2018: thoughts and thanks.

The highlights below are listed neither chronologically, nor in order of importance to me. There are other moments, feelings, and things that I would have loved to have put on this list as well; I chose, however, to keep the list somewhat succinct in order to not diminish the significance of each component of the list.

This post is about remembering and affirming that which is memorable. It’s an act of cherishing, and is based in the recognition that taking the time to remember, to reflect, and to ground, is essential to sifting through the clutter of life so as to pull out the things that are most important.

I hope you can appreciate and even enjoy my effort at sifting 🙂

 

SELECT HIGHLIGHTS FROM MY 2018:

#1: Haiti.

fundamentally: the experience of returning to a place that flipped my worldview upside down and shook out all preconceived notions about what “privilege” means

 

#2: New Jersey Scholars Program.

fundamentally: intellectual freedom; a new plane on which to explore; beautiful friendships

NJSP graduation 2018

 

#3: Grouplove.

fundamentally: the barreling, wild, intense desire for some enlightenment amidst the ever-flowing undercurrent of routine upon which my high school life rides

 

#3: a PR.

fundamentally: the experience of crossing the metaphorical threshold into a new  knowledge of the capacities of the self; sharing in the joys of track with friends

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#4: a road trip. 

fundamentally: remembering to laugh; yearning to cherish; exploring new places and new possible futures (cough, college visits) with loved ones. The deep satisfaction that comes in affirming for yourself that family is lovely, whether longtime (parents) or recently joined (Nadya, my Bulgarian host sister during junior year of high school! miss her!! <333).

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#5: a Breadbox.

fundamentally: engaging in the new and unfamiliar challenge of being an artist; a reinterpretation of a childhood memory; a symbol of gratitude towards my grandmother

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#5: a goodbye. (to Nadya)

fundamentally: the sweet joy of celebrating a year of blossoming sisterhood, and the bitter sorrow of recognizing its coming to an end ; a poem; a tear-filled, taxicab departure

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#7: a summer adventure.

fundamentally: conquering the hay bales; the warm, loving hug of the sun on your back; the “dog days” smile stretched across Dierks’s (the corgi’s) face

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#8: a *trail* half-marathon.

fundamentally: an unanticipated challenge (trail runs are *hard*, people!); 2 hours of technical trails and inclines; a bonding experience with Aunt Jennie; sore leggies and a happy heart 🙂

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#9: an Oklahoma Thanksgiving.

fundamentally: an opportunity to reframe — socially, culturally, and geographically — one’s perspective; meeting new babies; unifying life in all its different stages under the all-encompassing umbrella of “family”

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#10: a cross country season.

fundamentally: those dreamy dream days where I get to race a 5K, ride a horse, run some more, and get made fun of for having a water bottle 😉 

I love my team.

 

 

#11: an acceptance.

fundamentally: an immense, sparkling, affirming, precious flip of the light switch, illuminating a bewilderingly empowered future

Here is what I wrote in my journal, in a section that I titled “On getting accepted to Brown”:

“If my emotions in that moment were like molecules within the atmosphere, then the primary makeup of the air in that moment was shock in its purest sense — the kind that isn’t really attached to emotions in any way. Then came the tears.

I think the tears came mostly from the unprepared attempt to reconcile the significance of this opportunity. And the tears were also in honor of all that occurred before this; all that led up to the moment of seeing that acceptance.

It was such a delicate and profound cry — at least, the emotions that drove it. And it wasn’t a sense of vindication or righteousness at all. … No. Rather, this cry was a sort of weeping in the wake of the messy, cluttered extremity of it all. The fact that … as I sat on the metaphorical threshold, looking out into the “Brown” room next door — the glittering prospect of my future — I realize that my many feelings and negativities and UNCERTAINTIES have been, in many ways, left unresolved. The reality is that I will carry many of these convictions with me when I move to Providence — or, at least, the scaffolding of them. … It’s just so much. I was crying for the world a little bit, in that moment there.”

