Quote of the Day

Sunday, December 25, 2011

peace in WalMart and goodwill towards shoppers

"Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store."
-Dr. Seuss

No, your eyes do not deceive you, this is indeed a new post. It must be a Christmas miracle!! Really though, I know it has been quite a while. But thanks to the Christmas holiday I happen to have a bit of free time to relax and reflect, and what would Christmas be without a reflection on consumerism and the true Holiday spirit??

We all know the deal. The Holiday displays go up November 1st, while jack-o-lanterns still grin their demented pumpkin-y grins on front porches. Department and drugstores a-like start pelting our ears with the same 5 Christmas carols on loop. Downtown shopping areas become overrun with crazed, zombie-like mobs intent on spending as much on the perfect holiday gifts as their credit limits will allow. And every year, no matter how bad the economy gets, the insanity just seems to get worse and worse.

I don't think anything illustrates how out of control this Christmas consumerism has gotten better than the medley of incidents that occurred this year on that aptly-named phenomenon known as "Black Friday”. Last Novemer a madwoman in Porter Valley (an affluent neighborhood in the LA area) used pepper spray to get the jump on her fellow Walmart shoppers, hurting 20 people, including some children (one of these, a 13 year old girl, was also punched in the face by another customer). In New York City, some shoppers, enraged that Hollister's flagship store was not opening at midnight, broke into the store instead and stole merchandise.

Shoppers in two different Walmart locations were shot in the parking lot in apparent robbery attempts and a woman in Connecticut was carjacked outside of a Lowe's. A video that's gone viral on youtube shows a man unconcsious and bleeding from the face--he had been knocked down by police after allegedly putting a video game in his belt to free his hands so he could pick up his grandson as the crowd surged around them. At a Target in West Virginia, a 61-year-old man collapsed and later died, meanwhile people continued to shop, some even stepping over his body or walking around him, according to local reports. And the tales of ugly (mis)behavior go on and on.

At the very least it should be common sense that a holiday that's supposed to be about family and love, about peace and goodwill towards all, is not in accordance with hurting fellow human beings in order to get a good deal on china for Mom or a Playstation for little Jimmy. Whether you're religious or not, I would think you could get on board with that. But the kind of behavior exhibited in these and other incidences on “Black Friday” represents not just unfortunate greed and materialism, but also a disturbing lack of empathy for fellow human beings.

So how the hell do people come to this? When exactly did holiday shopping become a brutal combat sport? A vicious match to the death for kitchenware and electronics? These are not starving people battling over life-sustaining nutrition, not infected folks clamoring for a limited supply of antidote. These people are fighting, trampling and maiming their fellow human beings for x-boxes, waffle irons, crockpots. Bath towels. Hardly seems worth the risk to health, sanity--even perhaps your life. And personally, I don't think it's worth the sacrifice of your dignity and humanity either.

I'll be the first to admit that I love Christmas. I love the lights. I love the parties. I love cozying up in front of roaring fires (or high def yule logs). I love the smell of pine trees in living rooms and the warm, spiced (spiked) drinks. I love the societal blessing to indulge in obscene amounts of cheese and chocolate. But I hate what rampant consumerism and materialism have done to this holiday. Yes, there is a certain warm sense of satisfaction in finding just the right gift for someone, a certain pleasant surprise and feeling of being loved in getting a well-thought out present from another. But I feel like Christmas can be just as enjoyable without all of the bows and whistles, all of the stressful holiday shopping.

It’s a natural human impulse, to a certain degree, to think of yourself and your immediate family and friends first. However, to be willing to harm others to buy them the latest Christmas gifts?? Seems unreasonable. But it’s the same “us vs them” attitude that has brought prejudice, war and genocide upon our world for centuries. And now it seems it’s become even pettier and closer to home than ever. And it’ s frightening. Because when we fail to see others as our neighbors, as our sisters and brothers in the human race, as fellow people worthy of respect and love and compassion; that’s when the human race starts to spiral ever downwards. If it's every person for themselves at the local WalMart how can we expect to avoid war and carnage on a global scale?

Just think of how much better of a place the world might be if all of these Black Friday shoppers, instead of camping out in front of store and shoving and pepper-spraying their way to gift bargains, would instead donate their time and money to people in need all over the world. Think how good things could be if everyone taught their children the importance of loving and respecting all of their fellow human beings instead of the importance of material possessions. If they taught children about the value of living within their means and not expecting and demanding the latest high-tech gadgets and toys that may not be afforable. It’s an impossible dream, maybe. But hey, when better to dream than Christmas??

