My friend Sarah snapped this candid shot last weekend on my birthday hike as four of us caught the last magic of winter before it fades softly into summer. When she got my attention, she asked me what I was thinking about.
For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I was just listening, to the chirping birds and the rushing waterfalls. I was just existing, a mote of bones and flesh in a breathing cosmic arena.
So much has happened in 29 years. So much has happened since I moved to Seattle. I have met incredible, diverse, and creative friends. I starred in my first film. I wrote a frigging book. I pulled 80-hour weeks. I went to Ikea and Costco for the first time (!). I learned how to wear a sari. And I’ve done it all while being shaken by a past that I knew and a past that my mind had blocked out.
The mind is a powerful tool, a wonderful and equally fascinating and disturbing gift. The human mind is unique.
We will never be as big and vast in our existence as Mother Nature. But we can lead meaningful, significant lives. We can use the power of our minds to create, to engage, to learn, to protect, and to really, truly live.
Sometimes I turn to the beauty of this planet when I am feeling broken. And sometimes I turn to it for no reason at all other than to stop and smell the flowers. But I always appreciate this planet, this life, and my role in it.
The first eighteen years of my life, I was not a rebellious child. I had no curfew because I couldn’t stay up past 9:30 PM. I was allowed to be unsupervised with friends because my father had witnessed the tween drama that ensued when I accidentally sipped Mike’s Hard Lemonade and subsequently thought I was dying. I was permitted to hang out one-on-one with males because my best friend growing up was a boy and, when I had my first kiss as a senior in high school, I told my parents about it.
I was the spitting image of a good Catholic school girl, except that I went to public school in my later years and also made far worse fashion choices.
But I rebelled when I went to college. I cut loose from the throngs of societal propaganda. I started making my own decisions. I still went to church. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I never pulled an all-nighter.
I rebelled in a weird and unorthodox way: I stopped eating meat.
Growing up, I gravitated toward animals, forever knowing that my career path would revolve around them. I pet stray cats and lured lost dogs onto our doorstep so we could find the owner. I threw back any fish I caught in the summer, smiling as it swam away. I saved earthworms from the sidewalk on rainy days while I waited at the bus stop. I cried when we boiled crabs on family vacation because I thought the bubbling was them screaming.
But like most children, it took me all of my childhood to understand the association between the meat on my plate and my barnyard friends.
It was my dad who inadvertently gave me an inkling that hamburgers were once a living being. He always checked to make sure his burger wasn’t pink or bloody. He wanted it well done.
Blood? I thought. Why would a hamburger be bloody?
When I first began connecting the dots and voicing my disgust at the meat casserole on the dinner table, I was informed that I needed protein, and that my only option was to make my own non-meat protein-filled dinner.
I was a busy child, spending my evenings and weekends in sports, after-school clubs or piano lessons. I grew up when the Internet was coming into its own, before Google was the go-to encyclopedia. I didn’t have time to make my own meal (still not sure how Mom managed it in her schedule). I didn’t yet understand that every opinion should be warranted, educated and informed.
While I have since debunked the meat industry myth that a big fat steak is required for proper nourishment, I probably would have stuck to tater tots and ice cream if I had to make my own dinner growing up. So instead I hid pieces of hamburger pie in my napkin and naively continued eating chicken without batting an eyelash because birds are not mammals so surely there is something different going on there. Surely.
Red meat was easy to cut out because I related it so easily to animals. I became nauseous when bacon fumes wafted under my nose as I couldn’t help picturing a pig’s face. (Pigs are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.) Soon I began to recognize that chickens have feelings, too.
Then I read Temple Grandin’s Animal Behavior by candlelight lying in a monkey-poo-stained hammock in a bamboo hut while saving animals in the Amazon. And I knew I had to do this commitment thing for real.
Initially, I was a pescatarian, informed only about the inhumane treatment of the meat industry. I committed to eating meat only if I killed the animal myself. I couldn’t. I can’t. So I don’t.
When I took a marine biology class and learned that overfishing is the number one problem plaguing the oceans, I stopped consuming commercial seafood cold turkey. I said I would only eat marine life if I sustainably caught and cleaned the fish myself.
And then I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t look a fish in the eye and say, “I need to eat you. I need you to survive.”
I do realize that, yes, it is a privilege to be able to choose not to eat animals. And I do realize that, yes, some animals are overpopulated or invasive, and hunting them is considered a part of population control.
But until I am put in a situation in which my survival depends upon eating another living, breathing being, I am dedicated to this decision, my conscientious choice, to not eat animals.
So when you poke fun at me for not eating meat, when you wave a burger in my face and say it tastes sooo goooood, please know that I’m crying inside and secretly thanking that cow without a name who died for the pleasure of your taste buds.
Later, I cut dairy out of my diet originally to lessen the pain of post-Lyme disease that manifests itself as arthritis in my joints. Now, that decision also roots itself in morality and environmental reasonings. To read more about how changing my diet has helped me fight my battle with Lyme disease, click here.
Follow my blog to catch tomorrow’s sassy post on veganism that is sure to elicit oodles of controversy. Yay.
Last week, I picked up the phone at the vet clinic where I work. The woman on the other end was a potential new client, asking a myriad of questions in a rude and demeaning tone. I held my ground, opting to bat away her belittlement with kindness.
But then she followed up one of her questions with, “Oh well, you wouldn’t know. You’re just the receptionist.”
Time paused for the next half a second. I was, of course, incredulous that a human being would talk down to another human being, a stranger no less, through a speaker. But we are in the midst of a politically and emotionally charged atmosphere. True colors are flying, and they’re not always the rainbow we want to look at.
