why-i-ride-fixed-gear-bike-bezdekEDIT
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gentrification: it’s coming to a city near you

It’s a true sign that you are aging when you start experiencing things you have seen all your life but somehow doubted they would ever effect you. Case in point: gentrification. I love cities. The bigger, the better. Some people think that looking at mountains is awe-inspiring. I like mountains, too. But the skyline in Manhattan, now that gives me goosebumps. I lived there for over 10 years, and I got a pit in my stomach every time I was heading over the Brooklyn Bridge in a cab at night. That there is some wonder.

I digress.

While I lived in NYC, I often heard about gentrification, and how poor people were being pushed out of the city to the outer boroughs and beyond. I listened to these stories and depending on how rushed I was while trying to get to my job or how awake I was (I always heard these stories on the radio in the morning for some reason) I would feel varying levels of sympathy. Growing up in LA, you tend to think of land as being endless. The city, though some might argue against me on this one, stretches from Ventura down to Orange County–if not officially, then at least culturally. That isn’t to say that you’d ever want to be moved from one point to another. Even if you were forced to move down the block, that seems deeply troubling.

Now, if you are a grammar person, you might have noticed that in the previous paragraph, I used some passive voice construction. I am conscious of this. To be honest, I’m not sure anyone really can know who is responsible for hyper-gentrification, by which I mean, gentrification that is so extreme that it pushes people out en masse. Maybe when I was back in NYC, I didn’t notice that the same trend was happening because I was single and young and stupid on this topic. But maybe it’s also that for the first time, I am seeing this new trend of gentrification on steroids. I think San Francisco’s situation is unique.

Elsewhere, I’ve written on this subject, so I won’t bore you with another tale of boohoo. But honestly, I am marveling at the force with which San Francisco is pushing out not just its poor, but its middle class, as well. I see this, and I think, am I imagining the changes both big and small. But talking to people–from high schoolers on up, everyone sees the craziness. Most are affected by it.

Everyone sees the buildings going up everywhere. Some might root them on, since a lot of time, the buildings they are replacing were old and not well maintained. But even those old buildings housed people, and where are they now?

The more subtle changes: the ones that are harder to spot are within neighborhoods. Strange, modernized Edwardian facades now line up with the old cracked ones. You see them in traditionally poor neighborhoods. Start-ups are coming in as well, taking over old structures. It’s worth pointing out that they don’t usually put signs up announcing themselves. Still, you know something is going on because all of the hipsters have their fixies locked out front. When you ask one of them what’s going on in there, they look sheepish. Do they feel guilty? Did they push some family out to retrofit the space so that they can be the next Twitter?

gentrification leaves no mark

gentrification leaves no mark

gentrification with no name

gentrification with no name

Even if you somehow miss the renovated buildings, you can’t miss the people.  A neighborhood block that two years ago was full up with young men hanging out on the stoop is now a jogger’s paradise. These are not the urban pioneer types that usually mark the beginning of change, mind you. These are suburban looking people jogging by the projects as if they were another McMansion. The way things are going, they probably will be some day soon.

new neighbors

compare the old with the new

I don’t know what the solution is. I am a lover of cities and cities change. That is their way. And to be honest, though these suburban folks in their Nikes and the techies with their fixies are agents of change, they are not the causes of it. I don’t want to condemn Capitalism. That’s where the small ultra-Lefty part of my brain wants to go, but I’m no Communist. I’m an urbanist. And maybe that’s the problem. For my whole life, I grew up hearing that when you make it, you move out to the Burbs. What did I care? I love cities. Rich people, you can keep those places with your big WalMarts and Applebee’s.

But the tide has turned. And rich people who are my age and younger, have come to see cities for being the wondrous places they really are. Problem for me is that between them and me, I lose out. There is no place for a teacher’s salary.

Another change that has happened to me as I am getting older: I actually pay attention to the news I still listen to in the morning as I get ready for work. Last month, on one of those mornings, I heard an economist very casually made a prediction: cities in 50 years will only be for rich people only. There will always be poor on the periphery–he admitted as much. But for the most part, cities will be the homes of the rich.

