On the Road: An Exploration of The Unknown.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2018 // 8am
I'm going ON THE ROAD: An Exploration of The Unknown.
What does this mean? It means that on May 30th - June 15th, I will be driving through this country, observing and learning the fabric of the United States. I will be documenting this for my YouTube Channel. I will be writing about it. I will be posting on the socials. I will be asking questions and having conversations, some of which, we will be filming. I will be making stops to conduct Wo/Men Workshops. I will be embracing The Unknown and diving into The Discomfort and sharing all the things that come up for me.
Why? Because I cannot understand the Human Condition if my focus and exploration remains only in major U.S. cities. I must understand all facets of life in order to better serve myself and others. I also feel that we live in a time where we are utterly disconnected (from ourselves + others) and are unable to express our Truths (hello PC world) and I need to understand why that is and how it's going to affect the next generation and humanity at large.
This is Part 1 of a much larger plan of mine. So, without much planning, let's see what happens. Please follow + send suggestions, people, ideas when they come up for you. And follow Chester Pink, as he will be capturing all of this.
We've also started a Spotify Playlist. It's yours.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2018 || noon
Your Expectations are My Expectations.
What can you expect? Pretty much what we’re expecting which is we don’t know what to expect. That’s why this is called an Exploration of The Unknown. Because..we don’t know what’s going to happen. Get it?
The Truth is that this started as a conversation many moons ago when I sat down with a certain @musa to spill my guts on my feeling like I was hitting a wall. “I see everyone in my workshops experiencing The Unknown + yet, I sit there starting to feel a bit jealous that I’m the only one who’s not included in the process.” For those who know, this is how the #bowloftrust was created. It was literally made to provide me with the opportunity to keep me on my toes. In the same space as all of you in attendance. In The Unknown.
Musa listened + then asked, “how can you experience The Unknown? Or better yet, how can you provide that for yourself?”
“A road trip seems right.” This stemmed from my BCTV road trip in 2013 (sup @nonamepat @bawerbuch @insta_gambler) + then seeing @colinrosenblum + @samirchaudry film one recently for YT. I thought, fakk, I can do that too! I have hosting + production experience! I have stories to tell! What am I waiting for?!
So I made this to get me started.
Next @danmannes came into play as I searched for the right kind of human to accompany me. Sending me two names of local videographers. One answered. We met for coffee. We clicked + connected. We became friends. He said yes. We made a plan. This was late Feb/early March. Talk about TIMING and TRUSTING THE PROCESS.
Finally, I sat with @pulloutcouch who made that final push in saying “you’ve just gotta go.”
So, I am. We are. @iamchesterpink x I. Tomorrow. Where? South. Why? To better understand the fabric of this country + the Human Condition.
I’ll be writing on my website (daily). Posting on my YT. Checking in on here. That’s as much as I know.
So. There’s that. Let’s get scared, people. Let’s step into the Fear. Let’s see what Shows Up. I’m (kind of) ready. Are you?
Thursday, May 31st, 2018 || 10 pm
Let Go and Enjoy the Capri Sun.
It's an interesting concept, the concept of The Unknown. We spend so much time thinking about it, working ourselves up; what's it going to be like? will i be scared? will i be able to handle it? is it manageable? what's on the other side? who will be there? can i conquer it? will i learn something? what if it's a waste of time? what if I fail? Even worse, what if I succeed...then what.
Our mind is excellent at thinking about all the things that could happen before they do simply because we're wired to find any and all ways to survive. Survival, of course, has evolved. What used to mean surviving an animal attack, or being lost from one's tribe, or biting on a poisonous plant, today's survival looks more like saying the wrong thing on a date, or coming on too strong, or assuming to be unqualified for a job position, or committing to a person who isn't the right person - whatever that means. Our problems are first-world problems. We are able to really relax into the pool of luxurious fears. And so, with that safety net, the "i don't have to think about whether or not I'll have water and food and shelter and health' (this of course isn't the case for everyone) we fill our minds with all the other things.
All of this things become cloudy quite quickly. They suffocate and annihilate the abundance that is meant for us. Standing right there. Right in front of us. Life. Simply living. Simply being grateful for another day.
