Laurnie Wilson

Processing

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Last week, I experienced a lot of death.

Sorry if that was kind of an intense place to begin. Sorry if that’s not quite what you were expecting. But it wasn’t what I was expecting, either.

Although none were directly connected to me, the deaths did impact people in my inner circle, and, as a result, impacted me as well. This summer, I have found space within myself to open up much more readily with those around me. I have nurtured a growing sense of empathy and compassion, two qualities I believed to be beneficial.

Until last week.

There was something so personal about all of the losses. For two days, I allowed myself to be swallowed by grief, part of which was for souls I had never even met.

How could this happen? How could I be so distraught over a loss of something that was never mine?

It all had to do with my processing. I latched onto the sadness of each occasion and allowed my empathy and compassion to overflow to the point that it engulfed me. There was no separating myself from it, or so I thought.

For as long as there is life, there will be death. And, for those of us left behind, there will never be a good time for Death to take the ones we love. It’s a fact. It’s a heart-wrenching, blood-chilling, terrible fact. But, that’s the way it is.

So how do we process this? How do we cope with the things in life that are too devastating to handle? How do we pick ourselves up and move on.

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I’m going to be honest and say, I’m not quite sure.

For me, diving into a creative form helps. Be it writing or yoga, there is always a way in which you can introduce a new concept that shakes up your traditional form. Sometimes, being gentle with yourself in whatever activity feels right, will allow you to dig deep, unearthing words or movements you may not have thought possible. And sometimes, accessing those deep, quiet places is exactly what we need to begin to heal.

Throughout the summer, I have experienced so many varied events, some of them positive, some of them negative. Finding a way to incorporate the painful moments into my thesis is a challenge that I have chosen to accept. Because, life isn’t perfect. It can be beautiful and inspirational and so full of joy at times, but there is a dark to every light, a down to every up. And embracing the fullness of it all is part of what makes us whole.

It might not be easy, but it’s a good place to start.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been learning Lightroom this week, which has meant a lot of increased screen time. When my eyes need a break, I take myself outside for a change of scenery, or I take a nap. Because that’s good for your eyes too, right?

For the Ears: Do you find yourself starting to speak before someone has finished their sentence? I’m definitely guilty of this. So, let’s be mindful together and actually listen to the people we are talking with. Maybe thinking of it as talking with instead of talking to will help.

For the Soul: “Forgive, not because someone deserves forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” -Deepak Chopra.

Til next time, friends.

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On Guidance

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“I am so happy to have a mentor.” This was the thought that came to the forefront of my mind, as I sat, meeting with my advisor, Jane Bernstein. It was a warm afternoon, and with light pouring in through her office window, the whole world just felt right.

While my very free summer months allowed me to grow as a creative in so many ways, it is immeasurably comfortable to be able to sink into deep discussion with someone who is much more experienced in the ways of writing. To have a mentor who is familiar with your past work, understanding of your current work, and enthusiastic about your future, is something that has re-ignited my own passion for this project.

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And, the beauty of mentorship, is that it doesn’t just help in academics. This week one of my yoga teachers cued the class into a headstand in a way that I had never tried before. The whole sensation was thrilling and somewhat daunting at first, but with her careful and clear instruction, I was able to dabble with an inversion.

In work and life, it is so necessary to have that someone (or many someones) who can give you advice and ease you into a newer, stronger place. Whether we are still in school or working full time, we can always be students, learning from those around us who inspire us with their own ways of being.

I’m ecstatic to have Jane on my team as I continue to grow my thesis this semester. As of right now, I will continue to produce work, keeping in mind certain aspects of my writing that are especially effective, and letting go of those tactics that tend to weigh down my writing and distance my readers.

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One of the first comments Jane gave me was to “be in my body” while I tell these little life slices. I honestly could not think of a more perfect comment to receive. After all, this whole summer, I feel that I have been working to be more present, to feel each moment, and to savor every breath.

So, now it’s time to flex that muscle and let that life experience wash more readily into the vignettes I am writing. It’s such a joy and a pleasure to be able to bring my professional and personal lives together in this way. I’m so excited to see the quality of my work improve as the time passes. I’m just excited, I think, for this entire year.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Have you been noticing the way the sun looks a little more golden, a little more autumnal? I love seeing beautiful transitions that take place this time of year.

For the Ears: My yoga teacher played her harmonium in class today and it actually made my day. If you’ve never heard of this instrument before (I hadn’t either!), you should definitely check it out.

