gwen learns

honest hymns: february

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on March 3, 2015

January was about grief.  I ended this job that I’d been at for a year and a half… my first kitchen.  I know it’s not like losing a loved one, but I try to pay attention to quieter losses and acknowledge the subtler grief that follows.

February was about what’s next, and asking God all these questions… what my life is amounting to, where I’m headed, and what’s the better path…

Am I Waiting in a Line (<–click for song)

Am I waiting in a line / Or am I heading somewhere / Will this ticket just expire / Or can you make it something // What is a life well lived? / Is it bleeding hearts and hands in the mud? / Or just being faithful? // Am I waiting for the end? / Will this story matter?


honest hymns

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on January 12, 2015

I finally have my keys with me. Piano keys, of course… As always, I’m still looking for my apartment keys. But I’ve been fiddling around and I think I might write a little song every month in 2015… a sort of “song journal.”

The world needs more honest hymns. While “was lost but now I’m found” is a great story, sometimes I want one song to talk about the lost part. When God confuses me or seems impossible, I want to write about that without feeling obligated to resolve my emotions in a song. This is how I pray.  I tell God exactly where I am and ask him to work in me.

So here’s January (click to listen).

In this song I tell God I want truth more than I want hope.  The day after I wrote this, I walked through the subway on my way to work, and an evangelist was shouting “Jesus is truth” again and again. Not “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” like you’d expect to hear from a preacher.  Just “Jesus is truth.” Things like this happen every once in a while, and I try to take it with a grain of salt, but either way I’m listening.


Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on August 19, 2014

I’ve been daydreaming a lot lately.  Yesterday, as I was walking to see The Giver, I started flying.  It was such a leisurely, casual swim through the air that no one noticed.  I soaked in the sun.  Flew to some of my favorite buildings, especially the ones with round corner rooms, and I wondered how I would fill them.  It usually involves a piano… I’m playing a simple, tight succession of chords while looking longingly out the window.  I’m even sad in my dreams.

The other one that has come up a lot lately is the 23rd St. yellow line hat dream.  I never get off at this stop, but all along the platform are these hats, mosaics on the wall. Just floating, whimsical hats. I imagine myself making a ghost-like jump through the window pane onto an inverted purple bowler’s hat. I start weaving through the subway tunnels, chasing trains.

I have another one that has to do with this sign:


The boom box started it… mostly because we don’t have boom boxes anymore and it makes me think of John Cusack.  So I usually imagine a crowd of people rebelling against these signs but getting it all wrong. Like instead of cigarettes, the people are all waving these batons with flowing material coming out of one end.  The middle littering man picture varies… sometimes it’s a bunch of people doing a weird dance with yo-yo’s or glitter. And the boom box one I of course imagine everyone dressed up and posing like John Cusack with the thing on their shoulder… except that it’s quiet because they all have their phones, listening through headphones.

My daydreams are mostly in transit, when I’m walking or taking the subway. I’ve got two related categories of things falling on me versus me falling down into things. The former are fears and the latter are exhilirating. So I’ll imagine an air conditioner or big block of ice break away from a building and crush me into the sidewalk. Or the elevator will get loose from it’s pulleys and I will free fall into a pillow at the bottom of the shaft. The falling ones always involve a pillow… Restaurants have these sidewalk entrances into their basements like storm cellars in the midwest. I imagine myself walking toward one of those, not realizing it’s open and falling down into a pillow and laughing.  So I suppose my dreams are more happy than sad. 

The way thunder sounds… and other things I love about “the city”

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on August 19, 2014

– The way thunder sounds. It echoes off the buildings and sounds like bombs are being dropped in the city.

– Conversations with strangers.  It doesn’t happen everyday, but occasionally someone starts saying something to you and you don’t mind responding. Sometimes it is drunk people on my walk home, but don’t tell this to my mom.

– Food, languages, colors… all in great variety.

– The magic of the express train, especially when it pulls up as you reach the platform.

– Feeling like the hulk when you pry open closing train doors.

– Running in Central Park

– Walking everywhere

– The peace of a snowstorm and a Sunday morning (esp. the 5am-6am window)

– Union Square Farmers’ Market… on Saturday when it’s crazy, on all the other days when it’s not… I love it.

– Slices… Prince Street Pizza, John’s near Union Square after work.

– Delivery… from pretty much whatever restaurant for no delivery fee. Also, delivery of laundry and basic stuff like paper towels… though I haven’t really gotten that far.

– The ability to find any ingredient you want.

– I love how a place like Chipotle, which seems necessary in other cities, has become quite unnecessary in this city with a wealth of options.

– Broadway. Musicals. Plays. Talented people coming together to entertain and inspire. And the ability to get reasonable tickets if you live on a budget.

– Giving directions to tourists, then realizing you gave them the wrong directions (almost 95% of the time), then chasing them down the street (okay I don’t do this every time).

– Being forced into simplicity because of the size of your apartment and the cost of living.

