New Year’s Resolution #3: Write

1 03 2019

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
— Henry David Thoreau

This particular post also covers two other resolutions: to tap into community (#2), and to move more (#4, to come).

I am a member of a Natural Muse writers group run by my friend Cheryl Leutjen. Unfortunately over the past two years, I have not been very active—if you’ve followed this blog for any stretch of time, I don’t have to reiterate why.

The goal of the group is very John Muirish: we find places in nature to inspire us so we will write! Great idea, but not always doable for me as they meet during the week.

Fridays are my off day, so I have flex in my day to include such excursions. Dependent upon Cheryl’s writing and speaking schedule, she on occasion has Friday sessions; so I jumped on the opportunity to not only connect with my friend, but get my body moving in a different way, and enjoy the gorgeous post-rain weather.

The first Friday Natural Muse excursion was to Amir’s Garden on February 3rd. It was just a few days after some incredible rains, so the views were spectacular. You could see all the way to Downtown L.A. from one direction, and all the way to Century City and the Westside from the other.

After two years of letting writing fall to the wayside, I decided 2019 was the year to get serious, even if it is just blog posts. Sometimes the nature of my life is a cliffhanger, and people seem to respond to personal experiences; so may as well share while strengthening my writing muscles.

Amir’s Garden is a picnic area off the hiking trails in Griffith Park, cultivated over 40 years ago by Amir Dialameh. In the early 1970s, Amir was inspired to landscape the garden after a brush fire burned a solid portion of the hills. Amir often hiked in the hills along the Mineral Wells trail by the Los Angeles Zoo. He wanted to bring beauty to the now barren landscape, so he hauled plants, pick axe, and shovel up the trail, and began cultivating a garden. Amir worked as a wine salesman in the evening, so he had the days for this labor of love—and it definitely was. He cleared tree stumps, built a retaining wall with discarded fencing, terraced slopes, and built stairs to a created a picnic area with benches.

With little help from the city (what else is new?) Amir planted drought tolerant plants that provided shade, such as pine and jacaranda trees. He also planted trees and shrubs that provided vibrant color such as roses, geraniums, and yucca. Some of the trees that Amir hauled up the trail over 30 years ago are now sixty feet tall.

As knowledge of his endeavors grew, Amir received donations of plants, maintenance items, and irrigation equipment; but he never took money, and never asked for help. People just wanted to be a part of maintaining the garden that he created. In the late 1970s, volunteers began to come and help Amir further cultivate and maintain the grounds, and so it is to this day. Amir Dialameh died in 2003, leaving behind the legacy of a beautiful space for our inspiration and enjoyment.

His story and dedication speaks to an unwavering commitment, and the ability to create beauty from ashes. When it comes to my writing and other creative areas it often feels like that is all I do. So many times I thought I was on a trajectory to success, only to see it go down in flames. Brush fires in the 1990s again destroyed parts of Griffith Park and Amir’s Garden, but Amir rebuilt and continued on. His labor of love is a fine example of perseverance and belief in one’s vision. I have had the vision of being a successful, published, and working writer since I was 10 years old. That’s 42 years of my life dedicated to honing my craft, with fits and starts in between. Maybe one day after I am long gone, someone will be able to enjoy the legacy I hope to leave behind. I just have to keep building it.

Today, we had another Friday Natural Muse at Arlington Gardens in Pasadena. It was just me and Cheryl this time, and the day could not have been more different: Cool and overcast, with steely skies that signaled we have some rain coming our way.

The story behind this natural landscape could not be more different. Arlington Gardens was started two years after Amir Dialameh’s, by philanthropists Betty and Charles McKenney, and designer, Mayita Dinos. Their goal was to create a public, water-wise garden that celebrates Southern California’s Mediterranean climate. The garden demonstrates how beautiful and practical a well-planned, water-conserving and climate-appropriate garden can be.

Fourteen years later, the park is maintained by the city of Pasadena and the Department of Public Works. No labor of love, and definitely less inspirational, but still a beautiful spot to get some fresh air, physical movement, and get the creative juices flowing. Both Cheryl and I were in awe of the number of butterflies and hummingbirds that populated the garden, and flitted from tree to shrub with abandon. We also were amazed that Bamboo actually flowered—who knew?!

Like the other resolutions, I am making small, but consistent steps. Three months of regular blog posts is better than nothing, and I am in the throes of outlining a new narrative non-fiction book. Like Amir and his garden, I am rebuilding my writing life one tree and plant at a time.

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Christmas 2018: Dispelling the Shadows

24 12 2018

 

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“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor the Way to the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.[…]

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.”

Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7

“Distress”, and “The shadow of Death” have been constants this year. It’s been a pivotal and life-changing year on a number of levels, with some great blessings and opportunities. But I am quite confident that part of the busyness and rush has been God’s way of buoying me up from distress, and helping me to navigate the shadow.

Things slowed down a week ago, right around the one-year anniversary of my sister Joan’s death, and the emotional distress fell heavy, while Death’s shadow grew more looming. My late Uncle Charles said it well, “Death always comes as a stranger,” and it is true. No way to prepare for it, and it is never familiar, but an intrusive presence that always appears at the wrong time.

Which is why this Christmas season has been the hardest in a number of years, and each moment has been a choice to embrace the Christ child afresh. At a Christmas concert I attended on Saturday, the pastor’s words were very profound. He pointed out how messy and imperfect the actual Nativity was. Full of difficult journeys, imminent danger, stench (a stable—yes), and great inconvenience. 

From Isaiah’s prophecy to Zechariah’s song, the darkness, distress, and shadow of Death is never glossed over or minimized. What is maximized is the Light that has come because Christ is born. That Light which transforms the darkness, and dispels every shadow. So from the bright lights of my Christmas tree, to the brightness of friends and family, I turn my eyes and embrace the Light, embrace the promise of Hope, embrace what is, and cling to what is good. 

God is good, and he has shown his goodness, and his zeal to bring Light into our darkness, and be with us no matter what our state, in the promise of the Christ child. Each season, and especially each Christmas season, gives us opportunity to embrace and allow the Light to shine on us.

[B]ecause of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Dawn will visit us from on high, to shine on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

 

 





All the Things…

28 02 2018

“There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”
– Josiah Gilbert Holland

Ain’t it the truth, Josiah. Last week and this week have been crammed full of all the things, in a good way. I have the privilege of leading another Teacher Training with CorePower Yoga Pasadena, and my team of coaches and our faithful instructors has recruited a really awesome group of Yogis that are diverse, mature, and hungry to give and receive knowledge. We are heading into Week 2, and I am so looking forward to what I will learn from them, while presenting all that I know (sometimes, not much!)

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We are also moving. Moving is an evil word for me. Since leaving my childhood home at 19, I have probably moved about 40 times in my 51 years. Various circumstances: finances, bad roommate situations, roommates getting married or moving, the list goes on. My heart has always longed to settle and lay down roots in one place, and I thought with my marriage in 2007 and actually buying a house, that I was finally at that place where I wouldn’t have to move again for a long time.

As John Lennon said, Life is what happens when you’re making plans. Suffice to say, we lost that house, and ended up moving two times before being plopped in Atwater Village in 2011. The actual city of Los Angeles was the last place we thought we would find ourselves, and we both assumed it was a “make do” place, just a place where we could—hopefully quickly—get back on our feet.

Quickly didn’t happen. We have been here almost 7 years; but despite the hardships, fits and starts, and living among boxes and toxicity (a blog post for another day), something was being built. We loved the new Northeast Los Angeles community and all the fun haunts, events, and eating places that made this city seem less plastic and more human and community-oriented. We found a wonderful new church where we could get to know others more regularly and let them get to know us. Thanks to CorePower Yoga opening a studio in Pasadena, I found a location close to home where I didn’t have to hop a freeway to practice Yoga or to teach. So lots of wins in the midst of what was a hard season of waiting and testing.

So now, we get to move again. Another place where we never saw ourselves: the city of Pasadena! Our address is on Wesley; named after the theologian Charles Wesley, but also the name of one of my favorite nephews—so that’s a good sign.

We are further east from all that we have known in the past, but still close to some of the things that we hold dear: our church, my work, and new adventures in a new community.  It is a place of blessing, from the way it was delivered to us, to the favor we have received from the landlord, to our church communities and friends rallying around to help us in a multitude of ways, financial and physical.

It is a place that we can hopefully settle for a spell. I have no idea how long that spell will be—I learned to stop putting time frames on things after the horrors of 2008-2011. But what is true, and what I can count on, is that it is a place of space (two bedrooms and storage–whoo hoo!); a place of ease (4 miles to my Yoga studio, less than 2 blocks from the Pasadena campus of our church); and a place where we can find peace and quiet in our surroundings, yet still have the hum of community, events, and some city amenities. In the two weeks that we have been packing and moving, I am quickly falling in love with Hastings Ranch, since we’ve spent so much time there finding the things we need for the new home, as well as some of our favorite casual dining haunts.

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What I am enjoying now as we move boxes, paint the new house, and close out the old, is this view. The San Gabriel mountains are right at my backyard. My friend Joyce wrote on her Facebook page: “The mountains can teach us so much about our lives, our faith, ourselves. Think on what you’ve learned from your mountain adventures and feel free to share. Ready? Go!”

I replied to her post, not about a mountain adventure, but a mountain focus from Psalm 121-1-4:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

There are no coincidences in our lives. The fact that I have a mountain view is part and parcel of God’s reminder for me to continue to look to him for help. It is also a comfort that he will keep our footing in this new territory and watch over us here, no matter how long or short the spell will last.

We still have some odds and ends and large furniture to move, and I am knackered beyond belief. Week 2 of Teacher Training begins today, so I am still on and working hard to ensure these great Yogis are set up for success. But I am grateful for God’s hand in all the things; and that despite my desire for speed and efficiency, he is building something more enduring than I could imagine.





CAAN-LA Black History Panel

7 02 2018

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position
that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he
has overcome while trying to succeed.”
— Booker T. Washington

One of the great privileges of being part of the Columbia College Chicago National Alumni Board is representing the Board at CAAN events. The CAAN-Los Angeles network has been ably built up and guided by Sarah Schroeder, the West Coast Regional Director for Columbia, and her events are always top notch, well represented by our up-and-coming alumni, and well attended.

Yesterday’s Black History Panel featured our Columbia alumni who are also some of the trailblazers and innovators in Black filmmaking and entertainment: Producer-Director-Writer George Tillman, Jr., who has been the creative force behind some of my favorite movies, including the Barbershop films and Men of Honor; Writer-Director-Actor Kenny Young, the genius behind You Can’t Fight Christmas, Chance, and One Week; Producer-Development Executive Crystal Holt, engineer behind Rebel (BET), and The Swap (Disney Channel); Actress Erica Hubbard, who had pivotal roles in Chicago Med, Let’s Stay Together, and Lincoln Heights; Producer Paul Garnes, who gave us Selma, and Queen Sugar; and on-air personality, Grammy-Nominated Music Producer-Songwriter, and co-founder of Da Internz, Marcos “Kosine” Palacios.

The panel was moderated by some really talented and thoughtful Columbia student moderators: Jocelyn Shelton and Marquise Davion.

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Gearing up for our CAAN-LA’s Black History Month Alumni Panel with some fabulous filmmakers and student moderators Marquis Davion and Jocelyn Shelton.

George Tillman, Jr. discussed how he got into film, and how the presence of African-American creators and filmmakers has grown since he first came to Hollywood.

Kosine talked about his journey, encouraged the alumni still pursuing their dreams to simply, “Stay in the game,” and urged that, “Black History Month is a great time for African-Americans to be networking with each other,” and to take advantage of this and motivate each other towards excellence.

As an actress, Erica Hubbard discussed the high bar set by the writing and talent she experienced on the “Lincoln Heights” set, and how it is difficult to accept projects that don’t meet that standard.

If Paul Garnes did nothing else, he helped launch director-producer Ava Duvernay to the world. Paul shared his journey in filmmaking, how he met and got started with Ava, and working on Selma with David Oyelowo, and Oprah, as well as Queen Sugar.

Kenny Young talked affectionately about his mentors and the people who helped steer him in his career. He also talked about making determinations. He said at one point that he didn’t want to work a full-time job ever again, and he hasn’t since then. He has found a way to juggle, struggle, and forge ahead on his drive and talent, while still earning a living in Los Angeles.

Crystal Holt gave, what I felt was the most powerful and practical advice. “Drive is something you cannot teach, and that goes further than talent… You have a goal in mind, and you are working toward that plan for your life. Don’t give up on that.”

She also gave some sage advice on contracts and equal pay: “Trust no one! Be contract literate, and read it from front to back before you sign.”

While this old dog gleaned from their practical wisdom, I also enjoyed hearing about the endeavors and adventures of our young alumni; like the delightful Toy Monique, who works for Will Packer Media in their scripted and unscripted television department. Toy is a recent transplant to L.A., having gone through Columbia’s Semester in L.A. program in 2016. She laid the groundwork back then, and came back to Los Angeles as an employee at the place where she interned! What a smart lady—we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on her, and very happy to stay in contact via Instagram and LinkedIn.

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The Girl writes at Habibi Life for the Month of Love

5 02 2018

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Happy February!

SO honored to be a part of the month of self-love celebration at Habibi Life.

The beautiful Shahada Evans: entrepreneur, fellow Yoga instructor, and creative force,  has a delicious skin care product line and an awesome website to support it and the community that loves them some Habibi (me included).

In this month of February, typically dubbed the LOVE month, Shahada asked me to be one of the people to write for the blog about self love and self care, and I was totally down!

Give it a read, and check out the Habibi line while you’re there: Self Care vs. #selfcare.





The Little Writing Engine that Could…

1 02 2018

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“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” — Neil Gaiman

Words of wisdom from a writer I greatly admire.

Amazingly enough, I’ve been doing just that: putting one word, then another word, then a paragraph, then an entire piece. So my resolution to write has so far been flowing like water.

In case you’re not cognizant of my latest writings, I thought I’d talk about what I’ve been up to…

My latest features at Communities Digital News focus on what I do best: commenting on the union of popular culture and politics. It’s Oscar season, and the movie The Post is up for Best Picture, probably due to the film’s tortured attempt to connect the Republican administration of 1972 to the Republican administration of 2017. Read my review of the film and my take on this comparison at The Post: Katharine Graham’s feminist manifesto fails as propaganda.

The March for Life and The Women’s March occurred during the same weekend. One is a pro-life civil rights event that has spanned 45 years, the other a two-year old progressive-leaning affair that masquerades as a women’s right manifesto, but appears to merely be a rant against the current Republican administration. Seems to be a common theme. I compare and contrast them at The March for Life vs. the Women’s March: Which will stand the test of time?

The best reflection of one’s skill and worth as a writer is when you are invited to write by people you admire. In the short space of 2018, I have had two invitations to do just that! An up and coming millennial entrepreneur asked me to write a press release for a project that involves the marriage of clothing, art, and hip hop music, that was launched the week of the Grammys.

The beautiful CEO of Habibi Bath and Body has asked me to contribute to her LOVE SERIES throughout the month of February. I am working on sharing tips on self-care, and how to truly nourish and appreciate the skin that you are in!

Stay tuned for those links in a future post.





2018: New Year, New Soul

7 01 2018

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“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton is one of my favorite Christian theologians/thinkers. Like C.S. Lewis, he is less highbrow, and more akin to Christianity in work clothes. As intellectual as people say that I am, I relate to hands-on and sweat of the brow as much as I relate to the theoretical. But I digress…

I never share the resolutions that I make, but feel the need to put down them down online. Who knows, it may do wonders to make me more accountable:

  1. Read more books, and actually finish them. Like most of my friends, I have stacks of books waiting to be read. I started three books before 2017 (that is how pathetic I am), but never finished them. I need to complete them and track my completion of books. I used to read a book a week—it would be a good challenge to get back to that. Here are the books I need to complete: 1. Washington Spies by Alexander Rose. 2. Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. 3. The Curse of Conservatism by Coleman G. Luck.
  2. Meditate more. It does wonders, but I need to set a consistent rhythm. Some changes are afoot in my schedule that will help that, so no more excuses.
  3. Up the home and studio practice. It was really abysmal in 2017. No excuses—I feel so much better when I practice at home, and I need to connect with my own studios and other studios in a greater way.
  4.  Write again. This dried up considerably in 2016, and died a slow death in 2017. The question is, how to feebly pick up the pen again? This blog post, and another article on my Communities Digital News page are a feeble beginning. Which leads me to…
  5. Ditch the perfectionism. I think Voltaire said it best: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” I can create the perfect project, article, meal, etc. but because I only have the materials to achieve “good”, I ditch the entire thing. Time to stop that; if I am not paralyzed by perfection, it will go a long way to my getting words on the page.
  6. Find ways to increase the voice: musically in particular, vocationally in general. Maybe unburying and dusting off the piano? Right now it is surrounded by boxes (long story for another blog post). Maybe taking another Kahmelson & Kahmelson class? Actually signing up for those songwriting expos I get invited to? The possibilities are endless, but I need to take action on just one.







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