Ziggy played guitar.

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I woke up this morning like millions of other people to the news of the death of David Bowie. Like those millions of other people I was shocked to the point of disbelief, and surprisingly devastated by my sadness. I felt like I had lost someone I knew. I am sure this was exacerbated by the fact that it was, for those of us not in the know, a complete surprise. Not to mention the fact that there are some people you cannot imagine the world without, and David Bowie is definitely one of those eternal souls.

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I listened to his music all morning and was somehow consoled by the fact that my social media feeds were completely and totally dedicated to Bowie. That all my friends felt – maybe as unwittingly as I had, or maybe not – as equally distraught by this loss made me feel like it was okay to be feeling the way I was.

And that was what David Bowie always did.

He made it okay to be who we were.

There are hundreds, more likely thousands of tributes and testaments and honorifics that emerged instantly from his star dust. And I probably don’t need to add one more. Still, so much has been said about how Bowie was there for the “weird kids” or the oddballs, or the ones that didn’t fit in. But he was more than that.

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David Bowie was so damn cool that he gave the generic kids – the kids like me who weren’t edgy or cool or different enough – a”in” in the same way he gave the aforementioned people validity and acceptance. I cannot think of another person who had that much cool: enough for everyone.

By simultaneously giving a voice and validity to kids who didn’t fit in so easily and showing the kids who needed an extra push to step out of the pains of adolescent (or other) conformity, Bowie became a conduit to a kind of energy that changed my generation entirely.

He fed us pure inspiration, beautifully strange and always unpredictable, yet somehow everything made perfect sense. No other musician was more influential for our generation. David was a pioneer, and inventor, a space traveller, a superhero, a truly astonishing songwriter and a friend. – Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran

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In 1983, I was tall, skinny, awkward, and trying to figure out what mattered to me at a really weird time to be alive. I listened to this album non-stop for nearly two years and was completely taken with the tall graceful man who defied any sort of label my 7th grade self could come up with. 

Suddenly, I had someone who helped me be a little less awkward and something that I knew mattered.

The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.

That he mattered this much to so many other people who I never understood were just as desperate to find an entity-oddity-starman like Bowie makes me feel connected to humanity in a way that defies explanation but seems even more important with every passing day of my life.

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Ubiquitous, ever-present, fluid, transcendent.

He will be king.

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we’re lovers, and that is that…

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[All images from public domain.]

Where were we, now? Je suis Paris!

As it happens, I began this post one week before the bombings that took place in Paris this past November. And further (as it happens) I was consumed with sadness, frustration, and degrees of separation as I followed the stories that emerged following the attacks. I did what so many did and looked at maps and wondered, “Had I been there?” “Did I see that place?” And of course, I also recoiled and braced myself for the inevitable onslaught of hatred and vitriol that would certainly rise from the dust… the Islamaphobia, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bile. And of course, this was all around keeping the internet buzzing for days. But it did not come from Paris. What came from Paris spoke to exactly what makes Paris what it is: Parisians were not filled with fear and hate. They were not screaming about the danger and immoral nature of all people of a certain creed, ethnicity, or faith. They remained, as ever, precisely what purveyors of terror loathe: compassionate, brave, loving. Of course they were hurting and mourning but they did not let that change who they were fundamentally – at heart. For this reason, Paris won. And Paris will continue to be victorious. We (especially in my own hate-riddled nation) should all take a lesson from Paris.

Friends from the whole world, thank you for #prayforParis, but we don’t need more religion! Our faith goes to music! Kissing! Life! Champagne and joy! #Parisisaboutlife

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And this is the spirit of Paris that I experienced and adored for my brief shining days in the City of Light this summer.

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Ah, yes… Paris. Back to the city of love & light to celebrate Bastille Day! We had the good fortune to be able to stay in JM’s place in the 15th Arr. for the fete. Although he fills the space with Airbnb when he is not there, he was willing to let us squat, with one condition, one of his renters wanted to stay an extra night, which meant he would be there with us. Who were we to complain? We were in a gorgeous flat practically under the Tour Eiffel.

When we arrived, it was clear that Leon had just woken up, ah! to be a young college student on the loose in Europe again. He was sweet, if overwhelmed, as four women with what seemed like an over abundance of stuff for our brief stay (But hey! Preparation!) rolled in. As we came in Leon asked me if I was American. As I had begun to do over the previous week, I immediately apologized as I said yes (it is easy to do when one receives a regular amount of criticism for which they are immediately forgiven, “because you’re American”). Leon laughed and said, “No! I love Americans!”

Now this was a nice turn of events. Leon is a grad student in Warsaw (and one helluva smart cookie, I might add) and he had a bunch of questions about the States. He especially wanted to know about California (because who wouldn’t, says this California girl) and surfing. I told him that I had gone to school in San Diego. He looked at me with total surprise, “Really? I am going there on a doctoral exchange next year!” [Hi Leon!]

I mean, really, what are the odds? I guess they are greater than I would imagine because this sort of thing seems to keep happening, but really, this seemed so intentionally, randomly perfect: a Polish student just staying one more night because Paris, and in the house we were staying in because, Paris, and so on and so forth, because: Paris.

For Bastille Day we would stroll the city and make a picnic (here again, the dilemma of the picnic) and there was a concert in in the park at the Tour Eiffel and then of course, fireworks. The city was buzzing. And Paris has a very unique buzz (because, say it with me: Paris). It is hard to articulate… and now I find myself these weeks later still committed to writing about this summer, and the details get fuzzier, but the sensations remain palpable. The city was touched with the kind of afternoon light that remains in the northern latitudes during summer. It was warm in that way of urban places, a little sticky but not humid like we had all come to known in our years in SE Asia, a little gritty, and full up with people in various stages of their day. There was a general sense that everyone in doing their own things was also generally moving in concert with everyone else. Streets were being closed and people rerouted and everyone just seemed to be moving along, changing course when nice young French officers of the law said to do so. Maybe it was all the wine….

We had brought sandwiches (which I made, so, yum) and wine. Interestingly, we could not bring the wine bottle into to park, which explained this odd phenomenon we had been witnessing, which was people buying and then dumping out myriad bottles of water. Ahh… the wine receptacle! We followed suit. I bought a standard water bottle and drank some and dumped the rest. Then we poured the wine into the bottle. We were confused, had we purchased a lilliputian bottle of wine? Why did it seem like there was so little? Was the water bottle so big? Our volume-based comprehension hilariously off, we shrugged at our little tiny amount of wine in our giant water bottle and headed in. On seeing our teeny weenie wine stash the officers stopped us – mon dieu! “No caps on bottles!” They demanded.

What?

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Okay then, we carried on with our open sloshy bottle of wine. In hindsight, that a full bottle, plastic or otherwise, was their biggest concern seems quaint and of a time gone by.

When we arrived for the concert, seating was unavailable, as I had predicted and Frenchie had pooh-poohed. We finally just plopped down on the ground next to a lovely group of older tourists, a very jovial and friendly group of South Americans in front of us, and two sweet young Vietnamese students to our left. We made conversation, ate sandwiches, drank wine, helped people mop up spilled wine, talked about tattoos with the older folks behind us, and took in the fete. It was a basic international delight.

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We planned on only taking in some of the show, and to walk back to meet Nic for the fireworks. A plan easier to conceptualize than to actualize. The throngs of people were so dense at times it seemed like we were all part of one gigantic freakish humanoid organism. We had previously deduced that getting across the river (to a better view) would be impossible with the street closures and such, so we would stay in the 15th and made our way. And really, being in central Paris for Bastille Day was not going to suck anywhere that we found ourselves. (Although, after much time to talk about it on the latter part of our journey and even more since we have all been back, I know that Frenchie was still, ever consumed with ensuring that her ill-prepared compadre [*raises hand*] and her actually ill compadre [Nic] were having a the perfect Paris experience. If only I could have better communicated at the time that for us – and I take the liberty to speak for Nic here – anything and everything was perfect.)

We slowly made our way back to the flat and found to our chagrin (more to hers I am sure) that Nic was still under the weather. No bother, we scooped her up and headed for a vantage point for the fireworks.

As did everyone else in greater Paris at that moment.

Despite of being in a kind of funny spot near the metro station on the Boulevard de Grenelle, the entire spectacle was just that: spectacular spectacular!

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And there it was. The city of light.

When I heard that the Tour Eiffel had gone dark to mourn the victims of the November 13 attack, I could not imagine what it would look like, such a contrast to the Paris I had seen aglow with light. We should all be so lucky to say je suis Paris.

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Planes, Trains, and Cremains.

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I went to Europe this summer. This trip was both totally spontaneous and not. The nutshell version of the trip is that five years ago I left Hong Kong and a community I wasn’t even totally aware I had become a part of and on my way out I made a plan/promise/wish to meet Frenchie and Nickie in Paris in five years.

Now, as luck would have it I saw Frenchie a few times throughout the ensuing time period – once in San Francisco and twice in Hong Kong – and each time we sort of talked about it but not really. And so last winter as a very tumultuous painful are-you-fucking-kidding-me kind of year wrapped up I decided I would buy tickets to fly to Europe. I had saved no money for this ad/venture and had only a vague idea of appropriate dates, but on New Year’s Eve I, along with two other people who had had equally challenging 2014s, made a promise to get busy living. So I threw down and bought the tickets.

As luck would have it the dates worked out.

Kind of.

My arrival time in Paris was a little too early for Frenchie and so she wondered if I could change it – no, the ticket was to cheap for that, but I had an idea. I had considered flying into Heathrow and spending a bit of time in London before Paris originally, but airfare to Heathrow is about a third more than it is to De Gaulle for reasons a lot of pilots tried to explain to me and still sound shady. But now, I would be arriving in Paris too early to meet my French friend and something told me Paris was not where I would want to regain my vagabond legs alone (and I was right about that btw) so I decided to book passage on the Eurostar and go to London after all. I would only be there for three days which is clearly not enough time, but it is some time, and frankly sounded nicer than making my way around Paris aimlessly on my own for a few days.

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I landed at Charles De Gaulle International Airport around 7:00 am on July 7. I was immediately aware of how much shorter a ten-hour flight feels in comparison to the thirteen hour-long haul I had become accustomed to. Even on American Airlines, which is not a really awesome flying experience. It is weird that those three hours can make such a difference. Anyhow, there I was: groggy, Euro-free, new passport in hand (I had fortunately realized when booking tickets to Mexico for earlier in the summer that my passport had gone and expired. I likely would have never noticed this until far after the fact otherwise. But its emptiness ended up being an issue.)

I was in and out of immigration and the airport (no checked luggage – for a month – make a note) in a shockingly short time. The immigration control in Paris was, it would turn out, quite Parisian: he never even looked at me. As I handed him my passport he was clearly vested in a conversation with his coworker and was not going to pause for me. Not that he made me wait or anything, he just slid my passport through the machine, handed it to me and kept on conversing. He never even looked up at my face. Interesting.

