New projects

Dear Entire World,

I’ve been afk for ages. There are reasons for this:

1. I have been writing some super-secret fun stuff (okay, two novels, and a small chunk of a third) that are not yet ready for you to peruse. Unless you’re an agent and you want to represent me. Then you should DM me on Twitter.

2. I have been studying cartomancy, herbology, astrology, and a bunch of other ancient and wonderful systems of esoteric practice and thought. So far I have little to share other than tons of author recommendations.

(Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune are my favorites at the moment. I highly recommend Crowley’s Book of Thoth and Fortune’s Secrets of Dr. Taverner. If you need more reading ideas, start with The Kybalion and vibrate some thought forms in my direction after you realize that the author known as “Three Initiates” is probably William Walker Atkinson.)

On this topic, if anyone wants to attend some seminars and workshops with me, please reach out! On Oct. 11 I’m studying palmistry with my friend and mentor Joan Carra, and on Oct. 24 my friend Dainichi is teaching a class on crystals at Namaste. I’m always looking for study buddies!

(My friend Jeanne and I are working on forming an occult study group here in BK. Please get in touch if you’d like to join us.)

I will also be launching a site very very very soon where you can see some of the occult work I’ve undertaken. Mostly it’s goofy stuff like this collage of daily tarot spreads:

tarot collage

3. I seem to have a problem with saying unkind things out loud, and so lately I’ve been doing my best to bite my tongue. I’m not taking anything back — it’s all true, and I stand by it — but I’m trying not to say any other rude things if I can help it. This mostly means not talking at all, at least not on the open internet where everyone can overhear me. For now, if you want to hear the mean things I have to say, you’ll have meet up with me in person.

4. In the vein of unkind things: America is basically over, so it’s no fun writing about politics at present. But did you all see Oliver Stone’s “Snowden”? It was soooo okay! (If you want to not be at all disappointed by a film about Edward Snowden, watch Laura Poitras’s “Citizenfour”. Watch it with me!!!)

5. Speaking of great documentaries, have you seen “Everything is Copy”? It’s about the life and work of Nora Ephron — who may or may not be the basis of a character in one of my books. The first time I saw the movie, I sat in the theatre and sobbed through the whole thing. I have now seen the film enough times that I can mostly watch it without crying. You should come over and watch it with me some time. I don’t promise not to cry, though.

6. There’s a bunch of other stuff happening, too, but it’s none of your business I guess. You’ll have to follow me on Instagram if you want to see the fine print.

Much love,
sabrina

Posted in Uncategorized.

Tunneling through: on friendship and moments of crisis

NOTE: I made this private for a few months, thinking it was “too mean” and that I shouldn’t have shared so much. But since I made the essay private, more than one person has gotten in touch to say it had been helpful to them back when I wrote it. So today I’m making it available again, in the hopes that it’s done/will do more good than harm.

PART ONE: TRANSITIONS

I’ve been through a lot of weird life situations in the last few years. It’s hard to explain a lot of the changes, but they’re mostly good.

For instance, my girlfriend came out to me a little more than four years ago. Then she began therapy, and then she started transitioning to presenting full-time as a woman. She became much happier very quickly, and elements of her personality that had been repressed began to emerge.

I had a lot of feelings about it all: there was relief that I wasn’t The Source of The Wrong Thing in her life. There was shame that I hadn’t noticed what The Wrong Thing actually was. There was a bit of anger and resentment that she hadn’t mentioned this to me in 2002 when we first got together. There was fear when she began coming out to co-workers and friends and family. There was more relief when that all went all right for her. There has been sadness caused by people who misgendered her on the street, and frustration caused by administrative systems that are not equipped to cope with a gender transition.

Mostly I’ve felt a quiet sense of pride, which is the one thing you’re not really supposed to say. I’ve been so glad that Allison has been strong enough to make changes to her life that make her a happier person. I’ve been a little amazed at myself, from time to time, because I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve had to advocate for her. I’ve been surprised that I’m not always terrible at it.

I’ve been shocked by the circumstances under which it happens:

– When I’m confiding in an old mentor, the very first person I summon up the courage to tell, she gets up and leaves the table where we’re having lunch, is gone for twenty minutes, then asks the waiter for the check before she returns. I’m about to ask her for advice, but all she says is, “How thoroughly modern!” followed by, “Now, I must run and get a juice. My health declines if I don’t have one every day.”

