August 28, 2011

Retracing My Steps

About four months late, I finally hunkered down and started tackling my 2010 taxes so I can file them before the deadline of my six-month extension. Although my taxes seem to be annually complicated ever since 2001 when I won a game show and got laid off, last year was particularly complicated considering the amount of traveling I did back and forth from NY to LA to try to find (either freelance or fulltime) work.

Going through my receipts - especially my travel-related ones - was like reexperiencing the entire year in one night. It was a tough year, but I was happy when I was in California, which was a lot.

Tonight, logging all of my expenses, from hotels to car rentals to food and drinks, I retraced the steps that brought me here to California to stay: my first trip to LA with Edith before touring California City for Obscura Day in March, my first stint housesitting in May (and the subsequent weekend holiday at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs), my stint catsitting for two weeks over the Fourth of July holiday, finding any excuse to return, procuring oddball crashpads and never wanting to leave...

Those were happy times, losing weight, spending money I didn't have, meeting people, trying to find love, trying to find myself...

Last year, I had a sense that I was on a mission, on a path to something, somewhere, but I just had no idea what or where it was.

This year, I am certain I am supposed to be here, where I am, in LA. I still don't really know why.

I found a job. (Actually, so far, three jobs.)

I still haven't found a love that loves me back.

I still haven't found myself.

Maybe next year, as I account the financial traces of where I've been and what I've done in 2011, I'll be able to piece some more of it together.

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August 27, 2011

Live Hurricane Irene Coverage from NYC

Streaming live from Murray Hill with a view of the Chrysler Building:

Live video by Ustream

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The Lighter Side

"Is it just my concussion? Or do my roots look really light?"

I was sitting in the chair at the hair salon watching Tamara blow my hair out. My hair looked orange under the lights.

"Well I know you were worried about your hair getting too dark, so I lightened the formula by a shade..." she explained.

"Oh. OK. Uh huh. Hm."

I've spent so long with my hair being somewhere between dark brown and black. But as its ratio of black to white creeps slowly in favor of white, and the brown dye over it fades into a burnt auburn from exposure to the sun, I have to start accepting a lighter version of me.

I mean, I'm physically lighter, weighing 45 pounds less than I did two years ago. And maybe somehow having a lighter lode has helped me accept a lighter shade of my hair, my clothes, my nails, my lipgloss...

I don't remember the last time I wore an all-black outfit during the day.

I don't remember the last time I wore red lips or a cherry black pedicure.

And as my skin turns brown despite the slathers of sunscreen that are applied nearly daily, will my eyes lighten? Teeth whiten? Attitude brighten?

Will California sunshine emanate from my core? Will a bright shining light emit from my soul?

As my hair reddens and lips and toes sparkle, in my silver car carrying my silver purse wearing my silver shoes, will I remain black inside, as I always have been?

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August 25, 2011

Photo Essay: In Search of LA's Military History, Part 2

In my search for LA's abandoned Nike missile sites, I'd failed at reaching the relics at Briar Summit Open Space, but I knew that San Vicente Mountain Park - along the stretch of Mulholland Dirt Road somewhere between Bel Air and Encino - would have what I was looking for.

Last weekend, the gate was open, so I could've driven the 0.8 miles up the dirt road to the site, but I decided to hike it.

It's a scenic walk that's a natural extension of the Mulholland Scenic Parkway and Corridor, overlooking the Encino Reservoir to the north...

The observation tower is visible right from the entrance to the park, which is the old entrance to the site - replete with a restored security booth and gate.

There are tons of side trails that lead into the canyons and open spaces that surround the old missile site...

and most of the relics are actually done, leaving a vast expanse of wilderness before you.

The trails stretch for miles along the ridges, some that appear unhiked for ages.

You can imagine why San Vicente Mountain was chosen as a key vantage point from which to identify and strike the enemy. You can see the full sky, and everything below.

But there's no longer a sense of military presence in LA, unlike nearby major city San Diego. But if you drive just a few hours north or inland, you hit Edwards Air Force Base, Twentynine Palms, China Lake...hidden way in the desert, performing secret operations...

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Photo Essay: In Search of LA's Military History, Part 1

I'd had plenty of opportunity to explore the various forts of the New York Harbor, including Governor's Island which once housed the Coast Guard, but it never occurred to me that Los Angeles would have its own military history. It seemed like it would be all sunshine and palm trees.

But of course it does have a military history, being a major coastal metropolitan area with its own active harbor and industrial ports.

Plus, it has plenty of high peaks from which to observe and defend.

I'd heard that there were a few remaining old Nike missile sites from the 50s and 60s scattered around Los Angeles, now surrounded by hiking trails and interpretive historical markers, so I decided to hike to the closest one: Briar Summit Open Space, off Mulholland Drive.

