What I Look Like Tired, Ross Butler, And Morocco!

My official Moon Manor writer/director portrait taken on set December 2018 by @thisheartofstone. Looks like a back-to-school picture, and that’s how it felt too. Excitement, exhaustion, glee. We’re deep in post production. Magick is brewing. http://www.moonmanormovie.com

New PRINT story!! There’s nothing quite like holding your words in physical form, especially when that form is pretty as @flauntmagazine. Other than #rossbutler being such a nice dude, the highlight here was getting a teensy bit of redemption for the car accident I got into driving to the interview. Full story on newsstands and online: http://www.flaunt.com/content/ross-butler.

Gig of a lifetime!!!! Thrilled and honored and stoked to say I’ll be joining the @sol.selectas journey to Morocco as the caravan storyteller!!! All those years writing about my travels on this blog are paying off, no one was reading it (except my sister, love you sister) but I was finding my voice and now that translates to work and pinch me how is this real life?!! There are a few tickets left if you want to comeeeeeee. 🐫 http://www.solsahara.com

 

What It’s Like Making An Indie Feature

We start working before dawn. First ones to set are 1st AD, 2nd AD, UPM, catering. Followed shortly by our make-up artist and camera crew. The actors drift in. We’re on our third, fourth cups of coffee by 10am. Collectively, we look out for Jimmy, our 80 year-old star, make sure he’s drinking enough water, not losing his cane or his dentures, keep his sides printed at the largest font possible so he can always be working on his lines. His memory plays hard to get, which is what this movie is all about. We flashback to moments in his life as a child, a teen, a young man. We throw his FUNeral. We film his death. We all break down in tears. We laugh when he nonsensically replaces lines like “Remember what happened on Fourth of July?” with “Remember what happened in San Diego?” Jimmy laughs hardest of all. He waits for a quiet moment in the chaos to loudly ask one of his co-stars “Have you ever worked on a farm? Cause you sure know how to milk it.” We all applaud his wit, his stamina, his courage. Our camera department heroically sets up lights in the rain. Day players cycle through, a breath of fresh air when we’re exhausted. We have three on set creatures for emotional support: a cat, a bird, and a chameleon. We’ve got one week to go telling this story of a life, by telling the story of a death. Harold and Maude, we hope we’re making you proud. We’ll let you know when we find out what happened in San Diego.

www.moonmanormovie.com 

@moon_manor_movie

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Bleed Your Project / Achieve Bliss

Is there a better feeling than being completely immersed in a creative project?

Giving every shred of yourself to the execution of an idea. Breathing life into a story, into a dream. I love how the day-to-day self doubt, over analysis, existential dread falls way. You simply don’t have time to indulge in it.

Currently completely married to the creation of my first feature film, Moon Manor, co-created with my best friend of forever Machete Bang Bang. We co-wrote, and are co-directing and co-producing. It’s a coming-of-death story. It’s about a FUN-eral and the moon. And one very special human named Jimmy.

www.moonmanormovie.com 

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And two years ago at the same exact same time of year I was leading a 23 person crew onto a friend’s secret mountain ganja farm to direct my first significant work of length, Forever Flowers. Watching the teaser now I can still smell the autumn chill, still feel the exhilaration of waking up at dawn to call the shots, to crystallize a story that had been calling to me for years.

What will the next two years bring?

Crazy Sexy Cool

TLC was hugely important to my young self. The album CrazySexyCool was the crossroads of my childhood to adolescence. I had a bootleg cassette a friend recorded on her boombox because I wasn’t allowed to have it (they used swear words! they sang about sex!). I remember the main albums in my life at that time were Garth Brooks Greatest Hits and the Lion King soundtrack. I remember burying the Lion King behind my books and thinking “I’m too old for this, now I listen to TLC.”

With my tiny allowance I bought posters of T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli, but my mom made me take them down so I just moved them into my closet behind my clothes so I could go in there, listen to my bootleg cassette on my Walkman and peek at my heroes. A few weekends ago watching them perform at Kaaboo Del Mar (#RIPLeftEye) was a life dream, and I realized what I’d been connecting to so intensely as a kid. I was too young to know it, but subconsciously I was absorbing their messages of female empowerment. “Unpretty” “No Scrubs” “Waterfalls” … peer behind the catchy hooks and what they’re saying is “respect yourself, you’re more than your looks, be your own hero.” Their performance yesterday didn’t miss a beat, and they were so gracious to their fans. Thanks for everything, TLC. Love forever, Erin Granat, Your Fan.

Beyond grateful to have a job that entails me musing about concerts. Check out my Kaaboo IG Highlight over at @uproxxtravel, article coming soon.

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Every Summer I Amtrak

Everything on the train is grubby, and it’s more expensive than a flight. But something happens to the mind when on the train. The tethers are loosened. You enter a meditative state. The most fruitful writing and reading time. Nature drifts by outside and you have the best seat in the house. You pass rivers and mountains not even cars can access. It’s the best of all worlds, I’m in a comfortable seat watching the world like a movie screen. Neighborhoods with neighborhood things—kids jumping on trampolines, clothes drying on the line, rusted cars and stray dogs. This trip was 36 hours, my longest yet. The Coast Starlight through the forest and the agricultural fields and the ocean. America’s great West Coast journeying Seattle > LA.

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The Other Tulum

Last month was my birthday so I ran away to Tulum for a few days. To me, this picture is México. Rather than the beach and margaritas and all that, it’s the dusty roads, the bark of raggedy dogs, the delightful, too sweet taste of Mexican Coke.

