Back on the Horse

I’ve been hearing the phrase “get back on the horse” for months now since my accident.  When the opportunity to travel to San Francisco came up, I was wary that I might not be physically fit for a solo journey up the coast, but also, that I wasn’t ready mentally.  Now, sitting on the bus to return home after my busy, but fun-filled weekend riding the hills of San Francisco, I can’t believe I questioned my spur of the moment trip.  The bumpy bus ride reminds me of our boat riding the waves in the San Francisco Bay just a few hours ago.  I should have known that this trip could only help to restore my soul, the way travel always does.  Getting out of the city where my accident happened is healthy.  I achieve a respite that is impossible in my city-where I look at every car wondering if the driver is the man who hit me and left me in the road.

San Francisco has a nice energy to it and weather that keeps you on your toes.  When I arrived, it was warm and sunny.  Once inside my hotel room, I looked out the window over the city and the fog rolling over the hills and the Bay was so thick that I thought there must be a fire nearby, but I was told that was normal.  The fog was beautiful, and watching it flow over the mountains made my soul feel free.

I love how many trees are in the city.  They have trees in planters on the sidewalks, and parks in between some streets, as well as meridians with trees.  The city has not forgotten nature.  The large bay windows call to the writer within me.  I love cozy writing nooks, and have always wanted a bay window with a view and sofa cushion in which to write.  There are signs around the city spreading “compassion,” “love,” “and “family.”  I love the open-mindedness of San Francisco, and the way it affects its residents.

A friend took me on a night-time adventure down Lombardi street in his car.  Lombardi street is famous because it has multiple turns in one city block, on a steep hill.  The houses were stunning, but I would think the residents would get bored of all the tourists riding down their street.  We went to a forty-year old restaurant tucked away behind other restaurants, at the end of the wharf.  The fish are literally delivered fresh from the bay a few feet from the restaurant.  I don’t eat fish, but I can appreciate the uniqueness and the quality of fish that the restaurant has.  That attention to food carried over into their vegetarian dishes as well.  We had several glasses of wine, and I laughed the night away with good company.  You know you’re in a good restaurant when all of the waiters are older than fifty years old.  They’re pros, and they respect the patron, which in turn garners respect for their skills as a server.  Even the bartender who was half the age of the waiters, would be sure to address the waiters as “sir” or “madam” when asking them to check on an order for him.

Today I went to Fisherman’s wharf for the second time in my life.  I was a teenager when I went the last time ,and it was for only a few hours.  My experience this time was quite different because it wasn’t the Summer, so it was far less crowded.  Unfortunately, because it is not the high season, there weren’t many street-performers, which is one of my favorite memories from my last visit.  We did see the man spray-painted silver and acting like a robot, which is one of my favorites, as well as a drummer, a smooth-jazz pianist, and a guitarist/singer.

My friend asked what I wanted to do, and I saw that there were boat rides in the Bay.  We bought two tickets for the boat, boarded, ordered cocktails, and went to the top deck.  It was a great experience in the open-air.  We went under the Golden Gate Bridge, and swung around Alcatraz before returning back to the harbor.  On the way back into the harbor, we spotted a replica Pirate ship.  It was epic.  The wood-work, and the sails were majestic, and as I turned around to take my picture, I saw that the sails were backlit by the sunset.  I got magnificent photos of the ship, the Golden Gate, and the sunset.

Driving in San Fran can be a real adventure.  So many of the streets are one-way streets, and the hills make it difficult to see if anyone is stopping at the intersection.  At night we went to Haight-Ashbury, where the Grateful Dead played their first concerts out of their house.  It was the Hippie Mecca during the Sixties, where people from all over the country came and lived in the parks, and smoked weed, made music and love.  It was fun to imagine what the area must have looked like in its Hippie days.  Now it is mostly Hippie-themed shops and cafes-an soft echo of what it once was.

I am already seeking my next travel adventure!

(To maintain the integrity of my blog, please note that this was written 11/4/13 right after my trip, and posted today, 12/26/13. My apologies for the late post.)

Hit and Run: “Living Well is the Best Revenge”

I apologize for the lag in updates.  The quote above is from George Herbert, and has become my mantra after being the victim of a hit and run.

