Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting

Let’s set the stage: it is 2014. We are in San Francisco, California. This is not some long ago time (or not so long ago really) in some backwoods Podunk town, so I hope you get a sense of place from my limited, but precise descriptors.

I am coming home from an event downtown. I am on my own at this point around 10:00 p.m., and making my way through the Civic Center area. There are a lot of folks around. Unlike me, most of them are not going anywhere. They are making a place for themselves. They are the sense of the place. Most of them see me, and I see them. I don’t have much to offer them but a nod or a smile if they greet me. They respond in kind when they take notice. No one touches me. No one even makes a move toward me in any way.

I get on the train. Once on the train I decide I will get off one stop early and walk home since it is a nice night, and it is not too late.

I get off the train and come up to Mission Street. It is teeming with people, many of whom I have seen before: they inhabit the streets. Interactions are subtle if they happen at all.

I walk one block west so that my walk home will be on the much more well-lit, and let’s face it, bougie Valencia Street. There are hordes of people out on Valencia, but these are different types of people: not really part of the sense of place, but participating in it. Buying it.

I weave in and out as I make my way south the seven blocks I have to get home. People are talking, drunk, loud, funny, clumsy, texting, yelling, high-fiving, queuing, complaining, busy. Between 16th Street and 19th Street I am touched no fewer than three times. Two different times someone puts their hand on me as if they are guiding me through the crowd and once someone smacks (though that sounds harder than it was – taps?) my ass. I keep going, probably at a quicker gait.

I pop into one of my local markets to pick up a couple of things. There are four other people in the market, two pairs. A young Latina and an even younger Latino (she is buying the beer), and two young mixed-race men. One of the young men has a Golden State Warriors shirt draped over his shoulders. It is covered with blood. His pal is explaining to the shopkeeper and the young beer drinkers what happened.

- They kicked us out.
- Yeah, it was so wrong. This guy was hella gay, right? I mean he walked by and he grabbed his ass!
- And we were totally cool, right, we just told him that shit ain’t cool and we were gonna let it go, just went back to our seats and everything.
- But then he did it again! I mean, what the fuck, right? That is hella gay.
- And so we told him we were gonna kick his ass and it started right then.
- And we were like, someone call the police, right? I mean that is assault or some shit like that, right?
- But security was like, nah, and they wouldn’t call no one.
- And then they kicked us out, just to make it easy for them.

The shopkeeper gave all of the right affirmations and nods. The young beer drinkers were, impressed and in agreement: Yeah that shit is fucked up.

“You beat the crap out of someone because he grabbed your ass?” I ask. They look at me:

- Yeah.

“Huh.” I say as they walk out.

The shopkeeper says, “That is not right, people should not be touching people,” as he looks at me.

“I just had my ass grabbed walking to this shop, on Valencia Street. Should I have beat the crap out of the person?”

“Nobody should be touching anybody,” he says.

“Do you think that guy would have cared if I grabbed his ass?” I ask. The young beer drinkers laugh, albeit nervously (I am sure wondering what the agitated middle-aged white woman might be up to.)

“No, he probably would have liked it!” says the shopkeeper, before adding, “Nobody should be touching anybody.”

“You know how many girls that guy has probably grabbed?” I ask.

“You’re right,” the shopkeeper says. “Maybe he had it coming,” he adds, “Like karma.”

One of the young beer drinkers laughs and she says, “I know, huh?”

“So it is okay for him to grab a girl’s ass, but because he got touched by a male it is okay to assault that guy?”

“Nobody should be touching anybody,” the shopkeeper says.

“You’re right,” I say.

 

I have a wedding dress.

Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? ~ Chimamanda Adichie

I rarely mention the fact that I have a wedding dress, because why would I? I am not about to get married, I have never been married, and (as several people have enjoyed pointing out to me at various times) I have no real idea if anyone has ever truly wanted to marry me. Nonetheless, I have a dress. It is a gorgeous dress. A one-of-a-kind couture design of bias cut ivory silk and silk tulle by a New York design duo, two brothers who go by their family name, Manolo. It is a dress that I could have never afforded, even if I had wanted to, but I have this dress.

I have this dress because once upon a time I was going to get married. I thought I had met my Prince Charming. I mean, he had some pretty serious red flags flying in his wake, but I was the right age to be getting married and for every flaw he had, I could find a compensatory (or better) quality to make up for any deficiency. Or an excuse. His family hated me? No problem, my family was willing to embrace him. He was an alcoholic? NBD, I had lots of practice with this. He was going to prison? Come on, that could be romantic in some contexts. [I mean, look at RDJ. Love him.]

I was aspiring to marriage. Among other things.

So I had to get a dress when he decided I was worth marrying – for my genetic material if nothing else. I got a dress. It was alright. Very late 90′s and princess-y. I think it had some sparkles and maybe some blue. I never took it out of the shop in LA because I would be having the alterations and stuff done there.

Then he went to prison, I cheated on him, and we broke up. I got to take all my stuff – except for anything he had given me – and all the blame. Meanwhile the dress sat in the shop.

A couple of years later I finally got the nerve to call the shop and find out what I should do about the dress. The proprietress, Cocoe Voci, remembered me and was so glad I had called. She had been trying to reach me for a year because she was closing her salon to launch her own line. She had been liquidating all of her inventory and had sold the dress. Unsure what to do, Cocoe made all the decisions for me: come down to LA she said, we will figure something out.

