Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sea Creatures

One thing I've learned in California: I am not a sea creature. Rather, I am a fresh water mammal. There was always a mystique about running and diving into the ocean and swimming like one does in a lake, slowly and calmly, but this is much harder than it sounds, especially for a woman who was raised in fresh water lakes and swims with her mouth slightly opened, spitting out water as she resurfaces. This is not possible with sea water. Plus, you can't really just dive in, you have to focus on the waves, when they are coming, how big they are, will they crash against your head, pull your swimming suit off, knock you against the ocean floor or pull you off your feet during the rip tide? Plus the Pacific Ocean is cold. At least in Venezuela it was the Caribbean ocean. That was better.

Ok. I'm being melodramatic. Living near the ocean is great. I realize I have no place to complain. Maybe I just make myself hate it a little because since it takes so long to get out there from Pasadena, I don't get out to the beach enough. Between the traffic, parking, hot sun and impending drive back home, I've found better ways to pass beautiful summer weekends. But this summer I have not gone to the beach as much as I should. End of story.

I was actually complaining about this today with my coworkers, saying I wished I had made an effort to get to the ocean more often this summer. I mean, it has been a very busy one so I have a whole summer full of weekends of excuses, but still. When my friend Lauren was in town we spent the day in Malibu, and I swam in Minnesota a few weeks ago, but come on, I live in southern California, NOT that far from the beach! As my coworkers and I are finishing up this discussion, the fire alarms go off yet again in our office. The school I now work at is doing construction in a new wing before students come back and today the internet, phones and network were down, then the fire alarms started going off randomly. It was around this time that the Head of School alerted us that we should just go home for the day. It was 10:30, and I decided not to think too hard about it and drove straight to Santa Monica after grabbing my bathing suit from home. As far as I saw it, I had the whole day, a book to finish and lunch already packed.

And it was the prefect day at the beach. Traffic getting to the beach was not awful, it took me no time to find parking, there were not many people on the beach because LA school districts have started school now and the CRAZY heat wave we've been in has kind of broken. It was sunny but not hot, warm enough to get into the water and swim. And the waves were manageable. I could swim and ride them and didn't feel nauseous from the brine when I got out of the water!

So does this mean I'm getting used to the briny salt water? Becoming a new kind of mammal? I know that I have not yet gotten used to the heat here, that's for sure. I'll keep you posted on the ocean, as I make an effort to go more often.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Birthday

Most people don't want to talk about how old they are on their birthdays because they don't like to admit how many years they've lived. I am actually the opposite. I don't like talking about how young I am. For a while now I've had friends who are all older than me. At the University of Minnesota, the people who I was most likely to spend some significant time with were people who would look at me curiously when I said "I have to go write a paper now." Suddenly they would say "OH right! You're still in college." Once again, I find myself becoming good friends with people who are old enough to say "Oh wow" and look wistful when I tell them my age. There is nothing exactly wrong with this, but it makes me feel like I have to prove myself somehow - like show that even though I'm younger I deserve to run in their crowd. I feel like I fit in just fine. I was telling a friend the other night that I think I hit my hay-day when I was 13 and 14 the staying up till 4AM writing every night. Now that most of the people my age are up clubbing and dancing till 4AM, I've passed that prime and just go to bed at 11 like a normal person. Anyway my birthday can be weird in that respect: I don't like admitting my age just as much as the next girl, but for completely different reasons.

This year, there was a lovely birthday party outside with fresh food and wine with some good friends, which was perfect. I also learned recently that on your birthday, you can go to Catalina Island for free. This is a tourist haven on the chain of Channel Islands about 20 miles off the coast of LA, where you can camp, swim, shop, boat and stay in luxury hotels. Whatever floats your particular boat/budget. Also on Catalina Island is Two Harbors, California, which, having the same name as my hometown in Minnesota, is a place I feel I should take a picture of myself. Typically the ferry ride is $72 a person both ways, so getting one of the tickets for free is really what made the whole trip affordable. Because of the crazy cost, though I would have loved to take all my friends and spend the day running around together, it was only Alfred and I, which was also really great. 

When we arrived in the morning, there was a bit of marine layer of fog and clouds, but we could see the sun starting to burn it off in the distance, so we decided to get a huge breakfast and waste a little time.

By eleven thirty the sun had worn off and we spent the day walking around Avalon, the main town, kayaking and snorkeling. I have never been ocean kayaking, and the water and waves and sun were prefect. The water was a deep sapphire blue and from the surface you could see the massive kelp forests and rocks below. I did go snorkeling in Cancun a few years ago, but this time was so much better. There were more fish, an amazing kelp forest to explore and a ton of brightly colored and hungry fish who were getting fed by more of the other snorkelers and there very friendly because of this. Of course the Pacific is much cooler than the Gulf, so the water was not bath-warm, but having grown up swimming in Lake Superior, I could handle just about anything for 20 minutes.

 There are no cars allowed on Catalina, apparently, so all of the people drive golf carts. And live in tiny houses, I guess. 

Catalina is a place I've been meaning to get to  (partly because they mention it in Arrested Development) so this was a great way to spend my 23rd birthday (there you go - now you know how old I am).

Friday, June 29, 2012

Creating A Home In Tinsel Town

I have lived in Los Angeles for nearly a year now, and have yet to see a "real" celebrity out and about. I guess I'm not going to the right places. However, I may have one-upped that experience when on Monday I was having my usual Monday night dinner, wine, ice cream and The Bachelorette-watching party with lady friends. Suddenly, this commercial came on:

And I sat up, looked closer and said "I know her! I know that girl!" Well, know may be a strong word. She is a friend of a friend who I met at a film opening this month. The chances of her seeing me on the street or... in a commercial, I guess... and saying "I know her!" are not high. But, I have met her, so I went with it.

This week I was having happy hour cocktails with a friend (the same one who knows the woman in the commercial above - her husband is a TV writer and he was in an independent film with the actress in said commercial, so they are in this world) and some friends of her's were sitting a few tables down. We chatted for a little bit. After we walked away, I asked Whitney why they looked so familiar and she said they were in some commercials together and that the husband was a walk-on in The Office from time to time.

So, there you go. Those are the sorts of people I've been meeting on Wednesday afternoon happy hours.

I had a moment of finally feeling that I have a home here the other day: for the first time since moving here I was out in the neighborhood, having breakfast with Alfred at one of my favorite breakfast joints, and we ran into friends, totally unplanned. Our paths crossed as Alfred and I were leaving and Megan and James were coming in. I felt a wash of joy. I know people here! We go to the same places! To another person here I am not just another random person in the room! I remember one day just a few months before I left Minneapolis, I ran into professors at Target, friends at a bar, classmates on the bus. I felt so connected to the community and the other people who loved the city. I wondered how I could leave that for a city as huge and notorious as Los Angeles.

To be honest, LA is just a mega-conglomeration of small neighborhoods and especially now that I have a car, I'm getting used to the nuances. There is a place for everyone here, full of people like you. You just need to find them and an apartment you can afford to rent. There are about 4 "hipster" neighborhoods with subtle differences between the types (for example, do they ride bikes or mopeds?). There are 10ish beach cities full of different types of surfers and vagabonds and girls in heels and long skirts. There's Beverly Hills and Compton. A hundred ethnic enclaves. I seem to have located a place in the midst of this, or at least I've begun to.

So here I am. Staying. Who would'a thought?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

California Central Coast

When Alfred and I were driving up towards Big Sur in January, we cut across the state towards the coast about halfway between LA and San Francisco. It was cloudy and wet. The two lane highway was curving between hills we could hardly see and the lack of housing was stark compared to the millions in LA. Suddenly, all around us, there were vineyards and wineries. When I think of California wine country I think of Sonoma and Napa Valleys, greenery and lush hills. These wineries are in the middle, drier part of the state, clustered around the city of Paso Robles. (For the record there are also several wineries in Temecula, which is even farther south and even drier.) We reached the sea shore without even realizing it that January day - the fog was so thick. 

We decided to make a quick stop at Hearst Castle to see if a quick tour is possible, but thank god we didn't go that day! Not only were there not tours available that rainy morning, it would not have been worth the money to drive up the hill and not get the views. Plus we were trying to get to San Francisco up the 1 and we had a long way to go that day. We decided to return some day soon. 

Memorial weekend opened itself up as a good opportunity. The first goal was Hearst Castle, but the wineries were a close second. We found a little B&B in Cambira, the little sea-side town just down the road from Hearst, booked the last room available and spent a really nice weekend wandering the two sides of the village, perusing shops, eating good food and smelling the ocean. It was a warm, sunny weekend with hardly a cloud in the sky. 

On one side of Cambira is the ocean

And on the other are rolling hills

We stopped by a beach where Elephant Seals beach throughout the year. We were there during the molting and resting period of their cycles. Apparently all year long there are at leas some seals on this beach, resting just below the boardwalk.

Sunday afternoon we went Eastward, towards Paso Robles, where the wineries and vineyards are. It was my first time exploring a tasting room and doing any real "wine tasting", though I have been enjoying wine for a few years now. All the folks who worked in the tasting rooms were very friendly and opened about their wines, not acting like we were too naive (which we may have been). It was warm and sunny and the ground was drier than I somehow imagined it would be in a vineyard. Apparently, wines from the Rhone region of France grow best in this part of California, where the climate is nearly the same. We had several red blends that were really great. One of the folks told us that the best time of the year to come is September and October, when all the grapes are ripe and the hills look like fall leaves from other parts of the country.

