My Big Fat Hollywood Move: Baby Got Back Problems

A 24-year-old’s last-ditch effort at “following her dreams” with her boyfriend and moving across the country to see it through

When I posted the first installment of my LA blog series, I had been on a writing high all day – something I hadn’t felt in months. I can’t tell you how long I sat down to write that particular post, but I can tell you that when things like this happen I’ll sometimes forget to eat or piss. It’s like the idea might fade so I have to race to get it down before I can return to being a person.

Unloading all of that “I’m like totally chasing my dreams” euphoria onto a document and sharing it had me feeling pretty on top of the world. It might be silly but, to me, I had committed to something and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I hit that “Publish” button and got up ready to take on the next challenge. I was invincible. The last thing I thought was going to happen was almost instantaneously falling to the ground in scorching pain. I think that’s fair.

What had happened (and this is where the universe’s dark sense of humor comes in) was that while I had recovered from a muscle tear/strain in my lower back before moving to LA, the pretzel position I sat in all day to write about the move reignited the injury with a vengeance. And it really got me good this time around. A stark contrast to how indestructible I had been feeling just moments before. Of course, still riding the excitement of posting something I was proud of, I ignored it. I stood up even though my back could barely hold up the weight of my upper body. I didn’t allow myself to accept that this was happening. So, I convinced and dragged Rich (the boyfriend) out to celebrate the blog post and indulge in some beer and wings instead. Why not?

On our way to Buffalo Wild Wings, people driving beside us must’ve assumed I was in labor. I had my legs pushed into my chest cannonball-style and was taking the deepest breaths of my life, trying to force the pain away with each exhale. It wasn’t working, and we frantically drove around for twenty minutes just looking for a parking spot. There were none. There never are. We kept getting stuck at the same lights and driving around in the same circle before committing to yet another absurdly priced parking lot. This is driving in LA by the way. Parking is impossible, traffic is endless, and nothing is free or cheap. Eventually, we commit to a parking lot. When I get out of the car I’m waddling in slow motion like a duck and crying. Rich is in a panic, urging us to go home. To anyone watching I imagine it looked like a scene from Days of Our Lives. Regardless, I wiped away the tears, told the pain to fuck off, and set forth toward the wings. This would be a night of FUN!

Sitting while the fire in my back bubbled with buffalo sauce on my lips and a cold Blue Moon in my right hand, I realized I had unintentionally embodied the content of my very own words. What was it I said in the last blog post? Oh yes, that in a moment of pure bliss at the Santa Monica pier I had felt “fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last”. How fitting that I had just finished typing those words only to have thrown out my back seconds later. Yin and yang, my friends.

When I got up from that bar table, I had to muster a force from the gods not to crawl on all fours to the nearest bathroom. Somehow, I made it to the door and placed myself in line. For that two-minute wait I started to think the sweet release of death might be better than moving another inch. I only really caved when the room started spinning, which is when I realized the pain had won. I assumed my duck position once more and waddled all the way back to the car. Peeing or any other bodily function would have to wait.

It took everything in my power not to feel sorry for myself as we drove home, but all I could think about was how I had wished for inner peace to last and found myself here instead. How I had signed up for dance classes that I may not be in the condition to attend for a while. How I had written about fighting to be more present. And I had. So, what the hell?

It’s been a little over a week since all of this went down and I’m happy to say I can see from outside the melodrama and self-pity now. I can see that recurring problems can’t be ignored, and that unfortunately being present or grateful won’t make them disappear either. Unwelcome stressors will always come up, much like my student loans. While they can be avoided in some ways (in my case: not sitting in a terrible position for hours like I had been advised not to, yoga, core-strengthening), the true test is how well you can improvise and apply what you’ve learned from previous setbacks. Of course, that’s assuming you have the means necessary to do so. Not everyone has the proper resources to overcome the negative hurdles or injustices that plague them. I wish there were more ways around this.

I don’t have a recipe for avoiding the hiccups that pop up however big or small in each of our lives, but I do think that Imogen Heap was right in writing that “there is beauty in the breakdown”. With the extra recovery leisure time, I succeeded in applying for my own health insurance (I’m a grown-ass woman) and gingerly introduced walking back into my routine. This time, absorbing a totally new environment and spending some quiet time with myself. I have more to look forward to now and a heightened awareness of how important prioritizing health is, whether it’s physical, psychological or a mix of both.

I started this blog wanting to draw attention to the elastic band nature of our lives, the extreme highs and lows. I thought I could tell the truth – dive into the sticky vulnerable muck and prove that it’s just as therapeutic to write as it is to see yourself in the raw experiences of others. It’s a reminder that we’re a collective of both good and bad experiences. So, while I had plans to fill this second installment with all of the incredible things I’ve done and seen since I moved to LA, I didn’t want to gloss over the not-so-Instagram-worthy bits. Not only are they pretty hilarious to look back on sometimes, but they’re also a reminder that life is just one long improv exercise. You participate, laugh, and keep moving.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move

A 24-year-old’s last-ditch effort at “following her dreams” with her boyfriend and moving across the country to see it through

It’s been a little over a week since I stuffed my possessions into two suitcases, drained myself dry from parting hugs, and transported myself from Boston to Los Angeles where my boyfriend Rich and our new lives across the country awaited me. It’s a romantic and all too on-the-nose Hollywood concept to chase your dreams alongside the love of your life in LA, to take the ultimate artistic risk together in the city where everyone’s fighting for attention. Watch the movie La La Land, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Although, spoiler alert, it doesn’t work out too well for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s relationship. But that’s beside the point, and I’m veering away from my thesis statement. The point is, I’m here now. I’ve done this. And I’ve got a few things to say about it. Hold on to your panties.

When I arrived at LAX after 2 months of not seeing Rich and 6 hours of plane-ride anticipation, I was a nutty mess of exhaustion and eagerness beyond anything I had felt in years or at all. I spotted him standing about twenty feet ahead of me in a grey suit, doing a two-step shuffle while holding a huge sign above his head with my name on it. Suddenly my instincts kicked in and I felt two things. One, a foreign happiness that shot through my body like a rocket. Two, a primal desire to jump his bones right there on the baggage conveyer system.

The adrenaline between the two of us was enough to give me the shakes as we kissed and gushed till we could kiss and gush no more. It was another “movie moment” to add to our list, but it was the first in the City of Dreams – the movie mecca of our joint fantasies. I had never known adventure like this, never relocated my life or been farther than a few cities away from my family. The lure of possibility was intoxicating, of course, and Rich’s body wrapped around mine gave me butterflies I hadn’t felt in months. My gut was screaming “HELL yes! You really did this, you crazy bitch!” like a life coach on uppers. It all felt so right, and concrete. Concepts unfamiliar to someone with an often indecisive gut.

It’s been about nine days since this initial adrenaline overload, and while I’ve seen a few of the must-see tourist spots like the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory, I find something new or foreign to marvel at every day even just driving around. The first was the smell. LA had been described to me by some East Coast friends as a smog-blanketed concrete trash heap, to put it kindly. I found the scent to be more floral, inviting and honestly confusing against all of the concrete and trash. There is a lot of trash. That bit was true.

Amidst all of the litter, my eyes were immediately drawn to the booming culture and diversity around every corner. When you think of Hollywood, you might imagine an abundance of white girls with fat asses stepping out of their fancy cars with matcha tea in-hand, but I’m over here like…where are they hiding? I know that LA is HUGE and that the “glamorous” aspect of its reputation certainly exists somewhere, but I’ve been immersed in something vastly different and real – an image of this city I’m glad I wasn’t prepared for because I’m pleasantly surprised in new ways all the time.

People here come from all walks of life and coexist rhythmically together, bringing in an abundance of eclectic food, art, and music, which quite literally keeps the city alive. I still hear the street vendors sizzling up assorted meats and snacks for club-goers past 12am. I mean, we drive by graffiti that should be studied in Arts History courses or hung in museums and have access to some of the best Korean food I’ve ever tasted right next door. And while it may not be squeaky clean or even conventionally beautiful all the time, it’s always full of life. Honestly, I can only compare the way I feel here to the way I felt when I was in Austin, Texas: the grit, art, food, music, and heat. It feels familiar, and appeals to me in similar ways.

Even big tourist attractions like the Santa Monica pier, which I had lowered my expectations for, totally took me my surprise and left me like a rambling wide-eyed idiot. I couldn’t believe how stunning it actually is – vastly more impressive than the images and videos I’d seen countless times. And while I may be biased because this was one of the most romantic days of my life, I genuinely didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. We spent the afternoon chasing each other around on the beach like teenagers, urging one another to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time. When we found ourselves a spot to watch my first California sunset, the people around us seemed to be putting on a show. Everyone was playing with the waves, laughing, creating a palpable energy of childlike happiness and serenity. As the sun descended below the mountains, it became quiet apart from a few giggles here and there and the crashing of the waves. It was then that I felt something frightening. I held it in.

