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In response to my asking her repeated questions about where to indulge my rekindled interest in hiking, my friend Ashley bought me a day hike book for Ventura County. I was stunned at the number of trails in the area that had gone unnoticed by me. I’ve always been the kind of person that slows down, looks around, and smells the flowers, so I was surprised that I really hadn’t known that there’s a waterfall in Santa Paula, an oak forest in Point Mugu, and a seal sanctuary, a mere 12 miles north of me in Carpinteria. It dawned on me that somewhere along the way I had ceased to stop looking around my environment and had been missing all these things right under my nose. I would imagine it’s because I was busy looking at other things, as we tend to see what we are looking for, and don’t see what we are NOT looking for.

The irony is that this comes after a long week of debating a potential move to one of four places: San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, or Boston. I’ve been feeling very restless and have wanted to live in a bigger city for awhile now, even though I know I’m a small-ish town girl at heart. I’ve done my thing in, and am done with,  New York City and Denver, but these other places have always had a certain appeal to me. As it stands now, I have a strong employment prospect in Boston. An old company I did much work for in the past, has now spun off into a newer company that is doing quite well, and they contacted me and dangled a carrot. At first, I nearly said “yes” without much consideration, but then I realized two things. First, I love the work I’m doing now and second, I love the west coast. I’ve been signed up for job ads for Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco for years, but the right job never came along that could lure me from this community I’ve called “home” for 15 years. Pretty unbelievable considering I was the girl who never planned on settling down anywhere. But the magic of this place has slowly been subsiding for me over the last few years…that is until I started exploring the world around me again.

So, will a waterfall, some oak trees, and a nearby seal sanctuary be enough to keep me here forever? Probably not. But then again, the grass always seems greener somewhere else. All I know is that my happiness needs to come from inside me, and has nothing to do with where I am physically located on this planet. So, in addition to exploring the world around me more, I’ve also started exploring those things that truly make me happy from the inside out. Like taking photos of this mom seal cautiously guarding her pup, and watching my dog leap ecstatically through a field of flowers after tiny creatures. I can’t predict my future, but now that my eyes are wide open, and I’m seeing what I’ve been missing – I’m on a mission to explore as much as possible. As a result, I’m looking at the world as if for the first time and I’m excited by all there is to see.

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Dublin the Dog and I braved the beach while others remained hidden away in upper level apartments or at higher elevations throughout Ventura, after heeding weather warnings of a potential tsunami slamming the Pacific coast. After all, a little tsunami is no match for Hurricane Samara who has already left a trail of destruction wherever she’s been. So I figured, why not go face to face with the rain and wind and join the helicopters looming over the ocean waters of Ventura, in hopes of glimpsing one of Mother Nature’s most devastating forces. So here we were, woman with wildly wind-swept hair and canine with hilariously wind-swept ears, watching the tiniest of waves tumbling under a dark, stormy sky. Would a huge monster of a wave rise from the sediment-laden turbulence of the Pacific Ocean? Would we be suddenly thrust onto the ocean floor, as a whirl of buildings and cars floated above us? Would we see our house, steadily losing buoyancy, drop down beside us – as the contents of our simple lives spilled forth from the windows, doors, and chimney? Would the dozens upon dozens of heart-shaped rocks I’ve salvaged from the beach over the years also pour out from our once firmly-planted dwelling, to be rightly returned to the deep, blue waters from which they came? Caught up in the fascination of it all, I was jolted back into reality upon returning to my house and finding it upright and unchanged. Of course, this reality is a good thing, but I still can’t suppress the excitement I feel whenever Mother Nature takes control. I’ve always hoped that when I die it will be by some trick from her magically powerful hands. I’m just glad it didn’t happen today. 🙂

My friend James has a favorite quote. “If you live long enough, you’ll eventually lose everything you love.” Some may think that’s depressing, but I find it inspiring, and to know James, is to know he does too. It forces us to look at love as the center of the universe. To hang onto it for all it’s worth, for as long as we possibly can. To rethink the traps we get ourselves into that keep out love. Fortunately, I haven’t lived so long that all love is lost. I’ve got a chance to build a stockpile. And who wouldn’t want a stockpile of love?

