Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On Spring

This meadow is a childhood deja-vous.

This is the kind of place where an old person would sit down at the end of his or her long life, maybe lie back and look up at that spot where the leaves of neighboring trees crisscrossed, making darker, greener shadows, and slip into reverie. This is a place where the quality of light is different, where the air is still and quiet, where there are more banana slugs than people.

We discovered this meadow last weekend while hiking near Point Reyes, an hour northwest of San Francisco. This little bench was nestled in amongst a thicket of berry bushes and a small rushing creek.

We splayed our lunch across the little bridge and laid with our heads to the treetops. I remembered what it felt like to be tuned-out, turned-off, plugged off and out of reach--and I liked it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trends I Have Loved

I tend to catch on to popular trends about five years after they die.

The first was my virtual love affair with the band Weezer--specifically the self-titled blue album, which came out when I was 10, but whose songs I didn't really properly listen to until my brother left his CD in the car the summer I turned 17. I remember listening to "In the Garage" over and over while my parents and I were driving through Vancouver, watching the rain fall and waiting--no, praying--for a garage of my own where I could just be. Then there was the Pinkerton album, which my friend Vivian and I used to blast while driving up the 101 from Santa Barbara, and a few years later my love for Weezer waned, as love for overplayed media tends to fade.

Then there was Harry Potter. I was in high school when the first book came out, and was prepared to poo-poo this so-called fantasy novel when my aunt April asked me to read the book aloud to my cousin Jeff one day in the car. I was reluctant at first, wondering if I could just read until Jeff fell asleep, but then my mouth couldn't keep up with the words tumbling out, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and read for the rest of the afternoon. And although the Harry Potter films and related merchandise could never measure up to the power of the books, my allegiance to Hogwarts remains strong.

I acknowledge that by admitting to my own love of Weezer and Harry Potter means sacrificing tiny shreds of my dignity, and yet, who are we if we can't own what we like?

All this to admit to my current passing fancy: the Showtime drama "The L Word", which aired from 2004-2009, and whose soap opera plot twists revolve around the exploits of a community of lesbian friends in Los Angeles. I'd seen an episode here and there in the years that it was on t.v., but wasn't truly hooked until a few weeks ago, when I stumbled across the first season at the San Francisco Public Library, of all places. And now I find myself itching to know who ends up with who, and how, and why Jenny, the character who is a self-proclaimed "fiction writer," exemplifies the exact kind of writer I'd never want to be.

But there's more to "The L Word" than smoldering naked ladies--there's a cultural undercurrent that I find more interesting than any love triangle. Perhaps more than anything, this show epitomizes the evolving societal attitude toward homosexuality. I remember as a child that the very notion of being openly gay was a fairly dangerous thing. I've always had friends who identified on all parts of the Kinsey spectrum, and yet when I was in high school, the idea of even declaring one's sexual orientation was an act of courage, something that put them at risk. I was in junior high school when Matthew Shepard was brutally killed and in high school during the Columbine shooting. I remember when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her own sitcom, and how that made headlines for months.

Perhaps what interests me the most about "The L Word" is not its farcical romantic nature, nor its graphic-bordering-on-sensational love scenes, but the very fact that it made homosexuality a mainstream, everyday phenomenon. "The L Word" is just one of many such television shows and popular media that approached homosexuality with both humility and pride, and yet, like so many other trends, its relevance is just hitting me now.

Maybe, just maybe, trends can be a good thing, even if it takes us a few years to figure that out.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Landmark Health Bill Approved--Nearly

Remember in 2008, when Obama promised a season of change in Washington?

It looks like it might have just begun, blooming with the beginning of spring's cherry blossoms. Just today, the House of Representatives approved the latest health care bill, which stipulates that health insurers allow children to stay on their parents' plans until their 26th birthday, that children with medical problems not be dropped from their family plans, and that many large companies face stiff fines for failing to cover their employees. The bipartisan bickering about passing this bill included a group of conservative Democrats (who are they, I want to know?) who insisted on including a clause clarifying that none of this federal health insurance money go to providing abortions.

Just what does this all mean?

