Return to Reality

I wasn’t allowed to do much as a teenager. I couldn’t date boys or go on overnight trips in groups where boys would be present—I wasn’t even allowed to cut my own hair (which made me all-the-more alluring to said forbidden boys).

I grew up in an ultra-strict household, ruled by my abusive, alcoholic Greek immigrant father who had irrational views on child-rearing in 1990s America. Never mind that my mother (the sweetest, kindest woman you could ever know) was American and had been raised in a household with few rules, yet turned out as prim and proper as one could hope. Never mind that I was an honors’ student who had skipped a grade, never got into trouble and possessed an IQ that qualified me for Mensa membership. Never mind all of that. I was pretty, so therefore would certainly ‘sin’ if given the chance.

Around age 16, as a junior in high school, I began considering colleges for a future escape. Learning that I was investigating schools close to home in Oregon, my older sister gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given: “Go as far away to college as you possibly can—something not within driving distance. Get away from him.” And as the Universe so often does, once that seed was planted, it began conspiring to make it happen.

Soon I was writing for a regional student newspaper, working in the newsroom of the city’s daily paper, The Oregonian, and solidifying my plans to pursue a career in journalism. One of the “perks” of this new role was the opportunity to represent the West Coast at a journalism workshop that summer in Washington, DC, where I’d live in a dormitory at George Washington University with fellow teenage journalists from around the country and work on a national student newspaper.

In the months leading up to that trip, I took solace in one of the few things I had total freedom to do: Choose to watch whatever I wanted to on television.

I chose The Real World on MTV, which ran on an almost continuous loop from May to August that year. It was the perfect coming-of-age show for me, as I could identify in some way with each of the cast members, all of whom were just a few years older than me.

I was a dancer like Julie—captain of the dance team at school and enrolled in private lessons for my true love, ballet.

I was a writer like Kevin—captivated by poetry and journalism alike, he was discussing the things that mattered and doing so in an eloquent way that I aspired to emulate.

I was musical like Heather, Andre and Becky—blessed with perfect pitch and years of playing the flute, I was always singing or performing in some capacity or another.

I was a model like Eric—my first jobs were fashion shows for my local Nordstrom store, which evolved into additional work as I got older and more comfortable in my own skin.

I was an artist like Norman—though not professionally, I offered my best attempt at watercolors for anyone who would observe.

The original Real World was nothing like the trashy shows we associate with reality television today. It was an unvarnished look at seven young artists trying to make their way in New York City, living with a group of people completely different from them, yet also so alike in many ways. It was most profoundly a metaphor for life: We are all constantly navigating the world with people very different from us, but yet, whether we see it or not, people who are very much the same.

I wanted so badly to have an experience like theirs—and in a way, I did. The journalism workshop made me take my first solo flight (which began a compulsive travel habit that only paused for the pandemic) and delivered me to a group of soon-to-be close friends from the Midwest and East Coast who were of different faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The workshop itself was life-changing—the first conversation about the still-recent Rodney King trial and resulting rebellion led to very uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations amongst the students; my time with a mentor from the Hearst Newspapers taught me interview skills I still use today. And it nudged me to take my sister’s advice, moving a year later to Columbia, Missouri to attend Mizzou for their award-winning journalism program.

But I could never shake the emotional attachment I had to the seven people I watched repeatedly in my youth, at a time when I needed them most, which is why when they returned this year for The Real World: Homecoming, I literally cried. I’d thought about them all over the years, catching various reunions they filmed and Googling them every-so-often to see where there lives landed, but this was different. They were moving back in, to the same loft in New York City, with the same people.

I had apprehension, as I didn’t want the sanctity of the original to be compromised, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. This new production captured all of the magic of the original by showing us how the individuals had evolved (or in one case, regressed) and most importantly vibrated with the love they all still feel for one another and their shared experience.

After a year of almost complete solitude (my only visitor being my 80-year-old mother), curling up to watch these six sacred episodes felt like more than a guilty pleasure binge. It felt like a reminder to reflect on how far I’ve come from that damaged, naive young girl from the rough side of Portland and give thanks for the continued learnings about race, spirituality and love that our present world brings.

