All in a Phrase

I don’t know if you have thought about this quite yet, but the new year is just around the corner and not only is it the end of the year – but it is the end of a decade!? I have been feeling very nostalgic and reflective, so this is one of 4 posts that I have planned in honor of the forthcoming 2020. I will be posting every Monday, each with some relation to the new year or the previous 10 years.
I hope you enjoy!


For the past 10 years, I have given myself a phrase at the start of a new year.

Sometimes these are borrowed from someone else, like “who you know is who I am,” borrowed from a camp coworker in 2014, or the entire chorus of “Dancing Queen,” borrowed from ABBA the year I turned 17. Sometimes its simply a sentence, like this one is for the takings, or keep track of your jackets. These phrases are sometimes used more than once, in a row or they bounce around. It’s just a habit I picked up around the time I started (seriously) keeping a journal, and it seems to stick with me throughout the year better then when I make a list of resolutions.

The first couple years of college were cataloged under: Push Through The Fear. Depending on your memory and/or how much of my blog you have read, this might look familiar. It is the title of a blog post all about trying to deal with my major anxiety, and was an alternate title considered for this post that I wrote in honor of my time as an actor. It’s a phrase that was written all over my notebooks, diaries, tucked away in blog posts, doodled on note pages. It is one that has stuck around with me for a while, and for me it acts as a chapter title for that time in my life when my ultimate goal was just to get-through-the-anxiety of whatever I was facing. I just wanted to get better at pushing myself to do what I needed to do, and stop missing out on experiences or relationships. That phrase is what got me through my first day at college; it is what got me to audition for my first college show and later my first performance of said show. Push through the Fear was what ultimately encouraged me to come out and try to build a relationship with my now girlfriend of 4 years. It was with me along every terrifying step of those formative years.

When I got sick and had to essentially quit my life, Fear wasn’t what was holding me back anymore so that mantra quickly got replaced. The goal has no longer been push through the fear, but instead to “practice patience,” because patience takes practice and practice takes patience. It’s been the title of my blog, it’s been doodled on note pages, written and underlined in my journals – I wrote about it too. The goal for the past 2 years has been to focus on slowing myself down, practice bettering my negative traits, and to be patient with – not only the people around me – but also how long it takes to grow. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is Raelee. So as I waited for every test result, as I learned new jobs, tackled medical bills, dealt with germy airplanes, and navigated scary adult processes like renting my first apartment – Practice Patience was there along the way. Not a push to just do it, but a reminder that it is ok to take my time.

Regardless, setting up a phrase for myself has been a way of setting intentions and gathering up excitement and encouragement for a new year. In times of crisis or depression it is something that helps me focus and continue building resilience.

I can tell that it will be a new phrase for 2020. I can feel the adrenaline of a new year, the lightness of a fresh start, the energy of finishing a book and picking up the next one. But I don’t know what it is yet. I never really seek them out, it has always been something that happens organically. I guess we’ll just have to see.

~Raelee


Image description: The photo is of a pile of Raelee’s diaries, journals, and planners. Some of the books are open to certain pages, one on top has a quote from Ernest Hemingway “I am a writer of fiction and so I am a liar too and invent from that I’ve heard. I’m a liar. My excuse is that I make the truth as I invent it truer than it would be. That is what makes good writers or bad”; one entry says “I kissed a girl and I really liked it and now we’re dating, but she leaves for Australia in September and also keeps hanging out with a girl who likes her and now I’m getting jealous” Dated August 3rd [2015]. The pile also features a bunch of scraps, like a dried rose head, movie ticket stubs, confetti from a Taylor Swift concert, and some Polaroids. 

informal thoughts from a full-time student (and a full-time spoonie)

I have been home sick for nearly 3 weeks. I thought it was a cold, or a flu, but the leading theory is that it was some sort of infection.

It is currently week 10 of my 11 week quarter at a very large and difficult research university. I am taking 16 credits this quarter. I missed all of them while I was sick.

It is quite possible that the infection I was battling came from sediment samples that I have been analyzing in a lab environment for one of my classes. The dirt may have gotten me sick. I’m an archaeology major.

We literally are paid to dig in the dirt.

NO ONE TOLD ME that I could get sick from dirt. I worried that my future was full of risks like malaria, or dehydration from the heat and poor water filtration. No one warned me that the dirt itself could possibly make me sick.

This quarter I have been learning to read, translate, and speak the Ancient Greek language. It’s really fucking hard to catch up on 2 weeks of a foreign language, let alone one that is considered dead and has little to no pop culture resources. It’s not like I could watch movies in Ancient Greek while I was home sick. That doesn’t seem to exist.
And don’t recommend Duolingo, because they only have Modern Greek and lord they are different.

Now that I’m healing, my ankle is weirdly stiff and swollen. Pain killers help a little bit, but ice and heat do nothing. It’s also the same ankle that I have had a tumor in, so you know, anxiety and ptsd are hyperactive right now. Oh and PTSD about the last time that I missed this much school in a Fall Quarter…

It’s really fucking hard to concentrate when your body is continuously trying to break down. I’m still getting fevers even though the antibiotics have started to kick in.

It’s really hard to ask for help all the fucking time.

My anxiety keeps telling me that I’m a quitter as I email my professors asking them for extensions and for help. It tells me that I’m faking the pain (somehow) and that I need to just shut up and focus (somehow) and that I’m just looking for special attention (somehow). That there are other students with pain who are still making it to class.
What makes me so special? There are people who don’t even have the means to go to a school like this, and here I am – squandering the opportunity.

Impostor’s Syndrome is a bitch.

School is hard. School with pain is even harder.
I’m really tired. I’m really stressed.

