Finding My Groove

Originally Published on March 24th, 2015

I’m consumed in a shroud of darkness.

Students in pleated skirts, shiny cufflinks, pressed ties, and black monogrammed binders flutter anxiously to and fro across the campus quad. Like marching bullet ants, I catch glimpses of furrowed brows and muffled conversations concerning summer internships and the like. On days like these I feel trapped in the leather bound coffin I created around myself, listening intently, palms sweaty, as the locks click shut.

I’ve been creatively inclined since before I can remember.

My aspirations as a child strayed far from academics while gravitating towards anything involving construction paper and colored pens. To my parents’ frustration, every favorite subject line in the About Karen section was always art. As I progressed through the adolescent years, I immersed myself in whatever I thought seemed fit: makeup artistry, fashion design, studio artwork, and even modern dance. While friends, faculty and my greatest supporter, my older sister, reinforced my efforts at school, the looming shadow of disappointment from my parents fell heavy upon my ego.

My gears began to grind as I reached the ripe age of 17 and it came time to choose a university for the next chapter of my life.

I was catapulted into the realm of college counseling, SAT’s, subject tests, AP’s, campus tours, and endless essays describing why I felt worthy of attending X University. The problem was—I didn’t even know what I wanted. East Coast or West Coast? Large campus or small campus? Liberal Arts or a specialized degree? People demanded answers and I was in no position to give it to them.
Conveniently enough, my older sister had been accepted into Bentley University a few years prior and raved about its prime location and small class sizes. While I must admit Rachel and I often act like the poster children for the idiom “two-peas-in-a-pod”, we couldn’t be more unalike. I admire her ability to excel in areas I could never enjoy, specifically accounting, but my vines reach far beyond the boundaries of a textbook.

The pungent stench of my overworked motor infiltrated every nook and cranny of my senior year, quickly spreading to my bitter attitude and disdain for my parents.

Art school was out of the question and dinner table conversations turned sour at the mention of my future. Since I failed to provide a good reason for staying close to home, my parents were set on me heading east. After several months of dead-ended arguments, my fate was sealed in a padded blue and white envelope labeled “Bentley University”.

Suppressed by the horrors of GB’s and directionless Gen-Ed’s, my preliminary years were filled with the relentless banter of my inner conflicts.

Peers and mentors always asked me the same probing questions, and each time I gave the same lackluster response. “Yes, I am from California. No, I don’t know why I chose Bentley. No, I don’t know what I want to study. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed by my answer.” Confused looks from strangers were prompted with the stinging phrase, “Then why are you here?” Without the security of a background in accounting or finance, I felt the net unravel from beneath me. I was lost in a world I didn’t recognize.

It wasn’t until the beginning of my junior year here at Bentley that I finally found my groove.

With the opportunities presented by my study abroad experience, my fire for graphic design and writing rekindled, giving me new hope in potential career endeavors. Like misplaced pieces shifting in a jumbled Rubik’s cube, I can hear the gears begin to readjust. The opportunities were there all along; I just had to work a little harder to uncover them. While I chase longingly at new aspirations, I am comforted by the fact that I’m not completely alone. Though I still fear the day my multicolored hair resorts to its natural hue and the shards of metal are removed from my ears and face, support from loyal friends let me know these acts of individuality have not gone unnoticed. My efforts to stand out in a crowd make me the odd one of the bunch, but if that’s the case then hey, so be it. At least I’m living on my own terms.

Buy Experiences, Not Things

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on March 3rd, 2015

Jim has one winter coat. The coat is black, properly insulated, waterproof, and provides ample warmth. There are no tears or defects to the coat. The coat also matches most of Jim’s daily wear attire as well as his business formal suits. Being fully aware of the condition of his coat, Jim proceeds to purchase two additional coats during the winter season from his local retailer. What was the motivation behind Jim’s decision?

Our distorted concept of necessity seems to stem from the insatiable hunger for more. Perhaps as we delve deeper into the notion of need, we begin to realize that necessity is completely subjective.
Basic human needs include the essentials to survival, namely food and shelter. Anything above these two categories is generally superfluous, whether it is designer brand clothing items, a flashy new car, or a summer home. As I’m sure you’ve all heard before, most things that provide happiness are intangible, items or events incapable of being bought or sold. But how often do people truly take this advice into consideration when making decisions? Is it the need for material possessions that pave the way for our career choices and fundamental motivations?
James Hamblin from The Atlantic states,
“Nothing material is intrinsically valuable, except in whatever promise of happiness it carries”.
While I wish I could take credit for this quote, I readily support Hamblin’s thought process. In the interest of disproving the unfortunate reality of consumerism, we might take into consideration the potential of experiences through material possessions.

