I found my heart in San Francisco.

I laughed. I sang. I danced.

Thank you. I know now that true north is defined by your own star.

More soon.

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(Got My Kicks) On Route 66

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Route 66 was removed from the official highway directory in 1985. However, back in its heyday, it provided thousands of migrating Americans a path towards the west – especially during the Dust Bowl. It’s earned such epithets as “The Main Street of America” as well as “The Mother Road.” Stretching from Santa Monica, CA to Chicago, IL, it’s one of the U.S.’s first highways. The best part is that it’s still around and navigable. I took full advantage.

It took me two hours, but I drove from Rancho Cucamonga to Santa Monica on this road. Nowadays, it’s barely recognizable as a major highway. Mostly host to shopping centers and residential areas, some gas stations and businesses are designed to look vintage. I snapped some photos.

Currently in Los Angeles battling rough winds and rain. Tried vegetarian chicken pesto (delicious) at Cafe Muse. Stopped by Amoeba Music and picked up a few records. Caught a show at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, starring some of the comedians from Derrick Comedy and the actor from Spy Kids.

Heading north tomorrow for the long haul.

After some reflection, I’ve learned some very important things:

1. Take the scenic route as often as possible.

2. Laughter really is the best medicine.

3. Following an impulse every once in a while is healthy.

4. Friends will be there for you.

5. Adventure is out there!


The Scenic Route

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Today, I took the scenic route. This is my trip, my pace, my stops.

I’ve made a list of places I want to see this week, and I’ve checked it twice! The journey continues tomorrow.

I’m overwhelmed by everyone’s support. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel connected to all of you throughout this journey and am grateful for your warmth, prayers, and insight.

The Road to Restore Sanity

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I’ve had enough.

Enough of feeling trapped in a situation, enough of my fear to do anything about it, simply enough.

I’m taking the week off with my Orange Revolution and following the yellow brick road wherever it will take me. I’ve packed a sleeping bag, my laptop, my ukulele, a journal, a camera, some poetry books, and some clothes into the bed of my car. A getaway has been overdue. I’m headed somewhere north. Who knows where I’ll end up? The mystery thrills me to no end.

Yesterday was the last straw.

Every year, my family aspires to take a vacation somewhere. They “aspire” to because it hasn’t happened in full force for the last seven years. An idyllic long-distance trip out of the country haplessly devolved into a weekend trip out of state, then to a horribly passive-aggressive day trip to Vegas. First of all, Vegas for the holidays? Not exactly what I had in mind. Sin City doesn’t really channel the hallmark “chestnuts roasting over an open fire.” Although the “chest” and the “nuts” parts do take on other meanings. As if the two-hour buffet lines, unaffordable shopping, and pushy crowds aren’t enough to warrant an outburst, my parents somehow always find a reason between themselves to get into a fight. In public. During the holidays. In Vegas.

After two hours of futile mediation on my brother’s part, we decided that the next logical step was to simply go home. During the four-hour drive back, I decided that I was still going to have a vacation, despite the failure of this one. So here I am, typing away from the bed of my car, stealing WiFi from a local office building to chart my journey.

I have long separated any personal responsibility from my family’s situation, but it doesn’t make it any less traumatizing to witness. If I ever decide to immortalize this experience in a novel someday, I’ll get more in depth about the dysfunction within. For now, you get the abridged version.

A friend of mine once asked me how I could write so publicly about my demons. The truth is – writing has always helped me process my emotions. Sometimes, my music merges with my writing. Other times, my writing stands for itself. In regard to how I can be public about my life, my hope is that by being honest about myself, I’ll somehow be held accountable by those reading. Whether or not I ever speak openly to them about it. Also, by facing my own flaws, I’ll gain insight on how perfection doesn’t really exist.

I’ll be blogging along the way. Let’s hope this impromptu journey can also be a spiritual one. 2011 is right around the corner, and I’m itching for a change. I have to carve my own inner path to healing. It won’t be easy, but I have to do it.

In Case of SWAT Team

Two months ago, I found myself wandering around CVS, not looking to buy anything in particular. You know how it is. There was some time to kill, so I stopped by to see whether I would “need” anything after browsing the aisles. I picked up an plaid orange mini-blanket and thought it might be a good addition for my car, since I spend so much time driving in it, sitting it in, sleeping in it. Plus, the fact that both the blanket and my car were orange already delighted me. “Just in case,” I thought.