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Remembering my first visits to México as a tween, giddy to buy cheap beer without an ID, the rough streets of those early days of Sayulita where Beth’s family had a house and we had a whole other life we’d bi-annually dip into and be “G.I.T.s” … Gypsies In Training.  I decided last minute to come on this trip, so maybe I became a gypsy after all? But that’s a cultural appropriation – gypsies are a people who’ve been persecuted terribly over the centuries, the Coachella-fication of their aesthetic on par with Tulum’s tourists who know nothing about the tension simmering under the sunburned streets. But let me not travel down that path. This is a “HBD to me” post after all. Age just has a way of ripping off the blinders. 

Back to waxing poetic about the intoxicating magic of México. And thanking @our_habitas and @uproxxtravel for giving me wings to explore @artwithmetulum. A new year for new opportunities. Shameless hotel balcony selfies shall endure, however.

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I hope more festivals will take a cue from @artwithmetulum and #partyforapurpose. Four days of art, music and food centered around talks on sustainability and social change. I did a story over at @uproxxtravel if you wanna go seeeee. “The mission of Art With Me *GNP is to enrich the local community, preserve the natural environment and strengthen the artistic development of Tulum through conscious and sustainable practice. Art With Me has chosen solid waste management as the central environmental topic for its’ first year, due to the threat it has on the Mesoamerican ReefSystem (SAM), the ocean and the local people of Tulum.” This was a great sculpture at Art With Me by Daniel Popper. Installations like this were hidden everywhere in the beach and the jungle. Photo by Peter Ruprecht.

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What my chameleon taught me about love

I never thought I would love a reptile. There’s something unnerving about them. They’re cold to the touch. They don’t crave human affection. There’s nothing cuddly about them. Then I got Seneca the Chameleon.

Seneca came into my life as a pal for Lev when he was recovering from his accident. The first time I held him, I was entranced. He grips onto you with these little velvet hands. He’s so fragile, with tiny claws and fake teeth nature painted onto his lips. All this creature does is chill. Being in his presence is like beholding a wizard.

He’s not the type of chameleon who changes color based on his environment, he merges between brilliant reds, oranges, blues and greens. His eyes move independently of each other. He falls asleep in my hand. I know I’m like a big ol weirdo declaring my love for my chameleon like this, but he’s just the most special little dude.

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Our short film that pissed off the religious right, and unrelated realizations about skiing

I had my first experience with religious zealots! This was originally going to be a post celebrating that CONFETTI, the wonderful weird short film by @machetebangbang that I acted in and 1st AD’ed won the Vanguard Award for Best Experimental Short at the Lindsey Film Festival (hooray!), BUT THEN, friends who have since become very … passionate … about their religious beliefs started commenting on my Facebook that I clearly worship Lucifer and “serve evil at its core.” I appreciate social media being a platform for discussion, so I’m leaving the comments up. But spreading negativity and judgement does not interest me. You’ve been blocked.

On a lighter note, this is one of my favorite films I’ve ever been involved with. The irony is, it’s quite literally about spreading the light. WATCH it here. Congrats, team. This was one for the ages.

 

In totally unrelated news …

Uproxx Travel sent me to Sun Valley, Idaho last week to attend the Sun Valley Film Festival and to experience experiences, and it was my first time back on skis in 7 years and it didn’t suck. I told myself I quit skiing because it was too expensive, too repetitive, too obnoxious (rich white people sport). Growing up in the Tahoe area with ski bums as parents, I was skiing before I could walk. It’s the one athletic thing I’m pretty good at, and the one thing that was easy to quit when I wanted to move to Spain and needed spending money, so I sold all my gear. Getting back on the mountain last week was surprisingly emotional, and now I know the truth.

I quit skiing because it was too painful a reminder of my family being happy and together, before my mom got sick. She was an excellent skier, the best in our family, and skiing without her felt pointless and so, so cold.

But as I sat on the chairlift in Sun Valley, I remembered to remember the happy memories and not dwell on the sad stuff. And for a moment I was a kid again, my sister and I snuggled between my parents on the lift, life extending only so far as the next hot cocoa we’d get in the lodge, my mom glamorous in her ski onesie, all of us smelling like sunscreen, my dad rubbing my hands to keep them warm.

Another reason I quit is because when I was 7 years old I fell 80 feet off a chairlift (or was it 70 feet when I was 8? I have to check the newspaper article about it), and I’ve been plagued with extreme fear of heights ever since. But that’s a story for the article.

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Travels with the moon

 

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The moon is mysterious — always changing shapes, always rising and setting at different times. It’s a wild banshee compared to the sun, ever constant in its brightness.

The moon is alluring, too — so seductive that the tides move at her will (don’t talk to me about gravity, I’m being lyrical here). And yes, the feminine pronoun shall be used to reference her, because women have a special connection to that round lantern in the sky. The lunar cycle is 29.5 days long, the same length as a menstrual cycle.

I love the moon in a way I don’t love — or even notice — other celestial bodies. And so, after intending to do it forever, I finally went on a dedicated full moon hike. Meaning, I wasn’t out at night and “just happened” to glance skyward. Instead, I went out to purposefully hike by her light. It was an adventure available to us all, wherever we are, for free.

