10 Quotes from Female Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day

When I look back on the authors that changed my life, I can honestly say that most of them have been women.

Mary Shelley. Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf. Emily Dickinson. Zora Neale Hurston. Anne Frank. Margaret Atwood. The list goes on.

There are so many women whose words I have held close to my heart. From thoughts about compassion and empathy to encouragements of strength and action against injustice, the following quotes are just a few gems that I continue to return to for inspiration and hope.IMG_1366 - Version 2

1. “Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” Sylvia Plath

2. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

3. “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Maya Angelou

4. “Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government, to the army, that they would help us … for them to help me. Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we speak up for our rights?” Malala Yousafzai

shadow5. “I am a person who believes in asking questions, in not conforming for the sake of conforming. I am deeply dissatisfied – about so many things, about injustice, about the way the world works – and in some ways, my dissatisfaction drives my storytelling.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

6. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

7. “Let me listen to me and not to them.” Gertrude Stein

8. “Where we come from in America no longer signifies. It’s where we go, and what we do when we get there, that tells us who we are.” Joyce Carol Oates

9. “What keeps you going isn’t some fine destination but just the road you’re on, and the fact that you know how to drive.” Barbara Kingsolver

10. “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” J.K. Rowling

heights

Have another quote from a female author that you find meaningful? Share the love in the comments!

Leonard Nimoy: Actor, Artist, and Inspiration

We all have our memories and experiences of the man, the sometimes-alien, the legendary–Leonard Nimoy. Some know him only as Mr. Spock, and that’s okay, but Mr. Nimoy was a man of many talents. Yesterday, I reflected on all he has meant to me and realized that he has profoundly affected my life in many ways.

In my college years, my boyfriend and I discovered a mutual love for science fiction and devoured all three seasons of Star Trek and the subsequent movies on Netflix pretty quickly together.

Pretty much every free night we had was this.

Pretty much every free night we had was this.

Our fledgling relationship grew stronger over pizza and tribbles, making fun of Kirk’s ripped shirt or Spock’s too-heavy makeup, and quoting our favorite lines from the show (“He’s dead, Jim”). And though we first met because of STAR WARS (that’s a story for another day), somewhere along the Enterprise’s journey through the universe, we managed to fall in love.

I remember the moment, in 2011, when I first heard that Leonard Nimoy was going to be giving a lecture at Boston University, the very place I was just about to graduate from that May. I couldn’t believe it. SPOCK? At my school? I rushed over to the box office as fast as I could, calling my boyfriend along the way.

When the day came we waited patiently in the huge line forming at the student union. It started at the exhibition room and trailed all the way down the stairs and out into the fresh air outside. All sorts of people had been drawn to the event: Alternative girls with pink hair and thigh-high striped socks, professors fresh out of class, middle aged couples, and of course, us. We found seats near the middle of the audience.

I was happy to have a good view of Mr. Nimoy. After our Star Trek binge-watching sessions, I was so used to seeing Spock that it was a tiny shock to see Leonard Nimoy, you know, as a human. There were no pointy ears, no upwardly curling eyebrows–just a wrinkled smile and those deep set eyes.

The image for the event via www.bu.edu.

The image used for the event announcement via http://www.bu.edu.

I never thought that Mr. Nimoy would personally affect me so much during the lecture. Even now, as I struggle to figure out my career path and deepest passions, some moments from his lecture stick out in my mind.

That day, he told us his life story. He spoke about his childhood memories of Boston, the struggle to find his identity as the son of an immigrant family, and the difficulties of pursuing an artistic career while making ends meet. He revealed that his issues around identity led him to contribute to the depth of Spock’s character. He identified with Spock; they were both aliens trying to understand and navigate a different culture while grappling with the repercussions of a mixed identity. As he spoke, it became clear to me that Mr. Nimoy was indeed the heart of Star Trek and the reason why it connected with so many people. After all, he is the one who came up with the iconic “live long and prosper” greeting and gesture.

However, the most moving part of the lecture for me was when Mr. Nimoy spoke about his later years of exploring new creative outlets. He discussed his work, The Full Body Project, a photography collection centered around the image of nude overweight women. He expressed his journey toward understanding the pressures that women face from the media to be thin and explained the development of his desire to show the beauty of women with different body sizes.

As he showed us slides of his work, I was awestruck with the way he had challenged traditional views of what a woman should look like. Defying expectations of obese women, he photographed his models in iconic poses, revealing their humanity. Front and center, women with body types that are so often shamed were instead seen for what they are–beautiful and full of grace.

Another project of his, titled “Secret Selves” showcased the ‘hidden side’ of people by portraying who they felt like on the inside. I can’t express how much I admire his effort to get closer to what it means to be human. We all have these complex inner identities coexisting, for better or worse, with the external image we must put on for society. But in his photography, Nimoy triumphed stripping down to that inner self, giving people more courage to do so themselves.

“I think the images tell the story. Art should stimulate thinking about the world around us.”

–Leonard Nimoy in an interview about The Full Body Project

Leonard Nimoy was one of those endlessly creative people. It amazes me that he turned to photography and also poetry(!) as a way to get closer to the truth of identity and representation. I have continued to be inspired by the way he has traversed mediums in pursuit of expression. I too have begun branching out creatively by trying out drawing and photography in addition to writing. His example will always encourage me to follow my heart and never put restrictions on myself.

Leonard Nimoy was not just Spock–he was a true artist. Throughout his lifetime he was an actor, director, writer, poet, photographer, singer, and even created the Nimoy Foundation to help other artists fund their creative endeavors.

May his memory inspire us to try new things, explore our identity, look for the humanity in others, and live each moment fully.

Opening the shade

IMG_0963Every morning, I open the blinds for my cat. He used to be an outdoor kind of guy, who loved to romp in the grass, rub himself feverishly over concrete, and bring small animals, usually still wriggling, into the house. But now we live in the city, and though I have seen a few cats around the neighborhood, I have also seen one too many feline “Missing” posters to feel comfortable with letting the furry love of my life out into the streets.

So every morning, I open the blinds for him.

Some mornings, he is already at his post by the window even though the blinds are closed. I wonder what he thinks in those moments. Is he frustrated that I haven’t gotten out of bed yet when such an amazing world is moving and swaying beyond the pane? Or is he content in the momentary darkness? I admit that he could just be a cat, thinking nothing at all.

But then again, when I forget to open the window shade, he yowls with mournful emotion until I rush over from wherever I am. Sometimes he yowls just because he can’t go outside. When my boyfriend leaves the apartment, for example, the cat hollers while he is gone, not just like he misses him, but like he is so upset that someone else is outside —in that forbidden place.

Today was like any other. I opened the shade and he hopped up to peer around for any new changes that occurred overnight. But I’m starting to wonder if my cat’s relationship with the window, the shade, and the outside world speaks to some of the greater themes of life.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about awareness and connection. For several months now, I have been battling a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks that have made most aspects of daily life pretty hard. So I have necessarily become more aware of my body, my surroundings, and my interactions with others. I have really delved into this concept of my identity in an attempt to connect with my brain, heart, soul (if we have one) and soothe the damaging thought processes that perpetuate my anxiety disorder. Basically, I have been in observer mode.

What I’ve noticed is that many of us go through our lives with the window shade down and we hardly even notice. We don’t see the beautiful minutia of life that makes it so meaningful. We no longer stop to smell the roses. Instead, more and more people seem content to look at their tiny screens instead of looking up at the world around them. Sure we’ll look at pictures with the #earthporn hashtag all day, marveling at the natural wonders gleaming up from our laptops or tablets, but how many times do we actually get out there, go exploring, and experience natural beauty for ourselves?

There’s also this mentality of “I have to be doing something” all the time. We rush from the cafe, to work, to the gym, maybe to the bar (Instagramming the whole way), without taking some time to stop and give our minds a break.  Without looking inward to our thoughts and emotions. We carry on just with a sense that these greater things are at work, that our life is meaningful because it is ours without truly exploring what it means to be a human. In other words, we have faith that meaning is behind the curtain and will always be, but we are content without knowing about or interacting with it. Maybe we plan on opening the curtain later but get too caught up in what’s happening right now. We need to post that selfie from last night on Twitter. We need to watch the latest episode of The Bachelor. We need to get our freaking hair done.

I mean think of all the industries out there whose business is to distract us from our own lives or throw our attention over to meaningless pursuits.

In short—we rarely take time to see the world or interact with our inner selves.

But then, one day, someone leaves. And just like my cat’s reaction to my boyfriend walking out the door, we yowl. Because all of sudden, someone who was just there has now gone to a place we can’t follow. We ignore death until it stares us in the face.

So there is really only one question: Are you content living with the shade down?

