“THE JOURNEY” to Heal

This image is what we lovingly refer to as “The Journey”
It is the process of growth.
It is a process to heal
It is a process to bloom.

The kind of “growth” we’re talking about here can be difficult to understand because it’s an internal process. We rarely notice the external signs of the change unless they are “obvious” or unless we know how to look for them.

What we’ve outlined here are 6 steps that serve as an imperfect guide to the change in self-awareness we might experience in this lifetime. These steps are generally experienced in this order but sometimes, life might have you skipping around a little bit + that’s ok!

This image is the “Social Justice” version of those same steps. I did it to see if it would help me manage my overwhelm AND help get a grasp on what’s happening in our world right now on both the individual and collective levels.

What’s really fascinating is that these steps can be applied to any national or global conversation/movement that has involved an oppressed group. It can be applied to the #BLM conversation happening right now, to the #MeToo Movement, to U.S. Immigrants + immigration policy, the LBGTQ+ community, the history of Indigenous people – ANY group that has been oppressed or marginalized.

I believe this current moment in history is a time of immense growth for most of us individually and collectively. To have deeper compassion + understanding for each other – and this is what I understand to be the path we take to get there.

In light of the #BLM conversation that we have all found ourselves influencing in one way or another, I have taken the liberty to carefully breakdown and outline each step using examples of racism in the U.S.

**I only took a few race/social justice classes in college so I have a minimal background/education in racial justice history. If you have edits you’d like to suggest, I’d love to hear what you might add or remove!

STEP 1: UNALIGNED + UNAWARE

Cruelty. Ignorance. Physical + Verbal Attacks. Systematically oppressing “others” in order to maintain power.

Individually: This might be expressed as murder, discrimination, racial slurs, slavery, implicit biases, and the overall acceptability and acceptance of this behavior.
Collectively: This looks like slavery, segregation, lynching, appropriation, outward violence toward an agreed “other”, etc.

STEP 2: NAME THE PAIN

Identifying problematic stereotypes, systemic issues, injustices, oppressive behaviors.

Individually: This is the recognition of their participation in the oppression, and questioning why the world is this way.
Collectively: This might look like an increase in conversations – oppressed groups finding their voice. It is the beginning of a cultural shift in the acceptability of these things.

STEP 3: CHALLENGES

Accepting the responsibility to heal. Desire to face the discomfort that comes with change.
Individually: This might look like choosing to stop using certain words, supporting certain companies or policies.
Collectively: This looks like demanding structural change through protests, petitions, policy changes. Pushing past “band-aid” fixes.

STEP 4: LEARN THE LESSONS

Seeking guides or educational material, to learn more about the circumstances and how to change them. 

Collectively: This might look like acknowledging the hardships endured by the oppressed group and understanding why these things are wrong.
Individually: This looks like following educators on social media, reading books, listening to podcasts.

STEP 5: FIND YOUR TRIBE  -> INTEGRATION + INFLUENCE

Integrating the things you’ve learned into your daily life. Share these practices with your circle of influence.

Collectively: Integrating the “other” group. Formation of movements and organizations to educate, create change, & raise awareness.
Individually: Aligning with people whose values you admire/respect. Sparking conversations in your personal circle of influence, attending protests, etc.

STEP 6: BLOOM

Mobilize your community & resources to create new, inclusive systems.

Collectively: Redirecting funding to restructure broken systems, initiatives to close the gap between the oppressed and the rest of the community.
Individually: Implementing new policies to prevent injustice in the workplace.

My hope is that we can use this circle to understand where we are on our journey and then help each other to grow to the next step. I hope this step by step breakdown provides clarity and dissolves that overwhelm.

Figure out where you are & what you can do to keep moving towards a full bloom.

Annie’s Doorway

Photo By: Shane Spangler

I really like supporting people.

I like watching them grow with confidence and skill. 
I like seeing them happy.

I know that I would NOT be who I am today (and the woman I will be in the future) without the love and support from others. I made it a point that I would give back & thank them by paying it forward. I decided it was the best way to show them how powerful their love is. Seeing your impact in people you’ve never met or seen before is powerful. Meaningful on so many different  levels. 
I really love to mentor younger people and help talent grow, but I haven’t really had a chance to do it publicly – until now. 

Opportunity is my new business. 
Opportunity is what we live for (or at least what I live for). 
I enjoy building doorways so opportunity can knock.
I like building doorways for other people too. 

Which brings me to Annie, the first of many (hopefully) doorways I want to build. 

Annie is a young determined poet. She and I bonded through Instagram over how much school sucks. She’s a first-year, and I’m an old fart but we both are well aware of what our society expects of us. A degree, a solid job, a minimally sufficient contribution to society, a good retirement, and finally, death. We bonded over the stress and the weight and the unfairness of it all, and finally, we started talking about the good stuff. “What is your passion? What really makes you come alive?” I asked her. She told me she liked poetry and I told her I’d help.

And well, now we are here. I wanted to highlight her because her excitement and passion for her craft makes me want to work harder. It makes me believe that maybe if we spent more time supporting each other instead of projecting our own ideas on each other, we might actually be able to change the world. Like really truly. And that is inspiring.

This is one of my favorite poems that Annie has written.

Paint Me Beautiful
By Annie

When I read this all I could think was Pslam 149:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Why should we fit ourselves into a box when we are made for so much more than that? Not just from the outside, but from the inside too. Our passions were given to us to use in the world and make a footprint that will forever change it. In a good way…. in the best way possible. 




More about Annie:  

What inspired you to start writing?I always loved stories and how it can connect and touch people. I wanted to inspire people and I think writing is the perfect way to do it since it comes so naturally to me. Writing always made sense to me when nothing else did. Its something that I know that I’m supposed to do.
Why do you like poetry specifically?
I like poetry because it can be so simple and yet have a powerful impact on whoever is reading it. I like how when it comes to writing poetry there aren’t really any rules. Yes, there are rules on how to structure a poem and etc, but you can do whatever you want. For me, I feel like I write my best pieces when I’m not put into a certain box. If that makes any sense. It should be more about the writing and the message behind it then the structure.
What drives you to write when you do? How often do you write?
Anything and everything. What inspires me the most is seeing how people respond to my poems. That’s always a great feeling. As far as my writing process,  sometimes I get lucky and an idea or even a line comes to me on its own. I like to say that you can never rush creativity. But i always have that thought of “What if I don’t have it this time? Or what if it just never comes back.” But I know that my writing has a purpose and I will continue to live out ( or “write out” rather) that purpose for as long as I can. If that makes any sense.
Other times I really have to sit down and think about what I wanna write. I’m a perfectionist, so I really aim to write my best. I always ask for feedback. Always. It’s helpful to have another  ” set of eyes” look at your piece and give constructive criticism. This allows me to grow as a writer and a creator. Even though sometimes I get a little annoyed but I do appreciate it! Lol! Sadly, I don’t write as often as I should or as I would like. But what’s so great about being a poet and a writer my mind is constantly thinking about new ideas and new pieces. That part of my brain is never turned off. I’m always thinking. Always trying to come up with new ideas. I love it.

Follow her poetry on Instagram: @annie.writes

The Yellow Brick Road

IG: @mykellsawyer
Website: Michael-sawyer.com

Today I was walking with my new friend Alex, and he asked me “What was your happiest moment in the past month?”
“Just one?”
I shared a few different things, and then I thought about one of my shoots in NYC.

The first day I was there I shot with a photographer named Michael Sawyer. Our shoot went well and he invited me to shoot again, this time at a studio.

I show up to the studio that weekend and find a make-up artist and two other models. I was immediately intimidated. These girls looked like they had been modeling for a while. They were taller, had straighter hair, and flatter stomachs than me.

I got dressed, had my make-up done, and ended up being first in the rotation. I did o.k. I was little bit awkward, a little bit insecure. He coached me and was kind to me. He showed me photos to copy and kept coaching. I was a little embarrassed.

Then the next model went up.

I immediately grabbed my phone and started looking up photos of professional models. I searched for similar poses he was looking for; how different models did similar things but were still beautiful in their own way. I was interrupted by a loud “YES!”
Sawyer was shaking his head, “ah you are amazing dude.”

She smiled and moved her hair out of her face.

I decided to pull up a chair and watch her. I wanted to learn how she moved, and what she was doing that Sawyer liked so much. She switched her weight in her legs, kept a slow flow of movement, and never broke her serious face. It took me a little while to realize that what made her so good was her confidence, and how she used the thing that made her look different to her advantage.

The other model went up, she was goofier, different, but seemed a little uncomfortable despite the fact she looked beautiful.

Then it was my turn. I decided to own it – my make up, my petite size, my own stomach, and my hair. I owned who I was. I was proud too. We blasted some music and I got into a character I had never seen before. This Annabelle was strong, sexy, brave, and CONFIDENT.

I knew I nailed it when I hear heard him yell out in excitement – he showed me the photos and I didn’t recognize myself.

