Why I’ve Stopped Eating Animal Foods

This is dreadful! Not only the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself – and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel. – Leo Tolstoy

“It’s inevitable,” my boyfriend said to me late last year, on the prospect of us becoming vegan. We’d recently gotten deep into the Rich Roll Podcast, and the evidence for a plant-based diet was mounting. “Yeah,” I sighed, already mourning the loss of cheeseburgers and gooey chocolate chip cookies. “You’re probably right.”

He was right. He was so right. After six months of edging towards it, I’ve now been a strict vegan for exactly one month, and I’m never looking back.

Well, that’s not true. I’m looking back right now, on my blog, because it’s actually really important for me to understand why I’m making this bold, life-changing choice. Just as it took lots of processing for me to come to the decision to give up alcohol. And sugar. And crazy obsessive exercise. You see, it’s all interconnected. Profoundly interconnected.

This isn’t my first foray into the land of almond milk and agave. My earliest attempt at vegetarianism came in grade school, around the age of 8 or 9. The epiphany that meat was the same thing as the cuddly animals I loved so much, only murdered, came from my best friend in the whole world, Michala Heyford. I was so shocked by this sudden realization that I came home and proclaimed that I wanted to be a vegetarian.

“Well, then, you’ll have to cook your own meals,” my mom replied. And that was the end of that. No more questioning the cuddly animals come edible flesh. I was destined to be an omnivore. (Not that I blame my mom in the slightest – my conviction was obviously weak, and she was only operating within the same paradigm as most of our planet since the dawn of animal agriculture.)

After that five hour stint, I remained an avid animal eater until November of 2012, when I watched Forks Over Knives. I honestly barely remember the film now, because I was deep in my alcohol addiction and body obsession, but it jarred me enough that I went vegan for a month, and vegetarian for a year.

During that time, I remember my conscious feeling way better. It seemed pretty straightforward to me – factory farming was evil, I wanted no part in it, so the easiest way was to stop eating meat. I still didn’t quite understand the cruelty of dairy and eggs, so I reintroduced those, eating only “organic,” but otherwise I felt solid about my decision.

So why did I start consuming meat again with reckless abandon? Because my hair was falling out. And I felt fatigued. And I was self-consumed. But instead of re-evaluating my diet, which was completely out of whack thanks to my eating disorder and alcohol consumption, I just assumed it was because I wasn’t getting animal protein. WRONG. (This is one of the major fallacies about nutrition that helps maintain the status quo. Look up Scott Jurek, Rich Roll, Tony Gonzalez, or any of the other incredible vegan athletes if you don’t believe me.)

Anyway, fast forward to last summer, when my body felt so broken I thought I must be suffering from a chronic disease. Every day I felt so tired and so foggy and so sick that I thought I must be dying.

And you know something? I was right. I did have a chronic disease. A few, actually: alcoholism, food and sugar addiction, and exercise bulimia. And I was dying. Slowly, maybe, but make no mistake I was killing my body and my spirit. At my physical last September my cholesterol was through the roof and I was on the borderline of pre-diabetes. At 29!

By my 30th birthday, I was starting to think a little more clearly, having given up alcohol, but I still fumbled my way through the dark. It wasn’t until I finally completely quit sugar and admitted my exercise addiction that the curtain began to lift. And boy, has it been hard to see the truth.

But there it is, plain as day: for 30 years, I have been complicit in humanity’s darkest, cruelest, most ruthless practice – animal agriculture. As harsh as that sounds, it is the capital T Truth. And the consequences of this culturally sanctioned violence prove it — it’s destroying our planet and ourselves.

What started as a choice made out of concern for my personal health quickly morphed into something much greater. The more I read and watched, the more my mind exploded. One pound of beef requires thousands of gallons of water?? 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is because of CATTLE GRAZING?? Animal products cause cardiovascular disease and cancer?? (Okay, I knew that last one.) The idea that I’d given up dairy in November for my skin, congestion, and digestion now seemed positively quaint.

With each new source I consumed, I grew deeper and deeper in my conviction on becoming vegan.  Eating Animals showed me there was no such think as humane slaughter or family-run farms in this country. I used to order Niman Ranch menu items with a little less guilt, but how could I now that I knew that Bill Niman won’t eat meat from there?

Cowspiracy taught me the extent to which the media, government, and even environmental companies will go to protect animal agribusiness, even though it’s the leading cause of global warming, ocean dead zones, species extinction, water shortages, you name it!!


And then there was The World Peace Diet. Recommended to me by one of the gentlest souls I know, I took to this book like a fish takes to water (where it should always be!) With each chapter, the dots started to connect for me in a way that they never have before. EVER. I mean, the Sanskrit word for war translates to desire for cattle. FOR CATTLE. #mindblown

I spent full days reading The World Peace Diet because I kept getting lost in rabbit holes as I looked things up to do further research, stumbling across gems like this treaty from Plutarch. If ever you’ve questioned why there’s so much suffering in this world, from war, to slavery, to rape, to poverty (both economic and spiritual), look no further than this incredible book.

It’s the Golden Rule, folks, simple as that. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What clearer example of “reaping what you sow” can we have then animal agriculture? We enslave and kill animals, and thus we enslave and kill ourselves. It’s not rocket science what needs to be done. I’m no Bible Truther, but if only we could all take this passage from Genesis 1.29 literally: Then God said,”Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.” (Yes, the Garden of Eden was vegan.)

So how to make sense of this wealth of information when you’ve been participating in it your whole life? Well, I can tell you, it ain’t easy. Paradigm shifts rarely are. I’ve broken down in sobs dozens of times in the past few months, over the devastation that I’ve happily, mindlessly been a part of. Last night as I listened to birds and watched bats flit through the palm trees, I cried as I said a prayer for all of the animals I’d been an assassin to.

