I’m writing this from inside a glass box at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood.
The latest and greatest in my long line of random gigs, I’m now one of the “box girls” at the Standard, tasked with being a live component of the art installation behind the reception desk. It’s sorta a modeling gig, sorta performance art. We wear a girl-next-door white tank and undies and do whatever we want. Literally. The concept is passersby in the lobby (ultra beautiful Hollywood types with outfits so cleverly conceived it leaves one breathless) are like voyeurs into our world, so we can sketch, write, talk on the phone, paint our nails. Our directive says we should act like we’re at home, “but no more napping, please.”
I’m reminded of a professor I had who was a zoo enthusiast, who told me zoos in England back in the day had “native people” exhibits where you could watch live aborigines, pygmies and the like in faux habitats. Real people, people. Does this mean I’m on exhibit for the stylish guests of the Standard Hotel, a live example of an L.A. girl? Is that who I’ve become? The art installation behind us ranges from Warhol originals to Yayoi Kusama dots to the current wonder: a panel of indigo plants under hydroponic lights. As I sit here, the violet light hot on my back, I’m wondering if the hydroponic lights will cause me to sprout roots, something I’m trying to do lately.
I’m willing myself to get grounded, get rooted here in Los Angeles. My mind knows its the best thing, but my inner banshee gypsy child is wailing, plotting foreign intrigue and howling at the moon. The past few months have been a blur of transition, figuring out a new life game, shifting the planes of my reality. I know it’s considered bad form to talk about it, but I’m so broke it’s a joke, debt is swallowing me whole, and I know I’m not the only one out there so I don’t mind sharing that. Yet, many amazing moments to report: hearing the laughter and applause at the screening of my short film, “Loop Holes;” my birthday party, a “Koreatown Cabaret” where there was a female rap battle, fire dancers and me doing impromptu spoken word; and most of all: the beautiful clarity and freedom having no money gives you, that all you need is friends and family, and a fat fluff named Chairman Meow, to have your plate be eternally full.
If comfort is a curse to creativity, then my creative pistons are firing in the current anxiety of my life. I’m writing myself out of this corner, eating free Grateful Bowls at Cafe Gratitude (and I am so, so grateful) and working on three feature outlines, a pilot, and getting back to my novel soon, soon.
My wings feel clipped. I’ve literally been put in a standard box. But we’re living the ultimate high-concept film: “Life–No one gets out alive!” So I might as well commit to the glimmer of the career I’ve started and never, ever, ever give up.
I’m two weeks away from my 28th birthday, and this final stretch of being 27 has got me in a saturn return, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison et. al. stranglehold. Proof of suggestion–this email I wrote to Beth last night:
The lonely artist, the lonely gaze
Can't see my truth, fighting through the haze
Jobs for pretty,
but none for words
Want to make beauty, describe the light on birds
Need to slow down
Forced to rev up
Already wanting more, than's given in my cup
The disease of the mind
The sick of the soul
How can I be so young,
and feel so fucking old?
If you’ve ever wondered what I’m doing when I say my job is handing out free art to the people, check out this article on the Too Far project from SXSW, which explains why it’s “a revolutionary idea in the worlds of literature and publishing…transcends commodification…and is indicative of where literature, publishing and digital content are headed in the years to come.”
This job is the reason I’ve survived in Los Angeles. Thank you Rich Shapero, the man behind the myth, who proves not everyone is obsessed with the bottom line, and some people believe in art for the sake of art.
Today was my mom’s birthday, and I celebrated by going to the LACMA and checking out the special exhibit on female surrealists. It blew my damn mind. A wide range of artists’ work was on display, each piece more ingenious than the last. I was especially gobsmacked by the work of Remedios Varo, a Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter and anarchist. I’d never seen her work before, it’s beautiful and haunting, with very funny undertones. When I got home I was inspired to paint, and I finally finished one of the canvases I bought in 2010. But I’m too shy to post it, and anyway I made it as tribute to my mom. I miss you, mom. Happy brithday.
Check out these Remedios Varo paintings instead: the first one is of a women who has sat for so long she’s literally becoming the chair, the second is a woman either feeding stars to the moon or using the moon to make stars, I couldn’t tell which, can you?, and the third one is the creation of birds, spun from a violin and a star.
I just got home from handing out free novels and music for the guerilla indie art project that’s been my main gig since I arrived in Los Angeles. Back in Koreatown, back pounding the pavement to make a buck, I find it hard to believe just last week I was in a bar in Bali, listening to an Indonesian band singing Pink Floyd, watching the lead singer snuggle his Dutch girlfriend between sets, struck by how lovely his brown skin looked entwined with her very pale skin. I stole glances at them over my watermelon juice, they both chain-smoked between kisses, and when he looked away she’d rearrange her cleavage in her red dress and fluff her hair. She did it every time he looked away. Every time! I’m guilty of doing the same in the company of boys, maybe all girls do, as if somehow every thirty seconds your entire appearance needs a refresh.
