Allez allez allez Versailles!

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I did not know what to expect from our sojourn to Versailles when we headed out on 13 July. I was not surprised that we left an hour or so later than planned, but unaware of any real consequences that might have. At this point I was learning that Frenchie’s adherence to schedules and attachment to timing was really something of national pastime, not really just an individual idiosyncrasy of hers.

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I was also surprised at how close Versailles is to Paris, so my being perplexed over a delayed departure seemed silly (although the “arriving-at-the-station-just-as-a-train-had-departed phenomenon was getting tired.)

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I knew that this was the hometown of my Frenchie, and as we rode out to Versailles and back in time somewhat for her, I thought a lot about what I would show this group of my hometown, were they ever to travel to the international destination that is Petaluma. It is hard to imagine really, I mean, their coming to Petaluma and the things I might choose to show them. Of course, Petaluma is not home to one of the world’s most famous palaces, so I might be forced to think a little harder. Though, truth be told, I think having the palace made it more challenging for Frenchie to really show us what her hometown was like, because we were all like, “Oh my god look at the palace!” the whole time.

Oh, and we were hungry.

No one wanted to admit it really, because no one wanted to be a pain in the ass, but we were hungry – and a hungry mob is an angry mob. Now we were arriving in Versailles to find out that a) we were too late to rent bicycles in town (which had been another of those plans I was unaware of) and b) restaurants were closing for their midday break… save for McDonald’s. Add to this, Frenchie really wanted to give us a peek into her life, one I know Nic and I really wanted to see. But things were not flowing smoothly. I knew that we were going to picnic. Tthe French, as you can imagine, have their own take on this. Frankly (see what I did right there?) it is actually a far superior take on a picnic than we have here in the states, because it is just so “whatever” (read easy). There is generally very little planning, whatever food is around is gathered up, and you eat somewhere outside. Viola! Picnic. I also knew that we would be seeing some fireworks as the Bastille Day fête would be on the eve of 14 Julliet in Versailles.

As we wandered around looking for a suitable place to eat like a heard of Goldilocks (not too fancy, not too expensive, not too closed, not too not-French, not too touristy, not too fast-food) we contemplated just picnicking – or at least I did because I was carrying quite a bit of weight on my back with our wine supply and wondering when the picnic was going to happen.

What I did not know was that what Frenchie had in mind was: get bikes in town, ride around and see her old house and haunts, get some lunch, ride around the palace grounds, sunset picnic, see Frenchie’s flat, meet our friend Fred (who was our neighbor in HK and a friend of Frenchie’s since school in Versailles), see fireworks and head back to Clamart.

What Frenchie did not know was: we would arrive too late for bikes in town and lunch, her pals would be worried about when they would eat, the palace (not the grounds) would be closed because it was a Monday, and the grounds would close, oh, right around sunset.

What we all would come to realize is, that regardless that “the best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry,” it all works out in the end.

We wandered hungrily around town before finally settling on a ‘too touristy’ place for lunch. But it was not McDonald’s, so victory was ours. I actually really enjoyed my lunch. This could have been because I was starving (see Eddie Murphy and the saltine cracker) or it is just the reality that the worst French food is pretty damn good. I had an excellent quiche and salad, which I may or may not have mentioned is something that food-wise that the French do not understand: greens and vinaigrette is all you are going to see for salad, they simply do not understand how to use and combine vegetables without creme or cheese. Still, yum. Frenchie ordered something of a classic French meal that had random animal parts and sauce. I passed on giving it a go. She loved it. Of course. This is an enduring theme of our friendship: we are a great team for sharing because we have nearly universally opposite tastes in everything. It is really both peculiar and convent.

As a funny side note, we found a dime bag of weed under the table. It was hilarious to us for some reason, and we were quite beside ourselves with laughter, and then: wait, what should we do with it? After going through no end of what ifs, like what if it were a test or a trap, or what if we put it in our pockets or our bags and forgot about it and got stopped at the airport, or what if we just said fuck it let’s smoke it and it was laced with some hideous drug we had never heard of, we left it on the table.

