Two Main Philosophies

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

-Neil deGrasse Tyson

Suzanne, The Plans They Made

While I was recently privatizing my writing portfolio posts from two years ago, I stumbled across a personal entry that struck somewhat of a chord with me. If I remember correctly, I had written it on the anniversary of the passing of one of my parents…which always proves to be an internally troublesome event. But something about this piece was quite soothing, and helped me to see what it was exactly that came from that horrible moment. I also believed this to be a fitting testimony to the rock in my life that is my mother; to the music I was raised on and the inspiration it once graced me with. But, above all, this piece speaks of the story behind James Taylor’s friend, Suzanne (for whom his song “Fire and Rain” was written)…and the way that I felt upon first hearing it has stayed with me even after all these years.

So, in lieu of sharing the entire, sprawling entry, here is an excerpt from a much younger and far more disquisitive Diana:

“My mother was brilliant. Even with a head injury that nearly killed her, she was the type of woman that others aspire to one day be but know they never could. Beautiful, talented and immensely perceptive, she saw a soul much older than her own in me. Surrounded by my particular taste in books, William Burroughs and George Orwell, and burning with a passion far brighter than the headlights of the oncoming car that t-boned us in the accident, she knew not to fear the fluidity in me. And for that I owe her my life. My inspiration. My “vision.”

She raised me on Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones…records of Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that I listened to over and over and over again, soft and crackling, on my father’s record player. With one ear to the carpet and the other to the ceiling, I lost myself in the hoarse poetry of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and I found myself in the mind-blowing climax of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” Such wonderful words that flowed through me on the most splendid of melodies. This is where I kept my father alive. This was truth and stability and wisdom. This was my home when I had none.

[...]

I thought this would be an appropriate song to share, since it was my mother’s favorite song on my father’s favorite vinyl. My family has always loved music with a story, especially Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” (written after the assassination of JFK). However, this song by James Taylor hit home for me many years ago, and many of its lines have meaning in Taylor’s life. I’m sure many of you have heard it before, but the narrative behind it is fascinating. I hope this song rings true to you as it so often has to me. With that said, I wish each and every one of you the courage to delve deeper into the stories of the lives of others and, when you find a happiness that feels real to you, to share your own story with them.”

The Principle of Art

“The principle of art is to pause, not bypass. The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke. This requires a moment of pause–a contract with yourself through the object you look at or the page you read. In that moment of pause, I think life expands. And really the purpose of art–for me, of fiction–is to alert, to indicate to stop, to say: Make certain that when you rush through you will not miss the moment which you might have had, or might still have. That is the moment of finding something which you have not known about yourself, or your environment, about others and about life.”

-Jerzy Kosiński (1933-1991)

The Artwork of Lauren Menapace

Recently I was granted the privilege of sharing my dear friend Lauren’s work via my blog. I was ecstatic upon being told that I would have free range of her art collection, and also that I would be allowed to select my favorite items to publicize. If any of you knew Lauren, you would know that her modesty has prevented me from doing this for some time. But, on the dawn of ArtPrize here in Grand Rapids, I finally prevailed.

Lauren and I met at the tail end of college in one of our favorite professor’s classes. Austin Bunn, who has since moved on to Cornell and screenwriting for the big leagues, paired us together in an editing group. After a passionate discussion of Anne Desclos’ novel The Story of O and an even more animated exchange about Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (which had inspired my piece that was currently being critiqued in class), we became fast friends.

Lauren has supported me throughout the years in ways I never knew a college buddy was capable of. She was there for me when the doctors found a lump on my breast this past spring and has encouraged me wholeheartedly in pursuing my lifelong dream of being a writer. Her raw honesty and unending awe of the universe is not only inspiring, it is very motivating. And it is to Lauren that I owe many of my successes.

As you can see, that same intensity is ubiquitous in her work. And though she would probably forbid me from sharing any of her writing, you can imagine just how magnificent it is (and, trust me, it is!). If you would like to contact Lauren Menapace (who resides here in West Michigan) about her work, click HERE.

Until then, check out some of my favorite pieces above! And, remember, an expression of self is crucial in life. Whether it be watercolor or poetry or even finger-painting, communicating to others is essential in the slow discovery of your inner-self…of your experiences in life and the effects of those experiences. So be bold. Be brave. Be creative.

A Life Lived Through Photography

Recently I inherited a very meaningful present from my mother: my father’s 1978 Minolta camera. One cannot imagine both my surprise and utter joy not only receiving such a gift, but also being the first person to handle the camera since my father last used it in the early ’90s.

My love for 35mm film has encompassed many facets of both my childhood and young adult life. From disposable cameras to my Kodak Advantix Point and Shoot camera (that I received on my 7th birthday) to my Diana F+ Lomography camera and, finally, to attempting to build my own dark room in my old house…my photography has captured an aspect of my existence that I don’t believe an iPhone or digital camera ever could.

