The Shell

My whole entire life, I've walked around with an invisible shell covering me. A shell that would only open for a few people. A shell that kept me away from the outside world. Most of the time, I didn't mind having this shell, and looking back - I am so grateful it was there. It made me unique and worth getting to know. At the time, I felt like I was the only one going through this. Perhaps it was because my shell was made out of indestructible material. But I know there are other young girls out there wanting to break out of their shell so they can let themselves shine to the world. And I want to inspire those girls. Let me tell you my story.

This was me at 15 years old, at LeakyCon.
Nerding out and fangirling at meeting
Andrew Sims, one of my favorites. 
This shell kept me from being myself around everyone. Every time I would talk to someone, a screening process would go through my head. I didn't ever know what to say or do. And when someone actually did like me, I was so happy because I felt...irrelevant. I was a cute little awkward nerd who appreciated my individuality and the little things in life. Lauren Fairweather, indie musician helped my throughout this time with lyrics like "If I have moments of insanity, the only one hearing them is me. In my head, it gets pretty lonely. I've been silenced by my own insecurity." and "He knew there was more to here than what appeared, she just isn't in her element when she's stuck here. And while he tried to bring her out of her shell, she realized she was under his spell." I always felt like there was so much to me on the inside but I barely knew how to express it. Maybe I was afraid, maybe I wasn't certain who I was yet. I felt most comfortable when I was alone with my thoughts yet I was craving love from other people. This made things complicated.

This isn't even half of it.
Regardless, I was trying SO hard to break out of this shell. I was always happy in my own little nerdy world, dreaming of what could be. I have boxes, boxes in boxes, and boxes in boxes in boxes of poems and songs I wrote, old photos, comics I made, notes I received, diaries, stories - you name it. I was always a writer, and always will be. To this day, it's how I express my feelings. I've been writing continuously since 4th grade. In these boxes, there is evidence of the following things: me being a hopeless romantic, me being overdramatic, and the existence of this shell around me. This shell was so powerful it felt like I couldn't even express myself. I remember liking this boy so much at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school and I would literally have to plan our interactions with one another. I was memorizing potential dialogue because I knew if I didn't, my breath would get caught in my throat and my heart would stop beating. I realize today he obviously had some interest in me because he wouldn't even bother talking to me if he didn't. Back then, there was really nothing there unless you wanted to look deep enough. Now that I am out of this shell, this guy would do anything to be with me but unfortunately it is too late for him. There would be times I would peek out of the shell for a little bit, and people loved it. People would like me for my unexpected, creative sense of humor. I would come up with a signature joke and then all the sudden the whole class would be doing it for months. Yet even with that in mind, I felt like it was so hard to break out of this shell.

Going through these boxes, I found old writings about this stage of my life. This is from a poem I wrote: "Black car, blending in with the night. Red car, shining in the sunlight. Black car is breaking down. Red car is the talk of the town. White car come along. They say opposites attract, with the exception of the red cadillac. The stoplight turns green, the red car goes. But by the time the black car caught up, the stop light said slow." Don't mind my awkward rhyme scheme and cheesy metaphors...I was still an amateur. (haha) I was the black car: unnoticed, slow, blending in. The white car was the guy I liked: pure, unattainable, close enough but no closer. And the red car was the girl I felt I was in competition with: beautiful, unique, and not hard to spot. This was how I felt back then, believe it or not.

Expectation vs Reality
To the right, you'll see a comic. At the time, my friends and I would draw each other comics as a joke. By friends, I mean my current boyfriend, Andrew. *chuckles* You can see at the beginning of the comic, I'm hiding in my shell. Then, I have a realization - and try to plan a scenario where I break out of the shell. The expectation is that I break out of the shell confidently, winning the guy's heart. But the reality of it is that I'm still stuck in the shell - miserable as ever. Just to clarify, this post is not about changing who you are to please others. It's about being your true self to please yourself. AND THAT, my friends, will please the entire world. I have so many more diary entries and poems trapped inside those boxes about this subject, and a hundred others. I'm not going to blabber on about it, but if you're interested in more - let me know and I will gladly share them with you.

