prose

25 by Liz Brown

I’m turning 26 tomorrow.

I’m past the age of people writing cool songs about how old I am (what’s my age again?), but in the past week two people have guessed I’m 20 (thank you, Sierra), so I’m not feeling terribly old honestly. I have boxes from Horizon Line in the basement to make into a fort and I’ve bought a piñata that we are going to fill with lollipops on Tuesday. Parking lots make me want to dance like nobody’s business and so does the band COIN. I still don’t sleep enough, but I’m learning I function better if I do (maybe that’s wisdom or maybe I am just getting older).

Birthdays awaken nostalgia in me and they make me hope I’ve changed enough to qualify for graduation into another year of existence. Did 25 leave a mark on me? Am I changed? Has anything changed around me or in me?

Last year on April 30th, Brittany and Kassie and I were driving to New Mexico to wake up in a tipi on a snowy May 1st and I held a tumbleweed (that I named Terry) in the middle of nowhere. Best birthday to date and definitely difficult to top. In a small town with an old faded Wrangler’s store, I took a photo of a tattoo shop and captioned my post of it: this might be my year. And it was (I got 3).

Yet it’s easy to look back and wonder why I’m still here locationally. Why my feet haven’t moved more and to miss the fact that my heart has moved even as my feet have lingered.

But if we are talking physical miles, besides New Mexico, I’ve been to Kansas City, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis, not to mention smaller towns. But the worth of my year isn’t in the miles I’ve traveled. I’ve moved houses and switched jobs and yet the worth of my year isn’t in the places I’ve lived or the desks I’ve occupied. The worth of a year is in the living and the growing and the changing. And sometimes that is inside your tumbleweed soul.

My word for last year was fearless. I learned that sometimes looks like staying. My word for this year is love and I’m learning that sometimes looks like staying, too.

I’ve lost relationships and forged new ones (falling apart and falling into and sometimes falling hurts and sometimes things fall together) and I’ve learned that much of live is learning how to grieve with graciousness and joy and to keep hoping in deeper things. I’ve felt more pain and more joy than in any other year. I’ve sobbed in a bathroom alone until I lost track of time and I’ve laughed and ran with friends until I lost track of time, too.

I’ve learned trust isn’t the same as belief and that stopping isn’t the same as taking root and I still have much more to learn and bigger dreams to run for even as my roots grow deeper. I’m learning to ask better questions and I’m learning to listen. Ilana often asks me what I’m learning and I like that. I’m still not good at silence, but I’m growing better at it—it scares me less than it used to. I’m reading more, and that’s good for my soul, too.

Originally, I had a paragraph about the different creative things I’ve done this year, but I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging. Please don’t take it as such. It’s just a landmark, but it can become a land mine if it becomes my identity. I am not my work. But I’m learning to work out of joy rather than identity. Magazine articles and a cover, CD covers, bigger shows, collaborations: it’s been a whirlwind. I’ve learned a lot about editing—that’s been my biggest change; I still like deep moody edits, but I’m ending the year with color because that’s how I feel on the inside: deep and colourful in a way that doesn’t quite make sense, but I feel my lungs filling up fuller and fuller these days and I’m wondering if this is joy and I’m wondering if I’ve never quite felt it before. I’m learning to use thankfulness as a weapon and I hope I’m learning to love, not just the feeling.

This is me, 25 for a few more hours. Messy and full and braver than I was last year. Less miles under my feet, more miles under my soul. I want my tumbleweed soul to keep taking root and to keep growing and maybe I’ll move this year and maybe I won’t but my soul surely will move—but not wander—and I will keep creating. I’m writing a list of 26 things to do before I’m 27. I’m learning how to rest, but I’m not slowing down. This year is good. I am good right now. I am alive and I am here and I am thankful. I've been laughing a lot these days and running just because I can and both of these feel good, inside and out. I feel alive, inside and out. More alive than I have in a long time. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for adding joy to my existence. Thank you for teaching me kindness and bravery through your words. Thank you for rooting for this little tumbleweed soul. 

Love always,

Liz

Becoming by Liz Brown

As last winter—the 2016 one—melted into spring, I was fairly sure who I was. A little lonely, a little over five-foot tall (kudos if you caught that LANY reference), corporate-job-by-day, artist-by-night. I listened mostly to Taylor Swift and had recently downloaded Apple Music (Spotifty doesn’t have Taylor Swift) and discovered James Bay—fondly called “bae.” I’d begun listening to podcasts and often ate smoothies for lunch. My hair was shorter than it had been in 4 years and I tend to do that with changes—all at once. New job, new hair, new songs. I was like that with tattoos this year. None, for over 25 years, then 2 in 6 weeks. I don't do things halfway.

