The Filters We Put on Our Worlds

EVERYONE KNOWS I TAKE A MILLION PHOTOGRAPHS. My friends know this. My sisters know it. Even I find myself feeling sheepish sometimes when I whip out my phone or even camera and ask someone, “Hey, do you mind if I take a picture of you real quick?” Usually people love it, but sometimes it still feels a little awkward and I find myself asking, “Am I just doing this for Instagram? Or for Facebook? Do I only want this photo so I can write up something great about it later and get a ton of likes?”

I was having a conversation with my sister Hannah the other day and she made the comment, “It’s funny how all of us see the same world, but our Instagram feeds show you just how differently we all perceive it.”

That idea made me stop and think. IT’S SO TRUE, ISN’T IT? You have the VSCO-user version of the world, the fashion-blogger version of the world, the crappy-filters-yet-still-sometimes-cute-photos version of the world, and the versions entirely in Russian (or Spanish), that you can’t really understand but still think are really cool. We put so much effort into making our lives fit the version of the world we want to portray, that sometimes we really do find ourselves snapping photos just because they’ll look good on our feeds, or posting things just because we know people will “like” them.

I was walking with another friend the other night who made the comment that if you look at my Instagram feed, my life seems so perfect. It’s only when you read my blog that you realize it’s not. Once again, I stopped and frowned. Am I only taking pictures of beautiful things because I know it’s what will be likeable, not because it’s what will be real?

AM I FILTERING MY WORLD TO APPEAL TO THE MASSES, INSTEAD OF TELLING THE HARD, TRUE STORIES OF MY LIFE?

This morning, I was going through old SD cards of photos I’d never posted or shared anywhere, re-living memories and days and conversations. I found these pictures from a day I spent with my cousin Rena last week. She drove up to visit me from Virginia Beach and we rode into the city. It was warm and sunny and my cheeks and nose turned pink. We found a path in the woods that led to a bridge with kind graffiti scrawled everywhere and we walked across it and took pictures and felt like kids together again. We grew up side by side, and we have all the same memories. So there was something beautiful about being here, in this green place, making new memories together.

I DIDN’T TAKE A MILLION PHOTOS. Maybe just a dozen. And I didn’t go home and edit them all right away either. Most of them just sat there, waiting for the right time and the right filter to be seen.

But as I looked through them today, I wasn’t thinking about the editing style or the composition or the way I was presenting my life to the world through these pictures. Honestly, I didn’t care what anyone thought about their aestheticism. I looked at them and just saw me and Rena and the words she scribbled on the bridge and the poem we found hanging in the trees and the kid we passed running down the path. It was a good day, and now it won’t ever be forgotten. Little pieces of it have been scooped into pixels and preserved just for us, so that we can always look back and remember.

THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED FILTERS. I’m not saying that they’re bad, with their tints and colors and vintage appeal. But what this world needs even more than VSCO is honesty. It needs real, broken, honest stories. These photos aren’t important because they’re pretty. They’re important because they happened. And I think the real thing that makes everyone’s streams different is that, in spite of the fact we live in the same world and see the same things, we really do perceive it differently. We all have different scars and stories. We all feel a moment in a different way. And, at the end of the day, it’s the photos that reflect those differences that deserve the most “likes”. That deserve the most conversation. That deserve the moments that are slowed down and remembered and cherished.

Don’t just take pictures because they’re pretty.

CAPTURE MOMENTS BECAUSE THEY’RE IMPORTANT.

-Rachel

Gaps + Years

Today has felt long and slow and I’ve been very sleepy and warm. I went and walked in the sun with my friend Clair for a couple hours then came home and climbed into bed and slept. I have some adventures with my cousin planned for tomorrow and lots of work to do tonight, but right now I’m being quiet. Thinking.

Next month marks two years since graduating high school. I remember throwing a big party for one hundred of my closest friends and eating lots of pie and feeling very “on the cusp” about a lot of things. The evening of my party was cool, which was unusual for May in Virginia, and we stayed out until it was very late and the woods were full of fireflies.

