More Cloudy Days in Chicago

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You should see how many blog drafts I have.

“Maybe what you need is to leave Kansas City. Like, physically get into your car and drive away. Reset.”

Monday, January 6th, 2020 I walked out of my corporate reality, and took a running leap into the great unknown. I knew I didn’t have all the details worked out for self-employment, but I was consumed with one major thought: Time is not a renewable resource. I was doing this for the future Ariell ten years down the road.

Getting through the rest of 2019 to 2020 took everything I had, which wasn’t much. I was running on fumes, and my victory run to the finish line looked and felt more like a forced jog.

So, here I was post-Monday January 6th soaking up the residual shockwaves of an intense building year, and my body took this as it’s long-awaited opportunity to plummet into rest and recovery. Though I have been able to regularly get into the gym (thank God!), plummet, my body did. I was exhausted. Like, exhausted. After this started to subside in its intensity, internal paralysis started to move in to take its place. I was stuck not only physically anymore, but also mentally and emotionally.

A couple weeks after the brakes on my corporate life were applied and I was thickly tangled in the internal mess of the ups and downs of my leap of faith, I was having another long phone call with my mother (affectionately known as Ma). She made the suggestion to pack up from KC and make the trek up north to the Chicagoland area to get away and reset. Here I would also be surrounded by immediate and extended family, and the kind of old friends who will always and truly know me. Made sense; she was right. Why didn’t I think of that first?

This past Tuesday I packed up my CR-V (Lafawnda the Honda, according to my sister) and made the eight hour trek to the land of Bears hats, deep dish pizza, and where the passing lane is an expectation rather than a suggestion (I’m looking at you, Missouri). One of the great things about this new life of mine is I am not restricted by time. I don’t have the looming pressure and anxiety of having to be back in Kansas City by a certain time.

So far, I have seen my Ma, sister, youngest brother, and one of my best friends from high school. I had healthy and ah-mazing vegan food with my sister in a restaurant called Dancing Dog, then followed that up with a double-shot drink and mozzarella sticks in the bar she manages. I took the L for the first time, and one of the guys on the subway called me out as a newbie (I didn’t realize it was that obvious). My youngest brother called to have free day passes set aside for me at the gym he used to work at, so I gladly got my butt kicked in a barre class. My brother bought me $1 earrings in Boys Town. My friend Jesy and I talked and laughed at Goddess and the Grocer outside Wicker Park, remembering instantly why we were such good friends in junior high and high school.

At the moment, I am sitting in a coffeeshop (imagine that) in Downers Grove, Illinois’ Main Street, watching Saturday shoppers with their dogs and coffees in hand and the regular passing of the Metra trains. I have been writing, rewriting, writing, tearing up, deleting, then writing again. It is a cloudy day, which according to the chatty and Euro-stylish retail associate outside Wicker Park, is a record. Apparently, Chicago has never seen this many consecutive days of cloudy weather. Today marks day twelve.

I have known all about cloudy days lately.

As I write, light gray slowly turns darker gray as winter dusk approaches.

I don’t know how to express all I have been feeling since leaving the corporate life. I had enough. Will you allow me to be real? As most women in the workforce can personally attest, this wouldn’t have been the first work situation where I had been held back, talked over, treated like my opinion had little to no value, hushed, put in my place, ignored, and worse… repeatedly. This is tame for what I could write, and as a woman, I don’t want to give in to the pressure anymore to be quiet about mentalities like this towards the input and value of women in the workplace. The thing is it is rarely the majority of the workplace, just a few who are this way at key moments (and not even necessarily all the time!). I believe we all have a greater responsibility to do better. Let’s do better, and value women.

I left with the belief if I make the space, all the good things I had built and invested in would have the necessary room to expand and flourish.

I always want to be encouraging, but all I have to offer is this current raw struggle. This blurry cloudy place. Vague, yet very real. It has been a fight to keep fighting. I have often wondered how the heck all of this will work out, and I keep wanting to tie off all of these things I want to say in a pretty little bow. Hence, all the blog drafts. But that’s just not happening in the way I like (yes, I overthink things), so this is as good as this is going to get today.

Right now though, I am settling into the arms of people who love me, who will always be my safety net, and into the belief there will always be an end to cloudy days.

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https://www.beautycounter.com/ariellbraem

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Please VOTE: New Comp Cards Pics

Hey there, I need your help.

I recently had pictures taken to assemble a comp card, which is basically something that is presented at auditions and agencies as my professional calling card. There are generally four categories of images that are on a card like this: 1) headshot, 2) torso and above shot, 3) side profile, and 4) full body.

These images should be natural and minimalistic, which is why I am wearing basic makeup and typical audition attire in these pictures: black tank, jeans and black pumps. It is also okay if these pictures show a little natural personality, especially in the Midwest.

Jenn Robbins is one of the first few people I met and befriended in the fashion industry in Kansas City. I always appreciate connectors and entrepreneurial women who champion other women – Jenn is this all day long. Among the many things she does (a few being, getting her degree, modeling, running a couple businesses, and graphic designing), she is a fantastic photographer. She makes the process comfortable and safe, and she is truly committed to make you look and feel your best in the pictures she takes.

Oh, and she also is a fire performer. Yep, you heard me.

I am including her contact info at the bottom of this page. You will be glad to have met her. Please tell her I sent you.

Also, these pictures would not be possible without Heather (IG: @heatherbcurvy). To me, she falls in the same category as Jenn – someone I am so grateful to have gotten to know. She is kind, supportive, and a wealth of information and experience. She was at this shoot, moving this wild hair of mine out of my face and coaching me as Jenn took pictures: “Now, open your mouth a bit, turn a little more, pop your hip to the right, keep your arm there, you’re doing great…”

Honestly, I cannot say enough about these two women.

On to these pictures…Would you mind giving me your feedback on which pictures I should use for my comp card? I have my favorites, but I want to see what you think. Leave your votes in the comments here, or in the comments on my IG or FB page. I put letters with each picture to make voting easy.

Happy voting! And… THANK YOU SO MUCH!

1) HEADSHOT

2) TORSO AND ABOVE

3) SIDE PROFILE

4) FULL BODY

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Jenn Robbins

Website: jenniferrobbins.net/

Direct contact: jenniferrobbinsg6@gmail.com or find her on Messenger

Follow her: @jenn.a.robbins

Becoming A Model: Year One

A year ago, I would have never thought I would be walking away from my first volunteer season of Kansas City Fashion Week with the realization that I could walk the runway… and then have the capacity and determination to do so.

I also didn’t think I would be walking in that show exactly a year later.

White translucent boots, fishnet tights, blue wig ‘n all.

Let’s back up: It is a little known fact that what I originally was pursuing in college was fashion design. I just didn’t know how to get there, and if I really wanted it. Was it really the design part of the industry I wanted? Though I made super crazy hodge-podge, ultra-colorful clothes in high school with scraps of fabric from my ma’s sewing bin, I didn’t have the patience for creating a well-made garment. (hence, pants made with one tight rear cheek while the other pathetically sags, and a crotch area that was all wrong were the result.) But I knew the fashion industry was one of the industries that made sense to me somehow (and for the sake of clarity, working in a Banana Republic store isn’t what I am talking about when I talk about working in the fashion industry).

Frankly, anything with a stage feels like home, but that’s another story for another time.

In my experience, anything in the artistic industries doesn’t necessarily have a clear set path, and those that are say, CPAs or attorneys or doctors or hotel managers, haven’t typically understood that. Though, I am sure they all mean well, and they just want me happy and thriving. I have gotten a lot of, “Well, what are you doing to make that happen?” which becomes exhausting. For me, it’s been mostly trial and error, making connections, using my gut, and “waiting for the right time” while working on my skills in the meantime (and mostly failing at it) with the limited extra time I have. These typically aren’t industries that provide consistent living means, so the main dream became the side dream out of necessity. And then the next question I have gotten is, “But if you love it, well then, why aren’t you doing it?”

Because, rent.

And because I hadn’t quite figured out what I love exactly is or how to get there. All I know is where it is and that other people are somehow doing what I want to do, whatever that is.

It’s been a tough spot to live in; let alone, explain. Usually it’s come out as me sputtering something about, “I only know that I am made for it, but it hasn’t worked out for some reason yet.”

For me that has usually been followed by blank skeptical stares, and sometimes this comment:

“You’re a millennial who doesn’t know how to stick around to build a career.”

I HAD a job opportunity in a similar industry (music) 10 years ago, but the timing and opportunity wasn’t right, as much as I violently opposed that realization. I had to begrudgingly let it go, but not before, while in the middle of a dream being realized, my entire self ignited with purpose and with a resounding “Hell yeah, THIS IS WHAT I WAS MADE FOR.”

It was one of the hardest decisions of my life.

Time and numerous similar interactions with people had taught me to be quiet about my dreams. To disregard them. To downplay them. To second-guess them. To change the subject. To bury them. To cry myself to sleep over them. To silently die inside over them as the fire in me ironically continued to grow.

Any one feeling me over here??

This is not to point fingers; it’s simply the truth of my story. I know I am not alone in this struggle.

One of the best ways I can describe it is akin to putting a puzzle together.

Except most of the pieces are missing.

And the top of the puzzle box is blank.

And the pieces don’t seem to make sense and aren’t fitting together though some look like they should (my puzzle people feel me?).

Meanwhile, there are those that are effortlessly finding their puzzle pieces and have the tops of their puzzle boxes. Some are even almost done. These puzzle wizards are now either staring at you, leisurely sipping their victory tea and wondering out loud why you aren’t done, while others are telling you where to put the pieces.

