Soul of Senbazuru: Little Bird, Big Love

When I arrived in San Francisco, I was new. I had shed the skin of an old and tired chapter in my life, with nothing but adventure before me. Well, almost. For many months after moving to this beautiful city, I carried a burden of lost love. I wrote often during that time, as it was rich with drama and wonder, and writing is a necessary part of my soul. It is in these bold new moments that we encounter hallways within ourselves, paths that take us to memories of our future selves. These are memories we come to cherish throughout our lives, moments that become building blocks of our hearts. It is about such a moment that I write this today, after nearly a year traveling along a path that will serve as a central conduit of my future creative self.

(It may not be apparent yet, but I’m talking about how origami cranes changed my life. Stay with me. It’s worth the read. This story is about the evolution of self, annealed by hard work and tedious patience. It’s a story about love and dedication, to others and to oneself. And it’s about a whole lot of folded paper birds.)

Not even 100 cranes… This is 96

Let’s start with scale

How many things can you honestly say you’ve done a hundred times? Sure, we talk about things as if we’ve done them many many times, but there are few things you’ve actually done a hundred times. Some of us (probably not even me) can say we’ve read 100 different books. That counts, right? Yes! What else? Think bigger.

At some point in the last year, I had a discussion with my cousin about things we’ve done a thousand times. Being a highly intelligent person, he immediately identified biological things, like breathing or heartbeats or pooping.

Fun fact: if you poop twice a day every day for 20yrs, that’s still less than 15k times. I was surprised, too.

If we eliminate things your body does (sometimes without your consent), we’re left with a slightly different approach: decisions. If we focus on choices we make actively, we’re left with a much more obvious set of things. As an example, I proposed that I may have pressed the clutch pedal in my Honda over a thousand times. While we don’t normally think of these things as choices, they are. As we expanded on the theme, things like toggling a light switch came into view. Maybe opening a refrigerator, or opening a beer. Some of us may be surprised at the number of beer bottles we opened in college. Others will be proud.

Still, if we reduce the scope just a bit further, we see things in an entirely different light. How many things have you done intentionally one thousand times? I can say with certainty that in my case, it is no less than one, but also probably not greater than one either. I know this because I set out to fold one thousand origami cranes, and I completed the task. I am proud that it took only a few months, and I’ve met others in the last year who have folded more cranes in less time. Still, it is an empowering achievement.

IMG_1523Those of you who follow my Twitter or Instagram feed will already know of my quest to assemble one thousand origami cranes into a tapestry to hang on my wall. What you might not know is the deeper story behind it all. As it turns out, this sort of thing requires a great deal of planning. One does not simply conjure up a tapestry made of paper cranes. It takes careful strategy and accounting (mostly that second thing). There were piles of cranes around my house, each representing an even hundred. They added up quickly.

Some History

It all actually started when I read an article about the senbazuru legend. Last year, for my grandfather’s 75th birthday, I gave him 75 cranes to IMG_1356celebrate his life and family. I made ten of each of five colors, representing his children, and 25 of a sixth color to represent my grandmother, who had died the previous year. They were divorced for many years, but we all saw the pain in his eyes at her funeral service. This experience sparked my interest in pursuing the thousand.

Traditionally, people assemble cranes onto strings and hang the strings to blow in the wind. It is an overwhelming experience to enter a room where hundreds of cranes hand from the ceiling. After my experience with my grandfather’s birthday gift, I came to consider some ideas about the idea of weaving the cranes together. My first attempt was simply to hang the strings together on a stick (sourced from my grandfather’s lumber pile). What I realized from this experience was that every crane moves independently – a lot. Simply hanging them will not be possible beyond a small number of strings. They would need to be woven together.IMG_1357.jpg

So Many Birds…

After the first dozen or so, I started to get into the groove. I found a good foil paper I really liked, and I set out to find all the great cafes in my neighborhood. A google search will reveal a disturbingly large number of cafes in SF. I set out to visit them all, spiraling outwards from my apartment, while folding cranes at each. Over the first moIMG_1451nth, I was visiting new places three or four times per week. The unfortunate thing about outward spirals is they take longer and longer with each subsequent attempt. I think at last count, I had visited 15 cafes before I finished folding all the cranes. Granted, that took three months, and I started folding more at home as the months went on. Still, it was a fascinating journey.