It doesn't mean that getting health care coverage will be instantly easier, nor does it mean that this bill has yet become law. The vote now goes to the Senate. And even if the bill does get passed without hitch, it still might be several months before everyday Americans see real change in their health care coverage.

That said, I can't help fluttering with excitement at the thought that maybe, at some point, so many of the decisions I make in life aren't dictated by who will pay my medical bills, and how. It seems nothing short of ironic that this bill pass just two months shy of my 26th birthday, where for the past three years my family has been generous enough to pay to COBRA my health insurance. Fresh out of college I applied for my own health insurance, but was denied across the board because I have a pre-existing condition. I was offered insurance through my previous job, but didn't work there long enough for the transition between companies to make any real difference.

Now I'm back in school, and the CSU system (when faced with enough budget cuts to knock it to its knees) offers a laughable $500 reimbursement for insulin...per year. (Any diabetic reading this knows that one vial of insulin has a retail value of $90; as someone on an insulin pump, I go through 3 vials a month--$500 would last me about six weeks.) So - so I'm ridiculously lucky that my parents are able to help me out, but I'm damned well ready to help myself out, or to let the government throw me and my fellow pre-existing-conditioners a bone.

Harry Reid, you listening? Blue Cross? HealthNet? Aetna? Kaiser? Big business? Weak-kneed Democrats in the Senate, Republicans and Independents who don't know enough diabetics or asthmatics or recent college grads foregoing health insurance--I hope you're paying attention.

I hope you're all paying attention, because the rest of us everyday Americans, we certainly are.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And while I'm at it, I'd like a pony

I can't believe it. I've begun craving domesticity. And not in the ways I would expect. I don't want children. I don't anticipate marriage. I don't want to spend the day cooking. I just -- well, I find myself coveting houses. Apartments with beautiful windows. Big, sprawling gardens. Even those perky little studios atop corner stores.

I can't pinpoint exactly when or how it started, but at some point I realized that I spent as much time staring at the buildings I was passing as I was the road ahead. Every street in San Francisco has at least one interesting facade, whether it is a three-story Victorian with purple trim or a canary yellow apartment complex with neatly trimmed flower boxes. I'd like to attribute this newfound admiration to Kurt Andersen's influence--the host of PRI's Studio 360 focuses a lot on design and architecture, and often curates these amazing radio pieces that somehow capture the sound of buildings.

A more likely explanation is my own (rented) apartment's current mess; the entire building has been covered in green scaffolding since January 1, and the contractors finally started stripping the dry rot off the exterior this week. At any given time of day, there are about 30 Chinese construction workers hammering, stripping wood, and clamoring around (and sometimes in) our apartment. I know this will all benefit me and my housemates in the long run, but that's not my first thought when they begin hammering about bed-level at nine a.m. on a Saturday.

Between that, and the dawning realization that the chances of me ever having enough money to ever own any kind of property in San Francisco are close to nil, this mounting desire for my own place is almost dizzying. It's the weirdest, strongest material want that I've ever had. I don't usually want things. I'd rather get books from the library or movies from a rental store than buy either. I hate shopping. I don't like handbags and almost all of my jewelry I've received as gifts. When it comes to gifts, I'd much rather have an experience; that is, a concert, performance, trip, nice dinner, bike ride, thoughtful card.

And now, seemingly out of nowhere, I want a house. Although I'd settle for a tiny little studio, if it was all my own and I was my own landlady.

Maybe this is what happens when your friends start marrying off, when people your age are managing mortgages and your cousins start having kids. Maybe there's some symbol for adulthood that we are constantly seeking to measure; a yardstick for our own success that is easy to categorize. I recently saw a friend I hadn't seen in four years; in the time that I had used to work abroad, get a job, apply to and get into grad school, he had traveled the world over performing as a musician, met his fiancee, and discovered new career paths. Now he is contemplating how to best marry said fiancee, who is from another country, and he said that many of his friends are buying houses and settling down.

After we had lunch, I came home just as the construction workers were removing my bedroom window. Dust settled on my bedroom floor and I thought longingly of my own place, that hypothetical little corner somewhere in the world where all my passions and desires and ambitions would be, at long last, contained.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Running Through Yellow

This might be an unpopular opinion but I love Daylight Savings.

I went running today after work and the sunlight was that shade of yellow that seems like it should be reserved for childhood photographs. The best color in the world to run through. It makes you fast, shimmery, like a little fox darting through intersections, neighborhoods, sunsets. Tonight I made it up through Diamond Heights, further than I had anticipated, but I swear I could feel the endorphins shoot straight from my legs up to my ears.

And then, somehow, I found myself atop one of the steepest hills in San Francisco--one I'd only driven up before. When I first moved here, I was wary of running on city streets, much less scaling these hills, but now--now the hills are all fear and desire mixed in concrete and dizzying height. Now I love running and biking those hills. I love them in the way that when I run up them, I am forced to slow down, to concentrate on the minute movements of each muscle. Speed is secondary to simply moving, doing. And the slaps that my feet make on the way down--bad for the knees, yes, but every third or fourth step I indulge just to hear the concrete respond. To let the earth know that I'm here, not just standing on it, but running down it. And few things are more exhilarating.

All that said, I'll probably hate Daylight Savings when I get up in six hours.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Indulgence

Today I went to my first public bath house. Or, perhaps it's better to say I went to my first public hot tub. When I think of public bath houses, I'm inclined to remember Mr. Kanna's cryptic lectures on Japanese history back in seventh grade, or the archeological remains of public baths in the tiny town of Ronda in southern Spain. So I guess I was expecting a slightly medieval experience.

We took the 49 bus all the way down Van Ness, which is one of those epic public transit journeys when you pass from neighborhood to neighborhood as if you were in a plane jumping continents. First the taquerias, then the huge Goodwill thrift mart, then the Civic Center and the Opera House and the hotels and, way off in the distance, that surprising blue-green of the bay. Ryan and I have both been harboring a cold--me for the better part of two weeks, him just for the last few days. We almost walked by the Hot Tubs, its neon sign obscured by an elm tree in front of the bus stop.

Inside it felt like we were walking into a classy by-the-hour hotel. We got a pretty good deal, considering that we'd printed a one-time coupon off their website, and the attendant walked us down the hall past a series of open doors.

"Do you ever go in the baths when nobody's here?" I asked.

"I try to at least twice a week," she said, her ponytail swinging.

She lead us to a small room at the end of the hall. I blinked. It was so clean and sharp. A jacuzzi in the corner, a small boxy sauna, a shower, a radio, even a massage table. All ours for an hour and a half--for thirty bucks.

What followed was one of those stunningly indulgent experiences, much like German chocolate cake or a really swanky restaurant. My whole body seemed suspended in time, and I kept stopping myself to wonder, "Is it okay to do this and not be actively accomplishing anything?" No homework, no exercise, no chores, no work. No--could it be?--worrying. Just floating. Breathing.

There was certainly nothing medieval about it. On the contrary, it was a little private world just outside one of the busiest streets in San Francisco. A reminder that health and health care don't have to be two different things, and there are lots of ways to treat both.

Friday, March 12, 2010

An ode to jalapenos

This recipe finally scared away my cold. My best friend told me on the phone that I sounded like there were monsters battling a losing battle in my throat. I've since stopped discriminating Kleenex from toilet paper, napkins, paper hand towels, and anything paper that's nearby when I feel a sneeze coming. And then--and then I made this chili.

I'm by no means an avid or exciting cook. I love the Farmer's Market and try to cook as healthy as I can within my means. I like cooking the most when it's a quiet evening and nobody's really around, and I'm hungry but not starving, and I've got all the ingredients and all the time in the world. Tuesday was one of those nights. So I picked up some eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and, yes, jalapenos, and got to work.

The result was pretty much the tastiest soup I've made yet. But the best part of it was after I'd eaten two full bowls and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I couldn't figure out why my nose suddenly felt so fresh and clean, and then when I looked in the mirror it was so obvious: my nasal passages were lit up, fiery red beneath my skin, and I could feel jalapeno coursing up my throat and down my nose.

Amazing. Now if there was just a magic recipe for cabin fever...