15 years ago… a #DecemberReflection

Well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running

I am participating in the Instagram #DecemberReflections photo share from Susannah Conway. I am not really sure why, I guess my friend Ruth got me going on it, and you know how I feel about finishing what I start (we’ll say: strong.) So today the topic is “15 Years Ago.”

Taking it back to 1999.

There I was. Engaged to be married. Living at Lake Tahoe. Being judged and upstaged by my potential mother-in-law at every opportunity. In my fourth year of teaching. Immersed in really questionable music. Coaching my first basketball team all by myself. Trying to figure shit out.

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This photo is from the outrageously ridiculous wedding that my 58-year-old potential mother-in-law began planning for herself as soon as she found out her son had proposed to me. Not that I am trying to draw unfair connections. But seriously.

My mom, step-dad, my dad, and his (thankfully ex-) person all came. It was at a beautiful estate in Zephyr Cove. Buck Owens was there wandering around playing music and gave the “newly”weds a guitar. There were a lot of bigwig politicos there. The food was average. I almost lost my job to be there as the wedding was on the first Friday of the new school year and I had to ask for the day off… and I had just started teaching at Incline that year. Not ideal. The mother of one of my soon-to-be basketball players was hired to do hair for the event, and I am sure that Kathy would corroborate my claims of the weirdness of that whole day. I was wearing my insanely amazing engagement ring, having a fantastic hair day, and pretending that I was totally unaware that my fiancé was facing a one year mandatory minimum (if we couldn’t somehow convince the local politicos present that it might be very beneficial for them to change this course of events.)

As history clearly shows, my course of events was soon to diverge wildly, if not that of my ex. My mom likes to say we all really dodged a bullet with that whole thing.

So much to do, so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the back streets
You’ll never know if you don’t go
You’ll never shine if you don’t glow

As a strange coincidence, I showed my seniors the film Bowling for Columbine today – most of whom had never seen the film before. They really wanted to talk about the events around the shooting at Columbine… so I was really in 1999 today more than I anticipated. I remember that April well. I remember that particular day well. I remember how so much changed for me as a high school teacher that day. I remember thinking that would never happen again. And then I considered how there have been more than 150 fatal school shootings in the US since then.

Suddenly, the realization that I had dodged a bullet in 1999 took on a new level on meaning.

Here we are. Fifteen years later. I am in my 19th year of teaching. I do not have the amazing ring. I still have great hair. Still grateful for my parentals (especially grateful that dad ditched the ‘mare.) I still know those girls, my first girls that I coached all by myself: Kendra, Steph, Kelly, Lauren M, Bets, Danielle, Vern, Addie, Little Lauren… so glad to still know you all and see the amazing young women you have all become. School shootings are more prevalent than ever.

I guess I’ve dodged more than a few bullets in the end.

The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim
My world’s on fire. How about yours?
That’s the way I like it and I’ll never get bored.

Now that is funny…

I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Well, I meant it, but I was so stupid that I didn’t mean what I meant… After all, it’s only a… [Facebook message]. Everyone knows… [Facebook messages] are just… full of crap. ~ Bridget Jones

I woke up this morning and I was like, “I want to write something funny.” Because, sometimes I am really funny. I wanted to remind myself of the kinds of things that make me laugh. Like, the posters my students made for me at school that are a collection of my remarks in class, which they titled, “Shit Levin Says,” and I do love a comment absent its context on occasion. And I had some ideas of some funny things to write about: most recently I was considering a catalog of actual things that actual members of the male species have said to me – context or not, definite humor potential. And in spite of things in the world as they are, and in spite of personal blogs basically being the huge pile of self-indulgent crap that they are generally, I thought, yes… back to my self-deprecating roots then, eh?

So, I turned on the devices and… Oh.Fuck.Me. A total Bridget Jones moment transpired.

This is not wholly inappropriate as I actually adore -without defense or justification- (or was that just?) Bridget Jones. And not solely for the predictable holiday rom-com ridiculousness that it perpetuates (or that there is a character called Perpetua!) But I love Bridget for the way she completely embraces her moments of abject humiliation – every single time. When you stand back and look at it, this has got to some kind of really enlightened approach to the world. Although acknowledging the circumstances, and effectively (familiarly) wallowing in them, Bridget has this ability to just be like, “Right. That sucked and am probably laughing stock of entire nation, but really, what can I do about it now?”

My particular Bridget Jones moment occurred when I realized that sent Facebook messages cannot be deleted across the board. Like, I can send them, then delete them before they have been read by someone else… but the someone else still gets them.