At one cafe, I met a young woman studying at a local university. She was working on a masters degree and had her face buried in a boring-looking book when I sat down across from her. One thing I’ve really grown to love about SF is the community feeling I get in a lot of cafes. The seating layouts inspire a sense of warmth and openness. Every time I’ve sat down at a table of strange people, I’ve made new friends. This new friend told me of a hazing ritual in her sorority, where they were forced to fold a lot of origami cranes in a short time as proof of their dedication to the group. I was in a competitive phase of my crane folding practice, and I asked her how quickly she could fold one. She stunned me with a casual recollection of once folding fifty (50) cranes in an hour, while sitting in a lecture. Even after folding a thousand, I am nowhere near a one minute bird. My personal best is 2mins 20secs.

When I first started, I put so much care into each fold, it would sometimes take 10mins to fold one bird. As I grew more and more familiar with the shape of the crane and the feeling of the paper in my fingers, I started to gain a sense of what was important. I found myself drawn to focus precisely on critical folds. For the rest, I could be sloppy, and it wouldn’t matter. Eventually, this became clear as a life lesson as well.


An Unexpectedly Spiritual Path

Knowing the different between what is important and what can be thrown together is a crucial component to success. After spending a few months folding cranes, I had my big beautiful pile of shiny cranes. I had kept track of them, meticulously counting them over and over, to make sure I had the correct number of each color. Initially, I had designed a shape that represented my partnership with a great love. I envisioned a clock shape, where the minute and second hands pointed to our birthdays. It was an ambitious project, and in many ways it mirrored my perspective on the relationship. Our lives diverged, and it took nearly a year to process what I thought was the loss of my greatest love.

I spent many hours folding cranes and reflecting on my experiences with her. I even sent her photos of the first 29 cranes, made in blue (her favorite color), a celebration of one of the clock hands, which would point at 7 and 29 (29 July, her birthday). I considered this to be a pinnacle of romantic gestures. She never spoke to me again. It would be many weeks before I finally came to realize that she had no interest in continuing a relationship with me. She became a ghost in my eyes.

I had spent all this energy focused on a life with her, but I never really put much thought into what I wanted. As I folded crane after crane, I endured strong emotions. I sometimes crushed a partially finished bird or ripped it apart and threw the pieces in the air, frustrated with my memory of her. Eventually, those thoughts faded, and I found serenity in the cranes once again. When I folded the last crane, I wrote my wish inside, to be lost in the thousand.

Japanese legend says the crane spirit will grant a wish to anyone who folds one thousand origami cranes.

It is unclear whether this wish is to be kept secret. I prefer to keep it secret here, sharing it with a precious few. What I will share is the journey along the path to my final wish.IMG_1519.jpg

The Unselfish Path

When seeking a wish from a presumed deity from a religion I do not follow, I had no real frame of reference. At first, I considered wishes like “world peace,” but that quickly became obviously broad and unrealistic. Also, I find that one especially ambiguous, as if “world” implies “the world we live in” and not some other planet. I also find the word “peace” especially concerning in this vague context, as it could easily be interpreted as “compliant in response to overwhelming oppression.” That seemed like a terrible end to bestow upon someone, certainly when intending to do something good for others.

So, world peace is out. Let’s aim smaller. The wish granted by the crane spirit is often described as general health of loved ones or specific prayers for one person. This part was the hardest. I began to wish vision and/or understanding upon a specific person, namely my lost great love. I was convinced that if she simply understood things more clearly, she would see the glory of a life with me. After meditating on this for a good long time (maybe 200 cranes worth; I began to think of them as meditation currency), I found that the universal benefit of wishing for anything like love was in this case exactly zero. After we’re both dead, any love we feel – for each other or otherwise – dies with us. That imparts exactly nothing to the greater good.IMG_1509

I can’t wish for a bigger television. I can’t wish for world peace. I can’t bring back the dead or make someone love me or anyone else. I can’t even wish that wishes were easier to choose! I need something bigger than myself, but not so big that it’s unrealistic. In the end, I settled on a mantra, something I can champion throughout my life and share with others who agree with the philosophy. In choosing a mantra as my wish, I gained an appreciation for the fallacy in the nature of reward.

