Yeah, I know your home's far away
And it's hard to leave the life you've made
But I promise you more
Then what you've seen
And what you've had before...
-Dirty South, "Until the End"
Dear (scared) Lisa,
Remember that first red-eye flight? You thought you'd die.
Guess what? You survived.
In fact, you landed in San Francisco with energy to spare! Everyone was tired, so you ventured into the city alone. For the very first time. With shaky hands, a racing heart, and a smile big enough to convince strangers you actually knew what you were doing.
You trekked all over town and immediately fell in love with the entire Bay Area, remember? It was this intense, magnetic pull.
Yep, you were just a young thing back then. Twenty-six years old, with a head full of dreams and a heart that had never been broken.
Shhh...I hear those murmurs that escape your tired lips. I'm older now, you argue. Less agile. Less bold. More jaded.
Don't write yourself off like that.
You've done many brave things, things you never gave yourself credit for. Things that had overwhelmingly positive results.
Trinidad, AmeriCorps, Berlin. Quitting that lucrative job because you realized there was more to life than a paycheck and a nice car. Sending your novels to publishers despite the fact that you had been rejected before. Choosing to love even though you knew you might get burned.
You're a fierce one, my dear. A force to be reckoned with.
Now you're at a crossroads, hmm? Very soon, things will change drastically at work. You have a choice to make.
You can buy into the lie that California is unaffordable, overwhelming and downright impractical. You can take comfort in the familiar, instead of branching out.
Or you can carve a new path...one that is entirely your own.
You know what to do. You've known it all along, girlfriend.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
It’s November of 2011.
I’m sitting on the steps in front of Union Square, San Francisco’s thriving city center. Lights flash all around me. People hurry past, eager to enjoy Sunday night before it fades into the monotony of Monday morning.
My life statistics are currently bleak: I have three friends in this brand-new town, four hundred dollars in my bank account, a questionable apartment in the East Bay, and absolutely no idea that my buddy Alvin will be dead in a week.
But I’m oblivious to these facts. I’m too busy enjoying the moment. The sun is setting and the air is crisp. A sweet scent lingers around me. Local musicians stand on street corners and strum their guitars, banjos, ukeleles.
The world feels whole.
From my perch in front of Union Square, I spot the 38 Bus. Within minutes, it will stop and Alvin will get off. Of course, Alvin’s disembarking will take a longer than usual. Due to his wheelchair.
The bus stops just before Powell Street, in front of a big painted heart. This is my favorite of all the heart statues scattered throughout San Francisco. It shows the Golden Gate Bridge, set against a hazy blue sky. The painting captures the intrigue of this West Coast city which became my home one week ago.
I approach the bus.
“They let me ride for half-price,” Alvin declares as he descends the special platform. “Because I’m disabled. Score!”
He’s laughing, which is typical.
Alvin’s two years younger than me. He hasn’t traveled much, yet he has this worldliness…the kind that doesn’t come from sipping wine in Italy or hiking through waterfalls in Trinidad. The kind that has a lot more to do with enduring pain, then choosing to push forward anyway.
We make our way to a café and order bubble tea. I hold Alvin’s cup while he drinks through a straw.
He tells me he wants to apply for a job at Costco.
“I could be a greeter,” he says. “It’ll get me out of the house and into the real world again. It’ll give me a chance to do something.”
“You’d be great,” I say, and I mean it.
Then I tell him a story about the time I knocked over a display case at Costco. Alvin chuckles at my stupid anecdote. We talk a little more, sip our drinks, and watch the dusky sky fill with stars.
That was 2011.
This is 2014.
March has been a rocky month for me. April can’t come quickly enough...seriously.
I lost someone I cared about this week.
Also, my niece was born Wednesday night. This is both exciting and terrifying. I don’t have much experience with children. I want so badly to love her, hold her, help her grow into a beautiful woman. But there are times when I don’t feel like a beautiful woman, so what advice could I possible give this impressionable little girl?
Last night, I heard the old cliché: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
My initial thought was, Yeah, right.
Loss is not fun. Loneliness is not desirable. Nobody looks forward to waking up in tears, or feeling as though their chest is collapsing because it’s filled with so much ache.
Alvin died in his mid-twenties. It doesn't make a lot of sense. I opened my heart, then he was gone. This is one example, but my resume is filled with similar stories. My life is an all-you-can-eat buffet of unfulfilled desires and endings with no closure.
My tendency is to love too much and too hard.
I loved, and in 2011 I lost.
This week I also lost. Big time.
There’s a possibility that I'll lose again, with my newest (and tiniest) relative. I don’t know how to be a decent aunt. I’m afraid I will screw things up. There’s a good chance I already have.
But that won’t stop me from loving. In the end, there’s always someone who cared the most, right? Someone who can take a step back, once the dust has settled, and honestly say, “I loved you more.”