– When I tell an old group of friends about Allison’s transition, only one of them even responds. She compares my girlfriend to “Jeffrey Tambor in a dress,” and I refrain from remarking on the fact that she has just compared a woman to a straight male comedian, thanking my lucky stars that at least in this day and age we’ve got “Transparent” instead of just “Tootsie”. The other women in my friend group — I never hear from any of them, ever again.

That’s not entirely true: the eldest of them already knew about the transition, and she wrote me privately to congratulate us both on our progress.

Change begets more change. Allison transitioned, and when she began taking hormones she started to smell like a girl. For her, this was a really good thing. Really, really good.

For me, it was … well. I lost someone. The person I thought existed had always been imaginary, but I still grieved. I still miss the scent of that imaginary person, though I would never suggest the real person who lives in her body stop taking her medication just so that I can get my Testosterone Smell Fix.

There weren’t many people to whom I could talk honestly about all of it. My friends didn’t understand why “Transparent” references were offensive to me — some of them still get mad at me for failing to watch the show. I try to explain that having a straight dude play a trans woman is not entirely unlike yellow face, but then I’m always told I’m wrong.

My mother would say things like, “Why do you have to go through this, too? You have already been through so much. This battle is not yours.”

Well, we don’t always choose our battles, but when Allison came out to me, I chose this one, and I picked a side, and I’ve stuck to it. And that’s where the little bit of pride comes in — it’s about the fact that I’m not going to stop caring about the person with whom I’ve spent fourteen years of my life just because she turned out to be a girl instead of a boy.

If we all behaved like that, Anne Shirley would be sent back to the orphanage every single time, and we’d be stripped of an entire series of stories about a beautiful, kind, imaginative, insightful, witty, nature-loving young woman.

PART TWO: DATING

Of course, there are some problems that cropped up eventually. Like my thing for Guy Smell. I really like it, a lot. In fact, it turns out that Guy Smell is what turns me on. Exclusively.

I am heterosexual. I’m sorry.

This isn’t revolutionary, but breaking up with your partner of fourteen years is kind of a big deal.

Still, it’s what we’ve done, quite slowly. First we talked about it, and then we had an open relationship for awhile, and then we did a seven-day candle ritual to break up, and now we’ve got separate beds and, as of this past weekend, I’ve got my own room.

I’m turning thirty-seven in two days, and I’m back to sleeping in a twin bed for the first time in a decade. It’s a little embarrassing, yes, but the truth is that I love my cozy little room.

There hasn’t really been anyone to confide in about this change, either. My friends, the ones who are still around, are pretty invested in me and Allison being A Unit. And the truth is, so are we. We’ve still got a shared household, and we still cook dinner together, and we still sit down and have a drink and download together at the end of every day. We still have two cats together, and we still love one another very, very much.

Allison is my closest family, my chosen family, and that is never going to change.

But when I told my mom, she said, “Is that what Allison wants? What are you going to do? Where are you going to live?”

I understand the panic. It’s scary, this change. It’s scary, and I don’t have a ton of options because I’m still a disabled childhood sexual abuse survivor with no way of providing for myself in a capitalist society.

I wrote a letter to the aforementioned group of lady friends. This time only the eldest of them responded, privately, and she didn’t say anything other than that she hoped it was for the best. No one else even acknowledged receipt of my email.

I unfriended them on social media eventually, not because I don’t like them any more, but because … well, they’re not really my friends, are they, if I’m writing this? People who are your friends acknowledge the big changes in your life, even if those changes are awkward and weird. I mean, I know their changes are much more normal: they get married and have babies and buy houses, or maybe they get dumped by a boyfriend, and those are problems we as a society already know how to address. It’s really easy to dash off a quick response to such things, “OMG congrats!!!” or “That sucks; let’s go out dancing next time you’re in town, to remind ourselves that we’re all magnificent women who deserve love.”

Honestly, though? If you don’t know what to say about my girlfriend being transgender, FUCKING GOOGLE IT. If you don’t know what to say about my breaking up with my partner of fourteen years, FUCKING GOOGLE IT.

Unless you don’t want to be my friend any more. In which case, ignoring the whole thing will definitely work in your favor. At least until I write a scathing blog post about you.