I began this journey hoping to earn something, hoping to prove something. Now that I’ve completed it, I see that I earned nothing and proved nothing. And in the process I learned a little something about everything. It was never about my wish. It was never for love. It was about the devotion I invested into this one task, about taking an active role in my own future.

I now have this amazing tapestry on display in my home, woven from a thousand origami cranes. As it formed and changed, it was made stronger and more beautiful, annealed through the forge of time. I find it fitting that the tapestry’s final shape is a shield with two mirrored birds, flying through each other. To me, it represents the duality and independence of love, two fierce creatures seeking a balance between freedom and companionship.


Now, I share it with you on this anniversary of my birth. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has brought me, this year and for many years to come. 🎁

I’m In Love With a Ghost

5 Nov 2014

I saw your photograph today. You looked happy. I want to be happy for you, but I’m not. I want to understand why you torture me with your words. Confusion is a word I have used often since I last saw you. You looked in my eyes and said “I love you” and you meant it. You could have said “I always thought you were a coward,” and still your heart would have betrayed your lying mouth. It shines brighter than a thousand suns, so brightly that no shadow of doubt can remain. Yet shadows of your ghost haunt me every time I think of your face since that day. I wake up on chilly mornings, and my soul reaches out for a fleeting moment, hoping you slipped into my bed in the night, like so many times before. I want so much to be surprised by the feeling of your warm soft skin, pressing into me and shying away from the crisp morning air; to wrap you up in the cotton wool of my heart as we did on so many mornings, as we watch the sun rise over the bay.

I miss you like you died. I can’t touch you or smell your hair or feel the depth of your love radiating from your chest. All I have is images of your smiling face in my social media stream, reminding me that you’re not in jail or laying in a hospital bed. And still, I see in your actions no evidence of this love we share. One singular response, telling me it was fun but you’ve moved on. Two words, to let me live in peace: “fuck off,” but all I see is empty space. All I hear is the devastating ambiguity of silence, like an echo chamber for both hope and despair; a cruel joke, and no one’s laughing, not even you.

All those nights I sang you to sleep, all those nights I dragged my fingers gently along the contours of your body, all those times I satisfied your corporeal hunger or soothed the savagery of your menses with laughter, love, and lust; and in the end, you reciprocate with a big fat slice of nothing. In a few rare moments of clarity, you told me how much you appreciated all that I do for you, but there was always something missing. You have such a rich capacity for love and joy, and you share it with all who are worthy of your presence, yet you keep me at twice the distance of a random beggar on the street. What you give so easily to others, you make me earn every inch and then judge me for it.

So I live my life, resigned to know that one day I will wake up and not feel this distance I feel now. It won’t be because you’re in my arms. It will be because our love faded through apathy, a withered rose neglected by an absent gardener. For, even fertile soil and bountiful rivers can not overcome the stale tide of neglect, a monument to callous indifference.

22 Dec 2014

My heart nearly leapt from my chest when I saw your name on my phone. You were calling to wish me a happy birthday and to thank me for the flowers I sent you. We hadn’t spoken in months. I was shocked, as I expected never to hear from you again. The flowers were one last romantic gesture, hoping to remind you of the love we share and how important it is to show that love. You cried as we talked, told me stories of your sadness, how lonely you feel, how much you wish you had someone to hold you on those lonely nights. It hurts every time I hear you say that, as I want to be there with you every night. I know how hard it must have been for you when I moved away. We made plans to spend time together when in California.

Days passed. I reached out to you the day you were flying into town, invited you to an adorable tea shop near your hotel. As with so many text messages before, I received no reply. The next day, you invited me to an event related to your conference; an Ignite event, like those we have attended in the past, both as speakers and attendees. You were so excited to see me. We talked all night, caught up on some of the things we’re doing in our professional lives. We went to a speakeasy for a drink. On our way, we stopped for a smoke, huddled in a cubby hole in the wall on the street, trying to get away from the rain. As we walked back to your hotel, you felt distant, yet connected.

Just like all those times before, I rubbed your neck and back, as your stress melted away. You turned to face me, and I ran my fingers through your hair. You kissed me, and like so many times before, we made love for hours. You fell asleep in my arms and snored softly in my ear, something I cherish very much. We awoke to the foggy sunrise over the city, and made love again.

