Friday, September 7, 2012

I left my heart....mostly in my chest

I sat in the warm sunshine on a gorgeous August day in the Panhandle park (next to Golden Gate), with a giggly group of quirky, smart, delightful folks I’d lived with, danced with, dated, hugged, high-fived, ate with and thoroughly enjoyed. And I was saying goodbye.

Coast Camp at Point Reyes
Yes, my time in this marvelous place has ended in a messy (in a good way), sweaty, delicious way, with costumes, colour and laughter, just as it should.  I got to culminate my last few weeks with a last-minute visit from my giving, warm and wonderful super close friend Andrea (all the way from Toronto!). We walked the hills, marched to the Mission and indulged in pirates, art and burritos (which caused her to request, a short time after, that we find some green space and pass out for about five minutes.  Which we did and were joined a few tables down by a man with a large shopping cart of bottles who also felt 3pm is a good time to take a nap in the park), had a 26-hour ill-prepared but wonderful camping trip to Point Reyes, where in the morning, we frolicked in the cold waves and strolled the beach which had been touched only by the cloven hoofs of deer. 

She finished her visit in style, when we went out dancing at Soul Night at the fun Elbo Room, where we were joined by my roommates, all in some form of costume. We danced and sweated till near collapse, then wandered home, passing the dollhouse victorian houses and denuded magnolia trees, through the cool summer fog. 

Crisp and crackling - thanks Tartine
Franticly packing my things while my roommates prepared themselves for Burning Man, I squeezed in several wonderful visits complete with an obscene amount of good food.  Buttery, shattering croissant, mac and cheese in Oakland followed by a tiny concert in an independent clothing shop in Oakland, and a stunning four-course vegan dinner at Millenium, one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco. 

Mac'n'Cheese as far as the eye can see!

 And so I struck the path that so many have done, calling the city home then taking leave of it.  See, San Francisco’s a place of transition, and also of joy.  The city was smiling but unmoved by my departure, while I felt a little piece of my heart remained, bouncing up and down the hills, splashing in the ocean, ordering a burrito and dancing all night, fueled on Speakeasy Prohibition Ale and Anchor Steam. 

Occupy Oakland, Fall 2011

The Canadian train across Canada
As I board a train for Vancouver and then across the country, I offer my gratitude for this city, and how it has changed me.  Thanks for giving me your best in dance, energy, colour, silliness, food, activism, learning and love.  I’ll be back to ride that Golden Gate Bridge, replete with flowers in my hair.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My "Coming Out" Story (sort of)

When I first arrived in the city, I came from a veritable desert of romance in Ottawa.  I like Ottawa for many reasons: poutine, the canal, the incredible people, but not so much the romance.  I was parched and essentially planning on how many cats would be too many to own when entering spinsterhood at 29 (38 cats?  76?).  
Too many cats?  I think not!
Almost one month after I arrived, I clawed forward, looked and realized I’d found an oasis of (geeky but lovely) men.  We are talking a Walmart-sized waterpark with slides of many different sizes and colours, water pouring everywhere (hey, I didn’t mean it that way.  Get your mind out of the gutter!).

The city was exploding with cute, single men and for the rest of 2011, I indulged.  I dated a young british boy, a comely, funny dude I met at a conference, a quirky nerdy hipster boy who lives in the Mission, etc.  But I started to notice a pattern.  Most of the men I was dating identified as polyamorous.  The man working in my hostel was married and interested in me.   I was picked up on the train by a married with kids poly guy.

In fact, this precise topic threw me into a relationship.  In January, I met a tall, handsome thing who noticed me specifically because I was commenting to my friend that all the guys I was dating were polyamorous.  This newest one’s ears visibly picked up and he said “were you talking about polyamory?”  Turns out he had been poly for years.  Eight months later, we were still dating each other, and many others.

Now, polyamory was a newish concept to me.  Seemed like you could date someone and have sex with anyone else you wanted – Alright!  

Well doesn't that look nice?
In reality, being poly demands total honesty (both with your partner and with yourself), challenges nearly every assumption of “conventional” relationships, including the idea that you can only be in love with/involved with one person at a time, and is one helluva headache when it comes to scheduling. 

But it also opened my eyes to incredible possibilities.  I attended a polyamory conference (only in San Francisco, right?), spoke with a leading poly advocate, read an incredible book about it (called Opening Up) and dated several poly men.  I learned about my own jealousy, limits, and honesty, and even had more than one public crying moment (including an epic incident where I cried on a corner on Mission street, dramatically stalking away from my partner).  I also learned that I loved the honesty of being in an open relationship, the joy of sharing my partner’s joy when they relayed that they’d gone on a really good date, and the examining of my own insecurities, feelings, and how to trust myself.  I learned how to state my own boundaries and discuss big ugly STIs before intimacy even happens. 

So yes, I am coming out as poly, at least for now.  Does this mean I’ll never be monogamous again and will end up on some farm in the middle of nowhere with six husbands, 4 lovers and a few casual dalliances, with so many dates that I don’t actually have time to go to my job?  Probably not.  But I do know that open relationships will always be a viable and potentially preferable, option for me. Yes it’s strange and unconventional, but so am I.  My heart is also full of love and I’d like to share it with as many people as possible, both in friendship and in intimacy.

To all those who are curious/totally freaked out by this, feel free to send/ask me questions.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's talk about sex, baby

Sex.  You can’t think of San Francisco and not have some association to sex, to free love, kink, queer cultured woman-positive, dirty, messy, it’s complicated, involving two, three, four, ten, twenty people. 

San Francisco is considered the gay homeland, but beyond that, it’s the home of progressive sex.  It birthed the Lusty Lady, the only worker-owned strip club in North America, and is home to Good Vibrations, one of the first female- and queer-positive sex shops.  It boast Wicked Grounds, a kinky coffee shop, and the Center for Sex and Culture.  It has one of the biggest pride parades in the world, and was the epicenter of “free love” in the 1960s, where piles of hippies would crash together in the park, exchanging words and body fluids.   

SF Pride 2012 - bikes and gayness - two things San Franciscans love! 
San Francisco is also one of the most “open” places I’ve been.  Almost everyone I know who is in a relationship is in an open relationship.  In other words, most of the people I know (myself included – more in part two) are delightfully promiscuous sluts (I use this term with the most endearment, applied to all genders and orientations). 

But really, the LGBTQ community was, is, and continues to be San Francisco’s sexuality hub.  In particularly, this meant that this city felt the AIDS crisis acutely in the ‘80s, and older generations of primarily gay men still remember this sad period of San Francisco’s history, which killed thousands of the city’s young men (at one point, 50% of gay men in San Francisco were infected).  However, the gay and lesbian community rose up and turned the tragedy into a brave political battle against bigotry and for care and comfort of those infected, turning tragedy into hope.  An excellent documentary was made on this, called “We Were Here”.  You can watch the trailer  or stream it online for $5.  As a current San Franciscan, I was glad to be educated about this dark but important part of San Francisco’s history.

Your friendly neighbourhood leather-fans at the Folsom Street Fair
Gay, queer, kink, gender-fluidity and sex of all forms continues to be a big part of the culture.  Tourists in the Castro gawk at naked men reading the sunday paper on a public bench while locals and visitors alike immerse themselves in BDSM, leather and rubber annually at the Folsom Street Fair and related events.

The sexuality of this city took me completely unawares.  In my next post, I’ll share how I’ve had my own personal journey into love, lust and lasciviousness.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Peace, love and moving by two wheels on the Left Coast

Another few weeks on the beautiful Left Coast, including cycling, hippies, protests and finger-sucking.

At the May Day Protest.  Down with the 1% Man!
On May Day, I went to a protest downtown where laborours, immigrants, anti-poverty activists and the Occupy movement joined together to recognize the massive change needed to protect workers' rights.  Later that day, I visited the Berkeley campus, heart of some of the more radical and noted thinkers of our time, including my personal favourite George Lakoff.  It's amazing to be immersed in this culture of innovation around change - the hopelessness I've felt in other activist events and movements doesn't so much exist here.  From Occupiers to academics, people are trying to change the work for the better.

I saw another version of this when I visited La Tierra, a commune in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco.  A friend had grown up there and she invited me to their May festival, where we (no one will be surprised by this): pot-lucked, played music, danced wildly and wove colourful ribbons around the Maypole. I also got to learn about the history of the commune, how people who lived there have developed "chosen" family members that, while not related to them by blood, are extremely important to them, and how people learned to communicate with each other and problem-solve. It's really quite brilliant - the relationships these people have with each other are WAY healthier than almost any others I've heard of.

At an "energizer station" with my new bike to work day bag in the Presidio, SF
I also celebrated Bike to Work Day with the awesome folks at the SF Bike Coalition.  Now, Bike to Work day is always fun, but in San Francisco, it's a massive celebration.  I'm talking 27 stations with refreshments and high fives, hundreds of volunteers, 10 of the eleven city councillors cycling to work, including the mayor (hear that, Ottawa?), prizes and an awesome bike-party.  I biked to work in heels and a skirt, got fed the entire day, won a sweet golden gate bridge cycling jersey (which now means I'll have to buy matching spandex pants, take 6-hour rides around the bay "just for fun" and nearly run tourists of the GG Bridge), and danced by bum off with three fabulous women I met at the Bike Party.

My friend Alana and I with our fabulous new hairstyles
Oh, and the finger-sucking?  That was at a cinco de mayo party at one of my fav places in San Francisco, El Rio, where I had my hair done for free in a 50s-style beehive, got Navajo fry bread from my buddy Rocky, watched charming burlesque, and met a fabulous gay Israeli man who extremely sensually (and very publicly) liked honey off my fingers.  One thing I'll say for SF - there is nowhere like it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Jew goes wandering in the desert...

....oh, you've heard this one before?  Well, this one is a little different.  A few weeks ago, I went to the Panamint Valley near Death Valley with Wilderness Torah for Passover in the Desert.  This was a five-day experience in a stark desert, surrounded by multicoloured mountains and sparsely decorated with scrub bush, pebbles and salt flats.  No shade, no cell service, no electricity, no noise, no skyscrapers, a quiet only defined by the tones of the wind and the occasional sound of a jet engine from a local military base.

I got involved with Wilderness Torah when I went to an event of theirs and was delighted to find a group of Jews who were motivated by their spiritual connection to the environment, social justice, and yes, patchouli.  Thinking I'd come into the office a few times a month and organize files, I was instead drawn into the Lev, or organizing committee, of the Passover in the Desert festival.  Through this, I got to help organize and carry out one of the most beautiful, emotional, quiet, and deep experiences I've had.

So what happens when a group of Jews go wandering in the desert?  Here's a summary:

  • fierce, unrelenting winds and dust uninhibited by tall buildings and powerful warm rainstorms and snow which was evaporated by a hot desert sun the next day
  • teams of just as unrelenting volunteers creating colourful, blanket-adorned shelters that welcome attendees into an otherwise naked landscape
  • a loving kitchen team that filled our bellies with passover-kosher home-made pickles, massaged kale salads, vegan matzoh ball soups, stewed dried figs, matzoh brei, sweet and hearty quinoa, healing teas, matzah tiramisu, fresh and nourishing fruits and almond butters which kept us hydrated, joyful and able to immerse ourselves in the wonder of the desert
  • a slow weaning away from time, schedules, emails, phones, where we were instead defined by drums and fire dancers, prayer and laughter, sharing feelings and emotion, more sharing, and more sharing (we are hippies after all), where we were called to meals by the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn) and greeted by guitar and dancing
  • learning about passover, counting the olmert (don't ask me to explain it), LGBTQ issues in Judaism, the BDS movement of Jews in the US, and how to make Passover really, really tasty
  • Hearing about Rock, the one resident in the Panamint Valley ghosttown of Balarat who sells beer for a dollar out of a cooler in his house and likely burned down a mining camp about 20 years ago for reasons unknown
  • snakes, scorpions, birds, ants and packs of wild, wandering burros (don't mess with them)
  • hugs, dancing, cuddle piles, singing, freestyle beatboxing (by yours truly), incredible new friends and connections and a team of inspirational leaders to work with in putting on this amazing festival.
  • a stillness nearly impossible in the rush of the city and the race of our lives
I also, for the first time, experienced meditation of a sort.  The kind of meditation in which you think "okay, slow your breath, clear your mind.  Clearrrrr....yourrrr....miiiiind.  Hey, what's that bird doing?  He's so cute.  No wait, stop it!  Clear....your...ah, my leg itches.  I should have put on more sunscreen.  I wonder if those dates will be put out for dinner.  I liked the dates. With almond butter and...oh crap!  I have to overactive mind...I've got an hour more of this.  Oh screw it.  I'm taking a nap."  Although I felt I had failed at my meditation, a kind new friend explained to me that 90% of meditation is simply getting yourself to the cushion.  And so I've taken to doing an occasional 5 minute meditation which slows me down just enough to have a lasting effect throughout the day.

And so I returned from the timeless inspiration of the desert, changed not monumentally, but in small ways.  Am I more religious? Not so much.  But I do feel so very hopeful and inspired that there are Jews like me who believe strongly in our cultural tradition's connection to the land.  Thank you Panamint and thank you to the incredible families, elders, youth, teachers, students and organizers for what is one of my most memorable experiences.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Upon a rainy return...

Ah, so THIS is what a San Francisco winter is supposed to be. It's been raining/misting/spitting/generally being in a moist sort of way for the past three days. But it's a good thing - the ground is thirsty for it. It's actually the most rain I've seen in San Francisco since I arrived in October. I'd actually begun to believe this whole rain thing was a myth, especially when biking around in february in a t-shirt.

But as the rain comes, I am going back to Canada for a visit. I'm terrifically excited to see my friends and family. I got spoilt in Ottawa and Toronto - I've such deep, inspiring, emotional friendships that I got used to connecting easily. Here, I've really had to show the best of myself - I have to wait until I've hung out with someone at least three times before I get drunk and throw up on their shoes, lest I ruin an early friendship.

But I've still managed to connect to some of the amazing people here, including the awesome folks at swing dancing in Golden Gate Park, my former roommate Liah who quit her job as a computer programmer to make whimsical masks and earrings full time, and my friend Eric, who leads an incredible NGO called EMERGENCY USA, which helps build high-quality medical facilities in war-torn regions.

In fact, one of my new friends went with me to Lake Tahoe for skiiing. If you aren't familiar with Lake Tahoe, it's THE outdoor playground for pretty much everyone in San Francisco and area. And there's a good reason - it's astoundingly beautiful. Big ole snow-capped mountains that surround a rough blue lake, with a whole pile of ski resorts nearby. In the summer, people come to swim, sunbath (probably) hunt and (probably) get liquored up. Plus, lots of the small towns nearby easily and happily have started their own um, agricultural economies of a certain green plant. And if you get bored of all that, there's always the terrifically depressing gambling town of Reno to visit - what's not to like??

But back to the skiing. I hadn't been downhill skiing in about 12 years and imagined I'd look something like this. And, true to my prediction, I fell at least twice while getting off the ski lift before I was gently encouraged to lean forward when pushing off the seat. I did surprisingly well, having only one wipeout and even managed to go faster than some of the 5-year olds learning on the beginner hill beside me. I laughed heartily at them and then felt pretty good about myself.

I also did a gorgeous hike on Mount Tamalpais, about 45 minutes north of San Francisco. And this is the beauty of the coast - you can ski in one place, travel half a day south, and lie on the beach somewhere else.

I'll miss California while I'm gone, but I'm looking forward to giving hugs so big and fierce my arms threaten to fall off. Sayonara San Francisco - save me a piece of sourdough for when I get back.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Just a regular week in California....

This was my week:

I high-fived Jeff Bridges (aka "The Dude" from the Big Lebowski) and enjoyed an amazing cheese plate on Saturday night. I'm not sure what was better.

I stood within one foot (I use "feet" now that I'm in America, y'all) of the bike used in the movie "ET," saw the mechanical T-rex used in Jurassic Park (much smaller and cuter in real life than on the screen), and meditated at the sun-dappled Yoda fountain

I partied with drag queens, goths, bunnies and other creative types at a Burning Man pre-party.

And I started and finished the weekend in Golden Gate Park, whose ground was not covered in snow, but in new, tiny daisies.

Okay, this isn't really a regular week here, but it did give me great appreciation for what I'm able to experience here. Also, I really, really, really like being able to jog in a t-shirt and bike every single day without ski goggles, gloves, snow pants, coat, scarf, hat, ear muffs, boots, extra socks, balaclava....

But one of the best parts of the week? A friend from home is visiting today - hooray! And, call me crazy, but I'm going to Lake Tahoe on the weekend and I'm really excited to see my first snow of the winter! Hopefully my California sun-warmed skin will be able to handle it. I've grown to be SUCH a delicate flower.