'But Alyonka', you're saying. 'Sometimes it's impossible to stay in the space of gratitude.' You're right. It is. I'm not saying that we should strive to be a perfect 10 all the time. But a Content 5 seems a bit more manageable. We're not down. We're not up. We're just here. Right here and right now. Experiencing exactly whatever it is that is standing right in front of us.
The Unknown. For me, this time around, it came in the shape of a road trip. Why? Because going somewhere without an itinerary, without a production team, without a budget, without a narrative or a storyline, without anything but a question that is seeking to better understand the fabric of the U.S. and the human condition. Well, that seems a bit uncomfortable especially for a control-freak like me. And let's be honest, there are very few of us out there who are willingly able Surrender the reigns.
I'll add to this the inevitable fear that accompanies my lack of confidence in my body. Will it work or will it fail me, again? Will it shut down from the heat, the lack of sleep, the inconsistency of meals, the emotional volatility of being unable to surrender, and the ensuing paralysis that enraptures the mind once it realizes it is far removed from the comforts of it's home. Again, all doable but extra hard when you carry the weight of failed attempts before.
The point is that we all carry fears in a variety of ways and those fears hinder us from Surrendering into the Discomfort of The Unknown. And why is that detrimental to our personal and joint evolution? Because, in The Unknown, in the Surrender to the Discomfort, in there is where we discover the most about ourselves and the world around us.
So what did I learn today? That I wasted a whole lot of time and energy fearing what was going to happen during and on this Roadie. That once I convinced myself that my body was going to be okay, and once I began the Roadie, I couldn't relax into the just BEing as it Unfolded. I kept anxiously awaiting for "something to happen", or for "inspiration to strike", or for "a message to be revealed". I even went so far as to LOOK for the finish line - which isn't for another 14 days -wondering what 'the finished product will be' instead of experiencing the present moment.
You know what I almost missed because of that? An EPIC thunderstorm. A new found love for Capri Sun. And the excitement and thrill I felt from seeing my guy Chester Pink capture some amazing shit. He's who's capturing my journey which you'll be able to find on YouTube.
So there. That's the lesson in today. Stop rushing to the finish line. Stop rushing, period. Just stick with it. In that discomfort. In the same way it was a bit scary to drive through a wall of rain, and lightning and thunder today, only to surface on the other side, with sunshine shining, clouds clearing, and a magical colors appearing. This, my friends, is an example not so different than the one we find during the suffering of our everyday lives. Those moments we try ever so hard to avoid our fears and to claw into our control. Word of advice: Surrender. I'll do it with you. So with that in mind...
Mississippi. You're next.
Friday, June 1, 2018 || 9 am
Knights Inn. Nashville, TN
Motel. You mirror me.
There is something quite romantic about arriving to a new town or city late in the evening just as the sun is setting and sliding your key into the rooms lock, twisting the handle and committing to the room in front of you as the place you’ll call home tonight. You’ll lay your things out just the way you like them. Fluff the pillow you’ve brought with you. Stack your toiletries by the sink. Grab the necessary ones. Step into the shower and steam. Cleansed, the room feels even better than when you first entered it. Motel? This feels like a three-star hotel. They’ve even got cable. And wi-fi! No passcodes needed. You shut the blinds. Put on your socks and silk robe. Plop yourself gently on the bed and sigh, ahh this the life. Dreamily, as if I’m sedation your eyes shut, conjuring figures and places from your past as you enter sweet dreams.
Then the alarm jolts you. Your eyes open. Your back straight. You look around in the darkness. The blinds, they’re really blinding. You fumble around for you glasses thinking that there’s really no need. There’s not much to see. Quietly, you shuffle over to the shower, turn the handle and step into the steam. You stand, waiting for the rush of excitement to kick in. The same high that accompanied the night and any night for the matter. There’s something different about the nighttime where things feel promising, exciting, dangerous within means, mysterious.
But the light. That morning light. Well it has a way of killing all those things. Stark white. Washing out all color, all texture, all glimmer, all hope. Injecting you with its message until the very last drop; you’re alone, in a foreign city, with a bag and a camera, and no direction. This motel is not your home, and we’ve made it uncomfortable and easy to leave. It bothers you because you’re just like this. All the time. You brighten until you dim suddenly, overnight, leaving the person in front of you shocked, wounded and broken. And then you stand there in your brightly lit stark-white room, waiting for them to leave. Staring through them. Reading their thoughts. Knowing they will because you’ve made it so damn easy.
Friday, June 1, 2018 || 10:50 pm
Clarksdale, Mississippi (air bed)
We're on a ranch. A friend of a friends. He's a teacher for Teach for America. I'll say a bit more about him and this place, and the air mattress on which I'm writing.
For now, let me list out what I've learned so far about Mississippi:
Mosquitoes do not F around. These bites are not bites. They are welts. Immediate welts. Burgeoning hills of welts that send out waves of shock in the surrounding area affected. Bendaryl helps. Bug spray does not. I have not tried it (yet) but I will assume these 'toes are resistant.
People in Clarksdale, Mississippi seem to be having a good ol' time. Everyone knows one another. They all say hello. Families eat together. They also speak to one another. I saw none to little phones at the dinner table.
I did have a thought. Perhaps, in smaller towns, everyone's got their place. Their role. There's the farmer, the rancher, the restaurant owner, the banker, the waitress, the host, the cook, the teller, the musicians, the business owner, the tailor, etc. Everyone's got something they're doing on a daily basis and it's something they're more or less proud of. It keeps them going Running. Right up until the weekend. When they all get together at the local Blues bar or watering hole, order up some burgers and beers, and smile and chat and have a good ol' time. I use that phrase because that's how it seem. It just seems good. Uncomplicated. Without much analysis on whether or not anyone's on the right or wrong that. They just are. I can tell by their smiles. I never see people smile like this in Detroit or NY or LA. In those cities, if they're smiling, it's because they want something, or they've got something, or they're faking it. Not all, of course. Generally Speaking. But that's it. It all stems down to simplicity of job, role, duty, family, community, weekend fun. Repeat. And guess what? That's more than enough.
It's hard to get teachers to come here for Teach for America. Why? Because there's not much to do. I'm assuming there's also nobody to meet or to date or to build a life with -- more or less the same thing I hear in every workshop, in every other city. I'll learn more tomorrow.
The ground in Mississippi is wet. Proper wet. Feet-soaking wet. My feet? They were soaking wet for six hours straight. Right up until ten minutes ago when I finally took a shower.
Oh yes. Showers. I am so fucking grateful for showers.
And finally, tomorrow I'll expand on my full-fledged "I'm quitting, I can't do this, I'm leaving" mental breakdown.
That's all for now.
Saturday June 2, 2018 || 4 pm
seated. circular retro blue table in the living/dining/kitchen room of our host house
I've come to realize it's not about me. It never has been. This wasn't meant to be a trip where I'm looking to find myself. Perhaps in some way it might become that trip once I've hit the space of hindsight, but in the present moment, it was never intended to be that way. As much as I'd like to maybe focus on myself, it's become quite difficult to do so. Let me explain.
In the full-fledged breakdown that arose yesterday, I believe that I was conflicted in my purpose. The question of: why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this? I could have stayed in the comforts of my home, nurturing my body and brain (and health) into a better place before I set out to relocate to New York. The sound of this still peaks my interest. Partly because it's the easy route. Partly because I am an introvert and enjoy my alone time. Partly because I'm 13 months into Recovery and i'm exhausted. I never "truly" stopped moving or doing. So that voice in my head - my mother's voice - was yelling at me yesterday evening as I bared my soul to Chester, causing him to sink into a space of disappointment that his partner, was trying to jump ship right as we were picking up speed.
So where does the "it's not about me" comment come into play? Well. In exploring the little that I've seen in Mississippi, i've been reminded of what i hear in my Workshops, which is the question of purpose. Literally: WHAT IS MY PURPOSE? -- health aside, the idea of purpose is very much a first-world problem.
It is not a question being asked by the folks who call Clarksdale home. No. Not really. Not in the way we ask it. We, the privileged. Purpose? hah! What kind of question is that?
I don't know. It’s just a question that so often comes up in my Workshops. What does all of this mean? I do not have an answer yet but once I compartmentalize my thoughts a bit more, I'll be sure to report.