 

#12: Peer Leadership.

fundamentally: the challenge of leadership; confronting the unsteadiness of my self-confidence; trying really hard for others and sometimes failing; reminding myself “why”; joyful service

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FINAL REFLECTIONS // LOOKING AHEAD:

To frame my discussion of my transition into the outlook I am to assume for the year ahead, I’d like to first share this post from the Instagram of life coach and health expert Ali Washington (@aliyah_pt):

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The post reads:

“I used to be a self improvement addict. Constantly looking to where I was messing up my life, where I could fix myself so as to become more likable/successful/kinder/smarter/less needy or whatever I deemed to be a trait a ‘good person’ would have at the time.

I drove myself incessantly. Feeling that I had to be continually ‘on top of’ myself – lest I slip back into old behaviours and ways of being.

It was fucking exhausting. Progress was slow, painful and generally always undone much faster than it had been made. It felt like holding a bar of soap – the tighter my grip on myself the more who I wanted to be slipped out of my fingers, causing me to want to clampdown tighter.

Once I got on to the fact that the game was futile, I realized I needed a new outlook. It wasn’t about ‘giving up on’ ever changing the aspects of myself that were in pain/needed to grow. It wasn’t about forced growth or going after my ‘goals’ either.

I found that the less I tried to force the aspects of myself that I felt were immature/In pain to grow, simply making room for them to be how they were with gentle curiosity, magic started to happen.

The more I got curious about knowing myself, why I was how I was, why I acted how I did, why I was in pain, why I thought I needed to improve, the more I questioned what being a ‘good person’ meant, what I thought I was going to get from being a good person and the more I made room for new definitions of everything – the more I have naturally stepped into being a person who causes less harm, and is more joyful.

I let go of self improvement for truth and self discovery. For finding what is real vs. Trying to fit into and box society handed me about what ‘good’ looks like. I realized all the self improvement was a result of wanting to feel unconditional love, and I started to pursue that rather than self improvement – which was just a middle man.

This whole new perspective, seeing what I really wanted and going towards that set me free. As truth always does. So, what do you really want out of your self improvement?

 

Xoxo”

 

For me, 2018 was about learning to loosen the grip on the “bar of soap” (as described above by @aliyah_pt) that is myself. All of high school has, for me, been largely about learning to stop squeezing so hard. This 2018 year in particular was about recognizing certain aspects of my life in which I was in fact engaging in this flawed “squeezing” effort without even realizing it. I saw the tendency within myself as a friend, as a Peer Leader, as a granddaughter, as a community service leader, as a global citizen.

I am someone who genuinely wants to do and be her best. But I am also someone who knows deep within her heart that in order to blossom into that “best person” that she so intently strives toward, she fundamentally and unavoidably needs to first set straight her reasons why she wants to be this exceptional version of the self.

In order to strive to one’s maximum potential, the individual must first pause and ask: WHY strive?

For me, I realize that the answer to this question, at its purest and most essential level, comes down to a sense of love and fascination towards the world both external and internal to the self. It means to be driven — as Ali puts it in the excerpt above — by a “gentle curiosity”. I love that term — especially the “gentle” part, as it denotes a kind of peacefulness that flows within and without the daily experiences and sensations of a truly fulfilled individual.

Last year was about learning to stop squeezing.

For the year ahead — which is to include a final semester of high school, a summer of adventures (hopefully abroad!), and a first semester of college — I aspire to *gently* nestle myself into this lifestyle of gentle curiosity, and thereby nudge myself away from a focus on the cessation of this “squeezing” tendency.

In 2019, rather than focusing on recognizing the places where I am “squeezing” too hard, my focus will be on exploring all the places where I can further expand my “gentle curiousness.”