This has without a doubt been the most painful awakening I’ve ever gone through. I look around me and now I can’t help but see it everywhere – the misery in the grocery stores, at restaurants, on the plates of my loved ones, on my feet. Sometimes I just want to scream at the insanity of it all, at the wretchedness at the blackened core of our herding tradition, but then I think of Gandhi and my heart softens. After all, that is what is at the core of veganism. Compassion. For all sentient beings.

And that is ultimately what carries me through. What helps me knock down the walls that have been erected around my soul. What mends the gulf that’s been created by my inherently violent food choices, between who I am and who I want to be. What allows there to be mercy for myself and others, for we know not what we do. But now that I finally do know, there’s nowhere to run and no turning back.

The mission is clear. It’s time for me to take a stand. To practice loving-kindness, with my thoughts, with my words, with my actions. Every day, every meal.

Oh, and I almost forgot! While it pales in comparison to the softening of my heart and the spiritual connectedness I’m now experiencing with the Earth, it’s still worth mentioning: I’ve never felt more at peace with my body. Finally free from the toxic trifecta of alcohol, sugar, and animal foods, I am energized, clear-headed, and healthy. Who woulda thunk?


Stolen Goods


I recently got out of an intense relationship. One of those whirlwind, sweep-you-off-your-feet, what-the-hell-just-happened-that-was-insane type of relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Where suddenly your world is their world and their world is your world and maybe there is no other world but our world and wait, hold on, what?? This isn’t the right time for the two of us??? But I was just—and you were just—and we just met two months ago but I feel like I’ve known you forever and now it’s over. You know, like that.

I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a different ex before we’d officially become a couple. He told me he hated getting into relationships because he dreaded that sensation after breaking up of having the world as you know it ripped away from you. For weeks or months or years you spend every day with this person, and then suddenly, they’re just gone. It’s like a death. Of them, of you, of “us.” I nodded. I knew what he was talking about. It was hard to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d been holding on to so many T-shirts and sweatshirts for all of these years.

* * * * *

I stole my first one in high school from my best friend Alex Frost. It was thin, grey, worn, with three navy stripes on each arm. Ralph Lauren Polo Sport- a label I would never associate with him. Not that I would ever associate any label with Alex. He’s never been the guy who cared about names, unless it was Cronenberg, Palahniuk, Fincher, Anderson.* But this was his favorite hoodie, and I stole it. And his was just the beginning.

I suppose if I’m really analyzing it, I can go even further back, and start with my dad’s pocket T-shirts. His multi-colored Hanes were my signature style in my Holy Cross days. Most of the Catholic school year, we sported crisp white button downs and navy blue slacks, but on those rare “free dress days” like Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s, you could find me swimming in a red or green cotton T, proudly rocking a pocket over my underdeveloped chest.

Technically though, my dad’s shirts get placed in the “borrowed” category. I wore them, mom washed them, and then they ended back up in dad’s dresser. While Alex’s hoodie may have begun as “borrowed,” it eventually turned into “stolen,” because I had no intention of ever giving it back. I just loved it too much. Not because it flattered my figure (quite the opposite) or provided exceptional warmth or comfort (see above description: thin, worn), but because it reminded me of him in such an intimate way. Like sharing a toothbrush or a burned Dashboard Confessional CD. I mean, I was inside his favorite hoodie. That’s major.

After Alex, I started collecting clothing items from other people I was close to- mostly boyfriends, but also a couple of girl friends. There was the Nike zip-up from Dan, the tear-away Adidas pants from Zack, the AEPi sweatshirt from Mike, the Kix t-shirt from Greg, the cashmere sweater from Ben, the cashmere pants from Justin, the grey sweatpants from Hannah. They were like my Dexter slides – little tokens I’d taken to remind me of my past relationships. I knew I should return them to their rightful owners, but they felt so good every time I slipped them on. They made me feel… less alone. And so I’ve kept them. All of them.

* * * * *

This time I have a zip-up and a pair of Ray-Bans. Both are too large, although I really like rocking the Ray-Bans, even if they’re scuffed and slide down my nose. They make me think of him and his laugh. I miss him in those moments. But in a pleasant way. Not a lonely way.

We texted briefly a couple of weeks ago. It was cordial, even sweet. I asked him if he could find my favorite pair of jeans. I’d left them in his hamper. He said he’d looked for them. I told him we could do an exchange. After all, I still had his stuff, too. And I wanted to return it. If only to prove to myself that I’m fine the way I am. Which I am. Single, but not alone. And even if the world we had created no longer exists, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still hold a part of it. Because I do. But it’s not in a sweatshirt or a scarf or a pair of boxers. It’s in my heart, where it rightfully belongs.

P.S. Alex, I still have that hoodie if you want it back. I know it’s been 13 years, but better late than never, right? Love you!!

*P.T. and Wes

Why I Dance

Pole dancing has changed my life. From the outside, this may sound like an exaggerated claim, or a preposterous one, or a shallow one. But it is anything but. From my very first intro class at S Factor to the dance I did on Valentine’s Day to Damien Rice’s “Delicate,” my journey with pole dancing has been one of letting go, opening up, expressing myself, and love. And it continues to evolve, even since the last time I wrote about it, which, not coincidentally, was my very first blog entry.

As I talked about in my previous post, my initial encounter with pole allowed me to explore and appreciate my sexuality and sensuality as a woman in a way I never had before. It felt like I was shedding my dry, scaly, battered skin, and emerging as a soft, strong, beautiful, feminine creature. My old belief system had constantly been focused on what was wrong with my body- the missing gap between my thighs, my too small breasts, my shapeless hips. But through S Factor I began to see what was right. Which was, quite simply, me. I was already enough as I was.

