#tbt: The Lost Saul Williams Interview @ Virgin Records

September 25th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 9.58.15 AMThe work of Saul Williams changed the way I think and write. He’s one of the few writers I’ve come across whose poetry can give me chills from where it sits on the printed page. That’s to say nothing of his live performance, which is so full of heart and liberating revelation that I have always come away feeling stirred and completely connected, fortified and full.

You may have heard his sexy single “Black Stacey“, his anti-war “Pledge of Resistance” or the hit manifesto “List of Demands (Reparations)” which ended up on a Nike commercial in 2008. If you were into poetry back around the millenium, when spoken word and open mics were gaining mainstream recognition as a “pop culture phenomenon”, maybe you picked up The Seventh Octave (1998), or one of his MTV/Pocketbooks like She (1999) or , Said the Shotgun to the Head (2003). He was Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam Champion in 1996 and was featured in the documentary SlamNation, which premiered at the 1998 SXSW Film Festival (take that, hipsters). He co-wrote and starred alongside Sonja Sohn (from The Wire) in the 1998 Indie film Slam, in which he performed his poem Amethyst Rocks. And if you’ve never heard of any of this stuff, maybe you caught his interview on The Colbert Report in May. This summer, he starred in in Holler if Ya Hear Me, a new Broadway musical featuring the music of Tupac Shakur.

Our paths have crossed a number of times. In 2002 he came to my university. His formal training in acting was apparent in how he stood, grounded and present, as he spouted his captivating poetry and converted run-of-the-mill questions from the audience into an exposition on the power of rhythm – and therefore, the power of hip hop. He described the effects of head bobbing on the brain (increased oxygen to the brain and improved comprehension), and how soldiers are ordered to “break stride” when marching across a bridge, so as not to bring it crashing down, due to mechanical resonance. If my fairy god mother had alighted on my shoulder with a guiding message to step more fully into my power, it couldn’t have differed much from his. There was a coursing flow to his articulation of our innate power and our role in the world today, as spit flew from his lips, illuminated by the auditorium lights. A sense of peace and reassurance spread through the place, as if we were fellow spiritualists gathered to witness a renowned medium in the intimacy of an 19th century salon. When someone in the auditorium raised a hand and asked what his astrological sign was, I blurted out, “Pisces, obviously.” His girlfriend turned around and looked at me strangely, as on stage he confirmed this, pulling an amethyst from his pocket and raising it above his head – this healing handeld transistor – broadcasting its violet signal.

I went to see him in a two-person play in LA at a Victorian house converted to a tiny theater. To be frank, I didn’t have anything to say about the play, but I waited around afterwards to tell him that everything he had said in Santa Barbara made perfect sense and felt intensely relevant for me and everyone I knew. I don’t know why I felt compelled to communicate that to him, but it was a sentiment confirmed in in The Dead Emcee Scrolls: “You are me. I am you. But also I am he. Shepherd of a bastard flock that grazes in the streets.” That day I thanked him, turned and drove home, but not before bashfully placing a small book of my poems into his hand.

Once I took my younger sisters to see him at the Glass House, an all-ages venue in Pomona. A friend of mine who was a production manager there got us in for free and put us up on the side of the stage during the show. Much like the Santa Barbara engagement, Saul divided his stage time between performing poetry and using audience questions as a jumping off point to remind us of how powerful and connected we are. It was a young crowd, we were all moved, and the vibe that night had all the mercurial urgency of an underground meeting, with all the warmth and joy of an epic wedding toast. Afterwards, my sisters went up to meet him. He asked who had brought them, and they said, “Our sister, Alisha Westerman,” to which he replied, “Oh yeah, I remember her.” The only thing greater than my surprise was how cool I felt in this crowning moment of my big sister career.

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While living in New York, I was wowed by his writing yet again. I read The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip Hop (2006), glancing up from the page to the graffiti on the metro walls, seeing this “cave art” in a new light as my train plunged into the bowels of Manhattan. I half believed what he claimed in the introduction – that he had found this ancient manuscript rolled up in spray paint canisters in abandoned subway tunnels. I was sure that if I put my face against the plexi and peered down far enough, I would see the artifacts lying amongst the trash.

“Ancient Judaic law. Kosher, Crunk and hardcore. Goat blood mark on the door.”

I loved this mesh of reality and fantasy, with the potent swirl of Ancient, Holy and Street – the purpose of which was to incite one to tap into one’s karmic inheritance and – well, take over the world. And I was crazy about this omission of vowels, a la Hebrew or Arabic (“NGH WHT?”), which distills a word down to its essence but also leaves it open to interpretation.

This concept wasn’t new to me. Semitic languages have this consonantal root pattern, where vowels change depending on inflection, which then changes the meanings of the words. Thus the Talmudic practice of arguing the myriad interpretations of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish law and tradition. And I was raised in a church that often called Jesus by the Hebrew name Yahweh (YHWH) and emphasized study of the Old Testament. But this practice took on a personal, spiritual meaning for me and has found its way into my work. (I’ll expand on that in a forthcoming post.) Absorbing rhytmic poetry which used English put through this Hebraic filter felt like reading a language I didn’t know I could understand. Or being in a lucid dream and successfully willing myself to fly.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 12.08.28 PMIn an unexpected yet appropriate follow up to The Dead Emcee Scrolls, Saul put out The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust (2007), produced by Trent Reznor. I’ve always preferred Saul’s poetry to his music, but I track it for my favorite Saul-isms, like you might watch a spin off of your favorite TV show. And starting with just the title, I was instantly thrilled. The sound was dark, the message was legion, the look was fly. It promised an unprecedented cultural mashup. And culture mashup is the reason I exist.

“NiggyTardust: Grippo King, philosopher, and artist. Downright to the marrow, he’s the arrow through the heartless. Sunlight in the afternoon, his shadow travels furthest. Woven through the heart of doom, he’s bursting through the surface. Hardly nervous, suffice to say, he understands his purpose: Threshold King of everything, a comical absurdist.”

In 2008 on the Niggy Tardust tour, Saul played one night at Irving Plaza in Manhattan, a block from the restaurant where my sister NK and I were working. Like The Dead Emcee Scrolls, Niggy Tardust was inciteful, fresh and exciting. The look and feel, as hinted by the album cover, was a sweaty emulsion – part electro-shaman, part acrylic circus freak, part Atlantean throwback avec frohawk, dayglow feathers, 19th Century military garb and Aboriginal facepaint. It all made perfect, genre-busting, tribal, rock’n’roll sense.

There was the obvious modeling after Ziggy Stardust, which held deep meaning for me; The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was part of the soundtrack to my life with Shane – and my survival after losing him. Bowie’s Five years was the last song we performed together, after he had miraculously recovered from major surgery. I’ll never forget standing on stage behind him with a borrowed base slung across my chest as he wailed those lyrics – a moment which had left my body numb and transmuted the crowd into an abstract host of Seraphim.

What’s more, my talented friend Davin Givhan, who had just produced my album Mellow Mood, was touring as Saul’s guitarist, complete with face paint and a feather in his fro. There were Day-Glo necklaces and dirty beats, his daughter joined him on stage in a tutu, hight tops and glitter, and I think at some point there was some climbing of scaffolding.

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In the Virgin Records dj tower.

A few blocks away from Irving Plaza, the Niggy tour also touched down for a daytime show at Virgin Records. I convinced someone at a music blog to get me a few minutes with Saul for an approved interview. It was a muggy summer afternoon. NK and I walked over from work with a brand new digital Canon Elph, a cassette recorder and a composition notebook. Someone in a button-up shirt snuck us into the dj tower and said we had five minutes with Saul, who was already in costume. NK took video while I asked the questions. At some point during this dispatch of which we were the inconspicuous scribes, an aging dj came in for his shift and was visibly startled by this awe-ful incarnation and two young ladies. “You guys can’t be in here,” he said. “How did you even get in here?” We wrapped up and NK and I tiptoed out, feeling like information bandits, with the ‘why’ behind Niggy encoded in our hearts. We stayed afterwards to watch the show, but compared to the download we had just gotten, the show was a footnote.

