In search of मन्त्र.

The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- “to think” (also in manas “mind”) and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments, hence a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”

It would seem that the search for mantra begins early in life. Or, at least it did for me. The ubiquitous words to live by, maxims offered in children’s books, sayings… words of wisdom were always right there at the ready, waiting for me to try them out. I let the roll around my mouth, coming tumbling out in various ways and contexts. I thought about them and considered their gravitas. I endeavored to create my own.

People are people no matter how wierd they are. (Spelling, words, and attached art – not pictured – are mine, circa 1976)

I don’t remember when I started collecting quotations, song lyrics, expressions, lines from movies… and the collection has comprised all sorts of representations; collages, repetitive script, artwork, photos, memorization. I definitely was looking for instruments of thought.

It makes sense at a young age to rely on the words of others. People who have more experience in life, or art, or the world, or something, can serve as guides, or teachers. The words can provide validation or support whether or not you even know the person. And it’s nice to feel like someone has been there before – someone really *gets it*. I think that was my first motivation in the search for mantra.

A silly beginner, basic apprentice aggression
In the absence of a master, trying to make up my own lesson – Astronautalis, Oceanwalk

Eventually, my search for mantra had a different purpose. Rather than validation it was more a search for kindred spirits: one’s tribe. Again, this is not for a lack of a tribe of my own, but more of an effort to somehow identify the reach and significance of the tribe. Here came the words of the masters; great poets, singers, novelists….

  • All who wander are not lost!
  • Carpe diem!
  • And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make!
  • Do not go gentle into that good night!
  • Rage rage against the dying of the light!
  • Oh! The places you will go!
  • The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return!
  • Emancipate yourself from mental slavery!
  • Live! Laugh! Love!
  • Dance like no one is watching!
  • Shoot for the moon, you might land in the stars!

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं

This led into my efforts to really study mantra – in the traditional sense. I began to think much more seriously about the power of words and the power of manifestation – like how words can so often become reality, for better or for worse, and how words can provide a path to deeper more effective thinking, concentration, or better yet, a truly quiet mind. Considering that mantra is also defined as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation” this too makes sense in my continuing coexistence with, and search for, mantra.

Om mani padme hum has been a staple for me. This mantra has far too much depth to be covered here, but as the lotus mantra, and the lotus is that which can emerge with beauty and grace from the mud may indicate a bit of its direction. I love studying the yoga sutras and the mantras of the Bhagavad Gita because the relevance of these ancient texts underscores so much of the interconnectedness of life that my age has been beginning to show me.

And as I continued to embrace mantra I started to see how everyone else I saw around me was too – sometimes consciously, other times less so; looking for the perfect tattoo, identifying the perfect quotation for the college essay, or with which to begin each chapter of the new novel, or to get through the next overwhelmingly sad/challenging/devastating/heartbreaking circumstance that will surely come up.

Mantra is also believed to be a spell or weapon of supernatural power…

I think maybe the reminder of mantra can also be protective and maybe that is what drives a lot of people to search for mantra. It certainly drove me last year to a point where I felt compelled to put mantra on my body – out of my mind, my mouth, and on to my skin. This was new for me, and definitely reactive. At a time in my life when I was feeling overwhelmed by all that was happening around me, and needing a reminder that not only could, but that I would, stay the course.

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In hindsight, I am not sure I would have actually gone through with this commitment to mantra had I not been reeling emotionally on so many levels… which is not to say I regret the decision, I do not. But I have found myself feeling shy about it in a way I never anticipated, which makes me wonder.

I chose to get two mantras tattooed on my back in the last year. One, the lotus mantra was less surprising, and somehow, people seem not to ask about it because: I do yoga. I guess that excuses the cultural co-optation. I also chose to represent the mantra in a form that is not generally scripted because I wanted to include a traditional ॐ. I suppose this could be construed as an error – but it is just intentionally archaic. Somehow, that feels apropos for me.

The second piece of mantra I chose to put on my body was a refrain from a song that I listened to on repeat for nearly three months after the sudden loss of three friends near the end of last year. Because the words are in English, people are much more likely to ask about them. And it feels really silly to explain that I have put a song lyric on my grown up body. This is a shyness I am not familiar with. But that bit of mantra – like everything – is so much more than the tattoo. I am not sure if I will add to the tattoo, or change it, or grow into it, but I am so glad for the reminder that in spite of terribly sad times, I do maintain my belief in the good things coming… that nothing is irreparable, or lost forever.

Mantra brings comfort, and is powerful. We have seen this always, prayers, chants, superstitions, cheers, spells. I think even for people who would say they don’t believe in mantra, they would find, upon closer examination, that they actually do. From positive self talk and affirmations, to songs of empowerment and resistance, to calls to action, mantra is there.

And we could do far worse than to seek out interments of thought.

I am no master, I know nothing…
I am a servant and I know something…
I am a witness….

So, this happened. Again.

I am Civic Center Bart waiting for a train around 10:30 am on a Wednesday. The platform is relatively empty… this is not a busy time of day. I am not dressed in any unusual way – I am wearing jeans, a long sweater and flats. I have a scarf around my neck because my hair is pulled back and it is breezy. It is San Francisco, after all. I am wearing sunglasses. I am not wearing my earphones, which I almost always keep in – even though they are mostly off. I am looking at my phone because I am in the midst of a relatively alarming/entertaining group text with two colleagues about the substitute teacher that is apparently unable to do the one thing he had to do for me: pass out some papers.

At this point the train is four minutes out and I hear someone say, “What time is it?” I am stuck by this question because it comes out loud, and sudden, as if I have already been engaged in conversation with this person, and as an aside they have interjected, ‘By the way what time is it?’ There is no segue from this speaker, just, ‘Hey. Tell. Me. What. Time. It. Is.’ By the time I realize he is talking to me I look up then quickly back at my phone and report that it is 10:45.

I look back to my phone and continue to check up on the situation I am missing at school for having reported for my civic duty.

“You’re really cute.” The Man With No Watch Says.

“Thank you.”

“So, you got a husband?”

“I am not going to answer that question.”

“Why? You single?”

“I am not going to answer it because it is a totally inappropriate thing to ask me.”

“Well, do you?”

“It is none of your business and it is not okay for you to be asking me.”

“What? I ask lots of ladies and they don’t think it is inappropriate.”

“Well, maybe you should keep talking to them. I am telling you it is inappropriate and you have no business asking me in the first place, let alone over and over again. It is non of your business, and completely irrelevant to you.”

“What? You having a bad day?”

“No, not really. I am just sick of constantly being hassled by offensive interactions like this.”

“Oh, no I am hassling you? You think I am harassing you?”

“Yes. Actually I do. And I am sick of it.”

“Whatever man. You hella uptight. Does this train go to Fremont?”

I point to the sign that says ‘SAN FRANCISCO/MILLBRAE’.

“Ah, yeah. I see”

And the train comes. I get on the train. I wonder for a moment if Fremont was a ruse and my inquisitor will get on this train with me. It would not be the first time. He does not. I see several seats and decide I will stand because I only have two stops to go. A man standing across from me asks, “How are you today?” And I think to myself, I sure miss the reality in which a question like that really was just a question like that.

I nod.

He lets it go.

When I get off the train and come out to the neighborhood I return to everyday, I see the regular assortment of folks who are always there, regardless of the hour or the weather. Some greet me in a way that indicates neighborhood familiarity. Some are busy doing whatever it is that they do with their days.

None of them ask me if I have a husband.

But it will happen again, likely before I even get to my building.

I wish it would stop. I wish that there was not something inside of me that somehow is programmed to eek out a bit of guilt that I am being snobby or a ‘bitch’ when I don’t want to engage with the strangers who somehow feel they have a right to comment on me, my body, my clothes, my personhood.

I wish it would stop.

Then I am home.

And it stops; at least for the moments I am at home.

Some observations on yoga as lifestyle.

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I just came out of a really nice yoga class, and I feel really good. Yoga has been doing that for me more and more, leaving me feeling differently from how I felt when I went in, but also very distincl from the feeling I used to get after a really satisfying gym workout, or run, or competitive athletic endeavor. It is interesting to pay attention to how I respond to different activities in my life, and as of late I have been really trying to look at how yoga makes me feel. This has been inspired by a number of things not the least of which is my physical well-being. I have not been able to put my finger on to what it is that is different about the yoga feeling, but I have been thinking about it a lot and I have a feeling it may have something to do with this idea of a “yoga lifestyle.”

I find the phrase “yoga lifestyle” hilarious. However, I think it bears consideration that yoga is a lifestyle.

  • If your yoga lifestyle means wearing $100 Lululemon and drinking wine – that is a lifestyle, and it has its own kind of balance.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is putting your freaking amazeballs body in a tiny (probably very expensive) bikini and taking some photos of yourself in impressive asana, that too has its own sort of balance, and is a lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is pretending you have a sanskrit (or you thought it was sanskrit) name and chanting and teaching yoga to other people who feel good in this environment, then that too is a yoga lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is aggressively athletic: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is rigorously ascetic or disciplined: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is loud: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is quiet: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is expensive and opulent: lifestyle.
  • If your yoga lifestyle is homemade and in the park: lifestyle.

Hippe, hottie, gay, straight, earthy, commercial… it is all a lifestyle. So, I find it really strange when yoga people find it necessary to judge all these other lifestyles. And the judgement comes in so many guises, I honestly think that some people think they are not judging, or that they are fooling people into thinking they are not judging (no.) I have been thinking about this a lot lately as so many entities are taking it upon themselves to educate us about what a yoga lifestyle is. (I suppose that is some sort of lifestyle too.) And it is weird because I do not see this intra-community judgment between sports and gym traditions, or Zumba and spinning or something. This is yoga people telling all sorts of other yoga people how they are “doing it right” or not.

What really got me on to this was trying to picture my first yoga teacher participating in this kind of ‘education.’ I had to laugh trying to picture Veer telling people how what they were doing was not yoga, or had the wrong intentions, or was spreading the wrong message.

As if.

Now, to be fair, I began yoga in a unique way, I came to it later in life (I was 37) while living overseas, and I began with a group of teachers who could not have been more authentic: they were native Indians who actually speak and read sanskrit, and had been practicing yoga as a daily element of their lives since birth for no other reason than it is a fundamental part of their lives. That is a lifestyle. These men – they were all men – were extremely orthodox. They were not burning sage, or telling me about my moon cycle and my divine feminine, or being self deprecating and silly, or having live music, or wearing fancy clothes; and they would have never criticized another tradition or practice (read: lifestyle) because that is not their focus. They came to class. The opened with mantra. They instructed and guided the class. They ended the class. Certainly they explained the benefits of poses and explained how women should not practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times, and no one should practice certain asana and pranayama at certain times. They were unforgiving and diligent in their dedication to the practice, and if you wanted to be under their wing, to your practice as well.

This was the yoga imprint I came up with. As a result I happen to have a very orthodox practice. I have strong alignment. I know the sutras. I know the history. I understand how to listen to my body. I also enjoyed the traditional and disciplined nature of my early teachers. They sent me to India and I found myself in an ashram that would never make the cut for my current studio. Simply put, it is too Indian. This too, is a lifestyle.

The thing is, I still like the #whitepeopledoingyoga thing that is going on here in the US. I do not find my yoga background and the myriad interpretations of yogic lifestyle mutually exclusive. Different, yes. But I think the combination lets me get more out of my practice.

These days as I continue to grow my own practice I find myself observing a lot more. This is a big step for me to be able to relax and look outward rather than be fraught with concern about whether or not someone (who I have a 99% probability of not even knowing based on my reluctance to make my yoga lifestyle overly social) thinks I am “doing it right” or “good enough”. When the teacher says “Okay Level 2 and Level 3…” and the ego kicks in desiring to be Level 2 or Level 3, I am better at knowing what is Level Me. (This whole levels thing? So #whitepeopledoingyoga.)

As someone who has always considered herself somewhat of an athlete (save for that 18 month period in which I took a seriously over-zealous approach to the Freshman 15), and also someone who simply does not know how to not be self-conscious about her body, I have found yoga to be a salvation. I love the physicality of it, and I am stronger now than I have been probably at any other time in my life in spite of a less functional body. I love the way I feel when I go into the studio and that I no longer have that feeling like yoga is on my to do list for the day – but that it is a part of my day. I love that I can do some crazy hard asanas and I am earning to accept that I may never be able to do some others. I love that I can surprise my students by beating them in a handstand contest. I love that I am learning  – after eight years of effort – to actually meditate. I love that I have a life that allows me to do yoga whenever I want. I love wearing yoga pants… all the time. I love looking at amazing and beautiful people doing insane asana in beautiful places. I love that #whitpeopledoingyoga in San Francisco underestimate my yoga knowledge all the time because they just finished a 200 hour teacher training. I love that yoga is so dynamic that I can see the changes in my body, my classmates, the demographics and styles of the classes.

And the things I do not like about yoga it turns out are the same things I don’t like in the world: inauthenticity and falseness, insecurity, inaccuracy, gimmickry, arrogance… But the best thing about yoga is I can look at those things now and not like them and let them go. It is like my own little serenity prayer: yoga grant me the mindfulness to accept the things I cannot change, the focus to change the things I can, and the balance to know it is probably all my perception anyhow.

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My Small (home)town.

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Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

I have a complicated relationship with my hometown. Anyone who knows me would easily confirm this. I am not sure if everyone has similar complications with the places from which their roots emanate, though I suspect that fewer and fewer people actually have places that they feel rooted in. Or at least that is how the world feels to me these days.

But not me. In spite of all my best efforts to make it not so, I have a hometown.

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me

This relationship was not always so complicated. For a long time I was wholly committed to total disdain for my hometown. I think a lot of kids just want to get out of wherever they are at some point, but I was sophomorically certain that I was never coming back. Not ever. Because this small town was simply not ever going to be big enough for the likes of me. And I left, like most of us did at some point. Most, but not all.And I kept going… further and wider with little thought as to why, it just seemed like my destiny.

As is often the case, something changed.

I think the first thing that I noticed was that my hometown somehow along the way became a place people wanted to be. Like people were really busting a move to try to get there. It got hip. Or something. Suddenly, the little hick town was a destination.

What?

But something more substantial about my relationship with my hometown was revealing itself to me with more and more strength the further away I got from home (in time and space). As I met more and more people and saw more and more things, and observed the relationships that all these other people had with their people and places, I began to see that the foundation – the roots – from which I came gave me not only a healthy perspective from which to engage with all these people, but actually was the entire reason I could do the things I was doing. I had a safety net: my hometown. No matter what happened to me, or the choices I would make (wisely or not so), I had a place I could return to.

Regardless of the severity of the road or cliff I teetered off and away from, Petaluma was there. Contrary to Robert Frost’s sentiment, in many ways it is not the road but the point of origin which has made all the difference for me.

I have people from my hometown I have known a lifetime who remain steadfast in their commitment to each other – and me. Although I didn’t always see it, in my own way I was there for them, too. And we are unique in our connection to each other, to our families, to our memories, to our town. The world, and our experience in it, being ever-changing and dynamic, means the intricacies of the relationship I have with this place and the people in it continue to change, but our foundation allows for these changes to feel like stretching, not severing or breaking.

But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town

When I go back to visit now, it feels very different. It is so much bigger and “cooler” than I will ever know how to work with, but some little bits of it stay the same. There are still the ever familiar family names, the small town gossip, the drama, the expectations… even if I don’t know a single person I see downtown.

Which is not entirely true either – I do know these people. And I no longer recoil when greeted with the same questions every time I see the same folks: “Not married? No kids?” These days, even though I still fall right back into my adolescent awkwardness, I can embrace it a little more fully and just say, “Nope, not yet.”

I mean really, shared roots or not, I have always been a little bit of an oddball.

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I am hugely grateful that I can go back to Petaluma and be reminded that there are people who really know me deep down and even in non-acceptance, they accept me. I am so grateful that my parents have facilitated this chance to see my hometown in this way later in my life. And my goodness I am grateful for my friends who, all differences included, feel so much more like family than just friends after all this time.

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

You can thank me for this amazingly coiffed John Cougar later. a video circa ’87 just felt so right.

Slow. And mostly steady.

I am slow to let people in. Anyone who knows me at all will attest to this truism. I am, as of yet, unconvinced as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – or if that really matters, maybe it is just a thing. I do know it has caused drama in my life on occasion. For example, Ms. Cort always loves to tell the story of the school picture in 8th grade: she asked me for my photo, I responded by asking why she would want my picture when she didn’t even know me. This did not go down incredibly well, but more than 30 years later we are still friends so I suppose it served its own purpose. (And really, I was a total social misfit and had no idea that school photos – and the number of them – was a status symbol at good old PJHS.) Other times it has caused me more serious drama: the shortest man to ever be my boss did not renew my contract at Albany High School my first year back in the States (instigating a wild week of insane self-doubt about everything in my life: coming back to the US, my career, my personhood) because he said, “You’re not friendly enough.” Of course in the end, it was – as all experiences inevitably become – a universal godsend, but damn son, you basically just told me I need to smile more. (For what it’s worth – his career was in many ways as short as his stature.)

It is not that I am categorically unfriendly. Maybe guarded would be a better word (although that doesn’t sound healthy either). My mom has said, on more than one occasion, that I will talk about anything. Unless it really matters. Maybe. I do know that the few times I have abandoned my habit of being slow to let people in it has almost always been with men, and always a disaster. Fools do rush in, it seems to me.

I was thinking about this today before my yoga class began. Okay, I was still thinking about it as class began and I was trying to clear my mind of the chatter… but hey, baby steps. The reason it came to mind as I walked in to class today was that I saw a friend of mine in the room and we waved at each other as I walked to an available spot. This may seem like a ridiculously small thing. It may actually be a ridiculously small thing. But it stood out to me. I have a friend. From yoga. In fact, I may have more than one. It is weird. I have been going to this yoga studio almost daily for nearly five years. So, why would it be odd that I have friends there? I don’t really have an answer for that question except that for me, it is odd.

Over the past few months, maybe even the past year, I have been noticing a shift, I guess it is a shift in myself, but whatever, something is changing because I seem to have somehow developed a bit of a community at this yoga studio. It is small, and it seems somehow a little fragile – like maybe I shouldn’t eve talk about it out loud, but it is there.

This little group includes a few yoga students I have met simply because we sit – for hours – with each other in often humbling positions. It includes a few yoga teachers, people I am probably more inclined to let into my circle, but nonetheless, slow to do so. The circle also now includes some of the people who work (and practice) at the studio. And there are a few people who I knew otherwise and have come into my yoga experience. It is interesting to sit and think that slowly this has become sort of a group. To which I belong.

Belonging is a strange sensation when you feel used to being on your own, or an observer.

I remember my guruji in Hong Kong telling me he wanted me to be more open and friendly with the people I practiced with there and I explained to him – as I have often done here – that I come to yoga for the quiet and the solitude, that with a job and a life like mine I need that. And Veer simply said, “No.” He said that the quiet I needed did not come from solitude in a group. It would be found in my head through practice and that it was important to be in the group -as an active and willing participant – in order to ever really find the quiet I was looking for. And with that one word that was a clear direction from my teacher, this small, tight-knit group of Chinese women became one of my circles. My friends. They are still people who check in on me (and me them) from afar, and strangely, language and culture aside, we are friends.

So it is not a new phenomenon that I am reluctant to expand my circles. But this very familiar turn of events got me thinking today. Who do I let in? Who do I keep out? Why? Is it some sort of test? Is it a trust issue? Do I like being part of these communities or no? Then my teacher said this:

Who would you be if you weren’t so sure of who you are? Release your gripping and your stories just a little…

And I was like… WOAHHHHHH.

I thought about how much time we spend thinking about who we are, and what makes us “us.” And I thought about how easy it is to use that information to justify our habits and patterns and excuse the things in us that maybe we might need to adjust or change…

Who am I?

  • daughter
  • teacher
  • friend
  • laugher
  • niece
  • cat lady
  • student
  • music lover
  • athlete
  • singleton (tragic spinster?)
  • cousin
  • gluten consumer
  • traveler
  • “writer”
  • talker
  • yoga practitioner
  • sports fan
  • DeadHead
  • shoe lover
  • tattoo wearer
  • control freak
  • ENTJ –> INTJ
  • body dysmorphic
  • fan girl
  • observer
  • neat freak
  • animal lover
  • beer drinker

And what would I be without all that? Just me I guess. Sitting with these people who have their own long lists of who they are, and who have, lists aside, become my friends.

Slowly.

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A San Francisco Stay-cation: Basically a week long advert for my city.

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The last time I blogged about a week spent with the fabulous Ms. R was two years ago on my return from a whirlwind tour of NYC for spring break. A month or so later she joined me for a compare and contrast week on the west coast, but that one didn’t make the blog, because at the time, I felt like it was silly to do like a vacay blog for my own city.

But, if one’s city is San Francisco – how silly is that?

Two years to the week later Ms. R was back in SF, and this time we took the time to both take in, and take on, the City by the Bay.

Spring break comes at such a desperately necessary time for people in my profession. The ides of March seem to know no end for a teacher, and there is not a more liberating feeling mid-year than the final bell on the Friday afternoon leading into the Easter holiday week (although, working in Berkeley, you are not allowed to call it Easter break, lest you offend… but a spring holiday by ANY name would be as sweet.) And on 27 March, at precisely 3:32 I was out the door and on my way home to… well, to home.

The last two years I left town for the break to New York City as I mentioned, and more recently Seattle. But this year, I would be here: a stay-cation. But not just a week of me doing all the things I do – yoga, cooking, reading, taking photos of the cats – I would be hosting Ms. R for a week of Bay Area shenanigans (and, doing all that other stuff too.)

Ms. R was my first friend in Hong Kong when I arrived in 2005 and we seem to have a mutual appreciation for each other that has stood the test of time. One of the more British Brits I know, Ms. R brings a certain standard to all things (and a clear opinion on how all things should be done) that I find educational, entertaining, and enlightening.

And I was prepared:

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From the moment the wheels touched down, we were taking full advantage of all things La Mission and SF. And it went something like this:

Friday: 
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The first night of a vacation may be the sweetest, in the same way that the last night brings a certain melancholy that is unavoidable in its predictability, the anticipation that greets the first Friday is delicious. Home early to kick up my feet, have a beer, watch some basketball and revel in what was to come. It was a segue of perfection.

R arrived around 8:30 out time, and I knew she would be knackered, but we were not missing El Farolito. I mean, come on, it is the Mission. And then we were ensconced in my none too spacious apartment, both so exhausted that it was all we could do to catch up with the basics before heading to bed.

Saturday:
First day out and about – up so early as jet lag can do, but a lovely morning, yoga and then  at least two neighborhoods by foot…

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Through the Mission to Zeitgeist we went for cold beers in the hot sun. (“Your people are just so friendly!”) Then on to Hayes Valley where I sadly learned of a designer I will never afford but will forever covet: Dries Van Noten. This is why Ms. R is:

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Along the way we had macarons and cupcakes from Miette, cocktails and salty snacks at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, as you do, and discovered far too many:

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But Ms. R has a system… it’s all look-y look-y loo… (until it’s not) and seems haphazard – until it’s not. It is like stages in the Tour de France or something – and when we got to Alpe d’Huez…. wowsa.

After a gorgeous day strolling the Mission and Hayes Valley, we had dinner at home and watched basketball. And really, burgers, beers, and basketball can make for a pretty great evening in.

Sunday:
Again, we were up early, figured there was no reason to sleep in – if on London time for Ms. R, so be it… more time to do things. Sometimes the things were like me doing yoga and R taking a walk, and sometimes it was sitting around and chatting over coffee – the coffee still a constant struggle… and although no SF barista has yet had the gall to try to purvey a misto (that is not a word! I hear her declare!) it is still an adventure to find the suitable cup for Ms. R. I had a hair appointment on Sunday and Ms. R was up for the cup and got a blowout as well – so we were all dolled up thanks to Revamp as we headed to Hi Tops to catch some more of the Elite Eight. Because there’s no kind of sports bar like a gay sports bar. [“Yay sports!!”] Plus, as Ms. R pointed out, no other sports bar was going to have a kale salad on the menu, which, it turns out, goes nicely with beer. #healthydrinker

I wanted to get a selfie. It did not happen. Ms. R is not a fan in general.

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After the game we headed downtown for another round of shopping, because: Good Hair.

And eventually we found ourselves back at home. One of the best parts about vacation is that moment you get home on a Sunday night… and you are like, ‘Hey – I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow!’ So, then that was happening.

