Two Decades

Two Decades
By Taylor DuVall

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For the first two decades of my life
I knew the face of God.
It was quite easy to spot. Lucky me.
I saw him in the face of the Republicans.
I saw him in the eyes of the babies saved from their hastily abortive mothers.
I saw him in dresses with material enough to cover lust-inducing shoulders and breasts.

For the first two decades of my life
I heard the voice of God.
It was quite easy to spot. Lucky me.
I heard him in the sound of Traditional hymns
And the ever-edgy Contemporary Christian Music.
I heard him in the prayer meetings that so verbosely went on and on and on and on
Amen.

For the first two decades of my life
I felt the presence of God.
It was quite easy to spot. Lucky me.
I felt him in church camps.
I felt him while listening to the testimony of someone who used to be broken
But is NOW PERFECTLY FINE!
Lucky them.

For the first two decades of my life
I wasn’t necessarily wrong.
I just forgot to include the rest of the universe.
I forgot to include the “them” in with the “us”
I forgot to open my eyes and see that this world is Colorful, Interesting, and Diverse
And if I truly believe that God was the designer
Then how could I believe that he was not IN the Colorful, Interesting, and Diverse?

For the next two decades of my life
When I see, hear, and feel God
I have a feeling it will be in the unlikely.
Because infiniteness does not fit nicely and neatly into the typical.
It tends to seep out.
So I’ll keep my eyes, ears, and body ready for the unexpected and the unpredicted.
I don’t want to miss out on God, thinking I already knew exactly where He was.

What is “Real Life”?

Anybody who has followed my Facebook or Instagram over the summer knows I had the magnificent privilege of doing quite a bit of vacationing.  Lucky girl, I know. Planes, trains, and automobiles: the theme of May – August!

I started my summer in Santa Monica with my mom. We visited the beach and attended the first two tapings of The Rob Bell show that is to air on Oprah’s network.

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Then I road tripped with a precious friend from Vegas to Oregon and hung out in the Pacific Northwest for a while.

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The rest of the summer was comprised of Laguna, Newport, Huntington beaches in Cali.

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Puerto Rico.

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A mountain getaway to Duck Creek, Utah.

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And a short, but way too much fun cruise to Mexico.

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Oh the adventurous joy!

Then suddenly, I returned home and had 7 more days until my fall semester would begin.  I kept saying “I’m going back to real life now.”  No more fun in the sun, hard work was to begin once again. For me, “real life” this fall was to consist of focusing on my school work (6 classes this semester… ah!), making whatever money I could, writing for anybody who would publish my work, keeping up my blog, and trying to hold on to any semblance of a social life.  Real life.

But maybe I was wrong.  Maybe these day-to-day, sometimes difficult, sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating events are only a portion of “real life.”

Maybe “real life” is a mixture of:

dedication and wild abandon

hard work and hard play

waking to the alarm and leisurely sleeping in

working diligently toward important goals and traveling the world

eggs for breakfast one day and a smorgasbord of gluten-free waffles the next

My fear is that when we only describe “real life” as the drudgery, the hard stuff, the less-than-exciting stuff – work, alarms, cleaning, errands, car problems, washing children’s puke out of our clothes, or going to the gym – we just might be missing out on the whole picture. We might forget that fun, thrill, newness, and things that make our eyes light up are all “real life” too!  I don’t want to be so busy pursuing my “real life” that I forget that “real life” is all-inclusive.

On the flip side, by downgrading all these everyday activities, we miss out on the joy and sparkle that can pop up all the time. School will be hard for me this semester, I undoubtedly will be busy and overwhelmed at some points. But I’m doing EXACTLY what I’ve always wanted to do. I might not be flying in an airplane to an exotic land, but I’m educating myself in a subject I desperately want to know.

What “real life” actually is can be debated. What cannot be debated is the fact that I have one life. So I plan on filling it with a mixture of this and that and everything. Maybe there is no “real life” or “fake life” — maybe it’s all just LIFE.

Why Fifty Shades of Grey Is Not My Thing (Hint: It’s not the sex)

Let me begin by stating: I have read the book Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James in its entirety. I have seen far too many “reviews” or opinion pieces from bloggers who refused to “touch that filth, much less read it” and still proceeded to discuss it. I decided to be responsible and read it for myself before I condemned or supported a viewpoint, and especially before I made one of my own. My opinion – if you don’t read it, you have no authority and no business reviewing it. In other words, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the “Red Room of Pain”!

Fifty Shades of Grey, the #1 New York Times Bestseller and raging (no pun intended) phenomenon, has managed to reignite the fervor of Americans’ gossip with the release (alright, ALL my puns are intended!) of the highly anticipated movie trailer. I won’t keep you in suspense, so here it is if you have somehow managed to escape the frenzy thus far:

People are in a hullabaloo over this trailer from one side of the spectrum to the other. Some are over the moon and cannot wait until their fantasy plays out on the big screen. Some are upset over the choice in casting. Others are distressed because they viewed this book as disastrous, threatening pornography for women, and the movie will be no less menacing to female society.

Well let me tell you, I am in a hullabaloo myself! I have two major issues with Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t know if they can be resolved in the film adaptation. Surprisingly, neither of them has to do with the overt sexual content. It always surprises me that sex is handled with two extremes. It is either bad, evil, should be hidden. Or it is beyond great, euphoric, should be everywhere. One of the best explanations I’ve found of this phenomenon comes from the interesting indie flick Daydream Nation:

“You’ve been brainwashed by puritanical a**holes who think sex is a sin. But then again, your little gerbil-sized brain has been reprogrammed by the media to believe that sex is the be-all, end-all. So now you’re stuck, right? ‘Cause on the one hand you love to f**k, but afterwards you feel overwhelmed by guilt & you’re not sure why. Maybe it’s because sex is neither as good or as evil as you’ve built it up to be.” (emphasis added)

Sex is neither as good or as evil as we have built it up to be. Nearly all of us have sex. Hopefully, nearly all of us enjoy sex. Some of us have sex frequently, some of us not so frequently. It is a thing we do. It feels good. Then we move on in our lives and cook and clean and work and raise children or write blogs.

Writing about sex is not new. As an English major, I would like to say my research for this article was more steamy than I’m used to, but sex permeates literature of all time periods. Even the Bible is full of sexual imagery and encounters (Hello, Sexy Song of Solomon!). I have no problem with those who write about or read about sex. Sex is a part of our lives, so it makes sense that sex is a part of our art forms. Therefore, when I see conservative bloggers throw out Bible verses about how we should protect ourselves from being “like the world, and not like Christ,” I must wonder if they don’t have sex. Why must this one common facet of human life be left out of art or literature? I watch movies and read books containing drug use and don’t scurry over to the nearest street corner to buy crack. I watch movies and read books that contain theft, yet I don’t steal. Just because I read a book that has alternative sexual behaviors, does not mean I must engage in bondage with a rich, powerful CEO named Christian Grey.

So if it’s not sex, what then is my Fifty Shades of Frenzied Blogging really about, you ask.  I’ll tell you.

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1. Is this actually a book? A book people read? 

Anybody else who has read the book now knows that my poor eyes have viewed the phrases “yes, sir,” “holy crap,” “holy cow,” “my inner goddess,” and “stop biting your lip” approximately 52,384 times. Or was it 52,385 times? I don’t know. It was hard to keep track. Yes, you’ve heard it from me. The author of this wild hit managed to create all this fuss and STILL regurgitate the same five or six phrases throughout twenty-six chapters. It is stunning, truly, just how often “holy cow” can be used in and outside of the bedroom.

I am saddened that a poorly written, poorly constructed book with immature character development and little to no description (beyond the size of Christian Grey’s…bank account) has stayed on top of charts for so long. By no means am I a girl all about hoity-toity literature. I love young adult novels, literary fiction, modern short stories, etc. However, this book is nothing more than a glorified erotic story fit for an amateur forum board on a porn site. It’s trash. And I don’t mean hot “trashy.” I mean the writing and storyline are subpar at best.

Read better art, please. Read better fiction. Sex is beautiful and it can be written about beautifully. This is not beautiful, it’s inadequate.

2. I personally cannot and will not accept man’s domination of women.

The fair Miss Anastasia Steele and I have much in common: we are English majors, we love the American Northwest, and we are quite skeptical of domination. Sorrowfully, we must separate over the mere fact that a man ordering my meal and demanding that I eat all of it is a deal breaker for me. As is stalking. As is flogging. Girlfriend can order her own dinner, and girlfriend can be entertained in the bedroom sans flogging – and please don’t have me followed! Christian Grey’s domination over Anastasia Steele OUTSIDE of the bedroom, or “The Red Room of Pain,” leaves my stomach in knots:

Christian is still nowhere to be seen, and Mrs. Jones is checking the contents of the pantry.

“Tea now, Miss Steele?” she asks.

“Please.” I smile at her. I feel slightly more confident now that I’m dressed.

“Would you like something to eat?”

“No, thank you.”

“Of course you’ll have something to eat,” Christian snaps, glowering. “She likes pancakes, bacon, and eggs, Mrs. Jones.”

“Yes, Mr. Grey. What would you like, sir?”

“Omelet, please, and some fruit.” He doesn’t take his eyes off me, his expression unfathomable. “Sit,” he orders, pointing to one of the barstools. (1)

I will be the first to admit that I know little about the culture of sadomasochism. I always try to be very open minded to different people, tastes, and lifestyles. However, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the concept of a man telling a woman that she cannot look him in the eye, that she must go to sleep, that she cannot touch him, that she must finish food she does not want to consume, that she cannot masturbate and that she cannot roll her eyes – ESPECIALLY when he does not have to abide by the same rules. Women (and men!) have fought for centuries to give women equality and the right not to be dominated or treated like scum. Still, writing like this is a sensation:

“How did you feel while I was hitting you and after?”

“I didn’t like it. I’d rather you didn’t do it again.”

“You weren’t meant to like it.”

“Why do you like it?” I stare up at him.

My question surprises him.

“You really want to know?”

Oh, trust me, I’m fascinated.” And I can’t quite keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

He narrows his eyes again.

“Careful,” he warns.

I blanch. “Are you going to hit me again?”

“No, not tonight.”

Phew … my subconscious and I both breathe a silent sigh of relief.

“So,” I prompt.

“I like the control it gives me, Anastasia. I want you to behave in a particular way, and if you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn to behave the way I desire. I enjoy punishing you. I’ve wanted to spank you since you asked me if I was gay.” (2)

(Sidenote: Hopefully this passage kills two birds with one stone and proves the woeful state of writing quality)

Call me old-fashioned (if you did, you’d make my family and friends laugh hysterically!), but this dialogue does not turn me on, it makes me angry. I’m not talking about a spank on the butt during a rowdy sex session or fuzzy handcuffs. I’m talking about Mr. Grey’s loves: flogging, caning, painful beating. Men still punish women all over this globe. Pictures of battered women still flood the news. Men rape women and then lock away or kill them. And the whole “Wounded Bird,” damaged man storyline is a sad attempt to turn Christian Grey into a hero, and Anastasia Steele into his dutiful caretaker who nurses him back to his humanity. This is not a novel concept, it is a common one, especially in abusive/codependent relationships.

Now, I do realize this is a fictional book. Just as I mentioned before, I don’t need to become a crack addict after reading a book about crack. Likewise, if women enjoy this book, I know fully it does not mean they want to be abused or support abuse of any kind. Simply, it is a story, a poorly written story, but a story nonetheless. If somebody finds it interesting or entertaining, have at it! Equality has allowed women sexual freedom as well. I could almost go as far as saying that part of me is happy the economy is being boosted by the sale of sexual product marketed toward women for a change. But I can’t quite say that. Why? Because an impressionable, young, pretty virgin is seduced by a powerful, sadistic man who likes to use her inside and outside of the bedroom for his pleasure. Sounds to me like a typical fantasy geared toward men.

Fifty Shades of Grey did not do it for me. It was not sexually stimulating, and it was certainly not mentally stimulating. It was a waste of $4.99 for the Kindle edition. With an overflowing abundance of literature at my fingertips, I would rather spend my time reading something else. Something well-written and creative. Some story in which beautiful love and even wild sex is mutually respectful and beneficial. Some story in which a woman is strong, interesting, sexual and not swayed by the obsessive desires of man, because I’ve heard that story too many times. I’ve seen that story in the lives of too many women. It’s old news.

 

What are your thoughts on Fifty Shades? Please leave a comment below.

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(1)James, E L (2011-05-25). Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (p. 375). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

(2) James, E L (2011-05-25). Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy (p. 287). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Making the Whole Beautiful, Lessons from Puerto Rico

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The incredible thing about going through a divorce is that the world knows that every detail of your life isn’t pretty.

Now, this was always true.  Since the day I exited the womb.  But as human beings we are really good at trying to make it look like every detail is pretty.  That’s why we post vacation pictures like this on Instagram:

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Pretty.  We want everything to be pretty.

However, once the world knows it is not all pretty, there is no real need to keep up the act.

It is as if a sign is on my forehead reading:

“Here stands a girl with ugly life details”

Thank goodness.  It is so less exhausting to have people know it’s not all pretty.  Now I can focus on making the whole beautiful.

Pretty Details vs. Beautiful Whole

- It means that I do not look physically perfect all the time.  It’s much better to jump into ocean waves and mess up your hair than it is to sit on the sidelines with perfect curls.

Hint:  You can always throw on a hat, ladies.

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- It means I don’t make the conventionally “right” decisions all the time.  It’s much better to reschedule a college class and go on a vacation to another country than it is to miss out on exceptional experiences.

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- It means I am less concerned with the opinions of others.  Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business.  You know what is my business?  What I do with the time I’m given.  

That’s why when I’m in Puerto Rico, I drink Puerto Rican rum and stuff my face with fried plantains:

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It’s also the same reason why I come back home and hit the gym and eat eggs and spinach for breakfast.

Because my body mirrors my quest for a beautiful whole.  Sometimes it indulges, sometimes it works hard.  It’s not always pretty, but it’s always beautiful.

The truth is I can’t go back and fix up the details to look pretty.

The truth is it is absolutely in my power to make the whole beautiful.

So here is to My Not So Pretty Details: bad hair days, broken relationships, dwindling bank accounts, bug bites

And here is to My Beautiful Whole: summer vacations, trying new things, eating, drinking, being afraid and doing it anyway

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P.S.  Look at that Puerto Rican sunset.

The Beautiful Whole is so much more photogenic than pretty details.

 

We Are Independent Together

Independent, Adj.:

free from outside control; not depending on anothers authority

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We gather around on the 4th of July with friends old and new, with family born to and chosen, and with strangers who become friends over a beer.  We grill meat and slice watermelon.  We find our red and blue clothing and put them together for only this yearly event.  We laugh and drink and share stories and drink and drink.  We stand outside in the heat and sweat, we dip our toes in the pool to cool off.   We kiss, we dance, we hug.  We drink some more.  We light things on fire.

We do this all to celebrate independence.  The state of being free from outside control, not depending on someone else’s authority. The forces around me do not have to control me.  I am independent.

I am independent.  But I am not alone.

Isn’t it funny that on the day we celebrate independence, we choose to join together with other human beings?  As a culture, we don’t celebrate Independence Day by going into our individual bedrooms and shutting off from humanity.  We gather.  We come together.  We connect.

Maybe a great irony of life is that to be truly independent, we need others.

To be free from the control of a tyrant, we needed an army.  To be free from the grasp of addiction, we need a support group.  To be free from a controlling relationship, we need our friends or family.  To be free from the pain of cancer, divorce, death, job loss, unfulfilled dreams – we need our tribe.  Our people.

To be free…we need to be joined.

Independence is not aloneness.

Independence is the choice to surround yourself with the good ones – ones who understand your crazy, appreciate your innate brilliance or lack thereof, will listen to your drama and hug you and tell you to get the hell out of your ugly situation, encourage you to chase your dreams, and always, always give you chocolate when it all goes to shit.