Damn.

IG: @mykellsawyer
Website: Michael-sawyer.com

At the end of the shoot, he told me “I knew you could do it. I wouldn’t have wasted my time and money inviting you here if I didn’t see it.”

I wondered how there are so many people, maybe even including you, that need a little push, a little direction, or someone to believe in them one time to reveal something beautiful within them.

I have this vision in my head of my calling. It’s not clear. It’s kind of like Dorothy on the yellow brick road. I can see there is a path to follow, friends to make along the way and strong desire to make it to the emerald city,  but instead of red poppies it’s fog, and instead of the wicked witch of the west its insecurity and self-loathing. But during this shoot, some of the fog finally cleared and even though the wicked witch made an appearance, she didn’t capture me.

Anyway in that room I realized that it’s my energy that makes me different. It’s my relentless love for others that makes me taller, it’s my perseverance that brought me into that room. And it was kind words from a stranger that tied it all together and brought it out for me to see and share with the whole world.

What sets me apart is what I have to offer in the unique way that I offer it. It is my difference that will make me successful.

IG: @mykellsawyer
Website: Michael-sawyer.com

The Black Notebook Series: Intro

Photographer IG: @madikarizma

I’m starting a new side project.

I purchased a little black notebook at The Shops at Columbus Circle in NYC, but it wasn’t any little black notebook. It was a Moleskin journalism notebook, which means it’s set up kind of like a legal pad except a whole lot prettier. And it has magic powers. Well, I think it does. Why else would I have been moved to buy a $20 Notebook?!

Anyway, I’ve been lucky enough to meet up with really inspirational souls and make some wonderful friends through Instagram, and I realized that I could start a new collection! I could collect wisdom from these people that I’ve met.

So now I have a notebook! And as I continue meeting people, I will bring my little black notebook along with us for coffee to scribble down anything that they say that is inspiring to me. (Because if it’s going to be that expensive, I want the stuff that’s in it to be priceless)

I also have a growing list of questions to ask people. Here’s what I have so far:
1. What are your biggest fears? (As in future plans and dreams – not like spiders)
2. What do you think is important in a leader? Any qualities you have that help you lead more effectively?
3. How do you try to stay balanced?
4. What is your identity built on? Who are you at your core?

Each person I interview has the opportunity to add a question to the list. And I’ll be publishing their wisdom right here on The Opened Book!

If you would like to contribute to the question list, or know someone you think I should meet with, let me know! Comment on this post or shoot me a quick email through the contact page!

Kicks Brighter Than Oculus

The Oculus at the World Trade Center, NYC
Photographer IG: @D13G0

The name Oculus just sets the scene and feeling.
I felt sort of like an alien coming back to the mothership.
I guess that’s a little weird.

Standing in that space in afternoon daylight was like being teleported into another dimension. Looking up and seeing the buildings through the spaces in the walls and the light streaming through the windows made me feel like God was standing next to me.

“Okay Annabelle, Dance!” Diego shouted. His belly was to the ground and his eye ready behind the camera. His thumbs up encouraged me to go for it. I looked around, watching people walking by headed to where-ever and got nervous. It’s not typical to see a girl break into random dance in the middle of a public place (I wish it was). Then I remembered that this is NYC and it’s more typical than not. I felt the sunlight on my cheek and remembered what a gift it was to be where I stood.

I walked over to my mini speaker and turned it on to something alternative and walked back to my space.
One deep breath in and out.
I closed my eyes and tried to dive into the music letting everything else melt behind me.

Behind the Scenes photo by @alfiefriday

I imagined myself in another dimension, calling upon the walls to inspire me as I moved. 

Occasionally I would tune back into reality and become painfully aware of the public space I was in and eyes around me. I would stop and tried to refocus while the photographers adjusted.

I thought about a girl I saw just the day before, dancing along to a hip-hop video on her phone in the street.
I thought about my friend Rachel from Dacncewaterloo (The Dance Company I’m a part of in Austin) and her current project dancing in public places as she travels through Europe.
I thought how each dancer I knew had their own style, which allowed me to accept where I was and what I was doing.
And I thought about how Deigo had been a part of capturing my movement from the beginning and has been supporting me and believing in me ever since. I thought about how much he has grown and how much I must have grown too.
I thought how happy I felt when I saw both friends and strangers alike, doing something that genuinely made them happy.
So then I thought maybe if I just stay true to what makes me happy, maybe I can encourage someone else to do the same, and free myself in the process.

From Left to Right : @D13G0 , @Annasbanana123, @alfiefriday