I’m not. In fact, I think that my old lifestyle of GO GO GO contributed to the development of my anxiety. It may have always been there underneath the surface, but the pressures of my lifestyle certainly played their part in triggering it. Though I felt like I was on a successful path, it was always about getting somewhere, never appreciating where I was in the moment. Suddenly, I found myself at this age wondering where the time has gone and why I don’t feel like I really know myself.

So.

I’ve been working on opening the shade by seeking deeper interactions with the world. IMG_0965

Now, I take walks around my neighborhood everyday, I practice yoga, I try to make more time for mindfulness exercises, and I’ve given myself permission to try new creative pursuits.  I’ve also begun cutting out the distractions, asking myself when I watch tv or a movie if this is really going to add to my life experience. Same with books and articles. It has become a practice of lowering the quantity and increasing the quality. These may seem like small changes, but they make a huge difference.

I think I might always have a few guilty pleasures, but in the end, I’m just trying to be more aware of how I spend the precious, precious time I have.

How do you stay in the moment?

5 positive commercials I love

So, I feel like I’ve been hating on the media lately. Ads have become a big part of our culture, and though their greater goal is to always promote a product or service, they also end up representing society and promoting certain ideals. Yes, many commercials and ads continue to feature negative stereotypes, but there are a few gems out there that work against the tide by showcasing diversity or promoting positive messages.  Lately, some companies have taken strides to be more mindful in their advertising and have made some pretty great commercials.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Always: Like a Girl

I love this ad for showing how stereotypes are learned as we get older. The older subjects have already equated the words “like a girl” as an insult while the young girls simply demonstrate their skills, unfazed. The #likeagirl campaign is a great way to use social media to fight against gender stereotypes.

2. Honey Maid: Love

After Honey Maid ran an ad featuring a gay couple and their growing family, they got a lot of hate mail. But instead of bowing to the pressure and changing their approach, they stuck with the message of love and created a beautiful commercial to address the controversy.

3. Coca-Cola: America is Beautiful

I remember watching this ad during the SuperBowl last year and getting chills. I love how it shows the many different cultures, communities, languages, and families that make up our nation.

4. Cheerios: Gracie

When this family first debuted in Cheerios’ “Just Checking” commercial, so many people responded with racist comments that it sparked a national conversation and was featured on the news everywhere. But Cheerios brushed off the controversy with this comeback commercial, sticking with their desire to represent all types of families.

5. Dove: Love Your Curls

Sure, accepting your hair may seem like a small issue compared to the greater problems of our society, but the message of accepting yourself and embracing your identity shines through the curly vs. straight hair dilemma. As a curly-haired woman who woke up at 5 am everyday to straighten my hair before high school, I would’ve loved seeing this commercial as a kid. And the happiness of the girls at the end of the commercial is just so adorable.

Have any other personal favorites? Feel free to add them in the comments below!

How living in different places changed me

I’ve noticed that, as people, we talk a lot about how this person or that person has changed or provided a positive impact on our lives. But have you ever thought about how a place can change you?

“Nā mea`ike honua”–the wisdom of the world

When living in Hawai’i, I often came across the idea of “Ike Honua,” or “sense of place.” I grew up moving around quite often and have so far continued to do so in my adult life. I am twenty-five years old and I have lived in 12 states, not counting time spent abroad in Germany, my semester of studying in London, or my summer spent backpacking other cities in Europe. Fun fact I just discovered–I have lived in 18 different homes. And the crazy thing is that I know that every location had a hand in shaping my identity. I notice that every place leaves its little traces on me, for better or for worse, and that some places do completely change my world view. My experience isn’t an anomaly, one study has found that the deep historical roots and cultural values of a place play a huge role in the lives of its inhabitants.

I would consider myself an extremely empathic person–I can’t watch the news without getting upset about the tragedies other people have experienced. Part of this may just be my personality, sure, but I also think it has a lot to do with moving around and seeing all different walks of life. After wondering about this for a bit, I found a few studies that show that travel not only makes people more empathic and open-minded, but also more trusting of people in general.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. . .Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime”

-Mark Twain

Feeling free in Boston circa 2010.

Feeling free in Boston circa 2010.

Though my early life of moving around definitely made me a more open-minded person, it wasn’t until I was eighteen that I had a say in where I lived. Eager to see what life in a city was like, I decided to move to Boston for college.

