A Few Words on Reactions to Celebrity Deaths…

[Originally posted on Feb 12, 2012. This was a somewhat viral post at the time, thanks to it being cross-posted on Jezebel. Re-reading it, I’m saddened thinking about what has since happened to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and I’m sad that nothing in internet posting has changed in four years. If anything, it’s gotten worse…]

When a celebrity dies, social media blows up and follows an amazingly consistent pattern.  Keep in mind, I have done some of these myself. I think most of us have at some point or another:

Round One of Posting: “What? [Insert name here] died!”

Round Two: “RIP [Insert name here]”

Round Three: Posts links to something the deceased did that the posters thought was amazing

Round Four: Other parties decide to chime in: “[Insert name here] was a [drug addict/creepy alleged pedo/tyranical CEO of a company that makes an Operating System people are brainwashed to like and I was brainwashed to hate].” I’m presuming they then find the highest mountain with wi-fi access to climb atop to then proclaim, “I’m going to save my grief for someone who deserves it!”

Round Five: “100,000 people die each year from [starvation/earthquakes/war/listening to Michael Bolton while driving on a windy cliff]. Why don’t you care about them?”

Round Six: “Check out this great video of a cat yawning!”

Here’s the deal, people: there is nothing wrong with being sad someone died, and thankfully we, being the advanced species we are, have the capacity to have sympathy for more than one person at a time.  In fact, we can have sympathy for an unlimited number of people and things.  Wow – Amazing, right?  All this time, conventional wisdom told us we had to hide away our spare grief in cigar boxes, old shoes and mattresses because we thought it might run out at a really inconvenient time.  After all, how much would it suck if the family dog or other loved one died, or we watched Titanic for the 50th time, and we had no more grief to give? “Well, shit, Jennifer; this would normally be the time I’d hug you and tell you I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m all out of grief and sympathy.  I really shouldn’t have burned the last of it on Whitney Houston.”

“I told you not to waste it; she was a crack addict, you know.”

Why are people sad when a famous imperfect person dies?  You can ask the people who are posting the RIPs, and they each may have their own unique response as to why they are sad; perhaps they have a great memory associated with one of the creations of that imperfect person.  Maybe they really are that person’s Number One Fan.  Or maybe, they’re like me.  Every time I’ve felt sadness over a famous imperfect person’s passing, it’s because I feel they’ve been robbed of the life arc I wish everyone could have but few are lucky enough to receive.  On the final curve of this life arc, we overcome our demons, find peace and joy, create more beautiful things with our inner strength and wisdom guiding us, and we die peacefully in our sleep when we are old and grey.

I think of how talented and lovely Whitney Houston was in the “How Will I Know” video.  When I watched that video today, I thought about how the young, vibrant person in that video had no idea what was coming in her life – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have predicted her future would bring years of substance abuse and a publicly tumultuous marriage.  I’m sure she didn’t predict her final moments would involve drowning in a hotel bathtub, leaving behind a slew of rumors about her addiction and a beautiful young daughter who she didn’t say goodbye to.  I’ll admit, while I have always felt her vocals were about as close to perfection as you can see in pop music, I was never really a fan of her music.  Yet, I’m sad for her, and I am sad that yet another person didn’t have a beautiful and graceful final curve to their life arc.  I’m sad that the world still looks at addiction and other mental illnesses as stigmas.  I’m sad every time I read or hear someone state “fuck them” when they see a person falling hard.  I then get angry, because everyone who says “fuck them” is creating a barrier between those in need of help and the resources they desperately need.  “Fuck them” prevents people from admitting they can’t fix their life on their own.  “Fuck them” is what causes governments to cut funding to mental health facilities and programs.  “Fuck them” is what causes families to be afraid to seek help in the community, or to give up after the first few backs have been turned.

The person who passes may “just” be an imperfect celebrity, but to me? Their passing reminds me of all of our failures and all of the beautiful things that could have been created by those who left us far too young.

The Fabulous Five Observations of the Week, Part 1

Soooo… I really need to write more often and get back on the horse. This week nothing huge happened worthy of its own post, so I’m going to fill you in on 5 micro-postings that happened this week and my observations. If you’re tired of me talking about music, skip to number 2.

1. Support Feels Awesome
So I finally put myself out there and uploaded two tracks I recorded at home. I cannot thank everyone enough for listening, encouraging, sharing, reposting, etc. Look; I know this isn’t going to lead to anything big. I’m an overweight 38 year-old woman making music in my house. I’m not the kind of person a record company straps two whipped cream cans onto to create some infantilized masturbatory product (not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re into that sort of thing?). It’s just that my soul comes alive when I write, and it feels special to share that with the internets. I want to share it with as many people as I can and find people who like This Thing That I Do. So thank you everyone. The biggest surprise is how many compliments I’m getting on my voice. I’m hoping I can keep up this charade that I can sing for a little bit longer! In a week or two, I’ll add two more songs, then I think I’ll wrap it all together as an EP. We’ll see how it goes. I want to bring good, quality stuff to you, and that is quite a challenge on a $0 budget.

Because releasing music also unleashes an inner urge to endlessly and relentlessly force a musician’s crap onto others, I provide you with this link to my Reverbnation page. If you like, please share. If you don’t? That’s okay, I still love you. In short, the more plays I get, the more I move up the chart and the more exposure I get, so if you love it? Don’t be afraid to listen to it often.

2. Big City Life: Mass Transit Wonders and Angry Pedestrians
I’ve been going into the city for seminars and whatnot related to my “Career Transition” (more on that later). As a result, I’m fully taking in mass transit and pedestrian life – something you don’t experience in Arizona. Here is a list of mini observations on this point:
- No matter how nice someone might be outside of their car, Bay Area Drivers are horrible, horrible people. There is so much impatience and law-breaking going on at any given second it is stunning.
- BART mid-day provides me with interesting seat partners. One day going in, despite many open rows, a guy decided to sit down next to me and engage in what I can only describe as a vigorous lotioning routine for the duration of the trip. Another day, I got a contact high from a kid who smelled like he was a 5’8” joint. I seriously hate the smell of weed with a passion – I would take cigarette stank over pot stank any day. Ughhhh.
- You know Shit Just Got Intense when you are walking across a major intersection in the Financial District during rush hour and EVERYONE stops and stares nervously at a pedestrian screaming profanities and punching the hood of a car. I don’t know what led up to that, but I know the guy probably needed a little bubble of space when he got to my side of the street.

3. Please Don’t Ask Me About My Career Transition
I am so freaking tired of this. I’m done defining myself as unemployed, so I’m not going to do that anymore. My onsite seminars are both incredibly useful and deflating. Everyone there is accomplished and amazing and I’m a simpleton. Every time I try looking for a job I get incredibly depressed, so I’m just done talking about all of this. When I find a job, I’ll let you all know, but until then? Let’s talk about anything but what I do or don’t do for a living.

4. OCEAN OCEAN OCEAN
On Friday, I decided to let spontaneity take over and accept my friend Kirsten’s spur-of-the-moment invitation to go into SF and hang out at the ocean. I’m glad I did – it was absolutely beautiful, it was my first trip on MUNI (which went through a bunch of cool neighborhoods), and I felt human again. It was nice to take a one day reprieve from the self-flagellating unemployment process and just enjoy the moment. I can seriously watch and listen to the waves crash in the Pacific for hours on end. I saw the sun turn into a sliver and set over the ocean. Why don’t I allow myself that kind of joy more often?

5. Sonoma is Beautiful
On Saturday, we headed up to wine country for a wedding. It is gorgeous up there – hills upon hills of golden vines, mountains in the distance… just breathtaking. The wedding took place at a vineyard and was absolutely lovely. It felt like the quintessential northern Californian wedding: wine, delicious food, guests from all over the world…it was a great way to end the week. Plus? I got Chris to dance with me to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” We’ve got to head back up there for a tasting tour some time.

Bay Area House-Hunting, Round ??

No matter where I live, I'll always love the homes in Alameda - check out my Instagram account, @themenacingkitten, for more pics of Alameda homes

So, First things first – there have been many rounds of Bay Area house-hunting I didn’t report on, because I was beginning to believe we were cursed.  One of the first things you recognize when looking for a house in the Bay Area is the region is in a little bubble where national economic standards and ways of living do not apply.  It’s kind of like those acropolises in Sim City that would sprout up before you got completely bored and unleashed every disaster upon your unsuspecting residents who already went for 5 years without water because playing God is hard. And kind of boring after a few days.

Anyway, there are two trends going on in the area right now: 1) There is nothing on the market and 2) The few houses that are on the market either go for tens of thousands of dollars over asking or stay on the market forever because they are really just one giant 80 year-old termite tube that will collapse into a heap of masticated wood dust when the next quake hits.

When we first started looking for a house, we really wanted to live on Alameda; it’s an old-fashioned mom-and-pop kind of place with independent book stores, great eateries, and the best shoreline in the East Bay. We love Alameda. Chris has been living in an apartment on the island since he started his new job, and has enjoyed 20-minute ferry rides for his commute.  He’s replaced the clogged, dusty streets of Phoenix metro with a relaxing boat ride offering views of pink and purple sunsets falling behind the hills of San Francisco. It’s not a bad life.

Before we could get pre-approval for a home loan up in Alameda, it seemed as if there were many houses we could choose from that met our needs.  Once we got approval and actually could put down an offer? Everything disappeared and got expensive. If you removed all filters on your house search, you’d find there were less than 25 homes for sale on the entire island at any given time.  Clearly, people love living there and have no intention of ever leaving. We literally could not find a house in fair condition for even 1200 square feet that was under $600,000.  In fact, one house we looked at was only about 1100 square feet and they asked for over $600k (it sold within a week or two). Most recently, we looked at a house that was 1900 square feet and asking $425,000.  Based on the area the house was in, it was clear this would be a fixer. If it was mostly cosmetic, why not? A similar sized house in better condition would go for 700-800 in that area. Sounds like a good investment, right? Upon viewing the house in person, we discovered:

  • The retaining wall sheared
  • Almost every step leading to the front door was wobbly and suffered from dry rot
  • The house still had the original electrical, complete with old-style fuses
  • There were huge holes/rips in the walls
  • Parts of the roof were bowed from water damage
  • Parts of the roof were missing from water damage, with a cute little kiddie pool to catch all the rain.
  • A minor point compared to all that, but they actually partially painted over the hardwood floors.

It seriously felt like the thing would collapse if you had 20 people in there at any given time.  We didn’t even bother to view the entire house. The house sold in about a week.

Needless to say, as much as we love Alameda and as much as we were willing to give up to live there, it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t a realistic option for us. We looked in a few other areas. The Oakland Hills were beautiful, but the hills would be a nightmare to drive everyday, and it is certainly not a walker-friendly area.  Orinda and Lafayette were far our of our price range. Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill briefly had homes in our price range, but the bidding went insane and it felt too far away from San Francisco. Castro Valley was a decent option, but we couldn’t compete with the bidding.

Enter San Leandro.  It’s an interesting city – parts of it are pretty rough, but parts are very charming in an Alameda kind of way.  The Estudillo Estates neighborhood really caught our eye – unique, historic homes in a very walker-friendly area.  For those in the Phoenix area, I’d liken the neighborhood to the Willo District, except it’s much larger. We were severely outbid on our first attempt at getting a house in the area, but I’m happy to say that we had an offer accepted on a different house.  We went a bit higher than we originally planned, however it’s a beautiful late 1930s-era home with lots of space and a nice backyard complete with two redwoods and balconies galore.  The walls and ceiling have plaster rather than drywall, making for gorgeous textured detailing throughout the house. There’s a little work that remains to be done in the way of earthquake retrofitting and the electrical, but we love it.  We’re less than a mile from the hiking trails for Lake Chabot, and only a third of a mile from a butcher, an organic grocery store (that sells raw milk!), and a few cute mom-and-pop restaurants. In addition to the old standby of Starbucks, there are two independent coffee shops within a mile – both have free wi-fi, one sells their coffee for a dollar after 10 a.m. How can you beat that? We’re a mile from the BART station, which is a 20 minute ride into the city. While we’d much rather go over the Bay via ferry versus going under the Bay via BART (yikes), it still beats driving.

