Starter Stories: My Berkeley Shoebox

Guest Posts

In the last year, I graduated university, left a romantic relationship, quit my job and moved a thousand miles away from the place I grew up. It’s been a gigantic transition. But, the size of this transition is hilarious in contrast with the space I now call home—a tiny 18×12 one-room studio without running water, a closet, an oven, or bathroom. This is the story of my (very) humble abode, for the Urban Compass Starter Stories project on first homes.

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I live in the right side of this studio/garage. The sliding glass door is my entrance.

Maybe you’re shocked that I would choose to live like this. A lot of people are.  But, I should add that the studio comes as exchange for my work as a nanny to the eleven-year old boy that lives in the main house, and it’s entirely MINE.  I can always go in the house to use the bathroom or oven if I need, I save the $1000 per month most people pay for rent in Bay Area (which, I might add, is one of the most coveted places to live in the world), and I don’t have any roommates to contend with. As a single woman just starting out on her own, this set-up is a godsend.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of constraints. It’s taken a cocktail of thrift purchases and ingenuity to make my little Berkeley shoebox home sweet home, but here the issues I’ve had and how I’ve addressed them.

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Rainbow order, ya’ll!

1) The studio is tiny and storage is a huge issue. Luckily, when I arrived in Berkeley, my apartment was fully furnished with the basics as well as as much space saving furniture as she could fit (all of which purchased from thrift stores or IKEA), so most of the shelving I needed was already supplied to me. There was a big issue, though, and that was clothing storage: I had no hanging space and I have a lot of clothes. Like, a lot of clothes. I filled my dresser in a minute. Luckily, I had just enough space free at the foot of my bed for an adjustable hanging structure I found at Target. My own little touch was color-coding the hanging clothes in rainbow order, to make the structure functional and decorative. (Hint: this is cool for books too!)

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It wouldn’t be home without maps and literary magazines.

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My writing desk, complete with my record player AKA the best thing I’ve ever purchased. Talk about livening up a room!

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Books, pictures and knick-knacks, oh my!

2) The studio is literally a rectangle with white walls and very little natural light. So, how I’ve decorated the space is 100% of what makes it interesting. Adding color and visual interest anywhere I can makes the space feel bigger and brighter. I’ve arranged my bookshelves with little knick-knacks to add personality and put fresh-cut flowers around to add cheer. I especially love the look of maps: they are visually interesting and keep my wanderlust a-kindled! So, I have pinned the ones I’ve collected in my travels to the walls. (Maybe I’m crazy, but I think having the whole wide world on my walls makes the place seem larger than it actually is!) Then add all the postcards, pictures and other art I’ve plastered to the walls and you’ve got a surplus of Alexa-ness. Plus, to make the space feel less like a poster-covered dorm room, I’ve gone to salvage yards and thrifts sorts and purchased cheap frames for certain little pieces. Frames are fun and make things look much more Martha Stewart approved.

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This is my kitchen counter. Hanging the cups and using the magnet for the knives saves a ton of space.

3) Clutter makes big spaces feel tiny, and this tiny space feel like being buried alive. I have to keep the space as clean and contained as IMG_4584possible, or else I feel like I’ve joined the cast of TLC’s Hoarders. The space just isn’t big enough to be messy. Of course, I get busy and leave things out, but I can’t do that for too long or it begins to swallow me up. Hence, I have to clean and stay on myself about getting rid of things (especially clothes, shoes and books—my vices) if I am going to buy something new. I have to remember I don’t have the space to accumulate, only to replace.

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The fridge should be as full of personality as it is of food.

These are the main ways I make this space my own and keep it livable. That isn’t too say that rain doesn’t sometimes come in through the makeshift window, that the hotplate doesn’t blow the circuit breaker, or that people don’t accidentally see me in my underwear through the gaps in the curtain that acts as a front door. These things happen. Nevertheless, I love my little Berkeley shoebox. It’s like me: quirky, scrappy and a little impractical. It’s as small as I feel entering into the adult world on my own, and yet, it’s huge to me. It’s my Starter Story. Because of that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.photo 3 copy

Smart Girls in the Arts: First Aid Kit

Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Smart Girls In The Arts
Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls!
FAK press photo 1 (Johannes Helje)

“I’m a master pretender,” wafts from the speakers of my record player as I listen to First Aid Kit sing a track from their newest album, Stay Gold. Yet, after a brief phone chat with these soulful, real-deal sisters, it’s clear they’re doing anything but pretending.

First Aid Kit is sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg. They grew up in the suburbs of Stolkholm, Sweden in a home steeped in the arts.

“Our mom is a film professor, and our dad was a professional musician in the eighties,” Klara said. (Their father was a member of Swedish rock band, Lolita Pop.) “We were always around culture and we always knew we wanted to do something creative,” Johanna added.

As they grew, their love of singing and telling stories together forayed naturally into songwriting.

“There isn’t a time I can remember when we weren’t singing together,” Klara says, “and when we were 13 and 16 we started singing in harmony and writing together.”

The girls attended The English school of Enskede (which accounts for their very American-like accents), but you’ll be surprised to hear that they are not formally trained in music.

“Our parents offered to pay for lessons, but we were self-taught and learned by being around music growing up,” Johanna said.

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“[With songwriting]”, Klara says, “[we believe] there are no rules, its about emotion and…go[ing] with your gut and hav[ing] a lot of imagination…We get to make what we want to make…we think it’s important for people to know we [aren’t formally trained but] got good because we do it a lot and we love practicing and singing. ”

Passion and hard work brought them to where they are now, and authenticity to themselves and their artistic vision has earned them a devoted fan base. Being one of those fans, I can vouch for it: listening to First Aid Kit’s is like hearing my own mercurial, poignant existence put to music.

