this is Thursday night art space station

"Enough," I say to myself. It's a waste of energy to think about doing something, remind yourself constantly to do that something, formulate procedures and protocols for making that something happen, and then berate yourself for not actually doing that something. I've had enough of this: thinking about writing, planning out when I am going to write and what I am going to write, and then not actually writing, an exhausting meta-exercise that no one should ever put herself through.

Last Thursday night I went to an art show in the Mission, one of those art shows that has a two-word name: a generic noun followed by "The," which is archaic and singular and abstract all at once, brief enough to be cool, mysterious enough to be edgy. I arrive three minutes after it starts, which isn't fashionable, isn't cool. Showing up early means that the event is a priority, or at least that you planned on going; it's clearly not an afterthought. Promptness can be read as eagerness, or overeagerness, and neither are fashionable. Earnest people can be unnerving.

One hour before the show starts, an email goes out to the entire guest list, which is a bounded list, without wiggle room, or at least that's what the email says. The email includes directives about where to smoke (the assumed object of this directive is cigarettes, not marijuana) and how to act towards the doorman (compassionate, respectful). Please don't bring friends, it says. The message is welcoming but firm; the word "private," not "secret" is used; the only capital letters are reserved for the name of the space itself  (all caps) and other proper pronouns, a stylistic choice I've always thought represented aloofness, quietness, discreteness.

The space, which is a warehouse loft, is marked with a light green balloon. I stroll as slowly as I can to the front gate because I have again miscalculated how long it would take me to walk from my apartment to this location. I had intended to be prompt, but not this prompt. I check my phone, and then think myself silly for trying to use my mobile device to loiter, so I go in. After I tell the doorman my name and he checks me off the list, I reciprocate, asking his name. "Gary," he says. "Nice to meet you Gary," I say, even though I'm confused. Didn't the email call him Polly?  I walk upstairs.

The warehouse is dark, not a single open space but a series of contiguous compartments, the first compartment being the sink and the kitchen and a misplaced couch; around the corner the larger gallery space, and behind that, a back area where drinks are being served. I walk up to a tall blonde who is wearing a short turquoise dress. She is in the far right corner, hanging up a piece of art. From behind, she looks like one of the Sweet Valley High twins with generic long yellow-blonde hair, leggy. I know she must be frazzled, just moments before the show, but this is the girl who invited me, who I'm supposed to meet, so I tap her on the shoulder. She spins around, and from the look on her face, it's clear I've caught her at a bad time. "I'm Natalie," I say, "but I'll let you do your thing. You look busy. Let's talk later." "Sorry!" she says, "we'll talk later."

I turn back around, and in front of the food table, there is an Asian guy with a boyish grin, with his hands folded across his chest, standing and watching as people are scrambling around trying to put finishing touches on the show, setting up the food, draping large pieces of cloths on the walls, moving equipment. "Hi," I  say to him, "I'm Natalie, I don't know anyone here." (Earnest people can be unnerving) I know who he is, but I pretend I don't. I want to hear him reveal himself. The day of the show, I realize I've read about this kid before, so I know who he is, the host of this party, the proprietor of this space. He introduces himself and welcomes me to the space. "Well, now you've met one of the hosts," he says, "and there's Alex," he says, as another guy walks by us." He also lives here."

Alex comes by and introduces himself. He has tanned olive skin, big eyes, a sharp, long nose, and he's wearing nothing under a buttoned up suit-vest, like a Chippendale playboy. Later, Alex invites me up to his room, which does not interest me as an innuendo, but as an artifact of the space itself, which I'm curious about. A gaggle of his friends are gathered in his room, which is a lofted space, with a low ceiling, no more than three feet in height. The ceiling is splattered with colorful paint, the floorboards painted white. Alex shows me some photographic negatives that he's working on, which are scattered like detritus on the floor and on an old light box. Two guys are sitting on the floor, one trying to melt plastic candles, which isn't really working, another on the couch, sitting next to a brown-haired girl wearing brown boots. They're passing a pax around, and they don't acknowledge me, even when I plop onto the couch next to the girl, whose name I find out is Brittany. I don't know what I'm doing here, I pass the pax along but don't partake, this is a situation I have been in more times than I can count: overwhelmed by a situation most people consider normal, trying to make sense of all the stimuli around me, made uncomfortable by the sheer number of things going on, but too intrigued to escape, as is my foremost impulse.

The night passes quickly. I've strategized ahead of time: I will talk to people for at least twenty minutes at a time, and in between the long conversations, I will recede into dark corners and rest. Besides Alex, I talk to Schuyler or Skyler, who is a film director. We talk about horror movies, and how much I hate them. "You know, I have this theory," he tells me, "that people who don't like horror movies are pretty cool. They're more sensitive." "I'm a highly sensitive person," I reply. "I hate sci-fi too, but I don't have a good reason for that." I talk to Brian from Lansing, Michigan, who now lives in Korea and tries to speak Korean to me because I am Asian. I stare blankly at him and tell him I have no idea what he is saying. I talk to Laura and Chris, who are a vocals-bass duo. That night they are the first to perform, Chris wearing an atrocious mask, Laura in her black bat-wing shirt screaming into the microphone while staring into the eyes of random people unfortunately exposed in the front row. They seem so different onstage (terrifying, bold) than in person when I talked to them (docile, gentle). Later I run into my friend Amy, a skinny, skittish redhead who knows her way around this place; I can tell she is more comfortable than me but less relaxed, a product of expectations and experience, of which I have none. Later, as Amy is dancing in the middle of the gallery space, I fill up my plastic cup at a sink full of dirty dishes, over and over again, trying to drink as much water as I can, trying to avoid the crowd, the noise. I spend ten minutes staring at a collage of C-list celebrity faces, a multivariable polka-dot formation, before I decide I am tired, and I walk home, but not before saying bye to Gary the doorman.


this is a summary of therapy, part 2

The therapist says we are going to try an exercise that will help her understand my story better. She is an actress, I google her later when I get home and discover that she played a factory security guard in a play last spring, and also a maid in an S&M-inspired piece about class and subjugation. She says her approach to therapy is "eclectic," which I suppose means unconventional, or non-dogmatic, a combination of many things, but I supposed it's also a way of implying that therapy will involve silly little exercises like role-play and dramatizations and the use of plastic figurines.

When I first walk into her office, which looks like every other therapist's room--bland, dimly lit, awkwardly spacious, there's always some permutation of sofa+armchair+beanbag and a bookshelf with self-proclamatory reading material about relationships and eating disorders and loving people consciously--I instinctively walk towards the big plush armchair. Before I sit down, she catches me and says, "You sit on that couch," motioning to the large empty sofa along the far wall, which is her version of "separation and independence," a psychological term applied to infants when they realize their personhood, detached from their mothers. Like babies and their mothers we have compartments to retreat into and boundary lines we need to draw. I am beginning to understand this relationship.

"We're going to use this," she says, pointing to a small sandbox which sits atop a plain table next to her armchair. The sandbox is out of place, but I suppose it fits into her "eclectic" paradigm. She opens three different cabinets, which are located in three different corners of the room, each cabinet contains an assortment of figurines: one is exclusively human figurines; another, animal figurines; and the last, a hodgepodge of random trinkets that looks like a little boy's collection of McDonald happy meal prizes: a cracked plastic hand, flowers, glass pebbles, dismembered toys.

"You'll use these to create the different worlds you inhabit, or your relationship to different parts of your life, like your family, or your job, or your body," she says. Later I tell her that this exercise makes me uncomfortable because I feel like a molested child in a Law & Order SVU episode whose drawings and sand castle configurations are scrutinized by the state psychologist (B.D. Wong's character). Therapy has the effect of making you feel like a molested child, I suppose.

I stand up from the sofa, unsure where to start. I hate role-play, I hate toys, I hate cartoons. My barbie phase lasted a few months, my beanie baby phase a little longer. I got bored easily, did not have the capacity for dream worlds, preferred to be smart and serious and living in reality, though perhaps it is much more dangerous--and subversive--to live in the blurred reality of false hopes, blown-up expectations, hypothetical worlds drawn out from what-ifs and maybes, than to create a dream world that is clearly set apart and removed from your daily existence.

I putter around the room, from cabinet to cabinet, staring but not touching, observing this menagerie of plastic, the strange lives of factory-made toys. The therapist sees that I am having a difficult time. "I don't know where to start," I tell her. "Can you repeat the prompt again?" I want structure, I want to be able to regurgitate the answers I've already formulated in my head, the backstory and history that I've told so many times already, but this exercise throws me into a void, and I do not know how to proceed.

"Let's begin with you," she says. "Pick something that represents you." So I pick up a plastic girl-doll with blonde hair and a pink dress, a far cry from my physical appearance, but she is human and a female, which is probably closer to me in resemblance than most of the other figurines.

I put her into the sandbox. She is at a 45 degree angle and looks like she is going to topple over. "Ok," I say. "Now what?" "How about telling me about what your life is like in San Francisco," she says, and I say okay, and I think about the neighborhood I live in, everything is so literal to me, and I go over to the miscellaneous cabinet and take a handful of plastic houses and place them one by one in the sandbox. "This is my house," I say. "And this is the house of my best friends who live around the corner," I say. "How about your work?" she says. I always forget about work, which my brain disassociates from when I'm not doing it. I put another house down. "This is my office," I say, it is between my house and my parents' house, and I put another house down for their house.

This goes on for awhile. And she leads me through some questions which prompt me to put down a skull, and a sword, and half a set of handcuffs. I think these are my vices, the things I feel shackled to, I tell her. This is the point of therapy, this is supposed to be the climax of the session, this is supposed to be a big epiphany, but it is not any of those things.

There's a pot of flowers too, and I make up something about how that symbolizes growth and change. I know what things should symbolize, I have the answers of a schooled-girl. But I have no imagination. "Tell me more," she says. "That's it," I say. I walk around the room examining all the figurines in the cabinets. "Nothing fits," I say. "I have nothing else to add."

The room is musty and the air is somber. "You look sad," the therapist say. "Do I?" I ask. "Maybe," I say. "Just tired," I say. When I leave her office she shuts the door quickly. It slams, and I do not look back.


this is a summary of therapy, part 1

In a therapist-client relationship, the client sits in a glass box, which can be large and spacious, but large and spacious ultimately don't really matter in a box, which is confined and limited, it's like saying the tiger at the zoo has a lot of space to roam around, even nice waterfalls to drink from and automated mist to luxuriate in, the space doesn't matter, the boundaries do. A therapist sits with a stoic countenance outside of the glass box, in a worn, velvet armchair, looking in, poking and prodding as she sees fit, through a food-feeding hole perhaps, reaching but not touching, in contact but not really, hovering above a life or beside it, but not in it.

The first session always begins with a homily on client-therapist confidentiality and the circumstances that demand an exception. "I am, um, a mandated, um, reporter, um, you know," she tells me." She lists the exceptional circumstances, "suicidality" being one of them, which is apparently not merely an act but a mode of being. "Self-harm," she continues, "or harm of a minor." I space out while she is talking, which I find out later is called "disassociating."

"There is um, of course, um, one thing I haven't written down in the um, contract," she adds, "which is what um happens when um we um run into each other outside um of our sessions, um you know, like at um, Bar Tartine or um, Tartine Bakery." I nod, focusing more on her stutters than on her words. "I wouldn't um acknowledge you but um if you said hi i would acknowledge you of course and um we'd say hi but um we wouldn't sit down and um share a pastry you know," she says all this tentatively, and I feel slighted by her governance over our relationship, which can only play out according these rules, which she is trying to explain to me right now. I do not like relationships governed by rules or conditions, I do not like relationships governed by propriety, but then, maybe that's what I signed up for when I called the therapist.

I'm not going to pretend that therapy isn't a transaction, which is unlike the best of friendships and often like the worst ones. I am paying to talk to this woman, I am paying her to listen, I am paying for her questions. Every transaction must be judged by its fairness: is my expenditure worth the cost? Are her questions worth my money? Is the attempt at understanding myself (improving myself?) worth my discomfort?

Someone recently called me a vulnerability junkie, which I think means that I feel most connected to someone when we are vulnerable to each other under mutually beneficial and agreeable terms, which is like therapy, I guess, my benefit being vulnerability and her benefit being money.

Within the scope of fairness, I judge her expertise as a therapist, which at the moment is at risk of failure because of a certain guttural utterance which is innocuous in small measure but becomes repulsive in hordes, like ants. Ten minutes into the session, her repeated use of "um" begins to sound like the popping of a broken record as the needle digs into the same groove over and over again. If I am paying for her words, the dilution of her language by "um" is a ripoff.

Nevertheless, she has a lovely countenance, an unblemished face and clear, glowing skin, large brown eyes with well-formed creases in her eyelids, a very distinctively sculpted and well-proportioned nose. Her clothes are plain but her trim and well-kept figure demand little adornment. She carries herself like a dancer, with her shoulders pushed back and an erect carriage, a posture I note for my helpless lack of it. Her left eyebrow is thinner with a sharper arc than her right, which--women who dote on their eyebrows know--is the result of over-attention.


this is a summary of the morning of April 5

After two rains this week, the sand at Ocean Beach is damp and compressed, which makes for a more pleasant and clean walking experience. A man holding a surfboard stands on a bluff, his neoprene skin stretched taut across his legs and back. He is motionless, erect like a statue, surveying the ocean, which is constantly moving. Once you get too close to the water, you can only see what's in front of you, and it swallows you up, if you do not know the pattern of the swells for the day.

Roxi finds two pieces of driftwood and a smooth sand dollar, which she cups in her hand. She squeals, as if she has never seen anything like these before. "I bring these home and put them in my front yard," she whispers to me, as if she were eloping with a little piece of the ocean.

People are walking up and down the frayed edges of the shore where the flat rug of ocean moves in and out again, the primordial comings and goings that are not subject to human will, a will that seems more peculiar and less mighty in this context. I watch the surfers striding into the waves, like lone soldiers stalking into an unknown territory that will always be unknown in some way, no matter the depth of the reconnaissance, no matter how many times he enters the field. The white foam crashes into bodies and washes up against ribs and bellies, the bodies stay upright, the soldiers continue to move forward. But they do not fight the water either, they must not be swept away, but they cannot resist the movements that are the waves themselves. They have chosen to be subjects of the ocean today.

The ocean noise vibrates in my coffee cup. I can feel in my hands the sound that migrates from the water into the air and into my mouth. The vibrations comb through me easily, it is difficult to talk over the sound of the waves but for once loudness does not make me cringe, the sound is greater than me, it is a womb not a crushing fist.

A dog trots obediently clutching an orange frisbee in its maws. Dogs look relieved here on the ocean shore, like regulars at the bar after a long day of work. On the sidewalk, dogs are okay, I like dogs more at the beach though, in the open space, in the salty-clean air, at the edge of eternity.


this is a summary of the morning of april 4

Mornings are never easy. I awake from a strange dream or a nightmare, with a full bladder, which becomes the first order of business naturally, and then after that I have to decide what to do, not just reach for my phone, which is the easiest thing to do because with the phone I can be reactive, I don't have to be proactive. It is more difficult to choose one thing to do, the thing that feels most important, but nothing feels particularly right in the morning, and my heart is beating quickly, either from the dream or from the startling passage between the unconscious and conscious. I am thrust into this world, absurdly it seems.

Before I am in the elevator, I am already thinking about what coffee drink I want, or if I want a coffee drink at all, but I am afraid I will fall asleep at the wheel if I don't have coffee, and I am afraid I will become a coffee addict if I do have coffee, and I am afraid that spending $3 a day on coffee makes me a careless steward of money, but in the end I go get coffee, which I suppose by now I could call a ritual, or a routine, but it feels more like a compulsion, a crutch, what's the difference anyway. A quick cup, they call it, which is the pre-brewed coffee, not the coffee they weigh by the bean and grind and then stand over a clear glass cone pouring a stream of hot-but-not-too-hot-water intermittently for a slow cup of what is supposedly superb coffee. I never order the supposedly superb coffee because by the time the coffee is done dripping, it is only a little warmer than lukewarm, which is not the temperature I like my coffee, and anyway, I don't like coffee as much as I do espresso, but this morning I am having a quick cup. 

I see the baristas everyday and know them by face, a few by name, but there is this strange exchange at coffee shops you frequent, where, even after you've gone in ten times and all the baristas' faces have become familiar to you, you are still only vaguely familiar to them, like an extra in a television show, or something. This coffee shop exchange typifies my encounters with most people I have met only once because I have a freakishly acute memory for names and faces: I remember them, the context in which we met, most likely their first and last name and other attributes, and they greet me with a generic smile on their face, "Hi, nice to meet you, I'm ________." I used to pretend I didn't remember them, and would introduce myself again. Now I don't do that anymore, unless I'm feeling merciful. 


this is a summary of the evening of april 3

I have asked too many questions today, probing for answers that I know will not suffice, no matter how revelatory, or descriptive, or shocking. I expect the answers to be interesting on a day when hardly anything is interesting; I expect people to lead lives worth talking about, worth writing about, and I am impatient for a story, the arc forms too slowly, if it forms at all. I spend ten dollars on a grapefruit, english peas, and a head of broccoli, the broccoli feels a little soft and wilty, but it's locally grown, there is even a label with the name of a farm, the broccoli should be robust and verdant, but there is always an excuse for that kind of thing, an excuse that will make me feel like an ignorant consumer, so I do not ask, and I pretend that a soft, wilty broccoli is normal for an organic, locally-farmed vegetable.

Ten dollars is too much for this little produce. I ask for the receipt because this amount of money feels preposterous. Three dollars for a grapefruit, three dollars for broccoli. This receipt is a little artifact of despair, and it tips me into a circuitous round of self-critical inquiry: am I spending too much money, am I careless, am I worrying too much about how I spend money, should I work harder to save money, should I care less about money, should I stop thinking about how I spend and save money.

I am standing and eating my peas at the kitchen counter and tell myself to sit down. I sit down and I finish eating and then I go over to my couch and open my book and begin to read. Five paragraphs in and I'm already thinking about something else, the next thing I should do, the potatoes that are roasting in the oven. I check the potatoes, turn the oven off, and then go down to the coffee shop around the corner, which by now is empty, the way I like it, which is why I go in the evenings, when it's not so much a scene as a space. A girl in a feathered brown hat sits in the first booth with her head down. I can tell she has a pretty face, it's circumscribed by wispy blonde hair, and she's slight, like a pixie. She's alone and silent. There are some other people I have seen before, somewhere else in the neighborhood, or here, the guy with the glasses and the long blonde hair, always with headphones on. I order a decaf americano to-go as a precautionary measure, to save myself the hassle of asking for a to-go cup if or when I don't finish, even though I plan on enjoying the americano here, and I catch myself before I explain this to the barista, who could care less about my to-go rationale, but still, my strong conscience demands an explanation, because it doesn't feel right to sit in a coffee shop sipping coffee out of a to-go cup. It just doesn't.

An empty booth, a rarity. I plop down onto the brown leather and stretch my legs out across the entire booth because this never happens and the more surface area with which I can make body contact, the more I feel like I'm capitalizing on this moment in which a booth is empty and all mine. In the coffee shop chain of supply and demand, seat ownership is a victory, and tonight this victory is mine. I am looking out the window, watching people pass by, I catch a glimpse of every face before it disappears behind a shrub, it feels thrilling to await transient eye contact, and I am safe no matter what because I do not have to hold that eye contact for very long, the person will continue walking and will forget about me completely, but for a second they will be disarmed, maybe, and even if for a chance of disarmament, the eye contact is worth it, the power to disarm is the thrill. I cannot hold eye contact for very long anyway, I will always be the first to drop my gaze, an unexpected stranger gaze is too intense, a somatic charge my body cannot contain.

An Asian man walks into the coffee shop wearing one of those messenger bags with a seatbelt buckle on the chest. His hair is buzzed on the sides, and the top is long and flipped to one side, which is the haircut all the young men are getting these days, around here in the Mission at least, a conspiracy among the hair stylists to make everyone look European, it's called an undercut, I heard. He orders a coffee and asks if he can sit down next to me, which feels like an intrusion, considering there are two other empty tables, but I say okay, and he drops his bag down beside me. When he pulls out a book, I glance over to see what it is, this is how I indulge myself in public, sizing up people based on the books they are reading or the notebooks they are writing in. He pulls out Tenth of December by George Saunders, and immediately, I find his presence more acceptable, maybe even desirable, but I try not to stare. He is not reading the book at the moment, it sits there like a prop, like a declaratory adornment, and he is writing in his notebook, and then checking his phone, the former of which shows a desire for self-expression, I decide, and the latter of which shows a lack of self-control. I wonder what he is writing about, and if he will actually read the Saunders book, and where he heard about George Saunders, and what else he reads besides George Saunders, I have never met another Asian person who reads George Saunders, so now I am curious, but I have asked enough questions today, so I close my notebook, get up, and leave. I take one last glance backwards, and his head is still down, hair swept over his forehead, scrawling red and blue, letters and diagrams, on lined white pages.


these are things i like, march edition

These are the things I ate and liked: 

"sea butter" -- sliced raw scallops in fruity olive oil with dill, capers, raw onions

buckwheat waffle with marscapone and honey

hass avocado, pink grapefruit
at home

napoletana pizza with tomato, young kalamata, anchovy

These are the spaces I went to and liked: 

at Golden Gate Park

James' fishing boat

Heath Ceramics factory transformed
for Butcher, Baker, & Candlestick Maker dinner
18 Reasons


home sweet home

"The moment when a limit is reached, when there is nothing ahead but darkness: something comes in to help that is not real. Another way all this is like madness: a mad person not helped out of his trouble by anything real begins to trust what is not real because it helps him and he needs it because real things continue not to help him."
-Lydia Davis

Now that the sun has set and the rain has abated,
And every porch light 

                                 in the neighborhood is lit,
Maybe we can invent something; I’d like a new

Way of experiencing the world, a way of taking 
Into myself the single light shining at the center 

Of all things without losing the dense, eccentric 
Planets orbiting around it.

                                 What you’d like is a more 
Attentive lover, I suppose—. Too bad that slow,

Wet scorch of orange blossoms floating towards 
The storm drain is not a vein of stars...we could 

Make a wish on one of them; not that we would 
Wish for anything but the impossible.

-Jay Hopler