When it was time for me to go, you walked me to the elevator, held me close, in what I have come to understand as the “don’t ever leave me” hug. You thanked me for a wonderful night, kissed me, and said “now you know how to find me.” It was the happiest day of my life.

That day, I reached out to have dinner with you, but I received no reply. The next day, I invited you to a Cirque du Soleil show, but I received no reply, so I stopped by your hotel. I will never know why you felt threatened by my presence that night. I only sought to spend time with the woman I love, to take you out for a night on the town. I only ever want to treat you like the amazing woman you are, to surrender myself to you and bask in the glow of our collective hearts, beating in time with each other. I respected your space and went to spend time with a friend, knowing you would reach out if you wanted to get together. I thought you wanted to spend time with me, but now I’ll never see you again. You left the next day without saying goodbye.

I wanted so much to leave things on good terms, but you made that impossible. So, it’s over. I want you to be happy, and you seem so happy with me, but something is always missing. And that something is you. I don’t know exactly when I lost you, but you’re gone forever. I hope you find happiness. You’ll always be my number one bird. Fly and be free.

Love, Loss, and the Awesome Power of Choice

I’ve written several times over the last few years about relationships, love, and loss. I’ve had what seemed like great lovers, only to realize they aren’t and never really were. I’ve dated women who seemed interested, only to find they weren’t willing to give as much as they take. One lover in particular has inspired this piece, and I doubt she’ll ever read it (a testament to how little she cares). If she does, maybe it will help her understand my point of view a little better. If not, so be it. This is not about her. It’s about me.

As of today, I am abstaining from the chase.

I don’t anticipate giving up on dating entirely and living a monk’s celibate life. I like intimacy and sex way too much to do that. Instead, I’m deciding not to try anymore. I’m finally taking the advice I’ve heard over and over for years: “you try too hard. just let it happen naturally.”

After all this time, I finally understand what that means. I thought for many years I could never take this advice because it felt like every fiber of my soul was screaming things like “don’t give up!” and “nothing happens when you make no effort.” While I still agree with those feelings, I must acknowledge that many of my past relationships have been unbalanced, almost one-sided. I do so much to fuel the fire that my lover stops doing anything, once they believe they no longer need to try. This is what many people refer to as “taking someone for granted,” and anyone who has experienced this will know how it feels once this line is crossed. Respect is lost, and there’s no going back.

My friends, my family, and even strangers I meet randomly in the world, when told the stories of my struggles, universally say this:

“Fuck that noise! She doesn’t know what she has. You’re ready for something real and she’s just a party girl. When she turns 40 and looks around to see the bunch of 20-somethings she has for friends, if she has that at all, she’ll see what she lost.”

My rational solution-finding brain tells me to attempt to avoid this outcome through communication and compassion. I want to talk about it, hug it out, and reach mutual understanding. The reality is simple – there is no problem to be solved. I’ve manufactured a problem because that’s the only way I can make sense of the irrational behavior I observe.

About a year ago, when I first started into a rough patch with my girlfriend, my mother gave me the following advice: “walk away at the first sign of trouble.” My natural reaction to conflict has always been to try to find middle ground. At the time, I was going through some highly stressful drama, and my girlfriend told me she couldn’t handle it and wanted a break. Basically, at the peak of my struggle, when I needed support most, she bailed.

My unbearably predictable reaction was to negotiate. I didn’t want her to leave because I loved her. I tried to find a way to understand her needs, sacrificing mine in the process, thus doubling down on my stress in a gamble for my happiness; I lost the bet. What she did was an awful thing to do, especially to someone you love. I knew it then, as I know it now. I was hurt by her casual disregard for my needs. It took the better part of a year to realize this, but now I can say with certainty she didn’t love me. It was a word she used to control my behavior to get what she wanted. I doubt she was conscious of it, but that’s exactly what it was. Like others before her, she used me to get something she wanted.

Today, I draw a line in the sand. No more of that. There is such power in choice. The act of standing up for a belief is exciting and engaging. People spend their whole lives choosing from the options in front of them instead of finding more options. When you don’t like the options, make new ones. I don’t like feeling like I’m always chasing, so I choose not to chase. As my best advice to guys who struggle with dating has always been “be the pretty girl, and let them come to you,” I’m finally taking my own advice.

Do I still love her? Yes. Did we have some great times? Absolutely. Is it worth sacrificing my needs to spend time with her? Fuck no! And this goes for everyone I’ll ever meet.

My new plan is not to have a plan; to live fully in every experience, invest emotionally and intellectually, and walk away when it’s not what I want. It’s a terrifying and brilliant future, so far outside my comfort zone that I will be forced to be comfortable. I can’t wait🙂

Why Text Message Read Receipts Are So Important

Remember that time you received a text message from your crush? You thought to yourself,

“oh no, I don’t want to appear desperate and reply right away. shit, how long am I supposed to wait before sending a reply?? oh shit! I forgot to turn read receipts off on my new iPhone! they already know I saw this message… what will they think if I don’t answer?? surely, I must never speak to them again. so embarrassing!”

Me neither.

A cursory scan of Google results for “text message read receipts” yields something I might have expected from a trashy teen romance novel about vampires. (why are they always about vampires?!) The top results are blog posts imploring you to turn off your read receipts, lest you be transparent to your potential friends. It’s almost as if being clear and straight-forward about your intentions is a sure-fire way to lose friends and be labeled a loser.

If Google is to be believed, the status quo has devolved into a sea of people neurotically manufacturing reasons why they didn’t reply to a text message immediately. The most common reason seems to rely on an overt lie:

“oh, I didn’t see your text message.”

While many people appear to agree with this approach, they may not realize it sends a different message than they might intend. By choosing the path of active misinformation, they accidentally send this message instead:

“I don’t respect you enough to be honest about my interactions with you.”

The reason I turn on read receipts, and also why I have great respect for the friends who do the same, is quite simple. I may take time to compose a response after receiving a message from someone, sometimes hours or even days later. But I’m not worried if they think I’m dead or in jail or that they’ll think I don’t like them anymore when I don’t respond within a few minutes. They are confident in our relationship and trust that I will honor them with a response eventually. They understand I am a respectful and thoughtful person who genuinely tells people when I don’t want to interact with them, that I am direct and honest in my communication with others. They are compassionate souls who empathize with the perpetual state of being busy with work and life. Like most people, they just want to know if I saw the message.

And if they don’t receive a read receipt from me, letting them know I saw the message, when it’s urgent, they pick up the phone and call me. And if I can, I answer, because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. I don’t always answer, but I always make time to return the call. Because it matters to me that they understand how much I respect them.

Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside, it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them. Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

Zen and the Art of Elevator Repair

It turns out earthquakes have a funny way of shaking things up. Puns aside, this is a far deeper and more spiritual sentence than you might think. Early this morning, I awoke to the gentle rocking motion of my second floor top bunk. I’m staying in a hostel for startup nerds in San Francisco, while I wait patiently for my first paycheck from a new job. Without said paycheck and its included signing bonus, I will not be able to afford a luxury refrigerator box (gently used) under the I-280 overpass, let alone a tiny studio apartment within walking distance of my new office.

This was my first earthquake experience, and I must say it was “A++++ would ride again!!!!11!one” After a few seconds of realizing I was not, in fact, dreaming the whole thing, I lay in my bunk evaluating my options. I could hear people in the common area considering running outside to avoid the imminent collapse of the building. As a diagnostician and engineer, I feel qualified to assess the imminence of said collapse, as well as the logistics of the ensuing chaos.

Sure, there would be trouble if the building came apart. That much is clear. It would certainly make my transition period more challenging; damned inconvenient, really, given the current state of my credit card and bank account balance. Still, I took solace in my assessment, surmising that there would be less building to fall on my head if I were to stay on the second floor than if I vaulted from my bunk and sprinted down the stairs, attempting to make it outside before the ceiling did. Then, there was the nagging little problem of my belongings.

Part of my assessment included the time it might take to gather my essentials. Laptop was first on my list. I can fish my clothes out of the rubble. The laptop seems unlikely to survive. Also, I can sell the laptop to buy more clothes, or at least trade it for an Uber ride to a friend’s house and/or an AirBnB for a few nights. The laptop is also fairly easy to carry, as it is already conveniently in a backpack, ready to go on a moment’s notice. After about twenty seconds of evaluation, including anecdotal reports from the other occupants, I concluded that my time was best spent tweeting about the experience.

I considered tagging USGS in the tweet, but immediately decided against that, presuming (incorrectly, as it turns out) that their Tweet Earthquake Detection (TED) system was already aggregating data from others in the area. Hours later, I would learn that the TED system was sadly offline at the time of the event. Instead, I chose one of my favorite half-snarky announcement styles, as follows:

“Achievement unlocked! Woken up by earthquake”

I briefly considered using the word “survived” in the tweet, but I thought better of that. What supreme irony to be accidentally overly optimistic in a tweet about my first earthquake… I feel good about this decision. By the time I had found my phone and brought up the twitter app, the earthquake was over. So I sent the tweet and went back to sleep. Later in the morning, after I awoke at my usual time of 7:29am, I began reviewing notification activity on my phone, as I do every morning. I had a few text messages and twitter alerts from concerned friends. I went on to review photos posted by others affected more severely by the earthquake. Let’s just say Napa Valley wines are going to be expensive this year. I especially loved the photo of a skateboarder catching some wicked air on a ramp formed by the recently reorganized road surface. How perfectly California!

Shortly after making sure my parents knew I was still alive, I went on with my day of email review and video gaming as an effective means of procrastination. In my email, I discovered a curious message from someone at the office. As a result of the earthquake, the elevators had sent themselves to the ground floor and locked out the controls. The express elevators to the upper floors (where our office is located) would not be operational until an elevator technician came to reset them. I imagined myself as an elevator technician for a moment, thinking how boring that job must be, except on days like today, when suddenly you’re the most important person in the lives of thousands of people, desperately hoping you won’t make it to their building, so they can take the day off tomorrow to get stoned in the park, like any self-respecting Californian.

Strength in Chaos

Have you ever been so close to the edge that you no longer know how to tell whether you’ve crossed it? It’s a hard thing to live this way, yet this is all I’ve known for years. When your credit cards are maxed out and the only thing you have is the cash in your wallet, it’s a paralyzing feeling just to pay a bar tab. There’s a certain panic in spending 60% of your available wealth on two beers and a stack of potato fries. Sure, you play off the declined credit card as an oversight, but deep down, you know just how close you are to oblivion.

It’s easy to see how such a situation might cripple anyone. Still, there’s a strength to be found in all that chaos and uncertainty. If you can look past the debilitating rejection of having tens of thousands of dollars of credit, all stretched to their full extent, you find yourself in a peace known to few. I imagine it feels something like drowning. Despite the sudden onset of declined credit transactions, there’s a looming catastrophic quality to the experience, like watching the boulder from afar as it tumbles down the hillside toward your imminent demise.

I envision it like kayaking over a waterfall. Sure, I could keep a constant pulse, checking in with the sherpa shouting from the shore, waving his arms madly in a futile attempt to inspire me to paddle toward the dock. Instead, I find solace in the knowledge that there is more to learn in the quick trip over the edge than I could ever hope to encounter in the safety of knowing that there is another force dragging my boat. Whether I measure it or not, I’m going past the event horizon. I can not know the terror that awaits me, nor could I ever embrace its totality. Still, I close my eyes and sing to myself sweet songs of my inevitable victory.

You may call it foolish or even insane, and you’d be right. In describing the audacity of hope, you will inevitably find yourself questioning the basic fundamentals of what it means to live. I promise I don’t have any answers you want to hear. Frankly, there have been as many times as not that I’ve wondered how much easier it would be to flip my boat and drift away in serene aquatic asphyxiation. But I’m not interested in that death. I have far too much to contribute to this world to seek that path.

I’m not done with this life after these 36yrs. I’m doubling down. I’m ready for another 72, and I’m willing to bet that at the end of all those years, I’ll do it again, if for no other reason than to dare the universe to give me a thousand times more hardship than I’ve faced in these 36yrs. If I can survive this chaos and use it as a source of continued strength, another hundred years will only serve to anneal my heart and soul that much more. I no longer believe there is anything the universe could throw at me that I could not use to grow stronger. And that is the most peaceful feeling I could ever hope for.