Exemplary of the Plutonian dissasembly that ruled my life at that time, I handed the footage off to the music blog editor – and never heard from him again. For the past six years, I thought the interview was lost. But last Thursday as I was going through my archives, I found a forgotten transcription.

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Niggy/Me/NK at Virgin Records.

Readers, I now present to you the Lost Gospel of Saul, as it came to pass in the turreted dj quarters at the now defunt temple of the unholy Virgin Records, complete with digital images retrieved from the all but abandoned altar site known as myspace. The insights and reflections that follow don’t seem to have aged much; a message of equality and oneness is always timely. #tbt.

Who is Niggy Tardust, and how does he differ from Saul?

Ok.  Niggy Tardust is a hybrid.  Niggy Tardust is essentially the nickname that I give to the up-and-coming mindset of our generation who can see beyond, essentially, the concept of race and realize that it is a social construct and how it applies to, you know, how we look at music for example. You know, like ‘Oh you’re supposed to listen to this kind of music because you look like this, and you’re supposed to make this kind of music because you look like this. Niggy Tardust is a fusion of all of those things melded into one.  He is a hybrid.  He is, you know, ah, un-PC Barak Obama. (Laughs)

Can you say something about how, stylistically and spiritually, an icon like young Bowie, or Native American culture influences the spirituality of the Niggy Tardust album?

Sure. Well, I believe that performance is ritual. As a result, when I – even while recording the album – there is a process of always remembering that this… (gestures with hands) you know, keeping, in a sense, the candles burning, and investing all of that energy and all of my energy into the creative process. So that, in my house the entire time that I was creating the album there was a vibe. A sort of thing where – not necessarily do you take your shoes off, but that sort of thing where you take your shoes off and acknowledge the energy of what’s happening here – that we kept up for a year and a half inside of my house.

And in that sense, the first song I wrote for the album was called Convict Colony. And I wrote it, actually, on tour in Australia and I wrote it because of an experience that I had when I arrived there, which was quite simple: spending the first day not seeing any Aboriginal people, and being like, What the fuck? What did you guys do to them? Where are they? I know they’re here, and I know perhaps my perception may be a little ‘National Geographic’, but where are they? So I started thinking about those indigenous people and thinking about Native Americans and then also the fact that we’re all – everyone – is indigenous to some land, but realizing that there are these cultures that are founded upon other cultures.

And so at that time, you’ll see it, especially on the album cover, I’m wearing this aboriginal bracelet that was actually a headband that was given to me by an aboriginal elder.  At the time of making the album I was wearing everything. I went to South Africa, I went to all these places and I would just adorn myself with everything from all of these places so that I could transfer that energy into what I was doing.

And so, as far as the Native American aspect, when you see the feathers and all that, it’s funny, I think the reason I started leaning that direction with Niggy was because, in wanting him to represent a culmination of all of these different cultures and to essentially represent the new tribe of us. The hybrids. And we’re all hybrids. We’re all interracial, biracial, all of us, regardless of what we think we know. We all are.  And I wanted the music to reflect that. And in image, I just started dressing up for war.  (Laughs). I wasn’t thinking Native American necessarily. I was just thinking… I don’t know. (Shrugs) I don’t know. It just happened, essentially. It just happened. And it’s funny because I was going through a lot of indigenous, like, coffee table books. Not just Native American. I think there’s a book called African Ceremonies I was going through all this stuff that I had in the studio and all this stuff, along with David Bowie stuff, which I’m getting to. And all of the paint and feathers, they all had it. It was in all the cultures.  And so it’s as much that, as it is this. It’s all of it.

As far as Bowie – Bowie was inspiring, aside from the Niggy Tardust/Ziggy Stardust reference because of his understanding of how to incite the media. He was a folk artist. In many ways a failed folk artist who had been boxed. Like, we know what you do, we know what you’re about. And with Ziggy Stardust, he transformed his career. Like, he looked at what the kids were doing, what the media was about, where the music was going and said, ‘Ah’. Everybody was a long-haired hippy. And he was like, ‘Wait a second.’ And just took it to a whole new level and raised serious questions about gender and sexuality in the same way that I wanted to raise questions about race and identity. And so, he was inspiring that way.

There’s a significant moment on the album where, on the song Niggy Tardust, where you create a space of silence. When I say Niggy, you say nothing. Niggy ….. Niggy …. Where you name yourself, and you instruct your audience not to respond. Now, when I saw you play at Irving Plaza, I was surprised that everybody (Saul smiles and chimes in here) says nothing. Was that surprising? Was that the prevailing response? And what do you think is the significance of that?

Well, I actually meant for it to be ambiguous.  I wanted to sort of present the schizophrenia of race. You know, to say, ‘You don’t even know what you’re aloud to say. Are you aloud to say Niggy Tardust? You like the name. I know you like it, but how do you feel when you tell your friend about it? Do you feel like you’re supposed to say it? Is it wrong? Would you wear a t-shirt?’ You know, all of these things.

So, it didn’t surprise me. The confusion follows us every show.  A lot of people say it and there’s a lot of people that don’t. I just see it as interesting, but I have no judgement on it. (Shrugs) It is what it is. Because I mean both things when I say nothing. When I give that instruction, I’m also telling them, you know I’m aloud to say it but you’re not aloud to say it. It was Chris, actually, who… I think it was Chris—I can’t remember if it was me or Chris who… but I wrote that song in Australia too. Or just the chorus.  And I remember being like, him screaming out “Nothin! Shutup. (Laughs). We gotta keep that.”

How has the tour evolved since it began?  Where is Niggy taking you?  Will he put out any more work?

It has been fun.  The tour has been exciting.  It has been America and Europe, so far.  And we’ve been really well-received across the board. The music has grown and our band comradery has really developed. The effect of that on me and on Niggy has been – it’s all just a matter of chops and confidence. Really, I apply all this makeup and all this stuff so that when I look in the mirror before I go onstage, I don’t see Saul.  And I’ve been having fun with it, and find myself doing it more and more on my off days, which is fun. My wife and I, we’ll go out and we’re like, facepaint, yeah yeah! That’s been fun. It’s definitely made me realize I’m alive, I should have fun. Not just onstage. And it’s a wonderful excuse to shop. It’s a really great excuse to shop.  And so that’s been cool. I don’t know whether there’ll be more Niggy Tardust music or not.  I haven’t decided yet.

Saul’s latest album, Volcanic Sunlight, was released on November 11, 2011. He and his wife, actress and filmmaker Anisia Uzeyman, are completing their work on Dreamstates, an Afro-Punk inspired love storyshot entirely on two iPhones.


Dear Alice, Thank You for the Funnel

March 1st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Alice, embracing the tools.

Alice, embracing the tools.

Dear Alice

On our last hike, we trudged cheerfully up the winding route in a breathless, rain spattered exchange of ideas. By the time we reached the summit, serenely detached from the miniature city sprawl below, it had become clear that this was our life right now: our ideas, where they had come from, and what we would do with them. On the way back down, a question arose. How would we tell our stories? How could we capture the electricity? We decided to share our process with each other, as a way to reduce overwhelm and make something of it all. So I began a letter to you.

On Wednesday, April 12th, 2007, Shane Gooding passed away. He had richly influenced my music and my life path. I had thought I would spend my life with him. When he died, we had been dating for a year and a half and were in love. Seven years later, after living in New York and the Virgin Islands and being found again by love, I started a new phase of my life in California, with a husband and a career. And yet Shane is a part of who I am now, and I’m constantly reminded of that. I work just steps away from where we first met.

