“Hey, before you all go, can we ask a favor of you?”
The five of us, recovering slowly from a luau-themed, June-gle joint-birthday-party the day and night prior, were about to trek back to the car to assess the debris-damage that awaited us back home. We had just mustered enough energy to cap off our sunbathing on the bridge of one of the euro-inspired canals in Venice Beach, California, when Leigh approached us.
“Can you take a picture of us, but make sure you get the water in the background, all right?”
The 60-something-year-old woman with soft, pixie-cut blonde hair and layered gold and silver necklaces handed us her phone.
Leigh and her husband, Richard, in an all-white denim ensemble with slick-tousled silver curls and a gold-link chain on his right wrist posed. They posed with the smiles and comfort of two human-souls who have lived out their own dreams and lives, learned lessons along the way and laughed years alongside each other in moments leading up to this very spot on the Howland Canal bridge in the culturally rich Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice Beach.
The duo stood to return the photo-favor with stylish, matching, double-shade sunglasses with the outer lens’ flipped up, and we decided that they were way cooler than we were and consented to be adopted by our new grandparents.
I got to talking with Richard as his beloved ran with energetic youth to the water below, throwing up two peace signs in pose for another picture.
With a kind, seasoned disposition, he told me that all of the jobs, experiences and chapters of his life in production design, film studios and travel led him to where he is now– where he likes to be. At his 70-something-year-old age, he’s just gotten into real estate and is learning the business side of all of his prior professional endeavors.
“I almost went to RISD,” he says when I tell him I hail from Rhode Island.
“I chose to go to NYU instead and I’ve often wondered how such decisions play a role in changing your life. You kind of wonder what could have been… it’s oh, well, though.”
The nonchalance in his voice expresses his contentment with the way his life played out. His “whatever” is genuine and soothing. Maybe it all being “whatever” at the end of the day really can be a beautiful thing.
By the time Leigh returned and had gone back-and-forth about living the L.A. life with our token local in the group, the curious journalist in me was arising.
“So, one piece of advice?” I started, my state of dehydration from the night before altering the emphasis on all of my syllables.
“One piece of advice for us? Alright!” Leigh said, sitting back and intertwining her fingers palm-to-palm.
“Oh no, no. I meant if you two could give us millennials one piece of advice…”
Leigh enjoys this.
“Oh, that’s good! Ok, here’s a good one.
“All those hang-ups or insecurities or feeling like you’re not pretty enough or fit enough, forget about them. All that thinking your thighs are too big, etc., throw it out. I remember lacking that confidence all through my 20s and when I look back at pictures of myself from that time, I was smoking hot!
“You are beautiful right now, embrace it, enjoy it while you have it. Because you won’t have it forever!
“And enjoy the ride down,” she tells us.
Save your money. Think about retirement early on. Calculate your risks and invest in something that will offer a safe financial return for later.
Richard chimes in in response to a, “What about you honey, what’s your advice?”
“Save money, but also remember that money isn’t gonna’ do it all. It’s not what it’s all about. Do something that you’re passionate about… don’t do a job you don’t like, just for the money. Then you end up miserable living in a nice house.
“I remember being young and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was quiet and insecure and I didn’t talk too much. I didn’t know. I tried a little bit of everything, and I knew that whatever I did I wanted to be the best at it. And that meant working with the best.
“You know, there is value in formal education but start working different jobs, get your hands dirty.
“And travel while you can. Travel teaches you everything.”
Though the five of us had planned to trek back to the car more than 20 minutes ago, we are content.
“Thank you for speaking with us,” I say.
“This is the kind of stuff that I love. Maybe I should just keep traveling to new cities, interviewing people and write a book, after all.”
“That’s a great idea,” Leigh says, “write a book!”
Richard and his kind disposition laugh.
“Alright, your turn,” says the ever-spunky and ever-lively Leigh.
“What’s one piece of advice you have for us?”
“Never stop sharing your advice,” I say.
Happy Earth Day, all! To celebrate, I am throwing it back to my South American journey this time last April, and the most breath-taking natural experience I’ve ever had. Almost one year ago to date, I spent a week camping and trekking through Torres del Paine, a national park in Chile’s region of Patagonia. It was the most rejuvenating and testing (both physically and mentally) 7 days I had ever experienced, and each day brought even more beauty than the previous.
My travel teammate and I traded in our late-nights for early mornings, our cell phone screens for glaciers, the weight and distraction of social media for our 85-liter backpacks and our own thoughts and, perhaps begrudgingly, our showers in order to bathe in nature’s silence and acceptance. The magnificent ability of our natural planet to heal mind, spirit and overall wellbeing journeys far beyond words. Alas, here is my attempt at capturing the majesty of this park, and our astonishing planet Earth, in a visual post. Enjoy!
Day 1: April 5, 2016
Entering the Torres del Paine National Park at the tail of the ‘Q’ route. On this path we saw guanacos (relative of the alpaca) and wild horses, though I searched for mountain lions all week.
Day 2: April 6, 2016
The most vibrant and saturated blues and golds I’ve ever seen; this shot is of Lago Pehoé. This part of the trek offered unbelievably strong winds as we marched north into the park.
Day 3: April 7, 2016
Despite our sore knees, we hiked a little extra one afternoon to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Glacier Grey. By the time a gentle snow flurry began, I was in awe and in tears.
Day 4: April 8, 2016
In beautiful irony, the soundtrack to this pale and delicate sunset were the thunderous sounds of avalanches tumbling down mountainsides above our camp.
Day 5: April 9, 2016
One of my favorite days of the week was this one spent in the French Valley. It was also the most strenuous– think trekking 25 kilometers in one day with 85-liter packs on. Bless hiking poles!
Day 6: April 10, 2016
April meant autumn in the southern hemisphere, and we caught just the start of changing foliage in the park, despite celebrating Easter in the coming week.
Day 7: April 11, 2016
Watching the sun rise on the Torres del Paine is the ultimate reward and grand finale for the strenuous and breathtaking weeklong experience in the park. Kicking off day 7 at 6 a.m., we hike-raced uphill in darkness to watch Patagonia’s famous glowing sensation.
I will never forget my experience in Chilean Patagonia. My week fully immersed in nature reminded me of our planet’s magnificent healing properties, among returning me to my true self. This Earth Day, let us marvel in all that our planet offers us and remain mindful that it deserves the same healing and protection in return, today and every day. This year, I vow to create some healthier and more eco-conscious habits. What sustainable changes can you make today?
My Earth Day 2017 vows for healthier & sustainable habits:
Let’s talk about forgiveness. Not too long ago, I was in a darker place. I was not surrounding myself with kind, insightful, loving thoughts, and that reflected in the life I led, my notion of self-worth, my dreams and the low-vibrating, also struggling, like-minded company that I kept. I was stuck. And I knew the health of my well-being and spirit desperately needed to spread their wings to fly and soar into a space of love.
Fast-forward to my present, and Good & Grateful‘s blossoming in the beautiful San Diego. I found that space of love, but I did not find it in California. I found it in myself, though distance from the negative associations of my prior helped allow for my discovery.
There is an important distinction here in running from problems that are within, and removing oneself from an external environment that no longer serves us. I am sure, as I continue on this learning-journey, I will find that my environmental struggles were only mirroring my unhealed internal, as everything comes back to the self. I am sure, as I continue on this learning-journey, I will be able to return to those once-places of pain, and lend enough love to them in order to rewrite their scripts. That, I believe, is true growth.
But back to forgiveness. In this current life-chapter, I have focused intensely and intimately on self-love. I am, like many, often too hard on myself. I hold myself to unrealistic standards of perfection that only perpetuate a mindset of not being, and never being enough.
Intensifying healthy, loving scripts and positive mantras have helped me to shift my thought-patterns. Meditation, exercise and conscious eating have aided me in a newfound understanding of self-care. Treating myself magnificently, and humbly, remembering that I am the full moon as I am the mud that hosts the lotus, has taught my new company to honor, respect and love me in the same ways.
But at the core of it all, I am relearning that we are all and only human. If we are the universe and the earth, then we are every piece of it. We are the full moon and the sun, as we are black holes and vast emptiness. We are the flowers and the trees and the ocean, as we are tornadoes and dirt and the tectonic plates that crack and shift. We are everything while we are nothing. We are light and dark.
A flower isn’t perfect with its curved stem or curling petals, but it is beautiful. The sunset is only as spectacular and special as the clouds that blur and shape it. We humans were not made to be perfect. We are breathtaking and magnificent only because we are not so.
In this space of love, within myself, I have come to forgive myself for my shortcomings, my mistakes and my pain of the past and current. I am freed from the suffering that I clung to for so many years. And remembering that I’m trying my best and that our best is all we can do has helped me to heal painful relationships of the past. I am able to forgive others and accept that they are on their own journey– one that I may never understand– and they are learning and trying, too.
Self-love has permitted me and encouraged me to break free from the past. I am ever-growing with deeper learning and loving, and I am ever-releasing myself as pain’s prisoner.
With forgiveness, I have tasted unwavering joy and contentment. My relationships with my self, and others, have peacefully heightened and become more enriching.
We are much less defined by the outcomes as we are the way we handled things in getting there, for it is never the destination: it is the journey.
And I plan to continue making this joyous journey beautiful: to be ever-learning, ever making mistakes, ever-falling and ever-getting-the-heck-back-up, gently and lovingly. And now, once again, I am soaring.
And now that I am here within myself, I can finally say:
I forgive you. I forgive me. I love you, and I love you, me.
Part 2: How I’m Embracing, and Remaining My Inner “Yes Woman”
The waves were small and the water was chilly. The air was 50 degrees when my alarm went off at 7:20 a.m. I wanted so badly to snooze a little more until waking up to spend my day typing cover letters. But my surf partner and I went out into the ocean anyway.
And the universe rewarded us. Also playing in the small, friendly waves were none other than a pod of dolphins. After a solid five minutes of me slapping the water in disbelief, cupping my jaw-dropped face, paddling out closer to them, inquiring if their presence indicated that sharks were also around, whispering, “oh my god,” incessantly, and wondering why these so-called-waves had to be in my viewing way, I decided to do like my finned-friends and try and catch one, only to paddle back out and repeat the process.
I continued on this way for another 10 minutes. My poor surfing partner was probably experiencing his own disbelief in that someone could have such a reaction to a wild animal, but he tolerated it all the same.
There were few others in the water to witness my enamor and accept the sea’s smaller feat, but after the dolphins left, one nearby surfer caught my eye. He was seasoned, with a white beard, turquoise eyes and tan, weathered skin. He paddled on his long board only on his knees and pursued each small but promising curl in the same manner he would have as if it was the biggest wave he’d ever seen. He reminded me of my father.
After a few catches and misses, I called over to him.
“That’s quite the paddle, I’m not sure I’m there just yet.”
The man laughed and told me it took years of practice. “You should turn next time,” he told me, in regards to my last attempted ride.
I learned that while a self-proclaimed surf-bum now, he was also an avid skier and climber in his years, and had worked as a guide in Switzerland, set rock-problems all around the U.S. while living out of a van for two years, has his Masters in Chemistry, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and now has it under control and spends his time living in San Diego funded by his work as a researcher and online course professor at Vanderbilt University.
Darrel looked back at me and though beginning with, “I’m not sure I’m good for dishing out advice…,” he continued, letting the gentle ocean-waves wash over his surfboard and nostalgia-waves wash over his memories.
“Don’t get into debt,” he said after a moment. “Don’t fall for the illusion of things. Don’t spend your money on a big, fancy car… You don’t need stuff. I had a fancy home and things all back in Nashville. I even have a closet of fancy things here that I never look in. I don’t miss it.”
A wave rolls by.
“Do it while you’re young. Be good to your body. Don’t drink hard alcohol, it takes a toll. If you want to have a beer every once in a while, all right. If you want to get high, smoke weed. But don’t smoke it, bake it. Bad carcinogens.”
We float over another set of baby ocean-movements.
“Get a lot of skin.”
“As in tough skin?” I interjected, in due parts because I’m soft as a flower petal and because I wasn’t sure that’s really what he meant.
“No. You know,” patting his wetsuitted-arms, “affection, touch, love. That’s science…
And if you don’t like something, don’t do it.
“And this.” He looked at the water around him and ahead of him. “Do more of this.”
And whether he had more to share or felt he was done, I’ll never know. Because my transfixed state broke when Darrell spun around faster than I might ever be able to to catch the wave that was upon us. I made it over and looked back to see if he had caught it. He must’ve, I thought, going after it with the same energy of a pro at Maverick’s.
But he hadn’t. And it didn’t make a difference to him, because he was already on his knees paddling back out to catch another.
He didn’t need to put that last lesson into words after all: go after life like you want it badly. Go after it with full force. Pursue it and lean into it wildly. And if you miss? Get up and try again.
So living my new life in San Diego, I will go outside. I will walk around alone. I’ll look up. Smile at people. Make eye contact. Engage in conversation. Say “hi” to strangers. Accept invitations. Invite people.
I will say yes. Say yes to life. Because when you start saying yes to life, life starts saying yes to you.
And just like that: magic had happened.
Be sure to check out the prequel to this piece– Part 1: How I Found My Inner Yes Woman.
Part 1: How I Found My Inner “Yes Woman”
This is how magic happens:
Spontaneously. Unplanned. Unexpected. Without searching for it.
Since uprooting across the country to San Diego on my own, I have expanded healthily into my personal courageous form of “yes woman.” I suppose we could reference the Hollywood film involving Jim Carey, but I’m not too exposed to pop-culture in that sense (though I do love Drake, some tropical house music and Game of Thrones) and I thoroughly enjoy molding my own, experiential meaning into things.
“Yes woman” is a form I have embodied wholly in my young adult life just once before. I was reaching the conclusion of a 4-month South American backpacking journey with my adventure-partner when it was time for our paths to part: he returned home, I went on alone to Brazil.
It was my first time traveling alone internationally, and while Brazil was the country I had been subconsciously journeying toward, it was a complete surprise and self-learning moment on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro when I burst-morphed unexpectedly and excitedly into this mentality and state of being.
It was a spontaneous and eye-opening moment of lying on the beach in the city that I had always dreamed of visiting and the revelation that I was indeed looking at the small ocean-islands of vegetation, the inland hill-mounds hosting favelas, a boardwalk of sun-kissed, active sunbathers, and Brazilian vendors selling bathing suits, Caipirinha’s and crawfish. I had done it.
And I decided in that very moment, in utter joy, that I was going to do everything. Try everything. Taste everything. I was going to dive into my experience and live it fully. Granted, my day did end in a tourist police station with the Brazilian cop ordering me dinner, but that’s a story for another time.
Morphing into one’s version of “yes person” usually occurs when one realizes and accepts that they know nothing. One who has lost sight of, discarded, and removed oneself from everything that is familiar and close to them. Every direction is equally the “right” direction to take, because one has no destination, and nothing will leave one any worse off because one just doesn’t know any different. One no longer has the comfort and luxury of knowing. And that is when the magic happens. The magic of not knowing, of trusting and of welcoming. The magic that can never be planned.
Now, let me disclaim here, for the sanity of my parents and others who care about my well-being, to enter a state of “yes woman,” or “yes person,” means accepting every opportunity that comes, within one’s own safety. It requires a great deal of courage and flexibility, but even more-so, self-awareness, the willingness, ability and practice of self-exploration and knowing and setting personal boundaries.
Alas, in this Sun Diegan stage of my life, I am once again, “yes woman.” So when I received an invite to surf this morning after having planned to apply to 1,023 jobs, I said yes. To justify this, I determined that I would start my morning earlier, healthier and more clear-minded if I allowed the ocean to humble me. And I did. And it did.
And that was when the magic happened.
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!
New Orleans, L.A.
My first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, had me head-spun, swamp-enamored, voodoo-entranced and quite possibly considering ending the cross-country road trip early and setting up shop. It was in all senses delightfully overwhelming and magical. A melting pot concoction of culture seeps from the city’s every crack, crevice and corner, and my anthropology loving mind was absorbing it all like a sponge.
New Orleans, a province of colonial Spain sandwiched between two periods of French rule, retains traces of around-the-world today as it exists as part of the U.S. under the 1803 Louisiana purchase. Toss in an incredible amount of African influence and the ever-entrancing voodoo religion, a touch of spicy cuisine and blaring brass bands, and the high-energy, semi-addictive personality types (like my own?) who have come to get a taste of this culture-soup and gotten their feet happily planted in the Louisiana swamp. Now, paint everything with the brightest, most vibrantly cheerful and charming colors and year-round Christmas lights and celebration beads: NOLA.
Our killer weekend in the Big Easy began with nothing other than piles of crawfish at the local NOLA brewery, beautiful art at the NOMA, and even better live music: an intimate show of Arkansas blues-duo Handmade Moments, at the Apple Barrel, a cozy venue that plays live music every night of the week.
City tip: The Apple Barrel bar is located in Marigny, a history-rich, authentic NOLA neighborhood. Live like a local and delve into the area’s delicious food and great music, or, start your night here and make your way down to the French Quarter, where the craziness is only a stroll’s away.
The city embraces an open container law, so our walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street was extra warm and enjoyable. Like in Nashville, live music typical of the city sounded from every bar. Some of our quieter moments that night were stumbling upon an open-air artist’s market on Decatur Street and Galerie Rue Royale, a sweet and small art gallery that was bustling even at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.
City tip: The French Market District teems with trinkets, treasures, traditions and tasty treats and makes for a great daytime activity. Don’t forget to get a beignet from Cafe Du Monde: the cafe is famous for the city’s traditional treat of a square of fried dough topped with confectionary sugar. Check out the nearby Mississippi River to imagine the historical trading, importing and exporting that took place in this port city in years prior.
After a night on Bourbon Street, our Saturday in the Big Easy called for a relaxing morning of yoga and wandering through Audubon Park. The low-key day prepped us for dinner at the famous Parkway Bakery and Tavern for what USA Today named “The Best Po’ Boy In Louisiana” in 2016. The Obama’s even made a trip there!
City tip: Po’ boys originated in New Orleans as free, hearty sandwiches for union workers on strike. It comes from the term, ‘poor boy’, a name that gives insight to the work ethic and conditions of NOLA natives in the 1920s and 30s. Order it dressed– topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise– to sound like a local!
We topped off the best shrimp po’ boy in the state with the best spontaneous performance of NOLA live music one can hope to find: the epic, up-and-coming Tank and the Bangas. An eclectic combination of jazz, soul, funk, folk and extremely high energy, this band is a name to remember. Check their upcoming tour dates to see if this band is performing during your Big Easy visit- you won’t want to miss it.
City tip: Get a better taste of the magic encompassing you in the Big Easy: check out the Historic Voodoo Museum near the French Quarter and gain a deeper understanding of the mysterious religion. The museum is a small, dimly-lit hallway that connects three rooms full of voodoo history, talismans and shrines. The voodoo religion has its roots in Africa and arrived to the U.S. during the time of slavery in the 1800s: a cloud of racism combined with the religion’s lack of scripture and inaccurate Hollywood portrayal all contributes to its mystery and conceptions of evil. In truth, it is benign and empowering like any religion.
There is only one way to end your weekend and Sunday in NOLA. The final adventure capping off your Big easy experience is to witness and partake in a second line parade. Second line parades descend from the city-famous jazz funerals, and usually take place on Sunday afternoons with joyful dancing, brass bands and outrageous uniforms. Today, many organizations perform second line parades, and while for varying reasons and in varying neighborhoods, at any given event you can find locals and tourists alike spilling their open-container drinks, dancing and walking the route.
We danced and paraded with the second line members for miles until our feet ached, our stomaches growled and our cheeks had tightened from laughter. It was time to wrap up our New Orleans adventure and we had one last experience to cross off our city bucket list.
In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we bought a King Cake: traditionally a Christian honor to the three kings and now, a NOLA Mardi Gras favorite. The King Cake comes with a small plastic baby, in which you hide somewhere in the cake. The story goes that the person who receives the slice with the plastic piece in it must throw the next party. We enjoyed our King Cake with some wine and friends on the Mississippi River as the sun went down: our weekend in magical NOLA had us contently partied out.
Beneath the captivating surface, locals helped me understand that NOLA was a city of extremes. For every vibrant house, there was a homeless person in the French Quarter asking for a sip of beer. For every victorious band, like Tank and the Bangas, there were the sounds of second line parades that once voiced their aching losses of loved ones. For every tourist that comes sweeping full force into the city to get a taste, there are natural disasters, like flooding and hurricanes, that the area is prone to enduring. For every person that gets sucked into the magic of the swamp, there are people who cannot get out and get un-stuck from the sinking land.
New Orleans was a bursting city, overflowing in every aspect. It wasn’t until our drive out of the swampland to our next destination of Austin, Texas, that I felt a moment of clarity about my heart-set move to San Diego. It was as if I regained consciousness after a trance that had claimed me finally broke– but for a colorful moment there, I had my feet and heart firmly planted in the swampland of NOLA, too.