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.

Kitty

IMG_0460I spent my first five-dollar bill on a stuffed kitten. We had just moved to The States and were rummaging through the toy aisle at Target when Papa slipped me some cash. “Pick something special to bring home.” On my quest, I spotted a striped orange cat with almond eyes and clear plastic whiskers poking its little head out among a sea of Beanie Babies. Someone had haphazardly thrown him into the wrong section. I pulled him out of Beanie Baby hell, like I was his god or something.  He was only about the size of my five-year-old arm and his face seemed to carry a million expressions. “That’s really what you want?” Papa asked skeptically.

“Yes.”

For the first few years of Kitty’s life, he was a she. He went by the name of Ashley, which had to do with my short-lived girl crush on the Olsen twins. I remember taking a bedazzled pink bow from one of my dolls and wrapping it around his scruffy left ear. He looked at me blankly, as though trying to communicate contempt. Then he was an “it” for a while until the gender change. I started calling him Kitty after running out of more creative options.

During my elementary school years, Kitty sat by a large Spongebob pillow in the middle of my bed waiting for me to come home every day. After school I’d run into my room, drop my backpack on the floor, and smother him. Much like my journals, he tolerated my ranting silently. I’d yap endlessly about the day, my ideas, my dreams. He was never one to judge, and his patience was boundless. In fact, the poor thing sat on my desk when I listened to Avril Lavigne’s album “Let Go” nonstop for a month straight. I still know every word.

Over the years, my bond with Kitty only intensified. I’d snuggle my cheek against his baby pink nose before drifting off to sleep, feeling protected. If ever I misplaced him and couldn’t find him in time for bed, I thought the nightmares would come for me. He was a dream-catcher. He’d wait for me by my sleeping bag during our summer camping trips in North Conway and smell like fire and lake water during the drive back home.

My grandparents, Rosita and Carlos, who are two of my favorite people in the world, would visit us from the Azores every year. Rosita has never been one to sit still and would deep clean every room in the house when my parents were at work. She’d reorganize everything and redecorate until the place looked like an Ikea advertisement. She was also the only one to ever give Kitty baths. After throwing him into “the underwater Ferris wheel”, Rosita and I would cook lunch together. When it was time, Kitty would come out of the drier brand new, his stripes and belly the color of snow again. I’d take whiffs of lavender and wrap my arms around him. We’d nestle together next to Rosita under a blanket, watching telenovelas until it was time for bed.

Snot and tears found a home in Kitty’s fur from countless nights spent feeling utterly alone, let down, and heartbroken. I never believed in God, so I saved my bigger questions and wishes for Kitty in times of desperation. I’d often ask him “Why?” and “What next?” like he was hiding the answers. I’d get frustrated when he didn’t respond. At the same time, I’d lock my eyes with his and feel safe. Our bond was beyond words.

When I was eleven, my neighbors threw Kitty back and forth in the yard. I was the monkey in the middle. His left eye came off and rolled past me on the cement path in slow motion. Playing it cool, I pretended not to care in front of the cute boy-next-door. At night I shut myself in my room and cried into Kitty’s ears. Rosita sewed the eye back on the next day, but the guilt of letting my friend down remained.

As time went on, Kitty moved from my to bed to shelves where I could see him, but no one else could. This was during the phase of giving away all my stuffed animals, tearing up the Twilight poster above my bed, and my teenage identity crisis. Kitty was on top of my bookshelf facing my bedroom window that led to a lower roof when he watched me smoke a bowl with my friend Anna, our legs dangling together into the night. He fixed his blank gaze on me when Mama caught us in the act. “You know you could’ve cracked your head open and died, right?”

Kitty hid beside my Jane Austen collection when I stuffed my bedroom into cardboard boxes, preparing for the move to a freshman dorm room in downtown Boston. Papa grabbed one of my bags and stood beside him for a moment. “You’re not gonna take Kitty with you?”

“Not this time,” I responded, scratching my fingers through the fur on his head.

I flunked out of my first semester of college, diving into every possible distraction instead of focusing on school. I gained twenty pounds, bounced around parties in a haze with my “friends” from Thursday to Sunday, and let myself go until there was nothing left. Kitty was waiting for me in the same spot on my bookshelf when I moved back home in defeat. There was judgment in his eyes for the first time, so I threw him in the closet and shut the door.

As time went on, I picked myself back up again. After taking community college courses to catch up on credits and to raise my GPA, I found my way to Salem State University. Kitty was still in the closet when I moved into my first apartment, gathering dust next to my flute and a middle school yearbook. The years spent at Salem State were some of the best of my life, filled with milestones that Kitty never witnessed: falling in love, moving into an apartment with my best friends, landing a real “adult” job, and the list goes on…I could have cried into his fur after my first gut-wrenching break-up, but my best friend ‘s shoulder and a cliche pint of cookie dough filled the void instead. He wasn’t there for any of the memories that solidified my transition into adulthood. I guess he’s only really known me as a child, which makes him all the more special to me.

Last week, my two-year-old brother, Gabriel, and Mama were snuggled together on the couch watching Sesame Street. I had just come back home from school for the weekend and finished attacking Gabriel with kisses when his little almond eyes reminded me of something. I walked into my room and opened the closet door, standing face-to-face with an old friend. Picking him up by the paw like the day I first brought him home, I introduced Kitty to my brother. Gabriel sneezed into his fur and handed him back to me like a used tissue. Mama and I laughed until Gabriel instinctively joined us. Kitty sat watching at the center of it all.

Where’s My “Personal Legend”?

I’m currently reading this book called “Like the Flowing River” by Paulo Coelho. I found it it in a box of things my parents had stored away in the office.  It was an old gift to my dad from a friend of his that had been gathering dust for years.

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At first, when I started reading the first two chapters, I wasn’t immediately hooked. I forced myself to keep reading only because I trusted our family friend’s taste. I’m glad I kept reading. Each chapter of the book is comprised of a short story that contains an overall message which tends to be inspiring or motivating in some way.

One chapter in particular about the “importance” of a college degree stuck out to me. Coelho writes that often people attend university because,

“…someone, at a time when universities were important, said that, in order to rise in the world, you had to have a degree. And thus the world was deprived of some excellent gardeners, bakers, antique dealers, sculptors, and writers.”

He then alludes to a famous Robert Frost quotation:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

Coelho makes an interesting point that “we each of us have our own personal legend to fulfill.” In fact, this notion seems to be one of the primary themes in his writing. He purposefully inspires the reader to ask herself “What is the meaning of my life?”

Though I respect this belief, I find it irritating constantly hearing this from people who already have it all “figured out”. There are fortunate people in this world who know early on what their “personal legend” is. They barely struggle to find it at all. Those of us who are still searching have a hard time knowing where to begin.

It would be lovely to follow Coelho’s advice and to simply stop everything in order to fully devote myself to my passion. What happens when you don’t know what your calling is yet? Where are the books that guide the indecisive, the Renaissance men and women, to their specific path? I have yet to find and read those. I refuse to accept we’re simply lost. There’s a path for us too but it’s difficult to find.

I honestly don’t know what my life’s work will be. I find utter satisfaction and passion in various things. For instance, lately I’ve devoted a great deal of my time to artistic expression. I’ve been falling in love with art again. Upon showing my friends and family the artwork I’ve created, many of them said something along the lines of “Why didn’t you go to art school?”

Sometimes I feel like I am wasting my time at university, just going through the typical life path motions. I believe that being busy isn’t necessarily a good thing if it means I’m just avoiding figuring out what it is I truly want in life.

I wish I had less questions and more answers.

Not a Fallback Plan

ImageI can’t say that I know what I want to do with my life at this point. I realize this makes me sound repetitive. I assure you, however, that this entry has nothing to do with my pre-quarter life crisis.

To begin with, I’ve gone through quite a bit of different career choices since I was about sixteen. I started out wanting to study film, then I looked into the arts, journalism, marine biology, screenwriting, etc. One career that I have always held onto as an option in case everything else didn’t work out is teaching. For some reason, teaching has always been a fallback career choice. I remember having an hour long conversation with my grandfather once about how much we both valued the teaching career. However, I never once, when asked, “What do you want to do?”, admitted to considering it as my future. I still don’t quite understand why, though I have a few theories. It’s a common understanding that teachers don’t make the big bucks. A great deal of them hardly make enough to provide for themselves. So, the few times that I have mentioned possibly wanting to be a teacher, the typical reaction is “Well, you know. They don’t make a lot of money”. Not only does that response annoy me, but the fact that it is accurate in many cases pisses me off to no end. Teachers have, in my opinion, one of, if not the most, rewarding, honorable and reputable careers that any person on the face of our planet can aspire to have.

How is it that the one career that shapes the minds and potential of countless children can be frequently overlooked? It doesn’t make any sense to me. What teachers offer their students is an impact that lasts throughout students’ entire lives. In a way, that makes teachers immortal. I will never forget the teachers that made an impact by helping shape me into the person that I have become up until this point. If that isn’t a job that should be rewarded with the highest respect, I don’t know what is. If I could offer kids the same inspiration, creativity, and knowledge that my favorite teachers have offered me throughout the years, I would die fulfilled. That is precisely why I’ve been strongly considering a career as a teacher, more specifically, for middle school or high school. I love working with kids of all ages, considering I’m still a kid myself. I think that’s what makes the idea of teaching high school a little too weird right now. The other day, I was trying to remember at what point, throughout my education career, that school become important to me to the point where I became interested and involved. That specific moment for me was in the eighth grade. Middle school marked the turning point for me in which what I was being taught became interesting and eye-opening for the first time. I want to be able to impact the way kids think during the period in their lives where it matters the most. I have a lot more I could say on the topic but I’ll add to this entry a little later. I plan to continue blogging about what career I end up deciding on but, I can assure you, teaching is absolutely no longer a fallback plan.

Temporary College Drop-Out

A few days ago I dropped out of college. Well, not entirely. I’m taking a semester off to save money and to “figure shit out” as it has been frequently put. I should start out by mentioning that the whole college process has irked me since my junior year of high school. I wrote a whole paper about how much I detested the process for a creative writing class final and everything. I remember dreading my parents’ lectures regarding the threat of college debt and also recall thinking that they were over-exaggerating. Of course, I only realize now that they were annoyingly right. Junior and senior year in high school go by so quickly, there is hardly enough time to catch a breath between searching for colleges, completing the common app, asking for recommendations and writing a sublime college essay. This leaves students with nearly no time at all to make informed financial decisions. It just so happens that this topic is the least talked about throughout the entire process. Students are often told that tuition should not be a deciding factor if the school is of great quality or valued name. Well, I can say right here and now that this is complete bull shit. Of course college representatives are going to tell students that! A salesman wouldn’t tell his customer that overpaying for his product might be a longterm bad decision. What’s sad is that my generation is probably going to suffer the most as a result of the college financial crisis. It’s those of us who can visualize the debt we are putting ourselves through and somehow avoid it by making informed decisions that prevent life long financial troubles.

Anyway, back to my dropping out of college. I realized halfway through my first semester as a freshman that the price I was paying for the education quality I was receiving and my living arrangement was absolutely absurd. I learned more in every high school English class I had ever taken than the one writing class I took in college. Now, I know every college is different so I figured that this particular one was not the right pick for me and that it wouldn’t be worth throwing fifteen grand out of my ass for a school that I was already so unpleased with. If I could offer anyone dealing with the college process right now any piece of advice it would be not to rush the process or feel the need to do what everyone else around you is doing. It is unbearably tempting to choose the school with the name so as to compete with your classmates but, ultimately, unnecessary. What often goes over students’ heads, which passed right over mine as well, is that one can still have “the college experience” and do so by making financially informed decisions that will only serve to make life easier and more pleasurable down the road. That is precisely why I have made this seemingly drastic decision to take this semester off. I need time, time I didn’t have when it was most necessary, to think ahead. This time I want to make sure that I pick the right school, in the right place, with the right tuition so that I can pave the way for a life of success and little stress.

18 and Lost

I feel suffocated. When did it become so difficult to feel even an ounce of inspiration? Flashback to nine years ago, 2005, and that is when my creative streak peeked. I’m only eighteen years old and I already feel like I have nothing left to give. I keep hearing that it’s “normal” for me to feel as though I can never be as creative, imaginative or spontaneous as my ten-year-old self but I refuse to believe that age is the only factor in this equation. Like always, I question if it has something to do with my generation as a whole.
Though I participate in social networking, youtubing, tumblring, etc, as much as the next eighteen-year-old of 2013, I also tend to be the harshest critic of my particular generation’s flaws. We are constantly connected to some life-sucking device that manages to feed our every desire. Facebook makes you feel social and wanted through “likes” while Instagram allows you to document your entire life, day by day, through pictures. When we’re not texting, liking, following, reblogging, posting, tagging, chatting, etc, what are we actually doing? I don’t mean to sound cynical, especially because I, too, find the impulse to stay connected almost addictive. I’m merely trying to voice that I am scared. I fear that I’m losing myself as well as my potential. I wonder sometime if my life would be any different as an eighteen-year-old in the late 60’s or early 70’s before cellphones and the global internet takeover. Maybe instead of telling myself I’m going to use my computer to write and, instead, go on youtube or tumblr for an hour, I would actually get a notebook and start writing.
It haunts me to think about everything I would get accomplished without the lure to connect constantly on the brain. I miss being ten-years-old, with “nothing to do” when the possibilities in my bedroom were endless: from drawing to creating a movie with my dolls or even pretending to be in music videos in front of my mirror. Now, after years of googling, every time I want to create something my brain conjures up hundreds of images of people who already did it, which forces me to think, “Oh, well. Someone’s already done that so what’s the point?” That, right there, is the internet’s most damaging flaw. My generation is terrified to create because everything has been done and is paraded in front of our very eyes every time we log on to the internet. It would be an understatement to call this discouraging. Back in the day, someone would have an idea for a book and write it instead of realizing first that their idea had already been done. If people thought that way all the time, nothing would ever be created. I used to think I was so unique when I was child, that I could create something rare. Recently, this feeling has begun to diminish. I don’t know what’s creative anymore. It feels like everything has been accomplished and I’ve lost sight of where to start. Nevertheless, my goal for this year is to stop feeling this way.
I’m forcing myself to consider that I never lost the ten-year-old girl who constantly made something out of nothing when I turned eighteen, I just lost sight of her through years of unnecessary and, frankly, unrewarding media distractions. Enough is enough. Unfortunately, in the world I live in today, it would be unwise of me to completely detach myself from all social-networking. I have grown to recognize that there are aspects of it that are advantageous as well. I merely want to step back and remind myself frequently never to allow the internet to control me. I want to be the one to, instead, break the code and find out how to use the internet for my own creative benefits. If I can achieve this, I think I will regain the passion for creativity I had when I was a kid again instead of falling into the internet’s often tempting trap. Like Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”.