The entry gate looked foreboding enough...

...and although some new signage from the Department of Water and Power gave the sense that there is some current activity there, it definitely felt abandoned.

Understandably, peaks like this - as in the Verdugo Mountains as well - are useful these days for mounting radio towers.

Unfortunately at Briar Summit, the original Nike observation tower - a key component of detecting, intercepting, and destroying enemy targets - looms behind a locked gate.

Fortunately for me, I knew of another place to go, not too far away, where I could get closer to the old relics of another site: San Vicente Mountain Park.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Further Reading:
Fort MacArthur Museum
Project Nike (Wikipedia)

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August 24, 2011

The View from Above

If, in your career, you've...

been paid well
had a high-ranking title
mentored others
been regarded as an industry thought leader
been respected, assisted, praised and rewarded

and then you take on a new assignment which reverts your role from strategic to tactical, but in an area you have little to no experience in,

how can you say you're above it?

Is it humbling to admit that I don't know how to, for instance, wash windows?

I've started two jobs recently that have put me in the position of learning some very basic clerical and administrative work that I have not done before. Am I above it?

After all, haven't I already paid my dues? Didn't I already start out in the music industry as an assistant and work my way up? Must I be my own assistant now? Must I answer my own phone and empty my own trash?

But when I start complaining about my lack of administrative support, my inability to delegate because there is no one to delegate to, I know that I have to get over myself. I'm doing a lot of things that are new to me. How could I oversee someone doing them if I don't know how to do them myself?

Am I humbled?

The second job I started is admittedly potentially more humbling than the first. When I tell people I've started training to become a Weight Watchers* receptionist, they look at me curiously, wondering if they should feel sorry for me or think it's cute. After all, I don't need to work nights and weekends in addition to my new full-time job back in the music industry. But Weight Watchers requires all of their meeting leaders to start not only as members, but also as receptionists - so they know every step of the process, from both sides of the desk. So if I'm ever going to give back - become a meeting leader, or more - I've got to start at the bottom, counting a cash drawer, scanning in snack bars, restocking the shelves, rearranging the chairs, and, yes, emptying the trash.

Is it a step back? Or a necessary path to independence? If you've never dug a hole yourself, how will you ever know if your hired hole-digger is doing his job correctly?

Do any of us have the luxury of placing a limit on the amount of things we can learn in a lifetime? Can we deem information unnecessary or tasks unuseful?

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*I am now a Weight Watchers employee but I am writing about my own personal experiences and views. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of Weight Watchers.

On Community

I saw the fantastic documentary Darwin this weekend, and not only did it ignite in me a burning desire to return to the Eastern Sierras, but it also got me thinking...

If an old mining ghost town consisting of 35 people, no children, no government and no church can somehow forge a sense of community among its last surviving residents... a sprawling city full of people like LA, where can I forge mine?

At work? I used to find all my friends and dates at work, until my coworker pool dwindled down from 300 to 3.

At home? I live alone, in a dogmatic "quiet" building whose tenants mostly keep to themselves.

In my neighborhood, roughly bordered by the Troubadour to the north and the Four Seasons to the south? What could I possibly have in common with the blue-hairs at the nail salon, the slicked-back, well-groomed shoppers at Bristol Farms who wear their sunglasses at night, and the sundressed debutantes at Lemonade?

At the pool, the gay men with their tremendous bodies and tiny, brightly-colored swim shorts? The overweight, feeble elderly women in the slow therapy lane? The urban youth lifeguards, wrapped in bright red blankets to ward off the evening's chill?

At my Weight Watchers meetings?

At gallery openings, urban hikes and walking tours, where I am mistaken for a designer, an architect, an urban planner, and even a geologist, though I am none of those things?

At bars and restaurants, where I am mistaken for working in the industry? I insinuate myself with bartenders and waiters during happy hour, but I know, I do not belong with them.

I rely on part-time friends, sometime lovers, and a borrowed family, but they do not belong to me.

I know no God; I acknowledge no Devil.

I bear no children.

I have no common purpose with anyone to bring me closer to them - no water to divert, no heat to weather, no strangers to scare off, no enemies to shoot.

Where are my people? How can I live in such big cities and yet connect with no one on any kind of meaningful basis?

I've been alone for so long, I don't think I'd even recognize the opportunity to commune more than what the transience of a month in the desert,  a weekend away, or a night out on the town normally affords me.

So life becomes a series of microtransactions strung together in a string of twinkly lights, dangling from beams, tucked into bushes and lining the panes, illuminating in tandem, but each too dim to shed light on anything on their own.

