[Sunday Meditation] Surviving Cancer – and Remaining Hopeful

This month marks the nine year anniversary of my second major surgery – and for surviving pancreatic cancer

The anniversaries always make me a bit emotional, not just because I’m forced to think retrospectively – and remember exactly how far I’ve come, health wise – but reminiscing on the recovery phase is sometimes painful (and uncomfortable). From dropping out of college, to spending months in the hospital, getting out and not being able to walk, stand or even go to the bathroom by myself; to losing 25 lbs and looking like a skeleton of my former self, each experience shaped my current perception of life – and made me appreciate the most minuet of life’s delicate details.

I remember not being able to eat and drink at the same time, crying because I was getting stuck with needles every 20 minutes, being depressed from my surgery scar (something I still struggle with), and sad that I was only 19 (I’m 28 now) but feeling like a 70-year-old.

I don’t even have any pictures from that time because I wouldn’t let anyone take a picture of me…

Editor’s Note: Pancreatic cancer rarely occurs before the age of 40, and more than half of cases of pancreatic adenocarcinoma occur in those over 70. In 2012, pancreatic cancers of all types were the seventh most common cause of cancer deaths, resulting in 330,000 deaths globally. In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of deaths due to cancer. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma typically has a very poor prognosis: after diagnosis, 25% of people survive one year and 5% live for five years. Sourced from Wikipedia.

And yet, even after all of that pain and disappointment, I never let cancer define my life – or my future. Deep within myself, I found my courage, faced my fears, went back to school, earned two degrees and in the end, I can look back and be thankful for it all.

Having pancreatic cancer changed the course of life, my philosophies, my values, my priorities, my perception of the world, and the way I experience life in general. Becoming a survivor made me realize what’s really important, who my true friends were/ are, and which battles aren’t worth the energy they take to fight. Surviving cancer put me on a path of spiritual awareness and consciousness, and whet an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the most arcane, universal mysteries, and most importantly, made me realize that I’m stronger than whatever challenges are thrown at me.

If anyone out there is struggling with cancer, especially pancreatic cancer, there is hope for you. Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze (rest in paradise) didn’t win their fight with pancreatic cancer, and neither do most people – and that thought is never lost on me. However, I did survive, and perhaps it was simply to write this blog post so that someone dealing with cancer could read it, and regain strength for their own journey. For some divine reason, I was spared, and therefore, I have no choice but to be a leader. Writing and speaking have always come easily for me, as do connecting with others, and I feel very strongly that my purpose on this Earth is to inspire and illuminate the path for others.

Blessings for all those currently struggling with cancer. Stay strong and hopeful! I share my testimony for you, so that you may be motivated and inspired. The Universe has plans for YOU!


[Contest] Win A Pair of Tickets to the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show!

Hello sophisticates!

As you may know, the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show is soon approaching (February 21-22) – and I’ve partnered up to offer one lucky reader a pair of tickets!

If you are currently planning your next trip abroad, or would like ideas on how to travel more efficiently and/ or on a budget, this conference is for you! It’s the largest travel conference in the U.S. and there will be a ton of amazing speakers!

To Enter:

1) Follow me on Instagram (@MsBellaGraham) and leave a comment underneath my Contest post answering the question, “Where would you love to travel in 2015?”

2) For an additional entry, leave a comment on this blog post.

3) That’s it! On January 29th, I’ll draw a random winner and contact you to arrange your tickets!

My Instagram: @MsBellaGraham

Good luck and check out more details on the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show *here*

Dates: February 21 – 22
10 am – 5 pm
Long Beach Convention Center – 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90802

[Career] The Writer’s CrowdSource! Find Out What Every Magazine Pays Per Word & What They Pay For Advertising

If you are a writer, regardless of whether you’re staff or freelance, you’re probably already familiar with the process of “pitching” your ideas to editors – and having them accepted or rejected.

