Saturday, August 25, 2012

No News Post

Now the pace of the year shifts into a new gear -- school is underway and the fall soccer season has started. My youngest had her first club soccer games today in a tournament sponsored by Stanford, in the heat down the peninsula in Los Altos, a wealthy enclave in Silicon Valley.

The team has never played together as a unit -- she and a number of others are newcomers to this level of soccer and to the team, so that half of the players were out there for their first time.

They looked tentative as a group, unsure of their positions or how aggressively to play. They lost both games.

But she seemed happy enough (though tired) afterward as we stopped for a Jamba Juice and then, back home, Chinese food for dinner, which she devoured ravenously.

Other parents commented on how tall she's become over the summer, as she hugged friends who until recently were closer to her in height. The growth spurt continues, it seems, and given her appetite, it probably will for a while longer.

Her brothers are at the Shoreline Amphitheater for the "Rock the Bells" concert this weekend. I dropped them and some friends off at the venue, where they joined other groups of young men and women streaming into the show.

The boys have been excited about going to this together for months. It's nice to see brothers enjoying music together, when in other ways, their tastes diverge so widely.


The domesticity of this post, focused on parenting and schools and sports and shows reveals what should be obvious -- I don't have an active adult life of my own right now. Outside of work and parenting,there's little action.

Over the past two years, much of the socializing I was trying to do has evaporated, one way or another.

I read a lot. I watch a lot of TV. I cook almost all of my own meals. I clean the place, wash the dishes, do the laundry, and now feed the cat.

But rarely does anyone visit here, and rarely do I go out anywhere.

Part of it is financial pressure...I'm loathe to spend any money I don't have to except on my kids.

Part of it may be age, and a notable lack of energy.

Part of it may be that I've always needed help to organize a social life -- my partners have generally better much better at that than I am.

So this is the way it is, for now, not the way I would have it be, but the way it is.

Very, very quiet, which at least seems to suit the cat, who remains firmly in the closet to date.


Friday, August 24, 2012

What Writing on Which Wall?

Day after day, as I interview entrepreneurs and write stories about their young companies, I'm struck by how much the world my children will inherit is changing. The globalized economy has removed some of the privileges non-rich Americans once enjoyed, as lower-cost producers of goods, especially in China, have replaced many working class jobs in the U.S.

That, plus the decline of unions, has placed millions of working people closer to poverty than those my age experienced.

At the same time, many of the other advantages of American society, like an affordable college education, seem to be disappearing as well.

Housing remains expensive in many parts of the country; owning a car is starting to look like a luxury to young people.

So, how are they reacting?

The Millennials are launching car-sharing companies, apartment-sharing companies, task-sharing companies, and so on.

They are establishing a new "sharing economy," that is also called collaborative consumption. I've been writing it about it a lot over the past year, because I think it will prove to be a new long-term trend.

As Americans learn new skills, how to share resources, live more frugally, and replace the security of long-term jobs with the opportunity of entrepreneurial efforts, maybe the transition will not be as painful as it sometimes seems like it could be.

On the other hand, if our young people start eschewing higher eduction, as too expensive and not essential from their perspective, we will begin to lose our most valuable resource -- the intellectual talent of our home-grown population.

The whole thing shifts from clarity to fuzziness for me as I try to perceive the future. So much is changing so fast, the patterns become obscured, and the advice I'd love to be able to give my young ones becomes all too elusive.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Helping Youths Decide

The cat finally emitted a tiny "Meow" today as we took him to the vet. My daughter carried and comforted him all the way, including during much of his examination. The vet, noticing how gentle she is with the animal, asked if she was interested in a career working with animals.

Of course, she is still only 13 (although some people mistake her for older, because of her height, perhaps), so career talk is a little premature, but she answered the vet (a young woman) quite confidently.

"My first choice is art, but if that does not work out, maybe work with animals."

The vet smiled and told her it was a good and fun type of work.

