Choosing your life *and* following a calling

One of my favorite publications lately is The Lily, the Washington Post’s publication for women. They run stories on national politics, women’s health, and pop culture, as well as personal narratives and comics!

One story stood out to me from The Lily this week:

The unexpected life of a millennial nun

The Catholic church seems to be one of the most patriarchal institutions there is. With reports of abuse by the clergy and conservative, and even restrictive views on women’s health, the church seems like the last choice for young women who care about social justice.

But some women my age have chosen just that. The article talks about Tracy Kemme, a 33-year-old Sister of Charity. It turns out that the stereotype of the secluded nun doesn’t capture what nuns look like and do today. Nuns have careers in the community such as dietician, historic housing preservation expert, hospital ethics member, and minister.

It also makes sense that the religious life offers women in my generation something that is missing in the outer world. To put it bleakly, in recent years, I have often felt the same way as millennial women who chose to become a nun: that the world doesn’t offer anything for me to hold on to. Religion isn’t an escape or rejection, but an embrace of life. It seems contradictory, but I can see how choosing “chastity opens one up to love more; that poverty recognizes common ground; and that obedience signifies deep listening.” Nuns are rejecting a traditional lifestyle but embracing the world at the same time.

Nonetheless, being a nun IS unusual. People are going to ask and wonder why women would forego so many possibilities to choose the religious life.

“There is something scary about women who congregate together, something scary about women who don’t live some kind of idealized American womanhood,” says Sister Mary Therese Perez, 36, of the horror nun genre.

This story resonated with me because I feel the same. I think married, single and religious life are all callings. I don’t feel devoted to religion, but the lifestyle of a nun does appeal to me. I care about social justice and helping others, and I don’t fear being lonely.

“I had learned that religious life wasn’t magic,” Kemme wrote this past summer. “[I]t wouldn’t save me from loneliness, anxiety or self-scrutiny. It wasn’t perfect; living with women from different generations and backgrounds was challenging and even painful at times. It wasn’t an escape; ministry with the suffering can be exhausting and heartbreaking.”

How does one prepare for that kind of life? There’s so much training and preparation to become a nun. But at the heart of it, being a nun is having “[a] sense of adventure or willingness to say ‘yes’ to a life that’s going to have twists and turns and lots of unknowns,” she says. “They’re really courageous people who are willing to challenge the status quo.”

I think we can embrace that in our life no matter what ‘calling” we choose.  Let’s keep challenging the status quo, choosing life, and engaging in the world.

Purposeful crafting and thoughtful gifting

Crafts are a big part of my life. The long list of DIYs on my Pinterest board motivates me to keep going so I can one day get to them. At the same time, caring for the Earth is a priority. Crafts use some resources that are harmful to the environment, such as glitter and plastic. 

In keeping with the idea of taking only what you need and being good stewards of the Earth, here are some ways I’m thinking about crafting purposefully. 

Purpose

Full disclosure: I love crafts for the process, but I’m still figuring out what to do with the finished products. As I’m writing this, I realized that I have it backward.

The thing is, you can craft anything you want. Rather than make then think of where it goes, begin with the end in mind. What am I creating this for? It’s so tempting to look at all the DIY ideas and want to make them all. Screening questions before I decide to make:

Where does it belong? 

What purpose does it serve? 

Who am I going to give this to?

People have been crafting since forever, so crafts do have a purpose. A few ideas from brainstorming and DIY blogs tell me that people make crafts to:

  • Pass down a skill like pottery and weaving
  • Remember an event or person
  • Celebrate holidays and traditions
  • Exchange and build community
  • Use in the home for decor or other functions

Crafting purposefully doesn’t mean that you can’t make things for fun. Objects can be meaningful and fun. Look at Carl and Ellie’s house in Up — every knickknack is personal. Their belongings speak to the relationship they had, who they are, and what mattered most to them. I’m taking Carl and Ellie as one inspiration for crafting with purpose. 

Relate

I think we can all get behind thoughtful gifting. Everyone has limited bandwidth, space and budget. We want to give gifts that people are actually going to use. It can be tangible things or experiences, pricey or budget, and DIY or store-bought. (Honestly, a gift card is always welcome!)

