Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2018-05-11

Three Methods I Use to Have an Easier Experience with Life

One of the best things I have ever done for my mental health is to adopt the world view of Pronoia. This is the assumption that everything in the Universe is aligning to my benefit. It’s described as the opposite of paranoia. (The term was coined by Rob Brezny, spelled out in this great and giant book.)

Last weekend when Dara and I were looking at wedding venues near Dollywood in the Smoky Mountains, we realized we have different ways of dealing with potential homophobia. We were originally going to talk on the phone to potential venues about whether they were friendly to host a Queer Wedding. I decided instead to utilize my gut instincts. I find, in general, if I assume people are going to be loving and kind to me, most folks rise to that occasion.

Dara, however, was definitely steeling herself for some potential discrimination.

This is a great example of the dichotomy between paranoia (Dara being afraid we would experience homophobia) and Pronoia (me assuming that people will be kind and loving).

I’m not giving you a blanket idea of how to deal with oppression in general, I’m just offering what works for me as a Queer Fat Femme in a heterosexually centered fatphobic society. I still loudly remark at the end of a movie when heterosexuality is reinforced, I still notice overt oppression against me as a queer fat woman with an exaggerated gender presentation. I see and experience all the ways in which this world is not built for human size diversity.

However, in general, I find when I assume strangers are intending to be loving and kind it makes my experience of living in an oppressive world a lot easier for me.

I acknowledge my White privilege in this. I grew up poor but I learned how to class pass early on and that does affect how I experience the world and overt or covert oppression. People of Color, Black folks, trans and gender non conforming folks, disabled folks, poor folks, older folks and other oppressed people have different experiences than I do.

Pronoia helps me keep my brain decluttered from other people’s judgments. I could spend a lot of time micro analyzing how strangers look at me or if I hear an audible sigh from someone seated next to me on a plane. Most of the time I assume their looks and sounds don’t have anything to do with me or my size. Maybe that’s not true, but probably it is true the majority of the time.

What I’ve noticed is that most people are so concerned with themselves they aren’t thinking about me. And when they are thinking about me or overtly judging or oppressing me, what I think about is how hard it must be in their own head. Because most folks who are pointing a finger have three pointed back at them, and generally those folks have a really nasty, self hating and judgmental internal dialogue.

It doesn’t mean that I’m bulletproof. I still have that coding in my brain that makes me feel conspicuous when I’m standing up in the aisle of an airplane waiting for the flight attendant to move because I can’t really squish around her. I’m reminded sometimes that I’m fat in public when I’m eating, but I’ve long lost the shame around being fat. I don’t think a lot of thin people have the same coding. Some do and if they feel shame around eating in public or standing in the aisle of an airplane worrying about their perceived size—that shame is from Fatphobia. Fatphobia affects everyone, no matter their size, but the oppression lands on the fat people not the thin ones.

We are really excited to have a destination wedding in the Smoky Mountains! We get to share a favorite place of ours with all of our friends and family!

I find it helpful to think of oppression as systemic and not something everyone is intending to promote in their unconscious actions. The wedding coordinators at the venues we were looking at, if they had any hesitation about us as a queer couple or didn’t know how to be “cool” around us about our Gay Wedding, that was a result of systemic oppression. Systemic oppression doesn’t excuse bad behavior or overt oppression but it does help me assume best intentions from people on the ground doing the best they can with what they have.

Engaging in Pronoia helps my mental health. When I assume the world is ultimately a kind place, when I don’t assume people are judging me (or thinking of me at all), when I don’t get caught up in shame and defensiveness, I’m just happier.

This is the type of thinking I hope to impart on all of the small children in my life through my example because they really learn mostly by example. We could use a generation that is exposed to kinder methods of self talk and compassion for self and others.

Here are some things I do that help support my Pronoia:

1. I treat it like a practice.
I lived in NYC for a long time and it taught me how to walk through the world and pay very little attention to how people are reacting to me. I also generally work to stay in a self loving and compassionate place which helps me feel more loving and compassionate towards others and assume they are reflecting that back to me. Pronoia in action.

2. I assume best intentions.
Impact is more important than intent. But in general, the impact of oppression on me is lessened when I can get to the compassion place. It also helps me not notice oppression against me and sometimes that’s just easier for me to exist within. Pronoia is about me living my best and most peaceful life and not about what someone’s intentions actually are.

3. I pray for it.
A very successful real estate agent I met at a conference a couple months ago taught me a practice she does every morning. She visualizes everyone on her path that day working in her favor, even folks she doesn’t know. She then holds gratitude for that. I haven’t started doing it every day but I do it every time I go to the airport because flying while fat is difficult and I can always use people (and spirit guides) working behind the scenes on my behalf.

Oppression leaves a lot of scars, especially when you’ve experienced repeated oppression, hurt and judgment. It can be really hard to move into Pronoia! If it appeals to you, I suggest taking one tiny baby step towards it by using only one of my tips above at a time and slowly incorporating it into your life. Like a couple minutes a day of intentional practice to start, It took me many years to get to where I am now!

The wedding coordinators we met with were a mixed bag. The first one was great, enthusiastic about our wedding but at one point late in the visit, when we asked about having the restrooms be gender neutral, made the effort to reassure us that she believes all people in love who want to make a life commitment should get to. The second place we visited was immediately off my list because it was sold to us differently over the phone than what they deliver for services. But I still didn’t get a real friendly vibe off the proprietor. But maybe he was having indigestion and not about us being homos, I don’t know.

The wedding venue we ultimately selected had both the coordinator and her assistant at our site visit. They never blinked about our queerness, the gender neutral restrooms were an easy yes for them and they are already thinking about beautiful signage. And they were both overtly excited about our wedding plans—we’re really excited to work with them.

This is where we’re going to get hitched!

2016-09-23

REALITY Storytellers: Lili, My New Inspiration for Joy-Filled Femmeceeing

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

I am Femmecee identified. This term, coined by Rachael in Atlanta, is for me a way in which I use my gender as a mechanism for hosting. This often means on a mic, doing what a traditional emcee does, but sometimes it is just hostessing at a party, holding court and/or introducing people and keeping an eye on folks who aren’t participating and finding subtle ways to include them.

bevinfemmeceeingbyjenacumboMe Femmeceeing the first Dollypalooza. Los Angeles come out October 29th for Dollyween: An Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton! Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice (check out more pics here!).

Gender doesn’t need to play a role in the way we host things, but for me it does. This feminine flamboyance is easiest to spot in my appearance, but there’s a steady streak of matriarchal and maternal energy that flows in me that I think comes out a lot when I am hosting. 

At our first meal in Israel, I encountered a woman who is now among my role models for effervescent, enthusiastic and graceful hostessing.

We had just finished shepherding and doing a group go around, we then piled back on the bus to drive about a half hour to Tel Aviv. We got to the restaurant a little after 10PM and I was already fantasizing about getting into bed. I had no idea what time my body knew it to be and only had middle seat airplane sleep in the previous 2 days. I felt like a washed out version of myself but was trying to rally for dinner.

We walked about five minutes through tiny streets and made it to Racha, a family-owned Georgian style restaurant. I was immediately dying over the plates and decor. The aesthetic of mismatched but it really all deeply coordinates on a stylistic level is my favorite, so are tiny roses on porcelain plates and ornate light colored frames of family photos and mismatched chairs. I had to strategically choose seating, long tables close together are difficult to navigate as a fat or tall person, especially when there’s a crowd. I ended up with a seat at the end of one of the long tables.

plates

The food and wine started coming out. I don’t drink but I do enjoy a sip (literally a sip) of wine now and then. It’s hard to communicate even without a language barrier that you only want a splash of wine in your glass, especially when the inclination of the servers is to keep the glass full. This was also the first of many Israeli restaurants that would not have unsweetened iced tea.

After the first course this beautiful woman walked into the room. I say beautiful to describe her essence not conventional good looks, though she is a total babe. I believe an expansive definition of beauty liberates us from what the media tells us is beautiful. Lili, our host for the evening, was robust in her generosity of spirit and it glowed from within her.

liliandoakA lot of Lili’s hostessing enthusiasm involved clapping. Photo by Fabien Levy.

I noticed her long before she took center stage between our tables, partially because I was right next to where she kept her glass of White Zin (the drink of choice for my family’s matriarchs) and the ipod from which Georgian music was flowing. I watched her curating the whole experience, checking the playlists, checking in with servers and managing the feast. I recognized her work because that is work I do.

She stood between the tables and introduced herself. I love a meal with a story and history (as my friend Erin O’Brien says about her performance art sausage company, taking storytelling to the plate). We heard about their family from the Racha region of Georgia and the history of the restaurant. They had recently moved the restaurant from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for reasons I couldn’t hear from my seat.

maggieandbillMaggie and Bill.

We had the next round of food and Lili came by my seat and sweetly scolded me for not having anything on my plate. Mind you, I had already eaten plenty of appetizers and had a couple of bites of meat but it was a new group to me and I tend to hold back among new people. Even something as simple as “pass the whatever” can be a social challenge for me in a new situation. But her urging was really helpful, and along with verbal urging she kind of just leaned over and put stuff on my plate.

nicholasandrick

Nicholas and Rick Sorkin.

Now, it’s not the most body autonomous thing to insist on people eating, and I often encourage people to mind their own business about food. However, because of the roles women have been required to play in our societies for millennia, matriarchal expressions of love and connection often come through preparing food and feeding people. Herstorically, feasts are a creation of women.

I received her nudging to eat meat very appreciatively, in the celebratory inclusive way it was intended. I continued to wish I was dressed for celebration instead of still in my travel and now kind of sheep smelling clothes.

After the “meat course” Lili nominated a person to be the tamada, to lead a series of blessings over a horn of wine that they then drink in one gulp. She picked Oak and I would have, too. Oak is a hunk and I mean that in both the conventional Magic Mike sense and in the radiant, wonderful kind, deep, hilarious human sense that I would come to know.

Oak gave the most sincere and beautiful blessing (I wish I had it on video!) and we went around the room giving more blessings and then he drank it all. I was so glad to not have been chosen both because I don’t drink and because I don’t know how he didn’t get sick from drinking an entire horn of wine on a very full stomach.

Video by Fabien Levy.

Lili then began the dancing portion of the feast. Grabbing people from their chairs and inspiring them into a circle dance. I knew I could easily stay in the back and fade from the jumping and dancing I was too tired for, but I also was seized with inspiration from Lili’s joyful spirit and a dose of YOLO and dove in. I kind of didn’t care that I felt foolish and was just trying for the joy of it.

When we left the restaurant I took time to give Lili a sincere thank you and a thoughtful compliment about her hosting. Honestly, I will be sincerely working to replicate her level of thoughtful joy-filled hosting at all of my events for the rest of time. Among the many things I want to do in Israel when I return is hang with Lili and interview her about the mechanics of throwing a great party. And take a lot more photos in the restaurant of the homey decor, I loved it so much.

