Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Ever so often I am overwhelmed by a feeling of well being.

And then I wonder if “well being” does a good job describing it.

It’s not a rush, like joy or enthusiasm (which fortunately I’m also prone to). It’s softer and fuller. Should I call it “Wellness”? Nah. Too clinical. This is more akin to fulfillment, to (dare I say it?) happiness.

Maybe it just needs a bit of Italian flair. Benessere.

Or, Greek. Eudaimonia.

Anyhow, the point is that, regrettably, I’ve come to discover that it’s not a feeling I can chase.  It has to come on its own. I can’t find it in good meals, in conversations with friends or the company of people I love. It’s not in a spa, even if the massage was a particularly good one. It doesn’t present itself when I buy new shoes, or finalize a good document. It doesn’t hold hands with the (delightful) sense of a job well done. It’s unpredictable. It always surprises me.

It presents itself quietly, say, when I travel and am surrounded by unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds. But it doesn’t come on every trip. It arrives when I’m sitting somewhere, not making an effort to do three things at once. When I’m just taking the world in. But if I tell myself to focus on staying in the present and just enjoying the moment for what it is, it evades me.

Is this what happiness is? An elusive, ephemeral tease of a feeling that you can’t consciously go after? It might be my inalienable right to pursue it, but if I do, I might miss it entirely.

Photo: woodgroove.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't ask

Here is a short list of questions you should refrain from asking:

Why are you still single?
When are you two getting married?
When are you having kids?
Is your child adopted?
Are you pregnant?
Does this make me look fat?
Did you have a rough night?
How can I ban a book?

Let me know if you have others for my "don't ask" collection.

Photo: www.dailygalaxy.com

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No way out

Two weeks ago I wrote about a television show called The Wire. When I posted that entry, I was still in the middle of season 3. Season 4, which I hadn’t seen, is about education, and I’m so affected by what I’ve learned that I have to write about this program again. I’ll keep it short.

Education is the one thing – maybe the only thing – that offers a glimmer of a way out of a near impossible to break vicious circle of poverty, crime, drugs and ending up in jail or shot on a corner.  This makes education (at least in my book) the number one priority. Despite of which our education system, here, in the most powerful country in the world, is failing all of us.

The “No Child Left Behind” initiative gives kids a free pass, “allowing” them to be in a class that corresponds to their age, not their level – which means they will always be too far behind to ever catch up. It forces teachers to give a passing grade to students who don’t know how to read, which not only means the child is forever lost in class, at best bored, at worse humiliated, with an ever diminishing sense of self worth; but that said child also slows up the lesson for everyone else. It forces teachers to impart to students specific answers to tests, rather than whole lessons, to ensure kids get a passing grade. This is done to improve statistics, to back up the claim our system is improving. Did you know this? Is this common knowledge? 

Coincidentally, in the middle of my watching eye opening, enraging, hopelessness inducing season 4, David Simon, the creator of this show, gave a talk at Berkley. I couldn’t attend, but thanks to my friend Analisa I did see the webcast, which you too can watch at:


David Simon explains that corruption is not just government officials looking to line their own pockets, but people everywhere who look for ways to make someone else responsible. “This horrible mess here is not really my fault, because…”

I don’t know just how much the structures and institutions that supposedly bind this country can hold while we (and I mean I) contribute to the mess by looking the other way.

Photo: www.thewire.com


Friday, September 12, 2008

Some day you'll understand

One of Luca’s oldest friends came to spend some time with us in California. He and his three children, ages 8, 11 and 14, stayed at our house for a few days. It was a fascinating experience, sociologically speaking.

When I was a kid I solemnly swore I’d never, ever be like a grown up. I wrote this sacred vow across the top page of my diary. In fact, the diary itself was meant as a reminder to a future me; inoculation against whatever it was that possessed adults, causing them to forget all that was important.

It took me 12 seconds flat to turn into my parents.

I put these kids on a regimented schedule so I could holler “Time for breakfast! Time for a bath! Bed time!” and, my personal favorite “No, not in two minutes. Now!”

I said “shhhh!” a lot. I made them eat their fruit and vegetables before they could open bags of chips or eat cookies. To their whiny “but, whyyy?” I’d quickly retort “because I say so”.

In my defense, kids are noisy. They yell, opine, scream, complain, bang, weigh in, listen to (atrocious) music, and thump around like elephants.

They are chaotic. They each have different requirements and demands (Hot milk. Cold milk. Strawberry cereal. Banana without the mushy part. Can I please have some conditioner? My hair is all tangly!)

They are crazy expensive. They are perpetually thirsty, hungry and needy. I usually shop for two people who don’t eat a whole lot. We struggle to finish a liter of milk in a week. With three kids in the house (and an extra adult), I bought milk by the gallon. They went through a dozen bananas a day. Boxes of cereal. One day, I made chocolate chip cookies (big hit) and they were gone before the cookie sheet had a chance to cool off. I’m just glad they left before I needed to start worrying about cars, college educations and weddings.

Kids are messy (and smelly). The youngest one had the habit of walking around the house while dragging her sticky hands across the wall (which I hereby swear didn’t made me cringe – I was more amused than disturbed.) A straw was inserted somewhat heartily into the apple juice, sending apple juice squirting all over (easy to wipe) counters, floors and chairs. Their shoes smell of feet (and so did the entrance to the house, since everyone left shoes there.)

These creatures. Never. Get. Tired. After taking in their energy and bounciness I determined that the best course of action was to take them outside. We went to the beach. Played basketball. Went for a hike. Walked the dog. Had a picnic. Went bowling. They were still bouncy on the way back home. And woke up the next morning hungry again, bouncy again, needy again. As Joan Cusack so eloquently put it: “The thing about kids is that they just keep coming at you.”

I was very happy to share my time and space with these amazing characters, but was equally happy to supervise their packing and departure. Now excuse me while I go for a long walk. Alone.

Photo: me on a long walk, alone.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Wire

This post is not going to be about Sarah Palin. I'm tired of reading about her. I mean, you've got to be kidding me.

I will instead tell you about The Wire, my most recent television related obsession (It's not airing anymore but you can get it on Netflix.)

The show creator, executive producer and head writer is David Simon. He lives in Baltimore (where the show is set) and specializes in criminal justice and urban issues. He worked as a police reporter at the Baltimore Sun.

Part of the beauty of this show is that it reveals things you thought you already knew and understood (but really didn't.) Such as how heartbreakingly slim opportunity really is when you grow up in the projects. (I am not claiming I now understand. Just that I've seen a glimpse of it.)

It's fascinating too because of its deliberate ethical murkiness. With a corrupt, bureaucratic police force, paralyzingly dysfunctional institutions and drug lords with a conscience, there is no clear right or wrong, good guy or bad guy. Everyone in the show is so irresistibly defective. Say what you want about virtue, but it's our flaws that make us who we are.

One of my favorite characters is Kima because she has learned to operate within a losing proposition of a system with strength and dignity, and manages to not lose sight about what her job is really about - to the extent she's willing to take a bullet for it.

I can't help but admire the rules and values the "bad guys" live by. How they look out for each other. How, functioning within tremendous limitations like poverty and ignorance, they manage to run an organized, cohesive operation anyone in the corporate world would admire.

I like Wee Bay because he's loyal and doesn't mind being in the line of fire (I mean that literally.) Deep down, don't we all want someone who'd kill for us?

If I was a woman living inside The Wire I'd fall in love with Lester because I like his perspective of the world and the fact that he's such a gentleman.

Stringer is the character that most dangerously walks the ethical line. While I'm horrified with him and his choices, I often grudgingly nod at the reasoning behind them. (He's good looking too. Lock up your wives.)

I think Mcnulty is a self destructive, egomaniacal train wreck. If I knew him in person I'd make an effort to stay as far away as possible. As the show evolves, so does my distaste for him. Since when does being good at what you do exempt you from the laws that apply to the rest of the world?

I'm fascinated by Bubbs (the snitch/addict) because I've always felt contempt for snitches and yet I think he's such a sweetie. We are nothing if not contradictions. The fact that we are strong doesn't mean we are not weak. We can be resourceful and brave and such cowards. The only thing stronger than his gift for survival is his penchant for self-destruction.

I could go on for pages about these people who inhabit my life for an hour a day. Omar and the scars that run across him. Avon, who I think gets it all wrong but might be the only one who gets it right. Daniels, who tries to be good and yet is stuck in a room without light. But the real star of the show is the expressive, foul, incredibly imaginative vocabulary the characters use. I genuinely worry that the language I hear on this show will seep into my subconscious and slip out during a client meeting.

If shows involving crime, race, violence, drugs and a consistent, complete disrespect for women don't normally attract you, just give it three episodes. After that, trust me. You're going to get got.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mori Point

This past weekend we discovered an incredible new place to go hiking (well, new for us), called Mori Point. It's a relatively recent addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. What makes me use the word "incredible" (besides the grassy trails, windswept bluffs and beaches and sweeping coastal views from Point Reyes to Pedro Point) is that it's a 10 to 15 minute drive from where we have been living for more than eight years, and we had no idea it was there.

After visiting, we learned that "the effort to preserve Mori Point is the story of community involvement and determination. For nearly two decades, various development proposals for the area were successfully opposed by Pacifica residents and environmental organizations. Instead of a condominium, a hotel, a convention center, or a casino, the site is instead home to red-legged frogs and San Francisco garter snakes."

Other old, new and future discoveries in or around Pacifica:

Old: The Shelldance Orchid Gardens that sell thousands of rare orchids directly from their greenhouse perched up on the hills.

New: A great new restaurant (again, new for us) called Nona's kitchen - 8 minutes away from our house! We hadn't seen it because it's hiding away in a strip mall, next to a gothic logo surfer shop called NorCal Surf Shop. I had a great "kitchen sink" salad with vegetables, blue cheese, tomatoes and fresh corn.

Future: A just opened Pakistani restaurant right on Highway 1 (I haven't tried it, but stay tuned).

Pacifica! Who knew?

Photo: www.pacificalandtrust.org