The King of New Orleans

10 Jun

DeluxeIn the past 14 years of living together, John and I have lived in really small spaces. We spent 5 years living in a 500 square foot studio (that’s counting the patio), and then moved nearly every year until we bought our first place together in 2007, a one-bedroom condo just less than 900 square feet.

Because of our small living quarters, we’ve never been big on collecting. Perhaps we’re the only geeks in the universe without first edition action figures and memorabilia. But a few months ago when I looked around our house with new eyes, I realized that we were collectors after all – most of what filled our house was going to waste sitting on shelves or hidden in kitchen cupboards unused.

Books that we read once that we weren’t going to read again sat collecting dust. Saucy, fashionable pumps worn once because they were proper death traps were still in the closet as if time would either (A) make my feet shrink or (B) the shoes magically expand. A popcorn maker brought out twice, once at Christmas and the other time at a rock band party that left popcorn hopelessly ground into our carpet. A fondue set, a brush for a wok that disappeared long ago, four ice cream scoops, souvenir shot glasses, knick knacks, old handbags. Clothes that didn’t look good a few years ago and were still completely hopeless now.

While arranging piles and packing boxes that little green voice of greed crept in my mind…
“But why are you getting rid of all of these things? You could use that again. And that. That silver handbag from Senior Prom the size of a deck of cards? You can use that again. Keep it my precious….my preciousssss!”

And I paused for a minute to reexamine things. And started to delusionally take things out of the box, and carefully placed them back in the keep pile. “Don’t we need at least 3 ice cream scoops? What if we have an ice cream social? That hideous vase would look really great if I got a taxidermined rooster to go with it. And that guitar pick – it’s from Better than Ezra! BETTER THAN EZRA!”

Our dog Kingsley, padded over to my keep pile and gazed into my eyes of madness. “It’s like you’re taking crazy pills, Bitch! Get this shit outta here!” he said, and used his back paw to kick over a Sinfully Vegan desserts cookbook.

“Cripes, you’re right!” I snagged the Vegan cookbook and tossed it into a box to send off to a newly vegan friend and scooped everything else back into the box. With Godspeed, I barreled down the stairs and took everything down to the car immediately. Drove straight to the Salvation Army drop-off center and handed it over along with bags of other knick knacks and old clothes.

Once safely behind the wheel with more of our loot gone, I started to drive away and heard his voice fading away. I reversed the Prius, ran out and asked to see the last box on the top. I just had to get that Better than Ezra pick back. Couldn’t just leave a man down like that singing alone in a Salvation Army trailer…

Sitting around the house,
watching the sun trace shadows on the floor.
Searching for signs of life, but there’s nobody home.

Well, maybe I’ll call
or write you a letter.
Now, maybe we’ll see on the Fourth of July.
But I’m not too sure, and I’m not too proud.
Well, I’m not too sure and I’m not too proud to say.

Aha, it was good living with you.
Aha, it was good.
Aha, it was good living with you.
Aha, it was good.
Yeah, you were so good. Yeah you were so good, yeah that’s right…

The Purge

4 Jun

Pack it up“Why don’t you write your blog anymore?” my sister asked me this week.

“I well, ugh, have work, and teaching yoga, and my two book clubs, ahem , I mean Science-Fiction Discussion Group, and um, there’s Game of Thrones on Sunday nights and I’ve been trying to write at least 100 Yelp reviews this year, and I’m editing my friend Jon’s book, and ummmmm excuses, excuses, excuses, excuses…”

“Again, WHY aren’t you writing your blog anymore?” she prodded.

And the truth is I really didn’t have a good reason at all. I suppose, I’ve carved niches of time into my life for other things and writing has taken a bit of a back seat.

So for my first post being ‘back,’ I suppose I should warn you that I’ve changed things up a bit.

A few months ago I walked into my house and realized for the first time, that it wasn’t my house. As I walked around I looked at my bookcases packed to the gills, kitchen full of unusued fancy gadgets, pictures of friends long gone, and shoes in the box worn once but lingering in the closet. I really didn’t recognize much of anything. One of Proust’s most famous quotes flooded into my mind…

“The real voyage of discovery comes not in seeking new landscapes – but in having new eyes.”

I was standing in my house but it was completely different than I’d ever seen it before. And I got out a box and started packing a carload of donations bound for the Salvation Army.

Marilyn on My Pillow

17 Nov

Each breath became labored, eyelids the weight of heavy suitcases and pulse slowed as I started to go under.  At that moment I realized once I woke up that I couldn’t push myself into pain anymore.