After a dreamy walk lit by yellow street lamps through tiny Tel Aviv streets to the waiting bus, we only had a few minutes until we arrived at our first hotel. I was delighted to note it was on the beach! I had no idea we were going to be beachside in Tel Aviv and it was so rad. Checking in 50 people is no joke but they had our room keys waiting for us in envelopes with our names on them and iced tea! I was so delighted I drank a whole glass without thinking to ask what kind it was (I was assuming a citrus mint). Turns out, it was green tea!!!! Green tea, for those who don’t know, has caffeine in it. And when you’re very sensitive to caffeine because you gave up coffee to address a chronic digestive disorder, and you drink green tea at 12:30AM, it doesn’t bode well for sleep.

greenteaMy Find Your Chill tea would have been the perfect iced tea to welcome folks to sleep. Chamomile, lavender, a little bit of cat nip (has a soothing effect on people) and citrus. Instead, I slept fitfully all night.

However, my roommate assignment boded well for a great experience! Megan is such a fun person and a heavy sleeper. That first night we were excited because we had already met, hung out (bonding over our middle seat angst for the flight over) and liked each other. I’m so grateful for the roommate experience of the trip because I think it enhanced everything for me to have someone to debrief with and to support and check up on each other. She was also vital to my success with some of the very confusing Israeli double shower head situations.

The Carlton in Tel Aviv is a beautiful hotel and we had a cute terrace with no time to linger on it because we were getting to bed at 1AM and having to be finished with breakfast and ready for our day at 8AM. I barely slept, thanks to the green tea and not thinking about taking a benadryl until it was way too late. By Day 3 of the trip, though, I was just popping benadryl whenever to preserve what sleep hours I could.

Next up on my trip diary, The Baller Breakfast Buffets of Israel.

14040164_10153587081925882_2258022564314620652_n-1Me and Megan above the valley where David met Goliath.

2016-09-15

REALITY Storytellers: International Travel and Sheepherding

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

Once I got to the airport I did all the things I needed to do to feel okay about a first 6 hour flight and then a 9 hour flight. It starts with iced tea, a to go sandwich and it moves to an impulse buy of Bible Charts, Maps and Timelines which I thought might be helpful to read on the flight as my Bible knowledge is very small compared to those who were raised with Christian or Jewish religious schooling. I had no idea about how great our tour guide would be and how he beyond obviated a need for supplemental education.

You guys I was really nervous. I was going on a trip with no one I knew and I didn’t know what to expect. Rick, the facilitator meeting us at the gate, gave us a time to meet and told us to look for the Schusterman folder. I reminded myself I was doing this in the spirit of life begins at the end of your comfort zone and how I do all the brave things I do to keep on growing and I walked up to a group of strangers and introduced myself.

abhrahamstent2I don’t have any pictures from the airport but here’s the first meet and greet in a replica of Abraham’s tent at Neot Kedumim Park, a Biblical Nature preserve.

And then I got to forget the scared feelings and just focus on remembering names, a great task when you’re having a social freak out, give yourself something to focus on and get good at it. There were two Ricks, a Natalie, a Sophia, a Liz, H. Alan and more. I think I created a pneumonic chant and throughout the whole first 24 hours of the trip I was pretty great at remembering names because I was channelling nervous energy into name recognition.

I sat next to Sophia and Liz on our flight from LAX to EWR and learned that Sophia is a Christian journalist for a Christian magazine. There were a lot more Christian origin folks on the trip than I thought there would be. Sophia also gave me an amazing list of Korean restaurants to try and I’m excited to go do that with her! She fell asleep in the middle seat pretty quickly after take off and I watched movies instead of reading my book. United apparently has all sorts of free on demand new releases now and I enjoyed a bunch of them. Also I enjoyed what I call “God TV” when we flew past a ton of thunder storms at dusk along the East Coast.

mesophiabillMe, Sophia and Bill at a rest stop in Israel.

I felt a lot of weird feelings flying into the New York City metro area for the first time since I moved away in late December. It felt like I was getting home but I don’t live there anymore. Our layover was a total opportunity to hang with folks from the trip but I couldn’t find anyone so I just roamed the terminal alone and texted friends. We couldn’t go to our gate because they have another extra security check point that doesn’t open until the flight is near boarding. I found out later everyone was in the bar but I don’t drink so it didn’t occur to me to check!

I met Megan in line for the next security check point and bonded over really really not wanting a middle seat. She runs a youth media and filmmaking education program and asked me what I do and somehow I started talking about all of my jobs and overwhelmed even myself. Sometimes I remember that I could nail my audio logo in thirty seconds and could figure out how to translate the what do you do question into talking about the business I’m working on but I’m still kind of clumsy at that and just talk about what comes to mind. Whatever, working for a sex worker’s rights non-profit and a body positive activist and all the other gigs makes for really interesting conversation.

After waiting in line for the second security check they had us put our bags on a table and then did some kind of sensor thing and told me they were looking for narcotics. I said a silent thank you prayer that I had so diligently sorted through everything I packed so I didn’t accidentally bring some “California meds” with me in my purse or carry on.

Megan and I tried so hard to get window seats but the gate agent had nothing for us. It was a good bonding experience for us to try to fight that battle together. I feel grateful that I have this really baller Cabeau memory foam neck pillow that cinches and holds my head upright which saves me from accidentally sleeping on the person next to me and I was really hoping to sleep a lot on the 9 hour flight.

joedanhalansheepherdingDan, Joe and H. Alan surveying the Biblical landscape and watching other people herd sheep and goats. It’s so weird that I’m friends with them now but this photo was just as we were meeting!

Unlike our flight from CA I sat next to no one from our trip, and I could hear everyone excitedly chattering near me but the men sharing my row weren’t so effervescent as nervous excited REALITY Storytellers. The lucky guy with the window seat next to me fell asleep immediately and stayed asleep the entire flight, never once going to the bathroom so I kind of felt grateful to have easier access to walking around.

My friend Michael passed away after getting blood clots from a long flight to Hawaii. Fat people and women are socialized to prioritize other people’s needs over our own and walking around on a long flight is actually super important to preventing blood clots. So even if I feel like I want to not bother people while experiencing all the triggers of being fat on a plane, I use Michael to inspire me to prioritize my health, rise above the shame, stigma and discomfort in asking someone to move out of their aisle seat so I can go use the restroom. I also found a tiny place behind a row of seats to do some yoga while most of the flight was still asleep.

What was surprising about the flight was the meal service, we got dinner and breakfast. I haven’t experienced meal service on a flight in years. Also particular for Israeli travel was that forty-five minutes until we landed we weren’t allowed to walk around on the plane.

I was way in the back of this huge plane so when we finally landed it took me a long time to deplane, and I really only recognized about six people from our trip, all of whom were already on their way to baggage claim presumably. I was nervous about losing the group in a foreign country where I had no cell service but I also really needed to use the restroom and freshen up a bit. On the packing list they had suggested packing an extra outfit in your carry on and I assumed we would have another opportunity to change and put on make-up. This was the only opportunity folks, and I missed it.

I realized quickly as I hustled to baggage claim and through the passport check point that since sun hats were on our packing list almost all the Storytellers had on hats! I started following people in hats. And luckily, this and many times to come, I found Rick Sorkin and Bill in line because they are like 6’5” and easy to spot in a crowd.

bevinsheepherdingI just look at all of my selfies with the herd and wish I was wearing more muppety make-up but it’s fine my gender presentation doesn’t have to be perfect for me to have an amazing time.

I almost blew it in the passport line. Since I had surrendered all trip obsessiveness, I didn’t have any idea what hotels we were staying in and other than a few highlights didn’t know much about where we were going. The passport woman was giving me so much side eye and I was trying to explain “I’m on this leadership development high energy journey through Israel, I’m with all these other…” but none of the Storytellers were left and it was just me.

Eventually I found something saved on my phone that seemed to satisfy her and I got my sticker for entry but it was a freaky moment. I also know I have a lot of privilege as a White person from the US and it might not have been so easy for me if I wasn’t. I also know now to study my itinerary and know it well when I go through a passport check point. I have a lot of feelings about borders in general that have come up for me on this trip I’ll discuss in a later post.

I got to baggage claim and luckily my bag was waiting for me but sadly for three of my fellow travelers they were chasing after United for days. So disheartening. I learned from Sarah Hurowitz on this trip that in her extensive business travel knowledge that if “it isn’t in your possession you might as well never see it again.”

I kept trying to figure out who was on our trip and meeting people and being good with names. We proceeded in a few clumps towards the exit and our waiting tour bus. It must have been so hard for the staff on the trip to figure out who everyone was and that we actually had everyone. As a participant on this trip in many parts you are completely shielded from logistics and in some ways it was an amazing break from real life so we could focus on the experience.

As soon as we got on the tour bus we had our first lecture from our tour guide Michael Bauer (as of this point we had no idea how good we were getting it) about the differences we might find about Israeli culture from American culture and the size and scope of Israel. Then we were off to our first adventure, a sheepherding experience at a Biblical nature preserve. I’m obsessed with animals and feel a strong connection to them, so this was an ideal activity for me. It was not an ideal activity for the strappy sandals I wore on the plane and was struggling with through rocky “Biblical” terrain.

biblicalnaturepreserve

Our group of fifty was split in two. We spent a few minutes learning about what our task was, moving the mixed herd of sheep and goats through several points in a giant pen. While the first half of our sub group was taking a turn at sheepherding our group spent time strategizing, identifying a leader in our subgroup who had experience sheepherding and I pumped the facilitator for more information about sheep and goats that might help us. First of all, in a mixed herd, the natural leader in the herd is a female goat. Second of all, in our herd there was only one breed of animal that may have existed in Biblical times and that was the Syrian goat, who was the leader of our herd.

It was pretty bananas trying to herd animals with a bunch of people you only just met. Our strategy was to create a semi-circle and move the herd that way. It kind of worked, we were ultimately successful. I only got hit by a ram in my leg a couple of times and only got scratched up by Biblical thorny plants a little bit, but I barely noticed because it was so thrilling to get to hang out with animals.

sheepandgoats

The debrief had a lot of good nuggets about leadership. Learning from the group you’re trying to lead about the best way to lead them. Leading from behind so that they take their own initiative. Sometimes groups need a gentle but firm push in the rump to get moving.

After the sunset and sheepherding we moved our group to a replica of Abraham’s tent for snacks, our nametags, swag bags with the printed program in them and the first group go around. I was legit disappointed that with a replica of Abraham’s tent there was no replica of a Red Tent (you’ll remember it if you read the awesome novel by the same name)! It’s my favorite woman-centered activity from Biblical times, a special tent for the women of the tribe to bleed during the Full moon because that’s when people were more moon-focused and bled together.

It was nearing 9PM and even though there were snacks out we were still going to get dinner in Tel Aviv. I had no idea how many hours it had been since I left home. It was only the first indicator of the fast pace of this trip.

storytellerssheepherdingIf you could hear sound in this photo you’d hear some guns going off in the military training ground off to the right.

2016-09-08

REALITY Storytellers: Flying While Fat and Preparing for My First International Trip

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

I’m a Capricorn. In short, that means I like to be in charge. As anyone who has traveled in a group with me can attest, I love an itinerary and I love to be prepared. Before my trip to the Florida Keys I was obsessively watching tourist videos about the area and crowd-sourcing my Facebook so that I could curate the coolest and best trip possible. 

bevinbikinitoastFatkini and Toast. Photo by Dara.

