The 5 things my professor taught me today


Tomorrow marks my last day of my first year of college. It's funny: the feelings I have today versus the feelings I had in September. September, I was nauseous; today, I am nostalgic. The difference is enormous.

I'm writing this today so I don't forget. My digital storytelling professor just finished her final lecture with our class, and the words she said to us made me feel a range of different emotions. I'd like to make a small flip book of all of her phrases, so on the days I feel low, I can read them and remember. (She once said, "In the times you feel low, you must find the things that won't take you down any lower.")

Instead, I'll place them here for us both.

Drink in silence.

She looked at the class as she said this. She is a tall South African woman, with a calm, lilting voice and a gentle spirit. She smiles often and thanks the class regularly for our contribution.

"Drink in the silence," she said again. "When it is the middle of the night and you wake up, just you and the darkness, pause for a moment. Drink in your own thoughts, and the wonder of life. Think about all the things you'd like to do, so when you wake up you can start doing them."

Wake up with purpose.

"When you wake up in the morning," she said, "Do not think, 'Why do I have to get up today?' Instead, think about your purpose. Find a purpose; choose a goal. If you have a goal, there is no excuse for you not to get up out of bed. If you have a purpose and a goal everyday of your life, I promise you, each night you will fall into bed tired, exhausted from your purposeful day."

Practice the art that makes you feel alive.

Immediately I thought of the hundreds of pages of fiction I've written, chapters of secrecy I've stashed deep in my computer. I feel alive when I write fiction, and poetry, and people's stories.

"Always practice the art that makes you feel alive and that allows you to express the life you have as a human being," she said, smiling. "Whether that's playing music, or drawing, or acting, or writing, or singing. We don’t do these things to become Shakespeare or Beethoven or someone famous. We do these things because they make us come alive."

When things go wrong, contribute to change. 

She spoke about this one person she knew who complained often, but never seemed to try and change the things he was complaining about. I thought of myself immediately when she said it: do I complain and leave it at that? I don't want to be satisfied when something is mediocre. I want to be an agent of change.

"When something goes wrong," she said, "Don’t just complain about it. Do something about it. Do something about the things that frustrate you." 

(I think that's where some of the best stories come from. People doing something about the things that frustrated them.)

Surround yourself with courageous people.

This was my favourite phrase of hers this semester. She's a strong believer in courage -- and oh, so am I.

"Identify courageous people and surround yourself with them," she said. "They will say or do things that will help you be courageous when you need it most. Forget about popular people, and wealthy people, and influential people. Instead, make sure you have courageous people in your life. Take note of them and tell their stories to everybody."

I am excited about my first year of college. I have loved many moments, gathered new skills, and met kind people. My brain has been like a sponge, soaking in information at rapid speed.

But this professor was the most impactful for me. Before I left today, I thanked her for the final time.

"Do it all, Aliza," she told me. "Write more fiction and poetry. Publish four books. Go places and write from there, make more art, and figure out a way to blend all of the things you love together."

My steps were light even as I bounded out of the building and into the April rain. No one had quite told me that before.

I never realized it was something I needed to hear.

Making art for just me

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset It is snowing as I write this. It's as if Christmas is here already.

I'm tucked in my house, warm, with a scarf wrapped around my neck, and I'll put on the carols soon. I'll let them play throughout the rooms and I'll paint and I'll be still. I'm trying to teach myself that being still is alright. I often think if I'm not constantly doing something -- producing art to sell, or words to publish, or work to be paid for -- I must be thought of as lazy and unable to prove my worth.

I desperately want to stop trying to prove my worth.

I desperately want to start making art for me.

As you probably already know, I'm scared of what you think of me. I wish I wasn't. I try not to care. I want to be strong and independent and able to shrug all the opinions in the world off my shoulders.

But I'm not able to do that just yet. I'm most scared you'll think I'm selfish or arrogant. I'm doubly scared you'll think I'm both.

I think that's why I'm fearful to make art for me. Because if I do that for myself, I must not be offering you something. And in my head, I always want to be offering the world something. Where will I get in life if I don't offer the world my all?