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August 16, 2011

The Other Side of the Bed

Ever since I moved into this apartment in January, I've kept to my side of the bed.

Even though it's only a double bed, I've stuck to my single side.

Even though it's my old mattress from my old New York apartment, where I used to sprawl and toss across both sides of the bed, I've only nuzzled one pillow, folded over one corner of blanket, on one side of the bed.

I've been saving the other side. I've preserved it. I've tried to leave it unsullied, neat, tucked, and folded, for whomever might want to assume the position, next to me.

I haven't smeared my eyeliner on the pillowcase, or pressed my unwashed hair into it.

I haven't swept my suntan-sticky legs, still dusty from hiking, across the sheets. Not on that side.

I haven't eaten breakfast, or spilled crumbs in the bed. Not on that side.

I haven't drooled or sneezed, coughed or cried.

Well, I have - but only on my side.

Until now.

I'd saved the other side of the bed, until my head hurt so badly, I thought I might never wake up. I saved it until I needed more of the bed to comfort me, to embrace me, to protect me, to soften the blow of the pounding that started in my heart and emanated out of my head. Blood racing, room spinning, I slithered over there slowly, inching my way to solace, reaching for something, nothing found.

But once I was over there, it was too late. My tears had already dripped. My fingers had already slipped. I'd grabbed onto the other side of the bed, and I didn't let go. My half of a bed became whole; my one pillow became two.

And now both sides of the bed are mine for the taking, no longer worth saving.

At least, until I change my sheets.

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August 15, 2011

A Change of Seasons, A Season of Change

Why does everyone think I moved to LA for the weather?

I mean, sure, it's sunny here, but my first few months in LA were record-breakingly rainy. Even now in August, it's been downright chilly. June gloom hangs low over the mornings long after June has passed.

Or is that just smog?

Besides, I can't imagine uprooting my entire existence just for a sunnier, warmer climate. I needed to get out of New York. That's it. And I was willing to brave bridge-breakingly snowy winters in Minneapolis, altitude sickness in Dever, humidity in Florida, and desert dehydration in Vegas for any number of employers that might be willing to hire and relocate me - as long as it wasn't New York.

But when I landed in Burbank at the end of January, ripped my winter boots off and replaced them with flip flops on my feet, having left a huge blizzard in New York, I was glad to leave snow behind me.

Last weekend, on a detour to Virginia Lakes in the Hoover Wilderness area of the Toiyabe National Forest in the Eastern Sierras, I was reunited with snow.

At almost 10,000 feet above sea level, after a long winter with lots of snow, there is still quite a snowpack in the Sierra Mountains that still has not melted.

Seeing the snow-capped mountains in the distance was novel in August, but encountering the stuff underfoot was not necessarily welcome.

I mean, since escaping that blizzard, I've been waiting all year for summer to really hit. I've caught glimpses of it - felt the burn of it against my forehead, felt the slime of it on my skin (most notably while camping in the desert heat) - but, in LA, it's cooler today than it was in April. I've lost my sense of season.

The view at Virginia Lakes was breathtaking - and not just because of the altitude - but I was happy to once again leave that snow behind me and head south towards home, trading the chill for the Mojave Desert that separates LA from the Eastern Sierras.

I may not be in Southern California for the weather, but being so far from home, so West, so South, so California, I've lost my sense of snow.

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August 13, 2011

A Kick in the Head, Part 4 - Conclusion


To be honest, though I’d already told Michelle to stay at the office, I was dying for some company in the emergency room. I'd been through it once before all by myself, and I didn't want to have to soldier through it again all alone. Besides, I didn't have a strong enough cell signal to take any of the calls that were coming in from close friends and family on the East Coast, and having lived on the West Coast for only six months, I couldn't think of anyone local to ask to come visit.

Even when my boss texted me that she was coming, I told her not to. Why did I feel compelled to martyr myself, when I so desperately needed help? Was it the embarrassment of what Michelle had already witnessed? The guilt over having to be taken care of by people who really don't know me that well yet?

Or just the resignation that set in a long time ago, in childhood, that I was the only one who could help myself? Ever since I can remember, I always insisted on taking care of my own problems. I dug splinters out of my own leg. I rocked myself to sleep. I wiped my own tears. I spent weeks alone in bed, recuperating from some illness or another, my germophobic mother terrified of getting infected.

But when my boss - who'd been spared the spectacle of my convulsions by being out of the office during my attack - asked me if I wanted her to bring me some lunch, and my stomach growled, I relented, and reticently typed out the words "yes pls."

