Withholding stories

When I read this, it resounded so strongly with me I think I felt the walls vibrate. Here, have a read:

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/our-stories/

Of course, that was my first reaction. Once I marinated on what I read for a while, I realized even more why I knew it to be true. The message is along the lines of one I shared when I wrote this post. What is that untapped potential we all have in our very beings that doesn’t get shared? What about the other 6/7th’s?

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But more importantly, I liked this article for sharing the doors that honesty can open, so they bear some repeating, for effect.

  1. Honesty and openness prove we are trustworthy.
  2. They display our humanity.
  3. They highlight the importance of hard work and personal development.
  4. They allow others to know us and themselves better.
  5. Honesty and openness challenge others to share their stories.

I rewatched an episode of SNL when Christoph Waltz was the guest host. There was a skit of a game show, with a set up similar to Wheel of Fortune, but instead, it was a show called “What Have You Become?” It had really sad, pathetic people as contestants, and the game was simply the host of that show asking the contestants the question: “What Have You Become?” If the contestant didn’t have a mental breakdown and realize how pathetic his or her life was, they won the round.

When you ask yourself the question, “What Have I Become?”, honesty and openness are of utmost importance. This creates self awareness to step away, look at the facts and observe the situation with an outsider’s perspective. You shouldn’t lie to yourself.

What I love about my interactions with people in the past 3 years, is the brutal honesty with which I attacked conversations. I put my humanity on display. By asking myself questions about the kind of person I was and wanted to be, I navigated some very tough decisions and remained as true to myself as I could be. I lived 1. – 5. above everyday.

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It can be confronting when someone with whom you interact is brutally honest. “How are you?” garners a response that requires eye contact, nodding, involvement, listening, and offering some kind of response. You can either match their honesty, or shy away.

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I think of how I can come across when I answer questions. I offer funny stories that happened that day, as I see a lot of humor in my collection of moments. Sometimes I’m not fine and I don’t feel like lying about it to make someone more comfortable. Whether I respond with an emotion or a story, I make it personal. It’s me. I’m sharing me with you. Sometimes people don’t know how to handle honesty, simply because they are not used to it. Rules get bent, truth gets stretched, and a distorted mangled remnant of the truth can remain. Not to sound cliché, but some people can’t handle the truth…

I cherish those honest moments. They have an integrity to me. They’re important for me to connect with someone, and for someone to connect with me. Maybe it’s over a shitty morning commute or a funny bus character story, but I’d rather have that moment of truth than a hundred moments of dishonest imitation.

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I started this blog to tell my stories. You might be surprised what will come back to you if you do the same. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the responses I’ve received from people when I’m real with them. I’m connecting with people in a real way. In response, they are real with me and relate to me, almost immediately (or I get to them over time.) It doesn’t feel fake. Sometimes it feels forced, only if I’m just not in the mood for interaction or company. But that occurs rarely.

Share your stories in return, or pass them forward, but get them into the great wide open. Don’t withhold your stories. You know why.

 

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The room maker

Prologue:

Before you read this post, there is something you need to know. Before my best friend drew nipples and pubic hair on all my dolls with Sharpies at age 10, I played with dolls for a good portion of my life. Get over it.

Also, in writing this post, I’ve taken my mind on a journey, and I didn’t know where it was leading until I was done writing. My mind is actually sort of blown by my own basic, simple self-analysis. I need to ponder further on the door it opened, so enjoy while I go explore that room.

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My favorite part of my favorite Paul Simon song goes “He looks around, around, he sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity,” which you may recognize from You Can Call Me Al. I don’t know what it is, but I love the feel of that moment, like I’m in a big wide open place with beautiful structures and statues, like Rome. I’ve got my arms wide open, while people bustle all about me, and I’m spinning in the middle taking it all in. It invokes a moment of admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for what has been created and what is around me. However, my interpretation is exactly that – my own. According to Wikipedia (because if it’s on the internet, it’s true), that song is about Paul Simon’s own mid-life crisis, and by the 3rd verse, he’s traveled to Africa and begun work his new album with that song, Graceland.

Architecture is something I really enjoy in a city. It speaks to me, wherever I am. In Sydney, the detail I noticed was skinny terrace homes on a quaint tree-lined street, with detailed iron balcony railings of all designs and colors. It was the only detail I recognized as unique to Australia, as it’s a relatively young country and continent who’s yet to develop its own architectural style.

I loved the Greek Isles for the ruins. Talk about ancient architecture. Mykonos was my favorite for the buildings by the water, and Delos was my favorite for ruins, with Santorini and Athens not far behind. The Acropolis and the Parthenon are simply breathtaking up close and far away.

In San Francisco, I absolutely hands-down LOVE Victorian homes built before 1900. I once owned a condo in SF built in 1885 – the original foundation had to be reinforced for new earthquake codes introduced since it was built. Victorian homes have an attention to detail, a character, and a feeling.

San Francisco architecture is currently breaking my heart a little bit. With demand for housing in the city skyrocketing even higher than it already was, new buildings are popping up all over the city. Sadly, they don’t maintain the same feel as the Victorian and Edwardian buildings. I’d love to see architects designing these apartment buildings put a little thought into how to blend the modern design and conveniences with the feel of Victorian and Edwardian buildings already in existence here. Instead, what is happening, is a modern glass panel building on the same block as an older building with character. The juxtaposition and harsh transition from one to another just doesn’t feel right. Personally, I love the older buildings, for the personality and unique features.

My love for Victorian homes started when I was a young girl. My parents bought me a dollhouse kit and helped me build it. I noticed and appreciated every intricate detail of that house – the staircase, the panel siding, the shingles on the roof, the crown molding – the bones, the feeling, the whimsical imaginary world it opened up. It not only helped build spatial thinking, but it brought out the inner interior designer in me. I loved putting my personal touch on the house, more than I liked using it when it was finished. I found thin strips of wood at a craft store with which I made mock hardwood flooring. I chose a color previously unheard of to paint the outside – peach. Didn’t see that one coming, even when I was building it. But it spoke to me, and it said peach. There was a romance to this dollhouse, that allowed my imagination to run free, and not just with the stories of the dolls in it. It was cozy, and so full of potential. (This picture below is not the actual one I had, but it’s the closest design I could find on Google.)

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Ironically, just for fun, I recently looked up what it means when you dream of a dollhouse. “To see or play with a dollhouse in your dream suggests that you are idealizing family life. You have the notion that everything is perfect or problem-free. Perhaps you are in denial about any problems. Alternatively, the dollhouse in your dream may serve as an indirect way to solve and work out waking problems with family members.” Amazing. Apparently, my attitudes towards this dollhouse as a child were a form of therapy and coping with what was going on around me.

With my 20/20 hindsight, I was learning exactly what the American Dream was with that dollhouse. In the 50’s that American Dream was getting a job, buying a cookie cutter house, having a perfect Stepford wife, having 2.2 kids and a dog. Designing the inside of that dollhouse meant I could create pieces of furniture myself, create something. I also went into the craft store with my mother and looked at the dollhouse furniture every time, almost like a woman who was about to get married would play house and buy things for a new home with her husband. But being the only child I was, I did not want to share (and didn’t play well with others). There was no husband I was decorating this for. It was my dreams, my choices, my imagination, my world. I was the architect of my own world (despite the kit with premade materials). This house was all mine. The lyrics in the theme song to the TV series Weeds “Little Boxes”, nailed what that American dream was. Deep.

Little Boxes – Malvina Reynolds

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In fact, I didn’t even need a dollhouse, to make a house for my dolls. I had Barbies, Skippers, Kens, clothes, and accessories; I even had a Barbie corvette. During the summers, I would play outside with all my Barbie junk, and make tree houses in the hedges on our front lawn. They had somewhat horizontal branches, which made perfect Barbie beds. In my world, Barbies shared beds (totally a lesbian, even as a little girl), which would often be a puzzle box with a piece of scrap fabric as a comforter, and pillows. Funny, the bed was always the key part in my world. That had to be perfect… and it’s still true today with my real bed. I love that thing. It is perfect, and in fact, it’s more likely to have two Barbies in it than a Barbie and a Ken, if you catch my drift… Deeper and deeper…

Taking the game outside meant that I developed a love of tree houses. Tree houses were just a different take on building that dream home in my world. To this day, there is a whimsical romantic notion that I want to live in a treehouse one day, but a decked-out adult one.

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After my love of treehouses had been established and I begged without success for one in our yard (we just didn’t have any good sturdy trees), I found out my neighbor was going to build a treehouse in their back yard. I was so jealous, and wanted one so badly. I had to live vicariously through my neighbors.

I imagined my own tree house, that I didn’t have to share with anyone else. It was everything I wanted in that personal world to take it a step further. It had a view. You got to climb a tree. Getting stuff up there with a pulley was even cool, like when your mom sent lunch up. If you were lucky, you had a complimentary tire swing underneath the treehouse. It was the ultimate fort! Who didn’t love to take a sleeping bag up there and a book?! Up there, in the clouds yet firmly rooted on the ground was My Place. I would take every book up there; that’s where my mind wanted to be when it processed information and envisioned new worlds. Boy, if I had a tree house, I’d play in it every day.

To this day, I have on my bucket list, building a dollhouse/treehouse for a kid who really wants one. It really represents opening up a child’s mind to fostering a healthy imagination, that same feeling of euphoria, a My Place of their own, where they can be confident and learn and grow into a wonderful person. Nothing holds that feeling for me like the tree house Calvin and Hobbes had.

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Even in the doll house as a child, in my current residence, a Victorian style San Francisco apartment with a bay window that has a sweeping view, My Place will always be a safe space to grow, to read, to be alone, and explore every cavern of my imagination. There is nothing like a bay window reading nook to be the frosting on my perfect home cake. That is my secret world.

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When researching dream meanings, I also noted what it meant to build a new room, anywhere, be it in a dollhouse, a treehouse, or a city. “To dream that you find or discover a new room suggests that you are developing new strengths and taking on new roles. You may be growing emotionally. Consider what you find in the discovered room as it may indicate repressed memories, fears, or rejected emotions. Alternatively, such rooms are symbolic of neglected skills or rejected potential.“

In my inner psyche, I’m building rooms in My Place, I’m working with the bones, the architecture I see and inserting myself into a space. Throughout my entire life, this is happening. Writing this post has been an adventure for me, as I’ve never thought through or interpreted any of this. I think I’ve just had my own a-ha moment.

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I’ve let you into Fort My Place, dear reader. You’re special, or something.

One of my pearls

I was 10 years old, and in the 5th grade. One day, my parents made the decision to take me out of my private elementary school which I’d attended since kindergarten. I still know the school song we sung. (*starts singing in her head* When my friends ask me where I go to school I say, “I go to Challenger and it sure is great! We have *clap clap* teachers who care a lot *clap clap* good friends who share a lot, Challenger, that’s my school!”)

That single move took 5 years of habits built in an environment conducive to raising an avid reader with a wild imagination, a library card, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge (see my previous blog on my passion for learning here) and turned me into the precociously gifted and talented socialite you all know and love today.

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My parents enrolled me in the same elementary school as all my neighborhood friends in the local school district. My grade was assigned based on age. The school was free, which freed up my parents’ budget spent on the moderate tuition for my learning. My dad lost his job right around that time, and suddenly, they couldn’t pay for private school anymore.

My dad worked implementing management information systems like SAP for other companies in Silicon Valley, after moving my mother from upstate New York first to Dayton, Ohio, then to San Jose, California as he landed a job with a small company called Intel in 1979. Apparently once a system is implemented and the transition is executed, there is little needed of the specialist who oversaw the project. It was a contract based line of work, so very often he was “in-between jobs”.

My mother worked for a company which ultimately got acquired by a German company called Siemens AG in production management/cost analysis/logistics, and used SAP, coincidentally. If I were writing my version of the Divergent series, I’d be in the super-nerd business faction in the right place at the right time, whatever that may be called, with both parents entwined with everything that made Silicon Valley what it is.

This private elementary school had no “school district” of which to speak. But all the other neighborhood kids went to public schools. They were basically my social circle, as I didn’t have many good friends at Challenger. I remember feeling disadvantaged socially, somehow, because I didn’t have them in my classes, or go to the same school. Going to a private elementary school was just as damning to a reputation as being homeschooled. Go figure, “disadvantaged”… Sometimes, I crack myself up.

I was also a minority in that private school. Most of my classes were kids with ethnicities of Chinese, Indian, other Asian backgrounds, and relatively few who would classify themselves as Caucasian (is that even an ethnicity???). Talk about having a childhood that turned diversity on its head, where the “privileged” were those of diverse backgrounds in the educational space, and the minority, or the underdogs, if you will, were those of European descent with fairer skin.

Somehow, that was a unique formula for an inclusive generation raised with mandatory computer classes, with the now archaic dinosaur versions of a giant desktop Apple Macintosh. The donated computer lab had tiny green-and-black only monitors in Silicon Valley, just as the Dot Com Boom unfolded and became not just a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ and Bill Gates’ eyes.

I was bullied at that private elementary school. On the playground. By a girl named Jennifer who was bigger than me.

I loved the play structure that had what I’d recognize now as a high bar in gymnastics. I loved to jump on with one leg bent around the pole and one delicately balancing behind me and just spin circles forwards and backwards on that bar. In fact, all the kids did. So we queued up and got x number of minutes and some kid with a watch timed until it was the next kid’s turn since recess was only so long. As long as I got one session on that bar per break, boy was I a happy camper.

I got off the bar when my turn was over, on no day in particular, and I went to another play structure – a triangle of leaning opposing ladders so you could climb to the top to meet a friend. Other kids and I liked to hang upside down from these bars by our knees, underneath the triangle. I was a huge fan, as I was convinced it would help make me just a little taller. I wanted to be 6 feet tall when I grew up; I read somewhere that someone who is 6 feet tall has a femur length of 20 inches. I wanted a fully grown femur length of 20 inches. And the award for Most Unrealistic Expectations goes to…

Anyway, Jennifer decided I was done hanging upside down because she wanted to climb to the top, and pushed my feet forward. Suddenly my knees were no longer hanging on the bar, and yours truly had her first taste of playground tanbark as I fell face first into the ground. She then picked me up by the scruff of my shirt, scratching my neck with her finger nails. After that, a teacher came up to break it up. It baffles me to this day what that was about.

So given my difficulties at the school, and the change in my parents’ fiscal status, off to public school I went. It was very different. Bigger classes, but my friends were there. I had trouble making friends other than those neighborhood kids I knew. Because I was the new kid, I was suddenly the most picked on fish in the pond, though nothing escalated beyond what I’d already experienced with that bully. Rather than violence, kids just reacted how they did, and I wasn’t popular.

Despite my disadvantages (*snort and smirk*), once I moved into a public school, I quickly learned that my previous school had been teaching me at a grade level about 3 years higher than my peers. That is to say, I suddenly developed all the confidence in the world, despite the status at my new school. I decided I would try harder to be liked. Because I was ahead in my learning and the other classmates were learning stuff I’d learned already ages ago, I became the class clown. I tried to be friendly with lots of people. Report cards I brought home to my parents always had comments that I needed to stop helping and distracting other students from their learning, because I already knew the answer. I’d raise my hand in class and engage with the teacher. I’d talk when I wasn’t supposed to. I worked that room.

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Thus began my love of attention (being the Leo/only child/Chinese year of the rooster that I am), and positive attention at that. I needed it. I loved to make people laugh. Jokes, impressions, cleverness, timing, punchlines, and using new and varied vocabulary to which I’d been exposed in my fancy private school – I picked it all up, while everyone else was catching up with things I had already learned. I learned the art of coasting. I was learning the art of social interaction. I memorized lyrics of songs on the radio, and quoted TV shows and movies like it was my job.

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I also found very quickly I marched to the beat of a different drum. 5th grade was the first year of sex education courses for students, so all of a sudden, the blurred lines of innocence recede into the distance as we gain an awareness that our bodies are going to change and make us sexual beings. But I knew then, when I just didn’t get the concept of “balls”, that I was different. I was like, are they Baoding (or Ben Wa) balls that you rotate repetitively in your hand to improve manual dexterity and strength? Is there like a silk pouch, and that’s the sack?

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Change, my body did. I was awkward at best. I had a mortifying experience in my formative years. I’m going to share it for the first time with anyone since it happened. I release this story to the abyss, simply for the sheer terror I felt and the empathy or sympathy you, as my dear reader, will hopefully feel. I can see the humor in it, and it wouldn’t phase me at all if it happened now. Hell, now, it’d be considered “part of her charm, bless her lil heart!”

I was a moderately early bloomer. 5th grade was such a crazy year. I got my period for the first time. I joined an organization for young girls in my spare time, because my best friend got me involved (it’s NOT a cult). I figured I was good til the 8th grade with my schooling (at least in my head), and needed someplace else to apply my attention. Wise ahead of my years, I was. Or incredibly stupid. Pick one.

So, at the end of 5th grade, there was a class trip to a swimming pool. It was a big deal. There were no classes since we were graduating 5th grade, and moving on to middle school. Ahhh, the good old days, when we applied baby oil instead of sunscreen and didn’t wear seatbelts on the way to the pool… but I digress. It was to be a fun swimming day! Hooray! Well, it was supposed to be anyway…

I begged my mom for a new swimsuit that season. My favorite style of swimsuit was a one-piece, but it had a giant hole on the stomach and hole on the back so it looked like a two piece, with stirrups on the side to make it one-piece. My favorite swim suit ever was a little chartreuse (yes, highlighter yellow) number in this stirrup design with silver sparkles. That… was my Vegas costume, my pièce de résistance. I went everywhere in it. I’m sure my mother has a picture of me somewhere in it. Alas, I outgrew that suit, and it was so last season, so I had to get a new one. I found one in a similar style with a white top and orange bottom. It would do, so prepare for pool day, I did! It was going to be a-mazing!

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Turns out that suit, despite having an orange bottom, was basically like wearing white bikini bottoms – completely see-through. Who has two thumbs and had no body self-awareness at 10 to notice the changes on my own body? This girl. Yes, my awkward little 10 year old self had pubes, of which I was unaware, on display for all to see when I emerged from the pool.

HUMILIATED FOR LIFE. Words cannot convey. At least for the vocabulary I had at that age.

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When you are the first little lesbian out of the gates in that puberty race, it was social suicide. Thoughts crossed my mind as I overanalyzed it for days afterward. I didn’t choose that! It just happened! It was never there before! What the hell is that? No I didn’t know they were there; let alone showing to everyone in my class of friends. Not even being the class clown could pull me out of that one. Luckily, most people in that class chose to go to a different high school than me. They went to the high school in the “richer neighborhood”, because the Dot Com Boom was financially benefitting all families at that time, apparently, except mine. Go figure.

If that happened to me now, I couldn’t give two shits if my pubes show through my swimsuit (if I happen to be wearing one at all). I pride myself on not having had them completely lasered off (or waxed off) yet, like most of the women I know. Guess who’s keeping warm this winter. BOOM.

I’m 32 and I’m ok with my body. When I was 10, my body was doing all kinds of things that I had not approved. You get used to being in your skin, and the mortification of all things related to your body ebbs away, I promise. There’s something I would have told my younger self. Pearls of wisdom here; write that down.

My point, and I do have one (to quote the title by Ellen Degeneres), is humiliation at a delicate age is a precious thing. I figure my revenge, besides having lived an amazing life so far, is that there is a whole generation of young people out there who’ve never felt that humiliation. On one hand, I want to pull a Dazed and Confused and make them “fry like bacon you little freshman piggies!”

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Kids need to know the angst, feel the raw human emotion of embarrassment. It comes with finding yourself through challenges and hardships like that. It builds character. Or as my dad used to say, it puts hair on your chest.

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However, on the other hand, bullying is bad, m’kay. It not nice to bully, m’kay, not everyone is as resilient as me, m’kay.

Seer of the infinite affinity

I had a college professor who told me real visionaries (and marketers) sit facing the window, looking out. Everywhere – a restaurant, a library, a bar, and so on. They people watch and observe. They get a feel for a person just by spending 7 seconds on only them. Malcolm Gladwell concluded in his book Blink, that one can make a fairly accurate read of a situation in 7 seconds, too.

It’s hard not to do this all the time, living in San Francisco. There is so much to see, almost to the point of overstimulation. One of the things I love about my apartment here is the view. I’ve never had a real view in any of the apartments in which I’ve lived. My last apartment had a small kitchen window, which looked out to the financial district. On a clear day, you could see some of the Bay Bridge. Nothing spectacular. Not until this one. Score.

