_8022201359270936576_n

You hold on to the love they left behind for you.”

So if you will, live a little for me today, hold onto the love. And as much as I don’t like how many times I’ve said this in the past year, I mean it wholeheartedly:

Rest easy Bryce. Here’s to whatever happens next. 

Exploring the Unknown– The Human Library

david-kennedy-383477-unsplashToday, I’ve got something new to share with you all— not a poem, but a story about… Well, other stories. This week I had the privilege of participating in a senior project that I was so lucky to be a part of and now, you can be a small part of it too. 

Welcome to the Human Library.

Picture this, you’re walking into a library just like old times, running your fingers across the spines of countless books holding worlds you can’t wait to dive into and you’re doing the one thing they always tell you not to do— judging them by their covers. Now imagine those books were people, each one with a different story and a different title, from “They Asked Me ‘Where I’m From’” to “Nothing But Another Gay Kid.”

These are the stories of what people feel like represent them, the things that make up the identities we try so hard to define for ourselves. Because these are the stories of what people find identify them, from the way they love and the way they look to the way they act and they way they feel. So what do I think defines me, my title?

Still I Rise— The State of Blackness at a PWI.samantha-sophia-374229 

We all have stories and experiences, little bits of who we are that come to define us in incredible ways. This is part of mine, at least for the next two years here. And as I listened to other people tell their stories it was eye opening to understand just how much we don’t see about others, how much we are ignorant of…

Some of it by choice, some of it not. But all of it unknown unless we ask.

This project was meant to break past stereotypes and the prejudices we hold within ourselves. Because it’s our job to start the conversation and try to see beyond what we think we know.

Everyone who came to the human library to check out the books, they came by choice because they wanted to both be a part of it and see a little more of the students that surround us on Cal Poly’s campus. With everything going on at this school, it’s about time we started listening to what’s happening in other people’s lives and stopped assuming we already know.

Each day I spend here, I am reminded of how little I know, even about the people I love and care for. I’m not saying I plan to pry or force people to let me in, but I am saying that as a whole, a lot of us forget to give people a chance to do so when they want to.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m training this quarter to be a WOW (Week of Welcome) orientation leader for next year’s incoming freshman of minority backgrounds. With events like this and each week of training, I hold a little more power in my hands to be a jonathan-weiss-266716-unsplashgood influence on the students I welcome into the school, with a little more strength in my being to do it all right. This quarter, I have become more involved with my campus and the people around me, it’s getting easier to recognize the secrets that hide behind things I don’t understand or the privileges I hold.

I can’t forget about all the books I am still yet to read.

Projects like the Human Library are incredibly important, not just to spread people’s stories, but to also remind us that the world is so much bigger than ourselves. The students who prepared for that event with me over the last two months are just snapshots of our existence, reflections of things we’ve all been through and a whole lot more we haven’t. The thing is, we don’t have to always go through something to understand it, we just have to be willing to learn.

Because, some of these people get pulled into our own chapters, their experiences blending with our own until our pages begin to add up into a heavier, thicker book than what we started with. And as we grow and we change, we take what we’ve got and go from there.

I guess maybe that’s the idea: start with your own experiences, your life, and build on it. Along the way, we can’t be afraid to understand others’ stories while in the process of creating our own. In the end, we are made up of the values wetakahiro-taguchi-574470-unsplash keep and the hopes we hold, all influenced by the things we learn and the people we meet. This week, I got to meet so many extraordinary students. And they got to meet me.

If you want to know a little more about the Human Library, you can find a whole lot of information here and see what it’s all about.

And if you’ve got a story to share, I would love to hear it. As for mine, I think you’ve heard that one by now, but lucky for you, I have plenty of others I can tell you. You’re always welcome to ask.

Happy Friday everyone, see you on Tuesday for a new Bookworms post.

Redefining a Home

aman-bhargava-282998-unsplashOn Tuesday, I shared a piece of who I am with you through a poem that I never thought I could write.

I never thought I would so openly talk about what my minority definition means to me— as a student, as a woman, as another human being living the way we do… When I showed up on this campus eighteen months ago, I didn’t quite picture myself writing something like that, let alone allowing it to be shared on a stage or on my own blog.

I only wrote it, I only shared it, because I needed to.

