This morning, while steering with my knees as I drove up Sacramento Street, chatting with Ry on my cell phone, and trying to sip from a cup of hot coffee from S**r**cks (hey, someone gave me a gift card, so the joe was free), I realized two things: 1.) I am currently my own worst nightmare (though I wasn't driving an SUV, so perhaps not quite); and 2.) I am crazily happy.

Eventually I hung up the phone, put the coffee in my cup holder, and placed both hands back on the wheel, thereby ending #1 (own worst nightmare), but #2 still held fast. And, really, it wasn't just the caffeine jolt or the video game-esque thrill of driving the hills of San Francisco with no hands or even the hilarious joy of talking with Ryan, though all of those were quite pleasant. It was those things and the general sense of well-being that has trumped even my loopy exhaustion this month.

Because here, at the tail end of the year, it finally feels like some things that were up in the air for a long time have started to drift back down to earth, where I most need them to be. Though they may not (indeed, probably won't) stay down here forever, what matters is that they're here now. That's a sorely welcome relief.

When I went out for a run this evening, it was already dark; halfway down Dolores Street, it started to rain--not enough to get me wet, really, but enough to make me realize there was indeed water falling from the sky. For a while I tucked my head down and tried to quicken my pace. But then The Decemberists came up on my iPod, and I thought of laughing with Ry this morning, thought of two phone conversations I'd had earlier this week, of the utter joy (really, it was awesome) of my party this past Saturday, of the holidays with my family and friends in the week ahead. I thought about how far this year has brought me, and about what 2006 might hold.

And then, rain and the chance of looking truly starkers be damned, I actually raised my arms above my head, mouthed the words to the song coming into my ears, and ran with my head high, grateful and amazed and, here at the bottom of December, so much at peace.


Of Tookie, Death, and Redemption

I won't even begin to defend Stanley ("Tookie") Williams, one of the founders of the Crips gang, nor will I call into question his guilt. There may somewhere, somehow be doubts that he was responsible for the murders that landed him in jail, but those doubts aren't mine to raise.

What disappoints me about the fact that Williams was put to death by lethal injection last night (not 20 miles from here, natch) is that California--and the US as a whole--still sees capital punishment as a reasonable thing, despite its flaws and its somewhat ludicrous hypocritical nature ("We'll kill you to show that killing is wrong").

What disappoints me is that we as a society don't seem willing to let prisoners redeem themselves behind bars. Without question, the work Williams did while incarcerated to steer kids and teenagers away from the same gang life that did him in does not--will not, never can--excuse his senseless and violent crimes. But why couldn't we let that work be a sign of redemption, a sign that Williams became in prison a different man entirely than the one he was on the streets? Why can't we trust that sometimes (though by no means all the time) redemption within the criminal justice system is not only possible, but a sign that perhaps something in a prisoner's life is finally going right?

I can't speak for the families of Tookie Williams' victims; perhaps his death really did bring them a sense of finality, of justice served, of a wrong partially made right. Neither I nor anyone else not standing inside those families' skins can ever know for sure what it's like. But it would seem that the larger message sent by putting Williams to death was less one of justice and more one of hopelessness: if even Williams, who came so far from where he started, wasn't worth saving for the good he started (and likely would've continued) to do, what of the millions of others behind bars? Has our criminal justice system failed so completely that we've given up on all of them, too?


Yuk, yuk, yuk

OK, so I'm completely ripping this joke off from some guy's Craigslist post, but it's funny enough that it bears repeating.

A rope walks into a bar, takes a seat, and says to the bartender, "I'd like a beer please." The bartender, clearly angry, says, "No way. We don't serve ropes here." The rope, confused, walks out the front door. He stands there for a moment before, thinking there must've been some sort of misunderstanding, he walks back inside.

The rope sits down again, and the bartender immediately says, "What did I tell you? We don't serve your kind here!" He picks up the rope and tosses it out the window behind the bar.

Outside, the rope sees a bucket and decides to ask him what's going on. "Excuse me, bucket," says the rope. "Why does the bartender keep throwing me out? All I want is a beer." The bucket replies, "I don't know why he refuses to serve ropes, but I have a solution for you: disguise yourself and go back in. The bartender will never know."

"Thanks!" the rope says, pulling a few loose strands from his ends and tying them up before heading back inside. He sits at the bar once more and says, "One beer, please."

"Hey," says the bartender. "Aren't you that damn rope I keep kicking out?"

"Nope," says the rope. "Frayed knot."

(So it's no duck/hardware store joke, but it's close.)


The Temple Comes Down

Hayes Green temple in its cleaner days Posted by Picasa

En route to the post office this afternoon, I walked through Hayes Green (the mini park at the end of my street) to discover that David Best's temporary wooden temple was finally being dismantled and taken away, to which I could think only Thank God!

The temple, built of hundreds and hundreds of intricately cut pieces of wood, was assembled in the middle of the green early this summer to celebrate the completion of Octavia Boulevard and the birth of our new little park. For a long time, it was a gathering spot, a marvel for neighborhood residents and visitors alike, and a pleasant centerpoint for the park. Encouraged by the temple's creator, people covered it in often thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking, generally tasteful graffitti.

But then the months wore on, and the interesting inscriptions were more or less obliterated by gigantic puffy-lettered, spraypainted tags. The wood got dirty. The surrounding benches and planters and sidewalks got tagged. The temple limped to the point of being more an eyesore than a sign of celebration, and was still attractive only from a distance or at night, when it was too dark to see any of the inscriptions clearly.

So I'm glad to see it go, though I'll no longer be able to refer to it as a landmark when giving directions to my house, and I'll sort of miss the sight of the spire from elsewhere in the neighborhood. But it wasn't meant to stay forever, no matter how much I may've grown used to it.



This summer, in preparation from his move from Boston to Manhattan with his partner, Otis (officially, Mike, but I can't remember the last time I actually called him that) donated his trusty Ford Escort (a.k.a. JewBaby, for reasons only Otes the Jew can explain) to charity. I happened to be in Boston on the day JewBaby got towed away, so Otes and I decided to recreate, for one last time, the drives to and from Palo Alto that used to be the currency of our days.

Commuting was hell--as, often, were our WebTV customer care jobs--but it either allowed or forced us to become alarmingly close friends. Many, many, many hours together in a small enclosed space meant that we could either get along or go nuts. We opted for the former. And we sort of went nuts anyway.

I think my favorite thing about Otis is that he and I can sometimes exist in a world apart--a world in which plastic fish sport dark sunglasses (see above) and plastic Godzilla toys have personalities of their own, in which "WFHMBWBGDDBF" makes perfect sense, a world in which there's almost no such thing as "too inappropriate."

I'm sure I've written before about how Otes has been an incredibly steadfast and supportive friend over the years, and has done more than his fair share of dealing with my demands and blotting my snotty nose when the latest disaster hits. I love him for all of that, of course, and find it much easier to go through my days knowing he's there when I need him. But I love him most for El Tapeworm, for FishyFishy and Goj, for chainsmoking French Canadian bears and aquaducks, for Jed Pictures and Nicaragwurm, for Angry Bunny and ah wah ah ow.

I adore him, in short, because he helps make my world a more deliciously ludicrous and insane place, and because I can scarcely fathom that world without him.



This past Thursday, I ran my first 5K, the Virginia Run Turkey Trot.

I wanted to run on Thanksgiving both because it seemed like an excellent way of pre-burning a few of the thousands of calories I was sure to eat later in the day, and also because it was something new and different. Because unlike Christmas, which stays, by and large, the same from year to year, Thanksgiving has been something of a moving target.

For the first several years of my existence out west, Thanksgiving meant Seattle with Heather and Jon. And though the holiday morphed somewhat from year to year--the First Year, the Christopher Year, the Whole Mastromatteo Family Year, and so on--the feel of it stayed more or less the same: safe, comfortable, utterly familiar.

And then they moved back east, leaving me to find somewhere else to be on Thanksgiving. For the first year without them, I stayed in San Francisco, went hiking with Monique down on the Peninsula in the morning, made an apple pie, had dinner with a somewhat ragtag group around Monique's dining room table. It was a chill celebration, and wildly different from what I'd known.

The next year was wildly different again: to Greg and Sara's in Virginia, this time with G. in tow, for a long weekend of trying to get two worlds to come together, somehow, with varying degrees of success. And for a while, last year was shaping up to be more or less the same, until, at the last moment, it wasn't, and instead became something else altogether.

So this year I decided to run.

Out in Centreville, surrounded by hundreds of other people, I put my iPod on and ran. As I pushed myself to go as hard and fast as I could, I thought about beating the cold, and about passing as many fellow runners as possible, and about running through the burning in my lungs and the pull in my legs. And though my thoughts were largely limited to the music coming through my ears and throwing one foot in front of the other, I also thought about Thanksgivings past.

I ran for Heather and Jon, and for the pangs of missing I sometimes have both for them and for their past life out west. I ran for a clutch of friends once in SF and now (irretrievably) scattered. I ran for G., for Greg and Sara, for my parents, for Thanksgivings even farther back in which the whole family would congregate in Pennsylvania. And I ran for whatever might come next.

I crossed the finish line panting, sweat steaming off of me in the cold air, 26 minutes and 56 seconds after I started, 17th of 83 30-to-34-year-old women. Dad met up with me back at the starting point and we mingled with the crowd for a while before heading back to the car.

Then we went home to eat.


One year on

Monterey dolphins, November 2004 Posted by Picasa

Last year around this time, Erfert had a half-birthday party on a whale watch boat off the coast of Monterey. I remember the day with a crazy sense of clarity, remember driving down from the city in the morning, remember listening to the tape with Rufus Wainwright's "One Man Guy" over and over and over again, remember the play of light on the water, the unmistakeable scent in the air.

And, of course, I remember feeling impossibly grateful for the chance to escape the emotional pit of hell that was late fall 2004.

We didn't actually see any whales on the cruise, but did see smatterings of other marine life, including sea lions and gobs of dolphins. For a long while, as we raced through the water, a clutch of dolphins rode along just off the sides of the boat, evidently, according to the captain, hitching the equivalent of a free ride in our wake. We humans bent ourselves over the railings to watch them, laughing in delighted disbelief as the dolphins rode and rode and rode with us.

It would be untrue in the extreme to say that the memory of watching dolphins frolic on what must've been one of the most beautiful days of the year was a salve and a sustaining force as I hacked my way through the year that unfolded. No memory on its own could get me through all that. But that mental image (and its physical counterpart) was a reminder that the world was deeper and broader and more full of wonder and possibility than I could really appreciate at the time.

And now, a year on, the memories of last November's suckiness have faded enough to become largely ignorable (if not exactly forgettable), and things seem to have settled into a new equilibrium, and I feel more at peace than I have for a long time running. Now, a year on, what floats to the top of the memory heap for that day on the water is the sense I got watching the dolphins that somehow, at some point, the emotional chop at the center of my life would subside, and there, under the calmed surface, I'd find something I hadn't known I was looking for.


The meth labs among us

Yes, yes, yes--I know that my body's expulsion of mucus is a way of ridding itself of toxins and speeding recovery. But still. There comes a point at which nose clearing and hacking and sneezing cease to be anything approximating therapeutic.

That point came for me last evening, so I went to Walgreens to score myself some Wal-bitussen or Wal-phed or other Wal-something that would, at least temporarily, dry things out and allow my hands to be tissue-free for upwards of five minutes. I propelled myself down the Cold/Cough Remedies aisle, picked up a few boxes to investigate whether they were what I needed, and, deciding they weren't, moved on a few feet.

And then I saw it: the wall of faux package fronts, each one bearing a picture of the product in question, its price, and the instruction to take it to the pharmacy counter--during regular pharmacy hours--to procure the real thing. Now, we've all heard about how pharmacies are taking measures to restrict the number of pseudoephedrine-containing OTC drugs someone can buy at once, given the ingredient's status as a necessary component of crystal meth, but it was jarring to see the practice in place at the corner Walgreens.

As I pulled a Wal-bi-something tag from the array and brought it to the pharmacist, several questions occurred to me: how does the pharmacy staff determine who does and doesn't get this stuff? If I were to come in at 8 p.m., would I be hopelessly out of luck in terms of buying a potion to quell my sniffles? Has every Walgreens store taken this measure, or does Hayes Valley seem like a particularly meth lab-prone neighborhood?

And, perhaps most astoundingly, how can it be at all economical to use a drug as expensive as, say, Benadryl as the base of what's supposed to be a cheap high? Have you seen the price of Benadryl lately? I have to assume that the other components of meth (which are, what?, Drain-O and kitty litter and antifreeze or something) are inexpensive enough to be able to make up the price difference.

Maybe it's my congested head talking, or the 60 mg of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride in the dose of Non-Drowsy Day Time Liquid Caps I just took, but it seems a sad and sorry commentary on modern society that we've managed to make something as simple as cold medicine so wildly complicated. It's amazing to me that at the ripe age of 31, I can actually long for the good old days when it was possible to pluck a package of decongestants off the shelf and down a few with some oj and not have to give even a passing thought to how they might be put to nefarious use.


IM wisdom

Josh says:
the major benefit of an ivy league education is to be able to read jacquelin suzanne without guilt

...and the pursuit of happiness

Someone, for some reason, has deemed the second week in November Pursuit of Happiness Week. Who am I to argue?

Sure, this is wildly arbitrary at best--are we meant to unquestioningly accept our lots in life, however meagre, for the other 51 weeks of the year?--but still, setting oneself off hot on happiness' tale isn't a bad way to do battle against the painfully early Standard Time darkness that still, this week, seems like an aberration.

So, happiness, get your ass over here.

On the plus side of things this week: Friday and Saturday's unexpected treats, dim sum for Val's birthday on Sunday, a continuing supply of Canadian and German chocolate in the house, an upcoming wine rendez-vous with Alisa, and a full hour of Arrested Development last night.

On the minus side: some kind of cold-type thing creeping up on me, getting busted by the CHP for speeding on the Golden Gate this afternoon, the aforementioned hemmhoraging of daylight lately. Must continue pursuing happiness to keep further annoyances at bay.



If there's a better song to listen to than "South Tacoma Way" while lying face-down on the floor (hypothetically--I have not actually tested this, as all of my floors are hardwood) and thinking "[Insert Name of Emotional Mess Here] will pass soon, and hey, it could be worse, but auuuggghhhh," I can't imagine what it might be.

"STW" is brilliant for its twangy kinda-alt-country sound, and for its defiance of all sorts of lyrical conventions. There's a death at its center, but there are no black veils and better places and RIPs on the edges. Instead, there's an achy impatience with "stupid angels," a disdain of funerals, and the sort of slow, murky sadness and rage that are often the first things to bubble to the surface in the wake of an incomprehensible loss.

And of course there's Neko Case's soaring, gut-shaking voice, which makes lines like "I can't comprehend the ways I miss you" even more heartbreaking than they'd normally be. If ever I get the chance to see her perform this song live, I will be unabashed in my willingness to let myself get teary-eyed and snotty-nosed in public; it's a song so beautiful, pride be damned.

(As an aside, Bloodshot Records' description of Furnace Room Lullaby, the album on which "South Tacoma Way" appears, is perhaps the most apt summation I've read.)



A few weeks back, I popped over to my friend John's blog to read his latest chatterings and was dismayed to find a note saying he'd gone on hiatus due to a family emergency. I immediately wrote him a concerned e-mail (would've called, but he's in Slovenia, which mucks up both my sense of time and my phone bill) letting him know I was available as needed to do whatever I could, and sending my fervent hopes that the emergency had passed.

The worry I felt was of the sort that I reserve for my closest friends, which I consider John one of. That's a remarkable thing, that closeness, given that we've only actually seen each other twice, and have lived on the same continent only once, and then for a mere matter of months. Our friendship amazes me both for its strength and depth, but more than anything because of the fact that it was established entirely on e-mail.

Our history goes something like this: in August of 2000, J posted a funny and intelligent message on tautologies and road travel to Sinister, the Belle and Sebastian-themed mailing list to which we both belonged. Amused, I replied (directly to him),
This is just to say that your post may quite possibly be the best thing posted to Sinister ever. EVER.

Bravo. Write more. Please.

Right on, [Yes, I did indeed use this phrase, but the folly of youth excuses it]

This elicited a flattered response from him, and began a never-ending back-and-forth flurry of messages in which we discussed topics ranging from JD Salinger to Phil Collins to Argentine wines to edible innards of animals. We cobbled together an odd and entirely e-mail based but nonetheless durable friendship, and soon felt comfortable enough to seek and offer advice on various relationship and career and life choice matters. (Before leaving my job last year, I printed out vast swaths of our messages, which now serve as a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart-rending, always fascinating look at a particular point in time.)

We met for the first time in the summer of 2002, when I flew to Europe and we spent two weeks traversing a goodly part of the southern chunk of that continent. We saw each other again that December, when we both happened to be in New England at the same time and met up for pad thai in Cambridge. We haven't seen each other since.

But J is one of the first people I turn to (electronically, but still) in the midst of life-crumbling moments, and through his blog, our e-mail exchanges, and the occasional letter or postcard, I feel like he's far closer than thousands of miles away. I've never met his wife or their son, but they both seem familiar to me. John and I used to live significantly different but not entirely dissimilar lives; now the similarities are so few as to be countable on a hand or two, but that seems to matter very little. He remains "J," I remain "E," and there feels like there'll always be at least one constant in the world.

For that I am grateful, and still now, four years on, fairly amazed.


The New Pornographers rock the house

Dana and I went to see the New Pornographers (along with Immaculate Machine and, glory be, Destroyer) at Bimbo's last night, and what a freakin' awesome show it was.

Bimbo's is perhaps San Francisco's best small-scale live music venue--more comfortable than Slim's, better laid out than GAMH--and we got there early enough to score one of the tables that ring the perimeter of the room. So we got to avoid the crush of the crowd (which becomes less and less appealing the farther you get from 25) and had the added bonus of being up on a riser of sorts, which allowed us to stand up and see clearly over everyone else's head.

Immaculate Machine (a new--and adorably young--group from Victoria) opened with a set of NP-inspired pop, with some hints of 80's New Wave thrown in for good measure. Destroyer was up next, featuring, of course, my current Inexplicable Musician Crush, Dan Bejar; though I kept telling Dana, "It's his voice! It's all about his voice!," she shook her head, perplexed, and said, "And here I thought I was the one who fell for guys who look they've just come off the street. (Fair enough: his hair is insane, he could really go in for a shave, and his garb suggested middle-aged Trekkie/former AV club leader. But it's all about the voice--the clarion, full, heavy voice. And that one widely disseminated publicity photo of him at a piano in which he actually looks sultry.)

Destroyer is something of an acquired taste, for sure, but I find the combination of Bejar's voice (and generally indecipherable lyrics) and the band's guitar melodies (Built to Spill-esque in their richness and catchiness) to be pretty infectious. So their set made me happy.

But, of course, what put me over the edge (and onto my feet) was the NPs, who were as catchy and funny and melodious as ever. As I had hoped, Dan Bejar joined them for a few numbers (increasingly tipsy each time he came out on stage as the night wore on), and though they didn't do "Broken Beads," they did do both "Jackie"s and "Ballad of a Comeback Kid," so I can't complain. It was the first time I'd seen the entire band play live together (Bejar didn't do the last two tours), which was delicious and wonderful.

Also great is the fact that they played twenty-four songs--essentially the equivalent of two whole albums--and did two encores, which included aborted covers of Led Zepplin, AC/DC, and Nirvana and ending with "Letter from an Occupant." All told, it was a brilliant, fun, sweet, exciting show.

Set list as follows:
Twin Cinema
Use It
The End of Medicine
Mass Romantic
Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
These Are the Fables
Three or Four
The Bleeding Heart Show
Ballad of a Comeback Kid
Falling Through Your Clothes
The Laws Have Changed
Streets of Fire
It's Only Divine Right
Stacked Crooked
The Fake Headlines
The Bones of an Idol
The Slow Descent into Alcoholism
Sing Me Spanish Techno
All for Swinging You Around
From Blown Speakers
Miss Teen Wordpower
The Electric Version
Letter from an Occupant


Of Proust, "Bells On," and electronic downsizing

One of the gifts I asked for (and received) for Christmas in 2000 was Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in its entirety. I started to read it in early 2001, and made it to "Place-Names: The Name," the final chapter of Swann's Way. Then I defected.

For some reason, I was seized last week with the desire to try again. From the beginning. And this time, all the way through--all three volumes, all eight books.

There's something in me that gets determined to finish something, no matter how monumental, no matter how occasionally tedious, and then becomes willing to do so at all costs. Call it commitment, call it stubbornness, call it folly. I call it curiosity and determination.

And so, for the foreseeable future, I have a new bedtime companion: a sometimes insufferable, sometimes hilarious, always verbose French guy with something of a mother fetish. Should make things interesting.

On various mix cd's that came my way from G. over the years, Sloan made an occasional appearance. Their "Penpals" is giddily silly, and "Deeper than Beauty" almost as much so (especially in the line "And your glasses, your hideous glasses," at the end of which you can actually hear the singer's voice crack with laughter).

But I don't think I'd ever heard "Bells On" before I downloaded it (and the rest of Twice Removed) from eMusic last week. It's another thing altogether: achy, angry, ever so slightly bitter, and, ultimately, resigned. All of which is to say: brilliant, and the perfect tune for the legions of angst-ridden and disaffected and sensitive who are drawn to Conor Oberst and his ilk.

I can't stop listening.

Last Saturday night, as I was doing a final once-over of my house to weed out any final additions to my garage sale offerings of the next day, I decided that it was time for my stereo to go. It was a relatively gigantic thing--two cassette decks, a 51-cd changer, two large speakers--that, after the arrival of iTunes in my life, had gotten increasingly little use.

So I emptied it of cd's, dug up the user guide and remote control, typed up a description of it to post at the sale, and felt something in me lift. On Sunday, I sold the unit (for $45), rejoiced in the shelf space the stereo's absence revealed, and promptly bought an iPod dock/speaker set from Amazon.

Over the past week, I've been unloading relatively large swaths of my cd collection online, which has been oddly thrilling. It's the income, to be sure (ignoring the depreciation factor), but it's also an inexplicable sense of moving on and up, of simplifying without really sacrificing. And it's the thrill of finally being able to take advantage of technology's benefits: I may never give up my Filofax for a PDA, and may never feel the urge to do anything more with my cell phone than make and receive calls, but I will gladly trade my huge stereo and hundreds of cd's for a tiny set of speakers and a tiny green iPod.


Set out running

On the morning of September 11, 2001, after I got the first news that something had gone horribly wrong back east, I went out for a run with my Walkman and listened to the coverage on Morning Edition. I remember the morning in a crystalline way: hearing Bob Edwards stumble as he tried to make sense of the news of the Pennsylvania crash, my headphones filling my ears with disaster as I ran through the sunny streets of the Mission, stopping to water my garden plot and just thinking No No No.

I ran that morning because I wanted space to understand the magnitude of what had happened. I ran often in the days, weeks, and months that followed because I came to love that space, and the way air flowed into and out of my lungs as I moved, and the feeling that when the music in my ears was right and my legs were working together I could keep going forever, could close my eyes and run and run and run.

Just where I picked up running I'm not sure. I more or less loathed running as a kid, and stuck to walking and hiking throughout college, and never, as far as I can recall, ran in my early days in San Francisco. Perhaps it was G. who turned me on to it, or maybe it was something I'd turned to by necessity when the ellipticals and bikes were all in use in the gym. I only know that in 2001, I became a Runner.

Which I remained, off and on, for the following years. Earlier this year, though, I fell out of the habit, often running once a week or less, looking un-longingly at my sneakers as they sat unused on the mat in my front hall, feeling my legs soften. But then I came to my senses.

Now I'm back on the pavement, iPod in hand, ponytail swinging, legs moving in their impossibly graceful (and occasionally seemingly effortless) way, lungs more or less working as they should. And I've rediscovered that space--that space where regret disappears, where everything becomes possible, where all that isn't or can't or won't be slips away, at least for a while. There may come a day when my knees give out, or my lungs stop cooperating, or running and I fall out of love, at which point I'll have to set my sights elsewhere.

For now, though, it's all blissful, and I can only look forward to my next runs--like the one I'll get to take on Saturday afternoon when I'm back on the Vassar campus, and will have time to set out for the trail behind the field house, where it's quiet and calm and full of memory. I can't wait.



On the cusp of sleep last night, I had a moment of worry as I thought, "Must put in application with CIC before my TEF results expire"--that is, make the final push to finish my Canadian residency app and get it in the queue before my French proficiency exam score reaches its use-by date next March.

But now there's an even larger fire prompting me to act: Rehnquist's death, and the resultant court-packing that looms large on the horizon. John Roberts is bad enough (and, really, all things considered in this Bush-y world, probably not nearly as crackpot a conservative as he could be), but good Lord are we screwed if Scalia or Thomas winds up as Chief Justice. It's painful to think who might get ushered in as the now-ninth justice.

Rehnquist was no liberal hero, to be sure, but he seemed to bring a measure of balance to a court that might've otherwise been in danger of listing ever more to the right. Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement was enough of a blow; Rehnquist's death just seems to obliterate whatever remainder of hope there might've been for a balanced court. How can the more liberal and centrist justices who remain possibly stand up to what's ahead?

ASAP, then: go sit for the photos needed for my application, and cobble together the money for the fees. Must get my paperwork on some CIC official's desk before another groundswell of discontent here inspires more likeminded Americans to do the same, before the application process takes longer than it already does. I can't bear the thought of being around to witness first-hand the demise of rulings on privacy and other rights and freedoms we're sadly sure to see the end of. They were great while they lasted.

William Rehquist and your balanced Supreme Court, RIP.


Sing Me Spanish Techno (and Catchy Canadian Pop)

If there's a more fabulous release out this month than The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema, I have no idea what it might be.

Mass Romantic and Electric Version were both hard acts to follow, but TC undoubtedly fits the bill, at least as my first 10 listens suggest. I'm especially enamored of Neko Case's ever-beautiful, rich vocals in the second half of "The Bleeding Heart Show," and, more than any other track so far, the insanely infectious "Broken Beads," in which Dan Bejar sounds better than ever.

But don't just take my word for it; go to the Matador site and download one of the MP3s (or, better yet, drop $12 on the cd). I defy you to remain unmoved.

(On a related note, the band is coming to SF in late September, playing two shows at Bimbo's with Destroyer in tow, which means that there's a better than average chance that Bejar will stick around for the NP performances. This thrills me to an inordinate degree, especially as he's my latest Nonsensical Musician Crush. Plus, Bimbo's is a great space.)


The heart a-flutter

When I was relatively new to San Francisco--and, really, for several years thereafter--returning to the city after being away would always send through my body a little frisson of excitement, followed by a sense of exhaling, of being home, of feeling that all was right again.

So here's the sad thing: all of that is kind of missing now. When my plane touched down at SFO on my return trip from Boston a few weeks back, all I really felt was Oh. We're here.

In contrast, though I haven't actually been there for a few years now (is that really possible? must check my math), any glimpse or mention of Vancouver in a magazine, in a book, on Flickr, in conversation just sends my heart fluttering away in my chest. This is a very weird feeling indeed--it almost seems like the small thrill of doing something vaguely inappropriate, forbidden, or unseemly--and it's one I haven't yet quite made peace with.

But for better or worse, I think I know what it means.

I haven't fallen out of love with San Francisco--not exactly. It's still very much my home, and by this point it's so familiar, so much a part of me, that there's no way I can really define myself without it. I guess it's just that since I moved here, lo those many years ago, I've watched San Francisco change, and it's watched me change, to such an extent that we sometimes feel like we don't know each other anymore, and sometimes long too strongly, too impossibly, for what's gone.

So my sights (and my fluttering heart) are set north, to that other city of water, mountains, forests, liberals, immigrants looking to create something new for themselves. And I try to start making peace with the fact that sometime in the near-ish future, I'll have to let go, finally, of what I've loved for so long, and will get the chance to start again.



Perhaps it's the standard post-vacation letdown, or the fact that my stomach has been in a serious state of disarray for the past week (reasons unknown), or the low-level stress that's run like an invisible but annoying thread through the past several days. It might also be the truly sucktastic "summer" weather San Francisco's been mired in lately, complete with more fog and wind and brutally chilly temperatures that anyone in the northern hemisphere should have to bear in August, or the fact that I woke from a pleasant dream this morning to the realization that it had in fact been only a dream, and thus all of the pleasantness was more or less blown to bits.

Whatever the reason, I've been exceedingly grumpy lately, which makes all of the above even more difficult to put up with than they'd normally be, which in turn makes me even grumpier, and so on and so freakin' on. Here's hoping the tide soon turns, that my whinging interior monologue stops, that I stop cringing every time I get hit in the face with a gust of wind, that I remember that crappy summers are the price we pay here for the ability to hike in shorts come January.

Off now to enjoy our daily half-hour allotment of sun. Dammit.


In Season

Val and I went to the Center City farmers' market this morning, where I was somewhat surprised to find a new crop of apples already out on several vendors' tables. Though I'm sure I should've learned otherwise by now, I was fairly well convinced that any apples one might see during the summer were sure to have come from cold storage, while the new ones wouldn't pop up until next month at least.

But there they were: beautifully variegated new apples, their skins taut and matte, their flesh firm under a thumb press, their scent vague but sweet. I picked up a few, considered buying them, thought about how nice it would be to once again be able to toss a piece of fruit in my purse without having to worry about the mangled pulp it would be when I pulled it out again. (One does not, if one is smart, heave a ripe piece of stone fruit into a bag with any other contents.)

There were the peaches, though.

Across from the stand with the loveliest new apples was a table with fat yellow cling peaches, which, as a sign above them noted, were "Almost like mango!" And it's true: they were dense and juicy and a crazy shade of yellow-orange not often seen in the peach world. They had the feel and taste of summer on the tongue. They carried the suggestion that although San Francisco may be dipped in fog, although our moments of daylight may be slowly ticking away, although there's been a slight downward pull to things since I got back from vacation--that despite all of these things, summer is still very much with us, fall still somewhere uncertainly down the line.

The apples were beautiful, and tempting in their new ripeness. But I know they'll be around for months to come, while the peaches, one of these Sundays, will quietly fail to appear, and all of the berries will be gone, all of the plums done for the year.

While there's still time, then, I opt to fill my bag with those hefty yellow globes, to gingerly carry them home so they won't bruise, to lean over the sink as I bite into one, feel the juice run down my hand and splash onto the white porcelain below. While there's still time, then, I hold what will soon--all too soon--be little more than a memory.


Up the Creek

Going Upriver, the documentary about John Kerry's experiences both in and after Vietnam, is intriguing and engrossing for a number of reasons: it presents an interesting picture of the time (which I know little about, though I'd like to learn more), draws some parallels (perhaps somewhat unintentionally) between Vietnam and Iraq, and offers a fascinating portrait of both Kerry himself and the Vietnam Veterans against the War movement.

What struck me the hardest, though, was the sense of being thrown back to last summer and early last fall, when it still seemed like the voting populace of the U.S. might do the right thing and oust Bush, when the vibe from the Kerry campaign (and MoveOn, and the DNC) was full of promise and possibility, when I was still able to summon something akin to hope about the state of political affairs in this country.

Granted, the film presents Kerry in an unabashedly positive and unblemished light, and doesn't touch on his life and career after the 70s; it was intended as (and is) a somewhat heroic portrait of a somewhat heroic (though also somewhat flawed) man. But still.

Though it's refreshing to remember what I felt last year at this time--a fairly even blend of hope and doom, perhaps tilted slightly in favor of the former--there's no overlooking the fact that these days, much of the hope is gone. I need to stick more religiously than ever to my media diet: no more than headlines when reading anything about Bush, Iraq, the Republican-led Congress, and a bevy of other blood-boiling topics, and no radio or TV news that might feature any sort of sound clip involving Dubya's voice. Because not only do these stories remind me daily, endlessly, of how misguided the country seems these days, they also serve as unwelcome reminders of what might have been. If only.


Her Hardest Hue to Hold

After exceedingly foofy and delicious cocktails and nibbles at No. 9 Park, Otis and I tripped happily out into the evening (still--to my tastes, at least--wonderfully warm) as my phone rang. It was DaveG, calling from my flat in San Francisco, where he was staying for the weekend while here for a wedding.

So the three of us strolled through the Common and into the Gardens, past the swan boats and the impossibly lush flowers and the grass an otherworldly shade of green, all of it bathed in a Golden Hour light so perfect it almost seemed fake.

Later in the evening, after picking up dinner and wine and consuming both on the roof of the boys' apartment, Otes and I watched the city sink into night (the moon full, the air humid) and had an extended, Pinot-fuelled discussion about memory and forgetting, about Buddhism's dictum that life is suffering and Emism's dictum that it can't possibly be (at least not always), about the way I stack my favorite memories and moments from the past so they're a solid force beneath and behind me when everything else seems to crumble. About how something as simple as the recollection of sitting at the hotel bar in Vancouver with Dave and Otes, drinking Cosmos with floating cranberries and eating far too many spiced almonds and talking about politics--about how this simple moment can be so many things at once: gone, ever-present, treasured, impossible to return to.

At length, when our livers cried uncle and my legs started to sport a lattice of mosquito bites and we couldn't reach any of the west coast friends we'd tried placing tipsy phone calls to, we went downstairs and to bed, another moment--a day full of moments--gone.