Talk about a quarter-life crisis.  A day or two after my return from abroad, I was a victim of a hit and run while I was crossing in a crosswalk, and have been recovering for almost a month.

When I arrived by ambulance to the Emergency Room, not knowing whether I was going to live or die, I am proud to say that I had the presence of mind to remind myself:  If you are going to die, go knowing that you have lived a fuller, more blessed life than many, even at the age of 25, and that you are very fortunate.

My blog, here, is a testament to that.  Looking back at only a few weeks of my life, I’ve lived an amazing life, and experienced amazing adventures.  I am so grateful.

I cannot type for long periods of time, so my updates will be slow, but I would like to reignite my blog.

I will start by posting some final experiences during my time in Paris this Summer.

Strangers and Social Norms

My Dutch friends came to town, and we only had one day together.  It took a while to coordinate, and we finally met at a cafe, shared some wine, and decided that instead of sightseeing, we wanted to relax together in a park.  We got provisions for a picnic, and went to a more residential area.  We found a spot in the grass and joined the locals in soaking up the sun, and watching the birds fly.

After enjoying a languid afternoon, we decided to head to a cafe for some dinner and a drink.  Just as we were about to leave, a man entered the park.  He was about forty-five, well dressed with Khakis, a long sleeve button shirt, and canvas loafers.  He paused as he entered the gate, and looked at our group with deep interest.  I noticed him, and he circled slightly around our group.  There was a mix of intensity and childish interest in his eyes.  He didn’t seem threatening, but he certainly was stepping on some social boundaries.

He was staring intently at my friend who has very unique, gorgeous fiery orange and red hair.  The sunset was behind her, illuminating her hair in a very stunning manner.  I had already commented on it myself.  He came over, and immediately in English said, “Please, please, I must see your face. I must look at your.  You are so…so…” and he searched our faces to see if anyone knew French, because he could not find the word.  He made eye contact with me and said, “jolie?” and I said, “beautiful.” He turned to my friend and said, “you are so beautiful.”

Why did I engage with him?  Well, I have experience working in the field of medicine with psychiatric patients.  This man seemed more the type to respond to being “yessed” away, then ignored, or asked to leave.  And, he didn’t seem like a threat.  He was staring at my friend like an artist with a deep appreciation for a piece.

The man went on to ask, “can I just, sit for a moment with you?” and he began to crouch on the ground. Someone said something about the fact that we were about to go to dinner and he got up quickly and said, “No! Please, don’t let me bother you.  Please, you could just sit here for another half hour, and look like that with the sun behind you.”  He began to back away, as if he would rather leave this art, and miss seeing it, than be the cause of its demise. Then he tried to explain himself to us, saying, “you see, I am…I am losing my mind.  I am not right up here.”  I felt so bad for this man-caught between two worlds, between his mind and the world we were in.  I could see a deep sadness in his eyes.  He was at the point where he was aware of the fact that he is slipping away, and yet there is nothing he can do to stay.

I looked him in the eyes, and said “okay” because I wanted him to know someone was listening.  He said, “sometimes I feel like I am dancing, but I am not.”  I thought to myself, at least he has positive hallucinations!  Then he looked at me and asked, “why does this happen?  Why do we have to age? Why do our bodies have to get old? Yours is too.” “I know,” I said. He was looking at me, searching me for answers.  The only thing I could come up with was, “C’est la vie.”  It seemed like a trite platitude and I felt bad that was all I could offer. However, he looked at me as if I was enlightened, and had given him a new way of thinking of life.  “C’est la vie. Thank you.  Thank you. You are right.”

At this point, one girl was shifting uncomfortably because he was next to her, the other girl felt objectified by him,  her brother was silently sizing the man up, and my cousin was looking down trying to ignore the whole matter.  So, I was the only one that would make eye contact with him.  He looked at me, and with urgency he asked, “do you love?”  Again, I had the inclination to say something broad such as “I try to love everyone,” and he must have seen this because he corrected, “are you in love?”  I gave a very emphatic “yes” and he continued, “does he know it?” Again, I responded emphatically, “yes, definitely.”  “Good! That is good!”

