Self, Social Justice, Writing

Yes! let’s jam.

Q: What is a jam?

A: A delicious spreadable fruit-based condiment to be slathered on bread with butter, traditionally consumed in the morning but also at night by people who just can’t get enough toast. Duh.

Other A: a creative gathering for people working at the intersection of arts and social change to come together, reflect, share our challenges and breakthroughs, nurture ourselves, support and inspire each other.

Fortunately for me, I get to have BOTH kinds of jams in my life! About a year ago, my dear friend Nandita attended a gathering in central Cali and came back a different gal. Or rather, the same gal, but more hopeful, energized, and fulfilled. This gathering was the 2015 Arts for Social Change Jam, which I understood as a networking/ group therapy/ art-making workshop for creative types. This year, she was selected as one of the facilitators and she begged (okay, casually invited) me to apply. Although it was a stretch to think of myself as an artist, I did.

via Yes! World

I was super honest in my application essays– about the fact that I’m not really sure it’s possible to earn a decent living while making a career out of helping people; about my stressed relationship with money; about whether art can really change the world; about how little art I’ve produced lately. It was less a personal sell than a “I don’t think you’d want me, but if you did, I’d sure be glad.”

Somehow, though, something in that real talk caught the admissions team’s eye(s?) and I got in!. So on April 5th, I’m flying out to sunny San Francisco (and then likely hopping in a van to drive for several more hours) to attend the 2016 Arts for Social Change Jam in Ben Lomond, CA.

I have very little idea what to expect in terms of concrete activities, but here’s what the website says I can expect to think about:


  • What is my story as an artist?
  • How are we to be sustainable and valued for our artistic gifts?
  • What does success look like for artivists? Where am I challenged as an artivist? What does it even mean to be an artivist?
  • How do we collaborate as artivists across mediums, modalities, and issue focuses?
  • How do we create an enduring support network of people using their creative passions for social change?
  • How do our diverse identities relate to us as artists and as activists, and how do we build bridges across those identities with each other?
  • What feels like the purpose and value of artist-activists in these particular times?

Sounds cool, right?! This opportunity couldn’t be coming at a better time. I recently ended a (short) kind-of relationship and am starting a new full-time job next month, so it feels like a great way to kick off what hopefully will be a year of rooting down and finding some personal stability.




Nanny, Observations, Self, Writing

moving sucks.

You may remember that I mentioned I was moving a while back. In fact, if you’ve been reading for more than a few months, you may remember that I’ve mentioned it twice, separately, in two different contexts. That’s cause I’ve moved twice in the past year. I’ve moved at least once a year, actually, since I graduated college.

In this new place, which is just slightly too expensive, and just slightly too inconvenient, but damn if it isn’t beautiful, I’m trying to forge a home more than I have in the other places I’ve lived. As an experiment, kind of; I don’t plan on living in the city for more than another year/ 1.5 years. I feel strongly that my time here is limited. Which makes investing in furnishings feel frivolous. But I’ve gotten tired of living in other people’s spaces, of feeling like I don’t have control over my home. I want to see how it feels to live in a place I got to decorate, where I get to set the rules.

That feeling of ease/ownership is complicated, in a way, by the fact that I’m now living with one of my best friends. I care about how my actions affect her more than I did about previous roommates. Which means I’m trying to be especially careful about, say, making noise early in the morning, or leaving messes in the kitchen. I’m not tiptoeing exactly, but I haven’t yet figured out a good balance between being conscientious and being comfortable.

My new housing situation is soon to be matched with a new employment situation, too. The families I’ve been working with nannying are moving on. The little girls are going to school! I haven’t quite let myself feel the full—honestly—grief that I know should/will accompany this transition. Hannah, one of the moms, told me the other day that I’ve been a third parent to her daughter. While I might debate that, it’s true I’ve been working with her daughter for two years and have had a big role in shaping the small person she is. But my brain has been so caught up in anxiety about moving and finding new employment, in grasping at the fragments of newness and hints of what’s to come in order to establish some semblance of security that I haven’t allowed myself to mourn the shift/ loss of that precious relationship. My temporary situation is such that I am going to be working with another family for at least a month until I find out whether my office job can offer me a full time position beginning in April.

With all the transitions, too, finances are a concern. I was just offered a position at an Arts and Social Justice Jam in San Diego in April—with a significant scholarship and travel discount. The total cost is still over a week’s pay for me at this point, though. A friend of mine is facilitating the conference and attended it herself year; she called it life-changing and credits it with setting her on a path to healing after several years of trauma and trauma-fallout. I could use a creative kick-in-the-pants, but as always, money hounds me.

I’m going to accept the position and pray for the wisdom to make the best decision. If you’ve got it in you, would you mind joining me?

Observations, Uncategorized

two neat programs to make you feel more centered.

