The last couple of weeks I’ve been listening. I’ve ducked my head away and hidden from the world at large. In doing this, I stopped forcing my path and allowed what to be, to become. I’ve been at a fork in limbo and now things are starting to be revealed. At first I doubt my path, thinking maybe I turned in the wrong direction or made a mistake because this life isn’t as easy as the one I envisioned for myself. Then I look around and hear ideas I’ve never thought about. Such as from this visual artist who I’ve met a handful of times and his art is inspiring and beautiful within the peaceful chaos it provokes. I told him I was overwhelmed and unable to focus while at an event. His sincere tone in the reply brought me to the present. He shared his theory of 10 seconds, where if you only think about the next 10 seconds you have no choice but to remain present. He further explained that as a mental exercise it’s helpful to tune out from anything that isn’t relevant to the next 10 seconds. I zeroed my focus in and listened, becoming aware of his theory and succeeding in understanding this perspective. If I can remain present, everything becomes simplified, fear and anxiety fade and what’s important remains.
Some of my favorite things that have kept me going through this year in material hardship are the thoughtful nuggets I’ve received from strangers, many of whom I’ve met randomly and had only one conversation that could only happen in a present moment. I tend to regurgitate these lessons received in poems that encourage me to ponder deeper and connect dots I am only just beginning to understand about the flow of energy and the workings of the universe.
During an event on Friday night, a girl who I had never met handed me a love letter which she had focused on my themed prompt for the night: What Makes You Wealthy? In her letter she wrote she needed to run properly, that what makes her wealthy is different from others, that the people she surrounds herself with and the things we can all laugh about and even deeper, the endless mystery, makes her wealthy forever. It was a beautiful rendition that reminded me of the impact that these conversations with strangers has had on me. This impact has a feel to it, like coming home.
This morning I woke up from a dream I cannot remember, only two words stuck as I opened my eyes. Free Love. And I’ve been untangling these words and meanings in reference to what else I’ve retained in my memories.
Free Love. Love is free. It costs nothing to give or receive. Love is nothing unless shared, it means nothing without freedom. Freedom is the ability to express oneself honestly. How can we remain honest in each moment, this way to true love.
Conversations with strangers is the ultimate expression in Free Love. Where an exchange requires no ties, no expectations and the beginning is also the conclusion. Both sides walk away forever changed, never knowing what may grow from the interaction. And days, months or maybe years later the seed sprouts and inspiration makes sense. This is my own definition or semblance of what keeps me present, a calling to Free Love and what may come from our interactions of honest living.
In turning a page and starting a new chapter this week, I encourage you to converse with your thoughts, with a stranger and interact with love. And share if you wish in the comments or in your own way. Let’s freely express love in whatever way feels honest.
Change is the most difficult shift of energy in which the human race is susceptible to. Self willed change takes bravery, dedication, outside forces, support, love and kindness. With the mass exodus of Los Angeles by attendees of Burning Man, has come realizations, relief and another permanent departure. My greatest Aunt Pete died. It’s striking to me that she was the last of her era to pass, while this ending of an era is appropriate to my own life. It’s the end of summer. Children are back at school and the burners have left, shifting of seasons and a realization of where the time has gone. We have four more months of the year. A countdown of my old van dying a year ago, a divorce being final 4 years ago, moving to Los Angeles 9 years ago and 6 months until I turn 33. Logically this math places me within my timeline of life and ponderings of old have come back. Nostalgia of remembrances of what life used to be like and questioning if it was ever easier. Has time softened the edges?
Change. What does it take to transition gracefully utilizing our past experiences and turning around forging a path that will take you where you want and need to go? First step is recognizing the need for change. Something tells me this isn’t working. Second step is failing. I mean do people really get things right on the first try? Then what? Choose something else. I chose love, I chose knowledge, I chose adventure, I chose openness and honesty. And sometimes I fail. Sometimes events and ideas get so fuzzy with a swirl of chaos that I don’t know if I can make a true choice. Sometimes I freeze with the fear that even moving at all will render the worst possible outcome with fear to fail anymore. Change happens when we need it, whether we want it or not.
I’ve been thinking of an analogy recently that could describe this change I seek. It begins with a stone. A stone can be hard or soft, can be molded by running water or chiseled with iron. A hard stone can also cut, mold or chisel away at other things. I have been molded by my life, it has created my shape and texture, deciding my place in this world. I was taking to a friend the other day who suggested that I’m being guided after I expressed my frustration with always brushing up on opportunities though never quite achieving them. In this way I feel like a stepping stone, a hand rest for a mountain climber, or a sunspot for a tired seal at sea. Maybe it’s time for me to be less passive in my life, to view what is happening around me, understand it and change my scenery to be what I want. Maybe it’s time to become a diamond, be the force to cut, mold and transform my world instead of the other way around.