We would be roundly chastised for this later.

Now with our belly’s full (a hungry mob is an angry mob) we headed through town making our way circuitously to the palace. We saw where Frenchie had lived as a child. I liked thinking of her here is this town, on that balcony. I wondered if we would have been friends back then. We walked along streets she knew so well and it reminded me of the feeling I get when I retrace steps so familiar with the fresh eyes of others: it brings up a special kind of acknowledgment of certain things that have contributed to making us “us”, I suppose that is nostalgia.

As we made our way to the palace I was getting excited. Louis XIV was a rather BAMF enlightened despot and I wanted to see the place that he had envisioned that has inspired so much petty emulation by others like Peter the Great and any number of cheap Vegas McMillionaires. I would not see the castle today as it was closed, which was a bummer on one hand because, duh: BLING. But also a bit of a relief since I would have been the only one of our group who wanted to go in and so, now there was no decision to be made.

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Regardless you get a pretty real sense of the place from the outside anyhow. I have always found the story of the Dauphine (Louis XVI) and Marie Antoinette pretty interesting and it was really cool to walk around and try to imagine what it was like for these kids to be ensconced in this place. And the gardens… wow.

We got bikes here and so that was one obstacle cleared, off we went.

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There are not really words for the afternoon we spent cycling around the grounds of the palace of Versailles except to say that it was pretty special.

DSC_7652Once back from our ride we decided we would have an hour or so on our one and then meet up to picnic. I was told to be back around 7:30, if memory serves, and so off I went camera in hand. In this time alone I really got to explore and have some time to move at my own pace. Being the timely individual that I am I was punctually headed back to our rendezvous when I saw Frenchie coming at me. This was unusual because, well, she was on time, early even. She was overly relieved to see me, so I knew something was up. What was up was that the park was closing. and we were going to have to get out.

Ha. I laughed, that would be funny being locked in the Palace of Versailles, wouldn’t it? As it would happen, Frenchie had already done that long ago when she had spent her summers working at the palace (helluva summer job, no?) and she “knew” a guy whose dad ran things or something… she was quite cheeky in her omission of details around said guy, so I am going to have to follow-up on that story at some point… And somehow they got locked in. Yeah, clearly more of a story there, no? Anyhow, at this point we made it out.

Phew. And in true hometown fashion, we got picked up by her mom to take us back to town.

On arriving back in town the elusive picnic was soon to be had. And in what turns out to be the French picnicking way, we rocked up to a sweet little bench and ate our food. Just like that. And it was, like the riding around the palace oddly, surprisingly, perfect.

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All along Frenchie had been trying to meet Fred and it was looking like that might not happen. But as we walked back towards the action in the town square, suddenly, it was not just Fred, but what seemed like our whole village. It was a moment that would frame so much of my summer… here I was, somewhere far away from anywhere I knew, and in the midst of the people who had, without thought or warning, helped to create my life abroad. To have friends that are like family in this way is a gift. To recognize it, all the better.

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And on this sparkly night in Versailles I was able to both along with my world wide tribe.

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Paris sans Plans.

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For the week of Bastille Day 2015 I found myself in and around gay Paris. We were primarily based in Clamart, although we would spend the night of Bastille Day itself in a sweet apartment in the 15th arrondissement.

In hindsight, weeks -no, months- out from the trip, it seems so simple, but at the time there were issues around planning, and coordinating and compromising. There are always such issues to consider when you are functioning in a group, but there were certain elements that I think made the adjustments a bit more challenging this summer: time apart, expectations, varied personalities. At the end of the day, we were four people in Paris, with everything we could possibly need or want, but in the moment, making decisions seemed really hard. The players here were three people who know each other well from living as friends and neighbors for years on an island in the South China Sea, and two siblings – one acting as a host and one as a fellow traveler.