Yesterday I thought a lot about how much I’ve been avoiding sitting with my thoughts (and praying/ turning them over to God). So before bed, I made myself meditate.

There are a lot of types of meditation and a million websites that offer guidance on how to do it easily, but I decided I wanted to try a phone app that would guide me through an audio. So I downloaded “Stop Breathe Think.” There’s been a lot of buzz about Headspace lately, but I have to say I loved this one– and it’s free!

I chose to do a meditation called Body Scan, which directs your attention to all the parts of your body and guides you to re-integrate them as your mind, promoting a sense of wholeness. The audio voice is neutral and calm, not cloying, and after completing it, I felt significantly calmer and more prepared for bed. There’s also an option to do a “self-scan” that dims the light on your phone for a few moments while you take stock of how your mind and body feel. You rate how you feel and record (up to) five emotions; the app then selects a short guided audio meditation that addresses your current situation. My favorite part, though, is that for every meditation you complete, you get a sticker! I’ve never been one for silly online rewards (and I don’t even know what happens once you get a certain amount of stickers on this thing) but it was a nice, small surprise. The app records all of your stickers as well as how many days you’ve meditated and how you rated your feelings.

Another program I wanted to let you know about is Yoga with Adriene’s Yoga Camp. For the month of January, Yoga with Adriene  is uploading a free 30-60 minute video as part of a series meant to refocus yoga on the connection between mind, body, and soul, rather than on weight loss or strength-building. Each video has a different mantra: “I Accept,” “I Embrace,” and “I Create” are just a few. I love Adriene because her videos are for all levels– truly, I promise–and she honors the fact that everyone’s body and experience of yoga is different, constantly viewers that they should “Find What Feels Good.” I highly recommend checking her out!

Observations, Self, Spirituality

the grand return! (confessions and a new apartment)

Confession Number One:

For the first time in like four years (humble brag), I haven’t kept my new year’s resolution. Which makes me normal! But I liked that I wasn’t normal in that way! Dammit. I’m back on track (with one day under my belt), but man oh man did I cheat the past few weeks. Until around January 7, I was like, AWWWW MAN I’M DOIN GREAT. I’d set an alarm for myself, browse gossip sites and interior design blogs for 20 minutes, and sign back off. What felt like oodles of free time popped up out of nowhere. I was forced to be alone with my thoughts, and it was uncomfortable but refreshing. But slowly, what with the fact that I’m moving and have to buy a bunch of home goods/ moving supplies, I stopped setting the alarm, and minutes turned into quite possibly hours of adding things to various web carts for my new apartment. Which has led to:

Confession Number Two:

I’ve also been bad about keeping of my finances in the past few weeks. I had to borrow some (a lot) of money to make this move happen, and aside from keeping track of what I owe my friends, I’ve gotten lax about all the little purchases from day to day. Allergy meds, a coffee, that Uber ride: I’ve tried to keep unnecessary spending to a minimum, but somehow that’s translated into sort of pretending I’m not spending anything at all. I am very likely being a perfectionist, but there it is.

And Confession Number Three:

Not really a confession but an observation. I had a moment of grace this morning on the subway. I was journaling about the ways I continue to use the Internet to avoid facing my thoughts/ feelings, and how what I’m realizing I’m actually attempting to avoid is God. I’m trying to avoid letting him speak to me because I’m afraid he’s going to be all kill-joy. I’m afraid that as soon as I tap into prayer, what I’m going to hear back is a list of the ways I’m messing up (dating the wrong people, dating at all, being unkind to my family, telling too many white lies, trying to do life on my own) and preventing him from doing his thing for me. Which might be true!  I might be fucking up (I am, trust me)! But I don’t believe God would meet my approach with an instant list of wrongdoing. Instead, I started writing, maybe I should stop putting words in God’s mouth. Maybe each time I pray and then get discouraged by God’s seeming disapproval, it’s really my own guilt talking, not God. Maybe what God has to say to me is simpler than that: I love you, Melissa. My grace is sufficient. My love covers all.

Observations, Self

my new year’s resolution.

Last night when I was doing yoga before bed (an on-off practice I’m trying to make more consistent), I could not get my mind to stop racing. I wasn’t thinking about anything important. Nope. I was obsessing about what kind of curtains I should get for my new apartment (which I have yet to secure.) And when I say obsessing, I mean obsessing. Like, my mind was furiously working through how many shades of white I had seen on and what undertones of white paint I’d have to buy to make the room match and whether I should get opaque or sheer curtains to make the room more or less formal and whether sheer curtains would let in enough light to support plant growth and whether I wanted print or solid and which prints would be more timeless, stripes or stars, and how much beyond $25 I was willing to spend on them and whether they should touch the ground or be tied off in the middle and what kinds of tie-backs I’d need to get.

As Yoga with Adriene‘s voice urged me to drop into this practice, I realized that the reason why my mind was racing now was likely because I’d been staring at a screen (and stressing about money) for the past four hours– all while supposedly spending time with my family. In fact, I’d been on my phone nearly constantly during this entire trip home. My eyes hurt, and I was having trouble being present.

Shopping online–or reading blogs about stuff you can buy online– has become a bit of a grounding activity for me in the past month. Being stressed about finding a new place to live (my lease is about to run out) and about all the travel associated with the holidays has led me to the world of collecting and organizing things as an escape into harmless, absorbing, mind-numbing activity. Ultimately, though, it’s not how I want to spend my time.

As I tried to drop into my practice and return to my breath, I realized that a daily meditation practice would be a good counterpoint to all the time I spend daydreaming and thinking about material stuff. Hey, it’s almost New Years! I thought. I should make that my resolution! 

Of course, then it hit me that there were a lot of things I’d like to make my resolution. I should be practicing my flute more! I should use my paints! I should read more novels! I should, I should, I should…

But I don’t have time for any of those things, I realized soon after, now completely ignoring Yogi Adriene, who was deep into a new vinyasa. Unless…

Unless I stop spending so much time browsing Imgur and Refinery 29.

Soooo now I’m thinking that my New Year’s Resolution is going to be to spend less than 1/2 hour every day browsing the Web, with the intention of using those minutes for more truly relaxing activities.

What about you? Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? If so, what’s yours?


Self, Social Justice, Uncategorized

where to put that extra christmas cash you might get from returning unwanted gifts.

It happens every year: the influx of gifts you don’t want. A well-meaning aunt gives you a grown-up size of the bejeweled sweater you loved in 7th grade. Grandma gifts you the fourth mug in a row. Your sister gives you a shirt you actually like so much you’ve already bought it for yourself.

Might I make a suggestion?

Please don’t, you think; but it’s too late.

Instead of exchanging the item for something else (aka spend two hours scouring the store for something you actually want), why not take the money from the return process and donate it to one of the following charities? Each of these is an organization close to my heart, but which serves a wide variety of people.

Oregon Extension logo

The Oregon Extension: a unique alternative semester-abroad. Students (like I used to be) “can settle into our mountain hideaway in the southern Oregon Cascades for a four-month conversation with professors and peers who love to read books, ask big questions, and confront big ideas.” Participants “move out of the current where [they] can think about issues that tug at [them], cultivate friendships, feel the touch of the breeze in the forest, listen to the stream in the canyon, and reach some understanding about what things mean and why they are worth caring about.”

Amirah | From Exploitation to LiberationAmirah Boston: “a faith-based nonprofit organization located in the Boston area that strives to provide a refuge for those seeking to break free from exploitation and heal in community on their journey toward lasting hope… by providing safe homes for those that want to break free from sexual exploitation, mobilizing the greater community to create opportunities for healing, restoration and reintegration.

Picture The Homeless

Picture the Homeless: An organizing group that “was founded and is led by homeless people. [They] refuse to accept being neglected and we demand that our voices and experience are heard at all levels of decision-making that impact us. [They] oppose the quality of life laws that criminalize homeless people in any form by the city, state and national governments[,] work to change these laws and policies, [and]challenge the root causes of homelessness.”

I’m curious: what organizations do you care about and support? 

xoxo, m.

Design, Self

how do you give gifts?

I love browsing gift guides during the holiday season. Not because I actually am looking for things to give people. I mean, I am. But not from these places. I read them the way I imagine some people watch porn: as perfect, unattainable, seductive escapes to unreality that I emerge from with a slight guilt headache.

Take, for example, this gift guide from cool-girl website Refinery 29. In a list called, “30 Genius Gifts for Your Other Half,” their curator suggests a $195 rucksack. RUCKSACK. That sounds like something a 1950’s hobo would carry. Also pretty much everyone I know, including my imaginary other half, has a backpack. Also on the list is a  $350 bocce ball set. Again, maybe if I was a retired New York Jew living in Florida.


What I might give to my husband of 40 years during our retirement.

It’s not just that these suggested gifts are crazy expensive. It’s also that so many of them are totally frivolous. An icicle wine chiller. Moscow mule cups. A sleeping mask. No one I know needs these things!

My ideal gift for giving fulfills someone’s actual need or desire in a stylish, perhaps unexpected, delightful way. I don’t like just giving stuff. 

So I’m curious: what do you do around the holiday season for gifts? Do you obsessively hand-make, curate individualized lists, or just get the same basic gift for everyone? (As for myself, I am making baked goods for acquaintances and getting cheapie/creative with single gifts for my closer friends). I’d love to hear yours 🙂

xo m.