30 Days No Sugar

EatMe Pizza

 

I just finished 30 days of eating only “real” whole foods, and no sugar.

The first few days were the hardest, especially when a coworker brought a bunch of homemade cookies to work and they were out in a bowl all day. I know this feat would have been impossible if I were merely resisting out of sheer will power, so I made sure to have solid motivation before I started. My goal was not to lose weight or look a certain way, my goal was “to feel good”. And when those strong urges which said “Yeah but it’s free! And it’s your favorite kind of cookie! And ooh look how soft and fresh they are, one bite won’t hurt!” I gently reminded myself that a) this was not forever, only 30 days and b) cookies would not make me feel good (for more than a few seconds). I took the long view.

After a while, I got used to the idea that I just didn’t eat sugar, and stopped thinking about what sweet treat to have. I did give myself free reign to eat fruit (and even feast on it when I felt close to getting icecream). Things began to taste sweeter as my tastebuds grew more accustomed to natural sweetness.

So what did I eat? I ate only foods that exist naturally, without processing, and without ingredients which I cannot pronounce.

I didn’t have to change my entire regime, but I did give up some of my favorite things like honey and packaged flavored oatmeal. Instead, a day of eating would look like this: blended salad for breakfast (cucumber, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, beets, spinach, olive oil); roasted veggies, sausage, and quinoa for lunch; bananas and apples with peanut butter for snack; and eggs, bacon, and a hashbrown for dinner (yes I know these are generally breakfast items ;) )

I did “cheat” on my birthday (decadent chocolate cake, ice cream, and frozen yogurt), but this was a planned cheat from the very beginning. I also ate a tbsp of ketchup on several days, which, while a “simple” version of ketchup (no corn syrup or fake ingredients), still contains sugar. I also had honey in the first week, before deciding to exclude it from the regime.

Not only did I choose different foods, I also decided to eat more mindfully–chewing each bite until it became a paste, putting my fork down between bites helped me savor the flavor and become fuller faster.

I was also mindful in the preparation of my food most days–I batch cooked large amounts of vegetables on the weekends to make choosing these foods a no brainer–they were already ready so I had no excuse. I also took care in preparing them and making them tasty, using seasonings and trying new recipes made it fun.

I was recommended a book called Food Rules by Michael Pollan which went along nicely with my plan for the month, inspiring some of the approaches I used. It’s a simple book

What Did I Find?

I found small changes and ways that I feel better. Nothing monumental, just a few simple, small, yet powerful changes. My energy is more consistent throughout the day–no big ups and downs like after a heavy meal with lots of processed bread and sugar. My mood still fluctuates, but I am more willing and able to move past it, to carry on rather than get wrapped up in it. I lost 3.5 pounds, with less exercise than previous months (yoga 2x week, bellydancing 1x week, occasional walks). My skin is clearer, though still not free from acne.

What now?

Well, “food” was the first month-long experiment for me this year. Each month, I will focus on an area I’d like to grow in. While I told myself (and meant it) that I only had to eat this way for the month of January, I enjoy it and elect to retain it, for the most part. I think the biggest thing I’m taking away from the experience is that it IS possible for me to say no to sugar. I have control, not it. And with that control and power, I can make wiser choices. Or at least, choose more mindfully. I plan to have a big scoop of icecream today (maybe two!) and hop back on the wagon. I intend to eat sugar when it’s a real treat, not as an every day occurrence. And even if it’s free, I can still say no. I make the decision.

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

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So, I tried to sum up my year like I did at the end of 2012, but it just didn’t wanna come out of my brain. I also wanted to finish this post yesterday: have a nice clean closing of the 2013 book on December 31st so I could celebrate New Years Eve with nothing on my mind, and wake up this morning a clean slate.

Well, none of that worked out how I wanted. As hard as I tried, the words didn’t seem to fit together yesterday. And then it came time to leave for celebrations, and as I learned last year, you can’t stay home and write a blogpost when life is calling–you’ve got to live first, write about living second. (Or last, perhaps).

And what happened when I didn’t get my way? Absolutely Nothing. The world didn’t end, I still had a great time celebrating, and I woke up this morning feeling great in spite of (or more likely because of) the fact that I let go of the false need to finish everything at an arbitrary moment. I stopped forcing it, and went with the flow. No, I wasn’t able to close my 2013 book neatly and wrap it with a bow, but if there’s one thing I learned last year, it’s that nothing is neat. Life is fucking messy. But there’s beauty among the wreckage.

Part of the reason that I wasn’t able to write about 2013 the way I’m used to summing up my years is that a lot of really tough shit happened, and I’m still digesting it. I’m still processing the trauma, the healing, the love and the loss. One year ended and another began, but the changing of a number has very little impact on my life. It is fluid, and does not start anew just because a page in a calender turns. 2013 is still a part of me.

