Of Note

The pressure to consume the entire world rather than digest our own experience is what kills our hearts, not aging.
— Rachel Demy, The Power of Our Tuning
Taken at North Myrtle Beach

Taken at North Myrtle Beach

Happy Friday, readers. I hope everyone has enjoyed a nice week. I wanted to start a series that might take some time warming up to, but which I hope will find its best form with practice. I love sharing what I've been reading throughout the week or what's caught my fancy on this vast ocean of content we call the internet. I've been thinking a lot about what I want out of my experience as a woman, which has prompted an idea for a new essay. Hopefully that will come sometime next week. In the meantime, I wanted to add another flavor to the blog here. One writer discusses the mashups of Jane Austen's most famous first line, the first link gives passage to an inspiring new space for the female voice, and six women experiment with matching their shade of lipstick to an interesting part of their body, among other links. While I enjoyed gathering these quirky pieces the last few days, my aim is to read more long form pieces to share with you each week, and to post more often with my own (hopefully) thought-provoking ideas. For now, I hope this will suffice.

 

A stunning new website for women.

The easiest pasta dish I ever did see.

If you've enjoyed a glass of wine at Lula Drake then you've enjoyed a glass of organic wine. But what exactly does 'organic' mean in the wine industry?

Beautifully handmade glassware for all your adult beverage needs + twinkly lights under which to sip from them.

How to have a productive morning before 7 A.M.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is really no specific way to make a gin martini. 

A gorgeous compact journal for your on-the-go notes.

Cruising the streets with the windows down

Three dreamy Instagram feeds. (undeaux, trois)

Wine in a can, anyone?

Advice on growing a minimalist wardrobe.

Tired? Nauseous? Tense? This is the tea you've been looking for.

My unwitting  choice of lip color makes much more sense now. (I use this creme lipstick in Muted Plum, if that tells you anything.)

A spirited newsletter for your nature-loving heart.

Will be turning to this when I finally get around to reorganizing my bookshelf.

Thoughtful ways to console a bereaved friend.

I could see this ambiance working out very well as I'm writing at my computer with a glass of wine by my side.

Do you request books from the library? Yesterday, I requested 9! A bit much? On a related note... 

 

What have you been reading this week?

Enjoy your weekend,

Wren

These Are My Confessions

...the very young can be charming and delightful and pretty but only a mature woman can be beautiful; and only a mature man can be strong enough to be truly tender.
— Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
There is so much hurt in this game of searching for a mate, of testing, trying. And you realize suddenly that you forgot it was a game, and turn away in tears.
— Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
— Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
from the high top at Lula Drake

from the high top at Lula Drake

His thumb grazed the tip of my knee. We were sitting at the high top between the door and bar. Instead of settling in across from me, he'd taken the adjacent chair as we'd tucked into the table; as though, it seemed now, strategizing for this moment. The moment when he could tell I'd relaxed a bit, grown chummy with wine, and wouldn't startle as easily. I'd been rambling about something, though I don't remember what. In situations where I've held little practice, rambling ensues as a nervous habit. It continued strong as I felt the brush of his thumb against my jeans, in an effort to appear cool, unaffected, normal. But I was not cool, certainly not unaffected, and most certainly not normal. After a while, though, these small parts of our bodies became well enough acquainted. So when his hand inched up my leg, it was mature, but not unwelcome, for a second date. He swept up and back down my thigh in a continual movement, every now and then squeezing the underside of my knee. We might've done this regularly, appeared to know each other better than we did. Toward the end of the night, I draped my arm over the table and asked with mocking coy, "Do you want to hold my hand?" He sighed, "Well, if you're going to force me," and rested his own against my palm.

His skin was smooth and warm. He had this boyish smile that softened my nerves, was tall, well-sculpted. A dash of red curls crowned his head. He wore a short-sleeved maroon tee and hemp trousers. His black-framed glasses gave him a rugged professorial look. He'd studied history in school, wanted to be a teacher. We shared a lot of the same viewpoints, loved to read, appreciated good television. We had similar standards when it came to beer. Craft usually, high quality domestic when necessary, never Bud Light. Conversation came naturally. Without any conscious thought toward what I was doing, I noticed my foot cozying against his ankle, gliding up and down his calf as though it had been nothing to do so. And it hadn't been. We were simply responding to each other. At the end of the night, six glasses of wine gone between us, we hugged outside of the bar and parted ways. I drifted weightlessly back to my car, indulging each nerve ending in its nubile, spirited attachment. Stupidly, you might say. But I looked forward to more of this, more of knowing him as a person, and more of knowing myself as a possibility to someone else.

