In This Moment

what if it matters?


August 2015


A four magnitude earthquake struck nearly underneath us this morning.  Woke me up to jump from bed and check my kids.  I hadn’t slept well because of the heat, was only sound asleep after awakening twice to my wife’s phone, once while I drifted to sleep and once when the thing began to sing joyfully Time To Get Up, at 5:15 p.m.  Honestly I didn’t mind the song at five a.m. as much as the percussive, single bleat from the phone after ten p.m. Then the earthquake hit and I felt its aftershocks in my chest as I lay aching and on one of our beds with my kids and the trembling dog. I wasn’t trembling, exactly, but must have been processing stress hormones from being shaken awake to a momentary fear that it was the Big One.

I end up in my Uber, reviewing the morning.  The wind blows gently, as though I’m not riding in Berkeley but the tropics.  I think to put on my headphones and realize the breeze draws my attention to the peaceful outside world.  No need for headphones if Berkeley is Bangkok this morning.  Later I write in the BART through the Berkeley Hills to Orinda.  It’s peaceful also, and I’m not late.  At all.  What will I do to find stress, to bring on the stress hormones?  I can find something of course.

Instead of Uber I have BART again.  Time flies as the cool train sighs through the tunnels.  I arrive.  No time to finish this, but do I control time?  I stop and look back at the BART tunnel ride from another place another time, another glass of wine, this time with papadam and shrimp.  So, no, I don’t control time, yet I may turn this way and that to take perspective as it sweeps me along.  The memory of sighing BART brings me a certain peace now fifteen minutes before I must present for a listing, one day after a hot, uncomfortable standing BART ride, two days after that quiet contemplative ride on BART, one hour and twenty-three minutes before a high-flying midday ride to El Cerrito on, yes, BART.  And the presentation is cancelled and my day is changed, yet I’ll return to BART and Uber in transit with no final place.



Newport Coast, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach.  Overlooking the beach at the Hotel Laguna becomes a moment of power.  Look out at the ocean, sit above it all.  A glass of red wine and my laptop.  How can I need more?  The travelers below on the sand, in the water, hopping the waves, shouting, screaming.  The sun, oh it reflects, off the water with the screaming happy people, to my eyes.  Of course up to my eyes, or they may as well be rays of darkness.

The endless waves of Earth’s ocean.  I’ll miss those when I’m gone.  If Earth has anything it’s the oceans.  And the red wine.  Didn’t Homer talk about a ‘wine-dark sea?’  I read in college the ancient Greeks were color blind because they thought wine and ocean were the same color.  Maybe they just had dark wine and the ocean in their thoughts at the same time.  I feel perfection in the curve of a slow-building wave, reflecting sunlight, containing people, moving relentlessly forward.  Where do the people go?  As ducks or seals bobbing and passing through the waves, the light stops reflecting the same way on the wave I’m watching and all is white foam.  Eternity is here and my own touchstone in life.  Can my wife and I come together around my passion for access to the sea?  Not that I must have it every day, I just want to have it when I want it.  What I said to myself when last I thought I was wealthy was “You can come to the beach whenever you want.”  Hard to back down from that.

The fog comes in against Catalina Island.  People play and scream.  The sun’s reflection grows until I can’t comfortably look up at the water from my typing without sunglasses.  It’s after five now and on balance people have switched from the beach to the Ocean View Bar & Grill overlooking the beach.  And now I leave for my dinner back in Newport Coast, at the Marriott, where I shall prove my value.  Next day.  Have I shown it?  Possibly.  Back at this same spot, writing, feeling the Laguna Beach breeze.  Went in the water with my daughter and let her go under a wave that washed us both down, losing my sunglasses in the process.  How many pairs have I lost in the dark sea now?  Says the the experience was traumatic and she peed her swimsuit in fear when I let go of her under the wave but she’s okay now.  I didn’t tell her she might have to go under, didn’t tell her that I wouldn’t hold her.  Important moment?  She can’t rely on parents absolutely…

At the Ocean View my son plays an alien robot energy game.  I push him to do programming while I finish playing a spaceship battle game to a higher level.  Looking out over the ocean I feel I’ve lost something, that I’ve been away from this world and missed it while I played the game.  Of course, I stepped into a different world.  Traffic slowly presses through Laguna Beach.  Every time I’m in a place like this, writing, I think of my return.  Is it strange that the right to return matters so much to me?  I don’t think so.  I want to read Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead…and I can read it here or anywhere if I buy the on-line version.  Strange world.  Earlier, as soon as we reached the beach, I checked Yelp and found a place to rent a beach umbrella about 100 feet behind us.  Thanks, Yelp, for being my eyes and ears…

The sun, the fog, the waves and the people, the wine, my son and daughter.  The Internet.  All buzzing around and through me.  I need to know I can come back to this place because being in a place is part of being me.  In some way this place becomes my body when I’m in it.  No wonder I want to protect it.



They pound. They knead the skin. I wait, my lower back sore from standing waiting for the chair masseurs.  “We Are Young” starts up.  They must play it here at the mall so people will shop and buy.  A woman from New York via LinkedIn says she wants a job in San Francisco, do I have one?  Before I reply the masseuse is ready.

Forget about We Are Young a moment: even a culture that celebrates youth has a core appreciation of vitality and confidence, and those are not automatic companions of youth.  If a massage keeps me focused and healthy, then I move closer to the vitality American culture celebrates. If I give a person a real job and a chance to move to her dream city, that sounds like the confidence part also.  For a moment I feel myself closer to the heart of where I want to be, to where many strive to be: vital and in charge.

