SF, Soul Cycle, and White Girl Privilege

12717907_10205596428493926_669722621693308903_nI don’t remember exactly when I first became aware of my privilege. 

As a child I certainly took the various extracurricular lessons, summer camps and family vacations at face value. What, you mean every family doesn’t have a nanny and a housekeeper? Existing only in the bubble of ones family makes it difficult to have perspective as a child, aside from the occasional volunteer experiences I had through our synagogue. 

I became more aware of having more than most people as I became a teenager. I saw the kids who were bussed in from the inner city to our summer camp in upstate New York. I became involved in the Ronald McDonald house and worked with families who were drowning in medical bills and counted on the organization for shelter during their impossibly hard times. 

With this new found awareness I became more intentional about expressing my gratitude towards my parents for the things they had made possible for me- I didn’t want to feel like I was taking any of it for granted. 

When I got to college I made friends with other students who were part of posse, an organization that brought together inner city kids from low income areas and helped them form community in order to thrive in small liberal arts schools (an unfamiliar territory for most). I had some issues with the way posse allowed students to further self segregate students (i.e. Telling them they were different, introducing an even louder us. Vs them dynamic) but I understood why it was necessary. The levels of wealth among a small minority of students at Trinity was a harsh contrast to the levels of poverty the community in Hartford experienced. It drove me crazy to see the amount of importance placed by the students on having designer brand coats and shoes, how thin they could be or where they were headed for spring break. This is a large generalization of course, but being stuck in such a small bubble of 2000 people made me reevaluate my own values daily, and also made me desperate for college to be over. 

I’ve now been living in San Francisco for over three years, and never before have I existed in such a purgatory of privilege. I live with an ever so mild guilt for enjoying the advantages I have- not having student debt, being able to afford my $1280 a month rent (which I pay without any financial support from my parents- or doing anything illegal), being able to spend money on healthy food, travel, and the occasional superfluous item. I’ve worked hard to keep myself employed since day 1 of college graduation, and I don’t want to discredit my own hard work, I simply feel it’s crucial to stay aware of how big my handicap (to appropriately use a golf term) was out of the gate. It’s like the analogy of seating a group of students in a classroom and asking them to all throw paper balls into a trash can at the front of the room. Of course the kids sitting in the front row are going to have an easier time getting them in than those sitting in the back, they’re already that much closer to the goal. 

Over this past summer I allowed myself to drink some of the kool aid. I went to soul cycle after years of bitching about a spin class that could possible cost $30. I went 5 times. I quickly understood what is so appealing about the class- they play off the psychological need for belonging. It’s a brilliant business strategy. I had my “wait, what the fuck am I doing here?” moment while in line for the showers with a friend. I was commenting on how weird I found the song lyrics to one of the songs that had played during class, and how much I didn’t like it. A girl walked by me, overheard what I was saying and said under her breath (but loudly enough to be heard), “it’s BEYONCE.” Oh shit. I knew I’d overstayed my welcome in the world of over privileged white girls, and I’d just been found out. C’est la vie. 

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I left this piece unfinished for a few weeks and came back to it today. I recently finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I really enjoyed reading it, and the reason I sought it out in the first place was because I recognized how different the experience of the storyteller has been from my own. I mention this because I was in a Lyft line a few days ago where the driver was an African American woman from New York City and the other passenger was a woman from Nigeria. We were all of similar age and made pleasant conversation. But when the two of them started talking about Nigeria and their experiences in various African countries I felt like I had nothing to contribute to the conversation (it’s pretty unusual for me, extrovert that I am, to have nothing to say). I bring this up because it relates to how I feel about all of this. I have thoughts and feelings about privilege, but I don’t know how to contribute to the conversation at large beyond this is a real thing we should acknowledge, and maybe experience a little gratitude for. Maybe then we’d understand why things like Prop Q are entirely inhumane. (But that’s a whole other blog post).

Rant over (for now).

