When I’m Not Writing, I’m Doing Something Useful (Writing 101, Day 11)

Someone once asked me why I didn’t have any useful hobbies.  I didn’t respond to the question.  It wasn’t worth my time.  In response, though, I have some questions of my own.

What is more useful than learning to see things from other people’s perspectives?  Reading does that.

What is more useful than creating something beautiful?  This happens every time I pick up a paintbrush.

Lately, I’ve spent a great deal of my free time writing.  I mean… what do you expect when your course is titled Writing 101?  But writing isn’t all I do.

I love books.  Those three words don’t even begin to describe my love for the written word.  I count myself among the world’s bibliophiles.  To read a book is akin to breathing.  As long as I can remember, I’ve been a reader.  Nothing has changed over the years.  College was awesome because it gave me an excuse to read all kinds of interesting books and get graded for it.  I used to be a one-book-at-a-time kind of girl.  Now I usually balance two or three at a time.  My bedroom has no less than six shelves–all full to the brim.  My “To-Read” list is endless.  In case you were wondering, right now I’m balancing a book of feminist essays, Love Does by Bob Geoff, and some fluffy YA fiction.

I also love art.  One of my favorite places during my semester in London was the National Gallery.  Whenever I had twenty minutes to kill, I’d duck in and spend time with Monet and Rembrandt.  But my love isn’t limited to viewing art.  I love creating it.  Like reading, I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember.  I got very serious about it when I was eleven and have been striving ever since.  A year ago, I picked up watercolors.  It’s been a blast learning the ins and outs of the new medium and combining it with my drawings.  My work isn’t high brow, art museum level.  It’s not even Art Major level.  But it doesn’t have to be.  I don’t make art to excel–I make art to fill me up.

Reading and painting bring me life.  They make me happy and they make others happy.  I love giving people hand-crafted art to put on their wall or hold their pages in a book.  What is more useful than touching the lives of the people you love?

This is just a sampling of some of the things I've painted recently.
This is just a sampling of some of the things I’ve painted recently.

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

Friday Coffee Share (Writing 101, Day 10)

It looks like our weekly coffee date is happening a few days early!  Our assignment is to write a post as if you’re in a coffee shop… little do the heads of Writing 101 know this is something I do every week.  Given that it’s an assignment and I’m quite busy this weekend, let me make you a cup of something… What is your favorite drink?  I want to make sure I have it…

If we were having coffee, I’d let you know all sorts of trivial things.  We got four inches of rain yesterday.  My older brother took me to a pro baseball game in Minneapolis the other day.  (The Twins lost, but it was still fun!)  My younger brother called me from college and we talked on the phone for over an hour.  I’m going to the Renaissance Festival on Sunday and a concert on Monday.  (I’m in for a busy weekend.)  We’re reaching the peak of orchard season, which means work life is high stress.

Mostly, though, I’d gush about my kittens.  The momma keeps moving them from bush to bush.  They’re starting to wander around, so she has a hard time keeping them in one place.  Yesterday, during the thunderstorms, she moved them into the woods.  This morning, I practiced my herding abilities and lead them back to a warm cat house.  They’re getting very tame.  If they hear my voice, they come over and crawl on my lap.  We’ve slowly been giving them names.  So far, we have Herman, Charlotte, Pip, and Carlos.  We already have people lined up to take two of them, which is sad, but I’m glad they’ll have good homes.  Do you have any name suggestions for the remaining three?

If we were having coffee, I’d let you know that it has been so fun getting to know you.  I know, it’s hard to truly get to know someone over the internet, but over the past few weeks I have interacted with so many wonderful people because of Writing 101.  I love the assignments, but I think it’s even more fun seeing how you all respond to them. I’ve never been much of a commenter before this course and I’m finding that I like being pushed out of my box.  It makes for great interactions!   Thank you so much for reading and engaging with my blog, but more so, thank you for writing such wonderful posts of your own.

Now that I’ve chatted a bit, I’d like to turn things over to you.  If we were having coffee, what would you have to share?

To a Rainy Day (Writing 101, Day 9)

Dear Rainy Day,

I’m in love with you. The thunder that presses against my windows send a shiver of pleasure down my spine. The pattering of raindrops makes me feel cozy and safe.

Yet… How am I supposed to get anything done with your constant pestering?

You inspire the desire to shirk all responsibility. I can’t stop thinking about you. I want to spend time with you, to stand in your downpour and get soaked to the skin. I want to soak you in.