– Elaborate, ridiculous storefronts. My favorite right now is the life-size purple and black zebra at Alexis Bittar. When I first moved here, they had a turquoise buffalo.

– Community gardens.

– Parks with big trees.

– Parks in general… people sitting on benches. Musicians. Artists. Fountains. Playgrounds. Picnics… it all makes me happy.

– When cafes spill onto the sidewalk and you know spring is coming.

– The difficult game of trying to avoid eye contact with people when the train is packed.

– Fireflies in parks and gardens in the summertime.

– Paper vortexes on the sidewalk on windy days.

– Abandoned, broken umbrellas on rainy and windy days.

– The ability to go places anytime of the day and night, but especially at night.

– The magic of Christmas in New York.

I may come back and continue to expand this list… been keeping a list on my phone.

and i couldn’t have guessed.

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on October 26, 2012

a prayer i wrote back in february.

A Closed Book?

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on August 9, 2012

It usually happens around a table.  Your friends have had their turn, they’ve shared some crazy story from their job or their latest Oprah-esque “aha” moment.  You’ve been mesmerized by their ability to compose a narrative on the fly, with all the right exaggerations and details and comedic timing.  But eventually, if the group is the right size and the occasion is long enough, you start to feel the pressure rising… your turn is coming up soon.

It’s not that you don’t have anything to say… your mind is full, you just aren’t sure where to start.  And once you do start, you aren’t the type to offer a lot of opinions or conclusions, and you feel like that’s what people want to hear.  But if you exist in this tension long enough without delivering, without speaking up, you start feeling like a closed book.

I started feeling this way about a year ago.  Not only was I in daily contact with two of the most open books I’ve ever met (my roommate and my boss), but I went on a few dates with yet another open book.  Talk about an intimidating table.  I would share a story, a piece of my world with him, and he wanted the whole universe… or at least that’s how it felt.    I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me.    I wondered if I had made my heart “impenetrable”, hiding it in the “casket of [my] selfishness”…

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.  – C.S. Lewis

I’m grateful to have a father who understands me.  He said I am a closed book and I need to own that.  I probably won’t share everything with any one person, but I do give pieces of it away to different people.  “Closed book” probably isn’t the right metaphor, but honestly, it is how I feel around extroverts (at least those who aren’t self-centered and expect me to reciprocate).

So where does someone like me feel most open?  Usually in places where there’s a lot of nonverbal activity and not all the pressure is on a conversation.  When I’m immersed in raw nature, on a hike or a walk on the beach. Playing cards or board games.  Listening to music.  Making music.  Driving and listening to music.  Dancing.  Cooking with friends.  All of these are valid conversations in my world.  All of these are my book wide open.  I’m counting on you to not miss out on that, both for my sake and for others like me. 🙂

changing things up.

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on February 2, 2012

Been thinking about changing the look of my place, and thought I’d share some sources of inspiration.

1. Etsy

Click here to see my favorites on Etsy.  I love searching “upcycled” or “recycled” and just being in awe of the way that people re-purpose things.

So my mom collects this green depression glassware, and I recently discovered that they have this pretty light purple color (which was originally clear/colorless and has since been turned purple by the sun).   And NOW…. I like it even more because I googled it and found some people who get really upset over the fact that this antique glass has been “nuked”.  Not sure I’ll ever collect anything, but if I do, I could see myself starting with this controversy-laden lavender glass.

This is what I envision my new living room to look like:

2. Dreamy Whites

A minimalist version of shabby chic.  Maria, the creator of this blog and these photos has this style that I’m in love with!

3. Houzz (iPad app and website)

A great app and website for ideas and brainstorming.  It’s pretty much just thousands of interior design photos.  On the app, you can easily tag pictures to an “ideabook” to save for later.  On the website, I suggest using the search feature and  just browsing.

4. Urban Outfitters (Apartment stuff)

Back when Allison was my roommate, I found this magazine on our coffee table one day.  Ever since then, I’ve been checking out their apartment section for inspiration.

Always read the preface.

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on January 12, 2012

So I always feel compelled to read the preface… I feel like it’s either one of those things that publishers make mandatory or authors feel compelled to include, and since I’m not sure when it’s the latter, I always just read it.  Last night I started reading Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People and came across this great quote, and yep… you guessed it… I found it in the preface.


Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on December 30, 2011

For a while now I’ve been wanting to highlight a few movies that I believe are underrated (ie. should have won more Academy Awards) but fell victim to the “released-too-early-in-the-year” curse.  I noticed in the last couple days that my newsfeed was full of stories about why box office revenues have dipped this year, and my (unsubstantiated) theory is that it’s b/c all the good movies are now released in the last two weeks of the year.  People’s memories are weak… so in order to secure an Oscar nomination and win, they have to wait till the end of the year to show their movie.  But who has enough extra money or time around the holidays to see 10 great movies?

