Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: The Tree of Life + the Journey Home

When people rave about the magic of Joshua Tree, that shit is no joke. It’s like a real life Dr. Seuss land in the desert. That’s why the news of the vandalism in the park during the government shut down was so heartbreaking. We have literal Wonderlands on this planet. Our national parks are so precious. Vital ecosystems that have miraculously been preserved amidst a world of hyper development. Looking back at pictures doesn’t do the actual whimsy of it all justice. But this final leg of my trip happened way before the shutdown, and for that I am very grateful. 

JOSHUA TREE

Talking to trees / photo by Bridget Miller

Talking to trees / photo by Bridget Miller

After a hearty breakfast at Crossroads Cafe and consulting the delightful park rangers at the help center, B and I drove into Joshua Tree National Park while playing the Across the Universe soundtrack which was honestly perfect. 10/10 would recommend. Driving through the roads, surrounded by these magical, winding, wondrous trees was an insane experience. We stopped at Keys View which allowed us to take in a sweeping view of the San Bernardino Mountains. It was also insanely windy. Like push you over the edge kind of windy. Very very windy. There were many laughs some nervous some hearty. You had to be there. Or maybe not. 

Okay, so then we drove to the Lost Horse Mine Trail. This hike was a little disappointing because I read all these AllTrails reviews describing rattlesnakes and cool shit in the mine, but when we arrived, the abandoned mine was fenced in so my dreams of exploring this old shaft were dashed. We still had an amazing trek through dessert land, hanging out with cacti and beetles and birds, and I got to stare longingly at the old machinery. 

After we made it out of there, we stopped to walk through a field of Joshua Trees. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to walk through an open desert space full of these thin trees with twisted branches and bushy green heads. These trees that look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Harder still to explain how they felt like magic. Like hope. Like home. I touched my forehead to one and let it speak to me, the way trees do. Not with words. With energy. I thanked it. I said goodbye for now.

We moved on to check out the Barker Dam Trail which had lots of fun rocks to climb, and a huge oasis of greenery in the middle of this dry desert land. We hopped from boulder to boulder and crawled into an opening full of petroglyphs. I found a vagina rock and immediately crawled inside it like a sapphic explorer. Bridget made an Italian friend. All around excellent time. In the car, we chowed down on our leftover breakfast while watching these really hot rock climbers pack up their gear and considered taking up rock climbing. I do have a belay certification from Brooklyn Boulders, you know. Dang. Rock climbers.

PIPES CANYON / YUCCA VALLEY

We then had a 30 minute drive to Pioneertown, where we met this really cool chick named Sarah who took us on a hike and showed us the properties of a bunch of different plants. I found her on AirBnB. 10/10 excellent time. We stopped on top of a boulder in the middle of the canyon and drank teas made from a bunch of the herbs and plants we had seen on our walk. This woman loves plants and ethically cultivating them in a sustainable way and was so generous with her passion and her knowledge. It made me feel better about the world and our future and the possibility of living more aligned with the laws of life and nature. We also saw cougar poop, but no cougars which have been my favorite animal since age 6 or something and maybe next time okay?! 

Everything was amazing, but the icing on the cake was LITERAL DOLLAR TACOS. It was Taco Tuesday and we paid $1 for each super full delicious authentic ass tacos. Perfect corn tortillas, the tastiest, most perfectly seasoned fillings. It was fucking heaven. 

Backyard at sunrise

Backyard at sunrise

We also got to know our AirBnB hosts a little who were insanely cool. An older couple, the woman was a civil rights lawyer and her husband was a jazz musician. Apparently, they saw a cougar a few days before we arrived literally hanging out on the telephone pole and I was so sad because yet another missed cougar opportunity. We talked politics past and present over French toast, eggs and bacon. As we got our things together, they did yoga together in the living room. Needless to say, I love them.

END OF THE ROAD

We hit the road for LAX where Bridget would be taking off back to Phoenix and I would be spending the evening with a very dear friend before heading to New Orleans to meet up with my sister for her bachelorette party which is another story entirely which will be omitted from this particular corner of the internet. This stretch of Route 66, which we embarked upon Halloween morning, was a little less eventful, but we did stop in Upland to get our hair washed and blow dried which is something I’m pretty sure I have never done, but loved every minute of in preparation to reintegrate with society. 

Still from La La Land… jk never

Still from La La Land… jk never

After I said bye to Bridget, I met up with the aforementioned darling pal who is one of those pals you can go without speaking to for months or even a year or two, but when you see each other it’s like you’re still in college trying to finish the screenplay that’s due tomorrow or strolling into class late with donuts and coffee. (He is now an actual screenwriter and my hero.) After a lovely catch up sesh, we watched the sunset at Griffith Observatory because I was in the mood for a romantic Halloween evening. It was my last sunset out west. My final chance to watch nature’s water color show so consistently. Aware of and noticing the miracle of the earth turning. It was beautiful and wonderful and everything I could have hoped for, even when the security guard yelled at me for sitting on the railing like a cool kid. 

We spent our Hallow’s Eve nomming on some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had which included a fried roti bread covered in sweetened condensed milk that was so good it make me cry literal tears of happiness. The next morning I said goodbye to my amigo, California, the west, and the best 2 weeks of my life so far. The world seemed bigger and more beautiful. I was very grateful to be in it. 


DARKNESS AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

so tired but still cute

so tired but still cute

So if it was so wonderful, why did it take me over 3 months to write about this trip? Well, two really fun things happened. First, I had major travel fatigue when I returned. After three weeks of constant moving and stimulation (because after the training in Loveland and the road trip, I was in Nola), my body was doneeee. I had a hard time getting out of bed. My muscles refused to move. All I wanted to do was sleep. It took everything in me just to unpack and do laundry.

Then, the relocation depression set in. (For anyone just joining us, I moved from NYC — my home for the last 7 years — to my hometown, Miami in the fall). In retrospect, moving and this trip were a lot to put myself through at the same time, but that’s how life works sometimes. You can make wonderful choices and create the life you know you want in the long term, but in the moment it can still be very very hard. And then the fact that it feels hard can make you feel weak. And your mind can latch onto that feeling and turn it into your identity. I was so looking forward to moving closer to my family. To reconnecting to my hometown, but I missed my friends. I missed Three Jewels and The Magnet Theater. I missed Prospect Park and Rockaway Beach. I missed the little connections you make with people on the subway. But I knew I left for a reason and I did not and do not miss the buzzing of the city that burrowed into my sensitive nervous system.

But time rests for no one. I had to find yoga studios and healing centers and finish my MFA applications. That last one was the most confronting of all. I think I wrote a post about this recently, but basically, I realized the sense of surrender required when you send your work off for evaluation. It’s in the phrase, “submit your application.” You release your words into the ether and they no longer belong to you. They are no longer your secret project. It all becomes real. I needed coffee to make this happen, a crutch I’m still working to ween myself back off. I’m nursing a withdrawal headache as I type these words. 

In this dark place the holidays happened and I distracted myself with family and social obligations. I drank more than usual. I downloaded dating apps (which is the tell tale sign that I’m going through some shit — that’s not judgement for people who use them earnestly, I just know for me personally it’s a distraction). So how did I get through it? How did I unspiral? 

By trusting the process.

I kept meditating. Journaled when I could. Didn’t practice as much yoga, but I did when I was able to drag myself onto the mat. I let myself sleep. And when I felt strong enough, I took it one step at a time. I cut out alcohol completely. I ate foods that made me feel better instead of whatever was easiest to manage. I exercised a little more. I got outside. I made connections. I started working at Books & Books instead of at home. I found yoga studios I love. I got better every day. I climbed out. 

It’s cool to have a physical reminder of the journey.

It’s cool to have a physical reminder of the journey.

