this is quitting coffee

Ever since I quit drinking coffee, I've had to reconfigure my daily routine. Before, I could count on getting fresh air first thing in the morning during my 1.5 minute walk to a nearby coffee shop, where, due to the congeniality of a friend who works there, I received free coffee at least three days out of the week, a 20-oz thermos filled with coffee, glugged down slowly over the course of the morning. I sincerely believed I needed that beverage to stimulate and awaken, a pathology that manifested itself physically when, in the first two days after I quit coffee, my head throbbed even while lying in my bed and the smell of coffee lurked in waiting around every city corner. In forsaking coffee, I lost one of my favorite morning occurrences, which is the small talk that happens between barista and customer. That particular type of small talk might bother some people, but because it happens within a bounded and predictable space, without any expectations of depth or chemistry, it is actually rather enjoyable to me. There's no sense that we need to talk about a meaningful subject. Shooting the shit about weather is perfectly acceptable. Having the same conversation five days in a row is okay too. It's the kind of easy small talk in which you don't need to judge the quality of the conversation, or scrutinize the affability of another human being. It's perfunctory enough that it feels like a morning calisthenic, whetting your social appetite for the day. Of course, there are baristas I prefer to banter with. Who doesn't like a warm and smiling barista? In this city you'll rarely err on the side of being fawning or excessively enthusiastic, as a barista. You just don't see that kind of behavior. But the barista whose eyes are daggers, whose mouth is pursed, whose judgment and disdain seeps out from her nostrils, is certainly not a pleasant person to encounter in the morning, and that I do not miss. But still, the coffee shop in the city is a crucial hub because it's a reliable place to be around people. Even the mere noise and the faint chatter and the grinding hum of the coffee beans will ameliorate acute pangs of aloneness, at least for a little while.


this is overeagerness

"Overeager" is a derogatory term, "over" implying excessive and "eager" denoting strong and unfeigned interest. When someone is "overeager," is that a factor of timing, verbosity, posture, or language? Is self-protection so engrained in human psychology that our scorn of "overeagerness" is our way of warding off the intensity of desire? Say you meet someone whom you are interested in getting to know better, and you decide to solicit the person for drinks. Your perceived "eagerness" is determined by a few things: how much time has passed between seeing the person and soliciting them (e.g. texting five minutes after you first met could be interpreted as "overeager"), how much effort you put into "connecting" with said person (e.g. following them on every social network they are on), the language used in communication (e.g. "Hey! I think we really hit it off when we met, and I want to take you out for dinner. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night work for me, and we could do drinks after dinner too, and maybe a movie? Let me know what you think. I'm really excited about this!"—is probably perceived as overeager—the tone and verbosity of this text reflect this), one's availability (see aforementioned example), and the level to which one's desire is reciprocated (some men will always be perceived as assertive rather than overeager; perhaps this is the male version of je ne sais quoi).

When did aloofness become a virtue? Why does mystery entice us so? There's a deep thrill in being the one-who-desires, perhaps moreso than being the desired. The horizon line is still far away; there's something to swim toward—somewhere beyond your reach. Our society is as mannered as the Whartonian world, in which social cues were clearly patterned and understood but not necessarily spoken of. Our behavior is still governed by ideas: not of respectability now, necessarily, but of what is deemed "cool." But one more thing: the attention we pay to the way we interact extends beyond face-to-fact contact: now our selves inhabit technological spheres and social networks and Google-searched images on global platforms, and we must heed social norms there too. We must calculate our airs and our advances. We are not overeager, perhaps, but we are overgroomed. Perhaps overeagerness is actually a moment of vulnerability, of completely diminished pretension, of social cues being dropped for one second; a desire not manicured or tamed but freely aired. For that level of earnestness, I surrender all disdain—I welcome your overeagerness.

update: uncannily found this whip-smart essay on this (at least tangential) topic, and a rebuttal to it (also worth reading)


this is how to win friends and influence people

When strategizing how to "hang out" with someone, might you employ a salesperson pitch instead of skulking around?

Instead of "hanging out," why don't you say "exciting opportunity"?
Instead of proposing to "hang out" amorphously, subliminally, abstractly, passively, why don't you provide six specific "exciting opportunities"?

Prosperous friendships shall ensue. You will win friends and influence people.

See below for a real-life example, which occurred at 6:03 PM on Monday, April 6.

*phone rings*

me: Hello?

M: Hello. I have some exciting opportunities for us.

me: What?

M: First, I propose a walk this afternoon.

me: No, I --

M: Second, I propose a meeting at Atlas Cafe where I eat a beet-loaf sandwich.

me: No, I--

M: Third, I propose yoga at 7:30. Fourth, I propose coffee tomorrow at 5.

me: Are you done yet?

M: The fifth exciting opportunity is our scheduled hang-out and yoga session at 6 tomorrow.

me: What's the sixth?

M: I only have five.

me: I decline the first four exciting opportunities, but I will accept the fifth.

M: Great.

me: Looking forward to our exciting opportunity. 

M: Very exciting opportunities.

me: I propose we refer to all of the time we spend together as "exciting opportunities," instead of "hanging out," which has some kind of weird connotations.

M: Exciting Opportunities is much more fitting.

me: Agreed. Goodbye.

M: Goodbye.


"Champagne" by Laura Kasischke

A cold wind, later, but no rain.
A bus breathing heavily at the station.
Beggars at the gate, and the moon
like one bright horn of a white
cow up there in space. But

really, must I think about all this
a second time in this short life?
This crescent moon, like a bit
of ancient punctuation. This

pause in the transience of all things.

Up there, Ishtar in the ship
of life he’s sailing.  Has

he ripped open again his sack of grain?
Spilled it all over the place?
Bubbles rising to the surface, breaking.

Beside our sharpened blades, they’ve
set down our glasses of champagne.
A joke is made.  But, really, must

I hear this joke again?

Must I watch the spluttering
light of this specific flame? Must I
consider forever the permanent
transience of all things:

The bus, breathing at the station.
The beggars at the gate.
The girl I was.
Both pregnant and chaste.
The cold wind, that crescent moon.
No rain. What difference

can it possibly make, that
pain, now that not a single
anguished cry of it remains?

Really, must I grieve it all again
a second time, and why tonight
of all the nights, and just
as I’m about to raise, with the
blissful others, my

glass to the silvery, liquid
chandelier above us?


this is exhaustion

If I could reify my exhaustion, it would look something like a shackle chained to a heavy steel ball, I a prisoner of myself and of my bodily limits. By my attitude toward exhaustion, you can tell how much I loathe being tired. Tiredness feels like tar, and it also feels like emptiness, forlorn and accidental, when all strength and energy and willpower has drained out. Tiredness often feels like the opposite of consciousness; I’m both physically and mentally stuck, unable to make decisions and disinterested in action. Also highly vulnerable to angst, despair, and loneliness. If ‘perforated’ could describe a state of being, that might be the most accurate adjective.

It’s both a symptom and consequence of my neuroticism that I count depletion an imperfection. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I expect in myself the consistency and infallibility that I expect of machines. Even machines burn out though—my seven-year-old hair dryer started whirring and smoking yesterday, and I thought, “I guess it’s about time”—but we expect that anything functioning under the algorithmic architecture of codes, programmed inputs, and scientific wiring to achieve impermeability—maybe even immortality. That I desire perfection is not the problem; that I feel less worthy and less able for inhabiting my imperfections is. A machine is reliable and manageable, and it also does not have a soul, which is that spontaneous, desirous, capricious proof-of-being that carries with it an awareness of self as it relates to the world; also gives us the capacity to believe, love, give. After years of battling perfectionism in the form of tangible afflictions and self-inflictions, I'm still learning to encounter the humanity in myself; it's okay to want and need and to be hungry. It's okay to feel exhausted and weak. When tired, rest. When hungry, eat. It should be as easy as that, right?


this is what came before


I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge today. The passage through and out of the city is loathsome up until the the red steel towers of the GGB become visible, rising out of the cold blue waters—a reliably redemptive sight, it never gets old.