On Tuesday, January 28th, 2014  Barry Spacks passed away. Professor, Artist, Poet Laureate, friend. His classes were the best I’ve ever taken, and he was my writing mentor for ten years. By example and through gentle and patient instruction, he shaped the way I treat words. He had known me before, during and after Shane. On our coffee table is his wedding gift to my husband and I – a simple crystal frame with an etched lotus, below which floats a tiny drawing and the words:

Marriage is even sweeter than peaches and cream.

On Monday Feb 10th, 2014, Shirley Temple Black passed away. She was my childhood idol and the first reason I ever wanted to perform. With my grandmother’s help, as a young girl I had built a collection of cherished Shirley Temple antiques – dolls, books, fan club pins, etc. I’ve been working on a one-woman show about how she inspired me through her film roles, in which she personified kindness, autonomy and bravery. Amidst my own childhood blighted by physical and mental abuse, to just see a picture of her set my mind a-sparkle.

When Shane passed away, I felt like creating a narrative was the only way I could honor his life and our relationship. Something must be published, something comprehensive enough to let anyone reading grasp how important and special he was. My resolve resulted in an abandoned novel of fictionalized letters, based on my journal entries; a sealed box full of his writing, lyrics, lists, scribbles, receipts, etc., which I at one time promised myself and others I would transcribe and scan to create a digitized collection; and a sense of guilt and failure – on top of the strain of guilt and failure that already can accompany losing a loved one, and often accompanies a writer’s unfinished novel or poorly organized work. It was an uncomfortable couple of years until I began to forgive myself for my inadequate work, my unfinished work, my process.

Meanwhile, I unwittingly wrote an unreleased album’s worth of songs (and some released ones) within those first couple months that for me, satisfyingly capture how important he was and how difficult it was to lose him. Because it came easily, I didn’t get the sense of accomplishment I was looking for. When it came to writing, my feelings of inadequacy had caused enough suffering to give me resolve to handle writing about loss differently in the future.

Shane practiced Buddhism. His paternal grandmother was Chinese and kept an ivory Buddha on her dresser – a small sculpture that his uncle gave to him for strength when he became sick. The more that cancer weakened his body, the more strongly embraced the practice, along with qi gong, which later became a big part of my life and increased my capabilities as a Reiki practitioner.  When I was overcome with despair, Shane would often remind me to be calm and be still – a message that echoed in my head the moment I knew he was gone.

When I first learned of Barry’s death, I felt compelled to write something. The more you think about it, the more relative the terms become: Loss. Gone. Even death…. That’s about as far as I got, and then I suppressed the compulsion as a means of pain avoidance. Not pain of loss, but pain of failure, as a writer. I didn’t want to even begin to fail as I felt I had with commemorating Shane’s life.

Barry was also a practicing Buddhist. The practice found its way into much of his poetry, and from his example I learned a Buddhist approach to writing, if there is such a thing.While visiting him and his wife Kimberly at their home, I had gazed upon a tapestry of White Tara that hangs above the couch, and I’ve spoken to both of them at length about the practice. Kimberly wrote a beautiful book called In Buddha’s Kitchen, about cooking for seven years at the Buddhist center where she and Barry met.

These two great teachers have pointed me toward Serenity. Breath. Non-attachment. Non-resistance. They have shown me the end of suffering.

Minding these spiritual lessons and what had caused me suffering while trying to write about Shane, I resisted writing about Barry. Or rather, I decided that I didn’t want to. Sure, my mind was madly drafting, but I wouldn’t indulge. Nor would I go through our hundreds of emails and pull gems for a “Best Of” retrospective – another impulse I had. Author, friend and fellow Barry mentee Thai Carmen went through her emails and described it as cathartic, as I knew it would be. For the past ten years, we’ve been sending him our work and receiving warm, articulate, forthright feedback. We have long known what a treasure his friendship and mentorship was. I began archiving and organizing our letters years ago and have gone through them on many occasions.

But now, I didn’t go looking for his very first email to me, although I thought of it immediately – brain racking back in time to his first response to my work – much like his last just weeks ago – warm, insightful, heartening. I would do no archive spelunking. I would be still about it all. I would quietly celebrate Barry’s life and profound influence on my writing, but I wouldn’t write. I would simply look forward to the memorial service and remain quietly inspired. I would end the desire to write, so as to end my suffering about it.

And then I read a published tribute to Barry, and an impatience arose in me – the impatience of a frustrated creative.  Goodbye stillness, hello Alice. Our hike happened, and I began to write about Barry, and saw that through a letter to a friend, I might distract myself from my writing fears long enough to do pieces on Barry, Shane, and Shirley – and other topics near and dear to me. Since moving back to California two years ago today, I’ve had trouble writing personal essays. A fear of writing, a fear of not writing. You know some of the details of my challenge. I’m grateful for your “listening ear” in helping me piece something together. Having a reader has always helped me write, even if it’s an imaginary one. Incidentally, my unfinished novel about losing Shane is modeled after The Wind Up Bird Chronicles – a novel composed of letters to a reader you never meet. My working title was Letters to Mr. Featherspacks, and my imaginary reader was none other than Barry Spacks.

The posts are forthcoming. The challenge hasn’t been what to say, but what to leave out, so as to make it a good read. Writing about a great writer and teacher is a curiously meta experience. Much like composing music about a musician who profoundly influenced my music. Or trying to write a one-woman show about the actress who made me want to be an actress.

Alice, the horizon is laden with love, loss and learning. I need to make medicine of it. The spirit world is becoming full of my friends – a cloudscape vast and thunderful, electrifying, gleaming and bruised. I didn’t know how I would capture it in my medicine bottle. Thank you for the funnel.

LOL JOBZ: Advice for Young Writers

November 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Work perk: I get to bring Ramona.

Work perk: I get to bring Ramona.

If you read my last post, you know that:

a) I got married

b) I got a real job

c) I spoke about my real job on a panel this spring at UCSB

d) This post is my nervous, pre-rehearsed answers to the panel questions, which I asked for ahead of time.

How did my background in Literature influence my work in advertising?

  • Studying poetry taught me to write clearly and boldly and eliminate fluff. To distill the message into the fewest, most potent words possible while maintaining tone and voice. This is useful when writing headlines, taglines, long form copy like product descriptions or voice over and even for captions and descriptions that only the client will see.

  • Reading aloud in class developed my oratory skills; a poem or paragraph comes off much better when you read clearly and audibly with confidence and feeling. And you can tell when you’re boring a room, by the shuffle and rustle or the keen silence. So this is a useful skill in interviews, brainstorming, presentations and pitches and in speaking to clients – whether they’re in the room or on a conference call.

  • Workshopping taught me how to look subjectively at my work, not be too attached to my words, welcome feedback and critique, and in discussion do more asking than telling. I learned it’s far more valuable to answer a peer’s question with a question of my own than explain something I was trying to accomplish in my work. I learned to eliminate ‘you’ language when discussing someone’s work – to be sure I’m talking about the work and not the creator. This makes it easier for people to receive feedback and criticism. This is useful when brainstorming, concepting and in the early stages of a project.

  • Explicating literature taught me how to choose words that work extra hard to evoke mood, tone and voice without seeming to break a sweat.

  • Writing fiction especially taught me to take on and fully occupy various p.o.v.’s and voices. This is useful when writing from a particular brand’s voice, and being expected to evoke its “personality”.

  • Studying literature was essentially studying the human experience. It nurtured my compassion, imagination and sense of possibility. It gave me a way to look for the humanity in everyone – and the story in any scenario. And if you haven’t heard, Story is, like the big buzz word in advertising now. You can’t eat a bag of potato chips without learning the freakin history of the potato chip company or potatoes themselves. They figured out that they can’t just talk at us about their product anymore, they need to try to engage us.

How did I prepare for a career while in college?

