July 31, 2010

Just Say No

I've had a pretty easy time turning work-related opportunities down, but in truth, with overprotective, strict parents who believe in corporal punishment, I was trained from birth to say "yes," and to do what I was told.

As an adult, I wonder now why I obeyed my parents so blindly, why I didn't sneak out, drink, experiment with drugs, kiss boys, or do any of the other things that would have been perfectly normal for a teenager to do. When they would ground me for returning home from a bike ride five minutes late, what made me actually stay locked up? Why didn't I ever run away, as I'd planned to do as a child - when I went so far as to writing my runaway note, which was unfortunately discovered before I had the chance to leave, leaving me severely punished?

Was I merely taking the path of least resistance when my parents forced me to leave the door open while in the bathtub or on the toilet, an unreasonable request by any measure?

What made me so obedient?

I'm sure my inclination to do whatever I was told helped me rise to the top of my class in school. It's made me an excellent student in group fitness classes at the gym, and an apt pupil in Weight Watchers meetings. I'm eager to please, but it's not just about being liked - especially since my obedience never earned the affection or respect of my parents. It's about winning - science fairs, math bees, spelling bees, scholarships, elections, Most Likely to Succeed, game shows.

Even at work, though I've always been able to turn down opportunities by clients, vendors, advertisers, partners, etc., ultimately I've obeyed whoever is paying me. Even when their requests are outlandish, at the very least, I'll say, "Yes, I'll try." I've never been able to say, "No, I can't do that" or "No, I don't want to" or "No, that's a bad idea." Maybe that's why it was so shocking when my supervisor once told me in my annual review that I needed to go to obedience school (not to mention the ill-advised comparison of his female employee to a dog).

So imagine my shock and dismay when I realized - fifteen years into my active dating life - that my role, as a woman, in today's society, in a romantic pairing, is to say No.

I've spent years saying yes - yes you can buy me a drink, yes you can borrow money to buy your son school supplies, yes I won't tell your girlfriend about us, yes I'll come see your drunk ass in Queens, yes we can reschedule, yes you can stay over. But finally, in my mid-30s, I have discovered the brutal truth about the roles of the sexes: men are supposed to ask, and women are supposed to say no.

For years, I never understood why I had no luck dating. I'm so easy to be around. I'm so low maintenance. I'm so agreeable, and yet I can make suggestions and have my own opinion. But that was my problem. I was too easy.

I don't think it's just about playing hard to get, because I don't believe in misrepresenting yourself or generally playing games to get what you want. I don't think it's about saying "No" if you really want to say "Yes." I think it's more about saying "No" when "No" is really your answer, and standing behind that no matter what. Even if you lose the guy, at least you can respect yourself.

Case in point: I met a guy in a bar last weekend whose out-of-town friend wanted to leave and go to a strip club. The guy asked me and my friend if we wanted to join them. Instead of saying "yes" to prolong my time with the cute guy, afraid to let him leave and never see him again, I said, "You know what? No thanks. Not tonight." He asked a couple more times before leaving, but I held my ground with a "No thank you." A few minutes later, he leaned in and said, "You know what? I'm glad you don't want to come..."

A few nights later, same guy tries to weasel his way back to my apartment after a lovely date out, and I emphatically tell him no. Disconcerted by my confidence in my decision, he persists, trying to negotiate terms of his visit upstairs, but my decision is firm. During our goodnight kiss, he admits, "You know what? I think you're probably right..."

I am aghast. How could I have been so wrong all this time?

But more than that, if my new theory is indeed true, why do I have to be the one to say no all the time? I have just as little self-control as any guy out there, and yet somehow the onus is on me to be the responsible one. Why does the guy get away with acting purely on the desires of the id, and I've got to represent the ego and the super-ego?

And what's worse, once I start saying no, how do I know when to start saying yes again?

Unfortunately, avoiding regret isn't just about saying yes. It's about knowing when to say yes, and when to say no...

