Navigating the Wild Waters of the Creative Life

Last weekend I went kayaking with friends down the Brandywine River, a beautiful river spanning 20 miles from Pennsylvania down through Delaware.

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The river itself is not a very challenging body of water; there are a few spots with rocks and rapids, and at least one dam that requires you carry your kayak around it along the bank, but for the most part, it's serene and relaxing with a slow current. A great way to spend the day outdoors.

We dropped in at ChesLen Preserve, Pennsylvania -- five of us, and a dog named Sunshine -- and anticipated a six-hour paddle downstream to the landing point at Thompson's Bridge in Delaware.

Embedded deep within the Brandywine Valley, the river meanders south through secluded areas including some parks and wildlife preserves. With the exception of some private houses scattered along the river and some public park space, there aren't many options for an early departure. In other words, once you drop in, you're waterbound until you reach the landing point. 

The first leg of the trip was seamless and carefree. We floated, paddled, navigated around felled trees, rocks, and saw wildlife. Soothing jazz floated up from our portable speaker and permeated with the sing song of birds nestled within the trees. Save for one unexpected capsize (I won't name names) and getting stuck on the shallow parts of the river a few times (oh, that was definitely me), the trip was going smoothly.

About three hours in, my intuition started to kick in. I'd kayaked down the Brandywine once before, and had dropped in at Lenape Park which is further downstream than ChesLen. That day it'd taken me a solid four hours to reach Thompson's Bridge -- and we hadn't even passed Lenape yet. That's when we discovered we might've miscalculated our trip length...

Instead of six hours on the water, we realized we were facing a solid eight hours.

Since we hadn't dropped in until noon that day, we were facing the possibility of having to finish out the river near or after dusk. Kayaking in the dark? Yeah, no thanks. 

The second leg of the trip was not so carefree. Fatigued and waterlogged, we were ready to get out of the water. The enchantment of the river had lifted, and what lay before us was the stark realization that we had at least an hour more of rowing to go. At this point, I took out my phone to see if I had signal and could pick up where we were located on the creek. 

We were still in PA and hadn't crossed into Delaware yet. With the risk of losing our light,  we decided to give a hard push towards the landing point. Things became increasingly difficult as neared the end of the trip. Muscle fatigue started to set in, and combined with the frustration of what felt like navigating a never-ending river, some mental fatigue began to set in as well.

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At one point, we considered getting out by a nearby bridge and calling an Uber so that one of us could get the van and drive back to pick up the rest of the crew. When the option of an Uber was ruled out (no phone service) we opted to continue on. Eventually we reached the landing point in Delaware...around 8 o'clock. We had made it. 

Despite the unexpected extra hours on the river, I got out feeling rejuvenated. I was badly sunburned, tired, and waterlogged, but felt accomplished. Enduring the experience with good friends helped alleviate the frustrations of the day, too. After the trip, we piled into the van -- all five of us and the kayaks -- and headed home.


One of the reasons why I wanted to share the account of this kayak trip was because it reminds me so much of navigating a life in the arts (or life in general for that matter). After the trip, I couldn't help but reflect on how the challenges of the day mirrored so many of the challenges I've faced trying to navigate a career in the arts.

Pursuing the arts (writing, acting, film, music, dance, art, the list goes on...) can mean different things to different people. For some, it's chasing a dream of fame and fortune, for others it's avoiding the cubicle, and still for others, it's simply about following a passion or mastering a craft. I think that no matter what the motivation, those who choose to pursue a life in the arts will encounter challenges similar to what we faced on the Brandywine last Saturday.

Basically what I'm saying is...

Living a creative life can sometimes feel like you're stuck in a kayak down a River for eight hours.

If you're feeling that way, here are a few things I learned from the kayak trip that might help you on your creative journey.

Commit to it, fully.

Like I mentioned above, when you drop in on the Brandywine you're on water until you get to the landing point. Deciding to pursue the arts also requires this mindset. Understand and accept that you're going to be on a long journey. In other words, it's a marathon, not a sprint. There will be easy days, there will be hard days, and some days you'll just get stuck. No matter what happens though, you have to push through. Stay focused on your goals and stay committed.

Adapt to your circumstances.