That night, in the bar, was one of the only nights I went out during my stay in Bali, and I was struck by how much rock n’ roll has the power to affect me physically. After so many days alone in my hotel room, removed from all things noisy and messy, removed from everything really, it felt good to have the bass thump in my gut and the guitar riff in my soul (or whatever that place is inside me that hears classic rock and has to hold back the desire to scream something, smoke something, smash something, love someone).
The next night I went to a full moon temple ceremony with a few new friends I’d met in the bar, a fun Indian couple and Moss, a tall Canadian who runs the Love Space, a creativity center where I went on to teach a writing workshop. A local had invited us, and he took us by his home to loan us some sarongs so we’d be appropriately dressed for the ceremony. His mom met us (typically most Balinese live in family compounds, each home with its own temple), and she had a few grains of rice pressed into her forehead and chest, a symbolic gesture I would accept myself at the ceremony. We then drove through what seemed like an endless valley of rice paddies, all lit up by the eponymous full moon. The moon then went into hiding, however, perhaps shy from all the attention, and by the time we arrived at the ceremony it was pouring rain (what’s another adjective to describe how rain falls? I’m tired of “pouring”). We were the only non-locals at the ceremony, and were greeted with friendly curiosity. I couldn’t get enough of how beautiful the women looked, no matter how old or how “attractive” they were, they were stunning in their lace blouses and long skirts, dancing barefoot in the rain to the gamelan choir. I thought they couldn’t get enough of me either, when I took refuge from the rain under a sort of tall parasol staked in the ground, out in front of everyone. Several women were gesturing at me, laughing and waving their hands. I waved back, like, Cool! They like me! Then I realized they were pointing at my purse, which wasn’t under the protection of the parasol, but sticking out behind me getting totally soaked. It broke the ice, however, and later a woman offered me a treat wrapped in a banana leaf, and her friends all giggled as I wolfed it down (I love treats!).
I got closer to myself in Bali. Especially as an artist. The understanding of slow the hell down, enjoy making your art, working on your craft. There are no lost days in writing, no wasted time. Only improvements made, one word at a time. Gotta keep rising above what I “need” to do daily…..the chores and bills and little details, and keep realizing all I really NEED to do is write, chip away at my art sculpture of text, one page at a time.
Since I’ve been home I’ve gone to the desert to appear in a video performance art piece directed by the visionary Machete Bang Bang, acted as “the girl” in a music video, given away tons of free art for my job, went back out to the desert to start shooting an art book I’m modeling in and writing the text for in collaboration with a landscape photographer, and started spring cleaning my closet.
I am productive. I get things done. I am an AmeriCAN!
I miss Bali so much my bones hurt.
At the risk of simplifying something incredibly complex, here is what I know: the Balinese know how to live life. They surround themselves with beauty and culture, honor family and spirituality above all else, and create art for the joy of the process, not the product.
This last bit is the essential thing I’m taking away from my month in Bali. I have become way too focused on what my art can give me, rather than what I can give my art.
One afternoon, on my walk home to the Matahari (my hotel) past the pool hall and the green Mercedes and the five massage shops, the rain started pouring (need new adjective!) down. I ducked into the nearest doorway, because when it starts raining in Bali it goes from “sprinkling” to “downpour” in one second. Turns out the shop I took refuge in is a store selling sculptures and masks, and the family who runs it are sitting on the floor, working on their craft. They smiled at me but didn’t say anything. For the next hour, I just stood in their shop, leaning against the counter, watching the man and woman varnish a wooden mirror frame and the boy paint flowers on a mask. They weren’t rushed, weren’t worried about if they were doing it “right”….they weren’t anything really. They were just existing, slowly, steadily working on their task. Simple, I know. But to me, a revelation.
Another day I made jewelry with some locals. I was working on a copper bracelet made of several small rings, but kept getting frustrated at how clumsy I was handling the tools. At one point a boy says to me, and he’s only got like ten words in English total, he puts his hand on my arm and he says: “Don’t panic. Then you won’t finish anything.”
In the last few years, I’ve come to view my writing as a commodity, worried more about what it can give to me than what I can give to it. I get frustrated when I don’t see results fast enough, annoyed when it’s not “just done.” In Bali I witnessed art for the love of making art. The most poignant was the women making daily offerings. The offerings are literally everywhere. They usually appear as palm fronds stapled together to make little baskets, and hold a mixture of flowers, pieces of fruit, bread, and rice. The offerings are placed along with an incense stick both up high, on ledges and sculptures, as offerings to the gods, and down low, on the ground, in the streets, as offering to the demons. I’m told the idea is humans are in the level between the gods and demons, tasked with maintaining a balance between the two. I love that the women get all dressed up to place the offerings. Literally every day, they make these little treasures, then everyday according to some mysterious schedule (doesn’t seem to matter when) they put on their long sarongs and lace blouses, arrange their hair with pearl and gemstone pins, and go around placing the offerings and giving a prayer. Then they take off the fancy dress and go back to what they were doing.
