In search of the beginning…

You wake up (this has happened more often than not) and look urgently for the familiar. That strange segue from sleep consciousness to whatever we are now calling the waking hours is murky. Viscous, one might say if they were trying to offend your drowsy sensibilities. It is not that you are hung over (though that certainly has been the case at times) or that you are the type who regularly finds sleep in unfamiliar places (though that, too, has been a truism) it is a feeling of being unsure where the reality of your sleep and the reality of your life diverge. And this feeling is especially confounding as you have stopped remembering your dreams. Or have you? Scanning through your memory you realize that the way you are remembering the last couple of days, or the week, or the year, is marked by the same fragmented sensibility that is characteristic of trying to recall a dream. This is not a motion picture. There is no fluidity of motion. It is jerky, stop motion. A flip book of images that do not connect easily to one another.

You look around and see all of your things, exactly where they belong because you are a firm believer that everything has a place and there everything should be. There is sun coming in the window illuminating a slight haze of dust, impossible to completely conquer because you prefer to have your windows open to the vaguely urban neighborhood below you. There are books. Many books. This makes you think of a John Waters’ quotation that you love: “If you go home with somebody and that don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” There are plants, but only a few as your turn towards the urban has come at a cost of reduced space. And the cats eat spider plants. There are two cats. One knows exactly how to fit in every part of your life. She has transitioned through many strange and wholly unexpected places with you in her brief six years. The other is large. Huge. He lays languidly, looking like a jaguar. Or an oil spill.

As the sensation of being awake settles over you, you let go of the effort of trying to remember where your mind had been in sleep and feel a small relief. Things come into focus and seem almost clear.

Continue reading

Posted in Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, China, Geography, Home, Hong Kong, Life, Perception, San Francisco, The Future, Things I Wish I Would Have Thought Of, Travel, true stories, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

On the occasion of a birthday.

My birthdays tend to be a bit over the top, in both style and duration. I realize this is a bit silly and juvenile, but so are many things that I also like. I also realize that this tradition would only be possible only as a result of the amazing people in my life (who will tolerate both my silliness and Juvenalian tendencies…) People who will dedicate a month of weekends to barbeques, junk trips, toga parties, lewd & lascivious street fairs, airfare, brunches & lunches, dinner parties, dance parties, cocktails, kegs, hotel pool parties, beach parties, picnics in parks, bar-hopping, Virgo-adoring, wine tasting…

It can be a lot to ask.

The good news, as any of you who know a Virgo well will attest to, is that we generally put on one hell of a shitshow. We are good planners. We are thorough, organized, detail oriented, and efficient. As a result I have volumes of fabulous memories of birthday’s past.

This year is different. I made no plans this year. Not in a pity party kind of way – it was more like I just adopted a more observant position and decided that I would see what unfolded. This is the first birthday since I have repatriated that did not fall precisely  on Back to School Night, which is a victory in itself. It has been a while since I had a birthday on a weekend, an obvious note to anyone who understands the Julian Calendar.

I found out recently that I share a birthday with the wife of my co-teacher at school. I thought that was not odd at all. As such, yesterday, when I was invited to have drinks after work I certainly accepted. It was a nice start to the weekend, unscripted, unplanned. When he asked what I would be doing for my birthday I said I didn’t know. I wasn’t really feeling it for this one.

The numbers are too even and divisible, I said.
I can see why that would be an issue for you, he answered directly.
Yeah. I prefer odd. Numbers.