Related post: The Power of No

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July 25, 2010

Packing Up and Throwing Away My Dreams

I've gone through various stages of clearing out my apartment over the last two years, knowing I would definitely be moving out next month. But the heavy lifting has really begun now, and I'm leafing through reminders of my old self - receipts and owner's manuals possessions I used to own, magazine clippings from places I wanted to go but never went, things I wanted to buy, and services I hoped one day I would need.

I'm throwing out (and recycling) as much as I can, and what remains gets sorted between 1) what I can pack and possibly store for an indefinite amount of time and 2) what I'm going to want to take with me.

Things like old tax forms are easy because you have to keep them for a few years, but you rarely have to reference them.

  • Travel file - merged over to digital bookmarks to go paperless.
  • Wedding file, a thin little black folder with scraps I've collected over the years, just in case - packed. I don't think I'll be needing it anytime soon, but I can't bear to throw it out.
  • Real estate file - packed. I can't believe it was only a couple of years ago that I actually thought I would buy an apartment in New York.
I'm sorry to have to give up on some dreams I had not too long ago. I'm sorry to remind myself of my failures: the Peace Corps rejection letter, the end of unemployment benefits notice, the headshots never sent, and the cover letters without replies, just to name a few.

I wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed in Syracuse to work at Media Play instead of moving to New York City without a job or apartment, in hopes of working in the music industry.

I wonder what would have happened if I'd taken the job offer at Tommy Boy in January 2002 instead of spending another eight months unemployed and saving myself for Razor & Tie.

I wonder what would have happened if I'd taken the job offer at 4Kids Entertainment in 2004 instead of leveraging it for a promotion, assistant, office, and raise at Razor & Tie and spending another four and a half years there.

I wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed at Razor & Tie in January 2009 and rode it out for another few months instead of throwing caution to the wind and quitting, with only four months' worth of savings and no prospects?

Every other decision I've made since then is unquestionable. Instead of going to Central Asia to teach English, I went to Joshua Tree to write. Instead of commuting daily to an office job that exhausted me for the night, I hiked forests, mountains, deserts and rivers. Instead of closing my office door and refusing to answer the phone, I opened up my heart and mind and found a way to love and be loved again.

I'm no closer to finding a job or establishing a real consulting business (whatever that means) than I was a year and a half ago, but I'm choosing my own projects, working with people I actually like and respect, and making money for myself. I'm not helping mankind yet but I'm working on it.

I just have to sort through which dreams are worth keeping - worth pursuing - and which ones I should finally just give up on...

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July 24, 2010

Photo Essay: Brooklyn Winery, Under Construction

There's a new urban winery under construction in an industrial space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn once occupied by a car repair shop and a nightclub.

Yesterday Edith and I got to take a hard hat tour of Brooklyn Winery's active construction site.

A lot of wineries you visit out in wine country - whether that means the North Fork, Finger Lakes, Temecula or Napa and Sonoma - are attached to their own vineyard, and so conversations about their wines are very focused on the grapes themselves and the growing process. But an urban winery imports its grapes grown elsewhere - in Brooklyn's case, New York State, California, and South America - so it becomes very focused on the wine-making process.

Brooklyn Winery is building a facility where you can develop your own vintage in your own barrel (and actually select your grapes, taste from the barrel, and bottle and label yourself!) or participate in a communal barrel with a minimum two-case commitment. They're also opening a wine bar and tasting room that will be open to the public by the end of the year.

It's exciting that these days, an entrepreneur can still quit his job, fall in love with wine, and start a major manufacturing facility in Brooklyn. As a wine enthusiast, it's exciting to get a peek into a growing business, even if you can't watch the grapes themselves grow.

future front courtyard, where we tried to convince them to turn their dumpster into a swimming pool

future production room, former conduit for distribution of foam at the former nightclub's foam parties

current concrete floor, which lay hidden under a wooden dancefloor

Because of the cracks and holes, this concrete will be torn out and a new concrete floor will be poured, featuring a very necessary drainage trench.

future wine bar / tasting room

future kitchen

It's nice to see them reusing as many elements from the former occupants as possible - everything from the bar to the insulation. What they didn't need or couldn't use (like scrap metal and a lot of tires) they managed to recycle.

