Transformation Caused By Violence – The Metamorphosis of Innocence to Strength, A Photo Series

In order to raise awareness on how widespread and unspoken violence against women and domestic violence of all forms are, I partnered with my friend and photographer Darcey De Los Reyes (check out his amazing work here) to channel the emotions of processing violent trauma through a visual creative medium.

The girl in the photos is by the ocean. She is bare, in many ways, from her clothes to her lack of makeup, to the rawness of her emotions. We chose this setting and these conditions precisely to eliminate the taboo of showing women in their natural, pure state because even after a violation, a woman is pure. This shouldn’t be a question. The purity of a woman is not measured by the type of clothing she wears or the activities she engages in, but by her soul and spirit, kindness and inner strength.

I know some people may find these images “sensual” or even “provocative”. Why wasn’t the female figure more covered? Precisely because in pivotal moments of our lives, we don’t hide any part of our true selves.

When I experienced the attack, I was wearing long pants, a sweater, no makeup, and my hair was tied back. Still, a man chose to see me as nothing but an object avoiding submission and, therefore; an object subject to his aggression. So I simply have no patience for outward judgments on when and when not a woman deserves to be respected.

Because the answer to that is always.

Here we go through the visual depictions of processing the emotions of violent trauma. If you have been in this situation, I hope you can find comfort resonating in a shared, though completely undeserved experience. Know you are not alone. If you have never, and I hope you never will experience such an event, I hope the emotions can evoke a sense of solidarity in you and inspire you to look out for others and yourself just a little bit more. No matter what, we ask you to stand up for respect and always choose non-violence.

*** Warning: The article includes a photo of my injured eye. It was taken a few hours after the attack at the hospital for medical records. My face, which needs to be considered “pretty” given my profession, in the blink of an eye became grotesque, disfigured and temporarily disabled. Both extremes are my face just the same, and I want to show it to you in its truth beyond my own control. If this is something that will trigger emotions beyond your capacity, please do not read on.

image1SOFT • OPEN

First, you are who you are without inhibitions. You are trusting. You don’t expect the worst of people and in fact, see the best in them. You are the princess of giving the benefit of the doubt. Your gaze is gentle, maybe a little shy. Your dreams are big. You see the world in bright color.

People come and go. You are welcoming. Your smile is inviting, like a cozy cottage on a rainy day. Like many women, you are naturally open-hearted and trusting towards your friends, family members, and strangers.

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SUSPICIOUS • CONCERNED

But intuition doesn’t lie and when you feel something is starting to negatively interfere with your inner peace and daily function, you know you should listen. You notice warning signs, but still give the benefit of the doubt. You plan to stand up for yourself if things get really bad, but you don’t think they will… You hope, you pray they won’t.

But they aren’t getting better, either. You take distance, you exercise caution, you don’t feel as free as before. The bubble wrap that you used to pop on purpose for a little silly attention now scares you, you try to only step on the deflated bubbles to not make any unnecessary sounds. Your home is not a safe haven anymore, and a rustling sound behind you or an unknown phone number on your screen trigger imaginations even J.K. Rowling would love to tap into.

You go about your life not fully realizing that irrational and aggressive people will not heed your concerns or requests and it is better to be overly prepared than taken by surprise.

But you don’t expect anything to happen. It happens to people, but not to you. You know there’s no weakness in asking for help in advance. In the end, you will be safer than trying to deal with it all by yourself. But you’re a tough cookie so you don’t tell anyone. Besides – verbal harassment isn’t that bad, right? Maybe they’re just having a bad day, I mean, we all do.

You rationalize an irrational mind, and that is where the true danger starts. 

malibu4

SHOCKED • SHAKEN

You didn’t see it coming, how could you have, yet everyone who knew him knew he was a stalker, unemployed, an illegal immigrant with nothing to do all day, a drug addict, homophobic, short and mousy-looking and insecure about it, from a culture that notoriously deprecates woman’s value in relation to man’s, and everything else that could possibly indicate an unstable person and threat to your safety. But you never. saw. it. coming.

He had been in your house all weekend, and he harassed you verbally that day again. Right there on the street. You stood up for yourself. For your standards, you got ‘kind of mean’. You even said, “this is not Turkey, you can’t just insult a woman and control her in her home!” and you immediately regret this statement because, is it racist? I don’t like to generalize! Even in that situation, you evaluate yourself on your integrity. But he just laughed, “Ya in Turkey things are better”. He made your blood boil to the point of you saying one thing you think isn’t nice, but you call no names, make no accusations. All you ask is: “respect me in my house, stop messaging me, leave me alone“. He calls you a transvestite, says he will rape and kill you, that he will do whatever he wants to you. He grabs you by the collar…

Then, blur.

image2-1It’s like how you feel when you read the news about some absurd act of violence, terrorism, or rape. It seems unbelievable that humankind is capable of such atrocities and yet, they happen on a daily basis. And then, something happens to you, and everything changes.

I remember hitting the pavement after the fourth or fifth blow.

********************************************************************

You don’t see people the same way. You get attacked for speaking out. Your former friend defames you on social media. She calls you a whore, fat, crazy, insane, a piece of garbage – all because you left the place of danger that she continues to nurture.

Not even the police feels truly on your side because “we are dealing with homicides and murders. In the scheme of things, this is not a big deal“.

So a man can beat a woman to the point of hospitalization and it’s not a big deal.

Yes, everything changes.

The country you once thought was great crumbles before your eyes.

Your liberal stance on immigration starts to waver as your assailant is untraceable and easily hidden due to his lack of papers.

Your interactions with men are strained. You can’t imagine having one touch you. The only male eyes you can look into without terror are those of your father and brother. They are now the only men in the world you honestly believe will not hurt you.

