Why? Because it’s fun!

Live music, sunshine, and bike riding are at the top of my list of things that make me happy. Put those three together, and you have one helluva good time. Welcome to the Bicycle Music Festival, which I had the pleasure to be a part of this past Saturday.

It’s been going on annually for six years now, and is a complete DIY affair, right down to the energy that is needed to power the stages. You need to work for your music by pedaling one of the many bikes that are hooked up to a giant, homemade battery pack. It is assumed that everyone will at some point during the festival contribute some sweat and calories to powering the event. An energy meter, which looks like a giant red and green thermometer, tracks the juice level of the battery. If it dips into the red, one of the many organizers holds up a sign saying “Pedal” to encourage pedalers to ride faster. (Pedalers are awarded with a spoke card that they can proudly display in the bike tires.)

The festival starts around noon in Golden Gate Park, with surprisingly great and energetic bands taking the stage. By 5pm the stage is being dismantled for transport. But the festival is not over; the fun is just beginning. A smaller stage holding two musicians and a sound system is set up on a wagon behind one bike. It leads an entourage of festival goers, bikers hooked up with wireless speakers, and bikers towing carts of stage pieces out of the park and into the streets of San Francisco.

This festival is on the move, playing music in the streets (stopping traffic along the way) as it crawls to its second venue on the other side of the city. I say crawl because, well, the poor biker towing the stage can only go so fast. And it is hard to ride a bike slowly, especially when surrounded by other bikers on all sides. But it does allow one to dance a bit while in the saddle. The head organizer is singing catchy, original tunes into his mic, accompanied by a ukulele player, while wearing a blue helmet. Safety first, boys and girls.

I wonder what the unfortunate drivers are thinking, as they have no choice but to stop and let our parade of bikes pass. Most seem amused, smiling and honking rhythmically to indicate enthusiasm. Others sit stoically in their seats, not so amused. And of course there are a few strong honks of annoyance and near-misses with bikes as they try to take advantage of gaps within the crowd.

Parading through the streets was by far my favorite part of the festival, and definitely one of the most amusing things I’ve done in this city to date. It was a pure expression of fun and joy – what can be more pure than dancing and singing outside in the streets? – with no alcohol or other substances needed. Just a bike.

In fact, the whole festival is inspiring to me since it is a complete DIY event that brings people together to share in simple celebration. No cause or greater purpose. No sponsors. No cost even (other than some cardio burn). It is an example of what wonderful things are possible when people come together around a common idea, founded simply on the desire to enjoy life.  I even made some new friends. Look how happy everyone is!!

After our 5 mile trek, the stage was set-up once again in an abandoned parking lot in Potrero Hill, where several great bands played until midnight. My favorite was one with Tunisian musicians that fused an Arabic style with funk (MC RAI they are called). Each band expressed their gratitude to be part of such a unique event, and one musician even said it was the coolest event he had ever played at. Indeed.

It reminds me that not everything we do has to be done for reaching a goal or meeting an objective. How about doing something simply because it is fun and makes you smile. How much different would your life be if this alone became your purpose?

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Defining the value of art

Does art need to be in a frame in order for us to value it?

In 2007 an internationally acclaimed violinist set up in an unassuming corner of the Washington DC subway station and played some of the most sophisticated pieces ever written on his Stradivari violin, worth $3.5 million. Of the estimated 1,100 people that came through the subway during his playing, only 6 of them stopped to listen for any length of time. The artist who regularly gets paid $1000/minute earned a total of $32 for his 45 min set. Mostly, he was ignored. This experiment begs the question: what determines the value of an art piece and to what extent does context and presentation play a role? And, do we need to be first convinced of a thing’s value in order to value it ourselves?

I think about this now when I visit museums and art galleries. To be honest I wasn’t particularly impressed with many of the exhibits I saw at my latest visit to the SF MOMA, despite their presentation and protection by security guards. I just wasn’t “moved”. When art museums were a new experience for me, I remember feeling a pressure to connect with the pieces simply because whole environment shouted “this is special”. If I wasn’t feeling a piece, I would sometimes wonder if I was missing something, and then judge by inability to connect with it. Perhaps, because of the fancy presentation and price of my ticket, my expectations were too high. Perhaps, if I saw the piece simply hanging in a doctor’s office, I would feel differently.

This is why I like independent art shows – presentation is simplified and it’s a more casual, accessible environment where expectations may not be high, allowing the pieces to better speak for themselves. Here are some pieces I enjoyed while at an independent art show this past weekend.

But I think the pieces I like best are those that are unexpected as we pass by. Those that weren’t necessarily created with the intention of being “art” and are not out to claim attention. Without being influenced by elaborate presentation, we can react to such pieces from a more neutral state of being and see it for what it is. But also, the unexpected nature can add a special touch, like receiving a surprise gift. This scene below, painted randomly on a sidewalk, made me smile as I headed off to work one morning. I probably wouldn’t have been as amused had I saw it printed and framed in the SF MOMA. Its natural form on the sidewalk is what gives it its value.

I’d like to think that if I was walking through that subway during the 45 min violin concert, I would at least acknowledge the violinist with a smile (as I usually do with street musicians), and if I was not late in catching my train, stop and appreciate the music for a bit. But in order to recognize something, we need to be present. Our eyes and ears must be open to receive. It’s quite possible that many of those commuters that morning were so focused on their days ahead that they didn’t even hear the music. And if you don’t hear the music, how can you stop and appreciate it?

Maybe that is exactly the point of the $100 tickets, dress-code and fancy performance hall – to make sure we are paying attention.

Lighten up

Every once in a while we need to be reminded of those basic habits that keep us alive and well. A near miss with a car reminds us to look both ways before crossing the road. A stomach upset reminds us that fried food is not welcome inside our body.

And a 58-second youtube clip can remind us to lighten up. A few weeks ago I was feeling rather dark and heavy, and had been for over a week. Though I didn’t have a specific reason for this “general malaise,” I can give credit to my impeccable ability to judge myself: I was annoyed at my ongoing knee tendonitis and drum-tight hamstrings, which made me feel like an 80-yr old in yoga class. I was frustrated with my inability to make decisions around my true calling and career goals, which just made me more irritable at work. And I was feeling guilty for spending just too many nights at home instead of being a happy city socialite.

As judgement generally does, it went outwardly as much as it went inwardly. Why is this person talking to me right now? Do they really think this thing is so important? What a waste of time, I don’t care! And I wondered why I was feeling so fatigued.

In the midst of my gloom, I came across this video, now viral, of Bill Murray with a posse of fans doing a slo mo walk, Wes Anderson style. Immediately, I was laughing. So ridiculously simple, but oh so hilarious. The laughter jarred my whole being. At first I was surprised something so simple could be so amazing. And then, as though snapping out of a trance, that thought itself surprised me. Of course something so simple can be so amazing! Get out of your head and lighten up!! All of a sudden the things I had judged that past week as “stupid” or “useless” had a rightful place in the world. And what were once my (first-world) heavy burdens were light as a feather, being blown out the window by my laughter.

As I made my way out the door to meet a friend for dinner, feeling 10 lbs lighter and fresh as a daisy, I laughed at how seriously I had taken myself and this thing called “life” for the past week.

Sometimes we just need a good laugh to lighten us up.

Tuesday’s to do list

  • Smile at a stranger
  • Dance ecstatically
  • Thank someone who is overdue for my gratitude
  • Sit quietly with myself and listen for two whole minutes
  • Listen with undivided attention when spoken to
  • Sing along to a great song
  • Stop and appreciate a flower
  • Have a hearty, uninhibited laugh
  • Pet a dog
  • Eat a meal with zero distractions from the food
  • Turn this list into the foundation of each day

Making space

I live in a studio. So space is (very) limited. When I moved from my cottage-like 2-bdrm abode in spacious Florida to the 7×7 mile peninsula that is San Francisco, a lot of stuff had to go. It’s amazing just how much crap one can accumulate when you have the available space. And once in San Francisco, I begrudgingly made yet another trip to the Salvation Army when I realized that my initial clean-up was not sufficient for my new living space.

Downsizing was initially stressful. After signing the lease on my little home, I walked into the space with pangs of anxiety and claustrophobia. How is all my stuff going to fit in here?? What else can I get rid of? This is NEVER going to work!! It took some conscious deep breathing and a reassuring pep-talk with myself to get my heart rate down.

But after some meticulously planned placement of furniture with a measuring tape, things fell into place (literally).

And my living space became tight but tolerable, until this past weekend, when a bubbling angst over space signaled that yet another clean-up was necessary. The bookshelf that was stuffed into my closet had items I hadn’t looked at since I moved; extra stools took up valuable overhead space; my photography lights, also unopened since the move, took up more space than their practical value to me. What started as a mere reorganization of a few items turned into an entire reevaluation of all material possessions. Old card from an ex? Out. Clunky backpack? Goodwill. Fiction books I won’t read again? In the clunky backpack going to Goodwill.

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While I have experienced the therapeutic qualities of cleaning house before, no clean-up had ever felt so good. I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because it was not done in a mad rush to move apartments. I had no time-limit, no urgent reason that prompted it, and no expectations for what I was trying to achieve. The intent was simple: purge that which does not serve me. And in that pure mindspace, I found that I was able to be fully present with each object I sifted through, appreciating it for what it was and easily able to make a decision on its fate. There were no struggling moments of indecision or exasperation.

In that state of presence, I found creative inspiration coming in to help with my purging process. I considered finally getting rid of my metal strawberry shortcake lunchbox that had been my companion since kindergarten. It even accompanied me to my first professional job post college, earning me the nickname “cupcake.” At the decisive moment, while standing over a scattering of books and albums on the closet floor, I realized that I could line the box, covering the rust lines, and have it neatly house the jewelry that overflowed my night table. In fact, a large piece of beautiful butterfly wrapping paper I saved from a “welcome to San Francisco” present was still neatly folded under a pile of books, waiting to be used. This idea would be its saving grace from the trash. And so my craft project began. Here is the end result.

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Once the bookshelf was reorganized and I was reacquainted with all items that filled it, I moved on to my clothing rack. Doing a quick sweep for unused garments, I came across several band t-shirts, shrunken from loyal overuse. I loved these shirts, but they were too short to wear. I recalled the t-shirt display that covered the front of the GAP office downtown, and I knew what to do. An uninspiring Target canvas print, brought over from my FL days, hung on my large kitchen wall. It was time for a change.

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By the end of my cleaning rampage, I noticed that I could breathe easier. I felt renewed and energized. And my living space no longer felt cramped, but just right. Not only could I now recall what items I owned and why, but valuable space was created through my careful elimination and recycling (upcycling?).

I then realized that something is not better than nothing, and available space should not be a reason to fill it. Both in my closet and in my life I noticed a tendency to horde, to claim and hold on to things available to me, simply because I can – without thoughtful consideration of how they actually serve me. In my quiet moment of contentment, while taking in my fresh surroundings, I vowed to respect my space going forward by filling it only with those things that add real value to my life.