Documenting the chronology of my life, with all its ups and downs, has always been incredibly important to me. To say that my collaged Seward Trunk, one of my most prized possessions, is inundated with an absurd amount of photos and prints would be an understatement. Whether I was at Yellowstone National Park in my youth or documenting my years in college, I always made certain to keep their time alive by obtaining a physical copy of that memory. And I suppose, by now integrating both my photos and my father’s, that I’m constantly keeping a small part of him with me, as well.

As difficult as it is, I believe stepping out of one’s comfort zone is vital in experiencing all depths of human emotion, contact and experience. Photography gave me the means to, at first, hide behind the lens…to capture split-second faces. To keep those alive who had passed. To find details that I never noticed before. And, more importantly, to describe moments when words seemed to fail. And when I was finally ready, I stepped into the frame of my own photos. I started living the life that I wanted so badly to capture on film.

Though the noise of the photo isn’t as accurate as my DSLR, and manually focusing on my subject is an eternal struggle for me, there is something very candid about film. There is something extremely exciting about accomplishing a double exposure or a pinhole image. And the thrill of waiting for your photos to develop…nothing quite compares to it!

Not only has film defined a generation, but it has done things that not many of us realize have shaped our society: it has taken us straight onto the battlefield of war, it has brought awareness to issues all over the globe, and it has given us the opportunity to know our ancestors…to see the similarities between our faces and the faces of our great-great grandparents; to be at their wedding 50+ years before the mere idea of us was even conceived.

Photography has also given us the ability to see into the secret lives of strangers. A wonderful example of this is the work of Vivian Maier, chronicled in the 2013 award-winning documentary from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. If ever there was an inspiration to get to know someone who was previously overlooked in your everyday life, it is this movie. And still to this day, I can’t look at Vivian’s work without tearing up.

The challenge I’m proposing to my readers is this: Try something new. Try to see something beautiful in something you once saw as ugly. Capture a moment that you can one day share with your children. Reach out to someone you’d never have reached out to before. And when you’re stuck…when you’re held back or tied fast to something much too heavy in life…put down the camera and give yourself permission to just live.

Podcast #2 Has Arrived!

Looking for a clever and knowledgeable discussion of both Criterion Collection movies and other film favorites? Check out the podcast of Grand Rapidians Nick Villaire and Josh Spanninga as they discuss ‘Night of the Hunter’ amongst other happenings in West Michigan.

Enjoy, readers!

Podcast #2 Has Arrived

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

-William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Though my favorite poetry comes from the ingenious minds of Robert Frost, William Blake and Allen Ginsberg…William Butler Yeats has always held a very special place in my heart. An Irishman with a fondness for the most transcendental aspects of life, I’ve come to find that Yeats always epitomizes my feelings surrounding the fleetingness of love. But I suppose, with the most permanent and profound love I’ve ever felt in my life as of late, I might have to digress to the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning for a short while.

Until then, I hope this poem brings about that familiar tightening in the throat as it did to me the first time I read it. For what a wonderful feeling it is to experience something so crippling during our time on this earth…something that truly validates the most humane aspects of our existence. And, even greater so, that we had a man such as Yeats to show us how to take an emotion so painful and create something absolutely beautiful from it.

By a Lover

My Dear,

Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains.

For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.

Falsely yours,
Henry Charles Bukowski

Restaurant Week Grand Rapids

One of my favorite times in West Michigan is here, just on the cusp of my six-year anniversary of moving to Grand Rapids! Famous for hosting ArtPrize in the fall and winning Beer City USA two years in a row, Grand Rapids’ patrons have also developed a deep affinity for dining out. It seems that every evening is a busy one in the city as visitors and residents alike venture out to dueling piano bars, nationally-ranked breweries or farm-to-table restaurants. It’s no wonder Grand Rapids was named by Forbes as one of the top 15 emerging downtowns!

As a very young child, after attending etiquette classes, my mother made certain that I had the experience of being well-traveled. Born in New Jersey and living in numerous other states, I attended the opening of restaurants with my mother’s modeling-world friends and dined at the top of skyscrapers. This instilled an intrinsic need for me to enjoy all aspects of life (especially when it comes to fine dining), and it is to my mother that I am grateful for providing the groundwork that led to the life I now live.

However, being mindful of the food I ate was never a true priority for me until I came to Grand Rapids. It was here that I learned my favorite type of beer tastes “hoppy,” I discovered that the aroma coming from the bakery next to my apartment is a great wake-up call in the morning, and that being a vegetarian led to the best mood/skin/health improvement I’ve ever had. Grand Rapids not only provides dozens upon dozens of avenues to eat out (including my two favorite food trucks: What The Truck and A Moveable Feast), but it also provides the opportunity to eat well. From gluten-free to vegetarian to vegan, Grand Rapids covers it all…and aces the menu.

