A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night had me at “Iranian vampire western.” Independent of that awesome description and the fact that the film is being hailed as a genre-bending, artistic, fresh take on vampire mythos, I knew that seeing this film would be important for me, because Ana Lily Amirpour is making history as an Iranian-American female writer-director. Cue my feminist lady boner.

And I was turned on for good reason.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is for all intents and purposes an exploration of good and evil. The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, is an Iranian vampire who stalks the streets of Bad City at night, preying upon men who’ve disrespected women (can you say sinister, scary, feminist anti-hero?). Arash, played by Arash Varandi, is a hardworking, decent young man who has lost his beautiful, vintage car to a pimp thanks to the debts accumulated by his heroin-addicted, prostitute-loving, widowed father. (He also dresses an awful lot like the late, great James Dean.) These two characters collide one night and form a seemingly improbable connection through an Ecstasy high, a Dracula costume, a skateboard, music, and touch—one that could lead to love, understanding, and an escape from Bad City.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, like many of its predecessors, plays an awful lot with the theme of a vampire longing to be human. Arash is the first person (at least in the world of this film) to treat The Girl as a human, not a monster; when they meet, he is not afraid of her. He treats her the way he would treat any other girl on the street—decently. Consequently, in her interactions with Arash, The Girl has an opportunity to experience life as something other than what she inherently is—an undead creature who kills without remorse. And though she is guarded and can’t squash some of her evil impulses, we as audience members start to see that perhaps this monster wants something more than her killer existence.

Now, don’t let this analysis mislead—The Girl is still scary as all hell. When she attacks, it’s brutal and unearthly. She seems devoid of emotion—except when she’s listening to records in her basement apartment (hipster vamp!). She lets her eyes do most of the talking, unnerving her prey with heavily lined lids and a frightening stare. When she does unleash her voice to its fullest, fiendish extend, you’ll feel like you’re watching a scene from The Exorcist. For those who like their monsters both complex and scary, the character of The Girl delivers. She’s a traditional monster in a modern culture with a fascination with being human.

For theatergoers who are all about visual and auditory stimuli, watch this movie immediately! A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in black and white with chiaroscuro everywhere, and it’s entirely in Farsi. The soundtrack is a brilliant marriage of Iranian club music, western-inspired lilts, American indie rock, and the bass-heavy reverberations of heartbeats (which arrive after The Girl has listened to Arash’s heartbeat).

The lighting is brilliant, increasing the inherent tension in many scenes and making Bad City look, well, dreary and bad. Individual shots in the film inspire pure awe. For example, drugs completely and utterly freak me out, yet one of the most gorgeous shots of the whole film involves heroin being heated in a bent, metal spoon. And don’t even get me started with the shots of The Girl on her skateboard with her chador (which resembles both a berka and a nun’s habit) billowing behind her.

Now, I will say that because of how the film is shot and how the story progresses (slowly and at times, awkwardly (but isn’t that how life progresses?)), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not for mass consumption. You have to like your films artsy and be okay with long shots nearly devoid of action but full of tension and emotion. You can’t walk into the theater and expect this film to be akin to Interview with a Vampire, Daybreakers, or Dracula: Untold. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is absent of Hollywood glitter. It’s gutsy and watches the way an offbeat, literary short story reads.

If you’re looking for a vampire film you haven’t seen before, characters that are compelling, and an experience that will make you yearn to go back to school to study filmmaking, check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And if Ana Lily Amirpour continues to make edgy, dark, brilliant films, I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.

 

I Don’t Believe in Resolutions

Photo by flickr user "Angle Torres."

Photo by flickr user “Angle Torres.”

Because I think starting a new year trying to “resolve” something is negative in connotation. Now, I do believe in setting goals. And if you do it right, your goals should build on successes or progress you made the previous year. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to fail because you’re starting from square one (never a fun place). New goals for a new year should be all about momentum, continuing the GOOD things you’ve already done, taking them to the next level maybe–from a place where you’re already ahead of the pack. Doesn’t that sound so much better than making resolutions?

That all being said, here are my goals for 2015:

1. Get four short stories published–with pay. In 2013, my goal was to publish one story during the year, because it was the first year I started submitting my work publicly. Invidia was published that year. In 2014, I set a goal to publish two pieces, and I’m proud to report that I did publish two–Blood Melody and Give It Back. In 2015, my goal is four, because I already have two pieces accepted and lined up to be published. Two more pieces on top of that seems very realistic but also a bit of a stretch goal. Let’s do this.

