Salsa Dancing in Harlem

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It’s been about 2 years since I moved to Harlem. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I moved here. I grew up in a very white neighborhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where ethnic meant someone that wasn’t blonde. The neighborhood here is so multicultural and the lighter your skin color the more you stick out. You never know what to expect walking down the street.

At the Harlem Children’s Center, there are free salsa classes on Thursday night. One time I went by myself to check it out. Let me preface this by saying I’m not that white. My mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is Italian so I grew up in a house with a lot of arguing and cooking, usually over loud music playing. However, I didn’t grow up with nearly the same Spanish influence as people from the neighborhood.

Even though it was an open class, a lot of the people there clearly knew how to salsa dance already. Not only did they know the steps, they could spin backward and forward and all over the room. The entire time I was gasping for air and trying not to trip over my feet. Even though I can dance all right at a club, I was barely keeping up with the 40-50 year olds that knew how to move.

About halfway through the class, the instructor told us to free dance with partners and get into the music for a while. The class portion was over, but we were welcome to dance around and practice for another hour until we had to leave the building.

At that point a five foot tall Mexican man decided he was going to help me. He took me to the side and showed me the same pivot. Over and over, turn on the ball of your foot. It’s a snap, you shouldn’t fall over. You need to keep your balance.

He spoke rapidly in a mix of Spanish and English getting frustrated that I wouldn’t understand him. As I’ve explained before, my family is Puerto Rican so I’m all too familiar with Spanglish shouting about what I’m doing wrong with my life.

“You’re not sexy!” he repeated.

“I’m not sexy?” I asked him.

“No you move like a noodle. Hold yourself up.”

“I can’t move like this?” I moved my hips side to side even more noodle like than the last time.

He sighed and demonstrated the way a real salsa dancer would move. I tried to follow. He spun me and got annoyed when I didn’t keep my torso straight, ignoring the fact that I was half a foot taller than them. An hour or so later, I finally started to get it better. Pivot and snap. Don’t lean to once side. If you move quickly you don’t fall over. He was delighted, well exasperated, but mostly excited that he had turned me into less of an embarrassment.

On my way out, he told me to practice at home so I could get better and they would be there on Saturday for another class.

Honestly I learned more from him in that hour than I did from the instructor, who decided I was a lost cause in the first 5 minutes.

When I try to think of any similar situation from my hometown, nothing comes close. The great thing about New York City is the sense of community. In Los Angeles, no one feels connected. Most of the people moved there for work and stayed for the sunshine. You drive around alone in your car and only talk to people you know.

NYC is the opposite. Even though it’s stuffy and crowded and loud, the people that were born here will die here and they can’t imagine life anywhere else. Everyone is thrown together on the streets and subway so they’re forced to interact all the time. They are not as rude as what is shown in movies or old episodes of Law and Order. In my experience, the brash comments usually come out of a concern for newbies.

“Get out of the way!”

“What are you doing?”

“You’re dancing like that?”

You’re a stranger in their land. They expect you to follow their ways and are quick to whip you into shape. At times, it’s unexpected and aggressive.

It’s really unlike any place else. Yet I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart.

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How to Include More Adventure When You’re Working Full Time

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Blogging has not been the priority in my life for the first couple months of 2015. Between work, the gym, and trying to find a couple hours to unwind, adventure has been the last thing on my mind. To get myself inspired again, I asked for advice from a couple of my favorite travel writers.

Kristin Luna, from Camels and Chocolate, recommends that you “maximize your every vacation and holiday” by fitting in travel where you can. From her home base in Nashville, Luna tries to fit in a quick weekend getaway when she can to nearby cities like Miami or New Orleans. You can still have a new interesting experience even if you’re not too far from home. Even if your vacation days are limited, it doesn’t mean that your sense of adventure has to be stifled.

Lost in Cheeseland, a site about French culture from the perspective of an ex-pat, says she conducts “some of [her] research with friends who provide their input, which enriches the experience,” instead of going at it alone. And that making the time for travel and cultural experiences, like going to the gym or spending time with friends, should be a just as much a priority. Blogging, writing, and working don’t have to be exempt from having fun with friends and family.