As soon as I became comfortable enough in my own skin to look out across the dark room and see the other women owning themselves, I experienced another wave of shock. One that literally sent chills through my entire body. My long held belief that only women who looked like Giselle and Miranda Kerr and Megan Fox were sexy evaporated before my eyes. Here were  women of all shapes and sizes, from all different backgrounds, from ivory skin to ebony, whose beauty literally made me cry. I wanted to hug and praise each and every one of them for just being who they were and sharing their most intimate selves with me week after week. It was a feeling I couldn’t quite put into words, although I tried: on this blog, to the guys I was dating, to my mom, to my friends. But I never quite succeeded. Talking about it, writing about it – it couldn’t capture it.

Which was why I made a film about it. Or more accurately, why we made a film about it. Because it was truly the work of an entire community. From the amazing director, to my fellow producers, to the incredible, courageous dancers, to the crew and the supporters of our kickstarter, to the viewers.

My original idea for the film was one I had been kicking around in my head for several months. Not long after I started, I approached Sascha Alexander (she was one of the reasons I’d come to S Factor in the first place) with the concept: What if we made a short film intercutting different women all doing the same dance? The message I wanted to convey was so basic: how beautiful every woman is, and how interconnected we all are. I envisioned us shooting it in an afternoon, perhaps needing a budget of no more than $500- for some basic craft services, a light kit, and a location cost.

So much for that. Sascha responded with her usual incredible enthusiasm, telling me she had actually been talking to her friend Melanie Zoey about doing a similar thing. We all got together one afternoon at Sascha’s place, with fresh blueberries and chips and salsa, and began discussing our vision. What we wanted to say, how we wanted to say it, why we wanted to say it. I left that first meeting feeling like I had just dropped three tabs of molly. This was going to be awesome.

We met up a couple of more times before I left for Europe for a month, and when I came back, the girls had elevated the project to a new level. Suddenly I felt like I was being swept up by some massive wave, and all I could do was improvise knowing how to surf.

The new vision for the film required a much heftier budget than $500, so we decided to launch a kickstarter campaign. This was my first real experience with crowd-funding (my previous effort on indiegogo for a short film I shot a few years ago was rather lackluster), and the results were overwhelming. We made a great video we all felt proud of, decided to set our ask at $3150, and within two days we had reached our goal. WHAT?!?! None of us had anticipated the amount of support that would flood our campaign, and by the end of the month we had raised over $5000. We were speechless and humbled.

But that was nothing compared to how I felt during the actual filming. Those two days in November were amongst the greatest I’ve ever had on a set. Or anywhere. The energy from the other women, the vulnerability and support and compassion – something special happened that weekend. Even if the actual video didn’t come together just as we wanted it, or if nobody watched it but us, or if it totally blew up in our faces, it was already a success.

Fortunately, the film did come together as we had envisioned, it’s received almost 50,000 views in four days, we threw a fantastic launch party, and the only thing that’s blown up is my level of gratitude. I just feel so blessed to have gotten to be a part of this project. I’m so proud of what we’ve done, women. It’s changed my life. THANK YOU.

Watch the film here!


Instagram: @whyidancefilm

Twitter: @whyidancefilm


Home for the Holidays


Growing up, the most sleepless night of the year was always Christmas Eve. The festivities would begin with Church at First Baptist in the afternoon, and even though I sang terribly, I would belt out the hymns like one of the Herald Angels. For weeks before I would play What Child is This and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear ad nauseum on the piano, but Silent Night was always my favorite during service. I loved turning the candles into miniature wax sculptures, taking the flame of my cousin Megan’s and softening my own, shaping it into a bracelet or a candy cane or dripping the melted wax onto my arm for that hurt-so-good sensation.

After celebrating the birth of Jesus in proper fashion, the gang would relocate to my family’s house. It included my brother, my grandparents, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Pat, their children (usually all four of them, until life turned corners), and my Aunt Marty before she died. My dad always came to Church with us, but sometimes my mom would have to stay home and finish cooking. Dinner for 12 was no easy task, especially with rugrats zipping in and out of the kitchen sneaking morsels of food.

The menu was the same every year – coconut crusted chicken stuffed with cranberries, green beans, mashed potatoes, steamed cranberry pudding with butter rum sauce. And if it hadn’t been for the needling anticipation of opening presents immediately after, it would have beat out Thanksgiving as my favorite meal. But that itching desire to find out the contents of those carefully wrapped boxes proved too much to bear- I would wolf my food down in a minute flat.

For Christmas Eve, we only opened the gifts from the guests in attendance (excluding our own parents- those we saved until the big day.) But since my grandparents always spoiled us with wonderful gifts, the nightly unwrapping was usually just as good as the morning. We would open one at a time, starting with the youngest and moving to the oldest.*

Finally, when all of the wrapping paper had been piled high between the couches, we would head back into the dining room for games if time allowed. I liked Scattergories the most. The laughter over my grandfather’s challenges to my cousin Dan would fill the entire house with a warmth unmatched by any fireplace.

The evening should have exhausted me, and it did, but it was still not enough to overcome the excitement of the next morning. I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours, while visions of Skittles and My Little Ponies and American Girl doll clothes danced in my head. At some point I would drift off for a few hours, but the beckoning call of Santa’s stocking assured I would be up with the sunrise.

We had our tradition Christmas morning as well, just the four of us, opening stockings first, then once again going around carefully unwrapping and savoring one gift at a time. We would finish sometime around 10 or 11, and then head into the kitchen for waffles or pancakes or dutch babies, or some other carb-laden food slathered in sweet syrup. I loved this tradition. I still love this tradition. But things change. Nothing ever stays the same.