Fun fact: The drummer of Caught A Ghost, the crazy good band I shot the music video for, helped me calculate that if I live to be 100 years old, so for another 73 years, I could spend the rest of my life in Bali for $932, 575. That’s $35/day (living like a queen at $20/lodging, $15/for two meals a daily massage).
I miss Bali, like I miss a new friend I’ve grown to love dearly and know I might not see again for a while. I miss the friends I made, the lady with the pretty plum lipstick who worked at the Matahari and would walk me to my room, linking her arm in mine and asking me in the Balinese way where I’ve been and where I’m going. I miss the Balinese waitress I befriended one night when she messed up my order and gave me a ride home on her motorbike to make up for it. I miss My Friend the Drum Lady. I miss me, the relaxed Balinese version of Erin.
I want so badly to hang onto these hard-earned perspectives, this new way of looking at life. But I always feel like this when I return from a trip, and inevitably the old life will creep back in. The main thing I want to hold onto is conquering the “more” disease. Having a coffee at a cafe and thinking it would be better if I also had a cookie, or had nice company, or was alone. Basically, wanting more than what I have right then. More money, experience, love, insight, talent, connections. More more more. Now, I’m just trying to move slowly. Verrry slowwlllyyy. I’ve realized this is the only way to handle the pace of LA. Deal only with what’s directly in front of me.
On my trip home the final flight of my travel was canceled and I had to stay the night in Tokyo. I spent a nice evening discussing films with a pair of human rights activists, painting my nails, and calling Beth back home to tell her how small and Japanese everything in my room was. At the airport the next day, enjoying some pre-flight sushi, an elderly Chinese man says to me out of the blue: “Don’t be stressed in life. Play more. Talk to God. Then you’ll be happy.” He gave me this unprompted. And what excellent advice.
The frustrating thing is nothing in this blog post comes close to explaining how I’m really feeling. How adrift I feel, maybe always feel. How daunted by this city I am, how right back in the turmoil I am of go go go all day and never get anything done. But at least I wrote a little. At least I wrote these words.
Something I’m chewing on, that I read recently, some words from Anais Nin: “Once we engage with the real people and real circumstances in our lives, we discover our own inner excitement and every day the real caress replaces the ghostly lover.”
I got *somewhat* hit by a motorbike yesterday. I’ve been on my favorite writing schedule, working from 8pm–4am, and have accomplished more in the last week than I was able to all last month in LA (screenplay draft, almost done, CHECK!). But the night schedule does make me rather bleary when I emerge from my cave for food around 2pm. So I walked into the street and looked left, but not quickly enough to the right, and then BAM!, a motorbike gets personal with my thigh. It didn’t really hurt; the remarkable thing was the motorbike was driven by THREE little Balinese girls. They couldn’t have been older than age ten, and they were all three whizzing along on the same seat, no helmets, disintegrating the macho tradition of Easy Rider and those chopper shows with the guy who wears overalls and was married to Sandy Bullock. The motorbike fell over, they fell over, and I felt like the Big White Evil. We were right next to a pool hall and a bunch of men rushed out. I thought they would yell at me, or at the girls, but they just calmly propped the bike back up, looked around like “No one died, right?,” chuckled, gave the girls some money, and that was that.
Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone. And thus my mantra for life in Bali has been declared. I apologize for going the obvious and making an EPL reference, but it’s impossible to write about Bali without mentioning the book/movie, someone will say it eventually so it might as well be me. Especially now that I’ve extended my stay and am here by myself, just like E. Gilbert (extra groan for being a writer wandering around Ubud alone).
Many events of note have transpired, in the way that everything seems eventful when you spend a lot of time alone. I’m doing the things single women traveling solo are wont to do, like writing really long blog posts while having beer for dinner and getting misty-eyed over the Indonesian bar band playing my favorite Creedence song.
Confession: I was with a boy these last few weeks. I know this is “I’m-single-for-the-first-time-in-years-self-growth-Erin-time,” but some boys have strong hands and rough beards and wicked senses of humor (this one especially) and so it just seemed silly to refuse a boy’s company. So I didn’t. But he flew home and now I’m Eat, Pray, Leave Me Alone.