While most people may have a cup of tea or a nightcap before bed, in 2009 I’d have Meloxicam, Vicodin or Flexeril.    Once I even had to see my physician for a Ketorolac injection because my knee was completely locked and all I could ask is, “when can I start running again? I’ve got a race next weekend.”  He just shook his head and said I had to learn how to take it easy.

After losing weight, I still saw my fat ghost in the mirror and I hopelessly ran into the overtraining trap:  logging insane running mileage, long hours at the gym and becoming a class addict on top of it all (hot yoga, cardio hip-hop, kung fu, whatever).  My body started to break down and I ignored it, pop a pain pill and keep running anyway.  My husband prodded me, “When are you going to start being kind to yourself?” which I nonchalantly dismissed with the wave of a hand one rainy day as I limped out the door to the gym to run a 10 mile training run on the treadmill.

One Sunday after an intense bout with pain, I popped a muscle relaxer and for the first time, felt my heartbeat slow down so much I thought I might be dying.  This is what Marilyn must have felt like that final day, I thought as the fragrance of Chanel No. 5 faded and I blacked out.

When I groggily awoke the next morning and saw the sunlight streaming through the blinds I was grateful to be alive and knew I had to change.

Fear and Loathing

Being kind to yourself isn’t something that Americans are good at.  As a society, we welcome taking care of others but don’t follow our own advice for fear of narcissism.  In our culture there is a profound lack of a healthy balance of self-kindness, instead we overcompensate with self-deprecating banter, no-pain-no-gain workouts and self-loathing.  We’re great at hurting ourselves.

After my initial weight loss, I physically pushed myself into pain.  IT band injury and low spine tissue damage didn’t deter me one bit from lacing up my sneakers, popping a pill and running anyway.   It turns out I wasn’t alone, a recent LA Times article indicated that “The use of painkillers quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Doctors write about 300 million prescriptions a year for painkillers. That is enough for every adult American to be medicated around the clock for a month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

While some of these prescriptions are for people coping with cancer, healing from surgery or traumatic injury, the question lingers in my mind as to how many of these prescriptions are for treating self-inflicted injuries?  How many people are literally addicted to beating themselves up?

Shift Happens

Yogis joke that ‘shift happens’ but even for well-seasoned yogis, sometimes the shift doesn’t happen until the shift hits the fan. For me, I would have never quit beating myself up if it wasn’t for my Marilyn moment.  I realized that my extreme fitness addiction had real consequences – and that I could end up killing myself.

My exercise philosophy changed focus from one of directed action to one of listening. Rather than just viewing my body as housing for my mind and soul, I started to listen to it as a being in and of itself.  If I saw someone at yoga class busting out a fancy move that was beyond my present skill level, I’d ignore it and stay where I was, still challenging myself, but not transitioning into pain.   Rather than running long mileage on Sunday afternoons, I started small again and only ran a few miles at a time.  I started walking more, and taking my time rather than anxiously watching my stopwatch.

Steadily, I began to notice an ease in my body.   By taking the time to listen to my aches and pains, and modifying what I was doing I started to notice the pain in my IT band was lessening.  And over time the low-spine damage that had resulted in numerous x-rays and prescription pain medications vanished.

Of course, every once and a while I do tend to overdo it, as my massage therapist and amazing healer, Jodi, will confirm.  But I’m off pain medications for good and feeling better than ever.  With the Holidays coming up, now is a great time to give yourself the gift of a little gratitude if you’re struggling with overtraining or self-image.  Here are three things to remember…

1. Listen to your body and respond accordingly

2. Abandon your sense of competition and comparison

3. Believe that you deserve kindness, and treat yourself the way you would treat a treasured friend.

Soulful Decapitator

6 Oct

“Oh God! One of these looks like me!” John commented, pointing to one of the decapitated heads bleeding from Kali’s sash.   In the ancient tradition of Eastern spiritual studies, I had just received my spiritual name (in Sanskrit) from Soul of Yoga upon my graduation from Sundara 300, an advanced yoga studies program designed for yoga teachers.  Ever supportive, John was all smiles as he wikipediaed ‘Kali’ and was a bit alarmed when the entry came up.

At first during graduation I was a little surprised myself.  Some of my fellow graduates had been named Sukha (Sweetness), Nakula (Rock) or Dharma (Service) because of their blissful spiritual attributes and I was expecting something like that.  But a Goddess known for her bad-ass destructive capabilities?  That made me wonder.

