Hello, Orange

These are the colors of my soul.

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They’re also the colors of most of my laundry. And my bedroom wall. And obviously, my book cover.

I’ve always found myself attracted to purples and blues. They’re peaceful, refreshing, and easy to be around. In a way, I feel like they represent me.

I used to think that only one color range could do that. But recently I’ve become fascinated with the color orange.

My writer friend Angela Wallace has been a fan of orange at least since we started writing stories together as teenagers. Even some of her book covers are orange.

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The orange memo has only recently reached me. But now I see it as representing fearlessness, power, energy, and fun.

Maybe I’m attracted to the color now because I want to be more of these things. Maybe it’s because I’m already becoming them. And I haven’t stopped liking blue/purple or repainted my bedroom wall. But in 2014, orange has become my other favorite color.

Like for toenail polish.

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And for my new indoor cactus garden.

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When Angela and I got together for a photo shoot, I even wore some orange in my scarf.

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After all, blue and orange are complementary colors.

Maybe a person can be more than one color–can be peaceful yet also fearless; can be easy to be around yet also powerful. We humans are multifaceted, with each facet constantly in a state of change–growing, shrinking, morphing. That’s a fact of being of being alive (and of staying out of ruts).

Maybe that’s also why we need friends who are multiple colors, to help stretch us and balance us out.

So hello, orange. It’s nice to meet you.

Zucchini Cake

I don’t know what’s up with the baking analogies. I don’t even like to bake. But I have this thought that people are like cake.

So, this is a hard admission: as you may have deduced by now, I’m a people-pleaser. I’ve always wanted to be a chocolate cake.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and nosheep

Since childhood, I’ve tried to be the “good kid”–pleasing parents, Sunday school teachers, kids I wanted to be friends with, kids I didn’t want to be friends with, college professors, people at church, random strangers at Starbucks. My code of conduct went something like, “Fly under the radar, don’t irritate people, do what you’re told, appease.” Because people only want chocolate cakes, right? Chocolate cake people make the best friends, students, children, right?

Chocolate cake people: plural noun. Punctual, humble, not only faithful in but excited about prayer, churchgoing, service activities. Don’t talk too much, don’t talk too much about themselves, modest, demure, good grades, walk the straight and narrow. Also hospitable, good conversationalists, and don’t go outside looking frumpy. Ever.

So if people only want chocolate cakes, I have to be one, right? To get approval (and what else could be worth getting?) I’ve aimed for perfection, or as close to it as possible. Other people’s displeasure was my fault, my failure.

Here’s the trouble. I’m not a chocolate cake. I think I might not even count as cake. I get this frequent, sneaking suspicion that I’m made of something else entirely–something green and lumpy that won’t stick together and certainly won’t fluff in the oven. Something like…zucchini.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and soultga

Zucchini person: singular noun. Lags just a few minutes late for every activity. Talks too much about self and sometimes snorts at own jokes. Sometimes doesn’t feel like praying. Wakes up without makeup and sometimes on the wrong side of the bed. Worries about job, friends, future.

Well, zucchini is obviously an unacceptable basis for the making of cakes, especially when all cakes are supposed to be chocolate. So my solution has been to slap some nice, thick frosting on top and smear it around. See? Picture-perfect cake.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and coachen

Then there’s the broiler.

A little summer heat is one thing; if your inch-thick coat of frosting starts to melt, you just patch the thin spots. You can still hide what’s underneath. But sitting under a 500-degree hot wire for long enough is more than any coat of frosting can bear. A hot wire like eleven months of caregiving, for instance.

Hard times have a way of stripping away your layers of fakeness. Insincerity soon melts under the flame. And what’s left for people to see is…zucchini. Embarrassing, un-chocolate, imperfect, vulnerable.

This is the point, in my imagination, where people scream and go, “Ew, gross! Someone get that unacceptable vegetable out of here!”

But, to my dumbfounded astonishment, that’s not what I’ve seen happen. The more I can’t hide my true substance, the more I show people that my cake is far from chocolate, the more I’m let in on a secret.

Other people’s cakes aren’t, either.

Vulnerability is like an amoeba. It multiplies itself. Numerous times in the last few months, I’ve had the shocking experience of hearing people–even people I regard as the gold standard of chocolate cake–reveal their failings, their doubts, their awkwardnesses, their fears. Almost no one sails through life in complete confidence (and those who do are ignoring some things). No one marches into battle without sweaty palms. No one looks in the mirror every morning, smiles a toothpaste-commercial smile, and whispers, “go get ’em, chocolate.”

Vulnerability also brings people together. I used to think, not very long ago, that I really had to be perfect for people to like me. What absolutely stuns me is the slow discovery that perfection intimidates–and honesty is true beauty. People don’t like you less when you show them your hurt, your awkwardness, your doubt. Honesty levels the playing field. It expresses trust, need, connection. The ugly green truth is what allows deep, real connection to bloom.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and kyra

So, here’s my confession. I’m not made of chocolate. Sometimes, with all my zucchini-greenness going on, I think I make a miserable excuse for cake at all. You don’t have to like it. But that’s what I’m made of. And now that that’s out in the open, I’m glad I no longer have to spend my life patching the frosting.