Oh.Fuck.Me.

Now, to be fair, I have not been being crazy, or dangerous, or doing anything that could get me fired, jailed, or excommunicated from my family. But let’s just say, I may have let my calm, cool, and collected outward appearance around my feelings about someone’s behavior towards me demonstrate a bit more desperation than I would ever, EVER want to be shared.

And you all know how calm, cool, and collected I always am.

On realizing this, and realizing that said person has very clearly seen said missives (because goddammed Facebook tells you when they were “active”), I had a moment (or 30, 40… maybe 50…) where I scoured the internets to be sure that this was the case… When I delete something, does it not delete elsewhere? What a STUPID system. Come on Facebook, help a girl out.

Rest assured, this is actually the case. And having deleted the messages, I cannot even go back and actually assess the degree to which I should be humiliated.

Oh.Fuck.Me.

But hang on a tick… It turns out that you can recover all of your Facebook data. Ha. Nice try Facebook. But, for real, you go to settings, and download the info and Facebook sends it to you as an HTML file, so technically you can relive ALL the horror. [You are welcome.]

I wouldn’t go there if I were you. [Of course I went there.] I looked. And damn, there was some crazy old shit in there.

Mother, I do not need a blind date. Particularly not with some verbally incontinent spinster who drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and dresses like her mother. ~Mark Darcy

But the messages that were filling me with turkey-curry buffet/tarts & vicars/reindeer jumper levels of angst were not really that bad. I mean, yeah, I wish I would not have sent them because I would like to be cooler at all times than I actually am… But in the end, I had a real, honest to god Bridget Jones moment, in which I looked at them, and thought to myself, “Right. You did that and it was stupid, because this person is clearly not picking up what you are putting down… But actually, all you did was be honest. And true. And so how is that so humiliating?” Oddly, for the first time I felt better about the whole stupid situation that has been plaguing me for weeks, like, it was out there now, and so be it.

I felt all zen.

I’m sure it will last until the next time.

Resolution #1: Uggg – will obviously lose 20 lbs. #2: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important: will find nice sensible boyfriend and stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits, or perverts. Will especially stop fantasizing about a particular person who embodies all these things. ~ Bridget Jones

Not my words… but…

Relative to a post from last week about the struggle of having given someone a big part of yourself to only be mysteriously disappeared… my friend K.L. posted this yesterday, and I couldn’t not share.

The habit of self-blame and obsessive revisiting to every conversation to try to figure out what happened when things change abruptly in life is one I would love to break. Maybe this reminder will help. Of course I wonder… To have someone say to you “we let ourselves get carried away by our feelings” (isn’t that the point?) after an intentional relationship was built is rough. Also, inaccurate, but I guess I can only speak from my perspective.

For now, this:

Sometimes people walk away from love because it is so beautiful that it terrifies them. Sometimes they leave because the connection shines a bright light on their dark places and they are not ready to work them through. Sometimes they run away because they are not developmentally prepared to merge with another- they have more individuation work to do first. Sometimes they take off because love is not a priority in their lives- they have another path and purpose to walk first. Sometimes they end it because they prefer a relationship that is more practical than conscious, one that does not threaten the ways that they organize reality. Because so many of us carry shame, we have a tendency to personalize love’s leavings, triggered by the rejection and feelings of abandonment. But this is not always true. Sometimes it has nothing to do with us. Sometimes the one who leaves is just not ready to hold it safe. Sometimes they know something we don’t- they know their limits at that moment in time. Real love is no easy path- readiness is everything. May we grieve loss without personalizing it. May we learn to love ourselves in the absence of the lover. ~ Jeff Brown

 

It’s all good.

Back to being funny soon…. I am thinking of starting a series called, “Things men have actually said to me out loud.” Except none of you will believe they are real….

Ai Wei Wei @Large on Alcatraz

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Every year I take my seniors to Alcatraz Island as part of a unit of study on the prison system. Because Alcatraz is a National Park, there are some other perks, not to mention the unusual vibe that is created when a prison becomes a veritable themed park… And one of the perks is that they have revolving art installations on site. One year, there was a ton of period pieces memorializing the island’s film history (that year JJ Abrahams was also filming key scenes for his less-than memorable show “Alcatraz). Another year there was an installation by the former artist-in-residence at San Quentin, Richard Kamler, best described here. That was coupled with a restorative justice program featuring formerly incarcerated men and the world that awaited them.