* * * * *

For the first time in my life, I did not sleep under the same roof as my parents over Christmas. I did not open any presents on Christmas Eve, nor go to Church with them.** We still opened presents together Christmas morning, and had our wonderful coconut crusted chicken dinner with 12 people that night featuring Scattergories and several bottles of wine (a new addition to the tradition for the kids). But I fell asleep and woke up next to a boy, in a house with his family.

While it felt strange to be splitting the time between families, especially since the relationship is in that remarkable stage of infancy, it also somehow felt right. I don’t mean that I want to buck the traditions of my own family, because like I said, I love them, and they will be in my life forever. But being with him, experiencing another family’s Christmas, I realized how ready I am to start creating my own traditions.

In a lot of ways, I still feel like a child, especially around the holidays, when remembrances of the past flood in and overwhelm the senses. But the truth is I’m 29 years old, and while I never want to stop being childlike, I’m very much an adult. I could feel it at Christmas Eve, when the boy’s best friend’s 18 month old son clung to my chest, attempting to feed me an apple, giggling at his own flirtatious ways, triumphantly sounding out my name. When we got back to the house, he was allowed to open a present, the only one to do so, and I wondered if I would be seeing his smiling face again next year. Perhaps, perhaps not.

Growing up can be painful, and the holidays can often exacerbate it. History and Hallmark create expectations. The coming of the New Year reminds us of all those that have past, of things that have changed, people we have lost. But it can also be beautiful. With each death a rebirth, with each cycle of life comes new meaning. I witnessed this over and over again this last year, and it’s continued to deepen my appreciation for this life. It’s all a process. Who knows what 2015 will bring, or what will happen with the boy, or where I’ll be next Christmas, but I’m ready to find out.

Happy New Year Everyone!

*I think this spotlight on each individual present may have turned me into the gift giver I am today. I love coming up with super specialized unique presents, ones from the heart.

**Even though I’ve been agnostic for a decade, I still enjoy Christmas services. A bittersweet nostalgia for beliefs lost and found.

I Found My Heart in San Francisco


We drove because he liked me. It wouldn’t have been a problem to fly – a little more expensive, a little less travel time, both essentially non-issues – but he insisted on a road trip. I didn’t argue. You learn a lot about a person when you’re trapped in a hunk of speeding metal with them for six hours. And I wanted to learn a lot about him.

The trip was impromptu- “This might be the last weekend I can really have fun for awhile. Want to go somewhere?” He texted me on Thursday. We’d only been dating for a month, but it seemed like a lot longer. It just felt right. Friday morning we hoisted our bags into the trunk of his car and took off up the I5, San Francisco bound.

It’d been over three years since I’d made the trek up to the Bay Area, and I’d forgotten just how much I love California. “There’s a reason we pay such high taxes here,” he said as we cut through snow-kissed mountain ranges, past geometrical rows of orange trees, through rolling hills as fluorescent as an exit sign. “People have figured out where they can finally have it all.”

Having it all. I thought about this as I stared at him, my fingers running through his hair, my nails dragging gently along his broad shoulders. He reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix in this moment, his slight crooked smile, the way his Ray-Bans perched on his nose, the rust color of his close-cut beard. What did that even mean, to have it all?

“Oh my God, yessss!” I squealed as he put on Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff the Magic Dragon. I pulled out my phone and hit record, holding it close to Harry the Seal, a dash ornament he’d had since he was in high school. Behind Harry rays of amber  broke through huge thunder clouds, the remnants of the worst storm in years. “Could this be any more perfect?” I laughed at the sublime blend of beauty and the absurd.

* * * * * *

We checked in around 6:30 and got ready for the evening. “You can wear something more casual,” he informed me as I shifted through my embarrassingly large suitcase. I hadn’t travelled with more than a carry-on for years, but I hadn’t been sure what to pack. He’d made all of the plans, and I was delighted to have it be a surprise. I threw on a cotton dress, tights, heeled boots, and a leather jacket. With make up and hair it took 15 minutes. “That’s one thing you’ll like about me,” I smiled, “I never take long to get ready.”

Our first stop was Union Square. He held me close as we watched the ice skaters, my breath finally visible. I loved my solitary sports bra runs on Christmas day in Palm Springs where my parents live, but it felt good to be experiencing the season in Hallmark fashion: warmed up by a guy next to the brightly lit Macy’s tree. “Ohhh,” he cringed and laughed as a teen in a backwards cap and hoodie hit the ice. Hard. “Yeah, I’ve definitely been there,” I admitted. “Oh, I know,” he nodded, kissing me on the forehead. That was one of the things he liked best about me- my adorable clumsiness.

We stopped at a wine bar on our way to Chinatown, where we proceeded to fatten up on pork fried rice, Peking duck, lettuce cups, and a sort of tempura crab, one of his favorite dishes in the city. In fact, it was the whole reason we’d come to the hole in the wall, empty save two other tables. And I understood why. Salty fried goodness, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a wonderful guy – what more could a girl ask for?

Well, an awesome Saturday for one. After dinner Friday we had a night cap at a local pub, soaking in the festive pre-Santacon cheer, before retiring around midnight. Which meant that I got up early feeling rested and ready for a six mile run. “It’s the only thing I absolutely require when I’m traveling,” I’d told him before we left. “Whatever you need, babe, just as long as you do it in the morning.”

After my run to the wharf, we showered and headed to Haight-Ashbury for brunch at Zazie. We enjoyed boysenberry bellinis, crab benedicts, and cornmeal pancakes with lemon curd and strawberry that rivaled my dad’s best morning efforts. “You’re going to love that about him,” my girlfriend had told me before our first date, “he’s a huge foodie. He will totally wine and dine you.”

