Quote of the Day

Monday, February 22, 2010

the reluctant optimist

I have realized that I am a complete and utter failure as a pessimist. Even on the darkest of days, when I feel completely overwhelmed by questions of where my life path is going, or utterly discouraged and depressed by the state of the world and the endless cycle of fucked up things people do to each other... even on the days when I feel I have to fight the urge to punch everyone I see or take deep calming breaths just not to burst into tears in the middle of a crowded room... it seems that all I need is fresh air on my face, a gorgeous night sky, the wag of a puppy tail or the strains of a favorite song in my ear to seep through my blues and remind me that life is good, that the world is a beautiful place and that tomorrow will be another day filled with simple pleasures and happy surprises and the kindness of friends (or even strangers).

The cruel irony of optimism is that that smug fucker hope always springs eternal. I realize that for the most part hope is a good thing, something that the world could generally use more of. But I tell you, it can be exhausting. And it i
inevitably brings expectations, which can then be let down. I have to think that it might be comforting to be a pessimist; to never expect anything, or to always expect the worst. To wallow cozily in curmudgeonly gloom & doom. To not have constant hopes and dreams to be swept up in a stormy wave and dashed against the rocks. Because for the optimist, even when our hopes are crushed in the cruelest of ways and for all rights we should become jaded beyond repair, we always seem to bounce back, ready for more.

Marya Mannes once said,
“The curse of the romantic is a greed for dreams, an intensity of expectation that, in the end, diminishes the reality”.

Maybe then, this is the curse of the optimist as well, to dream too vividly, hope too fervently, foster imaginations that run like wild stallions, beautiful but dangerous.
But I have to wonder: is it not possible to appreciate the reality and yet still harbor great expectations? After all, can we not see the world as it is but believe we can make it better? Maybe the problem is not the hopes and expectations themselves but the lack of initiative to make them real?

To be honest I don't really know, but either way, I have to think that a "greed for dreams" and "intensity of expectation" are essential to the human spirit. Some are greedier than others, some are better at pursuing their dreams, and some may become so discouraged and cynical that they feel like giving up dreaming altogether. But in order to truly be human, in order not to lose our spark, I think we have to harbor great hopes and dreams. And when we manage to make our dreams become reality, that is something amazing to behold; a priceless victory and triumph of the spirit. But even if we fail, at least the dream was there, at least we held its fire in our hands and hope in our heart. There's no shame in that.

And when the optimist's insane, stubborn insistence that the universe is benevolent, that people are generally good at heart and that you are ultimately in control of your own destiny is proven correct in any way, those small victories are almost magical, and the I Told You So so much sweeter, not just because we were right, but because of the implications that holds.

And I for one wouldn't want to live any other way. In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones: you can't always get what you want. Dreams will inevitably be crushed, setbacks will occur. People will disappoint you. These are facts that simply must be accepted in order for each little blow not to cave in our entire world and send us reeling into the abyss. But that doesn't mean you stop trying, or stop trusting. It doesn't mean you stop believing in magic or serendipity or the power of the heart and the human spirit. After all, that would be to give up on life itself.

So no matter the hurt and disappointment I'm potentially setting myself up for, I have to believe in "next time", I have to believe that the people I put faith in won't let me down,
that I will learn from my mistakes, that honest efforts will be rewarded and patience will not be in vain, that with hard work and conviction dreams can come to fruition, and that each month and each year will be better than the last. That life is good but can always be better; that I can always be better.

And I'm guessing that hope and intensity of expectation will continue to slap me around and let me down, time and time again, but at least I know that this reluctant optimist will always bounce back up, feet on the ground, head in the clouds.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

sf, stereotypes and the myth of the modern san franciscan

What the eff, Mike Giant.

You may make some badass art, but I have to say, I just don't get this. Maybe it's because I'm a terribly old-fashioned San Franciscan generally in the habit of wearing underwear, but I honestly am not quite sure if this piece is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, outright farcical or dead serious. And even more perplexing, I can't seem to decide if it's sincerely meant to be an ode or rather an insult. I mean, I think that personally, I would be offended if I actually fit into this stereotype somehow.