At Fevered Mutterings, Mike Sowden recommends “Decide what success looks like.” Whether you work full time or travel full time, your goals for living an authentic life are ultimately your own decision. After having a heart attack, Sowden decided to quit his job and make travel a full time priority. While I might not be at that point, there’s no harm in asking the question now.

If you’re not ready to commit to travel full time, micro adventures are a great option for those of us short on free time. Maybe you can find a place to go camping on Saturday or take an afternoon to travel to an unfamiliar part of your own city. A sense of adventure doesn’t have to be something planned out and far away. It can literally be camping in your own backyard.

To me, travel has been the best way to open my mind to new experiences. When I’m working and living my day to day routine, I’m not as open to trying a new Mexican-Vietnamese fusion restaurant or taking a stroll around Central Park. It’s been helpful to figure out that everyone deals with the same conflict (even the pros at times!) and realize that there are a lot of options even when free time is scarce.

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Great Civilizations that Changed the World

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Not necessarily for the better.

The Romans conquered Europe and enforced a code that required peace called the Pax Romana. Under the law, newly conquered people were required to stop rebelling and learn Latin to better assimilate into Roman Society. In theory the rule doesn’t sound so bad, but in practice it meant death, grief, and loss. Part of the conquest always has a loss. Afterward it made trade possible and the exchange of ideas so that society could progress. The Roman Empire undeniably changed the world. Roads alone created the infrastructure for empires to follow.

How do we apply this to daily life? How do we build our own empires?

It doesn’t have to be as large as the Roman Empire. In fact it doesn’t have to extend past your home. Building an empire does require that you know what you want and find a way to throw everything at it. It’s not the same thing as trying your best or climbing the ladder. It means deciding what is important to you and having every waking moment dedicated to that cause. Rome wasn’t built in a day so why should your dream body or house or business be instant?

The struggle increases the reward.

If you were instantly granted your wishes it wouldn’t take too long to think you made the wrong decision or something else will suddenly make you happier. It doesn’t happen that way. The internal forces that drive us need a reason get through the day otherwise we get addicted to vices trying to numb the feeling of malcontent.

There’s only one cure. It is to find something you care about and pursue it relentlessly.


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TED: Andrew Solomon

How The Worst Moments In Our Lives Make Us Who We Are

Andrew Solomon’s speech is one of the best TED talks of all time. It discusses the traumas of youth and how to spin them into your own story of triumph. Solomon discusses what it was like for him to grow up with prejudice of being gay in middle town America. He understands that there are many people that have worse situations than him especially in the social rights movement yet at the same time it left deep wounds where he felt that he didn’t belong and would never be accepted by society. Each person deals with different struggles that they don’t have the power to control yet they don’t have to let it run the rest of their life. They have the opportunity to take control of the story and shape it into something that will empower them.

Forge: “to build identity”

When I had first listened to this talk I misheard the line about forging identity and took it to mean something similar to the cliche “fake it until you make it”. After I re-listened to the video I realized that I heard it wrong. He meant that you are in control of the story you tell and you are able to phrase it in a way that makes sense for your life. It becomes an identity when you attach yourself to the story that has meaning for you and eventually you become the person that you wanted to be.

“Forging identity and building meaning”

It’s not an easy process to see struggles as opportunities. Plenty of people will wallow about what was unfair in their lives or how they never got the opportunity to pursue their dreams. They have constructed an identity that reacts to the pain of the world as a victim and they allow the bad things in the world to dictate the conditions of their life.

Some are able to overcome the struggle by taking ownership of the bad experience and using it as a way to create something better for themselves. It will always be an understatement to talk about how events such as the Holocaust were terrible. What I always wondered about was how do people come back from an experience like that? Elie Wiesel became a massive human rights activist. Otto Frank did also when he published his daughter’s diary. If it’s possible that they were able to spin their hardship into something positive, then anyone is capable of the same thing.

 “We seek our identity in the wake of painful experiences.”