But that’s not where that piece goes, and the pieces they are trying to force together don’t actually fit. But somehow you are being told that this isn’t being completed because you must be lazy, unrealistic, flighty or a failure.

When you know in your heart of hearts that’s not true. None of that bullshit is.

I am not lazy. I am not flighty. I am not a failure.

Neither are you.

I have not missed it.

Neither have you.

But fast forward to now…

The picture I always felt was there on the top of the puzzle box is being revealed, and it’s far more tremendous than I could have ever dreamt.

Can you see and feel it?!

Here I was with a realization as I watched those models walk last year: I can do this, and I would’ve never considered it before without seeing it, or honestly, without first going through two years of therapy.

This is just one piece to the puzzle for me.

After that light-bulb moment, I began soliciting advice and coaching from different models in the fashion industry last December, and I was taken aback by the willingness of the Kansas City fashion community to welcome me in and share with me. In between measuring models for last year’s Spring show tryouts, I practiced my walk with seasoned models. Took pointers. Learned the rules. (There are rules to runway modeling! Who knew?)

Then I went for it. I auditioned with my heart thundering out of my chest and with terror that had to have been evident on my face.

But I made the roster! This means that the KCFW committee saw my walk and headshot and allowed me to be a part of the pool of models that they would allow the designers to choose from.

I didn’t get picked up by a designer.

I started trying out for other shows. Terrified. But not as much as before. Slowly improving and always making the roster.

At my second tryout for another show I nearly fell over in my walk and gave a (truly) gruesome headshot, and somehow a designer (LV Swim) saw that hideous tryout and said, “I’ll take her.”

For that I am so grateful.

In preparation, I met up with a local model coach who has been in this industry for 18 years and is killing it: Walking multiple times for a long list of designers at Paris Fashion Week and fashion week’s all over the States; doing extensive print modeling; and sitting on various fashion boards, among other impressive accomplishments. (See below for the contact info for Noelle Manica, one of sweetest and most helpful human beings ever.)

I walked that first show this past April for LV Swim. Within five months, I have walked in four other shows, had a photoshoot for a local designer’s new line, and am currently waiting to hear if I got picked up by a designer in another show. I also started as an ambassador for an iconic KC gym. Watch for more on that soon!

Last Saturday, two other models volunteered their time to show me some more modeling pointers, coaching me through what to do in front of the camera, and how to perfect my walk. I couldn’t be more grateful. (Contact info for Heather and Jenn are below. Heather has been at this for a long time, and Jenn also doubles as a stellar photographer.)

@heatherbcurvy, me and @jenn.a.robbins last week.
So grateful to these ladies for their coaching and feedback!

This ain’t easy.

And my goodness, it is so scary. Sometimes fear and doubt have gotten the best of me.

But I am doing it.

The best part? I have people in my life who are supporting me and cheering me on.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, y’all. Buckle up.

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Support your local women! Check out some of the talent and support I have the pleasure of knowing and have mentioned in this post:

LV Swim: Don’t go to Target; buy all things beachy-, sleepy- and comfy-wear from this local designer! Find her on Facebook at LV Swim and follow her on IG @lv_swim

Noelle Manica / The Model Board: For more info, for model coaching and to contact her, go to www.themodelboard.com, and follow her @the.model.board on IG

Heather: Follow her @heatherbcurvy at IG

Jenn Robbins: Check out her website www.jenniferrobbins.net/, contact her directly at jenniferrobbinsg6@gmail.com for further information, and follow her @jenn.a.robbins on IG

Be Seen: Part 3

Hey so, this was a really fun shoot.

Excuse me, two shoots. (More on that in a few.)

You might recall the first two Be Seen posts being more intense in nature. If you haven’t read those yet, I would encourage you to do so either now or well, later.

This was not like those previous two. Wanna see the pictures? Buckle up, because there are a lot of them.

I did not start modeling because I am already a pro; I started to become a pro.

My goal for this photo session with Larry was to work on poses. Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not easy. You have a lot to think about: Now, remember to stand up straight and to cross your legs as you walk, but not too much; wait, what is my hand doing here?; I should close my mouth a millimeter; Ok, there you go… tilt your chin slightly down; make sure to lengthen your leg; roll your shoulders back, but not too far back; give them a fierce look, or more like sexy fierce, but really like whimsy, PG-sexy fierce; and now relaaaaaxxxxx.

Still don’t believe me?

Start modeling as a 30-something among a bunch of 18 year olds or among models who have been nailing poses for the past decade and then tell me if you doubt yourself.

But your girl here is one strong-willed fighter (my mama can stand up and attest). I ain’t no quitter, and I am determined to get much better.

Because time is not a renewable resource.

Larry and I agreed to meet at the Filling Station on Gillham at 6:30 am. I am a sucker for good graffiti and old brick or industrial buildings. There are some good ones in this area.

6:45 am – still no Larry.