It’s hard to trust the process. I can’t tell you how many times the idea that “if I can’t get my own shit together, how am I supposed to help anyone else” popped into my head. What I learned is the dip into the underworld is part of the process. Healers and teachers are no exception. That my ability to work in those spaces are the reason I’m good at what I do. They give me deeper layers of understanding. I know this mentally, but it’s easy to constantly put pressure of ourselves despite the circumstances. 

So when you’re scrolling along Instagram and seeing those #vanlife #roadtrip #adventure pics, know that they come with a cost. Know that it’s not just sweet views and smiles. There is difficulty everywhere. Would I do it again? 150% Am I planning on doing it again? You know it. Maybe the descent won’t be as hard. Maybe it will be harder. Maybe it will be plain different. But with every cycle and spiral, I learn how to surf the wave of life a little more gracefully. I hope you do, too.

Go back to part 5: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

Back to the beginning: Solo Road Trip as a Rite of Passage

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

While one of my concerns going into his trip was being harassed by truckers, it was a woman in Page, AZ who slapped my ass as I walked into the bar / bowling alley / lunch spot. This kind of shit doesn’t really phase me anymore, but it was a bit surprising getting these really insane comments about my ass in the middle of the day. And then she literally slapped it as I walked back inside to fill my water bottle. I had just picked up my travel buddy for the remainder of the trip, Bridget, and she also got a little verbal action. Yeesh. Moving right along.

We said our good byes to Oscar (the guide mentioned in the last post) and then drove over to the Glen Canyon Dam at his recommendation. The quick pit stop was worth it for the sweet views and delayed us enough to create the most magical accident later but more on that in a moment

Glen Canyon Dam

The drive was delightful although a little nervous at first. Gas prices in Paige were nuts so we waited a ways before stopping to fuel up and ended up at an adorable gas station complete with jerky, tea and free stickers. The second time a woman insisted I keep my dollars in case of emergency on the road. I now have a sweet Grand Canyon sticker on my yellow notebook and I think of her a lot.

GRAND CANYON

After many miles of snacks and singing, we eventually made our way to the Grand Canyon South Rim BY ACCIDENT. I had not realized that Google’s route to Williams, AZ (where we would be camping the next two nights) went through the Canyon entrance and it just so happened to be sunset. It was so fucking beautiful I almost cried. Actually I might have cried. Yet another moment of perfect synchronicity. Every little delay made the trip more and more charmed. Made every little stroke of luck feel like magic. Made me wonder why we don’t live like this. Following. In flow. Instead of trying to smash things into place.

While sunset in the Grand Canyon was 100% worth it, the traffic getting out of the canyon at that time was insane. Unrelated, I’m pretty sure a bat flew past us, but I couldn’t quite see. Needless to say, we arrived at the camp ground way later than we expected to. We stopped for dinner and after a lot of pure darkness driving on a dirt road, we finally found the camp ground and the flashlights I brought came in very handy as we poked around in the dark. 

Grand Canyon South Rim

Our tent didn’t zip up, but rather used little clips which was a super fun discovery as the desert cold crept up on us and I was very grateful for the fleece set up I purchased over at REI. We passed out at 8:30 PM. The next morning we awoke bright and early with the rising sun and caught a meditation sesh with the heat of the car. After a few delays and a trip to the visitor center, we settled on Horseshoe Canyon for our hike. A more challenging hike with less foot traffic and zero donkeys. I never really knew what hiking path descriptions were talking about when they mentioned a copious amount of “switchbacks” but now I certainly do. They are zig-zaggy bits that help you get down really steep ass sections of mountain rock. Fuck me gently. 

The day was gorgeous, and we were surrounded by other worldly rocks, turning leaves, evergreens, we even saw a hawk dive the fuck down from the sky towards some sort of prey. Nature. Majesty. Etc. The thing about hiking the Grand Canyon is that the uphill part is on your way back. So the hard part is last. People die because they underestimate how long it will take to get back. I obviously didn’t die, but I was CONCERNED when it felt like we were the last folks on the trail heading back.

After 6 hours, we finally made it back to the trailhead. I don’t think I had ever been more tired. When we gazed back at how far we traveled, I was very fucking impressed. We rewarded ourselves with $2 8 minute showers. It was my first shower in 3 days and honestly the best $2 I had ever spent. My hair was clean, my body was warm, I used a flannel as a towel. Truly thriving. On our way out of the park there were hella elks trooping around. Big papa with his horns. Big mama nomming with the babes. It was a wonderland of large mammals. On our way back to camp, we stopped for dinner at a spot called Yippee-I -O and it was the perfect touristy cheese fest we were hoping for. We drank some local beers and then called it a day.

ROUTE 66

Next morning, bright and early once again, we took off towards the Yucca Valley. Time to dominate the Historic Route 66. We had a few stops along the way. First we stopped in Seligman. Cute little tourist spot. Time to pee and peek in the gifts shops and chat with some folks on a bus tour. We stopped for lunch at a diner in Kingman which was adorable. We had Dr. Peppers and patty melts. My stomach did not love me on this trip.

After fueling up, we went through the Black Mountains. MY DUDE. I was not prepared for this. This was a very narrow, steep and winding part of the road that went straight through the mountains and I understand why they built the more modern highway elsewhere. After 15 minutes straight of hugging the meridian, We made it to Sitgreaves Pass which was a memorial for the ashes of local folks. You park your car and walk to the edge where dozens of marked memorial spots reside. I straight up thought we might have hit a graveyard, but the ground was pure rock so that was a quick no. ANYWAYS, as you know by now I love hanging with dead people so it was very cool to be like what’s up in this very special place. All these little memorials were decorated so cute like people probably come and hang and pour one out for their homies and it felt like a tender happy sadness kind of like the Mexican cemetery in Santa Fe. 

Around the bend, we hit Oatman, Arizona, the most touristy little ghost town you ever did see. Hella burros (donkeys), trinket tourist stores littered with Jesus and gun paraphernalia in such a way it screamed “why, yes, this is very much a red state.” (Literally there were two signs right next to each other which I essence said “Jesus + kindness” and “DON’T YOU FUCKING TAKE MY GUNS”). Oh, America. 

After loading up on gas and snacks (and word to the wise, if you’re headed from AZ to CA make sure you get gas in AZ because it’s twice as expensive in CA), we drove past the border, into Needles, past the Mohave Desert through some of the most desolate shit I have ever seen. It was magic. We stopped in Goffs which might have been my favorite part of the day. This was a fully abandoned city, a true ghost town. As we explored some of the structures, Bridget casually mentioned, “watch out, there might be rattlesnakes.” Cool. We saw a sign for an old saloon, what appeared to be a diner / grocery store and a row of old mailboxes. We kept driving along past abandoned railroad tracks and old decaying tractor parts. Houses and shacks that stood like graves and memorials on the way to the next marker of civilization. 

Just before we arrived in Twentynine Palms, we stumbled upon what I now know are referred to as salt flats off of CA-127. We saw a couple park and check it out so we decided we wouldn’t die. This is where Bridget took the dope picture that now graces the banner of my homepage. As you can see, it was a bonkers beautiful crystal paradise. We had no idea what it was, but guessed it must be salt since I saw a sign that said sodium chloride earlier, and then Bridget tasted it to make sure, the brave lady. We also heard loud booming sounds which may or may not have been explosions which led me to believe they may have been mines? EDIT: after more research I’ve discovered it’s a dry lake called Bristol Lake!

After that last stop, we made out way towards the Yucca Valley seeing hippie ass houses and domes over a magical fucking sunset. We picked up tacos and tamales at a spot called Artega’s spending I swear like $4 each and met up with our hosts for the evening, a baller couple that consisted of a lawyer / activist and jazz musician where we enjoyed a bed and a bathroom to prep for the next day in Joshua Tree.

