It’s nearly October and this is my first Honey and Smoke post of the year. I haven’t stopped writing, and have filled journal upon journal of my experiences, but now, mid-september, is the first time I’ve really had a moment to breath and focus on translating my experiences, thoughts, ideas, and concerns for a larger audience, which is to say, now is the first time I’ve had space to make art.Read More
I have chosen a photo from each month of the year to reflect on the changes that I've seen throughout the year. I hope that you enjoy and find some time to reflect on your own year.
2017 has been the year of pushing. The last few months of 2016 were the most difficult of my life. They shook me up in the ways that only close experiences with trauma or death can do. And yet time keeps pushing forward--and with it all of my dreams, all of my obligations, and all of the promises I made to myself and to the universe. I entered 2017 with a heavy sense of duty, but lacked the will to support the things I'd said I'd do. So I had to push through every day. To remind myself of my blessings, to release old pain, to do the things I know I was put here on Earth to do.
2017 felt like 5 years packed into 3 months. Somehow it flew by, and yet so many life changing events happened. This time last year I had just moved back to LA from NY after 4 and a half years. Now I'm preparing to return to the city to assist director Mia Lidofsky on a tv series called STRANGERS. As I reflect on the year, it has in many ways been more productive and successful than any other. I created two short films, traveled to two different continents, wrote my second feature, directed a visual poem, had my first solo show, and most importantly took the time to heal a lot of old and fresh wounds. But each of those moments felt like a push. Nothing came easily.
In all of that unease the universe never gave up on me, and I never gave up on myself. Instead, I kept pushing. Now I feel that I've arrived at a moment where I no longer need to. All of that relentless pushing and discomfort created a momentum. When I least expected to find it, there was flow again. An ease, a moment to breathe and recognize that even if things are hard or tiring, the inertia, the axé of the universe will keep me going.
Today I did 108 sun salutations at my Yoga Shala to ring in the new year. Our teacher chanted the gayatri mantra 108 times in sync with our movements. It felt like a soul cleanse, and finally in savasana, a moment of full-body/spirit release. I don't want to push anymore. I want to be present in each moment, to be there with my breath even if it is challenging, to rise to the challenge of the present without trying to push it forward or resist it.
I don't often reflect on the hardships and accomplishments of my year in a public way, but this year as I look back I feel incredibly proud of all that I have done both creatively and personally. 2016 left me in my most vulnerable, paranoid, and anxious self. Things that normally would excite me were cause for extreme anxiety. Fear followed me in all of my pursuits, and it has taken all of my energy to combat that, to heal. I am proud of that, and can't wait to put my best foot forward in 2018. For myself, and for the world.
It's been a very long time since I've shot film. Probably three years have gone by. On my recent trip to Japan I bought a few rolls of fuji color film because it was significantly cheaper there than it is in the states. I headed to NY to visit my loved ones and decided to bring it along. I loved returning to that original intimacy of shooting. I feel incredibly grateful.
Shooting film is a combination of patience and decisiveness, two things I normally have a lot of trouble with. I guess that's what makes the practice so meditative, and why it's probably really good for me. I've been turned off to portraits for a while. Not because I don't love them, but because I was feeling overwhelmed by how saturated the world of photography is, especially in LA. What makes my eye special and why would I want to just be one more person thrown into an already overflowing pot?
...But then I remembered. Each one of us has our own special energy. What I love most about photography is capturing the authentic spirit of a person or place. There is something so intimate about that. I feel refreshed by this reminder. We are capturers of light. That is to say the light that a soul gives. What an honor.
Dear Loved Ones,
So I'm back in Los Angeles, not as a stop over point, or to catch some shut eye between travels. For the first time in a long time I'm really back. If you know me, you also know I've been avoiding Los Angeles/being in one place like the plague, but I finally feel good about being here. I know that it's the right move for me to stand still for the time being.
I've been super blessed to be able to travel for the majority of the year thus far--and to make art while on the road. My time in Japan refreshed me in so many ways. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed taking photos and sharing stories via Honey and Smoke blog. I feel recommitted to something I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember--tell stories in any way or medium that I can. So, this won't be the last you hear from me. The project of Honey and Smoke will simply take on a new form, as I settle into the changes of life here in LA.