I am a strong, independent woman.  But I do not achieve this without my people. My family. My friends who have become my family.  My cheerleaders.

So, here is to our independence – our strength that comes from knowing someone is around to catch us when we trip, to hold our hands when we are terrified, to never let us quit unless quitting is the healthiest option, to laugh with us and laugh at us – our independence together.

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I’m Not Who I Was

A dear, precious friend of mine told me recently:

If you always do what you always did, you are always gonna get what you always got.

I think the ability to change is one of the greatest aspects of humanity.  We can change our minds, our clothes, our political affiliations, our religion, our place of residence, our tendencies and rhythms, our relationships and, ultimately, our lives.

I look back to a year ago.  I’m not the same woman.  My core is still there.  I still have introverted tendencies, I struggle with people-pleasing, I love music and books, I think we should all hug it out and be friends, and I really just adore eating dessert.  But I have changed a lot.  I make different decisions.  I don’t do what I always did, because then I would always get what I always got.  

~ Giving up all my passions and desires and dreams for somebody else didn’t work very well.

So I changed how I do that.

~ Saying “no” to anything that made me scared left me with a really boring existence.

So I changed my response to scary things.

~ Staying silent when I should have shouted created inner-turmoil.

So you better believe I speak up.

~ Worrying about how people thought of me made me go insane.

So I am learning to take nothing personally.

I don’t do what I always did.  And I’m no longer getting what I always got.

We are not captives to our lives as they are today.  With hard work, tears, anger, frustration, and lots of beating your head against the wall, we begin to change.  Then it gets easier. Moments pop up that are fantastic and, sometimes, even easy.

We have the power to say “no more!”  We have the power to say “I want my life to be different!”

I’m not who I was.

Thank God, I’m not who I was.

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What I Do Know

There are so many things that I don’t know.

The older I get the more I realize it’s true.

I am limited.

I do not know why bad things happen to good people.

I do not know exactly what we are doing here or exactly where we go.

I do not know what God’s name actually is or even if he has a specific one.

But when I feel the sand in my toes…  I hear the waves crash… I see the Pacific to my left and the forest to my right…

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I know that I have seen God.  I have heard God.  I have felt God against my skin.

And really- what more must I know?

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I do not know if my politics are spot on.

I do not know if the battles I fight are worthy.

I do not know if the words I speak or write make a difference.

But when I see my friend look at her pregnant belly… expanding with life… expanding with love…

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I know that life matters.  I know that life is special.  I know that life is beautiful.

And really- what more must I know?

The Millennial Salon: “Wordsmiths: Architects, Imaginers, Historians” by Ashley @ Chaos and Words

As a writer and a reader, I am always so drawn to beautiful words.  When I found Ashley’s blog through Twitter, I knew she had to be featured here on The Millennial Salon.  I hadn’t anticipated how much her piece would move me.  Not only does she honor writers, she does so sublimely.  Ashely describes writers as “quietly bold.”  I couldn’t find a better description.  Everyone should read these words – Any writer MUST read these words.  I am proud to show this piece on my blog today.  Please do yourself a favor and check out Ashley’s blog after you read her “Wordsmiths: Architects, Imaginers, Historians” ~Taylor

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Wordsmiths: Architects, Imaginers, Historians

The thing about writing is that it feels both tangible and elusive to the individual behind the words. We pick through the letters, pluck the ones we choose, and place them in an orderly fashion across the page, the screen, the scrap of notebook paper. In doing so, it feels personal in the way that we view these words. They speak to us as we utilize them to speak to others. We build connections, convey emotions for those who cannot, and continue in this way even through the doubt, the worry, and the apathy.

Being a writer is about being quietly bold, about sitting behind the scenes and yet allowing our words to shout for understanding. We wish to be heard, and we sometimes are to our own surprise. Other times, we write even when no one is reading. The writer is a devotee to the script, an individual who will continue stringing together concepts and letters and sentences even in the silence. There is no other option, for without the writers of this world, messages and meaning and art would be lost.