I text him, but there’s no answer. I am sure he just slept in accidentally, and that he would be getting my message soon. I decided to make the most of it, and to take pictures of myself on my phone, practicing what it looks like for me to be in front of the camera.

I sheepishly set up my phone out of sight of the windows of the Filling Station staff and of course, making sure to act totally natural when dog owners come out to walk their pups.

I pushed play on video and started to move.

I played around with poses, angles, and discovering what made sense for my face and body type. I used my oversized sweater as a prop (one of my finds from my latest time in Amsterdam), stretching it and seeing what I could do with it.

I had a lot of fun, though I felt kinda silly and like an imposter. But I know that I have to plow through this fear and these feelings of inadequacy if I am going to have any hope of getting past them.

NOTE: Blending in with the industrial and slightly grassy surroundings was totally unintentional.

Ultimately, finding out who I am behind the camera is a process and a personal conversation with myself.

Around 7:30 am Larry calls very upset with himself.

We all make mistakes. Be gracious and kind when others make them.

He drove out to meet me, and we rolled into the second photo shoot of the morning, coffees in hand.

Clearly, you can tell he has the better camera and the years of photographing experience. He moves, he moves me, and we move as the light changes.

Wanna give a little shout out to the garment strings on both my dress and sweater that unbeknownst to me made shameless appearances throughout this whole morning.

I was too nervous to get serious and work on poses now that someone was watching me. But this is okay too, because this is all in his style – completely candid.

He asked me to show him my runway walk. Interestingly enough, for the designers I have been scheduled to walk for since I began, I have only one show out of 5 where I wear heels. All the others, I am either barefoot or in boots. As a runway model, it’s been interesting to figure out my walk without traditionally wearing heels, figuring out creative ways to look good in pictures and on the runway.

In the long run, I think it’ll make me a better runway model.

[There are a few slideshows in this blog post, and I think that though it may be fun to look at each picture (and totally feel free to, because for some it makes sense to), it is also pretty fun to click through each quickly. It’s sorta like you can see me walking or talking.]

And a little more walking. This time with a little from behind.

Of course, intermingled with plenty of chatting. Because we are chatty people.

Seriously. I love graffiti. So, this backdrop just makes my heart happy. Creativity is everywhere, and it always seeks to have a voice. For me, I love the raw, boldness of graffiti; it’s unapologetic ability to make itself be heard. Some may think graffiti is violating or disgraceful, even if the work is commissioned; I choose to instead see a talented life behind the creation of it.

To me, there is no point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Life is a beautiful mess, and that’s just how it is. I am grateful to the artist who created this colorful bull behind me. I mean, look how much more fun these pictures are because of it.

We took an impromptu break and kept chatting. Or least, I kept chatting, and he just kept snapping.

If there are any smiling pictures in all of this, it is because I have purposely stopped talking long enough for a picture to be snapped.

Otherwise, I am usually laughing.

Or really engaged in something.

Can you spot the jogger?

Let’s all stop and have a passing-through puppy break. Aww….

And we wrap it up here. In front of this grandiose house on the corner.

Me and a moment with the bird. #edgarallenpoe

Have any favorite pictures? Not sure how you would be able to tell me which one(s) you liked the most, but you can sure try!

Lastly, remember that you are not doing yourself or the world any favors showing up as anything less than who you are and who you are created to be.

It’s A Movement Back to the Table

I believe the movement back to the greatest privilege of life starts around the table.

Years ago, I was living in Africa. I was four weeks out from coming back Stateside, and I was dreading leaving. Why? The “poor” of third world countries have a gift we don’t have – a life without first world demands. My experience with third world peoples is limited and just my own; I don’t claim to know third world realities as a whole. I realize there are things that we are blessed beyond words for, but when I lived among them, I believe they have us beat on valuing one of the greatest gifts of life: relationships.

I remember a beautiful Australian woman I was in Africa with asked if I was excited to go back home. I just cried. No, I wasn’t. You don’t realize the tremendous stress we live under in this country until you are stripped off it for a period of time. Limited internet, no bills, and a whole lot of just “being” together. Loving, learning, laughing and living. We would eat together for hours despite our conversations limited by language, and they were some of the best experiences.

My passion for the table started in an old farm house on Beaver Valley Road.

One of my favorite memories of my ma is of her cooking and her love of experiencing good food. This is a woman who will talk passionately of the soil in her garden, who will indulge wholeheartedly in fresh picked, dark red tomatoes with good bread and Bulgarian feta, who will laugh so hard she’ll slide off the couch, and who would encourage me to invite my friends over all summer to just hangout around the pool and would make us homemade pizza. When she would cook, she’d fill the house with Dinah Shore, Patsy Cline or The Tenors, sometimes pour herself a glass of White Zinfandel, and put her favorite pan on low heat. She would find what was in the refrigerator and create. This is where cooking became way more than food; it became an experience.

The ladies – my ma, me and my sister, Georgia.
As usual, I am the only one following directions and smiling like a normal person.

She would call me into the kitchen, ask me to taste the sauce she was making to see what I thought was missing. I would give her my opinion, and she would take it. She’d then call me back 10 minutes later to see what I thought now. We would do that a few times until we felt it was right. This is where I learned it was okay to experiment and make mistakes in the creative process.

Ten years ago, I was accidentally introduced to the profound potential of the table.

In my twenties, I was celebrating my birthday with about 15 people, some of whom I knew and a few of whom I did not, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Northern Illinois. When we went around the table to share how each person knew me, they shared how they had just met me the hour before. I loved it! This is where I learned the possibility of the wonderful sneakiness of the table to bring people together who may not any other way.

I had other dinner parties and helped manage big events over the next decade: Christmas Extaveganza’s of 2009 and 2010, Thankful Friends Dinner of 2009, and my own birthday party once I moved to KC, to name a few.

But I wanted to do more, and I hadn’t found anyone who truly “got me” in this way when I relocated to Kansas City eight years ago.

Then, a year and a half ago, I met Ricky and Whitney around their Epic Table.

Long story short, they decided to clear out their apartment living room in Hyde Park, and with board by board hoisted through their third story bedroom window, they built an 18-foot table, inviting anyone in the community to come. I immediately became a groupie. I came to almost every dinner. Brings tears to my eyes now, because for the first time, I found people who extravagantly did something audacious with the table on a consistent basis. They got it. They got me.

The #glitterbomb couple #rickywhitney and me at their last Epic Table in their apartment.

And at that time in my life the table became a life raft of hope and peace thrown to me. It was deeply healing for so many reasons, and I am forever grateful for their audacious decision to do something “crazy” and out-of-the-box.

A new season of Epic Table has begun.

In July, Ricky and Whitney hopped a plane and crossed an ocean to Bangladesh to volunteer for one of the world’s largest refugee camps in the world for the next year. They sold their apartment, and I took up the torch in Strawberry Hill to keep the movement going.

When I say you are welcome, I mean it.

I believe the table is a powerful thing: the way it nourishes us, builds community, fosters belonging, heals broken hearts, provokes meaningful interactions, and forces us to engage with those we wouldn’t in any other setting. It levels the playing field, and levels out our over-stressed nervous system. It is a place to be safe and seen. It encourages us be vulnerable, to believe the best in people, and to live a full and abundant life. We laugh often, eat always, grow beautifully, cry sometimes and just connect.

You don’t have to come to Epic Table, because I realize that’s a difficult thing for some people. If more comfortable for you, be encouraged to start a tradition of your own to meet with people around a table on a consistent basis. You will be so grateful you did. I also want you to know you are undeniably welcome around Epic Table.

Let me say that again: YOU ARE WELCOME.

The reason I shout Epic Table from the rafters so much is because I am tired of not living a full and abundant life, and I have a sneaky suspicion you feel the same way. Ricky and Whitney made space for something truly transformative to happen, and it is my joy and honor to carry on that legacy.

There is no catch, no bait and switch, no fine print. Epic Table was started with the understanding that if the proverbial and physical space is created, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s the only goal.

Come as you are. Come as you. Come.

Be Seen: Part 2

Though this post is triggered by and centered around my second photo (therapy, more like) session with Larry, it really isn’t about the pictures. Though I will talk about modeling, it really isn’t about that either.

It is about the deep, overwhelming, low, ugly rollercoaster that has slowly swallowed my internal life the past couple weeks in the wake of their reveal.

“Once again, you make the dumbest, worst timed mistakes.” (more on that in a few)

“Why did you ever think you had a pretty face?”

“Geez girl, you are getting old. I can’t even look at you.”

Mostly, deep down the rumble would swell in growing, then receding, then again, growing waves, brooding dark familiar momentum, “What the hell do you think you are doing pursuing being in front of the camera? They won’t and don’t want you. Time’s up.”

***{PAUSE} Yikes, right? I was in a real shit storm here. I have a feeling you know this dialog. Well, how about we choke the life out of this old boring script, and get to the positive, bright, promising truth?***

But first, here’s the story – the short(er) version:

I had my second photography session with Larry a couple Saturdays ago. If you haven’t read my first “Be Seen” blog post, go back and check it out.

I was nooootttt feeling it. I was exhausted beyond words from my work week, and I had recently made a hair-brained lapse in judgment and hyper-pigmented my face, especially patching my eyes like a raccoon (long story) and setting myself back in the progress I have painstakingly made with my skin.

Right before I could cancel with Larry – no really, I was picking up my phone to do so – he texted me a proposed gameplan for the morning.

“Hi! Hows about we meet at Crow’s Coffee next to Whole Foods? We can sit outside. How do you feel about literally crawling out of bed, throwing some random clothes on and come down? No planning what to wear, etc. Just come as you are. 7am?”

