Tag Archives: inspiration

If You Don’t Have Your Health

If You Don’t Have Your Health
By Maile Sundquist

I’d always been an optimistic person.  The life of the party, a dreamer, someone who would break into song and dance with furry woodland creatures… until the wicked witch cast a spell on me.  When I was 25 I suffered injuries at work and in a car accident.  They brought on chronic pain and physical limitations that prevented me from being as active as I once was and caused me to lose my job.  Rather than accepting my physical limitations and learning to work around them and thrive with them, I was in denial and active retaliation against them, and, in the end, because I lacked the tools and knowledge to manage my emotions and stress, I became one of the many depressed sufferers of chronic anxiety.  

In our society, too much importance is placed on our physical health and hygiene.  We need to have teeth so white they make snow jealous, be a size one if you’re a woman, be able to bench-press a bus if you’re a man, shower regularly… okay, well, that one is reasonable.  Anyway, we spend too much time pumping up our muscles rather than our character, and so a huge, arguably more important aspect of our health is neglected and at times actively sabotaged by our lifestyle and priorities: our emotional hygiene. 

I find it sad that someone could be in acute emotional distress and that the people around them, even people who care deeply for the person, might say, “You’re overreacting, you should just get over it and shrug it off.”  Or they might not know what to say, but in the back of their minds, they’re thinking that the person is unstable, crazy, or weak.  

We wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg, “Just shrug it off, it’s in your head, just walk on it and jump and play like you did before.”  No, that would be considered insensitive and crazy!  Obviously, the leg needs time to heal, the right surgical procedure must be performed, and supports must be in place before it can work normally again.  It’s the same with emotional injuries.

Growing up in an emotionally unhealthy family where my parents didn’t take physical or emotional care of themselves, it was a sign of weakness to cry, and “butt nugget” was a term of endearment, there was a lack of good examples for me to emulate.  I embraced spirituality at an early age in the form of the Christian faith, which was and is extremely beneficial to me in terms of hope, inspiration, direction, and as a foundation for my beliefs, but due to poor theological teachings at one point, I lived in a constant state of shame for a period of time.

It was this shame over various aspects of my personal and spiritual life, coupled with a perfectionistic, all-or-nothing mentality, that compounded the struggles and challenges I was facing physically and emotionally.  So now I was down, had chronic pain, and lacked mobility.  Needless to say, I packed it on a bit and my curves became curvier.  Realizing my trajectory and wanting to avoid becoming a human version of Lombard Street, I implemented a thrice-weekly exercise routine into my schedule.  However, a combination of laziness and my love for eight-course meals always seemed to derail any progress I made… strangely enough.  I have always struggled with prioritizing my physical health.  Although I had a good knowledge of nutrition and appropriate exercises, I lacked the discipline to make it happen.  

I realized later, however, that it wasn’t just discipline I lacked.  My mental health was in such disarray that trying to get myself to accomplish these goals would be like asking a five-year-old to operate a crane.  I was attempting to lose weight because it was my most outwardly visible problem, but the source of it was hidden inward.  My emotional hygiene was out of whack.  It is true that the body is intricately connected and that helping one part will exert a ripple effect that improves other aspects of your overall health, so when you work out it produces endorphins that help your mental state.  But in this case, my hopelessness, despair, and anger, which were not being dealt with properly, kept perpetuating my depression and anxiety, which made me mope at home and eat too much.  It had me convinced that my best years were behind me, that I had gone too far, and that it would take too much time and effort to recover what had been lost.  Hopelessness is a dangerously powerful thing that can render someone immobile mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I wish I could say I was writing on this subject having surpassed my health goals years ago and that I now stand before you as a flawless specimen of feminine perfection and mental-emotional stability, able to tout my foolproof method for becoming the sexiest, most well-rounded human alive, but, alas… I cannot.

Let’s be realistic.  It can take years to get yourself back into shape after years of bad eating and self-neglect and the same can be said for regaining mental health.  But both must be accomplished if we are to live a happy, healthy, balanced life.

