The Princess Within

Step into Spring with a Roar – Cecille Swayneson

Ladies don’t forget that accessories can make a roaring difference in establishing your style, especially if two pieces are playing off each other as demonstrated by the model wearing monochromatic colors on her head and face. A unique red velvet headpiece oozes sophistication, while beautifully made sun glasses emphasize a contemporary point of view. The essence of the look is High Style! Reminiscent of Grace Kelly but with boldness, a cool vibe and a sense of grace.  Carry on.94BS9944

Photo: Noel Sutherland - Sunglasses: Alain Mikli - Styling & Grooming: Cecille Swayneson


Coconut Good For Your Daughter

When I was a little girl growing up in Jamaica, we had a coconut water man who pushed his cart through the blazing heat of the Caribbean sun, singing in a loud rhythmic tone, “Coconut water, good fi yu daughter, mek yu big and strong like a lion, coconuuuut wateeeer!” I loved that song. The image of myself, big and strong like a lion was vivid and thrilling. Interestingly enough it was my father who planted the seed that coconuts were potently good, religiously purchasing from the push cart man, singing praises; ode to the coconut. Most likely my father got a kick out of the dramatic manner in which this man sold his coconuts. These encounters were met with enthusiasm and joy. My father smiled readily then. The ‘twinkling of eyes’ kind of a smile.

The coconut water man had a long, sharp wicked looking machete which he wielded like a pirate entering into battle. My breath completely blocked (always) as he casually flung the coconut in the air, gracefully catching, never missing, long fingers, claw-like, served as a pedestal, supporting the smooth green coconut, cleanly lopping off the top, without stumps of bloody fingers falling to the ground; releasing water from within, flouncing over the side. It was only then my breathing resumed; graciously accepting my refreshingly cool health inducing coconut water.

Now as a grown woman, I still have regular interactions with the coconut albeit not as dramatic as my childhood encounters. This time around the coconut is in oil form,  serving as my premier beauty staple. One 16 oz. bottle Organic Virgin Coconut Oil fulfills a slew of beauty rituals. It’s used as a Facial wash and makeup remover- just a dab of the solid-looking oil which quickly melts once applied to skin. Wash/wipe with warm, wet rag. Rose water or witch hazel toner, if so inclined. It’s also an amazing facial moisturizer. Yes, face. No heavy after effect. No clogging of pores. No breakouts. Supple and moist. Great under makeup and luminous on skin as a body moisturizer. No intrusive fragrance. Love, love.


Also awesome as an intense hair conditioning or hair sheen.  Excellent on salads, smoothies, toast and cooking. All for $10 or thereabouts. Nature’s gift. Coconut…good fi you daughter.

Guardian Angel Don’t Leave me Alone At Night or Day.”

Cecille Swayneson

“This pillow is saying something about guardian angels but what I don’t know,” I said to the shop assistant. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English,” was her response. My luck…to be in a shop in Spain with someone who doesn’t speak English and my bad that I am unable to communicate in Spanish.

I happened upon the shop while walking with my dear friend Willem in one of the most elegant and comforting towns in Spain,Toledo. As we made our way up the narrow cobblestone street, I was compelled to stop alongside a beautiful shop, turning full on to view the window display. The storefront was laden with beautiful knitted and embroidered children’s clothes and pillows. Turning to Willem, “If you don’t mind, I’m going in.”

Entering the warmly lit shop, I immersed myself with the beautifully crafted merchandise. Truly, each item was exquisitely made. “I wished I had friends with babies,” I thought, picking up the blue and white pillow which had beckoned to me, turning it over and over in my hands. Something was enticing about the composition. There was also a pink version. “Which to get?”


Back in New York City I tossed the package in a corner while unpacking my travel bag. Opening the bag a few days later I thought, “Okay…so now what?” Then carefully placed the pillow in my closet.

Weeks later whilst in the throes of a conversation with one of my favorite people in the world, Lisa Ann Smith, she mentioned, “there are lots of changes going on and I have some pretty exciting news.” “Oh, you’re having a baby,” I replied.

“Wait! How did you know?”

“Well-while I was in…..”

“Hold on a second, hold on, I’m going to put you on speaker phone and get Mike because I know this is going to be good,” she said. I recounted the pillow story. Well, don’t you want to know the gender she asked “Oh, I already know. It’s a boy!”

She was taken aback and so was I. In retrospect, this seemingly non significant interest in a specialty shop reminded me how deeply connected we innately are, even when we feel unconnected, alone and maybe out of rhythm with life. An event such as this, jog us back to reality. Yes, we are guided daily to make choices, some which turn out to be “spot on” kinda like magic. Paying attention, recognizing mysterious movements, before or after: requesting of our guides; “Guardian Angel don’t leave me alone at night or day.”

I’m kinda of curious to see if you can recall an event which made you sit up and take notice. An occurrence with the supernatural forces which surrounds us. If you’re game, I would love to hear your experience, please share with us. It would be fun to compile these incidents and post for others to remember that there is  much more to us than meets the eyes and we have a guide which dwells within.

Pillow:Bordados Velasco Alfonso XEL Sabio, 4 Telef: 925-224-866 TOLEDO-Photo: Cecille

Fasting For The Love of You

IMG_5035I’m supporting my cousin’s first attempt at fasting by accompanying her along the way. She has a litany of health issues, nothing off the chart to my knowledge but nevertheless, she’s not in fine form. She had an amazing, jaw dropping body but shoved her upkeep aside to focus on husband and kids. Like most, processed food filled with additives were the preferred dietary choice with not much thought given to the effect on body and spirit. Although not terribly overweight, maybe 20-30 lbs over, she knows she has neglected herself -She’s also aware that she can feel and look better- by committing to honoring and loving self. A valentine to self, so to speak. Interestingly enough, last night she mentioned the Master Cleanse; apparently I had sent her the link 2010 but only recently (yesterday) looked at it.

Our goal is a three day fast using a mixture of lemon, cayenne, maple and water aka the Master Cleanse.


2 Tablespoons lemon or lime juice
2 Tablespoons genuine maple syrup
1/10 Teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste
8 oz water
Combine the juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper with water. Shake, stir, drink. I freeze 1.5 liter of the lemonade (50.7Fl OZ), which I carry in my bag upon leaving my house.DSC_1047

I suggest reading the pamphlet posted on line by the inventor of the cleanse, Stanley Burroughs to better understand the cleanse and also to get into the frame of mind for fasting. Below are some of the benefits of the cleanse.

  • Dissolve and eliminate toxins.
  • Clean kidneys and digestive system.
  • Purify the glands/cells throughout body.
  • Eliminate waste and hardened material in joints and muscles.
  • Maintain youth-Gorgeous skin.
  • IMG_5029

Cayenne breaks up mucus and increases warmth by building the blood for an additional lift. Also adds many of the B and C vitamins. Lemon acts as a loosening and cleansing agent with important building factors. The combo of the lemon and maple syrup working together creates results such as: 49% potassium strengthens and energizes the heart, stimulates and builds the kidneys and adrenal glands.

  • The natural iron, copper, calcium, carbon, and hydrogen found in the sweetening supplies more building and cleansing material. This is a perfect combination for cleansing, eliminating, healing, and building. Supplements are not needed during the diet and may interfere with its cleansing action.

‘Getting It Up’ To Achieve Monthy Goals

By Cecille Swayneson

Today is the end of the first month of the year. It has dawned on me that the months can be likened to a relay race, culminating with the  end of each month representing a baton seamlessly passed on to the next. An inherent series of changes, sometimes not visible but always evolving. So it is that victory is attained as demonstrated by the completion of the twelve months of the year. Likewise with us…if we keep passing the baton at months end.

Each month is victorious when goals are accomplished and overlaps into the next month. This fluid instinctive progression never stops for nature but for us it can be a major hurdle when we can’t ‘get it up’ – goals we envisioned fall along the wayside for lack of energy, slothfulness, inertia, depression, stress, confusion, loneliness and fear.  We direct our thoughts at life’s obstacles, forgetting that obstacles are a part of life. Surmounting will   can be energy sapping and punishingly hard so we get caught up in a vortex of swirling , confusion; Riddle me this, riddle me that, guess me this riddle and perhaps not.”

