Viaje a la Luna

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 7 minutes.

Selected tracks: Animal Collective “No More Runnin'” and Best Coast “The Only Place”

The bus driver looked down at me quizzically. He had obviously noticed I was carrying a box full of school supplies: books, games, lined paper, legos, flashcards, and a large toy clock. Ms. C. had given me these tools to use for tutoring over the summer. Carefully I walked up the steps onto the bus, flashing my flimsy paper Muni slip with one hand and balancing the heavy box with the other. The driver nodded in acknowledgment. Quickly I plopped down into a seat in the first row that faced forward.

Coming down from my ritual morning caffeine high, I relaxed soon after sitting. My volunteering for the school year had just officially ended. However, just before leaving the school, I’d been introduced to a shy little first grader named Luna. Although she didn’t utter a single word when we met, I knew she spoke mostly Spanish. Ms. C. was going to have her as a 2nd grader next year and knew she could use a jump start over the summer with her English. I was simultaneously nervous and excited at the challenge that lay ahead.

Her father was there when I met her. He wore a weathered black ball cap. He was tall, built like a construction worker, and had a black caterpillar mustache. His dark eyes were kind. Luna’s first grade teacher had to interpret for us, as he only spoke Spanish. We set up a schedule for me to come to their house twice a week. I would be as independent in my educational volunteering as I’d ever been.

Normally I read when on the bus, but I was too preoccupied to focus on a book. Instead, I observed the other passengers on the bus. A bald man in his late 30s with a black beard read The Economist. A teenage boy with braces, dressed formally for graduation, wrote on the back of his high school glamour picture. An old Asian woman thumbed through the groceries in her plastic bag. And in my peripheral vision, I noticed a guy sitting next to me with a red plaid button up, short dirty blonde hair, and a boyish face defined by rosy cheeks and left over baby fat that clearly hid his true age.

The contents in the box on my lap shifted as the bus took a sharp turn. My post coffee relaxation slowly evolved into a daze, as I zoned out staring at the upcoming park. Suddenly the boy next to me spoke up.

“You work with kids?” he asked in a high pitched, decidedly feminine voice. He was a she. I snapped out of my daze, puzzled how she could guess that I worked with kids. I then remembered the firm grip I held on the box and noticed the toy clock peaking out of it.

“Yeah,” I responded. “I volunteer at an elementary school. Well, did. Today was my last day for this school year.” I turned, smiled, and made eye contact with the girl sitting next to me. Her oceanic green eyes glistened with a striking balance of warmth and nervousness.

“I used to work with kids back in South Carolina,” she said. I noticed now the Southern drawl in her voice.

“Where’d you work?” I asked. “At the YMCA,” she responded.

“So I guess it was easy for you to spot the toys and stuff in the box,” I smiled. “I’m actually going to be working with a Spanish speaking first grader over the summer.” The girl looked on, intrigued. “I just met her for the first time. She’s quite shy. I felt awful. She cried when she first met me. She’s very uncomfortable with new and strange situations and people. I’m sure she’ll warm up to me though. And her parents don’t speak any English. I’m nervous and excited about the whole thing really.”

“I can see that,” she said. “I think it’s great what you’re doing. I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience.”

“Thanks,” I responded. “I’m Max, by the way.” “Ashley,” she said. “But my friends call me Moon. That’s my last name.”

After a short pause, I asked, “So what brought you to SF and how long have you been here?” The Asian woman with groceries got off at her stop. “I’ve actually only been here for three weeks. My girlfriend got a promotion at UPS, and that’s what brought us out here.”

“So you’re no stranger to boxes either,” I joked. “So did you leave your job back in Carolina to come out here?” She nodded. “I’m actually just coming from an interview at Wells Fargo.”

“How’d it go?” I asked. “Pretty good, I think.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “It was a group interview with eight other people.” The teenage boy with braces texted across from us on his iphone. “Reminds me of what you need to do to get housing here,” I said. “Intimidating open houses with like 20 people you have to aggressively outmaneuver.”

Moon laughed as she eyed the upcoming stop. “Luckily we didn’t have to go through that process. This is me.” She stood up out of her seat.

“Nice to meet you Moon. Good luck with that job. And welcome to the city.” Just before she stepped off into Japan Town she called back, “Good luck to you too.”

