Open Doors, A 2016 Playlist

View from my window seat, on one of the many beautiful flights of the year.
Cheers, 2016! Thank you for your big skies and open doors!

I’ve prepared a taste of my past year through the music that has moved me through an adventure-filled 2016.

This is a little annual tradition that has swung me into the past four new years: making a playlist to tie up the stories of my year. 2016 has added up to a generous helping of 31 songs. (My longest end-of-the-year playlist so far!)

You can also check out the playlist here: “Open Doors // SpeakSoon’s 2016 in Music”. A list of songs/artists also at the end of this post.

This year, I’ve added a new challenge. As a final piece and creative writing exercise, I borrowed words from all the songs of my 2016 and built a poem. You’ll find lines from all the different songs strung together with a bit of play from me. Does my year sound a lot like yours?

Open Doors

In these moments, I lose focus.
I don’t remember when we decided we could fly.
Put your head on my shoulders,
If you’re lost and you’re lonely, go and figure out why.

How do we mend a million pieces
strung out across the ground?
Hear the healing in your bones,
Sit in stillness for the silence of this sound.

Cry, my friend, no more,
you’ve seen your stars aligning I’m sure.
We all fear the sound of a closing door,
only your faith will prove to bring a cure.

All these vultures that surround you,
with cowardice speak their lies out loud.
Take my hand, I’ll give you strength,
just when you think all the streets have emptied out.

La soledad viene sin patria, have you missed the lonely call?
Leave what’s heavy.
Leave what’s heavy behind,
but I keep running for a soft place to fall.

A light against a darkened sky,
your truth must outshine all the lies,
You let your feet run wild and try
to tell the world that fiction is falling from up high.

The cross we bear is all we’ve got
para você vem dançar,
It’s like a bit of light in a touch of dark,
do you dare to look your losses right in the eyes?

While you were sleeping, I thought of you.
We might make it further if we learned to stay.
We’re here, eyes open, catching and releasing
what builds up throughout the day.

Live to dance in a hurricane,
find your heart standing in the eye,
I just hope you’ll stop me
before I build a world around me.

We are waiting on their sunshine and the morning dew,
for we live where the war is raging and where we miss the moon,
We’re all lonely together, no matter what we choose to do.
We can tell each other secrets, til we remember how to love.

I was listening to the ocean. I was dancing in the rain.
Words are so easy to say, we speak as though nothing could fall,
Slow down when you can, we’re not exempt from all pain,
This story’s a long one, take a deep breath, then five more. Stand tall.

Throw your arms in the air tonight. I won’t be no runaway.
I’ll go braving everything through the shine of the sun.
Darling, don’t be afraid when it’s time to stay,
but the doors are open. Run!

Playlists from previous years:

I’ve also just realized that I never shared 2015’s playlist, now also public on Spotify: SpeakSoon: 2015 in Music

Here are links to posts on past year’s playlists: 2014, 2013 and 2012.

And finally, a simple rundown of my 2016’s lovely playlist:

  1. Run – Lost Frequencies Radio Edit // Emma Bale
  2. On Our Knees (Feat. R.O) // Konoba
  3. I’ll Move Mountains // Roo Panes
  4. Tomorrow’s Song // Olafur Arnalds
  5. Tightropes // Robyn Sherwell
  6. Gorgeous // X Ambassadors
  7. Falling Faster // Andrew Ripp
  8. Moments – Acoustic Live // Kidnap Kid
  9. Spaceship – Popvilla Sessions // Comet Blue
  10. You’re Mine – Radio Edit // Raving George
  11. Deep End // Birdy
  12. No Angel // Birdy
  13. We Can Be Heroes // Ozark Henry
  14. The Eye // Brandi Carlie
  15. I Need a Forest Fire – feat Justin Vernon // James Blake
  16. Friends feat Bon Iver // Francis and the Lights
  17. Summer’s Almost Gone // The Temper Trap
  18. Lost // The Temper Trap
  19. New Afro Spanish Generation // Buika
  20. Light it Up (feat Nyla & Fuse ODG) // Major Lazer
  21. Dark Necessities // Red Hot Chili Peppers
  22. Sunset Lover // Petit Biscuit
  23. Way Down We Go – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC // Kaleo
  24. Para Voce // Gregor Salto
  25. Forever With You // Nathan Roberts
  26. Heavy // Birdtalker
  27. Good Together // HONNE
  28. Catch & Release – Deepend Mix // Matt Simons
  29. Show Me Love // Sam Feldt
  30. Runaway // AURORA
  31. Runaway // The National

2017, I’ll be listening for you!

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The day after Christmas and the urgent gift we must offer our world

My books from my childhood and adolescence now boast the smell I love so much — the toasty, musty scent of old books. On Christmas day, standing in the bedroom I grew up in, I scanned my shelf looking for a good book to re-read as a Christmas treat. I pulled out Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which I hadn’t opened in over ten years.

