I guess I met Van when we were both 18 at Columbia College Chicago where we would spend the next four years simultaneously struggling through identity crises, heartbreak, and music theory classes.

I had performed a Beyonce song at a small open mic the fall of our freshman year. He said he sat toward the back of the crowd and introduced himself to me after the show. I don’t remember this interaction but for the next 3.5 years of school, I would vaguely recognize Van as “cool violin guy” with whom I shared mutual friends but never hung out with directly. Today, he likes to make fun of me for “not giving shit about him because I was Leah Jean” when in reality I just didn’t get to know him until senior year when my roommate asked us both to play in her senior recital.

In the rehearsal room, Van was mostly quiet until you got him cracking jokes. Van’s sense of humor ranges from confidently morbid, to sarcastic, to just plain absurd. Van is very sharp and will quickly deliver jokes with total confidence, even if the content came straight from the depths of hell. These were the first moments I began to realize just how funny Van was. His wit and presentation combine forces to create a brilliant sense of humor and I would be laughing myself into tears. He was simply a joy to be around, and I would consistently look forward to seeing him at rehearsals.

What also struck me about Van was his intelligence and maturity. Van is a killer violinist for multiple reasons and a big one is that he knows how to prepare. He knows what to bring, what to ask for, and how to execute. Excuses don’t exist in Van’s world. Lack of action doesn’t either. Words he jotted down on a post-it note stuck to the wall behind his bedroom desk read “What you water will grow” and this has always been an important truth for Van. He is responsible, hard-working, detail-oriented, and consistent. These qualities became evident to me from the first rehearsal. I felt like a dingus sitting next to Van with my “maybe this guitar riff could work here?” mentality when he had every song lead-sheet cued up in the right order on his iPad and came with A-game ideas that actually made sense. I wasn’t necessarily intimidated but I was impressed.

I didn’t think it was possible for a 20-something boy to impress me but he did. We began to develop a friendship via our mutual friend Matt who would invite us both to social gatherings. Looking back, Van and I often had our own side-dialog, separate from the group, infused with particular things we both found hilarious or interesting. Last summer, Van asked if I wanted to play guitar for a country gig he was on. Hesitantly, very hesitantly, I agreed and found myself trying to learn lead guitar parts for 30+ country songs. It wasn’t going well and it wasn’t going terrible. Nonetheless, I was ultra-stressed. Luckily, country is a relatively easy style of music to play but what I most enjoyed about the gig was getting to see Van at rehearsals. One time he came over to run tunes with me and when we were done, we ended up eating dinner together and making fun of old Usher music videos. I was not crushing on Van, but I valued our friendship and his company. I remember thinking that very thing when he left that night. He left me feeling light and inspired, the way a good friend should make you feel. Little did I know, Van was actually crushing on me.

At the end of our country performance at around midnight, Matt, Van and I sat down and shared a few per diem appetizers as people were clearing out. We were sipping on whiskey, munching on loaded nachos, and talking about life. At one point, I asked them “Hey guys, why don’t men like me? What is so scary about me?” I was kind of kidding, but I was also kind of curious to see what my two best guy friends thought. Van paused for a moment before he said “Well you have this intimidating thing about you. You’re confident and you’re really good at what you do.” Van is good at a lot of things, and something he really excels at is pretending like he is not feeling what he is feeling. So, thinking Van had no interest in me other than to be my friend, I probably shrugged and said something like “Well thanks!” and continued to shove nachos in my face. That night I headed home relieved, filled with nachos and the encouragement of Van’s comment; not a bad place to be.

A month later I started seeing a guy I met in a rideshare. Van had invited me and some of our friends to an underground comedy show, hoping to get to know me more that night. I ended up bringing new boyfriend and my mother along and Van might have been discouraged. We headed to Matt’s place after to play some drinking games and I noticed Van’s jabs toward new boyfriend were toeing the line between playful and harsh. Nonetheless, again, I felt myself connecting more with Van than the guy I was dating. Low and behold, new boyfriend became ex-boyfriend within in month.

Flash forward to late-October. I hadn’t seen Van in awhile. I was doing a study on metal music in Chicago and needed to go to a punk/metal bar for my research. I went with my friend who knew Van’s roommate so we decided to invite them as well. I remember a specific image of Van finishing his dinner as I barged into their apartment (in the loud, extraverted way I do), wearing my dark lipstick, and all black for the occasion, excited that I got to hang out with Van as he had agreed to come with us. The following sequence of events occured over the next few hours:

  1. Entered punk bar. Ordered PBRs. Drank the PBRs.

  2. Punched a thing attached to a machine that would generate a unitless number indicating how hard you punch for $1.

  3. Left punk bar.

  4. Walked with Van to Jewel Osco to get ingredients for White Russians while our other friends got Chinese food.

  5. Returned to Van’s apartment and sat on the couch with friends to watch the Big Lebowski and drink White Russians.

  6. Sat right next to Van because I wanted to sit right next to Van because I liked Van.

  7. Van attempted and succeeded to discreetly hold my hand until the end of the Big Lebowski (a two hour film).

When Van touched my hand, my body did this: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and that’s truly the best way I can describe the feeling. For some reason, the sensation was totally electrifying. Something was happening between our hands and I didn’t know what. Looking back, I think part of it was shock. This was Van, my friend, holding my hand. Up until that very moment, I had absolutely no idea Van was interested in getting himself involved with any woman or man, let alone loud and crazy Leah Jean. I thought he wanted to keep me an arms length away at all times because I was his friend and nothing more but the instant his hand found mine, everything changed and five months later I am so happy and proud to be Van’s girlfriend.