I returned my attention to the contents of the box Ms. C. had given me. I rotated the hour hand on the toy clock to 12, pondering how I would teach Luna the difference between noon and midnight.

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Cut Short

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 8 minutes.

Selected tracks: LCD Soundsystem “Someone Great” and Anton Karas “The Harry Lime Theme”

Strands of Jack’s dark hair peaked through the space between his fingers. He let his shiny, soft hair through the cracks at the length he wanted it trimmed. I stood behind him, making eye contact in the mirror. I held the buzzing electric clippers at my side. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Just buzz the hair that’s between my fingers,” Jack reassured me. “But I  like your hair long. I like running my fingers through it,” I pleaded. Jack smiled. “It’ll grow back soon. I promise. My hair grows pretty fast. And don’t worry about cutting my hands. You won’t. And even if you do, I’m sort of a masochist anyway.”

I hesitantly began trimming the hairs from the back of his head. When I was finished he took the clippers and shortened his sideburns. Eventually he trimmed what little facial hair he’d been able to grow. He then paused, evaluating his hairdo in the mirror. He was visibly unsatisfied. “I didn’t make the side even enough. I’m gonna have to shave them off.” I looked on in horror as he balded the sides of his head and left the top close in length to how it was before. “How’s it look?” Jack inquired. “Actually, not that bad,” I responded with surprise. Jack smiled again. “I would have left one side unshaven, but I didn’t want to be that pretentious douche you always see in the Mission.”

After Jack used my shower to rid himself of stray hairs, we lay together on the rug in the center of my studio, cuddled, and talked.

In the late afternoon we took the 43 to Fort Mason for Off the Grid, a weekly gathering of food trucks. Jack ventured off to find a Korean barbeque truck as I stood in line waiting to order a palak paneer burrito from an Indian truck. Hoards of nomadic diners swarmed around the queue, inside the ring of trucks. As I stood waiting alone amongst the crowd, I found myself missing Jack’s company, even for the slightest time. It was an alarming realization. To allow myself to be so emotionally attached to someone threatened my emotional balance. Yet, in the same breadth, investing myself in a partner balanced me like I never had been before. The conundrum vexed me as I continued to stand, famished, in line.

Once I sat down to eat my specialty burrito, Jack walked up with two crab tacos. “Not my first choice,” he said. “But still pretty good.” We decided to stroll beside the marina as we ate. Early into our walk Jack got a text from a friend who was coming to visit. In addition to these preset plans, he worked early the following morning. Our day had to be cut short. I saw Jack to his bus. Since our schedules don’t coincide, I kissed Jack goodbye, not knowing when I would see or hear from him next.

I awoke the following morning craving Jack’s kind and gentle touch. My conundrum had already been revisited. That afternoon I went to a screening of the classic film noir “The Third Man”, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. At 1pm the lights inside the Castro Theatre dimmed. A single spotlight illuminated a miked lectern, stage left. Out of the darkness, a mustached man in his late sixties walked up to the lectern. A SF Film Festival staff badge dangled from his neck. He went on to somberly dedicate the screening to the late, deceased director of the SF Film Society. He articulated the director’s boisterous, opinionated personality, passion for film programming, and the profound impact he had in his short ten week tenure as director. Although I knew neither the speaker, nor the one he spoke about, I found the speech to be quite moving. Once the brief dedication concluded, the spotlight faded and the 16mm reels began to spin.

The opening credits rolled over the vibrating strings of a guitar. I was instantly reminded of the score’s playful theme, an antithetical guitar melody to the film’s dark subject matter. As the film progressed, I found a deeper reading in Anna Schmidt’s part of the story than I had in past viewings. She mopes thoughout the film, destroyed by her husband Harry Lime’s murder. Nothing can break her depression. When word reaches her that Lime faked his death to escape the authorities, she refuses to aid in his arrest. Orson Welles’ Harry Lime is so charming and charismatic, it’s easy to imagine the joy he brought to Schmidt’s life.

