A triangle is a spiral, and is one energy event
At the Zen Center, no one speaks before the Dharma Talk begins. Everyone just sits quietly, on pillows on the floor or on chairs along the wall, waiting for the soft bell to finish chiming and the reverend Keiryu Lien Shutt to enter. It seems very formal, but by the end I realise these routines probably aren’t there to be limiting, but to put the practicalities into a system so we can focus on more important things. And if someone forgets to bow at the appropriate moment, well that’s just the way things are. During the tour for beginners we learn how to behave in the temple, which follows the Buddhist Soto Zen tradition; what the bells mean, the rules for shoes and bowing, all explained by a soft-spoken, bright-eyed man in a robe. It takes six months just to learned how to sit, explained the reverend, and if you can’t … well that’s just the way it is that day. Keiryu Lien Shutt told us she was adopted to the US when she was eight, having survived the Vietnam war, and now she lives in San Francisco with her girlfriend. She spoke from her low wooden seat, having carefully arranged her robes around her, covering her bare feet. She took her time, her voice soft even when she made us laugh. She spoke about authenticity, about the door swinging in our minds between rejection and acceptance, about how it’s not about striving to be the best little runner … I thought about this as I left, specifically in regards to my chronic almost-lateness, and how I keep feeling like I need to get better. But somehow that doesn’t work, so maybe a different approach is in order. Guilt doesn’t motivate me, but I know that what does is the opportunity to step up. I’m not sure if that’s Zen or not; I was only at the centre for two hours. But as I understand it, Zen is a lot about seeing things as they are, to simply recognise them for what they are. I got the impression of an open and accepting religion, one where a gay minister isn’t just tolerated but no big deal, that there is no reason we should have to beg forgiveness for our very nature at every turn, that the spirit isn’t some far away place out of reach, but something that is everywhere, all the time.
Also on Saturday:
* Momi Tobys Revolution Café in Hayes Valley: espresso, wide cup, ice.
* The Asian Heritage Street Fair: Japanese drummers, dancers from Cambodia and Burma, a palm-leaf wrapped rice and banana sweet from Laos, and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice on ice, slowly melting in the sun. Then a Vietnamese man dragged out a 3,500 year old stone lithophone, proceeding to play what is one of the oldest working instruments in the world, banging the stone slabs with wooden sticks to produce the brittlest, clearest little sounds.
* Food at Spice in the Richmond was wonderful, but nothing beats yesterday’s dinner at Tu Lan in the Tenderloin. The quick, cheap Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall restaurant has sloped floors and flames reaching high over the blackened woks, smoking up the place. Oh wow.
* On Ocean Beach: sun, wind, sand. The Pacific is freezing but the surf is coated in silver. I sat and watched it roll in, thinking that everything they say about California is true.
* I climbed down the hill from the Cliff House to the Sutro Baths, the ruins of a once- grand swimming complex built in 1896. As much as I’d have liked to see it at its prime, there is something wonderful about it the way it is now, left to the birds.
At Maxfields House of Caffeine in the Mission there are big windows, tables and sofas, space to work with good wifi, massive espressos on ice and even goddamn vegan cookies. This is what the world would look like if it were a freelancing paradise with me as its queen.
Today is Sunday, it’s sunny and all I want to do is to go to Dolores Park and lie in it. But one thing. I had a brainwave the other day, and I think it’s the feeling I’ve been circling in on since I got here. And what it is, I think, is that I’m finally started to feel like an adult. As in, it’s been happening over the past year, but only now that I’ve had a moment can I recognise it for what it is. That word means different things to people, but for me it’s about feeling like this life is my own. That I am not floundering aimlessly anymore (controlled floundering is ok!), that I am on track with my work, that I am capable of doing it and other things too, when I put the push on it. That I am at home in this body, that I am able to recognise what I want, along with the confidence to go after it. That I trust my own worth enough to walk away when it’s not right. This is what being an adult means to me, and being here, all by myself, I’m realising I no longer feel like I’m at the dress rehearsal for the real thing. There’s lots more to work out, of course. But it’s happening, right now, and it’s not half bad. Not half bad at all.
[Also today: triangle, ink, energy event.]
Eating the lotus, day by day
So I managed to work until three by not leaving the hostel, before my feet insisted on going to the beach. One Muni Metro ride later and I was in the Sunset, staring up at the hemp-lettered sign at Judahlicious, home of the fabled $9 juice. Of course I was expecting greatness from my glass of Garden Fire, which looked like liquid green meadow when it arrived. So what does greens, lemon, cayenne, bee pollen, apple cider vinegar and sea salt in a cup taste like? Well, I’ve had it and I’m still not sure. First of all, it tastes really GREEN. Like when you chew on grass, but more rich, and juicy, and zingy. It’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever had before. And hotter - the cayenne lined my insides as I drank, still not entirely sure if I actually liked it, but I could feel it reviving my winter-tired body with each sip. I sat on Ocean Beach with my hippie drink, toes deep in hot brown sand as I watched the Pacific roll in. I stared into the sun, thinking maybe I should just stay here.
I stayed indoors today, which felt criminal considering the sunshine, but I really, really had to work. I ate lunch from little paper takeaway boxes, courtesy of last night’s dinner at San Tung in the Sunset: dry-braised chicken wings, coated in a gorgeous sticky-sweet sauce the consistency of tar; and a few vegetable potstickers, the biggest I’ve seen. I went outside for an hour though, just before the sun disappeared, taking a little wander around Chinatown. Spofford Alley, Commercial Street, Waverly Place and Ross Street are all historic alleys, rich with Chinatown history, but perhaps most fascinating is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. This crispy treat was actually invented there in 1906, and visitors can watch as two ladies pick the discs up from the little conveyer, slip the fortune inside and quickly press them into shape before they harden. I went to pick up some Vietnamese dinner at Golden Star, where the portions of five-spice chicken pho and gingered beef will see me through about three meals. “Long life is in store for you,” said my fortune cookie. That’s allright with me, if it’s going to taste like this.