I noticed the other night a view that gives me pause through my windows. It had been a somewhat hazy day here, but the night became clear, with just a thin veneer of haze. I realized I could see airplane lights in the dark – 3 flashing reds circling what must only be the airport, one landing ahead of the 3, and yet another taking off on an adjacent runway. I love being on the plane that takes me out of the city to a new adventure. I love being on the planes, floating down softly into the city, bringing me gently home to the place I miss so much when I’m gone too long.

I think of each character in the story I’m watching unfold before my eyes: Pilots checking in with flight controllers for permission to land, flight attendants expectantly asking you to straighten your seats to the original upright position. The flight controllers, oh, so focused, in the zone, sipping mugs of coffee, no cream, no sugar.

I think of the people who must be waiting at the airport, for someone special to arrive from wherever they left. Lovers reunite, families hug and smile and laugh. The taxi cab drivers take them to where they need to go.

I can also see the highway from my beautiful San Francisco classic Victorian bay window, which brings those passengers into the city. I can see which directions have traffic and which flow freely. I think of the panhandlers you will occasionally see, illegally standing on the freeway exit ramp, looking for anything you can give. I think about what might have happened to them that they end up there, of all places, on that day.

I don’t like to think of the bad things that may be happening at this moment, but I know they are. The sirens, the horribly loud sirens, drown out all other sounds in my apartment. I imagine the scene of an accident toward which the fire truck and ambulance race. I wonder if everyone is ok. I think about the first person on the scene, be it a witness or the EMT, who finds out whether someone is ok. How moving that experience must be, no matter what they may find.

I think about the nurses in the hospitals who just received the call there are people from some accident coming into the emergency room with some ETA that seems like 5 seconds away. The nurses, both male and female, and of all ethnicities, are cool, calm, collected, focused, and preparing to save a life.

I look out another direction of my window, and see Mission Dolores Park. There are people, seated in packs scattered on that hill. When I squint, I can just pinch them between my two fingers. It’s a nice day, and I can just imagine the view of the city skyline they can see there, as they relax in the Friday early evening sun in the middle of summer. The weekend lies ahead and positivity and potential electrify the atmosphere. The whole city begins to buzz…

I think of the hundreds of restaurants situated within my range of view – mostly taquerias. I think of people working hard in hot kitchens making some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted all over the world.

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San Francisco is getting too big for its britches. The art supply store down the street has closed, or has likely been sold or about to be bulldozed and turned into a modern apartment building. The people who remain the heart of San Francisco’s artistic and cultural scene are getting edged out of their homes and businesses by skyrocketing rent prices, and an influx of what-I-call the “young professionals”. Only those with steady salaries from companies like Google, Genentech, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (whose offices are now situated further down Market Street from the closing art supply store) can afford to live in the city now. Whole Foods has moved in down Market Street, too.

My old stomping grounds, my Cheers Bar, where everybody knew my name, where I could be found just about every weekend with one friend or another, making my own bloody marys, Home Restaurant remains vacant and boarded up on Church and Market. I think I just vomited in my mouth a little.

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I feel a slight tinge of nostalgia, when I think of my view from my apartment in Sydney. I spent so many evenings up on our rooftop balcony, surrounded by my favorite flowers, watching the flying foxes (read: bats) making their daily flights west to Hyde Park, a much needed glass of champagne in my hand. I miss being there on those Friday evenings. I really respected people in Australia for their treatment of the weekend as truly sacred. You worked hard 5 days a week, and very rarely did you have to put in time on the weekend. Those weekends were for your family, your loved ones, chores, errands, relaxing, unwinding, and disconnecting.

Ahhhhhhhhh (deep breath). This is something that matters so much to me, I’m bringing with me to San Francisco. Sacred time, to de-stress, de-compress, and reconnect with important people in my life, and most of all, me.

I can see into the lives of so many people from my window with a view out onto my beautiful San Francisco. So many unique people – transgender, Persian, gay, Chinese, Filipino, elderly, veteran, disabled, rich, poor, and I could keep going. There are so many simultaneous, intertwined and independent stories here, so many rich and complex characters, and just so much life. It’s really breathtaking to observe, when that thought finally hits you.

As I sit staring out my apartment windows into that land of possibility where people are reunited, lives are saved, and people are going about their everyday jobs with purpose, I gain some comfort. I love the way looking out my windows makes me feel inside. I look for the good, and it is the good I see.

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