~Raelee


Photo taken by my dear mother Beth Damis, from inside our Geoarchaeology lab. 
For those wondering, all my teachers have been lovely and helpful, and are trying to help me catch up as best they can. My lovely lab partner has taken over a majority of the dirt handling in hopes of saving me from another infection, I personally think that it was something else that got me sick, but the fact that I even have to think about this thanks to my god awful immune system is a real bitch and I’m cranky about it. And tired. and stressed. 

Remission Anxiety

I cannot fathom the pursuit of one interest.

My passions and goals are not neatly typed out into steps.
I don’t have one ideal I aspire to.
I won’t be able to reference my childhood fantasies in a future acceptance speech.
I have never focused on one thing long enough to become an expert on it.
I don’t have neat categories. No aesthetic I could be the face of.
There is no single lifestyle I can be the spokes model for.
I don’t have the cutthroat ambition needed to attain some level of greatness.
I don’t have what it takes to reach career or wealth levels that would impress the people around me or the kids I went to school with.
I will not cause any envious chatter in circles of people I don’t know.
But I wanted to.

For a few years I thought acting could be my thing. I felt like it was perfect because each role is different, a new set, a new cast. But I never got far enough into the business to get a taste of that variety. The environment got toxic, and I started making choices that made me dislike myself. My health got in the way of bringing my best work to the stage. Rehearsals went long; the amount of sleep I needed to rejuvenate myself was unattainable. I wasn’t able to create the depths needed in my characters because I wasn’t willing to be any more vulnerable than I already I was. I was never comfortable taking on relationships within a show beyond a G rating – and I didn’t have the drive to find other opportunities that would have let me stay within that comfort zone.

I kept at it while it was easy and felt natural.
Once I was asked to go beyond that, I walked away.
I quit.

I’ve since realized that this happens to me a lot. I quit a lot. And it’s ironic because I consider myself a “Learner.” I love going to school, have you seen my highlighters!? I read so much that I have an instagram dedicated to books. I watch documentaries! But something about “Learner” implies a level of commitment I don’t possess. I tend to present the bare minimum of what I am capable of. I do more than what the average is, but it’s not the best I could do. I am a perfectionist who procrastinates. I let myself down, constantly. But I do not push myself to do better. I don’t know how.

In high school I hardly put effort into my homework. I did some of it the day of or copied things I knew I could do but didn’t want to do. I tested well enough and had enough jive with teachers to get extensions, and those are the only reasons that I managed to graduate with a GPA over 3.0.

I could have done better, I know that.

But I talked myself out of it, almost every time. Home wasn’t a happy place to be, and I was only ever at school or at home. If I had access to it, hadn’t grown up with health issues, or had I not gone to Narcotics Anonymous meetings every Friday for about six years, I am sure I would have gotten into addictive substances. Instead I found that reading a lot and watching movies on Netflix was another way to numb myself and make the days go by faster. For most of middle school my memories look dark and feel heavy. Happier memories are of those moments I remember thinking, “oh good, a second of lightness.”

I think I have inadvertently trained myself to be afraid. I have come to find a sense of comfort in the darkness. I fall into this pattern of working my ass off, only to end up falling off the face of the planet. I rarely feel like I can find a happy medium. I would either be up till midnight for a week straight, working on missing assignments, trying really hard in my classes, eating three meals a day, writing and singing, and keeping my room clean. Then suddenly I would crash. I would stay in bed till noon, eat junk and leave the trash on the floor of my room next to yesterday’s clothes. I would skip class physically and/or mentally.

Senior year I dropped out of my college level science and math classes because I had gotten sick (again), missed two weeks, and was too overwhelmed by all the work waiting for me when I came back. At that point, I didn’t need the classes to graduate, and it was made clear by the attitudes of the people around me that me going to a big university the next year was a non-option.
My confidence was shattered, my motivation was shot. It was November and the cold was creeping in. Instead of letting it take over, I dropped the classes.

I don’t regret that choice, because there was too much happening in all facets of my life in that moment – dropping one of the stressors was imperative and I wasn’t allowed to drop my parents. However, it created a trend I have since been trying to shut down. I have turned my poor health into a crutch. If there was ever anything I couldn’t handle, if I ever get scared or overwhelmed, all I have to do is pull out my platinum health card.

Now, technically, it is a health issue. I have only ever lied about having colds in high school. I do have a weak immune system, and at least two rare diseases. But I think the argument could be made that it is a mental health issue, and not to blame on my physical health.

In lieu of an addiction to drugs or alcohol, I have formed an addiction to being “sick” while also fearing it to the point that I’ve developed an anxiety about it.

The idea of getting severely sick again and having to quit my life again is gut wrenching and terrifying. I did it two years ago. I did it for a lot of my childhood. Having to take a step back from everything I want to accomplish and enter a world where all that is expected of me is to get well and rest – it’s awful. I can’t even feel happy about what I have achieved because once I am sick I fall behind everyone around me. I am no longer considered a player in the game.

It instantly feels like no one expects me to live, only to survive.

But gee…  that is delicious when I am healthy and feel like I am failing.

So the second I do get sick, whether it is a cold or a disease decides to relapse, I am riding that Nope Train. I forget to do anything that makes me feel good, only the things that keep me feeling bad. I forget to brush my hair. I forget to put on clean clothes. I don’t read, or take the dog out so I can get a breath of fresh air. I forget to eat real food.

For several days I am 13 again, wrapped up in cozy blankets and watching beautiful movies, lost in a daydream about what I’ll be someday when I’m older and well.

And then when I don’t need the prescriptions anymore or the sniffles ease, I am faced with the realization that – I am older, I am well. That Nope Train has been coming around for 10 years now. This game is no longer new. I can’t keep hiding.

I like to think that every time I reach this point of realization, I get better at battling it.
I come up with new ideas on fighting myself. I get better at putting limits in place:

“OK, this time, I only get to throw a pity party for one extra day after being sick”
“This time I have to write what I am frustrated about”
“This time I have to finish x amount of chores so that I push myself to move around”
“If I stay home, then this time I have to keep up with emails and I have to respond to the texts that friends send”

I am terrified and skeptical, daily.
I am scared in my own skin; I am scared of pushing myself too far, of trying too hard.
I don’t want to fail at something I want. If I get sick, then it wasn’t my fault. I never had a chance! “My health got in the way and I had no choice but to take care of myself!” If I half-ass it then I can always say, I could have done better if I tried harder. But if I give something my everything; if I go after the things that I want and dream and crave, there runs the massive risk of failing at it.

I am so scared of getting into something, and really loving it… only to have to quit.
I simply don’t trust my own remission. And as much as we say that failure is just a stepping stone, it fucking hurts and it’s severely uncomfortable.

Sure, my health doesn’t have to dictate everything in my life.
But in the past it has.
In the past it has stunted me.

Who is to say it won’t happen again?

~Raelee


The original version of this post was sent to The Mighty around 2am about 6 months ago, when I was in the midst of a panic attack and finishing up my associate’s degree. Recently, The Mighty has changed their publishing rules and format. Before only some entries got posted, but recently they have gotten access to a larger server and now are publishing everything. So they’ve gone back and published every previous entry they passed on as well.
As a writer, this does feel like a step back because now its just a free-for-all-social-media. But as a #spoonie, I think this is utterly fantastic because it will not only widen the scope of who publishes their stories, but also widen the scope of the type of stories.
It turns out that another version was also in my drafts here on WordPress, which is what led me to editing it and posting it today. That version was called “This One Has No Answers For You, But Many Questions For Myself.”
You can read the original version here on The Mighty’s website.

5 Tips to Help You Find Time To Read!

     I can’t count the number of times that someone has said to me “Wow, I wish I had time to read, but I’m too busy” as if somehow I am not also out here grinding through work and school. In my last post, I talked about how I am trying to be intentional. That’s an adjective I have been actively pursuing, in what I eat, how I spend my time, what media I consume, etc. I think that we get so stuck in our habits that we forget that they are habits. They are malleable, and we can change them if we don’t like them. You just have to want to make the change and work at it. I hate to be harsh, but if you really want to read, you have to make time for it. You may have to readjust your routine, and you may have to confront some of your bad habits. You may even have to give up something else to make time for it. Unless your life dramatically shifts, you aren’t going to be any less busy. In this post, I am going to break down how I find time to read, what I have given up to make time, and hopefully give you some ideas if you are struggling to find time or motivation.

    I don’t magically have more time to read than you do. I just decided one day that I missed reading and I wanted it to be present in my daily life. I was a big reader in elementary and middle school, but had lost the drive and focus sometime in the midst of high school drama. In January 2017, while stuck at home because of a compromised immune system and lack of strength, I realized that the time I was spending staring at Netflix could be better used. At that time, I DID magically have more time than you. I wasn’t working. I didn’t have much energy to clean. I wasn’t in school. I literally sat at home all day every day that I wasn’t with a doctor. But deciding to stop binge-watching Gilmore Girls again and start reading wasn’t enough work to actually make it happen. When I tried to read I found myself unfocused even through the most interesting book. I would end up on my phone, or going off to do who-knows-what. It TURNS OUT that when you don’t practice something for a while, you may not be fantastic at it when you come back. It’s almost like reading… is a skill? It’s almost like if you want something to become habit you have to… work at it?

     So, I had to teach myself how to read all over again and how to use my time efficiently. Once I did, suddenly I had plenty of time to read. I read 56 books that year, and 57 books in 2018. And I still managed to work full-time and go to school. I still had social interaction, traveled, ate full meals, and slept a full 8 hours a night. So how did I do it? Let’s explore.

Tip #1: Set a traceable GOAL:

When I first started trying to increase my reading time, I made quantity goals. For me, quantity was a way to motivate myself. Having a numerical goal meant it was easy to track how I was doing. Maybe your goal is a list of titles you want to tackle. Maybe there is an author you love you want to read all of their books. Maybe you set aside a certain amount of time every week that you have to read during. Whatever works, just set a goal. Once I had to goal, it became easier to focus because I was working towards something. Just make sure you can easily track it.

If you pick a quantity goal, there are two factors that will determine how many
books you go through:

  1. How fast you read.
  2. What you read.

I have always been a fast reader. You may read slower or faster, so it is important not to compete with someone else’s book numbers. Instead, consider what books really enjoyed in the past, and how long it took you to finish them. Then estimate how many you could get through within a year. I spent those two years rereading favorites from my childhood, or finishing teen series that I never got to finish. Youth fiction can be really well written, but they are written to be easier to comprehend (This does not mean the book is any lesser!). I also knew that I would go through them faster if they were a series with cliffhangers.

Tip #2: Find your wasted time:

I know you may not want to admit this, but you are wasting time in your day. It’s a waste when it doesn’t help you in any capacity. It doesn’t make you happy, it doesn’t further your career, it doesn’t feed you, it doesn’t heal you. For me, a lot of this time was on my phone. Growing up my phones couldn’t access the internet and none of my friends were major texters. I had SO MUCH time to read!! Now, my phone is a mini computer full of fun and distracting ways to waste my time. I could scroll for hours, and I HAVE. Those hours are better spent, don’t you think?

     I starting tracking my time spent on the phone, which is an app most smartphones have. Suddenly I was faced with exact numbers of time I spent on my phone. Even days when I was in school and at work, I somehow managed to spend an hour or two on my phone. Every time I am in line I was on my phone. Every time I was on a break at work or in class I was on my phone. Waiting for the bus? I was on my phone. Waiting around at the airport? I was on my phone. Waiting for the water to boil when cooking dinner? I was on my phone.