One of my favorite parts of this area was the old growth oak trees that vineyard growers are not allowed to cut down. They add an ancient feel to the area.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Minnesota Reminders in Hollywood

I brag about this all the time, especially to people who have just discovered the band, but if you have not heard, my parents live next door to the mandolin player from the band Trampled by Turtles. Eric and his wife moved in a few years ago and my sister babysits their kids from time to time. Of course I am not at home nearly as much as I would like so I can't claim to know him well but there have been many Clover Valley gatherings where we've chatted over a beer. Trampled by Turtles has gained their small spot in the national spotlight. They've been to LA twice since I moved here - the first time colliding with my trip to Portland - and their shows in Minneapolis are always sold-out hits. Since I live far away from a lot of their die-hard MN fans and I've got an "in" with the band, I got into their Hollywood show for free on the VIP list on Tuesday, which was fantastic!

I'm pretty sure nearly every Minnesota transplant who has found themselves in LA was at this show. All around me I heard people chatting about popular Minneapolis places like First Ave and Lake Calhoun and they called the band members by name, talking like they knew them. Alfred came with me and at one point mentioned everyone seemed to have a very particular "look" at the concert, which I'm pretty sure is just Minnesotans.

Of course it was hard to forget we were in Hollywood. Stepping outside onto the rooftop terrace you get the view down Hollywood blvd to the busy downtown area that somehow I am becoming familiar with. I'm getting to the point where I know neighborhoods and slowly I'm beginning to trace fingers on the map between places, learning how to get around and know more parts of this huge city.

Across the board, I've been doing a lot and keeping myself busy. Things are going very very well, though the stress level in my life steadily shifts and changes, waves up and down. I've begun to apply to new jobs for August, have some leads on housing and am planning my trip back to Minnesota in early August. Too early to know anything and I don't function well in not knowing. But this is a good lesson for me, I'm sure. Being present and grateful for what I've got as well as keeping things in perspective. It will all work out. It always has, one way or another, even if its not what I've planned. I'm trying to remember how much I like the way things have turned out in the past out when all doesn't go according to plan, since there really is no plan as of today.

What To Remember When Waking

In that first
hardly noticed
to which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
and frighteningly
where everything
there is a small
into the new day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.
What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.
What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.
To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.
You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.
Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?
Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?
In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?
- David Whyte

Monday, April 30, 2012

8 Months

Who knows when exactly I stopped looking at the mountains and hills and palm trees and ocean around me and saying in wonder "I live here!" It's been a while since the wonder wore off. I've been here about a week more than 8 months now and I think officially the newness of LA has worn off completely. I know my way around. I know what people are talking about when they mention places like Santa Anita, Inglewood, Pacific Palisades. I know what someone means when they say "I'll take the 134 to the 5 to the 110 to the 10 to Santa Monica." That makes pretty good sense to me. I have seen a lot of the metro and a lot of the area around it. I feel pretty good about it all so far.

I have been stressed lately. I have been working really hard to center myself, stay present and focus on the things in my life that are going really well and not move beyond that. But its been really hard. I've been feeling obsessive about random things and not focusing well. Then my highly-aware mother pointed out that not only was I going through really difficult things last year at this time and my stress level was really high, as I was leaving the country, trying to wait to see what I was going to do this year and dealing with a lot of personal issues.

The fact that come August, I have no plans and its still a bit too early to start applying to any jobs that might be opened today. I can't start working anywhere else until after I finish this year of service and I don't really have the financial ability to wait much time between ending this position and starting a new one. The plan as it stands now is to get an apartment and find a job in LA in mid to end-August, and I'm sure that one way or another this will come together, as it always has for me. But I realized that though I may want to be more free-spirited or have no plans, I rely and thrive on knowing whats coming next. And I'm really good at setting things up and putting things together. So I'm getting nervous and stressed and I'm not sure what I do about it because I still fall into the category of "can't do much yet." I think June and July is the time to start looking for jobs and apartments as well. I have some leads on both fronts, and I have confidence that I'll figure it out and things will come together as they always do, but, well it's starting to wear of me.