I think that Christmas is the perfect time to remember to be mindful of others and to exercise compassion. And for me it’s also a good reminder of the distinction between "want" and "need”, which I’ve recently been trying to be more conscious of in myself, and which I believe may be ever more increasingly crucial to keep aware of in this age of shamelessly opportunistic advertising and rampant consumerism. Because no matter how many things I think I want or “need”, when I reflect on it I have to realize just how lucky I am for the many things (both material and intangible) that I have had in my life and the unexpected blessings that have come my way in the past year.

So Merry Christmas, I hope that you’ve had a joyous holiday and I wish you all the best for the new year. And please, whatever you do, do not try to shop on Black Friday next year. I don't really need an LED light-up ice cream maker with ipod speakers and I like you just the way you are: intact.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

dear muni diary

I am honored to have a post published on Muni Diaries, a blog dedicated to San Francisco's sometimes-loved, sometimes-hated, never-boring public transportation system. It's a wonderful site featuring all things muni: news, photos, stories and more. My story, originally posted on this blog a few years ago, can be seen here. And they even found a pretty picture to go with it! Happy reading, happy riding.

Monday, April 11, 2011

adventures in hobodom, a room of one's own & a lesson in humility

My boyfriend doesn't really like it when I joke about being homeless. "Well, technically, I am. I don't have an apartment, or anywhere I can really call home." But not for long, he counters. "Alright, temporarily homeless."

Let me be clear: in no way do I mean to make light of the plight of the truly homeless, or in any serious way compare my current situation to any of theirs. I'm not trying to bemoan my situation and feel sorry for myself. I'm trying to, I guess, be self-deprecating, humorous. I'm making light of myself. Mostly, I think, because if I joke about it, it won't seem like a big deal. To others. To me.

Because even though most of the time it's not a big deal, even though most of the time I fully recognize that I am far better off right now, even with most of my earthly belongings packed sadly up in storage and living out of a few bags; that I'm lucky to have an incredibly understanding significant other and sympathetic friends to stay with; and that hey! it's only for a little while--even despite all that, sometimes it just is. Sometimes, just for little moments in my own head-space, it's HUGE.

And in trying to figure out why, and stop myself from freaking out, I realized a few things about myself. Because of course part of it was the stress of still trying to find somewhere to live; scouring craigslist, looking at apartment after apartment, being put on hold again and just waiting... waiting... But there was a greater underlying sense of helplessness too, one that made me restless and uneasy. Because, without an apartment of my own to rent, I had been left pretty much at the mercy of others. Now, luckily I happen to know some incredibly merciful and wonderful people and have found an overwhelming amount of support in my current inconvenient predicament.

But here's the thing about me: I hate to ask for help. Or sometimes even accept help once offered. Once in high school I suffered a severe sprained ankle from a car accident and hobbled around on crutches for over a month. Of course people's natural instinct is to help someone on crutches by opening doors, offering to carry books, backpacks, etc., but I was so stubborn in wanting to do these things for myself that I started to get extremely (and unreasonably) annoyed with all the well-meaning do-gooders' actions. Pride? Partly, I guess. But I think even more it's a fear (however rational or irrational it may be) of losing my independence, my resourcefulness, my good old-fashioned can-do spirit.

And it's the same "I can do it myself!" attitude that makes me hate the fact that right now--as an adult, or at least someone who does a pretty good impression of one some of the time--I have to rely on others for one of the simplest basic needs a person has: a roof overhead. But what I've come to realize--and have to keep reminding myself-- is that there is no shame in accepting help, or in sometimes asking for it. Sure it can be dangerously easy to become used to and comfortable with letting others do things for you, and become complacent--and eventually completely screwed when eventually you find yourself all alone and helpless. But allowing loved ones (or sometimes even strangers) to provide assistance every now and then doesn't mean you have to be reliant on them. It doesn't mean you have to be helpless. I don't have to eschew help; I can accept it gracefully and still help myself and then pass it on, instead of lashing out and bearing my teeth like a cat when you try to unhook its claw from the carpet to set it free. And I've found that even when the very last thing you want is to be is dependent, it is nice to know you have people you can depend on.

The second thing I realized about myself is that I am a person who so greatly values--and has often taken for granted--the concept of, as Virginia Woolfe put it, "a room of one's own". I recognize that I'm extremely fortunate to live in a time where equal rights have progressed to the point where women are independent of father or husband and can easily have a room/apartment/house/career/business/empire/etc. of her own. I also admit that I do not aspire to a career as a fiction author. I have been lucky enough to (usually) have a room of my own, as well as income and time enough to write purely for the enjoyment of it. But "a room of one's own" also carries a more personal individual meaning for me. It's a space to think, to read, write, daydream or plan, pick out tunes on my uke without terribly offending the ears of others, to hide from the world for a little while. It's privacy and refuge. A place I can decorate how I want, turn the lights on or off when I want, put my clothes away or leave them strewn about like a colorful hurricane, be by myself or invite company, all as and when I wish. Ever since childhood I think, as far back as I can remember, my room has been my sanctuary.