I’m willing to be the one.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
People say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I do it anyway.
If a book has a weird title, neon colors or a cartoon zombie/monster/alien on the cover, I'm probably going to purchase it. Fact: I almost bought a book printed in German (which I don't speak) because the cover artwork was so mesmerizing.
Anyway, I recently purchased "Through Painted Deserts" at Goodwill because:
1) I loved the title
2) the cover photo was very vintage
3) it cost a dollar.
The book's subtitle is "Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road." As soon as my eyes scanned those words, I was hooked. It felt like a perfect description of my job as a flight attendant...except that I cruise clouds rather than highways. Which seemed like a minor detail.
I didn't read the book immediately.
At first, I was content to simply hold the novel in my hands, admiring its black-and-white photo and riveting title. 253 pages of raw emotion awaited me, I knew. But the mystery, the waiting period was so alluring.
Today, a passenger approached me in the galley. Tears streamed down her face and her lip quivered as she explained the series of tragic events she'd endured recently.
I sat down with her and listened while she poured out her heart. I'm a "stewardess," sure...but I'm also a human being, and when someone comes to me in a state of despair, I can't help empathizing with that person. Whether she's a stranger or an old friend.
Her sniffles eventually slowed, then ceased altogether.
The girl curled up against a window. Soon she was fast asleep, exhausted from the emotional purging she'd just done.
I returned to my jumpseat in the back of the plane, and "Through Painted Deserts" stared up at me from my duffel bag.
Today was just another day on another airplane bound for a big, Southern city. But there was surely "light, God, and beauty" here on this open road.
The colors of my life are vibrant and, at times, completely overwhelming. Often the panorama is so surreal that I can't find the proper words to describe it. But I will keep trying anyway.
I will keep listening to strangers' stories and admiring their offbeat cover artwork, because it's all part of a bigger tapestry that involves love, empathy and a deep appreciation for this multi-faceted world of ours.
Whatever it is that you're doing today, I promise you're marching through a dazzling "painted desert." I also promise there is light, God and beauty along the way. Just keep your eyes open. You'll see what I'm talking about.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
To the little boy writing poetry in seat 17C:
I’m sorry your brothers made fun of you.
I’m sorry your mom warned you to “stop that, it’s embarrassing.”
Adults aren’t supposed to say this, but it’s cool because I’m not actually an adult (I just look like one; I’m about 15 years old, on the inside): sometimes grown-ups invent stupid rules because they’re blinded by their own insecurities.
Yep. That’s a mouthful. But let me break it down.
Grown-ups don’t know everything.
So when your mother says that you’re doing something wrong or drawing negative attention to yourself, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
Of course, there are times when she might be right. Now and then, your heart might lead you down a dangerous path. Foolish decisions can be so appealing; occasionally it’s tempting to do something that you know is going to hurt others.
But there are also times when your heart is going to speak so loudly and so eloquently that even you will be surprised.
Look, I’m just here to serve pretzels and make sure everyone arrives in Raleigh safely.
Nobody asked for my advice. In fact, nobody even batted an eye when I walked past (except for the guy in the exit row, but he’s been reading Maxim the whole flight and hasn’t turned the page once. He’s stuck on one particular “article,” if you know what I mean…).
So feel free to dismiss my dime-store psychology.
But, if you choose to hear the words I’m whispering into the universe, please remember this: you are allowed to express yourself in ways that others might not understand.
Poetry is not “girly.”
It’s not embarrassing, or pointless, or weird.
It doesn’t mean that you’re gay (although if you are, that’s perfectly fine).
It doesn’t mean you’re anything less than awesome.
In fact, I am inspired by your hand-written poem. I write poems too, although mine are often scribbled on paper towels and napkins. Yours looks so neat, inside that green notebook. You’ve got impressive handwriting, my friend.
Keep being you.
Keep doing your thing; you’re good at it.
And if people can’t handle your awesome quirks, it’s their loss.
(a.k.a. the flight attendant wearing the huge zombie pin)
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
If you are a world-famous rockstar with millions of dollars to burn and a toxic love for heroin, then you can easily relate to the story I’m about to tell.
Otherwise, you might be shocked. At first.
I’ve been reading “The Heroin Diaries,” which chronicles Nikki Sixx’s (the lead singer and bassist for Motley Crue) journey into the dark, twisted world of narcotics. He compares heroin to a mistress who captured his attention and then demanded everything from him. Music, friends, hygiene and sanity fell by the wayside. Nikki’s life morphed into a quest for more drugs, stronger drugs. The high always wore off. His thirst for pleasure and fulfillment could never be quenched.
In the mid-80’s, Nikki’s heart stopped after a show in London. He died in a filthy alley. Alone and half-naked.
But he was revived.
