Triggered to the point of sharing what I thought I would never share.

I never thought I would talk about this publicly – certainly not in a forum where my mom would read it – but the events of the past few weeks (hell, the last couple of years if we are being truly honest) have stirred things up in me that I can no longer effectively compartmentalize and push aside.

Traumatic events that we experience never really go away. They morph into different versions of themselves, at times taking up more headspace, at others reaching out into our current lives in different ways. And certain things, like living in a society that categorically will deny my experience, or if they don’t will blame me for it, have conditioned me to keep quiet. To live with the shame and embarrassment that would be a million times worse if people knew. Or god forbid, I had to publicly defend myself.

But I can’t get these events out of my head anymore.

I grew up in years that could be described exactly like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford articulated. I went to high school in a middle class, white, town where the kids drank too much, and often behaved badly as a result. Some died as a result. Many – most – of the boys I went to school with were outwardly sexist, made terrible jokes about women, were blatantly misogynistic, and would have written things in yearbooks like the current nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.

But the majority of these boys were not rapists.

I am not excusing their behavior or antics, but I am acknowledging that most of them understood our town was small enough that even they could not get away with rape. Or something else – like not being rapists – stopped them from crossing certain lines.

I do however, know a whole bunch of girls who participated in behaviors that they did not want to simply because they did not want to deal with resisting, or being publicly shamed or embarrassed in the moment, or called a tease. Many of them would be slut-shamed after the fact, but that was a lesson harder learned.

In the 80s, we did not have the language to describe behavior that wasn’t okay with us but wasn’t a violent assault. There was an implicit assumption that if you were with someone you knew you could not be violated because you knew them, so you were there of your own volition and so whatever happens you had somehow signed up for, simply by existing in the same space.

At the same time, in my town, a growing number of girls were embracing the idea that if the guys could do whatever they wanted with girls and face no consequences, social or otherwise, then they could too. It was like “I’m going to do it before they claim I did it” resistance to the unfair expectations put on girls. I suppose this contributed to the confusion around consent.

These realities are not mutually exclusive.

These realities were often fueled by rampant underage drinking – one of my best friends and I used to joke that we went to college to chill out from our high school years.

These realities are not fiction simply because I cannot recall all the details.

Reality is as it suggests: real, whether the impact is equitable to all involved or not.

I did not experience sexual violence or get forced to engage in unwanted sexual acts in high school. I was lucky.

I was not this lucky in college.

I attended the University of California at San Diego. I chose this school for a variety of reasons, but a very significant one was the lifestyle I imagined I would lead living in a beautiful place, among beautiful people, partying on the beach and other beautiful places. For a lot of my college career this was in fact accurate.

My sophomore year my roommates and I were living off campus in Del Mar. The four of us decided to go through sorority rush. There were varying degrees of success in this endeavor for us, but it was how we began to experience Greek life to the degree it existed (non-sanctioned, off campus) at UCSD. Two of us ended up in houses, two of us did not. I mention this because it changed how we socialized that year and who with.

This was not a good year for me for a host of reasons. I was depressed, heavy, and lost in many ways – I would end up taking a gap year the following year. I, along with my roommates, was drinking way too much and not taking care of myself in any real way. My entire household had eating disorders of varying degrees and were often in conflict over real and imagined issues between us – stories for an entirely different essay.

The night my luck ran out at UCSD was in the spring (I think – I really cannot remember when this happened, which is why I know that recalling the time something took place has little bearing on the reality that it happened.) I had been hanging out with my downstairs neighbors – completely NON-rapey guys who I am still friends with. I decided at some point to drive from Del Mar to campus with one of them to go the Pub for a party of some kind. We should not have been driving and we flew up Torrey Pines on a scooter. I was enjoying myself in a typically (for that time in my life) irresponsible way – I was not aware that I was living in a society where irresponsibility is only permissible for men. At the campus Pub we continued drinking. My neighbor ended up hooking up with someone and I was talking to a group of TKEs who lived three streets down from me in Del Mar. I asked them for a ride back to Del Mar. They told me I could drive them back in their van. There is no way I should have been driving, but I did. They put me at risk because I was a disposable entity to them. They would have little consequence if I got busted. I suppose they never considered the other possibilities that can arise from drunk driving – but they are allowed these indiscretions even if they kill someone, as long as they don’t die because patriarchy.

When we got back to the house there were several other fraternity brothers there. I have absolutely no idea who was in the house in terms of names or numbers.

I went upstairs to use a bathroom, at which point I was pushed (or pulled – I do not know) into a bedroom. There were two boys in the room. I was disoriented and confused, and didn’t know what to do because I believed I alone had gotten myself into this situation. I remember worrying because one of my roommates was dating a TKE and I was afraid how this would look for her. That is so fucked up.

Suddenly, one of the boys in the room became very sexually aggressive with me. I had no idea what to do (and in not too distant future from that night I remember thinking, ‘why in the fuck would a guy want to be with a girl so intoxicated?’ I suppose I should ask Brock Turner.) I thought, if I just went along with it, it would end.

I remember thinking these things with absolute clarity and without and confusion 28 years later.

I bet some of you don’t believe me, right? Because I was drunk, right? Because I don’t remember the details of the evening?

Let me tell you what I remember- and trust that when I tell you what transpired years later you will really struggle to believe me.

When the boy made it clear that he was not going to stop I began to cry. He was attempting to have sex with me. He was laughing. Someone left the room, also laughing. I knew exactly who this boy on top of me was. I still know who he is. I even knew the girl, Amy, he was dating at the time. It was at this point that I became aware that there was another person in the room who had either just come in or had been there all along, I don’t know. He was one of the guys who was part of the group we referred to as the Persian Mafia. He told the boy on top of me to knock it off and grabbed my hand, not entirely gently. He said would take me out of the house. I remember telling him I was so embarrassed as I tried to gather myself (and my clothes) and I was afraid to leave because I didn’t want anyone to see me. He told me he would turn the lights off and walk me out the back. True to his word, he got me out of the house and walked me most of the way back to my street via the beach.

The next day my roommates were – well, I don’t know really what they were all feeling. I know there was shock, pity, anger. My roommate who was dating a TKE told me there was talk that the brothers were freaked out that I might bring assault charges against them. That seems to pretty clearly indicate that they knew what happened was NOT OKAY. I also am pretty sure there were a few who thought it was no big deal, that I was lying to cover up my embarrassment, or that I was lucky someone so “cool” would have tried it on with me.

Some of you might even think I deserved it because I was so drunk. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at who gets a pass on their behavior for being drunk – and who does not.

I survived that night. I wasn’t violently raped a la Law & Order SVU, but I was traumatized, and completely ill-prepared to handle the subsequent feelings that would come up around this over the years. What comes up is not usually feelings around the actual assault, but the devaluation of my person simply because I am a woman. Then and now.

One year later I would watch a committee of white men slander, shame and degrade the amazing and brave Anita Hill on national television for speaking truth to power.

This confirmed for me – as sure as these men confirmed Clarence Thomas to the USSC – that coming forward with my story would only bring a shitstorm upon me, so I would never.

Imagine how many other women my age have made the same decision.