The “leave me alone” part is difficult to enforce, as there are many interesting people to meet in Ubud. Like Anna, the yoga instructor, Lana the yoga instructor, Shakti the yoga instructor, TyeZan who does “human design,” Kenny who used to be a hustler and a pimp then had a spiritual revelation in jail and wrote a book about it. But after the last five years of relationships, the last five years of constant togetherness, it’s a revelation to spend time alone. I’m working toward being the person I most want to hang out with.
There’s a large community of Westerners who’ve settled here, it feels like Berkeley or Santa Cruz. I met a lot of these people at a poetry slam the other night, I competed for the first time! I received 8’s and 9’s! Although, perhaps predictably, almost everyone in this “om shanti” crowd got a high score (my fave summary description of this crowd, from a German: “You know, people who eat tofu and wear long, soft pants.”).
I’ve met people at ecstatic dance as well, which is a lot like my ecstatic dance community in LA except here we dance surrounded by jungle and lightning bugs buzz above us and when it rains the whole sweaty mass of us cheers as the tropical heat subsides for the first time all day. In LA, I dance at a Masonic Lodge. So, actually it’s pretty different. I went to an all day 5 Rhythms workshop and a butterfly floated in while we were dancing AND LANDED ON THIS GUY’S HAND LIKE SNOW FUCKING WHITE, then clung to his shorts and stayed there the rest of the day. Yeah, that’s definitely never happened in LA.
I’m also hanging out with My Friend The Drum Lady, who works in the drum store (duh). After looking in vain for some sort of drum lessons here and finally giving up, one day I wandered into My Friend The Drum Lady’s store and started fiddling with a tambourine. She laughs at my fiddling (she has a great laugh, like a bell ringing), offers me tea, then sits down to a djembe and invites me to join her, and suddenly its been an hour and I’ve just had one-on-one instruction in hand drumming. I bought a patica (also known as an asalato, basically two shaker balls on a string) which is rad because it makes not one but two rhythm sounds. I’m practicing while working out writing ideas, and hope to finally become the percussionista of my dreams (Crap. I just remembered Gilbert had a store lady friend in EPL…maybe this is what happens to all Ubud visitors? Actually, the real-life lady from EPL (who in the book turned out to be a trickster, which was conveniently left out of the movie) has her shop next to my hotel. I bet my drum lady would kick her ass if they met in the street, if for some reason they, uh, felt compelled to fight over their American gal pals). I’m going back tomorrow for another lesson.
The metaphor of the impromptu drum lesson: What you seek will find you, when you stop looking so damn hard, also happened with a cat (you know I can’t blog abroad without mentioning a feline). There’s a kitty I can hear meowing across the river from my room at night. It’s either lonely, or mating, and although I’m neither, it’s been weeks since I had a proper kitty hug. So I’ve been going out on the patio at night and calling “Here pretty kitty, here kitty,” and even meowing back, but alas I haven’t seen its furry face. Then on Friday I’m at YogaBarn and sit near a black-and-white cat hoping it won’t attack me, and it climbs right into my lap! I proceeded to hold her captive for the next twenty minutes as I forced my love upon her. At one point she looked right in my eyes and made the exact sound Chairman Meow makes in the morning and I just know it was him wailing at me across Sumatra and Borneo and Papua New Guinea to come home already (this not accurate geography, but I might never again be in Indonesia and thus have a reason to name drop such fabulous sounding places). Not yet, my meow. Not yet.
Bali just might be the hardest place on earth to leave. It’s both intoxicating and incredibly gentle. It’s humid in a cradling way, that womb feeling you only get near the equator. Most nights thunder storms gather around the volcanoes, and the sky is illuminated with flashes of lightning. It’s almost as if the Gods in the sky are taking pictures of their creation, flash photography allowed. At every turn, I see an image my mind associates with “exotic foreign land,” women carrying towers of fruit on their heads, kids drinking out of whole coconuts, plants as big as small cars and monkeys in the trees. One girl I met who’s been living her several years (she’s a yoga instructor) said it’s “Bali Mama,” the spirit energy who sucks you in. I can feel that. I can also feel that I don’t want to leave because for $15/day I can have two delicious meals and a massage.
I went to a Kecak dance the other night, the Balinese fire trance dance, which is an incredible performance where the only music is made by dozens of men chanting in a circle around a fire while the mesmerizing dancers act out the story of Ramayana, the Hindu epic. The dancers are choreographed to unbelievable precision, every hand and foot movement extremely precise and meaningful to the story (I didn’t want to video during the dance, but you can check out the Kecak scene in the mind-blowing 1992 movie “Baraka,” should be required cultural viewing).
Toward the end, the character of the white monkey appears, and at this particular Kecak I saw, the man playing the white monkey got a little out of control. At first, he leaped over the flaming coconut husks in the center of the circle—lots of ooh’s and ahh’s. Then he started walking right into the fire and kicking the husks. Kinda intense. Then something in him switched, maybe from the chanting and the heat, and he starts kicking the husks at will, several fly into the audience. The tourists are alarmed, and clutch their digital SLR cameras close their bodies. When a flaming coconut landed in the lap of one of the chanting Balinese men the white monkey was finally tackled to the ground. I watched him take off his monkey mask, wide-eyed and breathless, completely outside himself.