    Now I have been actively trying to use that time to read. I read on the bus, while waiting for the bus. I try to read during my breaks at work, and especially try to read at lunch. If I’m not too tired at night I try to read for an hour before bed. I’ve recently been waking up earlier than I need to so I can sit by my windows or on my patio and take my time with coffee and a book.

“But Raelee, I don’t use public transit!!? Of course you can
read all the time, you’re on a bus.”

OK, well you should if you can because it’s better for traffic and the environment. Not to mention I spend maybe up to an 1 hour on a bus everyday, but anyway.

Tip #3: Find your format:

Audiobooks, friend. They exist, and reading snobs might say they don’t count, but that is bullsh!t. One of my friend pairs her audiobooks with physical books. She can listen to a book on the way to school, and then read the physical book later at home. Personally, I do prefer to hold the book myself, that’s why I don’t use ebooks. But if you are not audibly challenged like me, there are plenty of audiobook subscriptions. Often times they can be cheaper than buying an actual book. Go to used bookstores and get used audio books. Libraries let you borrow audiobooks. My Bioanthropology teacher, Tony, said that he listens to audiobooks so he can adjust the speed. Even speeding up the recording slightly can dramatically cut down the time it takes to listen to a whole book. Play them while you clean your house. Listen while you cook dinner. Listen while you’re in traffic.

Tip #4: Make your routine more efficient:

I wear the same makeup everyday. I have been wearing the same general makeup for several years now. I’ve gotten pretty fast at doing it now, sometimes I even have extra time to try something new. But when I first started doing my makeup, it was messy and took forever. So what changed? Practice. Repetition. Doing it over and over. I cut out the things that I didn’t care for (mascara on my bottom lashes always messes with my glasses anyway; leave lipstick for special occasions, etc). I invested in products that helped me achieve the look I wanted. Hair oil to help with frizz, copper brushes to help with dandruff. Setting spray to keep my makeup on my face all day. Now do that with everything in your life.

    Pretty much all of my sock are grey or black. Most of my clothes are similar enough colors that I can try on six outfits in the morning and it’s still faster than it was in high school. I boil water for my oatmeal at the same time that I boil water for coffee. My travel mug is sitting next to my grounds, my lunch is leftovers from yesterday’s dinner. I always have a book in my purse and next to my bed. This means that to get ready in the morning, or for bed in the evening, I need about 30 minutes to have everything ready. If I took the time to meal prep, the rest of my week would be even faster. If B and I got a french press, making coffee would be even faster. I could shorten up my shower routine, I could shorten the time it takes me to do laundry. I want to be faster at getting the kitchen cleaned up. Speeding all those daily tasks will leave you with more time, as will cutting out the things you don’t need. Which brings me to my last tip.

Tip #5: Sacrifice something:

I am obsessive, and anxious, and I like to do everything. But often, we have to cut something out to make time for something else. I could be playing the sims right now, but I want to invest more time into my writing and my bookstagram so instead I am working on this. I could even be reading right now, but I know that I have some time later that I can read that I wouldn’t be able to use for writing. I’ve also lessened the amount of money I spend on Starbucks so I can use that extra money to buy more books. I used to spend about $10 a week on coffee, and now I can buy a book with that (sometimes even two if I find deals!). I can’t afford to spend that money on both, I had to give one of them up. I don’t have Spotify premium anymore, that extra $5-10 a month goes to reading. I don’t have photoshop anymore ($10-25 a month), I use pixlr or phone apps. I don’t go shopping much for a variety of reasons, but one fun side-effect of that is I have that time and money for books (or rent, lol). Time and money are probably the hardest things to sacrifice and compromise on when it comes to forming new habits, but I have found that they make the biggest impacts.


I hope that this gave you some inspiration to bring books into your life. I really think that there is nothing better than falling into a book. Start small, start by doubling the number of books you read last year. Read one book a month. Just make some time to read. Read the paper, read comic books, listen to audiobooks, read magazines.

Reading is said to:

  • Expand your vocabulary;
  • Stimulate the mind, slowing down the progress of Alzheimer’s or dementia;
  • Increase your capacity for empathy;
  • Reduce stress;
  • Be hella fun!

Any of these tips can be used to help you develop any habit, not just reading. I have been using similar techniques to improve my eating habits. Let me know if there are any tips that you use that I didn’t list. I’d love to try other ways!

~Raelee


This is written from the perspective of a lower middle class white female. What I have access to may differ to what you have access to. What I can physically do in a day may greatly differ from someone who is less able-bodied. Keep your abilities in mind, and don’t push yourself too far just because strangers on the internet have different circumstances. Find what works for you.

 

To Whom It May Concern,

I write to you wrapped up in the blanket my grandmother knit me, on my patio which I have furnished with my rug that Bree hates, a crate someone left behind at work, and a $10 camping chair I bought at the grocery store. I also have coffee.

This winter was terribly hard for me, as most winters are. I long for the day when I can move my family to a warmer climate, where my bones ache less often, and my mood is predictable. For a month or two I have been trying to get a new job, for as much as I love the bookstore I would like to have money for things besides rent and food. I would also like a job where there is room to grow. I want these things desperately. And that unfulfilled lust for more has not helped my mood in the least. I have also been very preoccupied with a couple other things which you will read about in a moment.