The Good Trade, a blog about shopping thoughtfully,  has some great ideas for DIY gifts. These ones really stood out to me:

  • Offer your skills & talents: There is something you are really good at, whether it’s making phone calls, referring doctors, organizing or cooking one particular dish. You can offer your friends a session of one of these services. Remember coupon books? A grown up version would be much appreciated.
  • Use what you have: Going back to being thrifty and good to the environment, it’s always a great idea to use what you have. Plan your budget, think simple, and make multiples of the same thing. 
  • Make or write something personal: A handwritten letter, photo print and symbols to a shared experience go a long way. It’s more meaningful because it can only come from you. 

Work in progress

When I look at the zero waste lifestyle, it’s inspiring but also makes me feel so far from living that way. I become aware of how much waste I create and it can be discouraging to make more things that honestly, might end up in the trash.

But a quick glance at DIY gift ideas shows that handmade gifts don’t have to end up in the trash. The beauty of crafting and eco-friendly hacks is that there’s a way to make everything from bath & cleaning products, to coupons & cards,  to food & drinks, yourself. (I’m a big fan of giving consumables! Treats will ever go to waste.)

“Choose something to make that you wouldn’t mind making over and over. I definitely wanted to make something functional that a wide range of people could use.”

Crafting itself is about being imperfect and practicing anyway. Let’s celebrate the fact that our crafts and gift-giving practices are works in progress, and it can get closer to being zero waste without being there now.

If you are on Etsy, favorite my shop to see what I’m making. When you’re pinched for time, what gifts do you like to give? 

Rights, camera, action!

Mobile phones are ever-present in our lives. In fact, smartphones have become synonymous as “device” itself. Phones and social media go hand in hand, and unless you make an effort to keep yourself off the grid, social media is a significant part of life today.

Image is everything on there. The images that we are flooded with and the images that are absent or erased both say a lot about who we are and where we’re going. What does the camera on phones mean for human rights? It can do a lot of good, or it can be a tool that authorities use to control people. Here are three posts discussing how record keeping and human rights go together.

The Rohingya lists: refugees compile their own record of those killed in Myanmar

The Rohingya live in refugee camps. Since they are a stateless people, there are no official historians documenting what happens to them. Last week, the ICJ took Myanmar to court for its atrocities against the Rohingya. But justice is not only seeing your perpetrator in court but also getting to tell your own story.

Now in Bangladesh and able to organize without being closely monitored by Myanmar’s security forces, the Rohingya have armed themselves with lists of the dead and pictures and video of atrocities recorded on their mobile phones, in a struggle against attempts to erase their history in Myanmar.

In this case, documenting who is dead, what they look like, and who they were, is an act of dissent. It’s saying that the Rohingya have history. Giving them record keeping tools is empowering.

Here’s How Some People Think Tech Is Affecting Our Free Speech

Even though social media feels like a place where anything goes, there are actually plenty of rules governing it. Some of those rules make the internet a more restrictive place to express your opinions than in the real world.

If people lose their willingness to research source material, whether through Google, Wikipedia or other sources, and if they are robbed of the freedom to speak out online, free expression as we know it will surely be affected.

The other aspect of technology that has proven harmful for democracy and free speech happens on the receiving end — tech is being used to share hateful, nationalist and

Uprooting Democracy: The War of Memory and the Lost Legacy of the People’s Party

When there are no celebrations of the constitution or festivals connected to constitutional monuments, people in the locality forget how they are important to the point of forgetting that they exist, so many of them are removed, replaced or destroyed.

The last and perhaps most eerie part of image-making and record keeping is erasing it. Erasing history, such as monuments of democracy and progress, means changing the reality. Who will bear witness to the truth? Who will remember how things really happened?

If you have a phone and camera, it’s in your power to remember and bear witness. Don’t look away.

Planning for 2020: Writing, Creating and Activism

The pressure to become a better you is ever present. This January, we head into a new decade with terrible prospects environmentally and socially. 