When she arrived, she proceeded to beg me to come home with her so I wouldn't have to be alone. She knew I didn't have anybody, that I lived alone, and that if I did have a concussion, I needed to be monitored. But I let my humiliation get the better of me, and I once again refused help, insisting that I go home to my own apartment where I could sleep in my own bed. I wanted to lie under the ceiling fan, not worrying whether the strap of my nightgown fell down, or a boob popped out, or a nipple hardened under the breeze. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, and cry. I wanted to writhe in pain and crawl up into a ball. I didn't want to pretend I was OK, and I knew if I was in a house full of people, I'd never admit to how badly I felt.

As it was, I hadn't been able to call out to Michelle for help, when I knew I was going to faint. I paused too long, considering it, until it was too late and I was already gone.

I don't remember much of the rest of that afternoon and night. I took Advil. I took a shower. I ate. I loitered on the internet.

I woke up at the usual time the next morning, and bravely planned to go into the office in the afternoon for a half day. But after falling back asleep and waking up again a couple of hours later, I started coming to my senses and took a sick day in bed. I waited for my doctor to call after his shift started at 5, as he promised to do. He never did. I waited for text messages or emails from friends who must've seen my outpouring of social media updates about my concussion. They didn't come.

Back to work on Wednesday. I bought myself miniature yellow roses which I placed in a vase on my desk. I fared relatively well until the end of the day, when I completely lost my senses and could not process any information. I tried to reward mysef with an after-work happy hour snack at SimonLA at the Sofitel hotel around the corner, but when I realized there was no bar to sit at, and they tried to seat me at a table alone, I declared, "This isn't going to work out," marched out onto Beverly Boulevard, and burst into tears.

I sobbed for the rest of the evening.

Text messages trickled in, most expressing surprise at how poorly I was doing. I complained of tingling limbs, short term memory loss, agitation, persistent headaches, disrupted sleeping, light sensitivity - all typical (and non-emergency) symptoms of a concussion. They don't go away quickly. They linger. My brain needs time to heal.

Back to work on Thursday, hopelessly dependent on emails and note-taking to keep track of my to-do's and already-done's. I found myself alarmingly susceptible to the power of suggestion. If someone had asked me, "We're getting married, right?" I would have replied, "Yep, uh huh."

Asleep early Thursday night, and then wide awake by 3:30 a.m. Up for two hours, desperate for sleep, head hurting, heart saddening.

Back to work on Friday, despite lack of sleep, pain fatigue, confusion, disorientation, and even a bit of slurred speech, a surprising lack of articulation. I found myself speaking very slowly and deliberately just to make sure I was saying the right thing. I'm still not sure if I did. I don't really remember.

And so a week after first concussing myself, I feel worse than I did right after the incident. What have I said? What have I done? What have I written? What have I promised?

What haven't I?

What help should I be receiving?

Who should be checking in on me? Do I cease to exist to the hospital staff until I return to the ER with a recurrence of emergency symptoms, or a worsening condition?

When will I feel better? Does my head always hurt this much? Has it just gone unnoticed because I haven't been paying attention to it as I am now?

When will I get better?

Related Reading:
Six Words About Work: The Best Boss I Ever Had (Smith Magazine)
A Kick in the Head
A Kick in the Head, Part 2
A Kick in the Head, Part 3

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August 11, 2011

A Kick in the Head, Part 3


Luckily for my pride, my EMTs wheeled me into the ER on the gurney sitting upright, chair-style. I felt like a woman in labor, and then laughed when the admitting nurse asked me if there was any chance I could be pregnant.

Sitting in the entryway, I was poked and prodded, strung up and squeezed by a blood pressure cuff. I listened for screams and moans, but I only heard beeps and murmurs. This was nothing like New York.

In fact, it was almost exactly like what I'd seen on TV and in movies. For a moment, I felt like a member of the elite, admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where so many celebrities had been brought after collapse, overdose, accident and exhaustion.

Even the staff looked like actors: stereotypically curmudgeonly redhaired nurses with gold-wire glasses falling down their noses, blond-banged orderlies brushing their swoops of hair out of their eyes, tiptoeing retiree volunteers walking patients by the arm and offering candy and tissues and water. It wasn't long before I was assigned to #34 - not a room number, but a bed number, thankfully for me in a room with only two other beds and two whole nurses all to ourselves.

My bed was already made, but apparently recently used, or somehow soiled, because my EMT stripped it of its bedding, and swiped it with an alcohol pad, fitting new sheets over it. "Don't they have somebody to do that for you?" I asked. "How'd you get stuck with that job?" He didn't answer.

My nurse - I forget her name - handed me a hospital gown and instructed me to put it on.

"Open in the back, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, sorry..." she said.