Ever felt like a zucchini cake in a chocolate-cake world? What have you discovered about revealing that to other people? 


Haute Couture

You can start laughing now.

If you’re not laughing yet, realize that fashion is never a word that has belonged in the same sentence with my name. Maybe I would be at the height of it if I walked into a medieval castle, a Civil War ballroom, or a British tea party–but as for the fashions of today, I’ve been chronically clueless since I was old enough to dress myself.

That’s not to say I don’t like to look good in my clothes. Or that I don’t have a sense of taste (however eclectic it may be). But I’d consider that more “personal style,” a notion of what I like and what looks good on me, than an awareness of what Parisian designers are sending down the runways this season.

However, in the last few months, fashion hasn’t been as far away from me as in the past. For one, my mom and I have been faithfully following a BBC show from the ’90s, The House of Eliott, which follows a pair of sisters who start their own fashion house in 1920s London. Besides having a great story with compelling characters, the show’s costumes are gogglingly gorgeous. And as I learn more about sewing and design, it helps me to better understand an industry that once seemed mysterious and ridiculous.

Beatrice and Evangeline Eliott, protagonists of  The House of Eliott

Last month I also went with my grandparents to a San Francisco museum exhibition of fashion by Jean Paul Gaultier in San Francisco. Though Gaultier is known as the enfant terrible of French fashion and I would never actually wear any of the outfits I saw on display, it was a fascinating glimpse into fashion as an art and science. The very name haute couture (French, of course) means “high sewing.”

Gaultier fashions on mannequins with moving faces!

In addition to the costumes themselves (displayed on mannequins with moving faces!), there was a documentary tracking the last 48 hours leading up to a Gaultier fashion show. Backstage, away from all the paparazzi cameras and snobbish facial expressions, was a busy hive of incredibly talented seamstresses who specialized in turning one man’s eye for whimsy into precise creations of stitches and sequins. Every garment for a fashion show is made completely by hand, some of them representing 200 man-hours or more.

A galleon headdress made entirely out of red beads

There’s also an enormous amount of creativity involved. Again, while I didn’t see any of the garments as really wearable for myself, conceptually I found them very interesting. Gaultier experimented with unexpected materials and combinations: artificial crocodile skin and crochet, knit and tulle, gold lame and seashells, leather and feathers, even human hair. He also chose themes for his fashion shows that tickled my fancy as a writer: mermaids, madonnas, even human body systems.

So, while you may never catch a glimpse of high fashion in my wardrobe, I have gained some respect for the field as a creative art and a highly skilled craft. I do prefer wearing my personal style, though. It’s my humble opinion that people always look best wearing what suits them, rather than whatever happens to be trending at the moment.

And now I pass the fashion-commentary baton to those more qualified. For further reading, check out this mash-up:

Bear Ears: original knit designs and patterns
Cafes and Closets: vintage and gothic style blog
Adelle Gabrielson: shoe love
Fashion from Literature: modern-day outfits for literary characters
My Disney Fashion Dreams: Disney-character-inspired fashion collages

What are your thoughts on fashion, style, and haute couture? 


Dance Like No One’s Watching

OK, it’s time for a happier post on here.
Start by watching this video. Trust me, the rest of this post won’t make sense without it. It’s got over 40 million views.
Matt is a guy (from Seattle, actually) who only knows one dance. It’s a dorky dance. But, not caring what other people thought, he first did it in front of a camera in Asia. He put it up on YouTube, and before long his video was so popular that Stride Gum sponsored him to do it again–to travel the world and dance. 
What I like about this video is that it’s a guy doing his dance–his dorky dance, the only dance he knows–wherever he goes, no matter who’s watching, no matter if anybody’s doing it with him. He starts out doing it alone. He dances in marketplaces where everyone’s looking at him funny and on empty beaches full of crabs. He dances in the rain, on a sand dune, on cliff ledges. But he doesn’t stop dancing. 
People are attracted to that courageous spirit–the choice to “dance like no one’s watching.” In the video, people flock to him. And then they start to imitate him. The single dancer is joined by a handful, then by a crowd, then by an entire flash mob. Every person gives it their own spin–Polish teenagers doing disco, kids from the Solomon Islands jumping around–but the original dancer’s dauntless drive, his cheerfulness and confidence, is contagious all around the world. 

I don’t know what it is you do to bless the world around you. It might be the thing you do for a living; it might not. It might just be your unique personality, your attitude. Whether you fix computers, write books, balance accounts, listen to hurting friends, jump rope with kids, or just face your day with a smile, keep doing it. God made you as you are, so being yourself is your best gift to share with the world. Dare to do your own dance, no matter how dorky or insignificant it feels, no matter who’s watching, no matter if anyone at all is watching. That attitude is brave, and it’s contagious. You never know whose life you are touching.