  • I constantly scoured the walls for writing contests, grants and scholarships. These supported me through school, vamped up my resume and may have helped me get selected for other programs.

  • I built relationships with instructors and classmates who have become lifelong friends, mentors and professional references. They have written me letters of rec, read numerous application essays, invited me to speak in their classes and even included my poems and songs in their teaching curriculum.

  • I trained as an English tutor, which polished my grammar and syntax skills and gave me a way to earn income outside of school.

  • I self-published a poetry chapbook. This was a way to put my work out there for others to see. To stop polishing the gun and actually shoot it, as Amiri Baraka put it. I sold them at my readings and shows, and they earned me what author Barry Spacks calls “jam money”. More than anything, this was a way to stand behind my work and feel like a real writer.

How did a Lit-based education prepared me for the business world?

Preparation for the business world is not a primary feature of Lit education. But the great thing about reading is that you can’t help but learn  - not only by example –  about craft, technique and device, but also the topic. Black radicals and the Radical Tradition.  Linguistics of American Minorities.  An entire class on Vonnegut. Or Jane Austen. Or Marx. Even if you read only fiction, you could learn a lot about building a small business in a metropolitan area, or  the cost of running an aristocratic household in post-Edwardian England. Or the huge advantage of free labor during American slavery. And this understanding makes for a well-rounded knowledge base.

Is it really all who you know?

Yes it is, but who do you already know? My first freelance copywriting job was right out of highschool for Coldwell Banker’s, through my aunt who did graphic design for their ads. My second was for Van’s Shoes through the roommate of a guy I went on a date with. I gained an industry mentor through an email introduction by a high school friend. And the husband of a highschool friend got me an informational interview with my current employer after we met at a birthday dinner. I didn’t have to rub elbows at fancy parties or drink shots for any of these connections.

What advice do you have for students?

  • Write for free to get published. You’ll be able to look back at a body of work accessible to others. Also, when someone asks “Have you been published?” You’ll be abel to say “Why yes, yes I have been.” Nothing kills a conversation like answering ‘No’ to that question.

  • Work with people you know. Help out friends, family and small businesses. My husband and I redesigned my father’s brochures and business cards and album covers. It improve the look of his Charter business, was a great addition to our portfolios and led to more work from other small businesses.

  • Intern as early as possible, before you can’t afford to or feel like it’s beneath you. If it feels too late, look for volunteer opportunities.

  • Get obsessed. I call it the Owen Meany effect; when you tap into your natural passions and interests, you become an expert in something. Inevitably, your expertise will be needed, often when you least expect it.

  • Treach Yo’self. Spoil yourself with educational opportunities. Some of my faves: audiobooks, audio recording singing lessons, improv classes, online language videos, youtube yoga classes.

  • Always have a library card. Books, audiobooks and ebooks have been a huge part of my learning. Especially when I was broke.

  • Hoard opportunities to get involved. You make friends, broaden your network, tap into local resources and have fun for free. Toastmasters, Film Festivals, community centers, GO!

  • Stray from your job description. No matter where you work, continue to provide value and look for more ways to give. Take it from the menu-proofreading restaurant hostess.

  • Try a small pond. If you keep trying and can’t get your foot in any doors, spend some time in smaller community where cost of living is low and it’s easier to gain experience and contribute. The kinds of places where you have a good chance of being the lead in the local theater production; it’s still an honor, still a great experience, but easier to do. I moved from NYC to my native St. Croix for 3 ½ years before returning to LA to pursue a career. You can read about that in my post Treach Yo’self


education that costs a little

  • The Book Shop – These weekly courses in LA and OC that get you ready-for-hire at ad agencies. Taught be people in the industry, not dusty professors. Endorsed by my agency mentor.
  • Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater – Aside from excellent cheap entertainment seven nights a week, here you can study improv and sketch writing, musical improv, storytelling and sitcom spec writing.
  • ioimprov - Another great improv theater in LA and Chicago.
  • Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Almost Anything -  Author/Teacher/Independent Learning Activist Kio Stark saves you thousands.

education that costs nothing

  • Acumen – Pick a topic, get some friends together, learn! created by an organization that works to end poverty worldwide.
  • Canvas - Free online courses, or you can teach. A co-worker of mine taught a memoir writing course, and she had 1,000 students!
  • Annenberg Learner – The most recommended and respected method of learning French. The videos have great 90′s fashion.
  • your local library – Audio books, downloadable ebooks, Idiot’s Guide books, comic books, movies, instructional dvds and more.
  • classics – You can find most older and classic books for free online as pdf’s and audiobooks.

where to hoard opportunities to get involved

  • meetup.com - A super quick, easy way to connect with groups around anything from playing chess to finger painting and beyond. Use it locally, or when traveling. There’s an app!
  • Time Bank - The website is homely, and the application process takes a while, but it’s an incredible network to be a part of.
  • Writers Guild of America - Dude, they have an entire library of film and tv scripts that you can go read! Lots of events, volunteer opportunities, resources.
  • 826national - You can tutor kids through this org founded by author Dave Eggers.
  • writegirl - Ladies, you can team up with a young girl to encourage her writing.

diversity programs /employment/internships/fellowships/best kept secrets

books that changed how i live/work/write

  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley  and  William D. Danko
  • 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand by Al Ries and Laura Ries
  • Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People by G. Richard Shell
  • Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham
  • The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Area by Teressa Iezzi
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  • Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
  • Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business by David Mamet
  • On Directing by David Mamet
  • Theater by David Mamet
  • True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor by David Mamet

people who always inspire me take action

self-development/when you’re too fucking depressed to go on

Life After Literature: The Comeback Post!

November 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

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Total Marriage Material

A lot has happened since I last wrote. Life in California continues to be charmed. Hikes in Griffith park, rooftop tanning, talented people and delicious food. But along with the sunshine and brunch parties have come some all-time lows, terrible nightmares, discouraging setbacks and upsetting reveals. At some points, circumstances felt so awful that now, most mornings feel as if I’ve woken up in a good dream. All in all, I’m awash in gratitude and contentment. I write to you from a cool white desk by a large window in a Los Feliz apartment. It’s a hardwood floor sanctuary and safehaven populated with second-hand leather couches, a few pieces of art and lots of guitars. The kitchen is full of fresh produce and fermentation projects, and WFMU perpetually plays from the radio on top of the fridge. Oh yeah – and I got married this summer. Good times!

I always have a few blog drafts up my sleeve, but I chose Life After Literature as my “comeback” post because since I last wrote, I took a copywriting position at an ad agency. Straight up Peggy Olson, season three. As a result of the job, this past Spring I spoke on a panel at UC Santa Barbara entitled Life After Literature. It featured local writers and alumni who have gone on to creative careers after getting a degree in English, Literature, or what my diploma reads: Creative Studies – a most vague and unpromising title for a Bachelor of Arts. My official, full-time creative career had only begun a couple months prior to the panel, and  I had never spoken on a panel before. The origin of this post was my nervous, pre-rehearsed answers to the questions I asked for ahead of time.

The panel was a great idea. The two graduating students who created it wanted to connect the various literary publications and writing organizations across campus and put students in the same room with staff and alumni who, through discussion and example, could help them connect the dots between studies and career. I wish my classmates and I had thought to organize a such a panel. We had some charismatic, catalytic visiting writers, and many more quiet ones who seemed to patiently plod along toward an inevitable publishing. But writers’ visits served as disjointed career days; if we were gonna learn how to become professionals from them, we would have to use our extrasensory skills and absorb the how-to from the air around them during the 1.5 hours in which they read from their novel or chapbook and named their biggest influences. Either that, or wring it out of them – sit them down and force from their lips a detailed chronological account of their success. Which I think some of us were prepared to do.