We messaged throughout the next week. Friends would ask when we were seeing each other again, but it was too soon to tell. In the beginning, I didn't think anything of it. "I'm okay with taking things slow," I'd told him. Before our second date, I used a bout of uncharacteristic chutzpah to encourage an offer. "So when are you going to ask me out again?" I thought some confident assertion might play well. Play. It's hard not to think of these things as a kind of sport. Love is a game, isn't it? Not one in which you want to lose your nerve. So I told myself to be patient. Let him come to you. Where had that thought come from? It crouched in my mind, imploring me not to get in over my head. Because he'd gotten busy. Work, the gym, watching a friend's dogs. "It all adds up!" he said. And still, "When are you seeing him again?" But I didn't know.

The week of July 4th, my mood began to shift. I searched for comfort and distraction in messaging him, but the thread began to look too one-sided. That was my first mistake. You don't use a guy you've gone out with twice to soothe your emotional ailments. You steep some tea, read a trashy novel, binge-watch Friends, actually talk to a friend. He messaged back, apologizing for the sporadic texts, hoping I felt better. One morning, I slid the card of birth control pills sitting on my nightstand from its blue, plastic sleeve and realized what was happening. The days had crept up on me. Given the week's moodiness, I knew to expect a bad cycle. And it was: crying, hostility, drastic lows, frenetic worry. A woman with more common sense than I generally employ would've known to keep her words sparse during such an unpredictable event. But like some post-modern Hemingway with a vagina, thumbs poised for disaster, I bled them. Pun not intended. Every last insecurity about this experience drove out of me in a fit of untamable vulnerability. When I didn't hear back from him (because of course), I indulged my offense with the hormones that wrested away the remnants of my composure. Which is to say, after that first silence, I didn't stop. I kept writing.

By Friday, I felt clear and level, though my obsessive nature wouldn't relent. Nothing troubled me more than a man's silence. I leaned against the counter top in the break room at work, and listened to the gurgle of rich liquid into the coffee cup my cousin, Emily, bought me for Christmas. In eccentric fonts of various sizes and colors it read famous first lines of classic novels. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. The Metamorphosis. It was hard not to read that line in anything other than an ominous, gravelly tenor. I swiveled the mug around for a better look, lifted it from the counter to hold at eye level. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. A ripple of thunder thrummed outside. It had rained on both of our dates. I'd wondered if it was an omen, because that's the kind of silly thing an English major entertains as an aspect of reality—symbolism. "Oh my God." Kafka had spoken to me from the holy grail of my waking hours. There I was, this previously charming, lighthearted girl of 27 morphed into a disgusting beast with greasy wings and spindly legs. No wonder he'd stayed silent. In a matter of hours, I'd managed to dramatically compromise his notion of my character.

I splattered creamer into my coffee and hastened out of the break room toward my cubicle, stepping lightly on my feet so it wouldn't slosh over the brim and douse my hand. I placed the coffee on my desk, rather unkindly, and grabbed my phone. Rectify. I had to rectify this. I dove into a quip-y soliloquy to downplay the damage—witticism here, ironic emoji there. But it was no good. I still hadn't heard from him at 8:00 that night as I sat across from Emily and our friend, Craig, at Carolina Ale House. They looked up at me from my phone, which I'd reluctantly given them for their opinion, as though I had, indeed, morphed into a giant cockroach right before their eyes. Craig took the phone from Emily and handed it back to me. "Yeah, you shouldn't expect to hear from this guy again."

I slumped down in my chair, sucking the gin and tonic Craig had ordered me until my straw bubbled mournfully against the bottom of the empty glass. "Great, that's really good."

"I mean, you just rose the bar on crazy. Like, the first text was crazy enough, then it just gets crazier every day."

"She was on her period," Emily said. 

"Oh. Okay." 

"Hey!"

 "What? A lot of female behavior makes better sense to me once I know they're on their period."

I buried my head in my hands.

"Are you crying? Is she crying?"

"I think she's crying," Emily said.

Our server appeared then with another glass of wine and set it before my shamed face.

"You ordered another glass?"

"Wait." I did not remember doing this. I'd had a fair amount to drink, but this, I did not order. "Wait, I didn't order..." But our server had walked away. "Oh, just, fuck it..." I picked the glass up by its bulb and tilted it back.

Craig leaned over the table, hand outstretched. "Whoa now, it's not a bottle."

You could argue I was making too much of this. And in terms of my date, a guy whom I'd really come to like but had only been out with twice and still didn't know that much about, perhaps I was. But it wasn't just about him. It was about that dreadful feeling of having failed and having appeared to a guy, two guys, as a crazy female. That I had been on my period when it happened was the least of it. I didn't want to use menstruation as an excuse because it only gave men, women even, the clearance to brush off other females, and themselves, whenever they dealt with stressful emotions in its wake. What really depressed me was that I'd shown my humanness, a facet of my womanliness (not always as provocative as the word might suggest)—granted very early on in a tryst between two people not even remotely close to relationship territory yet—and was now being shunned for it, and could expect that shunning to persist.

Though, the more I thought about it that weekend, the more I understood he would've had a much different experience of my reaction, not knowing me well himself. But whatever that experience had been for him was hard to tap into, because he'd suddenly become this gaping void, and because I promised in my apology I would stop writing, permanently unreachable. I thought often of breaking my promise, just to entertain the words I might say if given the chance, but I wouldn't. I was unhappy with his silence, struggled to understand his silence, but I would respect it. Because I had a flaw—an unwavering, unappealing, apparently unforgivable flaw I could not argue: I second-guessed myself. I couldn't strategize, couldn't keep my cool, couldn't maintain my grace. I wore my vulnerabilities on both shirtsleeves. I oozed everything. And in my mind, I had paid for it. Though I had friends who told me I was being far too hard on myself; that this event was clearly situational; that I was not a crazy, parasitic woman. But it was certainly how I felt. And so those words let him come to you crept back up again. Not in the game-playing, strategizing sense; but in the sense that I couldn’t force someone to want me, and wouldn’t try. Yes, I’d behaved badly, but whomever wanted me...I needed them to see the person beyond my mistakes.

The next day, I went with Emily to her sister and brother-in-law's for a summer party at their lake house. I wasn't sure that I'd swim, but the sun was excruciating. After a half hour and a glass of wine, I walked down to the dock, stripped my clothes, and dove into the water. Tufts of mud and weeds floated toward the surface. But I didn't care. I just wanted to baptize this small, quivering body into something solid and resilient. I didn't want to see myself as this fumbling, unstable person. I didn't want to see myself in such harsh lighting or suffocating darkness, either one extreme or the other, never any softness, never any calm. Always calamity, always drama, always questioning what I was worth to someone. It struck me, as though one of those piercing rays of sun had fixed an unpleasant shard of reason through my eyes, that I was not a mature woman. I was still naive with youth. I may have embraced a perceived maturity, but I was not truly mature. Regardless from whatever angle everyone else looked into it, that's how I would see it. I was a young woman struggling into herself. I was desperately sorry about my date, about the undeserved treatment I sprung on him out of a deep-seated fear of my own capabilities, but I wasn't perfect. Would no longer expect myself to be. I just wore the mask. Maybe that's why this happened. Maybe that's why I lost my nerve. I dropped the ball, as it were.

In a sense, I suppose, I'm trying to justify myself. But if I didn't get it out it would have just sat there, festering. And what is a writer to do, anyway, when attempting to mentally organize her side of things? The act of writing amplifies an event into something teachable and universal. Maybe it does not come across as a big enough event, but it was big to me because I throw myself into things with a somewhat irresponsible abandon. I want to see the best in everyone and I get attached to people far too easily. It's nothing to be this way with women, because we like to share things and express ourselves with a feverish outpouring, but with men it's like playing hardball under a dry sun. You never want to let them see you sweat. Then again, how can you not?

 

Living Your Point

Art knows that
we’re both living and dying
at the same time.
It can hold it.

I thought,
I can either let this crack my heart
open or closed.
I turned around and the
billion other people on this earth who’ve
lost a person they love—there they all were.
I turned around:
I just joined you.

Welcome. There were millions of people;
I was glad to be with them.
We join each other;
We’re not alone.

Holding human stories up:
it’s so miraculous.

