Monday, November 16, 2015

Grant-Writing and the Underground Poet

The past two months I have been neck deep in the process of writing a series of grant proposals. When I imagine what kind of facebook posts could showcase how I spend my time I cringe with the thought of dry, technical memes that say things like “do your project goals match with your measurement tools?” or sweeping and possibly vague statements like “engage diverse communities in meaningful dialogue.” When one gets on a roll with grant writing, one wonders if the inner poet is forced into deep underground hiding. 

Tedious as it may be, proposal writing forces me to do one of my favorite things: talk to people.  I am working on several proposals that relate to cross-cultural dialogue in Anchorage, and yesterday I met with Dr. Chad Farrell, the demographer whose research revealed that Mountain View is the most diverse neighborhood in the country. I appreciated his humility as he watched his findings become household conversation throughout Anchorage and the world, and his interest in having his research be a starting point for deeper conversations rather than our community’s self-congratulatory ending point. The demographic fact of diversity simple is, but how are we as a community going to move with it? Our conversation had personal reverberations as I thought how one of the reasons I moved from Kodiak to Anchorage, and to Fairview, is so that my 6 year old son can see more faces that look like his own. I never shared that with him, but when he came home from school with a self-portrait with handsome brown skin and dark brown, curly hair, I felt my heart relax a little. It relaxed even more when he said, “I miss Kodiak, but I do like that Anchorage has people that look like me!” 

Conversations like that with Dr. Farrell free my imagination (and perhaps the underground poet trying to weather the grant-writing storm), and then I get to bring new insights to the grant-writing process. Tangibles like the fact that the stories of minority community members are under-documented, and that there is a gap in research on the immigrant experience in Anchorage become arguments for film workshops for youth to research and tell these stories through documentary film. The poet’s fire leaks through to the proposal, even though cloaked in technical language and flow-charts. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Stop Helping; Start Seeing

We are rightfully raised that it is good to be of service to others. As a woman, biology and culture together weave a story of volunteering time to help others, whether they are friends going through a difficult time, projects that need helping hands, children to tend to.

Volunteer Teaching in Uganda
In many ways I have dedicated my life to service and giving. My Masters is in Educational Development. I was going to live in Uganda with my now ex-husband and be helpful. At that time in my life, my idea of being helpful was inextricably linked to making changes that would positively affect people’s lives. I studied and pondered how girls could get a better chance at schooling, and how quality of education could improve in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was around this time that I developed a sense of guilt for my white privilege, for my upper-middle class upbringing, and a sense that I had to make up for it through giving what I had away, whether it be my time, my money, my skills, or my energy. My eyes were opened to the seemingly random power structures of the world, and how by chance of geography, race and class I had ended up somewhere on top.

Like all of us, I have stumbled along the way. The friends I kept helping and then ended up resenting. The family rift I couldn’t fix. Travelling across the world for service projects and realizing that it’s actually me that might be growing more than anyone I am working for. These experiences force me to ask what does it mean to be of service in a meaningful way? I see that giving until exhaustion doesn’t work, and that guilt-giving causes more harm than good.

I have started to play with the idea that I could replace giving with seeing and learning. I get to practice this every day with my son. Tchabo’s Dad visited, and Tchabo was naturally crying as they said goodbye. Every cell in my body wanted to take away his sad feelings, whether going back in time to create a different scenario, or saying something to cheer him up. Should I distract him with a treat? Should I tell him that everything will be okay? Instead I swallowed my need to fix and told him that it made sense to me that he was crying, and that he could cry until he was done. After 20 minutes of sadness and quiet, Tchabo exclaimed with delight “I cried for half an hour, and now I’m done!”

I think we can practice seeing or presence in lieu of giving, or as a deeper form of giving. We can do this with ourselves, with our immediate friends and family, and culturally and politically we can do this on a larger scale. This is not an argument against action. I’m making a case that we reframe our action. Instead of begrudgingly helping and hosting Syrian refugees, nations could look at how they could learn and grow from the refugee story. With this mindset it could be a privilege and a great stroke of luck to host these families, to learn about resilience, to be present to the results of wars that we are involved in, to gain perspective about what is essential.

Instead of starting NGOs to foster development in sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps we could just bear witness to the terrific stories of resilience, survival, and playfulness, and start to expand our own idea of what it means to be human. If I ever start another NGO it will be to save the broken values of the US with stories of inspiration from Africa. I am not making light of profound problems, but rather questioning our "fix-it" mentality that seems to bear an implicit superiority rather than the connection that shared stories bring.