I want to curl up in a sweater and leggings in a large chair and watch you transform the normally vibrant colors out the window to a mass of fuzzy grey. I want to drink tea and read poetry aloud, letting the cadence of the words rumble in time with your thunder.

Will you wait for me, Rainy Day? Will you linger until my work is done? Will you save up a whisper so, when I crawl in bed tonight, you can sing me to sleep?

All my love,

Amelia

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This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

For a similar post, check out my breakup letter to Virginia Woolf.

What’s Your Favorite Movie? (Writing 101, Day 8)

A while back, my friend Holly from In Spec made a post about the movie Lost in Translation. When you’re done reading this post, please check her site out because she is a smashing good writer. At the end of the post, she posed a question: What is your favorite movie?

(I love it when bloggers ask questions at the end of their posts because I’m the type of person who usually doesn’t comment on things. If I don’t have anything to say, I usually keep silent. That’s why I love the “like” button so much. It allows me to appreciate without articulation. But I digress.)

Holly is an old friend (we went to high school AND college together), so of course I answered her question. I told her that my favorite movie is Midnight in Paris.

If you’ve never seen it, let me give you a synopsis. Normally, I’d post the trailer, but it is one of the few that reveals little to nothing about the movie. Midnight in Paris is about a man who goes to Paris with his fiancé and future in-laws. This man is an idealistic dreamer. Although he made his millions writing Hollywood screenplays, he has always dreamed of writing novels. When we meet him, he has just finished a major draft. During the day, our characters, joined by some friends they unexpectedly meet, soak in Parisian culture by visiting museums, palaces, and wine tastings. Frustrated his companion’s shallow pseudo intellectualism, our hero takes a midnight stroll to clear his mind and finds himself… well… I don’t want to spoil things.

I adore this film. The first time I saw it, I was practically rolling around on the ground salivating. (Yes, I was geeking out that much. My mother can verify this.) Midnight in Paris feels literary—with themes, motifs, cultural statements… all the things that gets a former English major excited.

Midnight in Paris is all about nostalgia. It’s about the longing that dreamers have for times-gone-by. The film deconstructs the idea of the “Golden Age”. It explores the way we idealize the past and beautifully points out that the people in our Golden Ages were doing the exact same thing. Ultimately, the film celebrates times gone by, but encourages viewers to appreciate and delight in the present.

I’m a naturally nostalgic person, so this film tugs at all my heartstrings. It’s got a star-studded cast, filled with all kinds of fun surprises. The film is poignant, frustrating, and very, very beautiful.

Since Holly has given me such a great model, I’m going to end this post in the same way she ended hers:

What is your favorite movie? What do you like about it?

Imagination and Empathy: Tapping Humanity’s Greatest Strengths (Writing 101, Day 7)

J.K. Rowling, in her 2008 Harvard commencement speech, wisely said:

I firmly believe that one of humanity’s greatest strengths lies in imagination and empathy. We have this incredible gift to place ourselves into the shoes of others. We can experience lives that are not our own. This is a strength that is undervalued and underutilized.

Growing up, I was immersed in a culture that perceived differences as threats. My family and I attended church in our community for twenty years without ever being truly accepted and loved by the congregation. You see, we didn’t fit in with conservative Christianity. We didn’t deliberately stir up trouble… we didn’t want to cause controversy or divisions. We were eager to grow in our faith, learn more about God, and be part of people’s lives. But our minds worked differently than the people around us. We couldn’t help asking questions, which made people uncomfortable. We were different and they had a hard time understanding us. Because of those things, we never felt acceptance. As a young teen, I always felt like I was lacking something, like I wasn’t good enough, like I was made wrong. (That impression was later demolished and my sense of value was strongly established, but that’s a story for another time.) It took twenty years for us to uproot ourselves and search out a church that valued us for the people we are, differences and all. It’s been three years and we are still searching.

I think that empathy can solve problems like these. Empathy is the ability to see things from another’s point of view. Because, the fact of the matter is, we as people are not all the same. Everyone is wired differently—some are scientists, some are artists, some are Republicans, some are Democrats, some are men, some are women, some are old, some are young, some are Christians, some are Muslims, some live in the city, some live in the country, some are dreamers, some are doers, the list goes on and on. There are thousands of perspectives out there and, if you cannot see beyond your own, you limit yourself to a narrow worldview that destroys more than it fosters.