After graduating high school, my transition to college was filled with a lot of turmoil within both this school and myself. I wasn’t sure how I fit into this new school I was supposed to be calling home when it only felt like a temporary place. I’d like to say that in my second year here, it all makes sense now and I understand where I belong.

But I don’t understand, you knew I was going to say that didn’t you?

If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have the majority of my writing in the past year and a half if I had found anything I thought I was looking for here.

The one thing I seem to have found, what I wasn’t even looking for, was my voice.

I’m starting to think maybe that’s the home I should have been seeking out in the first place. The idea that this is the point— not quite finding a home, or half of what I thought I wanted or needed.yeshi-kangrang-258234-unsplash.jpg

Each time I thought I had found what I was looking for, I’d take a step back with the prize in my hands only to look down and be… Disappointed. My expectations got in the way, what I thought it was supposed to be.

I got in my own way.

Trying to make this place into everything I wanted it to be somehow managed to make it feel like the opposite. There are some people who can’t find what they’re looking for, so instead they make the best out of what they’ve got or they go out there and make it for themselves. But me?

I’m more of a follower. At least I thought I was.

With that piece, with my life and my decisions here… My hands start writing and my mind decides to follow.

I’ve been writing for a long time now, finding the slightest feeling of escape through whatever I manage to put down on paper. But more than the classes or the people or the area, I’ve learned something bigger more than what I thought I was coming here for.

I’m learning to make a home out of myself. To finally follow my own instincts without second guessing or expecting anything, but simply hoping for the best.

Do you ever look in the mirror and dislike the way your hair curls in a certain direction or one eye opens a little bit more than the other? Sometimes I’ll write something (or paint something), know it is absolutely awful, and have to find a way to be okay with that. To accept whatever comes out of what I can do in the moment. To make a home out of the flaws.

lea-bohm-439491-unsplashBecause in a way, that’s what life is the things don’t always go as planned. That’s what my writing is when I put pen to paper— you make do with what you have, what you feel you need to do, and take it all as it comes. You adjust.

I know it sounds trite but coming from someone who never quite saw class as optional when you need a day off or truly understood how to be okay my own truths, it takes a lot to make a home out of the temporary places and our flaws.

It takes a lot to be honest with ourselves and sometimes, each other. That doesn’t mean we can’t. It just means we have to be okay with it first.

 

The Art of L o s t Expectation

vyacheslav-beda-68241-unsplash.jpgIt’s finally a rainy day here in SLO where I get to spend (most of) my time indoors, hiding from the horizontal rain and inconsolable winds. As much as I want to say it’s been a productive day that included a nap, it has been quite the opposite. But that’s okay, nap or no nap, I still accomplished some things.

Maybe it’s the idea of turning 20 soon or the lack of control any of us really has, but I’m starting to understand something: It’s not about being immaculate, about getting things right the first time, the second time, or even the 100th time you tell yourself, “okay, last try before I’m giving up.”

No, it’s about painting over the mess, making something beautiful and something worth it, out of the chaos that is this life.

Because I’m sure we all know by now, it comes with a whole lot of mistakes, failed attempts, half done work, and frustrated sighs before trying again. Where would any of us be if we got everything right on the first try– other than immensely talented and most likely too proud, we would all be hopelessly bored.

Success can get you a lot of places, don’t get me wrong; but I think failure can get you bud-helisson-465328farther. Let me tell you why.

Do you remember that one blog post back in October, maybe September, when I told you that I was trying my hand at painting for the second time in my life? The first time was in my junior year of high school for a transformation project in art class and I thought I was doing great… That is until I tried to paint faces on my figures and it all just crashed and burned from there. Trust me, Nick still laughs at my finished product every time I bring it up.

It was terrible.

So that second try? Well that didn’t go too well either. I was so focused on the right lines, the details, and not messing up– after all, I was out of my element and paint doesn’t exactly have erasers– I quit fifteen minutes in. And the un-finished, finished, product? I can attest to this: it also looked pretty terrible.

Hence why when I pulled it out this afternoon, it was hidden behind the ever multiplying books on my bookshelf. Clearly, I was not fond of attempt number 2. Even with my past failures, in my restless need to avoid feeling stuck despite how often I do, I took out that canvas today, grabbed my paints, and  sat down with it all laid out in front of me.

Enter attempt number 3.

I sat there for a while staring at my mistake of a painting and laid my hands on the tubes in gianni-pisanu-416304-unsplashfront of me, running my fingers over the names of each and every color trying to decide what the right direction was to go in. I had to wonder, was there even a right direction anymore once I had tried out all the others?