I hear this and I am sad. But as I write these words on this screen, I force myself to remember that in the history of cities, this kind of polarization is not a new thing. Country folks are poor; city people are not. Maybe I should be a farmer, pull a Green Acres (though unlike the show, I am being forced out there). I don’t know who or what is the cause of the force, but maybe I shouldn’t care. Maybe I should learn to love the green grass and “fresh” air that one doesn’t get much in a city. Maybe. Maybe.

the key to productivity
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the secret to productivity: don’t try so hard

I’m down in LA for a teacher’s workshop. As is the case with many professional development workshops, a lot of our time will be spent speaking about the secrets of productivity–for us and for our students. So, even before I got to town, I made a plan to increase my productivity exponentially: I booked myself a bus ticket. Of all the ways I could have traveled the 300+ miles that separate SF from LA, I chose to take the slowest and least efficient. I did this, to a certain degree, out of need. A bus might be slow, but it’s cheap, and I need cheap right now. My wife is quick to point out that flights are a bit more, but not enough to warrant my bus adventure. Before I attempt to explain how the bus helps my productivity, let me say that I’m not traveling Greyhound, and that’s a real distinction for me. I like buses, but in this, I tend to be a little bit of a brand-name-snob-in-reverse. I don’t like the big operations. Greyhounds and their stations, especially, are sadness. You get the feel that a Greyhound is the mode of transport for the truly desperate. I don’t mind traveling with truly desperate people, but I do mind that Greyhound seems to treat its passengers as if they were desperate, which I think is troubling to say the least. And troubling doesn’t help productivity, let me tell you.southbound

So, when taking a bus, I choose to use independent companies, which usually means Chinese bus lines. Depending on where you live, you might not know of these. But all along the East Coast, there are a lot of these companies that start and end their trips in Chinese neighborhoods, and now they are on the West Coast, as well. Back in the day, some were a little unsafe—both the drivers and the buses were not quite up to the long road trips. I don’t take these Chinese buses because of the danger–danger does not help me with my productivity, either. The bus I’m riding right now, as I write these words, is actually nice and clean, albeit, a bit drafty for some reason. The bus driver is not yelling in Chinese, which is probably because she wouldn’t know how. She (yes, the driver is a she, which I’ve never seen on a Chinese bus) is Latina (never seen that either on one of these buses), and though she’s gruff and monosyllabic, she’s driving safely and at the speed limit. So things have changed as far as these companies go. But the fact that they are cheap—super cheap—and the fact that the people who ride them are a mix of artsy and low-life, college student and bargain-hunter is still on display. Lots of tattoos and eccentricity on this bus, and I like that, but hanging out with an interesting crew doesn’t help me up my productivity–just in case you were wondering.

So what does help with productivity? Gosh darn it!!

In a few counter-intuitive words, the speed of the bus on a highway slows me down. I have a load of projects and a book I’ve been meaning to read, and by no means will I get through even a tiny portion of what I’ve brought to do. But that’s not the point. I can read here. I have permission on this long bus ride to try even if I don’t finish the task at hand. I can stare out the window and not worry about how fast and efficient I’m doing whatever I’m doing. When I’m on the bus, I AM doing something continuously—I’m traveling. Even if I don’t get through all the things I need to read or do, even if I get through none of it, I will get to where I’m going. I will have accomplished a major goal.  I am moving forward—literally and figuratively.

looking out the windowI don’t give myself permission to work without worrying about the end-result, and that has to change. So many projects are just too complex and they require time. They just do. AND that time is not just in the doing. I’ve noticed that when I want to be creative, I need a little bit of time to do nothing in a creative way, to just be with my thoughts and to let them wander around—sometimes through books and magazine articles, sometimes through the web, sometimes looking outside a moving bus window. And that that prep time, as it were, is a necessity for me to get something done. I don’t know why or when, but I have gotten to the point that if I cannot finish a project in a short period of focused time, I want to move on. What this means is that I get a lot of things done day-to-day and week-to-week, but all of the tasks are small-time. You can’t write a novel on that kind of schedule; you can’t learn a language; you can’t learn how to edit a film or do anything that is truly worthwhile if you are trying to make sure you get it done in a day or even a week, which seems to be my measuring stick. It takes discipline day-in and day-out to do big things. But it takes more than that. I’m a disciplined person, insofar as I’m willing to work every day. But I’m a basket case when it comes to being patient and to being disciplined enough to value the small steps–forward and sometimes backwards, toward a goal.

That’s where the bus comes in. It’s frozen time. It’s so inefficient that it puts me in the right mindset.

So what’s MY secret to productivity: don’t worry so much about efficiency…

It’s true: if I get too much of that kind of time, as I did when I was a grad student, I start to feel useless. But if I don’t get enough of it, I start to feel lost and irritable. It’s balance. It’s yin and yang, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on a cheap, Chinese bus. I promise.

writing cover letters is not just a hoop
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cover letters: what can they teach you about yourself…

Recently, I helped a friend who is looking for work. He was especially stuck writing his cover letters. As a rule, I would say cover letters are awful to write. I haven’t had to write one in a while, but it hasn’t been long enough that I’ve forgotten how much I hate writing them. At least I thought I hated them.

If you think of a cover letter as a hoops jump through in order to get a job, I think it would be hard to see them as anything less than hateful. They demand a lot of attention and time, and who wants to put that much effort and care into jumping hoops? I don’t. But as I helped my friend formulate who he was—at least who he was in regard to the job he was seeking—I have to say that I found the experience to be a learning moment. It’s true that the jobs he is going after are in the non-profit world and they are cause-related, and maybe that helps. But there is something about forcing yourself in a page to describe who you are and what you are about that is meaningful.

As an exercise, I wanted to see what I would write if I were applying. In doing so, I realized that the position I hold currently is not accidental. I not only run a GED program, but over the last year and a half, I have also been its communications/social media person. I have managed the social media channels that the program works on, created content for it. I have worked just as hard educating our students as I have to get their stories out there in the world.

cover letters are like mirror

cover letters can be like mirrors on the wall, if you do them correctly

I do this because the program is doing good work, and I wanted to convey that to potential funders, but it goes deeper than that for me. Since the age of 24, I have written/told stories and worked in education. I used to see these two sides of myself as competing for time, and it used to make me hate my day job. But now I find that this was the wrong way to look at my two loves. I just could not see how the two strands meshed. But they do.

I am an educator because I think that education helps people tell their stories. On the other hand, the stories that I most want to tell are ones that work to better the world. That might be fiction, but it also can me more documentary in nature, as my stories have been, of late. Helping my friend write his cover letter, I realized that I am a believer in stories, in their power, and I think education plays a role in helping people tell those stories. In the end, whether I’m teaching a kid what a paragraph is or how to solve a fraction or whether I’m writing a story or filming an interview—all of it is stories for me.

Cover letters, oh, cover letters, please tell me who I am

Strange, that I learned something about myself from writing cover letters. Or maybe not. Cover letters, if done right, are stories, too, aren’t they?

What do you guys  think? Have you written any cover letters lately? Did they teach you anything other than that you hate writing them?

cartoon positive thinking
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I’m a recovering negativity addict, are you?

I'm against positive thinking

that’s me not doing the positive thinking thing

I like to think of myself as being a positive person. Who doesn’t?  But even when I’m being positive, it’s the negative part of that spectrum that I live in.  As in, I tend to live by the motto, “make the best of it” or “hope for the best, but expect the worst.” You see, even when I’m trying that power of positive thinking, I need a little negative. The word, “need” is the key; I need negativity to make me feel comfortable. It’s my security blanket.

Let me give you an example. I had to drive my wife to the airport yesterday. We were late, which is not really a surprise for us. But this time we were really late. We were also radically underslept thanks to our 22 month-old and the chompers that are chomping through his gums these days. So, we’re driving. We’re late. I’m feeling stressed, which means I need a hit of negativity to get me through, to hep me cope. relieve the stress. For me, this is a 2-phase process. I go inwards, get quiet, and wait for my wife to ask something so I can snap.

The thing with letting myself do this is that it’s a bit like a drug. I think that I’ll get some relief if I’m a jerk and lash out. It does relieve the stress, but only for a moment. Like a drug, you feel worse after the initial high wears off.

I don’t know when this happened to me. Years of not being in a relationship didn’t help. I have a tendency to want to beat myself up. That’s where the snapping comes in. Before I got married, it was a private affair. I’d snap at myself. But now my wife is my life all the time, and there’s no place to go off and beat myself up, so I feel cornered.

And anyway, doesn’t misery love company?  Don’t they say that? For me, when I’m most miserable, I want to flee. But you can’t do that when you are married and raising a family. So what do I do? I hear a voice pointing me towards an answer. Positive thinking is the answer. I have to will myself away from the negative. That’s what the voice in my head says. The voice is not my own. It’s a woman’s voice; it’s my mother.

To this day, she says things that make my sister and I roll our eyes:

“Positive thinking keeps you young,” my mom says.

She can be corny. She’s also not the most positive person herself, if you get to know her. But what is honest is her attempt to keep it positive even when you know she doesn’t really feel that way. Her worldview, I know, comes out of the fact that she is an immigrant and a woman; I know she suffered a lot of racism and sexism in her life. She’s learned the hard way that if you don’t keep it positive for yourself, the world won’t do it for you.

So, back to yesterday: I’m driving my wife, and I want to go inwards, and not talk. I don’t want anything to do with positive thinking; I want to sulk and then snap. The one-two routine of the moody jerk I can be. Because, I ask you, if I’m not going to use my mouth to spew some venom, then what’s the point? But I force myself to move my jawbones and make a comment about something–something general, not negative in the least. It wasn’t easy. It was like trying to run when your legs are stiff, but it gets easier the more you work through the stiffness. The same was true yesterday. I can’t even remember what I said, but I remember hearing my wife’s voice; she sounded happy and stress-free, and that made my need for darkness subside a bit more until after a while, my jaw was fully functional and I was talking. I came out of my head, happy and not stressed in the least. WTF?

We made it on time, by the way. My wife caught her flight. All was good.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still addicted to the negativity. Forcing myself not to be an ass when I’m tense, it felt good, but there was a part of me that wanted the adrenaline of assholeness. I’m going to try to starve that need. I’m going try to keep to that whole positive thinking approach my mom’s always pushing. But no recovery can start without first admitting the problem, so here it goes,

My name is Gabe, and I have a problem.

Wish me luck.

positive thinking is the way

career reivention
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re-doing a life? what does it all mean?

I run my social life kind of like Stalin’s Russia: every few years, I do a purge. I am never intentional about it, and I’m not like Stalin in the sense that I require complete allegiance to the party line (in this case, the party would be me).  Part of the issue might be that I have been a little bit nomadic and it’s hard to maintain friendships when you move away. With some, admittedly, it’s more subtle: as in, you say bye to someone after getting a cup of coffee or a beer, and then, you don’t call and the other person doesn’t, either. It’s not personal; it’s just life. Then years go by and you forget until someone asks,

“hey whatever happened to X?”

And then you wonder:

“yeah, what DID happen to X and to my friendship with him?”

I have to be honest and admit that I’ve been a nomad emotionally, as well, which makes me do the whole personal reinvention thing a lot. For some reason, I can’t do the re-invention without first doing a purge, as well.

High school was my first personal reinvention of this sort. I stay in touch with one person from that period of my life. Except for my family and this one friend, no one I know knew me before the age of 18. If you ask me why, I’d say that I never really felt like myself when I was in high school, and I just got sick of pretending. If I am honest, that same feeling is behind the other purges that I would do years later.

So after high school, I went to college (the first time) to be a violinist. I made some good friends there, which I can prove because from that phase of my life, I managed to keep two friends. I don’t speak with either often. But I count them as friends, and I’m glad they are there.

I stopped with the music at the age of 25, which led to personal reinvention #3 if you’re keeping score. I transferred to Columbia and studied Philosophy and Religion. I discovered a piece of myself at this point: a love for teaching. I decided that I wanted to be an instructor at the community college level, but grad school taught me a couple other things:

1. I loved teaching not scholarship.

2. Scholarship, not teaching, is what you do at big “important” institutions, like Harvard.

From Columbia, I kept two friends, and then from Harvard, two friends more. Maybe I’m less Stalin and more Noah. I seem to find pairs of friends to load up with before I sail away to the next phase.

I was completely lacking direction after leaving grad school, but I met my wife during this period, and that’s something. She is the only friend I’ve kept from this period of my life, but she’s my wife and my best friend, so maybe she counts for two. And then we moved to SF, where I have been for the last 6 years: I’ve made a good friend at work and there’s my son: my two to take away when I move away from here in the next year or so.Stalin: the bad side to re-invention

But there is a difference this time. I’m leaving because this city is nuts.  (See my posts about SF elsewhere.) Not because I’m trying to reinvent myself, but because I’m actually trying to be who I am.

Yes, I still like stories of re-invention. I’m inspired by people who keep working and re-working themselves until they find their way. I’m the same way about my art, by the way: editing is my favorite part of the writing and filmmaking processes. But I know from the art that you can only re-do so many times. At some point, you have to like what you have. I like to think I’m about to get there. After all these drafts of a life, I think I can stop with the reinventing.

I have a friend from my Columbia days who often says that artists lose some of their drive when they get married and have kids. I’m not sure. For me, looking at my little one, I feel freer to make stuff. This phase of fatherhood and husbandhood that I’m in–even with an imminent move–is going to be with me for the rest of my life, and I’m glad for it.

It’s surprising for me to say this, but maybe in the end, being a family man might be the work I was meant to do. I’m not giving up on the dream of being an artist and getting paid for it. It’s just that I’m less worried about who I’m trying to be. I don’t have time or the energy to be anything but what I am: a father, a husband, and yes, a storyteller, a creative type.

Marc Maron: a hero of career of career reinvention

Marc Maron: a hero of career of career reinvention

So, when you read this blog and you wonder,

“what with that re-Do thing?”

you’ll now know it’s a bit of my past. I have been doing the personal reinvention thing for a long time. But I realize now it’s time to just start doing. Maybe, in the end, that was the simple answer I just didn’t have the self confidence to take on.

Maybe this blog should be called, Do or Die. I’d consider changing it, but then I guess that would go against the whole lesson. So I won’t. We’ll just keep things as they are–for a while at least.

some help for procrastination
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procrastination nation: I don’t want to be a citizen anymore

I am a citizen of Procrastination Nation, and I don’t like it here. I’ve lived here all my life. As a high school teacher and then a college instructor, I would around this awful place checking out the sights: that stack of papers I had to grade; that letter of rec I owed a student; those tests that needed to be recorded. Being a writer makes you a permanent citizen here, as well. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished that a nap would go a little bit longer, so I wouldn’t have to face that empty screen.

For me, procrastination = anxiety, which in turn, makes me depressed.

I have a list of things I’ve wanted to do for a few weeks now. Well, wanted is a strange word, a bit misleading, as well. I’ve needed to do these things. But I haven’t wanted to do them. I won’t bore you with the list; it’s personal. Not in the privacy sense, but in the sense of that word that means” you could only possibly understand what I’m trying to do if you were in my head.” Thankfully, you are not. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

anti-procrastination rules

the first rule of Procrastination Club is there is no Procrastination Club

I especially wouldn’t wish it on someone when I’m in this weird state: a mix of anxiety and depression that almost always comes upon me when I’m staring at a list of things to do and when that list just keeps growing just as my work ethic is plummeting. Lately, I can’t seem to muster the energy to get it done–get anything done. Sure. House of Cards just came out with Season 2, which is enough to make me want to accept my permanent citizenship in Procrastination Nation. But the truth is I know that binge watching wouldn’t get me out of my funk. The only way to do that is to start getting at that damn list.

Like the flu, this happens to me every once in a while, and each time, I have to find a way out. (Often times, I watch running movies. Don’t know why, but movies about running, whether they be fiction or documentaries, are my passport out of Procrastination Nation.) This time, even that approach was failing me. I was about to pull the trigger and get out Rudy, a movie that always makes me cry, but also builds me up. My wife loves to tease me about this, though, so I only pull it out as a last resort. Lucky for me, before I had to pull out the Rudy and my box of tissue, I read this article by a guy named James Clear on how to avoid procrastination.

I’ve never heard of the guy. On his site, he says he’s a weightlifter, entrepreneur, coach (life or athletic?) and travel photographer. Part of me likes the odd mix; part of mistrusts it. But even so, Mr. Clear shed some wisdom on my problem. What is Mr. Clear’s guide to productivity? It’s simple. He thinks you should not try to finish things, but instead, just start them with the idea that you will only do the activity for 2 minutes. The trick, the reason that this is supposed to kickstart you down a procrastination-free lifestyle is that more times than not, once you start doing X-activity, you won’t want to stop doing it. Or put another way, it’s the starting that is hardest.

the anti-procrastination guru

James Clear, anti-procrastination guru

I know that writing, for me, is just like that. If I tell myself I’m going to try and sit down for 2-3 hours, some times, I’m up for it. But a lot of times, I want to run away. Like my 2-year old son, I want to stamp my feet on the ground while turning red and yelling a string of, NO, NO, NO’s. But to do so would be worse for me than watching Rudy. My wife is cool with the boy acting like a baby– he is one, after all. She expects something different from me.

DRAT!!

Mr. Clear makes the case that I don’t need to procrastinate. If I just tell myself that I will be happy if I can get 2 minutes down, then 9 out of 10 times I write for those 2 minutes and then I want to go longer.

The trick, the reason that this is supposed to kickstart your productivity is that more times than not, once you start doing X-activity, you won’t want to stop doing it.

I’ve told my students something similar in years past. But there really is something almost unavoidable about telling others what to do and not realizing that you should take your own advice. Still, I have to try. Procrastination Nation is not a fun place to live, and I’m thinking I found my way out. 2 minutes at a time.