Having a toddler, I have this topic fresh on my mind.  We want our children to become mentally balanced, physically healthy, productive, thriving adults and so we teach them the best practices we can.  But we can’t teach them what we don’t know, and, despite our good intentions, they will follow our example more than they will follow anything we tell them to do.  How can I take care of him if I don’t take care of myself?  Do I want him to grow up prioritizing everything and everyone else while neglecting his own health, personal and artistic goals, and development?  Do I want him beating himself up over arbitrary goals or not being able to meet the important ones?  Or do I want to give him the knowledge and tools to succeed by living them out myself and making sure I emphasize the importance of not only working out and eating properly, but of loving himself and being open and honest with himself and others about his thoughts, feelings, struggles, questions, and emotions?  Our bodies are amazing, magnificent creations that are minutely intertwined and connected and what we put into our brain affects our body just as much as what we put into our mouth… except maybe for s’mores.

Why we struggle with self-love and self-care could vary from person to person.  Most everyone’s default excuse is laziness, and that might play a part, but I think that, in many cases, it goes deeper than that.  Perhaps you are unorganized and struggle with time management so you can never find the time.  Maybe you are an all-or-nothing perfectionist like me and you convince yourself that, if you can’t execute your ideal health and diet regime perfectly, then there’s no use in trying at all.  Maybe you don’t feel that you’re worth the effort.  Or maybe you’re an alien.  I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the reasons that keep you from taking care of yourself and, once you’ve found them out, consider what you can change, add, or take away from your life, outlook, and commitments to allow the necessary tools and time for self care to grow and be utilized and prioritized.  I believe a healthy mind begets a healthy body, but that, ultimately, nurturing the two in tandem will reap the greatest benefits.

Whatever your personal struggles, I encourage you to not get discouraged.  Just like mastering any new skill, cultivating self-love, emotional hygiene, and physical health takes time, practice, and perseverance.  I’m still working it all out myself in real time, but I’ve listed some tools and actions or mindsets that have helped me on this journey so far.

Let Go and Let God

This is a religious-based sentiment, but it just means releasing the control that we fight to maintain over things that are out of our control or in the past that are bringing us down.  Letting go of the past self you are hoping to recreate, the emotional and physical hurts you experienced, unreasonable goals, and missed opportunities will bring only freedom and make room for healing, new experiences, and joy.  We are good at allowing regret, fear, and worry rule over our lives, sway our decisions, and prevent us from moving forward.  Forgive yourself and those that have hurt you and choose to embrace the abundance of the current moment and the beauty that is the current you and move forward.

Make Time For Self Care

There’s a reason they tell you if a plane is in distress to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to help anyone else.  If you pass out, you are no good to anyone.  Oftentimes caretakers are so busy taking care of those in their charge that they neglect themselves and are unable to give their best to those who count on them.  Do something for yourself, even if it’s a ten-minute walk or a bath, writing, singing, dancing, or working on a hobby.  You only get one life, so staying healthy will bring more happiness and length to it.

Make Smart Goals

Rather than setting large goals without concrete set steps for achieving them, break goals down into smaller, more manageable ones to keep momentum and focus.  For instance, if you want to lose 20 pounds in the next six months, break it down into four-pound chunks, then decide what steps need to be taken to lose those four pounds every month.  Create daily and weekly goals such as running 20 minutes a day, drinking eight glasses of water a day, or only having a sugary dessert on Fridays.

Join Community

The support and encouragement of an in-person or online community of people who understand your struggle – weight loss, chronic pain, depression, etc.- can be very helpful and it can simply be reassuring to know you aren’t alone in your struggle.

Seek Help

Get the help and treatments you need and don’t procrastinate.  If there are treatments that exist that could help you don’t let anything stop you from pursuing them.

Be Informed

Seek out trustworthy resources for up-to-date information.  In the ‘90s, fat was bad, but today, fat is good.  In the past, shock therapy was used for mental disorders; today, it’s cognitive behavioral therapy.  The medical and nutrition world is always growing and shifting.  Being knowledgeable about past and present health trends and treatments can help you know what questions to ask your doctor and what options you should consider, to address whatever physical or emotional issue you are struggling with.