It pained me to admit it, but I missed Jack and had an irrational fear of losing him to whatever end. I didn’t want this sort of emotional chaos, but it came with the territory I had entered. Had opening myself up to let Jack in been worth the internal turmoil I felt? Was there I way to avoid that turmoil without giving Jack up? I turned to Harry Lime for an answer: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

The Devil and Robert Johnson

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

Selected tracks: Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changin”, The Decemberists “A Cautionary Song” and Robert Johnson “Me and the Devil Blues”

A diffused blue hue hit my studio apartment at six in the morning. The sun’s light was filtered through layers of clouds and half closed window blinds. Jack was still asleep on the couch, curled underneath my spare comforter. Foghorns from the Golden Gate chimed in the distance as I stretched out in my bed.

It was only hours ago that I lay awake beside Jack, craving the entire twin sized bed to myself. That was something I was accustomed to having for the past twenty-five years of my life. “Are you awake?” I whispered. “Mmhmm,” Jack mumbled. I knew I had the option of asking him to sleep on the couch, as he had continuously offered throughout the night. He noticed I was unable to doze off with him sleeping in the bed. I capitalized on this out he gave me. “Can you sleep on the couch? It’s not personal, I just really need some sleep tonight. I volunteer early in the morning,” I barely squeezed the words out through an immensely apologetic baring of my teeth. I gave him a passionate kiss and reiterated that it wasn’t personal. The grip of his lips to my own clearly indicated no offense was taken. When my friends heard the story they were appalled that I “kicked him out of bed”. But in context I knew between Jack and I it was a rather sweet, charming, and memorable moment.

My long held fears, anxieties, and hesitations over sex had dissipated overnight. As I lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep after Jack’s embrace, I felt a rush of serenity. Jack’s acceptance and attraction had made my first time safe, special, and satisfying. Although the significance of this moment in my own history was not lost on me, it did not feel like the revelation I was expecting. It came with such ease which made me ask myself: What was I so afraid of for all these years?

Over the course of the next week Jack slept over twice more. We began to share more about ourselves. He met some my friends, and I met some of his. We watched movies, cuddled on the couch, had meals together. I found myself being more charming, witty, interesting, kind, and sexy than I ever thought possible. Upon closer analysis, I realized I had always had all of these qualities, I was no different than before I met Jack. It felt like a a key paragraph in a novel that is always there, but only becomes visible when a reader highlights it in neon yellow.

On Saturday night Jack stayed over again. We cuddled on the couch as we watched the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We would sleep together afterward. Both of us, this time, in the same twin sized bed. Jack slept in Sunday morning as I read and made breakfast. At a quarter past ten, after noticing he had awoke, I climbed back into bed, making him the little spoon once again. “You ready for some breakfast?” I asked. He replied with a tired moan and then “But I like you right here.”

Before I finished cooking (eggs sunny side up, healthy ham from the skillet, and arugula on a toasted whole wheat English muffin with edamame hummus) I put a playlist from my itunes on shuffle. Mostly modern folk artists played: Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Edward Sharpe, Mumford and Sons, and Andrew Bird among others. Jack scoured through my music library, noting the recurring themes of folk, indie, and 80s new wave. I described to him the evolution of my musical tastes: 90s/00s pop to pop rock to alt rock which eventually branched into combinations of indie, folk, and electronic. “Slowly I’ve become more hyper-aware of lyrics,” I called out from the kitchen. “I think that’s why I’m into folkier stuff right now. Those songs are as much about telling a story as they are about giving your ears an orgasm.” I then cited Fleet Foxes’ recent hit “Helplessness Blues”, an ode to self analysis and the search for personal purpose. “The song speaks to me and marks, with surprising specificity, this time of my life,” I explained. Breakfast was now ready. Jack gave me a passionate “thank you” kiss. We shared songs all morning, back and forth. Folk from me, electronic from him.

——

Monday was another field trip day for Mr. Allen’s class. 826 Valencia in the Mission was today’s destination. Dave Egger’s non-profit center for reading and story writing. From the outside the building is very unassuming. Its windows are boarded up with only the numbers 8, 2, and 6 displayed. Once you’re inside it’s a different story.

Mr. Allen’s 4th graders examined the front room with awe. It was a lantern lit maze of wooden paneling, filled asymmetrical bookshelves, and various trinkets from famous literature. It was constructed to resemble the hull of a pirate ship. I’d never seen imagination brought into existence so tangibly. The design put Disneyland to shame.