This is why See Stories is the name for my youth education storytelling business. As we practice seeing, and being present to our own story and the stories of others, we grow in deep and profound ways. In my case, I learned that my helpfulness was often a way to experience myself as a good, lovable person, which actually I already am without doing anything at all. Ironically, I am helpful in a deeper and more lasting way now that I have realized this.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On Insecurity*

I woke up this morning with a small headcold and a case of insecurity. My body is telling me I need so slow down and stay home, but my energy level is up enough to support my mind wandering in what feels like 1,000 directions contemplating what exactly I am doing in Anchorage. There is so much potential in Anchorage for See Stories, but where should I start? Will it work out here for See Stories? Will I be able to materially support myself and my son in the way I want to?

I am aware that as a business owner I am supposed to project an image of confidence, and as an educator I work to support self-esteem in my students. I have never been good at trying to project an image, but my authentic self tends to be confident and enthusiastic. Yet here I am facing my insecurities, one of the most human experiences one can have. Everything has changed in the past two months, I’ve moved with Tchabo to Anchorage, my grandparents passed away, Tchabo started kindergarden, and I’m reframing my work model to emphasize local Anchorage projects so that I don’t have to take Tchabo continuously out of school. In a way it’s shocking that I’ve been doing as well as I have given all the change in my life, and yet that feels like little consolation in the face of today’s insecurity.

And yet this is a reality that business owners (and everyone!) has to face. It is an insecure world. Sometimes there are too many clients, other times too few. Sometimes payment comes on time, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I spend a week writing a grant to create a project for myself, and most often the grant doesn’t come through. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder if there is something wrong with me that I choose this life. Why don’t you get a regular job, Marie?! Or even more insidious… stop with the entrepreneurial bit, get a consistent job, it’s the responsible thing to do… as a single mom you OUGHT to. 

And yet I trust in my continual calling to run See Stories and to be an entrepreneur. I’ve been like this since I was a teenager, and I’ve always cherished this about myself even when it’s hard. I don’t want to live in a compartmentalized way, work, personal, parenting… I want my life to be in a balance. With See Stories, Tchabo can travel with me to a village to be with me as I teach. I can make a family reunion into a film workshop in my own village in Nebraska, spending time with family and delving into community stories with the next generation. When I need personal time I can take it, and when I am ready to be in the world I can go. And yet inevitably, there are moments and days when it is hard.

Several days ago I picked up Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as if I unconsciously knew that I would struggle with insecurity today. As I nurse my cold and my emotions I read his instructions that seem directed precisely at me in this moment: “Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” I know this in my bones, even as my mind spins with questions. I am responding to my own particular call in this particular moment in the best way I know how.

Sometimes the reminder about the “cause greater than oneself” is so tiny that it disappears next to the deafening noise of the mind’s chatter. As I respond to Frankl’s call, I realize that today a student from my last workshop just wrote me that she had an exciting interview with a woman who spoke Swedish. She is crafting a film on Swedish traditions in Wausa, the town of my late grandparents. A beloved student and friend from Uganda wrote me to say hi and check in, a young woman whose story and strength of spirit continually inspires me. Ultimately it’s my students, and the next generation, that inspire me to continue with See Stories. As a film educator, I get to support youth to share and engage in stories that are meaningful to them.  

While I sit with both my insecurities and my inspiration, I also realize there are limits to what one person, and to what I, can do. And that’s okay. I follow my bigger call as best I can, but that doesn’t always have to look momentous. It can be as simple as a student doing an interview that touched her. Or a conversation with a former student about how she sees her path forward in Uganda. If there is one thing I would like to go back in time and tell my 20 year old self, it’s that the difference you make doesn’t have to look huge to be meaningful. In a world obsessed with “scaling up” and “broadening impacts” I am content to “scale down” and focus on the little openings. I wonder where they lead…

*I would like to acknowledge my teacher, mentor, and friend Lydia Ossorgin for her conversation that helped me to refine this blog post.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Weaving a Story

Interviewing 97 year old Great Great Uncle Clicker
In Wausa everyone is related. The Hults, the Bloomquists, the Andersons. It feels as if the families can be counted on one hand. This is true in most villages where I do film workshops. Karluk, Alaska consists primarily of two families. One stops even asking about whether people are related in most communities because the answer is so obvious. The difference in Wausa for me is that I am a part of the web of relationships. I am a Hult, and also a Bloomquist and an Anderson through marriage. When I look at old pictures I sometimes see a resemblance with myself. Interviews are punctuated with explanations of how I am related to cousins, nephews, long lost aunties-in-law. When I flip through the pages of a Wausa Gazette from 90 years ago, my late Grandpa's birth announcement flies off the page. "Born, to Mr. and Mrs. David Hult, Monday, August 17th, a baby boy." I suddenly see him as a little baby, with all the potential that comes with babyness. He was not yet the handsome young man he would become, or the avid carpenter, or the old man who couldn't stop loving life until the very end. He was a bundle of freshness, unnamed in the paper. 

Grammie in the center of her grandchildren
I can mark time and growth through my visits to this place. The Labor Day parade, with hours worth of floats that defy any notion that the small town is a fading thing, reminds me of the same parade, 25 years ago. My grandma sewed all of us cousins swedish costumes. We danced around the maypole the way the Swedes did in the old country. We ate Potato Balogna, Ostakaka with Lingonberries, and we called the noontime meal "dinner." 25 years later I realize how much of myself is recycled from this past. I started a crepe stand, and we can trace the crepe tradition back in our family for 5 generations. No matter where I travel in the world, I am most comfortable in a village where people farm their food and live with the seasons. Tchabo and I recently noticed that we both apologize quite often even when we have done nothing wrong, and even this I see in the mid-west politeness where people tend to be extremely considerate of one another. 

Grammie's biography of her Mother-in-Law
I work with students to share their local stories, I also weave together my own story. I realize that my Grandma was quietly and impeccably keeping track of our family story. Every object she possessed had a note about its history. Every photo had a caption, and relatives had entire home-made books documenting the family tree and anecdotes. I find myself connecting to my late Grammie through this passion, as I too am drawn to understand the web of connections in our family. Who suffered what? How did people survive? What was different, and what the same? And yet my Grammie didn't leave notes about why she felt called to be the family historian. She did it so quietly that I didn't even think of her as a genealogist until I witnessed her countless albums, reel-to-reel-movies, and writings, after her passing. What she didn't say or write, but what I sense, is that she kept track out of love. She wrote her Mother-in-Law's history as a 95th birthday present. She wrote the story of tatting in our family as a gift to me and my cousin Melissa, who learned from our Great Grandmother how to make lace. She understood how important it is to feel connected to a bigger story, and wanted her loved ones to experience that. 

Oftentimes small town and family history can boil down to nostalgia, or a sense that things used to be better. Or for others, perhaps a sense of relief that we are in a new century that doesn't involve waking at dawn to milk cows and feed chickens and work all day, every day. Sometimes I look at the straight-forward and lasting nature of marriage as it used to be in Wausa (marry young, and stay married for life) and I find it more honest, that instead of looking for an ideal partner you work hard with the partner you have to make a life. Other times I feel grateful that I have more options, that I can marry (or not marry) on my own terms and in my own way. The truth might be that life is challenging and beautiful in either case. For me, looking into my ancestors here in Wausa, ultimately I am not comparing the merits of the past and the present, but I am in the tender process of understanding myself and my son. What is this piece of the puzzle? Tchabo intuitively knows the depth of the connection, which I see as he spontaneously embraces without release his Great Great Great Uncle Clicker, or as he plans how we will honor the memory of Grammie and Grampie through making apple pancakes and celebrating them "at least once a month." Through an honest and evolving understanding of ourselves, free of judgement, we grow and embody our full potential, our birth-right. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Moving to Anchorage

Mellow coals hiss after doing their work of boiling tea water. Mist just encircled the valley where Tchabo and I are camping, shrouding both the sun and the moon in their dance on opposite horizons. I shift from spot to spot in my own dance with the smoke. This camping trip, though spontaneously hatched, has turned into closure for our time in Kodiak. Next week we move to Anchorage.

Anchorage, my home town, has never felt like a place I am anchored to. After growing up there it was strictly a place to visit family and friends between journeying the world. If anything, Anchorage felt disorienting, the way the place of your adolescence can stultify you with old patterns that have an uncomfortably strong grip. Important to experience, and vital to leave. Now, to my surprise and delight, Anchorage is just the place for me and Tchabo. I've travelled enough to know that I am the same everywhere, and I've changed enough to see my hometown with new eyes. I am excited to return.