2. Be more active. Notice how that goal doesn’t mention anything about a diet or losing weight? This is because I’ve identified that I need the happy endorphins released during exercise more than I need to be a size 2. I had a revelation the other day. I get depressed when I don’t have consistent physical activity in my life. That part I already knew, but the ephiphany was that I’m a little addicted to endorphins, because growing up, I was a competitive dancer. I was naturally doping myself up on an almost daily basis through pirouettes and pas de chats. When I don’t get a hit of endorphins at least two or three times a week, I lose energy, get moody, and past body image insecurities come back to haunt me. For my mental and emotional health in 2015, I need to be very conscious and intentional about exercise. Lucky for me, I found a kickass yoga studio in 2014 and I just purchased a Groupon for bellydance classes a couple weeks ago. I’m ready to stretch and shimmy myself to good health!

3. Read 40 books. I’m a better writer when I’m reading. I get inspired by those who’ve come before me. Sometimes, the writing style of the author I’m reading seeps into my writing, and that’s always an interesting experience that I tend to grow from. Most importantly, I’m exercising my brain. Reading isn’t a passive act. It keeps me sharp and engaged with the storytelling part of my brain. On top of all that, I genuinely enjoy it. When I carve out time for reading, I feel like I’m spoiling myself. In 2015, I deserve to be spoiled. And I’m already planning out my reading list. First up, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, and The Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu.

4. Self publish a collection of short stories…or at least make a lot of headway toward this goal. This is the big one, kids! I’ve had an idea for a collection for over a year now. Recently, I talked to a good friend about it and she gave me some amazing ideas for art and the confidence boost I needed to decide it was about damn time to do this. My collection will need 12 short stories, two of which I have already crafted. So, 10 more stories to go. For this goal, I’m giving myself a little leniency. If I can’t crank out 10 stories that are totally worthy of this project by the end of 2015, I’ll publish in 2016. But I want to be intentional about my work and truly start to focus my creativity into this project. It’s time for a book. And the thought of it makes me happy and excited and ready to work.

Okay, those are my major goals for 2015, a continuation of everything I accomplished in 2014. And I’m not the least bit intimidated. Rather, I’m excited. I’m ready. May this be the Year of the Writer.

What are your goals for 2015?

Photo licensingAngle Torres

Eating Christmas: A Place at the Table

Eating Christmas 1

This week, I attended Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas event at Crescent Ballroom, an annual reading during which local writers share their personal tales involving food and the holidays. And it was awesome. So awesome that I left Crescent wonderfully inspired to write my own Eating Christmas anecdote. So, here it is, all wrapped up in feels and a pretty bow for you as we get closer and closer to Christmas. (Word to the wise: This blog post will be best enjoyed if accompanied by a bowl of piping hot ramen.)

A Place at the Table

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

My boyfriend has explained repeatedly that he comes from a food family, but I don’t think that fact truly sunk in until the coolers from California arrived. When Bryan and I moved in together earlier this year, his parents scheduled a visit to Phoenix. We’d only been in the house a few days, so our lives were still tightly packed in cardboard boxes and our refrigerator contained around 50 styles of hot sauce, but very little food.

“Should we go grocery shopping?” I asked. “We don’t really have anything.”

“No, we won’t need to shop any time soon,” Bryan answered.

And he was right. Because moments after hugs and hellos were exchanged, Bryan’s mom started unloading two huge coolers of food that had traveled the nine-hour drive with them. Within minutes, our freezer and fridge were completely stocked with foods I’d never heard of before—mushroom balls, shao bing, bean curd skins, and scallion pancakes.

The next day, Bryan’s mom sat at a fold-out card table for nearly an hour hand-rolling spinach and tofu dumplings. When she’d filled two large cookie sheets, the little pockets of heaven were deposited in the freezer, but she said she still had dumpling wrappers and filling left over, so she’d continue the next day. Though we’ve eaten those dumplings liberally throughout the course of this year, I’m pretty sure we still have a few in our freezer, because her beautiful, cooking-weathered hands crafted so many of them.

When Bryan and I first started dating, a whole new world of food opened up to me. Since his father is Cantonese and his mother is Shanghainese (very important distinctions, by the way), I got a crash course in traditional Asian food and knew immediately that my days of eating Pei Wei and P.F. Chang’s were over. Honestly, now that I’ve been properly educated, those chain restaurants seem like imposters. If chicken feet or traditional ramen or fish sauce aren’t on the menu, I don’t want to eat there. (And yes, I’ve eaten chicken feet; there’s photographic proof.)

