The Next Journey: Shedding 5” From My Waist

Last weekend, I spent some time on eBay searching for a used LG EnV2…does anyone else remember that cellphone?

It came in maroon, had a keyboard, TWO screens. I didn’t have a cellphone back when the Motorola Razr was highly coveted..but I was borderline obsessed with the EnV and flipping through listings for it felt so nostalgic. For a mere $20-$50, I could once again hold that piece of my teenage years.

…but why would I want to do that?

It would make internet use pretty tricky, I wouldn’t be downloading apps, the picture quality would be terrible, I’d only be able to text so many characters at a time, no gps, no imessaging, can it even group text? I don’t know, but that was the point. I crave something simpler, something less likely to rob me of my precious time. The smartphone and its endless array of apps are perfect at requiring our attention often.

We see it EVERYWHERE-people hunched over a 5 inch screen. It’s almost strange to see people that are not glaring into that virtual world. And why wouldn’t we?

On Facebook, I’ve got hundreds of friends. But next to me right now? I’ve got a sleeping baby and he doesn’t interact much. Let’s just be honest, there’s something about that cropped and filtered lands on our phones that feels more enjoyable than real life. It’s real life, the edited version. And when I enter that world, I’ve got a chance to interact with countless people. It’s an introvert’s dream.

Yesterday during my hourly scroll of Facebook, I caught a video a friend shared that mentioned how pathetic it is that if we are out to dinner with someone and they leave to use the restroom, we have this almost uncontrollable impulse to pick up our phones. It makes us feel less alone, it saves us from having to sit there in the moment. With a simple click, we enter a whole new universe.

So back to it..why was I searching for a lesser quality alternative to my iPhone? Because I have a love-hate relationship with this piece of equipment. Sure, it adds lots of convenience to my life, but perhaps even more so, it’s stealing my life away minutes at a time.

I notice it mostly with my husband. Someone needs something from him urgently, so they send him a text. “Bzzzz” Luca turns his head, I roll my eyes, and my husband, who is just trying to do what he needs to, leaves us for a moment via that 5 inch screen, and escapes to a conversation with whomever has summoned him.

I don’t say this to pick on my husband-we ALL do this. I do this! But I say it because in those moments, I’ll just admit it, I feel lousy! It’s not that I need his constant attention, but as these little interruptions invade our family time, we lose our opportunities to have meaningful conversations, to get heavily involved in a game of pretend with our kids, to just enjoy each other’s company-because were too busy being constantly accessible to the outside world. It’s like ALWAYS being in a crowd with people popping into our conversation. Naturally, I notice it less when I’m the offender, but often when I’m the victim.

We’ve always tried to be mindful of who/what gets our attention during family time. But anymore, it’s almost a necessary part of existing. That text cannot go unanswered, that content cannot go unposted.

I read an interesting article that pointed out how most couples check their phones first thing in the morning, instead of rolling over to say “good morning”. That’s true for me.

Instead of watching tv together, we scroll through endless feeds that allow us to be apart of everyone else’s lives. I don’t know what my husband is thinking in a moment, but I know what Susan had for dinner.

Once upon a time, interacting with the outside world involved sitting on a computer, which I think made it more obvious to the user when they were not “emotionally” present because they were not physically present. But now, We miss out on opportunities to “just be” together because even being together includes cradling our most precious possession-our phones.

And that applies to a lot of different relationships-even friends.

It has occurred to me, that I find it overwhelmingly important to have a few, quality friendships-in favor of the 200 acquaintances on social media(who are usually trying to sell me something anyways).

In talking to my husband, he asked specifically what friendships of mine would suffer if I were to go without social media. I listed a lot of names. Would I really lose that many “friends”?

Truthfully, if a friendship hinges on virtual contact, I’d venture to say that neither party cares enough about the other.

I have a couple of really great friends, and my hiatus’ from social media have never cost me our friendship.

Even still, I’d like to have more deliberate friendships-ones that depend on coffee dates, shopping trips, and the occasional phone call-not whether or not we “liked” each other’s social media content.

I also think about my kids.

My son knows that there is something desirable about holding a phone in his hand. He’s always trying to get it from me. I don’t want his memory of childhood to be his parents being constantly available to the rest of the world. I want our children to feel that they’ve received our full attention as often as life has allowed it.

So my family is on a bit of a journey right now to restructure our cellphone use. My husband talked me down from buying an EnV and deactivating my iPhone, though if it comes to that, I think I’d be willing!(maybe even excited).

It’s challenging of course, because we use them for so much. My husband and I often use it to count calories and track the foods we are eating-an incredible benefit that unfortunately still involves staring blindly into that 5 inch screen and still leaves the rest of the room feeling neglected.

