The Heart of the Redwoods

In the ancient language of Kartuli, spoken only in the Republic of Georgia, there is a special word for the inner rings of a tree.  The word is ” ხისგული” (hees-goo-lee) which literally translates to “tree’s heart”.

When I visited the Redwood forests in Northwestern California last Autumn, I had the opportunity to see the  ხისგული and learned that trees can teach us secrets of the human heart.

I expected the trees to be big.  Scary big.  And they were.  But they were so much more.

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A tourist took my picture in front of a few fallen trees in a groves off of the 101.

Each tree has a unique environment.

There is a lot that goes into a tree growing tall and strong.  The right kind of soil, amount of light, amount of rain, and connection at the roots with other trees all add to the growth of a healthy tree.

It seems obvious with trees, but with humans I’m quick to judge without really understanding the unique environments they live in.

To have compassion for other people, I have to accept that others’experiences and upbringings are just as valid as mine no matter how different they were.  Further, I have to be strong enough to uplift people into the light and not fall back into the shadowy side of my life.

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Trees support their inner child

The rings of a tree represent it’s age, so its smallest rings are the tree child!  Trees don’t neglect their inner rings. Water is carried from the roots through the tree trunk and up into the leaves and branches. All of the parts work together.

Sometimes I forget to feed and protect my inner child and then I hate her for  being weak and vulnerable.  But she’s just a child!  Trees support their whole selves and they teach me that to support my inner self will make me stronger.

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Playing with a giant!

Trees shed their bark as they grow.

The shedding of bark makes trees more vulnerable to the weather and pests,but it happens naturally as the tree grows.

People have this quality also of tearing down and rebuilding defenses.  We get all these notions about who we are and we get comfortable in our day to day lives and then something happens- maybe we meet someone who challenges us, or we fall in love, or someone dies, and suddenly the wall that we built around ourselves is shattered, leaving us a little bit bloody and bruised.

Trees teach us that this is the natural cycle of things- building up and tearing. When our defenses are shattered it’s painful because we are “letting the weather in”, but we eventually rebuild our protective bark and grow from the painful times.

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Trees Shouldn’t be Exploited

I stopped at a cafe along HWY 101 and asked the server where that famous tree was that you can drive your car through and she told me that it was up the road near Klamath River.

I got to the side road where “Tour Thru Tree” was supposedly located and there was an unmanned ticket booth with a sign saying, “$5: We Trust You!” I found some spare change and put it in the money slot.

I drove up the winding hilly road to find a small cement lot with the tree in the middle, cut opened for cars to drive through.  The sign attached to the tree read: “Tour Thru Tree, Klamath, CA.”  It might as well be the sign on the cross of Jesus…I was disgusted by the exploitation of this giant tree.

There were a few other cars with tourists driving through and getting out of the car to take pictures of their friends sitting in the car while they drove through the tree.

I was ashamed of the ridiculous tourist trap and didn’t get a picture…but I did drive through it…apologizing and wincing as I went.

Trees are sacred and shouldn’t be exploited for money or to brag to your friends back home that you “drove through a tree”.  It’s the same for all life: humans, animals, plants, water…we are all sacred and our society downgrades us into things that can be bought and sold.

 

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Trees’ Hearts are Sacred

Finally,  I want to share the most impacting lesson I learned from the experience in the forest.

I was driving on a scenic route through part of the forest and to the right of the road, something caught my eye. A tree had been split down the middle and it’s inner wood was sticking up in orangey-red splinters.  In all my years of hearing about Redwood trees (starting with Woody Guthrie), it had never occurred to me that they got their name because they were red inside!  Duh..

I parked my car and walked up to it.  The wood was a burning hue of orange and red, like the color of Mars or the hair of an orangutan.

It touched me so deeply because I was in the middle of heart break. We opened our hearts to each other so intensely and beautifully that when it couldn’t work out, it was an excruciating loss of love.  I had never felt so opened with another person.

This tree had a similar experience to mine- while I was struck by love, that tree was struck by lightning!  Can you imagine what that tree must have experienced?  For a split second, it must have been SO alive- electricity was surging through it’s wooden bones. That connection-that jolt of radiant light, split the tree open to release the energies of it’s heart.

Seeing the heart of the tree revealed to me that the heart is like an altar and to open the heart is a sacrifice.  Sacrifice is always a loss but it is also, I believe, the most beautiful mystery of life because it is the motion of love.

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What Have I Learned?

The story of a tree is your story too.  It’s fallible, it’s vulnerable, it’s made of parts that can easily come apart, and it’s beautiful.

Looking at a tree doesn’t tell you much, but if you look beyond the surface, you’ll find that there is incredible depth to trees, and inside every one is the most beautiful red heart.

