Thoughts on speaking your mind, your self, not only your “affinity” group.
Note to self Friday: Reflect on the Uncomfortable. Not sure why. But I’ve been uncomfortable these past few minutes. As it happens I walked up Montgomery with the idea of executing a “walking photo tour” assignment I gave myself today, as a way to get back in touch, get grounded between projects. Guess I have lots of getting in touch to do as the walk is uncomfortable. Why? The discomfort seems to be from lack of psychic force: I’d done a presentation this morning, made cold calls, and confronted my marketing department in trying to solve a long-term problem in my brokerage work. The discomfort was partly from distrusting the psychic strain of all this would produce a good result, partly just from exhaustion. Empty, and without hope of being filled. Uncomfortable.
It’s cold in the City today, so I walked uphill until I got to the Ritz, then stood on the sunny sidewalk out front. Thought of going in but that would be more psychic strain. What if going into a place like the Ritz-Carleton is simply a use of psychic force, not about money? What if everything around me is about psychic force? This morning I arrived at work before 8AM and by the time my cube-next-door neighbor arrived I was nearly into my second hour. Oh the space in an empty office! He started talking up a storm, telling me about his grandfather who’d had a stroke years ago. Had to put up a virtual psychic shield to stay focused. What did it cost? Feels like I’ve burned through reserves and am now depleted. What recharges me?
Pushed through that psychic resistance and went inside the Ritz. Dressed in a stylish suit who’s to question me? There are others standing around the lobby on devices too. Within the outer perimeter it’s easier, so I don’t have to stay out with the grandmoms walking their grandchildren across the top of the hill. But there’s a different psychic challenge inside. The barrier is replaced by a demand. I don’t want a drink or a snack and don’t feel properly demanding, so the implicit demand of the space itself that I act like I belong steadily grows. Funny, if I were more rested I could handle loitering in the lobby longer sipping their lemon water. If I were more demanding of food, shelter, drink also long time in lobby. Too bad, I want to demand. With nothing to push for I’m soon back out on the street. The result of another layer of psychic defenses in that place? Yes. What is the agreement amongst people there? I could’ve taken out my laptop and worked at the bar or in the nearly empty restaurant beside it. Ordered something minor. A cup of tea. What pushed me out was feeling not quite in-sync with those around me. It was a pensive place, gray and empty except for these guests wandering around looking at their phones. It only now occurs that the guests with their sidelong glances, not the staff, are the enforcers of who belongs.
The place I went next had everyone working, good music, even a co-working use fee. Pushed out of the free Ritz-Carleton in favor of a place that charges by the hour. Plus I purchased coffee and a snack (having escaped from the dismal Ritz I was hungry again). Could’ve had coffee at the hotel, but that place is dead–if I’d been staying there I’d have gone upstairs for a nap. At the co-working cafe I slowly begin to gather my forces. I remember sitting at an open air cafe on September 11, 2001, in the warm sun, gathering force. How many hundreds of times, both notable and not, have I been reflecting at a cafe? Now I’m focused on recovering from the efforts of the day, sipping coffee, nibbling on the coconut pudding, letting the music wash over me. Let them charge me $2 an hour, it’s cheaper than paying for parking if I had brought a car…
Managed by psychic forces, I tend to feel discomfortably buffeted, as though by a rock in a river, a sudden turn in the rapids. A drop. A swirl. Don’t necessarily hit the rock, just feel queasy rushing past, changing direction, washing up to a high place (the Ritz) and back down to the co-working cafe. I could sit and look at roses all day, but don’t, I mean can’t. I’m embedded in a psychic milieu that permits me to do this and that, but not all. The best I can do is look at a photo I took with my new phone of some roses on a tabletop, glancing at it while I’m carried towards the next thing. It would be uncomfortable to stop. Would it even be possible?
