I am all packed and ready, we leave in a few minutes for the SFO airport. The last few days have been a great catching up period with my friends here in San Francisco (and I have no doubt gained a few pounds from all the over-eating). I will be glad to get back to the familiar surroundings of New York and my apartment, however. I have a ton of work to do, and haven’t been all that productive while here, although I wouldn’t trade the time with friends for it. At the end of our lives, no one regrets working less and spending more time with loved ones. These are the things that really matter. Outside of the friendship and reunions, the things that have impressed me about San Francisco this trip are how much the architecture and makeup of various parts of the city has changed; having my memory jogged about how amazing a place this always is with regard to food; and how very, very much colder 50 degrees can feel in San Francisco compared to any place else.
Bidding farewell to my friends in LA, I boarded a plane yesterday for part two of my California Dreamin’ tour: San Francisco. After some chat and catching up with my friends Keith and Marites (and their wonderful girls, Anika and Teah), we met up with Kevin for dinner at a great restaurant in Oakland called “Plum“. We pretty much ordered everything on the menu and shared it all, and it was one of the most inventive and delicious meals I have had in a long time. One of the things that is so awesome about San Francisco is its food culture. On quality they easily compete with (and often surpass) any place in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that my friends are intense foodies, always on the lookout for great dining.
My friend Olaf is in town visiting for the next few days, and he could not be luckier with the weather. We seem to be back in early fall with sunny skies and temps in the 60s. (Contrast this with my summer of rain in Hamburg, or the early snow we had last week). We will take in a few strolls, meals, exhibits and some shopping while he is here, and maybe even do a little work. Last night we went to go meet some friends of his who basically live underneath the Williamsburg bridge, but on the Manhattan side in the Lower East Side. Or should I say, the Lower East East East Side. And I thought I lived a little far from the subway at about a 10 min walk, but they are quite further still. We had a nice dinner at a place called Schiller’s Liquor Bar, then Olaf and I made our way back to my apartment for an early night as he was feeling “die Jetlag”.
I just bid goodbye to my fantastic friend Maureen. The last two days have been great together, spending time being silly, eating, shopping a little, and hanging out in my apartment. Mostly hanging out for the past day or so, because winter hit early and strong yesterday with a freezing rain/snow mix that was really unpleasant to be out in. We stayed inside, watched a lot of TV and movies, and talked about life. Now that she has gone, I need to refocus on work and life (and what is in my diet, we ate like pigs :)), so off to it!
My awesome friend Maureen is coming to visit me for the weekend, arriving here any minute (from a red eye flight, poor thing). Mo was with me WAY back at the very beginning of this blog when we took a cross country trip before I left on my world trip. She is one of the most truly wonderful people I know and I am excited to spend a little quality time with her this weekend. Now if only I could convince her to move to New York…
Doing something nice for others can really make you feel good. What seemed to me like only a mild inconvenience was a great help to my guests, and I received word yesterday from each of them that they had finally arrived or were en route to their intended destinations. I also received many emails and texts thanking me for my hospitality, but really I just felt like I was paying forward a debt I already owed. During the time I was traveling around the world, I was welcomed in by so many people and shown a level of hospitality that I found amazing. Time after time people opened up their homes and their lives to me. And it made me wonder why in the US we seemed so guarded and untrusting and less likely to do the same for strangers. I resolved upon my return to do my best to correct that, and to be a better host myself. If I had the space and could accommodate, I would. I am very fortunate to have a nice apartment in the city and a spare (blow up, anyway) bed. And I really love the concept of paying a debt forward, because it spreads these ideas to new people all the time. My hosts in all those countries never expected anything back from me, and maybe they never expected anything at all, but they instilled in me a great desire to follow their example. Between friends and family and various strangers referred to me by someone, I have had about 11 visits by some 15 guests in the past 9 months since I moved in. And each one of these visits increases our connectedness to each other, whether by friend, family or stranger. As the old year draws to a close, I can be happy that at least one of my resolutions has been kept, and will continue to be. Like the saying goes, “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.”
After venting my fears yesterday, I was greeted over the next several hours by many words of wisdom and support from friends. It seriously moves me how blessed I am in this regard. Here is one of the responses I sent back to an email I received this morning:
I appreciate the email. In fact, one of the great things through all of this is to realize what sweet and wonderful friends I have, and I feel very lucky for that.
Yesterday was as much about voicing my fear, pain and frustration as anything. Sometimes, we need to give a concrete voice to our concerns rather than push them down and let them fester inside. So that is what I was doing and it makes me feel a little better. I have a trick I sometimes use with myself or that I give in advice to friends when our fears about things get the better of us. It is: Imagine it happens. The very worst thing. Try to really imagine it, then imagine accepting it and dealing with it. This almost always helps, because worse than something concrete happening is often our fear of that thing coming to pass.
And in my case, I had (and have) a lot of fear about the continuing pain, the failure of all I have tried so far, the feeling of being broke and having nevertheless spent 10K dollars on this operation, only for it to be a failure. And the upset at feeling misled by my doctor who promised that this expensive operation would fix my problem once and for all. And also just venting about being worn down from many months of not getting a full night of sleep, because the pain of my shoulder wakes me up.
Giving voice to all of that in my blog was a useful outlet for me, and yet I know and have known all along the lessons to be taken from this. They are the same ones that India gave me, and they have to do with buddhist equanimity and acceptance in the face of what is. It is funny, I feel much more comfortable after that trip with the metaphysical limitations we face. After India, I was no longer afraid of not existing one day, no longer afraid of death per se. My next round of meditation and acceptance training, which I am still working though, has to do with the physical pain and suffering that sometimes accompany our journey here in the world. Interestingly, it is these smaller, more concrete questions which have ended up being more difficult to deal with than the larger issues of the disappearance of self and our eventual annihilation. And yet it is vital to look at them, to lean into the pain as it were, and to come to peaceful terms. This is, of course, a journey and there are many false starts and switchbacks on our way to that place of equanimity. I may not make it there, and I will have days of frustration, but I do know it is where I must head as I get older. I have had some progress in this regard. And I know that being in the here and now with physical hardship is ultimately as important as being in the here and now with existential hardship.
So thanks again for relating your story to me, and thanks for your continued friendship. I hope you know that I am always here for you as you are for me.
At times, we are able to see very familiar things with fresh eyes and everything is filled with that newness and sense of wonder. The last couple of days in Paris have been like that, helped along by the absolutely stunning weather, which has seemed to put everyone is a wonderful mood (except waiters, that is). I have had a great time catching up with old friends (Sonia, Marc, Karin and Alyssa) and wandering around Paris by myself and with Josh. It is a good thing however that I am going home tomorrow, or I might well find myself in a diabetic coma brought on by one too many pan au chocolat aux amandes.
Sometimes things really take you by surprise.
My friend Mike and I have known each other for almost 10 years, from when I first moved to LA. He is one of those people that I count among the closest. He was one of the few that came half-way around the world to celebrate 40 with me in Thailand. Our long friendship has taken us through good times and bad. It has taken us through spending lots of time together and spending little. We have danced and partied together, we have eaten and drunk together, walked and driven together. And we have shared many confidences and given each other advice and support. I can’t ever remember a time of anger or major disagreement between us, although we have discussed just about every topic imaginable. Through all of this, I have never doubted our friendship. And yet somehow, I was taken by surprise at what I just read a few minutes ago. Mike is a wonderful writer, and his second book “The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina” was just published and I received my copy in the mail today from Amazon. As I opened it and starting giving it a quick once over, I paused on the acknowledgments page and started to get choked up. There was my name. Mike was giving me special thanks for helping him through some rough spots. Me, really. I felt so deeply moved and slightly unworthy at the same time. It is one of the nicest gifts I have ever received.
Uh-oh, I feel as if I am coming down with a little cold. Took a lot of airborne and hoping it doesn’t progress. This week in LA has been pretty good professionally, as I made a few contacts and secured a little work. I also got caught up with a few friends and generally had a swell time, low key though it was. I am now in Marina del Rey to visit my old friend Jose, and will spend the night here before going to the airport tomorrow to head up to SF.