Occasionally, I CAN make decisions.

Case in point: I’ve taken a major step and decided that I’d like to end up back in Buffalo after JVC. (This is probably old news for many of the people reading this, but I feel the need to document it anyway.) For a while I was considering going to another random city and getting a job or applying to other programs, but when I went back to New York for Christmas and New Year’s, I came to the conclusion that that’s where I’d really like to be. This is sort of an unprecedented move for me. I have a history of running from the familiar: I chose a middle/high school and a college where I knew absolutely no one and had to make new friends from scratch, and after college I moved out to California to live with a bunch of total strangers. In all the major decisions I’ve made so far in my life, I’ve never chosen to return anywhere.

I think it’s partially this crazy desire for motion. I can’t shake this feeling that I’m searching for something, even though I’m not sure exactly what it is, and I think part of me keeps expecting to find it in every new place I go. But it occurred to me that maybe moving is not the answer—maybe what I’m searching for is something that I could find just by being. What am I seeking? Right now I’d say meaning, purpose, connection, stories, understanding, peace and fulfillment. Not easy things to find by any means. But I finally thought, maybe putting down roots is not such a bad thing after all. Maybe it doesn’t have to mean getting stuck—maybe it could mean being home. Maybe the way to deal with my fear of stagnation is not periodic relocation; maybe what I’m really doing is running from that fear. Maybe the only way to truly face it is to embrace the familiar and find ways to keep life exhilarating within that context.

Completely unrelatedly: we have our third retreat this weekend, and I’m not particularly looking forward to it, mostly because I want to watch more Buffy. (Rather than sitting around complaining about our lack of friends, some of my roommates and I are trying to make our way through the whole series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. I’m way more into it than I probably should be at the age of 22.) It’ll be nice to get away, I suppose, although I’m not looking forward to the orphanage-style cabins. I was pretty “meh” about last retreat beforehand, too—maybe it’s just a retreat thing.

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“Tell me this is paradise, and not some place I fell.”

Answer (to the previous post):

I am scared to death that I am wasting my life.

I’ve been over and over this, too. I can’t be wasting my life as long as I’m living every moment, appreciating every experience, and enjoying being alive as thoroughly as I can. The trouble is that sometimes that’s freaking hard to do. This week was a very long week, even though it was only a four-day work week. I was pestering lawyers to get back to me with statistics and scrambling to put them all together for one of our grants, and it was really, really tedious. I had a couple nights where I was up insanely late for no particular reason, and I was turning this “grad school vs. job” thing over and over and over in my head until I was just so sick of thinking about it, all I wanted was to turn off my brain. Tired of working, tired of thinking, tired of existing. I need something new.

“I want to feel the car crash
I want to feel it capsize
I want to feel the bomb drop, the earth stop ‘til I’m satisfied.

I want to feel the car crash
‘cause I’m dying on the inside
I want to let go and know that I’ll be alright, alright.

Just push me ‘til I have to fly
I’ve shed my skin, my scars
take me deep out past the lights
where nothing dims these stars,
nothing dims these stars,
stars…”

(Matt Nathanson)

The song was playing while I was typing and it just seemed to fit…everything. This year is a lot of me learning to cope with the tedium and monotony of the adult world, of 9-5 work days and paying the bills and not having all your friends within a mile of you, and I’m so, so scared of disappearing into the boredom. I don’t want to be bored with life. Still, I’m having to face the fact that we’re never genuinely free to do and be what we want. So much of what I want from life is beyond my control, and it’s really frustrating. There’s got to be a way to make life worthwhile, to find exhilaration in every single day and keep the numbness at bay. It has to be out there, and I’m going to find it, because the alternative isn’t something I’m willing to consider.

The trouble with uncertainty is…

…that planning ahead is a bitch. It’s late January, and my application to UB is due on February first. I have one essay written so far, and it’s a mediocre one at best. I hate having to lie on applications. I’m stuck on the second essay, because the first question is “Why do you want to be a teacher?” Well, UB, the thing is that I’m not sure I do—I’m really not sure about much in life. It would be better if you asked why I think I want to be a teacher. In that case I would explain to you that I think I want to be a teacher because of all the jobs that I’ve held, tutoring was the one that I enjoyed the most, and teaching really appeals to me in theory. I’m not sure about it, though, because I’ve never done it: I’ve never taught my own class. And I’m afraid of it eating up my whole life, because I’m only twenty-two years old for God’s sake, and I’m not ready to sacrifice my whole life to anything just yet.

Career-wise though, it’s the best idea that I have, and I’m reasonably sure (on my own standards of certainty here, which, granted, are not very high) that it is what I want to do in the long run. But, you know, it isn’t the long run yet. I just graduated from school eight lousy months ago after spending the past 18 years there; forgive me if I’m a little reluctant to sign my life back over to the institution so quickly. I want to teach, but I’d like to live first so that I have more material to teach. You know? Like real, concrete experiences. I don’t know. I don’t feel like a real adult yet; I still don’t feel like I have myself figured out well enough to make any serious life decisions. I get the general impression that people think I’m being stupid and I should just pick a fucking career and get cracking, because that’s the American way. But if I’m just going to live by the book, then why bother living?

I’m starting to acknowledge that I’m never going to be 100% certain about anything I do, so after a point the best I can do is to pick something I think I’ll like and just go with it. And if I don’t like it, well, I can figure something else out afterward. I just keep chasing myself in circles. Part of me wants to go to grad school just to do it and to have this aggravating decision-making process over with; but then I swing around the other way and insist that this is something I can’t just rush into, and it’s okay to take my time until I really get things figured out.

What am I so afraid of?

Creeps, Ruins, and Marin

My first genuinely creepy encounter in the Mission: It was little before 12:30 on Friday night, and Julie, Courtney and I were walking back from BART. As we turned onto our street this guy approached us and started saying things like, “Hey, baby. Where you going? What’s your name? Come on baby, why won’t you tell me your name? ¿Hablas ingles?” I just kept walking, and Courtney said, “Could you leave us alone please?” —”No, now why would I do that? Why don’t you just tell me your name? …Leave you alone…” We only had a block to walk, and we got to the gate. Julie got it unlocked while he continued. “Are you disrespectin’ me? I can’t believe you’re disrespecting me.” We filed through the door. “I’m not trying to disrespect you,” Julie said, “we’re just tired. I’m sorry.” —”Sorry? What is that, sorry? I can’t believe you’re disrespecting me like this. I’m a gangster! I’m Norteño!” While he was saying this he stuck his arms inside the gate and tried to pull it back open as we were pulling it closed. We got it shut and he started kicking it; we closed the wooden door behind it and went up the stairs, and he walked away. Once upstairs, we talked it over and decided that he was clearly strung out on something, so hopefully he wouldn’t remember anything that happened, and therefore our odds of being attacked by a gang were slim. Julie and Courtney had been afraid he’d had a gun, but I hadn’t even thought of that. My mind was strangely blank throughout the whole experience, and after we were back in the apartment, I was just pissed off. None of us thought to call the police. It was definitely a reality check, though, and it made me wonder whether my general sense of safety in the city is a result of it actually being safe, or rather a result of my own obliviousness.

On Saturday, because it was in the sixties and I wanted to get out of the Mission, I decided to Indiana Jones it and go explore some ruins. Sutro baths, an “extravagant public bathhouse,”1 opened in 1896. Once “the world’s largest indoor swimming pool establishment,”2 the operation was closed for good due to financial difficulties in 1966, and it burned down soon after in a “suspicious fire.”3 The Golden Gate National Recreation Area bought the land in 1980, so now the ruins of the foundations are open to the public. It’s rare to find something abandoned that you’re actually encouraged to explore, without placards or tour guides or caution tape. I took the 22 to the 38, which took an hour that I spent listening to Coldplay. The 38 brought me to the north end of Ocean Beach, and when I got off the bus I had a conversation with a random old man who told me about rent issues in San Francisco and the trouble with consumer debt, with which I was of course very familiar. It was a very friendly random encounter, in contrast to that of the day before. After we parted ways I walked along the path up the hill to the Cliff House and then down a dirt path to the ruins by the beach. There were a lot of people there taking pictures, surfing, or wading in the surf. I walked along the edges of the foundation, took off my shoes and meandered down the beach a ways, ventured through an old tunnel in the rock, and then sat down on one of the crumbling walls to watch the sun sink beneath the horizon. The people gradually thinned out as it grew darker, and soon it was just me and a few couples smoking weed, watching the stars begin to appear in that huge dome of apricot-to-indigo- faded sky with the moon rising behind us.

“And I could write it down
or spread it all around,
Get lost and then get found
Or swallowed in the sea…

…Oh what good is it to live
With nothing left to give,
Forget but not forgive
Not loving all you see?

Are the streets you’re walking on
A thousand houses long?
Well that’s where I belong,
And you belong with me—
Not swallowed in the sea…

You belong with me,
Not swallowed in the sea.”

Sutro Sunset

Saturday night we went to a party in Berkeley, and on Sunday Teresa, Courtney, Kareen, and I went with Rod to Sausalito and played around with some beautiful $200 handmade stained-glass kaleidoscopes in a craft shop before driving to the Marin headlands and taking pictures of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was beautiful but it also reaffirmed the fact that I cannot live in a mountainous area long-term because I would never leave my house thanks to motion sickness.


1 http://www.sutrobaths.com/
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutro_Baths
3 http://www.outsidelands.org/sutro_baths.php

Obligatory New Year’s Post

I can’t think of anything to say about it that isn’t nauseatingly cliché. Mainly what this New Year’s means for me is that I have seven months left of JVC; so instead of resolutions, I’ve made a list of things I want to try to do before I’m done with my time in San Francisco. I made a list of goals before I left in August, but those were more general things I wanted to work on—these are very specific goals intended to help me get the most out of the months I have left here.

Things I Want To Do In San Francisco

  • Go to at least three more shows, be they concerts, plays, or open mic nights. (I’m looking into Wicked right now.)
  • Consciously make more time for silence every day.
  • Learn a new skill. (This might be the most challenging thing on the list.)
  • Hang out with coworkers outside of work at least once or twice more.
  • Go puddle-jumping in a rainstorm.
  • Get some people together to go to a hookah lounge.
  • Make at least one new friend/contact.
  • Take a few hours and just ride Muni around the city, taking it all in.
  • Take pictures of the ruins of the Sutro Baths and the defenestration building at 6th and Howard.
  • Run into the ocean and dive under the waves.
  • Ride a cable car again. (Will likely happen when my family visits next month.)
  • Make it to Yosemite and UC Davis.
  • Learn to cook a new meal or two. (This shouldn’t be too bad; it just involves being somewhat creative on cooking nights.)
  • Check out some scenic outlooks.
  • Read three more books, not including teen fiction and graphic novels.
  • Write one polished memoir, poem, or short story.
  • Explore the rest of Golden Gate Park. Maybe bring lunch. Or a tent, since it will take a week.
  • Spend a day taking pictures around the city.
  • Go sit in a coffee shop by myself. (Oddly enough, I’ve never done that.)
  • Take a bike out and ride around the city for a while, at least once, despite my fear of biking in traffic.
  • See the inside of the Hyatt Regency.

Is there anything else you think should go on this list? I’m very open to suggestions.

Highlights from Home (12/21/08 – 1/4/09)

Building a snow family with my siblings: a snowman with a pine needle beard, a snow woman with pine needle hair, and a snow baby on the tree swing.  They melted the next day, but it was still worth it.

Snow Couple

Getting spiffy new purple mitten-gloves — the kind where the top halves of your fingers can stick out, and there’s a little mitten-hat you can button back or fold over them if you’re cold.  (I’ve always wanted a pair of those!)

Playing the piano a lot, and going on walks at night through the snowy streets and not once being cat-called or asked for money.

Not smelling marijuana for a whole two weeks.

Walking into Eastview Mall with my family and seeing a guy dressed in black pants with chains and a black trench coat, with hair past his shoulders.  He may have wondered why I was staring at him and smiling like an idiot.  (That style of dress is a very east coast thing to me.)

Getting all my hair cut off!  Okay, not all of it, but quite a bit of it.  It’s short now and I love it.

Looking through my mom’s old photo albums and seeing pictures of my parents in their early post-college years.  It was very interesting and led me to much pondering.

Taking all my siblings skating and then trying to teach them how to do it while I could barely skate myself.

Frosting Christmas cookies with the Ks, and making a Rastafarian and a lumberjack.

Lumberjack

Going out to Panera with Sara and Pamela and then wandering around Barnes and Noble and catching up a little bit.

Attempting to clear up some messy parts of my life and making some respectable headway.

Going to Buffalo for 3 days and seeing lots of people!  I didn’t get to see everyone, but I did see many, and it was a lot of fun.

Skating at the Rotary Rink with an excellent group of people while they played through Let It Be.  (Even though I still suck at skating I had a great time.)

Learning to drive stick shift and not completely sucking at it ;)

Playing Blokus and Scrabble and Rock Band in a purple Renaissance dress and petting kitties at Kelly’s New Year’s party.

All the other crazy running around I did to see all the other people I got to see…  It was great to see you!!

…So all in all, yes, I had a very good vacation :~)