But then there was the next day, spent traipsing around the city in search of NPS Passport stamps. There was the sweetness of picking blueberries with Isabella at Twin Chimneys, of laughingly watch her eat two ripe berries for every half-green one she put in the basket. There was dinner on the river in Westerly with Mom, Dad, and Greg, and meeting baby Joseph for the first time, and sitting on the patio at Crispo with Ry and Amy while the city sky went dark and the lights came on around us. There was--as there always is--moment after moment after moment.

Robert Frost, in "Nothing Gold Can Stay," gets it half right:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower,
But only so an hour.
The leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

But long after the golds and flowers and dawns are gone, there's something about them that sticks around. On my summer vacation, I let dozens of moments come and go. I can't ever have them back just as they were, but that isn't (never is) the point. I know where to find them when I need them.



Though I still haven't quite figured out how I'll get from Philadelphia to New York on a Friday evening while avoiding Amtrak (because I refuse to pay $54 for a one-hour trip, and I doubly refuse to pay $81 for the same trip during peak hours), and though I haven't yet tried to butter up my Auntie Paula to ferry me to Logan at 5 a.m. for my return trip to SF (A.P., if you're reading this, you're the best great aunt ever!), my itinerary for my upcoming vacation is set. It goes something like this:
  • Fly into Boston next Wednesday, where Otes will fetch me from the airport and I will (of my own volition, though the promise of wine helps) spend the next two days helping him and Sean pack for their impending move.
  • Head to the Cape on the weekend, either via Greyhound with Jonny D. on Friday night or with Paula (and the rest of New England) on Saturday morning.
  • Drive home with Mom, Dad, and Greg on Sunday night, and stay in CT until Wednesday morning, at which point I will...
  • ...fly to Pittsburgh to see Rachel, David, and adorable little Joseph for a few days.
  • Fly to Philly (alas, Southwest goes no closer to NYC) on Friday afternoon, and somehow (SEPTA? New Jersey Transit? Greyhound again?) deposit myself in downtown Manhattan.
  • Ingest as much of New York as I can before Amtrak-ing back to Boston on Sunday night for one last hurrah before the aforementioned crack-of-dawn departure on Tuesday.

It's funny: I keep describing this trip to friends and colleagues as a chance to relax, do no work, and generally lounge around. Of course, it's clearly insane: not even counting my cross-country flights, I must be spending the equivalent of a full day on various forms of mass transit, and I haven't scheduled more than three days in one place.

But I couldn't be happier. This is a vacation I feel like I need more than ever, both because I still feel like I need to keep slathering myself in some sort of balm that will help dull the effects of the various stressful events of the past half-year and because, with the exception of Amtrak's bathrooms and Logan before dawn, I love everything that awaits me: some of my best friends, some of my favorite cities, time with the family that loves me without question and without fail, the chance to pick blueberries from Twin Chimney's bushes and run the Rail Trail in Orleans in the cool of the morning and swim in the Atlantic.

And the chance, best of all, to fall asleep on thirteen cricket-soaked, open-windowed evenings with the smart of heartache, the gut-punch of financial worry, and the tug of uncertainty thousands and thousands of miles away.


Birthday Wish

Though I'd dig a Bose iPod dock, and would love the security of knowing that business will be as steady going forward as it has been for the past few weeks, and also wouldn't mind a relaxing weekend at Canyon Ranch, what I wish more than anything today is that 31 will be easier than 30.


How the August Night

The town I grew up in sits on the shore of Long Island Sound in southern Connecticut. It's sleepy and fairly quiet for a good part of the year (or at least it was), but when summer comes, everything in it and about it comes to life.

It's perhaps because of that, and because I'm a July baby (the 6th, just like Dubya, Nancy Reagan, and Sly Stallone), that summer has always been my favorite season, and the one that seems to me the most mythic and full of possibility. I never learned to love the snow or the nostril-freezing temperatures of winter, and spring and fall always felt to me little more than the lead-in and end to summer, respectively. In June, July, and August, I was happiest and most at home in my life.

So when I first read Edna St. Vincent Millay's sonnet X, from Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree, it made me feel giddy and lachrymose and punched in the gut and hopeful, all at the same time.

Many of Millay's other poems got me, too--my Auntie Paula gave me a book of them, which I still have, spine broken at the pages I read the most, full of notes and stars next to the pieces I liked best, even a few pencil marks on sonnets whose meter I tried to annotate with that odd series of swoops and dashes. But Ungrafted Tree X was (and remains) the only poem I could recite by heart.

What grabbed me was not only the fact that the poem is fairly exploding with ripe summer imagery--which, in itself, was (and is) often enough to win me over--but also its sly, quiet promise that sometimes, when the moon is right and the crickets loud enough and the circumstances sufficiently mysterious to invite no questioning, sometimes you find what you're looking for.

That appealed to me in an immense and unshakeable way when I spent my summers in Niantic (as my journals from that time can attest). And even now, when my summers are windy and chilly and fog-bound and my skepticism is sometimes sharp enough to poke holes in most notions of romantic promise, Millay's poem holds out a sense of hope like an outstretched hand and a swim-perfect moonlit lake.

Plus, the last line is a kicker.

She had forgotten how the August night
Was level as a lake beneath the moon,
In which she swam a little, losing sight
Of shore; and how the boy, who was at noon
Simple enough, not different from the rest,
Wore now a pleasant mystery as he went,
Which seemed to her an honest enough test
Whether she loved him, and she was content.
So loud, so loud the million crickets' choir...
So sweet the night, so long-drawn-out and late...
And if the man were not her spirit's mate,
Why was her body sluggish with desire?
Stark on the open field the moonlight fell,
But the oak tree's shadow was deep, and black, and secret as a well.



Thanks to JDS, I am now the proud owner of a free Flickr Pro account. This is somewhat amusing, as I don't actually own a digital camera yet (though my intentions to purchase one post haste are absolutely good--would that I had done so while I still had the guidance of my technical advisor at my disposal) and thus have to rely on scanning and uploading old-school photos. (As a side note, what do we call these? Analog photos? Offline photos? Normal photos?)

Anyway, despite the laughable amount of labor involved in getting my stuff prepped to be posted, I've been doing plenty of precisely that over the past few days, and now have a decent photostream in place, which you can (and should) visit at http://www.flickr.com/photos/emwilska/.

With Flickr, as with my iPod, I have no excuse for coming to the party so late (and not fashionably so, I'm afraid), and I can't claim to be on the cutting edge of anything. I guess that by nature I'm inclined to go the low-tech route, and it takes a while before I can really see the appeal of the digital alternative in many realms.

But once I do, damn if I don't go whole hog on the thing.


From the "Yes, You Read That Correctly" Department

Leonard Nimoy Hosts the Arab-Jewish Ensemble of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Monday, June 27, Temple Emanu-El, San Francisco


What I was trying to say

William Least Heat-Moon's River-Horse: Across America by Boat is a much longer and much sloggier read than his Blue Highways, which I inhaled over the course of a few days when I first read it. River-Horse has taken me, oh, three months of before-bed reading.

Though I find it too long, way, way, way too detailed, and lacking in the tight and fascinating storytelling that makes Blue Highways so brilliant, it does have some seriously impressive moments.

The gist of the book is that Heat-Moon undertakes a cross-country voyage by boat, often following in Lewis and Clark's footsteps (or, well, boat wakes, I suppose) but also making some out-of-the-way turns that will allow him and his small crew to stay on the water for as much of the journey as possible, save for a few unavoidable portages.

On a stretch of the Missouri River in South Dakota, Heat-Moon lies on the ground in the sunshine:
"I thought how far I was from where and when this journey began, how I was so distant from that fellow passing for me twenty months ago, the one so eager to learn the secrets of river passage. Could he--the me of that moment--and I sit down together, he would want to know what I knew and absorb what I had experienced, and he would regard me enviously, just as I do those men who have returned from the moon."
He goes on:
"But there would be forever a difference between him and me: I went and he did not. He set the voyage in motion, but he could not take it. Just as I, who lay on the Dakota hill, could not know whether Nikawa would ever reach the Pacific, he could never see the outcome of his preparations, unless somewhere, on some far other side, time permits us to meet our past selves, all those we have been. Our physical components change every seven years, so our brains are continuously passing along memories to a stranger; who we have been is only a ghostly fellow traveler."

And finally:
"As for me, what might I learn from him who laid out the voyage or from all those others I once was? ... What a report I might deliver to them about where they have sent me! ...They could redraw the faded lines on the long map of my journey here, point out clearly where it was I took a road other than the one they intended, and they could tell me whether they found it a good one or rankly stupid. Were human memory total and perfect, perhaps I'd be only one person from start to finish, but forgetfulness cuts me off from who I've been so that hourly I am reborn."

All of which is essentially a much more lyrical and thought-provoking (and, in some ways, heart-rending) way of saying what I was trying to get at in my post on my eighth San Francisco anniversary. Heat-Moon has put the words down better than I ever could; to one such as me, for whom finding written proof that someone understood what's in my head before it actually got there is like striking gold, that alone is worth the effort of soldiering through 502 dense pages.


To Dana on Her 30th Birthday

As your elder, I'd like to share with you a few things 30 has taught me:
  1. Sometimes life throws up on your shoes, sort of like George Bush Sr. once did to the Prime Minister of Japan.
  2. Ruined shoes (figuratively speaking), emotional potholes, and other curveballs are much easier to deal with when you have good friends and good (or, hell, any) booze at your side.
  3. Now and well into your 30s, you're still allowed to do things that are silly, immature, and sometimes outright dumb.
  4. The Burton snowboards ad from 1989 was right: the more you live, the less you die.


Taking a ride with Garfield on Mission Street Posted by Hello


Improving Web forms

In his Techno Files column in last Sunday's Times Business Section ("Finally, Sisyphus, There's Help for Those Internet Forms"), James Fallows notes that technological advances as evidenced in Google Maps, for one, are helping to lessen the pain of dealing with interactive Web forms. Rich Internet Applications/Rich Web Applications/Ajax/call the developments what you may have made Web sites much smarter and much better able to anticipate (and act on) what the user will do next.

Improving the bone structure and the central nervous system of Web technologies is indeed an awesome development, and can go a long way toward mitigating the frustration that's still such a large part of so many online interactions. But what Fallows doesn't touch on, and what seems to me equally crucial, is the need to keep improving the "skin" of Web sites: the layouts, the look-and-feel, and, of course, the text. Because even the most brilliant backend can be nullified if the user can't understand what's happening up front, or runs into an error that's too frustrating or too complex to overcome.

I admittedly know little to nothing about the whole "rich" phenomenon, so it's entirely possible that attention to front end details is part and parcel of it. In any case, it's worth remembering--as countless tests on sites from the simplest to the most complex have shown--that brilliance behind the scenes can't, on its own, make up for weak text and bad design. The three need to work together if Web forms (including error messages and shopping carts) are ever to be as good as they can be.


Can't we all just get along?

As one who, for years, did not use any Apple products (indoctrinated in the ways of Windows as I was, and too addicted to right-clicking to do without it on a Mac), I was spared the full ridiculousness of the Apple/Microsoft bickering for a long while.

And then I got my iPod, installed iTunes on my (Windows-based) laptop, and started to twig to the full scope of the incompatibility between the two camps. The iTunes installation was messy and clunky, and though it eventually succeeded, it was a marked pain in the ass, which I'm told it's markedly not on Apple machines.

This afternoon, I made the mistake of falling for the Buy 1 Song/Get 5 Free offer MSN Music is currently running. (I'll save my comments on the perplexing and convoluted design of the site for another post, but will only say for now that clearly last year's exodus has had some repercussions.) I downloaded a Neko Case song--which involved an inordinate number of steps and a needless dearth of feedback (but again, that's another post)--confirmed that it was saved to My Music folder, closed WMP (which opened automatically, to my annoyance), and then tried to import it to iTunes, as one is wont to do.

But I should've known better. I should've known that files from MSN Music come not in any format that anyone else on the face of the planet would ever use, but rather in some crazy proprietary format that is, of course, incompatible with iTunes. MSN's answer to "How do I transfer my downloads to my iPod?" is basically "You can't, at least not until Apple agrees to support our file format."

I mean, come on now. Even if every other MP3 player on the market supports your wacky WM format, how far are you going to get if iPods don't? And why be stubborn to the point of almost inviting failure just to stick it to Apple? (I suppose the reverse also holds, but history seems to suggest that MS is the bigger bully by far.)

There has got to be a point at which cross-platform compatibility becomes more important than this incessant and ridiculous proprietary sparring. In the realm of online media services and serious innovation, MS has been playing catch-up for years now, and I can't imagine that releasing a music download service that doesn't allow for any compatibility with a device that is so clearly miles ahead in the market will do anything to help the cause.

I'm not quite ready to jettison my Windows-based machine (both because I just shelled out for it last year and because I'm still hooked on right-clicking as one fluid motion), but my disillusionment with the stuff coming out of MS is growing. Who knows? By the time this laptop bites it, I may well be ready to return to my days as a Mac girl. In the meantime, I've learned that even $0.99 was too big a gamble to take on MSN Music. It's back to iTunes and Amazon (and every other online music store that offers iPod-compatible downloads--which is to say, ALL of them).


The People's Temple

One of the greatest theaters in the Bay Area, hands down, is the Berkeley Rep, where I've seen Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, the premier of the Tectonic Theatre Company's The Laramie Project, and, most recently, the same company's brilliant, balanced, and heartbreaking The People's Temple.

Though it's nearly impossible to be an American with any knowledge of late 20th century tragedies and not know anything about Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple (or, for that matter, of what happened in Laramie), most of us probably have a fairly one-dimensional view of the subject: horror, revulsion, and disbelief at how more than 900 people could be duped into going along with such a crackpot.

Which is why The People's Temple is so amazing: told from the perspective of Jonestown survivors, Peoples Temple defectors, family members, and reporters who covered the story at the time, the play makes clear both the madness of what happened on November 18, 1978, and the utopian dream gone awry that led up to it.

In its early days, Jones' church was a model of integration (at a time when the US was anything but), providing social services, acceptance, political activism, and a seemingly infallible model of socialist idealism come to life. People joined the church for any number of reasons, but one of the foremost among them was that it offered a vision of a society they could find nowhere else. What comes through in the play, just as strongly as that tragedy that was to follow, is the joy that members of the Peoples Temple found first in Indianapolis, then in Northern California, and then, at least for a short while, in Guyana.

The People's Temple makes no apologies for Jones or anyone else; instead, it uses source material, interviews, and the memories of those who were there to create an intensely moving, understandable, and well rounded version of a story that's been told so often it long ago descended into myth. In doing so, it not only brings a troubled and ultimately tragic piece of history to life, but also goes a long way toward answering what must be the most commonly asked question: Why?


Attack of the iPod People

Since getting my sweet green iPod Mini last month, I've started taking it with me everywhere. (Sorry, Josh!) And I've also started noticing something: I'm very much not alone in this.

Now, I realize I'm miles from being an early adapter on the MP3 player front, and I'm sure there were dozens and dozens of people walking around with the tell-tale white earbuds sprouting from the sides of their heads long before I ever put mine in for the first time. But I swear, I never before noticed them. And now they're everywhere.

I take the 49 ten blocks up Van Ness, and during that trip, there are no fewer than five of us on the bus listening to iPods. I step out of my new garage yesterday with Mini in hand and have gone literally twenty steps when an iPodded boy walks out of the building I'm passing. On the streets, on BART, in the post office, in the library--everywhere. Everywhere I've been with my iPod, I've seen others like me.

Were I not so attached to this thing (and how did that happen, technologically retarded as I am?), I might decry the iPodization of the city, might be inclined to think it a shame that we're all so involved in shuffling songs and blocking the rest of the world out of our ears.

As it is, though, I feel like I finally get the appeal of the whole thing. And so I, too, propel myself through the streets of San Francisco with my ears full of music and a tiny slip of metal in my hand.

I'm one of them now.


How Keen Was My Valley

Due to the seemingly interminable Octavia Boulevard project, Hayes Valley has been what can only be described as a gigantic, confusing, ever-changing mess for months now.

It was amazing and wonderful to see the Central Freeway off-ramp come down, and though the same can't be said for watching work crews tear up Octavia Street and denude it of all greenery whatsoever, the excitement of what was to come made the mess somewhat more bearable.

But that was many moons (and bulldozers, jackhammers, dump trucks, traffic cones, mud pits, chain-link fences, and ripped-out curbs) ago. The war zone that is the center of our neighborhood has grown seriously tiring, especially after copious winter rains that turned the street into five blocks of brown puddles, litter, and dirt.

It's just possible, however, that things are finally starting to move. Workers have casted (or whatever one does in concrete) the fixtures that will be the center of what (hypothetically) will be Hayes Green. It seems like everything that needs to go either under or in the street--pipes, drains, cables, and so forth--has been put in place, which means (hypothetically) that final grading and paving can't be too far off. And it's been claimed that at least part of the project is scheduled to be completed by the time the UN conference comes to town in June, so there's at least a touch of flame under at least an ass or two.

So though I've more or less grown used to living among some degree of constant chaos, neighborhood-wise, I'm seriously thrilled that there's an end in sight. Soon enough, we'll have some actual green space, the traffic on Hayes Street will abate somewhat (I hope), the Linden terminus will cease to be an open garbage pit, and I'll have somewhere to sit while I sip the artful and extraordinarily good lattes I plan to get from the new Blue Bottle Coffee Company kiosk on a far-too-regular basis.

Things are looking up.


Becca and Em hiking Mount Tam, May 1997 Posted by Hello


On April 5, 1997--eight years ago today--I finished the last jag of my drive up Highway 1, which itself was the final leg of my cross-country journey, and drove into San Francisco.

My first day here seems both sharply clear and lost to the blur of memories: I came to the house on Cesar Chavez, where I'd live for a few months (thanks to Kristin) before fleeing for the Castro (thanks to the unbearable polyamorous, high colonic-giving, New Age drivel-spouting, selfish and mean-tempered housemate who drove me out). K helped me unpack my car and set up my tiny little room as best as possible, given its lack of furniture. That evening, we went out to Barney's with the Vassar crowd, and I left soon after dinner, tired and achy from the drive, to make my way through the quiet Noe Valley night and back to my new home. Beyond that, details are gone.

I've heard it said that your body essentially regenerates itself every 7 or 8 years, given the way cells grow and die. If that's true, the me that arrived in San Francisco in 1997 is literally a different person from the me sitting here and typing this post.

I'm not sure how much stock I put in that, but I do know that the figurative differences between Then Me and Now Me certainly hold. Amazing, isn't it, what 2,922 days' worth of watching friends come and go; feeling like you couldn't possibly be happier, then sadder, then happier again (before deciding that something more in the middle is a bit more sustainable); falling into and pulling yourself out of pits of heartbreak; finding and leaving jobs (then finding and leaving them again); seeing your city change around you; developing a set of street smarts with a distinctly California tinge to them; and all the while exploring, tasting, questioning, wanting to know and feel and think and do and see as much as possible--amazing how all of this can change you.

And though I sometimes long for life as I lived it in my early days here--back when work often seemed like silly fun, when the Odwalla was free, when it didn't occur to me that I'd eventually watch so many of my friends leave, when the heaviest parts of the adult world hadn't yet hit me--I know that, given the choice, I'd opt to stay here, with eight years of San Francisco behind me and thousands and thousands of days unfolding somewhere just ahead.



For some reason or other, dinner and iPod sharing and plenty of wine with Eric this evening leaves me thinking a number of things, foremost among them this: I miss the Boy more than I can say.

That statement goes against every bone, muscle, and cell in my body that tries to be strong, reasonable, and logical. No doubt I'll want to delete this post tomorrow when the muscat has worn off and the rational part of my brain has once again taken the reins. But for now, when my defenses are utterly down (to the point of being almost nonexistent), I can admit to being human, can say that I battle with these feelings of sighing emptiness, can admit that listening to "If Everything Fell Quiet" on the aforementioned iPod while standing in the middle of my kitchen last night made me sink into tears, so much did the song remind me of him (since it came from him in the first place), of us, of things at a better point.

But when will I learn? When will I understand the upshot of loss, what it's like to have your heart pulled out of your chest, julienned, and unceremoniously stuffed back in, so that it doesn't fit quite right, so that it strains against its boundaries, so that it aches for the parameters it once knew? When will my slow mind--and even slower heart--twig to the fact that us/we/nous is no more, however strong my flare-ups of longing and wishing might be?

For now, sadly, it's still often beyond me. I open my hands for things I can't grab, open my heart for things I can't truthfully feel, reach for a full comprehension I'm (evidently) not yet meant to have.

And all the while, I make the most heart-rending calculations: what I wouldn't give for some contact, though I don't know that it would do me any good. What I wouldn't give to cast back six months, back to when my worlds (both internal and external) seemed like different places altogether.


GWB Two Ways

Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys with George is a smart, funny, interesting look at the 2000 Bush campaign as seen from within GWB's traveling press pool, of which Pelosi was a part (as a correspondent for NBC). I know this has been said before, but one of the most brilliant and unnerving things about Pelosi's film, which she bills as a home movie of sorts, is that it makes Bush look charming, reasonable, and entirely human.

So it's jarring to consider Journeys with George side by side with Eyes Wide Open, the American Friends Service Committee's traveling exhibit of 1500 pairs of combat boots, a field of civilian shoes, and a wall of rememberance, all devoted to memorializing and raising awareness of the deaths resulting from the Iraq war.

The exhibit was in San Francisco last weekend, on the grounds between City Hall and the library (with the boots representing servicepeople from California who have been killed in Iraq lining the steps of City Hall itself), and it was both breathtaking and heartbreaking to behold. Granted, staging the exhibit in SF is pretty much preaching to the choir, but even here in Liberalville, USA, it managed to (sorry to poach the expression, but...) open some eyes.

It's one thing to read the death toll every day in the paper, or to hear NPR's endless dispatches from Iraq, but it's something else entirely to see 1500 pairs of empty boots (each with a name attached, and many stuffed with flowers, flags, photos, and letters from the deceased) and row after row of civilian shoes. The numbers become real, and the utter waste of this quagmire becomes even starker.

Asking how it is that the charming, joking, sometimes (though by no means always) even sympathetic man in front of Pelosi's lens could morph into the man who bears responsibility for the depressing parade of shoes making their way across the country isn't a rhetorical question. It's a question with a blatant and sad answer: whatever spark of humanism might have existed in the 2000 GWB was long extinguished by the time that man became 2001 GWB. Any hope the movie might've given us that the man who would become our next president was capable of compassion was long ago blown to bits.

Pelosi's film, then, becomes more than just a portrait of a man, a year, the experiences of a gaggle of reporters and photographers confined to small spaces together for months on end; it becomes a piece of history, a look at what Bush was like before power, greed, hard-heartedness, and a horrific group of advisors made him the war-mongering disaster he is today.


Vegas, baby

I went to Las Vegas last week to present my session on creating effective error messages at the WritersUA conference. Though I really did intend to check out some of the other sessions, I wound up going only to my own, the networking lunch, and the networking mixer thingy that took place the first evening.

This left me plenty of time to explore the city, which I did, both on my own and with my friend Marcus (a Vegas native) as my guide. LV can be described in any number of ways, including "totally overwhelming," "oddly compelling," and "human civilization in microcosm."

What can you say about a city where legions of Latino immigrants line the streets to hand out colored business cards offering STRIPPERS DIRECT TO YOUR HOTEL ROOM 24 HOURS A DAY, where every other person you pass on the sidewalk is openly carrying an alcoholic drink of some kind (more often than not in a gargantuan, whimsically-shaped container, such as an Eiffel Tower full of daiquiri), where both cigarette and cigar smoking are allowed pretty much everywhere?

What can you say about the fake rainforest, the fake Manhattan, the fake Paris, the fake Venice, the fake Caribbean, the fake ancient Rome, the fake New Orleans? They're utterly disturbing and utterly quaint at the same time. (I admit that strolling through "Paris" made me really want to go back to Paris--the real one, that is.)

And what can you say about the fact that, when you go out for drinks, as we did, first to a few local bars, then to the Westin, then to whatever run-down $5-ante casino on the strip we wound up at, you can stumble back to your hotel at 2 a.m. and swear for all the world that it's not a minute past midnight, as everyone still seems to be awake and everything still seems to be going full-swing? Only, I suppose, that it's like real life suspended.

But like anything suspended, it eventually comes back down. So when I left the city on Tuesday evening feeling like I'd been drinking fiberglass juice (so raw was my throat from inhaling endless smoke) and aching for a week of recovery, I was slightly bummed to be going but, truthfully, fairly happy to return to my quiet world in which other people's cigars don't figure and the only thing I generally see at 2 a.m. is the inside of my eyelids.

I'll go back, to be sure, but not until I've had the chance to detox my liver, clean out my lungs, and remind myself of what's real.


...One must be so careful
re the disappearance of hope. A new illusion must present
iteslf immediately. When I pray now
this is what I pray for.

--Jorie Graham, "Praying (Attempt of April 19, 2004)"


Trip, stumble, fall

On Thursday afternoon, while walking to the Mission to meet Dana, I took Octavia, figuring that the newly paved sidewalk on the east side of the street would offer me a quick way to scoot down to Market. What I failed to take into account were the perplexing cement lips they've added to each sidewalk as it dips down to meet the road.

For some reason, though the contractors reworking the whole Octavia thing have added non-slip wheelchair ramps to the street edge of each sidewalk--ostensibly to make it easier to cross streets and access sidewalks safely--they've also added some kind of cement apron around each of these ramps, which means that if you *are* in a wheelchair, you must first surmount these ridges of pavement if you intend to make it onto the sidewalk. It all makes no sense to me, though perhaps there's some master plan at work here that will bring all of these weirdly disparate elements together as the boulevard project progresses.

At any rate, it was while approaching one of these yellow ramps and markedly not paying attention to the ground that I found myself taking a ridiculous tumble onto said ground at Haight and Octavia. It was truly a spectacular fall, landing me face-down on the sidewalk with everything splayed that could possibly be splayed.

I pushed myself up and, after a few moments of writhing in pain and assuring the young man who rushed up and offered to call me an ambulance that I was ok, managed to get back on my feet and limp down toward Market.

The fall left my knee wildly swollen, seriously and disgustingly bruised, and nastily scraped. It also gave me a decent raspberry on the palm of my right hand, which I'd used, evidently, to try to stop myself from meeting the pavement horizontally. So when I finally made it to Dana's office, I washed my cuts and iced my knee, and figured I'd be hobbling around for a day or two.

What I didn't expect, when I woke up on Friday, was that my right shoulder would be achy and tender. I guess I must've fallen on it somehow, or pulled a muscle in my failed attempt to maintain my balance--I really can't remember. But for a while, it hurt more than my knee.

Because I'm still (in fact, am always) on the quest to soothe the emotional bruises of Novemeber (which, even now, months gone, have resisted fading from purple to blue to yellow to nothing) through metaphor, I can't help thinking this: when you get injured, you can sort of prepare for the hurt that stems from the center of the wound, whether it's a wrecked knee or a cut finger or a broken arm.

But sometimes it's the stealth pain--the pain you don't anticipate, can't quite identify the cause of, aren't really ready for--that's much worse. It seems to take advantage of the fact that your attention and healing efforts are focused elsewhere, sneaking up to knock you backwards again just when you think the end of your malady is in sight.

So I woke up with a plan for my slightly mangled knee--ice, elevation, no runs for a few days--but had really no idea of what to do with my weirdly painful shoulder, and spent the day trying to work around it.

All of which frustratingly mirrors what it's like to wake up each morning prepared to stave off the thoughts and memories and disappointments I know are waiting for me throughout the day but fully unprepared to do battle with the new ones, the buried ones, the ones that seem to have come from nowhere. And it's these that keep me achy and stiff and too often fragile, despite my best and most wishful efforts at full rehabilitation.


In praise of open doors

I love this exchange from Deborah Solomon's interview with Dan Glickman, the new president of the MPAA, in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine:

Solomon: Have you ever experienced a setback?

Glickman: I was voted out of Congress in 1994. It is not great to be fired from your job, particularly so publicly. But a month later I was picked to be secretary of agriculture. When one door closes, another opens. But you have to be standing right by the door.

Solomon: What if the door opens too quickly and breaks your nose?

Glickman: Well, it could. But you still have to be right by the door. It can just as easily open for you as it can against you.


Perhaps the best description of Bush II yet

From Steven Hart's review in Salon of Christine Todd Whitman's It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America:

"Bush's narrow victory in November completed the Republican Party's transformation from a vehicle for principled conservatives into a debt-fueled pimpmobile for crony capitalists and religious hucksters."


Back, back, back

Josh sends me a message today with simply, blissfully a photo--labeled "We used to get free lunches every Friday"--of me, Lily, Monica, Geoff, Shayne, and Josh in the courtyard of the original WebTV building.

It sends me reeling.

There's no real reason to be nostalgic for the summer of 1997 (when the photo was taken, and when the Friday lunches were indeed free): we were making $10 an hour dealing with endless reams of ridiculous customer e-mail, commuting down to Palo Alto at all hours, kept afloat by Odwalla and cheap microwaveable burritos. But there's such a sweet patina to those days nonetheless; they were free of worries of long-term career success, of complex relationships--of anything, really, but who would win the Borders gift certificate for answering the most e-mails per week, or what outlandish surprise the next company party would hold.

It's funny what my mind is able to elide when it wants to: the frustrations of past jobs, the shortcomings and imperfections of past relationships, moments (and hours and days) I'd never want to relive. All of those get pushed down, and what comes rushing to the fore, bidden or not, are the glossy, happy, sun-dappled moments like those in the photo.

Incomplete and sharply edited though they may be, they keep me afloat when I need them most, when I need to remember that sometimes existence is nothing more than a catered meal in a Palo Alto afternoon, a third round of drinks with the friends I was convinced would never leave me, a nap on a beach in PEI with the man who filled my heart to bursting.


That old scattered feeling

Evidence of my million-thoughts-at-once existence over the past week is easy to find in a quick look at the piles of books and DVDs throughout my house.

There's the emigration theme: "So You Want to Be a Canadian," "Living and Working in Canada," "How to Be a Canadian," Lonely Planet's "Vancouver."

There's the brush-up-on-French-for-TEF theme: "French Plus--Just Listen and Learn," "Le Petit Prince," "Les Jeux Sont Fait," Larousse de Poche 2005.

There's the must-continue-crawling-out-of-emotional-hole theme, evidenced both by the return of "The Wisdom of No Escape" (for those "wish I had the fortitude of a Buddhist" moments) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, by the wisdom of pure escape ("Queer as Folk" season 2 volume 4 and "Da Ali G Movie: Ali G Indahouse"--which, by the way, is utterly f'ing hilarious in ways both similar to and totally different from the show).

And, of course, as a constant undercurrent there's the develop-business-or-perish theme, with alternating piles of organizing theory books, business plan workbooks, and guides to things like marketing and branding.

All of which, not surprisingly, leaves me flitting about from one thing to another, unable to focus exclusively on one topic for more than, say, an hour at a stretch. Am I keeping things interesting or am I driving myself crazy? How long can my brain handle this constant and radical shifting of gears before it gives up and latches permanently on to the closest topic?


Songs that were written all about you

What were the chances that the bartender at the Dutch Cabin--the tiny beer-only, ages-old, Eugene O'Neill-haunted place in downtown New London, Connecticut--would play Broken Social Scene's "Anthem for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" when Phil and Monique and I were there on that random late December night? We had chatted with the bartender about the 17 Relics, about Lotus, about his current band, and he had none of those on cd, but for some reason he had "Anthem...," which made me stop and think, "Why do I know this song?" before realizing: ah. Because it was on a cd G made for me.

And what were the chances that Frijtz would set aside its normal fare of 80s vinyl while I was there tonight to play "There Goes the Fear" instead? I tried to focus on chatting with Jeff about client consultation questionnaires rather than listening to the song, but it crept in anyway. I once (clearly erroneously) read into those lyrics--the soaring "there goes the fear/let it go," especially--a kind of loving encouragement to once and finally set aside my fretting. Now they just seem taunting and sad.

Though I've taken all of G's mixes and dubs from my cd changer and have seriously limited my doses of emo and Canadian pop, even just going out in the world (which is supposed to be a balm) risks hearing something that will send me reeling, if only temporarily and only internally.

So maybe I just say fuck it, just put the summer '03 disc in my Discman tomorrow and turn it up loud and take it running like I used to, when "American English" and "Sharp Hint of New Tears" and "Throw Your Arms Around Me" meant something else entirely. Maybe I run with it fast enough and long enough and hard enough that, for a while at least, only my legs ache, and everything else goes numb.



Last year I made several resoultions, all of them aimed at improving my health and generally making myself a better person (which, I suppose, is just what resolutions are for). Somewhat unsurprisingly, I eventually broke them all--except the one about drinking more red wine, for which my cardiovascular system thanks me, I'm sure.

So this year I'm steering clear of specific resolutions (of the "floss every night" and "drink 64 ounces of water a day" ilk) in favor of one general one shared with me by my colleague Connie: Make new mistakes.

Connie explained the resolution thus: you know you're going to make mistakes somehow or other, so it's not realistic to try to avoid them altogether, but at least you can aim to make (and learn from) new ones so you're not repeating the same ones you made in the past. This, to me, is both simple and brilliant. It requires, first off, that you look at and acknowledge your past mistakes, and then that you let them go so you can start fresh, all with (hopefully) a modicum of guilt.

That much I can do, even though identifying last year's mistakes will involve looking into some caves and under some rocks I'd much rather leave as the dim and unexplored areas they are right now. But once that's done, I can let all of last year's trip-ups fall into darkness again, and can start messing up in all sorts of new and valuable ways. I'm looking forward to that.