Granted, these two components that I intend to transition between are inherently interdependent — that is, the less one “squeezes,” the more they can be “curious.” I recognize — as I vaguely mention in the excerpt from my journal following my college acceptance — that the desire to “squeeze” (and the myriad, complex emotions/convictions which drive such a desire) will exist within me, to some degree and in some form, throughout my life. It comes with the territory of who I am. But the actual tendency to cave to that desire — that is something within my control. It’s something that, with time and reflection and intentional practice, one may be able to gain power over.**

  • **A NOTE: When I use the term “cave” in referring to one’s tendency to “squeeze,” I mean “caving” not only to the worrying and stressing and self-deprecating that the term “squeeze” implies, but also the fundamental choice to acknowledge the opportunities available for one to engage in such a “squeezing” tendency.

This is a real challenge, of course. One may wonder: how can I possibly hold on to the bar of soap that is the self in any way other than by closing the fingers around the slippery, elusive object more tightly? How can we hold on to ourselves by in fact letting go?

In all honesty: I’m still working on figuring out the answer to this one. Over the course of this past year, however, I have a fairly clear sense that it has something to do with trust — in oneself and in the external world. It’s a pristine, nuanced type of trust — not blind in any sense, but rather, one that is fortified by reasons profoundly rooted within one’s heart. As I see it so far, the reasons to trust the outside world seem very conditional. I’m not sure that I can quite yet provide an explanation for how to trust that which is external. For me at this point in my life, and for most of the people I know, trust in the external (i.e. nature, physical objects, and other people) seems to come down to two the use of two key factors: 1.) internal feelings/convictions, and 2.) “evidence” from previous experiences.

And in order to fully and truly make sense of those two factors, one must first be able to trust the self, as it is the self which is fundamentally responsible for processing and interpreting such factors. Thus, for now (and for 2019), I will focus on

Trusting the self depends not on the external evidence of awards, accomplishments, or recognition from others; instead, self-trust comes from a deep examination of the internal workings of the soul, and a recognition and acceptance of one’s imperfections, mistakes, and differences. It involves peering into one’s essential tribulations, examining the various artifacts which constitute them, choosing to empathize and bring love to those emotional artifacts, and practicing gratitude for the self-fortification which such a process enables.

Generally, it is a journey of venturing ever-closer to a positively-rooted grounding of the self.

 

Hold on by letting go. Let go through trust. Trust by fortifying self-trust. And through this process, nudge slowly into a state of liberation from the tendency (not the desire, as discussed) to “squeeze”, and enter into a state of freedom to navigate the world through a lifelong lens of “gentle curiosity.”

 

May we all find this pure form of curiosity within us; may we allow it to ground us, and may we find strength and enlightenment as we use it as a mechanism for fulfillment within this vast world.

 

In 2019, I am going to gently, curiously explore like never before. And I hope you will join me.

 

love always,

mo   

 

a reflection on my ed behavior — and on the assumptions that fed it

I remember the road trip that my family and I took to North Carolina my freshman year. My mom, grandma, and I loaded up my mom’s white Honda Pilot, the vehicle that would then carry us on a 7+ hour drive to the mountainlands of Asheville, NC, where our longtime family friends waited to welcome us into their lavish new retirement home. From the second I got into the car on that trip, I was in a nasty mood. I was upset because, of all things, prior to departing from my house that morning, I had gone for a run but didn’t have enough time to perform the additional strength exercises I had intended to also do. As soon as I plopped into the backseat of my mom’s car, I began to writhe with anger, frustration, and fear. I was angry at my mom for not withholding our departure for an extra 20 minutes in order to allow me to complete my exercises. I was frustrated with myself for not being more efficient with the timing of my workout. Most of all, I was afraid. I was afraid of the future, and of the daunting sense of inadequacy I would face in light of my unperformed training tasks. Underlying this fear, however, was a deeper, more ominous one: I was afraid of the way in which my reality was controlled by numbers on a scale, by feelings of hunger or fullness, by constant obsession with what and how much was and wasn’t good to eat. I was afraid of the way that I woke up every morning thinking about food, and went to sleep each night reflecting on how much and what type of food I ate over the course of that day.