Check out part 6: The Tree of Life + the Journey Home

Go back to part 4: Challenges + Reservations

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Challenges + Reservations

Santa Fe sunrise

I hit the road late the next morning, taking the time to catch the sunrise and organize and inevitably run a little bit behind schedule. I also bled on the sheets and had to clean them although my rock star host was like, “sweetie, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last.” Rock on.

First stop was the New Mexico Public Lands Information Center to pick up a physical map I didn’t end up needing, but am glad I have. I had heard that navigation got kind of spotty in the reservations, but I no issues with it at all so take that hours of research!

KASHA KATWE TENT ROCKS

By 9:30 AM I was in the Cochiti Reservation in the eeriest fog I had seen yet. A few days away from Halloween / Samhain / Die de los Muertos, this very literal veil covering the landscape delighted me. I was en route to the  Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks and growing concerned about visibility. Maybe I should just turn around and head straight to Albuquerque, I thought as the mist thickened around me. But I was so close and it would be fun and cool regardless. I paid the $5 entrance fee and the young man at the gate assured me I’d have a cozy hike with minimal other humans. My favorite.

Equipped with my very cool person’s hiking poles, I’m off on my way. The tent rocks are these very cool rock formations formed over ancient vocation eruptions and trekking through the fog with them and these massive trees with exposed roots and ravens flying overhead felt like a weird Poe-esque western and I was about it, baby. I ran into a few families and couples on my way. There’s a really lovely greeting that happens between people at national parks. It’s like we all know we’re here to appreciate the fucking majesty of nature and so every exchange is infused with love and respect even if it’s just a simple “good morning.” I fucking love that.

Okay, so I’m moving along, climbing through little cave like bits and then up and up this steeper rock formation towards the end and the most amazing thing happens. As I get to the top, THE FUCKING FOG LIFTS to reveal a crystal clear blue sky. I lost my shit. I started singing “I See the Light” from Tangled. Like running late this morning was pushing me to get the timing on this just right. I miss that feeling. Of trusting and feeling in flow with what is outside of me. That is what I chase. It was incredible to have it that day. Like seeing all the threads of the tapestry connecting. Zooming out. Big Picture.

And what a picture it was. I mean, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Little tiny villages of big ass pointy tipped rocks. Layers and centuries and time and space interweaving and building infinitely. What a tiny speck a human life is compared to the enduring minerals entrenched here. Surprisingly, I caught some reception at the top and FaceTimed my mom who had tried reaching me earlier when I lost service. She was both puzzled, pleased and worried that I was at the top of a mountain alone.

Kasha Katwe Tent Rocks

The hike back down felt like a completely different place. The sunshine fed me, the trees and rocks spoke. I could listen. I could hear. I posted a poem about it, but a tree showed me the apocalypse. Where the humans were dead, and the mountains and trees remained. It reminded me of “All of Everything Erased.” I wondered if Kevine Devine spoke to trees, too. I realize this shit sounds crazy, and even more so since coming back and reintegrating into city life, but feeling self conscious and “othered” by these experiences and connections is fucking exhausting. In tarot, the Page of Cups calls us back to seeing the unseeable. It’s the child’s creative and connective spirit. I’m so afraid of appearing illogical, I sometime suffocate the parts of me that bring me the most joy. I’m so grateful to have found her in this place.

I stopped for tacos in Alburquerque. I didn’t have a ton of time since I wanted to make it to the last tour at Sky City at 3:30, but the few minutes I spent at the counter with my server, Annie, were delightful. How is it that every server in New Mexico made me feel so well taken care of?

ACOMA PUEBLO - SKY CITY

After a giant helping of speeding, I made it with 7 minutes to spare for the final tour of the Acoma Pueblo. The oldest continuously inhabited community in the United State (since 1150 ACE), Acoma is also know as “sky city” as it resides on the top of a 365 foot mesa. Our tour guide gave us detailed accounts of the communities history, the current supplemental residences in nearby towns, and was ever so patient when the middle aged white couple on the tour said things like, “but you don’t have to pay property taxes, right?” Responding oh so calmly, “no, we pay taxes just like every other US citizen.” 

As part of the tour, local artists has their pottery on display. For tours like this, it’s part of the deal to support the local economy. They’re graciously allowing tourists into their home. The least you can do is buy something straight from the source. I felt terrible being judgey about it, but I have to say it really bothered me that the white couple checked out every counter, and asked to take pictures, but didn’t buy a single item. (And it clearly wan’t a money thing because they were talking about buying property in Colorado.) I purchased a few things, but my favorite item that I kept for myself was a bear made with a horse hair technique that gives the piece intricate lined designs. Irvin Louis, the artist, held my hand and told me he hoped it would give me strength, power and courage. It now lives on my besides altar.

Throughout the pueblo, white ladders lean against buildings, granting men entrance to the kivas, rooms used for religious purposes. (The kivas are the only property owned by men, as the Acoma are a matrilineal people). The ladders allow access to the kivas and symbolize the connection between worlds. Some of them seemed to absorb the brightness of the sun. The perfection and power of the connection lies in its simplicity. It’s a beautiful thing. 

As stunning as the ladders were, the most powerful presence for me was a single cottonwood tree beside a small water source. I walked over and placed a hand on the soft bark and instantly felt a surge of energy. Like every part of me was being filled with thought and history and feeling. Like this tree was willingly giving me the centuries of love, heartbreak, death, destruction and resilience it had witnessed. I let go and walked away feeling kind of nuts. As the feeling faded, I turned back and watched the leaves shimmer. I heard them rattle as if saying, try again if you don’t believe it. I did and the same current moved through me, opening my heart and the eye that sees beyond this plane. I walked back to join my group and met eyes with one of the artists. “That tree is… powerful,” I managed to spit out. “Mmm hmm,” she replied with a knowing look.

At the end of the tour, we were taken to the cemetery and church. I’m still reeling from the tree like a very normal fairy person, but something about the dead makes me stop in my tracks. Something about structures of worship. The things we make sacred. I don’t have words for this, only feelings. Feelings I had to sob out of me int the car before I could continue driving. As we parted, my guide assured us we were invited to join her family on the two feast days the pueblo opens to the public. That kind of open hearted generosity floored me and continues to as I type this.

In the early evening hours, I literally drove into the sunset. After darkness fell, I drove past an oil refinery and nearly screamed it so vividly reminded me of the Mako Reactors from Final Fantasy VII. Eventually, I made it to Gallup where I showered, slept and awoke before dawn to make it to a 9AM tour of Monument Valley four hours away.

NAVAJO NATION

Before I hit the highway, I wanted to pick up some things in the Walgreens, but I had been warned to keep my eyes peeled in this part of town and a car followed me into the parking lot so I got the FUCK out of there, resigning myself to waiting until I passed a gas station that was better lit. I know that I drove past Window Rock, but it was still pitch black so I didn’t get to see it. Eventually, the sun did rise, on my right as the full moon glowed on my left. In yogic traditions, the right side is the sun / masculine energy and the left is the moon / feminine and I was flipping the fuck out at this perfect beautiful coincidence.

Monument Valley

Since so many westerns and space films have been shot out here, driving into Monument Valley feels like moving through another planet. So different, but so familiar. The red sand and structures held this ancient energy. Like you could feel mama earth in every speck of dust. Using words to describe it feels so lame. It’s such a feeling. Like a coming home, because it’s impossible to hear this clearly anywhere else. It felt like the ranch in Loveland or the Tent Rocks. 

I arrived with a few minutes to spare, but had a hard time finding my crew which led to many jokes between my mom (who I was on the phone with) and the tour guide at my expense. A textbook Capricorn, but sense of humor is not always the most fun in this department, but in this head space it was easy to see the kindness behind it. And besides, my tour guide, Larson (with Navajo Spirit Tours), was a next level G. So knowledgeable and kind and just next level buena gente. In between stories and myths and movie set sites, I grabbed some fry bread and sat in the dirt soaking in sun and wind and history. We stops at a few sites, but our last location was next level. We laid against a massive slab of rock while Larson played the Navajo flute and another guide we met up with sang this song about beauty. It sounded like an invitation back home. I was in tears by the end of it. 