"Underwear on?" I asked.

"Sure. Are you OK with that one? Do you want another one?" she asked, as she pulled the curtain along its ball-bearing track for privacy.

"Eh, I've got nothing to hide," I said, thankful that I wore nice underwear that day, but wishing it matched.

I crawled into bed, and my nurse placed a too-small, too-thin blanket over me as I sunk in, and collapsed into myself. Feeling sorry for me, she handed me another one, saying, "I know, it gets cold in here..."

And then I waited.

I'd seen a too-thin, scraggly man next to me in bed #35 earlier, and could hear him getting lunch. My stomach growled, though I was still nauseous. I looked at the clock and realized I'd missed lunch, though I'd brought it to work with me that day. I hadn't made it long enough through work to eat it.

A tattooed woman with turquoise highlights in her hair shuffled by my bed into the shared bathroom next to my bed, holding an empty plastic cup. I tried to avert my eyes when she reemerged with the cup filled and a satisfied look on her face, but I couldn't help it. My reflexes were slow. My limbs were numb. The blanket felt like a weight on top of my legs, and then I realized that someone had foolishly put a very heavy, tethered TV remote on me.

I reached for my Blackberries - one for personal, one for work - and sent text messages and emails I don't remember. I felt it necessary to announce to the world where I was, though I was without diagnosis or prognosis. I wanted sympathy, even though I'd already refused help.

Calls came in but my signal was too weak to take them, though I tried.

Various staffers, patients and their visitors peeked at me from around my drawn curtain, smiling at me meekly as tears were streaming down my face. I was lonely and confused, already worried about my hospital bills, already worried that someone might get their hands on my mother's phone number and recklessly call her.

I still had a blood pressure cuff on my arm, but I'd removed a sensor from my forefinger to sign some paperwork, and never replaced it. The beeping had stopped. I didn't have any water. I didn't have any food. I didn't have any pain killers. And I had to go to the bathroom.

I was there in that bed, tapping away at my Blackberry devices, for a couple of hours, which passed quickly and unmemorably. My nurse would occasionally check on me, promising that the doctor would see me soon, and apologizing when he didn't.

Finally, Dr. Tony rounded the corner around the curtain, approached the bed and introduced himself, pen in hand, clipboard at attention, just like any good daytime drama doctor. He was handsome and young, simultaneously disaffected and caring, gently asking how I was feeling and how bad the pain was.

"Is it the worst headache you could ever have?"

"Well, no...."

I explained my history of fainting and resulting convulsions, and the bump I'd given myself a couple of days before, and that I'd been reading about concussions when the dizzy spell hit, and I could see the skepticism wash over his face, a healthy mix of doubt and amusement. "Don't tell me I did it to myself!" I exclaimed.

"I'm not blaming you..." he said. "But it would be very unusual for the symptoms to wait a day or two before they set in. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's unusual."

"Uh huh."

"So what do you want to do?" he asked. "I'm 90% sure you don't need a CAT Scan, but I can give you one if you want one."

"Well, a CAT Scan would only determine if there's bleeding in the brain, right? Which you don't think I have, right?" I asked, and he nodded. "So the only way to tell if I actually have a concussion is just by my symptoms, right?"

He nodded again.

"Don't bother."

I was worried about the cost, but then again I was in no shape to make any decisions for myself at that time. But he jumped to agree with me, warning about the dangers of radiation exposure, and then said that I could go home.

"So that's it?" I asked. "I just get dressed and go home now?" Surely there was more poking and prodding to be done. Blood work? Neurological tests? Emotional counseling? An IV drip?

"Well, yes," he said. "I'll send you some Tylenol over, and someone will have you sign some discharge papers, and then you can go."

Defeated but relieved, I immediately got out of bed, slipped my legs into my skirt and started to zip it up under my hospital gown when an orderly came in to take my blood pressure again.

"Were you getting up to go to the bathroom?" he asked.

"Well, no, the doctor said I could go home, so I decided to get dressed..."

"Yeah but there's paperwork to sign..." he said.

"What, I have to wait until I sign it to get dressed? I'm not doing anything else over here..." By then I'd been there a little over two hours, but I was ready to go.

Alone again, briefly, I snapped my bra on and grabbed my top when I heard a nurse call out, "You want to see a friend? You have a visitor..."

...To be continued...

Related Reading:
A Kick in the Head
A Kick in the Head, Part 2

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August 10, 2011

A Kick in the Head, Part 2

A continuation of a prior blog post, "A Kick in the Head."

I had no sense of what was happening around me. I was dreaming about...something. But someone was yelling the numbers "4-5-8!" and the word "Breathe!"

What was going on?

