Blog Archive Posts

vacilando: when the experience is more important than the destination

Work Right


I heard from two unexpected sources of wisdom this past week: David Johnson, President of Silent Images, and Scott Dikkers, a founding editor of The Onion. It's quite an unlikely pairing. On one hand, by highlighting the beauty of people amidst tragedy, David uses his camera to help "bring justice, freedom, and a voice" to the voiceless. On the other hand, by targeting the "foibles of humanity" everywhere, Scott uses humor to satirize traditional media coverage of current events. Yet as different as they are, both use stories in unexpected, necessary, and ultimately sticky ways that resonate with people. They challenge people to re-evaluate their perspectives of others and recognize their shared humanity - the impact I would like my storytelling to have too. These are some of my takeaways from their talks. "Seeing the World Through a New Lens" (DJ)

  1. Be a passionate person about everything I do. I'll never know when and where that perfect opportunity will arise.
  2. God has called me to love all people. I can use the camera in my hands to respond to the injustice I see around me.
  3. I am here to serve first, then photograph.
  4. When building a creative team, find people who are smarter than me.
  5. Personal impact of all the tragedy and pain that David has witnessed and documented:
    • Wonder at the depth of God's unconditional love for such a broken humanity
    • Joy and comfort that God is sovereign and will one day restore justice
    • Conviction and responsibility to collaboratively participate in the reconciliation process

"The Funny Story Behind the Funny Stories" (SD)

Scott Dikkers

  1. Nothing is effortless. Even the most naturally talented comedians had to learn how to make people laugh, and often the hard way (e.g. out of necessity as an emotional coping mechanism).
  2. Basic Principles of Creative Leadership
    • Live my mission, and I will become a person of vision. Find out what I need to do or want to do, and just do it. Doing so will create a center of gravity that draws people to me.
    • Invest my passion, not my money. Heart is all I need.
    • Be prepared to scrap everything. If I've invested your money and it's just not working out, maybe I need to redirect my passion.
    • Trust my people. Surround myself with people who are smarter than me, who love what they do, and who need to be doing it to be happy. They will work hard, but I need to trust them.
    • Work right. Learn from those who have gone before me.

Altogether, their advice really encourages me that I'm doing the right thing by focusing on my artistic potential. When I am sharing stories, I feel like I'm doing what I was created to do.



I finally discovered a fitting blog title that I feel really good about!

vacilando / SPANISH (verb) traveling when the experience itself is more important than the destination

I resonate because I created this blog to reflect on my creative process and to invite others into my experience. I think a lot about vision and how they say artists are nothing without vision, which intimidates me whenever I remember that I don't know exactly where I am going. But my summer with 2100 Productions reminded me that it's the process that refines and defines. It's less about Doing than it is about Being. So I'll take that first step. And the next, and the next.

Martin Luther says it well:

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified."

Donald Miller also says it well:

The human body essentially recreates itself every six months. Nearly every cell of hair and skin and bone dies and another is directed to its former place... [so] we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of the story is the character arc, the change. (A Million Miles In A Thousand Years)

Ah, many words that bring home the classic idea of Journey > Destination. Now if only there was a word that captured all of the above... Oh wait THERE IS. AND in Spanish too! (I can hear my Colombian friends chiming in now: ¡A la orden!)

I actually learned vacilando from Lost In Translation, a beautiful book I recently bought (from Anthropologie, of all places). Written and illustrated by Ella Frances Sanders, it is a nifty compendium of words from languages all around the world that capture an emotion or experience that most of us can relate to, but cannot easily translate as an English word. It's an awesome conversation starter and the latest addition to my favorite books list. Language really does define the limits of our perceived reality, so this book has already expanded my grasp on life by giving me the vocabulary to communicate experiences that English just can't express.

ALSO, stories have impact because, well, because of language. Sanders nails it in her book intro:

As much as we like to differentiate ourselves...we are all made of the same stuff. ...We meet people from places and cultures different from our own and yet somehow we understand the lives they are living. Language wraps its understanding and punctuation around us all, tempting us to cross boundaries and helping us to comprehend the impossibly difficult questions that life relentlessly throws at us.

...whether you speak a few words of one or a thousand words of many, they help to shape us - they give us the ability to voice an opinion, to express love or frustration, to change someone's mind. For me, making this book has been more than a creative process. It's caused me to look at human nature in an entirely new way, and I find myself recognizing these nouns, adjectives, and verbs in the people I walk by on the street.

Seriously, if I ever decided to write a book, it would've been this book. (Note to self: Learn words that communicate who God is to people of a different culture.)

...y ya! I'll just end with some of my favorite words from the book. They're my favorite for different reasons ranging from super poetic to super creative to super random to SUPER WAOW. Enjoy!

Meraki / GREEK (adjective) pouring yourself wholeheartedly into something, such as cooking, and doing so with soul, creativity, and love

Naz / URDU (noun) the pride and assurance that comes from knowing you are loved unconditionally

Resfeber / SWEDISH (noun) the restless beat of a traveler's heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation

Commuovere / ITALIAN (verb) to be moved in a heartwarming way, usually relating to a story that moved you to tears

Hearth / WELSH (noun) a homesickness for somewhere you cannot return to, the nostalgia and the grief for the last places of your past, places that never were **Heaven comes to mind - the home we long for, were created for, but have never been to.

Drachenfutter / GERMAN (noun) literally, "dragon-fodder" - the gift a husband gives his wife when he's trying to make up for bad behavior ** This was the LOLest word in the book for me. I have so much appreciation now for the creativity of the German language. 

Pisanzapra / MALAY (noun) the time needed to eat a banana ** Need to ask my parents about this one

Mångata / SWEDISH (noun) the road-like reflection of the moon in the water ** I originally thought about using this word instead of vacilando. We are moons that reflect the Son, so our "road-like reflection in the water" is the lives we chart as lights in the world. 

Komorebi / JAPANESE (noun) the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees

A Study in Space


"The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light." (Matthew 6:22)

Once upon a time I declared, "Creativity and spontaneity need space to work their magic!" How easy to say when it's summer, right? Well now that I'm back at school, I must reiterate: ESPECIALLY at school, where we're saturated with rich and challenging experiences, it is absolutely vital for us to protect creative space for spontaneity and reflection. Otherwise, we may miss out on opportunities to go deeper into our own stories. As someone who is really J according to Myers-Briggs, I love to plan, organize, make lists, and be prepared for whatever comes my way. However, over time I have come to relish organic opportunities to grow because they reliably reveal something new (and often profound) about myself and my relationship to those around me.

Last week, I was invited to share my story with several first-years enrolled in the introductory neuroscience course at Duke. Informed by an excellent article by Errol Morris for my film capstone class, I likened the brain to the filmmaker: Both strive to make sense of reality and to construct a meaningful narrative based on experiences. However, to tell a story well, you need SPACE TO REFLECT - because the brain has limited attentional resources and an impressionable memory - and SPACE TO TAKE RISKS AND FAIL - because conflict develops character, and that's central to any good story.

In other news, I finally finished unpacking my room this weekend. My favorite part? The whiteboard I've reserved as a creative space in my room.

This weekend, my friend Stephanie and I discovered the joy of SHARED SPACE to reflect and take risks spontaneously. We've wanted to collaborate on a dance video for awhile now, so last week we reserved time on Friday to practice in the Duke Gardens since I have minimal experience with dance. At the last minute, capricious weather decided to rain on our parade in favor of a study party... but alas / hallelujah, the study party was not to be! Books closed and laptops open, we soon found ourselves excitedly sharing our art with each other.

Amidst this organic exchange of hopes, fears, fledgling projects, and feedback, "You Don't Miss A Thing" entered the conversation, a beautiful worship song by Bethel Music that has given me much hope this past week. Steph and I are both part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and before the first verse even concluded, Steph had an OH! moment of - "I can dance to this! Like you and storytelling, I want to explore dance as worship!" - and up she sprung, graceful limbs painting the lyrics through the air. There aren't words to describe how amazing it was to see this song, of all songs, shape the space for our collaboration. Between doubts and loneliness in my relationships, and fears about my laptop crashing, I've needed so much grace this week. The song grounds me in the truth that I am seen even when I feel like no one sees or loves me, and when I don't even know how to love myself. The words mean so much to me because I've experienced healing through them. Again, I am reminded that great pain is necessary to fully grasp truth - and to bring it to life through great art.

As Steph twirled and tuned her creative pulse to this musical heartbeat, I teased the light and the space. A key light here...a fill there... It was an exhilarating exercise to try and make much out of little, all the while marveling at how God does it all the time. I had an idea to project the blue mountainous background of the lyric video as a light source, and wow the result was dramatic, moody, and definitely more beautiful than I expected. The light rays of the projector itself were a delightful surprise, wrapping Steph in rippling light, visually drawing us in to a sacred space of worship. Caught up in the spirit of creative collaboration, we danced - Steph with her body, me with my camera. She improvised, and I extemporized. She acted, and I reacted. Together, we pooled our creative visions and expressions as worship. What was supposed to be a practice in the gardens, and then a study session...unexpectedly became a window into the posture of wonder we feel dancing through life with God.

Given the impromptu nature of the footage I gathered, I was initially unsure about what story I could communicate. Yet as I reviewed the footage, I found myself re-experiencing the beauty of being wondrously lost in the Lord, and I knew I wanted to invite others into our creative communion. This vision guided all of my editing decisions in Premiere Pro as I integrated visual moments with lyrical meaning. While I really enjoy color grading, minimal adjustments went into this video because I wanted to honor the nostalgic elegance characteristic of Steph's visual brand.

What have I learned about myself and my creative process? When I create space and open myself to learning about and supporting other artists, inspiration organically follows. With a desire to grow our creativity together (TEAM ART), we can make a lot out of very little. What wonderful exercise for the eyes of our souls!

Eruditio et Religio

Confession: I love my classes! Every single one of them. Granted, I'm probably wearing rose-tinted glasses since I'm only two weeks in to senior year...but altogether they are helping me develop a vocabulary for my artistic vision, compass, and trajectory. I'm learning how to tell the story that I am living, and it feels really good. This post is dedicated to why I value each class and the driving questions they're helping me answer.

AMI 499S: Capstone, Arts of the Moving Image Certificate
A space to discern the story I want to tell, to practice, and to share my own story. Already, I have gained some clarity about my values (e.g. being real, team art) through our Show & Tell exercise: share 30 minutes of original or inspiring media. I also can't get enough of our first reading assignment (this and this by Errol Morris), which likens the filmmaker to the brain, as both integrate different views into a meaningful narrative. What's more, our weekly homework assignment is to BLOG our creative process and thoughts. Perfect, right? I'm very thankful for this unexpected source of accountability to keep writing and reflecting. Look out for those posts under #capstone!

AMI 336S: Documentary & Policy
What defines influential documentary? How do films successfully effect real-world change (policy, attitudes, and actions)? What can I learn and apply to my own decisions as a filmmaker who wants to share impactful stories? I'll be looking for answers to these questions as we watch documentaries on a wide range of topics: national identity, activism, racism, mental health, capital punishment, government accountability...yup, I can't wait!

MMS 272: Marketing Across Borders, Cultures, and Demographics (though it should actually be Psychographics)
How do I identify and deeply understand my audience (the consumer)? How do I do communications research? What makes effective brand strategy, and how do I want to brand myself? I think our projects and discussion are mostly contextualized to product brand management, but the principles definitely apply to anything I want to communicate.

EDUC 363: Educational Leadership
How does education develop leaders? What kind of leaders does education need? What kind of leader am I? Where can/should I lead? I really love the readings we've discussed so far, and I feel myself applying the principles and ethics I've read about to my leadership roles on campus, as well as my college education. Of the three purposes of education I read about recently, I reckon I approach my education from a democratic equality perspective because I'm interested in classes and experiences that shape me into a conscious citizen who thinks critically and creatively (the purported aim of liberal arts, anyway).

MUSIC 218: Musical Theater Performance
So I actually dropped the class after the first week because of schedule constraints, but as someone who's physically uncoordinated and theatrically untrained, I loved the push to know my body - not to fear or be ashamed of it, but to be in touch with it and learn to control what I communicate with my voice and body language. Hopefully another opportunity like this will open up in the future!

And that's my academic lineup for this semester! Feeling quite in line with Duke's motto, Knowledge and Religion. My goal is to faithfully discern the stories I want to tell beyond Duke professionally, and I think my classes will support my discovery. I've definitely grown the most outside of my classes in general, so it's refreshing to be this excited and expectant for the classroom!

Photo taken at the Mr. Brainwash Pop-Up Gallery in NYC.

A Happy Medium

I took an inadvertent break from online thought-life during my last six weeks in Madison. Between blogging, uploading photos, and interacting on Facebook and Instagram, I was just exhausted by the pace I had set for myself to continually process my offline life through online conversation. Yet in this hiatus, I've had time to examine my heart posture in artistic creation, especially social media. And God, doing what he does best, made a beautiful thing out of a broken thing and renewed my desire to build up community and point to Him with my story.

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