For the Soul: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~Paulo Coelho

Til next time, friends.

Narratives in the 21st Century

Today, the 2015 Dietrich College Honors Fellows presented on their work so far this summer. We had hoped to share videos of each presentation, but due to technical difficulties, we’ll just be sharing recaps and a few photos throughout the week. (If you want to see a great picture of all of the fellows right before the presentations, click here!)

lwpresentationUp first: Laurnie Wilson. Wilson, a creative writing and history double major with a minor in German, is working on telling narratives through text and photography under English Professor Jane Bernstein. Wilson, who is in the Humanities Scholars Program, began her presentation with a dramatic reading of some of what she’s written so far.

She then talked about how at the beginning of the summer, she struggled with coming up with content to write every day. Traveling helped her solve the problem.

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t inspired,” Wilson said. “I wanted to write more about my experiences. So, I made a leap to non-fiction and travel journal writing, and the floodgates opened. My thesis work became a joy.”

Wilson still wanted to use photography in her storytelling, so she took a class while she was home in June. She said that her teacher will continue to mentor her as she moves forward with her project.

“I realized photography is just as much storytelling as writing, and I noticed that I was absorbing the world around me more,” she said.

Now, Wilson is focused on typing up her handwritten notes and organizing and transferring all of her photos and files to her computer.

“I want to be really organized at the beginning of the semester,” Wilson stated.

Then, she will start to bring out storylines from both her written pieces and pictures. Her hope is to have a final product that is a “book that you can hold” filled with text and images that tell her story.

Learn more about Wilson’s project.

Transition

My mind was wandering. There I was, in a beautiful, pre-Hitler-era building in Munich, Germany, sitting next to my favorite 77 year-old German woman, listening to my apartment-mate play the last song that stood between him and his bachelor’s degree in classical cello. And I could not keep my mind still.

As soon as I sat down, I knew I would be in for a treat. The room, adorned with a stunning golden wall hanging and a shiny, black piano, waited patiently for us to fill it. When the concert began, every corner seemed to swell with the perfectly played notes that my apartment-mate had practiced with patience and dedication for this very moment. My whole body felt cushioned by the sound, floating effortlessly, drifting with ease.

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And then a thought wiggled its way into my mind, making a wedge between the music and my internal calm. I couldn’t quite locate its origin. I just knew that it was there. I took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I watched the thought float out of the open window.

But just as soon as that one was gone, a new one was in its place. I didn’t want to be distracted. After all, cello has always been one of my favorite instruments. I knew I should be here, in this moment, fully present, and totally surrendered to the good fortune at play. But it was a struggle.

My somewhat rambling adventures this summer have given me the luxury of wandering in both body and mind. This is something I have come to enjoy, and something that has become an integral aspect of my thesis. I seem to be in a constant state of motion, and I love it.

As I write this, I am sitting in the bustling Oakland airport, watching as planes arrive and depart. With so much movement around me, I can’t help but to think of the transition that lies ahead. This year especially, returning to my home in Maryland and then, soon after, to Pittsburgh has left me somewhat torn.

On the one hand, I am thrilled. I have missed cooking, having a space of my own, doing laundry (said no one ever…I know), and most of all, sleeping in my bed. Yet, in reestablishing my routine, I feel that I will miss so much more. I will miss every day being a new adventure, being surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world, and feeling so full of love and gratitude in each and every moment. It’s not that I can’t access those same feelings when I am in school, it’s just that it is so much harder. But since I can’t bear to let the reality of this summer slip away, I will have to find a way to continue to grow and thrive, even in depths of winter.

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Change is always a double-edged sword. And this time, I know a big change lies ahead. As I contemplate my return to Pittsburgh and my impending role as full-time student for my final year, I am filled with a similar mix of emotions.

Between juggling my thesis, completing classwork, and spending every possible moment enjoying my friends, I know this culminating year will be a whirlwind of its own. But, oddly enough, I feel ready.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been on the hunt for a new pair of sunglasses (you can see a contender below) for a year. Maybe I’m just indecisive, but there are so many cute options! Fun, vintage accessories are especially catching my eye right now.

For the Ears: Have you ever stopped and listened to what’s going on around you? As a writer, I love taking a minute in a coffee shop, restaurant, store, or any public place, just to listen. Is that creepy? Hopefully not.

For the Soul: Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey have been leading a free meditation experience since July 13th that I am loving so much. It’s in its final few days, but I would definitely recommend checking out the Chopra Center Meditation website.