My mom says “You guys just get each other.” It’s true, we do. Sometimes in the morning, we’re waking up my roommate loudly laughing about some weird shit one of us just said/did. I feel like I can be 110% myself around Van. The 10% accounts for the parts he gently pulls out of me; all the darkness and sadness that I try to hide even when I’m alone. “I want all of it,” he says. What I have grown to love about Van is the way he balances his work life and his life with me. He loves to love me and he loves to watch me do what I love, making sure he is building a life of his own. He is romantic, gentle, and wonderfully caring. He is resilient, assertive, and protective. He knows what he wants which is incredibly refreshing. He loves me for my brain, not my body, yet tells me I’m beautiful every day. He’s sharp as a tack and is constantly buzzing with a bouncing energy until the minute his head hits the pillow at night. He is a deep feeler, thinker, and a brilliant musician. He claims he is lucky to have me, but I am constantly in awe of Van and I can’t believe I get to be his lady.

Van had asked me twice if I wanted to date him. The first night, we had been drinking with friends and I told him to ask me again the next day when we were sober. When he did, I wasn’t even scared to say yes. It felt comfortable, and it felt right. Like, obviously this is the right guy for me, I just had to tell myself to not be an idiot and date someone who might actually fuel my flame instead of burn me out. I don’t feel anything less than me with Van and that is such a blessing. He is a blessing; a truly special individual that is hard to hate and so easy to love.

Our friend Mackenzie snapped this pic of us when we first starting dating <3.

Our friend Mackenzie snapped this pic of us when we first starting dating <3.


“Signe it was so nice to meet you today! I’m excited to go to school with you. Hopefully we’ll be in some classes together!”

“Same here! I’m so glad we met. I think we have the potential to be good friends haha if that’s not weird to say.”

-Facebook message 07/14/18

And thus begins the story of my best friend, Signe Engstrand.

Once upon a time, I met a tall, mystical Elvin creature named Signe Engstrand. At 6 feet tall with naturally platinum blonde hair and strikingly light green eyes, I thought maybe Signe was a real life model. The day we met in the fall of 2014, she wore high-waisted black shorts and a crop top with text across it that read “THAT’S AWESOME.” I thought that was awesome but I was a little intimidated by her beauty, until she started talking about Harry Potter. Was this model, perhaps, actually just a complete nerd?

We met at freshman orientation for Columbia College Chicago where we were both going to major in music for the next four years. I don’t remember the first words we said to each other but I’m sure she probably confidently introduced herself somewhat like this:

“Hi nice to meet you, I’m Signe, like ‘Sydney’ with a G.” because that’s pretty much the exact thing she says to every person she meets.

After thinking Signe might be a model that was too cool and pretty for me, I then thought she was the friendliest new student at orientation that day. We sat next to each other in auditoriums and lobby floors of campus buildings while admins lectured about first year information. Signe was a talker, and yes, a nerd. One of my absolute favorite things about Signe is that she could easily be a trendy cool girl that’s too hot for everyone just based on her looks but instead she reads niche fantasy novels on the train and passionately talks about the importance of Lord of the Rings. During our freshman orientation lectures, Signe would frequently either comment to herself during these informational spiels or turn to me or her mother and deliver some funny comment. And already, I had the sense that Signe was the kind of person that lights up a room because she was doing exactly this. So when we parted ways for the afternoon that day, I sent her that Facebook message and it has been truly astounding to watch the seed of our friendship grow into a beautiful, blossoming tree–- cue either one of us saying “gay” out loud like a straight, white high school boy ca. 2012™ while also crying at the truth of that statement.

I was much shyer and quieter my freshman year of college than I am now and Signe used to think that I didn’t like her because I wouldn’t talk much. The real truth is that Signe just talks a lot and has nice things to say. Extraverted, informed, and intuitive, Signe will take the lead in a conversation anytime unless the topic surrounds something petty and artificial. Getting involved in a political debate or social justice argument with Signe is a terrible idea if you’re misinformed because she will have you whimpering away with your tail between your legs. Men who make unsolicited comments to Signe while she’s walking down the street will receive an earful from her, even when she’s alone. In the four years that I’ve known her, I’ve witnessed many moments of Signe Wonder Womaning her way through a rough and tough, big city life and I feel so proud to be her friend.

Not only does Signe exude a confident independence and intelligence, she is also empathetic, warm and hilarious. Masters of Dad jokes, delivery, and absurdism, Signe and I have nourished a banter so smooth, our conversations have become real-time sitcom style entertainment for our fellow train commuters. I love watching the sheer laughing joy that spreads across Signe’s face when I show her some ridiculous photograph I snapped of our cat, Nessie or mimic a meme I’ve seen on the Internet. Signe loves the simple joys of life and  her visible appreciation reminds me to be more grateful for the curves in tree branches and the pinks in sunsets.

Once, during a rather dark period of my life, I laid in my bed, physically shaking with anxiety. Signe held me like a mother, like a friend, like a sister and I will never forget the image of my glowing string lights twinkling behind her smiling face telling me everything was going to be okay. Signe has seen me through heartbreaks that make me wallow and depressive. Signe has seen me in elated, cry-laughing, joy. Signe has helped me understand how important it is to love myself and trust that I am capable of achieving most anything I set my mind to.

Growing close with Signe has inspired me to be more outwardly expressive and vulnerable in ways I hadn’t even realized I had been suppressing; crucial components of self-love. Signe has seen me through the mistakes I made with my first relationship which included not voicing my truth and keeping things bottled up. This has illuminated a sense of freedom in me I used to only catch in glimpses. Signe has taught me to see myself in the same light others see me and this doesn’t mean ignoring my character flaws, it means accepting them and working with them. It means only allowing the wallow monsters into my chest for a limited amount of time. It means dancing hard and crazy when I want and laughing out loud to myself in public; all lessons learned from Signe Engstrand.

Signe is my best friend because she doesn’t stunt my growth, she fuels it. We often joke that we’re married and have seriously considered the fact we would probably be dating if we weren’t so into dudes. Signe is my best friend because I like to surround myself with people who are anti- “Being Sad is Cool” culture, people who are ripping against the grain, people who are turning on the light in a dark room.

So, Signe, thank you for being the multi-dimensional, multi-talented, loving, funny, beautiful human you are.

Love you big time, buddy.

  • LJ



leeleegriff28 and Squiggle

leeleegriff28 and Squiggle

Charles from the Oak Tree

“I’m happy for you, Leah. And I just want to be sure everything is okay with you,” Karel once said to me in a big rehearsal room adorned with ornamental rugs and funky stringed instruments. We were co-writing a song comparing the human condition with the ant condition (yes, the insect). I was talking about a boy I had started seeing. I knew Karel was being genuine about his consideration for me because nothing Karel ever said was ill-genuine or posing. This was one of many striking things about Karel’s personality.

Karel Van Der Eijk (translated to Carl or Charles from the Oak) is a bassist from a town on the Southwest coast of the Netherlands that is literally called Monster. I found this funny considering how unthreatening Karel’s demeanor is. However, he will command a room’s attention when he wants to be heard, unapologetically requesting that people listen to his thoughts or feelings.

At my first band rehearsal with Karel in Mannheim, Germany where we were both participating in a semester abroad, he immediately started making suggestions and thinking out loud. He said exactly what he was thinking, challenging everyone in the room with his honesty. He used his theoretical knowledge to explain his vision and would interrogate us for feedback. From the start, he was already changing the game by being himself and not “just showing up.” And here I was thinking “Why is this guy ripping against the grain?”

I don’t remember the exact point in which I decided “I really like this guy” but something changed within the next few weeks when I asked him to help me compose vocal harmonies for a ballad I had written. Of course he agreed and the longer we spent in the practice room together, the more he started to grow on me.

Karel is a little shorter than I am, standing at about 5’7”. He has long skinny legs and a short torso. With sandy hair, light eyes, and fair skin, he looks like a bearded/mustached Billy Boyd; the actor who played Pippin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A slight Dutch accent colors his baritone speaking voice. Karel is quiet in large crowds and talkative in one-on-one conversations. “Let me know if I’m just, like, talking your ear off,” he’ll say in the middle of a conversation, pausing between his words to find the right English phrase. Although Karel assumes a certain poise in his step, he apparently enjoys tripping on the stairs and running his rusty (I might rather say rustic) bicycle into things. He will laugh at that sentence.

Recalling our first co-writing session for our single "DifferANT" (coming soon), Karel talked about his experience transitioning from being the best bass player in his community, to being the best average bass player when he came in contact with the “real world”. What I absolutely admire about Karel is his ability to A) just come out and say that and B) his complete acceptance of life’s circumstances in the sense that yes, you might be the best at some point but there’s always going to be someone better; and that’s really, truly okay. Karel has helped me realize my own pride complex, developed as a result of trying to distinguish myself as a solo artist in the giant, happening city of Chicago. When I fail at something, it can be completely heartbreaking because it feels like a blow to my ego. I’m used to being the leader, the front woman, the ideator, and the performer. Karel revealed to me the humility that comes from playing the background, being the supporter, and playing on other people’s tunes. But what differentiates Karel from other “background” players is his desire to have a voice in the creation and presentation of music. He won’t just let the song happen if he senses something can be done to make it better.

I can almost guarantee that a good chunk of Karel’s recommended Youtube videos are music theory lessons and tutorials. Karel loves music for the sake of music itself; not for the channel it might provide for fame and attention. Karel is a theory guy with a teacher quality. I will send him shitty iPhone photos of handwritten original scores and he will text back corrections. He once offered to teach me a bass lesson despite the fact I don't even own a bass. I still have the notes he wrote down for me which will undoubtedly be useful for me in the future if I ever pursue bass.

Karel and I have conversed about a wide range of topics; music theory, the music industry, his love-life, my love-life, relationships in general, his personality, my personality, the human condition, emotions, comedy, our futures, etc. One time during a writing session, I laughed myself into tears at someone’s Yahoo Answers response to the question “How many ants are there?” Their response was “three”. The absurdity of this response had me in a fit of maniac laughter, encouraged further by the disbelieving way Karel was looking at me. He was laughing too and I felt so grateful I could be 100% myself around him. Moments like this happened frequently in which I realized Karel was a true friend and someone who would inspire me rather than suck out my energy. To put it simply, this is a quality of a solid friend.

Whenever I performed during my time in Germany, I always looked for him after the show to ask for feedback. He would reveal honest flaws about the performance, then round out his analysis by telling me what I was really good at. “You’re a really good guitarist and should consider just playing guitar for other bands” is something I hadn't really heard before until Karel mentioned it. And although I know Karel appreciates me as a front woman, I felt encouraged and inspired by this suggestion because it showed me my abilities aren’t limited and Karel has consistently revealed that to me in various ways.

Once, after a long recording session, he biked me home. It was about 2 in the morning and the streets of Mannheim were dark, cold, and empty. The pavements were glistening and lights hung in the sky. I sat on the back, like a lady on a horse. I was being a weirdo and Karel was laughing at me being a weirdo and every now and then some real statement was thrown into the quiet air and examined further by our conversation interrupted by bumps in the road and stop lights. I had a moment where I realized how special this image of friendship was and how I wanted to store it in my memory. So I did. When we parted ways, I locked it up in the corner of my mind labeled “To be opened when things are heavy”.