Everything is shared.
— Marie Howe, from A found poem
Taken at City Market Antique Mall // Columbia, SC

Taken at City Market Antique Mall // Columbia, SC

The sun bore down on the city as though in revenge. I stopped at the end of the street and lingered in the shade, waiting for Laura to respond to my text. I am walking toward City Market Antique Mall, is this right? I was fairly certain I knew where I was going, but I've learned when it comes to direction not to underestimate my lack of it. A family of four gathered in the shade by Studio 02. Like me, I presumed, they were gauging their location. A few moments later my phone pinged. Yes! I crossed the street, looking down at the blue circle on my phone's GPS drifting toward Twisted Spur. I knew there was a courtyard outside and another building nestled behind it, so when my phone announced I had reached my destination I walked toward the back of the brewery and saw a quaint brick building with a black calligraphic City Market sign hanging askew along the exterior.

A group of women trickled out the door as I reached for the handle, Laura among them. She wore black pants and a black wrap tunic that looked like a fashionable chef's coat. "You can go inside," she said, "we're taking a quick team picture then I'll be right back in." I walked through and lingered near the entrance. A high-top table was set up to the side with plump drawstring baggies and a stack of square glossy magazines stacked in a staggered style near the center. Toward the back sat another table with stainless steel heating trays and plates. A few yards toward the center of the room was the wine bar, and adjacent to it a round table of hors d'oeuvres. Covered tables holding decorative pins and magazines were positioned around the room for guests. A handful of people from the catering company were making finishing touches while members of the band, their equipment set up in the far corner of the building, grabbed small plates of corn salad before people began to arrive.

I'd met Laura for the first time at the Drip on Main Street. We'd connected over Instagram before she reached out to me for coffee. "I'm kind of a workaholic," she told me. "So one of my goals right now is to meet people outside of my office." I learned that Laura was a graphic designer at By Farr Design, a branding firm postured on the corner of Huger and Gervais. She liked podcasts, Radiolab especially, and books. She owned a house and two cats and liked to look at puppies on adoption websites "to torture myself," she said. It delighted me how easily it was to talk to her after only a few minutes sitting across from each other in the corner table of the room. She carried a charmingly awkward timidity in her approach to other humans. It was like getting to watch myself interact with someone for the first time. Perhaps she sensed it too, and so we found ourselves closing down the place at 7:00 without realizing we'd already been talking for an hour and a half.

One of my favorite things about that afternoon was a phrase Laura spoke when we got on the topic of politics. "I don't really follow politics that committedly," she'd told me. "I know what I believe, of course, but I'm more of a 'live your point' kind of person." That was the moment our friendship solidified. It was so simple and yet so brilliant, the concept of living your point, because so many of us become directionless with temptation and indecision. It's difficult physically standing for something, a notion I was reminded of whenever a crisis hit the wine bar and Laura was pulled away to assist. I ambled toward the hors d'oeuvres and fixed a meager plate of one cracker, a square of cheese, and a tendril of prosciutto. I looked around at the room, which had filled with guests. Talk to literally anyone, I willed myself, but I continued to stand there eating my cheese cracker too fast so I could abandon my plate of crumbs and grab a cup of rose. It was less hard standing for things when one was plied with wine.

A man wearing a gray business suit meandered into my vicinity, close enough that it would've been rude to ignore him. He was growing a beard, which made his eyes, an oceanic cerulean shade, his most commanding feature. I turned toward him so that he would know I was open to conversation. "How are you doing tonight? I'm Ben," he said, holding out his hand.

"Hi, it's nice to meet you, I'm Wren."

"Nice to meet you, Wren."

"Do you work with By Farr?" I asked. I knew that he didn't, but it was the least idiotic conversation opener to enter my mind.

"No, I'm part of the development team with the Columbia Chamber. We actually developed this area."

"Oh okay. I've never been in here before. I've been to Twisted Spur, though. It's a cool place."

"Yeah, they have a lot of good selections. So who do you work with?"

"Oh, I work with Synovus out of the NBSC building. I'm in their mortgage division."

"They're one of our partners."

"Yeah, I see them in a lot of programs for events."

"Your director is one of our board members."

"Oh, I didn't know that."

The dialogue proceeded in this way until Ben had exhausted himself with my uninteresting exchange. But he was a man. I was already not good with men. I considered him a practice conversation. As soon as he excused himself, I began looking for Laura but she was still MIA. Lindsey, By Farr's coordinator, saw me as she departed the refreshments, so I sidled up next to her. We'd become acquainted at the door after the team picture. She was tall, olive toned, and wore her hair back in a loose wave. Her white and black polka dot shift dress made her gentle nature refreshingly childlike, and she spoke with a soft southern lilt.

"I am painfully bad at this," I said.

She laughed. "Don't worry, you're not alone. I really have to work myself into the right frame of mind for this kind of thing. Have you seen Laura anywhere? Have you heard from her?"

"I don't know. I was actually just looking for her. Let me check my phone."

A notification that she had messaged me was indeed waiting on my screen. I'm sorry I abandoned you! Damage control! "She says she's doing damage control."

"I bet she went to take care of the water. Will you excuse me? I'm going to try to call her."

"Of course."

I downed the last of my rose and decided to grab a plate of corn salad before starting in on another. As I turned, Sydney, the junior designer, appeared with her husband, Tyler. She had a long, dark mane similar to Lindsey's. Her white, eyelet dress, lined down the back with pink bows, softened her sharp bone structure. Though she treated everyone kindly I sensed a veiled grit, an eat or be eaten mindset only revealed when the appropriate situation persisted. Tyler reminded me of a lighthouse—tall and watchful. Though there was a boyish innocence in the way he carried himself there was an inner awareness there, as well. He looked around the room a lot as Sydney and I spoke, but not as a gesture of boredom. It registered more as a curious surveillance. They were an interesting couple to observe together because they were so young and yet so settled into one another, the way an older couple might be. Neither of them enjoyed large parties. They lived nearly an hour outside of the city in the same town, I came to learn, my parents grew up in. They treated everyone with gentility, but Sydney was especially mindful. When two sets of other couples came to introduce themselves and broaden our circle, I was in danger of being wedged out by Tyler's tall frame, but Sydney reached behind him to pull me back in. "And this is Wren!" I forced a bit of corn salad down my throat, smiled, waved my fork.

"Hi."

So what exactly is my point? I've agonized over this question a lot in the weeks since I first met Laura. Like with Lindsey and Sydney, I lean too much on the hope of others' welcoming. More than once I've asked myself, "Why can't I be more comfortable being uncomfortable?" It seemed I spent a lot of my time and utilized most of my interactions this way, a lone puddle waiting for a dry sponge. I preferred being absorbed rather than doing the absorbing. It was much less frightening when others showed interest in you than to show it in someone else. For some reason, I ardently repelled the act of humbling myself to the reality that I might just have to make myself vulnerable in order to connect with other people. But then I wonder: Why do I have to make vulnerability a part of it? I am vulnerable to people because I respond to them with vulnerability. For a while I have thought this was an admirable trait in myself, and maybe to an extent it still can be, but on the other hand I often use it as a crutch, a source of humorous self-deprecation so people will find me appealing and relatable. The truth is that I wear a version of my vulnerability as a mask so that I don't have to do the work of being truly present. Approaching people this way gives them a heavily doused self-imposed idea of who I am based on a deep reflection of fear. I am, essentially, scared of myself under the guise that "I'm just not good with people." Which isn't true, of course. I'm great with people. But what keeps me from being wholly present to someone is focusing more on my own presence rather than theirs.

The wine tastes bold and smooth. I rub my lips together, wondering if the Merlot has stained the inner skin, purpled the gleam of my teeth. Next to me stands a tall, sandy-haired woman in a striped tee. She leans against the bar speaking with someone whose face is now a blank oval in my memory. There is something familiar about her. It takes me a moment to place who she is, but when I do and she's free of company I rear my hand back, as if drawing the string of a bow, and then release, palm up, welcoming an invitation to converse.

"Are you one of the owners of Flock and Rally?" I asked.

"Yes, that's me! Hi, I'm Tracie Broom." She extends her hand and we shake.

"Hi! I'm Wren. I thought you looked familiar and then it hit me suddenly who you were. It's so nice to meet you."

"Likewise! Thank you. Debi! Debi, come meet Wren."

Her business partner, Debi Schadel, russet hair, sun-kissed skin, a peppering of freckles under her eyes, sauntered up to us, her green jersey dress swinging behind her legs. Her voice was deeper than Tracie's, whose words bounced along together, like children skipping around with balloons. She had a natural excitement, a bright, eager smile that made a friend out of anyone. Debi was very similar, but there was a crackle to her voice, like simmering firewood or the slight roughness in your throat after a shot of whiskey. She moved and spoke with possessed energy, gathered with an organic charge for life. Debi sipped her wine. "So, who are you Wren? What's your story?" she asked me. Tracie tilted her head, smiling.

I inhaled. I felt that old strain of creative irrelevance in face of what I did for my paycheck. I knew it didn't have to be a big deal. As long as I did my part creatively then what I did to support myself was merely that, supporting myself. But there was this fear of not belonging to the world in a way that I could connect with in all areas of my life. I'd always struggled to connect with myself professionally, because I saw myself outside of the person inhabiting this body. She was always ahead of me, in the future, in a place that would always be out of reach. "I'm a mortgage assistant with Synovus. We're in the NBSC building across from the State House."

Tracie nodded. "Oh yeah, we know Synovus."

"Yeah, we're very familiar with their branding."

I laughed. Of course. We were going through a synchronized brand strategy where all of our departments and banks would be known by the same red block of white text. We were everywhere now. "It's not my dream job, but... What I really like to do is write."

"Hey, you keep the world spinning! Debi just bought a house, so we appreciate people like you!"

"Oh my God, it was such a whirlwind, I can't even tell you."

"So what do you write?"

I told them about my blog, what it was called, what I'd planned on doing with it.

"So you got that URL exactly like that? Just The Coffee Journals dot com?" Tracie asked.

I nodded through a mouthful of wine.

"Wow, that's amazing. So much has already been taken by this point."

I swallowed. "I know. Now I feel obligated to make something happen with it. I even got the handle 'coffee journals' for all my social media accounts. I couldn't include the 'the' for most of them, though. Sometimes I wonder if I should've left it out of the title altogether, but I actually like it included."

"Your blog has 'the' in the title, Tracie."

"Yeah, but it has a stylistic purpose." She turned to me. "So when I was in college I wrote this paper on The Rum Diaries because I love Hunter S. Thompson, and then later I started this food blog called The Yum Diaries. So I had to use the 'the' for it to make sense."

"Oh, I see what you did there. That's so neat. Yeah, okay, so I've definitely seen you on Instagram then. I like your stuff all the time!"

"Yeah, that's me!"

Debi said, "You know we're totally going to go look you up later, though, right?"

Tracie and I laughed.

"I actually went to Rwanda last year and have been wanting to write about that, and get Tracie to edit it, but it's just getting myself to sit down and do it, you know?"

I did. In fact, talking with them gave me the inspiration to reconfigure my relationship with writing, sit my ass down and tell the story of what it was like to be a writer, to live in Columbia.

"That's such a great idea, too," Debi said. "I love that idea of writing these deep, intimate stories of what it's like to live here. We don't really have that I don't think."

"Yeah, we have a lot of artists and musicians, but not a lot of writers."

"Well, there's Jasper."

"But we don't really keep up with them."

"You should definitely pursue this, though."

Tracie nodded, biting into a roll. "Totally."

"First, I would like to thank everyone for coming out tonight to celebrate this partnership with us."

Deborah Brandt, owner and creative director of Fig Industries, brought the room to a pause. I hadn't known who she was when I first walked in, but I knew that she was someone. It was in the way she moved around the room. Her black cropped romper relaxed her demeanor, but she swept her arms with a genetic purpose. She was driven, focused. Her shoulders sat in a straight line, as well postured as a ballerina's. In other words, she had a presence. She took up space. But she wasn't abstemious. Maybe "took up space" is the wrong phrase. When we talk of taking up space there are usually unseemly connotations involved. Rather, Deb made space for herself and took the liberty of inhabiting it with an essential purpose. If "took up space" would be used to describe her at all it would be in the way she could rearticulate how this phrase is generally interpreted, to redefine it as a means of saying "we have the right to do this" over "we are audacious in doing this". But audacity, too, can inspire misconstrued ideas. Its primary definition, in fact, is "the willingness to take bold risks." Which is exactly what Deb had done in founding Fig.

"I'd like to start by recognizing our band the Zach Bingham Trio."

The room hummed with applause.

"Our spread tonight was prepared by Southern Way Catering. And this delicious wine is provided by AdVintage. Now, I want to take a moment to recognize two very important people to this project. It's been so gratifying to see how Fig has grown over the years, so I want to take a moment to thank Caroline Black, who isn't present tonight but who had an imperative part in Fig's development in Columbia, and also to Janet Scouten over here, who is responsible for bringing Fig to Columbia in the first place. Without them we would not have this community here today gathered at City Market, and it means so much to me that they put in the hard work to keep it running for three years. And now we have this very talented company of women taking on the reins for us. I know Brynley's team with By Farr Design is going to do an amazing job and I can't wait to see the work they do for us and the inspiration they fill with this community. I'm going to give the mic to Brynley now so she can introduce her team."

