Thursday, October 30, 2008

$$$ Money $$$ Money $$$ Money $$$

Times are tough and money is tight but this is nothing new for some of us. My family always had an abundance of love and creativity to thrive on but we never had an abundance of money (*love you guys!*). Lucky for me, this made for a very interesting childhood to say the least. It also primed me for survival during times of economic crisis... like now!

From about 1985 to '97 my two parents, two sisters and I moved from one trailer to the next almost once a year. And although these trailers were located amidst the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, filled with my father's art and surrounded by my mother's garden, they were still trailers and we were still a poor, young family. Trailers suck. As money would dwindle at the end of each month, everything from our meals to our family outings would down-shift like clockwork. Things never became bleak though because our dad was always there to read to us and our mom, the eternal optimist, made everything into a game.

"Time to play 'poor girls'" our mom would say. When this was declared we would make the scrimping and saving into something romantic and exciting. We would bake our own bread along with big batches of soup that could be portioned out for a week's worth of lunches and we would find more free ways to have fun! For me, that was then in Virginia and this is now in California. The economy's bad everywhere and depending on how things go next Tuesday we have to be prepared for anything!

Recession getting you down? Turn that frown around in this fabulous town...

Poor Boy/Girl's Guide to SF:
Food and Drink
Cutting back on eating out? Try cutting in half instead! Every time you eat at a restaurant take half to go and make one meal into two. For groceries Trader Joe's seems to have the best prices and offers the the lovely and amazing 2-buck-Chuck for budget drinkers, if beer is your thing it may be time to say hello to PBR. When it comes to morning coffee say goodbye to pumpkin-spice lattes and hello to good 'ol tea and coffee. If you make it at home you're saving a ton, but if you have to grab it on the run I've never seen a large coffee for more than $2.00 and you can spice it up with cinnamon and nutmeg if you want it to taste special. My favorite cafe is my neighborhood spot: Atlas

Dude, if you don't already ride a bike now is the time! Save the environment and fatten that piggy bank. My bike is a clunky French bike from the 70s, nothing fancy, but it gets me all over the city and I love it! I spent $150 bucks to make it my own and so far I've saved at least $270 in Muni passes not to mention cab fees and if you drive think about the freedom from gas and parking tickets! Favorite bike shop: Mojo's

Forget Union Square, San Francisco's best shopping can be found in the Mission and Lower Haight. First see what you can find at the Goodwill then if you need something more try Out of the Closet and Crossroads. If you want name-brand shit the Crossroads on Fillmore is where rich people seem to sell in this city...

So many great things to do and see here! But my newest favorites are both free live music nights: Sundays at Revolution and Mondays at Amnesia. Both have cozy and intimate atmospheres, interesting people and of course drinks! You get to save on cover fees but try to spare a little for the musicians if the hat is passed, they need it to do what they do!

Money can be lost or stolen but no one can take away your knowledge! No money to spend on a class right now? Reading is the best free learning I can think of! Peel you're eyes off that computer screen and visit the Public Library for hours of no-charge education. Not in the mood for reading... check out some of our great San Francisco museums on the free days!

And Don't Forget To Offer Something Back!
There are lots of free things offered in a big city but it's only because people are generous! Try to find something that you can give freely it feels good and it keeps the whole thing flowing. I cut hair for my friends and decided at some point that I would try to give it away whenever I could. It's a small service to offer but it seems to help people out and it makes me feel good to do something for people I like! So maybe play a song, bake a cake or teach a friend how to make something new! Our city is big but our community is tight, we may get low on money but we all have each other and we rock!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll... and little kids?

Do you have a connection to Valentín Gómez Farías Primary School? You might if you do coke.

I live in San Francisco and after a weekend in LA I especially appreciate it here! My city is full of artists and creative people, culture and diversity. I live in the Mission District and happen to go out a lot in the area surrounding 16th and Valencia, as do many people I know. Walking (or riding your bike) around my neighborhood you'll see lot's of Hipsters out and about and since it's a culture I'm surrounded by it's a culture I'm influenced by. Out on this "scene" I've been exposed to interesting people, great music, art and fashion but an element (that I used to be) unaware of seems to be popping up more and more. Easy to miss if your not looking but not surprising once you notice it; cocaine seems to be everywhere.