Tuesday Morning Thoughts on Feelings, Body Image, and Life

It’s not uncommon for me to feel overcome by my emotions. (I suppose this is the price that comes with being a cancer- lots of feelings, both good and bad.) Unfortunately my primary immediate response to this, the one I’ve unintentionally developed in the last 9 years, is to try to block out the sensation of any “negative” emotion as quickly as possible. I think this initially happened following my first breakup at age 16 (after a year long relationship). The first few days I didn’t stop crying, didn’t eat, didn’t get out of bed. Once I had to go back to school the pain of facing the unavoidable (our school had 200 students in the high school) required that I find a way to numb my feelings to make it through the day. It wasn’t long before I found my answer: eating. Food would become something I could turn to for both solace and pleasure, and by my senior year going to Stewarts’ for extra thick chocolate peanut butter cup milk shakes was a weekly activity. I switched from running track to managing the track team- preferring to abstain from trying to keep up with my peers and instead hanging out on the sidelines.

What I didn’t realize is that I had bought myself a first class ticket to the downward spiral that comes with eating your feelings while simultaneously accepting the message that only thin is beautiful.

I spent most of college alternating between binge eating and calorie counting, preferring to stay in while my friends went out to avoid the extra alcohol calories. Deep pain from my parents divorce at age 17 (something that was impending for most of my childhood but still devastated me) manifested itself with me throwing myself into a serious long distance relationship that helped me escape my day to day life and feelings.  (Ah the things we figure out in therapy).

My junior year of college I joined a gym in London, and started going six days a week. I got into the best shape of my life and wasn’t obsessing over food- though even as a size 4/6 I never thought of myself as thin. Once I was back in the States and my schedule changed I slowly fell back into old habits, and the weight crept back on without me ever realizing it was happening.

Fast forward through some end of college relationship drama and you’ll find me post-college, hurtling head long into having a full blown binge eating disorder. I alternated between intense self-hate and intense apathy. When it came down to it, eating until I felt sick- and then focusing on feeling sick- was easier than feeling, or dealing with, whatever emotions were truly at hand. (Again- therapy.)

Shortly after turning 23 I decided it was time to really learn how to love and take care of myself. I ended an unhealthy (for me) relationship, started reading books on the topic, quit my job (and the toxic environment it had me in), started seeing a therapist, and sought out more enjoyable forms of exercise. I began confiding in friends who shared their own experience, making me feel like I wasn’t alone in my self-image hell. I’ll be grateful for and to these friends for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately like most startups, my progress hasn’t been the straight up and to the right graph we all hope for. Fortunately what I have learned is that life will never look like that graph. There will always be peaks and valleys- and you couldn’t truly appreciate one without the other (the goal is to learn how to move through both gracefully).

I’ve recently started putting more effort into meditation- the headspace app has been a godsend. The effort to be more mindful (and everything from here out is probably going to sound like what my sister would call “so California”) has been challenging, but I can already feel the effects after two weeks of daily mediation. The sneaky thing about being present is that it sounds easy in theory- but it’s freaking hard in practice. Sure I can take deep breaths and count to ten repeatedly while sitting on the floor of my bedroom. What’s harder is using mindfulness to forgive myself for binge eating, or accept the things in my life I can’t control in the moment.

But it’s definitely helping, and I feel good about the direction it’s taking me in.

No Exit: Lyft Line Edition

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If there is one experience in San Francisco that provides an inordinate amount of potential writing material it is this: the Lyft Line. If you are not familiar with Lyft Line, it is a variation of your traditional ridesharing service, only with a carpool element that makes the fares cheaper for everyone. Naturally when you put yourself at the will of fate, (ie the Lyft app) chaos and absurdity will ensue.

During a recent ride, I was sitting in the front with the driver (a young Asian woman around my age) while an adult father-son duo sat in the back. They proceeded to bicker the entire way to our destination in a manner that can only be described as, “a perfectly written, Woody Allen-esque, family therapy session.” The father would make a comment and the son would instantly reply with a snarky quip, something along the lines of, “God, this is just so like you.” The driver and I sat quietly in the front until we’d dropped off the back seat passengers, at which point we laughed at the ridiculous lack of social awareness in San Francisco.