Even as a young reader, I already knew this book was one I would have to revisit as an adult. When the movie came out not too long ago, I purposefully missed it, remembering the promise I had made when my copy of the book still smelled clean and bookstore-fresh.

So on this Christmas Day, to satisfy the hope of my younger self, I opened up the pages, already browning and spotted with a bit of age. This hope was that as I grew up and grew older, I would continue to open my heart to precious stories like these; that I would revisit their chapters and let their wisdom reveal something new with each reading.

The incredible thing is that the moment I finished the book this time, soon after waking this morning, I ached to read it over. It is a perfectly-timed read, as I continue to wrestle with the polarizing impressions of the daily news — safety and violence, injustice and the eager Christmas spirit.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry brings us to a version of our world that lives in Sameness. It is a safer, more organized world where people feel no pain, where everyone has their duty and place in society at any given time. Those that do not, due to weakness at birth or old age, or because of disobedience of the rules, were released from the community.

It was a secure society, where people shared their feelings, offered and accepted verbal apologies when wrong was committed, and never found themselves wanting.

While all of that made for a peaceful “life,” these people could not see colors, had never heard music, and more painfully to consider, had never known love. Could we still call this living? They had no knowledge of sunshine, of snow, of flowers or of birds. They had unknowingly traded the splendor of these simple, lovely things, for the absence of any discomfort, ache or inadequacy.

Only one member of their community held all memory and history — really he was the only one that knew of and lived with the beauty, pleasure, sorrow and pain that ever existed. That person was the Receiver of Memory. Jonas, our twelve-year old protagonist, was selected to be the new Receiver, by the former one, now known as the Giver.

And right in the pages of this book sits a beautiful memory of Christmas:

“Jonas felt the joy of it as soon as the memory began. Sometimes it took a while for him to get his bearings, to find his place. But this time he fit right in and felt the happiness that pervaded the memory.

He was in a room filled with people, and it was warm, with firelight glowing on a hearth. He could see through a window that outside it was night, and snowing. There were colored lights: red and green and yellow, twinkling from a tree which was, oddly, inside the room. On a table, lighted candles stood in a polished golden holder and cast a soft, flickering glow. He could smell things cooking, and he heard soft laughter. A golden-haired dog lay sleeping on the floor.

On the floor there were packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with gleaming ribbons. As Jonas watched, a small child began to pick up the packages and pass them around the room…. While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another….

Jonas opened his eyes and lay contentedly on the bed, still luxuriating in the warm and comforting memory. It had all been there, all the things he had learned to treasure.

“What did you perceive,” The Giver asked.

“Warmth,” Jonas replied, “and happiness. And — let me think. Family.”*

Christmas Tree 2016.jpg

On this stormy day after Christmas, I think of all those around the world who are not surrounded by the ideal Christmas or holiday. There are many among us who sit in evacuation centers, crowd in refugee camps, cower in the fear or aftermath of violence, run breathless in search for peace, shrink in hunger, or face their grief alone. Even as many of us have joyfully celebrated in the company of loved ones this Christmas, safe by a glowing fire, bathed in sweet sunlight, or in the embrace of joy, there are too many in the world that live the exact opposite of this story.

Though we raise our banners of generosity and cheer this holiday season, there is no denying the hatred, suffering, and overwhelming grief that runs in the bloodstream of humanity. It seems our love is not enough to heal the wounds, to ease the torment, or to undo the wrongs that have been committed in our generation alone. I fear our own hypocrisy.

And yet, I find myself still clinging to hope, even with the deafening noise and discouragement of reality. I cling to the true Gift of this season — the Love that heals, the Love that saves. The Hope in Whom Christmas began.

Because we are human, we will continue to carry the weight of anguish and heartache, but with it, the lightness of love and compassion. In a time when justice can feel like a sad, mocking idea to the suffering multitudes around the world, I insist that there is still a fighting army of us who can love, forgive and heal. Help me prove that this is true. These are the days when we must courageously show up in defense, in solidarity, out of love for others.

“… Jonas, the community will be left with no one to help them. They’ll be thrown into chaos. They’ll destroy themselves. I can’t go.

“Giver,” Jonas suggested, “you and I don’t need to care about the rest of them.”

The Giver looked at him with a questioning smile. Jonas hung his head. Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”*

As I closed the pages of The Giver, I held on to these words. It is simple, but far from easy place to begin.

We start by caring. Truly caring for one another. We may not live in the Sameness of Jonas’ community, but the need for us to care is even greater today. It is so important that we reflect on how we are tangibly called to do this today and that we act on it with purpose and urgency.

