53 and Me

3 08 2019

 

 

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God[…]”
— Ecclesiastes 2:24 ESV

Yesterday, I officially turned the page on another year. Goodbye 52, Hello 53. Two thoughts come to mind these days as I approach a birthday: 1) I never envisioned what life would be like past 30; and 2) I have outlived three sisters. Both thoughts are shrouded with a sense of mystery, and a sense of weight. Embracing the unknown coupled with a embracing the present moment.

I am finding life past 30 full of wonder, surprise, and contentment. I am spending it with a wonderful man who is the love of my life, I am finally doing work that I love, and I am the most comfortable I have ever been in my own skin. After spending most of my young adulthood feeling like a fish out of water, fighting for recognition, and doing work that I hated, it’s a good place to be.

The outliving sisters still brings a rush of sadness, because on birthdays, and really every day, they were my biggest fans and some of my greatest sources of fun. Not to mention the lost history and connection from the people who have seen the progression up close and personal from Day One. But they, more than anyone, would encourage me to walk in Solomon’s shoes: eat, drink, embrace, and enjoy; it is a gift from God, and when the gift is gone… that’s it.

Embracing the present moment means I milk every moment of the “known”, so I did just that for my born day. I am working a contract job with Yoga Alliance right now, but generally I do the least hours on Friday. So I offloaded the bulk of my work into the days prior, so that I could have the actual Friday of my birthday mostly free.

After getting my tootsies done, I invited my lady tribe of girlfriends and Yogis to come paint with me at Color Me Mine. It was a fun time of conversation, coffee, and connecting with my inner child and creative genius. I evoked my spirit insect, the Lady Bug, and painted her on a chip and dip bowl in homage to my love of food. It was a perfect, low-key, and sunny afternoon spent in conversation and laughter, and I could not have asked for anything better.

 

 

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That evening, I invited friends to Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, to enjoy one of my favorite foods: Dumplings. I was blessed and delighted to have 15 friends trek from various parts of Los Angeles on a Friday night to spend the evening with me! The wait was exorbitantly long (they claimed an hour and a half, it ended up being over two), but the freshly made dumplings, different flavors, and great connection with all my friends made up for it.

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Embracing the unknown is often harder, because as I am all too aware, life can turn on a dime. Loss of loved ones, loss of homes, loss of social station has been sobering, if not demoralizing. Yet the mystery of embracing the intangible, and holding the tangible loosely, is what brings peace and contentment. My word for the year has been “wisdom”, so over the past 8 months, I have done lots of reading and re-reading of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. “For wisdom is protection just as money is protection. But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.” Ecclesiastes 7:12 NASB

So while I cannot control all the things of life, or even control when sudden tragedy might happen, I can preserve the life I do have by embracing wisdom with as much gusto as I embrace the present moment. The beauty of embrace is that it requires you to let go of one thing, in order to latch on to something else. To embrace requires you let go of fear, insecurity, and your typical protections. Embrace means you take something (or someone) to your heart and hold it (them) close. It’s vulnerability, it’s exposure, it’s trust; but it’s the only way to live in the moment and live in the mystery.

Another year, another opportunity to live in the balance.

 

 

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Seasons of Change

29 04 2019

When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside me. Hopefulness? Gratitude? Openness? Whatever it is, it’s welcome.” Kristin Armstrong

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With the turn of the page on the calendar there is also a feeling in the air: Spring is here. Not my favorite season, but one that clearly represents explosive shifts. From the pendulum-like nature of the weather, to the bursts of color and renewing of leaves; Spring just happens, and never asks permission; you either ride with it, or be left with tire tracks. For once in my life, I feel like I’m taking a ride. I am definitely not in the driver’s seat—which is good—because it gives me a perspective that I would not have if I had to focus on the destination. But I am also not feeling run over. Maybe it is due to the glorious cold and wet winter we had, maybe it is because the wave of grief that engulfed me at the end of the year has passed. But I am drinking in nature, it’s goodness, and looking forward to the good changes that come with it.

One fortunate change that has come with the Spring is a full-time gig for the first time in 9 years. I applied, interviewed, and was chosen for a consulting gig with a major Yoga organization. I have dreamed of both my passion and skill sets being utilized in the workplace. I always assumed it would be through writing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Who knew that Yoga would not only transform my body, mind, and soul, but be an avenue for some dreams to finally come true. This position is a three-month contract, as well as remote. So I get to do the job from the comfort of my California home while still teaching Yoga with CorePower.

Even more exciting is that the job extends through the extremely lean Summer months where both Lynn and my normal work diminishes. So for the first time in a very long time, there will be a steady income stream to help us not run a deficit.

In less than a week, I will be flown to a different state to start a week of training on a new aspect of the Yoga world which occupies most of my days. The known, the unknown, and the unexpected all converging into a new season in my career.

And for the first time in a long time, I am welcoming it with open arms.





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.





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 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.




50 Days to 50 Years: Day 30, Evo and Captain Fantastic with Christy Bell

2 07 2016

“Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends,
never lose a chance to make them.”
— Francesco Guicciardini

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I cannot believe I am already 30 days away from the official Big 5-0. What a delightful time it has been to pursue, as Steely Dan so eloquently put it, “Reelin’ in the Years”.

And what is it with Captains? It seems to be a trend in this 50-year challenge, at least when it comes to movies. From “Captain America” with longtime friend Sarah Beach, to “Captain Fantastic” with new friend Christy Bell. While I didn’t enjoy “Captain Fantastic” as much as “Captain America: Civil War”, the company and the food was just as rich.

I met Christy through a mutual friend Cheryl Leutjen. Cheryl ran a networking Meetup for Work at Homers, and also participated in my Tuesdays with Transitioners Meetup. She knew Christy was in transition, and recommended Christy check out my group. Christy did, and she was a wonderful addition. When she was able to attend, she brought great insight and her wicked smarts to every discussion. Between Cheryl’s Meetups and mine, Christy and I struck up a friendship, and even though both Meetups are now dissolved, we still stay in touch. A couple of years ago Lynn and I spent Christmas Day with her, catching two movies in the theater, and having Dim Sum and Chinese after. It was among one of the best Christmases we have spent.

Christy is erudite and a great conversationalist, but she is also a keen listener. I also love her smile and her laugh, and the glint of mischief in her eyes. I suspect had we met in our 20s or 30s, when we were both less “tempered”, we would have gotten into a good deal of trouble. Heck, we may have a chance to do that in our 50s, given the right timing and circumstance!

So when I invited her to be a part of the 50 Days to 50 Years challenge, she was delighted to carve out the time. Among Christy’s many talents as a writer, chef, and organizational whiz, she is an actress and a member of SAG-Aftra. So free screenings at the DGA are a part of her membership. She also treated me to pizza, either before or after, at a little WeHo bistro called Evo.

Christy is a vegetarian, so we ordered a Artichoke-Spinach-Parmesan pizza on a Whole Grain Crust to share. It was extremely tasty, and the sauce was sublime! Christy had an Amber Ale, which looked great and refreshing, but not really my cup of tea, or, er, alcohol.

Christy paid me a very high compliment: she said that I was really gifted at the career-reinvention stuff and I should find a way to start it up again at my new church. We talked a bit about that, the workshop I recently conducted at Elizabeth House, and what was going on in our current jobs, career searches, and housing situations. Then we stepped across the street to the DGA to bask in the cinematic wonder of Viggo Mortensen. He really is an incredible actor, and made this film about extremes, consequences, and choices watchable.

After the screening, we repaired to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to discuss what we liked and didn’t like about the film, and I capped off our glorious meal with a Salted Pistachio Ice Blended, something I hadn’t partook of in a long time. It was quite refreshing, but not as refreshing as the kindness, generosity, and support of Ms. Christy Bell.

 








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