I wanted to bring some sanity to my life. So I went out to a cafe that plays jazz music (did I know it would? No…just that it has a small, European flair so it would play something distinctive if anything), sat down to write. Did I write? Not right away. First I had to work through a friend’s comments that my writing’s a waste of time (I’m still working through that…), a Presidential candidate’s insane-sounding misogynist comments (easier to be distracted by the fear and hysteria this person creates than face my self-doubts), and then got down to it. Yep. I disallow the friend’s comments, and the candidate’s, leaving myself hollowed out. Thank God for the happy, jazzy music. A psychic survival tool. I feel I could stay here a long time, that I should have come sooner. Earlier, I rushed home from my day job and ran to another cafe with my dog. That lead nowhere. The staff questioned the dog’s credentials, there were no seats, it was too shady. The dog was cold. So many reasons not to write. “Excuse me, Monsieur Dog, may I please see your papers?” Second class citizen to a dog, to a better writer, to a chauvinist. (Oh, God, thank you, Economist, for giving Donald Trump a true name, chauvinist. He would likely be proud to bear the title, and it is the source of all the misogyny, ethnic nationalism, and everything else that he brings. Too bad it comes from apparent insecurity. What if it came from strength?)
Time to go. Last light of a fall afternoon fades as the jazz music stops. God, how lucky I am to have beautiful music that can run out! How much better than to be threatened by neighbors, friends and misogynists. Does anyone know what it does to you to have someone attack the opposite sex, to have someone tell you one of the few things you love is crap, to have a neighbor who cannot handle the closeness of the neighbor relationship and decides persecute you as evil? These things run in parallel. They drain the life out. Like debt, or sickness. Your only chance is to get through it by main strength because these things literally drain the life energy. Too much and you’re gone.
Or is there another way? Only today, after writing this weeks ago, before the chauvinist came to be elected, only today did I say to myself: I need a psychic defense. Of course if you look up psychic defense online the meaning of the word isn’t “mental,” it’s woo-woo energy. But…I’m such a believer in first principles, and roots of words. That sort of thing. Psychic means “mind” to me. Why? Because that’s what I believe in, what I bring to the table. So, to damn the torpedos, and flak and stuff, and full speed ahead I type “psychic defense” into Google and start reading the I’m Feeling Lucky first reference. Why? Because I am the road less travelled by, even though I walk down the main street. So why not? I put the first technique in the first article into practice within five minutes and my day is changed. Yep. I’d been debating commissions with a colleague and was dreading facing him in the office. Psychic Defense 101, Exercise I, The Mirror. I visualized a mirror between me and him, protecting me from his “bad energy” and Viola! or maybe I should say Violin! what I’m sure was my own self-pitying defensiveness lessened and I was able to ignore my colleague’s presence and focus on my work. Then later I addressed the issue at a time and a place of my choosing.
So today I’m here again at the European cafe, small, not the large outdoor French-style cafe, at the same place with my shivering dog who cannot stand any temperature outside a ten-degree range. I’ve taken her in my lap instead of bringing her home. I wanted to go inside the cafe, where it’s warm, but instead I’m out here shivering with my dog. Can’t hear the jazz music, if that’s what is playing, if anything at all is playing in there right now. Let me be clear. In possible contrast to the other day (and the prior paragraph) I’ve chosen this. I’ve decided to walk and run the dog, then see what’s next. I could’ve taken her home then come here, and in retrospect should have. However, I gain two things (at least) this way. One, I get to choose my course, having considered and discarded the option of taking her home first, now I live with this choice of mine. I wasn’t forced! Somehow that seems to matter in this post Donald Trump p-grab world (I’m told I shouldn’t spell out the word in this context, and that “p” could mean either male or female private parts, and that men should imagine The Donald grabbing them, too, because that’s exactly what he intends?, plans?, that is exactly what he is going to do, so get ready for it, fat white men without college degrees, get ready for it…). Second, I have something to potentially look forward to on another day: another day, having proven how silly it is to sit with a shivering dog, even though she perches in my lap, I can pursue the course of walk-dog-and-then-sit-in-warm-cafe. You know the anticipation is worth at least as much as the experience itself.
