(this is annie)

Tea for two. Or one. One.

Ritual is notorious for being a Missed Connections hotspot. At any given moment, half of the people here are probably scanning the room for someone they are too scared to talk to. I can't help but think that it's weird that so many of us are too timid to say hello or merely smile. So far, I have never been a Ritual missed connection. If I were, it might go something like this:

You were the bespectacled vixen in too-tight shoes. Maybe if you hadn't tried to squeeze into a 7.5, you wouldn't look like Oliver Twist's anemic ladyfriend. Wish I'd said hello.

I like coming here because I'm too lazy to walk farther, the music is usually good (not tonight, though) and the people-watching is spectacular. My favorite moments involve first dates. I love reading the couples, gauging their newness, and witnessing the connection or lack thereof. Ritual is actually not a great place to have a first date (or so I'd imagine) because it's often loud, and there's that space during which your drink isn't ready, so you wind up hovering awkwardly as the baristas whip it up.

A while ago, one of the baristas and I talked about Jawbreaker, and from then on, I was a regular! I even got the "Hi Annie" treatment, which is the sort of tiny detail that makes SF start to feel like home after almost three years. Then he quit, and so did the girl who always flirted with me, and so did Nick with his chest tattoo, and now there is only the bearded boy with the French tattoo — and I am never sure if he recognizes me anyway. Right now, it is time to close the coffee shop, to close the computer, and to close the night.


For the most part, I regret things I didn't do more than things I did do. Looking back, there are so many things I wish I had tried while I had the chance. For instance, as a kid I loved to act. I was a huge ham who loved to sing and perform, and I envisioned a future in which I would become a famous star who'd inspire the world. Except it wasn't a dream as much as something I just assumed would happen. Destiny!

Slowly, though, I allowed doubts to chip away at my confidence. I didn't get a part in the high school play, so I never tried out for one again. Instead, I worked as an usher and watched other students belt out Julie Andrews tunes. In college, I wanted to try again, and I even spent 10 minutes looking at a sign-up sheet for tryouts before deciding that I'd probably embarrass myself. Looking back, I wish I'd just gone for it, because it is better to try and fail than to not try at all. Sometimes you even try and succeed.

The older I get, the more I try to learn from my failures, particularly the most spectacular ones (of which there are many). Part of this involves looking at my own behaviors and how they contributed to the success or failure of any given event. This isn't about flogging myself; it's about recognizing habits that are causing the same kinds of trouble over and over. Essentially, I feel the need to take responsibility for my action (or inaction) instead of being all woe-is-me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes me is woe. But if I don't identify my part in allowing said woe to develop, it will keep happening until I learn my lesson.

One thing I regret is all the time I wasted on people who do not give a rat's ass about me. Call it crapathy: a blend of lousy behavior and indifference. While it's not my fault that I initially got served that sort of shit sandwich, it is my fault that I kept asking for more, treating the crapathetic person like a Old Country Buffet of jerkiness. I need to learn how to send the sandwich back immediately and say, "Waiter? This is not what I ordered, and I will not be having it." (I know buffet places don't have waiters, but let me have my buffet joke.)

It is easy to spot obvious assclowns, which is why they don't wriggle into my life in the first place. The task is to become an expert at spotting stealth assclowns. New rule: Stealth assclowns don't get a pass, even if they don't mean to be awful. Because the end result is still me feeling bad because of their crapathy, and that makes them no better than obvious assclowns. Maybe it even makes them worse, because they don't even see what they're doing. My life is hereby declared an assclown-free zone. No exceptions! Now I just need to enforce that decree, which I'm sure will be just as simple as typing those words was.

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Axe Cop might be my favorite web find of the year thus far. It's a comic written by a five-year-old boy with an unbridled imagination, and it's as enjoyable as it is absurd. Sorry for the phoned-in entry, but I have a gang of dinosaurs to kill.


Memory infestation

Last weekend, Jaime mentioned a boy I used to date. "He has such a good heart," I said, because he truly does. "It's funny, but after all this time I've forgotten how and why we broke up."

"You dumped him," Jaime said.

"Yeah, but I don't remember why," I replied. I knew the general idea — we were at different life stages — but the specifics were beyond recollection.

Jaime gave me a you're-kidding look. "You seriously don't remember what pushed you over the edge?"

Well, no.

"Annie," Jaime said. "You dumped him because he had fleas."

Oh, right. That. Visions of itchy red welts on my ankles resurfaced. Once we began laughing, I could not stop. Fleas! I had completely forgotten.