Brynley is petite but strong. Her calves are shaped by weekends wakeboarding on the lake. Her voice is softer than I would've thought. The entire night I've been waiting for a moment to introduce myself. She would later tell me that she's more of an introvert, not naturally taken with standing in front of an audience and having to address them about anything, much less herself it seems. She doesn't spend a lot of time there, she moves on rather quickly to the women who help make her business what it is. But she's eager and she's envisioned this new path for them. Something that hadn't been in the initial plan, something that made itself available to her in a sudden gust of possibility and dared her to go in a different direction. That she took it, that everyone was telling me all night that it had happened so quickly, dressed her in this sheen of admiration.

If it seems like I've spent this entire essay waxing poetic about the women I met that night, well, it's because I am. It's because they're doing something they've put their bodies into, their minds, most notably their hearts. Not the thrumming thing wedged behind their ribs, but that ethereal, spiritual inclination toward something larger than themselves—their communities, and by extension, their people. They are in service to something that aims to bring people together, that focuses on trajectories outside of their own. This is the thing I crave, this creative communion of souls vibrant with the idea that Columbia can be her own city. And I, being born with a certain amount of audacity, perhaps from a nubile cosmic notion of being my parents' only child, fancy myself a kind of ambassador to her, a sprightly purveyor of her offerings. My entire life I have wanted a purpose. I fought, seemingly with God, that that purpose could not be found here, and yet I've witnessed the threads unravel. Or, more accurately, the subtle lifting of a wilted plant into new life. Sometimes you have to kill the thing that causes you delay, even if that thing is your own self, in order to be the thing that helps you rise again.

People Watching People Watching Art

For the artist to have ‘visions’ there must be an element of the unexpected, of pure randomness and chance.
— from Selected Pages of Don Quixote of La Mancha
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On Sunday, some friends and I went to the Columbia Museum of Art to see their latest exhibitsEnduring Spirit: The Art of Tyrone Geter and Salvador Dalí's Fantastical Fairy Tales. You can see more of each here and here, respectively, but I think this one was my favorite overall. "The Visions" was part of a series Dalí painted as visual companions to Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha, and is featured in the second frame observed by an older gentleman in attendance. It is also where I grabbed the above quote to feature in this post. The passage used for the painting, in fact, gave me a much greater appreciation for Dalí's intention and ingenuity.

One of the things that occurred to me while I was walking through the gallery was how the people observing the art end up being just as interesting as the art on display. I also thought about how we typically describe visual observation, especially in terms of an image, as "looking." But as I walked around, particularly when I stopped in front of a Dalí painting, it felt more as though I was noticing the art, or watching its many details become noticed by me. The word "look" began to sound like a stale, flat descriptor of what was actually taking place between the science of my eyes seeing the art and the artwork itself.

Many times we'll say, "I am looking at this picture," when really what is happening is we are watching ourselves give life to the picture. I wondered what it really meant to look at a piece of art, and how "look" as a word only extends so far in the physical act of observation. It is merely the first step of observing something or someone before we begin to committedly discern a scene or person with all of our senses engaged. There is usually more work to be done in the eyes, though, which has made me curious about the nature of seeing and what it is specifically that differentiates between what we'll notice, what will remain unnoticed, and the relationship between what is seen and what is missed.

This mental inquiry reminded me of a book I purchased a few months ago after reading this article on Brain Pickings. The book is On Looking: A Walker's Guide to the Art of Observation and delves into this very issue. I have since added Rebecca Solnits' Wanderlust: A History of Walking and A Field Guide to Getting Lost, along with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Reveries of the Solitary Walker, to my reading list, as walking and seeing is a fairly important physical relationship for most of us, and since I am especially interested in the subject of walking and observation as one who enjoys "going on a walk" and "taking in the scenery."