You’d think this would set him straight, right? Give him a new appreciation for life…and maybe convince him to return to rehab?
About a year later, Nikki died again. And was revived once more. The fact that Nikki died twice isn’t even the most baffling part; I’m more surprised that he lived to tell the tale. And that he managed to get sober, after committing so many years of his life to what is arguably the most addicting substance on earth.
“The Heroin Diaries” is, without a doubt, the toughest book I’ve ever read.
On several occasions, I had to pause and take a ten-minute break. Because it was too intense, too terrifying. Heroin caused acute paranoia for Nikki, so he often hid in his closet. He believed men in combat boots were hovering outside his front door, waiting to slice him to pieces. He also believed that his friends were spies, and his life would end prematurely. He was certain that it was his destiny to die young.
Every chapter describes an instance where Nikki lashed out at people. Usually, those people were simply trying to help him.
Every chapter also includes references to Nikki’s childhood. His main reason for using was to “numb the pain” from his past, but the drugs actually forced all those memories to resurface. Nikki’s greatest escape proved to be the most constricting force in his life. He sought freedom but wound up in chains.
Isn’t it funny how that works?
You don’t have to be an iconic singer to know that life’s biggest aches can’t be remedied by a bottle, pipe or syringe. You don’t have to be a famous rockstar to realize the things which promise relief often end up doing more harm than good.
A good friend of mine struggles with heroin addiction.
I’ve had my share of unhealthy vices, sure. My past includes plenty of shameful moments, moments I don't like to discuss. I’ve misused and abused many things, including (but certainly not limited to): my body, my mind, others’ bodies and others’ minds. I’m a human being and therefore subject to certain disgusting habits/rituals.
But heroin has never been one of them, thank God.
No, literally…THANK GOD.
As I watched my friend fight his heroin addiction, I remember thinking: this is the hell I’ve read about, heard about, and imagined. This is misery, personified.
In fact, the reason I initially picked up “The Heroin Diaries” was to gain a better understanding of what my friend went through.
And here’s my general conclusion: none of us is “above” addiction. Nikki Sixx had a more *glamorous* life than the average person, but his struggle is no different from ours. Furthermore, his desire to banish deep-seated pain seems pretty standard.
We hate our sordid pasts. We are drawn to quick fixes and promises for a brighter future…or, at least, a brighter “right now.” We are constantly searching for utopia and a sense of importance/value/belonging. Even when that search leads us to destructive places, we linger there. We make ourselves at home. We hope that things will get better…someday.
Nikki’s former lover, an artist called “Vanity,” sobered up and found God. Nikki took a little longer to get clean, but eventually he did. Which is nothing short of a miracle.
The book reminded me how fragile we all are. Abandonment in childhood can lead us to habits so destructive they nearly kill us. Our biggest dream becomes our biggest enemy, but often we are so committed to it that taking a step back seems impossible. We just want to be loved, appreciated, respected. But we make fools of ourselves in an attempt to attain that admiration. We try to destroy the bad parts of our lives, but end up destroying the good parts too.
Grace is not to be taken lightly.
Hurt, loss, pain…it’s all real. But so are second chances.
Nikki Sixx was 29 years old when he wrote “The Heroin Diaries.” My age.
Though our lives are very different, there are some striking similarities. You want control, Nikki. You want the beauty but not the pain. You want love and admiration and to stay young without actually confronting your youth.
I hear ya. Trust me, I know what that’s like.
You chose to self-destruct because it was easier than actually facing your demons.
Been there. Done that. We’re on the same page, my friend.
But then something amazing happened. You found the strength to turn away from those dirty syringes. You admitted you needed help. You sought it, wholeheartedly. And shared your harrowing tale with millions of strangers.
Nikki, you turned it around. Your private hell is now public, which took a LOT of guts.
2014 is my year of being brave. Yours began the moment you decided to share your excruciating, nauseating, surprisingly relatable story with the world. There is no shame. Only acceptance and, more importantly, hope.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Life is meant to be this way-In the span of half a day
One city to another
One city to another
Twelve hundred miles to cover.
To the tune of morning rainThe passengers start boarding.
Island laughter fills the plane,
Illuminates the morning…
“To Montego Bay!” we cry-“Island life awaits you!”
We pick up speed, then start to fly
With grayish clouds to soar through.
A yawn, a stretch, then time to workI shimmy toward the last row
Inquiries escape the lips
Of strangers in the shadows
“Do you do always work this route?”A woman blinks up at me.
“Does it wear ever wear you down?”
Her counterpart asks lightly.
I smile, shrug, and wave my hand“It’s nothing but adventure.
I had a dream, I took a chance-
And, in the end, found treasure.”
The woman reaches for my armHer eyes are wide with wonder.
She tells me she’s afraid to fly
Afraid of diving under…
Afraid of living to the maxAnd staring straight at danger.