After our Graduation ceremony, I approached our Sundara 300 Program Director, Moksha (Liberation), about my new name.  She explained to me that while Kali is thought of as the Goddess of death, she’s also the goddess of time and change who is responsible for the destruction of evil forces on earth.

Moksha had originally suggested Sattwa (Balance) for my Spiritual name but the Soul Center’s founders, Reverend Tom and Trisha Kelly felt that it didn’t have the right sense of power for my soul.  Specifically, they believed that I exhibit and manifest the power of Kali in my work as a yoga teacher changing lives and in my daily work in to improve public health policy and take on corporate evil giants like the tobacco industry.

Strangely enough, this past summer I had meditated on Kali, and I hadn’t shared that with anyone.  At the time, I needed to cultivate some positive changes in my life and I asked for her help to make it happen.  The fact that my Spiritual Teachers would be guided to choose Kali’s name for my own can’t be a coincidence.  Being named after the Goddess Kali gives me a lot to live up to, but I’m humbled and honored to have her awesome power in my heart to make change happen.  Jai Ma Kali!

The Break-Up

8 Aug

With the economic downturn in 2010, things were looking grim for my Dad. A Special Inspector in construction, for many years he’d had steady work supervising welding and concrete as San Diego’s condo craze went up and business boomed. Many buildings on the downtown skyline have my Dad’s signature on it for structural safety. Channeling his inner Spider-Man, Dad never shies away from donning a harness and rappelling down the side of San Diego’s largest high-rises to make sure all the welding and concrete is safe to withstand earthquakes. But after many years of growth, the jobs started to dry up as the economy tanked. After a tense family meeting going over his finances and building debt, it was clear that he couldn’t afford the rent on the home he’d lived in with my sister since my parent’s divorce nearly 15 years ago.

While it was an exciting time for my sister to finally leave the nest and stretch her wings, moving out of the house for my Dad was devastating. With a talent for playing all manner of stringed instruments, drums, keyboards, and percussion (didgeridoo, congas, timbales, etc), my Dad had always had a place to practice his music before heading out to perform with a variety of bands at the House of Blues, San Diego Summer Pops and local dives.

The house also had a big backyard for our family’s scrappy stray dog, Roscoe, a Boxer mix John found on Thanksgiving Day in 2001. Roscoe loved it when Dad’s Big Band would practice in the living room, and would howl along to with the trumpets, saxophones and clarinets. A stalwart critic, he wasn’t impressed by Dad’s brief stint with a 90s cover band and would try to run outside anytime they played a No Doubt song. But Roscoe didn’t seem to mind the occasional Country Western jam band and I imagine he secretly wanted to play the jug or washboard.

My sister easily found an apartment, but the search for a place for my Dad was far more difficult. Most places he could afford might have a garage space where he could play his drums without offending anyone but didn’t allow pets. Or vice versa. Dad decided it was best to just rent a storage unit, carefully packed up his beloved instruments, and moved in with his friend Mike, a fellow divorcee with a dog of his own, who didn’t mind that my Dad brought Roscoe in tow.

Roscoe seemed to fit right in at the bachelor pad early on and loved cuddling up with Mike’s young cocker spaniel, Marley. And while my Dad was melancholy without his instruments nearby, he made frequent trips to the storage unit to tune up a banjo, strum the mandolin or pick up the bass. And while he misses his instruments, living in a place where he can be with his best friend Roscoe everyday is his top priority. Roscoe loves to follow my Dad around the house, picking up crumbs when he’s cooking dinner, or sunning himself while my Dad reads the paper and has coffee on the patio. Roscoe’s a loyal friend who seems to appreciate being with people every day, after a long life of being a lonely, emaciated stray.

As Roscoe’s age started to progress, the fur around his muzzle started to grey and it would take him a bit longer to stand up and greet you at the door. He also started an old dog cough that made it seem as if he’s in his eighties, which he likely is, though we don’t know for sure. Last week when my Dad came home from work, things had taken a turn for the worse. For the first time, Roscoe wasn’t able to make it to the front door. When my Dad walked into the living room, Roscoe was laying down on the floor and could barely move. But once Roscoe caught my dad’s eye, he began to wave his giant tail, which seemed to be his was his way of saying, “Sorry I couldn’t get up. But welcome home, I missed you!”

