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.

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An Uncontrollable Rush

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: 14 minutes, 54 seconds.

Selected tracks: Rox in the Box, Star Wars Theme, Somebody That I Used To Know, & Love Interruption.

Dawn broke, and with it, so did my ipod. On an early morning jog through the Haight, clicks interrupted the music flowing through my earbuds. The volume adjusted itself high then low then high again, piercing my eardrums.  Continuing to run, I shoved my hand through my zip up hoody’s sleeve and detached the ipod from my armband. It’s screen was already lit, yet I hadn’t touched it at all. I tried changing it into the lock mode. Instead of fixing the problem, the music shut off altogether. Inconveniently, the last leg of my ritual morning run would be filled only by the sounds of the city and my own thoughts.

More than 72 hours had elapsed since what I consider to be my first kiss. For discretionary purposes, I’ll refer to the guy as Fang. He and I had talked very little since then. Just a couple texts letting each other know what the upcoming week was looking like. There was no mention of the millisecond long awkward kiss I had initiated. Because this was new territory for me, and because I had strong feelings for Fang, I couldn’t stop overanalyzing his sudden lack in communication. He was smitten over me before and after our first date making me hold no regret in kissing him at the end of our second one. Yet I was starting to wonder if he recognized my green qualities. And I wondered if that had scared him off, prematurely ending what I consider to be my first truly romantic experience. Just as the lack of a beat was getting to me, my apartment building came into view. My run was over, but the day, and the week, were just beginning.

——

The 4th grader’s current study unit was the gold rush. The teacher, Mr. Allen, stood in front of the class and introduced the story. “Ok guys, so when you’re reading about John Batterson Stetson, I want you to think about what the big idea of the story is.” Mr. Allen’s focus lately had been reading comprehension and how to detect the bigger point of both expository and fictional stories. “Remember the strategies we’ve worked on that will help you figure out what the big idea is.” He pointed to the board where there was a chart he’d drawn. It’s heading read Preview/ Connect/ Predict. Underneath it were two columns labeled What am I Going to Learn About and Notes on What I Learned. “We’re looking for one big idea, that is about the whole story.” He said.

The expository piece told how Stetson moved West during the gold rush and eventually came to invent the most commonly used cowboy hat. His road to success was bumpy, filled with failures. Back east no one wanted to buy his invention, but out West it became a necessary accessory. After finishing the story, the class began to take a stab at the big idea. “Don’t give up on your dreams.” One student suggested. Mr. Allen contorted his face. “That’s alright, but I think we can do even better. Does that sentence tell us anything about John Stetson’s journey to success? Let’s try another.” He picked another student. “Just because something doesn’t work at first, does not mean it will never work at all.” Exuberantly Mr. Allen replied back while nodding “That says a lot doesn’t it. Now that’s a big idea.”

——-

Midweek two friends came over after I got off work. We drank a couple beers and talked for hours, mostly about love, relationships, and sex. These were three overlapping topics until a year ago I refused to touch. I had been uncomfortable in my own sexuality and was ashamed of my attraction to men. Now was a different time. Our conversation was especially useful, as I was going stir crazy over the black out in texting between me and Fang. I was completely over reading into it. Rationally, I knew I had no control over how he felt, but still I had no control over my emotions. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. At one moment I had myself convinced he still was interested in me, and the next I felt it was all over.

Hearing my friends articulate their own short term and long term sexual experiences with such candor and maturity, gave me much needed insight into my own insanity. The two women agreed that turning someone else on in both a spiritual and physical sense, can be the biggest turn on for yourself. I’ve never let myself go in that way with anyone. I believe my self confidence has suffered as a consequence. I had myself convinced Fang was going to be the first guy I allowed through my emotional defenses. I was itching to know where he stood about the kiss and if he was interested in any further development between the two of us.

——-

Thursday morning I went with the 2nd graders on a field trip to see the San Francisco Symphony. As I walked with one student, they recalled performances they saw in past years. He was excited to hear the Star Wars theme again. Once inside we were ushered to seats above and behind the stage. They looked down at the orchestra and out onto the entire theater. We would be on display for the entire audience which made the teacher, Ms. C weary. She drew this to her students’ attention, letting them know they needed to be on especially good behavior. This was part of the field trip’s purpose: to teach the kids how to be a respectful audience at live shows.

I watched as seats filled, color coordinated by school. Below us on the stage a violinist, a cellist, and a trumpet player were all tuning their instruments. Their music sounded beautiful already, even though their sounds and rhythms did not fit together. Soon Davies Music Hall became filled to the brim with kids. Out walked the conductor. The teachers and adult chaperones began to applaud. The kids followed their example. Then the conductor bowed gracefully, and turned to his players. He lifted his arms up, holding his hands out wide. And then the orchestra played as one under his direction.

Afterward we had lunch in a park back near school. I sat with a student and asked him what his favorite part of the symphony was. “The part where we got to yell out Mambo!” He replied. “What was your favorite instrument?” “The big violin.” He smiled. “That’s called a cello.” I told him. As we continued eating lunch on the park bench he began telling me about his favorite Formula 1 race car driver, a Brazilian named Ayrton Senna. Senna was considered one of the best at his highly dangerous sport. The boy listed off all of Senna’s best races. Then he recalled Senna’s last race. At the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix Senna was in the lead. On a seemingly routine lap, his car smashed into the wall on a sharp turn. I asked the boy if Senna survived the accident. “No, he died,” the boy replied, unaffected by the weight of the story.

