ROSEWATER

Loose ends in the PNW.

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It’s been about two months since I visited Oregon and Washington. I’ve found it difficult to write about the trip and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I think it’s because I experienced a landscape shock, a place that felt ultimately familiar yet so foreign. It was an experience I can’t quite sum up or a story for which I cannot think of an ending.

And that’s okay.

Trying to write about an experience in a single narrative can seem fictitious to some degree. Like a movie plot line enhanced by spatial and temporal elements, transitions, or non-chronological narration... but I just want to paint a beautiful portrait of what I felt then and there.

So why is it so difficult to put words to?

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The longer I explore my capacity for creation, the more I realize that I communicate most in visual mediums. I’ve enjoyed designing soundscapes and writing, but where I thrive most is providing visuals.

If I feel as though there are no words adequate enough, a concoction of shapes, light and color always does the trick.

This is how I felt visiting Washington and Oregon for the first time. Of all the places I’ve traveled to, this was the most comfortable for me/my personality. Whatever that means.

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I guess that means I like cities tucked between forests, neighborhoods with hidden natural oasis to disappear into, off kilter culture, good food and coffee.

It also means that I didn’t want to leave. My idealized vision of the Pacific Northwest was unfortunately solidified. Maybe I just need to visit in the dead of winter to truly appreciate the temperate beauty of Southern California.

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Seattle was fun for a day, but the rest of Washington blew my mind. It was like a whole other world. Snohomish was homey and inviting. For the few days we spent there with family, I work up early just to walk about the residential streets at first light and stare in amazement at the massive trees growing between houses without spectacle. It was so amazing to me.

On the way to Oregon I listened to Death Cab for Cutie nonstop wished the scenery didn’t have to be so temporary as it flew by outside the window.

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The beaches I visited left a lot to be desired. I’ve been spoiled with the wide open and empty beaches in Humboldt and Santa Barbara. There were people everywhere and to be honest, Haystack rock is such a tired photo subject.

Ocean aside, this was mountain country. Nothing I’ve seen could amount to Mt Hood. The rivers might not have been flowing strong enough to provide the most majestic of water gushes, but the waterfalls were still stunning and plentiful.

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Ending in Portland was bittersweet. I ate an abundance of good food (including a slice from Anthony Bourdain’s favorite pizza joint) and drank many variations of coffee. I even had the pleasure of meeting up with an old friend for a picnic lunch by the river on my last day.

I hope to return to visit family in Snohomish, backpack Mt Rainier, hike in the Olympic National Park, take a boat to some islands off the coast of WA, or maybe just spend more time drinking local brews with friends on Hawthorne.

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There is no real resolution or ending. Just loose ends flowing into the next thing. But..

like I said, I’m a visual person. That’s why I’m turning this blog into a vlog that will be on YouTube channel under the same name Strange Cacti starting in January. I’ll share travel stories, ideas, and creative projects.

Rosewater Spotify playlist: bit.ly/rosewaterPNW

Turtledoves - Gingerlys, Chapel of Pines - Great Thunder/Waxahatchee, Burnt Norton / Interlude - Lana Del Rey, Wet Dream - Special Explosion, Water Over Sex - Lala Lala, Your Bruise - Death Cab for Cutie, With Smiles & Smiles & Smiles - Vincent Gallo, symbol - Adrianne Lenker, Time - Angelo de Augustine, Shedding Skin - Mutual Benefit, Eat Yourself - Goldfrapp, Soft - This is Napoleon?

<3 - Rach

DOPAMINE

I have been reflecting critically on my social media use. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is reach for my phone and feverishly scroll through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I was pulled into compulsion loops fueled by a dopamine high every time I got notifications. Regardless of increased frequency of these dopamine hits, I was feeling the cognitive consequences of social media overuse: a pervasive hum of anxiety and a looming sense of emptiness.

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I decided to do some research. I learned that dopamine plays an integral role in memory, attention, mood, cognition, and sleep. Social media was manipulating the wiring of my brain, ultimately interfering with longterm goals. Maybe I want a relationship, a meaningful career, satisfaction with my art, to travel... None of these things are achieved through the hours I spent scrolling, dopamine receptors afire. My life seemed to be standing still, time was passing, and my comprehension of my own emotions were blinded by blue light. 

I dove into a 5 day social media detox in the name of self care. I'm not talking about bath bombs or retail therapy, but self care in the form of intentional time use. I took to care for myself mentally and physically in order to prime myself to have the capacity to tend to other things I truly care about. I cut out social media and for the most part, I was successful.

 Warm glow of Mission Trails&nbsp;

Warm glow of Mission Trails 

Specifically, I cut out Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Spotify. Yes, even Spotify has a way of manipulating via easy picking, on demand music that doesn’t require attention or critical listening. It's too easy to slap on some pre-made playlists generated by algorithms, made by a corporation that denies artists proper monetary compensation.

Since I care so much about music, I decided to restrict myself to Bandcamp, Resonate, and physical media like the vinyl and CDs that had been collecting dust on my shelves. I found myself listening to things I wouldn't normally take time for: longer songs, instrumentals, entire albums, and deeper cuts.

Maybe Spotify plays into that dopamine loop by playing exactly what you want to hear, delivering ear candy. However, there's something to be said about the way your favorite verse loses luster the 500th time you stream that song you love.

 Mission Trails

Mission Trails

The truth is that social media developers use irregularly timed rewards like notifications to hook people on these apps to the same degree as certain drugs or gambling. I came to the realization that the most positive way to utilize this information was to co-opt these systems to produce beneficial effects on my life. I formed positive, intentional habits that also produced a rush of dopamine when completed. 

I found that I had clearer ideas, improved creativity, and more emotional awareness. I was falling back in love with music, writing, and photography. I also felt liberated from having to broadcast my activities to my "followers." I woke up in the morning and instead of reaching for my phone for an hour of scrolling, I would fire up an album on Bandcamp and go on a hike, delve into a project I'd been meaning to work on, or simply read and write.

 Mission Trails, towering over hazy suburbia&nbsp;

Mission Trails, towering over hazy suburbia 

I took this opportunity to reacquaint myself with the hiking spots in my neighborhood. If I know anything about myself, it's that hiking is essential to my mental health and that I had been ignoring that fact. Nature is humbling, grounding, and a way for me to get in touch with reality in times (like recently) where I am working 7 days a week. With all the time I saved from cutting out scrolling, I finally got outside. Luckily, with a trail head located as near as a block away, Mission Trails welcomed me with open arms as she always has. 

Again, the best part of most of these hikes was that I didn't feel obligated to take out my phone and share it. It became a sacred space and time for me to heal. My Instagram persona, though rooted in natural scenery, isn't real. It's highly curated and formulaic, and I'll admit that this stems from my desire for dopamine via likes, comments, and follows. I'll also admit that I've become more apt to playing with manipulation on social media. This comes naturally in my field of filmmaking, photography, sound design, and content creation in general. It’s my job to project an ideal, to configure sound, image, light and color to manipulate perception.

 Self portrait in Torrey Pines

Self portrait in Torrey Pines

I asked myself: how do I repurpose that manipulation for positive purposes? Like I talk about in my "about me" section of this website: I believe that before one can get the general public to truly care about an issue, their interest must be piqued and a desire to care ignited. I’d like to get to a point in my career where my work may embody this philosophy. For now, I'm simply learning the ins and outs of my mediums and trying to find a foothold for activism. Please excuse the timer camera beach selfies for the time being. 