I wondered if it was all part of the show, until I’m told he had “run amok,” a common phrase we use in English, that I learn for the first time is a word of Indonesian origin. Says my pal Wikipedia: “Amok is rooted in a deep spiritual belief, and is caused by the hantu belian, a tiger spirit that enters one’s body…Running amok would thus be a way of escaping the world.”
Did I “run amok” out of America and straight to this island of rainy days and hot nights, the smell of incense and the taste of lemongrass, crickets and my own peace of mind ringing in my ears?
Going to have to be with that tiger spirit a little longer to get the answer. Just a little longer.
In this video from Bali I debate if I’d rather be a volcano, the rain, or a rice paddy, and I sample Kopi Luwak, coffee processed from the poop of a civet, an Indonesian rat creature that’s been making terrifying appearances in my dreams.
Golden light through paradise windows. Spiritual offerings by women in lace. Motorbikes to ride, nasi goreng to eat. Smell of petrol, of seaweed, of burning trash. Sand, yoga, tourists. My nails are painted yellow. My nose is burned red.
Bali was a very good idea.
The guy at customs on Bali saw California on my passport and told me he won a trip to Universal Studios when he was a kid. He’d won a worldwide competition that was a promo for the movie “Space Jam,” winning a 5 night stay in L.A. for him and his whole family. I asked him how it went. He smiled the glorious Balinese smile. “L.A. was paradise.” Funny. I left L.A. for his island in search of the same thing.
This is my first trip to Indonesia, or Asia in general, and I’m fascinated by everything. Driving on the roads is a unique experience. The code is that you drive only looking forward, it is agreed that no driver will ever look behind them. This works in theory, as it means each driver is only responsible for what’s happening right in front of them. To change lanes, the custom is to slowly drift over, no checking your blind spot and making an assertive move. If a driver is drifting into your lane up ahead, you simply lay on your horn until they drift back–again, because no one will ever look back.
I’m currently hanging out on the island of Nusa Lembongan, where the locals work either in tourism or seaweed farming. The seaweed is harvested in plots in the ocean, and you can see the farmers out there at night, the sea calm, their headlights sweeping the dark. The tallest volcano in Bali, called Agung, watches over Lembongan from across the sea. The people do their daily prayers in the direction of Agung, because it’s believed the volcano is where the spirits reside.
I’ve learned about a great new moneymaking venture! It almost stinks like a scam, literally in this case, but it’s very real, and anyway I’m always looking to add to my repetoire of rackets. It’s called Kopi Luwak, and it’s a type of coffee made here in Indonesia, the most expensive coffee in the world, to be exact.
The remarkable thing about Kopi Luwak is how it is made. The coffee berries are first eaten by the Asian Palm Civet, a small furry creature that looks like a rat. Then the civet poops out the berry, and something in the way the civet’s digestive tract works keeps the actual coffee bean intact inside the berry, but with loads of yummy enzymes now coating it. Farmers then go around collecting the civet poop, then pick the berries/beans out, give ’em a roasting and a brewing, and hati hati whatdoyouknow the most delicious coffee apparently known to man is ready for your espresso machine–if you’re prepared to spend $600/pound for it.
You’ve probably guessed I’m now considering how to develop my own brand of Koreatown Kopi Luwak, if Chairman Meow doesn’t object to the commodification of his litter box.
Finally, I’ve realized that no matter where I go in the world, there’s something about riding along a country road, wearing a tank top and shorts and breathing in fresh cut grass that always takes me to hot summer nights growing up in Gardnerville. I might be riding on a motorbike in Bali, my eyes taking in temples and beaches, but my heart is feeling sixteen again, bumping along in someone’s pick-up truck down to the river, drinking a Mickey’s hand grenade, the cows mooing in the Nevada night.
Yet, the jungle has it’s own intoxicating night chorus, as you’ll see in this video:
Yes, Bali was a very good idea, though it took me an extra day to get here, missed my flight and had to spend another night in the Bangkok airport. Here’s a video message to the cause of those 24 extra airport hours:
I’m staying in Ubud now. More to come!
After many days of deliberation, much ceremonial asking my gut what it wants (other than scrambled eggs), trying to listen to my heart rather than my mind, and in the end flipping a coin: the results are in….I’m going to Bali!
Expenses thus far: $3.50 at LAX for my final Starbucks (considering cutting coffee altogether while I’m in Bali…prob won’t accomplish this), $27 (!!!) for the best damn sushi of my life in the Tokyo airport (not ashamed to share I ordered a California roll), $4 for an hour of internet here in Bangkok (should I venture out into the night? I have ten hours til my next flight…).