I was in this shell my whole life up into the middle of sophomore year. I was talking to one of my friends the other day, and he said, "What changed? There was such a sudden, noticeable change in you after sophomore year. Everything was so different." I get this question a lot, and I answer it the same way every time, "I found myself. It was always there I just never knew how to express it." I remember when I first got bangs. That was the start of my soul searching, my journey to self discovery. When I cut my bangs, I was symbolizing breaking out of the shell. I wanted people to see my how I am. And they did. I cut my hair how I wanted to, wore the clothes I wanted to, read the books I wanted to, ate the food I wanted to. I changed myself mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. People noticed me because I was myself. 

I want every young girl out there to realize you NEVER have to change to please anyone. You don't have to be outgoing, you don't have to be skinny. You don't have to wear designer clothes and you don't have to have a bunch of guys all over you. You don't have to have a lot of friends. You just have to be yourself and do what feels right for you. Smile at the fact that you're different! YOU ARE SO SPECIAL. YOU ARE SO LOVELY. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL INSIDE AND OUT. 

I am grateful that this shell is no longer defining me. I am myself, I am free. I am confident, I am happy.
I love myself and the world loves me too.

Break out of your shell.
Take your time.
Love yourself.
I AM HERE, for YOU.

- Maria Elena



Ethereal Interviews: OCTOBER 2013 x IRIS RAY



 Iris Ray is the definition of ethereal. When I look at her, I think, "how is this woman real?" She's heavenly and mesmerizing. It's not her flawless beauty that intrigues me though, it's how truly unique she really is. I respect her because she IS real, although it may not seem like it. She's inspired me for years. She has never hesitated to be herself.  Talented in every art form, this lady is going to go far. 

Check her out:
facebook.com/IrisRayPage
instagram: @irrisrray
ivory-and-gold.tumblr.com

Enjoy the interview, beautiful beings!


1. When I look at you I see a genuine old soul, with a very playful, kind heart. Your artistic depth amazes me sometimes. When did you start to realize you were so artistic?
I've always been an artistic kid, always had a creative passion and drawn to the abnormal. I don't think I really know that I was artistic though until about 6th or 7th grade. When you're in elementary school and you're different, no one really cares. But when you're in middle school and you're different, no one lets you forget it. I guess once people started pointing out how I was different, that's when I began to get that I was artistic. Though it was much, much later that I really embraced the artistic side of me.

2. I've noticed just by following you on social networks over the years, you have so many cute quirks. How important do you think expressing yourself is and what does it mean to you?
Oh my gosh, I think that expressing yourself is hands down the most important thing for a person to do. How you express yourself is only for you to decide, but I think it's imperative for every single person to proudly and boldly be themselves. You DESERVE it! I struggled with this a lot in my early teens. I suppressed all of the parts of me that I loved because I was afraid of rejection. For years, I was someone that I loathed. I carried this heaviness on me all of the time. Later on in high school, I realized that I was miserable and it had to stop. After I finally embraced myself, I gained the most outstanding people in my life. I made friends with people like me! If I had never expressed who I am, I would have never attracted such like-minded, lovely people. Expressing myself has also opened up a ton of doors for me through cosplaying, modeling, acting, and the like. Basically, expressing myself is everything to me.

3. Describe your high school experience and what you learned from it.
Oh wow. This is hard, but here it goes!
My entire grade school career, I went to private school. My high school was very small; this meant that everyone knew everything about everyone else... or at least they would think they did. Also, dogma was like a second language there. I swear, some of the stuff people would say... sometimes I felt like I was stuck in an empty room with nothing but a TV, and the only channel it played was Fox News. BUT! That's not to say that I hated high school. Okay, I mean, sometimes I did. But I actually received some great mentorship there, made far more good memories than bad, and I had the absolute greatest group of friends. We affectionately nicknamed ourselves "The Study Group" because of our favorite show, Community (cute, right?!). Seriously, my friends were my reason for crawling out of bed during my junior and senior years. 
I think everyone struggles through high school; you're creating who you are, and it's difficult -- especially when it feels like everyone around you is telling you who to be. Even if it was by accident, I think the most important lesson that high school taught me was to become who you want to be in spite of anything that may fight against you.