Georgia, It’s a Matter of Life and Earth

Though there are several vital policies dividing voters in the Georgia senate race, the one that reaches far beyond the residents of that state is the fight against climate change.

As someone who votes clear across the country, I beg those eligible to vote in Georgia to please consider our natural world when you complete your ballot.

There are clear differences in the stances of each candidate. Here’s a snapshot in case the voter pamphlets aren’t thorough on the often-overlooked topic:

David Perdue has an abysmal voting record when it comes to the environment. One only has to look at his Conservation Scorecard to see where he stands on the climate crisis.

Jon Osoff, Perdue’s opponent, in contrast is fighting for an aggressive investment in clean energy.

In the other race …

Kelly Loeffler is one of the strongest supporters of President Trump’s anti-environmental policies, most likely because she personally profits from them.

Rev. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler’s opponent, has perhaps the best record of fighting for Mother Earth, from supporting efforts to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord to bringing leaders together to take action on the environment, the list is long.

Georgia voters, we need you now more than ever. Please cast your votes for Jon Osoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. Our lives literally depend on it.

If you live outside of Georgia and would still like to help, make a donation here.

R.I.P. to My Favorite Tree

I moved to the Seattle area in the summer of 1999 for my first marketing job as a writer for Nordstrom. I knew no one in the city when I got here and like any new space, I enjoyed learning about my surroundings and discovering hidden treasures for the first few years after arrival.

In those early days I lived in a woodsy apartment complex in the Northern suburb of Shoreline. A nature trail literally ran through the property, and just down the street was a city park and recreation center where I took various dance and fitness classes. I walked to nearly everything I did: to the bus stop to go to work; to the movie theater that was nearby; to the grocery store that existed back then.

My dentist was only two blocks from my front door and I loved walking over to his office because each time I did, I passed my favorite tree. The first time I noticed it was in the fall, on a blustery, rainy day. It was a burst of red and yellow swaying in the mist as I hurried down the hill. On my way back, the rain had let up so I took a better look from across the street and marveled at how many hues it had, while the trees near it were one solid color (still green or completely red). I vowed to come back and snap a photo when the weather was better. And I did—every year thereafter.

I moved into a house away from this neighborhood just over a decade later, but made a ritual of returning annually, usually the week prior to Halloween, to capture this beautiful tree during its most gorgeous autumn peak.

It became a place of solace too. The photo above was taken in October of 2006, when I was still enduring the pain of the worst breakup I ever had. I remember walking up and down the hill, going across the street, taking as many shots as I could of this natural wonder so i could remain in the peace of its space. Just standing there so vibrant, it was a comfort.

In 2015, as seen here, I lingered because I was contemplating the upcoming holidays without my Dad (he passed earlier that year). I walked back and forth, thinking about the reliability of this tree to be here for me in ways even family couldn’t.

Last year, my stroll around the tree was a therapy session, as my position had been eliminated at work and I was promising myself I wouldn’t take another soul-sucking corporate job; I would find something with purpose if it killed me. As I scrambled to cram all of my medical appointments in before my health insurance expired at the end of the month, I also got a flu shot that day . But I wish I’d spent more time with “my” tree before I did.

Today I woke up in a bad way, only a few hours after laying down to pings on my phone. After two cups of coffee and completing the task that those pings were about, I decided to set out for some fresh air to shake off my bad vibe.

I went first to walk the (outdoor) Scarecrow Festival in Edmonds, which was a welcome sight, and then to pick up some groceries. Because it was so sunny outside, and I still wasn’t emotionally feeling 100%, I decided to detour to visit my favorite tree and snap the annual photo.

I nearly crashed my car.

I pulled over across the street, where I normally leave my vehicle each year, but when I got out, I had to look twice at what street I was on … because there was no tree!

I got a lump in my throat, my heart began pounding and tears welled up in my eyes.

It was gone. And there were new, different types of trees along the fence that weren’t there last year, but my tree—the tree that has been my constant comfort for over 20 years, heard my cries and prayers and joy—was no longer.

I walked back to my car in disbelief, audibly cursed the wrath of 2020 and burst into tears.

I hope it wasn’t sick. I hope it didn’t suffer. I hope whoever did this had a damned good reason for doing so.

