"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Friday, December 28, 2012

How The Sopranos Led Me to Indonesia

A lot of people ask me how I make decisions when I travel.  These days, most of it is following threads and relying on divine providence.  However, there is another important element.  I am going to let you in on a secret.

I have a personal travel agent/therapist in my head.

She looks and talks like Dr. Melfi from The Sopranos.  I go to her when I need help sorting out my travel life (and really, my life in general).  She is gentle but firm, understanding but clear.

I like to think I'm an easier client than Tony Soprano.
(photo: alignmap.com)
A recent conversation I had with her went something like this. . .

Dr. Melfi: Hello, Melanie.  How are you?

Me: I'm alright, Dr. Melfi.  Honestly I'm a bit confused again.  I need your help.

DM: What feels confusing to you?

Me: Well, when I first got to Santa Cruz, it seemed like this was where I was supposed to stay.  Doors opened easily for me.  I found a few free, short-term places to stay, I got a job at the coffee shop, I found a church. The first layer of "settling in" to a new place went smoothly.

DM: And how are things going now?

Me: Sigh.  Not as well.  I'm still loving my job at the coffee shop, but it's not enough to pay rent here - which is a moot point anyway because none of the apartments I've looked at have come through.  Also, it's been hard to make friends.  People aren't calling me back.  I was hoping I could join the choir at the church but even the choir director didn't call me back.  I spend a lot of time alone.  

DM: So "settling down"in Santa Cruz doesn't seem to be flowing easily for you.

Me: No, it's not.  This is too much effort.  I'm anti-effort.  I want to go where the flow is.

DM: What is flowing?

Me: My writing.  My blog has gained a lot of new readers, and I've been published in several places.

DM: Great.  Isn't that really what you want to do anyway?  Write?

Me: Yes.

DM: What else is flowing?

Me: Surprisingly, money.  I've saved up way more than I would have expected in these six weeks - between the coffee shop, odd jobs, and generous gifts from friends and family.

DM: Melanie, why did you leave your job?  Why did you quit your successful career and leave your friends and family?  To work at a coffee shop and join a church choir?  You could have done that in Maryland.  What do you want?

"Cut the crap, Melanie."
(photo: weblogs.baltimoresun.com)
Me: I want to travel and write.  I know that.

DM: Then why are you putting your energy into settling down if you want to travel?  Why are you applying for jobs at Trader Joe's when you want to be a writer?

Me: Well I need to make enough money to live somewhere and eat!

DM: There are cheaper places to put a roof over your head and food in your mouth while you write.  Haven't you been talking about going to Asia for awhile now?

Me: Yes but I don't have the money.

DM: Didn't you just say you've saved up more than you expected?  Are you sure you don't have the money?

Me: (checks bank account and airfare, and does some calculations)  Oh.  Maybe I do.  Maybe I do!

DM: (smiles) Interesting.

Me: Rather than using most of what I've saved up on first month's rent and a security deposit, I could buy a plane ticket!  But I don't have much money to travel with once I'm there.

DM: So work while you're there.  Teach English or something.  You can live on $10 a day in southeast Asia, you know that.  You won't need to work much to take care of your needs, and then you can explore and write with most of your time.

Me: Great!  I'll find a school online and apply to teach English.  When I'm accepted, I'll fly there and live for awhile.

DM: (twists mouth in questioning disapproval)

Me: What?

DM: How has committing to things you find online worked for you in the past?

Me: (innocently) What do you mean?

DM: The hostel in Taos?  You thought it would be perfect place to spend a warm winter, but when you got there, it was 10 degrees and full of crazy, dirty men.

Me: Right.

DM: And what about the guys you dated from okCupid a few years ago?

Me: Oh my god I can't believe you're bringing that up.

DM: You thought the first one was soooo hot with his long dreads and fascinating career as an herbalist.  But it didn't take long to find out that he was a full-time stoner who was wildly homophobic and wasn't paying rent.

Me: Right, ok, I get it.

DM: And second guy?  What about the Greek one? (sitting forward in her seat now)

Me: Yeah we don't need to talk about him.

DM: He was a musician who said he wanted to travel with you, but then you found out he had no intentions of ever leaving his parents' house, and he was still in love with his bipolar, self-mutilating, abusive ex-fiance.

Me: Ok ok!  Enough!  I get it.  I should be using my intuition to live, not the internet.  I shouldn't find some school online and get all romantic about it only to get there and realize I've committed to something I don't want to stick with for a full year.  (Long, awkward silence.) Damnit I hate how well you know me.

DM: (straightens blazer and repositions self as professionally calm) Good.  I'm glad see my point.

