Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The sun is stronger in the south

You told me I was getting sunburned. I looked down at my normally pale skin and saw the tinge of pink. I couldn't disagree. I got up to search for shade. You led me across the beach to two chairs. You gave me the one covered with the shade of the umbrella. Within a few moments, we were wading out into the ocean. Far away, the water had appeared as clear and beautiful as the blue sapphire on my ring. But up close, I saw the seaweed, the dirt, and sand, being washed up with the plunge of each wave. It was more powerful than it had appeared from the safe shores of the beach. 

We kept swimming out. Soon, it was just our shoulders bobbing on top of the water. Floating there with you arms reach away, I let something go. I couldn't tell at the time, but as minutes turned into hours, I let myself crack open. I let you crack me open. Your questions showed me that you really wanted to know. And I talked. Nonstop, I told you everything. Of my nonprofit culinary school dream, of my life growing up with an artist and a teacher as parents, of the impossibility of my life in college.

I kept looking at you, to see if you were there. You were listening. Still. And then you told me your stories. We traded, back and forth for hours. You told me about your father, and how you took him dancing. You told me about your months training in Nigeria. About the strained relationship between your mother and your father. And the more you spoke, the more rare you became. Each sentence further solidifying your existence as the most gentle and kind soul I had ever come across. But you were so familiar. You told me about your dreams. Not of being a doctor, or a lawyer. But of having a strong family. A simple house. Your dreams of making things, and growing things, and living a life connected to the land and the people around you. 

And I nearly cried. Because every word you spoke was one I had been repeating in my head for the last several months. It was the same. We were the same. It was so uncanny--that our paths had been brought together from opposite corners of the world. We were never supposed to meet. But we did. Why? Perhaps this is the beauty in our situation. We don't have answers to the questions of why, how, what, or when. We have only the feeling of something inexplicable. Of a connection forged so strongly and so quickly with someone I was never even supposed to meet. 

It was more powerful than it had appeared from the safe shores of the beach. 
This photo was not taken in Mexico. But it was taken in Yosemite. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hooked on a Feeling

I go through whiplash as I step down off the bus, the sun making my tired eyes squint. I notice first and foremost, the salty scent lingering in the air. Second is the wonderful sensation of sun touching my skin, but most importantly is just the feeling of someone simultaneously sucking any bad, negative energy out of the top of my head, while my feet absorb the goodness in the soil. I experience my own form of culture shock each day. From the fast paced, technology laced Silicon Valley where I wander around an adult-playground all day for work, to the laid back mountain-ocean vibes of my new home. And each day when I step off that bus, I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that with no research, little time, no familiarity, and zero rhyme or reason, I made one of the best decisions of my life when I chose to move to Santa Cruz.

It is a scary thing to pick up everything and anything you know, fill your car with what few meaningful material belongings you possess, and move to an entirely new place. Alone. With no motives. With no reason. Only because of a feeling.

I am pragmatic, and meticulous, and logical. I like order, and routine, and knowing my surroundings. So when I got my job in the Valley, it would have made sense to pick an apartment within biking distance of Google. Or maybe just a short drive. But instead, I commute three hours each day. I wake up at 5:30 am. All so I can live in this place about which I know virtually nothing.

I wander the beaches, the streets, the grocery stores. I begin building this routine out of nothing. Making eye contact with people who I know are tapped in. Those looks exchanged are worth everything. And that feeling that I can't quite articulate. It is enough. In fact, it is plenty--filled with abundance. And this place I live, well it's not too hard on the eyes either.

So for now, I stumble around, clamoring for that community and those touchstones that make me feel grounded. Grabbing on to them for dear life. Because well, this life is pretty precious, but it's pretty damn scary to do it alone.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dining Solo

The reason I want to be a chef has very little to do with the food. Although I love the therapeutic nature of prepping vegetables, the sound of a simmering pot of herbs and stock, the smell of roasting garlic, these are all merely the side effects of preparing a really good meal. The real substance in cooking, for me, lies in the connection it provides between people. Food is the catalyst for all powerful things in life, most importantly, it acts as a catalyst for bringing individuals from all walks of life to trade the physical and metaphorical powers of breaking and sharing bread together.

So I was shocked to realize that one of my favorite things is to eat alone. In the last two months of my life, I've found myself in the presence of crowds, with incredible food, ambiance, and people--enjoying a meal entirely by myself. Rather than feel lonely, this solo dining experience has taken me to a new level of appreciation for the true nourishment of a meal enjoyed with all five senses.

When I took a spontaneous solo trip to Tulum, Mexico, I ate dinner alone each night. It was the highlight of every day. I took advantage of having 4 hours, free to myself to enjoy food, music, and the strangers with whom I shared smiles, drinks, and conversation. I walked through the gates of Hartwood each night, smiling to myself as I looked across the courtyard. Couples and families gathered around small tables, with nothing but candlelight to illuminate their meals. They laughed, they kissed, they traded stories. And I got to just soak it all up. I got to be on every family vacation, every honeymoon, and every wedding party. Because I ate alone. And I got the benefits of feeling nourished from the buzz of conversation. I was so present during those meals. Not once checking my phone, or wishing I could skip straight ahead to dessert or my post-dinner beach walk. No. I carefully cut each small bite of pork tenderloin, taking special attention to get the appropriate ratio of kale-to-meat-to-sauce. And it was so damn good. It took eating alone to really feel full. 

After this romantic solo-getaway, I took the tradition with me. Each week, I have at least one solo brunch or dinner date with myself. Sometimes I am starving, and I want to rush through the meal. But I stop myself. I move in slow motion. I cut a bite. I set my knife down. I take the bite. I close my eyes and savor. I taste, of course. I smell very carefully. I notice the texture of the food, the crunch, the cream, the buttery feeling of the food in my mouth. And I notice the sound of my surroundings. The clinking classes, the first dates, the birthday celebrations. 

Taking silence, and savoring those moments, memories, and morsels of food with yourself can be nourishing in a way I've never before experienced. The silence allows the food and experience to speak loudly and clearly. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The right people, the right place, the right time

Suddenly, without a moments notice, the universe flips your world upside-down. You thought that moving forward with your plans and your goals would lead you to the right direction. That is all fine and well, but really, what is in store for us is far beyond our wildest imagination.

I sat in traffic the other morning. It was 8:15 on a June morning in Los Angeles. Muggy. June gloom. Traffic. Commute. All the words and connotations that really-- I promised myself I would never succumb to. I was driving--but really I felt like I was treading water. And then in an instant, I looked in my rear-view mirror and noticed the barely visible skyline fading through the fog and reminded myself: There are only two mantras. Yum and yuck. Mine is yum.

And yum I did choose. I booked a plane ticket to Mexico, next found a yoga retreat, and 24 hours later, found myself in the middle of my upside-down reality. A paradise called Tulum, Mexico.

Maybe you believe in destiny, or maybe you call it Gods plan, or maybe you call it bullshit. Either way, my alternate reality brought me to everything I needed.

Perhaps I got caught up in the pristine white beaches and the turquoise waters. The ease of life spent in a hammock, letting your eyes glaze over a few paragraphs of a book before falling back asleep for your fifth nap of the day. Maybe it was the constant soundtrack of Desmond Decker and Horace Andy that made me feel as if I'd stumbled into a different time and place. Or perhaps it is just the magic of the right people, the right place, and the right time. The generosity and love was something I came in search of--and I was lucky to land in the right spot. The endless moments sitting around a table sharing slices of papaya with complete strangers made me feel both at ease and at home. 

My week spent in Tulum was nothing sky of magic. And I think it perfectly encapsulates what life can be about: going beyond your own previously built boundaries and finding that just beyond those walls, are the most remarkable people with whom you can create the most precious memories. 

So Tulum, I'll be back. In spirit and in body. I promise I will be back for more octopus at Hartwood, for more yoga at Utopia, and for more conversation with travelers who, like me, are in search of something.