Publishing was a throbbing fluorescent question mark in our young heads. How? We wanted to know. How did you get from here to there? It was no mystery how you got good at writing. You either were or were not born with a natural deftness with words, and from that point you embraced your allotment of literary instinct, and kept writing toward ever better work, while constantly reading to learn by example. But there was a mythology around becoming a professional that we couldn’t decipher. And often, these authors seemed just as mystified about the process as we were.  From where they sat, they must have known what I now understand – that telling someone how to become a professional writer is like telling someone how to become a professional dancer. It’s part talent, part perseverance, part destiny, and there’s no one way to meld it all. So during these writer’s visits, I learned more about how to make my work publishable, than translating that to a cashable check.

Some of the authors – the quieter ones – seemed bewildered about such inquiries, as if getting paid to write was the last thing on their minds. As if that long walk through the Massachusetts mist with the collie and that particular shade of orange in that leaf at the bottom of the stream was their true source of joy, and not the sparkling, snow-capped heights of glory on which they stood when their account of said mist was deemed worth money. And thinking more on this, I’m struck by the possibility that many of them weren’t worried about money. It wasn’t until after I had graduated and moved away that I understood, the nature of Santa Barbara’s academic community and artistic network: privilege, connections and bill stacks thicker than the misty fog that rolls in over the central coast every evening.

Yeah, I was sure that getting published was the best thing that could possibly happen to me. It would be instant literary rockstar status. Like getting signed to a major label if you were a 90’s band. That bubble was burst shortly after graduation at a party welcoming me into a writing fellowship. I was at some director’s house, curled up on the couch with a worldly, well-traveled poet. She was a sinewy, sensuous woman with wild hair and a voice characterized by its seasoned, post-coital rasp. She felt like pure magic, and I wanted to learn everything from her. I mentioned Leonard Cohen’s book Beautiful Losers, which someone dear had gifted me but which I felt no motivation to read. “Ugh don’t bother,” she said. “Lennie would probably be so embarrassed by that book now.” I was incredulous. How was that possible? It had a spine, and a copyright date. Didn’t that place it in the cannon of eternally cool? “He was a friend of mine,” she said. “Back then, we didn’t care about getting published. That could come later. We wanted to live. And to write well.  We would go up to the mountains, and drink wine, and read aloud. Oh, god those were such sweet times. We just wanted to be good, and it was the opinion of our peers that mattered most to us.”

Fizzzzzzle, pop. (That’s the sound of my mind being blown.) I understood her immediately, but it took years to internalize what she said, and to want to follow the example she set. To see publishing as a byproduct of a writer’s life, rather than the pinnacle. Youth was for living, for doing. And writing was about the moment – that mad rush of the words banged out on the typewriter, or a command + s, and just enough time to brush teeth, change underwear and get back out the door to go live some more. (A wiki on Cohen revealed that he was no pauper, inheriting a trust and owning property by his early 30′s as he, ahem, struggled as a writer.)

Meanwhile, back in the classroom: If the steps to a career were unclear, what of the relationships with agents, editors and publishers? Those were mysterious and holy unions that seemed the stuff of fantasy. Who were these fairy godmothers, who cared – whose job it was nurture your work and help you make it good, and in so doing alleviate the Grand Loneliness? Who would sometimes be cutthroat about it and sternly remind you that you had already been given an advance and better deliver, or would make you feel very cool by bothering you with a phone call while you were out to dinner? All of it amounting to the fact someone other than your mother  gave a shit about what you had to say?

Well now I was in the visitor’s seat, ten years out of college, but only two months out of the service industry and into a full-time creative job. I didn’t yet have a produced play, an optioned script, a debut novel, a publisher or an agent. Those are still pending. But I have health insurance, I roll into work wearing whatever I want, I’m surrounded by nice people and I’m earning my personal all-time high with creative thinking. Surely, there’s something I know now that I would have liked to have known then. Namely, that my degree could and would help me get a job. To read how, check out my next post, LOL JOBZ.

shout outs & a blog survey

November 30th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

First of all, I wanna give a shout out to my readers from the following countries: Ukraine, United States, Guatemala (new edition!) Netherlands, France, China, Great Britain, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Russian Federation, Japan, Brazil, Turkey, Estonia, South Korea, Indonesia, Canada, Israel, Vietnam, India, Iran, Republic of Serbia, Australia, Thailand, Romania, Tunisia, Chile, U.S. Virgin Islands (woot!), Singapore, Columbia, Luxembourg, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Rwanda, Venezuela, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Argentina, Mongolia, Bahrain, Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Bolivia, Slovak Republic, Latvia, Macedonia, Paraguay, Brunei Darussalam, Ghana, Pakistan, New Zealand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Cambodia, Kuwait, Greece, Dominican Republic, Italy, South Africa, Nigeria, Iraq, Kyrgzstan, Ireland, Slovenia, Belarus, Belgium, Moldova, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Malaysia, Denmark, Azerbaidjan, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Kazakhstan, Finland, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, European Country (?) and Unknown (?).  So nice to see your flag and country abbreviation on my Google Analytics!

I did not copy and paste those country names; and as I typed each one, I found myself humbled by the span of a populated globe that often seems limited to me because I forget: there are people – you people – living in all of these places.  I imagined myself visiting each of these places and meeting people, eating food, seeing the land.  I hope that one day I can!

According to my Google Analytics, I get anywhere from 8,000 to 25,000 hits a month, and in the last year my number of unique visitors has more than tripled.  They are humble numbers, compared to most other sites.  Especially when you consider that many of my hits are due to google searches for big boobs, one for “erotic circus bullwhip act” one for “westerman nazi” and one for “alisha westerman escort”.  Awkward face. Unhappy face.

There is no branding of my blog.  And from the looks of it, I will have to try to reshape search engine results.  (I think the Cabaret/Weimar Era/prostitute research content pulled me into the wrong categories.) As the blog description goes, I’m a writer and I write about stuff that interests me.  I’ve done nothing to promote the site, save mentioning it in relevant conversation and posting links to new blog entries on facebook. While I don’t put in effort at self-promotion, I do care about posting entries that are informative, authentic and feel self-contained or complete. But for how invested I am in communicating through writing, I know surprisingly little about my readers.

This reoccurred to me while I was talking to a young man from Beijing a couple weeks ago at my friends’ wedding.  He was telling me what it was like to be a young person in China, and I thought back to the little red flag icon that always shows up in my analytics, telling me that I have readers in China, among many other countries.  I found myself curious about who is reading and why.

In the past I tried to ask questions of my readers and their interests, but didn’t find an effective way to do so.  In a renewed effort to better connect with my readers, I’m going to brave the spam and turn comments back on to encourage discussion and feedback.  I urge you to share and repost entries that you find relevant to your life.  In comments, I encourage you to share what aspect of a post you connect with.  And finally, in the comments for this post, tell me:

  • How did you find my blog?
  • Why do you read my blog?
  • How often do you visit the blog?
  • Have you ever shared a post?
  • If so, why, and in what format do you share?
  • What would you like to see more of?
  • What do you find least interesting?

Thanks for reading.  You can subscribe to my blog on the right hand side of this page.

Movie Review – The Master

October 18th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve never written a movie review, but I live in Tinsel Town now, just blocks from L. Ron Hubbard Way, and last week Thomas and I rode to the neighborhood theater to see The Master.  So here goes.  Overall, I enjoyed the exploration of the topics presented – trauma, love, loyalty, belonging, belief.  I was visually and emotionally engaged, but the writer in me felt duped.  There’s some safety feature in my brain – an inner skeptic that sounds the alarm when something looks very beautiful and rich, as is the case in The Master. The skeptic says, “Yes, your eyes are pleased, your emotions are stirred, but what about that tiny sliver of logic you like to maintain?  Is there enough substance served with this beauty? Is there enough cause for the beauty?  Is there a story to go with the actor’s lovely, deeply lined face that seems so full of humanness, of character?”

