You know your feelings best—
trust them, follow them.
They are guided by
the deeper chemistry of intuition.
Back in March, Michael and I left the county in a fever for the wildflowers. The El Nino storms created the perfect conditions for what is known throughout Southern California as the very rare Superbloom.
We packed the camper shell, and set out for Anza Borrega State Park in his brother’s pickup truck. All along the side of the highways, lilies, poppies and desert gold flowers decorated the mountainsides. The colors popped against the sand, painting a colorful portrait that reached out to the horizon. About an hour and a half into our arrival, Michael was calling 911 from the middle of the hot dusty road.
After driving down Pinyon Mountain Road for 3 or 4 miles, the dirt road became harder for the truck’s 2×4 traction as the sand got softer. Lacking any experience on this type of terrain, we jollied along down the road bumping some Anderson. Paak. We were in awe of the land. The Spring sun carried a sweet breeze, lifting the scents of the lavender all across the valley. Bouquets of cacti and wildflowers illuminated the dry plains.
The beauty turned flat, and the lush valley was now in the rear view. The road shifted to a smooth bed off the beaten path. When we pulled off the path to turn around, we landed into a bed of deceptive soft sand.
The song ended abruptly. We were definitely stuck and every minute became a precious note in time. The sun was still in high noon and I knew it would take us at least an hour to get back to the road. We grabbed paper towels, the Infinite Jest, and all the water we had, and said goodbye to the truck in the hole.
While walking on the road I thought about a lot of things, Neil Cassady driving on a dirt road in the 1960s, how much food we had, and what the day could’ve been had we turned around sooner. I was worried, but I wasn’t frantic. Deep down inside I knew we would be laughing about this later – I just didn’t know if we’d be laughing -$400 later.
We left breadcrumbs for our trail with pictures on my DSLR, and took portraits of each other amongst the nerves. 40 minutes into the hike, we headed towards the lush valley between the two mountains and received a signal. Hesitating, Michael dialed 911. When the operator answered, we asked to be transferred to the Park Rangers. After ten minutes of transfers across a variety of departments, the best the CHP could do is send out a tow for us. We told them we’d try to get our own tow services, and they gave us their direct line if/when that wouldn’t work out in our favor.
Feeling helpless, we continued our march towards the main road for better service. The sun was high and the horizon began quivering with heat. Out of the dust, a white Toyota truck appeared on the road. We pleaded to the couple for help, and they offered to try to tow us out. We hopped in the bed of the truck and headed back down the road that we had just trudged for nearly an hour to get out. The ride felt much less bumpy this time, with his truck carving the dirt road with four-wheel drive.
The strangers turned into our angels, who devoted their time and patience into helping us out of the soft sand. With their help and guidance, I began carving the tires out and scuffing my white chucks and digging my manicure into the sand. We harvested rocks and shoved them underneath the tire for traction.
We attached the front of the truck to the back of his truck with ratchet straps and prayed for a miracle. The first time it didn’t work, sinking us further in the sand. We were now determined to get out of this hole. We dug out more sand, shoved more rocks, and this time, took some air out of the back tires. Me and the wife climbed into the bed of the white truck, and closed our eyes as the boys cranked the gas.
Pop! The rubber popped off the tires and we went sailing through the soft sand for about a couple of feet before the straps snapped. We were elated. Knowing our salvation was close, we carved out the tires, cleared a path and continued to try again.
After the third attempt got us too close to turn back, a Toyota Runner decked out in camouflage drives by us on the dirt road. When Michael asked for his assistance with some fresh towing rope, the sunburned bald man looks over at me, and looks back at Michael with a face of contempt. He comes out the car, and hands us a thick and long yellow rope.
We attached the new rope, and try one last time with the white Toyota truck. Our truck lands in even softer sand, and we determine the only way we can go to get successfully out is back, using the tracks we already built. The gentleman in the camo Toyota Runner strapped the back of our truck to his, and with the car flying in reverse, we landed ourselves back on the main dirt road in Pinyon Mountain. From there we left for Hawk Canyon, and made ourselves at home in the desert.