 

 

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Befriending the Monster Under Your Bed

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the monster under my bed.  It wasn’t uncommon as many children fear them.  Night after night, after my mom would turn off the light and shut the door, I would pull my body into a ball, and make sure that all my limbs were far from the edge of the mattress, not wanting the monster to reach up its claws and capture me.  I don’t know how old I was when it happened, but one night I took control of the monster that tormented me.  I started to reimagine him.  And in my imagination, I decided that my monster was actually a friendly monster.  I started having dialogues with him in my head.  Though I was still wary of him, as he was a monster, I would try my best to be cordial and friendly with him.  And once we were friends, I started telling him that he wasn’t allowed to touch me.  We negotiated!  I  told him, “Okay, monster, you have to stay under the bed.  If my legs or hands are dangling over, you have to stay under there.” “I’m a friendly monster!” he would reply, aghast.  “I wouldn’t hurt you!”

I was reassured.  I had, indeed, trained my monster, and I felt victorious.

Growing up with irrational fears of monsters is normal.  But for me, it was a theme in my life.  As I got older, my fears morphed into social anxiety.

Like the monster under my bed, anxiety is something that needs to be looked at face on so you can see what it is you are dealing with.  Whether or not social anxiety is a burden for you, you might find it interesting to see what it really looks like.

The media gives us a picture of social anxiety and taught us to see it as something really… not so gravy.  Social anxiety is the nerdy boy at the high school dance with sweaty palms, dodgy eyes, a needy smile, and psoriasis on his elbows. He is the guy you don’t want to be.  So if you recognize some of “his” traits in you, it might feel better to ignore or deny those parts of yourself.  Or worse yet,recognize the anxiety and hate yourself for having it (Side note- I also have psoriasis).

I started having full blown anxiety attacks until my senior year of high school when I was working at a restaurant.   I didn’t know that they were anxiety attacks, but I can remember feeling the racing thoughts, racing heart beat and a sensation that I was not in my body completely.  I wasn’t able to communicate or listen while in those attacks.

In 2016 at the age of 24, I started investigating social anxiety online and came to terms with the fact that I had it, and started working to accept it so that I could grow more into myself.

In order for you to get a closer look at what social anxiety looks like for me, I’ve created a scenario to put yourself into the “real-life-situation”:

“Imagine you are going to a dinner party. It’s for you favorite organization and there are lots of people there that you look up to. You have gotten yourself looking great and checked your reflection in the mirror about 5 times before leaving the apartment (and then again in the rear view mirror of the car, the window in the building, and the screen of your cell phone).  You drive there giving yourself a pep talk, trying to take deep breaths as your heart beat is increasing rapidly. In the back of your mind you are hoping that you can somehow get through the party without having a panic attack.

Over the years, you have developed strategies for social situations.  You know how to meet new people and smile for them and portray yourself as someone who is agreeable, loving, charismatic, and full of exciting life experiences and adventures. You know that there is a lot of doubt and fear in you, but you are afraid to show that.  And anyway, in the moment of meeting new people, you kind of get lost in the moment and don’t really feel like you can control how you are interacting. Rather, you are focusing on the other person you are talking to and trying to read their expressions to see if what you are talking about is interesting to them. You are on a constant watch to see how they are reacting to you. On a deeper level you are afraid that people won’t like you if you show the more honest part of yourself. Even as you are telling them about your exciting adventures in a third world country, you can feel that you aren’t portraying yourself exactly as you truly are.

But you don’t know how to stop the act once you’ve started.

You feel nervous and intimidated by the people you are talking to and want to show that you are just as good as them, even if you don’t feel like it. But if you can tell them about your great accomplishments, maybe they will believe you enough to accept you.

You are also concerned with being agreeable. If these people could see the true feelings you have inside: shame, guilt, fear, sadness, then you would surely ruin the whole party! They would all hate you if they knew how messed up you really feel inside. So it’s best to put on a happy face and make yourself agreeable to everyone so that they will like you.

Now it’s about an hour into the party and you’re starting to get exhausted.  You have given so much energy into smiling and agreeing and observing people that you feel empty and drained inside. You have told your story about your year studying abroad in another country, You’ve subtly assumed a sexual body language for the men, you’ve laughed at all the right times, and you’ve looked sympathetic for all the sad stories.

You start thinking about escape routes.
Find some liquor? Pick up smoking again? Hide in the bathroom?
You keep up the facade as best you can for another hour, though sometimes your expression cant help but fade to one of sadness or distress. Part of you wants to trash the whole facade and just be your truly sad and exhausted self but you feel uncomfortable with that because you just showed this artificial self to so many people…and what will they think when you completely change your demeanor? Not only that, but you are noticing other people in the room who don’t seem exhausted and fatigued and sad like you. They seem truly fine with themselves and this makes you hate yourself more.

“Why cant I be like them?” You think. “Why cant I just be comfortable with myself?”

You feel inferior to those people and notice the other people who also seem to struggle with exhaustion, fatigue or low self esteem. You judge those people and feel superior to them. You feel that at least you aren’t as pathetic as that one overweight woman who keeps hanging out by the food; or that other woman who keeps telling everyone about her cat.

After mustering a final smile for the host, you leave the party exhausted and feel a strong need to be alone so that you can reclaim your energy and your true feelings no matter how negative they are.

When some friends ask me later how the night was, you lie and say, “it was great! I met some interesting people.”
But really, the memories of that night only bring about thoughts of the anxiety you faced, the exhaustion, the difficulty in appearing in different ways with different people. Perhaps you remember the few people who you felt could see through your mask and how those people made you feel especially ashamed and afraid.

You feel that you are helpless to the facade that you feel you must exhibit in order to be accepted in public. You feel that letting anyone in on your real feelings would be a burden to them. You don’t feel that your real attitudes, feelings or thoughts are worthy of being expressed…”

Okay…so unless you enjoy torturing yourself, this is not the kind of situation you want to be experiencing, especially at functions that are designed to be fun (i.e. social gatherings).

Having anxiety like this can make you feel a concoction of misery.   In the scenario, even though she is aware on some level that she is not being herself completely, she feels helpless to her own behavioral patterns and thoughts. She is afraid to show her honest self because it isn’t polished and pretty. She feels unworthy of love, and therefore behaves and speaks in a way that she thinks will be worthy of love from the person she is interacting with. She portrays themselves as someone virtuous, educated, compassionate, or anything else that to her, seems like qualities of someone who is a worthwhile human being.

The funny thing with social anxiety (And invisible monsters under children’s beds) is that there is no real threat.  The anxiety comes from the fear.

If you are like me, trying to ignore or deny the anxiety just doesn’t work because it still shows itself in social situations.

In order to be free from social anxiety, something has to change:

You have to befriend your monster.

I dare you to try something:

The next time you are in a social situation, whatever it may be, and you start to feel anxious and awkward, I want you to step right into it and LIVE the awkward. Be the awkward!  It’s scary to open yourself to the risk of people seeing an uncomfortable side of yourself (which is actually totally normal and human), but if you do, I promise you that your nervousness will fade away in a moment’s time when you recognize that it isn’t actually something to be feared.  A large part of social anxiety is feeling the need to hide how you really feel. Let that extra limb hang out!  Don’t hide it, no matter how ugly you might think it is. The secrecy of feeling anxious feeds the monster and perpetuates the anxiety.

I didn’t ever stop being afraid of that monster.  I just started to have a dialogue with it and understand it.  I allowed it to live under my bed, and as I accepted it being there, it stopped being so scary.

I couldn’t have opened up this much 6 months ago and been so transparent with my anxiety disorder.  Having a name for it helped me to grow and accept myself as I am.  To be honest, working on accepting and loving myself was the strategy that was most effective.  I still have social anxiety but I have worked towards accepting that side of me…accepting the awkward and uncomfortable in me.

As we grow into ourselves, we learn about what makes us special, and accepting the sensitive, emotionally aware, creative, and anxious side of ourselves will help us to grow. Don’t deny the monster, just let it be.  Accept it and you will no longer be under it’s control.     So I dare you to take on the challenge of of facing yourself with all your anxiety.  When you befriend the monster under your bed, he will stop being so scary.

Rawr!

Resources

8 Unforgettable places in Southern California

 Planning your trip to Southern California? I’ve put together 8 places to visit when you go.

 Even if you don’t have your California adventure planned out, it’s worth checking out these potential places to visit.. ya know, for when you do make it out West.

Seriously though, you should go.  The ocean is very healing and relaxing .  Let’s get started-

 

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In July of 2016 I had the amazing opportunity of spending 2 weeks living in Oceanside, California and was able to explore much of the Southern California Coast Line.

Here is a list of 8 great places to visit in Southern California.

 

1. Oceanside Pier

Okay.  So to be real, Oceanside wouldn’t be my first choice in beach towns (Sorry OS) but it was where I was house sitting so I took advantage of it.  I guess you could give it props for having a “seedy charm” which caters to tourists, skateboarders, surfers, and the folks at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The Oceanside Pier, however is a pretty nice place to spend an afternoon if you don’t mind overcrowded beaches with rather ferocious waves. You can swim, boogie board, and surf all in designated areas so that no one gets a surf board in their face while trying to swim.  The pier is really beautiful at sun set and surfers tend to put on a show around that time.  Hey, maybe the waves are best at dusk? I don’t know but I wasn’t complaining.