In case of cold? In case of picnic? In case of nap was more like it.

Little did I know that this unassuming plaid orange mini-blanket would serve its purpose one night “in case of SWAT team.” But that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

Around 10pm last night, two SWAT trucks, 20 police cars (from three different cities), the fire department, paramedics, and an ambulance had pulled onto my street. Police radios chortled with static while volunteer traffic control officers in highlighter-colored vests directed cars anywhere but into the neighborhood.

Enter Lily. I was driving home from dinner, fantasizing about slipping into bed early and listening to my new Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong vinyl record. It was a rare find – released by Verve Records in 1956 and recorded at Capitol Records in Los Angeles – and the record store owner was impressed that I knew it was a gem when I saw it. Anyway, back to the story.

My initial reaction was panic. That was the first time in my life I had feared for the safety of my family from not knowing what was going on, where they were, and what to do. I called my house phone hoping someone would pick up. The three longest dial tones of my life rang before someone answered.

“Hello?” my mom’s voice was on the other line. Thank God.

“Mom? Do you know what’s happening?”

“No. I do not know. Police cars here since I got home at 7pm. They’re not letting you in?”

“No, they’re keeping us out here. But they said someone has a gun, so please stay away from the windows. Stay somewhere near the center of the house.”

“Okay, please stay warm,” my mom said as we ended the conversation.

“I’ll talk to you soon.”

Unable to go home, I hung up and parked my car alongside the curb to join the other bystanders. Gossip poured through the masses. I investigated. After filtering through all the various accounts, I deducted that there was an armed person locked in a room with other guns. Shots were fired at some police officers earlier that evening. No one was hurt, but no one was allowed in or out of the neighborhood.

From where I stood, I could see the windows of my house, lit from the inside by the living room lights. It was starting to get cold. Well, cold for California. So I went back to my car and grabbed two things: my plaid orange blanket and my camera. Then I went back out to the scene.

This was the closest I’d been to a crisis situation. I thought it’d be a good opportunity to observe some human behavior in this context. One woman’s way of coping with her panic was by talking. She approached me mid-rant – I’m guessing because she scared off her last listener. Her 15-year-old son and dog were inside the house while the rest of the family was stuck outside, having just come back from a Christmas concert. I tried to be reassuring, but responding to her only engaged her more. When I told her I was going to try to get another view, she walked off, still talking to herself, in search of another victim. Another man was trying to get answers out of a cop, without much success. Others, desperate to go home, were scheming to get into their homes by climbing their back fences. A group of teens had congregated and were standing in their hoodies, looking on to the scene.

“I wonder if anyone’s dead,” one of them speculated. “I saw this episode of CSI once when a guy was holding someone hostage in his house. It took 3 hours for the cops to get him out.”

“Don’t be stupid, no one’s dead yet. The ambulances would be in there if someone died.”

“It’s Cypress. No one’s gonna get shot here. Nothing exciting really happens.”

I chuckled to myself, kept walking, and snapped some pictures along the way. Some other residents in the neighborhood who had been out walking their dogs also happened upon the scene in bewilderment. Similar comments of how nothing like this has ever happened before were exchanged among bystanders. The dogs looked on for a while with mild interest, then began to sniff each other instead.

“I HEARD A GUNSHOT,” my mom texted me.

“Tell Kevin to take pictures!” I texted back. I don’t think she found humor in the situation the same way I did.

What I did next will forever define me. I went to Target. It didn’t seem like anything else was going to happen, and it was getting cold, so I drove to the nearest Target, which was open late for the holidays. I distracted my mind from all the terrible things that could potentially happen in the given situation and instead looked through Christmas paraphernalia and the $1 section.

I read somewhere that crimes – namely robberies – are most common around the holidays. The tougher times are economically, the more crimes occur. Perhaps the prospect of not being able to afford the holidays slowly drives people crazy. Surrounded by consumerism at Target, I felt a pang of remorse for joking about the situation earlier.

Half an hour later, my mom called me and told me the coast was clear. They had arrested the woman and taken her in. No one was hurt. When I got back to my street, the cops were rolling up the police tape. The SWAT trucks were gone, and the only trace left of the madness was one police car and a few residents standing outside, eager to exchange commentary. The Christmas lights on my neighbors’ houses blinked away the madness of the evening. Once again, Cypress had reverted to its natural state of repose.

I changed into warmer, more comfortable clothes, pulled out my record with relish, turned on the Christmas lights in my room, and fell asleep. Lying in a warm bed, I felt grateful for being safe under the same roof as my family, for having a roof at all.

Finally, a Silent Night.

Here’s the newspaper Orange County Register article about the incident: http://www.ocregister.com/news/woman-280669-officers-police.html

Therapy

Therapy.

I think I’ve finally earned my stripes as an artist. It’s true. After finding myself in a closet – literally – full of emotion, I figured it was time to seek some professional help. Welcome to the dark side of Lily.

Personal details aside, therapy (or counseling, or psychology, etc.) is pretty much like its visual representation on TV. When I first got to the office, there were stacks of Psychology Today magazines spread out on a coffee table. Reese Witherspoon’s smiling face was on the cover of one of them. For some reason, celebrity endorsement is relevant to my mental health.

On the wall, there was a panel on which a list of names was posted. Next to each name was a buzzer. I buzzed my therapist, one G. Honeyduff. I’m not kidding. That was her real name. She came out dressed in business attire with a frilled blouse, which reminded me of how some birds’ breasts puff up when they’re trying to attract a mate. Was this her scheme for luring in patients? I set this question aside in my mind and decided to introduce myself instead. She answered sweetly.

We entered her office, fitted with a comfy couch and pillows, then an easy chair opposite of it. For a second, I was silly enough to second-guess which was my seat. I sunk down into the couch and awaited what was next. Turns out, Dr. Honeyduff was waiting on me to say something first. I should have guessed it. Had I learned nothing from TV?

For an hour, she picked my brain and gave feedback that, at first, I received with ample skepticism. Here I was, sitting and talking to a total stranger about my deepest, darkest emotions. We had only known each other a few minutes. How could I assume that Dr. Honeyduff would get the full picture about me in such a short period of time? Halfway through, I paused for a very long time. Unable to look Honeyduff straight in the eyes, I inspected her frills to focus on something. I imagined my mind being just as convoluted as her frill pattern. Taking a deep breath, I eased down my guard a little, reclined against the pillows, and found a space to simply talk. And you know what? It was nice to have that. Whether or not Honeyduff was en pointe with gauging my emotions, it felt nice to know that my venting wasn’t bringing anyone close to me down.

On my way out, she told me, “Be good to yourself this week.”

As Dr. Honeyduff’s saccharine smile disappeared behind the door crack, I thought, Hey, that’s not a bad idea. It’s never too late to start. Even if you have to learn to start all over again.

Christmas lights in my room

In “light” of my recent illumination.

Copycat: An Ode to Individuality

If there’s one thing in life I hate most, it’s making copies.

It’s always you in a claustrophobic room full of neglected office supplies–hole punchers, tape, and staplers obnoxiously labeled, “PROPERTY OF SO-AND-SO, LLC” as if the most boring burglar in existence would whisk them away once you turned your back. (Even if that were true, I doubt there would be much profit to be made in the scotch tape trade.) Then there’s the age-old war of Assistant vs. Machine. Why is it that copy machines only break down when you have to make 250 copies of a flyer for your boss’ meeting the next morning? The only thing I’ve learned from these encounters is that machines don’t respond well to yelling.

By definition, a copy is an exact duplicate of something. With each blinding green scan of the machine, you destroy the originality of that first document by tiny little increments. And of your own individuality in the process.

I’ve made my fair share of copies. Fortunately enough, my day jobs have never taken me into the torturous world of retail. Nor have I ever had to flip a burger. But sometimes, between fubbing phone transfers and nursing paper cuts, I almost longed for grease stains and lousy tips.

Office culture is something that fascinates, irritates, and amuses me all at once. Conversations are stale and repetitive. Some weather we’re having today, huh? Busy day? Yeah, me too. Well, take care! Lather, rinse, repeat. In the two months that I’ve been at my current job, this is as far as I got in conversations with Julie, a woman who works two suites down from ours. But who is this Julie, I wonder? Is she a legal clerk by day, bank robber by night? Does she like pickles with her hamburgers? Has she ever stalled while driving stick shift? What’s the worst Christmas present she ever received? There must be an entire world packed inside this myopic woman I run into on a daily basis. Alas, relationships in the office stay suspended near the surface, floating somewhere near the top of the water cooler current.

If human beings are a sum of their actions, then I’ve been reduced to nothing but a conglomeration of copies, phone calls, e-mails, and errands. We office monkeys are highly susceptible to office amnesia, a condition under which we temporarily forget that we hold lives beyond the cubicle. Hypnotized by blinking cursors, we’re sent off into cyberspace along with our e-mails.

Noooo! I feel like shouting at the top of my lungs, for dramatic effect. This can’t be all there is! The good news is that it isn’t. I refuse to believe that everyone is as boring as their day jobs. I know in my heart of hearts that Julie must harbor a secret passion for spelunking and that my boss, a writer, is really a concert pianist waiting for his big break. Just as I often feel pressured to conceal that I’m a musician, I know that others are equally hesitant to show their true colors.

If I was in charge, I’d instate a Bring-Your-Double-Life-to-Work Day at least once a month. We’d have trombone  soloists, dolphin trainers, track stars, and underwater basket weaving demonstrators, and coming to work would be 400 times as interesting, if even for a day. One of these days, in a calculated move, I’m going to burst into song with my ukulele (which I actually have stashed away in my desk) and serenade the entire office suite with jazz songs from the 1920s.

This can result in one of two things: (1) I get fired. (2) My fellow office monkeys are so thrilled with my performance that they proclaim me their new leader and carry me on their shoulders out to the parking lot, where we’ll resupply our bodies with melanin. Then, they reward me with a lifetime supply of non-dairy coffee creamer.

My point is this: individuality doesn’t die out. In the office world, we simply learn to conceal it. We slip it in between stacks of memos and  lose it behind layers of post-it notes. But it is imperative that we remember: there’s more to life than the copy room. We were made to produce, not to be reproduced (some biologists and stem-cell researchers may disagree…but you get my point).

Until that fateful day when I take over and demand that my fellow office monkeys rejoice in each other’s singular talents, I’ll have one hand on the telephone receiver and the other tenderly fondling the strings of my ukulele – carefully tucked away for now –  just in case.

“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” –John Mason

Stars and Pinstripes Forever

Don’t laugh – I’ve always wanted to care about sports. More specifically, I’ve always wanted to care about spectator sports. But the thought of giving into any kind of mob mentality — especially if it involves yelling “four-peat!” into crowds, saturating Twitter feeds with live updates of game scores, or artery-clogging amounts of junk food — always gave me reason to look the other way.

My argument has always been that I love playing sports. I’m just not too keen on watching sports. I have tons of pleasant memories playing basketball all throughout grade school. I’ve popped vessels in my forearms playing volleyball. I’m pretty bad at soccer but have collected my fair share of grass stains from playing it. I can rally in tennis and have a decent backhand. I ran the 100m in track and completed a marathon a couple years back. I even had a really decent repertoire of tricks up my sleeve in handball at one point in my prepubescent life. So it’s not like sports aren’t my thing, but you might as well be speaking Klingon to me when you start spitting out statistics at a mile a minute.

“Wait — who got traded to where and who and the what now?”

But then it recently occurred to me that the people who have the time and energy to memorize statistics, names, and dates are the ones who actually care about the sport enough to do so. Which brought me to a jarring realization: I didn’t care enough about any sports! Rather, there wasn’t anything about sports in modern day that tempted me to care. We live in an age of constant stimulus and short attention spans. People like fast-paced things. Flashy things. Scandalous things. Me? Not so much. Maybe that’s why Tiger Woods’ infidelity dominated headlines for months and months. And maybe that’s why you can never find a seat at Yard House each time the Lakers play. After being sprinkled with nacho particles and discovering beer stains on my clothing enough times, I decided that maybe this wasn’t my thing.

Until now, that is.

I wouldn’t say that baseball was a recent discovery. Nor was it so deeply embedded into my childhood. Although, I do remember the thrill of eagerly waiting my turn to bat behind the cage during recess. And I do remember planning to wear jeans the night before going to school just in case I needed to slide into base. I remember baseball being fun. These memories lay dormant in my mind until Ken Burns’ serial documentary Baseball woke them up with a sounding alarm. (And, to his credit, my boyfriend Felipe was the one who helped pull the switch.)

Almost an antithesis of what people expect out of sports these days, baseball is not all lights and sounds. If anything, the crack of the ball against the bat might be the only thing that breaks the buzzing silence of a slow summer day at the stadium (depending on the day and who’s playing, of course). Games can run long, and the chances of witnessing a fatality or injury are a lot lower than if you were watching a more high-contact sport. But if you know your history and meet the right people, you’ll see that baseball is one of the greatest games ever played.

