2018 –> 2019

The Year in Review

January:
The year began in Cuzco as we prepared to take on the Inca Trail. It was auspicious, yellow, and beautiful. Peru is a very special place and the Inca trail was amazing every step (and stone) of the way.

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February:
Life at the AltSchool went sideways. I would learn much later from those who would stay on that I had been somehow accused of trying to destroy Altschool – which is hilarious given that I thought the problem arose from an off-handed comment I made about my manager’s cheap shoes. Anyhow, I was working with a crazy person who could not tell the truth about anything and it was decided that I would part ways with “The Company”. And my leg was killing me.

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March:
After a niggling and consistently annoying pain in my hip that had revealed itself over MLK Weekend in Tahoe started to impede my ability to walk (forget about yoga) I started to try to figure out what was going on. MRI’s, Arthrograms, Physical Therapy: no improvement. I felt fortunate to be in Hong Kong and held by a lot of very special people as I contemplated big changes coming my way.

April:
Hip worse. Job crazy. Job search unpredictable. So I made time to be with old friends and spend some time Petaluma. And at least the Warriors were in the playoffs again – though second seed… that was weird.

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May:
New job acquired… interestingly with the help of the parents at “The Company”. In hindsight I really hope that my manager read my exit interview, she bet on the wrong horse. At this point Altschool was hemorrhaging employees faster than people could count. And summer was on the horizon, although my hip still really hurt.

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June:
Got the flock out of Alt and tried to ready myself for summer. Warriors (unsurprisingly) won a 3rd title. Cousins and Anti come and we went to Pride… But things really went squiffy on the 22nd when I found out I would be getting a total hip replacement on July 3.

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July:
New hip and deep appreciation for health insurance. Two pounds of metal, 22 staples, six inch incision. That is about it really. Moved to Petaluma for the recovery, and the cats enjoyed a stay at their summer home. I missed a wedding I really wanted to attend, and got to spend a lot of time walking around the old neighborhood. With a walker. The photo below is actually my new hip.

August:
New job commenced. Politics got even fucking worse than one could have ever imagined. New hip seemed to be integrating well enough to work. Fires began. Got a student teacher – yet another example of how this year so often presented itself as an opportunity but it was actually just an unbelievable amount of (not so rewarding) work.

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September:
Lots of numbers: Another birthday… 48! 30 year high school reunion! The A’s win 97 games and clinch a wild card berth! 15% pay raise… and a handful of new private clients. Making it rain, teacher style.

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October:
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in the Park. Nahko in the yoga studio. Political nightmares like Kavanaugh pushed through to reality. Head down and working. Back to yoga.

November:
Beastie Boys and Blue Waves. Then more fire. The worst yet in north and south. Smoke so bad school was closed. Escaped to Seattle for fresh air, Chihuly, Kidd Vally and great friends. Thanksgiving and lots of learning. Oh, and I lost all the photos from my phone due to a combination of my aversion to the cloud, non-genius Genius Bar kids, and a firmware problem on the iPhone 7 (which explains the inconsistent photographic support of this post.)

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December:
A mix of many things. Said goodbye to the first semester, and the student teacher. Hunkered down and did a lot of work. Went to Pacific Grove to see the Dudes. And then, for the first time in quite some time, I took some time. For myself. A staycation was had.

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And now the end of 2018 is nigh. It was supposed to be a dog of a year for us Dogs… more on that on the turn of the lunar new year.

Here is hoping for a 2019 of positive change, honest living, and a few laughs in between.

Oh, and iCloud storage for all your photos forever. 😘

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation [Spoiler: Not as planned]

I had some plans this summer. Not a ton of plans, and to be fair the school year had ended in a place that was palpably toxic in very surprising ways, which in turn had an impact on other areas of my life that were not what I would call “ideal”. But still, summer was here and summer is for vacation.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.

The Prelude:

After my return from Peru in January of this year I was feeling well pleased with myself having completed the classic Inca Trail route: four days of ups and downs at fairly substantial elevation on a path largely made of (somewhat) set stones (no judgment, they’ve been in place for centuries, so it beats most modern infrastructure I’ve encountered.) I carried my own pack, and felt good the whole way through, which was an accomplishment because I had been worried going into the trek as I have remarkable osteoarthritis for someone my age (I’m told). This inconvenience has most dramatically manifested in my knees, one of which has but remnants of cartilage remaining, and the other only slightly ahead of the game. For those of you in the know about these things, you know that there is little to be done for this condition: stay active, maintain a healthy weight, etc., etc. There are some questionable experimental options that some people swear by (emerging stem cell therapy, for which I am hopeful but not sold on at this point, synovial fluid injections…) but there is not a “fix,” as it were, save for replacing one’s knees (which both my paternal grandfather and father had done bilaterally.) As an aside, I was also showing osteoarthritis in my hips as of 2013, which was getting a bit annoying by 2016. My right hip has tended to get pretty aggravated when hiking (more so even than my attitude) for the last couple of years.

About seven years ago, I had my first cortisone injection in my left knee (the good one!) following an acute problem that had occurred. My knee had locked in virasna toward the end of a yoga class and I was unable to re-extend the knee, landing me in the emergency room in an incredibly awkward position (literally) with no discernible cause via x-ray or physical exam, and so “on the count of three we’re going to straighten it!” Three ER attendants braced me and straightened the leg in a swift, excruciating maneuver that left me dazed, mobile, and basically pain-free. Weird. MRI imaging returned no explanations, and so I got a cortisone shot and carried on.

Oh, and the shot was magical.

In 2015, I had my second cortisone injection, in both knees this time, and again was overjoyed at the results including how the shot seemed to alleviate knee and hip pain. I was feeling right as rain.

I had cortisone injections in both knees right before going to Peru as well, and again was amazed at the outcome. I was ready!

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IMG_9282The trip was spectacular and I felt fit, strong, and healthy.

Then I came home.

Back at work in an incredibly challenging environment (more – much more – on this at some point) and in the post-holiday malaise, I turned to my yoga practice as I often do. The first couple of classes I attended were more challenging than they should have been. It had only been a few weeks since I practiced and I had not been sitting around doing nothing – in fact had even done some yoga in Peru in addition to the more obvious exertion. It seemed odd, but I pressed on. At MLK weekend in Tahoe, I attended a yoga class and was even more hampered. By the end of January it became clear something was amiss. Mobility in my right hip had become so limited yoga was becoming nearly impossible even with substantial modifications. (Like, I could not sit in sukhasana, for example, let alone any sort of movement that required hip rotation or extension.)

I went to see the orthopedic guy I had been seeing and we landed on the same conclusion: hip flexor strain. I got some therapeutic suggestions and anti-inflammatories. I also went to see a chiropractor who specializes his work around yoga practitioners. He was attentive, informative, and couldn’t do much to alleviate my situation in the end. By President’s Day weekend I had developed a limp that I could not avoid, and was starting to get pretty depressed. Yoga seemed out of the question, and nothing I was doing was helping. I called my orthopedic people in tears. By the way, if you mention to your medical professionals that you “cannot continue to live like this” they jump to attention.

The next thing I know I am having a MRI of the right hip. The MRI shows significant labral damage and what appeared to be a compound femoral acetabular impingement. Great – this is fixable. I got in for an arthrogram and had a cortisone injection. Again, instant magic, which was a welcome sign as I was off to Hong Kong five days later.

The magic lasted eight days.

While suffering in Hong Kong – as much a walking city as San Francisco, and perhaps more due to the island where I stay – I decided to see my physio there because since 2008 there has been nothing Leo could not fix for me. Except this. “This is not your normal kind of issue,” he said. “You are going to need to see an orthopedic specialist, this is something new and different for you.”

Fun fact: You never want to be new and different in a medical practitioner’s office. That is akin to being and “interesting case” and as even one season of House will tell you, it’s never lupus and its never good.

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When I got back from Asia in April, I was feeling worse in every possible way: I was no longer able to walk without pain, much less do yoga or any sort of exercise. This was having remarkably obvious impacts on my mental and physical well-being.

Around this time I went to see a body worker who I think is one of the most intuitive and powerful practitioners I have come across, and we talked for a long time about what was going on – all the various aspects of my life that were culminating at this time and place and the ways they were manifesting physically. She was able to alleviate not only my pain, but also my anxiety.

For about 12 hours.

After a tumultuous experience with my primary care doctor, I found myself back in orthopedics talking to a surgeon. Talk about “not ideal. He laid out my three options from most to least conservative:

  1. A new anti-inflammatory and physical therapy, Pilates also recommended.
  2. Hip arthroscopy. This is a procedure where a surgeon – like the one I was speaking to – go in and ‘clean up’ the joint, perform labral repair if possible, shave down bone spurs/impingements. [Although this is considered the mid-range option in terms of aggressiveness, it has a much longer rehab period than the third option…]
  3. Total joint replacement of the hip.

As the surgeon went over my MRI with me, he showed me what we were working with and told me that as a specialist in arthroscopy I was not a great candidate. It would be super temporary because of my arthritis, and also he showed me that I had actually no cartilage left in the joint so my discomfort was being caused by bone on bone contact.

I left with a new prescription and a PT appointment, because who the fuck gets a hip replacement at 47?

When I went to my first PT appointment in the third week of April, the therapist introduced herself, looked at my x-rays and MRIs and said, “Well, we can work on mobility and mitigating pain, but you need a new hip.”

Okay lady, slow your roll.

I started working with a really good rehab Pilates instructor – who is awesome and tolerated my less than enthusiastic attitude towards Pilates by being unbelievably enthusiastic. It was an interesting contrast to my PT who is even more direct than I am, generally speaking. It was a good balance.

Summer is Coming:

By May, I was seeing about zero improvement in my situation. On top of this I was spiraling into familiar body issues that seemed out of my control – my lifestyle had changed so much and so dramatically that my clothes were not fitting. This shame spiral on top of everything else made things seem even worse. I generally felt better when I saw the PT or had a Pilates session, but the relief was short-lived. My PT was consistent in her position that I needed a new hip and I began talking to her about the process in broad generalities in our sessions. How long would the recovery be – like how big of window did I need? (This depends and since every person is different it is really hard to answer.) Was there any other alternative that she saw? (Silence.) What was the actual procedure like? (There are two approaches, anterior and posterior, the anterior is a much quicker initial recovery and the recommended option for anyone who is eligible for it.) Was this really what I needed to do? (Silence.)

I was referred to a surgeon who would be able to see me for a consult in July.

I booked a trip to Southampton for the last week in June since I had scrapped all my other plans by this time – music festivals were not a possibility in my condition, and I was not doing anything else in my spare time at this point so I felt this was well deserved.

How I Actually Spent My Vacation:

In the days that followed the culmination of my absolutely bonkers school year experience, I was suddenly spending a great deal of time searching orthopedic surgeons and forwarding the information to my step-dad for him to forward on to his connections for vetting. We landed on one that we all agreed on after a fairly exhaustive effort and I got the referral (out of area – OMG) to see this doctor.

On July 10.

No.

I began my summer break by getting up every morning to call to see if the doctor had cancellations and after a couple of days I knew all the women who worked in the department. I was told that the doctor was on call for O.R. duties on Fridays but that there were two morning appointments released on Thursdays that I could try to get in for, with the knowledge that I could get cancelled last-minute. I got booked for Friday June 22.

The appointment did not get cancelled, but all my hope for any alternative to a total joint replacement did. When the doctor looked at my x-rays from 2016 and that morning, and heard my whole story (which I have neglected to mention I was not able to tell without embarrassing sobs for months at this point) it was clear to him that I needed a new hip. I asked if there were any alternatives, it seemed like there should be because I am only 47. (I avoided going full Nancy Kerrigan, but I did want to know why this was the only alternative.)  It turns out, like so many other questions about the specifics of recovery duration and such, there is no definitive answer, although it seems very likely that more than a decade of competitive track and field along with basketball were not necessarily as good for me as we once thought. He asked me what I knew about the procedure. (More than I wanted to.) Then he brought in the “hip” for me to look at. (Heavy fucking metal.)

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Oh, and this surgeon, the one we all liked and had moved mountains to see? He did not do the anterior approach. He recommended the surgeon I had originally been slated to see on July 13. It took absolutely no calculating to realize that the timing and necessary recovery for this was looking like I was going to have to wait a year.

No no no no.

He said he would make some calls.

We left. I was in a mood that I am quite sure no one wanted to be around, so we went out to lunch. I like the way my parents think.

By about 3:00pm I was getting ready to start thinking about heading back to SF, and my phone rang. It was the surgeon. In the time since we had left he had figured out a way to use his surgery time to partner with a doctor he very much approved of to do the replacement.

On July 3.

I sat there and realized that I was going to have a major surgery in 11 days. In hindsight, I think for someone like me having absolutely no time to think things like this through is probably a good thing, and trust me, there was going to be no time. Within an hour I had been scheduled for four days worth of pre-op adventures.

By the end of June I had cancelled my vacation, seen more medical professionals than I had in decades, and was preparing for my ‘hip-cation’ in the North Bay. It was really happening.

In at 5:45am on July 3, the surgery prep began. I certainly can’t say I remember much about it except that my body issues were not imaginary because I had gained 15 pounds since January (!!!) and the O.R. nurses were great, the anesthesiologist was funny (I had a spinal not a general – although again, I was elsewhere), and the surgeon came in to tell me how the “universe just really came together to make this whole thing happen.” I guess, but it certainly seemed like he had a pretty big hand in things.

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I was home by 3:30pm that day. With a walker, an elevated toilet seat and enough pain medication to quell a herd of elephants.

It was weird. It felt weird, even though I couldn’t really feel anything save for the sensation that someone may have taken a baseball bat to the exterior of my thigh. But it was done, I was basically mobile, and that was that.

Because I was at home in Petaluma with my parents (and yes of course I brought the cats with me) I was able to do absolutely nothing but recover. Like really, nothing. I guess it was a vacation of sorts. And because I have health insurance (unlike the 30 million and growing number of people under 65 without coverage) this scenario turned into a money-saving bonanza for me (Ms. I Got No Plans For The Foreseeable). That was pretty relaxing too.

I came home, cane, cats and all, to San Francisco on the 24th of July, three weeks to the day from my surgery. It was – is – good to be back. I am moving slower than I would like, and I get tired much quicker than I would like – and don’t even talk to me about the Frankenstein situation that has emerged on the front of my upper leg (a six-inch incision and 22 staples leave a mark), but I am here, not needing pain medicine beyond Tylenol and having no pain in the hip, well, because I no longer actually have a hip that can feel pain.

I had a chance to visit with two of my favorite people from Hong Kong about a week or so ago, former village neighbors, they now live in the UK and have been touring the US for several weeks, and I was telling Vicky about my summer. As I told her the story and I realized everything is going as it should – actually much better even than anyone anticipated, but I still didn’t feel, I don’t know, grounded or settled or something. I said I felt a little guilty for not being beside myself with joy that I have this new hip and consequently have solved my problem, as everyone seems to think I should. She told me not to underestimate the significance of what I had done, and that I was not just having to physically integrate this huge new thing in my body, but I was also going to have to mentally integrate it as well and that our mind-body connections are so strong that our brains do funny things when parts are removed or added… This made the most sense to me of anything I had heard post-operatively. I still think back to her words when I feel apprehensive about all that has gone on.

All of my ‘precautions’ lift, coincidentally – or not – on the first day that I report to a new job. I like this symmetry and I feel really good about starting fresh with work after the very challenging experience that last year ended up being. And in my vanity, the one thing I said I could not do was start a new job with a cane seems like it is going to be an actuality.

The Change Chronicles: Part 5

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It is important to acknowledge that change is the constant state of things. But, beyond that there is no real dictate that you have to love it or be comfortable with it. I mean, I suppose doing so is better than the alternatives but, sometimes it is just a lot of work. However – newsflash- if you are seemingly existing in a real state of flux it just becomes the norm and somehow the lift is not as noticeable. It’ like that fish – “How’s the water?” “What’s water?”

Oh the feeling
When you’re reeling
You step lightly thinking you’re number one
Down to zero with a word
Leaving
For another one

Yeah, okay, so I know it is going to work out, I have no idea what that is going to look like, but I am getting that my being okay with the not knowing is really freaking some people out. Like, for real there are some folks out there that seem to think my state of mind about this is like some sort of psychotic break.

I recently went back to Hong Kong for a visit. This is not huge news – I go back almost every year (missed last year) and I have a family/community/circle there that is paramount in life. This was a great trip for a lot of reasons (I got to stay in my old flat – how cool is that?) and just hang out with people I love. What was a little unique about this trip was that I was waiting on news about whether or not I was going to get a job (stateside) that I had just gone through and arduous but awesome interview process for. It led to a lot of conversations about what was on the horizon for me and gave me a chance to get super real with how I was feeling about it all.

The most interesting thing about all of these conversations was the difference in tenor among my expat and Hong Kong Chinese friends. The general take on the job transition over there was the abundance of options and all the interesting directions I could go… the inquiries were all, “Oh! What about this? This would be amazing? You could do this! Or this!” There was no overlay of, what about your retirement, what about if it doesn’t work, what are you going to dođŸ˜±, do you have a back up plan, what if everything goes straight to shite?!

It was shockingly different.

While admittedly the tone laid heavily on – you really should come back to Hong Kong, the reality was I found that an attitude that had made me really uncomfortable back in 2010 when I was considering (and then actually) repatriating, suddenly resonated as something so much more authentic to me. I remember thinking so clearly at various points in my time in Asia – wow! how are these people so comfortable with never knowing what lies ahead? I used to call it suspended animation. I thought it was just some sort of avoidant childishness.

And for some, I imagine it was. But for the majority of the people I know there, it is this unbelievably refreshing can-do attitude. And people I know are doing awesome things. They are not relying on just doing what they have always done because it is what they do (or- ugh – who they are.) They are doers. Don’t mistake my observations as some superficial rosy glow – I am very aware of the challenges of this approach and have witnessed (am witnessing) first hand the complications that arise from making less fruitful choices with this mindset. But the idea that doing what one has always done is not what actually has to be done was a great mental shift for me to make.

I think that the general approach to work in the US – among a lot of people I know – falls squarely into the green ikigai circle. I am not convinced this is ideal. I know I have mistakenly judged folks who are squarely in the yellow circle as layabouts or avoiders… but if I had to choose between the two now I am not sure where I would want to land. I think my friends who have freed themselves from the homegrown expectations of their home environments feel much more comfortable dancing between circles – and have found some super creative ways to do this.

I did not get the job I was waiting on hearing about while I was over there. And this was interesting for a host of reasons including the time and place in which I got the news. But most of all, I was absolutely shocked I did not get it – for real. And I am not actually some super arrogant person about things like this. In fact, I generally fall much more into the imposter syndrome category. But I was so sure I was getting this job I was actually really thinking about what I would do if I got it: did I really want it? how would I manage the commute? it was going to be a really big commitment – did I want that? was I ready to jump back in the river?

Now you walk with your feet back on the ground
Down to the ground
Down to the ground
Down to the ground
Down to the ground

All those questions were rendered mute when I didn’t get the position. I sat with the news and was like, wow. But I wasn’t crushed, it was just like, huh… okay then.

Taking the position would have for sure put me in the little olive colored area on the southern side ikigai diagram: ‘comfortable, but feeling of emptiness’.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I saw a position that looked really interesting, but it is part time. Historically, I would have not even bothered with this because of the green-circle tendencies I have. But I thought about this differently this time. Maybe I should bounce over to the little brown area on the eastern (coincidence? I think not) side of the chart: ‘excitement and complacency [odd combo], but sense of uncertainty’. Maybe actually relying on the excitement of the hustle, with a little of the safety of a regular gig is just the right thing.

Or maybe it is not.

Either way,

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Brand new dandy
First class scene stealer
Walks through the crowd and takes your man
Sends you rushing to the mirror
Brush your eyebrows and say
There’s more beauty in you than anyone

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 fĂȘte 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 MarchĂ© 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 â‚Ź500 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-Selfieℱ. #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 LaudurĂ©e. 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 rosĂ© 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…