Eating Christmas 2Now, when Bryan and I go to Ranch Market at the Chinese Cultural Center on the weekends to pick up jackfruit or Enoki mushroom or mochi, I’m excited, because odds are good that the lady who makes Taiwanese pancakes will be there, her cart steaming and giving off the aromas of pancake batter, coconut, vanilla custard, and red bean. I burn my mouth every single time on the hot filling, but it’s totally worth it.

On the birthdays of friends and family members, Bryan and I always make sure to eat noodles together, because noodles symbolize long life in Chinese culture. Recently, we’ve started bringing home noodles for our dogs, too, so they can partake in our birthday tradition.

And I love celebrating moon festivals, because there is always moon cake. And even more exciting than the prospect of buttery cake filled with pineapple or melon or mung bean are the ancient stories that accompany the tradition of eating moon cake.

One of my favorite stories is one that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD), a time of difficult, oppressive government and a resulting zeal for revolt. An uprising of the people was imminent, but it was difficult to pass messages between the resistance forces. Naturally, the Chinese came up with an ingenious solution…that involved food. Members of the resistance would hide messages in cakes, because what could possibly be threatening about a delivery of pastry? For added security, the rebels would read the messages by the light of the full moon, which is why full moons and new moons are celebrated in Chinese culture with—it all makes sense now!—moon cakes.

Last year, I found out that Bryan hadn’t been home to Lancaster for Christmas in about six or seven years.

“It’s time,” I told him and we packed up our suitcases and drove out to California for 10 days.

I found out that we’d be enjoying a traditional hot pot for Christmas dinner. A hot pot is kind of like eating fondue—but way better. Vegetable, beef, or chicken broth simmers in a pot in the middle of the table and everyone adds meat, veggies, seafood, wontons, dumplings, and more. As your food cooks, it absorbs all of the flavors of what has been cooked before, plus the flavor of the broth. And there’s customized dipping sauce, too. It’s a hearty, satisfying, interactive umami explosion.

Last Christmas, I went crazy over thinly-sliced Korean beef, which was both delicate and decadent. I tried pork kidney and didn’t completely hate it. I gorged myself on fresh vegetables. And my mouth was burning from the spicy dipping sauce I’d made myself.

But my favorite moment of dinner was something that Bryan’s dad said. Bryan’s parents—and Bryan, too, for that matter—are really happy that I’m an adventurous eater. They understand that I won’t necessarily like everything, but that I’m game to try it. And it goes a lot deeper than having a daring personality or an insatiable inner fat kid.

Bryan’s dad believes that if people from different cultures could share a meal together—without judgment, without sneering at cultural food differences, with an openness and respect for each other—the world would be a better place.

Yeah, I’m a girl who can recognize a moment, and that was most definitely a moment. Over the steam of the hot pot, Bryan’s dad was acknowledging that despite our different backgrounds, cultures, and views of the world, we were the same.

And I think he’s right about the global impact of sharing food. Can you imagine dignitaries and presidents and world leaders sharing a hot pot? Personally, I love that mental image. Because for me, food is love. It comforts you, fills you up, and though we all prepare it (or show it) a little differently, it nourishes both our bodies and our souls.

That Christmas, I’d been invited to the table—and it was covered not only with food, but love.

Teddy Bears and Tears: My First Trip to Mingus Mountain Academy

Mingus

A dusty, unpaved road in the hills of Prescott Valley leads you to Mingus Mountain Academy, a court-appointed rehabilitation facility for troubled girls aged 12-18. Last Wednesday, I jostled along in the van with two ex-convicts and two enthusiastic Gina’s Team interns to the campus. In the back of the van, we towed trash bags filled with stuffed animals, cookies, and candy canes. For the girls of Mingus, Christmas came early, just like it does every year.

For the past five years, Gina’s Team volunteers have traveled to Prescott with donated stuffed animals and treats to inspire the girls of Mingus and spread a little holiday cheer, which is something they need in spades. Many of these girls have struggled with addiction, domestic issues, living on the street—you name it, they’ve probably experienced it. And they’re babies—grade, middle, and high school kids who are struggling to get it right.

So you can imagine how a small gesture, like a stuffed animal (and the people who care enough to give them), can make a big impact.

In the gym, we unloaded the stuffed animals—teddy bears, unicorns, gorillas, and more—across six fold-out tables. We lined them all up so they could smile at the girls sitting on the bleachers across from them, an assembly of cuteness and cheer.

Some of the girls came up and introduced themselves, with proper handshakes or heartfelt hugs. Some surveyed the tables, mentally picking out their new friend ahead of time. I fell in love with all of them immediately.