“We want our music to be honest, that’s why we’re so drawn to country and folk. You don’t need to be a goddess with a huge production crew, you just need to feel and be who you are,” First Aid Kit says.

Here, First Aid Kit is especially talking to you, my lovely Smart Girls. The Soderberg sisters are serious when it comes to supporting and inspiring other women to do what they love, a credit to their “hardcore feminist” mom, they say.

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“She is really amazing…very honest and outspoken; a no bullshit kind of woman,” they said. Johanna and Klara definitely take after her.

“…[If you want to do something] just do it. You need to sit down and play and hone in on your craft. Don’t think you can’t do it because you’re young or a girl… In our culture, men are told to stand out and women are told not to take up too much space. But, as a girl, you should feel that what you do is valid and know that someone will find it interesting. Dare to share it,” Klara said.

“Even if people don’t take you seriously, don’t let it stop you. Look at how far we are. We showed em’!” Johanna adds with a giggle, exemplifying that down-to-earth charm these Soderberg gals have so well. (Further case and point:  “At some point, we want to get dogs and buy a house on a farm.”)

Johanna and Klara say they are extremely happy about where they are now: touring all over the world, meeting their idols (like Jack White, Bright Eyes, Emmylou Harris) and making adoring fans. Plus, it looks like these determined Soderberg songtresses will be sticking around a while, giving you permission to continue (or begin) your addiction.

“We want to keep doing this for a long time,” First Aid Kit says. “In a way that’s comfortable to us…When it comes to our music, we’re very determined to do what we like and follow our vision. No one, not our label or manager, can get in the way of our vision.”

For more information on First Aid Kit and to catch them on tour, visit their website or like them onFacebook.

Smart Girls, Meet Kind Campaign

Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Smart Girls In The Arts

(Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

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Let me begin with two confessions.

Confession #1: I was bullied viciously and relentlessly from the fourth to the sixth grade, and, I once participated in bullying someone. Both being the victim and the bully left me feeling nauseous, and though difficult for me, these experiences helped me write a line of my personal manifesto: Always be kind. 

Confession #2: I was one of the millions who visited and accidentally crashed the Kind Campaign website after Aaron Paul mentioned it in his Emmy acceptance speech this year (oops!). Within minutes of reading about Kind Campaign—a movement created by Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson to spread kindness and fight bullying—I knew these women and their cause needed to be unveiled to our Smart Girls community.

What exactly is Kind Campaign? Kind Campaign is an internationally recognized movement, documentary, and school program based upon the powerful belief in kindness. Kind Campaign’s programming brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of what Lauren and Molly call girl-against-girl crime. The campaign was inspired by Lauren’s own experience with bullying as a girl, and her work as an intern for Tom Shadyac during the making of his documentary, I Am.

“Throughout seventh and eighth grade, I went through a pretty traumatic experience with a group of girls. That experience put the issue of girl-against-girl bullying on my heart at a young age and since that time, I had known that I wanted to do something to start an honest conversation about this topic that had been swept under the rug for so long… [and then interning with Tom] inspired the depths of my soul and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I needed to make a documentary about this topic,” Lauren said.

Lauren then pitched the idea to her friend, Molly, who she met her junior year at Pepperdine University.

“The two of us had a ton of mutual friends throughout our first two years Pepperdine, but we hadn’t crossed paths until that year.  I remember, the very first time we met, she was sitting in the film & communications building cafeteria and I sat down at her table with a mutual friend and showed her the ‘Leave Britney Alone!’ video on Youtube … [After being inspired to create Kind Campaign] I sat down with Molly and pitched her the idea of the film. She immediately connected, having gone through her own experiences with bullying during high school … Thank the universe that we ended up in each others lives because our relationship and how we run Kind Campaign as a team is absolutely perfect. I know that none of this would exist without our friendship and the way our brains create things together,” Lauren said.

During the process of creating the documentary, the vulnerable and heartbreaking stories they captured on camera led the women to take their cause even further—to create the non-profit Kind Campaign with the purpose of developing anti-bullying school programs and curriculum.

“Kind Campaign has grown immensely since our founding in 2009, where it started with this idea of a documentary and quickly grew into a school program, club curriculum, and online movement. Now our film, Finding Kind, screens in schools almost every day of the school year while we spend as much time as possible on the road with our assembly program watching real change take place right before our very eyes,” said Molly.

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Since the founding of Kind Campaign in February 2009, Molly and Lauren have personally spoken in about 300 schools with their assembly program, their documentary Finding Kind has screened in thousands of schools and venues, and Kind Campaign has become the premiere anti-bullying program for girls across North America.

You’re in love? Me too. I’m obsessed with these ladies and their mission. Lucky for me, it seems the Kind Campaign gals are just as in love with Smart Girls and our mission to change the world by being yourself.

As Molly said, “[Kind Campaign stays true to this] one hundred percent. (P.S. I am obsessed with that motto!) This is a common theme throughout many of our talking points in our assembly and discussion and something that we strongly believe in.  We celebrate embracing your individuality, while also discovering what it is that you’re passionate about so that you can go after your dreams and accomplish your goals.  We also encourage grabbing a friend to come along on the journey because you really can change the world with your friends.”

“One of my favorite quotes was said by Howard Thurman. It reads: ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive,’” Lauren adds.