The next week, my mom and I went down and Cocoe showed us all the remaining dresses. She showed me the Manolo. It was stunning. Something out of a movie I have still never seen. We all stared when I put it on. The dress cost a ridiculous amount, particularly for someone who was not even getting married. For reasons I will never understand, Cocoe made the decision to practically give us the dress. We hugged and left with the dress.

So that is why I have a this dress.

I had not thought about the dress in a long time, in spite of the fact that it hangs in my closet in its own protective armor. But the other day, I took it out. I looked at it. It is as beautiful as it ever was. I tried it on. It still makes me feel like I belong in a black and white film, in a ballroom I have never seen. Looking at myself in that dress was weird though. (I mean weird beyond the fact of being a middle-aged, single woman, standing in her living room in a wedding dress on a Saturday afternoon.) It was weird because when I let my brain consider the meaning of the dress, I could not imagine ever wearing it for its intended purpose. There was no amount of stretching that could get my (generally very active) imagination there.

As I took the dress off and carefully returned it to its protective sheath, I looked around at my tiny apartment. At my two cats. At my books. At my wall of artwork from no fewer than seven countries. At the quiet sense of order in the clean space. And at that moment it dawned on me exactly how completely content I am in my life at this exact moment.

Sitting down, I thought about it more. How I wake up in the morning and am free. I can do anything I want to do. At the pace I want to. And I do.

I do not have to listen to people telling me how I should be doing something else. I don’t have anyone judging me for letting a cat sleep on the pillow. Or because I want to listen to reggae music. I don’t have anyone telling me I spend too much time reading. Or too much time writing. Or that the way I portray myself on-line is somehow “wrong”.  I can go to yoga three times a day if I want to. I can sit and read on my sofa all day. Or, if I want to stay up until 1 am working, I can do that too.

Of course, I will never have some things that most people I know have, like children, and the joy they will bring.  Although last week when I was getting on my seniors’ for being lazy about leaving crap on my  floor and said, I don’t have kids – I should not have to pick up after them!  one of my senior boys said, “Naw, you have us – you got thousands of kids,” which I thought was sort of cute. But in a way he is right, these kids are good for me.

And my life is so full. I have wonderful friends who really like me. I am in a City surrounded by cool stuff to do all the time. I have great colleagues at a good job that I am pretty good at. I love going to work and I love to come home to my cats, (without qualification.) Lately I find more and more that I really do need to have my own space and my own time in it. [Maybe I am turning into and introvert... I mean if Facebook quizzes are to be trusted then: " Others may perceive you as overly emotional, and you may even have a reputation for being a bit sensitive or touchy, but you actually just have an incredibly high emotional intelligence. You can be a bit melancholy at times, and you need time and space to recharge your emotional energies."]

I am not convinced that all of these observations preclude life changes that could lead to wedding dress wearing types of events, and I do believe in love at first sight, and all the silliness it has always led me to. But I am just not sure that these things always happen to everyone. And that is totally okay.

It could just be me: I’ve been told I’m too loud, I like the wrong sports, I shouldn’t drink beer, I shouldn’t drink tequila, I’m too pushy, I’m too standoffish, my arms are too big, my teeth are too crooked, I like the wrong music, I like the wrong kind of people, I am too sporty, I am too competitive, that I am not the marrying kind, I work too much, I don’t do enough, I plan too much, I am too spontaneous, I am too independent, I am too needy… and on and on and on.

But I don’t think that’s it.

I aspire to something better than all of that. I aspire to just be me.

reckless-jean-harlow-in-a-dress-everett

Oh, and some sort of party, someday, in an amazing place, where I can wear a breathtaking ivory silk dress.

Justice = Vengeance [in a Mad World]

On my way home last night after a pretty long, though decent, week at work I saw there was some sort of demonstration going on at the middle school across the street from my building. Someone on a bullhorn was using the standard “What do we want?!” call and response technique.

What do we want?!
Justice!!
When do we want it?!
Now!!

As I have been up to my eyebrows in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution at school in my government curriculum these past few weeks (not to mention the fact that I was curious…) I stopped. I listened a little more. I am down with justice.

Justice for Rashawn!!

I walked a little further and saw three young kids with a clipboard and posters calling for Justice for Rashawn. They were talking to an older couple as I approached and I leaned in to listen. On seeing my approach as a way out, the couple quickly scooted away the moment the kids turned their attention to me.

What do we want?!
Justice!!
When do we want it?!
Now!!
Justice for Rashawn!!

‘What’s up,’ I asked them. ‘What are you guys doing out here?’

The smallest of the three, who I would soon learn was a seventh grade student at the school across the street, shoved the clipboard towards me and said, ‘We are collecting signatures to make the City try the murderer of Rashawn as an adult. He is going to get out when he is 23.’

‘How old are the suspects?’ I asked.

‘One of them is 19, so he is going to court for adults,’ said another student who had just walked up. ‘But the other one, the city says he won’t be in adult court.’

‘How old is he?’ I asked.

’14,’ they all said.

‘And so you want the 14 year old to be tried in adult court?’ I asked. ‘That is what the petition is for?’

‘Yes,’ they all replied.