Sue Ellen Allen, ex-convict and the co-founder of Gina’s Team, acted as our emcee, and the girls absolutely love her. I don’t blame them. I’m pretty sure everyone who meets Sue Ellen is instantly smitten with her. She’s 69, bold, beautiful, honest, and her charisma is palpable. Most importantly, she knows how to talk to these girls. She knows how to tell her story.

Sue Ellen has done time for securities fraud. She knows what it’s like to make a bad choice and pay dearly for it. And the girls at Mingus? They’re on the precipice. If they aren’t rehabilitated, if they don’t work past their issues—be it a broken home situation, a lack of self-confidence, an addiction, a psychological or emotional compulsion—they’ll continue the cycle and wind up behind bars as soon as they can be tried as adults.

So our job at Mingus on Wednesday wasn’t just to make these girls happy by giving them presents and boatloads of sugar; it was to inspire them, to applaud how far they’ve come already, to show them that even though they’re going through hell, there’s something on the other side of it: hope.

When Sue Ellen asked how many of the girls were experiencing their first Christmas sober or off the streets, about 90% of the girls raised their hands. And that’s when the tears started for me.

They continued as the rest of the volunteers who traveled up to Mingus—most of whom have experienced time in prison and have found hope and stability on the other side—spoke to the girls and shared their words of love and wisdom.

I’m proud to say that I added my voice to the chorus. I asked the girls how many of them had a dream or something fabulous they wanted to do with their lives. Again, about 90% of the girls raised their hands. I told them that they need to keep thinking about what they want, because those thoughts can turn into actions, and those actions can pave the way for the rest of their lives. They just have to believe that they can do it, that they deserve it, and that if they work toward it, they can make it happen.

I told them I would continue to think about each and every one after leaving Mingus. I’ve kept my word. I think about those girls and the energy of hope and rehabilitation that cloaked us all that day. I hear their voices singing Christmas carols. I imagine their smiles and know that they have so much promise.

I look forward to seeing them again. I hope next time I can share stories of what I’ve overcome and what I’ve been able to accomplish despite adversity and my own internal struggles. I hope that I can help just one of them feel like she’s enough and she’s got it in her to change her own life and reshape her destiny.

A dusty, unpaved road in the hills of Prescott Valley leads you to Mingus Mountain Academy, a court-appointed rehabilitation facility for troubled girls aged 12-18. I can’t wait to go back.

Last Night, I Went to Prison

Photo by flickr user "mikecogh." Note: not a picture of Perryville Prison.

Photo by flickr user “mikecogh.” Note: not a picture of Perryville Prison.

So, what should I wear to prison tomorrow?

Trust me, it wasn’t a question I ever thought I’d be asking, but I found myself emailing that inquiry to my good friend, Sara, a few short days ago.

Her response: I should wear something I’d wear to a casual business interview. Dark jeans or slacks were good. Minimal jewelry. And I might consider wearing a sports bra, because underwire has the annoying habit of tripping the metal detectors at the entrance. Beyond that, the only things I would need were my driver’s license and my copy of The Book Thief.

You see, I wasn’t going to prison because I was in trouble. I was going to prison as a volunteer, a book club volunteer.

When Sara approached me about volunteering alongside her at Perryville Women’s Prison, there was an instant tug in my belly. Half of that tug was nervousness, because let’s face it, I’d be going into a prison to interact with inmates. (And you might as well nickname me Ms. Paranoid—just ask my boyfriend.)

But the other half of that tug was instinct, something in me that said, “Yes, this would be a good thing. It’s something you have to give. Share your love for the written word. And do something that challenges you.”

Last week, I got the email from Sara letting me know that my background check had cleared, they were meeting next week, and the group was reading The Book Thief, would I come?

Last night, it smelled like a petting zoo when we got out of Sara’s car, because Perryville is situated just down the road from a dairy farm on the west, west side of town. The sun was setting, painting the horizon pink over the coils of barbed wire around us. Little squat buildings sat behind gates and uniforms. And there were women on the yard, walking around in bright orange clothing, probably enjoying the cooler weather.

We made it through the metal detectors without issue (go sports bras!), got our temporary badges, and walked into the cafeteria.

What came next was not the scene from a horror film. It was not an episode of Orange is the New Black. It was pretty, well, normal.

It was a regular book club, a collection of women who genuinely love the written word, who pine for it. Women who are intelligent and have opinions. Women who smiled at me even though they knew absolutely nothing about me. Women who I had an easier time picturing as mothers, sisters, and daughters than hardened criminals.

As we dissected the love letter to the written word that is The Book Thief and pontificated on the healing power of books, the women of Perryville shared with us that books help them to escape. The book club is something they look forward to. It’s a spot of hope in a blanket of bleakness.

And I realized that these women each have a story that led them to Perryville. Some are stories of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some are stories of terrible mistakes, the stuff of nightmares. Some are stories of struggle, addiction, and abuse. Some are about the women they used to be or the side of themselves they are fighting to overcome.

And I decided that we can’t let their stories end there. Prison shouldn’t result in blank pages for them.

So that’s what Sara and I and all the other Perryville volunteers are doing. We’re coloring these women’s pages with words and feelings and reminders of what it’s like outside the barbed wire. We’re making sure their stories continue to breathe and develop—so that when they get out, they can confidently continue to tell their stories and perhaps rewrite themselves into new, rehabilitated lives.

Last night, I went to prison. It won’t be the last time.

Break a World Record? Check!

World record badge

So, this past weekend, I did something pretty cool. I helped to break the Guinness World Record for the most hunger relief kits assembled simultaneously. Thanks to Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW) and Arizona State University, I was one of nearly 2,000 people who assembled 1,993 WeekEND Hunger Backpacks in three minutes, smashing the previous record achieved by a school in Canada of 1,000 hunger relief kits packed.WeekEND Hunger Backpack materials

I’d never actually assembled a WeekEND Hunger Backpack, but I’ve heard a lot about the program through my work with VSUW. In the Valley of the Sun (fancy name for most of Arizona), there are approximately 82,000 families struggling with chronic hunger. Think about that number. 82,000 households who may not know where their next meal is coming from.

Even more alarming, within the Phoenix schools that VSUW partners with, around 80% of the kids depend on school-supplied meals.

And this is where the WeekEND Hunger Backpacks come into play. The packs help chronically hungry youth get the nutrition they need over the weekend—a time when they can’t depend on school-supplied breakfasts and lunches.

During our official welcome to the World Record to End Hunger event, VSUW reported that they distribute more than 2,000 WeekEND Hunger Backpacks each month to hungry kids at eight Valley schools.

That fact hit me hard, because it put into perspective what a pervasive issue hunger is in Arizona, especially for our youth.

Yes, this world record attempt would quickly replenish VSUW’s supply of WeekEND Hunger Backpacks, but our end result would only help keep kids healthy and satiated for a single month at best (they only had room for 2,016 volunteers to participate). And that’s only the 50-some odd kids at each of the eight schools with which VSUW partners.

To further drive the point home, audio recordings of some of the kids who receive the WeekEND Hunger Backpacks were played for us. You’d think these kids were talking about a new LEGO set or a state-of-the-art Barbie mansion because of the thankfulness and excitement in their voices. But they weren’t. They were talking about how happy they were to have food, a basic survival need.

I knew then that this was about way more than setting a new world record. This was about smashing hunger in a symbolic and community-driven way. And I was pretty damn proud to be in that crowd of volunteers.

A few moments later, Philip Robertson, Guinness World Record adjudicator, explained the official rules for the attempt, and then it was time to assemble the packs!

As each volunteer was only responsible for packing one WeekEND Hunger Backpack, my table was finished in 30 seconds flat, and I inwardly wished we had more packs to assemble. Can you imagine if we all were creating as many packs as we could in a three-minute sprint?

As soon as the shotgun sounded at the end of three minutes signaling the end of the attempt, everyone on the field cheered. We knew we’d done it!

Official stewards, who were responsible for checking the work at each table, filed up to the stage at the front of the field and reported out their tables’ numbers.

CertificateA few moments later, Philip announced that we’d packed 1,993 hunger relief kits and thus, put Arizona on the map as a Guinness World Record holder.

The World Record to End Hunger event was truly inspiring and such a worthwhile volunteer opportunity!

But if it taught me anything it’s that our work fighting hunger is far from done. There are kids out there who have no idea where their next meal is coming from. And we can help.

Learn about VSUW’s WeekEND Hunger Backpack program. Volunteer to pack WeekEND Hunger Backpacks or deliver them to Valley schools. Become an End Hunger team member to advocate and take action to end hunger in the Valley. Donate to the WeekEND Hunger Backpack program. $20 alone (maybe four morning coffees – if you like ’em fancy!) will feed a chronically hungry child over the weekend for a month; $200 will take care of a child for a school year (40 weeks).

Because how cool would it be if the Guinness World Record for the most hunger relief kits assembled simultaneously didn’t exist—because there was no need for it?

Read “Blood Melody” in Black Denim Lit

Siren

Today is a momentous day for two reasons: 1) My short story “Blood Melody” has been published in the latest issue of Black Denim Lit; and 2) they paid me for it, which is a first! You better believe there will be champagne and cheesecake tonight (my tradition of indulgence when I’m published).

Money is a milestone for any writer and it took me a while to get here, but not for lack of writing or producing work. Rather, I had to recognize the worth of my work. When you do something you love, you often just want it to be out there. You’ll do it for free simply for exposure and publicity. But once you’ve honed your craft and you start to realize how much time, effort, and passion you put into it, you start to hope that someone will pay you for it.

Of course, that’s when insecurity rears its ugly head. Will someone really pay me for this? I mean, I think it’s good, but…And how much do I deserve? That’s the worst part–putting a price tag on your work.

But it’s also the most important part. Not necessarily the price tag, but the part where you realize your work is worth something. Once you get there, it gets a lot easier.

Now, I’m proud to say I won’t settle for publishing my work for free, because it’s so important to me. And I want my work to be recognized. My imagination, my work, my craft, all of it–is worth it.

“Blood Melody” is worth it. It’s about a hungry siren, a ship at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the thin line between humanity and animal instinct. Hop on over to Black Denim Lit’s website to read the stories or download the issue to your e-reader–for free!

 

Dropping the Mic

Photo by flickr user "evanforester."

Photo by flickr user “evanforester.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. Anecdotally, I know people who’d rather undergo electric shock therapy than speak to a room full of strangers. Sometimes, I’m one of them.

And yet, there I was at Glendale Community College last night, gearing up for my first public poetry reading in years.

I was there thanks to Sara Dobie Bauer, my wickedly talented friend who snagged a spot as one of their featured speakers. Actually, snag is the wrong verb. Earn is better, because she’s utterly brilliant.

Before Sara, there was an open mic, so, duh,  I should take the opportunity to put my work out there, right?

I almost didn’t read. We were late, having been waylaid by a bus that broke down in the left turn lane off the 17 and onto Dunlap. I figured it was a good excuse. “We were late. People were already reading. I didn’t want to be rude by signing up while someone was pouring their heart out. I’ll read next time.”

And I’ll admit I was a little intimidated, too. It was an eclectic crowd, and a pretty talented one, too. Would my work pale in comparison to theirs? Would I go home feeling worse for having read my poetry? Insecurity is a needy bitch.

But not reading would’ve made me a coward―and my pride can’t have that. Thank God I’m an artist with ego.

In between poets, I snuck up to the host and asked if it was too late to sign up. Of course it wasn’t and I scratched my name onto the list.

With each poem shared, the knot tightened in my stomach. I could feel adrenaline in my extremities. I visualized myself walking up to the mic over and over in my head. I may have tripped in one of my fantasized scenarios.

Then my name was called. My friends cheered for me. I didn’t trip. I made a joke about wearing shoes that were too tall for the pre-set microphone, but it’s all good, because I’m loud.

And then the words came out. And it felt incredible. I found my spirit and my cadence. I felt connection with the room. I was reminded of my voice and how powerful it can be.

Here’s the piece that I read. It’s dedicated to all my ladies out there who, at times, feel like utter disasters―because there’s beauty in the mess.

 

Beautiful Disaster

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Ever touched a beautiful disaster?

She is retractable and gives

In just the right places,

Ebbs and flows and reaches

And stops.

She carries the imprints of within

And without and radiates

The change of day after day,

Year after year.

Her time is now.

Her palms are heat and honeyed noise,

Soft to the touch,

But weathered and capable

And moving, moving, moving

To the next space, the next place

Where she can leave her exceptional mark.

She rushes over you,

Skims the surface,

Dives below and makes you dream.

She always has capacity

And will never be satisfied unless

She can hold you with both hands.

Ever talked to a beautiful disaster?

She is bubbling and tipsy

And perched for conversation,

The words spilling over,

A cherry red exhaust.

She begs for history, for the moments

That make you scream, for demure ruckus

And the stories, their stories

Those stories beneath your skin.

She is quiet when her brain is humming,

Gracious when you look at her just so,

A lascivious mosquito

If you can handle it.

She’ll tell you her secrets

On swing sets and subways

And between bamboo sheets,

All sweetness and subtlety and

Devoid of indifference.

She is saying this to you.

Ever loved a beautiful disaster?

It’s a trip, a turn, and a tumble

Into an unknown surety,

A warm jasmine comfort

Carefully pressed between your shoulders.

She’ll connect the dots

And echo what’s been good

Throughout the canyons

Until she can no longer

Breathe you in.

She is unpredictable and hoping

And restless and longing

And pulls down the arching sunset

To cool her reconstructed paper mache heart.

She’ll give it to you,

Beating and pulsing and alive

Because for her,

Love is about leaping into arms

And recreating what has already been given

Again and again and again…

Ever witnessed a beautiful disaster?

The beauty is in the breakdown.

She is the breakdown.

She is pliable, resilient, worn, and welcome,

A scar that holds her world together

With a stitch of a smile and sweet potato fries.

Her tragedy holds to the bottom of her feet

But the rest of her body flies free

So that she stays simultaneously grounded

By injuries of the heart, body, and mind,

But hopeful and lifted,

Face to the stars and back to no one.

She is the reason we keep going.

She is home, she is heart, And she is wanting for nothing but

Another day,

Another disaster,

Another chance for beauty.

 

After the open mic and before the featured speakers, the group collectively took a break. Bathrooms were down the hall and bags of Doritos were on the counter. Partake, poets, partake.

A woman with gray hair and tons of energy came up to me and told me that my poem was evocative and that she felt like a beautiful disaster. I grinned and got excited. I told her that the poem was for her, for anyone who’s ever felt that way. She said she’s turning 64 next week and that some sort of public speaking is on her bucket list. She’s never considered poetry before, but now she’s inspired to try.

I just kept telling her over and over, “Do it! It’s awesome. You have to!” Yep, the girl who almost backed out of the reading in the first place instantaneously became its biggest advocate. And here’s why.

I’m a big believer in doing the things that scare you in this life. Face the monsters under the bed. Leap into someone’s arms. Expose your soul  to strangers at open mic nights.

Because sometimes your fear turns into inspiration, connection, and strength for others―and that’s pretty fucking cool.

 

Photo licensing infoMicrophoneevanforester on flickr

Ever Been to a Yoga Rave?

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I experienced my first “yoga rave” this past weekend, and now I’m a little nervous to go back to my normal yoga classes. I’m going to miss the light installations, the dub step music, the sheer magnitude of what we sweaty yogis all experienced together. I’m just not sure if my regular practice can live up to these exceptional standards now! Maybe that’s kind of un-yogi of me to say, but…let me explain.

It all started when a good friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook of this wicked Kalliope light/sound installation/mammoth cool thing/I-don’t-really-know-exactly-what-it-is―and said that it complemented a yoga class. I immediately needed to research this awesomeness.

What I discovered was Walter Yoga, born from Walter Productions, a company which provides mobile light and sound installations for events. Walter Yoga seeks to create an experience in downtown Phoenix blending the amazing light and sound systems of Walter Productions with the beauty and power of yoga.

Once a month (I’m hoping more frequently in the future, pretty please!), Walter Yoga invites a local instructor to teach a weekend class. And they can use the light and sound system within the Walter Yoga studio however they choose. This means ultimate control of disco balls, projected lights, Kalliope, and a state-of-the-art sound system.

I had to experience this firsthand.

Saturday morning, I ate a hearty breakfast and then stood in line with my mat outside of the most unassuming warehouse in downtown Phoenix. Inside, I was greeted with cool air conditioning and an even cooler practice space. Check this out…

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I situated myself up front and smiled stupidly until the room was full. And when I say full, I mean my mat was about two inches away from my neighbor’s, there had to be over 100 people in that room, and the event sold out, meaning they had to turn people away.

The instructor for the day, Anton Mackey, introduced himself and then introduced A Life Story Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting amyotrophic  lateral sclerosis (ALS) research and potential treatments for patients with the disease. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS attacks certain cells in the brain which compromise an individual’s ability to move. Eventually, the disease progresses and ultimately causes respiratory failure. There is no cure, and after symptoms begin to surface, those with the disease live on average for a mere two to five years.

One of Anton’s friends was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 30, and so he’s become an avid supporter of A Life Story. About three-quarters of the funds collected at this month’s Walter Yoga were donated to A Life Story, because–as Anton so eloquently put it–what better way to fight this disease than by practicing something that is such a celebration of movement and breath. And so we practiced gratitude. We were abundantly thankful for our individual abilities and together we dedicated our practice to those who can’t move, can’t breathe.

And it made me push a little harder. It make me stretch a little further. It made me realize that despite all of the issues I’ve had with my back the past few years I’m lucky that my body still has agency.

The dub step music may have helped, too. So did Anton’s proclamation that we could dance our asses off if we wanted to. Pretty sure he said we could twerk at one point. While twerking didn’t ensue, laughing and swaying sure did.

At the end of class, we formed concentric circles throughout the space, knees touching knees, and thanked each other for the experience together. I hugged the strangers who’d practiced next to me. And as with any rave, I left feeling high–on gratitude, on life, on breath.

