Top 10: Express Yourself

Having a Field Day.
Kenosha, WI. 2020.

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”

Marcus Aurelius.

What does a trip to an unfamiliar city, a visit to a favorite museum, a cinematic premiere paired with gourmet-butter-and-salt-soaked popcorn, a prized promotion at work, and falling unexpectedly in love have in common? Aside from being placed on a brief hold due to the terms of your local stay-at-home order: these experiences are the very fuel for our greatest self expressions.

As we collect more experiences, we expand our schemas of possibility. As we observe new colors, taste new fusions, and listen to new arrangements; our imaginations are reborn. Just as the universe is rapidly expanding, so are our fantasies. When we abandon judgment and allow our souls to become receptive to that which brings us joy; reality becomes anything but a source of limitation.

Our early experiences and adult socializations have taught us to abandon portions of ourselves. We may have learned to reject our desires, our needs, and our considerations in efforts to gain the affections of others. We may have quieted our minds, our hearts, and our values to appease the company of those we deem more worthy. We may have traded the comfort in our selves for the comforts of another.

Settling into our self-expression allows us to abandon our neglectful patterns and embrace our innocence. When we honor our inherent tastes and talents, our eyes shine brightly as children’s do. We emulate bravery, creativity, and honesty and allow others to do the same. If this is sounding familiar – we’re reviewing lessons learned from Coach Carter (originally Marianne Williamson… I know, mom).

Over the years, I’ve seen many friends and lovers fall victim to the trappings of seeking mass approval. They’ve modified their appearances, opinions, and values in order to obtain some juvenile label of ‘coolness’. It seemed as though it became easier for them to uphold another’s definition of ‘worthiness’ instead of defining and maintaining their own. Easy, but at the cost of their identity.

As we reclaim our power to determine our own worth, we free ourselves from the expectations of others. We may revel in the simple joys of our favorite novels, lacquered canvasses, and familiar ballads. Identifying and expressing our deepest joys allows us to return to ourselves, giving us the opportunity to be truly known.

Continue reading for the Top 10 Ways to Express Yourself. And yes, that song is stuck in my head too.

Reading. Whether you prefer to entertain realms of fiction or accounts of non-fiction, reading allows one of the purest forms of imagination to ignite. While the author directly influences our formations of characters and settings, we build unique realities than run parallel to our earthly existence. Cover to cover, we surrender ourselves into the context that we’ve been granted. We remain unguarded to new trials, tribulations, and influences. Buried in unfamiliar scenes, we are granted unexpected wisdoms that may influence our lives forever: “his dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman” (Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens).

Drawing / Painting. When executing sketches or paintings of any kind, we are empowered to decide if we’d like to draw forms as they appear, or as we imagine them. We may choose the precision of a pencil or the unforgiving boldness of a tube of oil paint. We may choose to create for the satisfaction of the expression itself, or to appease the tastes of others. I find that I create my best work when I am not overly concerned with the opinion of others. I choose subjects that bring me comfort and joy (ie: pizza slices topped with roses, artfully decorated coffee-mug rings, etc). We must avoid the pressures of perfectionism and meet our talents where they are today. Bonus points if you proudly display it on your fridge.

Photography. For those who practice photography as a profession, this creative vehicle is less expression and more of a honorable science. These artists understand light, focus, and form in ways that many of us do not consider. Yet, for those of us armed with the latest and greatest iPhone whatever, this can be one of the most satisfying forms of expression. Even the most imperfect of images offer a lens into the mind of the photographer; allowing an understanding of their definition of beauty and significance. Each photo serves as an acknowledgement of the existence, importance, and power of it’s subject. It is my goal to take photos of my loved ones that they will treasure forever, allowing them to see the beauty I see in them.

Writing. From journals to love letters, to creative storytelling; writing allows us a rare opportunity to control the details of our own narratives. We may express our hopefulness, passions, and pains with reckless abandon. We can explore the corners of our minds and expand our influence at the same time. Those who struggle to feel heard in their daily lives may revel in the power of publishing the fruits of their consciousness for the world to read. The next time you finish reading a book you adore, challenge yourself to writing an additional final chapter to the book. I’ve done this a few times and amazed myself with what I found in the depths of my imagination each time. There is so much creativity, complexity, and sheer genius that is looking for an opportunity to escape your mind. Impress yourself!

Music. One might prefer to listen to music while another prefers to play it. Another might be drawn to the familiar sounds of their childhood while the next prefers to explore the latest and greatest underground productions. I curate playlists for nearly every event, no matter how insignificant it may be seem. I can play my favorite albums on a loop for a week at a time. Music has the power to deliver me from fearless badassery, hungered vulnerability, total breakdown, and back again. The perfect song has the power to bring us right back to an exact time and place, second only to the scent of a candle. We are victim to you, prince Hozier!

Dancing. Paired with the perfect music, dance works to close the loop on the power of soulful movement. No matter the sophistication of the choreography, emotions pour out of us we shift side to side. We may sway to the tune of a waltz, or full blown hip-swing to the tune of Savage. Either way, we render ourselves vulnerable to the immersion of expression. Some of my greatest college memories are from nights spent dancing under a dive bar spotlight without a care in the world.

Interior Decorating. Growing up in apartments, I didn’t have the luxury of expressing myself on the walls of my shared bedroom. In 8th grade, I got the first opportunity to do so and went absolutely buck-wild. I painted my walls robins-egg blue and tacked no less than 20 photos of Zac Efron to it’s surface. In college, I admired posters of Drake, Kid Cudi, and a scantily-clad Kate Upton. Since then, I’ve resigned to the world of advertisements and antiques. I’m obsessed with candlesticks and anything reminiscent of an old Irish pub. I overhaul my apartment every few months and try to revamp the aesthetic (think Mad Men meets St. Patrick’s Day). It is very important to me that I feel my home is curated specifically for me. It helps me feel a sense of stability in an otherwise revolving door of places to call ‘home’. It is incredibly important that we find comfort in feelings of permanence, no matter our circumstances.

Hosting. Whether it be my family, my friends, a lover, or someone somewhere in-between; I feel compelled to make them feel celebrated and treasured whenever they’re in my home. I stock my fridge with their favorites and attempt recipes beyond my repertoire, all the while aiming for presentation points. I never want a moment to be taken for granted. So, I’ll set the table, light the candles, start the playlist, set-up glittery gold decor, and make breakfast in the morning. Catering to the details allows you to influence any experience in a way that will never be forgotten.

Style. It’s 2020, and almost nothing is taboo. We’ve all experimented with pastel hair dye, piercings, and under-cuts. Some of us even sprang for less forgiving tattoos. As we evolve, we manipulate the way in which we want the world to perceive us. We might slap on a smokey eye for a devious night out, baby-powder ourselves into spandex pants for god knows what reason, or trade it all in for a plush robe. We don’t have to take ourselves so seriously.

Telling the truth. While we’ve broached the many ways in which we can express ourselves, we’ve coolly bypassed one key element. No matter the mode, our expression must be honest. We must invest in expressions that are genuine. What is reading a book to impress another, if not torture? What is listening to an album without a soulful connection, if not misery? What is muting your style to gain approval, if not the denial of your truest self? If we cannot be raw, we cannot be known. If we cannot be known, we cannot be truly loved. We owe it to ourselves to live honestly. We mustn’t blame others for our fear. We must not live in the shadows for the sake of approval.

In order to live our expressive truths, we must abandon the shame we’ve learned. Our books aren’t ‘nerdy’. Our music isn’t ‘typical’. Our style isn’t ‘too much’. We are enough, just as we are. No matter if your artistic tastes are rooted in tradition or dedicated to the disruption of status quo, it is essential that you stay confident and inspired.

Self-expression is the key to finding and maintaining self love. We must resist temptation to cower from the judgment of ourselves and all others. Only when we grant ourselves permission to live our own truths; may we foster genuine relationships and build confidence in our worth. With that, we may find the power to “learn to leave the table when love is no longer being served.” Thanks again for the soulful and timely wisdom, Nina.

P.S. Here’s a killer playlist to help get your freak flag flying high.

“Perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us they know exactly how it should be done.”

Rudy Francisco.