Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Run is Done- Now Back on Track

Here is a preview of what this blog will entail. I'm using it as away to record the events that happened on my run in detail, as I am writing a book about this adventure, veteran issues, the UNited States, community, love, compassion, and transformation.

Being done with a run across America is a little surreal, and it almost feels like another person did it.. I was transported into the constant state of flow, persistently moving forward no matter what. The goal was to get to New York, and I did it. The goal was to understand and raise awareness for veterans issues, and I did that too. The goal was to become a stronger version of myself, and that definitely happened.

I met and ran with thousands of Americans, and got to learn about what life was like for them. I ran through deserts, farmland, mountains, suburbs, cities, ghettos. I flew up and down rolling hills and through sparkling pecan orchards. I ran right next to swamps where trees were half submerged in water. I dodged semi-trucks by jumping off the road and into ditches, just in the nick of time. I learned how to outwit feral dogs and hurtled over rattle snakes. I soaked in sunrises that lit me up from the inside with their grandeur.

I met so many people. Runners, veterans, farmers, truckers, rattlesnake hunters, preachers, witches, sailors, oil-rig workers, travelers, biker gangs, transients, reporters, politicians, and the list goes on.

I learned what love is. I learned what friendship is. I learned about brotherhood and camaraderie and selfless service. I witnessed people give so freely and generously that it completely restored my faith in humanity. I stood in awe as people who I had never met gave of themselves so completely because the message I carried with me resonated so deeply. I was taught by example what it means to be supportive, to have someones back, to give.

On good days, I felt like I had obtained the key to Universe. Everything was heartbreakingly beautiful, the world was in high definition. The splendor I encountered was so enormous that I had no way to contain it. At times, it seemed too much for one person-- and then I would feel my heart expand. One epiphany after another would wash over me, and I had so much to say after being on the road each day that oftentimes it rendered me speechless.

On hard days, it felt like solitary confinement. There were times when the relentless running on the road by myself was like opening up old wounds and exposing them to the elements. As I ran through the South, it felt like I was going deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness, into my own heart. The fatigue and the heat and the humidity left me utterly empty, and nearly pushed me over the edge. I learned to guard myself against negative thoughts, to put my faith in the beauty around me, to focus on love. Focusing on love and gratitude, and leaning on my friends, was the only thing that got me through those dark times. I ended many nights utterly exhausted and numb.

I learned about grit. About doing something no matter what. I learned about putting one foot in front of the other regardless of how I felt. I pushed myself beyond my limits in a way that I never have. Towards the end it felt like I went into survival mode, became completely and solely focused on my goal. I learned how to eliminate everything but my will. I learned how to identify my fear and my insecurity as unwelcome guests in my awareness. I learned how to ignore them. I learned how to get into flow and stay there. I watched as my performance increase towards the end of my run, despite constant and worsening injuries. I learned to take energy from others, to rely on their belief in me when I had no belief in myself. I learned how to internalize love.

From veterans, I learned everything. I could write an encyclopedia of lessons I have learned from the thousands of veterans that I have met over the course of the last six months. My gratitude for these men and women is overflowing. My goal was to support veterans on my run, and in the end, it was they who supported me-- and they were the only ones who could. I can think of no other group of individuals that would be able to demonstrate the mental toughness and compassion that was necessary to complete my run.

From Team RWB, I learned about community and selflessness. I learned about giving just because it is the right thing to do. I learned how it is the individuals who make up an organization who make it powerful and effective. I learned that it was possible to create on-the-spot communities with the power of belief. I learned that unconditional love exists everywhere.

I learned lessons that were difficult. I made goals that were too high and had to scale them back. I realized that I could not will myself into being superhuman. This was a necessary blow to my ego, and one that made me stronger and more humble. We thrived a lot of the time, we sometimes failed, and we refused to quit.

We encountered death when someone slammed into the back of our RV and died in front of us. We encountered poverty when we changed our route from the new highways to the old back roads. We saw towns that consisted of one boarded up building after another. We saw tens of thousands of abandoned homes. We encountered racism and classism and ignorance, and when we saw it, we fought it by continuing to be loving to everyone. Running through the "bad neighborhoods" became one of my favorite activities. People would warn us not to go down certain streets. When we did, we were greeted with more warmth and hospitality than anywhere else. People thanked us for not being afraid. We like to say,

"You get more gatorade in the ghetto."

I learned that being cool is the most unimportant fucking thing in the entire world. I learned that being true to yourself is so much more important than being admired. I learned to speak truth, to admit when I was wrong, to withhold judgement, to humble myself.

