News and media focused on art and activism



monicaleigh has 23 articles published.

Learning How To College: Back to Naps and Desperation Humor

in Blog by

Let’s talk about what I am learning in college.

  1. College is an experience that binds many of us together. The best part of talking about college is getting to talk about how DAMN DIFFICULT IT IS. We reminisce over the difficulties of the finals weeks. We mourn over the hours of sleep lost. We groan about student debts. The silver lining to the struggle is…we can come together about how difficult and expensive the experiences are.
  2. Napping in places I never thought possible is one of the real life skills I am learning. Today in fact, I have reached a new level of exhaustion. Making my body move after working 20 hours and driving for 4 in the past 48 hours seemed an impossible task as I tried to will myself to go into the neighborhood grocery store so that I could get some frozen fruit for my smoothies. Aahhhh, smoothies <3 Anyhow, the insurmountable task proved to be too much for me to handle. So, instead of forcing myself to do what needed to be done, I gave in. I let my seat down. I reached over for my car blanket. And I napped. I didn’t even set my alarm; however long the nap was, that was how long it was going to be. During that hour long car nap, I was both the irresponsible mother, and the abandoned child left in the car in the grocery store parking lot. BUT, I left the A/C on for myself, because I simply could not handle getting myself taken away from me….
  3. I am learning whether I want to be the type of person who kicks ass and brings it and holds shit down even while being exhausted beyond belief, OR the type of person who makes sure to get adequate sleep and doesn’t have to fake having energy. I am realizing that I don’t have to pick just one: I can be both! Just depending on the situation, I can call for the wild, willful, Amazonian woman who gets the job done despite the fact that the lights are dancing around the corners of my vision because I have been sleeping 5 hours a night for the past 3 weeks. But that powerful she-beast can sleep peacefully in her cave during the moments when a well-rested, happy, and bubbly Monica has had her sleep. Goddess bless them both.
  4. Paying attention to detail is important. This one I learned after having to ask the professor of one of my two online summer classes to open up the THIRD assignment whose deadline I have missed this summer. I am not ever like this. Why am I like this? Honestly, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that the assignments are only open and available for submission for 24 hours, and I am a human person with a LIFE. The other part of it has to do with the fact that most assignments are open until 11:59, NOT 11:30, as it was in this case. I think he shaved off that half hour JUST To see if we would catch it….This is why I have trust issues. As I was asking for the THIRD time if he would reopen it for me, I realized I wanted to come across with more confidence in my ability to handle the workload, and less apologetic grovelling for my inattention to stupid detail. Here are the results. He opened it back up for me (with no flack this time, ha!).


College is hard.

Distinguishing the shadow creatures in the corners from my eyes from my cat or actual ghosts is even harder.

The summer semester is almost over. Wish me luck.

Keep Your Eye Out For Smoky Mountain Life Center!

in Blog/Charitable Campaign/Current Events/Get Involved/News/Social Commentary by

Try growing up having summers where the temperature is 114 degrees for week straight, to going to a place that actually experiences a winter. I’m talking, it has snowed at my home in Sevierville at least 5 times since October. Like, BIG snows; big enough to build a snowman, and his wife and two children! This is very…different for me. I wouldn’t call it difficult though; not in comparison to those of our community who don’t have a warm bed to snuggle up in to write articles, like me. The contrast between my situation and theirs ignites the fire in my heart to want to bring warmth to those who struggle more than I have ever had to.

The opposition between my situation and that of the street-people reminds me of Samuel Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. In his poem, Coleridge masterfully describes an underground dome as beautiful as the Bible’s garden of Eden.

“So twice five miles of fertile ground /
With walls and towers were girdled round; /
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, /
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; /
And here were forests ancient as the hills, /
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.”