I met a wonderful woman yesterday – the kind of person I would date, if she were a man, or if I dated women.  This young lady, Brandy, had wisdom beyond her 29 years and we had an instant rapport and understanding of one another that seemed to spring from our  tumultuous upbringings and life tragedies.  Our meeting was in every way, shape, and form a working of the universe.  Universe working #1: A friend had canceled lunch plans with me at the last minute, so I decided to take Dublin the Dog to the park. Universe working #2: For some reason, instead of putting Dublin into the car after our park visit was over, I leashed her and started walking toward downtown – a walk I’ve never done in the 15 years I’ve lived in this town.   Universe working #3: I was starving, but had no one to watch Dublin while I ran inside a nearby restaurant to place my order. Brandy, sensing my apprehension as I looked back at Dublin tied to a tree, offered to stand guard. Universe working #4: After sitting down at the outdoor table next to Brandy’s, we chatted briefly about dogs and she said something that hit a nerve and sparked a more emotional conversation. Before I knew it, she was moving over to my table and before we both knew it, two hours had passed rather quickly.

My conversation with Brandy was one of the most deeply reflective, bonding moments I’ve had with anyone in a long time. Never one to judge a book by its cover, I did wonder, however, how other people would respond to Brandy upon first meeting her. She’s a beautiful girl, with the most incredible green eyes, and she just happens to have piercings in her nose and lip. Her face is framed by ringlets of multicolored hair, and she wears the attire of the youth neo-punk movement – all black with an assortment of silver bangles. On that particular day, she wore very large rings on every finger, and at some point through lunch I noticed that they were covering tattoos on all her fingers. I wondered at the time if the tattoos were something she regretted and was now relegated to covered them with jewelry, or if she just wore the rings every now and then. I never asked, because to me it wasn’t important, but I did wonder if ignorant, conservative-types would tend to stereotype this very intelligent young woman based on appearance alone.

What was so refreshing about Brandy was that she, like me, has a kindness to others that extends beyond the surface. At one point during our meeting, a man with a guitar and large duffel bag staggered up to us, asking for the nearest convenience store. I gave him directions one way, but Brandy knew something a little closer, which I’m sure he appreciated since he was on foot with quite a heavy load.  He was obviously without some mental faculties, but was together enough to have manners, and as he gave us a very warm thank-you, I couldn’t help but wonder how he sounded on that guitar. About a half-hour later he came passing by again from behind me and as he walked back into the street he shouted to me “I love your hair” and then said to both of us “you’re beautiful people, wonderful people. Thank you.” I got to thinking how this guitar man was probably rarely treated with respect, and that our simple act of providing directions made him feel more human.

This exchange had me very inspired, and I thought it interesting that it should happen on this day of all days – the day I had finally started research for a documentary film I’ve wanted to do for years – pets of the homeless. One of the arguments in support of pets as companions for the homeless is that the bond inspires the person to survive and brings light into an otherwise dark existence. Arguments against the relationship say it’s bad for the animal and can create a public nuisance, largely because of the bully breed types of dogs often involved. Obviously, the truth is going to be different on a case-by-case basis. I found myself wondering how guitar man would fare on the streets with a dog, and I mentioned something to Brandy about the start of my research. Brandy told me she knew lots of people who were homeless with pets in Oakland (where she lives) and that she considered them friends. She has two young rescue dogs who she loves to no end, and having been homeless herself a few years back, I imagine she would have been a wonderful pet caretaker even during her time of need – had she had dogs at the time. I found myself wanting to hop on a plane to Oakland as soon as possible to interview some of Brandy’s friends and learn more about this topic that has intrigued me for so long. I made a mental note that these would be the first round of interviews I’d complete next month. The big draw, of course, would be that I could visit with Brandy more, experience her wisdom again, and hopefully provide insight and comfort to her as well, as we traded more life stories.

It was starting to get dark and I still had to make my way back up the hill to my car. Brandy had to get back to her parent’s, who she was visiting for her birthday week, to welcome her boyfriend to town. So, we traded contact info, hugged each other a couple times, and promised to stay in touch. As I walked up the street, I turned back to get one last look at Brandy. She had ran into a couple friends on the street and was greeting them with her brilliant smile, which in turn made me smile. I continued up the street until I had passed a row of buildings and could see the ocean gleaming under a brilliant sunset. I thought to myself, what a perfect way to end this surprisingly beautiful day.

Somewhere along the way we started collecting “friends” like we collect material possessions. Even that person who would publicly thumb his/her nose at the mere suggestion of this, secretly covets the increasing blue number, and makes it a point to check a “friend’s” count almost immediately upon making a connection. By now, you have no doubt noticed the quotations I’ve placed around “friends” twice – well, three times. Now granted, the definition of “friend” (ha, ha, there I go again) is different to everyone, but let me remind you that Facebook is NOT called Friendbook. That’s because, in reality,  it’s just a collection of faces, most of them blurs on the wall, with only vague memories attached. When this becomes painfully apparent is, not surprisingly, during personal crisis. All of sudden the number of posts on your wall go way down, but the posts on other “friends'” (snicker) walls in regards to you, go way up. First there are the overly concerned posts. “Is he OK? Has she gone crazy? Is he a danger to herself or to others? Oh, it’s so sad about her.” Then, there are the obviously in bad taste posts. “Well, it was just a matter of time. He deserved better. She deserved better. I always knew he’d break down.” I can almost recite the exact list of people who are calling me cynical right now, and I can safely say that these people are NOT my friends – and I’m perfectly ok with that.

So, why my sudden change of heart? Was I not an avid Facebook user up until about a week ago? Am I bitter? Maybe a little. But, it’s my own fault because I knew what I was getting into from the beginning. In fact, I stuck to my plan to NOT accept every friend request, especially for those people I had no memory of what-so-ever, and I was perfectly fine demoting people to acquaintances, instead of  friends, if only in my own mind. So, I felt I had an understanding of sorts in this process of selling my soul to the devil. But, truth be told, I got lost in the myth of it all – the promise of a big family of like-minded individuals, with common interests and a goal to achieve common good. I mean, after all, Facebook does have its Cause pages that help spread the word about fundraisers and the like. And, in all reality, I got lost in the purely voyeuristic, shallow explorations, that define Facebook. It was fun to have an audience for witty banter, and to connect with people over day to day trivial things. It took me out of the everyday stresses of real life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, it’s just not for me anymore, because I see how at the 11th hour, I don’t want to live my life on a stage where the crowd is just a see of empty faces. I want real friends, who provide real support…and I have that in spades, beyond the pages of Fakebook. Pardon me, I mean Facebook.

Will I ever return to Facebook? The hypocrite in me thinks, probably, when my life is something I’m again proud to share with others, or when my emotional sensibilities are no longer compromised. The realist in me, however, would prefer to leave it behind for good and salvage what extra time I have in a day for spending with close friends (those who won’t write me off after this post), and working directly on the philanthropic causes that are so close to my heart. In the end, we’ll see who wins out – the hypocrite or the realist. But for now, I plan on going about my life as I did before there was Facebook, and a “friend” was simply a friend.

The Philosopher

Samara Iodice is a writer, multimedia producer, and hobby musician living in Southern California. She has created marketing and training productions for such clients as London Business School, the U.S. Navy, Rice University, Southern California Edison, and WellPoint. She is currently employed as a Training Producer for lynda.com. In her spare time she is a self-confessed photography addict and loves walking for miles and miles with her very silly cattle dog, Dublin. She is also a dedicated environmentalist and animal welfare advocate. Find out more at www.samaraiodice.com.

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