When the weekend rolls around, you can find Natalie Reece sitting at a coffee shop with her black notebook and calligraphy pens. She says she works best this way, in a bigger space with more natural light than her New York City apartment.
She’ll spend the day reading through quotes that she has saved throughout the week, selecting the ones that resonate with her in the moment. She writes them out in pretty calligraphy and then finds colorful walls throughout the city to pair them with. The resulting photos are posted to an Instagram account called Words Meet Walls.
Words Meet Walls was created in 2016 as part of The 100 Day Project. Natalie committed to doing one creative act a day for 100 days straight and held herself accountable by posting them to Instagram. Three years later, her work has travelled to 16 different cities and reached over 17,000 people. For Natalie, reflecting on this growth is imperative.
“One of the most rewarding things is being able to look at the posts from the beginning. I was so proud of those then and now I look back and they’re not the best, but it’s fun to watch the progress,” said Natalie. “It’s helped my mindset with other things in life like personal growth and friendships. When you start something it might not be good, but who knows what it could turn into?”
It’s not only the numbers that impress Natalie, but also the impact she’s had. When she first began posting photos, she assumed no one read the captions. She would get deep about the message behind the quote, not letting herself reread the caption for fear of overthinking it. Gradually, people began commenting on her words and starting conversations with her, and she realized she had established an audience.
Natalie admits that social media is an odd platform at times, but it has allowed her to connect with people from all over the world. She frequently exchanges emails with a woman from Germany and discusses mental health with an 18-year-old from LA. She can also recognize some of her followers from over the years based on their profile pictures. Though she’s still hesitant to share details about her personal life, ultimately she chooses to be open.
“If I can make one person feel better by sharing how I feel, that caption was worth it,” declared Natalie. “Moments like that have motivated me to continue to be vulnerable and open up and share.”
As someone who’s often a source of inspiration for others, I asked Natalie what inspires her. She mentioned podcasts like Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation, How I Built This by Guy Raz and Don’t Keep Your Day Job, and books like The Crossroads of Should and Must, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and The Moth Presents Occasional Magic. It was through this discussion that I learned what Natalie values: honest storytelling, human connection, and words of wisdom from people who have been there. Interestingly, these are also some of the reasons I follow Words Meet Walls.
Of the 16 cities that Words Meet Walls has been to, NYC is still at the top of Natalie’s list. For starters, there’s never a shortage of street art. When one mural comes down, a new one is most likely going up in its place. But New York is also fast paced, cramped, and full of other artists with the same ambitions. I wondered, could New York actually hurt your creativity?
“Whatever you’re doing here in the city, you know that people will be incredible at it,” admitted Natalie. “It’s daunting, but it also inspires me because people are so open to different interpretations of things. There’s such a diversity here that allows me to do what I want to do and be who I am.”
“Who Natalie is” encompasses many things. She’s the creator of Words Meet Walls. She’s a trained yoga teacher. And she’s the newest social media manager at Journey, a meditation app. She is multifaceted and seeks fulfillment (and income!) in a variety of interests.
Though she is content with where things are now, Natalie does have a desire to grow Words Meet Walls. She has given thought to designing a mural and even publishing a book. But I question if creative people can ever really be content, something I struggle with often myself. When you’re constantly striving for more, how do you become okay with the present?
Natalie offered some advice: “I remember thinking the word ‘content’ was a dirty word. Like why would you want to be content? That means you’re not being ambitious. Again, that’s a New York mentality. Now I look at the word ‘content’ and really appreciate it. It doesn’t mean you’re not ambitious, it means you’re okay and at peace with where you are now.”
If it seems like Natalie has trust in the universe, that’s because she does. On her arm is a tiny tattoo; the number 42 inked in her mom’s handwriting. It’s what she considers her “answer to life, the universe, and everything.”
When she was five years old, Natalie’s dad passed away of lung cancer. A rainbow appeared over her house, but it hadn’t been raining, so she came to associate a rainbow with her dad’s presence. As she got older, she remembers looking at the clock at 11:42 morning and night. It happened too often to just be a coincidence, so she started paying more attention to it. Her dad was 42 when she was born. Her mom passed away in an accident on state route 42. And 42 is significant in many of the cities she’s lived in (e.g. Times Square in New York and Tower 42 in London). While doing some research on the number, she was scrolling down a Wikipedia page and her mouth dropped when she read, ‘the angle at which a rainbow arcs is 42 degrees.’
For Natalie, the number is a reminder that wherever she’s at in that moment is where she’s meant to be. And more importantly, that her parents are with her. “It’s not a lucky number, it’s my life number. Whenever I see it, I think open your eyes, pay attention to something, and be grateful for this moment.”
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Photo credits: Words Meet Walls and Brian Winston Fraser