And now Karel and I are soon proud to present our collaborative work “DifferANT”; a commentary on the human condition as it compares to the life of ants. It’s a satire with a deeper message of “it’s okay to not be special”, a Karel-inspired message. However, it’s sort of ironic considering how special Karel is.

Thanks for being my friend and teaching me some valuable life lessons, Carol. Keep ripping against the grain. *fist bump*

  • LJ



Karel and Leah. Photograph by Lih Tsan.&nbsp;

Karel and Leah. Photograph by Lih Tsan. 


“We need to teach you how to hug.”

Chelli (SHELL-ee) used to tell me this at the end of a coffee date when we would part ways. She’s the type of sunshine-infused human who offers a hello/goodbye hug 100% of the time. You might witness her being unconditionally kind to a waiter in a restaurant, then later be inspired to make your own friendly conversation with a 7/11 cashier; subsequently making their day. In essence, Chelli has a contagious energy and a generally warm way of existing. She’s a channel of hope, an incredible creative mentor, and a deeply loving friend.

I am learning more and more how difficult it is to spend my early 20s in a large, fast-moving American city realizing I have a creative power that can foster positive change. It’s a tumultuous path; one of epiphany, derealization, connection, isolation, heartbreak followed by heartbreak, and love followed by love. When I moved to Chicago in 2014, loneliness had me shook so I followed my gut instinct to ask for help.

This urge led me to befriend my incredible freshman RA who is currently wrapping up a year long justice mission in the Philippines (talk about fostering change...). Katie (my RA) introduced me to Chelli at her apartment in the South Loop of Chicago during a faith social gathering. Before the gathering, Katie mentioned that Chelli had her own line of handbags and images of a round, sweet woman who stitched together brightly colored chunky bags came to mind. I don’t know why. I just thought “handbags = nice suburban mom lady.” Then I met Chelli; the polar opposite.

Chelli owns a company called the Chelli Harms Collection. And yes, she does make handbags but they are slick. They’re not “handbags”. They’re primed, polished, smoothed, and sexified cuts of local leather hand-sewn into classy pouches, purses, backpacks, and wallets. The shapes are simple, the style is minimal, and the color palette doesn’t deviate much from black and white (with the occasional tan and spotted cowhide). If you support conscious consumerism, quality products, local businesses, and companies that give back, I would highly recommend checking out CHC.

On a very first impression, I thought Chelli was one of the most confident women I had ever met. I love when positive first impressions become re-affirmed on an even greater scale. Thus, on a second impression, I thought Chelli was one of the most confident people in the world.

Chelli stands firm on the ground with two Marathon-trained limbs, walks with poise and spirit, and exudes optimism and empathy onto others. A passerby may immediately assume Chelli is grade A badass (which, she is), after noticing her shaved head, lean muscles, and customarily black and/or desaturated wardrobe. But Chelli doesn’t quite fit the androgynous mold as she also has a particular feminine elegance demonstrated by her gorgeous face. The only bright color she ever really wears is a shade of red or pink lipstick on her full, heart-shaped lips that will often stretch out into a brilliant smile. Chelli laughs a lot. It's awesome. One of my favorite things about listening to Chelli talk is the juxtaposition of her deep voice to the light, loving words she speaks. I like to ask Chelli the biggest questions I have because I love her answers. One time I asked her where evil comes from and I think I almost made her late to her next gig. Her responses are always woven together with hope and wisdom granted to her by the grace of God. They swirl and soak in a pool of optimism. This is astounding considering the darkness Chelli faced in her early twenties. I think of how often humans are confronted with the battle of cynicism and doubt vs. enthusiasm and faith. I recently asked Chelli if she considered herself a skeptic because of her big picture intuition. She responded that she didn’t like the word “skeptic”, and prefers to label her questioning as a “loving curiosity.” Essentially, Chelli lives a life of wonder. Simple. Beautiful.

One of the most powerful moments of friendship I’ve experienced in my lifetime occurred in church with Chelli. I sat next to her during a prayer time and closed my eyes while Chelli placed her hand on my knee and prayed for me. I began to cry, which doesn’t come to me easily in a public setting. I decided to take a leap of faith and surrender into the emotion further as Chelli held me in her arms. She told me after prayer that she could feel love pouring through her and onto me and asked about what I had just experienced.

Me: “Well, I felt really vulnerable.”

Chelli: “Haha I love your honesty.”

“I think I just realized I don’t allow myself to be held and when I do, it’s sometimes with the wrong people.”

“Hhhmmm yep.”

Sometimes I’ll just state truths I’ve come to realize as I grow and Chelli will nod and say “yep”, “huh-uh”, “mmm”, or “amen.” If their sad “truths”, she’ll offer a new perspective. I love her for this.

I feel straight-up lucky to know Chelli. I hear her words in my head when I am facing a doubt, a fear, a creative roadblock, a sadness, or a challenge. I’m so grateful I was a lost little weirdo in 2014 who fought through being shy and awkward just to get to know Chelli better. Real life creative mentors can be hard to come by. Our role models tend to be authors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and artists we’ve become familiar with through the media’s accessibility but it’s amazing when you find a hero to connect with in real time.

So here’s to you Chelli. Thanks for helping me grow, inspiring me toward faith, and radiating light. Love you friend.

Danger Zone/Ego Zone

Up until the beginning of this year, I would actually pride myself in not having what I understood an “ego” to be. It’s a commonality among creatives, entrepreneurs, and businessmen/women to have a tendency toward ego considering how much of their time is spent convincing themselves they do, in fact, have “that something special to separate them from their competitors.” When we think of culture icons who have “big egos”, we immediately consider Kanye West, Donald Trump, and idk… Paris Hilton? Based solely on media presence, we’ve established these rich and famous individuals as so full of what makes them so special, that they have become a little twisted. But I’d like to break down even further what it means to have an unbreakable ego.