The maze eventually opened up to an airy backroom, decorated with exquisitely designed rugs, long wooden tables and benches, and a projection screen sandwiched by two velvet curtains. A tall, slender man stood in front of the screen welcoming the students. Once everyone was settled he began his presentation. He performed with quick, animated, flamboyant movements, not unlike an exaggerated Pixar character. After establishing the most important elements to a good story (plot, setting, characters, arcs, originality), the cartoonish man brought up slides of an example story.

“Has everyone here heard of blues or folk music? Well this is the story of Robert Johnson, one of the most influential musicians in history, and how the Devil changed his life.” He went on to tell the story of the blues artist that inspired such folk legends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen. Johnson was a terrible guitar player starting out. He was always out of tune. One day a man told him he could fix his inadequacy by waiting until midnight at a crossroad near the plantation in which he lived and worked. Johnson followed the man’s  advice and at midnight the Devil appeared. He took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and then returned the instrument. From that night forward, anytime Robert Johnson played his guitar and sang, pure brilliance followed. “All the Devil did was tune Robert’s guitar,” 826 Valencia’s doscent reiterated. “He was always playing the right chords, he just needed someone to adjust the tension in his strings.”

Idle Worship / American Idyll / Idol Moments

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 10 minutes and 57 seconds

Selected tracks: Radiohead “Morning Mr. Magpie”, “No Surprises”, and “Reckoner”

My feet glided in a circular motion on the elliptical. Beads of sweat ran down my cheeks and dripped from my chin. I barely noticed the steady, yet speedy, pace I kept. The music I’d carefully chosen had a quick beat and was dark and moody; suitable for both cardio and reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I remained engaged and distracted….for a time. Halfway into my hourlong exercise, two men on bike machines behind me began conversing. This wasn’t the first time I was forced to listen to the two talk, although its always really only one of the two that does all the talking.

The Talker is old and gaunt. By his looks, it’s unclear if he’s entering old age early, or is already old and holding onto a wirey middle aged body. His thinness and dry, wrinkled skin hints at current or past drug abuse. His dark grey handle bar mustache is accentuated by the blue bandana that always covers his forehead. Today he went on about Oedipus. “You ever heard of this guy Oedipus from Greek mythology? He was this guy that killed his father and married his mother.” The Talker barely stopped for a response. “What kind of sicko does a thing like that? I mean c’mon.” He was as loud and abrasive as ever, despite going on about a subject that didn’t warrant the assumed volume and intensity. As he went on about Oedipus, I began to recognize he had many of his facts wrong from the original myth, despite getting the just of the story.

He went on and on. From Oedipus to Frued and on to incest. “Diversity in your DNA is really important. You can get to be pretty fucked up if you don’t.” At this point paying attention to my music and my book was impossible. As my hour on the elliptical came to a close, I felt tempted to approach the Talker and confront him. I knew better, however. He was technically not breaking any gym rules, only social ones. I did not foresee either a civil conversation or a foregone solution. I was simply going to have to live with the talking. Once I came to this conclusion, I found myself strangely admiring one aspect of the Talker: his social vivaciousness. True, his choices of topic and voice volume were mostly undesirable, but he still could steer a conversation wherever he so desired. This is a key skill I’ve been trying to hone amongst friends and, most focally, on romantic interests.

I was able to read one last paragraph from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before I got off the elliptical.

“She had been sharing a house with him a week and he had not once flirted with her. He had worked with her, asked her opinion, slapped her on the knuckles figuratively speaking when she was on the wrong track, and acknowledged that she was right when she corrected him. Dammit, he had treated her like a human being. She got out of bed and stood by the window, restlessly peering into the dark. The hardest thing for her was to show herself naked to another person for the first time.

Seeing a lot of my introverted self in the quiet, antisocial, enigmatic character Lisbeth Salander, this last excerpt stood my neck hairs on end. I became distracted again as I reflected back upon my latest romantic moment.

—–

We sat on opposite ends of my black loveseat. Both of us leaned against our own arm of the miniature sofa, unsure if any touch would be welcomed. Compounding the awkwardness, the British comedy I’d picked for us to watch was painfully slow and confusing. I invited this guy named Jack over to watch a movie. He was the last guy I’d been on a date with who I met on OkCupid. We hadn’t hit it off on our first date, but he was a nice guy that enjoyed my company.

I cringed during Brendan Gleeson’s scenes. His utterances were barely decipherable through his thick Irish accent. Every once in a while I’d voice a fleeting thought about the film, trying to break the uncomfortable mood. Jack would smile and respond. I’d keep it short, unsure if he wanted more to watch the movie or talk. Once the torture was over, we began a conversation that lasted over an hour. He showed me some of his tattoos and explained their meaning. He then asked me if I had any tattoos. “No,” I responded. “I can understand why you have them though. It reminds you of things that are important in your life. I get it. My life changes so much, so quickly. Yes I have values that don’t change. And yes I have friends that remain friends almost permanently. But a tattoo is so final. I don’t want something on me permanently that might not be as significant in my life down the road. I don’t want to continue looking at it if I don’t want to. But, again, I can understand it working for other people, like you for instance.”

As the hour wore on, I was surprised at both my ability to keep the conversation going and in my personal openness. Jack was sweet, kind, and polite. He had this charming way of being both boyish and gentlemanly. At the end of the night, I walked Jack to my building’s front door. “What are you up to this week?” he inquired. “Working, volunteering, and I’m going to a bunch of concerts. Radiohead and Andrew Bird.” His eyes lit up with excitement. “I’ve been trying to see Radiohead for years! I’m so jealous!” I laughed and told him I would let him know how it was. I hugged him goodnight, unsure if he, or I, was interested in more than just that.

——

Suspended yards above Thom Yorke, ten large lcd screens dangled from thin, black wiring. They flickered green static and images of all Yorke’s bandmates. The enormous screen behind them resembled a calm body of water. Radiohead was in the middle of playing “Reckoner”, their last song before two encore sets. As the song came to its close, Yorke bowed and exited the stage. The entire stadium of fans roared.

They idolized, and idealized, Yorke and his bandmates for the musical creation they produced and performed. Radiohead creates stunning, exceptional art, making it easy to forget that they are human like the rest of us. It’s difficult, for me personally, to build up enough self esteem to excel at anything when I’m idealizing whomever, whether an artist, a friend, a romantic interest, or otherwise. I’m constantly guilty of idolizing and idealizing. It can be socially, creatively, and professionally paralyzing when I believe I’m not participating at the same level I imagine others are.

On my way to the car after the concert, I texted Jack, confirming plans to get together for dinner over the weekend. Consciously I resisted the urge to imagine any idyllic moments with him. And I muted my overly analytical mind when it tried to idealize him. The subtle ways he showed his interest had caused me to gradually grow attracted to him. This was the bottom line. The rest, I told myself, I would let materialize in present moment thought and action.

Simple Passenger

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 12 minutes and 48 seconds.

Selected tracks:  Die unsichtbare Front, New Slang, and Simple Song

A board of departure times held my focus captive. The board hung high above four platforms, each shadowed by bullet trains. My eyes darted back and forth as I frantically studied the board. The numbers and words I tracked were decipherable, yet their meaning left no imprint. This left me no choice, but to simply pick one of the four trains. I stood facing the four platforms that ran away from the board. I could not bring myself to choose. I was caught up on the fear of picking incorrectly, brushing aside the bigger tragedy of being left behind all together.

Out of the corner of my eye a man went running past. My eye instinctively drew toward him and his rush to the third platform. The moment he stepped inside, the door to the train slid closed. The train then inched forward slowly, then faster, and faster. Soon it traveled out of view. I looked back up at the board. Platform 3. Departed. I noticed another change in the board. Platform 1. Departing. The train on the far right began to leave the station. Soon it too was out of sight. Now only two trains remained. My hand was forced. I speed walked to the second platform. Before I could reach the train, its doors slid shut. I quickly reversed course and accelerated my walk to a sprint toward Platform 4. My pursuit was in vein. It too left me behind. All hope had departed with that last train.

——

I woke up to drool hanging from the right corner of my lips. Rogue drops stained my white tshirt. A foot below, laying comfortably atop my chest, was my laptop. It stared back at me like a begging dog that has already eaten its fair share. A web browser was open to Facebook. I stared at it intently. It was my turn to act like the begging dog. I checked for any messages or notifications. None. My heart sank. I craved responses from anyone.

Discovering notifications gives me the same ecstasy I had as a kid when the phone rang. I remember I’d rush to the phone whenever it would ring, determined to be the first to grab it. I’d answer “Hello?” wondering who could be calling, and what they’d be calling about. Would it be my grandmother? My best friend? A neighbor? A cousin? The element of surprise is what made the experience so euphoric, so magical, so special. If the caller was someone I knew well, I’d talk to them about what was most exciting in my life: a book I’d read, a video game I’d been obsessed with, a movie I’d seen, or the sports I’d been playing and watching. Then I’d listen to what was exciting in their lives. One topic would unexpectedly lead to another. One simple detail, word, or phrase could spark an exciting new direction in our conversation. My own experiences when rehashed became refreshing. Family and friends’ stories over time became mythologized. At phone call’s end I’d hang up or hand the phone to my mother or father. After it was over I didn’t much think about the next who, what, or when. I got on with my life, accumulating information and excitement for the next unexpected, magical conversation.

Clicking the refresh button brought nothing refreshing to my Facebook homepage. I drew my attention elsewhere. First I unmuted my computer, preparing to listen to the new Shins album. My action released the classical score to “The Lives of Others”, which played from the film’s DVD menu. I’d finished the film just before dozing off. The menu was concealed beneath windows upon windows of my macbook’s applications. Oddly the windows acted closer to solid walls than literal windows. I then placed four fingers on my track pad, evenly spreading all the windows so I could see the different avenues I was using to numb my boredom. Facebook, DVD Player, Itunes, Gmail, Netflix, WordPress, Hypemachine, Lyrics.com, and OKCupid.

Before traveling to a website that would give me a free first listen to The Shins’ Port of Morrow, I decided to check my blog stats and edit a piece of my latest entry. My patience quickly wore thin. The lethal mix of my ambition and perfectionism crippled my will to write, as it had for weeks. Three minutes passed until I had an urge to check for messages and cruise for a bit on my choice dating site, OkCupid. The last guy I went on a date with had been my sixteenth. I’m a good counter. It ended with him wanting friendship and me wanting more. No messages were present in my OkCupid inbox. I felt discouraged to reach out to anyone else knowing something felt amiss after number sixteen. I then tried reading. My focus couldn’t handle it. It seemed nothing could ease my mental tension. Finally I acquiesced to the Shins.

With the Shins now providing a background melody, I dragged my cursor over the DVD player window and enlarged the menu screen from “The Lives of Others”. I wanted to see if there was anything interesting left on the DVD before I sent it back. The menu featured a frame from the film. The main character, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, wore earphones over his head. He led a rather depressing and lonely life as a Stasi officer in the German Democratic Republic. He was completely devoted to his job spying on citizens suspected for organizing and voicing opinions against the state. In his personal life, he hired call women. Sadly he found no true love and affection. The more time he spent spying on a playwright and his actress wife, the more he began to recognize true romantic connection.

Track two, titled Simple Song, from the album Port of Morrow played as I stared at Hauptmann with his earphones. This made me remember that I first discovered the Shins in the film “Garden State”. If only Hauptmann had a Natalie Portman to put some of her favorite music through his earphones, and replace that wiretap documenting the lives of others. Then maybe he’d be charmed and invest more in his own relationships. Which makes me think: What would happen if I let a Natalie Portman into my life (a male version of her of course)? What if I let someone in who came along at an unexpected moment, whether he started talking to me or me to him? This certainly would be easier if I didn’t shy away from extended conversations with strangers.

I pulled up the lyrics to Simple Song. “I know that things can really get rough, when you go it alone. Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough and play like a stone.” I decided I needed a break from Facebook for a while, and logged out, not to return until a month later. “My life in an upturned boat. Marooned on a cliff. You brought me a great big flood, and you gave me a lift.” I deleted my OkCupid profile. Sixteen dates was enough. As a beginner to dating men, it was a useful crutch starting out. Now it was clear that discovering any lasting romance was best left to real life. “Love’s such a delicate thing that we do, with nothing to prove, which I never knew.” I shut my laptop, determined to live life on one track, welcoming the unknown and unexpected, as I had once done as a kid.

The Perks of Being a Sunflower

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Accept Yourself and Love Like a Sunset

Absorb…the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition.

1. to take in and make part of an existent whole

2. to suck up or take up

3. to engage or engross wholly (as in absorbed in thought)

4a. to receive without recoil or echo

4b. to transform into a different form

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“Did you finish it?” my friend Rebecca eagerly asked. I hadn’t. Less than a week ago she lent me what she proclaimed to be her bible from her teen years, “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”. It’s a fictional first person narrative about a boy’s freshman year of high school. “You need to read this book right now. It impacted me so much when I was going through what you are at this point.” Since coming out at age 25 and finally allowing myself to pursue romantic relationships, I’ve felt like I’m playing catchup with everyone else. Essentially I’m living through the teenage romantic angst that everyone has already gone through. This is why Rebecca wanted me to read the book. “Ok,” I assured her. “I’m not as fast a reader as you, but I’ll get through it. I promise.”

Two days after she gave me the book, I pushed past the first couple pages. It  referenced many cultural landmarks that I personally connect with, like the band The Smiths, the book Catcher and the Rye, and the film Rocky Horror Picture Show. As I continued reading I noticed select sentences and paragraphs she highlighted. It was insightful to see what moments popped out to her back when she first read the book. I felt like I was coming to understand Rebecca more as a person and getting a chance to closely examine lines she thought would be useful to me. Into a couple chapters, a quote she highlighted stood out. “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I leaned back in my chair at my kitchen table and applied the theory to people I’ve known and to myself. It worked in every case. I then pulled out my phone and texted Rebecca the quote. She responded: “That line is specifically why I wanted you to read this book.” I then texted back: “I’m still learning I deserve more than no love at all.” Rebecca then added: “You need to love yourself before you can let anyone else in completely.” This was not the first time I’d heard this statement, but the impact of it felt especially powerful this time.

——

Ms. C started writing on the white board with a green marker. It was my day to volunteer in 2nd grade. On the board she wrote 7 sentences each having at least one blank line in it for the students to fill in. “The unit were working on this month is life cycles. I want you to read with your elbow partner the book I give you about a certain living being. For example we have a horse, a sunflower, and an ant. I want you to fill in the blank of each of these sentences describing the different stages of their lives and what attributes they have in each of these stages.”

Ms. C turned to me and asked if I could sit with a student she had me working with earlier. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah was a Hispanic student who struggled with her reading and writing in English. Her elbow partner was a bilingual Chinese girl, who spoke both Cantonese and English. We’ll call her Jennifer. I sat down next to the two girls just as they were handed a book on sunflowers. They began copying down the sentences Ms. C had written on the board. The first question was easily handled. “A sunflower’s first stage is a seed.” They wrote. After a couple more answers they came to a difficult fill in the blank sentence. They needed to answer what a sunflower can do once it is fully bloomed. Jennifer, the Cantonese speaker, turned to Sarah, the Spanish speaker, and answered: “A sunflower can absorb the sun’s rays after it grows its petals.” “That’s very good,” I praised.

“What does absorb mean?” Sarah asked. I responded: “It takes in the suns energy. It soaks it up in order to grow.” All I received was a blank stare. There was no confirmation behind her large dark pupils that she understood. I paused for a moment, thinking of a different way to explain the word to her. My mind shifted through everything that can absorb. I knew I had to pick something that would be easy for her to visualize. Then it hit me. “You know what a sponge is, right?” Nothing. “How about a paper towel?” She nodded,”Uh huh, ya”. “What happens to a paper towel when it gets wet?” I asked. She took a moment to think and then looked back at me, looking for the answer. I rubbed my face thinking what avenue to try next, then it struck me. “Hold on.” I told her.

I walked over to the classroom’s sink, grabbed a white paper towel, yellow water color paint, and a cup filled with water. I set it all down in front of Sarah. She and Jennifer observed intently. “You see what the paper towel looks and feels like right now?” “Uh huh,” Sarah answered. I dropped an ounce of yellow paint into the water, and stirred it with my pinkie, tinting its color. Then I dunked the paper towel into the water. Both girls focused intently on the paper towel and the cup filled with yellow water. I pulled the towel out of the cup. It was now soaked and yellow. “Is the towel different now than it was before?” I inquired. “Ya its yellow!” Sarah replied. “What happened?” I asked her. “You put it in the yellow water.” she answered. “That’s what the word absorb means,” I explained. “The paper towel absorbed the yellow water.” Sarah nodded confidently. She understood now.

Growing Panes (Part 2 of 3)

Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website.

Runtime: 9 minutes 15 seconds

Selected tracks: Human Qualities, Space Oddity, and Tears in Rain.