You lose your faith in the system. The law. The police. You question your friendships. Your own body. The choices you have made.

You don’t know why, but you feel ashamed. Like something was taken from you that you can never get back.

You can’t sleep at night and food has no taste. The world fades to monochrome and your walls go up so high only the sound of gentle music you use to band-aid the silence of solitude can enter.

You drag yourself to court, to the police, like a puppet going through the necessary motions, perpetually replaying his face over and over in the screen of your memory.

You know you will never be the same again.

14315903_1758594211073264_1339981566_oLIBERATION • DETERMINATION

And then suddenly, you overcome everything you thought you couldn’t, you stop worrying every time dark falls, you’re no longer afraid of living.

Yes, you have changed forever, but not in a bad way. You are stronger. Forget that, you are tough as f*ck.

You don’t take shit from anyone.

You stop caring so much about those who judge and dislike you without knowing you because you’ve been through hell and back and petty shit doesn’t faze you any more. You stop looking at others based on their professions and appearances. You know that everybody has an untold story, everybody has emotional impressions that are unrecognizable from the outside.

And you’re grateful. You’re grateful for the people who truly care about you, for the moments of pure joy you’ve been given in this life, for the health you’ve been restored. You count your blessings with an intensity you never have before. You internally smile at happy babies, doting parents, cheesy couples and wild teenagers, happy they have a sense of freedom you know that you, as you gain it back step by step, will never again take for granted.

Still, men who look like him or have his accent will always send a shudder down your spine. You avoid the places that remind you of your trauma. His place of origin, which was once at the top of your travel list, will probably never be a destination for you any longer but that’s ok – there are so many more places to go.

Everything that once made your life worse, you start to weed out. You value yourself more, your time, your health. You recognize you have a choice in who you have in your life. You understand you have the right to take distance from people if it brings you closer to your true self.

It’s like a hazy curtain has fallen and you see the essential for the first time. People’s opinions don’t matter that much anymore, because through all this, you finally know that you know yourself better than anyone else, and you always have been, and vow to always be your own best friend.

dsc_2779With time, you become wilder, freer, more determined than ever. You’re not motivated to prove others wrong, you’re motivated to prove to yourself that you passed yet another test of life and are nothing but blessed because clearly God gave you a pair of limited-edition supreme balls (in the figurative sense, of course, meaning Joan of Arc-style courage and chutzpah.)

You continue to only wish well to all people. Lokha Samasta Sukhino Bavanthu – May all beings in the universe be happy, always. Yes, even him. His actions were motivated by the demons inside of his own troubled mind, you know if he had been at peace he would not have hurt you. You stop feeling anger, just pity.

Most of all, you protect yourself. The minute you feel someone is crossing a line, you’re out. You waste no more time. Some call it being jaded, you call it protecting your soul.

You know the right people will make their way in slowly. And if you are alone 99 breaths out of a hundred, that’s ok, too.

It feels just fine to be the one who loves you.

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You look at life as if it were the most precious gem, and feel you have, at a tender young age, discovered a secret that many wait lifetimes to uncover:

You are, and

Time is, and

Life is

Precious. 

and like water flows in perpetuity, it always goes on.

dsc_2472Changing the System

In the United States, the burden of obtaining and serving a restraining order against a dangerous person lies on the victim. Furthermore, if the injuries do not leave permanent damage or disfigurement, the attack is only charged as a misdemeanor, leaving the assailant free with a warning and fine at most (if he can be found). We don’t prioritize safety in this country nearly enough  – and as much as I love the United States for many reasons, I realize why it is still a country where every human must really look out for themselves. I hope we can change our mentality little by little to naturally want to look out for one another, too. A big reason why crime rates are so low in East Asia (Korea and Japan specifically) is because your ‘face’ or reputation in the community and how you represent your family are paramount to your survival and happiness. I believe we can learn a great deal from collective mindsets. No matter what, I believe in the power of giving, sharing and caring now more than ever.

I am linking some helplines and informative websites below:

Confidential Hotline

Help End Violence Against Women

Love,

Simone

Modeling: Silently Losing Friends and Family

IMG_0451It’s 3.34 PM in Los Angeles, and I am sad.

Ever since I started modeling, friends, even very close friends, former roommates – people I only have positive feelings towards – have unfollowed or blocked me on Instagram, where I post most of my recent work, and other social media.

Without saying a word, or asking me where this change of job has come from. I know having gotten my B.A. and suddenly working as a fashion model in Los Angeles seems like the most random change of lifestyle, but there was an opportunity, I was curious and craved knowing what this industry was truly like. My adventure spirit and hunger for new things has always been immense and so I gave it a shot. Despite my education, background, and other passions in life, I decided to try something new.

None of many of the people who have recently decided to silently fall out of my life ever asked me any questions, or in any way personally inquired about why I am doing something like this.

I wish I could be as “I don’t give a f*ck” in real life as I portray in some of my photos but I am and always have been a very (overly) sensitive person.

Today, someone I have known all my life unfollowed me too, wordlessly. The past two times I saw him in person, he was very passive aggressive with me and barely spoke a word, not about modeling or anything else.

I feel like some of the people once closest to me are starting to turn on me, are ashamed… I see that some friends can’t bear to see the sight of me, on virtual platforms or otherwise.

I wish people would ask, “Hey, what’s up with this modeling thing?” I had a close friend admit that she and another friend wondered where this came from, since the industry seemed like “such a non-Simone thing”. I appreciated their honesty.