It took living through 2016 and walking into 2017 to realize that an ego is not only dangerous for the obvious Donald Trump reason, but it can manifest itself in a very silent and secret way. An ego can be a humble, slithery thing that poisons your psyche and I didn’t even consider this until it happened to me at the beginning of this year. I would pride myself on my ability to stay humble about my achievements, talents, and self-love but never considered that I actually don’t know everything, that uniqueness is not uniquely mine, and that really, I have no idea how to love myself.

But wait, doesn’t having en ego mean you love yourself too much?

Nope. It means you think you know everything; not self-love, rather, self-destruction.

At the start of 2016, I invested my entire soul into someone else. It was the best feeling in the world. I loved the steadiness of not having to be so wrapped up in my crazy imagination all the time. I loved learning from someone who had a more logistical, simple perspective on life. I was awestruck by how completely fascinating this individual who was so opposite from me was. The issue arose when I realized I had fallen deeply in love with someone who was unable to reciprocate the feeling. We were opposite, but not aligned. I became so unconditionally attached that when they decided to pry themselves away from me for both of our sakes (their issue, not mine), I felt they were walking away with my soul. Imagine looking into the mirror and seeing someone else. Dramatic, but I am intense (no shame) so this is honestly what it felt like.

When I lost this person who I felt so strongly was the missing piece to my puzzle, I naturally felt sad. When the sadness left, a new demon arrived in a stone-cold package labeled “Hello 2017” on my doorstep. I thought “This is funny, I thought I ordered something else.” But my curiosity could not be contained so I opened it up and was shocked to my core. A wave of anxiety I had never experienced before that made me physically ill had entered my psyche but only because I let it in. My body shook, and my fear-driven thoughts gave me such a massive migraine, I was bedridden. This was absurd. I used to not believe in anxiety attacks. Then I was quite literally infected, like “catching the flu” as my a loving friend explained to me. I was sick. My brain got sick. What the hell?

What I didn’t know, is that it wasn’t me and that I had the power to ignore the whispers of my ego and open myself up to some truth medicine: Just because I have access to a channel of genius consisting of an imaginative stream constantly in motion, doesn’t mean I am “too advanced for this world.” That is my ego talking and let me tell you, it is straight up stupid. It is naive. It is unintelligent. And I’m not saying this with a “woe is me” intention, I’m saying this because 2017 is this first year I have ever been afraid of my own power. I have to put myself in check. Yes, I may be developmentally advanced in some areas such as emotion and imagination but I am also developmentally behind in logistic and linear thinking which is just as important and beautiful.

Suddenly, it became more crucial than ever to pry the logic switch on in order to see tthe open arms of truth waiting to be met in the rooms of my life. When I slowly gained the ability to do this, I saw some stunningly beautiful things. Just to name a few…

  1. I can fall in love with myself.

  2. People of faith are the smartest people in the world.

  3. People of happiness are the smartest people in the world.

  4. I do not know everything.

  5. Thank God I do not know everything.

  6. We are all needy.

  7. Selfishness is okay sometimes.

  8. Love is real.

  9. Things don't work out, but a lot of things do.

  10. An overwhelming number of geniuses change the world for the better.

  11. Good eliminates evil when recognized and fought for. Period.

  12. Spiritual growth, like anything, is a step-by-step process.

  13. "Just being" is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

  14. I am very helpful to others and others are very helpful to me. This is love.

  15. Wonder is crucial.

Thus, I am working on morphing the lie I received into a brilliant light of hope. Two hours ago, I met with an amazingly inspiring friend who told me I need to be the voice I want to hear. She told me to use my romanticism as a tool not a trap. This is precisely what she has done with her individual, creative power. She walks through life lifting people up by always seeing the glass half-full regardless of the shit that has happened in her own world and the world surrounding her. This is what it means to be touched by grace.  

So yes, I have a lot of power in my hands. We all do. But it has to be manipulated and morphed into good. It has to be poked, prodded, punched, defeated, stifled, and burnt out but just as a flame can be re-ignited, so can your own ability to create the change you want to see.

I encourage you to examine your ego and practice self-love in a way that is beautifully logical. You cannot help others until you help yourself. You cannot manifest change without a solid ground to stand on and the most unsteady ground you could possibly dig your roots into is “I Already Know It All”. That is an earthquake waiting to happen. Touching divinity means accepting that this life is a stunning mystery in which beauty, love, and change are certain.

The ego is an illusion. Love and hope are real. Rest up, fight on, and spread the word.


    01-27-17 at  Beat Kitchen.&nbsp; Photo by  Yellek Media

    01-27-17 at Beat Kitchen. Photo by Yellek Media

    Kylie Jenner Was So Right About 2016

    Remember that hilariously terrible 30 second "New Years resolutions" video clip Kylie Jenner released at the beginning of the year? Where her one prediction about 2016 was that we were all going to “realize things”? She broke the ground with that one. I got chills. She really shook us all to our core.

    Watch Kylie Jenner explain everything you've ever needed to know here. 

    Astonishingly enough, I feel like essentially all I did during 2016 was realize things. As a hardcore ENFP, I have a pretty strong creative and social intuition. A good friend told me at the beginning of this year that my ability to see the big picture is incredible. In other words, I have keen eyes and know exactly what’s going on unless what’s going on is a differential calculus equation. I felt good about this, but walking the rough terrain of 2016 has certainly helped me realize how and why I fall with such a dangerous velocity. Because, believe it or not, as a feelings-based human, I take pretty hard hits and 2016 seemed to be repeatedly punching me and many of my feel-y friends square in the face. I’d like to reveal some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned this year with the hopes that I might be able to pass on some inspiration to those truly wanting to journey through 2017 on a lighted path.


