Quote of the Day

Friday, December 25, 2009

tell me a story

This post has been a long time coming, but busyness, laziness and other, pushier thoughts have continued to crowd it out until now. But how seems like a good time, it being Christmastime and a mere few weeks after my beloved grandfather's passing.

I guess it really started with a thin purple book, handed to me last Christmas Eve with apologies that it was not the customary check my grandparents had given over the past several Holidays. What it was turned out to be far more precious: a locally-published collection of my grandmother's poetry; a time capsule, a little piece of her story, and with that of my own history. Of course I've always known my grandmother wrote poetry, and I've read some of it over the years, but somehow it was as if that little volume opened up a whole new window for me, from the bio in which I learned new things about her life and career before my grandpa and my dad, to the pages of her poetry, words straight from the soul. It almost felt like a sort of trespassing or voyeurism, the intimacy of reading the thoughts and emotions of years past.

I don't know if this is just me or if it's a universal thing, but I seem to carry specific snapshots of my grandparents around in my head, as if I have a defining image of them frozen in a certain period of time. For instance, although in the end my maternal grandmother was very weak and unable to walk by herself, and though I saw her daily in her last years as she had come to live with us then, still when I think of her I see her in her mid-seventies, so opinionated in all her feisty French stubbornness, still riding her bicycle daily between her house and ours, in a skirt and sans helmet, of course. For my recently passed paternal Grandpa, the image is circa five to ten years ago, discount hearing aid squealing as he recounted an amusing anecdote just a little too loudly, twinkle in his eye, or hummed some old melody. Or wielded his trusty old pocket knife at the dinner table to cut his meat. He was a character, indeed.

So I guess but it's just kind of strange for me to think of my grandparents when they were young, to think that they were ever my age and what they must have been like and how the world must have looked like through their eyes. It's crazy the first time it really hits you that your grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles had this whole life before you were born, before you knew them, filled with triumphs and heartaches and adventures you know very little of. I think often we forget that, but the thing is that even though they came before us, these events are in a way a part of us as well, an extension of our history. And someday the people you took for granted to be there will be gone, and along with them the chance to hear their history from their own mouths.

It makes me sad to realize that, whether due to selfishness or simply not thinking about it, I've never bothered to find out a good part of these stories, to really learn about the lives led before I was a presence on this earth. I am grateful that a few years back I got to hear my Grandpa talk about his musical adventures in the navy in WWII, something I'd never really known about until then. And there was more to learn from reading his obituary, things I love to know now but wish I'd had made efforts to learn while he was alive. I guess that's how it goes, that you never think of some things until it's too late. But I guess I should also make a point to make that effort to know my elders and learn their history, learn from the hard and interesting and amazing lives they've led. And maybe even in the process understand myself better.

So I will say Merry Christmas everybody, hold your loved ones close and don't be afraid to ask for their stories. And for those who can no longer be with us, let us remember them fondly and celebrate their stories as well.

Monday, December 7, 2009

gratitude, happiness and the dangers of being content

Dear Pat,
You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said,
“Why don’t you make something for me?”
I asked you what you wanted and you said, “A box.”
“What For?”
“To put things in.”
“What things?”
“Whatever you have.” You said.
Well here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts—the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
And still the box is not full.

--a dedication from John Steinbeck to his friend and editor, Pascal Convici, published in the preface to
East of Eden

I don't usually do the whole "what are you thankful for" thing on Thanksgiving. It's not that I'm ungrateful, it's just that I've always kind of felt like it was one of those traditions that has lost meaning over the years and become almost a mindless, perfunctory thing, much like New Years resolutions or Valentine's Day. I believe that being thankful, along with doing little things to be a better person and showing loved ones that we care about them, should be on the daily agenda, not something we need to set aside a holiday for. But let me cut that rant short. The point is that, in reflecting on the holiday of Thanksgiving the other week and looking back on my life in the last year, I realize there is a lot I have to express gratitude for. Yes, I know I'm a little late, but
(see above) fuck it, why not today?

So here goes...

I am grateful for the people in my life, for the family I often take for granted but who are always there for me, always thinking of me, and who I've often had to push away to realize that I do actually need them and want them there, even if some of them still drive me insane at times. And for the friends life has seen fit to put in my life and keep there, those people who accept me and don't judge, who at times seem to be able to read my mind and know exactly when I need to talk, or when I just need a drink, who keep me grounded and keep me young.

And the people who've come into my life in the past year, I'm grateful for the new life they breathe into my routine and for the promise the future holds for whatever journeys we may take together. Even the people I've only met for a little while, and who I may never cross paths with again, I'm thankful for the short time we've been able to spend together, for the wisdom and insight they may have graced me with, and for the laughter we may have shared.

I am also very grateful to have steady employment, especially in this less-than-ideal economy, and especially after the incredibly humbling experience of being unemployed for a long period of time. I'm thankful for the challenge and the purpose my job brings to my life at the moment, for the financial security which gives me peace of mind and allows me to continue living in this beautiful city, and for having the time to enjoy it for the next year or two while I figure out what the next step will be and attempt to plan my future.

