Couch #14 belongs to Zeeva. The carpet and the couch were purchased for her Bashtet Movement Arts Studio, while she was still blind. She went with a photographer and artist friend of hers to the furniture stores on La Cienega. Using a color chart, Zeeva’s friend named the colors and described the patterns to her. She also felt the carpet. She told the salesman that she was teaching belly dancing and yoga and he was thrilled. Because he was thrilled, Zeeva did a belly dance across the carpet. The couch is comfortable. It was purchased for guests to sleep on. The Yogi Balananda held a peace meditation at Bashtet while sitting on this couch. Zeeva lives in Agua Dulce, an unincorporated rural area 45 miles north of Los Angeles. She lives in the house she bought for her mother before she passed away. Zeeva lives there with two cats. Zeeva is an artist, a dancer, a peak performance specialist. She is all about inspiration and empowerment. People need to know that they can be well and beat unbeatable odds. She is a testimonial for holistic health and wellness professionals who can help people get well. Zeeva is ready for love and to be love. Zeeva draws, paints, dances, hikes, and enjoys getting together with a small handful of friends with who she can share real quality time. She also has a passion for other creative arts including drawing, sculpting as well as music, poetry, and theatre. Zeeva also is interested in mythology. Zeeva is supposed to be permanently blind, permanently brain damaged, and permanently disabled due to an injury. She lived that way for 5 1/2 years. We are Facebook friends and met when I showed up at her house the day I was sleeping on her couch. When she was brain injured she could not listen to a lot of music, because the input was to overwhelming for her brain. Recently, a friend gave her a sampling of music that missed during that time, including a jazz remix of “Torch of Freedom”. That version has the lyric “I was blind and now I see”, which obviously strikes a chord in her. Zeeva likes peaches and reminded me that it is the season for peaches. Ripe, juicy peaches. Her favorite films include “Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Red Shoes”, and “Bagdad Cafe”. Zeeva is inspired by the project and thinks it will be healing for me. Zeeva lives in state of divine grace and optimistic realism.
Okay, so where was I? I had just returned to Downtown Los Angeles with Indira after a day at the farm. As it was already late in the day, I immediately got into my car and headed for my next couch. I would once again be heading out of Los Angeles to spend the day with Zeeva at her home in Agua Dulce. I texted her that I was on my way and got back on the highway. Despite being in a rural area, it wasn’t a terribly long trip from Los Angeles. As Indira had done all the driving to the farm and back, I was fine with distance. Once I was off the freeway, it was a scenic drive past the Vasquez Rocks, which have been featured in many a movie and television show, including Star Trek (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasquez_Rocks). After some twists and turns landing me on a couple of dirt roads, I arrived at Zeeva’s place. She calls her place Helicon, referring to the old Greek mythological place where the Muses dwell and dance. Being a dancer, it seemed appropriate. Z had just arrived home herself and was unloading some things from her car when I pulled up. I did the same, bringing my things into the house. She offered me a cold beverage and given the choice, I had a beer. As you recall, I had been ill recently and other than the beer at the Mexican place in Tehachapi, I hadn’t had a drop to drink, so this sounded great. Aqua Dulce is pretty hot and deserty, but it was the evening at this point and so I took my beer and Zeeva and I headed outside to enjoy the cool evening air.
It was at this point that she started to tell me her story. You see, Zeeva had an acute toxic brain injury which caused her to be what some believed was permanently blind, permanently brain damaged , and permanently disabled. How was she injured, you ask? Well, in late 1997 she was living in an artists community in downtown Los Angeles. It seems that there was to be an art exhibit in the gallery on-site and as part of that exhibit, asphalt was to be put down on the floor, inside. Now, I’m no expert, but I know that asphalt is a toxic substance that in the mildest of exposures in an exterior environment, can cause terrible headaches. With repeated and continuous exposure, it can even lead to cancer. So, putting it down inside a building without proper ventilation is not advised. Doing so without notifying nearby tenants and neighbors is just wrong. Zeeva was not notified when this asphalt was being installed and breathed in the fumes while she slept. This is how she was toxically injured. It was these neurotoxins that caused her to go blind. She lived like this for 5 1/2 years until she was able find a way to cure herself and regain her sight. But how did that all happen? Zeeva is dancer and artist born of a mother who worked at the United Nations and a father who was a medical doctor. She had lived in the shadow of her father and learned some of things that he had learned. She is also a peak performance specialist and wellness expert. Zeeva believes in the power of the body, the mind, and the spirit. So, when she became blind, she took that knowledge and those methods and went to work. She temporarily moved out of her place and in with a friend. She got in touch with the Braille Institute and received assistance in getting a computer that could talk to her. It was with that tool and the help of her friends that she began to research how to cure the injury that she had. That led her to Dr. Hershel Toomin, a pioneer in Biofeedback. His methods, especially oxygen therapy, began to relieve the symptoms, but more needed to be done. Eventually this would lead her to an oxygen clinic in Mexico and this therapy would eventually cure her. But that’s the short version of this story. If you want to read more about it you can find out more by going to zeeva.net.