Our first full day in Paris had us first meeting at a flea market on the north side of the city. Porte de Clignancourt is a well-known shopping area, known more commonly as Marché aux Puces. This is one of the largest antique markets in the world, which is impressive and also should make it totally apparent that I would have no idea whatsoever what we were doing here. I do not like flea markets or antiques, and I surely was not interested in adding to my neat and tidy >10 kilos of luggage for the next month with second-hand furniture. However, having not involved myself in planning, I felt like it was my responsibility to toe the line with those who had made their preferences clear. Plus there were some great photo ops. Sadly, I seem to have deleted the photo of the gigantic €500 wooden penis.

From the market, where in spite of my anti attitude towards shopping at that juncture I bought a scarf as I had lost my favorite one on the train to London, we headed to the Sacre Couer. Again, I felt like I was just bumbling along with my friends and felt myself wondering for much of the morning when they had made the plans they had, feeling simultaneously left out and relieved to not have the responsibility of possible people pleasing problems by making potentially unpopular choices. I wandered along with the group under grey skies towards what would be one of my favorite views of Paris.

It started to rain as we made our way up the steps, and I was bent on getting to the top, a choice I pushed for. I think everyone was glad they did it in the end.

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Following our climb to the top of the Sacre Couer we headed to Place du Tertre. Now it was sporadically sprinkling adding a sort of appropriate melancholy to this former artists’ district that was now an overflowing tourist attraction. We sat for drinks after looking at the art and my first few dozen looks at le chat noir du Montmarte. I noticed that Parisians love dogs – seriously there are so many dogs, but they seem to really prefer cats as a motif.

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From here we endeavored to navigate down Rue Lepic towards Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, because tourists. And frankly, I was shameless. I actually considered how I might react if Ewan McGregor came flying towards me in song.

Again, I found myself wondering, how did they plan all this and where had I been? And again, I was happy someone else had done the work to make it happen. The walk was really lovely – neighborhoods and areas that I thought were eminently livable. Except for the whole being-in-France part. But all joking aside, were I able to reside Paris, and it could abide the coming of another Americane, the 18th arrondissement would be for me.

We did some food shopping and made our way back to the hotel where Nic and her sister had been staying; a side drama that had been developing was that luggage had been lost and so there was understandably much ado about this – I would have been pretty buggered myself, especially on learning that the missing bag had reappeared some twelve hours before I was notified… but overall, there was much relief on learning that the bag had returned. As we deliberated next steps I finally spoke up. Looking at all the luggage that was now in our possession, and a good six hours on our feet I was heartily in favor of taking a taxi home rather than navigating the metro – or busses (Frenchie loves busses – definitely more on this later). I stood firm on my position and felt relieved to see that it would happen.

Back at Clamart we fixed a meal and had some wine and I think felt pretty satisfied all around with our day. To sleep we went, well, everyone except me. I had taken to using the late nights to send photos home so as to maintain memory on my iPhone – a strategy that worked well through most of the trip, and I could post photos then too without it being an issue in mixed company… I have always taken a pretty good amount of shit about my use of social media from these friends so I was being sensitive to that. [I do feel that they eventually saw the benefit of my strategy, and I even got them in on the Summer-of-Selfie™. #validation]

All in all as the day had shown, it is clear I did not do the preparatory work I would normally have done for a trip (which many people would already consider pretty lightweight) because I was relying (unfairly) on Frenchie to sort out France because, she’s French. Coupled with trying not to hurt feelings when people said/suggested things that others thought completely ridiculous, we eventually sat around a lovely table in the courtyard of our host’s home and talked in circles while having our morning coffee on our second full day as a group. There was far too much “I’m fine with whatever” from my side – because let’s face it, that is a lie. And there was frustration with collective indecision from Frenchie, our de facto hostess, who while French has not lived in France for more than two decades and is not from Paris. JM seemed to find the whole thing amusing, Nic wanted to make sure everything was perfect for everyone because she is ever the caretaker for us all – which must be tiring, and I fear not outwardly appreciated enough by any of us. [As an aside, I know that for all the years I lived in HK I felt so much better knowing that with my mom was on the other side of the world, I always had someone I could call on who would ably be there for me if ever I needed her, even though I was not her own… and if I never said it aloud Nic, I am saying it now.] 

The thing is, a week is simply not enough time in Paris. A fact Frenchie had made clear months earlier. Add to this that there would be a day trip to Versailles, it was Bastille Day, and we were planning on heading to the South of France in what suddenly felt like no time at all.

Frenchie suggested we focus on les classiques for our time in Paris. But even this was not consistently understood. As the only one in the group who had never been to Paris, I wanted different things, and I think I like museums more than most people… Again, as I sit here and reflect back on it, it seems so silly that there was any issue about accommodating people as we are all seasoned travelers and can manage whatever we want in most places. I think the issue was trying to please others got in the way – for (almost) everyone, and perhaps we should have been a bit more selfish.

Back at the table in Clamart, the conversation seemed adrift, but eventually some decisions were made. And as one might imagine, in the end most needs were met. And although I am still childish enough to pout about people/things that do not meet my expectations, I am proud to say I am adult enough not to put them all out here on the internet.

And really, all of this is just a big reminder about group travel – it is a unique endeavor.

Our decision for this day, July 13, 2015 was that we would go to Versailles.

 And so we went. 

Eventually.

“It’s the little differences.”

The first morning I woke up in Paris, I was up before everyone. (I was generally up before everyone always, although Nic would end up giving me a run for the money.) I sort of laid there where I was, in the upstairs bedroom in JM’s chateau in the suburbs, Clamart to be precise, and thought to myself : I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM IN PARIS.

Okay, fair play, I was just outside of Paris, but for all intents and purposes I was IN PARIS.

And it was sunny.

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This first day was supposed to be a “planning day” for Frenchie and me so we could work out our desires and priorities before meeting up with Nic and her sister the next day, but first I was going to go meet a friend who was coincidentally laid over in Paris en route to Dominica from the UAE. [Having friends for which sentences like that are apt is so awesome.] I wanted to see Rachel because she and I are friends entirely due to Stuart, and for reasons I am not interested in articulating here, we share a certain understanding of the bloke.

To see Rachel I would head out to Orly Airport so as to keep things as simple as possible for someone moving to the other side of the world with their young child. JM offered to take me there, so I would only need to self-navigate one way, which was kind. Frenchie and I arranged to meet at a fountain near the Notre Dame. How hard could that be? I mean, a fountain in Paris, right?

Yeah.

I had gleaned from the previous evening that JM enjoyed the excitement of vehicular delights, and so when he pointed to his motorcycle and I looked down at my black mini dress, I determined that all bets were off on wise choices. He handed me a helmet and I sighed with relief to know that my cranium would be safe and probably only 90% of my flesh would go missing should a mishap occur on what google maps said would be a forty minute ride.

He grinned reminding me entirely too much of Peter Fonda’s Captain America as I hopped on the bike. It would be fine, I reasoned. I mean, he has made it to 40 – and has a family. He doesn’t want to die.

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The ride to Orly was pretty easy surface streets and highways and under beautiful sunny skies. I focused a lot on the sky. It turns out JM does not like to be behind other vehicles on the road, and he sure as shit is not going to be passed by a motorcycle. A couple of times he looked back to ask if everything was okay. I hope in my efforts to be completely cool about all potential outcomes, I hadn’t inadvertently Heimlich’d him. To be fair it actually was a fun ride. I mean, I like roller coasters a lot.

When we arrived at the airport (in approximately twenty minutes) I stepped off the bike and took my hair out of the helmet while adjusting my LBD. No lie, I felt pretty glamorous. Like, here I was coming in hot (in every way) and hopping off a bike driven by a super cute guy, with no luggage and heading into the airport, as if I might be heading off on some crazy spontaneous get away. That could be an great scene in a bad romcom.

And the best thing about black is your sweat doesn’t show, which is awesome.

Although, it does show where one’s thighs were gripping the sides of a black leather seat on a motorcycle. And the strap of the helmet got a little caught up in my windswept hair, so my reverie ended rather quickly as JM sped away.

Entering the airport, I logged into the wifi – which is free everywhere in Europe, as it bloody well should be in America – to check where I would meet up with Rachel. We settled on Laudurée. Tres French. Plus, macrons; like cookies, but a little different.

The catch up was short and sweet and a wonderfully playful bit of punctuation on the Stuart Saga. we laughed a lot, and Rachel remarked how she just knew he would try to take credit for everything were he there because, yes, he was such a cheeky bastard.

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And like that we said adieu and headed on our separate ways. Another perfect rendezvous accomplished.

So now, to get back to Paris and a fountain.

I found someone who graciously directed me to the Orly bus, which would get me to the RER, which in turn would get me to central Paris. Stepping out I saw there was a bus there – fantastique! I would get on that bus and be on my way. I proceeded to the ticket machine; like those I had seen before, but a little different.

And then, I missed the bus.

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The machine now seems simple, but like so many things, it’s the little differences in Paris, and this weird quasi touch screen with a roller mechanism… just really did not present itself as an obvious option at the time. To be fair the three guys behind me were French and had no freaking clue how to make the machine work either. By the time I eventually got a ticket I would be waiting more than twenty minutes for another bus.

Merde.

But, the bus ride was easy, and I kept telling myself that Frenchie would wait for me, I mean, to my knowledge she has not been on time to anything since I have known her, and this includes her own events. I was not getting a sim card because I had my American iPhone, which of course is locked, because: America. This meant old school meet ups like we did in the 80s: make a plan and stick to it. It was refreshing.

Until you were 45 minutes late.

On arriving to Sainte Michel with ease I came out of the metro station and promptly turned the wrong way. I include the map below as a weak explanation. Emerging from the RER in the foreground left, I walked towards the intersection and made a right towards the Notre Dame because that is what everyone was doing. I surmised there would be a fountain there. And yes, there was. A multitude. But alas, no Frenchie – or not the Frenchie I was looking for.

I walked in literal circles – well trapezoids if we are really being literal – for nearly a half an hour. Paris urban planning is a little different.

And nothing.

Retracing my steps I headed back towards the RER where the Fountaine Sainte Michel practically screamed at me with its obviousness. Huh. Perhaps that fountain then? I walked toward the fountain and headed left (towards the M in the rear right of the diagram) where I saw a cafe and heard “Amanda?” in English, but a little different.

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It was Nickie, seated with her sister, and Frenchie (whose head had been down as she was trying to figure out the wifi to contact me – the figuring out of the wifi would also be a theme of this trip). I was shocked, relieved, delighted, amazed, happy, hot, and thirsty. It was a lot to take in, but I really could not believe we were all sitting here, like the three of us had so many times before, but a little different.

Frenchie and I were supposed to meet Nic the next day as she and her sister would be staying the night in Paris to rest after the flight from Oz. But Frenchie had been nearly as late as I had (!!) and so she had been worried about me as I am generally painfully punctual and she had been walking around the now so obvious to me (like the roller thing) fountain when she had randomly bumped into our Aussie companions. Incroyable!

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This happy circumstance totally shifted the day – a planning session would not happen, but phones and strolling the streets of Paris and rosé and catching up would. In what seemed like another lifetime, three women in Hong Kong had made a promise to meet in Paris five years on, and here we were. Same same, but, a little bit different.

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We finished our day a top the Tour Montparnasse as a small reminder of where we were. In case anyone had forgotten.

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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…

Thank you notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank god for that.

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

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…

 

Three years ago today….

Hk from Cathay

…I got off a one-way flight from HKG at SFO. In the spirit of true transparency, it actually was not a one-way ticket, I have always been someone who hedges their bets, for better or for worse. I left because I thought I was ready. I was ready, but as the etymology of the word suggests, nostalgia… hurts. Continue reading