For instance, baseball has thrived and survived through almost every major American war. Soldiers played in their encampments during the Civil War. Players like Christy Mathewson were drafted for the First World War and returned to the game afterward. All-Star games, in which people could vote for which players played, were the result of an effort to bring out more fans during the Great Depression. And practically anybody could play. The earliest teams were made up of merchant groups – barbers, miners, shopkeepers, firemen. I say “practically” because blacks in America were not allowed to play in the major leagues until 1947 (when Jackie Robinson got signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers), but that didn’t stop them from forming their own league in which to showcase their best players.

The great Ty Cobb came from rough beginnings and a tough family life. His mother murdered his father when he was younger. Baseball was an anchor for him in his personal life. Babe Ruth was just a kid abandoned by his parents in boarding school when he first began to play. He then proceeded to become the stuff of legend. Baseball had the power to craft a Somebody out of a Nobody.

Christy Mathewson

Babe Ruth

Baseball was and is more than just a sport. Its history is fused with American history, so much so that it’s impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. During wars, it was an escape into normalcy if even for a brief second. For American families, it was something to do together as a unit. For hopeful athletes, it was a way out of the slums. It captured the “can-do” attitude of the American people. Teams inspired hope in their local fan base, who came out to cheer them on, rain or shine. It gave gamblers something to gamble for; journalists something to write about; and kids heroes to look up to. It bridged the gap between young and old, poor and rich, black and white, men and women, and so much more.

As you can see, baseball brings out the history nerd and old soul in me. Hundreds of years may have passed since the first game of baseball was ever played, but the spirit of baseball is something that has remained timeless. That’s what makes it so compelling. That’s what makes it so unique in my mind. In my very biased opinion, baseball is the only sport in all 23 years of my life that has made me stop and take a look around. Baseball extended its invitation to me to care, and I willingly accepted.

Felipe tells me, “Once a baseball fan, always a baseball fan.” Now that I’ve crossed the threshold, I suppose I’m set for life. Stars and pinstripes forever.

Out of Mind. Be Back Later.

We all go a little mad sometimes.

In Greek mythology, it is told that the world began with Chaos. One huge cloud of noise and confusion. From this tumultuous haze came the gods, demigods, and humans, who then established order in the world. We built cities, developed governments, discovered lands, created art, fought wars, had families. We began to preserve our existence and history through writing to be passed down from one generation to the next. Everything and everyone had its place. As humans evolved, we learned to combat, tame, and vanquish Chaos. Or so it seems. You would think that we’d have relinquished Chaos forever. But the truth is we’ve only learned to internalize it. We’ve grown to conceal the very thing that shaped us.

Call it what you will – chaos, madness, anger, uncertainty, delusion, fantasy, fear…It goes by many names, but the sensation is one we are all familiar with. It’s a loss of control, a dizziness of life.

We’re raised thinking that Chaos is a bad thing and something to be avoided. As a result, when it begins to boil up inside of us, we have no idea how to react. We think there is something wrong with us. We panic. We blame each other to assign some tangible culprit to the discord that lies within.

At this point in my life, it feels as if Chaos is all there is. Like any other person this age – or like any other person, period – I find myself in transition. Recently transplanted a handful of times from one setting to another, I’ve made a profession out of adjusting. I miss people I’ve met recently; feel disconnected from those I thought I knew; and am in the process of deciding what’s next. At times, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot is happening. Coming down from a lot of momentum can make you feel an overwhelming sense of stagnation.

Without things going on around me, my mind often compensates by stirring things up within. If there was ever a competition for worrying, I would probably win the medal for it. That is, if it were something to be rewarded in the first place.

What I need to remind myself is that Chaos breeds new beginnings. I needn’t be afraid of what is uncertain but instead embrace the opportunity to create a path toward what I envision, even if it means I can’t see very clearly at the moment. A deconstruction of what we’re used to can create enough space for us to start over. While my own stubbornness keeps me from seeing the bright side sometimes, I need to let go of my own desire to be in control. And allow life to surprise me.

For now, I’m grateful for the support of those around me. Being at war with yourself can easily feel like an isolated experience, but the people in my life have reminded me time and time again that I don’t have to go through it alone, that there’s a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, that tomorrow is another day, and there’s plenty of time left for change.