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…

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Turning another page.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

The New Year holds a striking amount of significance for so many people – me among them. In my rational mind I am aware that this is silly, this arbitrary attachment to an abstract new beginning. But I still believe. I have borrowed from a variety of places and traditions in terms of how I celebrate. I clean and get everything all sorted out for smooth segues into new calendars, I eat something celebratory for no other reason than the simple pleasure it brings, if I toast in the new year anymore I am mindful of the sort of hangovers that lurk around every corner in middle age, I contemplate, I make lists (and I read so many: best photos, most searched, best music, best movies… ), I set goals, which in combination comes down to a sort of daydreamy visualization situation. I hesitate to call it meditation only for its lack of continuity and specific intention. Not to say that I think this kind of mental exercise is any less effective, just different. And it allows from some mu-si vegetables and wonton soup in between thoughts. I also love to have my own sort of greatest hits, generally punctuated by photos. I may do that again – but now with Instagram and what not, it it starting to seem a little unoriginal – if it ever was.

I did not write a lot this past year, well I didn’t blog a lot. And my relationship with “social” media is really changing for a variety of reasons. First of all the fact that the OED identified the (non)word “selfie” as the word of the year because its use increased by more than 17,000% is profoundly disturbing – more for the underlying meaning of universally embracing this concept than the fact that it is a made up word. What does it say about a species that their most used word is all about self-promotion, self-obsession, self-ishness? I  have students that seriously shoot unending series of selfies. Daily. Hourly. In addition to this ridiculousness, there is the constant Facebook weirdness. I have taken to hiding people from my feed because I am too gutless to actually delete these people on the outside chance that they would notice and I might be forced to deal, face to face, and explain that I really find their superiority trips/self-obsession/directives on how to live/ignorance/politics/judgements/incessant unedited posting/Candy Crush invites/misspellings (which even when intentional are still misspellings and annoying) soul crushing. And this is super frustrating as I have been working so hard to be kind and to remember that everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about…. Well, frankly with all your posts I do know about it – unless you are one of those cryptic posters – but I am still trying to be kind. Really. Another thing that happened this year is that someone started aggressively stalking and harassing me via any available online conduit. He would read (and repost!) my blog posts that he took offense to (and believes to the point of mass publicizing it that one of them was written about him – ummm… Hello Crazy.) He stalked my Instagram. Then he started a series of ad-hom attacks on Twitter (keep in mind my Twitter is private and he is fully blocked by every available avenue and still he persisted.) I reported him repeatedly. Then he started contacting me through some other account – that he was accusing me of running. Where is Sweet Brown when you need here? I mean, who in the world got time for THAT? Reported that too. But it just made things less pleasant. Then I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle, and I just got freaked out about the whole situation.

Also, my hard drive crashed in September without a real recent back up and so I did some deep work with attachment… and ended up feeling a bit detached. Though, this morning as I watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day my first reaction was, “I gotta get a photo of that…” while I was still curled up all warm in my bed. And why? For whom?

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But my transition from old year to new year seemed incomplete without some sort of look back – as well as forward. And sooo…

This year is beginning in a markedly different way than I had anticipated, directly. Looking back at the (little) bit of writing I did this year in the public and private forums it seems a little less surprising. And I am paying a lot more attention to the layers of synchronicity in my life – like facing relationship crisis points and walking into yoga class where one of my teachers announces that his theme for 2014 will be vulnerability. Seriously? Yeah. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to try to make someone’s morning a little better by making them coffee… and then three hours later on making coffee for myself having the carafe shatter with the pressure of the French Press. Really universe?

Still, I’m gonna keep trying to kill them with kindness. Even the lady from Glee on the NYE special was talking about that being her goal for the new year: kindness. [redacted]

So my year? Sitting here on a quiet New Year’s morning, there is a lot to think about buried in a seemingly mundane year. In honor of the OED, let’s see if I can find a selfie from every month… while all is quiet.

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2013: you have arrived

[From our mobile desk on the 5 en route from Encinitas to Petaluma]
In the spirit of the New Year traditions, let’s review. If that is not a tradition for you, it can be now. Or not.

Things I want to remember about this year:

1. Sometimes things are as good as they seem. And sometimes they aren’t. That is not so profound, but it turns out to be true. The trick appears to be the old “wisdom to know the difference” as the serenity prayer Pollyanna-ishly tells us. I found that the most challenging thing about this was that sometimes they are both. At the same time. This is difficult for someone like me with a natural inclination to compartmentalize. Anyhow, the good was really good, and that made the bad especially aggravating. I guess that is the wisdom to appreciate the contrast.

2. All is fleeting and the temporary nature of life is vey real. If all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, as the Bard suggests, I hope someday for the most epic of curtain calls.

3. Everyone has issues. Good thing to remember in those dark moments.

4. In spite of so much there seems to be hope for humanity. Not always, but you know, enough of the time to stave off true desperation.

And in keeping with my predilection for lists and compartmentalizing, here are my greatest hits for 2012, a year so many thought would bring the end of days, or maybe they just hoped… but ultimately it just came and went. Like they all seem to do at a deceptively consistent speed.

JANUARY:
Jan12
A beautiful New Years Day spent with a surprisingly special someone.

FEBRUARY:
Feb2012
More challenging than I had anticipated – but I did not know it at the time. Does that count? At least that damn month is short. And I learned to go-kart.

MARCH:Mar2012
Categorically the longest month ever. Always. Pink slips arrive. Survival seems the most one can ask of March… But we went to the Magic Castle, and even in the rain that is always fun. Especially when you check in and they tell you they are comping the weekend for you.

APRIL: Apr2012
The Cowboy makes a permanent relocation. Mostly.
I experience one of the most tragic of losses as gun violence touches my life directly, horribly, irrevocably.

MAY: 601061_429632317070978_273802422_n
There is lots of sunshine. My first year at BHS is winding down. The Golden Gate Bridge turns 75.

JUNE: Jun2012
I deliver the commencement address for my seniors at our small school graduation. I watch my first entire Tour de France.

JULY: 552192_443546009012942_2129688312_n
I question everything because everything seems topsy-turvy. I am right about everything I suspect, but whether or not it matters in the way I think it does is confusing and unclear. I think my lack of travel contributes to much of this disequilibrium… Though I do go to Booneville for a wedding.

AUGUST:
Aug2012

Vegas with A and the girls. It is fabulous and the Beatles cirque du soleil is amazing.

SEPTEMBER: Sep2012
Usually my favorite month. But this year not so much. Plus, I mean, 42 is anticlimactic as anything. Regardless, this month challenged every expectation I had – or had tried to avoid. Faith in everything was tested. Junot Diaz articulated it all perfectly in This Is How You Lose Her, and I got to have him sign another one of my first editions.

OCTOBER: Oct2012
Bridge School Benefit concert and several opportunities to wear wigs. Can’t be bummed about that.

NOVEMBER: Nov2012
The parentals are back and Thanks are given. I am especially grateful for the election returns as the entire world watches with held breath wondering if our country could possibly be as stupid as we sometimes appear. It turns out we are not. I am relieved and Nate Silver is not surprised at all. I buy his book.

DECEMBER: Home of the Free
Alcatraz, the Nutcracker, Newtown, missed Apocalypses, Vacations, missed weddings, San Diego, Family, Birthdays, Anniversaries. In a single month, December managed to encapsulate the heartbreaking highs and lows of the entire year.

And now it is over, with all of the hope a new year brings, whether a recipe for disaster based on overly ambitious expecatations, or maybe just another day.

I think it is somewhere in between.

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On Old long syne.