hands, hair, heart, and drums

i am moving. into a new apartment. deeper into a life in barcelona. i am using my hands. i am creating new calluses special only for my world here in catalunya. i am reminded of a piece i wrote not so long ago about hands.

On Hands, Hair, and Heart

Callus rubbing is my nervous tick. In times of stress, with confidense waivering, all eyes upon me, I find my fingers searching for the comfort of the hard, yellowed calluses on the pads of my pinkies, middle fingers, and inner ring fingers. Where I hold drum sticks and sheers. Where I hold heart, identity, profession, and second language. A badge of honor earned with time and dilligence, both tangible and conceptual.

College began the hand crusade. Somewhere in the density of The Chomsky / Faucault debate I became clasped in their agreeing plea to take pride in being part of a tradeskill, the importance of intentional alignment with the working class, and manual labor. At the time I was a college student, my hands reserved for computer keys, pages of algorithmic chemical equations, and turning page upon page of overly intellectualized theory. In this moment the idea blossomed and welded like a barnacle; there is endless power in the hands. A force in any and all capacities that is difficult to take away.

Hairstyling found me first. After recieving a degree in biochemistry I set out for New Zealand, dedicated to exercising my hands in farmwork. I picked strawberries for ten hours a day, back breaking work. Then picked whatever was seasonal. In the midst of living in migrant camps I became the onsite barber. My qualifications: being a middle school punk who found the best [strangest] cuts and color were always done by my (mis)doings and in college offering haircuts in exchange for beer and cigarettes. The haircuts were, ehem, ok. More attractive were the relationships I formed through haircutting.

Altering one’s appearance is no small matter. It is an exchange of trust, open, honest, constant communication, and understanding. Uninteruppted time. A uniquely universally safe space to exhange thought, energy, news. And no matter the setting, the magic of cutting hair which miraculously forces people to open all the way up.

When I returned to the USA, I enrolled in beauty school, got an education of a whole different kind, and began to incorporate myself into my community using my skill. Through cutting hair I got to meet people from all classes, genders, races. Even people who do not have hair, still have the idea of hair. It is rare to go a day without talking to at least two people about hair in some way, shape, or form. Hair is my medium for relating to people; a mutual platform to begin bigger, more complex questions and exchanges.
Hands becoming stronger and stronger with each snip and blow dry. I proudly flex my giant thumb muscles and toned biceps. I can cut hair anywhere, and certainly have– from museums to kitchens to posh salons all over the world to my local homeless shelter to the two minutes before my best friend is about to walk down the aisle. A skill all my own I can share and refine in any and all spaces. Empowered to be a woman who makes a living through a trade. Like all power (especially for us North Americans), exposure lead me to find additonal uses for these paws.

Drumming became my second mode of commanality. Music being as important as it is universal, it is no surprise these hands were drawn towards the drums. Making noise is simply another way of communicating your identity. Being a woman drummers for me has been a constant assertion that women not only have the ability to emotionally express themselves musically, but physically as well. To demand respect and attention through the rowdiest of crashes and most delicate of drum rolls.
Quite opposite to hairdressing however, the drum world is dominated by men. Even in this day and age, every other show someone still asks “You in the band? Oh the singer? Who is your boyfriend in the band? Huh sweetheart?” and other insulting cliches. In these moments I am frustrated, yes. Annoyed, dissapointed, absolutely. But simultaneously empowered. It is because of these stereotypes I find it so important to have a skill. If people do not assume the only woman in the band is the drummer, or do not think women are as capable of drumming– I have the dynamism to give my callused hands a soft pet, pick up my sticks, and prove them wrong.



can’t hide , can’t disguise those red, white, and bluez

from the interior of a breezy, floral summer dress:

suddenly there is sun, there is night ocean swimming, endless bike riding with two people per bike, and the smell of overly-ripe jasmine everywhere.

time has passed in the way it does when you are creating a new community. integration is completely consuming.
and although my language is getting better (now past, present, and future tenses have crept into my vocabulary!), i’ve started a farmer’s market here at MOB, teaching english, writing for MOB blog and Tom Tom Magazine, i’m playing drums in a new band, surrounded by new friends i adore.

rest assured there are some things i will gladly never shake or shift which mark me as purely north american:

eating while walking down the street
ice in general. ice-tea. ice-coffee. iced water. give it to me.
being excited about almost everything
obsession with radio hip-hop and booty dancing
to-go coffee cups
asking for changes to the menu when ordering, always.
being on time
puritanism. or maybe just a hesitancy to constantly make out with people in public or be naked always.
working through lunch
the accent. oh the accent. if you’re from the USA and you think you don’t speak another language with an accent, or maybe you think this accent is mild, you are severely mistaken. embrace it and hope others find it cute, but don’t think for a moment it’s not incredibly obvious.


a letter about adam and fragility

here: a personal letter made public, in an act to relate.

Dear Mr and Mrs Obrien and your entire family,

On my thirteenth birthday my head went through a car window. My sister, myself, and our mutual friend were heading to the beach. Less than a mile from our home we turned around to get suntan lotion. Or maybe it was towels. Carelessly drove through a red light. I was not wearing my seatbelt. I wound up having my right eyelid sewed back on, stitches across my forehead, two severely black and violet eyes, etc. An overall Frankenstein-esque appearance. Which was a gift, because in all reality I was lucky to be alive.

My doctors and parents let me miss almost two weeks of school during the most intense part of the healing process. For the first week I wasn’t allowed to wash my face or hair in order to let my open wounds seal. It’s hard enough to be in middle school, but to have to go in a state of greasy haired, facial deformation is just plain cruel. Call me vain, I accepted no visitors.

Well, except for one.

The doorbell rang unannounced. My mother came to the back of the house to get me, I had a friend here to see me. I refused. But before my mother had time to return the declination, Adam Obrien was standing in front of me holding a small bouquet of flowers. I remember the exact look on his face. It was brave, it was caring. There was pity, but a pity of understanding this idea of pain, the vulnerability of the human body. And the impact this fragility has on the mind. Something so genuine, nonjudgemental, merciful. Our eyes never strayed from contact for the brief time he was in front of me. He handed me the flowers. I can’t remember if a single word was uttered between the two of us. I think not, if my memory serves me correctly.

This is my most vivid memory of the entirety of my accident. I carry it with me everywhere. Each morning when I open my eyes to the sun. Whenever a lover gently touches the scars across my eyelid and forehead. The action of buckling my seatbelt. Applying eyeliner. The gift of flowers.

Yesterday Adam overdosed on drugs. It had been 5 years since I had last spoken to him, a brief unanswered Facebook conversation, at that. Loss is always strange. But loss of a somewhat stranger is in some ways more disorienting. A particularly shaped hole where only the memory of this person subsided. Perhaps you hadn’t intended to fill it, but at least wanted the option to do so.

I never did mention just how much his visit meant to me. Maybe it wasn’t necessary. I never knew Adam as an adult. But I like to imagine he spent the rest of his life touching people in similar small, genuine ways. So, I offer my own account. The importance of his presence in my world. With these small fragments of memory maybe we can piece together something far-reaching.

I’m thinking of the Obriens with love, I am so sorry for your tremendous loss. The human body is so painfully vulnerable. I am currently located in Spain, across a big wide ocean, unable to ring your doorbell, look you in the eyes. But as my most beloved author, JD Salinger, once wrote ‘I privately say to you, old friend… please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of early-blooming parentheses: (((()))).’ I hope you will receive my sentiment, know it strives to be as pure as the kindness Adam showed to me in those moments thirteen years ago.

With Love and Admiration,
Shaina Joy Machlus

escribio / make it work

my newest writing gig is for the oh-so-cool Makers of Barcelona (MOB) blog.

check me out here:


i’m also honored to be heading up the MOB farmer’s market project. i’ll be collaborating on behalf of MOB with Food Assembly to be the first barcelona branch helping connect more people to more fresh food.

workin’ it for sure.
by talking to every single person as much as possible. by opening every single door. by climbing through windows and hoops of all shapes and sizes. following through. finally making headway.

poco a poco.

in another life, I would like to be a ___________. (fill in the blank)

My blank, writer.

I’ve written quite a few posts on books, authors; the core of my deepest being a soppy sponge reserved for literature absorption and language.
My earliest literate memories involve my grandfather’s obsession with Shakespeare. I wanted to learn to read because I wanted to see the words my Grandpa would constantly reenact for me. One man shows of Hamlet, King Leer. Monologues over cereal. My eyes were always widest around my Grandpa.
I begged my mom to teach me to read. No easy task for anyone. Myself especially, I didn’t utter my first word until I was three years old, outward expression not exactly my childhood foray. Or perhaps, I was only waiting to do so with grave patience and grace. I recall bright refrigerator magnets of the alphabet. At school I was learning Hebrew and English simultaneously, but home was reserved for those blocky latin ABC’s. My mom diligently and patiently guided me through the battle between b’s and d’s. We took walks and car rides so I could read any and all billboards, shop menus, signage. When asking if we could go to the library, the answer was always yes.
Needless to say, I was the only kid I knew (besides my two sisters) whose plastic Disney backpack was stuffed with Shakespeare anthologies.
Fast forward.
A college degree in Biochemistry. I do love science, and my program was perfect for me and my path. However looking back I know my choice was made by a tiny wheezing voice of fear. Practicality and security in United States is painted in the portraits of doctors, lawyers, accountants. Reading and writing remained a hobby, a habit I tried to keep behind closed doors. As I grow older I give myself the freedom to grow increasingly comfortable and aware of my own true happiness. And, although it’s quite terrifying to leap towards, open up, and explore something you love, for myself it is the nucleus of who I am continually becoming as a human.
Faster forward.
Cara Craig, one of my nearest and dearest, gifted me an issue of Tom Tom Magazine. Tom Tom is a magazine designated to the art, craft, beauty, of all things lady drumming, plus some. As a lady drummer myself, to find a combination with beautiful writing was instantaneous swooning. Two years later, by happenstance, I helped organize a day of workshops, speakers, and music showcases in Greensboro, NC with none other than Tom Tom Magazine. And from here, the love affair continued in all directions.
Yesterday I became a printed, published journalist with none other than Tom Tom Magazine. My name will be in tangible print, inside the magazine that sparked inspiration, on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, music stores all around the country, and Ace Hotels all around the world.
So, maybe I should be playing it cool. But, that’s just not my style. This is a big deal for me. Huge. It is some small, teeny, tiny token of repayment to my Grandpa, my Mom, Tom Tom Magazine, and all of my heroes who have and continue to navigate the world with words, challenging the ideas of expression and communication.
So, I won’t wait until the next life. I want all the struggle, all the uncertainty, because I want to learn. And because of these little moments; my name in printed text on the glossy pages of one of my favorite magazines.
So stupidly grateful, for all of it.

And what about you? What’s your blank?


next month you can purchase the latest issue of Tom Tom Magazine at any Barnes and Noble, various music stores around the country, and Ace hotels worldwide. or, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Tom Tom Magazine here: tomtommag.com

how to: shift energy


returning to barcelona from my work in cambodia with the trade foundation has been a slow, strange adjustment. to be expected, from one side of the world to another. nights my bossy body wakes up after 4 hours of sleep, ready to start the day. followed by sleep sessions of 12 hours or more of never ending night. hills, valleys; up, down, and plateauing. ocean floors, clouds like cotton balls; density, weight, and infinite expansiveness. it feels like i’ve navigated all types of spaces in this return.

or more simply. stuck in a rut.
happens to the best of us. and so, for this best of us, and a self reminder,
here’s my process on display.

write. journal. write. journal. record.
walk at least two miles every day. preferably by a large body of water.
rooibos tea.
10 minutes of mediation followed by one orange every day.
this documentary: http://womenartrevolution.com
surround yourself with music and art.
accomplish tasks, even if you have to make them up.
organize. everything.
embrace the stereotype of a mid twenties artist; smoke cigarettes, drinks too much coffee and red wine, listen only to music from the 60’s and 70’s.
figs and cashews.
contact your ex boy friend and immediately remember how happy you are he is your ex boy friend.
get weirder.
talk to as many people as possible, especially those you love.
make gratitude lists.
adopt one lavender, one rosemary plant and a fig tree.

all this from the other side. currently. i’ve got an apartment with my closest friends, i truly adore both. connections growing each day. drums to play. a bike loaned to me by another friend. knowledge and newly restored confidence that all things and feelings pass.

and, it’s spring.

departure and bad selfies

my itinerary says it’s time to make the forty hour trip from siem reap back to barcelona. even if my leadened feet and heart speak differently.
it seems every time i come to Cambodia, it gets a little harder to leave. more strings tied, a tangled web of elasticity constantly tugging me east.

how grateful i am, however to have made a new home for myself in another city I truly adore, barcelona. find an apartment, find more work, find the best tortilla, find drums.


my personal secrets to pleasant travel:
tea! six of my favorite tea bags. chamomile is a must.
Jane Austen
jazz and classical music mixes
vitamin c
dried mango
wool socks
and, Valium

just in case there was ever an inclination of my glamour. a photo montage of a shiny shaina during four plane plus two bus rides. i do love bad photos.





learning through teaching, hair and music in pictures

teaching has the power to reaffirm and inspire passion for the subject you are passing on.
it’s been important and wonderful to harness my own skill-set of hair and music through new sets of eyes and ears.
a small montage of some of my work from the last month.