2. Davina’s Cabo Grill

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Since you are already invested in the greasy vibes of downtown Oceanside, you might as well fill your insides with grease too at Davina’s Cabo Grill!  It has a huge upstairs patio that hosts reggae bands on select nights ( the one we saw was a killer 3-man-jam-band), and serves  big, greasy  bar food, great Happy Hour specials, and a young energetic atmosphere.  Kids are welcome there.

3. Carlsbad Beach

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Awh, Carlsbad.  The snobbier upper middle class neighbor to Oceanside.  Carlsbad provides a more refined crowd and atmosphere to the rough and tumble feel of Oceanside.

Carlsbad beach offers a more natural setting  to swim and lounge at.  It was less occupied than Oceanside beach when I went there and has a more natural terrain.  You can park right off Carlsbad Blvd which runs parallel with the beach and walk down to the ocean.  There are lots of pretty stones, succulents, sandy cliffs, and birds to watch.  I preferred swimming here over the Oceanside beach because the waves felt more tame (this may have been due to the time of day) and there were less people in the water.

 

Side note: when swimming at most of the beaches along the SoCal coast, you will have to wade through a patch of rocks before getting back to a sandy bottom about 15-20 feet into the water.  Also, remember to dive under the waves so that they don’t beat you up!

4. Downtown Carlsbad

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Carlsbad offers a more sophisticated downtown with stylish restaurants, hip bars and cute boutiques.  I went to downtown Carlsbad to find a dress for my cousin’s wedding and I found one at Ragz Dressware, which, by the way, has a really friendly staff who are dying to dress you up like a movie star.

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The dress was under $40.  Thanks ladies!

5. The Barrio

I ate at The Barrio, a hip Mexican/American place that serves complementary homemade tortilla chips and salsa, both of which were excellent.  I got a chicken quesadilla with just the right amount of crispness and juicy chicken inside.  There is indoor and outdoor seating with an energetic and friendly staff and a bright color scheme.  I would highly recommend eating here if you visit Carlsbad.

 

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Where to start with this magical land.  Balboa Park was first built to house the exposition that introduced the new Panama Canal in 1917.  Today you can still see the stunning architecture, some of which was built for that exposition, along with gardens, museums, and the famous San Diego Zoo.

The park’s architecture will draw out the history buff in you…

 

 

And the Monet in you…

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It is a public space that is enjoyed by all walks of life,

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And a land of strange vegetation.

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If you are anywhere near San Diego, don’t miss your chance to visit Balboa Park.

The day I was there, Pokemon Go had just come out.  There were crowds of young people all over the park glued to their smartphones!  I was as equally glued to my camera snapping pictures of the phenomenon…

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If you are poor like me, you can relish in the gardens and architecture for free!  If you do have some money to spend, however, there are numerous museums to peruse and the famous San Diego Zoo is worth checking out, or so I’ve been told by locals.  Moving on…

7. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

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That is my friend Laura who came to visit while I was staying in Oceanside.  We went here after snorkeling at La Jolla Cove (there wasn’t a lot to see under the water but it was a great first snorkeling experience! we rented gear from La Jolla Water Sports).

It is a lot better to park in a neighborhood and walk to the beach rather than pay something like $12 to park there.  Just sayin’.

The water was great for swimming.  The cliffs reflected the yellow glow of the sunset.  Awhhh..how romantic…

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I found it to be the most peaceful and relaxing beach I visited in SoCal.  It is more of a walking beach than a lay-out beach as the sand is covered in seaweed.

8. Huntington Beach

What I really loved about Huntington beach is that it was buzzing with young energy and had the real Southern California surfer feel.  It is the home of the Van’s US Open of Surfing.

It is the kind of town that you may have visualized while listening to the Beach Boy’s “Surfin’ Safari”.  I visited a friend from high school who had moved out there a year ago and when I got there, the town was setting up tents for the upcoming Van’s Open Surf competition.    He described Huntington beach as a college town without a college.  It has a happenin’ night life that caters to tourists and 20 somethings.  If you want a place to go out drinking and see some surfers,  HB is the place to be.

We ate at Fred’s Mexican Cafe and Cantina.  I have to say, asking for a spot on the balcony overlooking the beach was excellent.  Especially at sunset.  The margaritas were YUM!

 

Well, folks, I’ve exhausted the list.  That’s about all the hot spots I can think of that I’ve been to. Always feel free to contact me with questions.