Alcatraz has a history of not only being home to some of America’s most “dangerous” people, but also as a place of protest. In 1969 native groups took over Alcatraz, occupying it for 19 months.

For all these reasons, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei decided that Alcatraz would be an excellent location for his latest exhibition.

He was not wrong.

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In creating a major conceptual installation while unable to leave China, Ai created a fascinating look into “ideas of confinement and what it means to be a modern political prisoner” – something he is all too familiar with. Integrating the motifs of birds and flowers throughout, there are many layers to explore throughout the exhibit.

The concept of the ‘caged bird’ is clear and in using birds throughout the installation and emphasizing the sense of the birds being trapped within the confines of the prison, Ai integrates myriad sociocultural elements. Anyone who has spent time in China is aware of the presence of caged birds, they are everywhere, ironically, often outside as the little old men who have them bring the cages out with them, effectively walking the caged birds. The five-ton birds wing constructed of Tibetan solar cookers emphasizes this feeling of being caged to nearly excruciating levels: it is viewed from the gun gallery of the New Industries building, an entirely claustrophobic situation, and is so large, I would encourage visitors to bring the widest angle lens they can get their hands on. Further, the only method of communication that Ai has consistently had access to while in China under state control and heavy internet censorship, has been Twitter (note the eyes of the dragon). And providing a way for the political prisoners to “sing” is one of the goals of the show, as Ai says, he endeavors “to address what happens when people lose the ability to communicate freely.

Flowers complement the use of the birds (also not lost on Ai was the natural habitat of Alcatraz and its role as a bird habitat and its extensive gardens) in the exhibit. Alluding to the 100 Flowers Campaign of the late 1950s in which Mao Tse Tung  suggested a “policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science.” Mao quickly changed his tack when dissent arose, and the ensuing crackdown had a direct impact on Ai’s personal history. In this exhibit, the flowers appear in the hospital (a part of the prison that is rarely open during tours) overflowing from the sinks and toilets. Pretty clear statement. Ai’s use of porcelain is intentional for its strength and fragility, as well as a statement on the plight of China’s porcelain artisans. Using the toilet is also a likely homage to Marcel Duchamp’s iconic work, Fountain.

Both the birds and flowers come full circle as you enter the dining room and see shelves of postcards, with the national bird and national flower of every country that is currently holding political prisoners (the same people depicted in Legos in the New Industries Building). The cards for each country are then addressed to all of the prisoners allowing visitors to Alcatraz to write to the individuals being held. And they are being mailed to all these individuals.

Birds and flowers. Enemies of the state and heroes of the people. Finding flight and a song and a habitat on Alcatraz… a seemingly uninhabitable place…

There are several audio elements to the exhibition also, and a short film explaining why and how Ai chose Alcatraz and the works were installed. The exhibition book is also awesome (and super inexpensive!.)

This is a once in a lifetime experience and absolutely not to be missed.

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Gifts.

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Once you give someone a gift, you no longer have the ability to influence what they do with that gift. You may think that you have a “right,” or that you could exert some influence on the eventualities of the gift, but if you truly give someone something, you have actually let it go fully and entirely.

You may endeavor to provide care instructions: hand wash only, or, water twice a week… that sort of thing. You many offer suggestions for use: it makes a great paperweight, or, it can be worn so many ways. You may highlight features and benefits: the second chapter is really amazing, or, if you use this function you will save so much wear and tear.

But ultimately, in giving, you are letting go.

I think that is really the gift.

So, if someone returns your gift, or re-gifts it, or ruins it, or puts it up on a shelf and forgets about it, or uses it so much they wear it out, that is not about you. You chose to give, and in so doing gave over influence on the outcome as well.

This is hard for people. Like, watch adults give kids presents and how weirdly control-y they get about how the gift is dealt with. If it weren’t such a painfully futile endeavor, it would be amusing. It is this strange experience of seeing the child appear to be the patient sage, juxtaposed against the adult as a yammering, infantile sop control freak.

It is the same when you give someone your heart. You may endeavor to provide care instructions: please be careful with this… that sort of thing. You many offer suggestions for use: be not afraid. You may highlight features and benefits: if you let me I will love you. But in choosing to give someone one your heart you have given a beautiful gift to them that comes wrapped in trust, hope, and fearlessness, and you cannot mandate its place in their life.

It is always a possibility that the person to whom you give your heart may not receive it as you would like. They may hold it in their hands for a while and consider it, like a pound of flesh, or a new pair of shoes. They may take it with joy and reckless abandon, and then decide later that it is not really what they were after and cast it off. They may take it in exactly the way you had hoped, and then crush it into a million tiny pieces because they are afraid, or broken, or maybe dishonest, or perhaps they are just too busy to deal with it.