So, in true 2013 fashion, I have to learn to live with what is. I’ve learned this year not to try and force things; to feel what I’m feeling and own it, no matter how downright awful it is; to keep going however I can, with what I have in this very moment. To be honest, even when it means admitting I’m way less than perfect. To share, connect, and stay involved even when I’m not feeling my shiny best.

I look forward to sharing the specifics of 2013, in particular how I got through 6 months of anxiety, depression, and the other goodies that come with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Stay tuned for that.

Anyways, since I’m unable to sum up 2013 yet, I thought I’d share my ideas for 2014.

Last year was a lot of putting out fires and treading water to stay afloat. I made it through that, and I’m ready to grow.

I really like Leo Babauta’s idea to work on one change every month and I plan to do that myself. I made a list of areas I’d like to focus on growing on. They are:

  • food
  • exercise
  • money: making, saving, organizing
  • relationships
  • compassion
  • self-compassion
  • mindfulness
  • independence
  • confidence
  • productivity
  • contentment
  • communication
  • skin
  • going medication-free
  • consistency
  • non-attachment
  • reading
  • writing
  • drawing

I’m only going to work on one per month–small goals ensure higher success rate. I’m likely to get less discouraged and quit when my focus is small and simple. There are more than 12 areas I’d like to focus on, so I won’t get to all of them this year. And rather than choose all 12 right now, I’ll pick the next month’s focus at the end of the current month.

For January, I’m going to focus on food–being more mindful during chewing, preparation, and selection. Choosing foods that make me feel good. Less sugar, more whole foods. That type o’ thing. Stay tuned for that, too. I’d like to post about each month’s endeavor.

My motivation for each month will be to feel good. Feeling good will help me make good decisions in relationships and business; I’ll enjoy them more deeply and be able to contribute more.

What do you want this year?

 

Acupunctured

Today I tried acupuncture for the first time.

All I can say is: it was incredible.

I really didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been on my mind to try it for some time, and the idea of acupuncture has intrigued me for years. In fact, Eastern medicine in general has been on my peripheral vision for a long time and today my time to try it first hand finally came.

I’ve been working for a couple months now at a wellness-center and float tank hub called The Float Shoppe. One of the amazing people I work with is Ryan Gauthier, soon to be a Ryan Gauthier, PhD in acupuncture.

In the past months I have experienced a pretty intense amount of anxiety and depression (more on that later), and since I’ve been interested in acupuncture for a while, this seemed like the perfect time and place to take advantage of this new modality. Although I feel like I’m coming out of that low-energy phase, this definitely felt like an appropriate and helpful step in the right direction for me.

Ryan was amazing. For the first part of our session, we talked about my medical history. Unlike floating and massage, acupuncture is an actual medical procedure. Unlike going to the doctor, I actually felt like I was being listened to and heard. I wasn’t rushed, and Ryan made sure to thoroughly ask and talk through all concerns I had.

From what we talked about, he made his assessment and decided where it was best for me to have needles placed. I was nervous when it was time for the needles to go in, but Ryan assured me that it (mostly) wouldn’t hurt, and what helped me most was that he had me inhale and exhale with him as he inserted the needle. Knowing the prick was coming, to expect it on the exhale, and being guided by my knowledgeable friend made it a comfortable experience.

I had needles placed in the tops of my feet, my calves, my hands, wrists, arms, ears, and scalp. The only one that hurt was my left foot, but Ryan adjusted it and that too dissipated.

Lying on the massage table, heated from the inside, covered by a blanket, and with the air conditioner softly cooling from above, I found my first 20 minutes by myself really relaxing. Before Ryan left me alone, I asked him–”What should I think about?”

“Just listen to the music, and if you want something to focus on as you breathe, imagine sending light to the spot two inches below your belly button.”

“Is it ok if I fall asleep?” I asked.

“Yep, that’s fine.”

And with that, he was off. I felt comforted by the cool air, and after a full day working at the Float Shoppe, it was a stark contrast from activity to relaxation. I had taken off my glasses, and so my eyes too could relax. I watched the light bounce in through the yellow curtains and onto the ceiling. I looked at the Buddha painting to my right from the corner of my eye. I listened to the elevator music. The cliches of my Portlandian situation didn’t pass me by, but they also didn’t bother me. I quite enjoyed them, in fact.

