Monday Morning in San Francisco

The rain of last night still hangs in the air as I make my way down Guerrero; it has mercifully ceased. With a full two days of work and a book launch party ahead of me, I knew that this morning was the only time I would have to write on this trip. So I pulled on jeans and a green velvet top, layered on a coat and a scarf, and shoved an umbrella in my bag – just in case. Down Guerrero, left on 15th, right on Valencia. The coffee shop sign can’t be seen from the sidewalk, but the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans gives me confirmation that this is my stop.  

I walk through one side of the open double doors and am met with a massive interior. There’s a U-shaped coffee bar, chairs and tables line the wall, and, in the back there is a coffee roasting machine. Being the me that I am, I bought a vape pen at a dispensary and accidentally, let’s say, vaped one too many. Now I am too high on sativa and my head floats just above, just detached from my body. I wait in a short line, while texting Mika about today’s “crisis” which I will get to in a minute. The line moves but I don’t, and I’m left standing in the middle of a very San Franciscan-feeling coffee shop looking at my phone. I am in the clouds, though, and as soon as I realize I laugh and walk up to the counter and say, “what flavor syrups do you have?” I immediately regret the question as the barista (barrister? It was a dude.) looked at me with a slight but perceptible glint of judgement in his eyes. “We actually don’t. We keep it pretty simple here.” Of course they do. That makes sense – what kind of coffee shop that roasts Its own coffee is going to dump chemical- or sugar-laden syrups in their masterpiece? I order a latte and we chat about me being from Atlanta – he says it’s a cool city, I say I want to move to San Francisco.  

The air feels breathable, unlike at home. Everywhere I look, there’s something different to look at. I have more creative thoughts in an hour walking through San Francisco (and New York, for that matter) than I do in a whole month in Atlanta. (I get that this isn’t everyone’s experience – there are dozens of brilliant, prolific artists and writers in Atlanta who seem to get inspiration aplenty. But me? It feels suffocating to be in a city where it takes 20 minutes to go two miles. I’d rather walk those two miles and be exposed to the grittiness of one block, the glamour of the next. It’s in those moments in between the moments – you know, the brief eye contact with a homeless man on the way to meet a friend, for example.) My brain surges with inspiration for story ideas, and I wish my muse silent until I have access to a pen or my computer – I don’t want to forget anything.  

I get my coffee from the counter and ask another barista for the Wi-Fi password. “We actually don’t have Wi-Fi,” she smiles. Of course they don’t. And I am instantly enamored with Four Barrels. I think this would be my coffee shop, if we were to live in the neighborhood. “Guess I’ll write offline,” I smile back.  

With no internet on my computer, I bypass the habitual procrastination that happens before I finally begin to let my words flow. The coffee is easily the smoothest I’ve ever had, and I am thrilled to learn that I can get coffee I enjoy without enhancing it with artificial flavors. I didn’t know what this would be about, honestly. I just let my fingers lead the way via my internal muse. It helps that the music is melodic, the buzz of chatter mild but energizing, and the level of elevation I’ve found myself at.

Which brings me to the “crisis” I mentioned earlier. I assure you it’s not a real crisis, and one that I must acknowledge is very privileged. At any rate, I momentarily turned back to my existential panic of “this or that”, or in other words, trying to decide what I want to do with my career. Do I keep on the digital health path? It is certainly fulfilling, not to mention lucrative. I can see a future for myself in this. Or do I intend to veer off on my own again, this time pursuing writing essays and books? This has been my lifelong plan, regardless of how many times I’ve placed it on the back burner. When I write, like I wrote my reflections on Cusco or like I’m writing right now, I feel a surge of life force that I don’t get from anything else.

It's unclear why I feel like I must choose. This was essentially what my only new year’s resolution – to feel good ­– was intended to safeguard against. It’s my thing – feeling the absolute need for an absolute decision and then torturing myself while I try to “figure it out.” It is no longer interesting to me to partake in this pastime. I set out to change this by committing to pursuing what feels good and letting go of what doesn’t. Right now, both writing and my professional digital health/PR career feel insanely juicy and delicious and fulfilling. It feels good to do both, so why do I force myself into this pressure of choosing? Mika reminded me of this, as she does, and I am pulled off of my merry go round and back into reality which is: I can do everything I want to do in my lifetime. Any other belief is born of scarcity and lack, not love and abundance.

In regard to wanting to move to San Francisco (or New York), I truly feel that I do. I couldn’t have answered this for certain even a month ago but now I can say that moving to one of these great cities would be a catalyst for even more joy and bliss in my life. I’m leading toward left coast living because California has always felt like home to me. I came to this when Mika posed the question: “The logistics may be complex but is the decision?”

And it’s really not a hard decision: if it were solely up to me, David and I would move to this glorious, walkable, creative, tech-y city and revel in the adventure of it all. Logistics are always figure-out-able. Once a decision is made, the Universe has a way of conspiring with the energies of the world to deliver what is asked for.

Look, I know San Francisco has flaws. All cities do. But the pros deeply outweigh the cons for me. The foggy sky, the dirty sidewalks, the shops and restaurants that have more history than I do, the ornate homes pushed up against one another and painted bright colors – all of the elements of San Francisco combine to create a sensory experience for me that leaves me breathless and blissed. Shouldn’t life leave us all more breathless and blissed?

 I can’t say for sure that we’ll move. I have so much to take into account, namely David’s feelings on the matter. Since Journey is moving to California with her dad, it really makes a lot of sense for us to move, too. What I can say for sure is that I want this with every ounce of fiber in my being. I want all of it – the good, the bad, the weird.

It's Monday morning in San Francisco. The coffee shop has light streaming in through the sunroof. My heart is full, my mind is buzzing, and my coffee is all gone.

 ♥ CV

Chasing Mountain Magic: Remembering My Time in Cusco

Darkness had fallen, the sky draped around the Vilcabamba mountains like a mother wrapping her child in a blanket. The inhalation moved air to every cell of my body and as I glanced upward, the deepness of my breath surprised me - as though my lungs were being filled directly from the cosmos. I leaned into the feeling of fullness, allowing my eyes to consume as many stars as possible between blinks. Mesmerizing, brilliant, absorbing, the sheer amount of light pouring down from the night sky was like a fireworks display of astronomical proportions. I couldn’t tell what was moving in the sky and what was my corneas playing tricks.

A snow-capped mountain sloping down into hills and small valleys, filling lakes, and reflecting the spring moon back into the atmosphere. A row of rustic mountain huts. Horses tied to a post. Me, standing there feeling as though I’d been turned inside out - my soul swirling around my skin. Everything felt so magnificent and, instead of feeling small or inferior in comparison, my heart opened to a different reality: it’s all inside of me. The mountains, the galaxies full of dancing plasma, the sky and the moon and the howling echoing in the distance. All the separation I’d put between myself and Life melted away and I was left with only the truth of who I was.

I had come to Peru, to Cusco, to those mountains because one day - out of nowhere - I had the overwhelming urge to go. Machu Picchu had never been high on my list but in that moment it became the only place I needed to go. After a quick “hey, you don’t mind if I dip out for two weeks, right?” call to David, I had booked a return flight, reserved a room in a hostel in the center of Lima, and paid for a 5-day trek to Machu Picchu. It felt so right, like the entire Universe had given its blessing.

Time both crept and flashed, making it all the harder to hold on to. Vegan curries and Argentinian men, accidental party hostels, the markets where you can buy fresh smoothies next to a stall selling fragrant coriander, basil, and huacatay. Then there was Kundalini and community dinners and meditations and lying about in a sun-soaked yard. Those moments taste like mint tea now, a tingling memoir of the most gentle time. There was Jake, who I felt like I’d known forever, and Sunni, who radiates light in such a special way. There was Gabby, who felt like a sister to me. And there was Vento, an elderly Chilean reiki master whose energy preceded him and lingered behind long after he left.

After my aforementioned one-night stint at a rowdy party hostel, I trekked across town and up a flight of stairs so steep I had to stop and catch my breath every few steps. The altitude was never my friend. At the top of the hill was an unassuming door that led to the Healing House Cusco. This yoga studio cum hostel for the, let’s say, more spiritually inclined. It was woo woo: there were yoga classes throughout the day and a full range of energy healing services available. I was in love from the second I pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside.

My time at Healing House was pure magic. It is where I met all the people who impacted me on this trip. It was a sacred container, cradling my growth. It is where I was handed a mirror over and over again, the people in my surroundings reflecting back to me all that which I felt was broken in myself.

I enjoyed telling people I was doing the Salkantay Trek. In Peru, it is one of the standard travel questions: where are you from? How long are you traveling? How long have you been here? Are you doing a trek? It seemed to elicit an enthusiastic response, though every time I said it I felt a tug of anxiety. I didn’t want to leave Cusco’s magical, pulsing energy. I had so easily matched the city’s cadence, to leave felt like a punishment. And so I left on the trek with only the slightest amount of resolution.

We took an old bus up through the mountains, stopping at a literal shack of a restaurant for a breakfast of eggs and cold bacon. I was eating vegan at the time, so was left to eat a couple pieces of toast. Looking back, I wish I’d just eaten the food put in front of me. The ride was not unpleasant. I mostly zoned out looking at the landscape rattling by.

We arrived at the base of the mountain around 2pm. We hiked up and across to see the glacier-fed lake. My lungs burned the entire way up, causing my breathing to become slow and deliberate. I stopped dozens of times, needing a full 30 seconds to refresh my oxygen. Finally reaching the top, I was able to really absorb the crisp intensity of my surroundings. I felt good - it was hard but I had done it. There was no stopping me. I felt high on life and mountain air.

Downhill went easy on my lungs but caused my already troublesome knees to ache and burn more than they ever had before. I guess I hadn’t taken into account the impact of carrying a backpacking pack while going up and down hills. It took everything in me not to cry right there on the side of the mountain. Not only was I in pain but I was embarrassed. The following two and a half hour trek to the mountain huts we’d sleep in that night were miserable. I alternated between anger at myself for not having prepared better and anger at whatever inspired me to go there - why bring me all the way out here just so I could fail?

By the time the triangular wooden huts came into view, dusk was approaching and everyone was worn out, starving, and cold. We claimed our huts, two to each, and set down our packs. Some stretched out on their sleeping bags, some beelined for the showers. I sat down on the floor and furiously journaled how I was feeling. If I didn’t let it out here, it would come out in some other way that I’d most likely regret. I felt only slightly better. The leader of the group called out a ten-minute warning for dinner and all of the hikers still in their huts filed up a slight hill to the dining hall.

Gathered around a wooden table, we passed pitchers of boiling water to one another and snacked on trail mix while waiting for dinner. Everyone swapped notes about the first day of hiking and got more acquainted. There was a couple from Australia, an American guy who proudly and openly told us he voted for Trump, a very sweet nineteen year old girl who was also having a hard time with the altitude, and a handful of others that have faded into the past. Everyone was friendly and talkative but I felt as though all the words hung in the thickness of the air and pressed against my mouth and nose. I floated there, answering questions and throwing in a well-timed laugh for good measure, all the while feeling suffocated.

Relieved when dinner was over, I headed out before anyone else, eager to take advantage of the empty showers. Walking down the slight hill, we arrive again at the beginning. This is the moment I looked up and felt the surging power of the infinite universe melding into me. I felt at once whole and broken apart, like the pain had to crack me so the light could fall in and heal me.

After seconds or minutes of stargazing, I can’t recall which, I laid down in my hut. The infiniteness I’d felt under the stars still lingered but anxiety began to rage:

There was no cell reception - what if something happened to Journey or David and no one could reach me? What if something happens to us out here and I die in Peru, three thousand miles away from my family? What kind of mother would I be? What kind of wife would I be? Traveling at every opportunity, wanting more out of life than the ordinary, being adventurous - these were luxuries afforded to people with no responsibilities - why was I pursuing this? Why had I felt called to come here, to this beautiful, punishing mountain if I was just going to be so miserable? What was the point?

I closed my eyes and was engulfed by the darkness, flecked with glimmering constellations superimposed on the backs of my eyelids. It’s as if I’m falling backward into space, the floor spinning ever so slightly underneath me. I press my fingertips into the ground to reassure myself. I let go, allowing my eyes to roll back and my muscles to relax. It is in this moment I am sure that I want to turn back instead of finishing the trek. It was never the trek I was supposed to do; it was the stars that brought me all the way out here. And I get that it may sound crazy but lying there with pure mountain air filling my lungs and the stars hanging securely in the sky, I felt like I saw the vastness of my being for the first time.

Seeing how expansive I was, and how easily I became one with the cosmos, shook me awake: I didn’t want to spend another second on this earth doing things I feel like I should do. I should finish the trek, I should eat vegan, I should feel guilty for not living with my daughter. I should grow my business this way, I should forgive my mother, I should be happier.

I’m one with the cosmos for fucks sake - why would I waste my precious time on earth in this body finishing books I don’t like or tearing up my body just to prove to a group of strangers that I’m not a quitter?