On BART heading back to Oakland, then Berkeley, we speed arrow-like through the Transbay Tube, so elegant and we’re through. How fast did we in this crowded train fly, the sky lit up all around the full train sailing so smoothly like a tunnel of people and light surrounded by a moving world.  The truth may be more terrifying than the lie I believed. The truth is, how we act matters. It matters so much the residuum of genes and training is like a pale transparent jellyfish, a vestige, the physical body in a virtual world. When I encounter another person, should one of us think we engage our bodies and voices they’d be right, but that is the residuum, the lesser part. The main part of engaging is our energy, the actions that we take towards each other and the way we hold ourselves.  And even the actions are eclipsed by the way we hold ourselves.  So I have training, genetics, physical appearance, and now even our actions towards each other as less appreciated step-children to the single important energy choice of how I hold myself.

As I look I find this at the core of everything.  Whether I’m sitting at my desk at home writing, arguing with my daughter about taking an Uber or walking, sniffing and wondering whether to take a nap.  And oh yes, noticing my suit and choosing to think about going back to work tomorrow.  I get to choose what I think about and even more how I think about what I think about.  What if I practice thinking well of it?



A whirlwind tour. Yes, exactly. Despite adding in more and more “relaxing” activities, I can’t seem to shake the stress. That said, the stress is less on a day when I take all these breaks. In fact, what a funny choice I have to make: do less outside of work and spend my life energy mostly on work, or work really hard to get the work done and then cram in my own personal activities.  Right. The obvious choice seems to be the latter. And in fact as a fallback if I get less work done as a result of all these scheduled breaks, then that may be okay, as long as I can support my family…

Sunshine on Grand Ave.  Just looking around had me stumped for a minute.  There’s a billboard in Spanish with the same exact billboard again right below it.  Some significant part of Oakland goes through this corridor. But most of it doesn’t stop, and then again the pace is so much more easy than say Harrison a few blocks away. Nobody parades down Harrison: on Grand you feel the slow curve around part of the city.  Not the city core, just part of the city. Maybe that section is the magic future of Oakland, the revival beyond the city core, which connects the city core to Temescal/Rockridge and Berkeley.

And still they parade. What new page of my life and Oakland’s life is about to be opened?  Where do I miss my best chances, or am I making them as we speak?  Missed opportunities are just equivalent opportunities not yet taken.  So what do I take next? I feel myself choosing a different path and I wonder how far removed it will be from what I imagine. Step by step I move forward into something that feels like it has the discipline of a physician combined with the open spaces of the artist. Hmmm. What open spaces does a struggling artist really have?  And of course I’m not serving human health in the way of a physician. Shall I compare myself with an attorney?  A businessman?  A monk?

One more minute. They parade, the sun progresses, work begins to call. And I go.


From Scratch

The sound is Feist and Andra Day as the cool breeze finally comes to San Francisco on a late Friday afternoon.  The weekend begins and people move in and out; the tempo increases, a pigeon wanders in.  The dishes behind the counter rattle more loudly.  There is breathlessness in people’s movements even as puffs of air come in through the open windows.  The cafe is clearing out and the patronage is more random.  A sixty-something couple sits across the bar table from a twenty-something woman.  I get news that I may be able to force payment for a job I’ve been working on for months.  What wind is that which blows news of a battle?

On tiny laptop at the Blue Bottle cafe I turn inward and outward at the same time while my work life continues.  Despite my supposed conviction that I should shun email when working on a project I look.  And I reply to my teammate who is setting me up to make a bunch of calls to prospective fellow panelists.  How does this fit with the early dinner-and-show goers and my own plans to depart for dinner with family from out of town?  To depart within minutes, perhaps seconds.  In fact I have already departed and am on a train in the sunshine on the other side of the Bay.  Still, it’s peaceful, I’m surrounded by beauty, and no kids are screaming at each other and at me.  Needless to say, nor is my wife.  The writing escape is a place to start.

This is a revision.  A revision so deep I’m not sure there is even one word left of the original.  I just deleted two paragraphs which depicted an experience at a restaurant.  Gone.  What restaurant?   Imagine staring at the bright sun, through clouds in the early evening.  It washes everything out of your mind and you start thinking again from scratch.  You’re left with a new moment that’s different from the one you were in before.  You’re simply not in the one before, anymore.  I just got a text from my wife that our dog has been put into the cone of shame.  She didn’t say why.  I had already put the picture of her in the cone next to this story.  I’ve entered a tunnel, the dog has entered the cone, my colleague attempts to call me about another transaction while I’m on the BART.  In my revised life I’m not at a hotel restaurant eating rabbit meatballs I’m here, with all these demands following me like rabid bats or homing missiles.

I remember the bright late afternoon sun at the beach at Lake Tahoe.  It was earlier this summer and there was either a rainstorm coming or going or there had been one the day before and it was just starting to sprinkle again, or it had finished sprinkling and we’d had our dinner and were standing out on the beach afterwards looking at the sunset.  The kids were playing in the wet sand at the shore.  And where was I?  I don’t know.  That’s why I try to write about the actual current moment.  I’m now sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Berkeley in the late afternoon, very late August sun and breeze.  In the shadow of the buildings actually, with my son and some snacks and the dog, now out of her cone.  But now I feel that I’m in my own cone of shame for failing to help my wife more this summer with the kids and taking out time to write.  And so August passes away and the sun sets.


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