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.
It was in the early dawn when I first felt the power of Aretha Franklin’s voice. It came trembling out from my fingertips and shaking through my knees. It washed over my sins like faith.
Her mighty vocals possessed such strength, her gospel seemed to lift the weight of God into my headphones. So I listened with complete absorption, on a westbound train to a day’s work, far from the comfort of my man’s loving arms.
Two of her albums in particular, 1968’s Aretha Now and 1970’s Spirit In the Dark, translate womanhood in a way that is neither sexualized, marginalized or inflated. Instead, these songs highlight the sensitive details in temporal activities; such as putting on makeup, going out to eat, or just feeling lonely at home.
The more I listened the more her tracks became saturated with my own experience as a young Black woman in love. I began to hear my own longings and loss in Aretha Franklin.
In just under 30 minutes, Aretha Now establishes a sound at the intersections of blues, gospel, and pop. The two leading singles from the album, “Think” and “Say A Little Prayer” illustrate this intersection the most.
“Think” opens the album with an attitude that declares her disillusionment towards the efforts of a lover. She howls with the rage of a woman scorned. She is not only claiming autonomy over her body, spirit, and mind, she is asserting an equal standing of power in the relationship, themes heavily suggested by lady blues singers. Her rallying cry for Freedom, is an anthem parallel to the liberating aspects of the Sexual Revolution throughout the 1960s.
Following “Think,” “Say A Little Prayer”” shifts the album’s entire sound with a softer tone, demonstrating how she can command her vocals from firm to tender vibrations. Her outward displays of frustration become intimate revelries of love. Although this track is a cover of a Dionne Warwick single, Aretha’s delivery–accompanied by the choral vocals of the Sweet Inspirations–illuminates the loyalty and faith found in love.
On Spirit In the Dark, Aretha displays a more mature expression of womanhood, one that juxtaposes the sunny and bright bulb of Aretha Now with darker shadows and blues. On “Don’t Play That Song” and “Spirit In the Dark,” Aretha summons this sultry magnetism with refined skill.
The piano melody on “Don’t Play That Song” holds as much gravity as her vocals. Instead of depicting the woman in heartbreak as weak, or succumbing to anguish, Aretha lifts above that misery and expels the forces that seek to drag her. She reclaims her power to grieve, instead of allowing it to inflict her own outlook.
The slow draw in “Spirit in the Dark” is sensual and strikes like a match. The sway of the beat combined with the organ begins like a religious hymn, but it’s low growl turns into a praise full of dance and rhythm. This track shakes and shimmies like rock and roll, and releases like an exhale.
Although the aforementioned songs are some of the most popular in her repertoire, my favorite (and underrated) picks from these albums are “Hello Sunshine” and “Try Matty’s.” On “Hello Sunshine,” Aretha welcomes the spring while her vocals reach for their ultimate might and grasp for the heavens. “Try Matty’s” is amazing for its portrait of a woman expressing her affection for her local lowdown juke joint.
Both Aretha Now and Spirit In the Dark reveal a multitude of love’s grace and complexities. From fury to frustration to grace and glory, these tracks illustrate all the faces of a love affair. The mastery of her vocals, combined with the fact that Aretha wrote many of these tracks herself, proves exactly why she’s the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin captures the freedom of the Black woman.
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.
It begins with a spark.
Rising from the pit of your gut, to the edge of your fingertips, it knows no boundaries. It’s as dense as an atom, but it can swell like the universe, with as much matter and gravity that pulls and contracts galaxies to other galaxies. When it seeps from our eyes, we call them tears. When it explodes the night skies with color, we call them Fireworks. It’s a chemical catch and release, and the first time I ever caught such a powerful light, it burned me. A new skin healed over.
I learn something new about myself every time I play with fire. Some sparks flicker and flirt an explosion, only to fade in the wind, others, were rambunctious and sprayed fireballs in swerving directions. I learned how to read light, or at least I thought I did, until I touched a spark so faint, it embraced me. It felt like faith. This light nursed me, and I nursed it, until it blossomed into a raging flame that roared underneath my skin and behind my eyes. With the gentlest of touches, it swallowed me whole.
But it begun with a spark.
Some sparks grow into a star, or a universe, but fortunately, most of them will blow a short fuse and leave you with a beautiful pageant of colors. You must learn to see the beauty of both experiences: the stars that stay with you, and the fireworks that fly away.
phosphenes (n.): the stars and colors you see when you rub your eyes
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