Author: Tassoula (page 1 of 9)

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.

‘Play It Loud’ Exhibit Showcases Historical Instruments

Travel back in time to your favorite concert memory. Did you see the show live or on television? What did the band play? Who were you focused on? How did the music make you feel?

Any music lover can probably answer these questions easily as they travel into the time machine of their mind to re-live that feeling that can’t be duplicated. Many of those memories are likely to contain an instrument—perhaps a shiny guitar in a distinctive shape or a handsome piano their star’s fingers cascaded across in the moment.

Now rock ‘n’ roll fans have a chance to see some of the most famous instruments, played by music legends in landmark performances.

Through Oct. 1, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibit “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll,” guests can gawk at guitars, pianos, drums and more from the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, U2, The Who, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Jerry Lee Lewis and more.

When I visited, I entered the gallery quite late—just over an hour until closing time—and stumbled into the first room where I was immediately stopped in my tracks by Ringo’s iconic drum set.

After I snapped this quick photo, I gravitated toward John Lennon’s famed Rickenbacker. Just as I got to it, the loop of music that was playing overhead cycled to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and everyone in the crowded room began singing along. Old, young, different ethnicities—we were all on the same spiritual page in those moments. I got emotional and felt, just based on those few precious minutes of harmonizing with strangers, that everything in our world was going to be okay.

And that’s just the kind of powerful thing that happens spontaneously when we share music.

As I continued through the exhibit, taking the longest time with The Edge’s guitar (he used it during The Joshua Tree, after all), I focused on absorbing the energies surrounding these relics. I tried to picture Kurt Cobain smashing the guitar that was in fragments behind a pane of glass and could almost hear Jerry Lee Lewis pounding the keys of his old piano, displayed just a few feet away.

Toward the end of the experience there is a screening room that allows you to view some of the performances that feature these very instruments. I watched the loop three times.

Though to some, these items are just pieces of wood and metal that happen to make noise when placed in the right hands, to me they’re living, breathing remnants of a time and space that can never be replicated.

I’m grateful I got to see them up close.

A Mission to Make Bullying Extinct

Andrew Cole performance
Andrew Cole performs during Live@SunsetMarquis benefit show, Aug. 23

With over 40% of the population actively using social media channels, there are unfortunately more avenues for bullies to find and torment their victims. Even more troubling, suicides rates are on the rise and show no signs of slowing.

So how do we prevent bullies from becoming abusers in the first place and comfort those affected by abuse? It starts with awareness, which is what singer/songwriter Andrew Cole hopes to increase with the project he founded, #IAmNoJoke.

The project, which includes both a song and a documentary, brings together icons from music, film and television to address issues they had in their past with bullying—whether they were the victim or the abuser. The movement aims to let victims know they are not alone and inspire change on a global scale.

An event Friday night during the Live@SunsetMarquis Summer Concert Series featured performances by Cole accompanied by George Pajon, Jr. from the Black Eyed Peas and Stu Hamm on bass, along with headliner Rachel Lorin, to officially launch the forthcoming song. In addition, sponsor Creative Visions spoke about the campaign’s importance and a raffle featuring a PRS electric guitar, legendary photographs from the Morrison Hotel Gallery and other amazing prizes, was held to benefit the cause.

I’m proud to volunteer for the project and look forward to sharing its progress along the way.

Together we can change the conversation and prevent the pain of others. Join us to use social media as a positive agent for change to spread awareness and emphasize empathy.

If you’d like to get involved, feel free to donate to the project, take the #WhoCaresIDo challenge, and follow @iamnojokeproject for updates.

How to Breathe in 2019

The world today can be hard to digest. From repeated mass shootings to hateful political rhetoric to the impact of climate change, we’re inundated with negativity each time we turn on a television or read a headline.

That, compounded with the natural stress associated with daily life (health, career, relationships), can be overwhelming—but how can we avoid it?

My solution lately has been to focus more on spirituality, health and wellness. To fill my life with as many positive elements as I can from curating my social content to include more “good news” (I recommend following groups such as the Good News Network and Positive News UK) to listening to soothing music and vibrations as I work.

My greatest coping mechanism? Immersing myself in nature.

There are few things more beneficial to the soul than a walk in the woods or near water (I prefer both, quite frankly).

On my near-daily walks to a nearby lake, I can feel my blood pressure lower the instant I step onto the trail. I’m met with the sounds of birds chirping, children giggling and splashes of water as I start my trek. I don’t time myself or run—I deliberately take my time to … (forgive me) … stop and smell the roses.

I enjoy taking photos of flowers at different stages of bloom; of trees as their leaves appear, change color and disappear; of ducks as they emerge with a new batch of ducklings each spring and the occasional eagle or heron that may fly alongside me.

Though there are always other people on the trail, it somehow remains remarkably serene, all of us in a silent agreement to enjoy Mother Earth’s bounty and beauty without disrupting one another.

At times I’ll sit on one of the benches along the path and reflect on the day or try to strategize ways to solve a problem. The fresh air of nature coupled with the exercise of the walk produces a bouquet of endorphins that helps provide a brighter outlook on everything, so I always leave feeling better than when I arrived.

The great thing about walks in nature is that they can be tailored to both extroverts and introverts.