Create a Routine

When I was young I wanted nothing to do with restrictions of any kind.  I was convinced that it could only bring stagnation and boredom.  I’ve grown to realize that, without well-balanced and considered boundaries, I fall victim to the extremes of my personality and end up becoming a prisoner of my bad habits.  Rather than exerting self-control and self-discipline to aid me in meeting important goals and milestones in my life, I was floundering, wallowing in my self-made pool of regret.  Routines can help us figure out what’s most important to us and aid in setting goals and life trajectories.  Old habits die hard, but once we take the first step to a better life, the ones that follow are easier.  

Pace Yourself

Listen to your body, know your limits, and be proactive in managing your time so that you can use proper ergonomics, take the time you need to process information, decompress, and get the job done without added mental or physical strain.

Manage Stress

Be proactive in addressing conflict and stress in your life.  When you find you are tense, excessively worried or tired, or showing signs of stress, take a few minutes to reflect on your life and write out all your stressors (good and bad), from the one that is causing you the most anguish down to the least.  Then find ways to address the stressors.  In some cases, like sustaining an injury or losing a loved one, the things that are causing you stress are out of your control.  In such instances, coping techniques will need to be employed.  Other stressors, like aggravating and negative coworkers or family members, could be addressed by creating boundaries to protect yourself from continued conflict.  Utilizing de-stressing techniques such as prayer, meditation, calming visualization, deep breathing, light exercise, journaling, or even getting a massage can aid in relieving your stress and bringing about a sense of calm to your spirit.

Go Play

Find a hobby like biking, birding, rock hounding, hiking, or rollerblading – one that will get you active and outside the house – or just walk and wander this beautiful planet of ours.  We weren’t made to sit within dead trees, we were made to dance under live ones!

Help Others

I have found time and time again that helping others, whether it be buying groceries for an elderly neighbor, being a big brother or sister to a child in need, or volunteering in the community to help the homeless, gets your mind off of yourself and your problems, brings about perspective, and helps to heal the soul.

Keeping my all-or-nothing mentality at bay, not comparing myself to others, and rejoicing in small victories has been key in helping me make the small but impactful steps forward that I have so far.

I pray for mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical healing and success to you, now and always! 

“Live BRIGHT!”

Keeping the Wonder in your Work

Keeping the Wonder in your Work
By Maile Sundquist

In 2013, I began writing a fantasy/sci-fi novel set in Japan.  I am currently working on the final draft of and illustrations for the first book of the trilogy.  I have never taken a proper writing class outside of high school, so it’s been quite a learning process, but an entertaining and engaging adventure too.  Although I’m a quarter Japanese and I love the aesthetic (which I use in my home), I realized I knew very little about the culture I was writing about outside of a college class on Japanese art history I had taken, so I decided to become a student of all things Japanese.  I started with reading books I came across, and then took my studies to a higher level by taking inspirational field trips.  I went to the Seattle Asian Art Museum to learn about ink block drawings and to the Bellevue Art Museum to learn about origami history and to get visual ideas for the drawings I’m adding to my book.  Next it was off to the Japanese Garden to experience a tea ceremony and the Zen landscape, then onto the Hanami, Moon Viewing, and Japanese Cherry Blossom Festivals to experience Japanese culture, art, philosophy, music, food, and more.  Note pad and camera in hand and filled with childlike wonder, I soaked in every sight, story, taste and sound I could, and in doing so, came into a greater appreciation and understanding of the world of my story.  Since it is set in the future there is room for interpretation, but my studies gave me motivation and inspiration and they kept my focus on my novel and the art I would create for it, which were the most important things.  I had to remind myself that it was important to balance my study time with time actually writing my novel, as I could easily immerse myself for days in research, and that it was merely a means to an end and not my main objective.  I encourage you to embrace wonder, and look outside your imagination for inspiration for your creative pursuits by way of nature walks, reading, personal testimonies, or interaction and creative field trips.  It enriches your life and feeds your soul while motivating and inspiring you in your artistic projects, and adds a depth to your work that might not have been there otherwise.   Be a kid at heart, a student for life, and view the world as your personal classroom and playground.  Life and creating is an adventure!  Enjoy the ride!

“Live BRIGHT!”

Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude
By Maile Sundquist

Although the average person has as much of a chance of having a good day as a bad one, the majority of us seem to go through life sullen, defeated, weary, tired, fearful, and depressed.

Life is an ever-changing thing, full of complex circumstances, relationships, points of views, belief systems, words, and actions.  So how, when so much of life and its happenings seem insanely overwhelming and out of our control, do we maintain contentment and joy?

Since 2005 I have had chronic pain that has made it hard for me to keep a smile on my face.  In my youth I was an upbeat, energetic, optimistic girl, but now I have become a mentally and physically overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden, emotionally unhinged, fatigued, depressed shadow of my former self… and that’s on a good day!

But seriously, although I am not as low as I once was, I still battle negativity and generalized anxiety daily.  One of the biggest attitude changers that I have come across is gratitude.  Peace and happiness are fleeting.  They ebb and flow based on circumstance.  However, true contentment and joy are deep, abiding things that should remain in place despite life’s comings and goings.  They are a state of mind we can choose to inhabit or not.  They are a choice that being grateful through all circumstances can aid in.

I by no means claim to have mastered the path of true contentment and joy.  If I had, I think I would at least have one bestselling book, regular TV appearances, surely more money in the bank, and go by a name like Guru Shasta Sauce.  Like I said, being positive and anxiety-free is a daily struggle, but I’ll list a few things I try to put into play daily that have helped me move in the direction of contentment and joy.

A healthy perspective and self-awareness.  Developing awareness and mindfulness of the roll I passively or actively play in my life and circumstances is huge to being able to see things more clearly.  Our perception plays a huge roll in how we react and are affected by events in life.  Just like a healthy immune system, a healthy perspective will allow us to fight off most negative, irrational feelings that try to invade our peace of mind and erode our emotional foundation.

Faith in a higher power.  The stabilizer for all areas of my life has come from my faith as a Christian and holding onto God’s promises in the Bible which bring me hope, reassurance, and encouragement.

Embrace change.  I know, painfully cliche but an important life lesson.  It is after all the only constant in life.  The times I have attempted to tackle life through a narrow, rigid filter and have been judgmental or controlling have only caused me unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Crappy things will happen but we need to let them and the negative emotions that come with them crash and recede like waves on the shore.  We can’t control what others do, but we can control our response.

Let it go.  What’s done is done.  Not dwelling or ruminating on negative interactions or events, but learning what I can from them and moving on, has been so freeing, and made room for forgiveness and joy in my life.  Replaying embarrassing or negative dialogues or happenings in my head has only ever caused discontentment, shame, and frustration, which only going back in time could remedy – which is impossible.

Being grateful.  Despite one’s struggles or situation past or present there is always something to be grateful for, no matter how small.  Comparing myself or what I have to others has been a surefire contentment killer.  Society and marketers play on our insecurities and want us to live in a constant state of discontent.  When we feel inadequate or that we or what we have does not measure up then we will inevitably reach outside ourselves to remedy the situation whether it’s a new job, a new haircut, a new car, or a new relationship.  Stuff is not the answer.  Assessing my life, knowing and loving myself, creating a value system that correlates with my belief system, accepting my strengths and weaknesses, and being at peace with what makes me me and what I believe all contribute greatly to giving me confidence in my choices about how I live my life and what I want from it.  They have given me confidence to opt out of any preconceived notions of how any aspect of life should look.  I make due with what I have and try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness by being mindful in each moment and circumstance of what there is to be thankful for.  “Count your blessings” and “want for nothing” are two mottos I try to live by.

Practicing gratitude will help us not to dwell on the negatives in ourselves, our circumstances, and our relationships.  It encourages us away from comparative thinking and keeps us from dwelling on what we lack and what we want, helping us to live in and embrace each moment.

I hope we can all allow gratefulness to be an abiding trait in our lives.  Let’s go forward with grateful hearts rejoicing in and embracing each precious and fleeting moment.  May our eyes be open to seeing the silver lining in every rain cloud that comes our way.  Even when we feel there is nothing to be thankful for, remember there is hope in each new day and our existence. 

Today I am thankful for another new year, and for all of you who take the time to read my words.  May your new year be full of hope, love, peace, joy, and ice cream, ’cause who doesn’t like ice cream?

“Live BRIGHT!”

The Double Edged Sword of Perfectionism

The Double Edged Sword of Perfectionism
By Maile Sundquist

Do you suffer from the incessant need to have your lipstick match your dog’s collar, straighten the pig-tails of a stranger’s child, trim your lawn with nail scissors, or spit shine your SUV?  Then you’re not alone.  Perfectionism plagues one in five people (not a real statistic) on a daily basis and can seep into every area of our lives.  Once its seeds are planted, there is no escaping its ever-compulsive, judgmental eye.  From the way we dress, brush our teeth, clean our house, care for our kids, and yes, even how we work and create.  It either drives us to the top or drives us crazy!  The life of a perfectionist.  The struggle is real!

The drive for perfection can contribute to helping people master skills and techniques and have an unsurpassed eye for detail.  It can help artists hone their abilities and work to an enviable degree.  But it has drawbacks.  A perfectionist tendency should be used as a guide and tool, not as the end-all standard, especially if we find it is hindering our flow, inspiration, the completion of our work, or keeping us from starting at all.

My parents tell me that my first urge, even before eating or sleeping was the need to create.  Every time I said the word doodle my parents thought I had to go to the bathroom, when all I wanted was to draw.  Sleeping and eating did however run a close second and have remained tied at number two to this very day.  My husband often pokes fun at me for how I can literally forget to eat or use the bathroom when I am in the “creation zone.”  I am a singer, songwriter, face painter, visual artist that works in multiple mediums, photographer, fiction writer, musician who plays multiple instruments, and a videographer.  I still long to learn and master a plethora of other artistic pursuits, on top of my already burgeoning repertoire, and struggle daily with what pursuit to focus on.  People say I’m a glutton for punishment, but I think it’s the excited wonder-filled kid in me that looks at everything that sparks interest and thinks, “That’s cool, I need to do it!”

This combination of overzealous, unbounded ambition and dreams mixed with perfectionism proved to be a synergistic nightmare for achieving success.  The cycle of not being able to decide on what artistic passion to pursue, then when I am able to run with something for more than a week, hitting a perfectionism roadblock, held me back from making progress in my freelance artistic career.  The need to have everything – image, portfolio, website, etc. – flawlessly in place before I could present myself to the world had been a huge hinderance to me being able to take the critical steps to getting myself out there, getting the right exposure and making the right connections.  It kept me from moving forward for years!  And once my website was finally up, the host had updating issues, then the software I used to create it stopped being supported.  It wasn’t until I began randomly sharing my pieces with family and friends on Facebook that people started inquiring about my services.  It had nothing to do with how perfect my website or portfolio was.  I joined forums and groups and made connections and things have continued to pick up.  My website is still unfinished, but at least it’s up, editable, and a place where I can grow, express myself, and share my creations and dreams and connect with others.  I have realized it’s better to just start working and pursuing my dreams than to have everything in place.  There will always be obstacles and hangups to get over and work through.  Nothing is ever going to be perfect for long.  We must grow and adapt and roll with the only constant in life: change.

As many a Star Wars fan understands, having been traumatized by George Lucas’s brazen, re-edits of his original films, an artist could work on a piece forever and never be fully satisfied -much to the dismay of their faithful fans who have come to love their original work. Having the endless urge to perfect can leave an artist exhausted and discouraged and in the end make them resent their creation and perhaps, worst-case scenario, never finish it.  I know only too well the blood, sweat, and tears caused by days of laboring over a piece of art, only to realize that, after the last revision – which prolonged the project by ten hours – it was actually better beforehand. Now when I feel I’m overworking a piece, or am left frustrated and discontent by a specific aspect of a project, before it turns into an abstract rendering of two brown bears in a mud fight or kindling, I stop and work on something else until I have had enough separation to revisit it with renewed passion and focus.  During that time I consider why I feel the piece is incomplete or not good enough, and if the the reasons are perfectionism-driven, then I find the next logical stopping point and call it good.  I figure it’s better to have 20 completed pieces for a show than 5 “perfect” pieces and miss a deadline or opportunity.  Another thing I watch out for is the arbitrary desire to make the piece fit some mythical ideal vision I concocted in my head.  If I determine things are in proportion, the colors are right, the composition is good, the mood is set, then I turn to the perfectionist bug and stomp on it, light it on fire, and then flush it down the toilet.  Remember, sometimes works of art take on their own life as you go with the artistic flow.  So unless you are a technical artist and are commissioned to draw a realistic rendering of a new species of jackalope, then don’t be so hard on yourself. 

Perfectionism drives us to compare ourselves to others and doesn’t let us ease up on ourselves enough to make mistakes which are crucial for learning and growing and refining our skills.  It’s easy to see a Norman Rockwell painting and be inspired to learn figurative drawing and painting skills.  It’s just as easy to begin to practice and after your twentieth sketch feel hopelessly discouraged by the amount of work it will take to achieve that level of realism.  It may in fact take you until pigs fly, or it may take you less time than you think if you apply yourself.  We must not sell ourselves and our abilities short.   Nor should we use someone else’s art as a standard that we must live up to.  Now it’s true, if you are striving for realism then you have a basis for comparison, but even with reality as your goal, you mustn’t hinder your style and unique view of the world by striving for perfection.  We can’t forget that nothing is truly perfect or symmetrical in nature, and so we should try not to obsess over the details too much.  Nothing kills inspiration and creativity faster than comparing your work and self to others.  Let the learning curve take place, give mistakes room to breathe, and have fun!  If you aren’t able to surpass a technical hurdle, then take classes or seek out constructive criticism from people you trust so that you can continue to move forward.  Art should be enjoyable, not tedious.  View your art skills just as you would your reading skills as a child.  It took time to learn how to read, but every little word you learned was an accomplishment to be proud about.  You wouldn’t have beaten yourself up over only learning five new words in a week rather than eight.  You would rejoice in every little victory, and that’s the same mind set you should have about learning to create with new mediums.  Remember, even Leonardo Da Vinci started with simple sketches that may not look too much different than your own.  We all have to start somewhere.

A good example of comparing oneself to others from my own life would be in the realm of my joint music efforts with my husband.  We have been song writing together since 2000 and have nothing to show for it.  A big issue that has held him back has been waiting on financial resources to get us the software, equipment, and time in a professional recording studio he felt we needed so that our music could sound its best and compete with other artists.  He has been hung up, unable to release any of his amazing songs to the public, because he’s let himself catch the perfectionism bug.  He is plagued with the sense that people will not appreciate his work if it doesn’t sound “professional” enough.  Rather than make an average EP, build a fan base, and rally financial support to back the production of a superior album for our fans, people still do not know what we even sound like.  It’s been an agonizing road that only now, fifteen years later, are we finally making headway in.  And as fate would have it, we command even fewer resources and less time than we did back then.  So many could-be opportunities have been lost for us because he did not push through his fears and perfectionist ideal and it kept us from completing the album.  Don’t let perfectionism form boundaries and strict criteria you will then feel constrained by.  Look at a disadvantage or lack of resources as a challenge that needs a creative solution rather than let it become an impenetrable obstacle to achieving your dreams.  Find a workaround or make due with what you have.  

I think I will battle with perfection forever, but as long as I keep it in check, embrace where I, and my skills are in the moment, leave room for mistakes and keep moving forward, I will prevail, and you will too.  There is only one you in the history of the world!  Once you’ve discovered what it is you’re passionate about and what you have to say, don’t hold back!  People will either love or hate your style, but you can’t worry about it.  If you are passionate and true to your convictions and inspirations then people will notice.  Don’t let perfectionism bog you down with getting hung up on comparisons, insignificant details, and fear of mistakes.  Don’t let anything or anyone, not even yourself, hold you back or hinder your success.  We must never give up on our dreams! 


By Maile Sundquist

My heart is both heavy and full tonight.  I recently lost two uncles – the last of my father’s four siblings – making it the end of a generation on that side of my family.  My father passed in 1990 of cancer and having the last of his siblings pass has brought up emotions I haven’t felt in a long while.  

My father and his siblings were raised under the hard hand of a severely abusive, alcoholic father and the meek love of a devoted mother.  They had a reputation in their neighborhood as the bullies and the family you don’t mess with, trained up “right” by my grandfather who would force them at gunpoint to fight one another – or so the story goes.  My father, no doubt desperate to escape this unbearable existence, lied about his age and joined the Army at 15, fighting in the Korean War.  He unfortunately followed in his father’s footsteps and became an abusive alcoholic himself, although not to the extent of his father.  Thankfully I was old enough prior to his death to understand that he was more than just an angry drunk.  He was a complicated man of many sorrows with a desire to manifest beauty and joy, but without the emotional tools to make it happen.  At his best he was a loving and protective parent, gallant and loving husband, jovial and hospitable friend, sensitive artist, and passionate inventor, visionary, and songwriter.  Unfortunately, he left this world regretful, never able to conquer his inner demons, heal from his past, or overcome his addiction.  

In the ten short years that I knew my father he taught me many things that have made me who I am today.  He taught me to love music, how to dream and create.  He taught me how to entertain and make people laugh.  He taught me perseverance and confidence and to never let anyone or anything hold me back from my dreams.  He taught me ingenuity and entrepreneurial prowess.  Even his struggles showed me that adults don’t have everything figured out, and challenged me to seek the good in others despite their shortcomings.  I loved and still love my father deeply and forgive the wrongs he did to me, my siblings, and our mother.  I believe he did try to do his best with the meager tools his father left for him.  

My firstborn son is four and a half months old and my heart aches that he will not only not know his grandpa, but now that my mother has Alzheimer’s he will not know the vibrant, fun-loving, easily amused, sweet, sweet, supportive, artistic and profoundly loving mother I knew growing up.  She was my rock, my friend and confidant, and my idol when it came to creating art and loving people.  He will also not know his many great aunts, uncles, and grandparents on my side.  All of those amazing, unique souls who weaved a portion of our family tapestry and left us the tools to add to it.  They will, however, forever remain alive in our memories, and it’s those memories that I will share with my son.

The younger of the two uncles I recently lost was the uncle I was closest to.  I had the privilege of staying with him for two weeks when I was eighteen where I got to know him as a person – as a man and individual, not just as my uncle.  He, not unlike my father, was a complicated man who carried his share of woes from his upbringing and his time in Vietnam.  He had a beautifully resonant speaking and singing voice, a gentle manner, and a sweet smile.  He was always encouraging me in and praising me for my music and art and was always supportive, open, and loving towards me and my family.

After he passed, his children began to reach out to the extended family.  One of them I had never met or talked to prior to about a month ago.  She is an artist who will often post edifying and encouraging sentiments inspired by the visual arts.  Her husband, who is an accomplished jazz musician and drummer, was playing at Jazz Alley here in Seattle the other night, and one of my sisters and I were able to meet him and catch his show.  He was filled with exuberance and a joyful energy that was contagious.  His excitement for family, music, and God was evident even after just ten minutes of conversation.  Although my uncle has passed and will be greatly missed, in a way his passing has brought about new life by way of connecting family members to one another.

The older I get, the more I value family and the role it plays in forming our beliefs, worldview, and personality.  Due to our strained upbringing, the tools for healthy, thriving, positive relationships and personal care habits have not come easily to my family.  There are hurts and broken and strained relationships that I continue to pray over and that I believe, in time, will be healed and restored.  But until then, there are healthy, vibrant family relations, both new and familiar, that I am so grateful for and that fill my heart with song, and I thank God for these precious relationships and strive to nurture and protect them.  

Life is short, and what we do and say and how we live our lives leaves a mark whether we want it to or not.  Our lives produce ripples that, if we’re lucky, extend out from us to the ends of the earth and into eternity, so I want those ripples to be filled with love, joy, zeal, gratefulness, and as much positive living as I can squeeze into them.  I plan to live as big and love as wide as I can before God takes me home so that those who I leave behind can say, “She lived right.  She lived BRIGHT!”