My moon hike happened New Year’s Day, the first full moon of the year. I was back home in Northern Nevada and had the wild hair (what a funny expression, is it just one singular hair that’s wild? where does this hair grow?) to get in touch with my inner pagan. It was time to check “moon walk” off my list of life experiences.

Following my wild hair, I went to the internet, which told me that the local parks and recreation department was leading a full moon hike around Wahoe Lake, the small body of water between Carson City and Reno. God love parks and rec departments. I’d never actually been to this lake, Lake Tahoe kinda steals the thunder of all lakes around here, so it seemed all was in “alignment,” as they say.

Here’s what happened when I arrived: http://www.uproxx.com/life/mega-moon-hike

Releasing lanterns, hoping it’s not dumb

I wrote this last month for Uproxx.com, still ruminating on it. I’d always wanted to attend a lantern fest, but there’s something that feels inherently wrong about a pretty event that’s meant to pay tribute to those who’ve suffered. Like when celebrities have $10,000 galas for charity. I know the heart is in the right place, but I feel weird about it. I like the article, though. Been a big triumph this year to publish regularly. Think I’ll keep at it.

Releasing Lanterns With Messages Of Healing And Hoping It’s Not Dumb

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Still thinking about that eclipse …

There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about the total eclipse. The thrilling / terrible feeling of whoever’s in charge turning down the sun dial like “Watch what I can do, silly humans.” I’ve never felt so insignificant, yet interconnected. The only event that’s affected me in the same way was being in the room as my niece was born. Both experiences are tattooed on my soul. 

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A “pretty white girl” writes about Burning Man

Unpacking The Lies You Tell Yourself At Burning Man

Who knew getting hated on could be so rewarding? To date, the essay I wrote about my Burning Man experience (see above) has been read ­­­­­50,000 + times. This might be normal for other writers, but since I’m usually locked away in a long form narrative, this shit never happens to me.

I’ve felt elated, proud, shocked, seen, and – hurt. Because there’s also been a lot of backlash. By readers who hate Burning Man in general and thus hate the article (which is such a curiosity, to take the time to read AND comment on an event you’ve never attended but loathe intensely … Burning Man is so charged like that). And by Burners themselves who hate – well, me. Or at least what I wrote, what I represent, “everything that’s going downhill about Burning Man.” To get backlash from the community stings a little. Okay, a lot. I got called a Sparklepony. In Burn culture, this is very, very unflattering.

When I look back at what I wrote, in the midst of unpacking the rental van, hair ratted, bike chafed, picking playa dust out of my eyelashes, mourning the loss of my sleep schedule, hoping we wouldn’t get charged a cleaning fee on the van, getting charged anyway, catching up on bills and checking in with family, yeah I cringe at how obnoxious the article is at times. But in that haze of post peak experience deadline drama, I had no time to self-censor, no time to organize my thoughts beyond a brain dump of what the experience was like inside my neurotic, self-judgmental mind.

I agree with some of the detractors. I wasn’t there for my camp as much as I could’ve been, admitting lugging grey water in apocalyptic heat was the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done was a pretty embarrassing window into my privileged existence. But the comments that piss me off are the ones that refer to me as “just another pretty white girl.” This means my experience isn’t valid? This means I can’t have a point of view?

Would it have made a difference if I’d divulged that I’ve spent the last year as caretaker to my very ill father? That getting to spend a week feeling alive in the desert was the antidote to our endless ER visits. And that before that I was holding space for my boyfriend when he got run over by an SUV, breaking both legs and spending months in a wheelchair. And that he and I got our Burning Man tickets as the goal on the horizon when he would walk again. And that even though we’re not together anymore, my ultimate Burn highlight was when we found each other on the playa under the moon, marveling that he could not only walk but dance and ride a bike, and we held the solar shower for each other as we took little bird baths and discussed our favorite art installations.

If I’d shared all that, would it have made a difference?

Or is that just something a pretty white girl would say?

With that said, now I’ll do the only thing you really can do in life: focus on the light.

In this case: the positive feedback the article has generated. Readers who’ve shared El Guaco-esque experiences of their own, and the owner of El Guaco himself, who found me on Facebook to say El Guaco is his playa contribution because he’s an introvert and this is how he feels comfortable interacting with people.

Some other things I need to say:

–My heart is heavy for the man who ran into the fire, for his family, for those who witnessed it. I didn’t address this in the article because I wanted to gently shine a light on all the other aspects of the experience. I don’t have anything poetic to say about it, just had to acknowledge it.

–I love bike culture at Burning Man. It’s such a return to childhood, riding around with your friends, your bike posse. It’s the perfect example of the duality out there, hedonistic activities happening simultaneously as you get in touch with your inner child.

–Something needs to be said about baby wipes at Burning Man. They are a gift from heaven. That’s all.

–To save face, I know I should write more about my previous Burns, in response to the commenters who wrote that it’s sad I’d been 4 times and was still such a “spectator.” But that’s another article for another time. And I’m pretty ready to be done with Burning Man for the year.

The last thing I want to say is I’ve had haters before. I wrote a sex column for a semester in college that was so divisive I got both applauded by my First Amendment and Society professor, and nearly kicked out of school. Being the center of such turmoil was thrilling, and embarrassing. It was right after my mom’s death and I was in a very “fuck it” place in my life. I’d be lying if I said the backlash didn’t affect me deeply. I wanted to hide for the entire year following. What’s changed in ten years? Then I was writing for shock affect, this time I was authentically expressing myself and my experience. I think I just have a somewhat salacious way of moving through life. I’ve also had ten years of rejection and disappointment to get me primed.