——

The week slowly rolled into Thursday night. I’d texted Fang on Tuesday, wishing him luck on an open mic he was to perform at with his band. He was on guitar and vocals. Early on when we were texting frequently he sent me some of his music. It was reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins. His singing voice I found both cute and sexy. No response had come, worrying me that he wasn’t interested anymore. That night I finally heard back. I received a long, two part text explaining his week and apologizing for his untimeliness and poor attempts to hang out. He needed time to put some things in his life back together. His message was unequivocally clear. It did not matter the reasons, we currently were not going to work out.

That night I decided to take a warm shower. I wanted to wash away the emptiness. Steam spread quickly through the bathroom. I glanced at myself in the mirror before stepping into the tub. My improved exercise habits had taken my body from frumpy to fit. Crescent moon pecs, a flat , tight stomach, and veins rippling down each bicep. I had molded body into society’s typical sex object. Yet here I remained untouched. My improved romantic habits had not taken me to a relationship. Fog blanketed the mirror now, concealing the reflection of myself. Strangely, in this moment alone, I felt calm. I had a handle on my emotions.

——

Mr. Allen’s class was especially attentive Friday morning. While his students worked silently on more reading comprehension, Mr. Allen walked over to me. “They’re doing really good today. Better than most days. But their attention spans can only last so long. I need to do something to let them know what being on task looks and feels like. Not to mention they need their minds stimulated in different ways so they can keep up their stamina. Watch this.” Mr. Allen walked over to his desk and retrieved a stuffed toy chinchilla. “Alright, good work guys, let’s switch gears. I want everyone to put away everything on your desk and then sit on the top of them.” The class followed his request. “This game is called Silence, Chinchilla.” He had all of his students complete attentions. “The goal of the game is to not be caught catching the Chinchilla when it cries out, and it only cries out if you catch it too roughly.” After a couple more instructions, the game commenced. The students followed Mr. Allen’s directions to a T.

Life is not like an ipod or an orchestra. We can’t always control the rush of noise that is our emotions. The best we can do is invest ourselves in varying activities, interests, and people. Through these occupations we can slow our fast beating hearts and our racing minds. The calming silence it provides can prevent a crash inside ourselves. Often love will seep through the cracks naturally when our hearts and minds are engaged elsewhere. I had been fortunate to have my volunteer work, my friends, my writing, my exercise routine, and the city’s infinite offerings to move me forward. I had been in a foolish rush to dig up a heart of gold. In this romantic failure I was reminded of how to let go of the uncontrollable.

Mortified to Take That Leap of Faith

Up the boy leapt, into the air. Down he came, feet first into the sand. Losing his balance, his rear cratered what was once even. He pulled himself up, mildly dejected, for he had failed to surpass the mark achieved by one of his classmates. “Not good enough,” the boy thought. He exited the sandpit and jogged 50 feet back to the line of his waiting peers. “You were so close,” one boy exclaimed. “Told ya you wouldn’t pass it,” sneered another. “I got further than you!” the boy recanted, defending his performance.

I watched while circling around the track, as adolescent after adolescent took their leap. The activity aroused excitement and fear in these unseasoned young adults. In their eyes it provided them an opportunity to prove themselves to their peers, but, inversely, with any little screw up, it could tarnish their reputations and collapse the identity and tower of self esteem they were trying to build.

After I showered off the sweat and stink from my body, I promptly pulled open my laptop to start writing. I glanced to the corner of the screen and noticed the WiFi bar was empty. The free internet my smartphone provides can be unreliable, but I’ve long considered it to be a money saving tactic worth the inconveniences of intermittent dropped connections. I walked over to my window to see one of my neighbors in my building opening up their blinds. I wondered if they would be interested in sharing the cost and use of wireless internet.

Aside from the clomping of my upstairs neighbor, it almost feels like I live alone in my building. Everyone keeps to themselves, are very quiet, and keep different schedules. I rarely see anyone when coming back from work, doing errands, or spending time with friends. This made me skeptical that any neighbor would be interested in my proposal, and nervous to even approach one about it.

I stood outside my neighbor’s door, holding my fist out, ready to knock. After a few moments of hesitation, I finally cracked my knuckles against the wood, one, two, three times. I waited. The light coming from the small peep hole at the upper center of the door faded. My neighbor opened the door. He looked to be my age, perhaps a little older, tall, curly brown hair, with pajama pants on. I introduced myself, relayed to him my dilemma, and pitched my idea. Unfortunately he used a secure connection through his work, but I found that asking him was far more painless than I had imagined it would be. I returned my apartment, feeling more accomplished than dejected, continued writing, and then took a mid-afternoon nap that would give me energy to go out that evening.

A group of high school boys got on the 38 heading downtown at the Fillmore stop. As they stepped up into the crowded bus, they were conversing about their heights. “I’m five eight,” one of them exclaimed. “No you’re not!” cried another. “I know I’m five eight and I’m taller than you. Look.” He turned his back to the other boy so they were facing away from each other and measured himself against his friend. “I’m supposed to get to six foot,” chimed in one more. I got off at Grant and walked over to meet my friend for dinner.

That night we went to a show called Mortified where brave souls, on stage, recite and recall their journals and diaries from high school. As we waited in line to be waived into the show’s venue, we talked about the different friends we had in common, and how as they varied in age, so did their levels of acceptance with their identities. I described to her the event I witnessed on the bus. Those kids were so invested in how they were seen by others and by who they wished themselves to be that they did not accept who they were in that moment. Our older friends were more fearless, more self accepting, and more willing to risk alienation from others to be themselves, we agreed. And that is what made us appreciate and value them as friends all the more.

Inside the DNA Lounge 80s pop music set the mood. We had entered the land of teenage angst. First was a man who had his heart broken by a cheerleader, then a black woman who hated Black History month when she was 16 because she was the only student of color in her school, then a formerly closeted gay man raised as a mormon, then a girl who subscribed to sex and drugs to become a ‘cool kid’, and finally an animator who feared death and physical pain so much that he blamed his parents for trapping him in this world. The common thread that ran through each reading was the creation of identity. All the readers were mortified, at the time they originally penned their private thoughts, from not being accepted. And this is what motivated them to deny, fight for, create, destroy, belittle, and explore their identities both in their journals/diaries and in real life.

It is a leap of faith to be vulnerable, to show what may be your weakest side. But when that does happen, and someone catches you on the other side, the strength you gain from it is so powerful, it’s nearly unmeasurable. If you practice it enough, eventually you’ll learn to catch yourself. In San Francisco, I’ve learned how to leap into the sandpit, ignore what the results may be, who will judge it, and how it will be judged. And from this self acceptance has come the ability to accept and feel the love of those I know are friends.

No Longer Living in the Sprawl

Subconsciously I paced my run and set my ipod to play the Decemberists’ Down by the Water just as the ocean and marina would come into full view. This was the first time I’d listened to the album ‘The King is Dead’ in its entirety (a crime considering I claim the Decemberists to be one of my favorite bands). Recently I’ve had trouble keeping my mind calm and peaceful during my runs. I suspected it was because I hadn’t refreshed my ipod mini’s library in months. Same music, same memories associated with those songs, different day. I wanted to play some music I hadn’t heard before.

It was a stunning afternoon; scattered clouds scurried toward to east bay to let the sun have his moment to shine. I’d chosen this route to see a variation of the city. My feet first hit the pavement outside my building in a medical district and soon I was passing through Japantown en route down to the ocean. My run ended through the tree laden Presidio.

Each pound of each foot onto the concrete streets of San Francisco gave me a better sense of my new environment. I imagine it felt what a bat feels like when it uses sonar; those bounced signals mapping out the unknown.

Although my knees and joints were getting more than their fair share of mileage, not only in distance, but also in intensity (concrete does to my knees what smoking does to your life span), my mind was getting a hold on the powers of a booming urban harbor town. On my way down to the marina, I passed through a strip of posh stores and restaurants, multiple grocery stores, a shopping square in Japantown, a post office, hospitals, banks, bars, cafes, swarms of people, so on and so forth.

I grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, CA and lived the past three years of my life in a suburban area of Los Angeles. London was my playground for four months during my college years, but I soon forgot the charms of big city living. I’m used to driving everywhere I want and need to go. In suburban areas it’s not just necessity, it’s necessary. Everywhere you need to go is so spread apart.

Psychologically that does something to you. It spreads you thin and disconnects you from the world in between your home and your destination. You cannot stop on a dime to survey the world around you without the threat of a fender bender. In a way the car is but another double edged sword created by humans. Don’t get me wrong, I love driving on the open road, but sometimes I think we’d be better off without cars and the need for them. As an aside, three modern inventions come to mind that both connect us and disconnect us: the car, the internet, and the cellphone.

Which reminds me, last week I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time when it played at the Castro Theater. For those who haven’t seen it, the opening depicts the dawn of man. Ape becomes man when it discovers its first tool: a bone. An ape discovers a bone, and by mere improvisation and chance, he notices he can hit things with this bone. Soon he and his ape buddies are using this tool to conquer territory from rival apes. We then flash forward, hundreds of thousands of years to 2001 and find man’s current invention, supercomputer HAL, killing off humans. The very thing which makes us human, the interest in and cognitive ability to create tools that help us conquer this world, causes our ultimate decay.

When metaphors pop up into my head, I tend to pay attention. Sometimes I pay too much attention to be honest, and stretch metaphors to their breaking point. Anyway, in the moment I thought about the psychological effects of living in a big city, I couldn’t help but think that I want my life to be like San Francisco’s; packed tightly together, varied, accessible, connected, and lively.

With that thought I reached my building. ‘The King is Dead’ had already finished and Arcade Fire’s Sprawl II was pumping through my earbuds. Their rhetorical question rang in my head: Can we ever get away from the sprawl?