Whether my boyfriend wants to celebrate the success of another B-Movie Euphoria podcast or my girlfriends want to go out for a night-on-the-town, there is always a new restaurant for us to try. This August, no celebration was needed to venture out to either East Grand Rapids or into the city to try all the different Restaurant Week menus.

The restaurants Nick and I visited this go-around were Terra, Mangiamo, Brewery Vivant, The Mitten Brewing Company, CitySēn Lounge, El Granjero and The Melting Pot. My favorite was a tie between Mangiamo (for their delicious grilled Michigan peach with mascarpone and Michigan-maple balsamic) and The Melting Pot (for the dining experience. A first for me!). All were amazing, though, and I would highly recommend all of them!

If you would like a recommendation for a type of venue or restaurant, I would be happy to help! Until then, for all GR newcomers and habitants, remember the wise words of one of my favorite authors:

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -Virginia Woolf

Dawn after The Dark Decade

How many excuses could possibly be made for my sudden disappearance from my blog? A great deal, I suppose, though none are a very appropriate excuse for an altogether absence from writing. I suppose life just happens that way.

In the past year 1.) I finally found the confidence to pursue a long-term crush of mine, which resulted in me finding the love of my life, 2.) I continued writing life stories for the terminally ill (while co-creating a cross-country team of life historians) before transferring my efforts to working with grieving children after the loss of a parent, sibling or close friend/family member, 3.) I moved to a beautiful new, hardwood-floored apartment in a wonderful neighborhood…the list goes on and on, and I wish so badly that I had shared these moments in some form or another as they were happening. Though this is no longer possible, I figured I should present one of my articles that was published this past April as a Midwest success story. Perhaps this will sum my life up the past few months…and enumerate all the good that the universe has bestowed upon it.

Nonetheless, I am very excited to be back. Wishing you all a fun end to your summer and an even better start to the autumn months ahead!

zee

Still there is a struggle, a deep and infinite wrestling that ruptures within me whenever I try to recall the events leading up to my time in Keokuk. Thus my recollection of what I call the “dark decade” before my arrival is a muddled one, ebbing and flowing endlessly, leaving me to believe I’ve somehow managed to hollow those years out from my life entirely. And, try as I might, I’ve never been able to pinpoint what exactly defined my sudden submission in leaving Michigan for Iowa.

I remember feeling indifferent. Austere, almost. The people who crumbled around me. The words that burrowed deep into their skin; round little bulbs protruding from ever-thickening layers of fat. They had to be hard to handle me. And still I felt nothing. I was destructive. I was reckless. I was dying.

It took me many years to realize this. The absence of feeling, the utter deficiency of emotion, was what almost ended my life. Without that awareness, that acknowledgement of heartache and weakness, I was incapable of understanding death. I was powerless against repercussion and consequence. And so I began suffering in a way that was foreign to me. Relentlessly and totally, we all began to suffer. For I wanted, no, I needed others to feel the pain that I could somehow not.

I’ve come to find there is something special in remembering if even just an aspect of that period in my life, and something even greater so in reliving it every now and then. Thus there will never come a time when an angry word would sound unfamiliar, nor would the wringing of worried hands seem at all strange to me. For is this not what unites us all, regardless of age and gender and language? Having the courage to again walk down into the valley to aid those presently blinded by a well-known darkness?

In an essay from The Practice of Psychotherapy, C.G. Jung states, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” That sudden realization was sweet, and it was met with an even sweeter surrender. For a fight used to come with cognizance; a brief struggle against feeling, born out of disdain for any sort of expedition back into the “dark decade.” Yet something waited for me there. And I believe, upon my own personal awakening, there was an alleviation of shame. A remittance of anxiety. It wasn’t that I was safe here. It was just that I was finally at peace with my past.

Drawing upon my time in Iowa always proves to be fruitful. It was there that I learned the necessary skills in creating the life I so badly wanted. I am now a personal assistant for an amazing employer, an invited TED Talk attendee, a writer of life stories for terminally-ill patients and a budding writer in West Michigan. I traveled through Europe and met some of the most fascinating people from all over the world. I broke the hearts of boyfriends and, in turn, had my heart shattered by others. I lived and I lost. I ached and I accomplished.

And so you see? We are all young, in one way or another, and we are all still learning. Do not focus on the “why” or the “when” or even the “how long.” Life will come. Life will drag you down into the valley and life will lead you out the other side. The road is long. You have time. Now is a time for reflection. For emotion and observation and healing. The “celebration” will come, I promise you that. Because, as Shauna Niequist said, “Sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.”