Saturday, May 14, 2016

The winds will carry you.

"I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going.
And I have trained myself to love it."
Our nomadic lives are about to pull us out of Mexico and into the next adventure.
We leave our Baja home in two days. I feel like I'm suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight.
Technically, we know where we're landing: California, New York, Colorado, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. Yet there's so much we don't know. We will be on the move, experiencing people and places and cultures new to us.
How different that feels than being rooted here in our casita, enjoying the rhythms of beach life.
These three months, I've loved living next door to my sister and enjoying our long walks with her dogs.
Rama and Dino at San Pedrito beach.
We celebrated Dave's birthday with a bunch of friends from our wonderful community, featuring homemade tortillas and tacos al pastor.
Simon and Paolo from El Poblano, one of Dave's favs, catered for his birthday.
We spent time in La Paz, communing with amigos and whale sharks.
On Omar's boat.
Swimming with this 40-foot beauty was sublime.
We enjoyed spontaneous dance parties and meeting new people, many who dropped in for a few days or weeks, then left to journey on.
Kimberly's birthday at Palapa 1!
We were able to enjoy our home more this time because instead of scrambling around to get it furnished and completed, we could hang out. Writing, editing, reading, playing Scrabble, cooking, enjoying neighbors who dropped by--this was where the action happened.
Casita Once
So here we are, perched on leaving what now feels like home. Goodbye amigos and la playa. Adios fish tacos and ocean air. So long dogs and music everywhere.
When we left Santa Cruz three years ago, I didn't realize we'd be saying goodbye to home and hello to the next thing, again and again.
Before yoga class yesterday, Kylie, the teacher, and I were talking about life's uncertainties--especially in the face of nomadic existence. She said, "You're going to like the poem I brought." During savasana (corpse pose), she read:
We rolled over from savasana and curled onto our sides: reborn from the corpse to the fetus. Death, birth. Goodbye, hello.
And then we stood and spread our arms, our wings. An ocean wind blew through the room, carrying us.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Week in Todos Santos

Todos Santos is a Pueblo Magico, one of 83 small towns that the Mexican government has designated as magical--somehow very special and deserving of attention (and tourist dollars).
Magical Todos
Even though the address of our casita is Todos Santos, we're about 10 miles south on Cerritos Beach. A few times a month, we drive down our bumpy dirt road and head over to Todos. When a friend asked us if we could housesit for him a week, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know Todos Santos better. And what a week it's been.

Lazy dog days
The palapa-roofed house is a stunner on a beautiful piece of property in el otro lado. Literally "the other side," that's what people call this area of town. Every morning we wake up to zillions of doves cooing. And some nights we can hear the waves crashing. It seems like there's always a breeze here. I was actually a little cold sometimes and had to put on a sweater. Mexico's climate has made me a wimp.

We enjoyed walking around the area. One day we hiked to La Poza, the closest beach. Not swimmable, but stunning.

La Poza
We hiked down the beach and then over to these rocks, climbing up and around to head back.

This water flows out of the huerta and sometimes connects with the ocean.

 On our walks, we saw all kinds of creatures.

Anyone know what it is?


pájaro amarillo y negro
Another day we walked into town on this road to do errands, including going to the optometrist to pick up my glasses.

I like the optometrist. He has a brilliant smile and knows very little English, so interacting with him challenges me to work on my Spanish. At his office that day, we also ended up talking with a Canadian who now lives here and teaches in the local school; he used to teach on a reservation in Canada. When Dave mentioned I'm a writer he said, "Do you ever help people edit their books?"

Universe, you crack me up!

Why yes, I said, I'm a writing coach--and he launched excitedly into a description of the Young Adult novel he's writing. The protagonist is an indigenous girl in Canada who becomes a political activist. I told him it sounded right up my alley.

Speaking of political activism, we saw this protest on the road...locals protesting this.

A lot of gringos have been drawn to Todos Santos. One morning when Dave and I were out for breakfast, a big guy and a big St. Bernard sauntered through the door. Kevin, who lives half the year in Montana and half here, said he came to that restaurant for desayuno every morning. Sure enough, he hadn't ordered but the waitress brought him his usual, which he shared with Romeo. One-year-old Romeo is a sweetheart and a galumph; he reveled in our hugs and slobbered all over us.

"Are you going to share that bacon?"
Rob, another American guy we met, told us he's ten months into a year-long around-the-world trip with his wife and two daughters. We'd been planning to come back to our casita to water our yard, so we invited them to our little resort's pool. His daughters (12 and 15) years old were so fun to hang out with. They are citizens of the world, having lived in Jordan and several other countries before spending this year on the road.

Rob talked about having an adventurous mindset, one free of conventional limitations.* He and his wife Nadia want to live now. They don't buy a lot of consumer goods--they don't even own a car--and aren't afraid of spending their savings to travel. For many years, they have lived and worked all over the world, so this year of traveling with their daughters is a natural extension of their lifestyle.

And as it turns out, Rob just got offered a job in Myanmar, a place we'd been hoping to go when we're in China. They will be moving there this summer. I have a feeling we will see them again.

You know you're in Mexico when...
In addition to meeting some great people, we've enjoyed stumbling across cool things happening in town. One night we heard music and followed our ears. We ended up at an open-air restaurant dancing to a really fun Mexican band playing a cool fusion of rock, funk, and reggae.

One Saturday morning we also heard some live music and discovered the main street was blocked off. The band played on a makeshift stage, and people milled about, waiting for bicyclists whose race began in La Paz and would be ending in Todos. Soon, the cyclists appeared in their colorful outfits, marked Costa Rica, Guatemala, and various other Latin American nations.
Fun scene.
Another thing that makes Todos Santos magical is its artsy vibe. Lots of musicians, writers, and artists live here--and the streets are lined with galleries. Many of the galleries double as art studios, so you can watch the artists work.

Our casita walls have been bare for two years, and we had a feeling that a week in Todos Santos would cure that. And sure enough, when we walked into a gallery and saw this piece by a La Paz artist, we knew it was the one.

Oceany and expressive.
One of the best parts of this housesit was taking care of Bonito and Negra, two of the sweetest watchdogs. You wouldn't know it are by looking at them (or hearing them bark and protect the yard), but they are love bugs.

Bonito likes to recline while eating.
When our friend asked us to housesit, we didn't hesitate. I like saying yes. Yes opens gates to lands you didn't even know existed.

The gate into the housesit property.

* PS: Speaking of traveling and living with a freed-up mindset, check out this piece I wrote about a young woman who is bicycling around the world.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Baja Magic

It's sweet to be back to where the desert meets the sea.

View from Baja Zen's yoga studio, just down the road.
We took four days to drive from San Diego to our casita at Cerritos Beach. Day One we stopped in Rosarito Beach to visit our friend Tony, who happened to be hanging out to surf.
The roads were in much better shape than the last time we drove south in 2014, just a few months after Hurricane Odile. The improved roads and our familiarity with the drive made it fun and relaxing.

First Baja mission, Loreto.
Every day in the car we practiced our Mandarin by CD. Yes, Mandarin, not Spanish. We know enough Spanish to get us around Mexico for the four months we'll be here (and it improves each day). But Mandarin is a totally different animal. We are committed to learning key phrases before we go to China in the fall.
Making tortillas.
After almost a year away, we arrived at our casita March 1. That night as we climbed into bed, lulled by crickets and waves,  it was quite a contrast to our first arrival here when we had to sleep in a barren house on a leaky air mattress. Our place was set up just as we'd left it, except the garden had grown.

Immediately we were swept up into a world of awesomeness, including babysitting our neighbor's dog (who is so cute it almost hurts to look at him)...
...doing tai chi and yoga, walking with my sister (who lives here year round) and her dogs on this beach...
Playa San Pedrito
 ...eating the fantastic food available here...
Chicken mole: Dave's happy place.
Best fresas ever.

Amazing (and cheap) oranges and ruby grapefruits abound.
...and going to hear David Raitt (Bonnie Raitt's brother) play great bluesy rock at the Hacienda... dance our patooties off.
Boogying with our friend and yoga teacher, Paul.
Before we knew the date we were returning to Mexico, we'd rented out our place for three days in March. We didn't want to cancel on the couple--so after being here a week, we took off for La Paz, an hour drive east. We stayed in a B&B near downtown, whose best feature was this garden...

...where every morning we ate breakfast and watched the birds before heading to the beach.

The first day at Playa Balandra, we happened to run into people we knew--two awesome Canadian couples we'd met a few days before in our resort's Jacuzzi! They were vacationing in the casita just across from ours.
I mean, really? They are staying next door for a week
and happen to be at the same beach as us
an hour away at the same moment? What are the chances?
You know how sometimes you feel a connection to people you barely know? That's how I felt about them, so it was a blast to rendezvous unexpectedly.
At Balandra, we found a small reef near the famous "Mushroom Rock," where we snorkeled and viewed colorful creatures. The next day we enjoyed Playa Tecolote, the beach where a year ago Dave took the picture that graces the cover of my memoir.
Tecolote 2016.
Last year, most of the beach restaurants were closed due to hurricane damage. What a difference a year makes.
Playa Pichilingus
Last time we spent just a day in La Paz. This time, we enjoyed the malecón at sunset: families strolling, kids playing, and vendors selling everything from food to balloons as people rolled by on skates and bikes.

Malecón means a walkway by a lake or ocean.
 We wandered around the streets and into markets.

Of course there was eating involved....
Claro Fish Jr., our fav.
Back at home, a note was waiting for me from the woman who'd rented our place. She found my memoir on the bookshelf and wrote, "By the 10th page, I know I was meant to find it. It feels like the book I've been searching for my whole adult life." She went on to say that she feels connected to me, even though we've never met, and that she is now inspired to do what she's always dreamed of doing: write.

She took a copy of the book (I had two on the shelf) and left money to pay for it, saying she'd mail it back to me if that wasn't okay. I was flooded with gratitude and goosebumps. Maybe this is too grandiose, but it made me feel like I'm fulfilling my life's purpose.

The next day, Sally--one of the Canadian women we'd serendipitously run into--came to talk to me about writing and life. She believes we were meant to cross paths. I feel the same. When they left later that morning, I was a little sad. The nomadic life involves a lot of hellos and goodbyes. (Thank goodness for being able to stay connected through Facebook.)

As though the universe was conspiring cheer me on, later that day I found out that Call It Wonder was named one of three finalists in the Bisexual Book Awards.

All of this has happened in just two weeks. I'm going to chalk it up to Baja magic.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"I navigated my own path in life."

An American woman who spent time in Afghanistan and other warn-torn regions? Who loved both men and women? Who sought a spiritual path? I knew I had to read her book, My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist and Spiritual Seeker, for my Books That Inspire series.  Currently available for pre-order, it’s coming out March 1. I was able to get my hands on an advanced copy and had a lot of questions for Melissa.
Melissa in Afghanistan, 1982
You've had a pretty amazing life. You spent time as a photojournalist in war-torn Afghanistan and the then-U.S.S.R. You were involved in love relationships with an Afghani fighter and, later, a woman artist-activist. Action was a kind of drug that medicated your anxiety. You also talk about using food for a similar reason. How do you deal with anxiety these days?

Now I don’t have anywhere near the level of anxiety I had in my twenties. Maybe I was at a 10-plus then. Now it comes and goes around 1 or 2. So I notice it, sense it, sometimes give a mantra like “Blessings on all beings” then let it go.
Why do you think you have less anxiety now than you did in your twenties? What would you say to your younger self?
Lots of emotional and spiritual work. And doing what feels right. Joseph Campbell said "follow your bliss." I did this, even when it didn't feel blissful after I chose it! I navigated my own path in life, didn't follow anybody else's idea of what success is. I would tell all 20-year-olds to do what feels right—and teach them how to pay attention to their senses in their bodies so that they can start having a trustworthy feedback loop for life.
In the book, you write about affairs you had while you were engaged to George. You've now been married to him for 25 years. Did you worry about revealing those things to him and/or anyone else? What does George think of your book?
He knew from the beginning. We’ve always had a very transparent relationship. He’s been a big fan and supporter since the beginning when it was at the shitty first draft stage. He read all the drafts except the final final version! He says he loves it.
Melissa and George in Tinos, Greece, where they now live.
When you were in Pakistan in your twenties, you had an ecstatic awakening, a kind of a merging with (or sudden awareness) of the Divine. Why do you think that happened at that time?

I think being out of normal routine, adrenaline, and I think I had a born leaning (in homeopathy it would be called susceptibility) to mystical experiences.

Do you still get "shot with a blissfulness" at surprising times?

Yes, now there is more knowing of the experience then the dramatic first time.

I was especially struck by the scene in Afghanistan where instead of being afraid of death in one dangerous situation, you felt peacefully accepting of it. Why do you think that happened?

I think part of it is adrenaline, the other is there is often a pause, a peacefulness others have shared in near death experiences. My theory is that the right brain kicks in. Maybe it’s a form of survival, or maybe again my susceptibility.

Interesting you’d say this because that calmness came over me—after the initial terror—when I was having a seizure caused by a brain tumor in my right hemisphere. So, do you still have that type of relationship with mortality?

Even more so. I took 5-MeO-DMT for my 50th birthday. As described in this article about the shaman I worked with, it’s a “spiritual medicine from the Amazon, used shamanically by indigenous peoples there to contact the spirit world.” I never really did drugs—once pot at a party in high school and hashish on the border of Afghanistan, and didn’t feel anything both times. But with 5-MeO-DMT I experienced an intense going into a tunnel of light and merging with an intense energy source beyond anything I could imagine or had experienced before. I was that drop in the ocean of energy, and there was me like a garment I could put on, comforting and familiar. This gives me a deep insight into what death could be.

Now that you had such an experience, does it make you want to do the drug again?

No, it was really a one-time thing, truly intense and lesson learned!

What do you wish Americans knew about Afghanistan today?

We are causing extreme suffering over there. The invasion, bombings, drones, torture are hurting people.

The book also deals with your time after Afghanistan. I enjoyed reading about your creative life in New York, where you and a group of women decided to work together to make art and independent films with complete freedom of expression—beholden to no gatekeepers. Can you say more about where you stand with this notion today?

I think writing has a similar freedom. It’s low cost and a way to get out ideas quickly and with depth. I’m also interested in the collective process. I lived in community most of my adult life. I’m interested in both the challenges and benefits of working together and how to make that work better, with more diversity and authentically.

What advice would you give to people who want to write a memoir?

I think journal writing is the best place to begin and then see where that leads. Write everything, all the memories. For my second memoir I was more organized. I typed and wrote on index cards every memory/story and then saw what themes appeared and how it all connects.

Melissa Burch is an author, filmmaker, producer and former war journalist for the BBC and CBS. She is also a spiritual practitioner. For more information and a special gift visit