I mostly felt grateful during that time. I felt grateful for the situation I was in that allowed me affordable access to this healing process. I felt grateful for Ryan taking the time. I felt grateful to my bosses for including me on this amazing team. I felt grateful for my coworkers for being who they are–lovely, inspiring people to be around. I felt grateful for my past, my parents, and the ability and opportunity to move past hurt and trauma. I thought about how my ancestors just two generations away laid on similar tables in the Holocaust and had completely opposite experiences to the comforting one I was given the opportunity to experience. I thought about one of my students in art class who confided in me that their home was an abusive environment–how grateful I was that he trusted me enough to tell me, and for the opportunity to get him the help he needs.  I wasn’t expecting to think about any of this, and I was happy that my mind and heart were open to it. Ryan told me before he left that feelings might come up, or that it might just be relaxing, and to be open to all of them. That was incredibly helpful.

Ryan came in to check on me and asked if I could do twenty more minutes lying still with the needles in. I said yes.

At that point I got a little bored and a little ancy, but I managed to relax again. I thought about nothing, I listened to my breathing, and then I started getting ideas for art I want to make, and for artist friends I’d like to see have their work inside the shop. I got excited.

After another 20 minutes, Ryan came back in and applied some essential oils to certain points on my body. He’d dab some on both his index fingers, apply them to symmetrical points on my body, and have me inhale and exhale deeply three times. I don’t know what happened but I started to feel really relaxed and zen-ed out, and I hardly replied when he told me he’d let me sit for another 10 minutes with the oils.

Right before he left, I laughed at something he did, though I can’t remember what it was, and after he closed the door I had a giant smile on my face. That smile turned into a giggle, which turned into a laughing fit that lasted a good 3 or 4 solid minutes. I realized I couldn’t really breathe so, in between giggles, I sucked in some air and slowly faded back from giggles into zen mode. I felt blissed out.

Ryan came back in and I felt giddy. He pulled the needles out, which hardly hurt or felt like anything. I bled very lightly from only a few of the needles. The only ones that hurt then were my ears. I was extremely giggly and really just wanted to stay in the bed and nap!

I told Ryan about my giggling fit. He said it was an emotional release. I said I could dig it. He said it might turn into tears. I said I’d be okay with that–crying feels good.

Returning to “the real world” felt surreal. I was in total giggle mode for half an hour afterwards, and a trip to the sushi restaurant across the street may have been the most fun I’ve ever had. I walked in and found to my delight that it was a rotating sushi place–one where the plates go around the whole place on a giant conveyer belt. All the brightly colored plates and ridiculousness of the situation made me laugh like hell. I imagine the waiter thought I was high, but I was having too much fun to care.

I felt overwhelmed with positive emotion.

Looking forward to seeing what’s next, and trying it again.

Have you had acupuncture and how was your experience?

- Mel

I’m Really Glad I Didn’t Die This Morning

This morning I had a bike accident.

I was riding my roommate’s single-speed Schwinn cruiser on my usual route to work because my bike got a flat this week.

As I started rolling down Interstate Ave, I pedaled as fast as I usually do. I realized after a moment that pedaling seemed to no longer have any effect on the bike. So, I pedaled backwards to see if that still triggered the bike’s brake system.

I quickly discovered, as I began my fast descent down one of the steepest hills in Portland,  that I no longer had functioning brakes.

In a split second, a dozen thoughts ran through my head. Having ridden this hill many times before, I knew what lay ahead. The hill would go on and my bike would only continue to gain momentum, and before the bottom, I’d reach an intersection. In the unlikely event that I’d reach the intersection without spinning out and losing control of the bike at such speeds anyways (I normally ride the hill with both my front and back brakes engaged to maintain control and a manageable speed), I’d have to get even luckier still and have a green light on my end, or collide head-on with the cross traffic.

I weighed the options in my head and made a split-second decision to cut my losses and veer out at the only opportunity I saw–I turned right into the a fenced driveway and braced myself for impact.

That part seemed to last for minutes. Then, BAM.

“OW. Ow. Owwwww.”

Imagine a bird who’s just slammed into a window. I was totally stunned for a few moments.

My first few thoughts were something like, “Ow. What just happened? Ow. Er… ow. Wait, what? I think I’m gonna be late for work. I wonder if I’m bleeding. Shit. Oh shit. Shit that hurts. Is my face bleeding? How am I going to get to work? I’m gonna have to buy my roomie a new bike. Ow.”

I tried to formulate a plan for what to do next but my brain was totally jostled and shocked, and for a few minutes, I couldn’t do much at all.

As I began to be able to take stock, I found that although my right hand was pretty scraped up and bloody, the rest of me seemed to be o.k. The bike looked fucked though–the handle bars were twisted a complete 90 degrees and now parallel with the frame.

I called my boss and squeaked out what happened, told him I’d be there as soon as I could. I managed to get the chain bike on, twist the handle bars back into place, and rode cautiously back home on the sidewalk.

I got home, washed up, had a piece of toast, and drove to work.

As I walked in to work, I was still under the impression that I was gonna have a normal day and get crackin’. The owners of my amazing workplace (a sensory deprivation “float” tank/massage/acupuncture center) were wiser.

