Eye Candy & Soul Food

Stills from Terrence Malick’s Badlands

e.e. cummings

Matisse’s sketchbook

Dallas Clayton’s perspective on love

Sunshine on a rainy day

Rachel Castle’s life manifesto

This article, perfect for all the people out there who like all types of music, and whose sense of humor is so random


The perfect dress for cocktail-drinking and red carpet-attending (or maybe just a summer BBQ)

This daily reminder

A treasure of a book you simply must read

This technicolor reminder from one of my very favorite movies that some nights are just wonder-worthy

It’s a Grand Night for Singing – State Fair

A bedtime reminder and goodnight


Dream Factory Workshop – Summer 2016

Oops, I did it again. Or I’m going to do it again, at least. Today, I’m beyond excited to announce the details for the next Dream Factory Workshop, hosted once again at my house this August 5-7.

You saw the pictures and read the stories from my first workshop in October 2014 and I’m praying that this next group of young women create bonds that are as raw and deep as the souls that met in the fall.

What I’m offering is simple. Three days living heartbeat to heartbeat with like-minded dreamers, creators, and life-squeezers. We’ll ball up in sleeping bags on late nights with cheeks that strain from smiling and notebooks full of our pounding thoughts. We’ll gather around the table for home-cooked meals and pile in the car to go exploring. Our cameras won’t stay in their cases and our words won’t be bottled up inside. Together we’ll learn to see and think and create in new and amazing ways.

This is a workshop for storytellers. It’s not for the weak of heart or the fearful. It’s for the shy girls who journal by flashlight late at night and the center-of-attention girls who can’t stop talking. It’s for the thinkers and the feelers and those who are a little of both. It’s for those who like eyes that burn from beauty and hearts that throb with passion. It’s a weekend for deep connections and awkward getting-to-know-you’s and tearful goodbyes. For sharing. For growing. For pouring out.

This time around, I have some different surprises in store for this next batch of dreamers…

This summer, we’ll drive to the beach and order ice cream cones and sit in the sand with our sunhats while we swap stories from our childhood. We’ll tear pages out of magazines and make collages with pictures and words and thoughts that are important to us. We’ll wander through an art museum and take notes on what we feel and how we ache and laugh and make faces in amusement over the confusing pieces of modern art. If the weather is nice, we’ll pack a picnic dinner and watch the sunset over the city skyline. We’ll make strawberry shortcake and lick whipped cream off our fingertips and eat cake together. And every evening we’ll gather together and talk and share and learn how to better tell these stories.

And I really think you should join us.

Come and write. Come and see. Come and laugh and rest and explore. You have a voice, so let’s learn to use it. Come share in my life and let me share in yours. Let’s live and tell these stories together.

DATES: August 5-7, 2016 (guests can arrive on Thursday afternoon, if necessary, but food will not be provided until Friday)

WHERE: My home, in central Virginia

FOR: Creative young women, ages 15-25 (writers, photographers, + girls who just want to develop their creative talents)

COST: Three full days – $400 (Price includes lodging, three meals a day, activities + other fun stuff—you are responsible for your own travel expenses and souvenirs)

YOU NEED: A brain. A laptop. A notebook. A camera (doesn’t have to be an SLR).

To sign up, send me a brief email at rachelcokerwrites(at)hotmail(dot)com to receive an application. A $400 deposit will be due at the time of your application, which will be non-refundable after July 1st. Please don’t apply unless you know that you are physically and financially able to make it that weekend. I wouldn’t want to turn someone else down only to have you bow out because of finances or inability to get here. Thanks!


“It was retreat. A getaway, where I was able to commune and spend time with other girls like me. A place where I wasn’t the only one snapping pictures of everything visible. A time where I could share my writing, and grow in my skill. A place where I could learn from others, and be built up by their encouragement. The fellowship was beautiful. The writing brought tears. The activities were flawless. The friendships made were unforgettable. The inside jokes still remain funny. The food was amazing. And the overall experience was one I wouldn’t give up for the world.” – Abbey

“The Dream Factory Workshop was exactly what it said: a dream. Through lectures, sharing time, adventurous outings, and brand new best friends, I’ve been able to learn not only about HOW to tell stories, but I’ve also had the opportunities to actually TELL the stories.” – Samantha

“Since your workshop I have such a different perspective. I see things and want to take their picture. I see someone laugh and I think of beauty and how I would want to capture that. I have found stories in other people. I’m looking for them. It’s really amazing.” – Abby

Thursday Lists

Songs on Repeat

Call Your Girlfriend – Robyn

Stay – Jackson Browne

Crazy For You – Madonnna

Bel Air- Lana del Rey

Cake by the Ocean – DNCE (Guilty pleasure, okay? Also, contains language)


Items on My Ebay Wishist

Colorful patchwork quilt from the 60′s

Vintage blue enamel articulated fish earrings

Anthropologie floral rug

J. Crew polka dot swimsuit

Breathless by Godard dvd

Embroidered Iranian blouse


Last Text Message I Sent

To Tim: “Maybe if I get a lunch break, I’ll come over and eat with you.”

To my mom: “I have your Mother’s Day gift here so I need to remember to pack it and bring it home!”

To Hannah: “Wowww….”

To my friend Sarah: “Lying in bed and I just realized we never added egg to the cookie batter.”

To my friend Liv: “What do you think of this rug?”


Food I Can’t Wait to Eat at Home

Potato salad

Corn on the cob

Scrambled eggs with bacon bits

Blue corn tortilla chips


Things I Still Want to Do Before Summer Break

See the Van Gogh Bedrooms exhibit at the Art Institute

Go to the Harold Washington Library

Hit up Salvation Army one last time

See the Kerry James Marshall exhibit at the MCA


Recent Movies Watched

The Land Before Time (I used to have this on VHS)

The Big Lebowski (four stars)

Raising Arizona (three stars)

Breathless (four stars)

Cheatin’ (four stars)

The Sparrow

If any of you follow me on Instagram, you know that the last two months of my life have been almost solely dedicated to being in my theater’s production of The Sparrow. And you probably know that, as of last night, it’s officially over.

Well, we did it. We made a show. And I feel amazing and wrung-out and weepy and tired and magical. The curtain closed last night and I just sobbed. Heartbroken, ugly tears, lost-someone-I’ll-never-see-again kind of sobbed.

I think I can honestly say that this was my first ever show. The last time I acted on stage I was in fifth grade and it was a church theater production of the story of Esther. Acting for me then meant memorizing my lines and being loud. But these last few weeks have been hard work—possibly some of the hardest I’ve ever done. I’ve been in rehearsals for up to twenty-five hours a week, straining my imagination and voice and body. As an actor, I’ve been asked to do nearly impossible things and I’ve somehow simultaneously failed and succeeded. I’ve stepped into the story of someone else and shared it imperfectly. But even in all its faults, it was a sharing only I could do.

Creating this play has taught me something rich about the role of advocacy. Now that the play is over, I can start writing down the spoilers I wanted to keep from everyone else. Now everyone who is ever going to see it knows that Emily Book killed a busload of second graders and a still very young woman. I’ve stood condemned countless nights in a row, facing and refacing the judgement that falls upon Emily’s shoulders. I’ve experienced what it feels like to be accused—to stand emptyhanded under the weight of some tremendous last mistake. I still don’t know that I can fully imagine what it means to be Emily in that moment, but I’ve certainly stood in her shoes. Playing a girl with blood on her hands has taught me compassion. I’ve learned to release my own judgement. I’ve seen the fraility and fear and courage in Emily, and I’ve stood in those moments too. Night after night, for weeks now, I’ve stood on the stage and begged on her behalf. And if that hasn’t taught me about what it means to advocate for another person, I don’t know what ever will.

It’s an amazing and tender thought to know that every night, when the lights came up, I knew I was going to be spending the next two hours in a world of compassion, with fellow actors and audience members who cared about this story and worked to tell and understand it. The friends I worked with became colleagues as I witnessed them stretch and use their bodies to further this message of loss and grace. I remember one night at the talkback hearing my fellow actors share, one by one, what it meant for them to play these high schoolers and their parents, and what they learned about grace, community, loss, and self-reflection in the process.

I think the message of The Sparrow was deeply rooted in a sense of community. At the end of the play, when all is revealed and more lives are hurt by the truth of Emily’s past, there is no real avenue for forgiveness. There is only grace—a float defined by the simple act of seeing and moving with each other. Last night, as I stood behind the stage and watched my dear friends float together, I started to weep at what this process meant for us. Through these roles and through this work, we have learned to really see each other. It’s easy to think of theater as simply make-believe—a giant act of pretend. But I think we are sometimes made more honest through our character work. I learned things about myself through being Emily that I don’t know I ever would have discovered otherwise. And in the same way, I was able to really see and acknowlege the work of the others around me. We breathed together. For five weeks, in one black box, we created a world out of practically nothing and inhabited it side by side. We experienced laughter, great loss, and a breathtaking amount of magic.

One of the things I’ve written about before but still never ceases to amaze me is the ephemeral quality of theater. One of the reasons we love to study artists and writers is because we are overwhelmed by the legacies they leave behind—a lifetime’s worth of paintings, sculptures, poems, and thoughts. Theater doesn’t work that way. It is conceived, slaved over, brought together, worked through, put on, lasted, and then over. There is no physical object I could look at, touch, or read to bring me back to the exact moments of this production. This morning, if I walked over to the theater now, I would find only an empty black box again. Because that’s what theater does. It disappears.

The ephemeral quality of theater means that it is something that only lives on in our memories of each other. The photographs can’t bring it back. The recordings—if there are any—can’t help us to relive it. We are living conduits of theater in the way we carry our memories of each other. I may not ever be Emily again. But someone will remember me that way. Someone will remember the time I froze dodgeballs. The time I cried. The time I ran. The time I flew.

I’m thankful I have these new memories of my friends as colleagues. It changes the way I look at them, I know. I see them for who they are, but I also see them for who they were. We have this new shared experience—something we created and fought for together.

The world will go on and new plays will be born and live out their lives and then come to an end and be laid to rest. But we’ll keep catching new glimpses of each other, slowing filling out the images in our minds with moments of magic, wonder, beauty, and loss. We’re colored by these experiences, and, in that way, they’re never really over.


(Photos c/o Paul Vermeesch)

A Love Letter to Chicago

Dear Chicago,

Everyone called you the “Second City”. And, for a while, I believed them. I’d been to New York before. I wasn’t exactly a spring chicken, coming in with country girl eyes and ready to fall in love with every little part of you. Or maybe I was. Either way, I’m completely and utterly an admirer of you now, with all of your quirks and grittiness.

Thank you for being a city of artists. New York is beautiful, with all of its flashing lights and noise. But there’s something about Chicago that grips me. It shakes me by the shoulders and shouts “Look. At. This.” and “This. Is. Important.” Your art isn’t always meant to be beautiful. It’s not always meant to be awed over and breathed through and enjoyed. But I’ve always found it to be moving. I’ve cried in the back rows of theaters, in the corners of small galleries and once, by surprise, on the street. There’s something to catch every time you turn your head and, unlike New York, space is allowed to notice it.

Thank you for being a city of enthusiasm. I remember walking through Millennium Park in mid-October, when the Cubs still had a chance at the World Series, and seeing banners strewn from the upper windows of skyscrapers. Everyone was talking, cheering, laughing, hoping. On the metra, strangers taught me about the history of baseball and shared with me stories about seeing games as a child. I never felt so close to the mobs of faces around me, glints of their excitement bouncing off of them and onto me.

And thank you for being a city of imperfection. You’ve given me biting wind and frozen toes. You’ve opened my eyes to the hurt in the world, to the gangs and homeless shelters and gunshots only a few miles from my home. You’re a city of wonder and art and history, and also of violence and pain and oppression. Thank you for never trying to cover up your scars. I’m glad it pops up on my news feed every time a teenager on the south side dies in a drive by shooting. I’m thankful you don’t leave me sheltered, happy to believe that twenty-first century America means wealth and health and kindness. The aching in your city reminds me of what we’re all slowly moving toward, and the tears I’ve seen shed give me a different kind of longing for the day they’ll all be wiped away.

Living less than an hour away from such a powerful city for the past eight months has been a dizzying, wonderful, tremendous opportunity. I wouldn’t trade my current little spot in the universe for anything in the world, and even as this semester draws to a close I look forward to returning in a few months and spending more time in my favorite smog-filled haven.


I know I haven’t been living in Chicago nearly long enough to give advice on where to go and what to do when you’re visiting, but here are a few spots that have become familiar and good to me this year. I know I’ll be back to each of them!

The Chagall “Four Seasons” mosaic on S. Dearborn St.

The historic Lookingglass Theatre

The Museum of Contemporary Art

The Italian Village

The Gene Siskel Film Center

The 20th Century floor of the Art Institute

Lou Mitchell’s

Music Box movie theater

The Lincoln Park Zoo

And that’s all for now!



This past week, I went on a day trip to Washington DC with Tim and two of his best friends. I’ve been to DC countless times before, since I only live a couple hours away, but this time I wanted to visit the new exhibit Wonder at the Renwick Gallery before it disappears this May. The exhibit featured installations from contemporary American artists, meant to inspire awe in the imaginations of its viewers.

One of the questions the exhibit poses is this: What makes you wonder?

Something that my acting professor often brings up is that there are several different ways that we see the world. Sometimes when we sit and think we are lost in an internal world-of the thoughts and dreams and concerns that only apply to us. We look at one thing but think about another. Everything is seen through the glass of our present state of mind and what’s going on inside of us. Other times, we sit and think about the room around us–the people and objects that make up our everyday lives and worlds. The things that concern us most are the things that directly impact us. But sometimes, we see the world outside of ourselves. We  recognize that there are countries and continents and planets and stars full of color and movement and life that exist outside of the space we take up. We get a sense of “the big picture” of the world and, for a moment, we consider it.

While in the Wonder exhibit, I entered the room designed by Janet Echelman and laid on the floor, surrounded by fellow humans. On the ceiling was a large, suspended sculpture that hung over us like a filmy net of color. As we were lying there, the lights illuminating the instillation changed colors, shifting the room between pink, orange, red, and purple. It felt like resting under our own version of the northern lights–an ever-changing heaven encapsulated in a tiny room.

It was one of those moments when I felt that third type of vision. Even though I was in a single room in a somewhat small museum half a block from the Whitehouse, I felt wonder. My imagination was stirred. The universe felt open to me with all its possibilities.

It was just a small moment in a busy day, but I hope it’s something my brain will continue to feed on for the weeks to come.



The other day I did this exercise where, for an hour, I pretended to fly. It was a room full of people actually–people lifting up onto their toes and holding their breaths and widening their eyes. None of us left the floor or anything. But I felt it all the same: A room of people flying.

One thing my acting professor stresses to us a lot is that by the time we become adults we have forgotten how to play. You don’t see too many grownups riding down grocery store aisles with their feet up on the carts. People don’t run around the city like superheroes in borrowed capes on their lunch breaks. Forts built out of blankets and pillows don’t seem quite as realistic when you’re over the age of ten and the ground is a whole lot further away than it once was. And I guess all this is chalked up to simply forgetting how to play.

I was a pretty imaginative kid. I wasn’t super popular and I didn’t have a ton of friends. But the friends I did have stuck around because I was actually somewhat fun. And it had nothing to do with my softball skills or my dance moves or my Barbie collection. I was imaginative. When I was six or seven, I made a Civil War hideout in the yellow forsythia bushes in our back yard. I would gather leaves and rocks and dirt and make them into soup for my stowaways (namely, my sister and next door neighbors). When I was eight Hannah and I would hold horseback races inside the house, running the loop of the layout on brooms and having my dad decide the winner. At around nine or ten I convinced our neighbors there was an ogre living in our creepy outdoor garage, and made up stories about him to freak the poor boys out. There was always something to pretend at–some story necessary for the moment to tell. And I never shied away from playing it, no matter what age I was.

So why is it that, ten years later, pretending to fly for one short hour catches my breath and makes me dizzy? When I was nine, I could have flown for days in my faded t shirts and black Converses. The magic in it wouldn’t have been magic. It would have been part of the ordinary life of daydreams.

A few months ago my acting professor gave me an a few partners a task to do. We had ten minutes to build a castle out of ourselves. Ready, set, go. I can’t describe what we did but I can describe how I felt. Giddy. Creative. Allowed.

When was the last time someone allowed you to fly, or ride a broomstick horse, or build a castle? And why do we feel like we have to be allowed to do that anyway?

One thing I’m learning this year is that I have permission. I have permission to follow small ideas. To listen to my voice. To make eye contact. To feel heavy and light at the same time. And I have permission to play.

I think that if we all gave ourselves permission to play sometimes, we’d probably live longer. We’d at least live happier. We carry around this weight of adulthood, and that’s okay. Yes, there are bills to pay and kids to take to the dentist and lunch appointments to make. But there’s so much time for play that we put aside because we don’t believe we have permission to do it. We go to Netflix for entertainment and fantasy football for a healthy dose of pretend. But that doesn’t cut it. We still need to play sometimes. We need to move our bodies and see things that aren’t real and believe with all our hearts in what we know to be imaginary.

Please try flying this week. Or try cruising in a Batmobile or taking off in a rocketship or having a mad tea party. Do it with kids, if you feel self conscious. But do it for yourself. Play hard. You have permission.


Spoken to Me

i. you’re very comfortable to be around

ii. your hair looks pretty, rachel

iii. don’t forget to challenge yourself today

iv. could you bring your super glue?

v.  i think you should pay attention to that

vi. i love you more each day


there’s something so very special about being given these words to hold on to. thank you, friends.



On Saturday, I pulled on some fleece-lined leggings and gloves and adventured into the city with my friends Jill and MacKenzie. We’re all community art students, in one way or another, and we wanted to make a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art together. This blog isn’t about opinions or advice or essays. It’s about thoughts and memories and the tangled bits and images of days. So while I know I can’t do justice to the stories we made together on Saturday, this is the place where I can record some of those conversations and hold onto them for a bit as something precious.

Our college sits right next to a train station, so we bundled up after brunch and meet by the tracks just in time to catch the 10:57 train. It rolled in on time and we barely made it, climbing the steps to the higher seats and sitting above the heads of everyone else. It’s about a forty five minute ride from our campus to the heart of the city, and the only time I like to make the trip is when I have someone to sit and talk with. On this day I had two people on my right–Jill with her pale skin and pom pom sweater and MacKenzie with layered scarves and snow boots. We spent the train ride talking over and around each other. We took turns practicing listening. I think it’s important to have friends whose words you value.

Getting to the museum was a breeze, and they gave discounted $7 for students. To be honest, I didn’t know what it would be like to go to an art museum with artistic friends. I’d been to numerous art museums with other friends in the past and it was a blast. But I’d still always felt a little alone in the room, like everyone else was focusing on seeing and liking and I was focusing on seeing and being.

MacKenzie and Jill are both community art majors though, and they have a deep passion for feeling art in and with their bodies. Jill is a dancer–just over five feet tall with wide eyes and a constant desire to move. “I have this thing I like to do,” she said in the first room of the museum. We were standing in front of a huge canvas that towered over our heads. It was several inches thick with paint, blotted and spread and layered in a myriad of colors like the backside of a tapestry. “Sometimes, when I see a piece of art, I like to move in response to it.”

“Oh, I love that,” MacKenzie almost jumped in excitement. “Let’s approach each new work together and count to three, then we can all move in an immediate response to it. Okay?”

Someone counted to three and, with slow, unhurried limbs, we moved in response to the large canvas of layered paint. Then we took a few steps toward the next piece and did the same thing. Within the course of the next half hour, we’d covered the majority of the room with footsteps, spins, curls, and bends. Some pieces made us hurt, caving inward with hands gripping our stomachs and hearts. Framed works created out of colored pencils and crayons sparked our inner sense of play. A hanging mobile made us gently turn beneath it, imagining the object to be a bird suspended in flight. Something made us sad and we might stop. A few feet over, something might make us laugh. The gallery was full of us.

I had a thought in all of this. By physically reacting to art, are we, in some way, becoming art ourselves? 

I don’t think art is meant to be hung and examined in galleries. Don’t get me wrong–I love galleries. I love sharing a space with people who are fully experiencing enjoyment and pain and play. But I’ve found that what I enjoy even more than standing in a gallery is moving in a gallery. I enjoy touching things. I enjoy rawness. I enjoy being art.

Jill made a comment near the end of the day that made me laugh. I’d just been talking about how I go to art galleries to feel inspired to do something–to write or create in some way. “Yeah,” Jill said. “I like to leave an art gallery feeling like I’ve just eaten a meal. My belly is full, you know?”

We obviously don’t look to art to fill us. I realize that art can’t fix all the brokenness in the world or make us whole. But art can capture the wonder and play that we are too often scared to release. Recently I’ve been looking at photographs cave paintings in an art history class. One in particular strikes me as whimsical. It’s the smudged into stone portrait of a pregnant deer. There’s something breathlessly beautiful about that. When you look at a photograph of a cave wider than an IMAX theater, covered with bright paintings of red bulls somersaulting through the sky, you can’t help but be reminded of the physical nature of art.

Creations made in the image of a Creator are full of movement. They are full of play. And the moment you start to think of art as something sterile, something protected, something glass-covered–you’ve lost the ability to experience it.

Here’s to moving in the MCA Chicago. Maybe someday we’ll all go dancing in the Met.


Something Tiny, Something True

I’m taking an acting class this semester. I don’t really know why I’m taking an acting class, because I don’t believe I have any kind of future on or off Broadway. But I’m taking an acting class this semester and already I feel it is teaching me more about life and even writing than anything I’ve studied in a long time. In this class, we move a lot. We also sit on pillows and ask questions. We give opinions but not really answers.

Yesterday, after a simple exercise reading a set of vague lines with a partner with no story or background whatsoever, our professor challenged one of us in each pair to raise our hands. “You,” he said to the volunteer, “Are a child. The person sitting opposite you is your parent. Now do it again.” After repeating the exercise under this guise, he asked us to give feedback on what we noticed. I raised my hand again and he called on me. Fifteen pairs of eyes turned to the back corner of the room where I was sitting next to my partner by the window. “I realized I still had no idea what the story behind this was or what was even going on,” I said, glancing at the sheet of paper in my hands. “But I did know that this was my mom and that meant I had the potential to be very loved or very hurt. And I felt like doing this scene was a little bit scary because I didn’t know what would happen either way.”

The room commented on this a bit and, after a few minutes more of work, we gathered in a circle in the center of the room and sat. The key of this exercise, my professor explained, wasn’t to tell a grand story. It wasn’t to create an amazing and completed piece of theater that stunned the audience and showed just how well you understood the scene. The key was to figure out the next thing. 

In that corner of the room, I was just a daughter talking to her mom. It was work free of affectation or contrived acting. I wasn’t concentrating on a set or props or a climax or the backstory of our characters. All I knew was who I was and what I needed: to talk to my mom. My professor insisted that this was the heart of the work. All we, as actors, can do is figure out one thing at a time. In that moment, my work was to talk with my mom. Maybe in a bigger play with weeks and weeks of rehearsals, I could figure out more. I could determine who I was, where we were, what was going on, and where we were moving. But that wasn’t my goal in the moment, and I should only concentrate on one true goal at a time.

I raised my hand at this point in the discussion and threw out a thought about writing. “I don’t really know if I’m an actor or not,” I admitted, “But I’m a writer. And this is what I know to be true about writing: That, at any given moment, the best you can do is write one true thing. When I start worrying about my plot and my word choice and my impact and my dramatics, the story gets lost. I have to save it for editing, you know? But if I can sit down and just get out the bare words necessary to get a point across and say one true thing, I’ve done something I can actually like.”

My professor nodded in agreement and stated how much all art is really like this. We tend to want to make things bigger and better and perfect, and we forget about the small, significant dream. The most interesting thing that we are creating is the thing we are creating, not the fact that we are creating it for and in front of others. When we let the grandiosity of what we want to accomplish overshadow the smallness of what we need to say, it gets lost. Real art, and real storytelling, is baring our small ideas and our little stories. There is no room for perfection. There is only room for discovery, for truth, for digging deeper, and for making layers.

These are good thoughts for a Friday morning.