San Francisco – The Columbus Ave Diaries

San Francisco, CA – 3/25/2014

2:10 p.m. – City Lights Bookstore, Columbus Ave

California Flowers - Erin J. Bernard

California Flowers – Erin J. Bernard

Been bumming around this city since Sunday. Today, I got unhappy work-related news over email and it started in on raining. Wet, diffuse stuff that makes your mascara run and your soul grow drowsy. Tired rain.

So I decamped for my favorite city bookstore to hide and regroup. Fumbling through the stacks, I came across Kerouac’s “Big Sur.”

Five days ago, I told E and his folks that it was the kind of book that made me long to live in the mountains and drink jugs of wine and write Haiku. Nevermind that I hate writing poetry and can lately rarely support more than a glass or two of any kind of alcohol.

Some 20 hours ago, on the bus from Haight-Ashbury to Columbus Ave, we met an old hippie who regaled us with stories of traveling to Big Sur as a much younger man to eat drugs and Zen out among The Rewwoods.

“The trees talked to me,” he said, and laughed at himself, or maybe us, or maybe just the remembering.

His cheap sunglasses kept slipping back down his forehead and over his electric blue eyes and the years were cross-hatched into his face like their own kind of beautiful, messy poetry. He was growing a soul patch on his chin. His girlfriend had recently had a baby. He wished us luck before he debarked.

Luck, I need. Feeling too much these days discombobulated and rearranged, and not in the good ways. Lacking focus and art. Beguiled and enormously distractible. It is not a comfortable kind of feeling.

So I brought my sagging body here to hide out among the lonely, lovely, dusty tomes, and happened upon JK’s good old ruminitative, redemptive work. I sat down on an empty upstairs chair bathed in a puddle of weak light to read a page or two, but I opened the book upside-down and felt silly and small, but not in the bad ways, so I sniffed indulgently to myself because life is nothing if not tricky for each and every one of us, and it was then that I remembered this crumpled wad of blank yellow paper in my backpack and decided to jot down a few ideas instead.

So I did, and this here is what came out of my quaking pen. I feel less heavy, now, and better armed for my fighting.

Over and Out,


3:05 p.m. – Reveille Coffee Co., Columbus Ave

Reveille Coffee, San Francisco - Erin J. Bernard

Reveille Coffee, San Francisco – Erin J. Bernard

E asked me what I want to do this afternoon and I told him, “Change my shoes and rest.”

And I thought about it and decided it was really, immutably true in more ways than just the one. A few hours back, we stopped into a shambly Irish pub to catch a bit of a soccer game and I ordered a bloody mary and as I drank, I happened to catch sight of myself in the barback mirror behind the half-emptied bottles of Fernet and Patron and the brass taps and I thought to myself, “I look old.”

Not tired. Not harried. Old.

That is the novel first time in my 32.5 years on this planet that I have ever looked at my own face and thought such a thing. I do not mind how the years have crept up. I am not bothered by the strands of gray hair or the Draconian-Baconian hangovers or the tiny farms of freckles along the topsides of my hands. I like the slowing down, the settling of my skin and the laugh lines around my eyes. I am fiercely proud of the undeniable accumulation of “Is-ness” that these things represent.

But I must remember, now, that my middle-age-ing self requires different care and consideration. Namely: Frequent rests and changings of shoes. I cannot abide a long, dusty road that winds on ahead interminably without the occasional designated off-ramp. I need to slow down. Soggy, worn-down shoes must be patches and hung to dry awhile before sights are set on the next Big Destination.

Change shoes. Rest. Forward. Repeat.

Growing older is sweet as well as bitter. You taste both in sips and swallows as the years ride on by. I feel like my layers just keep peeling off one by one. The hope is that you are getting closer to a truer and more sincere approximation of your genuine self through all that nothing, but this is certainly not promised.

It’s all rather sticky, and demands a bit of gentleness and intentionality. It demands that a person lighten the fuck up. Never easy for a just-in-time perfectionist with low-grade bursts of chronic interiority.

I have worked hard these part few years to go easier on me. When I was younger, I thought to myself:

“Nobody likes me.”

“Everyone is disappointed.”

Then I got older and decided that I didn’t like any of them back, either, so who gave a fair fuck to begin with?

Now I’m groping at a deeper compassion, directed inward and outward both. I want to relax and let people be who they desire to be, myself most of all. I want to care for the things of this world more lovingly. I want to read books and do good work and feed my body delicious things and run marathons and sleep better and eat peaches and call back friends I’ve neglected and draw, even thought I’m not so very good at it. I want to forgive and forget and walk my path with more joy. Even the rainy, soggy parts. Especially those parts.

Change shoes. Rest. Forward. Repeat.



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