Post-Traveling Thoughts

It has now been a few weeks since I have been home from my trip to Europe and I have been trying my best to transition back into my crazy, American lifestyle. For some, transitioning back from a major traveling experience is no big deal. They can pick up where they left off. For me, on the other hand, it hasn’t been as easy. After the very few times I have been out of the country, I realized I have a hard time and am sensitive to the shift of cultures and lifestyles. The good thing about this is that it forces me to deeply reflect on the experiences I had, where I am at now, and where I am moving forward. Another reason why this transition has been so difficult is because of the challenges I stumbled upon and how they have changed my outlook and perspective on life. That being said, and without going into those stories, I will say I am incredibly grateful I had an opportunity to figure out and manage some difficult things while being on my own for five weeks. If it weren’t for this time away and my self-dependence, I would not feel as grounded, centered, and surer of who I am.

To sum up my trip, I traveled to London, Malaga (Spain), Valencia (Spain), and Prague. I began my trip in London seeing a friend of mine who was studying for the past semester. We visited the National Gallery, China Town, Camden Market, the Sky Garden, and ate outstanding food. My time here was short, but it was wonderful to be back for my second time. From London, we traveled to Malaga, Spain to visit another friend who has been studying. We soaked up the sun at the beach, jumped into the Mediterranean Sea, went paddleboarding, saw many street art performances, and ate tapas, tapas, and even more tapas. This, too, was a short trip and the fun only lasted a few days. I then journeyed via train to Valencia, Spain where I stayed with a host family. During my time here I interned with Villarreal CF (professional Spanish futbol team), took Spanish classes, visited Spain’s voted most beautiful city (Albarracin), visited the famous Ciudad de las Artes y Las Ciencias, and made some memorable friendships. For my final destination, I flew to Prague to visit another friend that moved there. We roamed the city, visited the Prague Castle, spent time at the river, ate the best gelato of my life, traveled to a city outside of Prague (Karlovy Vary), watched a Czech rap show, and watched the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

I think it is important to acknowledge that traveling isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, it doesn’t always live up to your romanticized expectations, and it is okay to struggle on such a journey. It was the people I met along my trip that helped support me through my days and challenges. From the people I met for an hour on a train and will never see again to the people I met that I now call my best friends. Life is definitely too short to get stuck in our bad experiences and let them dictate how our life moving forward will be. It has taken me almost three weeks since arriving back to the United States to process everything I experienced in five weeks and I think I will continue to process for a while. I am grateful for the time I had, the friends I got to see, the friends I got to meet, and all the beautiful cities I got to visit along the way. Now it’s time to take the lessons I learned and put it towards my final year in college and onward.

May’s Local Artist

This month’s local artist feature is the beautiful K McClendon. Born and raised in Illinois, K has taken the Minnesota poetry scene by their hands. They describe themself as queer, black, trans, fat, proud, mentally ill poet. It is all of these experiences from their intersecting identities that give them the unique outlook and perspective on today’s modern world. K says, “I am obsessed with poetry, in that it’s the only way for me to be able to express these complex identities and make people who understand feel seen and to educate people who don’t experience the same things.”

Growing up, they watched several YouTube videos of Button Poetry, a Saint Paul based publishing company. Button Poetry uploads poems nearly every day and K says they watched these videos religiously in high school, making it their dream to be on Button Poetry. In just a handful of years, this dream turned into a reality now having over 30,000 views on Button Poetry’s Youtube channel.

K and I met last year because we both attend Hamline University and currently share the Late Night Event Programming position on campus. They are studying Creative Writing and Psychology in hopes to get their MFA and become a professor. It has been an honor and a joy to work with K McClendon this year. Because of their hard work ethic and commitment to maintaining their passions on campus, K just received the Rising Star Award from Hamline’s Student Activities & Leadership Development. This is a huge deal and incredibly well deserved.

K’s successes are both all over Hamline’s campus and out in the community as well. Last June they traveled to the 2018 Rustbelt in Detroit with the Button Poetry Twin Cities team. In October 2018 they Represented the Twin Cities in San Diego at the Individual World Poetry Slam. Their poem Protest was published in the 2018 True Art Speaks anthology and they have work forthcoming in Err Magazine. Most recently, K and I worked in a short project together with other local artists that you can check out here.

Interested in more of K’s work? Support local artists of color! Look below for ways to get in touch with them!

Facebook: Kay McClendon. “Though my name appears elsewhere as just K. Facebook is transphobic.” (Yes!)

Instagram: @iamtheprotestpoem

Twitter: @iamtheprotestp1

The Art of Hosting

There is something incredibly artistic about hosting a gathering for a group of people. Whether it is in your own home or a public space, it truly is an art, rather, a socially engaged art craft. This has been a topic we have been discussing in our Art for Social Change class in the last few weeks. On Tuesday, we held our first of three class dinners at our professor Marcus Young’s home. The goal for this dinner was to create a menu for what we wanted to cook and serve everyone, what activities and conversations we wanted to bring to the table, what we wanted our theme for the evening to be, and how we were going to incorporate our magnificent guest, Eric Avery, into our few hours together. In a group of three, Sophie, Marcus, and myself, we managed to successfully put together our class’s first ever dinner!