What does this have to do with Valentín Gómez Farías Primary School in Tiujana Mexico? More than you might think...

I don't post this as judgement or criticism towards anyone, none of us are perfect. Today I write in an effort to expand the self-centered bubble that a lot of us operate from (myself included).

As I sat in a cafe yesterday sipping tea and reading the NY Times I came across this article. I was shocked and disturbed but mostly I felt a deep sadness for the children who will never be able to remove those violent images and events from their minds. As I contemplated what I had read it occurred to me that the demand for drugs like cocaine, especially in big cities like San Francisco, is really high and even seems to be rising. I reflected on how many people I've observed either "partying" or just experimenting and got the feeling that people don't often think too much about where their drugs are coming from. When a sack is passing from the dealer's hands to yours you may feel nervous, excited, a little worried about your own safety but mostly it's all about you, you, you. It's easy to be careless and self-destructive with ourselves but we forget how connected we are to everyone else.

According to another article in the NY Times, "Over 3,000 people have been killed this year as Mexico's drug gangs fight for control of smuggling routes into California, Arizona and Texas. The killings and kidnappings have spilled over into the United States, where the demand for illicit drugs drives the trade." These things have been going on for a long time and will (unfortunately) probably continue... But it's just too easy to feel removed and separated from it. Children have impressionable and sensitive minds and these children in Mexico are being bombarded with violence that has nothing to do with them! The first article I linked states that; "Exchanging gruesome stories is nothing new for schoolchildren, who have a way of overstating their brushes with danger. But the 12 tortured, tongueless bodies that were the talk of the playground recently were no exaggeration. In the early hours of Sept. 29, the bodies of 11 men and one woman, bound and partly dressed, were found in an abandoned lot opposite the school."

Drugs are a part of our society, whether prescribed by a doctor or obtained off the black market. From Ibuprofen to Heroin, drugs are used and abused everyday by almost everyone in our society on some level. It's easy to focus on how this affects us and the people in our immediate lives but it was an interesting reminder to me that although I may be the center of my own universe I'm not alone in this world! Like a lot of my friends and acquaintances, I try to practice conscious consuming when it comes to my clothes and the food I put into my body because I know about some of the negative aspects of these industries. When it comes to illegal industries and drug cartels it's not just bad for all involved with production and distribution, it's harming society on so many different levels. If you're a consumer of drugs it's just something else to think about...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cuddle Season

Little by little the nights are getting colder, the soft flannels are coming out and things made with pumpkin can be found in every coffee shop. All of this indicates to me that it is now (as a friend once dubbed it): Cuddle Season. Since the only cuddling I’m doing at the moment is with my books, and everyone around me seems to be in a relationship I must once again return to the ever-relevant topic of love.

I have looked to friends, artists, musicians, writers, poets, philosophers and even a few terrible movies with the hope of finding a truer and clearer definition for love, yet I’m always left wanting a little more. This time I’m trying out science. A few facts can surely sort out this mess… right?

A couple of weeks ago I had a wonderful dinner with a "coupled" friend. She is one of the ones in love and we were discussing relationships and dating, among other things. During the conversation she mentioned a book she had just read called "The Female Brain" and since she's also the reason I read "Cunt" (which I highly recommend) I decided to pick it up and mix up my nighttime reading. Seeing as how all of the women authors I had been reading in the past couple of weeks were ones who’d committed suicide early in life, it seemed like a good idea to switch it up and mellow out with a female scientist; Louann Brizendine, M.D.

The book focuses on the female brain and is broken down into phases starting from the womb and finishing with the postmenopausal brain. It also highlights some of the characteristics of the male brain along the way. A lot of what Brizendine covers seemed somewhat obvious to me but there were certain things that stood out particularly from the chapter entitled "Love and Trust". It’s easy to understand the positive feel-good side of love, (especially if you’re in it) but what about all the other shit? Well, according to this book both sides can be traced back to chemicals.

Romantic love seems to have a way of betraying us, and sometimes that means going against our own better judgment. Brizandine states that, "Once a person is in love, the cautious, critical-thinking pathways in the brain shut down. Evolution may have made these in-love brain circuits to ensure we find a mate and then focus in exclusively on that one person […] Falling in love is one of the most irrational behaviors or brain states imaginable for both men and women. The brain becomes "illogical" in the throes of new romance, literally blind to the shortcomings of the lover. It is an evolutionary state." (p. 65) So, love can make us a dumb version of ourselves? Ok, I think we can find plenty of evidence in books and song lyrics alone to support that idea but what makes love so powerful?

What I find most interesting about the neurology of love is how closely it resembles addiction. "Passionately being in love or so-called infatuation-love is now a documented brain state. It shares brain circuits with states of obsession, mania, intoxication, thirst, and hunger. […] The brain circuits that are activated when we are in love match those of a drug addict desperately craving the next fix." (p. 66) She even goes on to describe how it’s almost the exact same thing as taking Ecstasy and says that, "romantic love is a natural Ecstasy high." (p. 66) If our brain is telling us that the love of our life is on the same level of importance as water it’s a pretty intense sense of need, and yet that’s not the reality! Or is it? We know that biology steers us towards procreation but why do our bodies and brains make us betray our hearts at times? If the physical system is designed for perfect matching why do we seem destined to make so many mistakes along the way?

In an example of the initial meeting between a particular man and woman Brizandine describes how everything falls into place in terms of connection and all of a sudden, "wham, hot, knee-buckling waves of attraction and desire are flooding her body with a heady rush of dopamine – sparking euphoria and excitement." (p.59) As I’ve discussed some of these topics among friends and swapped a few of our "knee-buckling" experiences, it seems to be the same among women I know from the age of 18 to 50; the best feeling ones are always the worst in the end! (This may seem like an unfair generalization regarding men but it just so happens to be the common experience from what I know and hear.) Obviously there are a million other factors that go into this but it got me thinking about how I conduct myself in terms of relationships and physical interactions with men. If all of these chemicals are firing off in my body what level of control do I have?

Whether or not it’s a relationship, casual dating or simply "hooking up", it’s interesting to observe how we can end up submitting ourselves to different levels of torture. We may intend to enter a relationship and take all of the risks that come along with it, and this is often rewarding even if there’s pain involved; but I used to think casual sex could be safe from the emotional let-down as long as I could do it without attachment. I’ve been frustrated to discover that it’s not that simple (even though my logical brain wishes it could be) and now I begin to see why.

Even something as simple as a hug can start the chemical surge that my body will find pleasure in and later crave. "From an experiment on hugging we know that oxytocin is naturally released in the brain after a twenty-second hug from a partner – sealing the bond between the huggers and triggering the brain’s trust circuits." (p. 68) Not only does a hug release the same chemicals as an orgasm, but it can create a trust bond that may not be deserved! So we have to be careful when we’re making physical contact, it can end up being as dangerous as tempting your body with a new and highly addictive drug.

Poetry… chemicals… confusion. The mystery of love still remains. As always, for every question I can answer for myself a million new ones arise. So for now I have to let it (and myself) rest. It’s nice to understand what happens in the body and brain and it can sometimes be nice not to. Tonight I will curl up in my feather down comforter, tomorrow I may drink a pumpkin latte and to all you couples; enjoy your oxytocin-dopamine highs while they last.
Happy Cuddle Season!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Come on baby, light my fire!

When was the last time you felt truly inspired?

Turned on?

Passionate about... anything?

If there is something in your life right now that really gets you going, consider sharing it! You're excitement and motivation has a huge impact on others and there's a lot of apathy in the world right now. I can feel dissatisfaction and boredom infecting me little by little and I'm doing my best to fight it off but it's hard and I don't feel like I'm making a whole lot of progress at the moment...

That, however, is just a selfish side-note. My flame for life may not be burning it's brightest at the moment but it will be back, and when I'm passionate about something I'm bursting at the seams. If you want to post a comment for me about your favorite band or the love-of-your-life I'm all ears, but if blog commenting isn't your thing maybe you could call a friend or even smile at a stranger. Who knows, maybe the energy from the LoveFest this weekend will infect the city with fun! But festival or not, if you care about something share something.

Don't take your passion for granted.