At some point, I learned that honesty is much more important than caring what people think. I learned to say what was in my heart, even when it made me sound weak, or radical, or outlandish. I learned the difference between insecurity and humility, and watched as one transformed into another.

After it was all over, I had a chance to look at all the lessons that I've learned on the trip. About discipline, integrity, love, commitment, service, and selflessness. I had to take along hard look at myself- at ways that I could have done it all better. My perfectionism kicked in and I had a hard time feeling like I had accomplished anything at all. I was able to recognize the pattern in my life of never feeling like I had done a good enough job, never feeling like it was worthy of praise. I kicked myself for being human, for being imperfect.

I slumped into a major depression where I felt my life, as I knew it, was over. I remembered that it was trusting in God that got me across the country, and so why should this be any different. So now, I choose to believe that somehow I would be taken care of. And of course, I always am.

I am diligently working on the book and back to painting. I running again and will be working under a coach. I think I am willing to finally listen to others. I realize how powerful it is to reach your goals by taking tiny steps. One step at a time, over and over, until you have reached your destination. I'm painting again. I call this period of time "the refeminization of Anna Judd" because for a while there, I was pretty much all masculine energy. I can turn it on for running, and it is actually pretty powerful, but I dont have any desire to put the warpaint back on.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Running for Suicide Prevention: How Running Helped me

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I've heard a lot of talk recently about removing the "D" from PTSD. I think it needs to happen. If something traumatic happens to someone, and it causes them stress, it isn't a disorder. It's normal. Despite all the training one might go through to become mentally and physically stronger, to be able to stay calm and collected under pressure, there are some things in this world that no one should have to experience or see.

It isn't we who are disordered, but our world. It seems terribly wrong that when we are having trouble conforming or coping with a dysfunctional world, our society tells us that the problem is something that is rooted in our own minds, and not in our environment. It puts all of the blame on us, we who are already suffering…and the institutions and infrastructures that comprise our reality get off the hook completely. Until we have the resources and the energy to fix these problems, we must find better ways to cope. 

When I started learning about what many veterans go through-- the anxiety, the depression, the insomnia-- I related. Maybe part of the reason why I chose this cause is because I empathize so deeply with those who are also trying to fight these demons. I reached out to veterans in my community, made friends with them, and listened to their experiences. My empathy deepened even further. Like I said, I'm not a veteran. I've never been in combat, I've never had to watch my friends die. I've never been shot at or bombed. And I've never been diagnosed by a medical professional with PTSD. But, terrible things occur outside of the battlefield, and I've seen my fair share. 

It's hard to write this, because so much of what I've gone through I've kept hidden from those that I love in order to protect them from the trauma that has already consumed so much time and energy. For over a decade, I was always afraid. I thought I was getting better as the years went by, but really I simply got better at compartmentalizing the things that haunted me. The only way I knew how to cope was to stop caring about myself, stop caring about what would happen to me, making myself okay with any outcome. I both looked forward to sleep and dreaded it, anticipating of the escape that sleep provided and the nightmares that made my escape impossible. I was depressed, feeling powerless and alienated from those around me. I judged those who were well-adjusted and felt that their happiness was rooted in blissful ignorance of how the world really was.  

For a long time, I was unable to connect with others because the face I presented to the world was a mask whose sole purpose was to hide the brutality and mess that laid just beneath the surface. If someone said they loved me, I couldn't believe them. The person that they loved wasn't me, because I had become an actress. And most my life, while I attempted to hide my fear and shame, I was desperately looking for a solution to my unhappiness.  I've been trying to simply survive. Because of this, I've read more books on metaphysics, meditation, and mindfulness than I can count. I've tried everything. 

All of the books on spiritual healing, and psychotherapy, and mindfulness say that meditation will help. Here was the problem that I encountered with meditation. I could not silence my mind. I could not turn off the feeling that I was constantly being chased, hunted and targeted.

So, I started running. I heard it could help. If I felt like I was being chased, and sitting in one spot made me feel anxious and increasingly more jittery and disturbed, then maybe running was exactly what I needed.

I started doing it at night, when the rest of the world was sleeping. I wasn't a very good runner, and I felt embarrassed about my lack of ability. I didn't want anyone to see, as silly as it sounds. I'm not your typical athlete by any stretch of the imagination. But I kept at it. I knew that if I didn't find a solution that my life would be one bout of self-destruction after another.