Canyon de Chelly

Afterwards, I drove down towards Canyon de Chelly stopped at a grocery store to disinfect a cut and grab lunch, split a sandwich with a man asking for food, stopped to use the bathroom at Burger King and acquired some chicken tenders in the process (these would prove useful later, like acquiring key items in a video game). This was the first time driving started to feel difficult. I wandered into this out of body trance while listening to Led Zeppelin and had to switch to hardcore dubstep to keep myself focused and awake. Yeesh. One of my new friends in Santa Fe had recommended I book a horseback ride in Canyon de Chelly so I made my way to the stables by the Cottonwood Canyon more tired than I wanted to be, but hey, it’s a road trip and it’s still daylight. 

My guide was running behind, but here is where the tenders came in handy. I met the cutest, most adorable little pup and he went nuts for some morsels of chicken. He was so skinny and sweet and we snuggled until my guide, who was a very thin Navajo teen who very casually told me about his hobbies of riding bareback and bucking broncos. He had a very nonchalant attitude about his several concussions and broken bones and tons of stories about scaling the rocks along the canyon since his family has lived on either side of the canyon. We then got into his personal life and I did my best to crack his lone wolf attitude to little avail, but I did get him to smile a bit. Teenagers are awesome and weird. I do not miss being one.

Outside of Many Farms

That night I stayed in a hogon, a ceremonial hut that folks rent out when the structures aren’t being used for ritual, off an unnamed dirt road just north of Many Farms. My host had to leave town last minute so I stayed in the middle of nowhere alone. Very gracefully. Not freaking out at all. It was an adventure and I had peace, quiet, 360 sunset and sunrise, two lovely guard dogs to keep me company, some horses and I even saw a coyote. Every moment of fear was worth it to feel all that. I tell this part of the story really well in detail in person. Ask me about it ;)

Antelope Canyon

The next morning, I hit Antelope Canyon which was a really jarring contrast to everything so far. The two and a half hour drive included one stop to pee at the side of the road which I was very proud of myself for accomplishing without incident. You know you are truly alive and in a higher state of consciousness when going for a pee is exciting. After a gas station hot dog, (my options were limited and honestly it was way better than I expected) I met my guide and the most touristy group of tourist I had encountered so far. 

The Antelope Canyon tour is essentially a photography tour, which made it less magical than a lot of my experiences so far, until I started bonding with Oscar, my guide. I the only solo traveler in our group and comparatively extremely chill about getting these pictures taken despite whipping out the DSLR for the occasion. So, we got to chatting and brought up the rear on the way back to the truck. The canyon itself was gorgeous, and other worldly, but hanging with Oscar and learning to pronounce a few Navajo words properly was my favorite part of the trip. 

On the way back we exchanged info and he suggested a lunch spot so after picking up my companion for the rest of the trip at the the Paige airport, we popped on over for some bar food before continuing on for a long afternoon drive.

Check out part 5: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

Go back to part 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

I pulled up to an adobe house that I couldn’t quite see in the dark night. Julie, my host for the next three nights, came out to greet me and show me into the homiest, cozy, eclectic, perfect abode she called home. At the dinner table sat a few of her friends, who invited me to join them at the wooden dinner table. I sat at the head with Julie to my right and Frank to my left. Everyone at this table was some sort of magical, but Frank was an astrologer who immediately took an interest in my chart. With my permission he started stating insights he gleaned from my planetary placements and the angles they met. When everyone realized how tired I was after a night of no sleep and a day of hiking and driving, he declared he needed time with the chart and that we would pick up the following evening.

After a quick shower, I shoved in my ear plugs and passed the fuck out. I awoke the next morning to cloudy skies and my period. That may sound like a bummer, but getting my period 3 days early, when I had running water, a bed and a laundry machine, was just another surprise that made this trip feel totally magical. The clouds made me feel alright about taking it slow. I didn’t have a ton of plans for Santa Fe, and now I knew why. My body needed rest after the week I had put it through. Amazing, transformative, life changing, but three hikes a day in Loveland, watching every sunrise, and the mountain of sand the day before left a deficit I needed to pay. And so, I curled up with some tea, dealt with some emails and nursed my cramps with the hot water bottle I made sure to pack. 

marias santa fe.jpeg

Eventually, I felt recovered and hungry enough to venture out making my way to Maria’s, a homey and casual little spot that was totally decked out for Dia de los Muertos. When my server, a Mexican man named Miguel who could have been in his 40s with a medium build came to take my order I told him I was deciding between the pose and the flautas. Without waiting for me to confirm, he replied that I would be having the flautas and walked away. I sat back surprised, but absolutely loving that perfect display of masculine / emperor / structural energy. It was like “decision made, I will take care of you and you will not regret it.” 

I did not. Those flautas were so friggin bomb it was like I catapulted into another dimension and that was a crispy cheesy dimension full of tasty green chile. For dessert I ordered natilla, a Spanish custard topped with cinnamon and I swear it tasted just like my great-grandmother’s used to. Another unexpected magical moment. How could I be so lucky?

Love at first sight

After my meal, I saw a cemetery near by on the map and decided to walk over, but hit an antique store on my way. Inside I saw the most insane collection of items big and small from statues that belonged in churches to animal heads to this WWII jumpsuit that I would have bought were it not made for a man twice my hight.

Eventually, I found my item — an old school hand fan from a funeral home with the words “licensed lady embalmer” written across the center. Thrilled and waving my fan despite the 60 degree weather and light rain, I sauntered over to the tiny cemetery next door and greeted its residents. Another quiet homey resting place, this time in the middle of a city.

There were two other cemeteries a short drive away. I parked in the Rosario Cemetery and meditated in the car since as the rain drummed all around. It felt cheery in there. So close to Dia de los Muertos, you could feel the festivity brewing along the veil. With a smile, I departed to see the Santa Fe National Cemetery before closing time. The contrast jarred my nervous system as I pulled up beside rows and rows of uniform white crosses. Everything felt heavier. 

Like the pain of a thousand souls ripped from life as we know it too soon hanging from the branches of every tree, resting over every blade of grass and rising from the decaying bodies below, their process slowed by embalming and coffins.

I stayed as long as I could, and then ran off to make a Trader Joe’s stop before returning to Julie’s house. I had dinner with her, Frank and some other friends. Later that evening Frank came to my room to talk astrology and after two hours of deep soul cutting truths, we called it a night.

alessandra sunset.jpeg

The next morning was as gloomy as the last so ya girl decided to treat herself to a spa day. On this day I sustained my only injury of the journey by tripping up the stairs in the plastic spa sandals and cutting my big toe. Great job, me. 

After some soaks and meditation, I enjoyed a bowl of ramen while naked underneath my robe (by far my favorite feature of this place) and a new friend who was also enjoying a solo day. Then it was time to pick up hiking poles and a first aid kit and socks at REI and I managed to find the only comic book store in Santa Fe like a true nerd.

When I got back, the haze lifted I finally experienced a true Santa Fe sunset. I’m talking 360 degrees of pink and orange cotton candy surrounding me. It was the perfect reward for getting laundry done like a responsible traveler who definitely was out of clean yoga pants and socks.

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meow wolf candles.jpeg

That night, I drove to Meow Wolf, an interactive art installation with a weird Stranger Things like story attached to it. I made my way to the rooms that morphed into psychedelic, dreamlike and magical landscapes like an adult playground. 

At one point, I decided to lay down in this empty treehouse looking thing to connect to myself and the energy around me when a group of friends who I later found out were all on a legal version of LSD stomped in and semi-adopted me into their crew. After an evening of exploring, conversation and music, I drove back to Julie’s for the last time. Standing in the light of the full moon, she shined so bright I cast a shadow.