For some, this may not be such a big deal, but imagine a world without your superhero movies (someone wrote them into existence), your Harry Potter marathons, your popcorn filled nights of vanishing into another dimension. Someone created all of it for your enjoyment, and perhaps you are more of a movie person, but those movies were written before they were acted and directed. Some of them are even based off books, off poems, off short stories. Without the writers of the world, where would you be then?

We create not just as an egotistical way to lay out our perceptions but also because inside of our minds live creatures and people and universes. They clamber up the sides of our brains, banging on the walls, squeezing their way out and paving pathways, evolving from being specters to becoming concrete. The characters with which you identify or loathe or question were written to evoke something from you, and in doing so, conversations are formed and associations built. Without writers writing from their imaginations, from their thoughts, from their experiences, our world would become still – hushed and voiceless. This quiet act of putting words down into something long-lasting has been going on for ages. It is what aids us in sharing our lives with friends and families, for it is communication exemplified. From Homer to Shakespeare to Emerson and Thoreau, there have been people writing so that later generations can take a peek into the past and attempt at understanding our present and develop a future.

To those who say they do not enjoy books or reading, I have always begged to differ. You may not enjoy the feel of the pages between your fingers as your eyes skim the words, devoting time to what has been written, but you perhaps enjoy the byproduct without realizing it. Writers are architects of creation, valiantly molding imagination into reality. History speaks because writers gave it a voice. There is so much to be learned about people, about life, about what it means to exist within violence and indifference and compassion. The quiet beings who are observing are also writing things down. How would you wish to be portrayed? When the future looks back at what we have done here, will we face them with heavy hearts or proud smiles?

Writers and journalists and novelists and playwrights are part of this vast humanity, aiding us in becoming permanent instead of forgotten as dust. It is the perfect balance, a perpetual and abstract presence for wordsmiths – writing as the years accumulate, our physical being fading with age and yet in a more profound way, creating in order for us all to be everlasting.

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biophotoAshley is a writer and wannabe editor from South Carolina. She is a language and literature enthusiast as well as an activist to end violence against women. Her blog (chaosandwords.com) caters to the creative side of her brain, and she can also be found on twitter at @chaosandwords.

The Millennial Salon: Kylie Renee Photography

I find myself smiling when I look at Kylie’s photography. There is so much joy soaked into each shot.  My favorite aspect of her photos are her use of color.  This is great, happy art right here!  Kylie is so talented and has such a great eye!  Check out her fantastic photos, click on the links below for more, and contact her if you’re interested in a session! ~Taylor

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Kylie Ammons, a bright and outgoing Las Vegas teen,
became10170956_706593479398949_3544630752773208944_n a photography major at CSN and there discovered her passion. Her aspiration is to one day own a photography studio with varied focus. Kylie enjoys being able to capture the essence of a moment and bring it to light in a photograph. Her previous works have included scenes of nature and incredible portraits. “My life lies behind the lens of a camera,” says Kylie “it is my passion, my love, and ultimately my life.”
Personal Instagram: Kayrae16

 

 

The Millennial Salon: Art by Caroline Egeland

I just love creative people!  Caroline is not only creative in each piece of art she produces, she is also creative in her methods/mediums!  From paper cut-outs to wood, this young woman has nothing binding her to convention. (On top of it all, she’s a poet too!) I know you will all be as fascinated and inspired as I was when I first saw Caroline’s work.  Enjoy and check out her links below! ~Taylor

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Caroline Egeland is a 19-year-old freelance artist and spoken word poet who is based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. Her main mediums are gouache paint, paper, craft knifes, spray paint and wood. Her work ranges from things like vibrant color studies and abstracts done on things like crude, unprimed wooden planks, intricate scenery and details as well as poems cut free-hand from paper with nothing but a craft knife, and geometric sketches and works exploring things like nature and theory.

More of her work may be viewed at:
You can like, get in touch with her about purchasing/commissioning, and follow her work to stay updated on things like gallery shows, poetry features, new art for sale and more at: