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Monday, December 15, 2008

Thoughtlets

I am transcribing journals from my year spent teaching in Spain. There are three bulky ones, the day-to-day ones, and four slim pocket-size libretas, the ones for expressions and new vocabulary words. Transcription is a tiring process, but rewriting--that's a process I really enjoy. Many times, when rereading old journal entries, I'll find these little tidbits, thoughtlets, really, that could easily replace pages of foreign-correspondent-description. Here's one I just found tonight:


When I left I split your mirror in half
I keep my half in my pocket
And when I look down to see you
There I am, reflected back
Across an ocean, a year, a novel, a song.


I might have been thinking about a boy I left behind in California. It could have been Santa Barbara, or university life in general, or even my country as a whole. The truth is, I still feel that way, about most anyone and anything that has ever meant anything to me.

In a way, so much of our lives are defined by cleaving things into pieces. Cells divide. People meet, fall in love, drift apart. Decisions are made, cities change, things grow and die. What do we actually remember, and stays remembered inside us?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanks for the Legs, Dad

The day started at 6:30 am.

In a fun, adult role-reversal, I had my parents over last night so I could finagle my father into a 10k run in Golden Gate Park today. The three of us slept in my V-shaped attic room and crashed down the stairs early to make chicken-apple sausages before the race. I wasn't expecting it to be such a clear day--it hardly feels like winter.

We got to 8th and Lincoln by 8:10. The race started adjacent to the recently renovated Academy of Sciences. Dad and I jogged straight to the starting line just as the announcer was winding down. We were told to line up according to our approximate mile splits.

"We can do 8:30," Dad said.

He's a seasoned runner, and my favorite running partner. We did the Bay to Breakers this year (my longest race, and my first B2B), plus a number of 10ks and a few Turkey Trots back in my hometown. This is the man who woke up with me four days a week to jog around the village green when I was an insecure eighth-grader, the same one who followed our racing shells after regattas to make sure my rowing team and I made it in okay off the Sacramento River. He's got a ponytail and usually runs in board shorts.

"Let's start at 9," I suggested. "We can always up it as we go."

The start was anticlimactic, as every race start is, requiring us to jog in place for a few minutes until the elite runners (I've always hated that word) left a clear spot for us to follow. The sunlight was clear, yellow; autumn light. We circled the 7th and Lincoln baseball field, the one where I've taken Kaplan Aspect soccer clubs, and looped out MLK drive all the way to the Panhandle.

Here's the reason I like to run with my father: because we are built the same, mostly legs and arms with long-twitch muscles that don't make us particularly fast, but do make us goddamn stubborn. Many times when we run together, there's no time or distance goal, but rather a personal challenge, usually involving an unknown fellow runner.

"See the guy with the obnoxious red-white-and-blue shirt? Yeah, the one about 100 yards ahead? We're gonna pass him. Now."

My dad is strong and powerful, and he had to take a brief hiatus from running this summer because of some particularly unruly vertebrae in his back. I signed us both up for the 10k a few weeks ago, somehow forgetting the 8 weeks this summer he spent off the track. And yet, today he was just as strong and determined--if not more so--than ever.

The real reason I am writing about running tonight is because it mirrors what I am thankful for. Quiet mornings with my family. Being outside. Functioning limbs. That sensation after exercise when one feels absolutely able-bodied. Whatever chemistry it is that brings friends together inside and outside, at all times of the year.

Dad and I both completed the 10k in good time, after cruising up above the Conservatory of Flowers and around Stow Lake. Mom was waiting for us at the finish line with our border collie Taj, and there was music, water, and goodies waiting for us between the de Young and the Academy of Science.

We weren't the fastest runners, nor were we the slowest. But we were the most goddamned stubborn. And thank goodness for that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fashionable?!



Last weekend I was stopped by a photographer as I was leaving the Bicycle Valet parking at the San Francisco Green Festival. These things generally don't happen to me. It was a hot day for mid-November, and I was attempting to bike in a miniskirt and pink Converse sneakers. And then this woman approached me.

"Do you mind if I take your photo?" she asked.

"What's it for?"