    1) Repetition is not failure.

    In grade school, they teach you all about how it’s good to make mistakes because how else will you learn to not repeat the same mistake? But what happens if you do… What if you keep running into the same wall? Do you throw in the towel and say “well, perhaps this isn’t for me?” or do you keep trying? I say you keep trying with a tweaked strategy. If it’s your gut telling you to keep trying, definitely do it. I believe almost anything can be learned. Humans are incredible. Personality and gender are imagined hindrances. So I say risk making the same exact mistake because I can guarantee “the thing is for you” as long as the heart of your heart wants it to be.


    2) I am lazy.

    Wow. This one took me till about a week ago to finally literally tell myself. I am supposed to be a hard-working, constantly moving, on-the-go creative entrepreneur in the making, there is no way in hell I will allow myself to admit that I am lazy. But maybe you are too. Think about it. When you have thousands of really great ideas floating like stars in your brain universe, do you dare try to plan and prioritize which stars you want to really see shine or do you watch the next episode of Stranger Things? When you realize you have the potential to make all of these stars shine, are you so daunted by the “work” that needs to be done that you just watch the next episode of Stranger Things instead? Ah, and then there’s the brilliant, “I will start tomorrow” demon that keeps you tied to your seat until you need a new Netflix series (and there is always another Netflix series). Listen to Shia Lebeouf, listen to Nike and “just do it”. Just do it. If you don’t know how, ask for help. Reach out to accessible people who inspire you most and ask them how they do it. Then do it yourself and, most importantly, truly believe that you can.


    3) I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.

    I am spiritual. I believe in God. So the “myself” in this instance looks more like “the God acting through myself”. I encourage you to figure out what “myself” means to you. Being one of two female guitarists at my level in college, I feel an intense pressure to outperform “these boys” as I tell my mother, when my goal must actually be to love the process of learning the instrument. When my boyfriend and I broke up over the summer, I wanted to prove to him that “I was doing just fine” without him, when really I was paralyzed by heartbreak. When taking a step back, I’ve realized that I’m always trying to prove myself to someone else and usually those people are men. But after having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a successful creative freelancer, I pocketed this lesson he taught me “As long as you are always making excellent work, there is a place for you.” Creatives are granted the unique task of balancing what other people think of their work and what they themselves think of their work. Both are important factors but ultimately it will always come down to “will this sustain me even if I am my only audience?” Prove to your craft that you are deeply in love with the art-making process and not just infatuated with the recognition and .01% chance of fame that might follow. Prove to yourself how much you can learn about what you do.


    4) I am not the people I identify with most.

    There is no one on this earth I identify with more than my father. I love the gifts he has given me. I am empathetic, intuitive, emotional, humble, and wise because of my father. We share the same idiosyncrasies, habits, and ways of existing. The apple did not fall far from the tree. I have to remind myself every day that just because I am so much like him, doesn’t mean our futures look exactly the same. I want a very different future than my father but it does no good to convince myself we have the same destiny just because we share so many characteristics. I also identify with artists that inspire me most; Kimbra, Norah Jones, Radiohead, FKA Twigs, but what is so fascinating about these artists is that they are uniquely their own. Sure they had to be inspired first, but they had no room to be convinced they were destined to some imagined fate based on an  unproven theory. You are your own person. You are not your parents, your sister, your brother, or your best friend. You have unique powers they don’t have. Period.


    5) I have been sleeping.

     As an idealist, an ideator, and a romantic, I will run a daydream into the ground. It is incredibly difficult for me to be present unless I am creating something or figuring something out. I am always telling myself that “this is temporary, just wait…” when I could be telling myself “this is where you are now… what will you do today?”. I have got to stop sleeping when I could be rejoicing. A beautiful life is a choice. Unexpected rejection, sickness, and deaths are inevitable but on the other side of the coin is unexpected love, opportunity, and success. You can set yourself up for good fortune but it’s a choice you have to make... daily... I remember I moment this year I faced my loving roommate in tears. She said “Leah, reality doesn’t have to be sad.” Could it be more clear? Sometimes the simplest truths are the hardest to swallow. It’s time to wake up and rejoice in what I already have

    So as 2016 comes to a close, I have a lot to work with here. I've had several "sub-realizations" but they all come to a screeching halt at this single solution: Make it happen. My 2017 plan is to make shit happen without my own pressure of unrealistic goals, perfection, and 0% self-forgiveness. I'm going to be better about patting myself on the back whenever I try, even if the result is failure. All I need now is the the 2017 Kylie Jenner video explaining how "2017 will be the year of everyone just doing things." 

    I hope Kylie and I have inspired you in some way.




    Where Is The Love? (i.e. seriously, where is it?)

    Recently, I witnessed a lovely interaction between a kind-hearted father and his young son inside a small neighborhood’s local cafe. A light rain had just ceased and I was feeling the aches of nostalgia as I let myself choke-up again on post-heartbreak memories littered about everywhere I went. The adorable pair sat across from each other at a small table in the very center of the cafe. The boy told his father how much he loved the cheese on his sandwich and then asked if our president’s name was pronounced “Brock” or “Barack”. After they discussed Obama’s name, I watched as the father smiled at his son as he told the waitress this time how much he liked the cheese on sandwich. As I got up to leave, I debated approaching the two and telling them how much I enjoyed their conversation today. I decided against it, then left. I then realized that my decision to avoid a moment of vulnerability was a result of the all-American “afraid-to-smile” syndrome that seems to affect a majority of our population. Allow me to explain. I’m sometimes hesitant to smile at someone when I pass them on the street because I don’t want them to think I’m crazy which is totally backwards. When did being outwardly happy become so lame? In fact, I want to look kinda fierce because as a young, independent American in today’s progressive society, I’m not really allowed to be “crazy”. I’m supposed to be progressive, mobile, logical, head-strong, and do everything for myself. In the end, I am all I have. Right?