I opened my eyes and saw someone standing really closely over me. I didn't know who it was. I didn't know where I was.

I closed them again.

And then I heard my name - "Sandi! Breathe!" I might've heard it before. I might not have known it was my name.

I opened my eyes again but all I could see was the pair of glasses on Michelle's face. Had I fallen asleep? Was I drunk? Where was I? Where was I supposed to be?

And then it hit me: I'd passed out.

And then I started moaning.

I think I'd been moaning before; I think hearing my own moaning was part of what woke me up. (As a sick child, my own sickness-induced whimpering would often wake me up in the middle of the night.) I placed my hands on each side of my face, pressed into my temples, and tried to stop moaning, but I couldn't.

"Oh God," I said. "What happened?" I don't know why I asked. I was pretty sure I knew.

Michelle was still yelling, at me or on the phone I'm not sure, because I couldn't understand anything she was saying.

"Don't call an ambulance," I begged.

"I already did!" she exclaimed.

"Oh God I don't have insurance, oh God...I passed out?" Michelle nodded. "Was I shaking?"

"Not at first but then, yeah." I expected it: I'd also had convulsions a lot as a kid, worrisome enough to send me in for two EEGs to diagnose epilepsy or some other neurological malfunction. They didn't find one, but the convulsions continued, for some reason.

Michelle then explained that she'd heard me moaning, called out for me, and when I didn't answer, came into my office to check on me. She found me turned around in my chair, slumped over the heater behind me. When she sat me up, I wasn't breathing, my face reddening. That's when the shaking began.

Listening to her description of me, watching her imitation of me, I was confused. I was terrified. And I was sweating.

The EMTs arrived quickly, asked for my ID and insurance card first, then checked my vitals, pricked my thumb to test my blood sugar, asked me some questions, and then offered to take me to the hospital. I told them to go away, that I would just go home and recuperate, that Michelle would drive me and that I would be fine.  I might've seemed coherent, but I was in no shape to make any decisions about anything. But they took me at my word, and left my office to complete their paperwork. Michelle left to retrieve her car keys, and I was alone in front of the computer, trying to shut it down.

I still couldn't really see anything. I couldn't process what had just happened. I couldn't remember Michelle grabbing me or shaking me. I couldn't remember screaming or gasping for air when I came to.

"Michelle?" I called out, successfully this time.

"She went outside," one of the EMTs said.

"Oh, um, can I change my mind? Can I come with you guys?"

A pause. "Sure."

So I collected my purse, my phone, my tote bag, and rose to my feet. "Don't get the gurney. I can walk," I proclaimed.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Michelle asked, when the EMTs told her I was coming with them after all.

"No, I'm fine, you can stay here," I said. I was in no shape to make decisions, and for some reason I refused to accept any help.

I walked outside into the sun, stepped up into the side of the fire department ambulance, its air conditioning vent blowing onto my forehead too hard and too cold, and lay down on the gurney, to be securely strapped in.

I'd been here, in the back of an ambulance, once before: three weeks into my first job in the music industry at Atlantic Records. I'd eaten my lunch outside, and suffered an onset of abdominal pain that was all to familiar to me, attacks of which I'd survived throughout high school and college, all undiagnosed. I crawled up on a bench in the public plaza across the street, hoping it would subside, and when it didn't, returned to the office. My boss was at lunch, so I went to the receptionist and asked if there was someplace I could go lie down. I explained my symptoms, and after she unsuccessfully tried to reach the company nurse and company doctor (the perks of working for Time Warner), called Fastcare, the ambulance company.

"Don't call an ambulance..." I begged, out of embarrassment and fear, but she looked at me and said, "You're pale, and you're sweating. I'm calling an ambulance."

So the new girl at work got carted away on a gurney, down the elevator, out the front door, in front of all her new coworkers returning from lunch, gawking curiously at the spectacle.

In the back of that ambulance, it felt like we were careening through Manhattan traffic, stopping and starting with a jolt, every bump and jostle making my pain worse. Those EMTs murmured something about my appendix, but assured me I would be all right, and that we would be there soon. It felt like it took forever to get to St. Luke's Roosevelt, but it took even longer for me to actually get a bed and be seen by a doctor in their emergency room, full of gunshot victims, drug addicts, screaming patients, and overwhelmed nurses and orderlies.

I spent 10 hours in that ER that day in 1997, with no diagnosis to show for it, and still an aching belly.

On Monday, once again being transported by ambulance, I was prepared for the worst, but Cedars is only about a half mile from work, so we arrived quickly and without incident.

But once we arrived, I was prepared to spend the next 10 hours there, like I had last time...

...To be continued...

To read Part 1, click here.

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August 09, 2011

A Kick in the Head

While I was exploring Bodie ghost town this weekend up in the Eastern Sierra region of California, I walked through a disembodied doorway, whose surrounding building crumbled to the ground around it. I took a photo from "inside" the building, and then walked back through the doorway.

Or, shall I say, I walked into the doorway. (The culprit is pictured above.)

I've clocked myself in the forehead more times than I can count. As a three year old, I famously cracked my head open in my parents' basement, thanks to a new pair of glasses that distorted my depth perception so severely, staircases were deathly and sidewalks always appeared to run uphill or downhill even when they were completely flat. Later in life, I've fallen on hikes, been dragged by a moving car, burned by battery acid, punched, pushed down, smacked in the head, bruised, battered and molested.

But I've always recovered quickly.

So when I gave myself a goose-egg on Saturday, I rubbed the area of impact a couple of times, winced at the pain, and then moved on. I joked that I might have a concussion, but I didn't really believe that I had one. I cautiously anticipated the onset of headaches or dizziness that would send me to some mountain hospital far from home, with no one to comfort me (and no insurance, to boot). But as the day wore on, I felt ok, my brain a bit jarred and jostled, but not really any worse for the wear. I slept great Saturday night, and triumphantly returned to LA on Sunday evening, unscathed after an eight-hour drive.

On Monday morning, I woke up cranky and sleep-deprived, as usual. I left for work at the time I was supposed to be there, as usual. I walked to work, headphones plugged in ears, lunch slung over shoulder, lips mouthing the words to every song in my mile-long walk, as usual.

When I arrived, I headed straight for the teakettle, as usual. I spooned instant decaf into a mug, as usual. I started up my computer, as usual. I opened the curtains, put my bags on the floor, added milk and Equal to my coffee, and sat down, as usual.

But something was off.

I'd had a bit of a headache the night before, which wasn't so unusual considering the long drive home, the hours spent in the sun, the hikes I'd done across snowy lake shores and volcanic glacial falls. But the headache was getting worse, and I was having a hard time concentrating.

I was grumpier than usual too, but I wrote it off as sleep deprivation, or the Monday, Mondays.

As I sipped my decaf instant coffee, which has become somewhat of a daily ritual for me, I felt a little nauseous. My delicate stomach always feels a bit sick with coffee. But I really did not feel so good.

I Googled "concussion."

I clicked through to the National Institute of Health's page on concussions, reading about the "normal" symptoms and then examining the "emergency" symptoms. I got worried. A huge wave of nausea set in. And then a huge wave of dizziness set in.

I opened my mouth to call out to my coworker, Michelle, to tell her that I felt faint, or that I might pass out, or something, but no words came out.

That's the last thing I remember...

...To be continued...

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Work vs Vacation

Sitting behind a desk all day, all I can do is look out the window, open the front door, sigh, and say, "It's sunny out there."

I don't think I was meant to have an office job.

I mean, I'm a good worker, a hard worker, a smart person, and an impassioned businesswoman. But too often I've let the work take over me, let the job define me. When I am working, I gain weight. I drink too much. I don't sleep enough. I don't smile enough. And I'm always left wanting more out of my coworkers, more out of my salary, more out of life.

In truth, I don't need very much money to live on. I don't need very much money to be happy. But if I'm working at all, I'm working hard. I just can't help it. And if I'm going to work that hard, I'd like to be compensated for it.

So I can think of only a couple of choices: work on something I really really care about, work outdoors, or send myself on a permanent vacation.

When I'm traveling (which hardly feels like "vacation," since I'm rarely resting), I take care of myself. I get massages. I go to bed early and get up at sunrise. I never miss a sunset. I drink lots of water, and I drink less alcohol. I live; I learn; I laugh; I love. I let people in instead of pushing them away.

(Then again, I also don't wash my hair, and I have fallen more than once and now have given myself a concussion.)

Why can't I sustain that when I return to normality? Why can't I take care of myself when I have a job?

Why does work have to be obligatory, erosive, draining, and divisive? Why can't it be fulfilling, pleasurable, nurturing, and sustainable? "Well, then it wouldn't be 'work,'" people always tell me.

What if they're right?

People also say I'm a spoiled brat when they hear that I don't want to work at all (even though I was dying for a job in high school and my parents wouldn't let me).

But maybe I just haven't found the right job yet.

Related Posts:
I Am Not-Working
Vacation vs Work
By Its Right Name

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August 08, 2011

Mono Lake: From Shore to Surface

Most people come up to the Eastern Sierras to visit Yosemite, to camp, climb, or fish. 

I came for Mono Lake.

Photo Essay: Bodie Ghost Town

I love a good abandoned building, so imagine my glee at a whole town full of them.

But for a ghost town to truly be experienced authentically, it can't be full of people.

Bodie, a former gold mining camp-now-state park in the Eastern Sierras near the Nevada border, is full of people - hundreds of parents, their children, and their dogs. (There are also some free-range cattle that have figured out how to get through a hole in the fence.)

To escape the crowds, I climbed up the hill to the hazardous warning fence and get some good shots of the buildings, burned by fire in 1939, abandoned in 1942, and preserved in the 1960s in their current condition.

My timing was perfect to jump on a guided tour with a ranger that got me past that fence, not only straight into the hazardous area, but straight into one of the hazardous buildings: the old stamp mill, whose equipment is still in place, functional, and extremely dangerous. With an exterior constructed of metal, it survived Bodie's last fire relatively unscathed (unlike its predecessor, which burned to the ground in Bodie's first big fire).

stamp mill

Its water tanks weren't so lucky.

water tank

The interior is dark, dusty, smelly, and shadowy, with water-warped floors, uneven stairs, low clearance doorways, and wires and belts hanging from the ceiling everywhere.


machine room

Bodie plays a key role in California's gold mining history, so it stands to reason it would be so popular. It's interesting, and huge.

I just prefer my ghost towns to be a bit more...ghostly.

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August 07, 2011

Lessons of a Lone Traveler: Hot Springs Edition

Last night I found the well-hidden Travertine Hot Springs, a no-fee Bureau of Land Management site in a geologically significant area south of Bodie, the famed gold mining ghost town.

I would never have known about it had I stayed in Lee Vining, the "Gateway to Yosemite" where Mono Lake is located, most convenient to most of what I had planned for this weekend. I would have never even looked for it. But instead, I chose to stay farther north in Bridgeport, a three-block town featuring the Mono County courthouse, jail, and other historic sites. And hot springs.

It was a simple excursion, only a couple of miles from my motel, but it took two tries to get there, and even when I found the parking lot, I had to ask someone, "Where do I go now?!"

I only spent an hour sitting in the spring water, muddy-bottomed natural pools of travertine eroded smooth by the warm flow that has left a rainbow of color behind in its wake...

...but, as I commiserated with a couple of my fellow bathers, if you're adventurous enough, you learn that there are an unlimited number of places to explore out West, each unique and fascinating, even if you only spend a brief amount of time there.

Traveling alone, I've also learned...
  1. Stay off the beaten path, even if it's 30 miles out of your way.
  2. Try something new.
  3. If you look for something and can't find it, ask for help, then go back and look again.
  4. Embrace the unknown.
  5. Talk to people. Answer their questions. Ask them questions.
  6. Catch the sunset wherever you are. Get outside. Climb a volcano. Drive to the top of a hill. But don't miss it.
  7. Accept invitations. Be willing to share a meal, a car, a canoe, or a trail.
  8. Plan ahead, but don't stick so closely to the plan that you miss out on something special you didn't know about, or couldn't have anticipated.
  9. Don't be afraid to abort mission if something doesn't turn out like you'd hoped. You don't have to eat food that doesn't taste good; you don't have to hike a boring trail. Don't be afraid to move on.
  10. If you can't do everything in one trip, you can always go back.
I have been right by Yosemite this weekend, and I didn't even go to Yosemite. There has been enough to keep me occupied on its outskirts.

So I'm considering this trip more or less an exploratory one, getting the lay of the land for when I return.

And I will return. I'm not done yet here in the Eastern Sierras.

But today, I have to go back. I have a long drive ahead of me, but I've already got a few pit stops planned, and am sure I'll find plenty to do along the way...

(Sort of) Related Reading:
Photo Essay: The Getty Center Under Fog

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August 06, 2011

Photo Essay: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

I'd thrown together this trip up to Mono Lake kind of at the last minute, my sense of urgency increased by Mono Lake's inclusion on California's slated state parks closures, and their canoe trips ceasing after Labor Day. So I didn't have as much time as I normally do to plot out all of my adventures.

In fact, I'd forgotten entirely that I wanted to go to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, an hour and a half detour off Route 395 not counting time spent there, until I passed its sign while going 80 mph down the highway. I slowed at first, swerved between left and right lanes a couple of times, and then resolved to turn around and check it out.

This is an area (similar to the Great Basin National Park in Nevada) that was once submerged under a prehistoric sea, where now groves of ancient trees 4000+ years old still flourish.

Of course, it's startling to discover that it's not the biggest trees - redwoods, sequoias, etc. - that are the oldest. These trees are stubby and gnarly, roots exposed from soil erosion.

But they still live.

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