You will never know on giving. And the reception of the gift has nothing to do with you, or some sort of strange valuation of the quality of your gift.

Interestingly, in choosing to give this most precious gift, you actually were the one who received the gift… You became more loving. More hopeful. More open. And the heart is unlimited, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like that always.

But it is. There is always more love to give.

If someone didn’t want the love you had to give, consider for a moment what a shame that loss is for them it is they did not want to receive more love in their life. And when you are done experiencing the inevitable sadness that will come from the exchange, remember, you were true in your feelings and intentions, and so there has been nothing lost.

And you will feel your heart grow bigger.

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This one time I was on the radio…

I was interviewed on the Monday that Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown. It was an impromptu thing that I had no idea was coming… and a little odd  considering the grand jury was holding off on releasing their decision for several hours after I spoke with the interviewer, but anyhow here it is.

And then came the Eric Garner non-indictment.

And then one of the young black men in my class said to me, “I am just so tired of having to talk about this all the time.”

Kenny, my man, I can’t even begin to understand what this is like for you, but my god I wish society would give us some new material as well.

What’s the time?

I went out in the neighborhood a little while back. I haven’t been hitting my locals so regularly anymore. I’d like to say this is a reflection of better judgement. But it is more likely just because I am sofa king tired I would just rather not. However, I rallied because one of my bebe cousins was in town, and, well, I mean this is the neighborhood to bar crawl in if you’re going to go for it.

And I do love a quality dive bar.

We started with a happy hour tipple at the Toronado. This bar is not in my neighborhood. I have had some legendary nights at the Toronado. And let me assure you that when anyone says that something in a bar was legendary, they mean, God, I did WHAT?!? In fact, even recalling some of it is cringeworthy. But the Force is strong in this one, and so, there I was.

In and out of my own volition. Win.

After getting back to the Mission we made dinner at home and then headed out – a little early for most of the non-neighborhood types who would certainly be filling the streets eventually – but as I may have mentioned, or soon will: age.

I took the bebe to the Latin American first, because one cocktail = done. In hindsight, this may have been poorly thought out. But, live and learn. Or at least I have heard some people do that… The Latin is a formerly great dive bar that has become a little overly self conscious about that status, but still serves a margarita that can knock you over and if it is not too crowed with an equally overly self conscious crowd, can be fun. Also, props to door dude for being the first to tell me that my drivers’ license was expired and he was doing me a solid to let me in. [I may have already mentioned I am in no way akin to someone who might actually need an ID check.]

After the Latin we headed to Doc’s Clock. I love Doc’s. I bring everyone there I can because I love it so. They also have shuffle board and a long bar. I adore a long bar.

We took seats at the bar.

Bebe saw a sign behind the bar that said, “Welcome to San Francisco. Now go homo.” Being from a special part of Southern California she was beside herself as a result of this sign. She took out her phone to take a photo. As she was working out her shot, unaware that she had the flash on, there was a perfect convergence of her photographic explosion and the arrival of the bartender who was clearly temporarily blinded by this situation. And she made no mystery of her displeasure with the situation. Bebe was embarrassed, but I was more embarrassed for the ridiculous overreaction of the bartender. As she acted like Nosferatu having seen the first light of day, I said, “It’s cool, you can help those other people first, we are not in a hurry.”

“Look, I’m already here, what do you want?”

Oh really?

We ordered drinks. I stuck with my standard clear liquors. Bebe began making unwise choices. [My neighborhood is going to be a lot nicer when all the people insisting that they actually enjoy bourbon just stop pretending.]

As we sat at the bar chatting, and apparently being hilarious – we were talking about our family – the bartender started hanging around quite a bit more. Soon enough she was chuckling along with us, and before long adding asides.

At this point the bar was getting pretty crowded and a big group of Woo Girls came in.

The bartender came over and we said at the same time: “God. The Woo Girls are here.” I think that is the point I won her over. The next thing I know she was telling me how smart I was, and that she could tell I was from the neighborhood. [This is also rather a big deal, as it is fairly common for people in this neighborhood to tell me things like I have “Marina hair”, or ask, “Are you from Marin?” Really? Sigh.]

When Bebe was ready for her second round and I was holding steady, Lisa, my new BFB, topped me off for good measure.