Rocks, rapids, still water, dams...these are just a few of elements the we faced on the water. Each required us to adapt to our surroundings so that we could continue moving forward. Make sure that you stay aware of your circumstances so you can adapt and move forward towards your goals. Each challenge you face in your career is an opportunity for growth. Hitting rapids? Stay sharp. Stuck on a shallow riverbed? Reassess and if you have to, get out, grab your boat, and get back in the water.

If you have to, take a break.

Rest is so important. There's no shame in taking a break if you have to. Whether it's a physical break, or even just a mental break from your work. Take it. There's no better way to reset and refocus than through rest.

Understand that the way through isn't always the obvious way.

When we came upon the dam in the river, we had to assess the best way to cross over it with our kayaks. This required us to slow down, survey the area, and make a decision as to which way we were going to go. A more experienced kayaker may have just taken on the dam and gone straight over, but we knew that wasn't for us. We ended up pulling off to the side and transferring the kayaks by way of the bank. We got over the dam, but it wasn't the most obvious way. 

This applies to the creative life in so many ways. An arrangement that works for someone else, might not work for you -- and that's okay. Find what works for you so that you can reach your goal. It might not be the most obvious solution, but when you find it you will know it's the right one.

Never give up.

No matter what happens, no matter how frustrated you get, and no matter how much you want to stop -- don't! You have to keep pushing yourself. When we were nearing the end of the kayak trip, we nearly stopped twice to get out early. Ultimately, we had to continue on the water, and it turned out to be for the best. Keep your end goal in mind, and keep moving forward -- no matter what. The journey might take longer than you expect, but you will make it.

I hope this post offers some clarity to anyone who might currently be facing some wild waters on their creative journey. Stay the course, and don't forget to enjoy yourself along the way.

Braving America, and the Brilliance of Brené Brown

Not too long ago, my father asked me: "If we had a Democratic administration today, what would you want to see accomplished?" 

I pondered my thoughts for a bit, and replied with an issue that I consider to be a very important and timely one. It was also the first topic that popped into my head. "I think I'd like to see a stronger commitment to resolving current environmental issues...things like plastic usage, relying less on natural resources like coal, preserving open space...that sort of thing."

My Dad then asked if I thought that issues like those were a responsibility of big government. Again, I weighed my response. I said yes, and explained that I believed that because when left to a free market, something like the environment would be at the mercy of the economy's bottom line and thus, would most likely be a victim of it. However, if government has the ability to regulate the protection of our natural world (through national parks, regulating resources, outlawing pipelines, etc.), then it should.

"I think it's about applying a level of conscious politics to the issues. And..in terms of issues like environmentalism...we know better. Now that we live in an "information age", where we have stats at our fingertips, we know the impact our actions can have on our natural world." I said. 

My Dad, who leans conservative, agreed with me -- to my surprise. 

Typically, when my father and I have political discussions, it can get heated -- fast. We're often on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to issues. While I consider myself moderate, I typically lean liberal. That conversation resolved itself without much conflict, and we found ourselves in accord with one another. 

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This conversation, though brief, reminded me of the subjects explored in Brene Brown's 2017 book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I'm currently halfway through the book, and have found it to be a revelatory exploration into (what I believe to be) one of our current struggles as a society: the balancing act between expressing our own individualism versus the true belongingness that comes with being part of a community.

I've come to believe that over the last 20 years, due to the technology boom combined with social media, we've found ourselves in a bit of a social and emotional impasse. We are connected to each other, without truly being connected. I'm talking about authentic, face-to-face connection whereby we are able to face conflict without hiding behind a screen, or leave the house each day without feeling obligated to document and curate our own public image. I for one have struggled with both of the habits mentioned above.

Maybe I'm referring to our inability to be present; or simply, to just be. But, I think it goes deeper than that.

I'm no expert however, simply an observer. Brown, an actual expert, touches on these issues and more in her book. She cites the 2016 election as a prime example (at least in the context of politics), and the extreme divisiveness that emerged from and during it. She writes: 

"According to Bishop, in 1976 less than 25 percent of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide. In other words, we lived next door to, and attended school and worshiped with, people who held different beliefs than ours. We were ideologically diverse. In contrast, in 2016, 80 percent of U.S. counties gave either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton a landslide victory. Most of us no longer live near people who are all that different from us in terms of political and social beliefs."

I found these statistics to be fascinating, more so because it seems like nowadays most of our political differences and conflicts are aired out in superficial forums like the Internet (beware the comment sections!) instead of face to face with each other. Now, thanks to the convenience of our phones, we no longer have to discuss these issues with each other in public spaces; because of this, we're suffering a lack of empathy and conflict resolution, and on a larger scale, we're finding ourselves more at odds with each other than ever before. 

More importantly, Brown's book delves deeper beyond conflicting political ideologies. As a social scientist, she specializes in studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, and the book serves to provide a blueprint for the reader so that they can become their authentic self, and in doing so, cultivate stronger, healthier relationships. So you know, it's kind of like self-help, but cooler. 

She lays out four practices of true belonging that encourage vulnerability and discomfort so that we can belong but still stay true to ourselves. I'm not going to break them down (because I want you to read the book), but they're as follows:

  • People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
  • Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.
  • Hold Hands. With Strangers.
  • Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

I wish all of America could read this book right now. As I'm writing this, on Independence Day of all days, my mind has drifted off to the current events plaguing our nation today... to the family separations happening at the border...to the episode of VICE I watched last night that documents youth incarceration...to the school shootings waged by lone gunmen who often suffer from mental illness and faced ostracization from their classmates...to the decades of Native American genocide and neglect retold in Ken Burn's documentary The West, which I've been watching on and off for the last month. It goes without saying, that for someone like me who's deeply empathetic, its a strange year to be celebrating life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In each instance mentioned above, there runs a vein of commonalities: separation and removal. Separation from family, separation from culture. Removal from country, removal of homeland. All in the name of what? Power? Is this the America we've cultivated? In a country founded through separation, maybe it is.

The question above begets its own post, so I'll save my reflection on that for another day, but I can't help but see the patterns between what Brown writes about in her book and the conflicts we're facing in America today. 

I think in terms of the American experience, this book is a vivid reflection of the cracks within our current society, and also a roadmap towards self-actualization towards true authenticity and belonging. In a country where we are taught to glorify the individual (look up the cowboy myth and American individualism), its no surprise we now find ourselves well into the 21st century struggling with our collective identity as a country and as citizens.

So, today I encourage you to do two things: read Brene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness, and apply the practices she lays out -- even if its on a small scale. It's an easy read, conversational, and interesting. After reading it, you might find yourself more equipped to endure the next political discussion you find yourself in, whether its with your father or your colleague.

More importantly, you'll find yourself cultivating stronger, more authentic relationships, which I think at the end of the day will all help all of us as we brave the wilderness of our lives, which for some, is simply America itself.

How Slowing Down Can Speed Up What's Important in Life

A little over a week ago, I was en route to New York City with my production partner Hillary Hanak to speak at a Women in Film panel in the Lower East Side. We were invited to host a workshop on how to write and shoot narrative films in virtual reality format.

It was a hot, sticky Friday afternoon, and we had had a busy week of project meetings and day shoots, so we were a little travel weary but excited to connect with filmmakers in New York. We loaded up the VR gear into her car and got ready to leave from Philadelphia.

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We hit the road around 3:00 pm and had to be in the city by 5:30 pm. We anticipated Friday traffic, but weren't too worried about falling behind schedule. We quickly crossed over the Ben Franklin Bridge into New Jersey, and within minutes...everything went awry.

Once into New Jersey, traffic started piling up. With a long drive ahead, we decided to pull off and get some dinner before we got on the NJ Turnpike. The first delicacy we spotted? Good ol' Taco Bell. Never one to turn down a taco, I suggested we pull over and order.

We pulled into the drive thru and placed our order, pulled up to the window, and seconds later, our windshield was enveloped in steam! "Is that coming from my car?" Hillary asked, bewildered. The window attendant gave a hearty, "YUP" and motioned for us to pull off to the row of parking spaces off to the side. 

We jumped out of the car, and Hillary popped the hood.  Steam continued to billow, and I noticed a steady stream of water spraying out from a tiny hose jutting out from the coolant tank. As we tried to figure out what was going on, the Taco Bell employee ran out and handed us our bag of tacos.

There we stood: stranded in a parking lot, with an overheated engine, holding a bag of tacos.

It was a comedy of errors fit for the Shakespearean stage, or you know, an episode of The Office.

In a strange, yet serendipitous, turn of events, an older man who was parked about two spots down, approached us, introduced himself as Fred, and said he was a mechanic. Fred inspected the engine and determined that Hillary's thermostat may be broken and thus the reason for the engine overheating.

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We asked him if he thought we should risk the drive to New York. After a pregnant pause, he gave a solemn "no." He explained that the engine might overheat again, and then we'd really be in trouble. Instead, he advised that we let our engine cool down, add some water to the coolant tank, and hang tight for a little while.

We trudged into the Taco Bell with bag in hand, called our contact in New York and broke the news that we wouldn't be making it to the event. All that rushing around only to be haulted by a faulty engine at a taco joint on the side of the highway.

Once inside, Hillary and I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation, especially since in the year prior we faced the same car troubles in New Jersey -- twice! Once we were marooned after a shoot in northern New Jersey after we needed a tire replacement on the equipment van, and a second time, after we got a flat tire on our way home from Newark airport. Clearly, we don't have the best luck when it comes to driving in New Jersey. 

We sat and considered our options. Ultimately, we decided we had cut it too close with travel time and wouldn't have enough time to make it back to Philly to pick up my car and head up the city. With all of our equipment and the extra driving time, it just wouldn't be worth the rush. Reluctantly, we decided to call it.

So we sat there, and...relaxed.

In a rare moment of reprieve, I asked Hillary, "So, do you want to hang out tonight?" We both laughed. Usually, we are always on the go, working on shoots, planning events, or in this case, trying to make an event, that we rarely have time to just hang out. 

We decided to check out a local blues band playing at a neighborhood bar that night. She called up her boyfriend to let him know that we were heading back to PA, and our plans were set. After a quick walk to a nearby gas station to pick up anti-freeze, and a quick check to determine that her car was road-ready, we got back on the road and headed back over the bridge.

On the drive home, I couldn't stop thinking about the coincidence of each car situation. To some, each case might just look like faulty car maintenance or just plain old bad luck, but I couldn't help but think about the circumstances of each situation and how every time, we were forced to slow down and reassess our plans.

My thoughts drifted back to a quote I used to have taped over my desk in college: 

"God's delays are not God's denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out. Patience is genius." - Comte de Buffon

I can't remember where I found this quote (or frankly, who the Comte de Buffon is) but I've always loved it. I can be a fairly impatient person at times; and, when it comes to my work, I don't like to waste time and I can be rather restless, so these words have always served as a grounding principle for me. More importantly, I love the phrase "God's delays are not God's denials."

Whether you believe in the context of God or not, I think these words ring true. Delay can be a good thing -- if you're willing to embrace it. Delays can force us to slow down and reassess our choices. Maybe all of the rushing around you're doing is at the expense of more important aspects of life. (Self-care, anyone?) Alternatively, delays can also be vehicles for action. Haven't been afforded the opportunity you seek? Create it yourself. 

In the end, a delay is not always a denial -- it is an opportunity for growth. 

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I think for some (myself included), we are so accustomed to rush from place to place, from job to job, or even from high to high, in the pursuit of happiness, success, what-have-you -- that we disregard the joys of life that exist within us and all around us.

So, when these moments of delay occur and require us to slow down, take a moment to reflect -- and remember that the delay you're experiencing is not a denial. It is not a closed door, it is simply a redirection. And if you're willing to follow the new path, you might just find the open door awaiting for you.

That evening, Hillary and I attended the blues show. We sipped on whiskey, we danced, we listened to lyrics of love and loss painted against the crackling notes of an electric guitar. In a moment of spontaneity, Hillary's boyfriend pulled her onto the dance floor for a solo slow dance. In many ways, it was the perfect way to wrap up the week. We reconnected with friends, we let go of the day's frustrations, and we let the summer heat seep in to warm our souls.

It was a much needed night of release that simply reaffirmed the strength of friendship and served as reminder that sometimes, we just need to slow down...so that the important things in life can catch up to us.