And the reality [cue Captain Obvious] is that one never really knows what the day will bring anyhow. Even if you totally set the stage – the outcome is unknowable. Whatever does happen, it will occur with my nails and hair looking amazing, the sun shining, cats complaining. Could be far worse, of that I am certain. Not to mention that the connection I feel to the people in my life grows ever stronger. Looking through email and various social media posts this morning made me feel literally surrounded by a lifetime of amazing people, from all over, who (have) touch(ed) my life in so many ways as friends, travelers, students, teachers, parents, kindred spirits, mentors, colleagues, family…

I wish I could effectively show graphically what it looks like in my brain as I look across the giant chrono/carto-graph of my life. How to show the infant me, the high school me, the college me, the sub-adult me, the grown-uppish me, the together me, the broken me; the friends in India, Portugal, Britain, France, Dubai, China, Hong Kong, Germany, Norway, Mexico, Oman? and across the US – NYC, Chicago, Nola, SeaWa, SoCal, Tahoe, HI, ID, NV; the students I have known, the teachers I have emulated, the people who have shown me different ways…. there they all are in a light show of epic proportions.

Happy Birthday to the folks who share this birthday like Bilbo Baggins, Li Zicheng, Lord Chesterfield, Michael Faraday, Dame Christabel Pankhurst, Joan Jett, and David Stern… and Happy Equinox and Happy last day of Virgo.

I think I shall go get an iPad.

Posted in California, Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, Family, Friends, Holidays, Home, Life, true stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Cowboy has left the building.

From the beginning A was uncomfortable with the label, The Cowboy. She said it objectified him and she did not like it. I giggled like the schoolgirl I appeared to be emulating, “But it’s cuuuuuute!” I countered. She shrugged.

In hindsight (goddamned hindsight) I fear the objectification may have been more damaging than I thought. Like perhaps it created a persona – regardless of its degree of accuracy – that may not have let the person be the person they wanted to be, or even just the person they are. That was so never the intent. But, you know, good intentions… bah.

On September 6th, I changed The Cowboy’s contact information in my phone to just say his name. It is a very interesting name. I removed the oh-so-Marlboro-Man photo that I had attached to his number as well. The new stripped down version of the man was just the man. What this means in a larger context is still being worked out.

I know that the man underneath the cowboy hat was enough for me. I also know that the hat distracted from real truths that may or may not have been pleasant to deal with, but I remain committed to my belief that they could have been worked through. I had been thinking for so long that I had created this stage for drama with my unintentionally intentional characterization of this man. I have blamed myself for not letting him be who he is. Blaming myself for every issue, every failure. And he let me. Today, I am no longer willing to assume the burden of these things.

Today I am also willing to accept that I may not be enough for him, or right for him, or whatever, for as many interesting reasons as there are stars.

I know that all it would take to try to make everything alright would be an apology. But I am done apologizing and the man under the cowboy hat will not apologize. It is not his way.

A friend of mine who is dating someone new has taken to referring to him in a titular way that keeps reminding me of how I spoke of The Cowboy. I want to tell her not to do it, to warn her, but I won’t. Instead, I will remain focused on these words offered in response to my circumstances (thank you Alex M.):

The first time someone shows you who they really are, believe them.

Posted in Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, Friends, Life, Philosophical Underpinnings, Relationships, true stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Silver linings that shine brighter than all the diamonds in the world…

Balance exists in our lives. It is not always easy to see, and if you subscribe to certain eastern philosophies, you may never recognize this balance as it permeates myriad lifetimes. But, as I accuse some people of the need to turn to religion, I need to believe that there is balance in my life. Sometimes it is the last thread of hope you can hold onto to keep from doing really outrageous shit (not that outrageous shit is always something to be avoided, maybe I should have said reactionary shit… I digress.)

When someone says horrible things to me, I see these words floating in front of me and I wonder if I should collect them in my consciousness, or in any way.

What happens if you just let them float by?

What happened today when I let them float by is that I saw other words. I saw these words from a student I worked with long ago, who touched my heart because he had one:

Someone posted our yearbook “wills” and “thank you’s” on Facebook. I haven’t looked at mine in 10 years, but the last thing in it was “…thank you Ms. XXXXX for valuing my opinion and thereby giving me confidence”.

Now, it is usually in hindsight that I see the true value of my relationships with others. I don’t doubt that at the time I meant it, but it isn’t until now looking back I realize the validity of the statement. Kids are lucky to have you as a teacher and friend.