That city was the first place I felt as my own, and where the culture of the place reflected my own ideals. I fell in love for the first time in its streets. I became an adult.  Boston teased out the identity that I couldn’t explore as a teenager in Virginia. I identified with its history of fighting for independence because I was doing the same thing. But the physicality of the place was still definitely a huge factor in my affection for it. I love the blend of the old and new in Boston–the skyscrapers towering around the old state house.

FullSizeRender 48

The old and the new in Boston.

Its weird, in a way, because sometimes I feel like I’m still carrying the city, in miniature, inside somewhere; I can still picture the snow-lined streets of Government Center, feel the sweat beading down my neck as I wait for the T, watch the ducklings trace their fading paths in the ponds of the public gardens in spring. All the bars, bus stops, and cobblestone corners are just as familiar to me now, three years removed, as my own freckles or fingernails.

Then, I moved to Hawai’i and experienced another great identity shift. I watched the waves endlessly return to the shore, the stars illuminate the tall mountains, the whales spout and lift their curving tails before diving, and the steam rise from the bright lava that flowed into the ocean from a rocky cliff. I swam with dolphins, manta rays, fish, fish, fish, one shark, and truly realized that we all only inhabit one small part of this world.

“Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace. ”
-Paul Theroux

Living on an island, the people of Hawai’i naturally value conservation. While I was there, laws changed and plastic bags completely disappeared from all stores. Though I have always recycled and generally considered myself to live my life in a nature-friendly way, this took on a more important role in my life.The natural living lifestyle definitely drew me in as well. I found myself going to farmer’s markets, eating fresh produce, and living an overall healthier life.

Slowing down in Hawai'i.

Slowing down in Hawai’i.

Hawai’i is a place of renewal, where nature sets the pace of life for the people living there. It reminded me the truly important things in life–caring for others, exploring my passions, and valuing beauty. And the messages that our greater society touts–that money can buy you happiness, that success is measured in material things–evaporated from my mind completely.

My friend made this video when she came to visit me. I think it captures some of the joy and wisdom of the place. I was very sorry to move away, but hope to return someday. Mahalo i ka nani–thank you for the beauty.

In the meantime, I will continue to experience what Portland has to offer and look forward to learning more from it. Have you ever experienced a change in your personality of inner values after living somewhere new?

The enduring inspiration of Anne Frank

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

I vaguely remember the first time I learned about the Holocaust in school–the concept was so huge that the numbers were unfathomable to my elementary-school mind. 6 million Jewish people. Over 1 million children. I looked around the room. My class probably had around 20 students. Numbers like this were beyond what I was capable of imagining. They were more like math, not people.

FullSizeRender 35

It wasn’t until I read The Diary of a Anne Frank that the horror really sunk in. Stories tell us what statistics cannot, which is why it is so important to share ours with one another.

Reflecting on the importance of today led me to think about the idea of our collective identity.

Sometimes it still knocks the wind out of me–the idea that we live in a world where such a horrific event took place.  That some humans felt that they were so superior to others that they starved them, tortured them, raped them, and murdered them. Treated them as less than animal.

It can be hard to acknowledge that these things happened–and are happening–in our world.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Humanity’s violent past has its place in each of our individual identities. It is something we can’t ignore, but can hopefully come to terms with and become better for it. Our civilization was based on the conquering on others. When I deeply reflect on this, the history of human misery makes me sick. I am sure that I am here today because others have suffered during some other time. It is one of the many reasons why I feel a deep need to eradicate prejudices in myself and work for social justice.

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.”

Can we overcome our origins and build a more peaceful and accepting future (even while violence still ravages parts of our world)?

I don’t know.

Looking out from the Anne Frank House.

Looking out from the Anne Frank House.

What I do know is that I find inspiration and pockets of hope almost every day. The eternal optimism of Anne Frank has been an inspiration throughout my life. Throughout the two years living in the Annex, she had fears and doubts but she never lost her faith that humanity was ultimately good.

Last summer, I backpacked through Europe on a sort of soul-searching quest and was able to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

It was smaller than I had imagined–the rooms cramped and dark. The magazine and newspaper clippings that Anne had glued to the walls were still there, as were the pencil markings that recorded the girls’ growing heights.

Anne was about as tall as me when the Nazis came for her.

She was real. Just like the millions of other people murdered because they were different from the approved norm.

Hearing the floor creak under my feet gave me a renewed sense of the horror that was WWII–not just because of the violence but because of the necessity people felt to hide their identities. Freedom is being seen. Freedom is the ability to be yourself. Have we created a truly “free” culture yet? No, but I hope we are getting closer.

FullSizeRender 31My experience also instilled in me this deep sense of hope, as if Anne and her optimism still inhabited some part of the place. Optimism nowadays seems to be rare. After all, there is much wrong with the world.

But that day, I left feeling grateful for the world as we know it. For the progress humanity has made and for my presence at this point in time.

Anne stole glimpses out the window and pined for freedom. Then, when she was finally given the sky, everything else in the world was taken from her.

“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”

Her experiences inspire me to stay present in the moment, appreciate small joys, and have big dreams. She helped shape my identity for the better. Today, let’s honor her and all who were taken in the Holocaust by remaining optimistic and striving to build a better world.

The sign-in book at the Anne Frank House.

The sign-in book at the Anne Frank House.

Je suis tout le monde

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”

Walt Whitman

So says much of France and people across the world this week with the declaration “Je Suis Charlie.”

“Je Suis Charlie” has become the uniting phrase that the French have clung to in the wake of the terrorist attacks that began in the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. These three words have been splashed across signs, newspapers, Twitter, and have even been taken up by George Clooney, who solemnly spoke them during the Golden Globes.

Why is this statement so powerful?

Just like the quote from Whitman, “Je Suis Charlie” expresses the idea that an attack on one person is felt by aje_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencilll. It is at once an expression of empathy and defiance, mourning those lost while also defending free speech and expressing patriotism. This past Sunday, over a million people marched together in Paris to show their unity and strength, while about 3.7 marched countrywide. “Je Suis Charlie” was the cry of the day.

However, some fear that the phrase is more divisive than it is unifying. After all, it is no secret that Charlie Hebdo was a magazine that offended many people. Does that justify the staff’s brutal murder?–of course not. But it does create complicated feelings for those who did not support the magazine before the shootings now that “Je Suis Charlie” has become the slogan associated with the terrorist acts.

In his op-ed, “I am not Charlie” David Brooks claims that the magazine would have never been tolerated in the U.S. because of its “hate speech.”  Indeed, Anthony Faiola, reporting for The Washington Post,  reveals that many French Muslims have felt ostracized by the phrase, “By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.”

It is a catch-22 for French Muslims–either embrace the “Je Suis Charlie” movement, despite the fact that the magazine regularly made fun of their religion, or remain silent and risk being seen as sympathetic towards the extremists.

Instead, many have found comfort in the story of Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who was murdered when responding to the initial scene at the magazine’s office. He was also a Muslim and died at the hands of those who “share” his religion. His death illustrates the vast differences between the majority of practicing Muslims, who are just regular citizens interacting positively with society, and the extremists at the fringe, who interpret Islam’s teachings in ways that justify murder and terrorist acts. “Je Suis Ahmed” is now heard alongside Charlie, telling the story of a Muslim who not only worked to defend his country but who also died trying to protect those who had insulted his own religion.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Voltaire

Whether you use #JeSuisCharlie” or #JeSuisAhmed, it remains clear that people everywhere must continue to come together against terrorism and push back against stereotyping or alienating others.

Even as I write this, reports of a foiled terrorist plot in Belgium and a cyber attack on more than 19,000 French websites rule the news outlets. And then there is the lack of media coverage of Boko Haram’s devastating attacks in Nigeria. Some reports claim that the terrorist group massacred over 2,000 people last week, though the Nigerian government has downplayed the event, reporting the death toll at 150. The difficulties that the media faces when covering the area are frustrating, but there is no excuse for how little this horrific event was covered.

Even last weekend, as the French were preparing to march in their solidarity against terrorism, a ten year old girl was used to deploy a suicide bomb, killing 19 in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of central Nigeria has asked those in the West to show his country solidarity as they did for France, “We need that spirit to be spread around.”

Though Baga is a not a place where we can march, the least we can do is give this tragedy the same attention as events that occur closer to home. Many people have tried to raise awareness of the attack with the hashtags #BagaTogether or #WeAreAllBaga.

We live in a global society and can no longer ignore atrocities that occur, even if we feel helpless. Even if we are separated by distance, nationality, or race.  Knowledge is empowerment–it is taking ownership of your role on this earth by engaging with current events.

Je suis tout le monde.

Though I initially cringed at the hashtag trend of raising awareness for causes or tragic events, I now see it as just another way to share our knowledge with others and show our solidarity via social media. Parade when you can but listen, observe, share, and remember when you cannot.