Most of the freelance writers I know, myself included, don’t rely solely on writing to pay the bills, and while this may be due to the unreliable nature of freelancing, a lot of the writers I’ve encountered simply have a problem with the pay scale. With so many publications going out of print, converting to digital platforms, or opting to utilize unpaid bloggers and “contributors” instead of paid/ trained writers and journalists to generate content (a pet peeve of mine), the pay-scale for “the written word” has significantly diminished.

Recently, Scott Carney, an investigative journalist and member of one of the freelance writer groups I’m a part of, along with a friend, attempted to “calculate how many feature stories the top magazines in America assign every year, and how much they typically pay their writers for the assignments.

The list was only going to be for the top publications in America–the ones that pay between $1.50-$5 per word and that comprise the top tier of journalism. These are the magazines that line the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere and the ones that we write for pretty regularly. Think The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Wired, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, O, The Atavist, and the dozen or so other magazines that sits on the tops of toilet tanks and the tables of dentist offices from Seattle to Orlando.”

What they discovered was daunting:

“After ten minutes listing the average number of features in each magazine multiplied by the number of issues annually we had a number: 800,” says Carney. “On average these stories would run at about 3000 words and pay $1.50 per word. It was only a ball-park estimate of the overall freelance writing market cap. But it was also a rather depressing one. Let me put this in bold so it stands out on the page.

The total market for long form journalism in major magazines in America is approximately $3.6 million. To put it another way: the collective body of writers earned less than Butch Jones, a relatively unknown college football coach, earned in a single year.

“$3.6 million. That’s it,” Carney says. “And the math gets even more depressing. If we assume that writers should earn the average middle class salary of $50,000 a year, then there’s only enough money in that pot to keep 72 writers fully employed. And, of course, those writers would have to pen approximately 11 well thought out and investigated features per year–something that both my friend and I knew was almost impossible.”

Carney continues, “Now, it could be that our estimate was a little low. But even if you double it–a number that is almost certainly far and above the size of the actual feature market, then we are collectively still barely scraping above $7 million paid out by magazines in word rates every year. According to Small Business Chronicle, the overall magazine publishing industry generates a total revenue of $35-40 billion a year. While that number includes lots of publications that are not in our sample, it does give at least some sense OF how small a slice of the pie writers actually earn.”

However, what Carney did next is applaudable – and certainly worth sharing – which is why I am paying the information forward.

“For the last few years I’ve been keeping a list of editors, word rates, contact details and brief notes on different magazine and website editors with my colleagues at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism,” states Carney. “It was crowdsourcing on a relatively small scale to help us figure out where the best home for our writing would be. However, I’ve come to realize that the list might also be useful for another, perhaps more noble goal. So I’ve scraped off the personal and identifying details and added a few new columns.”

Carney continues, “I’m throwing the database online and inviting writers from all over the world to add what they know about the size of the market. Help out and contribute by clicking on this link. Lets figure out what every magazine pays per word, how many features are in each book, and what they charge for advertising.”

Personally, I think that this sort of openness and sharing of information could be exactly what us freelance writers need. It may (or may not) change who you pitch to, but at least you can go into the situation having a base expectation of the amount of compensation you can expect to receive.

“It’s a Google Doc, and pretty easy to update and modify,” states Carney. “I’ve filled in what blanks that I could, but someone should probably check my numbers. Most advertising rates are easy to find on company media kits like the one Conde Nast publishes publicly.”

Carney adds, “As a writer, this state of affairs horrifies me. I feel strongly that writers contribute more than just 0.6% of value to the overall magazine industry. Yes, magazines have a host of expenses–printing, distributing, editing, fact checking, office overhead and marketing all have a cost. But there is also something deeply sick in how little writers’ work is actually valued by the industry.”

To access the Google Doc, *click here*

Cheers to crowdsourcing, and thank you to Scott Carney for taking the charge.

To read Carney’s original articles, click *here* and *here*

Readers, please add your voice to the mix. Leave a comment with your thoughts and/ or contribute to the Google Doc!

[Sunday Meditation] The Garden Policy – You Are a Plant, Other People Are Dirt

Last week, I went outside to check on my concrete garden. It had just rained and I’ve always loved how the rain makes the world smell.

For some reason, I was reminded of a quote by Plato.

“People are like dirt,” he said. “They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.”

I thought about this even further. If you remove all forms of power which you have given any individual person – all that is left is the seeds you have sown, the land you have tilled, and the crop you have harvested.

For instance, when I first created my garden, I made a conscious decision to only plant certain types of seeds. Aloe Vera for it’s healing properties, mint and lavender because I love the smell, and though I love flowers – most are hard to care for – so I planted only cacti which flower certain times of the year.

If you apply this “garden” policy to your Life, you will realize that everyone surrounding you is a seed YOU have planted. Somehow, you planted a weed in your garden. Or, perhaps the person isn’t necessarily a “weed,” but more of a plant you simply don’t have use for or hate the smell of. People, like plants, can only survive in your garden if you give them an invitation to “seed” – and the attention to thrive – and this makes it YOUR responsibility not to wilt in your own garden.

No one has power above (or over you), and those who realize this, become the center of their own cosmic creations. Do what you will with the garden analogy. Accountability, ownership, introspection and application are essentials to Life. Plant that thought in your mind – and if you’re so inclined, leave your own thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your philosophies.


Editor’s Note: Those are my nails and my “concrete garden.” Everyone has their own form of creative expression, and mine has always been writing and style – which for the last few years has extended into nail art. On the pointer finger is an “Ankh” and on my middle finger, the symbol of the Divine Feminine.

[Musique] FKA Twigs – Pendulum (Video)

Lovely FKA Twigs, moi current muse, has just released a self-directed visual for her song, “Pendulum” – which is featured on her debut LP, LP 1.

Premiering exclusively on MTV, the artsy visual finds lovely tied up BDSM style with ropes – some of which appear to be her own hair – amidst a wriggling, black tar-like mass. Breathing throatily, she sings, “So lonely trying to be yours, when you’re looking for so much more.”

“While twigs is usually unchained when it comes to motion, in this video she executes an almost stop-motion kind of dance as her ropes change shape — allowing her to dangle, one toe out, like a ballerina above a pool of black liquid,” writes MTV’s . “After merging with the liquid, however, the ropes melt away, and twigs is finally able to dance, her hair loose, unbraided and free.”

Words can’t even describe… You amours know I love everything Twigs does <3

Click below to watch


Stream LP1 *here*

[Sunday Meditation] Dealing With Disappointment


#BellaSundayMeditation: “Dealing With Disappointments”
Be thankful for disappointments. They’re the quickest way to unveil intentions, and they force you to curate better coping skills.

Sarah Desson once wrote, “There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your core, right where you stand.”

So what does that eventually teach you? There is no such thing as a sure bet. Only calculated gambles and risks… Learn to be okay with being okay if the dice falls short. Fall down, get up, fall down, get up, repeat.


[Musique] Kendrick Lamar Performs Untitled Song on the Colbert Report

Kendrick’s performance on the Colbert Report was nothing short of epic. A few weeks ago, on Tuesday, December 16th, the Compton-bred rapper spit a verse so melodic, politically and spiritually aware, that I had to watch it twice. Although untitled, the lack of a name did nothing to distract from the poetic flow shaking knowledge from the leaves of a tree so deep, the roots seeped down into the souls of everyone listening.

Photo Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

“What did the Indian say? A piece of land/
that’s what the Indian said, I needed the man/
Telling me longevity’s in the dirt,
Buy some property first/

Profit a better dollar with generational perks,
Equity at its best, really you should invest/

These tangible things expire, don’t you expect,
income with so much outcome and yes/
look at my heritage, we’re blessed/”

The jazzy, funk-reminiscent tune alluded to times gone past; when stories were passed down orally from the elders to youth – soaking down into the subconscious and nourishing the spiritual brain cells multiplying forth. Produced by Astronote, and featuring bassist Thundercat, as well as saxophone harmonized by fellow L.A. native Terrace Martin, Kendrick rapped about losing his “core following” with his new, mature direction and hitting “the bank to withdraw.”

“We don’t die?” That’s right Kendrick. Dig man, dig.



[Career] 9 Tips to Increase Morning Productivity

Though there are 24 hours in day, for me – and I’m sure a great many others – that number tends to never be enough. As a certified night-owl who typically retires between 2 – 5 a.m., I find it particularly hard to make the most of my mornings – since unfortunately, I usually don’t go to bed until the morning.

However, during the span of my career, I’ve come to realize that there really isn’t a productive method around utilizing your “morning time,” and all of the world’s most successful business leaders all wake up at outrageously early hours. So let’s turn it around sophisticates!

Artwork Credit: Megan Hess

Set your alarm clock for 5 a.m. and check out the following tips on increasing your morning productivity. We’ve got money to make!

1) Don’t Check Your Emails, Text Messages + Social Media First Thing!

Resist the trap. If it’s an emergency, they will call you! Once you start checking your email, you’ll never stop – and this is particularly true for freelancers.

Plus, getting lost in the world’s latest social media happenings will set your “get-ready” routine (hair, makeup, exercise) back, and then the next thing you know, you’re running late!

2) Write Out Tasks the Night Before:

Before you go to bed each night, make an itemized list of all the tasks you need to accomplish the next day. Schedule them by the hour if it helps, and make sure to keep the list realistic. The satisfaction that comes with checking off each item on your cannot be paralleled.

*Tip: Make a list of your “Top 3″ or “Top 5 Must Do Things,” and work on meeting those goals, no matter what!

3) Do Your Hardest Task First:

Whatever you’re least looking forward to doing – or find the most difficult – knock that out first thing. You won’t dread doing the task for the rest of the day, and because it took so much concentration, it will probably help you to better focus on the next item at hand.

4) Pack Your Purse/ Briefcase the Night Before:

Ladies, we all know about the infamous “I left it in my other purse” switch-a-roo. While rushing to throw everything in your black bag – because your pink bag doesn’t match today’s outfit – you mistakenly left something important in the wrong bag.

Eliminate this problem by packing your purse (or briefcase) the night before. Keys, wallet, laptop, headphones, whatever you need to be successful – make sure its packed!

*Tip: Pack your lunch the night before to make even more use of your morning productivity.

5) Turn Your Phone Off – or Leave It In Another Room:

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, text messages. They’re distracting and deadly – again, especially for freelancers – and we can’t help looking at them.

*Tip: Try using social media and text messages as a reward, and only check/ respond after you’ve accomplished your “Top 3 Things To Do.”

6) Use Lunch as a Reward or Set a Certain Time to Stop:

Avoid the burnout by using lunch as a reward. After you get your “Top 3″ checked off your list, take a break! You’ve already gotten your three most important things done.

Or perhaps set your alarm clock for 2 p.m. everyday. No matter what, at 2 p.m., force yourself to relax. Working too hard is just as unhealthy to your productivity as working too much.

7) Beautify your Work Space:

Your surroundings are important to your mental aptitude. Your work space is somewhere you’ll spend a large chunk of your time, so why not make it inspiring? Adopt a plant, hang creative artwork, and make sure that you have a comfortable desk and chair.

Keep your space is clean and uncluttered. The littlest things often have the most impact.

8) Make use of Your Commute Time:

If you can work from home, great, but if you can’t – find a way to utilize your time spent on the road. Listen to engaging podcasts or audio books, and make use of learning programs. Turn a 45 minute daily commute into an opportunity to learn a new language. There are tons of applications that require nothing more than your listening attention :)

9) Stick to Your Routine:

Last but not least, develop some sort of routine. This is usually very hard for creative people – as we’re always doing something different – but try to find something, at least one thing, that you can do every day.

Mine is meditating and making myself coffee. Give yourself some structure. Trust me, it helps.

Have any other tips you’d like to share? Feel free to make use of the comments section!