I've realized lately that I am much more interested in reading nonfiction works than I used to be and less, not interested necessarily, but simply less engaged with fiction than I've been for most of my life. I still love fiction when it is done well and believe it can better enlighten us as to our living experiences and especially the living experiences of others, but I have a particular curiosity for what it means to craft a fulfilling life, one that isn't centered so much on things like fun and happiness but on what we find to be valuable and enriching. Not that fun and happiness aren't important, only that they're not everything and satisfy temporary moments over longevity. I guess because I see life as a tapestry that we are continuously constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing based on life events and decisions, so it is important that I research more into what that means for me as an individual but also what it means for me as a member of society and as a person in relation to other people.

The Women's March

With growth, it is true, comes differentiation and separation, in the sense that the unity of the tree-trunk differentiates as it grows and spreads into limbs, branches and leaves. But the tree is still one, and its different and separate parts contribute to one another. The two separate worlds or the two solitudes will surely have more to give each other than when each was a meager half.
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
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I had imagined something a little different than what I experienced at the Women's March on Saturday. Perhaps my expectations would've been better met if I lived in a bigger city. When I thought of a march, I imagined people holding a long sign out in front of them as teems of other humans crowded behind in support of the cause. I imagined more of a demonstration. This is not to criticize the Women's March on Washington at all, or the many sister marches and rallies that took place in states and countries across the world. If anything, it is more of a dig at my own city's lack of organization, the over-choreographed chanting that left our voices sounding hollow and stiff. Part of this was due to my own unfamiliarity with vocal participation (I was always poor at speaking up in school), but part of me wishes they would've worried less about the rally and allowed the people who came out to actually walk the city. Regardless, the rally did do its part in raising awareness, and at the very end, Nikki Finney read a powerful protest poem that emboldened the crowd's spirits.

One speaker whose message resonated with me during the rally was Mollie Williamson's warm-up method for youth who participate in Girls Rock Columbia, a music organization that teaches teens how to assemble songs for performance. During the rally she asked, "Who here plays guitar? Who plays drums? Who plays the keyboard?" And after everyone hollered in accordance to their instrument she asked, "But what's our most powerful instrument?" Adults and children, along with Mollie, familiar with this chant yelled, "Our voice!" Very camp-y, but very true.

The reason this stuck with me is grounded in my vocal awkwardness. It's not that I can't be loud or that I never grow impassioned by anything, but that my own youth was egregiously misspent believing that this voice of mine didn't amount to much. I grew up in the midst of a right-wing family. Their views were highly conservative and still are. They don't take well to differences of opinion and a lot of this seems to stem from a lack of interest in sincerely considering the other side. Or sides. This is why I feel it's so important to face opposition head on. My early, meager disagreements as a child met me with a lack of support for my developing ideas. Either I would grow out of them (my mother still hopes this may occur) or I would be met with harsh realities that would force a different way of thinking into my mind.

I'm not writing any of this to criticize them, but context is necessary to explain this deeply personal uncertainty that has hindered me since I was young. Which is part of the reason I felt so strained during the protest at the State House Saturday morning. I still feel as though I'm not allowed to have my own voice. I still haven't given myself permission to believe, with the unique brain I was gifted at birth, that I have a right to my own thoughts, regardless of what my family thinks. Regardless still of what my family thinks of me. And, yes, my parents criticized my choice to attend the march. I tried to have as collected of a conversation with them as possible about my reasons, but it wasn't very constructive. My father was simply uninterested in hearing about it at all, and my mother more or less questioned my comprehension skills. My father's disinterest hurt much less, but it was the idea my mother thought I must not fully understand the situation and what I was supporting that I felt the most condescended. It gave me the impression that she must think of me as a bit of an idiot who simply follows the tide of social and political trends because it's popular with my generation. But it has taken a lot of reading and lot of observing my family and a lot of observing others to get me into the mind-frame I'm in today. This is no one's fault; this is just what it means to be your own person.

And that is where the issue lies. This person I have become through my own eyes and ears is constantly accused of being misled rather than developed. As though all the work I've done--the books I've read, the words I've written, the degrees I've attained, the experience I've gathered--have been but accidents stumbling into the person I am now. As though I haven't sought every book, pained over every word, and molded myself into the person I want to become by my own design. My family doesn't know I feel this way, and sometimes I worry that my frustration with being shrugged off and unheard has made my attempts at speaking my mind sound harsh and callow. I think at some point it would benefit all of us for me to open up about the severity of my feelings, but I am going to work on not apologizing for the particular way in which I want to hone myself and my future. I have to remember that loving people is very different from obligating yourself to them. They are not always one and the same.