Last year, my identity and place here were clear. I felt like I knew how I belonged. Where I belonged. My context became my identity.

Then slowly, different areas of my life began to unravel. First, between traveling and my Bible study moving to a different suburb, I lost touch. But I think it had begun far before then: the loneliness. We never saw each other past Monday and no one really knew my fears or dreams—nor I theirs. That’s not to say they’re entirely to blame: I haven’t been a good listener. I haven’t asked good questions. I have been busy to a fault.

Then between our varying schedules and busyness—that word again—and some differences of opinion that shouldn’t have been great but were, I grew further from some old friends and the identity I so tied up within them. I was one of them. Collectively, I had been. My identity had been tied up in my community. But who was I alone?

And somewhere along this summer and that path, I met some newer friends and I am scared that I’ll become the same tagalong to a “them.” Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s beautiful to be part of something together. But I don’t want that something to be all of me. Whether that be a new friend group or a band or a dream. I become like those around me and I don’t know how to stop it.

I don’t know what I like anymore. I mean, I do. But I don’t know what is me and what is just shadows of those around me. Who am I alone? Who am I in the silence? All I can hear is the tapping of my fingers against the black keys. I want to be more okay with silence. I don’t want to be so busy.

To an extent we are all the last wave slapping the shore, the product of the oceans we’ve traveled behind us. None of us is entirely cut off from influences. We’re all shaped by our friends and the people who make our coffee and the people who bag our groceries and the color we paint our rooms and our breakfasts and whether we walk or bike or drive to work and how often we make eye contact and the books we read and the shoes we wear. And we are all collectively becoming something. Somebody. You don’t become an individual alone and I know that in my head. I know I’m not alone even when I feel like it and I know that even when I become more myself, it’s not without outside influences.

So what now? First, Liz, slow down. Become okay with silence. Learn who you are alone. Then look at how you are living. Surround yourself with food and words and books and films and humans who are making you into the person who you desire to become and people who you can encourage to become lovelier selves, too. Together. Together isn’t bad, Liz. You don’t have to do it alone. Remember that.

Colour by Liz Brown

This was a lighting test shot. I almost didn't share it. It's messy. My life is messy right now. I've been rearranging my room and it's not done. But it's my real life: flowers and denim and to-do lists and art. Life and creation and the mess in-between. Here I am.

This was a lighting test shot. I almost didn't share it. It's messy. My life is messy right now. I've been rearranging my room and it's not done. But it's my real life: flowers and denim and to-do lists and art. Life and creation and the mess in-between. Here I am.

This morning I was sitting in bed drinking coffee. My mornings often start slowly and I don't ever want to stop appreciating that luxury. My life may be relatively simple and small, but I'm thankful for luxuries of time and good coffee and morning light. Across from me was a gray wall, next to a green plant, and near brown and gold and black and white and red shoes. My bed is a cotton mess of gray and burnt yellow and light gray and it feels cozy, like rest and like dawn. 

However, as I sat there, silent in the scene, I was bit with a tinge of regret. I wish it was all white. I wish I was one of those people who liked clean white tidy things. That would be prettier--better. I like colour. But I wish I didn't.

Immediately another thought followed: something is wrong. Something is wrong if I feel like enjoying colour is wrong. Or lesser. I've surrounded myself with influences (more social media than in-person) who have subtly led me to believe this. That I'm somehow lesser because even when I simplify my life, it still looks like faded black t-shirts and bright lipstick. Even if I have less, it will always be colourful. That's just me. That's how I feel most at home.

Sometimes we apologize for things like quiet and colour and awkwardness. There's nothing wrong with them. You don't need to apologize for them.

So this morning I've been unfollowing folks (strangers mostly--don't worry) because my own mind has turned against me. You control who and what influence you. Turn off your phone or unfollow accounts that make you feel less then. If an account makes you feel like you're broken because you're not dating or married? Unfollow it. If an account makes you feel like you're less-than because of how you look? Unfollow it. Just because a lot of people like one thing, doesn't make it more beautiful. Just because few people like one thing, doesn't make it any less beautiful. The same goes for people. Don't let people's opinions of you sway how you see and value yourself (note to self).