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Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Endurance

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Completing a thesis is a pretty big task.

At this point, I think I can probably speak for all of us when I say that this summer hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. From my own experience, I’ll share that there have been moments of absolute progress and success, but also moments of setback, discouragement, frustration, and worry. When one embarks on a culminating project of this scale, the journey to completion is filled with ups and downs, twists and turns–and we’re really only just at the beginning. It’s kind of amazing to turn for a moment to look at the path that I’ve taken to get to this point, and then turn once more to see what lies ahead.

With so much still to do, you might be wondering how one manages to push ever further along the road to completion, especially at a time of the year that begs for days spent sleeping late and lounging in the sun. It’s safe to say that the other fellows and I have an immense amount of dedication to our projects. And even though things have been going much smoother since I realized the need to alter my original thesis idea, it can sometimes still be difficult to muster the motivation.

So how does one endure?

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Endurance is an interesting concept. It requires support, practice, and, perhaps most of all, love. I have discovered that my endurance comes from those who are around me. Lately, I have been so grateful to be surrounded by so many friends and family members who encourage, respect, and celebrate each and every day of our lives. That kind of community is what has kept me going, even when the light on the path has seemed dim.

No matter what you’re working towards in your life, or where you are in the world, I hope that you may also find a sense of belonging.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been following this hand-letterer for a while. He’s in the midst of a 27-day free tutorial about hand-lettering and a lot of what he’s saying can apply to success not just in his field, but in any field.

For the Ears: Rain. There were a few nights in Munich where we had these outrageous thunder storms. I felt so lucky to fall asleep, listening to the rain as it splattered against the roof and windows–the ultimate lullaby.

For the Soul: Loved ones. After traveling around Munich and Stockholm by myself, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be reunited with friends and family in California. So, go surround yourself with love. You deserve it.laurnie3

Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Intentions

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I’d like to preface this post with the reassurance that it will tie back to my thesis.

I’ve been thinking a lot about intentions. Those of you who know me personally will know that yoga is an important part of my life. Yoga instructors often speak of setting an intention for your practice. For me, this often means connecting with a word, phrase or thought for the duration of the class. Setting an intention can be a way to find focus, guidance, and peace. When we greet our yoga practice with intention, we are less likely to be distracted by discomfort or uncertainty. Intentions can make you fearless, confident, or, at the very least, brave.

But intentions aren’t just for the yoga mat, they’re for much more than that. And, over the past few weeks, the idea of acting with intention in my daily life is something that has really started to sink in. Recently, I started to take note of all of my daily behaviors. I was amazed to see just how few of them I did with intention.

Checking Facebook, for example, is one behavior that often is so mindless it’s scary! I can’t make assumptions about anyone else, but for me, it seemed that I was logging into my Facebook more and more frequently, with very little purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for social media. I’m a HUGE lover of Instagram. You can follow me at @laurniewilson, if you’d like 🙂 But it’s almost too easy to become addicted: to scroll forever through the seemingly endless flow of updates and articles, without absorbing a single thing. I’m certainly guilty of it. But it seemed like a habit I could break, and setting intentions seemed like the way to start. I decided to ask myself, every time I logged in, why I was logging in, in the first place. If I had a good reason, I would continue. If not, I would close the tab.

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Mindfulness is another idea that goes hand-in-hand with intention. Pema Chödrön (who I mentioned in my last post), and many other teachers, write about the importance of mindfulness. The idea behind mindfulness can be summed up roughly as living in the moment. Regardless of what you’re doing, be it slicing a tomato, or taking a test, mindfulness asks us to be present in that moment. It may sound silly, but when we wander from the present, when we lose our mindfulness and become stuck in our thoughts and inhibitions, we miss out on enjoying the precious moment we are in. If we aren’t mindful, then whatever we are doing will not be as good as it could have been.

Intention and mindfulness are powerful tools when you choose to use them. They can open up so much more of life than you ever thought possible. I’ve only just begun to skim the surface of these resources and am excited about what they can bring.

With all of these thoughts simmering in my mind, I realized that my thesis needed some serious changes. I dreaded sitting down to write because I wasn’t enjoying any of the stories I was writing. I felt disconnected and uninspired. I had known for a while that I was just writing to write, regardless of how much I disliked what I was creating. I was looking for themes and squeezing them out of already parched narratives.