Now pause right here; I was sitting on the floor looking at something that I made a mess of, all because I kept trying to make it good enough. Sure, its a commonplace idea of being okay with imperfection, but that’s not all I need you to see here.

I want you to see the fear behind the uncertainty, the need to get it right. The desperate reach for validation each of us holds in knowing we could be good enough at something.

Personally, I wanted to stop feeling that pull toward what I thought things should turn out to look like, toward expectation. I did the only thing I could think of to get that little voice in the back of my head– the one telling my that I needed to do this or I should probably do that if I had any hope of it looking good– to stop.

I painted over it.

I put on my headphones, turned the music up to drown out both the immensity of the silence and my own thoughts, and I went to work. My fingers reached for two colors, put them on my plate, and mixed. Swirl, dab, swirl, brush brush brush. Look for a second. Shrug. Pick another one, add it in, swirl, dab, shrug, brush brush brush. Take another peek.

I did this for a while, lost track of time, and it was… Different.

With the music too loud to concentrate on what I was thinking and no real expectation to hold on to, I sat there and watched as the original mistake was altered, changed, revised, and rearranged.

I watched as I let the fear slip away,amaury-salas-324504-unsplash the expectation and the need to succeed. The less I thought about it, the more I enjoyed what my hands wanted to pick.

I let go of being afraid of what might happen in allowing myself to paint outside the lines. Sometimes you have to let the chaos in and ignore the gravity we believe success or perfection has. Nothing truly needs to be perfect the first time, the second time…

You just have to be willing to build each and every try into something that you can appreciate.

 

Before and After– As the Glass Breaks

aaron-burden-185993Have you ever heard that metaphor about the breaking glass? I heard it on How I Met Your Mother, it goes something like this: There are a lot of little things about life that we don’t notice or don’t really see until someone tells us. We don’t see it until we have nowhere else to look. Once that happens, the glass breaks— we can’t unsee it, we can’t go back. Your reality changes.

This week, that glass in front of my perspective on life has been breaking, little by little. And once it’s finished, there is no going back.

If anyone else has been feeling the way I’ve been feeling, things might be a little bit lost right now. You might be questioning things, the purpose and the point, the love and the loss… I’ve been wondering one thing:

Now what?

The phrase carpe diem comes to mind, something I’ve been trying to embody over the years in a lot of different ways. I got a tattoo on Christmas Eve last year because it was something I needed to do for me, I self-published a book after graduating high school because it was an accomplishment I wanted for life, and I am pursuing something I am passionate about because I cannot imagine living my life any other way.

Because life is too short.

The idea of losing friends at this age, an incredible person who lived a life worth living— that terrifies me. Not in the way that it is a possibility, but that it happens. It happened. And there is nothing any of us can really do to change it.

seth-macey-410725Two weeks ago, that was before— if someone asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I would have told them that I wanted to be a writer. I want to make a difference in people’s lives, I want to make change for the better, and I want to do it through my passion and my love for both writing and the people I care about. I’ve had that answer down for years, that’s what I wanted. Make change, spread love, and write obsessively.

But if you asked me now, I don’t quite know what I want.

I mean of course I still want to write and make change, but how? Maybe I want to live this life without regrets, without lost moments. Yet, maybe I want to live a life appreciating what a blessing it is to have woken up to see another day today.

That’s the hard part, that I’m not confident in what I want out of this life anymore. But I’m learning to be okay with that. 

Because there are a lot of times when we’re going to lose our way, our perspective change, and maybe we just need a little help. So ask for it, put a claim on the love you deserve— you are allowed to not be great all the time.

You are allowed to be lost.

These past two years of my life have forced me to grow up, to understand, and to become so much more than I ever thought I would have ever been by now. My path has changed, my heart has been redirected, and my faith has been tested time and time again. Yet that’s what it means to grow up. I have learned to weather the hard times, appreciate the good ones, and never forget the people who have been by my side through it all.

I’m starting to understand more about who we are as human beings as time goes on, as I meet more people and reconnect with old friends. We are the ones that keep each other going. This week I have seen such an outpouring of support from friends and family and even strangers to comfort one another in a time of need… In the midst of chaos, that has been incredibly comforting to me. Not just in a way of knowing that people can be good, but knowing that this life can be too.