“I deeply believe in that motto. There is nothing better than a person who comes alive when they tell or show you what they do or what they’re passionate about, whether that’s being a teacher, sailing, working on wall street, collecting stamps, making bread at a bakery, acting, working in construction, or being a librarian. You will be the best you if you find a way to do what you love and/or love what you do,” Lauren says.

The girls are the embodiment of their own mottos and ours–two authentic, inspired, generous women putting their light into the world.

Both of them have learned “more than [they] ever imagined… about filmmaking, non-profits, and business… we have learned priceless life lessons and have had the privilege to get a peek into the lives of hundreds of thousands of people that we’ve met on this journey.  We have learned not only how broken so many girls across our country are, but more importantly how resilient and ready to create change they are as well.”

With the help of Aaron Paul’s recent Emmy shout-out, they are able to reach more girls than ever.  It’s provided them with incredible momentum going into the new school year, and is enabling them to continue spreading change in auditoriums across the country.

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“Aaron’s Emmy shout-out was incredible. Although we have been well established and active within thousands of schools over the last six years, because of Aaron, hundreds of thousands of new people now know about Kind Campaign. He is always using every opportunity he can to help.” As Kind Campaign enters into October, they also enter into their sixth annual national anti-bullying month tour.  The girls will be speaking in 28 schools throughout the month and “cannot wait” to meet the amazing girls in each of the schools that they’re visiting. Lauren added that last year, Aaron hosted a fundraiser for Kind Campaign, which coincided with the series finale of Breaking Bad. The fundraiser raised enough money for Kind Campaign to provide these school programs free of charge this entire year–fulfilling a dream the girls have had since beginning the organization in 2009.

Thank you Lauren and Molly (and Aaron Paul), and all others involved in Kind Campaign for being about something positive and nurturing for all the Smart Girls in the world! By the powers invested in me and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: I now pronounce you Officially Awesome.

To support Kind Campaign (do it!) or learn more about their October Free To Be Kind anti-bullying tour, please visit www.kindcampaign.com!

Smart Girls in The Arts: Michelle Johnson

Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Smart Girls In The Arts

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls!

Michelle-Johnson-Featured

It’s no secret that opera, a four-hundred year old craft known for amazing voices and intricate plots, has struggled in wooing audiences in recent years. Early this year, The Metropolitan Opera House announced that they “brought in only 69 percent of its total potential box office revenue last season…the lowest in recent years”. At the mention of The Ring, most people under forty would think of Frodo, not Wagner. Yet, new talent like soprano Michelle Johnson, are threatening this trajectory by renewing opera with youth, originality and breathtaking talent.

Known for her “extraordinary breath control and flawless articulation,” with a “voice…velvety and pliant–a dulcet dream,” this graduate of the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts is dazzling in appearance and aria, and just a joy to get to know.

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Born in Texas into a long line of educators, she was nurtured in an atmosphere of hard work and success. “…Education was essential to my career,” Johnson said, “My father is a Baptist pastor and my mother is an owner and director of an early childhood learning center, and my two older brothers are both in education as well.”

Johnson thought of being a teacher, but life had another plan for her—opera. When she was just 8, she saw Madame Butterfly on PBS. Johnson remembers becoming captivated by the high drama, the costumes, make-up, and the combination of song, music, and acting.

“It was nothing like I had ever seen before…I did not grow up in a house of frequent opera supporters. I grew up singing gospel in church, musical theater at school, and hip hop, R&B and alternative with friends. The opera world was a new world that I could not wait to discover,” Johnson said.

So discover she did. Instead of following in the footsteps of her family, she auditioned for music school. She was accepted to New England Conservatory of Music. Her education there was followed by a stint at Boston University’s Opera Institute. Eventually, Johnson arrived in Philadelphia, PA to attend the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts.

“While at AVA, I was able to really focus on taking my craft to the next level. Nothing can take the place of being in your craft’s environment everyday with some of the most talented beings. I had two choices, grow or quit. I chose to grow,” she said.

Though it was the more challenging decision, to grow, it gave her a philosophy on her life and craft that’s worth sharing with you, my darling Smart Girls.

“[In opera,] I have learned…it’s always best to be honest with yourself… It’s too exhausting to try to be anyone other than myself. It’s also too uncomfortable. I am in a field where one is dealing with other’s opinions on a daily basis.  I’m playing characters that have been portrayed for hundreds of years. It’s always important to take in other’s critiques and advice but in the end [remember] it’s just me on the stage. I always respect what the composer has written but I always have to add my own color and flare to the piece that I’m presenting.”

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She means to add her own color literally, too, as a black woman in an art form that tends to tip-toe around and avoid the discussion of race.

“Many of the soprano roles I play are not black women…Most of the time the race of a character is not important to the storyline one bit. I find it very strange that many people find it very acceptable to perform a make-up transformation on a male that is not of color so he can play ‘Othello’ but it’s very seldom that one is eager to perform the same transformation for a woman of color to play ‘Desdemona.’ I am willing to take any challenge that comes my way.”

But there are a couple of women in particular that she acknowledges helped clear the way for her.

Firstly, it is opera legend, Leontyne Price. “I can not put into words what I feel when I listen to her perform. I just feel such an emotion in my gut. She’s brilliant and I hope to walk in the path that she has opened for black singers.”

Secondly, Johnson credits her mother Zelda with inspiring her and keeping her strong in who she is. “…That brilliant, intelligent, strong, classy lady [hangs] in there with me. I feel I can always ask for advice or a listening ear and she is always there. She truly was a great example of being comfortable with who you are in spite of other’s opinions.”

Johnson’s passion, originality and support system have brought her this far, but she is adamant about continuing having a long, healthy career. “Of course I would love to sing all of the grand diva roles right now,” she said, “but I know I, and my throat, would hate me after five years of unnecessary pressure being placed on my vocal chords and self.” She stresses that it’s great to have drive and passion, but that in the end it’s just as important to “have fun, enjoy life and be kind to your body.”

Johnson is gracing the stage in many upcoming performances. Right now, she is preparing to make two house debuts this season with the Kentucky Opera and the Sarasota Opera as “Minnie” in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West and “Elisabeth” in Verdi’s Don Carlos. If you’re inspired by her story and nearby, get out and hear this Smart Girl sing!

Smart Girls in the Arts: Gracie and Rachel

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(published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

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What do doe-eyed vixens, melodically-driven indie pop and Brooklyn, New York have in common? Gracie and Rachel, of course. This up and coming piano/voice and violin duo are stealing hearts from coast to coast with their original music and inspiring outlook on the act of creating art. Their (fabulous!) debut album “Go” is set to release August 26, and the least I can do is shine the Smart Girl in the Arts spotlight on this deserving pair.

Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles were both born and raised in Berkeley, California. They met their junior year at Berkeley High School after each was asked to play music for the dance program. The pair became fast friends and continued to play music together afterwards, discovering that their differing musical approaches were complementary.

“I started playing violin when I was 6 and was raised in a very classical environment. My parents are musicians and really stressed jazz and classical in the house. From the age of six until eighteen I was going through many programs and studying at the San Francisco Conservatory, often studying away from home during the summer. It was very rigorous.” Rachel said.

Gracie’s musicality, on the other hand, grew less out of structure and more our of a love of free improvisation.

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“My dad is heavily involved in theater, so I grew up in the theater and around a range of avant garde styles music. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was six, but was more excited about the idea of inventing [my own] stuff…I started singing and songwriting around [thirteen]…As a preteen I had feelings about life and wanted to put them into song,” Gracie said.

Once it all comes out in the wash, the girls dovetail beautifully.

Rachel explains, “Gracie was around people who were very unique and pushing boundaries. Conversely, I grew up in a more formulaic environment. She gives me freedom and an outlet for personal expression, and I give her more structure.”

After the girls graduated high school and were accepted into different music schools, (Gracie went to Berklee School of Music in Boston, while Rachel went to Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University), they were unsure if their collaboration would survive. But, the pair weathered the distance like champs, flying out to each other to play gigs and writing over the phone and internet.

“We managed to rehearse over Skype and often we’d call each other and play into our phones to avoid delay on our computers. After graduation we were like ‘let’s choose a city with a music scene to live in together.’ We settled on Brooklyn and we’ve been there about a year and a half,” Gracie said.

As a songwriting team, the two are comfortable with each other and accustomed to keeping the other in mind throughout the whole process.

“We’ll bring each other little doo-dads or musical ideas and [that will become the theme.] It expands from there. We’ll play something for each other and the reaction is so key…if Rachel doesn’t react then I’ll throw that idea out. But if she reacts right away and gets her violin out then we’ll finish a song in a day. We’ll know where we both want it to go,” Gracie said, adding, “We don’t really talk about it—there’s just an intuition there.”

Rachel chimes in, “[It helps] that we live together, we’re roommates and friends…we’re pretty involved in each other’s lives. When you live with someone it develops different aspects of creating together. It helps develop that intuition.”

Since reuniting and moving into their shared apartment in Brooklyn, the girls have been immersed in this creative process at all hours of the day, churning out songs, recordings, music videos, and press photos at a staggering pace.

“This past year has been so …inspiring. We’ve been recording, mixing and mastering our debut album set to come out on August 26th on POPMNRC records….We’ve had this album in the back of our minds since we were about seventeen and finally seeing it all come to fruition is very exciting!,” they said, finishing each other’s sentences.

A promotional picture for "Go" and an example of the duo's unique aesthetic

How do these busy Smart Girls stay in tune with their authentic selves through the excitement and growing hype about their music?

“When you’re younger you get distracted by comparing yourself to others or what others tell you to do. But, go with what you’re passionate about. Go with that. Don’t go one way because you’re told that is the ‘right’ way to go. If you feel inclined towards something else, trust and explore that,” Rachel said.

“And [don’t be afraid of] showing vulnerabilities and being raw. I don’t think you can be a good storyteller or musician if you don’t have sensitivity to the environment and people [around you],” Gracie added.

What’s next for these real girls with real talent? They hope to tour and make more albums, and possibly even produce a visual art component to go along with their music.

“We love performing and sharing our story,” they said, “and we love when people love what we do as much as we do!”

Want to show Gracie and Rachel some love? You can support the duo by watching for upcoming shows and music videos, and keeping tabs on the August 26th release of their album  “Go”, on their website,Twitter, and Facebook.

(Photos by Sam Margevicius)

Webucator Asks. It’s All Write By Me Responds.

Advice, Website Contributions

A short time ago, I received an email from Bob Clary of Webucator. He told me that Webucator is, “…an online learning company… all about teaching essential skills and finding ways to help people improve themselves and become more successful.” And he asked me to “..write an article to post on your blog about what you consider to be a valuable, marketable skill as part of our “Most Marketable Skill” Campaign in honor of the class of 2014…What is it that you think is essential for success? We want to read about the skill that you personally feel is the most important, how you acquired or plan to acquire the skill, and why it’s so indispensable for people going into the workforce.” Here is my reply.