Then I took a step back. A huge part of my summer has been travel. Honestly, I’ve spent more time outside of Pittsburgh than I have in it. Yet, none of my travel experiences were finding their way into my work. This was clearly a problem, especially since I have felt the most inspired since I’ve been away, free to wander and roam. Why wasn’t that a part of my thesis? Why weren’t those feelings translating into what I wrote? They needed to.

And so, without any expectations or pressure, I told myself to write about sitting beside Lake Twenty-Two on that warm, Sunday afternoon in the Washington state wilderness. When I sat down to this task, determined to access that which I already possessed within, I didn’t expect myself to have a full-blown story with subplots and a sweeping arc. I didn’t ask anything more of myself than to recapture that serenity and share it in a way that others would be able to feel it, too.

And that’s exactly what I did. Then I read it to my mom. She liked it.

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It was in that moment that I realized what my thesis would really be about. As I move forward, I will select feelings, experiences, and brief moments from my journeys. I will take these selections and write about them. Some entries may be longer than others. Until I have a few more, I’m unsure as to how they will take shape. But I will write what feels right, what feels like the most important take-away from that event, that emotion, that fleeting second that is now a memory. I will follow each entry with a photo story to illustrate what I’ve narrated.

In this way, my writing and my pictures, both directly influenced by my travels, will interact with each other, creating what I hope will be an impactful collection of thoughts and images. The themes that I had tried so hard to craft before will create themselves. Since all of these reflections will come from my life, my growth, and my inspiration, they should naturally link with each other.

It’s taken me over a month to get to this point. But I’m starting to understand that the journey is the most important part.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Have you taken a moment to look up, recently? The sky offers so much to see, if we only take the time to appreciate it. (Especially on the 4th of July.)

For the Ears: Sizzling sauce pans, gurgling streams, all of these repetitive sounds have been really soothing, lately.

For the Soul: My most favorite yoga teacher is leading a month-long meditation challenge via her Instagram account @meghanjcharles. If you’ve been curious about starting your own meditation routine, this might be just the inspiration you need.

Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Time Out

At this point in the summer, working on my thesis feels like a full-time job. There, I said it. This is work. And a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to be able to write for my “job,” but it has definitely shown me a side of the creative process that I had never before experienced. How lucky am I though, that I am able to figure this out over the summer, when I have infinitely more time than I would during the semester? Very lucky, indeed.

Last week, just when the task of writing all-day, every day, started to take its toll, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a break, to fly across the country, reunite with one of my dearest friends, and give myself a few blissful days of rest from the world of my own creative mind. And trust me, when you spend all day hatching plans for people who don’t really exist, getting out of your own mind is welcome change of pace.

Where was this carefree land I flew to, you might be asking? Seattle, Washington.

1st stop, Pike Place Market

1st stop, Pike Place Market

Before embarking on this trip, I really knew very little about Seattle. This summer one of my friends is interning there and invited me for a long weekend. And since I had never been to the West Coast, I was definitely on board. Back when I planned the trip, I never could have guessed that it would be the perfect time to shake up my writing routine, but it certainly was!

My goals for this visit were twofold: to soak up as much of the city and surrounding area as possible, and to take ALL of the pictures. I didn’t want to stress myself out with a million things to do, but I also knew it would be the perfect location for taking photos I would never be able to take anywhere else.

So, off I went. And let me tell you, friends, it was incredible.

Hellooo, Emerald City, amiright?

Hellooo, Emerald City, amiright?

There is something about being in a new city that has such a fantastic potential to breathe new life into your creative muscles.(Well, probably all of your muscles, as my calves would tell you. But I chose to focus on the creatives ones.) My trip lasted from Thursday afternoon to early-early Tuesday morning. And since my friend worked the Friday and Monday of my trip, I had those days to wander by myself. Those unscripted moments were so enriching.

Camera in-hand, I meandered through Pike Place Market, streets adorned with gorgeous homes, and the bustling retail core. I may have had one or two real destinations on these days, but I was more focused on the journey. I walked whenever I could, enjoying the new sights that being on-foot allowed me to see, and talking with people I bumped into along the way.

When can I move in?

When can I move in?

On the Sunday of my visit, we took possibly the most beautiful hike I have ever taken in my entire life. Granted, I don’t do hikes often, but I’m pretty sure that even if I did, this one would be tops.

Speechless

Speechless

And while it was definitely a physical challenge at times, I couldn’t help but to fall in love with every single step I took.

