Monday, December 30, 2013

Coin Operated Girl

Okay. Okay, look. I’ve got another little annoyance digging in my brain.

The token “strong female character.”

I went and saw the second Hobbit film last night. I won’t really dig deep into what I thought of the film as a whole (summary: good fun, many great elements, was on the cusp of feeling bored multiple times, probably won’t see it again), but I will speak about a very specific character decision that was made: the pretty red-headed elf lady. The orcs call her She-Elf, for some reason. It’s entirely possible that it’s a Tolkien thing, man of his time and whatnot, but really? Not elf. No, not elf. She-Elf. Totally different breed, apparently. Silly She-Elf.

Now before I continue on my ranty ranty bit, let me say this: Evangeline Lilly is lovely as the elf Tauriel, both in appearance and performance. And the little girl inside me enjoys watching her dance gracefully on the wind and on the earth as she shoots and slashes her way through spiders and orcs alike. I genuinely like her character. Tauriel’s compassion, her feisty defy-orders-to-do-what-she-feels-is-right attitude, and her battle skills all mesh together to make… Movie Arwen 2.0. Except redheaded and with more bloodlust.

Here’s my problem: an unnecessary plot addition was written so one single female character got to stand out as strong willed, feisty, and beautiful, among the men she interacts with. Is that, by itself, a problem? Not necessarily. Is it a problem that a female character was written in to a story that originally featured only men? No. Is it a problem that we have a gal who fights, is empathetic, and makes choices independently? Certainly not.

The problem is this character has been written many times before, in different stories and different circumstances, but she fills the exact same slot. She is a token writers stick into a story when they suddenly realize they need or want a female character, because this is nearly 2014, and shouldn’t we be progressive and stuff?

Her name is Tauriel. Her name is Arwen when she holds a sword to her lover’s throat and brags about sneaking up on him (Liv Tyler herself later recognized “you don’t have to put a sword in her hand to make her strong”). Her name is Fiona, from Shrek. Sure, she does kung-fu, but so do all princesses these days. What else do you have for her? She’s the blonde from the most recent Star Trek movie, whose only purpose seems to be functioning as a plot device and a hot piece of ass. Her name is Black Widow, to a certain extent, as depicted in the Iron Man movies and The Avengers.

It’s not bad to be kick-ass and pretty, that can be kind of awesome. But it’s not enough to be kick-ass and pretty. Those two elements do not a well-developed character make. Is Legolas strong? Is he kick ass? Is he pretty?

He’s all three of these things. Funny, we don’t seem to need to ask those questions. Well, except maybe that last one. But we often skip the “strong” adjective for male characters. Why? A) it’s a given or B) it doesn’t matter. It isn’t necessarily a part of the character’s merit. That doesn’t have to be proven, so we get to skip ahead to the other parts.

This woman’s token is wearing out real fast because it’s easy to use and it’s used often. The token’s characteristics have expanded to include “strong” and “badass fighting skills” but the role has not changed. The ratio of male to female protagonists has not changed.

But, you might say, some of these stories are based on older works and all the main characters are male! What do you want us to do?

The people behind the 2004 adaptation of Battlestar Galactica did something brilliant. They turned Starbuck, originally a male character, into a female (who was her own person). And it fucking worked. It worked brilliantly. Now, will I always expect gender bending in classic stories? No. Do I want every single story to be carefully balanced between male, female, and othergender characters? No. But tossing in a woman who can fight and be feisty and pretty does not warrant an automatic pat on the back. It does not warrant a “good job, look at how mindful you are to making sure women get positive representation! Look how much you get that women can be strong, independent, and badass! Here, have a cookie, because: Yay! Equality!"

This is not about women being depicted as sword wielding badasses or not. This is about WHY they are depicted as such. The why is incredibly, incredibly important. The why is the difference between a token and a thoughtfully constructed complex character. The why is the difference between a character who impacts and shapes the story and a character who is simply given something “to do” by the creation of elaborate side stories. Tauriel, in the midst of all her badassery, is also kind of just... an excuse for a romantic interest triange. 

As I’ve been writing I’ve come across this problem. It’s not a male vs female vs somegender problem, it’s simply a character writing problem. I find myself thinking “Oh! I want this character to do this, I want them to end up here. So this, this and this needs to happen, and then they can have this moment.”

Characters inevitably fall flat when they just react to whatever plot is written up. They will do anything I tell them to, but that does not mean they should. Characters, when they are allowed to be given life, will shape their own destinies. Is the plot serving the character and story, or is it simply serving a situation? Is the character breathing life, or is she coin operated? 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Thoughts on Frozen: Sisters, snow-dorks, and stone smurfs. (Contains spoilers!)

So I saw Frozen today. I cried.

Which should be no surprise to anybody.

After talking at (and with) a couple friends, I’ve developed a fairly cohesive review of my experience. As should be apparent by the title, this will contain spoilers. Please read responsibly.


First impression of the opening title screen and first scene: Dude, music.

And then… everything changes. Kind of.

Looking back, the opening scene has little to do with the rest of the film. So we see Kristoff and Sven’s origin, but what the heck happened to the rest of the ice men?

Change scene: we peek into the childhood of two sisters: Elsa and Anna. They’re adorable little princesses. They frolic, then something bad happens. We glimpse Elsa’s magical abilities (“winter” powers), and the resulting consequences. Terrified of a power she has, but doesn’t understand, Elsa learns she can accidentally harm those closest to her. Because of some vague warning from a few stone trolls, her parents shut her away from her sister and her world. She is shaped by a very strong belief more powerful than her magic: she must stifle and hide a part of herself to keep herself and her world safe. It’s the twisted interpretation of “with great power comes great responsibility.” Aka: “Don’t kill your sister, cause you totally will, even if you don’t mean to. So, just, hide your face or something. Cause, you know, shame! Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family! Dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow, dis-“  er, ahem. Anyway. While she lives with her family, she is still separated and isolated from them.

Time passes, other stuff happens, and Elsa soon has to face the fact that she cannot hide forever because of, you know, circumstances. She’s terrified, naturally, and Anna has no idea why her sister is as cold and reserved as she is.

But let me take a break here: Where the hell did Elsa’s magic come from? She was born with it, not “cursed.” Okay. Does magic run in the family, then? Why are her parents so inept at helping her harness her powers? Presumably, if they think she can just wear some gloves and everything will be fine, then ice magic has either never been a big problem in their family, or it’s a new thing. Why was she born with it, but no one else in her family has it? What is her magic’s purpose (besides being a metaphor for being “cold” and “unfeeling”)? How does it work? How did it hurt Anna the way it did? Why did Anna’s memories of magic have to be removed entirely? I get the fear, I get the desire and urge to control something that isn’t understood, I get the love themes, I get the acceptance and the sisterhood themes.

But, but questions!!

I like the direction Disney is going with these princess stories. I’m guessing Brave, which focused on the mother/daughter relationship, broke open a new paradigm: stories about women protagonists without a romantic center. This is a new direction for Disney and sadly, a new direction for mainstream film and media in general. While Frozen is not devoid of romantic relationships/interests, I found those that WERE included were more self-aware and organic. Anna starts off excited about finding her “one” true love (which I see more as excitement about finding love and intimacy in general; she too has grown up so isolated, but without her sister’s internal struggle). Anna’s naiveté (which the film is self-aware of) kickstarts a journey to understand what “love” means as a whole. How SHE creates love herself, and how love defines relationships, period, whether it’s between sisters, friends, or partners/romantic.

While Disney may be heading that direction, their vision and execution is not perfect. I sense the legacy of these films shifting but Frozen as a whole is disjointed and scattered. My primary issue with this film is the same issue I had with Brave: too much going on and not enough focus/exploration on the stronger themes.

I can’t decide whether Olaf the snow-dork was a cute comic-relief character that worked within the story, or if he was misplaced. ( Olaf is CLEARLY a big hit with the kids and he’s a great marketing tool; I can’t fault Disney for that.) I get that he is a bridge character between the sisters, linking their past and their current struggle. But if that’s the case, I wonder if there was a better way to use that character. What if the comic relief came from elsewhere and his character explained (or even hint at) the source of Elsa’s magic or its significance?

What if Elsa’s power was somehow connected to Anna in a bigger way than “oh, if I don’t hide it, I’ll hurt her again?” What if Elsa’s magic developed to entertain and protect Anna, out of love, but when it backfired and Elsa accidentally hurt her sister, it raged out of her control? What if the ice magic was an ancient gift bestowed on the rulers of the kingdom, but over the years it was forgotten and Elsa was the first child in generations to have it?

Elsa has a power she is afraid of, and Anna’s power is that she faces her fears. Elsa’s journey to truly embracing herself revolves around her relationship with her sister, just as Anna’s journey to understand what love is revolves around the same thing. While the ice magic serves as a powerful metaphor, ultimately I think it becomes a vague situation for the story to happen around, not through. Like at the beginning? When the royal family goes off in the night to find those trolls to save little Anna? The mind is easy to change but not the heart? What exactly did Elsa DO? Give Anna a bad case of brain freeze? (I admit I was a little confused at that bit. I figure when someone gets hit in the head with a bolt of ice, they’d either end up with a bad headache or, you know, no head. What was the difference between the physical/material ice and the “magic disease ice?”)

And oh god, those trolls. There was another chance to give a little back-story or context for how magic functions in this world, but no. Sure, these trolls seem to have all this knowledge of magic, but besides ridding little Anna of a bad ice-headache and a vague warning to Elsa and her parents of “beauty” and “danger” if you don’t get that darn frost problem under control, what do these supposedly wise, old trolls do?

Apparently, kidnap the kid from the opening scene, raise him as their own, and then sing a little song mid-movie about fixer-upper relationships. A weird song about fixer-upper relationships. I get it was supposed to build the relationship between two of the main characters, but, really? And they look like stone smurfs. Smurfs. Stone. Smurfs.


Not only did the story feel disjointed in parts, but the music was aaaaall over the place. I am not musically educated enough to articulate WHY, but that’s exactly how I experienced it. Intense, powerful opening music and then… where the hell was that during the rest of it?

I found “Let it Go,” sung by Elsa, to be one of the strongest songs overall, and one of the most impactful. Elsa goes from barely keeping her magic hidden to completely unleashing it from her fingertips, creating this gorgeous ice castle. But Olaf the snow-dork has his own style of song (which is admittedly adorable), the trolls have their own weird song (a total wtf moment), a few Disney-style pop songs, and… I don’t really remember much else. Regardless of whether or not the songs had merit, the main thing I remember is… not remembering them very well.

Growing up, Disney movies were all about the music for me. As questionable and cringe-worthy as Pocahontas was, damnit that movie had some amazing music. Lion King? Unforgettable, plus my all-time favorite villain song. Each decade, each “age” of Disney had its own flavor, animation, story, and perhaps most importantly for many of us, music.

Watching Frozen in a theater filled with children and families, I wondered how this generation of kids will remember the music. To them, is it the best thing ever, and am I just biased because I’m not their age anymore? Perhaps.

I really did enjoy the film. The visuals of ice and snow are stunning, the journeys of both sisters are wonderfully done and tender (like a steak, hehe). Character dialogue and exchange felt organic and fluid, right down to the most subtle of body language details, which made the motivation and development of each character clear and engaging. While largely scattered, the music did contain a couple gems that I hope kids will sing loudly in the backseats of cars, much to their parents’ chagrin or joy (or both). The kids sitting with us in the theater loved the movie, and were very vocal about it. And while I question how focused the story was and the roles some of the side characters played, I think those critiques are best served in thinking about how we might make even better films, stories, whatever, in the future. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Living with an eating disorder.

Every day becomes a choice.

Each day rests on a series of pivot points; I find the first one sitting on my chest when I wake up in the morning. That’s when it starts and I pass through one after another after another after another. When I blearily blink the room into focus and slap around for the deactivated iPhone I use for a bedside clock. When I peer at the digital numbers, then look away to stare off somewhere around the window to ponder when I really, really have to get up. Repeat this last step several times. Looking at the time again helps, because sometimes it feels like my body and the objects around me aren’t quite real.

That’s when the first choice happens. The “what kind of day is this going to be?” sort of choice; except for me, it’s “what kind of life do I want to live?” And I’m surprised by how complicated the answer is. Not every time. But sometimes.

A friend reminded me of the balance: the balance between falling in love with the journey and not losing sight of the goal. It’s like there’s some goal out there leaving a trail of note pages for me. Every day I pick up another one and flip it over twice, trying to find a clue or hint. But there isn’t one. There never is. So what I write on that page becomes my choice. I can write as much or as little as I want to, but I have to remember that someday I’ll end up with this pile of pages and that’ll be it. That’ll be how I chose to represent my potential.

That’s staggering. You know? That’s completely staggering.

Some days I write thousands of words and hate every single one. But other days I fill up a whole journal and recognize its importance and its beauty. Some days I care less about the product and just enjoy the process; who gives a shit if the quality falls short? It’s quality to me. Then there are those days I write less than a paragraph and I’m convinced those are the best goddamn words I’ve ever strung together. The next day I’ll write three times more then cut out half of it.

Every day I write and look at what I’ve compiled so far. And I realize I need to write more. A lot more.

Because this is the choice. It’s the choice in creating substance or stopping before the story is finished. And the story may never be finished. Or it may be cut short before I make my next choice. But each one I do make will be mine, they will be precious, and they will be lovely. Even the ones I am most disappointed by. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Little thoughts: Bedroom door.

I closed the bedroom door, listening for the muffled click of the latch. Over time the wood had warped enough to not quite fit its frame; often a careful little thrust was required to shut it. On those evenings when I watched the digital clock betray my trust, the time leaping over my body hunched in the recliner, I rarely crept in to bed before 4am. Mom slept in the room next to mine; I didn’t want to wake her. The floor itself had declared war upon anyone who dared to walk brazenly upon its face. It croaked, yowled, and brayed, practicing its barn yard battle cries even when we tiptoed along the edges of the hallway.

It’s all about knowing what you can and can’t control. I can’t control the floor, god knows I tried, but the bedroom door, that’s my domain. I remembered judging peoples’ moods by the way they shut a door. Did they slam it just a bit? They slammed it just a bit. What’s wrong? Are they mad at something? Someone? Are they mad at me? And here, when I said “I remembered” I really meant: “I still do that.”

I heard the voice in my head and wondered how old it was. If it was a fixed age, imprinted or woven into a tapestry that I hung around my neck as a representation of who I am inside. Or was it a shifting system spanning decades or centuries of life experience both lived and imagined? If I lived to be 150 years old, would I still talk about closing doors quietly and would I care if someone heard it? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Female Sexuality and Empowerment (Your ass is showing.)

I got all inspired to write a blog on self-esteem, power, and female sexuality (and its expression) back when the whole Miley Cyrus thing happened at the VMAs. Not to talk about the event itself, but to talk about the conversations that happened after Sinead O’Conner’s barrage of open letters and then Amanda Palmer’s blog in response to Sinead’s first letter.