Faced with a trip to a country I’d never been, and not speaking more than a couple of words of Hebrew or Arabic, I would have normally spent six months preparing. Because the trip is planned and curated entirely by the Foundation, I did the opposite of my inclination and entirely surrendered to it, which was not super hard because life has gotten so hustle bustle. It’s been a practice for me to learn let go and let things happen.

I read the suggested preview articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (here, here and here), but I didn’t read any of the books. (My reading list is LONG, I’m a slow reader, I select books judiciously.) Based on what the other REALITY Storytellers have reported about the suggested books, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is now in my to-read list. 

We got a draft of the trip itinerary but that was also long and said DRAFT all over it and maybe I just have DRAFT training to barely pay attention until I have a final version. I was kind of worried I would get attached to outcomes and if things were canceled or moved around it would discombobulate me so in my mind I was going to wait until we got the final itinerary and look at it on the plane. (We ended up getting it when we had already done one of the leadership development exercises in Israel.)

I regret not reading that draft. I would have understood a lot more what we were up to and it turned out our draft itinerary only changed slightly. Once I realized that the itinerary not only had timelines but writing and articles about each adventure I would try to cram them before each stop but there was never enough time. The itinerary for the trip is the size of a novella.

The size of that final printed itinerary is the first of a series of realizations that “there’s obviously a lot of work, passion and thought that goes into curating the REALITY trips.”

Dara is so go with the flow about her travel that she is a great counterpoint to my overpreparedness. She did a lot of eye rolling during my obsessive research about the Keys. When she went on REALITY Global last summer she totally surrendered to the trip and I don’t think she read her itinerary the whole time. She just let the bus take her wherever and experienced it. I think that different ways of being in the world are totally valid.

REALITY sent a suggested packing list and I remember last year going through it with Dara and regendering it for her because masculine presenting women, feminine presenting men or genderfluid people don’t fit neatly in “For men you should pack two pairs of slacks” kind of lists. Since we didn’t know exactly what she was doing we guessed at what she wears that could work for the packing list and hoped for the best.

img_20160903_180448956-animationPhoto of me and Ryan, half of the duo that created the photo booth at Dollypalooza NYC by Shoog McDaniel. Check out the photo booth in real life at Dollypalooza LA October 29th at Los Globos.

I don’t fit neatly into suggested packing lists either. My gender is flamboyant not binary. My only shorts are these tiny denim things with big ol’ fringe on the side and I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant by shorts for hiking.  I just wear dresses all the time, even when hiking. I know how to dress “modestly” when asked  (for two stops on our trip we were asked to prepare for modesty). I think I did a pretty okay job packing. I have a couple of “In hindsight I would have worn this other thing” moments I’ll describe when I get to those parts of the trip story but I felt comfortable subbing “dress” for pretty much everything they mentioned in the packing list.

My friend Jenn came over to hang out the day before I left and it was great to have her company as I meticulously went through everything before I packed it. I travel so much that I have a lot of systems in place to make it easy for me. I have a “go pack” of toiletries that has an easy in and out pouch if I don’t anticipate washing my hair or taking a real shower. I have a second set of make-up for travel. That kind of stuff.

I wanted to make extra sure I was packing as light as possible knowing that we were going to go from hotel to hotel often. I harbored the idea I could pack as light as my friend Vera did when she went to Vietnam earlier this year for two weeks with only a daypack. She said her secret was travel cubes and not caring how her hair looked. I got cute travel cubes and aspired to getting it all in a carry on size suitcase but changed my mind last minute because it was going to be way easier for me to pack quickly each morning with a bigger suitcase. That was a kind choice I made for myself. This was the first time I ever had checked luggage weigh in at less than 32 pounds! So my meticulousness was worth it in the end, it made life easier to not have a ton of extra stuff and I wore everything at least once. 

I was nervous, which is why I spent so much time working on packing. I had never been out of North America, never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I had never used my passport. In fact, I let my passport expire in 2013 and didn’t renew it because forking out $100 for an aspirational passport renewal hadn’t been in my budget so being accepted on the trip required me to do it. Since Israel doesn’t stamp passports I still don’t have any stamps. (By the way, they just redesigned the US Passport. If you don’t count Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, there are only two people represented in it, both White men, one a farmer and one a cowboy. The graphic design is beautiful but the representation of actual US diversity is wildly lacking.)

During the Desiree Alliance conference I co-facilitated the fat caucus with the fabulous Joëlle Ruby-Ryan. During it one of the participants talked about asking for priority boarding as an accommodation and it empowered me to think about what accommodations I might need while flying to Israel. It’s a long flight, six hours on the first leg and nine on the second. (Longer still on the way home.)

joellebevinMe and Joëlle at the Fat Caucus.

Being fat on an airplane is a nightmare. There are plenty of places fat people go that remind us that the world is built for people who are small, even though in the US the average size is 14 and considered “fat.” Those tiny airplane seats with the arm rests are awful. The leg room doesn’t allow for tall people and the seat belts are not at all consistently sized. I can be on the same airline with two legs to a flight and one flight the seatbelt will fit me fine and on another I’ll need an extender. Same exact body, inconsistent seat belts.

If you’re a person with thin privilege feeling annoyed that a fat person is next to you on a flight, please know that the fat person is likely feeling 1,000 times worse. A whole myriad of feelings are possibly coming up. They are probably doing everything in their power to make themselves small, scrunch over to the side and get out of your way. They are possibly having a ton of shame triggers because a fatphobic society reminding you that you don’t fit in the world is just a current corporeal reality opening a pandora’s box of a lifetime of fat harassment and societal ridicule. They are maybe even totally checked out of their bodies because disembodiment is a response to trauma and it is traumatic to hold the level of oppression fat people have endured. If shame actually worked to cause weight loss there wouldn’t be a billion dollar diet industry because believe me, fat folks are conditioned to feel shame and beat themselves up way worse than the outside world does.

My fat experience on a plane is fairly average because I’m not super fat (a chosen self descriptor for a larger fat experience than mine) and I’m not an inbetweenie (a term to mean those folks between plus size and straight size). I prefer a window seat because in them I feel I’m the most out of the way, I can lean into the window away from the middle seat person and I don’t have my arm bumped every five minutes by flight attendant carts (my arms are fat, too). Some fat folks I know like to travel with a thin friend who can be in the seat next to them and therefore a buffer to other airline passengers. Plus you get to raise that arm rest that isn’t giving anyone any actual personal space. Folks will also travel with another fat friend and then split the cost of a third ticket so they get extra space with the empty middle seat. If you’re a fat person and interested in learning more about coping mechanisms for flying while fat, there’s a great Facebook group.

I had to actively check out from worrying about what my experience flying for so long would be like. As soon as the worry would pop up I would use tools I know to redirect my thoughts. Like repeating a mantra, or solving for the worst case scenario.

A lesson I’m working on learning is that I am valuable enough to ask for what I need. So I decided to ask for the accommodation I needed and I emailed the Schusterman Foundation (the folks sponsoring the trip) and said that as a person of size it would make my trip easier if I had a window seat. They were very nice about it and got in touch with the travel agent right away. I got a window seat for both cross country legs of the trip but unfortunately the travel agent couldn’t make it happen for the longer legs from Newark to Israel. I was stressed but decided to just do my best to make it work and ask at the ticket counter as she suggested.

bonvoyagebevinMy bon voyage photo at the airport where Macy would not cooperate. Photo by Dara.

With that, I was all packed up and had a friendly email and text message chain from the trip facilitator who would meet us at the gate to our LAX leg of the flight. It felt a lot like the first day of summer camp, not knowing anyone from the trip and being nervous about whether or not I was going to make friends.

After Dara dropped me off I had to do International travel things on my own. Checking in for an International flight is kind of the same but they tell you to be there 3 hours early, except if you have a domestic leg the first time then you just come the normal 2 hours early. Security was bananas but I think it was due to construction on the United terminal.

My first stop outside of security was Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for iced tea and I saw this really cute hip dude in a cool hat and jean jacket with lots of enamel pins including a Golden Girls and several Hillary pins. When I saw him again in front of me waiting for the water fountain I hoped that he would be on my trip.

halanbevin

It was the first time I ever saw H. Alan Scott, writer, comedian and co-host of Out on the Lanai, the Golden Girls podcast and he, in fact, was on my trip. When he showed me his Golden Girls tattoo during the layover that’s when I really knew it was going to be an amazing adventure.

More on my experience flying all that way and how the adventure immediately began on the ground in my next post!

halantattooH. Alan plans to add the banana leaf pattern from Blanche’s bedroom wallpaper to complete the sleeve and I can’t wait to see it!

2016-09-06

My REALITY Storytellers Journey to Israel

Last summer when Dara said she was applying to go on a trip to Israel with two of her best friends, I was super dubious. I declared many times, “This is totally a Zionist trip, there’s no way that for $300 you’ll be doing anything but being brainwashed about Israel.” The trip was for social entrepreneurs and Dara was a great candidate for it, due to her experience dropping her day job and living off her savings to start a global peace project, A Big Project.

I was kind of nervous to have Dara walking around in the Middle East and especially Israel. I grew up hearing about suicide bombers in night clubs and genuinely thought that Dara was in danger heading to Israel. But my friends Kieran and Shelly had just spent a year living there and came back in one piece, my Grandmother and Aunt had both visited Israel multiple times and were fine (and loved it). So I did what I do to feel okay about her choices and was grateful every time I heard from her.

The whole time she was in Israel we talked a half dozen times and every communication was about how little sleep they were getting and that the food was great. I laughed because one of Dara’s greatest pet peeves is less than 8 hours of sleep. I was surprised to hear afterward that the trip was “extremely nuanced” and that they were given a lot of perspectives about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.* (See my footnote for a discussion of how “extremely nuanced” played out in my perspective, but that was the verbatim description Dara gave me when she got back from her trip.)

oakbevinmeganMe, Oak and Megan from my trip. I made some really deep amazing connections with incredible artists and innovators.

“The whole point of being an artist or making a statement is to learn about yourself.”—Robert Mapplethorpe

Dara has a complicated relationship with her Judaism yet came home wanting to have Shabbat dinners. She wrote for a grant to do our Epic Seder this past Spring from the foundation who runs the trips, the Schusterman Foundation. I knew there was a component of the curation that developed an intimacy with Jewish culture that was special enough that Dara, with all her complications, felt a connection to it.

I went to a couple of reunion events with Dara while we were still living in New York and really enjoyed the people I met there. Everyone she’s introduced me to from her REALITY Global trip is totally awesome and it intrigued me. They are curating a trip with really amazing people who can make connections with each other to enact social good. It was clear that there was more to this trip than just a tour of Israel, it’s a powerful network of change makers.

Along the lines of meeting great people, Dara hung out with a friend in Washington, DC from her REALITY Global trip. The friend happens to be Michelle Obama’s speechwriter and that Milania plagiarized speech was written by Sarah early in her work with the Obamas. (You HAVE to read this amazing Washington Post article about Sarah, but also know Sarah is a kind, smart and dynamic person apart from her extraordinary speechwriting.)

bevinandsarahHMe and Sarah at the final meal of the trip.

Anyway, Sarah told Dara that she was going to be a facilitator on the inaugural REALITY Storytellers trip and that I should apply.

