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In This Moment

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San Francisco

Uncomfortable

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?

In

It’s hard to have perspective when you’re in something.  I just came down to the underground train platform in downtown Berkeley and the moment I passed the point on the short stairway where my view was the platform instead of the upper terminal, bam  that was it, I was in.  And now, guess what, the train approaches.  I’m on the platform.  Walking towards the train door, and, I’m part of the seat grabbing rush!  That was different because the transition was accompanied by a stressful activity.  Instead of a visual instantaneous transition it was not only invisible, but somehow unappreciated.  I look up for a moment and see ranks of people looking at their phones.  Or more exactly ranks of seated people all wearing dark clothes, and I happen to see one person focused on her phone.  And I glance to the right and the person next to me is holding her phone.  Accompanied by a frenetic clicking noise that it turns out is the seat rattling. Turns out her phone screen is dark and she’s looking at the blank screen.

Weeks later, months later let’s be honest, I still think of her looking at her blank smartphone screen and I think how often I’ve turned to the phone knowing it will hold something for me but not necessarily knowing what.  Like turning on the TV and channel surfing.  One step back from surfing the internet, surfing my own unique but similar world of things.  And God help me how different is that, really, from a blank screen?

I’m sure more goes on around me, and different things than I realize, far more than I know.  My question is not only Does it Matter to me, but is it even likely there is anything I can do to make it matter?  Look inside.  The truth is in there, carried with me from transition to transition, whether cleanly accomplished from station lobby to platform or murkily, rushing into a train without full awareness of my surroundings.  In all cases I carry with me an image of what I imagine is around me.

What matters to me has to do with its proximity in space and time. I honestly don’t remember whether I read that in a Buddhist book on meditation and life perspective or the book on Machine Learning that I’m reading.  OK, pretty sure it was the machine learning book but it really could have been either one.  That is a meta thought that matters to me because it consolidates and points to the area I explore in my writing.  I like to call it the moment.  The moment is what is here now. I believe there is a word for this in machine learning, and there is a dimension to it that goes beyond proximity in time and space.  That dimension is accesibility.  I make up in my head most of what I believe I know about my surroundings, therefore most of what happens right now, right next to me, is inaccessible.  So it may as well not be proximate.  I also have a feeling there is more than one dimension of accessibility within the realm of awareness.

What do I turn to to find out what’s around me?  The smartphone.  If I do this while I’m on the BART train I bring a different set of things into my awareness. The email a client just sent from Paris.  And I lose touch with the people on the train with me.  So what?  The main problem I see is the question of What am I In?  If I am no longer in the train but have stepped onto another platform, into another room, an email room, then OK but what are the characteristics of that room?  Can people see me, understand where I’m coming from, catch my attention and communicate as fully as possible with me?  I don’t know.  I read the email from Paris and I gather the transaction we’re discussing is a lost cause.  She wants way more than the building can likely sell for at this time.  My job would be to make this Owner proximate with someone who can actually pay her price.  That may take time, yet there is the chance that this Buyer is out there even now, standing in front of her property looking at it.  Yet Buyer and Seller are not proximate to each other.

I sit outdoors at a cafe in Berkeley and to whom am I proximate?  I distance myself from my email, from home, from work, and here I am. It’s an early fall day not really Indian Summer but sunny and OK for sitting outside in a sweater.  People are coming and going and of course I’m not really close to them.  I am significantly alone…although sharing this space, being seen by these others.  The short order cook comes out and presses down the garbage.  I smile and wave to him and he says “hi” so happily.  How can I call this alone?  He remembers me from ten years ago when my son was a toddler.  He hasn’t changed much but he works so hard, and he seems a bit sad.  Florencio.  His name that of the city where I began writing about moments almost twenty years ago. The hard work he cheerfully endures so different from the situations that I have been in these past decades, yet…he helps me recall Florence, and that ties together my passion for writing and travel over my lifetime.  Even though (did he say he has four children?) it doesn’t seem like he can travel much, as he puts on his helmet and wheels his bicycle into the street I wonder where he has been, the man who is always at the cafe.  I’m often at a cafe, just not always his.

I’m proximate to Florence and Florencio and an endless string of cafes and emails and photographs of places.  And of course stories that begin to tie them together into a meta-place where old men press down garbage for students and old men and women who scribble in journals long after their coffee is cold and bitter as death.

 

Center of Gravity

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.

 

We Have It All

Chaamah, or something like that. Adele’s Rolling In the Deep plays as the background. Both kids are here.  Went to the Magic shop, the earring shop, and we’re eating at the Thai place my daughter found on Yelp, near Union Square.  Was about to write my kids were “turned off” because they’re watching TV.  But things move quickly: dinner comes and goes, squabbles over shrimp pass as dark clouds, suddenly here and gone.  Diners pass through.  The kids order dessert.  Feels like nighttime now, so quickly…

The place has become crowded at 7:30 PM on a Sunday with people looking in from the street.  The waitress doesn’t understand the word “dairy.”  For a moment back there I tasted the green curry and recalled a recurrent dream of a trip to Thailand.  In the dream I can eat at any restaurant in a whole park full of restaurants, and there are so many, and something heavenly about having my choice, and they are all good.  For a moment tasting that green curry I’m there, the dream is here, this little hole-in-the-wall Thai place in San Francisco is one of the Good Places.  I think Paris and eat Thai.  In other words, moments that feel good can connect and momentarily coexist.  Paris is a place of mind, a background for experience, a lot of yellow gravel walks and noisy cafes.  When the sound becomes just loud enough you rise up into a different plane…and it’s easier to experience this Paris when you’re not there.  The kids learn about magic and discount deals on earrings, we enjoy half-price Uber rides on a darkening Sunday and the patrons press in while the waitresses with their broken English try to help and the busboy with gold rings folds napkins and laughs with them.  He may as well be in Thailand, or Laos or Vietnam but of course with his gold rings he is definitively in America.  I’m momentarily as much in his place as he in mine while I dine in his restaurant.  And the ultimate secret of Paris and Thailand is revealed while the kids grow restless and the arguing starts, and it starts to seem ludicrous that we’re holding this table while the kids fight over a bite of mango.  The secret is it isn’t just a place.  And there is no milk in this sticky rice sauce, and despite too much broth in the soup there was a moment when the music mixed with the fast motion of the staff here, and their positive energy, and it all came together.  As we weave our way through the narrow entry corridor to the sidewalk, those outside add a final push of value to here even in the moment that it becomes there for us.

Another day.  If I think hard about Paris, recall the summer I lay out on the grass in the park after rising at 5 AM to buy croissants leaving my newlywed spouse to sleep, I feel it  pressing down onto this unusually hot Berkeley street side.  Sitting in the shade at the beginning of a UC Berkeley semester while the heat of Paris comes down onto the roofs of the single-story retail shops on this street.  In other words I sense the world, the hot, dry world, all around me as I sit at my table at the side of the pedestrian way.  Yesterday, deciding how to spend my time while the kids were in school I found I’d divided it up finer and finer until there was little pleasure in it and after a meeting with my boss that morning regarding best sales team strategy I wondered if I’d spent the last minute before 2pm the best way I could.  Actually the minute was well spent, it’s just various other minutes of which I’m unsure.

And today, as always the minutes pass while I, wander?  Not quite, the Uber Pool brought me on a random walk to my several destinations.  A less expensive, erratic path, nevertheless arriving with certainty.  And I wrote during the last-minute again before arriving this time at my house.  No one in it and still it was distracting.  I have a lot of collected experience there.  So much easier to write at a sidewalk cafe…  And I’ve invited the kids to come down here and work with me and they are not here.  So there is a gap between the potential to be with them and the actuality of it.  It all happens in the gap.  A former Berkeley professor called it liminality, the moment that you step from one thing to another.  Really the only moment that matters.  I step from here to Paris to Thailand and back, and you know, all these people driving and walking about North Gate at Cal are doing it too, I’m sure of it.  It begins to feel like home.

Ferry

Feels like I’ve been here before.  On the bench at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco.  The difference is I’m not with family — that’s important, as when I am with them I see the environment both through the eyes of one who is with them and also from an imagined traveler’s perspective.  The challenge, in returning here, is to be the traveler and not the hurried business luncher.  Today I’ve managed to watch, as a childrens’ book narrator watches, myself and my surroundings.  Present in the same way I was when visiting my Grandmother in Texas as a child.  I have no more grandparents, only this lesson in how to notice the ocean air gently blowing on my face.  Gentle as a San Francisco summer afternoon is not always gentle.

Seagulls cry as the ferry line grows.  The terminal bridge creaks.  Five minutes to departure; I didn’t really see people getting off but some people passed me in that direction.  Is the boat already empty?  The line moves, fast.  Getting shorter, in fact disappearing.  The woman at her laptop on the bench already got up and stood in it.  At 3:11pm the sound of cars on the Embarcadero suddenly seems louder.  A shift.  People heading home.  And the seagulls.  Does anyone recall the moment, in The Lord of the Rings, when Legolas saw his first seagull?  Far up the Great river from the Sea. The cry meant Legolas could never again be satisfied with Middle Earth, that he’d have to leave for to the Elvish land across the sea.  I notice he did travel around Middle Earth for a while first with his friend Gimli, not to mention finishing the War of the Ring.  So, like Buddha he helped out those of us still on earth before he travelled on.

I don’t think I’m Legolas, but I do like to take a photo and color it creatively, make reality just a bit different.  Take the horrors of our own underworld and let them blend just a little with the color of the bright San Francisco day.  And can I claim to brush in a bit of color from a better place?  The intention itself colors all.  I know that I can claim only one thing and that is this moment.  The price I pay for it already discussed in past musings.  Too simple and yet too dear.  My life, my time, my soul.  The ferry with its seagulls appeals so much that I want to ride it again today.  Such a curious experience, before, riding alone, as Bernard Maybeck and Charles Keeler did over 100 years ago, before they met and built their first house together.  What if I could live in that same house 121 years later?  What if I too could ride the ferry across that same Bay?  All I know is being out on the water is magic, much more so than the subterranean ways of BART.  The water moves out behind the ferry as it crosses under the Bay Bridge.  It moves so enthusiastically, so brightly, as I move upon the same waterways the Spanish sailed half a millennia past, with Inquisitions behind them and hope of something different up ahead.  Anything.

And now I sit in a Peruvian restaurant eating food garnished with giant pieces of corn.  I think they call it something else… On the water.  I see the Sausalito ferry depart.  The fog given way to summer sun and a stiff breeze.  A guy at the next table talks knowledgeably to a group of listeners about “disruptive” forces.  How much of his talk of disruption is purely his hope that his company can come into power?  He’s paying for this entire table of people who look spacey.  They’re on their break, right?  Eating at the Peruvian grilled meats restaurant.  Two admin people just jumped up and said they have to get back to work.  Now the guy is talking about how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had beliefs that were stupid.  I’d actually like to hear what he was trying to say using those saw horses as examples.  An Indian looking guy with a Texas accent.  Too nice.  Yet kudos to him for taking charge of all this.  I’ve been debating whether to use his company’s name here.  My decision is made by the fact that I can’t remember it.  Touch-something.  “You guys don’t have to wait (get back to work).”  That’s right, Mr. Touch, better use all your niceness and your charm and your whip and your luck.  Then maybe you can be a disruptive force and maybe you can benefit from that disruption.  What I hope for you is that you enjoy the process.  Anyone who has come across the sea to this place in the past half-millennia had better enjoy the process.  There’s no going back.

Easy

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