…In which I ramble extensively.

We’re nearing the end of February, which means that my JV year is more than half over.  It’s strange to think that just a year ago, I was stressing out over my senior thesis and how in hell I was going to get 35 pages written by May.  In a lot of ways it still feels like that semester just ended, but a lot has changed since then too.  I’ve been working on getting a lot of stuff figured out… I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have anything figured out, but I’ve been putting a lot of thought into it, which is good.  I think this JVC thing was a good idea.  The program has its flaws (such as a general mild lack of organization and the occasional tendency to baby us), but I also think it provides an opportune environment for you to just chill out and sort through your life, which is a pretty valuable thing to do.

It’s funny, but I feel like I don’t write a whole lot about JVC itself here.  Maybe I’ll start trying to do that more.  For example: I organized my third Spirituality Night on Monday—we’re supposed to hold Community Night and Spirituality Night each once a week, but we’ve been alternating weeks for a while now just to free up a little of our time.  For my first Spirituality Night (back in early September) I tried to do something Ramadan-related because it happened to fall on the first day of Ramadan.  For my second one, I stole an idea from Joe at fall retreat: I had each person pick a song that was meaningful to them, and then we went around the room and played our songs and talked about them.  This time we decided to check out the free Monday night meditation class at the Women’s Building.  It was pretty interesting.  The woman who teaches the class is a Buddhist monk, and she offers the classes for free—you could tell how much she loved what she was doing.  We had 15 minutes of meditation, maybe 15 minutes of talking about meditation, a short break, and 15 more minutes of meditation.  I thought it was pretty cool for just the breathing and the focusing, even though I don’t really buy into all the aura/chakra stuff.  I think it would be cool to make kind of a database of different spirituality night ideas for JVC, because when I’m drawing a blank and run Google searches on these kinds of things I come up empty-handed.

Sometimes I want to go back to Buffalo after JVC, sometimes I want to stay here, and sometimes I want to go Boston or Ireland or India.  Sometimes I want to get a job, sometimes I want to go back to school, and sometimes I just want to wander.  Mostly what I want is stories.  This is the time in my life when I’m supposed to be amassing stories that I can tell when I’m older.  And stories, I think, are usually something that comes to you whenever the time is right—in the meantime, I guess I learn the art of waiting.

There are times when I feel both old and young at once: there is a part of me that’s fifteen and there’s a part of me that’s fifty.  On the subway this morning I could feel them both sitting there silently, watching me through my own skin as the stops slid by.  For one I am the future, and for the other I am the past.  This is a unique moment in my life and a unique moment in history, and I want to be present in it.  I feel like reality is more real to me sometimes if I look at it from a perspective that is not my own—if I think of myself as that fifty-year-old woman thinking back on this moment that she experienced so many years ago, or as the fifteen-year-old trying to picture where she’ll end up in seven years.  This is what I am, this is where I am, and this is the only reality there is.  Now is the only time that this moment has ever been and ever will be.  Isn’t it amazing to exist?

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The Great SF Pillow Fight of 2009

It’s been a crazy week. My mom, grandma, brother, and sister got in last Saturday and left for home Thursday morning, and I tried to spend as much of my free time with them as I could in between. It was nice to see them all, even though the weather decided to pour on us all weekend. Highlights of the trip included walking around China Town and stopping for lunch in a Chinese restaurant where we were the only non-Chinese people and everyone gathered around to laugh at us trying to use chopsticks; taking a bus tour of San Francisco, which allowed me to see some places that would have taken me much longer to find with public transportation; touring the Aquarium of the Bay; riding a cable car again (they really are awesome); introducing my family to my coworkers on Tuesday; and renting a car and driving through gorgeous green hills to Santa Rosa, where we went to the Charles Schulz Museum. There were a lot of things that we didn’t see, but all things considered I think it went very well, and I’m glad they got to come.

My favorite moment of the weekend came around 6:00 Saturday evening, when I took my sister to the public pillow fight in the plaza in front of the Ferry Building. All afternoon I saw people carrying pillows, on the streets and on Muni. While I was standing on Market waiting for the street car to take Laura and me to the Ferry Building and the other three back to their hotel, a van pulled up and they guy in front rolled down the window. “Hey, you know there’s a pillow fight going on?” —”Yeah, I’m heading down there.” —”Hop in the van!” —”Nah, it’s okay, I’m just going to take the trolley.” —”No, really! We’re not creepy, I swear! There’s a girl in here too!” She slid open the back door and waved. “I’m a girl! I’m a girl!” —”Sorry!” I said, looking back at my family. “I have to get them back…” Then the light turned green, and they said “Alright, cool, see you later” and drove off. In other circumstances, though, I totally would have gone along.

In the plaza there was a mob of hundreds of people and pillows thrashing about amidst a blizzard of feathers and stuffing. In the center people had surgical masks and bandannas over their faces to keep from breathing in the fallout. There was music bumping in the background, and people smoking weed (of course) and drinking on the sly, and some guys even set up a hookah on the sidewalk. Laura and I wandered along the perimeter until we snagged a renegade pillow and dove in just far enough to hit a few people. There was a guy dressed like a ninja who was pillowing people at a run so we couldn’t hit him back, and a guy with a “FREE HUGS” sign, and basically all sorts of people imaginable, most of them between 15 and 35. The whole thing was ridiculously awesome, and I’d really like to get the tradition started in Buffalo. It’s undoubtedly the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day that I’ve seen yet.

http://www.pillowfight.info/ (Check out the video on this site!)

Overheard on the #9 Bus, 2/12/09

Man A: Do you think she would have noticed me if I wasn’t singing?
Man B: Well, she thought you were singing to her.
Man A: She was a pretty girl…. She had nice hair. (Pause.) She had nice teeth, too. (Pause.) I liked her braces.
(Long pause.) Do you think maybe she’ll come see me again?

As we passed the Orpheum Theatre:
Man C: I want to go see that show, Wicked.
Man D: One of those shows with the girls?
Man C: Well, there are girls in the show.
Man D: How are they?
Man C: Well, the show is about Oz. If they’re girls from Oz they must be cool. (Wistful pause.) I used to live in the Land of Oz.

The #9 is my favorite bus ever.

The Perks of Lunacy

As a child, I never really had an answer for the classic question What do you want to be when you grow up? I always took it very seriously and I’m pretty sure it always stressed me out. But I was a sassy kid as well as serious, so when I got tired of saying “I don’t know,” I started to make up bogus answers for people. We were at my grandparents’ house in Ohio one summer when this exchange took place:

My Uncle:  So Elizabeth, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Me:  I want to be… A LOONATIC!!! [Insane laughter.]

This is one of the stories my family still feels the need to resurrect every so often. It came back to me this morning when I was (yet again) pondering what the hell I’m going to do with myself after my JV year. …And I thought, you know, I might really have been onto something there. Is that such a terrible thing to aspire to be? A lunatic, in effect, is someone who does not conform to our social norms. And what good does conforming to social norms do anyone? You’re accepted by society; okay, I guess I get why you would want that. It’s good to be accepted, and it’s probably the easiest way to function. (I guess I don’t see a whole lot of value in ‘easy’.) What else do the social norms get us?

My current theory is that society is trying to sell us a meaningless existence of isolation and boredom while placating us with consumerism and alcohol and pills and reality TV. The way I see it,* society’s set up so that we work at jobs we don’t like, producing goods we don’t need, in order to earn more money that allows us to buy more stuff we don’t need and will throw out shortly anyway, essentially using up the world’s resources and creating waste for no reason aside from making more money. The cycle exists only to perpetuate itself. Many of the social expectations placed on us (go to school, get a job, buy a house, etc.) are there to make us into “productive members of society,” which to me means cogs in a giant wheel that is turning for the sake of turning, filling the pockets of a select few without really making anyone happy or bringing anyone peace. Where is the good in that?

So for now, I think that I would repeat my answer again and again. YES, I want to be a lunatic when I grow up. I want to be absolutely fucking bat-shit crazy, if it means that I’m rejecting the dominant paradigm and defining life on my own terms. I want connection in place of isolation, and I want individuality and self-expression in place of conformity. I want genuine human interaction and social consciousness and a stronger sense of community. I want to challenge our preconceived notions of life and how we as a society define “success,” just as I am seeking out and challenging the preconceived notions I hold within myself. There is so much more to life than meets the untrained eye, and there is so much more potential out there that I think we just forget sometimes. What we could be is so much greater than what we are, and the adventure is in getting there. And if all of this labels me a lunatic, then so be it. Bring on the madness.


*I would like to acknowledge that I’m presenting an extremely abbreviated and one-sided view of things for the purposes of this particular post. I would also like to cite The Story of Stuff, which I watched a few months ago and which synthesizes these points pretty nicely.

Getting Re-Oriented

I complained about having to go on our “Re-Orientation” retreat for the whole week leading up to it, and as soon as we got there I was glad to be there. This one was at Camp St. Francis again, which was where we had the original Orientation in August. It was good to be back. I appreciated it a lot more this time after having lived in the treeless Mission for so long—plus, the fog was gone. I basically spent two days kicking around the beach and hanging out with other JVs. We had presentations and discussions too, but I’ve noticed that I’m not very good at focusing/reflecting on what I’m asked to think about. I just kind of work through things on my own timeline and I can’t do much to change that.

My main realization from retreat was that I’ve changed a decent amount since high school, and not all of that has been positive. I’m a lot more knowledgeable and capable in general than I used to be, which is good, but I’m also a lot more cynical, which is not so much. So my realization was that there is value in some of the things I’ve found myself moving away from. I’ve learned to recoil from any sort of sentimentality and to see value primarily in the academic, the ironic, the esoteric, and the analytical… But I’ve decided that while cynicism has its place, on the whole it closes its eyes to some of the best parts of life.

“Fifteen, there’s still time for you
time to buy and time to lose yourself
within a morning star.”
                                   (Five for Fighting)

I woke up to this song playing in our orphanage-cabin on the second day of retreat—I think it must have been the alarm on somebody’s phone because the song played halfway through and then started over again. It’s one of those songs that are overplayed and kind of cheesy but I find I relate to them anyway… It brings me back to senior year of high school, and the bittersweet taste of transitions. I appreciated the little things in life so much more when I was younger. I think that’s something that I should be trying to hold onto. I decided I’m going to try to start collecting moments of beauty every day, or at least every week, because they’re always there if I remember to look for them. I found quite a few this weekend, just in the utter and absolute majesty of the star-filled sky and the moon reflected in the Pacific Ocean, the sound of the surf and the scent of eucalyptus in the breeze and the total immensity of time and existence, wrapped up in the richness of a single moment.