Savasana

Tomorrow marks my third week of consistently doing yoga- by consistent I mean 2-3 times per week. But I am not taking this as a loss or beating myself up as I would in the past, especially with high intensity workouts where I didn’t feel like I was doing enough until there were beads of sweat rushing down my forehead and neck. I would like to work up to practicing yoga more, but this in itself feels like an accomplishment for me. To find consistency in a life that feels anything but and for someone who has been struggling with depression for the last few months, this is something I can give to myself that is a gift and an act of self care. It reminds be to stop feeling defeated by things I can’t change, and to take literally one hour out of the day to recenter and feel thankful that I am able to be present in myself.

Tonight during a class at a new studio, I had a particularly intense experience where I felt what letting go really feels like. I concentrated the pain and hurt my heart has been feeling and let it transfer down my arms and flow out of my finger tips. I let go of pain and disappointment- pain of watching someone I love struggle so unjustly everyday, disappointment in myself for not being able to hold a full time job while trying to maintain my mental health and some of the elements that make depression so dark and all consuming at times.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and I have spent a greater part of my adult life not admitting that I have “issues” as western textbooks may say, and that I need to let my guard down, set aside my pride and ask for some goddam help. I had a discussion with someone recently and they said, “the hardest thing isn’t admitting you have a problem, it’s being consistent and showing up for yourself to get the help you need.”

Flashback to March when after my mom’s “dry run” with her surgery, I felt the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever felt in my entire life over the course of just under 24 hours. It took me not wanting to get out of bed or really eat for a couple days to realize I needed to go to therapy. Something I have been in and out of for most of my adult life. I have found therapists I like, and then I have had therapists who listen to my story and all my “problems” and criticize me for not coming sooner, when really, the biggest step was me being there at all.

Currently I am attending a group “crisis therapy” for people who are going through intense situations. I had an extremely difficult time coming to terms with the fact that I could be placed in a box with such a loud and problem riddled name. With its hard vowels and sense of urgency, it’s a name that surely suggests I’m not a normal functioning human or one who couldn’t climb out of darkness on my own. It’s a 6 week “course” and so far I’ve been to one out of four meetings. At first, I was angry with myself that I couldn’t even show up, but then I realized that me even taking the initiative to show up that one time and open up to complete strangers was enough. Opening up to anyone really has been extremely difficult for me, especially over the course of the last year or so.

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This weekend, I went out to a bar with a girlfriend (something I used to love doing, but now I find it hard to be social with strangers) and almost immediately after arriving and finding a table at the bar, a pair of machismo dudes latched onto us. She and I had a powwow and decided it was fine to keep them around in hopes that they would take care of our drink tab ($15 for a vodka soda). We talked and flirted and joked around and everything was fine. As we made our way to another bar a few doors down, one of the guys payed special attention to me. I didn’t mind it, because even though it goes against most of what I stand for as a fiery feminist, sometimes it’s nice to hear “you’re so pretty” from a stranger who’s about to buy you a drink. We took a seat at a table and I sat next to him and we started talking. It was just small talk, poking and prodding about what I do, where I live, where I’m from- formalities that I think actually tell you nothing about a person. When people answer menial questions like this, I usually instead watch their body language, their eye contact, listen to their tone of voice and you can always tell how sincere they are being. When we were having this conversation, I was a couple drinks in and my guard was up as usual. After a few minutes, he blatantly called me out on it. He said “you’re a really guarded person aren’t you?” I didn’t respond, he proceeded with, “I can tell you’ve really been through some shit. You hide behind your looks and your personality. But you know what? If you don’t let anyone in, you’ll continue to be this person. And you’ll still be coming here alone in 5 years…” at which point he gestured to a small pathetic corner table with a mismatched older couple looking lost. His words jabbed me like an elbow to the throat, air escaping my lungs, my mouth feeling dry- because loneliness and being alone is really one of our biggest fears as human beings right? Especially as a 30 something woman in LA where your “biological clock is ticking.” I sat with my mouth agape, stunned, totally caught off guard. I was expecting a night of being out to be a fun escape, not a harsh slap of reality. I couldn’t believe that my facade I work so hard to keep up hadn’t fooled him, because it was certainly fooling everyone else. And even if his words weren’t entirely true, and maybe he was just trying to sway me into giving him a chance in my pants (which I probably would’ve fallen for in the past), they still felt painfully real which felt heightened by the Russian vodka I’d been taking down rather quickly. Instead of going along with it, I threw back my drink and dragged my friend to get another shot.

For the past few days, his words have been echoing in the back of my mind like a looming dark cloud that I can’t clear away. That night brought me even more uncertainty and unfortunately lead me down a path of heartache that I don’t want to remember or feel right now (or ever). Little did said bar philosopher know that I gave my everything to a guy who took advantage of it, all the while I was watching my mom’s health and livelihood get significantly worse. I tried to lean on him as a pillar and instead of standing tall, he succumbed to drugs, self loathing and materialism which were all used as pawns to push me away. I was just another drug to him, another material possession that had to try and fit into his world without him ever actually making space for me. Even though it’s been a while, I’m still not ready to do that for someone because I am already using almost my entire emotional capacity to stay afloat and support people I care for unconditionally.

