Ode to San Francisco (Pt. 2)

September 1st marks my 7th anniversary of living in San Francisco. My San Franniversary, if you will. Instead of sharing a bunch of pictures of myself doing silly things that I love to do in my favorite place in the world, today I want to share some special people who have helped make this place feel like a home over these last 7 years.

The first person I want to introduce you to is Terry. Terry is a dog walker in Alamo Square and has been walking dogs for 20 years. (I actually don’t have a picture of Terry on my phone right now, just a picture of his many dogs.) I met Terry back in my dog walking days when I used to walk Rufus up to Alamo Square. It’s special to me that Terry also knew and loved Rufus. Terry also owns 5 Rottweilers who I have had the pleasure of getting to know since they were just a few weeks old. Terry walks by my house every day with his pack of dogs, blasting his music, and will stop and chat with me whenever I’m sitting on my front stoop.

Ai Linh

The second picture I’d like to share is Ai Linh. I call her Linh. Linh does my nails. we bonded a few years ago when she shared with me about her struggles with anxiety and how massage has helped her through a lot of difficult times. She also has a very chatty daughter named Linda who is way too cool for me. She started running her own nail salon over 10 years ago but recently opened another nail and massage spa down the street and is transforming her former salon into a Vietnamese restaurant because she wanted to provide affordable comfort Vietnamese food in the neighborhood. I, for one, cannot wait to have goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) right across the street from me!

Guy

Next is a picture of Guy. Guy sells flowers Wednesdays through Sundays on Noe Street. He always wears a colorful outfit and often a hat. He reminds me of a flower. Every time Chelsea and I see him he always asks us if we’re twins.

Jeffrey

This is Jeffrey. I met Jeffrey in 2016 when I got off the bus on Haight Street with my bike and he asked me if I needed help with my bike. My bike had broken earlier that day. Jeffrey runs a bike shop in his garage and fixes discarded bikes and resells them. He’s a crafty bitch like that. Jeffrey can’t remember my name (but then again he does have a tattoo of his own name on his arm, just in case he forgets), but he knows me and Hamilton. Thank you for my favorite cruiser, Jeffrey!

Tony and Hamilton aka “Scooby Doo”

Tony is our mailman. I obviously got to know him a bit better as we’ve been home every day for… 531 days. Hamilton used to bark at him when he came to the top of the steps to deliver the mail, but over the last year and half Ham has started to either recognize his scent or his footsteps and no longer barks. When I say hi to Tony he always asks, “Where’s Scooby Doo?” and then he tells me that Hamilton is very lazy. He likes to jump down the last two steps of our stoop and he always has a smile on his face and such a palpable zest for life.

Natalie

I met Natalie very recently and found out she’s a kindred plant lady. She loves to garden and has ALL the indoor plants. She started SF Plant Swaps with a little shelfie outside of Rare Device where people can drop off plant cuttings, give away plants or pots and take home donated ones to give them a new home. I technically met Natalie from instagram, but because the plant swap has been going for over a year now i feel like i’ve known her a lot longer. It’s people like Natalie who want to share something they are passionate about with the people around them that makes me feel pride in my little community neighborhood.

Alden

Lastly, I’d like to talk about Alden. Alden started her own clay studio, Wheelhouse Clay, and I am so honored to be a member. Alden is definitely a girl boss, although she likes to refer to herself as the “mama” of Wheelhouse. One thing i love about what Alden is doing is that she is intentionally creating a beautiful community space that is inclusive, celebrates diversity and is so much more than just a place for folks to make ceramics. This is truly the clay community I have been looking for. Thank you Alden for sharing this place with me.

As I reflect on these special people who make my neighborhood feel like home, I wish that everyone could experience what I feel when I walk by these friends and say hi. While so many people are constantly traveling every weekend or picking up their stuff and moving to a new city every couple of years, I am not surprised when friends tell me they don’t feel a strong sense of community. Building this network of familiar faces has taken me a long time, but it finally feels like this is where I’m meant to be.

Community

As some of my friends are entering a period of change in their lives, many of them are packing up their things and leaving San Francisco. It’s hard for me to see not only people I love move far (ish) away, but that many of them don’t feel the way I do about San Francisco – being that I will stay here forever (if I can).

San Francisco is my home. There is no other city I would rather live in. It makes me happy to feel so strongly about living where I live, but it comes with its challenges.

As I engage further with my community in SF, I become more frustrated with other peoples’ lack of interest in being involved as well. I truly believe that if people invested a little more time and money in this city, everyone, not just the impoverished population, would benefit.

Because SF is such a transient city, and has been for a long time, people see it as a thoroughfare – they’re just passing through as a means to end up somewhere else where they can actually “settle down.” Due to this fact, people don’t want to invest the time and effort to help make the city a better place to live.

For people that only want to be here for 1, 3, or 5 years, they don’t really see the point in making an effort to give back to the community because they don’t see it as “their” community. One problem people always comment about in SF is that it’s very dirty. Most of us see it every day. When you leave your apartment in the morning, just outside your house, there’s probably garbage that someone else left. Traveling down Market Street, you’ll probably see poop – who knows if it’s from a human or animal. In the Marina on Saturday mornings the streets are littered with booze bottles from the night before. No one wants to clean up after other people’s messes.

I truly believe that if people, even those who don’t want to live here FOREVER, were to give back, even a small amount, this city would benefit immensely. I’m a bottom up thinker, which means that I believe the collective small efforts that people take have a larger impact. Not everyone wants to donate their time and get their hands dirty and that’s OK. There are 81237 different organizations and nonprofits in the city and surrounding areas that are doing incredible things. And I don’t want to guilt anyone into doing something they don’t want to do, but I want people to consider that acting small can make a tremendous impact. I think that finding other ways to engage with the community are beneficial – donating to a local clean up nonprofit like Clean City or spending a couple hours planting with Friends of the Urban Forest – we can help beautify this city and hopefully, ultimately, it will encourage others to trash it less.

I think we can all lead by example. Just because you aren’t as attached to San Francisco as I am doesn’t mean you should just be lazy and let others do all the work. And who knows, it may make you feel some type of way. And I really think that this could have a trickle up effect. For each individual that takes action, and makes the city cleaner, for instance, I think that after time, taking an active stance on some of these issues will in effect lead to fewer homeless individuals, fewer bike thefts, and more affordable housing (to name a few). I can’t say it enough, I honestly truly believe it will happen.

I just need help. Will you join me?

The Words I Didn’t Know I Had

I am a Jew. I will always be a Jew. And I am not here to destroy or replace you.

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Image from US News

This is the image haunting me this morning, and suddenly I am filled with crippling fear.

The high school I attended was 30% Jewish. On major Jewish holidays, a vast majority of the class was absent, and everyone would take a look around and note that it was probably due to the Jewish holiday. There, I felt normal. I felt the same. It was safe.

Santa Clara has a 2% Jewish population. It is a Jesuit school, but the small number of Jews in a vastly diverse population in the Valley still astound me:

“Of Silicon Valley’s 1.7 million residents, only 35,000 or so—about 2 percent—identify themselves as Jews, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose. Fifteen percent—about 5,000—are affiliated with a temple or other Jewish organization. By comparison, Jews in San Francisco represent almost 12 percent of the population. San Francisco has 28 congregations within the city limits; the entire South Bay, with more than double the population, has 21.” (SanJose.com)

I was the first Jew many people at Santa Clara had ever met. I noticed the ignorance at first, but didn’t pay much attention to it until I felt different.

When I was a sophomore in college, I went to Israel on a Birthright trip. When I came back to school in the New Year, I was more in touch with Judaism then I ever had been. The camaraderie and pride I felt was something I wanted to share, not hide. But, when my friend from the trip visited me at school for my birthday, she felt something different. She came back to sleep in my bed before I got home and was met with harassment from someone living on my dorm floor. “There’s a little Jew in her bed,” he kept saying over and over. This, coming from the same guy, (his name is Trey) who groped and harassed me in the elevator Freshman year of college. I had to push him to get him off me.

Fraternity “pledging” came around, and I was sitting in the cafeteria one day when I noticed one of the new Sigma Pi freshman pledges came in with a Jewish star on a necklace around his neck. He had to wear this all week. My heart started to hurt.

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This is what I saw. A flashback to a time I did not witness. I wondered if these people (the fraternity “bros”) truly understood what it was they were doing. A silly “joke” turned my world upside down. This can’t be Nazi Germany. I’m safe, at Santa Clara in the Silicon Valley in California. These people didn’t mean harm, did they?

I went to the Dean of students. I told him what I witnessed and how it made me feel. He promised he’d keep me safe. I felt momentarily relieved.

Junior year I went abroad for one third of the school year. When I came back, my eyes felt opened for the first time. My school felt different. It felt smaller, like it wasn’t part of the real world. At the end of my diversity class one day, after a rather vibrant discussion led by my favorite professor, I checked my text messages. My Jewish friend from home, Hannah, sent me a text telling me that kids from USC (her school) who visited a Concentration camp in Germany were imitating getting their heads cut off and taking pictures of it. I remember the crushing feeling that day as I sat and wept in the classroom in front of my professor. I felt so lost. I knew deep down that those kids could have come from any school, especially Santa Clara. I know this because Black and gay students were frequently kicked out of off-campus parties because… well, because. I distanced myself from a lot of this because it caused me too much pain. I’m sad to admit that I should have done more than I did.

This is why, when people ask me if I liked my school, it’s hard for me to answer. In many ways I did love it, but it’s hard to pledge allegiance to a place that brought about pain to so many people.

But the images in the media are chilling me, even as I pull the blankets closer and closer around me in bed. This all became so real for me today, and reminded me of 9 months ago as I lay on the floor in a fetal position watching the polls roll in, crying.

I want to take action and stand up against these hateful people, but I’m terrified. Nazis cannot be reasoned with and they are extremely dangerous people with intent to hurt and kill. And at the end of the day, I’m the enemy to them – a Jew who needs to be gone from this world.

Burning Man

I sat down to start writing about my week at Burning Man and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to start. It wasn’t until an hour ago when my thoughts finally came to me and I finally understood how this last week impacted me.

I  just finished an interview with Michael Latronica, the man who runs The Center down the street from my house in San Francisco. I was interviewing him to write an article about The Center for Hoodline, a neighborhood-based news site that I am now freelancing for (exciting!). I came to the interview open-minded and ready for a conversation with someone I was genuinely interested to get to know. I wasn’t thinking of it as doing my job, but more about the two of us having a real and honest conversation. I walked into The Center ready for a new experience, whatever it was.

Recently, I have felt closed off to making new connections with people. I go about my day with my head down, probably phone in my hand, just living in my bubble world and hoping that no one talks to me. Burning Man opened me up to the possibility of spontaneity and discomfort, and finding comfort in that newness. I feel more approachable, and willing to approach others with loving kindness and probably a bit too much friendliness than people are normally comfortable with.

Burning Man for me wasn’t about ~~~*eNliGhtEnMenT*~~~~, but about letting go of expectations and being okay with what is happening in the present. This is something I have been practicing in my everyday life with my mindfulness practice, but became a real-life practice for me during the week living in the desert away from distractions and connections to the outside world.

We had an amazing camp, the Post Office, a group of new and long-time “Burners” (a word I am now using thoughtfully, thanks to Kat), that became a wonderful home for me to rest my head at night. I felt supported in the journey of my week and like I truly had a family around me. I acro-ed a lot, meditated, got a massage, had my hair washed (shout out to Shonna), had a photoshoot with a professional photographer, traversed sunrises and sunsets, and gave a lot of great hugs. The details of the week are special to me and those who experienced them with me, and in the hopes that everyone continues to have their own experience at Burning Man, I am happy to share them privately with you if you ask.

After my interview with Michael today, he gave me not one but TWO great hugs and offered me a month of free tea membership at The Center. That to me embodied the magic of Burning Man – unexpected kindness that comes from those that you may least expect.