Okay, controversy. Okay, Burning Man. I’ve said all I can say. I’m done. For the year. Or longer. Or not.

Summer sucks, unless you’re seventeen.

Lately, I feel grumpy. It’s July, which means days are long and hot. Pool parties. The beach. Short shorts. Blah fucking blah. In other words, a constant reminder that despite my best intentions, somewhere along the line I sold out and became an adult.

I feel nostalgia for the summer of my youth so heavy I can’t breathe. Growing up in the tiny ranch town of Gardnerville, Nevada meant summers were like a country music video on repeat. Especially the sweet spot between ages fifteen and seventeen, when we were old enough to drive but too young to go anywhere.

The launch of summer was Carson Valley Days, the town parade and carnival at Lampe Park. Everyone came and everyone rode the same five rides we’d been riding since we were kids. We spent summer days at Lake Tahoe and summer nights at the river. Cheap beer was usually involved. We rode in the back of pickup trucks, driving too fast down county lanes, nothing but the stars above and our uncertain futures ahead.

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I took this photo a few summers ago on a road trip with my muse Paije. We weren’t in Gardnerville, but the feeling was the same.

The lack of options is what created the bliss. Gardnerville had one movie theater and lots of empty Earth. Social life meant seeing the same movie for the fifth time, or circling up around a bonfire in the desert or the woods, drinking our parents’ purloined liquor and blasting Country Grammar (I know I just seriously dated myself, but Nelly’s debut album was really tight).

I marvel at how we found these bonfire spots. Before Waze, before texting. I guess we called each other on land lines and wrote down the directions?

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That same summer road trip. I wish I had pics of my Gardnerville youth, but I can’t seem to find many.

I could devote an entire book to growing up Gardnerville, and I still might. But for now the last thing I’ll mention here is the scent — summer nights in the ‘Ville are the aroma of hay fields, fresh unpolluted oxygen, cows, wholesome American dreams. I know I’m waxing poetic, we always look back on our youth with a rose-colored lens.

But no matter how many cities I visit, or fancy Hollywood events I attend, nothing feels as great as being seventeen on a summer night, surrounded by my gang of friends, parked at the river, singing Garth Brooks into the night.

 

Festivals are where I became an adult.

This is peculiar, I know. As hesitant as I’ve been over the years to be labeled a “festie kid,” I most certainly am. Never has this been more apparent than Memorial Day Weekend at Lightning in a Bottle. Because it’s not just about a fun weekend dancing in the dust with my friends anymore.

For the second year, I was an emcee for the Lucent Temple of Consciousness. I was presenting the presenters, heady folks recognized as leading experts in religion, sexuality, the environment, and much more. Being emcee is a great honor, and responsibility.

Far cry from my first festival ever, Burning Man 2006. Most people work up to the Burn. I started there, sleeping in my car and eating beans out of a can. I’d brought old Halloween costumes and flip flops. In short, I didn’t “get it.” But the experience forever changed me. A feeling of being liberated from the matrix, a peek behind the veil of society, a place of connection, sensuality, and a word I’d never heard before: consciousness.

Over the years, I’ve done festivals in different ways. With 30 friends, with a boyfriend, with a best friend and met a new boyfriend (or two) there. I’ve gone days without sleeping, experimented with combinations of…sparkles. Felt wildly uplifted and had more than one breakdown. Emotional, physical, vehicular.

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These transformational festivals have lured me to different continents and different understandings of myself and my values.

And now, after 10 years of being a festie kid, I’ve become a festie adult.

During LIB, I woke up each morning to an alarm so I could get to The Mystery School where I was emcee. I skipped a dance party to listen to a talk on “The Science of God.” I didn’t even make the main stage sets Saturday, so content was I with a few choice friends watching Nahko and Medicine for the People at the Temple, and then was asked to emcee a little on the main stage! I still slept in my car however, this one a rented Elton John van with Vanessa as co-pilot.

But I still didn’t make it to yoga. Or take a shower. #goalsfornextyear

But it all feels different now. As much as festivals have given me, it’s time for me to give back to them. As I’ve said before (check my Burning Man Vid) festivals are nearly impossible to describe, you just have to go. The rest of the world is catching on. Festival fashion and culture is becoming mainstream. Bernie Sanders gave a recorded address at LIB. For me, just when I think I might move on from the scene, I get sucked back in. I’m writing this now on a plane about to depart for Bonnaroo in Tennessee. See you there. xx

 

Why I love rejection.

So much to process right now, words about to rip out of me. Been a big month, you could say. Have a lot to share. But not ready to. Instead, going to write about rejection.

I recently received what I consider “positive” rejections from Short of the Week and Tin House, and it got me thinking. I’m good friends with rejection. We’ve met each other many, many times. In fact, rejection might be the most helpful feedback one can get on the path of art and life, depending how you receive it.

Short of the Week wrote they mulled over my film quite a bit, were very close to accepting it but ultimately felt it wasn’t what they were looking for. Considering this was the darkest and most edgy film work I’ve ever written/acted in/produced, I was nervous as hell to put it out into the world. Terrified of being judged as a psycho pervert, aka terrified of being rejected. The pass from SOTW felt like a win, because apparently they rarely give more than a “thanks but no thanks.”

“This was a really tough call for us. Considering the film is about such an intensely unlikable and awful character, it’s undeniably compelling. The lead performance is fantastic and the unconventional, yet strong shot choices help convey a sense of unease, unsettling the viewer. You really do capture the “seedy underbelly” of LA.” 

Tin House, illustrious gatekeepers of literary merit, also rejected me. A much briefer “this doesn’t work for us, but please know we welcome reading your future work.” I’ve never been so excited to be rejected! Hooray! It means 1.) They actually read it, and 2.) As one of my mentors Colette pointed out This is a definitely a good rejection, especially from Tin House. Believe me, they get scads of submissions. They only send “send agains” to people whose work genuinely impresses them.”

So what it does mean, getting close to acceptance but swallowing rejection? How many other times has this happened? The novel I wrote that almost got published, then didn’t. The original pilot I wrote/acted in that almost got picked up, then didn’t. Am I good, but not good enough? The guys I’ve liked who didn’t like me back. The jobs I’ve wanted but they hired someone else. For all my work ethic, commitment, continual work on my spiritual/emotional/physical self, maybe I’m good enough, but not “right” enough. In that moment. For that opportunity/person/acknowledgement.

Maybe I suck. But that’s not for me to know. For now, I’m keeping a note card on my desk where I keep a hash mark for every rejection I get on my current project (a new pilot). I look at it like wanting to rack up rejections, because it’s a numbers game, and eventually I’ll get the YES. And it only takes one yes.

And because not trying is the same thing as being told “no.”

And here’s a brain dump from my mind:

I saw an owl at the Renaissance Faire. He had fire eyes like the red flowers on the pomegranate trees in my yard. Looking at my face and seeing it get older. The shooting star I saw Saturday night. That time we gathered to watch the blood moon eclipse and it was foggy so we drank cactus instead and laughed and I ended up in a suite at the W Hotel. The loves I’ve had. The friend I’m not going to see for a long time. Lady Fluff’s cat kisses. Realizing she’s a feline Kathy Bates. My own near misses. Hiding from the lust demon, not eating sugar or dairy or starch for a month like a real LA girl. My former Reno self is embarrassed. But it helps me think straight.

17 things that surprised me about Cuba.

Yes, 17 things. Because Cuba is the most unique place I’ve ever traveled. The sweet sharp rum. The magnificent crumbling buildings. The gorgeous people and their difficult history.

My trip came together on Christmas Eve and I arrived Havana the eve of New Year’s Eve, so I had little time to build expectations. Probably doesn’t matter. Even if I’d been prepping the trip for months I’d still be blown away. Thus, having gone into the experience a blank slate, here are 17 things that surprised me about Cuba.

#1) It was easy to fly there, in a complicated way. Commercial flights are now happening from the U.S. straight to Cuba, but you still need to prove you’re going for one of 12 “official” reasons (you can’t go simply as a tourist). But hacking the system is way more fun! We flew to Mexico City and bought a one-way ticket at the Cubana Air office, which took a few days to figure out and included exploring the Witch Market and a Lucha Libre match. It was a *tiny* bit stressful carrying all our cash around one of the most dangerous cities in the world (you can’t buy a flight to Cuba with an American credit card), but finding an open Cubana office also felt like a treasure hunt (they’re open for like three hours a day, an hour of which is lunch-I liked these people already).

#2) When you stay with a family, you become part of the family. The best accommodations in Cuba are the casa particulares, basically, renting a room from a family. For around $30/night, you get a clean room, breakfast, and the chance to see what Cuban life is really like. Maybe we got lucky, but our family was the shit. We went together to the beach, to the river, they drove us where we wanted to go in the city and helped us plan the rest of our trip. Two nights booked at the casa became six nights, and whether they like it or not, I now consider Martique to be my Cuban mom, Yoe to be the affable dad-who’s-more-like-a-friend, 19 year-old Alejandra to be my hermana pequeña, and the 13 year-old son (who’s name I think is Alejandro but seems unlikely, right?) to be the little brother I don’t really have a relationship with because all he does is play video games. They spoke no English, so I finally got to live out my dream of being the foreign exchange student with the cute accent who’s always saying funny stuff like “estoy embarazada” (meant to say: “I’m embarrassed” actually said: “I’m pregnant”).

#3) New Year’s Eve is NOT a party night. I’d imagined myself with new Cuban friends, rum drunk in the street as we salsa danced into the new year. I’d even brought a cheap gold “2016” crown from home (nerd alert!). This was not to be, however, as Alejandra informed me NYE is a family night, everyone stays in and has a big dinner. We were invited to feast with them, and had a delicious meal of chicken, pork, black beans and rice, plantains and tres leches cake (worth mentioning: the BBQ was a DIY creation made from an old propane tank). Two traditions were throwing a bucket of water out the door at midnight to cleanse the year past, and burning scarecrow-like effigies in the street (more tame than it sounds). After dinner we walked the dog to the neighbor’s house to play dominoes. At 1:30am Alejandra said she’d heard about a party at the Port we could try and get into (so it IS a party night, parties just start way late after family dinner?)…fast forward a few hours and we’re meeting Fidel Castro’s granddaughter at a swanky house on the water. ¡Felicidades!

#4) Cuban guys sculpt their eyebrows. The most lovely shaped brows I’ve ever seen were on the faces of the macho Cuban men. An unscientific visual survey confirmed they also shave their arms and legs. Perhaps they’re trying to keep up with the gorgeous Cuban women. Cuban is a melting pot of African, Caribbean, and European culture, creating stunning, mixed-race humans the likes of which I’ve seen only in Brazil. And they’re so sexy! Even the official uniforms of the girls working at the airport were mini-skirts and black fishnets.

