Your Brain on Abstract Art: A Guide to Achieving Mindfulness Through Painting

As my relationship with abstract art deepens, I find myself wanting to share all the juicy benefits it’s provided me with the world like a healing elixir. I think if more people knew how welcoming and nurturing painting like this could be, we’d alleviate a lot of the collective tension. Who doesn’t want that?

In this blog post, I’ll be sharing three ways abstract painting can help you achieve mindfulness and how you can start benefitting from this creative process regardless of your level of experience.

Let’s start, shall we? 

To begin, I want to try to describe the process of abstract painting and what it feels like. To me, the thrill of it stems from freedom — every ounce of feeling and subconscious thought makes its way to the canvas without hesitation. It’s grounded in pure expression and never dictated by the pressure to create something perfect or recognizable. 

That’s what makes it so inclusive. Whether you’ve been painting for years or never held a paintbrush in your life, you know you’re safe to channel your authentic creativity on the canvas and give in to the process as it unfolds without fear of judgment. 

This specific type of freedom always reminds me of how you create when you’re a child; without inhibitions, not trying to stay in the lines. I remember coming home from school and spending time at my desk with all this energy inside that needed somewhere to go. I would tear through construction paper, rip apart old fuzzy posters, and start throwing any paint and assorted crafts I could find into this mass of controlled randomness. All the pent up energy made its way to this thing that wasn’t a thing at all. I didn’t think the result was pretty when I was done, but the aftermath was a fullness that’s stayed with me since. I’ve come to understand that these are the reasons why: 

  1. Abstract painting is free from the binds of reality 

For anyone with a busy mind, abstract painting can provide a comforting stillness much like meditation. When you’re not focused on a clear vision, result or specific form, you let yourself wander into the subconscious. Vered Aviv writes in his Frontiers in Human Neuroscience article that “abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling it to flow within its inner states…and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to access…it enables the exploration of yet undiscovered inner territories of the viewer’s brain.” With this freedom, you can express feelings and forms of energy that don’t fit the mold of something humans have quantified or defined. 

For example, last year I went through something physically and emotionally traumatic that left me feeling deeply isolated even when I was given support. I wasn’t prepared at the time for the feelings that came up and I didn’t know how to articulate them. I tried talking about it (to myself and loved ones) and writing about it, but words didn’t do the experience justice. So, on one of the days when it all felt especially unbearable and claustrophobic, I pulled an old canvas out of my closet and faced the discomfort head-on. I poured every tear into a process that had no structure and allowed myself to feel each emotion while the painting naturally unfolded. It was the most healing I had felt since the experience because I didn’t have to define it — what came out of me was unfiltered feeling itself, all the ugliness and beauty of my “inner states.” While the process of painting through the trauma was painful, the aftermath when it was done was like drawing a full, clean breath. 

“Shedding” Original Abstract Acrylic Painting by Mariana R. Cabral

2. Abstract painting helps you focus on the present moment

As previously mentioned, even if you’ve never painted before, you can achieve the mindfulness from abstract painting very early on in your practice. All you need is a canvas (or your medium of choice), some paint (I recommend acrylic to start) and paintbrushes or palette knives. The real magic unfolds the moment you begin concentrating on the canvas and experimenting. As you mix colors, discover new textures and play, you find yourself so focused on the task at hand that you enter the flow state. The flow state or “being in the zone” is a psychological theory that describes being so fully consumed by the present moment that the outside world, time itself and self-conscious thought slip away. You step outside of your typical thought patterns and into something bigger than you. 

Often when I tell people about these benefits they’re reluctant to paint because they think of art-making as daunting, something you need the perfect training and materials for. While I won’t deny that my time studying art in college helped me build a strong foundation, it upsets me how many people feel like they don’t have “what it takes” to paint. Sadly, I think a lot of this shame stems from childhood. It might’ve been a bad teacher, hypercritical parent or friend who judged your artwork so harshly once that you gave up on art altogether. I understand, and I faced that shame every day in many of my art classes where the pressure to be perfect clouded the high of free expression. It took time to find a space where I could express myself without limitations, and when I finally did I stopped obsessing about the final result. Abstract art allows you that freedom to rediscover your voice.

