Friday, April 20, 2007


*Sigh*. I'm in love. You know the feeling...euphoria, quickened pulse, the urge to laugh at anything and everything. The feeling that nothing can touch you, and that you're floating on air. That's how I feel.

The one I love is everything my mother would have warned me against if she had been one of those mothers who waste time warning their daughters about "those" kinds of men. Soulful, sexy, funky, slightly unkempt, with a quick wit, smoldering eyes, substance-abuse problems, a dark past, and a darker future. Swoon!! Yes, bad boys are my weakness.

There are problems, though. The one I love is 2,270 miles away from me. That's not so bad, right? Long-distance relationships work all the time. Also, the one I love is physically incapable of having sex with me. OK, there are other ways of expressing love.

The real problem, of course, the real sticky wicket, is that the one I love isn't a who, it's a where. I'm in love with a place.

When I visited this place last summer, after being away for five years, I spent the first two or three days feeling the physical sensations of being in love. I felt high, even before I had my first drink. I felt like I was floating. My pulse felt quick. The feeling of the warm air on my skin felt like a lover's touch. Within an hour of stepping out of that cab from the airport, I was striding through the sticky afternoon, no longer obsessed by how I looked or where I was going and why, flip-flopping over dirty cobblestones under cracking, falling-down balconies, introducing my friend to this place that has lodged itself into my soul, and feeling finally, absolutely, adoringly, at home in my own skin. It's a way I've never felt about a place before. Not when I visited Paris, not when I toured Venice and Florence, only when I hail a cab at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, and am deposited in the balmy funk of New Orleans, do I feel this sense of coming home to a lover.

I'm probably being dramatic here, maybe even pathetic. I don't really feel like New Orleans is a lover. Well, maybe a little. Let's just put it this way: if Nola was a person, I'd do him, in a second and with no regrets. In a dark alley, or on the hood of a parked car late at night. Whew! I'm getting flushed.

My friend and I (yes, a real human friend, this time) just finalized plans to travel back to New Orleans in May with a volunteer group to help build houses in St. Bernard Parish, one of the areas most devastated by Katrina. We'll be staying 20 miles outside of town, in Violet, La., in an elementary school that's been turned into a permanent camp for Habitat for Humanity volunteers. After that, we'll spend a few days in a hotel on the edge of the French Quarter, and soak in the sights, sounds, and yes, smells, of New Orleans.

Every time I go back, I feel like I'm getting to know N.O. better, and it does feel somewhat like getting to know a lover. Yes, there's the drinking and nightlife, and there's the funky old buildings with the wrought-iron balconies overhung with plants. But there's something else underneath all of that. And that's what I'm trying to root out as I peer past gated archways into courtyards, and sit by the Mississippi watching the tourists go floating by, serenaded by that awful calliope.

Maybe because it's because I'm from California, which, though a beautiful and diverse place, still gave us the "television accent", that is, no accent at all, that I love New Orleans to distraction. To be honest, I have a southern fetish anyway. I've enjoyed my brief explorations in South Carolina, DC, and Virginia, although I can't say I enjoyed my time in Florida. There's some kind of soul and spirit in these places (but not Florida) that I don't feel in California or other places I've visited, like Montana, Washington state, or even New York. Maybe it's the climate, or the haunted forests and swamps, or the terrible abuses that occurred there, or the strange way southern culture hangs on to the past, or the hint of danger and secrets there, that fascinates me.

But, New Orleans, of all places I've seen, keeps calling me back, and even the fact that I managed to visit twice last summer hasn't lessened the pull. So here I go again, ready to find out more about the one I love, and maybe even to help out a little bit this time.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I'm Green, and I'm Proud

My dad was chagrined to find out on a recent visit to my house that I wash and re-use my plastic bags. “You must have learned that from me,” he said, seemingly embarrassed. He was always the one, when I was growing up, going around shutting off all the lights in the empty rooms and grumbling about wasting energy. Maybe he regrets being that way, but I’ve never regretted it, and in fact, it seems like the only way an intelligent and conscientious person can be.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew in my heart that as humans, we had to live gently on the earth. I don’t know why I learned that; my family was your standard, run-of-the-mill middle class American family. Doctor dad, stay-at-home-mom, two kids, and a dog. My parents weren’t hippies, even though they had first come to the Bay Area when tanks were rolling down Telegraph Ave. and Janis Joplin was giving free concerts in Golden Gate Park. We had a three-story house on a tree-lined Berkeley street. I went to private schools. Nobody cared about wasting resources, except inasmuch as keeping lights burning when you weren’t using them meant a higher electricity bill. We did recycle, as most Berkeley families did, my dad composted the garden scraps, and during the drought we did what we could to conserve water, but we were hardly back-to-the-land granola types.