So lastly I want to just say- go to SoCal.

Do it.

It’s beautiful and will inspire you and the waves will beat you up and you’ll get an awesome tan and there will be sand all over everything.  You will come back home feeling refreshed and renewed, ready to peel your old California skin off and start your life with a newer fresher perspective.

That’s it for now!  Peace and amor,

-Marina

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All Photos Copyright 2016 by M. Stant

 

 

The Adventures of Panda, Jack, and Cinnamon

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The Adventures of Panda, Jack, and Cinnamon

 

It is Friday and I am meandering through the Beach Harbor area in Oceanside, California with my camera, and violin slung over my should.  I am walking to the underpass just east of the Oceanside Pier where I saw them the day before while dog walking, and there they are.  The very miscreants themselves.  Their names are Panda, Jack, and Cinnamon.

They are sitting against the wall, Jack resting a protective arm over his muscular pit bull Cinnamon, and Panda with his arms wrapped around his acoustic guitar.  I smile nervously at them as I approach.

“Is that a violin?” Jack asks as I pass by.
“Yea.”
Unbeknownst to them, I have every intention of getting it out and playing it with them even though we don’t know each other.
“Can I play play with?”
“We aren’t really supposed to play here,” he says, looking nervously up the path to where a few cops are standing.
He starts playing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and the cops walk right past us, so I get out my violin and start playing along with Panda. There is an older guy there too who is standing on the other side of the underpass. We play “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” again and I feel like my heart is poring out of the wooden box at my chest and the old guy is smiling and wiping his eyes.
“You made me cry,” he says after we finish the song.
“That sounded awesome,”Jack says, smiling up at me. They introduce themselves. The old guy does too. He specifies to me that he isn’t homeless but he likes to hangout with the homeless crowd. I look down at Panda as he is saying this and Panda looks uncomfortable. The old guy is drunk.

Panda, who is really named Scott, tells me that he is Japanese, black, and white. He has these hazel-green eyes that are beautiful and sad and stoned looking. He has curly brown hair with a slightly receding hairline, a stalky build with a boyish face and white teeth.  When he sings its like he is trying to rip the pain out of his chest and at the same time, his words seem to be grasping for something to hold onto. He is sensitive and seems to have some wounded pride.
“I’ve realized that people don’t like to hear homeless people talking to them,” he says bitterly.

Jack has a smile as tender as a child’s. He has shoulder length sandy brown hair and wears a grey T-shirt and jeans. Panda is wearing a collared Hawaiian shirt and ripped jeans. Jack has a dog bowl full of dog food for his lady pit bull Cinnamon. He seems more content with himself living a homeless lifestyle than Panda is. He is in his early 30’s whereas Panda is  27, only two years older than me.
“Do you sleep on the beach?” I ask them, trying to romanticize their situation in my head.
“No, we sleep under a bridge.”
“Are there a lot of weirdos around there?”
“Ohhhhh yea,” Panda says.
Panda is singing his heart out and playing guitar and I’m accompanying him with slow smooth riffs on the violin. People are stopping by to put bills in their wooden box. Then something magical happens. A group of about 5-6 people actually stops and listens to us playing. One woman is filming us with her phone and it excites me to think that she is interested in our music. We are playing “The House of the Rising Sun” and love is filling up the space between the homeless and the housed. We end the song and no one speaks for a moment…
And then everybody’s eyes dart to two men, the older one from before and a short Hispanic guy without a shirt on. They get into each others’ faces and the energy goes from peaceful to aggressive within a second.
“Hey man, not here, anywhere but here. There are children here!” Panda says.
Within a flash the bystanders disappear back into the daylight away from the underpass. We are all on edge, hoping that they don’t start fighting. Apparently one of them stepped on the other’s foot, causing the confrontation. A guy who had been listening to our music gets between the two men trying to settle them down. The woman who was filming our music is now grinning while she continues to record the incident on her phone.
Shortly after everything calms down, I leave for the beach as Panda, Jack, and Cinnamon leave to find another spot, not wanting to be there if the cops show up.

Later on I run into Jack, Cinnamon, and Panda near the pier. We talk for a bit and I ask Panda and Jack if they want to get out of being homeless. They both say yes and seem eager to tell me about their dreams.  Panda wants to make it with his music. He says some people have recorded his stuff and put it on Youtube.  Jack says he wants to go travel around the South and the Midwest. I tell him that the Midwest is cold and that SoCal is probably the best place to be if you don’t have a house.
We say goodbye and Jack says, “hope to see you again and if not enjoy your two weeks!”

I feel even more shattered with love for them as we part ways.