Lake Twenty Two

Lake Twenty Two

Too often, I find myself with my eyes narrowly focused on the end goal, the finished project, the top of the mountain, the final due date. And while it’s perfectly fine and advisable to be aware of where you are going, this trip to Seattle emphasized for me the importance of enjoying the moments along the way.

I wonder if perhaps some of my exhaustion in terms of my own work was that I never truly allowed myself to take pleasure in the individual stories. So far, each new narrative has just been one closer to the end. So of course it would feel monotonous. But the creative process shouldn’t feel that way. Life shouldn’t feel that way. I just had to step out of my routine to see that.

I’ll leave you now with this week’s inspiration:

For the Eyes: Nature. While the weather is nice, take an afternoon away from your screens, your social media, and your stresses. It’s amazing what a little time in the wilderness can do. (And this is coming from a true city-lover.)

For the Ears: Silence. Every once in a while, there is something so refreshing about turning off the music.

For the Soul: Generosity. Be generous with your time, with your affection, with your humor, and with yourself.

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Til next time, friends.

Read more about my project.

Scribbles and Snapshots

Now, where to begin?

This was the first question I asked myself as I sat down about three and a half weeks ago to begin my thesis. Having never taken on a project of this size before, I felt more than a little bit overwhelmed by what lay ahead.

For those of you just jumping on this blog’s bandwagon, welcome! Let me briefly recap what I’m doing: For my thesis, I’m planning on writing a series of short stories, along with a series of photo stories. In an effort to keep myself inspired, I’ve planned a somewhat nomadic summer, spending time in Maryland, Munich, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, with a bonus weekend in Seattle. I will also be taking a photography class to supplement the visual side of my project. My goal is to find a way to have the text and images work together in the most effective and meaningful way possible. It’s a big task, but I’m ready for it.

So, if you’re still reading, then you’re probably wondering what I’ve been up to. Yes? Great!

This whole first segment of my project—my, shall we call it, “pre-departure” segment—I imagined would be a time of planning, researching, and gathering. But let me tell you something about all of my plans thus far: I’ve thrown all of them entirely out of the window.

It’s funny, really. I’m such a planner. But, in just these first three weeks, I’ve seen that planning my stories has been a pretty solid waste of my time. Originally, I believed that planning out my work would help in keeping me on track. And while I think it may have helped me get started, it also left me somewhat uninspired. (Think: Me realizing that I had brainstormed six identical stories. Eep!)

For the first two weeks, writing felt like ramming a cast-iron skillet against my head, every day, for 5 hours a day.

Ah, yes, the life of a writer. Romantic, no?

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I hear brain freeze helps writer’s block.

But then on Sunday night, while corresponding with a friend, I happened upon inspiration for a story that I have fallen in love with. So I’m beginning to think that plans are overrated.

Who knew that starting my thesis would lead me to realize deep, life lessons? And I’ve only just begun!

The photography part of my thesis has been a bit more stop-and-go. The first week, when I was still in Pittsburgh, I went to two photo exhibits–One at the CMOA and one at the Silver Eye Center for Photography.

A snapshot from the Silver Eye Exhibit

A snapshot from the Silver Eye Exhibit.

I also spent time with a really lovely Eugene Richards book, Red Ball of a Sun Dipping Down. This was a gorgeous combination of text and images. If your library has a copy, I would highly recommend taking a peek.

Last week, however, the photography element took a little snooze. But this Wednesday, I revved that engine back up for my first photography class!! I’m honestly so excited, friends. My class has two people, including myself (three, if you include the teacher), so we are going to get SO MUCH personal attention! I can’t believe my good fortune.

So far we’ve only really discussed the basics. This week, we have quite a bit of homework to get us comfortable with the manual settings on our camera. (Think shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc.) Apparently we will never be using automatic again.

Since the creative process can be such an amorphous thing to document and describe, I thought I would also accompany each of my posts with little bits of inspiration. This way, you can see the external influences that are shaping my experience as a creative. (This is a term my photography teacher applies to people who practice any form of art. I love it and have decided to adopt it.)

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Red Ball of a Sun Dipping Down—really a must // Hand letterer Lauren Hom for a new definition of creative writing.

For the Ears: It’s gray and cold and generally miserable in Maryland right now. That means Alt J (the second Album especially) on repeat–to go with the mood–and anything by the Hot 8 Brass Band to lift your spirits.

For the Soul: Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty, because uncertainty is one of the hardest qualities of life to embrace.  

I’m looking forward to bringing you along on this journey. So keep a look out for more interesting posts from my fellow fellows and me!

Til next time, friends.