Anyway, here are two movies that I believe should have won more Academy Awards earlier this year:

Shutter Island

(released February 19, 2010)

This movie has everything!  (spoiler alert… don’t read on if you don’t want to know what happens)

1.  You get TWO movies for the price of one.  Once you find out what in the world is going on near the end of the movie, you have to watch it again.  Some characters that seriously disturbed you on the first run-through will become another person entirely on the second viewing.  Much of the dialogue will take on a different meaning.

2. How this movie deals with violence, and how it affects the main character… a fascinating theme throughout.  First, you have the Nazi concentration camp where Andrew chooses to let this Nazi officer suffer instead of letting him end his own life quickly.  Then you have his wife, someone he loves, who also committed an act of violence.  She also asks for a quick way out, but this time he gives the offender what she asks for.  It’s possible this is his way of forgiving her, but I think it’s more about setting her free from punishment and her own insanity.  Then, at the end you have this great line at the end of the movie spoken by Andrew himself: “Which would be worse – to live as a monster? Or to die as a good man? “… and we are led to believe (at least in my opinion) that Andrew has chosen to go under the knife so he won’t cause anymore violence himself.

3. This movie deals a lot with truth vs. fiction and fantasy.   In fact, it’s really all about how fiction can lead you to the truth.  I think many critics of this movie sort of rejected this crazy idea that a mental institution would allow this sort of fantasy to be played out.  To that I would say, of course it’s ridiculous!  I think the characters are aware of how unusual it is.  But I just think it’s fascinating how letting the main character live out this fantasy is in itself a fantasy for the psychologists in the movie.  And I do believe that fiction and fantasy can more often lead you to the truth than non-fiction.  It’s the difference between law and the principle behind the law… something Jesus lived out.  It’s why I believe he so often chose fictional stories to communicate his message.

4.  The music.  From the first deep horn sounds that are like a boat signaling to the dock (and also a signal to the audience that we’re entering eery territory).   Then all the way to the end credits, where you find this brilliant mix of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” and a modern classical piece “On the Nature of Daylight” that’s played in key scenes throughout the movie.  And then everything in between….  I just couldn’t believe this wasn’t a score!  It’s just well-chosen pre-published music.   Pretty amazing.

5. Not a horror movie!  The trailers were pretty deceptive.  They made it look like a horror movie, but I think it’s really in the drama/mystery/psychological thriller arena.

6. Water and fire.  Just pay attention to how they use these two elements during the course of this movie.  They did a good job of weaving these throughout.

How to Train Your Dragon

(released: March 26, 2010)

Don’t get me wrong… I am a big fan of Pixar, and I really liked Toy Story 3, but in 2010, How to Train Your Dragon was the winner in my book.  Just watch it and see for yourself!

Steve Jobs and Legacy

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on November 11, 2011

A couple weeks ago, I read Steve Jobs’ biography.  I don’t really want to get into whether or not I think he needed to be cruel and manipulative to come up with beautiful products, whether I believe in open vs. closed, or whether I think he was more of an artist or a salesman.  I just want to talk about the last chapter, which, believe it or not, is entitled “Legacy.”

I’ve never really been that attracted to the idea of legacy.  It gives me a sort of sick feeling in my stomach, and words like “self-promoting” and “futile” come to mind.  But needless to say, whenever someone dies, everyone starts going crazy over this word.

Steve Jobs believed his legacy was creating a company that lasts.  He wanted to create a company among the ranks of Disney, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard, all of which he considered to innovate long after their initial innovator was no longer around.

But let me ask a question, a question that I’m grateful the author asked Steve in the last few paragraphs of the book.

What lasts?

What really lasts?  I remember asking myself this question when I was 15.  I wasn’t thrilled with my life.  I didn’t get high school.   I didn’t get why everyone had to get good grades, the first of many necessary achievements in life like college and having a family… all leading to this one ending point of death.  Steve Jobs didn’t like it either.  He even teased that’s why Apple devices never had an on-off switch.

The thing with this question is… it really has two branches.

The first: What lasts, given life is just an on-off switch? When I read the passage above as a 15 year-old, it was the first time in my life somebody was answering this branch of the question dead-on directly.  Nothing lasts!  No one is going to remember you!  If your life just ends, nothing you do matters!  Meaningless.

The second: What lasts, given we somehow live after we die?  This question doesn’t have a direct answer.  Some say it’s wide-open with possibility and hope; others say it’s crazy or a dream.

Statistics say most of you hang out in the second branch.  I don’t buy it… I don’t believe what people put on surveys.  When people fill out surveys they aren’t lying in their bed, alone, in the dark, and staring at the ceiling (what I believe to be the go-to setting for honesty).  I’ve believed in God since I was a teenager and I still have those moments in the dark where I question it all.

At the end of his life, Steve Jobs was 50/50 on that second question.  He hadn’t given up on it.  I don’t know how far into my life I am, but I’m not giving up on it either.

P.S. Eulogy for Steve from his sister