May we never let our colors mute to gray, our music unravel into silence, our dancing slow down to stillness, our love disfigure into hatred, or our sense of justice crumble into indifference.

Merry Christmas!

[*Quotes in italics are from the novel, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, published in 1993, by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers in New York.]

Do not forget when you were little.

img_0385
Dad and me by Lake Tahoe. Brothers playing in the background. It was dad’s birthday yesterday – happy birthday, Dad!

 

Do not forget when you were little; a lifetime shorter than all the rest. 

Today we hold our egos high, stuck out like scrunched-up chins set on stone-cold jaws, taunting the world to hit us with something good. There’s a pride in us, webbed into our very bones, our childhood growth spurts dictating how much of the pride is faulty, how much of it is made of honor.

Do not forget when you were little; tiny hand reaching out for direction, for love. 

As children, we held out our hands for guidance and just knew that someone would hold it. We trusted that we would be led to something good. Doubt was still a game then; not yet the crutch,  nightmare, or dirty secret that it later morphs into.

As children, we didn’t second guess our need for someone else to be there for us. It was fully part of our flesh, this affection. We didn’t resist the arm of a loved one reaching out to hold us. For a loved one to turn away simply confused us. There was yet no shame in reaching out first.

Today, we hide in reflection and conclude that perhaps to reach out is to be needy, or worse, to reach out is to be selfish. When did love dress up as weakness? Deconstruct what strength and worth you have in this life, and you’ll find that there is no you without love, whether a trace or a flood of it.

Do not forget when you were little; because everyone says this life goes by in the blink of an eye. 

When we were young, we hurried to grow up. We held precious moments with a clumsy, absent-mindedness, interest always lost to the next distraction. Thankfully we were born with memory. It was not a switch we needed to turn on, a skill we had to learn or a trophy to deserve. If it were, we’d be scavenging for our history. Our biology keeps record of who we are, where we’ve been – in the tangles of our mind or in tracks left on skin. In adult life, we salvage what snapshots our memory can bring to mind, but at that point we can no longer choose what moments endure as milestones. What kind of story does our memory preserve for us?

Do not forget when you were little, because no matter how old we are, we are still and always not yet fully grown.

To be human is to be flawed, to be small in the universe, to be complex and never fully unmistakably understood. We are little beings in this grand world. Little beings not meant to be alone.

——–
This post is in response to our #CreativeNeighbor prompt by Art in the Neighborhood: a photo from your past. Join us as we make room for creativity and community. 
If you’re like us and need a push to get those creative wheels turning again, join our weekly art challenge! Here’s how it works:

 

Every SUNDAY, we’ll post a creative prompt.
Take the week to respond in your own medium and style. Write, paint, sing, dance, shoot.

There are no rules, but we challenge you to slow down your creative process. Think less digital and more analog.

On SATURDAY, share your work.
Post your response online along with the hashtags #creativeneighbor and#neighborhoodph. Read, watch and listen to what others have shared. Then look out for the next prompt on following Sunday!

 

the whisper they call inspiration

I want my art to show the world that we are loved;

that though this world is fleeting, doomed to fail on its crowns, there is light that whispers through us.

 

to show you are loved

This whisper does not run out of breath. It is always speaking. (We don’t always listen.) It has a melody. It can flow clearly or indistinct – like a humble breeze, wordless. Gently, sometimes forcefully too, the whisper propels us forward.

Nobody else hears the whisper you hear. We’re not meant to. We can’t.

The whisper calls us by name, every time. We don’t notice because we think the whisper comes from our center, from the honest part that just can’t lie. But the whisper is not of us, not made from us. If it were, it would be made of filth.

It is a voice we know. Or think we know. Or think is ours.

It is not.

But it is a stirring from so deep within us, no two people can experience it in the same way. It is at times a jolting feeling. Not the kind that makes you jump in fright, but the sensation of faint electricity somewhere in the anatomy that biology can’t describe. The specific feel and touch of the whisper is different for each person- a tingling, a straining at the jaw, a tickle in your side, a half crescent of a smile, a coolness on your lower back, or valleys forming between your brows.

That moment that you will look back on as that flame of inspiration, that pivotal moment, that nanosecond of magic; that is the moment when our soul truly hears the whisper. We don’t know it as it occurs, though we might feel the clues. We understand only when the moment has passed,  when we have taken a step back to look at what has been formed, created, grown through us. It is also then that we doubt and simultaneously shrink back in awe. We feel alive in the most vulnerable, fiery, stumbling kind of way; because we allowed the whisper to speak not only to us, but through us and out into the world.

We can only afford to hear a whisper, because if we could hear the full voice in all its power and beauty, we would simply explode. There is no room in our human flesh to hold anything remotely as magnificent or significant.

I want my art to show the world that we are loved. Even if the art might speak of darkness. Even if the art might make you feel emotions you’d rather not feel. Especially when the art lifts you up. Even more if the art challenges who you are.

I want my art to make you understand that you are loved;

that though this world is fleeting, doomed to fail on its crowns, there is light that whispers through us. When we do what we love and when we love, we hear the whisper.

When we let the whisper speak through us, like a prism, we are given the opportunity to disperse light into the world.

 

A note on this piece: Yesterday afternoon, I launched my work, what wakes you, an art installation of paintings and poetry inspired by a stunning sunrise. At the close of the exhausting but beautiful day I was overcome with gratitude to God. I couldn’t do much else as I sat in awe, considering how He would allow us selfish little humans to experience art, creativity and inspiration — and  to walk as witness to His exquisite creation that we continuously choose to destruct. What a Creator! As I began to process it all, and the journey of bringing my art into public space, I began to write the words that turned into this piece. (See more updates on my art here or here.)

2015, thank you for the surprises

The celebration of Chinese New Year is the perfect excuse to share my long overdue personal review of 2015. I scribbled this list in my sketchbook while on vacation last month and never got around to typing it up. But here it is finally:

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2015 was a standout.

I put up my first solo art show at a local cafe, if the ground moves, a collection of poetry and paintings. I nicknamed it my exercise in vulnerability. On opening night, I held a reading and friends played music. At first I was frightened, then overwhelmed, then grateful – for all good reasons.
I traveled. For a wedding. For Buhay Makulay. For myself.
I paid more bills.
I wrote more checks.
I met a boy.
I taught a lot of fitness classes.
I lost my phone. And flipped my room over trying to look for it.
I got my first nephew.
I started a daily writing project as creative exercise and called it #StoriesOnSquares. I have yet to get back into it again.
I continued to cut my own hair, about once a month in my bathroom. Except once when I decided it might be good to clean up the cut professionally. The haircut I paid for ended up to be nothing special.
I had many sleepovers. And a couple picnics.
I worked on my artist website and shared my work online.
I made plans. Changed some.
I cooked a lot, but mostly for just me.
I ran my first “race.” 10k.
I began to read my Bible. Really read it.
I bought two pairs of shoes. (Only two!) One for work and one for the run.
I watched many sunsets.
I sat in countless meetings. I led many of them.
I went back to communities that Buhay Makulay had traveled to in 2014. Mom and I facilitated free training for teachers, community leaders, volunteers and even teenagers – a crash course child-centered and creative programming. These trips kept life in perspective.
I made time to read books. And finally finished my fasting challenge from the previous year – to abstain from any book purchases until I had read ten books already gathering dust on my own shelf.
I drew in my journal.
I painted by the mountains. I painted by the beach. I painted by my window.
I turned 26.
I led our operations team through some unforgettable challenges at the Paper Project. By the end of the year, I was keenly aware and grateful for the trust and respect given to me by the people I manage. Their openness to my leadership and mentoring despite being the (almost) youngest in the group humbled and inspired me.
I moved to a new apartment.
I sold a few paintings – my first sale of personal work since college.
I cried every now and then. At a few movies. In the middle of two different books.
After two and a half years of teaching fitness, I finished a contract and decided to take a break.
I relaunched Thread & Vine in partnership with my mom.
I started a Bible study group with women in my neighborhood.
I went out dancing.
I witnessed how much time it can take for an idea to sink in. After three years of working at The Paper Project, a few seeds planted when I started working there finally bore some fruit in others. It was wonderful to see.
I got very tense over travel visa applications.
I took a lot of Uber rides. I was stuck in a lot of traffic.
I walked a lot, but not enough.
I ate a lot of memorable meals.
I visited our fish farm and got to witness a harvest after many years.
I drank a lot of coffee.
I spoke at my church’s Youth lock-in about how our God does not change.
I didn’t dance enough.
I tried muay thai and loved it. Even the bruises.
I learned how to use a vintage letterpress machine.
I made the smoke alarm go off on my floor and panicked. It was just chicken in the toaster.
I traveled to Europe for the first time.
I went to Spain and got my luggage lost on the way. I fell in love with their ham and the tradition of the sobremesa.

I closed off the year in Rome, of all unexpected cities. I bid 2015 goodbye in the middle of the street by the famous Coliseum. And in the warm embrace of friends I hadn’t seen in almost eight years (and cheap wine), I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for another year full of great stories.

Those final moments of 2015 are hard to forget because Rome and that whimsical reunion hadn’t even been part of the plan. In fact it was only made possible because other plans hadn’t worked out. (An emerging trend of that year.) That new year’s eve was a great reminder to allow life to happen without holding on too tightly for control. Despite anxiety and impatience, things turned out just as they should have, and beautifully.

From one year of surprises to the next, may I carry that patience and sense of adventure this year. 2016, I dare you to be incredible.