Today I ran into a guy I sort of dated last fall, he was the closest I came to something “real” in a long time. He had a string of his own issues including being a recovering heroin addict, and I think when I was talking to him back then, it felt okay for me to be vulnerable and talk about real things because he had no choice but to expose himself. I quickly realized that was toxic and our combined negativity and issues were just a breading ground for depression and more gluttonously addictive behavior. When I saw him today, I was reminded of where I was six or seven months ago, how using my body for temporary pleasure was a form of therapy. But obviously not anything that worked, or was remotely healthy. We exchanged awkward niceties and then parted ways, who knows if we’ll see each other again.

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I have been able to find solace in the yoga pose “savasana” this is the pose you typically do at the end of a class where you literally just lie on your back in a receiving position with your palms up to the universe. The goal is to let everything sink into your mat and just be present where you are, in that moment. The instructor of the class will usually start saying things like “feel your arms getting heavy, your body spreading…” “there is nothing you need to think about, nothing you need to be doing right now. Just be here and be present.” Tonight, while doing savasana at the end of class, I started crying. I was glad the dozen or so people around me had their eyes closed because I just wanted that moment of vulnerability with myself. I cried because the teacher was telling us to think about what we’re grateful for, and how we can spread kindness and happiness to others, and then he went into telling us to think about someone we care about and to send good energy their way as we would hope they would do the same for us. I thought about my mom. I thought about how many things I am thankful for in my life and that something inside me really makes me believe that we will get through this. I let go. I let go of a lot and it was overwhelming because I’ve been carrying so much for a long time. Now I’m realizing in time I’ll be able to open my heart again, but first I need to heal it a bit and find peace.

Yesterday, as I was entering the doors of the ICU to visit my mom at UCLA, I passed two nurses chatting and one said, “It’s not so much what happens, but how you deal with it.” I thought it was serendipitous for me to overhear this piece of advice during a tough day. Everyday presents it’s own set of challenges, but it really does ultimately depend on how you handle them. x

A Means To An End

It’s the beginning of December, about a month after the presidential election. I am heading to UCLA’s campus in Westwood to meet my friend Candace who I have been meeting with the last few weeks talking about ways to ignite the LA feminism scene and connect with like-minded individuals. We have just started working as part of the team of organizers for Women’s March LA. We are heading to the campus tonight to listen to our idol Gloria Steinem in conversation with activist/writer/director Jill Soloway. I arrive a few minutes early and decide to explore a bit, I head across the quad to the grandiose multi-floor library that’s bustling with students even at night. I picture myself going to school here, it seems so promising and full of opportunity, like what I imagine setting foot on an ivy league campus for young hopeful scholars must feel like. Little do I know, just months later what this campus will soon mean to me with my mom’s declining health. It will still have its sheen but will appear a more dull brushed silver than a once vibrant warm inviting gold.

I walk back to the hall where the talk is happening and find Candace. We walk into a foyer filled with young and old feminists alike- the room is buzzing. It reminds me of the energy before a concert everyone is excited to see, but slightly different. We take our seats and I glance around at the rest of the audience, mostly affluent white, middle aged women, sprinkled with progressive multi-race millennials eager to soak up knowledge like a sponge from one of their most worshipped demi-gods (although Gloria would completely contest that description). We eagerly wait for them to begin. Gloria and Jill come on stage and almost instantaneously enter into discussions about the election and what it means for our country and various marginalized groups. They both make a lot of insightful points and guide a directionless cathartic release seeking crowd like a goat does with a bell around its neck with a flock of sheep. After Gloria describes what the original Women’s Movement and Civil Rights Movements were like in the 60s and 70s, our problems now seem similar but slightly less real. A small part of me is thinking, “this just seems like something board white people found to complain about” but, as they start really getting into it, Jill talks about herself being a member of the LGBTQ community and how this new administration will basically devalue her entire existence as a human being. This strikes a chord deep within the ethos of my soul. The audience begins asking questions about spirituality, faith and how to not get burned out while being a full-time activist. Among many of the profound things Gloria has said over the course of this evening, she gives the advice that, “We are all looking for an end. We are promoting love and unity and solidarity, but it won’t be easy and it’s going to take a long time to reach that end.” She then describes the importance of “a means to an end,” that the journey is going to be long and hard to get to your goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the best of it along the way. She said it exactly like this, “If your end is singing and dancing and love, there has to be singing and dancing and laughter along the way. That’s the only way to keep going.”

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Yesterday was Easter. I’ve never had much of an aversion to this holiday other than as a teen, I decided I would no longer go to church to celebrate the day’s true meaning as a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. I usually just associated the day with seeing my family and eating a lot of food and consuming copious amounts of chocolate and candy- pretty typical of most holidays for me.

This year, I counted down the days until the usually positive holiday like a ticking time bomb, knowing that in just a few days, we would pass the marker of my mom having been in the hospital for two straight months without a successful lung transplant surgery. I had spent the last few days in Indio for Coachella. I went to work and “escape” my realities in the desert. I was really stressed the days before leaving, and getting there was a nightmare, but that mostly melted away when I arrived. The only thing that didn’t leave me, was the tension in my neck and shoulders and a knot in my stomach that I have been suppressing nearly every day for the past two months. On Friday I worked an event all day and the stomach pains were replaced with the slight buzz I was feeling from the mix of free tequila from the open bar and slight dehydration from the dry desert sun. We left the estate where the party was just before golden hour. Driving down the stretch of open dusty road back to where we were staying, the sun hit the groves of 100s of date palms like a warm soft embrace. The outlines of spikey palm fronds illuminated brilliantly with Mother Nature’s gift of sun. We pulled over to try to capture the setting sun that was quickly approaching the horizon line, but it was impossible to capture what we were seeing through an iPhone lens. I stood and took it in for a minute or two and that was enough to give me a feeling I hadn’t felt for weeks. In that moment, I forgot about the tightness in my muscles and the aching of my sad heart and drew a breath in- just living in the moment and feeling free.

Fast forward to Saturday night, the anxious feelings that cause the tightening and stomach pain engulfed me. I wanted to get home in time to see my mom in the hospital on Sunday and spend time with my family. Something way too precious to waste at this time. We are such a tightly knit 4 piece unit that we knew how un-normal this day was undoubtably going to feel, we all were reluctant. My mom kept expressing how unimportant it was that I came and saw her on Easter, insisting I stay and “have fun” all the while I knew that holidays are some of the biggest joys for her in life. I made it back to LA late Saturday night and woke up the next morning to call my dad and make plans. My dad and sister came and scooped me up and we headed to UCLA. We arrived at the hospital to check in and there were way more visitors than usual. Entire families coming to visit their ill incarcerated loved ones. These are the type of “fair weathered” family members who only show up to visit on select days like national holidays because they are forced or feel guilty. We sat and talked as a family for a while, my mom so out of it at first we couldn’t even have a conversation. But we’ve been dealing with this long enough to be conditioned on how to act while there. Talk to her and give her positive tidbits of the outside world, and just act as if everything’s okay. After talking for a while and receiving several different medications, mom was ready to go on a walk. Something that is quite a production seeing as she needs both a respiratory therapist and at least one nurse to help push and pull the machines that are connected to her to keep her going. We walked as a family through the lobby past overly curious visitors that aren’t so conditioned as to how to behave when in the ICU unit. Sarah mumbled to me how angry it made her that people were staring at my mom like she was some kind of circus oddity. It bothered me too. After the walk, we talked to the nurse and stressed the importance of washing my mom’s hair- something they don’t usually do in the ICU. After some convincing, the nurse and I figured out how to position my mom over the sink, covering all her lines with towels as it is vital not to get anything wet. We filled up containers of water, I put on blue latex gloves as my dad reached over to help role up the sleeves of my 60s-inspired bell sleeved dress. I had the nurse step aside as I massaged mom’s scalp with shampoo and showed him how to rinse the ends delicately. I joked and said we should get our cosmetology license to have on the side. We finished, I wrapped her hair carefully in a turban just as she had taught me so many years ago when she used to have to practically pry me from the bath tub, and we walked her over to the chair where Sarah was waiting to blow dry her hair. She and I both carefully combed through mom’s hair and continued to ask if it was too hot. She said it was fine and I noticed her beaming and caressing her ends saying how great it felt to have clean hair. Imagine that, a luxury to be washing your hair. While we were doing that, dad was sitting watching and telling her about how they had just taken the dog to the groomers as well. We all chuckled. Finally we went to leave and everything didn’t feel as bad as when we had arrived. It felt like a positive means to an end.

After leaving the hospital, we went to dinner at a tiny Thai restaurant with my dad and sister (we never spend time together us three) and I saw both of them smile and really enjoy each other’s company which was enough to make the day worthy of the description of the word “holiday” in itself. I was reminded of how well-read and interesting my dad is when he described how his latest interest is in visiting Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Sarah and I watched him become animated and excited, which is a side I don’t often get to see of him now a days. We all bonded over the delicious food and fondly remembered shared memories. But never once did we dwell on the fact that we weren’t having the “traditional” homemade family dinner we usually do on holidays. Last night represented the beginning of a new chapter for our family and the way we operate. It symbolized our closeness and resilience and our ability to confide in one another- something all of us I know are thankful for. I know the weeks and months ahead will be difficult and I have absolutely no idea what’s in store. I think the biggest difficulty for me is the absence of being able to feel in control. But for now I am grateful for an imperfect day and what it means to have a family that will be there no matter what.

