Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Two Photos That Changed My Life

Author's Note: This is a really long post, my apologies.
It's been a long year, my friends. A long, arduous journey - but a rewarding one as well. I'll start with where I've been. And why I'm back.

Oh, you know...I've just been off losing 40 pounds. Just kidding, it's more like 38, and I haven't just been doing anything. I quit my old job and got a new one - a much more challenging (yet rewarding!) one. I've been riding my bike. I've been cooking a lot of brussels sprouts with bacon. I've been deep breathing. I've been less worried about the future. And I've been reading.

I'm back because I want to share my journey.

Last March, one of my oldest friends got married. Her wedding was the worst day of my life. The night before her wedding, my boyfriend and I broke up. I stayed up until 5am crying my eyes out until there was nothing left, got up at 7 and attempted to find something decent to wear and nothing fit. I curled my hair and put on makeup and cried all the way up to her wedding venue to help her prepare for her big day. I cried all day long, hiding my tears in sunglasses and going to the bathroom a lot, pausing only briefly to stuff my face with a pastrami sandwich. I looked awful. I felt awful. And I was in an awful place in my life.

At my highest weigh and lowest
mental state of my life.
The photo on the left is the way I looked that day. I've spent many months staring painfully at this photo, the first few months in disbelief that it was me. Now I look at it and I'm proud it is me. Of course, I must note that this pride comes only after having made it through the thick (no pun intended) parts.

With that really discouraging photo looming over my head, I spent a few months making really unsuccessful attempts at losing weight. When it came down to it, I was depressed, which made me lethargic, sad, and uncomfortable. I got a job that turned out to be a pretty rough road and just further extended my misery. When I was shopping for new clothes before the first day of my job last April, it was the first time I had attempted to buy pants in over 3 years. I couldn't hide in my lululemon pants anymore, and I was maxing out at the largest sizes in every store. At my highest weight, I found myself buying size 12 pants at Torrid, a plus-sized women's clothing store. I was the smallest size that the store sold, and all the women that worked at the store rolled their eyes and seemed pissed that I was shopping in their store - I'm not even kidding. I was too large for non-plus sized stores, and getting shunned at a store that had my size. I made myself believe that the Universe had conspired to be an ass hole to me, and in my dark cave I played into my own victimization - something that absolutely disgusts me now.

I started my new job, which was far away from my home and I had my own apartment in a town where I knew no one. I spent my weeknights drinking wine and crying over old episodes of The New Girl and my life continued to be stagnant and dark. Instead of getting therapy or joining a gym, I spent a solid amount of time (months) basically saying woe is me, I hate my job, I'm fat, and I'm going to eat this pasta and wish my weight away. 

This journey for me goes much deeper than just a physical change, and that is why I've decided to return from its depths (now its highs) to write about it. I know that anyone who has lost a significant amount of weight will understand this. When you're overweight because you're depressed, and eat your feelings to get through the hard parts of your life, a change is necessary but requires much more effort than simply shedding a few pounds. In order to cultivate the healthy lifestyle that I desperately wanted, I began to realize I was going to have to work hard at my mental state as well - much harder.

I started slow. 

Take note of those chipmunk cheeks on the left!
When I look back at the foods I was eating at this time last year, it's so obvious why the weight wasn't falling off of me - soy yogurt with granola, whole wheat pasta, and Trader Joe's frozen enchiladas. These really aren't the worst foods in the world to eat, but not the kind of food someone who has 40+ pounds to lose has any business eating. I will get into the eating lifestyle I ended up adopting in subsequent posts, but ultimately it came down to, after much trial and error, a paleo-low-carb-high-fat hybrid. Again, I'll post later about that (and include recipes).

So that first picture was my wake-up call. I wasn't hiding my weight gain successfully any longer, and it was depressing. The second photo came in May, when I was struggling to commit to an exercise plan - actually, to even start one. I was looking through my Instagram feed and saw my friend had posted a picture of a new set of kettlebells. I realized I hadn't talked to her lately, so I started scrolling through her other intriguing photos, which were all Crossfit workouts and healthy meals. Then I came across a photo that she had captioned #progress. This girl has always been beautiful, and she was a very tall, big boned girl. She was never fat, ever. But in her #progress photo, she was lanky and slender. I was no stranger to your body shape changing - at this point I had stretch marks on my once skinny legs and was growing lumpy fat in places I never thought I could. But I didn't know that you could basically hack your body composition completely. The photo was mesmerizing. She looked so different, so happy, like a shinier version of herself. I think that she looked beautiful at what she was before, but it was as if her new shape gave her a whole new glow.

Me, too.

That photo did a lot of things for me. It told me that the human body is an open canvas for us to mold and shape depending on the form of exercise we choose. It told me that I, too, could change my body shape. And from there, I signed up for bootcamp to prep myself for Crossfit. From the 4 months of bootcamp that that photo inspired me to sign up for, many, many other amazing fitness feats have blossomed. Crossfit still hasn't happened, but it's still a possibility.

March 2013 to February 2014
I won't show that photo of my friend, but I'll share a couple of my own #progress photos. Yes, I am my own inspiration. I shamelessly admit that. One incredible part of my journey has been tracking my progress. I took a photo on my MacBook's Photo Booth every day at my last job. In the daily struggle I couldn't see my changes, but over the course of a few months the changes were remarkable.

I still have a long way to go, and I'm leaving out the best parts of my story - like how my boyfriend (oh yeah, we got back together, or rather, found each other again) stepped in to inspire more change in my healthy new lifestyle, and how I got a new job and my mental state elevated. I have so many recipes and stories and progress to share, and that's why I'm back.

I know that it just takes one photo (or two) or a blog post or a Tweet or a comment to inspire someone. I posted both of my own progress photos on my various social media accounts. Amongst the congratulations and Facebook likes and hundreds of Tumblr reblogs there were a few that came forth to commend my bravery for posting the befores. I didn't think anything of the word "bravery" or "courage" until recently, and I have so much to say about the importance of mental courage to inspire change. My friend's courage to post her progress is the reason I shamelessly post mine and will continue to. I know there's another year-ago me out there struggling to figure out what to do next, and that's why I'm here.

The overwhelming message of this past year, that I will get to in later posts is this: If you don't like where your life is, change it. Only you can change it. Only you.

Namaste, friends!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

'Get Ready, Girl:' Sequining My Life The Way I Want It

I've been trying to understand and repair myself in small, measured steps lately, because I realize that getting to be that person I want to be eventually, while she is still just a foggy reflection in a steamy mirror (the cheesiness begins in paragraph one of this post), is really just a girl sequined with all the hopes and aspirations I have and will have in the future. (Please, allow me to explain.)

I've let my nails grow out really long and kept them pretty well shaped and well manicured lately. While longer nails are a bitch and a half to keep up, I like the way they look and the way they make me feel. They are beautiful, and they make a delightful little ticking noise as I type. They have not been breaking lately because I finally kept promises to myself to take my vitamins. I bought these awesome hair and nail vitamins, and after five weeks they are definitely kicking in. So there you have it, vitamins are a sequin, and they feed the long, manicured nail sequin.

I've also been sharing my work and ideas a lot more freely lately, and I have been overwhelmingly surprised by the friends and family who have responded to my work. This is a huge feat for me, a great feeling, sharing ideas and receiving a response. As an artist (and I do, shamelessly, call myself an artist), knowing that someone reads my writing or views my blog(s) (as you are now) is tremendously touching for me. Sometimes I feel like my shit will just stay on the pages of my notebooks forever, and without your support, Bleaders, I would not continue to share my ideas in a public arena.

But these little sequin things--sharing my work and growing my nails--something complicatedly scary and something relatively simple sounding, are these little steps I've wanted to take for myself for so long. It's terrifying being in my mid-twenties and being around so many people that have their lives inching closer to where they want to be. I haven't felt anywhere near that point in a long time - if anything I've felt really, really far away. Yet, when I tell these people that I wish I had my shit figured out the way they do, each and every one of them--each and every one--has given me some sort of painful look with a furrowed brow, laughed nervously, and said I wish! 

So that's why I've been forcing myself to sequin-out goals for myself lately. Little teeny, tiny goals that are attributes I'd like Dream Cass to possess. These things also include owning a yoga studio/cafe and fitting back into my old pants and shorts that are still much too tight on my (albeit shrinking) large body. But these things, I must remind myself, are far too vague. To be able to fit into these old clothes, I must commit myself to eating salad. To be a yoga studio owner, I must first get my certifications (something I've wanted desperately since I was 15), and in order to do that I must chaturanga daily. Salad. Surya Namaskar A. Sequins, y'all.

A few months ago I was chatting with one of my favorite classmates from college. I was telling her about my current situation. At the time, I was freshly out of school and the idea that I wouldn't be able to see my boyfriend every day made my stomach twist into knots (it still does, but in a different kind of way). It was late night, and I was in crisis mode. And that's when she told me this:
You will always be the girl I wish I had been. That might not make sense, but when you are older it will. So much love and joy is coming your way. Get ready, girl.
I still don't quite understand what she meant, but I've thought about her words for months now. The decisions I've made this year have effected many parts of my future. And I am learning that the pain has only pushed me closer to this moment - sitting on my bed, up late before work, my fingernails clacking on the keyboard, getting ready to hit publish on my inner ramblings of the evening.

Namaste, dear friends.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

And How Do You Feel About That?

Now seems like the appropriate time to write about feelings; it's a Tuesday night, I'm in the thick of working on a project that has to hit deadline tomorrow. I spent all last weekend attempting to write a short story to submit to a local literary journal whose deadline was yesterday at midnight, and I came up dry. So, naturally, in the thick of chaos when my brain needs to be researching success stories and case studies to write marketing copy of my own, it wants to write about all the feelings inside me.

Last night I talked to him. You know, him.

I played this really awful game last week called And How Do You Feel About That, a game I invented in 2003 when Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan came out and she was stuck in Jamie Lee Curtis’ body and had to pretend to be a therapist—“And how do you feel about that?”—It’s really stupid and I’ve played it in my head for over 10 years. 
Like I said, I was playing AHDYFAT, and I took a little bit of emotional inventory. A lot of my friends just got out of very serious, very long-term, in-it-to-win-it types of relationships. These are couples that I would study, with their oozing long-term mentality and stupid, cute Facebook photos and really envy (once I got over the irritation of their sappiness). And then they just went and fell apart and left me questioning my romantic ideals and ideas of what love really looks like. 
And there is, of course, my own complicated relationship with the boy that changed my life. The past two years have been so complicated— I’ve moved into and out of four different homes (my college apartment with my best friend, my parents’ house, mine and my boyfriends’ apartment, back to my parents’ house, and then into the temporary apartment I occupy 4 nights out of the week now). It’s been crazy, and I still don’t feel like I belong any one specific place. Aside from moving, I dropped out of graduate school; quit an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime editing job; busted an interview at my dream magazine (they asked me to tell them about myself and I couldn’t answer them); and cried more than I’ve ever cried in my entire life. I get caught up in the work week, and I still keep in contact with him, and thinking about how much I miss him and our life together usually ends with a big ol’ crying Cass, so I don’t analyze my own feels too much. 
But last week I mind-fucked myself and played AHDYFAT and asked myself about my feelings—like, point blank, “Do you still have feelings for him?” It was such an odd question—it came out of nowhere, from the deepest darkest part of my brain where my inner troll lives. Do you still have feelings for him? My answer, keep in mind I’m talking to myself, in my head, was instantly—Uh, yes! But then I took out my little feelings flashlight and started reading the hieroglyphics and deviant street art scribbled on the walls of my insides to see just how complicated these cave walls were. I ended up in a weird part of town inside me, and the graffiti on the wall was, like, written in Italian or some shit, but even in Italian I understood that it read, Yeah, you’re still the crazy mess you were back in March, you just don’t have as much time to think about it anymore. 
Last night, after he and I had an incredible conversation, I was getting chia seeds out of my freezer and I just said out loud, to the embarrassing amount of frozen chicken breasts I have in there, “I’m still in love with him.” Three months ago, I was getting dressed for work and blurted out, “What we had is over.” But it’s not over. There is distance and busy work and a lifestyle and some chicken wire and haircuts and new friends and mountains and rivers and county lines and the aqueduct and weight loss and confusion between us, but there is still a pilot light glowing there, mutually, it’s not a torch I’m carrying, it’s just a constant glow and reminder that real things, real feelings, real love…they don’t all just go away.
And I don’t want them to.  
Namaste.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why I Write*

Living the dream.
*This title is stolen from the Joan Didion essay, "Why I Write," who, fun fact, stole her title from George Orwell's essay by the same name. This blog post is inspired by both the Joan Didion essay, that I just re-discovered in the messy "Re-Read when Bored" bookmark folder on my Chrome, as well as the recent Thought Catalog post 33 Authors On Why They Write, which, conveniently, references Didion and Orwell's essays. I will now stop this complicated and run-on beginning footnote and get on with my own essay.

I wrote my first short story when I was seven; I was bored on a vacation in West Virginia, there was a thunder storm, and my aunt had that computer paper that ceased to exist after the 90s, the kind that was perforated on the edges and connected into one long, long piece of paper that would only separate if carefully torn. The story was about a little boy frog and a dad frog. The little boy frog was bored on a vacation, stuck inside because of a thunderstorm (I must have dug deep for that premise), and did not like any of the suggestions the dad had for his son - board games (aptly spelled "bored" games), running around the living room, playing with one of seven cats (no logic in this story - a frog with a pet cat?), and drawing pictures of dolphins on computer paper. The little frog never found anything to do because I never finished the story - a precursor to how a majority of my short stories would end up later in life.

In high school, I knew I was a genius because I wrote in my diary every three months about "real" things. Freshman year, my grandpa died, and I wrote really crappy poems with cliche'd metaphors and phrases like, "I'd walk the path to heaven to find you." And, like the short story about the frog, my mother made photocopies of all my crappy poems, giving me the photocopies and keeping the original handwritten ones in her underwear drawer next to the Tic-Tac box of my baby teeth. She made me feel like I had real talent - a mother is one of the most dangerous creatures when it comes to pursuing a creative life. I could literally copy a sentence out of Snooki's book and my mother would think it was beautiful and well-rounded and toss me a photocopy of it on her way to filing it in her underwear drawer.

I know that deep down, I was writing to cope with the sadness and loneliness any grieving teenager would have, but mostly it just made me feel important. I carried around this black and white composition notebook and scribbled little bits and pieces from people's conversations like a detective. I wrote in class and at lunch and made sure everyone could see that I was writing without ever showing them what I was writing. I still have that notebook. It sits in a box with twelve other notebooks filled with scribbles. My favorite line is stolen from a conversation between my mother and her college roommate: "Honey, I'd have a beard if it weren't for my good eye."

I've continued to write in lined notebooks since then, taking a break sophomore year of high school to write in a graph-paper-lined notebook. That notebook was my food journal, or rather, my eating disorder journal. In it, I taped pictures of women's thin arms and abs and those annoying tear-out workout cards from Shape magazine, using it as "inspiration," or, in other words, reasons for me not to eat. When I did eat, I would overeat and throw up in my parents’ shower. I only remember this because it's conveniently logged like a police report in the graph-paper lined notebook. It lasted three months and I lost a lot of weight, but I also hated every moment I spent counting calories and doing crunches late at night on my bedroom floor. 

