Monday, December 31, 2012

Running Forward

Part of my Mississippi Gulf Coast run, along the I-90 Bridge.
On this last day of 2012, I ponder life ahead as I run, run, run from my regrets. Sure, all the breezy, cool people claim to have none but I'm more of a tortured, awkward soul. (A friend once observed, "The thing is, you can actually pass for normal.") Anyway, these days I run, and man-o-man, it helps.

Denver's Washington Park
People who jogged willingly used to mystify me. Watching their skinny bodies float by in a glowing sweat, I'd mock while secretly marveling at their lone resolve to best themselves. I'd wonder about their motivational source, knowing that mine would likely have to be a threat of violence. They look fit, of course, but there was something more in their faces - contentment? Satisfaction? I could never be sure but there had to be tremendous focus, another envious state - I constantly battle and seek its productive qualities.

And then, one day, Colorado - as she has done so many times before - grabbed hold of my fleshy person and made me do a thing I'd never imagined doing: run. (She did this before with musical instruments and again, with church-going.) Next thing I knew, I was attempting a jog around Denver's Wash Park on a dewy morning without a shred of confidence. I felt like an awkward bag of molasses and heaved like a heavy smoker - I was neither.

Along my North Dakota run.
And, of course, there was That Woman who ran effortlessly past me, blond ponytail swinging with confidence. She pushed a stroller - with triplets - and held two Golden Retrievers on a leash while orchestrating a party over her cell phone: "I was thinking we'd start with some light hors d'oeuvres and fruit...." 

Long Beach path
She haunts me still. As do the two old ladies who passed me, while walking.

Nevertheless, I've come a long way since that first run and this Saturday, I'll be attempting my first half-marathon in Jackson, Mississippi. What's worse, I've foolishly agreed to run the LA Marathon in March. Other than accidentally getting swooped up in the annual Turkey Trot on the beach Thanksgiving Day, I’ve never actually ran in a race before. But I have now been cheered on by strangers (and high-fived by a guy in a turkey suit) so color me addicted. 

In between, I've enjoyed beautiful runs - remote back country roads in North Dakota to bustling beach paths in Long Beach to Colorado's Red Rocks - and I'm always impressed how much peace it brings.

Running has become more than exercise to me, it's become an act of gratitude for my body and where it can take me. Surely, it's meditational, for there is always a point when I am locked into my groove, firmly ensconced in my comfy still-slowish pace, and I forget what my body is up to and my mind runs free.

I even bought special running shoes from an honest woman named Mary at Runner’s High. She knew her shoes. When I asked Mary about her own running habits, she said quietly, “Oh, it’s been awhile but I hope to get back to it.” It was then I noticed her left leg, which was beyond swollen, it was actually about three times larger than the other leg. I don’t know what that condition is called but it can’t be comfortable. And then work in a running store? Oi. 

The holidays are a tough time for me - something to get through - and the literal act of moving forward presents a sliver of peace - running toward the future, leaving my past in the dust.

Ocean Springs beach path

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Here Now

Note the new plates!
With the Mae Flower stuffed into a neighbor’s barn and my pick-up packed haphazardly with worldly goods, I left Second Chance Ranch on October 23rd. In the duration, I’ve been on the road, visiting loved ones, making new friends and exploring America. For myriad reasons, I’ve been unable to fully unpack my pick-up since that day. Living out of a suitcase, I grab things on an as-needed basis.

Yesterday - just five weeks and four days since making hard guesses at what I might need until spring - I finally discovered what I brought other than my ice cream maker and glitter boots. Mostly dresses, fancy shoes and lots of hangers, plus bags of dry beans, wheat and canned tomatoes; it’s like Beverly Hillbillies minus the oil riches.

Glitter boots, back on the farm
All this travel has allowed for ample time to ponder my life - its uniqueness, its riskiness, its loneliness and joys. There is so much that runs smoothly in my world and I’m certainly blessed with immense luck (“The Golden Horseshoe”) but it also includes nags of doubt and snags of fear - though entirely in my head, still quite real.

Truth is, I’m 47 and all I have is time and (potential) garlic.

Back in early October, Evelyn and I planted five rows of optimistic bulbs into the ground - another season, another lifetime ago, it seems. Back then, I was filthy every day, exhausted every night and living an inspired, albeit remote, life. Today, I am clean, well-rested, actively social and culturally engaged - a direct 180. I adore the duality of my life, although many find it hard to understand, particularly banks and anyone who needs my 'permanent' address. (I never thought that, "Where do you live?" would ever be such a stumper question.)

These days, I listen to sheriff helicopters not crop dusters. I switch my pick-up (locked, no keys inside) from curb to curb to avoid a ridiculous street sweeping ticket. I am still inspired by my vision but missing physical exertion. I am actively taking great comfort in the presence of beloved friends who make me giggle like a child and, of course, I am eating too much ‘holiday’ food.