    Yes and no. I do believe part of the human duty is to learn and love in solitude because we can’t always shove the people we love into our own safe corners. We can’t own each other. And as much as you may feel connected to another soul, another body, another heart, you will always be your own unique entity. Personally, I struggle with this because I’m so passionate about people. I need them. When someone looks into my eyes and tells me they love me, it’s a binding contract. When they dishonor the contract (i.e. exit my heart with no plans to return), a part of me withers away and I have to regrow some roots. But no matter the generation, the plain and simple fact is that people are not always available and you must find the love within yourself in order to fully live. Period. With that said, I believe the other half of the human duty is to love one another because someone, be it “God”, be it “the magic”, be it “science” decided that it actually takes two human beings to make one and my subsequent reaction to this conscious understanding is a mind-blowing revelation fueling my belief that everything is connected by love. If we were all placed exactly on this mystery orb together at the same time, why not help each other figure some of it out and let some of it go? Don’t we all have issues? Why not be in love with each other?

    Yet I find I’m constantly asking the question “Where is the love?” because it seems as though society in all it’s progress and technological evolution has tucked away love. Now love is “too traditional”, “too impractical”, “too made-up”. We know now it’s all just chemical reactions, really. Right?

    Yes and no. I find it difficult to understand those who are satisfied with “it’s all chemical reactions”. Why keep making scientific discoveries then? Does a scientist not experiment out of love? If not, why do they do it? I can’t imagine it was easy to discover all the microscopic complexities of a chemical reaction. Someone had to keep trying for a reason...Ah, a reason…

    The reason has been replaced by massive billboards cheaply undermining sex for the sake of advertising products no one needs so that one guy can reel in wads and wads of cash. It’s as though a couple of power-hungry morons got lucky when they tripped over their egos and landed right into the sparkle party of their cunning sharpness. Along with our twisted idea of what sex is comes our need for status, for independence, for power because all of this seemingly equates to freedom. Why be tied to some deranged, fruity idea of acting out of love when we can climb the money ladder as fast as we possibly can just to spend whatever gold is at the top on looking dang good.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think independence is a beautiful thing. Comfortable independence opens up a world of opportunity to realize the love living inside your own heart that can manifest itself into a passion after the pursuit of a curiosity about a something. And I’m not talking about the fleeting pleasure of buying a new pair of sunglasses. I’m talking about the everlasting happiness of a practice. “Practice” is an intimidating word. It’s always turned me off because it makes me think of tedious, repetitive drilling but I’d like to redefine “practice” as consciously growing. The process of learning something new and I mean really learning something new doesn’t have to be tedious if you don’t want it to. If you’re acting out of love, it definitely does not have to.

     But we’ve lost love and are searching for it again in all the wrong places. Our iPhones are not gonna help us. Meaningless sex is also not the answer. Keeping to ourselves, doing it all for ourselves, and looking out for only ourselves will only solve half of the problem yet the “me” focus is the modern trend. I became keenly aware of this when one of my favorite college professors commented on how as much society has progressed in freedom and opportunity, it’s regressed in the individual ability to care about what really matters. We have to ask ourselves “What am I really here for?” and “So what?”.

    So what if I had approached the father and son duo in the cafe the other day? I imagine the worst thing that could have happened was a rejection of my act of vulnerability. They certainly could have thought I was “crazy” and denied my friendly gesture. But the boy was “crazy” enough to tell his waitress that he loved the cheese on his sandwich. If this boy is so unabashedly himself, why can’t we all be? Might I suggest we start believing in something again… (i.e. love).


    Broken Lovers, Wise Mothers, and Tall Friends


    A split second shot through my grief in which I realized I was shifting my bagel back and forth millimeters at a time on its paper bag for no other reason than to awkwardly compensate for the sheer discomfort I felt in my body and in my heart.  This was my subsequent reaction to the exact moment I knew it was over. In this moment, he had remorsefully dropped a truth bomb neither of us wanted to hear. Nothing he said or did was unforgivable. He was mature and honest enough to agree on the disconnect I voiced (I avoid moving into specifics to respect the unspoken confidentiality of our conversation). I could feel heartbreak's cold frost quickly moving through my arteries. My body started to freeze in place. I had to make a move. So with shaking hands, I gathered my belongings and we parted ways. *Sigh*. 

    Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical slogan from Slaughterhouse 5 repeated itself over and over again on the newly scratched record spinning through my mind’s turntable: “So it goes. So it goes. So it goes.” as if my heartbreak was comparable to World War II. I cried through a summery Millennium Park, dodging baby strollers, brothers, mothers, and lovers hand-in-hand. I found an empty bench in an empty clearing and called my mother. My brilliant mother, instead of coddling me, will lay out magic pills of wisdom giving me the option to choose whether or not to swallow them. One I’ve tried several times that used to hurt so bad sliding down my throat was “Patience. Let time do her magic.” or “You could have it so much worse.” This time it was “At least he was honest enough to tell you that. It’s hard to be in love at 20.” to which I tried to counter argue with “But what if I never find someone as special?” and “Yeah, but what’s the point of not loving someone deeply?” Her response? “You’ll be so much better at being in love at age 50 than you are now. Trust me. And I know how important relationships are to you but work on your one with music right now because what if you couldn’t play music?”

    What the heck, mom. What the heck.