And the skeptic poses this question because the deeply lined face does in fact promise a deep story.  We have been taught to expect it.  Think of the most famous portrait photographs of the most respected authors and artists and leaders.  They have Lived.  They have Hurt.  They have Thought About Things.  And they have Failed, or Triumphed, and that’s what we come away with when we learn about them.  That’s what we ascribe to them: A Story of either failure of triumph, presented with a beginning, middle, and end.  It’s all we need to feel satisfied.  And it is all that is missing from The Master.  The fucking story. 

The film has the components of a story, which is characters who want something.  Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) wants to spread his teaching in a close-knit, familial setting to facilitate man overcoming his animalistic tendencies while assuring his disciples are happy and cared for.  His wife, Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams) wants to see her husband get the recognition he deserves, and so indirectly also wants to see man overcome his animalistic tendencies while seeing to it that order and stability are maintained.  Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a wild card who wants any of the following: to belong, to be loved, to find relief from his acute symptoms of P.T.S.D.

So, do any of the characters get what they want?  It really isn’t clear by the time the credits roll.  Dodd has both failures and successes.  He is both lauded and criticized as a fake.  He embraces Freddie Quell, he shuns him.  He displays patience, and loses his shit, back and forth, back and forth.  But when the film ends he seems neither successful nor a failure.  Rather, he’s right where we found him at the start.  As naturally follows, so then is his wife.  She can neither celebrate nor mourn her husband’s career, but only sit at the side of the room like a pale appendage – as she does in the closing scene – and remain in support of him while she insists that Quell change his ways and that her husband draw a boundary with him.

As for Quell? The Master opens with a beautifully rich and haunting scene of Navy boys enjoying a day off on the beach.  It adequately set the tone of loneliness and isolation from which Quell suffers, even while surrounded by others.  There are no women in sight, save the pinup model they fashion out of sand, and which Quell spends an excruciating ten seconds fucking and fingering while others look on.  Throughout the film, this beach scene was revisited too often and for unclear reasons.  Was I, the viewer, to mourn the loss of some purity, some non-existent serenity in this setting?  Whatever the intended function, what it did do was remind me throughout that Quell was the same person he was when we met him, and that the story hadn’t moved along.

The film’s strengths were in the details – that is, the roles Paul Thomas Anderson did not take on.  It was very well cast, all the way down to the faces of the 1940′s period-appropriate extras.  The set design was great.  I especially enjoyed the sets on the boat, and in the department store where Joaquin’s character works as a portrait photographer.  (Although, with the Scientology tie-in, I was like blue, blue, blue, I get it.  There was so much blue in the movie, I felt like the loser in a game of paintball.)

Wardrobe was spot on.  Nothing too perfectly tailored.  They weren’t on Madison Ave., after all.  The score was refreshingly unexpected, erratic and in no way seamless – like Phoenix’s character. On first watch, the disjointed score seemed incongruent with how well put together other aspects of the film were.  I’d have to give it another watch to look for a pattern or determine it as a shortcoming.  But at least the score had no romantic string arrangements manipulate me into romantic notions and tears.

The Master did not pass the Bechdel Test.  Two+hours of footage in the final edit and still, no two women in the film exchange even a sentence. (If someone remembers otherwise, let me know.)  Another sausage party flick – to be filed with The Watch, Hot Tub Time Machine, and many others.  That may seem a leap but it’s just one way that I categorize movies: the category of movies about dudes trying to work on their rocky relationships (or get laid) while also pursuing some superobjective like saving the world from aliens or spreading a cult doctrine.  I would retitle this film The Master-bater.  (Exemplified by a scene in which Dodd’s wife jacks her husband off into the sink, quickly taking control, taking care of his base need and making clear her demand that he either keep it in his pants, or keep it a secret.)

Verily verily I say unto you, The Master is a love fest among men the likes of which I haven’t seen since Jesus threw a party called the Last Supper.  And not just within the secondary storyline, which was a dynamic and touching relationship between Dodd and Quell.  It was also obvious to me as I watched that Paul Thomas Anderson is in love with Joaquin; the camera hardly left him.  It probed into every crease of his face.  It lapped up every last bit of agony, affectation and tick.  In both the jail scene and the scene with a wall touching exercise Quell is forced to perform in front of the disciples, I could imagine Anderson with hearts in his eyes, letting the camera roll while Phoenix did his thing.

As for  Phoenix, well he is in love with acting.  As he should be.  Whatever shenanigans he pulled with Affleck and claiming he was over acting was in fact a successful audition for this part.  Phoenix was wonderfully complex yet accessible enough that I wasn’t entirely resentful at being forced to watch so much footage of his frailty, volatility and silvery hairs.

While Hoffman was great in the role of Dodd, I’m no longer in love with him as an actor.  I have already seen him play a flawed erudite authority figure and I’ve already seen him jack off a couple times so I don’t felt like I saw anything new.  And as rad as he is, I’m tired of being asked to care about portly old unhealthy looking white men in high budget movies.  (How about someone young, skinny and brown for a change?)  Plus, while I appreciated his character’s fumblings and weak moments, it detracted from the what authority or tyranny he would need to display to warrant being called Master by his disciples.  (Previews led me to believe there was more of a Hollywood tie-in, and so I thought it related to the master copy of a film within the story.  Hmm.  Perhaps it does.  Perhaps there’s a tie-in to P.T.A.’s much anticipated work and a naked emperor parallel.)

Regarding the 70mm thing.  I have heard the word “pretentious” used in regard to P.T.A. shooting The Master on 70mm, and I have heard it suggested that he perhaps he used this as a free pass to make a not very good movie.  I’m not educated enough about film to hold 70mm in such high regard.   I’d say most large projects that are written, directed and co-produced by one person will have gaps and blind spots that can otherwise be tended to if one delegates or shares responsibility of these three big titles.  The same thing can be said (to a lesser degree) of his film Magnolia, which I happened to love nevertheless.

Bottom line?  Go see The Master to gaze at Joaquin Phoenix in the film that will transition him from being a great actor to being a “Great Actor”.  Go to be visually stimulated and impressed with many aspects of Craft in the film industry.  If you care about Story, you’ll be left wanting.

On Behalf of Lost Boys and Fairies

September 3rd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

20120903-095619.jpgHey all you people who are not interested in me. Hey all you people who asked me to show you what I had and then dropped silent and forgot I existed. Hey all you people who were curious enough to make a request but then not considerate enough to respond. Hey all you people who want to see samples and examples, who want me to dance, who want me for free, who want something/anything for free, who want all the talent and hot pieces of ass in the world to parade across your screen and across your desk and across your office while you sit on your itchy, hemorrhoidal butt and passively watch and pass judgment on all the best feet forward, feed off of all the creativity and use the time to brighten your dull, rote afternoon and convince yourself that it’s your job to suck, suck, suck all of this up because it’s your job to find something new and brighter and better than what you already have and what you already are and believe it’s your job to be blown away by instant success, rather than to discover something beautiful and healthy and nurture it and watch it grow and spread its roots and tendrils all over your world so that your box, your studio, your “work space” becomes so covered with life and sun and green and growth that your breath, your day, your life is transformed. It’s not your job to sit there with your coffee breath inspecting these best feet forward like some pageant judge. It’s your job to discover and be curious and to ask questions and encourage and advise.

Oh, did you not yet realize? You’re no longer that lost boy, the fairy living off the morning dew. You may not be happy at this moment, but you probably love your job and your sense of gratitude and luck has been dulled by too many artisanal breakfast sandwiches too many mornings in a row.

Reminder: you already got the part. You already have the desk. The prius. The dinner reservations. The hip colleagues. The paid trips. The precious opportunity to have your ideas heard and seen, talked about, torn apart, improved upon, published, broadcasted. And now it’s your job to give a fuck about those wildly talented, hungry kids who haven’t arrived, who haven’t yet landed in the right place at the right time, who haven’t had a door open so that they can sprint through, who don’t know the right people, and don’t know what they’re supposed to ask, or where they’re supposed to stand.