Tchabo will start at Denali Montessori in August, and I will continue with See Stories leading film workshops with teenagers. Some have dug to find the hidden man behind my move, and I smile because if a man is inspiring this decision it's Tchabo. Kodiak has given him the wild natural childhood that for many places is a thing of the past. Anchorage will give him opportunities and broaden his horizons.

Tchabo's present horizon is that of dreams in our tent, lulled by a roaring surf. Our camping trip coincided with the blue moon which our bodies responded to in tandem with the inhaling and exhaling of the tide. Tchabo played in the surf as the moon milk poured around him strong enough to cast a moon shadow. The tides, the endless waves, all speak of return, of timing, of cycles. Now is the moment for Anchorage. Kodiak has prepared us. I have led my life thirsty for new places and experiences, inspired by the travels of Marco Polo, the 1,001 Arabian nights, and ancestors filled with unsatiated wanderlust. I smile realizing that Anchorage itself holds the whole world, literally, as one of the most international cities I have experienced.

This return to Anchorage is punctuated with a See Stories trip to my extended family in Nebraska. I will do a film workshop in my Mom's hometown of Wausa, supporting students to look at stories of small farm culture. When I was 18, before leaving home, I went to Wausa to gather small town stories for my zine, The Crooked Rascal. I realize with this full circle that See Stories has always existed in my thirst to witness the way people look at the world, the way my family looks at the world and the the way I see it. That thirst exists whether I am in Greece, Uganda, New Mexico, or Anchorage. What has grown is my focus on supporting the next generation to make meaning of this web of stories, whether that be Tchabo or my students. The shared process of anchoring.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Following the Sun

One week until I go full time with See Stories. One week before Tchabo returns from a month with his Dad. A Saturday of surprising quiet. I never cease to be amazed how the house stays tidy without the bursting energy of a five year old, nor how I miss the mess. I take this moment to savor the details, to rejuvenate myself by doing very little. I relate to the sprouts in Tchabo's monkey, slowly and tenderly craning towards the light, and moving as the light moves. Taking nourishment from something far larger than myself, without having to understand it. 

The way my hands and heart relax with the first spring garden planting. The way I have learned to give myself permission for a nap rather than drink a cup of coffee. The way I just set aside my to-do list to write for a sweet moment. This is my practice of following the light, sometimes clumsy, sometimes comfortable. One clue that something is nourishing is that I feel at home with myself when I do it. That is how I feel in the company of words and letters.

Days like this incubate my energy for launching See Stories as a full-time venture, a daunting and
thrilling immenent prospect. And the energy for Tchabo as he bursts like a seedling back into my daily life. My sun.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Making Friends with Time

"In the cinema a director expresses his individuality first and foremost through his sense of time, through rhythm… Rhythm must arise naturally in a film, a function of the Director's innate sense of life and commensurate with his quest for time."
                                                                     -Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

The rainy Blue Fox day stretches in both directions, lazy as a well-fed baby. My fingers knit a sleeve the color of the bay. The generator lets us ladies watch movies in fits and spurts. The howl of wind reminds us of the long, slitted scars in the trees; scars of cracks in bark from wild Shelikof winds. I kindle the banya fire. The stove is like an old woman, wizened, glowing through its worn sides. I take time with her, let her slowly light the moody wet wood. 

I light the fire, and check on it when I feel the wood slumping into coal. 1 hour. 2 movies. 27 knit rows on my aqua sleeve. The banya slowly warms, and half a day later I enter in the ancient rite of bathing, of being with friends in a sacred space for women.

In a place with so much history, we risk to feel small. A fox farm this was, a blue fox farm. On an island off Afognak no bigger than an hour's walk. Perhaps the fox farm was a cover for a distillery during prohibition, perhaps not. Later, a wintry home for Slim, who trapped and drank, probably not in that order. Now a place to gather, a place where nature is honored, where airplanes never fly. Where bottles and Styrofoam and all sorts of flotsam and jetsam wash up on shore, because no place is untouched anymore.

This history that extends further than I know doesn't make me feel small, nor grimly remind me of my mortality. Slim's grave seems perfect and reassuring in the backyard. There is a sense here that time is a friend. Time is a medium in which we can be ourselves, and become ourselves. In this sweet expanse of time, I can knit in rhythm with my breath, and my heart. I can let my mind and heart wander. I can throw a starfish back in the water. I can add a Japanese buoy from the beach into my window-sill shrine. I have time, even if it is just right now...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Red Fox, Blue Fox

The first thing I saw when I moved to Kodiak was the sweeping form of a red fox bristling into the trees as we drove from the airport. The bushy red tail (or tale…) seemed an omen of welcome, a flash of a place where people and nature move together.

Now I land at Blue Fox Bay, five years later. It's so quiet here that airplanes don't even bother to fly overhead.  Solar panels reflect the blue of sea and sky. A cat surprises me with a hiss through the windowpane. Today the bay ripples quietly, tomorrow it may thrash. Buoys and bones punctuate the landscape and the hearth. Stories sneak beneath the keys of the piano, into the yellowed photographs under the wall of guns. Venison steaks melt in our mouths a syrup of grass, streams, and subtle Kodiak light the buck survived on. Colleen's cooking could launch 1,000 ships. I hunger to do nothing, and satisfy my hunger perched in a corner with a pen, a book, a half-knit sweater.

I am new here. I know the basics about this place. Anjuli's Grandpa Slim lived here, now buried out back with his friend Al. The world comes here, and the evidence is not only felt but seen. Business cards with titles like Adventurer. Long-Distance Rower. CEO. Dreamer. The French girl who suggested Colleen soak nasturtium in her vinegar. The Belgian who taught her to add cream and nutmeg to the juices that ran off her wild mushrooms.

Sometimes life is nothing but being. Nothing but a patch of sun on the cheek, a feather in a bramble of dried seaweed or net, a bird so small it seems nothing more than a pulse. Hank Williams on an old radio while the wood stove gurgles like a belly. A nap that takes over the body without declaration or apology. Coming together with a group of women, each unfurling into her own independence, then back together again to laugh and talk. Letting go of having to know. Letting go of the need to solve. Letting the sediment of life settle at its own pace, trusting the water will clear without clinging to your own timing. I haven't looked at a clock in days. Or has it been hours, or weeks?

Friday, January 30, 2015

On Being a Teacher

Please note: I share in this blog some of the raw-er moments of teaching in Tatitlek in order to express some of my thoughts about being an educator. I want to emphasize how wonderful the students and teachers of the Tatitlek School are and how privileged I was to work with all of them for two weeks. They are some of the best bunch of people that can exist in one place, and as Tchabo says, "When do we get to go back, Mom?!?!"

When people ask me what I do, and I hear the words "I travel to remote Alaskan villages and teach film workshops" come out of my mouth, I imagine that to some it might sound glamorous and intriguing. When my own memory of the nitty-gritty fades, I am left with stunning moments. Returning now from Tatitlek, I have many. Stumbling on a Russian New Year's Masquerade in which my students were unrecognizable except a tuft of hair or a familiar strut. They each caught their shadow, as instructed, to carry it out of the room intact after the dancing was over. Visiting the village grave yard with students
on a photo shoot while they spontaneously sang hymns. One young woman recruited her father for an interview, and he spoke more about the spill than many of the students had ever heard him speak in their entire time knowing him. His daughter was proud of the clean-up work he did, and he was proud of his daughter's film. "You were born to make movies" he told her after the community film screening, which he spent in the hallway to distance himself from the oversized version of himself projected on the gym wall.

The meat of my work though is not film, or seeing new places, or making new friends. My job is to teach. And anyone who teaches knows that it is not a glamorous job. Rewarding, intense, challenging, punctuated by moments of self-doubt, giggles, boredom, plans that are reworked mid-way through the class… in Tatitlek, it occurred to me in a new way that I am an educator first and foremost. Film is my medium, but transformed students (and a transformed me) are the end goal.

In this photo Aunty Dean explains to the students what her father called Alingnaluni Atlartuq, or Bad Winds Bring Bad Times. Tatitlek sits right next to Bligh Reef, the source of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill that blew down through the Prince William Sound, reaching Kodiak and beyond. This moment with Aunty Dean was one of the stunning moments that stays with me. And yet at this precise moment one of my students disappeared for 10 minutes. I knew I had to stay with the students, and yet I felt nervous about where she might be, and upset that she didn't tell me where she was going. Suddenly I wasn't witnessing the interview, or the way the students took turns asking spontaneous questions. This preoccupation was not the moment of a filmmaker, or an ethnographer, but of an educator. I do not work in spite of such moments, but with them. They are the fabric of teaching, and they happen not only on a daily but on an hourly basis.

I called the student to speak with me after class, and she stated a resounding no. I told her that it wasn't an option to talk about it, that I was nervous about where she was and that she needed to communicate. I don't CARE she explained to me, and thrust a DVD about the history of Tatitlek into my hand, showing me what she was retrieving while out of the room. You aren't respecting me, but more importantly you aren't respecting yourself right now I told her, and while I meant what I said sincerely, I realized how trite it might sound, so pre-packaged and presumptuous. We both returned to our day.

These are the kind of unglamorous moments that teaching can be composed of.

Later that evening I was chopping an onion in the kitchen for an Avgolemeno soup. Students ran laps in the gym. The same young woman kept peeking in on me as she made her rounds. I suddenly was stunned by an I was really cranky today. I'm sorry. She had ducked into the kitchen to apologize. For the next two weeks she was the student that kept the class moving and alive. She was the one who greeted me in the morning and told me she couldn't wait for class. She was the one who told me she was going to miss me and Tchabo so much when we left.

Students reflecting on life atop the village water tower during a photo shoot
I love film. I love learning new cultures and communities. I love seeing all the different ways mountains meet water. I love the sensation of how hot a banya can get, how many bites it takes to chew muktuk, and how many cups of tea an Elder can drink at midday. But most of all I love working with young adults and supporting them to become who they are, to laugh with them when the mood in the room needs lifting, and to be together even when that's the last thing any of us wants.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year, New Story

"I will tell you something about stories, (he said) They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, All we have to fight off illness and death." 
—Leslie Marmon Silko

My work with See Stories gives me the greatest privilege of traveling to amazing places and listening to stories, and watching those stories work in the hearts and minds of young people. Like most people, during the holidays I took a break from my work, which allowed me time to reflect on the power of story. I recalled Silko's Ceremony that beautifully outlines how stories can make or break us. Here is the story I told myself on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, accompanied by a beautiful sunrise...

This New Years Eve I stayed in. I watched Star Wars with my son (which embarrassingly I have never watched before),  and visited with a friend until it was time to toast the arrival of a fresh year. It occurred to me that New Year's Eve is one of the most inspiring and most pressure-filled holidays. There's the excitement of celebrating with those you love, of the sense that anything could happen with this new beginning. There is also the pressure to have a big grand time when perhaps that's not how you feel in the heart of winter, and sometimes reflection on the previous year that can come with mixed emotions. What are the stories we tell ourselves about our lives? The stories we tell ourselves about what our lives should be (in this coming year)? 

The idea of a New Year, of a fresh start, of rebirth, is as old as rocks. As humans we need to shed skins, to release the old ways and embrace the new. The Christmas story is one of birth in the heart of winter. A mosaic shows how old broken fragments can transform into something beautiful. In Greek Mythology Persephone goes to the underworld and comes back up in cycles. Each day brings the freshness of new potential, each baby born the promise that humanity can evolve and deepen. This is a beautiful and essential part of human existence. These are the stories that nourish and shape us, day after day, year after year. 

However, there's a cruel little trick we play on ourselves as we narrate our own story. Instead of gracefully releasing whatever has outgrown it's purpose, we shame ourselves for being the "wrong" way, and try to write a long list of all the things we want to be different about ourselves. New year's resolutions. I am not against new years resolutions by any means, but the idea that we start a fresh beginning thinking of all the ways we would like to be different can be dangerous. The obvious risk is that we don't make the changes and then have yet another thing to mentally beat ourselves up for. 

My quiet New Year's Eve celebration made me realize that New Year's Eve is like any other night. The sun sets, and it rises. Life moves forward. What makes it special and different is the stories we tell ourselves around it, our regrets and hopes, of whatever skin we are ready or not ready to shed. This year I would rather make a list of all the stories I love and cherish about myself. Some of those stories may have outgrown their time, and I will let them go, but with love.

If I am to make one New Year's Resolution, it would be to embrace my own stories and to practice that in my work as I witness the stories of youth, elders, and communities. Instead of trying to fix myself or to help others through leading film workshops and doing community work, I would rather just sit with the stories and let them work their magic.  

Happy New Year!