How is it that Fox can offer up both crackpot, right-wing, pseudo-professional news programs and comedies like The Simpsons and Arrested Development in the same breath? I haven't a clue, but I do know that Arrested is one of the cleverest, funniest, most original shows I've seen in a while. (Granted, I don't watch much TV, and don't have cable, so that's a relative measure to be sure. But still.)

Arrested Development is smart, hilarious, and just inappropriate enough to be amusing without being crude or abrasive. (The most recent episode, for example, had the lead character, Michael, and his niece singing a karaoke duet to "Afternoon Delight" and realizing partway through the error they'd made; to top things off, Michael's twin sister and his son repeated the gaffe later in the program.)

It turns cultural references on their ear: when the matriarch of the Bluth clan is asked by a Michael Moore-esque documentarian whether she'd be willing to send her son Buster to the Army to fight in Iraq, she looks at Buster and, without missing a beat, answers a hearty "Yes!" It pokes subtle fun at the Blue Man Group, expensive facial creams, and professional magicians. It leaves almost no character unscathed.

Best of all, it's pulled me through some Sunday nights that would have otherwise been unbearably crappy and depressing, and has frequently made me laugh in spite of myself. For that alone, I am a huge fan.

Guided by Wire
I've known Neko Case as part of The New Pornographers for a while now, and knew she recorded several albums on her own, but it wasn't until this past week that I took a listen.

There's no way to describe my reaction without sounding trite, so I won't try. She blew me away. The first song I heard, on the Noise Pop compilation cd, was "Set Out Running," which made me sit still in front of my cd player, stopped dead: she was singing my life ("If I knew heartbreak was coming/I would've set out running/'Cause I just can't shake this feeling/That I'm nothing in your eyes").

On that song alone, I went out and bought one of her albums, Furnace Room Lullaby, and immediately fell further in love. As I'm not usually one for alt-country (or any sort of country, with the possible exception of Patsy Cline and some Willie Nelson ballads), that's saying something. Not that I should've been surprised, though; Neko Case's voice and lyrical smarts could do wonders for any genre.

The second track on the album is called "Guided by Wire," and as best I can tell, it's about the power of certain songs to pull you through when you need it most--sort of High Fidelity in demi-reverse. Part of the refrain is "Someone singing my life back to me," which I hear two ways: first, as in a song mirroring your experiences (see above); and second, as in a song being like an IV drip that, little by little, dulls what ails you and brings you back from the edge.

So Furnace Room Lullaby is coming with me back east, and will come with me on my runs, and will be in my ears when I need a dose of that curative.

Finally, while washing wine glasses and wiping down my kitchen counter late Saturday night, I felt a pang of loneliness, remembering that the last time I'd hosted a party like this, G. had been here, and had walked up behind me to say, "Babe, leave the dishes for tomorrow and come to bed."

But I let that pass, and thought instead (with more than a twinge of awe) how lucky I am that I'd just spent several hours with friends ranging from those I've known since my earliest days in San Francisco to those I met just this year, and how amazing it was to see them all interact and blend and laugh. What made me almost well up, though, was the realization that if I could somehow get all of my friends--those here in SF, those back east, those in Europe and Japan--in my house at the same time, and if I could add my family to the mix, there would be absolutely no room to move. Every room would be full.

That image--my house overflowing with people--was (and is) a sweet and precious reminder that though I may be lonely, I am not alone.


O Canadapharmacy.com

When I applied for health insurance earlier this year, after losing the plum deal I had at the job I quit, I opted not to disclose the fact that I have asthma. Because even though it's sort of Asthma, Jr.--more an occasional lung tightness than a wheezy, all-out attack kind of thing--it's still enough to make insurance companies slam their doors in my face.

This was all well and good until I looked at my Pulmicort inhaler (which I use every day) last night and saw the approach of the red line that demarcates Full and Empty. So I went to Walgreens this afternoon to order a refill, told the pharmacist I'd be paying in cash rather than using my insurance, and asked what the damage would be. I was ready for some vaguely ridiculous sum, but I wasn't ready for $180.

Now, I fully admit that I was far luckier than most with the insurance I had under Microsoft. It covered everything--absolutely, positively everything--with not a deductible or a co-pay in sight, so I never had to know that the little inhaler that keeps my lungs calm costs a small fortune. And I'm still relatively lucky, in that this is the only medication I take and, if needed, I can pay for it and not have to go without food or shelter or heat.

But I'm too stubborn to fork over nearly 200 bucks for medication I need because of a condition I can't control (I don't smoke, I exercise regularly, I'm not overweight, I eat well, and it's not like I'm huffing glue or anything). And I'm doubly stubborn because a quick Google search reveals that I can get the self-same Pulmicort Turbuhaler for $70 if I order it from a Canadian pharmacy.