3. Abstract painting can change your brain 

Once you get comfortable enough to start playing with your new materials and painting consistently at your own pace, you’ll start to notice a drastic mood shift. For me, this was gradual but also completely life-changing. I’d notice the same release of energy and calmness wash over me that followed after a yoga or meditation practice. The more time I committed to creating freely like this, the less my anxiety or depression crept in (which was especially healing during the early stages of quarantine when I thought I might lose my shit for good). I was able to address those feelings, release them and put them somewhere. 

Research shows that through this process you activate your brain’s pleasure and reward system (serotonin). In one particular study done in 2014, fMRI scans were used on two different groups of post-retirement adults — one half of the group engaged in a 10-week art intervention while the other did not. The results showed a significant increase in stress resistance through more functional connectivity in the brain for the group exposed to the art-making. No effects were reported for the group that did not participate, which further proved the “neural effects of visual art production on psychological resilience in adulthood.” You can read more about this study and others here on Art4Healing’s special report. The results are mind-blowing — from improved critical thinking to increased empathy and reduced depression/pain.

“Untitled” Original Abstract Acrylic Painting by Mariana R. Cabral

All of this research and information is to say that abstract art (all art really) is nourishment for the soul, and the benefits are universal. Whether making art helps you translate feelings that are otherwise impossible to explain, stay focused on the present moment or heal longterm wounds, I’m a firm believer that this practice is worth every bit of effort. For me, it’s made all the difference — it’s been a friend, support system and a guide into my inner self that’s helped me grow more than anything else ever has. 

For those of you who are curious but embarrassed to try, please take this blog post as an official loving push into your abstract art journey. For those of you as deep into this practice as I am, please let me know if any of this resonates, and let’s connect!

If you enjoyed this post and would like an in-depth guide on what materials I recommend starting with along with some tips and tricks I’ve learned over time, I’d be happy to share what’s worked for me. As always, thanks for reading and happy painting. 💕

References

Painting with Tarot Cards and Uncovering Life Lessons

In one of my most recent “From the Art” abstract painting time lapse videos, I experimented with something a little out of my comfort zone. I combined a developing spiritual practice with my painting practice and became the vessel for what unfolded. While I do this often in the comfort of total solitude, sharing it on the internet felt like a major step forward. Let me try to explain why…

While I’ve been interested in all things magic and spiritual since I was a kid, I didn’t fully dive into how that could translate into my life as an adult until I moved to Los Angeles. I think the distance from my family and the drastic change of surroundings were the catalysts for an urge to look inward and find answers within myself. It started with listening to podcasts about astrology, mindfulness and manifestation on train rides to and from work. Then, as my interests became more abstract, my paintings started coming out more freely. I didn’t know then that what I was developing was my own version of sacred meditation.

When quarantine began, I found myself looking for answers more desperately than ever before much like everyone else. I was educating myself and creating during my free time more than usual and the result was two-fold. On the one hand, my creativity was at an all-time high. On the other hand, I was awakening to the parts of my subconscious that scared me most, the uncomfortable bits that scratched, tugged and pulled me until I paid attention.

In the three-card spread that I shuffled before painting “Orbit” as seen in the video above, I received The Empress, The Tower and the Seven of Wands. All three messages together advised me to connect to intuition, not to fear change even if it hurts and to persevere in spite of judgment or adversity. This felt glaringly personal and yet so necessary to share as universal truths. As I began painting the infinitely spinning shape on my canvas, I thought about the cyclical nature of our universe — how there are always lessons circling around us waiting to be resolved so we can truly make the most out of our lives.

A personal example I’d like to share to help further explain this dates back to when I was about five or six years old. For several nights during that time, I was visited by what I guess could be called a dream guide. He was a man with dragon-like features and an iridescent blue sheen who’d hover over my bed immediately after I fell into deep sleep. He was like a genie — a wise figure who’d talk to me as if I was an adult, emotionally preparing me for whatever dream adventure I’d be soon experiencing. Each dream was different, and so every lesson to learn from him was special in its own right.