They were eager to hear what happened, made sure my injuries weren’t serious, set me up with some anti-inflammatories, brought over their sweet kitty to keep me company, and instead of working, sent me upstairs to rest and rejuvenate in a float tank. If you’ve never heard of floating, you should definitely check it out. (Basically, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to having no sensory input–the tank is light and sound proof, and the water and air is the same temperature as your skin. The water you float on is full of epsom salt. It has TONS of benefits and I could go on for days about it and the company I work for, but we’ll save that for another post.)

As I lay in the dark absorbing the healing salty goodness, I mostly just felt grateful. I truly could have died this morning, and I am extremely grateful that I came away with just a few scrapes and bruises.

I felt grateful to be alive.

I’ve never had a bike or car accident before, or had a near-death experience. And usually in decision-making, I am slow and deliberate. I also analyze and over-think things. I take my time to make decisions. But this morning, I truly didn’t have time, I HAD to make a split-second life-or-death decision. And I chose right.

I felt grateful and empowered to be able to trust my self and my thinking in time-sensitive, life-sensitive scenarios. 

I’ve been working a lot on surrounding myself with people who inspire the shit out of me, who do good for themselves and the world.  I have already felt so lucky to join the team at my new job–my bosses created a really wonderful business/atmosphere/community that inspires growth, healing, and goodness all around. And today I felt especially cared about, and that was a magical, sappy feeling.

I felt grateful for the people in my life who I love and who love me.

I spent the day eating nourishing food, hanging out in the park watching kids play, indulging in ice cream, and talking to one of my very best friends.

Here’s to life.

How to Pack for a Year Long Trip: Minimalism for Women

Since I started learning about minimalism almost two years ago, I’ve seen a handful of great videos, photos, or lists of how to pack (or live) light.  However, none of them were from women, and I always wanted to see what’s in a minimalist woman’s bag since we need at least a few different things than men. So, I thought I’d make my own video and share what’s in my bag during my long journey.

 

Seek Out A-Ha! Moments

You never know what you don’t know till you find out.

letterpress

Yesterday I visited a great company that makes letterpress cards like I do.  A rather large business, I’ve seen Hello Lucky cards stocked in stores in many cities and was happily surprised to see that their print studio, retail store and design office is right in the heart of San Francisco, which I visited briefly this week.  Since we have a lot in common, I thought I’d just stop by and say hi.

I didn’t have much of an agenda or expectations, but since they’re obviously doing something right, I thought it would be fun to see what I could see.

My non-existent expectations were blown out of the water.  I got to meet and talk nerdy with one of the master printers, explore the design studio, and meet some of the great folks that work there.

That alone was golden, but at the end I mustered up the courage to talk to the woman who  handles wholesale orders.  Even though a big part of me said it was probably useless–maybe she didn’t have any tips that I hadn’t heard, maybe the company didn’t want to give away any secrets, blah blah blah endless list of excuses and reasons not to–I still did it.

And I’m so glad I did.

One of my main objectives for the last few months has been to get wholesale buyers for my cards.  Teaming up with The Hipstery for wholesale back when I was printing in Germany worked out so well–it was fun and lucrative, so I am eager to expand in that direction.

And even though its one of my main priorities, what have I done about finding wholesale customers in the last 4 months?  NOTHING!  Until yesterday that is.  I was unsure, didn’t have any great leads, and just generally clueless as to how to approach this.  My strategy looked eerily like Southpark’s infamous gnome flowchart.

Phase two was missing, and I didn’t know what it was.  I knew what I wanted, but it was  uncharted territory for me.  Then I spoke with Heather, who has direct experience with what I’m working towards.  I simply asked if she had any tips on getting wholesale customers, and she turned over the very same Hello Lucky catalogue I was already holding in my hands and pointed to a list of Reps who find wholesale customers for you on a commission basis.

WHAT?  I had no idea that even existed!  A concrete plan of action for Phase 2!  Aha!

Could it be that simple?  Who knows.  Maybe this Phase 2 won’t work.  But I have something solid to work on now, and I will do my best to discover and test all possible Phase 2s until I successfully reach Phase 3.

The thing is, I didn’t realize my flowchart of action was missing a step until that very moment.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  And that’s a tough spot to be in, it feels a bit hopeless, like you’re searching for an unknown object in a big dark room.  But rather than continuing to search blindly for that unknown object, perhaps it is more appropriate and productive to find out what that object is first.

The only way to find out what you don’t know is to search for information.  Perhaps you have no idea where to start, like me.  Just start somewhere, anywhere, and one clue will lead you to the next.  Put yourself in scenarios that could possibly shed light on your unknowns.  Read Even better talk to people with experience doing what you’d like to do.  Yes, its scary being in the dark, but more often than not, people are willing and happy to help you.  And once you have that A-ha! moment, it gets easier. You’re finally able to turn the light on.  Its easier to work with the light on.

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What Is Good Design?

 Dieter Rams design.“Good design is as little design as possible.” - Dieter Rams

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub.
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

- Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

Good Design is not about

  • costing the most
  • being the most intricate
  • having the most features

It is about cutting out the unnecesary parts to leave only what is useful.

It is the bare minimum, executed with attention to the tiniest detail.

It appears effortless.

It is less, but better.

It is timeless.

It is honest.

Dieter Rams 600 Chair on Melissa Rachel BlackDieter Rams 600 Chair

I had the honor of seeing Dieter Rams’ original designs at the San Francisco MOMA yesterday and it was pretty powerful for me.

Part of me hesitates to write that last bit because I don’t consider myself an art or design snob.  If we’re being totally honest, even though I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, museums usually bore the crap out of me.  I think they’re stuffy and that my friends make art that’s better than half of the stuff behind fancy plastic barriers.

So when I say that seeing Dieter Rams’ stuff was the bees knees, I hope you know I mean it in a genuine way.  But it wasn’t special because his aesthetic WOW-ed me with its grandeur.  In fact, if you stepped into that room without any prior orientation, you’d probably assume you were just in IKEA.  Surrounded by rows and rows of everyday electronics and furniture, you might as well be in an office in Anytown, USA.

Melissa Rachel Black - Good DesignGetting serious at the Getty museum in LA.

What got me so excited about the Dieter Rams exhibit was the restraint.  The pure functionality of each piece.  The familiarity.  Each item, from a chair, to shelves, to hair dryers, to radios, to speakers, to televisions, to electric shavers–they all existed purely in their simplest form.

There was no showing off.  Nothing was gaudy, loud, or in your face like so much of today’s aesthetic.  They were sleek, discreet, and toned down.

“Design should not dominate things or people, it should help people.” – D. Rams

Just like Michelangelo sculpted by removing unnecessary blocks of stone, so did Rams refine and reduce to the essence of a machine, so Jonathan Ive left only the essentials in creating Apple’s quintessential products, and so you can sculpt your project, home, or life.

None of them did it alone, they took the building blocks of their predecessor and continued to subtract.

“Prefer subtraction.”Leo Babauta

Good design does not only work in art and products.  A lifestyle can be sculpted too, which is why the term “Lifestyle Design” makes so much sense to me.  I am constantly sculpting my life, molding and reshaping, trying new things and shaving away what doesn’t work.  I practice incorporating many of Rams’ 10 principles of good design in my graphic designs as well as in every aspect of life.

“We need new structures for our behaviors.  And that is design.  We have enough things. The unspectacular things are the important things, especially in the future.” – Dieter Rams

Good design goes even deeper than lifestyle and a lot farther back than famous sculptures and Dieter Rams and iPods though.  Evolution has been sculpting our bodies, our minds, our environments, and everything in our reality for at least a few years now.

It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been quick, but over the millennia, evolution has done a pretty fine job of smoothing out the rough spots for our human design.  We’ve got systems inside us whizzing and buzzing and reacting and interacting that keep us pumping day in and day out.  From the tiniest electron at the very core of our atomic building blocks, no detail has gone unnoticed.  Everything works in harmony (though obviously we still get sick sometimes–its a good design, nobody said it was perfect).  And yet its so simple we don’t even have to think about any of it.  The hard work is already done for us, by us, in conjunction with everyone who’s ever lived before us.

When you hone and refine, test, create, learn, make mistakes and repeat.. you evolve into more sophisticated, yet sleeker ways of living.  You are capable of more, but do less.  Strip away everything but that which is absolutely necessary.  That is the beauty of good design.

Photography Recap of 2011

Year in Review Melissa Rachel Black

As human beings, we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time, but we drastically underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two.  - The Minimalists

It has been an incredible year of intense change, rapid growth, love, loss, gratitude and contentment.  Here are the most kick-ass, memorable parts paired with some of my favorite shots from 2011.

Landed my “dream job.”  I worked 9-5 as a graphic designer and letterpress printmaker in Dusseldorf, Germany, making fancy-ass wedding invitations.

Melissa Rachel Black

Landed my “dream job” as a letterpress printer & graphic designer.

Quit my dream job. I realized it was someone else’s dream, and what I really wanted was to sustain myself through my own creativity, my own decisions, and on my own time.  To have time to live and experiment and give back and do crazy things.

Moved to Berlin.  Fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with a city.  Met amazing people, danced till sunrise, ate enough falafel to last a lifetime.  I recommend you move there like Maneesh says, or at least visit it.

Berlin by Melissa Rachel BlackMoved to Berlin. (You should too.)

