Let’s talk about forgiveness. Not too long ago, I was in a darker place. I was not surrounding myself with kind, insightful, loving thoughts, and that reflected in the life I led, my notion of self-worth, my dreams and the low-vibrating, also struggling, like-minded company that I kept. I was stuck. And I knew the health of my well-being and spirit desperately needed to spread their wings to fly and soar into a space of love.
Fast-forward to my present, and Good & Grateful‘s blossoming in the beautiful San Diego. I found that space of love, but I did not find it in California. I found it in myself, though distance from the negative associations of my prior helped allow for my discovery.
There is an important distinction here in running from problems that are within, and removing oneself from an external environment that no longer serves us. I am sure, as I continue on this learning-journey, I will find that my environmental struggles were only mirroring my unhealed internal, as everything comes back to the self. I am sure, as I continue on this learning-journey, I will be able to return to those once-places of pain, and lend enough love to them in order to rewrite their scripts. That, I believe, is true growth.
But back to forgiveness. In this current life-chapter, I have focused intensely and intimately on self-love. I am, like many, often too hard on myself. I hold myself to unrealistic standards of perfection that only perpetuate a mindset of not being, and never being enough.
Intensifying healthy, loving scripts and positive mantras have helped me to shift my thought-patterns. Meditation, exercise and conscious eating have aided me in a newfound understanding of self-care. Treating myself magnificently, and humbly, remembering that I am the full moon as I am the mud that hosts the lotus, has taught my new company to honor, respect and love me in the same ways.
But at the core of it all, I am relearning that we are all and only human. If we are the universe and the earth, then we are every piece of it. We are the full moon and the sun, as we are black holes and vast emptiness. We are the flowers and the trees and the ocean, as we are tornadoes and dirt and the tectonic plates that crack and shift. We are everything while we are nothing. We are light and dark.
A flower isn’t perfect with its curved stem or curling petals, but it is beautiful. The sunset is only as spectacular and special as the clouds that blur and shape it. We humans were not made to be perfect. We are breathtaking and magnificent only because we are not so.
In this space of love, within myself, I have come to forgive myself for my shortcomings, my mistakes and my pain of the past and current. I am freed from the suffering that I clung to for so many years. And remembering that I’m trying my best and that our best is all we can do has helped me to heal painful relationships of the past. I am able to forgive others and accept that they are on their own journey– one that I may never understand– and they are learning and trying, too.
Self-love has permitted me and encouraged me to break free from the past. I am ever-growing with deeper learning and loving, and I am ever-releasing myself as pain’s prisoner.
With forgiveness, I have tasted unwavering joy and contentment. My relationships with my self, and others, have peacefully heightened and become more enriching.
We are much less defined by the outcomes as we are the way we handled things in getting there, for it is never the destination: it is the journey.
And I plan to continue making this joyous journey beautiful: to be ever-learning, ever making mistakes, ever-falling and ever-getting-the-heck-back-up, gently and lovingly. And now, once again, I am soaring.
And now that I am here within myself, I can finally say:
I forgive you. I forgive me. I love you, and I love you, me.
New Orleans, L.A.
My first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, had me head-spun, swamp-enamored, voodoo-entranced and quite possibly considering ending the cross-country road trip early and setting up shop. It was in all senses delightfully overwhelming and magical. A melting pot concoction of culture seeps from the city’s every crack, crevice and corner, and my anthropology loving mind was absorbing it all like a sponge.
New Orleans, a province of colonial Spain sandwiched between two periods of French rule, retains traces of around-the-world today as it exists as part of the U.S. under the 1803 Louisiana purchase. Toss in an incredible amount of African influence and the ever-entrancing voodoo religion, a touch of spicy cuisine and blaring brass bands, and the high-energy, semi-addictive personality types (like my own?) who have come to get a taste of this culture-soup and gotten their feet happily planted in the Louisiana swamp. Now, paint everything with the brightest, most vibrantly cheerful and charming colors and year-round Christmas lights and celebration beads: NOLA.
Our killer weekend in the Big Easy began with nothing other than piles of crawfish at the local NOLA brewery, beautiful art at the NOMA, and even better live music: an intimate show of Arkansas blues-duo Handmade Moments, at the Apple Barrel, a cozy venue that plays live music every night of the week.
City tip: The Apple Barrel bar is located in Marigny, a history-rich, authentic NOLA neighborhood. Live like a local and delve into the area’s delicious food and great music, or, start your night here and make your way down to the French Quarter, where the craziness is only a stroll’s away.
The city embraces an open container law, so our walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street was extra warm and enjoyable. Like in Nashville, live music typical of the city sounded from every bar. Some of our quieter moments that night were stumbling upon an open-air artist’s market on Decatur Street and Galerie Rue Royale, a sweet and small art gallery that was bustling even at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.
City tip: The French Market District teems with trinkets, treasures, traditions and tasty treats and makes for a great daytime activity. Don’t forget to get a beignet from Cafe Du Monde: the cafe is famous for the city’s traditional treat of a square of fried dough topped with confectionary sugar. Check out the nearby Mississippi River to imagine the historical trading, importing and exporting that took place in this port city in years prior.
After a night on Bourbon Street, our Saturday in the Big Easy called for a relaxing morning of yoga and wandering through Audubon Park. The low-key day prepped us for dinner at the famous Parkway Bakery and Tavern for what USA Today named “The Best Po’ Boy In Louisiana” in 2016. The Obama’s even made a trip there!
City tip: Po’ boys originated in New Orleans as free, hearty sandwiches for union workers on strike. It comes from the term, ‘poor boy’, a name that gives insight to the work ethic and conditions of NOLA natives in the 1920s and 30s. Order it dressed– topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise– to sound like a local!
We topped off the best shrimp po’ boy in the state with the best spontaneous performance of NOLA live music one can hope to find: the epic, up-and-coming Tank and the Bangas. An eclectic combination of jazz, soul, funk, folk and extremely high energy, this band is a name to remember. Check their upcoming tour dates to see if this band is performing during your Big Easy visit- you won’t want to miss it.
City tip: Get a better taste of the magic encompassing you in the Big Easy: check out the Historic Voodoo Museum near the French Quarter and gain a deeper understanding of the mysterious religion. The museum is a small, dimly-lit hallway that connects three rooms full of voodoo history, talismans and shrines. The voodoo religion has its roots in Africa and arrived to the U.S. during the time of slavery in the 1800s: a cloud of racism combined with the religion’s lack of scripture and inaccurate Hollywood portrayal all contributes to its mystery and conceptions of evil. In truth, it is benign and empowering like any religion.
There is only one way to end your weekend and Sunday in NOLA. The final adventure capping off your Big easy experience is to witness and partake in a second line parade. Second line parades descend from the city-famous jazz funerals, and usually take place on Sunday afternoons with joyful dancing, brass bands and outrageous uniforms. Today, many organizations perform second line parades, and while for varying reasons and in varying neighborhoods, at any given event you can find locals and tourists alike spilling their open-container drinks, dancing and walking the route.
We danced and paraded with the second line members for miles until our feet ached, our stomaches growled and our cheeks had tightened from laughter. It was time to wrap up our New Orleans adventure and we had one last experience to cross off our city bucket list.
In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we bought a King Cake: traditionally a Christian honor to the three kings and now, a NOLA Mardi Gras favorite. The King Cake comes with a small plastic baby, in which you hide somewhere in the cake. The story goes that the person who receives the slice with the plastic piece in it must throw the next party. We enjoyed our King Cake with some wine and friends on the Mississippi River as the sun went down: our weekend in magical NOLA had us contently partied out.
Beneath the captivating surface, locals helped me understand that NOLA was a city of extremes. For every vibrant house, there was a homeless person in the French Quarter asking for a sip of beer. For every victorious band, like Tank and the Bangas, there were the sounds of second line parades that once voiced their aching losses of loved ones. For every tourist that comes sweeping full force into the city to get a taste, there are natural disasters, like flooding and hurricanes, that the area is prone to enduring. For every person that gets sucked into the magic of the swamp, there are people who cannot get out and get un-stuck from the sinking land.
New Orleans was a bursting city, overflowing in every aspect. It wasn’t until our drive out of the swampland to our next destination of Austin, Texas, that I felt a moment of clarity about my heart-set move to San Diego. It was as if I regained consciousness after a trance that had claimed me finally broke– but for a colorful moment there, I had my feet and heart firmly planted in the swampland of NOLA, too.
From our nation’s capital, we headed south to Music City: the capital of songwriting and country music.
Hello, flashing lights, buy-one-get-two cowgirl boots, home of hot chicken and the Man in Black. Nashville, the first official stop as co-pilots on our cross-country adventure, was only slightly warmer in temperature than D.C., but lightyears warmer in southern hospitality. We saw sun here for the first time in weeks, and light shone on the incredibly kind friends who hosted and welcomed us with homemade beer and great taste in music, and the equally friendly strangers who shared locals-only city tips and histories.
City tip: Head to East Nashville for a more hip, locals scene. Visit Drifters and sit at the bar for some good stories and even better BBQ!
It was a taste of the south, a taste of aforementioned hot chicken, which is absolutely no joke and caused my road trip partner to shed (or sweat?) a single tear of fiery deliciousness, a taste of a Bushwacker, a very boozy adult milkshake originating from the Caribbean and milking its way up the U.S. east coast, and a taste of rich entertainment industry history.
Our daytime activities consisted of seeing the Johnny Cash Museum, visiting Acme Radio and hiking in Percy Warner Park, while our nightlife involved strolling down Broadway, with its Honky Tonk music pouring from every bar, a Country Burlesque show at Skull’s in funky Printer’s Alley, and karaoke and mechanical bull riding at Wild Beaver.
City tip: Musician’s etiquette asks for a dollar in the performer’s jar upon entry to a bar. Consider it a thanks-for-getting-up-there-and-making-Honky-Tonk-for-us, and a great-job-tip because in Nashville, every performer is talented enough to win on The Voice (we met one who actually had).
City tip: In the 1960s, Nashville’s early years in becoming the booming country capital it is today, musicians would perform at the Ryman Auditorium and head over through the alley entrance of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for a night-cap. To this day, the bar brings in performers and tourists alike.
All in all, Nashville was pleasing to the senses: great music for the ears, delectable treats for the tastebuds, intriguing history and sight-seeing for the mind and the eyes, and twangy charm for the heart. It was a city recognizable to this day for its role in shaping the country music genre and proclaiming itself as a place of hopeful and determined musicians and songwriters with aspirations of making it big time.
When sitting at Drifters’ bar chatting with a local, I asked, “Are you a musician?”
I caught myself instantly rephrasing my question in response to his jaded chuckle- “Is everyone a musician here?”
“Throw a rock in the air.” He responded. “It’ll land on one.”
So long Nashville, the city of aspiring dreams, rockstar karaoke singers, Honky Tonk bars, Country Burlesque and flashy lights and cowgirl boots. Next up, the Big Easy.
Check out the adrenaline rush below that was post-mechanical-bull-ride: my karaoke version of ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ by Amy Winehouse at Wild Beaver in Nashville!