Like a dream conductor, he’d guide me into some of the best dreams of my life where I’d lucidly fly on a broomstick over a breathtaking landscape or I’d shrink in my childhood room and toys towered over me like amusement park rides. Other times he’d calmly prepare to send me into nightmares that brought to surface my worst fears. For these, I would beg him not to take me with him, but he earned my trust and convinced me that it was essential I brave the bad as much as I indulged in the good. If I could gather the courage to bear the discomfort of pain and suffering, I’d be strong and emerge from the experience wiser. While it was never easy, he was always right. Eventually, the nightmare would end and I’d wake up in the safety of my warm bed again.

As I put all of this together, I realize that the lessons that have been circling around me for 25 years have been begging to be addressed and were even buzzing around me when I was traveling in and out of my subconscious as a child. The more I pause to look inside or stop to paint for hours at a time, the more I see them. They’re the same fears of trusting my intuition or the unknown blindly, showing my authentic self and being judged and of loss that have been weighing me down since I was young.

While this pandemic has brought so much pain and suffering, it has also brought to light many truths that we were burying under the constant busyness of our lives. I’ve come to believe that these quiet moments of introspection are contributing to the great “orbit” we all find ourselves in, moving together in time and space just trying to be present and not crippled by our fears. For me, this has meant working on being as authentic outwardly as I am inwardly. From sharing my artwork openly online to standing firm in my convictions and letting go of the constant need for perfectionism, I think I’m finally listening. I’m still working on it, but I am working on it.

During this major collective shift in our understanding of “normalcy,” what important themes and truths have resurfaced for you? Are you finding ways to channel what comes up and address it? Please, please, please feel free to share if you’ve made it this far. Thanks so much for reading if you did. Happy quarantining!

New YouTube Video! Abstract Painting Time Lapse

Hello again!

This little video and project took two whole weeks to shoot, edit and finally export. I had so many technical difficulties, I thought it would never see the light of day. Somehow, through hours and hours of resistance, “Fogo” still managed to come together.

I can’t express the relief, excitement and passion I feel toward it — I hope that comes across and fills you with warmth and inspiration. “Fogo,” which translates to “fire” in Portuguese, was a labor of love, sweat and heat (mostly from my laptop, which is seconds from bursting into flames).

I got completely lost in this process, listening to songs I included in the video that inspire me to let go. As always, thank you so much for taking the time to watch and stay tuned for the next installment! Sending you all love and gratitude.

I Started a YouTube Channel!

Hello everyone! I finally committed to something that’s been a passion and fear of mine for YEARS — YouTube baby. 😳✌️

This new “From the Art Series” will feature a time lapse of my abstract paintings and illustrations every week. I might also record some audio explaining what the pieces mean and how I get through the process. The idea behind “From the Art” is to uncover how certain feelings, thoughts and ideas make their way into our artwork to heal us. I hope that by showing how deeply cathartic expressing freely in this way can be that I’ll help others find their freedom too, or at the very least just give you something fun to watch when we need it most.

Feel free to follow, subscribe, and let me know what you would like to see. I’d love some feedback. 💜

My Big Fat Hollywood Move: In the Thick of It

I don’t know how long I had been complacent before I moved out here, but I do remember feeling like Dustin Hoffman in the opening scene of The Graduate — propelling lifelessly on a moving walkway into his future. I bounced from one non-stimulating experience to another and rotated between the same toxic behavioral patterns. I couldn’t own up to my fault in it.

In the early stages of living in LA, we faced everything from nearly running out of money to our first landlord shortening our lease out of nowhere. I spent endless hours applying for jobs, apartment-hunting, juggling job interviews, and handing my resume out to open hands while Rich held up the fort. Regardless of the effort being made on both sides, we didn’t have the sufficient combined income to find another place before getting kicked to the curb.

On paper, it seemed like LA might not be in the cards. Somehow though, we were fine. Even in that first shitty Koreatown apartment where all the neighborhood cats congregated for weekly orgies and cops drove by looking for drug deals to bust, we were hyped up on the promise of the next adventure.

We traversed the city’s urine-stained streets, checked off all the major tourist stops on our list, and made time for daily walks around our neighborhood where I’d press my fingers onto wild flowers and milk every sultry sunset as fuel to keep going. I’d devour my peanut butter and sliced banana toast on our rotting wooden balcony and manifest. The cross-shaped power line in front of me was my temple.