There is a gnat in my kombucha beer. My iPhone is down to 10% power. The song I just tried to Shazam is Allah-Las, woman-with-a-seashell-to-her-ear, but it sounds like the Rolling Stones. Try to double-check. Too late. Sun goes behind a building. Will I ever be able to listen to these songs? Last time I tried the speaker wouldn’t (mate? sync?) connect with the phone. Debate tonight. The Donald debates The Professional. Is “The Donald” a dirty, non-PC word, now? If he wins, will POTUS become a swear word and the United States an insult when used in an imperative or declarative sentence? Did you actually work out what “imperative” or “declarative” mean or just reflect for the briefest moment on whether that sounded cool. Did it? The kombucha beer is gone. I’m down to 5% and hoping for an Uber ride (using this phone) home. The Russians are the one’s trying to win here by pushing the Donald as far as he can go. Will they win or will we, through the adversity of an actual competitor, join forces internally and prevail. I bet Putin is not smart enough to actually make us fail. I think he’s looked into the eyes of the stupidest and greediest of us and thinks he understands our soul. Putin, not only do you not understand our soul, you’re not qualified to understand it. You cannot understand what you’re not willing to entertain. Send your kids to college here and then we’ll see what happens. Your Russian patriotism is not linked to any ideology, it’s just nationalism. At least we believe in something abstract, be it nihilist. We’re something worth writing about. You’re only history in the making.
My cafe looks down on my dog. At least I have that first world problem, now I can listen to the crows caw above the massive outdoor semi-transparent shade-lighting-and-heating cover at the gluten-free place that’s so idealistic the servers look like deranged monks and the customers have permanent over-serious expressions on their faces. I’m right at home. I’m struggling with the existential dilemmas because the biggest challenge I face is deciding whether to walk twenty feet to the private restroom and pee. I think it’s time.
The perfect segue into the Election of 2016. If Donald Trump wins we’ll all be eating salami. If Hillary Clinton wins we’ll go on eating whatever we were eating before. I think the Trump supporters just want us to all join them at the table and stop putting on airs. OK, I admit it, I’m having two different kinds of salami (they call it salumi here), by choice. And smoked gouda with some pretty good Zinfandel. Yeah. I seem to be the bad guy? I don’t know…I care about women. Wait, that’s what Trump says… OK, how about this, I’m open to criticism? So, how well do I score on the Fact Checker with that one? Because Trump has shown us that you can say anything… Here’s how I check out: I’m open to criticism as long as you put it into terms I can support (my logical structure), and you present it in a diplomatic way (stroke my ego while shattering it). Is that too much to ask? Frankly, or salamilily, I do think that I’m worlds different from Trump, as I push my way through paperwork and sales calls to try and grow my own real estate empire. Um, I’m not a politician. Wait, he says he’s not either. He probably says he’s not a liar. What am I supposed to do, say that I am?
My active, always-on spellcheck tried to make “salamilily” into “Salami Lily.” I bet Trump called somebody that sometime. Sigh. Truth has a hard time in an environment where people are being regularly abused. Or maybe it’s humor that has a hard time. Or maybe…what if people have been being abused for a long time and we’re all just trying to figure out how we make our way out of this smoky room into the sunlight? I think so. In that case Truth is really about something called integrity. And I have a question about that.
Just now I’m sitting at a bar in a tapas restaurant with a whole bunch of other people from Berkeley who have lot’s of apparent character. They aren’t looking around trying to figure out whether to pick up on someone, no, in the afternoon glow at 4:35pm I’m with the Berkeley geriatric crowd. These people are charging into their older years full force and full of purposeful talk. It’s almost a 1960’s Madmen feeling of camaraderie in which I don’t participate. Or maybe I do. I predict in 15 years my kids will be out of the house, my mom and my wife’s mom will be in a stable place, and I’ll have quit my job and so will my best friend. So me and him and my wife and his wife can come here in the afternoon and have chitty chatty about the new condominium towers in Berkeley, the fall of the Russian and Chinese empires, the virtual worlds that have consumed all the have-nots, and maybe, if I’m allowed to temper the mood, the diminishing world of ours in this tapas bar, in the late afternoon, in the fall sunshine, at 4:35.
Maybe. I hate to be a harbinger of things that no one will hear, but one of us will have suffered a change of life that will throw off the others. Even if it’s just an unremitting sadness of heart. And another one of us will be looking far beyond the confines of this little bar. The other two will be trying to figure out what the f*ck is going on. And the Trump supporters won’t actually be gone, they’ll be in the virtual worlds doing stuff. And I hate to pop your bubble (if I am, which I’m not, because you either already agree with me or won’t listen…unless you are that odd person who actually keeps an ear to the wind and a foot across the threshhold) but that stuff will actually matter in proportion to the amount of passion and luck those people have, not their presence in the virtual world.
The virtual world will be so blended with this one in fifteen years that we’ll wonder how the two were considered separately. So, I’m all wrong about the have-nots because they’ll be marginalized in all Worlds, even if they elect a president to try and represent themselves. The best they can hope for is to try and change the dialogue. And that matters… OK, sorry, it’s not that I lied, just that I got carried away, made an assumption that just because someone goes into a virtual world, and just because the virtual world is where the power resides, that someone who goes there becomes powerful. Nope. But give me one shred of Hope to hold out to those of us who don’t want to see other humans lose every last part of dignity: of those who disappear into a virtual world some will prevail there when they failed here in the bricks and mortar, de-industrializing, AI-got-my-job real world. After all, the AI lives in the virtual world so at least you’re taking the battle to it on its home turf. At least you’re meeting the adversary unblinking. There is something to that, you know. Let me whisper it to you: it’s called Meaningful Work. Because all work, in a world where less than 1% produce food, is make-work. So, make work that means something to you. Why? Because then you have many advantages: you’re moving, you’re engaging, you’re building and you’re giving. The worst possible thing, in America, is to be prevented from doing those things (otherwise known as pursuit of happiness). So go go.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area you live in reference to the City, San Francisco. Yet interestingly that city is on the westernmost edge of the continent. So everyone in the Bay area faces west until they get to the City, then they stop. Does San Francisco face west? Arguably it has been the portal to the Pacific. But I wonder which way San Francisco does face? First thought is inward, as it tries to incorporate its exterior constituencies into itself. The city contains much Pacific Rim culture, China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Australia. It contains Pacific Northwest. And more of late it contains Silicon Valley. For better or for worse. On a recent trip through Silicon Valley to Cupertino, through Los Altos and out to Santa Cruz I noted, as always, the oak trees, open hilly spaces, mid-century architecture. There’s no way San Francisco contains that. But the life of Silicon Valley, those young hipsters, they face San Francisco and San Francisco consumes them. So who will win, the oak hillsides of Sand Hill or the restaurants and bars of the City? The secret is the South Bay was always a staging area or a retreat from the City. So you enjoy your horse farm and your vineyard in the hills south of San Francisco precisely because you can afford a retreat from the City.
I grew up in the East Bay. The light industrial side of things. There are so many people out there, UC Campus, lots of malls and community colleges. It’s not the heavy industry of the areas immediately north and east of San Francisco, the refineries and former shipyards. Just lots of people spreading out towards Mount Diablo, washing around it actually, a 4,000 foot mountain that will get a tiny bit of snow sometime during the winter on its deserty scrub and oaky slopes. The dreams of those people are dreams under an oak tree in summer, ephemeral and gentle. I see my high school classmates becoming more and more puffy and hunched over as they walk. I suppose the best of them are like oak trees with a solid, enduring air. Anyway, that is Walnut Creek. I had a taste of Concord, also, with its working classes and cheese cooperatives, back in the 1970s. Who knows what they do now in Concord. I think it’s a back office city, so what goes on there is subsumed within the expression of multinational corporations to the world at large. Seen in downtown Walnut Creek, where everything is actually sold. A hub within the East Bay, a Chicago for the Bay Area. And what of the Bay area’s Atlanta? How will Oakland fare this time when it has taken some of the wind out of Little Chicago’s sails? The wind blows through but as yet no large cranes catch the air and drive development forward. Will they come this year?
In the meantime I can go to San Francisco to write, or just kick it in one of these other cities. There’s a ferry from here to Oakland, the 3rd nicest city to live in in the US. Or I can just have lunch here in the City and remember eating out with my family in Seattle which looks towards San Francisco past the heads of certain high tech giants. We had a great week there and I can sit here and look back on that week in the city that looks back at San Francisco. Yes a lot of mirrors and reflection. And fewer beards here, less competition there. You notice that’s two things about Seattle, not about San Francisco. The consumer and the consumed — in a gritty reality contest you know Seattle would win. But that’s like a contest between the brain and the stomach, the parent and the child, the theatergoer and the director. Who is in charge? Who writes the script and who approves it?
The Financial District is a bit unexplored for me. I’m in a little burger bistro on a restaurant alley I didn’t know about. It’s 1:30 and everyone suddenly left, except a few of us. A couple of executives, a man with his sister, two men at the bar looking like they need to discuss important matters with the bartender, a big man and a woman at a high table. The fast kids left. Back to work. The buildings are tallest here. The water pretty far away. These pedestrian alleys are cool, right in the shadow of the TransAmerica tower. The servers seem happy. Everything is so fast, how could anyone complain? In the mania of it it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what all of us is doing, just that we’re doing something, and we care. Counterpoint, my junior colleague at work chooses a pace that gives him lots of time for self-doubt and moaning and groaning. What’s the point? Why not drown your doubts and sorrows in enthusiasm and more work, instead? The doubts and sorrows may go away.
What about me? I definitely need to keep the momentum going. And so I go in to work and scream through my calls for the day, finishing them quickly so I can shift focus to follow-ups and projects. It’s like I’m in a whole different world from my junior colleague. This woman calls me from Paris and says I’ve promised her an offer on her building. I have people lined up to gather the info we need, analyze it, write the offer, schedule a follow-up call. We will execute. Meanwhile I hear the song Jessie’s Girl playing and celebrate Bruce’s enthusiasm but not his assumed pathos. If you want a girl like Jessie has, you just have to go out and get her. Probably in San Francisco, although that is one of the places in this world where you’d have to work harder than anywhere else. Better try Chicago or maybe some weird hub city like Cincinnati? Berlin? Rio? Goa? Just don’t stay in that little suburb that Bruce is singing about, where everyone holds on to what they have as prosperity slips away. Then you’d just have to be satisfied as Jessie’s sidekick. What girl wants to go out with a sidekick? Sidekick girl. Still, that would be a more wholesome song than Jessie’s Girl, much more Marvel.
Over a thousand words. I have a secret for you. Wait for it. Tainted Love plays and all but one of the guys at the bar and a big group praying in the corner leave. One quiet male couple arrives to snack on sliders and salad…but we’re energized by the unseasonable heat and the Herculean efforts of those who have already gone back to work. Those two guys don’t seem worried. Seems like they could be sitting in Puerto Vallarta. Maybe they own the restaurant. Thank you, calm, shorts guys; if there’s anything I actually like better than Puerto Vallarta it’s idealizing Puerto Vallarta, and reliving the moments there that seem to have just the right combination of otherworldly and familiar, gay American and homophobic Mexican (or will Donald Trump and Jessie and his Girl have it the other way around? Homophobic American and permissive, tolerant, long-suffering Mexican). Just as an aside, Hillary Clinton actually called all of us racist in her effort to highlight the racism of Donald Trump. Better to admit it and try to change it than to cover it up and have it come belching out under the influence of whatever makes us feel at home. A woman stomps out of the corporate group praying to the ideals embodied by the leader, the one paying for lunch, in her high-ish heels — a commonplace late Admin exit. You can hear someone bossily expounding over there. Almost 2 PM. Can she finish up in time to catch the Clinton/Trump debate t0night? Did I mention it’s hot today. Oh yes, but down here in the artificial valleys of the financial district there are cool breezes and U2 plays. We shift quickly, here. Mad rush to cool afternoon. You find your place. The secret is this place is not essentially different from Puerto Vallarta, or that pathetic town where Jessie’s sidekick watches his girl. I have a feeling Puerto Vallarta and Sidekick Girl beat Jessie in his San Francisco suit every day. The secret is Jessie dreams of escape and he’s probably always had a thing for Sidekick Girl.
Let’s get out of here, just you and me. I don’t need the promise of tomorrow and yesterday tastes bitter in my mouth. I want to watch the sun rise over a landscape that breaks into all the things I never thought I’d see; all the things I was too afraid to reach for. We’ll take your car and I’ll oversee the radio, I’ll play the soundtrack of my life and you’ll smile like you don’t know. We can chase the memory of passion lost, a trail growing colder with every mile we leave behind.
Let’s ditch this town, this tired collection of haphazard streets and lawns built on haste and disinterest. I imagine blue skies and sweet air that isn’t heavy with all the choices we’ve both made, the words we never should have said, and pretend, for a minute, that the grass really might be greener. I want…
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