The Road Notes

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

 

My last two weeks have been spent exploring parts of the west and the Golden Coast. Here are some scribblings from my travel journal:

Lake Tahoe

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During the Tahoe summer, you wake up to the chirping of birds, the barking of dogs and a brisk breeze that makes you want to jump out of bed and run through the forest. There isn’t the hustle bustle of rush hour, or the stop and go sounds of a city. Just the language of the trees and the animals which inhabit them. Regardless of whether or not you can see it, the lake is felt wherever you go. Even the blind can understand the magnitude of its presence. It’s more than a visual, more than a description. It’s a life. An entity with a magnetic, unshakable beauty.

A Ridiculous Lake Experience

We’re swimming in the Tahoe blue when a punk kid who looks around 11 years old comes up to us. First he’s like: “Hey man you gonna kiss her? Kiss! Kiss! Smooch! Smooch!” for like three whole minutes. We tell him no then do our best to ignore him, but this kid’s got balls. He turns to Nathaniel and screams, “This guy is pissing in the lake! Ew! Everybody, he’s peeing in the lake! Get away from this guy!”

I want to ignore him because I know it’s the best thing to do, but I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe. Eventually we retreat to the shore and he goes back to harassing us about kissing, before swimming off in hopes to humiliate other lake-goers. I’m not too hopeful about the man this child will become…

Fourth of July in Tahoe

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The night before, alone on Nevada Beach, we’re the only people under the starry sky. Clusters and clusters of fireballs break up the black night. The reflection of the moon glistens on the iridescent lake. Cool air and a magical environment create a sense of nirvana unlike any other.

The next night, on the “birth” of our nation, tourists hoard the exact location. They bring filled coolers, portable grills, noise, and light pollution to the surreal serenity. Fireworks dazzle and amaze; the best display I’ve witnessed. Yet, I’d take the magnificence of untouched nature any day.

The very second the show is over, people run, sprint, leap as fast as they can from the scene of the celebration. It feels like an apocalypse. Families, couples, weird animal friends, everyone retreating as if each second they stay on the beach is one closer to doomsday. I wonder why everyone is running, until I realize I’m running too. The mob mentality is a strange phenomenon.

Those Xenophobic Locals

Something I noticed about the Tahoe Locals: they have a huge fear of traffic and outsiders. The days before and on the day of the fourth, I must have heard a zillion times, “I’m not going out man, there will be WAY too many people here,” or “Yeah, tourists wait for 8 hours to get a good spot on the beach. I’ll watch the fireworks from my porch!” And pretty much everyone we came in contact with warned of the “crazy, life threatening traffic.”

Here’s the reality of the situation: The traffic was equivalent to a calm day in a New Jersey suburb (a five minute back up tops), there were tons of available spots on the beach (we got there 5 minutes before the fireworks started and found an outstanding viewing space) and although tons of folks from other places enjoyed the lake, there weren’t long waits at the restaurants or any over the top tourist behaviors besides the typical invasive discomfort.

Nate started to complain about the traffic and I questioned, “You lived in New York, one of the craziest places in the world. How on earth does this bother you?”

He thought for a moment then said, “Yeah but this doesn’t happen in Tahoe. Never in Tahoe”

The Pope House

The best historic tour I’ve ever been on. This lake view mansion was built by the Tallac family in the late 1800’s, but ultimately, the aristocratic Popes of the 1920’s were responsible for turning it into a grandiose cabin of wealth, pride and class. Cedar and redwood detailing cause an amazing aroma to fill the summer home and customized wall fabrics are held in place by brass tacks in every room. There are cabins upon cabins of guest lodges and servants’ quarters, and even a detached kitchen equipped with a huge wood burning stove.

Although their summer getaway is magnificent, these Popes were missing one thing: LIFE.They had people doing everything for them, from getting them dressed, to preparing their meals, to anything else one can think of. There are doorbells in every room (including on the porch) used to call servants at any hour they wished. So sure, the Popes had an astounding summer home and a life of unbridled luxury, but they didn’t do anything for themselves. I bet they just sat on their butts all summer long, commenting on the wonderful Tahoe weather. I wouldn’t want to live like that.

San Francisco

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Words to describe San Fran: Colorful, green, homeless, seafaring, eclectic, chic, steep.

Only in San Fran can you see a man kick boxing a tree, an old woman in a long dotted skirt boarding an adult day care bus, and an unidentifiably gendered body passed out on the side walk, all on the same block.

The Homeless of San Fran

These folk are more vocal and drug ridden than any homeless I’ve yet encountered. They have their own culture in this city. Their community is a vibrant thread in the eclectic tapestry of life here.

Some fragmented vagabond quotes we heard along the way:

We watched a drug deal go down between two women and in nervous apprehension the one on the receiving end yelled,”They might be cops!” (in reference to us) and sprinted away.

We also witnessed a conversation in passing between two men. One said, “Man you just ruined my day! I bought you a beer and everything!” The other sat slumped, screaming “God Dammnit! God Damn it! Nah. Nah.”

At around 10 pm on our first night in the city, a guy sang Motown deep into the lamp lit night. Another simultaneously chased us down the street screaming for the man with the sultry tone to “Shut the f* up! Shut the f* up!”