The only boy among the group that was now four said, ‘You know, he planned it. He bullied Rashawn all the time and he always caused him trouble. He planned it out.’

‘But he was with a 19 year old?’ I asked.

‘Yeah, but we aren’t here about that, he is in adult court. We need to get signatures so the 14 year old will not get out of jail.’

‘Every signature makes a difference,’ the first girl said to me, looking up at me with braces and french braids framing her lovely olive complexion.

Then another passer by stopped. Probably about my age, with a thoughtful, well-worn face, he spoke with notable accent, and asked what was going on. I let the kids explain.

‘Put yourself in his mother’s shoes,’ the student who had walked up last said to me. ‘I mean, it’s not right. She deserves justice.’

I looked at the man standing next to me and he looked back at me. I wondered what his take on the justice system was, knowing that my sentiments were not going to sit well with these kids. He looked back at me and I said, to the group, ‘I am not sure I am comfortable signing this. I don’t think I support putting a 14 year old in the adult criminal system. I believe that we have the juvenile justice system for a reason.’

‘If he can act like an adult he can be punished like an adult!’ the boy said.

‘What makes you say he acted like an adult?’ I asked.

‘He planned this out. He is a bully,’ answered the one of the group who had not yet spoken.

I looked again at the man next to me, who gently shook his head.

‘Well, I am proud of you guys for standing out here in the cold for something you believe in,’ I said. ‘But I am afraid I can’t sign this petition. I just don’t believe in putting children in the adult criminal justice system.’

‘But he deserves it!’ one of the kids cried out.

‘He planned this out!’ said another.

‘All we want is justice!’ exclaimed the latecomer.

I looked at them and was overcome with sadness. Four young kids. Kids who are sure to make some pretty significant mistakes at some point in their lives – though I can only hope none that are lethal. Kids who are statistically so much more at risk than they even know. Kids of color who are fighting systems they have yet to even realize. Kids who have been taught that vengeance equals justice. Kids who have been sent out – ostensibly by adults – to elicit a particular response from the public under the guise of justice – of fairness.

I thought about how every year when I teach my sophomores about Hammurabi they are all totally down with the concept of an eye for an eye. Yeah, it’s harsh they say, but hey, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I ask them if they would actually come to my class on time if they knew the punishment was lethal. They say yes. They say that harsher punishments will reduce crime, it is only logical. But the reality is they would not be on time. They would be late and want me to hear all the circumstances as to why I should consider lenience.

They are only sophomores after all.

And here were these kids, 7th and 8th graders demanding vengeance as justice.

‘What if it was someone you loved?’ they asked me.

‘Yeah, it could be your son,’ they said.

‘If it was someone I loved I would be devastated,’ I said. ‘But ending the life of another would not make it any less devastating.’

‘We are not asking for the death penalty’, they said. ‘We just want him to be in prison for life. Like the 19 year old.’

I looked at them one last time and wished them good luck with their cause, but said I could not sign their petition.

And I turned to walk away. The man standing with us also turned to go, ‘No,’ he said, ‘I cannot sign this.’

‘Well, thanks a lot for your time!’ one of them yelled. It did not sound sincere.

Walking up my stairs I heard the bullhorn again.

What do we want?!
Justice!!
When do we want it?!
Now!!
Justice for Rashawn!!

They have no idea how likely it is that they will one day be on the other side of this equation begging for consideration and lenience for one of their own. It is such a terribly sad cycle.

If only they could see that all this effort is doing is perpetuating it.

Details of the Rashawn Williams tragedy here.

Back to school.

This is the last weekend before the commencement of the new school year for me. I am using the word commencement because as a high school teacher this word is overly associated with the end of the school year as a general rule… but really it means beginning. However, this morning I am considering the notion that the practice of celebrating the end of traditional (read American public (and institutionalized private) secondary educational programs as a commencement (a beginning) might be doing those of us who choose to participate in education quite a disservice.

Of course I did not wake up thinking about this. No. I woke up pleasantly enough, detached from the impending reality (doom? You know you have something to think about when the conventional humor around the return to school held by both students and teachers is something along the lines of the death of fun, relaxation, and time to grow in ways that truly nourish us…) of going back to school(work). No, I woke up and reread some of Anna Deveare Smith’s book Letters to a Young Artist, which I am teaching this year as a way to show my vastly talented art students that the kind of rigor required to make it (read ‘make it’ as survive beyond cup noodles and automotive domiciles) is the same sort of rigor that us banal work-a-day types rely on. It is a great text. Then I made some coffee. I watched Max make biscuits in the air for a good five minutes wondering what he must be thinking about and didn’t get up when I wanted more coffee because Matilda was in my lap. So, you know, my standard non-working morning.

But then I read a post someone had put on the Facebook about “unschooling.” That, by the way is not a word, and please do not get me started on the totally unsubtle and unhidden meaning of such nomenclature because I will never get to my point. I posted a comment to the post that said this:

The downside of perpetuating this idyllically presented narrative of non-traditional education is that this parent is neglecting to articulate how completely unusual he and his partner are. Not that I personally do not know people like this, but the majority of Americans who will take up this call to be “unschooled” are the same who rail on about liberal brainwashing in schools, shop for all their food at Walmart, feel the need to fight for their gun rights, and watch reality tv, which they mistake for the news. The kind of consciousness this sort of thing requires is deep, complex, and labor intensive. How many parents, especially the working poor, or people who simply lack the ability to think abstractly, or themselves are not curious but just pissed off at anything resembling government influence in their lives, could manage this?

