What Watercolors Have Taught Me in 24 Hours.

watercolor-tree
Experiments in watercolor – Tree

Six years ago, during the second semester of my architectural graduate program, I decided to take a watercolor class. I had always admired the delicacy of watercolor paintings, and the luminosity and movement they often embodied. I imagined myself sitting outside with my pallet full of paint, effortlessly painting beautiful landscapes. 

I walked into the first day painting class full of hope and creative excitement, but by the end of the hour I had just one thought.

I. Hate. Watercolors.

You see, as long as I can remember I have been a very precise person. A perfectionist to put it nicely. A control freak to put it bluntly. So when I couldn’t control this water and paint the way I wanted to, it really frustrated me.

My desire for perfection and control runs deep, especially when it comes to academics and my career. Since childhood I have taken school very seriously. Architecture school was no joke. It was intense. We had a huge workload, and were expected to work around the clock to get it done.

For instance, one of my professors would come up to our studio around midnight a few nights a week, and if you weren’t there working he would call your cell phone and ask, “Am I not giving you enough work to do? Where are you?” We stashed cots and bean bags in our studios so we could sleep a couple hours a night without “wasting time” by going all the way home to sleep.

During those six years I spent in architecture school, I averaged about four hours of sleep a night.

I was also constantly stressed out. Not only was school extremely intense, but I had it in my mind that I must be the best. I must be at the top of my class. I wore my perfectionism like a badge of honor.

As you can imagine, all of those late nights and constant stress eventually took a tole on my body. Half way through graduate school I began to have headaches every single day, and soon suffered from chronic migraines. The migraines quickly became debilitating.

I sought medical help, but when my doctor recommended more sleep and reducing my stress I, in my infinite twenty three-year-old wisdom, made the decision that changing my lifestyle. So, she prescribed a few medications. The medications worked, kind of, they helped with my migraines but also came with a slew of side effects.

By the time I finished graduate school in 2011 my body was completely broken. Not only did I still struggle with migraines and panic attacks, but I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. Basically,  my body had been under so much stress and for so long that it could no longer properly regulate the hormones I needed to function like a normal human being.

I had accomplished my dreams, I graduated at the very top of my class and got an excellent job, but at what cost? Today, five years later, I’m still dealing with some of the health problems that I developed during that time.

A big part of finding health and balance has been to give up that perfectionist mentality that in the past I so closely identified with. Now make time relax, to let loose, and I prioritize activities that bring me joy and peace. I’ve learned to do my work, and then let it go instead of redoing it over and over until it’s “perfect.” I’ve learned to stop comparing myself with others, not worrying about who is the “best.” And, most importantly, I’ve learned to be patient and forgiving when I do inevitably overextended myself and get stressed out. I’m a work in progress.

Which brings me back to the watercolors. A couple weeks ago I got the insatiable desire to try watercolors again. I kept reminding myself how much I hated it the last time I tried. I hadn’t picked up a brush since that class, back in grad school, when I got so frustrated. And yet, the desire would not go away.

Yesterday, I finally went to the store and bought some paints. Expecting to become all frustrated and impatient again, I set up my little art space – water, paints, brushes, paper, paper towel – and I attempted to paint a simple tree.

Guys, it was so much fun! I was no longer interested in trying to control the paint. My desire for perfection was replaced with curiosity. I embraced the unpredictable nature of the water. I was patient with it. I loved it! 

That first little tree painting, the one you see above, is far from perfect. But, I had so much fun creating it that really I couldn’t care less about what the finished product looks like. 

For me, the key to happiness is enjoying the process. Because everything is in process. Everything around us is constantly changing. Trying to tightly control my work and my life almost destroyed me, but this watercolor experiment has shown me just how far I’ve come in the past few years. It’s shown me just how much I’ve grown.

Now, I treat life more like a watercolor painting. I go with flow.

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Foreign Food Coma – Santorini, Greece

Greece
Flowers in Greece.

I’m in Greece and for the last couple weeks I’ve eaten bread and honey. Only bread and honey. Then more bread and honey.

When you’re 24 and traveling through southern Europe for a month and a half on next to nothing you live as cheaply as possible. You eat bread and honey. But, tonight is different.

I’m on the island of Santorini, which, if you’ve ever google image searched the “Greek islands” you’ve seen. It’s the very first image that pops up. On Santorini white sugar cube houses cling to the red cliffs, narrow winding cobblestone streets are framed by bright blue doors and fuchsia flowers overflowing from hanging cast iron baskets. The white washed buildings are starkly contrasted by the red and black volcanic sand beaches. The island is surrounded by the sureal turquoise of the Mediterranean sea. It’s a scene depicted on every Greek postcard, and tonight I am here.

I sit with a new friend, a Canadian guy named Kevin who I met a week earlier in Athens. We slowly watch the sun set on the vast, watery horizon. Kevin is cold and hungry, but I make him wait until the last drop of the orange sun has plunged beneath the sea. Then we hop on our four wheeler, our vehicle of choice to traverse the small island, and venture out in search of food.

We’re on a seemingly deserted road that hugs the undulating cliffs of the western shore. As we grow hungrier and more impatient a little cafe pops out from around the bend. We pull off and are ushered inside where we’re the only two diners in the entire place. The restaurant is basically a box on stilts, cantilevered off the side of the cliff, with windows on all sides looking out over the calm sea.

After weeks of frugal living we decide to go all out and order whatever we want; literally whatever we want. We start with baked feta. I have never tasted cheese so rich and smooth. It’s so good you don’t put it on anything, you just eat it straight with a fork. Then we move on to a Greek salad, cheese salad and fresh bread dipped in olive oil. And those are just the appetizers.

Next is a round of fried calamari and the most tender and delicious lamb I’ve ever tasted. We top all of that off with moussaka, a traditional Greek dish somewhat similar to lasagna. It is the most amazing meal I have ever eaten in my entire life! Good food, good company, and and an absolutely surreal setting.

Don’t ask me how much it cost; I’ve conveniently blocked that part out.

After diner we hop back on the quad and drive back to our hostel, groggy & delirious in our foreign food comas. The next day I returned to my somewhat stale bread and honey, but for a moment we ate like royalty.

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This is a story from my 2004 trip to southern Europe. Unfortunately I do not have any photos from this epic meal (horrible I know) because my camera was dead the entire time I was on Santorini.

Young and Free

I spin around. Anything here written in English? No. Anyone here speaking English? No.

A smile creeps across my face. I’ve done it. I’m here.

Twenty three years old. A week ago I was walking across a stage clutching my college diploma. Today I am in Greece. Alone. In Greece.

The next six weeks I have no plans, just a vague idea of where I want to go and what I want to see. For the first time in my life I am completely free to choose my course. Free to roam, to wander, to explore. Of course there is a deteriorating romance back in the states, a summer job to find, grad schools to apply to, expectations to live up to. But all of that feels a thousand miles away. It is five thousand miles away.

Standing here it’s just me and my backpack. Let’s go.

greece-naxos

-May 2008

Seven Years, Six Cities, Five States

I’m sitting at a little cafe at “Kirby Pines”, a retirement community in Memphis, TN where my widowed grandmother lives. She is sitting across from me eating lunch, and I’ve just had my 30th birthday. I say to her “Can you believe it, Grandma? You have a 30 year old granddaughter. That’s crazy!” My little grandma squints at me over her cup of tomato soup and cornbread, then blurts out, “Yeah! You’re getting old! You’ve got find a husband! Settle down! Have babies!” By this time I am use to my grandmas periodical outburst which are always followed by an apology and a lot of, “you know I am so proud of all you’ve done.” However, I know that my grandma most honestly expresses what most of my friends and family are thinking: that it’s about time I settle down.

In her defense, I have not lived a very “typical” life. I’ve moved around a lot since leaving the small, midwest town that I grew up in. During high school I had this constant anxiety: I felt that I was going to jump out of my skin if I didn’t get out of that town. Most of my friends were happy staying in state for college, but I had an insatiable desire to get out of Missouri and explore something new.

First, I moved to Texas to attend college. Then I was off to Nashville, TN for an internship. After graduating and traveling abroad for a bit I landed in Portland, OR. I worked there for a year before heading a few hours south to Eugene, OR to attend graduate school. Two years and a masters degree later I decided to move cross country once again: this time to New York City. By the time I arrived here in New York my deep desire for change and adventure had led me to six cities in five states over a period of less than seven years.

I often hear people say that they don’t like change, and that they are happy and satisfied staying in their “comfort zone”. My brain, however, seems to be wired quite differently. I have always sought after change. Staying in one place with a steady home, job, and relationships has always been difficult for me.

Now, I have psychoanalyzed this aspect of my character over the years and I’ve formulated some theories that I’d like to share with you today. In order to fully understand why I am the way I am, allow me to take you back to small town Missouri.

The first five years of my life were bliss. My little sister, my hippie parents, and I lived in a picturesque little house surrounded by acres and acres of forest. However, when I was just 5 years old my parents sat my sister and I down and told us they were getting a divorce. That was the first of what would become a consistent series of upheavals in my life.

After their divorce came my parents various boyfriends, girlfriends and eventually a step-dad and a step-mom. Both of my parents married abusive people the second time around and these marriages quickly fell apart. Two more divorces were followed by more boyfriends and girlfriends, and eventually they each remarried a third time. Throughout all of this my sister and I were shuffled back and forth from one house to another. We moved to a neighboring town, switched school districts a couple times, and each time made new friends and found a way to fit into our new communities. Constant change became my normal. Constant change became my “comfort zone”.

While my turbulent childhood has undoubtedly had some negative effects, it also gave me a deep inner resilience that I am grateful for. It produced in me an ability to adapt quickly to new situations. The difficult thing for me now is to slow down: to stay in the same place for longer than a couple of years, and to not run when I feel my life feels “too comfortable.”

I’ve been in New York City now for about four and a half years. At the two year mark I felt that deep yearning to move somewhere new and it’s a desire that still constantly comes up for me. I recently moved to New Jersey, so we’ll see if that can satisfy my appetite for change for a while. It’s worth a try!

There is a popular quote by JRR Tolkien that I really identify with. He writes,

“Not all who wander are lost.”

Next week I turn 31, and I still don’t know if I’ll ever settle down and have a “normal” life. And although some may not understand it, grandma included, I have embraced my desire for change and new challenges. It has led me on some grand adventures, but I’ll save those stories for another time. For now, you’ll find me happily wandering the streets of New York City.

My First Kundalini Yoga Class

It’s 9am on a Saturday and I’m sitting in a quiet room trying to breath as rapidly as possible. I’m surrounded by people dressed head to toe in white, most of them over the age of 50. Long deceased Indian men in turbans peer down at me from the walls.

A few moments ago, when I walked into the Kundalini studio for the first time I was greeted by a warm older man, also dressed in white who warned, “This is not going to be your average yoga class.” I reassured him that I knew this, and that was why I had come. Although, to be honest I didn’t fully know what to expect.

I have been on a spiritual journey for a long time now. I’m exploring new things and looking desperately for a way to connect to the divine, to myself, so some greater spiritual guidance. I decided after a whole lot of prayer, consulting with spiritual mentors and hours of writing in my journal that I simply need to get quiet. As quiet as possible. Then maybe I’ll be able to hear God.

I have walked past a street sign for this Kundalini studio every day for over three years. It is right next door to my office building. It looked odd. Ornate Sanskrit symbols surrounded a old guy in a turban. I would give him the side eye and step around the sign. I was a devout Christian at the time, yet I was intrigued. This past spring, as I began to question my beliefs and wonder what else was out there I had been listening to a number of podcasts where Kundalini yoga was mentioned. Over and over I heard this particular form of yoga mentioned. When I finally googled it I found that there was a studio literally next door to my office. I remembered the sign. After a couple more weeks of hesitating I finally signed up for the $30 for 30 days entry deal.

After getting oriented in the studio and putting my things away I entered the yoga room. I was surprised to see that it was carpeted. The carpet felt wonderfully luxurious under my toes. I walked the perimeter of the room and look at the walls. Everything, walls and ceiling, was painted in soft rolling clouds. There were photos of more old men in turbans, Sanskrit mantras, abstracted drawings of what appeared to be women and men connecting with the divine. As I circled the room I felt a warmth come to my eyes. I was tearing up. Why? I’m still not sure why, but for some reason I was moved to tears. As I regained my composure I grabbed a meditation pillow and sat down for class.

The one and a half hour class was a series of breathing techniques, mantras, and holding intense yoga poses for long periods of time. It was peaceful. I tried desperately to clear my mind and focus on my breathing and the mantras, but time and again my mind drifted, drifted, drifted. While focusing on my breath I found that my sense of smell was heightened. The old man next to me smelled like an old man, and I was very away of and distracted by this. At one point while we were quiet in meditation he farted. I tried to just let it go. In the couple months that I have been meditating on my own this time of quiet has become easier for me.

The “breath of fire” also helps focus the mind. It is a technique where you breath as fast as possible through your nose. It’s quite difficult at first. At times I felt like my breath was a run away train that I could no longer control. I would get out of sync, out of rhythm and feel like I was choking. I would slow down a bit, relax a bit, but then the teacher would encourage us to go faster. After a while I start to get the hang of it.

Sitting in class I am hopeful. Hopeful that this technique will help to quiet my mind. Hopeful that it will help me connect to some power greater than myself. Hopeful that it will help me discover who I really am. Hopeful that I will be able to tap in to some greater guidance. I want direction. Right now I feel as if I’m just floating in shallow water, not sure if it’s safe to put my feet down. No solid rock to stand on. But I am hopeful.

Have you tried Kundalini Yoga? What has your experience been?

My Life Before Five was Perfect

My life before the age of five was idyllic in every sense of the word.

Happy. My parents were hippies. My little sister and I were born at home, on the couch, and for those first five years we were their world. We went to huge parties with all of their friends. Outdoor potlucks with so much food and all of us kids – usually a pack of 10 or so – would run around while the grownups played croquet and hung out. Freedom to get dirty, to run around half dressed, to push boundaries, to learn….freedom to be a kid. It was pure bliss.

Peaceful. My parents didn’t believe in spanking and were careful to never shout or argue in front of my sister and I. Only once before five did they fight in front of me. I told them to stop and they sent me to my room. Moments later they both came in and apologized. Every morning I woke up to the songs of birds and sunlight streaming in through my bedroom windows. Sometimes when I was the first one up I would sit at the front door, silently listening to the sounds of the forest. We always had cats and dogs and at times tiny kittens that would follow us around while we played.

Picturesque. Every day I ran around, often barefoot, in the woods and streams surrounding our rural house. We lived on forty acres in the mid-west, and were surrounded by hundreds of acres of rural forests and farmland. I never really knew where our land ended and someone else’s began, and it never seemed to matter. Streams, lakes, hanging vines, huge rocks, an old decaying homestead from the 1920s, and endless climbing trees provided years of adventures. My best friend, Alison, lived about a mile up the road. We would call each other and say, “Do you want to meet at the creek?” Then we’d explore the woods for hours and let our imaginations run wild. As the sun set we’d head home.

When I was five my parents sat my sister and I down in the living room and told us that they were getting a divorce. My happy, innocent life shattered on that day, and 25 years later I still remember it vividly. I had no idea what the next 13 years had in store for me. Yelling. Everyone yelling all the time: step-parents, my dad, my mom, me, step-siblings, my sister, more step-parents. So much yelling.

I am so grateful for those first five years.

-Eva