Planning a dinner gathering takes a lot of prep work, even weeks in advance. Brainstorming what everyone can eat, how we will fill our 2:00-7:00 PM time frame, and even how we want the space of the home to be rearranged prior to everyone’s arrival are all important details when planning such an intimate event. Sophie, Marcus and I decided to go with the theme of circles for our evening. This included most of the dinner items we ate being circular, everyone would eat and gather in a circle, we would create bracelets to signify a circle, and we even ended our evening with an inspirational quote about a circle.

“The most powerful thing we can do is get involved locally. Help our local community and become community activists in our own smaller circle.” -Gavin Creel

Our evening started with doing some community building exercises that involved a theatre game I learned at my internship, Washburn Black Box Acting Program, and a well-known ice breaker formally known as concentric circles. This was an opportunity to open up in a goofy way and then bring it back to a deeper scale. All of these activities were done in a standing or sitting circle. Some questions we discussed in pairs were, “What is a topic you wish you knew more about?”, “Which artist that we have learned about do you relate to most?”, and “If we could have anyone talk to our class, who do you wish that could be?”.

We transitioned our class to Art for Social Change students Cedar, Hope, and Sophia giving their presentations on artists and projects associated with their internship sites In The Heart of the Beast, Pangea World Theatre, and East Side Freedom Library. This is an assignment we will continue with the rest of our class throughout our two future dinners. It offers an opportunity to learn more about each of our internships and artists involved in our local communities.

After presentations, we transitioned to the highlight of the evening, dinner. Sophie, Marcus, and myself prepared an array of delicious bite-sized foods. This included tomato basil mozzarella bites, stuffed mushrooms, marinated carrots, stir-fry broccoli, potatoes with cream cheese and goat cheese, apples/pecans covered in brie cheese, and nutella covered bananas. Needless to say, it was a total success. Practicing the art of hosting, we served each dish individually to each person, one by one, as we sat in our circle. By this time, our guest for the evening, Eric F. Avery, was able to join and eat with us.

Eric wrote a powerful, heartfelt letter about coming to terms with art. While I could dive into the letter and discuss the important takeaways, I am going to discuss what came up in conversation after dinner with Eric.

Sophie and I were in the kitchen cooking when the rest of the students had a few minutes of an opportunity to get to know Eric briefly. When we returned, Sophie asked them if she could ask them a question. “Who is your role model?”, she asked. Eric pondered this for a few minutes and returned with the most truthful and honest answer they could give. “I don’t think your question applies to me,” they said. They talked about how there has never been one specific person that they felt like they wanted to model their life after or look up to, because the answer changes every day. This set the honest and powerful tone for the remainder of our time together.

We began discussing working for a field that is exploitative and thinking about how to fix it. Do you take a step in the field to “fix” it or do you “fix” it from the outside? An example would be the education system in the United States. Do we become apart of and work for the U.S. school system to break down the exploitation, white supremacy, and systematic oppression? Or, do we fix these issues by working on the outside of this field? How are we creating this world that we want to live in? Eric said they want to “make a world for me because so often there hasn’t been a place in this world for me.”

This conversation progressed into the topic of creative practice. Eric continued to talk about how creative practice can be a vehicle for our future desires and dreams. The evolution of creation can make so much more possible. The point they made that inspired me the most was that we can take our creative practice and use it anywhere. It takes creative practice to become a lawyer just as much as it does to become an artist. It takes creative practice to become a doctor just as much as it does to become a middle school teacher. “Teach because that is going to make you a better learner. Learn because that is going to make you a better teacher,” Eric preached to us. It takes creative practice to work in any field just as much as it does to simply live your everyday life. “Always have a creative practice no matter what you do,” were Marcus’s final words to end our delightful and inspiring class dinner. And that, my friends, is how you do the art of hosting.

March’s Local Artist

This month’s local artist feature is Jasmine Marie. Her journey started back in February of 2017 when she studied abroad in Austria. Here, she got to escape the noisy city back home and solidify what it is she wanted to do. Being the old soul she is, she grew up always reading, coloring, or investing herself in nature. She says that “as a photographer, traveling halfway across the world was the best thing I could think of for exponential growth”.

In that same year, Jasmine traveled to 10 countries (including the Czech Republic). She lived out of her backpack, created a celestial photography magazine, adventured to tall cliffs and Munich beer fest, and road tripped from country to country in a Euro-van.

In the fall of 2018, Jasmine received information about teaching English as a foreign language at The Language House. This seemed impossible to leave Minnesota at the time because all of the client work she had obtained over the years. She learned that it would be possible for her to work remotely from anywhere in the world after receiving her TEFL certification. How could she not take the opportunity to teach, travel, learn, and impact others around the world?

Jasmine is currently in Prague where she received her TEFL certification and works for an online teaching company right from her phone called PalFish and meet with three private 1-1 students. Not only is she able to work on her freelance projects but also invest in her art as well. Jasmine’s advice is simple. “Never ever stop chasing what makes you feel most alive—and if traveling abroad and seeing the world is one of those things that makes you feel raw/visceral/organic, then inhale and split the hem that separates you from your dreams.”