Sadness overwhelmed as I watched a man from the vantage point of my San Francisco hotel window, pour Fireball into his orange soda at 8:30AM. He looked around cautiously and had no idea he was being studied from above by an empathetic visitor. I hope he finds his way. He looked like a good soul.

Haight Ashbury

haight ashbury

A mecca for hipsters and potheads; wonderfully colorful and cheery. Every other store is a smoke shop boasting that it’s “the best in the country.” Old school hippies are few and far between, but some still work at head shops or gypsy clothing stores. The liberality of this place is present in every inch. Here people don’t care what color you are, what your sexual orientation is, or where you came from. Their only judgment seems to be based on whether or not you’ll fight for the legalization of marijuana. FAR. OUT. DUDE.

Golden Gate Vista Point

Vista point

License plates from around the country and humans from around the globe congregate here. Dozens of Asians from the English Language Institute snap photos while their Irish sounding tour guide tries to speak over the fierce wind. A guy with a backwards hat and knap sack asks if we’re heading North. We aren’t. I wish we could give him a ride, but I’m confident he’ll get to where he’s going.

Big Sur

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Camping by firelight with my closest friend under the redwoods, surrounded by nature hundreds of years older than anyone here. There is a sense of closeness and bonding even though not a word is shared between dwellers of different campsites. Skunks spraying dogs and an uneven, wood chippy ground. I love it here.

The Next Morn’

I used a few pages of this journal to give life to last night’s fire. Smells of sizzling breakfasts fill my head and make me consider eating meat, though I know I never would. Today we’re hiking Pfeiffer Falls. Let’s see what’s just around the redwood river bend.

The Hike

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Being in the presence of redwoods and ocean side cliffs stirs my senses and ignites a sense of wondrous awe in my state of being. Here nothing matters. No judgement. No status. No pride. The only sense of self is one at peace with the environment. My soul seeps into nature, making my individual being indecipherable from the browns of the trees, the lush green extremities. We are unified. Life is life. Nature, nature. No form of living is less or more powerful. We are one. Coexistence is tangible here.

The height of the redwoods tower over human perception. Feeling big, proud, vain? Stand next to the truck of a divine redwood and let it humble you. Look over the cliffs of Big Sur and allow them to remind you of a life in in motion: the push and pull of all things worthwhile. The journey, the climb and ultimately an overwhelming sense of gratitude. For this is where you are at this place in time and nowhere else.

The hike up the mountain is the most magnificent hike I’ve ever been on. Switch backs escalate us up the red wood coated trail. Brooks and waterfalls can be heard from all angles. Steep dirt passageways and an open cliff face on one side make you aware of a life’s worth. Then higher and higher to the most splendid of views: the turquoise sea. Rocks, palm trees and waterfalls jut out beneath. On the opposite end, the thousands of colors of a concave mountain valley.

My heart races on this thin trail that stands higher than the clouds. It’s difficult to look down, to understand the magnitude of our height. No safety rail, no thin rope telling of a line not to cross. Just you and the narrow walkway, the elevated earth below and the watercolor sky above. That’s all that matters.

Cali through the eyes of Steinbeck

Not only did we venture to Salinas, Cannery Row and Monterey (well-known Steinbeck stomping grounds), we also found out he lived in Tahoe and San Fran as well.

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Without making a conscious effort, we ended up touring California through the footsteps of one of the greatest authors to have ever lived. Steinbeck was a wonderful man. He remained himself in the most vain of circumstance. He wrote for those who needed to be heard, but didn’t have a means of expression. Sought to prove others wrong when they spoke of limitations, justified his sanity when they called him insane. A truly outstanding human being and one of my biggest inspirations.

Salinas

Before we went to Salinas, Nathaniel and I conversed of what it would be like. “Ooh! Ooh! It’s going to be just like this! Valleys and drought ridden plains, where men struggle to find work. Kind of how I picture Of Mice and Men.”

He said something like, “I picture it more Grapes of Wrath-esque with less trees and more desperation.” Our ideas were both along the lines of a Podunk town in the middle of nowhere. We talked about it for the duration of the drive, when alas we pulled up to the real Salinas.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. On one side of Salinas there are lush farm lands, kept alive by the perfect farming climate and innovative farming technologies. On the other however, there is a crappy suburban city full of poorly constructed buildings, smoldering dry heat waves and wandering individuals begging for dollars. Nothing too substantial about this place other than the John Steinbeck museum and the house he grew up in.

His museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to one writer and one writer alone. And it’s pretty dang cool! Steinbeck had an amazing life and some tough cojones. He wasn’t afraid to expose the harsh dustbowl realities of our country, to shatter the guise of the golden dream and uncover the struggles of the average American. You go Steinbeck!

Cannery Row

Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row is titled after this seaside location. Here he had many inebriated adventures with his best friend Ed Rickets inside Ed’s infamous laboratory.

Cannery Row is a smelly place, quaint in its splendor and fancy in its touristy show. Known in past years for its sardine canneries, it is now a cute little town full of hotels and romantic restaurants. The unpleasant smell is strangely, not all that unpleasant. It provides this location with a certain kind of charming character.

Monterey

A foul Monterey hostel wants to charge us 80 dollars for a four minute shower and coed room. We’ll skip the shower and camp instead. Thanks…

A guy in a café in Monterey says this to his co-worker: “I used to live with all these strippers. They were daytime strippers though, so it was different.” I wonder what the hell he could have possibly meant…

17 Mile Drive

17 mile

The Drive

Pit stops of paradise infested with humans of far away places. The locals play golf while over eager spectators look through lenses and point to gangs of marine life. And how about that guy driving a lawn mower to preserve the 11th hole? Does anyone stop to think about him? His perception of the Pacific restlessness and ogling expressions? Probably not.

