Quote of the Day

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.