Ergo, it’s not about the money, it’s about how you spend it.

While we consistently find ourselves daydreaming about our next paycheck, directing our efforts towards financially supporting our lifestyles, property and ownership are made-up constructs implemented by society. The earth is not yours to own. You may feel a strong emotional connection with an object or a person, but it will never be yours to keep. The flow of nature insists on the eternal recycling of resources and energy, eliminating the concept of yours and mine. Buddhism, founded on the Four Noble Truths, emphasizes the dangers of attachment that may lead to suffering. While realistically, someone may not always be fully free from attachment, a material item should not be the person’s end goal.

We value happiness highly in our lives but the path there is a long and winding one.

While I admit I cannot provide you with the formula to happiness, I truly believe your goals and aspirations will manifest themselves in the most unexpected ways possible. At the end of the day, clothes tear, technology becomes obsolete, and that sweet new BMW of yours will eventually stop running, but memories will last a lifetime.

For All You Know, I Could Be A Robot

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on February 18th, 2015   

140 characters. You are given 140 characters on Twitter to formulate an articulate stream of consciousness. In a world of infinite scrolling, status updates, to-do lists, one-liners, and part-timers, these snippets of awareness are all we get to express our inner demons. We live in a time where conversations are held through radio waves instead of voice boxes. Our attention spans are far shorter than this introduction and if I haven’t successfully captured yours, then I’ve completely lost you.

I’m standing in front of the David in Florence, Italy. Yes, the David. But I’m not staring at the stunning size, the smooth creases of his sling, nor the majestic expression smeared across his face—No. I’m taking pictures of the dozens of tourists taking pictures of Michelangelo’s incredible feat. In an age where nothing can be seen without the frame of a camera, it’s “photos or it didn’t happen”.

With the explosion of the technology era, we are able to take shelter under the convenience of an emoji in lieu of words—or time for that matter.

There is a constant battle of who can say the least but still get their message across, the loaded subtext of a simple “K” weighing far more than we could have ever imagined. We have become mechanic shells of the highly intelligent creatures we envision ourselves to be, obsessed with the fast-paced backbones of reality. We can’t even walk to the bathroom without our eyes glued on our iPhones, as if one look away will catapult us into virtual oblivion.

Can someone tell me—is this real life?

We’ve become trapped in these bubbles we’ve created for ourselves. Declaring love through our devices, we are not in a relationship with each other rather the glowing LCD screens radiating against our blank faces. We stare at phones longer than we can bear to gaze into each other’s eyes and choose to keep our thoughts silent, fearing exposure.

My brain often feels like it’s short-circuiting.

It has become nearly impossible to concentrate on a single task for more than ten minutes at a time, not to mention the constant bombardment of notifications demanding my attention. We can’t sit still. We bounce back and forth between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, in hopes that we find solace between the folds of an electronic page. We think prescription drugs will help us focus, but that’s only mediating the symptoms not solving the pressing issue. This constant refreshing of the same click-bait feed has my eyes glazing over. I think Buzzfeed articles are the driving force against intellectual stimulation. These repetitive, unsubstantiated, shallow lists lack purpose and ultimately attempt to stretch information that could be presented in as little as one paragraph. Carefully numbered lists make me feel like I’m being spoon-fed information, as if I’m too simple minded to question the validity of their statements. Then again perhaps in this too-busy-right-now world, we are only able to digest articles such as the “14 Celebrity Transformations to Give Us Hope” and “11 Epic Facts About Lefties”.
The idiocy is palpable.

One Breath At A Time

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on February 9th, 2015

10:52 am.

I glance down, for the sixth time this morning, at the tiny silver second-hand ticking away on my timepiece.

