Archive for February, 2010

Letting it Go

February 24, 2010

Many people have written me to find out what ever happened with the ring. Last I wrote the bidding was up to $20,000. Sorry for the delayed follow-up. After the frenzy of the auction, I had to immediately attend to my freelance writing, which has gone neglected for months. So, I’ve been buried in work.

But the good news is that my current office is outdoors. As I type, my bare feet are kneading warm sand, and waves from the Bay of Banderas roll in a few yards away. Pelicans are dive-bombing the rich aqua waters, and this thatched palm roof provides cool protection from the sun.

But the best thing is this: the ring sold and I carry with me a portion of the money–$1,000—to deliver to the local veterinarian here, a beautiful woman named Pamela. For years, Pamela has been turning this coastal village into a dog paradise, mostly on volunteer –time through spaying, neutering, grooming, and treating whatever ails them. This minute, I’m surrounded healthy community-owned canine. A basset hound snores by my side, a fat labrador chases a tossed coconut husk in the surf, and a bulldog begs guacamole from sun bathing beauties.


The ring is currently en-route
to Alabama. I sent it off certified mail from the post office days ago. For $45.00, it’s being treated with the utmost care: under lock and key along the entire journey.

Any day now, it will arrive at the house of Brent and Aly, a couple who learned about the ring from the Himalayan Raptor Rescue newsletter that Scott Mason (one of the vagabond philanthropists) sent out months ago.

Brent and Aly have been married for 5 years, but he never bought her an engagement ring. Brent is not a big believer in diamonds. Instead, in honor of their shared love of road-trips, he presented her with an ‘engagement van.’

But as free-thinking as she was, Aly really did want a diamond. Brent said that every time they passed a jewelry store, she’d get a longing expression on her face, and he’d wind up feeling like a bit of a heel. So, now–five years later–Brent has found in my ring the solution to his dilemma: It’s a diamond Aly loves, and a diamond he can believe in.

Brent clocked in the winning bid of $22,000 at 11:57 pm. I was gathered with supporters in my friend Jeanine’s living room. A practicing Buddhist, she placed the ring on her shrine, in the bronze lap of a small statue named Dzambala—a corpulent deity that signifies wealth. To pass the night, we ate pizzas, drank wine, and shared stories. By the time Brent’s bid came in, we were heavy-lidded, but celebratory. At midnight, I let my breath out, fully feeling the effort of the previous months culminate in success.  And just after midnight, an email popped up in my box:

Christina,

Hello and thanks for giving Aly and I the opportunity to be a small part of your journey with your Grandmother’s ring.  We’re definitely happy to be the lucky ones with the bid!  I assure you that Aly and I will take good care of the ring and not take it or its story for granted!  Thanks again so much for this opportunity and we’ll definitely get in touch tomorrow.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you!

Brent

I called Brent the next day to sort out delivery details. I was amazed to learn that he was willing to wire the $22,000 immediately into my account—even before I mailed the ring. What trust! He also invited me to come visit and stay in their spare room any time—an offer that I will definitely accept sometime in the near future.

While it’s true that I entertained certain fantasies that the ring would sell for $100,000, or some such show-stopping amount, in the last days of the auction, my mindset began to change. Web traffic from New York City began to escalate and paranoia set in: What if carnivorous diamond sellers were planning to buy the ring and turn it over for a profit? True, I still would have made money for the vagabond philanthropists, but it not exactly the fate I had in mind for the ring.

So, as this particular worry nibbled on me, I began reflect more on the ring and what it represented. My main concern became less about courting an out-of-this-world final bid and more about finding it a good, meaningful home.


After Brent’s $22,000 deposit registered
in my account, I walked the three blocks to the post office with a small box, tape, and packing materials. The ring, still on my finger, sparkled in the morning light and I felt my eyes start to sting as I walked down the downtown sidewalks. It was starting to hit me: I was on the brink of a leap. I’m really going to do this. I’m really going to say goodbye to my grandmother’s ring forever. For the previous months, I’d been mostly thinking about the ring as just-a-rock.  But now this surge of emotion was forcing me face this other truth:

Selling the ring was a pretty radical thing to do.