I decided not to succumb to panic and stress whenever I perceived something as an undesirable, instead each month was entered with a deliberate conscious attitude about choices and thoughts entertained.

To adhere to my declaration, goals, essential needs and desires were contemplated and willfully written in a book so progress could be observed once I  physically took steps to accomplish those deeds. In addition I added extra fuel to my innards by diligently attending yoga classes almost daily, which is a meditation for me, prayer in motion. It appears my personality is such that I have an obligation to acknowledge and offer gratitude to the indwelling source which abides in all of us. Whenever I neglect to do so and I sometimes do (which I hate to admit) I suffer from a dampening of spirit.

Yesterday evening as I headed home, I thought to myself, what a wonderful day I had. The spontaneity, the unexpected consciousness and acknowledgement of those specific feelings was a lovely gift. This beautiful day didn’t just ‘happened’ it was a collaboration between generous people, myself and effort.

Today is a cause for celebration, it is the ending of the month of January and the progression into the month of February; another chance to start anew, pass the baton with conscious focus. My focus for the month of February will be love. Love of self and love unto others.IMG_4114

Inner Yoga

The subject of yoga is vast. Like the sky. My father sent me this book, Inner Yoga by Sri Anirvan a couple of years ago. It is a formidable read, thoroughly inspiring and epic in it’s scope on the subject. There are two sections to the book and I’ve read Section 1 numerous times. Section ll is a bit mind boggling and anxious inducing whenever I turn my gaze toward it (not very yogi of me, but nevertheless true). DSC_1209 This book must be read and reread in order for the information to take root. Actually, the act of rereading is rewarding and pleasurable, especially when one can relate to encounters experienced in life. There is an “ah ah, I’m not alone” realization.IMG_3283As a child Sri Anirvan was an intellectual and spiritual prodigy. He was also a poet, religious thinker and yogi. He dedicated his entire life to understanding yoga. There are not many books on the subject of Yoga showing this much mastery and insight. Sri Anivan is one of the ‘father ships’ – He seriously lived a life of unbroken dedication, study and reflection. He speaks as a master.

Yoga is union; the union of the individual soul with the supreme Self. Spirit, divine; the conscious seeking for this union.DSC_1215The subject of this  book is transformation of ones life through the awareness of a larger life which surrounds us and dwells within.  Most people look outward, but when we learn to turn our gaze inward we become aware of a secret life, a larger life buried within. Through discipline and invocation this life can become dynamic and inspiring. This is a struggle for me. Life happens, I get caught up, distracted. Truth be told my discipline can be very weak. Spurts and stops. I have been going back and forth with the practice even though I know this is the way – I have no doubt, yet wrestle with my practice I do. Patience, practice and determination. My  goal this year is to become constant with my sadhana which is  a spiritual practice. The practice of Yoga. Inner Yoga.

Book: Inner Yoga by Sri Anrivan

The Girl Who Built Trouble Coffee & The Coconut Club

I was still up at 3:20AM surfing the web when an e mail fell in my mail box. It was a posting by Gina Boyer on her Facebook page. The heading of the article was: How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer. My interest was piqued. Toast…heartbreak. Odd but definitely intriguing. I clicked on the link and was taken to an article (A Toast Story) by John Gravois from the Pacific Standard newsletter.  I proceeded  to read the words on the page and could not stop even though the crux of the story did not reveal herself until the eight paragraph or thereabouts. 


Giulietta Carrelli’s  life story is wild, weird, wonderful and inspiring great admiration (or for some) fear.  All this whist suffering from schizoaffective disorder, which is a combo of schizophrenia and a mood disorder; in her case the mood disorder is bipolar. Schizophrenia is the most devastating illness that psychiatrist treat. To know schizophrenia is to know psychiatry. It is one of the most challenging disease in medicine. 1% of population has schizo. Add that mixture to bipolar disorder and you have a devastating ‘off the chart’ battle to maintain stability in any area of life. In other words, life will be brutal to navigate, especially if you haven’t a clue to what’s ‘wrong’ with you. 

