This past year has been a knock-you-on-your-ass kind of roller coaster.
I’ve loved hard and lost even harder in countless ways in my life, but throughout it all I always considered myself a phoenix rising, time and time again dragging myself up from the inferno, dusting off the ashes, and rising from the dirt to reinvent anew. But you know, that shit gets real old after a while and even the most resilient mofos sometimes hit their damn great wall of China. I hit that wall while running full speed like a whirling dervish this past year. A business I had dreamed of for years turned dark and all kinds of wrong and left me seeing stars and tens of thousands in debt; a love I had always thought didn’t exist came riding in on it’s shiny white horse and stomped my heart not once but twice and turned my heart to lava then eventually to stone; and a father I thought was invincible was struck by a brutal disease which came to a violent earth-shattering end and left me without a dad. Needless to say, I was left shell-shocked, lost, broken, and pretty damn tired of escaping the flames. I spent hours upon hours sitting alone in thought and with trusted confidants, relying on every single tool in my Mary-Poppins esque bag to try and figure out how to scale the Great Wall I hit. I tried everything on the spectrum from healthy to not-so healthy to find my way out, with varying degrees of success, but still in the end only barely chipping away.
During this dark time, I started hopping in my car and driving out of the city to try to both get lost and found all at once. The first time was a road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle and back. Next, I took on Utah and hit Zion, Bryce, and Arches. And while I sobbed 75% of the time, I started to notice something striking: I could breathe again. I looked around on those empty roads and cliffside hikes, the open skies above my tent, and the majestic mountains and forests and falls, and started to feel a sense of peace and calm that I hadn’t felt since I was a child. It was fucking incredible.
I’m originally from the midwest, and this sense of space was part of the fabric of my youth – it shaped me in ways I rarely pay attention to. We had a cabin in the woods of Michigan where we built teepees and ate blackberries off the bush, a boat where we played on the water and took shelter from lightning and thunder on the islands of Lake Saint Clair, summer camp in the middle of nowhere where we swam in the reeds and lit fires under the open big bright sky, a creek in our backyard in Ohio with a treehouse hideout where not a human voice could be heard, cherry festivals where our hands stained red and blueberry pizzas were ate by the dozens up north, a marsh at our grandparents in the South where we caught shrimp with our teeth and slept under Spanish moss, and an arboreum next door to my dorm in college at University of Michigan where the peonies bloomed and nature transported us from tailgating and term papers.
When I was 22 I moved to Los Angeles. I’d never been in a city so large and exciting in my entire life and I was in awe. While the idyllic midwestern life had it’s beauty, I had always yearned for something bigger, grander, and more progressive. I grew to hate the cornfields and pick up trucks and small-town close-mindedness of Ohio and lost all love for the beautiful things. And as much as LA has been an asshole to me, it has been pretty damn incredible. The weather is pretty much perfect 324 days a year. I live 2 miles from the beach where I bike to play volleyball in the sunshine under the palm trees while the waves crash on the pristine sand. I have met some of the most wonderful humans of my life, forging life-long friendships that fill my soul. I have found my true calling in my career in the world of food as a chef, culinary instructor, and food stylist, and have worked with people and achieved things that my 15 year old self would have lost her mind over (cooking for Jessica Alba and Jared Leto!?! taught lessons at some of the top companies in the world?! appeared on a prime time Food Network show!? styled food for the Disney Channel and Food Network?! starred in commercials for international brands!?!) And through it all I have developed into a woman that I never could have dreamed of being.
But, as we know from the start of this rambling, it has all come at a great price. The culture of this city (and let’s face it, most of big-city America) is not for the weak of constitution: we praise the value of hustle over happiness, hold standards of beauty unreachable by most, and with so much to do and so many bright shiny objects all around, most people lose their ability to commit to simple plans and relationships just in case something better comes along, and all of this with the cost of living that is astronomical without any hyperbole. I like to say that we are so busy putting all of our time, money, energy into treading water, into merely surviving and keeping the water below chin-level, that there just isn’t much room for thriving. It’s simply exhausting. And while you can do it for a while, there comes a point in many people’s lives here that aren’t swimming in money, that they just can’t do it anymore. If you would have asked me two years ago if I’d live in Venice forever my answer would have been an emphatic HELL YES. And it wasn’t until this last year that I hit my inevitable existential crisis that seems to hit every conscious being after living here for too long…this nagging question that ran over and over inside my head as I was breathing again on the open road:
WHAT. THE. HELL. AM. I. STILL. DOING. HERE?!?!
In February and March, a series of events started to help me mend (far to complicated to go into here, for another time). In the midst of this upswing, I was lucky enough to be invited by one of my dearest friends to join her in Bali for the month of April. And as I was starting to find some light in my soul again at this point, I had this overwhelming feeling in my gut that the journey to Southeast Asia would be a giant step forward in my task of scaling the wall I’d been facing. I subleased my place in Venice, arranged to work remotely on some projects, and bought a ticket to Denpansar, Bali, Indonesia.
Now, I have always viewed travel as a luxury, something wildly expensive that you save up for for ages and then cram as many stops and sights in as possible during your small window of time away. So this trip was to be quite a new and different experience for me. We were to live in a house together, in one town, for an entire month with the sole purpose of recharging, re-inspiring, and re-connecting – without anywhere else to be. I’ve been lucky to travel to many countries in Europe and the Middle East over the years and each trip consisted of running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to see EVERYTHING and spending all my money on planes and trains and hotels and taxis. I would have an itinerary for every city and run around and kick myself if I missed a moment. I never, ever, just sat still. I never sat back and immersed myself in a city, a country, a culture. I never woke up one day and thought, you know what, I’m going to skip that Eiffel Tower thing today, I’ll come back some other time. I looked at every trip as the last time I would ever have the chance to see a place so I made every moment count. And while doing this, I had no idea that I was cheating myself of the beauty of real deal travel.
When I planned my trip to Bali, I was so beaten down by life and so exhausted that I literally planned nothing. I booked my room for a month in this one city, bought my plane ticket, and surrendered myself to whatever may come. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the most life-changing experience that opened my eyes to a whole new life.
For the first time, I stayed put. I woke up in the morning without a plan, without anything to do, and just sat back and rode the waves of wherever the trip was supposed to take me. Because I wasn’t so busy running from activity to activity, from town to town, from monument to monument, I was able to truly experience what it was like to actually LIVE in the town I was in. I grabbed coffee and lunch over and over at my favorite spots, read a book in bed until noon, had meaningful conversations with locals and ex-pats and neighbors. And a beautiful byproduct of this was I barely spent any money. Now, it helps that Bali is beyond cheap, but it was because I rented my room by the month not the night, because I had a scooter for transport instead of taking taxis all over the place, and because I often stayed in rather than paying admission at museums or tourist spots. It turned out that I spent, including my flight and rent and eating the most delicious healthy fresh food out at incredible restaurants three times a day and generally speaking living like a damn queen: ¼ of what I spend every month in LA. It blew. My. mind. I could not believe that I could live in a near-paradise with an extremely high quality of life for a fraction of the cost of what I had grown accustomed to. And even more importantly, you know what else blew my mind? The overarching attitude of every person I spoke to, local and traveller, about how they view the world and live their life. Happiness over hustle. Work to live not live to work. Community and connection and love as the ultimate source worth rather than career and income and status. I had finally found people that were approaching life in a way I had dreamed was possible but had never seen a living breathing example of. And they were not just surviving, they were thriving.
After one week amongst my tribe, I knew that I could never live in Los Angeles again – and even further that I likely could never live in America again. And even though I felt a vastness and sense of peace and home while in Bali, I knew it could never be a reality since it is literally around the world from my family and friends and work (and I cannot bring my best friend, Bug the shih-tzu, along) so spending my remaining days there just won’t fly. When I returned to LA, it only took me one month to be absolutely without a doubt kind of sure that I needed to get the hell out of dodge.
I quickly turned to the most likely candidate, our neighbors directly to the south, as a starting point for exploring a new place to call home. I scoured the web, solicited advice from hundreds of friends and strangers, and mapped out flight paths. In the end, I landed on a place that’s food culture had always moved my soul: Oaxaca. The land of Mole (my favorite sauce in the entire world) and a pre-Dia de los Muertos October 25th $96 one way 4-hour direct flight to Los Angeles had my name written all over it. I have zero idea if I’ll like it there, I have no plan beyond a couple rentals, I speak horrible Spanish, and I know not a soul, but what the hell, I have always been someone who does first and figures it out later. I am 100% okay with just going where the wind takes me and following the path that presents itself to me along the way.
But, that is the end of October and my lease in Venice is up at the beginning of September, so I have almost two months of pre-Mexico homelessness in my future. So I obviously booked a ticket to go back to Bali ($560 round-trip!) and will be staying back in Canggu for one month. After that, back to LA for a camping trip in Joshua Tree, a visit to visit my family in North Carolina, a quick swing-by for suitcases in Venice and then VIVA MEXICO!
Some people may say I’m running away, and in certain ways I am, but mostly I feel as if I’m running toward something greater: a new kind of life carved out on my own terms. Who knows where I’ll end up in the end: rural America? Back in Los Angeles? A tropical island in Panama? Everywhere? I do know that wherever I end up putting down roots, I will always continue to wander often from that home base. I started this blog, the Boho Beet – the bohemian credo of living a life of freedom, love, and truth lives in every fiber of my being and I have a thing for alliteration (and what better vegetarian B food than a beet!?!) – to share my adventures of a new life outside of the matrix. I’ll share stories of my successes and failures, the culture shocks and adjustments, the inevitable learnings of life as a nomad, the cultures and people and music, the abodes I sleep in and the scooters I fall off, and most importantly the adventures in food and drink (please let the craft beer scene be vibrant wherever I go!). If we cross paths in real-life or just virtually, I can’t wait to explore with you and find a new home together away from the city lights.
See you in Bali!