A couple of years ago, I enacted the best New Year’s resolution I’ve ever come up with: to jump in every body of water I came across. Unlike vowing to quit getting angry, jealous, or irritated, jumping in water felt small, accomplishable, and somehow significant. There was, I intuited, a secret to vitality tied up in plunging into rivers.

I must have been pushing against childhood memories–memories of the way my own mother approached swimming. While I was having the time of my life doing summersaults, playing dolphin, and hosting underwater tea parties, she’d wade around in the shallows with the other moms, hair pinned into a bun, and hands never touching the water. At eight years old, I made up my mind never to swim in this way. But, as I’ve aged, more and more I have found myself seized by wimpy sensations when it comes to water.

My New Year’s resolution turned out to be a huge success. I jumped into the placid surface of Jenny Lake near the Tetons, into the rapids of the Rgoue River, and dashed through the pounding shoreline of the Bay of Banderas. I’d take deep inhales, firm up my resolve, and plow into the water full-force—without hesitation. And, everytime, I’d emerge from the water a different human—vitalized and full-of-it. Shocked alive.

I’m thinking about this now
because as I walked to the post office with the ring and packing materials that morning, it felt something like standing on the edge of one of those cold rivers: Sort of intimidating, exciting, and imperative to really living.

I removed the ring from my hand, and packaged it up along with a handwritten note to Brent and Aly. At the counter, the clerk explained that my packaging job didn’t fit in the certified mail requirements: wrong tape, wrong box covering. He handed me a curly strip of brown packing tape and a pair of scissors and instructed me to do it over.

I found a brown grocery sack in the lobby recycle bin and cut it to specs. I wrapped it around the box and was dismayed to find the tape had to be moistened in order to stick. I fished my water bottle from my bag and dribbled a few drops it along the tape. While fixing the seams, the sticky-strip clung to my sleeve, to the countertop, and to a strand of my dangling hair. By the time I was finished, the box looked like a third-grader’s art project, held together with homemade flour-paste. No one would ever guess that a $22,000 ring waited inside.

The clerk chuckled and weighed the package. I paid for the $45.000 insurance and delivery fee. As the postman disappeared into the backroom, I caught my last glimpse of the box. The moment took my breath away, but I calmed myself with this mantra, gleaned from the wall of a schoolroom I visited in Nepal:

If wealth is lost, nothing is lost.

Sometimes people ask me how I was able to part with such a special ring. Here is my answer:

I just took it off my finger, and let it go.

www.committedtotheworld.org

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The Nature of Rock

February 13, 2010

I don’t know if I can explain this.

When the bidding reached $20,000 yesterday, I felt a tectonic shift in my perspective. Months of blogging, Facebooking, interviewing, and talking about the ring finally started to culminate, and I began to feel confident that The Ring Project was going to work. My cold feet began to warm. I felt less afraid and more sure.

This is it: my own chapter with the diamond is winding down. But this story started long before I had the privilege of inheriting this ring– and well before my grandfather slid it on to my grandmother’s finger. It started a billion years ago, 100 miles beneath the earth’s surface, when tremendous heat forged carbon into a diamond that rode to the surface by way of an underground volcano. I realized that the effects of this process, which happened so long ago, are reverberating right here and now.

Sometimes, browsing the red layered rock of southern Utah, I have sensed my place in the scale of geologic time. It’s usually a daunting and marvelous sensation: I span my arms across some slot canyon and brush my fingers across epochs–the Paleozoic, the Cretaceous. It’s no doubt beautiful.  But it’s also disconcerting.  The red edifice of pulverized bone and fossil seems so impervious to my own human heart, my tiny life. The rock could care less if I’m a success or not a success, if I fall in love or don’t, if my family is close or not close. And I realize that whatever I accomplish will be buried.

It’s hard to explain, but in this past day, I’ve felt a sudden intimacy with these ancient processes. Like what happened a long time ago is not just locked up in rock that sits inert and indifferent, like a towering hoodoo in the desert. Like what happened then is now breathing, flowing, and mattering. Time, I realized, doesn’t merely transform life into rock. It also works in the opposite way: rock can also turn into life. In this case, into birds and children.

With this ring, someone will save some vultures, send some kids to school—small salvations in the realm of geologic time. But what we do reverberates. Maybe even a billion years later.

The Feast is Set

February 12, 2010

I’ve never been particularly good with small details. One day before the end of the auction, it’s dawning on me that there are a few flaws in my system here–nothing fatal, but a little annoying.  If I were to do this over, I would do a few things differently. But, we learn by doing …

Some friends have suggested that using wordpress blog for the auction might be a little hokey. But after a couple of weeks researching sites like eBay and Bidding for Good, I came to the conclusion that their systems would divert too much money from the ring. Even $200 seems like a fortune in this context; it’s enough to send a kid to school for a year. So, while such an amount may not seem like a big deal in the context of $20,000, it’s a big deal in the context of the tent village in Kathmandu, where an opportunity for education is semi-precious. So, I’m happy about my decision to use the blog, but there are a couple things I could have done to ensure a smoother flow to the auction. If anyone is thinking of doing something similar, please contact me for tips.

My other ‘mistake’ was setting the end time for the auction. Why did I get so hung up on thinking it must end at the exact end of a day–11:59 pm–rather than 5 pm or 6 pm? My current deadline requires east coast bidders to stay up very very late in order to participate in those last crucial hours of the bidding. Then again, if you live in Beijing, it might be perfect. But, if there are any bidders on the east coast, please set your alarm clock and accept my apologies.

It’s too late to change tacks now. As these lines from the Ancient Mariner go:

“The feast is set, the guests are met, and I am next of kin.”

BIDDING RUNS THROUGH 11:59 PM (PST) ON FEB. 13TH!!!

If you have questions about the ring, email me your phone number and I’ll give you a call: ring@committedtotheworld.org

www.committedtotheworld.org

Safe Hands

February 10, 2010

I retrieved the ring from the safe-deposit box yesterday; it now sparkles on my finger (the same finger I broke during a 4th grade softball game).  As I shuffled through a series of asanas in yoga class last night, I couldn’t stop noticing how magical the diamond looked in the low glow of the studio lights. Despite the fact that I’m unable to even touch my toes,  I felt like a real Wonder-Woman with such a ray-of-light emanating from my crooked finger.

But, fun as it is to wear, I have a hard time keeping track of things. It’s occurred to me how unforgivable it would be if I were to lose the ring at this point! What if, while washing my hands, it were to slide off my finger and down the drain? Or slip off in a bucket of greasy movie theater popcorn?

In the middle of the night, I woke in a panic and grasped my finger to make sure it was still there.

It was.

But here’s to hoping the ring finds a home on safer hands fast!

www.committedtotheworld.org

Bridezilla

February 9, 2010

Just four days until I get committed to the world! I’m pacing and nervous, feeling as fickle as a soon-to-be-bride. But instead of agonizing over the bouquet (roses or chrysanthemums?) or my hair (an elegant updo or loose and tousled?), I’ve been debating details of the auction.

Like should  I disclose the reserve price for the ring, or not? I’ve been advised that it’s best to keep it hidden in order to stimulate the bidding. If people know right-off that I won’t sell it for less than $20,000, they are forced to kick off the bidding with an intimidating chunk of change. On the other hand, if the reserve is hidden, they can start anywhere and work their way up to the incrementally, which is a bit less traumatic. This early bidding also stirs up some excitement.

But I’m feeling too horrible about it. I don’t like responding to the posted bids with the message “Thanks! But reserve not met!” I imagine it creates frustration on the bidders end, blindly throwing out numbers without any sense of how close they are to my lowest acceptable price. So, I’m going to put it out there.

I just can’t part with the ring for less than $20,000. Aside from its sentimental value,  the ring is a vintage diamond and was appraised low for tax purposes and is worth more than the posted value. And the causes of the vagabond philanthropists are just too worthy to fall short of this reserve price. So, dear bidders (or soon-to-be bidders!), I hope this doesn’t discourage you!

My other dilemma has been what to do with myself the night of the auction. Hole up by myself in front of the computer and manage privately the incoming bids? Or gather some friends together for wine and snacks and watch the auction progress? But if the auction is a failure, it could make for a depressing party–sort of like attending a wedding where the groom fails to show.

The last thing that weighs on my mind is the actual moment of parting with the ring. More and more, I’m feeling like I want to hand it over in-person. It feels weird to pass along this family heirloom to someone I can’t visualize. Perhaps it’s something like a birth mother wanting to meet the adopting parents. They want to personally transfer their child into good hands. This may not be possible. Perhaps my buyer will live in Iceland and a meeting wouldn’t be realistic. But if that someone special lives closer by, it would be wonderful to know them.

So these are the dilemmas that vex me during the remaining days of the auction. I apologize for my bridezilla-like ways. I’ve been planning this for months and want to pull it off without a hitch. Like any soon-to-be committed gal, it just might be the most important day of my life so far.

Settling Down

February 6, 2010

The city of San Francisco is the perfect place to conclude an overseas trip. From the Torte shops of The Mission to the cannolis of Little Italy, the whole world feels contained in these 7-square miles. I may be back in the country, but the adventure is hardly over.

After the humble rice-and-potato food scene in Nepal, I’m awed by the culinary variety here: taquerias, sushi joints and tapas bars. Cafes with names like “La Boulange” display glossy rolls and serve up gourmet coffee in absurdly pretentious ceramic bowls. Back to dealing in U.S. dollars, everything feels expensive.

There are only seven days left of the ring auction and the bidding holds at $10,000. I’ve committed myself to blogging more during these last auction days, giving more up-to-the-minute accounts as events progress. No more obsessing over commas, or the right turns-of-phrase! Just going to let the words wobble forth like stilettos over potholes.

I’ve been roosting in a Russian Hill apartment. The owners are away in Shanghai. I wake early restless with jetlag, and by 7 a.m. am out wandering. Russian Hill is quintessential San Francisco: sea-weathered Victorian houses, hilly streets, and no place to park. The Powell and Hyde cable car clatters by the apartment, and from the top of the street you can see the spire of the trans-American pyramid, the Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz eerie in the fog.

My half-light strolls are poetic and rich, but this monastic schedule has me ruined by noon. My interview on the Here on Earth radio show was a real feat.  Less than 24-hours after my plane touched down, I was scheduled to arrive at KQED studios to chat about the ring on Wisconson Public Radio. An NPR-affliate, the show is broadcast throughout the Midwest and was a 14-carat opportunity to find a ring buyer.

I wafted into the studio a full hour early, donning rumpled travel clothes that still reeked of incense and the pungent smoke of yak dung fires; I hadn’t even had time to do laundry.  Sheila, the receptionist laughed when I signed in. “Why are you here so early?”

“I just wanted to be SURE I made it here.” Afterall, I thought, a cow might have been dottering in an intersection, or a broken down bus may have blocked the road. Then I remembered I was back in America, where life was preternaturally smooth. But I was still in the habit of expecting the unexpected.

I signed in at the desk and then wandered down to a corner café. The waitress set down a basket of bread and I considered wine. Though exhausted, I also had jittery nerves. A friend recommended a well-timed glass of white before the interview. I ordered a cheap Chardonnay and nibbled on a piece of bread, hoping I wasn’t making matters worse.

At 12:45 I was ushered into the studio, belly gurgling with an unhappy configuration of caffeine and alcohol.  The sound tech positioned the headphones over my ears and conducted a sound check. Through the ear piece, I heard the tail end of NPR news.

My mind spun: I don’t belong here.

For days I’d been having anxiety-dreams about the radio show. Live broadcasting is a terrifying prospect. In fact, I write, in part, because I don’t feel I speak well. I love the long brew of ideas, the process of carefully preparing slow food sentences.

Jean Feraca introduced me and the show progressed at a fast clip. She’d ask a question and I’d alternate between going blank and rambling. Sometimes I’d start to answer and forget the question. Thankfully, Jean was skilled at keeping things afloat. They bulked up the show with music, excerpts from my blog, and sound clips from my vagabond philanthropists.

Then Jean hit me with a math question.

After a clip of Marc Gold explaining how $2,000 can build a school, Jean asked: “So, Christina, tell us: if each school costs $2,000, how many schools can you build if the ring sells for $22,000?”

It was a simple story problem, but I panicked.  It was like being called on in math class. Two schools? 11,000?

“A lot” I blurted out.

A few big-hearted callers phoned to express their support and I teared up. I was touched by the support.

I returned to my Russian Hill digs, took a shower, and settled in for the deepest sort of sleep. The next day I woke up in the 4 a.m darkness and listened the interview podcast. And for a half-drunk, half-wired, jetlagged diamond seller, it actually wasn’t that bad.

www.committedtotheworld.org

Transitions

February 2, 2010

I finally bid ‘Namaste’ to Nepal last night and am now stumbling through the hectic streets of Hong Kong. With only 4 hours of airplane-sleep, my brain cells feel scrambled. How bewildering that in just a matter of hours, it’s possible to go from a land of rice paddies and water buffalo to this high-tech riot: traffic, tall buildings, blinking signs, masses of fashionable strangers, and shops crammed with thing-to-buy. It’s no wonder that I feel, well, not quite myself.

Just the other day, my friend Jen was talking about these sorts of transitions. She’d once lived among some Nepali villagers who believed that people were particularly vulnerable during periods of travel. She used the word “liminal” to describe it: stranded between worlds, the identity dissolves, and one is more prone to haunts and worries. For this reason, the villagers approached travel with great trepidation and respect.

Perhaps that is what’s going on then. As I traverse the globe back to the States, I am not only transitioning back into the rote, familiar ways of my country, but also transitioning back into the last phase of the ring project. And here, in the in-between, I have too much time to question everything. I dine alone on Dim Sum and brood about the diamond.

Will people really start making offers? Will these months of effort pay off? I admit I can get discouraged, especially when I check the ring email account, which is filling with more Viagra ads than bids for the ring.

Without a doubt, enthusiasm for the idea has been epic. Friends have been ultra-supportive, and the media have jumped on board as well: The Huffington Post, The Oregonian, Bradt Travel Guides. Two weeks ago, I told stories about the ring on a Toronto radio station via cell phone. Next week, I have an hour-long radio interview on the show Here on Earth: Radio without Borders.

But the bidding remains sluggish. Perhaps this is just the way of auctions, everyone waiting till the last minute?

Amid among the growing pile of spam, there is some hope. Web traffic is flowing at a nice clip. The site seems to have a global audience ranging from Spain to Singapore, to Iceland, and Peru. New York City has made a particularly good showing. Yesterday, 30 people clicked on the actual auction page. So, the while the diamond lovers don’t seem to be bidding, at least they are window-shopping.

I’ve even have had a few serious inquiries via email, and I’m grateful to these people for expressing their eager interest. It makes this project feel suddenly more real, and also helps it seem less theoretical that I really am going to part with this ring.

I’m surprised to find that the more I confront the reality of letting the ring go, the closer I feel to my grandmother. Had I just resigned it to a safe deposit box indeterminately, I’d have probably done something as equally stead and precious with her memory: Preserved it as sort of a locked-away Still Life painting.

But as I contemplate this semi-radical act of selling the ring, my connection with my grandmother seems to come alive again. I reflect more deeply on my relationship with her, what it meant, who I am, and who she was.

And I take comfort in the knowledge that, even without this ring, there are a million ways for me to remember her. Whenever I hear Big Band music, eat a turkey and cheese sandwich, or catch a passing scent of Oil of Olay. Even now, as I wander these busy streets so far from home, it occurs to me that on the travel map she hung in the garage, she had a stick pin right here in Hong Kong. Perhaps she even walked along this same Chantham street right here in Kalwoon.

There is no question that with or without the ring, my grandmother is  part of me. I see her when I look in the mirror or at my passport photo—no doubt I’ve inherited those same smile lines, that same slightly sleepy look into the camera.

But if even these associations are not enough to bring my origins back–if I find my sense-of-self flagging on some Chinese street amid pots of boiling urchins and dried squid and need something more tangible to ground me–there is always the small wedding band, which I plan to keep and wear.

In such precarious transitions, I can always look at it and remember just who I am and where I’m from.

www.committedtotheworld.org