But that wasn’t really the whole of what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say also was this.

If I had a even a penny for every time I heard someone, (usually my kids to be fair because I am working with the part of the parent population that has not totally turned on public education) say that school should be built around what kids are naturally interested in and that they should only have to do what they like to do… I could buy myself a car. Seriously. Not a new car, but I’m trying to make a point absent my usual hyperbole. From the pennies of those thoughts I could for sure by a nice used Honda. Seriously.

So I often think about this idea, this fantasy that by cultivating – exclusively – the desires of children and teenagers (do you really even want to go there??) somehow we would grow more creative, motivated, curious, productive adults… And without LOL’ing (and I am using that neologism intentionally too because teenagers think that is a real freaking word) this true story comes to mind:

When I was six years old, I was already quite sophisticated in the relative world of six year olds. I could read. Well. I loved practicing my handwriting. I flew on airplanes alone, and regularly, to visit my grandparents in LA. I was comfortable around most adults because I was around them all the time. I believed I was  great draw-er and thought being a ballet-er and an ambliance driver were perfectly compatible life goals. I loved animals, especially – wait for it – cats. I was pretty articulate as things go and had a lot of ideas about the world. I was definitely curious about things ranging from how grown ups might participate in things that cause their faces to become fully engulfed in flame (seriously) to divorce to the relative significance of inanimate objects. I observed that people are all weird and different and strange in their own way, and experienced the nuanced distinctions between my former kindergarten community school and my new school that had bells of an unknown significance. And most of this was because I was an only child to exponential degrees: the first grandchild, first niece, etc. who had a lot of direct, international, interested interactions with people around me (in spite of attending school, apparently.)

It was at this point in my young life that my aunt made a proposal to me. This aunt was an amazing globetrotting person who was doing things that at six I realized were basically spectacular. Her proposal was this: When you turn eight, I will take you on a trip anywhere you want to go in the world.

I died (as much as a six year old will) and promptly answered: LA!

Consider this. Just back from Bangladesh or India or who knows where, my aunt makes this proposal and my six-year-old mind knows LA. This was not a product of oppressive schools, a lack of curiosity, or waning creativity. This is the result of the simple fact – which i reiterate to my high school students all the time – that there is no way to really know what you might like/love/be inspired by if no one pushes you out of your known universe of likes by exposing you to new things. Some of which you might not like. The world of possibilities grows through experiences that you might not ever even know to take without the guidance and even pressure of those around you.

The trip we took  took me out of school for a month or so and ended up being a train ride across the US from La to New York, then off to London by plane, the to the Netherlands – then more usually Holland – by boat. Then I flew home from Heathrow to LAX on my own.

Now consider my adult life (well, at least those of you who know me can do this, and frankly I assume most of my readers do know me) and think about how it might have turned out differently if I were allowed to make all of my own choices based on my known likes, dislikes, and interests. We will just say it might have been more limited in order to avoid more judgmental terms. I would have gone back to the Valley.

I think about all the things that move me and inspire me now, and the experiences I am grateful for having, often in hindsight, that I would have never sought out or undertaken  if left to my own choices and devices because I was simply ignorant to all of the possibilities that were out there. I was six. Or thirteen. Or sixteen. Or 21. Just consider your priorities at those ages.

Often I hear people (myself included) say something along the lines of school not being about teaching students information, but rather how to think. In some ways I believe this, but in an effort to be more precise I would say that it is not about teaching how to think… It is about teaching why one would want  to think. Or about the myriad ways out there that people do  think. I also believe that school gives students a wonderful opportunity to hone in on things that they really don’t like or that don’t work for them, and that is also important. School also teaches us about the infinite number of frustrations that are out there at the commencement (and beyond) of the no-more-school life. It helps students understand that there are innumerable ways to deal with people and situations and they all beget unique results – and that with only a very few exceptions – you are going to have to deal with people and situations out there on your own, and the trial and error method is far safer in school than say, in a new job. I am not suggesting that Fin and Rye (really dude?) are not going to be able to deal with people and situations, but understanding human systems (bureaucracy if you’re feeling like casting aspersions) is necessary in the modern world and this requires practice with actual bureaucracy. Not because you have to participate in it, but because you are going to be a part of it regardless. Plus, You cannot effectively break and then change the rules of a system – any system – you do not like if you are unfamiliar with those rules or that system to begin with. Living totally off the grid is nice for some folks, but not a reality for most. And I would go so far as to say the ones who can make it work have real experience ON the grid.

It is clear that assessment based teaching is garbage and makes everyone miserable – and my theories as to why this has become such a point of emphasis in America belong in a different diatribe (and I am not even going to touch the implicit suggestion in most alternative education circles that anyone can be an effective teacher because… they have kids or draw breath, or whatever.) But the idea that school is a great oppressor and that kids should never have to endure that which they do not love is equally ludicrous. School has great potential – I think more than homeschooling or unschooling or whatever you want to call it – for the simple opportunity that it affords for varied experiences of world views. It is why I have to share so intentionally with my students what life outside the Berkeley Bubble is like. Life in Dhaka, or Alice Springs, or Appalachia, or Fresno for goodness sakes,  is nothing like what they are used to in the day to day of living in Berkeley, California. Nothing at all.

The more ideas, experiences and ways of thinking that people are exposed to – whether they agree with them or not – the more likely the possibility that we might actually create a more tolerant, contemplative – dare I say enlightened? – world. Fin and Rye are missing a lot of the realities of the modern world. And as I said, those might not be great realities, but there it is in the word itself: they are real.

 

Thank you notes.

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. ~  Rabindranath Tagore

There are turning points in a person’s life, many, if you’re lucky, I think. A turning point for me certainly was the decision to become an expat in the summer of 2005. Although now it seems I have repatriated, (“She’s so American!” ~ Lucas D.) several incredibly clichéd truths remain around that decision to pull a geographical some 9+ years ago. But there is beauty in cliché, likely because of the universal truths they are born from and therefore resonate from them.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. ~ Jung

I have been forever changed by my choice to live on the other side of the world, and although many understand this obvious statement, real understanding, the kind that never needs to be explained, the kind that is shown through a look, a nod…  can only be shared with those who too have made this choice. This return to Hong Kong reminded me of the power of this shared experience and the importance of reconnecting to it.

I am unsure of the exact reason it took me so long to go back, though I can speculate at many, some embarrassingly mundane (should I spend the money, my “partner” was uncomfortable about it, it is too hard to arrange…) and others more complicated (what would I find there, do I need to be reminded of things, am I going for the “right” reasons?) In the end, all of these contemplations turn out to be rubbish. Why I make a choice is irrelevant to anyone beyond my psyche really, and the judgments surrounding it are things I cannot control. Further, the logistics can always be handled, and it is only a provincial mind that allows them to stand in the way. And really, what sort of “partner” places limits upon one? [A former partner, that’s what kind…]

In the end you just go. Or maybe you don’t, that of course being your own choice.

I left Hong Kong on 1 July 2010. I returned, briefly, in February 2011 with the specific intention of proving to myself that I had made the right choice to repatriate. That was foolish. But I was in a bad place, relying too much on the opinions of others about the choices I was making, and insecure about an unsure future here. The insecure and unsure mind makes many declarations: YES, I have chosen correctly. NO, I do not need this. Etcetera, etcetera, off into tedious infinity.

Three and a half years later I returned. Not so much as a prodigal daughter, (though one could make the argument that in some ways I had squandered (by diminishing) some of the amazing lessons I had learned while abroad – and was welcomed back into the arms of my teachers with nary a moment of consideration) nor in some prodigious nature replete with characteristics of a grand tour of places far and wide (though prodigious in some other ways, I shall allow you to speculate.) Home now for nearly three days (though this is my first alone in my space with only coffee and cats – definitely a story for another time-space-medium) I can say with the most sincere conviction that my return was important, necessary, invigorating, clarifying, and right.

No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten. ~ HST

It is important to assert that I had been longing for a visit to Hong Kong, really a trip – a voyage – anywhere, as I had felt my wings unduly and involuntarily clipped for the past two years (though it would be irresponsible to suggest that these things happen entirely involuntarily, if at all involuntarily.) I had been stayed put. But then I had an experience that shook things up a bit and like a stick loosened from the mud I chose to follow the current. Of course, this did not come without judgement (both my reaction to said shake up and my choice to head to Hong Kong, but lately I am less and less interested in the judgement of others.) So, in what appeared to the untrained, uninterested, or unobservant eye, to be spontaneous (irresponsible? reactionary?) I bought the ticket.  I would deal with all of the reasons why this would be a problem later. It turns out that problems are largely a product of perception, by the way.

I let my circles know I would be coming back. ‘Home’? It is hard to say, but I believe there are so many versions of home, and likely the “where you hang your hat” definition is most accurate, particularly for me, as you can be sure I would never hang my hat somewhere I did not want to be; I have issues about my stuff. I opened my heart and my calendar to see what would be, and just let things work themselves out… and it was – if there is such a thing - perfection.

No man [or woman! - Monty Python] ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man [or woman! - ibid]. ~ [apologies to] Heraclitus

For a change, I harbo(u)red few illusions that I would return to a place that was the same, or people who were the same, or as one who was the same. I also allowed myself to be open to anything, making expectations unnecessary. I reminded myself that people might want to know about my reasons for coming back, (although, really the only people who asked about it were the people I was leaving in America) and that there might be assumptions… and I allowed for those as well. Why should I care what those might be? A few days into my visit, a friend pointedly asked if this trip was about Stu, I thought for a moment before answering, considering how this made me feel – shy? embarrassed? silly? I shrugged and said, it was really about me, and Stu is certainly a part of that. The answer felt right and true, and my friend smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

From the moment I landed and walked into the palpably thick air of a Hong Kong summer, everything felt right and true. Different yes, but familiar enough to comfortable and welcoming, while different enough to exciting and inspiring. [In keeping with the theme of cliché: same same but different, if you will.]

And there are so many I have to thank for this.

Thank you Frenchie for being you; goofy, loving, generous – and holy shit – ON TIME! Thank you for allowing me to use your space without limits or conditions and making time for me on the days before your departure. Wine, cheese, walks, sweat, shandy, stories, the beach, spring rolls, coffee, yoga & failed helicopter plans… Kind of a lot for three days. Although the time was too short, vive le France! And to next summer we look.

Thank you Kelly for being the consummate planner and arranging the traditional Lamma dinner and knowing precisely who to include. Although we took no photos, (wait, really?) that I was able to see my original Lamma benefactor and favo(u)rite OAP is something I cannot express my gratitude for. And the rest of you who were there… you were my first Lamma family without question, and time and space aside, you remain my family.

Thank you Chris, Jill, Cath & Daz for knowing I had to share our mutual loss, and knowing without words that it mattered. That it all matters. And for much more that need not be articulated, but suffice it to say, Cath’s bar is still home and I loved being able to rock up like a local. The four of you cannot know how grateful I am for being able to spend time together in an awesome variety of ways over my twelve short days.

Thank you Kate for being you and allowing me to combine two things I love beyond measure: Yoga & Lamma. Fabulous.

Thank you to my cousin Akasha. He knows why. And although these times are trying in many ways, for us they have been transformative. Namaste, yo.

Thank you Camellia for letting me be an auntie and for so many things: massages, margaritas, breakfasts, spa treatments, sushi & shopping. You are a fabulous mama, Chloe is so lucky. Were it not for the little princess I would still be shaking my head trying to figure out if it was 2009 or 2014 as it seems like not a day has passed since the last massage & margarita session.

Thank you Sarah & Willie for getting me to Kenneth’s recital… he was amazing and still EXACTLY the same curmudgeon I love to recall. To see you two along with Inggie and Clare was awesome. I miss you guys!

Thank you Keren for spotting me fresh off the boat and your gorgeous smile. I feel lucky for all of our unplanned encounters and the time we shared.

Thank you Tracey & Jerry & Lucas for still being the best neighbors a girl could ask for and reminding me of about a million things I love about our little village (and dinner!) I am gutted to not be having a wine with you and Nick when she arrives in a few weeks time… but I’ll be there in spirit.

Thank you Tam & Aims for making time and sharing Mui Wo with me. Gorgeous afternoon, and one of the best catch-ups of all time.

Thank you Veer for continuing to be my teacher. I am lucky to have a yoga master like you. You have shaped my practice and continue to inform my understanding of yoga far beyond the asana.

Thank you Emily for always being the connection between me and the girls we practice with and making time for a lovely long lunch. I can’t wait to see you again.

Thank you James for lunch and all the NTK news… and the thought-provoking conversation about so many professional options. And cats. You were a great boss… and make me almost consider working six days a week again. Almost.

Thank you Fun Bobby for being you. Hong Kong is simply not Hong Kong without a night out with you – in whichever form it might take. Sorry we missed the pandas, but hey, gelato and hot pilots are fairly good compensation.

Thank you Rodney for lunch and your sanguine nature and ability to explain so much of what is happening now in Hong Kong. You look amazing, and as you are singularly the reason I ever came to Hong Kong in the first place, to not see you would have left my return incomplete.

Thank you Adele and darling N for the breakfast adventure and shared time. I am astounded at the young man N is becoming, and it is certainly a credit to his momma.

Thank you Andy for being you. Always. I miss you, mate.

Thank you Kelly L. for reminding me that the light I see in others is a reflection of my own light – you’ve always seen something in me that is special, and that is a reflection of you.

Thank you Dr. Man for squeezing me in on your return. You have always had a unique ability to shift my perspective, and this was no exception. It is interesting for me to see you, then and now, because you remain, ( not ironically) someone who is simultaneously steady and fluid.

Thank you Heather and Eric for a rain-soaked happy hour. Thank you Andrew for sharing your pool. Thank you Barry for continuing to entertain in so many ways. Thank you Jack for the many ferry hellos. To Dave O., Parksy, Mooney: thank you for remembering. To Cita and Luisa and Joyce and Emma & Danny: thank you for remembering me like I never left. John Fox… thank you for saying hey, and the conversation: San Francisco may not be the only American city I could live in, but it certainly is pretty great.

And a huge, smiling thank you to everyone who came up to me with a hug and said, seriously, “Have you been on holiday?”

To Eric, Olly, Vicky, Nickie, Sheli, Tamara N., and those I missed for reasons many, I know I will see you the next time around.

The clichés comfortably, or at least aptly, remain: You can take the expat out of Hong Kong but you can’t take Hong Kong out of the expat, roads less travelled, rivers stepped in and out of, nothing lasts forever, we are all in this together… and life goes on.

Thank god for that.

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We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us. ~ F.W. Boreham

One week in… Nine remain.

In my first week of summer break this year I have made a very intentional effort to pay attention to what I am doing, how I am spending my time and how I am feeling about it all. It has been pretty good so far. Under freakishly warm and sunny San Francisco skies, I have done yoga every day. I have gone out to fancy dinners and had take out in the park. I have read one novel and started another. I have watched a ton of soccer. And baseball. I have taken a lot of pictures of my cats. I have vacuumed. I have enjoyed some great cocktails. And cold beer. I have gone home and I have been home. I have cooked good food. I have fought a summer cold (victory uncertain at this point.) I have appreciated my urban situation more and more as I take advantage of the neighborhood and the ease of life in a place where everything is nearby, and no one really cares what you are wearing or who you are with. And I have appreciated having a traditional ‘hometown.’ I have hung with new friends and old friends and my parents and my parents friends.

I have also greatly enjoyed the feeling of being unburdened from negative people – although this bonus was relatively unplanned, it has been wonderful. No more fear about ‘doing something wrong,’ or ‘saying something wrong,’ or that the way I think or feel is “wrong.” No more suffering hideous treatment, only to then be told that it has to do with something else “this is really hard for me!”), or worse, that I somehow brought it on myself (“YOU did…”) No more having to worry about how someone will react – always so unpredictably –  and just feeling generally bad about it all. No more having to worry about needing to build/repair/maintain other people’s bridges. It is so freeing I can only imagine that this is the light of summer manifesting.

People always say to be kind – and this is not always easy, but damn, does it pay off.  I am so glad that the circumstances of my summer have allowed me (forced me?) to literally and metaphorically walk away from so many situations that I know would only have brought out the worst in me. I have been amazed at the kindness reciprocated from kindness.

So far this summer has been warm (too warm if you worry about drought, fires, and global warming) in a literal sense, though more so in a figurative way. When you stop placing yourself around people who only talk shit about everyone and everything, things look a lot better (duh.) And the positive energy – as silly as this sounds – is real and changes everything. It even gives you the strength to fight the good fight against those things pull at your fundamental sense of right and wrong.

So on the eve of the longest day of the year up here in the Northern hemisphere – everything feels light. I will spend the solstice day at the ballpark – what better place? – and watch the sun go down over San Francisco when it finally does.

And what of the remaining nine (almost) weeks of my summer break? I look forward to enjoying the light, even as it begins to diminish, from Carmel, Vegas, Hong Kong, Thailand, and this beautiful city by the Bay. I have a stack of books to read, a new camera lens, an open heart, and a true sense of freedom.

#WINNING

How I suck at “Social Media” and how this allows me to use it prolifically.

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Let’s start with full disclosure: I blog (which is a poncy way to say ‘I have a blog’), I have a Facebook (again, a ridiculous way to say ‘I use Facebook’), I have an Instagram (I actually think this is how everyone says this), I have two Twitters (one is for work; my students use Twitter for current events via KQED and it is a good format, and I have a personal account which is my only truly locked down and private outlet within the social media sphere), I used to have Myspace (two of those too – one for me and one I allowed students on – I do not do this with Facebook now, I just say no until students are out of school, then if they still care, I will accept their friend requests), and I have a Google+ but I have no idea what it is – although it seems public. Oh, I have a YouTube account too, but I think if you use gmail you have this because of the pervasive trend towards conglomeratization. I do not have a Linkedin – and I wish people would stop inviting me because it is a totally useless concept in my field. I do not have Flickr, DeviantArt, Tumblr (although I had a school one for a year), a Bebo (don’t even know what that is), and god help me I do.not.SnapChat.

Basically, I have a fairly visible digital footprint. Regardless of this, I still suck at social media. And I am totally fine with this because I think it is why I am able to use social media so prolifically without becoming angry and insane.

Here’s why: I do it wrong.

It turns out, I am just not really that “social”

I have always known this about blogging. I like to blog (look at me go!) but I don’t really read other blogs. I do occasionally come across blogs that I read because I am looking for something specific – like research for work or personal interests, and then I will read them, but in general, in the same way I look at my blog as a way to be hugely self-indulgent, I am not that interested in reading other people’s self indulgences. Unless they are about me or something uniquely related to me. The blogs I write that get attention get it from small niche populations. Thus it is no surprise that a blog I wrote about my cat remains to this day the blog that got the most hits out of anything I have ever done in any internet capacity. When I write about friends from home, my friends from home read it. When I write about being a teacher, my teacher friends read it. When I write about events and adventures, the people who shared the experiences read them. And there are a few exceptions here and there, a clever tag that gets others over to the page or something, but really the audience is terribly limited. And I am okay with that. I don’t interact with commenters (oh, I will get to them in a minute) and I don’t comment. I do very little to engender interaction or interest in my blog. I harbor no illusions that I am telling stories or illuminating ideas that no one has ever considered. In fact, mostly I feel like I am just adding validity to the reality that our shared human experience is far more similar than it is unique most of the time. And in its own way that is kind of cool.

I use Twitter for news. I love it and scroll through it regularly, occasionally retweet things, favorite things I want to come back to, and mostly leave it at that. I originally got it as a way to text for free from overseas, but now I use it primarily for information and as a way to measure the social temperature around said information. I like Twitter and it is very handy for my students to use as well.

I use Facebook (which I keep private, although I do not consider private in the way my personal Twitter is because there are people on my Facebook that I would not share certain things with because it would be weird and inappropriate) a lot. Although, it is getting harder to use it the way I would like. But again, it turns out I am not that “social” on FB. I post a lot of things. Things *I* think are interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever. Again, I am under no illusion that these things are “interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever” to other people. I am not posting for other people. I am posting for me. That is why I put the stuff on my Facebook page. If it is interesting to other people, that is cool – and I generally can predict with nearly perfect accuracy who will respond/comment/reply to the things I post. That is a benefit of having people who you actually know on your Facebook.