The 100% truth is that “my anxiety, fatigue and unhappiness over the years” is coming with me to 2020. If there is one thing I learned last year in therapy, it is that sitting with discomfort is more helpful than trying to erase or ignore it. So that is what I’m going to do this year. I’m going to turn discomfort and anxiety intos something good. 

This comic by Christine Inzer from The Lily resonated with me. She said:

“This year, there will be no ‘new me.’ 

There will be just me.”

I’m taking this mantra to heart. Instead of becoming a more acceptable version of myself, I want to become a truer version of me. Here are three ways I want to do that this year.

#1 Write & Draw

Last year, I had the opportunity to write for Mochi Mag and the MEI-CHA and HighbrowLab blogs. I also went to the Denver Publishing Institute and learned about the book publishing process. It turns out that I really like writing, planning and drawing. 

This year, I plan to continue doing all of that, and also taking what I learned and applying that to my personal blog. I find that researching and mapping help me make sense of big topics like human rights. I understand a bit more after writing a blog post about it. 

Creating content not only helps me understand, it also helps me be a mindful content consumer. When I research for a blog post, I look for relevant posts and evaluate which publications speak to me and why. It’s been super informative learning from other writers in terms of craft, language and identifying biases in my own writing. This year, I want to grow as a writer and artist through practice.

#2 Advocate in my own way

No matter what my job is, I’m creating something. That’s the nature of capitalism. Everything we create and do has a value attached to it. Who you are at work, and increasingly at home, has to be worthwhile. No one gets to just be. But we are not meant to live compartmentalized lives. I have tried that, and it only lasted so long before I broke down and had to make a change. 

Capitalism teaches us to compartmentalise parts of ourselves – the personal self must be non-existent to avoid being ‘inappropriate’, even if this means straining to withhold our suffering from colleagues.”

We can’t fix capitalism or our workplaces, but we can advocate for ourselves and each other in the smallest ways. I like to think of it as the opposite of microaggressions. Microactions? Microadvocacy? It doesn’t have a name yet, but we can advocate through our creations. 

I was inspired after reading “Strange Birds” by Celia Perez. In it, a self-made girl troop advocated the welfare of birds by writing letters, making stickers, painting murals, and “bombing” their community with facts about birds. I want to do the same for the causes I care most about. For example, I can :

  • Make zines and comics
  • Blog and report info
  • Send postcards & letters
  • Talk to friends about it

I think advocacy looks many different ways. It can be quiet or loud. You can make trouble or do what you can, within the boundaries you live in. I’m really excited about this goal because there is SO much to be done. Let’s shout about the things we care about!  

 #3 Engage in real life 

I think all of us can sense that the way the world is going right now, is not right in any way. How do we heal from our personal trauma as well as protect ourselves from taking in more toxic stuff from the world? It’s no surprise that self care has become so popular — we NEED it. But I think self care tricks us into thinking the problem is our own, when the truth is we need each other to thrive. 

“bell hooks emphasises love and healing as priority before any other aspect of life. If healing were a worker’s right, we could stimulate healthy mental wellbeing for young women of colour who are hiding the same pain.”

This year, I will engage in real life and see and talk to people. The power of listening to and engaging with a human being in real life, is very much going against what capitalism and apps want us to do. So let’s do more of it. 

What are your goals this year? Let’s support each other in uncertain times.

Polymer clay sculpting is for everyone

I’ve been collecting Re-ment, or miniatures since 2006. Miniatures are adorable and they fact that they come as sets  just makes me want to collect ALL of them! I never thought about making my own miniatures until this year when I got into polymer clay. It’s a super popular material among DIY bloggers & here is why!

Benefits of polymer clay 

Polymer clay is great because it’s so tactile and versatile. (Have you ever played with slime?) There are not a lot of chances to play with textures, and polymer clay can fix that. When you get it from the package, it is kind of brittle and oily. After kneading it, it becomes malleable and you can make it into anything your heart desires. 