$70 versus $180. Am I crazy enough to pay two-and-a-half times the price to get my medicine down the street than to have it imported? I am not. So I called Canadapharmacy.com and signed myself up.

Come and get me, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales: I'm joining the growing hordes of Americans who are breaking the law by having prescriptions that are mind-bendingly expensive here at home shipped in. I can put my $110 to much better use than lining the already excessively lined pockets of Astra Zenica.



A month gone, my days have more or less returned to normal: busy, full of work and errands and chores and friends. But at night, still, when things get slow and quiet, I find myself searching for proof that someone else was in this same emotional morass before I got here, has felt this same insane mix of emotions, has made it out the other side. So I read like mad: poems, books, articles, old e-mail, past journal entries, whatever I can get my hands on.

Nothing fits perfectly. I find lines, phrases, lengths of text that brush the surface, though the perfect and relieving words I want remain elusive. The closest I've come so far is a passage from Sylvia Plath's journals, written in 1952; I found it appended to an e-mail I wrote in February 2001, during The Resistance. Plath is no relationship role model, to be sure, but there's something in her words that made sense to me then and gives some sort of odd solace now. Maybe that's good enough.

August 22, 1952
So I kiss him, and there is the great dark sea ahead, and above the sheaves of yellow stars, shoals of cold bright pieces of light, and the great wind, blowing always cold gulps and gusts of air, big and soft in the tree leaves, hushing, miracles are happening, and I, strange and elated with a new wonder, child-like in my sudden power, look with eyes large in love and amazement at this intent lovely face so earnest, so close to mine.

I cannot bear to leave you, because you will forget, I will forget, except for perhaps once or twice a brief sharp sear of pain as a word, a laugh, a thought of truth, will cut like a knife at all that will have happened after now, bringing clear and wistful to mind the remembering of these few hours, night and day--and us so young....

But of all the nights, rushing backward along the rocket-track of your experience and receding into the dark of your past subconscious, remember, remember how he trusting looked long and sweetly at you out of the dark at the door with the wild wind in the dark grasses, and how love was there in his face--making you, miraculously, the dream girl and woman, sister and sweetheart, mother and spiritual mistress. You walked in, laughing, tears, welling confused, mingling in your throat. How can you be so many women to so many people, oh you strange girl?

All the young growing and testing and being once burned and twice shy and not knowing what to do, or where, or when to be how. And then this, this sudden intuitive flash, the sudden knowing when it is right to render up a dream, to speak so, to love so. It comes ripe in you suddenly and there is the taste of wisdom, aged full and mellow-flavored. You have gotten drunk and elated on the young firm tart green of early apples, and never wanted other. But the first ripened apple breaks open its fruit on the palate, and the sweet, savory juice floods in vindication into the mouth, lyric lovely on the tongue.

Oh honey ancient gathered from the garden of rare weed and strange wild plant, years pass and you grow golden clear in the tree, shedding fragrance of wisdom upon the lovely summer air. (You have taken a drink from a wild fountain... 'and all the wells of the valley/will never seem fresh or clear/all for that drink of mountain water/in the feathery green of the year.' Not so, not so, for in parable the wells are sweet in their ripeness, and I will not cry forever, over the young wild spurting fountains--not forever.)



Several years back, shortly after I first joined Sloo's team, I set about trying to teach myself Javascript so I could better understand what was happening behind the scenes on our Help pages and, perhaps more importantly, stop nagging poor Eric for every little code-esque change that needed to be made.

So I bought a few books, worked my way through a few online tutorials, and spent many, many hours asking Eric, Ceej, and John for help. I eventually got the basics down and actually managed to create a few pages, but I never really got into JS, and could never say I was anywhere near fluent in it.

Because here's the thing: with Javascript, you just have to accept that things are what they are, are called what they're called, and work like they work just because. Many, many, many of my conversations with my tutors ran along the lines of me asking, "But why is it called that? It makes no sense," them replying, "Well, it just is," and me coming back to "Why??"

That sounds like obstinance, I know, and I'm sure obstinance was part of it, but I'm inclined to attribute it more to the fact that to truly latch onto something, to be able to say "I get it" and move on with it, I need to be able to turn it inside out and understand how it works. Otherwise, it just gets relegated to the opaque part of my brain where vague or mysterious or incomprehensible things go--a sort of mental limbo.