In 2009, while I was living in Hong Kong, my friend Camellia convinced me to sign up for the online dating site OKCupid. I did it. One night while sitting in a pub with Camellia and our friend Sue, we got into a discussion about the concept of online dating. Sue said there was just no way that the need to couple could ever be great enough to do it. Camellia was of the other extreme saying that it was really the only way to meet people anymore. I had mixed feelings, and took my phone out to show them the kind of messages that I was getting. Right as I did that, a new message popped up. It was from the boy who had assaulted me in Del Mar in 1990.

I knew his name and face immediately.

I stared at the phone and then showed my friends the message as I told them an abbreviated version of the story I have just recounted here. His message said, “Hey! I can’t believe I just came across your profile because we were at UCSD at the same time and in the same program! We must know some of the same people! I am in Asia regularly as I work for Mountain Hardware and do a lot of work in China. I would love to get together! You have a great smile!”

We were beside ourselves with this set of circumstances. What should I do? OBVIOUSLY I SHOULD BLOCK THE FUCKER AND MOVE ON.

But I was so curious. I recognized him immediately. How could he not recognize me? Did he? I really wanted to know.

I decided to take him up on his cheesy offer and within a week he was in Hong Kong and we met up at a bar next to my office after work. He was exactly the same. A bizarrely freckled, ginger, with more confidence than a man like him should ever have had. As we walked into the bar he stepped aside and then said, “Sorry I had to check out your ass, it’s nice!”

This is exactly the kind of thing that Senate republicans would say is evidence that I was not really assaulted – that if I had been I would never make this kind of subsequent decision. And this is exactly why I know their issue is never about believing women and survivors – it is that they really just do not give a shit.

I was going to see my friend Sue’s band at the Wanch that night and he said he wanted to come. When we got there I told Cam and Sue what was up. It became like a weird psychological experiment. He was more and more awkward out of his element around my friends and he was getting really drunk making him seem even more ridiculous – if that was possible.

When we left it was way past the last ferry and suddenly he was right there coming to get a sampan to the island with us. “You don’t want to come here,” at least three of us told him. He begged to just crash on someone’s couch, we would not even know he was there, he didn’t know how to get back to his hotel. SERIOUSLY? An empty beer bottle could hail a taxi cab in Hong Kong. But there he was. Was he joking? Did he realize yet who I was?

No.

The next day he wanted to hang out again. I had to work. He was going Shenzhen, but would I be free when he got back? REALLY? This was starting to seem like something straight out of a (really bad) movie. “Sure, I am going to the races with Camellia on Wednesday.”

Do you think he showed up? He sure as shit did.

I would not see him again but the story does not end here.

When I returned from an extended stay in India the next year, Camellia began sending me strange and alarmed texts – the ginger had been texting her: “When I met Amanda I was really taken by you…” “I cannot stop thinking about you…” “You are so cute, I am coming to Hong Kong, let’s get together, we don’t have to tell Amanda…”.

This is where I now become the woman scorned right? Whatever.

With about 30 seconds of internet stalking we determined that he was now “engaged” according to his FB profile. I messaged him and asked if he would be okay with me forwarding the texts to his fiancé. He immediately denied that he ever contacted Cam. I read him the texts and told him if he ever contacted either one of us again I would send it all to his fiancé. At this point he began calling and leaving frantic and panicked messages. He had been drunk, he explained. He didn’t know what he was saying, he had a problem.  He knew he had made a terrible mistake (so many ways to interpret that statement, no?)

After the 6th or 7th call I picked up and told him if he called anymore that I would do something drastic – to him. He said, “I just wanted to apologize, I am so happy with my fiancé and I don’t know what I was thinking…”

“What do you want to apologize for?” I asked.

He was confused by this question.

I hung up .

I have never spoken to him again, but I know from basic internet skills that he did get married, had a kid, got a new job with Lululemon (sounds right) and moved to Vancouver. And no, I don’t give two shits if this helps anyone discover who this TKE from UCSD who graduated in 1990 is. I also am quite sure that lots of people in his orbit think he is a perfectly nice guy. He probably is pretty nice if he doesn’t try to have nonconsensual sex with you, or cheat on his fiancé with you.

I remember his disgusting behavior in 1990 regardless of the other details I do not remember. I also totally believe that he legitimately does not comprehend that the woman he met in Hong Kong in 2009 was the sad, confused sophomore he assaulted that night in 1990, because I was nothing to him – then or now. I was a commodity, a convenience, a throw away person.

This was how it was.

That IS how it is.

This is why I know that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth , and how I can understand that Brett Kavanaugh might not remember assaulting her – she didn’t matter to him, he said as much though his angry spittle in his hearing… he did not associate with girls like her.

But that does not mean he did not do it.

In fact I think it lends a lot more validity to the reality that he did.

Reality is as it suggests: real, whether the impact is equitable to all involved or not.

Sei sup mmmmmmmmm: ripple in still water.

I wanted to write tonight. I took care of all the things I needed to take care of today and I was all ready to give myself time to sit and write. But I couldn’t. I mean, obviously I could have in a literal fingers-to-keys kind of way, but not in a metaphorical making-meaning(ful)-meaning kind of way.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

I wanted to write about this video I took from JM’s car in Paris this summer.

I wanted to write about something satisfying. Like about taking a group of high school seniors to listen to a conversation with US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on a Friday night and having them come out of the talk and say, “He is all about the Social Contract, isn’t he?”

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But, no.

I suppose if I were a writer, I would say I had writer’s block. But I am not really a writer, am I? Only in so far as one with an Instagram is a photographer, or one who goes to church is a Christian (I wanted to write about the Pope too, because I cannot get enough of the Pontiff.) Instead, I sat. I considered meditating, but I didn’t want to make the cat move, and I sort of suck at meditation anyhow.

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

I turned 45 this week. I sat with that for a while. 45. Forty five. Cuarenta y cinco. Sei sup mm. Fifty minus five.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Maybe that is why I can’t think of anything good to write. Maybe by the time you get to be this age, you are supposed to have a whole bunch of real things to write about, and here I sit with my immaculate home and my two cats and some loud Eighties music in my unbearably hip neighborhood, and no typical accomplishments like husbands and divorces and kids and shit to write about.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

I was born in 1970. Do you know how long it takes to scroll to that year when you are filling out your birthdate on-line? You have to pick your finger up off the touch pad at least twice. That shit is crazy. Nixon was the president and my Grandma M tried cocaine. That would have been something to see.

In 1970 things were pretty fucked up.

I came of age in the 1980s. Do you know how accidentally iconic the Eighties have become? What I know recall about the Eighties could feather your hair. I still love the music, hipsters still love the fashion. We are all still paying for the politics.

In the 1980s things were pretty fucked up.

I got some education in the 1990s: formal and otherwise. Do you think everyone assumes the time they opened their minds is the more relevant than that of others? I don’t know, but a lot of shit happened in the nineties. And then at the end of 1999 the world didn’t end and I think a lot of people thought that was pretty fucked up

I had my mid-life crisis in the mid-90s. Which makes sense because I never really thought I would live very long (which is kind of dumb of me because the women in my family tend to live a very long time.) For whatever reason my mid-life dramz kicked off at 34. It took me about four years to sort that shit out.