Berlin by Melissa Rachel Black

Sparked the creation of a group of 4-Hour-Workweek entrepreneurs which still meets weekly and has grown to over 150 people.  Found some of my closest friends, mentors, and inspiration within it.  One of the most life-changing and amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur's group.  With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur’s group. With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.

Started my first business.  Out of my love for jokes, letterpress printing (and the desire to be my own boss) grew Ye Olde Gangster, the world’s first collection of gangster-rap birthday cards & love notes.  Got featured in some awesome places, was selected to sell at Neurotitan’s brick-and-mortar, and teamed up with the Hipstery, the raddest company ever.  Got two menterns to teach and learn from and keep things running while I start the next adventure.

Ye Olde Gangster by Melissa Rachel Black
Started my first biz, Ye Olde Gangster, handmade gangster-rap greeting cards.

Launched Art Outlines, a collection of handmade outline illustrations I draw for folks to use in wedding invitations, website design, books, etc.

Art Outlines by Melissa Rachel Black

Launched Art Outlines.

Broke up with my boyfriend.  Stung like hell for a while, then turned out to be a blessing.  My new freedom allowed me to refocus my energy, meet loads of new people in a new city, and clarify my priorities.  We subtracted the parts that weren’t working but kept the parts that always rocked, meaning our friendship was able to regain its full strength and we each had space for fresh opportunities.  He’s still one of my favorite people.

Won a trip anywhere in the world from my favorite author, Tim Ferriss. I ignored the voice in my head that said I wasn’t good enough or big enough to win a competition of this magnitude, and with a little (no, A LOT) of help from you my friends, managed to win!  You guys rocked my world and I won’t waste this opportunity: I am using this ticket to share something awesome with you.

Spoke at an international Etsy conference with my favorite Etsy blogger, Danielle Maveal on small business, passion, and making it happen.

Learned German.  It’s nowhere near native level, but I moved to Germany without knowing a single word, and by the time I left a year later, I could read and write and communicate just about any idea (as long as the listener was patient).  I keep up now by reading my great friend Sebastian Michel’s blog, Mr. Minimalist.

Traveled.  With my brother for the first time–had stinky cheese with our friends in France and a picnic in Switzerland.  Harvested honey at my friend’s parents farm in Germany.  Couchsurfed with vegan anarchists in Czech Republic.  Climbed the Swiss Alps in the pouring rain (scared shitless, literally thought I was going to die) with new friend.  Traveled all over California and stayed with old friends from college in Oakland, Santa Cruz, & San Francisco.

 Got to try life on the farm with my friend's family in Raakow, Germany.

Got to try life on the farm with my friend’s family in Raakow, Germany.

Learned Capoeira.  Sucked at it, but enjoyed getting sweaty, meeting new people, and trying something new for a few months.  Started an exercise routine that sticks.

Launched The E.A.T. Team, a project where I’ll use the ticket I won from Tim Ferriss to  travel across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and USA in 2012 to interview artists and chefs for an inspiring cookbook I’ll co-create with one of my best friends.

Met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  This is the most meaningful part of the list for me.  I’ve learned and changed a lot over the last few years, 2011 especially, and meeting people who embraced these new ideas that I loved fueled my fire and I am incredibly grateful for that.  It’s not often you “click” in a deep, fundamental essence of being like I do with my friend Sebastian Michel of Mr. Minimalist.  I got to live and work and play with Adam Fletcher, Maneesh Sethi, Rachman Blake, Mars Dorian, Marcel Phillippe, Fab & Vivien, and a few awe-inspiring people here and there who don’t live on the internet ;)  I also met some of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs, including Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Tim Ferriss, Charlie Hoehn, Corbett Barr, Camila Prada, Nicola Rowlands and more.  The cliche of surrounding myself with like-minded people turned out to be an extremely worthwhile one to pursue–it’s like having a big non-cliquey family who cheers each other on.

The big life changes don’t happen over night. Give yourself some time. Put in a lot of effort and keep at it. You’ll be surprised with what can happen in a year. The Minimalists

The biggest lesson I want to carry into 2012 is living without expectations of myself or of others.  I feel like every single second, no matter who you are, there are enough blessings in your field of vision to last a lifetime.  Knowing that you are, have, and do enough in this moment, you’re set for life.  Happy New Years and here’s to an epic 2012!

30 Day Challenge: Fitness

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Exercising in a beautiful place makes it easier. Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz, California is my all time favorite.

Today I completed a 30 day challenge for fitness.  I hate being sweaty and I hate running and I’ve never stuck to a regular workout routine before this one, and that’s because my goals and expectations were way too high in the past.  For this month, I decided to set the bar SUPER low.

The goal was simple: walk twenty minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Instead of promising myself I’d run an hour a day 6 days a week even though I felt up for it on Day One, I knew there would be days I’d give that goal a big hunking middle finger and damn it all to hell.  Not only did I set the goal really low, I arranged it around my shower schedule to make it even harder to find an excuse not to get a little sweaty.  I accounted for the terrible lazy werewolf that lies inside me and comes out more often than I’d like to admit, and made it virtually failproof.

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Ready to try cheerleading?

So even when I was sick, even when it was raining, even when I was on my period, even when I had a JAM-PACKED day with “no time” for exercise.. well I was always able to manage a tiny 20-minute walk.

In the past, no matter how much I knew I “should” do something, like floss my teeth every night for healthy gums and to avoid costly dental visits later in life, no amount of “motivation” could get me to do it consistently.  You’ve probably gone through the same scenario as you try to form a new habit–you start out at breakneck speed, kicking ass and taking names. You are a rockstar, king of the world, no one can stop your unbeatable machine… for the first 3 days.  Then something comes up or you get sick so you miss a day, then you get pissed that you missed a day, and you toss your would-be habit into the gutter with the rest of your failures.

Well, I found that if I promised myself to floss just one tooth per day as Ramit Sethi suggests, I was able to once-and-for-all commit to daily flossing (and usually end up flossing every tooth).  And I figured that if that worked, the same behavioral change could be applied to my exercise routine.

The Results:

In the end, there were only a handful of days where I only walked for 20-minutes.  In reality, I often ran and walked intermittently for an hour or more.  I even did my routine on some of the off-days.  Many times, I got excited that I fulfilled my twenty minutes and that positive boost gave me the energy and desire to keep going.  Because I started small, I left myself room to expand or contract as I saw fit, all the while making baby steps in a positive direction.  

Some of my favorite benefits from this fitness challenge include:

  • Time to think.  Detached from computer, just me and the road.  And the trees and the streets and the birds and the sun and the rain and the people and the sights and the smells and so on and so on.  Letting my mind wander from the things it usually thinks about.
  • Added flexibility.  See photo!  Stretching wasn’t part of the goal, but it kinda just came with the territory.  I’ve never been a runner, but I soon discovered that running without stretching hurts a lot.
  • Sustainable while traveling.  I was on the road in northern California for the majority of this challenge, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to pursue it–I knew I would be surrounded by lots of good friends and good food during the holiday season.
  • Weight loss.  Just a smidge, but a noticeable smidge.  Proud to say I can now close the button on my favorite jeans from college.
  • Social aspect.  Sometimes my days feel crunched for time (working on that one too, stay tuned), and taking a tactic straight from one of my favorite books, Never Eat Alone, instead of scrapping social time or exercise, I combined them.  I invited my friends to join me on a hike, which made a totally different exercise experience keeping the challenge fresh and varied.
  • Exploring new places.  As I said, I was traveling for the major duration of this trial, and in the past, I’ve used traveling as an excuse not to exercise.  ”I want to use the whole day to see new sights!”  Walking or running can be done anywhere and doing it while on vacation can heighten the experience–you get to see new places and faces while you maintain your physical balance.  I explored parts of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz that I never saw before thanks solely to this challenge.
  • Not hating running.  Ugh, I’m almost embarrassed to admit this one, but also excited.  I no longer hate running.. I’m not gonna go so far as to say I love it, but once I got into it, I realized and experienced some of the benefits you hear about it all the time.
  • New techniques.  Discussing this challenge and my new interest in running with friends brought up some interesting discussions, which led to learning and testing “the one best way” to run.  I realized I had been running incorrectly, and it was causing a fair bit of knee pain for such a light jogger.  I just tried my first set of 100-ups and barefoot running today.  It’s a fresh experiment so I’ll save the conclusions for another time, but so far I can say that it was an interesting experience and I enjoyed the feeling of lightness and accuracy of minimal footwear and connectedness to the ground.  My ankles are sore from this new technique (not landing on the heels), but I am looking forward to trying this again soon.

I’m not 100% sure what’s next but I will maintain this new habit for the forseeable future.

What baby steps can you take today?  My idea in sharing my 30-day challenges is to inspire you to try some experiments of your own.  It’s only been a personal achievement and helped me until I hit “publish”, but if it inspires even one of you to take action then that makes it even more worthwhile for me.  Let me know if its gotten you thinking or doing and please share a link with your friends if so!

Are You Stuck? Change Your Perspective Instantly – Take Off Your Glasses

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Without glasses, my world looks a bit like this.

Tonight I bicycled home blind.