Someone mentioned that we should get going to dinner, and he said, “yes, I will leave you.”  Then he looked us all firmly in the eyes, and he pleaded, “make sure you do what makes you happy.  Make sure you do what you like to do.  Do what you like.”  The space around his head seemed to be filled with unspoken thoughts.  Maybe he didn’t do everything he wanted to. Perhaps he made choices for money, and not happiness.  Now that he was losing his mind, he felt he no longer had time.  The regrets hung thick in the air around his face as he pleaded with us to live happy, fulfilling lives.

I don’t really care if he was losing his mind.  His advice was sound.  He was a paradox.  He spoke the sage words of an adult, and yet had the glint and gleam in his eyes of an earnest six-year old.

At that moment, a couple asked him to take their picture, and he seemed torn.  He didn’t want to leave us, but he knew that in polite society, he should.  It made me think about societal norms, because if we were all a bunch of six-year olds in a sandbox, it would be okay for a curious child to come over and talk about what is pretty, and what is scary, and what is happy and important to them.  We have been so trained in society to be wary, because there are malicious people who can take advantage of kindness.  However, this man just wanted to appreciate the basic beauty of everyday life, and impart wisdom before he slips away from reality, and is unable to connect with others.

I felt terrible sorrow for this man.  On the one hand he has a good perspective on life, but on another, I could see his despair and fear of slipping away from reality-afraid he would not be able to enjoy this world much longer.  I know that my cousin and my friends found it easier to shrug him off as a person with mental health issues.  However, at times I wondered if he wasn’t an angel-some sort of guardian or messenger, or even a regular human being used to channel a higher message.
We are all on a journey, and we are all traveling.  I learn the most about life and myself when I travel, so it would be a fitting time.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we never saw that man again, and if he never even existed at all.

Why Paris?

I’ve often tried to write for myself only, and I find that I end up tailoring my sentences for an audience. I have been trying to change that on this trip, but let’s face it, there is a reason why I am an actress, and have been pursuing performance since I was six. I had a lot of expectations for this trip to Paris, and I cannot think of a more perfect day. I think it is important to explain how I have found myself here in an apartment in Paris.

I am accompanying my cousin to Paris this Summer while she attends an art class abroad. My cousin is an amazing person, but has suffered from being the “baby” in the family. While I am an only child, my mom and her sister are very close, twins in fact. So, my aunt’s two daughters (my cousins) and I, are very close. Well, we were very close. According to my family, I never went through the typical teen phases. I did not yell, or resent my family and rebel. I feel that I did, but in my own ways. I do know that I did not become a brat, and despondent. It was hard when my two younger cousins went through what I am told is typical teen behavior. I thought I would be the cool older cousin, but that wasn’t so. Our giggly, secret-sharing sleepovers dwindled, and I began to truly feel like an only child.

My cousin began to have some medical issues, and I wanted to swoop in and play the big sister role, and save the day! However, they kept me at a distance, and never confided in me. Paris is not just a chance for my cousin to grow, and give herself the help she needs, but it is also an opportunity for me to feel like I made a difference. Over a year we pulled together the puzzle pieces that had always been floating around us and realized that this was not a new problem. My cousin had been suffering for years.

My cousin’s struggles paralleled my own, but I didn’t fully come to terms with that until this year.  Damn, did I envy my sixteen year old self who had her shit together so much more than my young adult-self. It took me a long time to unveil my own problems to my family and explain that I had insight to help them decode my cousin’s difficulties. It is hard to explain, but I have always been a rock for them.  My family has always had me on a pedestal, and I can not honestly say that I do not enjoy that position. I like to help others, yes, but I am sure there is a selfish layer, that enjoys the love and praise I receive. I can’t tell if that makes me a bad person. It is not as if I have ever done anything disingenuous to earn their praise, in fact, sometimes I feel like I must be channeling an ancestor to have so much wisdom.

Without knowing me, I am surely beginning to sound smug, but please know I am repeating what I have heard from my own family. If you can see this, and give me the benefit of the doubt, then you may realize all of this could be a burden.  Sometimes it is, but most of the time it drives me to be my very best.   I strive to continue to be perfect for my family. I want to be the best. I want to be the savior (please excuse the religious reference, it is not meant as such). I am desperate to make a difference and feel that I existed in this world for a reason. A human yearning.