I am writing this letter to you because I have consciously realized some things about myself recently, that I felt necessary to share for a variety of reasons:

  1. Growing up I felt like I was behind everyone else because rarely are we brutally honest about our experiences with each other. (I have a lot of thoughts on this point. I do not have all the time to write about them now, but if I do I will link it here). I felt like I never knew what anyone else was thinking or experiencing. This phenomenon has made me very self-conscious. 
  2. While I consider myself a pretty open person it is very hard to admit when I am wrong, or when I am bad at something, especially if I really wanted to be right. This is not a trait unique to me, but I feel like if we talked about it, it would be easier for everyone to cope and grow. (See reason 1). So I am pushing myself to do it because of reason 3; 
  3. The best times of my life all have happened during the Summer. Not just because Summer is the best (which, it is), but because it comes around my birthday. I get very introspective around my birthday, and that combined with the warm air and bumble bees creates a sense of urgency to push myself. I am happiest when I am pushing myself. I know this and yet, for 75% of the year, I do not push myself. I hibernate. I don’t like the feeling of hibernating. The pleasure of sinking into your bed looses its magic if you’ve been in bed all day. So this is me pushing myself.

Technically these could be argued to be one big reason, but it’s my letter so I get to do whatever I want.


Here is what I have learned this winter, in no particular order.

  1. I am not a good friend. Now, this is a little more complex than that one sentence, but ultimately what I have learned is that I take so much of my own energy making sure that I am energized and healthy and safe that I have little left to give to anyone else. I use to excuse this behavior, because I have diseases and a partner and a dog. But we have the power to cultivate the lives we want. If we want to have time for our friends, we make time for our friends.
    And this is not to say that I don’t love and cherish my friendships, but rather I have realized they are no longer a top priority for me. As soon as I made this realization, I suddenly started to feel much better. We are human, we need and crave connection. But much of the connection I need I get from a select few, and I no longer feel the pressure to collect names to prove I am worth loving. Those in similar life stages, I assume, are going through similar realizations. They have partners, children, careers, dreams. They have things they want to invest time and resources into, and sometimes the friendships they have accumulated no longer are compatible.

    • I don’t think this is bad. I think this is natural. But geez, it is UNCOMFORTABLE. We put so much pressure into getting everything right, into always being good. And then add our “cancel culture” into the mix and suddenly you aren’t allowed to change your mind anymore. ITS TOO MUCH PRESSURE. Letting go of good people is just as okay as letting go of toxic people. We all are learning and growing and changing, and forcing friendships is just as awful as forcing romantic relationships. I have so many more thoughts to put into this. I don’t have the right words right now. But ultimately, people value commitment, and if you cannot commit to something just say so. Feelings will be hurt but in time they will find people who can commit to them. And this applies to both romantic and platonic relationships. The world will not end because you decided to walk away. 
  2. I don’t digest information as much as I thought I did. I think that this comes from my both my impatient nature and my thirst for more. I read a lot, and I listen to podcasts, and I watch documentaries – but until recently I never noticed that I don’t digest what that information really means.
    • A great example of this is my realization that salad can taste amazing. People always said that it can taste good, and I certainly never assumed they were lying. I just felt like I didn’t get it. But recently, I have been eating salad. Like full on CRAVING salad, because I learned how to make it taste good. I learned how to make it a meal. The other day I was itching to get home so I could have salad. Let me share with you my favorite salad right now; I mix two different salads together (of the soft leaf variety; I’m not into bitters or the pokey kind), I added some cooked breaded chicken strips, some avocado, lil baby tomatoes, some chopped almonds, ginger salad dressing, and finished it off – get this: with salt and pepper. WHAT? That’s right friends. Salt and pepper on salad. It’s crazy, turns out that making a salad is literally like making anything else. Did you know you can put salt and pepper on sandwiches? My life has changed. 
  3. I am learning to slow down. I have written before about how my anxiety is a racehorse. Generally it feels like everything I do is too fast. I don’t know if I am trying to beat the clock, or if it is because when I was younger I didn’t think I would last long – but god everything is too fast.
    • In particular, I have applied this to reading. My relationship with reading is complex. Growing up it was a survival tactic – I would read to escape my trauma and my depression. It was literally the number one reason I kept waking up in the morning. For a while reading was like eating and sleeping – without it I would start to crumble. It was addictive, and a dependency. I was staying up all night to finish a book because putting the book away meant acknowledging life outside the story. Not because the book was any good, but simply because it was better than living.
      Now that I can read for the sake of reading, I have had to teach myself all over again. It becomes all too tempting to fall into another world and forget the one I am in. Especially during these dark winter days. I have been learning how to take my time through books, to really digest what I am reading, and how it applies to my life, or what wisdom it can serve me. I am learning how to read what I need at the time, not just to speed through one book so I can get to the next. If I am happy and I want to stay happy, I read a happy book. If I am struggling and I want to break free of that I read a book that forces me to confront what I am struggling with. If I am sad and I want an excuse to cry I read a sad book. This means that I am currently working through 6 books at once which would previously have upset me. But I am learning to enjoy it. 
  4. My surroundings impact my perception. This can be as specific or broad as you like. For me it means that when my kitchen is messy, I treat life messy. I don’t care about how I interact with the world, I don’t smile at strangers, I don’t always think before speaking. When my clothes are clean, I am productive and happier. When my hair was last washed god knows when, I lose motivation to cook dinner for my family. When I have a thought-provoking conversation with a cherished friend, I am energized and optimistic. I have been trying to cultivate the life I want in all facets of my life, but specifically in how I surround myself. Sipping freshly brewed coffee in a clean room with the window wide open and a jar of fresh flowers on the sill instantly becomes the best part of my day. Today is my day off but I still brushed my hair and put on a pair of jeans. True, sweatpants are comfier. But jeans are fairly comfy, and they have that slight itch that keeps me from sitting still in one spot for too long.

I know that I have not been available to you, but as you can see I have been quite busy. My mental health takes up more of my time and that feels shameful, but I am working on it everyday. I will continue working on it forever I think. I am trying to accept that. I am sorry that I have been away. I am trying to come back. As the temperature rises I am shedding my layers and rediscovering who I am and what I want in life (I mean this literally and figuratively. The other day I discovered a freckle that I didn’t know I had).

If you are reading this, you clearly are someone who cares for me and my livelihood and for that I love you. I love you for many other reasons, but especially for being someone who takes time in their day to care for me. That is such a little and magnificent gift.

If you are struggling to find balance and would like some peaceful moments in life, this is your permission slip to take time for yourself. You will never be perfect, neither will I. There simply is no such thing. It is far more important to go about your life with intention and awareness. If you overextend yourself trying to fulfill everyone else in your life, this is your challenge to pause and decide if it’s worth it. This is your opportunity to decide on what you want your priorities to be and not what you think your priorities should be. This is your chance to be selfish, and to not feel ashamed of it.

Someday I will embody my own advice.

Much love to you,
~Raelee


Things that are helping me right now:

  • Stacey Flowers: She is a Youtuber who talks a lot about mental health, money management, and happiness. I really love her honesty a lot. Her Instagram is great too; every morning she goes live with her “morning show” and talks about being intentional and her journey to living debt free. In the evenings she posts from her gratitude walk, and lists the things she is grateful for. She also taught me how to make yummy spaghetti squash. 
  • I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown. I only have worked my way through the first two chapters because oof, this one is not a comfy read. But I have been thinking about what she talks about and trying to apply the concepts into my own life. 
  • Fresh flowers. Whether you steal them from the cherry blossoms, or grab some cheap carnations from the grocery store, something about fresh flowers just feels so luxurious and they always make me smile. I got a $10 bouquet a couple of weeks ago and I keep carrying them with me as I go around the house. Just make sure you change out the water so they last you a long time.

  • I am trying to spend less time on social media. My issues with self-image and jealousy don’t get any better if I am spamming myself with “influencers”. However, when I am on I try to look at images that inspire me, like the feed of Kate Nelson of PlasticFreeMermaid. She is an activist and posts really great tutorials and information about the damage of plastic and visits communities all around the world to learn about how plastic impacts their lives. She is firm but never condescending, and her positivity is contagious.

Art Is An Instrument for Change: A Look Into Three Coastal Salish Artists

The United States is a fast-paced society with easy access to information from around the world; we are only limited by the speed at which we can navigate the Internet. Basic education is now available to more people than ever in history (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina). There has never been an easier time to reevaluate how people are represented, specifically those groups that have been abused throughout colonial history. The Internet is a great platform that artists, who use their creations as a promotion of social awareness, can use to reach a broader audience. Art can provide insight for the outside world about the inequalities the Native artists and their communities are currently facing. Art can be an instrument for social change.

I was interested in how Native American artists might use their art and platform to share the modern truths of their people, and I wanted to focus on artists who are from the land I live on, land that was stolen by European settlers. As of the 2010 census, there are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives living in America. In the Washington State Puget Sound area, sometimes referred to as the Salish Sea, that would be the Salish people. Salish is the broad term for the Native groups that occupy land reaching into Canada and down all the way into Oregon covering 645,000 acres (Coast Salish Gathering). Salish refers to the language group of the people who live/d there (Wright). Photographer Matika Wilbur is Swinomish and Tulalip, Qwalsius Shaun Peterson is a Puyallup multimedia artist, and Roger Fernandes is a storyteller from the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. They are all Coastal Salish artists who seek to educate their communities about the realities of modern Native Americans and combat their negative and primitive portrayals in mass media.

Historically the Salish were known for living in large Longhouses, containing immediate and extended family. The ancestral people fished salmon freely; they hunted deer, elk, moose, birds; they gathered roots, herbs, and berries. For most of the year they lived in temporary camps and migrated to their permanent winter villages where many of their traditional ceremonies took place. The Coastal Salish created Story Poles and celebrated at Potlatch events, called Sqwigwi, where they gathered and shared their wealth with each other (Northwest Heritage Project). Much of their culture was lost in the aftermath of American western expansion and through the forced assimilation in the 1800-1900’s, some of which has been slowly recovered. Today, the Coastal Salish groups continue to honor their past with many of their historical traditions and can include anywhere from 500 to 2,000 members (Jack).

Matika Wilbur is a social documentarian who is travelling across the United States for her current photography piece, Project 562. The project is intended to provide a better representation of contemporary Native Americans than what is seen in media and history books. The number “562” is for the number of federally recognized American Indian tribes at the time she started. For Wilbur, “giving power to a number was important… even though finding an accurate number is difficult, given the ever-changing political climate” (Stretten). Since starting the project, that number has grown to 573, which she believes “is indicative of the progress Native Americans are making today” (Moya-Smith), progress towards national cultural recognition.

Around 2012, she left her life in Seattle to go work and live out of her car in efforts to complete this project. Living off funds raised by two Kickstarter campaigns and the generosity of her subjects, Wilbur has photographed over 300 tribes and traveled to 40 different states. What is important to her, is how the subjects see themselves, and so they lead the sessions. “I am not shocked by poverty…. I don’t think it’s the only thing worth photographing. [Those] are the pictures that come out about our people. It’s always the same thing,” (Graves). Instead she asks the subjects to choose where they would like to be photographed, asking only that it is on their tribal land. They dress however they like, pick a spot, and she waits until “she can feel what she calls ‘the connection’,” (Graves), and then she takes the photos. In this sense, she differs greatly from the photographer that she is most commonly compared to, Edward Curtis. Curtis was a very famous Non-Native photographer, known for a producing similar work as Wilbur, except he was not as welcome in the native communities. He intended to catalog all the groups because at the time it was thought that Native groups were going extinct. He was known for bringing his own props and dressing his subjects, “[he] wanted to show Indians in their pristine state” (Kidwell & Velie 125), which often meant stripping them of their modern artifacts. This simply contributed to the ongoing stereotype of a cultural group “stuck” in the past, instead of recognizing them as modern people. Wilbur allows her subjects to present themselves as they wish to be seen – in a sense delivering self portraits of a greatly unknown, unrecognized, and variant culture. She explores a variety of topics in her interviews with her subjects; on how they feel they are misperceived; on what they dream of accomplishing; of their favorite memories. When asked how she personally navigates being Native American in the modern world, she responded “We walk in two worlds…. We learn to navigate with a moccasin on one foot and a tennis shoe on the other” (Stretten).