I had a driver who was visiting from Los Angeles entertain me with the stories of her Lyft line passengers in SoCal (after we dropped off our other passenger who had managed to cram an entire massage table into the back seat of the compact sedan, of course). These stories were always quite involved, given that taking a Lyft line in LA means you might be driving around with the same people for over an hour, sitting in all kinds of traffic. My driver recounted tales ranging from the time she picked up a man who immediately confessed to having just cheated on his wife, to the time she picked up a young woman in the wee hours of the morning from the home of a well known NBA player, only to have the passenger burst out in tears realizing she had forgotten her underwear in the house. That driver claimed she should be paid overtime for all the pro-bono therapy hours she was providing. Maybe this is the next million dollar startup- rideshares driven by professional therapists- god knows this city needs it.

Some of my Lines have been perfectly lovely and entertaining. I had a Lyft line driver who was a retired arborist, who gave us the English and Latin names of every tree lining Oak Street. There was the driver who recounted having three unrelated passengers assigned to her, all named Laura. The passengers celebrated the coincidental pairing by taking group selfies of the “Laura Lyft Line” and then sending the photo out to friends via snapchat. This is San Francisco after all. That same driver also told me about how she has had couples get into her car and proceed to have very serious arguments in her backseat, going so far as to ask for her opinion on their fight, the fact that she had met them ten minutes earlier not mattering whatsoever. This is one story I’ve heard over and over again from drivers, and I find it both curious and entertaining that a ridesharing app can turn unsuspecting Lyft drivers into marital counselors. And you thought you were just signing up to drive people to their destinations. As if.

The combination of these experiences has brought me back to my eleventh grade English class, when we read No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre. While clearly Sartre got a lot of it right about hell being other people, I think in modern day San Francisco one could argue that hell is being trapped in a bad Lyft Line. I joked about this with one driver, picturing what the most perfectly hellish Lyft Line would entail. We decided it would look something like this:

You’ve gotten into a full Lyft line where there are already three other passengers. The single rider in the back seat is talking obnoxiously on the phone while intermittently pausing to ask the driver if couldn’t they please just be dropped off first since they are running so incredibly late. The couple also sitting in the backseat is in the middle of an argument about something that you can’t totally make out, but it does seem to be extremely personal. They’re both close to tears. You quietly make a comment to the driver about how absurd this situation is, to which they laugh, and immediately ask if you’ve got a boyfriend. You’re going the furthest across the city out of any of them, and consequently will be the last to exit the vehicle. The next twenty-five minutes proceed to feel like eternity. *

On Learning to Drive Stick in San Francisco

Learning to drive stick in San Francisco is like learning to swim at Ocean Beach. It’s theoretically possible, but the reality of it is somewhat dangerous, mentally intimidating, and more than a little bit stressful. Word to the wise: if you don’t know how to drive stick, and aren’t excited about the idea of the lives of your seven passengers riding (pun intended) on your ability to do a successful hill start, maybe don’t take a job that relies heavily on both of those requirements.

Let me back up to the beginning of this story.

In September of 2015 I was finally accepting that the day-to-day reality of my startup job was not doing it for me. I wanted to be doing something different, but had never encountered a job in San Francisco that combined not sitting in front of a computer all day with earning above minimum wage. As luck would have it, my roommate was in the early stages of planning an eight-month road trip with her boyfriend that involved quitting their day jobs and living in a van. Consequently, a solid amount of time was spent looking at beautiful vans and #vanlife accounts on Instagram. When I came across Vantigo’s account (and a post that they were hiring) I was intrigued. I corresponded with Erik, the owner, and within the week I’d been offered a job doing content, social media, community management, and most of all, learning to be a tour guide. This was regardless of the fact that I did not know how to drive a stick shift, which all three of the Vantigo vans required. Challenge accepted.

Fast-forward about two and a half months, one bicycle accident induced elbow fracture, and enough Vantigo employees being in the US at the same time for the tour schedule to be covered, and you will arrive at the time when my stick shift training began. I started at the Marina Green parking lot, moved on to the back roads of West Marin, and eventually began practicing the tour route around San Francisco over the course of three weeks.

Learning to drive stick proved to be one of those things you just had to learn by doing- and learn by screwing up on. Luckily for me, stalling while trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop seems to be much less irritating to other drivers when you are in acanary yellow VW van. Unfortunately for me, other drivers don’t seem to realize that when I’m stalling out trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop it might not be the best time to pull up next to me to chat about their VW nostalgia. I would have figured that the sweat pouring down my face combined with the stressed out facial expression would be a dead give away of, “this is maybe not the best time to chat with this person,” but VW vans just really bring out the dreamy, chatty side of people. C’est la vie.

My biggest lesson from learning to drive stick in a 1971 VW van was really one about science. In a van with four gears, gravity is gear number five. Gravity can be used to your benefit in many scenarios including but not limited to: backing out of a parking space, coasting down a large hill, and getting up to speeds not otherwise attainable by a VW van (slow is really all we know). Sir Isaac take the wheel. (Shout out to Erik, Eddie, and Justin for pulling the e-brake for me at exactly the right times).

The last three weeks have seen me driving tours to wine country, Highway 1, and all around San Francisco. I’ve been having recurring dreams where I’m driving stick, and I hope this counts as additional practice. I’ve also decided that our yellow van, Jerry, who followed the Grateful Dead for ten years during the 70s, is definitely my spirit van. There is really something to cruising around in these vans, whether you’re driving down Haight Street or coasting down Highway 1. It just feels so right. Well, so long as you don’t accidentally go from third gear to second when looking for fourth, or try to leave a stop sign in third when you think you’re in first, that is.

When in doubt, grind it till you find it.

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Waiting to Board

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Sometimes the world feels like a dome, and things get kind of Truman Show

For quite some time now I’ve been waiting to figure out what I should be doing next with my life. My goal in college was to move to San Francisco and live with my best friend, which I did. Two and a half years, one breakup, three jobs and a new living situation later, I can’t help sometimes feeling like I’m treading water in my day-to-day life, preparing myself for something- but entirely uncertain what that thing is. I’ve felt the nagging itch to move to Los Angeles for the last six months- a new stomping grounds where some of my oldest and newest friends reside. Los Angeles has its own demons of course, but it somehow seems to own them in a way that San Francisco doesn’t. But it’s a hard move to pull the trigger on, given the somewhat necessary pieces required for life in LA, and the fact that there is a lot I’d be leaving behind.

I’m utterly torn, having only ever pictured myself to be in a monogamous, long term relationship with San Francisco that would last forever. Entering our third year together, though, the honeymoon period has ended and I feel the negatives as much as the positives. Like the realization that no relationship will be perfect because humans are inherently flawed, the humanity of San Francisco is both what attracted me to it in the first place, and what is getting under my skin in an uncomfortable way. The question is, do I hang on and seek improvement, or do I leave while the fresh memories are still positive? While San Francisco may be the same city I moved to in the summer of 2013, I am certainly not the same person I was then.

One of the greatest differences I feel in myself (and what is giving me so much trouble as I contemplate all of this) is the weight I feel in my responsibility, and loyalty, to my community. My friends, my coworkers, people who have invested in me and who I in turn have invested in. Is this what putting down roots feels like? Struggling to find the “my wants first” mentality of one’s early twenties, holding back on charging forward for fear of damaging the positive relationships that have helped you get to the place where you decide you’re ready to leave them behind. Feeling 25 approaching and pedaling the catch 22 of wanting to remain static and move forward at the same time, looking for some kind of validation for all the choices I’ve made to date.

I’m working on accepting the fact that like the majority of growing up, making big life changes, real grown up decisions that will alter the course of my life, will never be something that happens easily and without some doubt. No one will be able to tell me what the right thing to do is, especially because there is no correct answer, no right decision. There is, though, only one certain direction to move in, and that is forward, into a future that will undoubtedly involve ups and downs, wins and losses, joys and regrets. It will continue to be terrifying and utterly beautiful, and it will never stop surprising me.

As far as moving to LA goes, well, I guess we’ll all have to wait to find out what happens next.

