Friday, June 26, 2009

Stochasticity, or: RadioLab is the pretty much the best thing since sliced bread

Five Days Later


I heard an interview with Regina Spektor on Kurt Anderson's PRI show, Studio 360, and found myself humming on the bus this morning. Not only can she sing and play the piano, but she's one of those quietly articulate people who says really intelligent things when provoked.

I want to be one of those people. You know, those eloquent people, who share their strongest opinions in the most convincing and respectful ways. Instead my thoughts often mirror the language pattern of the international students with whom I work: I start the week as a native English speaker, a competent and clear individual, and by Friday I find myself forgetting key verbs or qualifiers.

Today, while waiting for the elevator, my boss asked me about my upcoming trip to Chile.

"When are you going?" she wanted to know.
"Five days later," I said, my voice halting in that oh-so-familiar imitation of an English speaker who is slowly gaining confidence.
"Five days after?" she said.
"Yes." I thought a moment. "I leave for Chile five days after my last day at work."
We both laughed, but I found myself momentarily worried. I claim to be such a good communicator, and yet--I blamed it on the sunny day outside, and the post-lunch blood sugar rise and fall.

Michelle Obama is eloquent. She was in San Francisco recently, at a conference for nonprofits. It is so refreshing to see a strong, intelligent woman role model in the news. A strong, intelligent woman of color in the news. A strong, intelligent, educated woman of color who's going to help change a few things in this confused, multicultural and bizarre land of "plenty." I saw the work she's done with the White House garden and am so thrilled to have a strong, intelligent, educated green woman feeding our country.

Maybe eloquence isn't just about the way you speak or the things you do. Maybe it's about the lifestyle you adopt, the decisions you make, the reasons why you vote. I actually believe that eloquence is the act of remembering to stop before you do anything. And I don't mean stop-and-smell-the-roses; I mean stop, period. Do one thing at a time, and do it entirely. Own who you are, and be proud of it. Ask questions. And then, when you've stopped long enough to accomplish what you're doing, start again.

So, while I might be going to Chile five days later, while I might erupt into low-blood-sugar giggles at inopportune times, while I might not be going to Yale or earning a sizable salary, I am finally learning to stop, breathe, do what I'm doing, and then move on.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In honor of Mark Twain

Summer hangs sweet in the air like honey.

Or it would, if San Francisco had a regular summer like the rest of the world.

Summer in San Francisco has its own alchemy: instead of relying on vitamin d and long outdoor hours, the city lives off social electricity, music festivals and taquerias and cafes and the rare sunny day at Dolores Park. This year the fog doesn't depress me; rather it is the one constant during a time of personal change. I'm finishing my last few weeks as an International Student Advisor at an international school downtown and will begin an M.F.A. program at San Francisco State in late August. I have three weeks between my last day at work and my first day at school, two of which I plan to spend in Chile with my best friend Laurel. I finally got full-size sheets on my first full-size bed. My mother is retiring, most of my friends split their time between grad school, full-time employment, and traveling the world, and we have a fabulous president for the first time since I was twelve years old.

Life is good.

Except Ahmadinejad won (allegedly) the presidential election in Iran. Except for that, and the murder of a Holocaust Memorial guard in D.C., and the rising prices of education, life is damn good. Summer is the best time of year, even when the MUNI lines light up in the damp evening fog, and bikinis are reserved for the rare trip inland. I feel the need to dig deep for the stories that, soon enough, I'll be required to produce, and yet my mind needs tilling. It's time to turn over the sod that two years of admin does to your head.

Last week, we had to say goodbye to a group of thirty students who had completed our longest-offered program, the Academic Year. I've met hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students since I started my job in spring 2008, and there are always a few students in every group that stand out. This particular group, however, were not just students--they were peers. I felt that our school matured with them, as we perfected our customer service and fine-tuned our academics. Many of these students began their English studies in our lowest level, and progressed through the cycles to our more advanced classes. Many of them were in my own classes. One of them was our intern. They were a group of men and women from Japan, Russia, France, China, Korea, and Germany. Both individually and as a group, they made an impression on me, and reminded me that being good at any job, even if it is not your dream job, has its rewards, and they can be overpowering.

In the tradition of all things exciting, the transition from full-time worker to full-time student is a bit daunting. Am I really a writer? I keep asking myself. Is this the right investment? What will I get from this? To be fair, these are all questions I've asked of my current job, and previous ones as well. What is the best way to be professional in this world? Does it even matter?

It helps that, for the first time in many months, I find myself gravitating toward a relationship I hadn't expected. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to learn the little intimate details of another person, the small things that he might not reveal to just anyone, and how all the bullshit tends to fall by the wayside. In many ways, I feel like things are fuller, rounder, and more complete, and those things that are beyond our control are just that -- beyond.

Job ending. Students leaving. Travel planned. Boys with glasses. Sounds like summer.

the coldest winter in my life was a summer in San Francisco -- Mark Twain