Monday, October 11, 2010


Decompression is a term Burners use to describe the process of re-entering what we call the Default World. You see, Burning Man, can feel like an alternate universe. We do things there we don't do in regular life. We make eye contact with everyone we meet. We celebrate sun up and sun down. We hug like we mean it. We give, we get, we live.

Someone reminded me this year that time spent on the Playa, like dog years can be multiplied by seven. Using that math, I spent the equivalent of about 10 weeks in that universe. So yeah, it takes a bit to adapt from that.

Unfortunately, I had just as hard a landing in the Default World this year, as I did on the Playa. It just seems that hard landings are my new MO. So, it's taken until now, the week of San Francisco's actual Decompression, essentially a block party-after party for the Burn, to get my bearings.

Funny thing is, I decompressed from camping in the desert, by camping in the California hills near a reservoir with friends. It's amazing how much easier camping is without blistering heat, 40 mph winds, and the constant threat of dehydration. And it occurred to me that by going to Burning Man, a place of impossible conditions to escape norms that stymie creativity, that maybe we appreciate expression that much more when we are there. And by the same token, maybe I appreciate how much easier some things are in the default world, so I can remember I don't have to be in a challenging environment to be creative.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sanctuary in Work - Burning Man 2010

For me, work often cures a myriad of ills. Work distracts me. Work occupies me. Work is one of the things I do best.

After a very stressful, and very expensive trip to the Burn, I was actually ready to turn around and cut my losses. What was I thinking coming out to the desert for 10 days? I wanted to be in the default world, with my family who couldn’t come.

But I decided to continue on as planned, to my first shift with the Gate Crew. I got there, checked in, got my t-shirt and hoodie, got my laminate, and then sat down in the Black Hole to take in the scene.

Old couches sat upon old carpet laid to keep the dust down. Camping chairs left in a circled formation from the night before, continued to hold council around a still smoldering burn barrel. A crewmember slept in a hammock strung between two beams of the shade structure, as others came through looking tired but motivated.
The first shift with Gate includes an hour-long orientation. We learned do’s and don’ts, safety, what to look for, what to expect. Before long, we were on a bus headed to the gate where we were paired into teams and put to work.

Gate crew is responsible for every person that enters Black Rock City. We take the tickets, make sure folks aren’t bringing in forbidden items: guns, explosives, fireworks, dogs, live plants, feather boas, people without tickets, and then send them on there way down gate road to get hugs and excitement from the Greeters.

Working Gate is a dangerous job. There are a lot of vehicles, driven by weary but excited drivers, in various states of cogency. Exhaust combined with dust and beating sun, make for challenging work conditions, as does early morning cold when working the overnight shift. But there’s nothing like seeing a horizon that begins to glow with the earliest hints of day light before the sun rises.

Working the event changed my perspective about the Burn. I realized that I was no longer merely a participant. I was now one of many who help make it all happen.

After my first shift, I felt better, more like I was Home again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hard Entry, Hard Landing - Burning Man 2010

“So how was Burning Man?”

“Good,” I say. “I worked a lot.”

It’s true, I worked seven shifts with the gate crew for a total of about 46 hours. Next time I plan to work more.

It’s a totally different Burn from that perspective. Being among those who make it happen makes a big difference in the experience. We participate, but with far more commitment. I marveled at the Gate Crew veterans, their dedication, their stamina. As a new crew member I just did my best to keep up on the shifts that I covered.

It was a hard entry into the Burn this year. After weeks of preparation, my anticipation went into a fever pitch the week before the Burn. So did my anxiety. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something felt out of wack. Low level nervousness turned into low level panic, but I had no logical reason why.

Thursday, the week before my departure brought the first blow. While in UN Plaza, in San Francisco, I somehow, lost my Burning Van keys. Gone! No where to be found. And…no spares. Several phone calls, about 5 hours and two locksmiths later, I had a fresh set of keys and a set of spares. Tragedy averted. Or so I thought.

One week later, I was in SF again, this time to pick up equipment for my riders. It all seemed to be going well, but I couldn’t help but have a serious case of the Heebee Jeebies. I was anxious for no good reason. Everything was packed. We would leave in the morning. But I felt like something wasn’t quite right.

My fears were finally realized as we started ascending the Sierra Nevada. Blinking warning lights that would seal our fate hastened my blood pressure to raise. We managed to make it to Truckee, but not without causing damage to the engine.

The news from the mechanic wasn’t good. What made it worse was that he didn’t think the work would be completed until the following Wednesday. My heart sank. He gave me a card for the local rental car company, that maybe a little to coincidentally had a Suburban available for the week. I jumped at it.

With my blood pressure causing a light popping in my ears, I drove the rental back to the mechanic’s where my travel companions took over unloading the Burning Van and loading the Suburban. We arrived on the Playa about 6 hours later than we had planned, but we made it. But, for the first time I wasn’t overjoyed to be there. I didn’t want to be there at all. I needed comfort. I needed to not have spent a small fortune to get there. I needed my blood pressure to go down.

The next morning, after some restless sleep in the truck, I found my way to medical. The popping in my ears had stopped but I still felt loopy.

“130 over 92” the nurse announced when she checked it a second time.

“It’s a little high.”

After contemplating my options, I decided to at least set up a basic camp, and work my first shift with the Gate crew, before deciding to leave. So I did just that. I set up my tent, stowed some gear, had enough time to grab some water and my Playa pack and headed to the Black Hole, headquarters for PG&E, Perimeter, Gate & Exodus crew.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Three Favorite Cities

As I plan my pilgrimage to my most favorite city, I started to think about my other favorite places. But first, a brief preface. I’m not what one would call exceptionally well traveled. I’ve been places, St. Louis, Seattle, San Antonio, Indianapolis, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Vienna, Venezia, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Garmish, and Fulda to name a few. These are places in which I’ve actually spent some measure of time. I don’t include lay over cities like London, Salt Lake, Phoenix or Chicago. The list of places I haven’t been is by far much longer. I’ve never been to Boston for instance, nor Miami, Honolulu, or any major cities in Central or South America. I’ve also never been to any city in Africa, Australia or Asia. One of these will be remedied however in the year to come. More on that later. So, with all that said, here are my current favorite cities.

Number 3 – San Francisco, California

It never occurred to me how much I love this city until I left it for a time. I didn’t grow up in the City but in the outer Bay Area. But, we frequented it often. I had an uncle who lived on the pan-handle of Golden Gate Park. My older sister attended modeling school there. At the end of summer we use to hit the factory stores in the warehouse district, (now called SOMA) And sometimes, we would just go on a Friday night to explore China Town, and eat fried rice in a dinky restaurant in which you enter through the kitchen by way of an alley. In those days, San Francisco was still full of animated neon. The Hills Brother’s Coffee Man would great us from the Bay Bridge, bright red nipples flashed on Broadway, and Coca Cola simply just dazzled. It was an odd mix of glam and hippy art and love.

I work there now, so I still enjoy San Francisco, but not in quite the same way. Now I see it as a world class city, with diversity, and food, innovation and entertainment. Hippies are largely replaced with Hipsters, CocaCola still dazzles but little else does at night. SOMA is a district of tall shiny condos with shiny people to match. And there is a palatable level of smug largely possessed by those who did not grow up here. Despite all this, I still love San Francisco, it’s charm, it’s character and it’s people. I like seeing flash mobs, naked people running in the Bay to Breakers and other outward signs of expression that probably just wouldn’t fly anywhere else. I like eating crab with friends at Fisherman’s Warf on Sunday mornings. I like watching what looks like insane piles of houses on hills with intermittent towers that jut out like outcrops as I approach on the ferry in the mornings. It’s a great place to go 5 days a week, and I wouldn’t even mind living there.

Number 2 – Verona, Italy

I lived in Italy for three years between Verona and Venezia (Venice). Now, some might be surprised to hear that between those two cities, I would pick Verona over Venezia. I’ll admit, that it’s a beautiful place. The canals are enchanting, the food amazing, and the architecture breathtaking. But Verona is a city that is a little more my speed. It’s an old Roman City, the city of Romeo and Juliet, and an amazing cultural center.
Because it’s a Roman City, it has it’s own coliseum that is still in use. When I was there I went to the Ballet and rock concerts in the coliseum. The city center (Centro) is also laid out in concentric circles which can be a little disorienting when walking around drunk at night in the rain (another story entirely). Verona boasts one of the oldest market places in Europe, as well as a McDonalds. It has towers, city walls, ruins, Juliet’s balcony and her tomb. But all these reasons combined aren’t why I love this city so much. Beginning with my very first visit, I felt a connection with this city. It’s the kind of city that is automatically familiar. I think it’s because it’s both provincial and urban at the same time. It’s a place I dream about often, and hope to return to some day.

Number 1 – Black Rock City, Nevada

Black Rock City is the temporary establishment built on the Black Rock Dessert during the Burning Man Festival. If I’m lucky, once a year I get to call this place home for a week. Although temporary, BRC has a culture, an infrastructure, and even street names. We have DPW, Department of Public Works who create our perimeter, build our streets, build Center Camp, and many other places that support our citizens. We have DMV, Department of Mutant Vehicles who license art cars which act as our public transportation on the Playa. We have ESD, Emergency Services Department that includes doctors, nurses, EMT’s, and other Emergency personnel. And, we have our own intervention/resolution force (as opposed to police) called the Black Rock Rangers.

Black Rock City is a place to play, but also to appreciate. We believe in Radical Self Reliance, which means we don’t look to others to meet our needs, but at the same time we look out for each other. The absurd is encouraged, as is kindness, generosity and love. My love for Black Rock City is not based on the locale, although I’ve grown to love the vastness of the Playa. It’s not based on the architecture either, because save the Man, the architecture changes every year. I love Black Rock City for both the culture and the possibilities. Surprises are everywhere. Most are good, some are bad, (i.e. “Who left crap on the PortaJon seat?”)

In a little more than 24 hours I will depart for this place as I have done 5 times before. I must admit, that this year’s excursion is made with some apprehension, but the one thing I know is once I’m there, I can expect an amazing hug, new friends, and surprises around every corner.

Hasta la Playa!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Preparation Boiling Point - Burning Man 2010

Every year I go to Burning Man, at some point it reaches a boiling point, and the reality of it all begins to overwhelm. I start second guessing myself. Am I forgetting something? Do I have enough food, water, equipment, booze?

Black Rock City is an amazing place, but it's also a dangerous place. The conditions are extremely harsh, and those of us that take the Radical Self Reliance Principle seriously, don't want to be caught unprepared. In years past I have always been over prepared, but that was when I went with my kids in tow. When going alone, I find myself in an odd middle ground between wanting to be prepared and wanting to stick to the KISS method. You know, Keep It Simple Stupid.

The thing is, it takes a lot of planning to go to the desert for spontaneous expression. You have to plan for water (one and a half gallons a day), food and the storage of perishables (there's a dry ice strategy to be employed), wardrobe (that is equal in both form and function), gifts (preferably hand made and/or pragmatic), health care (sun screen, baby wipes, hand sanitizer) and equipment (including a bike, tools, illumination, zip ties, and Gorilla tape). Getting ready for a full week of Radical Self Reliance, where you are completely responsible for your own well being, requires forethought and imagination. But that's OK, because that's a lot of what Burning Man is about: forethought and imagination.

The Playa is a place where one can be at the whim of imagination. Creativity is encouraged. Realization of vision is admired. As a community we dare to do brave things that we wouldn't do in the Default World. We hug like we mean it, all the time. We practice generosity. And although one of our principles is Radical Self Reliance, we look out for each other. Art and expression are the foundations of our culture, as is acceptance and participation. It's no wonder that when we get there, the greeters always say, "Welcome Home."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flipping Bikes for Burning Man

Serendipity is a funny thing. On the years I carefully plan and save money for Burning Man, the preparation is a year long affair. The times when I only decide to go after the cheap tickets are gone, somehow, the resources materialize.

Monday, on the week of the Burn last year I was lamenting how much I wanted to be on the Playa. By Thursday, I was there. I was randomly gifted a ticket, a gift that I will never forget. Fast forward to June of this year. I was once again fretting about missing the event, now at the end of July, with my other plans unexpectedly changed, I have a ticket and about 75% of my equipment and supplies.

Since, this year’s trip wasn’t planned, I had to come up with a fast scheme to raise the money. I decided to try bike flipping. And by bike flipping I don’t mean juggling bikes on a street corner for tips, but finding forgotten unwanted bikes at yard and estate sales, fixing them and selling at a profit.

There’s quite a market for used and vintage bikes (those that are at least 30 years old). And most of my buyers appreciate the work I put into them. Usually it’s a new inner tube and maybe some rust removal. Sometimes it’s fresh tires too. And almost always it’s cleaning grease and goop from in between gears with cotton swabs and WD40. They come out looking like the amazing treasures they are.
Now that the Burn is drawing nigh, I have started flipping Burner bikes. The best way to traverse the Playa is by bike. And when peddling through packed alkali dust you don’t want to be on your best bike. You want to take the bike that won’t break your heart if it doesn’t survive the trip. So now in addition to cool vintage bikes, I look for not so cool but still very useful bikes with big fat tires. Although some people are adverse to what I do, buy low, sell high, but when I tell them what I use the proceeds for they almost invariably approve.

After doing some math in my head, I figured out that I will have flipped at least 20 bikes before the Man Burns. At this point that’s six more bikes and 36 more days. I wouldn’t be surprised if I hit 25 or 30. Regardless, I’ve found a new pastime that benefits more than just me. Anybody wanna buy a bike?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Burn Baby Burn

It's that time of year, when Burners can recognize each other by a shared frenzied gleam in the eye.

It's Burning Man season.

In the months prior to Burning Man, an annual festival of expression in the Black Rock Desert, participants plan, scheme, create and fantasize about the one week event staged on an ancient lake bed in the Black Rock Desert where we build our city. Yes, I say we, because I will once again be going home, and home is what we call the Playa.

With plenty of time to plan, I've taken to making a series of list for my preparations: Things I Need, Things I Want, and Things Not to Forget. These augment a master list I keep for packing, which includes Clothing, Health & Safety, Tools & Equipment, Food, and Sundries. It takes a lot of organization to go out and be spontaneously expressive, which is the Irony of Burning Man.

The level of organization that goes into the event rivals that of most military operations. It's a place where one can participate in self expression without caring what others think, but not a place to be careless in terms of safety and well being. Its very hot, and dry and there's always a lot going on, so attention to detail is of utmost importance. Things like forgetting goggles and a dust mask on a trip to the Jonny on the Spot can prove dangerous when you open the door to a white out dust storm.

This year, I came up with a scheme to raise money for the Playa by flipping bikes. I buy old, forgotten, forlorn bikes found at yard sales or in dusty basements at estate sales, clean them, fix them, and then resell at a profit to appreciative buyers. It's proven to be an effective strategy. In five short weeks, I managed to raise enough money for both my ticket and my camp fees. Plus it's therapeutic giving these bikes a second life and feels kind of zen which is quite appropriate for funding this trip.

So now the countdown begins.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Seeing ourselves in our kids

My kids are getting older. It's undeniable now. We have entered the realm of acne and twenty minute showers. But luckily, for me at least, they haven't left the building yet. They still tolerate me in general, and will even acknowledge me in public. I like to think that it's because I allow them ample opportunities for expression.

I'll be truthful. My kids are, well...twisted. I'm sure it has something to do with an early introduction to Shel Silverstein and the inordinate amount of Monty Python they watched as younglings. This had an early impact. I admit, I was proud when my then 6 year old wanted to dress as King Arthur with coconuts in his hands for Halloween. Of course, Monty Python led to harder things, like The Simpson's, Family Guy and That 70's Show. Add Mythbusters and Colbert Report, plus key flicks from TCM, and well you get what I have now: a would be evil genius and one that is always looking for a punchline.

All I can do is hope that I've provided them with good references.

I was recently reminded about references when I took BART to work last week from an early morning appointment in Oakland. Those who know me, know that I prefer public transit, but not so much when it is filled with school aged kids.

Spring is field trip season. Every year starting around March, scads of backpack laden children, with yarn necklace name tags and a few anxious looking chaperons cue up for day trip adventures. I have vivid memories of these forays into the adult world. It was like glimpsing into a secret life I wasn't supposed to know about.

The children on BART seemed to be having a similar experience.

"Look, that's where my daddy works."
"There's the freeway!"
"That's the bakery!"

I tried to drown out their exclamations with my reading material, but it proved fruitless without earphones. So I pocketed my magazine and watched the activity that went with the dialogue.

The group of kids closest to me seemed to be playing some sort of game like Slug Bug. They were looking for something specific, and then punched each other in the arm when they found it. At first I thought it was cars, but that didn't seem to be it. Then I thought it could be a type of store, but that wasn't right either. It wasn't until we started heading underground that I understood what they were looking at.

As the train lowered between the two concrete walls covered with graffiti, the children suddenly oohed and awed. What they were identifying in their game were graffiti tags. This was their reference.

Reference is an interesting thing. Reference is simile. It's what we use to help us contextualize the world, a way of making things familiar. And it wasn't until this experience, that I truly understood the significance and value of reference, how it contributes to perspective and influences understanding.

I started to wonder what such a reference would yield for these children, but decided to take another crack at my reading as the train slipped underground. The noise of the transbay tunnel would surely drown out their voices.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Seen enough or too much?

"I've seen enough to know I've seen too much," so said the baseball announcer in
the movie A League of their Own. Perhaps. When exactly does one realize that they have seen enough?

Apparently that time is now for Reality TV. This according to blog entry at today that reported only 2 of the 36 shows in the works are for the fall season are of that genre. "
There must be reality show burn-out among viewers and advertisers," writes West Coast Editor Wayne Friedman.

Gee. Ya think?

Friedman goes on to state that advertisers want better story telling, and I can't help but wonder why. Could it be that shows that are essentially produced for their voyeuristic qualities attract the most passive of audiences?

Maybe we have turned a corner!

Maybe, we as a society are ready to re-engage! Imagine it. No longer will we sit back at home watching other peoples lives while forsaking our own. We will actually be out there doing those things, making things happen, initiating dialogue, interacting with each other on a regular basis. Forget tanorexic over-privileged bimbo wannabees who despite everything they have are increasingly dissatisfied with life. Forget exaggerated opportunities used to induce contestants to seek their 15 minutes of fame by showcasing both real and perceived talents. Reality is not on TV, it's what you do every day! This is life baby and you are going to be part of it! Your ideas matter! Your participation makes a difference! You can change the...

(from the article)

"The key for many TV advertisers hasn't changed: They still value a new reality show at a discount to a scripted show. And with a suddenly strong TV advertising market, networks seemingly made the easy call: go for the bigger ad money."


Well, maybe that means there will at least be something worthwhile to watch?


I've taken a great interest in how the market has changed in the past year. I noticed for instance, how quickly advertisers picked up on the new national mood. The message went from gross indulgence to value for your money in less time than it took for my cell phone to be outdated. And although I joke, action and innovation continue to be the sentiment du jour. Suddenly, major companies like American Express, Pepsi and even Absolute Vodka are introducing campaigns that focus on people's ability to make things happen.

So, maybe it is a good sign that Reality TV is out and creativity is back in, and not for the reason you might think. It could be that Ad Men know something we don't: that it really is much more fun to be a part of the game than to stand on the sidelines and cheer. Then again, they are counting on their message reaching me as I sit on my ass.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dare to Hope, Hope to Persevere

Another day is done, and once again I’m moving both forward and up and down as the ferry I’m on traverses a northwest current. The days have grown longer and my rides home are now through fading hazy sunshine that reflects across the water as I look across the bay, past Angel Island to the Marin peninsula that gobbles up cars crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Spirits are up despite the recent week of horrible news: oil drilling catastrophe, floods, terrorism attempts, and locally, a steady increase in violent crime and another dead whale floating near the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

I don’t know if it’s that we’ve grown accustomed to these stressful times that we are in, or if maybe there is a glimmer of hope that we might come out OK on the other side of our national financial fiasco. A generation was sold on the idea of wealth, an idea that it seems was never truly intended to apply to them. And now it feels as if nobody wants to jinx whatever cusp we are on. The awkward balancing act is wearing, but at least we haven’t fallen off the deep end. For the moment it seems that most of us have learned to be practical, but I can’t help but wonder if it will be a lesson that sticks.

There are incidental signs though that the economy is improving. Retailers continue to display Help Wanted signs, parking at the Ferry Terminal is just a little more crowded, and I’ve noticed an increase in lunchtime lines at eateries near my office. Tourists have also returned to San Francisco unwittingly participating as voyeurs of our everyday life as they pass by in double-decker busses and rented bicycles. It feels good to work in a place and a community that others travel to, to marvel at.

It’s an odd predicament we have come to be in, where we dare ourselves to hope, hope to persevere, and wait for whatever comes next. At least for the moment, I have sunshine on my way home where garden gnomes wait patiently for my arrival.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Am I gentrified?

Gentrification, a term typically used for the takeover of depressed neighborhoods by those who “see the potential” was injected into panel discussion I attended recently about community based media.

Community Based Media or Citizen Journalism as it is sometimes called is typically that which is produced from within the community, and from the community’s perspective. I’m a big fan of the trend. I think Community Based Media contributes to richer dialogue that helps better our practice of democracy. This, despite the fact that in some cases citizen dialogue adds to phenomena such as the Tea Party and militant militia groups. Overall I believe dialogue is a good thing, and the more voices added to it the better.

But this idea of the gentrification of media really bothered me. One of the panel members openly attacked anyone who was not of the 'Hood, for lack of a better term. In fact even those who live in depressed neighborhoods but were educated he felt was fair game, because obviously those persons were “privileged” enough to go to college.

Although I knew these comments were based in fear and anger more than in fact, I had to ask myself, “Am I gentrified?”

So I went down the check list: Catholic high school, check; college education, check; property owner, check; idealistic notions about social justice that may or may not apply to my specific living situation, check.

It wasn’t looking good, but despite this, I continued down the list and added some qualifiers: first generation working class family that started out working in the fields, check; GI Bill earned after 9 years of military service which paid for college and made home purchase possible, check; ten plus years working in community based organizations and projects, check; a deep commitment to honor the history and legacy of communities, check; nonprofit career that will keep me eternally overworked and underpaid, check.

So yes. In many, many ways, I am privileged. I have a house, a car, a job, and a rarified instance where my work is the same entity as my job. And I won’t deny that I can be an intellectual snob. I can’t help it. I like smart things, smart people and stimulating conversations. But I know enough to know that a) I don’t know much, b) that there is a big difference between having an education and being smart, and c) I know my own conscience and intentions, and they are not to capitalize on the potential of a property or an idea. I’d rather capitalize on the potential of people and their tenacity to survive despite all odds. In fact I want to celebrate it. Thus, my opinion is that there's a big difference between looking for someone to blame for a problem, and looking for ways to solve it.

I think there’s a difference between exploiting a situation for personal gain, and genuinely wanting to improve a situation for all those involved. Like all things, Community Based Media has players on both sides, with conflicting intentions. But we mustn’t paint with such broad strokes, as the panelist I saw last weekend did. Education, although often skewed to the mindset of the rich, does not leave us all with that notion. Many of us see the injustice and want to do everything we can to change it.

Us and them mentality won't yield cohesion...only discord.

Check out Community Based Media sites here:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yorick, we knew him well.

At approximately two o’clock p.m. on Tuesday, April 20th, a whale was spotted floating near the San Francisco Ferry Building. I saw the grim images on the local news and was heartbroken. I knew this was the whale we had been hoping to glimpse from the ferry that takes me to San Francisco during the week. Sightings were almost a daily occurrence.

Researchers determined, based on the size, that this was a juvenile and it died of starvation. When I learned this, the sad scenario began to play in my head. What we though was playfulness, may have been fraught. While we wondered at the grace in size, and elegance in movement, it wandered, confused why it wasn't feeling well.

Confusion is a scary thing. It leads to anxiety that sometimes leads to rash acts that we would not otherwise commit. Confusion impairs judgment, leading to foolishness and folly that we might recognize were we not so confused. And from the vision of this lost hapless giant, a metaphor emerged from my mind.

Like many Americans, I’m afraid for my country. I’m afraid that radical rhetoric is causing too much confusion. I’m afraid that confusion and anxiety are being used as a mechanism lead people to opinions and actions they would not normally have. I fear that what appears to be mere folly may in fact be disaster.

I decided to christen the whale as Yorick. Alas we knew him well, and his demise should encourage us to (among other things) consider Hamlet’s quandary:
To be or not to be– that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep
No more – and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
Confusion does not render cohesion. Thus, as we pursue discourse, we must do so in a way that leads us "to be".

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is self doubt good?

I don’t know exactly when, but I know at some point in the not too distant past I stepped onto a path that brought me to the place I am this very moment. I knew what I wanted to do, and I set out to do it. Were it as simple as that, I don’t think I would be the person I am now. But as I think of that not so distant past I sometimes wonder how all these things came to be. How was it that I was able to do and have and make and be and arrive to this place I am at right now? Was it will? Was it fortunate circumstance? Maybe it was fate. I can’t be sure, but I continually hope that I’m headed in the right direction.

I use words like hope as opposed to know, because I’m still very doubtful about the things that I know. This is mostly because of the vast amount of things I don’t know. I don’t know the capital of Argentina or any of the elements on the periodic table, (I never took chemistry) and I still can’t spell words like entrepreneur without going back to correct them once I see the red squiggly idiot line appear below it.

I sometimes worry about my capabilities, my confidence, my conscience. I worry that I’ve become mean spirited, and arrogant, and that these things will make me unworthy for whatever comes after this existence. I think about what I failed at in this lifetime and wonder about how many ways I can make up for my shortcomings.

Self doubt, at least for me, is essential for growth. It’s how I look for ways to be a truer version of the person I want to be. But it’s a dangerous place to be, so I have to be mindful.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yard Sale Part II - The real purging begins

After the success of last week's free sale, I started looking around my house and realized how much crap I have. In a frenzy I started purging. First to go were all the glassware odds and ends. How I ended up with so many is anyone's guess. Dozens of empty jars went to the recycling, and any glasses with less than 3 mates went into the purge box. Next came the Mikasa Chrystal Champagne flutes, which I've owned for over 20 years, but used maybe once. Into the box they went, as did all stray cups and mugs.

I then moved to the bookcases. We have several. First to go were those which I've read and don't care to read again or share with anyone. Next were those that looked interesting enough to pick up second hand at some point, but clearly were not, because they were never cracked. As a rule, classics are always retained, as are those which I want my kids to read at some point.

Once I finished with books I noticed the linen closet door bulging with sheets obviously trying to escape. So they too were liberated. How many sheets do we really need anyway? All of the double sized went, followed by at least half of the twins. Sheets were followed by table cloths which I don't even remember acquiring.

As I was doing all this, my husband went through the CDs and DVDs, and my younger son collected a milk crate's worth of VHS tapes. And to top it all off, my other son cleaned out the coat closet.

A quick posting to craigslist on Friday night, and a couple of hand-made signs Saturday morning, and we had a yard sale. The media seemed to be the most popular. We sold DVD's for $2 and CD's for a buck. We also sold a couple of guitars, and two of the coats. Nobody touched the kitchenware or linens. Oh well.

The glassware odds and ends went into a milk crate with a free sign on them and by morning they were gone. Everything else went into our spare room for the next yard sale. Eventually it will all go to Goodwill, but for now, all this stuff brought us a little money we didn't have the day before.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Yard Sales

When I was a kid, we use to get up early on Saturday mornings to look in the classifieds for Yard Sales. It was a ritual. First we marked the paper, then we plotted them on the map, and then we established a route to avoid crisscrossing and wasting gas.

It was a hoot. Very seldom did we go out looking for something specific. And almost always we came home with treasures. I usually looked for books and sheet music. My mother had a penchant for rot iron pieces.

Some days were epic. We'd make two or three trips back to the house to unload the station wagon and then go back out again. So, one can understand why I still get excited when I see boxes on a lawn and hand drawn signs.

The highlight of the year though, was when we had our own yard sale. We would prepare for weeks, set up goods like a department store, and place color coded stickers on items. My friends and I would scheme about how we would make hundreds of dollars selling baked goods and lemonade, and my mother would bring out a cash box my father made in metal works class at the local junior college. In an odd way it was like being queen for a day. It was our day to offer the things that were once part of our lives to the rest of the community. The only other events I can remember feeling as special were when my mother hosted Tupperware and Mary Kay parties.

I still stop at yard sales, but my Saturday Odessey now is pursued with surgeon like precision. Often now when I go, I am looking for something specific, and I no longer use the newspaper classifieds. Now I rely on Craigslist.

As for having my own yard sales, I'm more likely to take bags of items to Goodwill than spend days planning and setting things up in my driveway. I do sometimes have "Free Sales" though. A free sale is when you put stuff out in the yard with a sign that says "FREE". Somehow it's deeply more satisfying than the former practice. The best part is when people knock on the door and ask, "Is it really free?" "Yup," we say. And then we thank them for taking things. It's both fun and exciting.

This year is going to be a purging year for us. We are downsizing to the nth degree. We have too much stuff and it's time to simplify. We started today with a free sale. Within two hours five left-over playa bikes (in dire need of some love) went to new homes, as did a set of Star Trek NG VHS tapes, and books that fell victim to the first cut. There will likely be more to come. We may even go through the trouble of having an actual sale, but for now it's enough to know we were able to give something that someone else wanted.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"...the only thing we have to fear is..."

In 1933, at the opening of his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the nation, "the only thing we have to fear itself." These words were uttered at a time when unemployment was at about 25%, and two million Americans were homeless. It's easy to understand how fear could grip the country in such a situation, and why we should be leery of its effects. Fear after all is a powerful emotion that can elicit a fight or flight response, a response that is directly linked to our instinct to survive. Thus fear can also be a powerful influence upon us. It can incite, provoke and encourage behavior. So yeah, we should fear fear.

At a conference I attended recently, writer Rebecca Walker spoke to us about propaganda. She spoke of why we should be wary of it because the action it invokes may not be in our best interest, and her words resonated with me. Propaganda are messages intended to evoke action. Propaganda often relies on an emotional response, and quite often the emotion of choice is fear.

Right now in this country, there is an entire dialogue based in fear. It's the one that told us about Death Panels, American Fascism and the Nuclear Option. It's the dialogue that brought us the Tea Party, the Oath Keepers* and Survival Seeds. These are all the products of fear.

Yes, people are scared, but not rightfully so. They are scared by design. They are being told that in a country with a "free press" in the midst of the Information Age, that they can trust only one side of the story, the "Fair and Balanced" one.

Yes we should fear fear, but we should also be mindful of those who wield it.

*highly recommend this article.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lady in Waiting, PART 2

Waiting it seems is my new past time. As I recently wrote, my whole life, as are the lives of us all, is an exercise in waiting. We wait for time to pass so that we may come to the next happening in our existence. And then, we wait for death.

Waiting invokes patience and understanding. Without these two components waiting can be aggravating, frustrating, and a source of immense stress. Anticipation coupled with a desire to achieve solutions feeds into that stress, until you want to yell out at the world, "THIS IS FUCKING RIDICULOUS!"

Yes, I had to do some heavy duty waiting this week. And once again it involved a State of California bureaucratic system. This time it was the Secretary of State, Deborah Bowen's office.

When you call Secretary Bowen's office, the first thing the intended calming voice tells you is something along the lines of "Due to the state's fiscal problems, we are unable to answer your call, so listen to this endless phone tree so you can spend the next 20 minutes of your life listening to several possible options that may or may not solve your problem." It continues, "You may also find helpful information on the FAQ page of our website," blah blah blah.

You mean the one I got the phone number from? Uh...apparently not.

I've come to believe that phone trees are actually ironic reminders of why we should be wary of automation. Often when confronted with an automated voice I just start randomly pressing numbers and keys to try and get to someone...anyone who can tell me who I'm supposed to talk to. I've also come to believe that the people who write the copy that is uttered on those phone trees, are the same people who write standardized tests and 8th grade algebra problems. You know, the one's where a train leaves from one place and intersects a car that left from another, and you have to figure out who is going to go insane wondering which one get's there first.

After several rounds of options, I finally found the one I was looking for. "To talk to a technician press 0."

Really?!? Oh yeah baby! Give me your piped in music and tell me to stay on the line. I'm in this for the long haul. I've got a speakerphone. I can wait as long as you make me. Yeah...make me wait...I've got snacks at my desk...I could hold out for days, weeks mo...."Hello?"

"Thank you for waiting how can I help you?"

I state my case and find out I'm gonna have to wait some more, because they only update their records online once a week on Monday. Oh well.

What amazes me most about this most recent wait I had to endure, was that I was seeking basic service that any business would need. You know, businesses those money making ventures that create jobs and generate taxes so we can get out of this fiscal crisis mess thingy we're in. Services the state can no longer afford, because it doesn't earn enough income.

And yet there are still those who want to cut taxes even more. Seriously. I'm beginning to thing I should invest in a cleavage ascending fancy dress. If I'm going to be a Lady in Waiting, I might as well look the part.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lady in Waiting

Yesterday I was a Lady in Waiting. This is the anatomy of an exercise in waiting and patience.

It starts at DMV, where experience has taught me that if you cannot wait three weeks to get an appointment, your best bet is to be there when the doors open. I've been known to be in and out within 45 minutes using this approach.

But when I arrived at about ten til eight, the line was already a couple dozen long, and the doors were not even open yet. My first instinct was to get back in the van and drive to Napa DMV, where I can get in and out in 40 minutes any time of day. But I wasn't up for the drive. How bad could it be? I do a quick survey of the paperwork in the hands of those who came before me and determined at most, maybe 10 of them were there for the same reason as I was. "This is totally doable," I tell myself.

Finally, a uniformed security guard opened the door and the line lurched forward. Just as it comes to a stop again an elderly woman asks me if she can cut in front of me. I look at the line that now snaked along the sidewalk, an additional 40 people long, and pat her frail shoulder saying, "I was waiting for you, I'm so glad you got here on time." Winking, I make space for her in front of me.

The line progresses as each party in front of me makes their case at the "START HERE" desk and receives a number for the service specific to their needs. And finally I receive my number as well: G008. Only 7 others in front of me, and it only took 17 minutes to get this far.

So, I sit down, pull out my mobile device and start looking for interesting items to ReTweet. Then I read some news, check a few emails, correspond with a colleague and check the clock again: fourty-two minutes since they opened the door. Looking up I notice that they are only on number 3 in my category and the line for the "START HERE" desk is still easily 50 people long. I read some more email and forward more tweets, but now check the clock every ten minutes or so. I see people who were in line behind me leave, happy to have finished their business, and still, there is no movement in my category. I started to become anxious and wonder, "Why aren't they calling the 'G' numbers?"

At one hour twenty minutes in I overhear the "START HERE" clerk say they are having a problem with the equipment required for my kind of transaction. It could take a while. She starts telling people to come back later. I look at the line that is still trailing out the door and then at my crumpled ticket I stuffed in my wallet and think about how maybe a drive to the wine country wouldn't have been so bad.

At the two hour mark I'm making a conscious effort to not begin heavy sighing and other signs of impatience. "It will happen when it happens," I tell myself. And finally at the 2 hour 20 minute mark it does. My number is called and I'm out the door within 20 minutes.

This wait was followed by another eight to nine minutes of hold time trying to get a doctor's appointment, waiting in line at the bank (7 minutes), at the grocery store (4 minutes), the doctors office (25 minutes), the lab (20 minutes) and the pharmacy (25 minutes).

I'm usually pretty good about waiting. It's a skill I picked up while stationed in Italy.

In Italy there are two kinds of waiting. The first involves a gaggle that produces an order based on the position of shoulders and elbows. Show no fear, and watch out for the Grannies, they're exceptionally skilled at getting to the front of these clusters.

The second kind of waiting is more enigmatic. One waits for an unspecified amount of time until the event you seek occurs. This event could be the crossing of trains, the length of a five-course meal, or the wait for death. It's a wait one cannot control, thus the wait is like a gift of unexpected time, to have a cigarette, another glass of wine, or to contemplate life thus far.

I was reminded of that kind of wait while I waited for a chance to write these things here, as I wait for the ferry I'm on right now, to traverse the gray choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sick of being sick

I truly hate being sick. I should have known this was coming, seeing how I jinxed myself a couple months ago by declaring, "No I haven't really been sick in almost four years!" Right then and there I should have knocked on wood, gone outside, spun around three times and spit, and then sacrificed a live chicken. But even if I had done those things, I'd probably still be sick. I'm sure it was a powerful jinx, but at least I'd of had fresh chicken for soup.

We all know the signs as well as the precautions, some of which I obviously allowed to lapse. I ran out of Emergen-C at the most inopportune moment. I failed to sanitize my hands after using the handrail at the BART station. I forgot to hold my breath on public transit, don my MOPP gear, and pull out the Bubble-Boy suit I secretly bought on E-bay. And now as a result of this inattention to detail, I am a pariah. People hear me talk with a deepened voice that comes through my nose and they know. The nice one's at least sympathize before they slyly edge away, which makes me feel as though I should wear a sign around my neck. It should be one of those diamond shaped caution signs that reads "Warning! Rhino Virus XING." As it is,
I'm the recipient of both consolation and remedy suggestions. "Try some Hot & Sour soup, a wasabi sandwich, herbal tea or an OTC cocktail that will remind you why they put 'child safe tops' on them."

On the plus side, I did catch up on a bit of reading while stuck in bed. And I got to watch my choice of DVDs as my 11-year-old brought me cup after cup of hot tea with honey. And even though I'm over the body aches, chills, fever and insane headache, it's the dregs if you will, that are the worst: the lingering congestion that just won't go away and the coughing fits that alarm friend and stranger alike. That coupled with an accumulating amount of work, professional and household, prompt an internal battle between what is reasonable, what is necessary, and what is recommended. "Stay home when your sick!" a poster told me on the bus. "Sure!" I say. No problem. But then, suffer the aftermath as well.

Oddly, as miserable as I've been, I can't help but think maybe the microbes conspired with the universe to find a way to tell my body and mind, "STOP! YOU'RE DOING TOO MUCH." Maybe the annoying buzzing in my head is just a way to quiet the chaos of an over-tasked mind to the point where all I can really hear is my own complaints of misery and thus write them here.

So I think I'll call it even. Cost of Rhino Virus: 4 days in bed; one bottle cough syrup; cough drops; OTC meds; hot tea; two pots of soup; countless tissues; hand sanitizer and almost a week's work lost at home and in the office. Finding clarity of mind to resume this blog: Priceless.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Jobs are making a comeback

Jobs are making a comeback. I started noticing anecdotal hints of this in retail windows a few weeks ago. From bagel shops to high end sports stores, retailers it seems are willing to take a little risk by hiring more help.

Perhaps the most telling indicators of a recovering economy are the smaller purchases. Things like bagels and coffee not made at home. Things that we know we can do without, but like to have. It's a start, a good gradual start, and maybe that's just what we need: good reminders that anything worth having takes work and struggle and time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rainy Days

The days have been gray, wet and miserable. Normally in this part of California we rejoice when the rain comes, but after several consecutive days of umbrellas and rubber boots, it is we who are weathered. The evidence is in the multitude of battered umbrellas people carry, and the look of weary people have as they step out into the rain.

I've been feeling weary and weathered too, but not as a result of the rain. There has just been so much to take in lately that I haven't been able to synthesize succinct thought. It's a little unsettling.