Somehow against every odd, this woman survived and thrived. In her many haphazard journey, across America, (which could be liken to the heroine’s journey) she ‘stumbled’ or was ‘led’ to a person and intuitively recognized acceptance and support (albeit realization took five years), nevertheless she eventually ‘got it’.

In this exchange/friendship are clues for pulling ‘it’ together – a guideline of a routine is of vital importance, which allowed the perpetual homeless, friendless Guillietta to “Build her own damm house,” something she always wanted to do. The building of the house (unbeknownst to her) 1st took place within her and then manifested into The Trouble Coffee Shop and…toast. What is inspiring about Giulietta is her heart wrenching tenacity to live fully and what she does with her success. She shares it by giving everyone who works for her….Wait! Every billionaire CEO should hang their head in shame and step up and do the right thing. Maybe this road map is a glimmer of hope on how to contribute to making ourselves and the world a better place. Read the story below and weep, laugh and build your own damm house!

A Toast Story

By John Gravois

All the guy was doing was slicing inch-thick pieces of bread, putting them in a toaster, and spreading stuff on them. But what made me stare—blinking to attention in the middle of a workday morning as I waited in line at an unfamiliar café—was the way he did it. He had the solemn intensity of a Ping-Pong player who keeps his game very close to the table: knees slightly bent, wrist flicking the butter knife back and forth, eyes suggesting a kind of flow state.

The coffee shop, called the Red Door, was a spare little operation tucked into the corner of a chic industrial-style art gallery and event space (clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Evernote, Google) in downtown San Francisco. There were just three employees working behind the counter: one making coffee, one taking orders, and the soulful guy making toast. In front of him, laid out in a neat row, were a few long Pullman loaves—the boxy Wonder Bread shape, like a train car, but recognizably handmade and freshly baked. And on the brief menu, toast was a standalone item—at $3 per slice.

It took me just a few seconds to digest what this meant: that toast, like the cupcake and the dill pickle before it, had been elevated to the artisanal plane. So I ordered some. It was pretty good. It tasted just like toast, but better.

A couple of weeks later I was at a place called Acre Coffee in Petaluma, a smallish town about an hour north of San Francisco on Highway 101. Half of the shop’s food menu fell under the heading “Toast Bar.” Not long after that I was with my wife and daughter on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, and we went to The Mill, a big light-filled cafe and bakery with exposed rafters and polished concrete floors, like a rustic Apple Store. There, between the two iPads that served as cash registers, was a small chalkboard that listed the day’s toast menu. Everywhere the offerings were more or less the same: thick slices of good bread, square-shaped, topped with things like small-batch almond butter or apricot marmalade or sea salt.

Back at the Red Door one day, I asked the manager what was going on. Why all the toast? “Tip of the hipster spear,” he said.

I had two reactions to this: First, of course, I rolled my eyes. How silly; how twee; how perfectly San Francisco, this toast. And second, despite myself, I felt a little thrill of discovery. How many weeks would it be, I wondered, before artisanal toast made it to Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Los Angeles? How long before an article appears in Slate telling people all across America that they’re making toast all wrong? How long before the backlash sets in?

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know. Maybe I thought it would help me understand the rise of all the seemingly trivial, evanescent things that start in San Francisco and then go supernova across the country—the kinds of products I am usually late to discover and slow to figure out. I’m not sure what kind of answer I expected to turn up. Certainly nothing too impressive or emotionally affecting. But what I found was more surprising and sublime than I could have possibly imagined.

toast-3IF THE DISCOVERY OF artisanal toast had made me roll my eyes, it soon made other people in San Francisco downright indignant. I spent the early part of my search following the footsteps of a very low-stakes mob. “$4 Toast: Why the Tech Industry Is Ruining San Francisco” ran the headline of an August article on a local technology news site called VentureBeat.

“Flaunting your wealth has been elevated to new lows,” wrote the author, Jolie O’Dell. “We don’t go to the opera; we overspend on the simplest facets of life.” For a few weeks $4 toast became a rallying cry in the city’s media—an instant parable and parody of the shallow, expensive new San Francisco—inspiring thousands of shares on Facebook, several follow-up articles, and a petition to the mayor’s office demanding relief from the city’s high costs of living.

The butt of all this criticism appeared to be The Mill, the rustic-modern place on Divisadero Street. The Mill was also, I learned, the bakery that supplies the Red Door with its bread. So I assumed I had found the cradle of the toast phenomenon.

I was wrong. When I called Josey Baker, the—yes—baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood—a little spot called Trouble.

THE TROUBLE COFFEE & Coconut Club (its full name) is a tiny storefront next door to a Spanish-immersion preschool, about three blocks from the Pacific Ocean in one of the city’s windiest, foggiest, farthest-flung areas. As places of business go, I would call Trouble impressively odd.

Instead of a standard café patio, Trouble’s outdoor seating area is dominated by a substantial section of a tree trunk, stripped of its bark, lying on its side. Around the perimeter are benches and steps and railings made of salvaged wood, but no tables and chairs. On my first visit on a chilly September afternoon, people were lounging on the trunk drinking their coffee and eating slices of toast, looking like lions draped over tree limbs in the Serengeti.

The shop itself is about the size of a single-car garage, with an L-shaped bar made of heavily varnished driftwood. One wall is decorated with a mishmash of artifacts—a walkie-talkie collection, a mannequin torso, some hand tools. A set of old speakers in the back blares a steady stream of punk and noise rock. And a glass refrigerator case beneath the cash register prominently displays a bunch of coconuts and grapefruit. Next to the cash register is a single steel toaster. Trouble’s specialty is a thick slice of locally made white toast, generously covered with butter, cinnamon, and sugar: a variation on the cinnamon toast that everyone’s mom, including mine, seemed to make when I was a kid in the 1980s. It is, for that nostalgic association, the first toast in San Francisco that really made sense to me.

Trouble’s owner, and the apparent originator of San Francisco’s toast craze, is a slight, blue-eyed, 34-year-old woman with freckles tattooed on her cheeks named Giulietta Carrelli. She has a good toast story: She grew up in a rough neighborhood of Cleveland in the ’80s and ’90s in a big immigrant family, her father a tailor from Italy, her mother an ex-nun. The family didn’t eat much standard American food. But cinnamon toast, made in a pinch, was the exception. “We never had pie,” Carrelli says. “Our American comfort food was cinnamon toast.”

It was perhaps the safe distance between them—an elderly man and a young woman sitting on a public beach—that made Glen relatively impervious to the detonations that had wiped out every other home Giulietta had ever had. “He couldn’t kick me out,” she says.

The other main players on Trouble’s menu are coffee, young Thai coconuts served with a straw and a spoon for digging out the meat, and shots of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice called “Yoko.” It’s a strange lineup, but each item has specific meaning to Carrelli. Toast, she says, represents comfort. Coffee represents speed and communication. And coconuts represent survival—because it’s possible, Carrelli says, to survive on coconuts provided you also have a source of vitamin C. Hence the Yoko. (Carrelli tested this theory by living mainly on coconuts and grapefruit juice for three years, “unless someone took me out to dinner.”)

The menu also features a go-for-broke option called “Build Your Own Damn House,” which consists of a coffee, a coconut, and a piece of cinnamon toast. Hanging in the door is a manifesto that covers a green chalkboard. “We are local people with useful skills in tangible situations,” it says, among other things. “Drink a cup of Trouble. Eat a coconut. And learn to build your own damn house. We will help. We are building a network.”

If Trouble’s toast itself made instant sense to me, it was less clear how a willfully obscure coffee shop with barely any indoor seating in a cold, inconvenient neighborhood could have been such a successful launch pad for a food trend. In some ways, the shop seemed to make itself downright difficult to like: It serves no decaf, no non-fat milk, no large drinks, and no espressos to go. On Yelp, several reviewers report having been scolded by baristas for trying to take pictures inside the shop with their phones. (“I better not see that up on Instagram!” one reportedly shouted.)

Nevertheless, most people really seem to love Trouble. On my second visit to the shop, there was a steady line of customers out the door. After receiving their orders, they clustered outside to drink their coffees and eat their toast. With no tables and chairs to allow them to pair off, they looked more like neighbors at a block party than customers at a café. And perhaps most remarkably for San Francisco, none of them had their phones out.

Trouble has been so successful, in fact, that Carrelli recently opened a second, even tinier location in the city’s Bayview neighborhood. I met her there one sunny afternoon. She warned me that she probably wouldn’t have much time to talk. But we chatted for nearly three hours.

In public, Carrelli wears a remarkably consistent uniform: a crop top with ripped black jeans and brown leather lace-up boots, with her blond hair wrapped in Jack Sparrowish scarves and headbands. At her waist is a huge silver screaming-eagle belt buckle, and her torso is covered with tattoos of hand tools and designs taken from 18th-century wallpaper patterns. Animated and lucid—her blue eyes bright above a pair of strikingly ruddy cheeks—Carrelli interrupted our long conversation periodically to banter with pretty much every person who visited the shop.

At first, Carrelli explained Trouble as a kind of sociological experiment in engineering spontaneous communication between strangers. She even conducted field research, she says, before opening the shop. “I did a study in New York and San Francisco, standing on the street holding a sandwich, saying hello to people. No one would talk to me. But if I stayed at that same street corner and I was holding a coconut? People would engage,” she said. “I wrote down exactly how many people talked to me.”

The smallness of her cafés is another device to stoke interaction, on the theory that it’s simply hard to avoid talking to people standing nine inches away from you. And cinnamon toast is a kind of all-purpose mollifier: something Carrelli offers her customers whenever Trouble is abrasive, or loud, or crowded, or refuses to give them what they want. “No one can be mad at toast,” she said.

Carrelli’s explanations made a delightfully weird, fleeting kind of sense as I heard them. But then she told me something that made Trouble snap into focus. More than a café, the shop is a carpentered-together, ingenious mechanism—a specialized tool—designed to keep Carrelli tethered to herself.


EVER SINCE SHE WAS in high school, Carrelli says, she has had something called schizoaffective disorder, a condition that combines symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolarity. People who have it are susceptible to both psychotic episodes and bouts of either mania or depression.

Carrelli tends toward the vivid, manic end of the mood spectrum, she says, but the onset of a psychotic episode can shut her down with little warning for hours, days, or, in the worst instances, months. Even on good days, she struggles to maintain a sense of self; for years her main means of achieving this was to write furiously in notebooks, trying to get the essentials down on paper. When an episode comes on, she describes the experience as a kind of death: Sometimes she gets stuck hallucinating, hearing voices, unable to move or see clearly; other times she has wandered the city aimlessly. “Sometimes I don’t recognize myself,” she says. “I get so much disorganized brain activity, I would get lost for 12 hours.”

Carrelli’s early years with her illness were, she says, a blind struggle. Undiagnosed, she worked her way through college—three different colleges, in different corners of the country—by booking shows for underground bands and doing stints at record stores and coffee shops. But her episodes were a kind of time bomb that occasionally leveled any structure in her life. Roommates always ended up kicking her out. Landlords evicted her. Relationships fell apart. Employers either fired her or quietly stopped scheduling her for shifts. After a while, she began anticipating the pattern and taking steps to pre-empt the inevitable. “I moved when people started catching on,” she says. By the time she hit 30, she had lived in nine different cities.

Like a lot of people with mental illness, Carrelli self-medicated with drugs, in her case opiates, and alcohol. And sometimes things got very bad indeed. Throughout her 20s, she was in and out of hospitals and periods of homelessness.

One day in 1999, when Carrelli was living in San Francisco and going to school at the University of California-Berkeley, she took a long walk through the city and ended up on China Beach, a small cove west of the Golden Gate. She describes the scene to me in stark detail: The sun was flickering in and out of intermittent fog. A group of Russian men in Speedos were stepping out of the frigid ocean. And an elderly man was sitting in a deck chair, sunbathing in weather that suggested anything but. Carrelli struck up a conversation with the man, whose name was Glen. In a German accent, he told her that people congregated regularly at China Beach to swim in the ocean. He had done so himself when he was younger, he said, but now he just came to the beach to sunbathe every day.

“I’m wearing the same outfit every day,” Carrelli says. “I take the same routes. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me.”

Carrelli left San Francisco shortly thereafter. (“Everything fell apart,” she says.) But her encounter with the old man made such a profound impression that five years later, in 2004—after burning through stints in South Carolina, Georgia, and New York—she drove back across the country and headed for China Beach. When she arrived, she found Glen sitting in the same spot where she had left him in 1999. That day, as they parted ways, he said, “See you tomorrow.” For the next three years, he said the same words to her pretty much every day. “He became this structure,” Carrelli says, “a constant.”

It was perhaps the safe distance between them—an elderly man and a young woman sitting on a public beach—that made Glen relatively impervious to the detonations that had wiped out every other home she’d ever had. “He couldn’t kick me out,” Carrelli says. She sat with her notebooks, and Glen asked her questions about her experiments with strangers and coconuts. Gradually, she began to find other constants. She started joining the swimmers every day, plunging into the Pacific with no wetsuit, even in winter. Her drinking began to taper off. She landed a job at a coffee shop called Farley’s that she managed to keep for three years. And she began assiduously cultivating a network of friends she could count on for help when she was in trouble—a word she uses frequently to refer to her psychotic episodes—while being careful not to overtax any individual’s generosity.

Carrelli also found safety in simply being well-known—in attracting as many acquaintances as possible. That’s why, she tells me, she had always worked in coffee shops. When she is feeling well, Carrelli is a swashbuckling presence, charismatic and disarmingly curious about people. “She will always make a friend wherever she is,” says Noelle Olivo, a San Francisco escrow and title agent who was a regular customer at Farley’s and later gave Carrelli a place to stay for a couple of months. “People are taken aback by her, but she reaches out.”

This gregariousness was in part a survival mechanism, as were her tattoos and her daily uniform of headscarves, torn jeans, and crop tops. The trick was to be identifiable: The more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.

But Carrelli’s grip on stability was still fragile. Between apartments and evictions, she slept in her truck, in parks, at China Beach, on friends’ couches. Then one day in 2006, Carrelli’s boss at Farley’s Coffee discovered her sleeping in the shop, and he told her it was probably time she opened up her own space. “He almost gave me permission to do something I knew I should do,” she recalls. It was clear by then that Carrelli couldn’t really work for anyone else—Farley’s had been unusually forgiving. But she didn’t know how to chart a course forward. At China Beach, she took to her notebooks, filling them with grandiose manifestoes about living with guts and honor and commitment—about, she wrote, building her own damn house.

“Giulietta, you don’t have enough money to eat tonight,” Glen said, bringing her down to Earth. Then he asked her a question that has since appeared in her writing again and again: “What is your useful skill in a tangible situation?”

The answer was easy: she was good at making coffee and good with people. So Glen told her it was time she opened a checking account. He told her to go to city hall and ask if they had information on starting a small business. And she followed his instructions.

With $1,000 borrowed from friends, Carrelli opened Trouble in 2007 in a smelly, cramped, former dog grooming business, on a bleak commercial stretch. She renovated the space pretty much entirely with found materials, and with labor and advice that was bartered for, cajoled, and requested from her community of acquaintances.

She called the shop Trouble, she says, in honor of all the people who helped her when she was in trouble. She called her drip coffee “guts” and her espresso “honor.” She put coconuts on the menu because of the years she had spent relying on them for easy sustenance, and because they truly did help her strike up conversations with strangers. She put toast on the menu because it reminded her of home: “I had lived so long with no comfort,” she says. And she put “Build Your Own Damn House” on the menu because she felt, with Trouble, that she had finally done so.

The trick was to be identifiable: the more people who recognized her, the more she stood a chance of being able to recognize herself.

GLEN—WHOSE FULL NAME was Gunther Neustadt, and who had escaped Germany as a young Jewish boy with his twin sister during World War II—lived to see Trouble open. But he died later that year. In 2008, Carrelli became pregnant and had twins, and she named one of them after her friend from China Beach.

That same year, after having lived in her shop for months, Carrelli got a real apartment. She went completely clean and sober, and has stayed that way. She started to hire staff she could rely on; she worked out a sustainable custody arrangement with her children’s father. And Trouble started to get written up in the press. Customers began to flock there from all over town for toast and coffee and coconuts.

The demands of running the shop, caring for two children, and swimming every day allowed Carrelli to feel increasingly grounded, but her psychotic episodes hardly went away; when they came on, she just kept working somehow. “I have no idea how I ran Trouble,” she says. “I kept piling through.” In 2012, after a five-month episode, Carrelli was hospitalized and, for the first time, given the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Under her current treatment regimen, episodes come far less frequently. But still they come.

At bottom, Carrelli says, Trouble is a tool for keeping her alive. “I’m trying to stay connected to the self,” she says. Like one of her old notebooks, the shop has become an externalized set of reference points, an index of Carrelli’s identity. It is her greatest source of dependable routine and her most powerful means of expanding her network of friends and acquaintances, which extends now to the shop’s entire clientele. These days, during a walking episode, Carrelli says, a hello from a casual acquaintance in some unfamiliar part of the city might make the difference between whether she makes it home that night or not. “I’m wearing the same outfit every day,” she says. “I take the same routes every day. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me.”

After having struggled as an employee in so many coffee shops, she now employs 14 people. In an almost unheard of practice for the café business, she offers them profit-sharing and dental coverage. And she plans on expanding the business even further, maybe opening up to four or five locations. With the proceeds, she hopes to one day open a halfway house for people who have psychotic episodes—a safe place where they can go when they are in trouble.

WHEN I TOLD FRIENDS back East about the craze for fancy toast that was sweeping across the Bay Area, they laughed and laughed. (How silly; how twee; how San Francisco.) But my bet is that artisanal toast is going national. I’ve already heard reports of sightings in the West Village.

If the spread of toast is a social contagion, then Carrelli was its perfect vector. Most of us dedicate the bulk of our attention to a handful of relationships: with a significant other, children, parents, a few close friends. Social scientists call these “strong ties.” But Carrelli can’t rely on such a small set of intimates. Strong ties have a history of failing her, of buckling under the weight of her illness. So she has adapted by forming as many relationships—as many weak ties—as she possibly can. And webs of weak ties are what allow ideas to spread.

In a city whose economy is increasingly built on digital social networks—but where simple eye contact is at a premium—Giulietta Carrelli’s latticework of small connections is old-fashioned and analog. It is built not for self-presentation, but for self-preservation. And the spread of toast is only one of the things that has arisen from it.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Trouble because I hadn’t yet built my own damn house. When my coconut came, the next guy at the bar shot me a sideways glance. Sitting there with a slice of toast and a large tropical fruit, I felt momentarily self-conscious. Then the guy said to the barista, “Hey, can I get a coconut too?” and the two of us struck up a conversation.

This post originally appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Pacific Standard as “A Toast Story.” For more, consider subscribing to their bimonthly print magazine.

Balaclava Head Gear For Freezing Weather

My gear today. Balaclava and over sized sunglasses. It’s been frightfully cold in New York City, to say the least. Actually it’s not so bad at the moment, 14 degrees but feels like 6 degree. My friend Cathy Maquire made the balaclava I’m sporting in the picture below; my favorite winter head gear. It can be worn Symbionese-style or pulled up as a beanie away from face. Photo on 1-7-14 at 8.35 PMImage 1Blalaclava: Cathy Maquire    Sunglasses: Vintage Dolce & Gabbana

Zora Neale Hurtson’s Birthday Is Today.

Today is the remembrance of literary giant, Zora Neale Hurston birth in 1891. If you have never read her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, please do.Time included the novel as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. It’s about a woman whose quest for identity takes her on a journey… and come home to herself in peace.1506626_10152133550068540_1229863551_n “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, by Alice Walker, published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine, revived interest in Hurston’s work, and the reemergence of her writing coincided with the rising popularity of authors such as Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. You probably recognize Hurston as today’s Google Doodle! Credit: Ms. Magazine
“One of the greatest writers of our time” Toni Morrison