Mid-life crises are pretty fucked up.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

On the weekend leading up to my birthday I met someone who is in her mid-30s and appears to be on track to have a midlife crisis just like mine. (Apparently it’s not just movies and politicians from the decade that never go away.) I told her I had to sail away to China to deal with it. She did not get the musical reference, but I am fairly certain she is on board with the rest of it. I predict she breaks up with her boyfriend before the end of this year (not due to my counsel, mind you – I am not a meddler, just a sharer.)

Maybe the reason this birthday isn’t sitting so well with me is that I don’t have anything to be in crisis about because I already got all destructive and ridiculously reckless ten years ago and so it feels empty of purpose. I emerged from my midlife crisis down one Wal-Mart-shopping boyfriend and one suburban tract house, but as my kids would say: I am not about that life.

Life in with the suburbs was pretty fucked up.

You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

This week was my fifth repatriated birthday. The birthday itself was not particularly eventful, but at this point in one’s life, that seems like a win. A dear friend I have known since the 8th grade said to me, “I hope you feel how much you are loved.” Yes, L, I did. And here I am, in a great city, with great hair, a few new wrinkles, amazing friends, no involuntary responsibilities, and I am alive.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

So, happy birthday to me: good hair, good shoes, wrinkles, and a potty mouth, but crisis free. That’s livin’: L-I-V-I-N.

That seems like a lot to write about.

I’ll get back to writing in no time, I am sure.

“It’s the little differences.”

The first morning I woke up in Paris, I was up before everyone. (I was generally up before everyone always, although Nic would end up giving me a run for the money.) I sort of laid there where I was, in the upstairs bedroom in JM’s chateau in the suburbs, Clamart to be precise, and thought to myself : I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM IN PARIS.

Okay, fair play, I was just outside of Paris, but for all intents and purposes I was IN PARIS.

And it was sunny.

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This first day was supposed to be a “planning day” for Frenchie and me so we could work out our desires and priorities before meeting up with Nic and her sister the next day, but first I was going to go meet a friend who was coincidentally laid over in Paris en route to Dominica from the UAE. [Having friends for which sentences like that are apt is so awesome.] I wanted to see Rachel because she and I are friends entirely due to Stuart, and for reasons I am not interested in articulating here, we share a certain understanding of the bloke.

To see Rachel I would head out to Orly Airport so as to keep things as simple as possible for someone moving to the other side of the world with their young child. JM offered to take me there, so I would only need to self-navigate one way, which was kind. Frenchie and I arranged to meet at a fountain near the Notre Dame. How hard could that be? I mean, a fountain in Paris, right?

Yeah.

I had gleaned from the previous evening that JM enjoyed the excitement of vehicular delights, and so when he pointed to his motorcycle and I looked down at my black mini dress, I determined that all bets were off on wise choices. He handed me a helmet and I sighed with relief to know that my cranium would be safe and probably only 90% of my flesh would go missing should a mishap occur on what google maps said would be a forty minute ride.

He grinned reminding me entirely too much of Peter Fonda’s Captain America as I hopped on the bike. It would be fine, I reasoned. I mean, he has made it to 40 – and has a family. He doesn’t want to die.

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The ride to Orly was pretty easy surface streets and highways and under beautiful sunny skies. I focused a lot on the sky. It turns out JM does not like to be behind other vehicles on the road, and he sure as shit is not going to be passed by a motorcycle. A couple of times he looked back to ask if everything was okay. I hope in my efforts to be completely cool about all potential outcomes, I hadn’t inadvertently Heimlich’d him. To be fair it actually was a fun ride. I mean, I like roller coasters a lot.

When we arrived at the airport (in approximately twenty minutes) I stepped off the bike and took my hair out of the helmet while adjusting my LBD. No lie, I felt pretty glamorous. Like, here I was coming in hot (in every way) and hopping off a bike driven by a super cute guy, with no luggage and heading into the airport, as if I might be heading off on some crazy spontaneous get away. That could be an great scene in a bad romcom.

And the best thing about black is your sweat doesn’t show, which is awesome.

Although, it does show where one’s thighs were gripping the sides of a black leather seat on a motorcycle. And the strap of the helmet got a little caught up in my windswept hair, so my reverie ended rather quickly as JM sped away.

Entering the airport, I logged into the wifi – which is free everywhere in Europe, as it bloody well should be in America – to check where I would meet up with Rachel. We settled on Laudurée. Tres French. Plus, macrons; like cookies, but a little different.

The catch up was short and sweet and a wonderfully playful bit of punctuation on the Stuart Saga. we laughed a lot, and Rachel remarked how she just knew he would try to take credit for everything were he there because, yes, he was such a cheeky bastard.

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And like that we said adieu and headed on our separate ways. Another perfect rendezvous accomplished.

So now, to get back to Paris and a fountain.

I found someone who graciously directed me to the Orly bus, which would get me to the RER, which in turn would get me to central Paris. Stepping out I saw there was a bus there – fantastique! I would get on that bus and be on my way. I proceeded to the ticket machine; like those I had seen before, but a little different.

And then, I missed the bus.

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The machine now seems simple, but like so many things, it’s the little differences in Paris, and this weird quasi touch screen with a roller mechanism… just really did not present itself as an obvious option at the time. To be fair the three guys behind me were French and had no freaking clue how to make the machine work either. By the time I eventually got a ticket I would be waiting more than twenty minutes for another bus.

Merde.

But, the bus ride was easy, and I kept telling myself that Frenchie would wait for me, I mean, to my knowledge she has not been on time to anything since I have known her, and this includes her own events. I was not getting a sim card because I had my American iPhone, which of course is locked, because: America. This meant old school meet ups like we did in the 80s: make a plan and stick to it. It was refreshing.

Until you were 45 minutes late.

On arriving to Sainte Michel with ease I came out of the metro station and promptly turned the wrong way. I include the map below as a weak explanation. Emerging from the RER in the foreground left, I walked towards the intersection and made a right towards the Notre Dame because that is what everyone was doing. I surmised there would be a fountain there. And yes, there was. A multitude. But alas, no Frenchie – or not the Frenchie I was looking for.

I walked in literal circles – well trapezoids if we are really being literal – for nearly a half an hour. Paris urban planning is a little different.

And nothing.

Retracing my steps I headed back towards the RER where the Fountaine Sainte Michel practically screamed at me with its obviousness. Huh. Perhaps that fountain then? I walked toward the fountain and headed left (towards the M in the rear right of the diagram) where I saw a cafe and heard “Amanda?” in English, but a little different.

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It was Nickie, seated with her sister, and Frenchie (whose head had been down as she was trying to figure out the wifi to contact me – the figuring out of the wifi would also be a theme of this trip). I was shocked, relieved, delighted, amazed, happy, hot, and thirsty. It was a lot to take in, but I really could not believe we were all sitting here, like the three of us had so many times before, but a little different.

Frenchie and I were supposed to meet Nic the next day as she and her sister would be staying the night in Paris to rest after the flight from Oz. But Frenchie had been nearly as late as I had (!!) and so she had been worried about me as I am generally painfully punctual and she had been walking around the now so obvious to me (like the roller thing) fountain when she had randomly bumped into our Aussie companions. Incroyable!

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This happy circumstance totally shifted the day – a planning session would not happen, but phones and strolling the streets of Paris and rosé and catching up would. In what seemed like another lifetime, three women in Hong Kong had made a promise to meet in Paris five years on, and here we were. Same same, but, a little bit different.

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We finished our day a top the Tour Montparnasse as a small reminder of where we were. In case anyone had forgotten.

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So, this happened. Again.

I am Civic Center Bart waiting for a train around 10:30 am on a Wednesday. The platform is relatively empty… this is not a busy time of day. I am not dressed in any unusual way – I am wearing jeans, a long sweater and flats. I have a scarf around my neck because my hair is pulled back and it is breezy. It is San Francisco, after all. I am wearing sunglasses. I am not wearing my earphones, which I almost always keep in – even though they are mostly off. I am looking at my phone because I am in the midst of a relatively alarming/entertaining group text with two colleagues about the substitute teacher that is apparently unable to do the one thing he had to do for me: pass out some papers.

At this point the train is four minutes out and I hear someone say, “What time is it?” I am stuck by this question because it comes out loud, and sudden, as if I have already been engaged in conversation with this person, and as an aside they have interjected, ‘By the way what time is it?’ There is no segue from this speaker, just, ‘Hey. Tell. Me. What. Time. It. Is.’ By the time I realize he is talking to me I look up then quickly back at my phone and report that it is 10:45.

I look back to my phone and continue to check up on the situation I am missing at school for having reported for my civic duty.

“You’re really cute.” The Man With No Watch Says.

“Thank you.”

“So, you got a husband?”

“I am not going to answer that question.”

“Why? You single?”

“I am not going to answer it because it is a totally inappropriate thing to ask me.”

“Well, do you?”

“It is none of your business and it is not okay for you to be asking me.”

“What? I ask lots of ladies and they don’t think it is inappropriate.”

“Well, maybe you should keep talking to them. I am telling you it is inappropriate and you have no business asking me in the first place, let alone over and over again. It is non of your business, and completely irrelevant to you.”

“What? You having a bad day?”

“No, not really. I am just sick of constantly being hassled by offensive interactions like this.”

“Oh, no I am hassling you? You think I am harassing you?”

“Yes. Actually I do. And I am sick of it.”

“Whatever man. You hella uptight. Does this train go to Fremont?”

I point to the sign that says ‘SAN FRANCISCO/MILLBRAE’.

“Ah, yeah. I see”

And the train comes. I get on the train. I wonder for a moment if Fremont was a ruse and my inquisitor will get on this train with me. It would not be the first time. He does not. I see several seats and decide I will stand because I only have two stops to go. A man standing across from me asks, “How are you today?” And I think to myself, I sure miss the reality in which a question like that really was just a question like that.

I nod.

He lets it go.

When I get off the train and come out to the neighborhood I return to everyday, I see the regular assortment of folks who are always there, regardless of the hour or the weather. Some greet me in a way that indicates neighborhood familiarity. Some are busy doing whatever it is that they do with their days.

None of them ask me if I have a husband.

But it will happen again, likely before I even get to my building.

I wish it would stop. I wish that there was not something inside of me that somehow is programmed to eek out a bit of guilt that I am being snobby or a ‘bitch’ when I don’t want to engage with the strangers who somehow feel they have a right to comment on me, my body, my clothes, my personhood.

I wish it would stop.

Then I am home.

And it stops; at least for the moments I am at home.

My Small (home)town.

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Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

I have a complicated relationship with my hometown. Anyone who knows me would easily confirm this. I am not sure if everyone has similar complications with the places from which their roots emanate, though I suspect that fewer and fewer people actually have places that they feel rooted in. Or at least that is how the world feels to me these days.

But not me. In spite of all my best efforts to make it not so, I have a hometown.

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me

This relationship was not always so complicated. For a long time I was wholly committed to total disdain for my hometown. I think a lot of kids just want to get out of wherever they are at some point, but I was sophomorically certain that I was never coming back. Not ever. Because this small town was simply not ever going to be big enough for the likes of me. And I left, like most of us did at some point. Most, but not all.And I kept going… further and wider with little thought as to why, it just seemed like my destiny.

As is often the case, something changed.

I think the first thing that I noticed was that my hometown somehow along the way became a place people wanted to be. Like people were really busting a move to try to get there. It got hip. Or something. Suddenly, the little hick town was a destination.

What?

But something more substantial about my relationship with my hometown was revealing itself to me with more and more strength the further away I got from home (in time and space). As I met more and more people and saw more and more things, and observed the relationships that all these other people had with their people and places, I began to see that the foundation – the roots – from which I came gave me not only a healthy perspective from which to engage with all these people, but actually was the entire reason I could do the things I was doing. I had a safety net: my hometown. No matter what happened to me, or the choices I would make (wisely or not so), I had a place I could return to.

Regardless of the severity of the road or cliff I teetered off and away from, Petaluma was there. Contrary to Robert Frost’s sentiment, in many ways it is not the road but the point of origin which has made all the difference for me.

I have people from my hometown I have known a lifetime who remain steadfast in their commitment to each other – and me. Although I didn’t always see it, in my own way I was there for them, too. And we are unique in our connection to each other, to our families, to our memories, to our town. The world, and our experience in it, being ever-changing and dynamic, means the intricacies of the relationship I have with this place and the people in it continue to change, but our foundation allows for these changes to feel like stretching, not severing or breaking.

But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town

When I go back to visit now, it feels very different. It is so much bigger and “cooler” than I will ever know how to work with, but some little bits of it stay the same. There are still the ever familiar family names, the small town gossip, the drama, the expectations… even if I don’t know a single person I see downtown.

Which is not entirely true either – I do know these people. And I no longer recoil when greeted with the same questions every time I see the same folks: “Not married? No kids?” These days, even though I still fall right back into my adolescent awkwardness, I can embrace it a little more fully and just say, “Nope, not yet.”

I mean really, shared roots or not, I have always been a little bit of an oddball.

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I am hugely grateful that I can go back to Petaluma and be reminded that there are people who really know me deep down and even in non-acceptance, they accept me. I am so grateful that my parents have facilitated this chance to see my hometown in this way later in my life. And my goodness I am grateful for my friends who, all differences included, feel so much more like family than just friends after all this time.

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

You can thank me for this amazingly coiffed John Cougar later. a video circa ’87 just felt so right.

“The worst kind of people…”

I was on Bart yesterday, only anomalous in that it was a weekend, generally a more Bart free situation for me, and was feeling a little agitated because the trains were running late and I was trying to make a connection to CalTrain to head down the Peninsula to Palo Alto. Of course, I missed the connection and was feeling supper annoyed about this and had to remind myself that I was not actually “late” for anything, and that another train was coming (albeit in almost a half an hour – oh American public transportation how I wish you could pick up the pace a bit) and so I sat in the sun and waited. This turned out to be a good thing, because as I sat in the sun in Millbrae waiting for my train, it gave me time to do some conscious consideration about why I was feeling so out of sorts. Suffice it to say it was not about the missed connection.

Earlier, while I had been on Bart contemplating the likelihood of missing said connection, a gentleman had come through the car. He had a prepared announcement that he was making. The gist of it was that his son was stuck at the airport and could not board a plane because he had no money for luggage fees. This man gave quite a lot of details, the airline info, that he had been talking to Bart police, that he was desperate because if his son did not get back to Chicago he would lose his visitation rights, where he worked, and various assurances that he was telling the truth. And then he said he had a military ID because he was a veteran.

A couple of things to note about this: just about every day that I ride Bart, at least once someone will be working their way through the cars of the train asking for some sort of assistance. It may be food, or money, sometimes even clothes. Every day. Just about all of them have a story they share. Some are long, some are short. I sometimes listen, I sometimes do not. I also have a tendency to assume that the more detail that is offered the less likely it is that the story I am hearing is really true, like, in a factually accurate way. But I am pretty sure that is not the point.

Yesterday, as this man, John he said his name was, finished his story I gave him a $1. I might have given him two. I happened to have some singles in my hand and I was on the way to meet some friends in a bar to spend far more money than that on things I really and truly do not need. As I handed him the money he gave me the regular “God bless” and all that, and that is nice, or at least better than the “fuck yous” we so often get from our fellow humans, and I nodded and went back to thinking about my inconsequential missed connection.

The next thing I knew a young man sitting behind me was demanding to see the military ID that John had said he had. “I just want to see the ID!’ He yelled out as John worked the car. “It doesn’t look like a real ID!” John kept on going and this man was getting really annoyed. “This is a scam!” He yelled out. “I know! I am a veteran. It is a really good scam but he is lying to you!” He was treating this like a PSA for the car. He continued, “You people are getting robbed, this is a scam – it is a good one, but it is a scam!” He took a breath. “These are the worst kind of people!” He yelled. “Impersonating military personnel. The worst.” By this time John had moved on to the next car, but the orator behind the PSA was really wanting to make sure people knew that he knew what was up.

The worst kind of people? I thought. In a world with the Westboro Baptist church, this guy was the worst kind of people? In a world with racist young men who chant they “would rather see a nigger hang from a tree than be an SAE”, and then cry that their entire group is painted in a negative light for the actions of a fewthis guy on asking for money on a train was the worst kind of people? When we see organizations televising beheadings, or individuals going into schools with guns and killing everyone they see with automatic weapons, a hustler on the train is the worst kind of people? Surrounded by scandalous lying politicians, greedy corporate entities that are profiting on the ruination of the environment, animal abusers, child abusers, spousal abusers, rapists, murderers, and fucking plain old mean people…. this guy asking for money on the train earned the label  the worst kind of people?

I don’t think so.

I don’t know if John was telling the truth. As I said, the more detail I hear, the less of it I cling to as fact. But that is hardly the real issue. If someone gets to the point where they are publicly putting themselves out there to ask strangers for money – something has gone horribly awry. Regardless of the situation, something is no longer working. And if I see people every single day at both ends of my commute and throughout it who are in a situation where they have to ask people for money – the reason they are asking for the money is not my concern. Maybe Mr. PSA thinks that there is a more virtuous way to be poor. Maybe he thinks if someone is busking, they could rightly ask for a handout. Maybe he thinks if some one is a drug addict or a drunk they do not deserve a handout, but if they are quietly holding their hand out for alms, they are worthy. I do not really know. The fact is, that by the time someone is asking strangers for spare change, something has changed in their life in such a way that they have arrived at a place very few people I know could ever understand. Do the reasons matter? I imagine John and others like him have worked out that people like a story – a reason or a justification, for giving. I imagine saying, “I am a man who cannot meet his needs today because circumstances suck,” is not such a great story. I imagine that as people decide who to give money to they do a lot of thinking about whether this person “brought it on themselves” or is “scamming” or “working the system.” I cannot imagine that given the choice many folks would choose to beg over self-sufficiency, though I certainly have friends who say it is so.

I am far more concerned about the fact that I live in a country with the greatest wealth ever known and am faced with unbelievable poverty on the daily. I gave John two bucks because I do not care what his story is. I do not care if he is going to use those two dollars for a beer, for a room for the night, for a burger, or to pay a luggage fee for his kid, or he just needs some cash. I care that we have so many people who cannot meet their daily needs that it is no longer fair, accurate, or relevant to say that “they brought it on themselves.”

The worst kind of people? Oh, I have a list for you… and I can assure you John is not on it.

I believe in the good things coming.

I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
I believe in the good things comin’, comin’, comin’ comin’
Out of darkness lion heart pumpin’, pumpin’, pumpin’
Into white light all things runnin’, runnin’, runnin’ runnin’
Who have I been, who am I becomin’?
Come in, come in, come in
Deep breaths for a young man learnin’, learnin’, learnin’
Take a walk with the cedars hummin’,
Cityscape, pink sunset stunnin’
Every empty space is fitting’, every fire kindle burnin’

The San Francisco morning today is glorious. Truly, the kind of morning that gives a person pause and makes you wonder how a sky can really be that blue. It is cold and quiet and still (not always the case in my neighborhood) and I am warm in my tiny apartment surrounded by cats, light, music, and the smell of strong coffee. I feel rested (pretty much), and healthy (mostly), and interested in what another new year might reveal.

The New Year always brings with it the collective desire to reflect, recall, project, plan… hope, I suppose. Or at least for me it does. I love the new year like I love the start of a new school year, (and the upcoming lunar new year as well, if I need a quick opportunity to have a 2015 mulligan… and if that fails, there is always Songkran) because there is this sense of a fresh start and yadda, yadda, yadda. The funny thing is – the reality (because reality IS funny) – is that this sense of a fresh start is available anytime, right? I mean, every spiritual teaching, 12-step program, life coach, preacher, teacher, whatever… has been saying this forever (maybe Buddha didn’t, but he probably knew it.)

Still, there is something culminating and bigger about the turning of the calendar year that I know I will always choose to embrace.

This year feels very different to me. I get it on some levels… Last year on New Year’s Eve I said a forceful goodbye to the Cowboy – now #6 – and had a lot of alone time in the transition from 2013 to 2014 to consider how it was again that I found myself in such an unpleasant predicament. (Yeah, yeah, yeah… lessons not learned… I know.) But I am unclear (in an optimistic way) about what it is about 2015 that feels so different. Maybe it is, as Jung said, that “life really does begin at 40, up until then you are just doing research” and as the traditionalist that I am, I had to complete a four year program of study to work shit out. Regardless, it feels different.

In some ways I played a lot of the same mental games this year that I have long been working to overcome – fretting over not being good enough at work, body issues, looking for love in all the wrong places – how fucking banal. But I do feel like these particulars have been less significant, or at least I have been able to look more objectively at the ridiculousness, and walk away.

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In other ways this year was devastatingly different than years past. Perhaps it is related to age, perhaps it is a consequence of the life I have lived and the experiences I’ve been offered, but this year was colored with loss in ways I was not prepared for – if you ever are.

In May Stuart died. This touched me in surprising and important ways. It was also a catalyst to halting another relationship I had come to depend on in (likely) unhealthy ways. It was a transformative experience to be judged for my honest and deep feelings around this loss, and it taught me that authenticity matters more than reception, and that was immeasurably cathartic. Nothing good gets away.

This November, while at our fall student retreat in the Marin Headlands, I was talking with my team and noted that my life since returning from Hong Kong had been so uniform in its distribution of loss: I had lost someone very significant in every school year since I had come home. My first year back I said good bye to my grandmother. My second year, a person who had been a sister to me in some ways because her brother – also no longer with us but will always remain the Hunter to my Thompson, was violently taken from us in a story that still rings incompatible with the ideas I hold about my life. In my third year back, I lost a cousin in literal ways, although he had left us metaphorically years before, but whose death in its mystery and isolation cut deep. Then there was Stuart. I said to my colleagues, not lightly, that it gave me pause to think about what this school year would hold.

Less than two weeks later, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I found out a college classmate and friend had died suddenly leaving a wife and three young children behind, a long time friend from Lamma had died – home and alone, and my friend Sue, someone I considered a kindred spirit in so many ways during my Hong Kong transformation, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was stunned as I sat with all the news in my parents’ kitchen in Petaluma.

So I suppose it is not without reason that I sit quietly at this new year and wonder what will come.

Suddenly, maintaining something – anything! – simply because it is how it’s always been done, or it is safe – or, god… the most horrible adjective I heard this year to describe a life: it is sustainable – seems not just uninspired, but… terminal.

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I am ready for big changes, while knowing nothing comes easy. I am ready to let go and really see what is on offer. Because, really what other choice is there?

So what of 2014? Well, according to Facebook it was something like this:

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I guess that captures a lot of it: LIFE. LOVE. FEAR. REMEMBER. ACCEPT. FEEL. AMAZING. BETTER. SOMETIMES. WORK. SAY. SOMETHING. CHOICE. PEOPLE. YOGA. FRIENDS. STUDENTS. TEACHER. GRATEFUL. CARE. TOMORROW. PERSPECTIVE. EXPERIENCE.

According to Instagram it was something like this:

And truly, I am – to a degree – a sum of these parts. But like everyone you meet… I also am more than that.

I am more than the solitary girl taken by surprise as I found myself again on my own on the eve of 2014, and although so relieved and happy for it, deeply sad. January got into dark corners as I emptied what I hope will be the last storage space I have to deal with for a very long time, took me back as I pawed through old photos and had two new years in one month as the lunar new year fell on the 31st. The symmetry was necessary.

I am more than the girl who went home to watch her coach in his regular season finale on the home court all these years later, with one of the best friends a person could ask for by her side, reminding her all the while that everything is only what it is. February was brief, dark, busy with field trips and shitty professional evaluations, papers to grade, cats to pet.

I am more than the girl who had to bust some of her favorite students for smoking weed at our overnight retreat and only wanted to retreat herself. March, as it does, brought with it the promise of spring break… if we could just get through. There were moments I was unsure of the outcome and in my struggle I recalled the words of some of my heroes… HST, Bukowski, OkGo… This too shall pass. And it did.

I am more than the girl who took an extra spring break – first going to the Pacific Northwest and catching up with a traveling companion from Europe ’93 while melting into my second family on Fox Island, and second, heading to Indio to return to Coachella. April seemed like a reward I was unsure I deserved for something I was unsure I had done. This precariousness would manifest with a vengeance in May.

I am more than the girl who sat with the news of the death of the man who had asked her if she would “stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back?” And warned her to stay clear of pirates though he was one… and shook with grief. May showed me that there are those who will always be there for you regardless of time or distance, in the best or worst times, and there are those who will not. And when things seem worse than you can imagine, there is always another music festival to go to in order to restore your spirits: De La Soul is not dead.

I am more than the girl who got out of another school year alive, and with some noteworthy successes along the way. With June came the euphoria of another summer break. Yoga, the Petaluma fair, Oakland A’s baseball, time with mom, and gorgeous weather all served to remind me that great rewards will only ever come from concentrated effort, and that is okay.

I am more than the girl who knew at the core of her being that it was time to return to Hong Kong, to Lamma, to the family who had taught her that she was a true citizen of the world and launched her into a previously unknown realm of possibility. July found me in other roles I was unaware I would take on but was glad to be available for friends and family in deep and important ways… and ever grateful that they were there for me too. I was definitely feeling Fancy from SF to Hong Kong-o.

I am more than the girl who made the most of her last weeks before returning to school at Outside Lands and in the wild outsides of North Idaho, places I had not visited since 2010. August was healing, and familial, and musical, and fun-sicle. Unless you were a young black man. There were bikers, unicorns, beers, sunsets, earthquakes… and police shootings. I went back to school with a great manicure, without a principal, and in the wake of another young black man dead at the hands of the state.

I am more than the girl who got to add one more year to her life repertoire as the fall equinox arrived. September is a month I always love – and not just for the birthday it brings with it – but I love the segue into fall weather, the ever-optimistic return to school. In some ways it has an appeal to me in the same way January does. This September I had the chance to have lovely dinner dates; to be reminded of the beauty of Tahoe – a place I called home for nearly a decade; to witness the unprecedented demise of my much loved baseball team; to garner my 15 minutes of fame as a featured educator on television for my work integrating technology into the classroom, to see more live music, and to watch the Umbrella Revolution unfold in Hong Kong. It was a full month.

I am more than the girl who remains optimistic about love in the face of ridiculous disappointments. October was incredibly full with festivals and field trips, fleet week and sailing on the Bay, and of course the total destruction of my lovely neighborhood (again) as a response to the SF Giants winning the World Series (again.) I took 20 students to see Anita Hill speak truth to power, I saw Lena Dunham speak, met up with friends and one of my bebe cousins at HSB in the park. The month was punctuated by meeting someone seemingly transformative at TIMF. I suppose he was transformative really, though hardly in the way advertised.

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I am more than the girl who was asked, “are you the one? are you the one? and will you wait for me… to see if my life is sustainable?” November brought the hope of the holidays along with this other strange element of hope. But as one of my yoga teachers, Samrat Gupta, warned long ago: beware the euphoric highs… they will be met with equal lows. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Elections (low), field trips and class speakers (high); connecting with someone in a truly unique way (high), being devastated by news of the loss and suffering of dear friends (low); being called to speak about the Ferguson decision on the radio (high), the Ferguson decision (low). November was the penultimate teacher I would face this year… and she was tough. But December would be even more challenging.

I am more than the girl who, in some kind of symmetry – found herself rocked by the male of the species again at the end of the year, but quickly saw the insignificance of that as cancer took one of my soul sisters on the Winter Solstice. December, always frantically busy, was next level for me this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing – but it certainly is a tiring thing. Getting out of school by the skin of my teeth, saying a long goodbye to dear friends who will set sail for places unknown in the very near future, art exhibitions, concerts, parties, Vegas, family, family, family, friends, my hometown. It was so full – and my responses to this fullness were not always right, or healthy, or wise… but I daresay they taught me a thing or two.

I am more than the sum of my parts.

I am all of this along with the gifts left by those gone too soon, the legacy (and lunacy) of my extended family, the strength of my body, the unknown trajectory of my professional direction. And I am more even than the clear intentions I am taking into this new year with me:

Some people say we should not look back, only forward. I am not sure. Maybe it is the historian in me, but I think acknowledging the past is crucial for our ability to make sense and purpose of our present and future. I go forward with hope and clarity that I’ve not felt in a long time, and for that I am grateful for the rather harsh lessons that 2014 brought down upon my head somewhat like a certain silver hammer.

I am ready for you 2015.

 

This is for Stu and Sue and all the rest we lost too soon. 

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More pages more words to my story, more grace, more meaning unfoldin’
Take a drive rain park cascadia
Feel the warmth in my cold hear radiant
Two shakes and I’m feelin’ weightless
Heart aches but its actually painless
Take a vow in the Pale moonlight, moonlight, moonlight
Take a look at myself through my third eye..
Everything’s already alright, always alright, always alright…

How I suck at “Social Media” and how this allows me to use it prolifically.

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Let’s start with full disclosure: I blog (which is a poncy way to say ‘I have a blog’), I have a Facebook (again, a ridiculous way to say ‘I use Facebook’), I have an Instagram (I actually think this is how everyone says this), I have two Twitters (one is for work; my students use Twitter for current events via KQED and it is a good format, and I have a personal account which is my only truly locked down and private outlet within the social media sphere), I used to have Myspace (two of those too – one for me and one I allowed students on – I do not do this with Facebook now, I just say no until students are out of school, then if they still care, I will accept their friend requests), and I have a Google+ but I have no idea what it is – although it seems public. Oh, I have a YouTube account too, but I think if you use gmail you have this because of the pervasive trend towards conglomeratization. I do not have a Linkedin – and I wish people would stop inviting me because it is a totally useless concept in my field. I do not have Flickr, DeviantArt, Tumblr (although I had a school one for a year), a Bebo (don’t even know what that is), and god help me I do.not.SnapChat.

Basically, I have a fairly visible digital footprint. Regardless of this, I still suck at social media. And I am totally fine with this because I think it is why I am able to use social media so prolifically without becoming angry and insane.

Here’s why: I do it wrong.

It turns out, I am just not really that “social”

I have always known this about blogging. I like to blog (look at me go!) but I don’t really read other blogs. I do occasionally come across blogs that I read because I am looking for something specific – like research for work or personal interests, and then I will read them, but in general, in the same way I look at my blog as a way to be hugely self-indulgent, I am not that interested in reading other people’s self indulgences. Unless they are about me or something uniquely related to me. The blogs I write that get attention get it from small niche populations. Thus it is no surprise that a blog I wrote about my cat remains to this day the blog that got the most hits out of anything I have ever done in any internet capacity. When I write about friends from home, my friends from home read it. When I write about being a teacher, my teacher friends read it. When I write about events and adventures, the people who shared the experiences read them. And there are a few exceptions here and there, a clever tag that gets others over to the page or something, but really the audience is terribly limited. And I am okay with that. I don’t interact with commenters (oh, I will get to them in a minute) and I don’t comment. I do very little to engender interaction or interest in my blog. I harbor no illusions that I am telling stories or illuminating ideas that no one has ever considered. In fact, mostly I feel like I am just adding validity to the reality that our shared human experience is far more similar than it is unique most of the time. And in its own way that is kind of cool.

I use Twitter for news. I love it and scroll through it regularly, occasionally retweet things, favorite things I want to come back to, and mostly leave it at that. I originally got it as a way to text for free from overseas, but now I use it primarily for information and as a way to measure the social temperature around said information. I like Twitter and it is very handy for my students to use as well.

I use Facebook (which I keep private, although I do not consider private in the way my personal Twitter is because there are people on my Facebook that I would not share certain things with because it would be weird and inappropriate) a lot. Although, it is getting harder to use it the way I would like. But again, it turns out I am not that “social” on FB. I post a lot of things. Things *I* think are interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever. Again, I am under no illusion that these things are “interesting, important, funny, relevant, whatever” to other people. I am not posting for other people. I am posting for me. That is why I put the stuff on my Facebook page. If it is interesting to other people, that is cool – and I generally can predict with nearly perfect accuracy who will respond/comment/reply to the things I post. That is a benefit of having people who you actually know on your Facebook.

But I don’t get really interactive on other people’s Facebook pages. There are several reasons for this. First – Facebook is making this harder and harder as they only automatically show you the stuff posted by people you “interact” with regularly so it is easy to see how that circle gets inadvertantly smaller and smaller. Another reason I am not super active on Facebook is that there is a lot of stuff that people I really like post that I don’t wanna see. This does not mean I like them less, or do not want to be their friend in real life, or on the internets, it just means I am not into seeing stuff like that and so I don’t look at it. Going to the page of a person, like my friend D.M., a guy I have known since the first grade, and really like in a ton of ways, is not fun for me because we hold diametrically oppositional views on politics and a lot of social issues. Telling him how I disagree would be stupid – or having the audacity to tell him he is wrong or should not be posting something because it bothers me is just inappropriate. He is not posting that stuff for me – he is posting for him, so why do I want to go there and get all fired up – or worse, get involved in some comment battle where I am trying to convince someone that their opinion is “wrong”. Opinions – like feelings – cannot be wrong. They can be in disagreement with my opinions, and certainly wrong for me (or you), but telling someone their opinion is wrong is a waste of time, and really offensive. So instead I leave comments and “likes” on his Instagram where we have much more common ground.

I do believe there are times and places to help someone perhaps see that their opinion does not match data/history/science/facts or something, but I would suggest that would be like in a teaching situation, or as a parent, or an actual conversation among friends. Not really apropos for “social media.” I mean, it’s like the rules that govern polite conversation at dinner parties. People used to say ‘do not talk about politics and religion in mixed company.’ And this was not because people didn’t think about that stuff, or should not hold different opinions – it was because it was a “social” situation and being a dick by telling someone that their opinion is wrong is not very social. Remember when we were taught that if you didn’t have anything nice to say to not say anything at all? If social media is as it claims to be [social] – maybe that is a good rule…. I mean treat other people’s pages as their dinner party and use your own home(page) to say what you have to say. If people don’t want to hear your opinion they don’t have to come to your dinner party.

Facebook in all its deficiencies does allow for a couple great ways to deal with this. First, you can straight hide someone’s posts from your news feed (either by unfollowing them or selecting certain posts.) I have done this. A lot. If someone whose posts you enjoy following generally posts something you cannot deal with, you can had that specific post. A friend in HK who is super active in animal rights posted a super awful photo of an elephant, which I assume was attached to a story about how disgusting people are to elephants, and I could’t take it so I hid it, but not her. I hide all the silly fantasy sports stuff one of my former students posts – it is clutter and useless, but I love hearing about him and his family. I posted a misogynist rant that came out around the Isla Vista shooting on my page and one of my really good friends in HK who I discuss almost everything with, was like, ‘I can’t take this, I’m hiding it from my feed.’ And I totally get that. She didn’t feel the need to tell me how my posting it was wrong or that it was somehow not appropriate – she just said, I don’t want to look. That is what I would call solid use of the comments section.

Which brings me to the commenters. OH.MY.GOD. There is a seemingly growing population of people on the planet that have infinite amounts of time to dedicate to some sort of personal calling to comment on internet activity. These are trolls. I have had a few trolls. I know who one of them was, and I think I have finally blocked him enough that he cannot comment on my blog and Instagram (my only public pages) and his deal was just that he was (is?) a weird little man who thought I rebuffed him inappropriately. But it was still really annoying to get shitty comments from him. Another one I had was a former coworker who was convinced I was subliminally writing about him in my blog, which I was not, but his misunderstanding was illuminating. I am always surprised at how bad the (poor grammar and spelling aside) words of a total stranger or someone I could really not give two shits about can make me feel when it shows up on my stuff. Do the trolls have their own pages? Agendas? I have no idea, but they freaking should because that would be the right place to vent. Venting on the pages/posts/comments of total strangers just to spread vitriol is so bizarre. And it is like they get a certain kind of joy from just being awful.

Says a lot about society.

While I cannot even begin to grok why you would spend this sort of energy being a dick (and far worse) to total strangers, I am even more mystified by people who would do this to people they know – unless they just don’t want to be friends anymore, which is fine, but “breaking up” on Facebook/Instagram/blog seems pretty lame.

I am grateful for the ability to see what my friends – from near and far – are up to in their lives. It is really fun to see who has gone somewhere amazing, had a new baby, got a new job, and be able to be a spectator. I realize email could do the same thing, but that is a much different interface. Do I want a whole email every time for all these events? I think I prefer being able to look through the “news” feed. It works for me. I also have a growing appreciation for the vastly divergent attitudes and opinions my friends hold around religion, politics, social issues, and life in general. That I am friends with such a diverse group I think says a lot about me and my friends. I don’t need them to change for me, that they are who they are is what I love about them. And I do like having conversations with my friends about our thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but this does not happen in the comments. This happens in a pub in Hong Kong, at a secret diner party in SF, poolside in Vegas, on a phone call from Paris, or in email exchanges from Dubai.

In the end “social” suggests being with people and so while social media does endeavor to so this – it is not them same.

And I am okay with this.

The way I choose to use social media works for me. And if it doesn’t work for you, then there are lots of ways to handle that…. (like why are you reading this?) But whatever you do, if you want to remain hopeful for humanity and maintain your sanity… trust me on this: NEVER READ THE COMMENTS.

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[First image from HuffPo, cartoon from unknown source.]

 

108.

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The Summer Solstice was yesterday. Most hours of daylight all year for us in the Northern Hemisphere, and we were not disappointed in San Francisco, that is for sure. It was sunny and warm, even at Ocean Beach. And the light did last long. It was a pretty day and lots of people did lots of super spiritual things to emphasize the day and the significance of the day. I imagine there was much thought to new beginnings and letting in the light, and doing innumerable sun salutations, and getting in touch with one goddess or another, or preaching about the right way to live (don’t eat this, don’t drink that, believe this, do that, be like Me to be happier, be like him to be happier, look at me look at me look at me)to achieve a higher self, or better understanding, or… something.

I am not absent a good sense of irony here. After all, yesterday I planned to write about how I have begun a yoga challenge (108 days of yoga) and I felt like I wanted to go on this big explanation of the significance of the number 108, which of course I investigated when I started wondering about all these people obsessed with doing not 30, not 100, not 365, (all numbers that held more obvious logic to me) but 108 days. I was planning on writing about this and how it was all spiritual and coincidental and (self) important. The significance of the number is interesting, but like so many things the meaning it takes on depends on how you might be feeling at any given moment. [The individual digits comprising 108 represent one thing, nothing, and everything (infinity), representing the belief that the ultimate reality of the universe as being (paradoxically) simultaneously one, emptiness, and infinite.] It suddenly seemed overly self-conscious, and  totally cliché.

My writing has become more and more self-conscious is this medium, which for me compromises authenticity. I cannot tell you how many people have gotten on my case about things I have written, or even considered writing about, here. Everyone has advice, an opinion… an accusation of motive. But really, when I started blogging and was very aware that no one was reading it, I was writing for myself. For catharsis and, frankly, more often than not, to make myself laugh. Maybe to record my version of a memory or story that I didn’t want to forget, which also usually cracked me up. I treated it like it was just about me, it is my blog after all. Following lots of instances of critique, criticism, and actual hurt feelings, it turns out, even the most self-indulgent writing a person can do – blogging – is not really an individual activity. It has an effect on others. One – nothing – everything.

The temporary nature of things is an interesting conundrum – after all it is what might compel me to tell a story here (which, by the way are all true insofar as I remember them… so we can say, all based on actual events) because I want to remember something inherently temporary. The temporary nature of things also offers us the chance to remain sane: nothing lasts forever. Thank fuck for that. The temporary nature of things also allows us an excuse for lots of things that should not really be excusable. Example, my constant mental debate: I will just throw away this recyclable item this one time because I really want to dispose of the trash and I don’t feel like finding the recycle receptacle. No, if you throw one recyclable item away, and everyone on the planet throws one recyclable thing away, then where are we? But it is just this once, I will recycle forever more. And on and on it goes, generally until I take the shit to the recycling bin. Throwing away trash, while momentary, seems much less temporary somehow.

But, with the nothing lasts forever, and everything is temporary attitude, no one seems really concerned with long-term stuff. Live in the moment, people say. Do what makes you happy, people say. Embrace the now, people say. And in so doing, relinquish responsibility for the future we face. Rather than consider that there may be consequences to things, even if categorical proof is absent, people say, No. No, that is not a problem. It is not a problem because it is not a problem right now. And if it is not a problem right now, why should I believe it will be a problem then? [A more animal brain based instinct would say if there is a potential to cause catastrophe, that should be enough to avoid something….]

Because after all, you keep saying nothing lasts forever. Even you yoga challengers… after 108 days, then what?

Temporary. (One)

Everything with an expiration date. (Nothing)

But not. (Everything)

Regardless of the temporary nature of anything, there is some logic to the infinite nature of things. Would doing 108 days of yoga change you definitively? Lorentz would say yes. If every person on the planet stopped littering would it make a difference? If we chose to consider that it was possible that our influence on the global climate could potentially cause us great harm and therefore we tempered all our behaviors contributing to said change, would it make a difference? Is it worth it?

When you look at it like that, it is pretty clear that the ideas tied up in the spiritual explanation of 108 are getting at something pretty important. It goes like this:

  • In separation from ourselves we achieve unity.
  • So, why can’t we just take care of our own selves and then its all good? a student asked me.
  • I mean, it is logical to say, I’m doing the right thing, so I’m fine.
  • But we are not fine, even if you temporarily are – just have a look.
  • Well, this problem is not mine, it is not me, I am not doing that.
  • It is their fault. I blame them.
  • I dont’ kill sharks, abuse animals, poach endangered species, allow fracking, overly depend on fossil fuels, throw trash in the ocean, blow second-hand smoke in people’s faces, support the international drug cartels, endorse unfair labor practices, purchase inhumanely produced food, GMO food, use plastic. I am not homeless, in debt, obese, greedy, myopic. I recycle, reuse, reduce, buy organic, contribute to charities, give money to those in need when I can, spay and neuter my pets, spread awareness of issues, vote. I do the right things.
  • But everyone says that.
  • And we are not okay.

Which seems like the best evidence that, in fact, the paradox is true in our separateness we are united – like it or not – tied to each other. And while change happens and everything good or bad may be temporary – this connection is a dynamic reality.

I am still going to do the 108 days of yoga (today is day 9), because it will make a difference, possibly temporary, maybe not, in my life. I probably wont think about it being about the paradoxical relationship between separation and union, or nothing and everything, but it you never know, it might show me something about myself or the universe that is super important. I am also going to continue to recycle and try to act conscientiously – even though every day it seems harder to do anything at all while trying to do the right thing. I mean, really what can I buy to eat that is not killing me, the planet, a far off indigenous culture, the habitat of endangered species, wantonly destroying farmed animals by the cruel millions, supporting labor exploitation, dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to economic injustice, gender inequality, social violence, social stigma…. it is paralyzing on a good day.

well informed vs sane

And maybe thinking about all these things will help me to be more gentle in my life. Then again it might not.

But the possibility seems worth respecting.