I had three options for how to respond here:
Go off on a rant
Correct the woman by listing off my credentials and actual job title
Laugh in her face
I opted for #3. Here’s why:
1. Going off on a rant doesn’t solve anything, especially over the phone, and especially when the listener is not invested in the cause. Emotions are often irrational, and they bring a charge to a conversation that quickly crosses the line from discussion into argument.
2. I stoop down to her level if I play the high and mighty card. And, for the record, no one is ever “just a receptionist.” I have known many receptionists in my life—most of them women. Off the clock by night, they are mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, chefs, caretakers, volunteers, dreamers, travelers. On the clock by day, while listening to an earful from people on the other end of the line, they are therapists, organizers, greeters and problem-solvers. And they do this all while often being harassed, overworked and grossly underpaid.
3. Laughter is the best medicine. I laughed three times over her continued barrage of insults, and then calmly directed her elsewhere, saying our clinic would not be a good fit for her.
While I believe this was the appropriate response, I will say I am terrible at standing up for myself. I will be the first to have the back of a stranger, but the last to correct someone for walking all over me. I’m working on that. But as little pacifist me hones my confrontational skills, I’m remembering to stay true to my values, not the least of which is love. I will fight for dignity and equality for all—yes, even those who put me down—but I will not enter into cyber-bullying, name-calling and haughtiness. I will fight for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, religious freedom, racial freedom, and basic human dignity. I will fight for change.
In my film premiere last night, my character—the wisest psychiatrist there ever was—says, “Change isn’t always progress, but it is evolution.”
When we vote, we vote for change. People don’t always agree with the progress of that change, but I believe politics are a lot like religion. At the heart of it all, don’t we just want good to come of it? The votes have been cast. I’m not unfriending people. I’m engaging them face-to-face to unite for the greater good. We need to live our lives reflecting the change we wish to see in the world.
I’m stepping down from my soap box now. There is a good and right part of history in the making. I’m giving you the microphone. Which side are you on?
“The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.” –Unknown
When I was little, maybe 6 or 7, I used to ask my mom why certain flowers are called weeds.
Plucking dandelions from the lawn, I’d comment, “Aren’t weeds supposed to be ugly? Dandelions are pretty.”
My mom explained to me that a flower is called a weed when it isn’t wanted.
“People don’t want dandelions in their yard, so they’re called weeds.”
When a wildflower pops up among meticulously placed perennials in the garden bed, it’s an invader, unwelcomely disturbing precision. It is the harbinger of mischief in a petaled sea of peace. For where one weed grows, many will follow.
I spent a fair amount of time in the garden growing up, though not always digging up dirt to plant seeds. Sometimes I was looking for four-leaf clovers so my sisters and I could iron them pressed together between two squares of wax paper, preserving luck for generations. Sometimes I was building homes for earthworms and “potato” bugs, arranging pebbles and leaves as sofas and tables for the creepy crawlers of the earth.
My childhood was nurtured by nature, for it has been in the dirt and the grass and the trees and the weeds that I have learned some of life’s greatest lessons.
A small patch of flowers stood out to me on one of the mounds in my mother’s garden. I fell in love with the burgundy flower heads, rimmed with crimson quickly fading into vibrant yellow.
“One of many types of painted daisies,” my mother said. “A weed to some people but not everyone.”
I have seen painted daisies in various colors across dozens of landscapes, but I never came across that color pattern again. Until two years ago when I traipsed through a garbage dump in the Bahamas.
Rummaging through rubbish heaps is a regular pastime on Long Island, Bahamas, where one man’s trash really does become another man’s treasure. On a particularly blistering day, I found myself hopscotching over upturned car doors and broken mirrors heading toward a patch of grass by the dirt road. Empty glass bottles were pinched in my grasp, teetering on the brink of disaster as I scurried to add them to my growing collection in the truck bed.
As my ankles straddled a sullied plank, I looked down at the ground to plan my last jump toward freedom. There at the base of my right foot was a painted daisy, growing tall and wild and proud, echoing the colors I remembered so clearly from two decades ago.
A weed, I thought, that by any other name would smell so sweet.
There among forgotten and discarded man-made possessions grew a tenacious little flower, its wiry spirit disparaging the rolling piles of waste. An invader claiming back the land where once fields of its kind–wildflowers, weeds–likely thrived.
A protester, dreamer, leader, fighter, nonconformist.
Steadfast, virtuous, invincible.
Like the dandelion.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –William Shakespeare
One year ago, I penned a piece on my radical sabbatical. Re-reading it, I’m finding how much it predicted my future.
1. I WAS asked in a job interview about the 1-year gap in my resume. I explained my belief in the value and virtue of self-discovery, self-awareness and self-worth. I got the job.
2. I took this year to be single, to date myself, to embrace my neuroses, viewing them not as flaws but as unique traits that make me stand out among the crowd. I invested in therapy to deal with my recent hardships but ended up facing unchecked problems of my past. I realized that I really AM invaluable to my own success and happiness.
3. Taking a plunge, throwing away any sense of stability I had previously laid out in my life and starting anew in Seattle WAS incredibly challenging. But even moreso, it WAS vital; it WAS necessary.
4. There is a disarming truth to society, which is that we, as individuals, do not believe in ourselves. I had to believe in myself to fight through the rejection of the art industry, and I AM better off because of it.
5. Like 2015, 2016 was ALSO filled with unanticipated emotions, ups and downs and everything in between. But I like my emotions. It makes me a better writer. It makes me a better actor. It makes me a better animal caregiver. And more importantly, it makes me a better human.
I know myself better than I thought I could ever know another living, breathing thing. It is a beautiful, beautiful achievement that no one can ever take away from me. It is something I wish for everyone to achieve in life. Learn who you are, and be head over heels happy with who that person is.