This life still holds beauty.

That’s the point of seeing the forest for the trees, it is still good. Bad things happen, fires rage on through our lives, we lose people, and sometimes we lose ourselves.

In the end, we are still here, to live and to lose and to breathe.

We are still here to support one another and to love, to hope, to believe in something more.

The days are still passing, one right after another, and it takes time to remember, this day is yours. The time is now and it’s all right to not know what you want to do with that time. As long as you do something anyway.

I’m not saying go get a tattoo, or write a book, or change your life’s plan. But I am saying to remember what it means to still be here, to seize every day that we get, and to do everything you can to make worth of the moments you get.bright-lights-string

I’m getting used to the control we don’t have, accepting that this life isn’t completely in my hands. I’m finding my way to being okay with that, with the uncertainty of it all. And in time, I hope you can all find a way to go after what you want this life to be.

So here’s to getting lost, to asking for help and finding our way amongst the broken glass. Here’s to loving hard and loving lots before we run out of time to do it all for ourselves.

And here’s to making the “After” something worth living in.

If not now, when?

For Maddie Elliott

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on the fragility of our human lives, the time limits on all of us that we simply cannot see. I know that I wrote it yesterday, yet I had no idea I was actually writing about one of the most beautiful souls kristina-m-m-158842I have ever known. I was yet to realize a wonderful friend and kind heart had just been lost.

This is for Madeline Elliott.

Though I knew her through classes and crossed paths throughout the years, even I could tell that Maddie was truly one of a kind. She was the kind of girl who could bring a smile to anyone’s face with one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. Every time I talked to her, whether it was about something important or simply trivial, we always ended up talking for so much longer than we had planned because she was just that kind of personshe could connect with anyone.

From the moment I met her I knew one thing: this girl is going to touch so many lives. And she has. Because it isn’t about how long you live, but truly how you live. She did it beautifully. From someone who keeps their phone password as her birthday and the best friends whose lives were changed with her in it, to the strangers she passed on the street with a simple smile to lighten their day and the people who knew her, adored her, and she didn’t even know… This girl was incredible. Her presence was a light in so many peoples lives, including mine, and when I said in my post yesterday to tell people you love them, I meant it. Because things like this happen, we lose people, and loved ones are gone before they had a chance to make this life their own. But I know that Maddie did, she lived a beautiful life of faith, impacting so many people with who she was. Her loss is a great one, her love was infectious, and her memory will last forever in each one of us.


I wrote this for you Maddie.

I live for the strangers who smile at me as they pass by and those who always remind me that they care.

I live for the “have a good night”‘s from the elderly because they’ve seen enough of bad ones, they know life can be unfair.

I live for the people who know how to laugh, straight from the belly with their heads tipped back in abandon.sabine-van-straaten-280388

And I live for the people who have changed my life, and they never even knew how many pieces of me came from them.

There’s something about free spirits, the ones who’s hearts beat and it feels like the world is beating along;

Every breath they take, the wind blows a little longer. Every connection they make, their life grows a little stronger.

There is warmth in their smile, their hope, their being— that irreplaceable kind of energy that makes the world keep moving

and time keep changing, as the world around us moves, these are the kind of people who help us to get up and move along too.

But sometimes we have to slow down, we lose something big, someone important, and we forget about the moving,

the loving, the changing, the hoping… We might forget about the living to mourn those who can no longer do so.

So what do you do when the one who embodied the idea of life with their own, with their living and loving and hoping;

aaron-burden-195608The idea of making every breath one of beauty, of light, of changing the world by just being part of it.

What do you do when they’re gone?

You stop, take a moment, maybe two— take as many as you need— and you hold on to the blessing it is to know someone like that.

Take a breath, take a few, and remember what it means to tell someone those three little words, “I love you.”

Remember their heart that beat for the world to beat with them, remember the smiles they offered, the hope that they held.

Remember the moments they changed your life, the laughs they abandoned themselves to, the memories they made.

You hold on to the love they left behind for you.

And you spread that love, that hope, that faith; you spread it until there is no place in this world left untouched.

Make the laughter they held the healing you feel as time jerry-kiesewetter-189034goes on and the wounds of loss begin to close.

Say what you mean, those three little words, as many times as it takes for someone else to hear your voice.

And be there, in this world, be present in the lives of those you love. Because we never know how much time any of us have

to leave something good behind while we can.


