Since the beginning of September, I’ve been spending my Tuesdays after work in Oakland. First I take a bus, then a train under the bay, then another bus from the coliseum for good measure. Nearly 2 hours each way by the time it’s all said and done. Man alive, it’s a haul, and lord knows I am beat by the time I get home, but I have to say, it’s worth it. Because what’s at the other end is a classroom full of 6th graders.
This summer I decided to volunteer with an organization called Citizen Schools that connects “citizen teachers” who have time and a skill to share with after school programs in underprivileged areas. I cannot remember the last time I was able to commit to being in the same place for 9 straight weeks on end, but I saw the Fall stretching out before me (before I took this new job that is…) and they needed someone to teach - no joke - blogging. Turns out that’s considered a life skill these days! Yeah, surprised me too. But despite my tacit turn around here lately, I figured that was something I knew at least a little about. So in September I started making the trek to the East Bay.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been back to a middle school or around kids that age. You forget just how young that is, what a burgeoning age. 6th grade. My goodness. They are boisterous and earnest and oh-so-defiant, but mostly just looking for a reaction, testing the boundaries. My first thought was to set them up with a Tumblr account, but it only took one week in the classroom (and seeing way to many google searches for images of Grand Theft Auto and guns) to realize unleashing them on the internet and vice versa might not be the greatest idea just yet. Give it a few years… Thankfully we found kidblog.org… a mercifully contained space.
I have to say, aside from the time I’ve enjoyed spending with the kids, one of the biggest take aways I have had this semester is a whole new level of respect for teachers these days. All of you out there leading classrooms everyday are AMAZING. I get done with an hour and a half trying to get 30 kids to focus, partnered with a real teacher no less, and am drained to the bone! How do you do this all day? You all are so impressive. Seriously.
A few weeks left, a few more class posts ahead. It’s been a good semester back in school.
I’ve been quiet. Things have been slow and I have been quiet. I tend to operate in that way. The busier things are the more I take on. The quieter things are, the more I want to stay at rest. Sorry about that, did you wonder where I went?
Fall is unfolding on the West coast and I am learning the shape of each new season here as it comes. We have been out and about though and meeting friends and making plans. I have been thinking a lot about the direction of things as I’ve been in the midst of making some big decisions, namely regarding my job, all for the best. I got a new one internally last week in fact, and just like that all the uncertainty of the last year and half seems to be worth it after all.
So bear with me, the words are coming slower than usual right now but life looks like it’s on a bit of a chaotic upswing and you know what that means: more to come.
The weekend before last we crossed the country the long way for a much overdue trip back down South.
Between family, college friends and a crew of guys whom David lived with one fateful summer (who have nearly all since married and gone forth and multiplied), we have a whole cohort down there of people we love and don’t see nearly often enough. Everyone has real homes now and most have a football team of kids. Oh what a difference a few years away makes… but is there anything better than seeing your friends settled and happy? It’s pretty good if you ask me.
There are few things I crave more these days than home. Almost anyone’s home. Where a family lives. It brings me to life. We got to spend the weekend soaking up a lot of that. Staying the night in my college roommate’s new, gorgeous space. Taking a walk in my old friend from D.C.’s tree-lined neighborhood. I’m going to sound crazy, but it was actually tempting to move just one more time, right there. We stayed at J & L’s place for much of the weekend, and I couldn’t help but flash back to the trips we took when we were all dating, the call we got to tell us they were engaged, that time at the beach when she was 6 month’s pregnant with their first, and the trip to Charlotte where we met that little one when she was just a few months old. She turned 4 that weekend we were there, with her little sister and brother in tow, and a dozen other little girls in princess dresses no less. It is a wonder to me to see how markedly they age, how 4 months is different than 2 years is different than 4. Children are just a wonder to me.
The happy event that brought us to town, as it so often is, was a wedding. You see 4 years ago we took a road trip through Europe with Nathan and Tanya who live there. It was summer and we were moving fast and David realized he had left something important behind in Monte Carlo just as we were getting back to Switzerland, naturally too late to turn around. So he booked a cheap flight overnight. 12 hours alone in Monte Carlo. In that amount of time only he would manage to make new friends, feast at a closed restaurant, party next to Bono (I kid you not) and end up sleeping for a few hours on a sailboat. He was home by 10am. One of the friends he made that night, he kept. And we’re so lucky for that. We’ve seen him in 4 cities in the past year in fact. That Saturday night we watched him get married to the loveliest girl. Life is so funny how people come into your lives sometimes.
And of course, if you know David at all, none of that would surprise you in the least. ;)
“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”— Hugh Laurie (via nofatnowhip)
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”—Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (via thatkindofwoman)
I honestly don’t know what I did before podcasts (or my iphone for that matter, hard to believe that was only SIX years ago, good lord). They have become such a habitual part of my daily life, the way I get my news, the way I pass any unoccupied time. I find myself pressing play while walking anywhere or waiting for the bus, while cooking or cleaning or running outside. The ability to multi-task helps make dull, mindless tasks interesting, and honestly through these outlets I’ve learned so much.I thought I’d share some favorites from my regular playlist that honestly have enriched my life.
The Moth - for a good, entertaining story told live on stage without notes (impressive)
TED Radio Hour - for a dose of inspiration, curated bits of TED talks paired with interviews with the speakers (leaders in their field) all around a given theme
This American Life - for my hands-down favorite hour of radio each week, Ira Glass hosts writers, journalists, and comics to take on a new topic every week
Radio Lab - for palatable science (not normally my favorite subject for the record), the hosts explore a question and try to debate out an evidenced-based conclusion with experts on the air
Freakonomics - for an intriguing discussion on the hidden side of basically everything
BBC World Service Global News - for a solid debrief on what’s going on around the world every day (the late edition is also effective at putting me to sleep every night…something about those accents I suppose)
Planet Money - for a truly interesting perspective and non-financier’s explanation of what’s going on lately in the world of money — the why behind the headlines, if you will
Marketplace -for a daily rundown on the markets (or maybe I just love Kai Ryssdal’s casual way)
Marketplace Tech Report - for a 5-minute update on the day’s tech news (especially relevant out here in tech country)
NPR App - not technically a podcast, but for what it’s worth I like the ability to get the national stories from Morning Edition or All Things Considered on demand and pick which ones I want to hear
The truth is, I’m normally more visual, more arts and literature centric. But I’ve found these offer a worldview that expands my own, and that’s what keeps me coming back, unlikely as it may seem, to listen on the regular to stories about science and finance.
I wonder sometimes though about the impact of this shift from everyone seeing the same nightly news hour to such highly personalized, subscription-based news. How it will impact us over the long term. You pick the blogs you read, the sources you follow on twitter, the podcasts you subscribe to. Increasingly recommendation engines dictate what we’re shown (you read an article on fashion, oh, here’s another)… in a sense, past choices dictate future ones. And while there’s convenience in being shown relevant content more and more, algorithms are becoming our news editors, I’m afraid, and I wonder about the wisdom of that.
At the same time we have access to more information than ever, I think we are also at risk of becoming more insulated than ever — only seeing what we want to see, only hearing what we want to hear. The diversity of ideas that are likely to cross our path is at the same time deepening in areas of interest and shrinking in its breadth. Or threatens to at least.
So in an effort to preserve diversity and an open mind, and of course enjoy cleaning more, what are your favorite sources? I’d really like to know.
The first mistake we made when we decided to head up to the Mendocino National Forest the other weekend was not to take it as a red flag when we called the park ranger about the availability of camping sites, and she said…"you want to camp? well, yeah, sure…there should be plenty of space. no fires of course, but you can just camp where you like in the woods…"Red. Flag.
Now we are not big campers. David’s got the gear and all but this is not exactly my personal past time, suffice it to say. So when we set out, his idea was to find a trail head, park the car, hike in and find a spot to pitch our tent. My idea was to find a campsite with other humans and a designated place for a fire pit. But before we could even get to that, we had to get into the National Forest to begin with. Turns out we were attempting to enter from the wrong side of this enormous tract of land… that was the second mistake we made.
5 dead end gravel roads and two hours later, we were still circling the periphery and had seen far too many signs like this… Red. Flag.
The third mistake we made was not buying a map. A physical old school map. We are too techie for our own good these days, because of course, GPSs and cell phones, they don’t exactly work in the woods.
Which meant that we found ourselves navigating hairpin turn dirt roads like this basically on instinct. Further and further into the heart of darkness with no idea where we were going or if there was even a campsite within miles. Red. Flag.
You know what though, there were moments of brilliance. The kinds of views that stretched out and out as far as the eye could see. The kind that just make you think “California!” That was a highlight.
The fourth mistake we made was taking directions from the 2-3 mountain men (who had approximately as many teeth), because they were literally the only people we passed on our entire drive.
I don’t think I have ever been quite so remote. And while some people find great solace in the woods. To me, it was a bit unnerving.