Monday:
Up early for yoga. Super early, but as was voluntary, freakishly easy to manage. And it was good to get it out of the way because we were entering the Alps [if we are to keep the Tour de France metaphor rolling (yeah, I just did that), which seems apropos as Ms. R will be cycling the whole of the UK later in the year, from bottom to top, as it were] and headed downtown. To shop.

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It is amazing how much shit you never knew you needed when you get out there in the land of the consumer. And while Ms. R had a legit list of things she wanted needed to get while she was here, it turns out that just being in the proximity of a shopper can have an infectious effect on me. And a shopper I became.

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Shoes, dresses, pants, shirts, sweaters, make up… more and more and more. Frankly, it was rather impressive. But we eventually had to cut it short to get to our foot massage at my local, followed by cocktails at one of my Top Five Dives: The Latin American Club and then dinner at my favorite place. Gayle Pirie does such an amazing job with this restaurant – everything is always just right – and her love for the Mission and her local clientele is remarkable. We had a great meal, perfect wine, bubbles and dessert.

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Tuesday:
Started out with a lovely morning at home (I think I even prepared an acceptable cup of coffee…. then some yoga. Then brunch at Plow with my hair guru. Ms. R got to see a few more neighborhoods today – Potrero, the Fillmore, Pac Heights, Union Street… Which of course Ms. R loved. I should have taken her out to Cow Hollow. Next time.

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And eventually, the East Bay.

After a brief respite after our breezy day on the streets of SF, we headed out to one of my favorite venues, The Fox Theater in Oakland. It is a great venue and the surrounding area is just coming up and up and up. So up in fact, it is hard to even choose where to go pre-show. We chose Dogwood and it was a solid choice. A couple of cocktails and some snacks and on to get down with TV on the Radio. This might have been the fourth or fifth time I have seen TVOTR, but every time, they bring it, and this Tuesday evening was no exception. I told Ms. R to observe what happened as soon as the lights went down… and she was suitably impressed (for lack of a better word): “Your people smoke so much weed.” Was her general consensus (although I am sure she was getting used to it with the prolific exhalations from my downstairs neighbor.) And it is sort of funny that smokers have to leave the Fox to smoke cigarettes – but weed? No worries: spark up.

I wanted a selfie of us again. But, no dice.

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Wednesday:
April Fool’s Day. Really, this is such a ridiculous day. Eventually I am going to have to learn to just stay away from social media, because really: lame. But, for now, Noe Valley for breakfast and a strategic strike to Omnivore Books. Then off to Dolores Park, via Rhea’s Deli.

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An afternoon in Dolores Park is hard not to love, even when the wind is beginning to kick up… I suggested a selfie, but…

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We topped off this evening with dinner at a newish neighborhood restaurant called Plin. This restaurant is in a locale with bad juju. The Thai restaurant that used to be in the same space was not very good (likely why I was able to get a table for 18 for my 40th birthday) although they didn’t seem to mind when I stood on my chair – for more than 10 minutes – which could have something to do with why they went out of business. Anyhow, Plin, still has weird juju. Or feng shui. Or whatever you want to call it. And this is too bad because the food is actually really very good. But our consensus was that it will struggle in a neighborhood replete with dining opportunities that are also very good.

After dinner we walked home – and it is just so nice to be able to walk through the neighborhood and enjoy it all. We stopped into The Velvet Scoop for a super yummy treat I was introduced to last fall: frozen custard.

We walked home simply pleased with another full day in the neighborhood.

Thursday:
This would be the one day that Ms. R and I did more or less our own thing… AS I mentioned, she is a young woman with a plan and she had really panned out her trip to perfection. It was an important day – and I will just say, it could not have been more lovely for what was on the agenda.

For me, I reverted back to my more typical routine – did a couple of yoga classes, took care of some errands, and through it all sort of saw the City really differently as I seemed a lot more tuned into things around me, thanks to fresh eyes, I suppose.

San Francisco really is such an amazing city… with all the boroughs, as Ms. R likes to call them, and the vistas, and the sights (“It’s so small. I don’t need a picture of that.” – Ms. R to the Mrs. Doubtfire House.) But also amazing in less fantastic ways, with a painfully abundant homeless population – which simply defies explanation to a person who comes from a nation that provides care for its most vulnerable. There is no acceptable way to explain how it is that so many of our people live without the care they need, on the streets, and this is really apparent when you speak to a European. The same confusion comes up in conversation when in flipping through the news channels it is one violent crime after the next and the question comes up: “What is the deal with your gun laws?” Yeah, I got nothing for you on that. The juxtaposition of our national experiences is fascinating.

When Ms. R returned after her day on the road (“Are you good with driving a car here?” I asked. “I drove a Porsche in Beirut, I think I will be fine.” *crickets*) her comment on American drivers was how much the adhered to the rules of the road. So, yeah, I guess we are better than Madrid and Beirut in one way. Not sure that is winning, but we will take it.

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We had another great neighborhood night in the Mission… We met up with Little E and had drinks at The Chapel, dinner at Tacolicious (a nice challenge for me who has given up chips for lent – the second coming cannot come soon enough when you are staring down a bowl of guacamole and not having tortilla chips), apres dinner drinks at ABV, mildly disrupted by an incredibly short and freakishly intoxicated Mexican man literally being held up and force fed by his amigo… a scene wholly incongruous with the vibe of the bar, but got me ready to go because: vomit potential. Plus, there was ice cream in my future, so why linger?

Friday:
This was my mom’s birthday, and in good form Ms. R agreed to give up some time with my padres. And R was coming up too. So my momma got to have some birthday shenanigans with all her kids.

But before that was going to happen, we headed out to do a bit more shopping. For real (though in returning to the nearly forgotten Tour de France metaphor, we were very much in the final time trial at this point.) A high point of the afternoon was definitely a light lunch at The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. Very posh. I also have to say… the shoe department at Neiman’s will make a grown woman (without a trust fund) cry. Wowsa.

Then it was back to the hood to meet the ‘rents and R. Once all rendezvous’d we started at El Techo for drinks and tapas. Then it was on to pie, because, as T said, “Who doesn’t like pie?” Well – no one, except for R who was off sweets until #HeHasRisen. Plus, there is nothing more hipster than a pie shop in the Mission, except maybe if it were in Bushwick, so you know, when in Rome… And it is really freaking good pie.

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We tried to watch a movie when we got home, but Into The Woods is a really long fairytale mash-up musical for a post cocktail Friday night. I am still trying to work out when that would not seem long…. We failed. But without much disappointment, because one of our most all-American experiences was on the horizon.

Saturday:
Let’s Go OAKLAND! Up early to make our way back to the East Bay with R to see the final exhibition game of spring training – and drink beer, eat hotdogs… and a super-jumbo corn dog too!

I love baseball, and one of the coolest things about Ms. R is that she gets sports, and was not only enthusiastic about the March Madness, but totally for the cup to go to O.Co (especially a cup full of beer. But not Bud Light because, “How many calories are we saving on this beer R?” “Maybe 50?” “Oh, love, no. We are not drinking that again.”)

It was a gorgeous day at the ball park – perhaps a little too gorgeous for my Brit Abroad though. Fortunately a very friendly one of my people had a sachet (packet) of sunscreen – though, in truth too little too late, but the thought was on point. I hope at this point she has gone totally brown.

Although the A’s did not win (insert sad emoji here) I did get to see my adored Barry Zito take the mound in the green and gold once again (last pitches before heading to Triple A Nashville, but hey, I have been wanting to go to Tennessee.) And that was awesome.

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I suggested a selfie of the three of us all kitted out in our A’s gear. But no.

After the game and a lot of laughs (and eye rolls) we headed back to the City where we watched Wisconsin upset Kentucky (WHAT?!?!) and then a a final stop at the local taqueria, followed up with a stroll down to Humphry Slocombe, because one must. Then home for silly movies. I am not sure what it says about us that we made it through We’re The Millers.

Sunday:
He has risen (though, for the first time, the sun did not come out…) And although, I would like to claim some higher spirituality about this – the reality is I was pretty psyched that chips were going to be back on my menu. Initially, when I had been trying to arrange things for the week, I had been unable to find anywhere for Easter brunch. However, apparently we were so charming when we had dinner at Foreign Cinema, that they were able to magically manifest a table for us on Easter Sunday. The perks of being a local I guess. Or good tippers? (No, that couldn’t be, I was with a Brit. Ha. Like the coffee conundrum, Ms. R has substantial issues with tipping. And don’t even get going on the tip jars for counter service…. “You Americans are ruining it for everyone!” So we are friendly and generous. Not too shabby!)

One other thing that Ms. R had wanted to do while here was to try SoulCycle. I have to say, I was more up for this than I thought I might be. It was early and unfamiliar and hard. But it was kind of cool too. So, spinning, packing, and foot massages took us straight into a gorgeous Easter brunch that Ms. R’s mum treated us too, which was pretty sweet. And this was the second Easter brunch Ms. R and I have shared in the past three years, so it is kind of a tradition. Okay, maybe not totally, but it could be. I tagged the two of us in the following photo, because: not a selfie from the week.

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After brunch, it was the load out.

And then she was gone.

The Sunday doldrums can really sneak up on you, something I find particularly perplexing as there is no surprise in their arrival. This Sunday totally faked me out, and not only for it being Easter Sunday, but because it began with all the activity that the past week has brought into my more typically solitary home life, and then, just like that… it was over. Evening arrived, and in spite of it being the brightest moments of an otherwise grey day, all was quiet and still; as if the week itself had not actually happened.

I thought back on Ms. R’s synopsis of ‘my people’ – which always cracks me up:

  • Friendly
  • Weed obsessed
  • Good teeth
  • Big
  • Poor fashion choices
  • Unable to make coffee hot enough
  • And I just have to come back to friendly – because we gotta focus on the bright side…

And as I climbed into bed looking ahead to super fun and amazing Monday morning meetings back at school, it dawned on me:

Yep, this all just happened. In a single week, we did it all. Even without a selfie to prove it.

“The worst kind of people…”

I was on Bart yesterday, only anomalous in that it was a weekend, generally a more Bart free situation for me, and was feeling a little agitated because the trains were running late and I was trying to make a connection to CalTrain to head down the Peninsula to Palo Alto. Of course, I missed the connection and was feeling supper annoyed about this and had to remind myself that I was not actually “late” for anything, and that another train was coming (albeit in almost a half an hour – oh American public transportation how I wish you could pick up the pace a bit) and so I sat in the sun and waited. This turned out to be a good thing, because as I sat in the sun in Millbrae waiting for my train, it gave me time to do some conscious consideration about why I was feeling so out of sorts. Suffice it to say it was not about the missed connection.

Earlier, while I had been on Bart contemplating the likelihood of missing said connection, a gentleman had come through the car. He had a prepared announcement that he was making. The gist of it was that his son was stuck at the airport and could not board a plane because he had no money for luggage fees. This man gave quite a lot of details, the airline info, that he had been talking to Bart police, that he was desperate because if his son did not get back to Chicago he would lose his visitation rights, where he worked, and various assurances that he was telling the truth. And then he said he had a military ID because he was a veteran.

A couple of things to note about this: just about every day that I ride Bart, at least once someone will be working their way through the cars of the train asking for some sort of assistance. It may be food, or money, sometimes even clothes. Every day. Just about all of them have a story they share. Some are long, some are short. I sometimes listen, I sometimes do not. I also have a tendency to assume that the more detail that is offered the less likely it is that the story I am hearing is really true, like, in a factually accurate way. But I am pretty sure that is not the point.

Yesterday, as this man, John he said his name was, finished his story I gave him a $1. I might have given him two. I happened to have some singles in my hand and I was on the way to meet some friends in a bar to spend far more money than that on things I really and truly do not need. As I handed him the money he gave me the regular “God bless” and all that, and that is nice, or at least better than the “fuck yous” we so often get from our fellow humans, and I nodded and went back to thinking about my inconsequential missed connection.

The next thing I knew a young man sitting behind me was demanding to see the military ID that John had said he had. “I just want to see the ID!’ He yelled out as John worked the car. “It doesn’t look like a real ID!” John kept on going and this man was getting really annoyed. “This is a scam!” He yelled out. “I know! I am a veteran. It is a really good scam but he is lying to you!” He was treating this like a PSA for the car. He continued, “You people are getting robbed, this is a scam – it is a good one, but it is a scam!” He took a breath. “These are the worst kind of people!” He yelled. “Impersonating military personnel. The worst.” By this time John had moved on to the next car, but the orator behind the PSA was really wanting to make sure people knew that he knew what was up.

The worst kind of people? I thought. In a world with the Westboro Baptist church, this guy was the worst kind of people? In a world with racist young men who chant they “would rather see a nigger hang from a tree than be an SAE”, and then cry that their entire group is painted in a negative light for the actions of a fewthis guy on asking for money on a train was the worst kind of people? When we see organizations televising beheadings, or individuals going into schools with guns and killing everyone they see with automatic weapons, a hustler on the train is the worst kind of people? Surrounded by scandalous lying politicians, greedy corporate entities that are profiting on the ruination of the environment, animal abusers, child abusers, spousal abusers, rapists, murderers, and fucking plain old mean people…. this guy asking for money on the train earned the label  the worst kind of people?

I don’t think so.

I don’t know if John was telling the truth. As I said, the more detail I hear, the less of it I cling to as fact. But that is hardly the real issue. If someone gets to the point where they are publicly putting themselves out there to ask strangers for money – something has gone horribly awry. Regardless of the situation, something is no longer working. And if I see people every single day at both ends of my commute and throughout it who are in a situation where they have to ask people for money – the reason they are asking for the money is not my concern. Maybe Mr. PSA thinks that there is a more virtuous way to be poor. Maybe he thinks if someone is busking, they could rightly ask for a handout. Maybe he thinks if some one is a drug addict or a drunk they do not deserve a handout, but if they are quietly holding their hand out for alms, they are worthy. I do not really know. The fact is, that by the time someone is asking strangers for spare change, something has changed in their life in such a way that they have arrived at a place very few people I know could ever understand. Do the reasons matter? I imagine John and others like him have worked out that people like a story – a reason or a justification, for giving. I imagine saying, “I am a man who cannot meet his needs today because circumstances suck,” is not such a great story. I imagine that as people decide who to give money to they do a lot of thinking about whether this person “brought it on themselves” or is “scamming” or “working the system.” I cannot imagine that given the choice many folks would choose to beg over self-sufficiency, though I certainly have friends who say it is so.

I am far more concerned about the fact that I live in a country with the greatest wealth ever known and am faced with unbelievable poverty on the daily. I gave John two bucks because I do not care what his story is. I do not care if he is going to use those two dollars for a beer, for a room for the night, for a burger, or to pay a luggage fee for his kid, or he just needs some cash. I care that we have so many people who cannot meet their daily needs that it is no longer fair, accurate, or relevant to say that “they brought it on themselves.”

The worst kind of people? Oh, I have a list for you… and I can assure you John is not on it.