And they’re right – this industry isn’t fully my thing. I don’t love fashion. I can’t remember the last time I read a fashion magazine. I like to eat and I eat abundantly. I’m not an itty-bitty model nor will I ever be, and it has cost me many jobs. So no, it’s not glamorous. Despite being signed to an agency I am not guaranteed any work and do 80+% of my photo shoots for free in hopes that they will lead to paid jobs later. I drive all over southern California, live out of my car most of the day, and teach Yoga and Zumba at the crack of dawn or late at night to try to make ends meet, but they don’t.

I am a twelve-hour flight away from my family and only made it through the first month here thanks to their long-distance support and the kindness of the ONLY friend I had in the entire city, Daniel. He let me crash on his couch and live in his living room despite the discomfort it caused him and his roommate. In one month, I got a license, a used car, found a shared living situation, signed with a bicoastal agency and started piecing together a new life. With no stability, and a lot of (mostly self-induced) pressure. I was told to drop weight before I would get signed so while putting together a life, I was in the gym twice daily and ate less than normal (though my normal, to be fair, is a lot).

No one cooks for me, no one cleans for me, no one manages me, no one does my schedule or other logistic work – I do everything by myself, I work tirelessly every day either on set, at castings, or trying to find more paid work online yet according to the government, I qualify for Medicare and Food stamps because my income is so low.

I worked minimum wage shifts stocking supplies at 3 am when I first got here because I was so terrified of not being able to make rent.

My family will help me for another few months to at least cover gas and groceries but after that, I will be forced to find a 9-5 unless things change. I feel ridiculous being in this situation after graduation from a top university, and I don’t think I can do it much longer.

But I wanted to see what it was like. The realities are harsh. Models are some of the least protected professionals among LEGAL professions in the developed world. Read this article for more reference http://money.cnn.com/…/news/runway-injustice-mod…/index.html

H&M would have offered me a grand total of 200 dollars for an editorial. Minus taxes and agency commission, it would be about 150 dollars for a full day’s work, when other days I work for 0 dollars.

H&M, Vogue, Sports Illustrated – the biggest brands get away with no or very low pay because models work for free hoping their appearance will land them more work of prestige.

Unfortunately, with social media nowadays, free advertising is changing the game and “instafamous” people or so-called “influencers” are taking much of the market where professional models used to have an edge.

Now, a teenage girl with a large following can, from her bedroom, do that work for free, and so many companies stop paying altogether.

This is why in the last couple of years, the new big models – Gigi, Cara, Kendall – are all daughters of extremely wealthy, well-connected, entertainment industry parents. Connections, like in many other industries, are everything.

I, and many other normal girls with “model physiques” (this just means you’re tall and proportionate, nothing else) don’t have that advantage. So we are slowly a dying breed, but I would not have known that had it not been for my own experience in the industry.

People are so quick to judge. I have never been more me than now, now that I’m doing something a lot of girls dream of because I wanted to take a risk. I tried, it wasn’t what I thought it would be, my loving parents were confused but they understood. You HAVE to live, you have to try. And I’m not done trying. But I can now full-heartedly say that this has been more blood, sweat, tears, and being told you are fat at a size 4, than I want to repeat.

I thank my family and friends who have taken such kind interest and have shown me support no matter what they believe about models. I’m not just a “model”. I am passionate about non-profits. I studied Sociology and dream about equal opportunities for children across races, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, gender identity and sex. My dream is to work to advance the causes I care about, starting at an NGO that addresses said issues. I speak 7 languages fluently. I am a certified yoga and dance teacher.

Yet whether or not I work today depends on how flat my stomach and thighs are. One inch, and the job goes to one of the other hundreds of modelesque girls that populate cities like LA, New York, Paris and Milan.

My agent tells me that 90% of the jobs still go to blonde white girls despite the belief that diversity is growing. In the modeling industry, being told you have a “healthy” body is an insult. You either have to be extremely thin or plus-sized. Me, in the mid range – there’s not much demand there. I want to stand for body positivity and self-love, but it’s hard when your own healthy body is suddenly the enemy.

Out west, I don’t have loved ones to come home to to say it ain’t so.

This is why it hurts so much more when people I thought had my back, decide to turn.

Yes, I am a model. It’s an addition to my experiences in life. An addition, not a change, and definitely not a contradiction.

Since when does a job define you? It’s like judging someone by their race, class, or gender. How dare we jump to conclusions, especially about people we actually know? Or knew…

If I have a daughter who wants to model, or a friend whose daughter wants to model thinking it is glamorous and amazing, I will now be able to give honest, first-hand insight into the realities of that world and I would not trade that ability for anything.

Above all, despite the hurt, I am grateful to the many of you who are still here for me, virtually. Thank you for listening. I moved out to LA alone and the truest support I have is from my friends and family far away who send me good vibes no matter the distance. Other than that, I spend 95% of my time completely alone here. Most days, I don’t talk to anyone face-to-face unless I just met them that day for a one-time job, and will probably never see them again. They don’t know me, nor do they have the desire to, and it is simply part of a professional relationship like in any other industry.

It’s lonely, but I knew that. I was ready. The only surprise is being left by people you thought cared. When they decide to disappear from your life, too, you start to question yourself. I know it’s passive aggressive and immature silent judgment, but right now I won’t pretend I always have thicker skin. It hurts.

So this is me. A girl who tried to be everything and nothing specific all in one, hungry for experiencess and daring in, what many would call, a totally unrealistic way.

Here is to creating our own realities. I thank those of you who are still part of mine.

I love you all for listening, and even if you still think what I’m doing is ridiculous, I appreciate your interest and I only hope you are happy, genuinely and always.

Sim

Uncontrolled

b10

Girl
Woman
Mujer
What do you call yourself?