And he did. And I did love it. We rounded out our meals in San Fran with seafood and Bay Bridge views at Waterbar and some of the best dim sum I’ve had at Yank Sing. But what I loved even more was the Keith Haring exhibit he took me to Saturday afternoon. He knew how important art was to me, and so we strolled over to the De Young Museum after Zazie to soak in some culture. As we floated through rooms of luminous American art, I wished I could somehow squeeze him tighter than I already was. I mean, I knew he couldn’t tell the difference between a Martin Johnson Heade and a Winslow Homer, but did that really matter?

The short answer: no. Because that’s what I was learning the more time I spent with him. No, he hadn’t heard of Inherent Vice, the latest film from the director of his favorite movie of all time, Boogie Nights. No, he didn’t enjoy reading fiction for fun, although he loved obtaining knowledge. No, he wasn’t going to join me on my morning runs because his asthma wouldn’t let him. But so what? It’s not like I could name a single NHL player from the Kings game we’d gone to the week before, even though I’d had fun. Nor could I tell you anything about tort reform beyond what I saw in Hot Coffee (he’s a lawyer). Or even begin to comprehend how to put together a business proposal (he’s also an entrepreneur).

But what we can do is laugh for hours with each other. And talk freely about anything and everything, from politics to religion to family to Family Guy. And we can also get super competitive about bowling and Scrabble and a game of horse. You know, the things that matter. And we can show up for each other in pretty much any circumstance, whether it’s NFL Sundays or a three hour film about a 19th century artist, even if it may not be totally our thing. And finally, we can spend 12 full hours in a car together and one romantic weekend in San Francisco and still want to know more about each other. So much more. And you know what? I think that might just be what it means to have it all.

Another Year Better


For the last seven or eight years, I’ve always gone for a run on my birthday. And on these ritual runs, I’ve always had the same idea jump around, exciting the membranes, spurring my legs to go faster and faster: What if I moved to Paris right now?*

It sounds like a hypothetical, and I suppose it is, but it always gets posed as a serious question in my mind. What if I got home from my run, booked a ticket, packed my bags, and left for good? Because the thing is, I could. There’d be a few annoyances and some awkward phone calls, but technically I could do it. I could go live in my dream city.

A couple of the years I felt THISCLOSE to actually acting upon my flight of French fancy.** The Great Escape, I’d title the chapter in my memoir. Or maybe it would be the title of the memoir itself. It sounded positively romantic, the thing that grand adventure stories are made of: “Girl turns 25, leaves her entire life behind and starts afresh in the place she wishes she were born.” Sounds rather Joycian, no?

But I’ve never done it. I’ve always finished my run, sprinting the last two blocks to my house, and returned to the life I’ve been living. The one in Los Angeles, with my quaint little cottage, my comfortable job, my lovely friends, and the permanent sunshine. And the dreams of being a Parisian return to the nocturnal world of sleep.

Today I turned 29. And for the first time in many years, I did not go for a run on my birthday. Nor did I dream of running away. Because really, that’s what I was doing. I can sugar coat it all I want – “Paris is my favorite city! Only natural for me to want to move there!” or “It’s just the adventurer in me!” – but my fantasies weren’t about Paris. Not really. They were, as my memoir title nails so beautifully on the head, about escape.

But from what?

I have a great life. A wonderful, blessed, privileged life. I know this. I’ve always known this. And I do not want to sound ungrateful. Because I am very grateful. I often break down in tears for no reason at all except an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my experience of this world. In fact, it happened several times today. Like while I’m typing this sentence.

So again, what was I trying to run away from?

Well, myself. That sounds really harsh and overblown, and it is, but it’s really the core of what was keeping me so unsettled, so ready to shed this skin and put on un autre. Because I was afraid.

I was afraid of embracing this self, this version of me that lives and loves and cries and drinks and stumbles my way through Los Angeles. Through Hollywood Blvd and along the coast and up Runyon Canyon and into casting offices and at home on my computer. The self that has wanted to tell stories since I learned how to speak, but has for so long feared that I had nothing to say. That felt I needed to do something crazy and rash and become someone else in order to earn that right.

And in a super ironic way, that’s exactly what I did that made me finally stop being afraid of myself. I made up a fake name, set a crazy 40 day goal, and then blogged about it. And while it was very much autobiographical and pretty much like an online literary version of The Bachelorette, it helped me recognize my own voice. And in doing that, I finally gave myself permission. Permission to create. Permission to write. Permission to imagine. Permission to live in Paris without having to move there. Or I could move there if I wanted, but not because this me wasn’t enough.

“Why are you sitting there when you can go anywhere?” my amazing friend and SoulCycle instructor Jenny said to the class during today’s ride.*** She was referring to a meme of a bird perched on a tree with the caption I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere.

In years past, this naturally would have ignited my French fantasy. But today I felt something different. It’s not about literally going somewhere (although you all know how much I LOVE to travel.) If it was about that, Jenny never would have said it to a bunch of people on stationary bikes. No, it’s about transcending that part of you that keeps you stuck. That part that’s afraid. That part that says “You can’t go there. You’re not an artist. You’re not a writer.” That part that holds you back and makes you want to become someone else.

I felt my legs go faster and faster, picking up speed with the rhythm of the music, the pulsing of room. I’m 29! I beamed, tears streaking my face alongside the sweat. This is my life! I’m breathing! I’m flying! And I was. I am.

*One year it was New York. And another it was Tuscany. But usually it’s Paris.

**I may have been a little less happy these years. Or perhaps the opposite.

***You didn’t think I wasn’t going to exercise at all today, did you?



During the London Olympics of 2012, while other people were cheering on Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas, my mother was busy discovering an American Idol winner – Phillip Phillips. His game changing song from that competition, “Home,” had been usurped by NBC as the official theme of the Games. The earthy tone of his voice, the heartfelt lyrics, my mom couldn’t help but be swept off her feet and over to her local library to borrow a copy of his CD. She uploaded the music onto her iPod, and began playing the summer anthem in a never-ending loop on her morning hike.

A year later, amidst the aftermath of a taxing break up, I received a phone call one day from my mom crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she’d been listening to “Home.” My initial instinct was to laugh – the thought of my 57 year old mother crying over an Idol was pretty priceless – but then she said she’d been envisioning me. She knew Aaron, my ex, hadn’t been the right guy for me, but she was desperately wanting me to find a loving, supportive partner. “I’ve been praying for your future husband,” she said, “for a man who will say those things to you.”

As sappy as this all might sound (especially to a non-believing feminist like myself), my mom’s words hit me hard. If I’m being completely honest, I had watched that season of American Idol with my ex and I had cried during Phillip’s win and preceding victory song. While the whole show is designed to bring the audience to tears (“My parents died and I became a prostitute to feed my 9 brothers and sisters”), it wasn’t the perfect camera angle on the singer’s tear-stricken face, nor the utter delight of his friends and family that had moved me on the couch that night. No, it was the song. The simple, haunting, beautiful “Home.”

When I think of the word home, the first image that pops in my mind is the house I grew up in. It was a beautiful two story craftsman overlooking the bluff in Portland, Oregon. My parents had bought it for dirt cheap (it was in a low-income neighborhood), and renovated it, restoring its 1930s charm. One of my earliest memories is of the day they got the keys to the house, and I ran up the stairs and into the master bedroom. The realtor had left a giant white teddy bear in it, and four year old me exclaimed loudly “My room!” And so it was.
We lived in that house on Willamette Blvd. until I turned 16. The housing market was booming, and my parents turned a large profit on the sale, buying another fixer in a much more desirable neighborhood. Two years later, they turned that home for a profit, and bought yet another, much larger fixer, and thus began their later in life careers as house flippers. They now live in Rancho Mirage in a chic single story mid-century with a sweeping view of the mountains. While they own several rental properties now in the desert, they intend on staying in this house for a long time. It’s become home.

When people ask me where I’m from, “where home is,” I find it difficult to answer. Even though my childhood house is the first thing I think of, Portland no longer feels quite like home. My parents have left, my brother’s in transition, my few high school friends I keep in contact with our dispersed across the globe. The only thing keeping me anchored in the Northwest are my grandmother and my memories. According to my cell phone, home is technically my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage. Every time they phone me from the landline there, it shows up on my caller ID as just that – “Home.” And in some ways, that’s correct. But, after living in my Los Angeles bungalow for over seven years now, my place in Hollywood certainly feels like home, too. Especially after a month or two of traveling abroad, which I’m prone to do annually, I usually can’t wait to get home to my charming one bedroom guest house. (Except for the summer I lived in Paris – for me, that city strangely feels like home as well).

The point is, while all of these ideas of home are tied to a place – the house in Portland, my parent’s place in Rancho Mirage, my Los Angeles abode – the actual concept of home is far more abstract. And that’s what Phillip Phillips song has captured so beautifully. The main verse, the one my mom wants a man to say to me, reads “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Although he uses the word place, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t matter where in the world he and his love are, it will be home. As that old adage beaten to death by kitschy wall ornaments and Christmas tunes goes, home is where the heart is.

As I write this, I am still single, and have yet to find a man singing Phillip Phillips songs to me. But unlike my mom, I’m not really worried about it. While I look forward to meeting that special someone and creating my own family someday, I take comfort knowing I’ve always had a place to call home.

Girl Crush


When I first created my blog, I had no idea what to expect. I’d been writing essays for months, sometimes sending them to my mom, or a friend or two, without ever any intention of sharing them publically. But when a girlfriend told me to publish one of them after reading it back in May, I decided I’d just go for it. Why not? I thought, who knows what might happen. Well, for one, Kara has happened.

I met Kara almost ten months ago at a New Year’s party. It was a fairly small gathering considering the occasion – no more than 25 people – at a beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills. The host had been very precise about attire, commitment, and start time, so I was surprised to see two empty seats at our table set for 8 when we sat down. As promised, the dinner started promptly at 9:30, with a hearty soup dish served first. The servers had just cleared our bowls when she and her friend arrived. I nearly choked on my champagne. She was achingly beautiful.

We didn’t speak at all during dinner. For one thing, the dimensions of the table and the acoustics of the room simply did not allow for it, unless we wanted to shout our conversation. The seating chart had also been strategically designed to ensure men would be talking with women, and women with men (it went boy girl boy girl). Thus, I spent most of the dinner speaking with the older guy to my left, and occasionally with the enviably dressed couple to my right, who kept disappearing presumably to do drugs. The only discussion involving her was when the older guy whispered to me “who brought the 18 year old?” I smiled politely, resisting the urge to blurt back “you mean the stunningly gorgeous chick I want to simultaneously strangle and know everything about?” It’s strange the effect beauty can have, attracting and repulsing, inspiring both admiration and envy.

After dinner ended, one of the tables was removed and a “dance floor” created. The area couldn’t have been more than 10 feet squared, but I’d start grinding in an airplane bathroom if they played the right song. The iPod deejay worked his magic, and soon enough I was tearing it up. A few glasses of champagne and months of pole dancing classes ensured some pretty, uh, sexy moves (“You were f***ing the furniture” one male friend later commented. Pretty hilarious, if not a bit embarrassing). Luckily, most of the men had migrated downstairs to the pool and hot tub, so my numbers were performed for the ladies. Midnight came and went, and shortly thereafter I left, never having spoken to the beautiful girl.