I collected myself and took one last look at the hollow space before driving home, thinking to myself something I’ve honestly been thinking a while … “There’s nothing keeping me here anymore.”

Time Traveling in the Time of Covid

For the most part, I think I’ve handled the pandemic well.

Unemployment, isolation, lack of health insurance … I could’ve gone mad from the stark contrast of the vibrant life I was leading less than a year ago in comparison to today’s seemingly never-ending roller coaster, but I’ve (thankfully) endured with a positive outlook.

I retreated into nature when able, threw myself into volunteering and focused on my own spirituality and wellness. I stopped eating junk; reduced my meat consumption to just-on-weekends and returned to a natural sleeping cycle thanks to no ‘9 to 5’ commitments. I also resumed working on my pop culture memoir, sent more handwritten letters and postcards to love ones and renewed many wonderful friendships.

I don’t take those silver linings for granted, but I also won’t pretend that part of me isn’t grieving the life I once had. I’m a traveler. Since my first plane ride as a baby, the sky has been my second home. I need to see new places; I need to return to sacred spaces; I crave changes of scenery the way many crave ice cream. I told a friend recently I miss the smell of jet fuel. I was being honest.

I always had jobs that allowed me to travel and allowed me enough leisure time for vacations to … also travel. I’ve had ‘elite’ status on at least one airline every consecutive year for over a decade.

I built trips around holidays and rock ‘n’ roll concerts and film festivals. I made a second home at a beloved boutique hotel in another state where I used to write and hang out with my second set of dear friends at least once a month. I went to cities and countries just to see specific art exhibits or natural wonders.

Now, as I sit in my Seattle house for the 7th month of quarantine, although many restrictions have been lifted, there is still no place for me to go. So late at night, when insomnia gets the best of me and I’ve exhausted my Netflix queue and read chapters of the most recent book until the words run together, sometimes I search online for concerts I attended in person back when that was normal. I try to remember who I went with, what time of year it was, where we ate before the show, how it felt when the band played the song I most wanted to hear, etc.

The most recent I got lost in is the show above—it was Outside Lands in San Francisco, August of 2008. I was there with my friend Marylinn and we made a weekend of it, touring a Frida Kahlo exhibit, attending church at the Glide and eating a lot of delicious food. Radiohead were the band went for, but we also saw Beck, Tom Petty and a few others. We spoke about it recently on a Zoom call and remembered different details about the trip (playing non-stop U2 on a pub jukebox; waiting in line for a special breakfast place; me having to wear the shirt she bought at the show over my own because I didn’t plan for the cool evening).

It’s a different kind of therapy, but one that’s bringing back a lot of great memories and reaffirming why I never felt bad about living in the moment. These shows are like little time capsules and I’m enjoying building a catalog of links to re-live these memories at will.

I’m so grateful for my past adventures and those I shared them with over the years.

24 Hours of Reality: Countdown to the Future Happens This Weekend

This Saturday, as a recent graduate of the Climate Reality Project Leadership Program, I’ll deliver my first presentation to a private group for the 24 Hours of Reality: Countdown to the Future event.

The Climate Reality Project in partnership with TED are hosting two incredible days of (mostly virtual) presentations and discussions “exploring the future we want and how we get there.”

So, why am I doing this?

Because I care. Because much of what I learned in our intensive training this summer was very frightening. Because if I don’t do something, I’m part of the problem.

Here are some of the statistics that motivate me to take action:

  • 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution is spewed into our atmosphere every 24 hours … by us.
  • Carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere faster than at any time in the last 66 million years.
  • 93% of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming pollution goes into the ocean.

It’s all very disturbing, but also, for the most part, preventable. There are solutions and there is hope.

And we must listen, respond—and cling—to that for the sake of all of our futures.

If you’d like to join a public presentation in your area this Saturday or Sunday, click here.

A Moment for Mother Earth

While Covid-19 devastates the human population worldwide, its consequences lessen the impact of the climate crisis.

Italy, France and Spain are on lockdown, the U.S. has closed schools nationwide, Canada has sealed its borders. With nearly 8,000 deaths and over 198,000 infected across the globe, there is a collective sadness permeating our reality. It may seem difficult to find a silver lining in such trying times, but there is one: The benefits to the environment that this pandemic ripple effect provides.

Less Transportation Pollution

Major tech companies have implemented mandatory telecommuting for their employees, which removes thousands of commuters from the rush hour equation. In addition, multiple airline carriers will be forced to reduce flight schedules in the coming months (which will hopefully also end ‘ghost’ flights). Both of these actions result in a vast reduction of pollution and conservation of fuel. Furthermore, if companies that haven’t previously permitted telecommuting see productivity remain consistent, it may encourage them to adapt the policy long-term.

Waste Reduction

The news reels after major sporting events and music festivals almost always show massive amounts of garbage generated by audiences, the majority of which ends up in landfills. With the cancellation of large gatherings and conferences that bring thousands of people together, large volumes of waste won’t be generated. This reduces the release of methane and the greenhouse effect that would result from it.

Plant-based vs. Meat Consumption

Another way the coronavirus impact reduces methane production is through our altered pattern of food consumption. As officials are advising everyone to stock up on non-perishable items, it’s pasta, rice and beans that are flying off store shelves instead of meat and dairy products. Furthermore, restaurants are closing or remaining open only for carry-out meals, which causes them to order less food for preparation, including meats.

Recovery of Natural Areas

With quarantines in place and non-essential travel nearly eliminated, many resorts, parks, beaches and other natural spaces that would usually see a lot of activity from humans are getting a break. This means an organic rehabilitation not unlike (yet not as regimented) as what the government of Boracay, Philippines did a few years back to restore their damaged environment.

Healthy Actions for Ourselves and Mother Earth

So, what’s the best way we as individuals can both protect ourselves from the outbreak and be good stewards of the environment along the way? 

  • Stay informed with frequent updates from the World Health Organization.
  • Wash your hands often (and properly), with guidelines from the CDC.
  • Find light in healthy distractions.
  • Respect grocery store limits so your less vulnerable neighbors won’t be short of any necessary supplies or food.
  • Continue to recycle, remember to care for your plants and flowers, and avoid single-use plastics. Basically, do all of the things you would normally do to foster a healthy environment.

Above all else, remember to breathe, practice social distancing and limit the amount of disaster news you consume each day.

We’re all in this together.

A Return to Cafe Racer

Alley-side View of Cafe Racer Today

I only had an hour for lunch that day, May 30, 2012, and I needed to make it count. I was working at a financial firm in an east-side suburb of Seattle and simultaneously covering the Seattle International Film Festival for my podcast, Cinebanter. Every few days I would make the jaunt to the W Hotel in downtown Seattle to retrieve press screeners, which I would watch back-to-back, review and then return when the next batch was ready for pick up. Because of the hours of operation, I was only able to pick the films up between a short window of time on Saturdays (often when I needed to be in a theater screening films) or during normal business hours on weekdays, so lunchtime was often my only option.

As I was getting ready to go, my boss told me that there had just been a shooting in North Seattle at a cafe; news alerts were saying the gunman was still on the loose. Sadly, I didn’t even flinch at this news because gun violence was nothing new in my city. And I was headed downtown anyway—further south than the location of the shooting.

I went ahead as planned, got my car out of our building’s garage and headed over the floating bridge toward my destination.

Because I’d made this trip multiple times the prior few weeks, I had it down to a science: I’d exit at Union and head left, past the hotel to find quick parking. I always had luck at a lot right across from Town Hall and in the rare times that lot was full, I’d park in the library garage down the hill and try to be fast enough to make the cutoff for the free 20 minutes they granted to patrons returning books.

As I made my way up toward the lot, sirens blared and multiple emergency vehicles cluttered the streets surrounding that block. I thought to myself, “there must be an accident” and went on down to the library, securing one of the last short-term spots.

When I reached the surface of the street, my phone lit up with texts from my boss. “Where are you?” and after a few minutes, “Why aren’t you answering?!” He wanted to know that I was okay.

I quickly texted him back that I was fine and heading into the hotel for my films. “Please be careful! The shooter just stole an SUV in that neighborhood and they haven’t caught him. He killed the owner of the SUV!” Goosebumps. What?