The fields of wildflowers stretched all the way to the horizon and more. Purple hillsides and yellow valleys. It was a magical introduction to the spring, and Anza-Borrega. We made ourselves at home in the backcountry of Hawk Canyon. We pitched our chairs and decompressed the day over cans of tuna, and an audience of wildflowers.
Here are some things we learned about getting stuck in soft sand & backcountry camping in general:
It’s 2017, and the Obama Years are over. The luxury many Americans felt in the previous administration vanished, and has now been replaced with crippling anxiety and despair. The gravity that once held this country together, has collapsed into a blackhole called Amerikkka.
Nationalism is spreading globally, sweeping a number of important national elections to the far right. Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. The systemic powers that have ceaselessly worked against minorities and against progression, have traded their hoods for red Make America Great Again hats.
[Kodak Black portrays the current racial tensions surrounding the political climate.]
All the while in this very odd year, the woke culture gains momentum. People from all walks of life and all ages are getting involved in political matters, galvanized by the troubling times. Young public school students are speaking up about the Secretary of Education nominee, and citizens are engaging in online exchanges about what they believe the national budget should look like.
I turned 22-years-old at the beginning of these divided times. On my birthday, I mused on what it means to be young gifted and Black in 2017, and found three goals of utmost importance in this definition: understanding the intersectionality of all minority struggles, spreading Black Girl Magic, and fighting for the liberation of Black people.
One way I know how to achieve these goals is by re-learning the history of my people, as told by Black historians and scholars. History books paint slavery as The Big Bang of Black people, and celebrate only a few heroes that fought for our cause. In reality, there were many names and organizations that paved the path for Black Liberation, such as the National League of Colored Women and other Black women’s club movement of the late 19th century.
In Angela Davis’ Women Race & Class, she gives depth to accomplished pioneers, such as Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells, who faced the hurdle of Antebellum America to establish political capital for Black women. She also gives breath to the many female Communist agitators, such as Lucy Parsons and Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor, who fought against racist and patriarchal ideals for an equal standing in society.
Another way I know to reach these goals, is by preserving the culture and uplifting stories/names that have been left in the dark. I recently attended a discussion held by the California African American Museum titled #BLACKGIRLSMATTER that focused on the 1991 murder of Latasha Harlins. I was moved to tears when Latasha’s aunt spoke of the family’s struggle for justice. The panelists, who included professors, organizers, and two members of Black Lives Matter, inquired on a number of the details that influence the fate of black girls in America. Lack of representation in the media, the devaluing of Black labor, and misunderstanding the fullness of humanity in any all contribute to black girls experiencing the double-edged sword of a racist patriarchal society.
I’m doing more and more to get involved in fighting the resistance against our conservative government. Much like the Tea Party, The Indivisible Project has directed me with ways to communicate with my local representatives and other local organizations that can bring about real influential change. Last year I placed a heavy amount of importance on making money and building my career, this year however, the risks are too high to be selfish and not take a stand against the injustices introduced by this Administration.
2016 felt rotten from the inside out. This year, I hope our new collective outlook on our government persuades a real underlying change in the way we shape ourselves. I know that the odds are against me. I know how lucky I am to see another revolution around the sun.
I spent this past Saturday night with my mom at a Dixie Chicks concert. I know that’s a whimsical image: me and my mom–two short black women with braids–surrounded by tall blonde moms in cowboy hats. Although there was an initial out-of-place feeling, the music created a space in which a community of women became liberated from the patriarchy. The stigmas of womanhood evaporated, leaving a celebration of acceptance, love, and the freedom of the modern chick.
“Dearly Beloved, we are all gathered here to get through this thing called life…” rang the opening lines to Prince track, “Let’s Go Crazy” as the Dixie Chicks walked out onto the stage. This sentiment echoed throughout the night, with each song embracing a unique coming-of-age chapter.