If you are interested in connecting with or hiring Jasmine, you can follow her social media platforms below.

Facebook Personal:
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February’s Local Artist

The importance of acknowledging local artist who may not have a big enough platform to showcase their own work is essential to community building and friendship participation points. I feel the most grateful and fortunate to a) not only have a platform (this blog) to promote these artists but also b) to call these artists my friends, peers, and family. With that being said, it seemed the most suitable to have my first local artist of the month be someone I do consider blood family.

Alexandra Spirov is a South Minneapolis based sister, artist, and newly certified yoga instructor. Her work, involving painting, watercolors, pen to paper, and many more beautiful forms of art, collides the abstract mind with a visualized reality making her work unique. Her style is her style. Unlike any other artist I know, she has a keen way of making her pieces look like it belongs to one portfolio with a similar theme. That theme is indescribable, but once you see her work, you will then get the idea. Not only her impeccable skills with visual arts but her writing is absolutely superb as well. This led her, years back, to write and illustrate a children’s book. Looking for a special homemade gift or creative book of painted art for your Pottery Barn coffee table? Alex is just the gal for you to connect with. Her work has been featured in local coffee shops around the Twin Cities and you can follow her journey through her Instagram account @big.als.ship.

How Could You Celebrate February Fourteenth?

Like many annual holidays, we circle back to the day of romance we call Valentine’s Day that takes place in the United States and in other world locations. The associations include, what I like to call, the three C’s: Cupid, Chocolate, and Consumerism (Of course there are many more, but it would ruin my alliteration). Historically, Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine’s Day, is originated from a religious, Christian background. If you are now realizing you have no idea what this religious holiday is about, you can click here to learn more. While the history of February 14th is not why I am here to write to whoever stumbles here, you can educate yourself if you ever so desire. Why am I writing about Valentine’s Day? Why do I feel inclined?

The United States does a great job of making holidays, events, emotions, etc, consumerized where we think we need to fall in love, have a “bae”, and be happily in some sort of romantic relationship. Valentine’s Day, to me, feels like only certain people can participate in these twenty-four hours. It is marketed towards the people who do have a romantic partner, who are married, who are trying to confess their love to a special someone, and to the people that have a great amount of self-love for themselves. Honestly, it is absolutely genius. Genius in a humbling way to bring people together through love. Genius in a devious way to have one goal, which is to make money off of bringing people together through love. Congratulations to the people that have something to celebrate today. In fact, we all should have something to celebrate. Single, taken, or complicated. We all have something or someone to love. But why dramatically romanticize a specific day? What does this holiday mean for those who got their heartbroken two weeks ago, who just had a loved one pass away in the last year, who battles every single day to love themselves? It may be a holiday people want to avoid, ignore, pretend like they forgot is today.

Let’s make this more meaningful. Don’t get me wrong. Love is absolutely meaningful and can even go beyond making that a huge understatement. What I should say is, let’s stop romanticizing this day and letting consumerism ideas dictate our levels of love to show someone. I provided four brief tools that anyone can use to celebrate Valentine’s Day despite your current status and without romanticizing the day.

  1. Let this be a day of, first, loving yourself. What can you do today that celebrates love, gratitude, and care towards your own self? While everyone is on different levels of the self-love journey, do what you can with what you have. That is enough.
  2. Next, who are the people in your life that show love to you? Not who you show love to. Although, they can be the same. Odds are, you show fewer love actions, both verbally and nonverbally, to the people that you know love you because you either have to or because you don’t know anything different besides not loving them. Thank them for loving you. If you are like any normal human like I am, having someone love you is not an easy challenge for them. But they are choosing to do it and should be acknowledged.
  3. Who are the people in your inner circle you love? What are ways you can show your love towards them without spending money? Pro tip… don’t let Valentine’s Day be the one single day out of the year you decide to do something special for those you love. But since it is Valentine’s Day, you might as well join the trend train everyone is aboard on. Writing a post-it note, warming up their car on this cold winter day, sitting down and asking them about their day without intervening, and the list goes on.
  4. Paying attention to love languages. If you are unfamiliar with love languages or what yours is, there are five different ones: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, receiving gifts. I am a firm believer that you can interact with others through your love language without it being romantic. It is simply another way to connect with others. Try to get creative. All five are self-explanatory but can be acted upon in hundreds of different ways.

Words of Affirmation: Shoot someone a text with giving a reason why you are grateful for them.

Physical Touch: Give your best friend or sibling a massage or a big hug.

Acts of Service: Offer to give someone you love a ride to work, to get groceries, to go out.

Quality Time: Turn your phone on silent and spend uninterrupted time with someone important to you.

Receiving Gifts: Buy your person a coffee, Venmo them $5 for a Valentine’s drink, or fill their car with gas.

All of these are so simple and do not pertain only for February 14th. Be mindful of the people in your life. Be mindful of the love you have for them and more importantly for yourself. Make Valentine’s Day like any other day. Choose to celebrate your life and your love each morning you wake up.

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