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I grew up in a household of inspirational appliances. My dad, a Tony Robbins book and label maker in hand, branded most of our house with affirmations. Despite a particularly loquacious clock radio and toaster oven, I especially remember what our basement fridge had to say: Attitude is everything.

As a kid, I thought the icebox giving me permission to roll my eyes at my mother and speak all the smartassery I kept to myself.  (There were a few years there that my gearshift jammed in snarky.) But in the process of growing up, and especially in becoming a university graduate and entering the workforce, I’ve begun to really understand what that phrase means and why it has always stuck with me.

Whilst earning my diploma, I was often stressed, exhausted, obsessive, and overly caffeinated. I cared a lot about my education, about getting the A, about graduating with honors. Then, add in fights with roommates, tearful break-ups, friends who decided to see Hunger Games without me, and it’s easy to understand why my brain often felt like a too-small bowl for a many-emotion salad.

Now that I’m out of school, I have many similar burdens weighing on me, except instead of grades it’s my paycheck and future security that’s at play.  I am as ambitious and hardworking as ever in my quest to be a working writer, often craning over my computer for most of the day. I can be demoralized by rejections from literary journals, frustrated by metaphors that just won’t make sense, and made jealous by other writers’ successes. Plus, though they’re less melodramatic than they were, I still find myself in delicate and taxing interpersonal situations.

My point is: the many-emotion salad is still tossing about in my mind! The only difference is now, I’ve (mostly) learned how to deal with it. The way to cope was with me all along—stuck onto my uncommonly wise basement fridge. Attitude is everything.

Your attitude is everything in how you overcome a bad day, week or even year. When shit hits the fan, it’s common to get down on yourself and your life. But, getting out of that space is essential to being productive again, and finding success in the future. In times like these, it is important to take a break and do something that helps center you again. I find that writing my feelings down in a journal helps expel them from my mind. I also benefit from meditation, naps, bike rides, baking cookies, and playing piano. Or if it’s really bad, I’ll plan a vacation. Try different things and find what it is that helps you feel happier and ready to work again.

Yes, class of 2014, I just became the umpteenth person to tell you to “turn that frown upside down.” Like it or not, I believe this is your most marketable skill: your own power to change how you feel, regardless of external circumstances. This ability helps you be productive and successful despite a world full of self-involved assholes, seemingly insurmountable obstacles and ridiculous expectations. Having a positive attitude gives you a big enough bowl for all that messy life salad. It creates space for more sweet cherry tomatoes. It makes whatever’s in front of you clearer and easier to digest. Most importantly, it shines a light on what truly matters: feeling grateful for the life that fills your bowl.

 

For more about this campaign go to www.webucator.com or follow @webucator on Twitter.WebucatorAvatar_400x400

 

 

 

Smart Girls In The Arts: Sarah Jarosz

Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Music Reviews/Profiles, Smart Girls In The Arts

(Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

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23-year old bluegrass-folk singer and Smart Girl in the Arts, Sarah Jarosz, has always seen the value in community. “I love that music can be a connector between people… The communal aspect of music was one of the first things that drew me to it when I was a little girl attending the jam for the first time.” After hearing her crystal clear voice through my car radio, falling in love with her music and learning her story, I thought it only natural that she be unveiled to our Smart Girls community.

Sarah Jarosz was born in the small town of Wimberley, Texas, to a family and greater community that were big on music.

“I’m lucky to have parents that love music, so I was surrounded by it for as long as I can remember. I started singing when I was about two years old, took piano lessons when I was six for a few years, but then when I was nine, my parents bought me a mandolin for Christmas. I fell in love with the instrument and never looked back,” Sarah said.

Soon after her introducsj_finaltion to the mandolin, Jarosz discovered a weekly bluegrass jam in her city, and instantly clicked with her fellow Bluegrassers, if you will.

“[…I just] fell in love with the music and the community of musicians. I played a lot of local gigs around Austin and Central Texas, and began to branch out by attending music camps and festivals during the summers, such as RockyGrass Academy and Festival in Lyons, CO, and The Mandolin Symposium in Santa Cruz, CA …” Jarosz said.

But it’s safe to say her visit to Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2007 was one of her most memorable camp experiences. There, as a girl in her mid-teens, she had the opportunity to play her first main stage set. Gary Paczosa, producer, engineer, A&R at Sugar Hill Records, was in the audience and approached Jarosz after her show. Gary took a liking to Jarosz’s music, and that meeting eventually lead to her signing with Sugar Hill at just 16 years old.

Since then, Jarosz’s life has been a tornado of touring, schooling and writing her music. Instead of taking off after high school to tour, Jarosz decided to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She received her Bachelors in Music in May 2013.

Now, Jarosz devotes herself entirely to touring and writing. You’re probably thinking, how does she stay so generative?

Jarosz said, “I…collect lyrical and melodic ideas along the way… Whether it be listening to music I love or listening to the world and people around me. I do find it challenging to write songs on tour, but that is normally the time when I collect the most ideas, and then when I have time to chill out and be home, that’s when I sift through those ideas and figure out what works together, and normally, hopefully, that leads to a song.”mg_7113-credit-scott-simontacchi

Her openness to the offerings of the world has brought about dozens of original songs and utter courage has brought them to listeners’ ears.

“From an early age, that was always the fastest way to learn [and share my music] – to put myself in a situation that scared me, like jamming with my heroes, for instance. I would always walk away from those experiences having learned something new and being so fired up to practice and write and become a better musician,” Jarosz said.

That, in a nutshell, is Jarosz’s advice for the Smart Girls reading this: don’t let obstacles like fear scare you away from what lights your creative fire.

“Recogniz[e] what excites you. Once you have that figured out, latch onto it and do anything in your power to make your goals a reality… and always remember to make time for yourself. It’s easy to spread yourself too thin when opportunities start rolling in, but I find when I start to become discouraged, if I set aside a little time for myself, whether it be to write or just do something completely unrelated to music, that’s when I’m able to get back to the good stuff and feel re-inspired,” she said.

So there you have it, Smart Girls, Jarosz has given you permission to pursue your passion and buy yourself that pint of Cherry Garcia. How could you not love her? (I can guarantee you you’ll love her music too. Jarosz has completed three albums, and her most recent release, “Build Me Up From Bones,” received two Grammy 2014 nominations!) For more information about her songs, touring schedule, and upcoming projects visit sarahjarosz.com.

 

What’s Hot and What’s Not: Berkeley, CA

Exclusive to ItsAllWriteByMe, Personal Essay

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I’ve been in Berkeley going on 3 months now, enough time to get a decent feel for the Bay Area and to compile my own personal list of Hots and Nots.

What’s Hot

1. The Mint Mojito Latte (Sweet & Creamy) from Philz Coffee

This is by far my favorite culinary discovery in Berkeley thus far. Sure, the food is pretty good, but this drink gets points for deliciousness and creativity. While it isn’t actually alcoholic (sorry, guys) it captures and blends the flavors of a sweet and creamy latte and a minty mojito perfectly. It comes iced and with actual fresh mint on top, which never ceases to impress me. Delicious.

2. Ze Bohemian Vibes

Now, this category has a lot to do with my host mom/boss, Marisa, and her grasp of aesthetics. She keeps colorful fresh flowers in the kitchen and the bathroom at all times. She has piles of shells, drift wood, sea glass ornately situated on window ledges and in bowls on the porch steps. She regularly uses her clothes line to dry out loads of boho garments and billowing bed sheets. Her dance-y world music often wafts out the open windows into the backyard (where I have my little studio). Her attention to the details of the house make it a homey, comfortable, artsy, vibrant space that I just love being a part of.

East Bay as a whole too is bohemian, but “Start-Up” culture seems to have completely pillaged the free-spirited feel that San Francisco used to be known for (Bohemians of the 60s and 70s wouldn’t be caught dead in the posh Haight nowadays). As a result, the hippy culture has bled into Oakland and Berkeley and these east bay cities are becoming the major cultural hubs instead.

3. Telegraph Ave

Telegraph Ave is enormous–it runs through both Berkeley and Oakland, the carotid artery of the East Bay. To your right, dreadlocked street vendors sell sterling silver rings, gemstone bracelets made to cleanse your chakra, Tibetan singing bowls to enhance your yoga and meditation practice, handmade glass-blown pipes and Bob Marley vinyl. To your left, there is any and every type of hole-in-the-wall eatery you could desire: Burmese, Thai, Tapas, French, Italian, Indian, you name it. Ahead of you, you’ll see college kids in blue and yellow Cal Bear tee-shirts, belly dancers, a singing guitar player busking for spare change, a woman painting with her easel out, and families of every ethnicity and creed. East Bay is a very diverse place, but it’s on Telegraph where all the diversity comes to a head.

4. Bike Culture

Have I mentioned that I’m getting into awesome shape here? I have my car, but I only use it to cart around the kid I nanny and for lengthy trips. Within Berkeley and Oakland, I ride my bike everywhere because, not only are their awesome bike lanes and laws here, but the area is fairly flat (unless of course you venture up towards the Berkeley/Oakland hills, that’s a whole other story.) I ride my bright red road bike all over; to bars, to my friends’ houses, to cafes and restaurants, to yoga class, and now that I zip-tied a milk crate to the back, to Trader Joe’s to get groceries! I’m gettin’ some major thigh muscles because of it.

There is a lot of support for cyclists here too. Berkeley alone has countless bike shops that will fix your bike for dirt cheap. My personal favorite place is Missing Link on Shattuck Ave because they have a box of communal tools that they allow riders to use for no charge, and, more excitingly, because they offer free, indoor, secure bike storage for the entire day. As Berkeley has an astronomically high bike theft rate, I am IN LOVE with this service.

5. BART

Seattle’s public transportation is total crap compared to the BART and Muni system in the East Bay. BART is like a subway system that goes all the way from south of San Francisco to the northernmost parts of the East Bay. It’s super cheap, relatively fast and a greener option for those who commute from East Bay to The City (or vice versa) for work. But aside from that, the COOLEST people ride BART. Maybe it’s just that I’m a fairly extroverted, open person, but I have met and conversed with so many interesting people while riding. I met a Bio Chemist from France, a traveler from Montreal, a professor at Cal Berkeley, a graduate student from Russia. Everyone gets a little confused when first riding BART, but the community is so welcoming (and made up of lots of transplants and new people learning the culture of the area) that it’s super easy to approach people, befriend them and ask for aid. The times I have felt the most welcome and connected to others here has been while riding the BART. I love it.

What’s Not

1. Live Music=Meh

Granted, I have been spoiled in this department my entire life (growing up with a musician father in Seattle then going to school in Bellingham where live music is alive and well,) but I can safely say most of the live music I’ve seen here has been…meh. (Caveat: I know a ton of super talented musicians in the bay area (you guys know who you are and know I love you!), but they’re just aren’t that many venues for them in Berkeley! One exception being Freight & Salvage, that place is lovely.)

