A Moment of Freedom


The entrance to the beach was on a switchback road just outside of Fort Bragg, California. It’s easy to miss it you don’t know it’s there. I’m sure the locals know it well. When I was there for the second time, I was surprised to see a horse on the beach tied to a trailer. There were few clouds in the sky and I could feel the breeze that is always present as you near the waves. I saw some people who had just been or were about to go out into the water. One guy had on a body suit. Another was just in trunks. A girl was in a swimsuit. I couldn’t imagine how they could stand it. It was cold even though it was June. To get closer to the waves, I had to make a tough walk over a stretch of sand. Muscles were being used that hadn’t been used in a while as my feet sank in with each step. I started to adjust to the temperature. I wasn’t exactly warm but I was no longer cold.

That crevice of sand I had to cross opens up to a long beach with the kinds of views of the Pacific that you hope for. There are rocks, there’s the breeze, all shades of blue as you look at the sky and the waves, shiny sand just washed by the water, weird sea stuff washed up on the beach and driftwood. I saw a couple walking without shoes with their dog across the beach. The lack of shoes looked very free, and as crazy as it sounds, I had never been barefoot on a beach before. I love playing chicken with the waves, but I always risked getting my shoes wet. This happened when I was a kid at a different beach in Fort Bragg. I think I was seven or eight and my mom had to help me clean up my feet.

I’m annoyingly cautious sometimes, but I try not to be. I walked away from the waves towards a wall of rocks, removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my jeans. The sand was warm. It felt like a massage as I walked across it back toward the waves. I was still overdressed compared to the locals, but I felt good in my shoeless state even if it was with jeans, a cardigan and a scarf. I walked up to the waves, and instead of having to run I let the water run over my feet, rising up to my ankles. It was cold. The water rushed toward me and I could just stand there and take it. Such a simple, freeing pleasure to be closure to the waves.

Rubes in the City: Part 2

IMG_3356The sun was out in the Mission District in San Francisco. I had a cardigan on even though it was an early afternoon in summer, something I’d never have to do in August back home.  Inside Alicia’s backpack was a notebook with the addresses of thrift shops we read about in an article online, and most seemed to be in the Mission District.  We still had several blocks to walk before we reached the first shop on our list, but the battery level on my iPhone was getting low from taking pictures. On our way to the first thrift shop, we stopped to look at and take pictures of victorian houses with colors or architecture we particularly liked.  We noticed the different plants in front of the houses and took pictures of some of those plants. While walking, we found an alleyway covered in murals.  We took pictures of the murals and each other posed in front of them. We looked in a bookstore called Alley Cat Books, but not before we took videos of us walking dramatically through the rainbow colored streamers which hung at its entrance. We commented loudly to each other, and laughed as we made our way through the streets and the shops. We also took notice of the native San Franciscans as they passed us by on the street.

Coming towards us as we went opposite directions in a cross walk was a short, stocky elderly lady. She had a scarf tied around her head and she was carrying bags from what looked like her shopping earlier that day. She wore a knee length skirt, thick tights and sturdy, practical shoes. Her body slightly tilted right and then left as she took each step.

Alicia leaned towards me while still looking at the elderly lady. “Oh my God, she’s so cute!”

I gave a slight nod. “She is.”

Seconds later, the lady turned towards Alicia as we both walked by. She yelled in a language we didn’t recognize, her face in a scowl, raising one arm as she spoke.

The woman continued on her way.  Alicia and I looked at each other as we kept walking, our eyebrows raised, our mouths hanging open in almost smiles.

Adventures in Retail: Denial and the Magic Manager


I’ve been in retail over four years now. I’ve only worked in one particular store, but I notice certain behavioral patterns and suspect they are universal to this kind of setting. If you have worked in a job requiring customer service, you will understand. If you haven’t, this will show you what it’s like on the other side of the register. 

In the store I work in, my customers are unusually on a mission. With this mission comes a preconceived idea of what is needed to complete that mission and how it should be accomplished. But then you interrupt their plan.