Me: But listen, practically, what if I can't find a job once I'm there?

DM: Then you'll be in the exact same position you are now, except you'll be in a tropical paradise.  But  you'll find what you're supposed to find when you get there - whether it be a job, a volunteer opportunity, friends, or writing contacts.  And you'll find it by following threads and trusting divine providence, just like all the best parts of your travels so far.

Me: That's scary.

DM: Then it's the right thing.  Jump in.  Live with gusto.  You should know by now that you don't have to have all the details figured out first.  In fact, you block gifts from the universe when you do.

Me: You're right.  It's one thing to say it but another to actually live that way.  Oh god this is really scary.  And thrilling.  Thanks, Dr. Melfi.

DM: You're welcome.  That will be $300.

Me: (muttering to self as I walk out) What a bitch. . .

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Traveler's Christmas

Like Thanksgiving, this was my first Christmas away from home.  And also like Thanksgiving, my Christmas was full of friends, love, and new experiences.

I awoke to find that Santa had found me all the way in Santa Cruz!  Along with the stockings for all of their children and grandchildren, Heidi and Mike (my gracious hosts for most of December) had also filled a stocking for me.  And just like the ones I get back home, it included a toothbrush.  I guess parents are the same everywhere.

After a quick breakfast and stocking-opening, I shuffled cheerfully off to work a two-hour shift at the coffee shop.  My boss didn't require any of us to work and wasn't planning to be open, but he offered anyone who wanted to come in the opportunity to set our own hours, make good tips, and donate all of the profit for the day to a shared employee bonus fund.  It was lovely to see all of the smiling regulars with their families on Christmas!

The cafe on Christmas morning

Our overflowing tip jar
From work, I drove to my friend, Leslie's house for a fun, non-traditional Christmas girl's afternoon.  We had some of the most amazing Thai food I've ever eaten (I got yellow lamb curry) for lunch.  It was the first time I've been out to eat at a restaurant for about two months.  I bought.  It felt amazing.  I never realized how spoiled I was before.

Lunching ladies

Our original plan after lunch was to see a movie, but we opted last minute for the beach instead.  Since we had just finished receiving a huge storm over several days, the beach was strewn with piles of driftwood and kelp for miles.  There were families building structures on the sand in santa hats and people running barefoot in the cold water.  I can safely say I've never been to the beach on Christmas before.

Long shot of the shore (lighthouse in the distance)

Me running into the water

Finally, I returned to my host's home for Christmas dinner and game-playing with their extended family.  We had cheese fondue for an appetizer, then a pork roast, crab risotto, green beans, asparagus, and fresh-baked bread for dinner.  For dessert?  Cream puffs, peppermint chocolate cake, and more cookies, fudge, and popcorn than anyone will ever need.

Evan tasting the fondue

The family table

Evan and Laina identifying superheros with their nephew in his new book

I went to sleep with a smile on my face and a heart bursting with gratitude.  I missed my family very much, of course, but was glad to be the complete opposite of alone on this holiday.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Daily Bread

The topic of security keeps arising in my life.

Today at Inner Light, Reverend Deborah Johnson brought up the phrase, "Give us this day our daily bread."  What is daily bread?  I am doubtful it means a baguette on your table each day.  (Although - baguettes, yum. . .)  She suggested daily bread means what we need to be sustained each day.

(Photo: cookaround.com)
She told the story in Exodus when god dropped manna from the sky to feed the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness.  There was only enough for one day at a time.  If they tried to collect extra for the next day, it spoiled.

At times on my own journey through the "wilderness" this year (aka the U.S.), I have felt like the Israelites.  I'm mostly happy about my decision, and I usually trust that everything will work out, but sometimes I doubt.  The "manna" has continued to appear for me each day.  It may come in the form of safe accommodation, nourishing food, enriching company, or spiritual community.  So why do I still worry that it will stop?

Probably because it annoyingly comes in little, tiny bits at a time.

I mean, it'd be nice if sometimes god sent like a month's worth of manna so I could store it in the freezer and say, "Phew!  Glad this month is taken care of!"  But just like the Israelites, each time I try to "collect more manna" - to plan too far into the future - my plans spoil.  I hear the small voice inside me saying, Be here on THIS day.  Eat the food you have for THIS meal.  Sleep in the bed you have on THIS night.  And trust that more will come tomorrow.

Argh!  What an AFGO.  (Another F-ing Growth Opportunity.)

Yet, have I ever gone without?  No.  The only time I truly suffered was when I worried about going without.

Ohmygod Ohmygod what if I run out of money?  What if I have no place to stay?  What if someone finds me in my car in the middle of the night and rapes me?  What if my car breaks down?  What if I get lonely and can't find friends?  What if I can never afford the tattoo I've been wanting?

And then, nearly in the next breath - Oh.  Well that turned out just fine.  (Except for the tattoo thing - I still can't afford that.  Damn.)

So, security.  What is it, then?  Where does it come from?

(Photo: money.msn.com)

Right about now I'm tempted to think it comes from a fat, steady paycheck and health insurance - things I haven't had in awhile.  Sometimes when I don't understand things about humans, I look to the animal world and ask how the rest of the creatures do it.

What other living things have assurance that all is always well, secure, and promised?  What armadillo in the world depends on a paycheck?  Show me a swan who has health insurance, a gecko with a retirement account, or a giraffe with social security.  

These things only give us security until they don't.  At best, they give us a distracting illusion.  At worse, not only do they fail to give us true security, they may actually prevent us from finding it.

Two quotes come to mind:

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"  - Matthew 6:26-27, the Bible

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.” - Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Allowing myself to live like "the birds of the air," means that sometimes being provided for will look like abundance, and sometimes it will look like barely basic survival.  And eventually, it will look like death.  Because that's how all of nature works, and I am not exempt.

But I would rather live in the wide open truth of daily, divine providence than behind the long-term illusion of institutional security.  So, give me this day my daily bread, and I will eat of it gratefully.

(Photo: cartinafinland.fi)
UPDATED: Upon re-reading this the day after I posted, I hear a judgmental tone, which was not my intention.  To be clear, I do not stand in judgement of anyone who currently receives a paycheck or has health insurance or a retirement account!  The life I am leading is not superior to yours.  Now that I don't have those things, I see how I was lulled into complacency before when I did, and I appreciate how I am forced to rely solely on divine providence now.  K, that's it.  Thanks.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Naming the Nameless - visit my guest post!

Hello dear, beautiful, faithful, inspiring, committed blog readers.

Thank you for taking the journey of the past couple of days with me - down to the depths of financial, occupational, and otherwise life-related insecurity, then soaring up to the heights of generosity, gratitude, and deep knowledge that everything is, right now, in this moment, PERFECT.

(If you are just arriving here and don't know what I'm talking about, read this one first, and then this one.)

Today, I have the honor of being published on one of my new online friend's blogs.  I "met" him through the blogging community and have been inspired by his thought-provoking writing about the church and his spiritual journey.  He invited me to write a guest post for him - yay!

So today, perfect for the impending end-of-the-world or complete-consciousness-shift (which one is TBD), for your reading pleasure, please visit http://www.heretichusband.com/2012/12/guest-post-naming-nameless.html.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Blessings and Gratitude. Wow.

Earlier today, I posted a cry for help.  Being homeless, underemployed, and without community in my new home was taking its toll on me.  I know that I am provided for and that all is well, but sometimes I forget.

I posted my vulnerability on my blog because it serves no one to pretend that I am happy all the time or that I always have it together.  I can't do this alone.  None of us can.  I hoped that I might receive some messages of support that would help me remember the truths I mentioned above.  I did.  Thank you.

In addition, I received a gift that I never would have expected, and certainly was in no way asking for.  A friend and faithful blog reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent this message to me:

You should receive a text shortly. But I couldn't put enough in the message that comes with it.
I would like to make a gift to you, as my first act of kindness for the 26 Acts of Kindness honoring the Sandy Hook victims. I promised myself that these acts would be of substance, something bigger than I would normally do just because I always want to be kind and help others. I hesitated to make a commitment to do 26 acts, because I worried that I would just do what I would do anyway and label it as "in honor of..." So this is me pushing the boundaries to truly honor the lives lost.
I hope that you will accept it, because it is not about you. And it is not because I believe you will not find your own way. It is about my need to help heal the hurt of this tragedy by spreading kindness, by offering help when help is needed, and by doing things I know will reverberate with love and living.
I'd like to honor Charlotte Bacon, 6, with $100 for each year of her too short life.
I chose you/her because her new outfit of a pink dress and white boots reminded me of you. And because her uncle described her saying: "I watched her go and run off the pontoon and into the water with total confidence. She lived life with gusto. This little girl knew how to live life."
I want to honor her with something that I believe will help others learn how to live life. And I am choosing to invest in you because I think you (and your writing) are teaching and will teach others how to live life with gusto.
And I am choosing you because in the wake of this tragedy, in a world where too many cries for help go unanswered, I want to honor your request for help.
You are loved and taken care of. Live life with gusto.

And then I received a text message telling me that $600 had been deposited in my paypal account.

I ran out of the cafe where I was sitting at the moment and called this friend, weeping with gratitude, overwhelmed by their kindness.  I print this letter here with their permission.

And then I rode my bike to the beach and prayed.  I thanked god that I have always been, am now in this moment, and will continue to be provided for.  I acknowledged that I am not, nor do I want to be in control.  I offered the money up to the heavens, asking that I be given the wisdom to use it in a way that would honor Charolotte and her family, honor the giver, and allow me to use to my gift of writing as my friend described.

I have had no idea how to begin processing what happened in Connecticut.  I burst into tears every time I hear anything about it.  It is beyond my scope of understanding, as is so much of life.  But this gift has given me a place to start.  For the sake of Charlotte Bacon, I will remember to life my life with gusto.  I am posting this whole story here so you might be inspired to do the same.

Charlotte Bacon
(photo: greenwichcitizen.com)

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Yesterday I found out that I didn't get the apartment I was hoping to move in to in January.  It was a fantastic group house with five interesting, creative people and a trampoline.  The rent was the only one I'd found after a month of searching that I could afford.  I thought my interview went very well, and I was surprised to hear that I didn't get it.

The guy said, "Listen I know it sounds like bad news that you didn't get the spot, but I want you to know why.  We received over 100 applications for the room, and only interviewed nine people.  In the end, you were in our top three - and you were my first choice, for whatever it's worth - but they didn't go with you because you were, well, this is going to sound weird, but they thought you were too positive."

"Too positive?"  I asked.

"I mean, you are obviously such an amazing woman.  We all agreed that you really have your life together and are solid.  They figured you'd have no trouble finding somewhere else.  They decided to give the room to someone who they felt like needed it more."

My heart sank into my shoes.  So I'm actually having opportunities denied now because I'm not vulnerable enough.  My whole life people have been telling me how "together" I have it, and I've been yelling inside, "No!  It's not true!  I need help, too!"

Well let me take the opportunity to change that right now.  Because I do NOT have it all together.  In fact, right at the moment, I'm rather terrified.  Shaking, in fact.

After a month of hustle, I barely have enough to be ready to move in somewhere in January, and no guarantee that I'll be able to make enough next month to get through February.  And all that is moot anyway because I can't find somewhere to live.  The only places I can afford on a minimum wage salary are out in the mountains, and I can't afford to pay for gas to get in to town to work.  I'm literally putting $12 of gas in my tank at a time right now, because it's often all I have in my wallet.

And if a second job doesn't come through, I won't even be able to afford those tiny mountain apartments.  I won't be able to feed myself (which I'm barely doing now).  I won't be able to afford to stay in Santa Cruz.

So that's the basic food and shelter conundrum.  Next comes community.

I've been grateful to make one friend here.  One.  I've been at her place almost every day, milking her company for all its worth.  I've met a few other people who've said, "Yeah cool we'll hang out totally," and then never call.  Or they say, "Let's hang out after the holidays because I have family stuff until then."  Yes, how nice for you.

And this church that I've been so excited about?  I sit in the pew on Sundays and feel spiritually nourished and inspired, but when I try to go deeper, my efforts reap no results.  I've approached the choir director about joining.  She told me to call her, which I did, and she never called me back.  Those "fun, dreaded, young people" who invited me to come to their house anytime haven't responded to my calls.

I know it's not personal.  I'm not taking it personally.  I get that people have lives that don't revolve around me and there are ten million possible reasons why they didn't call me back.  And it still means that I haven't made any more friends, and haven't gone deeper in the church.

Part of the reason I stayed here in Santa Cruz was because it's so beautiful.  There are so many fantastic beaches and fascinating places to see, and I haven't had time to see any of them because I'm so busy trying to keep myself housed and fed.

So with no place to live, not enough work, barely enough money, and hardly any friends, what else could I possibly be asked to deal with?

Well you'll never guess who showed up at my work two days ago.  My loving freaking husband.

Yes, really.  I stupidly wrote on my blog where I got a job, so he knew how to find me.

After leaving me (twice) and sending nothing but hostile communication for the past three months, he drove 2000 miles to tell me that he's realized he still loves me and wants to work it out.


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Excuse me for a minute while I decide whether to laugh my ass off or barf up my entire life.  You've got to be kidding me.

I sent him away.  He left peacefully, but this is not over.  My email inbox is testament to that.  As if I have any time or energy to deal with that right now.  Shit.

So here you go, world.  This is me being vulnerable.  I don't say stuff like this often because:
  1. I want to be everyone's ray of freaking sunshine.  I want to only add light and love to the world, not complaining and negativity.  So if I get scared or feel the urge to worry, I just pray or meditate it away and don't speak it to anyone.  I don't want to ruin their day.
  2. I believe in manifestation.  I live like all is well because I believe it will make all be well.  I want to call abundance into my life, not scarcity.  So it's almost like if I say these worries aloud, I'll feed them energy and make them worse.
  3. I am not a victim.  I don't want to say "woe is me" because I take full responsibility for how my life shows up.  I quit my job.  I drove across the country away from all that I know and towards all that is unfamiliar.  I chose to marry Oldman.  I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me.
But when I don't get opportunities because I present as though I have it so together that I don't need help, that is my sign that I'm not reaching out enough.  I'm practicing saying help.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Spreading the Montana Love

I am grateful to say that other bloggers have begun to contact me about doing guest posts on their blogs.  I "met" Lyn Fuchs on Matador, the social networking site for travel writers and photographers.  He asked me to write a piece for him on one of my favorite places, so immediately, I thought of my beloved Montana.

Please head over to his blog and check out my piece!  Thanks, Lyn.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

WTF, Comet?

Geminid over the Mojave Desert
(Photo credit: Wally Patchoika)

December 14th was a very strange day.

I tossed and turned all through the preceding night with nightmares, confusion, sweating and chills, like a dark, night fever.  I woke up an hour earlier than I had planned to, at the time I later learned that the Connecticut shooting had begun.

Something was wrong.  I could feel it.  I felt antsy and anxious, like I wanted to run from something but I wasn’t sure what from, or what to.  I felt suffering in my chest.  Heavy, quickly-moving suffering.

Part of it was the dread I had about going to my job.  Not at the Ugly Mug - I love it there - but at the farmer's house whom I'd been helping to move, clean, and organize.  I'd been going there several times a week to help him because he pays well and my few shifts at the Mug aren't enough, but every time I go, I leave feeling more drained of life.  I know it is not a positive environment for me for many reasons, yet I have been afraid to quit because I haven't been sure how else to make the money I need to set up my life in Santa Cruz.

But while the discomfort with which I awoke encompassed my employment and financial fears, it was much bigger than just that.  It was more than just me.  I was tempted to run from the feeling - cover it up with a rash decision or a technological distraction.

Then I remembered myself and chose to be concsious.  I meditated.  I prayed.  I said aloud to the room, “I am aware of this discomfort; this suffering.  I suspect this means that something is shifting.  Because I don't yet know what, I will take no action.  Help me to remain observant today.”

As soon as I walked in to work at the farmer's place, he began yelling.  At me, at the other workers, at anything.  I've seen him in foul moods before but never like this.  Never so unprovoked.  He spewed negativity in every direction like he was projectile-vomiting up his breakfast.  

One of the other workers yelled back.  I kept quiet.  I prayed.  I breathed deeply.  I decided that this was my sign.

As soon as he left, I said to the other worker, “I’m done here.  I’m not coming back.  I am choosing not to worry about the money - something else will come through.  If staying in Santa Cruz means working here, I’m not supposed to be in Santa Cruz.”

Less than ten minutes later, my mom called with two kinds of news.  First, she had just deposited enough Christmas money into my account (from both my parents and grandmother) to ensure that working at the farm any more this month would not be necessary.  Huge sigh of well-timed relief.

Second, she told me about the shooting in Connecticut.  About the dead children.  Dead.  Children.  WTF??

Shortly after hanging up with her, lost in a mixed haze of gratitude and grief, my phone rang again.  It was another coffee shop in the area with whom I had dropped off a resume a month ago (and since forgotten about), asking if I could please come in for an interview on Tuesday.

The moment I declared to the universe that I was letting the unhealthy farm job go, I became open for something else to flow in.  And it did.  And because I am dense and need the universe to smack me rather hard with things like this, it arranged for the phone calls to come directly after my declaration, which helped me put it all together.  Thanks, universe.

But the dead children.  There are still dead children.

Then another worker came in to the farm and said, "Hey did you guys see the meteor shower last night?"

"No," I said.  "I didn't even know there was one."

"Yeah, supposedly this time it carries dust from a comet that has never been part of the Geminid shower before.  Actually, Earth has never been through the dust of this comet before.  Ever."

Chills ran from the back of my neck down my arms.  What the hell, comet?  Seriously.  Knock it off.

When I decided it would be my last day at the farm, I wanted to finish the particular task I needed to get done to get paid and leave as fast as possible, even if it meant not stopping to eat or go to the bathroom. So I worked and worked and worked and just forgot to eat or pee.

I never said a word to the farmer about my plans never to return.  I simply took my day's pay and left.  Shaking and delirious with hunger and a full bladder, I drove to McDonald’s (yes, I was that desperate).  When I arrived, someone was in the bathroom.  For a long, long time.  He emerged when I went up to the counter to get my food, so I never saw him, which I think is best.  

Because when I got into the bathroom, there was a syringe and a piece of burnt out tin can in the trash.  He had been in there shooting up god knows what.

I hugged myself and looked around as though somehow, in this one-room bathroom, which I had just locked behind me, he was still there.  I stared at that needle.  I felt overwhelming empathy for his suffering, for the kind of life he must lead, which only added to the inexplicable suffering I had been carrying all day.

I made it home at last, so grateful for a place to sleep, for a car, for food, for any money at all, for being addiction-free, for not being dead, for not being the parent of a child who was now dead.

As the universe’s final hurrah on this crazy comet day, I checked my email one, last time before bed to discover an email from my husband.  (Yes, I still have a one, though I haven't seen him for over three months - since the day he left.)  After several angry communications from him over the past two weeks that have garnered no response from me, this one contained a completely un-prompted kindness.

Not because of that email, but because of the whole world of suffering and confusion and beauty and interconnection, I sunk to the floor of my borrowed room and wept.

I wept for the parents in Connecticut.  I wept for the people everywhere who had to say goodbye to someone they loved that day, whether or not the story made the evening news.  I wept for the junkies, and for the fact that I am no better than them, addicted to my own vices in my own ways.  I wept in gratitude for my own, beautiful life, and in sorrow for all the pain around me.

I wept myself to sleep that night, and slept much, much more soundly than the night before.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Clowns in California

I have friend, Amelia.

We both used to live in Takoma Park, Maryland - a tiny, hippie town just outside of D.C. - so tiny and hippie that everyone between the ages of 25 and 35 became friends, pretty much just because there were so few of us.  (And because we were awesome, obviously.)  (And because there was only one bar in town, so we all saw each other more often than we'd like to admit via that watering hole.)

Amelia had a lovely little life going for her in Maryland - a caring boyfriend, a great job at the local music shop, a budding acting career - and then she left it all to go to clown college in California.  I remember our Takoma Park community being excited for her decision, but also slightly confused.  Why would she leave when it seemed like she had everything going for her here?  And clown college?

In short, folks asked the same questions of her that were asked of me when I made my decision to leave my everything-going-for-me life in Maryland.

A few weeks ago, I took a weekend trip from Santa Cruz up to Oakland (on the east bay of San Francisco, for my east coast readers), to drop a travel friend off at the airport.  While there, I visited Amelia, whom I hadn't seen in over three years.

She showed me around her apartment - which is sort of a theater-turned-loft; part of a larger, labyrinthian network of other such unique apartments inside a huge artist complex.  It's difficult to describe, so here are some photos:

One outside shot of someone's porch (not Amelia's)
All of the interior hallway space doubles as a gallery for the artists who live there

Another hallway art installation

There are five of these inner, green courtyards throughout the place.
This is the one Amelia walks through each day to get to her particular hallway. 

Amelia showing me her purple, fuzzy door.
It came that way.

An interior shot of their apartment, taken from the perspective of
the loft kitchen, looking down on the music studio portion.
Under the stairs to the left is a stage that doubles as a bedroom.
Under the stairs behind the piano is a puppet workshop.
Spiderman is on the stairs.
Amelia lives here with her fiancé, Michael, a puppet maker and clown that she met in clown college.  Currently also living with them are a couple from Puerto Rico and a friend from clown college who is about to leave for Bali.

As Amelia and I had tea in her incredible apartment, I asked about her life journey since I'd seen her last.  She told me about clown college and how she met her fiancé.  She showed me photos of a show that they and another friend wrote together and took on the road.  She told me all the things she loves about Oakland, and clowning, and her fiancé, and her life.

As she spoke, I recognized something in her.  Something rare but intimately familiar.  She was glowing.  Her smiles were deep; they came from her gut.  She spoke with a lilting, joyful ease.  She laughed a lot.  Amelia has always been a happy person, I'd say, but this was different than just happiness.

This was. . . rightfulness?

That's the only way I can think to describe it.  While we might not have all understood Amelia's decision to leave, something inside was pulling her to a new place for reasons that no one else could - or needed to - understand.  

And now that I saw her here, at the other end of her decision, it was so clear to me that she was in the exact right place for her, with the exact right people, doing the exact right thing.

I'm proud of her, inspired by her example, and grateful to still call her friend.

And to end this post, here are some silly shots from our trip to Whole Foods, where her fiancé, Michael, works:

Amelia modeling a fuzzy hat and wooden tie
(Yes Whole Foods carries this stuff - who knew??)

Michael behind his fish counter, getting crabby.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thoughts From a Church Pew: No More Victims in Here

For my second installment of Thoughts From a Church Pew, I want to say thanks.  Thanks to my mom for raising me in the church.

Last Sunday, I attended church for the first time in ten years and then wrote this post about it.  However, last week's post still had quite a few concessions in it.

"Well I learned a few things from the church but then a lot of people hurt me."

"Well sometimes it felt good to have a relationship with my divine source but then he made me feel guilty."

"Well there used to be people who I could count on in my church community but then they started judging me."

Victim, victim, victim.  Woe is me, look at how much I've been hurt.  Blech.  Gross.  I'm done vomiting my victimhood around.  It's getting messy up in here.

This Sunday, I attended Inner Light again.  I looked forward to it all week.  It felt so good to be there -like a warm, fresh, chocolate chip cookie straight to the heart.  Everything about being in church again is comforting to me.  Everything.  I love it.

So I'm going to try this acknowledgement thing one more time, this time with open arms, no reservations, and nothing but love.

I am grateful to have been raised in the church.  The church taught me compassion, service, community, selflessness, and spirit.  It gave me a role model in Jesus - someone who preached nothing but unconditional love and selfless service to those most in need.

The church brought some of the closest friends I've ever had into my life.  I was surrounded by people who really, truly cared about me.  I was prayed for and tended to.  When my mom had any one of her many surgeries, our house was filled with home cooked meals, and people came over to clean.

The church taught me that I am divine, and that I am connected to the divine.  It taught me that life has meaning and purpose, that life is beautiful, and that our greatest calling on earth is to share that beauty with others.

And finally, the church taught me to sing!!  Well, technically all of the voice lessons, years of being in the traveling choir in my town, and performing in musicals taught me to sing, but church taught me to sing as an act of  service.  In church, I learned that my voice is a gift that I can use to bless others, not only for my own ego fulfillment.  No concert with my choir, show with my band, or karaoke with my friends has given me the special kind of satisfaction that I had when singing in church.

The fact that I've felt ostracized by the church for the past ten years is my fault and my fault alone.  I removed myself from the community.  No one kicked me out.  I created my own, self-pitying cross and carried it loudly and publicly, telling all who would listen how much the church had hurt me.  I denied myself entry and then complained pitifully at the door that I was not being allowed in.

I am reminded of some powerful words that I heard a wise woman named Ada Belinda Dancing Lion speak once at a women's herbal conference I attended.  She was talking about the things that we women tell ourselves that hold us back from living in our full, divine potential.

She said something like, "Some women say, 'Oh I can't because you don't know what's happened to me!  My uncle so-and-so messed around me with me and blah blah blah.'  Newsflash: EVERYBODY had an Uncle so-and-so.  Did it suck at the time?  Yes.  Is it over now?  Yes.  MOVE ON, LADIES.  Live your life."

This woman (points to self) is done being a victim.  I am done blaming the church, christians, god, men, and anyone else for my pain.  Life is too beautiful and too full of potential to spend even one more second feeling sorry for myself.

So thanks, mom.  Thanks for taking me to church and raising me with faith in my life.  Thanks for teaching me that I am a holy, unique being designed with love.  Thanks for showing me how to pray, and for modeling compassion.  It has served me quite well, I'd say.  Quite well, indeed.

Walking away from victimhood.
Walking toward the light.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Santa Cruz Sunday Streets

Downtown Santa Cruz is a lively, funky, colorful array of all kinds of people.  There is a strong street sub-culture here - people who either live on the streets voluntarily with their dreads and dogs, or just spend most of their days there, playing music, making art, skateboarding, or playing chess.

What I notice in this street culture is a lot of love.  Never have I felt unsafe, afraid, or ogled at.  Homeless men have smiled sweetly and told me to have a wonderful day.  Young women with heavy backpacks have told me that they like my boots or my hair. Bikers smile and wave when they see me on a bike as well.

Today, I took a few small steps into this world, as more than just an observer.

I rode my bike downtown from my current couch surfing home with the intention of doing some writing at a cafe.  As soon as I locked up my bike, I noticed my favorite busker walking and playing his guitar.  (Busker: a street musician who makes money)  I'd seen this guy several times and have always been drawn to him.  Perhaps because he's just so cute (he can't be more than 19 or 20).  Perhaps because he's quite talented.  Perhaps because he reminds me a bit of my first husband when we met back in college.

I walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.  "Hey," I said.

"Hey," he smiled back.

"Are you about to busk?"

"Yep.  But now I'm just walking and singing - sometimes I like to do that."

"Could I maybe sing with you sometime?  I've been looking for someone to accompany me singing downtown because I don't play any instruments."

"Sure!  I love to sing with other people."  I waited for him to ask my name or when we might practice or such type details.  Instead he said, "How about right now?" and then he began playing Any Way You Want It by Journey.  So what else was there for me to do?  I joined in.

Chris and his guitar
After a few songs together, we finally exchanged names and a bit of biographical information.  Chris is from Hawaii ("That's why I look so tan," he said).  Instead of going to college, he decided to travel the world.  He just came to California after two months in London, and is now working for both the Sierra Club and Taco Bell, and busking in all of his spare time.

We sang a little more.  When I knew the words, I joined in vigorously.  When I didn't, I "oohed" and "aaahed" and tried to harmonize.  My favorite part was when the little kids would stop and dance in front of us, completely devoid of self-consciousness.  We made one dollar and 46 cents.

Chris introduced me to several of his friends as they came up to say hello.  One was a mentally handicapped man in a wheelchair to whom Chris gave the remainder of his cigarette.  Chris called him "Ninja," and the man smiled.  We greeted each other with a fist bump.

Another was Twist, who hung out with us for awhile.  Twist ran away to Santa Cruz when he was 15.  Then he fell in love and married a Hare Krishna girl, had a son, and moved to the West Virginia Appalachians.  Now he's back in Santa Cruz (sans wife and son), practicing Hinduism, and loving people up on the street.  He has tattoos of both Hindu gods and cartoon characters on his arms, and has hawk feathers stuck in his hat and wristband.

After a bit, I said goodbye to my new street friends, and they told me to come find them anytime.  On my walk to the cafe, I heard a little voice behind me saying, "Hey!  Hey stop!  Come back here!"

I turned around and looked down to find a small girl with watery brown eyes, an antler headband, and a painted nose.  "Happy holidays," she smiled and held out a candy cane, obviously pleased that I had listened to her demand to stop so she could foist holiday cheer upon me.

"Thank you," I said, and took the candy cane.

"I'm Rudolph!" she yelled more loudly than necessary.

"I see that," I laughed.

"Can you tell that I'm Rudolph?"  she asked, worriedly.

"Yes of course," I assured her.

She smiled in relief.

I came downtown to write about other stuff, and this is the blog entry that happened to me on the way.  Happy Sunday, y'all.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Working Girl

I began my job at The Ugly Mug in Soquel, California today.  I haven't worked since June - six months.  That is longest I've ever been unemployed since I began working at Carvel at age 14.  A much-deserved break, I'd say!

And now, I basically work on Sesame Street.

Photo: mommylife.net

I woke up at 4:30am and drove in the wee, dark, morning hours to meet my new boss, Steve, at 5:05.  I love the feeling of being awake and moving around before the rest of the world.  (I especially love it when I don't have to do it every day.)  And I can't wait until I live close enough to ride my bike there.

I shadowed Steve as we measured the beans and freshly ground enough coffee for our morning shift - nine carafes.  All of our coffee is shade grown and fair trade, and most of it is also organic.  We never let a pot sit for over three hours.  If it does, we dump it and freshly brew a new one.

Then we made seven rounds of (local, free range) scrambled eggs and cheese for the breakfast sandwich croissants, put on the music, and opened the doors.

Steve greeted nine out of ten people that walked in by name, and asked if they wanted their usual.  He introduced each person to me, and I spent the morning being welcomed by long-time customers as though they were the employees and I was the guest.

At some point, the woman who bakes all of our pastries brought two tupperware tubs of fresh wares for the day.  Then the burrito man came with our burrito delivery, the vegan cookie lady came to fill up our display case, and the fish guy came to tend to our giant fish tank.  Around 7:30am when the third employee arrived, Steve and I walked down the block to buy bagels from the bagel place.  

I got a delicious, free egg and cheese sandwich, and all the coffee I could drink.  Towards the end of my shift, Steve asked me to sit down and read the four-page essay by the original owner of the Mug.  It was an inspiring manifesto about community, and how the Mug is intended to be a "third place" in a world where most people spend their days isolated between their homes, workplaces, and cars.  This coffeeshop is about much more than just caffeine.  

I absolutely loved my first day of work.  And the best part?  I can leave it there at the end of the day.  

The Mug shot

Behind the counter

"Cuppa joe, mate?"

The crew: Haley, Alex, and Steve