I found the whole story incredible. How could this happen? And how could there be such disregard for what had happened? In addition to having to adjust to being blind and disabled, she also had to fight to be believed. Those who were responsible were naturally doubtful that they had caused such an injury. After all, no one else got sick. Well, that’s because no one else was there, as I understand it. But then there were people who were friends or acquaintances that drifted away. It was unbelievable to me that people would choose to give into their fears rather than stand up for what was right. Not that everyone was like that. Some good friends helped her out and supported her. And she made new friends as well. All that, along with her own strength helped her through. I really don’t know if I could have done it.
Zeeva didn’t just tell me about her injury and how she managed to get well again, she told me about dancing in City Council chambers in April 2003 on the International Day of Dance. She was still blind at the time. Zeeva told me about her house and the work she had done both with her ex and on her own to make it a home. Zeeva had initially bought this home as a place for her elderly mother to live. Her mother had been living back east and could no longer take care of herself, so Zeeva had bought this place for her. Unfortunately, her mother would never live there. She told me about the family issues that circled around her at the time that her mother was dying. And Zeeva told me about how after finally getting her sight back both how easy and how difficult it was to travel back and forth and care for her mother. I can’t imagine how you go from dealing with one challenge, and still dealing with it, to dealing with another. As I believe Zeeva said it, part of the reason she got her sight back was so that she could deal with her mother in her final days.
Zeeva also told me about Bashtet Movement Arts Studio that she started while she was still injured. Dance was not the only thing taught there, but also classes in yoga, pilates, as well as aromatherapy. She also worked as guide at The Getty while still unable to see. Yes, she was a blind guide. She knew much of the work so well, that she was able to give much of the tour from memory. She told me about the work she did at the Downtown Neighborhood Council which eventually led to the establishment Gallery Row. I was in awe as she told me these stories. I can’t picture myself doing half of them. It’s definitely motivating.
Zeeva told me about what it was like to get her sight back after not having it for so long. I heard about the joy of seeing the faces of friends that she had never seen. And there were the little things too. Computers and technology had come a long way while she was blind and things like digital billboards were quite a shock. She discussed the newsletter that she sent out when she became inundated with requests to share her story and share her knowledge. Doing this newsletter led to her writing her book, “Zeeva® the Art of Wellness: the TRUE Story of How Z Got Well Again and You Can Too!” which she will be available soon.
We discussed the war in Iraq and how the use of certain weapons and chemicals is causing injuries, similar to hers, to soldiers and civilians alike. We also discussed the oil spill in the Gulf and not only the affects on the wildlife but also the people in the area. The oil is getting into the water and that water gets into the ground. All of these things are interconnected and none of this should be ignored.
Zeeva told me about further issues she had with her previous residence, a loft downtown. Some work inside the building had been done shoddily and eventually the home owners association with her leading the way, would go to court to get the money to make the necessary repairs. Then she would further tell me how while she was dealing with her dying mother, the same home owners association would not get the necessary repairs completed within that budget, thereby making her space almost unable to be sold. Yes, she had just gotten her sight back, her mother was dying, and the homeowners association she had helped was now giving her short end of the stick. Nevertheless, while still battling them Zeeva would eventually sell the property.
Zeeva told me of her desire to her house in a creative retreat where artists could come and stay. A place where seminars could be held and gatherings could take place. She also told me of her difficulties with her bank and her struggle to be able to keep the property as refinancing laws and rules changed around her. Dealing with my own financial issues and understanding the state of the economy, I completely felt for her. It’s hard these days. It’s really hard. We discussed using Kickstarter to fund one’s creative project. Something that I will likely have to do with this project if I can’t get a publisher attached. Zeeva and I discussed her cowboy boots and how she wore a different pair everyday when she was in court fighting to get her loft repaired. We talked about getting older, dating, and growing up.
All this went on while Z and I sat outside and snacked on tortilla chips and salsa. I watched the bluebirds fly around. Zeeva noticed the hummingbirds in the plants behind me. Small little lizard creatures ran on the ground nearby. The sun set and it and Z entertained me with her stories including one that involved Yves St. Laurent, a subject which had come up before, and would come up again on my journey. I don’t remember why his name came up, but I’m guessing that Zeeva can comment on that. It might have had something to do with aroma therapy and the power of essential oils, but I can’t be sure. There are lots of recurring themes on this journey. Before I knew it, it was getting dark and getting late, and there was a chill in the air. Hunger was also starting to set in, which after being sick for a few days, was a good sign. We headed inside for dinner . Short ribs with broccoli and rice were on the menu. Zeeva prepared dinner while continuing her stories. I sat on a stool nearby and listened attentively.
I forget the order of all of the stories and as I was listening more than note taking, I can’t exactly rely on the order of my notes. Some of the discussions happened while we sat outside and others during dinner. I do know that further discussions revolved around living in the Arts District as well as projects that Zeeva had worked including bookcases with masks mounted on them representing earth, fire, water, and air. She still had these and would show me them the next day. Anyway, after an evening of hearing about her life and after just having recovered from being ill, it was time for bed. We finished up our discussion and Zeeva got the couch ready for me. But there was last thing I needed to do. Zeeva told me that I couldn’t go to bed without taking one last short walk outside to look at the stars. Although I was exhausted, I couldn’t say no to that. In my stocking feet, I walked out the door and looked up. With no city lights to pollute the sky, it was wonderous. You could see so much. I remember seeing the Big Dipper…or maybe it was the Little Dipper. Perhaps it was both. I saw Orion’s belt. That is it, right, Orion’s belt? It’s been so long since stared at the night sky like that that I can’t remember which constellation is which. Regardless, it was amazing. I only wish I had not been so tired as I may have sat out there longer. While I was out there, I did see a shooting star however. And, as I always do, I closed my eyes and made a wish. I then walked inside and fell asleep as soon my head hit the pillow.
I don’t recall what time I woke, but I do remember sleeping quite well. It was a quiet night with the exception of hearing some coyotes baying in the middle of the night. Apparently they ran by Marguerite, the donkey at nearby farm, which loudly hee-hawed as well. I was definitely not in Los Angeles. It was almost surreal. The house was large enough that even when Z was up and going about her work, I didn’t even stir. I woke up and as I moved about, Zeeva heard me and informed that coffee was ready. She offered to make breakfast, but as I was still nervous about getting sick again, I stuck to having a banana instead. Once I was up and about, and with my camera in hand, Zeeva began telling me more stories, as I documented many of them in photographs. We talked about her cats, Sabrina and Scary Kitty. Scary Kitty would run every time you would get near her. Z told me about Pyewacket and Willow, two of her cats no longer with us. Being a cat person, I understood that loss. She also told me about her neighbors and how there is a lot of distrust among them out there. Zeeva has had a few runs with some of them and has also broken through to a few of them. Kindness and politeness wasn’t always their first instinct. Zeeva showed me some artwork around her place including a portrait of her done by Matt Aston and some mythological Russian artwork depicting the phoenix rising from the flames. Zeeva is that phoenix. She has had to rise from the ashes numerous times. Zeeva also told me more about dealing with being blind. One of the more interesting things was our discussion of simply crossing the street. She told me that she would count her steps from one side to the next. The narrower streets were usually 28 steps and the wider ones were 33. It’s the little details that fascinate me.
As I was receiving the tour, I noticed that it was getting to be late morning. I still had to drive back to Los Angeles as well as take a shower and run some errands. I hadn’t done much since Thursday and as I was going to be doing my volunteer work at the animal rescue the next day, I was anxious to get moving. So, Zeeva got herself ready and we fairly efficiently shot our portraits and conducted our interview. I didn’t just ask her questions, however. I discussed with her that I thought I would have trouble sleeping, but have remarkably adjusted each day and slept well. I also discussed how this has been so time consuming. I haven’t had time to even look at my “to do” list since I started and I was a week behind on the blog at this point. And normal, life things, were falling to the wayside too. Not to mention that the amount of correspondence and scheduling had been overwhelming. I also told her about the difficulty of both trying to experience everything and write about it. I was also concerned about staying with strangers, which I was, and I had been afraid that I would get sick and I did. But everyone had made me feel at home. More stories were told and before I knew it was noon. Zeeva prepared a meditation for me to use throughout my journey, which I recorded. I then hurriedly packed everything up and with a quick goodbye, I was on my way, back to civilization and on to the next couch.