Fear wakes you up

In writing yesterday’s blog post, I considered another point to make, but later thought it deserved its own post.

My fears came to mind in yesterday’s blog because maybe, as part of my Hindu beliefs of reincarnation and a soul that can persist through multiple physical bodies and lives, my fears now may have actually developed from the way I died in a previous life. Maybe I was a child in Africa, bit by a Black Mamba snake, or I plummeted to my death from a balcony or mountaintop. Maybe I’d been eaten alive by fire ants like in the Indiana Jones movie.

Everyone has fears and phobias. The key difference between the two is that a phobia is a fear escalated to a point where that which you fear poses little or no actual danger, in and of itself. For example, there is a fear of heights, but it becomes a phobia when you irrationally turn down a great job because it’s on the 2nd floor of a building. With a phobia, you know it’s unreasonable and irrational, but you can’t help it. It’s got a hold of you and won’t let go. While you may take steps to overcome the fear, it may never go away entirely.

I decided to do a bit of google surfing to see how fears develop, as I’d never really thought about it before. Using myself as a case study, I have a few of the common fears, but not all of them. Since I was a very young child, I’ve been afraid of heights (good thing I’m short), spiders/insects/bugs, and snakes. I have no idea from whence they came. I would not escalate them to a point of phobias, however, because I do not change my lifestyle to work around them.

My work office is situated on the 21st floor of a building in San Francisco’s financial district, which is basically landfill and not even solid bedrock. I often fly on airplanes, and have zip lined through the trees at Haleakala in Maui. I still get queasy on the roofs of skyscrapers, and I’ll never skydive or bungee jump. No thanks, but kind regards. Australia is known for its poisonous spiders, jumping, and otherwise, and I chose to live there for 3 years. I encountered many terrifying spiders as big as my hand, and still live today to tell the tale.

Fear is called an adaptive response, because it stems from learning and growing. This is our “flight or fight” response, and it’s important to develop this for our own protection. Our bodies and minds become aware and alert, which puts us on guard for danger. According to the Child Anxiety Network, between ages 0-2, humans develop fears of loud noises, separation from parents, and large objects. We are so tiny and still developing our senses that anything big or loud will likely freak us out. Between ages 3-6, we develop fears of imaginary things, like monsters under the bed, the dark, and strange noises. By ages 7-16, we develop more tangible fears, like death, injury, and natural disasters.

I’ll never forget coming to terms with my own mortality. I touched on it briefly in my post about my issues with my knees, and multiple knee surgeries from the tender age of 13. When I realized I was in fact not a superhero but a regular human who was fallible, I suddenly became protective of my body.

I recently devoured the Divergent trilogy, in record time. Dauntless is one of the five factions featured in that series, dedicated to bravery, courage, and fearlessness. By identifying your fears, and going through fear simulations, you practice facing your fears head-on and prepare for them in advance. These simulations create the ability to act without thinking when faced with your fear, so you are not paralyzed and defeated by your fears when you actually encounter them.

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Members of this faction, in the story, do crazy things to attain freedom from fear, like jumping from moving trains, crawling to the tops of ferris wheels with no harness or other kind of safety net to gain a birds’ eye view, plummeting off tall buildings into an unseen abyss below, and the like. They recognize there is a fine line between bravery and idiocy. It is people in Dauntless who are thus called for public service similar to police officers, security, and ultimately, a military.

The Dauntless believe in denying fear the power to influence their lives, ordinary acts of bravery, defending those who cannot defend themselves, and bold words and bold deeds. I really admire the direction Veronica Roth, the author of the series, took with this group of individuals. Sometimes bravery isn’t fighting a war, nor is it always jumping off of buildings. Sometimes, bravery and courage is needed for the most mundane of tasks – to be honest about taking the cookie from the cookie jar, or for standing up for someone who is being bullied.

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Too often, in the news media today, fear governs the headlines and our politics. The Bush administration in the US played to citizens’ fears after 9/11 by searching for weapons of mass destruction, which, if found, would decrease our fear of an assault by Al Qaeda. Terrorism in its simplest form relies on fear to invoke power.

Fear is a funny thing. Many people don’t live their lives – they live their fears. They buy homes and create families to reduce the fear they have of, say, being alone, or not leaving a mark on this world when they go. They get rat race day jobs because they are afraid to live without a source of income and travel the world, afraid to be nomadic and homeless as they live their lives.

I try not to be governed by fear in my own life, but I know to an extent, it will always be present. I try to run from safety. I’m a free spirit and have been in a prison of my own making all my adult life. I did what was expected of me – went to college, got a reliable job with a steady income, worked hard. But, here’s an epiphany I had, today, when researching about fear – you can develop new ones anytime, and their development doesn’t require any kind of traumatic experience. Sometimes, you’re totally fine one day, and the next day, you could be afraid of anything, like maybe rainbows. For me, I developed a new fear later in life: safety.

Now, I ache for something different, but it requires leaving the ultimate comfort zone I’ve built for myself. And when I think of the utter boredom and safety of a predictable relationship and a steady routine life, I realize that would never satisfy me. A life that continues to evolve and allow for growth and has adventures yet provides stability at the most turbulent of times, is the one for me.

What terrifies me is regretting choosing the safe option at the end of my life. I need to be with someone who pulls at my heart strings and pushes me to try new things. I want a life well spent and I don’t want to spend my life climbing the wrong ladder. The best advice I ever received was make sure you are on the right ladder before you start climbing.

So if that predictable life terrifies me, I have to face that fear. Not for you, or for anyone. For me. Because if I can’t make the first step to the life I truly want, then I don’t deserve it. I can’t limit myself and not opening up for it now could mean living a life closed to it forever.

So for you, dear reader, I quote my favorite country song: “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

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Jump in to the pool, eat life, and give it a go. Or surround yourself with people who can help push you to do that, and support you regardless of whether you succeed or fail.

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Certainly not an oyster

When it comes to the spiritual, religious, and supernatural, I tend not to get too involved in debates or even conversations. From a very young age, religion didn’t necessarily interest me.

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My mother was raised Catholic, and while my father was an altar boy as a child, he became an atheist later in life. My parents had me baptized Catholic as a baby, but I never made it any further into the sacraments. I didn’t even take first communion. With first communion, if you don’t know, you’re meant to wear a white dress if you’re a girl. I wasn’t keen on the dress but at that stage in my life, my mother mostly dressed me in dresses like a doll.

I flat-out refused to do first communion without these fabulous white iridescent glitter flats (think white glitter ruby slippers) that were $100 at Nordstrom’s, the “fancy” department store. My mother said no and refused to budge – my feet were still growing, and I’d outgrow them before I got another occasion to wear them.

So, I did what any rational lesbian trapped in a gay man’s body would do and boycotted first communion. Organized religion was not for me, because I didn’t have the right shoes. My love of iridescent white and disdain for wearing dresses except on odd occasions continues today. That dress phase was quickly followed by the tomboy phase, when my mother finally gave up on dressing me and I finally had control over what I wore.

Growing up, I had friends that tried taking me to their churches on Sundays. They tried to get me to go to church carnivals, Sunday school sessions, and the like, but none of it interested me. Not one iota. I’d rather be outside, rollerblading, riding my bike, reading a book, or watching cartoons.

As a more informed adult, I do believe in being spiritual, being a good person, doing good things for others, and above all else, science. I am by no means a scientologist either, just because I bring up science. In fact, I found this online and thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. When I finally get around to making my own funeral arrangements, so no one else has to (on my bucket list), I’m going to request a physicist give a eulogy similar to this, if anyone bothers to show up.

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I also find I do have some Buddhist and Hindu tendencies, too. Like Buddhists, we should try the best we can to lead moral lives (however, everyone’s moral compasses may be oriented to directions other than true north, but I digress). We should be mindful and aware, and develop a deeper wisdom and understanding. If we live in the present, and don’t dwell in the past or in an imagined future, we may be able to find happiness in the present.

Like Hindus, I believe in multiple lives and chances to learn lessons if you do not get them right in one life. I believe, to a certain extent, we may actually choose our circumstances before we are sent to earth to be born. There is a unity of existence through love. I would love to think my true self, my soul, exists independently of my body, thus my body may not be able to keep up with all the things my soul would like it to do. My soul will have another body after this life, and this life is certainly not my first.

In 2009, I visited Edinburgh as I did a whistle-stop tour to see friends in the UK and Amsterdam. The friends I visited in Edinburgh took me to Mary Kings Close. It’s old Edinburgh, buried under the Royal Exchange, and if you believe in this kind of stuff, haunted by ghosts, the site of numerous murders, and housed many plague victims left to die. While it is a tourist attraction now, it’s meant to be a historically accurate depiction of what life was like up until the 1800’s in Scotland.

When I got underground into those alleys and laneways, I really felt like in a previous life, I lived there during the plague. It was one of the most surreal sensations I’ve ever had before.

The romantic in me would love to believe Armistead Maupin (one of my literary influences) that San Francisco, my lovely city of residence, is home to the lost souls of Atlantis. All the souls of those who perished with Atlantis gather here and that is what makes the city so magical. Perhaps, I too lived in Atlantis which is why I feel such an indescribable magnetic pull at my very core to this city.

I recently watched one of my favorite movies again, Dogma. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s brilliantly written and has an interesting take on the Catholic religion in particular.

In one of the opening scenes, you are introduced to Bartleby and Loki, fallen angels from Heaven doomed to Wisconsin for the rest of their existence. Loki recounts the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter (I familiarized myself with this Lewis Carroll tale through the Disney animated Alice in Wonderland, of course) as a religious allegory. It was quite brilliant, as I’d never thought of it that way, until he dissected the story a certain way.

He asserts the Walrus represents a large Buddha, or an elephant Ganesha in Hinduism. The Carpenter clearly makes a reference to Joseph the Carpenter and Christianity. In the story, the Walrus and the Carpenter lure the innocent, unsuspecting oysters to a place where they’ll be heartily devoured.

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He further maintains most organized religions got the idea wrong – spirituality is meant to be individualistic. When leaders try to rise above and inherently create followers by being leaders, they are building a belief system on a good idea – and that belief system is what infuriates God the most. When people do things in God’s name and for their beliefs, it couldn’t disappoint God more. It is better to have ideas, than beliefs. It is easy to share ideas but when people intrude and try to push their beliefs onto others, is where it starts going wrong.

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So do I believe? I’m not sure, but I have a pretty good idea.

Set up for failure

Have you ever been set up to fail? You walk into a new situation, or a new job, or a new project, excited and ready to go. However, circumstances are such that you feel, even if you performed at your very best, there is no way you feel you can succeed? In fact, it feels like assigning responsibility at the beginning of the project is really just a cover? They just picked a person to take ownership when everything goes wrong, so they know who to blame when it does go as they expected?

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That is happening to me with one project in particular at work. I had a call with a client this morning who was very concerned and fairly frustrated, and rightly so, because she had not heard from the partner on the project in over a month, and it’s holding up some key items we’ll need from them in the very near future. I was told basically, by that partner, and by others, to expect that same level of involvement by the partner, and that I would own the now-damaged relationship going forward. Nothing like starting in the negative and having to dig myself out… I can screw up my own relationships just fine, I don’t need a bad one handed to me to have to try to fix.

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In those situations, where you can see no upside, try as you might, how does one find the motivation to try at all? I used to be one of those people who would still try, despite knowing I’d probably be defeated. That was when I had the energy. With depression, even getting out of bed can be a struggle. I don’t need anything else or anything extra on my plate to build up the energy to have to work through. The things that used to be easy to work through just aren’t easy anymore.

It’s not that I was purposely set up to fail. No one has it out for me. Anyone who picked up this project would be doomed to fail, regardless of skill set. I have great people skills, but even I would struggle trying to make this client happy given the current scenario. Being set up to fail in the workplace is seen as a bullying tactic, but no one is technically bullying me. It was just luck of the draw and I happened to be assigned this client at random.

However, when you are set up to fail, it can feel like you are living down to expectations. No one expects you to be able to fix it, and when you don’t, you’ve met expectations. Whether you tried, or not. And when you fail, it’s no surprise, but then the cycle perpetuates itself as you’ve not yet proven yourself successful. You lose a bit of confidence, and it becomes even harder to get out of that rut into which you fall.

I find situations like this, especially at work, to be highly demotivating and demoralizing. Everyone wants to contribute to a winning team, and be a part of success. No one always wants to be on the losing team. If you’re always on the losing team, you begin feeling like that loser because it’s constantly being reinforced that you never can seem to win. You end up feeling like giving everyone you work with one of these and ultimately, many people will ultimately leave that job or project for more fulfilling employment somewhere else.

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In the past, I felt set up to fail with my plate being overloaded with work assignments. I was spread so thin, I didn’t do any of the assignments very well, and had the constant stress of feeling behind, as well as the lost confidence of not being able to do a good job or have any major wins. I constantly felt like I was playing catch up and could never reach my full performance on any one job, because I just didn’t have the time. I became exhausted easily, both mentally and emotionally. Unfortunately, my choice of self-medication for dealing with it became alcohol at the time. Currently, I’m not turning to alcohol to drink that pain away. I also proactively took measures to change my client portfolio this time around to avoid that burnout from overwork. When you get no incremental remuneration for each extra job assigned to you, you find it difficult to see your motivation in achieving that incremental task. To quote the ever-apropos workplace movie, Office Space:

Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.
Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?
Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.
Bob Slydell: Eight?
Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

While I find myself with little motivation and an even lower tolerance for bullshit these days, I’m still going to approach this project with the best foot forward I can muster. My expectations for myself are to just deal with it, using all the skills I have acquired so far. I am a professional, after all. Just keep swimming, just keep trying, but not too hard, because anything more than the bare minimum would be a waste of energy and resources. It’s unfortunate, and not how client service should work. It doesn’t make me feel successful. I will, however, walk away knowing I did try. That is what is important.

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Shake, rattle, and roll

Three major earthquakes every Californian should know and be able to reference:
April 18, 1906 8.3 epicenter 2 miles west of San Francisco, in the Pacific Ocean
October 17, 1989 7.2 epicenter in Santa Cruz Mountains along San Andreas fault
August 24, 2014 6.0 epicenter 6 miles southwest of Napa

You did not read that incorrectly. That is today’s date. With a magnitude 6.0 earthquake recorded on today’s date.

In the early hours of this morning, I experienced my first earthquake since moving back in San Francisco. Before I moved to Sydney 3 years ago, I remember sitting in my then-empty apartment, my back against the wall, and my feet flat down on the hardwood, with my knees drawn into my chest. I’d had to return my keys to the landlord that day, and fly the following day. All of a sudden, the walls were moving. San Francisco burped a little goodbye as I set off on my Australian walkabout. Thanks, earth.

I woke up at 2:30am this morning to use the facilities, as I do when I drink a lot of water before bed. I hadn’t gotten back to sleep and was tossing and turning. I sleep with earplugs in, so I did not hear a peep, but suddenly my bed was a-rockin’. No, not in the good way. The whole room was shaking, the bed was being shaken inches across the floor. The blinds rattled.

My training finally kicked in. I got up and immediately ran to the doorjamb between the living room and kitchen, until I felt the shaking stop. I was lucky; the extent of damage in my apartment was a couple of knocked over deodorant sticks. I will rebuild. *fist pump*

Once it was over, I knew the USGS real-time earthquake tracker map would register an event and I learned right away (given triangulation from various measure points due to great geology tracking/measuring advances) it was a 6.0-6.1 magnitude quake with an epicenter very close to the Napa and Sonoma region. These areas are where some great California wineries and vineyards are located.

I was 8 years old when I experienced the first significant earthquake I can remember. It was October 17, 1989 and it was a little after 5pm. The baseball game was on the television, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s were facing off in the World Series. It was a Battle of the Bay. I was attending a private elementary school and had myself a structured study time, and I had not yet sit down to start cranking away at my homework. I usually did it all in one go, and wanted to catch some of the ball game first. It was still warm and sunny, as the frosty breezes that bring Halloween had yet to arrive.

My mom got home from work around 3:30pm those days, and I had already been picked up from school, so I was at home. She had started a load of laundry when we got home, and the clothes had just come out of the dryer. She was folding the laundry, and I got up to go to the bathroom. I was in the bathroom when the shaking started. It wasn’t so much a shaking though, just a rolling, and the whole house seemed to belch with relief in the movement. I’d never experienced anything like that before, and all training was lost, as I pulled up my pants, ran down the hallway and through the house, straight through the front door out onto the front lawn. All I could think was to get out of the house altogether. I wasn’t going to stand still for anything to fall on me.

I wasn’t the only one – the rest of the neighborhood was also shaken up by the fact that the earth, which usually remains so stable it’s taken for granted, just moved everything we thought couldn’t move. Other families in my suburban neighborhood, all with kids, took to bringing lawn chairs outside. No one wanted to stay inside with the aftershocks shaking often after a major tectonic release like that.

Now since the 1989 earthquake was not planned, there was no road closure and no planned food buffet, but in all respects, we had ourselves an impromptu block party that evening. Moms and dads cracked open wine coolers (it was the 80’s, they were “in”) and beers, while kids were given juice boxes. An earthquake meant we could break into the stores of food and first aid kits we’d all set aside in our garages for this very occasion! Sugar! Yes!

So what started as a scary experience that turned my very world to shaking, quite literally, became a kickin’ block party. My neighborhood threw more organized block parties every 4th of July – neighbors petitioned the city to put up roadblocks at either end of my street, so cars could neither enter nor exit. It was safe for foot traffic. Everybody hosted a BBQ on their front lawns, you walked around visiting houses and neighbors. Some houses had arts & crafts for the kids. I learned to make a mean lanyard keychain at one such arts & crafts stand. One house would inevitably have a band, or music on big speakers if no live band was available. Kids wore bathing suits as that was the only outfit parents could get them to agree to wear on those days of fun. Inevitably, some drunk adult got feisty and gave the kids squirt guns and water balloons to wreak havoc on unsuspecting victims.

This was no ordinary block party I was used to though. This one was permeated by fear. Tchotchkes and plates my parents collected by Norman Rockwell fell off the shelves. All the furniture shook and ended up a few inches from where it had started. Some artwork that was hung fell down. Some walls displayed massive cracks after it was over.

Since no one would go inside for a $1million, we didn’t really see what had unfolded as far as damage around the bay area til the next day. That first night, when all the parents finally coerced their children into bed, we only knew what happened in our neighborhood. People didn’t even want to turn out radios to find out what was going on. The fear that overcame everyone was a bit of an ignorant flavor. If you can keep the kids’ (and now shaky adults’) minds off of what just happened, they’re resilient and will be fine in the morning. Or so you think…

Being raised in California, we had not only fire drills in elementary school, but we also had earthquake drills. We were taught never to run under the bed during the earthquake. We were told to get under tables, or our desks as they were if it happened at school, even though the desks were tiny and we knew if the ceiling caved in, every student would at least lose a leg or an arm because those suckers were tiny. Not a whole lot of comfort. We were also taught to stand in a structural door jamb, not in the middle of the room. The theory goes if you stand beneath something structural, if the building starts to cave, you would be hidden under something that would break the fall or at least hold the weight up above you so you weren’t crushed. When you hid under the desk, you were meant to take both hands and put them over your neck, to cover your head from the impact of any falling debris. The great tagline associated with this training was “Duck and Cover”.

Once the shaking stopped, there was always a dedicated person to go check the gas and water lines. Ruptured gas lines could lead to explosions and fires, with the pipes highly susceptible to rupture when in a fixed position. Broken water lines would cause hazards if there were broken electrical lines or live wires around, causing electrocution. Further, seeing as California’s propensity for drought continues to increase with each passing year, we need to conserve water and stop flows immediately to conserve resources.

The news the next day made your guts fall far below the floor, about fans trampled at the baseball game trying to vacate the stadium; the collapsed upper deck of the bay bridge (which now, 25 years later has been remediated with a whole new ½ bridge to replace that damaged section); the fires in the Marina district, built entirely on landfill which ruptured those aforementioned gas lines and set the neighborhood ablaze, with similar stories in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose.

So you’ve now read my analogy of the earth releasing gas via burping/belching twice. Now my inner science nerd is going to come out and tell you why I’d rather live in a state with earthquakes, than without.

I minored in geology in college, probably as a direct result of my experience in that 1989 earthquake. I took a course called California Geology, and loved it. You see, if you are utterly clueless as to why California has earthquakes, but usually the east coast of the US does not, let me clarify. Earthquakes usually happen along the edges of tectonic plates (those earth cubes that float in the magma liquid underneath the earth’s crust). Earthquakes can also happen when a volcano is about to erupt. An earthquake is really just the release of pressure, of energy, of gas, from when those plates move, or that volcano is about to blow.

California and the entire west coast of the US is along a major fault, the San Andreas Fault, and series of medium sized faults, and hundreds/thousands of smaller ones all along the coast. California sits on the eastern edge of the pacific plate and on the western edge of the plate that holds the rest of the continental United States. Therefore, the whole state of California (and Oregon and Washington for that matter) are all located on a subduction zone fault. That is to say, the San Andreas fault is one such fault, not where the plates rub along the sides of each other horizontally. The way the tectonic plates interact where they meet under California, is that the plate holding the US has begun sliding on top of the Pacific plate while the Pacific plate moves under the US. This causes uplift in California and those great mountain ranges we have throughout the state all the way to crunching the US in the middle to form the Rocky Mountains as far east as Colorado.

I’d rather live in a geologically active state like California than Oregon or Washington for this very reason. While Washington has legalized gay marriage and marijuana and has no state income tax, and Oregon has some beautiful natural scenery and wonderful rain, I’ll take California any day. I love California for its gas release. You read me right.

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When you look at the sheer number and magnitude of earthquakes that hit California vs. those that hit Oregon and Washington, you will find extremely telling data. California has more smaller magnitude earthquakes more frequently. Oregon and Washington rarely have earthquakes, but when they do, they tend to be massive. I call this my Tectonic Constipation Principle.

In my Tectonic Constipation Principle, Oregon and Washington are constipated while California’s digestive tract is functioning normally. Since all three states are building up pressure in this tectonic subduction zone, all will have pressure buildup underneath and activity along various fault lines.

The whole Pacific plate is moving under the US – it is unimpeded in California and builds up pressure and then releases that pressure often. So California is periodically “farting” its pressure out. Letting out the pressure in smaller spurts seems to make me feel safer than letting that pressure build up, like it does in Washington and Oregon, with much more catastrophic results there when it is finally released.

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Perhaps the Pacific plate is running into more resistance under Washington and Oregon (my theory is it is because of the number of volcanoes and hotspots in the Pacific Northwest starting at Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta in northeastern California all the way up to Mt. St. Helens in Washington). Part of the pressure building under Oregon and Washington is shifted to the liquid release mechanisms of volcanoes, so perhaps the plate is sliding more slowly, or rather than releasing the pressure in the form of earthquakes, that pressure is released when the various hot spot volcanoes of the northwest erupt. I was not yet born when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, but it created infinitely more damage in the epicenter/zone of pressure release than any earthquake.

So I’ll take my belching, farting California and have my major catastrophe in this area be earthquakes. To me, earthquakes beat hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and dust storms. There is no warning when earthquakes happen, they’re relatively short (though the one this morning and in 1989 each lasted a long time, relatively speaking, as far as earthquakes go). So there is no preparation like for a hurricane, or a storm cellar for tornadoes. You learn to ensure your building has an earthquake proofed foundation that meets current standards, and you keep an emergency kit in your apartment of boxed wine (can’t risk broken glass) and chocolate as well as perishables and drinking water).

One last word on this morning’s earthquake. As many of you may know, despite my recent decrease in drinking activity, I really love wine. So many batches of wine perished in the Napa/Sonoma region, soaking into the parched, drought-ridden California soil. I checked the news and saw broken bottles all over the floor at some wineries, oak barrels that had been stacked ceiling high in splinters on a deep red ground. So much wine was lost in today’s earthquake and aftershocks. I recommend you stock up on your favorite recent vintages as supply will be drastically cut.

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Wines build their character through adversity, and that makes them taste even better. So it is with humans.

Live every day like it’s your birthday

Today, dear reader, marks my 33rd revolution of the earth around the sun.

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I ordered flowers online and had them sent to my mother. Being an only child, I’m kind of her favorite. I figured I should thank her for birthing me, and my birthday is as much for her as it is for me.

She and my dad used to make every single one of my birthdays special. Every year I had a birthday party. Pool parties, parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s, parties in the backyard. Being an August baby means late summer parties while it’s deathly hot and squeezing in that last bit of fun before school starts in the fall.

One year, I had a lip sync contest for my birthday – I think it was my 9th birthday. I remember very vividly two songs – the one I did, and one my school friend Krissy did. I lip synced Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. Krissy did “Baby Got Back”. That was a fun party year. That year, my parents also had a cartoonist lady come and do caricatures of all the partygoers, and she even made cartoons of my parents. She captured my dad’s moustache perfectly, and drew him doing what he loved best – being on the computer. I remember that picture very vividly as well. My parents let me color in my caricature into my favorite outfit I wore that year – royal blue cotton biker shorts and a matching horizontal blue and white stripe t-shirt. The cartoon portrayed me doing my favorite hobby at the time, rollerblading. Hey, it was 1990, it’s what you did. I colored my hair yellow and then they had it framed. I’m sure my mother still has it hanging somewhere. And that, my friends, is where the NKOTB rattail I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of is forever captured, in that caricature.

When I was young, I woke up super happy, and it stayed the whole day – it was about me, and people who loved me made it about me.

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This morning, I woke up feeling a little more like this:

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Funny how everything changes. I live in San Francisco now, and it’s cold and overcast today. No summer sunshine to be had this year. No pool party, no water balloons for me to shove into my bathing suit to make fake breasts. I have real ones now. No slip’n’slide. That’s ok, I always liked the cold anyway. Living in Sydney the last 3 years, and being there for my birthday, meant it was deep winter in the southern hemisphere for my birthday. It was also my busy season at work then, so I was likely working late to meet some stressful deadline.

I don’t throw birthday parties anymore. Some of things I want the most for my birthday I can’t have. I can’t have my dad back. I can’t have a sibling. I can’t have a quiet night in with a loving life partner. I’m trying to be excited about this day, but I think I’ve outgrown the excitement phase.

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I have a lot to celebrate. I’ve learned a lot about myself this past year, as it’s been the hardest year of my life. I’m still here. That’s a huge accomplishment.

So I’m going to celebrate a little bit tonight. I’m going to a bar in the Castro in San Francisco. It was the Transfer when I first moved here, but ownership changed hands, the bar was renovated, and now goes by another name. I too have sort of undergone the same change. I’m under new bold brave ownership, I’m not changing my name, but I’m getting out there and doing me the best way I know how.

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My wonderful friends and family blew up my facebook page with well wishes. My mother called me to thank me for the flowers and to wish me a happy birthday. I appreciate every single communication.

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However, I don’t really like talking on the phone on any day. I’m much more of a text/email kind of girl. God forbid you leave me a voicemail with important information in it – I’ll never listen to it. Voicemail is a complete waste of my time.

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After wishing me happy birthday in my 20’s, my mom used to hand the phone to my dad and he’d give me a gruff happy birthday. He’d talk to me for a little bit, ask how I was doing. Nothing too affectionate. He took an interest, and wanted to genuinely talk to me about anything and everything. Being the social butterfly I was, I’d inevitably have to cut him off and end the conversation too soon because I had to go somewhere and be stupid and drink with friends.

What I’d give for a phone call from him today. Tell me what it’s like where he is. Tell me anything he didn’t get a chance to say. Like goodbye. He’s in my thoughts today, very much so. I miss you, Dad.

So I hop on the bull for another revolution around the sun. Bottoms up, my friends. Here’s to another year of growth, learning, ups, downs, and life.

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The room maker

Prologue:

Before you read this post, there is something you need to know. Before my best friend drew nipples and pubic hair on all my dolls with Sharpies at age 10, I played with dolls for a good portion of my life. Get over it.

Also, in writing this post, I’ve taken my mind on a journey, and I didn’t know where it was leading until I was done writing. My mind is actually sort of blown by my own basic, simple self-analysis. I need to ponder further on the door it opened, so enjoy while I go explore that room.

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My favorite part of my favorite Paul Simon song goes “He looks around, around, he sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity,” which you may recognize from You Can Call Me Al. I don’t know what it is, but I love the feel of that moment, like I’m in a big wide open place with beautiful structures and statues, like Rome. I’ve got my arms wide open, while people bustle all about me, and I’m spinning in the middle taking it all in. It invokes a moment of admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for what has been created and what is around me. However, my interpretation is exactly that – my own. According to Wikipedia (because if it’s on the internet, it’s true), that song is about Paul Simon’s own mid-life crisis, and by the 3rd verse, he’s traveled to Africa and begun work his new album with that song, Graceland.

Architecture is something I really enjoy in a city. It speaks to me, wherever I am. In Sydney, the detail I noticed was skinny terrace homes on a quaint tree-lined street, with detailed iron balcony railings of all designs and colors. It was the only detail I recognized as unique to Australia, as it’s a relatively young country and continent who’s yet to develop its own architectural style.

I loved the Greek Isles for the ruins. Talk about ancient architecture. Mykonos was my favorite for the buildings by the water, and Delos was my favorite for ruins, with Santorini and Athens not far behind. The Acropolis and the Parthenon are simply breathtaking up close and far away.

In San Francisco, I absolutely hands-down LOVE Victorian homes built before 1900. I once owned a condo in SF built in 1885 – the original foundation had to be reinforced for new earthquake codes introduced since it was built. Victorian homes have an attention to detail, a character, and a feeling.

San Francisco architecture is currently breaking my heart a little bit. With demand for housing in the city skyrocketing even higher than it already was, new buildings are popping up all over the city. Sadly, they don’t maintain the same feel as the Victorian and Edwardian buildings. I’d love to see architects designing these apartment buildings put a little thought into how to blend the modern design and conveniences with the feel of Victorian and Edwardian buildings already in existence here. Instead, what is happening, is a modern glass panel building on the same block as an older building with character. The juxtaposition and harsh transition from one to another just doesn’t feel right. Personally, I love the older buildings, for the personality and unique features.

My love for Victorian homes started when I was a young girl. My parents bought me a dollhouse kit and helped me build it. I noticed and appreciated every intricate detail of that house – the staircase, the panel siding, the shingles on the roof, the crown molding – the bones, the feeling, the whimsical imaginary world it opened up. It not only helped build spatial thinking, but it brought out the inner interior designer in me. I loved putting my personal touch on the house, more than I liked using it when it was finished. I found thin strips of wood at a craft store with which I made mock hardwood flooring. I chose a color previously unheard of to paint the outside – peach. Didn’t see that one coming, even when I was building it. But it spoke to me, and it said peach. There was a romance to this dollhouse, that allowed my imagination to run free, and not just with the stories of the dolls in it. It was cozy, and so full of potential. (This picture below is not the actual one I had, but it’s the closest design I could find on Google.)

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Ironically, just for fun, I recently looked up what it means when you dream of a dollhouse. “To see or play with a dollhouse in your dream suggests that you are idealizing family life. You have the notion that everything is perfect or problem-free. Perhaps you are in denial about any problems. Alternatively, the dollhouse in your dream may serve as an indirect way to solve and work out waking problems with family members.” Amazing. Apparently, my attitudes towards this dollhouse as a child were a form of therapy and coping with what was going on around me.

With my 20/20 hindsight, I was learning exactly what the American Dream was with that dollhouse. In the 50’s that American Dream was getting a job, buying a cookie cutter house, having a perfect Stepford wife, having 2.2 kids and a dog. Designing the inside of that dollhouse meant I could create pieces of furniture myself, create something. I also went into the craft store with my mother and looked at the dollhouse furniture every time, almost like a woman who was about to get married would play house and buy things for a new home with her husband. But being the only child I was, I did not want to share (and didn’t play well with others). There was no husband I was decorating this for. It was my dreams, my choices, my imagination, my world. I was the architect of my own world (despite the kit with premade materials). This house was all mine. The lyrics in the theme song to the TV series Weeds “Little Boxes”, nailed what that American dream was. Deep.

Little Boxes – Malvina Reynolds

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In fact, I didn’t even need a dollhouse, to make a house for my dolls. I had Barbies, Skippers, Kens, clothes, and accessories; I even had a Barbie corvette. During the summers, I would play outside with all my Barbie junk, and make tree houses in the hedges on our front lawn. They had somewhat horizontal branches, which made perfect Barbie beds. In my world, Barbies shared beds (totally a lesbian, even as a little girl), which would often be a puzzle box with a piece of scrap fabric as a comforter, and pillows. Funny, the bed was always the key part in my world. That had to be perfect… and it’s still true today with my real bed. I love that thing. It is perfect, and in fact, it’s more likely to have two Barbies in it than a Barbie and a Ken, if you catch my drift… Deeper and deeper…

Taking the game outside meant that I developed a love of tree houses. Tree houses were just a different take on building that dream home in my world. To this day, there is a whimsical romantic notion that I want to live in a treehouse one day, but a decked-out adult one.

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After my love of treehouses had been established and I begged without success for one in our yard (we just didn’t have any good sturdy trees), I found out my neighbor was going to build a treehouse in their back yard. I was so jealous, and wanted one so badly. I had to live vicariously through my neighbors.

I imagined my own tree house, that I didn’t have to share with anyone else. It was everything I wanted in that personal world to take it a step further. It had a view. You got to climb a tree. Getting stuff up there with a pulley was even cool, like when your mom sent lunch up. If you were lucky, you had a complimentary tire swing underneath the treehouse. It was the ultimate fort! Who didn’t love to take a sleeping bag up there and a book?! Up there, in the clouds yet firmly rooted on the ground was My Place. I would take every book up there; that’s where my mind wanted to be when it processed information and envisioned new worlds. Boy, if I had a tree house, I’d play in it every day.

To this day, I have on my bucket list, building a dollhouse/treehouse for a kid who really wants one. It really represents opening up a child’s mind to fostering a healthy imagination, that same feeling of euphoria, a My Place of their own, where they can be confident and learn and grow into a wonderful person. Nothing holds that feeling for me like the tree house Calvin and Hobbes had.

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Even in the doll house as a child, in my current residence, a Victorian style San Francisco apartment with a bay window that has a sweeping view, My Place will always be a safe space to grow, to read, to be alone, and explore every cavern of my imagination. There is nothing like a bay window reading nook to be the frosting on my perfect home cake. That is my secret world.

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When researching dream meanings, I also noted what it meant to build a new room, anywhere, be it in a dollhouse, a treehouse, or a city. “To dream that you find or discover a new room suggests that you are developing new strengths and taking on new roles. You may be growing emotionally. Consider what you find in the discovered room as it may indicate repressed memories, fears, or rejected emotions. Alternatively, such rooms are symbolic of neglected skills or rejected potential.“

In my inner psyche, I’m building rooms in My Place, I’m working with the bones, the architecture I see and inserting myself into a space. Throughout my entire life, this is happening. Writing this post has been an adventure for me, as I’ve never thought through or interpreted any of this. I think I’ve just had my own a-ha moment.

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I’ve let you into Fort My Place, dear reader. You’re special, or something.

Don’t have a cow

So this morning, out of the blue, I decided today was the day.

*Starts singing Michael Jackson’s classic hit into a hairbrush while looking at herself in the mirror, “Gonna make a change for once in my life…”*

I’m finally going to do something officially that I’ve been doing unofficially for a long time. Time to woman-up and commit. I take this step on my own terms. It’s time.

As of today, I’m a Weekday Vegetarian. I mean, I’ve been a vegetarian between meals all my life. For me, the reasons dieting can be difficult are best depicted by this Oatmeal comic:

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The idea incepted when I watched this very brief TED talk. I like the idea of doing enough to make a change, but, by allowing yourself the option to eat meat on the weekends, there’s no guilt if you partake periodically. I’m still leaving myself the option to continue being vegetarian on the weekends, but I know at least the first few weekends will be tough to do that.

Since I’m not really doing this for political or environmental reasons, I’m ok still eating meat sometimes. Don’t get me wrong – I think there are great benefits that occur for the environment and I’m still a bit of a tree hugger/greenie, but my choice to do this is really driven by wanting to improve my personal health. Therefore it’s nothing I expect other people to convert to, and I still expect people to eat whatever the hell they want when they go out to a meal with me.

I wouldn’t call myself a fussy eater, but I’m sure other people would. I just know what I like and what I don’t. I don’t like seafood. I’m not allergic, but sometimes I lie to restaurants to scare them into an impending Exorcist type allergic reaction if any seafood makes its way into my dish. I hate onions, pretty much all kinds. Mushrooms disgust me – how can people think something so bitter could be good?

I’m no stick in the mud when it comes to my diet, except when I am. I also used to dislike bell peppers, as I called them, but after living in Australia, I prefer calling them capsicums. I not only embraced a new name, I embraced allowing them into my diet. I don’t binge on them, but every so often, I’ll crave them.

Food cravings are basically mood changes for me. Recently, I’ve been craving much fresher food, consistent with how I usually get in summer. In Sydney, for the past three years, it’s been pretty warm, though not as consistently warm as I’ve been told it can get there. I had relatively mild summers in Sydney, and they were still so freaking hot. It left me craving cold foods, salads, cold booze (no red wine) and a fully functioning air conditioner. However, prior to my fresh binge of late, I was missing American food something awful and all the foods I could have when I moved back to the U.S. It’s like upon repatriating, I have to pay a fee of putting on 10lbs just eating all the foods I missed at customs. They may as well pack it on me at the airport when I arrive. So this choice also comes at a key time to not indulge in those American delights quite so much and clean myself up.

Even as a kid, my dad raised a garden in the backyard, and I remember when the annual garden harvest of snow peas happened. Those were my favorite. I knew just how to crack open the pod after rinsing it under the hose (what drought?)

My dad grew our own organic corn on the cob, dill, snow peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and even began pickling those cucumbers. He grew peppers and chilis, too. There was onion and squash in the garden too, and he also planted various fruit trees around the yard: lemon, plum, and cherry.

My diet on any given day is mostly vegetarian, anyway. Besides disliking fish, I really only eat poultry (chicken or turkey), beef, and pork products (sausage, bacon, ham), when I do have a meal with meat.

When people ask me about the food in Australia, I didn’t try a single lamb dish, as I have this thing against eating baby animals. Australians were fine with it; more for them after they scoffed at me. I’d rather count lambs to get to sleep than eat them.

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I don’t like duck on any kind of regular basis. I don’t want to cut out dairy products or eggs, as I still think those are essential for protein and calcium intake for strong bones. However, in Sydney, I did give some meat alternatives a try, and they were actually pretty tasty. Not a huge fan of tofu or tempeh so I will have to find ways to improvise.

My goal is to find some new recipes to form that base of meals I can have on a weekly basis, to sort of get into a routine. My first adventure with this will be learning about different ways to prepare couscous and quinoa. Gettin’ some grains up in here!

Here’s a corny vegetarian joke for your amusement:
Why did the tofu cross the road?
To prove he wasn’t chicken! HA!

One day in and I’m already making fun of it.

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I fully expect to earn the vegetarianism badge on my lesbian scout sash within 3 months. My best friend earned her orientation advisor badge, which I don’t have. My lesbian scout sash has some pretty good badges on it so far, like alternative short haircuts (I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a NKOTB braided rat-tail at the tender age of 9), knowing the details of every L Word episode, and cat husbandry. My toolbelt diva badge is still in the mail after setting up my apartment when I moved back to San Francisco. Don’t worry, I passed my oral exams years ago.

It seems like so many of the lesbians I meet these days are jumping on this vegetarian bandwagon, it’s enough to make a girl want to hitch a ride on it herself (or buy herself a brand new bandwagon truck… for other lesbians to jump onto…) And before you go making the joke about becoming just another vagitarian, please know, I prefer the term “hummusexual”.

As much as it killed me a little inside to end the sentence before that last sentence with a preposition inside the parentheses, it had to be done. Don’t judge me. You don’t know me. Oh wait, I guess I’ve been telling you, my dear reader, a little about me with each post that I write.

If you are already a vegetarian, regardless of your reasons, good on ya. If you will never be a vegetarian, that’s ok too. If you’re interested in it or curious about it, don’t be afraid to try it. I try to stick to a great rule I learned somewhere along the way. You can’t say you hate broccoli if you’ve never tried broccoli. If trying to be a weekday vegetarian doesn’t work for me, so be it. The worst case scenario happens, then I would know. Schrödinger’s cat may be most definitely dead. Move on, and try something else. As I elaborated on my About Me page, life is a smörgåsbord. I’m just saving the bacon for the weekends.

Also, for the record, a cheese pizza counts as a vegetarian meal. Wine is also still vegetarian. That counts. I can totally do this.

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One of my pearls

I was 10 years old, and in the 5th grade. One day, my parents made the decision to take me out of my private elementary school which I’d attended since kindergarten. I still know the school song we sung. (*starts singing in her head* When my friends ask me where I go to school I say, “I go to Challenger and it sure is great! We have *clap clap* teachers who care a lot *clap clap* good friends who share a lot, Challenger, that’s my school!”)

That single move took 5 years of habits built in an environment conducive to raising an avid reader with a wild imagination, a library card, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge (see my previous blog on my passion for learning here) and turned me into the precociously gifted and talented socialite you all know and love today.

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My parents enrolled me in the same elementary school as all my neighborhood friends in the local school district. My grade was assigned based on age. The school was free, which freed up my parents’ budget spent on the moderate tuition for my learning. My dad lost his job right around that time, and suddenly, they couldn’t pay for private school anymore.

My dad worked implementing management information systems like SAP for other companies in Silicon Valley, after moving my mother from upstate New York first to Dayton, Ohio, then to San Jose, California as he landed a job with a small company called Intel in 1979. Apparently once a system is implemented and the transition is executed, there is little needed of the specialist who oversaw the project. It was a contract based line of work, so very often he was “in-between jobs”.

My mother worked for a company which ultimately got acquired by a German company called Siemens AG in production management/cost analysis/logistics, and used SAP, coincidentally. If I were writing my version of the Divergent series, I’d be in the super-nerd business faction in the right place at the right time, whatever that may be called, with both parents entwined with everything that made Silicon Valley what it is.

This private elementary school had no “school district” of which to speak. But all the other neighborhood kids went to public schools. They were basically my social circle, as I didn’t have many good friends at Challenger. I remember feeling disadvantaged socially, somehow, because I didn’t have them in my classes, or go to the same school. Going to a private elementary school was just as damning to a reputation as being homeschooled. Go figure, “disadvantaged”… Sometimes, I crack myself up.

I was also a minority in that private school. Most of my classes were kids with ethnicities of Chinese, Indian, other Asian backgrounds, and relatively few who would classify themselves as Caucasian (is that even an ethnicity???). Talk about having a childhood that turned diversity on its head, where the “privileged” were those of diverse backgrounds in the educational space, and the minority, or the underdogs, if you will, were those of European descent with fairer skin.

Somehow, that was a unique formula for an inclusive generation raised with mandatory computer classes, with the now archaic dinosaur versions of a giant desktop Apple Macintosh. The donated computer lab had tiny green-and-black only monitors in Silicon Valley, just as the Dot Com Boom unfolded and became not just a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ and Bill Gates’ eyes.

I was bullied at that private elementary school. On the playground. By a girl named Jennifer who was bigger than me.

I loved the play structure that had what I’d recognize now as a high bar in gymnastics. I loved to jump on with one leg bent around the pole and one delicately balancing behind me and just spin circles forwards and backwards on that bar. In fact, all the kids did. So we queued up and got x number of minutes and some kid with a watch timed until it was the next kid’s turn since recess was only so long. As long as I got one session on that bar per break, boy was I a happy camper.

I got off the bar when my turn was over, on no day in particular, and I went to another play structure – a triangle of leaning opposing ladders so you could climb to the top to meet a friend. Other kids and I liked to hang upside down from these bars by our knees, underneath the triangle. I was a huge fan, as I was convinced it would help make me just a little taller. I wanted to be 6 feet tall when I grew up; I read somewhere that someone who is 6 feet tall has a femur length of 20 inches. I wanted a fully grown femur length of 20 inches. And the award for Most Unrealistic Expectations goes to…

Anyway, Jennifer decided I was done hanging upside down because she wanted to climb to the top, and pushed my feet forward. Suddenly my knees were no longer hanging on the bar, and yours truly had her first taste of playground tanbark as I fell face first into the ground. She then picked me up by the scruff of my shirt, scratching my neck with her finger nails. After that, a teacher came up to break it up. It baffles me to this day what that was about.

So given my difficulties at the school, and the change in my parents’ fiscal status, off to public school I went. It was very different. Bigger classes, but my friends were there. I had trouble making friends other than those neighborhood kids I knew. Because I was the new kid, I was suddenly the most picked on fish in the pond, though nothing escalated beyond what I’d already experienced with that bully. Rather than violence, kids just reacted how they did, and I wasn’t popular.

Despite my disadvantages (*snort and smirk*), once I moved into a public school, I quickly learned that my previous school had been teaching me at a grade level about 3 years higher than my peers. That is to say, I suddenly developed all the confidence in the world, despite the status at my new school. I decided I would try harder to be liked. Because I was ahead in my learning and the other classmates were learning stuff I’d learned already ages ago, I became the class clown. I tried to be friendly with lots of people. Report cards I brought home to my parents always had comments that I needed to stop helping and distracting other students from their learning, because I already knew the answer. I’d raise my hand in class and engage with the teacher. I’d talk when I wasn’t supposed to. I worked that room.

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Thus began my love of attention (being the Leo/only child/Chinese year of the rooster that I am), and positive attention at that. I needed it. I loved to make people laugh. Jokes, impressions, cleverness, timing, punchlines, and using new and varied vocabulary to which I’d been exposed in my fancy private school – I picked it all up, while everyone else was catching up with things I had already learned. I learned the art of coasting. I was learning the art of social interaction. I memorized lyrics of songs on the radio, and quoted TV shows and movies like it was my job.

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I also found very quickly I marched to the beat of a different drum. 5th grade was the first year of sex education courses for students, so all of a sudden, the blurred lines of innocence recede into the distance as we gain an awareness that our bodies are going to change and make us sexual beings. But I knew then, when I just didn’t get the concept of “balls”, that I was different. I was like, are they Baoding (or Ben Wa) balls that you rotate repetitively in your hand to improve manual dexterity and strength? Is there like a silk pouch, and that’s the sack?

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Change, my body did. I was awkward at best. I had a mortifying experience in my formative years. I’m going to share it for the first time with anyone since it happened. I release this story to the abyss, simply for the sheer terror I felt and the empathy or sympathy you, as my dear reader, will hopefully feel. I can see the humor in it, and it wouldn’t phase me at all if it happened now. Hell, now, it’d be considered “part of her charm, bless her lil heart!”

I was a moderately early bloomer. 5th grade was such a crazy year. I got my period for the first time. I joined an organization for young girls in my spare time, because my best friend got me involved (it’s NOT a cult). I figured I was good til the 8th grade with my schooling (at least in my head), and needed someplace else to apply my attention. Wise ahead of my years, I was. Or incredibly stupid. Pick one.

So, at the end of 5th grade, there was a class trip to a swimming pool. It was a big deal. There were no classes since we were graduating 5th grade, and moving on to middle school. Ahhh, the good old days, when we applied baby oil instead of sunscreen and didn’t wear seatbelts on the way to the pool… but I digress. It was to be a fun swimming day! Hooray! Well, it was supposed to be anyway…

I begged my mom for a new swimsuit that season. My favorite style of swimsuit was a one-piece, but it had a giant hole on the stomach and hole on the back so it looked like a two piece, with stirrups on the side to make it one-piece. My favorite swim suit ever was a little chartreuse (yes, highlighter yellow) number in this stirrup design with silver sparkles. That… was my Vegas costume, my pièce de résistance. I went everywhere in it. I’m sure my mother has a picture of me somewhere in it. Alas, I outgrew that suit, and it was so last season, so I had to get a new one. I found one in a similar style with a white top and orange bottom. It would do, so prepare for pool day, I did! It was going to be a-mazing!

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Turns out that suit, despite having an orange bottom, was basically like wearing white bikini bottoms – completely see-through. Who has two thumbs and had no body self-awareness at 10 to notice the changes on my own body? This girl. Yes, my awkward little 10 year old self had pubes, of which I was unaware, on display for all to see when I emerged from the pool.

HUMILIATED FOR LIFE. Words cannot convey. At least for the vocabulary I had at that age.

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When you are the first little lesbian out of the gates in that puberty race, it was social suicide. Thoughts crossed my mind as I overanalyzed it for days afterward. I didn’t choose that! It just happened! It was never there before! What the hell is that? No I didn’t know they were there; let alone showing to everyone in my class of friends. Not even being the class clown could pull me out of that one. Luckily, most people in that class chose to go to a different high school than me. They went to the high school in the “richer neighborhood”, because the Dot Com Boom was financially benefitting all families at that time, apparently, except mine. Go figure.

If that happened to me now, I couldn’t give two shits if my pubes show through my swimsuit (if I happen to be wearing one at all). I pride myself on not having had them completely lasered off (or waxed off) yet, like most of the women I know. Guess who’s keeping warm this winter. BOOM.

I’m 32 and I’m ok with my body. When I was 10, my body was doing all kinds of things that I had not approved. You get used to being in your skin, and the mortification of all things related to your body ebbs away, I promise. There’s something I would have told my younger self. Pearls of wisdom here; write that down.

My point, and I do have one (to quote the title by Ellen Degeneres), is humiliation at a delicate age is a precious thing. I figure my revenge, besides having lived an amazing life so far, is that there is a whole generation of young people out there who’ve never felt that humiliation. On one hand, I want to pull a Dazed and Confused and make them “fry like bacon you little freshman piggies!”

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Kids need to know the angst, feel the raw human emotion of embarrassment. It comes with finding yourself through challenges and hardships like that. It builds character. Or as my dad used to say, it puts hair on your chest.

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However, on the other hand, bullying is bad, m’kay. It not nice to bully, m’kay, not everyone is as resilient as me, m’kay.

Joy of missing out

My stint of living in San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 was filled with social functions. I was quite the lesbian socialite (aka has-bian, a has been lesbian). Thursday evenings at Mecca, Friday nights at the Cat Club, Trax in the Haight on off nights. Saturday nights were the Castro: the Mix, the Café, Nizario’s Pizza, and maybe ending the night at Toad Hall or Badlands. Sundays could be margaritas at El Rio (if you wanted to make the trek to the outer mission), or an afternoon tripping on that one step around the Endup dance floor in the SOMA. The morning after, the party kept raging with build-your-own-bloodies at Home, or bottomless mimosas (well, they weren’t bottomless, but I pretended they were) at Stacks.

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I was always off with this person or that, belly up to bars, meeting new friends next to me, or new friends on the other side of the bar. I was friends with most of the San Francisco Fog women’s rugby team, and was beginning to make friends with the men’s rugby team. I’d go to Treasure Island to watch a game here and there, drinking all the while, then head to the Lookout with the gang afterwards for food and grog. It was a hard life (translation: on my liver) but someone had to live it.

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Since my return to San Francisco in 2014, this is now a different city. Some friends have moved on, or have taken up activities like kayaking and camping instead of the higher impact rugby (and drinking). Some friends are now chefs when they used to be personal trainers. I had some trans friends who had surgery while I was gone, and made more progress toward living their truth. People I knew quit the company I used to work for, such that I now I only know a percentage of that old team, and only the more senior ones who have been around longer. Fairly certain my office has opened up a day care center which is why I see 12 year olds running around in business casual, playing “office”. When these are the workpapers they submit to review, I have to wonder, WTF?

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My best friend still lives here, thankfully, as I don’t think I could bear to live here without her around. Coming back has given me perspective on what a jerk I was to move halfway around the world from her. We both went through our individual hard times when we were apart, but now everything is better just cause she’s nearby. She’s now gone and done the same thing to me, by moving to the East Bay in Oakland. It might as well be around the world, for how much I go to the East Bay. Is that still considered the US? If I have to go through a tunnel under the ocean to get to you, I’m afraid I may not make it often…

I am also a different person. I knew when I made the decision to move back to San Francisco, of all places, after my time in Sydney, that nothing would be the same because I wasn’t going to be the same. Now, I find myself at the crossroads, having built that expectation that nothing is the same. I have had to rediscover a city not quite so drenched in alcohol. Which is hard, cause:

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I’m on antidepressants now, and have been for nigh on 9 months now. Drinking while on antidepressants is a funny thing – it can go one of two ways. It could take you all of 1 drink to feel drunk and you’re done. Or, the more common for me, is I could have 700 drinks, and not feel drunk. Don’t worry though, I have the hangover the next day to prove I tried 700 times to get drunk. So when you don’t get the buzz, or the high, that comes from drinking, and the down feels 70,000 (it’s exponential) times worse, the motivation to get tanked trickles down the drain rather quickly.

There are still some friends still zooming around in that same loop. Partying, drinking, not enough sleep, repeat. Circadian rhythm exists not to these people, unless it’s a new cocktail or some type of dance. Some of these people still in and about the scene are older than me. That I did not expect. Nowhere in the expectations I built, did I think anyone would stay the same.

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Even in Sydney, I began developing the Joy of Missing Out (hereafter, JOMO). Once I’d done the things I wanted to do in Sydney, I found more joy chilling at home in pajamas with my flatmate with a DVD better than going out. I’ve mentioned saying “yes” to almost everything in Sydney when I first arrived. By the end of my time there, I was not so concerned with what I should be doing, and did what I wanted instead. I took an inventory of my life when I left Sydney, wasn’t hard with my lack of material possessions, and decided there was just no room for some things. I had to re-discover life’s meaning when it turned out it wasn’t what I thought it was.

I had to start taking care of me. Now that I’m in my thirties, those hangovers don’t end after an Egg McMuffin and a gym session. Those suckers can zap out a whole day, now. I also require decent sleep. Gone are the nights I could get by with 4 hrs sleep and still get up for a gym session before work. I actually need a solid 7-8 hrs, and sometimes (this never used to happen), I find myself sleeping in on the weekends to the tune of 10-12 hrs in 1 night. I love my nights in. If having pajamas on by 7pm is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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Don’t get me wrong – there are still some events I’ll haul my cookies halfway around town for. Through choosing what I say yes to, I’m making conscious decisions about how I want to spend my time. My friends are learning that I can easily and happily say no to going out drinking. Then, when they see I say yes to a hike or dinner, or a walk, I’m happily saying yes, too.

Being an only child, and a mild introvert (with exceptional social skills), JOMO suits me well. I harness my chi best alone, doing my secret single behaviors and enjoying my solitude. Being alone is not uncomfortable for me, nor does it mean I’m lonely. So luckily in that regard, it’s not scary or hard to be alone. On the flip side of that, when I find myself in big groups of people or big families, I love it. It’s something I don’t have. Thankfully though, I can always retreat to myself at the end of the day.

I’ll even extend JOMO to a trend emerging in Europe. In France, employees are encouraged to switch off their email when they head home in the evening. Their work week is only 35 hours! I remember the times when 35 was only 1/3 of my workweek. Daimler, a German company, has implemented a new policy on holiday email – get this, they delete any email sent to your work address while you are on leave. In the spirit of enhancing work/life balance, what’s better than coming back rested and refreshed and not having an inbox full of crap to remove all positive effects of that vacation? These countries/companies have it right. At a time when the business world expects you to do more with less, the lines blur and suddenly there is no work/life balance.

Losing my father has taught me life is too short. Joy should abound in all you do, as much as you can realistically get. We all have to find ways to pay the bills and pay for the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed. You shouldn’t feel bad about declining an offer to go out on the town, if it’s truly not what you want to do. You shouldn’t feel bad choosing a Friday night in catching up on your favorite shows, ordering your favorite food. I’ve spent time and money making my home a cozy haven, and someplace I really enjoy. Hell, paying at-market rates for rent in San Francisco justifies my apartment as my favorite bar where there are no lines for a drink or the bathroom, I don’t need a taxi to get home, and no liquor license or sticky floors necessary. Why go out for burgers when I can have steak at home? Without pants (or a bra)?

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So, if you invite me out to do something I want to do, you can bet I’ll jump on the chance. If you invite me to something don’t want to do, don’t be surprised if you get this response from me. #JOMO

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Adios, muchacho

This was Robin Williams’ line in my favorite movie, when he jumps off a cliff head first into a waterfall, and finally accepts that he’s died and gone to heaven. Adios, muchacho, indeed.

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I had originally planned to take the night off from writing. I went to the gym, after finishing work for the day, and was in the middle of a surprisingly intense workout. I just felt like I could keep going and going. Then, as I sat on the stationary bike to begin my cardio, I happened to look up at the TV just above, with giant letters in all capitals. ROBIN WILLIAMS FOUND DEAD AT 63.

My initial reaction was that of sadness. He had his demons, fighting alcoholism and drug abuse earlier in his career, and he had been clean a long time. Yes, he battled with depression. Depression, it’s a helluva drug, Dewey. (Reference from the film “Dewey Cox: Walk Hard”.) To raise awareness, I draw your attention to this as this says it better than I can: Robin Williams: depression and suicide article.

My heart goes out to his family. He inspired a generation. He lived just north of San Francisco and was a local. Sometimes those who laugh the loudest hurt the most.

I’ve written in a previous blog about depression in The invisible truth in jokes. I’ve also mentioned Robin Williams in a previous blog around his breakdown of Will in Good Will Hunting, asking about the Sistine Chapel in Create curiosity. To say Robin Williams was an inspiration to me is something new to roll off my tongue. He was never the first I thought of. But it was true, under the surface. I realized today just how varied and vast his legacy of work is.

Some deaths touch us more deeply than others. We don’t know why, and if you don’t have a certain reaction, it doesn’t mean you are not still experiencing grief. This past year, I learned a lot about who I am through the emotion of grief. Facing one loss after another, I learned grief can be heavy and sometimes I don’t know how to handle it.

Everyone has no doubt seen Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, Jumanji, Hook, Aladdin (who could forget him as the boisterous genie?), and so many more. My favorite film was one of his more underrated films, What Dreams May Come (simply visually stunning, think along the lines of Life of Pi and Avatar). The creativity and effects bring to life a heartbreaking, subdued, and dark topic. Robin Williams plays one of his less boisterous roles, and he’s part of something bigger than his character or personality in this movie.

I was first exposed to this film in a university course I took called Dying, Death, and the Afterlife. We studied how people react to death, history of it, institutions around it, and religious ties to it. It was one of the scariest courses I’ve ever taken. Who wants to learn that much and be that close to death? Who will admit such a morbid curiosity? It is an ultimate loss, no matter who it is.

So tonight, I watch What Dreams May Come in Robin Williams’ honor. It is a tale of timeless love spread out over many lifetimes, finding that love, and going into the depths of hell itself to protect it. If you haven’t watched, I recommend keeping the tissues handy and putting on your glasses for what you are about to experience on screen. The tagline for the movie captures it all – “After life there is more. The end is just the beginning.” To you, Robin, and the journey you now have in the afterlife.

If the news is true, and the cause of death was suicide, it will not be the first, nor will it be the last, linked to depression. On this earth, we will mourn the loss of a talented comedian, and a good man.

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