June Style Spotlight: Bohemian Dream

I picked up this gorgeous ECI New York bohemian dress from a local resale shop last week and decided to wear it for my Mom's birthday celebration. Her birthday is June 21st -- the summer solstice. Happy Birthday, Mama!

 Dress: ECI New York; Jewelry: Personal collection

Dress: ECI New York; Jewelry: Personal collection

I paired vintage turquoise jewelry and a silver cuff bracelet to create a breezy, ethereal ensemble. I loved the look so much, that I had to show it off. ;)

Boho dresses are the perfect choice when you need a piece that's comfy and casual, but still has a touch of unique styling that sets you apart (if that's what you want). And for curvy girls like me, they provide enough stretch and flow in the fabric that I feel comfortable in the summer heat.

Keep a close eye on the pattern you choose as well. The vertical design on this ECI New York dress created a flattering column that elongated my figure, as patterns often tend to add volume to silhouettes. The long sleeves and v-neckline also compliment my figure in all the right places.

So if you're looking for the perfect boho dress for summer, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Find a pattern that pops. Make sure the color palette compliments your skin tone, and that the pattern design accentuates your figure. I love turquoise, so when I spotted the colors on this dress I knew I had to try it on (and that I had the right accessories to pair with it.)
  • Consider the fabric, neckline, and pattern. These elements can take you from "festival fashionista" to "bohemian beauty". Since I'm tall and curvy, I tend to lean conservative when it comes to dress cuts, mostly because I want a clean, smooth silhouette. If you're looking for a cut-out, or a short, flirty frock -- go for it! 
  • Accessories, Please A bohemian look is nothing without jewelry accessories. To pair the perfect accessories, play off the colors in your dress. Bold statement pieces, dangling earrings, and statement rings are always the way to go.

A Conversation with Christine

When I was a little girl, I regularly visited an elderly couple that lived behind us in our neighborhood. Our backyard contained a small hill that sloped upwards and bordered their yard, and I'd often wander up to sit with them on their back porch.

Somedays there were candy treats, somedays we'd sit inside and watch the rain, and somedays they'd show me the tchotchkes and trinkets adorning their house. And somedays...there was simply silence -- a comfortable solitutde shared by souls on opposite ends of life's spectrum wholly content with one another.

To this day, I can't remember the elderly couple's names or what we talked about, but I do remember the anticipation I felt whenever I saw them sitting there and I realized I had the chance to see them.

Despite what I may forget about the experience, I always remember the feeling I had when visiting. Talking with them enlivened my curiosity and brought laughter to a young girl who was rather timid and shy around her peers. 

Now at 30 years old, I don't spend as much time with older folks as I should. Beyond my grandparents, the conversations I have with our older generation is limited. That is, until very recently. Last week, I had the unexpected joy of sharing a conversation with my friend's mother, Christine.

I was delivering one of my paintings to my colleague Jesse who instructed me to drop it off at her mother's house.  There, I met her mother, Christine.

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Jesse wasn't expected to be home for at least a half hour, so Christine invited me inside to have a chat. I suddenly felt a pang of anxiety as I realized I hadn't had an authentic face-to-face chat with someone in a long, long while (with a relative stranger, at least). We sat down in her front parlor room as the early evening sun began to set. Nestled in two sitting chairs situated across from each other, we started to talk.

We glossed over the subject of the painting I had delivered, a large vibrant canvas image of a floral gypsy woman draped in a bright blue veil, titled "The Blue Dahlia". She said she liked the blue color better than the red-themed painting I had sold to Jesse years ago. I chuckled at her candor. We continued chatting, and I noticed a subtle, woodsy twang in her speech. I asked her if she was from the South.

Christine smiled and told me that she grew up in southern Pennsylvania, and attended a one-room schoolhouse before moving and transferring to a larger, more traditional high school in the town where she lives now. She shared a bit of her family's history, her love of athletics (especially tennis), and how fortunate she felt that Jesse was able to spend so much time with her these days. She glowed when talking about a trip they took together to North Carolina, and how earlier that day, Jesse took her to ride bikes. Riding a three-wheeled bicycle around her neighborhood was the highlight of her day.