I wanted to talk about the comments people made in response to those responses.
I wanted to talk about the atrocious blog from a guy who likes, prefers, women with low self-esteem (because strong women are just so not vulnerable and don’t make him feel like a man).
I wanted to talk about power, and what it means to own it or to take it back.
I wanted to talk about what women taking back sexual power means and what it means for men to be in their own power.
I wanted to talk about what being “female” means and what being “male” means and how that’s not so easy, is it?
I wanted to talk about what seems to be a broken dialogue because I look at all this and just see scared people lashing out against other scared people.
I see big, influential people wielding more influence than they are willing to take responsibility for.
I see puppet strings and I see strings cut.
I see myself, at 13 years old, and I wonder what words like “self-esteem,” phrases like “your body is a temple” would mean to her.
I see myself, now, as a woman in her 20s, and I don’t have an answer to: “what’s the right way for a woman to express her sexuality?” (I know there isn't a “right” way, but the fact it’s still such a highly talked about and DEBATED subject indicates that this isn't over even if the answer is there.)
I don’t have answers to: “When is nudity exploitation, when is it not?” and “When is sexuality exploitation and when is it not?”

Discerning is hard, arguing is easy; I wonder if this debate is messy because we have to continue putting female sexuality in a box in this discussion (what is it/how is it and how should it be expressed/what does it mean), when by its nature, female sexuality (and sexuality in general) is extremely fluid and hard to pin down.

Two questions about sexuality and power keep coming back to me. If women try and take back their personal power by owning their sexuality rather than letting it be owned, what does that look like? And how do we tell the difference?

But when I ask those questions, more keep coming. What does male sexual power mean in this day and age? And whether it’s just women, just men, or some combination of both, is there a way to respect the human beings represented by such a powerful force?

I think this goes beyond slut-shaming because that argument, at its surface, is easy. “Look, she has no self-respect,” “Look, she is comfortable with her body.” Where’s the line? Is there one? Who holds the power? Who’s being exploited? Is anyone being exploited? What is appropriate? What lessons will my 13 year old learn if she sees this? My question is: what lessons will any of us learn if we don’t talk about what we see, read, watch, think, feel or do?

If we ask individual women: “What does ‘my body is a temple’ mean to you?” what answer will we find? I’m betting we’ll find a huge spectrum, but I don’t know what that spectrum is.

The big reason why I took so long to write this should be obvious. There are so many question that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s overwhelming, and while I could sit here, pick a place to start, and start dissecting all the information, I would never post the blog because I would be writing it for the rest of my life. And right now I don’t want to debate or argue; I want to share and listen. So I’m going to change the conversation.

I don’t want this one to be just me talking at you; I want this to be a dialogue. Not just from women or those typified as women, but anybody, however they choose to describe themselves, their gender, their sexuality.

Can people be strong and vulnerable at the same time? If no, why? If yes, can you give a story, an example, experience, or even some thoughts on what that looks like?

What does that look like for women to take back their personal power by owning their sexuality? And how do we tell the difference between empowerment and dis-empowerment?

(If something else provoked a thought, go with that!)

If you are comfortable enough to post a response on the blog I would love for you to share. If someone posts a comment you want to respond to, respond away (but please be respectful and considerate). Feel free to post anonymously or if you prefer to share privately and have other ways of contacting me directly, go for it. I will not post anything without permission.

Be honest and be bold. Much love, and we’ll pick this up again soon!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fingertips and Steel Strings

I judge how often I play guitar by two details: how long the fingernails on my left hand are, and how callused my left fingertips are. Last night I picked up the black painted body of the steel stringed instrument, running my fingers along the only case decoration: an old name tag. The name tag reads “Fredrick the 3rd” and it’s secured by four pieces of worn duct tape.

I haven’t pulled the guitar from its case in a long time. I've trimmed my fingernails and the skin on the tips of my index, middle, ring finger and pinkie are smooth and soft. No trace of calluses. To which I say, “This shit’s gonna hurt.” Because, you know, digging a bundle of nerve endings into the side of a steel string? No pain, no gain or something like that. I think about learning guitar as a kid. Not only do we get to suffer through shaky chord changes, figuring out which finger goes where, but we have to build up the hand and fingers strength to play anything properly and, well, prettily.

Coming back to the instrument now, I can play all the basic chords, and change between them, with reasonable aptitude. But those first few practice sessions are agony on the fingers. I know what I want to play and I know how it’s supposed to sound. But as the minutes tick by the sharp, stinging pain radiating through my hand and into my arm is difficult to ignore. To compensate, I don’t press as hard for every chord.
Point being, everything sounds like different levels of shit. There’s: “Oh that’s good. Really solid,” as the rarely reached goal. Then: “Eeeh, it’s a bit fuzzy. And what was that buzzing twang? Damn B string, damn you.” Then: “Hnnnng. Fuckfuck OW. Okay, that was a chord, right?” *strums again* “Well, I can hear all the strings I’m NOT pressing on, so that’s good?” Then: “…Well in my head I know what it’s supposed to sound like.” Then: “Fuck, I give up. We’ll do this a cappella.”

So why the sudden break-out-the-guitar inspiration? Funny you should ask. I first learned to play church hymns and folk songs. The latter speaks to a longer, deeper love of folk. Traditional tunes can be such a beautiful vehicle for expression. English, Irish, American, folk music holds a grounded space that I inevitably come home to again and again. Kate Rusby is one of those spaces.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon her, but I began listening to Kate Rusby’s albums several years ago. Frankly, discovering her at all was a bit of a miracle given my spotty music knowledge and the fact that Kate isn’t that well known in the US (to my knowledge, anyway). She’s a contemporary English folk singer-songwriter armed with a skill on strings and an understated, melancholy voice that effortlessly slips under my skin. A fluid combination of old English songs carried on by her own tunes, folk tunes from the mid to late twentieth century, and her own tunes, her delivery is simple and stripped down. She offers a vehicle easily accessed and easily felt. The first album I listened to, “Little Lights,” was not one I instantly fell in love with. One track caught my interest and for some reason I decided to just buy the whole damn album. That album has been a long, slow love story. Similar to my experience with Patty Griffin’s “Living with Ghosts” album, it took time and patience for me to dig into the subtleties that ultimately became the reasons why I love it so much.

That is art to me. Vehicles of feeling offered by one and accessed by another. There is no greater honor than when something I produce impacts someone else so deeply that they spend their time digging in, exploring, and making their own experience. That’s a sort of soul sharing that can transcend time, distance, even culture. It can be a convoluted plot based film with complicated action shots and intense character development, a brutally honest self-portrait by a painter suffering from crippling old injuries and pain, an old English folk tune, or a new English folk tune.

They all remind us that the stories are the same, repeating in time and across space. Not that the differences don’t matter. My God, they matter so much. Those differences make our version unique; no one can tell our story for us. Those variations enrich us if nothing else. The ability to look into the soul of another and say “I love our sameness and value our differences,” that’s a precious wisdom.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Because it Mattered

Ho boy. Where to start.

Let's go with a highlight from last week: my cousin and I went to a wedding. This particular individual is my choir/singing buddy, practically since birth. So Disney movie music was our main road trip soundtrack until I broke out Jonathan Coulton and shared another piece of geekiness close to my heart. Truly, there is nothing quite like singing about zombies with a close friend (who also happens to blend amazingly with your voice).

The little cabin tent we stayed in after the wedding had a heated bed, which, I must say, was extremely necessary come morning. I felt like a kid again, huddling in my cozy bed with blanket upon blanket stacked on top of me (with one leg sticking out for temperature control), yet my nose is still slowly turning into an ice cube. If I shift my head just one inch too far, suddenly my face meets freezing pillow case and I'm afraid my cheek will stick to it like a tongue to a icy pole.

Cause, you know, that makes sense. But my point is, it's COLD. During the winter when I lived in the woods, my parents would take turns getting up to stoke the fire in the wood stove; that stove, plus any space heaters, were the only sources of heat so my room was often a bit... nippy. Yet there is a wood nymph part of me that loves this. Bundling up against the harsh environment, the tough skin I developed in withstanding the cold. I miss autumn in the forest. I miss the way my cheeks and nose turn bright red from the frigid air while my head and neck stay swathed in a warm wool hat and scarf. Except when the wool starts getting all itchy and my neck and forehead start sweating. Sweaty skin and itchy wool is not a sexy combo.

My cousin and I were hoping for a hot cup of cocoa before retiring to our wood frame and canvas covered bedroom, but the bourbon wasn't a bad trade off. Warm fuzzies plus unstoppable giggle fits? I'll take it.


I've thought a lot about a lot of things lately. Not unusual, granted. I have a few interesting blog ideas (beyond just the “where's Tasia?” pontificating kind of thing) in the back of my mind, so you will get a taste or two in the near future. This won't be a surprise, but it hasn't been an easy couple weeks. Hell, it hasn't been an easy few months. I haven't been able to thoroughly process, incorporate, and accept all this roughness rubbing against the inner walls of my heart while I've been floating from house to house, couch to couch. Every part of my being has been extremely unsettled. I desperately want to just cry sometimes but finding a “space” to release the dam... that's been more complicated.

For whatever reality I'm in (rather than better or worse, cause it's always both at the same time), I have found a house to be, sleep, eat, and plan in for the next couple months while I get back on my feet. The aloneness hasn't been a problem, but loneliness has. I feel very distant and separated from the life I danced in just one or two months ago. My life three to six months ago feels even further away. This will ease in time, I know, but right now my heart hurts and daily I have to decide whether to accept that or not. Sometimes I do, and I can relax into the ache. “I'm a solid okay” or “I'm on the low end of alright” have become acceptable responses to “How are you?” because they're true. Things are kind of shitty. Sometimes the melancholy tugs my lungs deeper into an empty well, but I still find moments to laugh, feel joy and breathe. I still feel love when I sing every word of Be Prepared from Lion King by heart with good company. The meaningful relationships I tend while wearing pajamas and gardening gloves, as complicated and heavy hitting as they are, still grow.

It's kind of like saying “thank you” and “fuck you” in the same sentence and meaning them equally. I don't believe I have to forget my past in order to find joy; I believe finding joy because of my past is a worthier goal. Recently I heard someone say “we're not our stories,” but we are. That's not all we are, but the stories we choose matter. The story we live and the story we make up might be different because we are awfully good at lying to and fooling ourselves sometimes. If I'm not my story, I'm lying to myself. If I can't choose my story, I've fallen too in love with victimhood. The choice matters.

A friend asked me about my experience with break ups and heartbreak a day or two ago. I remember something I heard a long time ago that still sticks with me: “It hurts because it mattered.”

And thank god it does. Thank god it did.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I apologize for the irregular posts for the last couple weeks! I'm moving (driving) around a bit more right now so finding stable (mentally, emotionally AND physically) spaces to write worthwhile posts has been challenging. I aim to post this weekend, so stay tuned. :)


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday morning

Strange days. Strange dreams. I've been holding my questions and frustrations tight to my belly like a load of laundry, be it dirty of freshly clean; sometimes it feels like a mixture of both. A few people have been witness to my juggling act and those same people have been incredibly generous in their support. Another few, equally small in number, hear about it because I've told them. Only one has heard me cry over the phone. I hate crying on the phone but that one person makes it okay. That person just let's the space be.

This won't be a long update. Today I struggle to find an appropriate balance between dealing with survival, processing, breathing and expressing all this openly and my chest clenches. Suffice to say that I'm alright, and I still remember how privileged I am to rely on the support of others at this time. I won't sugar coat this or philosophize with sweeping sentences; right now breathing is enough. Enjoying the company of others is enough. Writing chapters to a story is enough. Measured steps towards settling is enough. Not really being okay is enough, for now.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Roosters and Buddha: The Value of Ideas


My first retail gig was at gift store/art store: two thirds devoted to cards, trinkets, and hastily painted figurines, and one third for closely packed isles of art supplies. Being an art major, I was primarily hired for that knowledge and experience but my tasks and duties covered the entire store. I liked this job. Would I devote a life of sweat, tears (only not so much), and occasional boredom to this career? Well, no. But art supplies!

Over the years I have become less and less a knick-knacky person. I see an object. Do I have a use for it? No. Does it hold deep meaning/significance? No. Pass. I unpacked, priced, and sold objects ranging from charming, to odd, to just plain dumb. I'll never forget this one line of ceramic rooster figurines, maybe about half the size of an actual rooster. But wait, you say. Some people like collecting roosters! Call me practical to a fault, but I fail to understand the need for a rooster dressed up as a mermaid.

In retrospect, what strikes me most about the rooster mermaid/merman is our complete disassociation with where things come from and why the hell we need them. How was it made, where was it made, who made it, and why? On the personal side, why do we buy things? Why are we drawn to them? Why do we want them? Why do we need them? What's the difference?

So I have a bone to pick with the internet. It's related to my rooster mermaid but I will set that precious artifact aside for a moment. I have a bone to pick with the cultural phenomenon of inspirational quotes.

Let me put this into a specific context since these babies are not new to the cultural neighborhood. I see quotes tossed around on facebook/pinterest like a big, internet game of hot potato. Or like passing a joint. Take a hit, pass it along and bask in the glow of instant gratification. Right now, you are CULTURED. “Heeey man, you gotta try this out, man. This shit is DOPE.” (My apologies to any offended; I am not a pothead, nor do I have any experience in how to talk as one.)

I claim no exemption in Inspirational Quote Land. The procedure: I scroll through my feed. I see something: a line of text carefully composed on some photo or abstract design meant to catch the eye, evoke a feeling. The text is stylized. I read those beautiful words. I barely think for a split second and my instant reaction seals my fate. I am just so... inspired! A randomly picked verbal response worms its way to my brain: “Right on!” “Yes!” “Exactly!” “Soooo true!” “Amen!” “Love this!”

My inner emotional and mental beasts gobble these words up like candy. I can't help but give into the strong desire to share this glorious truth, this gospel, with everyone I know. These words alone represent what I think, what I feel, how I want to change my life, though I haven't really pondered why or how. Thus, I click the “share” button, passing on the life-changing wisdom with my one word reaction. All of this happens in a matter of seconds. Moments later, I've completely forgotten about it.

What does this have to do with rooster mermaids? Allow me to brush the dust off my art degree and introduce a couple friends of mine: Kitsch and conceptual art.

What is important?

Those of you familiar with “kitsch” may understand the term in its broader context and how it has been used since the word first came into use (including the “KitschMovement,” which aims to liberate the term from irony or disdain). I moseyed over to wikipedia for a basic explanation of kitsch because I'm lazy, but hey, it serves a purpose:

Kitsch “is a low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using popular or cultural icons. The term is generally reserved for unsubstantial or gaudy works or decoration, or works that are calculated to have popular appeal. The concept of kitsch is applied to artwork that was a response to the 19th-century art with aesthetics that convey exaggerated sentimentality and melodrama, hence, kitsch art is closely associated with sentimental art.”

“According to Walter Benjamin, kitsch is, unlike art, a utilitarian object lacking all critical distance between object and observer; it 'offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation.'”

I find “it offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort” an interesting statement. Is sentimentality the bane of our existence? Well, you can decide. I do think there are themes and stories woven into our cultures and/or souls which evoke strong emotions within us, and those have value. We read/see/hear things that inspire us unexpectedly or move us. I get that. That surprise, excitement, passion is invigorating. It's a spark. It's a light. But what happens to a moth with a low bullshit meter?