4. What is a "soul" to you?
Ultimately, I believe a soul is what connects us to something way bigger than ourselves.

5. Who are your OTPS? Real life, fictional, whatever. 
Ah, this question makes me so excited! I am one of those people who is CRAZY about their OTPs; I usually resist talking about them to people because I do get a bit carried away, but now I have an excuse to fangirl!
Two OTPs came to mind right away. First is Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter series. They were my OTP probably before the term had even been coined. I remember reading the scene where Tonks confesses her love to him in Half-Blood Prince as a little girl and just being so moved. (I also own both of their wands!)
Next is Special Agent Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks. This pairing gives me so many feels. Like, I "UGH" really loud and fall off the couch when I see them on screen together. I love how taboo things are between them. They never end up together (darn Agent Cooper, being so morally upright), but they are just such attractive people and the way they look at each other, I just... UGH.
(Also, I have to throw in I freaking love some Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder. That is all.)

6. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? How so?
To answer your first question: absolutely. To answer your second question: that's hard to say. I mentioned earlier that I went to private school my whole life; my years in that environment are responsible for basically all of my spiritual development. For the longest, my spirituality has been dependent on other people and what they told me. I liked to think that my spirituality was something personal to me, but I don't know if it was ever really my own. I've come to find that so much of the stuff that I've internalized most of my life is absolute crap. I am still a spiritual person, but right now I'm just so cynical about... mostly everything. I can't say I'm on some big spiritual quest or anything right now, but I am figuring a lot out for myself in my own ways.

7. Who is your favorite disney princess and why?
I broke out into the cheesiest grin when I read this question, not gonna lie! Anyone who knows me knows the answer to this question. Anyway, hands down, it's Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I think my love for Ariel is probably something people know me for, and I'm totally okay with that.
I fell in love with Ariel as a little girl because she was the only princess at the time with red hair. Being the gingery little kid that I was, I was all about it. As I've gotten older, my reasons for loving Ariel have evolved. I've heard people say things like "How can you admire Ariel she changed herself for a man she'd never met blah blah." To which I say... that's crap. Ariel wanted to be a human before she ever even saw Eric's handsome mug. She felt totally out of place in the life she had, which I think is universally relatable. She took a risk, lowered herself from a place of privilege and security, and risked her soul to pursue what she wanted. That is ambition! That's really why I love her so much (and of course, I still love her red hair).

8. Every human has a purpose. What do you believe your purpose on this Earth is?
Right now, I couldn't tell you. I feel like people choose what to make their purpose, rather than this fatalistic thing that's assigned to us. But I think I want my purpose to be happiness. I want to make people happy through my work or my influence, if ever I have one.

9. I admire how you appreciate all of the arts and try to participate in as many as you can. If all of the arts in the world were completely erased, and you had the choice to keep one art form: what would it be?
That's painful to think about! But I know without question which one I would keep: acting.
All art is entertainment, and to me, performing arts are the most entertaining. I especially love acting, because I love film and theater. I also love to act. Like, seriously, acting is so thrilling to me. I'm not even a great actress, but if acting was all I had, then I guess that would just force me to become better at it.

10. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. What is a word of advice you would like to offer readers?
Be someone that you can be proud of!

Pumpkin Bars!

My brother is only 12 years old and he is already showing such passion for cooking and baking. I am very impressed with this because when I was his age, I was dying my hair bleach blonde, wearing abercrombie and texting on my very own flip phone. Last night, with the help of my mother, he made these delicious pumpkin bars! They are super delicious, and perfect for autumn! Here is the recipe.

2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 beaten eggs
1 16 ounce can of pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil
cream cheese frosting

Stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt. Combine eggs, pumpkin, sugar and oil; beat till combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture; beat till well combined. Spread batter in an un-greased 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350 degrees oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool then frost with cream cheese frosting. Cut into bars, makes approx 36. Enjoy!