Jan 212013

Stinson Beach on my birthdayToday I’m turning 38. Mai got up at dawn and is on her way to the office. When she asked me a few weeks ago what I wanted for my birthday the answer was easy: getting together with a small group of friends, sharing a good dinner and going dancing in a club. I look at my watch: 8.15am. The party starts in 705 minutes (or 42,300 seconds). I sit at the desk and begin my morning ritual, laying on paper last night’s dreams and this morning’s thoughts and emotions. What do I feel like doing today? I haven’t seen the Ocean up close in months, and I miss it. The crashing sound of the surf, the feeling of the marine breeze on my skin, the soft warmth of a winter sun… Manly yawns and Biela gives me her mind-control stare. These dogs have a clear way of making me understand it’s walk time.

On the flank of Tank Hill lays a patch of grass, dirt and rocks with a priceless view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific coast beyond: this is where my dogs take their human on a walk twice a day. A man dressed in black is sitting on the spot where I usually hang out and take in the view while Manly and Biela sniff around, run around, and go about their canine business. What is this guy doing here? This is MY secret spot, MY view, MY morning treasure. I ignore him and stay at a distance, waiting for the intruder to leave.

He stays.

“Hey brother, do you know what that first point is, the one we can see over there?” The man raises his finger towards the horizon, just beyond the North end of the famous red bridge that has become a symbol of The City I call home. I look around, hoping the stranger is talking to someone else, but there’s no one else in sight.

ME: “I’m not sure. Maybe it’s Point Reyes.”
MAN: “You think so?”
I get closer to him and observe the Pacific coast, trying to answer this simple question about a landscape that’s been right here in front of my eyes twice a day for the past six months. I’ve never wondered about this before.
ME: “Actually no: Point Reyes is further North. It could be Stinson Beach.”
MAN: “Oh yes, I think you’re right. It must be Stinson.”
ME: “…”
MAN: “Tomorrow’s my birthday, and it’s the first time I have weather like this.”
ME: “…”
MAN: “You know, normally it’s cold and rainy.”
ME: “…”
MAN: “I’m thinking of going to Stinson tomorrow. I have friends there and I haven’t seen them for a long time.”
I don’t believe in coincidences: there’s a reason why this stranger is crossing my path today.
ME: “Good idea. Actually my birthday is today and I’m thinking of going to the beach too.”
MAN: “Really, yours is today? Happy birthday brother!”
ME: “Thanks. Happy birthday to you too.”
MAN: “I’m Adam.” He smiles, unbothered by several missing teeth, and holds out his hand. I shake it.
ME: “Nice to meet you. I’m Cedric.”
ADAM: “Nice to meet you.”
ME: “…”
ADAM: “…”
ME: “…”
ADAM: “I just need to figure how to get the money.”
He said these words softly, his eyes set on the horizon. It seems he’s talking to himself. The dogs are now sitting on our side; they like Adam. He’s petting Biela gently; I do the same with Manly.
ME: “How much do they charge for a bus ticket to Stinson?”
ADAM: “I don’t know, maybe $7.50 each way, something like that.”
I take a $20 bill out of my wallet and hand it to him.
ME: “Happy Birthday Adam. Please go to Stinson and visit your friends.”
He hesitates for a few seconds before taking the bill, smiling his toothless smile.
ADAM: “Really? Thank you brother. Thank you.”

So many times have I started a day with good intentions that never turned into actions… like picking the guitar that has been feeling so lonely in a corner of my office these past few months, like walking in the forest instead of staying stuck on Facebook. Like going to the beach.

Not today.

Today Adam was here to remind me how lucky I am to have the means to do so many of the things I like. It’s so easy to get caught into a routine and give up on the simple things that give us joy. Today I’m giving myself some time off. Today I’m opening the convertible top, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and driving on California Highway 1, along the Pacific Ocean.

Today I’m going to Stinson Beach. Thank you Adam.

Cedric, 1/20/13

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Aug 252012

Snacks: check! Beer: check! Flashlights: check! Wood: check! Two moving boxes full of paper: check! This is no ordinary bonfire; tonight a chunk of our pasts shall burn to ashes.

A true pack rat, I would conscientiously hold on to all sorts of papers: bank statements, sports club bills, medical statements, frequent flier documents, HOA meeting notes, receipts, warranty cards, paystubs, expense reports, the list goes on and on. After the end of each year I would take a guilty pleasure in going through the stash of accumulated papers, sorting them, putting them in folders and filing them away in an archive box. I would then affix it with a subtle label like “Cedric 2009”. Archiving was such serious business that I had to buy an office-grade labeling machine. The day I brought it home, carried away by my enthusiasm, I printed professional-looking labels for each drawer in the house, for the trash containers (“recycling”, “compost”, “landfill”) and even for the dog food bucket (we’ve never inadvertently eaten the pooches’ kibble but one is never careful enough). Each archive box, once labeled, would join its friends on a shelf inside a closet and add a few pounds to the ever-growing weight of my history on this planet.

Offshore wind gushes and sweeps the sand on Ocean Beach. We forgot to bring lighter fluid. We have no screen to protect the nascent fire from the gusty wind that instantly puts it off. Like three rookies, Mai, Lee and I take turns trying to cuddle a spark long enough to get this bonfire started. Fortunately I married a Fire Dragon, and Mai’s astrological sign comes with a touch of magic: her sheer willpower feeds the sparks, turns them into a fire and nurtures it until our written past is engulfed in flames.

These burning archives make for a hypnotizing show. Each paper holds an invisible leash tying me to the past, to who I once was or what I once did. I can almost hear them screaming “Noooooooo” as they combust in an orange glow before fading to black. With each paper turning to ashes the sense of space and freedom grows in me.

Embers are flying away, spreading fragments of our past over the beach, rushing towards the forest that lies across the street. I imagine tomorrow’s news headlines: “Arsons set Golden Gate Park on fire and sign crime with half-burned business cards.” A silhouette in a uniform emerges from the thick darkness. The park ranger stands in front of us, his face expressionless. “This fire is not acceptable. First, it is not in a fire pit. Second, it is forbidden to burn phone books. Put it off right now! I could fine you for all this.” I open my mouth to clarify that these are not phone books but instead I choose a more prudent reply: “Yes, sir.” We begin throwing sand onto the fire, which immediately causes the ranger to snap: “Sand is not acceptable. You must use water.” We only have one tiny near-empty water bottle and a few beer cans, so Lee asks: “Where is the nearest place to get water?” The man points his arm towards the Pacific Ocean. Water and air temperature: 55 degrees. Although his face remains straight I know the park ranger is grinning inside.

The fire is extinguished. Half carbonized, half melted in salt water, the remains of the paper stack await dawn and the San Francisco garbage collection service. My feet are bare and freezing; my pants are drenched and salty; the wind is howling in the dark of night. While tying my shoelaces I take a deep breath in and enjoy the space within.

The past is dead; it always was; life only exists in the present. I just needed a fire to cleanse my soul and remind me that I must let go.


Cedric, 8/25/2012

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Mar 042012

Life is full of changes. We can’t stop it. At this very moment the world is changing, people are changing. And you are changing too. As always we have a choice: we can either accept it or deny it.

This is particularly striking with relationships. Two people have an affinity based on who they are at a given point in time. A few years later they have changed: what once existed between them is no longer here. They are simply two different people now but they keep hanging on to “the relationship”, in denial of the change that has occurred. They cling to the memory of good times long gone. The relationship has become part of their identity, like an old pair of glasses that doesn’t fit anymore. Now it hurts.

Let go!

Let go of your mental image of the other person: see them as they are now. Let go of your expectations on the relationship: see it as it is now. Let go of your past self: be who you are now. If there is still an affinity, this is the perfect opportunity for a new beginning. If it’s time to move on, do it without anger, blame or judgment. We each need to walk our own path. Sometimes they stick together and sometimes they part. It is no one’s fault: it just is.

Let go!

Because only when we’ve let go of asphyxiated relationships do we have enough space in our soul for new and vibrant relationships. Like a rose bush, trimming allows us to bloom again.


Cedric, 03/04/2012

I dedicate this piece to N. for her courage (she will recognize herself).

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