You tell the customer that she can’t get cash because she doesn’t have a receipt and the best you can give her is store credit. You tell him the item he wants won’t ship to California because of Califirnia’s high environmental standards, or sorry, that item is only carried in store and we no longer have it, or no, we don’t do same day delivery. Whatever the case may be, what I notice and am no longer surprised by though still irritated with is the slowness in which these people accept new data that goes against their preconceived notions of what was supposed do happen.

I’m sorry. That item can’t be shipped to Califirnia.

Well what if you order it and not me?

I don’t have any more power than you do.

What if you order it to the store?

Well…this is still a store…in California…

What if you have it transferred from a store in Nevada?

We don’t do those kinds of transfers.

Well, what am I supposed to do? Drive to Nevada?

I mean, you might just have to pick a different model.

But this is the exact one I need.

Oh wait, let me get the governor on the phone for you. He’s going to make an exception just for you.


And you know what goes with denial? Outrage.

I paid cash. Why shouldn’t I get cash?

Because you don’t have a receipt, all I can give you is store credit.

But that isn’t right. I paid cash. What am I going to do with a store credit?

I mean, they don’t expire.


And you know what else goes with denial and outage? A lack of responsibility.

Why didn’t you hang on to the receipt?

Well I didn’t think I’d have to return this.

Well then all I can do is store credit sir.

But I paid cash!


And when a solution isn’t found, out comes what I like to call An Appeal to the Magic Manager.

I’m sorry but we can’t apply those kinds of discounts to online purchases.

Why not?

Because the online part of our store is different from the brick and mortar part. I know it seems silly, but I’ve tried to call it through myself and they won’t do it. There’s no way around it.

Well, we’re gonna have to get a manager up here then because this is ridiculous.


Desperate to stay in denial and not consider a new reality for their situation, the customer appeals to the power of the Magic Manager, the Santa Clause of retail. He (and let’s face it, I hardly think the customer is imagining the possibility of a “she”) will wave his magic wand over the undesired situation and make everything happen the way the customer wants.

Well, we’ll just have to get a manager up here then because this isn’t right.

Akrught…well it may not be “right,” but it’s reality. Deal with it.

Gardening (and Depression)

imagePlants and flowers fascinate me; the shapes of the leaves and petals, the colors, the textures, the names, and the forms. Recently, when walking through the nursery at a chain home improvement store, I stopped like I’d discovered treasure. The store was carrying hellebores. They’re an uncommon find and I first noticed and liked hellebores because of a magazine article. A few days passed, and I bought one. I don’t always think very practically when a plant catches my eye in a special way. I feel like I have to have it. I want its beauty or uniqueness to come home with me so I can keep it as long as I can. When I read the marker or tag that comes with one, and find out whether it takes sun or shade and how big it can get, I think of everything it could be, how it will grow, bloom and develop or how it could transform a certain location. A plant is bought in hope of what it will become.

Growing up and into adulthood, my mom and I worked hard to transform the front and back yards of the family home which, as it turns out, is the same home my mom grew up in. My green thumbed grandma gardened years before on the same land as my mom and me. But while she had a green thumb, frankly, all too often we have felt the sting of failure. I remember the photinia we planted along the chain link fence in the back yard with a vision that it would create a large natural wall and visual barrier that world block our neighbors yard and shield ours. My mom and I would drive into town and see full grown photinia, over six feet tall, which is often used in the landscaping and stores in our area, and imagine how ours world eventually look. Despite my mom’s warnings, my dad accidentally mowed most of them over. The ones that survived dried out in the sun for lack of watering. I also remember when we planted ferns and spread bark in the shady side yard since ferns love shade. It seemed we had done everything right, and almost everything in our power to help the ferns do well there. At the beginning, they flourished. Inexplicably, they took a turn for the worse and most died. I knew our soil wasn’t the best, but it still didn’t make sense.

