My Small (home)town.

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

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

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

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

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

As is often the case, something changed.

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Coach J.

Coach J

My Coach is retiring this year. I knew it would happen sometime, but really it had started to seem like maybe… Anyhow, the older we get the more clear it becomes that nothing lasts forever in a singular familiar way. Sometimes when I think about Coach – which is almost every day in some capacity – I laugh thinking to myself how old we thought he was when we were in school. And he was barely older than  I am now. In fact, if I am precise, when the time comes to mark the anniversary of the actual moment I first met him I think I will be exactly the same age he was on that fall day back in 1984.

I introduced my Coach to one of the teams I coached in the early 2000s. They were thrilled for the chance to meet the man upon whom pretty much my entire philosophy of excruciating hard work, consistency, practice, and the unwavering belief that (in the majority of circumstances in high school basketball) discipline and effort could get ‘er done. These girls were one of the first groups I had led, without assistance, as my own team. They changed me in a lot of ways and I like to think I made a difference for them; and meeting my coach was something I was able to do to show them a little bit of what was ‘behind the curtain’ in my life, one I tend to share very little of with my clientele.

So we drove down to Sacramento where the Petaluma Lady Trojans (a disappointing, yet enduring adjustment of my school’s mascot for the women’s sports programs… often “T-Girls” as well, yet I digress) were playing in the Northern California CIF Championship. For the uninitiated, this is a huge accomplishment in a state like California with more than 1,450 high school teams – our section, the NCS has 171 competing schools at different classifications. (The Southern Section boasts 567!) When we arrived at Arco Arena in Sacramento and found the Petaluma contingency, I felt like a prodigal daughter returning home – in my heart feeling so lacking relative to what I had once intended to accomplish by the ripe old age of 30, and shy about “just” being a high school teacher and varsity basketball coach in front of the man who had seen me through years of awkward adolescent declarations of what lay ahead for me. The moment passed in a millisecond as my coach embraced me, my girls, the moment in the way he always had.

I was one of his girls and he was going to let people know exactly what that meant; he suffered no fools, failures, or lackeys. If you were one of Coach’s girls you were something special, and he was going to make sure you, and those around you saw that. On my darkest days I often find myself turning to some small memory of something Coach said to me over the years.

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What an immeasurable, tremendously generous gift.

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