Chica
bonita
Why is “pretty” so important?
Fuck it,
eat chocolate
stay home and watch movies
laugh!
but then

guilt
worry
I’m fat
ugly
not worthy,
he left me because I’m dirty

undeserving

You’re told
“You gave it up too fast!
Men like a challenge
And a nice ass”

Damn it,
Gym
Squat so he cries
over what he lost

he couldn’t care less but

Play hard to get
but not too hard
Be real, be you
Bite off more than you can chew
But not literally
,
Because
Skinny
diet!
Eat less,
be dainty
#bestrong
what now?
Confused
If I had a daughter…

Damn, I hope I have sons.

But sister
I swear, if anyone ever hurts you
But he will
and so will he
Out of control
Just like me

Trying, self-promoting
Why is no one liking my shit?
Am I ugly?
STOP COMPARING
Be daring
But a mystery
history
it haunts you
That one night
you shouldn’t have
What if…?
Then it comes

Your period
thank God.
It’s love and hate
Roe v. Wade
My God
At 19 years, that is a lot to take
Now you’re 20
Twenty-five
it’s been a wild ride

it’s not over
moreover,

Will you ever find true love?
No control
Trust your soul
mate, it’s a goal
You will feel whole

But then:
“Cutie,
So sexy, let me see that smile!”
NO.

Validation
Liberation
Which one guides your mind?

It depends on the day..
Is a feminist ok?

Wear no bra, why not
The straps make me hot
They’re tight, and this thong
Sisqo even made a song
about this stupid piece of clothing
My kryptonite and loathing
ok, just relax
Breathe in
sit back

Baby girl,
It’s ok
I got you any day
Lean in
Lean on
Who can tell us what’s wrong?

What’s ok?
Behave!
Only Momma had that say.

So my sister,
Hermana
friend
I care

I’ll fly across the world,
(if money grew on trees)
to make your heart soar
Spend good energy on me
so I can love you some more

Don’t worry about the rest
no control
could be best.

Sit back.
Relax,
breathe, amor
You can do it
even without knowing
what it is

Live the moment
in control
the present moment
you control

Relax
your control
right now

you are whole

Saltwater

12790181_1680068065592546_1147510004_o

I put one slender arm around your body but you refused to turn and look at my face.

You knew you would see my eyes loaded with the weight of saltwater barely held back and at this moment, it was too much for you to carry. I believed it might be too much for you to ever want to carry. How capable are you of letting someone lean on you?

Or perhaps you are more than capable but I wasn’t the one you were willing to offer your shoulder to. I knew you’d loved before, and I couldn’t help but feel pangs of jealousy towards your past loves, unfamiliar to me, yet strangely too close for comfort, having once inhabited the heart I was trying so hard not to lose.

You said the time was wrong but in my anxious mind, I was convinced you found a situational excuse for an emotional motive. Or maybe I was just too romantic, emotional and idealistic and you were the sensible voice of reason. The wind around us whispered that it was you who was right. But what does the wind know about matters of the heart? It blew in cold.

As the tide rose, your breathing fell out of sync with mine and I tried to remember the last time our bodies moved to the same rhythm.

In a way, they never had. We fell in love instantly, we didn’t have time to match the pace. We became fire before the spark. I know that’s impossible, but impossible was us. Too good to be true and one in a million. A matter of seconds. Yet by modern standards, we never consummated our relationship properly, neither online in the net nor offline in a bed, in fact, on paper, there was not much to show except the beginning of the most unbelievable romantic comedy. And I say comedy because there was once a time when you made me laugh like a child running towards the sun.

The ocean now seemed crude and unforgiving as it encroached closer towards us, with its waves rising and falling uninterruptedly. Fuck those waves. How dare they keep rolling when other things fall apart so easily.

I closed my fingers around the tip of your sweater, squeezing it in hopes that the fabric could guide my next move. But since all my moves towards you have always been instinctive, no amount of advice from cotton or polyester could have stopped or started what I wanted to do. How do some people control their care? It just comes pouring out of me like rainwater. Lucky for you, when you were thirsty enough.

Some people think there is always one person who loves a little more, not in absolute terms, but relative to the other.

In true love, shouldn’t all things be equal?

I realized we were never equal because I put you first, and you put yourself first.

The equator for both of us was you.

This is why I’d wake up in the middle of the night to make sure you were still breathing, as if you were a newborn child, newly born into my world of affections, but you, you slept soundly as a baby no matter when the sun was rising in my hemisphere, undisturbed by the sleep I was losing over you.

You never lay awake for me.

And I realized that when your effect on someone is weaker than coffee, your worth to them is scarcely a cup of decaf. In a world where 99 cents can buy that, our story now scares me.

Then my hand floated up towards your jawline, beautiful and so different from mine, your features aren’t delicate, they are bold, jagged and unequivocal like rocks, I could spot you from oceans away. And I think you are the most beautiful creation for everything that in this continental scope is considered raw and imperfect, and I realize that I will probably never cease to believe that. I mean, I probably will, but I can’t imagine it.

The clouds smiled at my innocence.

So the sand became damp as my fingers landed on your cheekbone and you flinched ever so slightly, as if my touch electrified you the way my sight did the first time you laid eyes on me.

I remember that. You didn’t even try to hide it. I could feel your gaze from all angles as my back grew its own pair of eyes and I wasn’t taken aback by your shameless stare the way I would have been had it come from any other man, woman or child.

In a way I wish I could unlive those moments. Where it was you who searched for me in the crowd. You who spoke first. You who initiated every contact, from the first to the next to the last. It was you, from beginning to end, who made the decisions, and I would have gone along with most, as long as they did not infringe upon my self-respect too much. I made excuses for you. You became king of benefit of the doubt.