It’s now your job, successful, solicitous professional, to give them a reply. To tell them something. That their work is 60% there. Or 40% there. Or belongs in a different world. Or made you think of your little brother or your first crush or a nightmare you had last night. Tell them you aren’t really hiring but just bored and curious. Tell them you know someone who might know someone. Be honest and tell them that your budget doesn’t cover what they’re worth.

Tell them something – anything that’s true. Because the nothingness is devastating and cold to reach across, and it’s your job to warm the frigid line of communication they have extended to you. You are a stone that smooths their grit and sharpens their hope. Remember to care; just because they don’t have exactly what you do doesn’t mean they don’t offer something vastly deep, beneficial and healing to you as an individual. Don’t be afraid of a drop of their sweat landing on your forearm. It’s good medicine, and you might make a friend.

And what, I ask you, might be possible with a friend?


The Liberation of Authenticity

July 4th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

When I apply for work, I don’t mention my blog because I assume that some content in it will count against me.  Though, in my opinion it’s my reverence for life and my love of purity, simplicity and liberation that inspire my writing, I assume that my passion will rub against the sentiments of whomever’s doing the hiring and they will move on to other, more acceptable digitally represented candidates.  Since my blog is searchable, I don’t have control over anyone accessing it, but that doesn’t stop me from writing.

Although, since I moved recently and have been looking for more work, I have felt reservations about posting.  I questioned whether there was any merit to my blog at all, and I considered either getting recklessly candid, switching to an anonymous format or deleting the blog altogether.  I found liberation in those possibilities.  As it happened, I was too busy to make a decision and so I guiltily neglected my blog and put off choosing.  But it’s not the act of moving that has me too busy to write here; the transition to stateside life feels complete.

The truth is, I’ve been undergoing a tremendous amount of psychic and energetic healing, which has been almost too deep and profound to describe coherently, except in an epic email or scheduled skype session with a trusted friend.  Can you imagine me left speechless?  Moi?  It feels like hanging out at le cafe with my local chapter of the Practice Your French meetup group.  I know what I want to say, but the words won’t come.  I’m finding it difficult to even catch my partner up on what’s happening, and I see Thomas more than anyone else.

So to present any of these milestones coherently in a post is daunting, to be sure.  But I have been tempted to try; with my work as a Transformational Coach, I feel called to a greater degree of authenticity.  Let me put that another way – it’s time to be REAL, always because there’s no benefit to conducting myself in any way other than authentic.  Authentic means telling you when I feel your deceased loved one hovering over us with messages of love so strong that I cry uncontrollably.  Authentic means flaking on that party I promised to go to because the neighborhood just had a bad vibe.  Authentic means asking you to stop complaining to me while I’m in the kitchen because it’s fucking up the salad.  Authentic means telling a handsome stranger at a party that I feel like I’m being lectured and that the conversation isn’t fun anymore.  I have been surprised and impressed with the results.  It places me exactly where I need to be, with exactly the right people.

A little over a week ago, I applied for a  job doing freelance writing for a health professional starting a private practice.  She wanted someone for brainstorming and planning and creating solid website content.  In a brief post on craigslist, she said she was looking for someone able to focus who was articulate, calm, motivating, curious, confident and intuitive, who asks a lot of good questions, digs deeper and is comfortable discussing feelings and behavior change.  It’s rare that I read any job description that describes me or how I work, let alone on craigslist.  I sent her a short email asking if she was still looking for help.  As usual, I didn’t mention my blog, but simply offered to send writing samples.  I got the following reply, which I post with her permission.

Hi Alisha,

I’ve gotten a huge number of responses and have been going on gut instinct to decide whom to call. As the week wore on I realized this craigslist ad that cost me $25 was a better investment than the $100 I paid a woman to edit my copy last week. I’ve gotten a glimpse of how creative folks who consider themselves entrepreneurs market their services in this part of the world. It’s been a fascinating and unexpected learning experience.
I had the balls to goggle you and came across your blog. That’s why I’m writing. We have some striking similarities. I moved to LA three weeks ago. I lugged my spices from and to my last 10 apts; this time, I left about 25 hard-to-find and precious-to-me spices and pantry products on the kitchen table of a good friend along with a post it note describing how I’d acquired and preferred to use each one. I even gave her the smoked paprika from Barcelona, the one that reminded me of the week with those deep brown eyes… Well, it was a practice in letting go. I’ve been practicing for a couple of years now and am pleased to say I’m growing better at it.
I spent the last 5 months living on a coffee farm in the mountains of Hawaii. (While there I practiced NVC which I had begun in my work back home, and intend to use in my work going forward). So my entrance to LA was a bit like my re-entry into the world of convenience and things that others believe matter. It’s also been an opportunity to reconnect with friends. One thing I’ve noticed is that my authenticity has been fading, as I fall back into routines I learned on the mountain no longer express my true self. I’ve been taking photos for my website and I’ve noticed to my horror that in 9 of 10 photos my face looks dramatically crooked. It’s freaked me out! So, I think you’re right about the disconnect in emotions showing up in our facial geometry.
This afternoon I dragged myself to yoga against the inertia of my panic at perhaps not making my entrepreneurial dreams come true after all. Yoga helps me remember what is important to me, and that I am extraordinarily capable. I always cry, and then I can face the world as me again. Today I acknowledged that I have not been acting authentically… So when I saw your writing and felt a connection to you I chose to tell you, even though you’re a stranger and wrote to inquire about a job and even though my long personal response would typically be considered inappropriate, because that is authentically me. It takes practice to be the person I want to be. I value every opportunity to do it. Thanks for giving me that today.
Also, about the work: I will need more support to move forward, and, I’m not able to pay another fee at this time. You’ve made an impression on me with what you’ve put out in the world and I will keep you in mind for the next opportunity.
Thanks Alisha,


A letter of this nature came at a good time for me.  A little explanation: the dreamy, subconscious planet of Neptune (which has a clouding effect) is currently in conjunction with and misting over my natal sun (ego, sense of self) in the 11th house (of long-term dreams and goals, a sense of future direction and purpose, plans and group involvement).  Though doing all this deep, internal work on myself and spending 10+ hours a week studying and helping others do the same for themselves, I have been at a loss to come up to the surface and present myself to the community and the professional world in any way that feels concrete, marketable, packaged and properly branded.  Instead, my efforts seem to become diffused, my presentation inevitably turns vague, and my accomplishments appear to be falling apart and disappearing before my very eyes.  What’s more, Uranus (planet of radical change) is traveling through my 12th house (subconscious, secrets, intuition and dreams) and about to crash the party back in the 1st house of very visible and tangible identity.  (You can all expect some big, shocking news from me in the coming year or two.  Don’t ask me what it is now, because I don’t know yet.)  Though Uranus and Neptune are slow moving outer planets which wield a greater influence over our lives, these are transits and are therefore temporary.  However, I have been seriously questioning whether I’m of any value to my society at all.

Upon reading her email, I had a sense of connection that I rarely experience with a stranger, especially over email.  A connection across the universe.  No matter where either of us had been, in this moment we were in the same place.  She touched on things I’ve been learning and writing about for a couple of months, and described some uncanny parallels in her own life.  I felt seen for who I really am.  I felt trusted and capable of seeing her for who she really was, and grateful for her vulnerable offering in exchange for mine.  And somehow that made it possible for each of us to carry on with our work.

Is a glimpse in the cosmic mirror all it takes to keep us doing our work – work that sometimes has us feeling like we come from another planet or another dimension?  Well amen for authenticity.  And I’ve decided to keep my blog after all.

One Foot in Heaven, One on Earth

June 14th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelling channeling the divine through dance in Singin’ in the Rain.

According to the [mystical Christian] teaching of Fr. Richard Rohr the concept of the ‘third eye’ is a metaphor for non-dualistic thinking, the way the mystics see. In Rhohr’s concept, mystics employ the ‘first eye’ (sensory input such as sight) and the second eye (the eye of reason, meditation, and reflection), “but they know not to confuse knowledge with depth, or mere correct information with the transformation of consciousness itself. The mystical gaze builds upon the first two eyes—and yet goes further.”

It happens whenever, by some wondrous “coincidence,” our heart space, our mind space, and our body awareness are all simultaneously open and nonresistant. I like to call it presence. It is experienced as a moment of deep inner connection, and it always pulls you, intensely satisfied, into the naked and undefended now, which can involve both profound joy and profound sadness at the very same time.” Rohr refers to this level of awareness as “having the mind of Christ”.

continued: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_eye

I recently took an intro class on the ancient art of Chinese face reading. The instructor was intriguing in her knowledge and (loving) understanding of reading people. She said that the left side of the face shows our emotions, and the right side of the face is the face we show the world – that is, those emotions process from left to right. I think of lazy eyes, noticeably disparate nostrils and lopsided grins (including my own crooked smile), and how that could indicate a gap between what we are feeling inside and what we show those around us. It’s no coincidence that, in working with people as a Transformational Coach, I’m constantly guiding them down one of several pathways to alignment – that is, using various methods to allow them to marry their heart’s deepest desires with their outward deeds and actions.

I also recall that symmetry in physical appearance is considered universally attractive. Could it be that we are instinctively drawn to beings whose inner and outer worlds are fairly aligned and harmonious?

This week, I did volunteer Reiki for seniors at a beautiful retirement community. It felt so good to give to my elders and recognize their strength and vivacity. One of the other practitioners was teaching a woman a chant and mentioned that in the Japanese discipline, there is a focus on three main chakras – the third eye, the heart and the solar plexus. The heart is the meeting place between divine connection and our will.

I also think of how, as humans, we are represented as the middle line in the trigrams of the I Ching. We are the connection between heaven and earth. Our work, by the very nature of our being, is to infuse earthly experience with divinity. One foot in heaven and one on earth, so to speak. I’m so feeling this right now.

Ten Things My Kitchen Can’t Live Without

April 25th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Some of the first things that go into the grocery cart.

Having just relocated across the country, I naturally had to let go of some things. I was happy to do this. Over the years I’ve had a weird habit of lugging kitchen condiments from place to place.  But there was no way I going to try to ship a mostly full, five-gallon bucket of molasses from the Virgin Islands to California for the sake of Sweetface. Nor did I intend to watch the mail for weeks, only to pull out cracked bottles of stale spices. I looked forward to starting clean.

This let me take a good look at what I find essential for the kitchen.  When my kitchen is stocked with my basic preferences and needs, I can make a great meal at a moment’s notice.  I define great meal as one that leaves me satisfied and energized, and doesn’t have me wishing for more salt, more fat, more flavor.  Here is a list of what I found myself seeking out within days of landing.

1. Fresh vegetables such as romaine, kale, chard, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, cabbage.  You can serve anything on a bed of these.  Also essential for juicing and salads.

2. Two thirds lb of hormone-free meat such as bison, ground beef, lamb for stew, ground turkey – They cost more, but most Americans eat way too much animal protein.   Two-thirds lb lasts three meals, and has never cost me over nine dollars.  I didn’t always bring meat into my kitchen, but after I started eating for my blood type, I found that red meat and less starch made a huge difference in my energy level.

3. Fresh garlic and ginger – A must have for kitchens at all times. In addition to being cooked into most of my meals, they are both great detoxer for juicing, adding a kick and complexity to the taste. You can steep ginger for tea, and crush a clove of garlic into your dog’s food to repel ticks.  A chunk of ginger is a great gum chewing alternative and is great for digestion.  And ladies, if you don’t know this by now, you should: garlic kills yeast.

4. Oils, vinegar and Braggs Liquid Aminos – Gigantic green salads are a core component of my diet. Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar and good olive oil are a must for good salads.  Adding a dash of the super salty soy-based Liquid Aminos makes it amazy-ing.  When mixed with a few other essentials, they make eating a pile of leafy greens more appealing than the yummiest junk food. Coconut or sesame is a good high-heat oil for stir fries, baking and soups.  Coconut is a great base for all sorts of healthy desserts.  Something I’m having to adjust to is that in California, it stays solid, whereas on St. Croix the climate keeps it in liquid form.

5. Spices like turmeric, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne – Spices improve digestion, enrich flavor and, holding the different properties of vata pitta and kapha in Ayurveda, help to balance one’s constitution. I throw them in any stir-fry.  I put a pinch in hot water as an alternative to tea. I use turmeric and paprika in skin scrubs with fresh plain yogurt and chopped cucumber and apple. Cayenne can be used in an emergency to cauterize wounds, stop bleeding and disinfect cuts. Google it.

6. Nutritional Yeast – This vegan source of B12 tastes like cheddar or Parmesan cheese. It’s a great texturizer for dips and dressings. It’s a magical flavoring for popcorn. It’s a tasty topping for salads, noodle dishes and cooked veggies. It’s a soup and sandwich booster.  It’s made from deactivated yeast of beet sugar, so safe for those avoiding yeast in their diet. You can find it in the bulk section of healthy food stores. I recommend buying it in large quantities, because once you’re hooked you will go through that shit like Lady Gaga goes through costumes. When we lived on St. Croix, we would order it in gallon buckets.

7. Agave – As beautiful and miraculous a thing as maple syrup is – amazing sugary sweet tree blood – it’s pricey and I like to use it conservatively. What’s more, its flavor can be lost or wasted in some recipes. Agave is a great alternative. I’ve read that it could be not the greatest for you, but I know that sugar is no good for you, and unlike sugar, I don’t feel a crash when I eat agave.  Add a drizzle to cold or hot cereal.  Use it to sweeten unsweetened rice or almond milk, so that you get to determine how sweet your milky beverage is.  A teaspoon will add complexity to stewed dishes and soups.  A dash combined with sesame oil, vinegar and Bragg’s soy sauce makes a teriyaki sauce or salad dressing.  When processed a certain way, it has a low Glycemic Index, and is ok for diabetics.

8. Ezekiel sprouted grain products – I usually avoid gluten, but not everyone does.  I haven’t found a better bread – it’s great stuff.  Ezekiel’s hearty, sprouted corn tortillas taste like real corn! It can be challenging to find tortillas without preservatives. These are preservative free.

9. Nori sheets – These can be cut into strips for salads and soups, soaked and blended for vegan ceasar dressing and provide a great gluten-free alternative for wraps.

10. Himalayan salt – It’s not chemically altered the way table salt it. It tastes super good, it doesn’t make you puffy, it contains all of the 84 elements found in your body and promotes a healthy pH balance in your cells, particularly your brain cells. In addition to food, I add a sprinkle to my water dispenser.  That, with a drop of Youngliving’s grapefruit essential oil transforms five gallons of water into something that tastes like the fountain of youth.

With the above components, my kitchen is complete and only sushi could pull me away from my kitchen.  Some new additions are plain greek yoghurt and a chunk of raw sheep milk or goat milk’s cheese.  Two great extras that assure me that I’ll never have to leave the house are: 1. Bob’s Redmill gluten-free pizza mix – We all want pizza every now and then. As long as this is in the house, I know I can go to it when I get the craving. 2. A gluten-free cookie or pie mix or two – this is another tool for emergency cravings, and if I’m going to a potluck and decide to bring dessert, it’s usually greeted with delight from others who try to avoid gluten but tend to break rules in social situations. If I’m not feeling like using eggs and butter, I will blend up flax seeds and use coconut oil to keep the recipe vegan.