Put simply, I was afraid of myself — or, perhaps (though I failed to make the distinction in my mind at the time), afraid of what was controlling me.

This is the aspect of the whole eating disorders/body image concept that I want to highlight: the extent to which the “illness” is beyond the control of she (or he) who is ill. Looking back on that miserable spring break road trip, when I say that I was afraid of what was controlling me, what I mean is that such a fear came down to a single question — and my incapacity to answer it: why do I feel this way? I couldn’t seem to bring myself to recognize that there was a need for me to take the time to repair my sharded relationship with food and with myself — and yet I knew that for some reason, others my age weren’t stressing about these things in the way that I was. Based on what those around me were communicating, I knew that I was acting in a way that was only making me increasingly more miserable — and yet, I could see no alternative route than the self-deprecating one that I was on.

This is was the biggest challenge in my experience with ED-type behavior: I couldn’t see that there was a problem to fix. Somewhere, amidst the swarm of thoughts that ravaged my subconscious each day, lay a variety of definitively and fundamentally incorrect assumptions; the most significant of these included “being thinner will make you faster,” “my body shape/features are a key piece of how others judge my total individual worth,” and, perhaps most significantly, “everyone else who is truly ‘healthy’ engages in this exhausting, consuming process of incessant dietary monitoring.”

Everyone has assumptions, and everyone probably also has assumptions that have been there with them for their entire lives. For me, my assumptions about food, exercise, and self-worth were caked into into my athletic endeavors; they formed the framework of my pursuits, subconsciously guiding me to engage in compulsive exercise, to experience extreme anxiety about food, and to self-sabotage my own confidence. So much of my assumptions were based upon how I thought others made judgements and discerned value in the world around them. To be certain, much of these notions of others’ thoughts were self-formulated; in some ways, it felt as though my brain wanted to believe in this ruthless determination of human value so much so that it would craft such an understanding by drawing on any shred of external evidence that it could find. And human society (as well as the internet) is so large and expansive that these shreds could undoubtedly be found if one looked hard enough.

With that said, however, I found that I didn’t have to search very hard at all to find these shreds; in fact, I encountered them daily, as they manifested themselves in the form of comments and compliments from other people. As a freshman and a new member of my high school community, much of the attention I received from older students was in regards to my physical appearance and capabilities; I was told regularly that I was “tiny,” “cute,” and “super fast.” Given the plethora of available adjectives in the English language, the nervous freshman version of myself was pretty satisfied with the small range of descriptors that had been implicitly assigned to me. As a result, I began to cling to this identity — that is, of being the “small,” “cute,” and “fast” one. My size and my capabilities as an athlete apparently served as reasons to appreciate me — and in the back of mind, I seemed to fear constantly that in the absence of these qualities, I would no longer be loved in the same way.

It’s weird: growing up, we are told to wear armor, to construct our own sense of value and self-worth without ever allowing others’ thoughts to impact or degrade those self-created conceptions. This is a nice idea and all, but, unfortunately, it’s not how things actually work. We can’t ever totally separate our personal thoughts from our external experiences. Especially when we’re young, our brains just don’t really work like that; instead, the reality is that we do inevitably draw upon what is said by others in order to develop our own values and conceptions of the world.

Thus, while no one person can be explicitly blamed for the hurt caused by EDs (the sufferer included), I would argue that we are all responsible within the process of establishing what is to be considered of value in other people. Every compliment one makes about another person, no matter how informal, feeds, to some extent, into that person’s conception of how she is perceived and judged. You can have a powerful impact on another’s reality in this way — and while some people are more easily influenced by external influences than others, it’s so important to always keep in mind that one always has, on some level, this power of influence.

When you compliment someone, try to go beyond the obvious and non-essential aspects of his or her identity. As a freshman, people often complimented me primarily on how fast I was (“this girl is a speed demon!”). Compliments like these that led me to assume that others were determining my inherent value based on my capabilities as an athlete; such assumptions then led me to engage in unhealthy behaviors as a means of enhancing those capabilities.

“True” compliments, I’d argue, are the ones which identify something profound and perennial about another person; they require a deep dive into the nature of the individual, rather than a quicker, more convenient exploration of the surface level components of who they are. Instead of complimenting someone’s athletic capability, consider pointing out their boundless determination. Instead of remarking on how “smart” or academically successful someone is, focus instead on their thoughtfulness, and on the genuine intentionality with which they tend to care for ideas.

Once it was upon me, my eating disorder felt out of my control. Perhaps, however, the more that we cultivate a culture of true and profound expressed appreciation for others, we can all help one another to construct our self-perceptions around the things that are essential to who we are, and which we will therefore always have control over. This is the responsibility that all of us have; it is in this way that we can enable ourselves and those around us to not be limited, but to in fact blossom and flourish.

My Recommendations: podcasts and poems [with a side of rumination]

Here are a few of my favorites:

Fair warning: I am in many ways a freak — therefore, it is possible that some of the recommendations below will not be appealing to you. With that said, all are things that I have had the courage enough to LOVE — so there must be SOMETHING there, within each… right? If you find nothing else within the human creations I’ve listed below, I hope that, at worst, you discover within yourself a sense of confusion and misunderstanding. If this does in fact occur, perhaps pause for a second – take a seat on an available bench within this dank, dimly lit cavern of rattling disorientation – and examine your surroundings. Do me the favor of slowing down, gazing, marveling at the mighty stalactites and stalagmites that seem to have sprouted out of the walls of this drearily mysterious space. Then stand up. Walk out of the cavern, if you like; the atmosphere outside is likely far more familiar to you. Or you may opt to stay and explore. Either way, know that to me, this damp place is familiar; it houses those good things that I do love. Your cavern of confusion is my paradise of understandability.

Of course, you may also happen to love everything on this list – and that’s okay, too 🙂

 

PODCASTS:

For those who feel like their life is so totally (and, more often than not, hyperbolically) disordered and out of control:

  • The Productivity Show by AsianEfficiency.
    • I specifically like the episode titled Avoiding the Six Deadly Sins of Productivity (TPS179).

 

For Runners, for adventurers:

  • Feeling disillusioned with the incredulous talents of those at the top of the sport? Check out Tina Muir’s Running for Real podcast to hear from pro runners themselves their “highs, lows, and best advice for building our confidence.”
  • One of my bucket list dreams is to through hike the Appalachian trail (by the way, it takes about 5-7 months). The podcast Sounds of the Trail consists of interviews, updates, and reflections from those in the midst of a through-hike. Very long journeys (such as through hikes) are beautiful in themselves — but to me, it just doesn’t get much better than hearing someone contemplate the meaning of life in the midst of such a journey. And that’s exactly what this podcast is. Therefore, I love it 😀

 

For the troubled, coming-of-age teen (because we’ve all been there, and, in many ways, continue to “be there”):

  • The Rookie Podcast. Hosted by Tavi Gevinson, the editor-in-chief of Rookie Magazine, this podcast features intimate interviews with special guests such as Roxane Gay, George Saunders, Cecile Richards, and Ibtihaj Muhammad (if you know who any of the above people are, that is even greater incentive for you to check out this insightful show).

 

For those seeking a.) human interest stories, and b.) to be mildly informed:

  • This American Life – produced by NPR
  • Fresh Air – also produced by NPR, this podcast is hosted by the Terry Gross. (Did I mention that I want to be Terry Gross when I grow up?? Or, at least just conduct Terry-style interviews. That would be cool, too.)
  • The Moth Radio Hour – Have you heard of poetry slams? Well, this podcast features audios from “story slams” — and yes, they are just as awesome as they sound. I have derived some of best laughs and cries from listening to this show.

 

 

Poems: In the spirit of the choice frugality that I find to be most appealing in poetry, I’ve intentionally decided to keep this list focused and limited. (Consider this: you won’t find everything within these four poems — but if you keep peering down, you will find enough.)