My prayers go out to her family and her friends, to all those who knew Maddie, for my heart is with you. If anyone would like to support them in this time, here is the link to the gofundme page for Madeline.

In the words of Helen Keller,

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.”

Expectation vs. Reality

What did I put in my empty bag?

My dad used to do this thing with my siblings and I called What did we put in our empty bags; it was a metaphor. The bag represented our knowledge from the day, what we learned— we were supposed to empty it before going to school every ihor-malytskyi-218817day so we could go to class with an empty bag and fill it up with everything we learned. Cheesy, I know. But considering I still remember all of this and that Nick and still I say it to our friends sometimes, it was definitely effective.

So what did I put in my empty bag this week?

This week I have gotten a firsthand lesson on the idea of ignorance and what it’s true definition is: lack of knowledge or information. To be ignorant of something or to call someone out as such is not an insult, but simply a statement to show someone that they do not have all the facts. As a nineteen year old college student, I am ignorant of a lot of things, some of which I am not even conscious of. That doesn’t mean I’m not learning.

If someone were to ask me five years ago where I thought I would be in life, my guess would have come nowhere close to where I am right now. I probably would have said that I would be studying or sitting in class at Stanford University as some kind of pre-med major. I probably would have also said that I would be on the track team, running and jumping as a student athlete. And hey, I thought I would be 5’10 by now. There were so many aspects of this life that I didn’t understand, far too much to be ignorant of for me to have known where my life would take me. I didn’t know enough. I couldn’t have.

I couldn’t have known that my high school experience would so largely influence where I applied to college. I couldn’t have seen that I would decide on switching into a major to follow my passion instead of my obligations. matteo-catanese-401213 (1)And I wouldn’t have believed that I would be rejected by a school, only to be accepted off an appeal to now attend Cal Poly with Nick for the next three years.

They say knowledge is power— I don’t think this is something you can argue against.

According to Business Insider, at nineteen years old I have lived through the last 4 out of 5 “deadliest mass shootings in modern US history”. All occurring in the past 6 years. I’m not here to talk about the politics of it, the devastation or the unfortunate lack of change despite the increasing number of deaths and those affected.

I’m here to talk about ignorance, about learning instead of simply knowing.

I’m here to talk about Expectation vs. Reality.

You see, I have been raised on the idea of hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst. This applies to taking midterms I’m not completely ready for, long drives that might necessitate a blanket or a jacket, and even job interviews that always seem to be a toss up for me. Throughout elementary school to high school, I was privileged enough to grow up in a place where I wasn’t constantly thinking about my surroundings; who was around me, if I was in a place where I had to filter myself from risk of harm, or the possibility of racial slurs being thrown at me as I walked by. That last one only happened a few times.

But in hoping for the best, I just never expected to live in a world where people could be afraid to go to concerts, to diners, to school. I never expected that sabine-van-straaten-280388the largest fear some of us held would have to do with the capabilities of one another.

Unfortunately, that is the reality we are all at right now. We are having to adjust to the way the world is changing around us as the people in it change too. Whether you swing left or right, you’re heterosexual or not, everyone is having to make changes. Sometimes I think people forget about the morality of this life and get too caught up in what they expected to be happening or where they’re hoping they would be.

You can’t always see a hurricane coming, nor can you ever know for sure how things are going to turn out.

This week I am reminded of a concept that ties us all together— we are all human beings. If there is one thing I used to be ignorant of, stereotypical teenage mindset or not, it was the fragility of my own life.

Because in my empty bag this week, I hold all the chemistry formulas and Iliad lessons, but on top of all that I hold my life: The idea that it can be easy to lose. I used to make five year plans, ten year hopes, and imaginative ideas of what my high school reunions might be like. I used to make promises of seeing people without ever following through, or putting off good plans for tomorrow, staying in to watch Netflix instead. But the thing is, in that bag is my life. The only one I am going to get. And while I need to make plans for a successful future where I don’t move back in with my parents and have no job, I also need to be aware of the situation we are all living in.jerry-kiesewetter-189034.jpg

We only get one life to live. In the past week alone, far too many people lost their own. The reality is that we don’t know how long this will last for us, how much time we have. The most any of us can do is say “I love you” while we can, hold onto every moment we get, and make sure that when we contribute a verse to the world, we leave behind something good. Something worth it. Something people can fill their bags with today.

I know what I put in mine.