I considered it. A funded trip might be the only chance I would get to visit Israel ever and my Grandfather is buried in the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. He is descended from the Tribe of Levi, he just barely escaped the German Holocaust and his brother Kurt ended up moving to Israel after Israel’s declaration of independence. It was super important to Kurt that Grandfather be buried in the Mount of Olives. (Check out my Lesbian Tea Basket episode with my Grandmother to hear about his escape and just a bit about his extraordinary life.)

I also have never previously left the country other than Canada. I do a lot of domestic travel but haven’t had the funds or family resources to travel internationally. It felt exciting to open up to a new opportunity and learn more about the world. I mean, I would LOVE to be a world traveler so here’s the chance to do something new and cool.

Knowing the trip had helped Dara get more in touch with her Judaism I was excited to get more exposure to it, since it was important to her father that I help continue that legacy in the Barlin family. 

I knew that I might be stepping into some shit in my community because radical queers tend to default to supporting the boycott of Israel. I don’t want to support a government that oppresses people and creates an apartheid state, which was all I had heard about the West Bank. I didn’t know the terms of the boycott but I remember my roommate’s then girlfriend having a lot of Feelings about violating the boycott by buying her a Soda Stream.

If a boycott is against a whole country, that’s something that is hard for me to get behind. I’m a person who doesn’t agree with the actions of my government. Here in the US the legacies of slavery and colonialism are alive and well. The mass-incarceration of people of color, the prison industrial complex, the execution of unarmed Black men by our police force, Guantanamo Bay. Literally all of US real estate is stolen from Native Americans. Would I want someone to make a judgement about me as a person based on my government? Especially when a Bush was in office? It felt hard for me to want to support a boycott of a people when it’s the government and not all of the people who are propagating the policies I don’t agree with.

I learned from Dara’s global peace building work that in the era of social media there have been a lot of cross-border political collaborations and art projects. I wanted to meet the folks who made up that Israel. Who are the radical queers in Israel and what are they up to? What do they believe is a viable peace solution in a volatile region?

moonriseoversyriaThis is the view of the moon rising from Mt. Bental overlooking the Golan Heights and into Syria. We could hear bombing. At the top of this mountain I lead us in a prayer for peace. I still pray that we can use our connections and what we learned as fertile ground for social change and peace building.

Since I understood the trip to was NOT a dogmatic zionist approach to Israel, I thought it would be a powerful way to learn more about the conflict and develop my own opinions rather than fall lock-step with what other people tell me to think about things. A friend of mine went on a different curated trip to Israel and the West Bank and came back full of political ammunition against the Israeli government. Remembering his writing after that trip I knew no matter what I learned about the conflict after the trip I would do a lot of learning and developing by choosing to go.

I applied for the trip. I wrote my essays focusing on my art and activism in the body positive and queer communities. I talked about my ties to and interest in Judaism. I managed to make an only 90 second (the limit) introductory video. And I got accepted.

The trip itself was a fifty-person tour group made up mostly of participants, who came from many walks of life. There were way more Christians with no ties to Judaism on the trip than I thought there would be. (I would be considered “strong ties to Judaism” because of my partner and my Grandfather.) It was roughly third Jewish folks, a third strong ties and a third no ties. The Storytellers were from all types of Storytelling, political speechwriters, broadway performers, actors, social media managers, TV and movie producers, journalists, novelists and more. And a queer body liberation blogger (that’s me).

In addition to the 40ish participants we had our facilitators who had been on previous trips, three to five staff members from the Foundation plus more that popped on and off the bus, our tour guide, our bodyguard, our bus driver and sometimes a photographer. Our schedule was packed early morning to late night with activities. Sometimes lectures at the hotel but more often out and about seeing things and hearing about them from our tour guide. We had a panel of journalists, tons of leadership development activities, tours of villages and went all over Israel from the Golan Heights to the Dead Sea, a big ol’ crater in the desert to Jerusalem, Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

I feel like I got a Master’s degree level immersive coursework about Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians, the war in Syria. Old and New Testament Bible stories come to life. Israel was nothing like I expected and the trip completely blew me away, creatively, emotionally, politically, and left me more curious than ever. I have way more questions than I came with.

smallintheenormityTo say I feel small against the enormity of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an understatement. A Democratic state that is trying to adhere to a specific religious and cultural identity in a modern world and all of the other difficulties bridging human diversity in the Middle East is mind boggling.

I’m always pretty obsessed with the moon from an astrological and energetic standpoint. The moon was full while we were there. It was an Aquarius Full Moon, flooding the collective with humanitarian energies. I thought that was auspicious for the work we as Storytellers could do to create bridges for peace.

I kept thinking that if this was a masters program and I did need to write a thesis, what would I talk about? I was listening to Antony and the Johnsons when I got home and in Future Feminism, an off the cuff stage banter piece from her album Cut the World, she starts out talking about the moon. I remembered about how we were collectively obsessed with the moon in Israel. In Future Feminisms she talks about shifting the world towards matrilineal systems of governance, religion and corporate leadership. I realized that if I were writing a masters thesis, I would apply the concept proposed in Future Feminism to Israel. What would a matrilineal system do to affect the peace process and protection of all humans in and around that region.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m a woman with a lot of complexities, I at once feel small and powerless but take my role as a person who is a Storyteller seriously. It’s scary to talk about something that is controversial and I know will make some of my friends mad at me. But I also know I won’t do anything to work towards peace by staying quiet. I am pro human rights and pro solutions and I don’t think solutions come from shutting down conversation. I’m interested in learning more and having more interactions with folks who want to find peace. So in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, here goes a whole series of blog posts about my trip and what I learned.

When I bought my Type-H electric adaptors for the trip, I could only get a set of 4 and I was already thinking about reselling them when I got home. But now I’m going to hold onto them because I’m pretty sure I’m somehow going back.

dinnertableday8

I’m excited to write more about this trip, about what I learned and experienced about myself, the people, the conflict and the role of Storytellers as social change in subsequent blog posts.

“I’m someone who’s looking for a reason to hope, and for me hope looks like feminine systems of governance being instated in, like, the major religious institutions and throughout corporate and civil life. And it might sound far-fetched, but if you look at your own beliefs, just imagine how quickly you accepted the idea that the ocean is rising and the ecology of our world is collapsing. We can actually imagine that more readily than we can imagine a switch from patriarchal to matriarchal systems of governance — a subtle shift in the way our society works.”–Antony and the Johnsons

*I’ll say that the idea that it was “nuanced” was interesting to me and my experience of how the nuance played out was that the folks giving us presentations (most often our incredible tour guide Michael) would tell us a story and say, “I am going to contradict myself” and would tell us a another side of it. I learned immediately that, as in other conflict situations I’ve been in, it is reductive to say “sides” as thought there are only two. Often we would here two, three or four perspectives. I’m not sure if other trips to Israel give as much detail or have as much information and perspective as we were given access to. I also know there’s always more information than what we are given and that curiosity will bring more.

2016-05-20

Queer Fat Femme LA Adventures: Drive an Hour and Spend a Weekend in Ojai and Ventura!

Update about my blog and my web move! First of all, big shout out to Rachelle who is backstage at QueerFatFemme.com moving things around from one host to another and trying to make the site faster and less buggy! I am so grateful for her help and grateful I had the cash to get this process going!

Also, my most recent Reiki infused tea sale is technically over but the pre sale was less successful this time and scale really helps keep my costs down, so as long as the paypal buttons are still up at the Bevin’s Tea page I can take new orders and give you an update about when I can expect to ship it out. (I have to replace some inventory.) I’m in the process of starting with a graphic designer to make the logo and packaging as cute as it deserves to be and I am so excited to share with you my vision when it becomes a reality! Now back to this post I wrote while I was patiently waiting for my website to be moved!

[For some reason I can’t upload photos to this post and waiting on the magical Rachelle to help me figure it out. Check back later for a post full of photos.]

So once upon a time Dara and I did this road trip through California, celebrating post-cancer treatment life and exploring my home state and where Dara wanted to move but I wasn’t sold yet.

Since Ojai and Ventura are on my short list of best cities in California, we stayed overnight out there. One night at my Aunt Shari’s house in Camarillo and one night in Ojai at a great hotel.

My friend recently said to me, “Hey Bevin, I have a lover meeting me in LA for a laycation. Where should we stay?”

I immediately thought of our trip to Ojai and wrote this up for her. Enjoy.

Book a room at the Capri Hotel. OMG the design of the hotel is Mid-Century Modern Barbie Dreamhouse with more masculine style and Ikea stuff. The rock wall on the side of the lobby is a mid-century modern classic detail.

The Capri rules both because it is cute and it’s such a great party room. We got a free upgrade to an upstairs unit with a balcony (worth it, it’s cuter up there). It also has hella cute LED lighting outside on each balcony and on the walls so your whole room can glow pink for ambiance. Perfect for a laycation or just fun selfies. Or both!

There’s a Yelp deal you might want to consider, but they also offer other random discounts.

Our room had a record player with a selection of records I wasn’t excited about. But more importantly the record player had a radio on it and I immediately put on Old School 95.9, which had just launched in Ventura County. It is old school R&B and hip hop. They play Prince every hour, and they are amazing. Dara and I put on PJs and danced in our socks to 95.9 while we stayed at Capri Hotel. It was awesome.

So on your road trip into Ojai for your laycation, turn on 95.9 as soon as you hit the mountain before Camarillo. It will set the mood for an amazing weekend.

Stop in Ventura (the last coastal town before Ojai) and take a 10 minute beach drive detour. Exit Seaward on the 101, drive down Harbor past the In N Out, taking you along the beach to the pier.

You’ll come back the next day to really soak it in, but the Ventura coast line deserves as much attention as you can pay it. Literally every time I see it I think “I didn’t remember this being as beautiful as it is.” It looks pretty but there’s also something incredible about the energy there. I think it’s the wind. Anyway, it’s amazing. So classic CA gorgeous with a lot of beautiful rocks and scraggly sections. And the birds! Ugh, anyway, trust me it’s awesome.

I also want to shout out my friend James Leander for almost all the information on this post, including the above drive. They live in Ventura and JLV is basically the best local tour guide.

Hop on the 33 and enjoy the wiggly roads through the canyon into Ojai. You arrive on the main street of Ojai and the Capri comes up on the left side of the road.

Check in, “settle in” however that happens for you, and then take a break to go have an evening activity!

Do you like to ride horses? I feel like a sunset horse ride would be amazing there.

Do you just like to hang out and get coffee? Grab some and settle in for a cute conversation at Coffee Connection. It is only open until 5PM so get there early. Their coffee is great, I’ve always enjoyed it.

Do you like to do hippie stuff and watch a beautiful sunset? Go get the sunset action at Meditation Mount. It’s privately held land open to the public. It has a Buddhist center and a meditation garden. You park and then give an optional donation as you enter the gardens and and head towards the sunset.

When Dara and I went we had the misfortune to be there at the same time as a party bus full of late middle aged people from Santa Barbara spilled out. Everyone was carrying a glass of white wine and talking the whole time. So not the zen vibe the other people who were at the sunset were trying to cultivate. Still a beautiful experience and I could tell one of those ladies with the white wine felt uncomfortable because she knew she wasn’t fully present to the experience and she said as much to Dara, who makes friends everywhere she goes.

