Twilight over Tioga Lake

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We've come a long way

October means many things. Baseball playoffs. Halloween, always a fun event in San Francisco. Me turning 33, not terribly exciting. But noteworthy for me this year is that October 25th marks my 10 year anniversary in the city.

Many of my friends have been here around ten years as well. Recently I've been reminiscing with some of them, remember not only our own experiences, but also ways in which the city has changed.

When we first moved in here, it was the end of the dot com era. Thankfully many of us, including myself, had places we could move into because finding an apartment then took a whole special kind of dedication. I heard stories of hundreds of people showing up to apply for a room, dressed as if for a job interview, wine bottles and flowers in hand to hopefully impress the landlord. Some of us like me actually shared a room for a time out of necessity.

I remember the first bar I went to, Kilowatt, with some college friends. Those friends lived in the Mission at the time, when the Mission was a kind of sketchy place. Now while it has some rough edges, the Mission is the cool and chill hang out of choice for most young San Franciscans. We might not want to admit it, but we were the ones who helped the gentrification along.

Now that most of us are in our 30's, we consider it pretty damn exciting when we make it out on a weeknight, or even both weekend nights! It is impressive to look back on our early and mid twenties and remember raucous house parties where twelve people spent the night, complete with a band and dj who played until dawn. Going out to Kelly's Mission Rock and The Top until four in the am, actually completing Bay to Breakers (once in pouring rain), towel dancing competitions at Coachella year after year--we were good partiers.

Things change, but it is funny how you are usually ready for the change. I was initially nervous to see friends get married and start families, but these events have been some of the most rewarding and joyous occasions I've experienced. And things tend to come full circle, as well. Now that we have friends that have bought their own houses in the city, the house party is making a comeback.

My experiences at the jobs I've had out here practically merit their own book. My first job was out of desperation through a temp agency--making telephone calls. It was downtown near North Beach, so I enjoyed getting to know the area. I was the only one who didn't chain smoke during breaks, and instead walked spastically fast around the blocks. Then I worked for $10 an hour at the horse stables in the park, which was fun although I was so poor I took part in a paid asthma research study on the side. Everyone thought I was nuts, but I'm not dead yet.

While tutoring and babysitting for a variety of cool or completely nuts people on the side, I landed a job at a preschool, where I still work today. To this place I owe so much, as it has given me many wonderful friends and numerous incredible experiences, including a trip to Israel. Some of the hardest things that have ever happened to me happened while at this job, the hardest being the untimely death of a coworker three years ago. But even that tragic event brought people together in a beautiful way, and incredible relationships grew out of it.

Since I've lived in California, I've visited seven foreign countries, went on two amazing road trips, countless camping adventures in the Sierras and elsewhere, a few trips to Hawaii, and many nostalgic and fulfilling visits back home to Massachusetts. I've had my parents visit many times, a number of cousin visits, and some friends come, but would love more!

I have changed quite a bit myself, I believe mostly for the better. A friend was good-naturedly teasing me about how cheap and anti-corporation I used to be. I wouldn't pay more than $5 to go to a club, only shopped at thrift stores, and loudly decried major chains. Now two of my favorite places to visit are Disney World and Las Vegas, and I would be half-naked and starving if it wasn't for Old Navy and Trader Joe's. But I don't consider that selling out. Enjoy the places for what they are, and do good in the world to counteract the greed and excess as much as you can.

I love San Francisco and all the places I've seen out here, but what makes home home for me are the people. My SF friends come from Sacramento, Southern California, New York, New Jersey, England. They come from the Midwest, Canada, South America, Massachusetts like me, or are native to the Bay Area. They are teachers, writers, producers, managers for successful companies, talented artists and photographers and musicians. They are why I am still here.

A while ago, a good friend asked me what was the most significant decision I ever made in my life. The answer was easy--the one to move out to California. It was a decision I made spur of the moment. I suppose there may be a parallel universe out there where I live on the East Coast. I probably would be happy and successful in that life. But I can't imagine an existence without the places, experiences, and especially people that are in my West Coast life. Thank you to you all.

Here are two new poems, both about recent experiences I had in California. Thank you to Anna, Sam, Gina, and Eamon for being a part of them.

Dwelling Place 9/27/09

Day 4 in the Sierras is supposed to be an easy day. Day one is for acclimating, day two we can climb a little higher, day three welcomes a strenuous hike, day four should give legs and lungs a break.

That never happens.

The Eastern Sierras' beauty is quiet, harsh, intense. Our eyes tire quickly in the thinner and bluer air, glare from granite and tarn bounces into the iris.

My skin is a map of mosquito bites, sun scald, and white dryness.

Our muscles are sore in ways they were not when we did this ten years ago.

Our abdomens' clench and bloat in the 10,000 + foot altitude.

It is not necessarily comfortable to be here. But it is necessary.

So I am humorously dubious at the start of this "easy" day. We ferry over navy blue Saddlebag lake, sun hot and wind cold. My friends says, "We'll just head towards the glacier and go as far as we want."

But we always want more, always! There will always be another lake in that valley, perhaps a river or a mining ruin, maybe even a peak attempt.

Today's promise of a glacial lake is too tantalizing. We will go all the way, no matter how much we tell ourselves we do not need to reach the end. Nature brings out a greed in us.

The basin hike starts out on a dusty path with green shrubs and surging stream. When we stop for water, the mosquitoes could make me cry. Onwards, upwards, don't forget to breathe, keep your eyes up. A pika may spot us.

We break above the trees. The mosquitoes are temporarily sated with our blood and wait below. Slog on, slog on, and then we can see the lip of the basin, and sun glinting off the glacier itself. How can we stop now? We are metal, the glacier magnet. We happily submit to its force and are pulled up.

Scramble over bright gray rock, sky too blue even for sunglassed eyes, stifle stomach pains. And then we arrive. Our map tell us we are in Inyo National Forest; Inyo meaning "Dwelling Place of the Great Spirit."

And some great spirit dwells here for sure. Darkly quiet except for human panting, the ridges of the basin scratch the sky. The glacier itself is rather unglamorous--a large slab of dirty snow that leaves black water stretch marks down mother mountain's side.

A bruised blue lake hunkers under the glacier, absorbing it in minuscular measurements. Slushy ice streaks are drawn across, and I lower myself onto a granite slab to better hear the ice. Tiny blips of air shoot their way through the slush, and pop on the surface. I penetrate my finger into glacial innards, happy for its bite.

We feel we have to ask permission to dwell here ourselves. It is oppressive and holy and beautiful; an ancient monster sleeps nearby. A feeling of danger lurks--crumbly rocks hover just on the edge of gravity, crystalline snow runs precarious over hypothermic waters.

But we're not done yet. One more perfect lake exists beyond our sight; we are too close.

Stumble, clamber, boulder. We are not so much tired as lulled into a mellow stupor by lack of oxygen. One last heave, and there it is.

This first run of glacial waters is a calm turquoise. Not clear like tropical waters; it is opaque and milky.

I could drool over so much of my favorite color. I want to dive through it, drink its siltiness, bottle it and bring it home, though I don't do any of those things.

Watch. Listen. Purge the regularness of life from my body and let the Great Spirit dwell there for a moment. Turn myself inside out, feel the wildness on my organs.

Then we hear a crack of ice! A loud and wet sound, the sound of geological time sloughing by. The earth ticks another second older. How lucky we are.

We imagine sleeping here, cradled in stony arms, sung to sleep by a monster's requiem. But we know it would be neither safe nor wise to do so. Stay here too long, and you may be permanently absorbed into the Spirit's corporeal being.

The Spirit grants us permission to leave, as it did permission to stay. We could dwell here forever, but have done so long enough. With a silent nod and a satisfied smile, we take our leave.

As is the case when looking back, I don't remember the discomfort.
I just remember the ultramarine pool, the brooding peace, the earth aging slowly.

Selfishly, I kind of wish I had taken a piece of it with me.

A tiny bit of rock.
A little bit of lake.
A sprig of bush.

Would the Spirit have followed me home?

No, and I know this. If anything, it would have forsaken a thief.

Instead I just think. And plan to go back.

The Lucky Ones 9/28/09

I don't
consider myself a

I still go
to spin class.

I subject myself to
sweat, pain, and constant yelling
by the instructor.

One day, seeing that we were
not working as hard as we could,
she screamingly
reminded us that

"Spin class is optional, you know!"

True, and I panted out a laugh.
I don't have to come here. Yet it doesn't make
spinning any easier.

But another time
she told us in a
calm and measured tone,

"You chose to come to spin class.
Actually, you are lucky to be here."


Why, I suppose I am lucky to feel


by my own choice.

When else
do I chose my luck?
Or even when not a choice,
am I most fortunate?

I think back to a
day spent on the beach
with my friend and her toddler.

The little boy
felt all of life in
his small body.

Simply to run
was the happiest joy
for him.

He may not
know his luck yet, but the
seed of good fortune
is sprouting within him; he
will know it in time.

This day was not

I wore only a sweater, the
wind zipped right through
holes to my skin.

The cold lingered long
after I had gone inside,
and I felt shivery all night.

But how blessed is it
to have a beach
a sweater
a place to go into and still feel cold.

Also that day
I risked bare feet
and therefore cold feet
and wet jean cuffs
and stepping on dead jellyfish, which I did.

A most interesting sensation:
my foot sluiced through
transparent Jello. I
could feel the layers of
gelatinous skin compress underneath me.

Easy to think "yuck," but again
how fortuitous to have
a jellyfish
an ocean
a foot to feel cold death against.

Those of us
with the generally comfortable life,
like me,
are reminded to
count our blessings, be thankful.

When we complain, which
we do,
we are sometimes reminded
to think of those without.

I do think
it is ok to complain.
There may be the
bad relationship
no relationship
low money
bad health.

There are reasons.
And you are not terrible to lament them.

But there are the things within
all those reasons.

Think about them sometimes.

Think of them
and be thankful
they are there.

Like I will think about the
spin class
the sweater
the jellyfish.

That I
are truly

the lucky ones.

About Me

My photo
San Francisco, CA
Elissa is an east coast transplant making her way through life by way of San Francisco. This amazing city provides lots of fodder for writers of all types. I find inspiration for writing through life's little and bizarre events, such as grocery shopping for dog treats, salamander hunting, and insomnia. I am a preschool teacher in "real life."