I got off on the exit right after the bridge, which I don’t think I’ve ever taken up until today, and drove through a long stretch of a dark tunnel that used to be a military connection between Fort Baker with Fort Barry—the first artillery posts established on the north side of the Golden Gate. Despite the tunnel’s disuse and dilapidation—it was built in 1918, and the last of the Coast Artillery troops left Fort Barry in 1946—, driving through it felt precarious and lonely and doomed, a one-way passage of darkness, longer than you would have expected, on all sides dirty white concrete so stained and bleak—it looked like someone had smeared ashes across its surface. That it was longer in length than most tunnels created a sensation of awakening from a nuclear bomb shelter upon exit. I thought about the movie Blast from the Past, in which Brendan Fraser plays a man named Adam (spoiler alert: he meets a woman named Eve—90s movies got away with shit like that), who is thrust into civilization after spending twenty-something years raised in a bomb shelter. First look at daylight after being underground for so long—the shock of progress! That moment of seeing daylight for the first time, of seeing the passage of time not incrementally but in one fell swoop, the passing years felt most palpably in the absence of the old, and the presence of the strange and foreign and new.

(Also, why do inane pop culture references contaminate everything?)


I visited Headlands Art Center today, which is housed in the old Fort Barry buildings—military barracks—hovering above the Rodeo Lagoon, which empties into the Pacific Ocean. The barracks were rehabilitated and renovated in the 80s—partially renovated, I should say. Physical traces of the military establishment still remain, the artifacts of old looking strangely like pieces of art themselves. Military signage with missing letters resembling the work of Jasper Johns, the pastel paint peeled and crackled on the wall looking suspiciously like a retro throwback proclaiming its aura of authenticity. The rooms and spaces—the mess hall, the officers’ room—still structurally intact. Reformatted, but still named and noted for their original architectural intent. You're stepping into an erstwhile chamber, which was once filled with the noise and chatter of vigilant men. A room now vacated for something entirely new, though remnants are preserved out of respect or out of necessity. Sometimes you get an eerie feeling of haunting, the possible presence of ghostly souls. I feel this sometimes at Alcatraz or Treasure Island too. The vacancy that comes with desertion but not destruction.

I didn’t stay there long, but for the little while I was there, I felt a sense of precedence everywhere around me. Merely the sense was striking and affecting. I didn’t need to read about Fort Barry's history or understand exactly what each building was used for and which men inhabited these dwellings—I just knew that I wasn’t the first one here, that we, this generation, were not the first ones here, and that feeling was significant; the arts center was a descendant, not an originator. Wide open space and empty used chambers. Certainly a stark contrast from the city just over the bridge, where construction is ubiquitous, where buildings are being razed down and replaced with newness, plushness, richness. Destroying the old makes way for the new. Progress the king precludes any thought for what came before. I've noticed so many fires as of late—accidental, perhaps—but the reduction of decades-old building seems to strangely coincide with incoming Babylonian erections. Every month we see a new multi-million-dollar sky-rise, stylized, sumptuous, luxurious.

Where is what came before? How beautiful, really, is progress? Man glories in being the first one everywhere—the pride of the intrepid explorer, touching down; only conquest will sate his hunger; we must land on the moon first before the Russians; the Santa Maria sailed into the dock, setting its eyes on the new world, my new world. Here in America we celebrate ownership. We celebrate the realization of dreams and ideas and the self-made man—made of course, at the expense of the quiet dwellings, the humble and the luckless. Sometimes history appears to be invisible. We can’t find it anywhere (we’re not looking hard enough; we’re not staying in a place long enough). But blindness is safe. Who wants to open his eyes to see the havoc he’s wreaking in the world?


this is making yourself disappear

"It was a trick I'd learned early on in life; a small, slightly fearful girl, obsessed with birds, who loved to disappear. Like Jumbo in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I was a watcher. I had always been a watcher. When I was a child I'd climb the hill behind my house and crawl into my favourite den under a rhododendron bush, wriggling down on my tummy under overhanging leaves like a tiny sniper. And in this secret foxhole, nose an inch from the ground, breathing crushed bracken and acid soil, I'd look down on the world below, basking in the fierce calm that comes from being invisible but seeing everything. Watching, not doing. Seeking safety in not being seen. It's a habit you can fall into, willing yourself into invisibility. And it doesn't serve you well in life. Believe me, it doesn't. Not with people and loves and hearts and homes and work. But for the first few days with a new hawk, making yourself disappear is the greatest skill in the world."

-H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald