Blog Archive Posts

vacilando: when the experience is more important than the destination



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


It is difficult to be creative under time pressure, but the burden is light when you have a great team! Duke Students of the World (SOW) is nearing the culmination of our first project this semester, and I am so thankful for the safe space we have created to make mistakes and learn together. Less than two weeks ago, we were approached by community organizers from the Youth Division of North Carolina's NAACP to create a nonpartisan video about the importance of the youth vote. The target audience? Voters of "our generation" who are skeptical and apathetic towards the voting process. The distribution? A national conference this Friday celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Now, well thought-out videos with national reception rarely happen overnight, let alone three weeks. So it has been a whirlwind journey to brainstorm a compelling and realistic treatment, partner with other artists to build a creative team, and shoot/edit around the tight schedules of Duke students. I realize I need to learn how to plan a shoot better BUT IT IS HAPPENING and I am so grateful and amazed at all the people who have generously volunteered their time and skills to bring the vision to life. Drawing inspiration from a spoken-word graffiti video I made awhile back, we partnered with student rapper Edgeri Hudlin and graffiti artist WOEM to create a hybrid "graffiti-meets-rap-meets-spoken-word" video at the bridge underpass near East Campus. Street art, poetry, and documentary are well-suited instigators of real and authentic conversation, so why not mix them up? As you would imagine, the process has been a crazy cool combination of personalities, colors, and connections. I can't wait to share the complete video later this week. Very curious to see what kind of impact it makes!

The Timeline August 29: First meeting with organizers August 31: Team agrees to pursue graffiti-poetry idea Sept 1: Edgeri and WOEM join the team Sept 2-7: Edgeri writes rap/poem; statistics are collected to inform his writing Sept 8: Brainstorm visuals Sept 11: Record rap/poem with Edgeri; finalize visuals; contact student volunteers Sept 12: Production Day 1 Sept 13: Production Day 2 Sept 14-19: Edit video and invite feedback Sept 20: Presentation at voting rights conference

Behind the Scenes

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!