WHY POLYMER CLAY IS SO AWESOME:

  • It helps with drawing. All figurines are made with basic shapes like spheres, cones, cylinders and cubes. Drawing is the same! (You can try sketching your figurines 😄)
  • You can bake it in a toaster or regular oven at home. There’s no need to go to a studio.
  • You can paint and decorate it anyway you want, after baking.
  • It’s dry and mess-free. It may stain a little, but overall it’s easy to clean up. 
  • Like paint, you can mix colors or even create ombre / gradient effects.
  • It takes texture really well – stamp or roll materials onto it for patterns. 

What I’ve Made

Klutz has a great series of Mini Erasers kits, where you make Mini Animals, Fantasy Creatures, Aliens and Sweets! It is how I learned to work with eraser clay and now I am addicted. 

The erasers / miniatures come out adorable and are reminiscent of the Re-Ment. Once you learn the basic shops and composition, you can start getting creative. Create your own animals, donuts, cupcakes, aliens and pizza by following “recipes.” 

When you feel ready to add more details, you can make really adorable swirls, sprinkles and patterns to make your creations more realistic.

Applications 

The possibilities with polymer clay are limitless. Some of the easiest ideas to start with? Some ideas from one of my favorite DIY blogs, Fish and Bull

  • Ornaments: Stamp shapes out of a sheet of clay, then roll textures on to it.
  • Dishes: Cut out a circle, mold it in a bowl, bake, and paint!
  • Planters: You can make pinch pots, geometric, or honestly any form you like.
  • Mobiles: Evil eye, moon phases, rainbows, and animals, to name a few themes!
  • Jewelry: No one is going to be able to tell that it’s NOT polymer clay.

Try polymer clay for sculpting experience you can have at home. All you need is an oven and clay. 

Sex worker rights are human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed on December 10, 1948. We’ve had less than 100 years to make sense of what it looks like if everyone has basic rights, which has never been the norm in any society. How do we begin to communicate what human rights means and what it entails? 

According to Sunee Chaiyarot, a former human rights commissioner in Thailand, “The big picture includes individual rights, community rights or rights in local areas, and it also relates to the justice system.” Sex workers rights intersect with all the dimensions Chaiyarot mentions:

  • individual rights of sex workers
  • how sex workers coexist with the community
  • the role of sex work in local areas
  • how the justice systems protects or denies the rights of sex workers

Let’s begin to understand how sex workers might exist in the community. 

Help from one (former) sex worker to another

There’s a ton of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding sex work, and groups interested in helping workers get out of the sex trade. For help to be truly helpful, however, it needs to involve people who have been in that situation. For example, CityLight Coffee in Bangkok employs former sex workers. It offers them an alternative to sex trade. They work with other former sex workers who shared similar challenges: physical assault, forced into sex trade, and being viewed as immoral. 

The community aspect as powerful. Twice a week, the cafe also turns into a pro bono hair and nail salon for sex workers. “They are not advertised, but known through word of mouth among the sex workers’ circles.” 

The pros and cons of “harm reduction”

How do non–sex workers help sex workers? Harm reduction seems like a great idea, but in practice, there are so many factors that turn good intent into more harm. In Denmark, an NGO called the Red Van provides “street-based sex workers the option to work in an indoor space equipped with healthcare items like condoms and lube.” The idea is that an indoor space and a third location would make it so sex workers don’t need to follow a customer into their car. 

However, stigma wins out. Residents complain that they don’t want sex work on their street. Sex workers keep their distance. People are careful about being associated with sex work activity, or even being accused of pprofitingoff sex workers, even if they are not customers. 

“Stigma greatly exacerbates the risk of harm for sex workers. It can prohibit sex workers from seeking advice or support and push them into riskier situations.”

Progressive laws that are meant to protect sex workers often have negative effects. The procurement law  passed by the Danish Parliament ended up making it hard for sex workers to rent appartments or get legal and financial help. Sex workers still need landlords and accountants, but the law that is meant to help them makes it so people them down. 

Evaluating solutions

To evaluate solutions or ways to help, let’s go back to the Declaration of Human Rights. 

According to Article 23, “(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” and Article 29 “(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”

Given that, we have a few questions to ask:

Does the action empower sex workers?

Does it take away or build on their rights?

Does it make it sustainable for them to exist in the community?

Lastly, the only way that solutions will even be helpful to sex workers is if it takes into account their needs.