I think that maybe most of all, I'm thankful for my current state of mind, the place I'm at now in my life. Looking back at a year ago this time, I'm just grateful to be free of the chains of guilt and doubt and internal chaos that had held me as prisoner for a while, and the unmotivated rut I was in for some time preceding. I'm grateful to have found myself again, and, I think (or hope at least!), to have become a better version of myself.

And still, in spite of all this, despite the fact that I feel confident and happy and maybe the most grounded and centered I've ever been, I still feel a bit of malcontent stirring up in me at times. It seems that there has always been that restlessness just at the back of my mind. In the past I haven't always known what to make of it, sometimes it would make me feel guilty, as if I wasn't thankful for everything I have. As if I were greedy. But recently I've been thinking, maybe it's not such a bad thing to be greedy in this sense. Because when it comes to life, who ever really gets enough? Who ever really gets to do all they want to and see and be all they want to?

And that little feeling; it's not really an ungratefulness, or even taking things for granted (although I am certainly guilty of that sometimes). It's more of a reminder, I think, that as good as life is right now, there's more out there; there's more to see and do, more to be. And that doesn't mean I need to rush headlong into change just for the sake of it, it simply means I need to be aware, and to not allow myself to become too stationary or too comfortable , or ignore that little restless voice for the sake of security or comfort.

And I can’t help but think that this is part of the human condition. That there is a restlessness inherent in our nature that makes us never quite content. Maybe we are destined, for better or worse, to be always searching, always looking for something right around the corner or over the next horizon. Maybe we're all born to be wandering souls, to a greater or lesser extent. And to a certain extent anyway, who's to say that's a bad thing? Because that sense of restlessness, maybe that's what keeps us moving forward, always wanting to know more, to be more. Maybe that's what keeps us striving to be stronger, to be smarter, more productive, more successful. Because if we're completely satisfied with every aspect of our lives, what motivation is there to keep growing and learning? If you're content sitting at the bottom of the mountain, why climb it?

So I have to think that contentedness is not a natural state for a person. Because contentedness breeds complacency, and complacency is for cows in the field, chewing their cud, satisfied to remain the same, day after day, because they have no dreams, no vision. And maybe that's what really separates human beings as a species (well ok, besides opposable thumbs): that ambition, that longing for adventure and drive for change. That the grass is always greener, not just on the other side of the fence, but on the other side of the mountain, the other end of the ocean. It's what keeps us moving and exploring, inventing and discovering and building.

Of course it can also go too far, that drive can prove detrimental to one's health and happiness. After all, if you're
constantly on the move and never standing still, it's hard to ever really enjoy anything, or to find any sort of peace. And when you're always looking for something bigger and better it is very easy not to see and appreciate what's right in front of you.

So how does one find that balance? At first glance it seems like such a blatent contradiction to say that discontentedness is congruent with well-being. In fact, I'm pretty sure that any English dictionary will tell you that
"happiness" and "contentedness" are synonyms, but personally I see a glaring difference. And I don't know if it's the definitions of these two words which have been twisted and misinterpreted over the years or if I just have a freakishly slanted way of seeing things, but I can't help thinking the real key to happiness has to be this: to be at peace with yourself; to love yourself, flaws and all, and be present in the here and now, to be grateful for all you have and enjoy the good and the beauty around you, but to still retain that little bit of restlessness and discontent that keeps us always searching, always questioning and always striving to find a better life and the very best version of ourselves.

Because maybe the box is never full, and maybe that's how it's supposed to be; that deep down in our very DNA we were blessed and cursed with an insatiable appetite for life, a limitless capacity for joy, sorrow, curiosity, and everything in between. But just because the box can never be filled doesn't mean we'll stop trying. And it doesn't mean there can't be a whole lot of amazing stuff inside.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

all things great and small (or, how a bug’s life was spared thanks to alcohol and an overly emotional day)

What is this, you ask? An ordinary Ikea jar? Au contraire, good sirs and madams, for this seemingly mundane bottle has found part-time employment as a bug-capturer and temporary housing for spiders. So while its previous contents of genuine Thai seashells lay scattered atop my bookcase, let me tell the story so you aren't quite so terribly confused.

You see, at approximately 11:58 last evening, my cat alerted me, with a sound somewhere between a meow and a growl and a bleat, that there was a foreign intruder in our room. Sure enough, it was a spider, who was subsequently captured, held hostage in the aforementioned jar and then set free near the wilderness of our garbage bins outside. I showed my prisoner to two of my roommates, and one examined it while expressing curiosity at my tolerance. It seems he holds a more violent reaction towards intruders of the eight-legged variety. The thing is, I used to be a stomper myself, or a tissue-suffocator, etc. Whatever the method of euthanasia, I certainly did not at one time find it appropriate to troop downstairs at midnight and venture out into the icy air to let an ordinary bug roam free.

