Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Decade of Discomfort.

In the end I was too callow to leave up the mortifying karaoke video that I posted here briefly, but 2015 is calling for just one more tumbleweed of a post on this lonely corral. Believe it or not, Uncomfortable Moments turned 10 this year. Who knew? It doesn't look a day over 45, in Internet years.

Saying I tried to update the template to my blog yesterday—which is true—is like saying I tried to change the batteries for my Discman. Even an "updated" look for this hoary platform looks absurd, so I'm just going to keep on keeping it real here.* I used to be fairly adept technically, but that was back in the 90s.

Every December, Sir UncMo, who is an excellent photographer, makes me a book of pictures from the year. The book of 2015 has a lot of goodness packed into it.

First, we got a house, snow piling extra quietness onto the little street of 1950s-era colonials. The next month after moving in, we left for Iceland.

I expected it to be cold. I expected horse meat on the menus. I did not expect it to be so freaking relaxing. It is so open, and empty, that it feels like you can just let your worries fly out into all of that space.

You will try to capture it with your phone,  hanging out car windows and hovering above steaming geothermal pools, and your phone will simply blink at you and say look, I'm doing the best I can here, but why don't you just chill out and use your eyes?

After that came a trip to Hawaii for the third and final wedding among my San Francisco friends. And even though there are now children and husbands and many miles involved, the four of us still managed to escape for one more wine weekend this fall, before L. moved back to Oahu with her new husband.

Back at home,  Sir UncMo discovered the joys of Home Depot. "I think it is like Sephora for men," he said. I think he is right.

We zoomed in on the moon from the backyard, watched fireflies, and then butterflies, got startled by rabbits, cursed at squirrels.

In a year of unmitigated Trump and tragic headlines, I got another week at the beach with my mom and sister. Another year of being employed. Of health. Of holidays with family. Of angst over dumb stuff.

There's always angst over dumb stuff, which makes you temporarily unsee all the other important and good stuff, such as the thousand permutations of sunlight that you keep trying to capture with your phone.

Though the five-year diary tradition continues, other things have fallen by the wayside.  This blog, as usual. Any attempt to write with a pen in a journal. My Japanese studies. I also mostly stopped trying to figure out and record multitrack snippets of songs for fun.

"It's just a waste of time," I said of the singing. That's how I felt about the journals, too, and even this blog sometimes: They were pointless distractions keeping me from doing the Real Writing that I only fitfully manage to do after spending all day at work.

"I don't agree," Sir UncMo said. He argued that any one creative expression supports all the other creative expressions. Well, he said it much better and clearer than that. But I started to think that he had a point, and that it wouldn't hurt me to waste a little more time on "unproductive" pursuits. Just a little more.

So that leads to my vague set of guidelines for 2016. More instinct. Less fear. Fewer glowing screens. More real light, in a million new permutations.

Happy new year, friends!

* Update: After all that bellyaching, I am experimenting with a new template so that I can display photos at a better size without breaking the homepage. I don't know about this. It involves change.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Metro Carol.

The day after that last post about kindness and commuting, this happened:

"Spare any change? A nickel or a dime? Spare change, spare change? A nickel or a dime?" 

The man made his way through the silent metro car, looking straight ahead. I'd seen him pass through the Red Line a few times before over the past year, always with the same refrain. This morning he'd reached the end of the car, ignored, when another man signaled to him and turned toward his bag. 

He pulled out a zippered, black case close to the size of a bread loaf and handed it over.

The panhandler wore a jean jacket and a hard-edged face that looked neither young nor very old. He took the case, which looked like it could hold CDs or something similarly undesirable, holding it away from him uncertainly. 

"What's this, man?"

"It's change," the man replied. Jean jacket shook the case and it jingled. His look changed from confusion to suspicious disbelief. "Are you serious?" He unzipped the case and peered inside. Coins rolled back and forth behind the opening. 

He stood staring at the man. "You're giving this to me?" He paused. "I'll spend it," he warned.

"It's for you," the man said, nodding and still. He was tall, heavy and stood with a roller bag. 

Jean jacket broke into a lopsided smile, pleased but obviously confused. "For real?"

"I tried to run it through the change machine this morning, but it didn't work, so it must be for you," the man said kindly. "Enjoy your holiday, man."

Visibly stunned, the recipient's looked turned somber and he stepped forward with an open hand, straight as a razor. "Thank you," he said. They shook hands, the train stopped, and the guy got off with the black case clutched under his arm. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


DC Metro Red Line

"I check Uncmo frequently but no updates so I must assume you're living a life well at ease!" a friend wrote recently.

That seemed, to me, like a bit of a rush to judgment.

I took the picture above coming home on the Metro one summer evening. My biggest reservation about moving to the suburbs was giving up the trifecta: job, gym, and grocery store within 15 minutes of walking or (San Francisco only) driving distance from home. 

Most of my adult life has been engineered, to a perhaps absurd degree, around achieving this ideal.

Now, most days, I join the throngs of people braving a longer journey on a subway system so beleaguered that it's inspired multiple social network feeds dedicated to how much it sucks.

Moving into the Silver Spring house was a joyful experience, but the Metro part made me nervous. While living in London, and later in New York, being a subway commuter was utterly miserable to me. I remembered those train rides as dark, airless, dirty and depressing. They conveyed me through deeply lonely periods in my life, periods I was anxious 
not to revisit. 

I'd sit here all day if I could.
I still don't love commuting (does anyone?), but a series of small, unexpected blessings makes the trip from Silver Spring not only tolerable but even pleasant sometimes.

My stop is underground and dank, but far out enough that I can get a seat. Next, the train emerges above ground into the morning light. In cold or rainy weather I look at the people hunched at the outside stops and feel grateful I get to wait inside. 

For most of the ride, I can sit looking at the sky, reading a book or listening to a podcast, trying not to feel guilty for avoiding the news and email, because the news and email are my job

The train cars fill up as we go along. In crowded, small spaces like that, you can't think about the Paris attacks or San Bernardino. But you do. 

Grasping, I've started listening more to talks from Pema Chodron and other teachers who remind us that nothing can be taken for granted. I listen every day now, hoping for the message to sink in.

Lately I'm trying to go outside myself, do small kindnesses. Smile at someone or cede the way, even when it's hectic and we're all pressed. Maybe it's just my imagination, but it feels like I'm meeting more people trying to do the same. Trying to meet all the bad news with grace. Have these stranger-friends been here all along, waiting for me to see them? Or is it really that more of us are trying to unclench?

This fall has been warm—too warm, and I see pictures of gardens as confused as we are.

Music: "Shine"