The comfort that I enjoy is like that! Sure, I have worries, stresses, anxieties, struggles. But -let me just do a little privilege check here- I have never been in a situation where I have had no other choice than to ask someone for help paying for my food, or my utility bills, or clothing for my children (if I had them). Did I do anything to deserve this? Absolutely not. So, do I therefore have a responsibility to my community to ease the suffering of those who are less fortunate? Absolutely. IF you ask me.

As in life, in Coleridge’s poem, there is a bit of trouble in paradise. There is a river running through the lush land that encounters some rough waters.

“A mighty fountain momently was forced: /
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst /
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail, /
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail: /
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever /
It flung up momently the sacred river.”

I see the rapids…I can use my empathy to try to understand what it would be like to try and stay afloat on such a rushing river, and so I want to help.

I am not the only one.

That brings us to last Monday, where I found myself at the third-ever meeting of a local group called “Smoky Mountain Life Center.” This is a group who wants to provide warm, safe, temporary housing for the homeless population in our community.

The organization is getting the ball moving, as I learned from the meeting! They are working with churches to secure emergency shelters, so that folks seeking immediate help on the coldest and wettest of nights can have a warm and dry place to sleep. They are working with realtors to find a place that can provide a little bit more long term assistance for folks who may need to develop some skills such as resume building, need job-appropriate clothing, or financial advise. They have even contacted beauticians willing to donate their time to offer free haircuts to folks who are down on their luck.

The idea is to network with existing organizations such as SMARM (Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Mission) in order to help the homeless folks in our community reintegrate into a self-sustaining situation for themselves and their families.

Ideas on how to raise funds in order to secure the 501C3 licensing are going around the group of about fifteen people. It is a dream (unlike Coleridge’s pipe-dream) that is currently being built. All it will take is time, dedication, and persistence. Plus, a lot of compassion. But, if I know anything about the people of Tennessee, it is that you have to be tough to weather these cold winters, and that you have to do it by relying on each other.

“That with music loud and long, /
I would build that dome in air, /
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!”

Creating a warm place for the least fortunate of our human brothers and sisters around us is a cause that I am happy to be a part of. I have plenty enough to share.

This was the first meeting that I attended for the organization, and the next one is on the 19th of this month. I absolutely look forward to continuing to brainstorm about what comes next, and I will be there the whole time, chronicling the building of a paradise in my home not just for some, but for all.

Chasing Sunshine

in Blog/Travel by

A single piece of snow, fluffed to the fullest, lands upon my nose/
Its brothers join any exposed skin seen peaking out of my winter garb/
While the crisp cold chases me indoors, my heart gladly goes/
To a place away from chilling bones and frozen roads; a place very far/

Plane doors open, and the sunshine welcomes my cheeks into a bright land/
Rain breaks up the rays, so we chase the warmth around the island green/
Chasing sunshine; never have I endeavored an adventure so grand/
Souvenir particles get caught in my skin, and behind my eyes freshened with a glean/

Now I remember the colors in the breaking of the waves which show their sheen/
And think that it might be the most beautiful light I have ever seen/

Or felt.

I Left My Ego in Tennessee

in Blog/Travel by

Do you ever have those dreams where you are flying? For me, it usually begins by jumping once, only to return to the earth. By

the third or fourth jump, at the height of my ascent, instead of sinking back down to the ground, I continue to rise, my sense of elation growing as I conquer gravity, breathless, my spirit soaring. The g-force pushes me through air like a smooth sailing roller coaster ride that is propelled by my belief in the fact that I *will* keep on going. The only thing that ever weighs me down is my ego, and I left that behind in Tennessee.

That is the feeling that accompanies me now, as I quite literally soar above the clouds. The initial panic of exhausted bustling from airport to airport is gone. From Knoxville to Chicago (where I had my first Chicago dog and deep dish pizza), and from Chicago to Denver, then the plane in Denver took me to this elevation, high above the ground. I am overcome with a sense of awe and gratitude for life and its wonders. Every new experience now is full of magic.

With this mindset, I humbly look forward to taking in the culture that I will find on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.


Though I love the mountains, the way that the sun heals my soul is like no other.

So may my heart stay humble and my spirit soar into the place where magic invites me to partake in it around every corner.

From Waves of Snow to Ocean Waves

in Blog/Travel by

The waves of big, fluffy snow which are falling upon our heads here in Knoxville, Tennessee are not nearly cold and wet enough to dampen the spirit of adventure which possesses our group of coworkers as we make our way to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. There, the ocean waves lap upon the shores, and both the air and the ocean are a sweet 75*. You had better believe that that warmth and sun are calling me; calling us.

It will be with no regrets that I wave goodbye to the coldest winter I have ever known for a whole week. Having been living on the top of a mountain in Sevierville, Tennessee for 9 months now, I have begun to understand why mountain people have a reputation for being so tough. Learning to live in such devastating beauty requires one to learn to prepare and plan. However, even the mountain veterans, the ones who have lived atop the beautiful, icy peaks for years do not attempt to drive down once the roads are covered in life-threatening ice. There is a difference between driving on ice in town where it is flat, and driving down a switchback where you look off of the side of the road and see down a cliff, as if you are coyote looking for road runner. But drive down the mountain in the snow I did, before it had a chance to stick and freeze, and now here I am at the hotel, wondering if sleep will overpower my excitement or if I will save my sleep for the 14 hour flight ahead.

I do not mean to say that the picturesque snow scenes in the Smokeys are not a vision out of a fairytale book. The mountains of Tennessee in the snowy wintertime are a winter wonderland of beautiful views that the eye can drink up forever and ever. But me; I am a beach girl. Give me that sunshine during the day, let me get lost in the waves, and set me loose on the shores, fire poi in hand at night, and that is all I need to be happy.

Waves, waves, I get lost in waves of enthusiasm for life as I embark on a new adventure, new camera in hand, ready to appreciate the beauty of a land foreign to me, surrounded by people that I love and will soon love even more. The distant shore will only bring me more of the happiness that I already harbor inside; may I appreciate it and share it more and more every second of all of the time <3 😊

“CURRENT MOOD” Supplemental Information

in Blog/Social Commentary by

Activists are the too often unsung heroes of societies. This issue of “CURRENT MOOD” zooms in on the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

Check out the issue:

Feed your brain and your friend’s brains with these discussion points:

Leave your answers in the comments!

And finally, learn more about the life of Nelson Mandela! See what one man with a focused purpose can accomplish not for himself, but for the betterment of his human brothers and sisters.

This is the website for everything about the life of Nelson Mandela!

If you just want to go ahead and order the book about his life, here it is!

Girls Don’t Rule, but They Should

in Blog/Social Commentary by

Professional women are a long way from gloating “girls rule and boys Drool,” and our country is a long way from women not having the Right to vote, but does that mean that women and men are now Equal? Though 1st wave feminism fought for women’s suffrage, and 2nd wave feminism gained women some fair property & reproductive Rights, our current 5th wave of feminism is not without a worthy cause.

Let’s not wave goodbye to feminism when only 6.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and not one is a black woman. Not to mention only About 20% of our Congress, Senate, and House of Reps are women. Women also disproportionately earn less, when 62% of workers Earning minimum wage are women. Women still have a long battle Ahead to even the playing field.

How do we progress from “you drool, I rule?” By learning to rule Together. Let’s respect the women breaking the mold; the woman Business owner, manager, or professional in any position of authority Like we would a man. Let’s stop allowing “locker room talk” about a  Women to continue after she leaves the room; women are not sex
Objects. Let’s stop saying things like, “A man would be better in that Position than a women because she would let her emotions get in The way.” Women are not doomed to be swept away by their Emotions any more than men are unable to control their aggression. Girls should rule; men should too. We should rule together.


More Statistics About Inequality Between Women and Men in Society: 


Who Is Malala Yousafzai?

Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. As a child, she became an advocate for girls’ education, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. On October 9, 2012, a gunman shot Malala when she was traveling home from school. She survived, and has continued to speak out on the importance of education. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. In  2014,  she was nominated again and won, becoming the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

^The above is a direction quotation taken from This link will take you to Malala’s page on that site.

Dressing Up

in Blog/Social Commentary by

Lights flash,
all day.

Welcome to my day.
Anything, everything can look foggy, cloudy, if your focus is on anything, everything.
Sharpen it, and you will see,
little kids smiling at the antics of our photographers as the professionals act anything but, sniffing feet and making animal noises to coax the smiles out of children they have just met moments before.

If you focus, you will see,
life celebrated by couples who chose to dress up as saloon girls and cowboys and take photos together, traveling back in time to the crazy days of the wild west, making memories that will last a lifetime.

You see, I can dress my vision up to be anything I want.
I can take portrait photos of these families, simply going through the motions, pushing buttons. Not even buttons, just one button, over and over.

However, if I sharpen my focus, I see beauty more valuable than all of the gold in all of the banks that a cowboy in the wild west could ever dream of robbing.
And it’s free, for those who choose to focus their perspective on it.

Not only can I find gold, I can turn that flashing light on the top of my camera into a beacon of happiness. A request from me to my models to smile a genuine smile. To be themselves and play along with the story I am creating for them to match their old timey garb. I can share the treasure with them.

Being a photographer has taught me more than just focus. It has also taught me about dressing the moment up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you walk through the front door of the studio, past the sheriff’s office with its bars and key-ring hanging nearby, past the bar where many an empty liquor bottle sits, and where many a saloon girl has sat as well, you will find the swinging saloon doors that lead to the men’s dressing room.

Part of my job is to dress people up. Guests at the old time photography studio where I work can dress up to fit the wild west era, the Southern Belle era, roaring ’20s, civil war, or Native American. I was in the men’s changing room, hanging hats and arranging boots as a civil war general came strolling back in.

I began helping him with the mess of strings on the back of his costume so he could shed it, back to normal in his civilian clothes that lay underneath his costume.

John Buford, Jr. Our costumes are exact replicas of these.


Focus to the general’s conversation (and ignore the fact that yes, I undress grown men for a living. But hey, they just put the costumes on over their clothes). He says he is a schoolteacher in real life. He had just changed from teaching 5th grade to teaching kindergarten. I automatically have respect for anyone who wants to educate the youth of our culture. Especially since the wages aren’t that great. Traditional teachers in America get paid between $16 and $20 an hour. Many jobs not requiring a degree have similar wages. Hearing the general talk about what he deals with made me feel as if he deserved much more; if not more money, than more recognition.

Speaking on what he thought of teaching kindergarten, he said, “I can deal with it. I can deal with the boogers and goo that I somehow get on my hands throughout the day.

“I can deal with the tears. There are tears every day. Especially on Mondays. Those are the days that the kids find most difficult to leave their parents, after they’ve been together for a few days non-stop.

“I can deal with the parents that want to come in and watch me and see what I’m doing and how I’m teaching their kids.

“I can deal with the hyperactivity, how the kids want to bounce around. I don’t force them to sit in seats. We do a lot of floor time. And for the kids who just can’t sit still, I let them sit on those yoga balls so they can just bounce it out, and that seems to solve the problem. They’re kids. Some of them aren’t even 5 years old yet, and they’re just not ready. I can deal with it.

“Finding out what works to allow growth in their minds is just crazy. I mean, I am coming up with rhymes to help these kids understand how to write the number two! There are fun songs I make up to get them to understand what the color red is. It is honestly such a joy, such a fun job. I love it. ”

I MEAN, MAN! Talk about focus! The general is not kidding himself about the glamour, or lack of, in his job, but his attitude blew me away. His positivity and ability to focus on the good work that he is a part of, even amidst stressors of which one would break many down, made every color that came into my eyes in that moment seem brighter. The vibrancy of his words struck my heart.

We are all still learning things that some might find just as basic as writing the number two.

An unforgettable chord rang out to me, and that is that there are people out there that make the learning experience magical for others. If the general can do that for a room of goo-covered, crying, hyper little ones, why can’t we do that for each other? With the awareness that we were all once children and that age does not entitle one with all of the information in the world.

We can make life magic for each other.
If we choose to focus on that.
If we choose to dress it up.

The Views From My Two Windows

in Blog/Flow Arts by

The big city,
Hustle and bustle,
Who even really gives a damn about the Joneses?

To be frank, I care more about my neighbor’s joneses.

Ego illuminating the concrete path before the feet which tread upon the broken dreams of a lazy lower class.
A “lazy” class of modern slaves…

If you can, rest your spirit when you can
While you have the chance my friend.

A window before me.
A window between my eyes and the thing that is being seen.

Can I break through?
My spirit often sings a haunting melody from inside.
Shall I break the window, or simply choose to walk a peaceful path that will lead me outside?

Outside, where I can sit and watch the seedlings grow bigger daily,
Exchanging my toxins for their oxygen as I reconnect with circles and my place.

If you can, rest your spirit when you can.

A house of tools awaits all who will choose to build.
A great city is comprised mainly of a thriving community,
And I truly don’t give a damn about so much concrete destruction
And cut-throat competition.

It’s too much to sustain, and I have never had to starve out others for my own gain.
Peace, we can build up to it.

There is a house of tools that waits,
Sitting while the resting soul gathers strength
And formulates designs to solve the very pain that plagues that gentle soul.

There is a house of tools that waits,
And the broken systems lie just beyond.

If you can, rest your spirit while you can,
if you get a chance my friend.

All eyes…all eyes…eyes leading to…whatever.
Whatever it is that you choose.
Leaving my own Joneses behind.
The eyes on me are an audience, all lined in a row, of living beings that will soon sacrifice their fruits to an animal larger than them.

I dance, in thanks, for them.

I take the sunshine in,
And surrender myself to endless circles that I am forever going in.
The windows are behind me,
Long forgotten as if I have ever only been here among the trees.

And I breathe…

Resting my spirit while I can.

New Beginnings

in Blog/Travel by

If I could choose a theme song for this article, it would be that oldy, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” by Neil Sedaka. Mainly because of the line that doubles as the song title. Also because it seems like it was a long time coming with that couple, and getting back together wouldn’t be best for either of them. Hearts, they do go on.

The next song I would pick would be, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” by Shania Twain. This song is a pretty fantastic diddy in the tune of being an empowered woman. I relate as I am in the midst of coloring my hair and I usually “do what I dare.” It just feels good to have some affirmation that you’re doing the right thing. Thanks Shania.

Well, it’s day seven of me being at my new, old home. I recently had a heart-wrenching breakup and had to have my folks drive from Tennessee to Texas to come get me so I can get back on my feet.

I.feel like I sound like a blues song. OoooOOOhh singing, we broke up, my car broke down, I had to move, I’m just a big ole mess.

While I am so grateful to have such a fantastic support system, my pride is taking a, probably needed, hit for having to move back home.

Normally, I would shy away from putting my personal life on this site, but I am learning valuable lessons which I would like to share.

Right now I’m at the gym (which happens to be the nicest workout facility I’ve ever been in), staring at the “Tiki Bar” wishing that it was an actual bar instead of a booth where you can sign up to win a trip to Hawai’i, and that I had a Sex on the Beach, but actually waiting for my mom to get done with her class so she can drive me to work, as a 23 year old woman. Oh independence, how I miss you!

Moving really is turning out to be the best thing for me. It’s allowing me to get a fresh start. My life right now is full of new beginnings.