Bring your late, casual dinner back to the hotel and enjoy it on the balcony. The green pork tamales at La Fuenta were amazing. Just get those. I think whatever else we got was forgettable but not the tamales.

The next morning, wake up and go swimming at the Capri Hotel pool. Then get your beach bag together and head to Ventura for the day. Have brunch at Cafe Nouveau if you like maple bacon beignets and free coffee while you wait for a table.

Or have brunch instead at Le Petit Bakery at the Ventura Harbor, which has extremely beautiful scenery and is worth it.

Or if you are boozy and like a bloody mary bar (my favorite way to drink bloody marys when I still drank booze) head to Social Tap, which is next to my very favorite sitting beach in Ventura.

If you are a babe who loves to thrift shop, Main Street on the Northern end has so many great thrift stops. Many of the vintage pieces I love the most came from Ventura. Point your Maps at The Arc Foundation thrift store (their prices are going way up, so they aren’t as good as they once were) and then head South from there.

If you want to just hang hard on the beach, the San Buenaventura Beach is my favorite for being close to a bathroom and having breathtaking views. If you want to take a cute walk and see some interesting shore and watch surfers, go to Surfer’s Point at Seaside Park. The people watching is really interesting, and so is the eavesdropping if you don’t mind lapses of silence with your boo to then gossip afterwards about what you heard.

Ventura is also great for renting a surrey or a bicycle and going for a cute paved path cycle along the waterfront. Dara and I got a surrey with a fringe on top and it was really challenging to drive that thing and also really fun. We rented it for an hour for $15 from Ventura Bike Depot.

After your day in Ventura, watch the sunset at any beach and then leave before it’s dark. Go past Ventura North on the 101 and then go back to Ojai the back way on the 150 and enjoy dusk along the seashore. But keep an eye out for deer on those back roads at dusk and dawn.

Grab dinner and dessert at Boccali’s, their strawberry shortcake is not to be missed.

(If you’re gluten free skip this and just eat a whole pint of strawberries from a roadside stand instead. The fertile farmland around Ventura County produces the best strawberries of all time.)

The next morning, after you check out of the hotel, go for an amazing hike!

James Leander recommends:

Easy hikes: Ventura botanical gardens, Rose Valley Falls

Medium hikes: Arroyo Verde Park (you have to pay on weekends), 2 Trees (iconic, but illegal. also, i would say this one is hard but it is also less than 2 miles to the top), Punch Bowls

Hard hikes: Gridley trail and Pratt trail are both awesome and in Ojai.

It’s clear I love Ventura and Ojai–you will love them, too! I’m so excited to continue exploring the backroads of Southern California!

2015-12-29

See You Laters instead of Goodbyes: My Last Moments as a New Yorker and First Stop on the Road

On December 18th the moving truck came and took all of the belongings we decided were important enough to ship to California. For me, this involved my beloved high heeled shoe chairs and four wardrobe boxes of hanging clothes. For Dara, her karaoke machine, keyboard and guitar. Thank the Goddess for the incredible help of Victoria in that process.

victoriamovingsavior

Pro-tip: if you know someone going through an intense cross-country move, text them “How can I help?” Pro-tip: if you are going through a cross-country move and someone asks how they can help, take them up on it. I have had to work through some intense “I’m an independent babe, I need to appear perfect” in order to be in a place to receive help. I’m so glad I have done that work because we really needed that help. If I had said, “No, we’re okay!” I would have lost out on hanging out with Victoria AND likely devolved into sobbing and fighting with Dara. I did neither of those things in our last few days in NYC. (The closest to a fight we got into was snipping for a few minutes and I thought that was a giant victory.)

I feel like Dara and I said “We’re almost done!” way too prematurely but there was no way to actually know what we had left to do in the packing process, it was all whack a mole dealing with the next right thing. So with the help of Victoria disassembling my desk, unscrewing things in the wall, taping up boxes, showing up on moving day with coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we managed to get through the final firestorm of stress and get ready for our road trip.

highheelshoemovingI worked hard to have the moving process be as low stress as I could manage but just seeing the photo of the high heel shoe chair wrapped for the moving truck only a week and couple of days later I can feel my stress hormones ramping back up again! Probably a good occasion to employ tapping.

So here’s the thing, typically you plan a road trip across the country and it is your primary activity for a period of time before you hit the road (I did this in 2011). Or at least if you are a Capricorn like me, you do it that way. This time, packing for the road trip was the first thing I did after the moving truck left.

Somehow, (I have no idea how this happened…) when planning my wardrobe for this trip I kind of overdid it. As I packed up the clothes in my dresser and vanity (two pieces of furniture I could hold onto until I left that weren’t going with the movers) I just kind of shoved what I thought was going to fit into my two suitcases. Clothing that would have to work for multiple climates (from below freezing to 90 degrees, potentially), professional meetings, possible dressing up, casual hangouts and comfy clothes that can handle being in the car for 12 hours. This is the type of sartorial challenge I excel at, yet still required more edits than I allotted before the movers took the last box. So, we had to pack a bonus box to ship ahead of us. Victoria was great at editing this with me while Dara ran our last minute leaving town errands like returning the Optimum online modem and router–why the return place has to be in the far reaches of Brooklyn is beyond me–picking up prescriptions, etc…

hollyaliceMe and Holly and her pup Alice B Tokeface. Holly just moved to NYC from the Bay a few months ago and was full of great advice for me. So sad we won’t be living in the same city anymore!

The last night in town my friend Topher hosted a really cute mixer right near my apartment. If you’re in NYC and want to meet people, Select All is the party to go to. I walked in and there were tons of people I knew and literally all of them were quality awesome people you would want to meet. It was a great last chance to hug people I love. DJ Average Jo was spinning and played me a 20 minute block of Hall and Oates for old times sake. (During the Yes Ma’am parties we always had a couple of Hall and Oates songs for dance floor nostalgia.)

joandbevinMe and Jo!

My good friend Miss Mary Wanna came up from Philly for the last night to hang out and help with the transition to the new Femme roommate in the Haus of Femmespiration–MMW is a Virgo cusp Femme professional organizer, office manager and apropos to this, mega house cleaner. Paying halfsies for a deep clean was an act of self love my roommate and I did to ease the transition. No question about whose mess was whose or me having to clean after I got everything out of the apartment. Also bonus–keep money in the queer economy. Double bonus–she’s a friend who won’t judge our lifestyle, who we can trust to leave the house while she’s working.

After we got back from Select All, Miss Mary Wanna and I sat up in my living room hanging hard. We don’t get to see each other often and our slumber parties are some of my favorite memories. We met in 2009 when I threw a Zombie Queer Cabaret and she came up from North Carolina to perform. I booked her a bunch after she moved to Philly and we became friends. We were up reminiscing about my favorite memories in the apartment and I was loving talking to MMW and kind of procrastinating going to bed on my last night as a New Yorker. Though I was ready to leave I was also kind of sad.

bevinmissmarywannaLove this babe so hard.

I had all the feels. Excited. Sad. Nervous. Overwhelmed. Relieved that the packing and moving part was pretty much over. Nostalgic. Ready. Exhausted.

Victoria and I had packed our car for the road trip and it seemed liked Dara and I had plenty of room for all the stuff we had left in the house (our “go” bags, overnight stuff, Macy’s cooler with her frozen homemade food in it and my reiki tea making supplies). We parked it overnight in a garage and when we took stuff downstairs on Saturday morning for our departure it was a cluster fuck trying to get everything in there. There were some last minute items ditched and we did the best we could to make it work.

reikiteaArt works well with a deadline, so having decided I was going to give samples of many of my reiki infused tea blends to friends as hostess gifts while we travel cross country gave me a deadline… So naturally I was blending tea the last night in Brooklyn. I’m pretty stoked about how they all came out, though, and can’t wait to get feedback from my friends as they sample the tea. The Feelings blend supports going through Feelings and has a tart flavor as an acknowledgement that even things that are a bit uncomfortable can ultimately be delicious.

Jacqueline made a joke about wanting to be at my last-minute waving goodbye party and it ended up manifesting even though she didn’t come. Like, I couldn’t leave town without saying a real goodbye to my BFF Brian even though we had just had dinner during the live broadcast of Dolly Parton’s TV movie Coat of Many Colors on NBC. (My girl got the highest ratings of any TV movie since 2011!) But every time we saw each other we said we’d see each other one more time, so it was super sweet that Brian and his huzz Arnolfo came by to wave.

wavingparty

None of this is really goodbye, I will see everyone again, just in different permutations and more intentionally as we become out of town visitors or as I convince people to move to LA, too. (So far mostly just Miss Mary Wanna, Sequinette and Victoria.) I am trying really hard to just say, “See you later.”

All of the see you laters has been kind of overwhelming in a good way. Moving really gets people saying how much you mean to them in a way that I didn’t expect. I am still really moved (pun intended) by some of the incredible things people said about how knowing me has touched their lives. Impacting so many people I respect, admire and love is incredibly humbling.

We drove for what seemed like forever that first day. We hit a bunch of traffic in DC and Richmond, VA, on our way to my friends’ Farmlet in North Carolina. Fae and E have this amazing homestead I’d heard so much about over the past couple of years. Fae’s blog Species Confusion is awesome, I’ve read the whole thing.

The blog is great recipes and stories of homesteading. The amount of knowledge that goes into farming for one’s family is the equivalent of a graduate degree. Both in research and what is learned in trial and error. I love to learn new things and we spent the whole morning on their Farmlet feeding the critters and learning about the mechanics of the Farmlet.

In fact, Fae posted that pigs love pumpkin and I never carved my pumpkin from Halloween so instead of getting rid of it in the last swirls of moving I decided to save it to bring to their pigs, Tofu and Tempeh.

farmletI saw my three year old niece Joey the night I wore these pants and she said, “Aunt Bevin you’re wearing pants.” I’m not much for pants but was trying something for this tee shirt.

They have rabbits and chickens, too, as well as Hamster whose farm product is love. He’s a tiny yorkie Fae rescued years ago who I had only seen in photos on Facebook and was happy to introduce to Macy. They got along well, Macy even tried to play with Hamster, and I seriously regret not getting photos.

Dara and I are working on an adventure video blog and I’m very stoked to have some of Fae and E’s Farmlet tour on the first video! Our 40 day trip West will hopefully have some stops that will allow Dara time to edit the videos.

Right now we’re paused in Normal, IL, waiting out an ice storm at Dara’s brother’s house. More soon!

hopestatueOn our last week in town we stopped at the HOPE statue in Midtown. I thought it was an appropriate bon voyage NYC photo!

2015-05-04

How Castro Valley is Not the Castro

Among my army of incredible friends and community, we have a few aesthetic tropes that are common–tattoos chief among them. When I was younger and still shedding muggle ideas of normalcy I remember being sort of shocked when someone would just get a tattoo on a whim. You didn’t plot this for years and meticulously scour for the right artist? You got it off the wall?

Not everyone thinks like a Capricorn with a Virgo rising. I’m an Earth sign. Permanency is a big decision. Some people tattoo on whims and some people tattoo with great plans and down payments and sessions. Most folks blend a bit of both.