Well, almost.  I am not legally blind, but I don’t think I’m far from it.  I wear glasses or contacts to help me navigate through daily life.  I got my first “sight correcting contraption” at the ripe age of 11; until I put on those glasses, I had absolutely no idea my vision was “impaired.”  That was just the way life was, and it didn’t dawn on me that there was a different, better, clearer way to see the world around me until I noticed that my classmates could read the chalkboard when I couldn’t.  In other words, I didn’t know I had a problem until I compared myself to my peers.  But imagine my delight as I put on my (super sexy circular bug-eye) glasses for the first time.. “HOLY CRAP!  Everything is so CRISP and SHINY and BEAUTIFUL!  I have been missing out on a LOT!  …Woah!  There are letters on license plates?!” and so on and so forth.  It was a glorious moment to behold.  This was the way everything was supposed to be seen, and now I could enjoy it too!  A level playing field!  Hooray!

As the years passed, I thought about how annoying it was to have to wear these things all the time.  How unlucky was I that  I had to wake up everyday and flail blindly till I found my specs; or that I couldn’t fall asleep wearing them or I’d bend or break them; that I had to waste time cleaning them every day; that I must pay  heaps of cash for these stupid ugly things I didn’t even want; that I couldn’t just roll out of bed and SEE!; that others were born with “perfect vision,” but not me.  Life was unfair, and it irked me.  As I grew older, I dreamt of the day when I could afford laser eye surgery and be rid of my burden forever.

This evening, I found a new perspective.  Two, in fact.. a physical perspective shift introduced a mental perspective shift.

It’s not a new idea in the world of personal development that a new mental perspective provides a fresh outlook on life, and as I trekked my 1 hour bike-ride home from a day of printing through the city, I realized that I was being a huge grump.  I  was impatient, rushed, nervous, and thinking rude thoughts about people who got in my way.. not nice & certainly not my ideal version of myself at all.

When I realized what I was doing and that I wanted to stop being a jerk, I remembered that I could use a perspective shift.  So after a few failed attempts, I found one that worked: instead of thinking about how the people on the street were “making” me feel (nobody can make you feel anything, you decide that), I tried to imagine how they were feeling.  And I didn’t have to imagine once I started really looking.. it was a fun game to read the emotions on people’s faces, and it made me feel good that I could relate to each and every one of them that way.  It also felt a lot less selfish, and got me out of my own head.  And since I was unabashedly looking into people’s eyes, I couldn’t help but smile when I imagined their stories, and they usually smiled back, which just formed a sweet positive feedback loop.

But that’s not even the perspective shift that really caught my eye (no pun intended.. kindof).. because as I was making my way through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s enormous, beautiful central park) I decided I wanted another perspective shift.. so I took my glasses off.  Immediately my world transformed from people whizzing by on bikes, dogs, cars, leaves, trees, dirt, & ground into a soft landscape of light and colors.  The way the light from the sunset filtered through the gaps in the leaves looked like shimmering diamonds or stars, blinking on and off in soft cascading rhythms.  I slowed down to savor the sight (and, let’s be honest here, to avoid crashing into a tree).  When I got onto a small side street, I was mesmerized by the floating lights the lamps created, which bounced off parked cars, which were intersected by headlights of oncoming traffic, all the while neon signs beamed from the sidelines.. I felt like I was on drugs.  I was stunned by the beauty and the stark contrast to what I was used to seeing; like the first time I saw the Grand Canyon and the Swiss Alps.  And here I was, just on the same-old regular trek that I have ridden almost every single day for the last 6 months.

As a photographer, my first instinct was to capture it with my camera so I could remember and share the sight and experience.  Then I remembered that that was impossible.. it was something only I could see.  I was occupying the same space as the people around me, looking at the exact same things they were, only seeing it in a completely different way.

It dawned on me that my new world looked exactly like my camera’s bokeh, which is defined by Wikpedia as “the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image, or ‘the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.’”  Simply put, it’s the blurry bit in the next two photos.

Bokeh: the blurry bit in this photo.

Bokeh: the blurry bit in this photo.

So am I going to ditch the specs all the time now?  No–both perspectives are valid & I enjoy being able to switch between them.  And as my growing business brings me closer to being able to afford that laser eye surgery I so desperately longed for.. well I guess that’s crossed off the shopping list.  Since it seems I have the opportunity to shift my physical perspective in a split second…  that got me thinking about my mental perspective on my vision.  Maybe my burden is actually a gift.

Update: I’ve tried this a couple times in the last few months, including today in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  Each experience has been like dreaming while awake.

As I stood staring at the seemingly mundane, I must have looked quite strange to passersby who saw things with “clear” vision.  But I was in my own world, seriously focused on the present moment, and enjoying it all too much to care.

If one can change their physical perspective in an instant and be teleported to a world of imagination, adventure and possibility, they can change their mental one in the same way and reap the same benefits.  Are you feeling stuck like I was?  Make a conscious decision to change your perspective–physical or mental and see what happens.  The world you see is based on it.

As the Gorillaz said, just remember that it’s all in your head. ;)

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