Posts Tagged ‘John Ater’


November 2, 2013

This is all just dust, he said to me emphatically, waving at the bicyclists and skateboarders, the dog walkers, and the Friday afternoon revellers in the Mission.

He was pretty damn on point with me today, cut straight through all the bullshit and said, do whatever you’re going to do or hide away in a closet.

It’s all dust.

So get busy living.

Well, I added that part.

“What about Rome?” He also asked.

Now how the fuck did he know about Rome?

I don’t recall talking about it at all to him, although I have had Rome on the brain a little of late, especially this afternoon as I stood taking in the panorama of San Francisco from the top of 19th between Noe and Sanchez.

It is a spectacular view from my employers back window.

It reminds me of how the houses in Rome were stacked up against one another and there was something of the light this afternoon that reminded me of Rome as well.

Rome is one of those places I wouldn’t mind living in for a little while.

“Research” another book.

I started writing a new piece today.

I went to Flax after work and I bought a new Claire Fontaine notebook and a bunch of stickers, I did not find the birthday card for my mom, although I hunted through, that remains on the list and I need to take care of that on the morrow, her birthday is November 7th and I want to make sure the card gets to her by that day.

I bicycled away from Flax with the sun beaming down benevolently on my head and the entire way there I thought, “what is the opening line?  How will I start, where am I going with the story, what am I doing,” etc, etc, etc.

God, sometimes I dislike that part of my brain so much.

I counseled myself and said, just show up, just sit down.

Open the notebook and see what comes.

I wasn’t expecting to write what I wrote.

I wasn’t expecting to have a name for the heroine, and it just popped out onto the page.

I started writing and continued to do so until John Ater showed up at the cafe and he motioned for me to come out and talk with him on the benches outside.

The blue sky, the green flashing leaves on the trees, all the stories I tell myself.

“Have you written about what you learned in Paris yet?” He asked bluntly at one point in the conversation.

“Sort of, in my morning pages,” I said.

“No, have you written about it, not artistically, just for yourself, just to see what is there,” he concluded.

“No.”  I said.

No, I have not.

Maybe I don’t want to learn exactly what it is that I learned there.

Let’s see, there is that I made a lot of connections, I met a lot of people, I was in a lot of fear, most of which was completely unnecessary, and most of which I was able to walk through.

There were days though, when the terror was so strong upon me that I don’t know how I made it through.

I learned that I don’t want to live in  Paris, at least not right now, but that I do want to live in San Francisco, and be also a woman of the world.

Not just Rome.

But what about Africa?

How about that for a six month stretch?

How about being based in San Francisco, anchored here, and then once every few years, going off and travelling, taking pictures and writing.

Or Hawaii.

Or Iceland.

Or, well, who knows.

What if I just nanny for a little while here, build up another nest egg and then travel and write some more.

What if I was not “Auntie Bubba Girl on the Go, but Auntie Bubba, Woman of the World?”

What would that look like?

“Just do it, don’t talk about it, how long did you talk about Paris,” John asked me briskly.

I don’t know.

I didn’t realize that I had talked about it that much.

However, if an ex that I dated six years ago recalls me wanting to move to Paris, well, I guess I have been talking about it for a while.

What did I learn?

That my home is San Francisco and that the people I love live here, Steve and Joan and Beth, Matt, and Radha, Calvin, Tami, Arin, Megan, Sarah, Alex and Shannon, John Ater, Joanne, Mace, Tanya, Stephanie, Taylor, oh, there’s a list.

“I just wanted to tell you how much I love you,” I told a friend of mine today over the phone.

“You were one of my rocks when I was in Paris, I couldn’t have done it without you in my corner,” I had tears streaking down my face and turned into the atm at the bank to deposit my work check for the week before heading off to adventures in nannying.

I felt compelled to reach out and tell some folks today that I love them.

And to also check the balance on my bank account, because I am buying a ticket to Florida to visit some family soon.

When the blog is finished writing itself, it does that, I don’t anymore, this is just a conduit, I am just a channel.

“What else?” He asked, crossing his arms in front of himself.

“I have already broken up with him before we got started,” I said.

“Which one?” He laughed.

“How about you just sequester yourself in your room, nail wood slats on the door and hide for the rest of your life, you are going to get hurt either way, there is no safe way through,” he ended.

“Why don’t you give it a chance, see what happens,” he coughed, “or have you already figured it out?”

“Fuck you,” I said, and turned back to the trees, the light, the sky, the coffee cup with melted ice in it.  I ran my finger around the froth of milk rimming the cup and sucked it off.

“I learned that I don’t have to know what I am doing, I just have to do it.”

This is what I have realized since leaving that bench in front of Philz on 24th and Folsom Street.

I don’t have to know where I am going.

I don’t have to know why.

I don’t have to figure it out.

I just need to let you know how much I love you.

Because that is, in the end, the only thing that really matters.

And with that, you’ll have to excuse me, I have a ticket to purchase, there is someone I need to tell that to face to face.




July 8, 2013

“You never told me you played the cello,” John Ater said to me this afternoon, “and what’s with the hair twirling?  I have never seen you do that before.”

Nerves and comfort.

I used to do it so much when I was a child that I would twirl small bald patches on my head, according to reports from my mother.

I have noticed myself doing it more recently as well.

I take comfort in it and my hair is curly and it feels good.

It is sort of like self-soothing.

I do it when I am anxious.

It’s better than eating ice cream and donuts, but still indicative that my anxiety levels are a little higher than I would care to admit to.

I had not met with John in a little while and when I saw him last night and got a hug I immediately felt the tears welling up, despite not knowing where or why they were coming, they were just there.

“What else?” He said to me.

“Well, you got that phone call when I was having the panic attack,” I said “and my food went off the rails, I feel really stupid about that, and I…”

“Now stop it, you are not stupid, and when did you play the cello, C. asked me if you were still playing and I had absolutely no idea that you played.”

“So tell me about that,” he said and settled into the chair across the way from me.

I sipped my coffee, where to begin.

“I started to play when I was in third grade, a way to get out of Mrs. Morgensen’s class, I hated her (this was the teacher that assumed when I moved into the school district that I did not speak English because I did not talk, she called my mom on the phone one day to discuss putting me into remedial English, little did she know that I had begun reading by the age of three and at that point probably already had a higher reading ability than any other child in the school–I tested out of the high school charts when I was in 4th grade, the highest designation they had at the time) and when the orchestra teacher came in and said it was time to go to orchestra, despite not knowing what orchestra was, I got up and left the classroom.”

“And,” he paused.

John is good at the pause, good at letting me express, good at listening and good at letting me get it all out.  I trust him implicitly, more so than anyone I have ever worked with in my life, more so than any romantic partner or family member I have had.

“And I was good, good enough that by the time I was in middle school I was allowed to take home a cello despite my family not having enough money to pay the school’s rental fees, good enough that my orchestra teacher got me a private tutor, which he also had the school pay for,” I continued.

“Martines, you are never going to be first chair,” Mister Ziegler said to me as I was struggling along with a piece I was trying to memorize for the Spring String Fling (yes, that was what it was called).  “You are never going to be second chair either,” he continued breaking my heart one small piece at a time.

“However, you will be hired, you will play in an orchestra, you will be able to have a job professionally, you’ll be fourth chair, or if you are in a small city orchestra, third, but you will always play and you will do well.”

I nodded, I really had my heart set on being first chair, I knew that was never going to happen at Gompers Middle School, that honor went to Sue, she was wildly talented, and wildly bored with the instrument.

“Do you know why, Carmen,” he paused and looked through his glasses piercing my concentration on the sheet music, I looked away from the bedraggled notes eyes drawn to his face, his ginger beard rasped under his chin as he rubbed it brisk with long white fingers.

I just looked up at him, perhaps a small inquisitive look, probably nothing, I was already masking my emotions and feeling around my person and it was very hard to break through that shell.

“Because you have heart, Martines, you have heart, not one in a thousand has the heart that you do, Sue Bachman, yeah, she’ll get first chair, but she’s cold, there’s no passion there, you have passion and for that you will always be rewarded.”

Did not matter how much heart I had, when the family moved to Windsor and I was placed into the DeForest school system, there was no orchestra program there.

My heart, broken.

“So, what happened,” John said.

I told him about my friend at the Burning Man offices when they were over on 16th and 3rd and I told him how I started to play, then life got overwhelming for me and I stopped.

I do miss it.

I do think about it.

I do wonder if I should reach back out.

“What did I tell you about Paris when you were afraid to go?” John asked me.

“Go, you’ll always be fed,” I said.


“I was always fed.” I replied.

Maybe it’s time to do another kind of nourishment, find another outlet.

“Honey what would you do if money were no matter, that’s where you dream, that’s what you do,” John told me.

I would write every day.

Same as I do now.

I would play cello again.

Ok, there’s a direction.

I would go camping, which Burning Man is like a big camping trip, but I would probably also go to Yosemite, never been, or the Grand Canyon, also never been.

I would drive up the coast and go to Oregon and Washington state, I would go further and go see Alaska.

“Honey, you have an assignment,” John said, almost with glee, I could see him mentally rubbing his big compassionate paws together.

“Write a list of everything you want and seal it in an envelope, one of two things is going to happen.”

“Ok,” I said, I have heard this before, but not quite the way he described it.

“You’ll open it in a year and either you will have gotten everything you wrote down, or you won’t want it anymore because something better has been put in its place.” He finished.


I have not thought of it like that.


I have an assignment.

“Honey, just go seek,” he finished, giving me the hug that always lights my way.

Seeking I shall go.

Evening Constitutional

April 28, 2013

This is my last evening in Chambourcy, France.

I decided to take Rusty out for another walk after dinner.  The sun had come out and was lancing through the trees and despite the chilly air it actually looked like Spring outside.

I went for two long walks today.

I read a lot.

Finished the Jeffrey Eugenides book, Middlesex, good read.  Much better than I remember.  As I was completing the 500 + page work I realized I was not sober when I read it the first time and was allowing myself to suffer from writer’s envy.

No longer.

Part of that stems from the fact that I am a writer now.

Perhaps not as well-known as Eugenides, slight understatement.

Yet, a writer nonetheless.

I wrote my four pages in the morning after breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee, then did a meditation before the dog got noisy and excited to be outside, then went for the first of my walks.

After returning I made a heaping salad–baby spinach, mache, tomato, miniature artichoke hearts, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, avocado, and garbanzo beans.  Dressed with some olive oil and balsamic, little fresh ground pepper, and sea salt.


I down loaded some photographs after and checked my e-mails.

I conferred with the room-mate and made plans for tomorrow.

Despite the family being back tonight, they are in the kitchen having a late dinner, they requested I stay the night so they would not have to drive back to the train station.

I acquiesced.

Tomorrow I will go back to Paris, back to the apartment and break down the bike and box her up.  I was contemplating taking one last ride, but I will probably not.  I have a late afternoon tea date with my friend from French class–need to return her guide-book on Rome.

Then an early dinner and off, one last time to the American Church on quai D’Orsay.

I have some last good byes to make.

In the mean time I am also making contact with folks in the Bay.

I am seeing Beth on Friday night, staying over and having lunch the next day with Tanya somewhere in the Mission.


That still feels very strange to say.

I will be having lunch in the Mission.

Getting in on Wednesday, Action Girl will be picking me up, living up to her moniker!

I am excited to see her, possibly get a hit of Junebug love as well.

I contacted the master of the house at Graceland, confirmed my get in time and prepared myself for the onslaught of the kittens.  Of whom, I am delighted to get to see again.

I e-mailed some ladies in Oakland about possibly getting out to meet with some folks that evening.  I have nothing planned for Thursday, recovering from the jet lag, maybe grocery shopping.

Friday before I head into San Francisco I will be making my way over to the Burning Man folks, meeting with them to discuss the nannying and then meeting with their next door neighbors to check in about the house sitting needs.

One dog.

One cat.

I then re-focused on being here, today, in the moment.

Made some tea.

Got off the computer.

Did some writing.

Did some reading.

I wrote for a while and wrapped up the first chapter of “Mother” in rough draft.

I then read through to the end of my first draft manuscript “The Iowa Waltz” and was quite happy to read it.  So much better than I had recalled and I was actually surprised at how the ending went.  I had forgotten!

My friend yesterday had suggested I work on a new piece, and he’s correct, new work needs working on, which I did.  Yet, the call of taking “The Iowa Waltz” further was very alluring.

Since I have read the hand written manuscript, I may just do the typing to take it out of my notebook.  I am not making any plans.


None at all.

Although the previous 600 words may belie that.

“What are your plans?” Asked John Ater this evening when I skype called him.

“I don’t have any,” I said, “whenever I make plans the Universe laughs.”

“Are you wearing mascara?” He asked.

“Yes, but its waterproof and I am not wearing eyeliner,” I replied.

The eyeliner is what usually is the mess.

We had a really good check in, one in which I did mention that I was pre-anxious about other people’s judgement, me coming back after I said I was gone for good.

“Fuck what other people think of you,” he said.

God damn it’s nice to hear that.

Despite knowing that he’s entirely correct and I need no shame, I came here, I had an incredible learning experience and I did something really grand.

I shot the fantasy in the fucking foot.

Living in Paris was a dream and I went after my dream and I realized it and then I went, “oh shit,” this is not at all what I thought it would be.

Oh my God.

This is 1800 times harder.

“Good for you for knowing when to get out,” she said to me tonight as the dog pranced happily about.  “Paris is hard for French people to live in and they have the support of their country and a system to fall back on when things go wrong.”

Paris, I love you, I adore you, I think you are the bees knees.

I got stung hard though.

It hurt, having that dream popped.

Yet, on the other hand, it was well worth it.

“You had a learning experience,” he said templing his fingers together, his eyebrow lifting up in an arch.

“Yes, yes, I did.” I responded.

“What did you learn?” He asked leaning forward on California time and adjusting the lapel of his bathrobe–it’s morning in San Francisco.

“I learned I am very mean to myself, that I do not treat myself well,” I said, and there went the tears.

“What else?”

“I learned that people really want to help me when I let them help me, when I let down the guard and let them in.”

“Good, and,” his chin lifted.

“And I don’t want to live like this anymore,” tears overflowing, “I don’t want to live like this, I want to change,” I finished.

“Excellent, we will have us a sit down when you get back, but not right away, let’s let you get unjetlagged before we go there.” He said with a gentle smile.

“Oh!” I said, smiling, “I learned one other thing!”


“I will work any fucking job there is to work, I am done with not having a job.” I finished.

“Great! We will talk about that too, now just get yourself back.” He twinkled at me, “I can’t wait to see you.”

“You too,” I said and yes, a few more tears slid down my face.

“Are those tears!  Yes! seven thousand miles away, I’ve still got it.” He exclaimed.

“Yes, ugh.” I said, “good-bye.”

“Good bye sugar, I’ll see you soon.” He tossed me a kiss and a wave and signed off.

Yes, yes you will.

In San Francisco.

You Are Going To Be A Travel Writer

April 30, 2012

I am?

I am!

China Town's Living Room

Early afternoon Portsmouth Square

Holy crow.  I am going to be a travel writer.  That’s it.  I get to do my two favorite things in the whole entire world–travel and write.

Ok, I am down with that.

Today I attended Joh Ater’s Photography Workshop in China Town.  I learned a lot.  In fact, at one point, I was so visually over stimulated I thought I might pass out, but then I realized I was well beyond my normal lunch time.

Which, when you are in China Town can be an overwhelming issue as well.  But John’s got a favorite little spot that we got to go to and it was perfect–I had a vegetable curry with rice and a large ice tea and I was back amongst the living.

I learned an enormous amount, actually, ‘a lot’ does not suffice.

First, I learned to clean my lens.  I never had cleaned my lens on my camera–the same camera has been with me to Burning Man twice–it was a little dusty. How funny, I just needed some one else to point out the obvious there.

Next, I learned to bring back up memory cards and batteries.  This would have been a handy thing to have done as my camera lost juice today.  It did not completely die, but it was so close that I chose to stop taking photos at one point so that when we sat down to look through what we had taken over the course of the afternoon I would be able to access my photographs.

Oh, and they are photographs, not pictures, as John so succinctly told me.

Or scolded me, as the case may be.

He’s right though, I took photographs.  I am learning that I have a good eye and I have a natural way of framing.  I am also attracted to depth, and textures, and layers of textures.

I learned about the rule of thirds and how to break  up a photo and not center things dead on.  I learned about negative space and how to use it.  I learned that you have to change how you photograph the scene you are photographing by changing your perspective.

I learned a whole boat load of things.

I took over 200 frames.

I have never taken that many photos before.


And I was in Paris for ten days in May of 2009.  If I had known when I went what I know now, I would have taken 500 times as many photos.  But I will have the chance to go back and take more photographs of Paris.

In fact, I may go back more than once.

Or twice.

Before we launched out into the back alleys of China Town John talked to us about any number of things, but what struck me was what he said to the two other women in the group–one of whom had such amazing equipment I was a little shy to pull out my Fuji–you are going to do weddings he said to her, then to the next woman, and you are going to be travelling, “and you,” he said looking at me,

“are going to be a travel writer.”

I inwardly gasped.  I flipped open my notebook and wrote it down.  He said it so off the cuff, so flippantly, almost that I could scarce believe he said it.  But it was with total conviction and believability.

I believed him.


The next thing he said, he quoted a famous female photographer from the 1930s, Irma Jean Cunningham, when he was looking over the camera equipment we all had, was this:

“What’s the best camera?  The one you have with you.”

Oh my god.

How true.

I love it.  I suddenly went from feeling just a little inferior with my little camera to feeling like it was alright, and I did not have to ask permission to break from the group and just start shooting.

In fact, a few times I was so lost in taking a picture, ah, excuse me, a photograph, that I was back a block and a half or squatting on the side-walk, or losing half of what John was saying as I was trying to frame the exact shot I wanted.

It was awesome.

I was so in the moment, I cannot describe it.

And I knew, I knew when I got the shot.  I got a great one of Meghan in profile that made my jaw drop.  I am not sure how it happened, but it did.

I also took so many shots that when I got home I could not believe that I had over two hundred frames.  I went through and looked at them all and some are ok, some were just boring, a few were good, and two made me skin goose bump.

They were amazing.

Then I thought, that’s actually not bad, two fantastic frames out of 200. That’s actually pretty damn good.

I have so much to learn and I am beginning to see how working at the bike shop is helping me too.  I have been learning all these computer skills, which are becoming more and more relevant to what I am planning on doing.  Plus, I get to practice taking photos of bicycles at work–we always take photos prior to shipping out a bike.

I have to learn about backing up my work.  I have to learn more about my camera.  I have to learn about where I am going to go.

And I have some time.

I confirmed with Tami when she’s getting married, it’s October 7th, which is on a Sunday.  I have time to learn from some masterful photographers right here in San Francisco.

I get to explore the photography wings at the MOMA, which are always my favorite to look at.  I get to work on mimicking other artists and I get to find my style.

I have an idea of what draws my eye and I have an astounding rich and varied palette to work with–San Francisco–for the next five months.

I have the perfect place to practice and get ready for the world tour.

I am so excited.

Exhausted, yes, absolutely, my eyes hurt a little and my brain is teeming with images, but my heart is full and I get to work on realizing my dreams.

My dreams that I have kept secret for so long now that it seems silly to look back and see all the years I wasted not taking photographs.

I have a lot of catching up to do.

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