That’s not the tattoo point I wanted to make. There’s a pattern in my tattooed friends’ bodies. They get home state nostalgia tattoos. They come in lots of types, an esoteric homage, a sign, but most common is a map outline with optional home city starred.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

17184687429_3ff3439afa_zHeart where the hometown is. Photo courtesy Amanda Arkansassy. You can check out the livefeed of the show she is co-curating on June 13th, Y’all Come Back Now: Queer Stories of Southern Migration.

17368951392_f4c6b7bee4_zHere’s one of just the region–Southern Illinois. Photo of Matthew Baccus.

17184687499_f1bbe5117f_zMatt and his best friend Meade have matching soil tattoos to indicate Southern Illinois. A home town tattoo is a great mile marker to get when you leave someplace.

This tattoo trope is so common that, when crowd sourcing for an image to use I got enough offers to start a whole USA collage art piece. And Victoria said her tattoo artist told her she would cross over into hipster in a forever way when she got her Minnesota outline.

It’s a Thing.

But it’s not really a Thing I can get behind for myself. I’ve thought about it a bunch, as an ex-patriate Californian of Bay Area origins. I moved to the East Coast in early August 2000. I needed a good dose of time and space from where I grew up and it’s not all healed yet. I created survival tips for returning to my home town. I don’t want a tattoo of my home town.

I do love and appreciate California, especially anywhere but my hometown. The redwoods, San Francisco, Yosemite, Santa Cruz… I even developed a deep appreciation for Southern California, which was a steep climb considering the regional disdain for our So Cal neighbors that Northern Californians instill. (Not all folks feel this way but it is an attitude you’d notice.) I kind of love LA now. I adore Palm Springs, where my beloved Grandmother lives.

When we were driving to Northern CA for my partner to have a work meeting in San Francisco during our post-chemo road trip last Fall, she made the mistake of confusing my hometown of Castro Valley, CA with the famous district of The Castro in San Francisco. The two places are only a 30 minute drive apart, but could not be further from one another in many ways.

I wasn’t so excited to show Dara my hometown, but it was very important for me to dispel any confusing thoughts she had about the two places. I share below some of the highlights.

Castro Valley is known by most folks who live or have lived in the Bay as a place on interstate 580. Coming in from the Central Valley, it’s just past Pleasanton/Dublin, just before Hayward/San Lorenzo. This is what it looks like to enter Castro Valley.
17164140427_a63d489842_z

In contrast, The Castro, is known the world over as a hive for gay liberation and historically was a haven for queer folks who needed a place to be accepted. Now it’s a lot more expensive to live there, but is still a destination for LGBT tourists. This is what you see when you drive into The Castro. Very different from Castro Valley.
15818102011_b0dcdda220_zNote the mega giant Pride flag on the right, the legendary Castro theater ahead to the left.

In Castro Valley, I had Dara drive down the main drag, Castro Valley Boulevard. “The Boulevard” as it is known. Here’s one of my favorite spots from when I was a teen. The Starbucks. (Back in 1995/1996 Starbucks was not yet ubiquitous.)
15821542722_7b49f62f4f_z

In the Castro, we strolled across the street from yet another cute new indie coffee shop in The Castro.
17345985046_bb65ae9cf3_z

Things in Castro Valley are pretty regular and suburban looking. Because it’s the suburbs. 15634168219_7eaba6c0e2_z

Things in The Castro look like a vibrant neighborhood in a major metropolitan city, because it’s the city. “The City” is what we would call San Francisco in Castro Valley.
15200031374_b8ae356350_z

When I was a teenager my best friends and I would hang out at this McDonald’s a lot. Hanging out at fast food places and Lyon’s were kind of the thing to do. There’s not even a mall in Castro Valley, we would have to go to Pleasanton or Hayward for that.
15818098101_6813f65712_z

When I was a teenager I didn’t find any girls to make out with in The Castro, but we could have smooched here. I don’t think we would have even been able to hold hands safely in Castro Valley.
15200560223_1e3526027d_z

The most significant landmark in Castro Valley is the three crosses leaping up from the hill at Three Crosses church, one of the two (maybe more now) mega Christian churches in town.
17371566971_077a8b9c21_z

The Castro, as seen from Twin Peaks, has a very different significant landmark.
15818121211_c22921e625_z

On my visit to The Castro I was sad to note that the place I bought my first Pride rings is closed… But that was almost twenty years ago so it had a good run.
15634582298_45c0fca214_z

In Castro Valley, the streets are just streets.
17369915012_85baecf452_z

In The Castro, the streets are actually paved with rainbows.
15634823217_e718f72e59_z

Anyway, now you know why The Castro and Castro Valley are not the same thing. And this is only just a whisper of why I’m not leaping to get a Castro Valley hometown nostalgia tattoo. My mom’s house is cute, but when she talks about selling it to downsize for her and her wife’s retirement… I’m okay to let it go.

I see my friends who have so much pride in and love for the places they come from inked on their bodies. And I’m sure they also feel some complexity, too. Hopefully this is a piece of solidarity for those folks who feel really great to let their hometowns go, and hope to do healing work around it.

2015-03-25

Florida Keys: Wandering Key West and “The Art of Doing Nothing”

Dara and I spent three days total in Key West. We drove down there from our cabin on Big Pine Key and spent the day after our paddleboard yoga adventure tooling around. I noticed the tourist crowd was pretty mainstream, which surprised both of us because we had the impression that Key West was pretty queer. From all I had heard about Key West I expected a hearty smattering of weirdos and did not find many. (Turns out they come during specific events and take over Key West.)

16143916734_2af8aa442f_zThere are a lot of super flamboyant amazing things in Key West, which made me think weirdos would love this place and flock to it.

All of the locals we interacted with were fantastic and super weird. Whether weird in appearance or not, upon interacting with them they were definitely not what I would call “normals” and were lively, fun folks.* It was the tourists who had me on guard. (Unbeknownst to us, it was Spring Break.) Dara would literally count on one hand the amount of visibly lesbian or gay couples we saw during our time there.

16578575188_8fd47bbf08_z

That first day we wandered Key West I noticed the tourist crowd, but quickly ignored it to enjoy the beauty of the old wooden houses and taking our wander through the town. It was so lovely.

16143953894_76f441fbaf_z

Before Paddleboard Yoga we took a walk down a random beach street we found and enjoyed how friendly most folks were. I loved peeping into the water for schools of fish. (I only found one.)

16578544218_af8a772776_z

16740226206_e7af06efde_z

16558844147_a6be9a028e_z

We had a great lunch at Pepe’s, suggested by an instagrammer I follow when I asked him about Key West. (He’s a minister and the gay dad of one of my favorite bloggers–if you like spiritual musings and great landscaping, request to follow Poppa143.)

16764973111_2a50ce9fef_z

They served iced tea by the pitcher, and a cat was sleeping on the sun roof above us in the outdoor patio! Clearly I was smitten with this place.

16766131125_14b5d9f2ee_z

16765076342_b47e9a5d93_z

16143911324_2c5e75337d_zI found a spot in the marina that sells fish food and got to feed really huge, beautiful fish! I loved it so much we came back to do it again on our third day in Key West and that time saw a Nurse Shark dive in and grab a fish who was snacking on our fish food. Insert complex feelings about the circle of life.

On our mid-afternoon wander we ended up on the main drag of Duval Street and I started to feel kind of woozy and nauseous. It took me a few minutes to realize I was getting heat sick, needed to sit down and drink a lot of water. I usually only get heat sick when the temp is in the high 90s or above. Even though Key West was only in the 80s the sun was very intense. I noticed a sharp difference once my hair was up, I had cold water and we were walking on the shady side of the street.

16558949707_5821421fb5_zDuval Street, in the deep afternoon sun.

After I was heat sick we stopped in at this really cute coffee shop for an hour and played chess under their fans and drank frothy iced coffees. It was inside a converted old wooden house and was really cool to get to experience the inside of a gorgeous house. They also had some porch seats but that was too hot for me, as I was a wilted flower.

16578739000_a91afc4515_zThe coffee shop is across the street from Pepe’s.

I noticed the coffee shop had a real estate office inside of it and I fantasized about being a realtor in a cute coffee shop. One of the little wooden houses-turned-hotels that goes for $400 a night has a “liming hour” from 4-5 where they encourage guests to sit and literally do nothing. (Theirs includes an alcoholic beverage; upon some internet research I think the term “liming hour” might be appropriated from Caribbean culture.) I love the idea of valuing the art of doing nothing, though, and it was definitely needed given how sharp the sun is! I was glad we found a coffee shop to have that moment.

20150305_164938

I’ve learned a lesson about sunny adventure vacations and booking in time to just chillax.

16143927584_9bc63e8b63_z

After our rest, we ticked off some more tourist bucket list. The Southernmost Point in the Continental US is a must. You have to stand in line to take a photo!

16765181042_51feb3ff9c_z

20150305_165357Dara wanted a photo on the REAL southernmost point, which was the little wall behind the buoy. I used the selfie stick. Yes, we got a selfie stick for this vacation.

We did sunset at Mallory Square. We watched a pig named Snorkel perform for tips with a foulmouthed gentleman making dad jokes. I tipped him $8 and another few when he offered photo ops with Snorkel.

16143975014_48f310ecc7_z

16928208591_32726fa9d7_z

We had a mediocre dinner at a taco place called Amigos that enabled views of the touristy Duval Street. I realized once we got our food that the four stars on Yelp were for the ambiance of being in the “party.” Does anyone else feel annoyed when you eat out and the food isn’t amazing? I’m just always interested in delicious food first and making scrumptious nachos is not difficult.

16578712328_4a8e89ae0d_zNacho view.

IMG_20150305_192722253Nacho selfie.

Our post nachos, dog tired bodies wandered down an adorable street lamp lit alleyway listening to birdsong (at night!) and settled in for the 45 minute drive back to Big Pine Key. That was the night Dara got bit over 100 times by a spider. Her bites are still healing, almost three weeks later.

*Many of them suggested the Green Parrot as the bar and live music venue to check out. We don’t drink so we didn’t end up prioritizing a bar but I wanted to pass on the suggestion to my readers!

2015-03-16

Florida Keys: Curating the Sunset

My second favorite thing we did on our trip to the Florida Keys was curating the sunset. I absolutely love doing this. By curating the sunset I mean, finding out when the sunset is going to start and finish in my vicinity and setting aside the time and effort to go enjoy it. This means not just noticing that the sunset is happening but finding the exact right place to watch it happen.

I call things like sunsets “God TV.” If it’s something naturally occurring that is interesting to watch, I call it “God TV.” I like watching the sky turn all the different colors, notice the changing shadows around me and finding a spot to watch it that affords a lot of great ambiance.

The Keys are ALL ABOUT THIS. Most notably there is a sunset ritual every single night in Key West. My pal Maura in a super helpful email to me about my impending visit to the Keys that watching the sunset from the Mallory Square sunset celebration was very Lez and woo in a satisfying way. I could not agree more.

16766270835_edcd34fe77_zStreet vendors and performers line the square. The sunset celebration is free, but Dara decided to jazz it up by buying this non-alcoholic frozen pineapple coconut juice concoction. Beautiful and delicious!

16558999917_1633abaf18_zHere you can see the big crowd just in front of us, it was pretty thick the length of Mallory Square by the time we got there.

