Bloganuary Prompt: What Makes Me Strong

This is one of those prompts that feels so important that I can’t seem to find the words to respond honestly. At first, I started writing about specific things that give me strength but it felt like a BuzzFeed list. These are tough to narrow down, but I like the challenge.

One of the first moments I felt truly strong was when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I walked into a lawyer’s office and gave them my statement that I no longer wanted my biological dad to have custody or any ties to me. I wanted to be free of him and the suffering our relationship had caused me since I was born.

After years of mandated abusive phone calls, arguments, and the guilt I carried for him, I was able to make a choice for my wellbeing. It was the first time I had ever braved something so immense that affected other lives as well. It was a lesson in doing what is needed for you, sticking up for yourself. Something that would continue to be a challenge for me moving forward.

Any time I’ve been able to accomplish something outside of my comfort zone and see it through to completion is a moment I feel strong. When I started sharing my vulnerabilities with others through my blog or my art. When I started talking about my mental health online or when I started trying to be comfortable in my body. Oh no, I’m starting to list things off. See? It’s hard.

The things that make me strong all have one characteristic in common: self-assurance. When I listen to my inner voice and I trust in my ability to decide what’s right, I always feel stronger for it. As young women, it can feel like everything from the warped beauty standards of the time to toxic male authority figures and countless other setbacks work in tandem to silence that voice. I believe every single time you acknowledge what is right for you and you’re brave enough to take inspired action, that is the true essence of strength.

#bloganuary #bloganuary2022 #dailyprompt

Never Alone: A Bloganuary Poem

You don’t need to have groundbreaking ideas every day, but you should find meaning in every moment. Even when poetry is the last thing I can get myself to write, I see it all around me. I see it in the way the power lines on my street look like crosses and in the scent of new flowers about to bloom. It’s in the shrill echoes of the police sirens and in the voices of people going out for drinks on my block. All of these small everyday details find ways to command attention, which is why for today’s #bloganuary challenge I’m going to try to write a poem when I’m not inspired.

. . .

don’t fear quiet

and wish for filled spaces

your head doesn’t have to be hell

if you use it well

solitude can be solace

emptiness whole

in the presence of everything

you’re never alone

Bloganuary Prompt: Let Go

What is your favorite quote and why?

“There’s beauty in the breakdown.”

From the time I was about ten years old, Imogen Heap’s lyrics have taken life’s most difficult concepts and translated them in a way that makes sense. The quote above is from an electronic group called Frou Frou, and I listened to every song in their “Details” album until they became a core part of my story.

I didn’t give it much thought when I was a kid, but that line from the song “Let Go” kept creeping up on me over the years and developed more meaning as life became more nuanced, more difficult to process. When my grandfather died and my family seemed to be falling apart, everything had gone cold. I couldn’t make sense of the excessive suffering and I stopped looking for silver linings.

It wasn’t until I started abstract painting that I discovered my passion for duality and the realization that there was magic to be found in the contrasts of life. I was in my final year of college, heartbroken, and releasing pent-up pain on canvas with colors and textures that orchestrated those feelings like a symphony. I saw my pain reflected back to me as something beautiful. That’s when those lyrics really hit home.

I’m still relentlessly searching for my “calling” or whatever. I know it’s a cringey and narcissistic concept to many that we each have a reason to be here, but I think it gives us a reason to brainstorm what we can do to make the world a better place. When I think of this quote, I’m reminded of my mission. A pursuit to help people find comfort in the ebb and flow of a complex human life.

What if we could find beauty when things go cold? What would happen if more people found beauty in their breakdowns? Maybe nothing. Maybe we could save lives. All I know is that I could’ve used this insight when I was shutting down.

So I’d like to thank “Let Go” for gifting me this simple yet profound concept. I see it manifest in every facet of existence. I feel it in my hormonal imbalance, in moments when life juxtaposes in ways that leave me breathless, and I relish every lesson it teaches me. I also try to make these contrasts beautiful in the ways I know how, by turning them into some kind of self-reflection. And I invite you to do the same. Just as Imogen Heap has and countless artists before her.

#bloganuary #bloganuary2022 #dailyprompt

Bloganuary Prompt: Pear Tree

If you could, what year would you time travel to and why?

When time travel comes to mind, I think of moments I’d return to rather than specific dates. I would try on feelings and memories again like an old pair of pants that haven’t fit for many years.

Maybe I’d return to when I used to pick pears from the tree that towered over my yard, right above the division between our land and the neighbor’s garage. The roof to our neighbor’s two-car garage leveled with our yard, which meant we could sprint up and down it as fast as we wanted when my parents weren’t watching. As kids, this was the ultimate playground with just enough promise of impending injury to pump us with adrenaline.

Regardless of the fact that we only ever found worm-hole-ridden pears on those branches, picking them was always the golden prize we earned upon reaching the top of the mountain. I would run my fingers through each branch, pick the dried fruit, toss it down into the warm grass, and sprint down the ramp to meet it there. It was simple. I don’t remember wanting to be anywhere else.

The branches of that old pear tree still stretch into infinity in my memory and remind me that the most significant time in our lives can often seem forgettable when you’re living it. It’s like that quote from Andy Bernard in the last episode of The Office when he says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” I think about these words often. They perfectly sum up what it means to be human and feel like you’re constantly racing against the clock. Simple moments when you’re present and the sun hits you just right or you’re in the middle of a deep belly laugh with a friend can often be replaced with a thirst for more… more eventful, more interesting, more excitement, never enough.

So if I had to go back, I think I’d find myself on the roof of my neighbor’s garage by an old pear tree. I think the sun would be painting freckles on my cheeks and I’d be running as fast as I can.

#bloganuary #dailyprompt

The best-kept secret

Striding toward the sun

linked arm in arm,

we always dive in headfirst.

We’ll make friends with squirrels

and fly with birds

until it’s time to reset.

I’d rather be idle

than on the go

when he looks so happy here.

Because life is simple

at its most grand,

blessed freedom and mother’s rays.

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!

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!