It also led us to cross several of these. In our car. In order to continue on the road. Don’t be fooled by David’s face here, he was actually a lot more excited than he seems. It was a throwback to our honeymoon actually which we spent crossing rivers in our rented SUV down in Costa Rica, somehow managing not to float all the way downstream…
The fifth mistake we made was turning down a narrow dirt road that ended up being unpassable in our car. Which was about the point in time I realized that if we got a flat tire all the way out there, we were probably going to die out there. No one would find us. For days! RED. FLAG. This was also the site of my minor camping freak out, for the record, but let’s not get into that.
Over 6 hours of driving and not a single campsite or trailhead in sight, and we were getting a bit dejected. Just as we were ready to throw the towel in though and attempt to unwind our way out of the maze we’d entered (hopefully before dark), the impossible appeared. Around 4:00. AN ACTUAL CAMPSITE!
Complete with other humans and an actual fire pit. To say I was relieved and David was elated is an understatement.
We pitched our tent and ate our sandwiches and started to explore the area. There was a stream right out back, not 30 yards away.
Which is precisely where we decided to have our happy hour, because Lord knows we needed it.
We sat on a log that crossed the water and watched the light fade and gathered some wood before we started a fire.
I don’t know what it is about this guy, these crazy adventures, these crazy risks, somehow things always work out for him.
Our sixth mistake was that we only had one sleeping bag, no pillow and no sleeping mat, which made that officially the worst night’s sleep of my life. But that’s neither here nor there. I may never go again, but that night, we camped!
Last night, rather than anything else, I walked the three miles home.
I am letting myself fall in love with this place. One lit driveway and peak topped and view over the crest of a hill at a time. I like the way the home lights flicker to define the mountains across the bay. I like the way you can track the streetlights’ reflection on the constellation of bus wires here in the city. There is a unique pace to this place. And I am steeping in it, until I understand it and feel like it is mine.
I have found my way recently back onto planes, and out of an unusual travel hiatus as of late. Into work meetings in other states. Into suits and heels and ideas blooming. It feels familiar and exhausting and good things are in the works. The other day I watched out the window as my plane snaked out of the weather, and before we hit the cloud cover near 7am I could see the fog enveloping San Francisco from above, curling around the buildings like fingers extended, a soft fist closing. I am reminded of what it feels like to come home to this horizon and unpack, and it feels good.
I have been spending time by the bay. Soaking up the summer here that is September and reveling in the notion of daylight hours spent without a full-fledged coat. I have been watching the boats. The way they foil out of the water. That is what they call it. Hydrofoiling, I’ve learned. And it is spectacular to see. 13 story tall catamarans hovering above the bay. These last 9 months I’ve spent watching them out the window, practice and race, twist and turn under the Golden Gate Bridge and just before Alcatraz, coming out of the water and again splashing down. I will be sorry to see the America’s Cup go when it ends later this week.
On Sunday I found a bar that plays the Bears games in my neighborhood. This fact alone, coupled with football season in general, made me so happy it’s inexplicable really. It wasn’t until I spent an autumn in London that I understood how deeply this sport is ingrained in the fabric of the fall to me. Then again, my first sentence was “go Bears, go, win the superbowl” afterall. It was taught to me too. I am still acclimating to the fact that these games now start at 10am out West. But I looked around on Sunday amidst a sea of orange and navy blue and felt like I’d found my people here. They’re at Monaghan’s.
My aunt and uncle came to town. First one set from my father’s side and then another from my mother’s. It has been a few years since I’ve seen the latter and it always shocks me how much I see my grandparents in my mother’s brother’s company. All that talk of sailing and genealogy, the Baltzer nose and that look around the eyes. It was hard not to feel at the same time a presence and a loss. They have been gone now several years.
The 14th of September, this Saturday, also marked the day we lost my cousin, Ashley, once again. Impossibly, it has been 10 years. A decade of days and nights and questions that don’t seem to have answers, still. A decade of changes and growing and Christmas toasts to the one with all the good mischievous stories it seems. It’s still not right. We are all going on anyways. There have been few defining moments in my life. The day I got that news was certainly one. And I am reminded lately of just how young she was, watching my younger cousins embark on college this month. That is the moment when everything is ahead. It’s hard to imagine still.
But I spent that day volunteering this year. Stepping out of things that I’m used to on a weekend morning – coffee, bed, brunch and the like – and instead getting to know the sassiest 15-year old with down syndrome who loved music videos, Selena Gomez, and belting her heart out with some serious dance moves. I was there because I joined the Junior League, with the goal of volunteering more in the community. Hopefully I contributed something that day, but the inevitable truth was that I left more buoyant than I arrived. Exhausted but lighter. So far, so good.
I think it’s true that we become better people when we serve. It starts off feeling outwardly focused, in some way you give, but then honestly, you change. You learn. You improve.
Lately, that is what I’m ruminating on. Full schedules and fall football and the joy of long night walks home.