China Rock

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I climb China Rock and am admiring the beauty, when a little girl looks at me and goes, “Excuse me miss!” Her accent is adorable and I’m trying to figure out what she means until her Dad looks up too and says, “Excuse me miss!”

I then realize they’re trying to take a picture of the ocean without me in it. I move two feet and hear it again by a different man. “Excuse me miss!” I move again and again, and am bombarded with “Excuse me misses.” How am I in everyone’s picture and how do I get out?

It’s beginning to feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone when finally, the requests cease. I am alone on the tall rock, watching Nathaniel snap photos of pelicans and crabs below.

Reno

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This place is as tacky as you’d expect. Surrounded by miles of dry desert and an unforgiving 98 degree heat, Reno is littered with strip malls, out dated casinos and bad food. Not to offend anyone who lives here, but I keep thinking to myself: there isn’t much redeeming about this place (and I usually love most places). The pinnacles of the city are the Reno arch and the old Reno arch, which are located a few blocks from each other. The old remains a skeletal reminder of the city’s bizarre history.

I can’t really put my finger on Reno’s cultural merit. It seems more like a melting pot of people of different races and sizes who have lost their way and somehow ended up here. Maybe they’re a fan of the legalized prostitution. Maybe the casino meat buffets and beer pong tournaments draw them in. Either way, I’m not sure I understand. I’d never want to live in Reno.

The Road and In Betweens

The Dudes and the Tree

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While we journey on a lake-ward hike, we pass these two guys straight up chillin’ by this huge, abstract looking tree. Right away Nate and I stop because it’s one of those trees which makes you stop. We aren’t offered a choice by the universe; we have to stop and stare.

As we’re admiring the intricate foundation of this masterpiece, the two guys keep talking to us. Actually no, not talking to us, more like enthusing into the lake air. The first guy keeps saying over and over, “Dudes! This tree! Guess what? My facebook profile picture is a picture of me climbing THIS tree and smoking a cigarette! Smoking a cigarette! My facebook picture!”

His loyal and like minded friend backs him up. “Yeah! It’s the greatest picture! He’s standing right there. Right where you guys are, but he’s climbing the tree and smoking a cigarette!”

I’m just as excited as them and it’s not because of the picture, or the cigarette. It’s because I got to meet these two characters and share this amazing moment. They go on and on about how awesome this picture is until finally, a light bulb goes off. Guy number one says: “Hey man! You have your phone! You can show them the picture!”

The other guy pulls out his phone and tilts it over. I look down and see the exact image the two have detailed: Guy number one in the tree, smoking a cigarette. I tell them it’s a cool picture. Nate looks up and in all seriousness asks, “What are you doing man, giving a peace sign?”

The guy looks as if he’s just seen double. “No man! I’m in the tree smokin’ a cigarette!”

The Stop of a Lifetime

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Spotting a family of three dolphins from the road and pulling off at Carmel Bay beach was the gem of a lifetime. Watching two soul mated seals body surf, while running along the pebbly Pacific Coast is the reason for wanderlust.

Love and a bridge

love and a bridge

We stopped at an insane bridge on the way to Big Sur. There, I envied a couple eating a vegan meal while overlooking the view. Their chickpeas, avocados and fold out chairs looked to me like love.

Lady on the way to US 1

My head is out the window in Watsonville and I’m rocking out to Sublime. We get stopped at a red light and the old woman next to us rolls down her window. She tells me I look tired. Somehow she knows I’ve been on the road for days and am in desperate need of a shower. Maybe my greasy hair gave her a hint, or perhaps the moon shaped bags under my eyes.

I tell her California is a beautiful state before she drives off and wishes us a safe journey. I wish her one too because although she was born and raised in Watsonville, is life ever not a journey?

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz seems like a place you go when you’re down, out and addicted. The sunshine and beachy vibe are contradictory to the grey souls roaming the streets.

Carmel

A storybook looking town and one of the cities where the original bohemian movement started. It’s hard to believe because everybody is rich and all businesses close at six.

Stanford University

An Ivy League school without the prestigious feel. The buildings are neither old, nor stately as one would presume. The Architecture is indistinct and construction clouds every intersection. My advice: someone should really stylize this school and give it some much needed Ivy League flavor.

Folsom

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Nothin’ like the place Johnny Cash sang about. Just another Cali town full of Costcos and chain restaurants. The coolest thing about Folsom is the city limits sign. It’s decked out with Latin flare that parallels the street names.

Final Thoughts

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Whether on a trip or not, every second, moment, experience should be seen as so. Look around wherever you are and notice things you haven’t before. Have a conversation with a new face, explore an old building and imagine those who were once there. Never quench your thirst. Never say you’ve done enough. Live, live, live! Love is the greatest gift of all. Embrace it with the totality of your heart and run towards possibility.

Honesty

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
― Franz Kafka

Everyone has lied, myself included. Humans have the strange tendency to cushion the truth, avoid confrontation or straight up say something different than how they feel. I haven’t met very many people, if any, who  let others in on their uncensored voice of reason.

Here are a few things I’ve learned this past year about honesty:

  • The people who feel the need to proclaim they are honest are the biggest liars of all. If you do the best you can to be truthful, you shouldn’t have to prove it.
  • Instead of waiting around for an answer to be resolved, communicate! If someone can’t handle your voice, they aren’t worth your time. Even if you don’t like what you hear, a weight will be lifted when you know.
  • And here’s the other side of it: be upfront with people and don’t make them wait. If you’re feeling something, express it. If it back fires, at least you’ll know.
  • Everyone exaggerates, but try and avoid extremes. The closer you remain to what you remember, the more others can relate.
  • If you’ve lied to someone it pays to make it right. If you get caught in a lie, trust is forever severed. If you go ahead and rectify the situation the relationship may be bruised, but at least the trust associated with coming forth will be there.
  • There’s a reason it’s been said: actions speak louder than words. Someone will get the vibe regardless of what you say, so say it!
  • Lying to oneself is the worst choice of all. The mind is a powerful thing. Like all beings, there’s a reason we have instinct and desire. Don’t convince yourself of an untruth. Listen as best you can to your inner guide.

I know people will keep lying long after this blog is posted, but let’s all do the best we can to be true to ourselves. Each experience is unique to the individual. The further one gets from authenticity, the more shallow a life becomes. Accept your flaws, tell yourself you’re beautiful(because you are) and strive to make each day better than the last. Let’s set a foundation for change, growth and the road to gratitude. Trim the bullshit and fly towards freedom!

I love and appreciate you all! I hope to never take your support for granted.

The most honest of women! She sees right through you…

Human Nature and the Rise of Apprehension

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

― John Lennon

As a writer, I am an avid people watcher. Human nature never fails to astound and intrigue me. I absorb the characters at my disposal and most times, they never even know I’m watching them. For example, the other day I was in Barnes and Noble editing when a woman at a table a few seats away says this: “My father died with his boots on eight months after my mother.” The way her voice quavered as she said it sent chills up my arms. So much so, that I opened up a new word document and began a short story entitled My Father Died with His Boots On. But I digress. The point is that we all have a story. We all have a voice and the desire to be heard.

I’ve been noticing more and more that people have patterns. There is something innate in the human psyche which causes us to cling to the comfort of routine and familiarity. As a society, we are scared to listen; scared to stop and think about something that makes us uncomfortable. We have these set ideas of who we are, when in reality, we barely know ourselves.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the amount of judgment and criticism people place on others. We ridicule the guy who scratches his ass in public, the heavy set woman laboring down the aisles of the supermarket. The truth is, these people are about as aware of themselves as you or I are, which I hate to say, is not very aware. Think about the last time you said something you wish you could take back. When those syllables freed themselves from your mind, were you thinking about it? Were you saying to yourself: I’m absolutely certain I want to say this right now? Or were you just acting without premeditation, the way humans tend to do?

On the news yesterday, everyone was going crazy about this supposed storm. Before each commercial break there was an announcement: We are tracking the eye of the storm! Be prepared for the storm! Well guess what? It barely rained. Why does the media feel the need to sensationalize paranoia? Why do we crave the feelings associated with worry and fear? When did rejoicing in the freedom of the unknown become so passé? Let us start living our lives instead of avoiding them!

So how do we break the boundaries of what has become a culture driven by fear, judgment and restraint? My solution is to do something that scares us every day. Maybe then we will learn to accept and embrace one another. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Climb that mountain! Stare at that spider! Fall in love! Never settle people. Don’t let fear keep you from achieving your goals and celebrating the life experience. Each day is a new beginning, each moment, a chance to find freedom.

If You Hadn’t Died

If you hadn’t died, then I wouldn’t have flown home for the funeral. Maybe I would have met my husband that weekend. Or maybe I would’ve been in a car accident and joined you up there in the light of the unknown. It’s also possible it could have been a regular weekend: gym on Saturday then drinks with the girls at night. Sunday would have been spent running errands or at the farmer’s market.

If you hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have seen you like that, cold and limp with just the right amount of make up to make you look alive. No one questioned it of course. I wouldn’t have gotten mascara stains on your children’s shirts, fought with my dad about the last time we saw you.

If you hadn’t died I wouldn’t have sifted through our memories, a lifetime of memories. I wouldn’t have laughed and cried and shook and panicked. I wouldn’t have thought: How will I get out of bed tomorrow knowing she’s not here?  Who will I call when I need the advice of someone who knows me, the only person who did?

If you hadn’t died, when would I have seen you? Would we have waited until Thanksgiving or done one of those spontaneous weekend trips to Atlantic City or the Vineyard? Would you have tried to set me up with the bartender? Yelled at me for drinking too much although you yourself would have been hammered?  Would we have split the bill or would you have covered it, telling me to get the next one?

If you hadn’t died would you have divorced Karl when you found out about his affair or would you have stayed together for the kids? Would you have moved to Albuquerque like you’ve always wanted or started ballroom dancing in an attempt to distract yourself from your aching heart? Would you have blamed yourself? Became insecure and detached?

When your kids grew into teens would you have been one of those laid back mothers who trusts them enough to avoid curfews and ultimatums or would you have intimidated them, used fear as a form of control? Would you have comforted Tess after her first heart break? Patted Sam’s back when he got cut from basketball tryouts?