Well, I show up the next day. I don’t know why. I am still feeling called to see them again but perhaps this time around it is more of my ego leading my steps to the underpass than love.
Jack sees me first and raises his arms up and yells, “Marina! Marina’s here!” I am feeling elated and awkward, not sure once again what the hell I am doing here. I approach but am nervous with all the other people with them who I don’t know. They are all homeless and drifters but they all know each other. They fist bump each other as they arrive, share a word, a cigarette or a nod. The old guy who had almost gotten in a fight the day before is there. He is happy to see me.
“Marina, you are so shy,” he says drunkenly,
“Marina I love you.”
“Don’t be weird, man,” Panda says in my defense.
I just look down and smile.

Over the course of 30 minutes of playing tunes and standing against the wall with them, I start to feel like I am almost one of them. New people who they know come to the underpass and show their respect by fist bumping Jack and Panda and then nod curiously at me.

After about an hour they say they have to leave and so I go my own way feeling alone and sad to say goodbye. From watching them I could see that they are a community. They rely on each other to get by. They live their hard times together.
The rest of the world gets to hide their brokenness, but these people don’t have a social status to hide their insecurity in. People in houses can hide their dirtiness with a shower and appear fresh in their clean clothes no matter what their internal state looks like. But the homeless wear their dirt on the outside. They are weathered and smelly and hungry but they are companions.  They taught me that a true friend loves you even when you haven’t showered in a month. They taught me about humility.

God bless my dear friends Panda, Jack, and Cinnamon!

Check out Panda’s music here!

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Jack on the left,  Cinnamon and Panda on the right.

 

Post Scrip:

I’m not trying to sugar coat or simplify homelessness. I realize that homeless communities are often  built around addiction and other issues like mental illness.  However, there is the positive side to every person and we needn’t just focus on the negatives.  We need rather a reason to want to help them.

California, I’ma Coming Home!

             “But my heart cried out for you, California,
California I’m coming home.” -Joni Mitchell

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I left for California in my 2002 Honda Accord on the first snowy day in Indiana.  It was January 14th, 2016.  My almost-boyfriend at the time had spent the night and he was getting in my car with me to drive into town where his car was, and as he tried to open the passenger side door, the icy handle snapped off. It was the first instident at the start of my journey as if life was wishing me good luck on my journey.

I would drive him to his car where we would say goodbye and I would migrate West like so many before me, hoping to find treasure in sunny weather.

A few weeks before I left, I was at my almost-boyfriend’s apartment and I was showing him Good Will Hunting, the movie that I had proclaimed as my favorite movie for many years.  Remember the scene in Skylar’s dorm room when she says, “come to California with me.”  When she said that I think him and I both tensed up and wondered if this was some sort of sign that he was supposed to follow me out to California.  But I knew it was just a coincidence.   After all, isn’t going to California the archetypal land of opportunity?  Anyway, I wanted to go alone.  I had a plan and I wasn’t going to let any guy step in my way.

The problem that I started to face with my plan of becoming the world’s most amazing social worker/counselor was that I didn’t really know how to help people. In my Americorps job I didn’t know how to help the kids on the playground resolve their conflicts or comfort them when they cried. I was always more worried about what they of me. Another problem with my plan being fulfilled was my nagging inner child reminding me that I wasn’t writing. But I kept her beneath the surface with thoughts like, “you’re not good enough, you will fail, it’s better to do something that is obtainable and practical.” Something practical meant something that I felt secure and capable of. I had gone to college successfully so surely I could go to grad school successfully. I had lots of personal experience with depression and anxiety so surely I would be a competent counselor.

Also, my parents were underpayed, overworked social workers-that’s where I belonged, right?
I didn’t have to convince myself that I wanted this dream; I blindly went along with it because it felt safe, unaware of how colorless that fantasy life was until I allowed myself to see what I really wanted.

The “Aha!” moment happened when I was at the elementary school where I worked killing time watching Youtube videos. I came across an inspirational video done by Jim Carrey called, “The Meaning”, and something inside me clicked.

Some loose thought swam out of the  depths of my subconscious while all my negative thoughts weren’t paying attention, and that little wormy neuronal track made it all the way into my consciousness and thought: “You can do whatever you want to! You don’t have to be miserable! You can even be a writer.

My body was flooded with adrenaline in a wave of energetic pleasure from one little believed-in thought.  I started dreaming up what my life could look like- one that I actually wanted to live!
I was thinking, “I want to work on a garden and get good at growing my own vegetables and work as a farmer and be a writer.”
The ideas were met with some resistance at first, but the blockade of happy starburst thoughts were too strong for the negative ones. My fear was saying, “what about my career?” and “how will I make money? Shouldn’t I be creating stability for my future?” and , “What if I fail as a writer?”
But I was ballistically excited and I didn’t care what my fears were saying.