In the year following the food journal, I got healthy again, at least physically, just in time for my grandmother to become incredibly sick. She was my best friend and the reason I got through many painful nights in high school. It was at 16 that I started to see a bigger picture forming in my mind: she was dying, and I could not save her. So instead, I carried my notebook with me and recorded our conversations and pieces of advice she would offer me. I scribbled things like, "I used to smile all the time," a line that I still have not found the proper home for in a short story. I made lists of all the things we wanted to do the summer before she died. I wrote things we made, scores of card games we played, and grocery lists she wrote for me. That notebook is one of my greatest treasures.

She died when I was 17, but not after a long and painful struggle, and myself sitting there and witnessing all of it. After she died, I didn't know or understand how to deal with the indefinable sadness that was worse than anything I’d ever experienced. I took a creative writing class my senior year of high school. The class was taught by one of the most amazing and inspiring people I've ever met, someone I still keep in touch with. In her class, she had us write in composition notebooks. I was no stranger to the notebook-wielding business - this was my jam. I didn't, however, realize what a profound effect being forced to write everyday would have on me. We did free writes five days a week - basically just five minutes of unadulterated pen-to-paper mental diarrhea. It forced me to push out the sludge in my brain and really connect with the deeper, raw emotions that were tangled inside me and my stupid and adolescent, grieving heart. 

The biggest lesson with writing I almost learned too late was that the feelings I had inside - the sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, and fear - they weren't unique in any way. It was how I talked about these feelings that made my story unique, and learning how has been the greatest challenge of all. No one would give two shits about my short story with a protagonist who was sad because her elderly grandmother died. Why? Because the death of an old woman is not a tragedy, and reading a sappy story where the narrator whines and complains with phrases like, "I was inconsolably sad and stifled the sadness with cigarettes and vodka," does not win a reader over. In fact, if you'd like a surefire way to get a reader to immediately stop reading your shitty short story and go find something better to read, pack it full of saying how sad your narrator/protagonist is, without ever talking about why or how or when or who or what they are sad about. 

Writing has helped me to understand myself in this way. It's not what you write about, it's how you write about it; it's not what you talk about, it's how you talk about itWriting has allowed me to actually listen to people, not just plan what I'm going to say next. And I listen to my characters, too, crawl inside them, hear their heartbeat, cry with them, laugh with them, and then find myself in them and write their story (lucky for me, all of my protagonists thus far have been some version of myself). 

Unfortunately, I spent a majority of my young adult life feeling like I was a genius because I wrote things down. Sometimes I still feel that way. But now when I write, I write because I'm trying to untangle the messy wires and memories and make them feel less painful. When I write, I get to see my grandma again. I get to eat oatmeal at the kitchen table with her and play cards with her and hold her close to me and protect her from falling over her oxygen cords and into a coma. Or sometimes, I let her fall. I let her fall over and over again, in reverse, in forwards, in slow motion, in fast motion, into a bathtub, into the ocean, into me. Some days, on paper, I meet up with her after being away for months and she asks me where I've been, turning and smiling at me in a sweater with a sailboat on it.

Other times, more often these days, I rework relationships. When I miss him, I write it out on paper. I get to go back to that ranch, back inside that barn. I get to relive the night that we drank two bottles of wine after shoveling horse shit and hay all afternoon, that night when he undressed me for the first time and whispered in my ear that he was scared, like a little boy, Cass, I'm scared. I listen to my memories and sew what those memories tell me into a stronger version of myself (my protagonist). 

When I write, I get to rethink the fights I picked with him. I grow a pair of balls and kill the crickets that invaded our kitchen instead of waking him up at 2 a.m. to kill them for me, making him so mad he wouldn't even let me kiss him. I unravel the anger I still have, the bitterness that he could not love me the way I wanted to be loved. I get to cultivate a new me, an understanding Cass that accepts what, at the time, felt like cold, stale unloved love but was really just his way of taking every hurt and heartbreak he'd had in his past and putting up a shield to protect himself from being hurt again (and this time, I don't contribute to his pain; this time, I stay with him in our apartment in Northern California instead of fleeing to Los Angeles). 

Writing lets me relive past lives, it lets me drink up the sadness and anger and bitterness and burp up some sort of beautiful conclusion about myself, my life, my past. 

I guess writing does still make me feel important, but it's not that egotistical importance I had when I was fourteen. Instead, it makes me feel like my life itself and everything that has or hasn't happened to me is important. Writing makes me feel alive, it makes me feel okay, and it makes me believe that I can do great things (like heal myself and help others).

May you feel important, in a good way.
Namaste.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Top 5 List

I'd like to start a weekly Top 5 List. Why? Because I love lists, and I love things...and I want the world to know about these things I love.

I will kick off this week with The Top 5 Things I Need When I'm Sick.

1. A variety of cough drop flavors (and some real drugs).
The Real Deal: Prescription drugs to the rescue, dude.
I've been fat and hungry all my life, so any excuse to eat cough drops like candy is always a favorite pastime for me. But this week I was so sick, I was popping those suckers one after another just to keep breathing. Being in an office with incredibly thin walls, I didn't have to tell people that I was sick - they heard me long before I came hacking into their office for something. I had to keep as quiet as possible, and three flavors of cough drops (lemon-mint, honey-lemon, and menthol-cherry) were my saving grace - at least for a day or two. I did the whole I'm sick and coughing but I will survive thing for 4 days last week before waking up on Saturday morning hacking green goo out of my chest and realizing that I wasn't going to beat this thing on my own.
Once I got some real drugs--an inhaler, a Z-pack, and a big ol' bottle of codeine--I thought I would be racing towards the sickness finish line and into the wellness circle. By Sunday I realized that feeling better was not in the cards for me, drugs and all. But, I gotta say, there is nothing quite like codeine. I do not condone the recreational use of narcotics, but when you're sick and can't sleep because your lungs are out of control, codeine is like a Christmas cocktail of Baby Jesus blood and Santa's sweat. That shit made me feel like I not only was going to live, but that life was worth living (yes, I had a very deep moment with the codeine).
This morning, Day 10 of my cold, I woke up feeling AWESOME. I had this incredible pep talk with myself in the mirror (See also: Jessica's Daily Affirmation). I curled my hair in a new way I had never tried before (with my Chi instead of a curling iron...a post for later), I used new colors in my eyeshadow pallet, I ate two handfuls of blueberries. I was at 95%, and spread my cheerfulness across the land (okay, through the Pump Solutions Group building). But by noon I felt myself deflating. My cough came back twofold, I started sneezing. People started avoiding me again because of my creepy cough. I guess what I'm trying to say in so many details is that I'm still sick. And I'm damn tired of it. And I need a yoga class.

2. A DVR full of House Hunters International.
If you've never watched this show, well, you probably have a social life. But, for real, if you've never watched this you, you really need to reconsider your life choices. NO, for real, if you've never watched this show, you need to set your DVR to record it...at least the Mexico episodes. Why? Because Saturday and Sunday TV programming SUCKS. And I was in that mood where, even if I liked the show that was on, I was flipping anxiously through the channels for something better, or sleeping. Lucky for me, I was home at my parents and they are obsessed with House Hunters International and forget how to delete the episodes they've watched (or forget that they've watched them in general). So Saturday and Sunday I watched about nine hours total of House Hunters International...damn it, man.

Melting and feverish in my apartment
without an ocean breeze.
3. My mom.
I will not ever admit this again, but my mom, at one point this weekend, actually fed me strawberries that she cut up into bite-size pieces and put on toothpicks for me. Yeah, I have that kinda mom. She also forced me to drink three gulps of Gatorade every 10 minutes every hour for 48 hours...that was less than pleasant but I also didn't get dehydrated. Basically, I have the best mom in the world.

4. Ocean breeze.
I don't think it's possible to put in words how much I hate where I live during the week. It's hot and miserable and not the ocean and I'm lonely and isolated away from my family and everyone I love. The ocean breeze...even the notion of just putting on a sweatshirt, is something that is unheard of in this disgusting town I live in four nights out of the week. But, luckily, there is a beautiful ocean I return to every weekend. This weekend, my feverish, sick self especially enjoyed getting to curl up under blankets, instead of sweating through them like I do during the week.

5. Chocolate pudding.
A feverish Cassandra Lotus went to the grocery store while waiting for her three prescriptions at the pharmacy. She came back with three types of jumbo-size cup-noodles and chocolate pudding cups. The cup-noodles ended up being shrimp flavored (yes, shrimp...who the hell eats shrimp-flavored instant noodles?) but the chocolate pudding cups were a revelation. When I was in middle school, I gave my best friend, Michelle Cernansky, a very detailed list of what to serve at my funeral should I die before reaching 13. My fat, 12-year-old self requested, among other things, fish & chips and unlimited amounts of chocolate pudding cups (sounds like a pretty awesome funeral, huh?). I haven't actually purchased pudding cups, for some baffling reason, since like freshman year of college. Well, all of that changed this weekend. Those 70-calorie pudding cups were just about as glorious as the codeine.

This sickness is no joke. I continue to hack Day 10.
May you be well, eat lots of chocolate pudding, and take your codeine as needed.
Namaste.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Strength in Weakness

I woke up two days ago with a thick, heavy feeling in my throat and a nasty cough. If I was still the old Cassandra Lotus, I would lay in bed all day and watch The Nanny and sleep it off. But of course, that Cassandra was an unemployed student back then.

Seeing as I have three sick days and no intentions of using those days on a measly little cough, I put on my big girl pants (and my belt, since I've lost three pounds this month) and got to steppin'. (Okay, I worked from home--but I still billed a solid eight hours of work today.)

It takes the most strength of all each week for me to work
in the Inland Empire away from my home, this beach.
You know how sometimes white light surrounds you when you have to get something done? Not that frustrated anxiety you get when things aren't going your way for something you want to happen--I'm saying the shit has to get done today and you know that delaying getting started or complaining about it will literally do nothing so your brain shuts down those thought processes? Like I said, white light surrounds you. Anyway, today was one of those days. There were deadlines to hit, designers waiting on my markups, editors waiting on my press release, web editors waiting to publish my content. I took an extra sip of DayQuil and hit this day pretty hard.

And now, here I am. Sitting in bed with some more time to spare (I think it's the DayQuil talking). I wish I had this energy about two hours ago, before I convinced myself that I was too congested to go to fitness bootcamp. It was arm day today--and it's my favorite because I can actually see results. My yogi arms are slowly coming back, after their 2-1/2 year vacation. But losing those muscles and pushing myself through the pain to gain them back is probably one of the most self-aware experiences I've ever had.

Sometimes it takes feeling weak to discover how truly strong you are. I feel like quitting every moment I'm at bootcamp, mainly because I know I'm not at the level I used to be, and getting on that level again feels impossible. But, for some reason, I haven't quit yet. Looking back on the ten weeks since I started getting back into shape again, I really haven't quit. Last week I went up a tire size at bootcamp. It was impossible to lift after the first couple of reps, so on my next set I switched back to my smaller tire. Lifting it was nothing--it was too easy. That lighter tire was something that used to make my arms fatigued, and last week I was practically throwing it in the air. I got nothing out of the second set. Feeling weak with the heavier tire was a cheesy metaphor hand-delivered from the Universe telling me that I can feel strong but remain weak, or I can feel weak but grow stronger. Having an easy job (unlike the job I currently have, as I discussed last week) would mean my brain turning to mush, like my muscles. Everyday in the office is a steep rock climb for my brain, leaving it sore but stronger (wiser).

Now, I don't think it's possible for this post to get any cheesier, so I will leave you contemplating the idea that getting stronger makes you feel weak at first. But pretty soon, you'll be lifting heavier tires than you ever thought possible.

That's it, I'm out.
Namaste.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Technically Speaking...

I have about seven incomplete drafts on my blog dashboard, and they all begin something like this:
Hey! It's Cassandra Lotus. I work as a tech writer now. I want to pursue more creative endeavors and fulfill that urge by writing my thoughts on the Internet. Today, I ate salad at my desk and found a pocket of time to slip into the sunshine and pretend that my job isn't located in the Inland Empire. What happened to all that time I wasted back in the spring with nothing to do and nowhere to be? I've been taking vitamins that I firmly believe are making my hair grow stronger. I love yoga pants. 

JK, my office isn't at a baseball park, but I did have
a conference here and it was cool.
They say that as a tech writer there is always job security and that the work never feels like it's finished. Well, I feel like the learning never feels like it's finished, either. In fact, it wouldn't be a weekday without feeling like I've finally cracked the code to the air-operated double-diaphragm pump industry, only to be handed a silly PFA-coated hardware change that throws a wrench, or, more appropriately, a fastener, into my little victory lap around the engineering department.

Let's start over. Hello, it's me, Cassandra Lotus. And for the past three months I've been working as a technical writer for a marketing company that specializes in industrial pumps. And yes, it's just as riveting and tedious as it sounds.

But this post is more about learning how to learn as an adult. This is the first fall of my entire life that I won't be a student. That is, I won't be returning to campus 500 miles north of home in some sort of tear-stricken madness, only to eat my feelings for weeks and try not to melt in Northern California's sunshine. Instead, I will be heading to the same desk that I have been reporting to for the past three months and handling what projects decide to be thrown to marketing by Engineering.

Let's get real for a second: if I had known back in college (a whole year ago!) that technical writing was going to be the job I would land, I might have thought twice about dropping out of grad school. But, in all honesty, somedays it feels good to work parts of my brain that haven't been used--ever. You know how when you go rock climbing and the next day you feel parts of your arms you never knew existed? That's how my brain feels after a long day spent at good ol' Wilden Pump & Engineering Company. The best part, though, is that life is so fast-paced in a marketing agency like the one I work for, that there really isn't a whole lot of time to lick my wounds or even think about them--unless of course I decide to blog about them. And they aren't wounds, really, just little headaches from using parts of my brain I've never used before.

I spend a lot of time with my cats on my days off.
And it's actually kinda fun to learn something so different from anything I'd ever pursue on my own. As a writer, I would say my favorite things to write about are cats, wine, sex, and food--and most often these are all grouped together. Having this day job where there is nothing cat-, wine-, sex-, or food-related (unless you count our hygienic series pumps), my creative reserves are high. And when my creative reserves are high, some incredible shit happens: I throw around opening sentences and titles in my mouth all day, I get hung up on images I hear in songs, I create doodle characters (I recently created an unnamed octopus that has witty captions like, "Jesus wears yoga pants"). Look at me, after 3 months of drafts, I'm finally writing and (hopefully) hitting publish on this post. I want to write again. I have material to write about again (so good and so deep and so heartbreakingly juicy, it gives me chills). I feel funny again, I feel nice again. And did I mention I've been working out and eating salads? I've lost ten pounds since my last post.

So while I still have a long way to go--career-wise, creativity-wise, and weight loss-wise--I feel like it's okay to have this daily confusion. Ancora Imparo, I am still learning.

May you find ways to use the parts of your brain that are dusty and under-used.

Namaste.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Essay: Why 'Silver Linings Playbook' isn't a good movie



I think this movie has received an extra dose of undue applause for a multitude of reasons. Maybe it was the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of movies out there that combined serious-drama with a smidge of comedy, maybe there weren’t a lot of movies for the Academy (and all other review committees) to review this year that allowed for a more fair assessment. But I personally see nothing in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting that would put her in a “Best Actress in a Lead Role” category—but then I look who she was up against. All Naomi Watts did for 114 minutes is cry, wear bandages, and breathe heavy. The Impossible was what I call a jerk movie—and I don’t like being jerked. I don’t like a movie editor placing sad music and some sort of touching moment of life and death and basically telling me how to feel. I don’t like being jerked. It was a B- movie at best, and had absolutely no business being recognized in any way—and if anyone was going to be recognized for their jerky “achievement” in the film, Tom Holland, aka Lucas, should have been nominated.
            Then there’s Emmanuelle Riva in another crappy film (I didn’t see Amour, but the reviews, plus personal accounts of moviegoers was enough for me). I have an issue with a film that has nothing noteworthy except for the fact that it’s foreign and therefore adds an air of diversity or variation to the mix being nominated. And of course Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated. A film about Hurricane Katrina…those films about real catastrophic events (see also: The Impossible) always get some attention. But let’s be honest here, she’s a cute and spunky little girl with a big personality. And she did do a slightly impressive job portraying a little kid—it just is unfortunate that the movie she happened to be a part of was honestly a terrible film. A film like that gets recognized not for it’s talents or accomplishments in acting, but for the fact that they got people to pay money to see their film with absolutely no marketing and no familiar actors. Not for talent. Not for “achievement” in the cinema. For simple, “wow factor” behind-the-scenes bullshit. It doesn’t make it a good film just because it’s a low budget film that made it to the theatre. No.
            Jessica Chastain did her job. She was hired to play the bad ass, sexy red head that was smart and lead to the execution of our nation’s biggest (only?) accomplishment in recent times. Argue with me on this, disagree with me all you want. But you know what made Jennifer Lawrence beat Jessica Chastain? It wasn’t acting. It was popularity, it was The Hunger Games, it was the fact that J. Law goes on the Red Carpet and talks about how hungry she is.
            J. Law (and the fact that we have a nickname for her is going to drive the next statement home even more) is the most overrated celebrity at the moment. I don’t hate her—don’t get me wrong. But I am bothered by the attention surrounding her. As previously mentioned, she goes on the Red Carpet and says she likes pizza and the .gif community explodes with a million .gifs of it, and another million internet community members (myself included, at one point in the not-so-distant past) explode with excitement—Oh my GOD, I like pizza too, she’s just like me! She’s one of us!
            So David O. Russell hit the jackpot casting a cultural icon in his film, giving her a sassy role that people would respond well to. And of course, you fill in the rest of the cast with other A-listers like De Niro (to appeal to the older generation) and Bradley Cooper and Jacki Weaver (another actress nominated for crying the entire duration of her film) and you’ve got a gold mine already. Those actors, coupled with…wait for it…a current national hot topic (mental illness!), and that is how this movie received the undue, unjust, but definitely not unwarranted popularity.
            The movie made me anxious. I saw it twice, and the second time didn’t make it any better. I get it, that’s the effect O. Russell was hoping for—the unstable camera angles were just a visual metaphor for the unstable Pat (Cooper) and Pat Sr. (De Niro) and Tiffany (J. Law). Someone was always on the verge of snapping, a very unsettling aspect. That’s fine, I get it, that’s what mental illness, a bipolar and depressed lifestyle is really like. But at the same time…we were all victims of excessive jerking.
            And then there’s the title: Silver Linings Playbook. But Cooper continuously says excelsior throughout the entire movie like mantra. Why not name it excelsior, cut out the extremely misleading scene that they couldn’t stop showing in previews where Cooper is all, “This is what I believe to be true: You have to do everything you can and if you stay positive you have a shot at a silver lining." Okay, that’s fine and dandy. That’s stupendous. Don’t pull us in two different verbal thematic ways—don’t say “there’s the silver lining” and “EXCELSIOR” over and over. Choose one, and keep it consistent, people! I realize that this is in large part because of Matthew Quick’s novel this movie was based on. There are always the major issues that come with adapting a book for film, but really, you couldn’t choose just one mantra for Pat? Excelsior is the theme of the movie, the theme of Pat’s life, and I wish that had been purely driven home—it’s a good message (it means “ever up” in Latin, and it’s an exceptionally optimistic image and idea for us moviegoers to leave the theatre with). But then we get home and we think about the whole silver-lining idea (because it’s, um, the title of the movie), and excelsior gets put on the backburner.
            But for my final point, I want to address the most disappointing part of the movie. About halfway through awards season, once it had started to gain some popularity in theatres, I noticed they started marketing it as a part of the national conversation on mental illness. This is fine, sure, it gives us a glimpse into the hardships everyone faces when someone is mentally unstable. But let’s talk about the end of this film. Pat and Tiffany win their part of the parlayed bet—the bet between Pat Sr. and that shady dude that the Eagles would win by a certain amount of points but also that Pat and Tiffany would get at least a five on their dance routine. The Bet comes and goes and it’s funny and culminates into this dramatic climax. And then they are all in the living room at home and Pat and Tiffany are happy and seemingly off their meds (or on them? It’s never addressed after the first half hour of the movie) and we’re supposed to believe that he’s never going to be bi-polar again because he’s found love with a crazy girl? How does this add anything realistic to the national conversation on mental illness? How are we supposed to feel about mental illness when we are given such an unrealistic Hollywood ending? And that reason, my friends, is why I don’t like Silver Linings Playbook and think it has received an unbelievable amount of undue applause.

WHAT MONTH IS IT.

I woke up this morning in one of those panics that only comes once a year--the first day of March.
I can't believe February is gone [insert 100+ more cliche'd musings about time passing by too quickly].

Life has been fast and slow and confusing and heartbreakingly dull but also insightful (but then again, a mix of more disappointments) since my last post. I've been listening to a lot of Dave Matthews Band, working on a new short story (this one is the one, I can feel it), going to the gym (I joined 24-Hour Fitness with the $100 I have to my name), and reading. I've been reading so much lately--from ingredients on food labels (I've been eating clean), to articles on Brain Pickings, It's Okay to be SmartThe AtlanticThe New Yorker, and short stories published in Best American Short Stories 2004 (edited by Lorrie Moore, my biggest inspiration). I don't want my brain to go to mush, like my body seems to have done this past year. I've learned I have to keep my brain stimulated otherwise I'm going to fall into a deep, dark, stupid place I don't want to be in.

But living by the ocean again gives me peace. It's the one thing that's consistent, and I need that. I may be living with my parents with no prospects of moving out in the near future, but I at least have the ocean down the street from me to keep me company.

This post is nothing more than a grounding one. It's a Hey! I'm still alive but there's not a whole lot to talk about right now post. Some days I have a thousand things to say, some days (weeks, months) I have nothing. And I think that's okay right now.

May you find your peace this week, wherever your peace is found.
Namaste.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blueberry Bliss Overnight Oats: The Recipe

As promised, I've finally come up with my own recipe for overnight oats. My favorite blog was my inspiration, but I've changed things up just a little bit (and really, there is no such thing as bad overnight oats--just different variations on a delicious creation).

Blueberry Bliss Overnight Oats
Being unemployed has allowed me to hone in on my exceptionally bad cooking skills and experiment with various recipes around the internet (more to come on this subject). 

Here is my Blueberry Bliss Overnight Oats recipe:
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds (make sure they are fresh!)
  • stevia (optional)
  • cinnamon
  • pumpkin pie spice (or your own mixture of nutmeg, all spice, and cinnamon)
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I use MetRX 97% lactose free)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup almond milk (I use unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze)
  • handful of blueberries (to be added in the morning)
  • any other sliced fruit (to be added in the morning)
  1. In a container with a lid (I use an old almond butter jar, but a mason jar or tupperware is fine--as long as there's a lid), combine oats, chia seeds, stevia, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and protein powder. Place lid on container and shake until all dry ingredients are mixed together (to avoid clumps of any one dry ingredient).
  2. Add all other liquid ingredients except the blueberries. Mix thoroughly (I use a fork to mix the liquid and dry together evenly), and place lid on container. Stick in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. In the morning, top oatmeal with blueberries and any other fruit you may want on top. This recipe yields moist oats, so I don't find I need to add more almond milk--but feel free to add a splash if need be!
  4. Enjoy your deliciously blissful overnight oats and meditate on the edible sunshine!

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or photos of your own overnight oats (or if you figure out how to take a picture of overnight oats that doesn't look like barf)!

Namaste, blissful yogis.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Humble Yogi.

My healthy journey from the inside out continues.

Why, God, WHY? This was so delicious, I spread half
on my banana and the other half in my mouth (that's why
I only allowed myself to buy the tester size).
Yesterday I walked three miles with my mom and did a yoga/bun and thigh sculpting pilates class in my living room. Today I went to yoga--like, a real yoga class!--with an old friend. It felt incredible, and I feel incredible. Starting my day off with a bowl of overnight oats topped with fruit, supplementing my day with water and cups (3+) of tea and healthy snacks like bell pepper strips and eggplant hummus, and stretching each night before bed is so amazing, why have I been depriving myself of true bliss for so long? I must constantly remind myself baby steps. Baby steps. Baby Steps!

Being so completely inflexible, so completely lost in a yoga class where I can't cling to my toned muscles and balance anymore, is an incredibly humbling process. But I think it's important. In fact, getting my ass kicked by things that I used to do without thinking twice about has forever changed my perspective on my former self--a former life, really--and makes me long to be that old Cassandra. Of course, this time around I will do things much differently from a more sound mind.

I've been really inspired lately by a friend who started Crossfit a few months ago. She looks incredible, I mean, drop dead gorgeous, and it's from working her ass off and pushing herself. I'd really like to try Crossfit, but I'm honestly terrified. So that's on my to-do list.

An organized tea collection is a
happy tea collection.
One amazing thing I crossed off my to-do list yesterday was organizing the tea in my pantry! Such a simple and silly task that doesn't even seem worth mentioning here, but the outcome was so lovely. It's amazing, now that I've been organizing my things and kept them organized--everything has a place. It feels so right. I can't believe I've been depriving my life of order for so long as well. I drink so much tea daily, it feels great reaching for a bag and seeing my options before me (that Ruby Red Chai from Trader Joe's is INCREDIBLE--with a little raw honey and a splash of vanilla almond milk).

And the job hunt continues for me, but I'm feeling inspired. I can't promise I'll feel the same in two weeks if I still haven't heard anything, but for now I feel great. I can write a mean cover letter, and I really am excited for a majority of the jobs I've applied for (mostly editing, writing, and web content creation--my greatest strengths!). I've also been listening to far too much Taylor Swift, hoping to get tired of her and forget all about her in a month or two. I just can't seem to get over her catchy tunes...it's very annoying.

Well, off to send out a round of my short story for publication. May you find inspiration and be humbled by simple tasks! It's so important.
Namaste.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

For the Love of Oatmeal.

I love oatmeal. I always have.

I've gone through many oatmeal phases over the years--you know, the brown-sugar-and-whole-milk phase of 5th grade, the apple-cinnamon-instant-oatmeal phase in middle school, the I'm-definitely-not-eating-oatmeal-too-many-carbs phase in high school and early college, the  I-can-only-afford-instant-oatmeal phase later in undergrad. And now I'm in a phase of oatmeal that I think is going to last a while: the overnight oatmeal phase.

Carrot Cake Overnight Oats: It looks like barf but tastes
like sunshine!
I've been following a lot of fitblrs (fitness-related material+tumblr=fitblr) lately, looking for inspiration and motivation to work out and eat healthy. I used to follow a lot of food porn tumblrs and realized how unhealthy it was because I would see a sexy image of macaroni and cheese with crusty bacon on top and crave it until I finally went and bought it. Well, I can't eat like that anymore--and I haven't been eating that way for about a week now. I know, I know, this is no time, there is still plenty of time for me to fall off the healthy-eating wagon, many more times for failure. I know you're probably thinking that I've said this all before, because I have--many, many times. But I can't afford to keep putting off my health. No, really, I can't afford to buy bigger clothes. I've come to a point in my life where I don't want to find more stretch marks on my body, I don't want to have to avoid doing the things I love because I can't fit in the appropriate clothing to do them (there's a heat wave in LA right now and I've been wanting to go to the beach, but I can't fit in my shorts right now so I've been hanging out in yoga pants inside my parents' house that doesn't ever get above 65 degrees).

Anyway, these fitblrs--and various other food blogs I follow--all rave about overnight oats. I was a little skeptical at first--you don't cook the oats. You simply put all the ingredients together in an airtight container and stick it in the fridge overnight. The oats absorb all the liquid without having to be cooked, and in the morning you have delicious, perfectly chewy oats that you can eat cold or warm. (That eating-oats-cold part really had me skeptical, because who the hell eats oats cold?)

Well, after hours spent researching, I found the perfect recipe to try. The first bowl I made was carrot cake overnight oats. I would not recommend this being your maiden bowl of overnight oats, mainly because the amount of carrots and raisins really take away the unique texture of overnight oats. But they were undeniably delicious (although their photo looks like barf, I swear they were delicious!).

Banana Nut Bread Overnight Oats with
almond butter, in an almond butter jar.
The second bowl of overnight oats, the kind that I've made for the past three nights, is banana nut bread overnight oats. This morning's, however, I modified the recipe to include almond butter. And that's the best part about the oats--how there's not really a way to go wrong with whatever you add to the mix. I've been meaning to venture out of my banana nut bread oats for something new--the almond butter is the most creative I've been--and tomorrow morning I will have cocoa and almond butter oats. Another amazing thing is the convenience of the oats. While I don't exactly require convenience since my life right now is basically full-time blogger and reader, the oats are great if you're on the go in the morning. You can make them in any sealable container (I'm using the almond butter jar, but I've seen everything from tupperware to mason jars used on the interwebs), and grab them on your way out the door in the morning. Their thick, chewy texture fills me up and keeps me satisfied for hours--and trust me, this is difficult to do.

I have no idea who invented these overnight oats. But until I have my own recipes and mixtures to share, I will only offer links to other healthy eating blogs. I hope this post inspires your own overnight oatmeal phase. I honestly can't get enough.

Namaste.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On Becoming a Golden Buddha.

I've been staring at clear trash bags full of clothes that don't fit me right now for three days and not done one thing to move them from my parents' garage. 

You will notice a few changes to the look and feel of my blog! I guess you can say the changes to my blog reflect the changes to my mind, body, and soul. I moved back in officially--like, no more going back and forth between LA and Chico to retrieve my things or go to school--to my parents' house. Their garage is full of boxes of my stuff--well, actually it's bags of my clothes that don't fit me right now--which is pretty much everything except my lululemon yoga pants and some oversized sweatshirts. I spent the last four days emptying out my childhood bedroom in my parents' home, scrubbing the mold and mildew out of my closet, and throwing shit away. Shelves are empty! Things are organized for once in my life! But it's all temporary, because apparently the agreement I made with my parents for moving back into their home wasn't to pay rent but just to get my shit out of the garage and somehow fit it all in my bedroom. So I've been thinking very seriously about downsizing and folding and donating--but not actually doing it.

