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On the Road: An Exploration of The Unknown.

On the Road: An Exploration of The Unknown.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
— Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
”That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
”I don’t much care where –”
”Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland

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?

“I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
— Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Thursday, May 31st, 2018 || 10 pm

Nashville, TN

photography by: chester pink

photography by: chester pink

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. 

alyonka larionov on the road

'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.

Photography by: Chester PInk

Photography by: Chester PInk

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.

chester pink

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

alyonka knights inn

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.

“It’s why the Delta doesn’t progress. It’s not having anything, and not really wanting anything, because that would mean change. That would mean taking on more responsibility. Too many of our people are not interested in progress and change.”
— Richard Grant, Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta

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.

clarksdale mississippi

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?

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 1.22.10 PM.png

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.

“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And if that’s sinful, then let me be damned for it!”
— Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

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?

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
— Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire


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.

“Perhaps the experience can give my writing a new dimension. Being actively engaged in the system which I criticize will be an interesting irony in itself.”
— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

Monday, June 4, 2018 || 4pm

Paloma Cafe // Our very first video: Mississippi Delta

“Some people will offer you their hand, and some won’t
Last night I knew you, tonight I don’t
I need something strong to distract my mind
I’m gonna look at you ‘til my eyes go blind
Well, I got here following the southern star
I crossed that river just to be where you are
There’s only one thing that I did wrong
I stayed in Mississippi a day too long.”
— Bob Dylan

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.


There is of course the night. Oh, the night. It is the time where we feel most vulnerable. Something I have stated already. Especially in the dark. Especially when we engage in those very things that make us lose our inhibitions. You know, the things I don't engage in anymore. The non-eating which provides a nice, soothing high. The booze which slips steadily into our bodies movement, focusing our eyes on something or someone who feels good for the night. Drugs, something I've not dabbled in - not the serious kind - but even in the little that I've done, it too, takes off that edge. That, to me, for now, is the night. It is my only source of looseness. The only time I let my inhibitions run free. It's something that is new to me. The first 11 months of Recovery, the night was not an option. It is now. In small doses So I take it in slowly .Real slowly. Fearful of it over-powering me. You know, that addict is there in me -- always looking, seeking the rush. The freedom to be without a need to control everything.

The night here. It might have been dangerous for me. For sure it would be. I walked, yesterday evening, as the sun was setting. I saw the people change. There was a certain charge to their walk. There was a purpose. A chase. Going after something. What I cannot know. It changes for each individual. I watched. I observed. I took it all in. I considered - what if. What if I followed? Where would it take me and how far would I go -- willingly. Without the substances. With just the night. In need of something there is the chance I could have gone far. And that scares me. That is what makes New Orleans dangerous for me. In the night - there are no rules - just personal freedoms. An unwritten language and code to which I am not privy. I am, unlike them, not brave enough for this free world.

So I remain in the morning. Safe with myself. In tact. With all my pieces. Not wondering whether or not I've made bad decisions. Not questioning my motives. I remain in control With the rooster and the cats and the standstill train. Yes. This is New Orleans. My version of it. A dreamworld I am not yet ready to explore. One day.

For now, I'll stay in the comforts of my control.

“To be treated well in places where you don’t expect to be treated well, to find things in common with people you thought previously you had very, very little in common with, that can’t be a bad thing.”
— Anthony Bourdain

Thursday, June 7, 2018 || 10 am

Native. Hostel. Vanilla Latte. Austin, Texas. Pre the road to Dallas.

alyonka austin hostel

I once booked a hostel. It was in Tokyo. By Shinjuku. Something I booked for the first part of my 10-day trip to Japan by myself. It included a bed, breakfast and a library. They had me at books. I didn't end up going. My job at VICE was extended. I was mad at my friend for not giving me a heads up. He died a year later from cancer.

The idea of a hostel always excited me. Intrigued me. What would it be like? Who would be there? Where would they be from? Would we get into conversation? I was mostly curious about the people. Native is a hostel in Austin, Texas. It was tipped to me by the one soldier who rvsp'ed for a Workshop I was to hold that evening. I cancelled it and instead asked if she'd be interested in meeting for a coffee. She mentioned Native. I looked it up. I booked two beds. We met elsewhere. 

The price per bed is $49. Top bunks. In a room full of four total. It includes a bathroom, a shower, a towel, a mini-light in bed, lockers, and curtains for privacy. The commons area has a long dinner table, with lounge-y chairs with cushions aligning the walls. There is a kitchen. And attached to the hostel is a restaurant, bar, coffee shop and gathering space, all of which are offered to guests at a 10% discount. It is unlike most hostels. This is coming from someone whose never stayed in one. But when speaking with the front desk attendant she confirmed my thought saying "most people call and ask if we have sheets".

I'd recommend this place to anybody. However, here is something I did not consider, as I am the kind of person who thinks more about others' needs than my own. This isn't an issue with Native, it's an issue with humanity. Allow me to explain.

For better or for worse, I am that person who will 'shhh' you if you're too loud in a space where there is someone studying, reading, resting, or sleeping. Even if they're in the other room. I would not want my silence disturbed. I assume they wouldn't either and so I do everything in my power to allow them the same. Same with the story I'm about to tell you. If I were a person who found myself to be sick. Really, physically, ill. Coughing and hacking and choking and spitting. I would never in a million years book a bed in a room with three other strangers to become the source of ruin to their experience and their sleep. My mind wouldn't go there. Now. It's not a money thing. There was a motel up the street for $50. And there are plenty of other hostels in Austin. Native is a sceney place. It's for creatives. Mostly, people stay here to network. This man was not networking. He was sick.

I awoke at midnight to sounds I'd never heard a human make before. It was as if his insides were ripping he was coughing so loud. Then he'd choke on his phlegm, hacking until he could breathe again, then spit into the sink, breathing heavily. I did feel bad for this human and so I opened my little curtain from my top left bunk to peer at him. He stepped out of the bathroom, eyes blood-shot and teary. To me he looked like a zombie from 28 Days Later. Like a child in fear of a monster, I shut my curtain immediately and placed my head back on my pillow.


Chester was sleeping in the bunk next to mine. I messaged him, 'we're leaving'. No answer. I quietly moved my body out of my bunk to reach over to his, tapped him lightly on the shoulder and said, 'let's go'. We left. Got a motel at 1 in the morning. And that was the end of that.

My point - there's always a point - is that I wonder, I question, I ponder, at which point did this man lose sight of his immediate surroundings. At which point did he decide that he was the only one in the room? At which point did he lose the ability to communicate that he is sick - at least give us a warning? And at which point did his mind override this thought: maybe I should book a solo room as it would be an awful sleep for anyone in my vicinity.

Perhaps I'm in the category of people who cares too much about others instead of myself. Perhaps his selfishness, to care for himself first, is what has made him "successful" (i know nothing about him). Perhaps it's what's made him thrive. Perhaps it's just ignorance - which too can be bliss. Whatever it is I am sure he is not the only one. And that's what scares me. Because in some twisted way, if he were able to put himself in OUR shoes, to see how he would affect the strangers in his room, there would have been a better option for all parties involved. Maybe even a conversation which would have led to some sort of connection.


side note: that's how I met this guy, who happens to live in Baltimore, who happened to provide me with a contact in the city for when i'm ready to host a workshop. it all starts with a 'hi how are you doing'

This man lacked EMPATHY. In the simplest way possible. His inability to put himself in others' shoes. To connect. To communicate. To establish some sort of ground on which we might be able to relate to him. To soften the blow. (i say this as dramatically as I do because sleep is insanely important for me in my Recovery ... I was out all day Friday ... more on that later)

If our society is at a place where we lack empathy in the smallest form, what can we expect when we lose people like Anthony Bourdain and the outpour is "how did this happen" "how did we not see" "how could we not tell". We couldn't because we never take the fucking time to ask someone "how are you doing?" That's how. We never take the time to step out of ourselves and into the lives of others, and if we do, we do it because we've got something to gain, or something to say. We're never ACTIVELY LISTENING. 

EMPATHY. The lack of it. Is what will be the demise of humanity. This has to change. Right now. Today. Take off your cape. Put aside your pride. Call someone. Text someone. FT someone. Write a letter and send it. Let somebody know that you're thinking of them. And then? LISTEN. Try this for a week. Once a day .Then come back to me.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2018 || 9 AM

Denton, Texas. Ralph is gone. Chester is sleeping. I am reflecting as the ducks waddle their way in and out of the pond.


Austin was quick. Too quick. Too large and too small. Too hot. Not enough time to explore like I would if I had multiple days and the weather was cooler. The heat? It kills me. As it does everybody else as they wade in and out of the sun dripping the sweat off of their foreheads. There seems to be a town somewhere. Coffee shops. Bars. Breweries. Young people. A lot of young people doing young things. Tech. Start-ups. Art. Music. Everyone's doing something but are they really doing? I'd often think this when I'd walk down Abbot Kinney during lunch while working for VICE. I would see the same people I'd see later at parties and get togethers. The very same ones whose stories I'd follow on instagram. They would continue sitting on AK long after I'd leave to go back to work to grind out 12 hour days, sometimes with weekends. But I"m in Austin, not Venice. So I shouldn't assume anything until I've learned something.

I did have the opportunity to sit down with a young woman. She had a lot to say, in particular in regards to the dating scene. It's nothing I haven't already heard of: "dating is hard". It is everywhere at the moment. She's single and she's wonderful. Driven. Kind. Compassionate. Aware of her flaws. Working on her strengths. Has multiple interests. A thinker. A total catch. But you know, the saying goes like this: what if she isn't the one? what if there is someone else? does the one even exist in our generation? She could be the one for someone. But when someone isn't looking for the one, or is looking for what they're not sure of, it's hard to make that connection. So people keep on walking on what's right in front of them because, what if?

ralph strangis

Now I'm in Denton. It's a bit outside of Dallas. We drove here to see about a friend. Ralph. He's the kind of guy who'll take you to a Vegan Diner and will order tofu scramble at 5pm because it's what feels right in the moment. He'll ask questions and he'll listen to answers. Then he'll sit and think for a while peering through his thick-lensed glasses. He'll respond with something that will make you twirl with excitement in your seat, ready to leap, to figure out this puzzle. It's usually a quote by an author, or a playwright, or historical figure. He's that guy. Whose walls are lined with books and authors. Voltaire. Kierkegaard. Vonnegut. Strangis. His book. That he wrote. Because he's a thinker. An observer. And he's curious about the world at large. That's why we're friends. Because we're totally different people who are more similar than we think. And he doesn't know this but he saved me. In 2012. When, I, once more, drowned myself in an emotional man, and he, stepped in and gave my existence meaning. He saw in me what emotionally unavailable man could not: substance, kindness, compassion, humanity. He respected me and from there grew friendship which has evolved over the years via long-form emails and occasional New York watering holes and LA diners. A beaut! That's what the hockey guys call him. He is. A gem of a person.

dallas texas

We're aggressively maneuvering our way through the streets of Dallas. I am late to my own Workshop. It's part of the process, you see, in that, life will throw obstacles that we cannot control. The question is: how will I respond to this and move through the things which I can control? I sit in the backseat of Ralph's Jeep. We're bouncing. Seemingly flying in the tiniest peaks and valleys that do a terrible job of resembling hills. The roads are smooth in Dallas. We're gliding up and down, my stomach dropping, resembling my favorite Cedar Point ride. "There's something going on here," Ralph states in a frustrated voice. He wants to get me there but the streets we need are closed. 

I sit in the back thinking. I hear you, Universe. I know. I tend to try to find loopholes in the roads that are not open for me. I waste a lot of time and energy investing into a plan which intuitively I know will not work, if not blatantly, as you put up another road block. Ralph reacts, "I'm trying here."

"It's okay," I say. "Really. There's nothing we can do. We'll get there when we get there." Aiiiii - if only I'd feel this way in all aspects of my life. We arrive, the group is sitting. "We've had some time to really get to know one another." I smile. "Ahh, yes. Isn't that wonderful when people get together with intention?" 

I begin the Workshop right away. Three women. Four men. It's a co-ed. I enjoy these although the energy is quite different than the traditional women | circle and men | gather. But everyone's willing and able to participate. We're all looking for connection, conversation, community. We're looking to learn about ourselves and others. We're looking for something more. Or, perhaps, something that we already have conveniently lost in our careers, relationships, friendships, lack of self-care. We begin.

dallas wo/men workshop

Flaws. Flaws first always. I begin with mine. "I care way too much about what others think of me only to realize that no one is thinking about me, really." And, "I say yes to way too much. Overextending myself to exhaustion. I'm a giver, not a receiver." Which conveniently leads me to: "intimacy. i'm working hard on intimacy and remaining myself when I feel exceptionally vulnerable with a romantic partner."

We go around in Circle. This, to many, is the scariest part. The act of public speaking even though it's amongst a small group of people. Having to surface flaws isn't easy. Then we engage in conversation. It flows - beautifully. Organically. Without much need of my prompts or guidance. We are gliding together in a connected space of humanity. All with different stories, but all very much alike. The time is flying. 

Okay. Bowl of Trust. Let's ask our questions. People begin to write. Placing thought onto paper is harder than expected. I write my two questions then focus my eyes into a soft-gaze as I wait for the others to find their words. I toss the pieces of paper. I pull out the first one: "why do men never put the toilet seat down?" Eyes wide open each person shares a passionate reason for their belief. We go back and forth. One person asks, "why do women never put the seat UP for men?" We continue. Coming to a conclusion at the end.

The questions continue: "if you saw a co-worker being harrassed, would you speak up even if it could negatively impact your career" and, "have you ever cheated and did not feel guilty about it?" and, "do you ever wish you were the opposite sex?" and, "what qualities do you look for in a man?" and, "is doggy style really your favorite?" and, "what keeps you going back to a woman you know is 'wrong' for you?".

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 2.35.04 PM.jpg

I close the Workshop the same way I always do: feeling + takeaway. As per usual, the room is at peace, calm, relieved, grounded, connected. Tomorrow begins a new day. And if we stray we've got a community to reach out to. New friends. New connections. A new way of thinking, feeling, being.

I breathe out deeply. All that worry for nothing. Worrying if anyone would show up. Worrying if I'd make it on time. Worrying if i'd be enough in workshop. Worrying if my energy would last. Expending energy which didn't serve me. It's a lesson I still need to learn. I am learning. With each Workshop. Practice kindness, Alyonka. You are good enough. You need not do more than you're already doing. Trust the Process. Surrender. And everything will come. 

I feel you knocking at my window
I feel you hanging around, yeah
But I ain’t letting nothing in though
So I know this can’t be good
— Gosh Pith

Saturday, June 9, 2018 || 7:30 am

All are asleep.


It's a lot. It's not easy, this road trip thing. It's romantic at its inception, tantalizing all the needs which accompany a junkie like me. A searcher, a seeker, a curious thinker. A storyteller who dreams to capture the human condition, packaging it into words written on a keyboard, or visuals stitched together on a screen. It is dreamy until you’re in it.

Driving. One forgets how hard it is to drive long, extensive hours on the road. The first several hours from Michigan to the South, kindly put, are mundane.

Sleeping. Or, not sleeping whilst changing rooms + beds + pillows + places. The motels. Hostiles. Spare bedrooms. Air mattresses. They are the Uncomfortable, comfortable spaces. The, this sucks but I’m grateful to put my head down.

Talking. Really talking when contained with the walls of a car. Digging up past traumas that have been long forgotten. There is no hiding, for even in the silence there are things to hear + learn.

Sharing a room with someone whom you've only known for a matter of days prior to embarking. One learns a lot about one another quickly. There is no sense of “control” or curated facade. There is Me + there is He. And we’re all that we’ve got. Wholly.

The Observations. Collecting stories. Engaging + actively listening in on conversations, looking to blend narratives into a beautiful mosaic which can be funneled into sense from afar. Posting on that wretched thing called social media, hoping to act as a conduit for all those following.

Planning + canceling + rescheduling + looking for spaces to host my Workshops, unable to find "me" time once these moments are wrapped, pushing all the stuff that needs processing into the cellular levels of my body, conjuring up neck + back pain which has been dormant since I've started feeling things again.

Absorbing realities which cannot be unseen. Deflating the bubble in which so many of us conveniently live in. There is much heaviness when contemplating the fabric of this country + our place in it, but there’s not much time to swallow it, as the road keeps tugging at your name.

It seems I’ve seen a lot but has it really seen me?


How much of what comes up is of my own doing? We watch in amazement as the world changes in front of our eyes. But how much of it is our own doing? Or, worse. Our lack of doing. It takes courage to take a long hard look at our reflection. To really peel back the layers to see our Truth. The road is long. At times easy (thx Ralph), sometimes hard (Mississippi). The question is: what contribution are you making to the world in which you reside? YOUR bubble? And how thick is that wall? Can you see through? Do you even want to? Or are you content with staying in your confines.
That’s the Road to me. It’s the bubble that bursts into exposing you to the real world, causing you to swirl out of control as you’re thrusted into The Unknown. Who are you without your comforts? Without your wall? Without your shield? Can you stand your ground? Remain kind? Compassionate? Even-keeled? Or do you crumble when things become hard? Do you curl up into a helpless ball. Do you hide in shame for all that you’ve done wrong. Showing Up is hard. In the real world for sure. But it’s even harder in the Bubble. Oh, it’s so much harder in the Bubble.

“Your duty is to be and not to be this or that. ‘I am that I am’ sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in the words ‘Be still’. What does stillness mean? It means destroy yourself. Because any form or shape is the cause for trouble. Give up the notion that ‘I am so and so’. All that is required to realize the Self is to be still. What can be easier than that?”
— Ramana Maharshi

Sunday, June 10th, 2018 || 8 am

Cuba, Missouri. Outside the cottage. On a chair. Gazing at...Cuba.

cuba missouri

It's true. I am in Cuba. Cuba, Missouri, that is. Everything feels different. I feel different. It feels that the world as I'd known it has changed. All the thoughts I had going into this have changed, morphed, moved into a different hemisphere, one which I hadn't reached before. That is the truth of Being, in that, we take so much time pondering the future or the outcome of things, trying to control the outcome and the way we'd like for it to be shaped based on our preconceived notions and ideas, only to have it explode in your face, causing you to spin out in to the world which no longer grounds you in gravity, but pushes you to float, far, far, far, into the universe where you see things you had never seen before.

You're faced with realities. With contradictions. With things you had no intention of seeing. Your mind instantaneously expands into a realm it couldn't have reached before. There is growth. Tangible growth. And change. That you cannot help but move through because try as you may resist it, it will persist, because the Road keeps moving and so do you. Unless you stay. In Cuba. Which you cannot because there are things you've got to do. The real world is calling you. And all of it's obligations. And Faces. Names. Places. Goals. Lists. Routine. Habit. The norm. Under control. In the confines of the safety of The Known. Ah yes, The Known. Where there is zero Growth. Grow I did.


How so?

The truth of the matter is that this country is divided, fractured, broken. There are good people. Really good people. With good intentions. And kind hearts. And then there are really ignorant people. Racist people. Sexist people. Elitist people. With hardened souls. There are selfless ones and selfish ones. Fearful ones. And fearless ones. There are those who walk around the world cynically. And those who glide through optimistically. There are those who are willing and able to take advantage of the weak. And those who are defenseless in their senses. There are stereotypes and stigmas. There are gender roles which are still very much carried out systematically. There are the loud, the boastful, the proud. The quiet, the introverted, the peaceful. There are those who are working really hard, and those barely working. There is sex. There is love. There is pain. Suffering in the world at large. Much of it is contained in the "we don't show emotion" norm of the world. There is religion. There are Churches. There is right and wrong, and it changes pending on where one lands. There is obesity. Mental illness. Abuse. Negligence. Manipulation. Unfairness. Life, one begins to understand, is grossly unfair. There is PERSPECTIVE. Oh, how much perspective, of how MUCH we have already. There is STILLNESS. Emptiness. Vulnerability. Thought. In those quiet spaces. There is the landscapes of the South that will speak to you if you take a minute to listen. There is a world of nature that functions and will continue to function - living or dying - with or without our attention and care. The world is breathing, and we're not hearing. There is an entire kingdom of creatures who've figured out much more than we'll ever be able to. Unlike them, we are not prioritizing community and the inclusivity of all peoples. There are those stories that will never be heard but not to be seen by all.


There is a man named Ronnie who's three days into a job at iHop. He is smiling. He is trying. He is doing the best that he can. And there is Cuba, Missouri, where the night is quiet except for the train which thunders on the nearby tracks. People are content - not all - but some, with the way their cards have been dealt on the table. They do not seek more, or less. They have what they deem to be enough. And then there are those who are eternally searching, seeking for something they cannot quite grasp. The thrill, the pill, the person, the job, the check, the promotion, the h i g h of anything that will take them out of their current situation. What situation? This one! This very one that feels uncomfortable enough to make one itch themselves until bleeding. There are people like this. There are places like this. There are stories like this. I am but an observer. Trying to make sense of it all. Trying to fit my piece into a puzzle that doesn't seem to belong.

Belonging. That is the common thread. Amidst all of the above, the underlying thread, the commonality, is our need for belonging. To be seen. To be heard. To matter. Some of us better at identifying our needs and then expressing them eloquently. Others, screaming tantrums as we wriggle out of the discomfort of our own being. We all need help. We all need a hand. We all need a shoulder to lay our head on. We do. And yet, we keep pushing away all that doesn't sit well, or fit comfortably, or seem politically correct. We seek perfection in all facets instead of embracing the imperfect. We do not take responsibility for our actions. We do not hold accountable those who do wrong. We do not practice kindness when we and others inevitably fuck up. No. There is much work to be done. Much work.

And so the question remains: what is our human condition? The answer is that I must keep going into The Unknown, into the Discomfort in order to receive any sort of clarity, or understanding. So, on the road, I remain. Scratching the surface, checking the ground, planting seeds, harvesting communities, until the answer comes for where I'll place my roots.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
— Anaïs Nin

The Mundane is Where We Grow the Most

The Mundane is Where We Grow the Most

You are NOT a fuck up.

You are NOT a fuck up.