The loop is late and mind you, it’s never late. An icy speckled snowflake briefly lands on the back of my hand and shrivels into a single drop of water. I turn my palm and examine the dozens of similar unknowing flurries resting for a moment but inevitably experiencing the same ill fate. The sound of tires splattering against the wet pavement draws my attention towards the approaching half-sized shuttle, drowning out my friend’s indecipherable babble about how it’s too cold to go to class. My mind quickly fills with the badgering of my internal dialogue as I begin to reiterate my daily schedule.

With four snow days in quick succession, my academic life seems to be in constant limbo.

One step forward—two steps back.
And with looming summer internships, the career fair, class projects, and extracurricular activities coming at me with full force, it’s easy to feel like my world is slipping from my grasp. Like newborn babies begging for undivided attention, it’s often hard to decide which mouth to feed first. I’m focused on being in the present moment but my Outlook is reminding me that I have two group meetings, a Skype interview, and dance tryouts this week, not to mention five classes and work. I’m sure every Bentley student can relate.
Now before you tune out after hearing the word stress, one of the most overused, diluted, and misunderstood words in the young adult dictionary, I’m here to share my story on a timeless practice that really works: Meditation.

I fully understand the underlying connotations of the term and every formulated preconceived notion; however, I promise it’s not as challenging as you think.

Just fifteen minutes a day can drastically change your mood and yield long-term benefits. By focusing on your breath, you become immersed in the present moment and allow yourself to sink deeper into the meditative state. Sitting still for long periods of time may be daunting to many, but working incrementally is as easy as ten long breaths.
The point of meditation isn’t to work through every problem on the forefront of your mind. As you hone in on the rise and fall of your chest, the subtle drop of your shoulders, the lengthening of the spine and lower back, the release of your jaw and perhaps the quiet gurgle of a shaded creek from a peaceful melody app, allow yourself to let go of pressing thoughts or physical annoyances. Your attention should be centered along your forehead at the area between your eyebrows, or the third eye, letting your energy radiate from that exact spot. If you find yourself distracted by unwanted thoughts, try to bring yourself back to your breath; counting up to five on your inhale and down to ten on your exhale. I want you to try this.

I want you to try this because I know for a fact that it works.

Although people may take different lessons away from this practice, once you have grown accustomed to the silence, controlling your breath under any stressful circumstance becomes second nature. As someone who has dealt with a history of anxiety, if I ever feel the pressure building within my chest, I stop and go back to my breath. With each cycle of inhales and exhales, I grow numb to the ticking of the time bomb and allow my head to level out before I re-address the situation. I write this piece in hopes that at least one person will find solace in the meditative practice and can make sense of this brilliantly mysterious state we call reality.
Good luck.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Originally Published for the Bentley Vanguard on February 2nd, 2015

As I stared out the window at everything and nothing, I felt my throat choke against the emotions that had been buried deep within my chest for the past few months.

My mind drifted back to the last three days under the hot Georgia sun. Our campground, littered with dreaded hippies and sunburnt hoopers, was the mecca of creative output and interdependence. Like the warm breeze that flapped through the folds of each tent, a wave of genuine smiles and understanding embraces swept over the grassy knolls. I seemed to have uncovered an oasis seen only by those brave enough to step out of their comfort zones.

With nothing but music and good vibes propelling my every action, I had learned more about myself and the world around me at a music festival than twenty years of schooling.

We were one cohesive entity connected not by words or material possessions, social status or age, but by the indiscriminate beauty of music. As if a veil had been lifted from my shoulders, I both physically and mentally felt my insecurity, my stress, and my discomfort release from the hollows of my spirit. It was undoubtedly the counterpoint to my life, a metamorphic transition from adolescence to young-adulthood.

I am now a firm believer in the power of attraction and the cosmic energy that connects us all. You could say I’ve become a sort of spiritualist.

I’ve actually never followed any religion and I often actively avoid any type of institutionalized system of rules or regulations. The beauty of spirituality is that it knows no boundaries. There are no churches, no bibles or holy books, no set prayers, no pope or priest or deity, no undisclosed contract binding you to lifelong duty. My take on being a spiritualist simply means I respect the light in others as well as myself, and will consistently act with positive intention, gratitude, and love.

In the grand scheme of things, no matter how much scheduling, planning, checking, and double-checking you do, you will never be prepared for what life throws in your direction.

I don’t care if you think you’ve got everything under control or have an intricate map of the next 30 years of your life. When shit hits the fan and you’re staring down at the tiny shards scattered by your feet, your next move will dictate the path your life continues on. You can either wallow in self-pity or get on all fours and pick up the pieces. But of course, it’s never easy. When I was 16, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. When I was 18, I had even less of an idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I am now 20 and although I may have a bit more self-confidence and intrinsic motivation, I can admit that I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.
What I realized from those precious 72 hours of my existence is that although I may never have complete control over what happens, I do have the power to emit positive energy and in turn, will receive what I put out into this universe. Call it karma, call it fate, call it whatever you want… life cannot be lived behind the shadow of unconscious actions. While I’m honestly still wracking my brain over what I want to eat for dinner, my heart sings just knowing that at this very moment, I’m exactly where I need to be.

Dancing My Way Through Life

When I was five, my parents enrolled me in my first dance lesson.

I wasn’t nearly as flexible as the other girls nor had I been dancing straight from the womb, but I found myself falling in love with the tutus, the tap shoes, the walls of silver and gold medals, and of course, the bobby-pinned slicked back buns. While I stared in awe behind glass windows at the other girls pirouetting and chasséing effortlessly across the floor, I yearned for the attention the older, more experienced, girls received: the dozens of eyes glued on their chiseled arms and pointed toes.

Somewhere between third and fourth grade, my parents pulled me from the studio I had been dancing for. Whether it was due to the generally harsh demeanor of the studio Director or my failure to vocalize my love affair with jazz and tap, I will never quite know. But during those dance-less years, I tried everything: golf, soccer, volleyball, swim, tennis, and even chess (never again). I soon realized that I absolutely detested contact sports and had little to no stamina when it came to flapping my arms and legs in a body of water.

In the fifth grade, for the annual talent show, I was recruited by my group of friends to dance a hip-hop number. Although I had never danced hip-hop before, leaping onto that stage and shaking my hips to The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is The Love” was a moment I would never forget. (And neither would anyone else in the crowd because I finished the number off with a flamboyant knee slide and proceeded to rip a hole in my new capris… then clumsily hobble off the stage.)

After my re-introduction to dance, I craved more.

And I had to admit, people thought I was good! Not great–but good. And good happened to be good enough for me.

With middle school came a new home with new friends at a new school with an all out dance program. The dance troupe quickly became my shining beacon of accomplishment in a life of physical mediocracy. Flexed hands, flexed feet, arms up and shoulders down, pony transitions; life became one long jazzy eight count. I found discipline in practice and trust in camaraderie, something my pre-pubescent self had lacked from avoidance of team sports.

High school brought more of the same: jazz, modern, and other odd numbers staged by quirky dance directors (much to my dismay). While hip-hop had taken a turn on the back burner, my last show of my senior year was the unquestionable answer to my longing. A piece to Beyoncé’s “Who Run The World” catapulted me into the bright and bold world of hip-hop.

Though I never intended to join a dance team in college, my freshman RA jumped at the chance of introducing me to the campus hip-hop crew, Craze, unfolding the next chapter of my journey through dance.

As soon as I made the cut, Craze consumed me. Practices were scheduled for Sundays at 7pm to 9pm, and Mondays and Wednesdays from 9pm to 11pm (these times were so diligently drilled into my head); I practically lived to dance. The sheer bliss that flowed through my extremities and back up my chest was relentless. Whatever worries I had during the day were gently put to the side and replaced with two hours of sweaty, unfiltered, riveting dance. Throughout these four years, I’ve had the opportunity to dance among some of the most talented people at Bentley as well as other Boston crews at several competitions like Prelude New England and World of Dance.

I had finally become the dancer I so patiently watched behind those glass windows.

The ones that filled the stage with soul and grace. The ones with the hair and the arms and the dozens of eyes glued to them. Except this time, I was dancing to the tune of Tyga and Ty Dolla $ign, and twerking, and doing baby freezes mid-routine, and giving the crowd my best stank face.

From the moment I stepped into my first class, I knew that the dance studio was my safe haven. It’s been a home to set aside my insecurities and to give everything I’ve got without fear of judgement. I don’t know who I would have become had I not joined Craze in college, but I’m glad I took someone’s advice to try out. I now look back on photos of five-year-old Karen and smile, knowing that I’ve been dancing my way through life ever since.

Dancing My Way Through Life