I'm sure this all sounds familiar, you're probably having some sort of deja vu-like experience (assuming you're even reading this at all) from last year at this time. Last year at this time I was blogging about the exact same shit--being moved back in with my parents, trying to lose weight. Well, same problems, but a different mindset. Last year I was chasing love, I was madly and desperately in love with my boyfriend and the only thing I could think about was getting a job near him. Well, I'm still madly in love, and you'll call me crazy when I tell you this, but I actually just moved 500 miles away from him, quitting my job, dropping out of grad school, and moving my unemployed, overweight self back in with my parents. I sound insane, and I totally am. But I also just made a decision that I want to be healthy and not feel trapped by a small college town, a master's program I hated every minute of, and a lifestyle that was (literally) killing me. I was so depressed that I didn't have an aim, that I was just plugging through my days waiting for sleep.

Something I'm learning I have to have with myself now that I'm all tabula rasa is that patience everything. I have 30 pounds to lose, and I have to constantly remind myself that walking for two hours  everyday isn't going to have instant results. Calories don't scream and snap crackle and pop as they are being burned (although they really should), and the changes aren't going to show right away. But already, deep inside me, I am scraping away at myself.

I read this incredible story last night and I have to share, because I feel it best illustrates what I'm going through. So in 1957, a monastery in Thailand was being relocated, and a group of monks were in charge of moving this giant clay Buddha to the new location. While they were moving it, one of the monks noticed a crack on its surface, and not wanting to damage the Buddha, they decided to wait until the next day before continuing. One of the monks went to the Buddha to assess the damage later in the evening, and when he shone his flashlight over the crack in the Buddha, something shiny caught his eye. He got out a hammer and chisel and began chipping away at the Buddha. As he knocked off the clay, the Buddha got brighter and brighter, and when the monk was done, he looked up in amazement. A solid-gold Buddha stood before him. After investigating it, they believe that the Buddha had been covered with clay by Thai monks hundreds of years before, before an attack by the Burmese army. The monks wanted to protect the priceless Buddha. All the monks were killed, so no one knew that the solid-gold Buddha was, in fact, buried beneath all this clay.

First of all, how incredible is that story? And secondly, this is how I currently see myself: covered in clay. I am slowly chiseling away the damage and dirt, the insanity and the misery, the confusion and sadness--the thirty pounds and cellulite. I don't want to stay buried for hundreds of years, though. I will someday be the golden Buddha.

Anyway, lots of posts about oatmeal and unemployment are coming. Stay tuned.
Namaste.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fall and Winter: A Re-Joining of Family, Friends, and Self

The fall and winter teach us the most about ourselves. The weather gets cold and we squeeze into last year's coats and socks; the vegetables are gourds or roots and take longer to cook; the harvest lets us analyze our gains and losses of the year; the holidays let us analyze our gains and losses of our lifetime. There is something about coming together--as a family around a turkey, as a group of friends around a bottle of wine, as a person bundling into an oversized sweater and scarf--that makes us feel warm and tingly and yet a little heavy-hearted.

I. Family
I don't pretend my family is unique, but I can't exactly call us normal either. My family is small and crazy, mostly stemming from my mother and her odd little obsessions and phases, but the rest of us--me, my dad, the three cats, and the dog--are at fault as well. For the past few years, Thanksgiving has served as a strange breather, a reprieve from school and unbearable loneliness that college has brought me, and plunged me into an environment where sleeping in and forgetting to make my bed are my biggest sins, and watching months-worth of DVR'd TV programs in the living room with my family is a must.
Thanksgiving in our household is casual, as is Christmas, but Thanksgiving especially. I discovered some years ago, sometime after my grandma died, that Thanksgiving isn't a formal holiday. We don't run it by tradition or anything of the like. Our Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite day of the year. We do the usual things in the morning--my dad and I are guilted in to taking the poodle for a seven-mile walk by the beach and around the pier and back, we all shower and dress. Sometimes there's a morning matinee movie involved. Then we walk down the street to our oldest family friends' house, the Lawson's, where we gorge on two different types of turkey, two different types of stuffing, and a random assortment of other fine foods. There's always an assortment of pies from some fancy bakery in Santa Monica, and the conversation is always so inspiring. I've grown up with the Lawson family, and they are my family. We've been through heartbreak and laughter together. After we've stuffed ourselves, Luke, my first and oldest friend, and Chris, another guest at the feast, move into the living room where they have a keyboard and stand-up bass set up for a digestive blend of light jazz and blues. Usually by this point I'm on my third glass of wine and overflowing out of my lululemon leggings and it feels magical and something that only happens once a year.
My family doesn't shop on Black Friday. I did it once, then worked it three years in a row when I worked retail, and still have flashbacks. Maybe if I didn't work an $8.85/hr job and wasn't so in-between sizes right now, I might be inclined to wage the crowds. But what happens in our household the day after Thanksgiving is so much more heavenly than anything purchased at a sale could buy. My mom goes all out. Maybe because she didn't have to slave away in the kitchen the day before and she has all this energy to be in the kitchen all morning. She makes my favorite finger foods (most will sound foreign and possibly disgusting, but I swear they are like heaven): clam bread, her famous guacamole, stuffed cherry tomatoes, home-breaded chicken wings, and some sort of fruit bread for dessert. My dad and I get suckered in to walking the dog another seven miles, but when we return my uncle and his partner come over and we settle in for a Modern Family marathon. My mom puts the food out on the coffee table and we stuff our faces (two days in a row) while watching our favorite TV show.
We come together. We eat. We laugh. I love Thanksgiving most for these three reasons.

II. Friends
I don't have many friends here in Northern California. I have my boyfriend and the two friends that haven't yet left Chico, the small college town I've been living in for the past three years. It's tough living in a place that once was home to nearly all of my friends and they all graduated and moved back home and I'm still here.
But it also makes going home and seeing my friends all the more meaningful. I feel so loved coming back and my friends wanting to know how long I'm in town for. I cling to the moments when we sit across from each other and stuff our faces with sushi and laugh and cry and give each other strength. The fact that I miss my friends isn't the hard part--that's normal. The most difficult thing is not getting to take them with me, to have to leave them back at home when I go back to finish out the semester. They all seem to be so put together, my best friend has a job at UCLA, my other friend is in a serious, soon-to-be engaged relationship. I can't even go to the gym on a regular basis. But they love me anyway.
And despite all that separates us--500 miles, career and life choices, 30 pounds and serious relationships--we still come together and laugh and click in a way I fear I'll never find with anyone else in my adult life.
I read once that it's important to hold onto the select few who knew you when you were young, because as you get older you long for that deeper connection to your past. I get it. I get it. I feel like I've weeded out those who won't stay, and have kept the ones that were destined to stay with me. So we come together when it's cold out (or even warm, since it's LA and the weather is weird and there's global warming and chemtrails changing the atmosphere), and talk about life and I feel complete.

III. Self
And then there's me.
This past year has done a lot to me. I've gained 30 pounds, that's the biggest thing, that's the elephant in the room. I write that I've gained 30 pounds because it weighs heavy (no pun intended) on my brain everyday. A lot of things went into the making of these rolls--being in a grad program I hate, being put on drugs by a doctor who I trusted, and general unhappiness with myself.
But I'm not here to talk about the negatives, because this is a gratitude post.
Despite the shit storm that has happened this year, I recently rediscovered myself--and discovered that I'm still in love with myself. I still love her, the Cassandra that I am. I know the old me, the real me, is buried somewhere beneath all that keeps me from her.
And I think this is the most important part of the equation. Being in love with myself--being in love with yourself--not in an egotistical way, but in a way that allows you to support yourself, trust yourself, give yourself freedom, cut yourself some slack when you fuck up, and having faith in yourself that you can and you will reinvent yourself is everything. I know this is general and cliche and nothing new. I know I've said this before, and I know that I will say this again, many more times over and over.
But if you can't love yourself, turn to yourself, look yourself in the mirror, admit to yourself that you've led yourself astray, and promise yourself that you'll keep expanding your mind and opening your heart and giving yourself chances--then you don't live.
I'm quitting grad school, not because it's too hard, but because it doesn't grow me, it hasn't grown me. I want to learn, I want to expand my mind. I want to be inspired in life. And I'm just not. Admitting this was hard, the hardest part. In three weeks, the semester ends and I'm moving back to LA with my parents, quitting my job, moving away from my boyfriend, whom I love deeply. I'm leaving this life behind in the hope that I find something that inspires and challenges me.

May you find and give gratitude to all that moves you and grooves you and grows you and nurtures you.
Namaste.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Today is a day I won't get back.


My dad turned 60 today. 
I’m in town to celebrate his birthday. I flew in early Friday morning and have to leave Tuesday morning and go back. I wasn’t excited to come home, I don’t know why. Maybe I just can’t get excited about anything anymore. Maybe I was afraid of what I would find at home. 
The truth is, I am an emotional wreck right now. I know you read that cliche’d “emotional wreck” and you think, okay, she’s just you know, had too much caffeine and is PMSing. No. This isn’t anything that it’s ever been. It’s something much deeper, much realer and riskier than it’s ever been. It’s something that’s truer than it’s ever been but feels all jumbled and makes no sense at the same time. It’s something that’s gnawing at my core, shaking my insides and rotting me. I don’t know how to say it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I don’t know how to fix myself, and I’m ruining the people around me. 
Like I said, I’m here for my dad. And we had a wonderful day together. We woke up and walked 7 miles around the beach and through the harbor. This is his walk every weekend, and I was winded. My feet ache, my legs are sore, I got sunburned. But it was nice having my dad and the ocean breeze and waves and salt as a back drop, it was nice being around my dad who lets me talk to him and offers both sides of advice to the equation. We came home and went with my mom to get tacos at this authentic Mexican food place. It was good, and then we came home and my uncles came over. 
My uncle just got diagnosed with cancer on his ear, and on Tuesday he is getting his ear removed. He jokes about it, but I know he’s scared. I gave him a hug and told him I would send good vibes his way when he left tonight.
We all went to eat at this amazing Italian restaurant that’s in a warehouse in this really ghetto neighborhood. Let me rephrase that, we went to eat dinner at this amazing Italian restaurant that happens to be in a weird ghetto part of town but is the most amazing and delicious food in the entire world. We had amazing conversations and food. 
But underlying every happy occasion sits this question, these questions, that I can’t answer for myself right now. The questions are so important, yet so heartbreakingly terrible to answer. They deal with moving on or staying, they deal with career choices and school options, they deal with beaches vs. rivers. I don’t know what to do besides ask people on the outside on what they would do—“Would you stay in grad school if you hated it?”, as a weak example—and the answers just come up as a general I’m-so-glad-I’m-not-you-right-now kinda reaction. I don’t want to have to be me right now, I don’t know how to make myself better without losing things I really really love. And I don’t know how to keep these things without ruining them. I don’t blame people for not wanting to be me right now. 
My dad is 60. He has a top-paying job, he has a wife and 3 cats and a dog. And all he’s ever wanted to do is go to Europe. He loves art and architecture and culture. And he tells me all the time that he wants to see Europe while he still has the ability to travel and walk and see. And I look at him, and I would give anything to be able to take him to Europe now, away from his stressful job and his physical therapy and early mornings spent at the gym, and I would love to take him to Europe. I want to go wine tasting through Spain and France, and see art and walk cobblestone streets. I want to go just so I can see the look on his face when he gets to the Louvre and sees the Mona Lisa. 
But I want so many other things for myself right now. I want to stop depending on everyone else for emotional support and making decisions. I want decisions to be clear and easy and not have to compromise for the things I love in life. I want to stop hurting and crying everyday. I’ve cried everyday for 7 months now. I want to stop. I want to stop. I want to stop.
I ordered pistachio gelato tonight. I shared it with my dad (and our entire table, really), and the look on his face was beautiful. The gelato was amazing, no other words to describe its magnificence. We came home and opened another bottle of wine and talked for a few hours about family and politics (my uncle is quite political), and it was nice. My dad is so special, so loving and kind and deserved to go to Europe on his 60th birthday, and instead I ask him to pay my rent and buy me plane tickets home. 
I’m here near the beach now. I closed my windows in my room because it’s too cold out, and I’m laying my childhood bed. I miss my boyfriend, but I’m such a wreck I ruin our conversations with my underlying anxieties. I’m ruining everything. I want to just sleep through the next week. I want to stop crying. I want my parents to live forever. I want to know who I am and have it not involve a crying maniac. I want a real job that pays my bills so I don’t have to spend my parents’ savings so I can live and go to school at a place I can’t figure out.
I want to be a writer and I want to not be crazy and I want to be okay for my family and friends and boyfriend and pull myself together and be my old self and I don’t know how and I’m scared I won’t figure out how and this is all going to spiral out of sequence and end in catastrophe and I don’t know what to do. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's been a while.

Well helll-oo (Mrs. Doubtfire-whipped-cream-on-face voice). It's been a little while since I remembered that I have a healthy blog. I have so many things I can blame, but ultimately it comes down to everything (how post modern of me).

In short, grad school is killing me, rotting my insides, killing my soul. I've hated every moment of it, from registering for classes to actually sitting in classes. Everything grad school touches is contaminated as well, like a refrigerator with rotting vegetables, everything in the rest of the fridge will slowly spoil. Grad school, as I have discovered, is not going to be the answer to my problems and questions, it's not putting my career goals into focus or narrowing down what I want to do. It's not really doing much but making my skin break out and my anxiety grow and my boyfriend and I be constantly at each other's throats.

So what's my plan? Why don't I quit? Why don't I move back home to the beach and start over? These are valid questions, ones that keep me up late at night, beyond the hours spent reading fiction stories and poetry collections for fiction workshop and writing articles for my stressful editing and publishing job. What do I do? My plans aren't going as planned. I want to move home and lose weight and sit by the ocean until it gives me the answers. I want to stop spending money I don't have and get a job that pays more than $8.85 an hour. I want to stop wondering what's going to happen, if my boyfriend and I will be able to make it work from long distance if I do move home. I want to know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to stop searching Twitter and Facebook for answers. I want to look deep within and find the answer.

I want focus. I want clarity. I want answers. I want white light. I want tea instead of coffee. I want my old skinny body. I want my friends.

Is it okay to start over? To admit all of this to you all when I haven't quite admitted this to myself? I close my eyes sometimes and let myself imagine all the amazing possibilities of what I can be--I let my mind wander and I let myself play out every scenario of what I could be--and I come up blank. I don't even imagine what I could be anymore, I don't have dreams. Grad school has ruined it all, turned it to mush. I need to quit, I need to run, to get back on my feet and stop living in the toxicity. I need so much right now and I'm breaking apart into a million pieces and I'm scared I've used all my lives and all my chances for people to help me and no one will be here any more to help me get together.

What a downer post. Maybe things will get better. Maybe they aren't half as bad as they could be. Maybe they're worse. What's happening? What's happened?

With a whimper,
Namaste