the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

what fatherhood has done for me…

In observations, parenting on December 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm
oh, the horror!

oh, the horror!

It’s made me scared…more scared. And judgmental.

The other day I had a break between students, and I go get a coffee.  It’s a Boulangerie, which if you’re not from Cali, is a Disneyfied “French” bakery that was just bought out by Starbucks, which I guess makes it corporatized, as well.  It’s a big place.  Noisy.  Wood floors.  I am sitting facing a window, my headphones are on.  Behind me I hear a big family pulling tables together, but I’m not sure I was really aware of them–at least, I wasn’t until I hear a crash and then a woman making the most unholy sound.  It wasn’t a screech, not a wail, either.  I can say this honestly: the sound was that of a wounded animal.  Think pierced beluga in the pacific or a cat with a crushed leg after it’s fallen from a tree. Even as I write this, I can feel the sound in the pit of my belly.  It was the sound of horror, of loss–or at least, feared loss.

In this case, it was the sound of this mother looking at her child doing a face plant while strapped into a car seat. I turn and I see the woman’s face and then look down and I see the car seat butt-up, and a small hand wiggling out the side.  The child, as it turned out, was fine.  More freaked out than anything.  The edges of the car seat coupled with good straps kept the child in place.  But for those many seconds before someone–someone much braver than I–was willing to lift the chair up and see if the baby was ok, I thought I was going to be ill.  I thought that all that shitty coffee and the Frenchified sweet thing I was stuffing my face with up until that point, was going to splatter across that polished wood floor.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure I would have been moved by this before I had a kid.  But there is something so much more intense about seeing a child in that position after you have been up all night with your own, after you have handed that child over to your spouse ever so carefully because you realize how vulnerable he is, like some treasure.  NO, not LIKE a treasure.  He IS a treasure.  And well, not being a Buddhist who can just disconnect from this world and what I have in it, the fact that I have this treasure that I didn’t have before makes me scared for it.  It reminds me of a Louis CK bit in which he says that the best case scenario for any relationship is that after a life together, one of you will die before the other.  ckIt’s different with a kid, I know.  But it’s similar in the sense that when you love someone, it’s hard not to worry, not to look out for the possible threats to that loved one.

This is natural, I know.  But wait, there’s more!!

After the room returned to normal, the family recovered and stuck around and had their coffees and Frenchified sweet things, and I wanted to yell at them.  Specifically, I wanted to yell at the mother for being a dumb-ass and for being a fat-ass who loved her fucking crescent more than her baby (she wasn’t fat, but I’m just saying).  I knew it was crazy even then.  But I kept on judging her in my mind.  Here’s the highlight of that imagined rant:

of course you don’t put a car seat on a precarious wooden chair in the middle of Disney-croissant-land.

and if you’re lacking that basic common sense, then you don’t deserve your lame-ass coffee and sweet thing.

Go home.

Be ashamed.

Talking of shame, I am ashamed for thinking these things.  They are ridiculous thoughts.  I know.  But I felt them.  And damn it, what’s a blog for if not to share some of your most shameless thoughts?  I ask you.

No. Actually, I’m not asking that.  I’m actually asking this question: see below.  It’s a new WP function, a poll, so let’s try it out together.  Shall we?


buddhist, bad listener or something else?

In parenting, Uncategorized on September 5, 2012 at 5:55 am


Have you ever felt like crapper and told someone only to have that person pull some Yoda-Yoga-wisdom out of their butts and try to smear your face in it?  Graphic image, I know.  I’m probably sensitive to this kind of thing, more than I should be, because my mom is one of those people.  She means well.  But when I was a kid, and I had one of those teen-age tragedies: I sucked at the game, a cute girl ignored me–basically, when I had a true teenage dilemma on my hands–my mom would try and talk it out. For her, talking it out meant telling me that there were starving kids in Africa, so in the grander scheme, I needed to change my way of thinking.  She was pulling that Buddhist thing that suffering is caused by desire, and that the answer was to do away with the desire.

Wise words.  Shitty response.

Recently, I was scolded in this way after writing a guest blog post about my worries that my boy will not have all the things I’d like him to have.  I’m not talking bling-bling, btw; a humble house (rented not bought) with  a small yard, a dog if he likes.  This may not sound like a lot, but I live in San Francisco, and these humble wants are not so humble when you’re running up against the Facebook gaggle of new millionaires.  It’s not just the the things, though.  Part of my blog post was getting at the fact that I’ve never lived in a place that made me so conscious of what I do not have, and that I don’t think beautiful places like SF should only be for wealthy people.  There should be a place for a middle-income teacher/writer like me.

The person commenting pointed out that I shouldn’t worry about these things, that I should teach my boy to value real things, not status-symbols.  Fair enough, but I am left wondering a couple things and I want to share them here.  1.  when you’re ranting (even by blog) should you not have the right to be ridiculous, which means that you might not be in the mood to hear wisdom.

My sense of upset with this commenter runs deeper though.  I can’t say this is true for everyone, but now that I’m a parent, I am reminded of things I’ve put away in boxes in the dusty attic that is my brain: a love for Dr. Seuss books and Halloween, just to name two.  But along with these positive things, there are negative feelings that have come up as well, and some of those feelings are engendered by my family’s financial station when I was a kid, which in turn were partly brought about by my parent’s race and the discrimination they suffered through.

Fears are complicated.  My folks managed to succeed through hard work, but they suffered and it didn’t come easy nor early, which is why when I was coming up, we were pretty poor and I felt some shame for that, which if possible, I’d like to spare my boy.  Am I stupid? Maybe.  Is it unwise to get caught up in feelings of jealousy and disappointment? These are my issues.  But I think that people who are quick to dispense the wisdom, like this commenter, have their own.

To me, it’s facile to tell someone who is struggling that they should not want so much.  There’s no way for me to know this, but I suspect this person might be one of those people who have chosen a simple life, but it’s different when simple is a choice and not thrust upon you by the fact that you can’t afford complexity.  Hey, even the Buddha chose his life of poverty.  Let’s not forget, he was born into affluence.

SO, what to do?  Do I write this person?  Do I just leave it alone?  Comments are good.  Disagreements are welcome.  But is it cool to debate with a reader?  What say you guys?

writing through the fear..or is it riding?

In humor, life, observations, parenting, Uncategorized on July 9, 2012 at 6:31 am

Lately, I’ve been getting panic attacks on the freeways.  I’ve never been in an accident; knock on wood, I’ve never even been close to being in one.  But along the way, I have developed this lack of ease on highways.  This experience has made me wonder if this is the beginning of fear taking over.  I say this though as this weird fearful cloud is enveloping me so is a realization that I don’t get to avoid things just ’cause I’m afraid of them.

Is that a duh-statement, or what?

It’s not like I didn’t have fears before.  I certainly did.  I remember this one time as a kid.  I was supposed to compete in a track meet, but I woke up the day of so scared that I was going to fail, that I told my mom I was sick, which wasn’t a lie, not exactly.  I quit playing basketball in high school when I was a sophomore out of fear that I’d bring my team down.  To put it simply: I’m scared. I’ve always been scared.  And if you ask me what I’m scared of, I guess I’d have to say it was failure–of letting people know I suck at something.

Which brings me to writing and to making a career of it somehow.  Last week,  I met with a film producer here in San Fran.  He’s young, successful, very cool dude.  I asked for the meet-up because I wanted to get his advice on next steps–what can I do to get to a next level in storytelling–whatever the medium.  If you’ve been reading the blog, you know I’ve been reading books about branding and trying to implement a strategy to makes me some dough, but truth is the plans these books set out are not very useful. The authors make it seem like if you follow a set recipe for success then soon, you’ll be feasting on a nice, warm Success Pie.  But recipes for success are nothing like recipes for pie.  There is no set order of steps, and more times than not, you have to break the rules in order to break through.

I know this, and still, I came home from that meeting feeling a little bit sick in the stomach because this producer told me to break one of the rules I’ve set for myself. Basically, he told me that the way to making money for creatives in this city is for them to get jobs making commercials/ads/mini-webisodes for the tech companies up here.  He gave me amazing tips to that end, and I’m thankful, but I felt a little sick, as well.  Why?  I could say that it’s because I’m an artist, because I don’t want to work for The Man….YAWN…because The Man is evil and will eat my soul like a well-baked Success Pie, etc.  But truth is I’m scared.  Writing has always been a solo sport for me, and the idea of creating narrative within a company structure when money is on the line, scares the bejeezus out of me.  Or, to put it more accurately, I’m scraed to put myself out for that kind of work because what if I find out I suck?

I kind of want a blanket or my son’s binky right now.  But I don’t get to have either.  I need to get writing, not only the fiction or the scripts I want to make, but also the emails, letters, texts and tweets that will get people to hire me to write them some kind of story.  Fear be damned. I’m hungry and I needs me a slice of that Success Pie.

praying for prayer?

In humor, life, observations, writers & books, writing on June 19, 2012 at 6:43 am

I have a few obsessions–at least I do when blogging.  My career as a witer (or lack thereof), my sense of speeding through life and the counter-need to slow down, and…goddamn it…I don’t have any other obsessions.  Jesus, I can’t even come up with three.  Three is so writerly, and I can’t come up with a third…

I’m not very obsessive, I’ll admit it.  I’d probably be better off in my career if I were.  (OK, I hit on obsession #1–check.) 

And as for obsession #2, I’ve been thinking about God today.  Well, I started thinking about God because I was listening to this somewhat ancient podcast of Fresh Air.  It was about a scholar spending time with some evangelicals who believe they have personal relationships with God.  By relationships, I’m mean hanging out with the Almighty, having a cup of coffee, taking things out.

At one level, I get a little weirded out by the sound of these people. But there is another part of me that doesn’t really think there’s anything weird at all about believing that God is all around you.  I studied Religion, not theology (there’s a difference) in college and went on to grad school, as well.  There are very few Religious Studies majors in the world who choose that major strictly out of some intellectual need.  We all have issues with God or religion or both, or at least a fascination.  I would fit in the latter.

I’m a believing Agnostic or an Agnostic believer.  I tried to explain my beliefs once already on this blog, if interested, please see this.   If you are still here, I commend you: good choice.  Let’s live in the present.

So, as I was saying, today, I was listening to Terry Gross and this scholar talk about people who have relationships with the divine, and I started thinking about my own relationship to God.  I realized right off that I don’t really like that term, relationship.  I’m old school, I guess.  I like imagining that there’s something mysterious and wondrous about this entity we call God/Yahweh/Allah etc.  It’s not something I want to imagine having a relationship with the way I have a relationship with some dude at work.  That’s how the people being discussed today see God–He’s like their buddy.  Where’s the majesty in that?

And this leads me to my point: why don’t I pray anymore?  I used to pray every night–mainly petitions.  There was a point that it was almost like a superstition, maybe even a superstitious obsession, which I could add to my poor list of obsessions if only I were still obsessed with prayer the way I used to be. Back then, I needed to pray for everyone near and dear to me or I feared  something would happen to them. I guess that’s the downside to not seeing God as buddy.  Buddies don’t smite your second cousins in Uruguay if you fail to ask for his protection. There’s something childlike in believing that God would smite your family if you piss him off, but even so, I wonder if it’s not a bad sign that I don’t make the time to talk with God at night as I used to.

It’s not guilt, mind you.  I think it does have something to do with being too much in the world.  Look, there’s a reason why as a writer of fiction, I gravitate to the surreal/magical.  I think there’s truth in that stuff.  I don’t know if I can get myself to capture some of that magic, but I think that’s my goal as a writer, and maybe, just maybe, it’s my goal as a person, a spiritual person, too.  I once told a friend of mine in grad school just about the time I decided that I wanted to write and not be a scholar of religion, that I saw writing as a spiritual exercise.  She thought I was daft at the time.  But I do.  I have to explain how next time.

For now, I’m curious.  do any of you see God/the Force/some spiritual force in your writing? Do you speak with the Almighty even writing the most Earthbound family drama?

some thoughts from a new father

In life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on June 17, 2012 at 7:03 am


My father is crazy.  And by that, I do not mean that he is certifiable and needs to be locked up.  But I also don’t mean that he is a harmless eccentric, either.  The word, “crazy,” is often thrown around.  I hurl it at people all the time, often playfully.  Can’t say the same for my dad, though.  He is crazy, and that craziness is harmful. But where does it come from?

I am new father, my own son will be two months this week.  That and the fact that it is officially Father’s Day as I write this, has made me pensive about what it means to be a dad–well, both of these things combined with the fact that last weekend my father came up for a visit, and it was one of the more disappointing experiences I have had in a very long time. In the grand scheme, my father was a good role model for me.  I was a sensitive kid, some might say soft.  But my dad, a man who grew up fending for himself on the streets, was ok with my softness.  He encouraged me to be who I am.  If I think of one gift my father gave me it was that permission to be who I am, to define for myself what it meant to be a man.  I hope to teach the same lesson to my son–hopefully in word and in deed.

In general, I try not to change the people around me.  My father’s acceptance of me taught me to be that way.  But there are limits.  So, like I said, my father came to visit last week, and it was odd.  No, it was sad.  Yes, sad is the right word, and crazy, too.  My father-in-law who lives across country, flew in the week after my son was born.  My father waited nearly two months to visit though he lives in the same state.  This is disappointing.  More so after his visit, which was short and odd and…crazy.  When he arrived, he sat down in the kitchen with my mother, and he seemed tense.  I know this because he didn’t really talk, and when my mother asked him what was wrong, he got defensive.  “You two are talking English, what do you want from me?” He asked in a voice too loud for the situation.  My father’s been in the US since 1964.  He has college degrees from schools in the states.  He’s a smart man.  Yet, as he’s gotten older, he speaks less and less English.  He’s also hard of hearing but refuses to wear a hearing aid.  So, unless you are willing to scream in Spanish, communication is difficult.

My mother absorbs the difficulty.  She always has.  Which means that like a snowball, he keeps growing as he rolls on.  So he comes to the house, gets pissy that my two-month old son is nursing and not “ready” to receive him.  He goes out back and sits in the garden.  He acts like a child.  He acts like…a crazy man, by which I mean, he acts in a way that seems contrary to what he should be: a joyful father and grandfather.

I know how my father is, and I have always tried to accept it, as he accepted me. I guess I had taught myself not to expect joy from him.  But last week, when he acted like a sulky child and sat in my backyard instead of talking to me, and when he repeatedly wanted to leave early even after my wife brought my boy out, a sense of disappointment hit me hard.  I imagine it hit hard because though I can accept my father’s joylessness regarding me, it’s an insult when pointed at my boy.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but I think my father’s biggest problem, the root cause of his unhappiness, is that he expects too much from life.  This might sound…crazy, but really, don’t they say that the flipside of every romantic is a cynic?  I think my father enters every situation with an idea of what should happen.  Most times, life doesn’t work out that way, which is especially true in my dad’s case since he probably is always being a little too unrealistic.  So he gets disappointed and hence, he misses the joy in front of him.

I’m sure that my mother was telling the truth when she told me later that he had been excited to come see my boy.  But when the reality hit.  When the boy was nursing in the bedroom instead of cooing in wait of him, the disappointment was too much to recover from.

Does this sound crazy for a grown man?  Should he just grow the fuck up?  Yes, I’d say.  And yet at the same time, I am also aware enough to know that the apple doesn’t fall far.  I spent the today, the day before Father’s Day, quietly with my wife and the boy.  I napped. I ate. I held him. I walked around the neighborhood with him and his mother.  The day was great, but there was this part of me that wanted to gnaw away at my contentment.  It wanted GREATness.  It asked me if I wouldn’t be better off doing something else, something less domestic, more dramatic.  I can’t tell you exactly what that other more dramatic thing would’ve been. And though it’s true that going to Whole Foods at the end of the walk with all the other yuppy dads and ordering an ice-coffee is ver ordinary, not GREAT at all, it is great all the same.

I think today was a microcosm of what I hope for with my son.  I hope that we will have a great relationship.  There will be disappointments and there will be moments of amazing happiness, and there will hopefully be joy throughout.  But more important still, there will be joy for the all those middling moments in between.  I guess I can thank my dad for that wisdom, too.  Even if he doesn’t follow it himself.


i’m starting a slow-blog movement…wanna join?

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on June 5, 2012 at 6:16 am

Here in the Cali, Northern California to be specific, there’s a lot of talk about the slow-food movement, which basically means people who go somewhere to eat food that once upon a time, some loved ones would’ve cooked for them.  Because I am not a group-person, I kind of avoid movements, and San Fran is really in love with their movements.   Truth is slow food is a good thing. But it’s not a movement.

Now, I say this, but I will admit that sometimes I think SLOWness should be a movement.  I’ve said this before.  But as I’ve gotten older, I don’t feel like I’m slowing down, I feel like I’m going faster.  OK, I can’t run as fast as I could before, but mentally, I seem to keep speeding up.  When driving some place, I am already thinking of the three things I have to do after I get to where I’m going, which means I spend miles driving by beautiful things that I am not concerned with because I’m concerning myself with a near future group of events that are probably not pleasurable.  I sleep ok (when the baby allows) but sometimes I get up and start reading articles or making lists of what I want to do next.  Even as I write this post, I’m already thinking I have to get out of here and go spend time with wife and the boy, and after that, I want to work on a script because I need to get a draft done this week, and because tomorrow I need to work on the fundraiser for my GED program, and…you get the point.

It’s not that I’m busier than other people.  Most people lead busy lives.  There’s just something about how I treat my day.  Life is becoming a list of things to check off, not a day of memories.  As a fiction writer, this is no-bueno.  I know this because it can sometimes take me hours to get in the head space to tell a story.  It takes time getting to know a character. Maybe that’s why writing is hard for me and yet, so necessary for my sanity.  I need the slowness that writing affords me.

I knew this.  I’m sure all you artists know it as well.  But I was reminded of this fact by a blog I just discovered called the good bad people.  The author writes things that might be called poetry or poetical prose.  What matters, at least for me, is that reading the blog slowed me down tonight, and for that I am appreciative.

Nw just so we’re clear: I’m not saying we should go out and protest against speed.  Save your picket signs and go read something that makes you think.  Then, go write slowly or eat slowly or drive slowly, but not too slowly.  I mean, I have to get where I’m going and I don’t want to wait forever.  I have things to do.

suicide in the Mission…grief of a self-centered teacher

In life, observations, teaching & education, writing on February 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I usually try to think of clever titles, but I’m low on clever today.  Looking for uplift?  This isn’t the right post. In honesty, this isn’t the right blog.

I tend to be superstitious, which means that when I have an especially wonderful day–as I did yesterday with my wife watching the whole first season of Downton Abby–I tend to worry that something–some bad thing is looming.  I believe in balance, so if a day is really great, some future day will be shite; that is the way it has to be.  I know this belief makes me neurotic.  Most times I think I’m right, but it could be a self-fulfilled prophecy, or if not that, it could be that I am really looking out for the bad stuff after a good day.  Bad stuff happens every day, but though I feel I better rub my rabbit’s foot twice before saying this, I am a fortunate man, generally.

And then there was this morning.  After first dealing with a “situation” at the agency I tutor for (read, crazy parent who thinks she deserves the world to bend before her)–a situation that at some level makes me fear for my future with the company–I then faced one of those mornings in which the gravity of every single mundane chore known to personkind kept me in close orbit of the hearth (read, I couldn’t get to writing before starting to teach).  When I finally did get to my writing, it wasn’t five minutes before I get a call from a colleague at my main gig, which started out with the words, “Gabe, I’ve got some bad news.”  The bad news in question was that a graduate of mine took her own life last night.  As I watched the somewhat silly (though by no means uninteresting) life-situations of some British people while feeding my face and rubbing my pregnant wife’s belly, a young person I taught (and very much liked) was leaving this world by her own hand.

I am confused with feeling.  Not least of which is this one: my feelings are not very important in the grander scheme of this deeply sad act.  And yet, these feelings are all I have to give.

Sometime in my mid-20s, I knew I was getting older (in a bad sense of the word) because for the first time, the idea of suicide did not seem completely foreign. I can’t say I ever considered the possibility for myself, but I can say that I felt loneliness close to bone and as a result, I was closer to understanding how and why someone would get to the point of calling it quits.  Life can, at times, seem as if it’s too much, as if there is nothing you can control except for your exit out of the mayhem.  Is that  B.S?  I don’t know.  I’m a person of faith, so I should be saying that God makes it better. But at the same time, I hate when people say that because it just seems like silly words.

Maybe it’s impossible to say I understand the impulse to end one’s life if I never truly considered it for myself.  But more than a decade after my deep lonely period, when faced with my student’s suicide, I can say honestly that I am terrified by the hopelessness that I imagine my student felt last night.  I am terrified the way I have been in the past looking at the ocean when it’s storming.  There’s something so much bigger at play than what I can comprehend, and even from where I am standing, I get a sense of that.

Does it matter that I think I get a sense of this awfulness? As a parent-to-be, I feel for my student’s mom.  But how much do I feel?  And what do I feel for my student?

Perhaps, this is proof of the fact that blogs are just extended gazes at one’s navel.  But I feel a need to look at this, so bear with me.  Because here’s another feeling, a more troubling one than the terror I mentioned above.  That terror is external, like a storm.  It can get you, but you have a chance of getting away.  When the fear is internal, no such luck. I am scared because I am looking for more grief for my student and I can’t find it.  I’m actually disappointed by the flatness I feel writing this.  I guess I’m looking for the violins to start playing, something to cue me in on the emotions I should be feeling right now.  It’s a sign of my own self-centeredness or my lack of experience with grief thus far that I’m reflexive about it.  I think I am comparing myself to a made-for-TV sapfest.  I am wondering if I am feeling enough for this young person. I am worrying that I am not.

I want to say that I feel this great sadness for my student and for her family. And somewhere in this heart of mine, I’m sure those feelings are there.  But it’s a mute part, a part that doesn’t want to speak in Hallmarkisms–though when I send the mom flowers tomorrow, you know that I will be sending along some of those cliches as well.  In language, partly because of who I am and partly because I am not the greatest writer, I cannot get the words out to describe the blackness that’s behind this messy post.

Writers are selfish, I think.  Another cliche, but this one might be true.  I don’t know where this leaves me.  As with my titles, I like to end my posts with something clever, but like I said above, I’m low on clever today.


My Crime Against the Rich and Famous

In humor, life, observations, writing on February 20, 2012 at 6:41 am

I’m old. It’s official. It’s not just the achy back or the sore legs after a long run. It’s the little mental habits I’m inheriting from my parents, namely my dad.  The latest mental tick is my complete and utter disdain for litter bugs.  My anger at seeing litter is context-driven, admittedly.  I certainly don’t like seeing litter on the beach or in the redwood forests that I have been forced to hike through with my wife.  But I don’t feel angry when I see litter in those places.  My anger, my wrath, comes out when I walk to work in the projects. Often, I see some young guy in a hoodie walking ahead of me eating something, and when he’s done, he just tosses the wrapper down onto the ground like it’s no big thing. He probably thinks that his neighborhood is already full of trash, so what’s one more wrapper?  Or maybe he’s not even aware.  Probably the latter.

Either way, I can’t tell you when this feeling took over, but at some point, I started feeling it. My father is a neat-freak. When I was a kid, he had this habit of walking into my room at random times with two cards in his hand.  One had the word, “cosmos” on it, the other had “chaos” written on it.  He’d drop the former on my bed when the room was neat enough, the latter when my room wasn’t.  I almost never got the cosmos card. What can I say? My dad is nuts, and I’m not that neat and orderly.  But still, I get pissed when I see people litter where I work, so maybe I am.

My father, I’m sure didn’t think he was being nuts. He’s told me that he wanted to instill in me a sense of appreciation for neatness.  Maybe that’s at play for me when I see the young guys littering.  And then again, maybe it’s just sadness—sadness that the young men I see don’t care or haven’t been taught to care for their neighborhood.  It may not be the most beautiful place in San Francisco, but it’s a hell of a lot more beautiful when it’s not covered in trash.

Which leads me to my crime against the rich and famous.  It’s not really a crime. It’s a silly thing on the face of it, a minor act of rebellion.  (My dad was also a bit of a minor rebel.) As I’ve mentioned previously, I spend much of my weekends working in some very wealthy neighborhoods.  Another habit I should mention here, though no one inherited from my father: I always chew gum while teaching, and I always chew the same gum—DoubleMint.  When I leave a house, I often, not always, but often, throw that piece of gum out onto the street.  It’s tiny. Another habit: I only chew half a stick of gum at a time.

So I chuck the tiny piece of gum, I litter in my own way, in these very beautiful neighborhoods. And I’m not being absent-minded. I’m intentionally doing it.


I can only imagine that I’m seeking revenge for the young men in the hoodie. I’m evening the playing field.  Trash in the inner city, trash in the suburbs.

I said my dad was nuts, right?  I also mentioned I’m becoming him in my old age, so what do you expect? At least I’m not showing up with index cards and Greek words printed on them. At least, not yet.  For now, I’m fighting for social equality one half-stick of Wrigley’s at a time.

My Principled Stance Against a Schmuck at Work…

In humor, life, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized, writing on January 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

So there’s this person at work who bugs me, and by that, I do not mean that she kind of annoys me in a way, or a little bit, or kinda. I mean she gives me the shakes, full-on DT’s, the Bends, i.e., she makes me tense, extremely so. As a rule, I hate tension if it’s not self-induced, not that I like that either, but at least I’m used to it when I do it to myself. Maybe I’m doing it to myself in this case–it’s possible. but this person is not helping.

Now before the armchair psychologists/lovers of the Rom-Com among you start in on the tried and overused plot point that I am on course for a budding romance with this person, let me stop you there. This is another beast completely. This is instant and complete dislike.  Or is it?  OK, I know the answer to that question, but this is a story, so bear with me as I fill in the details.

First off, let me give this woman a name–not her real name, mind you. Let’s call her Cathy. I don’t love how that name looks on paper when it’s spelled with a C, so it works. Cathy is one of those people who somehow is maternal and repellent at same time. I say this because she works with kids. I’m sure they love her. She’s good at what she does. She looks out for the young people who come to her center, and I know there’s love there. But there’s a sternness to the love the kids get from her, and though some might be annoyed (I know I’d be a hater), there’s no doubting that they appreciate the sternness.

I’m re-reading this and I know I’m not capturing the situation or who Cathy is, so let me try again. Cathy is the director of a community center among four others that are overseen by my direct boss and her boss. But you wouldn’t know that at meetings because Cathy’s the one who’s always up front, talking, directing, writing things on the board. She started off a recent meeting by lighting incense and then telling us that she couldn’t touch the “medicine” because she was “carrying her womanly burden”–something like that. Hey, I’m not squeamish. If Cathy wants to start talking about her menstrual cycles, that’s fine. It’s natural. For me, the far more awful thing is the spiritual stuff. I hate the word inappropriate because it usually points to prudishness, but I don’t like the spirituality-stuff at the workplace when it’s forced on me–it seems a little…inappropriate. I actually take spirituality seriously, and I’m private about it. PDA, no problem. PDS (public displays of spirituality) and I start to blush.

Rightly or wrongly, and I might be wrong, I tend to distrust things done too easily. I don’t like when people are always talking about Mother Earth and lighting sage at every meeting because it seems like an act. Even if it comes from a sincere place, it seems like it’s being done as part of a demonstration of one’s holiness, or worse, as part of a lesson plan. It kind of reminds me of old Brady Bunch episodes, when the father stops Greg and helps him (and us) with an empowering and enlightening two minutes on whatever topic is at hand: be it the culture of surfing in Hawaii or some Native American ritual. It’s annoying because it doesn’t seem to come out of love for the thing at hand. If it were a Christian topic, it would be called holier-than-thou attitude. But use sage or quote the Buddha, and it’s cultural and to be respected. Well, I’m Catholic (read, troubled and questioning, yet believing) and I don’t like people quoting chapter and verse of scriptures, whether those scriptures be Christian or Buddhist or Hopi.

But religion/spirituality is tied to culture, and because the organization I work for is tied to community, Cathy feels justified bringing in her “womanly burden” and “medicine.” I’m not sure of it’s these accoutrements or just the fact that she’s not the boss and yet she’s always front and center at meetings that bothers me more. But before I decide, just like those late-night commercials say, Wait, there’s more.

Cathy’s spirituality is not limited to the sagebrush; she also is a fervent believer in the community organizing creed: community is collaboration and collaboration is community. Like most overly used phrases, the words get thrown around often without everyone knowing exactly what they mean. If I hate public displays of spirituality, I hate just as fervently the use of empty phrases. Once in a recent meeting, I asked my boss (not Cathy) what the word, “collaboration” meant. Her answer: “it’s…it’s when you collaborate.” And that was after a minute of thought.

With Cathy, collaboration means going to meetings and listening to her speak the dogma of collaboration peppered with Spanish and Native American words along the way. As I write this, I am reminded of the last person I disliked this much, and I realize that it was a nun I used to work for years ago at a Catholic high school. In both cases, there was this sense of orthodoxy that I felt was both overly restrictive and completely devoid of humor. It’s all seriousness with this kind of person. Am I a Gen X’er? Do I need to be ironic at times in order to be sane? Its possible. But then again, I tend to think that nothing in this world is all one thing, that I can be serious (respectful) and not always have to be serious (dour).

And so, with that, let me stop my plot to assassinate Cathy’s character and let me turn back on myself. I know that my difficulties with her have a lot to do with her, but nothing, dammnit to hell, not even my relationship with this person, is one-sided. I tend to say I dislike Cathy, but the truth is that, at least in part, I am troubled by her because I sense she doesn’t approve of what I do. I am a good teacher. I work well with the young men and women who come to my class. BUT I am not a community organizer and I work among community organizers. My way around this is that I view my wotk in the classroom as being just as meaningful as holding a picket. I am a teacher, and I feel it’s my calling (yes, I am using a religious word here) to help young people better themselves–people who can then turn around help their own communities. This is my view, and though most around me either get that or don’t but don’t care enough to question it, it hurts me that a colleague doesn’t seem to appreciate the position. Which is to say, after all of this, that it’s my problem and not Cathy’s. Which is also why she probably doesn’t give me a second thought whereas I spend a morning writing blog posts about her and her “womanly burden.”



Bed & Breakfasts: Why I Avoid Them and Why I Might Be Dumb For Doing It…

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Happy New Year, all! I hope that the last few days have been restful and festive.

I’m writing this first post for the year just having come back from vacation in Mendocino, CA,  or as the locals there seem to say, “The Mendo.” We only went up for a day and a night. My wife and I finally had a couple days off that coincided, so we decided to take a mini-vacation, and as part of our plan, Chela and I looked for some place decent and inexpensive. When possible, we also like to avoid the major chains. We’re not anti-corporate, but especially when traveling to small towns and because we are watching our budget, we like locally owned places–places that are cute and homey and personal–or at least more personal than a Motel 6. The problem is we also try to avoid Bed & Breakfasts, places that specialize in homey and personalized cuteness.

There’s no denying the charm of a B&B. The comfort of going to someone’s house and breaking bread with other guests who you are thrown in together with by luck, good or bad, it’s human. It’s ancient. It’s community. I agree with all of that, at least I do in principle. In reality, I don’t want anything to do with these places.  If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, then you know my feelings on forced community–see my post on holiday work parties if you’re interested….

For those of you who are not interested but still reading this post, the basic idea is that I like to make my own friends and I don’t like to be forced to congregate with people just because I work with them or, with respect to B&B’s, just because I share their taste for cute and personal. Like a lot of topics I over think about, I have a complicated relationship to the B&B and to what I think it represents. For one thing, I tend to think that a lot of people who go to B&B’s are looking for “authenticity”–the same kind of money-bought authenticity that one gets from a farmer’s market. If you want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, if you want maple syrup that reminds you of a time when real men were chopping trees down with their own hands and feasting on man-sized pancakes, you can have these things if you’re able to pay for them. Likewise, if you want someone who’s actually vested in a place to welcome you to that place in only a way that one with a connection to it would, you can share in that human touch, but only if you have the funds.

I might be overstating the case just a might when I say that part of this need for authenticity smacks of a John paying for sex–a certain type of John, at least. When you get right down to it, isn’t all of this quest for authenticity also a quest for connection–human connection? Artisanal bread tastes great, but there’s also the fact that it makes you feel connected to a bread maker. And the same is true of the B&B. Every B&B is as particular as its owners are. The place might be good or bad, but it sure as hell is different from the next B&B down the road. (I realize that there are probably some corporations who own B&B’s, but I’m choosing to forget that possibility for the sake of simplicity and because I am already over thinking.)

Reading over what I’ve written so far, I probably seem pretty negative on the B&B experience and even a little judgmental on those who stay there. And yet, even as I say this, I am forced to admit that part of my discomfort with B&B’s is, in addition to the points I make above, due to shyness and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of fear on my part. Fear of what? Well, if you want to get right down to it, maybe it’s a fear of connection. I was listening to an NPR show yesterday on my way back, and the host was talking about irony. According to the guest, a philosopher out of the U of Chicago, the epitome of irony is when someone wants something that he rejects whenever he gets a chance at it. Well, I am the epitome of that epitome. I live in a big city (San Francisco is kind of a big city) and I have lived in big cities for most of my adult life after leaving school. I like them because they are impersonal and because I feel free to be whoever I want to be. And yet, I have also felt lonely. Especially since moving to SF, I can’t say I’ve met a lot of people I can call friends. My wife says the same thing. We tell ourselves it’s because we’re older, as if being older means you can’t make new lasting friends. Maybe that’s the case, but it doesn’t help that when we go on vacations, we avoid the chance of meeting new people. B&B’s represent something ancient. They represent something human. They are community.

And yet, and yet….I can’t help it.

Maybe I’m doomed to loneliness, but I’m ironic–the epitome of ironic to be exact. I’m Ironic Man, able to leap from potential friendships at a single bound.






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