Indeed, he was right. The order of the events went something like this:

Shortly before 11:00 a.m., 40-year-old Ian Stawicki, a regular at Cafe Racer, known for his anger management issues, enters the establishment. Because he’s a troublemaker, he’s asked by management to leave so there won’t be a disruption to the so-far peaceful morning. He doesn’t. He hovers, then without warning opens fire with a .45 caliber handgun (he’s armed with two weapons that day). He kills four patrons and injures a staff member as one man throws a bar stool at him and begins to fight. In these moments, a few others escape to hide in the bathroom and back area of the cafe—they all thankfully survive. 911 calls from that event paint a harrowing picture of fear.

Stawicki then steals a hat from one of his victims and flees the cafe, catching a nearby Metro bus downtown.

He arrives at the parking lot where I often leave my car and confronts a 52-year-old woman, demanding she surrender her Mercedes SUV. She refuses, fights back and he shoots her in the head. Afterward, he takes the SUV, runs over her now-dead body and heads to West Seattle, where a few hours later he would commit suicide when police caught up with him.

I got my films as fast as I could and headed back to the office, terribly shaken. When I arrived, my boss and I watched the live news feed as they tracked the murderer and released footage from the cafe surveillance. The still images showed at first a bustling cafe with folks seated at the bar, enjoying their day as the gunman entered. In the corner to the left of the murderer sat a girl alone, reading her book. In the next frame, the killer is shown hands-on-hips assessing his destruction, barstool overturned.

I studied these photos intensely, thinking mostly of that girl with her book. She had been me so many times at various Seattle cafes (even that very one on a few occasions). I couldn’t help but think it just as easily could have been me.

She was Kimberly Layfield, an actress from Georgia who had recently quit her job as a dental assistant to pursue her dreams full time. Her age, 38. Two years older than me. I wept for her and all the victims, and brimmed with anger that this man who was known to be mentally ill—and had a criminal record of violence—had easy access to the guns he used to ruin so many lives.

Despite the grim history of that day, the cafe did re-open and business was okay, but nearby construction and the changing neighborhood coupled with with the retro-fitting of the building made the debts too large for the owner to continue, so he closed the doors in 2017. A new owner revived the spot and re-opened it in the spring of 2018.

I had a mental block—perhaps fear—of returning to the cafe after the shooting because I was afraid of residual bad energy from the event. Today, I got over it to return and explore their Official Bad Museum of Bad Art.

I was greeted warmly at the bar, where I ordered a salted caramel mocha (delicious, by the way) and then a sandwich for lunch. I planted myself at a table in the window and absorbed my surroundings.

The structure of the room is exactly the same (I think even the original barstools remain), but there is a softness to the atmosphere that has erased the pain. From the artwork on the walls to the hum and dim of those working quietly at single tables, the artsy, quirky vibe I remember pre-shooting is palpable.

Though my eyes admittedly zeroed in on the spot where Kimberly read her book (there is no longer a table there) and the killer stood over his carnage, I shook the images from my brain and concentrated on the delicious grilled cheese (made with Macrina sourdough) in front of me.

After my meal, I traveled to the OBAMA room to explore the hilarious collection of art and snapped a few photos, which I promptly posted to Instagram. Folks gathered upstairs were laughing and talking and enjoying the day. Everything was as it should be.

Now, the cafe has an Indiegogo campaign to ensure the future of the establishment for years to come. I hope they make their goal, because I plan to return for many more pleasant afternoons like the one I had today.

What is romantic?

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” —Aristotle

When the concept of romance is played out in romantic films and novels, there are usually satin sheets and dozens of long-stemmed roses involved. Those things are lovely—but conventional things have never impressed me. I’ve always scoffed at ready-made gestures of love, but I realized I never expressed what, for me, represents true romance. I figure there’s no better time than Valentine’s Day to launch those thoughts into the Universe, so here goes. 

I put romance on a high spiritual plane. The elements of chemistry in a partnership for me have to strike a balance between emotional and physical connection. One without the other simply isn’t satisfying.

So what brings the butterflies?

Handwritten love letters. When you can see the pressure of the ink on the page, notice the careful placement of the script and read words that stem from the heart from the other person, it’s hard not to go weak at the knees.