Moving, man, moving can be a pain. I packed up my stuff and moved it into and out of houses 6 times before it was all said and done. I did have help some of those times, but you better believe that I slept like a baby for about a week after that. That was physically difficult. Good thing I have an awesome friend with a truck. I definitely recommend making sure that you have a friend to help you move before you just decide to do it.

What was difficult for my pride was quitting my job I had just got in Fort Worth. I had only been there about a month and a half before I quit. In that time, I was finding my confidence again, exploring bicycling as a hobby and passion, meeting people who I felt could be a strong part of my community, learning valuable information about bicycle components and repair.

It was really difficult to leave that job, but it had to be done. It is always best to have a job lined up before you quit the one you have, that way you don’t miss a paycheck, and therefore won’t miss a payment on any of your bills or food, so on and so forth.

Luckily, I won’t be missing a paycheck, because I went job hunting the day after I arrived in Tennessee, got three on-the-spot interviews, one job offer, and one invitation to come back for a shadow-day the very next day. I liked what I saw during that second interview that Saturday, and went in for my first day the next Monday. All I had to do was make the effort, the opportunity was obviously very much there.

Now I am working as a photographer in a studio doing portraits for couples and families!

Making getting a job one of the first things I did helped make sure that I am able to support myself financially. It also helped me with my self-confidence, since I got such a positive response from employers. That confidence will remain and spill over into other aspects of my life.

My to-do list from all the errands and paperwork I had to do has finally diminished! It really only took a week of non-stop driving and planning to get it done. Here’s something novel, it only took me half an hour at the DMV to get my license. I know, shocking right. That happened.

Getting your change of address taken care of is one of those boring adult things that you have to do no matter who you are because the government wants your updated address. I did find out that Tennessee allows you to get a replacement license sent to you and you can make this happen from your computer. It’s super handy if you don’t mind waiting a week or two in order to receive it in the mail!

Other things I was so satisfied to cross off of my list included getting my resume printed off, the hours of research into who was hiring that I did on my phone during the drive, going to the sheriff’s department to get a background check for my job, getting documents notarized, reading the policy book, and studying notes from work in order to get good at my job as quickly as possible. Taking it one thing at a time is really the only way to get it all done without pulling out my hair or banging my head on a wall.

New beginnings can feel good and bad at the same time. I left behind many things that I love, and that is difficult. I want to keep in touch with my friends and I can get overwhelmed by this, so I’m trying to make it a point to have a conversation maybe once every few days. I left part of my heart in Texas, but I know I will find the rest of the pieces here in Tennessee, if I let myself. One thing at a time.

For now, I am focused only on getting trained at work, getting there on time, and having energy the whole time I’m there. At home, the only thing I will do until I get the routine down pat is sleep, make food and get my clothes ready for the next day, and keep things neat and tidy. Whenever I’m ready, I will work exercise back into the mix. There are still a few things left on my list of things to do from my move, and I will do them one at a time, as I have time and energy for them.

I will admit, there are times whenever panic or sadness overwhelm me to the point where I have a physical reaction. My body tenses up, a sense of terror washes over me, and I will remain numb for a minute, an hour, the rest of the day, or for a couple days. I will have to fight so hard to pull myself away from staring at a wall. I will not be able to keep tears out of my eyes. This is heartbreak, and this is shame. I know it will pass. I know that depression comes and goes, and it will go eventually. I know that one of the best cures for depression is exercise, and keeping busy, so I will do those things until I find my center again.

Being in the Smokey Mountains sure helps. There is beauty everywhere that you cast your eye. Not only that, but the Southern hospitality runs deep here. If you need help, it is never far away than the next smiling face and twang-filled greeting from your neighbor.

Sleeping with the window open and feeling safe to go outside barefoot, having woods all around me waiting to be explored, the soft tone of the folks here, and fruit that grows wild in the mountain will surely heal my heart.

So here’s to new beginnings and making tbe most of them!

1 2 3
Go to Top