Thoughts on Storytelling

I was sitting in the line at Starbucks this morning scratching my head to remember a quote from a James Baldwin book. My inability to remember the book title left me nostalgic for the days of academia, reading handfuls of books each week, and tucking away beautiful lines in my little sketchbook. The effort to remember the James Baldwin title reminded me of the effort it takes these days to discipline myself to read. I never want to lose sight of the importance of stories, but lately I’ve felt my love for stories slipping away. I’ve wrestled to find my  answers to this shifting dynamic, and I’ve spent time contemplating the impact of technology and social media on the storytelling landscape. Storytelling has evolved over time from oral traditions, to chapter books, to the overwhelming collection of stories housed on the web through news sites, blogs, or social media. There are stories all around us, buzzing by as fast as our fingers can click. Yet, in the midst of so many stories, I find myself jaded and growing increasingly uninterested in the stories of others and, unfortunately, my own story.

Eventually, with a little help from my pal Google, I was able to find the lost book title, Sonny’s Blues, and the quote I was searching to remember.

For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness. -James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues

Stories. Baldwin equates our “tales” to light in the darkness. I’ve always believe this to be true regardless of story context. Even tales of suffering can bring light to others perhaps wrestling in the same darkness. Stories of triumph can help snatch others from even darker places. That ability to connect with each other and to know that one is not alone is a spark of light in the darkness that surrounds us in this world. The stories are never new. We, as humans, are creatures of the same sins, the same loves, and the same desires as our ancestors. As new generations grow and change the landscape of storytelling, should we fight for older days or embrace the changes for the sake of stories?

Fear. I have no doubt that my life story should be told. I have no doubt that it would bring light into dark places of suffering. I have no doubt that my story would help others, and I bet that yours would as well. I thought on these ideas, the quote by Baldwin, and my own history as I sipped my latte and ventured into the day. I kept coming back to this concept of fear and how it relates to our ability or inability to tell stories. I reasoned that it is indeed fear that has hampered by love for storytelling and left me frozen in my tracks. I’m daily working through my tendency to balk when it comes to storytelling, standing on the mound pretending to throw the ball only to retract it back to its home in my hand. The truth is, I worry too much about the reader’s perception right now to dive deep into the stories of my life. And, while I so badly want to let my stories be known, I feel that I must wait until I can do so with confidence and without being crushed by negative feedback. On the same hand, I must also be able to do so without puffing up with pride.

So, I wait. For now I am making an effort to read books instead of constantly browsing the internet or social media. I hope to return to the simplicity of words on the pages without advertisements flashing in my face, emails popping up, and a world of comments (people say some absolutely crazy stuff) streaming down the page. The world needs stories, all of our stories, but I am yet to a place in this modern era where I am ready to dive deeper. I’m circling back to reading memoirs and even fiction books, and I am slowly feeling my heart swell once again for the stories on the pages. I’m not sure what the storytelling landscape will look like in the years to come or what my own journey with storytelling will become. What I do know is that within each of us, we must not let the joy of storytelling die and, in a way, my storytelling adventure is currently in ICU.

Trending Healthy

I walked out of the Indie Beauty Fair feeling more overwhelmed than encouraged. The process of fighting the crowd, going from booth to booth, and hearing about countless products left me exhausted. I wasn’t sure how I could possibly know which product claims were true and, ultimately, which products would work best for me. I’m analytical to a fault at times, and my trip around the Indie Beauty Fair brought out my need for things to be black or white. I flew back to Georgia the following day with many questions still on my mind.

Green, organic, clean, natural, non-toxic. They are buzz words of our generation. We are valiantly attempting to reverse the effects of mass production and consumption while working to provide our children with more simple and cleaner lives. Mindsets and companies are beginning to make changes. It’s encouraging to see changes taking place and the many voices advocating for clean living. Yet, navigating this landscape proves challenging.

I sat reading a few research articles and blog comments on cleaner living the other night. I was shocked to find an absurd amount of hateful talk and fingers pointing here and there about who is right and who is wrong. I closed my computer, looked over at my husband and said, “This is more complicated than I realized. There is confusion surrounding certain ingredients and companies with no definitive answers in sight.” I sat thinking about different arguments swirling around individual ingredients in products labeled as natural or clean, and on a deeper level, I couldn’t help but think about my own life and perceived contradictions.

Like the fact that I occasionally eat the really unhealthy cereals (okay, maybe more than occasionally) or that I take medication for my autoimmune disorder. There is also the fact that my family is involved in conventional farming. Does that disqualify me from having a voice in this area? Does that make my experience less valuable? I felt concerned about products on my blog, figuring it’s a matter of time before the Green Police start disagreeing with my decisions.

My mom is full of wisdom and she makes an effort to live a more healthy lifestyle, so I decided to bring up my thoughts to her. “It feels like there are no clear answers when it comes to living a cleaner and more healthy life. How do I help make a difference when the answers are not clear?” I asked her. She reminded me of the many women struggling with self-confidence and skin issues, and she also reminded me of my own struggles leading to this journey.

Like the time in middle school when I was crying in her arms as we stood in front of the bathroom mirror. My acne was horrible. Kids were mean. There was also the time we traveled to see a prominent esthetician. The results were horrible and made everything about my skin worse.

I also remembered people constantly telling me that I, “need to wash my face,” as if I wasn’t doing that and it would heal all my skin problems.

Most recently, I remembered my first autoimmune disorder related sun rash and walking out of the doctor’s office with the autoimmune disorder diagnosis knowing my life was forever changed. I promised myself that I would make changes in order to give myself the best life possible.

All of these moments and many more are part of my story. It’s so important that we not let confusion or opinions hijack our sense of purpose and passions on any journey. It’s important to hold your story in the forefront so you’re not easily distracted by the many voices lining the road.

I believe, for the most part, we are all living life the best we can with the information available to us–whether that is related to food, children, or beauty products. One of my favorite ideas is the idea of “trending toward” something. That is how I like to think of my life and clean living journey these days. I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to ingredients and products, and I don’t know that anyone ever will. I know that some things are a big “No” while others are still in question. I know that opinions vary on different companies. Most importantly, I know what works for me and what to avoid to prevent autoimmune flares.

I am trending toward making better decisions for my family and personal health one day at a time. My goal here is to help you trend toward a better life. A life where you are confident in your beauty, decisions, and health. Yes, the choices can be overwhelming at times, but this is a journey rather than a final destination. You simply have to start somewhere.

These days I am giving myself some grace and extending that to others. It has helped ease the burden I feel to make the absolute best, right, cleanest, most perfect decision possible.

-Jess

Finding Simplicity

Around this time last year, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Well, in all honesty I read it aloud to my husband within the course of a day. I was instantly hooked as a lifelong organizer of stuff and seeker of simplicity. As a kid, I would regularly clean-out and organize my mom’s entire kitchen over a Saturday or Sunday. Seeing a space clean and organized brings me much joy and a feeling of accomplishment. We took Marie Kondo’s words to heart and started cleaning out our belongings little by little. I must admit that we did not follow the book perfectly, but we did take away the larger concepts and put them into practice. We hauled probably 30 trash bags out of our home over the course of a weekend, and we didn’t even have that much stuff to begin with! We were left feeling refreshed and energized. It was truly a wonderful feeling.

I think everyone should read the book. If for nothing else, it will make you more aware of your relationship with stuff and personal belongings. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis. I see shiny new things, and I want them! And, everything around me is telling me I have to have them, too. On the other hand, I like simplicity. I like having just enough of what I need instead of filling my home with excess. I constantly find myself in this battle and, as time has passed, I am finding that simplicity is beginning to win out over new stuff again and again.

I keep a laundry basket in the back of my car. As I find things in the house no longer of use or value, I take them out to that laundry. Eventually, when the basket is full, I stop by the local Goodwill and donate those items. This past weekend was a major clean out session of our home decor items to make room for our baby, and I currently have a new stack of unused and unneeded items to drop off. I looked at the pile and thought, “Why did I even buy that? I don’t like it! It doesn’t even fit my style.” And, yet again, I remind myself to do better. To shop less. To give myself some grace while undoing the desire for new stuff.

Last night, instead of wandering around the outdoor mall while my husband played around in Guitar Center, I decided to sit in the car instead. I felt exhausted by all of the stuff for sale. All of the shiny items that I could take home in exchange for my money. I felt even more exhausted as I scrolled through Instagram. Feeling overwhelmed and struggling with some larger philosophical questions, I went and sat there and just waited for him to come out. I thought about the impact that social media has on us as consumers. I thought about how we are being urged to purchase. I thought about my own blog and intentions. I thought about other blogs I follow and the constant advertisements and beautiful pictures. I thought about integrity and honesty when it comes to the items we promote, and the seemingly lack of accountability. I thought about the difference between reality and fiction.

I don’t have answers on this topic. Just thoughts.

Simplicity. I am still trying to find the balance. I am still carrying items out of my home, decluttering my physical space, and taking the time to sift through what is most important. I think it’s just as important for me to do this with my digital life as well. Declutter, simplify, remove any pressure to be a certain person or have certain things.

I want to connect you to awesome and safe beauty products. Why? Because it’s something I believe in. If I never make a dime for this mission, that is okay. I never want to promote a product I have not tired myself, and I always want you to feel a sense of peace and simplicity when you come to Pretty + Well. I only want to direct you to companies I believe in and who are doing great work.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has definitely altered my life perspective, and I am grateful to Marie Kondo and her mission to help us simplify life. I’m still trying to find a balance. I am still trying to understand where we draw the line. And I am still trying to make sense of the blogging world and eCommerce and affiliate marketing. To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about it. To be honest, sometimes it discourages me. And, I am learning that sometimes it’s best to just sit in the car. No phone. No noise. Just alone with my heart doing some soul searching.