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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.

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?

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.


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.







career assessment and identity
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career assessment: what books tell you about yourself & your work 2

For a recent trip, I had to go out to the shed in my backyard to get a suitcase. It’s technically a garage, but here in SF, that can mean a lot of things. For me, it’s half-storage space, half-study. While I was in there, I happened to look at the books on my “I am reading/planning to read” shelf, and I felt a little bit of a lot of things: amusement, excitement, pride and, surprisingly, shock and dismay.

It’s time for a career assessment.

Because depending on how I took in the odd array of topics, I can either take the positive view: I’m an eclectic and curious man who is working on a lot of projects OR I can take another interpretation: I’m a flake with a severe case of ADD. As in all cases, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But regardless, I do think that your books, if you look at them closely, can help you figure some things about career assessment, and  hell, it will probably help you figure out what type of person you are, as well, if you’re open to it.


On my book shelf, I have a book on screenwriting, a book on SEO, a couple novels, three SAT/ACT prep books, and a book about cinematography. What does it all mean? I have no idea. Obviously, I love film, though of all the books, the screenwriting book is my least interesting. There’s something too circumscribed about screenwriting. The structure seems to rigid to me, and really, I don’t like books about writing. I DO like reading book critics talk about and dissect works, but I don’t like how-to books about writing, because I’m not sure I believe in them. I kind of believe you learn by doing first, and then, you backtrack and get some help from others.

SO, again, if do a career assessment from this, I see two possible scenarios:

1. either I will never write anything good because I am too proud/arrogant/stubborn to learn from some expert who is trying to give me the keys to the writing kingdom


2. I will write something good because I figured out for myself, after much trial and error, what works for me and what doesn’t.

(Yes, I realize there are middle options, but let’s not go there.)

So where was I in my career assessment? Ah yes. I like film, and specifically, I love cameras and am inspired by the way skilled artists use them to tell stories in moving pictures. I like novels, for the same reason except that for the obvious difference that novels tell you stories with words. So, that’s pretty clear. I like stories. I want to tell them in different ways. All good.

But what’s up with that SEO stuff? AH, for those of you who do not know, it stands for Search Engine Optimization, which basically means I am learning how to not only write blogs, but to do so in a way that my wife is not the only one who reads this thing. (Hi, Chela. Love you!) The SEO stuff is also something I am trying to learn for work. As you know, this blog, at least sometimes, is a diary of my journey toward employment satisfaction. I am a teacher, which is why I have the prep books, and I love teaching. But as you know, living in the land of tech has taught me that hard lesson: teaching don’t pay. SO, I am leaving that job. Check out this post if you missed my explanation why this is so. It’s a sad story. But it is also full of opportunity if I get my head out of sad butt.

So, I guess it makes sense. People are not monoliths. They are complex–mosaic in nature, made up of disparate things. I hope this is what my books are telling me, though I will admit that I have a trunk load of philosophy books on another shelf, and in those I learned that one can make an argument for any crazy thing if you just try hard enough.


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.