Also, my great aunt, Sr. Lucille is celebrating her 50 year anniversary of taking her vows this summer. My entire family is going to be in Minnesota to celebrate with her, and obviously I'm a part of that family so I'll be showing up as well. So, for all those keeping tabs and writing it in their calendars, I'm coming home from around the 4th until the 12th of August. No tickets have been bought, but the plan is set. I'm really looking forward to filling the time with as much visiting and exploring of the North Shore and Minneapolis as possible.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What I "Give Up"

People talk about doing something like me in terms of "giving up" a year of their lives. This makes me uncomfortable. I don't want to sound like a pretentious jerk, but honestly, the idea that making less money for a year and doing social service work means that you are giving up your life is just not true. You may be giving up certain aspects of your life, yes, and you may have seen them as essential before (and possibly after) the year or time of service, but let's be honest: no matter what you do, your giving up something. If you choose to work your way up the ladder of a huge cooperation, you may be giving up experiences outside of work for a few years, or if you travel to Europe for the summer your giving up time with your friends and family. Nothing is done without using something else. And to say "I gave up years of my life in honor of something/someone else" is basically saying could have been doing something bigger or better but instead you decided to be more lowly, which sounds kind of pretentious to me.

You made a choice we all make constantly. I "gave up" my last two years at Two Harbors High School to study writing at Perpich. It was the best decision I ever made. Last night I "gave up" a few hours of watching TV and relaxing to go to yoga class and felt great about it.

So what bothers me about people saying "I gave up a year of my life to do service in Americorps" or "I gave up two years for Teach for America" is that I feel like they are taking a moral high ground because of it. There is typically a tone of, "Look at this awesome thing I did while you were off making your career or going to grad school or raising a family." Maybe I'm bringing that to the situation, but I do think my judgement comes from somewhere real. And people think better of you for having done a year of service or participated in the Peace Corps or dropped everything to help disaster victims.

The thing is, these "service" jobs are AMAZING and AWESOME things to do, but they don't make us better than anyone else who for whatever reason didn't go do them. And to say you "gave up" can make it seem like it was not an enriching experience to give this thing up. But honestly, usually it is a very enriching thing to learn that you can live happily and healthily with a much more limited amount of money or in a community with different values and economic levels than where you grew up.

I also think that the things people do when when or if they choose not to go into service or travel or volunteerism are very valuable and enriching. I have friends who got married right out of high school and have lives that are deep, enriching and have so many different aspects than mine. I don't like looking at this as something we can judge anything but our own lives off of. It doesn't make me better than anyone else to have spent a year working with the homeless. It may make me a better person than I was, but not better than anyone around me. At least it's not my place to judge or get moral high ground around anyone else or their journey. (Including of course this whole post where I shouldn't be judging people for the pride they should rightfully take in their work with at-risk or needy communities. Ah! What a catch-22!)

And of course I'm doing all of this and I'm proud of what I've chosen to do this year. I am serving no one, even if I use this language from time to time. I take what is donated and facilitate it getting to individuals who need it, as my job description says. I don't know if I've come to any answers for the "big" questions I ask myself. I have not found better ways to cope with seeing poverty and suffering around me than I had at the beginning of the year. But I am doing good things and enriching my life. By challenging myself in many different ways this year, I am becoming a better person. But who knows what kind of a person I would be if I chose some different kinds of challenges instead of these.

Did this make any sense? I'm not sure even I can follow myself here...

Monday, April 9, 2012


"Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius 
to spin and weave in the same action 
from her own body, anywhere - 
even from a broken web." 
- Adrienne Rich

(I've quoted this not too many days ago, but its just so pertinent in my life right now that I have to repeat it. And hopefully this time I'll do a better job of explaining why it means so much to me)

~ ~ ~

I have begun to feel like I have “heard it all” after only being on the job for 7 months. It is making me impatient. This is not a part of myself I like to own up to - my impatience - but it has always been there. And it has not been easy lately to be present to the sadness that my client’s feel in their lives. There is always a story behind where they are today, and often I have been finding myself brushing them off, saying, “Yes, you qualify for the Pantry services. I don’t need to know what got you to this place.” Chances are I’ve already heard a similar story, if not one that is sadder.

But who in the hell am I to consider what story is “sadder”? And when I think about it, the hard truth is that when I do this, I am another link in the chain of people my clients come into contact with over the course of their day or week or month who brush them off because they don’t have time or energy to take on any more sadness. When someone is struggling, they need to let the story come forth from time to time. They are asking me for help, not just in feeding their kids, but in taking a few minutes of my day to be present to their story, their anger and their fears. The least I could do is give them that, right?

But some days their stories feel like a burden to me. I feel heavy after listening and I carry all that they have told me on my bike, into my house and wrap these things around me in my bed. I’m doing all I can. I’m doing what I’ve been assigned to do this year: give these people supplemental food so they can make it through the week, hopefully pay the rent and eat a little healthier. But there is so much more needed. By quieting my own anxious self and listening for just a couple more minutes, I could give them more than supplemental food. By giving them the time of day and looking them in the eye, I could humanize them. However, when I give myself to them and allow myself to empathize so that for just a minute, I take a bit of their sadness on. I carry part of the story, even if the weight on me doesn't help alleviate anything from their own backs, or take away another worry from their own bed.