If you hadn’t died would you have woken up the next morning and breathed in the fresh air? Would you have opened your heart and soul to the beauty of the present and immersed yourself in being the best you could be? Would you have kissed the sun and dipped your feet in the ocean?

I’ll never know because you did.

He says

“You can keep it if you want…my last name. You don’t need to change it.” He says.

“Wow. Thanks for the consolation prize. How generous. I’ll be a Walker again as soon as the paperwork is in.” I say.

“Jess please. I’m just trying to…” He says.

Our wedding portrait dangles in my peripheral.

 “Don’t. It’s not worth…” I say. 

“Yeah okay I guess you just…” He says.

“Yes, yes I do.”

I sling my bag over my arm and make my way towards the door.

“Bye.”

Bye he says, like he never knew me at all.

Rose Nights

“Why are you so scared of lightening Rose?” The nine-year-old version of myself asked as my small arm clutched her aged middle. We formed a singular human mass on the bottom half of my brother’s bunk beds. Each time the storm crackled, Rose’s muscles tensed in swift jolts. Josh lay still, waiting for Rose to relate the reason why we were curled up on this tiny bunk instead of sprawled out on the luxury of my full sized mattress.

Our entangled positioning caused her voice to sound like a muffled, yet audible echo. “Well you see, when I was a very young girl about two or three years old, I came down with scarlet fever. The doctor tied me to a bedpost so that when the delirium of the fever set in, I could thrash without harming myself. The racket of the storms which passed and the frightening outlines of the trees terrified me in those dark moments. I guess it just stuck all these years.”

My young soul had never heard of scarlet fever and couldn’t grasp what it was like to be restrained to a bed, but that night, I lay awake thinking about Rose. My mind raced through thoughts of her life before me and all she had lived through. The steady rhythm of her heartbeat in my frail embrace flooded me with relief. She, an 85-year-old woman and I, a 9 year old girl, would get to spend more time together.

My mother met Rose through a babysitting service when she was pregnant with my older sister. A representative from the agency told her that although Rose was one of the oldest women working for the company, she was great with children and dependable. She was hired the first time they met.

Rose was there for the birth of my sister and brother. She was also the main person taking care of them when my mother was in the hospital for her third delivery. Jenna lived for 10 weeks and died from a rare disease called Rubinstein–Taybia Syndrome. Throughout my mom’s recovery, Rose was there for comfort and support. She too was acquainted with the immeasurable weight of the loss of a child.

By the time I entered the world, Rose was a staple member of our family. She was my best friend and confidant, grandmother and hero, all in one. I’m not sure if it was because I was the youngest, or because Rose and I were just the most compatible, but for whatever reason, we were inseparable for my entire childhood.

Cancer claimed the lives of Rose’s husband and one of her sons after she’d met my mother, but before I was born. I would flip through pictures of Rose’s husband holding my sister and imagine what he was like. I would have given anything to know not only them, but the person Rose had been when they were alive.

Rose also had a grown son and daughter. Both had their own lives, relationships and families. Rose’s children loved her and spent time with her when they could, but there were still many times when Rose was alone and lonely. On these nights, she would come over just to spend time with us. Our house became her second home.

Rose witnessed every important milestone of our childhoods. She would attend swim meets, dance recitals and birthday parties. She was a full blooded Italian Catholic, but never made us feel that our Jewish traditions were any less important than her faith. She would be present at every Jewish holiday and even had her own candle at my Bat Mitzvah. We all used to joke with much truth behind the banter that we were Rose’s adopted family. The love of our family kept her motivated while the love she gave in return fulfilled our lives. When my parents got divorced it seemed like Rose’s relationship with each member of my family was part of the glue which held us all together.

Every Thursday and quite often several other days a week, Rose would come spend the day and night at our house. For years I would look forward to Thursdays. On those days, I would sprint off the bus to ring my doorbell. I remember feeling a surge of calm and reassurance as her slouched silhouette approached the dusted glass. I would give her a hug, set my backpack down and eat whatever little snack she’d prepared. Then we would take a long stroll around the neighborhood (weather permitting of course). These walks were a time for her and I to catch up, to talk about how nice it was outside and how my days were at school.

Later in the evenings, after Rose and I had both taken short naps on the perpendicular couches in my den and had eaten a dinner of one of her homemade masterpieces, I would leave for dance class. I had been dancing since I was a toddler and loved it more than anything, yet leaving Rose alone in my large house for hours at a time was never easy. I worried about her in my empty house as much as she worried about me getting home in the dark (driving at night was another one of Rose’s many fears). As my carpool rolled up to the front of my house, Rose would be pacing at the other end of the door in one of her long nightgowns. Her hair would be in curlers and hidden under a nightcap she deemed her “cupilini.” Even though she didn’t vocalize it, each time I looked into her eyes and saw the weight of worry let up on them, I could tell how actual her relief was.

The day I found out Rose’s only daughter had been diagnosed with lung cancer was the same day as my cousin’s birthday party. My mother thought I had a right to know, so she told me in the car on the way. I didn’t even make it through an hour of the celebration before breaking down and needing to be picked back up. I felt Rose’s pain for her daughter more than any emotion I had so far encountered. I cursed life for being unfair. Hadn’t this woman gone through enough? Didn’t she deserve some kind of break? I didn’t yet understand the unyielding nature of the world.