Sunday, June 3, 2018 || 8 am
The farm is quiet and all are asleep in Clarksdale, Mississippi as I reflect on yesterday evening.
Mississippi. Let me try and paint you.
Your canvas is flat. Calloused with painful, conflicting history. You have bumps and muddied waters. The orange-pigmented earth starts rising with heat in the early morning. By eleven am you are. Humid. Unnoticeably licking sweat onto your people. You like this. You see it as a way to butter them up. To put the visitors through the test the locals are far too used to. Can’t handle it? - don’t stay. I’ve got plenty of people to care for, those very ones who aren’t looking for anything other than a simple life. The rest of you can hop back into your ac/ed cars and roll away. Into the distance as I watch you fade. I’m flat, remember?
We stand observing the night sky. Lit. Brightly. Every few seconds. Not minutes. Seconds. It’s the Delta exploding. Raging. Releasing all of that pain from the depths of it’s soul out into the Universe. Painting the canvas a feverish, electric white. It’s pounding in the distance. Like the deepest drum beats. Slow, lush beats. Takin’ their time. Like the Delta. No rush as the night sky readies for the final number of tonight’s show. It is a spectacle. One like I’ve never seen before. Where the sky opens up. Breaking at its’ seams. Ripping in all directions. Passionately. There’s no time to do this carefully. There’s too much pent up feeling. The lines they strike. One after the other. Shaking the muddied ground as the drumbeats continue. It’s reaching its climax gradually waiting for you to catch up on your breath before it hits you once more. We gasp. The sound is swallowed up whole. Back into the World we see in front of us. We are small. So, very small. Seemingly powerless in this world. At God’s Mercy. As he plays with his instruments and what we’d assume to be his favorite part of the World. And we watch with our mouths open. How did we end up here? Right here. In this place. At this moment. Right now. By trusting the process. By believing that there is timing to everything and that no moment is wasted if we tap into the present that is always surrounding us.
Now you see, Mississippi calls to me. Now you finally see.
Sunday, June 3, 2018 || 7:15 pm
Orange Couch Coffee Shop // New Orleans, LA
I now find myself in New Orleans, Louisiana. I know not much about it. In fact, I don’ t know anything at all except for Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras, Music, Food, and Bachelorette Parties. I know, of course, that there is much more to this part of the country but I hesitate, as I always do in research, to read too much in fear that it will spoil the spontaneous moment for authentic growth. Those very moments where your ignorance causes you to humble yourself, instead of retorting “i knew that”. You didn’t. And you don’t. And it’s infinitely better that you say that -- that you speak your truth -- instead of trying to outsmart a local. You can’t. Lying, I’ve learned, is never the answer.
So I sit here now. In a cafe. Observing. I see houses around me, not much different than the ones I see in Venice, California. Surf shacks, except the people in these are not surfers. I also see the decor I imagined seeing -- baroque is it? Those lacey-like decorations that adorn the second floor balconies, intricately layered like the little white napkins my Grandmother would place by our plates at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I see people. Hipsters, mostly. White. In nike sneakers. Beats headphones. Laptops. Shaved heads on two women. One in overalls. The other not. I am, like them, a white woman, on my laptop with my headphones on. Writing. More accurately, typing. I am not different than they are aside from that I am in a city I know not much about.
The corner sign states that I’m smack dab in the middle of the Historic District. Mandeville and Royal. What either means, in my ignorance, I will say, I do not know. I hesitate to google because I don’t want to arrive with an air of knowingness. I don’t. I’ve already stated this. My insecurity is now quite visible to the world, and you, dear reader.
It’s hot here too. Hotter than Mississippi. It’s another world here actually. I thought about that as we weaved out of the flat land that is the Delta. I did not think about the mosquitoes nor the bugs that I wouldn’t miss. I did not think about them hidden muddy waters in the grass that would leave my feet soaking. No. I thought about other things, people and places.
Earl and his rabbit. The rabbit in the cage attached to his motorbike. And his wife Martha. The very one he saw in a photograph some 40 years back and decided he was going to marry. Yes. On that day and then some time later she arrived to the place he’d come to work everyday. Her father, Earl’s boss, in a weird sort of way, brought these two together. Together they remain. Happy. The happiest they could be.
“If I died tomorrow I wouldn’t regret a thing! I lived a full life!” he told us.
I looked at him puzzled. “How?”
“I’ve got everything I need. A wife, I love the same if not more than the day I met her. Two kids. My rabbits that I feed and a life without drugs or alcohol.”
Life, he says, is beautiful. I wonder. Can it be? Is it? Does he see something I don’t see? Behind him gather a group of Black men. There are picnic tables. A few cars. Some music. Paper bags encasing bottles and cans. And a young kid, selling drugs.
“They’re idiots. I’ve got no time for those idiots.”
He sees more than they see. He does. They don’t. Do I?
We’re here to see Demontray. He’s 17. He’s nearing the end of his high school years. Built like an athlete, he plays football and baseball. He’s tall, handsome, with kind eyes. He leads us into his home. His Mother waits inside. So do his brothers. At first, everyone is shy. Then we start talking. He tells me about school. About sports. About the difficulties in the community. It’s not different than the stories I heard in Liberty City, Miami. Opportunity. Support. Care. Society provides none of the above. But he’s determined to be different. Certainly, seeking a different outcome than his Father, who took his life only a few years earlier. He tells me how much that changed him, at first, hardening him, leading him to a place where he thought he’d do the same. But then he thought about his Mother and his brothers and the kids who count on him to be a leader.
“What kind of leader would I be if I did that?”
Yeah, I think. You’ve gotta walk the talk. Something I think about often as I sit in workshops speaking truths that I myself cannot seem to master. He is and has become instantaneously an inspiration to me.
“How,” I say. “How did you become like this?”
“My mother,” he answers. “She’s taught me everything I know. I see her work hard. I see her come home tired from work. I see her as a single parent. I want to give her and my brothers a better life.”
Purpose. Meaning. “You’re special,” I tell him. “You’re a good kid. I hope you know that.” He is. He’s unlike many and I meet many.
“Nobody listens anymore, you know?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I do. Nobody at all. But that’s why you’ve got a gift. Because you’re willing to talk and you’re willing to listen. You’re willing to ask the ‘how are you doing?’ That’s power. Don’t forget that.”
He nods, “yes ma’am.”
My heart breaks in that moment. I wish, I don’t know what I wish but I wish I could do more. Something. But what?
Perhaps the lesson is much smaller. Perhaps I need focus on things I can control until I figure out the bigger picture. And what is that? What is my small contribution? What is my immediate actionable item.
Well, it’s simple. It’s the same one Will tried hammering into me until the day he died. The same message Earl was gifting me. “Live Alyonka. In the moment. Right here and right now. Be grateful for it. Everything. All of it. All of the abundance that you’re too busy to see. Slow down into it."
It’s so hard for me to swallow. So, so hard to swallow. When will I learn? I wonder.
And now I look around The Orange Couch Coffee Shop and I wonder: do you people - any of you - feel the same way? Or am I the only person sitting here wondering how I can do more by doing less. Less enough so that I can still into the non-doing to master the art of gratitude, after which I can run across this wild world to spread the lessons I’ve learned.
Roadies, man. The things that come up when it's just you and the open road.
Monday, June 4, 2018 || 4pm
Paloma Cafe // Our very first video: Mississippi Delta
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 || 10 am
Bywater. ByWater. By Water. New Orleans, Louisiana
I couldn’t quite collect my thoughts yesterday. I wanted to give it proper time to understand where I stand with this city. It’s not enough time. It never is when on the road. We pass and we go, catching a glimpse of the surface as we claw into the fabric of each particular town. I guess my nails weren’t sharp enough to dig below what the eye can see - perhaps another time. Or maybe this city just isn’t for me. Let me try to explain.
I walk at 7:30 am down in Bywater. It’s two words. All in one. Because this part of New Orleans is by water. However, I have not seen the water in my morning walks. No, I’ve seen a standstill train. I’ve seen the rooster around the corner. I’ve seen the cats. Some sleeping. Some grooming. Some purring, their tails dancing as I move about the streets. The sun is hot. There is no softness to it It just is. Which is why I believe the paint is faded. On all the buildings. They’re not solid pinks and blues and purples. No. They're violet, and rose, and aquamarine. They are those very crayons one’s privy to if they splurge on the 36 color boxed set. Maybe even 48. 64 if you’re lucky.
In a way, these homes, the greenery, the landscape, the flatness of the land, the heat and the way it doesn’t rise above eye level, reminds me of the outskirts of Moscow. There is a certain smell my nose picks up on instantly transporting me back to my childhood. The very same early mornings. Me, the rooster and the cats. In the same way, I’d walk around my grandparents land, stepping on dirt and patches of grass, observing the swaying flowers, picking up scents of pollen as the winds made their way through the stagnant heat. It’s not much different except for that it is. It’s miles away. On another continent, in another country, in another city. This is Bywater. I haven’t touched on anything else.
I like it here. I do. Perhaps on my third, or fourth, or fifth morning walk my opinion would change. But the morning and my first impression are quite indicative of a budding opinion. Take, for example, the French Quarter. Upon arrival, I wanted to leave. There is, I’m sure, much history and explanation for the place, but this trip was not meant to be one based on heavy research in pre-production. No, I wanted to sharpen my intuitive senses. Respond based on what I was feeeeeeling. After all, the feeling part is something I’m still learning. It passed away with my dying body. I am now re-birthing.
I felt, so strongly, that this particular part of New Orleans was mimicking a Disneyland. A money-making tourist spot, where one can buy donuts and coffee for $6 dollars at Cafe du Monde, while in the back corner, a young couple shoots up heroine. Pay no attention. The donuts are what matter. And the takeaway long-necked plastic containers, filled to the brim with Pina colada’s or margaritas. It isn’t enough to be able to drink an absurd amount of sugar and alcohol in an establishment. No. Total freedom and expression of being means having the ability to have it on hand at all times. Then there are the tours. And the beads. And the cameras. And the folks who are enjoying life in the moment but one’s who are not thinking about their enjoyments long-term affects. Perhaps as an eating-disordered person I should not be commenting on the outward appearance of people, but as I’ve mentioned before in many of my writings, it is not so much the appearance as it is what’s happening on the inside. An obese child cannot possibly be healthy. And health - I should know - is something we cannot buy. Even if we try. Even if we have all the money in the world. When the body starts breaking .. it doesn’t care who you are.
I will say that this is most likely, very heavily, a misrepresentation of New Orleans The French Quarter must be the Times Square of this city. The locals might even avoid it at all costs, like New Yorkers do 42nd street. There’s never a good enough reason to find yourself there unless there is absolutely no other way to do whatever it is that you’re doing.
I engaged in one local conversation. Eavesdropped on another. And spoke to two Russians visiting. Certainly. Most definitely even. This is an unfair way to form an opinion. However, let me relay what each said:
Local. That he’s not seen the homeless population as large as it is in all the years he’s lived here. That drug addiction is an epidemic (I’d say this isn’t exclusively a New Orleans problem — hello opioid crisis). That the streets are dangerous and that I should hold onto my purse at all times. For this statement I slightly rolled my eyes but that may be my own naivety.
Eavesdropped. Local-ish. Transplant from Oregon. Musician. Came here for the music. For the people. And for the ability to create freely. He’s whose opened his doors for us while we’ve stayed here. It is true. He owns a nice recording studio and musicians stroll in and out of his house. He can and will stop at end’s conversation to walk over to his piano and play what comes to mind. Not that this can’t be done anywhere else but there’s something to the way he does it. There are many, many jazz bars and live performances at all times but it doesn’t differ much from Nashville. The music is different. But that’s another page of history and culture I did not have time to dive into
Russians. One from Moscow. One from Siberia. Both, living in Ann Arbor. I seated myself at their table at random because I heard them speak Russian. The biggest takeaway was my asking them if they felt the people in their respective hometowns were happier than the people they’ve met in their time spent living in America. They took a minute to think about this. I welcomed the silence. Their words, not mine, however I am almost ready to repeat the same: “I don’t believe there is a country worse than the United States if you’re poor. Even the poorest person in my town in Siberia has a twinkle in their eye that I rarely see on the face of the poorest person in America.” I thought about this as I ask this question of anyone who crosses my way. It’s so simple, yet so hard to answer, and so frequently asked in Workshop, that it’s something I’m working on. The figuring out the happiness answer.