Gifts that are made vs. bought. Give me a poem or a painting any day over a box of chocolates. To create something with just the other person in mind is a form of altruistic intimacy that can never be matched by an off-the-shelf item, no matter the price or quality.

A belief in the magic of love. To me, fairy tales are real, love is forever and fate has plans for us. My heart beats faster for those who share this faith and want to experience such a journey.

Genuine joy in my achievements and shared sorrow in my pain. To truly have someone in your corner—rooting for you more than you root for yourself and grieving alongside you as you navigate pain—is a selfless miracle and devastatingly intimate. 

Long, lingering periods of silence. A delicious luxury between two souls who are merged is the comfortable space that’s reached in times of quiet. Looking into each other’s eyes, holding one another without saying a word, watching a fire crackle together? Ecstasy.

An anticipation of needs. Whether they be emotional, sexual or spiritual desires, someone who knows just what to say or do because their vibration so totally aligns with yours is a romantic gift that can’t be surpassed.

A balance of sharing. When you’re in love you want to shout it from the mountaintops, and that’s wonderful. What’s more wonderful is when one knows when to shout and when to keep the most intimate elements of the relationship private, just for the two of you. There must always be a part of the love that is savored only by the couple.

To be chosen. I spent many lonely years fixating on the left hands of each woman I encountered. What made her so much better than me that someone chose her to be their wife? It wasn’t the ring I cared about, it was the proclamation of unity. After all, committing to someone for a lifetime is the most romantic gesture of all.

Women Of The White Buffalo Film Inspires Action, Change for Indigenous People

I first learned of the documentary, Women Of The White Buffalo, on Julian Lennon’s website. An Executive Producer on the film, Lennon’s White Feather Foundation is also associated with the project.

Through a serendipitous stop back in Los Angeles after an international trip, I was able to attend a screening of the movie last night at the Red Nation Film Festival.

To put it plainly: This film will stay with me forever.

Shot in the poorest county in the United States, Director Deborah Anderson paints an intimate portrait of eight women making a difference for their people in the Lakota community of Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

Because the film is shot on location, in their homes and surrounding areas of the reservation, the narrative takes on a more personal vibe than traditional ‘talking head’ documentaries. As the women recount their stories of the rape, poverty and brutality they’ve suffered as a result of what’s become of their community, it felt more like a friend confiding in another friend than subjects on a screen informing an audience. This technique made the content all the more harrowing, but also more accessible. As a viewer, I couldn’t help but experience their pain right alongside them.

Each time a new, brutal statistic flashed on-screen I would wince in uncomfortable horror. I knew the situation was bad; I did not know it was that dismal.

Their stories tell of how the genocide by the U.S. government has created a cycle of poverty and addiction that threatens the continuity of their culture.

Most of us probably think of genocide as only mass killings, but featured Elder Carol Iron Rope put it best in her interview when she stated, “When you take a language away from a people, that’s genocide. When you take a way of life away from a people, that is genocide.”

And that’s unfortunately what’s happened to this formerly thriving matriarchal society.

The good news is that there are a number of Women Warriors working to reverse the damage and secure a better future by way of activism, legal action and an inherent motivation to right the wrongs of the past.

I was particularly inspired by the candid nature of Sunrose Iron Shell who is a teacher at St. Francis Indian School. Her passion to keep the indigenous culture alive for her students coupled with her refusal to sugar-coat the truths that they’re faced with give her an exceptional power to ignite change every day.

Only a small percentage of my blood is Native American, but I left the screening full of righteous anger for what has become of the first stewards of our land. The beautiful, spiritual people that the white man should have looked to learn from rather than extinguish.

One of the most touching things I learned from the film was that the Lakota people consider the next seven generations each time they make a big decision. If only our country’s leaders thought the same way.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures

While I’m transitioning in my career, I’ve been lucky to take on a few writing projects that were more fun than work.

First, I had a dream come true in mid-October when I met Ringo Starr at his photography exhibit at the Morrison Hotel Gallery. He was as lovely as you’d expect and my write-up of the events surrounding his visit can be found on the Sunset Marquis blog.

Then, a month later, I had the pleasure of traveling to Brisbane, Australia to attend a U2 show with some dear local friends. My re-cap of that gig can be found on U2.com.

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