Rounding back to my original point…I am in Paris to make sure that my cousin has a good, healthy time, and that if she needs help, or family support, someone is here.  Of course, I have my own agenda, too. I don’t want her to just survive here in Paris. I want her to thrive. My own Summer experiences really defined who I am today. I did multiple camps since I was 8, and backpacking trips.  I cannot say that my experiences were all easy, happy Summer camp experiences. I often cried, felt pain, and wanted to go home to safety. But, these are the challenges that taught me to be independent, adaptable, be my own friend, and persevere.

Today was the most perfect day for reasons that may seem simple.  My cousin asked me if I wanted to have dinner.  I took some time for myself, prepared for a very rough afternoon of coaching her through stress, and encouraging her to keep at it, and met her at her hotel. I got a bit lost on the way, tested my French for the second day, and found that I could ask for directions and understand them. Yippee! So, I found my cousin at her hotel, and she took the reins and chose a nice cafe near her hotel. We both ordered the same pasta dish, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This allowed for conversation about how much healthier the food is in Europe than in the U.S. and the fact that I have heard many people state that they gain weight eating the same food in the U.S. as they did when they lived in Europe. (Side note…what are we eating back home!!?!?!?!) She mentioned wanting to try a wine, so I picked a Chablis. It was not sweet enough for her, so, ultimately I finished it. It was a very relaxing, slow-paced meal and talk. We both commented on the difference in the pace of life in Paris, and enjoyed the time to just talk.  I think it was the first time that we were both this honest and in depth about our own problems. I believe this was the first time she really understood that I have experience with the same struggles she faces and that I am not just empathizing and trying to get her to open up.  I felt a moment of triumph and excitement.

We traveled on the metro together and she even helped me when I had trouble figuring out which way to go. Before Paris, I thought I was going to have to force her to plan out a trip just to have her fail, experience failure and see that it is okay, and get to the other side. Instead, she really took charge and took her class assignment seriously. She took some pictures, got more into it, and even ignored the street artists dancing that had me clapping and cheering at Le Notre Dame, in order to continue taking photos.

Then, we had a perfect travel moment that I hope my cousin will carry with her.  I have always enjoyed travel, because it teaches me to let go.  When I let go, the world becomes easier, and things just flow.  My cousin needed a lock for her locker at her Summer program, and we were walking in a park next to La Seine.  We asked the guards if there was store where we could buy a lock and it turned out that we were next to a famous bridge where people lock their love or secrets to the bridge, and throw away the key. So, across the bridge was store where we bought her a lock!  She was so excited with how well that worked out. I seized the opportunity to show her that life can be kind, and offer gifts such as this.  Over a scoop of fresh, delicious dark chocolate ice cream, she kept saying, “I’m going to have to tell people about this! This is a really great story!” Then we got back on the metro, I showed her my apartment, and then took her back to her hotel.  When we said goodbye, she surprised me by smiling wide, throwing her arms around me and declaring, “I had a wonderful day!  Let’s do this again tomorrow!”  I wanted her to know that it meant a lot to me too, so I thanked her for making it such an amazing day.

I am nervous about how things will go from here, but I will always treasure this day.  Here I am, hanging my hopes on this 3-week experience in Paris: I hope my cousin can find her own inner strength, and grow. And I hope her newfound strength endures.

Paris, July 2013.

Anonymous Abroad

I do not want to have a name. I do not want to have a face.  Whenever I claim my work, it becomes stunted because I worry too much about the details, when the beauty is in the obscure.  I do not want to coax friends over Facebook, Twitter, etc., to follow me so that I can feel good about myself and my writing.  I have decided to do this the, er, old fashioned way (using contemporary tools).  This may end up being nothing more than a diary, with no online presence, and no followers, or, maybe it will inspire other artists who feel the same burning desire to turn their observations, experiences, thoughts, dreams into something more tangible.

For me, it is a journey of self-exploration-one that I have been on for twenty-five years now.  I am a quarter-centenarian, and I have decided to stop making excuses, stop allowing my fear of failure to limit myself, and to just. keep. expressing.

Paris, July 2013.