As it is, however, I am just left feeling rather left out that as a non-Mission living, professionally employed, panty-owning woman sadly devoid of vintage frames (glasses and bike), I apparently don't belong in a modern San Francisco. And the fact that in his upcoming show (Is the "Frisco" in the title supposed to be ironic? And if so will the Italians get it? So many questions...) this overworked cliché is apparently going to be presented to a foreign nation as a representation of the archetypal San Francisco woman... well, I don't even know what to say about that.

Ok, well I will say, first of all: I'm not sure where the artist is getting his data but personally I kinda think he missed the mark. I believe I know a fairly diverse selection of females here and generally speaking, the “Modern San Franciscan Woman” I know can be described as intelligent, independent, open-minded, politically and socially active (because she cares about her city), environmentally conscious (but not obnoxiously self-righteous about it), quite likely more sexually enlightened than the rest of the country (but not slutty), perhaps often a leetle heavy-handed with the booze (but she can hold her liquor), and lives any-which-the-fuck-where she pleases in the city because she's not pretentious enough to think that you’re only cool if you live in a certain neighborhood (*cough*the Mission*cough*).

And most importantly, try as one might, the "Modern San Franciscan Woman" cannot be glibly pin-holed into a cleverly-drawn diagram because really there is no one cookie-cutter representation of her.

But what I found more interesting than the drawing itself was the discussion it incited in the comments section of the Mission Mission blog post. So right now I'm going to sidestep the whole feminist issue, for the sake of brevity, and focus on the larger picture I feel is in question here: what it means to be a citizen of San Francisco, male or female.

Now just to be clear, I do not have a problem with the Mission. I live very close to the Mission. I have friends who live there. I love Mission Dolores park, going out in the Mission,
thrifting in the mission, having brunch in the Mission, eating burritos in the Mission... you get the point.

What I do take issue with is people making arbitrary, personally-biased decisions about what makes one a San Franciscan; such as anyone trying to say that you're not a "true" SF-er if you don't ride a bike, if you don't have tattoos, don't smoke (
hella) weed, if you own a car or watch tv or live in the sunset or weren't born here. Just like it rubs me the wrong way when people automatically and derogatorily slap the hipster label on someone because they have a bike, tats and skinny jeans, or the prep/bro/marina ho tag if, God Forbid, they happen to rent an apartment in Pac Heights or Cow Hollow. It's the age old "book & cover" debaucle.

And I have an equal beef with overly-entitled SF natives who think they own the city and that everyone else should get the hell out as with the transplants who act suspiciously like the aforementioned entitled natives after living here for all of a year. And then there are those who would like to tell you that because they were born in San Francisco (nevermind their family moving away when they were 3 months old), this makes them more of a local than you. Yes, it's cool that you were born here and I'm sorry, that doesn't make you God. Or even a native.

I fully acknowledge the uniqueness and awesomeness of having been born & raised in SF (I would be proud to call myself a true native but can really only claim Native Norcal status). And alternatively I very much understand the pride transplants take in their adopted city and in having become a part of it.

What I think is stupid is the fact that we seem to feel the need to argue over who of us are more authentically San Franciscan, based on where we're from, what neighborhood we live in, what we wear/drive/ride/eat/drink, etc. What's this? Cliques? Pointless
catfights? When did this SF become one giant high school campus, anyway? Why can't we all just find common ground in our collective love and pride of our city and learn to accept (if not celebrate) the differences that make it so diverse and colorful?

In the end I have to think that anyone who seeks to define "the San Franciscan" is missing the point. Because to me, paradoxically, what it means to be San Franciscan is that we cannot be defined. Like this crazy city full of constant surprises, its residents are endlessly varied and beautifully unique. San Francisco is a place people come to be themselves, to find themselves, to see the world in 47 square miles; a place people stay because they just can't bare to leave (just how many hearts have been left in San Francisco, anyway?). It welcomes with an open heart and open mind, blind to the differences and quirks others may see as flaws. It cries:

Keep, red states, your parochial pomp! Give me your gay, your straight, Your glittered half-naked masses yearning to dance free, The unconventional refuse of your narrow-minded towns. Send these, the progressive, adventure-seeking to me, I lift my lava lamp beside the Golden Gate!*

And so I say that, if anything, what should define a true San Franciscan are these same qualities; an unwavering sense of tolerance and compassion, a refusal to stereotype, label or to look with hatred, fear and disgust upon those who are different. After all, isn't that the very spirit of San Francisco itself?