After that Monday, other videos kept popping up for me to watch. One was on mind control.  Not the kind that happens in cults but rather how our thoughts control our lives and how to get out from under them. I also found a Youtuber who did a video on being a people-pleaser (guilty as I am).

I think the videos were effective for me because  I was opened to new ways of seeing life. The timing of the videos coming into my life was like magic. It was like God saying, “pay attention and listen-I’m giving  you what you need to hear.”
So, what has happened since the period of Youtube revelations?

I’ve decided to stay in Northern California to pursue writing. To support it, 3 jobs have fallen into place, all of them part time-make my own hours types of jobs. I will be living with a woman who I got hooked up with from my amazing church community near Santa Rosa.

This blog post is here to be a witness and to show appreciation and gratitude to the Eternal Light-the Great Spirit, God, which has manifested all of these things in my life and opened up my life to be a servant to Love.  Looking back on the past 6 months, plans have been set into motion that occurred effortlessly on my part.
Not everything is perfect and will never be but I want to share how much I owe to God. I owe thanks to God for all things in my life that He makes beautiful.

That’s it for now. Here are some links to get you thinking if you are interested.

Mind Control 1- The Mechanics of Mind Control- Tools for the Awakening
The Meaning- Jim Carrey
Actualized.org

Will Work for Blackberries

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The team: Me on the left, Nick center, and another collegue on the right.

Companion

I work for Americorps at an elementary school in Santa Rosa, California.  Sometimes people ask me where I work and when I tell them they say, “wow, how cool!” and look at me approvingly as someone changing the lives of the young ones as much as Julie flippin’ Andrews in The Sound of Music.

Though my coworker and I did joke about singing “Do-Re-Mi”with our 5th graders, the reality of my job is not quite as picturesque as Julie made it out to be.

I work for a specific program in Americorps that manages a volunteer mentoring program meant to enlighten 5th and 6th graders about the perks of higher education.  During the school year our team recruited volunteers from the community to be one-on-one mentors for students in elementary schools within Sonoma County.  Now that it is summer, our team has dispersed into summer school programs in various elementary schools in Santa Rosa.  We were given creative freedom to develop a fun “higher education” themed curriculum for the 5th and 6th graders and taking two or three of them out of their usual classes for about an hour a day, allowing us to see  all which allows us to see all the students once per week for the three week long summer school.

I got assigned to a school working with Nick, a tall, blonde Harvard grad with a boyish nerdy charm.  He says sorry too much, laughs at everything, and is always agreeable.  He is also kind, conscientious and generally happy, often times laughing at his own silliness as he rushes through his speech, often ending his sentences with, “or whatever”.  Nick is always himself and would never try to be anything else.  I have never heard him say anything negative about another person.

The first week we had the kids make “goal collages.”  Some kids really went for it, cutting out letters to make their names and pictures of soccer players or doctors that they aspired to be like while others strayed from the general theme.

The second week we created a scenario in which we explained to the students that they were going to infiltrate the white house.  We explained that this would be done by them applying to jobs using fake identities.  We provided resumes for their new identities and then conducted mock job interviews with them (props to Nick for that idea).  This worked well with the kids and we had fun too.  When we asked “what is your greatest weakness,” three of the kids said that their greatest weakness was being ticklish.

Though these activities are exciting, they only last a few hours of the day which leaves Nick and me with lots of time to bum around the campus, play basketball at recess, sit in on the classes, and stare at the clock.

The second Monday of summer school I wasn’t having the best day.  I was experiencing a lot of social anxiety and I was feeling like I wasn’t contributing much to the job.  Nick and I were hanging around the main office trying to look busy when Nick had the idea of working in the garden.  The school’s garden is a really large fenced in space with lots of overgrown grass, a few sheds with tools flung everywhere, a few fruit bearing trees, a large lavender plant, some tomato plants, and  some lonely looking garden beds with dry soil and stubborn weeds.

But growing all around the fence of the garden were thick blackberry bushes.

Most of them were still pink and sour but Nick and I found some ripe looking ones and ate them, and to our satisfaction they were sweet, juicy, and had that classic blackberry taste.  “I should make some blackberry pie,” he said.

And those blackberries did it for me.  They flipped some switch in my ridiculously thoughty mind and I felt like I was a kid again reaching into that towering thorny bush not caring if my arm got snagged on a brier.  It was worth it to find that perfect blackberry.   All my anxiety disintegrated like the berries in my mouth. The sun was  hitting Nick’s and my blonde hair as we plucked blackberries from the prickly plant; I was content to just sit and chomp away like the bear cub in “Blueberries for Sal.”

