Category Archives: Appreciation

Send in the Trolls

One of the first rules of the Internet is Never Read the Comments, especially when it comes to something you have written. As most of us have witnessed first hand, there’s something about the relative anonymity of the comments section that transforms people into hate-spewing cretins. People routinely misinterpret – often willfully it seems – each others’ words and then clamber up onto their virtual soapboxes to preach their version of the gospel. Or call you a goddamn stupid motherf*cking a$$hole licker. Or, you know, whatever.

But sometimes it’s impossible to resist reading the comments.

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Pretty sure they’re telling me to kiss their respective asses.

A few months ago, I wrote a story for xojane.com* about the time I spotted an old flame making balloon animals at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. This guy had 1) broken my delicate eighteen-year-old heart, and 2) once been a moody and pretentious aspiring filmmaker, so there was some satisfaction in seeing him surrounded by sugar high children. My story received hundreds of comments, ranging from amusement to solidarity to irritation. Some accused me of pettiness and insensitivity. One commenter was outraged that I was picking on balloon artists.

Over the last two years, I have written and recorded a number of short pieces for the Perspectives segment of my local public radio station. This experience has taught me that even public radio listeners can be over-reactive, albeit while using more polite language. My tribute to my former-hunter-now-elderly cat inspired a heated exchange between an angry bird lover and a defensive cat supporter. When KQED aired my analogy on the nature of prejudice and race relations, let’s just say I was grateful not to get any death threats. Two weeks ago, I was at the station to record my latest piece about staving off a panic attack at 13,000 ft, and the segment editor joked, “I’m sure the commenters will come up with something. Perhaps self-indulgent?” We laughed and I prepared myself for whatever would come.

In this day and age when it seems that everyone has a righteous opinion on just about everything, what does it say that my piece did not receive a single comment, good or bad? To most creative types, the worst reaction to our work is indifference. While I have received positive feedback from friends and acquaintances, I admit that I am somewhat distressed that my writing failed to inspire even one listener to indignation.

I really ought to stop checking the comments section. Seeing that “0 Comments” is breaking my heart.


*For the record, the bordering-on-cheesy heading and subhead were not mine.

 

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Ignorance is Bliss

When I was a preteen, I consumed music fan magazines like a hungry dog: Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, Smash Hits, Star Hits, and my favorite, Bop. I absorbed every detail about the men of my dreams (first and foremost Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran), memorized their birth dates and favorite colors, their parents’ and siblings’ names, and childhood pets. I read every interview I could get my hands on, desperate to know these guys inside and out. To truly understand them.*

As a teenager, I grew out of these school girl crushes and learned that the more I knew about my favorite musicians, often the less appealing they were and in turn, the less appealing their work. This was reinforced several years ago when I saw Jack White of the White Stripes at the Nashville airport baggage claim. I watched from across the carousel as an enthusiastic fan approached him, CD and pen in hand. I couldn’t hear their exchange but the body language was clear: the fan was asking for an autograph and Jack White was totally blowing him off. Sure, it must get tiring to have people come up to you all the time, and Jack White was probably not in the mood to chat. But if he had just signed the damn CD, the whole exchange could have been over in about thirty seconds. Instead, he spent several minutes rebuffing the fan, who ultimately gave up and walked away, clearly dejected. And I thought, You arrogant bastard, Jack White. Without your fans, you wouldn’t even be Jack White.

SalingerWhen it comes to literature, learning more about an author’s life can shed light on his or her work, open you up to a whole new understanding and appreciation. For instance, this past weekend I watched the documentary Salinger, and it was eye opening to learn how much Salinger had been affected by the atrocities he witnessed in World War II. A bell went off in my head when one of the interviewees spoke of how he had channeled this trauma into the character of Seymour Glass, who first appears in the short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”. Spoiler alert: After spending what appears to be a pleasant afternoon at the beach, Seymour quite suddenly commits suicide, an event that both intrigued and confused my teenage mind when I first read the story. But of course it makes sense now—Seymour was suffering from PTSD.

The Salinger documentary also revealed some less than wholesome facts about the famous literary recluse. He liked his women (err, girls really) young. At the age of thirty, he befriended a fourteen year old girl on a beach and for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, her parents allowed them not only to correspond but to actually travel together. The girl in question (now a woman in her seventies) avows that he never laid a hand on her, but come on. That’s creepy, right? Apparently Salinger stuck to eighteen-year-olds from then on. In fact, there was a series of eighteen-year-olds, whom he dated and unceremoniously dumped, until he was in his sixties. Um, ew.

Salinger was also purportedly a moody, self-absorbed narcissist. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly rare when it comes to artists. But how many artists lock themselves in their writing bunkers and forbid their spouses and children from disturbing them no matter the reason, for days on end?

As scores of former friends and lovers recounted his temperamental nature, antisocial behavior, and neglect and sometimes abuse of the people who loved him, I was starting to wish that I hadn’t hit play on the documentary. As a teenager, The Catcher in the Rye was my favorite book. I related to Holden Caufield’s jaded view of the world, his inability to fit in, and his yearning for something genuine. Holden was flawed, but there was innocence in him, loneliness. Salinger is said to have channeled a lot of his own nature into Holden, so maybe he too struggled to fit in with society, to live a genuine life. But I don’t like to think that Holden—or his creator—grew up to be a talented yet temperamental jerk.


* I cringe at the memory of my idealistic/delusional youth.

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Don’t Panic

We were taking a break on a rocky outcropping at 13,400 ft when I was hit by a terrible headache. My temples throbbed as my heart pounded in my head. The pressure was sudden and acute. I felt as if my blood vessels might burst.

“Vamos,” our guide said. “Time to go.”

We were on day two of a three-day trek across the Andes that would take us across twenty miles and up to 15,600 ft. We had already ascended about 1000 ft that morning, but had twice as far to go until we hit the summit of Sicllaccasa Mountain, before we could begin the sharp descent to our camp for the night.

 

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I’d spent months preparing for this trek, hiking seven or eight hilly miles every weekend day. But I soon realized that no amount of exercise at sea level was going to help me breathe freely at that altitude, and all of my “training” seemed naïve, absurd. I got winded after walking only short distances, my heart hammering in my chest. I just couldn’t catch my breath.

 

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View to Chicon Mountain.

 

All around me, other members of my group were taking swigs from their water bottles and zipping up their backpacks, ready to get back on the trail. I remained where I was with my head in my hands, trying not to panic. I couldn’t stand up, let alone resume our breathless hike up the mountain. My fingers and toes prickled with sharp pins and needles as anxiety washed over me. What if I physically couldn’t go on? What would happen to me? Certainly they couldn’t leave me behind. But was it too late to turn back? Could I even make the trek back down the mountain? And how mortified would I be to give up? To FAIL? What would everyone think of me?

As my panic increased, so did my heart rate and the pain in my head. I had to do something.

I fished through my backpack for some ibuprofen, and then managed to get to my feet and seek out our guide, Gerson.

“Do you have anymore magic potion?” I asked, referring to the golden liquid that acted essentially as herbal smelling salts, calming both the mind and the belly. He had passed it around on the bumpy ride to the trailhead.

Gerson eyed me carefully. “How are you feeling?”

“My head hurts,” I whispered, grateful that my sunglasses disguised the tears welling up in my eyes.

He nodded. “Ah, okay. You’ll be okay. Just take your time and keep breathing.”

I would have laughed if I wasn’t on the verge of tears. Keep breathing? I could barely think of anything else.

But I closed my eyes and tried to marshal all of my yoga Zen to calm my breathing, to slow down my heart. To stop the pounding in my head. And after a moment, it started to work.

“Ready to go?” Gerson asked a couple minutes later. And to my surprise, I was.

In less than five minutes, I had gone from a state of total panic to an unexpected but welcome sense of peace.

You got this, I told myself.

 

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Me and my summit buddy Jill. Yes, that is a bag of coca leaves in my pocket.

 

I continued my yoga breathing, repeating “slow and steady” over and over again in my head, until I found my rhythm. Until I found my breath. 

We made it to the summit about three hours later, exhausted but exhilarated and a little delirious from the lack of oxygen. The wind whipped through my hair and clothes, and my eyes filled with tears due to the cold, a powerful sense of triumph, and the beauty of the snow-capped peaks and the valley far below. I was so damn happy to be there.

(Note to self: Whatever happens, DON’T PANIC. Just take your time and keep breathing.)

 

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View from the summit.
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We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful

2014Morrissey_0306192014While Morrissey’s lyrics have never been what I would consider cheerful or optimistic, his songs about heartache and longing still resonate with the lost teenager inside of me. Judging by his song title “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”, it appears that his more than 30-year career and loyal fan base has inspired resentment and jealousy among his fellows.* Yet I wonder how anyone could possibly begrudge a friend’s success, that is if he or she really cares about that friend.

Which begs the question: Are these people really your friends?

A very dear friend of mine—someone I have known since way back when I was still a lost teenager listening to Smiths cassette tapes on my Walkman—just published her third book, a graphic memoir about trying to connect with the Japanese half of her family. Last week, I attended her standing-room-only reading at a popular Haight Street bookstore before she headed out for her multi-city book tour.

I have never been published. I do not have an agent. I have spent the last three years writing a novel that may never make it into print. So, am I envious of my friend’s success?

Yes and no.

Sure, I would love to have my book published. I would love to have a second and third book published. I would be both thrilled and terrified to read from my work in front of an eager audience.

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Couldn’t resist this one.

But I do not feel even a drop of resentment toward my friend for achieving these things. I witnessed first hand the many years that my friend has practiced her craft: her drawing, her writing, and her storytelling. I have watched her quick pencil sketches and stripped down text transform into this beautiful book that I can now pull off of the shelf and hold in my hands. I saw how hard she worked to get her first book deal, and know well that she worked just at hard to get her second and third.

In short, I have seen my friend work her ass off to achieve her success.

As I watched her read from her new book in front of the packed room, I felt a swell of pride and privilege to know such an amazing person. Congratulations on all of your success, Mari!


*Or perhaps he just got rich and bitchy.

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Cats and the Art of Appreciating What You Have Before It Is Gone

I have fought and won a difficult battle over the last couple of weeks: I have resisted the temptation to add to the Internet slush pile of self-reflective odes to David Bowie’s creative genius, and Alan Rickman’s acting talent and purring voice. Instead I wrote a tribute to someone who is still very much alive: my cat.

Yes, my cat.

My cat, Buddy, will be 16 years old in May. His back legs don’t work as well these days, and he’s developed the unfortunate habit of peeing on any floor-bound item that vaguely resembles fabric. He is on twice daily pain medication and special food. He is an old man, and his body and mind are showing the symptoms.

Buddy Kitten

About 3 months old and all ears.

He was nine weeks old and fit in the palm of my hand when I brought him home. I was worried that my older cat would squash him, but the very first time they came face to face, Buddy leapt onto her back and started chewing on her head. She didn’t speak to me for weeks.

Buddy jumped up onto the table and counter tops, crawled up my legs, flung himself onto my shoulders, and ran across my head in the middle of the night. He shredded my plants and gnawed off the heads of flowers. “Why must you destroy everything that is beautiful?” I exclaimed, but he was too busy climbing the screen door to listen.

I’d never had a kitten before and asked a friend if Buddy’s insane energy level was normal. He said, “That’s the thing about kittens: they’re really fun. But they’re really fun all the damn time.”

I lived near a busy street and intended for Buddy to be an indoor cat. But he had other ideas. One night, he slipped out through an accidentally unlatched door. I spent hours walking through the neighborhood, calling his name and trying not to picture him hit by a car, dead in a ditch. When he returned the next day, he was covered in dirt and cobwebs but clearly thrilled by his experience. After that, I understood that it is the cat and not the owner that decides whether he’s indoor or outdoor.

When Buddy was almost two years old, we moved to a hillside apartment surrounded by mature trees and dense bushes that housed a multitude of suburban wildlife. This is where Buddy perfected the art of evisceration. When I spotted the first flailing, disembodied lizard tail on the living room floor, I screamed like a little girl. Within a couple of months, Buddy had caught on to the lizards’ trick and I was escorting disgruntled tailless lizards out of my apartment on a daily basis. Then came the mice, the birds, the snakes, the occasional large insect. I recognized the sickly sweet smell of death the moment I walked through my front door, it was just a matter of finding the body. The vision of the dead mole tucked up into my comforter still haunts me to this day. I scooped them all into the Dustpan of Death and tossed them out into the bushes.

One time, Buddy watched with disdain as I discarded a mouse he’d left on the ledge above my bed. The next morning, the mouse’s head was perched on my doormat.

Buddy honed his surgical skills and soon left not bodies but body parts behind. Intestines. Hearts. Feet. At least they were easier to clean up.

BuddyThere was the time he got stuck up in a redwood tree for eight hours. The time he was locked in my neighbor’s shed for two days. The times he came home with rips in his ears and one of his toes hanging off. The time…

My cat was a psychopathic murderer who was always getting into trouble. But there was no doubting his affection for me. When he wasn’t busy destroying the natural world, he loved nothing more than to roll around on my lap and have his head scratched. I started to ever-so-slightly understand how the parents of serial killers must feel. “I know he does terrible things, but really he’s such a sweet boy when he’s at home with me.”

The murders stopped six years later when we left the quiet suburbs for Oakland. Although we moved to a residential street, there are not nearly as many critters hiding out in the decorative shrubbery around my building. And while Buddy continued to prowl around the neighborhood on a daily basis, his territory had shrunk considerably and he started spending more time indoors with me, indulging in the comfort of the couch. At nine years old, he was finally starting to settle down. By the age of eleven, he had transformed from the frisky kitten that couldn’t sit still if a butterfly flapped its wings on the other side of the world into a lazy lap cat.

He is sitting on my lap as I write this, butting his hard little head into my bicep.

A little over a year ago, he had a spinal aneurysm and couldn’t use his back legs. He also lost control of his bladder. I washed the caked litter and urine and feces from his butt and legs, and held him and fed him salmon and did everything I could think of to make his last days more comfortable. Within a week, he regained some use of his legs, but they would never be the same. He can no longer get up onto the couch by himself, or the bed. He can no longer go outside.

IMG_1615Sometimes he meows all night for no reason. Sometimes when I’m not giving him the attention he wants, he taunts the dog so that she’ll growl at him and I have to step in. About six months ago, he stopped using his litter box. I’ve thrown away one destroyed area rug and put another in storage, along with all bath and floor mats.

He peed on my Hello Kitty slippers.

But despite all of his (our) suffering and his loss of independence, he is still happy to curl up in my lap and have his head scratched.

A few weeks ago, late on New Years’ Eve – I looked around at my slumbering cat, dog, and boyfriend – and I made this wish: I hope we are all still together this time next year.

This is love.

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