When I first started getting sick, I read a lot about people that had serious illnesses. A lot of them wound up saying that it was the best thing that happened to them. At the time it made me angry to keep hearing the same cliched sentiment from people that weren’t in pain anymore so they had to luxury to say it was all a good thing. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t see past the immediate. I couldn’t imagine what would happen as a result. After getting sick, I was obsessed with how to get better. I read everything about anything even remotely related. Slowly I got better and then I lost weight and now most days I’m not in pain anymore. I’m probably in the best shape of my life now and I’m about a decade ahead of people my age who are still binge drinking and eating McDonalds every day. I would probably never say it was the best thing that happened to me, but getting sick was a huge turning point. It forced me to examine my life and make some very important changes for my health and well-being.

 “If you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes.” 

Without the struggle there can be no triumph. If there was never any adversity we would have no poetry, no epics, and no heroes to inspire us to do better. In every trial there is the opportunity to use that experience to become a better person. When you chose to overcome the struggle with grace you forge the identity for yourself. Then it builds meaning for the way you live your life and the way people view your story.

The pain was not the “best thing that happened”. It was the catalyst for change and the best thing that happened was the way you created meaning for yourself.

If you haven’t watched the video yet, do it now!

What was a difficult event that helped shape your life?

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Weight Loss Update

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A couple weeks ago I set the goal to lose 20 pounds before Thanksgiving. I was at 198 so I set the goal weight of 178. Currently I’m at 185.

So basically I failed the goal, but I don’t feel like a failure. I lost 13 pounds through my own effort and I’m not discouraged enough to quit.

I still struggle with eating right as I tend to over eat on the weekend as a way to cope with stress. And it’s still not second nature to go to the gym after work instead of coming home and watching TV in bed. Those struggles will never go away so I need to find the strength to eat healthy and work out as often as possible.

It’s been so exciting to notice the differences in my body. My legs have shrunk the most from all the squats I’ve been doing. My thighs used to rub together really bad in the summer when it was humid and now I almost have a thigh gap mother fucker!! They’ve toned up so much it’s happening naturally. I’m also starting to get abs underneath the fat on my lower stomach. My top half was never that heavy (I’m more of a pear than an hourglass), but there is a noticeable difference with my arms and shoulders being a lot more muscular than they were.

When I struggle with eating I have to remind myself how far I’ve come and give myself some slack for not being perfect. I used to binge on pasta and candy late at night by myself. Now if I over eat at least it’s been healthier food. This weekend part of my binge was celery and cheese. That way of eating still isn’t the best way to live, but at least I’m working on more permanent solutions.

Even when I eat really bad now my body gets rid of the extra faster than before and doesn’t seem to take it on. Losing weight is so much more psychological than you could ever imagine. People who start out confident and believing in themselves are at such a hug advantage in this game.

Part of my journey has been building up the confidence to work toward the things that I want and another part has been letting people see me struggle.

I think a lot of overweight people tend to be people pleasers and perfectionists. Because they can’t get eating right perfect the first time, they stress themselves out and then never want to try again.

One of the ideas that changed my life was thinking about working out as something to strive toward. If you can only lift 5 pounds hopefully next time you’ll be able to lift 8 and the time after that 10. Thinking about it as a challenge to apply yourself to is a game changer. When I was younger fitness seemed impossible.

Another part I’ve learned from losing weight is that I’m capable of a lot more than I ever would have thought possible. Working with a trainer has been a great start. She’ll tell me to do 12 burpees and I think that’s impossible. Then 10 minutes later she’ll tell me to do another 12 and I’m sure again it’s impossible yet it never is. You really can push yourself much farther than you do on a regular basis.

The important thing is to have one honest reason why you want to lose weight. There’s the surface one you want to tell people like “Oh I just want to be healthy” or “I want to be hot in a bikini next summer”. Yet most people that successfully change their lives and get in shape also have a personal reason of why they want to change like “I want to walk my newborn daughter down the aisle one day and right now I can barely walk” or “I want to look better than I did in high school so that pretty girl that dumped me will be secretly jealous on Facebook that she let me go”.

It doesn’t matter if the reason is stupid to other people as long as it motivates you.

My reason is that I don’t want to hide away from the world anymore. I used the weight to protect myself from conflict or too much attention. It was easy to blame the weight instead of admitting that I was terrified to open up to new people and be vulnerable. I want to be the kind of person that is able to inspire others to change their life. Right now I’m not in a position to travel a lot so fitness is what I’m focused on.

Between fitness and travel, I can’t think of better hobbies to make yourself force yourself out of your comfort zone. Both activities challenge the mind in body in new unexpected ways. Particularly being able to do both alone when no one is watching is so different than participating to please another person.

The important part is to be a little bit better than you were yesterday. The big changes are made by following through consistently with little changes. They will start to add up in a big way eventually.


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Why The Road Less Written?

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Metaphors for roads have always intrigued me.

Maybe it started with the yellow brick road as the way to start off a big adventure. Follow the path and you’ll get where you need to go. Follow the road away from home. Most of my life I have thought about leaving the familiar and entering the unknown, like I was always drawn to the call of adventure.

I hoped that someone would lead the way.

The wise mentor never showed up to help me start so I’ve had to mentor myself and convince myself of a few things:

1. I deserve to pursue the life I want

2. No one can stop you from achieving your dreams

3. It’s my story and I intend to write it

Lately I’ve been at the crossroads with a decision to keep on the path or veer off to the left. I choose left because I know which way the path I’m on will go. It will lead to dissatisfaction and eventually heartache from letting go the love of my life, adventure. It’s daunting to know I’m at the beginning and there’s so much to learn.

If it’s a level 1-10, I’m still at a 2 in my knowledge. There’s so much to gain and not much to lose. The people that won’t think about that. I can’t control their minds. In truth I don’t care too much either way.

It’s my life and no one has a say unless I’m asking for it.

The Road ahead doesn’t have to be about travel or losing weight.

It can be about any challenge you have in your life that you want to overcome.

I want people who read this blog to be inspired to pursue their more authentic self to live their life more open with passion. The biggest regret most people have at the end of their life is that they didn’t do enough. No one ever complains they had too much fun or made too much art or were loved too much.

Kill boredom.

Travel the Road Less Written.

I’ll see you there.

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The Reason I Write About History

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The reason I write about history is not because I think things were better in the past or traditional values held the world together. I’ve always loved history because it’s proof to me that most of the time things will work out. If you’re a good person and try to do right, history will be kind to you. If you’re a bad person, you’ll go down in infamy. Somehow it equalizes and stabalizes. The world adapts and goes on.

People panic and think the world will end. They’re projecting their fear out onto the world. Inside they’re insecure about their place in the world and being paranoid gives them a purpose. Most people are looking for some kind of purpose. Along the way they get distracted with vices, addictions, or what other people think.

I’ve always wanted to seek out adventure, go to uncharted territory and be the stuff of legend. Winston Churchill said “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Recently I noticed I don’t like the direction my life is going so I’m re-writing my destiny. I want a bigger life with more fun and more adventure. The kind of life where at 85 I can sit satisfied that there wasn’t a single thing I missed out on.

Maybe you don’t even like history. Maybe it’s always been about dry facts and repetitive dates. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is closer to storytelling. When you’re looking back on your life, what kind of story do you want it to be? Is there action, drama, romance? How close to this life are you now?

If you’re a normal person I bet it seems pretty far waay. The day to day gets boring, drudging on for a paycheck or meeting with the same friends you never really cared for.

What I’m saying is stop right now!

Take a step back and think about those things you always wanted to do.

Why did you stop?

If you don’t like the the answer, good. There’s still hope for you. I’m encouraging you to change your story and change your history. Even if it hasn’t worked out before or you don’t think you have the time or the money. Take a step back and think about what you’ll be saying to yourself in the future. If it’s “I’m glad I didn’t bother.” Then great, you’re done. If you think you’d have regrets then it’s time for a change.

Take one small step toward the life you want.

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