I should have realized that this set the tone for us. It was always you who dictated our Terms and me who signed the Agreement without reading the fine print. It would have warned me that loving and losing is a huge emotional burden for a heart as open as mine was at the time, a heart that had only just begun to reopen and found itself whole and content without romance.

But I don’t remember you even giving me this contract. The one you preached sounded completely different. You seemed so sure of our success, you don’t half-ass things. I wish you’d never said that because when I admire someone, I believe their words. But yours were only written in sand and, with every rising tide, washed away letting you rewrite them anew with me shores away, out of sight. I should have realized the impermanence of our nature – I myself move from sea to sea effortlessly. But I draw roots to every soul I encounter and yours in particular I wanted to entangle with forever.

Now we are searching for each other in the billions of grains of sand with every drop of water mudding our vision more. I wanted to reach for you the way a mouth reaches for an impending kiss. Like when we kissed. Of all kisses, ours I could never forget. Hesitant because we cared so damn much, natural because you and I were meant to kiss in this lifetime. Shy and nervous because to each other, we weren’t just another.

To you, kissing me was like kissing a new universe, you trembled just before entering it and I wish you would have gotten lost without return before landing back on the concrete of your previous realities. But I’m not good at playing games so I never hid the key. Of course, young hearts thrive on the chase and yours was too easy, I was open and raw.

Just as easily, I was done.

As darkness fell, I knew the day was over and the pain was one I recognized from long ago. I knew I would get through it as I had before, but every time that pain hits, I swear to God you think you won’t make it.

But I had to. My sea stops for no one.

Finally the pull to be washed clean from your scent became stronger and with the next rise in tide I let myself glide into the waves.

You saw me go but thought I was just taking a dip. I’d be right back.

This time, it was me who didn’t disclose all my plans because since there was no longer an “us,” you had no free entry into my mind. That mind was now full of thoughts never meant for you to discover.

So I drifted further away until you had to stand up to see me. You lost your balance in the wet sand and it surprised you. In the distance, I disappeared and reappeared time and time again and you started to feel seasick though standing on solid ground.

I could sense it – you don’t know it, but I can feel what you feel no matter what you communicate to me.

You still tried to communicate a little. You threw the occasional seashell to remind me of your existence, always catching me by surprise. Some of the shells opened up with a beautiful pearl, others cut me with a sharp edge. At the end, the pearls faded into dust and the cuts left little scars that I could see more or less, depending on the light that day.

As you kept looking you realized there were other creatures around. Some you barely noticed but others were beautiful. One in particular, you knew from before. She was from the land just like you, she was pretty, too.

And she wasn’t me.

She was well known and close by. You started to think about her more and less about me. With two desires in your mind, you realized the other body was much closer to you geographically while my physical distance remained unchanged. My emotional distance, you didn’t know, was growing too.

Women of the waves have this instinct: we know when our beloved’s lust has been cast on another.

I never met your new fantasy but I created my own fantasy about her in my head. I never asked you about anything. But my instinct was enough and the pebbles you threw at her in attention skipped past the ground into the sea and carried ripples throughout the water. We all knew.

From then on every shell I got from you turned into a cut. I started to duck. Swam faster.

When I reached the horizon, you saw me in my full essence. The sun set over the sea identical to the tattoo next to my breast that you never touched. You began to undress me in your mind. Your heartbeat accelerated as you imagined my breath quickening underneath all your weight, all the emotional weight I used to take for you as well as your physical body now, you crashing into me like the waves into shore, entering another part of my universe.

Would we never make love there?

The thought scared you, but not long enough to resist the earth. The other girl was fast ashore, her world was accessible now and I was at the dawn of something mysterious. My planets moved further away from you with every stroke. Some may have loved that but for you, it was too much. Too much because the orbit was not around you anymore, an arrangement unacceptable to you.

I wanted a love where your ending and my beginning were confused, you wanted a love where for both, you were the muse.

With water washing through every pore, I finally knew I didn’t want two you’s and no me’s.

At the beacon of sea and sky, I waved you goodbye.

You blinked,

saltwater hit your eye.

 

The Resolution Anytime

The New Year.

There’s a Chinese one, a Jewish one, the Hijri one – there are so many “New Years” in the world, but since the main one in the Western world is around the corner, I’m addressing this one in particular. Yes, the one where hundreds of thousands of people stand in freezing cold Times Square to watch a massive ball drop (trust me, tried and true: it’s better enjoyed from the warmth of your home via TV, stampedes and frozen fingers foregone).

With the New Year comes the idea that we might, since the calendar date switches up by a year, wake up a new person. New and improved, the You 6S, the Me 5G. “New Year, New Me” is all too enticing to many of us, and a good way to set some kind of transformative life goals…

… or a recipe for disappointment due to unrealistic expectations.

Guys, let’s be real – just because the New Year is coming does not mean you, your boss, your boyfriend or your parents will miraculously change (I still believe in magic in other scenarios, but this would be too easy). This is where we get to the big word of the New Year:

Resolution.

The resolution to:

  • Quit smoking (amazing intention, but then your job gets stressful again mid-January and…)
  • Take your partner on a weekend trip every month (very sweet, but easily forgotten once routine takes over)
  • Run a marathon (seriously, you people make me doubt why I have knees in the first place)
  • Give up sugar (and then that time of month hits, and NUTELLA is your best friend)
  • Wake up at 5.30 am every morning and meditate (ok but actually, try to do this one! Except maybe at 6 pm, after work…)

Branching off the last one, my yoga teacher in South India always started his meditation sessions by saying “Resolution… to… meditate”, in his slow, deep voice. The decision to do something and commit to it, is often half the battle. So in short, it is definitely wonderful to make resolutions – it shows you have the will to make a positive change in your life, and that is only commendable.

