Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Divine Post-Its

This is what I want to believe: There are messages written all over the world that are meant for each of us, for our own eyes, for just the right time.

It's like when you pull a book off the shelf while dusting and happen to open to the dog-eared corner of the page that holds the poem you first fell in love to, and nudged in the crease of that page is the receipt of two glasses of sangria from last December and the address of an old friend you've since lost. The next thing you know, you've stumbled back into yourself, into your memory, into your own heart.

I'm trying to do a better job of noticing these little divine post-its. Sometimes I leave things on purpose for myself to find - in books, journals, handbags, my guitar case. More often though, I comb the streets of my city to see what others are leaving. After all, these street messages are meant for me too and anyone else with the eyes to see them. I've been carrying my camera with me on walks and on my commute hoping that it forces me into awareness.

Last spring, I had to make a decision whether or not to move back to California. I spent a long April weekend in San Francisco just roaming the streets, visiting my old favorite nooks, trying to locate the pulse of the city again and determine whether it matched my own heartbeat at that time. Also around that time, an anonymous street artist was making sidewalk stamps and leaving messages all over the city. They were stamped in dozens of places - at bus stops, next to the burrito shop, on tennis courts. With each walk and each uncovered stamp, I started to feel the pulse again.

After that trip, I returned home to Chicago with a continued desire to find more messages. That same week, I came across one of my favorite post-it's to-date on the side of a rusty old dumpster:

As I write this on a foggy, summer San Francisco evening, you all know how the story unfolded. And I'm still seeking and finding dozens of new messages every month, many of them here, but many on my journeys elsewhere too. Even if you don't live in a big city, these post-its can still reach you. Go ahead - dust the bookshelf. Open the old wallet tucked in the dresser drawer. Take a long walk. Start looking. Start seeing. Even a dilapidated gas station sign can be a divine post-it: The words "Fill Up" are still saying something.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hundreds of Ways (one urban cowboy)

Last Sunday in Chicago, my karma came due. Yes, I was "cosmically selected" among thousands to be rescued by an urban cowboy (read: taxi driver). This wasn't just any ol' taxi driver, this was The Singing Cab Driver of Chicago, otherwise known as Mr. Ray St. Ray. I had just said goodbye to E in Wicker Park and flagged down an ordinary-looking cab to take me back to L's for the night. I slipped inside the door and the driver turned towards me with a wide-eyed, kooky smile and shouted "Where to?!". "Clark and Arlington," I smiled cautiously. "Follow me!" he shouted again in his best stage voice. I couldn't help but giggle. This was the beginning.

A few minutes into the ride, he asked me if I'd like to hear him sing a song (was there an option other than 'yes'?). He turned around with that same crazy grin and said, "Please choose your theme: Love! Sex! Social Significance! Other!" I chose "Love!" which led him to rattle off 4 additional sub-categories, including "Romance!" "Non-Committal!" "Breakup!" "Friendship!". I chose "Non-Committal!" (I need not get into the reasons here). For the next 10 minutes, Ray St. Ray, who introduced himself via musical interlude between songs, sang me 3 original songs (he has 98), all of which featured an incredible array of special sound effects, including cat's meows, drums, and what I think might have been an accordion imitation.

I asked Ray St. Ray if he sang for everyone and he said, "Anyone who I think will appreciate it, which is about 98% of the population." In his estimation, he has sung to over 55,000 passengers in the Chicago area alone. Ray's dream is to have his own TV show or movie where his interactions with passengers are documented and the stories are brought to life on the big screen. Ray says that driving his cab and singing and composing songs is his version of the American Daydream. His goal is to live a life that he would want to read a book about.

I am still thinking about him, that ride, and one guy's total commitment to making what he does matter, even if it's driving 10 city blocks in downtown Chicago. We could have sat in silence for those 10 minutes. But he's taking an ordinary, fairly mundane job and turning it around to bring a little more light to the world. I want to live more that way. I want to see my own work in that light.

When it was time to leave, Ray St. Ray turned around with a slightly softer voice and said, "I've treasured our time together! Now you must go into the night!" He handed me a lemon-yellow postcard with his photo on it, along with information on his band, blog, hot line and Myspace page. This is the 21st century, after all. But you can't call him and request him - it must remain a cosmically selective process who is picked up by Ray St. Ray.

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you:
The amazing Singing Cab Driver. May your lives one day be graced with a ride on his urban horse.


"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

-- Rumi

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Littlewood's Law (waking up)

It all started with this random theory I came across a few months ago on Wikipedia:

Littlewood's Law states that individuals can expect a miracle to happen to them at the rate of about one per month.

According to Wiki, "Littlewood's law can be explained as follows: A miracle is defined as an exceptional event of special significance occurring at a frequency of one in a million. During the hours in which a human is awake and alert, a human will experience one thing per second (for instance, seeing the computer screen, the keyboard, the mouse, the article, etc.). Additionally, a human is alert for about eight hours per day. As a result, a human will, in 35 days, have experienced, under these figures, approximately 1,008,000 things. Accepting this definition of a miracle, one can be expected to observe at least one miraculous occurrence within the passing of every 35 consecutive days -- and therefore, according to this reasoning, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace."

I love this.


I'm back in San Francisco after over 3 weeks of travel. My heart feels like it might explode from the amount it took in: A handful of summer nights in New York, the entire country of Ireland, a stormy Chicago weekend, solstice sunrise in the Marin headlands and back again. I've been collecting stories, miracles, secret places, antique keys, songs, polaroid pictures, quirky cab drivers, rare instruments and summer cherries. In the days to come, I hope to share them with you.

I'm starting this blog in hopes of making an active pursuit of witnessing the small (and huge) graces I experience in San Francisco and around the world. I hope that through my posts, adventure ideas, stories and photographs, you'll be inspired to experience these (and your own) "miracle" moments in your own city or wherever your travels may find you.

From the random sparkling sidewalks outside my office in San Francisco, to a famous "singing taxi driver" in Chicago, to a field wrapped in double rainbows in Ireland, I'm taking notes. I'm waking up.

Welcome inside.