Thursday, December 31, 2015

This is NOT Goodbye

Theme song: Rockferry

I had an existential crisis last week, the Monday before Christmas. What happened was that my roommate left home to cat sit a diabetic cat, and my children were with their father. These circumstances left me totally alone and single in my apartment, curled up with only a computer for comfort, and no means to leave the building or feed myself. I exaggerate.

Still. It was a test of my ability to stand alone on my own two feet and, though I welcomed it, things felt shaky.

That Monday, I had to meet a client in Bernal Heights, which forced me to leave my unleavable home. The weather did not look promising, but since I was already out, I decided to take a walk up Bernal Hill via the Esmeralda Street stairs. Lovely!

All droughts aside, it poured rain. The streets were all but empty. There was so much wind on the top of the hill that the rain stung my face and pelted my ears, but I trudged on admiring the beauty of it, kind of feeling like I was on the moors. It was a Jane Eyre moment.

As I looked out over a sweeping vista of my beloved city, I cried. I had that hill to myself; it was a perfect place to howl out in the open where no one could see me or hear me. I took the time to grieve my marriage, my baby, and my youth.

Above all, I feared for a future in which my children were grown and gone and my life would lack meaning. After all, having children is the best thing I have ever done. When my marriage faltered, they gave me an iron clad reason to soldier on. But what happens when I am the only soldier left standing? How, then, will I fight the good fight? And why would I bother?

After circling twice, I headed down the hill towards the Mission to catch a bus. When I got home I lit a fire, turned on the heat, made some tea, worked, ate my roommate's mortadella (God, that lady loves mortadella!), got in bed, worked, and cried some more. I cried because life is #crazybeautiful, but also because I still couldn't shake a feeling of impending emptiness. It nagged me that perhaps the best of my life was over and there was nothing I could do that would match raising the children I love so much.

I thought: I do not want to live just for me.

As the evening wore on I received a text from my roommate saying she missed me! She asked me how I was, and I told her. My roommate has four children of her own, and she said she knew what I meant, that she was worried, too. We needed, I told her, a plan.

The truth is, I'd been forming a plan for quite some time or, perhaps more accurately, it's been forming me (life being, as I'm prone to repeating, what happens when you are busy making other plans). I guess the specter of being all alone in my apartment made me forget what I was already in the process of doing. Or maybe all that questioning and crisis was a necessary off-gassing of all that's come before. Now, though, it all seems very simple and obvious.

Here it is: When my kids are grown and gone, I'm going to be an old lady traveler. I have seven years to get my writing career up and going so I can live a life of itinerant adventure. Like I said, before the existential crisis, I'd already been working towards the plan, which includes, yes, closing down this blog.

I feel sentimental about this blog in a way that I am surprised is possible. I, who in a former life scorned technology and believed that above all the internet was a shallow and soul-killing place, have felt at home on this little blogspot blog. I am, after three years, familiar with the quirks and comforts of this digital platform.

I started the blog, as you know, as an antidote to my own broken heart following the end of an important relationship. Writing these posts shored me up and gave my life meaning and purpose at time when I also feared emptiness, but for somewhat different reasons. It feels sad to shut the doors and say goodbye, but now my purpose is larger than expressing my heart ache.

The new platform is a next step towards fulfilling my desire to become a professional writer and publisher. If any of my readers are writers, I hope you'll contribute as guest bloggers. I want to create and foster the best work I can, thus contributing to a more beautiful and functional web. You'll find, on my new (www.annacolibri.com) blog, #crazybeautiful reflections on life lived as fully, courageously, and truthfully as this single working mom can live it.

And, of course, if any of you need help with digital marketing, you can reach out to me at www.colibridigitalmarketing.com, the online home of my day job as a digital marketer.

My mortadella-loving roommate, Alison Wong, will be illustrating the new #crazybeautiful blog with her gorgeous original work. If all goes well, in seven year's time, you'll find us in Tel Aviv, Casablanca, the beautiful countryside of France, or maybe even Tokyo, writing and painting, fighting the good fight until it's time to visit our grandchildren in Baton Rouge.