Lately I have been thinking about the memories we retain and those we lose. I want to understand why they fall where they do. I don't have it figured out yet. One thing I do know, though: I am glad that my dating life no longer requires having the Orkin Man on speed dial, and I am happier still that I forgot it was necessary in the first place.


To a sea of stars

Mourning is a cycle, spinning over and over, and I'm not sure when it will stop. The five stages of grief exist, but they don't necessarily happen in order, and they don't happen just once. They keep moving in a general loop, yet they're unpredictable; the intensity sometimes fades, but the pattern keeps repopulating itself.

I am able to reach acceptance, but there's no triumph in that accomplishment. It is a sad place. It isn't a place I really want to be, so I slip back into denial. Then I have to plunge into the icy water of reality, mentally replay the loss, and sit with the absence for a while. It's lonely.

I am not yet used to how different things are now, and I have to frequently remind myself to create new behaviors and responses to replace long-established habits. For instance: When I travel, I instinctively look for a postcard to send to Dad. It is OK to think of him, of course, but it still takes me a few seconds to remember that I can't really send him a card. Or if I did, it would never reach him, because he is gone.

I haven't slept well in months, and this is doubly frustrating because dreams are the only place where my mind can regress beyond denial and temporarily bask in an extinct existence. I can dream about the life I used to know, without the internal scold whipping me into looking at the cold, sad facts. I know the happiness is not real, but the escape is still welcome whenever it comes. Dream-Dad comforts me as he would if he were still here, and things feel better.

Sometimes, if the air and light are just right, I let myself forget while I'm awake, too. Just for a minute. The last time I did it, I was walking down 21st Street on a quiet morning. For a city block, I allowed myself to pretend. The sun on my back felt like being loved, and I slowed my pace to feel less alone for a little bit longer. Eventually, I had to turn left on Mission, where buildings were blocking the light. I returned to accepting the unwelcome truth, but for a tiny sliver of time, I got away from it.

I don't know if this coping mechanism is normal. I'm not sure it's completely healthy, but it’s not like I do it often or stay stuck in that reverie. Occasionally it is what I need to do just to get through the day, because sometimes the absence is overwhelming. I know things will get easier as time passes, and that I will be able to think of my father without feeling so sad, but right now it is still difficult. I need him, he isn't here, and so the cycle begins anew.

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She's so swell

Two Octobers ago, Roger shot a portrait of a woman whose smile and style made me do a double take. She was just... dapper. (A woman with a pompadour tends to be.) So I googled Janelle Monáe and found Many Moons; it was easy to fall in love with her look, voice, and endearing weirdness.

Last summer, I interviewed her, and that made me an even bigger admirer. She was soft-spoken, confident, positive, thoughtful, and s-m-a-r-t. (What's not to love about a woman who gets excited when talking about German expressionist film?) To misquote Born Against quoting Ben Weasel: Janelle is awfully bright for a fresh girl of 24.

Meg and I caught Janelle on Monday; it was her second night in San Francisco, and the show was sold out. I expected it to be good, but she put on one of the best performances I've seen in years. She was five feet of unbridled energy, bouncing around the stage while throwing all of herself into every measure of every song. ("She's like a tiny girl version of James Brown," Meg said.) And despite her nonstop dancing, her voice was smooth and buttery on every note. I was glad that I'd remembered my earplugs (old) because at one point, the band got "You Made Me Realise"-style loud, and even with the plugs I had ringing ears afterward. But it was worth it.

Here are two tunes from the record coming out in May, but honestly, you need to see the live show to see why I'm so fangirly about her. Anyway: Cold War and Tightrope. Now you know.


Just the facts, ma'am

We don't have cable at our apartment, so my exposure to Fox News is limited. Thank god for small favors, right? Still, even I know that the network is overflowing with crazy. For anybody well-acquainted with reality, watching Fox News is like tuning in to the latest updates from Bizarro World. Up is down, left is right. (Except the left is never right, because those flag-burning socialist baby killers are coming after your children to take away their religion while turning them into homosexual jihadists.)

I am not the first or even the 26,000th person to say that facts are only somewhat relevant to Fox's reporting. Interpretation, opinion, spin, and emotion have stronger pull. Fox distorts the truth to fit its agenda, and in a triumph of evil-genius message-manipulating puppetry, its talking heads regularly complain about how the liberal media is biased, and only Fox has the courage to tell the "truth."

I have been thinking about how we can have our own Fox News channel inside our heads. To some extent, most of us create versions of reality to fit our personal agenda. We might downplay inconvenient facts and concoct new interpretations of events. We look better than we are when we broadcast these lies — and they are lies, even if they're small ones. The more we repeat them, the easier it is to believe the stories we tell ourselves. We have met Karl Rove and he is us.

And of course these stories get high ratings, because they tell us what we want to hear about ourselves.

I have not been completely immune from being overly imaginative in this way, but I am doing my best to be straightforward and honest — with both myself and other people. I aim to be BBC World News, not Fox News. This is why lately, I am alternately angered and amused by people who habitually lie to themselves and to me. It angers me because I initially question myself: Did I get the story wrong? But then I look at the immutable facts and think, "No, I'm just dealing with the Glenn Beck of my personal life."

It amuses me because after figuring that out, I somewhat enjoy watching the Fox News mentality in action. At first, I think these people must be plotting their dishonest moves, but then I realize that's giving them too much credit. They actually believe their distorted worldview over the facts staring them in the face. So it becomes entertaining to see them drift off into their Bizarro World, in which their stories have little to no basis in reality. I watch for a while, just to observe the craziness in action. And then I go back to living in the real world. We all are affected by our own perspectives, but when they substitute for reality, it is time for me to change the channel.



I don't think I will ever get over the marvel of flight. To be able to hop hundreds of miles in a little over an hour is the kind of everyday magic that we take for granted too often. I am on the air bart bus — me and six men — and I am very tired and very ready to find sleep. When I got on the bus, one of the men turned to me. "You escaped Portland," he said.

"I didn't know it needed escaping," I replied. I was slightly nervous; how had he known I'd come from there?

He must have read my guarded face, because he then alluded to the much-delayed flight. That made sense. He must have seen me on the plane. He called someone and promised to be home soon.

I am so used to watching people that I never imagine I am being watched. Earlier today, Jaime and I saw a guy with a Michigan Crew t-shirt. I asked him about it; he'd graduated in 2000 like us. "I thought I knew your face," he told me, and then remembered where he'd seen me ten years previous.

Now I wait for the train that will return me to the city. The orange lights overhead crackle and sigh, casting their sickly glow over my skin. Further out in the night, rows of streetlights haphazardly define hills. The East Bay is quiet tonight, and I am too. I want to be home in my bed with the cats claiming too much of it, but I don't mind waiting for the train. It gives me time to study this midnight, burn it to mind. It feels like something to document, a solitary moment that I will revisit like cinema.


Green mind

"Don't forget to wear something green tomorrow," Danny said last night. But that is not my color, and so the only suitable thing in my closet is a pair of forest green stacked-heel oxfords. (Purchased in Nolita, $50, 2004.) Instead, I will wear my old MBV shirt. This is how I imagine things going:


ANNIE is trudging to the office in jeans and her MBV tee. She has made an attempt to not look completely unkempt; she has washed her hair and everything. While walking to his office, FAKE RYAN GOSLING spots her out of the corner of his eye.

FRG: Oh hello, Fake Natalie Portman!

ANNIE: Hi, Fake Ryan Gosling. I don't get Natalie Portman very much anymore. Last time it was Sarah Jessica Parker, and before that, Rumer Willis. All things considered, I think I preferred Natalie Portman.

FRG: Technically, she would look like you, since you are older. Everyone knows you had the cheek mole first, too. She is totally biting your style.

ANNIE: Thank you.

FRG: You are welcome. I was kind of clueless when you were talking about my bicycle panniers at the farmer's market, you know.

ANNIE: It's okay. I told myself that maybe you were gay, and that was why you showed so little interest in conversation. Doing so allows me to avoid examining the reasons behind my failure to charm you even slightly.

FRG: Oh, I am not gay (although if I were, that is OK, too). I am just clueless. Your feminine wiles are indeed irresistible, my pet, and what's that you're wearing? A faded, cut-up My Bloody Valentine t-shirt?

ANNIE: Why, yes. Yes, it is.

FRG: I surmise that you are wearing it because My Bloody Valentine are an Irish band, and today is St. Patrick's Day. What sartorial brilliance! Everybody will get the allusion and nobody will harass you about not wearing green — which, as we all can see, is really not your color. What are you doing after work? May I buy you a drink — say, at House of Shields?

ANNIE: Only if we can call it House of Kevin Shields.

FRG: That is clever! Even if nobody else has ever seemed to think so.

ANNIE: Why are we using so few contractions?


In reality, this is what is likely to unfold:


ANNIE walks to the office and nearly avoids being peed on by a muttering vagrant. LOITERING BIKE MESSENGER DUDES give her the staredown, which makes her want to point at their patches and tell them that Amebix was really a crap band.

ANNIE: Not wearing green does not mean I am an anti-celebratory grouch.


ANNIE: But I am wearing an Irish band's shirt. Isn't that enough?

EEITW: No! Commence the pinching!

As a crowd hopped up on Lucky Charms and Shamrock Shakes advances, ANNIE attempts to escape. Unfortunately, she is no match for their crabby fingers, and she is slowly pinched to death. Her last words are a gasped telling of a holiday-appropriate joke that she always finds funny despite only one other person EVER laughing at it.



Sparkling wit

I had no interest in reading the Twilight books. Sabs told me they were awful but addictive, yet I have this thing called the Faulkner Theory of Reading Priority. See, there are only so many reading hours left in my life, and there's a lot of Faulkner left to read (and you have to read Faulkner more than once). So if it comes down to reading a book about a sparkly vampire or a dysfunctional Southern family, I go for the Compsons over the Cullens. Especially because I can go see the Twilight movies, which feature Robert Pattinson in foundation two shades too light for him.

But then Jen gave me the four-book Twilight series, and I was still on crutches so I was happy to have any sort of entertainment possible. The books are enjoyably awful, with clunky prose and cliché dialogue and typos galore. I read the first in an afternoon, the second the next, and went through the third the following weekend. Unfortunately, the glee of reading Twilight passages out loud to my roommate and her boyfriend began to fade. And then I could walk again, so the final book remains unread. (From what I have been told, Edward uses his fangs to do an impromptu c-section on Bella, who gives birth to a TALKING BABY.) I hope this guy sticks with his reading-the-books project, because I cannot wait to see what he has to say about that.


Havens in the park

An old friend (let's call him Redacted) is in town from Southern California. He's here because he is head over heels for a girl in San Francisco. As it turns out, I don't know her but I know who she is. She works at _____ and I go to _____ a lot, and when he described her I knew exactly who he was talking about.

When you are in love, you want to tell the whole world about the person you adore. It's like you've stumbled upon some amazing secret that everybody needs to know, and you are the messenger. So I asked Redacted about his special ladyfriend.

Their story is a good one, but it is not my story to share. I will share this, though. I asked him to tell me about her, and this is what has me smiling hours later. "She has the most beautiful laugh," he said. "I could listen to her laugh for the rest of my life."

Redacted had better be careful when he goes back to Hollywood, because some dodgy scriptwriter is going to lift that line for a movie. Then it will join the ranks of "You had me at hello," a phrase that can never feel genuine because it's been used in a Tom Cruise movie. For now, though, Redacted is safe from thieves of sentiment. Redacted is sincere with his words. Redacted is in love, and that makes me very happy.


A well-organized sock drawer

My maternal grandfather was an immigrant, and that side of the family is thoroughly German. After cooking bacon, my grandmother would pour the grease into a coffee can, saving it for, well, I don't know what. But she was saving it. My grandfather kept every rubber band, bank statement, scrap of twine. "You never know when you might need it," he'd say. Living through both World Wars — the first as a child, the next as a young man — created a lifelong habit of frugality.

I know it's not right to generalize, but it is rare to see a messy German. My mom's side of the family, and the vast majority of their countrymen, have a uniquely Teutonic dedication to order and cleanliness. My grandmother's home was always sparkling; I remember her hands glowing pink from cleaning with diluted bleach. (It is a wonder that my mother ever developed proper immunity, because the home held so few germs for her body to fight.) Before we left his house after a visit, my grandfather would rush out to clean our car windows even if he had taken it through a car wash that day. Everything in my grandparents' home was tidy, there was never any dust or disorder, and god forbid you leave a dirty dish in the sink for a moment or two.

Betty is her parents' daughter. I'll clean my apartment before she visits, but while I'm in the shower or running to the store for a minute, she'll make it shine. I ask her not to do this, because it makes me feel like a filthy sow who is being silently judged. (Also, she should just rest and stop working so much.) My take on tidiness is a blend of my father's controlled-chaos clutter and my mother's fastidious and spotless organization.

Yesterday's cold, rainy afternoon made me happy because it meant I could clean the apartment. This probably doesn't sound like fun, but it is so satisfying to zone out with an old toothbrush and dirty tiles. There's a kind of zen-lite focus that develops when all there is to do is disinfect and organize. I like to clean because doing so leads to tangible, visible results. So before an unusually social evening began, while the sky whipped rain against the windows, I was rearranging the contents of my dresser drawers. This probably sounds like the most tedious chore, but like they say, if it makes you happy and doesn't hurt anyone, go ahead and do it. Especially if your socks wind up arranged by color in the process.


This is boring, sorry

I used to think I had secret powers. A sampling:

  • As a toddler, I believed that I could understand the cries and gurgles of babies in a secret language indecipherable to adults. As I got closer to kindergarten, I quietly panicked because this special ability was slipping away.
  • I had recurring dreams of flying. I could feel the strain of flapping my arms, pushing down to soar up to the top of the maple tree at the property line. I took this as a sign that my dreams could come true. If you had looked at our front lawn during the summer of 1987, you would have seen a bird-legged little girl frustratedly waving her arms up and down.
  • Around the fifth grade, I was convinced that I could read minds, which led me to track down magic books that would refine my skills. Ladies and gentlemen, the not-so-amazing Kreskin!

Sadly, I am now a flightless failed mentalist who has one-sided conversations with babies. Now the only magic power that remains is dreaming. I feel sorry for people who can't remember their dreams, because having mine come back to me is one of my favorite daily rituals.

In the last couple of years, a strange new pattern has developed. Right before I fall asleep, exactly as I take that first step into slumber, an intense shock of fear jolts me awake. I often sit up in bed with tremendous force, gasp for air, feel my heart race, feel a shiver run through my body. I never know why I am so petrified, because there's never anything to remember.

This happened last night, as it does most nights, but it was different this time. I bolted awake, opened my eyes, and saw a tall, thin woman standing at the foot of my bed. She had sallow skin and angular curls spiraling out of her head. She was wearing a thin maroon cardigan over a dress the color of institutional light green, and her malicious grin broadened as she crept forward. She had it out for me.

It was a horrible vision, easily as bad as the childhood fever dream in which I had to save my grandfather's life by singing the Tyson chicken jingle ("Tyson's fee-ding you / like fam-i-leeee") to Bob Barker, who was hosting a game show in my clothes closet. Last night I snapped out of it and escaped that awful woman, but the whole thing felt uncomfortably real.

So now, on the cusp of bedtime, I'm trying to decipher what the scary lady is all about. Why, for the first time in all these years of bizarre jolt-awakes, did I hallucinate her? Just thinking of it is making my heart beat faster, giving me chills. I have no idea why I was so scared of her, or what she might represent.

My childhood self would be disappointed by my lack of special powers. But I feel very fortunate to have a strong subconscious that, for whatever reason, plays tricks on my me. It never runs out of things that make me wonder, which may be the reason we dream in the first place. The subconscious mind is such an exciting mystery, even (especially?) when it makes us see things that don't exist. So maybe that is a secret power that we all have. And with that, I am going to brush my teeth, slip into bed, and see if that harpy dares wake me up tonight.


Coffee and T



Coffee isn't Mr. Coffee's real last name, of course, but that's how our conversations always start. It is one of those small parts of our friendship that always feel comfortingly familiar. I remember the night we met; it was six years ago, maybe even to the month. I’d been invited to do a reading at a coffee shop on Roscoe, and he liked my story. He asked me what my favorite book was, and Nabokov sent our friendship on its way.

We talk every few months, send each other tiny notes in the mail, that sort of thing. (We've e-mailed each other maybe three or four times, oddly.) What our conversations lack in frequency, they make up for in meaning. We just get each other, and during the gaps in communication, our lives frequently run parallel. When we talk, we laugh at the coincidences. May: I'm going to France, he's going the week afterward. August: He's in love with a girl in Prague, I'm in love with a boy in Portland. Now: He's nursing a bruised heart, I'm doing the same. It is good to be able to ask each other, "Do you know what I mean?" and have "yes" be the truth.

"You should come out to SF," I said last night. "We'll paint the town red and you can get away from the gray weather." (I am tricking him. Fog is gray. Shh.)

It's not the first time we've talked about such a visit, but so far we haven't made it happen. And maybe that's part of how our friendship works, too. We don't need to see or even talk with each other all the time to stay connected. We just are. When it's time to hang up, one of us always tells the other one how much our friendship means. I love that, but I love that it goes without saying even more.

Before any aspiring matchmakers get any ideas... Yes, we tried dating when we first met. We tried really hard to convince ourselves that we should be a couple before realizing that a good friendship is better than a lot of people's romantic relationships are.

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It's funny: I started telling stories before I could write them down. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, and she'd take down the tales I dictated. (Sample title: Paddington Bear Goes to the Mailbox.) In grade school, Jim and Mike and I were an accelerated-reading trio that we called The Rainbows. We wrote Choose Your Own Adventure-type stories in BASIC, and I still remember the password to get into the most adventurous levels. (Blueflashfalcon10mx.) Later, there was WSBS, the "radio show" we hosted over the school's PA system. (The poor nuns.) After a stint as the editor of The Good News Bears, I went on to high school to eventually run The Critic, and after that I edited The Michigan Independent. Post-college, I have always made my living from words.

Other talents elude me. I can't draw; my recent attempt at sketching a dog resembled lumpy oatmeal more than any sort of mammal. I cannot sing very well. Dorky dancer. Asthmatic, clumsy, bad at sports.

So that leaves writing, one of the roughest interests a person can develop. I never trust people who say it's easy to write. Maybe it is for them, but they should just shut their traps, because for the rest of us, it's work. Often-thankless work that compels an otherwise well-balanced person to tinker with a paragraph for hours or ponder the placement of a single comma, all for the chance that there's a tiny seed of something great growing in the copious amounts of crap you've produced. And the better writer you become, the more you can spot what isn't quite right. (For instance, the first paragraph has far too many parentheses, and now I've added one more. Agh!)

I've always liked this take on writing from Truman Capote:
When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely.

I don't think I have some sort of magical talent or anything like that, just an attraction to words and a need to share them. Still, I put on my red writing cap and crack that whip. Sometimes that pushes me toward improvement, and I'll get into this rare and amazing mode where everything flows as it should. Other times, the whip is cruelly critical, and it makes me think I'm a bigger hack than Nicholas Sparks. Then I get upset because Nicholas Sparks' books are the Precious Moments figurines of literature, and yet he finishes his schmaltz, so why don't I write some schmaltz of my own? See? Whipped. But I can't not write. Frankly, I don't know what else to do.

All of this is an lengthy prelude to what I wanted to say in the first place, which is this: I like taking photographs! I enjoy snapping scenes all around town, stealing shots of strangers, and trying to get the cats to stand still for a portrait of Minou as a feline Henry Kissinger lookalike. (Glasses, jowls.)

Unlike writing, taking pictures is easy for me. This is because I have no idea what I'm doing, and I don't measure myself by the end result. There are no high expectations, no need to get a perfect shot, no aspirations to do much more than capture a scene. I might look at a photo and think, "Oh, look how well it turned out!" instead of looking for something to improve. In other words, it's fun.

Lately I've found another reason to keep the camera battery charged. Since my father died, an increasing number of my pictures look like his paintings. The bright colors, the empty space, clean lines — they're all him. I laughed while writing this because I just looked up at a painting he did of an awkward girl next to a cruiser bike; this morning, I snapped exactly that scene while waiting for the bus. I don't go looking for this overlap; it just happens every so often. Every time it does, it's like he's here for a moment, looking at the world with me.


From pole to pole

I got halfway to the train today before realizing that I'd forgotten my bag at home. On the walk back to retrieve it, I took a different route and basked in the sunshine. It was one of those warm early spring afternoons that is probably foggy on the western side of the city, but the Mission was nearly balmy. All the walking gave me ample time to think.

My mind went to 2007, when I considered heading to California. I was ready to leave Chicago, but I was also scared of making such a large and literal move. I spent a lot of time going over what-if scenarios — what if I don't like it, what if I don't make friends, etc. Eventually I thought, "Well, if that happens, then I can always move back." Fear — at least the worry we dream up for ourselves, anyway — is actually an easy demon to slay.

Anyway, when the furniture was sold and the Chicago days were dwindling, I specifically remember thinking, "I will always remember this time as a point when I knew my life was going to change in a big way." I love those moments. Like when Jesse and I stared upward on a summer night, I knew I'd remember that as one of the best scenes of our friendship.

Sometimes you can identify your life's turning points as they happen: graduation, first job, moving to a new city, having children. Other times, it takes time to look back and realize how some of the most meaningful things start out unassumingly. I think of listening to Fifteen records (actual records!) with Trevor in 1996, for instance, and how it was impossible back then to know what a close friend he'd become.

Today I'm again at a fork in the road, and I am dropping the compass in the dirt. It is scary and exciting at the same time. (Two roads diverge! Captain of my soul! Choose your own adventure! Other highfalutin literary allusions!) But for now, it's time to lace up my orthopedic dancing shoes.


Weird fish

Once,it was summer in Ann Arbor and I was heading down the street with a fish. I don't know why this scene popped into my head today, but it did.

First, the background. My then-boyfriend Evan was taking the LSAT, and to celebrate, I thought a goldfish was in order. Yeah, I don't know why, either. Apparently nothing says "I love you, future lawyer" like carp. Anyway, I took the bus to Meijer, bought the fish, and set up the fish's bowl in Evan's apartment. "What a lovely surprise this will be," I thought, smug in my creative gifting. Unfortunately, I was not well-versed in the art of fish maintenance, and I didn't know that tap water can kill fish. Poor Evan trudged home after finishing the test, only to be greeted by a lifeless fish floating belly-up, its tiny fins suspended in its watery grave.

Evan was nice about the whole thing; if I recall, he even took care of the toilet "funeral." I felt terrible, of course. Just awful. I decided to atone for my fishslaughter by buying him a new fish, which I'd planned to gently place in purified water. Ichthyic salvation!

You can read what happened, but the gist is that fish la deuxieme met its death in a sewer. It's funny on a can't-win-for-losing level, and part of me still laughs at how my attempts to be romantic frequently end in disaster. So it's not like I fail to see the dark humor in the fish debacle.

Even still, the death of Fishy 2 remains one of my biggest small horrors. I can almost feel the warm rain of that day. The scene plays through like a movie. I can see the fish hurled out of its bag, and I feel the panic of trying to grab it, trying to capture it, trying to keep it from dying. There is something acutely upsetting about seeing fish out of water. Their frenzied jumping and gasping, faster and faster, makes me panic and feel their helplessness. Maybe it's because even though their little fish-brains cannot philosophize, they fight death just as fervently as you or I would.

(This is why, after years of fishing with my father, child-me began to toss worms and cheese into the water instead of baiting a hook; that way, I could enjoy my dad's company and could see fish up close without guiltily watching them thrash about. A harbinger of my vegetarianism?)

Nothing more to say, really, except that I still feel bad when I think about the whole thing. It's not like I need to talk it out in therapy or anything, but my heart aches when I remember that flopping fish being pulled into the sewer. I tried so hard to save it. Is it ridiculous to have piscine empathy? Maybe. Probably. I mean, millions of people eat fish every day and they don't think twice about sending them to the sewer. Like I said, I don't know what spurred the return of this memory, but maybe tomorrow I will go feed some koi to balance things out.

Also, I tried to resist, but I love bad puns so much that I had to add that this story is totally off the hook. (Groan.)

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A writer of words with no voices

Project: CMMWSWUK (Cover Mid-90s Midwest Emo Songs With USB Keyboard) has hit a snag. Never mind the fact that I've forgotten small details like what time signatures are, or that I can't figure out how to set up drum loops yet. The real problem is that as of tonight, the computer refuses to play audio. Perhaps it's a sign.

Playing the keyboard revives the excitement I used to get from going to punk fests. There was an idea that you could do whatever you wanted to do, and it wasn't about talent as much as expression. Some bands used to look down on Constatine Sankathi, sneering and muttering, "They don't even know how to play their instruments." But they played them anyway, and they were sincere in their emotion, which is ultimately more important than their trombone tuning.

I was always afraid to play music (and do a lot of things) because I wanted to be good at it. I didn't want to do something half-assed, and I worried that I'd be just another hack. Similarly, I didn't write short stories because I feared they'd be bad. So now, more than a decade after I should have figured this out, I am finally stringing notes together. The songs are not groundbreaking or anything, but they are mine. My roommate heard one of them and said it sounded dreamlike. Anything that isn't "shitty" is a-ok! Now to get the speakers working again...

On a related note, my friend Heather has released the video she's been working on for ages. I'm really proud of her and hopeful for her success. I'm also here to tell you that the video may be mildly NSFW. You've been warned — or enticed, as the case may be.

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Brian has more energy than anyone I know, maybe even anyone I've ever met. He just doesn't seem to run out of steam. Ever. Although I am frequently full of hot air, I am a steam-challenged individual. I asked Brian how he manages to be so energetic, especially with two kids.

"Kids give you more energy," he said.

I laughed. "That's not what I've heard," I replied, thinking of Amber and Maysan and all my other mommy friends who gaze wistfully when I speak of uninterrupted Sunday afternoon naps.

"Have I told you my theory of dynamic range?" Brian asked. No, he hadn't. So he grabbed some paper and a pen, and as he drew a sine wave, he explained his philosophy. In music, dynamic range is the ratio between the quietest and loudest volumes. The concept, he said, isn't limited to sound.

"So you know the first time you fall in love," he continued, "and you feel all of these things you've never felt before?"

I nodded.

"Well, that expands your dynamic range, and now you're way up here" — he pointed to the peak of a wave — "but then you break up and it just feels awful and you think you'll never love again. But you do, and maybe it's even better than that first time. So your dynamic range grows again, but it grows in both directions so you have more risk. More to lose, but more to love. It works for all kinds of things in life, and that's why being a father brings me more energy than I had before."

It was more eloquent when he explained it. Trust me on that. And again, I insist this isn't becoming a Morrissey-themed website, but how can you not hum Sing Your Life when you think of this concept? Or maybe that's just me.

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Resisting caffeine

I don't know if it's a Fashion Week hangover or my new insurance not paying for my $300/month Rx or what, but lately I can barely stay awake. Eight hours of sleep every night, yet I feel like nodding off before every day. With heavy eyelids and a useless brain, I finally succumbed to that forbidden and embarrassing workplace faux pas: the supply-closet nap. I grabbed two pillows from the couch near Engineering, locked myself into a closet, and got ready for a nice little 45-minute nap-a-roo.

I justified this decision by telling myself that it was perfectly appropriate to use one's lunch hour for a siesta. (Right?) I lowered the shades, turned on the white noise iPhone app, and let myself drift away. Strange dreams. When the alarm went off at 2pm, I bolted awake and was maybe 15% less sleepy. Progress!

Unfortunately, the triumph was short-lived, so I turned to something I don't want to use: caffeine. In theory, coffee's great. In reality, it makes my heart pound and my stomach churn. But I can't nap at work every day, so I went down to the café in our office building and got the hookup from Miguel. Miguel is the kind of boy I would have had a little crush on if I were 21. He's jovial and kind, and he remembers small details about his customers. On Friday, he'd asked me to think of a joke for him over the weekend. I forgot, but he didn't, so I had to whip out my favorite on the spot. He chortled, and although he may have done so to get a better tip, I like to think that he laughed because it really is a quality joke.

If I were less tired right now, I'd come up with a snappy way to finish this off, but the whole point is that coffee is now becoming part of my life. I do not like this development. But unless a regular nap becomes part of my day, it looks like this may be the only way to stay halfway alert. Anecdotally, most of my friends are similarly sleepy lately, which may suggest that something is going around. Or that my company (me, not my employer) is incredibly exhausting. Could go either way.


Hardened regards

My roommate and her friends (JC, too, but not here) have been watching The Bachelor this season. I never got into the show and had no idea that it was still on the air, but apparently needy singles are still doing rose ceremonies. Tonight, Meg had some girlfriends over and despite my initial plan to do bad emo covers in my bedroom, I was lured into their show-mocking festivities.

Things I learned from watching The Bachelor:

  1. To be on this show, it helps to have very bad hair.
  2. People on this show frequently thank each other for "sharing this journey together." Who talks like that?
  3. The women proclaim their love for some putz of a pilot, despite the obvious lack of chemistry.
  4. The women, at least these two finalists, do not seem to have a surplus of self-esteem.
Sadly, there was not much more to learn. Fueled by half of a pear cider, I joined the ladies in talking back to the television. The putzy pilot lays out this faux-consolatory speech to the girl he doesn't pick, going on about how she's so great blah blah blah and she's going to make someone (else) so happy someday. Which is probably true because she seems nice enough, and you get the sense that the pilot picked the other girl only because she puts out. But still.

The 25-year-old loser's feelings are understandably hurt, and she says something about how she's heard this sort of thing before. "You shink you're tired of 'earing that NOW?" I slurred, pointing my half-full cider at the television for emphasis. "Jushoo wait until you're MY AYSHE."

After the program concluded, there was a special reunion of the bachelor, his betrothed, and the loser girl. I made it through five minutes before leaving the room. The poor fragile girl had to talk with her woulda-been lover Captain Bland, and despite her attempt at putting on a brave face, we could all see where this was going. "Don't do it," I impotently bellowed. "Don't ask him why he doesn't love you." All of us agreed that doing so is just the worst because no answer will ever be satisfying.

I looked at her face and saw that she wasn't going to heed our advice, and I couldn't bear to see this poor girl extend her heartbreak on television. If she were a friend, I'd remind her that rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel. What that show needs is more Moz, obviously. It would be a ratings goldmine.


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