For the next several years, Barbara fought with Rose beside her. They participated in walks and press releases. There were organizations started for her cause and awareness spread. Everyone who knew this woman came together to support her. Sometimes when I slept at Rose’s house, I would catch her on her knees in the guest bedroom, a tiny prayer book sprawled out in her shaking hands. I would ask her what she was doing and she would say, “Everything I can to help my Barbara.” Many times I would sit beside her and read some prayers aloud with her. If Rose was doing everything she could to help Barbara, I wanted to do everything I could too.

The sicker Barbara became, the more time Rose spent by her side. She still came to our house every Thursday, however, the days in between were spent with one of my parents or another babysitter. Rose was still her old lively self, with just a few occasional slips of pain revealing themselves in her worried eyes. I knew her well enough to know she wasn’t okay, but all I could do was hold her hand, pray with her and hope with her.

When a minor advance in Barbara’s condition occurred, Rose and I would be loquacious and energized. We would laugh and smile as much as we ever did. In these times it felt like Barbara wasn’t sick, just her and I spending time together like we had done for so many years passed.

On the days when Rose would get disheartening news, the energy in the room would shift. She and I wouldn’t speak much. We took a silent comfort in each other’s company. I would do homework and Rose would do laundry or make dinner. We never had to explain our silence. We understood each other.

I began to identify Barbara, the woman I had known by her beautiful curly long locks as a fighter, a heroin. The harder Barbara fought, the more she represented true human strength to my young eyes. I only saw her a few times while she was sick, but Rose’s animated updates about “how hard her Barbara was fighting” kept me clinging to the hope that there was no way cancer would kill her. In my mind, Barbara was the superhero and cancer, the evil villain. The superhero never loses. If everyone, including Barbara, was trying so hard it had to mean something right?

On December 5th 2004 Barbara’s struggle came to an end. The wake was the first time I saw Rose after the passing. I was thirteen and it was the first one I had been to. Rose was wearing a black dress and jacket. She looked tiny under all the dark layers. Her eyes met mine from across the room and her face lit up for just a moment before the awareness of her grief made it hollower than before.

She gave me a distant hug and said, “Oh Lindsay. I’m so glad you came.” The words “of course” got caught in my throat and my cheeks became wet with tears. I couldn’t breathe. How could such a beautiful woman be subject to so much loss? And here after everything, she was thanking me for coming to the wake. I felt so helpless, like no matter how much I loved Rose, I was powerless to the ruthless hands of fate.

Two long weeks passed before she came over. For the most part, we both did our best to stick to our routine and act as if nothing had changed. We still slept in the same bed and spent Thursdays together just like old times, but we were changing at a rapid pace. Rose became more protective over me and more cautious of my every move. I would have one of my friends over and Rose would forbid us from playing outside. I was no longer a baby or even a child anymore. My body and my mind were on the brink of adulthood and I was convinced I needed more space.

Even though I knew of Rose’s insurmountable grief, I wasn’t mature enough to grasp it. The more she treated me like the child I wasn’t, the more I resented her. We began to bicker with each other often, something that seldom occurred prior to Barbara’s death. I would get so frustrated that I would tell her to leave me alone or call my mom to complain. Our relationship, one that had always relied on its balance and simplicity, was shifting. I would never again be a child and Barbara would never again be alive.

Often times, it’s not the biggest moments in life which pierce our souls; it is those simple details that make us recognize just how much we’ve lost. The moment I realized Rose had changed forever wasn’t during Barbara’s wake, or the funeral, or even during one of her fearful fits. It was on a night when she was preparing her famous sauce.

Rose was a phenomenal cook and her marinara sauce was a popular amongst the members of my family. I had eaten this sauce hundreds of times and every bite tasted as good as good as the first. The sauce or as Rose called it “gravy” was never bland or over spiced. It was the perfect concoction of ingredients that only Rose knew of, served in the perfect portion with fresh grated cheese on top. The Thursday I realized I was losing my best friend, the sauce was full of water and tasted nothing like the comfort dish I loved. This simple notion, that Rose couldn’t make her sauce anymore, broke my heart. As I ate the meal and looked over at my friend, I knew I would never get her back.

A few months after that night, my mom sat me down and told me Rose was being relocated to a nursing home. I never felt so much like a child. There I was, being told the tragic fate of a person who meant the world to me and I was expected to just accept it. My mom explained that Rose had given her house to her son and he had sold it. With her increasing paranoia and confusion, he didn’t have the time to take care of her. He considered bringing in a visiting nurse, but the finances were more than he could afford.

I was told that every alternate solution had already been addressed. Fury rose in my chest. Rose had been my biggest support since I could remember. Every time I had a fight with my parents, or siblings, or had a bad day at school, I turned to her. Now in her weakest moment, I was supposed to just let them take her? Let her live in a facility where she would have no freedom, no control over her own life? I was old enough to realize what kind of environment she would be living in. It was sad enough to bring tears to my eyes at any moment during the day.

I started lashing out at my parents, blaming them for the relocation. In my heart I knew that it wasn’t their fault, but I just couldn’t believe there was nothing we could do. I would go on long emotional rants about how much Rose had done for our family and beg everyone to help her. After a week or two of these tirades, the same inevitable conclusion was met: Rose was going to a nursing home and there was nothing my family or anyone could do about it.

