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2018 Book List

Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 12.21.57 PMSo many books, so little time! Reading is one of the greatest pleasures in my life—and one of the few things I can do indefinitely without feeling like I “ought” to be doing something else. Reading supports many of my personal values and is one of the few forms of recreation I embrace wholeheartedly. I read widely, as I like to know what’s happening in various genres, and I listen to audiobooks daily—while walking, driving, folding laundry, exercising—while doing most anything physical that doesn’t require concentration or conversation.

Each year I set a target number of books to read and track my titles on Goodreads. Typically my target is 50 books. This year I hit 53, although the year isn’t over yet (I hope to finish Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness before 2019; thus far I’m not liking it nearly as much as The God of Small Things, which is one of my all-time favorites).

I read a lot of books pertaining to racial justice this year, which is a primary area of interest. I also did some catching up on often-taught classics (such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Wuthering Heights) that I’ve long wanted to read or wanted to read more closely.

What_to_Remember_When_WakingOne of my favorite discoveries of 2018 is the poet David Whyte, who writes what I would call poetry-based self-development. Whyte lives in Washington State, and I had the opportunity to attend one of his live events last month. Believe it or not, poetry can actually be a seriously inspiring shot in the arm.

As a category, the very best books I read this year were memoir. I highly recommend all six of the titles in the category below. Below, I’ve segmented my 53 reads into categories and marked all of my favorites with an asterisk; books by friends or in-person teachers are marked with (RL) for real life, meaning that these books have an extra layer of personal relevance. I added a few “meh” tags to the books I struggled to get through.

If you’re a book freak like I am, please leave a comment with a few of your personal favorites of the year and any thoughts on the titles below!

HeavyMemoir

  • Educated, Tara Westover*
  • Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon*
  • The Only Girl in the World, Maude Julien*
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou*
  • A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us, Catherine Hoke*
  • Open, Andre Agassi*

Nonfiction

  • The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, Michiko Kakutani*
  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford
  • Me and My House: James Baldwin’s Last Decade in France, Magdalena J. Zaborowska
  • The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Steven Pinker

Self-DevelopmentAtomic_Habits

  • Atomic Habits, James Clear*
  • What to Remember When Waking: The Disciplines of an Everyday Life, David Whyte*
  • Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry, David Whyte*
  • Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte*
  • The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts*
  • Your Best Year Ever, Michael Hyatt*
  • Living Forward, Michael Hyatt*
  • A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, William B. Irvine
  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier
  • The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone
  • You Are a Badass Every Day, Jen Sincero
  • How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t, Andrea Owen
  • Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, Sam Harris
  • The Introvert’s Way, Sophia Dembling
  • The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim
  • Quiet, Susan Cain*
  • Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, Henry Cloud (meh)

BarracoonRacial Justice

  • What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America, Michael Eric Dyson*
  • Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, Zora Neale Hurston*
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin*
  • James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, James Baldwin

Books on Writing

  • Story Genius, Lisa Cron*
  • Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher*
  • Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day, Chris Fox (RL)

Eleanor_OliphantFiction

  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman*
  • Self-Help: Short Stories, Lorrie Moore*
  • Germinal, Émile Zola*
  • Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin*
  • Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, James Baldwin*
  • If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin*
  • The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Robert Dugoni (RL)
  • The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (RL)
  • Hot Head, Damon Suede (RL)
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott FitzgeraldSam_Hell
  • The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
  • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
  • Still Me, Jojo Moyes
  • The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
  • Less, Andrew Sean Greer (meh)
  • The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson (meh)

I look forward to learning your faves!

 

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Getting Real About Real Estate

Isiah_Connor_familyGuys! Over the past few months I’ve been collaborating on a special project that I’m thrilled to share with you.

When my friends Shannon Morgan and Terri Kaminski decided to reinvent real-estate marketing, they went all in. The result is not a yawner of promotion but rather the in-depth sharing of our community: Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Now brokers at Charter Real Estate, the Mo-Minski Team at Charter Real Estate publishes meaningful stories of those who live and work on Bainbridge Island and surrounding communities, and I’m proud to be one of our storytellers. We’re writing authentic stories that include struggle and sometimes heartbreak, with an eye on promoting diversity and inclusion. Woven among these inspiring profiles are useful posts (and gorgeous, original photography) on bringing more beauty into your life through design, food, art, music, health — you name it — all written by local practitioners.

Our website content is growing daily and the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. To introduce you to the project, I’m sharing the piece I wrote on Isiah Connor, an icon in the making. Coincidentally, although I met Isiah here on the West Coast, he grew up in Ayer, MA (right next door to my former home town of Groton, MA), and is the same age as my oldest son (28), which means that we probably crossed paths once or twice a decade or so ago. I love synergies like that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Submit, Submit, Submit

Writers, you know how it goes. You submit to journals and contests, learning to ignore the rejections as they pile up. With a Zen-like mastery, you learn to frame rejection as a positive thing. If you weren’t submitting, you wouldn’t be rejected. And if you weren’t writing, you wouldn’t be submitting. And if you weren’t writing, you wouldn’t be a writer. Hence, using this somewhat reductionist — and albeit recursive — logic, rejection is a good thing. It means you’re a writer.

And every now and then, something like this arrives in your in-box, and the affirmation feels very, very good.

Cutthroat.finalist

Soldier on, dear ones!

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How She Does It: Ifrah Shahid Khurram

IMG-20181026-WA0009Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Pakistani mother artist and amazing jewelry designer Ifrah Shahid Khurram, currently residing in Canada. Ifrah has been featured in She Canada as a she-preneur of the month. Lets have a chat with the designer and explore the ebb and flow of her success story!

Hi Ifrah! Please tell us about yourself, your work, and your family.
Hello dear moms! I’m a busy mom of two beautiful girls, ages 9 and 5. I’m a home economics graduate and run the jewelry design business American Diamonds in Ontario, Canada. I love to play with colors and shapes to create and customize pieces. Today we are one of the best jewelry brands serving the Pakistani and Indian communities in Canada, featuring formal and bespoke bridal jewelry.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I belong to a typical Pakistani family, where dad wants you to be a doctor and mom wants you to learn cooking. So naturally I imagined myself as a doctor. But in my spare time I would find myself painting or hunched over some craft project I had either picked up from kids time on TV or created on my own. I even used to split my earrings into pieces to create more originative ornaments.

diamondsWhen did you explore yourself as an artist?
While I was super crafty throughout my childhood, I viewed at my creativity as a hobby and never thought of it as a career. Just after I moved to Canada, three years into my marriage and after my first child was born, I went into a career in the retail sector. To be honest I enjoyed in retail. I excelled and was content.

But life took a small turn after we had our second daughter. Initially, I took maternity leave, thinking I’d go back to work after things settled down. But with each passing day, my confusion about whether to leave my kids behind for work on days when my husband was home or drop them at day care when we were both at work — or quitting work and staying at home — multiplied. Eventually, I chose to stay at home and give my daughters the best early years.

Honestly, it wasn’t easy. I had been quite ambitious and focused throughout my career. While living far from my family of origin and not having any sort of domestic help, raising kids and fulfilling household responsibilities was a tough row to hoe.

IMG-20181026-WA0000-COLLAGEI found some time to myself when our older daughter started school. During those hours I explored various ways to stay busy other than housework. I was in search of a career that would allow me to look after my kids at the same time. My love for creativity and crafting jewelry returned when I helped a friend market her jewelry. It was challenging. With Almighty Allah’s help and my husband’s constant support and encouragement, we faced deadlocks and losses but persevered.

How has being a mom affected you as an artist?
I often found myself at sixes and sevens when I had both kids and work to take care of. Time and again I felt guilt-ridden and frustrated by work pressure and household responsibilities. I thought of quitting multiple times. During the transition my husband supported me to the fullest, showing me the brighter side of every negative thought that popped into my head. Gradually, the kids and I settled into a routine. I dedicated my unclaimed hours to work, which were mostly after putting kids to bed. I learned to manage time, home, and kids together.

My little one has seen me working since the day she started recognizing me as her mom, so she’s pretty comfortable with my work schedule, and I’m happy with it. With the grace of Almighty Allah, our perseverance has helped achieve some of our goals, but there is still a long way to go, InshaAllah!

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What keeps you inspired to create every day?
Being a designer, I’m inspired about the stuff around me. The weather, a flower, a piece of cloth, an animal, or even food can click an idea. I’m also in love with Pakistani fashion and look for inspiration in the latest trends and designs.

aa05dbbf2391a5d5bb5344f91cfd6be3d2f0af8f_111Which part of the day makes you feel most energetic and creatively driven?
I love it when I see a customer proudly wearing a piece of our jewelry with a smile on her face. The unique sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes with being an entrepreneur greatly surpasses all the challenges that come with it.

How do you think your struggle and success as a mom would influence your kids?
I haven’t gone to a single exhibition without taking my kids along. I believe parents’ hardships and success make an everlasting impression on kids. Watching their parents struggle and ultimately succeed help them follow their own dreams. They learn to cope with disappointments and hardships. At present, my daughters want to be jewelry designers like their mom, and the feeling is absolutely out-of-this-world.

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What is one strength that helped you make your mark?
One strength I always count on is my ability to get along well with others. My easy-going temperament and service orientation have helped me succeed.

What is your key to staying positive in challenging situations?
Challenges are inevitable. We have to face them no matter which field we work in. I’ve learned that while facing a challenge, remember to take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, dream big, believe in yourself, and put forth your best efforts into achieving your desired goals.

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Tell us about your latest project.
Currently I am working on our SS19 bridal collection. My inspiration behind it is a “perfect bride.” To me, the perfect bride is someone who carries herself with a positive self-image. I want to design sparkling jewels that celebrate not only the big day, but the bride herself.

Who are your favorite artists/designers?
Some of the designers I’m highly inspired by are Art by Misbah, Shafaq Habib, and Deeya.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I envision having a storefront in Canada and expanding our delivery services worldwide, as currently we cater only to clients in Canada and the US.

Any advice for aspiring mom artists who might be on the verge of giving up?
The key to being who you want to be is consistency. While you’re busy working on your dream, stumbling blocks may delay what you’ve given your blood, sweat, and tears to. This phenomenon is natural. Be determined. Consistency will turn the tide in your favor.

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When Nice Is a Dirty Word

When_Nice_Is_a_Dirty_Word_HERSEY
When I was 6, my mother’s friend
showed me his genitals
and told me to show him mine
so I did

When I was 8, my step-grandfather
kissed me with a slimy tongue
and patted my bottom
as I walked up the stairs

When I was 22, my stepfather
showed me pornographic photographs
on his computer
and laughed

~

Three gratuitous men affirmed what I already knew: The container of my self—body, being, personhood—is not an inherent boundary to the wants of others. Unwittingly, I internalized and perpetuated this perversion. Maybe you did, too. After all, we’re supposed to be “nice.”

At 49, I’ve only recently begun to unravel the barbed rules of altruism wound tight around my psyche. These high-tensile wires are strong: The ultimate human goal is selflessness; to be evolved is to serve; to serve is to put one’s own needs aside in the face of others’. Mother Teresa didn’t run around satisfying her personal desires—nor did Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, or Pope John Paul II; nor does the Dalai Lama. If our paragons of virtue, service, righteousness, and love are largely free of self-gratification, surely the rest of us should strive for those ideals too, however imperfectly.

Dirty Words
My mother taught me the supremacy of selflessness. In our version, selflessness meant self-abnegation. By both example and maternal lecture, my mother instilled in me the lessons of her own family, her generation, and the culture we shared. Rudeness was a serious offense I had to avoid if I wanted to dwell in the safety of my mother’s warmth. “Rude” was a broad brush that liberally encompassed noncompliance, particularly when interacting with the outside world. A request from another person was inherently more legitimate than my feelings about that request.

I imprinted acquiescence. At 30, freshly divorced, I moved to a town with an outpatient behavioral health facility named Boundaries, its name embossed in gold italics on a tasteful wood sign. Each time I drove by this building I scratched my head. Boundaries? Wasn’t the point of therapy to dissolve one’s boundaries? To be more engaged, more available, less avoidant? I couldn’t understand why a therapy center would encourage separateness from the world.

This is how unformed, and uninformed, I still was. Slowly, with intention, I began to understand the meaning of boundaries and why a person with healthy boundaries is not fundamentally an asshole.

Sex
I knew I had questionable boundaries around physical intimacy. Some women have casual sex to satisfy their sex drive. They don’t feel used by a one-off or occasional encounter because they’re horny co-users. I am not one of those women. I’m envious of their physical empowerment. But I’ve never desired physical intimacy with someone I didn’t have good feelings about—and I need interpersonal context in order to know how I feel.

But here’s where my story falls apart. Because on too many occasions I’ve been intimate (attentionally, emotionally, physically) with people I don’t even like. I can’t understand it when it’s happening, and I can’t understand it afterward.

As a writer, I can be opportunistic in going with the flow simply for the experience and possible material; the story itself. But that’s not sufficient to explain why I gave myself to people I didn’t really like when I didn’t have to. I believe I could have freely and safely left any of those interactions. But I didn’t. If those people chipped away at my sense of self and personhood, I’d handed them the chisel and hammer.

Rage
Today, on the first anniversary of #metoo, I simmer in rage over Brett Kavanaugh. I rage that too few people in power care about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s demonstrably credible allegations. I rage because the man in the White House is a raving misogynist who exemplifies and celebrates rape culture, racism, xenophobia, violence, self-interest, and hatred. I rage because honesty, kindness, empathy, and love—core tenets of humanity—are not only ignored by the president and his supporters but mocked as weaknesses.

I rage because I have given myself away. And each time I did, I wordlessly said: “It’s okay for me to give you my [attention, time, person, body] even though I don’t feel good about doing so, because it’s a thing that you want, and I don’t know how to extract myself gracefully.” My inability to stand up for myself enabled the very paradigm I rail against. I buried my truth.

This rage is palpable inside my body. I don’t know what to do with it, but I need to do something. Tweeting at senators, making donations, joining protest marches, hanging signs in my windows—these things are important, but often feel ineffectual.

Mind the Gap
This rage is shared by many. Otherwise peaceful folk—both men and women—are bug-eyed, angry witnesses to the cultural moment. We don’t know how to get back to where we thought we were going. We’re driving with a shared GPS that at every turn blares “Recalculating!” and sends us back the other way. How do we navigate this nightmarish terrain?

In the way that all politics are said to be local, we need to start close to home. Perhaps this scenario is familiar: You’re working at your favorite café and an acquaintance stops to talk. You politely remove your earbuds and greet him warmly. He launches into a detailed exposition of his import business. This is not a topic that interests you. The minutes drag on and you try not to think about your work window ebbing away. Discomfort rises in your chest. At what point can you politely interrupt the monologue and get back to work? You can’t get a word in edgewise. With dismay, you realize that a full 20 minutes of your life have elapsed.

Don’t let this be you. Give the acquaintance a two-minute chat and then—you can smile when you interrupt, if it helps—tell him you need to get back to work. Don’t apologize. The discomfort you feel in exercising your boundaries is far less damaging than dishonoring yourself. When you don’t say no, you tacitly say yes. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a coffee shop or naked in bed. If you don’t feel comfortable, or if you don’t know how you feel, it’s time to excuse yourself. In practicing boundaries with consistency, we teach the world that we are not a buffet for the taking. In practicing our boundaries, we stand in support of sexual assault victims whose boundaries were run roughshod with a tractor. We stand with the girls, boys, women, and men who didn’t have the opportunity to say no, or whose nos were ignored. Exercise your boundaries for their sake, as well as your own.

Exercise your boundaries for Dr. Ford.

Stop giving yourself away in the name of courtesy. Stop giving yourself away in the name of conflict-aversion. Stop giving yourself away in the name of wanting someone to like you. Like yourself more.

Let us fit into the curve of a collective left hook as it lands hard against the jawbone of our societal dysfunction.

To disappoint no one is to be no one. Be you.

*****

Sh*t’s Gettin Real

MH_Do_Or_Die

Come see me at Insta.

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How She Does It: Swapna Dinesh

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Swapna Dinesh is from the erstwhile royal town of Thripunithura in Kerala, India. She is a self-taught artist who designs and hand-crafts jewelry, sculpts with cold porcelain, and paints. Swapna was one of 300+ artists who contributed to the mixed-media installation “Into the Forest,” exhibited in November 2017 at the Spinning Plate Gallery in Pittsburg, PA. She has written articles for Creative Bead Chat Magazine and works as an art instructor. Swapna is also a mother and homemaker, avid bookworm, and loves to experiment in the kitchen. You might find her exploring museums and libraries; the older, the better. Enjoy!


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SM: Please introduce yourself and your family.
SD: My name is Swapna Dinesh and I’m from Kerala, India. My husband and I have been married for 16 years and we have a sweet 11-year-old daughter. I have a master’s degree in international business but I quit my corporate career to embark on a creative journey after I had my daughter.

SM: Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
SD: I am a self-taught sculptor of cold porcelain clay, and I design and create jewelry with beads, wires, and semi-precious stones. I have mostly made miniatures, beads, and floral elements which I incorporate into my jewelry. My website, Swardaa.com, is where I put down my thought processes as well as the trials, errors, and triumphs of my creative endeavors. Indian folk art and those of other countries inspire me a lot. I have made jewelry based on Warli art, one stroke paintings, blue pottery, etc. I have also worked with several art mediums like charcoal, faux glass paints, watercolors, and acrylics. I’ve had the privilege of having my jewelry and articles written on Pietra Dura (seen in the Taj Mahal and the blue pottery of Jaipur) published by the USA-based Creative Bead Chat Magazine. I have been working as an art instructor for students ranging from ages 4-15 for more than two years, and I lead workshops in fabric painting, glass painting, and charcoal art.

SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
SD: My life’s work is about doing what I love the most, exploring new techniques and mediums, and hopefully inspiring at least a few people to step out from their comfort zones and explore their creative sides. For me, incorporating the motifs of various folk arts into my cold porcelain work is essential. The possibilities are huge and exciting. I would love to have my own studio space in order to conduct workshops and share what I have learned and to reciprocate the support and inspiration that I have received from so many special artists around the globe.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
SD: Creativity and motherhood are very similar; you have this perfect picture in your mind and you put in your best efforts to make it that way, but as you advance you realize that it has a life of its own! I have learned to take a step back, adjust my perspective, lavish love and attention, and hopefully, it turns out way better than originally envisioned! I find that motherhood has also helped me streamline my priorities, and better my time-management skills.

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SM: Where do you do your creative work?
SD: I currently work in a compact room with a desk and storage space for my supplies. Despite its small size, it is private and gets good natural light.

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SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
SD: Currently, it isn’t as easy for me to schedule set hours for my creative work, but I manage to steal a couple of hours each day to get to my space and work. While it is not easy to be creative whenever I’m available, I have trained myself to be productive in that time, even if it is just to organize my supplies or make a few handmade labels for packaging!

SM: What does creative success mean to you?
SD: To me, creative success is a two-part process; creating distinctive and original work and bringing life to my creative visions, and inspiring others in turn.

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
SD: Raising my daughter in a way that allows her to become a person confident enough to follow her own dreams and goals makes me feel successful.

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SM: What do you struggle with most?
SD: I have a difficult time convincing people that a creative career takes more effort and time than a conventional career. A home-based workspace means constantly dealing with outside demands on your time – that never happens when you are “at work” in the conventional sense. From the conception of an idea to giving it form and color, translating it into a piece that is original, taking pictures, posting it on social media, blogging about the process, following up on comments and queries, maybe pricing and selling, the mailing and follow-up… none of this can happen if there is no time to yourself to even derive inspiration and translate it into a workable idea! Not to mention the fact that being self-taught takes a lot of trial and error to get the necessary skills to turn creative ideas into reality.

SM: What inspires you?
SD: My biggest influences are the varied arts, especially the architecture and culture of Kerala and other states of India. I love exploring the folk arts of different countries, and of course the work of all the talented artists around the world.

SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
SD: I am not one to plan that far ahead, though I would love to have my own studio. I manage by taking it one day at a time and making sure that each step I take is a creative one!

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SM: What are you reading right now?
SD: I just read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. I am a JK Rowling fan and was wondering how I would like her writing in another genre — I absolutely loved it!

SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
SD: I use Pinterest extensively to pin those ideas and inspirations. Facebook puts me in touch with a lot of people with similar interests, and I have sold a few of my creations on my Facebook page. I use YouTube to check out the techniques of other artists and I have been regularly posting on Instagram for the past few months. I also use Bloglovin’ to follow my favorite blogs.

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SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
SD: It would have been great to know that there are so many creative and talented people out there! A decade ago, knowing that there were so many creative forums and such great sources of inspiration, know-how, and like-minded people would have helped my skill sets and confidence levels to be better than they are now. Especially knowing a community like Studio Mothers, who manage their careers and home life just like I do, gives me a great sense of belonging.

SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
SD: If scheduling specific time for creativity is not possible, do not despair! Try to work towards your goals one day at a time. Slow and steady is good enough if you can see an improvement in the quality of your work. And good luck!!

Find Swapna!
http://www.facebook.com/Swardaa
http://www.swardaa.com
http://www.instagram.com/swardaa_by_swapnadinesh

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