There are a couple of video projects in the oven right now, featuring footage from Cuba and Japan, so definitely stay tuned. And in the mean time, here are a few photos I took in Kyoto that I think capture the essence of poetic, meditative travel.
Thanks for your support so far.
We decided to go out and find some breakfast in between Batizado events and stumbled right into this Coffee shop/Salon/Bookstore. I've noticed that there are a lot of multi-purpose spaces here. I think it's a cool idea--I mean, why wouldn't you want a coffee and a book after getting your hair done? Or in my case, why wouldn't I want to watch someone get their hair cut while I drink coffee and eat an egg on toast. I think it's cool.
The most frustrating part about not speaking Japanese is coming across so many beautiful bookstores full of books and manga that I can't even pretend to understand. So instead, I just take photos of the bookshelves.
I missed the Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo, apparently this is one of the most popular spots in the city for Sakura--known for filling up with flowers at the right moment in spring. I'm grateful to have missed the crowds though. Personally, no matter how beautiful a touristy location might be, standing in a crowd of tourists and cameras always overwhelms me and takes away from the experience.
My most memorable traveling moments have never been the ones that I planned to the T, or that were known tourist hotspots top on my itinerary. If anything, they have been the opposite--the random and the unexpected that I couldn't have in a lifetime of preparation known would come.
Straight off the train from Tokyo, I arrive to Kyoto station, greet my friends, store my suitcase in a locker, and get on another train to spend the rest of the day in Osaka. We started off the day eating fried food, and ended it watching middle-aged fanatic men dancing to a personified anime star in Dotonbori.
There were so many people. What struck me most about Osaka was the high energy. Everything felt so fun. Even one of the grocery stores we stopped in used to be a Pachinko place and has all of these crazy LED lights. The shops were overwhelming, as were the quick changes, but we continued onward, the city flashing before us.
Juri and Alain said that Osaka is often considered to be like New York, funny enough we had a coffee break at none other than Brooklyn Roasting Company.
After a very long day, so much walking, and a relentless search for a blue wig, we hopped on the train back to Kyoto where I was to spend the next 4 nights. While my trip to Osaka was brief, I'm glad I got a glimpse of this intense city. You can be sure that I took some great video of what went down in Osaka...so make sure to stay tuned.
I enjoy learning about people’s histories—what is important to them, what they have had to sacrifice, what they are most proud of. I got to spend 24 hours in Nagano with Sinal, a fellow Capoeirista, and his wife and two children. They are truly a beautiful family. I can tell that they have a balanced dynamic and that they find joy together in raising their children.
Sinal's son is a two year old tornado. His laughter is a charm, and when he is frustrated, or sometimes for no reason at all, he grabs things, anything, and throws them. Their four year old daughter is a sweetheart. She is so curious, but also extremely shy. She has a hard time doing the thing she wants to do if she is a little afraid, but her parents encourage her.
Sinal used to be a rice farmer who did leather work and other crafts on the side. Now, he works at a factory making leather school backpacks for kids. Nearly every kid I saw in Nagano had one of these special backpacks. He says it is very hard work, and while rice farming was also physically laborious, the factory work exhausts his spirit. Working in this more difficult environment allows him days off, though, like this one that we shared together.
There are a lot of rice farms in the Ueda area. It stretches across a mountainous valley and parts of the mountain side. Last night’s sunset was so calm, as were the birds chirping in the cool air this morning. He and his family live in an old traditional Japanese house on a hill. It is a spacious house, but the four of them share a room anyways—at least while the kids are still small. There are toys strewn everywhere and their youngest son has punctured through most of the paper that fills the squares in the wooden sliding doors throughout the house. They’ve tried to patch some of them up with more paper, or color swatches, or their children’s artwork.
Sinal has turned the top floor into a Capoeira studio. It’s a large room with wooden floors and a layer of chalky dust, presumably from his creative projects. He has an old school boom box and a stack of Capoeira CD’s beside it. At least 10 sticks are propped up against the far wall. One of them has the bark peeled back 3 inches. He says he is trying to see if Japanese trees will work to make Berimbau’s.
Per usual, I was struck by the quietness of life in Nagano, but I quickly forgot all of this as I melded in to the traditions and warmth of this lovely family.
You’re probably wondering what happened in Hirosaki, here’s the story.
I should probably preface by telling you that when I mentioned Hirosaki to my Tokyo-native friends, none of them had ever heard of it. I should probably also mention that the day before my visit, Golden week ended, one of the two times of year that Hirosaki is actually flooded with visitors.
Why Hirosaki in the first place? Well, maybe I got a bit too carried away on Pinterest, but I read that if I wanted a chance at seeing any Cherry Blossoms this late in the spring, I would have to head North. The Blog post mentioned the town of Hirosaki, which hosts a special Castle Park filled with over 2,000 kinds of Sakura. The photos looked beautiful, and Cherry Blossom lover that I am, I added it to the itinerary.
After a week in the city of Tokyo I got on the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Hirosaki. The minute I sat down I remembered that all I know how to say in Japanese is "Water, please" and "So beautiful", and I immediately felt a wave of loneliness. I was suddenly grateful to have a chosen a hostel with a shared room.
After 4 hours on the train, and a nice chat with an 18 year old Canadian kid headed to Sapporo, I got off at Shin-Aomori and transferred to the Ou line for Hirosaki. The wind was brutal and the silence was thick. I was beginning to panic, and realized that maybe after this long trek I would miss the Cherry Blossoms all together. The train ride from Shin-Aomori to Hirosaki is about 40 minutes. The ride was dead silent, but I got a beautiful view of one of Japan’s classic snow capped mountains, Mt. Iwaki.
I finally arrive to Hirosaki and pull out my phone map to find my way through this silent city by foot. When I say the city is quiet I mean, so quiet. All I hear is wind, the occasional hum of a car, or a group of kids in uniforms on their bicycles.
The hostel is a traditional Japanese Ryokan with a shared Onsen (bathhouse) and a cute garden. I walk inside and am greeted by the owner’s wife who is very kind. I immediately ask her if I’ve missed the Cherry Blossoms, she says yes, they’re all gone, and takes me to my room.
I get to my room and notice one bed. “So it’s just me?” I ask. Turns out everyone just left because Golden Week ended. Normally I would relish the luck of paying a cheap fee for my own beautiful traditional Japanese style room with a cute tea corner and a view of trees, but I already felt so alone, the thought of even one night in this silence was terrifying to me. As much as I love nature, I suppose I am truly a city girl (how it never dawned on me before, I don’t know). Luckily there is Wifi here, but it’s too early in LA or NY to call anyone. Feeling claustrophobic, I decide to head out and see the park for a bit before the sun goes down.
When I get downstairs I meet the owner himself, he speaks English and gives me a little tour of the place, tells me that in fact there are some Cherry Blossoms left. Then he tells me, “Every guest gets a free drink in our private bar, come I will show you.” So he takes me to a building next door, it looks like a regular condo. We go inside, around the corner, he presses his special badge to the door and it clicks open.
Inside of this random small town in this random small building he has built a very small speakeasy type place, a “special members only” bar. The walls are painted black and there are pictures of Marilyn Monroe on them. There is one older British lady sitting there drinking and the bartender brings me a shot of some Apple flavored liquor, a specialty of the district. Okay, I think to myself, at least there is a person here, I thought I was literally all alone in this fairly large Ryokan. So I say hello try to strike up conversation, and she responds, “Actually I am about to leave, enjoy your stay.” She leaves, and I drink my little Apple shot alone.
I get back to the main building to ask for dinner recommendations and the owner tells me, okay if you want, come back at 8 after my meeting I will take you to a restaurant with some of my friends who speak English. Okay let’s do it. So I go to the park, just five minutes away walking. The sun is setting, not in the golden glow kind of way, but the smoky gray kind of way, where you can almost see the darkness of the night melting into the sky. It’s so quiet, but I finally feel calm, because here before me are the Sakura that I have been waiting for, and even though the whole park is not in full bloom, they are beautiful.
After some time wandering, the sun fully sets and I head back to the residence. I go back to my room I call my friends and family and tell them to pray for me to survive this quiet city alone, they reassure me. I get a call from the owner, we’re ready for you.
Downstairs there is a cab waiting, and I’m thinking okay, where is this stranger taking me. We arrive to the place and turn into a small alley and I’m thinking, anywhere else in the world I would think I’m about to be murdered, and well, maybe I am. But alas, no one was waiting inside of the bar with a cleaver. Instead 5 men upwards of 40 are sitting at the sushi bar eating and drinking Sake—the chef's friends. Two of them speak English, the other three don’t, we say hello and I sit down. They ask me if I want a drink, I say no, I want to vibe out the situation first, make sure it’s safe.
It’s a pretty comical scene in this hole in the wall sushi bar. These men are all smoking and drinking, and the chef is chain smoking cigarettes with the greatest smile on his face as he prepares each course and laughs with his friends. Then, he places a bowl before me with two sea shells in it. Turns out this is an eat what I give you type deal, so I eat the snails. Not my favorite thing in the world, but this guy is a specialist--he fishes everything he cooks himself, and I really didn’t want to be offensive.
The 6th guy shows up, he’s another middle aged guy from Texas who lived in Hirosaki for 15 years and visits for work often. We’re all making small talk, the next plate is served. I like Sashimi so all is good, until I ask what it is. Fugu he says. Fugu, in case you don’t know is Blowfish, and if not prepared correctly is highly poisonous. The poison freezes your nervous system and you literally just die within half an hour. No chance.
I’m not the most adventurous eater, I’m not picky, but I can do without eating things that might kill me, for a rush. I turn to the Ryokan owner and I say jokingly (but seriously), I don’t think I can eat this I’m too scared. Some time passes, I’m eating slowly, but I can feel the chef’s eyes on me, I’m not finishing my food.
The guy on the far left has eaten his Fugu so I asked him, okay I want to know, would you have died already? They’re all laughing, but I’m dead serious. I want to know if he’d be dead by now, because if he would be then it’s safe and I need reassurance. It seems like the answer is yes, so I say screw it, if they’re eating it this probably isn’t some grand scheme to murder me with Fugu poison. I eat it. Then, the chef informs him that it actually takes 30 minutes not 3 minutes, so I’m thinking, okay maybe we're both gonna die tonight. Playing it cool I take note of what time it is, this way I’ll know when I’ve survived. At this point I decide to order some sake because, well I might die right?
So I order some Sake, finish my Fugu, and my next plate is served. They look like little sacs of something white and creamy. I ask again what it is, they say taste it first. I ask, "is it poisonous?" They say no. So I eat one, it’s super hot and fishy, and they’re all laughing. It’s eye of Blowfish! And I’m thinking no way, this doesn’t have the consistency of an eye. No, the eye they say. Then I realize, it’s Blowfish testicles. As I mentioned, I’m really not an adventurous eater, but this night has been so weird anyways, I guess I’m eating Blowfish testicles now. And for whatever reason this is not as frightening to me as eating Eyeballs.
I’m laughing now because here I am in a random sushi bar in a small city with 7 strange men eating poisonous foods and Blowfish testicles. Nothing about my experience in Hirosaki has been normal, but this takes the cake. After finishing the next two courses of Sea Urchin and some Tempura Mountain Weeds, I finish my Sake, tell the owner I’m tired, thank them for the evening and head home. They of course went out to party more, but my Hirosaki adventure had reached full capacity.
So I went home, and went to bed. In the morning I woke up early, visited the Onsen, drank some tea, packed my things and checked out. I left my luggage at the front desk and went to the park for a couple hours to see the Cherry Blossoms in the daylight. I took my photos, felt my resolution, and then, I headed back to Tokyo.
So I’ll say now, I’m glad it happened, but it was scary as hell. And maybe, if you’re a city person like me, wait to go to the countryside until you have a partner in crime to join you.
My eye has been drawn to the symmetry and lines of the city. The streets range from small and quiet to loud and crowded, but the wires and signs and people are always crisscrossing through space.
A phenomenon: There are almost no trash cans here and yet, somehow, no trash on the ground. I asked a friend and she told me that about 15 years ago someone put a bomb in a trash can, and since then they've removed most of them. Even the recycling and trash left outside to be collected is organized.