And so to have that sacred idea of a unique space that's just mine taken away, even for just a little while, is discomforting and somewhat disorienting. Especially when "just a little while" remains an undefined, abstract length of time, dependent on relativism and subject to the whims of roommates and fickle landlords. When the word "homeless"--facetiously used to describe yourself--tumbles off your lips with just a little less ease and a little more forced of a smile as it starts to become just a little more true in your mind with each passing day.

And then the other week I went to a bar. And I got drunk. And lost my purse. It didn't come back. Nor did my wallet or the keys to unlock my car. And in the midst of alternatively trying to cajole and getting huffy with the AAA driver who refused to assist me because I didn't have ID--"What, do you think I just found this key on the ground and somehow knew it belonged to this car?!"--suddenly a mental picture of how I must appear flashed through my head: hungover, mussed-haired, bleary-eyed with mismatched clothes and giant overnight bag slung haphazardly over one shoulder, boots hanging carelessly in hand, twitchy from stress and about a half a minute away from tears of frustration. OMG I do seem like I could be a crazy homeless person trying to steal a car!

what I looked like in my head. ok, maybe without the beard.

Up until that moment, despite the joking and nagging feeling of dependency and instability of my housing situation I had never really felt homeless. Destitute. And standing there with no current home address, no phone, no money, no way to get into my car and no identification in order to prove that it even was my car... let's just say that was about as close as I ever want to get. Because ultimately I had the option--after nearly an hour of phone calls and begging and finally convincing AAA that I was who I said I was--of driving back to four walls and a roof, to comforting arms, a well-needed hot shower and sandwich and bed. And even if it wasn't my own room and even if I had to admit that I needed help, it was exactly what I needed.

And I got even more of what I needed last Friday when I was finally able to (thank the heavens!) sign a lease for a beautiful new home with wonderful roommates. But that lesson in humility sticks with me, as it should; in one swift kick the universe telling me to get over myself, get on with my life, and remember this very crucial fact, which should always be my mantra: That just because things aren't going quite as planned doesn't mean my life isn't pretty goddamn motherfucking good.

Friday, April 1, 2011

don't hang your heart

Don't hang your heart
On things, on love
A name, a face, a place
On dreams of yesterdays
Cause things will fade
And things will start
Don't hang your heart on anything
-Chris & Thomas

Sometimes decisions can just be so hard. Sometimes you find yourself suddenly faced with so many different paths in front of you and only a moment to choose, and the indecision and fear of turning down the wrong way can be paralyzing. And it is precisely here that I know I need to sit still a moment and listen to the words of loved ones, reread the personal epiphanies I occasionally stumble upon in my bloggish ramblings and remember the lyrics of a song I haven't listened to in well over a year. And they are saying: don't hang your heart on any one choice, any one place or idea of how things are supposed to work out. Because there can be no "bad" decisions made in this positive step for change, only different ones. And I can't know what different affects each choice may have on my life, the various ways they may take me. It's like those "choose your own adventure" books except in life there's no going back and choosing different endings. And that can be terrifying, but you know what? It's also ok. Because I know that wherever I end up I am still me, and whatever path I go down I have love, hope, free will. The choice to be happy. And that's the most important decision of all. Don't hang your heart on anything, when there's so much possibility in the world. Instead let it fly free to capture every fleeting, unexpected moment of joy that it may.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

home sweet craigslist ad

Be wary of ever becoming too comfortable. For it is precisely that moment that the universe seems to choose to sweep your feet out from under you and give your world a good shaking.

And so, after almost two years at my current residence and countless vows that it would be "the very last place I ever move as long as I'm in San Francisco", I find myself once again immersed in the seemingly endless search for a new home. The last time I was looking for an apartment to rent--from an actual owner or property management company, not just just a room to sublet--I was a 23-year-old student with a cat, no stable, provable income and no credit. Not exactly your ideal candidate for tenancy in the fine city of San Francisco.

I have to admit: I kind of thought that it would be easier now, mired in quasi-adult-hood and respectable tax-paying citizenry as I am. But over the past two months I've somehow found myself pulled deeper and deeper into the same heartburn-inducing, hair-pulling-out, anxiety-ridden chase I remember from years ago. Except worse. I think that trying to find a job in San Francisco may be the only thing more frustrating than trying to find an apartment. And only then because you can be locked out of certain jobs for being "overqualified", but if you want to really want to--and can--pay someone an absurd amount of money to to live in a roach-infested closet in the tenderloin you shouldn't have as much of a problem. As long as you have immaculate credit and no pets, that is.

The paradox of San Francisco, as I see it, is that it is incredibly, teeth-gritting-ly hard to rent an apartment. And yet everyone in San Francisco is Always Moving. I'm not kidding. I myself have lived in seven different residences in the almost 7 years I've lived in the city. Going on eight. And the crazy thing is, I've found that this is not uncommon, but rather seems to be the rule. Most people I know--and have known-- in this city move, on average, about once a year. Maybe two.

My first was a hectic 6-person house way yonder in the outer sunset. The most current roof over my head is a quirky Edwardian in the lower haight bursting at the gills with 5 roommates, and at a year and 11 months this April--and I'm praying that is all--actually my longest residency in SF to date. The shortest, for the record, was a desperately-entered-into, month-long sublet a block from USF with matted camo shag carpeting in the lobby and up all 8 narrow flights of stairs, where after being unable to bring myself to cook even a microwave meal in the dingy shoebox of a kitchen or tolerate the high-pitched whining from my otherwise very nice roommate when she would open her bedroom door for 2 seconds and my cat Jasper would bolt in--she was allergic to felines, unbeknownst to me at time of lease-- I quickly realized I must give myself over yet again to the terrible Craigslist Tango. In between I've lived many lives in many different apartments of all shapes and sizes across NOPA, western addition and the haight: alone, with a boyfriend, with boys, girls, cats, dogs, a snake, with 1 roommate and with 4 or 5. All interesting households, and all beloved, at least for a time.

So why, I have to ask myself and the universe, do we San Franciscans persist on torturing ourselves with this crazy, competitive goose chase and with hauling our many boxes of junk and slowly decaying Ikea furniture with us all over the city? Is it because the grass is always greener? Because there are just so many wildly different and wonderfully unique neighborhoods and Victorians and Edwardians and Modern-Style Condos and we're just dying to try them all on for size? Are we all on a never-ending quest for cheaper rent, for nicer roommates, a rooftop view or the ever-coveted in-unit laundry? Or do we just have a terrible case of restlessness and apartment ADHD? What golden goose of a flat can possible be worth the headache of schlepping yourself all over town to see 5 different places a week--4 of which are tiny, dirty holes--and the heartache of losing that 5th one that was just perfect to the group with credit scores one point higher than yours?

I'll admit, all the stress of it all has had me a little down lately. Ok, a lot down. I don't think I've felt this off-balance since my near-nervous breakdown last fall. And yes, like then my crankiness and emotional instability have me even more worried that my long-suffering loved ones will soon be running for the hills. Not to mention that two of my closest friends also now happen to be prospective roommates, and as much as we love one another inevitable tensions and frustrations can arise from the chaos of the hunt. Suffice it to say that this reluctant optimist has seen better days. But you know, today I realized that I'm a little tired of feeling sorry for myself. So I think maybe it's time to pull myself up by the bootstraps and just get on with it, whatever "it" may be.

Because although the circumstances that have brought me to move this time are far from pleasant--see: hypocrisy, verbal abuse, one bathroom for 5 people--at the very least it serves as a push to change my surroundings, to give me a new perspective and a new home to reevaluate my place here and refresh my point of view. And a valuable reminder not to get too comfortable; whether in my home, my job, my relationships...in life in general. Because when you get too comfortable is when you start to become stagnant, cease to grow, and often lose appreciation for what you have without even realizing it. Come to think of it, maybe that's why San Franciscans are constantly on the move. Maybe it's because we are wary of becoming too complacent, too stationary. Too numb to the bizarre, impetuous, fortuitous amazingness that blossoms on every street corner and down every alleyway here.

So instead I will try my best to embrace each unexpected moment as it arises and welcome the chance to rejuvenate my perspective, so that I may always be grateful and that life may always be full of wonder and new surprises. And I hope that--if I am able to successfully control my stress level in a positive way--all of my hair and fingernails will still be here to enjoy it with me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

what's wrong with this picture...


especially little six-year-old boys...?

Ok, I don't know. Maybe it's just me. But I remember when this Levi's ad started appearing on bus shelters months ago, I had to do a double take. Have you ever seen a billboard or magazine ad or commercial that just makes you go: "Uhh... that could really be taken the wrong way..."? I feel like they're everywhere if you're really paying attention, but we've all grown so numb to being bombarded by constant multi-media advertising that we often just don't notice anymore. Anyway, all I could think when confronted with these particular ads was "Uhhm, what now Levi's? Are you trying to say you use CHILD LABOR?" Hmmm. I mean, ok, the kid in the oversized shirt is cute and all, but maaybe not the best use of matching slogan to image, if you really think about it. Perhaps not the greatest advertising choice ever, considering the connotations it evokes. Just saying.