And that's kind of how I've been feeling over the past few weeks: like I'm trying once again to teach myself Javascript--or, worse yet, an actual programming language--but this time without the benefit of books or tutorials or helpful colleagues. Like I'm staring at screen after screen of code, and if only I could find something familiar in it, or if only someone would come along and explain a few lines of it to me, I might have a spot to work from. But it all looks foreign, and there's no one around to walk me through it, so I just keep trying and searching and asking in vain.

When all I want--so badly--is to understand it, to understand all of it, so I can breathe out again and get up from the desk and walk away.


Walks beside me/Walks on by

The New York Times' Sunday Styles section has recently started a column called Modern Love, in which writers of various stripes share their tales of relationships gone awry. (There have been a few hopeful-esque entries so far, but the scales definitely seem to be tipping more in the other direction; it is, perhaps, a counterweight to the shouting streams of joy waiting a few pages back among the wedding announcements.)

If the columns so far are any indication, modern love is something of a big old mess--not always a hopeless mess, to be sure, but a sticky, muddled, uncertain mess just the same. From the sound of it, we all have the potential anytime soon to fall into some giant pool of heartache, heartbreak, infidelity, ambiguity, truth stretching, fear, loss, sadness, guilt, and confusion. Like we were always told as children, it seems best not to run on the deck of this pool; you don't want to slip and go unintentionally splashing in.

But while the columns share a view of love as anything but glamorous and rosy and un-fraught, they also allow at least a few hints of something better, of the possibility that somewhere in that pool the water gets calm and easier to float in, that sooner or later someone throws you a life vest or you manage to pull yourself over to the side so that even if you do start to go under, you won't be down there for good.

And I guess I have to believe that, because I've known the good parts of love, and because it seems unfathomable that that entire Olympic-size pool could be such a treacherous mess, and because I know I'm still a strong swimmer when I need to be, even if my techniques are rusty.

So although I'm flailing a bit now, shivering and tired and feeling my throat burn from all the water I've swallowed, I'm trying to keep my eyes focused on the lip of the pool. And at some point, I'll be able to make my way toward it, and then pull myself onto it, where I can dry off and warm up and wait for the waters to calm.


Of Breakup Babe, Dire Straits, and the Undead

I'd be much happier if I could get my thoughts to line up and take a number, then come forward when that number is called, just like you do when getting ice cream at Mitchell's on a busy day. As it is, though, they're a gigantic jumble, random snippets of things popping up at inopportune times, too many disparate thoughts and ideas and words to let me get anything down straight. It's a pain in the ass.

I don't know what phase this is, but for the past few days, whenever the realization of the breakup creeps into my mind (which is to say, painfully often), I can only think, "Now, huh. Wait a minute. That can't be right." The overwhelming emotion of the week isn't sadness or shock or anger but utter perplexion. This analogy will surely make no sense, but these days it feels like G. and I were both walking down the same long hallway, and he stepped out of it before I knew what was happening. So I'm still walking, confused and half convinced I'm dreaming things or making them up, achingly searching for the door that will let me out, too.

And that's the sucky thing: you can't just will a door to appear, which is to say that well-established trajectories aren't easy to change. For better or worse, love and hope aren't killable; you need to wait for them to die on their own. I don't know what to do with the desire that they go quickly. It seems foreign and awful to me.

Battling for attention with the hundreds of thoughts in my head these days are snippets of countless songs, and I don't know what to do with them, either. (Maybe I should re-read High Fidelity, though I don't think I could stand the upbeat ending just yet.) The song that's been the most persistent (though I haven't actually listened to it) is Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet"--or, more precisely, the Indigo Girls' raw and aching cover of it. There are so many layers of meaning and memory to that damn song; why can't I get them--and it--out of my mind? Even a day of quiet would do wonders. (One day we're gonna realize/it was just that the time was wrong.)

Finally, because it's sadly true that I'm better at dealing with my own emotional messes when I can read about others', I was intrigued by the mention of Breakup Babe on the Blogger main page today, so I clicked over to her site.

Damn if her words aren't some of the smartest, funniest, most awfully and painfully honest on the subject of relationships (and their variously messy demises) I've ever read. (Of course, her book deal with Random House and the legion of fans linked to her blog mean I'm by no means the first or the only to think so.) There are any number of things she's written that I could post here to try to explain my own emotional furball, but I think it's more appropriate to let her words stand on their own in their original context and to simply say, Yes, that's it exactly.

It's back to BB for me, then, to escape my own tangle of thoughts in someone else's.


Tahoe Posted by Hello


There are two sets of words I'm trying to keep in mind these days.

First, supposedly from Winston Churchill: "When you're going through hell, keep going."