From here I walked on, getting notably hungrier and tired-er, both conditions which have negative influences on my ability to make decisions and discern various shades of reality. I found an ATM! Huzzah. I got some money and walked over to a cafe. I looked at the menu and I just couldn’t even (also an omen as it turns out the French have a shocking misunderstanding of coffee.) Walking a little further on, I found an information office to ask how to make my way to Gare du Nord where I would catch my train to London St. Pancras. The second most handsome man I had seen so far (the first was a handler for the airlines who really should have been naked in a Calvin Klein advertisement on a billboard somewhere preferably where I might see it all the time) was sitting behind the desk. After I choked out some shitty version of nahn parlay Frahn-say, he smiled and said, “No problem, how can I help you?” in the best English I had heard since I left San Francisco – and I had had a lay over in the States. Well, Texas, but basically. From this point I knew where and how to get to the train station. In fact, the information was so perfect that I would end up being stupidly early for my train leading to painful amounts of tired-in-a-public-place, which I have long outgrown along with my backpacker days.

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Once at Gare du Nord I was facing a two-hour wait and heaving fatigue. I tried coffee. I tried a baguette with brie and ham (it was quite tasty, but really not helpful). I tried water. I tried more coffee. Nope, nope, nope, and nope. So tired.

Finally, it was time to move through customs to board the train for London. I handed my passport to the Englishman at the customs gate. He looked like a jolly old chap. Fat, grey haired, wearing a cartoonish kind of conductor’s hat like he belonged in some old movie. Then he looked at me. He looked like Brick Top. This was not good.

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He looked at the passport. He began flipping through the pages. He looked at me. He continued flipping.

“Where are you coming from?”
“The US.”
“How long you going to be in the UK?”
“Oh, just a couple of days, uh, until Friday.”
“Why such a short visit?”
“Um, it is all I had time for…?”
“Who are you staying with?”
“Some friends?”
“What is their nationality?”
“I, um, I am not really sure, I…”
“What passports do they hold?”
“Uh, I really don’t know, British I guess?”
“How do you know them?”
“Umm, we met in Hong Kong?”
“What were you doing in Hong Kong?”
“Working?”
“Did you work with these people?”
“No…”
“Then how did you meet them?”
“I am not sure? Other friends I guess?”
“What will you be doing while you are in Britain?”
“I, I am not really sure, seeing some people, going to some museums maybe?”
“What is your address while in the UK?”
“I, um… oh! Bow! I am staying in Bow!”

I was so chuffed to finally have a real freaking answer for this man because I am sure he had begun to notice my sweat, for which I suddenly feared his interpretation.

“Do you know the address?”
“No.”

Flip. Flip. Flip. Flip.

STAMP.

“Move on to the left.”

I couldn’t be sure if this was the universe offering balance for the ridiculously uninterested French passport control, but I was literally a hot, sweaty, flustered mess when Brick Top was done with me. No wonder people with nothing to hide get tripped up by authority figures all the time. Horrifying.

And you know, he had to stamp my passport on some random page in the middle of the damn thing. Because: WHO DOES THAT? Brick Top, that is who.

By the time I found my seat on the (pretty awesome) Eurostar I was getting that loopy feeling you get when you are exhausted, hungry, dehydrated, and afraid you might be deported. As a result, I managed to: break my plug adapter for the UK, lose my favorite scarf, and miss most of a ride I wanted to see.

But I was heading to London, where I graciously had a place to sleep, places to go, and some people to see for my three days in and around the city. Plus, the train ride gave me enough conscious time to reconnect with that feeling of pure excitement for upcoming adventures brought on by travel – and the reality that this was only the first of myriad steps I would take on this trip that would never have been possible without the kindness and generosity of friends I have made in all kinds of crazy ways all around the world. Those were nice thoughts to doze off to.

And then, there I was.

With only sporadic wifi I was trying to make contact with my hostess for the next couple of days and basically just giving it up to the powers that be that it would work out. I easily made my way to the correct train – and I will say this about the London Underground, y’all have your shit sorted (except when you do not – more on that in a mo) but seriously? You need to price check yourself… And soon enough I was in East London. And as I came up out of the station a super cute, kind of familiar, young guy came up to me with Stevie, a Staffordshire Terrier who I definitely recognized. Just like that, it all worked out. Josh asked where my luggage was as we walked back to the flat, and I basically felt like I had won the lottery: “Nowhere, this is all I have.” I took glee in being momentarily totally impressive (or insane, I don’t really know Josh, but I’m going to go with impressive.) He had been visiting Awon and Mark too, and he was familiar to me because, you guessed it: Lamma.

It was a full house, as Awon’s mom – another friend of mine from Lamma was also visiting, but the kindness of my friends seems infinite. When Awon returned from her studio – oh, did I not mention that this friend of mine decided a few years back to take a course in millinery and she is now sort of a big deal? Yeah, check her for sure – we went down the pub because, London.

I knew I wasn’t really “doing” London up in a big touristy way, I had a couple important items on my personal agenda, but otherwise I really was just there to sort of take in the air. And how fortunate seeing as the Underground decided to strike while I was there. That was epic. And by epic I of course mean: WTF London. But most importantly, staying with Awon and Mark made this all possible and I look forward to giving over my place to them when they decide they are ready to take in San Francisco.

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First on my agenda was to meet up with Stu’s sister. This was something that I just knew I had to do, and although I went back and forth between being super nervous and super excited and in the end, I just sort of let go and realized that it would be as it should be (that’s so Stu). The thing is, in a lot of ways the reason I was even in London staying with the people I was had to do with Stu… my return to Lamma, his extended network of friends and acquaintances becoming mine, which is not to say I wouldn’t have met these people otherwise, it is just that I actually did meet them because of him. And to a further point, it was his untimely, tragic, and incongruously surprising death that brought everything back into focus for me and set the tone for the shift that got me moving again – it is so easy to fall into stasis – towards a place where I would up and buy tickets for an unplanned trip to Europe in the first place. That might sound all new-agey and trite, and it may be. But sometimes we need a kick in the head, and it is hard to predict where that might come from. And when Stu died, a lot of really amazing people emerged in my life, and this summer that turns out to have made quite a difference. My kick was less about Stu, or Stu and me, and much more about a not so gentle reminder (again, that’s so Stu) to live the life you want to live and not the one you convince yourself you need to live.