A couple of months later, I ran into her at another party. This time, we actually talked. She remembered me from New Year’s, and commented on my dancing – “My friends thought you were weird and annoying, but I thought you were awesome.” This thrilled me. Firstly, because within seconds of her opening her mouth I could tell she was different from 90% of the girls who attend parties in the Hills. Secondly, she appreciated my femininity and the freedom I’d been experiencing in expressing it. “What’s your name, I’ll find you on Facebook,” I probed. “Kara Degas.” And with that we became friends. At least according to social media.

Over the next few months, we saw each other at one more party and liked each other’s statuses two or three times. Once she private messaged me with a link to a KCRW podcast in response to an article I had posted about pollution. A couple of times I just stared at photos of her that popped up in my news feed and thought there’s no way this girl can be cool. She was just too flawless to be deep and interesting. I remember at USC having a friend who was impossibly beautiful, rich, smart, perfect. Myself being fragile and insecure, I cried to my mom about her one day, and she responded that her beauty probably works against her sometimes, with people not being able to see beyond her exterior. “Everyone has their cross to bear.” Right, I thought, poor perfect-looking people. What could they possibly understand about the real world?

Turns out everything. Kara reached out to me after my first blog post with a touching private message. Within a couple of entries, she was my biggest fan. I felt beyond flattered, as if the coolest girl in school had just made me part of her court. I suggested a drink, and a few days later she dropped by my house. I was nervous waiting for her to arrive, like a first date from What was she going to be like? Would we get along? Would she like me? Well, she had enjoyed my essays enough to reach out, and those were pretty personal. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

We talked for 5 hours. It was one of those conversations where you have so much to say to each other that a single story never gets told. One idea branches into another and another, and soon you’re both spiraling and crisscrossing and jumping backwards and forwards. The more she revealed about her heart-breaking upbringing, her failed relationships, her obsession with reading and neuroscience, the more I was falling in love. It was the kind of spark I’d felt when I met my writing partner – an instant soul connection. I’d only experienced this a handful of times, all with women, and it had always floored me. How could intimacy be this easy?

A couple of months ago over dinner my dad started talking about male bonding. “It seems so much easier to connect with [his tennis and golf buddies], like being in a relationship with a guy would somehow make more sense.” My mom and I looked at each other knowingly. We’d had the same conversation before about women. My parents have been married for 30 years, closer to each other than anyone in the world, and yet, there was still something about that bond between same-sex friends that could not be replicated. I felt it with Martha, with Katelyn, with Ally, and now with Kara. It’s a special form of love, one that moves past the physical and sexual, beyond even the mental and emotional, to a sort of understanding of core being.

That first night I’d seen Kara on New Year’s I’d mistaken my attraction towards her as a girl crush. I had assumed the draw I felt towards her was a result of her beauty, the way it had been for so many of the men who had “known” her without ever knowing her. Now, months into our friendship after that intimate night at my house, I realize I was being pulled to her by something else, by this special chemistry between women. And if nothing else ever comes from my blog but this, well, it will all have been worth it.

Happily Ever After


“Did you ever imagine we would be here?” My mom asked my dad as we reclined on pillowed chaise lounges gazing out at the silhouetted desert landscape, the unusually humid September air blanketing our bare skin in the late evening hour. The question dangled momentarily, hovering over the glowing pool, dancing around the blue neon light sculptures my dad had recently created and installed. I knew the question was meant unambiguously, referring specifically to this exact location, this house in this corner of the California desert, looking at these particulars mountains on this perfect early fall night. But the brief space between the inquiry and the response allowed just enough time for the sort of free wheeling, existential rabbit holes of thought my mind liked to take me on. Imagine… Here I was, living, breathing, experiencing. Here we were, specks of sand along an infinite beach, our brief windows of consciousness merely the smallest moments ticked off by an endless clock. Here they were, my precious parents, still together after all these years, more than half their lives spent by each other’s sides. Imagine!

*. *. *. *

Today, September 29th, 2014, is my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary. For three decades, my mom has put up with my dad’s snoring, tolerated his ridiculous burping songs (don’t ask), dealt with his sweat drenched laundry and boyish tendencies. For 30 years, my dad has struggled to figure out the female species, weathered many a PMS storm, attempted to keep up with my mom’s incredible passion for all things cultural. For almost a third of a century, they have trusted in each other, supported and relied on each other, laughed and cried and shared nearly every part of themselves with each other. It’s mind blowing, really, especially for someone who’s never done anything for 30 years, not even breathe. Marriage is a commitment indeed!

I remember the first time I heard the origins story. Not any specific details, like how old I was or where we were when they told it, but rather how I imagined it. My dad was this handsome young man, full of chivalrous intent and Prince Charming like charisma, my mom this fun-loving, insanely brilliant, 80s fringe haired goddess, and as fate would have it they both lived in Seattle. One sunny day (the Seattle of my imagination never experiences rain), my dad waltzed into my mom’s Marais-worthy frame shop, print in hand ready to be outfitted, and fireworks exploded. One single glance and the world shifted, catapulting them into each other’s lives. But not just quite yet, because even though it was love at first sight (of course), my dad was a gentleman and therefore shy and therefore waited until a few days later when he returned for the framed photo to ask my mother on a date. And then he showed up at her door on his white horse, threw her on the back, and rode off into the sunset. (Okay, maybe that last part didn’t happen, but everything else is true.)

Even though I’m grown up now, I still see my parent’s meeting as a fairy tale. It really was love at first sight, the kind you see in movies. After three months they were engaged, within a year married, and now, a little over 31 years later, they are leaving on a month and a half long Mediterranean vacation tomorrow. Happily ever after does exist! I’d say the big difference between how I viewed my parents as a child and how I view them at 28 is that I no longer take their marriage and happiness as givens. Back then, I just assumed all parents were the same- fated, healthily dependent, and together forever. I think maybe every child believes this, for some deeply rooted, shared DNA reason, until proven otherwise. And since my parents never actually have proven otherwise, I’ve only learned about the possibilities of failure and misery in marriage through outside sources, and through my own difficulties navigating relationships. What they managed to make look so easy and effortless – unconditional love, raising children, running a business together and owning a home – I now understand was anything but. They were my age when they met, and when I think about how far away I feel from those things, it makes me shudder. How did they do it?

Well, for one thing they recognized the things that were truly important to each of them, and saw that their values aligned. They honored and respected each other’s qualities and beliefs, and knew that at the heart of things they were well matched for this thing called marriage. They had differences – my dad could be content living off the wilderness in Alaska, my mom could spend the rest of her life in a museum – but they were willing to make compromises (and to a certain extent, honestly enjoyed them.) Instead of creating unsolvable equations, their variables were like pieces to the same puzzle, fitting together to make a more perfect whole, always adding up to one. And when conflicts did arise, the answer was never shouting (which I maybe heard once in 18 years sharing a roof), but fair discussion and resolution and forgiveness when needed. And finally, they’ve always supported each other in their spiritual journeys, my mom as an artist, expressing herself through her paintbrush, my dad in his communion with nature, leading him up mountains and across countries, from one trail to the next. They didn’t just sit there staring into each other’s eyes after “the glance;” no, they looked out and charged ahead, side by side.

*. *. *. *

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” The crescent moon hung low in the sky, enjoying its splendor alone with Venus before the other celestial beings joined them. I looked at my mom, my dad, their joy, their sense of wonder. The years had only served to strengthen them, bring them closer together, illuminate their best selves. I had asked them many months ago what their favorite age was, and they had both said “now.” (Elkhart Tolle would be proud.) I’ve thought about that a lot since then, as I move through my 20s, growing more and more aware of the one way path we all head down, and it’s filled me with hope. My parents’ road hasn’t always been easy- there have been struggles and heartaches and illness and loss, all of the elements of the human experience- but it’s led them here, to their own little piece of paradise, their own magical place in the universe. Imagine that.

The Kiss

The Kiss. Several minutes passed as I stood in its beauty, the warmth of the gold, the enveloping of his body, the rearranging of certain parts inside of me. It felt familiar and foreign, something I’d known before and yet was just experiencing for the first time. A swell of emotion overtook me: longing, excitement, sadness, joy, loss, communion. I’d been anticipating it for over a month – for many years, really, since I’d first come in contact with it – but I hadn’t been prepared for how it would feel. The actual experience of it, the texture, the light, the rush of memories and moments and desires. I pulled back and sat down on the chestnut bench, overwhelmed. No wonder it’s so praised, I thought. No wonder people love it so much. As I studied the painting from a distance, I suddenly wished I could stay lost in it for hours, for days, forever. If only I could capture it…

* * * * *

There’s something so simple and yet so profound about a kiss. It can mean nothing and everything, be life-affirming or heart-breaking. It can be used to express attraction or lust or love or drunkenness. It can turn you off or turn you on, make or break a date, change your mind or change your temperature. It could lead to a phone number, or a few months, or even happily ever after, sealing the deal for eternity along with those two little words. In some ways, it seems about the most intimate thing we can share with someone, connecting the tongues we use to speak, the breath we use to survive, and yet, it can be as insignificant as a cute guy with no name at a Southern California beach on the fourth of July.

I love kissing. Ever since Ryan McFallo introduced me to the joys of it in 7th grade at Interstate Lanes in North Portland, I’ve been hooked. I remember it like it was yesterday – Friday night, cosmic bowling, smoke in the air so thick you could choke. I’d had a crush on Ryan forever (three weeks), and I couldn’t believe he was talking to me, flirting with me. At some point in between hurling my 9 pound ball towards the strobe lit pins and trying not to cough while drinking a coke, I found myself on his lap – Christmas had come early. He looked at me with those deep brown eyes and soft full lips and then pulled me in. My whole body pulsed and surged, every molecule of my being alive. In that moment I finally understood all of the strange feelings and urges I’d been having since cooties had disappeared in second grade. Nothing had ever felt so good- not roller coasters, not gymnastics, not birthdays- and I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops. This is what it’s all about! Hooray for kissing! Let’s just make out for the rest of our lives!

Ryan and I didn’t end up making out for the rest of our lives (just every Sunday afternoon until the end of middle school), but that night at the bowling alley did awaken in me a sort of hunger that still gnaws at me today. It’s a hunger that has led me into countless pairs of arms, to hundreds of pairs of lips. A hunger that has sought to be filled in so many places, in so many ways, and yet can never quite seem to be satisfied. It’s the longing to consume, to be consumed, to merge with another, to share and unite and transcend, however impossible it may seem. But it’s always just right there. Always on the brink of possibility, lingering in that most sensuous act, that sacred art form- the kiss. And sometimes, just sometimes, once in a very great while, it happens.

* * * *

I got up from the bench and moved slowly towards Klimt’s masterpiece for one last close look. I started to cry, desperately wanting to be embraced, catharsis giving way to a deep yearning, like after the culminating kiss in a romance film. I tried to remember the last time I’d felt this affected by a work of art. La Guernica in Madrid. The temples of Angkor Wat. Austen’s Pride and Predjudice. Van Gogh’s self-portrait at the D’Orsay. Gone with the Wind. A small handful. Oh, to be able to bottle humanity, if only for a moment, I thought. I took one last deep breath, and then walked away, my heart bursting and breaking and already looking forward to the next kiss.


Klimt Kiss