By 2:30pm tomorrow, after 46 hours of travel, I will arrive in Bali.
I might go to Bali for a while.
My various L.A. jobs haven’t started back up yet, I have enough air miles for a free ticket anywhere in the world thanks to years of compulsive traveling, and hey, it’s Bali! I don’t know all that much about the little Indonesian island, other than it has seven volcanoes and deeply spiritual people. What I DO know is it’s on the other side of the world, and I feel the only reasonable use of all those air miles is to go as far away as possible…and it’s freaking far. From LAX to Japan it’s 11 hours, then another 8 hours to Singapore, then 3 more hours to Bali.
Know what all that time crunched into an airplane seat is? Golden writing time. There’s something about being forced to stay in my seat and the angle of the tray in my lap that makes for some of the happiest writing I’ve ever done. I wrote most of my senior Honors thesis on a plane to Fiji. I wrote some of my favorite passages of my novel on the plane to Brazil. I sorta want the trip just for the air time. Of course, I could just do that writing here in L.A., but far-flung international travel is an excellent procrastination method.
Travel I can’t afford, I should add.
I’m a broke broken record, even to myself. I know I need to get a job more stable than the indie art project thing, the occasional spokesmodel thing, the clipping my grandma’s toenails thing. But that can wait, right? I’ve got a check coming from the CES gig, and yeah I could put it towards bills in L.A….but Bali has monkeys, and big flowers, and rice paddies. Better to be broke in Bali than fiscally responsible in Los Angeles, I always say (actually that’s the first time I’ve ever said that).
Another plus: I had an honest conversation with myself to examine if this Bali notion is me running away from something, or running to something. I am pleased to report it is neither. I’ve grown to love my life in Los Angeles, and I’ve finally gotten it through my skull that “making it” won’t equate happiness. I need to be happy now, or I’ll be all out of practice by the time success comes (BTW, what I consider “success” is up for revision—used to be “my name in lights,” now it’s “my name cleared from collections”).
One of the things that’s really blowing my hair back these days is ecstatic dance. I started going last November after a particularly bleak stretch of anxiety and self-loathing. Ecstatic dance is basically a bunch of people getting together and rocking the fuck out. It’s not a club scene—there’s no drinking or drugs or denim boners grinding against you. It’s just nice, cool people being happy and healthy together, working their emotional shit out through sacred movement.
Last week I went to an ecstatic dance in Santa Monica. There was a live DJ, live drumming, and a really rad shaman who did a sound healing after the dance, running between us with palm fronds soaked in essential oils, healing the energy in the room with percussions instruments and gongs and singing bowls. This shaman had an body like a sculpture, a thick beard, and dreadlocks woven with shells and stones.
After the dance he asked if anyone had jumper cables, his car was dead (he drove a dope black Range Rover, I might add—the shaman biz is thriving!). I happened to have put cables in my car that day, and offered to help him out. As his car was charging, he asked if I wanted to smoke some of his sacred after-shaman-ritual herb with him. The answer: YES.
So we hang out, and smoke this incredible blunt he rolls, that’s got hash in it, marijuana, holy basil, lavender, and some other stuff I can’t remember. We end up hanging out until three in the morning, trading ideas, discussing how to be warriors of love. I asked him about my Bali idea. He said, “You get self-realization when you look at nature, if you’re not in nature enough here, then you should go there.” I told him I couldn’t seem to focus in this city, that all the “stuff” I have to do makes me feel so anxious I can’t do anything. He told me if you’re not inspired, you have no will power. That I needed a big hit of inspiration. Then he told me used to be the red Power Ranger, and showed me a photo to prove it. I figure this guy must know what he’s talking about.
The next night I went to my Uncle Jimmy’s 74th birthday dinner. Jimmy is one of my favorite human beings. He’s actually not really my uncle, he was my real uncle Ricky’s partner, who died when I was a baby so I’ve grown up knowing Jimmy as my uncle. Jimmy has had the coolest life—he was in the original L.A. cast of “Hair,” he and Ricky had a super successful comedy act in the 70’s (Robin Williams opened for them), and he traveled the entire world as a cruise director in the 80s and 90s.
After the birthday dinner I joined Jimmy at his North Hollywood apartment and we did what we always do—smoke a joint and look at photos from his life. I brought up the Bali idea. He told me the answer to travel should always be yes, but to be careful of my heart, it needs safe-keeping. I told him I don’t really have the money for the trip, well, I don’t not have the money, but a more responsible decision might be to use it towards bills.
“But if you don’t go to Bali, it could be your Woodstock!”
“What do you mean?”
“Your uncle and I were supposed to go to Woodstock, but we got offered a gig at Rodney Dangerfield’s club in Brooklyn the same weekend. It paid $30, so we took it. Can you imagine?! I missed Woodstock to earn $30!!! I can’t tell you how often I’ve regretted that.”
I also want to go to Bali because it sounds ridiculous: “Once I went to Bali for a month with no money and no idea what I was getting myself into.” It also sounds brave. It sounds like something Erin would do, or at least the Erin I want to be.
This year kicked my ass. Had many moments of the awful/wonderful realization that no outer experience, person or thing will bring me contentment. It comes from deep satisfaction with myself, but how the fuck do I accomplish that? I met so many amazing new souls this year, especially at the ecstatic dance gatherings I’ve been attending, where I experienced the previously impossible: sustained moments of a quiet and calm mind. I finished writing my novel. It’s not done, but it’s finished. Agents etc. think it needs another revision. I agree, but am finding it hard to write when I can barely keep my head above water (I’m looking at you, Kaiser and rent and inconsistent payroll and the $350 speeding ticket). I am single for the first time in 5 years. “Did you meet someone else?” “Yeah–myself.”
I’m considering buying two golden rings, one for each hand, and marrying myself to my art.
I’m trying to be a warrior of love. The first soldier to recruit is m-y-s-e-l-f.
“Highchair” by Autolux might be the best song ever.
Next year I really want to: wake up at the same time everyday, get better at drumming, start a webseries with my roommates, brush Chairman Meow and King Alobar more often, explore more of Koreatown, go see Beva in Greece, manifest someone giving me a camper for creative retreats, be more diligent about backing up my laptop, build my photography portfolio, drink less wine and more water, eat more of the delightful magic mushrooms I’ve been enjoying since October, be a better listener, stay in more, kiss more, stretch more.
And pick more flowers.
Please enjoy this holiday message from me and Ruby Love, my 96 year-old grandmother and best friend. We discuss “crazy games,” teeth, and our advice to the world. Ruby Love is a lady who knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to speak it–here she is in top form.
Here’s hoping the universal shift in consciousness happens sooner than later….I’m tired of feeling like shit.
Left L.A. last Thursday, heading home to Reno-Tahoe-Gardnerville….had money on my mind, my job with the guerilla art project is back, and for every hour I spend handing out free music I am paid $16…it’s never enough at the end of the month, but surely it would be “enough” to someone else, like the girl on the side of the road heading north on the 5 with a sign that reads “homeless and pregnant”…got a ticket for speeding outside Mojave, then my car wouldn’t turn back on so I spent the night in a Mojave motel, where I smoked 2 joints, watched 6 hours of HBO, and had a beautiful “what does it all mean???” emotional breakdown (Will I ever own who I truly am? Why can you be truly in love but still not right for each other? Will it backfire how honest I am on my blog,…or can I just trust that complete vulnerability is always the best choice?)…next day got a rental car then tried to order balsamic vinegar on my salad with a side of hummus and met only a blank stare, which lead me to realize that despite my best efforts I have become an “L.A. person”….ate about 1,000 sunflower seeds in Death Valley and 1 dry sandwich in Bishop and took photos of cows in Bridgeport…stopped at a yard sale in Big Pine and bought a whimsical stick dream-catcher thing….arrived Reno 11pm, straight to a party, then out til 4am, so happy to be with old friends, went to 5 Star Saloon and danced on a pole, nice to see genuinely drunk people, in L.A. people only get “tipsy”…..for the first time feel like a tourist in my own hometown…..it’s a good feeling, but disconcerting….next day go to lovely wedding in Tahoe, after the reception play blackjack for many hours with fellow wedding guests, I drank a white russian and we all fell a little in love with the dealer, Oksana from Ukraine….next day, alone again, roamed around a shopping center in my pajamas, hungover and happy to be breathing Tahoe air, spent a long time touching ornaments in a holiday store, then tried on a kimono in a crystals-and-wizards sort of store….then drank a coffee on the beach at Edgewood, a golf/lodge/restaurant and the site of my high school prom and where I once worked as a ball girl for a Playboy golf tournament….then to my dad’s house in Genoa, where I observed he and his wife Melissa’s new honeybee colony, took a nap, and researched earth-based religions…next day stopped to visit with Netti, the original goddess, where we discussed men, my mom, and astral projection, then she gave me a box of gypsy pillows and I hit the road….sometime around midnight I screamed out the window at the night sky “You’re beautiful!!!!”….arrived at a motel in Lone Pine and tried to open a Heineken with a lighter like I’ve seen so many guys do, ended up with a busted knuckle and a tiny cup of beer froth….next day early breakfast and purchased a made-in Lone Pine coffee mug and “spirit string” that’s rainbow colored and stands for Freedom….drove out toward Mt. Whitney and took some photos, then smashed the Heineken bottle to SMASH away my anxieties, then scooped up the broken glass to tie to my new whimsical stick dream-catcher thing….reluctantly traded my rental car for the old Escape, and made it back to L.A. in time for my grandma’s 96th birthday party.