Not all contemporary American Indians agree with this dual-world narrative however. “We are a contemporary people and I don’t agree with the idea of ‘walking in two worlds’, as if my Native identity was incompatible with modern life. I attend ceremony, participate in my culture, and can feel no guilt about interacting with the world of today” said multimedia artist, Qwalsius Shaun Peterson in an interview for with Asia Tail for the Tacoma Art Museum. Peterson, a member of the Puyallup tribe, has been a professional artist for nearly 21 years, and while he has commissioned work across the globe, his work has been primarily installed locally in the Salish Sea area.

Previously, it was mentioned that the Salish people were known for their Story Poles. This information was lost until recently, and the fight to recognize the true history has been led in part by Peterson. One of the first pieces of public art that Peterson would create was for the newly built Chief Leschi Schools in Puyallup around 1996. The board initially commissioned a Totem Pole from First Nation carver Bruce Cook III. However, Cook was uncomfortable with the task because he wasn’t from the local Coastal Salish groups, and because Totems are not a part of Coastal Salish culture (Farr). This misconception was established itself in the Pacific Northwest in 1899, when “the city of Seattle erected a Tlingit Totem Pole of the Raven Clan, stolen from a village in Alaska” (Farr). After the loss of cultural knowledge that was in part due to the forced assimilation of native children, many Salish people do not even realize that it is historically not their iconography. Instead, traditionally the Salish people carved Story Poles, which were stationed outside of their longhouses. The important distinction, according to Peterson, is that “A Totem Pole takes from family crest iconography, and because we are not organized by clans in our culture, here we create Story Poles where the stories essentially belong to the community, not one singular family” (Farr). Peterson took over the Chief Leschi project and the scope changed from designing a Totem Pole, to a designing a Coastal Salish Story Pole. It was the first large carving project that Peterson was a part of, and while he had mentors and a community to help him carve, there was little guidance as to the proper design he should follow. He spent much time researching and collecting information on true Coastal Salish art traditions and iconography. After it was erected, not everyone was happy with the change that had taken place. “Some tribal members weren’t happy about it” said Peterson in an interview with Sheila Farr, “They wanted a Totem Pole, the familiar iconography; they were like ‘what is this type of work you are doing?’ It was unfamiliar to our own people.”

Since then, Peterson has been a key figure in reviving the Coastal Salish art traditions. The Coastal Salish aesthetic is distinct from the other groups is many ways. The most obvious way is its fluidity, varying greatly from the art style more commonly found in northern groups called Formline. Coastal Salish art can also be distinguished by the shapes it uses. The Coastal Salish basic design utilizes three shapes: the circle/oval, the crescent and extended crescent (similar to the Formline U-form), and the trigon (Peterson). It is believed that the design originates from low relief carvings (Wright; Peterson). This is evident through design development; Coastal Salish work relies on carving out the negative space to create the design – Formline designs are created by building up shapes using the positive space (Wright; Peterson).

Peterson is also very outspoken about how he feels his people have been treated. “Our people are part of this land and its history, but most importantly we are part of the present. The art I create will aim to communicate that and, in the process, create space for dialogue” (Tail). But the space he has created goes beyond his artwork. He also has a blog that features several op-ed pieces that could be a discussion on about how Native American’s are portrayed in the media, or a behind the scene look at his most recent public work commission (Qwalsius). He uses the aesthetics and design traditions that are not well known in hopes of bringing the knowledge back, that artwork itself largely inspired by his people’s stories and characters. “I believe that the art itself has been most responsible for preserving our stories…. Though I work in a variety of media I keep in mind that it’s not the media that drives the works themselves but the story or feeling it is supposed to carry to the observer” (Stonington Gallery). His public works installed around the Salish Sea area have opened up a cultural and historical education to, not only non-Native Americans living locally, but also the high number of tourists who travel from all over the world to see the great city of Seattle and it’s surrounding areas.

Unlike Wilbur and Peterson, who utilize social media and pop culture to educate their audience on Native issues, Roger Fernandes as hardly any internet presence. Fernandes, a member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indian band in Washington state, is a well-respected artist and educator. He is the Executive Director at the grassroots non-profit South Wind Native Arts and Education Foundation; he is also on the arts advisory committee for the Potlatch Fund, a Native-led nonprofit that provides grants and leadership development to local tribal members. But primarily, Fernandes spreads awareness about Native American issues in a more traditional form, arguably the most traditional form. Roger Fernandes is a Storyteller.

Storytelling goes beyond the literal reciting of a story, it is an entire performance that includes music and dance. The power lies in repetition. Learning the stories begins as a child, hearing the stories over and over until the point they “[know] the story well enough to tell it, as the story [is] now a part of them and their memory” (Fernandes). The stories evolve as the listener hears them again and again. Initially, they serve as literal lessons to teach children what is expected of them, and real-life dangers. As they get older, they can explore those metaphors to help guide them through adult issues. At a cultural level, “These stories explained the world and how it worked and demonstrated how human beings were to live in the world in balance with each other and all living things” (Fernandes). Fernandes is an active educator in his community and surrounding communities at events, such as the “Native Oral, Visual, and Digital Storytelling for Social Justice” hosted by Antioch University, or Native Storytelling sessions with local libraries. He helped create a lesson plan for grades k-5 with Washington State Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) project, so that teachers have a Native American story component while teaching science lessons. “Books and television and the Internet have replaced storytelling. We believe they are the new and improved way of communicating and teaching” he says, “[But] the true power of storytelling comes when the moisture of the teller’s breath gives life and power to the story” (Fernandes).

These stories are fundamental for one’s health, “Stories lead to a spiritual and emotional understanding on how to live in the world….  Spiritual health that people need is told in stories that convey how a human being is to live in balance with family, community, and nature” (Wisdom of The Elders). Fernandes’ storytelling is for all people, “sharing these types of stories Native people can teach non-Natives about the aspects of their culture that go beyond food, shelter, and clothing. These stories actually define the culture of the tellers” (Wisdom of The Elders). While the stories can be shared with people outside the tribe, to tell these stories as an outside citizen is to directly insult the practice itself. “To truly know the meanings of the beings represented in Coast Salish art, the owner or artist would need to tell us, or the story would have to have been passed down” (Wright). It takes more than pure memorization to tell the stories, it takes cultural knowledge and years of fundamental analysis of one’s self and their environment. Fernandes’ willingness to perform these stories for outer communities allows Non-Natives to not only learn from tribal wisdom, but better understand the modern voice of a marginalized group which they may have previously misunderstood due to stereotypes that still persist.

While it is important that we work collaboratively to revive cultures, and to help limit the destruction to cultures, it is also important to ensure that the people leading those projects are from the culture itself. Such as was seen with Peterson and his work with the Chief Leschi schools. The knowledge necessary cannot be taught in a class or a book. There are techniques and resources that cannot be mimicked. Art is something that is enjoyed across cultures, and interacted with on a regular basis, even if we are unaware of it. From huge sculptural pieces, to photographs, to Storytelling – art is all around us in its variant forms. Art is accessible across languages and perspectives. By using art as a tool to talk about their present culture, while using the methods of the past, these artists have found a beautiful way to take back the narrative and create representation that is raw, honest, and cultural. We need to open a dialog for change, and art is the perfect instrument to do so. Fernandes said it best, “Art raises questions” (SAM).


Bibliography:


I wrote this VERY LONG paper as my final project at Bellevue College in my Native American Studies class. I spent many hours on it, had many friends look and edit and reedit, and I am very proud of how it came out despite the challenges that I was dealing with while writing.

I was drawn to write about these artists because they were local to where I live. When I first started that quarter, I realized that I didn’t know very much about the indigenous people of my own backyard. It felt very hypocritical to pursue my goal of archaeology without knowing about the living people that have been in my own city for thousands of years. Because we live in an age of social media I wanted to include a bit of that, but that really isn’t the main focus. The main focus was the people themselves and the culture they are fighting to keep alive.

If anything, I hope that you come away with VERY BRIEF insight to the Salish people, and that you investigate the culture of the people in your area that were forcibly removed so that you could live there. 🙂

~Raelee

R+B: Our First Week On Our Own

    Bree and I have been living in our very own apartment now for a week. In that week we have  cut pizza with a pie server, because we don’t have knife or a pizza cutter. Bree has mastered the art of cooking pizza right on the oven rack, because we don’t have a baking sheet. Our only frying pan is the size of a small thank-you-note envelope, but I have learned how to get the perfect quesadilla. We have boiled countless pots of water for coffee and tea and oatmeal and mac and cheese. We used a metal frosting spatula to spread the embers of our celebratory fire, because we don’t have any tongs or fireplace tools. I managed to get in and out of Bed Bath and Beyond without spending more than $15 AND only left with items that we needed: a can opener, measuring cups, and two bowls. I found a box of chocolate cake mix on sale for $0.83 because the box was damaged, and discovered that the giant container of kinda-bad-for-you margarine was cheaper than the only-slightly-better-for-you brand half the size, and it should last us until next year. I have only caused two minor fires, and Bree saved us from both of them. We did lose the tip of one of our rubber spatulas in the process, but Bree cut the melted bits off and now it is a conveniently shaped square spatula – perfect for getting the last bits of pasta sauce from the jar. The jar was then saved for future food-storing needs.

    We start each morning together unless someone is leaving before 8, with coffee and dog snuggles, we end the day with a show and a cup of tea. SInce our trip to Australia a few weeks ago, I have learned how to make a proper cup of tea and I understand the importance of milk in black tea. I may disagree, but I know that it is necessary. I have learned to kinda make the bed (?), but I Have not managed to learn how to use our new toilet without the lid sliding from underneath me and almost falling in. Bree appreciates our new shower, which is now tall enough that she no longer has to crouch to wash her hair. Diamond loves getting to run around and explore a new location on her walks. She is no longer taunted by the bossy large birds that were frequent on Lake Bellevue. She was definitely traumatized the first couple days, but she seems to be warming up to the new layout. We have accidentally taught her that if she sits near the kitchen she will get a treat, so we are trying to now untrain her but that does seem impossible. Have you seen her little nose? It’s so cute!

     Our new housing community is very cute, and despite being in near a large tech campus, it feels like we are in the middle of the woods. The grass is the greenest green I have ever seen, dark damp moss on every tree, and the lake is much cleaner than our last (although I would still consider both to be a pond. Fountains are not in lakes, they are in ponds). There are millions of little mushrooms along the pathways and rock walls, as well as giant mushrooms that pop up through the ground overnight. here don’t seem to be any geese, but there are very fat ducks and many dogs that are residents here. Our neighbors are quiet, and so is the road, despite the bustling traffic and the fire station next door. The giant dark evergreens lining the roads and maples lining the path are hugged in fog, making every morning feel like I’m stuck in an autumnal movie, or at least an episode of Gilmore Girls. I feel very lucky and very safe to live here, and I am so grateful to our parents and friends who helped us move in and helped this happen.

Some photos: