November 14, 2014

The Consciousness of Happiness

I've spent a good part of my life contemplating the question of happiness in some form or another—trying to define it, question it, and chase it. In my quest to find answers, I've stumbled across other stories of people who are struggling to find the same thing—and their stories have led me to try to make sense of it all.

I have friends that have quit successful jobs mid-career because they've felt unfulfilled or simply needed time to find themselves. I read a really inspiring blog post about a woman who dared others to take the leap and follow their calling. Turns out, it's way harder than it sounds. But she too, found the courage to quit her successful job to pursue a crazy dream.

Maybe because I'd been thinking about it so much—these stories seemed to reoccur and appear again and again...

I read another article about an unfulfilled New York lawyer who took a break from law to follow the Knicks for year and write about his experience. I read a memoir, The Lost Girls, by Jennifer Bagget, which chronicles the story of three twentysomething Manhattanites who quit their grinding, fast-paced jobs to backpack the world for a year.

I've also met my share of fellow travelers who had a similar story—a British traveler who quit his comfortable job to travel for an undetermined amount of time. An Australian traveler who was experiencing a quarter-life crisis and was trying to figure out his life while hitting the hostel circuit and passing time by commiserating with other strangers in similar state of crisis. In fact, at the time, I was taking a similar trying-to-find-myself journey.

The one commonality that keeps popping up in all of these stories seems to be the need to find meaning. Perhaps outside the confines of our safe, everyday lives there's something urging us to do something extraordinary and live outside ourselves. What that actually means? I haven't quite figured out.

Somehow, seeing and reflecting on this, there's comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in this need to understand, define, and chase happiness. More than that, the feeling of needing to strip down the basic constructs of happiness and understand how its mediated in day-to-day life, seems urgent. I feel like I'm reaching a critical juncture.

But as I write this post, a part of me, can almost hear the retractors lament on how ridiculous and frivolous it all seems. And I this a symptom of my generation? Are we guilty of the "entitlement" label that others have used to describe us or are we simply more conscious of own state of happiness, willing to question it, and not simply accept the status quo?

I've often wondered if these questions tied to the pursuit of happiness—finding a life purpose, fulfillment, etc. were part of a unique social construct. In other words, are they culturally defined? Do people who live in societies with less defined choices also stop to question their path in life in search of something greater? Do they even have the luxury of choice?

Are these questions mediated by a certain degree of wealth and stability? I can't help but think that raising these questions is tied to a sense of privilege. Is my generation too entitled because my parents' generation and the generations before had to sacrifice so much in order for me to enjoy the quality of life I take for granted?

Are people just more vocal about their unhappiness today because of those reasons or am I just more awakened to them because I share a similar dissonance with modern life?

Questions that beget more questions...

March 16, 2014

On the Cusp of Something...

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These past few weeks can be best described as tumultuous. There are major life changes underway, and lately I've found myself in a bit of a tailspin. I was definitely in need of a perspective shift...

Then we had these two unicorn weekends in a row. And when the sun splashes across the city like that, it colors things in a different light. I realized that if I paid close enough attention, that there are signs all around––a big bubble floating up in the big blue sky, a man pedaling by in a Penny-farthing high wheeler bicycle...These were all oddly comforting signs that I chose to interpret as a reminder to appreciate the moments for what they are. Because if we only get one go-around, I plan to make to most out of it.  

Promises I'm making to myself:
  • To never let anyone else define my limitations
  • To always be authentic to myself
  • To take the moments as they come, and to once again, live life with eyes wide open
This marks something of a rebuilding of sorts...I have to remember that I asked for this challenge. I hold steadfast in the belief that to struggle is necessary in facilitating real growth. Something will emerge from this...

March 9, 2014

Paradise Found

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I'm convinced this is one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area, and places like this are meant to be shared...

It's only a 40-minute drive outside of the city, yet as soon as I arrived I felt transported. Green hills, rugged coastline, and a touch of whimsy–it's hard not to feel a bit lighter. 

Steep Ravine Campground is one of those special places that will transform your state of mind. If you love nature and the sea, this is your perfect campground. Even if you don't love nature, I'm convinced this will change your mind. And if camping isn't your style, there are also cabins for rent. 

The campground is cleverly hidden so that even driving by on your way to Stinson, you're likely to zip past this spot on highway 1 without knowing that it even exists. The gate is kept locked and a combination is required for access. The steep, curved road then gives way to a seaside cliff overlooking a rugged beach. It's wild, green, and if you're lucky enough to come in the right season, you'll see the lilies in bloom and the hummingbirds fluttering. 

The campsites are spread far enough apart so that you can pretend you have a piece of paradise all to yourself. There are small trails that lead to a stony beach below. Follow the coastline north, and you'll find some magnificent, climbable's nature's perfect playground. 

June 7, 2013

Graffiti of the Mind

It's been a long time since I've felt compelled to write or sketch anything. For a while I wondered if that part of me was just gone. Lost.

I sort of accepted that the nature of the creative process is that it ebbs and flows, and that I was stuck in a serious creative drought.

Then today, on a late night train coming back from the east bay, something happened–I had idle time to think. My mind was relaxed, and for once I felt the urge to put pen to paper. Lately I've been so hyper-focused on a million other things that I somehow just disengaged with that part of myself.

What happens in between dreams? How do I find my way back to the end of the rainbow? If I never stop to question the path I'm on, does it mean I'm steadfast in my decisions and satisfied with my life's course, or foolish for not thinking there could be other possibilities? 

April 9, 2013

No Brakes: Learning to Ski

I hate the cold. I dread the weather anytime it falls below 70. Really, I don't know how I ended up in the Bay Area. For reasons of weather alone, I have a strong distaste for alpine sports. Ice climbing, snowboarding, skiing, igloo digging--I've generally made it a point to avoid anything with the word "snow" or "ice" in it. Then I met someone who was obsessed with skiing, so I became a reluctant skier...and that's how the story goes.

The first three days really sucked. I sucked. The snow sucked. I forgot how hard it was learning a new sport. But I like a challenge and I'm competitive with myself. And like anything else, as you put in the time, it eventually gets better. I'm not sure how I went from there to loving it, but somewhere along the way it happened. It clicked. Snow and me are still not friends. I do understand the pull though. And I'm strangely fascinated by how the mind works in adrenaline inducing situations. What can I say? It draws me. If falling headfirst down the mountainside doesn't deter me, I'm not sure what will.  

April 13, 2012

Bouldering Ring Mountain

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Tiburon, CA

My newest favorite bouldering spot...just across the bay. It doesn't get much better than this--beautiful views and an unobstructed fall zone.

I needlessly got lost on the way over, when actually, this is just a quick jaunt from San Francisco. Take the Paradise Rd. exit off the 101, and continue on Paradise Rd. until you get to Taylor (which is not a through street). Don't let the residential area throw you off. Ring Mountain is an open space preserve with access points at the top and bottom of the hill. When you see a bunch of parked cars on the side of the road, you'll know you're in the right place. The parking that's closer to bouldering is at the top of the hill in a residential neighborhood via Taylor. How lucky some people are to have this spot in their backyard!

There are two great spots for bouldering at Ring Mountain: Split Rock and Turtle Rock. Split rock has some easy free climbing, and a nice spot to set up natural anchors for sport routes. Turtle rock has the gorgeous views and a variety of interesting traverse and high top outs. The rock has enough interesting features to keep you occupied.


March 2, 2012

The Travel Bug and Work-Life Balance

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I became afflicted with the illness long before I could put a name to it. I think I was seven. At that point, I hadn't even been on my first plane trip, but family road trips that stretched across the golden state or other parts of the western coast were enough to inspire that feeling of adventure. As a kid, I remember experiencing that jolt of excitement just from being in a new place. Somewhere during that time I became hooked, and since then, every attempt to shed that urge of wanderlust has been met with failure. I used to believe that one epic trip could cure it--or at least calm the urgency, but as my traveling companion, Fia, and I have discussed, more travel only seems to feed the beast.

I still remember writing those prompts in school that always began something like: Ten years from now I hope to... And while most kids had loftier ambitions of becoming doctors who found a cure for cancer or movie stars or pro baseball players, mine were often vague statements that ended with some desire to travel and see the world. Reflecting back on the places I've been and the things that I've been fortunate enough to experience, I marvel at how true to form those words on a piece of paper have turned out to be. In many ways, I feel that my life has been a constant journey of self-discovery with a continuous and unpredictable bend in the road.

In college, I graduated from family trips to backpacking on my own or with friends. I was constantly occupied with thoughts about my next destination and how to make it happen. My parents threw a fit when I announced I was going on my first solo journey, but I think on some level, they probably knew that they set the whole thing in motion years ago--and that my gypsy-blood and spirit of exploration partially came from them. Over the years, they've mellowed out, which is a good thing...because if they only knew...

It's taken some reflection to condense all of my feelings and thoughts into a singular travel philosophy, so this my attempt: I feel like travel is one part culinary discovery (trying the local cuisine), one part cultural experience (immersing yourself in a new language and strange customs, appreciating the architecture, the music, the art), one part sensory confusion (experiencing the beauty of the newness), one part unavoidable mishaps (because those end up making the best stories) and another part the people encountered en-route (because certain people you come across will leave an indelible impression or inspire you with first or second-hand stories that blow your mind).

When I meet people who share a similar philosophy or have the travel bug, I'm quick to recognize it because they have that same look in their eyes--halfway between crazy and wild excitement. Occasionally, I'll run into someone with fantastic stories from the road, and that feeling of restlessness intensifies out of nowhere. It's funny how that works--the travel bug can be dormant for so long, and then those symptoms of yearning for the road and restlessness start to set in. In fact, that's what's inspired this lengthy introspective post.

My friend introduced me to her friend, and the common threads between all of us were a love for climbing and an addiction to travel, so naturally after a night of climbing, the four of us ended up in a little North Beach cafe drinking coffee and sharing desserts. His stories--told with such vivid details--kept us enraptured and stirred renewed feelings of wanderlust. He talked about his trip to North Korea where he ran a self-created marathon in the parking lot, which sounds completely ridiculous, but as he recounted his adventures and continued to entertain us with his stories, I found myself connecting more to what translated as his need to push boundaries and experience something different. Here was a guy who had run 250 miles across Cuba with a twenty-five pound pack and a gallon-sized jug of water! Something about being surrounded  by people like that--people who I haven't encountered since my travels--rekindled my restlessness and pushed the "I-need-to-go-somewhere" button to a new level of urgency. It also made me deeply question my direction in life--where I'm going and where I want to be in ten years. It's funny because I was never a big fan of that question...

I think most people infected with the travel bug all wonder the same thing at a certain point--we all question it. I constantly waver between living in the moment and toeing the line of a path that feels more conventional. Tonight I was reminded of that same internal tug-of-war battle. Part of the issue stems from meeting people who have lived on opposite ends of the spectrum. One person I remember distinctly because he was so committed to that American brand of success--the right education that turns into a fast-track career that leads to a house in the suburbs with two kids. The other person lived an outwardly exciting life of exotic destinations and never ending adventures that resulted in a string of short-lived relationships and no place to call home. In the end, they each envied the life that they didn't have, or at least wondered...So now I wonder, is regret the life not lived, or is it possible to have both? The more I think about it, the more I think the answer is balance. Finding that happy medium where you can balance responsibility with adventure seems to be the real challenge. There's a sticker on my computer monitor at work that reads "work-life balance." I wonder if I will ever find that. 

I also feel like I'm reaching a turning point in my life where new priorities have once again jumbled that path of clarity...color me befuddled. Someday, I will pin down this work-life balance thing. But for now, it's back to work.

January 4, 2012

Whispers from the Desert

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Nature and its raw beauty...We pulled over to the side of the road, and behind us was a sunset with such vibrant intensity that it felt almost otherworldly. Winter camping in Death Valley is filled with open skies, beautiful sunsets, starry nights and landscapes that seem to stretch to infinity.

We spent four days camping at Furnace Creek. The temperature dropped to the mid 30s in the middle of the night--chilly mornings, but comfortable daytime temperatures. Death Valley is so big--We logged a lot of driving miles, hopping from one scenic point to the next. The salt flats were probably my favorite.

August 23, 2011

April 23, 2011

SF Underground Market

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We went to the SF Underground Market where we got to sample some some fantastically inventive culinary creations.  In the spirit of pop-up restaurants and the food truck sensation, the underground market is a way to bring backyard and home-kitchen style cooking right to the people, giving aspiring chefs the chance to share their food with the public without needing commercial grade facilities.

Concept-wise the underground market is nothing short of brilliant.  Here's the way it works: Everyone who wants to attend these events has to sign up as a member.  Sign-up is quick and painless, only requiring an email address and acknowledgment of the indemnification agreement.  A date is set and a venue is rented out for the event.  This last time it was held at the Public Works building in the Mission. 

There's a $5 cover charge at the door, and once inside you can pick and choose what kind of food and treats you want to buy.  The different booths had food ranging from $3 - $6, and portion sizes were generous.  We bought several different dishes to share amongst the three of us, and found ourselves happily stuffed after only a handful of different plates.
My favorite food of the night was the duck gnocchi, the rabbit stew, and the chocolate and pistachio bread pudding.  The Dungeness Crab tostados looked good too, but there were so many other things we didn't get to try. 

I really wanted to eat the duck.

The Public Works building isn't enormous, but the Forage SF crew managed to pack a lot into a small space: two floors of vendors, scattered tables and seating, a stage with a live band, two full bars, and the art gallery (for additional seating), as well as the back patio with outdoor seating and a couple more vendors.  

Come early to avoid the long line that wraps around the building.  And once inside, tag-team the lines to get your food because as the night goes on, the lines only get longer.

Chrissy & Lisa

January 29, 2011

Alamere Falls Hike

I thought places like this only existed in dreams...

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Alamere Falls is my new favorite hike--with a waterfall that breaks right onto the beach, miles of rugged coastline, mossy-green covered trails, and scenic panoramic views--it's my recipe for a perfect hike. The only thing that was missing was the sun.  But even the dense fog and the rain that rolled in couldn't damper our mood when we finally made it to the falls. 

Getting to the trailhead was a mission in itself.  Located about an hour's drive from San Francisco, the hike starts at the Palomarin trailhead in an unmarked dirt parking lot at Point Reyes National Seashore.  It's accessed by the 1-Coast Hwy, criss-crossing roads that are so winding they look like they belong in a high performance car commercial. We overshot Olema-Bolinas Road looking for a street sign that didn't exist, and serendipitously ended up at a turnout with another lost car looking for the same road. A friendly hiker gave us a trail map, and we were able to find the unmarked road.

The hike itself is an easy 8-mile R/T trek with sweeping views of the ocean on one side and verdant eucalyptus groves on the other.  We encountered a lot of salamanders and banana slugs on the wet trail.  By the time we reached the falls, we got a brief reprieve from the rain and fog, and we timed it just right to be on the beach at low tide.  

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How to get there:

(From SF) Take the 101 to Hwy-1 North toward Stinson Beach.  Continue on Hwy 1, and make a left on Olema-Bolinas Rd. If you miss this unmarked street, the next available left is Horseshoe Hill Rd.  Both streets meet up, so you can take either road.    Turn right on Mesa Rd. past the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.  The road turns into a dirt road that leads to a small parking lot, and the beginning of the Palomarin trailhead.  (No Adventure Pass or parking permit is needed)


Stay on the main path that follows the coast.  Where the trail forks, follow the sign toward Wildcat Camp.  There will be a sign for a detour to the Alamere Falls Trail on the left.  The sign cautions hikers that the trail is dangerous and unmaintained, but it's actually fairly well-traveled and even the rocky scramble down to the falls didn't seem too treacherous.  

January 17, 2011

a weekend away from the fog

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Living in the Bay has made me sun-starved.  I'm tired of sweaters and jackets and spontaneous downpours.  I miss living in sandals year-round, real beaches, and the vivid blues and greens that make everything seem alive.  How rejuvenating it was to be back for a So Cal weekend in mid-January that felt like summer!  On Saturday I was grinning like an idiot all day just because the sunshine made me happy--I couldn't help myself.  I guess it is the simple things that really matter to me...

Around the corner was this beach.  In the mornings, I went for bare-foot jogs--loving that feeling of the sand under my toes.  I watched the surfers paddle out past the breaks, did cartwheels in the sand, and just tried to soak it all in.