I can't tell you how much pleasure it gives me, as a parent, when another adult, such as this young woman, takes the time to gauge one of my kids' career interests. When they are teenagers, the drumbeat to get to college becomes overwhelming, and close behind that pressure, is what they will major in, and then, what will they become?

This society pressures kids relentlessly.

But the truth is few children can possibly know what they want to do, or would be good at, quite yet.

They need lots of experience, trial and error, to find out.

I found journalism when I was 19, and that was early.

But not as early as 13.

Nevertheless, today's interaction was not pressure but gentle encouragement, from a young woman role model, who clearly is a very good vet.

Thank you!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Snacking on Politics

Afternoon snack with my youngest. Her brothers are back in school but she has a week of "summer" left. Calling it by that seasonal term is ridiculous, as we are cloaked in thick, cold fog. You couldn't get a suntan if you walked around naked, which certain people do in the Castro District lately (yuck, just a personal comment).

Today we got some of her "back to school" supplies, and she helped me stock up on cat supplies.

Biggie and I had a breakthrough of sorts the other night when he came to me to pet him for a while -- this was around 5-5:30 am, which seems to be his prime time. Then, last night, or more precisely this morning, right around then, I awoke to a crash. I could hear that my daughter had awakened too and that she was dealing with it, so I tried to go back to sleep.

A couple hours later, when I got up to drive one of her brothers and others in their carpool, she explained to me that the cat had knocked over his box of food, scattering it all over the kitchen floor.

In the process he scared himself back into the closet. She cleaned it up, and then kept the light on, starting her own day early, courtesy of Biggie.

Tonight, she's at soccer practice; this weekend she plays in her first-ever club level tournament down the peninsula. That she has overcome her doubts to continue competing is one of the very impressive things she has exhibited this summer, as she grows taller and stronger every day.

But one thing that she's reverted to is vegetarianism. Her experiment as a meat eater didn't last long, and I don't think she tasted anything more than a bit of bacon and a hot dog at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

That's fine. At lunch yesterday in a cafe near her Mom's house, I got her a garden burger, which she devoured and loved.

As I indicate every time I profile her, even in passing, she's a strong-minded young woman -- exactly as I would have her be. But that's not always an easy accomplishment for girls in this society. There are still so many double standards in the way all of us -- men and women -- judge our young.

Boys are viewed through one set of lenses; girls another. I don't have favorites when it comes to the gender-parenting question. I've loved being able to help raise three of each gender. They're all different; they're all strong in various ways.

And, each of them is so vulnerable as well, of course -- especially through their father's eyes.

My high school senior is about to start his fourth and final year of high school soccer. He is one of only three seniors on the team, which means their chances of success may be limited, as they won't have much experience.

He, in fact, is the most experienced player on the team, by far, having started and played every game since he started as a freshman, except when injured. I'm hoping he personally has a great season, which I expect he will, but also that his team can pull together and be competitive in the city league.

Because this will be it. After this, all will fade into memory.

He will no doubt be one of the team captains, so it is time for him to step up into a leadership position on the pitch. I'm curious as to how that may work out.

His slightly younger and slightly taller brother, attending the academically intense Lowell H.S., is for the first time since starting there two years back showing signs that he is intellectually excited by his courses in A.P. Psychology and A.P. History, among others.

This is the moment I've been waiting for -- when our ailing, creaky, under-funded public education system here in this economically distressed inner city finally starts challenging him intellectually.

Once he is engaged, he knows no limits -- he is insatiably curious and endlessly brilliant as a critical, original thinker. His grade point sucks, so far, thanks to weak teachers, "stupid" (his word) courses, and math (period), but maybe, just maybe, now he is about to take off as the student I know he can be.

It will be a busy fall. College applications for one, lots of homework for another, and 8th grade, the end of Middle School for the third.

Oh yeah, there's a national election, too, but quite frankly, the whole electoral process has become so corrupt, reductionist, and media-saturated, that I doubt anything I could write would help anyone find his or her way through this morass.

But there is one thing I have to say. Rape is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. If I were a member of a political party with a candidate for Congress who made the unforgivably offensive comments about rape that a Republican did this week, I would resign from that party.

You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything. Shame on you, Republicans. Any chance I would give any of your ticket a second glance has been obliterated by this travesty. Shame on you all.

I urge all parents of any political persuasion to vote Democratic this November and repudiate the party that tolerated this monstrous candidate to even make it to the point that (way too late) they rejected him, after he made any other option untenable.

If you call yourself a Republican, you cannot shake off this horrible shadow, not this election cycle.

Do some work, come back in four years, clean out these kinds of freaks from your closet, and maybe I'll give you a second chance. But for now, for me as for all reasonable thinking people, your party has been suspended.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Calling It As It Is

While Biggie the cat continues to hang out in the closet here in San Francisco, the peppers and lemons in our backyard, planted by my upstairs neighbors, continue to ripen. Somehow it is late August, which none of us around here could know, because a thick fog has engulfed us for days, blanketing us in whiteness and cool air.

It's like it is always sort of night, not day. No heat and no blue sky, except at rare periods late in the afternoon, even here in the Mission.

Today was notable as the first day of school, so my senior and my junior went off to their respective high schools. Tonight, they both sound a bit down. Budget cuts and other bureaucratic adjustments have weakened their schools in recent years.

The result is schedule inflexibility.

Neither boy seems to be able to get the classes and teachers he prefers. Both are stuck with imperfect results.

I worry their academic results may suffer in the process.

This is what our society is doing to kids. Thanks to the recession, which is historically indicated, poor governance, which is inexcusable, and Republicans, who relentlessly support cutting taxes rather than seeing what is actually happening in our cities, our kids are being put at grave risk.

The public education they all deserve and are mandated to receive is being cheapened.

As a member of society, all you can do is cast your vote, express your opinion, and try to influence others.

When I listen to the likes of the privileged rich, such as Romney, I am sickened by their rhetoric. Even me, a person who favors small government, small business, and freedom from unnecessary regulations, can smell a fake in this very, very rich man.

It astounds me that those on the right who celebrate such a candidate can do so, but then again, hypocrisy has never known a political leaning, only the utter lack of any personal integrity whatsoever.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Taking Care of the Cat

My youngest was one of those kids who participated in the library-sponsored events celebrating reading the novel The Hunger Games last year. The film made from the book became available on DVD this weekend, so today we rented it and tonight watched it together.

These are the moments, as a parent, you cherish. Even if I didn't like the movie (I did like it), sharing it with her is the special part.

We also shared something else today -- shopping for our cat. She picked out his water and food bowls and his tag, which we then had engraved with his name on one side and my cell phone number on the other side.

Not that he appears to be a pet that will ever be in danger of getting lost.

Either he is severely traumatized by relocating to this flat or he is the shyest cat in history, but Biggie rarely moves from a stationary position in the closet, between the couch and the wall, or, more rarely, from whatever place in the apartment my daughter has lured him to visit.

He never runs, but walks. He never, ever makes a sound. Is he capable of speaking?

I'd describe him as low-energy.

The one thing he will do, when he is close to you, is thrust his head into your hand. He loves to be petted, scratched, or rubbed.


School starts tomorrow, for public school students. Summer is officially over. Not just for them, but for me, although I still get a reprieve of sorts, for another week and a half, before my daughter starts her 8th grade year.

After that, the cat will be my only daily companion, unless something changes in my life.

Today, a neighbor showed up to say good-bye. He and his girlfriend are moving to Concord, in the far east bay.

Their building was sold.

They are nice people, "creatives," and therefore the types of people who can no longer afford to stay in this city with its tech boom. He said the studios they looked at around here cost $3,000/month, which of course is insane.

My ambivalence in celebrating startup culture, which I do week after week, is moderated by the knowledge that tech companies, flush with VC and angel funding, are driving artists and writers out of this town.


Artists and writers are the true heart and soul of San Francisco, along with the entrepreneurs and innovators I profile weekly in my professional blogs.

Will we all be priced out of this place?

If that should happen to me, someone will have to take care of the cat...