As we dove deeper into her background, she touched on more personal aspects of life, too, like losing her husband to bad health, and having to take care of her siblings while her mother suffered from extended periods of illness. All the while, I couldn't help but think of my Nana, who managed to raise five children after my grandfather became a quadriplegic in a car accident in the 1960s. I thought about how resilient both of these women had to be throughout their lives, and the similar optimism that radiated from them.

Time quickly passed, and I checked my phone to realize that I had to leave for a scheduled meeting later that evening. We said our goodbyes, and went on our way. Looking back, if I didn't have that meeting, I know we could have sat talking for a long, long time sharing stories and holding back laughs.

After my conversation with Christine, I couldn't help but reflect on the state of communication in our society today. So many times I find myself competing with phones for people's attention. (I'm guilty of it, too.) We immerse ourselves in social content tailored to keep us interested and yet, there are so many treasures among us, young and old, brimming with stories to tell. Why do we bury ourselves in our phones, when what we seek out is already all around us? 

It's unexpected moments like these that always remind me about what's really important, and that the people in our lives and the memories we share will connect us more than any device ever will. Whether it's on a back porch or in a front parlor, whether with the elderly or the young, I look forward to the next unexpected conversation that sticks with me and teaches me a little bit about life along the way.

As far as my new friend, I don't know when I'll see Christine again, but I look forward to our next conversation.

 

Capturing 360 VR of the Clarion Quartet

Today’s shoot was incredibly moving. We traveled to Pittsburgh where we shot 360 footage of the Clarion Quartet, a string quartet that plays music by composers who were suppressed by the Nazis during WW2. Today they played a beautiful piece by Viktor Ullmann, a Czech composer who was captured and sent to the camps in 1942. He continued to write compositions while in the Theresienstadt camp, and many of his pieces were smuggled out and preserved before his death at Auschwitz in 1944.

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To make this experience even more significant, we shot the video in a renovated 19th century building called The Pump House. This building was the site of the first labor revolt and a subsequent battle during the height of America's great Industrial Revolution in the 1890s. The Battle of Homestead resulted in numerous deaths of employed laborers over wage disputes.

As the sounds of the strings reverberated off the walls of the old Pump House building, I couldn't help but think (in between footage editing, of course) about the poignant juxtaposition of Viktor Ullman's music being played a site where men lost their lives battling for labor rights.

While the victims of the Holocaust and the American laborers experiences are far from similar, they were both groups who had to work tirelessly to enhance another man's vision. The Holocaust victims in the labor camps, and the steel worker in the mills. It's beautiful to know that their stories were intertwined and resurrected, even for one day, through art.

A Day on the Chesapeake

I stole away to the Chesapeake today to visit the water town I used to go to with my grandparents in the summer as a kid: Oxford, Maryland located on the Choptank River and near St. Michaels, MD.

 On the water in St. Michaels

On the water in St. Michaels

Oxford is a sleepy old fishing town that still holds the mystic charm of small town America. White picket fences line quiet, gravel-laden roads complimenting a medley of Victorian and colonial houses. Townspeople mix in with watermen: lawyer and bankers relaxing in their vacation homes among crabbers and fishermen who store their skiffs in marinas tucked around the nearest bend.

 The Oxford Market

The Oxford Market

Here, time seems to stand still along the shores of the Choptank River. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 Spotted in Royal Oak en route to St. Michaels

Spotted in Royal Oak en route to St. Michaels

Welcome to The Wildflower!

Hi everyone! Welcome to The Wildflower, a lifestyle blog for the curious and creative.

Wildflowers are defined as "a flower that grows in natural places without being planted by people". They are daring yet delicate; firmly planted, and yet, seem so free, often popping up across fields and our backyards at random. And as the definition states above, they grow on their own terms.

I'm very much a wildflower. At times, I am daring, but I am very much a delicate soul; I am rooted, yet yearning to roam free. I'm a writer, an artist, a filmmaker...who is figuring out how to carve out a sustainable creative life as I go. And really, aren't we all?

My hope for this blog is that it will become a place for inspiration. Here, I'll share updates on my creative projects, share my latest obsessions in food, fashion, and music, and stories from my travels. Like the wildflower, we'll root ourselves in the dirt of life, and roam free from time to time.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out The Wildflower! I'm looking forward to seeing how this little experiment grows!

-Kelly