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!

Hold

There’s an insatiable hunger that food can never dull. It lives in the deepest crevice of your heart, and contorts your dreams till you’re sick. Feed it too much and the hunger spreads. Feed it too little and it’ll eat its way out. Feed it nothing – now that’s the trick.

Like a dog whose attention spans the world all at once, let the sky’s breath ruffle your hair. Stand under the sun till you ignite. Hold your mother’s hand.

Ignore the growl in your core till it turns into rhythm, a silk beat to walk in time to as you spread yourself thinner and thinner into dust because when you cease being wants, craves, and burns,

you’re cosmic.

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.

Where’d All My Friends Go?

I’ve been thinking about friendship lately, the inconsistency of it, and the paths we take to certain people. They say you need to take time to work on yourself before you’re marinated and ready for the right romantic partner, but what about when it comes to making lasting friends?

When I was an introspective, moody, an ego-driven teenager, I attracted a group of misfits that matched my disfunction. Together we smoked weed in basements, lurked in city parks at night, navigated romance or the lack thereof without tact, and wore through the hot topics that occupied our world like the intellectuals we thought we were. If you had asked me then, I would’ve said I was certain these were my people. Now I understand why my dad rolled his eyes.

Meeting during the peak growing years meant that some of us grew apart. As our personalities came to the surface, college and distance punctured any of the consistency left. I was the first to leave, even before college. I wasn’t missed much, and didn’t think twice about the fact that I was always traveling to them and rarely ever visited myself. One friend from that era in my life stuck around and, to be honest, she’s the only one that was ever meant to, even as our paths tangled and diverged. She made the equal effort.

Version 2

Nearly eight years later, and I still “keep track” of them through the lens of Instagram, which everyone can agree is a healthy and truthful peek into peoples’ lives. Who doesn’t love a charming scroll though someone’s filtered and seemingly perfect Instagram life? When you’re already feeling left out, these false fragments of your old crowd’s otherwise unbothered lives really taste like shit. But the lasting damage this media pattern has done to me is a topic for another time.

The lack of connection and intimacy that came from the inevitable falling out with my high school friends had me sprinting into college foaming at the mouth in desperation for something more. Desperation dug its claws into me and lured leeches into my world. I was too eager to please. I forgot to respect my own standards, which made it easy for me to fit into everyone else’s world without the satisfaction of anyone fitting into mine.

At that time, my priorities were getting around to validate my self-worth, getting fucked up because the feeling was still fresh and I thought I liked myself better that way, and searching for the right people. Blinded by the need to live what I envisioned was an adventurous and thrilling life, I neglected to nurture myself at all. As you can imagine, lasting, real, and healthy connections were nowhere to be found. I hadn’t even developed one with myself yet. It was a cripplingly shallow time in my life, the lack of depth contrasting humorously with how intense my experiences with the “friends” I had attracted actually were.

Though I would never willingly revisit freshman year of college, I occasionally look back through those journal entries and feel heat radiating from the pages. Those people and I, we were flames, untouchable and primitive like we had all dreamt we’d be some day. As short-lived and short of depth as it all was, I think I needed to get it out of my system. It was the scream I had been holding back inside me all through high school – guttural, dirty, and unapologetically loud for everyone to hear. It was a massive ‘fuck you’ to the time I had wasted living in a shell.

I eventually withdrew from that first college (ahem, flunked out) and from relationships that came with it. There weren’t many. I found my way out of the city and to the safety and isolation of my parents’ house in suburbia for a much-needed semester off. This location-shift brought my better high school traits back to the surface. Introspection greeted me like and old friend, and I learned to spend my days appreciatively alone. I  watched movies, filled journals with poetry and art, played with my dog, talked to myself (a lot), read, listened to records for hours, and slipped away from time without any repercussions. While I was getting to know myself again, the fire inside lit up at the thought of a new adventure. This time I would do it right.

Through a lot of hard work, self-discipline, and time spent alone, I earned the credits I had lost freshman year after trading away my academics and intelligence for a good party. I emerged from the ashes like a phoenix and tore into community college like it was my job. While earning straight As and shooting my GPA up to a 3.9, I also helped publish, write poetry for, and contribute artwork to a literary journal myself and other writers built from scratch. After school, I would head to a full-time paid internship at an advertising agency nearby. I didn’t make many friends during the semester I was juggling all of this, but I remember being too busy growing up to care. It was a detox, and when it was all over I applied to another four-year college and got in. I left the safety of home and found myself in another world.

There I was, a junior transferring to a new school again, only I knew this time was special. I could feel it. You know when you find yourself somewhere, and you get that roller coaster feeling in your stomach, like something’s wrong down there, but it feels good at the same time? It hit me hard. The nerves, the expectations, the fear, the drive to make this experience count. To this day I still believe that feeling in my stomach set off a siren only certain experiences and people could hear, because everything that followed seemed to fit. Every passing friendship, acquaintance, relationship, hook-up, classmate, coworker, etc., left an imprint. There were long-lasting connections brewing and short bursts of passing intimacies, but they each held weight in my soul and made me feel so in-tune with the world. What had changed? Why was I feeling fulfilled?

It was the balance. The balance was everything. The ability to harmoniously feed your intellect, nurture your creativity, work hard, take a step back, take risks, or stay in. I was discovering my rhythm and certain people around me started to step in time to it with me. Their balance matched mine.

And the beautiful thing, which is also equally sad, is that the equation of your balance changes the more you grow and it starts to fall out of time with the friends you’ve picked up along the way. So, even those deep connections that you hold dear, start to unravel as you go in different directions. And while you may only see each other through a screen now, there was a season in your life when they were the exact fit you needed.

Friendship is inconsistent, messy, part of the continuous and ever-changing nature of the universe. But one thing is for certain, you can only guarantee yourself more love, more happiness, and more fulfillment in your life by taking the time to nurture those things in yourself above all else. That is and will always be the most important friendship in your life, and it’ll set off the siren when its time to call others onto you.

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.

Chasing Magic in São Miguel

I recently traveled to the Azores, back to the island I was born on for the first time alone since we immigrated to the U.S when I was four. I had visited a couple of times in the past with my parents and friends, each time as exhilarating as it was absolute chaos. We were always spread too thin in the short amount of time we were there – sights to cram into our schedule, relatives and my parents’ childhood friends crawling out of the woodwork for various get-togethers. The experiences pass in a flash and the scattered fragments of my memories there all blend together into a kind of fever dream. They always leave me wanting more.

On September 3rd, I embarked on my own to Sao Miguel – something I couldn’t fathom until I was sitting between strangers on the plane and not my parents. There I was, soon to be in the arms of my grandparents without anything or anyone pulling me away from our time together. It felt like I was heading home after an extended vacation in America or like I was leading a double life. Mariana in Sao Miguel: exclusively Portuguese-speaking, sun-kissed, nature-immersed, and temporarily anxiety-free, shedding the skin of Mariana in Boston: always on the move, Vitamin D deficient, and out-of-place. It was a difficult contrast to absorb, much harder to accept on the plane ride back.

It’s important to note that returning to the Azores always simultaneously contributes to my spirit and takes a piece of my soul away in the process. It’s nearly impossible for me to enjoy it lightly, as it probably deserves to be enjoyed being a tropical paradise and all. For me, setting foot on Sao Miguel soil is like an endless glimpse into an alternate reality where my life would have been opposite to the one I was allotted in America instead. While I’m grateful for this life, it’s too enticing to imagine the kind of person I would’ve been on the island that hosted the wildest and most magical experiences my parents shared from their youth. The friendships they made, the jaw-dropping natural beauty as a backdrop to their adventures, and the tranquility of it all – I envied this the most. Whenever I felt deeply misunderstood, I’d imagine myself as an alien who had simply been away from her planet for too long. Somewhere, on an island most of my peers didn’t know existed, I had roots to come back to that accepted me as I am.

For the short week I was in Sao Miguel, this was no exception and I felt my color return. My grandparents and I toured what felt like the entire island from the ocean to the mountains, but one day in particular stands out. In the town of Ribeira Grande, the three of us drove up the mountainside until the altitude set off popping in our ears. We traveled from one end of the island to the other, leaving behind clear blue skies and ideal beach-day-heat behind us to find ourselves under clouds full of cold rain. This became a theme of the trip, navigating the different weather conditions in various regions of the island and chasing the sun.

As we drove uphill, my grandmother, Rosita, filled me in on why the place we were approaching was special. High up on the mountainside, surrounded by forests flourishing with wildlife, was Lagoa de São Brás, a lake so tranquil Rosita had deemed it her peaceful place. Even though raindrops piercing the lake’s surface broke the silence my grandmother had promised, I felt my heartbeat slow down and settle into a steady beat for the first time in months. Anxiety couldn’t find me here. I wasn’t searching for more or better. We walked silently around the lake together hand-in-hand, just listening to the rain and the conversation among ducks. Eventually we found our way to a forest, a spot Rosita had saved for my eyes.

The second we emerged into the forest, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was transported into my childhood when my grandmother used to read a fiction book series to me called Anita. It was about a rambunctious young girl’s endless adventures, either traveling to different parts of the world and immersing herself in the culture or sharing experiences from her own backyard. Rosita read dozens of these books to me in Portuguese and I always imagined Anita’s life as a mirror for what mine might’ve been like if we stayed in Sao Miguel. In one book (my favorite of the series), Anita climbs into an old folktale. She jumps from page to page through enchanted forests maintaining her courage in a foreign place, at times afraid but mostly thrilled by the mysticism of it all. In this enchanted world, Anita finds a way to fit in, and her fierce empathy forces the inhabitants to miss her when she leaves.

I would often fall asleep with this book beside me. The forest and the magic inside felt like home to me. The same kind of home I later found in the pages of Harry Potter throughout my youth – another story to escape into that felt more familiar to me than my real surroundings. As my grandmother and I walked into the forest of Lagoa de São Brás together, I felt these worlds align. I understood why I had always been chasing magic; my roots were teeming with it. I took my time playing with the moss, running my fingers through tree barks, and climbing uphill as high as I could go. I was eight again and everything was alive.

I can’t put this entire week-long trip to Sao Miguel into words because it was a feeling I took back with me this time, not a random assortment of planned experiences that beg to be described. I held tight to that feeling of belonging on the plane, which left me empty when I arrived at the airport. I still feel the void heavily, and my heartbeat is already begging to beat faster again. For that five hour plane ride, I thought about how the kind of magic I wished was real as a child was actually symbolic for the belonging I feel when I’m home, surrounded by nature and the people who love me as I am. Now I know that places keep pieces of our souls and guard them. It’s important to rediscover these bits of ourselves and to soak in that fuel when the timing is right, especially if it’s waiting there for you in the very place you came from. Something tells me I’ll be back in Sao Miguel again soon, absorbing magic and chasing the sun.

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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

Sunsets and Writing Tips

There’s something about 8:00pm that always calms my spirit — the gentle setting of the sun, the quiet comfort in knowing that neighbors and friends have returned from work and can let go. It’s in this moment when day and night touch, when their separate sounds and colors come together, that something tugs at my soul. This is when I feel most inspired.

Woman Writing In Her Diary At Sunset By Grey_Coast_Media | Videohive intended for Woman Writing In Diary

Lately, as I focus on writing constantly, I’ve begun to pick up on tricks that keep my writer’s block at bay. Much like a particular time of the day can make me feel creative, settings have contributed to my writing as well. About three weeks ago, I moved in with my boyfriend. I realized I couldn’t rest until our room felt like it was mine too. I hung paintings, put up photos, and opened boxes containing all the books that were special to me. It made the air in the room lighter immediately, and provided me a space to want to be creative. All of a sudden, I wasn’t decorating to make our room look like a Pinterest board, I was setting up shop. Now, every time I write, whether it be in our room or our living room, I know that my surroundings are fueling me. I know sharing a space with books, artwork, outdoor views, plants, candles, sunsets, etc., entices the creativity right out of me.

Another trick I’ve recently discovered is to revisit earlier works. Currently, I’ve been working on a project in which I sift through old journals and pull out salvageable entries. I take things I’ve written in the past and retype them onto a new document in chronological order. If you’ve caught on to the fact that this sounds like I’m writing a memoir, you’d be correct! The key, I’ve noticed, is not to just copy and paste things you’ve already written. You have to give yourself time to reflect, edit, and even add new insights to ideas you’ve already had — a  trick that’ll sprout more inspiration in the process.

As I piece together this new memoir project, I realize that I wasted too much time thinking I was out of fuel when really it was all around me. It was hidden in journals I had tossed aside as unworthy of my time or in essays and short stories I had written years ago. An art professor once taught me that a painting is never truly finished, that you can revisit and improve upon it forever if you wish, which was exactly the kind of advice that used to piss me off when all I wanted was to complete something. Now, I’m focusing all of my energy into contributing to, reworking, and improving all of these old “paintings”, and I’m totally obsessed. I’m writing like I used to when I was eighteen — nonstop, unfiltered, and bursting with energy. Looking through all the times I wrote to get through major chapters in my life made me fall back in love with writing again. Only this time, the dedication and attention to detail is a little more adult and refined (I hope). I definitely encourage taking the time to reflect on older projects if you haven’t written in a while and you’re not sure where to begin. At the very least, it’ll get your juices flowing.

Whether it’s a sunset, a desk with all your favorite knickknacks on it, an album, or even revisiting something you’ve already written, it helps to uncover the things that trigger your creativity. Once you get a routine going, it’s likely you won’t want to stop. I definitely don’t.