On one occasion, we decided do add a row of trellises for more privacy and plant bougainvilleas to grow on them. We envisioned how beautiful the bougainvilleas would look with their delicate white and green leaves once they had covered the wooden frames of the trellises and extended to the wire fence behind them. Seven trellises and seven bougainvilleas were purchased. I dug holes with much effort as the dirt in that area can hardly be called soil. It’s more like sticky globs. I struggled to get those trellises straight and even with one another. I remember not being entirely satisfied but once we added the bougainvillea and some solar lights, it looked pretty for a while. I remember seeing the line of solar lights glowing in the middle of a summer night and feeling proud. None of it lasted. Once winter came, the wind blew those trellises this way and that and eventually broke some of them. The bougainvillea died, and eventually the solar lights quit working and got lost.

Amongst our other failures, a bed of French lavender that froze to death which was planted to help cover the smell our neighbors chickens, two iceberg roses that were hard to care for with the water restrictions of the California drought in years past, and several dead hydrangeas. There were coral bells that met the same fate as the photinia, dahlia tubers that sprouted but never bloomed, and an Alice in Wonderland themed area complete with garden statues and tea cup shaped flower pots holding bleeding heats that eventually became an area for our cats to relieve themselves.

Whenever my mom and I bought plants and landscaping materials for a project, we went forward with hope and expectation. We had visions of what we wanted and what we were striving for. We tried to understand what went wrong before and make changes in watering, light, or soil that would give our plants a greater chance at life. A few successes kept us going, but it was hard to keep our heads up when our losses far outweighed them. Seeing all those little dreams for the front and back yards fail to succeed was disheartening. I still have a bit of hope. I’m going to put that hellebore in a pot and try to take care of it, if I remember to, if I have enough energy to. But occasionally when I try to exercise that hope, especially for larger projects, I feel defeated before I even begin. It’s buying plants but fearing that they’re just going to die. It’s feeling like my efforts count for nothing, no progress has been made, nothing lasts, and everything turns to crap. But I’m not really talking about plants anymore.

When I look at a plant I believed to be dead and discover new growth, it feels like a small miracle.

Rubes in the City


When I first found out that there would be an exhibit in San Francisco featuring Gustav Klimt, I was excited because I had recently become more interested in his work. When I looked at his paintings online, the combination of realistic looking human figures with wild bouts of color and pattern were very appealing to me. I had also seen the movie Woman in Gold which had one of his paintings at its center. This past summer, my friend Alicia mentioned that her boyfriend wasn’t as into art exhibits as she was, so we thought that it would be fun to go to San Francisco together and go to a museum. As time passed, and we finally got an opportunity to go in October, I stayed set on this museum idea and convinced her to go see “Klimt and Rodin: An Artistic Encounter” at the Legion of Honor.

I haven’t been to many major art exhibits, but the ones I have been to left an impression on me. I remember the Andy Warhol exhibit I saw at the DeYoung museum as a college student and how it was so multidimensional: music, art, objects, video, even a room dedicated to zoning out to the Velvet Underground complete with a large padded ottoman and psychedelic lights. I remember the Impressionists exhibit I went to in the same museum. I had known about them since I was a little kid because of my mom, and have grown to love them myself. All around me were real paintings from Manet, Monet, Degas and Renoir. I distinctly remember looking at Renoir’s, “The Swing,” and noticing how the colors were more intense in person than in any reproduction I had seen in a book. Klimt’s work, however, was somehow less impressive in person.

I don’t know what it was. I wasn’t completely unaffected, but there was an emotional connection I wasn’t feeling to Klimt’s paintings. I had forgotten that a lot of the mystery of art is the unpredictability of whether you will connect with it or not. Not only that, but the exhibit had no clear beginning and it didn’t tell a defined story about Klimt and Rodin. It was easy to disengage from the art. It was better to make jokes with Alicia and observe the other people there. Being that I travel three hours from a small town north of Sacramento in order to get to San Francisco, the people I come across in the city are not the kinds of people I come across in my daily life. The people I see walking around the streets as I ride through town fascinate me mainly because I enjoy looking at their style. When I stand side by side with fellow visitors of the art exhibits I’ve attended at the DeYoung and The Legion of Honor, I find them fascinating but also irritating.

Both Alicia and I drew a lot when we were younger and appreciate art, but serious art connoisseurs we apparently are not. When we went to the Klimt-Rodin exhibit, I felt the difference between us and the people who surrounded us. They seemed like Art People and our smiles and laughter as we made jokes about the paintings and sculptures seemed extra irreverent in their presence. They wore serious expressions and spoke quietly. Some posed in front of paintings touching their chins in contemplation. They had informed and intellectual conversation about the art at hand if they did choose to speak. I exaggerate only a little. Alicia and I weren’t making observations about the similarities and differences between Klimt and Rodin. We were taking pictures for Snapchat and coming up with funny captions. After seeing the paintings and sculptures, all that was left of the exhibit was a wall of Klimt’s drawings. Most were nudes of women. Looking at one drawing, Alicia cracked, “I think he just slept around a lot and said, ‘Hey, let me draw you naked.'” Immediately after that, Alicia told me that the girl standing beside her gave her a disapproving look. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy the art at all, or take any time to notice particular details of the pieces there, but for us it wasn’t sacred. If you want to fit in with this crowd, make sure to check your sense of humor in at the door.



What a YouTube Star Can Teach Us About “the ball and chain of the Internet”

“There’s been times when I have been hanging out with friends, acquaintances, family, and I have not given proper attention to the task at hand when it comes to enjoying life, like I said, seeing things with these (gestures to eyes) instead of through a…smart phone, or a DSLR or a zoom lens.”

-Adam the Woo, YouTube personality

YouTube was mainly a place to listen to music or watch movie trailers until this past year when I discovered  Justin Scarred. I love his Randomland Adventures series on YouTube, especially since I am Disneyland fanatic and he often films there. Adam the Woo, another YouTube personality, has sometimes been featured in Justin’s adventures, and while at first I didn’t know of Adam, I learned that he had his own, even larger, following. Adam the Woo spent 5 plus years from July 2012 to September 2017 uploading daily vlogs (video blogs) to his YouTube Channel, “The Daily Woo” which has  about 150,000 subscribers. Adam often posted footage of his exploits exploring film locations, abandoned places, theme parks and other places that interested him.

While I’m not a dedicated follower of Adam the Woo, I found out through Justin Scarred that Adam was ending his daily vlogs. While he plans on creating new, more innovative content for YouTube in the future, posting daily online for over 5 years had taken it’s toll (1911 posts total!) and he is taking a hiatus from YouTube. I watched this final vlog out of curiosity and the situation he describes seems to me like an extreme form of what a lot of us are doing to ourselves in our own ordinary lives even if we are not YouTube sensations.

At the beginning it took him a little while to figure out where he was going with the vlog but then people started to catch on and enjoy it. He says, “And that became a very positive thing but it also became a downfall in ways where I felt required, all fault of my own, to be able to adhere to a strict schedule that I had set for myself, by filming all day, editing at night, uploading, putting it on private and making it live the next morning, and then the deja vu train would begin again the next day.”

He gave a full explanation as to why he felt he needed to quit vlogging every single day. Some of it was that it hindered him creatively. Some of it was that he was simply tired. But what really stood out to me is the way he described how this “hair brained crazy idea” had taken away from him being present and enjoying his own life. He says, “It has wormed it’s way into certain other aspects of my life and really started to make me realize how I’m not seeing life with my own eyes.”

Adam describes what seems to be a turning point for him where he realized that he had neglected to spend time with the people closest to him on his birthday to edit and film content for the vlog. He says that he wants to do things and go places that he loves without a camera in his hand. “I want to hang out with my friends like it used to be. I want to hang out with my family the way it used to be. Not always worrying and wondering what people are going to think, what people are going to say…”

All of this got me thinking of how a lot of us non YouTubers have a similar problem as Adam the Woo. Even if we are just taking pictures to preserve our memories, and even more so if we are posting a lot of these pictures and videos and status updates online, our minds have a habit of thinking of how the present moment will translate to an image, a video, or to our “audience” much like Adam the Woo did. With newer features like Stories on Instagram and Snapchat Story, our lives almost become like a mini YouTube channel. We also may be removing ourselves from the moment to obsessively monitor the reaction to something we recently posted.

Even if a person doesn’t post much online, phone addiction is still an issue. We lack the ability to sit without constant stimuli or without giving in to our compulsive curiosity about what is going on online. I recently went to a movie and the woman in front of me annoyingly kept checking her phone (the light is what bothers me most and though I’m not a confrontational person, a wave of anger came over me and I wanted to kick her chair). I intentionally spied on what she was looking to see what was so very important. She wasn’t even interacting with anyone. She was just opening up different pages on her phone, mainly Facebook I think, just to check.

I say this as someone who is weak in these same areas and who also has plenty of good things to say about smartphones, the internet, and social media. There’s a balance. It’s not about abandoning these things. At their best, they’re a really fun way to connect with others and be creative. But I think it’s about knowing when to turn the camera or phone or recorder off and really look at and enjoy what’s going on around you. It’s knowing when to have silence. It’s not constantly grabbing at your phone for entertainment, validation, attention, or whatever else ails you. To go back to Adam the Woo, people enjoyed his vlogs, and it seems like he enjoyed sharing and creating them, but he had gotten to a point where he knew he needed to turn the camera off for a while. Adam says as he concludes what his decision means for himself: “I’m going to just see the world, I’m gonna see things…without the ball and chain of the internet for a while. That’s what I’m going to do.” This might be good advice for some of us too.

Image Junkies

imageLong before the age of smartphones and social media, Susan Sontag wrote about photography in her essay “Plato’s Cave.” Even in 1974, when the essay was published, she was concerned about the way people felt the need to photograph whatever they saw. She says, “It would not be wrong to speak of people having a compulsion to photograph: to turn experience itself into a way of seeing.” That italic is hers, not mine. She emphasizes the very feeling I have as I go about my day to day life armed with an iPhone. Indeed, her thoughts on photography become eerie when you think of how much worse it is now that everyone carries a camera with them everywhere they go all of the time.

Sontag seems like she was a true intellectual whose philosophical thoughts are not easy to digest, and to be honest I don’t feel like I have complete understanding of her ideas in this essay, but certain parts stand out to me as they feel even truer now than when they were written. One such part: “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience in search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.” How many times have I at least partially refused an experience because I was busy looking at it through a screen? How many times have I thought about how my experience would translate into a post on some sort of social media?

I recently visited a ranch where my friend lives, a ranch with horses, goats, dogs and a cat named Sweetie. The most I’ve been around horses is at this ranch. It had been about year since I’d last been there, so the horses intimidated me again. It is strange and exhilarating to be around these large animals. You know what they look like. Horses are visually everywhere, but I’ve hardly stood next to a real one, petted one, smelled one, watched them flick off the flies, feel their velvet noses. I even saw and petted a foal.

I broke up the experience with my recordings of it. I took pictures and short videos for Snapchat and Instagram. I felt the need to preserve my memories and share a novel experience with others who have followed me on social media. I swung back and forth between being there in the moment, and handling a phone, looking at the horses through a screen.

I’ve struggled with this at Disneyland, where there seems to be a picturesque detail wherever you look, and at museums where they let you photograph the exhibits. I’ve struggled with this in nature, and now because of social media, even before I eat. Isn’t it strange to pause before eating your sushi or tacos and have to take a picture to post to social media because you feel compelled to remember it forever and show others that you experienced it? In all honesty, if someone made me take a trip to some place I would love to go and said it would be free except I was not allowed to take photographs or post anything online, it would give me some anxiety. No record of what I did? No memories preserved forever? No way to share with others what I did? It shouldn’t trouble me as much as it initially does. Isn’t memory and experience more valid than a photo? Not anymore. What Sontag says rings true: “Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participation in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.”

I’m not saying that there’s anything inherently wrong with taking pictures, or wanting to preserve your memories, or even with social media, but there’s something that feels wrong with feeling so compelled to have a record of what’s happening that you continually remove yourself from the moment with that running stream of thought of what is worth taking a picture of, how to get a good shot, and what to post online. Going back to Sontag, “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.”