Coachella: New Rules (apologies to Bill Maher)

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Just back from the experience that is Coachella (my first visit since it has gone to the two weekend format – I think weekend 1 is probably best, if for no other reason than being 1st.) And it was…. as it should be. While we were there we did, however, determine that there are a few ‘new rules’ that need to be put into action. So, listen up Coachella… this is important stuff.

1. New Rule: No long chains of people holding hands to get through a crowd. You have a phone and a ridonkulous beacon (see #9) so you can make it on your own – unless you are complete amateurs.

[No photo because I was actually getting through the crowd - the correct way: with focus]

2. New Rule: No wearing of Indian head dresses. Particularly if you’re (blonde) white girls. You look derivative, and you’re years past the trend - as if that sort of cultural co-opting was ever okay (it wasn’t.)

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3. New Rule: No sitting in the crowd during the sets. You’re tired? It happens, I understand, I’m in my 40s. Go take a timeout on the sidelines like a pro (see photo above illustrating a double foul.)

4. New Rule: Consider just how ambitious you want to be in your fashion choices. Do it for me. Do it for you. Do if for all of us.

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5. New Rule: Know where you lay your head. And go there. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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6. New Rule: No amateurish line jumping. You hate lines? Guess what? So do I. If you’re gonna cut in front of me you better be hella impressive. Don’t be that trollish little twat who sing-songs to me: “Oh my gawd! I didn’t see you! I’m with them!” Really? Really really? I’m 5’10″ and wearing white. So, either you are blind, which I’m guessing not based on the beeline you made to your other trollish friends, or you’re stupid. So, yeah: you are stupid.

[No photo because I was too busy contemplating the opportunity cost of dumping my $11 margarita on her head.]

7. New Rule: Don’t try to enter through the exit. There are around 90,000 people there and about 89,060 can distinguish these two words: EXIT – ENTRANCE. This is not the time to be different… You should have taken that opportunity with your personal stylings… where you were apparently happy to be EXACTLY like everyone else.

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8. New Rule: If you’re going to be tripping balls, have the courtesy to handle your scandal. Enough said.

[photo redacted]

9. New Rule: Don’t rock the bro step. There is just nothing about it that is not awkward.

[No photo because, can you just not... but hilarious link here - go to #9.]

10. New Rule: If you are going to use a giant placard, be it a head, a phallus of some sort, a Brazilian flag, or an inflatable unicorn, be wise and lower your shit when the set is happening (if your friends haven’t found you by now… Maybe they don’t want to?)

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[Though I do like this little tiny purple unicorn, so it is just there for that.]

11. New Rule: Know the legends. You don’t know who Bryan Ferry is? Shame on you. You don’t have to love said legends, but you need to know them.

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12. New Rule: Get the lay of the land, and be sure to let your geographically challenged friends know that there are ways to work around limited spatial understanding (those desert named tents are in alphabetical order!) And know your landmarks. But, seriously people: DO NOT MOVE THE ASTRONAUT.

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And as you can probably predict… I will be seeing you next year regardless.

 

 

Unapproachable…? Maybe it’s a filter, maybe it’s a scientific limitation. Maybe it’s BRF.

So, when I came back from Asia and took an emergency position at an East Bay high school, I thought I fell right back into the swing of things. Seriously. I made friends with my coworkers (at least with the ones I was drawn to) and got back into the American-style of chit chattiness that is somehow required whenever more than one adult human is in the proximity of another. I remember when I first got to Hong Kong being really surprised at the absence of said chit-chat. In shops, restaurants, any sort of service… the chit-chat was absent. I thought it was weird.

But apparently I really got on board.

This became apparent when my vertically challenged, middle-aged principle told me one of the reasons that he would not be renewing my contract was that I just didn’t seem to make a good enough effort to get along with my coworkers. [An aside: no fewer than a dozen of my non-friend-coworkers were shocked to hear this... many of whom are still very much in my social circle today.]

Huh. Well, that’s odd, I thought.

And then today in a conversation with a new colleague at my current school, he said he thought I sometimes give off an unapproachable vibe.

Weird.

I thought back on this. Unapproachable? My life seems ridiculously full of amazing people. I wonder if they find me unapproachable. I suddenly recalled a friend I worked with at Incline High School for years who said she was always surprised how stand-offish I was, why don’t you want to make friends? she had asked. At the time I answered that I thought my persona was a great filter… anyone who felt like fighting through it was worth my time.

But I didn’t really mean that . What I would have said if I had been being honest was that there are only so many people who I am actually interested in. Seriously. But one can’t say that because that is just “rude.”

If being friendly and approachable means that you have to chit-chat all the time, I am realizing that I am just way more Hong Kong than I ever knew. Life is busy and full, and my brain is even more busy and full. If I am giving you time in my brain, you can be sure that I really want you to be occupying that time and space.

And time and space in our dimension is limited. That is a fact.

A while back I wrote about Dunbar’s Number. I had been thinking about it a lot in the context of social networking and the reality that having like 1,437 friends on Facebook just could not serve anyone. Basically the premise is that, scientifically, there is a limit to the number of people with whom we can maintain stable relationships. And really, would you want any other kind of relationship? And rereading that blog post (it is a good one!) I still stand firmly behind all of the sentiments therein.

Today as I revisited the ideas around Dunbar, it dawned on me, as a teacher in a huge comprehensive public high school where I deal with no fewer than 100 teenagers every single day of my life, and as a truly fortunate member of a really dynamic and far-reaching family (and extended family), and a person who feels blessed every single day of my life for the fascinating tapestry of friends I have from 1972 to now, from Petaluma to Guadalajara to Hong Kong to London to NYC to Dubai to Bali to LA… there’s only so much people juice I have left to share with people in my day-to-day.

It may seem bitchy (would certainly not be the first time that has been said about me) but I’m just being real. It is easy to be kind to people you come across in your day-to-day – and in fact I think it is kind of an imperative – but I fundamentally disagree that there is some sort of requirement that being in the same time/place/profession as someone else somehow creates a requirement of friendship. Professionalism? You bet. Support? Abso-freaking-lutely. But friendship? A willingness to share precious time and often fragile feelings or sensitive opinions? Nope, that is not a free for all in my reality.

If I am rude (and I certainly have been), call me on it. If I am unprofessional (sadly, this too has happened once or twice), let me know. If I break a rule, disregard protocol, or am straight up cruel (far less likely, though I would not rule it out), get in my face.

But tell me I need to be friends with everyone? That I need to share my time and life energy with people just because?

No.

I cannot agree to that condition.

If I have a far away look on my face it is because I am probably somewhere far away – thinking of the millions of things I want/have/need to do. And that is okay. If it looks like I don’t see you – ask yourself, is she wearing her glasses? If the answer is no, then I do not see you. I am a good judge of people – and I know – often very early on – if I will be friends with people (and FYI, I am a really good friend, references on request) and if we are not friends, it is not you, it is not me, it just is.

Blame Dunbar.

Or my bitchy resting face.

Nostalgiasm.

For the past couple of weeks I have been deep, deep, DEEP into the archives of my past lives. Although I realize that sounds weird, going through the accumulated archives (the intentional and the accidental) of my human existence, it really does feel like a series of loosely connected but wildly divergent experiences.  I have found things from my infancy, my burgeoning adolescence, my painfully intentional embarkation into college, my initial departure for far off shores, and all things in between.

To say it has been a long strange trip would not only be plagiarized, but vastly understated.

Many of the true gems deserving of public display found themselves on my Instagram (because why shouldn’t Facebook, Inc., own my memories?) and there were heaps more beneath the carefully laid bandages I have strategically applied in order to preserve and/or to obfuscate the uncomfortable, precious, healing, and irreparable memories.

As I went through the boxes I was awed by the (embarrassing, silly, hopeful, ruined, strange, unfamiliar, heart-wrenching) notes, photos, accolades, and things… so many things. And as I sat among the things, things I would keep, give away, throw away, I thought aloud:

I miss this girl.

Now to be clear, I was a strange kid; too everything. Too tall. Too bossy. Too critical, Too worried. Too smart. Too too too. But looking back through time at all the things that were me, I suddenly missed my younger self in a way I had never really considered before. At least all those too’s were mine.