However, I would like to propose that the fact that the infamous ‘New Year’s Resolution’ is so common and almost expected from each individual, it actually diminishes the seriousness of the resolution made by most of us. Personally, I can’t remember a single New Year’s Resolution I have made, let alone kept, ever.

It’s an inescapable question at every holiday party: “So Bob, what’s your resolution? Oh yeah, I’m trying to learn Russian by February too, spasiba man, let’s do it together!” The intentions are good, but often entirely unrealistic and perhaps not really intrinsically motivated.

Reading an article in Forbes Magazine, I was stunned to learn that only 8% of the population actually achieves their resolution.

According to Forbes, simplicity and tangibility are the key factors determining the success of your resolution.

To that, I would like to add sincerity and urgency.

For instance, the most common type of resolution each year is health-related, usually to lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more. Now, if for instance you realized you were not in optimal shape in September, the lure of the New Year just gave you 3 more months to eat bacon chocolate, sit on the couch and internally tell yourself it’s ok, mañana, mañana. Come New Year, you may have let yourself go so much that it’s much harder to get motivated, and you don’t even know where to begin. You feel like it’s such a huge task, and the only thing holding you to this loose commitment now is the New Year – not an urgency to feel better, or a true commitment you made to yourself, here and now, independent of any external factors (like the ominous date) or societal expectations (no Bob, I will not learn Russian with you.)

So if you are truly committed to improving your health and felt it was a necessary change to make on September 8th, why not start on September 8th?

The relative proximity of the New Year is often an excuse to continue with certain suboptimal habits because let’s face it, change is hard, video games are more fun than studying for the GMAT, but procrastinating on something too much either means it scares you shitless, or that you are not truly committed to it. If the latter, that’s a personal choice you make, prioritize as you wish.

However, I believe a lot of us actually avoid making changes in the here and now because there is an occasion to stall the daunting jump to do something that is tough, but ultimately worth it.

As we know, most things worth having don’t come too easily.

This is where Mindfulness comes in – the only moment you have is now.
If you think about it, it’s not so different from making your happiness contingent on external factors.

“I would be so happy if only

  • I could sing well
  • I were richer
  • I were skinnier/taller/stronger
  • I had a new partner/dog/car

Etc. “

What we often don’t realize is that this attitude will never lead to happiness or true self-growth. Once you have that extra cash, you will want even more. Your new phone won’t be new for very long. It’s like with plastic surgery: People start with rhinoplasty to “fix” their noses, and once that’s done, they notice their breasts could use some tweaking, or their jawline could be a little sharper…

It’s a vicious cycle of depending on potential future moments and things to feel what we deserve to feel with very little, in our current everyday moments.

The only happiness that can be felt intrinsically, and therefore unfalteringly, is the one that is independent of external factors and conditions that have yet to be fulfilled.

This is not the same as having goals – having goals is great, wonderful. Something to work for and look forward to is, in fact, a key ingredient for most peoples’ happiness. However, instead of being happy only after a certain condition is fulfilled, we can be happy to have the will, resolution, and opportunity to work towards improving our lives, relationships, and careers. We can be fully happy on the journey of fulfilling more goals; no less than once they are fulfilled. The excitement of new possibilities, overcoming challenges and learning from life are only some of the happy thrills of the journey before the finish line.The only difference is the feeling of accomplishment, which definitely gives an extra high. However, the same level of internal happiness can remain with us even before we’ve attained our next big outward achievement.

Now look at resolutions the same way.

Love yourself for having the true desire to grow as a person. I’m rooting for all of us to keep up our self-motivated energy to aspire and inspire.

However, if your desire isn’t really intrinsic, it runs the risk of fizzling out all too fast. There was no foundation – or if there was, there was too easy of an excuse to let it crumble before it could ever become a palace.

The only time is now. Yes, even December 26th is a better time to start than January 1st. Sure, you could get four more days of pushing off your dream, big or small, but why? Will those four days of procrastinating be worth it? Or will starting because you truly want to do something, even a couple of days before the ‘big date’, just give you a little head start that might make all the difference?

Whatever you really want in life is worth starting now.

At 5 pm of the day you decide on it.

The next morning, even if it’s a Tuesday.

On January 15th, April 6th or September 2nd.

Take the New Year as a moment to manifest the good changes you have already committed to.

Smile internally, knowing you are on the right track. It’s the biggest gift you can give yourself.

Love always,

Sim

The Power of Silence

Do you ever feel exhausted after small talk, or a seemingly standard conversation?

Do you ever regret saying something because you spoke before thinking?

When was the last time you truly let yourself think?

My first year at university, I lived down the hall from a kid named Zeus, who spoke like a waterfall. He started talking before you were barely halfway through your sentence. It seemed like he thought of his responses the second you started to begin pronouncing yours.

He was very clever… and slightly annoying.

Then one day, while having a late-night chat with him, he said something that surprised me: “You know Simone, we Americans are not comfortable with silence. That’s why we say ‘like’ all the time, and we interrupt each other constantly.”

I was delighted at his recognition of a common flaw that he himself displayed so prominently. Realization is the first step to improvement! (Funnily enough, when I ran into him on the street of New York’s upper West Side one summer, he didn’t even pause to breathe as he told me he was “going to work, so crazy busy, omg, ciao!”. Hey, it’s hard to change!)

Nowadays, through technology we are constantly able to share things with people, even when we are technically alone. When we talk, we are often focused on preparing our responses more than listening to what our company is saying.

At first glance, you might wonder what the problem with this is. And in many ways, it is not such a huge problem. I like talkative people. They are entertaining, fun, bubbly. It would be quite the strange society if we all sat in absolute silence all the time.

But what if you are talking when you don’t really want to?

I believe many introverts have trained themselves to talk more due to social norms and expectations for various careers, yet it can actually be quite harmful. Let me share my own experience with this.

People don’t think I’m a quiet person, and they laugh when I tell them how shy – even uncomfortable – I feel in most social situations. They don’t believe me because I have become so good at creating an extroverted persona as it’s simply more practical when navigating the world on your own.

However, I  have noticed for a long time now that some conversations leave me excruciatingly drained. Whether they happen in person or virtually, I found, time and time again, that there were people whom speaking to left me with surprisingly low energy, and not because of what they said – because of all that I  had said.

During the month of Yoga Teacher Training in a south Indian Ashram, I finally realized that I often spoke because it was expected of me. That I didn’t want to speak as much as I did, but that it was like a reflex to talk. Kind of like eating that last cookie because it’s there, not because you really want it. Habit, and social conditioning.

One evening, a bunch of us were having a normal dinner-time talk in which I had no essential part. Yet I felt I needed to say something, since I was sitting right in the middle. What I said started a joking argument, yet I took it really personally. I got defensive and felt horrible over nothing. After dinner, I sat at the table in shock, having realized that the entire episode had been so trivial, and only sparked by a social obligation to speak.

So the next day, I went into silence for 24 hours. My friend gave me a little sticker badge she crafted with duct-tape that said “silence” and I mounted it to my shirt.

People were surprised. My Spanish friend even said “En silencio?? TUUU?!!” and laughed. That’s when I realized how much other peoples’ expectations of me to speak had been affecting my honestly desired level of speaking.

Those 24 hours of silence, I felt more calm and energetic than I could remember. I realized how much energy was drained through trivial conversation, how often we comment on things like the weather, the time of day, the smell of something – things that are so obvious and not really in need of being discussed, yet we say them to fill the silence. As I observed this around me, without partaking in it, something clicked.

Silence allows you to connect with the world on a very deep, profound, and personal level. By observing in silence, you learn, grow, and have time to think. Being one with my thoughts instead of thinking of ways to share them before they fully developed, connected me with a part of myself I had ignored for a very long time.

Of course, there are times when we speak nervously. If you, like me, have ever spoken to (unnecessarily) explain yourself, or can’t help blabbing when you’re around people you feel you need to impress in some way or are anxious around, I can only tell you it’s normal, human. It is incredibly hard to turn off the verbal sharing mode. However, the resolution to be silent, even for an afternoon, can open up a whole new world inside your beautiful, wild head, that only you have access to in those moments. It’s like a secret garden only you can enter, an intimate secret you share only with yourself.

Then when you are ready, whatever you outwardly share with others will be more thoughtful and profound, too.

Identify the people whose company allows you to share without force. And take note of when you are speaking because you have been conditioned to do so. Even if it means you share less with people – that is your absolute right. No one should expect you to be a certain way, and if you have become calmer than you used to be in the eyes of some, take it as a sign of growth and nurturing your internal world.

Try a morning, afternoon or even full day of silence. Demuéstrate cosas solo a ti mismo. Be one with your thoughts, and recharge your energies from the inside out.

Love calmly,

Simone

Travel Treasures: Gangwon-do in South Korea, Where the Sky Meets the Sea

Most of us know what feeling in love is like…

But with a place? There are few times we feel emotions of craving, longing, deep emotion and even heartbreak over a geographical location.

Gangwon-do is the province in the Northeast of South Korea, bordering North Korea, and not a place I had ever heard of before.

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That is part of the magic. I feel like the most beautiful places in the world are largely untouched, blessed by the vibrancy of the locals without the interruptions of commercialism and consumer-oriented vibes coming in.

In general, South Korea is not a country on your typical travel list. As half my ethnic heritage is Korean, this makes me a little sad (why can’t my countries be cool and popular like Japan or Thailand?) But I actually think the special ingredient to Korea’s deep beauty is its lack of overexposure. I actually remember begging my parents to take me to Tokyo (specifically Harajuku, props Gwen Stefani) during our first Korea trip, only to find myself confused by all the Hello Kitty merchandise everywhere, missing the authentic mystery of Seoul. Funnily enough, at the time I had no idea there was still so much more to Korea than its bustling metropolitan capital.

When my Imo (Korean for aunt on your mother’s side) invited me to come along to Gangwon-do, I had to Google it. It looked nice. I mostly saw pictures of trees.

Blessed to travel with my Imo and her young-at-heart (and super fit!) friends, we took off for Yongpyeong, right where the 2018 winter olympics will be held. On the way, we had the most delicious potatoes I have ever tasted. How is it that, in the countryside, things like butter corn and potatoes taste better than your most extravagant 14 dollar ice cream sundae in downtown Manhattan?

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After a 3 hour trip, we arrived and proceeded to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain in Yongpyeong. The views and foliage were just breathtaking.

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It looked like a fairytale, or the gateway to heaven, or something out of your happiest daydreams. Some famous movies were even filmed up there, as my Imo enthusiastically confirmed with the life-size actor cutouts 🙂

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The next day, we went to a beach called Jeongdongjin. It instantly reminded me of the paradise beaches in the Philippines or the Caribbean. I couldn’t believe my eyes – I had never heard of Korea having such beautiful beaches! As a sea lover, I was overwhelmed with joy and surprise. The truth is, the famous beaches like Haeundae in Busan, are not that beautiful. The East Sea is a secret tip not even known to all Koreans, but it is undisputedly the beautiful side of the peninsula, in terms of seaside landscapes.

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Amazingly, this white sand treasure is just behind Jeongdongjin Train station, which connects directly to Seoul. On the Lunar New Year, many Koreans come here to watch the “first sunrise”, as it is the exact East in relation to Seoul.

In the little town, squid is drying on clothes lines and local shops move at a sleepier, tropical pace (compared to “bali bali” Seoul!)

On the drive down, my Imo told me that, as a child, she lived with her grandfather in Gangwon-do for a couple of years after the war. I never knew this, but my great grandfather was a Makgeolli (Korean rice wine) farmer! It was meant to be. Me and rice wine and Gangwon-do, destiny had it all planned.

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So in love with this region, I had to go back. When my friend suggested we go up for 2 days, I jumped at the opportunity. Driving in his K7 (don’t laugh, I know little about cars, but this Kia is the bomb diggity), with my Reggaeton and K-pop playlist (mixed kid status right here) blasting at full volume, we rode up to Seoraksan, the most famous mountain in Korea.

We entered the national park and strolled along the base, which is an enormous forest with waterfalls, little pathways and multiple hiking paths. It would take you 10 full days to hike all of Seoraksan, even at breakneck-Korean ajumma speed. They are so fast. But Seoraksan is so big.

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Korean Shamanism believes that rocks stacked on top of each other lay a path to heaven. If your rocks are untouched at your next visit, your wish is granted.

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After walking around, we took the cable car to one of the main peaks. I know it’s cheating, but we didn’t have 10 days off work to hike! Aigo.

I was so excited about everything that ChangOh couldn’t stop laughing. He said it must be a dancer’s disease, because I was dancing even on an 80 degree incline up to the flag pole top. I don’t know about Salsa on a mountain, but I was overwhelmed by the natural beauty. Yeah Korea!

I almost cried when we got to the top. I’m sure I’ve seen beautiful things before, but perhaps my eyes where not mature enough to appreciate the beauty. Remembering the dramatic rocks contrasted by the gentle, warm sunset and fierce autumn colors still gives me the chills.

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I remember reading a story about a climber who voluntarily died on the peak of Mount Everest because being there was the fulfillment of his life. Not that I wanted to die, but I did not want to come down from the Seoraksan peak. I jokingly told ChangOh to bury me there one day, but I don’t think he quite understood. 😉

After the thrilling afternoon, we went to the local town by Yongpyeong to have dinner and rest. The food was out of this world. Spicy dried and grilled fish, seaweed soup (Miogkuk), a million side dishes (Panchan) straight from the farms. Korean food is so healthy and delicious, but Seoul’s city food pales in comparison to the freshness of the smaller towns’ and countryside’s produce. Of course this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but I was still overwhelmed by how we were able to feast, for under 10 dollars a person. This may be TMI for some of you, but only in Korea do I not have major digestive issues, thanks to all the vegetables, fermented food and lack of bread and nonexistence of dairy. Of course, the cities have now been overtaken by coffee and churro shops, and our friend MSG, but the traditional food is so, so healthy.

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The next day, I kindly (but firmly, no nonsense here), requested ChangOh to take me to the beach again. He kindly agreed, but insisted on taking me to a different beach.

Meu Deus no céu, if I thought Jeongdongjin was beautiful, Gyeongpo was that slice of paradise multiplied.

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Footsteps of multiple creatures, crystal blue and the signature Korean striking rocks as if molded by perfection and natural roughness at the same time.
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After a lunch of Seafood tofu stew and side dishes as luxurious as spicy raw crab and seaweed from the southern Jeolla province (all for just 9 dollars per person which my Swiss mind couldn’t really believe) we strolled to the expansive white sandy stretch, speckled with romantic rocking chairs.
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It was blissful to sit and watch the calm of the ocean on a mellow fall afternoon…

In the evening, we made our way back to Yeongpyong, where many shows are held and famous K-Pop bands like ‘Big Bang’ make regular performances. That night, it was an empty stage, so of course I had to go bring out my inner Beyonce/Madonna/Rihanna, but really, just a high-on-life almost-yoga-teacher dancer with the excitement of a five year old at the circus.

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The crisp nighttime mountain air reminded me of Switzerland, a surprising but welcome change from the humid Korean summer months.

On the final day, we (really, me) wanted to check out the famous sheep farm. Changoh was very excited… well he was, for the supposed sheep barbecue skewers that (luckily for me) ended up being a myth! But seriously, Koreans are funny to pretend there’s a sheep farm where in the hills, kids (and 22 year old giant kids, ahem) go pet and feed the fluffy cuties, later descending to a barbecue of the animals you just loved. Aside from Buddhist monks, Koreans don’t get the concept of vegetarianism whatsoever, and having come from a starving, war-torn past, I don’t blame them. Still… I was pretty happy we didn’t see sheep skewers. What we did see was this:

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The ‘shepherd show’ was about to start
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I love how in touch kids can get with nature in Korea. I think it’s really important for children to be exposed to animals and nature, where things come from naturally.
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🙂

Finally, it was time to drive back to Seoul.

Even the drive home was breathtaking. Korean sunsets are so steady and wide that it feels like the whole world is changing moods one breathtaking moment at a time. Just watching from the car made me emotional… and the window picture may not do it justice, but imagine seeing these colors among the stillness all around you, spanning over the horizon into the fields, away into eternal distance down the highway.

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Gangwon-do is a magical land, from another time, where you can go from striking mountain peaks to paradise beaches in 40 minutes.

They say life should be measured by the moments that take your breath away, and just in a few days, I’ve had an incredible share of just these moments.

I think many of the most beautiful places are the unknown ones, or the ones almost impossible to get to without an insider. If you are lucky enough to discover the purest of a country’s original essence, don’t hesitate…

To me, Korea is will always be the land where the sky meets the sea, glued together in eternal rotation by sunrises and sunsets otherworldly in their beauty.

Travel with your Heart,

Sim