I looked at those words, and I smiled. It made me feel a kind of gratitude I don’t know if I can articulate. Then I looked at a card I received from a student I worked with last year.

Your willingness to help despite my attitude has been one of the most selfless acts I have seen. Maybe you were just doing your job, but whatever the case was, my family and I are extremely grateful. I regret not getting to know you better earlier. This little rinky dink card is nothing compared to the gratitude I feel you deserve… but hey, I’m broke, my mom took your budget project OH-SO-SERIOUSLY. Out of all the teachers I’ve had in my 12 years of learning, your name is one we will never forget. Thank you Ms. XXXXX so so so much.

I wonder if these young people will ever know how grateful I am to have them touch my life and remind me that compassion breeds compassion, and that there is hope for the future; these are immeasurable gifts.

I saw one of my favorite authors yesterday and listened to him speak about the importance of what I do for a living, and of the nature of his most recent work, and I felt the words settle on me like a perfectly selected outfit. When we spoke after, very briefly, and recalled the last time we met in a far away place and time that we both remembered, I felt, not exactly special, but deeply connected to a larger, truly significant reality. “California looks good on you,” he said. “Your book was too true,” I said. And then he knew and I knew. Maybe how not to be lost, but how to be free.

Posted in art, Books, Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, Family, Friends, Life, true stories, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This morning has sucked. How the day goes? It’s a choice, right?

I have heard that people in partnership (though I think it is probably sage advice for those not as well) should never go to bed angry. I like that idea. I make every effort to always make that happen. But you know, there is only so much one person can do… you do your best. However, I have to say that I think waking up to rage and ranting and negativity – regardless of who it is directed towards – is far worse than the sullen goodnight.

I am not a morning person. I recognize this. As such, I do my best to stay focused with my eyes on the prize – the awakening – that is always on the metaphorical horizon. I don’t over engage and I try not to be ridiculously sensitive.

I drink a lot of coffee.

Today I got up quietly, and came to the kitchen to wash a few dishes and make coffee. My window faces to the west, and it is almost always foggy to the west in San Francisco, at least in the mornings – it is one of the many reasons I feel I have a special connection with the City, we both are slow to show what is on offer for the day in the morning hours. I quietly and deliberately washed the dishes that remained in the sink from yesterday’s snacks, and even Friday’s lunches. I made the coffee. And as I was doing this, along with my morning meditation on “things I will do today,” it began.

The abstract rage.

I do not feel that this rage is directed at me. I have rarely even considered it. Sometimes I listen to it, mostly now I do not. It is often about my cats, more specifically the admittedly inconvenient reality of the litter box. Today there was something about an inadequate shelf in my bathroom. Yesterday, it was about a ball point pen that did not write well.

If I ignore all of it, it will generally dissipate. As I said, it is rarely directed towards me and rarely has anything to do with me. There are times when I am baited… with comments like, “Yeah, I said that. I.AM.ALLOWED.” Or, “Yeah. I burped and I am not excusing myself either.” Which makes me laugh as there has never been a single occasion on which I have ever told someone to “excuse themself” for that (truth be told I have a complete personal aversion to bodily functions and do my very best to avoid all conversation about them and handle them in total private, but hey, we are humans, ergo, we are kind of gross.) If I continue to let it ride and say nothing, even when I am baited, I can be sure that eventually things will reset.

But if I engage… behold the Seventh Circle of Hell. I am not a passive engager. So, when I get to the point of engagement, it will not be pleasant. The cycle has been ignited.

None of this really matters to me right now, the strategy, the observation of emotional temperature, and conscious choice of action. It is a game I could play forever. What matters to me right now is that I think I have come to a decision.

I do not want to play this game.

Without harping on age or whatever, I will say this: I am too old to put up with this kind of shit. I do not want to do it. I want it to be out of my life. I love my life. I love my family. I love my house. I love my cats. I love my work. I love my friends. I love where I live. Why in the hell would I put up with something that has the potential to pollute so much of what I love? It makes no sense. As Junot Diaz says, “This is how you lose her.”

I have enjoyed so many aspects of being in partnership with another person. There have been indescribably wonderful moments. But there has been unspeakably hideous shit two, and I believe it is possible to have one without the other. Some one out there will surely agree.

Game on.

Posted in Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, Family, Friends, Home, Life, Relationships, San Francisco, true stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Larger Rant.

Still Ranty.

In general I have not felt terribly underpaid as a teacher. There are several reasons for this, and my generally declining needs threshold is a big one. But here’s the thing. I am exactly the type of person that The Powers That Be want to be a teacher. I am single. I do not have kids. Hell, I have cats. By extension, it is (apparently) assumed that the time I spend outside of actual school hours doing my job is somehow “free” in both cost and free of any other things I might ever do. I’m the dream stereotype. For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

Regardless of which parts of this presumption of my life may be true, the reality is that it does not matter. The reality is that the average salary in my profession, certainly in the area where I live, completely precludes having a home, car, and a family. For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

Talk about ‘tracking’… only certain types of people being cut out for certain types of jobs? Huh? For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

The constant barbs that “those who cannot do, teach” and that teachers are overpaid because they have their summers free and that teachers are (love this one) lazy, further underscore this hate-pity-hate relationship our culture seems to have with teachers. I often wonder how I am supposed to demonstrate that there is meaning in what I do, and by extension, what I say (ie: teach) when the conventional wisdom my clientele is immersed in suggests that I am in a profession that only a (mentally and/or physically) lazy, and generally sluggish human would enter. For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

The ultimate irony of course, is that many of these same name-calling people are entrusting what is technically their most precious possession – their child – into my colleagues’ and my inept hands. For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

So, when teachers strike for what people claim are not appropriate reasons, like a cost of living increase… it makes me wonder. Where should the money go? I understand that strikes hurt everyone involved, but perhaps it really is time to look at a much larger fundamental misstep in the arrangement of our cultural priorities. For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

Education matters, I would suggest as much as national defense, as much as interstate highways… Sharing the basic skills and tenets of our culture and our place in the world is fundamental for the survival of said culture (not to mention to training of future policy makers, strategists and road makers.) For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

I always ask my students what a future civilization would make of us if all they had to work with were the heaps of garbage we have created and the television shows we watch. What would an unfamiliar sentient being think of a society in which more people watched Here Comes Honey Boo Boo than vetted the potential leaders of their country as they presented platforms at their conventions… For this reason I stand in solidarity with teachers in Chicago.

When did it become cool to be so dumb?

I am guessing that it somehow coincided with the popularization of the notion that the people who chose to become educated and share that education became labeled as hapless, overpaid, losers. Who knew to be a winner all I ever had to do was “holla fo’ a dolla.”


Posted in Absurd Shit, Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, Education, Life, Perception, Philosophical Underpinnings, Politics, Work | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small Rant.

I am in a ranty mood. Here is a small reason why:

Walking to work this morning as I came out of the Bart station someone came up behind me and touched my shoulder. As I turned around, like as I was in the middle of turning, this person was saying, “Excuse me, but I could not help noticing that you are a really pretty girl.”

I looked at this person: nondescript, blonde, shortish, doughy, glasses. Close.Talker.

“What is your name?” He shoved.
“My name is I’m-late-for-work.” I replied trying to sound mostly matter of fact and not totally rude.
“What is your name? Tell me your name. Telling me your name is not going to shave off any time for you getting to work.”
“I do not want to tell you my name.”
“Tell me your name.”

During this probably 45 second exchange we were standing on a curb waiting for the light to change. There were people all around us, and I was clearly bothered and he refused to stop. As I saw the light go yellow in the opposite direction I started to cross early. He did not follow me but glared at me as I walked away.

Probably just a harmless annoyance, but who the fuck does this person think he is? I mean seriously, a woman would NEVER do that kind of shit to a man.

And what part of ‘No’ was this individual not understanding? God damn that was annoying. Good morning Berkeley.

Posted in Absurd Shit, California, true stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment