Rilke on Sexes and Sexism

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, sexism, and gender issues, buoyed by events out there in the world, and in my own personal life–getting married and figuring out the meaning of being a wife.

I know so little about the history of patriarchy, misogyny, and gender identity. This creates both the anxiety of not being well-informed, and the optimism that I have a lot to learn. My current Amazon browsing history are lists of books by authors like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Gerda Lerner, and topics surrounding the world’s oldest prejudice.

I’m overwhelmed just thinking about all these books I’ve come across. Where do I start? Who’s the least biased? Who’s the most enjoyable writer? Reading and educating myself is the best option I know, and it would take years to absorb all these books, and even more years to question, understand and integrate them into my personal life. How do I speed up this process?

In the midst of all this angst, I sat down and opened Rilke On Love and Other Difficulties.

“Do not be bewildered by the surfaces,” he says.

Then he goes on and offers a succinct definition of what it means for humans to be in relation.

And perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings, in order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that has been laid upon them.

We are only just now beginning to look upon the relation of one individual person to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such associations have no model before them.

And yet in the changes brought about by time there is already a good deal that would help our timorous novitiate.

… some day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being.

This advance will (at first much against the will of the outstripped men) change the love-experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer of man to woman.

And this more human love (that will fulfill itself, infinitely considerate and gentle, and kind and clear in binding and releasing) will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this; that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

Lessons from One Year of Long Distance Engagement

Marriage is an insane proposal. ” – Aziz Ansari

Last weekend marks one year of being engaged for me. (Woo!) Not only was I engaged, I was in a long distance relationship, me in San Francisco, him in Seattle. This weekend, I’m going to cry in public in front of 100+ people as I make my vows to marry my best friend.

I’ve learned a few things about what it means to build a healthy, functioning relationship. I’ve discovered concepts I didn’t know existed or had poor and misunderstanding of, and I’ve gained insights through experiences I never had before.

I thought I would write a bit about what I’ve learned in the past year, one, to share in hope of greater usefulness for the world, and two, for my own record.

My friend Lera (hi Lera!) said that this would be a book on its own, and I technically could write a whole lot on the topic. I’m going to confine myself to just one blog post for now, though, because if I don’t, it’ll be our 10th or 50th anniversary before I come around to writing it.

Well, here we go.

Love is a skill

I came to learn more about relationships, ironically enough, when a long-term relationship came to an end. At 30, I realized that I knew very little about what makes the world go round.

I knew about relationships the way I know about cars. I was only capable enough to operate a car in good condition and drive from point A to point B on decent roads and in reasonable weather.

But, optimizing a car’s performance? Don’t look at me. Having the mental and motor skills to expertly take tight corners and navigate narrow mountain passes? I wouldn’t survive. Actually, at 30, I had spent more time reading my car’s specs and manual than I ever did on the nature of romantic love, relationship, and intimacy.

I found it funny that in all other areas of my life, if I wanted to improve, I’d do something about it, get a book, watch a video, go to a workshop. Why didn’t I do the same thing with relationships? Why did I fervently read up on typography and information architecture and Hindu mythology, and not on the neural wiring of a brain in love?

This is where I realized my first mistake: thinking that I already knew how to love, and what to do to build and maintain, and end a relationship.

As is my coping mechanism for learning a new skill, I threw myself at stuff like the neurobiology, attachment theory, dirty minds, chemistry, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, couple quibbles, more neurobiology, and learned a new language.

Let’s begin with the end.

Relationships are bucket lists for growth

During my last breakup, I discovered a helpful book called Coming Apart: Why Relationships End and How to Live Through the Ending of Yours. This book dispelled a number of myths about romantic love and introduced a key concept that I’ve carried.

The author asked a seemingly straight-forward question, why are we in relationships? Why do we fall in love? Why do we get together with anybody? According to her:

“In our lifetimes, we are each trying to do a single thing: to create our selves. We are all trying to solve our basic psychological problem—which is to answer in depth and to our own satisfaction the question, “Who am I?”

“This process of self-definition or self-discovery occurs through what I call “developmental tasks,” and it is our relationships, more than anything else in our lives, that help us accomplish the developmental tasks through which we define ourselves.”

I know, I know, this super bookish and academic definition may not sound Hollywood romantic at all. Yet, discovering who I really am, unpacking emotional baggages, taking possession of my sexuality, cultivating my creativity, untangling my anger, coming more fully into myself, that all sounds pretty enticing, even romantic.

But what does that have to do with luuuuuurve? Since we can’t do it the growing all by ourselves, relationships are the most natural way for us to get help from each other.

“Love is the medium whereby we offer one another this assistance, and, by this definition, a good love is one in which a fairly equal amount of assistance is being given and received by both partners.”

“…consciously or unconsciously we are always in a state of emotional evolution, and nothing spurs our emotional development more than our intimate relationships.”

Ok, so love = checking off developmental tasks off my bucket list?

What was I going to do next to test this theorem? Put up an ad for a “developmental task partner”?

Wanted: A boy who will help me solve and resolve my psychological developmental tasks. Must love cats.

Don’t scale for a problem you don’t yet have

When I met David, I was planning to leave town. Here I was, one foot out the door, ready to say “hasta la vista, baby” to Seattle, and in came this boy.

“We can’t do this!” I exclaimed. “We can’t start a relationship, we’ll end up getting hurt!”

“Whoa,” said Dave, “We don’t even know what this is. We’re just getting to know each other. You know what PG said. If you don’t have 2 million users, don’t scale for 2 million users.”

(I’m sorry, PG, I know you were talking about startups, not relationships.)

Somewhere in my psyche, I was already anticipating, and solving for something that didn’t even yet exist. My mind probably imagined something super far-fetched, like raising children long distance.

You can’t solve for a problem you don’t have. You can only solve for a problem you have right now.  (This is so obvious when I type it out like this, but the mind has a funny ways of creating illusions.)

Had I not taken a chance on dating this boy for fear of things not working out, I would have missed out on one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Independence is Secure Attachment, not emotional distance

As a self-proclaimed modern girl, I had a certain idea of what “being independent” meant. It meant not needing anybody for anything, right? It meant belching on top of my lungs “Here I go againnnn on my ownnnn….”

In an infantile way, I even thought of independence as stuff like this:

“Your left hand believes in shining armor. Your right hand thinks knights are for fairy tales. Your left hand says ‘I love you’. Your right hand says ‘I love me too’. Women of the world, raise your right hand.”

Several years ago, I would have totally raised a toast to all that with my right hand. And now, I’m embarrassed to even tell you that. This mentality conveniently trivializes one hand for the other (I mean, try to only use one hand), and it plays into the false notion that you can learn to love on your own, by yourself.

I’ve also come to learn about Attachment Theory, and realized that a lot of what I imagined “independence” to convey, was actually Avoidant Attachment, the behavior of passive aggressively creating emotional distance and isolation. It’s an illusion of independence, it’s really  disconnection.

You can’t learn to love by yourself

In this relationship, I’ve learned to love myself in ways I could not have learned on my own.

There is a popular belief out there that you can’t learn to love someone until you learn to love yourself. I used to subscribe to that belief. And now, I think of it as a reminder to not neglect my own feelings and needs and running around accommodating others at the expense of my own growth.

I’m not talking about learning about love as a feeling or a dopamine release. I’m talking about love as actions that demonstrate our capacity for compassion and empathy.

And this, this is something you only learn by doing. I could read every single book ever published on the topic, and it would merely be an intellectual exercise until I put what I’ve read to the test.

Have regular FaceTime, even in person

Because we saw each other once a month, we FaceTimed pretty much every night for two hours or more. (See above: do things that don’t scale.)

This regularly scheduled time taught us a couple things, that if we lived in the same city, we would probably have not dedicated an uninterrupted chunk of time to just talking to each other about our day, looking into each other’s face, working out conflicts, pair-bonding, and keep getting to know each other

In my past relationships, there was a point when I would “get lazy” about discovering or exploring who this other person was, while in fact, we can never know enough about each other, or as soon as we think we know somebody, they will change.

Thinking you *know* your partner, I’ve learned, can lead to detrimental effects. I’m not saying we should all get amnesic on each other a la 50 First Dates. I’m saying, Beginner’s Mind.

I discovered that there were times when we were in the same room yet totally disconnected; there were times when we were on FaceTime—or living in each other’s computer, as we call it—and we couldn’t be closer to each other emotionally.

A scheduled time, regardless of  geographical distances, to check in with each other, to have a dopamine release party, is the glue that binds. This also helps our friends understand and respect our couple boundaries, making it easier on everyone to know what to expect.

Make smooth transitions with separating and connecting rituals

I used to think rituals were silly and superstitious. Then, during my engagement, and in preparation for a wedding ceremony that I personally could relate to, not because “tradition says so”, I discovered that “rituals may be more rational than they appear.” It turns out, rituals help us in important ways to relate, connect, heal, create meaning, and make transitions.