The ability to empathize is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in college. Because of this, I am an ardent believer in the value of higher education. Through years of literature classes, reading the voices of times gone by, I learned to open my mind to new perspectives. Now, let me assure you that I am in no way a master at this. I’m not perfect and, more times than not, I find myself passing unnecessary judgment on others with perspectives different from my own. But there is a difference between having blind spots and being aware of them. I know I often fail at empathy, but I’m trying.

The thing is, differences are not a threat. I think that differences are an incredible strength. If the world were full of people who were the same, nothing would ever be accomplished. If everyone were a builder, we’d have lots of buildings and nothing to use them for. If everyone were a writer, we’d have lots to read, but nothing to eat. If everyone were a politician, we’d really be screwed. The differences between people are what make the world work.

You may not agree with another person’s point of view. It may even offend you. But that’s not the point. Devaluing someone’s perspective is devaluing his or her humanity. If more people considered other points of view, damage caused by unnecessary judgment would decrease. You don’t have to agree with a person, but taking the time to understand their perspective and accepting differences can do worlds of good.

We simply cannot function without imagination and empathy. We cannot settle for being narrow-minded. We cannot go on rejecting perspectives that do not match our own. The world we live in is so broken. Every time I turn on the news or open a paper, it’s something new. Driven from their homes, refugees struggle to establish a new life. A manic father shoots his wife and children before committing suicide. People who legally can now marry are still denied their rights.

But we have the power to change things. We can imagine a world where refugees find homes, where mental illnesses are diagnosed and properly treated, where people are allowed their legal freedoms. Once we imagine all these things, we are in the perfect position to act. We know what must be done. We can then become the people who step up and bring about transformation.

Stories, by their nature, place us directly in the perspective of others. This is why I love Rowling’s quote so much. Stories force us to see with eyes that are not our own, to walk with the feet of others, to feel with heartbeats outside our breasts. Fiction captures the essence of humanity and consuming it forces us to be human.   I believe a well-told, well-timed story can change the world. 

We have everything we need to transform our world. We have the power to empathize.  We have the power to imagine.

In My Happy Place (Writing 101, Day 6)

When it’s time to write, I like to be alone.  Crowded locations, even trendy coffee shops, are a definite no.  I used to bury myself in the basement of my university’s library.  Something about being surrounded by books helped me find my words.

These days, writing usually happens in my bedroom.  This summer, I got rid of the tiny desk that served me throughout childhood and upgraded to something I can actually USE.  I’m sitting here now, actually.  See the white chair in the photo below?  Picture me there, typing away on my laptop.

My bedroom is my happy place.  It’s the only place I can truly be alone.  I can hear noises from other parts of the house, but they can’t reach me here.  Not in my happy place.

I’m the type of person who likes to be cozy.  Part of this means lots of bookshelves, warm sweaters, and patterned socks.  Part of this also means surrounding myself with objects laden with memories.  Almost everything in the photo of my desk has meaning.  The bulletin board is covered with postcards, photos, and notes, each bearing its own story.  If you were here, I could tell you each one.  The wire hanging spelling my name was a gift from a co-worker during my camp counseling days.  Even the tiny objects bring back memories–rubber ducks given to me by a favorite roommate, a carved elephant a friend brought back from Africa, a plaque with a Bible verse given to me when I graduated high school.

When I’m cozy, I’m comfortable.  When I’m comfortable, words flow.

 This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

P.S. Part of today’s assignment included generating polls/contact forms to generate ideas for future posts.  I opted for the contact form.  If you have a topic or area you’d like to see me write about, you can find the new “Contact Me” page under my “About” heading.  Or you can email me at keepyourfeetblog@gmail.com.  OR you can do things the simple way and leave a comment.  Cheers!

Weekend Coffee Share: Goodbye Socially-Awkward Hermit Amelia

If we were having coffee, we would be meeting at a local coffee shop because I need to get out of my house.  You’d enter the shop, order a drink of choice, and then would find me huddled over a table with my head in my arms. It’s been that kind of week.  A mug of English Breakfast tea would sit steaming in front of me, but I wouldn’t touch it until you sat down.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about work.  At any place of employment, there are all kinds of little behind-the-scenes things that need doing before and after hours. When you live at the place you work, it becomes your task to work extra and get those things done. I put in three ten-hour days in a row. On Friday night, if you drove by our orchard around seven-thirty, you probably would have seen me on a lawn mower cleaning everything up before the weekend crowds hit.