Brooklyn Winery's hard hat tours are open to the public, but they're pouring the concrete floor next week so there will be limited access to the future production room and other interior areas.

Thanks to Sasha and Conor for the great tour!

Click here for some before pics of the space's former life as Supreme Trading Company

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July 20, 2010

Retreading Old Ground Part II

I usually have a selective memory.

I choose not to remember a lot of events (and people) from high school, because why should I?

I remember all the terrible things my mother did to me, and none of the good things she did for me.

But when it comes to the last couple of years, I downright have a case of amnesia, that's for sure.

Now that I've lost 34 pounds (and counting), I almost have forgotten entirely what it felt like to be any heavier. It's like it's 2003 all over again.

With my recent reticence to commit to anything, this week I signed up for a 30-day membership to New York Sports Clubs, a gym I frequented from 1999-2003. The last time I joined, I reallocated the money I was spending on therapy to getting healthy and losing weight. Of course, it was four years before I lost any weight.

But returning to the NYSC on 49th and Broadway today, riding the familiar whir of the escalator to the second floor elevator bank, finger instinctively pointing to the 15th floor button in the elevator, my body responded automatically as though no time at all had passed.

But is it a good idea to forget all the bad things? Can you still learn from them without remembering them? When you block out the negativity - refusing to empower it with acknowledgment - aren't you making it somehow permissible?

Don't demons deserve a proper exorcism?

I have to admit, not everything was identical today upon my return to my gym of 10 years ago. The locker room seemed cleaner, the pool lanes smaller, the water less chlorinic. And I, more lithe, more endurant, less distracted.

Can a decade pass and life still remain unchanged? I, still single, still looking for work, still trying to lose weight... only moderately successful at one and no more successful at any of the others.

When things come full circle, what could possibly be next?

Related post: Retreading Old Ground

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July 18, 2010

A Case of Multiple Identities

I've gotten fairly used to my existential crisis, consistently rebuking the question "What do you do?" when the questioner really means "What do you do for a living?"

But I was unprepared for an identity crisis, when being asked "Who are you?" forced me to choose one thing, and I don't think it was the right thing at all.

Given all the camera time I've received on QVC over the last couple of years, I thought it was a good idea to attend a "TV Hosting" seminar at Actor's Connection, where I would be introduced to a number of talent and casting agents who might be able to help me in the future. You have to pay for this sort of thing - it turns out every industry has its own dirty iteration of "pay for play" - but industry insiders constantly insist it's worth it, so I gave it a try.

The problem is, they'd rather meet a completely inexperienced newbie who desperately wants to be a host, rather than someone like myself who has done journalism, radio broadcast, TV hosting and live theater, bit parts, etc.

"It's a drawback," one of the agents told me. "We don't want someone acting like a host. We want a host."


The sinking feeling in my stomach got worse when it was my turn to read my memorized host copy in front of the agents. After introducing myself, I had to tell them what my specialty was. But I've never been much of a specialist, always priding myself as a generalist who could major in English and minor in Biology, and market classical hip hop music for children if I had to.

I wanted to tell them that I specialized in adventure, in making up for lost time, in taking chances, in seizing opportunities, but instead I said, "I guess you could say my specialty is music. I've worked in marketing in the music industry for 13 years, and I've recently done some significant on-air guest work on QVC selling a box set of soft rock music from the late 70s and early 80s."

Really? That's it? I mean, it's true, but that's it?

Part of me wanted to tell them that it wasn't about any specialized knowledge of a specific field, but about my sparking personality, my joie de vivre, my preference of being on camera than actually interacting with real people. But I didn't show them any of that. I was trying to be something, be one thing, and I didn't do a very good job at it.

I'm better at being all things, any number of things at any given time. Does that make me a chameleon? Unpredictable? Confusing? Overwhelming?