Now the touristas were flooding in. I have to say it is fun to be a local in this neighborhood when everyone else wants to be here if for no other reason than a nice angle for snobbery.

A group of young men came in and were suddenly positioned right next to us. One introduced the other, saying, he is visiting from Seattle. “Oh yeah? I lived in Seattle.” I tell him.

“No way!” he says. Why is this a response to a statement I am wondering. I mean, is it a challenge? Or is it too unlikely that to previously unknown humans could have lived in the same place? Or is it lack of a more clever answer? As I contemplated this he said, “But I am not from there.”

“Oh? Where are you from?”

“San Diego.”

“How funny, I went to school there.” I brace for the ‘NO WAY!’

“Where?!” He comes back with instead.

“UCSD.”

“NO WAY! [there we go] I am from Encinitas!” [As a side note, the number of people I meet from Encinitas outside of Encinitas is freakish.]

After some amount of bar conversation that can only achieve the level of enthusiasm it does when enhanced by liquor, we determine that we have had these (even I admit) strangely parallel life experiences. San Diego, Seattle, he is also a history teacher… Wait what? His buddy is beside himself. Do we know any of the same people, he wants to know. I mean, how can we not, he claims.

And here is where the real fun begins: The guess how old I am game.

I gently suggest that it is unlikely we know any of the same people because although we have had similar paths, I am old enough to be his mother.

“Maybe in Kentucky!” He says. Okay, fair play, that was clever. Although, I was getting nervous that he might throw his hands in the air and woo.

So he is 28. He guesses I am in my thirties. I no longer know if this is a ploy, or at all sincere. Bebe and I laugh.

“Uh, no.” Unsure how long I want to keep this guessing game going on I cut to the chase. I tell him I am 44.

Wait for it…

“NO WAY!!”

Yeah, anyhow. We talk some more and then they walk away. Soon there is another group and we chat, it is easy enough when plied with Lisa’s liberal pours and the general silliness of the Woo Crowd.

Pretty soon, Lisa tells us she is getting off her shift. Shame, things were really working out. But she walks over her replacement and assures us (or him?) that he will take very good care of us. The next thing I know she is standing next to us and telling me I have got to get out more. There is a lot of hugging and enthusiastic regard for all things us. I view this as a win all the way around.

The next thing I know San Diego-Seattle-History teacher dude is back. He does not have a lot of new material, but he is cute and funny. He tells me we should get out of here.

“Uh, yeah. I coud have been your teacher. I have rules about that. I mean, you are 28, and I am 44. Ew. No. We are not even existing in adjacent decades.”

He laughs. Now, again, I am confused if this is sincere, flattery, a con, or just confusion.

“No, come on it would be fun – look how much we already have in common… think what else there might be!”

Wait, what? He said that out loud.

Aiyah.

Thankfully, my friend Ken has now arrived and Bebe is in need of my assistance so I have other things to do.

“Actually, I have to go. But, thanks?”

“Aw, come on, come back in,” he says.

Seriously? No. Just no, you lovely-but-daft-man-child.

We walk out and meet AJ. AJ wants to roll with Bebe. Ken and I are suspicious. He says he wants to take her to his hotel. “Does she want to go to your hotel?” I ask. Bebe seems unconvinced, or undetermined. She says “Yes.”

“Okay, where is your hotel?”

“Right down here,” he says pointing down 24th Street. Ken and I exchange looks. As if there is any sort of “hotel” down that end of 24th. Next thing we know he is faking a phone call. TO THE MARRIOTT.

Ken and I are dying, and not even really hiding it. He really must be drunk or stupid, or I suppose, he thinks we are.

He goes through this whole song and dance on the phone about “How could they not have his reservation? He paid through the weekend!”

Dying, I am.

So the next thing you know we are walking back to my place because the “Marriott” lost AJ’s paid-in-full booking. Maybe it got lost when they had to relocate the property from downtown? At my door it becomes clear that he thinks there is a fucking chance in hell he is getting in the door.

As if.

Ken is still there and I see my Jordanian chaperones from my liquor store keeping an eye on things as well. This will not end well for AJ if he annoys me. In the end he sort of dumbly slinks away. I almost feel sorry for him but for the fake phone call for which he forgot to turn the phone on.

I get in the apartment, thank Ken, and look to Bebe, who says, “What’s the time?” As she falls into bed.

A good question I think to myself, and on seeing it is just gone midnight I feel like throwing my hands in the air and yelling ‘Woooooooooo!’

Maybe I will go out in the neighborhood again one of these weekends. Hard to say no when… wait for it…