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

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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.

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.

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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.

Why Parade?

I recently came across this amazing article from the beautiful mind over at Brain Pickings about Mark Twain. It chronicles his views of slavery as a young, impressionable child and how just a few words from his  soft-spoken mother changed his mind forever towards those around him.

In the Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, he writes,

“In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind–and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.”

Twain would have gone on accepting slavery without a thought had his mother not one day shown sincere empathy towards a young slave boy, Sandy, making Twain suddenly recognize that Sandy was a young boy like himself, a human with joys and sorrows and the innate impulse to sing.

All it takes is one voice to tear down the ideology of an entire culture.

Nowadays I hear often that you should keep your views to yourself–vote in their favor come election time, yes–but otherwise do not cause trouble by bringing up politics in presence of others. I shudder to think what our society would be like if people throughout time conformed to this rule. And I shudder to imagine a future unchanged from the present because those with opinions are too afraid to offend.

Racism still exists. Sexism still exists. As does homophobia, educational inequality, and religious (and nonreligious) persecution.  And not just in pockets here and there, but on a national and global scale.

Like young Mark Twain, it is easy to be oblivious to the faults of the culture around you. After all, it is all you know, all you have ever known. But we can all purposefully become more conscious of the issues embedded in the daily life surrounding us. And then, we must act.

Whether with bells and whistles down a city sidewalk or a soft voice over a dinner table, we must parade by marching out our alternate opinions and revealing the human face behind our society’s prejudices. Twain’s mother was a soft-spoken woman, but in that moment with her son, she defied everything that her society triumphed as truth, inspiring him to realize that he could form his own judgments concerning the worth of others.

Without speaking out or taking action we perpetuate the biases around us. Find a way to make your own parade.