But rewind about a year ago, and I can tell you the origins of this apparent madness. All I really remember is that I had just gotten home from a particularly drunk night of a particularly bad week and I was feeling particularly awful about myself, not to mention particularly overly-emotional, likely due to a combination of that fickle friend alcohol and the events I was dealing with at the time. I had just entered the bathroom and braced myself and my blurred vision against the sink when I noticed a spider in the bathtub. My accustomed initial reaction of stifling a scream and shuddering probably followed, and I proceeded to try drowning the thing. And then a funny thing happened.

You see, I'm not usually that emotional. In truth I've come to see that I tend to be very much a dude when it comes to feelings. I can reluctantly admit that they're there, but I have an inordinately difficult time expressing them, which is to say that I for the most part do not talk about them, and when I do am inevitably only able to awkwardly and probably at least semi-incoherently half-express them, though whether due to lack of practice or innate inability I don't know. So when they accost me like they did that day I tend to become a bit overwhelmed and act in ways others may view as strange.

Anyway, in my inebriated, overwrought state, I watched the spider as I tried to pour water on it and flush it down the drain. And something just came over me, call it an epiphany, or call it a ridiculous over-sensitive drunken fancy. Because as the water got closer and closer to its eight little legs, that little spider began to fight like you wouldn't believe. It started crawling faster than I would have thought possible, scrambling valiantly up the side of the tub to keep away from the deadly stream nipping at it's feet. And it suddenly dawned upon my booze-soaked mind that I've never had to fight that hard. I've never had to work that hard, to truly hustle, just to survive. And it seemed to me that one really has to respect that effort, even if is coming from a tiny little spider.

So yes, that little bug taught me a lesson, and in turn earned its life and freedom. And along with itself saved many others, because since then I've felt obligated to adopt a No-Kill, Catch-and-Release policy when it comes to spiders and other creepy-crawly things (unless they're overtly hostile and impossible to safely trap, like fleas and that Chicagoan wasp that was at least as long as my middle finger). It's kind of funny that I would be reminded of that incident this week, when I seem to have found myself in an especially uncharacteristically emo state. But then again, maybe those are the times I need it most; the little reminder that all this too shall pass, and that it's the true hustlers who always survive. Those who see the shoe sole bearing down upon them and don't give up and give in to a seemingly inevitable fate, but instead scramble like crazy to stay afloat, stay alive and take whatever life may throw at them with a smile and a wink.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


"I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything."
~Stephen Wright

As far back as I can remember I've had a love affair with the English language. I don't know, maybe it's genetic from having two English majors for parents and a journalist/poet grandmother, or perhaps just ingrained in me from a very early age, but it seems like from start I could never get enough. Yes, I was that freakish, nerdy kid who was the only student not groaning when it was time for a vocabulary quiz, who aced almost every spelling test, who preferred to play Scrabble over Monopoly or Candyland or Operation.

Because I just can't help it, I love words. Words by themselves, their meanings and histories and the way they sound rolling off the tip of my tongue; words strung together, the endless combinations and possibilities they present for one to express oneself. I believe that there's actually a lot of truth to that infamous quote, "The pen is mightier than the sword." I think maybe we don't always realize the power of words; on their own they may seem flimsy or unimportant, "sticks and stones," we say, "they're only words."

But words can lift you up and they can cut like the sharpest dagger. Words can set you free or they can crowd up in your head but be impossible to get out of your mouth and can drive you mad. And words, when put together in the right way, when in the hands of someone who knows how to use them, can touch a person's soul, bring forth tears of sadness or laughter, persuade someone to change their entire life, incite a revolution. The power of words, of language, is immense.

I find myself in complete and slightly envious awe of poets and authors so adept at wielding words, at manipulating the English language. I suppose writing is somewhat like sculpting with language; in the same way an artist takes a simple block of wood or clay or marble and turns it into something beautiful, the writer can can take a set of what you would think of as perfectly ordinary words and somehow transform them into something profoundly magical, something completely unexpected and extraordinary.

So when a friend announced that his apartment was throwing a "What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?" party last weekend, I decided to go as "The Great American Novelist". Ok, technically as a child I never stood up and announced that I wanted to be such a thing (if I had even known what it was), or even a writer, at that. Technically as a child I suppose I wanted to be either a veterinarian, or for a while the person at Marine World who chilled with the tigers on "Tiger Island" (sweet gig, right??) I think I may have even gone through a brief wanna-be ballerina phase before I got tired of being the chubby kid in the leotard.

But even in elementary school I always enjoyed reading and relished the creative writing assignments I was given, always going pages and pages over the minimum requirement (yes, extreme verbosity has been a chronic problem for me). And I'm pretty sure I went through a period in high school where I dreamed of someday writing the Next Great American Novel (I blame my Junior year English class). So that seemed close enough.

And am I really "grown-up" now anyway? There are certainly times I wonder, though I do try and at least make a good show of being an adult. But this, I think, is a greater question that I don't want to tackle at the moment. Regardless of whether or not I am currently a "grown up", I am certainly not what I want to be in the long run. I may have a job, and a good one at that, but I don't have a career, and I've got a long way to go in figuring that out.