Filled with cancer and now kidney failure, it isn’t likely that Roscoe will make it much longer. And while it’s heartbreaking to see his life come to an end, I’m glad we found him and that he was able to get off the street and live a happy life. Roscoe brought silent strength and joy to my Dad when he needed it most – when he lost his home and his music.

After I gingerly lifted Roscoe off of the floor tonight, helped him get some water and unsuccessfully tried to make him eat, I looped an arm over him and just held him.  Roscoe looked into my eyes with a steady sadness, and reminded me that it’s long past time I went with my Dad to his storage unit, and maybe asked just how you play the mandolin.  Roscoe blinked and we made a little pact – he’s going to meet us there in spirit and play one last jam before finding his way home.

 

Havoc Happens

10 Jul

The final segment about my experience making the short film City 7.  The final project can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/Sx_uRN1IDcM

Quickly, I stripped off my sweat-soaked navy v-neck and adjusted the black A-shirt underneath while walking toward the police station.   Just inside the front door, Ryan had set up a prop room for all of the soldiers and he handed me a P90 and set me up with a holster and sidearm.  Since I had spent so much time making up zombies, I didn’t really have time to get ready or meet the other soldiers in HAVOC 1.  With each of the actors having crazy schedules, we didn’t have a chance to do a read-around before the shoot, but Peter, Christin, Kevin and Ryan had meticulously storyboarded and scheduled everything so we were ready to hit the ground running.

Attempting to fix our first practical affects fail, with comedy from Lisa and Alicia to help the process!

With our zombie army assembled, we shot all the big zombie scenes first, beginning with the scene when we first enter the building when my friend and fellow gore-stylist, Curtiss (Axe) gets redshirted by tripping over his own feet.  (Which is pretty ironic since he’s an experienced marksman and gun enthusiast in real life!)  Just before Axe goes down, he takes out a few zombies.  To make the scene more realistic, we had set up some practical effects.  My work husband from my day job, Eric Thompson, stepped in and we put a pressurized tube setup under his shirt, that when activated would spray a burst of fake blood out from behind his head, making it appear as if he was shot.   But when Peter said “Action!” instead of a big pressure-pop of fake gore, fake blood oozed out pretty slowly, coating Eric in a thick slime of red.  Ryan and I tried to fix it, but the CO2 cartridge had totally frozen and we were falling behind schedule and had to press on.  (And I definitely owed Eric big time!)

Our gore rig fail wasn’t the only hiccup that morning.  After our first take in the file room where we were supposed to appear skillfully scanning the room for zombies, it was blatantly obvious that most of us had no practical firearm handling experience and we were gun-toting-amateurs.  (See photo example – right).  Ryan quickly took a moment to explain the basics, and how tactically we would scan the room if we were real soldiers.  With the clock ticking and a tight schedule, we didn’t get much time to pull it together.  It took a few takes, but we got it.

Then we had to deal with the counter-exit scene, where we each had to jump up and haul ourselves over a counter and shoot through the other side of a window.  The counter was pub-height, and my first time over I whammed my left shin right into it.  Not wanting to be seen as a ‘sissy’ I just sucked it up and didn’t say anything.  We did another take and BAM! I did it again.  Then we did another take and I barely cleared it.  By our final take, nearly everyone was rubbing their shins and not saying anything.  John and I compared shins later – and both of us had bloody knots for about four weeks!

The rest of the day was jam-packed.  While we were all excited to be part of the film, for those of us novices, we quickly learned that filming an action short is like running a marathon.  We ran up and down stairs take after take, kicked open doors and were on our hands and knees.   Our poor zombie friends had to stand around in-between takes wearing itchy latex oatmeal patches and sticky fake blood.  Each one of us at some point were physically uncomfortable, and as a collective had some emotional ups and downs.  Of course we ran out of toilet paper, and somehow we ran out of liability release forms, but my friend and fellow costumer, Lisa Archibald, hit up target, Kinkos and ran all kinds of errands.  Brother-from-another-mother Robert Fung also stepped in to slate and assist Peter.

Mike Burnell, Pia Thrasher and Marc Crespo

Despite the pressure of an aggressive timetable, the bonhomie of the team was fantastic.  Veteran Actors Pia Thrasher (who just had a short screened at Cannes for chrissakes) and Mike Burnell were old friends and exchanged banter like family.  Marc Crespo, had us all busting up with his one-liners, and alongside some zombies made up a few Solar Rain spoofs in between-takes.  Casey Byrne our ‘demolitions expert’ had some funny zingers and Paul Maston, the ‘baby’ of the group, still was a good sport when we jokingly called him “the Beebs” because of his trend-setting ‘do.  And when Cevin Burke broke out his unicycle at lunch it sealed the deal that this was perhaps the best cast and crew around.

Joel Sutherland, Camera Operator and Patrick Shaw, Boom Operator were our silent heroes, on the set for over 12 hours each day taking orders, and making sure the cinematography, lighting and sound were spot-on.  Jackie, Jeff and Alicia were on hand to make up zombies – and play zombie roles both days.  Poor Jeff even had his mouth sealed with liquid latex and fake blood – for at least four hours – but the footage was worth it!

The final goodbye

Making City 7 was an incredible experience, and I’m grateful to my friend Ryan for recruiting me for this wonderful project.  And of course I have to send a shout-out to my hubby who filled-in as “Crash” at the last moment – and heroically saves my character in the film at the expense of his own life!  Another win for true love.  And for my dear friends who were zombies or soldiers, you’re aces in my book.  Thanks for giving up 48 hours to work for pizza – and laughter!

Dawn of the Dead

7 Jun

It was still dark out just after 6 a.m. when I pulled up to the old police station in Escondido.  Aside from a few offices rented out upstairs, the building had been pretty much abandoned.  Ryan, Peter, Christin and Keith had arrived extra early to trash the bottom floor for setup.  Old file cabinets, piles of phones and ratty desks were overturned on the floor.  Outside, Ryan helped me set up a couple of canopies and tables for our makeup assembly-line.  Peter’s mom, Barbara, set up shop next-door in a tent with all kinds of food and treats.  (She’s an angel!)  A thread of nervous tension was in the air as we scrambled with setup.  We only had the police station rented for two days and had to make the most of every minute… and… would our unpaid zombie extras show up?

Ten minutes later I didn’t have time to catch my breath.  The zombie army had arrived!

With Ryan busy with costumes and Jeff and Jackie running late because Jackie woke up with a bad fever, Alicia, Curtiss and I were swamped with undead.  We set up an assembly line, Alicia doing face base, basic gore and hair, then I’d add liquid latex, oatmeal and dead “skin.”  Curtiss had the best job of all…

By this point we had over thirty zombies to make up and even more piling in.  While I was busily applying clots of fake blood on someone’s face, Curtiss came over and I said, “Listen. I want him totally f*cked.  Clothes ripped, missing a shoe, totally dirty.” My zombie grinned in reply and said, “HELL YEAH!!!”  Curtiss gladly led our zombie victim away, slashed his clothes with a hunting knife, literally dragged him through a pile of mud and then flung fake blood all over him.  And there were smiles all around.  It takes a special type of person to be a zombie, and I’m so glad that we had so many awesome people who were not only willing to be completely f*cked up – but had a genuinely smashing good time too.

My sister Deana, her new boyfriend, Travis, and my friend Tracie Umbreit’s friend Kim Myers (who I had never met before!) instantly stepped into the assembly line to help makeup zombies.  Somehow by this point I had seamlessly slipped into character, barking orders and dropping F-bombs like raindrops.  By contrast, my sister is far more ladylike and her new boyfriend had expected us to be the same – and he was horrified, commenting that I was a “P90-toting cross between Laura Croft and Charlie’s Angels.”

To keep our zombies from getting bored, my co-worker Eric Thompson and his son Hunter took the zombie army out for an impromptu photo shoot.  They took pictures at the freight trains stopped across the way, got into some mayhem with our soldiers and later in the day helped made fake promos for Solar Rain.

Jeff and Jackie arrived close to 8, which gave me the chance to break away and make-up Josh McBride, my arch-nemesis aptly named “Head Wound.”  While I was making a 6-inch gash in his forehead, and barking more f-bomb orders out to people, Josh brought some levity to the makeup tent when he boldly proclaimed that “every girl who I’ve ever let put makeup on me I’ve kissed.”  We’re good friends now, and until I typed this I forgot about that comment– and have to hit Josh up to hear the rest of that story.  Too bad I’m married or I would have found out if his promise was true!

In less than 2 hours we had made up nearly 50 zombies, and it was time to roll.

PS – This was supposed to be my final City 7 post…. but I want to do my fellow soldiers justice.  4.5 is coming!  Here’s a link to our finished product: http://youtu.be/Sx_uRN1IDcM