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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We made Rolling Stone, MTV, Nylon!

So happy for Rebel and a Basketcase! I was assistant director on their first music video last year and now the vid is blowing up. Director Machete Bang Bang continues to inspire with her vision and execution. I learned a lot during the shoot and know this is just the beginning for Zach Villa and Evan Rachel Wood (well she’s already kinda a big deal but you know what I mean). Watch the vid here on Rolling Stone.

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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 short video about a long life.

It’s that spooky time of year. Know what’s really scary? I haven’t posted anything on my blog in five months. I know it’s because I’ve been deep in writing a new pilot, brainstorming and churning out pages, which doesn’t leave me much bandwidth to blog, but STILL I’m SAD because I LOVE blogging. Okay. Said that. Now I’m back.

With…a video! Lots has been happening in life in general, including my grandma’s big 100th birthday bash. This is the little movie I made to show at the party. A celebration of the first 100 years of a remarkable woman. She’s blunt, brash, and full of one-liners. She’s my grandma, the coolest 100 year-old around, Ruby Love. (Happy accident at minute 7:06).

Mydeadbabies.com

I just found an old hard drive from 2009. There’s a lot of writing on it, a lot of stories that were started but never finished. I’m going to post two of the starts here, because where can you let unfinished work exist but on a blog? Maybe they were deemed not good enough, by a workshop or more likely, myself. They say in writing you have to “kill your babies.” I’ve always dreamed of starting a website, mydeadbabies.com, where writers can post sections that didn’t make it into the final draft, but aren’t half bad. Maybe this could be my first entry.

UNFINISHED BEGINNING #1

New York was hot and stickier than a honey jar. I wasn’t used to the humidity, the way it made my clothes cling, my hair curl. I took to wearing short skirts, and I was wearing a skirt the shade of celery green the night I met the Irishman. I wore the same skirt in Vegas a few years later, when a retiree in a Hawaiian shirt at the blackjack table called me his lucky charm and gave me a hundred dollars in chips, just because I was sitting next to him. I will come to call this small item of clothing, no longer than twenty-two inches, my lucky skirt.

UNFINISHED BEGINNING #2

My mom never wanted me to compete in pageants. I remember being in the grocery store as a kid and seeing a flyer for a Little Miss Hawaiian Tropic pageant. I begged my mom to enter me—the little girl on the flyer was so pretty in her grass skirt and lipstick and mascara! Mom refused. She thought pageants were creepy, weird, exploitative. In the case of Little Miss Hawaiian Tropic, predecessor to the G-strings and silicone of the sunscreen brand’s pageant for young women—she was right. I never had any family members or friends growing up who competed in pageants, nor did I ever really watch pageants on TV. I was into skiing, then horses, then dance, then soccer, then boys, then boys AND soccer, then boys, soccer, and a stint trying to save the world in which I started a chapter of Amnesty International (I guess I really did want world peace), then partying on the weekends and boys, and then finally a trio of interests that has more or less stuck: writing, partying, and boys. So I think I surprised both my mother and myself one evening my senior year of high school when I handed her the permission slip for the Miss Lake Tahoe pageant and declared, “I’m entering.”

Her reaction was simple: “You? You?” It was the first time someone was surprised by my pageant ambitions, but certainly not the last. I took the surprise as a compliment (Uhh, what else am I supposed to do, right?). I was glad I did’t fit into the fake smile, catty stereotype—and I’m also glad I got to learn first-hand that’s exactly what it is: a stereotype.

The end. Or as close to the end as these stories will ever be.

I always cry driving HWY 395.

Yesterday I drove home from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe and cried the whole way.

Countless times I’ve done that 8 hour drive, since I was a kid and we’d go to LA several times a year from Tahoe to visit family. “Scenic 395” runs through Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S., then through all the cute/weird little Old West towns that dot the journey from California into Nevada like Lone Pine, Bishop and Bridgeport. You transition from a desert landscape into the snow, passing Mammoth Mountain and the bizarre tufa formations of Mono Lake. The scents along the drive are: sagebrush, cows, crisp mountain air, exhaust, pine trees.

I was driving home for a joyous occasion, the birth of my new nephew, and my emotions were close at hand. I’d wanted to be at his delivery (I was honored my sister and brother-in-law even asked me to be there!), but he came two days early and as I packed my bag in LA he was already taking his first breaths in this world.

I was feeling down I’d missed such an important moment (though I kept shouting at myself “You’re not what’s important here! A healthy baby was brought into this world. Check your ego. He’s all that matters!”). Add in the LA malaise of traffic, helicopters, whatamIdoingwithmylife and amIevergoingtomakeitasawriteractressetcblahblah, and I was a total basket case. I cried what felt like ancient tears. But I didn’t necessarily feel sad, I just felt.

And I remembered another time I did that drive and wept like a heartbroken teenager. I was driving south on 395 that time, 5 years earlier, my big move to Los Angeles. I’d been planning to move to LA with my best friend Beth since we were 15, but now that it was happening I suddenly had a lot of reasons to stay put. I was leaving behind a life that allowed me to write prolifically, a cool cheap apartment, a job I liked, lots of friends, a boyfriend I was in love with. I had my two cats in the car with me, Chairman Meow and King Alobar, and I was all turned upside down. I listened to Fiona Apple that entire drive, sobbing and doubting and growing up by the second.

What punched me in the gut driving yesterday was how tremendously time passes. Lightning fast, yet full of life. Was that just 5 years ago that my life had an entirely different shape? The people in it were a different cast of characters. Now I have a whole new community of friends. I’ve had jobs and opportunities I couldn’t have known existed (although that’s why I was going, I didn’t know the details ahead, but I knew fortune favors the bold). Now I’m in a different relationship, a new boyfriend to love. Even the cats are different. Chairman passed away and Alobar found a different home. Now I have Lady Fluff and Kitten Coyote. But I’m still listening to Fiona Apple.

Driving toward home, toward welcoming a new life into my family, I felt gobsmacked by how much we change. Every year, every moment. I don’t know if it’s any sort of answer, but something feels connected in this: they named the baby Quest.

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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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Secrets from my high school diary.

I just got home from my writer’s group holiday party. Normally we bring pages from whatever we’re working on, but since this was a party and we intended to get drunk, we brought in pages from our old diaries to read. This was an excellent idea, if you ask me. Which you are, because you’re reading my blog. Half the fun was looking through my old journals, which was no small feat. I was a prolific diarist, especially the last few years of high school. One pink diary in particular chronicles many milestones, and things got real juicy around the time I started partying. A few excerpts for your entertainment:

“I hope I’m not in trouble, I came home last night with three Zima’s in my jacket pocket. I had so much freedom for once, me and Renee went to Reno to Kick’s and went dancing! It’s this new awesome 18 and older dance club, we passed back a fake ID to make us 18. We didn’t even have to be home until 12:30! Also I did well on my finals! I won the Key Club vice-presidency and I got new skis! Yet I’m getting in trouble a lot. Mom got a call from the same cop my sister got a call from when she was a junior, telling her I’ve been seen smoking pot! It’s just so weird. I’ve never heard of that happening, getting a call like that!”

It’s difficult to believe I fell for this, but my mom did in fact tell me a cop saw me smoking pot and called her as a warning. Pretty clever on my mom’s behalf, as it scared the daylights out of me. Could’ve been true I suppose, we lived in a really small town. But considering my sister had gotten the same “call” I think it was a set-up.

“I think I’ve lost myself a little. I don’t really have passions stirring inside. Friday night my dad took me and Beth to a Matchbox Twenty concert! Rob Thomas was so sexy in black leather pants! Then Beth stayed the night, we had an awesome talk. She informed me people think I’m a ditz. I figured out I’m selling myself short. It’s stopping. I might be forgetful, but I’m not exaggerating it anymore. We stayed up until 1:45am, which was stupid because we had PSAT’s at 8:00am! They were hard and intimidating! Oh and I went to haunted house with Charlie*. He has a fake ID so he bought us beer. We held hands! He was such a badass, smoking cigarettes. We were waiting for our friends and had the best talk. We talked about how I’m a virgin and he’s not, it was cool. He’s so deep. One thing led to another and we made out! He has his tongue pierced! It was so cool. He told me to come over today to watch Braveheart. But I got there and all his skater friends were there. Whatever. Maybe it was just a one time thing?”

Gawd. I could go on forever. Instead I’ll leave you with two poems from zee pink diary. My teenage self is mortified, but I’m going to share them anyway.

“Enemy” // I am my own worse enemy. I think too much, drink too much, wear my heart on my sleeve for all the world to see. // I’m a walking contradiction, or so I’ve been told. I don’t agree but if you persist I’m sold, sold, sold. // Shut up and be happy, you have no right to complain. But I do because I know who I want to be, but instead I quest for fame. // I’ll just keep on smiling instead, you would say this isn’t important, these are just the contents of my head. // You think you know me, pass me off as fake and dumb. Well, you don’t know me. I would think you’d understand we’re all just people, with different ideas of fun. // Just give me a break, and I’ll give you one too. Maybe things will work out. Maybe I’ll have the courage to be new.

“Summertime” // Whispers floating on the breeze, thoughts lost with such ease, a giggle, a smirk, the summertime dirt. // Take me there, to the months of carefree, take me there, where I can be me. // Not a show, or unending fights, just freedom, and those warm lazy nights. // Just the hot sun and days at the river, asking a boy you like to come hither. // When you fight over ice cream and whose lips are number, you go quiet a moment and realize it’s summer.

I love my writer’s group. I love the holidays. I love WriteGirl, which has been so inspirational lately. The girls write the most descriptive, powerful poems and stories. I feel connected to my younger self through them.

*Charlie is a fake name, used to protect the guilty.

Just some mundane thoughts.

I feel far from myself. And I know why. I’m not in my creative work routine. I often wonder if the secret to success is as easy as having a routine. A few factors are contributing to this distraction. Year-end duties like figuring out new car insurance, health insurance, possibly moving to a new place. But I know I can always write and post something, even if it’s a few lines. I get caught up in thinking it needs to be something really awesome to be worth posting. But maybe the mundane is the most interesting stuff we can offer each other in the blogosphere. So, my mundane:

–I’m considering moving out of my apartment. I’ve been here 5 years and it’s time for a change. But I keep running up against memories. Just now making chicken on my George Foreman grill, I remembered agonizing if I should get the grill with removable plates or not. It was $20 more, but would be so much easier to clean. Which got me thinking about how much I’ve changed in the five years I’ve lived here. I moved in poor as a pauper, $20 might have been $2000. I’ve gone through a lot here–breakups, hookups, surgery, dance parties, Koreatown Cabarets, tears and fighting, first kisses and last goodbyes. I have done a LOT of writing here. I wrote a novel here for fuck’s sake. I’m an eyelash away from leaving, but that also means leaving that all behind. Which I don’t feel totally ready to do.

–This year has been a rollercoaster for the creative projects. Had my series Johnny and the Scams picked up by a big studio, then dropped when the executive left the company. I started a new vlog and finished writing a thriller feature and co-writing an hour long pilot. Yet I feel totally unsatisfied. Soooooooooooooo many stories in my mind, battling to be told. Yeah, that many “o’s” on the “so.”

–I’ve started volunteering with WriteGirl, a rad non-profit that does creative writing programs for teen girls. I’ve been working with the in-schools part of the program, and every Tuesday we go to a girl’s academy in south LA and do poetry, journaling, goal-setting, this sort of thing with the girls. I’m endlessly humbled, especially with how smart and talented the girls are. Some of them write prolifically. I remember being that age, feeling like I had more emotions than I could possibly express.

–I feel like I don’t want to party anymore. I turn to wine and other mind alterers when I’m not writing. Because I wish I was writing so much I need to blast all thoughts out of me. So why don’t I just write? Bukowski, Hemingway, any ideas?

–I might get a kitten!

Those are a few mundanes things of my current life. Hope it slightly intrigued you, if just in a mundane way. Good bye.

Prose vs. Screenwriting; photos with @b4flight

Last night was the final night of my short story writing class. It was through UCLA Extension and thus on the UCLA campus, and all summer I greatly enjoyed traipsing about the brick buildings pretending I was still in college. There were some excellent writers in my class and the instructor Colette Sartor was phenomenal, she gave excellent feedback and is a lit star herself. Writing fiction prose again after the last few years of screenwriting was like taking a long bath after…hmm…shit I need help finishing the analogy. A post about writing and I can’t even write. Irony. An attempt to redeem myself with the first paragraph of a story I wrote for class:

My uncle Jack lived in a tiny stone house in the beach town of Trancoso, Brazil. The house sat between two extra tall palm trees, and on the afternoon the medics delivered me to his house, Jack was waiting outside, leaning against one of the trees, smoking a cigar, shirtless and as broad-shouldered as my father had been. He’d set up a corner of his house for me, with a reclining chair to accommodate my injuries. Jack helped me get comfortable, offered to make me an avocado milkshake then realized he was out of avocadoes, then sat down across from me and blew a few smoke rings into the air as he said: “I’m glad you’re here, Silver. It’s been too quiet since Matilda died. Look at you, Silver, a grown woman. Guess I wasn’t expecting that. She was my bird. Matilda, I mean.” My uncle Jack smiled at me then, tears shining in his honey brown eyes. It was the first time we’d ever met.

In the last week I also did a photo shoot with the radical b4flight in downtown LA. I love downtown. All the street art and little cafes, skid row and cool architecture. I greatly enjoyed traipsing about those brick buildings, pretending I was an urban hustler, or at least a famous Instagram model.

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Really though, prose and screenwriters, help me finish the analogy?

 

VIDEO: 2 girls + Viking Costumes = The first short film we ever made!

When I’m feeling down that my career (as a writer/actor/filmmaker) isn’t “there” yet, Beth (my bff and partner in all crimes) tells me that we’re still putting in our 10,000 hours. As a reminder of how far we’ve come, we recently watched the first short film/video thing we ever made: us impersonating vikings for a contest to win $1,000 and a week stay at a Nordic resort back home in Tahoe.

This was in 2009, when I still lived in a brick apartment in Reno and was a bartender and Beth lived in her parent’s guest cottage and was a go-go dancer. We were staying at Sorensen’s, Beth’s family’s magical resort in the mountains, we were tipsy, and we decided to film an entry. Our imaginations went wild with everything we could do with $1,000, and Granlibakken sounded exotic and mystical, even though it was only a half hour from home.

We wrote our video in 20 minutes and filmed it in 30. Halfway through, the camera died and we filmed the rest on a phone. Our “swords” were made of tin foil, our mustaches were made of paper and taped to our faces. I had been taking guitar lessons for three weeks so there’s a musical interlude. We don’t know our lines, we’re wearing the pajamas we woke up in, and I look like Willie Nelson. But it’s my favorite thing we’ve ever filmed, and perhaps the funniest. Our first venture as Just B.E. Productions (Just Beth and Erin), early starts, earnest hearts, I present, The Hodge Podge Vikings!

This post would not be complete without mentioning Mike Geraghty, who also entered the Granlibakken contest. Mike is a Reno friend and one of the funniest human beings alive, and the reason I didn’t post his video, Lognard of the Lake, first is because his is so fucking funny you’ll die before you can watch Hodge Podge. It should be mentioned he was actually a finalist in the contest (and is currently killing it in the Chicago comedy scene):

I think the fun we had making these videos is evident. We did it because we wanted to make people smile, and we wanted to perform, and in the end it only takes a camera and a little time. Which is the spirit in which all art should be made–straight from the heart in an inspired moment. May all our projects be Hodge Podge!

VIDEO: Desert + Canon 5D + Five Friends = “Sleepwalking”

Happy Saturday! I’m super honored that the visionary director Machete Bang Bang is letting me world premiere her latest art video on my blog!

We filmed this in 2012, the day after I came home from Bali. Looking back, it was sorta my coming out as a performer. I felt self-assured and sexy after all that time in the jungle. Machete says I left for Bali as Kelly Clarkson (edgy but still family friendly), and came back Beyonce. After six weeks of spiritual awakening, I also just wanted to play in the dirt with my friends.  🙂

Says Machete:

A year and a half ago, my friends and I went to the desert to capture our version of art. Unfortunately, most of the footage was lost, but regardless, I wanted to make something out of what was salvaged. Almost every filmmaker in L.A. goes to the desert to makes an artsy fartsy video. This is ours. Weirdo Camp presents: “Sleep Walking.”

Starring: Randall Yarbrough, Erin Granat, Ben Caro, Sarah Sandin, Machete Bang Bang

Cinematography by John Weselcouch
Directed and edited by Machete Bang Bang
Original music by Modest Mouse

The penis plant in my yard, and fake cleaning my room.

My blog has become a tad too serious lately, so now I’m going to write about the penis plant in my yard and fake cleaning my room.

Last fall, a succulent in my front yard sprouted a huge appendage. It seemed to appear suddenly, several feet long, though it must have grown over time. The succulent was already impressive, elegant and jurassic, waist-high and a vibrant shade of green. The appendage (what else do I call it? a branch? an arm? frankly, it looks like a penis) grew perfectly erect at first, with a curve at the top. Over the months, it begin sag over my chain-link fence, taunting passersby, an obscene tongue protruding from an alien mouth.

I got swept up in the 12/21/12 solstice/Mayan/end of the world hoopla, and had fun imagining the appendage speaking to me on 12/21, that it sprouted with the purpose of guiding me through doomsday. I’ve saw other plants like this around Koreatown, and someone told me these plants bloom only once in their lifetime, then die. How tragic! How romantic! Week by week, I watched it get bigger, then it began to blossom little white flowers. I realized I was able to track the plant’s progress because this was the longest I’d stayed at my house, in Los Angeles, in America, in probably 5 or 6 years. I’ve been an international travel junkie. It’s easy to feel cool to yourself if you can say you’re soon traveling to Brazil, are in Brazil, or just got back from Brazil. Especially if your life at home is high-anxiety and high-stress.

Now, the monster in my yard is in full bloom, and weighed down with flowers. It’s so beautiful, and knowing it will soon die forever, makes me emotional, and makes me wonder what I’ll do with the carcass. I’ve come to embrace my lil plot o’ land here in Koreatown. Noisy, dirty, cramped Koreatown. I’ve got a yard and a huge penis plant and they’re mine to take care of, my few square feet of the earth to make beautiful.

The plant blooming made me realize the change of season, and so I got inspired to spring clean my room. Beth came over for dinner, I put on a fancy dress, and she took the below photo of my “clean” room, and a photo of the truth: I just stuffed everything into my closet. Because I’d rather write than clean. And because if there’s one good thing about being an adult, it’s that no one can make you clean your room.     

I cleaned!  No I didn't.                         

penis plant

Anxiety is difficult to bear.

Yesterday I received a card in the mail from a girl I met at a party two years ago. Her name is Robin and she has a sweet smile and arresting red hair. The party was called a “speakeasy” and everyone was invited to share some sort of performance. I read a poem I had written, a deeply personal poem about a mistake I had made, the punishment for which was my own broken heart. Robin approached me after I had read and said she appreciated the vulnerability of my words. I gave her the poem, my only draft. Having the poem near me was too painful, too raw a reminder of how much I’d fucked up. It felt strange to give such confessional words to a stranger, yet I knew it was the right thing to do. Robin sent the poem back to me in the card, and holding it in my hands for the first time in two years, I reflected on how much my life has shifted since I poured my sins onto the page.

I don’t think it was a result of just that one major mistake, but rather the accumulation of twenty-eight years of being on this earth, the collective existential drama of being a human being that contributed to the alarming anxiety I’ve been experiencing over the last few years. I didn’t even know to label it “anxiety” until I was in Bali this time last year and stumbled across an old issue of TIME that gave a breakdown of the symptoms, this after a sleepless night wracked with panic, asking over and over again: “How can I have these awful feelings here, in Bali, paradise on earth, and I’m a nervous wreck?!”

It felt like this: heart racing, couldn’t breathe, the cold hands of distress squeezing the air out of my lungs. Fear. Flight, fight, or both. My body tingling, like a thousand bats have been released in my blood. Now that it’s started, it ain’t gonna stop.

At one point I went to a psychiatrist. She prescribed me little white pills. These pills came with pages of warnings and disclaimers, the first being: “WARNING: ANTIDEPRESSANTS MAY INCREASE THE RISK of suicidal thoughts or actions. However, depression and other mental problems may also increase the risk of suicide.” What a joke. I don’t take the pills. They haunt me. I take the pills. I feel better, then worse, because the pills put a band-aid on the symptoms, but they don’t stop the thoughts that caused them in the first place. What’s going on in my mind, in my heart, that I feel anxious ALL THE FUCKING TIME? What have I repressed, ignored, that wants to be released so desperately it puts me in a permanent state of panic?

I cut back on coffee. I do more yoga. I consider the anxiety could be unreleased creative energy, I write/photograph/act/dance more. I didn’t feel this miserable even when my mom died. Is that the problem? Did I grieve incorrectly? Maybe I should have thrown plates at a wall instead of swallowing the sadness, but that was the only way I found to survive going back to college, to a life.

Is the anxiety just money stuff? If I didn’t get in my car without knowing how I’d find the gas money to get back home, maybe I’d be calmer. But then I worry having money will change me, that I’ll become another privileged, out-of-touch American asshole, and now there’s a whole new type of anxiety to indulge in, the “what if” kind.

I go to an eight week anxiety class. I get anxious about completing the coursework. I research native plant medicine, I want something so powerful my consciousness will rip open and I can peer into my own psyche, look this nervous wreck in the face and say “Get out of here, I’m busy shining.” I snuggle Chairman Meow, I look at nature, the two palm trees that guard my front yard, my silent sentries. I watch movies. Nothing helps, nothing helps. I realize the anxiety is usually triggered by having to make a decision, which means a trip to the grocery store can cause a full-fledged panic attack.

I dig deeper. Getting overwhelmed at making decisions means I don’t trust myself to make the right decision. Deeper still: I have no faith in myself. Maybe because of that monumental mistake I made two years ago, maybe because trying to be a writer in Los Angeles is in it’s essence a daily assault on your self-esteem.

Maybe it’s the weather changing, maybe it’s because I’m trying very hard to focus on one thing at a time, but in the last few weeks, the cloud has been lifting. I wish I could share what “fixed” me, but it feels too new, too precious, to the point that I hesitated even writing this blog post. But I’m telling you about my struggle with anxiety because I realize accepting and sharing who I am, as I am RIGHT NOW, not who I want to be SOMEDAY, is a first step toward having faith in myself. If I can be okay with who I am TODAY, the overthinking, oversleeping, overeating, behind-on-all-her-bills, beautiful mess that I am, then maybe I can build a solid enough foundation to work toward the me I want to be: a girl who’s as gentle with herself as she is toward friends, who writes because it brings her joy and serenity, who’s spends as much time pursuing self-mastery as she does boozing and joint smoking. And I want to write blog posts more often. Baby steps, baby steps.

In the card, Robin included this serendipitously relevant bit of wisdom from Emily Dickinson:

“We never know how high we are til we are called to rise–and if our lives are true to plan our statures touch the skies. The heroism we recite would be a daily thing, did not ourselves the cubit’s warp for fear to be a king.”

She also included a smaller card, which reads simply: You are pure sunshine. 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Me sitting in the sun, at my secret spot in LA.

I’ve been feeling weird.

I’m two weeks away from my 28th birthday, and this final stretch of being 27 has got me in a saturn return, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison et. al. stranglehold. Proof of suggestion–this email I wrote to Beth last night:

Dear Beth—So filled with existential dread tonight. Up at 4:13am lying here dreaming of a life without borders, no guidelines, the absurdity of how we conduct our daily selves. I’ve glimpsed the real, we’ve tasted the truth….nights in Mexico walking on beaches with dark-skinned boys, days in Tahoe inhaling the wind, the pine sap so potent it makes you giddy….so what are we doing here in this dirty city, thinking these dark thoughts? L.A. was our destination from Tahoe home, to be it make it become it….but what if we already did it and were it? What if we fucked up by coming here, compromising our fiery voices, our unique points of view? All I want to do is look at oversized art books, read Pablo Neruda and make little movies with you. I do none of these things. Instead I drive in my metal machine around this town, speaking stories but not writing them down. Can we go to the beach, to the mountains, to the moon? Can you grab your long shawl and that funky black hat and I’ll pack my new moccasins and your beaded earrings I haven’t given back yet and we’ll drive away from this noise, from all this unnatural electricity, and we’ll get back to that moment on my loveseat in Reno, watching the clouds roll in, drinking beer in the afternoon? Love—Erin
This morning I picked up my copy of The Power of Now, which I haven’t looked at since I was 23 and living in New Zealand and feeling similarly humbled and hopeless in the face of the weight of existence. This helped:
“Does is matter whether we achieve our outer purpose, whether we succeed or fail in the world?
It will matter to you as long as you haven’t realized your inner purpose. After that, the outer purpose is just a game that you may continue to play simply because you enjoy it. It is also possible to fail completely in your outer purpose and at the same time succeed totally in your inner purpose. Or the other way around, which is more common: outer riches and inner poverty. Or to “gain the world but lose your soul.” Ultimately, of course, every outer purpose is doomed to “fail” sooner or later, simply because it is subject to the law of impermanence of all things. When you have seen the limitations of your outer purpose, you give up your unrealistic expectation that it should make you happy, and you make it subservient to your inner purpose.”
So what’s my inner purpose? To make art, be a warrior of love, be a good daughter, sister, friend. Those I know of sure. But there’s more. What is it? Where are you? Help me figure you out.
Here’s a depressing poem I wrote, trying to describe these feelings:
The lonely artist, the lonely gaze
Can't see my truth, fighting through the haze
Jobs for pretty,
but none for words
Want to make beauty, describe the light on birds
Need to slow down
Forced to rev up
Already wanting more, than's given in my cup
The disease of the mind
The sick of the soul
How can I be so young,
and feel so fucking old?
Thank you, Garth Brooks, for inspiring that last line. An image:

My job as a guerilla indie art promoter.

If you’ve ever wondered what I’m doing when I say my job is handing out free art to the people, check out this article on the Too Far project from SXSW, which explains why it’s “a revolutionary idea in the worlds of literature and publishing…transcends commodification…and is indicative of where literature, publishing and digital content are headed in the years to come.”

This job is the reason I’ve survived in Los Angeles. Thank you Rich Shapero, the man behind the myth, who proves not everyone is obsessed with the bottom line, and some people believe in art for the sake of art.

http://thebrandcurators.blogspot.com/2012/04/new-multi-media-experience.html

I miss Bali; music videos; moon ceremonies.

I just got home from handing out free novels and music for the guerilla indie art project that’s been my main gig since I arrived in Los Angeles. Back in Koreatown, back pounding the pavement to make a buck, I find it hard to believe just last week I was in a bar in Bali, listening to an Indonesian band singing Pink Floyd, watching the lead singer snuggle his Dutch girlfriend between sets, struck by how lovely his brown skin looked entwined with her very pale skin. I stole glances at them over my watermelon juice, they both chain-smoked between kisses, and when he looked away she’d rearrange her cleavage in her red dress and fluff her hair. She did it every time he looked away. Every time! I’m guilty of doing the same in the company of boys, maybe all girls do, as if somehow every thirty seconds your entire appearance needs a refresh.

That night, in the bar, was one of the only nights I went out during my stay in Bali, and I was struck by how much rock n’ roll has the power to affect me physically. After so many days alone in my hotel room, removed from all things noisy and messy, removed from everything really, it felt good to have the bass thump in my gut and the guitar riff in my soul (or whatever that place is inside me that hears classic rock and has to hold back the desire to scream something, smoke something, smash something, love someone).

The next night I went to a full moon temple ceremony with a few new friends I’d met in the bar, a fun Indian couple and Moss, a tall Canadian who runs the Love Space, a creativity center where I went on to teach a writing workshop. A local had invited us, and he took us by his home to loan us some sarongs so we’d be appropriately dressed for the ceremony. His mom met us (typically most Balinese live in family compounds, each home with its own temple), and she had a few grains of rice pressed into her forehead and chest, a symbolic gesture I would accept myself at the ceremony. We then drove through what seemed like an endless valley of rice paddies, all lit up by the eponymous full moon. The moon then went into hiding, however, perhaps shy from all the attention, and by the time we arrived at the ceremony it was pouring rain (what’s another adjective to describe how rain falls? I’m tired of “pouring”). We were the only non-locals at the ceremony, and were greeted with friendly curiosity. I couldn’t get enough of how beautiful the women looked, no matter how old or how “attractive” they were, they were stunning in their lace blouses and long skirts, dancing barefoot in the rain to the gamelan choir. I thought they couldn’t get enough of me either, when I took refuge from the rain under a sort of tall parasol staked in the ground, out in front of everyone. Several women were gesturing at me, laughing and waving their hands. I waved back, like, Cool! They like me! Then I realized they were pointing at my purse, which wasn’t under the protection of the parasol, but sticking out behind me getting totally soaked. It broke the ice, however, and later a woman offered me a treat wrapped in a banana leaf, and her friends all giggled as I wolfed it down (I love treats!).

I got closer to myself in Bali. Especially as an artist. The understanding of slow the hell down, enjoy making your art, working on your craft. There are no lost days in writing, no wasted time. Only improvements made, one word at a time. Gotta keep rising above what I “need” to do daily…..the chores and bills and little details, and keep realizing all I really NEED to do is write, chip away at my art sculpture of text, one page at a time.

Since I’ve been home I’ve gone to the desert to appear in a video performance art piece directed by the visionary Machete Bang Bang, acted as “the girl” in a music video, given away tons of free art for my job, went back out to the desert to start shooting an art book I’m modeling in and writing the text for in collaboration with a landscape photographer, and started spring cleaning my closet.

I am productive. I get things done. I am an AmeriCAN!

 I miss Bali so much my bones hurt.

At the risk of simplifying something incredibly complex, here is what I know: the Balinese know how to live life. They surround themselves with beauty and culture, honor family and spirituality above all else, and create art for the joy of the process, not the product.

This last bit is the essential thing I’m taking away from my month in Bali. I have become way too focused on what my art can give me, rather than what I can give my art.

One afternoon, on my walk home to the Matahari (my hotel) past the pool hall and the green Mercedes and the five massage shops, the rain started pouring (need new adjective!) down. I ducked into the nearest doorway, because when it starts raining in Bali it goes from “sprinkling” to “downpour” in one second. Turns out the shop I took refuge in is a store selling sculptures and masks, and the family who runs it are sitting on the floor, working on their craft. They smiled at me but didn’t say anything. For the next hour, I just stood in their shop, leaning against the counter, watching the man and woman varnish a wooden mirror frame and the boy paint flowers on a mask. They weren’t rushed, weren’t worried about if they were doing it “right”….they weren’t anything really. They were just existing, slowly, steadily working on their task. Simple, I know. But to me, a revelation.

Another day I made jewelry with some locals. I was working on a copper bracelet made of several small rings, but kept getting frustrated at how clumsy I was handling the tools. At one point a boy says to me, and he’s only got like ten words in English total, he puts his hand on my arm and he says: “Don’t panic. Then you won’t finish anything.”

In the last few years, I’ve come to view my writing as a commodity, worried more about what it can give to me than what I can give to it. I get frustrated when I don’t see results fast enough, annoyed when it’s not “just done.” In Bali I witnessed art for the love of making art. The most poignant was the women making daily offerings. The offerings are literally everywhere. They usually appear as palm fronds stapled together to make little baskets, and hold a mixture of flowers, pieces of fruit, bread, and rice. The offerings are placed along with an incense stick both up high, on ledges and sculptures, as offerings to the gods, and down low, on the ground, in the streets, as offering to the demons. I’m told the idea is humans are in the level between the gods and demons, tasked with maintaining a balance between the two. I love that the women get all dressed up to place the offerings. Literally every day, they make these little treasures, then everyday according to some mysterious schedule (doesn’t seem to matter when) they put on their long sarongs and lace blouses, arrange their hair with pearl and gemstone pins, and go around placing the offerings and giving a prayer. Then they take off the fancy dress and go back to what they were doing.

Fun fact: The drummer of Caught A Ghost, the crazy good band I shot the music video for, helped me calculate that if I live to be 100 years old, so for another 73 years, I could spend the rest of my life in Bali for $932, 575. That’s $35/day (living like a queen at $20/lodging, $15/for two meals a daily massage).

I miss Bali, like I miss a new friend I’ve grown to love dearly and know I might not see again for a while. I miss the friends I made, the lady with the pretty plum lipstick who worked at the Matahari and would walk me to my room, linking her arm in mine and asking me in the Balinese way where I’ve been and where I’m going. I miss the Balinese waitress I befriended one night when she messed up my order and gave me a ride home on her motorbike to make up for it. I miss My Friend the Drum Lady. I miss me, the relaxed Balinese version of Erin.

I want so badly to hang onto these hard-earned perspectives, this new way of looking at life. But I always feel like this when I return from a trip, and inevitably the old life will creep back in. The main thing I want to hold onto is conquering the “more” disease. Having a coffee at a cafe and thinking it would be better if I also had a cookie, or had nice company, or was alone. Basically, wanting more than what I have right then. More money, experience, love, insight, talent, connections. More more more. Now, I’m just trying to move slowly. Verrry slowwlllyyy. I’ve realized this is the only way to handle the pace of LA. Deal only with what’s directly in front of me.

On my trip home the final flight of my travel was canceled and I had to stay the night in Tokyo. I spent a nice evening discussing films with a pair of human rights activists, painting my nails, and calling Beth back home to tell her how small and Japanese everything in my room was. At the airport the next day, enjoying some pre-flight sushi, an elderly Chinese man says to me out of the blue: “Don’t be stressed in life. Play more. Talk to God. Then you’ll be happy.” He gave me this unprompted. And what excellent advice.

The frustrating thing is nothing in this blog post comes close to explaining how I’m really feeling. How adrift I feel, maybe always feel. How daunted by this city I am, how right back in the turmoil I am of go go go all day and never get anything done. But at least I wrote a little. At least I wrote these words.

Something I’m chewing on, that I read recently, some words from Anais Nin: “Once we engage with the real people and real circumstances in our lives, we discover our own inner excitement and every day the real caress replaces the ghostly lover.”

Getting *somewhat* hit by a motorbike; monkey trance dance; Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone

I got *somewhat* hit by a motorbike yesterday. I’ve been on my favorite writing schedule, working from 8pm–4am, and have accomplished more in the last week than I was able to all last month in LA (screenplay draft, almost done, CHECK!). But the night schedule does make me rather bleary when I emerge from my cave for food around 2pm. So I walked into the street and looked left, but not quickly enough to the right, and then BAM!, a motorbike gets personal with my thigh. It didn’t really hurt; the remarkable thing was the motorbike was driven by THREE little Balinese girls. They couldn’t have been older than age ten, and they were all three whizzing along on the same seat, no helmets, disintegrating the macho tradition of Easy Rider and those chopper shows with the guy who wears overalls and was married to Sandy Bullock. The motorbike fell over, they fell over, and I felt like the Big White Evil. We were right next to a pool hall and a bunch of men rushed out. I thought they would yell at me, or at the girls, but they just calmly propped the bike back up, looked around like “No one died, right?,” chuckled, gave the girls some money, and that was that.

Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone. And thus my mantra for life in Bali has been declared. I apologize for going the obvious and making an EPL reference, but it’s impossible to write about Bali without mentioning the book/movie, someone will say it eventually so it might as well be me. Especially now that I’ve extended my stay and am here by myself, just like E. Gilbert (extra groan for being a writer wandering around Ubud alone).

Many events of note have transpired, in the way that everything seems eventful when you spend a lot of time alone. I’m doing the things single women traveling solo are wont to do, like writing really long blog posts while having beer for dinner and getting misty-eyed over the Indonesian bar band playing my favorite Creedence song.

Confession: I was with a boy these last few weeks. I know this is “I’m-single-for-the-first-time-in-years-self-growth-Erin-time,” but some boys have strong hands and rough beards and wicked senses of humor (this one especially) and so it just seemed silly to refuse a boy’s company. So I didn’t. But he flew home and now I’m Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone.

The “leave me alone” part is difficult to enforce, as there are many interesting people to meet in Ubud. Like Anna, the yoga instructor, Lana the yoga instructor, Shakti the yoga instructor, TyeZan who does “human design,” Kenny who used to be a hustler and a pimp then had a spiritual revelation in jail and wrote a book about it. But after the last five years of relationships, the last five years of constant togetherness, it’s a revelation to spend time alone. I’m working toward being the person I most want to hang out with.

There’s a large community of Westerners who’ve settled here, it feels like Berkeley or Santa Cruz. I met a lot of these people at a poetry slam the other night, I competed for the first time! I received 8’s and 9’s! Although, perhaps predictably, almost everyone in this “om shanti” crowd got a high score (my fave summary description of this crowd, from a German: “You know, people who eat tofu and wear long, soft pants.”).

I’ve met people at ecstatic dance as well, which is a lot like my ecstatic dance community in LA except here we dance surrounded by jungle and lightning bugs buzz above us and when it rains the whole sweaty mass of us cheers as the tropical heat subsides for the first time all day. In LA, I dance at a Masonic Lodge. So, actually it’s pretty different. I went to an all day 5 Rhythms workshop and a butterfly floated in while we were dancing AND LANDED ON THIS GUY’S HAND LIKE SNOW FUCKING WHITE, then clung to his shorts and stayed there the rest of the day. Yeah, that’s definitely never happened in LA.

I’m also hanging out with My Friend The Drum Lady, who works in the drum store (duh). After looking in vain for some sort of drum lessons here and finally giving up, one day I wandered into My Friend The Drum Lady’s store and started fiddling with a tambourine. She laughs at my fiddling (she has a great laugh, like a bell ringing), offers me tea, then sits down to a djembe and invites me to join her, and suddenly its been an hour and I’ve just had one-on-one instruction in hand drumming. I bought a patica (also known as an asalato, basically two shaker balls on a string) which is rad because it makes not one but two rhythm sounds. I’m practicing while working out writing ideas, and hope to finally become the percussionista of my dreams (Crap. I just remembered Gilbert had a store lady friend in EPL…maybe this is what happens to all Ubud visitors? Actually, the real-life lady from EPL (who in the book turned out to be a trickster, which was conveniently left out of the movie) has her shop next to my hotel. I bet my drum lady would kick her ass if they met in the street, if for some reason they, uh, felt compelled to fight over their American gal pals). I’m going back tomorrow for another lesson.

The metaphor of the impromptu drum lesson: What you seek will find you, when you stop looking so damn hard, also happened with a cat (you know I can’t blog abroad without mentioning a feline). There’s a kitty I can hear meowing across the river from my room at night. It’s either lonely, or mating, and although I’m neither, it’s been weeks since I had a proper kitty hug. So I’ve been going out on the patio at night and calling “Here pretty kitty, here kitty,” and even meowing back, but alas I haven’t seen its furry face. Then on Friday I’m at YogaBarn and sit near a black-and-white cat hoping it won’t attack me, and it climbs right into my lap! I proceeded to hold her captive for the next twenty minutes as I forced my love upon her. At one point she looked right in my eyes and made the exact sound Chairman Meow makes in the morning and I just know it was him wailing at me across Sumatra and Borneo and Papua New Guinea to come home already (this not accurate geography, but I might never again be in Indonesia and thus have a reason to name drop such fabulous sounding places). Not yet, my meow. Not yet.

Bali just might be the hardest place on earth to leave. It’s both intoxicating and incredibly gentle. It’s humid in a cradling way, that womb feeling you only get near the equator. Most nights thunder storms gather around the volcanoes, and the sky is illuminated with flashes of lightning. It’s almost as if the Gods in the sky are taking pictures of their creation, flash photography allowed. At every turn, I see an image my mind associates with “exotic foreign land,” women carrying towers of fruit on their heads, kids drinking out of whole coconuts, plants as big as small cars and monkeys in the trees. One girl I met who’s been living her several years (she’s a yoga instructor) said it’s “Bali Mama,” the spirit energy who sucks you in. I can feel that. I can also feel that I don’t want to leave because for $15/day I can have two delicious meals and a massage.

I went to a Kecak dance the other night, the Balinese fire trance dance, which is an incredible performance where the only music is made by dozens of men chanting in a circle around a fire while the mesmerizing dancers act out the story of Ramayana, the Hindu epic. The dancers are choreographed to unbelievable precision, every hand and foot movement extremely precise and meaningful to the story (I didn’t want to video during the dance, but you can check out the Kecak scene in the mind-blowing 1992 movie “Baraka,” should be required cultural viewing).

Toward the end, the character of the white monkey appears, and at this particular Kecak I saw, the man playing the white monkey got a little out of control. At first, he leaped over the flaming coconut husks in the center of the circle—lots of ooh’s and ahh’s. Then he started walking right into the fire and kicking the husks. Kinda intense. Then something in him switched, maybe from the chanting and the heat, and he starts kicking the husks at will, several fly into the audience. The tourists are alarmed, and clutch their digital SLR cameras close their bodies. When a flaming coconut landed in the lap of one of the chanting Balinese men the white monkey was finally tackled to the ground. I watched him take off his monkey mask, wide-eyed and breathless, completely outside himself.

I wondered if it was all part of the show, until I’m told he had “run amok,” a common phrase we use in English, that I learn for the first time is a word of Indonesian origin. Says my pal Wikipedia: “Amok is rooted in a deep spiritual belief, and is caused by the hantu belian, a tiger spirit that enters one’s body…Running amok would thus be a way of escaping the world.”

Did I “run amok” out of America and straight to this island of rainy days and hot nights, the smell of incense and the taste of lemongrass, crickets and my own peace of mind ringing in my ears?

Going to have to be with that tiger spirit a little longer to get the answer. Just a little longer.