Maybe. But if a Writer/Marketing Expert/Actress/Host/Music Trivia Wiz/Traveler/Adventurer/Explorer/Photographer is who I really am, I refuse to choose just one of those.

Cross-posted on Extra Criticum.

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July 17, 2010

New Site Design!

The site has received a major polishing, some reorganization, and new Pages, including:

About Me
Writing Highlights (including samples)
Marketing Highlights
Performance Highlights (including pics and clips)

You can also now navigate throughout the site via the tabs at the top under the header.

It's still a work in progress, as am I, as is everything. I'm working on a fancy new logo that I'll be debuting in the next couple of weeks.

Hope you like it!

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July 12, 2010

Two Weeks, Listed

I love lists. Half of my diary consists of lists of people, song titles, things to pack, places to go, jobs to seek.

What better way to recap and reflect on my two-week trip to LA than in another calculated list?
  • 14 days
  • 7 hikes
  • 1 lost toenail
  • 2 falls
  • 2 waterfalls
  • 2 botanic gardens
  • 1 kitten
  • 1 lost bar of soap
  • 1 load of laundry
  • 1 baseball game
  • 1 magic show
  • 2 magical romantic interludes
  • 1 bikini
  • 1 holiday
  • 2 rental cars
  • 3 tanks of gas
  • 1 parking violation (no ticket)
  • 3 laptop AC adapters
  • 1 new client
  • 13 meetings
  • 8 free meals - for which I cannot express enough gratitude
  • 1 hot dog
  • 1 bottle hot sauce, seized at airport security
  • 2 Weight Watchers meetings
  • 3 lbs lost
  • 0 regrets
I feel like I got a lot more accomplished in two weeks in LA than I would have in two weeks in NYC. And that's worth the Delta miles redeemed, the car rental swap, the mileage and the fuel. And miles to go before I sleep...

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The Things That Only NYC Can Give Me

It's hardest returning to New York after some time away. Reacclimating feels like torture.

But there are some things that I miss about New York, and that I'm happy to return to - things that help me feel complacent when I've been there for a while and don't feel like leaving again:
  • pizza by the slice, good pretty much wherever you get it
  • good tasting tap water
  • bridges
  • bodegas
  • good friends, most notably the other two-thirds of Tres Equis XXX
  • good theater, downtown to Broadway (including my Naked Angels weekly reading series, which unfortunately is on hiatus til the fall)
  • Coney Island and the best ever bumper car ride, the El Dorado
  • Flushing Meadows Corona Park and its World's Fair '64/65 relics
  • walking (not up a mountain)
  • rooftops
  • taxis
  • brunches
I wish there was more to come back to. I wish I didn't feel so lonely in my empty apartment, without a kitten meowing at me and watching me shower, nuzzling in the crook of my leg under the covers all night long.

But I'm here now for a while, at least until my lease expires at the end of August. I might as well make the most of it while I can.

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July 08, 2010

Last Day in LA

It's my last day in LA and I'm getting my hair done.

Not only does it really need to get touched up, but I think it's appropriate to do normal life things - grocery shopping, laundry, taking out the trash - while I'm here so I'm not so dazzled by "Hollywood" that I am crushed by a rude awakening when and if I actually move here, or stay here for a more extended period of time.

It's been a good trip. I've had a number of good meetings, a couple of client prospects, a much-needed bunch of free meals, an unexpected amount of romance, adventure, beauty, and cuddling.

You would think that I would try to cram in as much as I can on my last day - more cuisine, more sights, more hiking, more tourism - but mostly, I think I'll just want to show off my hair. I feel satisfied with what I've done so far, and I have a nice long drive down to San Diego (through Temecula) tomorrow.

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July 07, 2010

Treading New Ground

By the start of my second week in LA, I'd started to feel like maybe I shouldn't be here. Maybe I was fooling myself into thinking I could actually find a job here, move here, and make a life here (in that order).

But I can't find a job in New York City, either. The only difference is, my stuff is already there.

Yesterday I had some time in between meetings, so once again I headed to Griffith Park. I'm a completionist, and now that I'd climbed Mount Lee to the Hollywood Sign, I still had to climb all the way to the top of Mount Hollywood, a trail we'd started when we first hiked to Griffith Observatory last March. We'd stopped before we reached the line of palm trees that we kept climbing towards.

Instead of retreading the same ground as our first visit, I entered the trail by the Bird Sanctuary - which appears to be closed - and ended up behind and above that line of palm trees, intersecting with the Mount Hollywood trail.

Somehow, with the sun finally breaking through in the late afternoon, and the cool breeze whipping through my ponytail, my anxiety passed, my self-doubt subsided, and I smiled down on the city I've been intermittently calling home for the past few months.

I have an offer to return to LA and stay in a friend's house for a couple of months while he works abroad. A couple of days ago, I would have thought twice about the offer. But the timing coincides with the end of my Manhattan lease, and I need to live somewhere in September. It might as well be LA. I still have so much to do here...

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July 04, 2010

Living Like a Local

I was tempted to pay the $13 and whatever parking fee necessary to go see the 4th of July fireworks spectacular at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena tonight, but a week after having paid $35 for a Dodgers ticket and $15 for parking, I'm suddenly worried about money.

So instead, I drove past all the police barricades around the Rose Bowl and the surrounding neighborhood, and proceeded north, which increases in altitude and was sure to provide a good overlook for the fireworks show.

Sure enough, the barricades and "No Parking" signs disappeared, and a line of parked cars had begun to assemble on the side of Highland Drive in Pasadena. I pulled over, sat in my rental car until it got dark, and then walked nearly a half mile down the barely-lit road until I saw some guys with nice cameras and tripods camped out on a ridge above a ravine. I could see the Rose Bowl stadium lights nearly two miles away through a clearing. This was the spot.

"Is the view good here?" a couple asked, and I explained that it was my first time trying it from that spot. "Oh, where do you usually watch them from?" they continued, and I had to admit that I wasn't a local and that I didn't know any better than they did.

But my guesswork turned out to be successful, and we had a clear view not only of the Rose Bowl spectacular (save for the low-level pyrotechnics that only ticket holders could see), but smaller displays to the north, the east, and the south past the Rose Bowl. It reminded me of one year's Independence Day spent on a Brooklyn roof, when we could see the Macy's, Coney Island, and Staten Island fireworks simultaneously in a 360 degree extravaganza.

I was glad to be among the locals, the wannabe photogs and the teenagers, the families with kids and the couple who'd just moved from Pittsburgh. And I was glad not to be alone.

When I returned to Highland Park, the neighborhood seemed to be sizzling with firecrackers, launched low off rooftops and sporadically flashing in the night's black sky. Even now, as the night winds down to its midpoint, the air is still explosive, the locals refusing to cease their celebrations.

It's the kind of revelry I'd really wanted, authentic and organic, specific and local. Years of watching the Macy's fireworks from Greenpoint's rooftops and waterfront, Lower East Side and Murray Hill high rises, and the east side's FDR Drive had spoiled me for the mere scale of fireworks displays possible, the capacity they have to dazzle, but the best fireworks I ever saw were at a church in the surburbs of Syracuse, a hometown experience that can't be duplicated over the Hudson River.

I didn't have much of a holiday today, though by spending it largely alone I suppose I was, as usual, celebrating my independence. But at least I got a good fireworks show in, and that was my only requirement for the day. I am forever chasing fireworks, still the little girl who ran to the attic window to catch a glimpse of the explosions in the distance, miles away, through the trees...

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July 03, 2010

Showing My Stuff

Today I wore an itsy bitsy teenie weenie hot pink string bikini to a pool party in the Valley.

What IS this body that I'm occupying?

I mean, what person have I become? Who AM I?

I have definitely weighed less in the past than I do now. I have definitely been in better shape than now. But the closest I have ever gotten to today's getup was appearing in a push-up bra, hot pants and tights for my college production of Chicago, in which I danced and sang in the chorus. I think I was fatter then. I don't really remember.