Grey

You know the part of rom drams (romanic dramas) usually about halfway through when a time lapse happens and there’s a montage of scenes set to the tune of a melancholy blusey ballad? Lately, I see myself in that setting a lot. Like the period of time when a voice like Etta James is belting verses straight from the heart and the plot of the story could either go really great or really bad- you don’t know until it happens.

Today, I went to visit my mom in the hospital after not having done so for a week. I felt guilty for not going, mainly because she has had a cold and they haven’t been really allowing visitors, but I’ve been throwing myself into work and projects head on. Feeling that if I burry myself deeper into work, the reality of the situation will be a little numbed. It’s funny because, just two weeks ago, I felt there was no way I could go back to work. And now here I am, and it’s the only thing I am doing. There seems to be no happy medium.

When I first arrived at the hospital, the conversation with my mom was light and immediately I realized how much I needed to actually talk to her, and I felt tears well up in my eyes. My chest tightening and my soul feeling too fatigued to actually cry like I felt I needed to. I told her about how our family is struggling “on the outside.” And I watched her feel broken and helpless as I described how our tight-knit tribe was starting to sluggishly succumb to the harsh realties of depression and life without her on a daily basis. Our dog Nina, who’s sole purpose has been to stay at my mom’s side for the past five years, cries out for her and the longing in her eyes is enough to break your heart. My mom makes this face when I give her information like that, her lips purse, her breathing quickens and she looks like she wants to say something but always waits a long while before answering with something like “I can’t do much from the hospital, now can I?” in a hasty tone filled with hurt and guilt. I don’t mean to upset her, I just need to confide in the one person I am always able to talk to no matter what.

I then realize, I need to lighten the conversation after watching her big chocolate eyes cloud with sadness- something I don’t want to inflict on her as I know she’s already having such a hard time. I go to something that I know will make her happy. I tell her about the hike my sister and I went on this weekend in a park near my parent’s home in Ventura and how gorgeous and vibrant the wildflowers were. I described the bright yellow mustard flowers that towered an entire foot over my 5’8″ frame, and the sound of the endangered honey bees buzzing around happily doing their work pollinating the flowers like they have done for so long. I even told her about me spotting a rattle snake in the grass only about a foot away from my bare ankles. And then I described the story of how, after we finished the hike and walked back into the park, we spent about an hour helping a young single mother set up her son’s first birthday party. While we were struggling to set up a volleyball net, another stranger came up and asked if we needed help. Together, we figured out how to attach ropes to stakes in the ground so the net wouldn’t blow away in the light spring wind, while her preteen daughter held the smiling baby and their tiny white dog planted kisses on his chubby cheeks. As my sister and I went to leave, the young mother profusely thanking us, I watched the two parties of the strangers come together and introduce themselves and join celebrations. When I finished telling my mom this story, a smile crept up on her face and she told me, “people really are good. I believe that people are really good and willing to help each other when given the chance.”

We paused for a moment in that glimmer of warm happiness. She said, “I haven’t even been out of this hospital room in 6 days” (she hasn’t been able to go on her daily walks around the unit since catching a cold). As the mood began to change and the moment slipped away, her eyes suddenly flickered and she was calling a nurse to remind her to send a RT (respiratory therapist) so she could do one of the tests she needed for the day. I am so amazed (and thankful) for how sharp her mind is and how many different things she is able to think about at once- definitely a superpower you gain during motherhood. Her medication schedule is a full-time job in itself and she keeps track of it with such dedication (frankly better than some of the nurses). After a few minutes, an RT arrived. He was a very large black man with a friendly face- the kind you just know is an excellent family man and someone you’d want to have on your side. I glanced down and noticed a bejeweled name tag hanging from the pocket on his chest. He began to set up my mom’s breathing test and I asked him a string of questions, “what was the mediation?” “what was it for?” etc. I’ve always been curious, and this situation is no exception. I then began to say that she needs to nip this cold in the but (because as long as she has a cold, her status on the lung-transplant list is on hold). The RT looked at me suddenly serious and in an unshakable tone said, “Your mom is a fighter. Your mom is a fighter and she is going to get through this.” I looked at him and believed it with every fiber of my being. I wanted to hug him, but didn’t feel that was appropriate. He then said under his breath, “but you know that.” And I do.