The last 24 hours provide a telling snapshot of my current life:

I hopped on a freeway to attend sleepover with a beloved bunch of women I’ve known since girlhood, hosted by my dearest friend, Lisa. Under a drizzly Orange County sky, we ate Mexican food, drank wine, soaked in a hot tub, drank more wine and laughed into the night. This morning, we ate egg burritos, indulged in celebrity gossip, sang ‘California Dreamin’ and picked oranges from the backyard tree. Then we hugged goodbye, and hopped on our respective freeways after making additional concrete social plans. With decades of shared memories, such friendships feed my soul, reminding me why I am in Southern California for the winter; it's not just about avoiding blizzards, it's about recharging my social battery.

As I told my mother recently, “If I’ve learned anything this summer, it’s how to celebrate where you are and not pine for someplace else - a waste of time.”  I see this philosophy as an extension of the familiar song lyric, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” For god sakes, wherever you find yourself, be there

Nevertheless, when jogging along the beach these days, I see the Pacific Ocean, the Queen Mary, endless happy LBC faces...and rows and rows of perfectly ripe garlic.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Former Beach Bunny Returns

Shoreline Village
Just three weeks and two days after leaving the farm, I find myself living in my hometown of Long Beach, California. With the exception of a 3-week stay in Mississippi over the Xmas/New Year's holidays, I will be living here for the duration of winter. As my brother helpfully pointed out this morning, I am probably one of the younger Snowbirds flying around these days. 

God Bless the Queen
The reality of this has not yet hit me but I keep thinking, 'I haven't lived in Southern California since before the Internet.' This fact succinctly illustrates just how long it has been since I left behind Beach Bunny Heather and also, just how much has changed since February 1997, when I moved to San Francisco. (And yes, I realize the Internet existed then but it was not yet the norm - nobody I knew had an email address or cell phone.)

CSULB, my alma mater
Last night I slept in my childhood bedroom - both comforting and disarming. Naturally, the brain starts to wonder, 'Have I accomplished anything since I lived in this room?' For many people, a return to the hometown means confronting ghosts, resurrecting long-dead memories and a confrontation with one's advancing age. I am no different, despite my hometown being a sunny, suburban ocean-side burg.

I aim to create new memories here and I've plenty of incredible friends here to help, some even within jogging distance. And all that culture I missed over the summer in North Dakota? I'm going to gorge myself on concerts, screenings, plays, stand-up, improv and anything else that Los Angeles cooks up.

The Wiltern Theater - many memories here.
So, in addition to pondering what to plant in spring and how to pay for all my crazy dreams, I'll be the one jogging on the beach, marveling at the weather and mentally making peace with all kind of ghosts.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My First Vote: George McGovern

Bob Daugherty/Associated Press
When I heard that George McGovern died today, I felt a tug of nostalgia. In 1972, I was a first grader in Mrs. Hove's class at Mark Twain Elementary in Long Beach, California. Mrs. Hove was a delightful teacher who truly relished her job. She had the brilliant idea to host a mock election - amidst the national one - so her students could learn about the inner-workings of democracy.

As I recall, we learned as much about each presidential candidate - Richard Nixon and George McGovern - as our seven-year-old brains could handle. Then, she asked us to write down who we would like to see as President of the United States. I recall really weighing the decision, probably longer than necessary.

Unfortunately, I have no memory of which candidate actually won Mrs. Hove's election but as I understand, the rest of the students quickly moved on to a craft project. Meanwhile, two of her students were busy in the corner, having a heated debate about the merits and demerits of the two candidates. Evidently, I was a staunch McGovern supporter while little Timmy Hawkins was a Nixon guy, all the way.

Mrs. Hove's plan to enlighten her students work almost too well on me and Timmy. I think we even continued the debate on the playground and a bit after school. I was sure I was right and so was he; no one was budging.

Then, I went home and told my mother about the day's events, including my heated argument with a young Mr. Hawkins. Then, I asked her who she and daddy voted for. "Nixon," she said. (I found out years later, dad had even worked on his campaign.) I immediately burst into tears, thinking I had betrayed my family. I voted for the wrong man! My mother assured me that I did not have to vote like them, that we were all individuals and that was one of the great things about democracy.


Flash forward to 1987 and I am working toward my journalism degree at Cal State Long Beach. It's the first day of classes and my World Religions teacher is taking roll. He calls my name and I respond in the affirmative. He then says, "Tim Hawkins?" and a deep voice right behind me says, "Here."

Though I hadn't spoken to this person in 15 years, I swing around immediately and hiss, "I WAS RIGHT ABOUT NIXON!" 

He covers his face and mumbles, "Oh, I was hoping you wouldn't remember!" We laughed hard then and every time we saw each other after that. Tim was a great guy, despite his bad taste in politicians.