But now, as a grownup and a homeowner, I’m extremely conscious of how I live on the planet. For some reason, it’s just second nature, something I never consciously decided, and something that I would never consciously give up.

I don’t own a car, I don’t want kids, I compost, I grow my own vegetables, I eat organic and local whenever possible, I shop at independently-owned stores when I can, and I try to support organizations that are doing good work. You know, the standard Berkeley leftist lifestyle. I’m certainly not perfect at it: I fly in airplanes (planes are some of the most wasteful vehicles of the modern age), I bank at Wells Fargo, and I watch TV. But I try, and compared to most people in this country, I’m a veritable hippie communist freak. It's not a difficult way to live, it's just different, and it doesn't take long before thinking about how your choices effect the earth becomes a habit, and even kind of a fun challenge.

In the last few years, of course, the kind of lifestyle I lead has come more and more to the forefront as environmental issues such as global warming, peak oil, and ozone depletion have become more accepted by the mainstream public. Hybrid cars zip everywhere around Berkeley. I even saw one on a trip to Montana last summer. Oakland has instituted a food-scrap composting program, and San Francisco has banned plastic grocery bags.

Still, most people are so oblivious and even hostile to the idea that humans have any responsibility towards the planet and the other creatures on it, and it mystifies me. I remember once reading an article about Ellen deGeneres, and how the people around her joked about how cheap she was because she washed and re-used plastic sandwich bags, and I remember thinking “Maybe it’s not that she’s cheap, maybe she realizes that plastic manufacturing is toxic. Maybe she’s secretly an….oh no, don’t say it! An environmentalist!!” It actually respected her more after I read that.

I don’t want to be one of those self-righteous types who thinks everyone should think like me, live like me, and heck, just be me. But I can’t understand people who don’t get the importance of preserving the health of the planet, both for ourselves, and for future generations. It just seems so obvious, and it did even when I was a kid.

When I asked my friend, a gardener from Arcata who eats organic food and once commented on the fact that I dye my hair, to landscape my lawn, I made it clear that I didn’t want to use any chemicals to kill the grass. He said that other gardeners he knew considered Round-Up, the gardener’s friend, to be “not so bad.” I looked it up online, and within two minutes, found evidence that people who used Round-Up frequently were at a higher risk for cancer, and that it washes into the groundwater. I have a 2-year-old niece, and I do not want to be responsible for Round-Up in her – or anyone else’s - drinking water.

So what gives? Why do people who are otherwise intelligent, morally responsible, and conscientious, not understand that we are stewards of the earth? That in order for the planet to be our amusement park, we have to treat it is as our temple? You can’t have one without the other, anyway – to enjoy the planet’s resources (air, water, food, you know, the basics), we need to make sure the planet still has any resources.

My inability to understand other peoples’ thinking on this is a problem, because I can’t help them understand my viewpoint, if I don’t understand theirs. Is it just plain old denial that we’re endangering ourselves and others by our resource-wasting lifestyles? Is it laziness? Is it fear that admitting the damage we’ve done will make us face the scary questions? Is it arrogance? After all, aren’t humans at the top of the food chain? No planet would be so disrespectful so as to make it difficult for humans to live here, right? Or is it just ignorance, since most of us were never taught how to live in a reasonable way?

Part of it is that our society isn’t set up to conserve and protect the planet, it's set up to devour resources. There’s no money in NOT using resources, after all (that’s the standard thinking, anyway, even though I disagree). There’s no obvious attention paid to how to live a less wasteful lifestyle, even though there are starting to be more public service ads and mainstream news coverage to this effect. There are very few real alternatives to driving cars, flying in planes, and getting food and water in a less harmful way.

But, I do see some small changes.
The popularity of hybrid cars and alternative energies, the growing gardens-in-schools movement, the increasing mainstream news coverage of global warming issues (including the attention paid to Al Gore's movie), the dawning realization that the planet is in distress. Maybe things are changing, ever-so-slowly, and the best thing I can do is just model the kind of lifestyle that will help our planet – and each other- survive. I don’t know, but I do know that I love living on this planet, and I want my niece and my new soon-to-be-delivered niece or nephew, to be able to enjoy it the way I have.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


One of the defining things about my life, up until now, is that I didn’t drive. Saying you “don’t drive” is a mysterious way of putting it. It sounds like you’re taking a stand against something, like saying “I don’t eat meat” or “I don’t vote.” I didn’t drive because legally, I couldn’t. I never got my driver’s license. As a stubborn, shy, scared teenager with the self-confidence of a blind, one-legged kitten, I failed my driver’s test twice, and then gave up.

The last thing I remember
about driving as a teen was driving back to my house after my second failed driver’s test, and listening to my driving instructor chatter away about her boyfriend, and how the the only way she could tell if he’d had an orgasm during sex was that sweat would break out on his nose. I was 16 and sexually extremely un-precocious. At first I didn’t know what she meant when she used the word “come” in that context.

So, twenty years later, last January, and thanks to my best friend, without whom I never could have done it, I finally got my driver’s license.

Not getting my license at the same time as other kids has been one of the biggest regrets and roadblocks (!) in my life. But it’s also led me to think about this driving thing in a different way. For one thing: driving is stupid. I mean, you have these very fallible, very fragile, very flawed beings piloting gigantic, heavy, highly flammable boxes of steel and fiberglass around at high speeds, often maneuvering within inches of each other and of soft, squishy, easily damaged pedestrians. Great idea.

For another thing, cars are toxic to the environment and hugely wasteful of resources. Just one word can sum it all up: “Iraq.” I firmly believe that cars have has been the most destructive human invention of all time, even more so than gunpowder and the atom bomb.

For a long time, I was using those facts as an excuse to not get my license, even though those were just smokescreens. Really, I was just scared. Petrified would be more like it. For years, every time I seriously started to think about getting my license, I would start to hyperventilate. While I was re-learning to drive this winter (I’d had several people through the years try to teach me, and have had five or six learner’s permits), every time I would approach the driver’s side door, I’d have to surf through the panic and anxiety, reminding myself that if all of these other people could do it, so could I.

Driving has brought up a lot of issues for me
. When my dad lent me his Prius for a week, I watched the thoughts go skittering across my consciousness every time I drove: Everybody around me is laughing at how bad a driver I am. Did I park OK? Are people in the houses around me laughing at my bad parking job? Am I going too slowly even though I’m driving the speed limit? Oh god, I don’t know where I’m going, can other people tell? But then I would notice other people not driving perfectly: going too fast or too slowly, turning clumsily, barely missing a red light, not seeing a pedestrian right away. It made me realize the scary yet strangely comforting fact that nobody else on the road is perfect, either.

I’m still not going to own a car, both for financial and philosophical reasons. I’m planning on joining City Car Share. I’ll still take the bus and BART nearly every day, the same as I’ve been doing since I was 14. But now, I have more options, and, more importantly, I have the satisfaction of conquering one of my most stubborn and inveterate demons, even if the demons were partially based in good sense. I mean driving really is stupid, if you think about it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My goodness, it's been a long time since I've posted. My massive audience must be so very disappointed!

I've been thinking lately about people, and my place among them. I mean let's face it: people are practically impossible, and I include myself in this number. We're inconsistent at best, fractious, bumbling, envious, neurotic, and mostly just generally clueless. Some more than others, and often in different ways than each other, but still.

As a person who (sort of) works in psychology, I'm torn between the desire to continue making positive changes in myself, and just wanting to sit on the ground, pout, and say "If you don't like me the way I am, then go away." I'm sometimes so tired of being self-reflective. I mean I had my first therapist when I was 7, and my first self-help book when I was in 5th grade!

I'm familiar with the idea that dealing honestly with problems in relationships is what brings people closer together. I even sometimes believe it. But when faced with problems in relationships of all types, I so often just want to crawl into my den and watch the toob. I don't do it, necessarily, but I want to. Why are there so many problems, anyway? From the friend having her ten-millionth crisis, to the coworker who takes out his misery on the rest of us, to the obnoxious bus passenger who insists on watching a music video on her cell phone at top volume oblivious to the people around her and their glares...sometimes it just all gets to be too much.

I know, I know, there's no way to escape it, and that's just life, whether or not we want it to be that way. I understand about compassion and that I'm the only one who has control over my life and happiness, and whatsmore, I understand that this is pretty much all in my head. I choose how I deal with these situations - they aren't bad or good, they're just neutral.

I was watching a DVD the other day about a group of 100 friends who developed a mindful community in the 1970's with the purpose of developing relationships with each other based on honest communication. One of the members, who was a teen when the group started and is now middle-aged, said that he looked forward to continuing to improve himself until the end. Whew. Just hearing that made me tired. I don't want to do that; I just want to live.

Then it struck me: it's not that I don't want to change, it's just that I don't want personal change to be the whole reason for my life. I want to talk about the weather, or a TV show, or some stupid current event drama, or my cat, or this frivolous novel I just read, in addition to the deep "meaning of it all" stuff, even MORE often than that deep stuff. Some people might call it small talk or fluff, but to me, it's fun to laugh about goofy weirdness that doesn't necessarily make the world a better place or set us up for grand personal change. If it weren't for escape, where would we be? Digging like a muddy Sisyphus in all the stinky muck of the human psyche, never really finding any answers, just more questions? Meh. I'd rather go on vacation.