The stars and I talked all night and when the sun rose not enough hours later I said my goodbyes and traipsed back to the bus stop where I’d have to wait for a drop off so I could catch a ride back. I passed three hours with writing and playing games on my phone. When a van finally arrived, I secured my spot in his front passenger seat, said muchas gracias, senor, and settled in for the long, stuffy ride back to Cusco.

I spent my final week in Cusco fielding questions about why I was back early from the trek, eating curry, drinking red wine, and talking into the deepest hours of the night with the temporary family I had found.

On my final night, I stopped at the pizza shop at the bottom of the stairs to Healing House. Waiting for the pie I ordered to share with friends back at the hostel, I sat and stared off into space, attempting to digest how the trip had unfolded. A woman came in and sat a table away to wait for her food. She pulled a can of Peruvian beer out of a plastic grocery bag and held it in the air toward me: “do you want this? We’re leaving early tomorrow and I have this one,” she nodded to her open beer. Totally caught off guard, I laughed and said, “ya know, I could really use a beer.” We started talking, each sharing our experience of the Salkantay Trek. When I told her I had felt called to do the trek but quit after day one, she looked me in the eyes and said “that’s incredible that you had the strength to honor yourself in that way. Maybe there was no reason you were brought here only to turn back, or maybe you turning back was the lesson you were brought here to learn.”

Both of our pizzas were sitting at the counter now. We wished each other well and walked away from each other, each a little different than when we sat down.

Another Classic: I Am Restless, Again (aka Decisions)

Arriving home from Spain at the end of a long, city-hopping September felt so good that I didn’t care if I ever traveled again. I unpacked my bags in record time and shoved my suitcase to the very back of my closet. Won’t be needing that for awhile, I thought before crawling wearily into my very own bed (well, and David’s very own bed) where I stayed for 12 hours.

That was a trip to remember but only for how awful it was. It’s Spain, so of course there were highlights: the vermouth was great, I like being able to order lots of different tapas to try, stand up paddleboarding was a blast. But what stands out in my memories is not how crystal clear the water was, or how beautiful the architecture. It was who I was for those three weeks: someone who could not see past her own suffering. Suffering, I will add, that was largely self-inflicted. Spain, a truly unique and special country, is forever marred by all the things that went wrong, internally and externally, while we were there.

It is now December and I am beginning to feel the travel itch again. I do realize it has only been about two months since we got back. If you’re a normal person who wasn’t born with insatiable wanderlust, then that might not seem like a big deal. But coming from someone who starts to get antsy if she hasn’t booked a plane ticket in more than a month, well, two months is quite impressive.

We decided that we’re going to limit our travel next year so we can pay down some debt and start saving more. We also decided (decided makes it sound certain, final but, as you’ll learn, few of my decisions are really final) to move to NYC sometime in 2020. Two-goal plan. Seemed reasonable enough (paying off debt!) yet at the same time thrilling (moving to NY!). Moving also appeared to me a perfectly acceptable alternative to the travel that I, until recently, had my heart set on. It was just as big of an adventure, with a similar balance of risk and reward.

Now the thing is that I don’t think I truly want to move to NY. I don’t want to move there and be broke because our rent would be twice what our mortgage payment is for less than half the space. And it seems miserable to have to walk everywhere in the cold, and also in the heat. And I get overwhelmed going to the mall in the month of December, so I imagine that the city I hold so dearly in my writerly fantasies is about the equivalent of that — all the time. There are many reasons why I decided I wouldn’t die if I didn’t get to move to New York. Instead, I decide, I will settle into our newly purchased home (January 2018) and make it feel like ours. I will learn to love Atlanta, for all its features and flaws.

The cozy feelings about staying have been worn off by the incessant rain we’re having. It is dark at 5 p.m. and dark until 8 a.m. Everyone is gloomy and cold and wet. Well I don’t know if everyone is but I certainly am. I think I have SAD, standing for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s basically where you’re just freaking SAD all winter because you’re not getting enough sunlight. Not only is this winter drear bumming me out, but it’s giving me anxiety about global warming and what kind of planet we’re leaving our kids.

I can’t stay in Atlanta forever, especially under these conditions. In addition to being sick of the weather, I am over Atlanta traffic. I just feel irritated at even the thought of having to drive down Moreland to get to Target. 15 minutes to go a mile and a half? Who can deal? I can’t.

So I start to feel like traveling again. I’m not moving, so I need to go somewhere new. The South of France? That would be nice. What about Thailand? Japan? The world is my, your, our oyster. Memories of Spain fade to the background and become a different lifetime. I am restless again. I am being called to go, even if only for a short while.

♥ CV