Friends, this is NOT goodbye. This is, please check out my larger digs and feel free to stay a while.

Existential crisis: Solved.

{photo credit: ejbSF}

Friday, December 18, 2015

While You're Getting, Get Dreamy

Theme Song: Dreaming

Some of the most obvious things in the world really aren’t obvious at all. I don’t know why that is. So many of our answers lay in plain sight, hidden from us like the house keys we set on the table when we were rushing to get out the door, stuffing that last bit of multigrain muffin into our mouths so we could be “hands free” to rummage for the keys in our purse, while there they were, just steps away, glittering in the morning sunlight.

See? I just answered my own question. A big part of not seeing the obvious is rushing. Another part of not seeing the obvious is clutter, both physical and spiritual. Not only do we rush, but we clutter our lives with busyness and mental detritus. But you knew that, didn’t you? It’s obvious!

Less obvious, perhaps, is what the H*** to do about it. When you can’t see, you can’t see. And when you have a lot to do, well, who is going to do it if you don’t? From the power of saying “no” to a daily meditation practice, there are plenty of ways to address the noise in your life, and I recommend you try them all. . .Life is, after all, one grand experiment.

One thing I’ve started to do, and, yes, it requires a little discipline, especially at first, is to get up early* and “get dreamy.” It is, of course, the getting up part that requires discipline. The dreamy part is, well, dreamy. In my world, dreamy time is set aside for free-form research and writing. It’s what I’m doing right now and, furthermore, I am doing it from my cozy bed, propped up with a giant stuffed crocodile left over from my children’s younger childhood, and four, yes four, fluffy pillows.

I realized I could take this time as a result of having drafted a novel during #NaNoWriMo2015. I’ve heard it takes between 21 and 28 days to create a habit, and #NaNoWriMo2015 gave me just enough time and psychological structure to create that habit. It was obvious (there’s that obvious, again!) that I had to write first thing in the morning if I was going to reach the 50,000 word goal. If I didn’t write first thing, all the busyness took over and the time and solitude required to write something meaningful were less accessible.

When the month was over, and I no longer “had” to write daily, I felt an emptiness and an unsettled feeling inside. I didn’t know what to do after the intensity of #NaNoWriMo2015, so I decided to take a break for a week. Do you know what happened? I went into a mini-slump during which I realized that having time EACH DAY for unfettered, ungoal-oriented creativity makes me feel happier and more grounded.

By "getting dreamy," I mean simply that you give yourself time to explore your inner world, discover your questions, and look for your answers. The thing is to be unsystematic, to let one thing lead to another up to a point. Then, of course, you apply this dreaminess to whichever outlet speaks to you. In my case, it's writing. In yours, it may be music, cookery, the visual arts, or engineering.

I believe I’ve told you that I think each of us has a purpose and a gift to share with the world, although many of us live lives that tend to obscure or block that purpose and gift. For one thing, few of us have been encouraged to look at life from the point of view of the heart’s desire. Some of us think that the heart’s desire is needless self-indulgence (but they never watch TV or eat too much cake, do they?).

The thing about self-indulgence is that we humans were built to satisfy our desire, and that desire can be harnessed for good or for evil. If you are ruled by your baser instincts, you will satisfy yourself in a million meaningless or harmful ways that don’t bring real contentment.

If you are ruled by your heart, which, according to my yoga teacher, is the seat of the soul, you will “indulge” yourself for the purpose of creation and you will elevate yourself and everyone else along with you. The thing is to indulge yourself with what really matters most to you; then, the need for other kinds of indulgence will tend to drop away.

Millions of people live lives of forced drudgery. Take, for example, Syrian refugees and others who have neither the time nor the place for getting dreamy. I grapple with the question of why I am lucky enough to be sitting in a big, warm bed with a giant stuffed crocodile, tapping away on my Mac, while others are forced into slave labor to mine the minerals that make my laptop possible. The thing about humans, though, is that we can dream without anyone ever knowing it; equipment is, at the end of the day, optional.

These are not very dreamy thoughts, but by giving time and space to them, who knows? It’s possible that an inspired solution will present itself. Also consider the fact that your baser self will use every possible means, from pity for others to pity for yourself, to stop you from breaking out of your self-inflicted prison and doing what you were meant to do. Here’s my recommendation: Throw your drop into the bucket.

By this I mean, in addition to taking care of your immediate duties and dreams, give a little to strangers. If you have time, give time by volunteering or writing letters to the proper outlets voicing your point of view. Be in dialogue. Respectfully share your opinions with people you trust about the many injustices that surround us. If all you’ve got is money, regularly write checks made out to your favorite cause. But do not add to the world’s injustices by withholding your own gifts. After all, even the caged bird must sing.

*This could work if you are a night person, too, as long as your lifestyle allows you to sleep in so you can get enough rest. I never recommend going without adequate sleep to anyone over 40.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ode to the Tenderloin

Theme song: Royals

Those who know me know that for over six years I lived in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. The Tenderloin is not, as it were, your mother’s San Francisco--unless you happen to be old, desperate, drug-addicted, or an immigrant or refugee. This neighborhood, full of crime and vibrance, holds a special place in my heart.

I got there in 1992 by accident. My ex-husband and I were looking for affordable and centrally located apartments in which to start our married life. We needed easy access to public transportation because we were traveling opposite directions: he would be taking CalTrain to Stanford, and I would hop BART to UC Berkeley.

Not knowing much about anything, we only gave ourselves one day in the city to find an apartment. Do you remember the Want Ads? We wanted an apartment, so we bought a newspaper, the kind that blackened your fingertips, and we circled listings with a pen. Then, we drove around and found the listings, hopping in and out of our rental car in a real estate equivalent of speed dating.

After kissing a few frogs, we found our dream home on Post and Leavenworth. The Tenderloin, almost entirely rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fires destroyed it, is, as you may know, home to single room occupancy units, known more popularly as SROs, and small one-bedrooms. Many of these structures, while often tending toward decrepit, are innocent of character-stripping updates like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, or at least they were when I lived there 20 years ago.

When I was 23, these buildings were a window into the comically glamorous world of Nick and Nora Charles, and their little dog, Asta, as well as the more romantically sinister world of The Maltese Falcon, which was written and set in an building just blocks from my new home. Nick and Noraisms such as, “Hey, Fred, shed the chapeau,” fired our collective imagination. My ex-husband and I were inspired to call ourselves Max and Vera, and we became crime fighters. Late nights running around hand-in-hand along the streets of San Francisco with the man I loved, I often felt like I was flying. Those were good times.

The Tenderloin itself, only God knows how, has for the most part resisted gentrification. Things have changed, yes. One upgrade is that more people seem to be smoking pot than taking crack. And the city has painted really pretty crosswalks in the deepest part of the Loin, I don’t know why. They also named part of the Tenderloin “Little Saigon,” in honor of the many refugees who were relocated to the Tenderloin in the 70s. And, because it’s still a little more affordable, the Tenderloin is home to a developing art scene. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too hip. Our homeless still need homes--even if home is cold and dirty sidewalk.

For really great Vietnamese food, don’t hesitate to off-road and find one of the tinier restaurants on one of the seedier, less-traveled streets. Talk to the proprietor, who will probably be a well-educated and ambitious son or daughter of parents who don’t speak English very well, but know how to cook up a storm. Feel impressed by what human beings achieve despite difficult circumstances and in unlikely environments. Feel sad when you walk by the men who lies, wrapped in dirty blankets and cardboard, crumpled on the sidewalk. Walk faster and hold your purse tighter when you travel through a group of men and women clumped in wheelchairs, shouting boisterously, leaning against walls, or smoking joints.

Back in ‘92, our new apartment was on the third floor, no elevator, of a pale pink Edwardian. With hardwood floors, two bright bay windows, and plenty of fantastic vintage details like a working pocket door, a Murphy bed, beautifully detailed woodwork, and a real live trash shoot, I was in heaven.

Of course we had second thoughts when our San Francisco-based friends told us, after we had signed our year lease, that we absolutely couldn’t live there, that the Tenderloin was too dangerous and why hadn’t we asked? It was too late.

Things really hadn’t seemed bad when we were looking: it was a glorious San Francisco day and the freaks were nestled in their nooks and crannies, waiting for the nightlife, baby. Upon moving to San Francisco, we did experience culture shock: January 1993 saw a record straight 31 days of rain. Riding the bus with wet and unwashed homeless people was new to us, getting off the bus into a thicket of prostitutes was even newer, and walking through throngs of street thugs made me break into a cold sweat.

The apartment was noisy as H***, and we got our share of cold people ringing our doorbell late into the night, hoping to be let into the lobby for a more comfortable snooze. We were on a first-name basis with Jasper, the crack-addicted Romeo who used our entryway for his rendezvous because, he told us, it was deeper and less well-lit than the others. One guy rang our doorbell so frequently we dumped water from the potatoes we had boiled for dinner on his head.

And everything was so expensive! The first time I walked down the four flights of stairs to do laundry in our basement and saw the number of quarters I would need to do it, I turned right around, leaving in a state of shock.

We made friends with an ever-changing array of neighbors, and learned all sorts of things about what you could do, with and without permission from the landlord, to upgrade a city apartment. We painted, we took off cabinet doors, we switched out light fixtures, and during the stray heat wave, we partied on the forbidden roof. We turned off the lights in our apartment and spied on the neighbors like we were characters from Rear Window.

We even participated in a community clean-up, meeting with the mayor’s son in a large basement room where gloves, brooms, and thank-you hotdogs were passed out. We braved the streets and swept up pigeon s***, used condoms, and syringes. Getting that close to the streets evoked images of times and places in which I hope to never be.

When my husband’s dad was visiting us, sleeping on the couch in our tiny apartment, we passed through a group of cross-dressing prostitutes on our way to get a video. Michael’s dad commented about one, “She’s certainly got legs that go all the way to the floor.” Yeah, dad, and maybe a couple of other things you’re not quite ready for. . .

On another trip to that same video store, in the time it took us to select our video, a man had flung himself from the top of the building. The sight of his blood trickling towards the gutter from beneath a mound of yellow tarping is an image that has stayed with me. Combing the newspaper, I found reference to a man who had stabbed his girlfriend and her lover and then leapt from a building on the corner of Sutter and Leavenworth.

The Tenderloin gave me an education, and it was a varied one. It was all about partying, new experiences, and an elbow-rubbing window into a San Francisco most people don’t want to see. But I want to see it, because I want to know the truth and keep an open heart despite all and everything.

Walking through the Tenderloin, is for me, still an inspiring experience. I love the jumble of pre-Deco buildings, the graffiti, the many shades of brown-skinned bodies. In the Tenderloin, men still call me gorgeous, but they don’t follow me or give me a hard time. The faces there, many of which are black faces, exude a kind of hard-lived character you don't often find in neighborhoods like Pacific Heights. The neighborhood is upfront, if not honest.

I wish everyone could visit the Tenderloin and see it through my eyes. You can be the 23 year-old who is eating her first burrito, trying awkwardly to order in Spanish. You can sit in front of your computer at night, drinking a very strong gin and tonic, and do your own Hemingway impression. You can say hello to the many people who walk by, and notice that, though that gentleman is poor, he is undeniably well-dressed. It's neither the safest nor the cleanest neighborhood. I feel, though, that it is one of my places. I lived my youth there.

{photo credit: Brandon Doran}

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