But I digress. The truth is, I'm pretty sure that this blog is about as close as I'll ever get to being a novelist, Great American or otherwise. Ok, I may love words, and I may be able to turn a nice phrase now and then, but I never had much of a knack for plot. Or persistence. Not to mention that I seem to lack the apparently necessary proclivity for suicide and capacity for extreme alcoholism.

Isn't it sad that genius so often seems to be accompanied by an immense drive for self-destruction? So many of the great writers, musicians, artists, etc. seem to have been plagued by mental illness and other inner demons, or maybe by just too violent a passion for life... but I suppose it only makes sense that extraordinary things should come from brains that operate so differently from the status quo.

Indeed, I sometimes think that I would like to be a genius, and a genius writer at that, but I'm afraid that I may just be too balanced (wow, never thought I'd be saying that!), and perhaps I value my sanity and my health just a bit too much. So I suppose I'll just have to settle for playing the part for a night, and continuing to enjoy the written genius of others. Mustachioed or not.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

dear pandora radio,

I am writing to let you know that I’ve found someone else to satisfy my musical needs. His name is LastFM and ok sure, he may not be the quickest, he may buffer a tad too much or suddenly get quiet for no reason at all, and yes, I may need to refresh a little more than I’d like, but at least he's THERE and he listens to my NEEDS.

At least he doesn’t depress me by playing too much Elliot Smith and Interpol, or annoy me with Dave Matthews, or try to make my head explode by playing that Shins song from Garden State INCESSANTLY, and then when I ask nicely if we can please listen to something else for once, try to sneak in a live version. As if I wouldn’t notice it was the same damn song. I’M NOT STUPID, YOU KNOW.

At least he doesn’t force me to listen to a song I hate or am tired of because “I’ve skipped too many songs already”. So what? Is it too much to ask to hear something I like while I'm slaving away at work? Don't you even want me to be happy?? And at least when he gets all needy and asks if I’m still listening he puts on a cute grumpy bear face. But most importantly, he doesn’t withhold music from me when I refuse to give him money. That’s right, he doesn’t NEED my money, he’s self sufficient. I admire that in an online radio station.

Oh Pandora, I should have know you weren’t the one for me back last fall, when I introduced you to my former boss and the two of you proceeded to have a Nickelback-infested fling, RIGHT in front of my face. I shudder at the memory. Really, have you no shame? Oh, I’ll admit, you can be quite charming with your cute little album covers and your changing backgrounds. Maybe that’s why I kept coming back. But I see now that you’ll never change, so I’m sorry to say that we’re through. We've had some laughs, we've had some fun times and some good rock-outs. I'll always remember Soul Fridays and the time you introduced me to Chris & Thomas. But the time has come for us to part. Have a nice life, Pandora, and take care.

Your formerly devoted,


P.S. Let me know when the month is up and you're free again, I'll totally come over for a listen. For old time's sake of course. I mean LastFM is great and all, but MYGOD, the buffering!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'tis the season

Anyone who's lived in San Francisco for any length of time has heard (and likely empathized with on some level) Mark Twain's infamous quip on the state of our summer. Or rather, the months traditionally known to the rest of the northern hemisphere as Summer. Come on, say it with me now: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." Oh, so droll Mr. Twain. But while perhaps a slight exaggeration, it's true that first part of the phrase "sunny California" seems to often elude a good portion of our city for a good part of June through August in favor of its beloved fog. And in the five years I've lived here I've personally witnessed hundreds of tourists discover this the hard way as they shiver in their shorts and t-shirts, mentally moving up their departure date to LA.

In fact, San Francisco often seems to often be confused when it comes to weather and seasons in general. Now, I've lived in California all my life, in mild, moderate climates where it never gets too hot or too cold. So I guess I never put too much thought into seasonal progression as it occurs elsewhere. But recently the topic has randomly come up with several different people I know who are either from or have spent a significant amount of time on the east coast. They all seemed to have remarkably similar perspectives, which is basically that, without distinctive seasons to mark the passage of time, the months and even years can sometimes seem to muddle together, it becomes harder to keep track, and we can perhaps lose a sense of perspective. Or as one friend who recently moved away from the city put it,
"I found out that I need to see the seasons change in order to not get wrapped up in too much peripheral shit."

I have to say, this all blew my mind just a little bit. I guess I'd never really thought about it that way. I mean, having never personally felt or lived my life to the rhythm of "real" seasons, why would I? But it suddenly made a lot of sense... there are times when I try to recall when a certain event took place and just can't seem to pick it out of the years with any degree of certainty. Could this be, just maybe, due not to a poor memory, but instead to a lack of seasons to help mark the changing times? Have I merely been a victim of the California Un-season?