The feeling was fear. Fear of being too happy. Fear of it dissipating fast. Fear because these moments of inner peace rarely last. Fear because, while Rich had come all this way for his concrete dream to pursue acting, I was still a dreamer without any tried-and-true singular pursuit. A familiar critical voice was trying to break though, trying to find reasons to remind me that I wasn’t going to make it here. That god damn ego.

I guess, even in a new setting, those of us who are used to bringing ourselves down or who feel odd when things are too right might always have to fight a little extra to be present. I fight every day to tell the voice in my head to shut the fuck up. Even though I have my flare-ups, I know fighting against it inch by inch is making a difference. When that fear kicked in on the pier, it was new because it came with a feeling of pride too. It was like there was another version of my own voice sticking up for me and saying, “Hey! You did this, you crazy bitch. Remember? You took a risk. You’re trying!” And, to be honest, all I can really conclude about this first week of my Hollywood adventure is that I’m proud of myself for saving the money to get here, for applying to dozens of jobs every day, and for continuing to write even though I hate it sometimes. This is what it’s about. The risk. The gut. The pursuit, even if it is a little more abstract than the person’s sitting next to you. Go for it anyway.

Thanks for listening, and check out Part 2 of this LA series here!

Chasing Magic in Sao Miguel

I recently traveled to the Azores, back to the island I was born on for the first time alone since we immigrated to the U.S when I was four. I had visited a couple of times in the past with my parents and friends, each time as exhilarating as it was absolute chaos. We were always spread too thin in the short amount of time we were there – sights to cram into our schedule, relatives and my parents’ childhood friends crawling out of the woodwork for various get-togethers. The experiences pass in a flash and the scattered fragments of my memories there all blend together into a kind of fever dream. They always leave me wanting more.

On September 3rd, I embarked on my own to Sao Miguel – something I couldn’t fathom until I was sitting between strangers on the plane and not my parents. There I was, soon to be in the arms of my grandparents without anything or anyone pulling me away from our time together. It felt like I was heading home after an extended vacation in America or like I was leading a double life. Mariana in Sao Miguel: exclusively Portuguese-speaking, sun-kissed, nature-immersed, and temporarily anxiety-free, shedding the skin of Mariana in Boston: always on the move, Vitamin D deficient, and out-of-place. It was a difficult contrast to absorb, much harder to accept on the plane ride back.

It’s important to note that returning to the Azores always simultaneously contributes to my spirit and takes a piece of my soul away in the process. It’s nearly impossible for me to enjoy it lightly, as it probably deserves to be enjoyed being a tropical paradise and all. For me, setting foot on Sao Miguel soil is like an endless glimpse into an alternate reality where my life would have been opposite to the one I was allotted in America instead. While I’m grateful for this life, it’s too enticing to imagine the kind of person I would’ve been on the island that hosted the wildest and most magical experiences my parents shared from their youth. The friendships they made, the jaw-dropping natural beauty as a backdrop to their adventures, and the tranquility of it all – I envied this the most. Whenever I felt deeply misunderstood, I’d imagine myself as an alien who had simply been away from her planet for too long. Somewhere, on an island most of my peers didn’t know existed, I had roots to come back to that accepted me as I am.

For the short week I was in Sao Miguel, this was no exception and I felt my color return. My grandparents and I toured what felt like the entire island from the ocean to the mountains, but one day in particular stands out. In the town of Ribeira Grande, the three of us drove up the mountainside until the altitude set off popping in our ears. We traveled from one end of the island to the other, leaving behind clear blue skies and ideal beach-day-heat behind us to find ourselves under clouds full of cold rain. This became a theme of the trip, navigating the different weather conditions in various regions of the island and chasing the sun.

As we drove uphill, my grandmother, Rosita, filled me in on why the place we were approaching was special. High up on the mountainside, surrounded by forests flourishing with wildlife, was Lagoa de São Brás, a lake so tranquil Rosita had deemed it her peaceful place. Even though raindrops piercing the lake’s surface broke the silence my grandmother had promised, I felt my heartbeat slow down and settle into a steady beat for the first time in months. Anxiety couldn’t find me here. I wasn’t searching for more or better. We walked silently around the lake together hand-in-hand, just listening to the rain and the conversation among ducks. Eventually we found our way to a forest, a spot Rosita had saved for my eyes.

The second we emerged into the forest, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was transported into my childhood when my grandmother used to read a fiction book series to me called Anita. It was about a rambunctious young girl’s endless adventures, either traveling to different parts of the world and immersing herself in the culture or sharing experiences from her own backyard. Rosita read dozens of these books to me in Portuguese and I always imagined Anita’s life as a mirror for what mine might’ve been like if we stayed in Sao Miguel. In one book (my favorite of the series), Anita climbs into an old folktale. She jumps from page to page through enchanted forests maintaining her courage in a foreign place, at times afraid but mostly thrilled by the mysticism of it all. In this enchanted world, Anita finds a way to fit in, and her fierce empathy forces the inhabitants to miss her when she leaves.

I would often fall asleep with this book beside me. The forest and the magic inside felt like home to me. The same kind of home I later found in the pages of Harry Potter throughout my youth – another story to escape into that felt more familiar to me than my real surroundings. As my grandmother and I walked into the forest of Lagoa de São Brás together, I felt these worlds align. I understood why I had always been chasing magic; my roots were teeming with it. I took my time playing with the moss, running my fingers through tree barks, and climbing uphill as high as I could go. I was eight again and everything was alive.

I can’t put this entire week-long trip to Sao Miguel into words because it was a feeling I took back with me this time, not a random assortment of planned experiences that beg to be described. I held tight to that feeling of belonging on the plane, which left me empty when I arrived at the airport. I still feel the void heavily, and my heartbeat is already begging to beat faster again. For that five hour plane ride, I thought about how the kind of magic I wished was real as a child was actually symbolic for the belonging I feel when I’m home, surrounded by nature and the people who love me as I am. Now I know that places keep pieces of our souls and guard them. It’s important to rediscover these bits of ourselves and to soak in that fuel when the timing is right, especially if it’s waiting there for you in the very place you came from. Something tells me I’ll be back in Sao Miguel again soon, absorbing magic and chasing the sun.

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A Guy and a Gal in Galway (Part 2)

A vibrant tale about a couples’ first adventure abroad in a city where the Guinness flows like water and the locals are as friendly as the sheep

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The second leg of our journey begins in the heart of Galway’s city center (or centre) with freshly poured beers in hand, watching from the patio of a popular bar as men of different origins, muscle masses, and ABV contents compete for the eternal glory of hanging on a metal bar for the longest amount of time. This may sound trivial, but I assure you, it was treated like a world-class prize.

To make things more clear, a Galway local had the ingenious idea of setting up a tall pull-up bar in the middle of the city, luring people in with the promise that they’d win momentary glory for being the One who can hang on the longest. Completely enthralled by this epic display of drunk competitiveness, Rich and I watched the game ensue. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to watch the hero with the longest time display his hanging talent, but we did watch the others try in vain to surpass his feat – which, if I remember correctly, was a whopping 1 minute and 40 seconds. We spent the majority of that night laughing, completely in awe of this seemingly primitive sport. We toasted to the brave players’ valiant efforts and their many embarrassing failures. We watched as the night and the drunkenness progressed. Eventually, the game lured a large crowd of onlookers.

The longer we cheered the event on, the more we noticed that guys were merely stumbling out of bars and feeling inclined to show themselves off. Young jacked bachelors stepped up to the podium feeling all too good about themselves. Their group of friends would crowd around them to cheer them on, often one of them would be inches away from the hanging man, getting him going like a coach during a heated boxing match. We filmed some of these encounters, only because they were too priceless not to – heavy breathing, intense hand motions, lingering eye contact, and all. It was almost sensual.

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Though Rich and I found ourselves in countless bars, one in particular left a mark. From the moment we landed in Galway, we searched for the places that were recommended and frequented by locals, The Crane Bar being the most suggested of the bunch. After a long day of exploring, we made our way over, pushing the red door to find ourselves in a modest, dimly lit, and unembellished bar. There were less than a dozen other people inside. We sat at the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness. Hold on, let me rephrase, the best Guinness my lips have ever touched. If only it tasted this much like velvet sunshine back home.