In chemistry a change occurs when a reaction causes atoms to rearrange and/or a formation of a new substance. Let’s think about that for a while. A new substance partly of my own choosing, mixed with the results of my past, causing the rearrangement of the atoms which make up my being. Sounds painful. And this is when I recount a life well lived, my great Aunt Pete, a woman who used her voice for others even when it was hard, even when it was painful, even if it wasn’t the popular thing to do. She was persisent, she was kind, she was made up of love.
Change isn’t easy, but if I want to achieve the change I seek, I must be persistent, I must be kind and I must ooze love out of every pore in my body. I must allow the anger and frustration to fade, let the resistance of past hurts and heartbreaks to release and open gates where I’ve built walls. It won’t be easy, and I’ll probably swing and miss a few more times, but freedom is waiting on the other side and I’m tired of having my hands tied.
I have been homeless for 421 days. I moved out of my beautiful apartment on the west side of Los Angeles last June as a conscious decision to live life to the fullest, to adventure and focus on saving money in order to meet people and travel. A few months later my beloved van Myrtle passed and it became less of a decision and more of a fight. I never asked for money or favors, never forced anyone to house me, feed me or shower, asking only if I had something to offer in return.
It’s been 421 days since I have had a reliable roof over my head, a shower to cleanse, a kitchen to cook and a deadlock to lock. I’ve learned more in this last 421 days than I thought I would, made less money than I anticipated and had many many more catastrophes that have led me to spells where I’ve cried, raged and thought I had lost every friend and thing I thought I had.
But I’ve learned some things about this world that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’ve gained insight from strangers and others who I might have ignored or never met. I’ve been in situations that have changed my outlook and I’ve become more accepting and loving than I was before. I’ve learned how to read people and who to trust. I’ve learned about the real-ness of the world and how closed off most minds are.
When I sold my belongings and bought a van, I was told I was brave, strong and people were jealous of my free spirit to be able to cast away material possessions. I didn’t feel brave, but believed that I was in for a blessed ride, a social experiment to see what I could achieve if I didn’t live conventionally.
When Myrtle broke down, I was in a race with time, to see if I could live according to my worth, to make money with my talent; and I did. Life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and as life got more and more difficult I was forced to rely on friends, family and strangers. I never asked for much instead settling on the minimum that could be given, showing gratitude and love wherever I went. I stayed with my Grandma for a couple of hard months, connecting and listening to her viewpoints on what I was doing. I then stayed with a boyfriend and finally had saved enough for a trip overseas living on the bare minimum of $10 a day on foreign soil.
It’s been 421 days of rubbing elbows with a new person each one of those 24 hours, and the thing that has stood out the most is what people say vs what they do. The people who I have met who have the least are willing to give the most. The people who are loneliest will take up all your time. The people who claim hardest to be your best friend, or enlightened or full of wisdom will be the first to drop you in a moment or talk about you in negative light. The more a person claims to be something, the less likely they are. People tell you who they are based on their actions and their words, not always in what they do or say, but in what is never mentioned or done. The people who are happiest are sober or at least not tied to a particular vice or habit. The people who are spreading the most love are usually the most unexpected; usually homeless or have had some kind of tragic event.
People who try to be invisible are the ones who need love the most. Kindness will save lives, love will save the world.
It’s been 421 days and I’m not sure how many more days will be added to my total but I do know this: it doesn’t matter. I love this world, I love each person who inhabits this world. I have become better at standing up for myself, better at creating boundaries, better at knowing who is a friend and who I can trust. I am better with my words and speaking with care. I am more grateful and more confident in my abilities. I know that I’m stronger, more open and flexible, more communicative and I smile much more.
I haven’t painted as much in the last 421 days, but I’ve written more than the prior 30 years. I know what it means to be an artist and sacrifice for what I care about. I know what it is to love. To love unconditionally even the people who have wronged me because they haven’t really done anything except show me who I am and how much I can grow. I have learned about prejudice and propaganda and evils in the world. I have learned how to relay all the information and inspiration I receive into works of art and how to reach an audience through words and visual symbols. Most of all though, I’ve learned what it is like to really and truly be alive. And that is the most important lesson of these 421 days well lived and well spent in this glorious world. I wouldn’t trade my homelessness and rich life experiences for my old beautiful apartment for these last 421 days because I wouldn’t be nearly as wealthy as I am today with less than $4.21 in my bank account.
So I ask you once again as I do from time to time: What opens your eyes? Have you talked to a stranger today and what have you learned? What makes you wealthy and how can you use that to change your world?
“What are you afraid of? Are you afraid to love yourself?”
Her brown eyes even and direct stared back into the windows of my soul. Her words pierced me in the center of my being. I opened my mouth and couldn’t find a word to defend myself. I’ve started wondering how StrawberryPropaganda really came about and the ventures of my life that have led me to this quest of understanding and sharing love.