My Utterly San Francisco Bike Accident

I’ve been living and biking in San Francisco for long enough now that my chances of getting into minor “bicycle meets blank” altercations have increased, not in my favor. This is certainly not helped by the fact that my catlike fight or flight instincts lean heavily towards flight- (so much so that as I child I once jumped off a horse mid-horsebackriding lesson- I later claimed it threw me, but we all knew what had really happened).

Up until seven weeks ago my primary bike accidents had involved hitting the MUNI tracks at the wrong angle, and an attempted stealing of my bike seat which resulted in me tearing up my knee and chaco-clad foot. So it was to my great chagrin to experience my first bicycle snafu to involve a car at the end of October- though everyone who hears this story has agreed that it probably went as well as any bike-car accident could have gone.

After leaving a particularly emotional therapy session about the impending departure of my best friend and roommate of two years, I was headed across town to a yoga class. I was biking down Oak St towards Divisadero, with a green light and nothing in the bike lane ahead of me. I saw a car at the intersection with their right turn signal on, and the only thought that occurred to me was “they’re probably texting and don’t realize they have a green light.” In the next moment I reached the intersection, just as the car realized they could go and began to turn.

Inexperienced in both physics and what to do when you’re about to crash into a car (I suppose the latter is a good thing), I instinctually braked with both hands as hard as I could. My bike stopped. I, on the other hand, kept moving. I went right over my handlebars and landed chin first, followed by the heels of both hands. (Yes, I was of course wearing a helmet). As people from the sidewalk rushed to help me and my bike up, I slunk over to the sidewalk, half in shock and half in embarrassment.

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Looking mugged

This is where the story gets a little absurd. The woman who had been driving gets out of the car in a rush, saying, “Oh god! That was so scary! Are you okay? Tell me what happened?” After making sure I’m still in once piece she introduces herself as Sky, and proceeds to tell me that she is, in fact, a trauma counselor. “You’re clearly in shock, can we sit down and do some breathing exercises together?” She asks. I’m an emotional wreck at this point, trying to keep it together from therapy and now deal with the fact that I’ve just publicly wrecked my shit (and it was likely my fault for not paying attention) and the pain in my elbow means I’m probably not going to make it to yoga. “Sure,” I tell her, “Let’s do it.”

She talks me through some breathing exercises and then says, “Okay so I practice EFT, do you know what that is?” I shake my head and she continues. “It’s called Emotional Freedom Therapy– and it’s a psychological accupressure technique that helps you short circuit your emotions.” Uh huh… “Is it okay if I tap on you?” At this point I’m up for whatever, unconcerned with the genuinely confused and concerned people passing by on what is a street that gets a lot of foot traffic, especially on a Saturday.

Sky then proceeds to hold my hands in her palms, face up, and tap on my hands, cheekbone and arms, all while having me repeat positive affirmations. Things like, “I’ve just experienced a trauma, but I’m okay. I love myself and I will get through this experience.” Etc. The most bizarre thing happens- it totally works. I calm down completely. The adrenaline surging through my body magically dissipates and I’m steady enough to get back on my (thank god- unharmed) bike (that shit is expensive to fix) and bike the five blocks back to my apartment. This is only after Sky and I have hugged it out (obviously), because this is San Francisco after all.

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Just as a mini-epilogue for this, I ended up going in for x-rays the next day. I eventually found out that I had a impacted fracture in my right elbow, which healed on it’s own after about six weeks and a week of occupational therapy (also some magically stuff in its own right). This experience has taught me to be more cautious while biking, and given me a new appreciation for having use of both arms at once. To my parents amusement I also discovered what it really means to visit specialists when you know there isn’t anything they can do for you besides tell you your injuries won’t be getting any worse. “So I’m going to pay $50 to have someone tell me I’m fine and everything will heal on its own?” “Yes Eliza. Welcome to adulthood.” Shoutout to Marie A. for being a great friend and rushing home to sit on her apartment stoop with me while I cried over my bruised body and ego, and telling me about her bike accident that occurred while trying to text and bike simultaneously. (Really how on earth do some people manage that?)

My biggest lesson, of course, was that if you’re going to get into a bike accident it should definitely involve a trauma counselor.  *

My Profoundly Simple Burning Man Takeaway

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I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.

And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.