Thursday, December 20, 2007

In Need of Schoolin'.

"I wouldn't want to be in your band unless I could sing 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin," M. typed to me one day while we were at work.

"Is that the one that starts, 'Been a long time since I rock and rolled'?" I messaged back.

"I'm not telling you," he replied, his sigh of disgust almost audible through the IM window. What I considered unremarkable ignorance, he felt to be shameful.

The first time I visited California with M. and we turned on the radio in the rental car, he informed me, "Rock stations in California rarely play anything recorded past the mid-90s, and every other song is by Led Zeppelin." It was an exaggeration, but not by much. I think we heard at least half of the Zeppelin catalog on the radio in the space of four days.

Because I was never a teenaged boy, and because I did not date any Zeppelin-loving dudes (that I know of) until later in life, I pretty much missed my Zep window. As far as I was concerned for most of my young life, Robert Plant was the solo performer of "Big Log."

I enjoy and embrace most Led Zeppelin songs that happen to get broadcast in my vicinity, but do not own any albums and was not exactly going to be memorizing lyrics anytime soon.

Or so I thought. A few weeks ago when I walked into my band workshop/class (for the only band that I am fit to be in right now is one I have to pay to join), my teacher had a surprise. "I decided to pick an extra song for you to do, something that will push your comfort zone a little bit," he said to me. He looked tentative.

"OK," I said. "What is it?"

"Do you know the song 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin?" he said.

And here's how pathetic I am: Without a trace of the previous conversation with M. filtering back into my brain, I responded: "Is that the one that goes, 'Been a long time since I rock and rolled?'"

I don't know which thing M. had a harder time getting over: The fact that I, and not he, was going to perform "Whole Lotta Love," or the fact that I repeated that same ignorant question while failing to recognize his prophecy being realized in the moment.

Personally, I had a harder time with the former fact. In case you haven't noticed, the song's lyrics are fairly masculine. Also, about the only thing I have in common with Robert Plant is a sizeable forehead. Perhaps you won't blame me for feeling set up to fail here.

Still, I dutifully went home with my assignment. I listened to each verse over and over and over, skipping past the crazy breakdown section in the middle and focusing on Plant's growling, primal vocals. I'll bet Janis Joplin would have done a nice job with this tune; too bad I'm not her, either.

As I winced during one rehearsal, our lead guitarist murmured to me, "I feel the same way you do about this song."

"Really?" I said. "But you sound great!"

He shook his head somberly. He knew that he was no Jimmy Page as well as I knew I was no Robert Plant.

Nonetheless, we got up on the stage in a small bar before a small group of people, and we did it. Our guitarist did the solos, and I did the part where Plant shouts "LOooooovvvvE." And here's the thing: Even though we sucked compared to Led Zeppelin, people applauded us for trying. There were people in the audience who had to applaud, because they had to come home to us at the end of the night, but there were others who applauded because shit, we were doing "Whole Lotta Love."

Yes, my teacher set me up to fail. But we failed with dignity.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Accidental Joker.

Have you ever gone out with someone whom you wished were funny, not just a person with a good sense of humor but actively could make you laugh so hard you can't breathe, but they just aren't that funny, until one day when they do something really fucking funny and you think that maybe, just maybe, they have been hilarious all along but been sort of hiding it, or keeping it under wraps and waiting to roll it out until the right moment, but then you realize that they don't even understand that what they did was funny, that they're just hit and miss, and you're going to have to decide how much that matters to you?

I just remembered such an instance, when a boyfriend and I were driving along and came to a railroad crossing. The gate came down and the lights flashed and a bell rang, to signal that a train was coming. And out of nowhere, this guy who had really underwhelmed me in the funny department let out this pitch-perfect, Mr. Bill-style "Noooooooooooooooooooo!" that lasted a really long time, over the bells and lights. I still think of it every once in awhile: It was his one funny moment, and I could tell by the way he looked at me laughing that he had no idea how he had done it or how to repeat it. That's when I knew I had to stop hoping for a miracle and accept our situation.

Monday, November 12, 2007


A few weeks ago, I sat behind a drum kit on the stage at the Blue Bear School of Music, which is housed in a stuffy enclave of San Francisco's Fort Mason. My audience was the school's director, who was evaluating my candidacy for the drummer slot in their Wednesday night Basic Rock and Blues band workshop.

He called me a few days later. "It looks like our Wednesday band is shaping up to be more.... intermediate," he told me on the phone a few days later. "We do have a band on Saturday afternoons at your skill level, if that would work for you." I was too beginner for a beginner class, it turns out.

"Do you need any singers for the Wednesday class?" I said.

That's how I came to be a lead singer in a temporary band that will have only one concert on Dec. 12, at a place called the Red Devil Lounge. Our drummer, who is 11 years old, exceeds my playing experience by four years. His dad, a talented musician named Aric who also happens to vaguely resemble Eric Clapton, is our lead guitarist.

Our bassist is a quiet high-school sophomore whose face is curtained by straight blond hair and typically teenaged skin, while our rhythm guitarist is a pale-denimed man in his early 40s, I'm guessing. Then there's me -- and our other singer, a buff, twentysomething showboat named Reuben.

Reuben actually swivels his hips when he sings "Use Me" by Bill Withers, one of his appointed song choices. He doesn't seem to get nervous about impromptu performing, really. "It's all stage time," he said in our first rehearsal. "I love that." He clearly loves to be up in front of people.

Reuben provides a nice counterpoint to my performance style, which is to hunch my shoulders as much as possible while looking at the floor and trying to steady the tremors -- hand, voice, whatever -- that plague me while I try to project my voice beyond the microphone stand.

It's a natural and logical assumption that most people who go out for a band or a singing group or any other kind of stage act actually enjoy putting themselves on display. I'm a serious approval addict, so I can't pretend that getting applause from people doesn't gratify me, but I really do not relish being on stage.

Whatever the opposite of "stage presence" is, I have it. In one college video, which my friends once replayed and mocked with gusto, I swiftly and ungracefully retreat from the microphone before the last syllable of my solo number is even out of my mouth. I always preferred the idea of being the backup singer, the ensemble player, the drummer -- someone who is part of the show, but not in the spotlight.

From high school onward, I could never keep myself from auditioning, and it almost didn't matter for what. I loved memorizing a monologue, learning a dance routine or practicing a song for the purpose of performing it exactly one time, as a test. I liked the camaraderie and nervousness and competition: Are you ready, how do you feel, how did you do, who made it? I liked seeing if my name was on the list or not, and usually managed not to stake much emotion on the results. After all, it was just a play or a show chorus or a pom squad -- and what would I have done with myself if I'd actually been talented enough to win a key role?

I went into the audition for my college a capella group with the same attitude, until I got in the room and the people there actually dared to suppose that I could be better than I believed I was. They challenged me, encouraged me, put me through the wringer and then, instead of putting me on a list, arrived at my dorm room en masse with booze and singing and hugs and raucousness.

Yes, thanks, I know that it is dorky. It was still awesome and one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I don't think that anyone has had the luck and/or talent to be in University of Pennsylvania's Off the Beat (laugh it up) and managed to graduate without, for a moment, wishing that they could just be in that group for the rest of their lives. Some of us (Gabriel Mann, Goldspot, Vaeda, Larry Kraut) are honest-to-God serious, bitchin' musical commodities now. The rest of us live in professional shells while still craving that experience of making music, rehearsing, performing and touring with a family just as loving, maddening and dysfunctional as our blood relations.

I won't ever have my college experience again, and I know that. It's OK. But I have continued to seek it out, off and on, for the last 15 years. You can be an 11-year-old kid, a fortysomething dad, a sad-sack, a freak, a diamond-industry scion, a working-class butch lesbian, a grandmother from New Jersey, a bo-hunk, a nerd or a milquetoast office professional, and I will know you in a very specific way, which is that we once stood anxiously together in the wings of a dingy stage somewhere, testing ourselves and briefly delighting peoople and ending the evening triumphant and best friends.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Not long after a commenter at Verbungle posed the question, "Is marriage really worth it?" I came across a book at my parents' house entitled How to Measure Your Powers and Increase Your Income by Harry H. Balkin, published in 1938. Mr. Balkin, a "consulting character analyst and vocational advisor," has many curious theories about human personality.

Much like self-improvement books today, Balkin's offers "laws of success" (his "triple recipe for greater happiness and greater understanding" is to know yourself, know your right work and know your fellow people), tips on analyzing oneself, ways to improve memory and develop concentration, etc.

The author also gives advice on coupling in the chapter "How to Be Happy Though Married," (emphasis mine) which features some surprisingly modern comments on the institution.

Have you ever realized that human beings almost never show their true selves in courtship? ... This snare -- this trap that courtship has set for us -- complicates our lives more than almost any other factor in living. What it amounts to is this: We are told, and we believe, that marriage should be a lifetime affair. Naturally, we want to know what sort of person we are selecting for this long, long partnership. And yet we never really meet that person until after the contract has been signed.

I think my poor husband would probably agree with that one. Mr. Balkin has another passage on marriage that I like:

The most heart-breakingly beautiful thing about a sunset is that it happens every day. And real marriage is a blending -- a colorful but harmonious balance -- a dish that contains spice but is still pleasant to taste. What you really want in mating is not just temporary excitement -- not the thrill of an occasional ecstasy -- but someone to fortify you at your weak points, and intensify your good points. Someone with the qualities that you need -- not just for a month, or a year -- but for ever [sic].

Not bad for contemporary wisdom that's nearly 70 years old. Just when I'm thinking I should settle in and read this book cover to cover, I find more advice on selecting a spouse:

Speaking of specifications, here's a list of quality marks to file away in your mental shopping bag when looking for a mate.

Do you like them domestic, home-loving, loyal? Well, the most domestic type, the best "father and mother type" I know of, is a person with a long, round, full back head. This person is always faithful, home-loving and loves children.

Do you want a financial type, girls -- a money-maker? Take a peep at the head-shape of your boy friends in the region one inch above and one inch in front of the ears -- in other words, look at the temples. The wider the head is in the temple region, the greater the financial acumen.

The clinging vine type is characterized by soft consistency of flesh; and the wanderer, the kind that will go anywhere with you and share your adventures, well, she's a blonde, motive type with a short head from front to back.

Single folks on the prowl, don't forget your tape measures!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Temps Perdu.

On a recent night drive along Highway 101 in San Francisco, the scent of skunk entered the car. I found myself actually breathing it in with some enjoyment, suddenly taken back in my mind to car rides with a childhood friend to the ski resort Wintergreen in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. That was probably the first time I learned about that phantom animal smell, weaving through unfamiliar woods in another family's car.

I had almost forgotten about Elizabeth Sharp. The brief tenure of our friendship, which began at Seven Locks Elementary School, ended when we went to different junior highs. But even though we never spoke after Seven Locks, she was one of my best friends when I was there.

We were 9 and then 10 years old. I don't remember a lot from this period, but here's what I do remember.

I remember using jars to catch fireflies in her yard. I remember stealing pennies from the wishing fountain at Wintergreen and thinking we were getting away with something big. I remember that she was a tomboy who wore a big watch and that her mom once said to me when Elizabeth wasn't around, "You're so graceful. I always wanted Elizabeth to be more graceful."

It turns out that am not graceful (even though I believed I was for many years because of that one comment), and Elizabeth wasn't either. She was gentle and loyal and had a broad, kind face. When my school friends decided that we each had to have a nickname that ended in the "ee" sound (Chrissie, Steffie, Bethie -- give me a break, it was fifth grade), we ended up calling her Lizard, because she just wasn't a Lizzie. She was Lizard, who always wore pants and never any makeup or girly things.

To address the obvious question: I have no idea whether she was inchoately gay. She could have been, but she could have just as easily been an inchoate nerd. Nobody's sexuality was in play here.

Here's the main thing: At one harrowing point around fifth grade, most of my friends turned on me. I forget why, and it doesn't matter, because you could find yourself the target of a "fight" as a girl in elementary school whether you were looking for one or not. In that milieu, any detail one collected about a classmate had a dual bonus: It could be counted toward intimacy, or toward a reserve of ammunition to be fired later.

For my friends at the time, Bloomingdale's was the only place to shop. Gloria Vanderbilt, Sassoon or Jordache jeans were all desirable, as were collared Polo tees and Izod. When I let slip that my mom bought my clothes at Marshalls, it was a critical error.

This error came back to haunt me one day at recess during The Walk. At some point my friends and I inaugurated the marginally rebellious practice of walking the perimeter of the sports field. This was a departure from the usual activities of playing on the jungle gym, kickball, jacks, clapsies, hopscotch, soccer, races, or any other sanctioned playground activity. We simply walked around the field, in groups of three to five, talking. In retrospect, it was haughty and exclusive. At the time, we thought it rather progressive.

When I ran afoul of my cool elementary friends, they decided the best way to torture me would be to shadow me on the playground walk with a chant: "LET'S go to MARSHALLS where THEY have gay CLOOOTHES," they sang in unison, skipping behind me. A good walk spoiled.

I tolerated this for a time (it felt like a week, but it was probably two days) before finally confronting my tormentors and telling them that if they only cared about what I wore, I didn't want them as my friends. That's what my mom had counselled me to say, and to my astonishment, it actually worked: the chanting stopped and my "friends" were restored, at least until we got into junior high.

Usually when I think of this story, the focus is on the chant and the unlikely triumph of my mom's wisdom. What gets short shrift is that there was someone walking with me on the playground while I was being tormented: Elizabeth. We pretended to walk as if it were a normal recess, as if there was not a group of girls skipping behind us singing derisively. "Just ignore them," Elizabeth said. She walked alongside me until it was over, and that mattered a lot. I wasn't alone.

I don't think the real force of that gesture hit me until some 27 years later in a San Francisco taxicab, when the random skunk scent brought back that memory of childhood loyalty. I don't see her on Google, so all I can do is send this shout-out. Thanks, Lizard.

Monday, October 15, 2007


"I'm going to get a massage tonight with that guy at [redacted] Spa," someone in the office said last week.

I'm new there and didn't have any background on this comment, but I had been to this spa, and something about the way she said "that guy" triggered a memory.

"Which guy?" I said. "What's his name?"

After saying his name, her eyelids fluttered. "He gives the most sensual massage ever," she said.

I remembered coming home from my own experience with this same person a few months ago and feeling mostly relieved that we had been in a professional establishment and not, say, a dorm room. "It was fine... a little weird," I said afterward. "I got, I don't know, a vibe."

If I had to appear in court and testify against this man for giving an inappropriately sexual massage, I would undoubtedly lose, and therein lay his genius. "Most cues are nonverbal," someone said as I was describing it, and this guy was indeed a master at body language, from the sly way he smiled and made eye contact when he greeted me (he was extremely easy on the eyes) to the unconventional music he played in the massage room (Iron and Wine or Feist, instead of the usual canned, new-agey stuff) to the way he paused a little too long in front of me when we said goodbye at the end (the way I remember it, he said in a low voice, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" but that's just too porno-perfect to be accurate). In terms of the massage itself, he somehow managed to cling to the edge of actionable without going over it.

I think for many women (my office mate, for example), Mr. Lube represents a real find: a cute guy who spends an hour lavishing sensual attention on you, no strings attached. But for me, of course, it was too confusing to be purely pleasurable. I'm someone who gets significantly stressed out about whether to hug or kiss someone hello and/or goodbye, so this massage brought up a whole decision tree that I really have no business contemplating as a married person.

To be frank, it's not an interaction I'd have been any more at ease with as a single person. In terms of body language in a rubdown with a complete stranger, how could I ever manage to communicate over the din of whatever my outspoken veins, fat cells and clogged pores might have to share? That's why a straight, good-looking male is about the last person I want to see when I arrive for a massage. It's like trying to curl up for a nap with a can of Red Bull.

I had gotten the impression that Mr. Lube was willing to provide a lot more than Swedish massage, but for all I knew at the time, it was just item no. 5,236 in my log of drastically misread situations. Now here was my coworker, validating my impression! Everybody knows that if you have a vaguely formed notion and at least one person agrees with you, it is absolutely true!

I won't be going back to Mr. Lube anytime soon, but I'm not above extreme curiosity about my coworker's next encounter. Secretly, I want her to live the story of At First Sight, where Mira Sorvino goes to a resort and she's all overworked and stressed and then she gets Val Kilmer for a massage therapist, and he delivers this whole transcendent-yet-entirely-professional physical experience for her, which of course means that they have to have a relationship, and then she gets to have a massage therapist for a boyfriend, which means that not only do you get kick-ass massages like, all the time, but the sex is amazing, because what massage therapist is bad in bed? (There's also a whole plot about him being blind and regaining his sight and stuff, but that's sort of ancillary.)

Ah, sweet dreams, ladies everywhere, and good night.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


A few weeks ago, I sat behind a drum kit on the stage at the Blue Bear School of Music, which is housed in a stuffy enclave of San Francisco's Fort Mason. My audience was the school's director, who was evaluating my candidacy for the drummer slot in their Wednesday night Basic Rock and Blues band workshop.

He called me a few days later. "It looks like our Wednesday band is shaping up to be more.... intermediate," he told me on the phone a few days later. "We do have a band on Saturday afternoons at your skill level, if that would work for you." I was too beginner for a beginner class, it turns out.

"Do you need any singers for the Wednesday class?" I said.

That's how I came to be a lead singer in a temporary band that will have only one concert on Dec. 12, at a place called the Red Devil Lounge. Our drummer, who is 11 years old, exceeds my playing experience by four years. His dad, a talented musician named Aric who also happens to vaguely resemble Eric Clapton, is our lead guitarist.

Our bassist is a quiet high-school sophomore whose face is curtained by straight blond hair and typically teenaged skin, while our rhythm guitarist is a pale-denimed man in his early 40s, I'm guessing. Then there's me -- and our other singer, a buff, twentysomething showboat named Reuben.

Reuben actually swivels his hips when he sings "Use Me" by Bill Withers, one of his appointed song choices. He doesn't seem to get nervous about impromptu performing, really. "It's all stage time," he said in our first rehearsal. "I love that." He clearly loves to be up in front of people.

Reuben provides a nice counterpoint to my performance style, which is to hunch my shoulders as much as possible while looking at the floor and trying to steady the tremors -- hand, voice, whatever -- that plague me while I try to project my voice beyond the microphone stand.

It's a natural and logical assumption that most people who go out for a band or a singing group or any other kind of stage act actually enjoy putting themselves on display. I'm a serious approval addict, so I can't pretend that getting applause from people doesn't gratify me, but I really do not relish being on stage.

Whatever the opposite of "stage presence" is, I have it. In one college video, which my friends once replayed and mocked with gusto, I swiftly and ungracefully retreat from the microphone before the last syllable of my solo number is even out of my mouth. I always preferred the idea of being the backup singer, the ensemble player, the drummer -- someone who is part of the show, but not in the spotlight.

It all started with auditioning. In high school, I loved memorizing a monologue, learning a dance routine or practicing a song for the purpose of performing it exactly one time, as a test. I liked the camaraderie and nervousness and competition: Are you ready, how do you feel, how did you do, who made it? I liked seeing if my name was on the list or not, and usually managed not to stake much emotion on the results. After all, it was just a play or a show chorus or a pom squad -- and what would I have done with myself if I'd actually been talented enough to win a key role?

I went into the audition for my college a capella group with the same attitude, until I got in the room and the people there actually dared to suppose that I could be better than I believed I was. They challenged me, encouraged me, put me through the wringer and then, instead of putting me on a list, arrived at my dorm room en masse with booze and singing and hugs and raucousness.

Yes, it is dorky. It was still awesome and one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I don't think that anyone has had the luck and/or talent to be in University of Pennsylvania's Off the Beat (laugh it up) and managed to graduate without, for a moment, wishing that they could just be in that group for the rest of their lives. Some of us (Gabriel Mann, Goldspot, Vaeda, Larry Kraut) are honest-to-God serious, bitchin' musical commodities now. The rest of us live in professional shells while still craving that experience of making music, rehearsing, performing and touring with a family just as loving, maddening and dysfunctional as our blood relations.

I won't ever have my college experience again, and I know that. It's OK. You can be an 11-year-old son, a fortysomething dad, a sad-sack, a freak, a diamond-industry scion, a working-class butch lesbian, a grandmother from New Jersey, a bo-hunk, a nerd or milquetoast, and I will know you in a very specific way, which is that we once stood anxiously together in the wing of a dingy stage somewhere, we tested ourselves and briefly delighted peoople and ended the evening triumphant and best friends.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Christina 2.0

That was the subject line of the e-mail that my boss sent out last week, announcing that I had found a new job in a new field and was leaving in two weeks.

A few days before that, I'd had to interview someone who wanted to work for my future former employer. She was bright-eyed and eager and seemed impressed with everything about my job -- even my colorless, impersonal desk -- because it sat under the glow of the three letters printed on posterboard and attached to a concrete column in my office.

A few weeks before that, a guy wrote to me on my personal e-mail to say that he had found my address on the Web and wanted my advice because he wanted to find a job just like mine. I did the best I could to help him and the interviewee, not only because of their earnestness but because they represented the hopes I used to have. I remember being like them, wanting to work for a major news organization or media outlet and thinking it would be the greatest.

Now I've worked for at least three major media outlets, in a capacity I never could have forseen when I was in college. When I went from undergraduate school to the job market, the Web as we know it didn't even exist. How odd to find oneself earning a living from a word that had no meaning for you as a child. Even for me, a kid who got some tutoring in BASIC at 8 years old and grew up with video games, the evolution of the InterWebs was unforseeable and blindsiding in a way that was simultaneously exhilarating, perplexing and depressing.

The exhilarating and perplexing aspect of the World Wide Web Revolution was that it seemed as if our generation was being handed the chance to define something, to shape not only our individual jobs, but an entire medium. We were doing something unprecedented, or at least it seemed that way.

The depressing aspect came with the realization that the thing you built today might well be obsolete next year; that other generations often saw your work as either confusing, or unimportant, or both; and that when it came to content, much of what was being created actually was not unprecedented but rather quite similar, and often inferior, to its "old media" counterpart.

Still, getting into Web work put me in a relatively Good Position, as good as could be expected for a girl with nothing but an undergrad English degree and an average work ethic. I had some very cool experiences and got to work for at least one journalistically respectable outlet. So why wasn't I happier? Why was I always nosing around on job and career sites, looking for more?

It was a bit like dating: I'd have a shot with some guy, a good guy that many women would love to have, and I'd be sitting there trying to twist my mind around being particularly glad about it.

Most normal people in this situation think, "Oh well, I tried this [job, man, whatever] out and it wasn't for me. Time to move on." In self-esteem-challenged people such as myself, it evokes the response, "There must be something wrong with me if I'm not into this. After all, [company, man, whatever] was nice enough to like me -- I owe them something. Maybe I'll keep trying for a few months longer and see if I can become the right person to match this situation. Or better yet, why don't I find something that's slightly different but more or less the same, and torture myself with that for awhile?"

Ultimately, I never became that sought-after version of myself, the one who wanted to advance up the Web media ladder and have the company-issued Blackberry or "director" in my title. Instead, I got comfortable in my discomfort. For awhile, I stopped trying to imagine something else for myself. Whatever ambitions I had within my field atrophied completely. I was stuck.

Now I'm taking a pay cut (something, I feel compelled to say, that would be infinitely harder without being married to someone who is supportive and makes enough to float the difference) to go work for a tiny company that throws cooking parties. It has the potential to be fun, challenging, yummy, busy, social, frustrating, boring, disappointing, tiring. But the point is, it has potential. I've been separated from my own career for a long time now. It feels bittersweet, but I'm finally completing the divorce.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Two months ago, we left the Haight (the Hate) and moved into a new place at the very top of the Potrero Hill neighborhood, a strange confluence of the industrial (Anchor Brewing is down the street), the yuppie and the disadvantaged.

Not long after we moved in, I was sitting at a place nearby called the Thinker's Cafe (yeah, they sold me a beverage anyway) and overheard a middle-aged guy with a sweatered little dog and tinted shades approach two cops who were on their break at the next table.

"Hey, guys, I'm sorry to bother you, but I live over on 23rd and Missouri? And I was just wondering, those gunshots I hear? Where are they coming from?" The cops pointed toward the projects that are just down the hill from my place. "Oh! Okay, and should I bother calling the police?" the guy asked. Oh yes, the cops said politely, feel free to call us. Everyone went back to their lattes.

I didn't experience what the man was talking about until a weekend afternoon about a month later, when gunshots sounded outside our window. They were loud enough that I actually dove from the couch to the floor. A police car sped by shortly afterward, but nothing else came of it, that we know of. Pretty soon, it was back to joggers and couples on walks.

The first word that comes to mind describing this new setting is "bizarre," and our many windows offer ample opportunity to contemplate it. Directly behind us is a fire station, where we can hear the three-tone signal before a truck goes out and see them grilling dinner in the back. My husband likes to wave to the truck through our living room window as it leaves on its assignment. (We can't tell whether or not the firemen can see him, but it's comedy gold for me.)

Off to the northeast (top photo), we can glimpse the Bay and AT&T Stadium -- we had a nice view of the fireworks when Bonds hit his record-breaking homer this week. On the south side of the house is a concrete water treatment plant surrounded by a wall of lumpy, netting-covered earth. On the west side, there is a brand new modern home going up and another glimpse of a view (bottom photo) of the city. And to the north, right next door? You're looking at it, at left. That's the view of our next-door neighbor's yard.

The people who live there have been quite friendly, on the few occasions we've crossed paths. One afternoon, as we were standing at our door watching the cat explore his new outside territory, an elderly woman with missing teeth emerged from the screened-in porch. "You have a cat?" she said. "I wouldn't want the dog to get at him... I came here to give my grandson money to clean this mess up." She waved her hand across the yard, and we nodded vigorously. "It's especially not good for me. It's hard for me to get around," she said. We introduced ourselves and she went back inside the porch.

Later, we found out that the dog she mentioned had killed the previous tenant's cat. It was, we were told by our downstairs neighbor, "an ugly scene."

Despite the grandmother's intentions, the place remains as hazardous-looking as ever. I get a perverse pleasure from staring out the window at it, imagining what the inside must be like and projecting the reaction of the city officials who surely one day will have to inspect and condemn it. They'll walk through with flashlights and face masks, making world-weary jokes a la Law and Order: "Hey Murphy, got a trashcan?" or "Sheez, maybe the maid quit."

The older man who lives there kindly directed us to our place on Carolina Street when we went to see it for the first time. "Sorry to be blocking the sidewalk!" he and his pal said cheerfully, presiding over a pile of junk that perhaps had tried to escape from his house.

Our future home didn't look much better than his, at first: It was under renovation and completely in shambles, full of the tenant's poorly chosen stuff. The exterior remains nothing to write home about, the bathroom looks like it belongs in an elementary school and the kitchen counter is topped with a marbled perwinkle blue plastic that looks like it was installed at least 40 years ago.

Still, inexplicably, I became obsessed with getting in here. I had dreams about it, lost sleep waking up at 4:30 in the morning thinking about it. I drove by during the day, stalking it, both before and after we signed the lease. (Incidentally, have you ever had a song creep in on you and haunt you along with an idea, absolutely defining a moment in your life? For me, the song here was "Tel Que Tu Es".) The three weeks between seeing it and moving in seemed interminable.

We danced around after moving in, feeling like kings: a washing machine with no coin slot! A little office! A yard with a grill! "It's a real place," we said, perhaps overly grateful after years of living in cramped urban apartments with almost no amenities. I found it remarkable that most people you pass on the street in this part of town actually smile and say "hello," instead of "Spare any change for a beer?"

We're settled in, but living here still feels simultaneously like being on vacation and being in exile on a foreign planet. A whistling wind, along with views (just squint!) of the water and fog over the city, are punctuated by noise from the 53 bus line, the fire station, kids on their way to the neighborhood center down the street, hip-hop booming from beat-up cars, dressed-up old people on their way to Sunday church and white thirtysomethings walking their babies and dogs. It feels isolated, yet highly trafficked by a dozen intersecting microcosms.

The fact that one of those microcosms is a fire station led our renter's insurance company to bump the premium down. Fortunately for us, gunshots and killer dogs probably don't merit an adjustment.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Anti-Blog.

Not too long ago, I was out to dinner with some friends and the subject of blogs came up. "Why would anybody have a blog? I mean, who has time for a blog? I would rather do other things," my friend said.

"Yeah, I don't get it. Does anyone read them?" the other person at the table said. They seemed genuinely mystified.

Somehow, this provoked very little embarassment or defensiveness on my part, maybe because I don't actively court an audience for this blog and thus do not get much of one. "I have a blog," I said, "But I can see what you're saying." We talked about the surfeit, surplus and superfluousness of all the bloggity-blogging out there.

Yes, I'm part of the problem. But even before that conversation occurred, I had been feeling less inspired to post here. Whether it's a temporary bout of ennui or something more lasting, I haven't felt a major urge to "share" anything lately. The other day I found myself searching my memory for some recent instance of entertainingly painful humanity, nagged by the fact that the blog slate was blank. I used to have a little list of topics in the hopper that I was excited to write about, but that had dried up.

"If you don't catalog yet another one of your crazy neurotic moments for public consumption, it's really no one's loss," I told myself. "Let it go..." And so I have. (That's the trouble with those Buddhist philosophy books I've been reading lately: Sometimes they can be a handy way to buttress one's own laziness.)

It seems I'm not alone in this blogging fatigue. The pbdotc says he "is tired of his own cringe-worthy insights about world affairs." And a top food blogger in San Francisco just wrote that she has lost her appetite for the pastime.

My appetite for reading blogs, on the other hand, has not diminished. I still faithfully visit my favorites, and still find new ones to appreciate. But between blogs, the rest of the Internets, magazines, books, regular radio, XM radio, Netflix, downloaded shows, streamed shows and -- oh yeah -- actual daily human interaction, sometimes the last thing I want to do is add another voice to the mix, especially when it's the internal one I listen to all damn day.

So is blogging fatigue really about getting tired of listening to oneself, or is it also a need to trim the fat from an overloaded media diet? Are you blogging? Is your head still in the game, are you focused? Or are you drifting away from the chatter?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friends with Money.

Back in 2001, my News Corporation subsidiary employer collapsed our office and laid off a large percentage of the staff, including myself. (That was in January. Boy, what a great New York year lay ahead!)

I got decent severance and set out to support myself in Manhattan for the first time since acquiring my sturdy Murdoch paycheck four years previously. It wasn't pretty: My rent got jacked up, so I had to leave my Upper Upper West Side apartment and move into one half the size down in Murray Hill. Then I proceeded to face a string of either freelance or staff jobs that paid just barely enough and, frankly, sucked. Unable to pay for my nights out anymore, but unwilling to give them up, I started to carry a credit-card balance for the first time.

During this time, I would hear about fellow ex-employees. One was spotted lounging at a Greenwich Village cafe with friends. Did he have a job yet? A year later, no. Another one was splitting his time between New York and Florida, where he had just bought a house. Then there was the Fabulous Couple: Friends of my cousin and just over 30, like me, they owned a gorgeous loft apartment and eventually moved to Australia to attend cooking school together, despite the fact that they seemed to be available at all hours of the day and spoke of no employment.

Having been brought up to believe that there are no free lunches, and as a corollary, that you should never order the most expensive thing on the menu, I was flummoxed by these people, and secretly fascinated by them. It drove me crazy that their financial status went unexplained, and that no one in the vicinity saw fit to broach the topic. How, how, how did they do it? Trust funds? Savings? Drug-dealing? A clandestine business? A sugar daddy (I grew up reading Cosmopolitan, I know about these things)?

Now, in San Francisco, I'm facing an even more financially mysterious breed: the culinary career-changer. Unlike my New York friends of leisure, these people are not dot-commers, so far as I know. They talk of previous careers in marketing, recruiting and biochem. Somehow, they have escaped these careers, attended culinary school, and are now volunteering on farms, teaching cooking classes and demonstrating recipes. And, just as in New York, I am too afraid to ask: How are you paying your bills?

The cost of culinary school, as compared to the income you make when you get out, has been well documented in the press lately: One six-month program I am interested in costs close to $20K, yet most cooking jobs I see advertised top out at $14 an hour. What am I missing?

Right now I am fortunate to have a partner who a) makes more than I do and b) is generously letting me explore my options right now. But I still feel like shit about it, and wonder how I could pay for some kind of education without coming out in the red and screwing both of us over. It makes me skeptical that I can withstand one more sunny kitchen conversation without finally buttonholing someone and asking the offensive questions.

Have you ever known someone who mystified you financially?

Thursday, July 19, 2007


My father-in-law had a stroke on Tuesday. It apparently turned out to be a "minor stroke," which is simultaneously a relief and an oxymoron. We visited him at the hospital last night.

So far, I have been fortunate enough to experience hospital rooms mostly from the vantage point of a visitor. Every time, I feel empathy to the point of nausea for the person in the bed -- not only for the physical ailment, but for having to face a circus of people at precisely the time socializing is the least desirable thing. It seems almost cruel until you consider the alternative of having no one there at all.

Even worse, the bed occupant is often completely out of it, so he is forced to witness everyone standing around and talking about him as if he isn't in the room. How bizarre, to have people talking about what you've been up to in the last 12 hours right in front of you, as if you're not there. Odder still, you're generating a fairly substantial activity report, given the fact that you're just lying there: Did you eat? Have you spoken? Have you slept? Have you walked? Have you taken any medicines, and which ones? Are you taking fluids? Are you in pain? Who has visited you? Who has treated you? What happens next? A lot is going on.

One of the immediate effects for my father-in-law, a very pensive and witty guy, was that he had trouble coming up with certain nouns and pronouns. When they asked him if he knew where he was, he resourcefully answered, "The place where babies are born." The wing where he ended up staying happened to be labeled "Intensive Care Nursery," which was both poor signage and a bad joke. From babies to the sick to the broken, consider how many people wake up in hospitals and find that the word for where they are, along with their own bodies, fall outside their command.

This week in The New Yorker, Oliver Sacks tells the story of a man who was struck by lightning and suddenly became obsessed with hearing and playing piano music. Sacks specializes in these stories of neurological mystery, which are irresistible not only because they involve unexpected twists in a brain's fate (the blind person sees, the catatonic patient awakens), but because the events often precipitate a personal transformation.

The most marvelous Sacks accounts, this recent one included, tend to follow a similar arc where something terrible, such as contracting a tumor or being struck by lightning, becomes the catalyst for some wonderful new capacity. It seems like the stuff of comic books, hardly real. In the hospital it becomes plain that such reconfigurations happen, on a smaller scale, all the damn time. Then we have to cling to the hope that the hero comes out on the other side, if not with a special new power, then at least with newfound strength.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Not an Early Adopter.

A wise Buddhist once said, "We hate suffering, but we love its causes." The most recent manifestation of this truth, for me, is the iPod's shuffle function.

The fact that I'm blogging about this and not the iPhone should illustrate how many years I am behind in caring about new technologies.

I don't like the iPod's song shuffle function very much, but it continues to mystify and intrigue me enough that I can't turn away from it. When it does something goofy such as play a song titled "Strollin'" after a song called "Jammin'," or it relentlessly ushers in depressing ballads even though my selections make it clear that I'm working out and looking for upbeat songs, or it keeps playing interludes from rap CDs while completely skipping over other artists, I wonder if the Shuffle HAL was actually designed with my irritation in mind.

Part of the problem is that my own bad taste comes back to haunt me. I mean, I never really should have loaded in the entirety of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's greatest hits, so I can't very well blame Shuffle when I find myself tortured by an extended mix of "If I Take You Home." And how can I expect Shuffle to know that a piano rendition of "Karma Police" is not going to jump-start my gym session?

I had hoped that Shuffle would help me discover the albums in my collection ("Hey! I had never really listened to this song by Ryan Adams until my iPod dug it up for me!"), but actually it's the opposite: I realize how many of the songs are just painfully skippable at worst, or background music at best.

I used to invest a lot of time in an album: If I liked it enough to buy it, that meant I really listened to every song and knew each one, front to back. Now golden albums such as Who Is Jill Scott? commingle with the Zero 7s and Thievery Corporations of my collection. Depressive meditations contaminate exuberant pop classics, mediocrity intrudes on greatness, Linkin Park gets in my Prince. And it's all a monster of my own making.

On the other hand, the iPod can reveal aspects of your music collection that you never knew existed. For example, it turns out that my song collection could count to 10 were it not for the absence of a song starting with eight:

1-900 L.L. Cool J
2 Many Hoes (Jay -Z)
3 Chains O' Gold (Prince)
4 Leaf Clover (Erykah Badu)
5:55 (Charlotte Gainsbourg)
6 Minutes of Pleasure (L.L. again, with one of the best choruses ever: "Hey yo baby, I know you don't love me, I know why you're here, but I ain't sayin' nothing")
7 (Prince)
99 (Toto)
10 Dollar (M.I.A.)

Anybody got a shuffle-worthy eight?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Accidental Criminals.

So, a person I know did something bad.

"Really bad," the person told me. "I walked up to the ATM machine to get some cash, and the screen said, 'Do you want another transaction?' And I hit 'yes.'"

"No!" I said. "You didn't."

"I did. And then? I hit Fast Cash? And I got $100. And the person's card."

The perpetrator felt very, very bad afterward and was not sure what to do. The owner of the ATM card was nowhere to be seen. A range of options were considered: turning in the card and cash to the bank (too risky), cutting up the card and giving the money to charity (too lame), or considering it a lucky day and moving on (too unscrupulous).

"This doesn't excuse anything... I know it was bad... but I do feel a little less bad because the balance on the account was more than $20,000. I mean, I didn't take food off of anyone's table or anything."

Rationalizations aside, the thief said a feeling of nausea followed the act. I know that feeling -- it's a pit in your gut that tells you you just did something really crappy to somebody, and you have absolutely no excuse for it.

I thought about times I had experienced that feeling myself. The first thing that came to mind was an incident in fourth grade, during an indoor recess in the lunchroom. We had a supervisor named Ms. Dustin, a woman in her thirties with a large posterior, an extremely slow gait and not a shred of the authoritarian quality necessary to make us take her seriously.

I had gone to get a sponge out of a bucket on the stage of the "all-purpose room." (Remember all-purpose rooms?) I had the sponge in my hand, and saw Ms. Dustin's puffy jacket right next to me, on the floor of the stage. I slowly squeezed the sponge, with its dirty all-purpose water, over Ms. Dustin's jacket. I did it because a) I could, b) my friends were watching and thought it was highly entertaining and c) I am a terrible person.

An upset and incredulous Ms. Dustin, who had caught me in the act, brought me to the principal. With wide eyes and the pained look of an innocent accused, I swore up and down that it had been an accident. I got off the hook (apparently Ms. Dustin didn't have much clout with the principal, either), but I knew it was awful, and began the same internal self-justifications that everyone else uses to move on with their lives after doing something crummy. To this day, just thinking about the story conjures the same rush of guilty, excited nausea that comes from doing something bad and getting away with it.

The person who confessed the theft to me noted that there are cameras on ATM machines. "But, they couldn't catch me just from that, right? I mean, I wasn't stupid enough to use my own card right afterward."

I am the wrong person to turn to for any kind of comfort or reassurance in this sort of situation. Though not necessarily super-moral (as evidenced above), I am extremely paranoid. I have never smoked a cigarette or used an illegal drug, half out of a certainty that the minute I did so, a SWAT team -- together with my parents -- would immediately converge upon the scene.

"I... I don't know," I stammered. "I mean, yeah, they probably won't go after you." I was sure that just uttering the prediction had already tilted the odds toward formal charges.

A few days later, I still couldn't get the conversation out of my head. It had the potential to become a minor curse (as in the Haruki Murakami story "The Second Bakery Attack,"), and I felt that by just knowing about it and not doing anything, I was guilty too. I pushed a solution: Google the victim, find the address, and send the money back, with the card cut in half. It worked, I think... here's hoping.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Making Edits.

The other day I was telling my brother about my latest work ambition, which involves food writing and culinary event management. "That's... different," he said.

This is often the type of response I get from people when I tell them about my new explorations: blank stares and weirdly neutral responses. I was surprised initially, but I shouldn't have been, considering the only thing I ever cooked until the last few years was scrambled eggs and Amy's frozen dinners. Also, the subjects of knife skills and recipes aren't as riveting to some people as they are to me.

I've never liked the word "career," and I no longer feel compelled to apply it to anything I do for a living. In my mind, people who have careers make a conscious choice within a certain field and then become (or work to become) accomplished at it.

Then there are people like me, who fall into something because they love it, or because it pays, or something in between. Any level of accomplishment that happens along the way is purely incidental.

After a lot of talk and little action, I finally pitched and wrote my first bona-fide food article, which was published today.

I turned it in early and with excitement, especially proud of my first paragraph:

For all our reverence of the cherry, baked lovingly into pies and perched regally atop sundaes, Americans have not always treated it kindly. We have subjected it to a garish preservation makeover and dubbed it "maraschino," trapped it in cans with gelatinous goo and called it "pie filling" and married it to that fussbudget verb, "cherrypick."

Sheer poetry, I tell you! The editor called it "cumbersome" and advised me to do away with it.

Oh yeah: I'd forgotten about editing. For the most part, the things I've written as a freelancer or staffer have been published without major changes. I used to think that was an indication of my writing prowess; now I know that it's because I have written mostly for Web outlets that are understaffed.

Regardless, the article is out there now. I'm hoping it's the beginning of many future challenges involving cooking, writing and editing.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

How Come U Don't Call Me.

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night on the television, because I am always looking for (yet failing to find) a new You Got Served experience.

During the break, something caught my attention.

"Is this a commercial?" I said, as Prince performed with those seizuretastic twins he's been sporting lately.

I hoped that I was wrong. I hoped that maybe the channel had been changed when I wasn't looking, or that Fox had broken in on SYTYCD to deliver an important update ahead of Prince's 49th birthday, which is today.

But I wasn't wrong. It was a commercial. For Verizon Wireless.

I sat there dumbfounded. "Do you want to talk about it?" said my couch-/life-mate.

"I don't think I can," I said.

"Let's unpack this," he said, turning to me. "You know you're upset. But the question is, why are you upset?"

I thought about this. "Because Prince doesn't do things like this. He doesn't do commercial stuff," I said.

In the skeptical silence that followed, I thought about the Super Bowl, American Idol, etc.

"Okay," I said, "Let me rephrase. He does do commercial stuff. It's just that, he's never..." I had trouble finding the right word.

He's never pandered.

There, I said it. The commercial seemed like pandering. I mean, Verizon Wireless? I'm too uncool and technologically unsavvy these days to even understand what this means. I'm supposed to try to get a new single via my phone? I can hardly get phone calls via my phone.

While I always believed him to be a magic man of mystery, Prince has always been a canny businessman. Getting me to buy that mystery blindly and lovingly when I was 13 years old was one of his first big sales.

This is not the first time his business practices have rubbed me the wrong way. When he released the three-CD set Crystal Ball, claiming it would only be available through his Web site, I dutifully signed up for the pre-sale. Then it came out with better packaging, liner notes (which were absent from the first release) and a lower price in stores not long afterward.

But for the most part, I've admired Prince's ability to walk the line between commercial and independent. He has challenged record labels on their own turf and performed largely on his own terms. So when it comes to the association with phones and perfume, something don't compute.

This reminds me of the time Prince decided to rap. Because he is a badass musician, he has been able change genres like he changes clothes: disco, funk, blues, jazz, rock, pop, you name it. So when rap came along, Prince did that, too. And with the exception of the raps on Lovesexy and The Black Album by that wacky dancer Cat Glover, it was... kind of lame. He has kept it up, with varying degrees of lameness over the years, sometimes handing the mike to Chuck D. or Eve or some lame unknown, and sometimes rapping himself. He's dabbling, and it's fine, but I don't think anyone would say rapping his is forte.

Now maybe Prince has decided that he can J-Lo, too, and be a brand as well as a musician. He's got to make a dollar, I'm not going to be a hater. But I will probably steer clear of 3121-brand high-heeled boots, or whatever is next.

Is this what happens when you get old, baby boomers? Will our children have to face Linkin Park brand energy bars or White Stripes limited-edition hybrids? Can anyone else think of some fun marketing opportunities for today's bands to consider in their dotage?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I recently joined World Gym, which I'm very excited about. Unlike my previous gym, it offers classes for me to not attend, as well as a steam room. For me, a steam room is an imperative part of the gym experience. How else am I going to work up a sweat?

As with many other gyms, World offers all new members a free "fitness evaluation" that is really meant to sell their personal training. A form asked me, "At what time of day are you interested in scheduling personal training sessions?" I checked the box that said "Not Interested."

Why do I sign up for the fitness evaluations? I like to know just how quickly my physical decline is progressing. Usually, I get a nice little fitness snapshot, they describe the training rates, I say thanks and resume the same serviceable but unchallenging routine I've done for 10 years.

The form I originally filled out saying that I wasn't interested in personal training sessions had somehow disappeared when I arrived for my evaluation, so I filled it out again with the same answer. The evaluation went like this: cardio test, flexibility test, abs/core test, weights.

For the core test, I nearly developed a spinal injury attempting to stabilize myself on a huge ball -- an activity that, when you think about it, really has no true-life application. For the weights part, I was asked to show what weight exercises I would "normally" do. This was fun because I don't normally do any weight exercises, but I showed the ones that I would do if I ever bothered.

We retired to the office and I got my results. "On cardio, you did pretty well. You exceeded your target heart rate, and your recovery rate was good," said the trainer. "Were you surprised at anything?"

"No," I said. "I pretty much knew that the abs stuff was going to be bad, and anything involving the ball is going to be a disaster."

She nodded. "Your core needs work. You had trouble balancing on the ball, and also could not raise yourself on the ball."

I nodded. I can take the bad news, I thought.

"Also, your abs are pretty weak. The crunches were difficult for you, and you had trouble with the reverse crunches even raising your tail off the floor by a few inches. You need to get much more height than you were getting."

Hokay, I thought. Thanks for the detailed refresher, but I can remember five minutes ago, friend.

The litany went on: my "normal" arm exercises were ineffective, my form was poor, my legs were surprisingly weak on weight machines given my good cardio performance.

"Do you believe in pinch tests?" she said.

What does this even mean? "I... I don't know."

After pinching my leg, she determined that my thighs had "some extra."

"You mean extra fat?" I said.

"Yes," she said.

Then her boss came into the room, and the takedown got serious. I had marked that I was an "advanced" gym user on my form (after 15 years of belonging to gyms, I wasn't sure what else to put), and they disabused me of this notion. The Boss sized me up. "She looks like she holds her breath," he guessed. "Did she hold her breath?" The trainer confirmed that I had, while doing weight reps.

He did some pinching of his own. "See, this is your problem right here," he said while grasping the back of my upper arm. "And this," he said, poking my back, "This is soft. You want some muscle tone."

I took this all with serious nods and a few laughs: Hey, they were telling it like it was. But a little part of me knew that later I would need a long steam to sweat out all of the mortification.

The good news was that I "didn't have far to go" to get in shape, they said, and would "only" need 10 training sessions, to the tune of around $600. I declined, fidgeting under their stares while I explained that I don't have the money right now (a half-truth). The Boss turned his back and began filing papers while the trainer ushered me out politely. Had I gotten the good-cop, bad-cop routine?

"They're just trying to do their jobs and make their money," I told myself, trying not to feel too ashamed as I took myself right back to the StairMaster routine that they had lobbied to shake me out of. The Boss passed me as I huffed away. I gave him a tight smile; he gave me an extra second of unsmiling eye contact before drifting past.

I now have two fantasies: In fantasy 1, I transform myself into Terminator 2-era Linda Hamilton, walk up to The Boss, flex and say, "Feel this? Hard as a rock. And I did it without any personal trainers, sporto," and walk away while he shakes his head in wonder.

In fantasy 2, I go totally anorexic out of spite and tell them it's their fault.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Insane Job Ads.

Whenever I want to feel even more despondent than I normally do about my prospects for earning money as a writer, I take myself over to the Gigs/Writing section of Craigslist.

Since it's the gigs section, 90 percent of the entries seem somehow shady and/or undesirable. Since it's the writing section, the pay is nearly always abysmal, if it exists at all. Since it's San Francisco, a good number of the ads have been written by complete loons.

Come browse with me.

1. I don't want to spend too long contemplating what kind of marketing scheme this is attached to, but it may involve sex for money. Can you imagine receiving a handwritten letter that someone was paid a meager 60 cents to write you?

I am looking for someone who would like to take 2 to 3 hours out of their day to write 100 hand written letters. I am paying $60 = .60 cents per letter. I would prefer legible male handwriting. Reoccurring job based on performance and response.

2. Please note the last paragraph of this ad. It is for the Jack Bauer of freelance writers.

What is needed: 6- 8 hours of personal interview/documentation in Santa Cruz, CA, (hours to be arranged), followed by completion of written assignment within 2 days thereafter. Interview must be scheduled before May 29th.

Who is needed: I am a seeking the services of an exceptionally talented and inspired individual with particular skill proficiency in the following areas:
in-depth personal interviewing
investigative reporting
exploration and discovery
extracting and summarizing critical information
expressing with sharp clarity
engaging and sustaining interest of reader
creating continuity in presenting
facts and experiences;
documenting, sequencing events,
circumstances, consequences;
expressing human feelings and emotions
with authenticity, transparency
(pain, futility, effects of trauma)
eliciting compassion of the reader.

Please inquire in response to this posting ONLY if you feel confident in your competence to meet these criteria, as a human life is hangs in the balance. Please attach writing samples or include link to page where samples may be viewed.

3. I actually kind of like this ad. The headline on it was "speech writer with bullshit and passion (5 minute speech)"

Thursday I need to stand in front of ten serious board members and convince them to not fire me. I have a good story to tell, I just need help putting it together. I need help. I cant pay much, but I can pay some and trade stuff too.
4. What I like about this ad is that the writer rails against "shyism" and yet her publication is named Ban Shyness.

My name is Liz and I am shy, I admit it. It has always been a problem for me, a weakness I have been working my whole life to overcome. In society there is definite shyism in the United States. Shyism is discrimination against people who aren't as confident in social situations.

This is what I'm attempting to combat with banShyness. My hope at through the creation of banShyness, there could be a place where cpeople can share their stories, their advice and provide support and young people and adults can find hope.

What I am asking from you now is to give me a little start. If anyone has any stories or anecdotes that they would be willing to share with me so I can start with some solid support.

5. I don't even know what this means.

Conscious Dancer is a new magazine dedicated to dance and higher consciousness. We are preparing mock-ups of our first issues and want stories to fill out our design. Want this piece by June 1.

One thing I'm looking for is 800-1200 words on fire dancing, and the spiritual states it creates.

Byline in the mock ups and first issue. Exposure to sophisticated audience. Possibility for regular placement or payment down the road.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Happy Mother's Day.

So, the other night I had a dream that I was late-term pregnant, and realized that I had never gotten a sonogram or anything, and how could everyone have overlooked that and maybe the baby isn't OK, and then when I looked down at my belly it turned out I was never pregnant at all. I was just fat.

"Man, you really are crazy," was the response I got when relating this dream to the man in the house.

Imagine a world where every conversation, somehow or another, turns to the subject of reproduction. Will you do it, are you doing it, have you done it and how did it go, and most importantly, how do you feel about it? If you are an American female in your 30s, you don't have to imagine this world. You inhabit it.

There are so many babies bursting into the world around me that I can't keep track anymore. I will now say outright that if I have not met your child, I am not taking responsibility for remembering its name. I'd like to be a good friend here, but it's not a matter of will. It's a matter of feeble brain capacity. I 'm sure your Avery or Essex or Bianca is one of a kind, but "the little one" is something I can remember and spell correctly, so that's how he or she will be referred to by me.

"But why don't you want to have children?" my sister-in-law asked me, before she was even my sister-in-law. "I didn't say I don't want to have children," I answered. "I just said I'm not sure. And it's not necessarily up to me. What if I can't? I'm already 35." I made the age reference to to cow her into changing the subject, but she rebounded quickly. "Well," she said, "I was 35 when I had my baby."

I'm not going to run through the pros and cons of parenthood here because most of us, at one time or another, have considered them. Suffice it to say that I do love most children. I do not love all children. My experience with childcare is significant enough to know exactly what I'd be getting into.

My two friends from high school, who are both moms and have always relished haranguing me about something, are now on a campaign to have me a) move back to D.C. and b) have a child. "Listen to me," one of my friends said in a moment of reflection. "I'm telling you where to live and how to live your life, and it's really none of my business."

"That's OK," I said. "At least you're an old friend. I know that if I end up choosing not to have kids, you're not going to judge me, and you'll still be my friend."

We both paused, and I anticipated the joke she was about to make. "Well, I'll still be your friend."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Cranky McCrankerson.

This was a paper-cut kind of week. Nothing went horribly wrong -- in fact, a few things went surprisingly right -- but somehow it still seemed naggingly crummy. I will be attempting to adjust my poor attitude over the weekend, but in the meantime here are some moments and thoughts I feel kind of bad about.

* There are still people working daily on computers who don't know which slash to use when typing a URL. I think that is ridiculous.

* I rolled my eyes behind the back of a fiftysomething woman singing aloud with "The Age of Aquarius" in the Haight-Ashbury Music Center.

* I don't care about your new phone.

* People need to stop having orgasms about Tartine.

* It's a real drag how humorless and needy cats can be.

* I let some edge into my voice with a little girl who called my cell phone twice by mistake.

* I almost turned into the person who writes angry kitchen notes at work after discovering that someone had drunk all my milk but left the carton in the refrigerator with a splash left. Although I composed notes in my head while eating dry shredded wheat, I kept enough of a grip on myself to let it go.

So, next week, yoga class and breathing exercises. Yeah.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Too Ditzy for Jet Lag.

When planning my activities this month, I craftily set myself up for an 8 a.m. weekend volunteering stint just after having gotten back from six days in Hawaii.

"I figured I'd be up early anyway," I reasoned. It had to be explained to me that since Hawaii runs three hours earlier than California, that what I had done actually made no sense. "It actually feels worse for you to be getting up early on the West Coast now," I was told. "It would feel like five in the morning to you." Gee, that explains the two-hour nap I took today, after flying in from O'ahu last night. I wondered why I was so tired!

I have a degree from a very respectable university and most of the time seem like a perfectly intelligent human being. But certain areas, such as time zones, turn me into a complete mouth-breather. The whole of geography and spatial relations is a realm of mystery.

One of our companions in Hawaii happened to be a former coworker of mine at a news Web site. At one point he lamented the stunning mistakes that some of his colleagues make these days.

"Remember that news quiz they used to give to job candidates?" he said to me. "I don't know what happened to that. These are people who couldn't pick out Kuala Lumpur on a map!" He said this with earnest incredulity.

I let that sit for a moment before coming clean. "They never gave me that quiz," I said. "I got hired before they instituted it." I was having a good day and happened to know that Kuala Lumpur was in Malaysia, but if you ask me where Malayasia is on a map, there's a chance I'd point to Tibet. Or maybe Mexico.

"I would have failed that test, and I was the world editor at one point," I confessed. Our friend politely ignored me and continued to critique his coworkers.

There must be something adaptive about the fact that my brain cannot process which way east is, but can still sing a Pop Tarts commercial from 1987. I'm not sure what that adaptive quality is, but I'm open to ideas.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Read on an Empty Stomach.

Just when I think I've dealt with every annoying skin problem you can have, I acquire things that I've never even heard of.

Several weeks ago, I noticed that there was a bump on my eyelid. "Weird," I thought. I figured it would go away.

But there it stubbornly sat, a miniature eye-igloo camping out on my lid, ready for all weather. It wasn't going anywhere. In fact, it was getting bigger.

The bump looked suspiciously like that of a work colleague who had been complaining about a thing on his eye that looked... exactly the same, come to think of it. I mentally ran through his comments as I inspected mine in the mirror: "I've had it for MONTHS," he had said. "My doctor isn't doing anything for it... I just want it to go away... Nothing works!"

Later that week I saw him for a post-work event. I had already decided that I would pull him aside at some point and ask him more about his eye, but that tonight would not be the proper context. I carefully put neutral eyeshadow over the eyelid boil. "There," I thought. "I didn't make it disappear, but at least it's not immediately noticeable."

"YOU HAVE ONE TOO!" was the first thing he said when he got a good look at me. "Oh my God. I feel responsible. Did you get this from me?" I reassured him that I didn't think so. "We can start a band and call ourselves the Eyesores," I said with an effort at blitheness, as two other attendees of the event edged away from us and began their own conversation.

After forever, it was time to go to the doctor.

My advice to everyone with eyes would be, if someone offers you a chalazion, say no thank you. Do not get one. They are heinous-looking, uncomfortable and stubborn.

A chalazion, in case you aren't familiar, is a fancy word for what two health care professionals separately described to me as "an eye zit."

Hearing a chalazion likened to a zit made everything come together for me. My face has spent its entire lifespan in the service of whiteheads, blackheads, enlarged pores and mysterious rashes. Managing to get a disfiguring zit on my eye was a new milestone of acne achievement. I thought coldly of the days in my teens when I looked forward to being an adult, imagining then that emergence from puberty would mean freedom from skin problems. Oh how wrong I was.

"You have two choices," the doctor told me. "Usually these go away within a few months, so you can wait. Or, you can come back and have it lanced."

A few months? "Lance it," I said, trying not to think of knights' weapons and the dragon perched on my eyelid.

I don't know why I thought that the lancing would be an easy-peasy experience. It involves a blade and one's EYE. But I thought hey, they're just popping an eye zit. How bad can it be?

Bad enough that I got nauseous in the chair. Bad enough that I ended up in the lobby unable to do anything but cry on the phone to my mommy until I was in good enough shape to drive myself home. Bad enough that it didn't heal fully for another 10 days.

Now I am chalazion-free and my eyelid is enjoying a freedom that it never knew to appreciate before. Before the chalazion, I never thought to look in the mirror and say, "Boy, I sure am glad I don't have a boil on my eye." Now, I know better.

I don't know that I'd call this a cautionary tale, or a sob story, or really anything other than an opportunity to give anyone who reads this a laugh at my expense in a week that is drenched in inexplicable violence and sadness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Baby Growing Up.

On a recent Sunday, I was wandering with two friends in the Penn bookstore after a weekend reunion of my college a cappella group. "Who do you think is the most improved?" I asked. "You mean as a singer, or as a person?" one of them said. "As a person," I said.

Unlike many of the times I ask a question like that, this time I had no particular answer in mind. Neither, as it turned out, did my friends.

"I don't know. They all seem, fuckin', the same," said G., who is now a musician in L.A. and still has crazy dyed hair despite being a married dad. "Yeah," said the other G., who is still irrepressible, smart, good-looking and an incurable yet harmless letch, despite also being a married dad.

There was silence. "[Name redacted] is better," someone offered. "THAT is true," I agreed. "Was he really that bad?" one G. said. We debated that for awhile.

Here's the point: No one had really changed, as far as anyone could tell. Which can't be true, because that means I haven't changed either, which is unacceptable. Aren't I more polished, sage and at ease with myself than 10-plus years ago, when our reunions did not involve hotel meeting rooms with placards out front and kids running among the tables?

Come to think of it, no.

I was telling my sister about the fact that no one from college had changed. "Did you expect that they would?" she asked. I guess I had. I guess somewhere in my subconscious, I assumed that getting married and building careers and having children and facing 40 turned you into a different person along the way. Maybe it does, in some respects, but why did I expect the change to be immediately detectable, like a hand-stamp or a third eye?

The weekend had me ruminating a lot on the strangeness of getting older. But, turning my youth-challenged frown upside down, I decided to list some positives:

  • You don't know, or don't care (as much), when people are talking trash about you.

  • You and most of your friends have outgrown the need to nitpick restaurant choices or bill-splitting techniques.

  • You can pick the people you live with, and where.

  • You can have whatever you want for whatever meal, whatever time.

  • No futons. No fake IDs. No internships.

    That's all I can think of so far. If you have others, please post them.
  • Friday, March 16, 2007

    Viewers, Repent.

    It's 11:30 p.m. Do you know where your soul is?

    About every six weeks or so, mine gets caught and sucked away by a man named Joey Greco. Greco is the host of Cheaters, a show that makes Cops look like Frontline. As televised nutrition, it's like a Twinkie, a shot of Wild Turkey and a Marlboro Light all rolled into one speedball of human failing. Therefore, it is both repugnant and irresistible.

    Fate rarely finds me simultaneously a) in front of the TV past 11 p.m. b) in possession of the remote control and c) sufficiently passive to continue flipping around between the recesses of the local evening newscasts like a sheep in a wolf's den. But when these three conditions do coincide, and I encounter that tell-tale grainy video with the tinny, maudlin piano music playing over it, I know I'm destined to spend the next 20-30 minutes wallowing in the emotional gutter of American humanity.

    For those who have never seen the show, the general arc goes like this: sad person describes his or her relationship and suspicions in one-on-one interview; we follow Joey's team on an "investigation," where they surveil the "suspect"; Joey returns to the cuckolded person and gently but plainly reveals the damning video evidence, usually captured on dates or outside houses; Joey takes the betrayed to confront the cheater and third party in a denouement usually replete with blurred mouths, shoving and tears. Sometimes, Joey goes back after the confrontation to get the cheater's side, or run a post-mortem with the accuser.

    The person who introduced me to Cheaters claims that there are episodes with happy endings, where suspicions of infidelity are proved wrong. I have never seen these mythical episodes. On my Cheaters, where there's suspicion, there's inevitably a cheap grope alongside an SUV in the suburbs.

    The show has a slogan that could have been penned by Samuel Richardson: "Cheaters® reality tv is both dedicated to the faithful and presented to the falsehearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue." The producers, natch, are adept at marketing products meant to further this pursuit of temperance and virtue, such as a dating service, live counseling, uncensored DVDs and Cheaters thongs.

    Let me say here that Joey Greco is some kind of genius. I don't know how a person in his position has managed to stay watchable, much less alive, for this long (though he has been stabbed at least once). He's at his best in the third act of the show, when he and his crew present evidence of the cheating and then spring into action, swarming the cheaters' crime scene like a SWAT team. You know he's got to be all tingly and happy inside, but on the outside he appears unfailingly calm, firm and sympathetic.

    Joey never smirks, rarely yells, and always wears black. The only other places Joey could possibly work are a funeral home or an abattoir.

    I used to get my dose of human misery from the show Celebrity Fit Club. Foolishly, I thought that avoiding a cable subscription would prevent me from finding something else to hate myself for viewing. But I should have remembered that trading cable for affiliates just means lower-quality trash TV.

    Every time the show's blues-guitar theme cues up and the credits roll on Cheaters, I rarely feel anything other than depressed: Depressed because people are betraying those who love them on a daily basis; depressed because people who have been betrayed then do further injury to themselves by exposing it all in a public forum; and depressed because, well, I don't even know if anything on Cheaters is even real. I mean, I want to believe that Joey and his guests aren't orchestrating anything, but... Joey, is there anything you want to tell me?

    Saturday, March 03, 2007

    An Error Has Occurred.

    I am in the school that says regret is to be avoided, that regret ages you. What qualifies as a regret? For me, it's something you think of, several times a year, for several years. It’s something that you will never really, truly feel OK about.

    Overall, I’ve managed to avoid getting too worked up over things I have or haven’t done. I mean sure, if I had waited to secure another job before quitting the one that was making me absolutely miserable in the spring of 2002, I probably would have largely avoided the cycle of low-level debt that I only just emerged from this year. There are, in retrospect, many many life situations that I could have handled better. I’m alright with it all.

    But a couple of things, despite my trying to move past them, have become bona fide regrets. One of them is never having learned a musical instrument until now. The other occurs to me even more frequently.

    In the year 2000, I met with the assistant managing editor of Entertainment Weekly magazine. At the time, I was the “entertainment editor” of “”

    I had been the one to push for and launch a new entertainment section at Fox two years before, and in retrospect, it’s hilarious what I got away with. Since we were so low on the media totem pole, and since my bosses were just happy to have an enthusiastic person going out and reporting stories for our new section, that meant a raft of interviews with Erykah Badu, Brian McKnight, Ben Folds, the guy who played Ben on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and a whole bunch of other stuff that I’m pretty sure our readership couldn’t have given two craps about.

    A Fox contributor put me in touch with the EW person when I mentioned I was looking around for a place where maybe more than 500 people would read the stories I was doing.

    To me, meeting this editor was a big deal. I had started reading Entertainment Weekly in my early 20s, and I knew the magazine like the back of my hand. When I decided at age 23 to move to New York, I wrote to their movie critic at the time, Ty Burr, told him that he was my favorite reviewer at the magazine and asked him if he would have an informational interview with me. I wasn’t just arse-kissing, either – I was that big of a geek. I thought Ty Burr was one of the cleverest, most intelligent entertainment magazine writers I’d read. And Ty turned out to be nice, too – not only did he answer my letter, he took me out to lunch and got me a meeting with the assistant managing editor.

    So here I was, meeting with a new assistant managing editor some six years later, only this time I’d written stuff. I actually had some experience, and some confidence. I was psyched. After weeks of meetings and phone tag and a very rigorous writing test, the editor called me up one day. “Here is what I would do with you,” she said. “You gave us a very strong writing test, and I think you have potential. But you still need to develop your voice. If you were interested, I would offer you a very junior position here, probably assistant editor. And I would pay you about $45,000.”

    The minute she hit that salary figure, my face fell. $45K? That was significantly less than I was making at Fox. I mean sure, I could live on that little, if I stopped drinking $10 martinis and going to my chi chi gym and generally living my modestly comfortable life. But why should I? Why not just stay at Fox, where I had tons of autonomy and a better salary, “develop my voice” there, and go back to EW when I had more bargaining power? With a pit in my stomach, I said no thanks. I was freelancing for this fabulous new magazine and Web site, Inside, and other places. If I stayed the course, a better opportunity was bound to emerge, right?

    Wrong, oh, wrong, oh, wrong.

    I got laid off from Fox the next year, and Inside collapsed the year after that. I interviewed again at EW, only this time at the Web site. My former contact there was gone. I made it through two rounds of cuts and then failed to get an offer.

    It’s possible that if I’d said yes to that woman back in 2000, I’d now be wrinkling my nose at the prospect of writing yet another fricking summer movie preview or power 100 listing or CD capsule review. It’s possible I’d be fantasizing about writing about “meaningful” stuff, or just plain getting out of New York.
    Still, I can’t help but think that my answer to that phone call was a big, big mistake. It’s done, and I accept it. But I earnestly, painfully regret it.

    Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    Nice to Meet Who?

    Hi. Nice to meet you, too. Except that we've met before. Remember?

    They never do.

    There's something about me. I have a special quality, a certain je ne sais quois, that makes people say je ne sais who the hell you are, even after having extended conversations with me. Today, two people from my D.C.-based employer visited our office for a meeting, and were introduced to me on their way in.

    These two people politely shook my hand and said, "Nice to meet you." They smiled the fresh smiles of people who were encountering someone new. Except that I had met them. Not only had I met them, I had been with them in meetings, several times a week, for several months. I had even spoken at these meetings, in front of them, and spoken with each person directly, once or twice.

    I long ago figured out that the sight of my face obviously triggers some sort of memory-erase in people I meet once or twice. It's sort of like living in a version of the movie 50 First Dates, where I am the Adam Sandler character and Drew Barrymore's character is played by almost everyone else. Maybe that's why I get so excited when I can finally get acknowledgment from any business where I am a regular patron.

    This severe instance of recognition failure was a new demonstration of my powers. "Nice to see you," I said. "We've been in meetings together. I used to work in D.C." I waited for some sign of recognition, but none materialized. "Oh!" they nodded vacantly, still clearly not having any idea that they had laid eyes on me before.

    The group began to pull chairs around a central table. Making the moment perfect, another coworker, someone I see every day, said, "Christine, do you mind if we use this chair?"

    Looking at the upside of my invisibility, it represents a chance to reinvent myself on a regular basis. Next time I walk into work, or another situation involving familiar faces, I could just pretend to be someone else. As long as I remain my impression-free self at the core, the possibilities are endless.

    Hello, my name is Cornelia, and I work in fashion. I'm Melissa, and I work at San Francisco's Circus Center. Hi, it's Sharon, I'm a Cylon -- or Shira will work, just signal in my direction. Hope to see you again soon.

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    Dancing with Myself.

    Which is worse: the crushing loneliness of having no one to love, or loving someone and having it not work out? The question occurred to me while viewing this story on breakup songs.

    Breakups can be traumatic, but true masters of self-pity know that parting with a lover only offers temporary satisfaction. Wallowing in one's own continuing unlovability and solitude, on the other hand, is for those sad-sacks who are in it to win it.

    The latter category is where I have spent roughly 80 percent of my adult Valentine's Days up to now. Still, when it comes to musical accompaniment, most of what's out there is geared toward the rage or sadness of breakups. It's harder to come up with songs for the people who don't bother with relationships and instead go straight to the depression.

    When it comes to over-the-top R&B songs about heartache, though, I am a font of knowledge. Here, just for fun, are some songs that I love for their all-out, high-drama poutiness.

    10 Crybaby R&B/Soul Songs

    "How Can I Ease the Pain," Lisa Fischer
    "This Woman's Work," Maxwell (covering Kate Bush)
    "All Cried Out," Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
    "So Sick," Ne-Yo
    "Halfcrazy," Musiq
    "I Hate You," Prince
    "Wish I Didn't Miss You," Angie Stone
    "I'm the Only Woman," Mary J. Blige
    "Green Eyes," Erykah Badu
    "Emotional Rollercoaster," Vivian Green

    The only loneliness songs I can think of are pretty bad ("All by Myself," Eric Carmen; "One," Three Dog Night) or little known ("One Is the Magic Number," Jill Scott). What am I missing?

    Monday, February 05, 2007

    Prince Graces the Gridiron.

    Letting it be known that you really, really like someone is a double-edged sword, which is why I never admitted to liking any boy in school, ever. Open and unabashed admiration is a vulnerability that can be exploited and made fun of. In the worst cases, it can become the thing you are known for: basking in the shadow of another's personality, rather than expressing your own. At the very least, it can make you look kind of silly. (When it comes to boys at school, it can also help secure you a date, which is why I never had any.)

    Kind of silly is how I felt when the Prince halftime show came on and everyone who had come over to watch it knew that we had to pay attention because of me and my special feelings for Prince. At the beginning of the show, I was in the kitchen. "Do you really want to miss this?" someone asked. I dutifully took my spot in front of the TV. If you are going to claim to love Prince, you don't screw around when his performance is starting on TV, even if it's a show that you could take or leave, if you're really honest with yourself.

    By necessity, the Super Bowl halftime show is the main performer boiled down to his or her essence, and thrown in with a bunch of other ingredients. To ensure a broad appeal, the show has to telegraph the most popular things about its star -- plus a few things that have nothing to do with that star, just in case. So last night, we got not only a selection of hits from Purple Rain, but also covers of Foo Fighters, CCR and Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix. We also got a marching band, wildly seizuring dancers and a big symbol-shaped stage.

    As Prince himself sang, "I ain't no fool." He knows what the show is. He knows from what position of artistic privilege he plays. In fact, despite Kelefa Sanneh's comment in The New York Times that Prince "does not carry himself as a pop-star emeritus," the exact opposite is true. Prince carries himself precisely like a pop-star emeritus, because in this context, he is one. Unlike his infamous halftime-show predecessor and contemporary Janet Jackson, he has retired from the effort and pressure of appealing to a mass audience, winning awards, scoring magazine covers when he releases an album and topping charts with new singles. He has managed to thrive outside of that industry and in spite of it, and he wears that independence as a mark of transcendence rather than of decline. He should.

    The halftime show was enjoyable to watch, and I'm not mad at Prince for doing it. But sitting in a group of people to watch him play a show like that was less enjoyable for me than it was to sit alone in front of a computer and watch this "press conference" before the game. [Update: The tools at Universal have put the kibosh on said press conference video. Sad...] I like this footage because, at least in the beginning, he's being a little bit of a prima donna and a jerk. It harks back to the days when he was new and mysterious and inaccessible. It's clear here that he just doesn't give a fuck. So he gets up there and he plays a song from 1986's Parade, a song you're not going to know or care about unless you're a pretty solid fan (and a song I happen to love). It's a performance that has more attitude, and maybe even more musicality, than the Super Bowl show did.

    Some observers have commented about how strange it is to see Prince, who once represented the lascivious edge of music and was known for only appearing and performing on his own terms, become the Super Bowl's "safe" crowd-pleaser this year. It may be strange, but it's not to be lamented. I would have loved it if Prince stayed the same lip-licking, open-shirted, leering, dirty scamp that he is here forever. I also would have loved it if I never had to contemplate bills, my cholesterol, and the appearance of certain veins on my person. But adolescence can't last forever, at least in any form that resists ridicule -- and what now exists is a happy evolution.