RIP George McGovern. You inspired this former first grader to care just a little bit more and I am forever grateful. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Memories of Phyllis Diller

Before a wave of texts, calls and emails informed me of Phyllis Diller's passing yesterday, there was an omen that morning. As I often do when showering, cleaning, cooking or, in this case, packing a suitcase, I play iTunes on shuffle. With 7,500 sound files, it's the only way to hear them all.

I was packing for home, leaving Denver after co-producing seven comedy improv shows to benefit Smile Train, a cleft charity. From the other room, I heard Phyllis repeat my name. "Heather. Well, that is about the prettiest name. I just love that name Heather." I smiled, recalling the memory of the recorded radio interview I'd done with her years before. She was so gracious and I was so nervous but the interview had gone well. I'd forgotten the sound file was in my iTunes library.

I'd heard the interview a dozen times since so I went and hit the forward button, taking me to the next random selection, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths.

Some weekday afternoon, around the turn of this century, I found myself on 24th floor conference room in downtown San Francisco. The bay view was indescribably beautiful, though the meeting was excruciatingly dull. Instead of taking notes, as expected, I instead made a list of things to do prior to death - the term "bucket list" had not yet become common. Somewhere on there, in between "Write a book" and "Gallop a horse across the Golden Gate Bridge" was "Meet Phyllis Diller."

Phyllis Diller and Heather Clisby

To me, Phyllis was the ultimate comedy pioneer, someone I had long admired not just for her steady, successful career but for the way she approached the craft, with razor-sharp precision. And let's face it, comedy has long been a world dominated by men. Today, less so. (Yay!)

My life has always included a comedic compartment, whether as a performer (some LA stand-up but mostly improv), a humor writer or rabidly appreciative audience member. I grew up memorizing the albums of Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Robin Williams. In fact, I still collect classic comedy LPs and in a grand gift from the Universe, got to embrace Bob Newhart on a plane with his express permission. I am a true comedy nerd. (Come October, I'm driving six hours to see Louis C.K. in Minneapolis - insane.)

Around the time of the fateful Boring Meeting, I was occasionally writing for the still-new BUST magazine, and in a fit of confidence, pitched them a profile on Phyllis. The editor, Debbie Stoller, (who is rad) flipped over the idea and insisted we include a photo shoot as well. Beyond Phyllis's famous over-the-top laugh ("I came out of the womb like that," she'd told me), the bulk of her act was based on her so-called ungainly looks. This, I discovered, was a deliberate strategy to appear more vulnerable, non-sexual and more clownish - a key to her self-deprecating act. ("The only tragedy is that Phyllis Diller was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny," tweeted Joan Rivers yesterday.)

And so, writing about Phyllis wasn't enough, she must be photographed too. We agreed to meet …. at her house.

In one long deafening squeal, I packed for LA, grabbed my vintage copy of her 1961 live album, "Laughs" for an autograph, and prepared to meet my idol, which can be a tricky thing. What if the object of one's admiration is not what's imagined? What if they are rude? Uncaring? Indifferent? Worst of all, what if she wasn't funny? I had been disappointed by false celebrity before and was wary. Sure, she was charming on the phone for 20 minutes but hell, even I can do that.

For 30+ years, Phyllis lived in the same Brentwood home in West LA. She called the area "Murderer's Alley" for her infamous neighbor, OJ Simpson. ("What a nightmare that was. We were trapped.") The home is spectacular, tasteful without being ostentatious. Her office walls are covered with head shots of famous comedians and friends, all of them fans. (Richard Lewis' inscription summed them all up: "I adore you!")

Phyllis had named her living room The Hope Salon and a full oil portrait of her friend and mentor, Bob Hope, was lit up next to the grand piano. The entry hall had a giant oil painting of an empty stage with a lonely microphone and a spotlight, signed by the artist herself, Ms. Diller.

Phyllis Diller was much more beautiful in person than I'd expected. With all that plastic surgery, I was prepared for a disturbing image, like seeing Meg Ryan at a distance. Not at all. "The trick with the surgeries is knowing when to stop," she told me. "I once had the best plastic surgeon and then he up and died on me ... the NERVE!" Phyllis looked wonderful - an attractive older woman but not at all plastic. At some point, I mentioned my own very-different experience with plastic surgery as a child and young adult (25 surgeries) and she was fascinated, asking me questions and listening with real concern.

That was another striking surprise about Phyllis, her impeccable manners and her incredibly sharp mind. Nothing escaped her - politics, social issues, geographies, the arts - and like any lifelong student, she was never bored. While talking in her living room, Phyllis became distracted by her cat, Miss Kitty, chasing a fly. "Oh, look! She gonna get it! Look at her!" she squealed. "Now then, where was I?" Meanwhile, I'm thinking, 'God, I love this woman.'