For so long I thought, “my people are in New York.” With every encounter, it became clearer that “my people” are everywhere.

Check out part 4: Challenges + Reservations

Go back to part 2: Sand Dunes and the road to Santa Fe

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Sand Dunes + the road to Santa Fe

Sandstone on the dash, Cemetery ahead

Sandstone on the dash, Cemetery ahead

My first stop on day two, just after 9AM, was a tiny town called Villa Grove. Before I entered the town proper, the cemetery called me and I pulled off onto a short dirt road. I like to meet the dead of the places I visit. Pay my respects and my attention to what the history feels like. I’ll have you know, they were quite charming. Quiet, peaceful, serene, tender, simple. Small town cemeteries fascinate me. Instead of lavish stones and sculptures, their simple, sometimes uneven slabs and crosses make them feel uniquely cared for by an intimate community that knew each member well. Unlike the cemeteries I am most familiar with that require a vehicle to travel the length of, here, all the departed tenets remain within eyeshot. 

 After taking in the silence, I moved on to the small general store / coffee shop to use the bathroom and grab a second cup of coffee. A woman named Amber made me a cappuccino while I browsed the store and overheard a couple of old men chatting about immigration. 

Did you hear about those people from Guatemala? They’re sayin’ it’s so bad down there, they’d rather die at the border than stay. Can you imagine?

It was a relief to hear born and bred Americans speaking with empathy instead of the usual fear and anger.

Amber passed me my drink and wouldn’t let me tip her. “No, honey. You might need that on the road.” I thanked her and smiled, overcome by the kindness of strangers.

At the instructions of a friend, I stopped at the Mosca Pit Stop before turning towards the dunes to pick up quinoa, which I should probably make this week, and beef jerky, which I ate pretty much immediately. There, too, I encountered kind women happy to help and answer questions before sending me on my way. I spent so much of this trip preparing for danger, I was genuinely surprised by how easy and friendly and wonderful every human being I met had been thus far.

Then I spent a solid 10 minutes watching a raven go to town on a trash can before I pulling back onto the road.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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At the base of the dunes, I found a ton of pretty rocks and every couple of steps I just HAD to bend down to inspect them. The variety of colors and shapes and patterns could make a kaleidoscope envious. I am not ashamed to say I talk to all beings now and saying hello to every rock that called to me, granted a certain kind of playfulness and community to the whole endeavor. Maybe that’s why I never felt alone… Then again, maybe it’s because as I organized my shit in the car, a man in his 70s crowned with uniformly white hair and clad in a university sweater chatted with me for about 20 minutes after I said hello. (Or both)

Barefoot hiking FTW

Barefoot hiking FTW

Hiking up a mountain of sand is partially Sisyphean. For every step up you take, you sink down at least a half step. The dunes also don’t form linearly. You go up one, then you have to come down a bit to make it to the next one that reaches a bit higher. This would be frustrating if it weren’t so fun. After about an hour of trekking up and careening down, I ran into a mother and her child trotting along barefoot. BINGO.

I sat down and ripped off my hiking boots and socks, tied my laces around the strap of my backpack and continued on, lighter, freer, with the familiar scratch of sand wrapping me in it’s warm blanket like embrace. I also noticed the soft padding of my feet allowed me to stay elevated on the harder patches of sand and sink a little less in the softer ones with me weight distributing more evenly. Also, I was hiking barefoot and it was dope AF.

When I finally made it to the 2nd highest dune (the highest one was much much further and not happening), I snuggled up and journaled, closing my eyes for a bit to enjoy the feeling. I watched the sand shift soft and steady in packed black layers among the tan, feeling cool shifts beneath the surface. Looking around you could see the shadows morph and change and I kept hearing Mufasa in my head saying, “everything the light touches in our kingdom.”

“non-lesson” learned

“non-lesson” learned

Hiking back down was magic, sliding and swirling in the sand like a friggin earth bender. I found a patch of grass and a few flowers and laid beside them, asking the mountain what it was teaching me. I felt heat spread like a flower blooming between my shoulder blades. Translating the messages isn’t an exact science, but it was something like, “not everything has to be a lesson, it can just be joyful.” Which, of course, was a lesson in and of itself. 

I constantly wonder, how did I get so lucky? How do these places I’ve never been feel like coming home?

Driving to New Mexico

Cruising down CO-159 in the mid-late afternoon, felt like drifting towards a portal. Somethings about the vast valleys, the outline of the mountain ranges, the surprisingly symmetrical cloud formations, the way the blue and whites of the sky contrasted the yellow beige and grey below… sent me reeling. And then my raven friends would say hello and bring me back. And then my navigation would remind me to keep going straight. Cool.

San Luis Peoples Ditch

San Luis Peoples Ditch

Still not bored, still digging my amazing playlist, still awestruck by every ranch and tree and abandoned hut along my path. My favorite thins to drive past were these yards littered with multicolored tractors. They looked like abandoned adult playgrounds. I stopped in San Luis, described as the oldest continuously occupied town in Colorado, to talk to another tree and stare at the San Luis Peoples Ditch, which is a small channel of water and not a ditch of people like it sounds at first. Yikes.

I stopped for gas, and a man in his 40s let me know my hood was slightly popped. I thanked him and pressed down hard, high on human kindness and the music of his Burqueño accent, so different, but reminiscent of the Miami accent back home.

I eventually made it into Taos for a very late lunch / early dinner at around 4 PM and stopped at a spot called Bella’s. My server was a delightfully polite and slightly awkward young man named Scott. I had my first taste of green Chile which can I tell you, my friends, did not disappoint. It was the most delicious plate of chiles rellenos I has ever had. As I was finishing up, older couples started to tickle in. A pair sat next to one another (instead of across) at a four top table. It looked like love.

After dinner I decided to walk around and saw a beautiful Adobe church. It warmed my heart until I saw a fake grave for all the aborted fetuses. Double yikes. I stepped into a store within the historic Taos Plaza and picked up a few locally made items like incense and soap. I talked with the woman at the counter, Sunshyne, about arrowheads and how my dad wants a viking funeral and she mentioned that Vikings was her favorite show and she was opening an Etsy store and will be selling custom obsidian arrowheads so you’re welcome, dad, I have your funeral arrow.

I also noticed the sage bundles and asked her how she felt about non-native using white sage and the de-colonization of spiritual practices. She said that people’s intentions matter, sourcing matters. There are people whose livelihood is linked to harvesting sage in safe and responsible ways. Buying from them is not a problem. Of course, this is not everyone’s opinion and this is a longer conversation and I honestly hesitated including this, but I thought I’d would be better to share it for anyone who might be interested. (I personally no longer use white sage in my practice, nor do I use the term “smudging”.) There were also bundles of non-native plants that are harmful for the environment and make great alternatives.

After a quick stroll around town, I was on my way to my final destination of the day. The sun was starting to set, and the Land of Enchantment was coming to life. Within the hour, warm oranges and pinks gave way to cool blues. Rolling throw the mountains in the dark, I could see a sliver of light though the clouds, as if the kids were holding up a flashlight. Clouds gave way to a nearly full moon, and by her light, I made it to Santa Fe.

Read part 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

Go back to part 1: An Introduction

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: An Introduction

There are so many stories of men finding themselves in the great outdoors and on the open road. This great big adventure open to them like a baptism into reality and nature and life. As I started planning my route, I realized how few women I had as role models to guide me and it honestly freaked the hell out of me. Is this safe? Will I die? Can I handle an emergency situation on my own?

I may not have realized it when the planning first started, but I essentially designed my own Rite of Passage road trip. I booked a five day training in Loveland, Colorado with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, an initiation in and of itself, and decided it would be the perfect kick off to this trip. Excavating the interior before expanding into the exterior. In case you haven’t noticed, excavation and expansion is kind of my thing. 

Of course I meet another Northwestern alum

Of course I meet another Northwestern alum

And so for 5 days, I sat in lectures and hiked and watched the sun rise and set and met other curious, beautiful, creative, spiritual beings from all over the world. In the training Dr. E, as everyone calls her, asked us to allow what we learned to marinate, like a pressure cooker, and so I’ll be keeping that to myself for now, but here is what happened after (along with some tips and tricks should you feel called tonplan your own adventure).

From October 21 - October 31, I drove over 2,000 miles through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. The first thousand miles on my own. The second thousand, with a friend I picked up in Page, AZ. 

One of the many sunsets on the ranch in Loveland

One of the many sunsets on the ranch in Loveland

Taking the first leg of the trip alone was important to me. To prove to myself that I can handle anything. And as your friendly neighborhood Capricorn, I was prepared. I booked AirBnBs which ranged from a private room in a home in Santa Fe, to a hostel in Salida, CO, to a tent near the Grand Canyon, to a hogan on an unnamed road on the Navajo reservation. I planned my big drives making sure I’d arrive at my destinations by sundown (which I missed by an hour or 2 a few times, but it was actually alright.)

I then packed and gathered supplies. Some of the most important items included: my green jacket, sunglasses, caps, fleece jacket and pants, Lululemon pants (literally the guy at REI was like, “they’re honestly the perfect hiking pants”), first aid kit, water bottle canteens, wool socks, hiking boots and poles, a flashlight with backup batteries, Swiss army knife, mace (thanks, mom), rx bars, protein powder, emergen-C, instant coffee, Advil, a hot water bottle, Thinx, tampons (yes I had my period on this trip), a lacrosse ball (for rolling out sore muscles), journals, crystals and a tarot deck because duh. 

I also wore my mala beads throughout the entire trip. They extend down to just below my pelvis and so they felt like a protection spell and served me well. I also kept a few crystals in the car given to me by my darling Bakara when I visited her at Everyday Magic for safe travel including sandstone and red tiger’s eye (thank you so much, the sandstone didn’t leave my dash). I also threw in a little pyrite for power and luck. These items are not necessary, but having talismans for protection really helped me feel more capable and less alone. They helped me trust my intuition and my instincts and my intellect. To sum: never say no to help.

I have to say having five days to work towards finding my center (and acclimating to the altitude) was super helpful so if you’re flying to a starting point, definitely do that. I felt almost charmed throughout the trip with every setback having a unique and perfect outcome. Starting with my car rental. 

The lady that helped me, suggested I upgrade to a Nissan Murano for the navigation and honestly I’m so in love with that car now. We had the best time together. I haven’t owned a car since high school, but this car rules in my very humble opinion. I picked it up at around 2:30 or 3PM and started driving down I-70. I was going to the Great Sand Dunes the next morning and wanted to make sure I was off the road by sunset because I know reception and light can be tricky in the mountains so my destination was a hostel in Salida, CO. Driving through those mountain ranges and valleys was breathtaking. The way rock and sky met and dipped and made way for ranches and pines. I was literally weaving in and out of the Rocky Mountains. I even sped alongside the Arkansas River for a spell. I will say that on day 1, I was not very good at stopping for historic views because I had already passed them by the time I realized I could pull over, but there was so much to see from the car, it didn’t really matter. 

The sun was just starting to set as I pulled off the highway and into the beautiful little mountain town, guided by the glow of a waxing moon. I stopped for a quick dinner at a local bar and chatted with an artist who owned a gallery in town. I had all the tips about not letting anyone know you’re alone in the back of my mind, and of course, didn’t give away any details of my plans or lodging, but you know how you can just tell when someone is buena gente? This town just felt good. 

Back at the hostel, I was given the tour and picked my bunk, the second tier in a three level bunk bed toward the back, and settled in. I had to be up at 6AM for the drive to the Dunes so I expected to be in bed early, but I got sucked into reading poetry and playing Uno with a group of regulars who totally blew the lid off of what my experience of a life could be. Here were people so different from my usual crowd in Miami or New York and I felt like I fit in immediately. My 10pm bed time soon turned to after 1am, after meeting another Cuban who lived in this town. 

The next morning one of the veterans (as in army) I had met made breakfast while I made coffee and we spent the morning talking before we went our separate ways, a little later than I had planned, but well worth it for the company. My adventure had just begun, and what an initiation to the road it was. 

Read part 2: Sand Dunes + the road to Santa Fe

The Body Series :: On Faces + Symmetry

When I start to look at faces too long, I feel like an alien. Human faces are so weird. They’re so different. They communicate so much information, but they are weeeiiiirrrdddd. And I love them. I love interesting faces. 

I remember in my human sexuality class, we learned about how the more symmetrical a face is, the more “beautiful” it is considered by the population at large. Studies have shown that famous movie stars, models, etc all have very symmetrical faces. This was not great news for me at a time when I very much judged my worth by my perceived attractiveness.

Over the years I have come to know very well the ways in which my face is very much not symmetrical. My nose slants to the left. Not only is it the rather large statement piece and focal point of my face, but it’s definitely a little crooked. Today, I love it. I actually believe it when I say “it gives me character,” a phrase I first heard in middle school and clung to with a fervent desperation. However, it took awhile before this smelling machine I not so lovingly would call a bazonker became a welcome part of my face.

Trying to smile, but the right side is not cooperating...

Trying to smile, but the right side is not cooperating...

I also experienced a several month bout of Bell’s Palsy the summer before I went away to college. For those of you who don’t know, Bell’s Palsy is a pretty mysterious virus that paralyzes half your face. That’s right. Two months before one of the biggest transitions of my life, the right half of my face literally stopped moving. I wholeheartedly believe there is some sort of psychosomatic connection to that happening, but that is analysis and speculation for another time.

It happened slowly one sunny summer day. At first my lip felt weird when I put on my chap stick, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, as I was driving my beloved blue Mini Cooper, Syd Barrett (I was way into Pink Floyd in high school… and I should note I’m actually wearing a Pink Floyd shirt as I type this), I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror and noticed my eye wasn’t quite blinking. I called my mom who panicked at the possibility that I might be having a stroke, before we sorted out this whole Bell’s Palsy diagnosis. 

During those months I was devastated. My high school boyfriend and I broke up the day before he left for UNC, and most of my friends had already gone away. I, however, was starting my first semester at Northwestern in September and had been spending my days working in my dad’s office. I remember calling my ex one night in tears while he was at a party. I was so devastatingly sad. I felt like a monster. Sometimes it was hilarious, but sometimes it was horrible. I was very attached to the idea of being “hot.” I hadn’t yet learned the medicine of laughing at yourself.

I went to physical therapy which included exercises to try to wake up the sleeping muscles and nerve endings along with some electric shock to get the muscles to twitch. What a bizarre time. My sister introduced me to the person who would become my freshman year roommate who later told me she thought I hated her when we first met because I tried not to smile and had a weird time chewing and eating. I also slept with an eye patch because my eye wouldn’t close on its own. 

As the first day of college approached, I grew more and more terrified of meeting new people with a not quite perfect face. It had gotten better, but wasn’t quite right. To my surprise, no one really noticed and by the end of my first month there my face had gone mostly back to normal. The right side of my face still feels a little different sometimes. Especially around my eye and cheek, but other than the echoes of paralysis, I’ve pretty much got full functionality. 

That whole episode has left me painfully aware of the uneven parts of myself. The whole right side of my body it usually stiffer, it’s the side with the bigger bunion (more on that next week), the tighter hips, the weaker glutes, the knottier shoulder and back. Sometimes, I feel like a lopsided mess, but over time I’ve learned that unevenness isn’t a curse. It’s information.

And faces… well, they’re still weird and beautiful, symmetrical or not.

The Body Series :: Hair: On Growth + Removal

Oh hair. It's beautiful and magnificent and should be grown long. Or, it's gross and should be shaved, waxed, tweezed, lasered, threaded or at the very least trimmed. Which is it? Depends on where your hair grows and how many fucks you give.

Let's start with head hair. Until about 2 years ago, mine was always long (except for a brief bob period in 2nd grade). When I started ballet, I put it in buns and french braids. throughout middle school, I contorted it in a range of hair styles that I copied from episodes of Charmed (shout out to the LATINA REBOOT), Sabrina the Teenage Witch and any other intricate butterfly clip and pinned up combinations I found. 

Bangs... never again

Bangs... never again

By high school, I wore it down a lot using mousse to turn Miami humidity induced frizz into waves and threw it up in a messy bun for sports, workouts, and exceptionally hot days. (I had a couple of bangs phases which were always more trouble than they were worth tbh. I don't think I'll ever go back to that life again.) And through college and my early twenties it stayed at various stages of "boob length" always long enough to touch some part of my chest area.

Before (photo taken in my old office bathroom)

Before (photo taken in my old office bathroom)

My hair is pretty low maintenance. I have what they call "fine hair," which is a fancy of saying very very thin. At it's longest, my hair wrapped in a bun would create a tiny knot that you would easily encircle with a single finger. Whenever I decided to actually style or blow dry it, the process never took longer than 20 minutes. Sure, I didn't have a gorgeous thick mane, the kind that creates epic and beautiful braids, but it was so easy to manage.

After (also taken in my old office bathroom with a more intense version of the same weird face)

After (also taken in my old office bathroom with a more intense version of the same weird face)

But then something happened. Break throughs in therapy, a desire to experience "non-attachment", a reclaiming of all parts of my body. Whatever it was, I needed my hair cut. Very short. We started with baby steps going just above shoulder length in the spring of 2016, but by the summer I was rocking an undershave and loving it. Where there times I wondered "what the fuck have you done"? Of course. But overall, it was a welcome change. 

This photo really freaked my mom out.

This photo really freaked my mom out.

There's something cathartic about cutting off hair. A reason why the scene where Mulan slices into her mane with a sword (which would never actually work but the magic of cartoons, baby) illicits such strong emotions. But there are two sides to this coin. Was I slicing off the male gaze? Past experiences? Regret? Societal expectations? Or was I chopping off my femininity? Was I trying to look more bad ass and masculine to shake off any perceived weakness? This is all unconscious, of course. I wasn't at the hair salon like, "excuse me I want a cut that says I reject the male gaze of patriarchy, but I also have so much instilled misogyny in me that I want to simultaneously reject my femininity." Not that the length of your hair is congruent with femininity. I obviously cannot shave my femininity if I tried. You can be bald and still hella feminine. Hello every single member of the Dora Milaje, And to that point, femininity can be strong and fierce and powerful. This is just the unconscious bias of a patriarchal culture that views "feminine" traits, leadership styles and emotions as inferior. That's a lot of shit to project onto a fucking hair style.

This was very very short. But I don't haaate it <3

This was very very short. But I don't haaate it <3

The funny thing is, I found myself looking for different ways to express my femininity with short hair. Whether by accentuating my curves or applying thick eyeliner. Somewhere in all the confusion, I found my own gaze. I figured out the ways I feel good. Where and when I wanted to look a certain way. I decided that I really like my hair at every length, which is pretty cool.

But what about all the OTHER hair? WTF do we do about that. It's tricky business either conforming to societal standards and maintaining body autonomy, but the closest conclusion I've come to is... WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT.

Here'e me:

Legs: I've shaved them since I was in 5th grade. I am Latina and have very dark hair. It came in thick when I was young and I wasn't really into it. I like shaving my legs. It feels extra clean to me. It's a nice once a week ritual. 

Bikini / Pubic area: The details are personal and vary depending on mood, but I did laser the bikini line area. I grew up in Miami and was in bathing suits a lot and had massive ingrown hairs. Laser is expensive, but it has saved me a lot of pain and annoyance. I still have to shave if I want it to be perfectly clean, but it's nothing compared to what once was.

"Happy Trail": Lasered and don't really have hair anymore. I was so self conscious about it as a kid. I'm glad it's something I literally never think about anymore.

Armpits: Lasered. Same as Bikini line. I still grow a little hair, but the relief from ingrowns is really incredible.

Arms: I used to wax them (I used to wax a lot of things, but that phase didn't last long. Waxing is the worst), but my ex told me my arm hair made me look like Wolverine, and I haven't really had the urge to wax them since Logan came out. 

Mustache: It's tiny, but it's there. Not enough to cause worry. I just tweeze the stray dark hairs when I'm inspired to, but most of the time I don't notice enough to care.

Eyebrows: I am blessed with the most low maintenance eyebrows. I have a few stray hair I pluck once a month. If you envy me anything, this is the thing.'

Nipple hair: This is the most emotionally charged one of all. I remember reading in a Cosmo when I was around 12 or 13 some dude saying that if a woman had hair on her nipples it was a deal breaker or some shit. Fuck that dude and fuck Cosmo for printing that. I still tweeze it sometimes, but I'm no longer terrified that men (and women) that I am attracted to will be horrified by tiny little hairs when I take of my shirt or bra.

Pretty sure this was the longest my hair ever was... right before I chopped it off.

Pretty sure this was the longest my hair ever was... right before I chopped it off.

What do you do? Why do you do it? Does it even matter? My routines have simplified significantly over the years because I have better ways to spend my time than wondering about my hair all the time. It's dark and it's beautiful and I love it. And I love the parts that I remove. I love the simplicity of it. The cleanliness of it. Whatever your grooming routine, male, female, trans or non-binary, I hope it elevates you and I hope you don't let Cosmo circa 2002 freak you out.

And as for head hair? Cut it short. Let is grow. I'll probably bounce back to boob length some day soon... and then cut it all over again :)

The Body Series :: Skin: On Blemishes + Color

My skin is comprised of stripes and spots. Dashes and dots. Morse code collections of imperfection littered from head to toe across, over and around the expanse of my epidermis. The freckles I never had an issue with. Unlike Jan from the Brady Bunch, I reveled in the speckles that framed my nose and cheeks. That popped up along my arms and legs. The one precious dot northeast of my belly button. I have always loved my body constellations adding pops of coloration to a delicate canvas. It was the hidden spots I despised. Cellulite. Just the word makes me cringe. Hell, I still don't love it. Even if I learned to love and admire the expanses of my body, the shapes of fertility goddesses and warrior women, what statues show those thigh dimples? What paintings of the overculture express those tiny depressions echoed by the spirals of darkness that swirl inside me? (BTW if you know of some, my eyes and inbox are open.)

Standing so my cellulite won't show

Standing so my cellulite won't show

I'm also not just talking about the regular old smattering of it across my ass and thighs. The bits that I threatens my sensibilities when I squeeze the upper under arm skin just right. You see, I have this one singular crater that pops inward on my right thigh if I don’t tuck the mass of that leg in when I’m sitting. I first noticed her in high school. When I swam and played water polo, the one piece swim suit left my thighs open to the public and sitting on the benches before practice, there she appeared surrounded by a family of little sisters, but did she stand out. She still does. I still tuck her in sometimes, preferring not to poke at that extra cottage cheese indentation. Fact. I have never eaten cottage cheese because I have heard cellulite compared to it for so much of my life. I’m not really interested in unpacking that in particular, I just think it’s kind of messed up but also deeply hilarious.

To make matters worse, somehow the light of fitting rooms always manages to accentuate the worst of it. Maybe my improvement in self-esteem has to do with the fact that I haven't set foot in a fitting room in over a year. (Except in December at REI to try on ski pants which was way more chill that the barrage of ill fitting clothes at a department store or boutique.) I suspect beauty companies that promise the disappearance of this very normal and very genetic “defect” pay off department stores with too small clothes to perpetuate the cycle of consumerism that keeps them all in our pockets. Maybe that’s why I can't "shop" anymore, selecting pieces to try on one after in a parade of self judgement for not fitting perfectly into clothes meant for a body that is not mine.

Oh, and how could I forget acne. I never had it terribly as a teen. My face flushed with the occasional spot. I had extremely oily skin so it was par for the course. The funny thing is, once I stopped trying to dry out and exfoliate my face, everything sort of normalized and now my face routine is a simple cream whenever I feel like it (maybe a few times per week) and a Korean sheet mask once every month or two. However, it still plagues my back sometimes. Whether it's my sports bras or hair, I'll get painful red constellations back there every now and again, making summer time a bummer and backless dresses and embarrassing nightmare. And then if I am not careful with how much I sweat in my spandex pants, I can occasionally get some on my butt. That's right. I wrote it. You can read it. Sometimes I get pimples on my butt. I am cringing right now knowing I will press publish on this, but damnit, a lot of us do. And if you get pimples on your butt, I want you to know sometimes it happens and it's annoying, but whateverrrrrr. They go away. The end. 

So these spots, the cellulite and pimples, I am not so enlightened that I am thrilled by them. If there really was a miracle treatment that got rid of my cellulite, I would actually consider it if that shit were natural and god for me, but I also don't NEED to love them. They don't take away from the experience of the rest of what my body can do. They appear. They disappear. They are. Again, WHATEVER.

Then we have the stripes. I saw a Tumblr post where a little girl asked her mom what her stretch marks were and the mom responded that they were her tiger stripes. The daughter then exclaimed that she couldn't wait for her stripes. That hit my soul. I fucking loved it. But we’re not there yet. First, we need to talk about the first cracks along the fault lines of my body. 

When stretch marks first show up, they are a pinkish purple. They open up across skin that’s not quite ready to stretch so far. For me, they hit my breasts, thighs and hips pretty hard during high school. They were like a target for the areas of me that were getting too big. Areas that could not be contained by my skin. Streaking me in places I was already self-conscious of. I remember being scared of having someone go down on me because they would see the especially big stretch mark on my right inner thigh. Luckily, I have made peace with him and kind of enjoy playing with the way the skin smooths and indents there, but man did that take time. Because you see, the pinks and purples eventually fade in with the rest of the skin and the stripes and they sink in and snuggle and become a part of you. These guys I don't mind. But maybe you do. And that's okay. You don't have to love your stretch marks. I like mine because I like what they represent. That I cannot be contained by my skin, so it has altered itself to fit me.

Of course, how can I move through the complex relationships we have with our skin, the cocoon that wraps the body in its gentle yet surprisingly tough embrace without discussing its color. Oh boy. Let's dive in. For me, that color is an ever changing extra pale to slightly tanned sprinkled with the aforementioned freckles. And despite my youthful endeavors to constantly darken it, that stays a pretty constant privilege in my life. There are many folks better versed in the complexity of this experience who have explained how this affects individuals and society at large (you can look here, herehere and here for starters), but for the purposes of this series, I’ll stick to how this affects the experience of living in the body, (and if you're bummed this got kind of political, I'm sorry but we live in a world where bodies are political if you're a woman or person of color.)

The complex layers of colorism within the Latin American community run deep.  You can’t be pasty pale like a gringo, but too tan, and you “look like a housekeeper,” a phrase designed to differentiate the more Spanish of us from the more indigenous and black populations. It’s like a modern day caste system. Instead of criollo and mestizo and mulatto (which are all still used, just less so in the United States), there are jokes about color in a space that feels more mundane and less steeped in colonialism (even though it very much is). I do not condone that kind of phrasing, nor did I make it up and it grosses me out, and it's not only hella racist, but hella classist, but that is the truth of what is said behind closed doors and we need to start questioning it. Sorry for that insane run on sentence, but yeesh.

[Before I move on, I want to say if this is hard for you to hear, I get it. Confronting unconscious bias and shadow shit is messy and uncomfortable. It's not about being right or wrong. It's about looking inside and being very honest about beliefs you hold that have their basis is false narratives. That come from other people "saying so" instead of your own experience. How many times did I hear from white and light skinned people that "black people are lazy"? A lot. How many times has that narrative proven true in the people I meet and interact with every day while living in a predominantly black neighborhood? Literally zero times. This isn't comfortable for me to write. That's the work. That's expansion. Get uncomfortable.]

Unconsciously basking in the sunlight of light skinned privilege...

Unconsciously basking in the sunlight of light skinned privilege...

As a milkier Latina, getting too dark was never an issue for me because I am what you call "passing." (The Netflix One Day at a Time reboot tackles this beautifully and Isabel Gomez talks about her experience with that episode here.) As in, I "pass" for white. We learn that the Spaniards were conquistadors, but we forget that most of us lighter skinned Latinx folks are descended from those conquerors, just like white folks here are descended from the British ones. Spain just lost out in the fight for super powerdom and thus we don’t think of Spaniards the way we think of the British colonialists who went on to go for the rest of the world in the centuries that followed. There are different prejudices for sure, being an immigrant in this country despite your color, and being fetishized by men the second they find out you’re “exotic” (on a first date a man grabbed my thighs and told me, “I bet you have a fat Cuban pussy” but that is a tale for another time), but the elitism and white privilege in Latin America is still the same. I remember reading in a sociology book that Cubans were the most successful Latin American immigrants in the US. Sure, Cubans are the best, and I will shout it from the rooftops, but as I've grown older, I wonder if that success came from the light privilege that accompanied many of the Cubans who were able to leave in the late 50s and early 60s as the Castro regime first took hold. Yikes. I know I keep bouncing from history lesson to present day issues a lot but it’s all connected. 

The tone I aspired to be (and if I'm being 100% honest, I still do).

The tone I aspired to be (and if I'm being 100% honest, I still do).

Why am I talking about any of this? Because the skin we inhabit, its color, its pigmentation, its melanin, affects millions of people's abilities to love their bodies. To feel safe in them. To allow them to feel like home. It’s one thing to move through cycles of imperfection, it’s quite another entirely to feel like your skin makes you a target for violence. I cannot imagine what that must be like. There are parts of me that make me vulnerable, sure, but for the entire surface area of your body to be a calling card for discrimination because of false narratives dictated by colonizers, to make them feel better about owning people is beyond fucked. I've seen videos of young black girls choosing white dolls over black ones because they have been conditioned to believe the white ones are prettier and it breaks my heart. Folks using umbrellas just to avoid the slightest darkening of their skin. Meanwhile, the white girls and light skinned Latinas like me were sitting poolside throughout all of high school slathering Maui Babe Browning Lotion all over our bodies to find that perfect shade of darker, without questioning the unconscious biases we held towards folks who glowed in those tones naturally.

We have beauty brands urging us to “love the skin you’re in,” but what about when that skin doesn’t conform to your BS beauty standards? This isn’t all gloom and doom. We’ve made tremendous progress over the past decade. We’re moving past the “colorblind” motto of the 90s… slowly but surely… and moving into a space where “Black” isn’t a bad word. Where every skin color has beauty and value, just like the souls and bodies inside those sacks of cells. But there is still work to do. So I guess to conclude this piece, I hope you made peace with your blemishes, even if you don’t like them. I hope the skin that wraps you up feels like a home. I hope that one day everyone can feel safe in their skin. I hope we can continue to question the fucked up things we were taught growing up by an ignorant society concerned with maintaining the status quo of white supremacy and create a world that facilitates that safety. And I hope that if you are white or lighter skinned and you hear those shitty jokes, you say something, even if everyone rolls their eyes at you and makes fun of you for being a major bummer. Or thinks you have no sense of humor. Because in your own family, in cleaning up our own root system, that’s where it starts.