And then it occurred to me that for most of my life I counted largely on school to mark my seasons: the beginning of one semester marked the coming of fall and its end winter and Christmastime, the start of the next heralded a new year and with its conclusion came the ever blessed and longed-after summer. It does become trickier, I think, to keep track of time without these external indications. I had to count back on the calendar the other day just to realize that I'm well into my eighth month at my current job. Eight months. And it seems like I just started yesterday. Yikes. I guess the time really does tend to blur together when you're wallowing in the purgatory of unemployment or working an office job, doing more or less the same thing day after day, week after week. It's a slightly disturbing thought, that significant chunks of your life can pass by with seemingly little notice or change.

So there I was, half convinced that I was trapped in a bland, seasonless limbo; a blur of indistinct months spinning round and round like a moderately-climated carousel, in a place so unused to extremes in weather that our roads become a giant clusterfuck when it rains and we just don't know what to do with ourselves if the temperature reaches over 90 degrees for more than three consecutive days. Frustrated by a San Francisco Summer that (true to Mr. Twain's accusation) never seemed to get warm enough, and an Indian Summer that never seemed to want to arrive. And then a funny thing happened. Fall happened. But it didn't happen so much out there as it did in here, somewhere inside me, and I realized that we do have seasons, we do have those natural indicators of time, even if they perhaps exist here more as a state of mind than as a phenomenon of weather and foliage.

I don't know, maybe as a native Californian I've inevitably had to develop a more fine-tuned instinct for the change of the seasons, because we don't have a huge amount of consistency in that department, and we don't get the in-your-face indications. Instead we have inconspicuous signs, subtle hints, perhaps unnoticed to one who hasn't gown up (or at least spent a significant amount of time) here. It's the little things you have to look for: the different seasonal produce that appears at the farmer's market, the changing drink menu at the coffee shops and the decorations display at the local Walgreens. It's the start of the free concert season in Golden Gate Park, or the end of it. It's in the blossoming of our little sidewalk trees, or the subtle changing of its leaves' color. It's in the length of the days, the swell of the waves at Ocean Beach, the subtle scent of barbecue that wafts on the breeze during late summer evenings or the crisp edge it carries in autumn, and the mild rain that comes to wash the city clean in early spring.

It's a certain inexplicable feeling in the air, the same that suddenly came upon me one day a few weeks ago as I stepped out of my office building for lunch, took a deep breath of crisp sunny air, and decided,
yes, it is fall. An indescribable instinct that in a mere instant quelled my longing for Indian Summer and long warm days, had me putting away my dreams of lemonade and popsicles, strawberries and watermelon, endless beach days and backyard BBQ's; packing them away with my shorts and sundresses for another year. I embraced Fall, brought out my plaid flannel and my winter coats, started looking forward to pumpkins and cozy nights, Thanksgiving and the scent of pine and twinkling lights just around the corner.

And so for the next several months you may find me experimenting with new recipes for sweet potatoes and butternut squash, sipping on piping hot chai tea and pumpkin spice lattes, curling up with a book and a blanket on my yet-to-be-found window seat (wishing for a crackling fireplace), and as always, testing my theory that one can
never own too many plaid shirts. Because no matter what the cynics and naysayers may think, to me it is officially fall in San Francisco. You may have to look a little harder for it, you may need to know where to look, and how. But there are seasons here after all. It's just that, as with most things, San Francisco does them its own way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

yin& yang

Sometimes I get so tired of being careful. Sometimes I can feel the weight of caution on my soul like a heavy winter blanket, thick and suffocating, and I suddenly feel the urge to throw all my inhibitions to the wind and let them scatter where they may, dive off the cliff headfirst without looking. There is a recklessness I feel sometimes deep within me that wrestles with the sensible, careful person the world sees most of the time.

Sometimes I'm stupefied by these apparent contradictions:  that the same girl who burns her skin scarlet out of neglect to wear sunscreen and refuses to rest and act prudently when sick can be so meticulous and overly cautious as to recheck something at work three times to make sure it was done right. Or that someone who can be so reckless with her feelings is oh so careful of sharing them. How do these discrepancies coexist within a being and not destroy it? Or is it precisely the balance of the two extremes that is necessary?

And why does it always seem that, perhaps when my flagrantly daring side is most needed, it suddenly runs off to cower in hiding, leaving me paralyzed to action? Looking down from up high on the ledge, terrified to move, knowing that in jumping I can either fly or fall, and in falling only hope not to break.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

muni's great for people watching

On my commute home I notice an old man, head-to-toe cowboy in boots, worn jeans, plaid shirt and hat. You get the feeling, looking at him, that he's been wearing the exact same outfit for years and years, as if upon opening his closet you'd find a neat row of plaid shirts hovering over pairs of boots, unchanged since the 1950's. He looks like he'd be more at home on the wide-open country of a Montana ranch than a packed muni train full of hipsters and people in business clothes, and it makes me wonder whether he is a stranger to the city or in fact a long-time local, refusing to change his manner of dress after decades of surrounding change; an aesthetic rebel to societal averages. It would seem he's not accustomed to the underground; he hovers as close to the door as possible, seemingly anxious to be released, one slightly shaking hand ignoring the pole altogether and instead tentatively reaching out to it's reflection in the window for support. Yet stop after stop he stays put, dodging the swarm of people boarding the train during rush hour. Or maybe he's not unused to muni at all, maybe he's just claustrophobic, or in a hurry. Either way, I salute you, Cowboy, muni can be a scary enough place even after years of riding it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

art & other cheap thrills

This is what I love about San Francisco: That you can come home on a Sunday evening to find a party complete with full bluegrass band jamming on the sidewalk directly in front of your apartment. And so what had promised to be a pretty boring, run-of-the-mill Sunday night instead turns into sitting on my front porch chilling with some adorable floppy-eared pups, drinking my neighbor's homemade 10-year-old Cabernet and listening to some lively folk/bluegrass/Americana music. And learning from a new acquaintance about Sketch Tuesdays at 111 Minna Gallery. I'm still constantly amazed at how much goes on in this city, all the art and music and cultural events, that I'm still learning of new things all the time, even after over 5 years of living here.

As luck would have it the next Sketch Tuesday happened to be occuring this very week, and so yesterday evening I trekked down to Minna Street after work to see for myself. As promised the gallery hosted rows of artists, hard at work creating a diverse mix of artwork. I wish I'd brought my camera because it's not often you get to really see artists in the process and it was amazing to see so much creativity flowing around the room. When an artist completes a piece they then pin it on the designated wall along with the price (ranging this time from $1 for some small sketches to $200 for a metallic-encrusted painting). Then begins what I see as sort of a treasure hunt: if you find something you like you are supposed to go find the artist where they are sitting somewhere around the room and buy it from them.

I of course became
immediately infatuated with a series of tiny watercolors, but could not find the artist anywhere. It seems that while there is a list of artists who are supposed to attend, as well as table placard labeling their respective spaces, it is not uncommon for artists to come and spontaneously set up in side booths along the venue, which can make it a serious challenge to find the creator of your desired piece. But eventually I did end up walking away with these two by Lacey Bryant, for $5 each:

Yup, $10 total, that's less than the price of a salad at Mixt Greens. The artist was really sweet too, she even offered to hold onto the paintings for me while I ran to get my wallet that I'd left at the office.

And this is another thing I love about this city: that there are so many places that strive to really make art accessible. As an art history major, one of the things I found discouraging about the art world and
especially galleries was the stuffiness and elitist attitude you often find there. Traditionally there is a preconception that collecting is for the wealthy, that fine art is for affluent eyes only, and indeed if I walked into many of the galleries around Union Square, a 20-something in jeans and leather jacket, I would not be likely to get much attention from the staff. After all, they are in the business of selling art, and I suppose I do not look very likely to purchase a $10,000 piece.

But San Francisco is a young, generally egalitarian-minded city, and in this vain there have sprung up over the years a wealth of galleries and non-profits and events that help bring art to a new audience: to the younger generation, to students and to the generally pocket-book challenged. At Hang Art in downtown San Fransico you can rent artwork for 3 month periods, on a sliding scale depending on the piece's purchase price. Around the corner, ArtworkSF offers a
rent-to-own program. At the the nonprofit Luggage Store in the mission, you can see exhibits and performing art events that work "to amplify the voices of the region’s diverse artists and residents, to promote inclusion and respect, to reduce inter-group tensions and to work towards dispelling the stereotypes and fears that continue to separate us." In the lower haight you can visually peruse paintings on the walls of Edo Salon while you get your hair cut. An open studio event I attended a few weeks ago at a friend's warehouse studio boasted several floors of some wonderful and widely diverse artwork. And pretty much everywhere you look there are beautiful, colorful murals (and other street art) that everyone can enjoy, that by their very nature are created for and belong to the public.

And there are so many, many more places like this, galleries and co-ops and studios, places that say, "hey, art isn't just for rich old people to look at and own." Venues that want to provide a place where no matter your age or attire or yearly income you can feel comfortable and not self-conscious or out-of-place looking at art, and more than that, actually be able to bring art home and enjoy it where you live. Places that want to bring artists and art-lovers together in a collaborative, win-win situation, instead of keeping art on an ivory pedestal and maintaining a cold sense of removal between the art, it's creator and the public.

So I guess I am now $10 poorer and a officially a "collector". While I was interning at one of the 49 Geary galleries, an art consultant there would frequently tell me, "you know, it's never too early to start your collection, you should start now!" I was always greatly amused by this and secretly wondered if he was hoping to sell me my first piece(probably). I don't think it really registered to him that he was speaking to a college student living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, working for free at a gallery whose least expensive pieces probably run well into the upper hundreds, if not thousands. The truth is I may never be able to afford one of the Ray Turner landscapes I lust after, or much of the other art I would love to own.

So I must say thank goodness for Sketch Tuesdays, where you can buy an original piece of art directly from the artist (with no commission taken out for an agent or gallery) for less than the price of a meal out, and if you get there soon enough perhaps even witness its creation, which is not something many collectors of fancy-schmacy high-priced art can say. Sure, they may have been made in 20 minutes and they may be on little scraps of sketchbook paper or wood (I even saw a drawing on a postage sticker) instead of good quality canvas, but they are unique works of art that you can fall in love with and take home and enjoy for years to come. And the best part is they didn't cost you an entire month's pay.

How much do I love that I live in a place where I can experience a book fair, a concert and glorious sunshiny afternoon in a beautiful park all in the same day, all for free; a place where my middle-aged neighbors throw a hoppin' party on a Sunday night and where I can buy a painting for $5 while drinking on Tuesday? Lots.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

God's army is gathering... and they're not afraid to use cupcakes

That's right: cupcakes. Those delicious little frosting-covered morsels of heaven that everyone loves. They're cute. They're delectable. They're "in". And it seems that the people who would like to dictate what God wants you to do with your body are now attempting to do so by scrawling it in blood red frosting all over the sugary treats and then distributing them to the unsuspecting impressionable masses of America.

I love cupcakes. Yes, they taste great. Sure, they're fun to eat. But I think that maybe I love cupcakes even more for the idea of them than for the eating itself. I love baking them and decorating them and sharing them with friends. I love the little bit of fun and joy they spread. I love the endless possibilities and combinations they present and how they're like little edible pieces of art, all standing together in solidarity, and yet each one unique unto itself. Just as society should be.

And yet, instead of using cupcakes to bring people together, one group of Christians has been attempting to use them to divide and condemn. I was riding the N home the other night when a conversation behind me broke through my mild end-of-the-work-day space out and perked up my ears. It was a man relaying to his friend an article he had read on SFGate about "Cupcakes for Life", a campaign started by a group of anti-abortion supporters who have been using innocent unsuspecting cupcakes to spread their "pro-life" message across the nation. Of course I had to google this when I got home and see for myself. I can't sum up the whole sad, bizarre story better than Violet Blue does in her column (although I will certainly put my 2 cents in).

It would really be hilarious if it weren't so very creepy and disturbing. Ok, I do still find it quite amusing, in a ridiculous sort of way. But more so disturbing. As a lover of cupcakes, as a believer in CHOICE and Roe v. Wade and a feminist (I don't really like to use that term because I feel it can be quite divisive, but I think I am one in the purest sense of the word).... as a supporter of reproductive rights, not to mention the rights of children and young adults to think for themselves and not be the unwitting messengers of hatred and judgment: I, for one, am truly offended.

Let me say this: the cupcake does not discriminate. It does not judge. It flirts, it beckons: "Come, eat me. Don't worry about your waistline or your sugar intake or what people might think. Do what you want for once. Have fun, live a little!" Cupcakes, my friend, are a force for Good and not Evil. But unfortunately it would seem that the "Cupcakes for Life" people would seek to pervert the uplifting nature of the cupcake with their disturbingly misguided mission. It seems to me that there is just something inherently sneaky and wrong about using sweets in an attempt to brainwash children to your way of thinking. Honestly, you have to wonder what's next. Apple Pies for Abstinence? Anti-Stem Cell Research Sugar Cookies? Lollipops Against the Legalization of Gay Marriage??

It makes me very angry when human beings do terrible things in the name of God and religion, when they treat the bible as if it were a free pass to do pretty much whatever their ignorance and hatred sees fit. It saddens me and very much raises my indignation when people appropriate things that are innately good and twist them to suit their own distorted purposes. Like using cupcakes to spread the message against abortion, choice and women's rights. Much as religious folk have been using Jesus's name to spread messages of hate and prejudice for centuries.

Now come on, let's all face it: Jesus was a hippie. He was a lover, not a fighter. I mean, he only ever got mad, what... once? And all he did about it was a have a little fit over the blatant greed and materialism of the Church and knock a few tables over. Come to think of it, it seems to me that a few modern day tables could stand to be turned over... but then forget about Jesus, you'd probably be excommunicated and fined an exorbitant amount. But I digress... the point is that I think Jesus would have LOVED cupcakes, I think he would have... no... wait, that's not my point.

I guess my point is that religious people, ALL people (but especially religious people), need to learn to live and let live. It never ceases to amaze me that someone can literally live by the word of the bible and know by heart the Book of Genesis in which God bestows humanity with the gift of free will, and yet apparently not believe in people actually practicing free will. You know, my mom just happens to be quite thoroughly Catholic, and, I loathe to say, against abortion as a rule (I know, how did I end up this way? Was I adopted?? Tune in to future segments to find out!). But I am proud and infinitely relieved to say that I would never come home to find her cheerfully piping "Abortion Kills" onto freshly baked treats.

I mean really, how appetizing is a cupcake proclaiming "I Heart Babies" or "God Hates Murder" anyway? Especially when it's followed by this lovely suggestion taken directly from cupcakesforlife.com (you really can't make this stuff up): "Hand them the cupcakes and ask people if they would like to see what an abortion looks like. If they say yes show them a picture of an aborted baby."


...Oh... hi again. I'm sorry, I think I was rendered speechless there for a few minutes. I guess I must just be terribly squeamish because apparently for the people behind Cupcakes For Life nothing washes down pastry like the sight of a bloody fetus. Although to be honest, considering what I know about the attention span and eating habits of most children and adolescents (not to mention their general attitude towards any sort of extracurricular reading), there's a very good chance the majority of those cupcakes and their inspiring messages are decomposing at the bottom of a gut before you can even say "bloody fetus". What a shame. But never fear, I hear there's a group of stalwart Christians out there fighting to legalize childhood lobotomies. After all, how else are we supposed to raise our youth right in this day and age?? Especially when baked goods fail us.

**Speaking of inappropriately appropriating things, the lovely cupcake art seen above is by Natalie Dee of nataliedee.com (thanks Mr. President), who I think I am now slightly obsessed with. See you later, Space Cowboy(Cupcake).

EDIT: Upon closer inspection I noticed that under the "how to make cupcakes" page there is a picture featuring a variety of boxed cupcake mixes and canned frosting. CUPCAKE FAIL. If you really loved unborn fetuses you'd bake from scratch.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The ocean seems endless,
the tides come and go.

The sun that makes the waves dance with light
as if alive with a million restless water nymphs,
threatens ever so slowly
to set upon another day.

I sit and wait
and want.
Not yet... not yet...


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

there are places I remember

though some have changed, some forever
~The Beatles

I was feeling good after yoga the other night, and the newly-turned-night sky was such a gorgeous shade of cobalt blue, so I decided a walk to Alamo Square was in order. I should have known the light mist would turn into all-out fog by the time I'd run inside to feed the cat and throw on a jacket. But then as much as I love a clear night sky full of stars, I've also grown to appreciate the beauty of the blanket of fog that almost always rolls in at night to tuck the city into bed. At times I even finding it strangely comforting (I wonder if that means I've been in San Francisco too long?).

I knew where I was headed as I reached the top of the hill, pulled
instinctively in the direction without even being fully conscious of it. My tree. The one that's just perfect for sitting in. But it wasn't there. It's an odd feeling; looking for something you know should be there but somehow isn't. I began to feel strangely disoriented, the heavy mist swirling appropriately around me as if I had somehow landed in the Twilight Zone or an old film noir. I felt almost as if in a dream, one of those disorienting nightmares where you are in a place so familiar and yet things are unnervingly off, and you can't quite tell where you are, what's reality and what's the dream. I started to feel like I was going crazy, I knew I hadn't been there in a while but it hadn't been that long.

Then, almost as if a switch had been turned on, I regained my bearings, and there it was, looming out of the fog like a long-lost-found-again friend. Not lost, merely temporarily misplaced. I swear, I was so glad I almost hugged it. As if I didn't feel foolish enough already.

But in this almost-losing of one of my special places, I felt a certain sense of sadness and nostalgia awakened in me. I couldn't help but think of when I was very young and my parents, at the city's urging, allowed the tree on the sidewalk outside our house to be cut down without my knowledge. They replaced my beloved tree, with it's little white flowers and tiny sweet plums, with a boring anemic stump, something "less messy" that wouldn't litter the sidewalk with fallen fruit that would inevitably become a thick splatter of purple stickiness as it was trampled underfoot. I was furious. I thought of the
idyllic summer days I'd spent with my grandparents, picking plums to make jam, eating them by the handful until I felt sick; waking up to the explosion of white petals from my bedroom window in the spring; listening to my mom tell of how it was blossoming the week I was born. And I cried. Maybe it's because it was the biggest loss I'd faced at the time. Maybe because it was the first time I realized that everything changes.

Then there was the first time I came home from college for thanksgiving, seeing through the passenger side window of my dad's car the playground around the corner, the playground I'd practically grown up on, completely torn down and rebuilt. The comfortably familiar splintered old wood and worn-in metal replaced by garish plastic, mocking me like some sick circus clown in bright, safe primary colors. The uneven wooden posts I would balance along, the slide I hurt my back on as a child when I tried to climb down the ladder face first, the tire swings where as I got older I would go to sneak a cigarette or have a romantic rendezvous. Gone.

The tangible settings of my memories scattered to the wind like the night-cooled sand I would dig my bare toes into, staring at the stars in a ragged rubber tire hanging from a rusted old chain. Another reminder that nothing ever stays the same. That when you're not looking, things change, people die. Buildings are destroyed, trees cut down. Restaurants and shops close. Acquaintances are forgotten and friends move away. Love fades.

All we can do is mourn and move on. And remember. And when I find myself growing nostalgic for places and times that no longer exist, or for people no longer in my life, I have to remind myself that as sad as it is to lose something or someone, to lose part of yourself, there is also beauty in loss, because it's just another part of the
inevitably ephemeral experience of life. Another part of the journey. In leaving home we find a new one. The ending of a romance makes way for a new one. The death of one dream can lead to a life-changing epiphany. And so on and so forth.

So we go on: losing and learning, mourning and growing, remembering and discovering. Collecting the little bits of wonder that make up our lives and make us who we are.