I hear all the time about people who miss their youth, but it is usually a ‘glory days’, cougar-y, broken dreams-y longing, which I have never identified with. As I looked back at my life what I missed was being the person in those pictures and notes and things, who was totally free to be herself. She was not operating from underneath the weight of a lifetime of labels assigned to her by other people. The girl I saw in all that stuff was not afraid to smile with crooked teeth, or laugh out loud, or stand up for what was right, or to speak up for herself. She was not afraid to be totally fashion/music/style challenged, she was just going for it. Not that she had a huge number of original ideas in any of those areas, but she tried them all on.

A lifetime of “you are so…” “you know how you are…” ” it is your style, way, personality…”

It dawned on me as I lugged boxes on boxes on boxes of things from here to there to gone, that the heaviest thing I was carrying around was something I haven’t put down since I picked up that first thing someone told me was mine years ago.

It is funny that I am thinking about this now, because right now I am faced with a real, conscious opportunity  to think about where I am, what I want, and to truly remember who I am. And it is hard. It is hard to ignore the constant barrage of people telling you who you are, what you are good at (and not so good at) and how you should be and what you should want, need, care about. When you think about the infinite and incessant input a person gets in this regard it is deafening.

No wonder we just quietly take it on board.

Think for a minute how many times in a day or a week you hear someone say, “You are…” I have become acutely aware of it in my present work situation because it seems to be the primary operating system there to tell people how they are, who they are, even why they are. But it started a long time ago, the first time someone pointed out something about myself to me that I picked up and put on.

They are not all bad things, mind you, (you are so smart, so athletic, so tall -?-) but they become this fabric, this tapestry, that you slowly add to over a lifetime and you wear everyday, adding to it, good parts, bad parts, strengthening parts, sad parts. I remember things people said about me when I was really young, (mostly the good things); when I was discovering adolescence (mostly the bad things); and beyond (mostly the confusing things).

And when do you take it off?

In my case, I didn’t. In all the days of adding to this technicolor dream-coat of a life, I never took it off. Sometimes I held on tighter because I liked what it said about me, other times, because I felt like I’d be lost without someone else’s understanding of where I belong in the world.

Sometimes, I keep it on to hide because it is a whole lot easier to wear all those labels than to try to really show people who you really are.

But sitting in that filthy garage among piles of life sometimes less ordinary and other times so totally ordinary, I caught a glimpse of what that little girl way back then thought of herself. The fact was she didn’t think of herself that much. She thought about the wide world out there and all the cool things to do and see and taste and try (within reason of course – she was a Virgo then as now after all.)

And it was not half bad.

I walked away from that garage and another completed project, noticeably dirtier, a little sadder, and a lot freer than I had felt in a long time.

The next time someone starts a sentence with, “You are so….” I am going to do that thing someone special taught me in Hong Kong years ago: Look just beyond their left shoulder and continue on with whatever I might be doing, politely nodding and agreeing when they are done with their most current assessment of me.

And I am gonna leave that coat right there. I have plenty of my own stuff to wear, thank you very much.

You hate to write and that hurts me…

“Oh my gaawwwwwd. I hate writing!”

This extended, full-bodied, overly punctuated declaration, emanates with strength, but not actual malice from one of the most vociferous students I teach. The irony of her simultaneous loquacious nature and proclaimed disdain for the words that allow for this is not lost on me. But at the moment it reminds me of all the things I have been thinking as I read page after page after page of forced reportage on subjects ranging from bioethics to drone usage, reproductive rights to media consolidation, the disappearance of empathy as a result of internet use to wealth disparity. Amazing and interesting (and self-selected!) subjects all. And still the writing… it  reads like the pained prostrations of an injured (or maybe insolent) child.

When I turn to my student, one who always says to me, ‘Why do you use such big words?’ [To which I always say, 'Because why not? What else could be more powerful, surreptitious, surprising, thought-provoking, amusing... all at the same time?'] I remind her, as I do in so many situations, that her hate, her vitriol, is always a choice.

How can you hate writing? I think as I reflect on her spoken words, (and the abused lexical orphans I have been trying to salvage in the papers I have been reading.) You, who have taken every freedom these words have offered you, changing them, reshaping and redefining them. You objectify and adjectify. You noun verbs and adjectivize nouns. You coin neologisms with a wondrous recklessness. That’s suss; wet; trifling. They have allowed you to do this in order for you to show your best, most creative, most unique, charming and interesting self. They speak for you, they let you do things to them, anything you need!

How can you hate writing? I wonder as I look at this young lady who has explained to me the nuanced differences between ratchet (the adjective not the verb or the noun) and ghetto (the adjective – of course – not the noun). This same strong woman so wildly influenced by tone – yours and hers.

How can you hate writing? I wonder as I see in her face a wide open future we both genuinely hope for. How else will you be able to leave the legacy you dream of if no one has the ability to write it down, to find the perfect words that can capture all that is you?

That is why I use all those big words, I think.

Charming
Dazzling
Fascinating
Splendid
Magnificent
Beautiful
Bewitching
Statuesque
Pulchritudinous!

She smiles and she knows, and this is how I know her earlier attestation is frivolous, flash, perfunctory even. She doesn’t hate writing, she just hasn’t got to know it yet.

And I get back to reading the essays. And the first magnificent paragraph my eyes fall upon begins thusly:

In the near future, we may no longer have to subject our children to the random flurry of the genetic lottery. In fact, thanks to the fascinating advances of modern science, people today can cherry pick certain biological traits for their potential future offspring.

Perhaps we are going to be alright after all.

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Coach J.

Coach J

My Coach is retiring this year. I knew it would happen sometime, but really it had started to seem like maybe… Anyhow, the older we get the more clear it becomes that nothing lasts forever in a singular familiar way. Sometimes when I think about Coach – which is almost every day in some capacity – I laugh thinking to myself how old we thought he was when we were in school. And he was barely older than  I am now. In fact, if I am precise, when the time comes to mark the anniversary of the actual moment I first met him I think I will be exactly the same age he was on that fall day back in 1984.

I introduced my Coach to one of the teams I coached in the early 2000s. They were thrilled for the chance to meet the man upon whom pretty much my entire philosophy of excruciating hard work, consistency, practice, and the unwavering belief that (in the majority of circumstances in high school basketball) discipline and effort could get ‘er done. These girls were one of the first groups I had led, without assistance, as my own team. They changed me in a lot of ways and I like to think I made a difference for them; and meeting my coach was something I was able to do to show them a little bit of what was ‘behind the curtain’ in my life, one I tend to share very little of with my clientele.

So we drove down to Sacramento where the Petaluma Lady Trojans (a disappointing, yet enduring adjustment of my school’s mascot for the women’s sports programs… often “T-Girls” as well, yet I digress) were playing in the Northern California CIF Championship. For the uninitiated, this is a huge accomplishment in a state like California with more than 1,450 high school teams – our section, the NCS has 171 competing schools at different classifications. (The Southern Section boasts 567!) When we arrived at Arco Arena in Sacramento and found the Petaluma contingency, I felt like a prodigal daughter returning home – in my heart feeling so lacking relative to what I had once intended to accomplish by the ripe old age of 30, and shy about “just” being a high school teacher and varsity basketball coach in front of the man who had seen me through years of awkward adolescent declarations of what lay ahead for me. The moment passed in a millisecond as my coach embraced me, my girls, the moment in the way he always had.

I was one of his girls and he was going to let people know exactly what that meant; he suffered no fools, failures, or lackeys. If you were one of Coach’s girls you were something special, and he was going to make sure you, and those around you saw that. On my darkest days I often find myself turning to some small memory of something Coach said to me over the years.

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What an immeasurable, tremendously generous gift.

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Shoes have always been a subject close to my heart.

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I do love shoes. This is true. I used to march around in my mom’s friend Vicki’s shoes when I was little because Vicki was tiny and they almost fit. For a while I went through a phase of only ever wearing flat shoes… I was a tall kid and in high school that was particularly vexing. But the truth of the matter is, flat shoes are not as fun, flattering, or attractive. Then I became much more of an equal opportunity shoe opportunist. Today I definitely prefer heels, and if at 5’10″ that’s an issue for you, that’s your deal. Anyhow, it basically just comes down to me loving shoes.

My love of shoes, however passionate it may be, shifted on my adaptation to Asian norms for the 5+ years I was there. I came to understand shoes as a truly exterior function of living. Shoe racks became not a closet accessory (well, not just a closet accessory) but a standard outside every entrance to every home I visited. I became accustomed to never wearing shoes that I wore outside the house, inside the house. The more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense. And the even more I thought about it the grosser the idea of ever traipsing in the house with all the exterior dirt from my shoes covering the floor became. It realigned my shoe relationship, although it certainly did not diminish my love for all things zapatos. I know lots of people love shoes as much or more than I do (I mean shoe porn is actually a thing), it is all over the internet. [The images that make me wanna vomit now are these kinds where people wear their shoes in bed trying to look sexy... Your shoes? In your bed? Touching your pillow? BLECH. (I get that they think it is like, porn-star sexy, but really. Yuck.)]

So it makes sense that when I came back to the States I continued to adhere to the no shoes in the house rule, especially because I live in the Mission and if you really wanna get grossed out, check out my sidewalks someday. BLECH. I had a couple of complications with my practice: cats. While cats are very clean themselves, some of their indoor habits are not so much, eg: the litter box. My solution was to get a beautiful new Miele vacuum. And this worked well. I vacuumed in the morning and in the evenings, sometimes in the late afternoons. It worked fine. People removed their shoes in the house, I vacuumed, I maintained my sanity. [My downstairs neighbor might have been on the wrong end of this arrangement, asking me one evening in passing, "So, how often do you vacuum anyhow?"] But I kept it up because I was sensitive to the reality that people who ask others to remove shoes on entering their home and then expect them to walk on a filthy floor is as gross as wearing shoes in the house in the first place. And I was proud that was never a problem in my casa.

But then, things in my casa changed. Someone unfamiliar with cat habits (and my own vacuum tendencies) began to spend a lot of time in situ. And he was not only unused to a shoe free home situation, he was more distressed about cat dirt than the filth spiral my brain obsessed on when I thought about what was on my sidewalks and logically and subsequently on my floor, and eventually… god, who knows where…

Shoes became the norm (and I was vacuuming less for lots of different reasons, mostly because when you are sharing company with someone else they think it is weird that you would rather vacuum than hang out. Fair enough.) And as shoes became more normal, vacuuming became less critical. Housecleaning was still a priority – I mean, I am who I am, after all – but it became more like a weekly thing. And less than pristine floors were easier to ignore, as shoes were always on. We carried on like this for a long time. Sometimes frustrations would erupt around the state of the floors. Mine because, why was I the only vacuum obsessive? And his because, what was the point of vacuuming or sweeping when as soon as one was done it needed to be done again… I argued that this was flawed logic. It was as if one should never wash a dish as it would obviously get used again. Or why make the bed, it would obviously get unmade again. It is just the cycle of life… there is no futility in this repetition, there is sanity.

Or at least for me there is.

And over time, the hardwood floors became a less and less shiny, showing more and more wear and tear. I thought to myself repeatedly that they were going to need to be completely stripped down and refinished. A total do over.

Now things have changed again. I am vacuuming two or three times a day, and my shoes are off. Walking around on the floors in my bare feet feels grounding and familiar. When I came home from yoga last night and slipped off my shoes, it became clear I would need to vacuum, cats being cats. I considered that had I been wearing shoes, the circumstances would have been the same in terms of needing to vacuum, but I wouldn’t have noticed.

And this insight made me think about wearing shoes in my house for the last however long. It was just a way to ignore the real issues that were right underneath me the whole time. The dirt and refuse and icky details remain regardless if you are feeling them, or dealing with them. And walking over them with your shoes may seem to lessen them or diffuse them by swishing them around, or even appear to crush them, but they all remain, steadfast, just ground further into the beautiful hardwood beneath your feet.

What was once something easy to fix with daily diligence has now forever marred my hardwood floors, unaffected by superficial efforts to sweep it up.

It is going to take a lot of work to restore them.

But it is possible.

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Turning another page.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

The New Year holds a striking amount of significance for so many people – me among them. In my rational mind I am aware that this is silly, this arbitrary attachment to an abstract new beginning. But I still believe. I have borrowed from a variety of places and traditions in terms of how I celebrate. I clean and get everything all sorted out for smooth segues into new calendars, I eat something celebratory for no other reason than the simple pleasure it brings, if I toast in the new year anymore I am mindful of the sort of hangovers that lurk around every corner in middle age, I contemplate, I make lists (and I read so many: best photos, most searched, best music, best movies… ), I set goals, which in combination comes down to a sort of daydreamy visualization situation. I hesitate to call it meditation only for its lack of continuity and specific intention. Not to say that I think this kind of mental exercise is any less effective, just different. And it allows from some mu-si vegetables and wonton soup in between thoughts. I also love to have my own sort of greatest hits, generally punctuated by photos. I may do that again – but now with Instagram and what not, it it starting to seem a little unoriginal – if it ever was.

I did not write a lot this past year, well I didn’t blog a lot. And my relationship with “social” media is really changing for a variety of reasons. First of all the fact that the OED identified the (non)word “selfie” as the word of the year because its use increased by more than 17,000% is profoundly disturbing – more for the underlying meaning of universally embracing this concept than the fact that it is a made up word. What does it say about a species that their most used word is all about self-promotion, self-obsession, self-ishness? I  have students that seriously shoot unending series of selfies. Daily. Hourly. In addition to this ridiculousness, there is the constant Facebook weirdness. I have taken to hiding people from my feed because I am too gutless to actually delete these people on the outside chance that they would notice and I might be forced to deal, face to face, and explain that I really find their superiority trips/self-obsession/directives on how to live/ignorance/politics/judgements/incessant unedited posting/Candy Crush invites/misspellings (which even when intentional are still misspellings and annoying) soul crushing. And this is super frustrating as I have been working so hard to be kind and to remember that everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about…. Well, frankly with all your posts I do know about it – unless you are one of those cryptic posters - but I am still trying to be kind. Really. Another thing that happened this year is that someone started aggressively stalking and harassing me via any available online conduit. He would read (and repost!) my blog posts that he took offense to (and believes to the point of mass publicizing it that one of them was written about him – ummm… Hello Crazy.) He stalked my Instagram. Then he started a series of ad-hom attacks on Twitter (keep in mind my Twitter is private and he is fully blocked by every available avenue and still he persisted.) I reported him repeatedly. Then he started contacting me through some other account – that he was accusing me of running. Where is Sweet Brown when you need here? I mean, who in the world got time for THAT? Reported that too. But it just made things less pleasant. Then I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle, and I just got freaked out about the whole situation.

Also, my hard drive crashed in September without a real recent back up and so I did some deep work with attachment… and ended up feeling a bit detached. Though, this morning as I watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day my first reaction was, “I gotta get a photo of that…” while I was still curled up all warm in my bed. And why? For whom?

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But my transition from old year to new year seemed incomplete without some sort of look back – as well as forward. And sooo…

This year is beginning in a markedly different way than I had anticipated, directly. Looking back at the (little) bit of writing I did this year in the public and private forums it seems a little less surprising. And I am paying a lot more attention to the layers of synchronicity in my life – like facing relationship crisis points and walking into yoga class where one of my teachers announces that his theme for 2014 will be vulnerability. Seriously? Yeah. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to try to make someone’s morning a little better by making them coffee… and then three hours later on making coffee for myself having the carafe shatter with the pressure of the French Press. Really universe?

Still, I’m gonna keep trying to kill them with kindness. Even the lady from Glee on the NYE special was talking about that being her goal for the new year: kindness. [redacted]

So my year? Sitting here on a quiet New Year’s morning, there is a lot to think about buried in a seemingly mundane year. In honor of the OED, let’s see if I can find a selfie from every month… while all is quiet.

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