I left as she was finishing up her breathing test, as I noticed the sun was setting and I didn’t want to walk to my car in the dark. I walked back down the long recently-shined linoleum hallway to the elevators and went to the front desk to validate my parking. I stood next to a chipper couple carrying drinks in a drink carrier and ready for a “fun” hospital visit. I envied their layer of visible strength and “we can take on anything attitude” (that had been me months ago) and the energy of one another they had to work off of. I now felt weighed down by the countless visits and trying days- even though I was working really damn hard to get back to their level of umph where I once was. I looked at them and managed to spread a small grin across my lips. I turned on my heel to leave through the automatic glass doors of the hospital and was greeted with a chilly shrill gust of wind, as if to remind me of how alone I felt. It was that time just before the sunset when the sun is low in the sky and passing through the clouds and the warm orange of the sun competes with the closing in grey of the night. I look to the right and notice all the towering hospital buildings are grey- growing taller with every step I take, the sidewalk is grey, the parking structure that I loathe it grey. The only color in sight are a flock of orange and lavender bird of paradise flowers that even look muted because of the surrounding grey.

I’m walking but to the tune of a longing blues voice in my head. I’m present but fighting back tears, as I enter the parking garage, mostly unaware of where I am, I feel something abruptly hit my arm, I fear it’s a hand dragging me back into the hospital, but realize it’s gate of the parking kiosk. I can’t really tell if it hurts or it just startled me. I look up, now more slightly in touch with where I am and I notice a woman staring at me, having seen what just took place. I start laugh crying and she just looks at me bewildered with her mouth slightly agape- her expression completely blank. I make my way to my car, get inside and start trying to sob but it doesn’t feel real, I look down at my phone and have a text from my sister that says “thanks for going to see mom.” Just seeing that immediately makes me feel like things will be okay, because I am not alone.

Stevie

It’s late October, I’m leaving the hospital after visiting my mom who had been recently admitted. This is nothing new, she’s been in and out of the hospital for the past six years since she’s been seriously ill. I’m walking through the parking structure and suddenly realize I can’t find where my car is parked. The next thing I know, I feel the air being robbed from my lungs so violently I start gasping not knowing what is going on. I realize I am having a panic attack and am too caught off guard to fight the feeling of losing total control. I have never really experienced something like this, since I am usually able to get ahold of my emotions before it gets to this point. I think I must’ve blacked out for a few minutes, but I remember sobbing and trying to catch my breath while pacing the floors of the structure, feeling so terrified, alone and lost. I call a close friend and she attempts to calm me down. I then call my sister and she is able to stay on the phone with me until I get safely into my car and am breathing normally. Her calming presence knows empathy more than an average 18-year-old which I am forever grateful.

It’s now March, my mom is again at the same hospital. Every time I visit her there I have to overcome my fear of what that garage means to me. It’s a pit, a void where I might lose myself if I don’t fight to maintain reality. This entire month has been a blur. A string of slow days oozing together into the next, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Don’t get me wrong, there have been happy days, but it’s hard for me to pick them out from the bad ones. A mix of insomnia, sleeping too much, and feeling sadness in my heart like I have never felt before.

I just read an interview with Stevie Nicks in Rolling Stone where she describes her eight year long battle with Klononpin. She talks about how she lost those years to the drug and what she could’ve been doing if she would’ve been present in her life during that time. Although I’ve never taken that drug or built a dependency in that way, I know what it feels like to not have control. And that’s what I’ve felt for the last 6 months- but if I’m being honest with myself, much longer. Stevie has always played a role in my life (although I don’t know her personally) I feel like she’s been guiding me through various highs and lows for a long time. One of the last good memories with my mom that felt “normal” was two days before this last Christmas, I was driving her from Ventura to Los Angeles for a doctors appointment. We were both upset about the timing during the holidays, but knew it was necessary because of her rapidly declining health. It had put a dark cloud over the entire season that was our favorite time together as a family. There was a lot of tension between us in the car ride, until I realized Fleetwood Mac Rumours was in my car’s cd player. I pressed play and she and I started to sing along to every word. She told me the story of her buying the record when she was in college and how the group had influenced her 20s so heavily. I saw her light up in a way I hadn’t seen in a long time and saw the shackles of her illness fall away for just a brief hour and a half long car ride. As we moved along with the music, I think we both really believed in the band’s powerful lyrics. Ones that are meant to help through times of heart ache and pain and uncertainty. It was healing for both of us and a memory I’ll cherish for a long time.

Tonight, I went to visit my mom after work. This was my first real day back at a “real person” job for over a month, after coming to the realization that I have to pull myself out of this Klonopin-like self induced fog. I thrive when I’m working on lots of projects and have real attainable goals. Last week, I had a conversation with my dad and he said in a stern voice, “Aly, you need to focus on your career because it’s what’s important right now.” He wasn’t devaluing how I have been trying to help my mom for the past month while she’s been in the hospital, he just saw me losing focus and ultimately myself.

After checking in at the hospital, I marched  down the long newly shined eggshell yellow linoleum floors with the sound of my heels clicking during each stride I took down to the ICU where my mom is. I knew she hadn’t had a particularly great past few days health wise, so it might not be the best visit. But nevertheless, I drew in a long breath (as I always do right before entering the floor), pulled my shoulders back and pushed through the heavy double doors into her unit. When I got to her room, I was met with a weak “hi sweetheart”- something I’ll never get tired of hearing. I immediately started telling my mom about all the new ventures I was working on and reassured her things were good “on the outside.” While I watch her struggle with things like having a strict fluid intake and diet restrictions, I try to distract her with things she might find interesting, and try to keep the conversation as positive as possible. I am barely able crack a smile on her face, she has had a hard day and has been extremely tired. I describe to her the warmth and brilliance of today’s LA sunshine and we talk about how it will be even hotter tomorrow. She eats dinner and I realize it’s getting late and I need dinner myself. As I go to leave, stroking her forehead and peppering kisses on her forehead like she would always give me growing up, she asks, “hey, do you want this Rolling Stone?” I take it and point out Stevie’s name on the cover and she explains that she doesn’t know who any of the other artists are that are featured. I chuckle as I notice Ed Sheeran on the cover and I say goodbye and walk back down the long hallway to the elevators all the while reading Stevie’s interview. She stands in her affirmations and is unapologetic about her womanhood, sexuality and the struggles that come with that. I reach the elevators and a man is there waiting as well- I can feel him looking me over like a piece of meat. I pay no attention to him and continue reading. We enter the elevator and he reads my name tag and says that he thought it said “angel” because that’s what I am. I don’t respond. I exit the elevator and thank my long limbs for carrying me swiftly away from this 5’3″ elevator creep. I cross the street back to the parking garage and am able to play back in my head where I am parked and feel a wave of relief wash over me when I see my Camry waiting for me, just where I left it.

Everyday is filled with new challenges, and finding small victories are essential to keep on keepin’ on. I’ll consider this a victory for today, thanks for guiding me, Queen Stevie.

It Can’t Be Winter Forever

One blistering hot summer day almost 4 years ago, I was heading to the beach in Malibu to meet a friend who had just moved to LA. She told me to meet her at lifeguard tower 3, being a native, I naturally should’ve known she meant lifeguard tower 3 at Point Dume (important nuance to SoCal beaches). It was August, the beach was packed, people were circling in their cars for parking spots like vultures in the middle of the desert. Somehow I ended up at Zuma Beach (next-door) looked at the line of cars and decided to just park. Now, at this time my 20 year old self was not always making the best decisions. So, I knew I had some bomb weed in my car, found my pipe and began to puff away at a fresh bowl and hotboxed the s*** out of my Toyota. I felt fine when I got out of the car, but as I started to walk and called my friend on the phone, I had the stark realization that I was alone at the wrong beach and I began to trip out. I avoided the lifeguard towers because I didn’t want them to see how stoned I was, I kept my sunglasses on so as to not make eye contact with any of the families enjoying their day off. I was in a complete and utter daze. Finally, I gave up on finding my friend and plopped down in the sand littered with colorful towels and those strange tents families insist on bringing to the beach. I was annoyed I hadn’t been able to find my friend, but realized I was just going to enjoy the day on my own nevertheless (plus, I most certainly could not drive). Still high as a kite, I plugged in my headphones and turned Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” album on (that was fairly new at the time) and zoned out. I remember feeling almost out of body listening to her moody tails of lost love and the unquenchable sadness that makes her so appealing. I went into the ocean and it didn’t feel cold, I let the waves pass over my head and just took in the moment. Back laying on the sand it felt like a warm, glowing euphoria- no one knew where I was, I didn’t know anyone around me, I had no idea what time it was and I felt completely at peace.

Fast forward to today, I hardly every smoke anymore. My party girl ways are somewhat in the past as I’ve grown older and learned different coping mechanisms and how to channel my feelings into other outlets. It’s not that I don’t like weed, it’s just not part of who I am anymore. This week has felt like a montage from a bad soap opera or maybe just a regular episode on Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s real life. On Monday, after my mom was in the hospital for exactly two weeks, we were alerted that they had found a donor for her double lung transplant that we have been waiting for nearly seven years since she was diagnosed with the chronic disease known as Pulmonary Hypertension.

The series of events that day happened like this: My mom called me at 9am (I was just getting out of bed running late per usual) her voice was shaky with excitement as she’d clearly been crying and she said to me in a soft but steady tone she uses when breaking serious news, “Aly, they found a donor.” I immediately started crying with her, we were blubbering as she would say- it was one of the most, if not the most important phone call I had ever received. She hadn’t even told anyone yet, and she chose to share that information with me (a testament to the closeness of our relationship). The rest of that morning and afternoon was a blur. I called and texted a string of close friends and family who were overjoyed with the news (as my role in all of this has been to communicate updates). The anticipation and excitement almost seemed too good to be true. The surgery was scheduled for 9:30pm that evening and they were “okaying” the lungs around 8pm. I met my dad and sister at the hospital at around 6:30pm we sat and chatted all together for about an hour or so and things felt “normal” for the first time in a long time- whatever that means. The hours passed, 8 o’clock rolled around and we hadn’t heard anything from the doctors. We were starting to get anxious. Two anesthesiologists walked in and were surprised to find that no one had alerted us that the time of the surgery had been moved to 3:30am. I was livid, but attempted to stay cool as I know everyone was trying to do their job. The nurse on duty put me on the phone with the Transplant Coordinator who is responsible for getting the team of surgeons and the holy grail (lungs) where they need to be for the patient waiting. She explained to me that the time is never certain and the lungs were coming from out of state.. blah blah blah. I thanked her as she assured me we were set on this surgery start time at the ungodly hour. I walked back in and the anesthesiologists explained the surgery would take about 8 hours. What were we supposed to do for that long?!

Cue my longtime besties Jessica and Stephanie. They walked in the hospital room like ladies in shining armor and assured me it would all work out, bags of pillows and sweatpants in hand. It was going to be a long night. The rest is all kind of a blur. I sat with the girls downstairs in a lobby where we pulled chairs together to lay down and fall asleep with bright florescent lights blazing in our faces. I sent them home at around 2am, my sister and I moved into a waiting room on the floor my mom was on. I set an alarm for the time of the surgery but must’ve slept through it, because I heard the door creak open and saw my dad’s face as he walked in. It was the look of total fatigue and defeat. He told us that the lungs were not a match after all. We were all crushed. I tried to pull it together as we went to say goodbye to my mom and assured her it would be ok (it’s now 4:30am). I got home, pulled the sheets over my head and fell into a dark heavy- but not at all restful sleep. I knew the next day would entail me having to re-break the news that the surgery did not in fact take place. I was not ready to deepen this wound, but knew I had to do it.

I woke up a few times on Tuesday sporadically to return some calls and texts, but I had no real energy to engage in conversation or even leave my bed. I woke up at around 3pm with a throbbing headache and realized that I needed to eat, ordered some pizza, ate and then went back to sleep. It was like being in an awful nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. A couple of my friends sent me messages to try to console me and make sure I was still  functioning. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure I was. The next day, Wednesday, I felt like I was swimming through molasses to try and get out of bed, but I received a text from a cousin I hand’t seen in years that she wanted to meet up and talk. So I went. I was able to really confide in her and am thankful for the relationships with women like her I have to fall back on in times when I really can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the afternoon, I gathered my strength, stood up straight and walked into the hospital to see my mom with a new found sense of resilience that I thought I had lost. We had a really positive visit and just sat and chatted about various things, I think for a moment we both forgot exactly where we were.

Today, I woke up feeling less sluggish, looked out the window and realized that the sun was already warming the sky with its brilliant presence at 8am. I decided I was going to go to the beach before visiting the hospital. With the goal of recreating a moment like that one years ago- filled with peace and escapism that my Libra soul has to have in order to keep moving forward.

I got to the beach and read Gloria Steinem (one of my deities), did a bit of writing (which I haven’t felt motivated to do as of late) and I waded into the ocean and let the small glossy waves cleanse my skin and my soul of all the hurt from this week and years past. I allowed myself to feel. I walked in the place where the waves wash up upon the sand and noticed one single white rose that had drifted onto shore right as I had gotten there. This rose was perhaps meant for a lost loved one or maybe someone else had cast their hurt into the endless ocean and needed to be cleansed as well. I don’t know what it meant, but I took it as some kind of sign. The color white is traditionally associated with cleanliness, or freshness, so maybe it’s some kind of fresh start for me.

I know that the road will continue to be rough ahead, but like my extremely wise sister Sarah said to me recently, “it can’t be winter forever.” And it won’t be, as long as there’s sun.

Mexico City

A couple of months ago, my best friend Alex convinced me to buy a ticket for a flight to Mexico City for the contemporary art show Zona Maco. I did it on a whim, not knowing anything about the city, what the show was or where we would be staying, but was ready to fulfill my insatiable hunger for adventure and experiencing new places. Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane at LAX, passport in hand, still having not done my research as to what to expect. I had some pesos in my purse, walking shoes on and my camera I always traveled with slung over my shoulder. What more could I need?

I landed in the airport, passed through customs, and instantly had issues with my phone and getting onto a wifi network in order to use Uber (which was recommended). I had anticipated this being a problem, but unfortunately didn’t think that far ahead. It was late, I was slightly panicking, but took a few deep breaths, got my bearings and remembered I could speak Spanish and asked an armed guard where to order a cab. I road the twenty minutes to our Airbnb and was greeted with a warm hug and kisses by none other than my amiga íntima. Alex and I talked and shared stories like no time had passed at all even though it had been months since I had seen her last.

The next day we made our way to “Zona” as they call it- Alex had used her powers to acquire us two VIP passes which came in handy. We entered the fair and I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size and volume of work. We entered gallery after gallery and I quickly identified work by artists like Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic and even Andy Warhol. We spoke to artists and curators from all over the world in different languages that all melted away when talking about the universal language of art and how it influences us and makes us feel. It was such a breath of fresh air from the political turmoil I had been so absorbed in for the last several months. It restored my faith that art and self expression moves us to  greater things than simply the moment we are in.

The days following were a colorful blur of weaving through museums and parties and cafes and sipping glasses of wine in chic bars. We strolled through gorgeous peaceful parks, people watched and tasted the most incredible mole I’ve ever had in a market tucked away in an unassuming neighborhood. We spent time with Alex’s beautiful extended family who cooked for us and taught us all about Mexican culture. We discussed politics, Mexico’s education system and even why American’s warn “not to drink the water.” We drank cerveza and laughed with new friends who promised to visit us sometime. We ate fresh coconut while exploring Frida Khalo’s Casa Azul. I felt the warm golden afternoon sun give my skin the vitamin d it had been craving while sitting on our tiny apartment’s rooftop. This all reminded me that I was “here and now.” Something I’ve been working on this year: living in the present.

The night before I left, I cried to my friend in the bed we were sharing. I didn’t want to leave this slice of heaven that had served as an escape from all of life’s realities, I cried because I realized my home of Los Angeles has jaded me so and put me in such a bubble of comfort that I am so desperately working to claw my way out of; and mostly I cried because I knew I would be leaving my friend’s warm embrace. She reassured me we would be taking a trip like this again soon and that we would be reunited in another place and another time. For now I hold onto these memories through photos, as I always do during post vacation blues.

See some of the highlights of our trip below. All photos are by myself (Aly Nagel) and Alexandra Alvarez shot on a Canon rebel t5i. Edited by me.

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Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

It’s Wednesday night, Donald Trump has been President of the Free World for six days now. My heart is sad even after a day of organizing, and planning with several different strong, inspirational women. I’m listening to my go-to in times of strife and uncertainty, Janis Joplin. As she wails her deep gut wrenching cries, she screams the affirmation “I’m gonna try just a little bit harder.” I realize that this affirmation Janis poured onto the stage in front of thousands of psychedelic festival goers in 1969 Woodstock, is exactly what I (we) need to hear right now in 2017. I love her music because it is built upon affirmations, reassuring herself that she is lovable even after people were so cruel to her for a majority of her short life. Her words represent a bleeding nation experiencing struggle, hate and uncertainty, and what it means to really wear your heart on your sleeve.

Janis was introduced to me by my father, a baby boomer who worked for everything he has. He put himself through school without the help of my grandparents, bought a home, cars and worked with my mom to give everything in their power to my sister and I including a college education. I respect him more probably than anyone on this planet and crave his approval in all my professional endeavors, as if to say, “look, what you gave me paid off.” He is one of the last of this kind, a dying breed, the hard working middle class who stays in their traditional ways, reads the newspaper, stays off social media and has hope that a glimmer of “The American Dream” still exists.

One word that has stuck with me from childhood into my journey to adulthood is “quit.” My parents are both part of that generation that believed with hard enough work, you could really reach your dreams. I remember in 10th grade after I had been playing the Flute for about five years, I became dispassionate about practicing monotonous 16th note scales for hours on end and trying to get my trilling just right. I remember playing at a recital and I choked. In reality, I probably did ok, but it wasn’t up to the standard I had held myself to in years past. I remember looking at my family, seeing their disappointed faces and feeling ashamed that I hadn’t just practiced like I had done so diligently in the past. Later when we were home and I was bitching about playing, my mom said “what are you gonna do? Just quit?!” The word lingered in the air for a couple seconds and sounded like it was the worst possible crime I could commit. I was silent for the first time as a teenager.

It’s been four days since the Women’s March happened, which I was lucky enough to have a role in planning. It served for many as a cathartic release of emotion. A place where people from different races, genders, and walks of life could gather and visually see that our numbers are great as a untied people, and our voices are LOUD. Louder than accusations of lies, and hate and discrimination. Although the march is receiving mixed reviews, it was effective for me and my healing process, and I’m sorry if that sounds selfish, but I need to be whole in order to help make a difference and fight the good fight.

Tonight, I along with so many others am plagued by the heartache of what our nation is to face in the next hundred days and the ominous next four years. I feel sadness for my immigrant friends and family and am disgusted that they would ever have to live in a place where they are not granted the same freedom and rights as someone who was born here. I am bleeding with the water protectors who are being exposed to atrocities I can’t even began to imagine and are being stripped of land that has been theirs for so many generations past. I am hearing the echoes of the cries of my African American brothers and sisters begging for “the man” to value lives of inner city males just as they would white. While I let this grief set in tonight, because sometimes it’s good to let pain seep into the depths of your soul, it is not healthy to wallow in it.

I am aware of my privilege and all I’ve been given and believe the universe dealt me this specific set of cards to have the ability to help others. For what is life, if you are just living it for yourself and own self gain? This affirmation is what has been keeping me going for the past couple months just like Janis does with her words. Tonight, I will get a good nights sleep and start a new, as we are all needed in this fight.