We sat and smiled at the people sitting next to us, cozied up to one another and truly indulged in that all over body high specific to a quality vacation. Across from us a traditional Irish band set up their instruments. We heard the Bodhran first, an Irish handheld drum, whose soft beat cued the fiddle in. Then came the voice, the ethereal voice of a woman who projected loss, love, and centuries of history so tenderly it brought tears to my eyes. I looked over at Rich who shared my reaction. The bar fell silent apart from the echoing melodies of their music and the voices of those around us who sang along. We had been transported in time, taken into a world we were strangers to – soaking in the poetry bred into the very core of these humble and fierce people. It was so moving we didn’t have words to say when it was over. I left feeling full and deeply in tune, as though we were at the right place at the right time.

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At the risk of dragging this post on for too long, I want to conclude our Galway tale with the image of Rich and I hightailing down the steep hills of Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, on bikes we had rented for two hours. Picture the abundant green pastures of Hobbiton. Throw in some cows, horses, seals, farm houses, countless walls of stone, and you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what we were in for. In other words, biking through the island trails was like stepping into a lush and fantastical Choose Your Own Adventure book.

Instead of following a particular path, we kept finding our own way. Speeding down a hill overlooking the ocean, we stopped to take a photo of a family who returned the favor for us as well. Across from us, behind a stone wall and white rusted fence, lived a couple of wild horses who seemed to beckon us over. We made our way to say ‘hello’, tentatively, attempting to be gracious visitors in their sacred land. Within minutes, the horses had stuck their heads out over the fence to greet us. One of them flirted with Rich so clearly that the other grew jealous and turned away. Eventually he returned and I caressed his head gently in understanding. We had both been temporarily replaced.

As I attempt to conclude this piece, endless moments flood my mind begging to be documented too, like racing through the streets at midnight with new friends, shedding tears over a play about gay marriage being legalized in Ireland, raging to 80s music in an underground club, standing over the edge at the Cliffs of Moher, and the list goes on…

Looking back, I can say we made the best of a week spent in green paradise and there isn’t a moment I would change – except maybe forgetting my wallet on the way to the airport, but that’s neither here nor there. Most importantly however, I’ll cherish the wonder of exploring with my best friend and how fiercely bonded I felt to Rich when it was time to go, suffering from the post-traveling melancholia together.

It’s during these moments of beholding new sights, shaking hands with strangers, and feeling utterly minuscule within your surroundings, that life feels wonderful again – full of promise like it did when you’re a child and the world is infinite. I vow to never stop chasing this feeling in my lifetime.

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*Ireland’s eighth amendment was repealed! Did you hear that? Repealed! If you’re interested in learning more, check out the link below and watch the video capturing the moment thousands of Irish women discovered they regained ownership of their bodies. It’s breathtaking.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ireland-abortion-referendum-live-updates-repeal-eighth-amendment-vote-latest-poll-a8366691.html

 

 

A Guy and a Gal in Galway (Part 1)

A vibrant tale about a couples’ first adventure abroad in a city where the Guinness flows like water and the locals are as friendly as the sheep

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On May 2nd 2018, my boyfriend, Richard, and I embarked on our first adventure abroad together to Galway, Ireland. Where my anxious brain might’ve expected drunken arguments in unfamiliar streets, battles over what to do, various fits of rage and hair-pulling, I was gifted instead the insurmountable joy of splitting a once in a lifetime adventure with my best friend who not only supported me through a new experience, but made it explode with beauty.

Galway is colorful, hip, teaming with music around every nook and cranny (there are infinite nooks), and rich with traces of medieval architecture that blend seamlessly with the various modern additions to the city. It’s a successful combo of old and new, just as enjoyable for the longtime locals as it is for the overwhelming college population who are lucky enough to frequent some of the most beautiful pubs, cafes, and restaurants I’ve ever seen.

Seven days is nowhere near long enough to take in an entire city, but dammit, we tried! From taking a ferry to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, and racing through the winding streets surrounded by walls of stone and infinite green pastures to sharing pints with new local friends at a hole-in-the-wall craft beer pub called The Salt House – we wanted to make our experience as diverse as possible.

From day one, Rich and I were blown away by the kindness of the locals. With luggage in-hand, we got lost on our way to the Airbnb. Though it wasn’t funny to us then, we were able to laugh later about the fact that our airbnb host said the place would be about a twenty-minute walking distance from the center of town. Nope. It was closer to an hour. As such, we ended up in a suburban street behind one of the shopping centers in the city when, in full-blown desperation, we realized our phones were dead so we couldn’t even call a taxi. Eventually we were able to ask a woman leaving her apartment across the street if she could point us in the right direction. In a thick accent that made us more excited that it should have, she not only pointed us to the street we were looking for but offered to hail us cab as well. This was the general behavior of everyone in town who was willing to answer our questions. During another mishap, a lovely couple offered us a ride after we missed our bus, treating us as if we were longtime friends. They called the bus company for us and, sure enough, it came back. Not only were they incredibly accommodating, they were pretty badass too. Only a little younger than my grandparents, we had caught them in the middle of heading back to a nearby pub to retrieve their car.

“Sounds like you had yourselves a good night,” I joked.

“That’s every night,” they responded.

Flash forward to Rich and I exclaiming the Gaelic version of “cheers”, “Sláinte!” (pronounced slawn-cha) while clinking pint glasses with new friends from Galway at The Salt House, a craft beer dive bar we kept returning to after this night in particular. The couple who left their car at a pub came to mind as Rich and I too found ourselves fully immersed in the Galway daze, losing track of time and space in good company. Hours flew by discussing everything from whether or not we were watching the same TV shows on Netflix to the current political climate in both countries. Though we couldn’t miss the hundreds of “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” signs all over the city, we had not been informed about the historic referendum on abortion that had all of Ireland in a tizzy. Locals were and still are nervously anticipating a drastic change in their constitution, allowing women to have safe abortions in Ireland, if the majority of the votes turn out in favor of repealing the current law. Tucked away in our American bubble, we were shocked to discover this and it was a topic of conversation that came up more than once throughout our trip. It’s crazy to think, if the law is indeed repealed, that Rich and I were there before history had been made. It’s amazing how easy it is to be removed from the rest of the world, but it’s even more amazing how quickly we empathize when the issue is suddenly in front of us.

I don’t remember how long we stayed to chat with our new friends or how many rounds of beer were ordered, but I do remember Rich doing an Irish accent upon request and getting a round of applause. Point is, we were in the thick of it, just like we wanted. When it was time to go, we all exchanged Facebook info and planned to meet again. They invited us to a referendum repeal party on a boat.

Rich and I looked at each other, both with smiles that were waiting to burst all over our faces, looking like we were holding in a secret. We were thrilled but didn’t want to seem too uncool, too eager. We waited until we were alone outside to kiss and explode with excitement at how intoxicating the entire night had been, that we had found ourselves in this new place and formed real connections, that we were experiencing this adventure together. Running on a mutual high from the bar was one of the highlights of the trip for me, feeling deeply connected to him and to the moment – and the best part is, it was only the beginning.

To read the final installment of my Galway adventure, click here!

Don’t forget to check out The Irish Times for additional information on the abortion referendum too.

A Wake-Up Call

Candid thoughts from a solo trip to Austin, Texas, during SXSW

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My boyfriend of a year and I broke up about a month before spring break in 2016. The loss of him in my life shattered my reality. I became numb and indifferent. I lost sight of my responsibilities, drank too much, and started to slip drastically in school. My friends were trying to fill a void and pick up the pieces all at once. My parents were calling every day to check in, asking if I was sober and going to my classes. I wasn’t.

I had been in touch with them about my plans to travel over spring break and they knew it was part of a travel writing class project. They were also well aware that I desperately needed to get away. It was my dad’s idea for me to stay with my cousin, Maria, in Austin, Texas. We often hosted her in our house when she made her way from Portugal to The States for various solo trips of her own. She had always said that, when my time came to explore, I’d have a place to crash. I was looking into other options as well, but something about Austin during the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film and Interactive Festival spoke to a part of me that had been buried for too long. My parents knew this. I clung desperately to the possibility that time away would wake me up from a deep slumber.

I gave myself over completely to being in love and lost half of myself along the way, not because he ever forced me to but because I was too eager to please. I prioritized him over myself and began to feel like I was disappearing. The half of me that had been raised unconventionally by a rock and roll father and a gypsy, belly-dancing mother grew small. In short, I subconsciously began to shed some of the “weird” from my identity.

In order to remember who I was, I clung to memories of summer days when my parents hosted parties in my childhood home. When the day grew dark, friends would make their way from our yard to the basement for secret adult jam sessions that never failed to peak my curiosity. I dreamt of being down there with them. My little cousin, Dylan, and I would play “spies” and creep down the stairs like mice, hoping to catch a glimpse of the magic coming from the basement through thick clouds of smoke. I marveled, wide-eyed, at the shadows of bodies dancing, the cacophony of grunge music blaring from inside, and the overlapping voices engaging in the kinds of conversations I was too young to understand but wanted to be a part of.

Sometimes, if I was lucky, my parents would let me say goodnight to everyone before bed. To ten-year-old me, that was like being handed a VIP pass to the sold out concert in our basement. I made the best out of the time I was given. I would engage in conversations with artists, musicians, writers, and listened intently. I’d jam out on the drums with my dad’s band, soaking in encouragement from people I respected. By the end of the night, I would lie in bed going over everything that had happened. I would fall asleep to the sweet sound of music and laughter coming from below me. I knew that was my world. I felt fulfilled.

For a year, while I was lost in a relationship, I struggled to find that same sense of fulfillment that tied to the roots of who I am. I neglected my needs, desires, and passions. It was as though I had become an extension of someone else who kept growing and evolving while I remained stagnant. I was free-falling. I thirsted for finding my place or purpose again and made the decision to be alone so that I could begin a new journey without anything or anyone clouding my judgment.

I landed in Austin at midnight on Sunday, March 13th. Only an hour after I arrived on southern soil, Maria and I found ourselves weaving through thousands of people on 6th Street in downtown. The city was overflowing with drunk people, rock and house music blaring from every corner. I passed and bumped into over a dozen musicians lugging around heavy amps and guitars from gig to gig. I watched a handful of girls in stilettos make their way to clubs; one tripped over her friend’s dress and they both went down like dominoes. My eyes darted to the obvious poverty as well, the homeless men and women wrapped in blankets, trying to sleep on the concrete as party-goers walked around them. This was downtown Austin during South By Southwest. It was chaos! It was alive. The city slapped me in the face, and I had only just arrived.

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I knew Maria from the handful of times she came to stay with us throughout my life. We’d always catch up on a few things but she was never around long enough for us to truly get to know one another. I saw her as this poised, elegant, and naturally beautiful enigma. She was independent, always traveling and building a successful life for herself. I admired her. Maria had only been living in Austin for a couple of months. Within that short amount of time, she had rented what I deemed the “Snow White Cottage” in all its mythical stone-lined glory, landed a grueling yet rewarding job as a teacher at a juvenile detention center, and attracted a rock lead singer and guitarist hottie who only lived a couple blocks away. Within this seven-day period, the two of us bonded and connected like old friends. We laughed and opened up to each other about our personal lives during every car trip back and forth from downtown. I felt at home in her presence. Most importantly though, she gave me space. Whatever independent spirit hid in the depths of me, she conjured it out. She encouraged me to explore the city on my own while she was off healing lost children. Maria inspired me with her own stories about traveling alone and forming friendships with strangers. I told myself that if she could do it, I could too.

On my last day in Austin, from about one in the afternoon to nearly three in the morning, I explored the city until my legs were numb and my Vans ripped at the toes. I went in and out of endless “Keep Austin Weird” vintage shops, sneaking pictures and pretending not to see the signs urging me to do otherwise.

At the end of South Congress Street, I walked into what seemed like a thrift store, took a quick look at the abundance of Halloween costumes surrounding me in the middle of March, and was on my way out when the cashier pointed out my shirt.

“Are you wearing that for the concert tonight?”

His question threw me for a loop. By chance, I had grabbed my favorite Deftones band-tee out of a pile of clothes that morning. Surely there was no way they were actually here for South By Southwest. I would have known this. I would have bought my concert tickets way in advance. I told him, “I didn’t see them on the lineup.”

Turns out the universe has a great sense of humor. The headliner for the massive Lady Bird Lake concert caught the flu, and the Deftones, already on tour, filled in last minute. One of my favorite bands of all-time was going to be in Austin at 8 PM. The kicker? It was a free show.

I had some time to kill before the concert and decided to head to a bar I’d walked past a few times. The entire place, inside and out, was something out of a fairytale. All of the eccentric and beautiful musicians congregated there like woodland elves in need of a pre-show potion, or many. With my head held high, I walked straight to the bar and sat down; on my left were two traveling ladies in their twenties and on my right was a woman holding the margarita I should have ordered instead of a Corona. It was my last day in the city and I had been in and out of bars alone a few times. I knew what to do. I heard Maria’s voice reminding me to let gobe open, and dive in. I introduced myself to all three women sitting next to me and, before long, neither one of us could shut up. As fate would have it, I quickly discovered that one of my new friends was from Boston like myself. She worked for the successful brand, Timberland, and was attending the festival with a few of her coworkers. “What do you do? Who are you with?” she asked. I explained the writing project, the fact that I was traveling by myself for the first time, my plans to write for a living in the future, everything. She listened intently and explained that many companies, now more than ever, were on the hunt for writers – young, friendly, and charismatic people to go to events like SXSW and document their experiences. My eyes widened. She encouraged me to keep writing, to start a blog, and to reach out to her as a friend in the industry. There I was, receiving words of encouragement from someone I had already grown to respect. I was forming connections, talking about art, music, my future, and began to feel my pieces getting sewn back together again.

I exchanged numbers with my new friends, left a tip on the wooden bar, and set off on the next journey toward Lady Bird Lake for the concert. I couldn’t have timed anything better and was one of the first people to land a spot only fifteen feet away from the largest stage in Austin. That’s what happens when you’re a tad early and the last-second “secret” Deftones concert hasn’t reached everyone’s radars yet. I stood patiently and watched as, slowly but surely, thousands of people came flooding in. What was once a vast green landscape quickly became a boisterous cluster of hipsters. Beside me, while waiting for the show to start, I met another band from California who had just left their gig to watch one of their main inspirations in action. “I can’t believe they’re here!” they kept repeating. They complimented my shirt and, suddenly, I’d made new friends. We instantly hit it off and they promised to protect me from the moshing when the time came. Turns out I wasn’t experiencing this concert alone at all.

An hour later, at the peak of the show, I was merely a tiny speck – shaken fully awake within a sweaty mass of screaming, dancing, and moshing fans. Every hair on my body stood high throughout the entire concert. I was in the thick of it, smack dab in the middle of the action. The combination of exhilaration, euphoria, and the fear of being shoved to death by a two-hundred pound moshing meathead, made for an out-of-body experience. I felt myself bleed into the moment as if the night was infinite. At one point, Chino Moreno, the lead singer, walked among the audience and his arm grazed mine. I must’ve asked myself how any of this was real about a thousand times.

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The show ended too soon and I thirsted for more as the sea of people dispersed. I  searched for the band I’d befriended, but they were nowhere to be found. I followed the mass back into downtown, still running on a high from what had just happened. Eventually I found my way back to 6th Street and decided it was time to hit up my favorite venue, just one last time for one last drink. My entire body was throbbing but this had to be done. I was on my way to the far end of 6th Street when I felt someone grab my arm. “Hey, you! Wait up!” As though the universe still had a few more tricks up its sleeve, I had been spotted within the late-night 6th Street drunk sea of chaos. My band friends from the concert picked me apart from thousands of people. “I saw your shirt” the drummer said. I couldn’t help but laugh. My Deftones shirt was a genie, granting me all my Austin wishes. “You guys want to join me for a drink at Hotel Vegas?”

If any place could recreate the same magic I felt coming from the basement during my parents’ grunge parties, Hotel Vegas was it. On the outside the venue looks like a cheap southern motel from a Quentin Tarantino film. Myself and the band got to know each other on the way there. Turns out the lead singer was Azorean and spoke fluent Portuguese, just like me. The universe, again. The flickering neon “Hotel Vegas” sign greeted us at the entrance and the five of us walked, through thick clouds of smoke, into the party I had been waiting for.

When I was ten and allowed access into my parents’ basement parties, I knew that as much as I felt part of it all, it wasn’t my time yet. Here I was brought back into that world, only now I could truly live it. I was one of the writers, talking to other aspiring writers, musicians, dancers, creative people of all kinds. We were all feeding off of each other’s energy. I danced my heart out. I let myself go completely until all of my “weird” was out for everyone to see. I didn’t give a shit about anything. I laughed until beer came out of my nose as my lead singer friend did “the Carlton” when the ‘80s music came on. The two of us attracted a crowd of dancers and all I could see was blurred bodies and light. I let that light consume me. I don’t know how long this party lasted. I don’t remember every inspiring conversation I had. What I do remember is the moment I felt myself watching this scene from afar, like a film. I realized that everything I had attracted in front of me, I accomplished on my own. I felt whole again.