I have been pushing away from these moments. Brushing them away and not looking anyone in the eye while I fill out their paperwork. I see this in myself and I feel so angry with myself. I don't like that I get impatient with my friends when I feel like we're leaving too slowly, or that I feel tension and anxiety when the bus driver isn't changing into the lane I think would be faster. But my distaste with my own impatience comes to a head when it comes to my client relations, as I described above. Its just too bothersome.

So in order to be more patient, I have been working on being more willing to actually look at the stories I've been carrying around, then let them go. They are not mine. There’s nothing else I can do with them. It takes a lot of work. I need to prepare myself more fully for the day on the way to work and intentionally sort through them and let them go on the bus ride home. Not tune the world out with a book for an hour, like I am used to doing. I am working on introducing more patience and being the ear someone needs when it is asked of me, so that I can help my clients perhaps in more ways than one, but not hold any more weight in my pockets than necessary. I have enough worries and stresses in my own story to take on everyone else’s.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Opposite of Rain (Death Valley 2012)

Last weekend I went with some friends to Death Valley National Park. Left work on Friday the 23rd an hour early and made the six hour trek up there to meet friends. We arrived and set up camp after 10:30 and it was dark and quiet in the campground, without a moon. All I knew was that is was warm enough not to zip up my sleeping bag and I was glad to have remembered my yoga mat to sleep on this trip since the desert floor was much rockier than the ground in Malibu a few weeks ago. When we woke up around 7:30 to beat the heat, we were greeted by this campground,

We spent the day moving around the park. Unlike lots of National Parks, you can see a lot of the park by car in just a few days. There are parts that can only be reached by 4-wheel drive cars, but for being the biggest national park, you can get a full feel of the desolate desert and see more or less all of it. I had never been to the desert before, so it was exciting to see the hottest part of the country, ie the ultimate desert. It's also the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and since the valley is between two mountains, the hot air gets caught and just sits. And sits. There is also usually less than something like 2 inches of rain per year, so its pretty unforgiving.

In the summer sometimes it doesn't get below 100 degrees at night.

Mostly for us, it was hot, sunny and windy. It was also salty. The only water sits at the bottom of a salt basin. So not only is a insanely hot, there is no good water available. It felt very "first world" to be a tourist in a place that would clearly kill you if you didn't have a car, lots of water and gas stations around.

We started the day off at the Sand Dunes, where we wandered around until about 9:30, when it began to get hot.

Then we hiked the Mosaic Canyon, as it got hotter and hotter. Turns out I'm no good at hiking in the sun, and by the end I was exhausted, though it was worth it by the end. There was scrambling on top of rocks, walking through deep marble canyon and under the hot sun, but it all happened before noon, so it wasn't as hot as it would get.

Stopped by a crater from a volcanic eruption, where it was unspeakably windy. Like, blow you over windy.

The sunset from Dante's Peak. That's the 20 mile salt flat below, not a lake, like it looks.

Hiking the next day before it got really hot and we headed home. Manly peak and Gower Gulch below.

And finally, Artists Pallet, where you can see some different colors in the rocks, but possibly not in this picture as well. Its apparently better in the morning or evening. Alas.

All in all, a great weekend. Worth visiting, but I don't know if I need to go back to Death Valley. As I said, I saw more or less all of it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Adrienne Rich died today. I have not read too much of her, but I should. This piece of the poem "Integrity" is how I have been feeling lately. Torn. Working to bring it together. To make it beautiful, even though it's painful. 

I asked to open myself up a bit in the last few months. Was feeling a little stagnant. Remember what you asked for in these moments. Now I feel change. I feel the hurt of growth and of being challenged by my own demons which feel to be opposed to who I want to be. She says it best here though. I'll let her speak...

"Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere --
even from a broken web."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rain, at last

More than half of the year in LA for the EUI Program is over now. Only about four and half months remain at this job and with this program. I don't have much to say about how I feel about that, since I'm not really exploring it right now. No reason to mourn things before they happen, as has been my habit in the last few years. I'll update you on how I'm dealing with the openness of ending and beginning as well as the stress of finding a new job and home in just a few months, I'm sure. 

Last week, the program took us to Santa Barbara again for another retreat. We were at a different center this time, with larger grounds and more groups around. We were also joined by all the other Episcopal Service Corps interns around the state of California. Even though I wouldn't think of myself as an "LA girl" it was pretty obvious when we arrived which among us were from LA and who was from Berkeley, simply based on our clothing styles. It was good to meet folks from all around the state, not to mention get some quiet, reflective, re-connective time with myself and the group. Got some thinking done. Got some writing done. Feel more centered at the other end of it. 

Some images of La Casa De Santa Maria, where we spent our week:

Onto the rain...

Since I've moved to LA I think it has rained about 4 times total. From time to time my roommates from rainier climate (Sarah and Hanna) and I wistfully look out the window and say to each other "I could use a good rain storm right about now." Of course, that's me ignoring how miserable I would  be riding my bike each morning in the rain only to arrive at work dripping and cold in jeans sucking at my legs. BUT a good weekend rain, that is something I could dig my hands into lately. The sort of day that's cool, but you open the windows just a little bit anyway so that you can smell and hear the water, where you make a big cup of coffee or tea and sit around reading that novel you've been ignoring, or the magazine you got in the mail a few weeks ago that's been sitting next to your bed. That, my friends, is what I'm talking about.

I don't know if anyone ever told me this (Aaron maybe, in his one-year knowledge of Southern California weather?) but in my head I've had the idea that it rains all winter here. People have told me that typically it rains more than this year (less than 1.5 inches all winter long) but that winter isn't like it was in Merida last year, at least once a day if not a few times.

This weekend, Alfred and I went to Oxnard (just north of LA on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains) to a birthday party for one of his family friend's daughters. It was raining when we woke up, heavy and full outside the window he had left ajar the night before. All day it rained on and off all. Los Angelenos are pretty much hopeless in any weather, even rain, so there was a bit of traffic leaving town, but once we were going through the mountains traffic cleared away and felt good. No thunder. No lighting, but a good healthy rain storm. Southern California needs it anyway.

When things began to clear up in the afternoon, we had a double rainbow spreading through the whole sky.

Also note that Alfred's family friends live in a place where your back yard is a channel for your sail boat. There were blocks and blocks and blocks of houses like this, surprisingly far inland. I liked it. Big surprise.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sycamore Canyon Camping/Whale Watching 2.17.12

Finally I got to do some camping here in SoCal. Before I came home for winter "break" (I feel awkward saying that, like I should have graduated from calling it "break" when I graduated from college), I bought some Groupon tickets for a whale watching cruise in Oxnard. Alfred and I decided to make a weekend of it and camp in Point Mugu State Park at the Sycamore Canyon Camp ground. It is a really lovely place, nestled right into the hills less than a mile away from the ocean. Once it was late enough at night and everyone quieted down you could hear the waves along the beach. It was a pretty normal state park camping with people just about twenty feet from us on both sides, but it was good to get out of the city, do a little hiking and know that I still know how to build a camp fire. 

We went on a 3 hour afternoon whale watching cruise on Saturday. I had figured the chances of seeing whales was actually pretty small and was prepared to just enjoy being out on the water and seeing the Channel Islands and some wild life. The grew whales have been migrating up and down the west coast from Alaska where they feed and live to Baja California where they breed and birth their calves. Once the calves are born, the mothers fatten them up to the point where they gain 100lbs a DAY for a few weeks until they go back north to Alaska. Instinct tells the calves to swim on the coastal side of the mother so that when they get north in the area of the Washington coast the baby will be protected from orca (killer) whales in that area. Right now is the season of movement for these whales, but since they are just migrating through the area they can be hard to spot. 

About a half hour out off the coast, we came across a pod of common dolphins near the surface. Once we approached them, the 100ish dolphins swam up to us, surfed in our wake and raced along with the boat for most of the trip. It was fantastic! Sea lions made appearances, pelicans were everywhere. It was decided that even if we never saw a whale, this would make the trip worth it. But we were lucky, and towards the end of the trip, we DID come across a huge, feeding finback whale, which is just smaller than a blue whale. Since it was feeding it stayed in the same area and resurfaced often. It never fully breached, but we were right behind it and right alongside it and got the idea it was just about as big as our boat. Seeing a whale is something I've always wanted to do and I feel so lucky to have been able to spot one. 

Sunday we hiked along the cliffs over the PCH and the ocean. From the site it was a very short hike up to the top of the hills where we could overlook... well, everything. 

Our slightly tipped over tent in the site. 

Sycamore Canyon campground from behind, on the way home from the hiking in the cliffs. 

On the whaling boat, heading towards the Channel Islands, where we saw the finback.

This is the only pictures I could manager of the dolphins, which is an awful representation of how many there actually were that day. But there's two, surfing in our wake.

 Channel Islands National Park.

 El Matador Beach, sunset.

 The cliffs we walked along. We didn't realize we were going there until we got up there. 

 The path we took along the cliffs edge.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mid-Winter Pick Me Up

It's good to be reminded and directed once in a while.

Lately at work I've been trying to fill time and figuring out what I should be doing, what good I'm really doing at all. After the holiday season we go into a quieter time at ECPAC, more of a routine that's not interrupted every other week by a big event or food drive. It's all become a routine, I know what to expect every week and have confidence in my ability to complete what I need to complete to keep my arm of the place running. I've even made some improvements and changed some things as I needed to. I've become bored even on the days when the pantry is opened. I have such an amazing and dedicated staff of volunteers, and I know the antics of clients and have possibly begun to "see it all" (that may be premature though...), that I often find myself blending into the background and only coming forward when a question is being asked or an issue is arising.

Today my boss and I had a meeting with three women from a local church who are interested in hosting a large-scale food drive and doing some big projects (like massive spring cleaning) for us within the next few months. Pat and I spent about a half hour relaying to them information about the different branches of the service wing of the council, how each came to be and how each affects the lives of those in Pasadena. I give this speech pretty often and usually people are impressed and complementary, but this was different. I can't say if they were more genuine in their gushing complements or if it was just a "click" in our personalities, but after they left I felt rejuvenated in a way I don't normally after these talks with possible volunteers and donors.

What I do does matter. It's OK that I come home exhausted. There's a lot to get done. I process a lot every day and it's OK if some days I can't take it all in with love and dignity. I look a lot of things straight in the eye and often have to say "No" to some very desperate people, usually just because I can only provide as many services as are needed and I know there are really not any other places they can go. I've been loosing patience more quickly lately, feeling more worn and grumpy at work. It was good to be uplifted by a group of well-meaning women. It was good to be reminded that all of this is important, even if at the end of the day its a lot of bandages on gaping wounds. If people we're not fed today, there would be no one to put into long-term housing or to take full-time jobs.

I worry about being self-serving. That I am giving my time to others and working in this industry only to make myself feel better. I worry that by feeling even a little prideful in the work I'm doing I'm not being fully honest to myself or fair to my clients. Am I stepping on their backs if I'm lifting myself up and making myself feel better because of their poverty? I'm not sure, but as for today - its OK to feel refreshed and rejuvenated by well-meaning women telling me what I do is awesome and important.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Choosing Writing

It has become clear to me within the last year that I had let go of a part of myself over the last few years, especially during college. I am no longer the little girl who used to draw pictures on construction paper for the stories she wrote, which she had her father write along the bottoms and margins of the paper. The preteen who filled up her study hall period with writing and not homework. Who used to run in the forest after school, day dreaming and talking with her characters, designing stories and weaving them together in a blanket of notebooks while she would sit up late at night, scribbling. The young woman who set her eyes on the arts high school in Minneapolis, found a way to get there and grew so much in the care of loving teachers and with a class of incredible young writers. Who stood up on stages, took a deep breath and read her words aloud with pride and lived in the rush of sharing her art. I was placing high in national contests. I was making (not much but some) money for my writing. There was a path before me.

I allowed this part of me to slip to the wayside out of necessity. Part of letting this part of myself go was a matter of growing up and exploring new parts of myself and the world. It was clear that studying creative writing or English in college was not going to fulfill me and I have no regrets about my college experience in global studies and social justice. If anything, it has made me more well-rounded as a person, and therefore a better, more well-rounded writer. Plus it opened up actual career possibilities for me (sorry English majors), and brought me to the place I am today.

More than anything, that novel (I've been playing with the working title Dear Bird), for which I received enough money in an national competition to go to Northern Ireland and do research in 2009, has fallen by the wayside. While taking 15 to 18 credits a semester, I worked at least 20 hours a week, sometimes up to 50 or 55 when I was a truly crazy person. Between coming home late and just wanting ice cream, a glass of wine and to curl up into bed but looking down at a bed covered in notebooks again, homework this time, I have to admit that there was not humanly possible way I was going to keep working on that book. I wasn't going to be reading about the IRA, the history of Irish politics or writing in my character's voices to get to know them better.

I try to say all of this without shame. I was once told (albeit I was told this by an unhappy man who was about to break my heart) that "you can't call yourself a writer if you don't write." I have always looked at myself as a writer, as an artist. I have always seen myself as a collector of stories, my own and others', and I get to know people and the world around me through stories. I know that I can call myself a writer during times in my life when I'm not staying up late to finish writing the newest chapter of my book. I have plenty of writing friends who need to write daily for sanity. I have other friends who, like me, need the breaks from the notebook to feel sanity.

Right now I'm working on reweaving that discipline I had when I was a little girl into my life. Now that I have more time on my hands than during undergrad, I don't have mounds on homework to do after work and I only work about 40 hours a week, I could actually write. I could re-read that shelf full of books about the IRA. I could stay up late working and working, flickering the light on and off because each time I put my head down the next few sentences emerge and I know I will not remember them unless I catch them at the moment. I have lost some of the steam that 14 year old had. Maybe it's the lapse of time between then and now. I have to chip away at the grimy walls of this habit. I wonder if I was more attached to that first novel, Catching Dragonflies, than this one. It was more fun to write. This book has more intricacy and character development. It's more about the characters than the plot.

I have spent time talking to some of my old writing professors over the last few months and I realized sometime this summer that the time in my life to choose writing has come. Talking to dear William Reichard of HECUA about his residencies and grants throughout the year, I realized that there are ways for me to make space for writing in my life. I have to choose to do it once again. I have made some friends who are professionally writers here in California. They have given me pushes and reminders of what I want. It's all about finding a balance between my art and the other things I want to do with my life - which are many. Good news is I can meld them.

The long and the short of it is that I've been spending the last few weeks applying for grants for money to go back to Northern Ireland, residencies to get the work for the book done and generally scheming to make my way to Europe again next spring (2013) in order to do the research necessary for the novel, then to set aside the time needed to do the writing. This project is still percolating, which feels a little like an excuse, but its simmering and will turn into something beautiful if I put the work in. First step is getting some funding, which means grants, applications, grants and more grants.

My friend Deb and I in Rocky Mountain National Park, June 2007, just after we graduated from Perpich Center for Arts Education in the literary arts class. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Newton Canyon and Falls, 2.11.12 and the secrets to happiness

Once again, the weather of Southern California has just been incredibly beautiful and I got out with friends once again to hike through this beautiful spring time air. We were in a similar part of the Santa Monica Mountains, in Malibu again, as Sandstone Peak ( but at a lower elevation and closer to the ocean. This meant instead of shrubbery we were hiking through a canyon full of woody thickets and larger trees, which turned into low, prickly shrubs as we slowly ascended the far side of the canyon to the place along a windy dirt mountain road where we ate lunch. On the way back, we found the unmarked side trail I had read about that would lead us through these scratchy bushes, along the river and over boulders to the foot of the upper falls. The "waterfall" was hardly flowing at this point in this very dry year, but we made a camp on the rocks at the foot of the falls, where we chatted. Slowly we quieted, moved to the sunlight and lay down on the rocks to appreciate the silence. 

I've found myself happier than I can remember in a long time these past few months. Flourishing is the word I've been using, actually. This doesn't mean there isn't challenge in my life, that I'm getting enough sleep, reading or writing as much as I would like. This doesn't mean I feel as connected to many people I want to like me more, this doesn't mean I know what I'll be doing come August. This does mean I feel like healing of what I went through last year has come full circle and I've become stronger for it. I also think getting out of the city from time to time, exercising and being quiet in an actually quiet place has something to do with this.

At the top of the upper falls. As I said, there was not much of a flow of water.

However, what water there was made it very green and kept the rock wall flourishing. 

Newton Canyon looking south east from the Upper Falls. 

Alfred and I climbing on the rocks alongside the water. Yes, that's me higher up than him. As usual (as my mother would tell you in a worried and annoyed voice), I'm on the edge of things.

After hiking, Alfred and I changed and went to downtown LA where we joined in "World Happy Day", where all around the world (600ish theaters, 7 continents) the "Happy" movie was showing. ( Since we were in LA, we were lucky enough to have the director at our theater and a Q&A was held afterwards. The movie started with psychologists who described their journeys  to the study of "happiness" rather than depression. In the '80's when one of these men started his undergrad and said he wanted to study why humans feel happy he was told he was crazy, but now its very popular. The documentary makers interviewed people all across the world and came to some conclusions:

1) We need to be a part of a community of close friends or family to feel happy.
2) We need to feel a part of something larger than ourselves (church, spirituality, volunteerism) to feel happy. People who participate in compassion work and meditation will fire up the happy-parts of their brains on cue.
3) Being happy isn't about never feeling pain. It's about dealing with pain in a better way and moving through adversary faster than you might otherwise.
4) It is possible to loose dopamine receptors over time and if we don't include new, different and trilling activities into our lives (even taking a different route on a daily jog) we will actually loose the ability to be as happy (ie receive as much dopamine) as we used to.
5) One of the best ways to keep these receptors opened is to make sure we participate in activities in our lives that help us to reach a state of "flow". Flow is what happens when we are doing something that we love doing - could be doing creative activity, exercising, doing really good at work - and we actually loose track of time and everything begins to come forth organically. Our mind is literally flowing through movements. When I get into this state I feel more like my body is a vessel for something bigger moving through me, my writing is coming from somewhere else, something bigger. By engaging with this space, we are working with our brain to keep it active and light up those happiness receptors.

There was a lot more and I really can't do justice to any of this, much less the idea of flow. I also think everyone should watch this movie because it's just lovely and full of incredible stories. It just came out on DVD and there's a lot of promoting left to do, but here's my pitch for the film. See it if you can! Cultivate newness and happiness in your life! Get out of the city whenever possible! If you live outside of the city, get back into the city when you can from time to time!