While LA might not have been the reason I started finding a way out of the muck, the urgency and mayhem of reconstructing a life without the proper arsenal gave me a purpose. It forced me so far out of my comfort zone, my survival instincts kicked in. It was the first step that led into a sprint until finally I was going somewhere of my choosing.

As I picked up momentum, I unraveled years of false information I’d been telling myself: I’m not talented. I’m always five steps behind. I don’t have what it takes. I’m just not good enough, at anything. I thought hiring managers could see the same deficiencies I felt about myself. Truthfully, with how abusive my self-criticism could get, it had become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I’m sure they could see it.

In LA, once the fear of running out of money kicked in, I realized the only way we could stay was if I fought the toxic inner monologue with discipline and will power like never before. I decided to prove myself wrong. I’d prove that even though I was hundreds of thousands of miles away from “home,” I could make it work.

Eventually, through braving a lot of discomfort, some of the things that used to scare me more than anything became routine — from public speaking all over town to finding my own health insurance and everything else I would’ve put off in the past, I was rewiring my brain to adapt to the changes I needed to make.

One morning, I sat on the balcony and asked the cross-shaped power line for a job and a new place to live. I left my intentions lingering in space and carried on with my interviews in spite of that conniving inner voice telling me I wasn’t going to make it. Soon enough, I landed a temp job at a start-up in Santa Monica and Rich and I met a couple looking to share an apartment in Culver City — just days before we were about to lose everything.

At this point, things began to align at lightning speed. The anxiety of making an income and finding a place to live replaced with a cushy job and apartment at precisely the right time. I went from wondering what would happen next to spending eight hours of my day minutes away from the Santa Monica Pier. I’d walk along the beach and take the train to our resort-style apartment complex every night in awe.

Fast forward six months and the temp contract in Santa Monica had ended. I fly back to Massachusetts for the holidays not knowing if I’ll have a job waiting for me in LA when I get back. About a week later, I land a full-time job as a copywriter in El Segundo just in time for the new year — fulfilling a dream to write for a living that I thought might never come true. I start devoting a huge chunk of my free time to making art and reading about spirituality, philosophy and health. I feel free.

Life since moving to LA hasn’t shifted all that drastically from the life I had in Boston in terms of opportunity. No matter how new the experience is, that thrill of novelty wears off and eventually you’re just left with yourself again. If I hadn’t taken the time to work on the things that were dragging me into that dark, stagnant black hole, no amount of moving or wishing things were different would’ve set me free.

I’m still fighting the urge to sink into that stagnant place every day. That might always be part of my story. However, I also know that when I commit to an action and apply the discipline to see it through, manifestations come to life and I get closer to my bliss.

The state of the world has shifted drastically since I first started writing this blog. In fact, it’s been stored in my drafts for months because I felt like I had nothing of value to say. Never good enough. Now, as we’re all battling social distancing and the inner demons that arise during stagnant times, I feel like this has its place — my homage to the inner peace that can derive from taking disciplined action toward your goals, even the smallest ones.

I hope this introspective time inspires you to keep finding what feels good in spite of any toxic inner voices trying to hold you back. I hope you start to remember what you’re capable of so you can manifest your dreams, and I wish for everyone a life of their own choosing.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move: Baby Got Back Problems

A 24-year-old’s last-ditch effort at “following her dreams” with her boyfriend and moving across the country to see it through

When I posted the first installment of my LA blog series, I had been on a writing high all day – something I hadn’t felt in months. I can’t tell you how long I sat down to write that particular post, but I can tell you that when things like this happen I’ll sometimes forget to eat or piss. It’s like the idea might fade so I have to race to get it down before I can return to being a person.

Unloading all of that “I’m like totally chasing my dreams” euphoria onto a document and sharing it had me feeling pretty on top of the world. It might be silly but, to me, I had committed to something and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I hit that “Publish” button and got up ready to take on the next challenge. I was invincible. The last thing I thought was going to happen was almost instantaneously falling to the ground in scorching pain. I think that’s fair.

What had happened (and this is where the universe’s dark sense of humor comes in) was that while I had recovered from a muscle tear/strain in my lower back before moving to LA, the pretzel position I sat in all day to write about the move reignited the injury with a vengeance. And it really got me good this time around. A stark contrast to how indestructible I had been feeling just moments before. Of course, still riding the excitement of posting something I was proud of, I ignored it. I stood up even though my back could barely hold up the weight of my upper body. I didn’t allow myself to accept that this was happening. So, I convinced and dragged Rich (the boyfriend) out to celebrate the blog post and indulge in some beer and wings instead. Why not?

On our way to Buffalo Wild Wings, people driving beside us must’ve assumed I was in labor. I had my legs pushed into my chest cannonball-style and was taking the deepest breaths of my life, trying to force the pain away with each exhale. It wasn’t working, and we frantically drove around for twenty minutes just looking for a parking spot. There were none. There never are. We kept getting stuck at the same lights and driving around in the same circle before committing to yet another absurdly priced parking lot. This is driving in LA by the way. Parking is impossible, traffic is endless, and nothing is free or cheap. Eventually, we commit to a parking lot. When I get out of the car I’m waddling in slow motion like a duck and crying. Rich is in a panic, urging us to go home. To anyone watching I imagine it looked like a scene from Days of Our Lives. Regardless, I wiped away the tears, told the pain to fuck off, and set forth toward the wings. This would be a night of FUN!

Sitting while the fire in my back bubbled with buffalo sauce on my lips and a cold Blue Moon in my right hand, I realized I had unintentionally embodied the content of my very own words. What was it I said in the last blog post? Oh yes, that in a moment of pure bliss at the Santa Monica pier I had felt “fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last”. How fitting that I had just finished typing those words only to have thrown out my back seconds later. Yin and yang, my friends.

When I got up from that bar table, I had to muster a force from the gods not to crawl on all fours to the nearest bathroom. Somehow, I made it to the door and placed myself in line. For that two-minute wait I started to think the sweet release of death might be better than moving another inch. I only really caved when the room started spinning, which is when I realized the pain had won. I assumed my duck position once more and waddled all the way back to the car. Peeing or any other bodily function would have to wait.

It took everything in my power not to feel sorry for myself as we drove home, but all I could think about was how I had wished for inner peace to last and found myself here instead. How I had signed up for dance classes that I may not be in the condition to attend for a while. How I had written about fighting to be more present. And I had. So, what the hell?

It’s been a little over a week since all of this went down and I’m happy to say I can see from outside the melodrama and self-pity now. I can see that recurring problems can’t be ignored, and that unfortunately being present or grateful won’t make them disappear either. Unwelcome stressors will always come up, much like my student loans. While they can be avoided in some ways (in my case: not sitting in a terrible position for hours like I had been advised not to, yoga, core-strengthening), the true test is how well you can improvise and apply what you’ve learned from previous setbacks. Of course, that’s assuming you have the means necessary to do so. Not everyone has the proper resources to overcome the negative hurdles or injustices that plague them. I wish there were more ways around this.

I don’t have a recipe for avoiding the hiccups that pop up however big or small in each of our lives, but I do think that Imogen Heap was right in writing that “there is beauty in the breakdown”. With the extra recovery leisure time, I succeeded in applying for my own health insurance (I’m a grown-ass woman) and gingerly introduced walking back into my routine. This time, absorbing a totally new environment and spending some quiet time with myself. I have more to look forward to now and a heightened awareness of how important prioritizing health is, whether it’s physical, psychological or a mix of both.

I started this blog wanting to draw attention to the elastic band nature of our lives, the extreme highs and lows. I thought I could tell the truth – dive into the sticky vulnerable muck and prove that it’s just as therapeutic to write as it is to see yourself in the raw experiences of others. It’s a reminder that we’re a collective of both good and bad experiences. So, while I had plans to fill this second installment with all of the incredible things I’ve done and seen since I moved to LA, I didn’t want to gloss over the not-so-Instagram-worthy bits. Not only are they pretty hilarious to look back on sometimes, but they’re also a reminder that life is just one long improv exercise. You participate, laugh, and keep moving.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move

A 24-year-old’s last-ditch effort at “following her dreams” with her boyfriend and moving across the country to see it through

It’s been a little over a week since I stuffed my possessions into two suitcases, drained myself dry from parting hugs, and transported myself from Boston to Los Angeles where my boyfriend Rich and our new lives across the country awaited me. It’s a romantic and all too on-the-nose Hollywood concept to chase your dreams alongside the love of your life in LA, to take the ultimate artistic risk together in the city where everyone’s fighting for attention. Watch the movie La La Land, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Although, spoiler alert, it doesn’t work out too well for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s relationship. But that’s beside the point, and I’m veering away from my thesis statement. The point is, I’m here now. I’ve done this. And I’ve got a few things to say about it. Hold on to your panties.

When I arrived at LAX after 2 months of not seeing Rich and 6 hours of plane-ride anticipation, I was a nutty mess of exhaustion and eagerness beyond anything I had felt in years or at all. I spotted him standing about twenty feet ahead of me in a grey suit, doing a two-step shuffle while holding a huge sign above his head with my name on it. Suddenly my instincts kicked in and I felt two things. One, a foreign happiness that shot through my body like a rocket. Two, a primal desire to jump his bones right there on the baggage conveyer system.

The adrenaline between the two of us was enough to give me the shakes as we kissed and gushed till we could kiss and gush no more. It was another “movie moment” to add to our list, but it was the first in the City of Dreams – the movie mecca of our joint fantasies. I had never known adventure like this, never relocated my life or been farther than a few cities away from my family. The lure of possibility was intoxicating, of course, and Rich’s body wrapped around mine gave me butterflies I hadn’t felt in months. My gut was screaming “HELL yes! You really did this, you crazy bitch!” like a life coach on uppers. It all felt so right, and concrete. Concepts unfamiliar to someone with an often indecisive gut.

It’s been about nine days since this initial adrenaline overload, and while I’ve seen a few of the must-see tourist spots like the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory, I find something new or foreign to marvel at every day even just driving around. The first was the smell. LA had been described to me by some East Coast friends as a smog-blanketed concrete trash heap, to put it kindly. I found the scent to be more floral, inviting and honestly confusing against all of the concrete and trash. There is a lot of trash. That bit was true.

Amidst all of the litter, my eyes were immediately drawn to the booming culture and diversity around every corner. When you think of Hollywood, you might imagine an abundance of white girls with fat asses stepping out of their fancy cars with matcha tea in-hand, but I’m over here like…where are they hiding? I know that LA is HUGE and that the “glamorous” aspect of its reputation certainly exists somewhere, but I’ve been immersed in something vastly different and real – an image of this city I’m glad I wasn’t prepared for because I’m pleasantly surprised in new ways all the time.

People here come from all walks of life and coexist rhythmically together, bringing in an abundance of eclectic food, art, and music, which quite literally keeps the city alive. I still hear the street vendors sizzling up assorted meats and snacks for club-goers past 12am. I mean, we drive by graffiti that should be studied in Arts History courses or hung in museums and have access to some of the best Korean food I’ve ever tasted right next door. And while it may not be squeaky clean or even conventionally beautiful all the time, it’s always full of life. Honestly, I can only compare the way I feel here to the way I felt when I was in Austin, Texas: the grit, art, food, music, and heat. It feels familiar, and appeals to me in similar ways.

Even big tourist attractions like the Santa Monica pier, which I had lowered my expectations for, totally took me my surprise and left me like a rambling wide-eyed idiot. I couldn’t believe how stunning it actually is – vastly more impressive than the images and videos I’d seen countless times. And while I may be biased because this was one of the most romantic days of my life, I genuinely didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We spent the afternoon chasing each other around on the beach like teenagers, urging one another to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time. When we found ourselves a spot to watch my first California sunset, the people around us seemed to be putting on a show. Everyone was playing with the waves, laughing, creating a palpable energy of childlike happiness and serenity. As the sun descended below the mountains, it became quiet apart from a few giggles here and there and the crashing of the waves. It was then that I felt something frightening. I held it in.

The feeling was fear. Fear of being too happy. Fear of it dissipating fast. Fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last. Fear because, while Rich had come all this way for his concrete dream to pursue acting, I was still a dreamer without any tried-and-true singular pursuit. A familiar critical voice was trying to break though, trying to find reasons to remind me that I wasn’t going to make it here. That god damn ego.

I guess, even in a new setting, those of us who are used to bringing ourselves down or who feel odd when things are too right might always have to fight a little extra to be present. I fight every day to tell the voice in my head to shut the fuck up. Even though I have my flare-ups, I know fighting against it inch by inch is making a difference. When that fear kicked in on the pier, it was new because it came with a feeling of pride too. It was like there was another version of my own voice sticking up for me and saying, “Hey! You did this, you crazy bitch. Remember? You took a risk. You’re trying!” And, to be honest, all I can really conclude about this first week of my Hollywood adventure is that I’m proud of myself for saving the money to get here, for applying to dozens of jobs every day, and for continuing to write even though I hate it sometimes. This is what it’s about. The risk. The gut. The pursuit, even if it is a little more abstract than the person’s sitting next to you. Go for it anyway.

Thanks for listening, and check out Part 2 of this LA series here!

Surface Tension

He held me on the sidewalk while bodies passed, dodging us like we were delicate birds in the middle of the road.

I stained his jacket like the rain looming above our heads threatened to stain the city.

We had been here before. Me grieving a loss of something I’d never had. Him towering over me like a building I could lock myself inside.

I used to think he waded in shallow waters while I sunk into the deep. I pictured his long tranquil body at the surface, a halo of sun emanating over the sea. I couldn’t reach it.

In the car I mourned the loss of nothing and felt myself sink. He held my hand just in time to keep me afloat. We locked eyes and fingers, igniting a forcefield to keep the world out.

Driving through the clutter, we escaped the muck that pressed onto our skin – mine always stickier than his it seemed.

When we were free I kissed him so he could feel the light he had left inside me.

It was then I knew we’d find our way together

through the rain,

the sea,

and up towards the sun.

Is There a Right Way to Argue?

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Stubbornness. I’m right, you’re wrong. You lose, I win. The classic draw between two; a never-ending battle to the death. We’re all familiar with this game, and though we play it more when we’re young, it never fully goes away. Take a look at the political climate we’re facing right now. These are adults we’re watching on our screens. Adults. It’s weeks like this, when I get into two big arguments with two big loves in my life, that I ask myself a very simple question: Why?

Why is it so hard to see someone else’s side in the heat of the moment? When that timer sets off in the depth of your stomach as a warning that a bomb’s about to blow, it’s as if nothing said by the opposing side matters. Your point and the feelings attached to it are worth watching someone burn over. Sure, sometimes you are absolutely right and the person opposing you is so wrong that you’d rather vomit than to hear the rest of their testimony. Arguments come to mind like,

“How could you do this to me?”

“I didn’t baby, I promise. It’s not what it looks like,” he retaliates while the person he’s cheated on you with is still naked in your bed.

This didn’t happen to me thankfully, but it does happen! While those black and white arguments exist, I’m interested in the ones where there are layers of hypocrisy coming from both sides. What if the lines are blurry? Times like calling someone inconsiderate for doing something that hurt you so bad in the moment only to realize later that you’ve done about five inconsiderate things to them that same day. It’s that good ol’ smack in the face that makes your eyes go back to normal after a blind rage. When you realize you’ve just been lecturing someone you love about how they have to be better and, yet, you still have plenty of work cut out for you too.

Why, even when we know there’s validity to someone else’s side, would we rather swim in acid than calmly hear them out? What is it about detaching from the thirst to be right that makes us temporarily inhumane? Although I pride myself on being a kind person, I’ve lost myself to this need to win many times. Call me a fire sign or a child brought up in a house where arguments were frequent affairs. Either way, I’ve been in the business of arguing long enough to understand that there are better ways to communicate even one’s strongest feelings. Ways that involve less screaming, less name-calling, and more empathy. There’s no victory in winning an argument if you had to say the worst things you could possibly say to your loved ones to get there. You can’t take back those words once they’re shot into the ether, and the psychological damage can last a lifetime. I think many of us know this all too well.

Arguments are a part of life, often even a healthy way for people to better understand one another if handled well. In romantic relationships, arguments can shed light on two separate people’s deeper and more intimate qualities – ultimately allowing the couple to get to know each other better and to discover if they’re a good match or not. Arguments can also help people become more open-minded, especially if it takes a lot of retaliation from someone else for them to accept their own close-mindedness. We tend to learn more about ourselves through this process and, while this can be eye-opening, I think we still have a lot of work to do. I’d like to see people listening more, a trait we desperately need more of in our nation – understanding that people are brought up differently, chock-full of their own demons and experiences, and that to argue is to first accept this and proceed with grace.

Think about the most recent argument in your life. How did you handle it? Were you able to empathize and listen? If so, how did that shape the argument in the end? Maybe you discovered something deeper about the person opposing you. Maybe you learned more about yourself. That’s kind of the beauty of human interaction and debate, isn’t it? We might come into an argument with our fists clenched and our tongues warmed up to verbally sting our opposer, but, if we’re able to listen, we might just as easily leave with insight into someone else’s story. This, my friends, is the secret to tolerance and acceptance. If we can’t achieve this, we’ll definitely win more arguments, but we’ll also get further from one another and the truth in the process.

A Server’s Tale

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“Bars are the places where life in the city reveals itself…where ordinary people go have a drink, ponder the weather, and are always ready for a chat. Buy a newspaper and enjoy the ebb and flow of people.” -Paulo Coelho

Ah, the ebb and flow of people. Simultaneously enchanting and monotonous, especially from the perspective of someone partially responsible for the flow. Working on and off as a waitress for the past four years, a gig that’s helped me stay afloat through college and the aftermath, I’m no stranger to the bar habitat. I refill water glasses as strangers become friends, watch as people sip their first legal drinks, cut customers off who’ve been drinking for as long as I’ve been alive and behave like it’s their first time, clean up puke, watch break ups unfold, clear off plates at the end of a successful Tinder date, and so on. I play a part in the lives of strangers, peek into their existence, but only from a safe distance. I’m mostly a means to an end, but I’m used to it.

Last night, as I was asking a young man for his food order, he interrupted me mid-question to ask if he could take a photo of me. He was drunk. I was busy with other tables and didn’t feel like having my picture taken, not that I needed to explain myself. As I made my way to another table, I heard him say to his friend, “What else could she be busy doing? Making nine dollars an hour?” And much like those of us responsible for the flow often have to, I bit my tongue. I know how to pick my battles, and this newly 21-year-old wasn’t worth the breath – no matter how much I wanted to retaliate.

In the midst of my fury, my growing desire to tell him off, I watched his friends feel genuinely ashamed to be seen with him. I have to admit this felt good, but not as good as the choice to be bigger than them, to keep my cool under pressure. And that’s truly the key to serving it seems – keeping your cool, problem-solving with patience and empathy first. Skills that have taught me to understand why people behave the way they do. I often feel like a zookeeper tending to her animals, both maintaining a quiet sense of authority and assimilating to their energy. It’s intuitive and strategic, absolutely nothing like being a customer on the other side of the bar.

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Funny how much a bar transforms when you’re shift’s over and you can finally have a drink. You’re primal again, free at last. These are the moments you really get to know the regulars, your coworkers, the locals and strangers who no longer expect anything from you. You’re a person again, as wild as the other animals on either side of you. This is when I find truth in Paulo Coelho’s words about life in the city revealing itself. All of that strategic patience and empathy displayed during the job bleeds into your off time and pays off. Suddenly, though you might never have imagined it, these “strangers” respect you, trust you, unload onto you, buy you shots in appreciation if you’re lucky. You’ve made an impact in their lives, however big or small.

For so long, I focused most of my energy during server shifts feeling angry and disappointed in myself for being stuck in a job that didn’t align with my passion or calling. I would overlook the experiences with strangers and coworkers, conversations that made me see life differently, and the day-to-day challenges that helped me grow up. As soon as I walked out of that world, I’d miss it. The people and the world they contributed to latched onto me.

My first legitimate serving gig introduced me to incredible people, which led to some of the best experiences I had in college: steak dinners and wine at my boss’s house, bringing out pancakes to fellow students and friends, blasting music and pregaming at the diner before party-hopping on campus. The fast-paced environment, the constant problem-solving, provided me with a new, thicker, and far more resilient layer of skin that prepared me for the future. I owe a great deal of my evolution to bars and restaurants – the truest union of souls revolving around our most constant and dire needs: food, drink, and companionship. What could be more human?

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Painting 1: Michael Flohr

Painting 2: Alvaro Castaganet