Since I basically work all the time, I keep forgetting to eat… which is something new for me. I’ll go for six hours at a time with only an apple to get me by. Lunches are a hurried dash of grabbing whatever is fastest (usually yogurt, salad, and an apple) and getting back to work. The other day, I went over to a friend’s house for a bonfire (after I finished mowing) and my first words to her were, “Do you have any meat?” She didn’t, so I settled for almonds instead.

Sundays are my only days off and I am determined (after cleaning the house and getting on top of my blog posts for the week) to lie on the couch reading fun books and watching movies. It’s going to be glorious.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I have written more in the last week than I have since college ended. I love it! Writing 101 has been challenging, but not in the ways I expected. The hardest part is finding time in the day to sit down and write. I I’ve been squeezing time in the morning for most of my posts, although occasionally they have to wait until later in the evening. All the assignments have been fantastic so far. Each one is simple, to the point, and offers a source of inspiration. Every day brings something different.

Since starting this course, the posts I’ve written have gotten at the heart of what I’ve always wanted Keep Your Feet to be about. It’s just taken a year and a half on this site, but I’m starting to find my voice here. Each post offers different pieces of myself as I transition into adulthood—working through why I write, making a list of things I love about living at my parent’s house, discussing the insecurities and perks of my nonexistent love life, random musings about Thoreau, and what it means to learn. I’m very proud of the work I’ve accomplished this week and, if you’ve take time to read it, I’m extremely thankful.  I’m eager to get started on this week’s assignments!

As part of Writing 101, I’ve also been working on engaging with other bloggers.  I’ve loved reading everyone’s assignments and finding new sites to follow!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you about all the plans I’ve been making. Socially awkward hermit Amelia is a thing of the past (for now, at least). In the past week, I’ve had movie nights at two people’s houses and attended a bonfire. Tomorrow night, I’m meeting a friend for dinner. Next weekend, I’m going to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival with a friend one day and attending a concert at a club in Minneapolis the next. I’ve also stolen the Fall Arts Preview of the newspaper and hope to make a list of all the things I want to see and o in the upcoming months. I know all of this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but I’m really looking forward to spending quality time with friends and doing things that fill me up. Plays, concerts, art galleries… I want to soak in as much as I can.

During this time of business, I’m going to have to be extra careful about fitting in introvert time so I don’t become a raging monster and get crabby with everyone.

With all the things on my schedule these days, our coffee conversations are about to get more interesting.

I’ve done enough talking… it’s your turn!  What do you have to share over coffee?

This post is part of the Weekend Coffee Share link-up at Part Time Monster

There is Always More to Learn (Writing 101, Day 5)

My younger brother recently turned twenty. On his birthday, we jokingly pointed out, “You’re not a teenager anymore, Sam. You no longer know anything.”

It’s amazing how age and study decrease your sense of importance.

Recently, I graduated from college and, if I learned anything in my four years at the University of Minnesota, Morris, it was that I am incredibly small. There is so much, no, too much to know. Even in my area of study, literature and writing, I feel like I know nothing.

If I decided to get a doctorate in literature, accumulating deep knowledge of texts and cultures from times gone by, it would take the majority of my twenties. Even then, my knowledge would be limited to a single subject—Victorian novels, Renaissance drama, Romantic poetry. I could study for years and years and barely scratch the surface… and that is in my field!

There are so many avenues I wish I could have visited in college. If I could go back, I’d up my Communication minor to a major and take as many rhetoric classes as possible. I’d insert a minor in Art History just because I love the subject. I’d delve into more History classes. I’d take another course in Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies, simply because the topic is culturally relevant and fascinating.

But college is over. Maybe I’ll go to graduate school someday, but that’s at least three years down the road.

Education truly is a gift. Through it, you learn how small you are. You learn that your point of view is one of millions. You learn to empathize with those who are different from you.

But academia is only one kind of knowledge. Now that I’m out of school, it’s time to pursue other studies—how to be a responsible adult, how to be good to my family, how to blog well, how to keep strong in my faith, how to take joy in every day. The biggest lesson is learning what I want to spend the rest of my life doing.

The beauty of education is that it really never stops. Inside or out of the classroom, there is still so much to learn.

