On Blue Hour

My boyfriend snapped this photo by some train tracks in Berkeley over the weekend. After a week-long heat wave, the city settled into its cool and breezy self. We crossed these tracks during blue hour, a time made memorable by Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. You can read her description of blue hour here.
I’ve lived in Berkeley for almost two years now. Most young people land in this city because they’ve been accepted into UC Berkeley. They spend four years here and then decide to take a giant leap into cities that promise to be even cooler, like Oakland or San Francisco, which is actually just a few miles away. I moved to this collegiate hub a couple years after spending my own four years at UCLA. My velcro-fastened acceptance letter from UC Berkeley had offered spring admission, which felt like a backhand compliment. That is the equivalent of being invited to a party on the condition that you show up several hours late. Because there is only so much food, drink, and room on the dance floor, you may arrive only after the first-string guests have settled in, only after enough of those guests have left early. Then there will be space for you.
UCLA gave me the the opportunity to live in Los Angeles and love it because I didn’t have to deal with the discomforts that would make me hate it. Admittedly, my version of LA is skewed because my travels were limited to where my feet and the bus could take me. Given that my everyday revolved around campus, I saw no utility in owning a car in a city that vows to make driving a gut-wrenching experience. “Driving” is putting it far too kindly, as what LA traffic actually requires is that you sit in your motionless car, surrounded on all sides by other motionless cars. As the exhaust slips in to mix with the stale air blowing from your AC, you unwillingly gaze at a sky littered with billboards worshiping famous people and their movies. If I did that every day I would be so anxious thinking about how much time I waste, how much time I spend thinking about getting somewhere yet not getting anywhere. Like a quarter-life-crisis in driving form. It leads to daydreams of using my feet to traverse pedestrian-friendly cities, swimming in the color blue. And now I’m in Berkeley. Though Joan Didion promises there’s nothing like blue hour in New York…

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On Short Stories and College

During one of those predawn, sluggish, unknowingly pretentious conversations that thrive in college dorm rooms, a floormate brought up Edgar Allen Poe. By that point, it was late Winter Quarter, I had stopped asking, This stuff happens?
See, on the first night of my first year in college, I was alone and homesick in my dorm room. Right outside my door I heard feet shuffling and bodies settling and soon after guitars strumming. Following social protocol, I left my room to join whomever was outside because I read it’s important to make friends during your first week in college. There were about ten people crowded together in a narrow hallway. By the time I sat down, two boys had started playing “Wonderwall” by Oasis and everyone was singing along. Like summer camp. I thought, This stuff happens?
During that predawn in winter, I learned that Edgar Allen Poe kept his writing short because he thought readers should be able to finish a story in one sitting. Poe hated the thought of a story stretched out over multiple days because “the affairs of the world interfere.” Real life is distracting. Only uninterrupted reading could offer the unity that was essential to experience a story and grasp its meaning. Poe therefore stuck to his poems and short stories, which worked out alright.
At the risk of disappointing the late Mr. Poe, I hardly ever read an entire book in one sitting, though I want to work on that. I do read a lot of short stories in one sitting. Short stories are a good way to re-visit an old story without taking away from any new one to discover. They are short but dense, tricky but beautiful. I recently re-read Teddy from Salinger’s Nine Stories, and I often “recently re-read” stories from that collection. My all-time favorite is For Esmé – With Love And Squalor. In college I even told people that I wanted “Faculties Intact” tattoed on my wrist, which comes from two lines in the story, including the final one: “I hope you return from the war with all your faculties intact.” Years later I told a friend about the tattoo idea and she said it sounded like some declaration after a long stint in a psychiatric hospital. By that point, I agreed.

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On Catching the Flu

I’m on Day Five of a strong and mighty flu. The searing sore throat, the pulsing headache, the fever, the fever+chills, the itch that crawls up your throat until you’re in tears, and the long-lived cough. The cough that lingers as a way to remind us that good health is precarious, and that we must be grateful, as even the slightest discomfort makes a considerable difference. But when perusing WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and all the other sites that reassuringly report the exact symptoms that you have typed into Google, there is no mention of the mental toll of lying in bed with nothing but your flu-drenched body and mind.
For starters, I start to feel guilty for not appreciating how healthy I usually feel. I then start to imagine what it would be like to be sick all the time and I get scared. I then dutifully think, Being healthy is a gift, what am I going to do with this gift once I’m better? The pressure to make the most of my post-flu life sets in. Worst of all, I remember where I would be if I weren’t sick in bed, which would be in my office at work, which isn’t all that much of a better option, so then I concern myself with whatever that means.
But the loudest thought that rings continuously is that the seasonal flu (without the complications, of course) is really nothing compared to the real ailments that can fall upon us. To inhabit a healthy body is to be lucky, so use the time well. As the director Baz Luhrmann advises, enjoy your body, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.


On Time Zones

We sprang forward a couple Sundays ago and it made me think…
I could never live on the East Coast. I would always envy those running behind on the West Coast, folding into coats and slipping into cars, just breaking into the warm night. By then my East Coast self would be at home, having already returned from such proceedings. The events of my night would be in the past, in line to be forgotten, whereas things were only beginning on the West Coast. Waking up the next morning, I would train my eyes on the clock and think, California has a few more hours. I have lived under the rule of Pacific Standard Time for far too long to ever break free from its spell. I see dual time on every clock on the East Coast. The West Coast breezily displays just one.

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On Birthdays

March 12th is the most appropriate day to celebrate your birthday, a roommate used to tell me. My birthday is actually on the 13th, today. She said the focus of birthdays is all wrong, because the emphasis is to celebrate what is to come rather than what has happened. How can we jump ahead to celebrate a new, empty, yet-to-prove-itself year, rather than celebrate a year just lived? We’re too impatient to reflect, to offer thank-yous and never-agains, so instead we cross our fingers and look ahead.
It’s a shame, because birthdays give us an excuse to fully stretch and bask in our own lives. It’s a brief window during which you don’t have to feel as guilty for thinking largely about yourself. If you don’t feel guilty about that in the first place, I love/hate you.
So cheers to my 25th year. You have served me incredibly well, thank you. Although I do see plenty of room for improvement… oh, forget that roommate’s advice, on to 26. Just kidding. Kind of.

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