San Francisco has great music, of course, but I’ve been looking for good local indie rock/pop/bluegrass/etc I can ride my bike to. No dice. The one place riding distance away that has live jazz is a bar called “Jupiter” but they’re idea of jazz is weirdly electronic, fusion-y, smooth jazz that I loathe. And despite the fact that this is a college town, there aren’t that many college bands that are locally famous and have a following (Think Blue Scholars at Gonzaga, Pole Cat in Bellingham) so I never know if I should take a gamble on a cover charge. The data I’ve collected so far says, don’t. Maybe I just haven’t found the right places, but I figure if it’s this hard to find good music, that isn’t a good sign…

2. Hella Dudes

There are definitely exceptions to what I’m about to say, but by and large Berkeley guys are bro-y, macho, frat boys that pretend to have some hipster flare. If that makes no sense, picture an L.A. guy who’s ashamed of his SoCal roots and thus puts horn-rimmed glasses on and pretends to listen to Bob Dylan. It’s a hard thing to describe, because it’s a subtlety, and it has to do with my radar for genuineness. As one guy told me candidly outside a bar, “There are a lot fake people in this hood.” It is really true, and really off-putting. I mean, the other night I was 2 beers in and I still remember thinking, “There is not a single person (girl or guy) that I want to get to know here.” That was when I knew it was time to call it a night.

Oh yeah, and as the stereotype says, they use “hella” way too often here. I am really hoping it doesn’t rub off on me.

3. “I work at a Start-Up”

This phrase gets thrown around too much. Mostly because it’s true, there are a ton of Start-Ups in this area (businesses that are just getting off that ground and thus are hiring lots of fresh grads. Usually they’re inventing apps, etc.) but I think it’s also thrown around because there is this whole “glamorous” culture that comes with being part of a Start-Up. Start-ups are usually funded by generous share holders like Google, and thus they have money for a whole slew of amenities that have become the status quo in a start up job. Free meals. Hip office spaces. Happy Hours and Parties. All that coupled with a built-in network of young people to be friends with and a job that could potentially earn you a lot of money. Awesome, sign me up!

But after knowing a few people that work at start-ups, you get to know real quick that the glamour is mostly an illusion. You work crazy long hours, you hardly get respite from coworkers and work talk, and more often than not start-ups fail and leave you in the lurch without a job. Not to mention, the atmosphere in general seems really intense and stressful. Realistically, it’s this intense and stressful way of life, and yet people throw their membership in start-up culture around as if it’s some badge of instant superiority. It’s annoying.

4. The Drought

It never rains here. In the three months since I got here, it’s rained three times. In fact, it’s hardly ever overcast.  As a Seattle girl raised on Gortex and polar fleece, this just feels fundamentally wrong.

5. The Parking People Eaters

Um, for the life of you, never leave your meter a minute longer after it runs out, park on the wrong side of the street during street sweeping or god forbid, forget to pay for parking in downtown Berkeley. The parking police must be bored because they are the more thorough than a fine-toothed comb. They’re ruthless too: they will not hesitate to give you a $50 ticket for 5 mins of unpaid parking. More than once I’ve been caught running down the sidewalk in high-heel wedges to stop them from tagging my car. I refuse to let the Parking People Eaters win. I downright REFUSE.

4 Reasons Why Being Alone Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Lonely

Advice, Website Contributions

  Alone doesn't have to mean lonely

“We can’t underestimate the value of silence. We need to create ourselves, need to spend time alone. If you don’t, you risk not knowing yourself and not realizing your dreams.” – Jewel

Having just moved to a new place where I only know a few people, I’ve spent a lot of time alone the last few months. At first, I was sad, lonely, even depressed without my friends around. But I’ve been learning that there’s an art to being alone and if you can work on it, it can bring a lot of positivity to your life! Society may tell you that you need a significant other, but I say, tune that out and read this list. Being alone might be just what you need!

4 Reasons Why Being Alone Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Lonely

Being Alone Can Be More Fun

A few days ago, I went to San Francisco’s touristy Fisherman’s Wharf by myself. At first, I felt weird about being alone. There were groups of people everywhere, on the BART, on the trollies to the pier, and at the pier itself–laughing and buying each other Golden Gate Bridge key chains and teddy bears. Perhaps I should’ve waited until I had more friends to come and visit Pier 39, I thought. But then I thought, why? I don’t need someone else to buy me a souvenir or share a walk down a boardwalk with.  I don’t even need to bring someone I can talk with. I can strike up a conversation with strangers. And the kicker–I can actually enjoy doing these things for myself!

So, I did just that. I laughed gleefully to myself when I saw all the sea lions lying like sardines on the docks. I bought myself fish and chips and devoured each piece on a bench, making small talk with a woman from Maryland. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, unperturbed by having to cater my plans to someone else’s needs or wants. And by god did I have a ball giving myself the perfect day!

Being Alone Teaches You How to Love Yourself

I took myself out for a celebratory drink when I got a writing job I’ve been coveting because I deserved it. I rode my bike to a yoga class because I wanted to do something healthy for my body. I drove down the freeway, with no destination in sight, my favorite songs vibrating against the windows because why not? I made a collage on the kitchen table, glossy magazine clippings spread all over because I had the itch to be creative. I did all these activities for myself because I know that they give me joy and fulfillment in a world that can really overwhelm and frighten me.

That, my friends, is called loving one’s self. And, the beauty of learning self-care is that you will never enter a relationship out of desperation or need again. You don’t need anyone if you have yourself. (Of course, you can always want a new friend or significant other, but the difference between need and want is what I challenge you to ponder.) I’m far from an expert on self-love, but I’m learning and you can too.