For couples who live in the same city or under the same roof, it may not be a big deal to simply say hi and bye when they leave in the morning and come back at night. For us, since we saw each other once a month, we discovered that a reconnecting and separating rituals are so important, they can make a difference in how we feel and act in the hours or even days that follow.

This whole topic has been a new thing for me to learn about, since I carried some baggage of pre-conceived notions about rituals. Because of the status changes, from girlfriend to fiancee, and soon, wife, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between a change and a transition, and how rituals help us make sense of the transition.

I’ve learned to appreciate my partner *every* time I see him again, and when we separated, it was crucial for us to continue to stay emotionally connected. That’s what rituals help us do, to create a clear demarkation of a system status change, and minimize confusion and disruption to our emotional health.

A healthy relationship is full of vulnerability, full stop

This year I learned about the work of Brene Brown on Vulnerability, and chowed down everything she’s ever produced. I had so many misconceptions and mislead notions of things like guilt, shame, empathy, and compassion, that it would be an entire post by itself.

For so long, I have tried to live up to this fuzzy image of a strong, independent, go-getter girl. I could do it all, I could accomplish it all. I’m in it to win it.

This year, I’ve been so humbled to realize there’s a ton of power in softening up, in disclosing to my partner my “weak emotions”, of fully recognizing and acknowledging when I’m “needy”.

To prepare for marriage, David and I went through what seems like a gazillion topics from those “Questions to ask before you marry” books. At first, I thought it was about *me* getting to know *him*, and *him* getting to know *me*.

In that process, I learned more about myself than I realized, which sometimes took a lot of courage to share without fear of judgement, and fear that if I “said the wrong thing”, he would think less of me and love me less.

Learning to be vulnerable is one of the bravest things I’ve learned how to do, and I couldn’t have done that without being in a healthy relationship, and in turn, a healthy relationship enables me to be vulnerable, making me stronger.

Love is the widening of life’s possibilities

One night, after my yoga training, I got a ride home from Victoria Austin, who’s also a Zen priest at the San Francisco Zen Center. I asked her for what she suggests I think about as I write my wedding vows.

“Many people think of love as desire,” she said. “Love includes desire, but I think of love as something that, when you’re with each other, there’s a sense that the possibilities in life widen.”

That is my favorite definition of Love to date, and it’s such a succinct question, “Is there a sense of widening possibilities when I’m with this person?”

I have found that this question applies to many other kinds of relationships, not just with the romantic kind. Does my capacity to explore the outer and inner world increase? Am I kinder, more friendly to myself?

At my bachelorette party at Esalen, I saw a sign in the kitchen, it summed up my current understanding of love and relationship perfectly.

2014-01-26 08.52.41-1

P.S. You can follow our adventures on nikkianddavid.com

A Lesson on Love, and Antilamentation

Show me love, show me life
Baby show me what it’s all about
Robyn

On the first day of the year in 2014, I learn, once and again, what Love means.

It started with an innocuous hike.

David and I decided we’d spend New Year’s Day exploring Point Reyes, about 30 miles north of San Francisco. In the spirit of easy-like-New-Year’s-Day, we took our time and got to the trail head bright and not-so-early at 3pm (more like 3:15). After getting lost, five steps from the parking lot (“We are such sad city people, Nikki”), we were finally on the right trail at 3:30, stoked to catch the sunset on the beach (we totally meant to get a late start for that!)

We took a 4-mile walk through the woods and onto the wet sand, marveling at the coastline and history of the land (Point Reyes is beautiful, I recommend checking it out if you have the chance).

Then came a mini crisis.

After getting back to the car at dusk, I discovered the 4 ounces of modern magic that is my phone was missing. The shiny new one I just got. Gone missing.

“Where was the last time I had it?” “When did I use it last?” “How could I have lost it?” A flurry of questions came to mind. A mixture of panic, grief, guilt, anxiety, and fear, along with the evening fog and chill, draped over me like a cape.

And guilt, especially guilt, took a strong grip of me. I felt like I had ruined a good day, and it was only the first day of the year. I felt rotten.

“What do we do now?” “What do I do now?” It was dark. The sun had set and temperature had dropped. We were ready to head home for dinner. The optimism that maybe, *just maybe* my phone was somewhere on the trail, and that if I just walked back, I would find it, was mixed with the fear of making my partner upset with me, amplified by my conflict-avoidant tendencies.

We took a deep breath, discussed our states of mind, mental and physical status, and decided to walk back “for ten minutes”, which turned out to be a full walk back to the beach.

“Come on iPhone, please be on the trail,” I silently prayed as I held his hand really tight to warm up our cold digits.

My iPhone, however, couldn’t hear my prayers. It was out of battery, maybe buried somewhere under the sand, or washed out to the Pacific Ocean, or maybe fell into someone’s hands.

“May they find it useful!” we tried to cheer ourselves with whatever altruism we could conjure up when the glimmer of hope faded away at the end of the trail.

On the walk back, we looked up at the wide open space above, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the star-filled sky, and me silently looking for some divine intervention, (because, you know, the missing iPhone *might* fall out of the sky and hit my head at any moment, right?)

“I’m so silly. I’m silly Nikki,” I lamented. “No, you’re human Nikki,” David corrected me, and I could have married him right there and then. I mean, I *am* going to marry him. But I swear I could have grabbed some random stranger on the trail and asked them to witness our vows, except that we were the only ones crazy enough to be out stumbling in the dark (with the deers and foxes).

“We can hold a funeral for your iPhone,” David squeezed my hand tight, then he proceeded to sing to the tunes of the Heart Sutra, which he’d only heard once a couple days before. I busted out laughing, and he winked at me.

We drove back through the long windy roads of Highway 1, surrounded by seashores and rocky cliffs and giant trees. They all seemed to mirror my inner mental landscape.

I realized then, that all these things I do, all the yoga classes, the meditation, the writing, the reflection, the OCD swallowing of books on human neuropsychology and behaviors and communication, everything all boils down to one fragile and fleeting moment of what I do when things don’t go my way, when I feel the pain of loss, fear, hate, sadness, guilt, anger, and disappointment.

More importantly, I realized, that another human’s love and compassion can also teach me what all those books attempt to do, in the flesh, in real time. When all I want to do is go on a self-criticism pity party, another human’s open heart and sense of humor can help me learn to have compassion for myself. And that, to me, is Love in action, full stop.

Love is when another human does a hike twice with you, in the dark, and helps you realize that you need a better device-management pocket system, but won’t let you go into a self-blaming “I’m such an incompetent idiot that I can’t even keep track of a phone” monolog.

Love is when another human helps you see that there’s plenty of room to improve, and yet still holds the space for you to feel ok, to not beat yourself up for all your flawed human ways.

Love is when someone feels your pain with you, but won’t let you dump a basket full of fear, insecurity, guilt, shame, anger, sadness, frustration, etc., in a Vitamix, blend it on high, and down it until you’re nauseous. In doing so, they show you what love looks like, and teach you how to love, starting with yourself.

Last Sunday, in a Dharma talk at Green Gulch, Jeremy Levie spoke about the Four Immeasurables. He read a poem by Dorianne Laux called Antilamentation. It seems so apt right now, so, here’s to 2014, to more compassion—for ourselves and others—, more love, and more poetry. Happy New Year to you.

Antilamentation

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

And here’s an image of one of the beaches at Point Reyes, courtesy of The Seattle Times, since all the photos I took are somewhere out there in the ether. May you find a good home, iPhone.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

 

One Year in San Francisco

One year.

I’ve been in San Francisco one full year.

I’m sitting in the corner of the Cal Academy cafe in Golden Gate Park. My red wallet is taking a break, sitting quietly on the stainless steel table, covered by a receipt for two things: coffee with more cream than caffeine, and plain butter croissant. Outside, a fog named Karl is in full form, eating up the Cypress and Redwoods and the Eucalyptus trees by the giant penguin rock statue.

I put on Chris and Thomas’s Broken Chair, which my friend Adam told me about while we were walking by Mojo Bicycle on Divisadero a few weeks ago. (Hi Adam.)

I feel awfully lucky. I’m pretty much filled to the brim with gratitude to be sitting right here, writing these exact words.

Though I’ve wanted to move here long ago, circa 2007 or so, it took me a few years to make it happen. Sometimes, from the moment an idea is formed to the moment that idea comes to life takes a while.

When I told friends I was moving to San Francisco, they’d inevitably ask why.

Well, it’s been a year, so I thought I’d write down a couple reasons that prompted my move, and a few things I’ve learned along the way.

 

The Romance Begins

In high school, I read ferociously and wasn’t particularly discriminate about genres. I just wanted to get lost in another world. One day, browsing through a used books sales bin, I picked up Weird Like Us – My Bohemian America, a memoir about counterculture and San Francisco. It was the beginning of a long romanticization of all things San Francisco, the Beat Generation, Beat Poetry, Big Sur, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

In October 2007, I drove from Seattle to Long Beach, California on a temporary work relocation. I got to San Francisco late at night, rented a shoddy room in a sketchy hotel in North Beach/Chinatown for eighty bucks, and passed out in exhaustion from the road trip. In the morning, when I walked outside, the sky was as blue as blue can be, and it startled me. I felt like I had taken some other kind of trip.

Walking along the Embarcadero under a bright sun, a thought popped in my head, “I’m going to live here some day.”

 

Paul Graham

In the exuberance of Web 2.0 in 2007 and 2008, I went to a lot of startup meet-ups, dropped a lot of vowels, came up with silly startup names that could pass as Star Wars characters, and read a lot of Paul Graham.

Say what you will about Paul G., you probably won’t argue that he’s a prolific writer, and his writing sparks a lot of discussions and influences a lot of people’s thinking.

Coming out of Interaction Design school, I ate up everything Paul wrote about design. The one essay that’s stayed with me through the years, though, is Cities and Ambition.

“Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.”

I’m not going to quote everything from the essay, because I’d end up copying and pasting pretty much the whole thing (I really recommend you read the whole thing though). But the main thing I took away is a comparison with two other great cities from two other eras.

Paul talks about Florence in the fifteenth century and Paris during the Belle Epoque. Florence had Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo, and Michelangelo, among others. Paris had Gauguin, Matisse, Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso. (He goes into much more details about that in another essay, Taste for Makers.)

The idea is where you live matters through the messages it sends, the things you overhear in a coffee shop, the things you see when you walk past a window, the things *you* don’t seek out, rather, they seek you out instead.

“How much does it matter what message a city sends? Empirically, the answer seems to be: a lot. You might think that if you had enough strength of mind to do great things, you’d be able to transcend your environment. Where you live should make at most a couple percent difference.

But if you look at the historical evidence, it seems to matter more than that. Most people who did great things were clumped together in a few places where that sort of thing was done at the time.”

After having lived in a beach bungalow shack in Southern California, already idealizing wearing sandals in November, Kerouac’s Dharma, and that California branch of Spirituality, it wasn’t a big leap for me to embrace the effervescent entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley.

In some way, I had a big case of Fear of Missing Out. I was born a few hundred years too late to live in Florence and Paris, but there was still time for me to make it to San Francisco.

I was 24 or 25. I didn’t even have as much as a plastic houseplant. I could pack up and went wherever I wanted. The time to make the move was right. And I thought about it and talked about it, but I did nothing. I was young, I could always do it next year.

 

Design & Yoga

The years went by, and I increasingly became deeply steeped in UX Design and Yoga. During the changing years of my late 20s, they were the only two things I knew for sure I wanted to have in my life, for the rest of my life.

One day, I woke up and realized, I was 29. If I wasn’t going to do something I’ve always wanted to do, and do it soon, it wasn’t going to happen, or, I’ll just be a year older when I do it.

I was already making frequent trips to San Francisco for Design conferences and Yoga workshops. I grew more and more frustrated with the lack of the kind of yoga that I wanted and needed in Seattle. For example, in San Francisco, within a 3 mile-radius, there are regular, multiple weekly classes on Vedic chanting, Yoga Sutras, Pranayama, and Ayurveda. In Seattle, my options were limited to variations of Bikram or vinyasa flow yoga, which is all fine and good, but not the only thing there is to learn about Yoga.

I’m not saying there isn’t Good Yoga in Seattle. There is. It’s just not as accessible and frequent, to my knowledge. And I’m guessing it has to do with a critical mass of public interest. I also became determined to study Iyengar Yoga, and I wanted to go to the source: The Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. At the same time, my teacher, Judith Lasater, was offering a one-year study program with her in 2013. (Basically Life said: “Go!”)

I wanted to not only push, but propel myself as a designer, in my yoga studies, and in my own personal growth. I also knew myself well. I knew that, though I had enough intrinsic motivation, I couldn’t grow nearly as much on my own as if I was surrounded by people who were just as fervently into the things I’m into.

“Nothing is more powerful than a community of talented people working on related problems. Genes count for little by comparison: being a genetic Leonardo was not enough to compensate for having been born near Milan instead of Florence.

Today we move around more, but great work still comes disproportionately from a few hotspots: the Bauhaus, the Manhattan Project, the New Yorker, Lockheed’s Skunk Works, Xerox Parc.”

It’s not that San Francisco was the only town where great work was happening. I’m not saying that in absolute terms, and that’s not even close to the truth anyway. I did, however, had the fear and perception that I was stagnating where I was.

“No matter how determined you are, it’s hard not to be influenced by the people around you. It’s not so much that you do whatever a city expects of you, but that you get discouraged when no one around you cares about the same things you do.”

The time was Now to stop talking and start packing.

 

Souls and Cities and Intuition

I know there’s often an urge to compare cities, and it’s very seductive. This City is better than That City. Rent is so high there. And it’s so dirty. But you have to pay so much taxes. It rains so much, how do you stand it? Well we have legalized weed and gay marriage, what have you done lately but act like privileged douchey tech children?

Every single argument for or against a city is valid from a personal perspective. In a yoga class, every single person comes with a different story, a different psychological history, injury history, genetic history. I would no more encourage someone to look at their neighbor to practice yoga than to say that a city is absolutely better or worse for all people, at all time.

I could tell you a hundred reasons why I moved, and no doubt you could refute me in a hundred and one ways why my reasons are terrible. Though I’ve listed a few things that prompted my move, I know someone, somewhere out there, would call b.s. on them. “There’s great yoga and great design and fantastic food and wonderful people in Seattle.” I would agree with all of that.

I suspect all my reasons are there to largely pacify that part of the human brain that demands an explanation. We’re uncomfortable with things that don’t have an explanation or seem illogical and irrational to us. I used to joke that I’m moving to San Francisco for the boys, and it didn’t matter if that was true or not, it was enough to satisfy people’s need to know why.

The biggest reason why I moved to San Francisco is because I followed the tiny voices in my heart, my intuition. There was no guarantee of anything going one way or another. Though I had some hopes and fears and best case and worst case scenarios played out in my head, I really had no idea how my life in San Francisco would turn out.

I asked myself, when I’m 80, sitting on my rocking chair, would I regret moving or not moving to San Francisco when I was 30? The answer was clear, I would regret that I didn’t do it more than regretting that I did.

“Engineers are taught to make decisions analytically and largely without emotion. When it comes to a decision between alternatives we enumerate the cost and benefits and decide which one is better. But there are times in our lives when the careful consideration of cost and benefits just doesn’t seem like the right way to make a decision. 

There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate–when a particular course of action just feels right.” – Tim Cook

For now, San Francisco is where I am. I’ve grown leaps and bounds here, and the growth spurt is quite uncomfortable at times. As life’s twists and turns would have it, I met a boy before I left Seattle, and not just any boy, the boy that I would be head over heels for and infinitely smitten with for the rest of my life (more on that later), and falling in love long distance is more than hard on the knees.

For now, when I walk home across Alamo Square park covered by the tall, wacky shaped trees, or when I look up at the giant colorful art murals in the Mission, or when I pass by the pink bunny with a skull in its mouth on my way to the San Francisco Zen Center, knowing that nothing lasts forever, I smile and thank all the people and whatever forces in the Universe that have made it possible for me to be here right now.

“I have no plans
No dates
No appointments with anybody

So I leisurely explore
Souls and Cities

Geographically I’m from
and belong to that group
called Pennsylvania Dutch

But I’m really a citizen
of the world
who hates Communism
and tolerates Democracy

Of which Plato said 2000 years
ago,
Was the best form of bad government

I’m merely exploring souls and cities
From the vantage point
Of my ivory tower built,
Built with the assistance
of Opium

That’s enough isn’t it?” – Kerouac, 34th Chorus, Mexico City Blues

Alamo Square Park

Walking home through the park.

Live in the layers

This morning I lazily opened up Dream Work, stumbled on the poem “Stanley Kunitz”, and a flood of memories came rushing in.

Years ago, on a very early morning–before dawn even, it seemed–my brother dropped me off on his way to the airport, and since he was short on time, he let me off where I’d make a short walk to my apartment in Lower Queen Anne by cutting through the Seattle Center and he can continue on out to the highway.

As I walked by an unassuming corner across from the Center House, I saw words etched into big pieces of polished stone, and that’s when I discovered the poem The Layers by Stanley Kunitz.

When I resumed my walk, these lines stayed on my mind,

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Stanley is a pretty decent (read: crazy good) gardener, it turns out. In “Stanley Kunitz”, Mary Oliver wrote about discovering that “it isn’t magic”, and here she blasted her notion of him strolling about idly among the birds and the bees and the trees.

I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience–
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Today, the image forming in my mind is a poet laboring away in his garden, “raking the trimming, stirring up those sheets of fire” patiently pulling weeds among the leaves and vines.

And speaking of gardening and my brother, this reminds me of a time when we saw Candide, laughing our asses off together and silently drove home together, me pondering on the last line of the play. Pangloss was philosophizing about sequences and possibilities of events in life, and Candide simply said, “We must all cultivate our own garden.”

Stanley Kunitz
by Mary Oliver

I used to imagine him
coming from the house, like Merlin
strolling with important gestures
through the garden
where everything grows so thickly,
where birds sing, little snakes lie
on the boughs, thinking of nothing
but their own good lives,
where petals float upward,
their colors exploding,
and trees open their moist
pages of thunder–
it has happened every summer for years.

But now I know more
about the great wheel of growth,
and decay, and rebirth,
and know my vision for a falsehood.
Now I see him coming from the house–
I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience–
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Oh, what good it does the heart
to know it isn’t magic!
Like the human child I am
I rush to imitate–
I watch him as he bends
among the leaves and vines
to hook some weed or other;
even when I do not see him,
I think of him there
raking the trimming, stirring up
those sheets of fire
between the smothering weights of earth,
the wild and shapeless air.

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

When I am done with these earthly tangents

A few days ago, the reflection on Why We Blog made me pause. Yeah, why *do* we blog, Thought Catalog? Tell me. I want to know. The reason, according to author Nick Orsini, is because we are not permanent, and some part of us wants to be so.

“The quest for permanence is what makes us tweet the set list right after the show. It causes us to announce every movie we watch, book we read, and to instantly review everything.

Little by little, the camera in our brain and the pictures stored in our body’s memory have become antiquated. It is a romantic idea, but not a permanent one.

The memories we store for ourselves fade. The context of the pictures is lost when we can’t explain it. So we created a hard record of ourselves using the most rock-solid, written-in-ink tool we have: the internet.”

Today is a typical gray and gloomy day in Seattle. I’m sitting upstairs at Bauhaus. I was searching through my old college blog for the rap I wrote to study for my Accounting and Finance exams (yes, strange but true), and found this.

This is what I wanted to do when I grow up, almost 10 years ago. (Wow. Holy two-sizes-too-tight hipster pants, I was so emo it’s beyond embarrassing.)

december 06.2002.dawn.

I need caffeine, bad. Can someone prescribe me some Provigil extra strength right away no questions asked? But sleep deprivation aside, life at two in the morning is so peaceful, so… beautiful.

Fragmented thoughts carry me through the night… and music, music stirs me… I dream of the forests and the seas, and the city lights… here’s to the good life… When I grow up… I want to spin xml, be a web developer, debugging nasty javascript while reading T.S Elliot and Langston Hughes and Feynman’s curious adventures… groove along with hypnotic trance…. dance by myself and take that trip to Jupiter…

I want to stay up all night writing crummy poetry and searching for all the notes in c major… paris to the moon and wander in strange streets and sleep in cheap hotels… and read Yevgeny Yevtushenko over and over and maybe listen to Jacques Brel et inventer des mots insensés until the sun rises and do yoga half asleep and watch cheerios float in soy milk and run the world’s best software company.

When I am done with these earthly tangents…

A sorcerous operation

It’s Saturday morning, a sunny, very sunny Saturday morning, when the sun is like a cat, licking you in the face way too early, and there’s no going back to bed. It’s a morning in Seattle where you breathe in the yet-still-crisp air, look at the snow-capped mountains and every cell in your body collectively screams, “Fuck yeah, Seattle!”, causing you to grin from ear to ear like there’s coat-hanger stuck in your mouth.

It’s a morning when, if you were to go outside and lay down on a wooden deck, stare up at the pale blue sky, hand brushing against tulip leaves, listening to the sound of the Puget Sound, a distant train whistling through the Elliott Bay, a sea breeze tickling your feet, you may very well decide that, this is good, this is really good, this life, this living.

And then the sun gets in your eyes, and you decide to go back inside, find something that’s not readily available at 11 a.m. on a weekday: your bed. You crank up some Sun Kil Moon, scoop some Greek yogurt, (but not too much because you’ve got some undiagnosed, unresolved, surely-deeply-rooted-Freudianesque dairy phobia), squirted out too much raw honey, and tossed in a handful of almonds, (the Fremont Troll’s definition of “handful”).

So there I am, eating breakfast in bed with the best intention of doing some serious writing (serious in the sense of quantity, not quality nor mood) while Mark Kozelek softly serenades in the background. But, as is often the case, I get lost in the multitudes of rabbit hole of the internet, foolishly justifying to myself that I’m “just doing research”, and “finding writing inspiration”.

Sometimes, in the meandering, one comes upon something that changes the course, such as clicking on a tweet that leads me to today’s HTML Giant post: Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted, quoting William S. Burroughs,

Every act of writing is a sorcerous operation, a partisan action in a war where multitudes of factual events are guided by the powers of illusion.

I’m caught by the word sorcerous, and not even the mellow, haunting acoustic of Sun Kil Moon’s cover of Ocean Breathes Salty takes away the agressive image of “a partisan action in a war”.

I’m reminded of Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, when he’s talking about the endurance, strength, and sheer will required to write. “People think if you can lift a pen you can write,” he said.

I liked the notion of writing as an endurance sport and all the associated pain that comes with it (I relate to it so very much). The creative endeavor has been seen as the war within for eons, from Arjuna’s anguish to The War of Art.

Fair enough. But I am now also seduced by the alchemistical image of writing as sorcery (alchemistical is a word, yes?). I mean, really, who isn’t turned on by the thinnest possibility that we can create magic as mere mortals?

Love’s been good to me

Of all the childhood memories I have, some of the happiest ones are from afternoons when my mom would put a cassette in our old black Sony music player while she cooked dinner. I would play around, sometimes do my homework, sometimes hang out and talk to her, and she would explain the songs to me, since I wanted to understand what the lyrics were saying. In exchange, I would change the tape over for her.

We listened to a lot of French songs, and Jacques Brel. At some point, my mom went over the song Ne Me Quitte Pas line by line with me. I don’t remember exactly if that was an inevitable part of my French education (my mom’s a French teacher), or if I was so annoying asking for translation (“But mom, what does it meeean”), that she thought, “You want some conditionnel passé before dinner? Here you go.”

I have this vivid memory of wanting to know exactly what des mots insensé means. I wanted examples of words that are considered insensé. But why is that a crazy word? And how do you invent them? And what’s the meaning of rain coming from countries where it doesn’t rain? Grown-ups say the weirdest things.

Years and years passed. I’ve moved on to find my own afternoon music mix, without needing to change the cassette tape over to the other side.

Recently, I discovered Aaron Freman and his new album, Marvelous Clouds, covering the music and poetry of Rod McKuen. “Who is this Rod McKuen chap?” Turns out, it’s none other than the translator of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas into the English version, If You Go Away, along with being an Oscar- and Pulitzer-nominated composer/singer/songwriter/poet (total Beat poet slacker, basically).

This connection to Jacques Brel brought back floods and floods of memories, not just from my childhood, but also from my time studying in France, when we had to learn La Valse à Mille Temps, a song with a ridiculously impossible tempo with all sorts of puns and tongue twisters. I’m pretty sure it was both punishment and praise from the French teachers to us unsuspecting foreign exchange kids who would endure the sick torture that is French conjugation.

Back to Rob McKuen, I’ve been really digging Aaron Freeman’s version of Love’s Been Good to Me. (Guitar chords and lyrics if you wanna play along.)

I’ve been a rover
I have walked alone
Hiked a hundred highways
Never found a home

Still in all I’m happy
The reason is, you see
Once in a while along the way
Love’s been good to me

Rilke and the Greatness of Death

I have been on a kick, collecting poems about Death, not morbidly, but with a feverish yearning to learn how I can live each moment of every day with more fire in my gut and under my butt.

I fear that if I don’t do this, I will sloth around, wasting time, lamenting and whining like Arjuna before Krishna.

I’ve been through a few losses, small losses. Small as they are (in the sense that no one died a biological death), I feel the intensity of the emotion in my physical body.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown in playpen full of baby tigers and elephants, and even though we’re having fun (and they’re so cute), these animals don’t know how big and powerful they are, so things ache a little when we play around.

One night while going over old podcasts I’ve been procrastinating on, I found a couple nice Rilke poems/quotes.

“The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated,

death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.”

– From A Wild Love For The World, a conversation with Joanna Macy on On Being.

A few happy clicks and reads later (woohoo, the Internets!), I found Sonnets to Orpheus, and how I love the image of singing while climbing, a ringing glass that “shatters as it rings”. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And whoa, I’ve never thought that I live “among the disappearing”, but hell, that’s what we are, transients.

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XIII

Be ahead of all parting, as if it had already happened,
like winter, which even now is passing.

For beneath the winter is a winter so endless
that to survive it at all is a triumph of the heart.

Be forever dead in Eurydice,
and climb back singing.
Climb praising as you return to connection.

Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.

Be. And, at the same time, know what it is not to be.
That emptiness inside you allows you to vibrate in resonance with your world. Use it for once.

To all that has run its course,
and to the vast unsayable numbers of beings abounding in Nature,
add yourself gladly, and
cancel the cost.

Otherwise

Yoga teacher Andrea Skelly read a poem in class last week, and I have been thinking about it a lot.

The poem is titled Otherwise, written by poet Jane Kenyon.

Otherwise

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.

All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.

But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.