*plagiarized and bastardized from the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

songs for sea lovers

"the night, i think, is darker than we can really say
and god’s been living in that ocean, sending us all the big waves
and i wish i was a sailor so i could know just how to trust,
maybe i could bring some grace back home to the dry land for each of us"
-Gregory Alan Isakov, 3 a.m.

I think it's fair to say that despite my best efforts, this year hasn't been going spectacularly for me so far. This week, in particular, seems to be out to get me. Last Thursday, after having finally recovered about 96% of my former glory after the Cold From Hell, I seem to have promptly picked up a whole new strain of Misery, my second illness already this year. But wait, it gets better. Round up the scientists and call the press, it appears I may need to be studied as the first known case of a human passing on a virus to a computer. And thus I found myself heading home early today after giving up on fixing my horribly fucked-every-which-way dinosaur of a PC without professional help.

Is it just me, or there something wholly unsatisfying about heading home from work early due to technical difficulties? I feel like I can only really get enjoyment from a shortened workday when it's because I managed to accomplish all my of my tasks & projects in an especially efficient and speedy manner, or maybe because it happened to be a particularly slow day. But having to call it day because your computer (or brain, for that matter) is just too completely fucked up to work on (or with), well that just leaves me with a frustrated, nagging sensation in the back of my mind that my day was useless and there will be a terrifying pile of backlogged work waiting to mock me in the 'morrow.

Anyway. There I was, dodging my way through the annoyingly crowded financial district sidewalks (who are all these people who get to leave work by 5:30 pm on a regular basis, anyway?), mumbling crankily to myself because now I have to come in early tomorrow to meet the IT guy and my boss thinks I'm downloading porn at work and god, this week blows, when it strikes me that now might be an ideal time for some Gregory Alan Isokov. My new boyfriend, you ask? Er, no (not that I would mind terribly...teehee). But he does happen to be one of my favorite new artists. And so in popped the earphones and in seconds... ahhh, instant musical balm for my frayed nerves and stuffy nose. Like Burt's Bees for chapped lips or hot cocoa for the rainy day blues.

Album reviews were never something I intended to do on this blog. After all, I don't exactly consider myself a music critic or any expert of any sort... more of a purely civilian fan and appreciator... But every now and then I guess I make a personal discovery that I feel needs to be shared. I first fell in love with the song "That Sea, the Gambler" and it's unique neo-folk sort of sound after hearing it on Pandora, and subsequently sought out the album of the same name.

It's not really surprising that many of the songs and lyrics on That Sea, the Gambler seem to deal with the lore and lure of the ocean. In fact the album as a whole seems to evoke the same feeling of peace, the same sense of deep, soul-soothing well-being mixed with a strange sort of inexplicable, beautifully sad and mysterious longing that the sea represents to me. From the lulling vocals often edged with poignant plaintiveness to the beautiful string harmonies and lilting banjo, it's almost as if you can smell the salty air while listening.

On the title track,the beginning riff recalls the feel of an old sea shanty while the soft, repeating cymbal that cues the bittersweet melody seems to evoke the crashing waves of the ocean. The fiddle interludes in "John Brown's Body" lend the song a subtle Celtic flavor and the cadence of "Black and Blue" calls to mind the rhythm of a gently rolling surf, while the beautiful melancholy sigh of the cello in "San Francisco" speaks to the soul of the depth and the ancient mystery of the sea itself.

"Raising Cain" picks up the pace a little (though still in a laid back way) with it's bluegrass-y flavor. I must admit I was immediately drawn to this song for the Cain reference, having recently read and become slightly obsessed with East of Eden and fascinated with the biblical mythology it alludes to. The lyrics here also evoke to me the age old story of a fall from grace and perhaps, ultimately, of choice and redemption. The song itself reminds me a little of Bob Dylan, although to be honest, it may just be the harmonica. I have to say, I'm a bit of a sucker for a harmonica solo. And a banjo of course, always a banjo.

Even the apparent outlier track, "Salt and the Sea", doesn't seem terribly out of place despite its quite different musical style. The lyrics stay true to the general theme of the album both in their ocean imagery and wistfulness. I can definitely relate when he sings: "i’m going back where i belong, with the salt and the sea and the stones, save them all for me". And the jazzy instrumentation and slightly muted vocals easily conjure in my imagination the nostalgia of a lazy vintage seascape with frolicking waves and revelers.

Of course the rest of the songs are great too, and filled with enough banjo, cello and violin to keep this girl more than happy (did I mention I'm also a sucker for cello and violin?). But I'll spare you more of my opinion. I guess what I've really been trying to say with all the rambling comparisons and music critic-posturing is that That Sea, The Gambler is a beautifully textured, richly evocative album that, like the ocean, is deep and seductively melancholy, oddly soothing. And like the ocean, it will haunt you , in a good way. It's the perfect CD to listen to alongside the rolling sea, strolling through the park on a lazy Sunday, on a long drive, or commuting home from a frustrating day at work. So do yourself a favor: go out and get it, and let the musical waves crash over you.

"give me darkness when i’m dreaming, give me moonlight when i’m leaving
give me mustang horse and muscle,
cuz i wont be goin gentle"

**UPDATE** It was touch and go for a while, but after numerous life-saving procedures (and approximately eleven endlessly clever "cut down on the porn, eh!" jokes from my comedian co-workers), my work computer managed to pull through and seems to be making a full recovery. Praise be and Hallelujah. And I believe this whole ordeal has sped up the process of me finally getting a mac and not being the sole employee relegated to outcast PC status. It would appear that maybe there is a silver lining to every stormy cloud and frustrating setback after all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

cure for a rainy day (or night)

San Francisco broke my umbrella today. My good umbrella (actually two umbrellas, although to be fair, the shitty plaid umbrella I bought from a street vendor in Venice was had already been semi-broken for quite a while). Specifically, it was the torrents of rain that did the breaking. And the wind, especially the wind, that unbelievable asshole.

I'm slightly amazed I even made it home, considering the homicidal gusts that seemed to be trying with all their might to blow me into the middle of a Van Ness Avenue full of crazy San Francisco drivers hurrying to get home and blast their space heaters. Because I just had to pick tonight to end my nearly two month forced exile from pilates due to my ridiculous back-crack strained-chest-cartilage injury followed by the Cold-From-Hell.

Anyhow. What I really mean to say is that it's been the kind of day that's left me with a craving for a hot, steaming cup of cocoa. And by that I do not mean the crappy, generic cup of watery brown liquid that tastes vaguely like something resembling chocolate that you can find at Starbucks, 7-Eleven, a wide variety of other cafes, coffee shops and diners, or from a little paper packet of powdery mix that comes in a cardboard box from the grocery store. No, the only thing that will truly do on a blustery evening such as this is the special kind of thick, decadent, liquid-melted-chocolate-so-rich-you-can-really-only-drink-half-a-mug cocoa.

So while my utterly-soaked-through sneakers are still drying, for a month probably, I am at the moment satisfactorily cozied-up and not at all concerned about the cruel cold wetness beyond my bay window, thanks to my own personal remedy. And I am now going to share my very top secret recipe with you, shhhh, just because I'm feeling generous and sufficiently chocolated-up.

Perfect Rainy Day Hot Cocoa


-1 Mugful of Almond Breeze vanilla almond milk (can be substituted for soy milk, rice milk, cow milk or goat milk if you're not as cool and dietarily hip as moi)
-a Buttload of Ghirardellii unsweetened cocoa powder (if you're not comfortable using a Buttload, instead use a Ridiculously Generous Heaping)
-granulated sugar to taste
-1 Capful of vanilla extract
-a Generous Sprinkling of cinnamon powder


1. Heat almond milk in a saucepan until just below boiling, reduce heat to low/medium-low.
2. Add unsweetened cocoa powder and sugar, stir until well mixed and lump-free.
3. Pour in vanilla extract (try not to drink any straight, I'm sure there must be some real liquor in the house somewhere). Stir to mix.
4. Top off with a significant dash of cinnamon and continue to stir until smooth.
5. Pour into your favorite Alice in Wonderland mug (or something else if you are not fortunate enough to own such an amazing piece of ceramic drink ware). Try not to spill as much as I did.
6. Take a deep, comforting whiff and enjoy.

Now if only I had some marshmallows. Cheers!