I’m an extrovert by nature—I like to be social. But I only like to be social if I’ve had an ample amount of “alone time” to prepare. So I’m one of those people who will gladly welcome company on a walk … but would sometimes prefer the solitude of a solo jaunt if I’m headed there to clear my head.

I feel the same way about romantic love—I want a partner that will desire me and shower me with attention and affection … and then go away for a bit and not be offended that I want to be alone sometimes; that I need to be alone sometimes.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never married? 🙂

But I digress …

Introverts can benefit just as much from these nature breaks, as they’re never required to go with anyone else. And the best thing about nature walks in general is that they’re free.

I realize that I am blessed to live in a part of the world that has no shortage of forests or bodies of water, but even in the middle of large cities there are usually parks to sneak off to if no hiking trails can be found nearby.

The main thing to do is to find someplace to breathe. Practice mindfulness whenever you can and try to reset your personal compass to point it in a direction of love.

Love for yourself, love for others and love for our earth.

Order from Chaos: New Exhibit “Tucked In” Highlights Child’s Creative Coping Mechanism

Photos from the exhibit on display now at Arcane Space

There are few things more devastating than learning a child is seriously ill, but that’s what happened to the Evans family in 2006 when Sian, 7, was diagnosed with T-Cell Leukemia.

As they all navigated the new normal of Sian’s medical orders and treatments, her mother Morleigh began to discover hidden scenes that she would construct to work through her feelings.

Using dolls, stuffed toys, blankets and trinkets, Sian crafted silent stories that helped her process what she was so bravely enduring.

From Barbies taking a group carriage ride to Care Bears methodically lined up for slumber, the scenes are both heartwarming and heartbreaking when considering their context.

In the new exhibit at Arcane Space, “Tucked In” features images that Morleigh took of these creations, all captured in great detail at the time of their discovery.

Donned in soft plush carpet reminiscent of a young girl’s room, the space also features a workshop area with toys that children are invited to use to create their own scenes. When I visited, two kids were deep in concentration, crafting personal masterpieces. As I observed their intense focus, I was reminded of how therapeutic creative exploration can be—both for children and adults.


I lost a grandfather I never met to leukemia and have known countless other friends and family members who have suffered through cancer. Each journey carried unimaginable amounts of agony regardless of the outcome. This exhibit shows art that both respects that type of journey and perhaps makes sense of it in the most pure way.

Thankfully, Sian survived the cancer and is a thriving young woman today. Visitors to the exhibit have the opportunity to purchase prints of her various scenes (prices range from $100 – $800) and/or a book of the images with an introduction from Morleigh ($170). Proceeds benefit Cancer Support Community Los Angeles. Admission to the exhibit is free.

“Tucked In” welcomes visitors to Arcane Space Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. through May 26.

The Magic of the Marquis

The fruit basket from my most recent visit to the property.

My house is full of distractions.

There’s a TV, equipped with thousands of channels and a box that streams content from a dozen more.

There’s a picture window, where I can see the squirrels chase birds.

There’s a fireplace that crackles to life and candles that glow on its screen.

There’s a kitchen that helps invent grand meals.

There’s a record player with a stack of vinyls that beg often to be played.

Like many writers, home isn’t the greatest place for me to spill ink.

But it’s not just getting out of my own space that sparks creativity, it’s being in the right space. And that space for me for several months has been the Sunset Marquis.

Every few Fridays, I take a beautiful flight down the coast to my second home right off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. My ritual is to unpack, eat a piece of fruit from the basket that greets me and fire up the laptop to meet my first self-imposed deadline.

I take my shoes off, slide my feet into a pair of the plush slippers provided by the hotel and begin to write. And I write until I’ve reached my pre-determined page count, for it’s only then I’m allowed to head down to the bar. So I always make my deadline.

Bar 1200 is too classy to be called a watering hole; too intimate to be cold. The bartenders are friendly, the drinks are strong and the playlist is perfect.

It’s small, cozy, dark, safe and full of stories. Have I mentioned that I love stories?

In my visits after midnight, I’ve met aspiring actresses, former bar owners, fellow writers, rock stars, filmmakers, mystics, fashion designers and photographers. None of them shy; all of them warm. A community of creatives who all feel an unspoken kinship.

When I first read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, years ago, I was fascinated by a story he told about the Italian people of Roseto, who ate unhealthy foods, smoked and drank, yet had remarkably less heart issues than their American counterparts. The only explanation? They had a strong sense of community.

Writing is a fairly solitary sport unless you’re a member of a boisterous writers’ room or participating in a class or workshop. Since I’m in neither situation, writing alone is my default. Until I discovered the Marquis, I didn’t realize how much I needed a sense of belonging to perfect my craft.

It’s nice that the reservation desk remembers I sometimes need a late check-in (depending on my flight’s arrival); that the bar manager knows without a doubt I’ll start with a lemon drop; that the restaurant seats me under the heaters in the wintertime since I easily get cold.

And it’s not just great service—it’s the overall vibe. The welcoming feeling when I wander into the on-site art gallery to gaze at images of my favorite bands; the chats I have about pop culture with the bell hop I consider a true friend.

The Marquis manages to have the luxuries and clientele of the most prestigious properties but lacks the pretension.

And I may not be a household name like many of the guests, or have scripted the Great American Novel (yet), but I do always feel like I fit in when I’m there.

For that, I’m eternally grateful.

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