I felt then that it was okay to be out there instead of in a classroom, that I was serving a purpose just standing in the sun eating blackberries with Nick.

Sometimes the best way to respect life is by finding some berries and gobbling them up, letting the juice stain my fingers and face, letting myself go back to that childlike me.

Thanks for inspiring me, Nick!

 

 

Developing Countries Do Food Better

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When I think of California I think of avocados.  The purple skin cut open reveals green and  yellow fat to squish my fingers between.  I can find them at the Food Maxx on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa for 49 cents each.

I imagine the tree where they grow somewhere  nearby,  and the avocados bring me back to my previous home:

Windy city  Kutaisi, the Republic of Georgia, where sidewalks house toothless tanned venders selling cheap  cologne and threadbare socks,  the familiar Romani man with his legless son in the  wheel chair is begging  for change and the bus drops me off at the curb where a busty fat lady  sells shoes to young village mothers.

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As I walk along, the wind whips my blonde hair in the air and every eye is on my  pale   complexion, my tall stature, and my American eyes looking straight ahead.

And then I see the mandarin stand and I feel slightly more at peace.

I check  my pockets  to find a Lari coin which will buy me a whole kilo  of the sinful orange suns that were probably  brought to that very sidewalk  from a farm less than 100 km away.  I purchase them happily and chat in broken Georgian with the vender.
“Saidan xar?” He asks cheerfully.
“Where are you from?”
“Americidan,” I reply for the 1000th time.
Without doing anything out of the ordinary, he states,
“kai gogo xar” with a thick village accent, which roughly translates to,
“you are a good girl.”

Even though it shouldn’t, I still feel great about myself for fulfilling my role as a good American girl.  It’s better than the time I was approached on the side walk in Kutaisi by an older man while I was smoking my cigarette.  He kept pointing to the sky and saying something about God.  I gathered that he was telling me it was very bad for my spiritual health to be smoking because God doesn’t like girls who smoke.  (It’s doubtful that he would share the same concern with all his male friends who smoke.)

Anyway, I  continue on my way  feeling the extra weight of mandarins in my backpack, ready to take on the country now equipped with the comforting glowing fruit…

Back in FoodMaxx I imagine that the avocados were grown locally just as I knew that the mandarins were grown in Georgia.
I hope the avocados were plucked by tanned Mexican hands and brought to the grocery store in a van.

That’s why I love the avocado.  I have a clear  image of their story. Hispanic hands  picked the avocados from the trees and Hispanic hands take them home to eat from the grocery store all within the same area and I don’t even feel bad that I am a white skinned scavenger coming to the Food Maxx to borrow bits of their culture: their smiles, their familial bond, their Spanish words, and their Mexican grown food that all creates a sense of community that I feel is lacking within my own American culture.

Food is such a part of culture and I feel like I have to basically steal it from my Hispanic neighbors!  I miss the simplicity of eating in Georgia.  All the food was local.  Can America ever recapture our culture in our food?  Will locally grown food be forever part of the communal hippy populations that also feel exclusive?
Let’s figure out how to work for all Americans to eat local and have more transparency in the story of food.

Just some thoughts.
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Foodmaxx photo from http://www.yelp.com/biz/foodmaxx-san-jose

The end of death begins with a breath.

Hello, and welcome to my first blog post ever (applause)!

I have created this blog to share my ideas, opinions and personal life with all of you curious fellow searchers. I was really stoned when I realized that we are enclosed in our internal realities and can only communicate our inner reality by means of symbols like words and art.  From a young age, writing was the medium that stuck itself onto me.

When I was six years old, I painted the words W.E. on my bedroom door with my dad’s white out like a graffiti artist would  (my first act of defiance as a writer). I defined myself as a five year old and also as a writer and even turned my closet into a writer’s room to have editorial meetings with the teddy bears.  But as  I got older I felt less inspired and went from considering myself in 9th grade as a blocked writer to a low in college when I felt that I was not a writer and was not capable of being one.   I was blocked and experienced all the symptoms:  the longing,  the lack of inspiration to inspiration binges and feeling guilty for not having them more than once every few months, and the bully voices that beat me up when I did try to write.  How  to make  writing  like a river  that flows: Now that is a  challenge.

I realize now that I am one of those  crazy people who needs to write.    It is a need,  like  the need to laugh and  cry and speak, it’s a need like  smoking a parliament cigarette after  I’ve drank 3 beers at a bar (which I rarely do).  But I quit smoking.   That’s what writing is like for me.  A pain in the ass.  Something that hurts to not have.

So bare with me and thanks for reading!