What in God's name possessed me to go out in public like that today? Is it California?

Or is it just that I feel so much better now, thirty pounds lighter, than I did six months ago when I started this new regime? After taking only two years to gain 20 pounds, I barely recognized myself anymore at the start of the new year. And now, six months later, I still barely recognize myself.

Maybe it's also that I just don't care. When I tried on the bikini, I told myself, "Someone has to wear the size Large, otherwise they wouldn't sell it. It might as well be me."

Even with my grotesque bruises from my hiking yesterday, my pale white untanned midriff, and the light purple scar on my side, I was OK with being practically naked in front of other people. In fact, I kind of couldn't wait to take my clothes off and jump in the pool.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that I wore a bikini - a much more modest one - for the first time ever in my conscious life. (I have no memory over what my parents dressed me in as a baby, and it doesn't count.) Now that I've finally been brave enough to show my stuff, and people have not recoiled in horror, I can't really imagine ever covering it up again.

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Wide Open Spaces

As I've been talking about moving away from New York City, so many people have said to me, "But you're so New York City! You're such a city girl!"

Maybe I was, but I don't think I am anymore.

I've been craving suburban life. When I moved to New York, I couldn't imagine why anybody would move to Long Island, or Montclair, or Westchester to start a family, but as I explore those outer regions on my many adventures, I'm starting to understand the charm of hiking trails, mountains, historic relics, real parks, safety, and solitude. There's a quality of life that you can get elsewhere that you just can't get in New York unless you're making at least hundreds of thousands of dollars. And even then, your local park is a tiny square of green surrounded by skyscrapers and completely covered in dogs, strollers, and sunbathers.

When you're single, though, the suburbs are even more isolating than the city. I'm housesitting in a neighborhood proclaimed to be "where hipsters go to have babies" - a kind of Los Angeles version of Park Slope - and I'm unlikely to meet anyone here except perhaps students from the nearby Occidental College. But I can keep myself pretty happily occupied taking a hike, driving around to the post office, Trader Joe's, a botanical garden, a diner, and all the while listening to the radio, singing along, pounding the flat of my hand on the steering wheel to the beat.

And when I come home to a nice house up on a hill, with the sounds of fireworks in the distance and a cat who refuses to sit next to me but rather always on me, I think, life doesn't have to be so bad.

Of course, I barely use a fraction of the house. I pretty much stay in my room all the time, unless I'm cooking and need to keep the food away from the cat, or I force myself to sit on the couch with my laptop and look out the window. After having lived in a tiny studio for nearly ten years, and having hid in my bedroom when I shared an apartment with Terry, I don't really know how to occupy so much space.

But I think if the confines of my life were lifted, the walls shifted out and the ceiling shifted up, I could expand myself to fill the space. Without a person to share my life with, or babies to raise (which I don't think is ever going to happen), I would need to fill it with something, though - maybe, like some people, with a whole load of cats.

Or maybe with a new, expanded version of me, and whatever big thing my life can be.

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July 02, 2010

Twice Fallen, Twice Shy

I trip often, but I rarely fall.

I have other friends who fall all the time - out of their cars, in the middle of intersections, down stairs, off curbs and into doors, walls, and poles.

But as much as I slip on ice, catch my foot on rocks, slide along gravel and hydroplane in flip flops, I hardly ever fall.

I fell twice today.

I'd made it all the way to the piece de resistance of Eaton Canyon, the waterfall, today without incident - scrambling up cliffs, tiptoeing on boulders across a stream, and trudging along a desert, sandy wash. When I got to the peak, practically to the edge of the pool of water created by the falls, the hours since breakfast and the last hour's sun exposure hit me. I wearily stumbled towards the water, caught my foot on one of the smooth, eroded, sand-covered rocks below, and went flying backwards, the fleshy part of my left thigh landing squarely on one of those rocks, and the rest of me collapsing onto my back, thankfully cushioned by the plastic liter of Arrowhead water I had packed in there.