I’m a sucker for random clothes and early morning coffee chats. Ok, sure, fine.

If I was being honest, “come as you are” to an early morning coffee chat meant no makeup. I also made the (ridiculous) decision to exfoliate my face 30 minutes before our shoot.

To sum up: I showed up exhausted, hyper-pigmented, makeup-less and freshly red-faced.

But wait, there’s more.

Larry proposed to be the one to pick my pictures for the blog post this time, since I picked the last session’s. When he sent me two albums later that day, he specified that the “Selected” album could not be looked at until I was ready to write. I called him the next morning on the way to the Filling Station on Gillham, and he relayed the terms. I could pick 7 pictures out of the 20(ish) that I did not want to use, then after making my selections I had to text him one last time to tell him which ones I chose.

Can you feel the uh-oh?

His response: “Ok. So. The other 7 must be shared. Blah, blah, blah.”

I couldn’t breathe. In the rest of the text he told me I could sprinkle in some of the others, but all I read was that first full sentence, and the rest sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown.

Now in case you feel tempted to think ill of my friend Larry here, know that this is a challenge I need, and in the end the gunk that was unearthed by those seven was hashed out within the safety of my every day life, ie. the kitchen, my car and sometimes my desk at work. It is important to have safe people in our lives that rock our comfy little boats and knock on the walls of our fear boxes. I was being provoked to find gold in what I only saw as disgusting, shameful and past her prime.

Let’s take a deep breath, and step back. Here is where the rubber meets the road:

Do you ever feel like you missed the boat on your life? That, if only? If only you had a well-connected mentor enthusiastically *gasp* and point you out in the middle of a crowded room as their next protege and heave-ho you out of your dark internal self-hatred, or if you hadn’t limped into your twenties with so much damn baggage, or hadn’t had scars on your face, you’d be walking for New York Fashion Week at 22 when your face (and neck, geez) is all fresh and collageny and your body hadn’t gone through weird hormone changes.

{You haven’t been left behind; get ready to set sail for a bright new world.}

Do you ever feel the disappointment of time lost? It almost feels like we are conditioned to believe that the window to live our best, fullest, sexiest, healthiest, most luxurious lives is small. Then the last 6-7 decades of our lives are to be spent lining shelves with jars of our tears, lamenting faded beauty, missed opportunities, and failed ability to carpe diem while slowly fading into a forgettable life.

{I don’t believe that’s the way your story is going to end.}

I think sometimes we need to sit down with our current bad mouthing, finger pointing selves and have a come to Jesus moment, defending our traumatized and scared younger versions to our uppity, how-could-you-do-this-to-me older and so much wiser versions. Remember that hindsight is 20/20. It wouldn’t be fair to hold the “you / me then” to the same wisdom and knowledge possessed by the “you / me now.

Fact is, I was told all of my 20s that I should model, but not one iota of that ever penetrated the thick webbed wall of unwantedness I have had since, well, always. The very thought of being in front of a camera filled me with complete panic and would bring me to tears within seconds.

I won’t nit-pick all the reasons why the thought of sharing these pictures made me cry crocodile tears for 30 minutes in Filling Station that Sunday morning. You may be able to figure out a few on your own. That’s not the point. The point is the perspective on my life and worth absolutely need / needed / needs to change, because this crap ain’t working.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin, poet

The thief of a full life is fear.

So, here we are. It’s a crossroads, y’all. Do you see it? Two paths laid out before us. One that is smooth, familiar and the way things have always been, looping back around the same mountain you have been walking around for way too long. The path is well worn and predictable. The other however is hidden and unknown. Are you about to go off a cliff, or begin a long grueling climb up? And where exactly are we going here? But wow, do you feel that draw? It whispers low and confidently of promise, longings fulfilled, and abundant bold life. We were made for this path.

“You’ll probably have to do things you never imagined you’d do because if your friends saw you doing it, you’d never live it down. Or they’d be concerned about you. Or they’d stop being friends with you because now you are all weird and different. You’ll have to believe in things you can’t see as well as some things that you have full-on proof are impossible. You’re gonna have to push past your fears, fail over and over again and make a habit of doing things you’re not so comfy doing. You’re gonna have to let go of old, limiting beliefs and cling to your decision to create the life you desire like your life depends on it.”

Because guess what? Your life does depend on it.

– Jen Sincero, author of that yellow book you are seeing everywhere: You Are A Badass, How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life

If I am honest with myself in these pictures, I came as I am, and what is actually beautiful is what I feel like came through: laughter, depth, empathy, expressiveness, sweetness. (And I looooove color and mis-matchy clothes. If I ever had my own clothing line… šŸ™‚ )

As I soaked in my bathtub last night listening to the tradeoff between eruptions of fireworks and downpours of rain, I got to the end of the tumult of the past couple weeks and found myself speaking out my own Declaration of Independence (yes, I know, the cheesiness is not lost on me), which felt oddly and ironically right. Not rehearsed, it just happened:

“I declare my independence from the way things have always been. I declare my independence from the opinions and expectations of others. I declare my independence from the societal restrictions of my age. I declare my independence from the fear that has robbed my life, etc…”

If I could sit down in front of you, hold your hand, and say anything, it’d be this: “Freaking YOLO.”

Yes, I am scared too.

Maybe you are already out there killing it with the best with ’em – good for you! Keep it up, and most importantly, keep encouraging others. If you are not or anywhere in-between, then you have probably heard all of this before. But maybe this is the time where it all clicks, and baby, things start cooking up real good for you. You get the final word on how this goes (no, really, you do). This ain’t over.

It is not too late.

You are not too old.

You are not too damaged.

You have not missed it.

Let that rumble through down to your bones, and visualize it making its way all. the. way. down to your cells, rewriting your DNA, and as a very wise woman has told me many times, visualize these phrases as good news messengers, “Good news, guys! Everything is about to change.”

Nothing worth having is had without being brave. #bravenewworld

“<<< LET FREEDOM RING. >>>”

Be Seen: Part 1

This is the most terrifying thing I have ever done.

A couple months back, a photographer friend of mine private messaged me after I posted on Facebook about how scary it can be to to be seen behind the lens of a camera, which is akin to my worst nightmare.

You know the nightmare: the nightmare of being naked in front of a group of people; Of unknowingly (and annoyingly) losing your pants at some point (and of course, no one told you) and now here you are standing in a horse stable amidst snickering jockeys; Or of being suddenly topless without a shirt to be found anywhere and you have to give a presentation of your life’s greatest work to a million eagerly waiting business professionals and soccer moms counting down in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.

I have a feeling a good number of you can relate.

Larry, my photographer friend was reaching out to let me know that when ready he would love to help me get over my fear.

How many of you admire Brene Brown? For those of you who have never heard of Dr. Brown, I strongly encourage you to do a little browsing. She is a research professor and social scientist who has spent a little less than a couple decades studying vulnerability, courage, empathy and shame.

If you have Netflix, she recently gave a talk encapsulating the whole of her work. Or you can google her famous TedTalk, which is one of the top 5 most watched TedTalks of all time. Or you could read any one of her excellent books.

The soul of her work hinges on a famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic that counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Being vulnerable is possibly the most terrifying thing we can ever do with our lives. Nothing worth having is had without this vital sacrifice. It is the launching point, the heartbeat, the gatekeeper to a full life, and it provides no exceptions. There are no loop holes, and it cannot be bribed or sweet-talked. To be vulnerable is to know disappointment and heartache, but also triumph and true wealth.

So, after my work deadline passed and months of overtime quieted, I summoned the courage to do the vulnerable thing, and I reached back out to Larry to set a time to meet up.

Loose Park, Saturday, May 18th at 7 am.

I arrived, two coffees in hand. It was a beautiful morning, raining only briefly, a small temporary respite from the weeks of constant downpours. The pavilion was covered in trash and squirrels. A Taco Bell bag laid atop the grill and a broken lawn chair was propped against an overflowing garbage can.

I actually like the rain, and I don’t mind a little mess. The stage was set.

When I look at these pictures I see scars on my face, partially grown-in eyebrows resulting from years of over-tweezing, a nose that kids used to make fun of, and a snaggle front tooth, and I feel like a guitar-playing poser. I feel awkward, unattractive and afraid.

And it still feels weird to look at my side profile. Anyone else feel like you don’t know who you are looking at when you see your side profile in pictures?

I have picked up and put down the guitar several times in my life.
Larry had to remind me how to make a D chord, which is why I am laughing so hard.
This guitar was a gift from a former customer and dear friend
from my Whole Foods Market days who used to be in the entertainment industry.

But I also see my mom, the expressiveness of my partially Greek bloodline, and someone who sometimes requires laughter to ground her when the deepness of her heart pulls her out to a tumultuous sea. I see pretty eyes, olive skin tone that tans easily (I am a summer girl to my core), and long fingers that are more elegant than I thought. I see the same kind expression that I had in my second grade school picture.

I see a woman emerging out of years of deep unyielding internal pain. I see a woman who is for the first time in her life choosing to believe that people like and love her. She is fiercely immoveable when needed, direct sometimes to a fault, and kind. I see a brave woman daring to be truly seen.

When I look at my life choices I often consider “What would the ‘me’ 6 months from now think of this moment?” “Two years from now?” “On my death bed?” This filter process has influenced my decisions to persevere through some of my life’s greatest battles thus far, to backpack through Europe with my youngest brother when it only sort of made sense practically, and to walk my first runway audition as a 30-something.

You and I live once on this planet. We all get to chose the parameters by which we live it. For me, making that old gal on her deathbed proud is one of my greatest goals.