But my soul is tired. Perhaps a bit unsettled, too. I've been feeling this for a long time, and I wish I could go somewhere alone for a few weeks -- without my phone or the internet or possibly even my mind.

I'm going to make art for just me. I don't know what that looks like yet. Maybe tangible art like painting or lettering, maybe more walks. Maybe more music and less noise. Maybe more hand written letters and more risks and taking more chances on who I am. Taking chances on who the God of this snow fallen earth designed me to be.

I'm going to go turn on the carols now. I want the songs to fill this room and the holy refrains to echo long after it's been switched off.

I'm going to go make some art for just me. line1

day twenty-eight: trying something new

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Today I'm welcoming Sarah Belbeck to the blog. Sarah is probably one of the most authentic (and also intelligent) people that I've met and that's why I asked her to come share today. I think sometimes authenticity can feel rare and fragile and I want to choose to surround myself with it. This is what Sarah has to say...


by Sarah Belbeck

"I can't do it. Look, everybody else can. What's wrong with me?"

I could feel myself start the beatdown. I am trying (insert literally anything) for the first time in my life and I couldn't do it. I told myself all sorts of things.

Obviously, I am stupid or broken.

Obviously, I am worse than everybody else.

Obviously, everybody else cares about what I am doing and will mock me for failing.

Obviously, I should be perfect and recognized for my abilities after a single attempt at something new.

You might think this is a gross exaggeration, and that there's no possible way anyone could ever feel this  way. People have to learn; we all start somewhere. We usually all start in the same position. But I know  you've also all met someone who was what we call a "natural" at something. The people who we hold in  high regard because we imagine they can do no wrong. They seem to do well at everything they attempt.  It's normal to compare yourself to others. And jealousy comes all too easily.

See, I expect to be a professional at everything I attempt. I see people do something cool or interesting  or worthy in my eyes, and I want to be able to do it the same way; if not better. I wouldn't exactly call it a competitive nature, this emotion that bubbles up inside me. Maybe it's a lack of sympathy. The majority of people who are good at something have put a lot of time, effort, and even money into their skills. I am the one who mocks when I expect to do better when I've done absolutely nothing to earn it. I just want to  be good enough right now. There's that desire for instant gratification that our elders are always poking  fun at "kids these days" for. I have the head knowledge that being good at something takes more than  five seconds. But my insecurity, my desire to be enough when I never feel like I could be, takes over.

I can think of things in my life I've done and been recognized for. But I often I push people away who are  kind to me by making them feel like their praise isn't enough.  Others are never as hard on me as I am on  myself. Sometimes people say I'm creative, I can draw well, I'm a good writer. But I don't consider myself  worthy of praise in any area of interest I have, despite what I'm told. I know perfection can't be attained; I  pass on this nugget of wisdom to many of my friends who constantly try to please everyone. So why am I so hard on little old me?

Deep down, I know I'm good enough. It takes a little digging sometimes, but I know I can do a lot of things  I put my mind to and my heart into. My desire to try new things and want to gain new skills can be enough to get me going, instead of feeling sad and low. And even if I'm not good enough right now, whether it's writing an essay or playing a sport or instrument, I can always improve. There's a strange line between accepting yourself wherever you are -- feeling like you're enough -- and striving for more.

So, this is an address to anyone I've ever been jealous of or compared myself to. I know you didn't magically get good at dancing or singing or writing or making sculptures. You loved those things, and you wanted to be good at them, and that was enough for you.

This is also an address to myself. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm not good at everything. I'm not perfect. It's okay to make mistakes and fail and not feel like I'm good enough. What matters is what I do with those feelings.

And finally, this is an address to anyone who wants to feel like they're enough. I'm certain you are good right now - just as you are. In fact, I know you are! But I challenge you to channel your negative energy elsewhere; channel it towards yourself, yes, but positively! Turn the negative into something that can make you feel like you're good enough to keep trying. I promise that you are.

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This is day twenty-eight. You can find the rest of this series right here.

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