Rose’s last visit took place in our new town house. She had been a part of our old house since the day it was built and it was only fitting that to christen our new place, she come over and bring some of her warm energy into our foreign home. My mom and I drove to pick her up and she was more removed than I had ever seen her. I thought introducing her to our new dog Casey might cheer her up, but Rose didn’t show any interest. She just sat there, at our new kitchen table, hunched over and rubbing her thumbs together. I knew how scared she was because I was too. My mom came in the room and said something to her like “Rose you are always welcome at this house. You know that right? I expect to see you here on Thursday nights.” I don’t think either of us was aware that this was the last time we would ever see her outside of the Care One in Jackson. Rose was forced to move a few short days after the first and last time she had been in our new home. I was fifteen.

The first few times I visited her were the hardest. I couldn’t even make it through a minute without crying. I looked around at the women nursing plastic babies and the men who mumbled to themselves in slews of declarations only they could understand. I felt with every ounce of certainty that Rose didn’t belong in a place like this, but she would always tell us she was fine and wanted to talk only about our lives.

In these early months of her time at Care One, Rose’s disorientation would seep out in subtle ways. We would be having normal conversations about my brother or sister and out of nowhere Rose would say, “You can stay for dinner if you’d like. Let’s go downstairs and I’ll fix ya something to eat.” I wouldn’t remind her of where we were. Instead, I would play along and say, “Sure Rose anything you want to make.”

My mom and I would sometimes take her out to lunch. She was more herself in our car going through the Burger King drive through than she was for months at a time in the nursing home. Though the last time we took her out, she was anxious and kept begging my mom to take her back.

She said things like, “It’s getting late and I really do have to go home and feed the kids.” Up until this point, I had tried to go along with whatever Rose was saying. I didn’t want her to be aware of where she was almost as much as I didn’t want her to be there.

This time though, I couldn’t play along. I looked into her eyes with a pleading stare and said: “Rose, you’re here with me and my mom. You love us. Why would you want to go back there?” When I saw the worry in her soul projected across the sunken lines of her face, I knew that our communication was another intangible lost along the path of change.

Even though we couldn’t take her out anymore, I would still go visit. During the last visit before I left for college, Rose asked me ten times in a row if I had a boyfriend. No matter what answer I would give her, she would say, “Oh that’s nice. Make sure he treats you nice.” That’s a lesson that Rose had been instilling in me since I was a young girl. Make sure you find a nice boy or I’ll have something to say to him. I was married to my Joe for a long time and he treated me like a queen.

Although I didn’t care for the repetition, it was nice to see there were some characteristics left still unique to Rose. I remember thinking on that last visit before I left, how I just couldn’t believe the proximity to Rose had no weight whatsoever on where I went to college.

I still visit Rose every time I come home from Orlando. She doesn’t know who I am, but she knows she loves me. That is enough because it has to be. She still smiles every time I hold her hand and tells me she loves me too when I say it first.

I’ll say “Rose do you remember me? Do you remember little Lindsay, your best friend? You helped raise me.”

She’ll say “Yes. Little Lindsay” in a voice that reveals she doesn’t.

Then I’ll push her wheel chair outside, and as the sun shines on her benevolent face she’ll say, “It’s a lovely day out, isn’t it?”

I wrote this piece a year ago and the memories of Rose still visit me on a daily basis. There are things I will never forget: the way she smelled of Dove soap and hair spray, the blue dotted sheets she kept over the seats of her car and the way she loved me with all of her heart. I now babysit for a four year old named Rosie and on the way to pick her up at school two days ago, my GPS took me right past Rose’s house. I hadn’t been there since she’d moved and it prompted me to sit and edit. This is for you Rose. I’ll cherish our friendship for as long as I live.

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Elevators

A short time after NCG and I jumped and got stuck in the elevator, this sign popped up. Coincidence? I think not.

A short time after NCG and I jumped and got stuck in the elevator, this sign popped up. Coincidence? I think not.

My dad requested I write a blog on elevators…Pops this one’s for you!

When I’m alone in them, I close my eyes and listen to the beeping. I ascend from floor to floor in this man made contraption, always remarking to myself: “This is nuts! This machine is nuts!” My ears pop occasionally and sometimes I count every floor. Sometimes I don’t.

Now the best kinds of elevators are crowded ones(Yeah Incubus!), the ones where you have the most awkward snippets of conversations with the most unlikely of people. My dad lives on the 15 (Well, technically 14th because there’s no 13th) floor of The Imperial House, a structure built in the 1960’s which in the winter, houses residents mostly over the age of 67. The two elevators in this building are my favorites out of any I’ve ridden.

I love the scenes that play out in these elevators. I love them! The other day this old woman started talking to me about how leather was too tight so she had to wear these fine white gloves. Her hand extended out and I told her I thought they were beautiful gloves. She just tilted her head saying, “What? What?” She couldn’t hear me at all.

Even the tense, awkward elevator rides are so uncomfortable that I can’t help but laugh afterwards. The peculiarity of being in an enclosed space with someone who has no desire or intent to talk to me has this strange humorous appeal. I smile every time.

