Friday, December 25, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
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.”
“To put things in.”
“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?
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.
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)
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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:
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.
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
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
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
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.
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.