I never decided to take a gap year. I definitely never intended to take two. Graduating high school was just another bead in a necklace of events, stringing together my life out of nights and moments and stories. At the time, my life was crazy and I didn’t have time to think about the future or wonder about the things happening in the “now”. I just was. I just did. Things just happened. And somehow two years passed.

I’m putting down a deposit next week for a school I have no idea if I can actually attend this fall. There’s issues of finances and moving and continuing to grow and learn I have to wade through, but right now this just feels right. However, thinking about the change of life seasons and eight hundred mile move makes the gaps of these years seem bigger and more loosely stitched, for some reason. I was always so focused on getting through the now that I couldn’t see the things that were happening inside me.

When I graduated high school I was going through a painful “breakup” with one of my best friends. This girl who I’d known for several years had said things to hurt me, and I’d hurt her back, and we’d both retreated to lick our wounds without ever seeking to help each other. My heart felt stretched and brittle. I was shaken a bit in who I was, in who I wanted to be. There was a boy (of course), but I knew then just like I know now that it wasn’t right. May of 2013 ended with the curtain falling on a messy and disorganized stage. No one was saying their lines right. The scenes were a little disorienting. I guess it was the symbolic sign for a new act, but at the time I just felt tired.

That summer I went to Portland for the first time, and I think that changed my life in a lot of ways. The world stretched a little bit more. I’d traveled before, to Seattle and St. Louis and Cincinnati and New York, but this was my first extended time away from home. For three weeks I slept in Elaini’s basement and ate potato salad and drove through the countryside and licked the ice cream off of cones. We laughed, we shared, we annoyed each other, and we grew even closer together. For the first time, my heart felt really entwined to a place and a time. I associate real, concrete feelings to my memories of that summer. It was, in a word, perfect.

I also met another boy there who felt so much more right. I came home in a bubble, talking to this guy and talking to Elaini and talking to my parents and just feeling so excited and good about life in general. I sent so many happy texts and celebrated my eighteenth birthday in style and grabbed coffee with friends (including Tim, who was a really good “just friend” at the time), and felt grown up and joyful. It didn’t feel like a “Gap Year”. Gaps make me think of holes and pits, and that year felt very full. I was eighteen, I was in “like”, I was successful, and I was content.

Then Asia happened. 

I never intended to go to Thailand. Never expected to go overseas for more than a few weeks. In fact, the missions trip I applied to was a four-week media internship in England and Scotland–both nice, clean, English-speaking places. But God acted like God and I got shipped to South East Asia for four months and my world crumbled around the edges. Things fell through with “in like” boy and I found out he had a girlfriend. I didn’t get along with my new roommate. I became distanced from my family. But I also had adventures. I made new friends. I was pushed away and then pulled closer by my roommate. I fell “in like” with Tim. Things just kind of shifted.

And now, in spring of 2015, my life feels weird all over again. This is the last summer in this season, God willing. Things will change yet again in the fall. I’ll move and make new friends and learn new things and pencil in new chapters in my story, smudged with lead and wet from tears around the corners.

What if things had happened differently? What if I’d stayed home two summers ago and written my third book then? What if Portland guy had kept pursuing and I had kept accepting and my heart was in a different place? What if I’d stayed home that Saturday my computer broke down two Junes ago and never actually talked to Tim? What if he’d never asked for my number? What if I’d gone to England instead of Thailand? What if I’d had a different roommate? What if I came home and everything was wrong? Or what if nothing had ever changed at all?

Here’s the thing about gap years: they’re definitely not full of gaps. They’re stuffed. Your heart gets squished and bruised and stretched and stitched and it learns to pulse out of rhythm. There is no order. No string of events lining up the perfect story or the ideal experience. Sometimes you don’t know what the next step is when your foot’s already in the air. Just one day, one conversation, one phone call, one moment can change everything. And you find yourself thinking, “Wow, if just that one conversation had gone differently, my life might not be like this.” Or “And to think if I had just said no to that one thing, I might be somewhere completely different today.”