My mom introduced me to the Dixie Chicks during my own coming-of-age chapter. I was a tween doing my US history homework, and she was a forty year old woman belting “Goodbye Earl” at the top of her lungs. I got so used to hearing her FLY CD blast from our boombox, that eventually I memorized the album cover to cover. Hearing these badass women sing and parade and flaunt their agency over their lives and bodies, inspired me to never let some guy steal my wind. It also forever instilled the “chicks over dicks” mantra.
Hearing their songs performed live as a young adult put a lot of my own coming-of-age story in perspective. My mom gave me those wide open spaces, and let me take the long way around. I didn’t realize how much of an impact their message had on me until I heard it reverberated throughout a stadium hall. It penetrated the little bubble I shield myself in, and coated me like a warm maternal hug.
So we sat together, side by side, and sang those songs word for word. Her happiness meant as much to me as mine did to her. The Dixie Chicks have a powerful way of delivering their songs, with a loud gust of breath and string. Their revolutionary words fold into a songbook of the Feminine Mystique.
Little did I know then that all this time my mom was teaching me how to be free.
I listened to a lot of folk music in high school. Like a lot. In tenth grade when I first heard this song on the Johnny Cash show (this was the pilot episode), I made a youtube playlist with only this ballad on repeat to sing me to sleep.
I was completely engrossed with Long Black Veil for over a month. The most beautiful aspect of this ballad is its point of view from the man in the grave. I won’t spoil anything, but he recounts what got him in the grave, and how in the windy nights after, he gets visits from a veiled woman. It’s a tragedy of lost love, betrayal, and wrongful conviction. Written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, Long Black Veil is shrouded with mystery and influenced by local legend of a veiled woman visiting Valentino’s grave.
This is one of my favorite duets of all time. The contrast of Johnny’s trembling baritone vocals with Joni’s extravagantly symphonic sound is a folk/country marriage that only the mid-20th century sound could sanction. Unlike many of the other renditions of this song, Johnny and Joni’s duet perfectly captures the man’s suffering and the woman’s mourning.
Mike Brodie came to me by way of tumblr. He sporadically hopped my reblog radar until finally I said shut up and wikipediaded him. This is Mike Brodie:
Born in Pensacola, FL in 1985, Brodie’s life took a twist when he left home to become a trainhopper. Legend has it that he was working at a grocery store around the time when he stumbled into a vagrant, hopping a train going to Jacksonville. These testaments are shrouded in mystery, although they venture off into his young adulthood, documenting his travels with a Polaroid Sx-70, loaned from a friend. His work has been divided into two exhibits. The first ones show his premier experience with the Ride Culture and his raw vision for pictorial storytelling.
Brodie’s vision for storytelling is what helped define him as a modern day photojournalist. He was able to capture a sense of place, and time, and relay it to the viewer in an artistic fashion. His images captured the faces of America’s underbelly victims. He now lives his lifelong dream of being a mechanic.
[COM 201: 02/18/2014]
The biggest lie I ever heard as a child was that I wouldn’t feel a thing when the nurse injected me with a ten-inch needle. I was always an innocent and precious little girl, but when that faceless nurse looked me in the eyes and made that same flat promise, I transformed into the ultimate brat. I would fold my arms and pout my lips, kicking my foot loudly against the drawers to announce the arrival of my temper. I would give the nurse the worst looks while she flicked the thick syringe, just to inflict her with the guilty responsibility of my pain. She would swab my arm with alcohol and get a grip on my arm, and I would ex-plode.
Kicking and screaming and hollering and waving my arms like I was being held against my will, nurses from other rooms would shoot in the room and tackle me down. Even my own mother was useless in the efforts to qualm my fussing, so the nurses would push her to the side and try to gain control over the situation. I held nothing back when it came to my fear of needles.
That’s a cute story for when you’re 6 years old; however, it’s not acceptable for when you’re 10 or 15 and still throwing the same tantrums on hospital beds, or even today at 18 years old dodging any unnecessary check-ups.