So now here I was and there was an impending tube strike and that was to be avoided. Fortunately the overground trains would not be affected and so to Hockley I went. I had some trepidation – Hockley has a reputation… somewhere along the lines of New Jersey. Or maybe more like Fresno. Or Reno. Except the thing about South End-on-Sea is that it is actually really pretty and it has all the elements of a small town I grew up familiar with, both good and bad. In short, I had a fabulous time.

I arrived and she was waiting for me and in spite of never having met in person there we were. When I think back on it I am still not sure why it was that I felt like I really wanted to meet her, but I am definitely glad I followed through. I think initially there had been talk about the fact that Stu would have really wanted his ashes to be in Lamma – and so maybe we could make that happen. But time passed and urgency subsided and so I was not sure that was it. Then there was the fact that she had been so open and kind to all of us who clamored to her virtual door on learning about Stu, something she did not need to do, and her generosity of spirit was incredible. There was another part of wanting to meet her, like a bit of a missing puzzle piece, because Stu had been so cagey about his family and had crafted the necessary stories that one would, given his proclivities. I kind of felt like somehow I might understand everything better if I met his people.

We went to the local cooperative funeral home – it happens to be where she works as the director. Her son, Stu’s nephew also works there. The full circle-ness is not lost on me and actually has many more layers than I will retell here. But I will say that to meet Stu’s nephew was… powerful. There is something very Stu about him: he is a seeker. I was impressed. We went to the crematorium where the service had been and where Stu’s ashes were buried.

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Now, I have had more experience with cremains than I would like to have had in the past year. In fact, one could almost say that at a certain point the death rituals become macabre to a point of inevitable humor. You may never think you will have a Lebowski moment, but I can assure you – it is possible that you may find yourself sorting through a friend’s ashes with a plastic fork looking for some sort token that might have been placed in them to prevent illegal disposal while sitting in the lovely back garden of a pub (there was no token), or you may find yourself on the other side of the world traipsing around under a tree where, here or there, your ex’s cremains may be buried, but eh, that’s really just a formality isn’t it? And the whole thing just becomes sort of absurd in this really touching way: yes, these are ashes, cremains… but this is not your people. It is just some strange reminder that they were here. However the far better evidence of their having been here with us for a time are the relationships and friendships that have been carved out of the wake of their departure. And I like to think that my people would appreciate our collective touches of irreverence in the end.

What is death, if not absurd, when you really get down to it.

We left flowers for Stu and got to talk about all the things that you can’t really talk about in email or Facebook messenger. I’d say we had a moment.

And then we went to the pub.

We had lunch at the Bull and then headed to the local: Spa Hockley. It was a top afternoon, honestly, I could not have imagined it better.

When it came time to leave, there was one more thing for me to grab. So, there we were in  the parking lot of the pub, passing ashes… and not for the first time this year did I find myself in such a scenario. I was shown how the container (sealed) could be used as sort of a, um, shaker… like a salt shaker, to spread the ashes (ostensibly to avoid a Lebowski). Oh, and I had a note in case there were any issues with customs because apparently smuggling contraband in ashes is now a thing. That being a concern and these being Stu’s ashes seemed to have a perfect sort of cosmic symmetry in effect.

And then I was saying goodbye, and back on a train to East London. Full disclosure, I got a little emotional on the ride home. But the good kind, you know, more like gratitude than sorrow, but still, the sadness gets in there too.

On further consideration as the train rolled into Stratford, when I thought about the reality that Stu was going to get yet another all expenses paid vacation on me as I was now destined to carry him across Europe and back to the States, I really couldn’t help but laugh. I mean really, that fucker, god love him.

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The two days I had left in London were not totally as I had planned because, well, I had not planned. And then the tube went on strike. I wasn’t sure how big of a deal it might be. Let’s just say this: it was big. I persevered and took a bus – or rather I got on a bus, but it couldn’t actually drive anywhere, so I disembarked and walked and talked with people and saw some of the city under shockingly blue skies.

I saw the Thames, the EYE, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circle, Leicester Square, Soho, Westminster Abbey… you know, a lot of stuff really. Needless to say, I was well tired on my return and ready for a nice cold pint.

The day of my departure I would be meeting one of my friends from Prashanti Kutiram. Although we had lived together for a month in what I will only describe here as rather rudimentary confines, we had not seen each other in five years, but like so many have also discovered, the relationships you forge when you are far afield seem to have a special sort of staying power.

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This particular friend has just had a baby and so logistics remained flexible – how nice that I had not gotten around to planning. We would meet near St. Pancras where I would be jumping back on the Eurostar to return to Paris. This “plan” allowed me to wander around the East End of London a bit and then move towards Whitechapel where I wandered around the Whitechapel Gallery and then spent some time strolling up Brick Lane towards Shoreditch. In the same way I had to check out Williamsburg and Bushwick because everyone says they are the equivalent neighborhoods to my own in San Francisco… I had to view the London version of the scene. I could feel it for sure.

To the station I went after gathering my things at the gallery where they were totally cool to let me leave my bag for several hours. London’s East End is really quite ideal. For the little I know, I gather it is the area I would land in were I there. But I will never be there because London is doing their best to make SF seem affordable, and let’s just talk about what a load of shite that is.

I boarded the train at St. Pancras with nary a nod to my passport heading back to France. In less than three hours I would be meeting Frenchie to commence the next segment of my trip. I thought on my brief three days in London and realized I was leaving without a photo of Stu’s family or my fab hosts in Bow. I guess we had been to busy in the moment to capture it and relegate it to a status update for others. Maybe next time.

I suppose it is true what Andy Dufresne said, “You gotta get busy living, or get busy dying.”

That’s goddamn right.

I believe in the good things coming.

I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
Out of darkness lion heart pumpin’, pumpin’, pumpin’
Into white light all things runnin’, runnin’, runnin’ runnin’
Who have I been, who am I becomin’?
Come in, come in, come in
Deep breaths for a young man learnin’, learnin’, learnin’
Take a walk with the cedars hummin’,
Cityscape, pink sunset stunnin’
Every empty space is fitting’, every fire kindle burnin’

The San Francisco morning today is glorious. Truly, the kind of morning that gives a person pause and makes you wonder how a sky can really be that blue. It is cold and quiet and still (not always the case in my neighborhood) and I am warm in my tiny apartment surrounded by cats, light, music, and the smell of strong coffee. I feel rested (pretty much), and healthy (mostly), and interested in what another new year might reveal.

The New Year always brings with it the collective desire to reflect, recall, project, plan… hope, I suppose. Or at least for me it does. I love the new year like I love the start of a new school year, (and the upcoming lunar new year as well, if I need a quick opportunity to have a 2015 mulligan… and if that fails, there is always Songkran) because there is this sense of a fresh start and yadda, yadda, yadda. The funny thing is – the reality (because reality IS funny) – is that this sense of a fresh start is available anytime, right? I mean, every spiritual teaching, 12-step program, life coach, preacher, teacher, whatever… has been saying this forever (maybe Buddha didn’t, but he probably knew it.)

Still, there is something culminating and bigger about the turning of the calendar year that I know I will always choose to embrace.

This year feels very different to me. I get it on some levels… Last year on New Year’s Eve I said a forceful goodbye to the Cowboy – now #6 – and had a lot of alone time in the transition from 2013 to 2014 to consider how it was again that I found myself in such an unpleasant predicament. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… lessons not learned… I know.) But I am unclear (in an optimistic way) about what it is about 2015 that feels so different. Maybe it is, as Jung said, that “life really does begin at 40, up until then you are just doing research” and as the traditionalist that I am, I had to complete a four year program of study to work shit out. Regardless, it feels different.

In some ways I played a lot of the same mental games this year that I have long been working to overcome – fretting over not being good enough at work, body issues, looking for love in all the wrong places – how fucking banal. But I do feel like these particulars have been less significant, or at least I have been able to look more objectively at the ridiculousness, and walk away.

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In other ways this year was devastatingly different than years past. Perhaps it is related to age, perhaps it is a consequence of the life I have lived and the experiences I’ve been offered, but this year was colored with loss in ways I was not prepared for – if you ever are.

In May Stuart died. This touched me in surprising and important ways. It was also a catalyst to halting another relationship I had come to depend on in (likely) unhealthy ways. It was a transformative experience to be judged for my honest and deep feelings around this loss, and it taught me that authenticity matters more than reception, and that was immeasurably cathartic. Nothing good gets away.

This November, while at our fall student retreat in the Marin Headlands, I was talking with my team and noted that my life since returning from Hong Kong had been so uniform in its distribution of loss: I had lost someone very significant in every school year since I had come home. My first year back I said good bye to my grandmother. My second year, a person who had been a sister to me in some ways because her brother – also no longer with us but will always remain the Hunter to my Thompson, was violently taken from us in a story that still rings incompatible with the ideas I hold about my life. In my third year back, I lost a cousin in literal ways, although he had left us metaphorically years before, but whose death in its mystery and isolation cut deep. Then there was Stuart. I said to my colleagues, not lightly, that it gave me pause to think about what this school year would hold.

Less than two weeks later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found out a college classmate and friend had died suddenly leaving a wife and three young children behind, a long time friend from Lamma had died – home and alone, and my friend Sue, someone I considered a kindred spirit in so many ways during my Hong Kong transformation, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was stunned as I sat with all the news in my parents’ kitchen in Petaluma.

So I suppose it is not without reason that I sit quietly at this new year and wonder what will come.

Suddenly, maintaining something – anything! – simply because it is how it’s always been done, or it is safe – or, god… the most horrible adjective I heard this year to describe a life: it is sustainable – seems not just uninspired, but… terminal.

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I am ready for big changes, while knowing nothing comes easy. I am ready to let go and really see what is on offer. Because, really what other choice is there?

So what of 2014? Well, according to Facebook it was something like this:

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I guess that captures a lot of it: LIFE. LOVE. FEAR. REMEMBER. ACCEPT. FEEL. AMAZING. BETTER. SOMETIMES. WORK. SAY. SOMETHING. CHOICE. PEOPLE. YOGA. FRIENDS. STUDENTS. TEACHER. GRATEFUL. CARE. TOMORROW. PERSPECTIVE. EXPERIENCE.

According to Instagram it was something like this:

And truly, I am – to a degree – a sum of these parts. But like everyone you meet… I also am more than that.

I am more than the solitary girl taken by surprise as I found myself again on my own on the eve of 2014, and although so relieved and happy for it, deeply sad. January got into dark corners as I emptied what I hope will be the last storage space I have to deal with for a very long time, took me back as I pawed through old photos and had two new years in one month as the lunar new year fell on the 31st. The symmetry was necessary.

I am more than the girl who went home to watch her coach in his regular season finale on the home court all these years later, with one of the best friends a person could ask for by her side, reminding her all the while that everything is only what it is. February was brief, dark, busy with field trips and shitty professional evaluations, papers to grade, cats to pet.

I am more than the girl who had to bust some of her favorite students for smoking weed at our overnight retreat and only wanted to retreat herself. March, as it does, brought with it the promise of spring break… if we could just get through. There were moments I was unsure of the outcome and in my struggle I recalled the words of some of my heroes… HST, Bukowski, OkGo… This too shall pass. And it did.

I am more than the girl who took an extra spring break – first going to the Pacific Northwest and catching up with a traveling companion from Europe ’93 while melting into my second family on Fox Island, and second, heading to Indio to return to Coachella. April seemed like a reward I was unsure I deserved for something I was unsure I had done. This precariousness would manifest with a vengeance in May.

I am more than the girl who sat with the news of the death of the man who had asked her if she would “stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back?” And warned her to stay clear of pirates though he was one… and shook with grief. May showed me that there are those who will always be there for you regardless of time or distance, in the best or worst times, and there are those who will not. And when things seem worse than you can imagine, there is always another music festival to go to in order to restore your spirits: De La Soul is not dead.

I am more than the girl who got out of another school year alive, and with some noteworthy successes along the way. With June came the euphoria of another summer break. Yoga, the Petaluma fair, Oakland A’s baseball, time with mom, and gorgeous weather all served to remind me that great rewards will only ever come from concentrated effort, and that is okay.

I am more than the girl who knew at the core of her being that it was time to return to Hong Kong, to Lamma, to the family who had taught her that she was a true citizen of the world and launched her into a previously unknown realm of possibility. July found me in other roles I was unaware I would take on but was glad to be available for friends and family in deep and important ways… and ever grateful that they were there for me too. I was definitely feeling Fancy from SF to Hong Kong-o.

I am more than the girl who made the most of her last weeks before returning to school at Outside Lands and in the wild outsides of North Idaho, places I had not visited since 2010. August was healing, and familial, and musical, and fun-sicle. Unless you were a young black man. There were bikers, unicorns, beers, sunsets, earthquakes… and police shootings. I went back to school with a great manicure, without a principal, and in the wake of another young black man dead at the hands of the state.

I am more than the girl who got to add one more year to her life repertoire as the fall equinox arrived. September is a month I always love – and not just for the birthday it brings with it – but I love the segue into fall weather, the ever-optimistic return to school. In some ways it has an appeal to me in the same way January does. This September I had the chance to have lovely dinner dates; to be reminded of the beauty of Tahoe – a place I called home for nearly a decade; to witness the unprecedented demise of my much loved baseball team; to garner my 15 minutes of fame as a featured educator on television for my work integrating technology into the classroom, to see more live music, and to watch the Umbrella Revolution unfold in Hong Kong. It was a full month.

I am more than the girl who remains optimistic about love in the face of ridiculous disappointments. October was incredibly full with festivals and field trips, fleet week and sailing on the Bay, and of course the total destruction of my lovely neighborhood (again) as a response to the SF Giants winning the World Series (again.) I took 20 students to see Anita Hill speak truth to power, I saw Lena Dunham speak, met up with friends and one of my bebe cousins at HSB in the park. The month was punctuated by meeting someone seemingly transformative at TIMF. I suppose he was transformative really, though hardly in the way advertised.

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I am more than the girl who was asked, “are you the one? are you the one? and will you wait for me… to see if my life is sustainable?” November brought the hope of the holidays along with this other strange element of hope. But as one of my yoga teachers, Samrat Gupta, warned long ago: beware the euphoric highs… they will be met with equal lows. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Elections (low), field trips and class speakers (high); connecting with someone in a truly unique way (high), being devastated by news of the loss and suffering of dear friends (low); being called to speak about the Ferguson decision on the radio (high), the Ferguson decision (low). November was the penultimate teacher I would face this year… and she was tough. But December would be even more challenging.

I am more than the girl who, in some kind of symmetry – found herself rocked by the male of the species again at the end of the year, but quickly saw the insignificance of that as cancer took one of my soul sisters on the Winter Solstice. December, always frantically busy, was next level for me this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it certainly is a tiring thing. Getting out of school by the skin of my teeth, saying a long goodbye to dear friends who will set sail for places unknown in the very near future, art exhibitions, concerts, parties, Vegas, family, family, family, friends, my hometown. It was so full – and my responses to this fullness were not always right, or healthy, or wise… but I daresay they taught me a thing or two.

I am more than the sum of my parts.

I am all of this along with the gifts left by those gone too soon, the legacy (and lunacy) of my extended family, the strength of my body, the unknown trajectory of my professional direction. And I am more even than the clear intentions I am taking into this new year with me:

Some people say we should not look back, only forward. I am not sure. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I think acknowledging the past is crucial for our ability to make sense and purpose of our present and future. I go forward with hope and clarity that I’ve not felt in a long time, and for that I am grateful for the rather harsh lessons that 2014 brought down upon my head somewhat like a certain silver hammer.

I am ready for you 2015.

 

This is for Stu and Sue and all the rest we lost too soon. 

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More pages more words to my story, more grace, more meaning unfoldin’
Take a drive rain park cascadia
Feel the warmth in my cold hear radiant
Two shakes and I’m feelin’ weightless
Heart aches but its actually painless
Take a vow in the Pale moonlight, moonlight, moonlight
Take a look at myself through my third eye..
Everything’s already alright, always alright, always alright…

Hello December…

Today is the first of December, which officially marks the end of DEVOLSON. This is a good thing. And frankly, moving towards the end of 2014 seems like it is also a good thing for a lot of people. But for me, I feel like it has not been that bad. I mean, there have definitely been some unexpected challenges, but over all I feel like 2014 has been pretty good to me.

So it was surprising to me to hear someone say they were so sorry my life is so shitty.

Shitty?

I had to think about this.

I am alive. To my knowledge, I do not have cancer. I have a good job. I have a nice place to live. I have good friends. I have enough to eat. I have new shoes. I have fabulous trips to amazing places lined up. I have cats.

None of that sounds so shitty.

I am sad right now. But I am sad right now because that is the kind of person I am and when things happen around me that are sad, like dear friends passing, or getting sick, I get sad. I get sad when I remember people I have lost. I get sad when I think about times I could have been more kind. I get sad when I have high hopes for something and it doesn’t come to fruition, but I am not ever sorry for hoping… in spite of the warnings against expectations. So, I guess I am emotional. I was told that I am too emotional this year. On more than one occasion. But that is just how I am.

For a pragmatist, I am actually much more emotional that I should be. I am a hopeless romantic who continues to take ridiculous chances for whims of the heart. [That is emotion in action, and it is often kicking my ass.] I am passionately supportive of my friends. I am ever defensive of my family, even if they drive me insane (just a little bit once in a while, of course.)

But in the end, I am okay with that, because the alternative is too heartbreaking for words. Imagine never having the chance to be swept away by your feelings… sometimes thrilling, sometimes cathartic, sometimes a maudlin tragedy. I can’t imagine that life.

So, tonight, on the first of December at the official end of DEVOLSON, I can look back at this year and say truthfully that the saddest moments have brought me the most clarity.

And all of it was transformative. Not shitty.

Really, you cannot ask for a whole lot more than that.

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The Hook brings you back…

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I think expected sad news may really be the most unexpected. It is like you think you are ready, and then you wait and wait and wait and it never comes.

And then it does.

And when you get the news you sit with it a minute and think to yourself, ‘Well, I sort of expected that….’ And then you can’t get out of bed for like, an hour, and then you have to go to work, and then the rest of the world and the day and everything is just just just so fucking normal.

I am not sure there is anything sadder.

Meeting Stu was one of the best and worst things that ever happened to me all at once. But he was like that – all things all at once. So many things he couldn’t really ever keep them together. And that was his tragedy – and his gift. I remember the night I met him perfectly and the various strange, not always nice, events that followed. I can say now that those days, months, years, in which Stuart played a role  have been some of the most fundamentally significant in my life.

And it just makes it so much god damned more sad.

Stu was unable to overcome his demons in the end, it appears, though I had to smile when this morning as I spoke to a friend about it and she said, ‘He just seemed like one of those indestructible ones, you know?’

I guess there is no such thing when you really get down to it.

As I sit here, semi-catatonic, perusing photos from Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao, and Lamma Lamma Lamma…. I see the faces of people who knew us, who know me, who might say to me, well, it had the air of inevitability about it, this. And I think to myself, I suppose.

But we all do die, don’t we?

When I think of Stu I realize I never really had the chance to fully grieve. And as you can imagine, when one breaks off with  a person under the conditions we did – there is always unfinished business. Always. This adds to the sadness. I never really had the chance to get angry with Stu either- I was too busy managing things, myself, mostly I suppose. As I look through my email (why not poke the bruise a bit?) I see so many times he tried to reach out… and I did not (could not?) reply. I am so remorseful over that today, and while the sane mind will say it would not have changed the outcome, the sad mind can only wonder if it might have made a difference. And though we kept in touch on and off these past few years, I am so grossly disappointed in myself that the last real contact we had, digital though it was, was about me harping on him to handle his business.

How embarrassingly trivial. How devastatingly sad, to have those be the last words he heard from me. How horrible to actually experience, what can only be termed as the deepest regret, that I could not have been kinder in that last connection.

This is a regret that will not soon pass.

Stuart was a tragic character, and burnt many bridges, not surprisingly. But Stuart was much more than that. He was a kind, kind person – in spite of all that made him tragic. Stuart was good to me in spirit and in his heart – if not in more practical issues of this corporeal world. He saw me beyond the obvious, and he truly believed I was beautiful, in every way. Stuart introduced me to fascinating ideas and people and experiences that I’d never have had the chance to glean other wise.

Sitting here thinking on Stu this evening I remember his passion for life, how he loved to dance – and those beach parties! His sense of humo(u)r, how he loved our cats, and being and working in our home and our garden. I am still awed by his compassion for others regardless of their station or circumstance. I remember how much he loved Hong Kong – really and truly, and all the people I met there because of him. He used to sometimes just say, ‘Here we are on a tropical island in the South China Sea – how bad can anything be? This is superb!’ I remember how we got on about our football rivalry, my choice to support Chelsea just to vex him, and his lifelong love of the Tottenham Hotspur, and our World Cup debates. His silly taste in music… James Blunt! Robbie Williams! Dido! And I recall the person Stu really wanted to be…

People who met him – certainly all the people I introduced to him – wanted so much for him to succeed. Perhaps now in some way he can see that he did. He wanted to change the world and today I spoke to friends from Thailand to Israel to Ireland to Australia to England and of course our beloved Hong Kong who remember what a light he had inside of him and the joy he had for living… in spite of the choices he made and the circumstances he created. And I have to think that makes a difference, even if it was not enough to get him through the darkness.

In the end I sit with knowing how much we both believed in the love we had, and I mean, that is sort of a nice thing to experience with another person at some point in a lifetime, right?

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There’s not a single song I could choose that fits better right now…. it’s the first thing that’s made me smile about this whole situation.

Rest in peace Stu. And get your groove on while you’re at it….

Sometime… Can you feel de pressure does unwind
Sometime…
Sometime… Trough de day and trough de night
Sometime…
Sometime… You can make our pressure does unwind
Sometime…
Sometime… It’s for your spirit and your mind
Sometime…

 

Teachers.

“They” say that everyone we meet in life is a teacher. This may have some degree of validity beyond the new age-y feel, but as a teacher, I sometimes, (like right now)prefer to actually acknowledge that there are real, actual specific Teachers in our lives that deserve to be recognized as such. To this end, I am thinking on my teachers today, and one in particular who many will have the chance to bid a formal farewell to this afternoon, though I will not be able to do this. I have experienced a range of emotions surrounding the reality that I cannot be there to participate somehow in this memorial, and I have come to the (necessary?) conclusion that it might not be that important because maybe I do not need to be physically there to acknowledge the tremendous impact that Gary Hausladen had on my life. Maybe I can just take a moment to be in my own little space with this knowing that privacy in no way diminishes the magnitude with which I would like to scream from the tops of the Sierra that I took the road to the UNR Department of Geography as a result of all of Gary’s subtle (and not really so subtle) encouragement, and that truly has made all the difference. He changed the game for me.

I met Gary through another one of my mentors who left us too soon, Kendyl Depaoli. Thinking back on the completely serendipitous occurrences that led to our meeting makes me smile. In short, it goes a little like this: I moved to Tahoe to be with a boy and had no job and one year of teaching experience under my belt. I had no real idea about applying for jobs and appropriate timelines and such and I saw an opening for a social studies teacher at Procter Hug High School in Reno. I got dressed and drove to the school. I had no appointment, and no real plan. I met Kendyl who was one of the VPs there. And I got a job. Over the next year, Kendyl guided me through the politics of the WCSD and gently shepherded me towards her goal – a geography curriculum in the WCSD. She sent me to a summer institute where I encountered the potential of geographic education, and the illustrious Dr. Hausladen.

And so it began.

A result of simply being in a particular place at a particular time – a geographic coincidence – made a formal geographer out of me.

I have lots and lots of stories about Gary. I am sure everybody does. They all make me smile, and that is not hyperbole. I really cannot recall a time – even when I thought I was crying, or dying – that Gary did not make me smile. He encouraged my tenacity when I needed it. He encouraged my confidence when it was flagging. He encouraged my debauchery at times mostly appropriate. He encouraged my curiosity always, and most significantly as I have come to appreciate, he encouraged me to see connections among ideas, and to acknowledge my intellect in a world where that is not always popular. I loved that Gary thought he was brilliant – he was – and that he thought that of me as well. Maybe I am, too. Time will tell.

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This is one of my favorite pictures of Gary, along with his lovely wife Marilyn, and a spry young waiter named Neil. I took this photo on our summer institute trip to Alaska at one of our formal dinners. For whatever reason, Gary had taken such a shine to Neil – and had a way of pointing out Neil’s characteristics in a way that allowed for truly compassionate hysterics. Neil was, errr, quite the character. Completely over the top in every way, and how he ended up serving us aboard the Semester at Sea boat, I will never know. But I know that he had big dreams of a life off the boat, and I only know this because Gary got him talking. And talking and talking and talking. Eventually, and I have no way to say if this was a result of Gary’s encouragement, though I would hardly doubt it, Neil went AWOL from the ship. Literally tossed his bag over board at port and made a run for it. I still don’t know why this story makes me laugh so hard – but I reckon it has much to do with Gary’s suggested input and beautifully off-color commentary on the entire proceedings. I have no idea whatever became of Neil.

Another of my favorite Gary days was the day of my thesis defense. I was not excited about my defense and was positively put out that I had to actually put up flyers and promote this “public defense.” I was completely irked at the idea of strangers coming to see this production. No matter, Gary (and Paul as well, to give full credit all around) took particular joy in my discomfort surrounding this event. They may deny this, but I know it to be true. They were correct in their assertion that my thesis had a larger public appeal than most, but still. Really? Public? Whatever.

Anyhow, it was fine in the end, as I imagine they – the puppet masters, knew it would be. Following the defense, I went to lunch with Steve, someone I do hope will be in Reno this afternoon, and proceeded to start drinking margaritas. As the second pitcher came, my phone rang. It was Gary. I had to get to the Break Away right away. Yes, that is correct, the Break Away. But, we had just ordered drinks… what to do? In a moment of true Jedi brilliance, I asked the server if we could get the margaritas to go. To go? He said. How can I give you the margaritas to go? You could bring us big soup containers, I said. He looked at me and said, You are right, I could do that. And Steve and I drove to the Break Away with two liter containers of margaritas, complete with straws.

On arrival, Gary and Paul were at the bar with a man who claimed to have worked at Area 51 (my thesis topic) on several assignments. Get over here you have to meet this guy! He said. The guy did seem to know some stuff, but in hindsight, I think he might have been full of crap, he just seemed to be trying a bit too hard, challenging what I said, posturing a bit. No matter, Gary was so excited… Then, What is that? He asked about the giant styrofoam containers we were carrying. We got margaritas to go, I explained. You what? To go, I said. And suddenly Gary made me the star. As he so often did, just when I needed it.

There is so much that I could list in a random collection of my appreciations of Gary, but there is no need. I feel lucky that I get to have them at all. Today that is enough. It must be enough.

Gary was, as I said, a game changer for me, and those are few and far between in a single lifetime. He told me to write. He acknowledged my talents. He pushed me way, way out of my comfort zone. He offered all variety of support for what I did and what I do. He introduced me to “all the right people”. He showed me how everything – absolutely everything – is geographical, a challenge I offer my students every year, and they have yet to find something that is absent some element of geographic influence. He told me, repeatedly and with the appropriate amount of irony, that repetition is the heart of education. And he was right. He was a bright and shining personality, with all of the good bits and challenges that comes with such traits, and he lived. Boy, he knew how to live. I am grateful for the privilege of having been one of his students of geography, pedagogy, and life.

Tonight I’ll raise a glass to you, Dr. Hausladen. You rule.