Phyllis lived very much in the moment, as along as that moment was stimulating. She once told her friend, the comedian/magician, Penn Jillette, "If I try something new and I'm not good at it, I get bored and quit. There are too many other things to master."  Somewhat famously, Phyllis did not suffer fools - she could be curt and impatient. She was also famous for never, ever giving an encore performance, no matter how frantically the audience clapped. "When I leave the stage, that's it. I don't come back," she said.

At some point during that visit, I'd made the mistake of complaining about my age - I was 36. "HA!" she blurted, and then came up and poked me in the chest with every word: "I hadn't even been on stage yet when I was your age!" And then again for good measure, another sharp poke, "HA!"

More than anything, her pointy point made me realize how long this life could be, how much I could get done. I can still feel her finger poking in to my chest and it pushes me forward to do scary, productive, fun-for-fun's-sake things.

This is a woman who, after birthing six children (three of them preceded her in death), became the world's first female stand-up comic. She was 37 years old when she climbed up on stage at The Purple Onion in San Francisco on March 7, 1955. Her husband, Sherwood, battled depression and couldn't keep a job so it was up to Phyllis to support the family. (He was, however, hot in the sack, she confided.)

I asked Phyllis if she knew she would become famous. She sighed and, for once, was quite serious, "Yeah, I knew." Diller is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for delivering 12 punch lines per minute - a record that still stands today. Watching her act or listening to her old comedy albums is like witnessing lighting - it's so quick, so natural, so powerful. It lights up the room in one bright flash after another. Her son, Perry, once observed, "Mom rides the audience like a jockey rides a horse."

As if this weren't enough, Phyllis also became an accomplished concert pianist, performing with over 100 symphonies across the US. Her arthritis kept her from playing the later years so she turned to painting. She'd produced some greeting cards and even sent me a batch. While the photographers were setting up the equipment in her living room for the shoot, I asked if I could see her artist's studio. She turned to her housekeeper, Dottie, and said excitedly, "Take her upstairs. Show her the wig room too!" I had my camera and Phyllis Diller was giving me the run of the place; it was like a dream come true.

Her youngest kid, Perry, was a wild teenager and former heavy metal drummer and he'd wallpapered his bedroom in black-and-white tiger stripes. After he moved out and become a banker, Phyllis turned the room into storage for all her wigs and show costumes. I nearly fainted. I snapped a few photos (they are somewhere here on the farm, I swear) and moved on to her artist's studio, which included several paintings in the works.

Also in the studio was one of the most valuable things I have ever laid eyes on - a big wooden, square file cabinet (like the ones in libraries) with long drawers holding endless 3"x 5" cards. Each card had a Phyllis joke on it (she wrote all her own stuff) and they were organized by topic! There were thousands of cards in there, it was quite astonishing. In the coming years, I would worry about that collection and urge her to get it into a museum. Finally, she told me it had a reserved spot in the Smithsonian, thank God.

As I came down the stairs, she looked up, "Well, whattya think?" I shook my head, "I think that there are about 30 very average people walking around right now - you've hogged enough talent for all of them." She laughed her famous laugh and enjoyed that theory very much.

I cannot begin to describe how much fun it was to be able to make someone like Phyllis Diller laugh. Of course, I couldn't resist trying. I had memorized bits of that 1961 album and performed them back to her - man, she loved that. She just roared. And honestly? I don't think it was my performance, she was admiring the genius of her own writing. When I reenacted her bit about aging, ("A woman hits 40 going 90 miles an hour and BOY, that's a crack up...") she laughed loudly and said, "God, that's brilliant!"

But my favorite secret fact about Phyllis was that she was a big-time foodie and simply reveled in cooking. When touring, she'd bring all her own food, cookware and hot plate and make gourmet dinners for her staff after each show. She talked about how careful she was in peeling tomatoes for a specific recipe, "I'm a classicist, you see."

During one phone conversation, she mentioned to me that she was about to go to the market. (She no longer drove herself though she would occasionally take out her 1927 Mercedes Excaliber Phaeton complete with gangster headlights and a horn that played "Bridge on the River Kwai.") I asked what she was going to buy so she excitedly grabbed her shopping list and read it off to me. In addition to the usual meats and vegetables, the list included three flavors of Jello-O. "I LOVE Jell-O," she declared.

So, when her birthday rolled around that year, my father urged me to send her a giant box filled with Jell-O packages. She sent me a long thank-you note (Phyllis is quite the formal corresponder) "I laughed so hard! Thanks for giving me a gift I could really use."

After that, I was on her Christmas card list, which was an annual delight. Her penmanship was exquisite, though I could see the lines getting shakier as the years went by.

When I last spoke to her, it was post-martini time - she had one every night. Her secretary initially apologized to me in mousy chirps, "I'm sorry but Ms. Diller doesn't talk to anyone after 8:30 p.m. ... " and then Phyllis jumped on another phone line and shouted enthusiastically, "Heather, DARLING! You KNOW that come June, I think I'll be running out of my Jell-O stash so .... " I took the hint and sent her another big box that year for her birthday in July.

I could spend hours reminiscing about Phyllis, what she meant to me, to women and the world of comedy. I'm so honored to have met her and walked the earth at the same time. There's a spot in my heart - and my chest - that carries the mark of her influence. As Morrissey declared with foresight, hers is a light that will never go out.

Rest in peace, Phyllis. I hope they have canes full of gin in heaven, and tell Bob we all said hello.


Check out my 2006 review of the little-seen documentary on Phyllis's stand up career, "Goodnight, We Love You." 

This was cross-posted on

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Man, Revealed

The handsome man in this photo is known in this space as "Kirk", which is not his real name. He has been my boyfriend, partner, best friend, spirit guide, roommate and head cheerleader (a term he might reject as "un-manly") for nearly four years now. This post (written with his express permission) is to celebrate his amazingness but first, let me explain the two big reasons why I use a fake name and why I rarely mention him online.

Kirk and I, working at Grant Farms.
Reason #1:
Kirk works in an industry that requires the utmost discretion. Not only does his position demand that he respect the privacy of his employers but it also requires him to keep a low profile, both online and in Real Life. In the world of Google searches and SEO tag words, it's best that his cyber footprint be kept to a bare minimum. This could be a problem is your gal is a mouthy blogger who puts your name in print without much thought.

Let's put it this way, when one of his employers found out he was dating a blogger, the man's face went white. Despite Kirk's assurances that there were no risks, he could tell the very idea made his boss nervous. Truth is, when his current (or future) employers Google Kirk's real name, very little should surface.

Thanksgiving at Mama Iva's.
Reason #2: 
As some may recall, my landing here in Colorado was fraught with romantic turbulence. I had no local friends yet and no real outlet for venting (I was too embarrassed to call most of my friends), so I let it all hang out on my blog. Sure, I felt better but after the dust had settled, I realized that it would likely be one of the last times I would publicly write about my love life online, especially the dramatic parts. 

I've been to enough blogging conferences and seminars to know that oversharing this part of one's life is an unhealthy policy. My personal life is more important to me than the urge to share it; it is something better left to real world margaritas, old friends and phone calls with Mama Iva. Out of respect for the person I am dating, I choose to keep the relationship mostly private. Of course, if there are big headlines, such as an impending marriage, I would certainly celebrate that here but anything other than that, is kept backstage.

But back to Kirk. Although it means I am not going to be in his day-to-day life (and may not see him until fall), his endless love and support for my organic farming project is blowing my mind. I am slowly starting to understand what true love really is because I am seeing it in action when he helps me pack up my stuff, when he goes with me to rent the U-Haul, when he offers up his own new address knowing that I have yet to get a NoDak PO Box.

He truly gets what I am trying to do in North Dakota and fully understands why it is somewhat urgent. Kirk is the only non-Clisby person in my life to have seen our family's land in North Dakota, so he knows everything about this vision for SCRANCH. In fact, it was he who thought up the project name, a shortened acronym for Second Chance Ranch. Sheer genius!

When I first met him at My Brother's Bar, Kirk was having tough times - end of a job, end of a marriage, a new President he didn't like. When I first asked him how things were going, he responded, "Shitty!" The raw honesty made me laugh. 'This man,' I thought to myself, 'will never lie to me.'

With Murry, my canine boyfriend.
I'd overheard him talk about a Mile-Hi Church, a place I was quite curious about. He said he'd just started going and he could pick me up next week, if I didn't want to go alone.

And that was that.

Together, we'd listen to the weekly message of spiritual awareness and self-improvement and then we'd get some coffee and tea and discuss the teachings. In this way, we became spiritual partners, a place to check in and monitor our own progress.

Along the way we became a couple and it was he who got a hilarious front row seat to my house-wifey domestication makeover when we moved into Hearthstone, our beloved co-housing community. (Before Kirk, I had never lived with a beau before - true story.)

Other than sharing a home and experiencing co-housing together, our domestic goal was an exchange of important life skills: He was going to teach me about sharing my daily life and being more emotionally connected to another person while I was going to teach Kirk - a man much too used to being on alert and serving others - to become a selfish motherfucker and chill the fuck out. While I had to be herbally medicated to buy new curtains at JC Penney, he only needed more vintage bowling shirts and porkpie hats to get the drift.

Kirk certainly accomplished his goal because he has taught me more than I can ever say about the amazing depths of selfless love and unconditional friendship. I think I finally understand what "we" means in the truest sense. And I have to confess to (ultimately) really digging the domestic thing, especially the cooking part. I really got into making dinner every night and once, I even brought him a beer while he was watching football and I was wearing an apron. The most amazing part? I LOVED IT!

Meanwhile, I have only been half successful. He tucks his shirts in less and less and is more apt to just relax and read on the couch then when I first found him. He tells me stories about his legendary anger and rage but I have only seen the guy that smiles all the time, laughs easily and is nice to everyone. The only Kirk I know is the one that is kind to animals, buys champagne for anything ("It's Conan's first night on TBS!") and is the father of two beautiful people who love him, J and M.

I love these people.
But Kirk will never be a selfish person who only thinks of himself, it's just not his nature. He is the guy that can fix anything and is happy to do so. He's the guy who will offer you the bigger piece first, the one that offers to lend money, the one that will help you move. There was that one time that Kirk attempted asshole behavior - his strategy? He willfully opted to NOT come home with fresh cut flowers. (I failed to notice, rendering his attempt unsuccessful.)

With my godson, Jack.
I must also point out how much laughter we shared. There was a tremendous amount of giggling that went on and I appreciated what a grateful audience he was, not only for my random life stories (that I'm sure I repeated) but also when I insisted that his life was incomplete without a viewing of, for example, all nine episodes of the live action version of The Tick. What a trooper.

I wanted to write this post because all too often, the nice guys of this world are not celebrated. I wanted to make it very clear - and deliberately public - how very lucky I am to have my life intersect with such a quality person. Kirk created a fertile atmosphere where my dreams could grow and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hotel California

Lately, I'd say in the last 46 or so years, I've been feeling incredibly held, as if carried around in the palm of a mostly-loving King Kong. There are glaring voids but for the most part, I feel like my life is just one crowd surfing scenario after another. Case in point: Saturday evening.

At this time every year, I head to my home state, California, to celebrate Mother's Day with Mama Iva and celebrate Chick Cabin Weekend. Kirk, who is somehow managing to be even more amazing during all this change, gives me a no-muss, no-fuss ride to the airport. I make my way to the gate, where I am greeted by my pal, Gins, a friend from San Francisco who just so happens to be on the same flight. This we discovered earlier by a random, "How r u?" text session that morning. What are the odds?

Despite our fellow row mate being super hot, Gins and I mostly ignored him and chatted our heads off on the flight - sharing recent adventures, updating on mutual friends and family and tackling Big Life Questions while munching on snack size peanuts. (I took a photo of her at LAX but alas, it was not approved for publication.)

Less than a minute after hugging Gins' parental units at the curb, my longtime pal, Susie, whisks me away into the madness of LA. We reunite back at her place with Zen Lisa, who is waiting for us in her car, which doubles as a backstage changing room and urban tank. We head to WitzEnd in Venice, where we scarf down an embarrassing amount of food (hey, it was free with the Groupon) and enjoy three awesome musical acts - The Novelists, Bo The Girl and Tyler Conti - a man with a voice, a guitar and enough sex appeal to kill an elephant. (His mom was there too, so we thanked her for his existence.)

Susie had to get up early the next morning, so we left early-ish, and headed back to her place. There were more indulgences, conversation and laughter. Then, Lisa takes me to a 24-hour spa in Koreatown because...hey, it's a Groupon! Called WiSpa, as described by Racked LA, "Wi Spa is not for novices. It's for die-hard spa-goers that know their way around a traditional Korean bathhouse and aren't afraid of a little nudity. Okay, a lot of nudity." 

As far as I was concerned, there wasn't enough nudity but then again, I was born with a lack of modesty. In fact, I sometimes forget that nudity is still not accepted as normal behavior; it's the same as me constantly forgetting that pot it still illegal. (Ridiculous.)

Wiltern Theater, one my favorite old haunts.
Most of the signs are in Korean and English but we still needed additional explanations. There's a women-only floor (nudity, yay!), men-only floor (the same, I assume) a co-ed floor (spa-issued shorts and t-shirt only) and a rooftop lounge. Did I mention this spa is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week? I guess they also offer salt scrubs, massages and other services but we were there just to explore the general spa facilities.

Walking out to the general area with heated floor tiles, we see men, women and children relaxing all over the place in that beautiful unselfconscious way that only non-Midwesterners can. WiSpa has a series of special sauna rooms and the first we tried was the Salt Sauna Room, which is filled entirely with smooth, hot salt chunks, although I thought it was Rose Quartz. It is incredibly beautiful, like a wee pink church where everyone lays down to pray.

"The respiratory system is purified, circulation improves, the immune system is strengthened, and muscles are relaxed. In addition, halotherapy (salt therapy) is healing for skin conditions."  
Honestly, I didn't want to leave this room but your body can only handle so much heat. They recommend only 10-20 in each room. So, we took a break and next, we tried the Jade Room:  " The powerfully hot JADE ROOM eases muscle tension, helps with arthritis, and is known to lower the cerebral temperature. The sodium and minerals within the walls of Jade Spa also help in the balancing of hormones. In Asian culture, Jade has long been revered for its healing properties and in aiding stress relief."
This photo doesn't do the beauty of these rocks justice. I could have stared at them for hours.
Next, we jumped into the mysterious-looking Bulgama, "made mostly out of oak wood, sits at an impressive 231 degrees for intense thermotherapy. As guests lie on the floor, heat helps to loosen muscles, remove toxins and bacteria in the body, and reduce blood pressure -- for an overall cleansing effect."
Holy shit, this place was hot.
Seriously, I could only stay in there less than 5 minutes - I never even moved away from the door. It was scary hot. Lisa took to it more than I did. We took a break after this before heading in to the Clay Sauna, another favorite of mine:

"This natural mud stimulates the lymphatic system and assists in the heavy metal detoxification process."
This photo doesn't explain what this room really is, which is a super hot room filled with billions of tiny red clay balls. Since you can't walk on them very well, there are wooden planks so you can access different areas. Also, there are wooden curved neck supporters and helpfully, a flat screen TV on the wall showing (what else?) a Korean cooking show, which gave me a deep craving for noodles I have yet to address.

After all this, I need an antidote to all that heat, which is why they have the Ice Sauna:

Ahhhhhh! They could have hung sides of beef in here and I would have punched them out of sheer gratitude.

So, after all this, we (finally!) got nekked and explored the womens' floor - hot HOT jacuzzis, cold dip pools, dry saunas, steam room and long rows of grooming stations - showers hoses, bowls, little plastic chairs and shampoo/conditioner/shower gel dispensers. We watched the Korean women all line up and busily groom their feet, their heads and their privates. Applying the when-in-Rome philosophy, I sat down and did the same. Lisa joined me, with some hesitance.

Ultimately, we left the spa around 1:30 a.m., more cleansed, detoxed and purified than I've ever been. We get in to the organized madness of Lisa's car and she puts on the very slow, very live version of 'Hotel California' as we head through downtown LA and off toward Long Beach.

Listening to this classic Golden State anthem, I count the palm trees, note the many helicopters and screaming cop cars and ponder the personal bonds of my home state. Mr. Henley is correct - I can never really leave, no matter where I go.

And again, I feel held.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Launch of Second Chance Ranch

At 46, I’ve learned a few crucial things about myself. Evidently, I’m fond of thrusting my person into super scary scenarios, just to see if I can survive them, either physically or socially. And since I’m not yet dead or ostracized, this habit repeats itself.

Which brings us to the next Big Life Challenge - the creation of Second Chance Ranch, also known as SCRANCH.

After at least 15 years of dragging my heels and daring myself to take me seriously, I’m going to spend a summer living on my family’s land in North Dakota. (That’s North, not South. No, not the one with Mt. Rushmore, the one above it.) I will still be making my living online, as I do now, as a writer, editor and communications contractor. In late October, I will head to less wintry parts of the nation, get a well-earned massage and plot the 2013 crop.

The goal is to see if/how I can grow organic food while trying to understand the Big Ag all around me. I don’t expect to be wildly successful this first year, especially with such a late start, but I do expect to learn a lot while providing endless entertainment for the locals. I may try to sell food at the local Farmers Markets or in the western half of the state, which is going through a freakish population growth due to the oil boom. (Many hair-raising stories to come on that situation....)

Honestly, I’ll be happy if I can just feed myself this first year.

Truth is, there’s only so much you can learn from books, blogs and Michael Pollan articles, especially when reading them from the comfort of one’s urban couch. I want to understand the day-to-day, season-to-season challenges of the farmer, both organic and non. The only way to do that is be there in the thick of it and get really, really dirty. (On this recent trip, I learned the hands-on practice of automated cultivation and the windy politics of pesticide spraying - each one deserving of its own post.)

So, come June, I will pack up my worldly belongings (mostly photos, books, CDs and old concert t-shirts) and haul it all straight north. I’ll put everything in one of the many empty buildings we have and buy an affordable trailer in Grand Forks. There are a few houses on the property (including the house my mother grew up in) but they are quite unlivable, unless you are a raccoon.

To clarify my insanity, I’ll be leaving behind my wonderful best friend and partner, Kirk, our huge, luxurious home, my favorite animals - Boudreaux (cat) and Matisse (dog), numerous friends, our beloved Hearthstone cohousing community and the stunningly beautiful state of Colorado to live in a remote trailer to battle heat, dirt, bugs, pesticides and loneliness. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Lazy Apathetic Heather would not actively seek such discomforts but Crazy Impassioned Heather won the argument with a few key points:

Family: I’m related to gobs of people up there, all quite likable and supportive.
Food: I have deep concerns and need some real-world answers.
Land: Lookie here, I got some!
Animals: Horses would be back in my life, big time. Also, chickens, goats, dogs and barn cats.
Technology: This would be impossible without the Internet. Let us give thanks.
Mission: Everyone needs a legacy and this could be mine.
Creative Goals: I will blog the hell out of this, write a book, and ultimately build a recording studio and outdoor cinema spot.
Financial: Since I would not be paying for rent, storage spaces, street sweeping tickets, Wall Street Journal deliveries, massages or concert tickets, money might be saved.
Emotional: I have always felt a pull to this place for reasons I'm not yet able to articulate.

Fears? I have a massive, stinkin’ heap of those as well. And I’ll battle those bastards, one at a time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Northward Bound

This morning, I head to North Dakota to see if the fantasy I have about living there for a summer and learning a thing or two about farming is viable. Where would I sleep? Where would I poop? And, most importantly, how would I access the Internet?

A girl still has to make a living, after all.

I come with a long list of questions and this trip is just about getting some answers. I'm sure the locals, most of whom I am related to, will have some questions of their own.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Bay Area Visit

People frequently comment on my penchant for travel. One friend flat out asked me on Facebook, "Do you EVER stay home?"

It's true. I get on planes a lot. Always have. Not very green of me, really, but I've got a restless soul.

Sometime after I returned from LA in March, I drove to New Mexico (another post entirely) but once I got back, I made a long overdue visit to San Francisco, one of my home cities. It'd been a year and a half and I always pang for it.  

I stayed with Ryan, my cousin/little brother, and his wonderful partner, Kealoha, in their beautiful new Bayview home. As one can imagine, buying a home in San Francisco in a mighty big financial achievement and their real estate timing was just about perfect. The area is currently going through a major overhaul - new restaurants, home makeovers and a shiny new UCSF campus down the street.

Easter brunch at The Ramp.
So, when one does look at the world in terms of airports, it's important to have 'outposts' in the world. These are places that feel like home because the people that live there and how they make you feel. R and K's home is one of these places for me. 

While there, I managed to see some key folks, such as (Grown -Up) Grasshopper, Maria Cubeta. She - my former sidekick - is now a fancy PR exec at Intel, our former stomping grounds. So, where I used to use my security clearance to check her in to the shiny blue building, she now had to do the same for me. Oh, the poetry of passing that torch! I was bursting with pride and choked up in full vaklempt

They grow up so fast, don't they? 
I also got to visit with my former cube-mate, Jody Fox, one of the few colleagues who, like me, could pass for normal but, like me, is most assuredly not. When we united in our very real physical rejection of fluorescent lighting, they brought in the building super to disconnect those evil bulbs above our heads. There, happily, in 'Vampire Corner' we chatted away about pop culture as perky co-workers eyed us warily. We were so content there in the darkness, as much as one can be in the corporate salt mines. 

The Brides of Darkness.
Anyhoo, she's just taken a new job and it was the perfect crossroads opportunity to drop in to her penthouse pad in West Oakland. Triple bonus, I got to see her delightful husband, Hugh, as well as her neighbor, Anne Stone, a modern-day Dorothy Parker if ever there was one. 

I also drove down to Watsonville (!) to see my pal, Mark Dowdy, although I lack photographic evidence. Great to see him, although we definitely need to stop meeting up in the married-suburban homes of other people. Not conducive to volume or frivolity, our favorites. 

On the way back up the peninsula, I dropped in on Valerie Liberty, one of my favorite souvenirs from the Dot Com Madness of the early century. We still laugh about the days when our company sent me, Val and Laura to LA for a week so we could investigate bars and restaurants for a $100K party we were planning in Hollywood. We rented a red Mustang convertible, they gave Val and Laura cell phones and me, a fashion account. Ah, those were the days! 

We played gobs of ukelele together and had a smashing time. She even popped some bubbly! Happily, I recorded it all on my Flip but sadly, I left it behind. Happily, she met me at SFO the following day to deliver it back. (Sheer moments after handing over my suitcase to the Southwest skycap, Val pulls up in some fancy black car and says, "Hop in!" She then places a box of smokey treats on my lap and we leave the airport behind.)

Anyway, though I have the camera, all the videos are now on Val's computer and not mine so I am missing a video in this post.

The morning of my last day, was sheer perfection. I got up early to get some work done so I could go with Kealoha to teach a yoga class at the Integral Yoga Center on Delores. It's in one of those giant Victorian homes with flourishes in every direction. The class took place in the top floor temple and man-o-man, it was one of the best starts to any week I've ever had.

K is a very special person, one of my earthly spirit guides, in fact. If ever you can fit in a totally relaxing and centering activity (such as meditational yoga) before boarding a plane, I HIGHLY recommend it. I felt so very lucky to be there

I feel lucky a lot these days.