This is just the beginning, my friends. I kind of don’t know what I just got myself into with pursuing modeling and this blog, but I was aware from the beginning that this freak out would likely come.

This is the first of more shoots with Larry to come, and I will be sharing each one with you.

The world awaits THE REAL you. Thank you for being here.

Bonus: Remember that pictures are a snapshot. Most of which are awkward and unflattering. It comes with the territory. For your viewing pleasure and in (almost) full disclosure, here are a few of my awkward and unflattering favs. Not sure if you’ll get a good giggle out of them, but I sure did.

Ps. This is Larry’s style – raw and unedited. Rather than a portrait photographer, he is a candid one. He has done some impressive work in his lifetime. If you would like more information on getting in touch with him, please reach out to me.

New Beginning

A spotlight shines quietly over an empty stage where a lone microphone waits.

It’s time.

It’s taken blood, sweat and a lot of tears to get to this moment – this very uncertain, unknown, exhilarating moment.

My moment.

Our moment.

I peak through the curtains stage right, palms sweating and surveying the dimly lit gymnasium, thankful for the natural light streaming in. Chairs are lined in mostly straight lines, and a few friendly faces fill those seats. Some family and friends who know and love me. I smile. I am not just doing this for me; I am doing this for them. But it is also because of them I can find the courage to even be here.

I wonder who will fill the remaining seats. What new faces will come. I get a little nervous.

I read a quote recently – one that I have been encouraged to adopt as daily reading. It reads:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

One of the first real pictures I took of myself after working
KC Fashion Week’s Fall Show 2018.
This was a significant moment.

I believe in the power of story. So, this is mine.

How do I possibly begin to summarize the roller coaster that has been the past 7-8 years? Not to mention, the last 2 1/2 of those years. Phrases like peaks but mostly valleys, hopeless disappointment, crippling exhaustion, and “at the end of my rope” are a start. And my goodness, the waiting. #canigetanamen

This took a noticeable toll on my body too. Oh, and let’s not forget the ever-popular aging process. I spent an entire year hiding from cameras. And crying a lot.

Then one day this past fall, while I was volunteering for the first time ever for Kansas City Fashion Week’s fall show, I looked at the models walking the runway, and realized, “I can do that.”

I had been told in my 20s that I should model. But I did not see what they saw, and I imagined only mockery, heckling, and pointing and laughing in my direction. I imagined my worst nightmare. My answer was always no.

“Who the hell does this girl think she is?”

“She looks just like my sister, random acquaintance, that one girl on that one TV show, the cashier at the grocery store, every other girl I have ever known in my life. She is not unique looking.”

“She’s not that pretty. Or in shape. Or talented.”

“I thought she was a good girl. Good girls don’t ever do, say, experience that or this or god-forbid THAT (whatever “that” may be to someone).”

Armed with the hard work of therapy and inner healing, I am embarking on arguably the worst and best timed modeling career (or whatever this turns out to be). I started trying out for shows, and walked my first ever show a couple weeks ago!

But this isn’t just about modeling (again, or whatever this is).

This is about the next chapter of my life. This is about me becoming me.

I’ll chat about modeling, networking (because I love showing off the amazing people in my life), vulnerable moments, health and wellness, beliefs, business ventures and advocacy (I sell Beauty Counter, so it’s bound to make an appearance every once in a while), probably a smidge of controversy, as much laughter as possible, maybe a man. Whatever, and come what may.

I believe it is time to share my story, because I also believe this is many of yours – this journey of shedding the old and walking into the new.

It’ll be messy and imperfect, but it’ll be worth it. You may love me now and not like me later, or vice versa. You may question my morals, judge my version of beauty, be brought to tears, or walk away feeling refreshed and empowered to finally be you. One thing this won’t be is squeaky clean. Consider this your friendly warning.

As dramatic as this may sound, I believe it is time to be seen. I feel like many of you can relate. I mostly hope this may (possibly, hopefully, definitely) serve, empower and compel you to flex your you-muscles to a waiting world. For me, there is no glory to settling for the sidelines or sitting in the cheap seats. #brenebrown I am drawing a line in the sand. And I am asking you to cross it with me.

Please cross it with me.

Is this audacious? Possibly.

Necessary? Absolutely.

Scary? Hell yeah.

Encouraging, uplifting, empowering? My greatest hope and reward.

Happy Blog Launch Day.
– Filling Station on Gillham –

As I begin my walk onto that creaky wooden stage leaving my veiled existence behind, I think about how everything up unto this point matters. I know I don’t have it all figured out, and I fear the criticisms and the misunderstandings. I left my speech notes backstage, and I’m excited where this may go. I know Marianne is right – playing small does not serve the world. I smile to myself knowingly – I am right where I am meant to be.

I reach the microphone, adjust the stand, tap it to make sure it’s on…

And open my mouth to speak.