With the holiday weekend approaching, and the sun burning bright, there was a huge crowd at the waterfall, and two young guys holding cans of beer came to my rescue, asking me if I was OK.

"I don't know..." I said, more shaken up than probably anything, thigh throbbing, brain rattled. I was worried that I'd cracked my new cell phone or, worse yet, my camera.

They tried to help me up, but I said, "Let me just sit here..." So I just sunk into the sandy earth below, my legs slung over the same rocks that had tripped me up. Kids were running into the water fully-clothed, socks and sneakers still on, splashing up a storm. Young, pale women were stripping down to their bikinis. Packs of brown-skinned boys threw each other into the water and climbed up the rocks behind the falls, dipping their heads and faces in to feel the force of the water coming down on them.

It's an impressive waterfall by Southern California standards, still running strong in the San Gabriel mountains after a rainy spring and a not-yet-scorching summer, so of course it's popular. But I've already lived my share of waterfalls out east, and given my disdain for so many people, I only stood and watched for a few moments, and then headed back.

Of course my footing was unsure. Of course I tried to be more careful. But sometimes in hiking, the more careful you are, the more you slip - you just have to keep calm and carry on, leap without looking, and not obsess about every step. Usually, the key to walking a fine line is to just go.

So it's not surprising that the more ginger I got, the more I lost my footing.

I'd stayed almost completely dry-footed on the way up to the water fall, hopping across rocks in a criss-crossing pattern back and forth across the increasingly wet stream. But on my way back, feeling jumbled and unsure, I took a wrong step midway across the stream and slipped on a rock again and fell again, this time sitting straight down in the water and somehow skinning (and badly bruising/swelling) my right knee.

My hike was becoming a train wreck, and I was no longer surrounded by helpful (albeit tipsy) dudes offering me a hand. Sure, there were influxes of families, school groups, and teenagers passing by, but at that moment, like many other moments out hiking, I was alone. And I started imagining all the other horrible things that could have happened to me out there alone over the last year.

Picking myself up quickly - mostly for fear of getting my electronics wet - I decided it's much better to get my feet wet than it is to fall on slippery rocks. So nearly every time I had to cross back over the stream, I picked the shallowest, flattest, least rocky spot, and just walked through the water on the stream bed. Even if there were flat rocks that could have sustained my weight, my sneakers were so soaked by this point that I didn't even bother with the boulder strategy. I limped through my watery path until it dried up, and my pants and shoelaces left a drizzly trail behind me in the loose, dry dirt below.

With three swollen toes revealed when I peeled off my wet socks at the car, I decided I should take a day or two off from hiking. But I don't really know how to be out here alone, especially over a holiday weekend, without structuring my day around a hike. And what's the point of being out here, and paying for the car rental, if I'm just going to take it easy and lay low? There's a whole world out there to see, feel, experience, and fall down on.

And there isn't always a bridge to cross dangerous ground.

"I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" - Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind"

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Photo Essay: Climbing Hollywoodland

Ever since my first trip to Los Angeles, I'd always looked up at the Hollywood sign with a bit of wonder - not only about the land below that it signified, but the sign itself.

I had to get to it.

The hike to the top of Mount Lee isn't the longest or most strenuous hike ever, and it's the only surefire and legal way to get right behind those bright white letters and look through them down onto Hollywood.

But still, like any hike in the LA area, you just keep climbing and climbing a dusty road, the sun beating down on you. In southern California, even a hike that's considered "easy" is relatively strenuous for me.

The towers at the top of the mountain act as a beacon, even when you can't see the sign itself. You can also see Griffith Observatory peeking out from the next mountain over in Griffith Park.

There are practically no flowers, no wildlife save for a few lizards, and very few people past the first bend where you can snap a photo of yourself in front of the sign in the distance.

But once you're at the top, there are the letters.

I took a few minutes to cool off, the wind at a good velocity and the entire city beneath me. But once you get to the peak, to whatever you were climbing towards, what more can you do but say to yourself, "Well, there it is," and then climb back down?

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