But I don’t get really interactive on other people’s Facebook pages. There are several reasons for this. First – Facebook is making this harder and harder as they only automatically show you the stuff posted by people you “interact” with regularly so it is easy to see how that circle gets inadvertantly smaller and smaller. Another reason I am not super active on Facebook is that there is a lot of stuff that people I really like post that I don’t wanna see. This does not mean I like them less, or do not want to be their friend in real life, or on the internets, it just means I am not into seeing stuff like that and so I don’t look at it. Going to the page of a person, like my friend D.M., a guy I have known since the first grade, and really like in a ton of ways, is not fun for me because we hold diametrically oppositional views on politics and a lot of social issues. Telling him how I disagree would be stupid – or having the audacity to tell him he is wrong or should not be posting something because it bothers me is just inappropriate. He is not posting that stuff for me – he is posting for him, so why do I want to go there and get all fired up – or worse, get involved in some comment battle where I am trying to convince someone that their opinion is “wrong”. Opinions – like feelings – cannot be wrong. They can be in disagreement with my opinions, and certainly wrong for me (or you), but telling someone their opinion is wrong is a waste of time, and really offensive. So instead I leave comments and “likes” on his Instagram where we have much more common ground.

I do believe there are times and places to help someone perhaps see that their opinion does not match data/history/science/facts or something, but I would suggest that would be like in a teaching situation, or as a parent, or an actual conversation among friends. Not really apropos for “social media.” I mean, it’s like the rules that govern polite conversation at dinner parties. People used to say ‘do not talk about politics and religion in mixed company.’ And this was not because people didn’t think about that stuff, or should not hold different opinions – it was because it was a “social” situation and being a dick by telling someone that their opinion is wrong is not very social. Remember when we were taught that if you didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all? If social media is as it claims to be [social] – maybe that is a good rule…. I mean treat other people’s pages as their dinner party and use your own home(page) to say what you have to say. If people don’t want to hear your opinion they don’t have to come to your dinner party.

Facebook in all its deficiencies does allow for a couple great ways to deal with this. First, you can straight hide someone’s posts from your news feed (either by unfollowing them or selecting certain posts.) I have done this. A lot. If someone whose posts you enjoy following generally posts something you cannot deal with, you can had that specific post. A friend in HK who is super active in animal rights posted a super awful photo of an elephant, which I assume was attached to a story about how disgusting people are to elephants, and I could’t take it so I hid it, but not her. I hide all the silly fantasy sports stuff one of my former students posts – it is clutter and useless, but I love hearing about him and his family. I posted a misogynist rant that came out around the Isla Vista shooting on my page and one of my really good friends in HK who I discuss almost everything with, was like, ‘I can’t take this, I’m hiding it from my feed.’ And I totally get that. She didn’t feel the need to tell me how my posting it was wrong or that it was somehow not appropriate – she just said, I don’t want to look. That is what I would call solid use of the comments section.

Which brings me to the commenters. OH.MY.GOD. There is a seemingly growing population of people on the planet that have infinite amounts of time to dedicate to some sort of personal calling to comment on internet activity. These are trolls. I have had a few trolls. I know who one of them was, and I think I have finally blocked him enough that he cannot comment on my blog and Instagram (my only public pages) and his deal was just that he was (is?) a weird little man who thought I rebuffed him inappropriately. But it was still really annoying to get shitty comments from him. Another one I had was a former coworker who was convinced I was subliminally writing about him in my blog, which I was not, but his misunderstanding was illuminating. I am always surprised at how bad the (poor grammar and spelling aside) words of a total stranger or someone I could really not give two shits about can make me feel when it shows up on my stuff. Do the trolls have their own pages? Agendas? I have no idea, but they freaking should because that would be the right place to vent. Venting on the pages/posts/comments of total strangers just to spread vitriol is so bizarre. And it is like they get a certain kind of joy from just being awful.

Says a lot about society.

While I cannot even begin to grok why you would spend this sort of energy being a dick (and far worse) to total strangers, I am even more mystified by people who would do this to people they know – unless they just don’t want to be friends anymore, which is fine, but “breaking up” on Facebook/Instagram/blog seems pretty lame.

I am grateful for the ability to see what my friends – from near and far – are up to in their lives. It is really fun to see who has gone somewhere amazing, had a new baby, got a new job, and be able to be a spectator. I realize email could do the same thing, but that is a much different interface. Do I want a whole email every time for all these events? I think I prefer being able to look through the “news” feed. It works for me. I also have a growing appreciation for the vastly divergent attitudes and opinions my friends hold around religion, politics, social issues, and life in general. That I am friends with such a diverse group I think says a lot about me and my friends. I don’t need them to change for me, that they are who they are is what I love about them. And I do like having conversations with my friends about our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but this does not happen in the comments. This happens in a pub in Hong Kong, at a secret diner party in SF, poolside in Vegas, on a phone call from Paris, or in email exchanges from Dubai.

In the end “social” suggests being with people and so while social media does endeavor to so this – it is not them same.

And I am okay with this.

The way I choose to use social media works for me. And if it doesn’t work for you, then there are lots of ways to handle that…. (like why are you reading this?) But whatever you do, if you want to remain hopeful for humanity and maintain your sanity… trust me on this: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS.

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[First image from HuffPo, cartoon from unknown source.]

 

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