Now my favorite elevator moment was a mix between the two. My soul sister was in town visiting from the dirty south. Her and I adscended through the Imperial House next to an older lady who refused to talk to us. I asked her how she was doing. Not a word. As we arrived at her destination and she began to inch her way towards the steel doors, April or I said something about Florida. The lady came to life as if we’d given her the secret to eternal youth. “DID YOU SAY FLORIDA??? I LOVE FLORIDA!” By this point she was out of the box and facing us. “My niece and my daughter and my three grand children live in Boynton…” Smack. We never heard the rest of this woman’s salute to The Sunshine State. The elevator interrupted her mid sentence and just like that, we were floors past her and on our way.

This is the beauty in elevators: every single time it’s a unique and ridiculous experience. One that can’t be duplicated. The snippets of conversation may last for only thirty seconds, but these strange moments are the ones we sometimes think about forever.

Ah Incubus…always one step ahead.

An Ode to Holistic Health

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One of the biggest tragedies of human civilization is the precedents of chemical
therapy over nutrition. It’s a substitution of artificial therapy over nature,
of poisons over food, in which we are feeding people poisons trying to correct
the reactions of starvation.— Dr. Royal Lee

Instead of turning to over the counter pseudo products and easily prescribed medications, why not first try a natural approach? I recently got hired by an Alternative Medicine Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist to collaborate on spreading holistic health care knowledge. We aim to reach as many people as we can.The more I study the abundance of health options, the more I realize how simple it is to treat ailments oneself, without the use of synthetic medicine. Listen, I’m not saying if you gash your arm open to use a tourniquet instead of getting stitches, but when it comes to every day, natural living, why not work with our bodies instead of against them?

For the past few days I’ve had an inner ear pain that I can only relate to some kind of infection. Everyone around me keeps telling me to “go to a doctor” and “get a prescription for antibiotics.” This overused suggestion of “antibiotics” makes my stomach churn, and not in a good way. My whole life I’ve been fed them whenever I’ve had the slightest inclination of an illness. This time I wanted to take a stand and try something different.

Here’s a short aside: Just a few weeks ago I had poison Ivy and everyone I knew of course told me to “get antibiotics.” Instead of doing it though, I watched in amazement as my body healed itself. I took oatmeal baths and used cold compresses as an alternative. Sure enough, it vanished from my skin. Yes it took longer, but the results showed that it wasn’t necessary to put a foreign concoction in my body. I was glad I chose time over convenience. My skin is now stronger. I can feel it.

Okay, so back to my ear. This morning I woke up and it was still hurting so I decided to take action. I researched holistic approaches to curing ear infections and found a product called Mullein Garlic Oil. The article I read claims that it is stronger and faster acting than antibiotics. So what did I do? I went to Dean’s Natural Food Market and picked up some of this Mullein Garlic Oil (YOU SHOULD ONLY USE THIS PRODUCT IF YOUR EARDRUM IS NOT PERFORIATED). I also purchased some Probiotics. Why use something that eliminates the good strains when you can build up your own army of beneficial bacteria? Ya know, fight the fair way? Instead of depleting the power from our bodies, let’s strengthen them.

Anyway, here’s the “A ha!” ending of this epic story. My ear killed before the Mullein Oil and within seconds of dropping it in, it felt exponentially better. I’ll have to keep using it of course, but from the second the solution touched my ear, the pressure was released and the intensity of the pain subsided. (It smells kind of rank, but it’s worth it! Trust me!)

So everyone, it’s really up to you what you wanna do with your bodies. The only thing I can do is inform you of your options. I will continue to share my holistic knowledge in an attempt to spread awareness. Stay strong and stay healthy! Most importantly though, survey what you’re putting into your body, drink lots of water, sleep well, reduce stress and remain conscious of your breathing. “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

My Art Bleeds

 

My art bleeds from my being to the page like a free flow of crimson leaving a wound. My words speak for themselves from the subconscious caves of my mind, released for the taking. My soul screams for my creation. No control, no direction. It is what it is, cannot be tamed. My writing is not my own, for I am in a state of dreamy unawareness as my fingers dance along the key board. Art is meditation. Art is life. Art is a pacifist, an acceptor of all things. Art is freedom. We all have it within us. Find yours and it will set you free.

Happy Spring!

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Spring Awakening

Like the revitalization of the surrounding nature, we too are reborn in the springtime. This is a time for change, a time when the sunshine returns, a time to fill our lungs with fresh air and come out of hiding. We are nature. Let us behave like it.

Let us watch the color return to our skin and feel the increase in energy. Let us fill our days with light and laughter; visit the beach at night. Let us take a moment to breathe.

Let us get lost in the woods. Not literally lost, but lost in the smells, the sounds, the patterns, the colors. Let us get lost in this other world, the world where we originated, the world which lends itself to our primal instincts, void of distraction.

Spring is a time to give back. Let’s do what we can and I don’t mean taking a drastic leap. I mean what we can squeeze in between work and leisure. If we all give this much, the world will transform before our eyes. For once we put love out there, it grows.

Humans are not perfect. We never will be. We have many instincts that are not righteous. Another thing we do have though, is self control. If we live our lives with good intentions, listen to our honest voice more than enticement, and are truly thankful for this incredible gift, great things will happen.

Like so many wise souls have said, “we are all one.” Empathy is ingrained in us for a reason. Look around and instead of seeing others as better or less than, look at them as equals. They too have struggles. They too have pain. They too have love and the potential to do the best they can. Please let’s start living together. Let’s celebrate uniqueness while living as one. I know we can do it. I just know we can.

Good Day. Sunshine.