Afraid to look ahead or back
Or in the eyes of strangers.
I point out, that cannot be right:She booked a flight and held on tight
She’s heading someplace foreign-
She’s heading someplace foreign-
Then waved goodbye to boring.
She broke the barriers of fear,And apathy, and panic.
She had the guts to make it here
Above the blue Atlantic.
She had the guts to talk to meWhich seems a bit courageous.
She’d shown a lot more bravery
Than I had seen in ages...
She seems to be so shocked by this,Like I’ve made quite a statement.
And soon the plane begins to dip
Toward the island pavement.
Passengers get up to leaveTheir smiles tell a story:
Vacation at their fingertips,
Freedom, beauty, glory.
That woman is the last to go.Her actions then surprise me-
With tears about to overflow
She hugs me pretty tightly.
“I don’t know you,” she explains,“But you have really changed me.
You had nothing here to gain,
Yet you loved me freely.”
I cannot find words to say,Which doesn’t happen often…
I smile and watch her walk away-
Gone, but not forgotten.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Last week, I traded my shiny gold wings for a pair of flip-flops.
My extra uniform, folded into a neat stack of blue polyester, was removed from my suitcase and replaced by tank tops/mesh shorts. I was finally about to set foot on Mexican soil. The anticipation was insane; I’d been practicing my Spanish for a month….and wondering how a “sky girl” would handle a week at sea.
It had been nearly a decade since I’d gone on a cruise.
Back then, in 2005, I was a college student with no inkling that someday I’d be a flight attendant. In fact, I didn’t even consider it as a career option. It seemed like some make-believe job, not a real career here on planet Earth.
To this day, it still blows my mind that I get paid to travel and turn strangers into friends. Is this actually my job? I often muse. Did someone crawl inside my brain and conjure the perfect way to satisfy my need for excitement AND variety?
When I was in third grade, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Sometime in middle school, I decided that teaching was a more suitable option. By my early teens, I was certain I’d become a lawyer. Then, in my twenties, I came to the conclusion that every line of work is mundane and I didn’t actually want to do anything…except read, volunteer, drink tea and take afternoon walks.
Unfortunately, that isn’t very lucrative.
I stumbled across the aviation industry by mistake; after a trip to Vegas, I consoled a terrified 10-year-old girl and realized that maybe, just maybe, I could do that for a living.
Life takes some weird turns, huh? But that’s half the fun of it. The only thing I love more than a good adventure is a good mystery…
Anyway, cruising as a college student in 2005 seemed drastically different from cruising as a flight attendant in 2014. Plus, I was going with my parents this time (instead of people my age). Plus, I was nearly thirty now (even though maturity level puts me at roughly 14 years old). Plus, I was no longer a vegetarian (which meant I could eat EVERYTHING at the 24/7 buffet).
I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it would be crazy. Absolutely wild.
Within a few hours of being on the ship, I was in love.
With the sea, yes. With the rhythm of the waves and the constantly-playing dance music on deck, absolutely. With the setting sun as it disappeared into the navy blue horizon, yep.
But what I loved most of all was the enthusiasm of the employees.
These people were my kinfolk, it seemed.
Sure, we worked in different settings. But we had the same heart! We shared a thirst for adventure and a refusal to settle into typical, everyday life. We loved talking to strangers, being on stage, and traveling to exotic places.
Our brains were wired a little differently. “Weird” was our “normal.”
That first night onboard, the entertainers dazzled everyone. They danced and sang with enough energy to lift us from our seats. I found myself clapping along and even pulling my dad to his feet so he could join me.
What a rush.
I went back to my cabin that evening and journaled about how connected I felt to these employees. They were my nautical counterparts. I wanted to meet them and ask a billion questions.
Toward the end of the cruise, I got my chance.
While my father was relaxing in the whirlpool, I spotted the ship’s break-dancer on deck. I tapped his shoulder and proceeded to explain, in my typical frenzied way, that I was a flight attendant and therefore his “sister” in the skies. He didn’t laugh at me…at least, not externally! We discussed our gypsy lifestyles & all the reasons we love our jobs. It felt like I was talking to any one of my co-workers at the airline; the conversation was easy, natural and fascinating.
He introduced me to a few more dancers. I walked away feeling invincible.
To Grinzz, Sinitta and Troy: I miss you guys already. And I totally get you.
After all, we are made of the same key ingredients: curiosity, boldness and optimism. We have big smiles and bigger dreams. We want to hold the world in the palm of our hands. We want it all.
Eventually the cruise ended, and I returned to my sky life.
But I can’t help reminiscing about those five magical days at sea. When I go to sleep, I can almost feel the churning of the ocean beneath my bed. I can almost taste the saltwater in the air.
It’s a wonderful thing, really.