First I went a few blocks, then a few miles, then a few more. I got stronger, and I eventually could start running long distances. I noticed something happen. I started to feel relief . Finally that jumpiness, irritability, anxiety started to wear off. I had tried everything to get rid of it before-- alcohol, weed, self-deprivation, love affairs, workaholism. It worked in the moment, but I always woke up the next morning to the sobering fact that I was farther from happiness than the day before. And there was time. Time, that motherfucker. Always feeling like you are playing catch up in a world that has their shit together, feeling powerless because of the chatter going on in your head. The chatter that says you have bad luck, that you don't have a fighting chance, that there is no use in trying.

I have to mention something if you are relating to anything that I've written here. If you use alcohol, weed, psychotropic medications, or any other substance to help deal with whatever is going on inside you, I don't think it's realistic to think you can quit cold turkey and become the picture of health overnight. More than once I've gone to bed after a few beers with the thought in my head, "Tomorrow, I will wake up at 6 am, go running, make kale juice, paint for 8 hours, return all my e-mails, learn how to build an iPhone app, and volunteer at the homeless shelter." Then I sleep in until 8:30, and give up.

The belief that everyone around us has it all together is not only false-- it's dangerous. It's unfortunate that the role models in the media and those that we look up to also feel that they must present a flawless facade to the world. It creates a schism, makes us feel like actors and frauds, and allows the darkest parts of ourselves to fester and grow. The idea that perfection is attainable only causes us to feel increasingly more isolated from those around us. And because we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, we tend to hold the people that we love to the same standard. We are so hard on each other. We all have our vices, our demons, our kryptonite, and will always be presented during our lives with new challenges to overcome and new battles to fight. Thinking that there is something wrong with us, that we are somehow disordered because we encounter suffering, is dangerous.

Yes, the goal is to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled. But the battles that we encounter and the suffering that we endure is what makes us strong.

I learned this lesson running through the desert, watching life thrive under seemingly intolerable conditions. The cactus, the shrubs, the plants, patiently wait out the long hours of the relentless heat and sun and drought. They learn to survive with less, and the stress of their environment makes them more resilient. When the rain comes (and it always comes), they explode into green and begin to blossom with indescribable vitality and resilience. The scars that cover our bodies and hearts are testaments to our indomitable will and our ability to overcome.

Your "shortcomings" do not somehow override all of your strengths or make you unworthy of love. You are deserving of life, of freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn't matter if you are ridden with guilt, or are an alcoholic, or a drug addict, or feel like you haven't done much of anything at all. These things are incidental to who you really are, and only get in the way of your progress when you identify with them. It is not easy to change, especially if you feel trapped in a life and identity that no longer makes sense to you. But change is possible. Without the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and who we should be, the present moment comes into full bloom. Focus entirely on action.

Wake up.

Go outside.


It's so much better to take smaller steps.

Sometimes we have to use crutches because we don't believe that we can walk without them. If it is impossible to give up your crutches, then be gentle with yourself. We have a long time to fix the problems inside us and around us and the process of healing and empowerment is a journey. Don't be afraid to take it a little bit slower, and don't compare yourself to people who seem to have it all together. Either they haven't met their demons yet, or they are just better at hiding them. It took a long time of running almost every day to realize that I no longer needed the crutches I was leaning on, and that it was time to see what I was capable of without them. 

And running when I was slightly asthmatic and carrying around a few extra pounds wasn't easy. It was incredibly uncomfortable at first, and I literally had to push myself every single step (and still do, sometimes).

I started meditating.

I didn't know I was meditating, I was just counting. I counted my exhalations, and synchronized them with the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. I would say to myself, "I'm not going to stop until I count to 500," and I would start. If I lost count, I would start over at the beginning. This taught me concentration, and it gave me something to focus on other than how my body felt or how bored I was, or how much longer I had to go. When I reached 500, I would repeat the exercise, except this time I would go to 600, and so on. 

I did this until my mind and body became strong. I started running longer and longer. The first 20 mile run I did was the first time I had an epiphany. This is something that naturally happens I think when you spend a lot of time by yourself, focusing on your breath, and focusing on the present. I started having moments of bright clarity, where I was able to see situations and people in a light of both truth and compassion. I started learning how to forgive others, and how to forgive myself. The feeling of being locked in a cage started to disappear. So did my anger. My fear is still there, but instead of it ruling me, it feels like an unwanted guest at a party, that I can ignore if I simply turn my back.

The transformation from me at my darkest place (only two years ago) to now is so profound that I can't help but believe that other people will benefit if they imitate my methods. I went from being completely jaded, unable to create artwork, working as a waitress, and spending my free time destroying my body and my mind…to going after my dreams, feeling courageous, and finding beauty and love in the smallest of things. I no longer feel that life is ultimately meaningless.