Being Alone Can Rejuvenate You!

Let’s face it, we’re all constantly connecting with one another via email, social media, face-to-face, on the phone, and after a while it seems like we can’t escape from the noise of our loud, fast-paced society.

Sometimes we just need to go somewhere quiet and think. This is when your “alone but not lonely” superpower can kick in. Go on a hike with just the squirrels for company. Or, if you’re at work, find a quiet stairwell, close your eyes and take a deep breath. It’s amazing how just a few solitary moments with your mind, breath and body can center you again.

Being Alone Can Help Strengthen Future Relationships

Okay, so when you spend time with just yourself, you allow yourself to spend time with what makes you uncomfortable, confused or angry. When we’re with other people, we tend to ignore these issues, especially if you’re conflict averse like I am.  (I don’t like to argue or disagree because I crave connection and like-mindedness, especially when I first encounter a person.)

This is precisely why we are taught to “reflect” on science experiments in school. While observing the bubbling beaker or pursuing the fetal pig’s heart, we don’t have access to the attention it takes to aptly consider our findings. It’s the same with dates and parties and other events where we are around people. These are all life experiments, if you will, and we are too consumed with the cutting of the cake or the story of how our date’s parents met to reflect wholly on our own feelings.

But when we get home to a quiet house, we consider how Angie’s comment annoyed us, or how Bart’s description of Peru was incredible, or how David’s smile was bewitching. Those considerations are nuggets of self-learning that help us understand the sorts of experiences and relationships we want to have in our lives.

In this way, aloneness can actually save you future heartache and confusion. It can help you know better what you want. In other words, aloneness can be a prerequisite to avoiding loneliness. How’s that for irony?

The fact of the matter is: there’s no shame in being lonely. We all end up on that sad planet sometimes and my GPS sure as heck hasn’t mastered its avoidance. Neither is it wrong to like being around others. I’m an extrovert that loves people and couldn’t survive without my community of family and friends.

But sometimes people aren’t available to be with us and we would do anything to avoid defaulting to lonely.

So make a choice to look beyond the socialized attitude there is about being by ourselves, and remember that in the end it can actually help us live happier lives. And gosh darn it, don’t wait another week for your friend to commit to backpacking Europe before you buy the plane tickets or for a guy to ask you to that new Thai restaurant before you make the reservation. Go by yourself, my dear, and love every minute of it!

Photo by gizelle rivera

Exchanging Wedding Vows With My Facebook Account

Humor, Website Contributions

(Published on HelloGiggles.com)

From Our Readers

I, take you, Facebook, to be my nosy, bothersome partner. To have and to hold you open on my iPhone during poetry class or family dinners or a friend’s confessional, from this day forward, until battery death do us part.

To hold you affectionately in the morning as I emerge from the covers, seeking the companionship of a baby sloth video or a picture of a high school acquaintance clad in a “slutty pirate” costume. I promise to search for universal truths in your endless scroll, passing the play by plays of the Red Sox game and the “I love poop” statuses until resigning to the idea that those may in fact, be our new truths.

For better or for worse, I will procure you a new banner to wear upon your virtual forehead, like a bandana of blatant individuality. Expect a pile of puppies or a “Stay Calm and Carry On” quote or a mushy couple-kissing-in-front-of-Eiffel-tower shot.

In sickness, I promise to reference you for unexpected aid, hoping someone will have a naturopathic remedy for strep throat or a recommendation for a softer brand of tissue. In health, I will take a picture of my running shoes, just so you know I’m serious about that half-marathon I signed up for.

For richer, I will exclaim about my successes to you and your followers, posting close-ups of my 14 karat engagement ring or asking for good luck on my job interview. For poorer, I will post a snapshot of my dinner of Top Raman and hash tag it as “#dinnerdoneright” and “#pleasegodsomeonehireme.”

My dear, I promise to love and cherish your lightning fast information dissemination, waste time on your feed, disapprove of your consistent misspellings, cheat on you with Pinterest, periodically deactivate, and frantically reactivate you, for as long as we both shall live.

~

I, Facebook, take you to be my lawfully wedded user. To have and to hold your attention for the hours you could’ve read Walt Whitman or gone to the gym or cooked lasagna from scratch or called your aging grandparents.

For better or worse, I will remind you of your friend’s birthdays, and allow you to send them good wishes without leaving the couch. I will create events for you to join so you remember (on occasion) to log off, remove your stale, coffee-stained pajamas and go to Suzy’s Bachelorette Party or Alex’s Walking Dead Marathon. I promise to poke your aunt and act the P.I. to confirm that the cute guy from your ECON 101 class is in fact, in a “complicated” relationship.

I promise to make you worry you’re not funny enough or pretty enough or smart enough. To make you compare your life to Claire’s or Amelia’s or Jack’s. To be that little blue icon that is ever-present and there for you, especially when you read something that just really needs to be shared, even if it already has 435 likes. I promise to twist your words into abstractions as you forget the importance of a facial expression and vocal inflection in interaction.

In sickness, I promise to blind you early and give you carpal tunnel. In health, I promise to make you feel like you’ve finally won the competition you unknowingly entered with everyone else. For richer, I promise to help you advertise yourself and network with other people in your field. I promise to be an unhealthy habit you would quit if you didn’t see it as helpful to a blossoming writer.

My dear, I promise to love and cherish your ebony cursor upon my skin, your every grammatically incoherent profundity, the sincerity inside your “lols” and the affection behind the use of kissy-faced emoticons, for as long as we both shall live.