I will defend liberal arts majors 'til the day I die. Why? Because art theory and history (along with any other field that examines metaphor, history, and meaning/value) teach us to investigate the intention/context in which something was made AND understand our reaction and response to ideas/art/thoughts/beliefs we consume.

Enter conceptual art. Some works of art sell for millions of dollars, and yet their aesthetic value seems... bizarre, such as Fountain, attributed to Marcel Duchamp. It's a urinal, on it's back, with a name scribbled on it and this piece changed the art world as we know it. And anyone who has taken an art class ever is rolling their eyes at me for using this obvious, over-used example, but damnit, I'm using it anyway!  Why do I find this so interesting? Not necessarily the piece itself, but the reactions people had/have towards it.

Conceptual art and kitsch point out something important: when we consume (see or purchase) art, we're not just consuming the aesthetic value or craftsmanship. We're consuming an idea, a moment of significance in time. Ironic or sincere, authentic or pretentious, it's context. It's history. Let me spell this out clearly: WE put a value on ideas. WE say “this is important, this is not.” WE say “this is worth my time and emotional and mental commitment.”

Here's my issue: do we cheapen ourselves by how we engage in and consume ideas?

Meaning and Value

My primary problem with inspirational quotes is the same problem I have with the rooster mermaid: we disassociate ourselves from where things come from and rarely pursue why things are important. In doing so, we strip away meaning and value.

I look at a piece of art: what do I feel? Then, how does this painting impact me, the viewer, based on my perception, history, spirit, and personal investment? What was the spirit/intention in which the painting was created? Or, in simpler terms: what was/is the intention, significance, and experience?

Inspirational quotes can be extracted from poetry (lookin' at you, Rumi), historical scriptures/texts (lookin' at you, Buddha/Jesus), speeches (hey there Dr. Martin Luther King Jr!), and literature (William Shakespeare, Paulo Coelho, and Maya Angelou walk into a bar...). All of these sources, just like visual art, have context. Take a phrase out of context and we take away part of its meaning, or even completely miss the point.

What about the personal meaning/significance we project onto a quote or story? Sure, we respond instinctively to experiences. But posting a quote and saying “Yes!!!” means almost nothing. Yes, we have an experience and we have an emotional response. Both of those are important and very, very valuable. Sometimes that's enough. But there's no dialogue here. This is bumper sticker philosophy; it's gonna excite one person and piss off the other. Why did those words impact you? What did you feel when you read them, why do you respond to them, what in your history or situation or life philosophy sparked the connection? “I see the world differently now!” “This inspires me to change my life!” Or my favorite: “This affirms my belief set that is already in place!” That's great. What next?

Why do we believe/think/feel/see things the way we do? What do objects, what do ideas, what do words mean to you? Understanding these questions within ourselves begins a dialogue; when we meet other people with different ideas, experiences and beliefs, we arrive pre-equipped with tools to converse, challenge, and explore perceptions well outside our own.

So I observe inspirational quotes being used as a form of spiritual or philosophical kitsch. They're mass produced, shared, they're popular, and they inspire us for a grand total of five seconds. Fast food for the soul, baby. Quick, cheap, and delicious.

We LIKE this stuff. Human beings are seriously sentimental fuckers. We like mass-produced, we like popular, we LOVE instant emotional gratification, and we're fine with this. We enjoy a scoop of ice cream and “yummy” is a perfectly acceptable summary of our experience. I sold rooster figurines to people who happily purchased them. We pass around inspirational quotes for a nickle a piece, we gather them up like M&Ms.

And that's okay.

If we are genuinely okay with the value of what we buy into.

Know Your Source

There is one more point I'd like to bring up: everything on the internet is true.

Did you laugh? I hope you laughed.

When we read/post a quote that gives credit to the author, do we asked ourselves these two questions? 1) Do I really know what it means (ie it's context) and 2) Am I sure this person actually said it?

Ah, yes, the glorious world of misquoting and fake quotes. Buddha seems to be an internet favorite; do these look familiar? 

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
One of my favorites: “In the end, only three things matter: How much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

You may notice from the links (this is one of the reasons I love the site) that misquoting something doesn't necessarily devalue the quote we love so much. The true source may not be what you thought, but clearly those words have meaning to you and to many others.

What is the source, if known?
Am I aware of the cultural value and context?
How engaged will I choose to be?
What does it mean? What does it mean to me?
What do I feel? Why?

Not all these questions require dissertation length explanations. Basic awareness or inquiry counts, too.

In Summary: How will we engage in ideas and emotions?

I realize that obsessing about inspirational quotes this much is rather silly. Quotes are snippets, they're sparks, they're inspirations. Why you gotta be so SERIOUS about it? But if a spark fizzles out, what was the point? If that's all we use to communicate our thoughts and feelings, how valuable are those commodities?

In the end, what you think is bullshit and what you think is valuable is up to you. How deeply you explore why things are meaningful is up to you. Yes, it's harder to get through a piece of literature, go to the source, or look into the background/history/context of something. Yes, it takes a couple seconds to verify who actually said something or what their meaning was. But I think it does a huge disservice to those who gave me the gems of wisdom to NOT go that extra step. To NOT engage and go beyond the popular, easy, quick, “shareable” content.

If a quote triggers something inside of you, that's great. Can you challenge it? Can you feel it? Do you want to know more? Perhaps most importantly, will you create something of your own? Understanding how and why words and art impact us is crucial if we ever want to successfully create stories and paintings, speeches and songs.  

I'll leave you with some excerpts (quote!) from one of my favorite blogs on how we consume art (and I highly recommend the whole essay, even if it is hard to read in all caps):



Monday, September 23, 2013

Home and Belonging

If you suddenly didn't have a home, what would you miss about it?

I experienced an intense moment of melancholy and loneliness on my birthday last Friday; in the middle of the day, between leaving one friend's house and meeting another friend later in the afternoon, I had nowhere to “go” or “be.” The attachment I have with this startled me. Why is this so important? What's the meaning and importance of having a safe place to sleep or go “home” to. What does that really symbolize?

Lately I've been spending a lot of time hanging out at libraries, coffee shops, and parks. A lot of time. Depending on what I'm working on, job hunting, networking, art, etc, I end up setting up shop at different locations in between finding places to stay at night. Although this process, in the scheme of things, hasn't occurred for that long, I still feel increasingly weary. When our basic needs are uncertain, daily, exercising creativity and long term thinking/planning is... challenging.

I do recognize, even now, that I come from and exist in a position of incredible privilege. While I experience my own fair share of challenges, I could be in a much, much worse off position. I'm grateful that despite essentially being homeless right now, I am not starving, I've been able to find a place to stay every night, I have a very caring community at my back, and I have a lot of skill and abilities to offer.

Yet daily we meet our values; what they look like, how we judge our circumstances and make our choices. The “I do this” or “this is important to me” statements aren't always coupled with the “why” questions. I think they should be, even to simply understand ourselves.

As I began brainstorming why having “home space” was so important to me, several ideas eventually came to mind: having the choice to retreat to shelter as needed, isolation/safe place to recharge (introversion), somewhere I don't have to wear a bra (I am not a woman who can comfortably get away without one), knowing where things are, familiarity, smells (smells like home/me), in “my” space vs “other peoples'” space (being a guest vs being at home), the favor of others opening their home to me, infringing on other spaces, permanence, security, possession, the importance of mess and order.

The last one made me laugh a bit, but I think it's extremely valid. We get used to a certain kind of mess or order. The way we wash our dishes (or the frequency), where we leave our things. This actually, I think, goes hand in hand with the “knowing where things are” and familiarity. Tossing mail on the kitchen counter for a day or two versus going through it immediately versus letting it stack up over time. Obviously different behaviors are more or less... constructive, shall we say, but each one of us has grown up and even created our own “natural” ways of inhabiting an environment we're comfortable with. When we share space with someone, like having an apartment with roommates, or moving in with a significant other, we have to deal with someone else's living habits. This isn't anything new.

Engaging in those habits helps creates home. Really this is all about “belonging.” I can stay with a friend, but I don't belong there long term. This is the “I know where I am and how to act within this space. I know the boundaries and know my place within them” idea. You know one of the major things I miss having space for? Cooking. I can make meals here and there at the places I stay but certain food stuffs require more time and space. I saw some video of someone making homemade chocolate candies and I thought, “Oh man. I want to do that.”

I swear it isn't all about chocolate.

So what does “home” mean, evoke, symbolize? What does “belonging” mean? These are external centering points; that “home” feeling we experience when we are, well, home, is a type of groundedness. We relax into ourselves, not battling against a whole list of expectations and images of what we “should” be. If I had to sum up what home means to me, that would be it. A place where I can be without the pressures, internally or externally imposed, of what I “should” or “shouldn't” be.

Ironically, how often does a home not offer that? Yeah, in many ways, I feel very grateful and privileged. Home, safe space, place to belong; not all kids have that growing up.

The trick is this; can we, can I, find home internally?

Well, yes. That is a practice well worth attention, one that is incredibly beautiful and important, and one I have had to rely on a lot lately. Not always successfully, but I come back to it. I find home in people, too, as I've said before, but we can never put all our home into one or two people. The pressure to live up to that is exhausting.

So perhaps we have many homes, of varying importance for different reasons. Home in ourselves, we always take this with us. This allows me to be comfortable, to an extent, in many different environments, to have confidence in myself, to find power in myself. Then we find homes in people, our family, friends, partners, lovers, coworkers, communities. Then we have the physical representation, a symbol, really, of home. That place, or places we use as the primary hub, home base. Beyond that, maybe a city, a state, a country. Home radiates out from our skin in waves, reflecting what we most identify with and where we can most safely express ourselves.

And make chocolate. You know, priorities!  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Creating Space in Practice

I will fight for you but I will not chase you,
I will love you but I won't read your mind.
I want you to have room to love me on your terms
because you do it well and fully.
I want you to have room to receive the love I offer
because I know the difference when you touch me.
I want to be a safe haven for you but not the only one.
Likewise I will keep a precious space for me alone
and advocate for you to have your own.
I will give you more physical space
so I may have more emotional space in your life.
I wish you loose lips and the freedom
to tell me what you need and to kiss me.
I strive for continued loving communication with you
so we both might be crusaders for our dreams
protectors, challengers, teachers and partners
however we choose to define and live those terms.

The last handful of days have offered beautiful reminders of space and expansion. And where to find support I need. Goddamn, can't forget that one.

Sometimes the rug gets yanked out from under us but other times we're the ones who do the yanking. Space and compassion in the name of non-neediness, freedom, and trust. In all my decisions thus far, I'm surprised by the ease I feel, the groundedness. The clarity. There it is, the clarity.

There's a lesson I don't want to forget: uncertainty does not mean lack of clarity. Just as certainty does not equal clarity.

I have been the person who grips things and people too tightly, opting to fill time and space in hopes of feeling and gaining... something. If quality is suffering, my solution has been to sweep in quantity as quickly as possible. I'm that way with food, with intimacy. Those go hand in hand for those of us who struggle with eating disorders.

But I made a choice this time, a different choice, and I'm still reeling. The terror is there, the fear, the grasping for control. I see all this and accept it the best I can when those voices are loudest in their wailing. There is space, there is room, I hear you. I hear you, I hear you, I honor your voices. But there, too, is the clarity, the gratitude, and my surprise. My surprise that I am aware enough to have made that choice for a positive benefit. Loving benefit. My surprise that old patterns of co-dependency and neediness met a break in the road. One day at a time, one decision at a time. Changes happen in seconds and in breaths, and patterns build over thousands of breaths. Awareness in practice, not just in theory.

Holy shit.

“Letting go,” as the practice of loosening a vice-like grip, allows us to breathe again, to fill our lungs with something life-giving. Now, the implications of this have sent me into other states of panic as I continue trying to find work and places to sleep (and shower). But that's the other funny thing about loosening a grip. I allow access to deeper intimacy, to deeper vulnerability, other connections and greater support.

I'm never as alone as I think I am. Sometimes I like being alone. In fact, most times I crave it. But when I peer out of the cave, I may be surprised by how many friendly faces greet me.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Wolf and the Spider

So where have I been?

I imagine that's a question a few have asked, and I apologize for leaving you in the dark. After my road trip ended (it was a short one, even when I planned it due to logistics and finances) I was still feeling... emotionally turbulent? My giddiness was proper giddy like ice cream dripping down a child's arm. My frustrations were dark ocean currents gliding just deep enough under the surface to rip even the most well-balanced person off her feet.

I'm still riding those ups and downs. Some days I wake up with a deep aching in my belly (not related to the menstrual cramps, though that adds a thrilling dimension to the spasms in my gut and pelvis). My head and thought-feelings feel vague and far away like a lost drum beat echoing in some far off canyon. Other mornings my eyes open already set in determination as their vision reaches far beyond the bed I'm sleeping in and the current layer of skin that protects me from losing all my livelihood. Evenings range between bittersweet melancholy that grips my bones and viciously shakes them, to playful laughter and joy peeling from lips raw from truth-telling and truth-seeking.

The search to open, understand, and find the right degree of certainty and grounding is exhausting, yet oddly peaceful in moments. I find myself searching for my answers in the faces of others but inevitably hear the wounded wolf in my soul whimpering and howling for attention and intention.

I hear you, dear beast. I've had to content myself in finding sacredness in not knowing much of anything right now, especially not knowing the future months or days. One day at a time is all I can manage and a quiet part of my heart assures me that this is enough for now.

So where am I? I'm perched on a rickety dock looking out on a wide expanse. The surface hardens and swells like ice and boiling water sliding on top of the other over and over. Underneath these layers are ideas and hazy ghosts not yet completely formed. I've shifted to finding a place to settle for the next year or two, finding means to support myself enough and find some goddamn simplicity. I've a much better sense now of what I need and what my soul craves. The wolf that wants to wander, sniff, and explore, both in solitude and with beloved companions and the spider that searches daily for space to weave stories, create, and express with sweet relish and focused drive.

Expect another post from me this week, to make up for the hiatus. After that I'll return to my Tuesday morning posts. Much love, and much gratitude for this life and for the chance to just feel vividly and unashamedly.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Panic and Pauses (Road trip day 4)

I love the pauses, the breaks in busyness. Breathing happens there, allowance happens there. I've been listening to The Lord of the Rings on audio book during my trip and I find I have to pause it occasionally or allow my mind to drift and wander back. Tolkien was not a concise writer; the “and then” style of story telling can be long and exhausting as the reader or listener begins to count how many times “it seemed to be” and “as if the” and “felt as though” are used in a chapter.

When I was a kid I would read two chapters of that trilogy per night. I look back on that now and offer my younger self an impressed, congratulatory slap on the back. Over time I get used to the language and overabundance of words and description, but the initiation back in can be painful.

My point is, pauses are important if the norm is excessive flow. The reverse is also true. The mindless mental vomit of a “stream of consciousness” style of writing feels amazing, very much like puking when I have a migraine (sorry for the image, but the comparison is accurate). Pressure and tension are suddenly released, and a jumble of mental jargon escapes. After that release though, is another pause.

Friday was tough. I woke late. At first I enjoyed the laziness offered to me. No specific plans, a unique hotel suite (with not one, not two, but three beds), painting supplies perched on a side table, and a damned crick in my neck. You know the kind. “Oh, you want to look over your shoulder? Well, I think I'm going to make that movement as restrictive and painful as possible. When will I back off? Psh, like I'd give you that information. No, no, carry on through your day. I'll be here.”

I found myself in dark emotional spaces. Eventually I painted a bit. I ordered Thai curry from the restaurant on the corner. I tried yoga to release a body loudly complaining about long hours spent in a car. Then menstrual cramping kicked in while the road noise outside inscreased as the evening hours drew closer.

I could not describe what I felt in simple terms. My skin was crawling, I was panicking, I started to cry. Planning anything for the following day/days seemed pointless; I didn't even know what I wanted to do. I didn't want to be where I was, but didn't want to run anywhere. I didn't want company but I didn't want to be alone.

The couple people I texted that night, bless their hearts, wanted to offer support and help me figure out what was going on. I felt irritated; I didn't want to analyze or figure anything out. I don't think I could have. Eventually, after peeing of all things, I walked back into the bedroom and remembered that I didn't have to hold this anxiety so tightly. I could relax into it and open up the space. I didn't have to focus intently on it, staring through cages, but I could permit whatever It was to sit next to me on the bed. Allowance happens in pauses. I don't have to like you, I don't have to hold your hand. But you can sit with me.

Time and sleep claimed my eyes and night breezes blew gently into my hair. As far as pauses go, sleep is truly a blessed one.

I expect I will gently peel back my trip's significance over time. The harsh shift between spacious wilderness and crowded suburban/urban towns seized my body and spirit just as harshly. This is the importance of experience: we understand, first hand, what our needs are based upon evidence and comparison. I'm not yet certain of the deeper implications... I yearn for solitude, quiet, and direct connection with earth and trees unlike any passing fancy. I also find great ease and creativity in all these things, which surprises me. In the past I've clung to companionship and lost my center to insecurity in relationships. Now I enjoy my own space and do not painfully miss my loved ones or general company of people... yet I still greatly look forward to coming “home.” To miss something or someone and still be content with where I am in the moment... that blows my mind.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

Redwoods and Spiderwebs (Road trip day 3)

Pinkest of Pink in downtown Eureka
My morning on Thursday, August 29th, began with bagels. My friend walked me to a local cafe called Los Bagels. Garlic bagel topped with cream cheese, cucumber, sweet mustard and poppy seed/sesame seed mix? Uh, sure, I'll have one of those.

Reconnecting with my friend, even for such a short time, let the flow of my trip change. Old town/downtown Eureka has a humble quality to it I quietly slipped into. The ensembles of t-shirts, skirts and sandals. The fat woman with a mustache wearing black clothes as one hand clasped the leash ensnaring her accessory dog. Clean shaven men with crisp blue button-down shirts. Toddlers with sunglasses that seem to swallow their faces as they giggled and ran around in that trotting, bouncing sort of way. Just that collection of oddities and normalities that when poured together taste like something sweet. Where an organic tomato isn't a hipster thing, it's just another item on the menu.

I left Eureka with a full tank of gas in at least three ways.

Driving is a special place I can think freely in. Maybe I just have the practice; all those miles I commuted to and from school were training hours so I could tackle the harder stuff later on. Driving offers a different kind of perspective than walking or sitting still. I can still be in my body but I move through time and space in curious ways. I more easily see the ways in which roads and lives weave together, how small the world and our experiences are in the scheme of things. What matters in life, what I'm feeling or not feeling, blah blah blah. You get the picture.

Avenue of the Giants
The mulling spiraled as I approached the Avenue of the Giants (the drive-through scenic tour of the Humboldt Redwood State Park). Then it all kind of... imploded. I drove through canopies of impossibly tall trees that were old friends not seen for many years. I drove. I rolled down my windows. I stopped to walk and weave between fallen trunks, ferns, towering redwoods, and spiderwebs. I took pictures. I spotted more and more intricate webs and curiously patterned eight legged creatures that I desperately wanted pictures of but couldn't access without disrupting some other intricate, improvised home.

I kept trying to figure out what I felt. I couldn't identify any tangible emotion. Not awe, not sadness. I didn't miss those closest to me, I didn't ache for human touch or company, I wasn't panicking or reclusive or social. “Am I numb?” I thought. Why after all these weeks of deeply churning emotions, of aliveness, do I suddenly feel nothing? Then I realized.
Spider's web

I felt grounded. I felt home. I felt like I do in moments with a soul love, being in total fullness and at ease in myself.

There is one phrase a soul sister of mine uttered not long ago that haunts my heart in a kind, precious way. “I'm learning how to be alone.” Not lonely. Alone. Not to reject the company of others or to abandon intimacy. Rather, developing intimacy in all spaces. With lovers, with friends, and with myself.

For the first time in what feels like a very long time I felt okay being alone with myself. No music, no distractions. Just fullness and trees. How odd to be so at home in a wilderness. I find that concept to be a funny one, the wilderness. So often in mythologies and stories this space, forest, desert, or some other landscape, is a trial. A stretch of land or time that someone is meant to endure long enough until they reach the “other side.” Within the wilderness much is learned, so that the hero, or whoever, might someday be free of the lost wandering.

But doesn't that miss the point? I am always and forever will be in the midst of the wilderness. Many trees fall, others spread their roots wider to connect with other trees. Spiders weave webs torn by careless tourists, wind, twigs, or other creatures. They rebuild. Within their own space, rarely to trees concern themselves with what should or shouldn't be. A tree never forgets; the harsh years, the bountiful years, each one is etched into their bodies. The gouges, the lost limbs. If a tree survives all of this, even the harshest times are not “let go of.”

Humboldt Redwoods
Sometimes I think now of how many times I've heard and said a phrase like “Let go of what no longer serves you” or “Let go of the past that no longer defines you” and I feel like laughing.

Let go? Let go of what? Something that makes myself ME?

A tree incorporates and grows. Includes and expands. There is a difference between holding onto something, letting it stunt our growth, and allowing something to be taken in as a PART of growth. The scars and reminders will probably always be there. But my soul doesn't have to diminish for it. My soul can be bigger and more whole because of it. Even when I feel most broken. The spaces between those cracks fill in with something stronger and more vibrant should I choose to accept the cracks and pieces as a part of who I am. Those cracks are no less deserving of my compassion. Do I have to like them? No. I can't figure out any way to like self-hatred or shame. But there is still room.

I kept having to pull over to let other cars pass me because I didn't feel like rushing through the highway. Instead of trying to figure out what emotion I was feeling I tried to describe the sensations in my body. My chest felt like a pool of a deep, deep indigo interrupted by slender threads of white lightening strikes. Vertical lines, bearing down again and again, like the breaks of sunlight between thick, dark tree trunks.

One person's stormy sky is another person's sunlight. But it's all the same, really.

In time I arrived in Petaluma. I checked into the hotel and loved its quirkiness so much that I quickly asked if I might extend my stay another day. Now, as the main boulevard stretching underneath my window stills, the street itself listens to the crickets hidden amidst the weeds, gardens, and hidden corners. I'm alone. Blissfully, comfortably alone and I feel neither guilty or selfish for it. I think I am certainly alright for craving my own space along with quiet, or sometimes loud, moments with a lover, or friend, or friends. I crave simplicity in most forms so I might get lost in the echoing silence that pounds in my ears, or the gentle rush of finger pads skimming along a cheekbone and jaw. There is both deep sorrow and great joy in my lungs; if I may release this to the world, my heart would surely rejoice.  

Wind and Tight Spaces (road trip day 2)

Yesterday is proving hard to write about.

I can easily access and communicate the basic details. On the same night I got into Medford, my plans began to shift as I heard from a friend living in Eureka, California. I'd planned on staying in southern Oregon before driving scooping southwest towards Crescent City and finally Eureka, where my booked hotel room waited for me. But if I had other sleeping arrangements...

After much debating and waffling I decided what the hell. I would drive up to Eugene, have lunch, scan the sights, then cut across highway 126 to Florence, then straight down the coast to Eureka. What originally had been 3 hours driving suddenly bloomed into 8.5, but this whole trip was about exploration, right?

I'd had a hard time getting to sleep that night, so the snooze button didn't need to say much before I took advantage of its services. I still managed a fairly early start, all things considered, and after awkwardly navigating the unexpected (for me) benefits of serviced gas stations, hit the road again.

Oregon is truly beautiful in many places, most of my driving was scenic with sloping hills, alternating farm lands and woodlands interrupted by mini cities. Eugene is a college town, and like most college towns, there's a certain vibe. I guess I mostly felt discombobulated since so much of my travel time has been solitary. All of a sudden there was a high increase of people to square inch, and cars to square inch so my spacial meter went into overdrive. I enjoyed good food while observing the particular “look” worn by young, mostly white, city Oregonians. College kids. I am not that far removed from them, not by any means, but I could not wait to get away from the town. My hour spent left me feeling a bit panicky. I left somewhat quickly, watching the tightly packed blocks ease into less manicured sidewalks and convenience stores framed by overgrown weeds.

Highway 126, leading westward to Florence, is beautiful. Truly. Each tree and winding turn pulled me back into a softer state as the muscles around my gut released and the tendons in my fingers loosened enough to grip the steering wheel less tightly.

Bandon marsh
This stretch of driving proved to be longer than I expected; once I shifted southward along 101 I only stopped in a couple of spots to explore. One of which was Bandon's marshes. One residential road led me to a vista point where I was able to walk all the way to the edge of the marshland. I loved finding quiet, uninhabited spaces to enjoy the wind, mud, and tangle of brush and tree. I wonder sometimes why I so often seek to escape the company of people.

I also napped in my car at that marsh for over an hour. I woke up in that half-groggy, half-alert mind-fog realizing that I still had at least four hours of driving left. The clock read 5:15pm and I wasn't even out of Oregon. I wasn't even that close to the border.

This didn't stop me from pausing one or two more times. When fat, white letters on the road read “Ocean View,” what's a girl like me to do? Follow them, naturally. I found a beach spot next to a harbor that was, imagine that, uninhabited. Driftwood, crab carcasses, soft milky clouds and huge stones jutting up from the water's crystal cap like fists. Fine sand, too, a bit darker grey than beaches on the southernmost end of the west coast.

Then I drove. And drove. By the time I reached Crescent City the sky had blackened. I knew the ocean was directly to my right, but I hardly dared to lift my gaze from the road ahead even if I could have seen the long expanse of water. For many miles all I could only think of my lack of cell phone reception, the dwindling number of vehicles passing, and the isolating pressure of two black forest walls on either side. But my trip was uneventful, and I eventually tumbled into the welcome arms of my friend who graciously allowed me to sleep on her living room floor in a lovely, quirky apartment. The day's events still are unfolding for me, each moment spent offers a piece of me, I know. Putting the whole together is the patience game.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Roads, Rivers and Rocks (Road trip day 1)

I have a fun fact for you, I am on a road trip! I will be posting daily blogs while I'm traveling, so check back each day for something new (plus pictures). I'm currently camped out in a hotel room in Medford, Oregon; my body is wearily draped over the bed and my eyes ache. All those lines. Watching the lines go by, and by, and by. Flatlands, mountains, live crops and dead cows. No wait, I meant that the other way around. Those cows were definitely moo and munch crazy.

Thus completeth the first day of driving and sight seeing. Fair warning, I start acting a bit more sassy once I reach level 7 or so on the tiredness scale, so bear with me. This post might get a little rocky. But no rock slides, I promise.

I suppose a good place to start would be answering why I'm taking this trip. To which I respond, why the hell not? I'll back up and give you the short version: had an identity where-is-home crisis, a haven't-had-a-vacation-or-break-in-over-three-years crisis, found myself homeless (kinda anyway, I've got a generous Dad with a storage room plus mailbox address and a super wonderful friend who gave me a place to rest my head), and decided to go explore the other half of the state + extras. I've been “There and Back Again by Bilbo Baggins” all up and down the southern California stretch, but shit. I haven't been up in them hills in ten years or more. I grew up in a forest and lately I've see more primped golden beaches than towering woodlands.


Anyway, so yesterday I haphazardly threw a route together and spent hours agonizing over what hotels to book (because hotel beds give me the jeebie weebies). Today I picked up my maps, filled a bag full of fruits, veggies, nuts and hummus, slipped my sunglasses over a make-up free face and set out.

One of my big goals for this trip was to sketch and paint (and take reference photos for future oil paintings). A couple of points along I-5 had caught my eye so I planned on pulling off at least twice, but feeling free to stop off wherever was extremely important to me. National parks and campgrounds are all well and good but sometimes fees are required. Plus, you find hidden gems when you just start following random roads.

Sacramento River through Red Bluff
I pulled off at my first location, Red Bluff, because a road sign mentioned the state park. I never actually stopped at the park itself; instead I followed Adobe Road all the way through Surrey Village, this sorta woodsy riverside community featuring some swanky houses and mini mansions. The road runs parallel to the Sacramento River and I stopped at one point to walk and listen to the river lapping at the canal edges.

My second stop was pre-planned, Shasta Caverns a bit north of Redding. If I'd had more time and a more flexible budget I would have taken the Caverns tour but I drove back down the mountain, detouring off the various campground roads to explore a little. Nothing inherently exciting for me, the available stop points weren't my favorite and I forgot to stock up on dollar bills to pay for state park day use.

The third stop was a gem that I found purely by chance off Salt Creek Road in Lakehead. The road I eventually stumbled upon, Lower Salt Creek Road, runs along the Salt Creek Inlet to the larger McCloud River. I wound down, down, down until I found a fork: to the left was a paved road continuing toward a campsite while to the right was a rough, dusty off-shoot leading to a boat drop. Here's am overhead photo from Google Maps illustrating the creek, and railroad bridge stretching over it. The red line is where I drove.
Google Maps image of Salt Creek Inlet

So you can guess what I found:

Salt Creek Inlet near the old bridge, August 2013
This stretch of the river was almost completely dry. I was able to drive underneath the bridge and continue on a fair ways. The dirt was so soft and loose, really almost like a thin layer of fine sand. Once I got out of the car, even gentle walking kicked up little dust tornadoes. The rich layers of sediment were gorgeous, all stacking down to the soft, green bottom of the creek bed. The pathway of remaining water was littered with lost debris, who knows how long that stuff had been there.
Salt Creek Inlet near old bridge, dry bed

Salt Creek Inlet, dry bed

Old railroad bridge over Salt Creek Inlet, Lakehead, CA
After that, I didn't stop driving until I hit Medford. The belly of Oregon is gorgeous with its dips, windings and spattering of houses and farms tucked between trees. I felt weary, though. Once I checked into the hotel I sat for a while, unable to do much else except web surf and text my emergency contacts that yes, I was indeed still alive. I hunted Yelp to find something unique and tasty for dinner; I can say with certainty and enthusiasm that Kaleidoscope Pizzeria makes damn tasty vegetarian pizzas.

Also, thank you handful of friendly Oregon people I have briefly engaged with. You made my tired eyes happy-tired eyes.

Until tomorrow. Sending loves!