Now, as a side note, this is not to say to only surround yourself with folks who look like you and express themselves like you. There's a fine line between inspiration and comparison and I tread it daily. But I don't want my inspiration to come from a screen. Yes, social media gives me access to millions of artists and cultures that I can't just walk outside and see. That's valuable. But there's also real people and real cultures all around me that I can actually love because I can actually go outside and talk to them. People who aren't vocationally artists are interesting and can inspire you. Demolition workers can inspire creativity in you. So can teachers. So can farmers. So can business owners. I don't want all my friends to be exactly like me. And I don't want to wish I was in a white room in the mountains when I can walk into a tiny grocery across the street and encounter something different, but equally beautiful.

I was immensely more creative with my life and with my art and with my wardrobe when I lived in Chicago and was simply surrounded by people who were different from me. Daily. Consistently. I didn't even have an Instagram. I want to exist more like that. Colourful and creative and creating and less conscious of what is cool and what isn't. More vividly aware of the beauty all around me. I want to change how and who I follow.

Follow people you want to be like.

In life and on social media. 

I want to follow the Bob Goffs. The Ruthie Lindseys. I want to be less about aesthetic and more about people. I love beauty in my room or wardrobe, but I never want to forget that the greatest beauty is inside people. Not my phone. If I forget that, I've lost everything.

So here's me. Emptying my phone and rearranging my colourful room and introducing myself again.

I'm Liz. I own 10 denim jackets--all different--and sometimes I drink mochas and I really enjoy listening to Taylor Swift. I look like a punk kid, but I'm rather an intersection of floral and grit. I'm hideously uncoordinated and have a big scar on my elbow. I'll always be short and I'll probably never be super twiggy and I'm learning to be okay with that. I'm an awful dancer but sometimes I do it anyways. Usually in my car. I like my hair best when it's short and messy (tell that to my 14-year-old self, please) and I really really love that we live in a world full of colour.

Be you and savor it with gratefulness. The world will miss out--you will miss out--if you try to be anyone else.

My 2017 Word by Liz Brown

Every year (okay, the last year or two) I've chosen a word to embody that year. This year it was "fearless" (more on that later). Late in 2015, it was clear that "fearless" was supposed to be my word.

This year it hasn't been quite so clear. I haven't been able to come up with a word. Not for lack of trying. I've been pondering what I've been learning recently: humility and grace and forgiveness and self-care and worth. But none of them seemed quite right. Then suddenly, in my plain little black office chair, it came to me: love.

I didn't want this word. I tried to think of another word to replace it in my mind. Love is too cheesy, I thought. Folks will think I'm just hunting for a fellow or a ring. It's not a creative word. It's overused. It's a poetic emotion, but it's not a particularly clever or poetic word. You can do better, Liz But can I?

I don't know why this word came to me. Maybe it's because I've been playing Noah Gundersen's "Ledges" in my head today (and in my car afterward): "I want to learn how to love, not just the feeling. Bear all the consequences."

I don't think I've had much practice in loving well (with the exception of one customer who I prayed for grace and love with every rude comment--the hardest thing, to bite my quick tongue), and it's a daunting thing to ask for. I've seen a bit of that hard love as I've looked into eyes that are breaking. I've seen secondhand heartache. But for the most part, my life is easy. My friends are kind. So are my coworkers. So are my roommates. Loving them is easy. Is it really love then? Is a convenient friendliness, a love without sacrifice, a comfortable love: is that really love at all? An easy road won't pave the way to a loving soul. This year will be difficult, but the cost is worth it. It has to be.

And yet: couldn't I find a better word? Or at the least: an easier one?

Asking for love is also asking to cultivate patience and kindness. A lack of envy. Humility. Rooting for others. Kind words. Graciousness. Selflessness. Slowness of anger. Forgiveness. Like, God, couldn't I pick just one of those? Love, in all its beautiful facets and outpourings, is incredibly daunting.

Not that I've mastered bravery in these past 12 months or that I'll master what it means to love well in the next 12 months. But, goodness, do I want to try. Even if it's hard. Even if folks thing I'm cheesy or overly-romantic (though can you really say that about a gal who lives in overalls?)--though that's not what most of love means. I want to lean into that word, in the deepest, grittiest sense of the definition of it, and use it as a reminder to love simply and deeply, daily and well. Even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard. God, help me.

I didn't know what I was getting into when I asked to be brave, and this year I'm more cautious in my prayers. Discomfort and difficultly are often the way to a beautiful soul. I don't take it lightly anymore. But I want to live well, and so much of living well is loving deeply. I don't know if I'm ready for this year or this word, but I'm going forth regardless.

"I want to learn how to love,
Not just the feeling.
Bear all the consequences."