    But seeing as my mother is 300-some miles away, I am so grateful to be granted the nearness of my roommate Signe (“like ‘Sidney’ with a G” she cheerfully tells everyone she meets); an intelligent, empathetic, charismatic, 6 foot, platinum blond, Austrian-blooded goddess who I met during college orientation two years ago. She is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Her emotional energy is fiercely external and unyielding which can occasionally be like entering a cave with a fire-breathing dragon. But it’s hard to ignore how her piercing, gradient-green dragon eyes x-ray longingly into your soul as she not only feels responsible for her own emotions, she feels an intense duty to save everyone’s from danger. Talk about empathy. She’s graced with an ever-present ray of sunlight that outlines her aura in an infectious glow and remains as a hushed simmer even after her dragon-fire has been put out by her own grief. And all of this has been revealed to me via the great “magic of time” my mother has told me about. The more time I spend getting to know Signe, the more I am drawn to her. The more she consistently reveals that she will always be warmly and empathetically there for me during times of trial, the more I can confirm the importance of the roles we play in each others lives. Because as great as crying on the bathroom floor by oneself is, having a friend to hold makes the experience much more hopeful.

    And then there’s Sam, Signe’s sweet as can be boyfriend. Tall, white, brown-haired Sam Johnson. His ordinary name and all-American looks don’t do his uniquely graceful character justice. While Signe likes to think out loud, Sam will quietly steady his thoughts before sharing. And despite his masculine internalization, he has a surprising social intuition and a large emotional capacity. Sam holds true to a humble duty to do right by people by being there for them despite convenience. I recently won an open mic competition and while I had a solid support crew for the final round, anxiety alone was my dingy date during round one. Signe had to work that evening, so I had asked Sam instead if he could hang out with me that night and watch me play. I remember his friendly-toned, classic-Sam response; “of course” and low-and-behold he showed up, stayed with me through the night, and walked me home while he let me talk the whole thirty minute way back about my anxieties regarding how it feels to be disconnected from someone I desperately wanted to know. He didn’t interrupt. He didn’t tell me what I “should” do. He only asked me questions for the sake of helping me, for the sake of being there for me, after the gears turned in his thoughtful head… What a guy.

    I’ve started to call Signe and Sam “Mom” and “Dad” because not only do they listen to my aches and pains, console me, and offer intelligent insight, they also feed me pancakes and egg skillets in the morning. I say “What can I do to help you guys?” They say “You can set the table Leah.” And then I do the dishes after.

    And although it’s hard to shake the memories of loving intimacy with a someone you know in the heart of your heart will continue to be more than just a “someone”, it is truly remarkable to confidently say I have the arms of my loving friends to fall into when I am feeling less than a “someone” myself.

    So “ba ba Barbara Ann”, thank you Signe and Sam for taking my hand.

    P.S. Thank you to my incredible mother as well. I could write a novel honoring you.

    "Sagne" 08/10/16

    "Sagne" 08/10/16

    Tree Leaves (Welcome)

    Hello friends and welcome to my attempt to reveal who I am via the minuscule portal of the internet. I've never been particularly drawn to small talk although I do recognize its initial power to welcome. However, I'm here to be genuine. Always have been, always will be, because why be any other way? So, with that understood, I offer you the sincerest welcome into my world. It's a strange, deep place, but so is yours. And I believe beauty graces everything we know to exist. The decision to see beauty lies in our own hands because it won't always be obvious. That's the beauty of beauty. I hope you decide to let it grace you in some way.

    I once told my mother (the single person I tell everything to) that I'm affected by life's nuances in the same way tree leaves are affected by the slightest pull in the wind (and yes, this idea has subsequently inspired a song). I figured this genetic characteristic is impossible to change but as long as I'm rooted, I can't be destroyed by my hyper-sensitivity. My hyper-sensitivity is such a crucial part to who I am. My music would be non-existent without my ability to be deeply affected by anything and everything that I see and feel. Yes, it is a whirlwind of a time to exist in my skin but I also know I'm not alone. The artists that inspire me most remind me of this. My mother reminds me of this. Trees and their quivering leaves remind me of this. I am not alone. My biggest challenge is being able to recognize how to regrow my roots when they've crumbled due to a force that's weakened me beyond a couple lost leaves. Is it patience? Is it faith? Is it taking action? Is it finding new roots? The answers will find me at the meeting spot of time and experience. During the time that I grow (which will be all of the time that I'm alive), I must always be doing and while fear can come along for the ride, it certainly can't drive (an idea I have to give author Elizabeth Gilbert credit for. Please read her. She is an astounding individual.). Letting fear drive is like letting winter stay forever. Yes, my tree leaves do shrivel and die during winter-like times but they regrow the minute I decide to let spring work its magic.

    So now at the tender age of 20, I've learned that spring will not come to me until I find a way to let it in. And throughout my journey of finding ways to let spring in, I will get scared, I will make mistakes, I will lose, and I will fail. But I won't stop creating, loving, and growing because why not transfer the energy of a slight shake in my leaves into something bigger and even more beautiful? I am fully aware that the deeper I go, the more at risk I am of being broken. But I've already been defeated several times and I have survived. And I must say, it is inexplicably more worthwhile to touch the bottom than to scratch the surface.

    Welcome to my world. I encourage you to listen to my sounds and words. See if you can relate to anything. It does not have to be word for word, sound for sound but please realize that as much as I am here for me, I am here for you. I am here to create for myself but I'm also here to share and connect with those who are open. Everything is connected. It doesn't take long for me to fall in love with someone. It doesn't take long for me to decide that someone is worthy and deserving of so much love. Please comment, tell me about yourself, show me who you are. Tell me what makes your tree leaves move and please stay tuned for the revealing of what I have in the works...

    Much thanks and much love,

    - Leah Jean