And second, from myself, circa December 7, 2001:

And the world does indeed start to shake beneath your feet. When it stops, you find things around you slightly changed, although you can't say that anything's either remarkably better or remarkably worse. But when things inside you start shaking, too, you need to stop, look around, remember this: the soft thrill of walking in the newly sunny streets of a San Francisco morning. Or this: how full you feel when you're surrounded by your friends and laughing. And this: how every one of the experiences you've had this year, however brilliant or awful or gut-wrenching, has made you stronger, and has had something precious to teach.


From the flames

Earlier this year, while casting about for a better employment situation, I applied for a position with another division of Microsoft, and went up to Redmond for a series of interviews with the product team.

My interview with the team manager took place over lunch at a Thai restaurant in a strip mall. After the meal, the manager mentioned that the restaurant we'd just visited used to be a few doors down, in the center of the strip rather than at the end; it had moved, she said, after a car had plowed through its front window and caused a great deal of destruction. The good news, she said, was that the restaurant's business was markedly better in the new location than it had been previously.

She then mentioned a study she'd read about that focused on the victims of a wildfire in the Los Angeles area. In one neighborhood, all of the homes had been destroyed, with the exception of one that was spared because the owner sprayed it with his hose while the fire blazed. A few years later, researchers checked in with the residents of the neighborhood to measure their levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives; their findings suggested that almost to a person, the residents were happier and more content than they had been before the fire. The one exception was the man who'd saved his house; he exhibited more stress and less contentment.

It goes to show, the manager said, that sometimes you need to let the upheavals in life be not just annoyances and disappointments, but pathways to better things.

So I'll try. Because what else can I do? When what you've known and loved meets the front grill of a rapidly moving car or the flames of a wildfire, you can either stand around and rue the destruction or you can pick up the pieces and rebuild. For the sake of strength and sanity, I need to choose the latter and hope that from the broken glass, from the ashes, I'll pick myself up again.



You cannot live
and keep free of

(Also: The best way out is always through.)


Goodbye to all that

It's hard to see your country attacked from without--what Pearl Harbor must've been like, or what 9/11 was--but it's harder by far, I think, and worlds more painful, to see it implode from within.

Were I a stronger person, or one who feels things less keenly, I might be able to stick around for the next four years and watch as the poor get poorer, watch as bigotry and intolerance get written ever more deeply into our laws, watch as FDR's New Deal gets dismantled piece by precious piece, watch as the decision to ignore the separation of church and state that is written into our Constitution becomes ever more willful and widespread. But I can't.

This election year, Dad, you must admit that I'm right: Richard Linklater nailed it when he said, "Withdrawl in disgust is not the same as apathy." In fact, they're worlds apart: if I were apathetic, it would make it so much easier to stay and watch as the US becomes a wasteland of fear, intolerance, and destruction. As it happens, I feel things much too strongly to believe I can stay without either losing my mind or watching some crucial part of myself shrivel and die.

So withdrawal in disgust it will be. O Canada, for all your imperfections, for your distinctly un-San Franciscan weather, for your own political uncertainties, here's hoping you have what my homeland no longer does: a place for people like me.


An open letter to the rest of the world

Dear fellow residents of the world,

On behalf of all of us Americans who will vote for John Kerry--or the Libertarian party candidate, or Nader, or even the guy who's running on the Prohibition party ticket--please know that we are as chagrined at the possibility of four more years under the Bush regime as you are.

Know that if things go horribly awry this coming Tuesday and somehow a majority of the voting American populace gets suddenly struck dumb and votes for Dubya, we will be holding our heads in our hands and cursing repeatedly, just like you.

Know that, should Bush and Co. somehow find their way back into the White House, we have only the solace of knowing that we did what we could to fight against the fear-mongering and regulated intolerance and utter hatred of the poor that are the hallmarks of Bush's campaign. We tried. Boy did we try.

Finally, if we should find ourselves once again relegated to four years of hell, many of us may try to show up at your nations' doorsteps, desperate for the measures of civility your countries offer that ours no longer seems to. Should you hear us knocking, please consider, strongly consider, letting us in. You could be our salvation.

Here's hoping that our fellow countryfolks will come to see, if they haven't already, that whatever his flaws, Kerry is the far better candidate (unless you happen to be a billionaire, an oilman, or a defense contractor). Here's hoping our worrying comes to naught. Here's hoping next January will see a new and better man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But please remember that if all of these hopes are dashed, we're not all to blame, and we'll need your understanding, forgiveness, and open arms more than ever.

Yours truly,
All the Americans Hoping for Reprieve


Non-Fatal Errors

My article on error messages is one of the features on Writers UA (aka WinWriters) this month. It's gratifying that what began as an annoyance (i.e., bad error messages) has grown into an STC conference presentation, an article in the Proceedings, and an online feature. I got some really positive feedback on my conference session earlier this year, and I'm hoping to have the chance to give it again sometime.