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

The Marrow of Life (Writing 101, Day 4)

Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

I haven’t read beyond the first chapter of Walden, but I’ve been to Walden Pond.  I saw the place Thoreau built his little cabin.  I walked the same paths, put my feet in the same water.  The funny thing about Thoreau’s escape into nature is that he really didn’t go that far.  The pond by which he spent two years is only a couple of miles from Concord.  My friend and I walked there from town.  So, although it made for some beautiful self-reflection, Thoreau wasn’t in any serious danger.  But I digress.

I’m no scholar of Transcendentalism (my focus is actually British literature), but I love what Thoreau gets at here.  He goes to the woods to find what it is to live.  He strips life down to its barest essentials.  He digs deep, gets his hands dirty, and finds what it is to be truly alive.

Have you ever gone to the woods?

When I pose this question, I’m not talking about a stroll through the forest.  Nor am I wondering if you’ve spent two years living as a hermit in the wilderness.

Have you ever, to use Thoreau’s words, sucked the marrow of life?  Have you ever started a journey, forged a relationship, created something with your hands, that made you understand what it feels to be truly alive?

I know that I have tasted the marrow of life.  I have glimpsed life’s bright light.  I have experienced moments of complete wholeness and peace.  But it has always been fleeting.  It is always a taste, always a glimpse, always a moment.

I want to live like Thoreau.  His words aren’t those of someone who is timid.  His words are bold.  He doesn’t want to exist; he wants to thrive.  He wants to cut broadly, shave closely, to drive, to be sturdy, to be strong.

I don’t want to live what is not life.  I want to bask in the simple pleasures of every day.  I want to find work that brings meaning not only to myself, but to others.  Although I wish it to be, I’m starting to realize that life doesn’t have to be large.  It doesn’t have to be filled with excitement and movement to be meaningful.  Thoreau certainly wasn’t having epic adventures as he tended to his garden and walked through the woods.  Richness can be found through simplicity, through solitude, through taking time to be still.

So, dear readers, let’s be like Thoreau.  Let us go to the woods.  Let us suck the marrow of life.  Because what an awful thing it would be to reach the end of our days and discover that we hadn’t lived at all.

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This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

Love is All You Need… Or is It? (Writing 101, Day 3)

I have never been in love.

Some days, this fact about myself makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. In a consumer society where the movies we watch and books we read tell us the most desirable thing a woman can strive for is romance, not having it sometimes makes me feel weak. Open. Insecure.

Singleness is often portrayed as a dreadful thing that women need to get rid of. I love romantic comedies, but how many center on women who are dissatisfied with their relationship status? To be single is to be a failure. If you’re not in a relationship, you’re not desirable enough. You’re not beautiful enough. You’re not smart enough. You are not enough.

What a bunch of crap.

Most days, romantic inexperience doesn’t bother me much. I’ve never felt the desire to date for the sake of dating. When I enter a relationship someday, I want it to be something that lasts. I don’t want to be with someone for the sake of not being alone. I want to be with someone because they fascinate and inspire me.  I want to be with someone who loves me for who I am. In reality, I’ve never actually met anyone I seriously wanted to date. Oh I’ve had crushes.  Lots of them.  But only one person has ever seriously caught my eye and that didn’t even start to go anywhere. That, however, is a story for another day.

When it comes down to it, I love being single. I love making life decisions without needing someone else’s input, worrying about distance, or providing for children. For me, there is a whole world of possibilities. I could move anywhere, do any job, and pursue whatever adventures come my way. Singleness is a unique time in life and I don’t want to spend it moping around.

I do hope to find love eventually, but why detract from the joys of life by buying into lies that I need a man to make me happy? Everyone says it comes when you least expect it. I figure that if I live without expectations of romance, I can enjoy all the wonderful things in my life now. When love comes, it will take me by surprise and will be so much more exciting.

My philosophy on love and dating may not resonate with everyone. Most of my views stream from my deeply rooted faith and security in God. But to go into all the spiritual aspects of my reasoning would be crossing into waters I tend to avoid in the blogosphere. (Maybe I’ll write about why I don’t talk about my faith much someday. I’ll add that to the list of post ideas.) Anyway, if my words don’t fit your perspective or worldview, that is okay. We’re all different. As the phrase goes, “You do you.”

The truth is, though, culture is wrong. You don’t need romance, dates, or sex to live a fulfilling life.

Falling in love? Maybe someday. Until then, I am enough.

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.