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Forgiveness on Christmas: Letters from a Non-Believer

Every year I run from Christmas. 

It terrifies me. The shameless consumerism, the pressure to buy gifts and to spend time with everyone–jumping from party to party to fit everything in. It’s emotionally (and financially) exhausting, and so I run. I run emotionally, distancing myself from the songs, movies, shopping, togetherness–what you might call an all-or-none phenomenon. But this year, instead of running emotionally (although that definitely played a part), I ran physically. As soon as I finished my last exam, I booked the cheapest one-way out of the States, and two days later, I found myself in Montezuma, Costa Rica—a sleepy surf town on the Pacific with as many dreadheads as stray dogs (it’s a lot). And I haven’t left yet.

It was a sigh of relief arriving here, where year-round sand and sun obscure any semblance of season. No Christmas trees, no snow, no crazies pushing their Reason-for-the-Season pamphlets at you outside the bar. And the relief this initially brought gave way to something quite unexpected—a connection with the Christmas Spirit! The Macy’s ads, Bing Crosby croons and Hallmark Originals strangle out any pretense of emotion (aside from irritation) that I could have felt back home, but underneath the black hole of what is Christmas-in-America, there truly is a feeling to this time of year. There must be, if I’m feeling it all the way out here.

From a strictly agnostic standpoint, it is a time of shorter days, colder temperatures, and death. It is a time when we hunker down with the closest people in our lives and are grateful for each other and what we have, for we are reminded by the browning leaves outside that life is fleeting. We reflect on the thoughts, encounters, and experiences of the past year, wondering what could have gone better, what we’d rather not repeat in the year to come. It is a very powerful time, a time to allow death of the aspects of our lives that no longer serve us, to let go of past grievances and screw-ups, and to start the next cycle cleansed. And the only way to do this is to forgive—and forget.

So this year, I am holding a funeral for the grudges and heartbreaks, the fuckups and embarrassments.

I am saying my final goodbyes to the people I hurt and the people who hurt me, the shit which hit the fan, the mistakes I made, the love I missed out on. Readers, hopefully you can find something in these letters to which you can relate. And if not, I urge you to address those special people and situations from your 2017, to forgive yourself and them, and then burn those letters, or set them out to sea, or publish them on the interwebs for the entire world to behold (me). Because if you start a fire in the darkness, you’ll have the light to move forward.

To my family,

I forgive you for misunderstanding me. All you want is to make me part of your world, but you don’t understand that my world is very different from yours—that our most fundamental views on life lie on opposite sides of the seesaw. To me, this is cause for strife, tension, and the desire for distance. You love me so much, but I am afraid to show you who I really am, for I fear you wouldn’t love that person the same way. Every time we’re together, I am relegated to the youngest child, in need guidance from the rest of the family.

Who is lost. Who is naïve.

I have never felt more myself than when we are apart. In fact, I feel strangled when I’m with you, as this identity you attribute to me is nothing like the one I have worked so hard to create for myself—and it’s fragile. I push you away because I reject the identity of the person you knew me as when I was younger. But I know you love me more than I am afraid to consider, and even though you frustrate and sadden me, I know you would be there for me when nobody else is. And for all the arguments, heartache and confusion this has caused me, I owe you forgiveness. Ultimately, all you want is to love me, include me, and be part of my life. So I forgive you for going about it in the wrong ways because these are the only ways you know, and I know that above all else, your intentions are good. And of course, I love you back. Even from afar.

With love,

Becca of 2018

To my Exes of 2017,

I forgive you for the pain you have caused. I forgive you because I know you too are afraid to be vulnerable, and this past year has instilled a similar fear in me. I forgive you for the brick wall you built around yourself and refused to let me enter. I forgive you for kicking me out, even when I thought I was making headway. You were only protecting yourself, your heart. You tried to be kind in the aftermath, but emotions are intoxicating, so for the times that you were less than kind, I forgive you. I forgive you because fear, confusion and past heartbreak make giving yourself to another difficult and scary. They are also what make us human.

I forgive you for being human.

We are all guilty of dragging casualties into our problems, and if I were to fault you for this, I would be a hypocrite. I forgive you for being selfish because even though loyalty to your values occasionally manifested in miscommunication, manipulation, and flat-out ill will, I can forgive you because I see myself in you, and I know you never meant to hurt, only to protect Numero Uno. I must also do this. The emotional rollercoaster you drove me down has taught me many lessons which I continue to learn, foremost of which is the importance of nurturing myself before others and being very careful who I allow in to this sacred space of self. You taught me never to compromise who I am, for if that’s what it takes to attract someone like you, then you aren’t right for me, and we must blossom into something beautiful yet apart from each other. I hope for the best for you. I hope that you may unearth and understand your feelings about relationships, love and loss, and that whatever troubles you may come to pass. I forgive you as I let you go, and I wish you fair seas on your way out of my heart.

With love,

Becca of 2018

To Becca of 2017,

I forgive you. I forgive you for the times you put yourself above the ones you love, and for being callous to the ones who tried to give their love to you. I forgive you for pushing your family away, and for the stress this caused, because you only meant to take care of yourself. I forgive and let go of the embarrassments because you were only trying to be funny, or kind, and most of the time that works out all right. I forgive you for running away when life got too hard, for pushing away when life got too close. I believe that you are kind, and I believe that you want harmony in your relationships and happiness in your life. I forgive you for the times you acted in contradiction to this, knowingly or unknowingly. You care to succeed, and you can, so I forgive you for the times when adventure and excitement got in the way of your vision. I forgive you for the times you were less than kind to your body. I forgive you for the times you tested karma, for more often than not it tested you back. I forgive you for the times you strayed from the path because I know you always find your way back—that’s who you are. I forgive you for allowing how others see you define how you see yourself. I forgive you for anger and regret, for unexplained sadness and intentional cruelty. I forgive you because I love you and want what is best for you, and I know the only way to achieve this is to forgive, and to move on.

With love, 

Becca of 2018 

 

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ART Parties this Month

ARTpool is at it again with more artastic parties this summer than ever! Don’t miss Comic Cosmos, an Intergalactic Fashion and Art Extravaganza, this weekend.

ARTpool Gallery is located on Central Avenue across from Haslam’s Bookstore (2030 Central Ave).

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ARTpool Gallery

In just a few short years ARTpool has turned St. Pete into the thriving Artropolous it is today.

It cgan as a small space bringing just a hint of vintage fun to the Burg. From fashion and local artwork all the way to vinyls and craft beer, this place truly has it all. Marina Williams, shop owner/ artist/certified bad ass, opened 10995467_1000849996594656_8043395511841834303_nARTpool after moving back home to Florida from London, England at the age of 23. She was seeking a unique, fun, out-of-the-box space to showcase her art.

“I decided to create my own world of art, music, fashion, where I could allow artistic collaboration on a monthly basis. I always knew I wanted to have a shop, but opening it at 23 was quite the adventure, and it has been a wild and wonderful time.”

The space is prime: big, spacious and overflowing with all things awesome. Upon entering, one is instantly transported into a sea of color, fabric, quirky art, and absurdities that make this place truly special. It would take you months to sort through their entire stock, and believe me, you’ll want to. If Marina would let me, I’d move in, curl up under a pile of some of their fabulous fur coats and call it a day. If fashion is less your scene, or you just need a break from the fantastic, you can head out to the courtyard—teeming with plants and eccentric must-haves for your garden—and sit down with a local beer and an artisan sandwich (I recommend “The Marina”). Or, meander over to the other half of the store where Evan, Marina’s boyfriend and partner-in-and-out-of-crime houses his epic collection of records.

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And let’s not forget the essential assistance of Marina’s tres fabulous mother, Becky, who eternally sports a smile and outrageous outfit. “She is so wonderful and I couldn’t do it without her.” You’ll probably also meet Franklin, the truest and furriest ruler of the roost. You can even find him on Instagram @franklintheschnauzer. Worthy of a follow.

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One of the best, most unique qualities of ARTpool is the sense of community it fosters—bringing together people from all walks to share, love, and experience local art with an endless flow of art- and community-friendly events.“We have monthly art shows, artists’ wall space, monthly outdoor pop up markets, design challenges…it is so fun being part of the Renaissance of downtown St. Pete and its creative community.” (See events page for the full list!)