I have not been in such a diverse crowd of collective rapt attention on something spiritual since I attended my Uncle’s ordination as a Deacon in the Catholic Church (it was a very long ceremony in a HUGE cathedral). Sure, lots of them probably just thought the sunset was pretty, but there was a significant payment of attention to something I felt very reverent about. It was churchy, even if it wasn’t a brick and mortar institution. No religion or belief necessary, just payment of attention. Crowded but not loud, at least during the 2 minutes or so the sun was really sinking.

4731417391_0f4900890d_zMy cousin Sooz (yes, I have a queer cousin, it rules) at her dad’s/my uncle’s ordination.

16765201512_95c905e4c0_zWe creeped up through the crowd to get a better view.

16580130219_705ee3a43c_z

16559009917_cb5388b3f9_zI was obsessed with all the creatures we met, and the different kinds of pelicans were a highlight.

Outside of Key West I found it pretty easy to pinpoint a good sunset spot. A quick yelp search of “Islamorada sunset” in the restaurant category got me to Lorelei’s Cantina, a spot on our road trip back up to the mainland to catch our flight home. It’s this huge outdoor bar and restaurant where you don’t even have to order anything, you can just grab a plastic chair and chillax watching the sunset while listening to live music. It was so beautiful and such a disappointment when the sunset was shrouded in a rain cloud.

16644041818_5ff227d273_zThis is the big mermaid that looks out on Southbound Interstate 1, the two lane Overseas Highway that connects all of the Keys. The parking lot was VERY crowded so this Escalade just decided to park blocking the sign.

16145663324_4eb599f559_zThe view was spectacular but sadly the clouds did not cooperate.

16560705517_461654b905_zI swear to the Goddess that while we were sitting watching the clouds covering the sunset the dude-fronted Jimmy Buffet style jam band that was playing did a Dolly Parton cover. I realized I knew all the words.

The same thing happened with bad weather luck when we went to see the sunset at a beach in Key West the night we had a hotel room in town. We were at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach, which is just off of old town Key West (the neighborhood with all the cutie pie wooden buildings). It was $2.50 for each of us because we came in on bicycle not car. We sat on the beach, I was so regretful I didn’t wear my bathing suit, the one day I didn’t just have it on under my dress, and I wished I could have gone swimming in the gorgeous clear blue water.

16765467682_3b3f0bd1d3_z

16740642326_4bebe08d14_z

We didn’t spend enough time at the beach during our vacation overall, which was my own fault. There were just so many fun things to do in the Keys that sitting still for a few hours a day was not a priority. We did a great amount of taking it easy and letting things flow in terms of planning so I never felt stressed, I just was so absorbed by my surroundings at all times that I didn’t ever crack that copy of Southern Living magazine I dragged all over the Keys.

But I got to the beach twice, both for sunsets. The time the sunset was a bust at Fort Taylor I still saw a couple of tiny schools of fish from my ankle-deep vantage point, and we watched an entire flock of seagulls leave their rock to go fish for dinner. Hundreds of birds taking off at once is a breathtaking vision you only get to see when you watch God TV or as intro cutaways on one of the coastal Real Housewives franchises.

16144219244_cd4c9d5459_zWater so clear I felt totally fine swimming in it. I get the creeps when I can’t see the bottom, even in the deep end of a dark pool.

The best sunset we saw was our first night in the Keys. It was about 10 minutes from our cabin on Big Pine Key, about 2 keys North of BPK. (Do they abbreviate in the Keys? I hope so.) Bahia Honda State Park has been voted one of the top 10 continental US beaches for several years. I heard this from a few sources. I’m not sure what this list is, or if we just happened to see it at a particularly sea grassy moment, but it wasn’t super amazing. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of had big expectations for the beach.

16757039142_39611c34b5_zI saw this on the beach and because of the intense blue and plastic looking filmy bubble I thought surely this was manmade, like a condom or a plastic bag. I am the kind of person who appreciates nature AND picks up litter. (I was a Girl Scout for so many years this kind of habit never dies.) So to find out if it was litter to be picked up with a stick for the garbage can… I popped it. It was clear it was organic matter and I left it alone. Found a couple more on our beach walk. Thank Goddess I popped it with a stick because a later google search told me this is a Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish and I could have gotten stung and gone to the hospital! The Wikipedia says that sometimes whole beaches close down when these appear on shore.

16135796014_33b0326551_z

We got there and the first place we went was SO seagrassy we didn’t want to sit in it, so we kept walking. Then we bailed on that beach and crossed the parking lot into the info center, who told us that they beach they’re known for is on a different part of the key. Which meant that to see the good sunset view (pointed East) we would not get to be on that super cute part of the beach. We did check out that super cute beach on the way out after sunset and it was quite pretty. We would like to go lay around on it on a later trip to the Keys.

Undeterred, I went out to a third beach of theirs, this one was Gulf Side (to think I walked from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in just the span of minutes) and started following the shoreline. Dara followed dutifully along as I searched for something I couldn’t even fully articulate to her. “I want to watch the sunset,” I told her, not even sure myself what I was looking for but knowing that once I saw it I would realize what I was looking for.

16570539948_1a96434f8b_z

16757046282_9aae7036e8_z

We walked the length of the beach and I took off through some palm trees up a nature trail that went under the abandoned railroad bridge. Dara had suggested a few spots on the beach that might be a little less crowded but gave up when she saw I was on a mission. I climbed under the railroad tracks, went to the chain link fence under the bridge to take a couple of photos, retraced my steps and went to the other side of the train tracks, back to the Atlantic but much further down than we could see from our original vantage point in the thicket of washed up sea grass.

16138168973_200ebb52d4_zThat road in the background is the Overseas Highway I’ve mentioned.

16135808124_de577ca163_zUnder the train track bridge.

I found an inlet of trees that looked like a great make-out spot, then went down a rock “scramble” onto a patch of nearly empty beach. With a perfect view of the sun, just about to start lowering. We took some photos and cute video in the surf and laid down to watch the sun take its journey. We soaked this in for a good thirty minutes before the incoming tide convinced us to move down the beach a bit. We did some yoga while watching the sun’s descent. It was so profoundly beautiful. Worth every bit of work to find the just right place to watch it. The curation of the moment was almost as fun as the moment itself.

16138173863_ae0ddc6128_zAs a fat person I’m used to being the one who is being coaxed down rock scrambles. But I have a lot more bravery for nature because of my scouting past, so I lead Dara in these matters. It’s a really interesting to have the table flipped and me being the brave one offering a hand to the person behind me. But I’d like to think knowing how uncertain a rock scramble can make me feel helps me be a more supportive partner when I lend the hand.

16570741810_8633364659_z

16570745720_1560559ce6_zDara is such a wonderful partner in crime for adventure. I have so much fun with her. She’s instagramming now after this trip, @daremedara if you’re instagrammy.

16572019419_0cfc6bd431_z

16756979881_6cc182c864_z

16550904177_52dd24bcf9_zThe moon rise on the other side of the beach was so pretty.

16572055289_1319b04a29_zMoney shot.

I rarely, if ever, curate a sunset in Brooklyn. There are so many variables here–it takes me 30 minutes to drive to a spot to get a good, clear view of a sunset, only if that’s the direction of the sun that time of year. Buildings that are in the way sometimes are not in the way other times. Weather is a huge variable. It is often cloudy. I make it a point in NYC that when I see the sunset colors in the sky I take a pause and notice them.

Out of town I make it my unspoken priority to ensure that we are exactly where we need to be to enjoy the best sunset possible. I love organizing my day around this. It feels so natural and cleansing and really meaningful. I came back from the Keys and I know, as I start working towards the next phase of my life, I want to make it a priority to have abundant access to beautiful sunset viewing options. I can see this ritual becoming a big part of my self care.

16757095092_84fea66676_z

2015-03-12

Florida Keys: Big Pine Key, Key Deer and Kayaking

When planning our trip to Florida, I did a lot of crowd-sourcing. I feel very grateful to have a diverse network of folks in my life who are generous with information. One of the best parts of Facebook for me is information sharing with folks I don’t see often but who I get to stay connected with! When I asked the internet where in Florida would be gay-friendly and have nature and beaches they overwhelmingly answered the Florida Keys. I also got lots of recommendations for things to do, which really helped me come up with a loose itinerary.

16741752216_310eda3c6a_z

The rental car (which I managed to get even cheaper by doing a night before we left search on Orbitz, saving an extra $100 on the reservation for a total of $134 for the week rental) and flights were cheap but lodging in the keys for the first week of March was really difficult to find and pricey! In January I scoured all the Air BNB listings and VRBO type places and had a hard time getting something with any availability. I got really attached to the idea of staying on a houseboat in Key Largo, but they were all booked. I think I reached out to ten different managing companies. I am so glad I had trouble finding a place because we ended up with a sparkling jewel of a place to stay! (Also, this was a great reminder to me of the spiritual idea to just kind of listen when the universe gives me road blocks, that sometimes something even better is around the corner.)

16579004899_f887b54221_z

This tiny one room cabin on Big Pine Key in the middle of a National Key Deer Refuge came up in a search, having just been added to Air BNB. It was only $100 a night and luckily three of the days we were going to stay in the Keys were available.

16579003199_2e3306685f_z

We had such a great time in this magical little cabin! I am glad we stayed somewhere unusual rather than in a motel or resort because I love having an adventure.

It was really a cross between glamping and a hotel room, as it is a room with walls, windows and a comfy queen size bed. But the sink, shower and toilet were all outside. The toilet is a fancy compost toilet in a screened in room. Dara was so skeptical about the toilet situations (I’ve had to sing to her to distract her from her hatred of a port-a-potty before).

16763957561_0f9e69f069_z

The Key Deer in the Florida Keys are an endangered species. The Overseas Highway slows down to 45 MPH during the day and 35 MPH at night through Big Pine Key to protect them. The population of the Key Deer dwindled to 27 in the 1950s and is now up to about 650-700. A few of them came up to us during our stay. Our Air BNB host (who shared a driveway with us, but otherwise our cabin was totally private and surrounded by Everglade forest) said that about seven will visit his house every evening and three come to the cabin, but we only saw one or two at a time. Our first morning I was up before Dara and our friend Doe came to visit.

16142825944_693e8a2330_z

Key Deer are about the size of a small big dog. Smaller than a Great Dane, taller than a Golden Retriever. But SO cute. The first one I met followed me around the cabin as I took photos. Another one (although hard to tell if they were the same Doe or a different Doe) licked Dara’s pajamas.

16560385387_cfeb75a4a9_z

When I tried to drink sun tea outside and continue visiting with the deer I realized we couldn’t share space and food with them as they were waaaay into trying to eat or drink whatever we had. But still really cute and sweet about their relentless desire for food.

16580274880_8b0e2f8447_z

Showering outdoors in a private paradise like this is such a luxury, and brushing my teeth with a deer hanging out next to me was wild. I also saw a tiny brown and white striped snake friend in the brush by the sink, several lizards and about 1,000 turkey vultures overhead. And one tiny spider that left Dara with 100 tiny bites she’s still recovering from on our last night in the cabin.

16579079020_7cf62a8a8d_z

We never pulled down the shades in the cabin and it was so wonderful to watch the sun go down and the moonlight shift through the little forest that surrounds the cabin. There was one night (after our catastrophic snorkeling trip that left both of us deeply nauseas) that we slept 13 hours and I remember waking up several times during the night noting different celestial positions based on the light coming through the windows. It was such an amazing form of natural intimacy, all from the comfort of a super deluxe queen size bed.

16580335539_1a76c2aa08_z

Dara was a little freaked out by the Poisonwood that was along the nature trail leading to the cabin, but I kind of just trusted it would be fine. The noseeums (tiny, biting mosquitos) were kind of obnoxious on the last night.

16145188253_be7c6e511a_z

Our Air BNB host also gave us a print out with points of interest to go to. We went to nearly all of them. The Blue Hole, a freshwater pond made from an old quarry that has a few alligators. In our ten minute stop we saw one alligator, a butterfly and a bright green iguana scamper into the forest.

16763985981_c21be6c22c_z

That was the only gator we saw on the whole trip, in spite our many pre-trip queries to Floridian friends about what to expect from glamping in Florida. Dara was certain we would run into a gator that was trying to hunt the Key Deer but apparently that’s really unlikely and you’re more likely to be struck by lightening twice than get attacked by an alligator.

16739273036_4b3374f945_zThe gator was sleeping and came up for air once while I watched it.

On our last day on Big Pine Key we rented kayaks ($42 for two single occupancy kayaks for 2 hours) to cruise across the channel to No Name Key, a key with no electricity (all of the houses on there run with generators or from solar power). We didn’t see much when we were kayaking except mangroves and some pelicans in the marina, in spite of a little map the marina gave us with our rental. (The map yielded not much from two points of interest we tried.) I kind of wished I had done better research about where to kayak because there are a lot of paddling guides on the internet about where to paddle through the Florida Keys.

16766519361_b543fc4120_z

16740608726_11cabfd888_zThe two photos above were from a secret, free, boat launch not far from our cabin.

Watching me and Dara approach kayaking was kind of hilarious, since I hadn’t done it in about two years and was a little nervous, and so was Dara. Luckily there was a couple who had their own kayaks simultaneously launching at the boat ramp (it costs $15 to launch from the marina we were at, but the little municipal boat ramp we saw earlier was free) and they gave us some quick pointers, which helped.

16741801016_d67e2415c3_z

As a fat person I am always mindful of my center of balance and new things, like a kayak, kind of freak me out. Having been in a kayak a handful of times has given me more faith in it as a vessel that’s not going to topple over when a wave hits it, but I’m still not at 100% confidence.

16578923938_7872648bc2_z

My arms were really sore from paddleboard yoga the day before, so I was glad we only did 2 hours. Next time we go on an adventure vacation like this I’ll add some serious arm work to my prep, as my 3 times weekly elliptical to fight seasonal depression didn’t cut it.

16589445037_4ef7a30efb_z

16740617196_38321a0466_zKayaking across the channel was daunting.

16559234107_e9399e5968_zThe mangroves, the trees that literally hold the land together, are so freaking cool.

Check out the rest of my Florida Keys adventure at this tag!

2015-03-10

Florida Keys: Paddleboard Yoga as a Paddleboard Novice Fatty

To escape the brutalities of New York City Winter and Seasonal Depression, I asked my mom to give me cash instead of a present for Christmas and my birthday this year. I parlayed that into a pretty cheap vacation to the Florida Keys (her gift was enough to cover my $180 round trip flight, share of our $130 car rental and 3 nights at our cabin). Part of the way this gift helped me combat seasonal depression was putting a lot of time into researching our vacation. I went down the internet and you tube rabbit holes about things to do in the Florida Keys many Winter nights. (The FloridaKeysTV you tube channel is a treasure trove, btw.)

IMG957561All photos in this post are by Tara McCabe, who lets the class send themselves the photos she takes during the class from her phone when you return to the marina!

It was a you tube video that brought me to Paddleboard Yoga! As soon as we saw it, Dara and I decided this was a top priority vacation activity.

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for six years but I’ve never been on a paddleboard. If I want to scoot around on water I prefer a kayak, where I can sit and enjoy the water while paddling. The idea of doing yoga on a paddleboard seemed scary in a fun way–I have a hard enough time with balance in the studio! Dara had never been paddleboarding, either, and she is not a huge fan of yoga but was totally sold on the adventure.

IMG957529

We made a reservation with Lazy Dog Paddle Yoga (the studio? paddleboard rental place? featured in the video) and drove down to Key West from our cabin on Big Pine Key. The marina is not in the main tourist part of Key West and is right off the only highway through the Keys, the Overseas Highway, a 2 lane affair with breathtaking views.

We arrived 10 minutes before the class just in time for our instructor Tara McCabe, who founded the Paddleboard Yoga classes with Lazy Dog owner Sue Cooper, to give a paddleboarding basics class to those of us who are new to paddleboarding. A lot of the paddle mechanics were similar to kayaking but the positioning of the arms was different and I felt like I needed to have a lot more control over the paddle given that I was going to be standing up for travel. Tara mentioned we could kneel on the paddleboard while we were first getting used to how the paddle worked to navigate, which was really helpful.

IMG957551

Since we were traveling from the marina to a little inlet off the canal nearby, where the yoga class would be held, we launched in groups of 3 or so from the boat ramp. As the rest of the class was getting outfitted with their boards and paddles Dara and I signed extensive waivers and paid the $30 each for the 9:30-11AM class. We could bring a towel and a water bottle with us strapped by a bungee to our board. I did some last-minute additional sunscreen application and left the rest of our bags inside the Lazy Dog shack.

We were handed one paddle each, sized to our height, and got on our knees to be shoved off into the marina. Dara went much faster than I did and I slogged along, getting used to the way the board moved. I followed Tara’s advice and waited until we were out in the canal and had made our hard right turn before I stood up on the paddleboard and began using the paddle in the correct holding from the top form.

IMG957559

Being among last to arrive in the group, and the slowest paddleboarder, I felt okay about it. One of the lessons I learned early on in my yoga practice is that there is no way to “suck” at yoga, you just got at your own pace, paying attention to your own body and where your limit is. Running my own race instead of worrying about where my skills, physical ability and flexibility fits into the rubric of the class helps me just enjoy and settle in. I am often the least bendy yogi in a class but it doesn’t make me any less capable of getting all the benefits of the class and the practice. So when I was solidly holding up the rear of the paddleboard group coming into the alcove I was already fine with it.

Once in the alcove everyone dropped their anchors (these little heavy circles of some kind of metal that were clipped to the bungees on our boards) where Tara told us. She had a good sense of where the boards would drift and where folks would be best placed so as not to bump into one another. A couple of people chose to hug the mangroves for more access to shade. Mangroves are trees that line virtually every shore in the keys, with spindly roots that poke out of the water like stilts holding up the trees–mangroves are essential to the Florida Keys as they help secure land and prevent erosion. Dara was next to them during the class and said that sometimes the mangroves tickled her as she drifted into them on her board but it felt really nice.

IMG957539

I intentionally wore a fatkini to the class. I sometimes am fat in public in a political way and sometimes I think showing skin is important to be like, I’m fat, I love my body and this is how I feel comfortable. But lots of people in the class, including some guys, were wearing clothes over their suits or wearing water clothing or something that you would buy in a surf shop.

Tara (pronounced with a long A) was an incredible instructor from start to finish. I loved learning paddleboarding from her, as she delivered the lesson with the patience and sweetness of a good yoga instructor. She made sure at the beginning of the class, when we all settled into our spots, that folks were reminded that yoga is not a competition and to run their own race. I know this already, but it is always nice to have a new-to-me instructor reinforce it as a class culture.

She provided great modifications to all of the poses and reminded everyone it was an all levels class. I tried to put myself into harder poses and would sense my limit and settle into wherever that was. Being in the middle of the board by the handle was the most helpful spot for balance. When preparing for this class Dara and I anticipated that one of us would fall into the water, and it turned out to be me while getting into modified Warrior 2. I don’t even know what happened or how but suddenly I was in the water. I was the first in the class to fall. (The only other person who fell toppled during a handstand and I think that was pretty badass.) Since where we were was very shallow it was really easy for me to hop back onto my board. And it did cool me off!

IMG957531

I loved the sway of being on the board during poses. I loved the moments where she had us do a pose and stick a foot or a hand or arm into the water. I actually really enjoyed doing it on the board versus a mat, because I felt like there was more cushion on my board than a traditional mat (I think this was because of the type of board I happened to be on). I also found downward facing dog much easier on the board for that reason–I was most worried about falling

Tara’s meditations were great, too! At the beginning of the class she called out the full moon we were experiencing, letting go of the junk from the Winter and opening up to the coming Spring. What she was saying was definitely right-on for me. During our shavasana/end of class corpse pose, she suggested we put a towel over our head if we wanted to (which I did, it helped with shade) and put our hands out into the water. While floating there she said, “Bevin, I need you to pull your hand up,” so I did, very used to surrender during yoga to an instructor. I kind of thought she was paddling by me as she floated among the class a bit while teaching.

IMG957575

It turned out there was a tiny snake that was slithering by and heading for my hand. The raise gave him enough startle that he headed in a different direction, into the mangroves. Tara said she was glad I didn’t ask why so that she didn’t startle the class with news of the snake during the shavasana.

And then before we opened our eyes she serenaded us with a ukelele version of “I Can See Clearly Now,” which was so profound, being in that beautiful, warm place with no clouds in the sky and melting away the agita of a long, cold Winter.

IMG957587
IMG957571

My sunscreen game was NOT on point for this adventure. Next time I am going to load up on sport sunblock SPF 80+ and reapply right before shavasana. (I was using Neutrogena dry touch waterproof SPF 55.) I got a really odd burn in parts of my body (especially my knees, which from being on the board rubbed off the sunblock and then got burnt during shavasana).

After we all grabbed our anchors and delivered them to Tara’s board before we headed back to the marina, we stood up and paddled back. I was in the back of the pack, again this time on purpose to visit with Tara. She would warn us when boats passed about what kind of wake we were in for. Unfortunately, in a deep part of the channel one of the wake waves really got me and I kind of toppled to the side and fell from my standing position. It took a lot of work for me to get back on my board. Being a fatty, it can be hard to pull yourself back up onto a board or into a floating vessel, depending on your upper body strength. (I have some but not a lot.) Tara was ready with another modification for me, this time having me try to get back on the board not from the side but from the back. That part worked, with some patience and some wiggling like a seal on a surfboard. I made it back to the marina by staying mostly sitting on my board. It was faster when I was standing but I wasn’t ready to chance it again. Also, standing required a lot of tension in my thighs to hold myself balanced and they were kind of exhausted by the end of all of that paddleboarding and yoga.

Paddleboard yoga was a total trip highlight! Dara and I had so much fun and felt so peaceful afterwards. I was super achy later, mostly my arms because I hadn’t done any serious paddling like that in a long time. I would highly recommend Lazy Dog for all of your paddleboard and paddleboard yoga needs, and Tara for yoga! She teaches at Shakti in Key West, leads guided paddleboard meditations through Lazy Dog, runs Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga training and founded the Paddleboard Yoga at Lazy Dog!

Next time we go to the Florida Keys, Dara and I intend to try doing it twice during our trip as well as a meditation!

IMG957535

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress