Sunday, September 18, 2011
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
I ended my Fourth of July with a few distant bangs perched atop this tree. I NEVER climb trees. Okay, let me rephrase that. I can’t remember the last time I climbed a tree. Here’s the story of how I got there.
It was a pretty crazy marvelous day filled with outside adventures and inner journeys. I woke up at 6 AM to watch my friend Brian run a 10K race out in San Ramon. The early wake-up was a bit painful, but the picturesque drive over; the lively festivities; the poi spinning on the grassy knoll; and ESPECIALLY watching Brian win the race made it all worthwhile. After catching a snooze at home and preparing exactly 39 mushrooms – marinated in garlic, olive oil, and herbs, then roasted, stuffed with cheesy quinoa, and garnished with green olives (they turned out delicious!) – I headed over to the annual Fourth of July party held at a family friend’s lovely North Berkeley abode. My brother calls this the “rich old people’s party”, which is pretty much accurate. Not that there aren’t meaty things on the grill or young people in the mix, but it definitely has an adult vibe. The scenery is gorgeous, the conversations are sober and mature, and the food is certainly more sophisticated than the stuff you’d find at your average Fourth of July barbecue.
Aside from the good food and pleasant atmosphere, I honestly wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy being there, since most of my life and friends are down in LA. Toward the end of the party, I actually ended up having some amazing interactions, including with an old Buddhist teacher of mine – James Baraz—who had led a meditation group I was in when I was 15. That whole conversation is an entry in itself. For now, I’ll just say he imparted some wisdom that shed a whole new light on the way I see myself and aspire to live my life.
That said, I returned from the party at 8 PM in a rather contemplative mood. I didn’t want to stay home all evening, since contemplation can easily turn into workaholism in my world and it was, after all, the Fourth of July. At the same time, I didn’t exactly feel like braving the masses to watch the fireworks. This was a point of inner conflict. I love the ritual of fireworks. I love the spectacle of fireworks. And unless I’m invited to some kick ass party by a friend I really like, I always watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. Up close. In the thick of it. Where you can see every sparkle and hear every bang. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around everyday so when it does, I like to seize it. But lately, I’ve been feeling a little more mellow; more introspective; less gung ho about doing all the things that I usually want to do because I can’t get past the idea of wanting to do them.
Ideas are really strong creatures. Really strong. When they’re not yours, they seem rather silly. Think about it. Whenever you hear someone say, “I really like the IDEA of doing this thing, being with this person, etc.,” you think to yourself, “That person probably (by which I mean definitely) needs to ditch that idea.” But when it’s your idea, the feeling is totally different. It grabs you; it possesses you; it puts a filter on the lens through which you see everything. That’s how I feel about fireworks.
At the same time, I have been working on restructuring my thought patterns and routines. I’d also just been imparted some words of wisdom, which included listening to the voice inside myself that knows what I really need. So I said to myself, “Let’s try a little experiment. Let’s NOT do what we do every year come hell or high water, even if it may be super scary to break our routine. The Fourth of July will come again next year and the year after that and the year after that, and we can always do the usual thing next time around.” So I ditched Plan A for Plan Be Spontaneous and headed up into the Berkeley hills to watch the sparks fly from above. I had this idea that I would go to the Lawrence Hall of Science – this kids Museum that has a breathtaking view of pretty much the entire bay. It was the perfect spot in my mind, since it had not only the view of all the fireworks in the Bay Area, but also a decent amount of parking. On top of that, I liked the symbolism of viewing the spectacle from a higher, wider-angle perspective. Direct parallel to the way I was viewing my life. In short, my plan was perfect.
I took Dwight Way from my house up the hill, passing the race track that is a popular lookout point, thinking to myself, “Those people are all scrambling for parking, but I’m going to outsmart them all!” Around Prospect, past the Cal football stadium, ready to make the turn onto the road that would lead me to Lawrence, only to find cones and officers blocking the way. Plan Be Spontaneous: FAIL!!! On to Plan See What Happens Next.
This is where I start to freak out. It’s 9:30 and the fireworks are about to begin, if they haven’t started already. I'm too far to go down to the Marina, which I didn't want to do in the first place. I can't think of anywhere else that isn't going to be jam packed. And wherever I can go, provided I can think of a place in my frazzled state, I'll be lucky to find parking before the show is completely over. Fuck! I should've gone to San Francisco or the Marina and done what I always like to do because now I'm just driving around, missing out on all the fun like the biggest idiot loser I am.
Curtain down on the inner monologue. Long story short, I remembered a park not too far from where I was that had a good view of the bay and was probably not quite as overpopulated as the rest of the lookout points. I was lucky enough to find a parking place nearby and raced out to the park. But it being dark and my memory fuzzy, I'd forgotten that the park was perched on a hill. I passed the park and walked down another hill where a small group of spectators were watching. After a few minutes of partial pyrotechnics obscured by a large tree, I decided to leave. I followed the path up to the park I originally remembered, which has a gazebo that is perfect for viewing. Unfortunately, there were so many people gathered in said gazebo, I couldn't make out almost anything. There were, however, a couple of people perched on the roof. If only I could get up to that roof...
I asked a couple of people how to get on the roof, and they told me you do it by "climbing that tree"; the tree you see at the top of this entry. Despite the fact that I was wearing tractionless boots and hadn't climbed a tree for as long as I could remember, I made my way up before I could give it a second thought. Using my glow poi as a guide, my hands and feet found the proper places to take me to the top (at least enough of the top that I could get a piece of the action). I lingered at my perch for a few moments, reveling in the joy of finally getting to see the dazzling fireworks I'd been hoping to see. I tried finding the footholds that would take me to the rooftop where I could join the elite few with the clearest view, but it was dark, the branches seemed too small, and I didn't have too much faith in my intermediate tree-climbing skills. I've always been one to aim higher than the rest; to reach for the thing that is probably beyond my reach. But I also realize that there's something to be said for doing the careful thing, especially in situations of potential physical danger. (I was particularly wary of this, having known someone my age who recently died after falling from a great height.) So tonight, I said, "I'm happy exactly where I am." True, my view was blocked by a bundle of leaves here and a bundle of leaves there, but the obstructions were minor and they were all on my terms. And I had this cozy, special little solitary nook of my own discovering and my choosing. This is how I want to carve my career. This is how I want to live my life. This is how I want to end my Fourth of July.
After the show was over and I climbed back down the tree – which, before my muscle memory dug out the gymnastics techniques from my youth, resembled the kind of petrified, screeching cat fire fighters groan to fetch – I watched all the little side shows go off on various rooftops around the city. In my life, I'm finding that as dazzling and appealing as the main event might be, it's really all about the small, unexpected, forbidden moments along the way. Don't get me wrong; I'll be thrilled to walk the red carpet at the Oscars. But I treasure the crazy adventures in between -- watching Juliet Landau embody Blanche DuBois at a small theater off Santa Monica Blvd.; hearing my friend Taliesin Jaffee channel Tom Waits/the Cookie Monster in an epic karaoke version of "Roxanne"; making discovery after discovery in a simple Meisner repeat. Speaking of which, my acting teacher James Eckhouse pushes us to make the kind of art where “you don’t know what the fuck is going to happen next”. And being as how art imitates life, I know I have to live the way I want to create. The principle is profound, but here’s the challenge. In order to make those crazy discoveries, in order to get to something entirely unexpected, you have to go through the fear and the floundering; the stalling; the freaking; the teetering moment when you completely let go of the plan. Living in that space is the scary, but it can take you to some pretty trippy places. I never imagined I’d spend the last Fourth of July of my 20s in a tree, but there I was. And somehow, it was exactly where I needed to be.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I saw this quote painted on a wall at the school where I was substitute teaching this morning. Don't you love it when random phrases completely synchronize with something you are so strongly thinking about and feeling?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I have a thing for hotness. Literally. As I write this, I'm sitting with a cup of boiling hot tea next to my space heater, which is on full blast, despite it being a pleasantly warm day. When it comes to food, beverages, and the temperature of my surrounding space, I am like a moth to the flame. When I ordered tea at a café, I will be very upset if it isn't served scalding. And we're not just talking lukewarm. It may be the perfect temperature for drinking, but I have to have it so hot that the first sip would burn my tongue. (When I kindly I the counter worker to heat it up more, I quickly follow the request with "I promise I won't sue you!") I remember being at a sci-fi Friday where Jonathan was making grilled cheese sandwiches. Burning Dan was there (it was the only time I've ever seen him at a sci-fi Friday) and he had made this totally crazy grilled cheese sandwich with macaroni and cheese inside. Or maybe Thom Thumb was the one who actually made it (must give credit where credit is due). Apparently it was awesome enough for me to photograph so here it is, pictured at the top of this blog. In any case, I remember us all admiring the sandwich and Dan's saying, "We can't eat it yet. It's too hot." I thought to myself, "Is there really such a thing?"
Friday, January 7, 2011
Saturday, December 18, 2010
This is a picture I took of Dan at a real-life party. It's the closest facsimile of what I experienced this morning. You'll understand all in a moment...
A friend of mine was describing this feeling she felt that I, too, had felt but couldn't quite put into words. Have you ever had something important you wanted to share with someone but the connection couldn't be made? "It's like I have a secret I can't tell you," she said. "And it's not that I can't tell you because you aren't allowed to know; I can't tell you because you wouldn't understand." I've had two experiences of this nature that I can vividly recount. One of them happened eight years ago, and one of them happened just this morning.
First, the one that happened eight years ago. I like to call this "Strangers on a Subway." I was riding the subway in New York to visit a friend of mine in the winter of 2003. This is a person I had known for a very long time, whose actions and words had impacted me greatly over the years. In his mind, he probably hadn't known me quite so well for quite so long. The anticipation of this interaction was very intense for me. It felt like a pilgrimage to get to this almost-arrival -- going back to the Port Authority station a few subway stops ago; the 5-hour bus ride from Massachusetts; the previous California summer where a few casual words he said helped me make a huge life decision; the summer 10 years before that where I had seen him and remembered him, though we never actually met.
I got off the train somewhere on the lower East side. It's been eight years since I visited New York, but the hustle and bustle of that moment still feels very alive. A sea of scurrying people; footsteps echoing; eyes darting; heart pounding; and in the middle of it all, a woman with the guitar, singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Maybe it was the melody itself, bursting with melancholy and soul. Maybe it was the fact that I'd heard someone strumming the song that previous summer at a particularly poignant moment. Or maybe this woman and this song served merely as the sponge for my supersaturated well of emotion. Whatever the case, her song touched me. I wanted to go up to her; hold her callused fingers; tell her how much her song meant to me. I approached her and said, "That was nice." A chink in the floodgates. "Oh, thanks," she replied, followed by something appallingly casual like, "I like that song too" or "It's good to sing in the subway". Looking at her up close, I could see that her eyes were bleary. She was probably drunk or on drugs or in some other kind of weird, happy haze. I could spill her the secrets of my soul, but she wouldn't really get it. At least, not in the way I meant it. A few moments later, I found my friend, filled with the secret of the secret I could not tell.
I went to bed at 5 this morning after an amazing night of music, dancing, and fire spinning with friends who feel like family. Flow Temple, who organizes this mind-blowing monthly jam, is the brainchild of Burning Dan, who left the planet not three months ago. Of course, his essence is infused throughout the event. The entire flow family thinks of him when we spin, and we feel him especially strongly when we gather at this event. I had a particularly intense rush of emotion at the very end of the night when the MC, Alex Polinsky, said, "We honor those who are here, and those who aren't here because they couldn't be..."
Despite not getting home until about 4 AM, it took me a little while to unwind before going to sleep. The fire, the intense creative energy, the amazing conversations, and an idea I had schemed up for a new short film left me buzzing; inspired; unable to enter slumberland. I burned some candles, contemplated, wrote. Normally, I don't burn candles. I think the last time I burned candles was when Dan came over last April. But I was craving the fire or the sense memory or both, and somehow as the wax melted, Dan trickled his way into my dreams.
We were at a party at someone's house; not a location I'd recognize in real life, but it felt familiar in the dream. It was early in the morning. We'd been up all night. He talked to us; smiled; was his usual happy, sparkly Dan self. I think it was after a Flow Temple Party. I'd never gone to a Flow Temple after party with him, but there we were in the dream. Seeing him was bittersweet. It was wonderful to see him, but I knew he was going to die. He kept making these plans for things we were going to do the next time we hung out. He was making these plans with everybody. At one point, he looked at me with a point and a wink and said, "Next Flow Temple party?" "Yeah," I said, knowing that I would be there and he wouldn't. There was no way I could tell him because I couldn't change his future. It was all I could do to keep myself from looking into the crystal ball, predicting his fate, telling him all the things you would say to person if you knew they were going to die. But he was like a kid on Christmas, and I knew it would break his heart if I told him Santa didn't exist. "It's like I have a secret I can't tell you. And it's not that I can't tell you because you aren't allowed to know; I can't tell you because you wouldn't understand..."
There is no Freudian analysis to be had on this dream, nor is it entirely unresolved. It is filled with empty space; ambiguity; possibility...