A video from the road…with a cool song and a closing thought:
August 23, 2011 in apartment, kitty committee/colleagues Chairman Meow and King Alobar present
11:11pm….about to begin finishing my novel, tonight I will do it! Must do it! I’m wearing my orange old adidas shorts and a pink tank with elvis on it…elvis also on the mug I just poured coffee into, need him here with me tonight! so nervous to finish this novel right now…..familiar with the feeling of going toward finishing it, but not actually finishing it. having my ideas out in the world. yikes. Okay, okay. Go!
2:14am….writing going well, really well…I realize im moving really slow, savoring the end of this….listening to The National and a bit of Mozart…..very inspiring…just spent 20 minutes looking at these photos of glacier caves, I want to see those in real life!….i don’t really want to be done writing my novel! It’s been like a companion for 3+ years! had an email from beth just now she read the excerpt I sent her and she wrote me amazing email back that’s fueling my fire in this final stretch and I want to remember her words forever and I quote:
FUCK!! FUCK!! FUCK!!!! SOOOOO GOOOOODDDDDD!!! I want to read the whole novel!! Like, seriously, I would buy it and I would read it and I would laugh and cry and..ERIN!!! I can’t even tell you how friggin good it is!! I didn’t write many notes at the end because I just wanted to keep reading. I am so proud of you!! I am so excited!! I am crying right now because you’re doing it. You have written a novel. And not only that, but a good one. Each character is so rich and involved. Each moment keeps me captured. That inner voice that drives you insane has spilled out onto the pages making it real and vulnerable and truly beautiful. I understand this girl because I know this girl. She is every girl, every woman, me, you. I really, seriously can’t tell you how great it is. Thank you for sharing your bit o’ novel. I can’t wait for you to share it with the world.
So there’s at least one person who likes it…..
3:07am….no sleeping! JUST FINISHED THE MAIN TEXT I HAD LEFT!!! terrified to become bigger than myself….i so hold dear the normal people values from my reno life, terrified to become a successful asshole.
4:12am….it’s really good but I could see them wanting another 100 pages to fill out the story
4:57am…writing is rewriting
(until it’s time for draft eight)
If I would have known finishing this novel would be a bazillion times harder than starting it, I would have given up long ago. Yet somehow, I’m nearing 300 pages. My car broke down twice last week. I’m doing the weird things I do when I’m deep in the dark of writing, like buying things off Craigslist and bursting into tears for no reason. I lost my fit model job. Sometimes, I feel like my story is good but my words are general. Other times, I feel like my story is bland but my words are original. A garment bag keeps making an appearance in my novel and I don’t know why. I feel incredibly depressed. The higher I climb toward the novel being finished, the farther I realize I have to go. At every turn, I open a Pandora’s box of plot problems and skimmed-over sections. I’m desperate to be a not-so-starving artist, and terrified of real success. I’m living by this excerpt from a book about how to stop worrying about worrying:
“You don’t need perfection—you need progress. Become successful at being actively imperfect on a daily basis.”
Successful imperfection. Okay.
Constructive discomfort. Got it.
And I have decided: To achieve inner peace, you must become an observer of your own thoughts.
And I love this line from a poem my German friend Robin gave me: “The purity in pure despair.”
And I wrote this recently:
A thrill arrives,
On gilded lies
In the dark romances
And thumping heart
Of lovers’ eyes
I’m turning in my manuscript to my manager on Wednesday and meeting my agent in NYC on Friday.
A good day for writing today! Woke up at 8am because still jet lagged, this was a MIRACLE, as I usually only see 8 if it’s in the pm. Went straight to writing, to fiddle around a bit, and “realized” that I’m the creator of this world, I am the typer of this document, and so I can make new documents at will! And so I separated out the last chapter of the book which has been giving me a world of trouble, made it it’s own document so I can focus on it solely, and was somehow thus freed to write like an avalanche. Suppose I’m guilty of being too precious with my writing. I guess it feels like it’s so tough to just get to the page and get words down that it’s heartbreaking to then wipe them out.
Also was good about keeping the laissez-faire attitude all day that you get when traveling. When I almost broke my neck slipping in the shower trying to “like” an Ike and Tina song on Pandora–no worries! When I took the wrong turn and sat in traffic an extra 15 minutes–look how blue the sky is! So, hooray for me. And now a blog post, to boot. And found out I’m going to the L.A. Folk Fest on Saturday, which shall commence in a junk yard on a ranch with busted cars and turkeys and llamas. Erin heaven!
Hooray for being home!