But I wonder-what could I accomplish if my phone was not my constant companion? How REAL could my interactions with people be if they happened in person instead-if my desire to socialize was forced to occur outside in the virtual world? How many books could I read for entertainment? How much could I paint? How much more could I do with my kids? How much could my marriage improve if more of my focus was on my husband? How much would my self-care habits change(because oftentimes, de-stressing means diving headfirst into the content the rest of the world has posted online)?

I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to ridding myself of the bulky 5″ screen in my pocket. I’ve spent most of the last few days with my phone in a drawer during the day, and it’s felt so refreshing. I’ve been much more deliberate about my phone use. So if you see me fading from social media-this is why.

And yes, I promise that if I do end up buying an old “basic” phone, I’ll share a classic mirror selfie w/ it. 😉

Toxic Thinking is the Enemy

Innocence as a child is such a gift because the more we learn about the world, the more it chips away at us until we feel like we are what’s left of the person we used to be. 

 I remember the first time I really felt personally attacked: a girl on my bus used all of her books to fill up the seats so I wouldn’t have anywhere to sit. And when I got off the bus that day, she yelled at me out the window: “BITCH!” 

Now, to be fair, she was a good friend of someone I had hurt. So I’m not saying I didn’t have it coming. But what I had done wasn’t as deliberate and personal as my new everyday reality. And that girl made me see myself so differently, as she spent years pointing out my every flaw.
I’m not throwing a pity party for myself and I don’t blame her for anything, because I’ve hurt people without good reason, too. 

The point is- eventually I started to agree with her. And I tried harder and harder to be someone she couldn’t find flaws in. I started wearing makeup, I sucked in my stomach, I stressed over what I was wearing, I tried to be clever when I spoke, I tried different hairstyles and at 12 years old, I was constantly checking a mirror to make sure nothing was out of place. 
Of course, I couldn’t please her. And my response to her criticism changed the way I thought about myself. As anyone who has been to high school knows, there were a lot of people after her to keep influencing me.
For the past several years, I haven’t needed a “bully” because I’ve done the job myself.

Fast forward to now. 
Yesterday I was at a first birthday party for a little girl born just after my son. Her mom and I have grown to be great friends so even though my husband was away and could not attend with us, I was really excited to celebrate this milestone!

I’m not really social. So I spent much of the first hour there watching my son play with a baby gate and stumble around. There were lots of people and I talked with a few but I’m not really one to put myself out there. 

(Normally, I’d feel isolated in this circumstance and cling to my phone or start to sweat or get really nervous, feeling like other people were looking at me and wondering why I was alone and so awkward. Normally, I’d use the fact that I was at that party alone to question my worth, to hate myself for being so introverted, to decide that I don’t have friends, to convince myself that I’m incapable of functioning, and turn the entire thing into a miserable experience.)

BUT, I’m practicing the joy of being in the moment, in the here and now, and not allowing thoughts to be my identity.
(I’ve been listening to a lot of talks by Eckhart Tolle that are really changing my life. If you’re interested, I’d love to send you some links.)

So instead of reacting as I normally would to the situation, I enjoyed a chance to watch my son goof around and play and I said a mental “Thank You” to God for a boy that loves to figure stuff out. 

When I got in the car to leave, I caught my reflection in the mirror and realized that my nose had been embarrassingly red from the cold I had a few days ago! I was mortified. “THAT IS WHAT I LOOKED LIKE FOR THE LAST THREE HOURS!?” I thought. Rudolph the Red Nose Ashley. (At least it was a winter themed party?)

 (And Normally, I’d use this situation to remind myself that I’m gross. I’m not pretty and people probably thought there was something wrong with me. Yadayadayada-it would go on all day. And the next time I went out, I’d be worried about my appearance.)

But I reminded myself that the moment I was so worried about(those few hours at the party) had passed. It was over. There was no going back in time to fix my makeup and redo the day. And even if there was, it wasn’t that important. Because really, who cares what I look like? 

And I know this all sounds really goofy, but these thoughts are subconscious and I think a lot of us do this to ourselves. We look back on a moment and think “stupid, stupid, stupid-Why didn’t I do that differently!?”

BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER

It’s over. It’s done. Let it go. 
Instead of spending the rest of my day playing that party over and over in my mind and hating myself for my social awkwardness and critically judging myself for the things I said in an effort to be social, and wondering if anyone realized how terrible my nose looked——-I let it go. 

I said a silent prayer to thank God for that little girl, and for a chance to get out of the house and see friends. And I enjoyed the drive home.
It doesn’t matter what’s in the past, or what anyone else thinks. Because worrying about those two things gets us nowhere, except into a pattern of self hatred.

It may sound extreme, but later I even thought to thank Him for the good skin that I do have. There are a lot of women out there with chronic acne, or burn scars, or major issues that I have never had to consider. How fortunate am I that my biggest potential concern is temporary embarrassment from overuse of tissues!?!?

The biggest thing is-thinking like this is allowing me so much freedom. I find myself able to enjoy so much more because instead of over-thinking, I am grounded in the present. I am HERE and nowhere else. It’s almost like making lemonade out of lemons but instead, I’m just thankful for these hands that work well enough to hold lemons.

Part of me wants to worry that ya’ll are going to think I’ve lost my darn mind-but, the rest of me realizes that’s the point. I have sort of lost my mind-at least the toxic part that has always fueled hate in my life. For the first time since I was 12 years old, I’m free.

You Can Find My Latest Painting…

…on the cover of Jean Claar Bassett’s latest book!
​I am so thrilled to finally share the big news- Back in August, my sister in law put me in touch with a Pittsburgh author in need of an artist to create her latest book cover for a mystery intended for kids ages 8-12.
Of course, I wanted to be able to do this, but really doubted that I would be capable of producing her vision- especially amidst pregnancy keeping me miserable and out of the art studio.

Nevertheless, I gave it my best attempt, and was virtually introduced to Jean Claar Bassett. Jean and I were complete strangers, but spent the next month in almost constant contact via email. She described the potential scenes she would like on the cover and I opted for one that I felt I could better execute(because it didn’t involve people). I sent her sketches to try to give her an idea of what I was imagining and we tweaked them until I had a clearer vision of her plans for the cover.

Ace and I up late, working on the original plan for the cover, which involved the main character and his best friend riding bikes.

The process was nearing the end when I realized that maybe I actually could create a completely different scene from the one we had been working on to give her the human impressionist-like faces she desired for the cover. So, we started over. I read the description of the scene from the book, got Jean’s input, and sent along more sketches. When it was time to paint, we spent several emails discussing color, and I went to work.

This is one of the initial sketches done for the cover.

The initial painting changed a couple of times based on Jean’s needs for the cover but eventually, we had a finished product and the painting was professionally photographed to be sent out for the cover!

Finished product in my studio waiting to become a book cover!

 The end of the journey was an exciting one for me, knowing I had actually accomplished something I was sure would end with Jean telling me my painting was not what she intended for the cover. I gave it my best and it felt good to know it worked out and it felt great to hand my parents a copy of the book with my name printed inside!

A copy of the finished product!

 I have to admit that at the time, the process was entirely new to me and trying to discuss art with a perfect stranger was challenging as this was the first time I was painting something so specific for someone. However, Jean is one of the nicest women I have ever met and was incredibly patient throughout the entire process. I was fortunate enough to finally meet up with her at her church and hand deliver the painting that we had both spent so much time working on. Jean’s personality and talents are just incredible and even more so than having my painting published in a book, I am thankful to know her. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book without artistry in mind!
If you’d like to read Jean’s latest book, it is available for purchase through Amazon: Click here to purchase Elijah Cross Mysteries by Jean Claar Bassett!

Through Her Eyes: Artist Statement

  


  I have always been inspired by the natural beauty and simplicity surrounding the small town of New Wilmington. I was moved to see this imagery hanging on the walls of my own home and, as I set out to do so, I came in touch with a local photographer whose images further inspired me to pursue landscapes. My work strives to represent the complex beauty of nature in an impressionistic manner. This painting style forced me to question, “What specific colors and textures are necessary to turn this blank canvas into a scene from nature?” These paintings allowed me to notice aspects of nature that I would not normally notice, like purple clouds in a stormy sunset, or the multitude of colors on a cow I would normally classify as ‘brown’.
  My love for painting gained momentum when I was introduced to Acrylic paints. With the motivation of a new medium and a very supportive art teacher, I fell in love with a new art style. In an effort to impress my now husband, a composer and musician that I was desperate to appeal to in a creative way, I kept up with my new hobby. His continued support and that of my friends and family has helped me to pursue my favorite means of expression. I love the way that paintings are limitless, knowing that no two are the same and that there are endless possibilities.
The colorful bird paintings that will be on display have become a favorite style of mine. I find motivation for these paintings in my marriage, using the birds’ body language to convey concepts like love, patience, understanding, and peace. The colors in the background are meant to flow and set the tone of the piece.

Perhaps my favorite painting is the impressionist-type image of a mother and child that I painted while pregnant and overcome with joy. I felt so inspired and in a single moment felt something inside me that rushed me to my desk and had me painting until the work was complete. Soon after completing the piece, I experienced a miscarriage. The piece now has a new meaning as a reminder of the love that a mother has for a child, and the connection felt even early on in a pregnancy.

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to view my work and hope that it has inspired each of you to look at the world a little differently; perhaps, seeing a sunset, but noticing the clouds that reflect it’s colors, or the blades of grass that create a contrast to the sky. Thank you, Bottlebrush Gallery for the Arts, for supporting me through all of my artistic endeavors!