“If she hates getting shots this much,” I remember hearing my mom say to my dad, “I guess we won’t ever have to worry about her getting a tattoo huh?” They both laughed heartily at that one.
I was eight years old the first time I was exposed to the nature of tattoos. My Aunt and Uncle took me and my two cousins on a field trip to a tattoo parlor, where they decided to get matching tattoos to signify their devotion. The trip didn’t turn out to be as fun as we thought it would be, where us restless kids sat idle for what felt like days, forced to do nothing but observe the gory detail of their tokens of affection. I remember mistaking the red ink of the heart for her actual blood and watching in horror as the loud needle grazed her flesh.
“Does it hurt?” the tattooist asked my aunt. She couldn’t even answer. She nodded her head and took another deep breath instead. As an 8 year old, I was amazed how within the matter of ten minutes a grown-up shriveled into the reflection of a 6 year old me getting a shot. For as much as I was completely mortified by the time we left, I was also intrigued. Once it was wiped down and healed, I observed the devoting point of permanent body art.
My best friend Jennifer and I became obsessed with the alternative style of tattoo culture. We’d stay up all night at sleepovers looking up the sickest tattoos and compiling long lists of all the decorate items too I knew I would only dream of inking on myself. We had so many ideas of what we each were going to get that it’s easy to look on back how ridiculous most of them were. I would passionately describe how I would get a Colt revolver down my ribcage to illustrate my devotion to the show “Supernatural”, or even a lizard on my foot for my allegiance to the Lizard King. We occasionally even laughed about the possibility of us one day getting drunk and getting some obscure matching tattoo.
My loosely-Catholic parents were just as loosely-opposed to tattoos. My mom would have a meltdown whenever she caught me drawing on myself with a sharpie. Every time I brought up the subject she would exhale a day’s worth of breath and wrack up some excuse before shoving the idea to the wind.
“Tyler, you’re the most indecisive person I know.” She continued flipping through the channels.
“Tyler, do you think your future husband is going to admire the lizard on your foot?” She continued stirring the pasta noodles.
“Tyler, leave me alone.” She continued leafing the pile of bills.
“But Mom,” I once complained in a Mexican restaurant, “Angelique has tattoos and you don’t say anything to her!” She stopped brushing the salt off of the tortilla chip and looked up at me.
“Angelique is over 18 years old. Just because I can’t stop her from getting any tattoos doesn’t mean that I like them.” She dipped the tortilla chip in the spicy salsa and dropped the conversation. It was then that I finally gave up on my mom ever turning over, and focused all of my energy towards my stoic father, who rarely agrees with much of anything in the house.
“I don’t know Tyler,” he unsurprisingly begun his answer while sipping his Diet Coke, “In the Bible tattoos are referred to as the mark of the beasts.” I was completely baffled. This was the first time I ever heard my dad call Bible.
Against my parents’ wishes, I continued to fantasize with Jennifer about the day that we would finally be free to decide what we wanted to do with our own bodies. Our occasional tattoo fantasies started to take a more serious tone since Jennifer was approaching her 18th birthday and was seriously considering getting inked. We had mulled over the subjects and placements of our desired tattoos for years, but it began shifting to more important matters like finances, shops, and artists. With a clear vision of what she wanted, we visited shops all over the city and got quotes from a range of creepy-looking tattoo artists. And then in the middle of summer, Jennifer walked into a tattoo shop named Through Your Skin and got herself a tattoo.
I was completely jealous. After all the years dreaming up all of these ideas, she finally had the freedom to go through with it. I was still stuck being a minor, and still stuck behind the fear of the overwhelming size of the tattoo gun.
The second semester of my senior year, the epiphany came to me while I was thumbing through a poetry textbook to kill time. Though I happened to stumble upon it, I’d like to think that it actually found me. It sat there on the page, the black text glowing, lying there naked for me to survey its most intimate parts. The entire poem sang to me as if it was destiny, but it was the last stanza that would forever leave its mark on me:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
That stanza, from Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, could not have found me in a more relevant time in my life. I had just committed to Boston University, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, and I was going to be the first one in my family to seek a higher education. To me the woods signified the temptations of following cheap thrills and not pursuing a higher education, the temptation to give in and to stay in bed instead of facing the day and moving on. But I made a promise to my Grandmother that I would go to college for her, since she never could. It also brought about the promise I made to myself as a child, which was that I would never give in to mediocrity. That stanza articulated the motivation of the promises I made to both my Grandmother and to myself, and the power that they have in motivating to get me up out of the bed in the mornings and from succumbing to the lure of “the woods”.
Just as the line reverberated within the stanza, it reverberated within my own head. It haunted me for weeks after reading it, until I memorized the entire thing, recited it to all of my friends, and eventually scribbled it on the bottom of my special list of tattoo ideas. I swallowed my fears, and I began to start talking seriously with my mom about it. I was on the verge of eighteen, and Jennifer’s tattoo artist—turned—friend already gave me a sweet deal for when my birthday would come. All I wanted was the approval.
“I don’t know Tyler.” Once again, she pushed me the conversation away and continued cleaning her glasses. But I didn’t let it go.
“Mom, I’m turning 18 soon, I’m only asking you because I’d rather you be there with me than stand against me. But I’m getting this tattoo.” It was the first time I’d said those words aloud and meant it. “It’s not like it’s something stupid like a lizard, this is something that matters to me.” All my mom could do was just shrug her shoulders. This time I ended the conversation.
Immediately after the family took me out for my birthday brunch, Jennifer drove me and two of my best friends to the same tattoo parlor. I talked to Jen’s tattoo artist/friend Ron, found a font that best suited my liking, and waited for him to draw up the stencil. My heart was pulsing throughout my body, reminding me that this was all actually about to happen.
I tricked myself into forgetting about that needle–that pain moving across my two backbone and up and down my spinal chord. It was the worst place to get a first tattoo, the worst size, and I was the worst person for it. I reread the stanza and remembered what it was for, and soldiered on through the process.
“Do you want to do it in two sessions?” Ron asked.
“No,” I flatly responded, “I would not have the strength to bring myself back here.” My invincible dedication streak was melting, and I started to get really nervous. He sat me down in the chair and all of a sudden I was back at that doctor’s office, listening to the nurse preparing the vaccination, kicking my foot against the bottom drawer. My Mom was next to me, smiling down on me like she always did when she knew I was about to be in pain.
The noise from the needle vibrated close to my ears, and I tensed my body and clasped my sweaty hands. I took one last gasp of air, and Ron dived in.
“Ready?” he asked.
“As I’ll ever be.” The first touch hurt the most, but then it eased up, and I was relieved to discover that I expected worse.
Two hours and one cigarette later I knew we had to be close to being done. I could feel it.
Two more hours later I was gripping the chair for dear life. The intensity of the pain had become a thousand times more excruciating than any simple shot. Ron knelt over my tender wound, shading in all 103 characters with the thick black needle. My friends were as restless as I was that day I watched my aunt get her tattoo, yet still they watched over me, making sure that I was as comfortable as one could be in this situation. I didn’t shed a single tear, though I did squeeze my eyes shut and dream of a tropical island. Anywhere but in that chair under that needle scratching underneath the inflamed flesh.
After we pushed into the fifth hour, the gun silenced. Ron rang the judgment call and handed me the personal mirror to see the reflection of my back. I took a long and blurry look in the mirror and sighed. Thank god I like it.
I will carry this stanza with me for the rest of my life as a reminder of the promises I made to my Grandmother and to myself while I’m away at college. Sometimes I forget that I have so many things to do before I can say I’ve lived a life. The wires of my priorities become confused when I spend too much of my time focusing on things beyond my age. At least when I walk away people will have a penance of why.
That’s the holiest thing I’ve ever committed to.
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