#5) It is NOT possible to get sick of rum. It’s the nectar of life.

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#6) It IS possible to get sick of Adele’s new album. — It was the only music I had actually on my phone. No wifi meant no streaming meant Hey Adele, if you’ve called 1,000 times and no one is answering maybe you have the WRONG FUCKING NUMBER!


#7) It is possible to get SLIGHTLY sick of cigars. — Did you know cigars are just dried tobacco leaves rolled together? You’re smoking leaves. I didn’t know that. And they’re really green and pretty when hung up, like the pic. But they started giving me a headache, and/or that’s because it’s still legal to smoke cigarettes everywhere in Cuba.

#8) Cuba is freaking beautiful. I was expecting lovely beaches, but wasn’t prepared for the green hills, red soil, and exotic flowers. Like you see in Viñales, a country region a few hours from Havana. We arrived at night, so was blown away by the view that greeted us in the morning. I also didn’t realize a lot of the country was built in the 1500s and 1600s, creating a unique mixture with the buildings built in mod 1950s style. And! I was surprised to find out how big Cuba is, it’s the largest island in the Caribbean. A bus ride to Cienfuegos or Trinidad, two cities a lot of travelers visit, was 6 hours from Havana. And that’s staying on the west coast of the island.

#9) Cuba just got the Internet, but they still don’t have advertising. Some people told me the Internet came to Cuba 15 days ago, others said 3 months. As I experienced more than once on my trip, it’s hard to get a straight answer on anything in Cuba. I do know this: when Martique (the mom at our casa particular) said there was Internet at the park, I thought she meant there was an Internet cafe. I went looking for the cafe, and found dozens of people with their laptops filling every bench IN the park. As in, when Cuba decided to allow its citizens wifi, it became available only in a few select parks in the city. On some street corners (near parks) you can access it as well. Martique mentioned it was an effort to clean up the hotels, previously the only place to log-on, an unpleasant experience for high-paying tourists to find their lobby packed with Cubans vying for enough of a signal to make a 15-second video call to relatives in the States. She said they put extra benches in parks and now that’s where one goes to do Internet-ing, “como si fuéramos animales.” You still need to buy an Internet card, you get an hour at a time, which costs up to $7 in hotels, and there’s an emerging street hustle of selling the cards on the street for $1 or $2.

Not that they haven’t had content this whole time. From the Miami Herald: “Because of the severe lack of web access on the island, many people subscribe to the underground paquete, a weekly package of programming bought and sold on thumbdrives, or, for those who can afford them, external hard drives. The paquete sells for between 2 to 3 CUCs — the Cuban currency roughly equivalent to dollars — per week, and buyers can watch, among hundreds of offerings, recent episodes of Game of Thrones, Veep, and The Mindy Project.”

As a Communist country, there’s still a general lack of advertising. No messages shouted at you from billboards or bus stops. No images forced into your brain. No suggestions on what to eat, think, wear. Not being constantly plugged-in is something I always enjoy about traveling, but the lack of advertising felt like a cleansing of the palate.

#10) Cuba is FULL of tourists. It might not be a common place for Americans to go, but the rest of the world long ago made Cuba its playground. To the point that Habana Vieja (Old Town) is like visiting Epcot Disneyworld (why do so many tourists wear workout clothes or sweats when traveling? I get wanting to be comfortable, but you’re not working out, you’re not napping…no entiendo). Tourism is a very good thing for Cuba, however. When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, Cuba had an extreme economic collapse. From Lonely Planet: “Almost overnight half the factories closed, the national economy shrunk by 60%, and Cubans who had been relatively well-off a year or so earlier, faced a massive battle just to survive.” In 1993, attempting to revive itself, Cuba legalized the US dollar and opened the country up to tourism and limited forms of private enterprise. Tourism is how they’ve been able to recover.

#11) The classic cars aren’t classic on the inside, and there’s no toilet paper. All those beautiful cars from the 1950s? For the most part, the engines are new, and often the interiors as well. So you hail a taxi, and from the outside you step into a ’56 Chevy, but on the inside you find yourself in ’02 Peugeot. Also, lots of taxis that stop aren’t actually taxis, just people looking to make an extra buck. Which is cool. Also also, for some reason Cubans love to put Mac Apple stickers on their gorgeous classic cars. And, most of the old cars have one handle to roll down every window, so you have to pass it back and forth. Worth noting: January 2014 was the first time a Cuban was allowed to buy a car without a government permit in over 50 years. Not related, but also interesting: there’s a severe lack of toilet paper in Cuba. Paper goods in general. This is why you see people bringing toilet paper with their carry-ons at the airport, and why the pizza we ordered one night was served on printer paper rather than a plate.

#12) Cubans are the happiest, most welcoming people in the world. And they seem to love Americans. Considering the hardships they’ve been through because of Castro’s tricky relationship with the U.S. government, I was blown away by the sweet open demeanor of nearly everyone I met. When asked where I’m from and I answered “California,” somewhat nervously, I was always met with a huge smile and Bienvenidos a Cuba! and usually “we love America!” Then I’d say Fuiste a America? (Have you been to America?) and immediately feel like an asshole because leaving Cuba is nearly impossible for them. Both to get a visa, and to ever earn enough money.

So why are they so happy all the time? I have a few theories. It’s like there was a collective decision to make the best of it, considering they’re more or less trapped on their island. The attitude could’ve easily gone the other way, toward discontent and anger. It’s an example of what’s possible for the human spirit. A case for the “paradox of choice” argument. Does having less options make you happier? Dunno. But Cubans seem to have something figured out. I’ve never seen so many people in a good mood.

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#13) Cuba has virtually no crime. Is happiness the simplest antidote to violence (see above)? Google “crime in Cuba” and you’ll see across the board that Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world to travel. I’ve never felt more comfortable meeting strangers. Like our friend Rey, an older guy we met on a walk who ended up spending half the day with us, showing us secret spots of Havana and telling us about his life as a salsa instructor. Or Eddie, our tour guide in Viñales who arranged for us to stay at his mom’s house when all the hotels were booked. I did keep getting called “Bruchie” in the streets, which I eventually realized was a version of “Brooke Shields,” which I’ve gotten all my life (thank you thick eyebrows). But this didn’t feel threatening. In fact it boosted my ego quite a lot. Duh.

#14) Havana was the playground of the Mafia. The surprise here is more so that I knew very little about the history of Cuba’s revolution, and it’s a helluva story. My brief understanding (starting with the Revolution, though going back farther to the Spanish-American War and William Randolph Hearst’s role with yellow journalism is equally fascinating):

A) In the 1930s and 40s, Batista was in power, and at first he was a good guy and very progressive, then he became corrupt and took shitloads of money from the American Mafia, in exchange they got to do whatever they wanted in Havana (which is terrible and glamorous and why there are hotels with the height of 50s chic that hasn’t been updated since then, so thus is rundown as fuck). B) This upset a lot of people, including a young lawyer named Fidel Castro who led an uprising that resulted in the famed revolution of 1959 (Che Guevara was a big part of the revolution and in fact I saw his likeness all over Cuba, much more than Castro’s). C) The U.S. puts an embargo on Cuba because Communism was the worst thing ever at the time, and for other reasons I don’t fully understand (input welcome!). D) The Cuban Missile Crisis. E) Cuba becomes a shining example to the world for it’s literacy rate and healthcare system. F) Sugar plantations play a big role in all of this. G) The USSR is also very much involved. H) Fidel’s brother Raul takes over in 2006 because Fidel is 80 years-old and getting sick. Raul starts allowing things like private restaurants and more tourism. I) In 2015 the U.S. lifts the travel ban to Cuba (not entirely, just more than ever).

And that’s a terribly spotty account of Cuba’s last several decades, based on a traveler’s understanding as told to her by Cubans.

#15) Cuba has two currencies. This is a bizarre aspect of traveling in Cuba–tourists have one currency, locals have another. From the economist.com: “ONE country, two currencies” is one of Cuba’s more peculiar idiosyncrasies. The Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) are both legal tender on the island, though neither is exchangeable in foreign markets. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and worth 25 times as much as the CUP. But whereas most Cubans are paid in CUP, nearly all consumer goods are priced in CUC.” What this means as a traveler is you’ll be riding in a taxi with four locals and know you’re paying not just a different price for your ride, but an entirely different currency. It’s complicated and odd, and comes with all sorts of historical significance and reflection on current economic times.

#16) Santeria is one of the most common religions. Cuba embraces many religions, a refreshing experience. The people are open to all types of beliefs, one of which is Santeria–traditions from Africa kept alive by the slaves who were brought to work the sugar plantations, combined with Catholic saint worship. I also learned about Yoruba, an offshoot of Santeria that involves wearing white every day for a whole year. I visited Regla, where the main church of Santeria is located. I was scammed outside the church by two ladies who I think did black magic on me. I am purposefully glossing over all this because I intend to do a whole post or video on just this subject.

#17) Miscellaneous. A few final details that surprised me about Cuba. A) The Malecon (the long walkway between Havana and the water where everyone congregates to drink and drum) is as fun as expected. B) The art is incredible in Cuba, perhaps because the isolation means a unique, original style has emerged (and the Fábrica de Arte gallery/concert venue/cafe is one of the coolest places I’ve been in the world). C) I love cats. And I didn’t see that many at first around Cuba. Martique told me one night during the worst economic times all the cats disappeared. Because they were eaten. Note to self: research if this could be true. D) Cuban women aren’t allowed in caves because they steal the sparkly rocks (as told to me by our guide when exploring the largest cave in Cuba…could this possibly be true?).

And now we’re at the end. If you made it this far, you might not be as surprised as me to discover all these quirks about Cuba. Or maybe you’ll discover your own. I do know it’s the only place I’ve never seen an Irish bar in the world. The people are lovely, but it can be tough getting anything accomplished (you know you’re somewhere living in the past when Guatemala (our destination after Cuba) seems full of modern conveniences). But Cuba is 100% worth visiting, and I think I’ve left a piece of my heart there. But I always do that when traveling.

 

A cold desert Christmas.

I had a cold desert Christmas. I visited my dad in his new home of Flagstaff, Arizona, and was amazed by the majesty of the land. We had Christmas dinner at the Grand Canyon. It was my first visit, and the site took my breath away (because the Canyon is awe-inspiring, and because it was really fucking cold).”We” was me, my dad, and John, the wonderful human I get to call my boyfriend. I’ve spent many holidays back home in Tahoe as the weird single LA artist cat lady, so being somewhere new with someone to call my own felt like Christmas morning all week long.

In addition to the Grand Canyon, we also explored the Wupataki ruins, the Sunset volcano crater, the mystical rock formations in Sedona, and drank in the stars via telescope at the Lowell Observatory. One word kept connecting these different experiences: perspective. I’d been needing a dose of the stuff. Lately, I’ve been trapped in the petty grievances of my lower mind.

It was fascinating to read about the natives who called Wupataki home, how they were in a constant struggle to survive against the elements yet thrived for centuries. Pottery has been found there but not the tools to make it, which suggests it came from elsewhere, which suggests trading between tribes occurred at Wupataki. The Sunset crater wasn’t much to look at from the base, but the lava flows around it were cool, and I was gobsmacked to read the placard calling the volcano a “geographic infant” because it erupted a mere 1,000 years ago. Telescoping the night sky at the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered!), we saw a “stellar nursery” located within Orion’s belt, which is literally where stars are born. Add in that poor Pluto isn’t even considered a planet anymore, and all this perspective made me feel one thing: grief.

Grief for all the times I’ve felt less than amazed to be alive. Grief that I spend a lot of my days without perspective. The perspective that this Earth is magnificent and I’m lucky to inhabit it for a speck of time.

So my perspective going into 2015: I’m grateful I have a healthy father, a car to take me to places like the Grand Canyon, and a witty handsome boyfriend to be my co-pilot. Here are some pics!

 

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Beyonce is my friend…and other things on my mind.

Last night I was up til 5am on a spiritual journey, the details of which I cannot reveal. The lessons were large, the wisdom at times overwhelming. So to take a breath I’d like to share a few small things that have been on my mind:

  • I recently did an apartment redesign and put oil lamp sconces up on my living room to create a wall of light. I was imagining how cool and dramatic this would look, but now that they’re up, the shadows from the scones are the most interesting part about the design, dancing along the walls like dark birds…because sometimes in life the shadows are as beautiful as the light, ya dig?
  • I feel like if I met her, Beyonce would be my friend.
  • Last week I paid WordPress $3o for the No Ad Upgrade, so there won’t be advertisements on my blog. This is my forum for expression, and I’m not going to commodify it so someone else can make a few bucks.
  • Lately I’ve been putting into action several self-improvement desires I had at the new year. All’s going well, except I wonder what I will face when all my excuses are removed?
  • From one of my favorite books, A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids: “Duality dwells at the heart of all truth, so dance with your inner paradox” … “Yearnings are the navigated states of the visionary and precede the sojourn to fulfillment” … “An open heart is seldom lonely”
  • This is my living room redesign, and the red heart hug pillow I got at IKEA. I like that the friendly squishy hug is the first thing I see when I come home. A few times when I’m lonely I’ve put the pillow arms around me and it was just as good as a human hug.

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Who are you, person who drew a mermaid in my high school yearbook?

I am prone to romance and whimsy. A good example might be the recent Friday evening when Beth, me, and my roommate Ardalan were sitting on my green couch and the subject of yearbooks came up. Ardalan is from Iran, he said they don’t have yearbooks there, in fact he had no idea what we were talking about. Beth and I gasped! Yearbooks are the quintessential artifact of the American high school experience! 

Since we’re both hams, we jumped up and began acting out the scenario of having your yearbook signed. “Hiiii Bethy, would you like, sign my yearbook?” “Sure, Eriny, we had a killer time in Honors English!” Ardalan laughed, but I wasn’t satisfied, so I went to the bookshelf where I keep every yearbook since the 7th grade and grabbed one for each of us. 

We enjoyed the silly (“I signed your crack” ((you know where you write in the book binding?)), the obscure (“I hope you have found nature in your concrete home”), the sincere (“Erin–You’re the only person in Amnesty International who’s doing it for spiritual fulfillment, not for a college application, you have a good soul”).

A page of my junior yearbook stopped me in my tracks. Someone had sketched me a mermaid, a lovely piece done in pencil, with the caption “Remember: Pinball’s not that bad compared to a raw ass-kicking.” (???) They signed a name and left a phone number, but I can’t read the name. Who had sketched me my favorite mythical creature? Years before I claimed the brazen sea goddess as my talisman, before I got a tattoo of a mermaid while being reckless in NYC? As I said, I’m prone to romance and whimsy…soooo…I called the number.

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The phone rang 5, 6, 7 times. I was very nervous. Beth and Ardalan were holding their breath. In my heart of hearts, my soulmate was on the other line. A boy I’d briefly known in high school, but who’d seen the real me. He’d answer the phone (in my fantasy he’d bought the house from his parents, and kept the number in case I found his yearbook sketch and called him). It was the most epic meet-cute of all time! I was naming our third cat when the phone clicked. “Hello?” A man’s voice.

“Hi…Did you graduate from Douglas High School?”

“Yeah.”

“When?”

“1983.”

Disappointment. “Do you have a son? Anyone at this phone number who might’ve drawn me a mermaid in my yearbook?”

“You’re a maid service?”

I explained the whole situation to the man, that I’d found the sketch and was looking for my possible long lost love. We talked for twenty minutes. He suggested I put an ad in the newspaper or post fliers around town. His name was Frank. He wished me good luck and we said good-bye. 

Beth and Ardalan pounced the second I hung up. What did he say?? I relayed the dead end, then sat lost in melodramatic thought. Mermaid sketch artist, are you out there? Tell me something good…