I don’t know how the people who don’t believe in a higher power live with this. It’s heavy and wondrous to realize that even these “in between” years are divinely orchestrated right down to the time and place and word.

Do I regret taking a gap year–or two–in between high school and college? No. No, no, no, no, no. Do I regret the late nights, the Skype calls, the airports, the fried rice, the tears, the strain, the waiting? Never.

No matter what I’m doing in my life, I’m definitely not in a gap. My life has no gaps. It has only tiny beads and big beads and oddly shaped in-between beads. Even the waiting period is still a period. It still consists of times and beats and measures.

I don’t write here very often anymore, but I had to share my thoughts on this tonight.

-Rachel

Things

things i shout in my ears

i. your words aren’t good enough

ii. they aren’t strong enough

iii. they aren’t deep enough

iv. (i.e. they don’t matter)

 

things i write on my skin

i. your life isn’t great enough

ii. it also isn’t hard enough

iii. and you don’t have enough adventures

iv. (i.e. you have nothing to share)

 

I write boring things on white screens and I cram too many words together. I pick and re-pick the scabs of my wounds until there’s blood on the page and the story there is gone. I’m too depressing. Or, I’m too upbeat. Days go by and nothing comes out and I huddle in my dry spots and don’t want to share my thoughts. Then the rain comes and they gush out too much, too heavy, too cold.

I have more things to write for me, for you, for us. Give me patience and I’ll share them soon.

-Rachel

You Gave Me Q’s and I Gave You A’s

I’ve been too busy to blog lately but I felt really guilty about this last night and asked all of you via social media to send me some questions for a quick Q&A post. So thanks for helping me get something together!

*

Do you prefer the cookie part of the Oreo? Or the cream?

The cream, the cream, always the cream. People who don’t lick the cream out first weird me out.

How did you meet your boyfriend?

Awww, I love talking about Tim! Hmm… Well I think I’ll just blog the whole story sometime and save a lot of the details for that, but I will tell you the bare details! We actually met two years ago when his mom hired me to take his senior pictures right before high school graduation. Crazy right? We had a mutual friend who recommended my business. So the first day I met him was kind of awkward because I was taking his pictures the whole time! I still have them. Wanna see one? (I remember thinking he was pretty cute but he apparently didn’t think twice about me)

What was the original inspiration for each of your novels?

Both were inspired by stuff that was going on in my life at the time. I started writing Interrupted shortly after my uncle passed away from a brain tumor and it held a lot of the emotions I was wading through at the time. And I got the idea for Chasing Jupiter after spending time with an autistic boy who went to my church. Both stories are obviously fictional and a lot of the material came from my imagination, but I definitely felt a personal connection to characters in both stories.

Do you have a favorite poet?

For the last few years it’s been Frank O’Hara. Especially this poem and this one. But I also really love Mary Oliver, Margaret Atwood, and so many other random poets I’ve stumbled across over the years. And I’ll always have a soft spot for Emily Dickinson, of course.

What are some important parts of developing characters in books/stories?

Remembering to keep your characters first is important. Don’t be so focused on the plot that you forget to really search and understand what your characters are going through. Also avoid cliches as much as possible. Don’t let all your characters be so predictable that people lose interest in them. I personally just try to write about real, quirky, interesting people who have honest struggles and victories. I hope that my readers get that from my stories!

How do you go about writing a book?

A chapter at a time? I know that sounds cliched, but that’s honestly the only way it can be done. It’s in the daily grind. The getting up and writing and adding more words each day and week and month. Eventually, if you keep it up, it becomes a book!

What would be your perfect meal? (appetizer, entree, and dessert)

My perfect meal is one that my boyfriend and I love so much we’ve gone and gotten it several times already. Go to Bonefish Grill, order an appetizer of Bang Bang Shrimp and a lobster grilled cheese sandwich (with soup and a little vinaigrette salad). Then go find free chocolate or ice cream from some parents or grandparents who always have a pantry and freezer full of dessert. Voila! The perfect meal!

Have you ever NOT been super cool + awesome?

I was homeschooled. Cool + awesome isn’t a level humanly possible for me to achieve. However, there was definitely a time when my uncoolness was at its optimum level and I leave the below photo for you as proof. (Actually, I leave this whole post as proof)

What do you not love?

I don’t love Sherlock or Doctor Who or Marvel or the Hobbit trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia or flip-flops or roller coasters or a million other things teenage girls are supposed to love. I just don’t get it. Any of it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Nicole Krauss, Katherine Paterson, Ernest Hemingway, N. D. Wilson, Ann Voskamp, John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury…. I have a lot of respect for Shannon Hale too and everything she’s doing to promote female writers. And there are several bloggers who I admire, such as Kristin Morris!

What are a few of your favorite Bible verses?

Galatians 6:14 is a verse I use to sign all my books: “But may it never be that I would boast, except through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” It reminds me to never let people praise me for the stuff I’ve done, because all I have and all I am is Christ!

How do you create balances in your life/make time for everything in your schedule?

This is tricky. Right now I’m working two part-time jobs (at a French bakery and a Kate Spade outlet store), mentoring four writing students, writing free-lance for Local Wolves Magazine, processing photos and preparing for photographing two weddings, entering scholarship essay contests to help pay for school next year, and working on Book #3. At the same time. Sometimes I go to sleep around midnight exhausted and entirely worn-out and then wake up at 6:45 the next morning to head to work. It’s tough, honestly, but somehow it’s all getting done. I think the key is to focus each moment on what you are doing in that moment. If you’re writing, be entirely present with your writing. Don’t focus on anything else. If you’re photographing something, be intent on the details before you and not what you have to do when you get home. That’s part of what keeps me from going crazy. Also, my mom is always stressing the importance of having a schedule and while I am the most unorganized person I know, having a loose schedule helps a lot. And being really good about putting things on your calendar so that you don’t forget about them!

What’s your biggest fear?

Probably the dentist. Or that I’ll end up living in a small town all my life and never getting married.

Do you have any habitual things you do right before bed?

Usually I’ve been texting people so I tell them all that I’m going to bed (I go to bed before everyone else apparently). Sometimes I call my boyfriend or he calls me. Then I turn off my phone and usually try to read some poetry before going to sleep, but sometimes I’m so tired I just collapse!

Who were your favorite actors/actresses as a child?

Julie Andrews all the way. Did you know I have her autograph? (Oh wait, I’m suddenly cool now)

What is your favorite way to help your family out?

I feel so guilty answering this since I haven’t really been home much lately and people have been doing my chores, not the other way around! When I am home, I’m often so self-preoccupied that I forget to look to help others and focus instead on the tasks before me. But I think that having an awareness of the things that need to be done is helpful. I often just do the minimum amount of work necessary, and I’d love to get better at noticing what extra chores can be done and doing them without being asked! I’m sure that would make my mom so happy. I also try to cook dinner for her sometimes when I’m free or have an afternoon at home. Once again, I don’t do it often since I’m rarely home before 5, but that’s another thing that I know blesses her a lot!

Can we hear anything about Book #3?

This was the most popular question by far and unfortunately I can’t really answer it yet! I’m not going to give any concrete details about my third book until I sign a contract on it (still writing it right now), but I do have a Pinterest “sneak-peek inspiration” board I made for my readers so they can get a glimpse into the setting and themes! Check it out here!

*

Thanks for sending me your questions! Sorry I haven’t been blogging as much lately but I promise I have some posts outlined already about Asia + writing + other things you guys have asked me about or I’ve been wanting to write about. Just give me time to actually write them!

-Rachel