If irregularly timed rewards are what get people hooked on gambling and social media, why not natural wonders? Exploring new places can fuel this desire, whether it be an interesting plant, rare animal, or simply a view that takes your breath away. During this five day hiking streak, I came across coyotes on the trail for the first time in my life. Coyotes aren't necessarily dangerous and rarely bite humans. Therefore I was more struck with awe than with fear when I came upon a pack of three in the early morning. I felt lucky, as this is a sight few come across. They glanced my way briefly as if to wish me good day, then scampered about their business down the hillside.

 Bear &amp;&nbsp;cubs, Lake George

Bear & cubs, Lake George

Other instances like this have sprinkled my life with moments in which I felt Earth was giving me a gift. From the time my family and I saw wild bears at Lake George in Mammoth to the time I found a glittering slice of abalone at my feet one beachy Valentine's day. It's moments like these that flood my mind with more good feeling chemicals than any form of electronic manipulation could ever produce. It's hard to remember that when I've been glued to a screen for so long. I expect something from my screen and waste hours waiting for that thing, whatever it may be. Perhaps this expectation is a flaw in human character and a seed of heartache. Unexpected joys should be celebrated, but not demanded.

What I know: social media has it's positive sides too, and for that I could never totally cut it out. It's just about finding a balance. Beauty and happiness are found in a certain state of mind, fresh air and good company are better than any drug, and I will never cease to love this planet.

 35mm roses in my backyard. 2015

35mm roses in my backyard. 2015

Nature and the unparalleled  beauty of landscapes, unknown and untamed. Woven into the fabric of what we witness, there is a connection through what is unspoken yet completely real and tangible to anything alive. The pure love and joy found in simple existence. Breathe in and breathe out a cycle of energy. Exchange, cooperation, collaboration, mutuality. Remember: life is a flow of love and Earth is technically a closed system ~ tread lightly.

Next: I'll be traveling around the Pacific Northwest early this September.

Here is a link to my Bandcamp profile.

Dopamine playlist: bit.ly/StrangeDopamine

What Fiction Is For - DYAN, Action/ Adventure - Andrew Bird, Drive - Lost Girls, Stargazer - Nap Eyes, We Used to Wait - Arcade Fire, Sun Beholds Me - Hand Habits, Vacation - Sobs, My Little Wish - toe, Digital Witness - St. Vincent, High Writer at Home - Lilys, Solitary Daughter - Bedouine, Generation Why - Weyes Blood.

BEFORE

"I show you pictures of this very corner // but I can't remember who pushed the shutter" - Wye Oak

 Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain

In the timeframe in which I decided to reflect on my time in Mammoth Lakes CA, this song hit me hard. I have been reading a book by Julia Cameron that reinstated the feeling of being an creative spirit, yet feeling disconnect to one's inner artist as: "We mourn the self we abandoned." 

Instead of recounting the entire experience in a metaphor and simile ridden piece of prose, I've decided to share a single journal entry that encompasses the overwhelming feeling of artistic detachment that imposter syndrome inflicts:

 Obsidian Dome, Mammoth CA

Obsidian Dome, Mammoth CA

There is a part of myself that I am missing. No, it cannot be retrieved. Since moving to San Diego, I've developed into something else. At first, it seemed like disconnect - like I was no longer able to hear Earth's heart beating. I slept too much to feel that bleeding heart poet in myself. Too comfortable, too far from the land that formed my higher brain. My days of walking meditation are over. I can no longer reach the part of me that delivered thought with such persistence. 

 Sands Beach, Isla Vista, CA

Sands Beach, Isla Vista, CA

Instead of mourning this loss, perhaps I can view this situation as a cocoon of sorts. I've gone through some necessary emotional tumult and felt things that others rarely get in touch with... and I've recorded it all. I'm glad I've written for the sake of later reflection, creative use, and retro-wisdom. Now it's time to use it. 

How do I represent these experiences? How do I tell stories using these words? How do I connect words and thoughts and feelings to the images I produce? How do I get people to care? Most importantly: how do I integrate music?

Here's my 3 part answer.

1. Write a screenplay about my experiences surrounding music and environmentalism.

-more details to come.

2. Incorporate environmental issues into music videos. 

-see the Solar Return trailer and read about the Salton Sea.

3. Keep writing this blog.

 Bombay Beach at the Salton Sea, Anza Borrego CA

Bombay Beach at the Salton Sea, Anza Borrego CA

I do not feel as though it was myself who took these photos. I have to remember that my style of photography lends itself to be somewhat surreal, and that yes, this place exists. I existed in it, and I captured it with my own way that cannot be replicated. 

A personal "art history." We all have experiences and backgrounds that shape our art/work. I believe it is essential to tap into those experiences in order to connect with those who share similar ones - or are completely disconnected from your reality. It helps us all grow. 

BEFORE playlist: bit.ly/bee4strangecacti

"Before" - Wye Oak, "It Was Not Natural" - Wye Oak, "Book on How to Change" - Hand Habits, "Now I Must Remember" - Bent, "Summer Came Early" - Exploded View, "A Change in Weather" - Rose Droll, "Sorry About The Carpet" - Agar Agar, "White Glass" - Loma, "The Bug Collector" - Haley Heynderickx, "In the Pines" - Widowspeak, "Echo's Answer" - Broadcast, "Cut Me Off" - Madeline Kenney.

 Mammoth Mountain Gondola

Mammoth Mountain Gondola

WILD BERRIES

The old "happiness is only real when shared"...Often finding myself in blissful solitude, I don't fully subscribe to this idea. However, there are some experiences I'd like to retroactively share.

 somewhere near Cerro Lindo- El Bolson, Argentina

somewhere near Cerro Lindo- El Bolson, Argentina

April 2015: I was informed of the opportunity of a lifetime. it was the collision of this and the documentary film 180 Degrees South that convinced me that I was insatiably restless for... something. With a copy of Wild by Sheryl Strayed shoved into my backpack, I temporarily dropped out of classes at UCSB. Without a beat of hesitation, I made arrangements to live and work onsite at Earthship Patagonia in southern Argentina. My heart was beating out of my chest the entirety of my commute halfway across the world: I was living my dream.

 refugio El Retamal - El Bolson,&nbsp;&nbsp;Argentina

refugio El Retamal - El Bolson,  Argentina

April 2018: Significantly matured, but in the same way restless. I have a few jobs, a college degree, and a little money saved. I take a road trip from San Francisco to Humboldt, and Napa CA. My close friend Cara and I joked as we hopped into a rental car at the San Francisco airport that we are “adults on adult vacation.” We made that saying our mantra, yet we were wide-eyed as children on a city-sized playground. 

Some questions were on my mind: What's the difference between travel and vacation? How do you turn a vacation into an opportunity for growth? 

 South Jetty - Humboldt Bay, CA

South Jetty - Humboldt Bay, CA

For me, travel is pushing horizons past your comfort zone. This might come in the form of trying to reach remote spots, getting into the same rhythm as the local lifestyle, or simply exploring off the heavily trodden track. When traveling, I try to tap into the essence of a place without it being handed to me on an instagramable platter. Traveling is messy and cannot be tied up into a neat bow at the end of a trip. Ideally, traveling wouldn't have to end or simply punctuate a stationary lifestyle. I was determined to make this trip more than a vacation.

Before I visited, San Francisco held a lot of weight in my mind. I have a fascination with the beat generation and yearn to be a queen of counterculture. However, to be honest with myself, I’ve tamed myself quite a bit since the time of the Crowning of the Philosopher King. Spending the first legal 4/20 in the heart of Haight Ashbury was hectic and seeing Fleet Foxes at the Greek theater in Berkeley was no Woodstock (though I must say, they are an astounding live act!). 

 City Lights Books

City Lights Books

There was still a part of myself that wanted to be an honorary beatnik for a day. I woke up early at the crack of dawn to write furiously in my journal, and later met up with an old friend so I spent a moment at the Beat Museum and City Lights bookstore. To spare you all a history lesson, I’ll just say that the highlights included Jack Kerouac’s jacket, Allen Ginsberg’s organ, and an excellent collection of beat literature at the place where my favorite poetry collection was published in 1956. Howl has been a literary companion of mine for years.

Because of my aversion to crowded and concrete clad cities, my exploration of San Francisco didn’t go far beyond the reaches of my beat poetry dream. As we headed North toward the redwood groves, I could hear Lou Reed’s voice echoing: “remember it’s a flower made out of clay.”

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The green was overwhelming. The dense populations of unfurling ferns and majesty of the old growth redwoods felt immensely familiar, despite this being my first encounter. Upon arriving, my friends who are attending their last year at Humboldt State university whisked me away to College Cove in Trinidad: a beach whose image will forever be burned into my psyche. Tall cans of Olympia beer, clear skies, and a big open beach lined with greenery and even a small waterfall. In good company and an abundance of wild beauty, I found myself not quite reaching for my camera to document the entire experience. I was fully present, sincerely savoring every second of this time and place. 

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For lack of images, here is a bit of stream-of-consciousness writing...

-Reading the scrawl on the walls of the HSU art department bathroom stalls: un-filtration. Sunset, cold sand, flies, sea lion, rocky little redwood island, static lo-fi radio waves, green. Chain me to a redwood trunk or drag me away kicking and screaming. Air so clean, it hurts to imagine a dry place. Green fulfilling a need or providing a distraction from the cherry blossom petals falling into my hair. Back door open, coffee high, legs aching, a natural flow. Given the chance, I’d happily return. Camera-less in the moment yet an urgency to capture the world behind my eyelids, this concept isn’t new. I don’t know my timeline, nor Earth’s. Impermanence. Ink smudging with the glide of my wrist, unsmothered. Starving hysterical & naked souls are unsettled, truly living.

 College Cove - Trinidad, CA

College Cove - Trinidad, CA

Unfiltered words and overgrown plants.

In a world ripe with natural metaphors, it’s only natural to grasp for meaning in any ecosystem. From my time in Argentina I remember: the sweetest wildberry stains are left on the hands of those who are willing to reach deep into the thorny branches. On our last day in Humboldt, I hiked back to that beach alone. This time, I had my camera. 

 College Cove - Trinidad, CA

College Cove - Trinidad, CA

To close this Strange Cacti entry, I leave you with a meditation on redwoods. I cut this out of a book I found in a freebox in Isla Vista in 2015. I wish I could cite the author~

Redwoods have many effects on those who look up to them. Some men calculate how many tabletops, houses and fence posts a single tree would produce. But we were there to appreciate, not calculate the usual adjectives one uses to describe anything that big become puny. How does one describe the tallest living thing? How can one comprehend something so huge growing from a seed only slightly larger than the head of a pin? How can one describe that silence that permeates a redwood grove? when it is much more than the absence of sound; when it is a silence that reduces conversation to a respectful whisper used during religious ceremonies? For visiting a redwood grove and looking and savoring what you see and hear can be akin to a religious peace of mind. There is another factor we consider while standing beside the river and watch the slow water drift past the redwoods: Man is the only creature that is apparently capable of enjoying them aesthetically and emotionally, and the only creature that destroys them.

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Wild Berries playlist: bit.ly/WildWildBerries

On Another Ocean - Fleet Foxes, Ocean Scope - Half Waif, The Sunflower Sutra - Allen Ginsberg, Ride Into the Sun - Lou Reed, Melting Grid - Julie Byrne, Paresthesia - Wild Ones, Walkabout - Atlas Sound, Clay Pigeons - Blaze Foley, I Don't Want To Go - Dimboi, like a feather or a pawprint - Field Medic, Blackberry Song - Kurt Vile, Ringing Bells - Adrianne Lenker.

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