Boylan's Seltzer Mon Amour

After several months of serious frugality (all funds going either to rent or to the business), I've started to allow myself a few indulgences here and there--a burrito from Mariachi's, a two-pound bag of almonds, coffee that costs more than $4.50 a pound. My current favorite splurge is Boylan's seltzer, which I stumbled upon in Fog City News last week. (I resisted the urge to buy foreign chocolate while there; I'm not yet feeling quite that flush.)

The seltzer itself is great--the text on the bottle promising "pin-point carbonation" isn't lying--but I'm especially smitten with the bottles. They're embossed glass with painted-on labels: blue for plain, green for lime, orange for, well, orange. If you ignore the bar code, Nutrition Facts label, and little pink distribution stamp, you'd think the bottles came straight out of 1955. They're delectibly unlike anything else on the market, and for that reason alone are worthy of decorating my kitchen windowsill.

They're also more than $1 a pop, which means I'll need to reign in my consumption sooner or later, especially as rent will soon be due. But for now, I'll enjoy the bottle of orange I've just opened as I sit down to watch the DVD I borrowed--for free!--from the library. Priceless.


Through the Valley

Powell's Books, in honor of their Web site's 10th anniversary, ran a contest in which people were asked to submit an essay on the most memorable reading experience they've had in the past ten years. The winner (of 25 finalists) gets $1000 worth of books; ten runners-up get $100 worth of books. For each essay submitted to the contest, Powell's donated $1 to Reading Is Fundamental.

The finalists were announced today (in the form of essays posted to the Web site, which readers are invited to vote on), and though I felt a twang of disappointment that I'm not one of them (such hopes, I know, but they're kind of inevitable), that eventually melted into being thankful I took the time to write an essay in the first place. It's not often I write about reading, so doing just that was a nice departure from the norm.

My essay is below. It's called Through the Valley, and it's about reading Douglas Coupland's Microserfs twice. (If you haven't read Microserfs, maybe it's time you went down to your local bookstore and picked it up. Or ordered a copy from Powell's.)

So here it is.

Before I knew what Sand Hill Road, Draeger’s, and CalTrain were, before I had seen the city that would soon become my home, and long before I imagined I’d ever work for the company the book portrayed, I stood in a suburban Boston kitchen in the winter of 1997, reading the final chapter of Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, struck momentarily dumb with tears.

I was teary at the blow delivered to Daniel, the main character, in the form of a stroke that leaves his mother speechless, immobile, and unresponsive. I cried, too, at the sweetness of the attempts Daniel and his friends make to bring Mrs. U back into the world. Karla massages her slack flesh, and teaches Dan and his father to do the same; Bug reads her the Sunday comics, complete with a running commentary on which ones he finds unfunny; Dusty and Todd demonstrate stretches and make plans for physical therapy.

But mostly I cried at Mrs. Underwood’s resurfacing by means of a computer, which Michael guides her to use as a way of speaking. The computer, which for much of the story helps keep the characters shuttered in their own small worlds, is what finally brings Dan’s mother back.

A few years later, partway into a stint with a Silicon Valley start-up, I picked up the book again to occupy the slivers of time I had at lunch, on weekends, and before bed. This time around, it read like a new story. I understood the Northern California references (well enough, even, to note a few factual “bugs”); I knew people with the same personalities and foibles as some of the book’s characters; and, like Daniel and his friends, I had felt the dulling effects of too many hours in front of a computer screen, too much time in traffic on the 101, too little daylight.

Reading the book a second time, I knew the last chapter—the one that made me sniffly in my wintry East coast kitchen—would hit me again, but I didn’t know that this time I’d be teary not just at the poignancy of the scene, but also with recognition, and with hope.

Because this time I understood that Coupland got it right: for those of us working or living in the Valley, although the Internet boom and bust had built up and wrecked so much, and though cars and office parks and cubicles had become the centers of our days, there was still plenty of life to be found in us.

To find it, we just had to believe that that life was there somewhere, and believe that, somehow, like the Microserfs characters trying to pull Mrs. Underwood to the surface, we could get at it. When we did—when, like Dan and his friends, we saw the signs of it, like Mrs. U’s words flashing into being onscreen—we’d understand that there’s something far stronger than markets or bubbles or code, something that even endless days of work can’t strangle, something that does not easily flicker out.

At the end of the story, as Daniel watches the laser pointer light show his friends put on for his mom in the Silicon Valley night, he thinks “about us…these children who fell down cartoon holes…dreamless children, alive but not living—we emerged on the other side of the cartoon holes fully awake and discovered we were whole.”

This time I cried because I knew I had fallen, too, and because I knew I would eventually fall out of that rabbit hole, out of the Valley’s living sleep.

I closed the book and for a long time I willed myself to keep falling. For months, I fell: through a job I liked less and less, through a commute I could no longer stand, through a mood grown overwhelmingly sour.

I fell until I, too, emerged from my hole; until I woke up the part of myself that had been buried by work and traffic and stress; until, like Mrs. U, I could truthfully say, in 36-point Helvetica, i am here.



Southern Nevada, after several hundred miles, was not fabulous. Nor were stretches of Colorado, most of Kansas, or the oddly long-seeming chunk of Illinois we travelled between St. Louis and Kentucky.

Monique's car was stuffed to the hilt, with just enough space in the backseat to afford a view out the rear windshield and side windows. The side mirror on the passenger side spent most of the journey doing its best to fall off completely (despite our ministrations with duct tape and pleading), and the back end of the car rode perilously close to the ground.

I won't even mention the food we had to endure for much of the trip, being unwelcome vegetarians in very non-vegetarian lands.

But overall, the trip was amazing. I'm still reeling at the splendor of southern Utah, with its otherworldy landscape racing along with I-70. I'm in love with little Paonia, Colorado, site of our first really good meal in hundreds of miles. I'm amazed that we actually stayed and ate in Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and I'm so happy that I was able to find my way back to the Mad Platter in Nashville for another awesome meal there.

It was somewhere just east of Asheville, coming down the mountains with a madly beautiful sunset behind us and Winston-Salem somewhere ahead, that I thought again of the maxim I'd seen once in a snowboarding ad: "The more you live, the less you die." And I thought, what could've been a straightforward drive from California to North Carolina became so much more because we were willing to go astray and take some chances with our itinerary.

Isn't that always the key, though--turning away from the path? That practice can be anything from mildly inconvenient to a wild pain in the ass sometimes, and it isn't worth it every single time, but in the end it leaves you with a balance sheet with much more in the black column than the red.

That, to me, is worth driving for.



When was the last time you read the Declaration of Independence? Until this morning, I hadn't looked at the thing closely for years--perhaps since seventh-grade history. But there it was, on the back page of yesterday's Week in Review section of the Times, so I spent some time digging in to our history.

Here's the weird thing: I don't know whether the Declaration was placed there by the Times staff or whether it was an uncredited ad, but it read to me like a litany of the destruction wrought by the Bush Administration. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous--and I certainly don't mean to imply that things are as bad now as they were when the colonists were living under tyrannical rule 228 years ago. But consider the examples given as "Facts submitted to a candid world" of "a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States":

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our People; and eat out their substance";

"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power";

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation...."

There are not, of course, direct and absolute corollaries between then and now, but the similarities are striking. Can it actually be that we're moving backwards through history, and will, if we fail to act, find ourselves perilously closer to 1776 by 2008?

Though Bush and his allies would surely write me off as unpatriotic (and an America hater, and a terrorist lover, and what have you) for saying this, it needs to be said: the Founding Fathers and Mothers of the country did what they could to ensure we wouldn't wind up with another King George tyrannizing us without our consent, but their actions can only take us so far.

It's up to us now to be sure we don't wind up with another King George tyrannizing us with our consent, or with the consent of a minority or the ruling of a skewed Supreme Court. We have the chance for our own revolution, and in honor of everyone from Button Gwinnett to Matthew Thornton, we need to take it.


The reason

Scene: SF MoMA atrium, 7.15 p.m., exhibit opening/reception

Woman (to bartender): Hey, I know why you don't serve red wine. It's because you're afraid people will spill it, isn't it?

Bartender: No, we just don't serve it until 8. [No further explanation.]

Em (internally): No! I know why! It's because Dana tried to steal that bottle of red wine after that IFFCON event, and it ended up smashed and running all over the atrium floor. Surely the MoMA event people haven't forgotten that one.

...And that makes me think of our Deadpan days, and how I used to be able to summon the energy to go out and drink at least three nights a week, then get up at 5.30 in the morning to go to work. How? I have no idea. It actually amazes me now, that youthful vigor and liver strength. How did it manage to dissipate so completely in 5 years?



Curse you, Melissa, for sending me that invitation to join orkut. I accepted it, and now I have fallen into the rabbit hole of endlessly searching for new communities (Canada! Vassar! Simple Living! Road Trips! Bush is stupid!), trying to determine how many people I know are fellow orkut-ites (thus far: not many), and generally spending way, way too much time on one site.

True, orkut is somewhat like Friendster writ slightly older, slightly geekier, and slightly more exclusive, but it still seems like a fascinating and totally new world. It does have its mysteries (seriously, why so many Brazilians and so many Portuguese-language communities?) and its usability flaws (why can't I search for a community or topic like I can for a person? why can't I filter communities by something other than popularity and newness? what is with the whole crazy colored arrow/rate-your-friends thing?); regardless, it's a seriously cool invention, and is sure to become one of my very favorite time wasters. I have only Melissa to thank.



As much as I may think his politics were heart-stoppingly, woefully, pathetically simplistic and wrong, I can't claim to actually be happy that Ronald Reagan is dead. He was, in the end, a human, and one suffering a fate no one should have to suffer.

But I'm terrified that the American populace--media and citizens alike--will continue to fall prey to the strains of revisionist history we've seen a bit of over the past 36 hours. Yes, Reagan may have brought a renewed sense of optimism to a country reeling from inflation, unemployment, and general malaise in the early 80s. And yes, he may have had a spectacular and unfailing sense of humor.

But how can those things make up for the fact that he slashed government spending so deeply and severely that unemployment rose, the poor got much poorer, and those who had not previously been poor found themselves thus? How can they make up for the sickening scandal of Iran contra, full of lies? And how can they make up for Reagan's staunch refusal to acknowledge the scourge of AIDS until the epidemic had swelled and exploded?

In the film version of "And the Band Played On," titles appear sporadically with a running tally of the AIDS cases diagnosed, and the number of victims already dead, while the US government did almost nothing to intervene. In Randy Shilts' book, he devotes an entire chapter of the Epilogue to May 31, 1987, the day of the first speech Reagan gave on the AIDS epidemic.

Shilts writes, "By the time President Reagan had delivered his first speech on the epidemic of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with the disease; 20,849 had died."

Reagan had refused to acknowledge AIDS because he (along with many others at the time) viewed it as a disease that affected only gay men. In the President's estimation, gay men's lives weren't worth the federal funding it would take to research AIDS and its treatment. Of course, well before 1987, the disease had spread to other populations (including thousands who contracted it through blood transfusions, rather than any sort of risky behavior), so it wasn't only gays who suffered from Reagan's intolerance and disregard.

In the rush to lionize Ronald Reagan as an American hero, we must not forget that he was complicit in the deaths of over 20,000 people in his own country while he was in office. His own suffering, and our sympathy towards it, should not blind us to the fact that his bigotry contributed to the continued suffering of tens of thousands of others. He had the chance again and again to show the American people that he could rise above the forces of homophobia, misinformation, and hatred masked as morality; again and again, he failed to take that chance.

We have the chance now to remember Reagan not only as he was in his final years--frail, quiet, lost in a disease no one deserves--or in his Hollywood years, but also as he truly was in his White House years. We also have the chance to remember the thousands of other lives--more prosaic, perhaps, but no less valuable--lost to complications from AIDS while, throughout the 1980s, and with Reagan wielding the baton, the band played on.


The Organized Life

It's one of those cases in which not getting what you think you want makes you realize you didn't really want it all that much in the first place, and forces you to sit yourself down and figure out what the hell it is you do in fact want, which comes to you in a flash.

You know, like when you interview for a job with another workgroup within your company, based in a different state, and it seems on the surface like the perfect position, despite the implicit uprooting of your life and all that would entail; when the call announcing that you didn't in fact land the job fills you with what can only be described as sweet, lightening relief, as you realize that, quite probably, things wouldn't have been much--if any--better; when you lurk in the Employment section of the local bookstore until you find a sufficiently substantial tome that will help you decide What to Do with Your Life, which you then take home and read; and when something you pick up from the book, combined with an article in a newsletter you've just read and something rushing up from your subconscious makes you realize that you must quit your job, leave the field of technical writing, and strike out on your own as a professional organizer.

And what else can you do but take that realization and run with it, until you have ingested a dizzying array of business facts and requirements, until you've taken concrete steps to make this all real, until you've finally reached a point at which you can rest for a moment, and look around to see that you are in fact somewhere else, somewhere much closer to where you want to be and much farther from what you need to get away from.

That brings you to the Organized Life.


On Capturing the Friedmans

Andrew Jarecki's Capturing the Friedmans is a damning portrait, to varying degrees, of almost all of its characters. The film is both An American Family writ large (and much uglier) and a story of what may have been a horrific case of sexual abuse.

Did Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse in fact molest the boys who attended computer classes in the Friedmans' basement? Jarecki won't (and perhaps can't, because of his lack of certainty) say. But his exhaustive presentation of both sides of the story is both painful to watch and immensely compelling.

What to think of the judge who presided over Arnold and Jesse's case, and who declares in the film, "There was never a doubt in my mind about their guilt" (referring, disturbingly, to her thoughts before the case even began)? Or of the sex crimes unit detective with the Great Neck police department whose methods of questioning the possible victims in the case can be described as leading at best?

Jarecki leaves no room to question Arnold's guilt as a pedophile--he was indeed convicted of possession of child pornography, admitted in an affidavit to having molested the son of a friend (and perhaps another boy as well), and, according to Jesse's lawyer, may indeed have molested his youngest son for years. But Jarecki leaves room for the doubts that came up in the case--did Arnold and Jesse actually commit the acts for which they were both sent to prison?

As brilliant as the even-handed presentation of the two sides of the case is the director's decision to allow the Friedmans' home movies to serve as the centerpiece of the film. It's these glimpses into the family's lives that complicate the case even further.

Jarecki could easily have created a film that listed strongly to one side, with occasional glimpses of the opposite pole, but he chose instead to make something much richer and more interesting: a chronicle of one family's dysfunction, one community's scandal and outrage, and the one breed of crime that may be every parent's largest and most unwieldy fears.


A thanksgiving

Thanks be to Monique for convincing me to leave the comfort and warmth of my bedroom on that damp and chilly night to go out for what began as just one drink.

Thanks be to Val and Isaac for choosing the Hush Hush in the first place.

Thanks be to Jerry for showing up with his tall, quiet friend in tow, introducing said friend to us, and then taking off for the dj booth, leaving us to entertain.

And thanks, most of all, be to that tall quiet man, for putting up with the advanced tipsiness of our little group, for making us laugh with fabricated stories of Edmonton's Scandinavian population, for letting me un-subtly rest my hand on his knee, and for later walking with me out of the Hush Hush, toward my house, toward what would become, three years later, something neither of us imagined then it could be.


Notes from an island nation

Val has started a blog to chronicle the adventures she and Isaac are having in Japan. The impish part of me can't help but be junior high-ishly gleeful at the fact that the $400 per month ryokan house they found on the Internet (read: sight unseen), which Kumi warned would be vile despite their protests to the contrary, turned out indeed to be vile.

But I'll let Val describe it:

"Despite the tatami mats on our floor and the kimono hanging in the corner of our room, this place didn't have so much the "traditional Japanese" feel to it as it did the "public housing project in Beijing" vibe--to reach the bathroom, you walked down a cold concrete corridor lit by bug-dimmed fluorescent lights, and once there, squatted over a ceramic hole in a room filled with dirty mops; showering took place in the grease-spattered communal kitchen."

Mmmm. Just makes me wonder what the Web site through which they booked this place could've possibly said to mask that degree of grossness. Also makes me wonder whether Val and Isaac will ever again use the Internet to book long-term housing.

But they've moved to another boarding house in the city, and seem to be doing well, despite the cold weather, unheated hallways and bathroom of their accommodations, unfilling and seriously expensive food, and uncertain job prospects. More power to them for allowing cute schoolkids and generally kind people be enough to outweigh living conditions that would send me packing faster than the flush of a heated, deodorized, noisemaking toilet.



It's escapism, to be sure: too many hours spent speeding down and up 280, too many spent modifying the mental balance sheet that will determine when and how I leave my job, too many spent wondering whether I should hike out of San Francisco before I watch the majority of my friends do the same--all of these hours have sent me racing backward in memory to moments I want here, now, again.

I want back those hushed few hours in the Bluebird in Nashville, with beer and bar food and songs alternately hilarious and heartbreaking.

I want back the afternoon of swimming half-naked in the Mediterranean, taking myself farther and farther from shore as J held down our fort among the topless French tourists on the beach.

I want back the end of our hike in Waterton, when the fear of plummeting to my death on scree had passed, when G and I lagged behind to look at the waterfalls at the edge of the trail and make out disgustingly, when the promise of pizza, beer, a shower, and a night in a proper bed with a roof over our heads (and presumably no large mammalian visitors) was close enough to taste.

Weird though it sounds, I want back that evening in late March seven years ago when Monique and I drove out of Kansas and into Oklahoma, into one of the most stupefyingly brilliant sunsets I've ever seen. We stopped by the side of the road so we could take it in and I could take a photo, just sat there for a few minutes in silence. Because darkness was coming quickly and we had somewhere (miles away) to be, we didn't stay long. But those moments are still clear to me now, even several years later, a subtle reminder that the things that can make me feel whole and grounded again are out there somewhere, even in the most unexpected places.