I suppose a certain part of myself is afraid to love myself full stop, which is why I have come to rely on other people to fill that void. I pass out tokens of love to give my hands something to do during events, to create conversations that perpetuate love and progress. We all have a bit of social anxiety, mine stems from a place of “not good enough” where I’ve put myself in situations to hear these statements of shame and believe them.
The more people I meet in LA, the more I realize most people are just barely holding on. The illusion is that we are all successful, while none of us are really comfortable. Maybe that’s what has happened with these strawberries I created. The illusion is Love. I play the part so that I can pass love onto others, while storing my secrets in my back pockets. I don’t want others to know the patterns that I get myself in, based on my fear of self love. I’ve broken out of this pattern before and I remember the freedom that accompanied this acceptance. I yearn for the day my van broke down, the sense of independence and knowledge that no matter what I would be okay. I still walk through that memory as a crowning glory, even though I remember how broken I felt. That is nothing compared to the strings and web I’ve caught myself in.
Friday night, I met a girl who claimed as her title “pleasure facilitator”. She was one of those people who had a glow about her, so strongly in a state of being I realized my own fear immediately, it was a reminder that I’m not where I want to be yet. I must release my baggage and throw caution to the wind. This is the only way I can succumb to my wildest dreams. I must be to the best of my ability, remaining true to myself and not fearing this path to myself. When do I feel most alive? What makes me move even when a seeming fate is set against me? My art moves me further than I’ve ever been capable of going. This being I call PinkRiches that when I explain it people might think I’m crazy. PinkRiches isn’t me, it’s this entity that is bigger than one person can encompass. It’s the artist that I look up to, an ideal that I haven’t achieved, though I’ve tasted it.
But what is directly in front of me? Am I able to cut these ties to live fearlessly? I’m encumbered by people who want to help me, who end up owing me for the things I’ve given as a result to their promises. I’m in a love debt that has directly given me insight into an addiction of sorts. I am drawn to people who claim love. Who approach and are drawn into my PinkRiches fold because they so desperately want to feel it too. In this city of Angels where everyone is living proof of the illusion of success, I am stuck on a lifeboat, held together by duct tape placed by friends who believe in me, standing by as I make mistake after mistake.
I have dug my hole. I see the grey area that I saw and jumped thinking I would be strong enough this time to stay the course. I’ve jumped hurdles bigger than this and yet I’m pausing. I’m taking on responsibility that isn’t my own because I’m more afraid to love myself than other people. And sometime it takes someone who doesn’t know your whole story cover to cover to look directly in your eyes and speak a truth that nobody else can say in just that way.
I am not PinkRiches, I am Bethany and I am addicted to love. One step at a time is an ease that I’ve stubbornly claimed through my existence and I’m flowing back into that place. A rebuild is necessary and I know without a doubt will lead me to more truth, good and bad, which will enable me to become PinkRiches once more. All it takes is releasing the fear to love myself. Sounds easy, right? Thankfully I have some amazing people on my side, leading my duct taped life boat to shore. Thank you to all my heros and thank you for loving me always.
In the last couple of weeks, the world and I have been going through some rough ups and downs. I flew into California only to pack up and move my belongings into yet another storage facility. The up being that I saw some amazing friends who encouraged and cheered, helping me through the process. I then got on another plane and flew to Minnesota where I’ve been the last week and a half piecing together an idea of what my future might look like.
The shock of being in this country hit me immediately in the words and actions of those around me. The shock of realizing what country I’m in came a little later as I ingested the news and what is going on this side of the world. I’ve been staying at my sister’s house while she was out of town, caring for her dog and taking full advantage of her stocked fridge and luxury of showers, TVs, laundry machines and electricity. In that time I researched, talked to many friends and all my family. I’ve been weighing odds, deciding who to trust, who to rely on and which direction I want to take my life. I’ve stepped back to watch at the same time paying close attention to how I feel as each event happens. And it seems everything is surfacing.
Spending a chunk of my year in a foreign world has taught me what it’s like to be an alien. Seeing through new eyes a world that is different on the surface, though once I explain how things are, I notice there aren’t nearly as many differences as I initially thought. There are judgements made about people who live opposite, in the world or in views. We think in terms of our background; what is familiar is comforting and what is strange is shunned.
I felt this first hand in Nepal. I arrived with so much hope and optimism, that here was a place for a fresh start, an opportunity to learn and do good things. My smile faded a bit after my first try at laundry and interacting with the maid in the house. She took my damp laundry and threw it in a pile while she hung her own up. A gesture I can only assume was supposed to put me in my place. She didn’t show much more generosity as I figured out how to side step her movements to avoid actions that wore me down, finally giving in to bribing her with ice cream cones and gifts so I could eat with everyone else.
Toward the end of the journey I was put in my place by a man who told me I acted too much like a man and I needed to learn how to serve him noodles, just as the other artist I worked with spewed words of low judgement leading me to wonder why I had even come to this foreign place at all. I left understanding that I can never be more than a stranger in this land that up until this point had held such promise. As a tough pill to swallow, I gracefully chased it into my internal thoughts, struggling to find a lesson I might take away to grow in a positive direction. I returned running into another dead end with a conversation about a job I had been offered, finding out that leaving the country had placed certain opinions upon my character.
Finally after a few conversations on the hopelessness that the world had shown me, I was encouraged to find my stubborn optimism I had started to throw away. I painted a banner, commissioned on the theme of immigration and painted by my thoughts and pain. Somehow I think I understand a bit more how someone could want so badly to move across the world, to envelope themselves in a new place full of unknown hope. I understand the disappointment that can arise with the knowledge that you are not welcome and the confusion of those left behind. That isn’t enough for me; I want to swim deeper. Why is it that we leave our comforts of familiar to search out something else?
Recently I’ve felt defeated, helpless with a lack of control. Inside I know exactly what I want. I can see it happening and feel within my bones the energy of creating my future. Some days, when I am free to go about my day taking each twist and turn intuitively I know what will be around the next corner. Other days, no matter what I do someone or something is blocking my path; I’ll try to walk around and the nightmare of that thing will transpose again firmly in my way. I have no choice but to choose another path. I must turn on my heels and find a new direction, lucky to have gotten this far.
I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this. Can you imagine turning around struggling to find an open door? What if this feeling or reality is so strong you finally give up? Can you imagine that instead of having this feeling, experiencing it first hand by watching as each entity or person surrounding you is destroyed in one form or another, and all your belongings and evidence that makes you feel you have lived on this earth is gone? Where does one turn in that case?
I was a foreigner in a land that is not my own. Brushing up against the uncomfortable isn’t easy. It’s the Us v. Them mentality. The path where we are not friends and a decision that we can’t understand each other because excuses that really just mean the gap cannot be solved. Through the last few months and all that has come with it, I have clarity in love and how to maneuver in my familiar world. Love isn’t explained by language. Love cannot be taught or given. Love is shown and understood. Love is within the DNA of our beings if we allow the access to remain open. Love is a welcoming hand to receive. Love is the bridge that helps us cross over the divide. And the journey continues. My search of love and exposition has taught me that even if in the overall sense of the world I cannot feel love, it still lives in small instances with people and things. And that gives me hope. And where hope lives, so does love.
Well, I have arrived back in my home country. Shocked and altered, I’m realigning my mind while a deep cough and heavy weight have rendered me mostly speechless. At first my eyes are widened by people’s lack of intimacy. It seems the masses will go to extreme measures in order to not interact with strangers who take up adjacent space. Even friends who were close enough to whisper deep secrets have moved on in my absence, blaming my departure on my lack of devotion for my home. Once again, I find myself in a state of limbo, a purgatorial place where I cannot prove love without time passing, an existence that forces me to listen and not fight back.
One hundred days spent in a foreign land where dust is a part of daily life and struggles are met with acceptance and forward momentum while music and art heals our souls. Everything has meaning just as each detail makes up the whole. An oversized gratitude rules daily life even as mundane time slips by, looking toward the world in humbleness and awe. Appreciation that I am right here and you are right there and this is enough, as long as we can sip tea and laugh about the hard times.
On day 99, I explained to a boy that I came from the other side of the world. I joked that over there I walk upside down. His response was laughter and an explanation that in Nepal, at least I could walk straight. This struck me as more true than he could realize because when one is used to walking a certain lifestyle, it seems as though it’s the only way. And now that I’m back, I don’t remember how to walk upside down.
I’m shocked by the attitudes and lack of seeing that is happening while people blindly bump into each other, blaming politicians, homeless people, gentrification, neighbors, strangers. I’ve been silent these days, finding my bearings and watching as everyone walks backward. I’m appalled at comments on things that those who udder them know nothing about. A friend commented that I’d been eating dirt for the last few months, neighbors could barely conceal their jealousy on beautiful things I have accomplished and my future was ripped away in a backhanded compliment that told me maybe this last year of strife and stubborn determination which led me to Nepal has been the single greatest gift to myself I’ve ever given.
I see the world differently. I am not complacent. I am not lost. If I wish to change my home into a place that serves love, I must change it from the inside. I must gather my forces and lead by example. I cannot scold or dismiss other’s experiences or views because I haven’t been there. I can however spread this knowledge by creating light in the darkness that has developed in my absence. I may have walked backward my whole life, but now that I know how to walk straight.. I can see where I’m going.