And ARTpool throws some pretty bad ass parties, generally centered around a funky sort of fashion show with a giant runway erected in the courtyard and volunteer models who really strut their stuff (be it costumes or skivvies!). You couldn’t ask for a groovier group of people to surround yourself with on a Saturday night. Might just be worth the admission fee (usually $10-$20).

St. Petersburg is a place of community, dreams, and above all: love. So it’s only natural that such a place, which embellishes all of these qualities, would make it all the way to the top. “Encouraging and supporting others by providing a meeting place for the DIY, indie art and emerging art community has been a vital part of my vision. I am a complete dreamer but also a do-er. That is the most important thing: the blending of envisioning and accomplishing. If we don’t try, we will never succeed.”
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Bandit Coffee Co.

The graceful minimalism of Bandit’s decor, right down to their gorgeous, caffeinated creations, brings one word to mind: artful. Stepping in to the shop off Central Avenue transports you into a bright, clean space of black and white. A swath of window occupies the entire street wall, allowing studiers and socializers to gaze into the vacant eyes of Casita Taqueria’s sugar skulls or to post up at a table and simply enjoy the sunlight pouring in. There’s no outside seating, but hopefully that’s on the to-do list for the future.

At Bandit, every cup of coffee is art.

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Drinks are served in glass cups of varying shapes and sizes so imbibers may savor with their eyes even before the first sip. The menu at Bandit is presented as minimally as the rest of their design, with options laid out simply from “espresso” or “espresso + milk” to hot coffee or cold brew. Don’t hesitate to ask the friendly, black-clad staff anything about their offerings: they know their shit and are happy to share.

Cold brew so silky you'll forget to add cream.

Cold brew so silky you’ll forget cream

Cappuccinos, mochas, and the like aren’t on the menu but can be made (awesomely), if you ask. Prices range from $3 for espresso or loose leaf tea to $4 for anything more substantial—including a bubbly glass of Mother Kombucha on tap! Two varieties of cold brew are also on tap— one of which is a nitro-infused pressure brew for the creamiest cuppa joe you’ve ever had. All their coffees are single origin (as opposed to blends) and are prepared by some of the best bean roasters around the country—including King Coffee from Tampa. You won’t find that bitter roast á la Starbucks here—everything I’ve tried has been well-rounded and smooth, if not downright creamy. Don’t do coffee? Don’t despair! In addition to loose leaf tea and kombucha, Bandit has a cooler full of non-caffeinated beverages in cans and bottles, like fruit flavored San Pellegrino.

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Although coffee is the clear focus here, Bandit also offers a limited selection of baked goods from local businesses such as The Hole Donuts and Craft Kafe (both with vegan options!). In a world of conglomerate coffee take-overs, it’s nice to see a local coffee shop actually committed to the city they’re representing. Their half and half is locally sourced, and they recycle (did you hear that, Kahwa?). Plus, anytime a customer provides their own cup, their coffee is only $2. To-go cups are an additional $0.25. So stick around, learn a thing or two about coffee, make a friend, or peer into the heart of the Burg and contemplate your place within it. Bandit has, and they’ve fit right in.

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Pour overs in Erlenmeyer flasks: need I say more?

 

 

 

 

Bandit Coffee is located on 2662 Central Ave and is open every day from 8-6.

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Trails (and Tribulations) of the Burg

In addition to a poppin’ downtown scene, did you know St. Pete has nature? Get your blades, kayaks, and canines ready, ’cause here’s the lowdown on the best nature and fitness trails in the area.

These friendly green signs mark official city trails

These friendly green signs mark official city trails

 

  1. The Pinellas Trail

The PT is 38.2 miles of trail running entirely within—you guessed it—Pinellas County. The trailheads are in Tarpon Springs and south St. Pete, but you can hop on anywhere along the way. The trail is all pavement, with occasional overpasses above roads that are a real bitch to go up and super fun to go down–I guess that’s a Floridian’s perspective on hills. It’s mostly shaded, running alongside small neighborhoods, but some parts get a little sketchy to do alone, especially at night. Still, a fun way to get out for runners, bladers, bikers, and skaters. Dogs are welcome, and it’s free!

Bayway section of the PT

Bayway portion of the PT

  1. Skyway Trail

The ST is technically the latest addition to the Pinellas Trail, but parts of it are so nice it deserves its own category. The trail branches off the PT around 34th Ave S and 43rd Street and runs east, opening up into the epic Clam Bayou—a protected natural estuary that will have you wondering how you missed the time machine. The trail runs past Twin Brooks golf course on 22nd Ave S and up towards 7th Ave S where it merges with the PT once again. From there, you can take it south towards Pinellas Point and, erm, the Skyway (think shady, freshly paved bike lanes and bike paths, and the intermittent overpass along the way)—or north to downtown. Did someone say brunch??

View from Clam Bayou

  1. Weedon Island

WI is a nature preserve by the St. Pete side of Gandy Bridge. The trails themselves are dirt paths through mostly mangrove woods with occasional boardwalks and lookout towers. It’s a nice place to hike and run, and there are even launch points along the way for kayaking and paddle boarding. Although the actual preserve would be tough for people on wheels, leading up to the trailhead is a beautiful swath of road that’s relatively quiet, which makes a killer longboarding, cycling, or blading spot. Pets welcome and freee.

  1. Boyd Hill

Boyd Hill is located in south St. Pete towards the end of 9th street. It’s also a nature preserve, and it’s the only place on here that is not pet friendly. It’s one to see, covering 245 acres and three miles of trails through mangrove forests, woods, and sawgrass. Be on the lookout for deer, coyotes, tortoises, and osprey. It has picnic areas and, erm, playgrounds, and the ranger center has an aviary attached where you can see some pretty sweet hawks. The whole thing runs around Lake Maggiore, which you can take canoes and kayaks on with park permission. Although beware of gators. Chomp. Sometimes the rangers even do night hikes, where they will lead you through the preserve and point out constellations, night sounds, and nocturnal animals. Admission is $3, and the park is closed on Mondays.

  1. Fort DeSoto
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Beachfront picnic area at Ft. DeSoto’s North Beach

Ft. DeSoto is a nature preserve built around an old Spanish colonial naval fort. The fort itself is underwhelming, but with the $5 park admission you have access to two pristine beaches (one ranked among America’s top 10 beaches), a kayak rental and access to mangrove islands, fishing piers, cookout pits, a dog park and dog beach, and 12 miles of paved trail. There’s just one gift shop/snack bar, which is a refreshment from the beach bars and Spring Breakers cluttering St. Pete Beach. Here, you can rent four-person bikes and other strange looking means of exercise. There are launch spots for those who already have a kayak or paddle board, as well, and it’s possible to explore little islands and open water all the way past Shell Key. FDS even has campgrounds, which need to be reserved in advance or at the station. The park closes at sundown.

  1. Puryear Park

Puryear Park, home to about a thousand kids’ soccer leagues and at least half that many playgrounds, also has some pretty sweet perks for those who have already graduated middle school. For one, there’s a dirt trail measuring a little over one mile that runs around the perimeter of the park. It’s relatively quiet, with water fountains along the way and intermittent paved areas. Careful not to venture too far from the trail, though, or to use it alone after dark, as some homeless folk have come to claim the mangroves in the back of the park as their home, and you may just stumble upon a dilapidated couch or some used condoms. Sweet. As an added bonus, though, Puryear also has clay tennis courts and concrete squash courts to the north side of the park—all free. Score! The park is on 57th Ave N and just off of 1st street.

  1. Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake Park, so called because of the crescent-shaped lake occupying its center, is a quaint little patch of nature located off 22nd Ave N and 4th Street (behind Panera Bread and Outback Steakhouse). There are multiple sidewalks running around its perimeter, the longest of which is about 1.5 miles around. It’s narrow, though, and frequented by dog walkers and strollers, so it’d probably be obnoxious to take a bike on—also may be a little uneven for blading or skating. Still, it’s a great place for a run or walk, with pleasant views of the lake and huge, ancient trees, and excellent bird watching—but don’t piss off the geese. There is also ample green space for throwing a Frisbee, picnicking, or an intimate day with Fido. Bonus: the park has clay tennis courts at the back, a big ol’ playground (we’re not judging…), and plenty of benches for ruminating.