We won’t close until late February (and I won’t make it out there until end of March due to my job), however all indications are pretty good so far. With all of the stress and drama I’ve experienced over the past year, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to closing this chapter and starting fresh in my new home.

An Apology and a Travelogue

With most writings on this blog, I have the luxury of hindsight and distance to reflect on the events in my life.  This week I experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions that I’m not far enough away from yet to appreciate.  I believe I will appreciate this one day, just not right now.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have felt like I haven’t been on top of my game as of late.  I know I’ve felt rather distracted and less creative in recent months.  This evening, I started writing a blog explaining what is going on in my life but I realized that it would not be in my best interests professionally to write about it at this time.  I know this comes off as cryptic and makes for a really shitty story, but it is going to have to be a story to tell at a later date.  I know I’ll be fine, and I’m hoping this is going to be one of those turning points in life that leads to something wonderful.  Sometimes you don’t see your path until you fall face first onto it.

In the meantime, I do apologize – I didn’t write last week for two weeks, and I’m really struggling to turn on the “writer switch” in my head.  It’s funny – I write music when I’m sad, but I write articles and stories when I’m happy.  I’d be really prolific if only I could time this all out properly.  I hate phoning it in, but at the same time I feel a need to keep this blog going.  I don’t want this to be an abandoned project, yet I’m afraid I’m going to suck so badly at writing it would have the same effect.  I’m going to push through this and keep trying.  I ask you to bear with me.  Let’s consider this an experiment to fight against my anxiety, depression and all those pessimistic, doomsday feelings that resurface when things turn to shit.

So that is the cryptic and lousy storytelling portion discussing the lows of the roller coaster;  let me tell you a little about the highs this week so we can end this thing on a positive note.

Chris flew up to Alameda on Thursday to move into his apartment and get ready for the new job.  I flew out Friday evening to spend the weekend with him and help him get settled.  I’ve joked about this being a “bachelor pad” of sorts for him.  After seeing the apartment, it really has more of a Halfway House vibe to it.  Maybe it just needs a lava lamp and a Fathead.

We walked all over the island on Saturday, enjoying the sunny weather and cute neighborhoods.  We drooled over some huge homes that were well out of our price range; it’s good to dream a little.

Some friends of our recently moved to the SoMa area of San Francisco, so we decided to check out the ferry and meet them for dinner.  We sat up top, hair be damned, enjoying views of the Bay as we crossed over to the Embarcadero.  Chris was pleased that this method of commuting would not suck for him.  I took the above picture of the Bay Bridge along the way.

We then met with our friends to eat at Luce, and I had an excellent meal that featured creative and delicious combinations of flavors.  I started with an artichoke velouté with hazelnuts, cocoa and pears.  It was amazing – creamy but light and very flavorful.  For my main dish, I had Lobster with lemon verbena foam, green strawberries and corn velouté.  It was one of those dishes where everything not only highlighted the main ingredient but enhanced its flavor.  We’re going to love eating out in San Fran.

We headed back on the ferry, watching the reflection of city lights dance against the water:

I smiled at Chris.  “Just imagine, eventually you’re going to do this so much you’ll take this view for granted.”

He smiled “I hope I don’t. But you’re probably right.”

As I sit here in Arizona and he sits in Alameda, knowing I will only see him for a couple of days every two weeks for the next several months, I realize how easy it is to take a beautiful view for granted.

P.S. So much for me ending on a high note…

P.P.S Holy crap, I guess it’s been two weeks since I posted.  Blogger fail.

I Heart Propaganda: In Time of Emergency

As you could probably tell from my previous post about separating trash from treasures, I own a lot of weird shit.  Most of the stuff came from my husband’s grandma’s long-time gentleman friend, known affectionately as Uncle Beanie.  After Uncle Beanie passed away, Chris and I went to his home to help my in-laws clean it out. Uncle Beanie was a brilliant man with a penchant for hoarding.  From newspapers from 1967 (with stock certificates wedged between pages) to beautiful pre-WWII Japanese prints to McDonald’s hamburger wrappers that were cleaned and used as file dividers, he meticulously stored a variety of items in every available corner of his house.  As we sifted through piles and piles of papers, magazines and boxes, I kept a few fascinating things slated to be thrown away.  One of my favorite items is a cold war-era booklet from the Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense called “In Time of Emergency, A Citizen’s Handbook on: …Nuclear Attack …Natural Disasters.”  With a title like that, how could I resist?

In this day and age of body scans, shoe removals, and patting down old ladies at the airport, we live through procedures and protocols designed to give us a sense of security.  We want to feel like there is something we can do to prevent an act of terrorism from happening, so we comply with these rules, no matter how ineffective they are or how inconsistent their application.  In “A Citizen’s Handbook,”  we see this concept is nothing new – the booklet is filled with checklists to follow so you and your family can survive a nuclear attack.  Considering what the government knew about nuclear bombs and radiation at the time, the brochure is nothing short of fascinating propaganda.  Here are some of my favorite passages:

Got Particles?
There is a particular emphasis on fallout particles throughout the booklet.  It’s kind of like, “nuclear burns and being atomized are no big deal; but fallout particles? Now those are a bugger!”

“After a nuclear attack, food and water would be available to most people, and it would be usable. If any fallout particles have collected, they could be removed before the food is eaten or the water is drunk.”

…So you know how when a bug gets in your chocolate milk, and you’re like, “I’m not letting this ruin my day!” and you try and get the bug out with your finger, but it keeps scooting away from you and you’re tempted to just say “fuck it” and drink the bug? Well, it’s just like that! Except your finger will melt off the second it touches the milk.

“From many studies, the Federal Government has determined that enough food and water would be available after an attack to sustain our surviving citizens. However, temporary food shortages might occur in some areas, until food was shipped there from other areas.”

…Katrina pretty much showed how good the Federal Government is at these “many [un-cited] studies.”  Which is to say, about as good as they are at doing water drops and keeping victims from Human Fallout Particle Geraldo Rivera.

“Most of the Nation’s remaining food supplies would be usable after an attack. Since radiation passing through food does not contaminate it, the only danger would be the actual swallowing of fallout particles that happened to be on the food itself (or on the can or package containing the food), and these could be wiped or washed off.”

…”I find the particles to provide a nice, piquant aftertaste.”   – My favorite scene from A Fallout Christmas Story.

“Practically all of the particles that dropped into open reservoirs, lakes, and streams (or into open containers or wells) would settle to the bottom. Any that didn’t would be removed when the water was filtered before being pumped to consumers. A small amount of radioactive material might dissolve in the water, but at most this would be of concern for only a few weeks.”

…O_o.

If you see a nuclear fireball…DUCK!
Another aspect of the book is how they spend a few pages on preparing the reader for ideal scenarios, but then close the section with, “if you don’t feel like doing these things, DON’T WORRY! You’ll still live through a nuclear blast if you remember to stop, drop and roll!”

“It is possible–but extremely unlikely–that your first warning of an enemy attack might be the flash of a nuclear explosion in the sky some distance away. Or there might be a flash after warning had been given, possibly while you were on your way to shelter.

“TAKE COVER INSTANTLY. If there should be a nuclear flash–especially if you are outdoors and feel warmth at the same time–take cover instantly in the best place you can find. By getting inside or under something within a few seconds, you might avoid being seriously burned by the heat or injured by the blast wave of the nuclear explosion. If the explosion were some distance away, you might have 5 to 15 seconds before being seriously injured by the heat, and perhaps 30 to 60 seconds before the blast wave arrived. Getting under cover within these time limits might save your life or avoid serious injury. Also, to avoid injuring your eyes, never look at the flash of an explosion or the nuclear fireball.

… In all seriousness, I find the vagueness of the booklet really interesting.  Take, for example this very scientific diagram of the area of mass destruction versus the “okie-dokie-ish” area:


And here – if the explosion were “some distance away.”  Like, what kind of distance? You can guess that I am no nuclear physicist, but I suspect that if you see the…what is it? Ah yes – flash of an explosion or the nuclear fireball, or feel the warmth of said fireball, you’re kind of fucked.

Umm…This Improvisational Shelter Sounds Kind of Like a Grave.

“If your home has no basement, no storm cellar and no protected crawl space, here are two ways of improvising fallout protection in your yard:

“- Dig an L-shaped trench, about 4 feet deep and 3 feet wide. One side of the L, which will be the shelter area, should be long enough to accommodate all family members. The other side of the L can be shorter, since its purpose is to serve as an entrance-way and to reduce the amount of radiation getting into the shelter area.

“Cover the entire trench with lumber (or with house doors that have been taken off their hinges), except for about 2 feet on the short side of the L, to provide access and ventilation.

“On top of the lumber or doors, pile earth 1 to 2 feet high, or cover them with other shielding material.
If necessary, support or “shore up” the walls of the trench, as well as the lumber or doors, so they will not collapse.

“2) Dig a shallow ditch, 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide, parallel to and 4 feet from the outside wall of your house.
Remove the heaviest doors from the house. Place the bottoms of the doors in the ditch (so they won’t slip), and lean the doors against the wall of the house.

“On the doors, pile 12 to 18 inches of earth or sand. Stack or pile other shielding material at the sides of the doors, and also on the other side of the house wall (to protect you against radiation coming from that direction).
If possible, make the shelter area deeper by digging out more earth inside it. Also dig some other shallow ditches, to allow rain water to drain away.”

…In other words, please dig a hole in the earth for you and your family, and bury yourself in it.  Perfect! We thank you for your assistance in making the government post-nuclear cleanup as efficient as possible…

My husband finds certain aspects of history slightly depressing.  Me? I find them comforting, because it shows we’ve always been fucked up.  Billy Joel was right.

There are a ton of passages from this book that I don’t have the time to even get to on this post, but lucky for you, it’s all available online!
Read the booklet online in its entirety at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15158/15158-h/15158-h.htm

Bay Area House-Hunting, Round One

Alameda has more pre-1906 homes than anywhere else in the Bay area

Friday began with me folding clothes to put in our carry-on before I left for work.  As I bent over to place a pair of underwear on a pile, my back muscles suddenly felt like a thick rubber band that couldn’t be stretched.

“Ow…” I yelped, crouched over my pile of underwear.

“Are you okay?” Chris called from elsewhere in the house.

My muscles completely cramped up.  I couldn’t move from my crouched position.  “I need you to help me!”

Chris came in and we tried to figure out the best way to move me to the floor.  After performing what looked like 6 positions for “Karma Sutra for Senior Citizens,” he managed to get me on the floor, and I put my legs up against the wall.  My muscles burned with even the slightest move.  Suzy, my 13 year-old Border Collie, looked at me with concern, knowing something was awry.  “It’s okay,” I scratched her chest, reassuringly.  She thanked me by stepping on my hair and sticking her tongue up my nose.

In the process of her licking, she triggered a nerve in my nose that made me have a fit of sneezes.  “A-CHUun!” As the “choo” came out, I felt it through my entire back, and tried to hold it in.  It was suppressed pain.  The sound that came out made Chris begin to chuckle.  I pointed my finger at him while lying on the floor, my dogs paws on my hair, “it’s not funny! It really – A-CHUun! A-CHUun!” And sure enough, I started laughing with him, sending additional shots of pain down my back.

After working from home in the most awkward position ever, we were off to start house-hunting in Alameda by flying from Mesa Gateway Airport to Oakland International via Allegiant Air.  Allegiant is a super-discount carrier whose itemization of extra charges rivals the Thenardiers in Les Miserables. Nevertheless, they still are incredibly inexpensive, and their flight attendants seem nice.  They fly in and out of much smaller airports, providing us with our first experience in the ghost-town Overlook Hotel less-used Mesa Gateway.  Despite having seats that were not designed to recline and paying $4 for water and a Seagram’s ginger ale (that’s right – Seagram’s – not Canada Dry, which everyone knows won the Kanye Award for the Best Ginger Ale of All Time), it wasn’t a bad flight.  Chris and I used the free time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who (the first three episodes are kind of a mess, no?).

We landed at 9:30pm, and were relieved that Alameda is but 5-10 minutes from the airport.  Unfortunately for us, the rental car area is located in east Nevada.  The airport has one shuttle bus taking everyone to the Land of Rental Cars, and we had to wait about 20 minutes for this mighty Supershuttle to arrive.  We packed in like sardines, and the driver had to turn away people when the bus literally got so full the doors wouldn’t close.  We soon discovered that because we reserved a car with an “off-brand” rental car agency, we had to take another shuttle from the Land of Rental Cars to the Island of Misfit Rentals, located in South Dakota.  The shuttle waited for us in a dark corner of the parking lot, with no lights on inside.  I thought it was abandoned as I crept up to the door.  The doors opened, and a man nodded to us to get aboard.  His stereo was off, and it was a dark, quiet space.  The driver reminded me of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption when he got let out of prison but didn’t yet receive the postcard from Tim Robbins.  You know, that part where he couldn’t decide whether to get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, and you were worried he’d off himself like the sweet old man with the pet bird.  Once our bus driver put his foot on the gas, I realized he was in “get busy dyin’” mode, and I looked forward to putting my feet on solid earth again.  He pulled into a weird industrial lot, and lo and behold, our rental agency was based out of a single-wide.  To their credit, the folks inside were really nice and helpful.  We finally were on our way, and arrived at our hotel at 11pm. So even though our hotel was no more than 10 minutes from the airport, it took us an hour and a half to get there.

After sleeping on a bed a skiier could do moguls on, we were off to check out Alameda.  This is a cool little island town with a lot of history – as we walked the streets, we came across a number of retro ads, old towns, and a huge farmer’s market with beautiful produce.  The entire island seems to be very walker-friendly, loaded with mom-and-pop stores and little shops and cafes.  It reminded me of the little towns along the north shore in Massachusetts, except the architecture was more eclectic – in addition to your Victorians, colonials and craftsman houses, you also have Mediterranean-style homes and bungalows similar to what you would find in the Willo district in Phoenix.  Every house had its own story to tell.

We headed over to our first home, which wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but was in close proximity to shops and restaurants.  The previous owners did an amazing job restoring the 1907 home, adding in a beautiful kitchen with granite countertops, gorgeous dark hardwood floors, upgraded electrical, and innovative windows in the partitions to make the home feel more spacious.  The biggest problem with this house was one of the corners of the foundation was still brick – a big no-no for construction in an earthquake zone.  Retrofitting foundation to meet current earthquake construction standards is quite expensive and we value our safety, so unfortunately, this home was out for us.

House #2 was a rental.  We happened upon a number of abandoned industrial buildings, and this rental home was in the middle of it all – there were no homes surrounding it.   There were no life forms present for at least 1/4 of a mile surrounding the home.  We arrived 1/2 an hour prior to our appointment.  Upon pulling into the driveway, Chris called the realtor and basically said, “yeah, never mind.”

House #3 was a rental open house.  The house was super-cute and in a great neighborhood, but the garage was roughly 3 feet too short for our car, there was no place for a dog door, our bed wouldn’t fit in the bedroom, and the kitchen was really, really tiny.  We’d compromise on one, possibly even two of these things, but all four? Not so much.

House #4 was our final rental option to view for the day, and was located on Bay Farm Island, which is the other “island” that makes up Alameda (it’s actually connected to Oakland, and not really an island).  While Bay Farm doesn’t have that historic charm that the main island has, the house was beautiful. Open design, huge kitchen, beautiful living room area, ginormous yard…we loved it.  While we would really love to live on the main island, the housing stock on Alameda is low and rental options are even lower.  We submitted an application and will find out in a few days if we can rent this lovely home for a year.

Walking felt better on my back than sitting, so we decided to finish out the afternoon walking the neighborhoods on the main island, loving the cute houses and pretty gardens everyone had.  We closed out the night having a nice dinner with friends in San Francisco.

Day two was spent checking out two houses that were for sale.  House #5 was a cute little house with a huge back yard in a great neighborhood.  Its only two drawbacks were its size (1,000 square feet, which we can get used to), and the fact that the only bathroom needs to be completely redone due to dry rot.  House #6 was, to quote our realtor “…not charming.”  It looked rather run down, needs to be tented for termites, and would need an electrical overhaul (the fuse box is from the 50s and only powers 100 amps).

We spent the remainder of our time in Alameda walking along the shore, admiring the cool breeze and views of the bay.  Weather in the 60s, little shops and pretty houses? We could get used to this.

I Would Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Call This Punk

This "Girl Punk Movement" is as authentic as stock photos of punk girls. ROWR! HOAs R OPPRESSIVE!

Before any tween happens upon this and goes ballistic, let me start off with this: I don’t particularly mind Taylor Swift as a concept.  She has a hand in writing her own music, and she can actually do things on her own, like play guitar and fog a mirror and stuff – as far as anything that is played on the radio goes, that’s about as much as you can hope for these days.  She seems like a nice enough girl.  Her songs are catchy, and she writes well for her intended audience. I recognize that.

That said, I have never (ever?) seen a PR Anvil like I have seen for her new single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”  The Clear Channel Abomination (oh, I’m sorry, it’s now called I HEART ABOMINATION) I have my alarm set to usually doesn’t play music until it’s approximately 9 months past its expiration date, yet they aired this new single within like, 5 seconds of its release.  Seriously – I heard it at 5 in the morning that very day followed by an audio clip of some interview with her.  This is coming from a station that plays “Hungry Like the Wolf” at least 3 times a week at 5:30am.  By 8 a.m. that morning, every news outlet had an entertainment story about the song, with titles like, “Who Is She Writing About?” “John Mayer and His Nazi Penis Gets Dissed by Pop Princess!” “Some Jonas Guy Stays Relevant and Says Song Isn’t About Him!” By 5 p.m., the article titles evolved to “TAYLOR’S NEW SINGLE IS MOST AIRED EVRRR!”  Yay for her.

I draw the line, however, when NPR weighs into the hoopla with the article, “Taylor Swift, Princess Of Punk?”

I’m creating a new paragraph not because it is grammatically correct; I want your eyes to rest on that title for a moment.  Let it marinate in your head and gurgle in your esophagus.

The author, Ann Powers, is actually a well-established writer who has written about women in rock for years and years.  She knows what she’s doing, right? One would assume she knows the world of punk, yet…

Yet…

WHAT IN THE WHAT?

Punk.  Punk?!?

Punk.

What is punk?  There’s a wide variety of punk out there.  Some of it sounds like this:

 

And some punk sounds like this:

But I guarantee you none of it sounds like this song.  Powers discusses a sort of modern-day “punk movement” in female pop music, dating back to that wild and crazy time Kelly Clarkson flipped the bird in her video for “Since U Been Gone.”  Breakaway is a great pop album, no lie;  It is not a punk album.  It is not even in the district of punk. It might be a distant moon on the edge of the punk universe where guitars, drums and some semblance of talent exist just outside the gravitational pull of The Great Auto-Tune Black Hole of Suckage that drains the life force out of everything good and original to spit out cotton candy-scented masturbatory fantasies.  In other words: catchy? Yes.  Talented? Sure.  Punk, or even the catch-all Columbia House Record Club category of “Alternative”? Not by a mile.

Flipping off the camera in your high-dollar music video does not make you punk.  Unless you come across as a girl-next-door type, like Clarkson always does, flipping off a camera just makes you look like a spoiled brat.  As the emo movement proved long ago, brats are not punk.

I suppose Powers’ angle is to celebrate the message of Independent Girl and feminism in these songs.  The problem with this idea is the songs mentioned in her article aren’t about independent women, they are about young women attempting to validate their existence after some guy dumped them.  That’s all fine and good for the Billboard Hot 100 – hey, radio would be a lonely place without a bunch of singable break-up songs – but let’s not confuse that with feminism.  Or, you know, punk.  Is this what we’re settling for now – both musically and as women? Have we really become so formulaic and compliant that stepping a single toe out of our Mary-Sue caricatures is considered revolutionary?  Sprinkling one grain of salt on your treacle is the new punk?

Ladies? I love a good pop song – there is truly nothing wrong with something that makes you want to sing, dance, or smile; but if this is what we now consider counterculture? We’ve got to put away the Stepford sundresses and sing louder, rock harder and just flat out do better.  Please.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Re-Discovering Creativity: The IT Guy, the Photographer

Matthew Collen is an IT guy.

Well, if you looked at one aspect of him at one point of time in his life, that’s what you would say.  If you asked me a few years ago, I would say Matt is a funny, artistic guy from my high school who loved the Bears and the Cubs – he sat behind me in AP Bio and we participated in good-natured pranks on our Hungarian-born French teacher who often confused the five languages she spoke.

In high school, Matt had a number of interests – drawing, painting, and technology, to name a few.  Like many people, after graduation he recognized only one of his interests led to a viable career option, so he became The IT Guy.  IT is an enjoyable career, but art nagged at him.  Over the years, the desire to create crept up frequently.

Matt discovered digital photography via his love of technology.  Digital cameras were essentially a fun tech toy to learn how to use and fiddle with.  After a couple of years of nerding out on cameras, he took a photo of a daffodil in the snow.  Upon seeing the beautiful image he captured through his lens, he finally saw the art in his hobby, and that artistic void he felt from high school was finally filled. Matt the IT Guy, a.k.a. Matt the Funny, Artistic Guy started sharing some of his photos with friends and family, and he became Matt the Photographer.  I first noticed his talent with this shot from a couple of years ago (click on the photos for a larger image):

Solitary Goose
I asked Matt to talk a little about this photo:
“This was taken during a meetup.com event, full moon.  While the moon was cool to shoot I noticed some geese just hanging right at the edge of the falls behind town hall.  This one goose was not part of the group and lights on the pond were lighting him up on one side only and I thought it would make for a cool shot.  I had a little trouble composing the shot as a newb: rule of thirds, the reflection, blah blah.  Anyhow I ended up liking the shot and it did pretty well for me in competition as well.”

 

Not long after, Matt posted a number of photos he took on the Yale campus, and I particularly enjoyed this one: Melancholy
“This was shot during a meetup.com event at Yale.  It was in the courtyard of one of the libraries… There were four of these at each corner of the fountain so I just lined up the one with the least distracting background and fired away.  I was an early spring day and just a cold dreary day and the title really fit.  I always feel a little weird photographing what is someone else’s art but while it is the subject it is not the whole story.”

 

Matt joined the Milford Camera Club in Connecticut, and began taking a number of classes to further develop his art.  I asked him to talk a little about each of these photos:

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
“…After a minor edit this is also known as It’s Always Greener…There is a group of day lilies right by the opening of the gate in my back yard.  Inevitably one will follow you out and get stuck and then eventually get decapitated.  Below the gate is just a pile of ‘heads’ and hence the Trouble I’ve Seen title – well that, and the obvious ‘behind bars’ look.  I really liked the bright red, orange and yellow against the weathered wood of the fence.  This is one of my favorite shots to date and got me an Honorable Mention for the NECCC Winter Inter-Club competition.”

 

Gerber Daisy
“I had just gotten back from a macro course in MA and just had to shoot something.  I ran to Whole Foods, picked out a few nice flowers, brought them home, got in real close and fired away. Macro is one of my favorite types of photography and really is great for those with limited free time.  With a toddler at home free time is hard to come by, but with macro all I need is flower or two and I can set it up in the basement and fire away.  No need to worry about travel, time, daylight, etc…”

 

Vincent Island
“My favorite subject other than my daughter!  I grew up on the beach and this was always there.  Now that I don’t live there I try to shoot it every time I visit as I truly miss it; it knows a lot about me.  I took this shot this past Thanksgiving.  The sun was dropping and while I was hoping for some clouds I think the sky is great and really gives the picture great contrast with the yellowed sea grass and salt heather.  The rock to the left is a major fixture in my childhood, just the whole scene means a great deal to me and I am glad to share it with others as well as capture it as I remember it in case there is a day I don’t have access to it.”

 

Brooklyn Bridge
On a personal note, this is one of my favorites. I miss the northeast and have fond memories of going into New York City as a child.  For me, this shot really takes me back and reminds me how much I loved New York as a kid.  Here are Matt’s comments:
“I took this one with a group of friends from the camera club.  We all met up at 4:00 and drove down to catch the sunrise in NY.  We went over the Brooklyn Bridge and walked around China Town looking for interesting street shots.  I set out to get that shot with no one around.  I ran up ahead of our group only getting sidetracked by the locks all over the bridge.  It is a somewhat cliche shot but it is a classic and one you just have to have – no way I couldn’t take it.”

Many of us unknowingly abandon the things we enjoyed when we’re young.  Matt’s story shows us that even when we leave art behind, art never leaves us – it sits quietly in each of us, waiting for that one little catalyst to awaken it from its slumber.  You just need to find your proper catalyst – it is out there for you, if you are willing to look for it.

I’d like to give a big “thank you” to Matt for allowing me to publish his photography and sharing his story and thoughts. Matt is still a long-suffering Bears fan and I quote, “ an even longer-suffering Cubs fan” who currently lives in Milford, Connecticut with his wife and daughter.

And now, on to the geeky photography details:
Solitary Goose
Canon Rebel XTi, Canon EF 70/300mm (220 mm)
ISO 800, f 5.6, 1/5 sec
Post Processing:  “Just a levels adjust and cloning of a distracting element in the water near the goose.  I was really going for the black and white contrast…”

Melancholy
Canon Rebel XTi, Canon EF 70-300mm (200mm)
ISO 200, f 5.6, 1/160 sec
Post Processing:  “A minor crop and and adjustment to make the image level.  I also softened the background and gave it a sepia like tone when I converted it to black and white.”

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
Canon Rebel XTi, Canon EF 70-300mm (160mm)
ISO 200, f 5, 1/320 sec
Post Processing:  “Levels adjustment and burnt in the little bit of the house I caught in the background.”

Gerber Daisy
Tripod Mounted with Cable Release…
Canon Rebel XTi, Canon 100mm Macro
ISO 200, f 3.5, 1/30 sec
Post Processing:  “A small levels adjustment and a white balance adjustment.  I also cropped into it by about half…”

Vincent Island
Canon Rebel XTi, EFS 18-55mm (41mm), Speedlite 430ex II
ISO 400, f6.3, 1/200 sec
Post Processing:  “Just a crop to get it closer to the rule of thirds and then increased the tonality.  I also did some dodging and burning to the grass to give a bit more contrast from the background.  I used the flash for fill light on the grass and rock as I was exposing for the sky and island.”

Brooklyn Bridge
Canon Rebel XTi, Tamron 10-24 mm
ISO 400, f 4.5, 1/1250 sec
Post Processing:  “Converted to Black and White, a minor crop and just increased the tonality of the image to make the clouds and stone pop.”

Images are Copyright 2012 by Matthew Collen

Are you someone who recently re-discovered your creativity? Discuss below, or if you have a great story to share, drop me an email at submissions@themenacingkitten.com.

         

The Three Crossings

My mother has said on more than one occasion that there is nothing more boring than listening to someone talk about a dream they had.  I’m the exact opposite – I am a lover of symbolism and I believe our dreams serve to help us solve the problems we experience in our waking life.

I had a dream last night that I wanted to share because it played out like a parable and had an inspiring message.  If you are like my mom and hate dream-talk, you can go ahead and skip this one.

Deep in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, there was a small town where the tops of pine trees touched the clouds.  Throughout the year, hundreds of city-dwellers would take a days-long hike between their city and this little town.  The highlight of the hike was a giant gorge stretching over many miles – although it was less than 100 feet across, it was at least 1000 feet deep with whitewater rapids raging at the bottom.  It was both beautiful and terrifying all at once.  City-dwellers like myself had three options to cross the gorge to get to our little forest destination.

The first option was a trail I hiked long ago.  It was easily the most beautiful of the three, taking you through lush forests, green hills and wildflower-filled meadows.  When you approached the gorge from this route, there was a natural bridge that crossed the gorge.  The bridge was wide and the earth felt solid under your feet.  Buttercups and violets poked out from its sides.
I set out on my hike with the intention of taking this trail, however when I looked at my map I suddenly became aware of its drawbacks: through the first half of the hike, the trail system surrounding it resembled a honeycomb pattern with several tiny trails connecting and branching off of each other.  One could easily get lost attempting this route, never able to get to their destination nor able to return to their starting point.  Of all the hikers attempting the hike to the forest town on this day, no one opted for this trail and I would be on my own.  I opted to join a group of hikers to take the second option.

Hikers on the second trail took a path alongside a major road that turned and took you into the little town.  This route circumvented the gorge entirely, crossing just above its head.  At the crossing, you could barely get a glimpse of the gorge.  The benefit to this hike was the ease of the trail – as long as you stayed beside the road, you would never get lost.
As we walked along this route, I became bored.  The whole point of the hike was not to get to the destination, but to see all of the beautiful things no one can see by car.  The view was forgettable.  Along with a couple of other people from my group, we decided to change paths and take the third option.

The third option combined the other two trails – hikers would take the roadside trail part of the way, then take a separate path that crossed the gorge and connected up to the first option.  The only catch to this hike was a harrowing crossing at the gorge – the only option to cross was going over a partially-collapsed bridge that required a jump at the end to reach the other side of the gorge.  If you missed, you’d fall to your death into the rapids and rocks below.  Despite feelings of vertigo, I determined it was worth the risk.  I crawled and climbed over the damaged bridge as I crossed it, making my way to the segment where you had to jump.  From a distance the final jump looked scary and impossible, however when I actually made it to that point it looked easy.  Without even a running start, I took the jump and easily cleared the other side.  Grateful that I decided to take this route, I now understood the point of the hike, and enjoyed the beauty that lay ahead of me.

…Until a pack of bloodthirsty pink dodos chased me and another girl through a forest; I have no idea what that was about.

So here’s something to think about – what path do you take in life? Do you opt for the boring-but-easy or the dangerous and beautiful? Have you ever made the risky jump between those two paths in life?  And what’s the deal with the dodos? Share your thoughts and any amusing dodo interpretations below!

The Depression-Anxiety Club

Welcome to the Depression-Anxiety Club.  Here we celebrate the cycle of self-defeating behavior exhibited by all of our members.  I know Depression-Anxiety sounds like an oxymoron, but these two problems actually go hand-in-hand.  It’s kind of like Professor Xavier and Magneto are having a chess match in your head, except it’s far less awesome.  Here is how Depression-Anxiety works:

Step One:  Be too depressed to get out of bed.

Step Two:  Realize that during extended bed time, you didn’t do That Thing You Were Supposed To Do.

Step Three:  Experience extreme stress and shame.

Step Four: Pathetically try to fulfill said duty in a belated, half-assed manner.

Step Five: Feel like an asshole.

Step Six: Go to bed.

Step Seven: Repeat steps one through seven, ad nauseum.

While I am in a much better place in life now, back in the day I was the Grand Poobah of the Depression-Anxiety Club.  If we were more productive members of society, we would have designed special fezzes and a secret handshake, but instead, we all stayed in bed and wept.  It’s kind of a crappy club in that respect, but at least we kick the freemasons’ asses in membership.  Plus? We are open to all genders, races, religions, sexual orientations, and political leanings.  The more I talk to people, the more I realize how many members have joined the club at one point or another.

How do we even get to that point? That is way too long for the short attention span of a blog posting.  Often, you don’t even really know you’re heading down that road.  Life starts to feel a little less enjoyable each day.  A couple of bad things might happen – you might go through an ugly break up, you might have a health scare, and you might experience difficulty in an area you are used to breezing through.  You might find that you’re disrespecting yourself because the few anchors you counted on are floating away when you need them the most.  Sometimes, it’s a chemical imbalance that decides to sprout at the most inopportune of times.

Sometimes, the depression kind of “works” for you.  As someone who is an emotionally-driven songwriter, there is this creative “sweet spot” where I’m slightly depressed but not completely depressed.  I have extreme difficulty writing music when I’m happy.  When I’m in this “sweet spot,” I write decent music and hands-down my best lyrics.  I feel like I can make the world rhyme and tell you amazing stories in perfect meter.  If I fall too far into the depression, I lose it all, and the keyboard looks like a stranger to me.  That caused a 6 years-long writer’s block towards the end of school, and pretty much destroyed me on a music level.  So in short, if I tell you, “hey guys, I just wrote a song! :D”  It is perfectly acceptable if you respond with, “yay…I guess? : /”

Depression is a very seductive beast – when it starts to tug you down, it feels easier to succumb to it than to fight it.  Once you give in, it is difficult to dig your way out.  Then the anxiety starts.  In a strange way, the anxiety almost saves you – between the constant pushing and pulling between these two forces, you get to a point where you can’t stand yourself.  I know what you are wondering – how exactly is that a good thing?  For me, the depression was a cozy little do-nothing blanket that made me dead to the world.  By itself, it made me slip further and further away from caring about anything.  Anxiety made me hate that feeling.  Each time I dove into the Depression-Anxiety Club, it was the anxiety that drove me to seek help.  I could deal with my heart flat-lining; I couldn’t deal with it racing – how screwed up is that?

I am in a better place now because the anxiety drove me to seek help.  I spent years in therapy, although I refused to go on medication because I incorrectly felt like that was a cop out.  Don’t make my mistake – if your therapist feels it would help you, consider giving it a shot.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be on pills all your life – in fact, many people are only on them for a short period of time until the worst of the illness has passed.  The other piece of the puzzle is you.  No one can pull you out of this except for you – you need to make a commitment to yourself and force yourself through it, no matter how hard it may seem.  This means you need to recognize the seduction of depression and fight it with everything you have.  How do you fight it?  When you hear that little voice that says, “I don’t want to hang out with my friends tonight” – call a friend and go out.  Yeah, you’ll feel like you’re going through the motions, but it beats isolating yourself, trust me.  And you know what? There are people who love you.  They really, really love you, and they would be honored if you picked up the phone and confided in them.

And don’t forget, you’ve got the Club.  No matter where we are in life, this is a lifetime membership, and no matter who you are or where you are, we are all right here with you.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net