Check out more photos (professional ones!) on the Walter Yoga Facebook page. “Like” them to get notifications for the next Walter Yoga session. Check out Anton’s yoga page to see where he teaches and why he’s a spiritual gangster. And, of course, check out A Life Story Foundation to donate to a truly worthy cause.

Namaste, y’all!

Are you listening?

downtown Phoenix

Yesterday, two important things happened.

My boyfriend sat outside from 2:30 to 8:30 pm in a parking lot near 2nd Avenue and Fillmore to photograph the same scene of downtown Phoenix during different parts of the day for a work assignment. Think time lapse but with photography instead of video.

I took him dinner around 7ish, proclaiming that we could have any asphalt picnic. Except there were ants everywhere. And the asphalt was still pretty dang hot at that time.

Instead, my boyfriend backed up his car and I was able to sit in the “trunk” of the hatchback, eating cold noodles and sushi while my legs dangled over the pavement.

Here’s the important part. People walking by stopped and talked to us.

I met a man named Andy who’s been in Phoenix for nearly 38 years, mostly working construction. Since he’s used to working outside in the heat and has acclimated to such, he’s earned a nickname: Old Lizard. He showed me a tattoo of his namesake on his arm, a gecko that looks like it belongs in a Geico commercial, though I’m sure it may be older than the commercials. Andy’s Scotch-Irish, he served six years in prison (though I don’t know what for), and he has a daughter who works internationally who he’s incredibly proud of. He was also involved in the construction of such historic buildings as the Westward Ho (the renovation) and the Chinese Cultural Center.

Andy stopped by and talked to us three separate times, and my boyfriend said he’d been by to chat earlier in the day, too.

One of the last things he said to me? “I really like talking to people—especially younger people—but a lot of times, they won’t talk to you.”

Another man who stopped to talk to us asked if we were praying folk. My boyfriend and I both said “no,” mostly, I think, because we misunderstood the question. I thought he was asking if we were representatives of a church doing church-work on that sidewalk.

Regardless of our answer, he asked if we would pray with him for his mother who has recently undergone hip surgery. Now understanding the larger situation, I said I’d pray with him. We never actually got around to that part, but he did tell me proudly that his mother was a Spanish lady who’d had six boys and no girls. “A tough woman,” he said, and I had to agree. Before he left, I asked for his mother’s name—Helen Avalos—and I said I’d keep her in my prayers.

All of this interaction occurred in less than an hour, between bites of buckwheat noodles and miso.

After we packed up my boyfriend’s gear, we migrated to the community lot on Roosevelt Row for a candlelight vigil hosted by City Square Church to honor those who’ve been affected by the violence that’s erupted in our community this week. A little background is probably needed here.

CandleOn Wednesday night, a priest at Mother of Mercy Mission was shot and killed and another badly beaten in what police are suspecting was a burglary turned bloody.

While terrible and disheartening, this act of violence isn’t the only one that’s hit too close to home recently. A couple days ago, a drive-by shooting near McClintock High School left three injured and the school in lockdown mode.

And this is just a taste of the weekly turmoil in the greater Phoenix community―which is just a snapshot of what’s happening nationally.

How many school shootings have been reported since Sandy Hooks? It’s an obscene number. 74.

The candlelight vigil wasn’t just for the priests who were attacked on Wednesday: it was, for all of us, a time to realize that violence in our communities is a pervasive issue; a time to grieve for innocent bystanders; a time for us to make our concerns known and to try to find some sort of solution.

Now, my two stories don’t seem to have a tie, but if you look a little closer, they do.

In discussions at the candlelight vigil, one resounding call to action became apparent. Pay a little more attention to the humanity around you. Offer kindness. Show people that you care.

Andy―the “Old Lizard”—told me that often people ignore him. They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to listen. And I imagine that’s because we’re afraid to connect with people that aren’t like us—who for some reason or another make us feel uncomfortable. We forget that everyone has a history and despite current circumstances, that history could be beautiful and meant to be shared. Every life holds some sort of purpose.

Perhaps we need to stop pretending to ignore the people around us―all of the people around us. Because you never know how much a conversation, a smile, a nod can mean to someone—perhaps someone who feels isolated and alone and who’s battling inner demons.

I’m not telling you to sit out on a curb late at night to converse with anyone who happens to walk by. I’m not saying this is an ultimate solution to a very large, very complex problem in our society. I’m not calling you a bad person for turning away or for feeling uncomfortable―that would be hypocritical.

But I am asking you to be more aware of those around you. Be aware of your impact, your ripple in the pond. Be aware of the power you possess for good. Because you never know. You never know.

Today, and hopefully tomorrow and the next day and the next, I challenge myself and others with this one simple question:

Are you listening?