"Oh, I take pictures of fashionable women on bicycles for my blog."

I wasn't sure which part of this statement surprised me more--that she has a blog devoted to fashionable bicyclists, or that I somehow fit that description. I'm the kind of girl who tends to accidentally mismatch everything, usually because I'm more loyal to a favorite shirt than I am to an overall "outfit." My mother can attest to this--hers are the eyebrows that raise, hers is the voice that quivers when I leave the house. "You really want to wear that?"

I obliged her, and lo and behold, a week later, I stumble across her website.

I think I am an official San Franciscan now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On Morality, of Sorts



--image by Kristen Blackmore, from SFist.com


On Saturday, November 15, my roommates and I biked down to the San Francisco City Hall to Join the Impact against Proposition 8. We arrived around noon, two hours after the rally had begun in 80 cities around the United States, and the lawn before the Civic Center was crowded with thousands of protesters. We wove through recently-married gay couples wearing wedding dresses and allies waving "another straight against h8te." There was nowhere to stand, so we wandered over to the Slow Food Victory Garden and perched atop hay bales. The sun beat down an almost impenetrable ray of civic justice, and yet the only speaker I could actually hear was a Baptist preacher. His voice had that hearty, scratchy pitch of someone who is accustomed to raising it high enough to be heard. He referenced the beginning of his education in civil rights at the death of Emmett Till, and argued that Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals do not understand the hypocrisy of their "moral" argument.




--image from Flickr, by Generick11


My adolescence was highlighted by the infamous decisions of unfortunate politicians, whether it was George Bush Sr. throwing up in Japan, Clinton getting impeached for an immaturity not worthy of the Oval Office, or the various embarrassments and tragedies that have been the Dubya administration. And now, finally, the change I am witnessing has the potential to make our lives better. Thus, the pots and pans of November 4, 2008.

And yet, the civil rights movement is not over, nor will it ever be. The perception of homosexuality and all non-heterosexual communities has evolved at an almost incredible rate during my lifetime. I will never forget how the word "gay" was such an accepted insult when I was in junior high, or how risky it felt to join a Gay-Straight Alliance in high school. I'm straight, and yet I still feel the intensity of that association as a teenager.

Eight years later, it feels almost criminal not to be an ally. Being human is being human, regardless of where we're from, what we look like, or who we love. I live in one of the "gayest" cities in the world, and instead of feeling threatened by the non-traditional or the unexpected, I'm more comfortable because of it.

Yesterday was a full day. After the protest, I met up with Laurel at the Green Festival downtown, an indoor sustainability fair with a seemingly endless supply of free samples. In the evening, we headed down to the Box Theatre in Potrero Hill to see a dance performance that benefited the Darfur Women's Center. I forgot how effective nonverbal communication can be sometimes. It was an evening of expression, and the movements of last night, combined with the images of the protest and the festival, have slid through the microfilm of my mind all day. Politics and art have been chewing away at my brain these days, and for the first time in a long time, they are a source of inspiration.

Thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

O. Bama.

Tonight I ran the streets of San Francisco banging pots and pans, drinking champagne and yelling joyfully into open cafes and bars. Tonight I felt proud, actually, honestly proud, to be from the United States, for the first time since I was in elementary school.

It started after work, when I ran home to pea soup and NPR, and I heard the commentator noting that "many of those contested red states are turning a shade of blue." And then Ohio. Oh, Ohio. Obama and his campaign took Ohio. And then Pennsylvania. And Virginia. And so many more, until at long last, it was eight o'clock and the projections were suddenly not so projected. Obama: 323. McCain: 144. No hanging chads could destroy that landslide.

I was sitting in a friend's living room in the Mission, surrounded by twenty young progressives with open laptops and powerful lungs. The milisecond we knew, the minute it was true, the room was humid with tears. It was a reaction I didn't realize politics could provoke, transforming a group of high-energy, highly expectant voters into a quiet, weeping mass.

McCain folded like a stack of cards. He was dignified enough, putting his arms up above his head in that universally-recognized symbol of almost Democratic surrender. And then, after he seceded, and Palin waved her Miss Congeniality wave from the side of the stage, it all became so much more real.

Obama took over Chicago with three words: Yes we can. His rhetoric is impossible to beat, and his delivery is perfect. Even the tone of his voice is sympathetic, measured. The following phrase is what broke me down completely, gave me over to a new form of optimistic patriotism:

"Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

And thus we took to the streets, feeling an almost Biblical pull, like Miriam with her tambourine. We shouted and screamed "O - BA - MA!" and kept pinching each other and running into cafes with our arms up high, surrounded by smiles and fellow chanters. The world feels new suddenly. Faith is palpable. Authority welcomes debate. Humanity is recognizable. American dignity is not an oxymoron.

I won't rattle off Obama's policy promises, although they are attractive (yes to health care for those of us with pre-existing conditions! and pro-choice education! and a quicker retreat from Iraq!), but perhaps more than anything is this injection of renewal that you can feel in the very earth. The days seem clearer suddenly. Grad school seems a little bit more attainable. Small, measurable gains seem possible.

And besides, who cannot love a president who says things like this:

"Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

Finally, a leader who's funny on purpose.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Thorn in the Midst

I'm in my Halloween costume already--suspenders, straw hat, plaid and jeans as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Just spent the past hour trouncing around the house with a trail of little straw flakes billowing out behind me. It's been a joyful kind of week, month really, with the upcoming election and the brilliance of San Francisco autumn.

It's funny how the starkest of realities bring us back down to earth just as we are the most oblivious. I get frustrated when my blood sugar wakes me up in the early morning, or when the copier breaks down at work, and then I learn about frighteningly real tragedies like the death of my former classmate Jake Thorn.

I met Jake as a sophomore at UCSB--2004, shortly before the last presidential election. The campus was full of a palpable electricity: students were mobilizing, registering voters and protesting the ongoing war in Iraq. We wanted Bush out. My second week back at school, I joined the Campus Democrats club. Immediately we were put to work: flyering freshman dorms with voter registration information, canvassing for the local supervisor race (I had a John Buttny sticker on my bike basket for the duration of the election, until he lost to the beer-brewing, father-of-"The-Bachelor" Firestone), tabling on the quad. Jake was one of the first fellow volunteers I met.

Jake epitomized the kind of friend you never quite have the time for, but always admired and wanted to actually know. He was thin, and smiley, with reddish hair, and a penchant for Amnesty International and equal-opportunity education. He wrote well. I remember him editing the club newsletter (it had a "donkey" theme) with a girl who later became my housemate here in San Francisco. He was one of those community members who you could count on to have an editorial in the paper at least once a week.

Throughout my time at UCSB, Jake's interests and passions often criss-crossed my own, whether it be voter registration, a local nonprofit we tried to start called Free Skool, the underground belly that was co-op culture and independent music.

All of these characteristics and memories slide into view now, two years later, when all I know of him are a list of hobbies and interests from his Facebook profile and a half dozen digital photographs from community events. I can't claim to have known him intimately or even well; he was one of many classmates who accomplished great things and had plans to accomplish even more.

I heard from him for the first time since graduation when he posted a note online about his May 2008 lymphoma diagnosis, a startling and fast-moving disease. Suddenly he was bald, suddenly he was excited about popsicles and writing songs about doomed youth. It wasn't until today, the day he passed away, that I noticed a small link on his webpage advertising his music:

http://www.purevolume.com/jakethorn/

There are few things more chilling than hearing someone's recorded voice shortly after they have died. I can only imagine what this must mean to his family and close friends, and the people who mattered the most to him. His voice sounds fragile at first, but then I recognize the quality of sound not as a weakness, but rather an informed complacency. He knows what is happening to his body, just as he knows which politicians are screwing up the country, and which animals are being mistreated. He knows, he knew, he always will know.

Perhaps the greatest pity in all this is how much he wanted to see next week's election. I remember the fervency with which he followed politics, and the idealistic hunger that pushed him forward. What's more tragic, I wonder: that so few people can maintain this intellectual idealism, or that those who do are often prevented from creating change?

Yet another reason to vote--vote for progressive change, and you'll be voting for Jake Thorn.

May 11, 1985--October 30, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Infomercials



Hawaii Chair: Fact or Fiction?

Critical thoughts / questions: The sexual tension in this infomercial is so transparent, and yet the product itself just might attract an office worker.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Two Takes on Global Warming--Commercial Vs. Public Service Announcement

The broadcasting class that I am taking at the City College of San Francisco requires that I consume and evaluate news of different mediums every week. Last week's theme was the commercial. The following ad is from the League of Conservation Voters and promotes an idea rather than a product:



A refreshing view on the neverending 2008 presidential eleciton? Perhaps. Both the sound ("It Ain't Easy Being Green") and the images (photographs of candidates from the past year slowly turning green) work well to carry the overall message. The ad only fails in that it doesn't provide any real solution--just food for thought. It functions better as a PSA than as a commercial.


Speaking of--this week we are focusing one was the public service announcement. I got this one on global warming at www.hulu.com:

--


--

This PSA relies on two things: the celebrity status of actor Kiefer Sutherland, and the appropriate urgency of his aptly named show, "24." He appeals to viewers as an everyman, saying that we must all monitor our "carbon footprint," and mentions enough scientific-sounding jargon to make the announcement seem legitimate. He almost had me until he referenced his own network as a valid resource for global warming information. At that point the PSA became less public, and more corporate.

Given this choice, I'd say the first ad appealed to me more as a young working woman. The information was better delivered through a variety of mediums, rather than relying solely on the popularity of an actor on a specific, conservative network. Thumbs up to the League of Conservation Voters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

anniversaries of sorts

The sunset was godly tonight.

Our house was quiet all evening. It was my night to cook, and for the first time in weeks I had the entire kitchen to myself. My brain was as full as the sky. There is an imperceptible calm that covers the world every night, and yet we are rarely paying enough attention to even notice.

It is October. Octobers are always red to me, pomegranate season. I've lived in San Francisco exactly a year this week. Two years ago this week I moved to Spain. Three years ago this week I broke up with my college boyfriend. Four years ago this week I was in love for the first time. Five years ago...five years ago, Santa Barbara was covered in smoke and fire and I felt guilty for thinking the sunset was prettier after all the smog had cleared.

How calculable is change?

Is it something that politicians can actually bring? Is the change we seek the same as the change we need? Do we notice good change as much as bad?

I try to. When the workmen finish on our block, I notice the smooth, slick asphalt. When a student at our school finally understands the difference between "he" and "she," we point it out. When the office staff adopted compost and recycling, we put up green and blue reminders all over the walls. When my blood sugar is normal, I give myself a golf clap.

When we have a new, progressive president, I'll stop holding my breath for health care reform, an economy with potential, and a set of ideals that might just be that--ideas.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh Hashana

I got lost on the K MUNI tonight. I was on my way to meet Shauna for a Rosh Hashana service at the San Francisco County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, and the sun was just a wink on the horizon. A number of synapses were misfiring in my brain like fireworks. I was listening to Joan the Policewoman sing about failed relationships and thinking about a Brooklyn boy for whom I've developed an uncanny affection. Then a telemarketer called just as I was arriving at West Portal station, and for the irony of it was I actually wanted to answer her questions, but there was no reception in the tunnel. And then suddenly I was at Forest Hill station, by the Laguna Hospital, and it was dark, and I was late, and I wondered again why I had left the house.

I was thirty minutes late for the service, which we had found on Craigslist, and were drawn primarily because we didn't have to register for it ahead of time (as is the case for most High Holy Day services), and was advertised as "experimental and friendly." Those two adjectives can be quite the wild cards in this city. And yet it was a relief to know that the New Year was entirely capable of starting without me. Religion, particularly Judaism, has always left an almost backward impression on me--that is, the less I technically practice, or the less orthodox my prayer, the more I am struck by the sheer grandiosity of the universe.

And there's nowhere more unorthodox than a half-full room at the San Francisco County Fair Building in late September, sliding glass door open just enough to muffle the sounds of cars whipping by on Lincoln Avenue. The man on my right had a full beard, fuller than Moses', and he repeated every gesture the rabbi made, gesture for gesture. As with many Reform and/or post-Reform services, most of the songs were a series of voices competing for rhythm and pitch. And then something really spectacular happened: we sang the Sh'ma.

The Sh'ma is the most important prayer in Judaism because it carries its most basic truth: that there is one god. The prayer must be sung while standing, and most Jews bend their heads and bow at regular intervals. It is easy to remember, even for us non-Hebrew-speakers who grew up reading the transliterations, because it is only about four or five words. Now, I consider myself an agnostic at best, and even then, I'm not the best agnostic. The very fact that I don't believe 100% in one god cancels out my identification as a Jew in many circles, but that's another story. What happened tonight had less to do with my belief (or lack thereof) in any kind of god, and more to do with the sheer will to believe that filled that crappy little room.

What was different was the way the congregation sang the prayer. Instead of singing it as a whole phrase, or singing each word quietly in a full breath, we all sang each word fully, loudly, in a bizarre kind of harmony that wasn't melodic so much as absolutely willed.

shema


yisrael


adonai


eloheynu


adonai


echad

Each note was so full, it was if an entire season was blossoming within it.

The curtains whipped at the open slider doors, and the man next to me bobbed his head on his full belly. And I was glad to be there, glad to have gotten lost on the K line, glad to be an experimental and friendly Jew.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cords and Wires

My life is full of cords and wires.

Lying in bed, the first one I see is the the tubing that goes from insulin pump to abdomen. People are always startled to hear that I sleep with a little pager-like device stuck to my body. True, it is at times inconvenient when I turn over and my pump slides off the bed, and yet it I'm used to it.

Then there are the recreational wires. I (cough) use an iPod way more than I probably should. i have also started the obnoxious habit of failing to capitalize my "i"s. Growing up in the age of radio technology-turned-portable-everything, I can't fall alseep without listening to something. It started back in junior high, when I would just leave my radio on the windowsill tuned in to 100.5 FM, waking up to used car ads and Dr. Drew's "Loveline." Then there was the audio books phase, which also propelled me through the Walkman phase, longer than most, and later on to the Discman ("skip-free") era. In college, there were the carefully-selected mix cds from boyfriends and roommates. There was always a startling difference between the "sleep" cd and the "running / rocking out" cd. And these days...well, my inner nerd has emerged triumphant with the blossoming of podcasts. The highlight of every Monday is downloading the latest "This American Life," "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," "Sound Opinions," "Dawn and Drew Show," "PRI: Selected Shorts," and many more my inner geek is not yet comfortable enough to reveal.

So far both of these cords are both physically close to my body and represent a psychological or otherwise physiological dependency (a bit of a hyperbole for the iPod, but definitely true for my iPump). Even more recent is my very first laptop, adquired this summer through an amazing discount. Never before have I been able to type a story or respond to an email in bed. Genius. I don't trust myself quite enough to take my darling Wangari Maathai (aptly named, I hope) beyond the corner coffee shop. I have taken her to Progressive Grounds down the street, trotting carefully with her tucked away in an inherited computer-carrying case, bringing along yet more cords.

Maybe this is the generation of robots. Maybe the Flight of the Conchords are singing prophesies. Maybe the goal of technology is to get all of us non-programmed beings into some state of wire-and-cord obsession, so much so that our knowledge of small nuts and bolts is greater than that of our own selves. Maybe our intellectual strength is really no more potent than our ability to run a solid battery.

The extent to which I use technology on a daily basis really struck me a few days ago, when I was walking uphill home and felt three hand-size lumps in my pockets, all of which make sounds that indicate different things, all of which I use every day, all of which I could survive successfully without. I pulled them out of my pockets while waiting for the bus and stared my full palms for a moment: cell phone, iPod, insulin pump. Each of them store so much information that I consider vital--medical dosages, emergency numbers, that one dance playlist I spent two hours fine-tuning. Suddenly my phone began vibrating, and I grabbed my pump, accidentally turning up the volume to Ira Glass on my ears.

Wires and cords. They're taking over.