Since I've been on this trip, I spend countless hours running alone. Sometimes my body is in excruciating pain. It was only 4 days into my journey when I realized that I would have to start focusing more on controlling my mind if I wanted to finish the run.When my body is in pain, my mind will go to a dark place if I am not careful. Meditating became a necessity when I realized that being out on the road by myself caused me to start thinking about things that have been buried deep, deep beneath the surface. When I find a thought enter my mind that I know will not benefit me or the ones I love--I'm talking about the paranoid, the absurd, the self-deprecating, the angry thoughts that I've spent years of my life burying-- that is when I have to meditate.

I have mantras that help. My favorite, given to me by a very dear friend, is "I can, I will, I am." This grounds me in the moment. I can do it. I will do it. I am doing it. When you say this mantra (out loud or in our mind), it is like magic. As long as you keep pushing forward, the mantra works. If you believe it when you say it, it works.

The epiphanies come in like rushes of water, and often with tears of love, forgiveness, and happiness. It's a good thing I have to run so far every day-- so when I have an ordeal like this, I have time to freak out, calm myself down, figure out what is really going on, cry about it for a while and recover from the entire ordeal-- all before I get back to the RV.

I think that running and meditation could really help everyone, especially survivors of trauma, rape and abuse. And since PTS is so prevalent in the veteran population, I really think that running and meditating will help many veterans to overcome their challenges, if they try it. I think it's a good place to start.

That's why I believe so much in Team RWB. The power of the organization and the heart of it is in it's members. It creates a place where veterans can come together and support each other both physically  and emotionally. It also creates a place where civilians and athletes can come to learn from the men and women who have been trained to not give up, to push past their limits, and support each other. It is inspiring. Team RWB has found a way to bring us together so that we can both learn from each other and support each other in a totally nonjudgmental environment.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that I know that not all veterans can run. So many have grievous injuries and running isn't a possibility. A lot of veterans out there are older and their bodies cannot handle the stress. For those veterans, there is a lot of help out there-- more than you think. I wish that I had all the answers, but I don't. I only know what has worked for me. Maybe raising awareness about the necessity for more answers will bring them from people who are better educated and more knowledgeable than me.

There is hope.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Part One: Waking Up, Facing the Road

The alarm goes off. I bend my knees and flex the arches of my feet, feeling bones and ligaments tighten and grind. My muscles are strings that stretch across the neck of a guitar, ready to snap with a resounding twand if they are tuned just a little bit higher. When I curl my toes, they feel like the gnarled, leathery claw of an eagle, roughened by wind and rock and sun. 

My legs and my feet are always the first to wake up. When the calloused pad of my foot meets the carpet inside the R,  I always tilt, stumble, fall into a wall, and yelp. The RV is usually parked on a tilt, so sometimes my awkwardness is due to what we refer to as "life on a slant". Somehow, I never remember this before I step out of bed, and so it happens every morning.

I am usually tired, and always sore. This has become my new baseline, my new normal. It isn't that bad. When I learned to stop complaining in my own mind about things that I have
e absolutely no control over, I stopped feeling like a victim. And the tiredness--the clenching and aching--has become a mark of pride, a physical reminder of what I have accomplished in the previous days. The topography of the land I run across leaves an impression deep within my muscles and bones, an intricate cave painting that describes rolling hills and endless expanses of flat road. It is a physical memory.

At some point in the morning, I come to terms with what is in front of me. The road. The truth is, I am always scared of it. It doesn't seem to matter if the day before was a breeze, or if it was a challenge to finish. The voice of fear comes in clear as a bell. It is my job to ignore it.

It is a dragon in a cage, manipulating and cajoling me to feed it. One would think that when you feed this dragon, it would stop screeching, that the voice of fear would become satiated, silenced. This is not the case. If you feed this dragon, he will not stop crying out for food. Instead he will become louder, demanding more. I have found the best thing to do when confronted one is to starve him, and become deaf to his pleas. Over time, the dragon becomes emaciated and weak, eventually unable even to approach the bars of the cage, his throat too dry to utter a sound. 

Of course, there's more than one dragon. Sometimes there is an army of them, gathering comrades together in a fleet to make their chorus for attention more piercing. Fears from the past meet with fears about the future.  I can only tackle them one at a time, starving some and telling myself I need others  to stay safe (Because, I tell myself, my fear protects me). At the end of the day, I know it is my still my business to defeat all of these these monsters, because it is their business to take away my right to live with love in my heart and a lightness in my step. 

It's the difference between saying "I have to run 35 miles today," and saying, "I get to run 35 miles today." 

Our thought and words are what create our perception.

As I was running through West Texas this morning, I became completely consumed with the natural masterpiece that extended in every direction. The huge sun that rose to ignite the cold earth, drenching the entire landscape in gold. The verdant treetops sculpted into shapes of windblown tsunamis. The falling-apart whitewashed houses that interrupted the otherwise flat horizon. 

I wonder if I could appreciate any of this if my reality was shrouded in negative thought or fear. Probably not. If I let the past or the future become too much a part of my present moment, I am too stuck in my own head to notice what is going on outside of it. The past usually brings up guilt, the future creates anxiety. Both of these emotions can be teachers, but I have found that generally they are completely useless. The only thing that has ever mattered is action, however small, done right here, in this very moment. We have absolutely nothing else.

This is what gets me to put one foot in front of the other: constantly making the shift from acting out of fear to acting out of love. When I wake up and I choose to dread the road that is laid out before me, when I listen to the pain in my calves and thighs and feet, and I let the voice of fear become the loudest, that is when I miss out on the beauty surrounds me. I am stuck in my head, counting my miles, checking my pace. When I catch myself doing this (this happens more than a couple times a day), I stop where I am, look down at my feet, and remind myself why I am running: 

1. Because I get to. 
2. Because I am blessed. 
3. Because I have an opportunity to make a difference in the world, and that is worth than more than all the gold in the world. 
4. Because more veterans and service members are taking their lives every day, and the cause of this epidemic needs to be recognized and understood and addressed.
5. Because there are so many in this country who watch the news daily and believe that we live in a dangerous place, full of hate and crime and ignorance. I want them to know that this is not the case. This country is insanely beautiful and we, the people, are good.
6. Because I want people (and veterans) to know that if they feel anxiety, depression, restlessness, powerlessness, misery--that there is absolutely nothing *wrong* with them. It does not mean that you are broken. Do not judge yourself. There is hope. Running, meditation, or taking time away from the madness of every day life will help, a lot. It's not the only solution, but it is a good one, and one that will stand the test of time. 
7. Because there is too much beauty in the world, and not enough beholders. 
8. Because I want to help others see that their power as an individual is limitless. If a cocktail waitress from Orange County can run across America, I think just about anything is possible.
9. Because nothing has ever made more sense to me in my life.
10. Because Robot needs a person to stick in her beautiful photos, and I suspect she needs me as much as I need her (even if she is the stronger one). If nothing else, being there for Robot is enough reason for me to run every day. 

11. Because I have committed to putting others before myself, always.
12. Because it's really, REALLY fun. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How Burning Man Inspired My Run Across America for Veterans

I've spent the majority of my life trying to discover what good art is

Thousands and thousands of hours have been spent behind canvasses, scrutinizing the subtle differences between thickness of lines and shades of white. I worked on canvasses so gigantic that they had to be rotated, so I could reach the top edges and torment them with tiny, anxious brushstrokes. 

My brushes were my slaves. 

At times, I came so close to the surface of the canvas that my breath heated it with the frustration and anxiety that comes from wanting desperately for something, anything, to be perfect. 

There has always been constant, grueling arm-wrestling match within me. On one side of the side, beauty sits; on the other side, violence. They are always trying to win the match through seduction, but will never overwhelm the other with the full force of their power. They are afraid of what the world would look like without their adversary, and afraid of what they might become because of it. Art is a balancing act between beauty and violence, and successfully balancing them with grace is about as probable as lightning striking.It's that hard.

Kafka said, 
“A painting is an  
axe to break the 
ice within us”.

At some paint, I admitted defeat. I went to a dark place. I stopped wanting to create. I thought about it too much. I became so afraid of making a bad painting, that I began to fear painting. I became apathetic.

I went to Burning Man for the first time in 2012. For the first time ever, the ice within me began to crack. 

Burning Man gets just about as close as you can imagine to perfectly tight-roping walking over a gulf that has violence on one side and beauty on the other. In the blistering heat of the desert, spontaneous whiteouts leave you blind and huddling in blustery white mushroom clouds, wondering, "What if this never stops?" 

But it does. 

As the dust settles, what you see will take your breath away. Bronzed people, dazzling the scorching surface of the earth. The afternoon light catches on their bicycles and headdresses and radiant smiles, like the sun reflecting off ripples in the ocean. Powerful and mysterious structures rise up out of the earth, and music erupts from the perimeter of the city, rumbling inwards under the wheels of art cars and sunburnt feet.

The canvas of this painting is the violence of the playa, the destructive forces of nature. The vulnerability you feel under the shocking yellow sun is palpable. The beauty is the chaotic wonderment of forty thousand people believing that they can make it a masterpiece, if only for one week. 

Burning Man reawakened my hope in my fellow man. I saw that I wasn't alone. I saw that community, generosity, and spontaneous acts of kindness and love are something that can be achieved. I saw that art could somehow be something that is constantly evolving into something more and more complicated and beautiful every day. Burning man transformed me and eliminated my fear of trying new mediums. I was no longer afraid of making a bad painting. 

After Burning Man, I decided to try my hand at performance art. 

This time my art is not about fabricating a beautiful object, but about the total and utter transformation of myself as a person, inside and out, and the transformation of my environment as well. I've always wanted to live up to my human potential, but I never really gave it my all. I've decided to try.

I realized immediately that this would involve pushing myself to my limitations-- spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It would involve changing both myself and the world around me. To do this, I would have to make the gesture gargantuan.

So, I'm running across America.  I leave in two weeks.

Using my body as the canvas, I will run 40 miles a day, 6 days a week for 100 days. I was not an athlete to begin with, but I am now. For the last year, I have trained hard and worked to become a good runner, in the same way that I learned how to draw someone's portrait from life by training my eye and my hand to move in harmony. 
I will run through the sharpest mountains and the driest deserts, exposing myself to the brutal elements of nature. Herein lies the violence on this art. Simultaneously, I must allow myself to be hypnotized by the majesty and creative power that wells up beneath America's soil. But the most beautiful and violent part of America, the part that overwhelms me with her raw, unbridled power, is her people. We are a force to be reckoned with, but our violent, hard edges are softened by our need to be good, to connect with each other, and to express ourselves.  

With this act I am saying that it is so important for us to change as a society and as a culture--that I am willing to push myself far beyond my limitations in order to do it. This is a demonstration in effort and in embracing the tenacity and passion of the American spirit.

I still needed to change my environment, to make the world a better place, to break the ice within others.

I knew I had to run for a cause; to raise awareness for something. I was extremely careful when choosing my cause. I wanted to run for kindness, empathy, community, compassion…

But, I knew that telling everyone to be nice to each other wouldn't push me beyond my limitations. I felt that the most important thing for me to do was to support veterans, especially because I found myself lacking  in understanding towards them. 

I started reaching out to veterans in my community, and interviewing them on film with visionary photographer and videographer Robot Mofield. 
I found out that they had a lot to teach me. Veterans get to experience true brotherhood and community, and for more than one week per year. They've lived in an environment and culture where value is based on what you are able to contribute to your community, rather than money and competition. Veterans have a lot to teach civilians about discipline, brotherhood, bravery, and selflessness. More than that, veterans have made huge sacrifices and continue to make them long after they come home. We have to take care of each other. It is crucial to our survival.

To be the change that we want to see in the world, we must attack the apathy and darkness within ourselves before we can make enough room for other things to thrive. My goal is to show that it is possible to bring together seemingly opposite groups of people, to work towards community and change, towards peace and compassion, regardless of our political ideologies. Because in the end, we are all human.

The veterans I interview tell me that they do not think that this kind of community is possible outside of combat. They tell me that it is only possible to form bonds of brotherhood under the threat of a common enemy.

This is now a truth that I hold to be self evident: Mankind's only true enemy is apathy. When we stop caring about our own well-being, the well-being of other humans, or the well-being of the planet, it prolongs suffering and intensifies disconnection from the people and things around us.

 I want to show this country the kind of community and support that is possible if we reach outside of conventional institutions. I am challenging the country to be all-inclusive in their love for humanity by embracing those who were willing to give all they had so that they might live a purposeful life, and oftentimes suffer because of it--our veterans. I want to activate in those who follow my journey the same desire for transformation and purpose, for hope, and for compassion.

I want to show America how it is possibly to create community on the spot, to indulge daily in impulsive and combustive generosity. This is my performance art, and maybe this is what will finally break the ice. 

Please visit and make a donation if you can. We still need money for groceries/gas/medical equipment. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

22 Veterans Commit Suicide Every Day: Where are they?

I'm sure that you've heard the statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. You can find thousands of articles on-line talking about it.

I've been working on an art project that coincides with my run that brings this to statistic to light. I'm glad that this information has been brought to our attention, but I don't know what we are supposed to do with it.

When we hear this statistic over and over in the news, we become desensitized to the information. We forget the enormity of every single one of those losses, forget that every single one of these men and women were just like us-- human beings. They had dreams, families, knowledge, and wisdom that they will now never have the chance to impart to us.

My performance art project was to paint 22 portraits of 22 veterans who have taken their own lives on 22 rocks and carry them in a backpack with me while I run across the United States. I would start with one rock in CA, adding one every five days, until I ended up with 22 in New York. This was to say that I am willing to carry the burden of this loss. I am willing to feel the weight of this problem myself, because I believe it is something that we all should be feeling. Gandhi said that we must be the change that we want to see in the world.

I truly believe that in our current society and culture, it is not until we personally feel the full weight of problems like these (either through experience or empathy) that we find the impetus to change.

However, I've run into a problem.

I can't find any information on veterans who have committed suicide. If twenty-two veterans are dying every day, then why don't we hear about who they are?

Daniel Somers: one of the only veterans whose story
was made available to the public when his parents
published his suicide note. 
After months of searching for names, and pictures, and stories, and coming up with next to nothing,  I've come to the realization that suicide is one of those life events that deeply cuts everyone who is close to the victim. Suicide leaves anger, confusion, blame, sadness, regret, and guilt in its wake more than any other cause of death.  I try to empathize with those who have lost the ones that they love to suicide, and it's hard. It's never happened to me. But I can imagine that it would be devastating. And I suppose that it is not really something that I would enjoy talking about, especially with a reporter or a writer.

But...100,000 veterans have committed suicide since September 11, 2001. Shouldn't we be talking more about it?

I might be making an assumption, but this seems like an indicator of a much bigger problem. If we don't study it, how will we ever improve? How will we ever be able to change? How is it that the most dangerous part of the military now is coming home? What does this say about our country and our culture?

How am I supposed to honor 22 fallen veterans on my run when I cannot even find out who they are?


Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I Love Team RWB: A Civilian's Perspective

Saturday was my "Meet and Greet" with Team Red, White, and Blue. Luke, the Chapter Leader for Team RWB Los Angeles coordinated it. He introduced me to the organization, and has taken me under his wing during the last year, as my champion and my friend. I

I wish I would have thought of some words to say to the wonderful people who showed up to show their support, to tell them why I'm running for RWB. Since I missed my opportunity, I'm writing this blog, in hopes that it will reach Team members of RWB as well as veterans who could benefit from what they offer.

First of all, I'm not a veteran. I'm a civilian. I'm supporting Team RWB because I think they really deserve it. 

When I decided to run across the United States, I had the opportunity to choose any cause in the world to support. I didn't have anyone telling me what to do, and I could have chosen to save the bees, or the whales, or starving children in Africa, whatever. But I really wanted to pick the cause that was the most worthy. 

When I started reaching out to veterans that I knew, I talked to them about their experience in the military. I immediately started to understand the huge sacrifices that many have made and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they encounter upon coming home…and  a funny thing happened. I empathized with them. I started to care. A lot. The three things that are most important in life above all others--  kindness, compassion, and empathy (recognizing yourself in others)-- are things that veterans need more than any other group of people. Veterans have been through some really gnarly stuff, stuff that makes my"trauma" look more like drama. And it seems to only get harder for a lot of them once they get home.

I decided to run for veterans. 

I want to raise awareness among civilians about what veterans have to teach civilians about dedication, brotherhood, discipline, and what it means to serve in the military. That's why I started Face America with Miss Robot Photography, a collaborative artistic project that is dedicated to telling veterans' stories on film.

My main goal, however,  is to raise awareness among veterans that there is an entire country full of amazing people that are here for them. There are people everywhere looking for opportunities give their support, to be a friend, to be generous and kind. Trust me, I meet them every day. But you have to get out of the house to find them. You have to take the first step.

While looking for an organization to support, I found Team RWB. Actually, they found me. 

 I was running the Hollywood Half Marathon and I spotted two guys running side by side, donning red long-sleeved t-shirts. One proudly carried an American flag, making the duo extremely visible from half a mile away. I approached them after the race, and met Luke Farnell and Shawn Parsons, two members of Team RWB Los Angeles. They described what Team RWB does, gave me a red bracelet, and told me to join. Their willingness to embrace and include me in their circle touched me, especially because I am a civilian.

This is how Team RWB will look when you
see them at a race. This is Luke Farnell,
from Team RWB Los Angeles. 
When I went home later that night, I researched what Team RWB does for veterans, and I immediately realized that they were the organization that I wanted to support. What I love about Team RWB is that once you join, you get to choose your own level of involvement.

You really get out of it what you put into it. You can show up to events every once in a while, and have fun with a bunch of people who openly accept you and embrace you. Or you can get really involved, and embrace the community that has been created almost entirely by people who have the passion and desire to help each other and make a difference.

Veterans who join Team RWB become a part of a new family. The heart of organization lies in it's members, who support each other in more ways than just offering them a Clif Bar at mile 16 in a marathon. Veterans in RWB help each other move out of their houses, fix broken-down cars, and find new jobs. It's incredible. The most impressive part of RWB isn't their integrity, stellar leadership, or the passion of it's members…it's the outpouring of love I see members giving each other at every event.

They really are creating a network of support, instead of simply talking about it. And it's working.

Team RWB gets people out of their houses and doing physical activity, which for me was the key to start tackling anxiety, depression, and other issues I've dealt with in my life that find their roots in traumatic experience.

 I found when I was in my darkest place, I wanted to isolate, and I felt paralyzed when I was confronted with situations where I was expected to make myself vulnerable to another person. Running helped. A lot. In fact, it was the key to healing my broken heart and my broken spirit.  Running exhausts me, so all the adrenaline that I feel for no reason when I wake up in the morning, the jumpiness and nervousness that shows up as anxiety, gets burned off. I finish long runs feeling happy, like I just did a deep cleaning session on my psyche and my body.

Running next to someone else creates a sense of camaraderie. You automatically are in tune not only with your own body, but with the body of the person that is running next to you. If you are running together, or as a team, you know that you can only go so far as the person you are running with. And every once in a while, you have these gorgeous moments of silence, only listening to footsteps and breath, transcending language and finding a news way of connecting with each other.

When I run long enough with another person like that, walls start to break down. I let myself become vulnerable, and it feels natural. It feels safe.  I start to get real, talking about everything from spirituality, to my biggest fears, to my dreams and the things that I hold dearest to me. I laugh a lot, and sometimes, when it gets really hard, and when I don't want to go another step, I cry. And it's okay. We walk it out, we get a beer, and we laugh about it on the next run, when all the pain feels like a distant memory.

If running does this for me, I think it will help veterans too. And Team RWB is making it possible. 

After a 30 mile run with Navy veteran, Sean Litzenberger.
Running is a bonding experience. 
I hope to make the rest of the country aware of Team RWB as I am running across it. Team RWB members are meeting me as I run, and hopefully running, walking, or biking next to me as I traverse the country. In Los Angeles, Phoenix, El Paso, Dallas, Fort Worth, Shreveport, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.

If you are a runner, or a member of Team RWB, or simply someone who is inspired by this project, please connect with me on Facebook, and share this blog if you want to help.

I'd love to hear from you. More than that, I'd love to meet you in person, to run a few miles, or more than a few miles. What I'm doing isn't easy, and I'm going to need people who will help me stay positive and focused on my purpose--to create opportunities for others to experience compassion, community, and love- and in doing so, to enrich the lives of America's veterans, one step at a time.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Missing Home While I'm Still Here

  I am drawn to the ocean. As the reality of embarking to run across the country sinks in, my stomach does backflips. I find myself thinking about leaving the things that I love. Pelicans snapping at fisherman on the pier, surfers coming out of the water all smiles and invigoration and dripping with salt and sunshine, and the most beautiful romance you could ever imagine. I feel a chicken bone in my throat, like I am constantly am trying to swallow bad news. 

Yeah, I know, how dramatic. I mean, it's only 100 days. It's not forever. But the enormity of the challenge I have taken on makes it apparent that after the run is over, my life (as I know it) will be over. Or at least unrecognizable. This is a good thing, and I'm not complaining. Trust me, I need it. I need to finish this run, if I don't do anything else for the rest of my life. 

It is foreign to me to physically long for and miss something that is right in front of me. I think this is what they call attachment. I don't want to say goodbye to everything that I love, but I've come to terms with the fact that I will be different when I return, and thus everything will be seen through a different set of eyes, and will carry new meaning. 

 When I look at all my paintings, my life's work, I feel as if they were created by a different person entirely. I miss her. I miss the carefree artist who never returns calls or keeps her phone on her, who travels to foreign countries at the drop of a hat. I miss spending all day behind my canvas, listening to audiobooks and immersing myself in a world of thought and creativity.

But my art wasn't doing the trick, I guess.  I failed at being a painter. I wanted to change the world, and all I could do was make beautiful things. So, I'm trying something new. Running across the US is my performance art, my demonstration to the world that change, community and pushing past your own limitations can be possible. Well, at least you can try.

It took me a little longer to grow up than I anticipated, and I somehow feel that this run will be my rite of passage. 

Of course, the journey has already begun.

And, it's flipping awesome.