I almost flew solo this week, but Thursday Top Five doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, so Cat Stroh of the Gazette‘s “Cooking With Catherine” column joins me this week in Joe Korba’s place. I believe this topic was my idea, so that may be why it was easy for me to come up with five things that make me feel inspired—inspired to write, to see and try new things, to do good for others, to live my life to the fullest. Inspiration can hit in big or small ways and it doesn’t always present itself as a bright flash of motivation. Other times, it’s just a feeling of contentment, of knowing you’re doing okay, of being ready to take on the world one baby step at a time. I feel inspired every time I interview a person or organization doing great things for the community in my Blue Mountain’s Best feature or when I see someone being kind to a stranger. I think it’s important to find those little flashes in the day-to-day because allowing yourself to be swept up in monotony is a drain on what we’re capable of as humans; inspiration breeds creativity, something I’m quite prone to advocate for as a writer, along with positive vibes. Who couldn’t use a little more of that in their lives? That being said, here are ten things (or people or places) that never fail to give us that little jolt.
—Danielle Tepper, Editor
1. The Ocean
Being born and raised a shore kid (and fueled by my childhood obsession with “The Little Mermaid”), I developed a deep and intense love for the ocean early in life. I love the heady aroma of sea air and the feel of my salt-encrusted skin when I leave the water, how alive I feel after being tossed around by the waves for a while and how just being close enough to hear them crashing on the beach rejuvenates my soul. (Trust me, I hear the cheese in that statement, but nevertheless, it’s true.) I call it my “happy place” and I go through periods of withdrawal, particularly during the winter months. Leaving the sea behind when I moved to PA was one of the hardest parts of the process. I’m transfixed by the immensity of it and fascinated by how it works, what lives in it, what makes it so powerful. I’ve always believed that if I hadn’t discovered such a love of writing and journalism, I would’ve studied marine biology. I can’t say what it is about it that affects me so deeply, but any time spent near churning, frothy water leaves me feeling completely recharged and ready to plow forward with whatever life has next in store. When I finally caught a break and got a job as a staff writer for a newspaper group in New Jersey and was abruptly let go less than a month after being hired, I drove myself straight to Sea Bright Beach where I sat on the sand for three hours, just staring at the horizon, planning my next move. For me, the ocean will always equal therapy.
2. Black & White Portrait Photography
One of my biggest passions is black and white photography, specifically with my 35mm camera. Sure, the digital age and color is fantastic, but there is something so quietly breathtaking about black and white prints. Somehow they say so much more and leave so much to the imagination and can be so thought-provoking and conveying. How amazing is it to be able to say so much without saying a thing at all? There is just something about loading your camera with your own film, developing it yourself, immersing your hands in developer and fixer. Perusing through black and white portrait shots gets my heart racing at all the potential in the world and the beauty in a simple yet complex photograph.
3. Ellen DeGeneres
The pun has been made a hundred times over—America’s sweetheart and favorite talk show host’s last name should be spelled DeGenerous. She was a pioneer when it came to bravely bringing homosexuality into the media spotlight and she has since paved the way for a new brand of talk show format, where the audience and viewers can sit as friends and use her hour of jokes, gags, and laid-back celebrity interviewing as a form of escapism. She encourages everyone to dance off their stresses and be kind to one another—and she leads by example. Ellen has partnered with big name sponsors like Target and Shutterfly to give deserving people new cars, briefcases full of cash, college educations, and dreams come true. Her wildly famous celebrity selfie (above) during her second stint as Oscar host in 2014 was the most re-Tweeted image in the social networking platform’s history and raised over three million dollars with help from Samsung. She donated half of that to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the other half to the Humane Society of the United States. Her infectious optimism and honest belief that humor can change the world is my daily dose of feeling like I should try to better both myself and the way I relate to others. We can all do more.
Paper. Pages. Ink. Binding. Words. All these things convey a warm, happy, safe environment; books are home to me. I grew up loving books, loving reading, loving the written word. Books inspire me to not only be a book hoarder and create my own ridiculously lavish library, but to go forth and spread the word, to write down my own words, to fill my brain with as many words that I can fit in there. I admit, I do have a Kindle, however I don’t like it. Nothing beats holding a nice large book, turning the pages, being able to see your progress; if it’s a library book, even better. Books have always been one of my biggest inspirations and they always will be. I cherish them dearly and am not ashamed to say that they mean everything to me.
5. Animal Activists
I admire anyone who gives a voice to the voiceless and isn’t afraid to show society the dirty underbelly of certain industries. Becoming an animal lover and welfare advocate was a somewhat slow process for me, but it’s something that has settled in and taken root. There are a handful of key figures whom I admire, such as Steve Irwin and Ric O’Barry, two men who dedicated their lives to righting the wrongs done to defenseless creatures. Noble work by organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA gives me hope for a kinder future, one where animals aren’t targets because of what humans can take from them. Every time I see a happy ending where an abused animal has been adopted into a loving home or a new law is created for the protection of endangered species, it pushes me to add my voice to the mix and advocate, albeit in small ways, for the greater good and inevitable future where we learn to evolve and find new ways to procure meat, eggs, fur, ivory, and more—or to find that we can simply live without them.
6. The World
Sure, it may sound lame, but the world inspires me. There are so many beautiful places to go, so many amazing things to see, such unique cultures to experience. How am I ever going to see them all? Will I even get to see any of them? I sure hope so. Looking at pictures of different countries fills me with such wanderlust it hurts. Yes, the United States has a huge variety of things to offer, awesome sights to see, but my main goal is to make it out of the country. I don’t like leaving my little comfort zone bubble but I have this inexplicable ache, an overwhelming yearning to see what the world has to offer besides Pennsylvania. My top places to go are: Iceland (above), Germany, New Zealand, Paris, Italy, Switzerland, and wherever I can get to first where the sand is pure white and the water is crystal blue.
It’s rare that you find your passion so early in life, but I was one of those lucky few. I discovered books and reading, then writing, and with writing came poetry, short stories, novels, then finally, journalism. With journalism, I realized I could shape a career around the things that I loved. And I love pop culture. The arts. Film. Performance art. Painting. Singing. Acting. Art encompasses so many various outlets of expression, all of which have long been a source of inspiration for me, even if I’m unable to do some (OK, most) of them myself. For me, the hub of all creativity lies in two places: New York and Los Angeles. They sit like bookends on opposite sides of the country, holding everyone’s creative juices in place. I’ve been dying to tour L.A. for years, because it’s the source of so many of my favorite things (like movies and television), but New York will always be near and dear to my heart. I may have never lived in it, but I’ve worked in it, I play in it, and I. Love. It. The city just pulses with energy and I feel like a livewire as I walk down the street. I always have this insane thought when I leave after a visit of, what the hell am I doing with my life? New York somehow always leaves me feeling inadequate and that much more determined to reach and achieve greatness.
8. Augusten Burroughs
Augusten Burroughs is one of my all-time favorite authors. He is an American writer known for his bestselling memoirs like Running with Scissors, Dry, Magical Thinking, Possible Side Effects, and his novel, Sellevision. He is hilarious, so brutally honest, and a magnificent writer to boot. The things he has had to overcome in his life are horrifying and devastating; the fact that he was able to come out on the other side and write New York Times bestselling books when he never even graduated high school and basically stopped going to school in middle school speaks volumes. He has always inspired me to be honest, speak what is on my mind, to read, and he gets the creative juices flowing. I feel like I know him from all his books and he is towards the top of my list of people I’d love to meet.
9. Beautiful Places
I love to travel. I’ve been lucky enough to visit new and exciting places for most of my life, because my parents understand the value of a good family vacation (like our summer of 2014 trip to St. Lucia, pictured above). We’ve been to spots mainly located in the Caribbean due to our crazy affection for cruises and turquoise water, but they’ve all been magical. Whether it was swimming with stingrays in Grand Cayman or tasting poi in Hawaii, tearing down a Virginia mountaintop strapped to a 900-foot long zipline or exploring the sea caves of Virgin Gorda, all of my travel experiences have furthered my desire to truly see the world before I have to leave this earth. There is simply so much to do and see and taste and hear and smell and feel and …
Nature inspires me every single day, whether it’s to quick get my phone out so I can take a picture of something that simply cannot wait, or to string together some sort of poem that describes how beautiful whatever I saw was. My boyfriend constantly mocks me that I have to take a picture of every sunset, every sunrise (when I’m awake), every interesting plant or animal or droplet of water sitting ever so precariously on a leaf. Why must I photo document everything, he asks? Because I can’t resist. Nature is too fantastic to not photo document every moment of. I must at least try to capture it.