You Might Mess Up

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Daniel Swanson Photography

I have an embarrassing story to tell you.

The other day, I auditioned for a musical performance with a local theater company. I’m a decent singer and actor, so I figured I had a shot. Unfortunately, the show involved tap dancing, which I’d never attempted. Truthfully, I’m not a great dancer, but I gave it a try.

It was, simply put, an unequivocal disaster.

That tap audition reminded me of some very vivid and terrifying dreams from my past, in which I’m standing on an empty stage while an audience stares at me in silence, and I can’t remember any of my lines or even the name of my character. I made a fool of myself in front of a roomful of people, surrounded by mirrors, wearing the wrong shoes.

You don’t want to face the reality that you might fail. I know. Neither do I.

You don’t want to face the reality that you might fail.

I’ll admit that failure does feel pretty awful … for a little while. After that, you laugh.

Let’s take a brief look at my biggest mistakes: blowing things out of proportion. Getting way too worked up about small issues. Letting my emotions run amuck. Delaying out of fear and indecision. Speaking hastily; saying too much; snapping at someone who doesn’t deserve it; flinging cruel words at the people I love — I’ve done these and more.

Would I list my recent tap audition among those failures? No, probably not. In my experience, many of my most shameful mistakes occur because I dread some supposedly worse outcome. Ironically, my resistance to failure often becomes my greatest sin.

“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

She greeted me, a nervous stranger, during the preview weekend for Colorado Christian University, before I became an official student. Her question made me uncomfortable.

“Um … I don’t know. Write a book, I guess.”

“So why don’t you write a book?”

“Um … I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be any good.”

There it was: the fear. I didn’t want to begin because I might mess up.

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You will mess up. I wish that you and I could take a deep breath together, accept the inevitable mistakes that await us in the future, grieve for a moment, and then relax. You won’t gain anything by avoiding failure, but you could miss out on a lot of joy. Maybe you should ask yourself which would bother you more: messing up or missing out.

I’d hazard a guess that messing up won’t hurt as much as you think it will. Either way, since no one can avoid mistakes altogether, you might as well give yourself a break. That tap audition bruised my ego, sure, but my life didn’t end. Honestly, it’s empowering to discover that I can handle a little bit of failure. Plus, now I have an uncomfortably amusing anecdote to share.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The Only Kind of Art that Matters

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Consume that which drives you to create.

My most artistic friend had invited me to the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver art museum, so we swapped dressy outfits and went on a date. Everyone mistook us for sisters, anyway, so we figured we might as well wear the same clothes. College classmates had even tagged us in the wrong Facebook photos, confusing Alyssa for me.

One poor kid named Curtis never got our names right in four years at a small school.

Anyway, we stood in line to view a small selection of original works, some iconic and others less recognizable. Apparently, none of Van Gogh’s art would have qualified as famous in his day, since most people hated his paintings until after he died. Then, near the end of a dim hallway, I stopped in front of a cluster of purple aspens.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

He must have seen the trees near the edge of dusk, just before total darkness descended, to imagine so much purple in the shadows. He must have ached just to see them. He must have felt so deeply sad. He must have been longing for something, to paint them that way. I knew because I felt it, too. To me, he hadn’t painted merely a grove of trees. He had captured a mood that spoke from the canvas to my gut, and suddenly I needed to write.

Now, you should understand that I knew absolutely nothing about painting. I had gone to this exhibit for no other reason than to spend a fun evening with a friend … but staring at that image, I felt impatient to express myself, almost fidgety with a childlike urgency to play. Since I knew words better than a paintbrush, I wanted to get back in the car and drive immediately to the journal by my bedside.

The best kind of art inspires more art.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The best kind of art inspires more art.

Inspiration goes way beyond temporary chills. True inspiration culminates in creative activity. Real art propels you toward your own form of artistic expression. Find that kind.

Today, I can’t find those purple aspens online. Maybe I remember the details wrong. Maybe Van Gogh didn’t even paint it! Memory does funny things — but picturing those trees, right now, I feel the same drive to create: a physical sensation in my diaphragm, spreading through my arms into my fingers. Five years later, I wrote this blog post because the artist shaped my opinion of the true purpose of art.

Seek out the kind of art that moves you to creative action. Don’t settle for passive entertainment or escapist distractions. Pay attention when inspiration strikes you in unlikely places, and then respond in your own way. I did this. You could photograph, draw, tell, dance, sing, film, act, or a thousand other marvelous things.

Who knows? The art that you create just might inspire someone else.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Known

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Daniel Swanson Photography

For Memorial Day weekend I bump along a dirt road to my parents’ mountain home where my mom and I sort bookshelves, stacking piles for me to take home.

Among them we discover journals stretching back to my seven-year-old self. Much to my embarrassment, my mother begins to read passages aloud — but before long we’re both laughing in delight at the memories. We even call my aunt on the phone to relay our favorite segments from our trip to Scotland, funny encounters with natives I had forgotten. To think I nearly told my mother to throw these books away!

It’s a steady, secure feeling, being known. Almost every time my mother and I survey the past together, whether through photo albums or scrawled notes from my younger years, I reconnect with this person named Marie — the girl captured in ink and graphite — and remember that she is someone worth being. Breathing the air of today, riding the current of daily events, trapped in the thoughts of the moment, I tend to forget. [. . .]

I’m honored to be featured on Greer Ohara’s lovely blog, Stories Toward Wholeness as she explores the concept of identity. Please visit her page to read the rest!

Why I Am my History

My mom meets me at Starbucks to watch old home videos.

She has recently taken a step into the 21st century by converting them to DVD, so we share earbuds and play them on her laptop, laughing so loudly that the other coffee drinkers stare at us.

They’ll get over it.

Viewing scenes from my past – many of which I don’t remember – a strange feeling swells in my chest.

I see my smaller self curl on the lap of my grandpa, who passed away a few years ago. A pacifier protrudes from my mouth; I’m wearing pajamas with feet in bright primary colors.

Suddenly it’s Christmas, and I hold an armful of plastic animals, surrounded by wrapping paper. A giraffe drops from the couch, so I turn to the camera with round eyes to pronounce, “Uh-oh!” Auntie Ann crouches next to me so we can play zoo together. My grandma comments off-screen.

A few moments later and many years older, I stand in a crowd of children singing the soundtrack to Mulan. A taller kid partially obscures my pale, nervous face. My little sister twirls nearby in a floral dress, oblivious to the performance. After the final song, I approach the camera to hear my mom’s praise, concern melting into a smile.

Jump to a wedding. The camera sways wildly before focusing on my fat baby brother. He’s unsteady on his feet, dressed in a little blue suit. He approaches a pair of skinny legs – mine – and lifts his arms, wanting to be held. I heft him onto my hip and wave his chubby fist, instructing him to smile at the camera.

The DVD ends in a few moments of visual fuzz. I allow the sounds of the coffeeshop to wash over me, considering the feeling that has been expanding inside of me since we hit play. It’s as if the little knots in my stomach have loosened. The tasks ahead; the conversations behind; these small cares that I carry with me have momentarily evaporated.

I am so loved.

In every home video, family surrounds me. As the first grandchild, my babyhood constitutes the sole focus of a large group of devoted adults. As the oldest sister, my childhood fills with firsts: the first student; the first performer; the first friend to my two sweet siblings. At the time I took it all very seriously. Observing the scenes years later, I notice something new.

There has never been anything to worry about.

All the events that consume my thoughts become nothing more than memories captured in film. One day, this moment will slip away, too. The fear will fade. In its place will linger the deep affection that marks me like a thousand fingerprints tattooed on my skin. I am precious. I am noticed. I am loved.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

There’s a word for this feeling: perspective. When I witness my life from a distance, I recognize the consistent theme woven into every season. I am still the small child curled in my grandfather’s lap. I am still the nervous singer onstage. I am still the bossy sister ordering a baby to smile. Above all, I am the beloved daughter with a camera pointed at my face because I matter.

I leave the coffeeshop refreshed, alive to the details of this day. If I am my history, then I am something warm, safe, and happy. Therefore I may enter adulthood fortified by a past rich with tenderness.

Thank you, Mama, for reminding me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

12 Months of Marriage in Movie Reviews

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For my husband and me, Christmas means more movie gift cards, which means Part Two of my earlier movie review blog post.

We’ve had some goodies in 2016.

Hacksaw Ridge

I’m not sure if I’ve ever cried so hard in a movie theater. The first half of this film weaves a love story that would make the coldest of hearts smile, and the second half blows your souls to pieces – much like the soldiers themselves. So. Much. Gore. I kept crying all the way home, awed by the sacrifice of those who fought in WWII and shaken by the horror they endured.

Doctor Strange

Super cool. Benedict Cumberbatch triumphs once again. Furthermore, his literal out-of-body experience in the hospital made me laugh out loud. Definitely watch this one if you like super heroes or sci-fi or visual effects … or movies.

Arrival

Fascinating premise, high-caliber acting, mind-bending conclusion. This is not your typical alien movie: there’s only one explosion, and hardly anyone dies. Instead, this movie leaves me contemplating the purpose of suffering. As Louise teaches us, we cheat ourselves when we try to skip the painful stuff. Two thumbs up.

Moana

I love how the ocean becomes a character in this movie. Moana’s signature song sounds terrific. Demigod Maui is lots of fun – and as a bonus, we get to hear Dwayne the Rock sing! Still, I’m a little disappointed that Moana’s song remains the only good one. I find myself missing the creative “wow” of music from The Lion King or Aladdin.

Rogue One

What a treat to watch a film driven by a compelling plot! I tend to get caught up in the emotional lives of the characters to the extent that the story takes a background role. Watching this movie, however, I genuinely wanted those rebels to steal the plans to the Death Star – whether or not they survived the endeavor. I would watch this one many times.

Passengers

We technically saw this one at the beginning of 2017 – the day of our first wedding anniversary, in fact! Evan accurately described it as a chick flick disguised as sci-fi. I happen to enjoy chick flicks, and the lead actors carried the story with charm (and plenty of sex appeal). As for the premise, I found the idea of living alone on a spaceship for years slightly stressful but intriguing.

Reflecting on one year of marriage, I can’t help but feel extravagantly fortunate to live in my own house with a kind husband, a fat kitty, and enough extra cash to indulge in  the world of cinema. Whatever the next year holds, this one has been delightful.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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10 Months of Marriage in Movie Reviews

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Since we got married in January of 2016, my husband and I have been to the movies 19 times.

Before you start judging our financial priorities, we received a LOT of gift cards this year. (It’s like our friends and families know what we love.) Still, I’ll be the first to admit we’re a little obsessed. Movies are just so dang fun.

Because movies have played such a prominent role in our newlywed life, it seems only right that I review them here. Furthermore, as I tend to get emotionally involved in the films I watch, many of these stories have become intertwined with mine — for better and for worse.

13 Hours

My husband and I couldn’t talk on the drive home from this one because it hit us so hard. The men portrayed in this movie are true heroes. I’d recommend it highly, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

This is probably my favorite movie — not just my favorite out of this list, but my favorite, period. We saw it in theaters three times and promptly bought the DVD when it came out. It’s the perfect blend of comedy, romance, and gore. Jane Austen’s social commentary doubles in irony when the Bennet girls are busy battling the undead … while still trying desperately to acquire rich husbands.

10 Cloverfield Lane

On the one hand, this story of three people trapped in a bunker gripped me and stuck with me long after. The characters felt real, and the scenario was loaded with suspense. On the other hand, the scenes that stayed with me were disturbing; I still feel slightly queasy remembering them. I have a low tolerance for horror, and this film crossed the line for me.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I left this movie annoyed that I wasted some of our gift card money on it. What was with all those bewildering dream sequences? Why did Lois and Clark have zero chemistry? Why would Batman … never mind. The only reason I’d watch this again is to make a list of everything wrong with it and rant on social media.

Captain America: Civil War

Obviously these are great movies. This one did a good job of giving every character a piece of the spotlight — which I’d imagine was pretty difficult since there are so many Avengers now.

The Jungle Book

I didn’t really like this movie, but since I wrote my Senior thesis on fairy tales, I enjoyed analyzing it. I decided it portrays childhood as seen by a child: everything is terrifying, but you never really believe the monsters will eat you. [SPOILER ALERT] In the end, you get to do whatever the heck you want because you’re the hero. Duh. (This is how I explained the fact that Mowgli never went back to the Man Village and instead became Supreme Ruler of the jungle.)

Florence Foster Jenkins

This movie surprised me because it showed characters’ flaws without making judgements. It made me question the distinction between a good person and a bad one. Also, I both laughed and cried during the movie. Also, it’s a true story starring Meryl Streep. So … yeah, I liked it.

X-Men Apocalypse

My husband loved this movie. Personally, I’m getting tired of movies in which godlike villains threaten to destroy the world. I would have been content to watch a group of unusual kids grow up in Professor X’s pretty house.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

This wasn’t nearly as good as the first one, which was a bummer because I liked the first one. It was visually impressive, but the story was just … boring.

Finding Dory

Totally heartwarming. (I may have cried a little.) I’m a sucker for animated films partly because of the stories and partly because the animation can be so beautiful.  This one satisfied in both areas.

Independence Day: Resurgance

Entertaining and unoriginal.

Star Trek Beyond

I appreciated how this movie didn’t take itself too seriously but still offered the epic battle sequences we’ve come to expect. [SPOILER ALERT] Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to observe that Jim and the alien woman, by all appearances, didn’t fall in love!  Instead, Mr. Spock was the one with relationship drama.

Jason Bourne

I liked it; my husband thought it was boring and lifted the plot scene for scene from other Bourne movies. [SPOILER ALERT] Scene one: woman Jason loves is killed. Scene two: injured Bourne limps at top speed though a crowded street. Scene three: bewildering car chase. Etc.

Suicide Squad

We both enjoyed this movie, probably because we were comparing it to Batman vs. Superman. I get excited about animation, and I really liked the neon pink-and-blue graffiti art. Additionally, the voodoo ghost woman looked amazing. Good job, CGI artists.

Sully

This is a really inspiring true story. The movie makes you live the experience.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

This film was so fun that we bought the book. We were delighted to discover that the book is even better — and its plot varied so much from the screenplay that it felt like a new story.

The Accountant

SO. GOOD. As soon as the credits started rolling, I was ready for a sequel. Ben Affleck made a terrible Batman, but he pulled off “autistic Jason Bourne” with flying colors. I laughed out loud multiple times. The hero himself was a fascinating puzzle, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen as I waited to find out who he was, what he’d done, and whether or not they’d catch him (all the while hoping they would not).

Based on the films we’re still planning to see, our count will total 23 before the year is out. Writing these reviews ended up being really fun for me — I stayed up way past my bedtime on a work night — so I’ll probably be adding Part Two in December. Thanks for joining in my indulgence with me. Feel free to post your own opinions about any of these movies.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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