But then recently, I was dating this guy. I mean, I thought we were dating. He apparently just thought we had hooked up, even though before we got together I wrote him a whole letter in which I explained that since we already knew one another from our hometown, things might get pretty intense pretty quickly. In fact, I guaranteed it. But, I said, I was pretty sure it would be fine if he understood where we were going and that it was going to Get Weird.

He said he understood. He didn’t put on the brakes or anything. We proceeded.

I called one of my oldest friends, who was actually better acquainted with The Guy than I had ever been.

“Am I crazy?” I asked. “Is it too weird? Should I just … not?”

“It’s not crazy,” he said. “It’s a little weird, but he’s smart and funny and tall and a snappy dresser and quite a catch. You should go for it.”

Then he followed up with, “Just promise me that if he treats you badly, you’ll get mad. Promise me you’ll get mad at him.” I promised.

Things went poorly eventually. I should have seen it coming: first he shared private medical information about a stranger. Then he confided that a few years ago he’d been demoted from teaching in a pretty good school to teaching at a place he calls “The School for Broken Toys”. I hoped he was being ironic. I hoped he was being sarcastic. I hoped he wasn’t really saying that he thought some people were Broken.

It turned out he was serious.

He eventually wrote me to break things off.

“I need someone who comes from a nurturing environment,” he wrote.

That’s a direct quote.

He called me broken.

I called my friend, incensed. He said he was sorry The Guy was an asshole to me, but there was nothing to be done about it. I should note that this was participating in a kind of disrespect that women constantly face in the dating world: the habit we as a society have of letting men off the hook when they behave abominably, which is pretty much the definition of rape culture.

Then my friend went on social media and publicly “liked” a comment made by The Guy. He got really mad at me when I called him out for it, actually. He said he noticed I hadn’t unfollowed The Guy. He said it wasn’t fair for me to expect him to Take Sides. He said there was nothing to be done about it.

Why do we let people get away with being assholes? Why do we cozy up to Known Assholes?

At what point do we decide that a guy has actually done something that deserves consequences of any kind? At what point do we shun a dude who has literally called one of our friends broken?

Apparently, the point is somewhere much further down Brock Turner Lane. Further even than, you know, Brock Turner.

Point: Rape culture isn’t just about literal rape. It’s about Letting Dudes Get Away With It. It’s about not calling people out. It’s about not enforcing any kind of consequences for bad behavior.

Point: Bigotry isn’t just forbidding transgender people to use the appropriate (or any) restroom. It’s cracking jokes about men in dresses; it’s pretending your transgender acquaintances don’t exist; it’s ignoring the friend who is earnestly looking for a bit of support and maybe some good advice.

PART THREE: SUICIDE IS VERY PAINFUL

I’ve learned a lot, the last few months. And I’ve been expanding my own friend network a lot: I’ve met people online, and in the neighborhood, at the local coffee shop. I’ve met people who are into the esoteric/occult studies I’ve undertaken since October.

A new-ish friend of mine recently confided that he intended to take his own life.

I was pretty freaked out, so I called a suicide hotline. I was put on hold. “Please don’t hang up. Your call is very important to us,” the recording said. Three or four or a dozen times, until eventually I hung up because I was pretty sure this was a more urgent situation than that.

I called another hotline. Busy signal.

I called a third hotline. No answer.

Finally, I reached someone on a fourth hotline. “You should call 911,” said the counselor. I explained that I didn’t have my friend’s home address, only his phone number. She said 911 could triangulate.

So. I had no choice but to call 911. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong, something bad, something harmful.

But if I had let him tell me he was going to kill himself, and if I had let him act on that without trying to help him, I wouldn’t have been a decent person. I would have been part of the problem.

I did what I felt I had to do. (Also, btw, I’m not presently speaking with him, because he triggered me, and considering that I myself had been suicidal just a few days earlier, I knew my limits. I did what I could. It wasn’t enough; it didn’t work; he’s at least alive, but that’s the only positive thing I have to say about the situation right now.)

Speaking of which: I was suicidal about a week and a half ago. It was one day, one afternoon, and I got through it. I got through it thanks to: my ex-girlfriend, who is fucking amazing in case I haven’t mentioned it already; my college roommate, who called to chat me up on the phone; some various friends who sent emails and Twitter DMs and all kinds of messages checking up on me (thank you!) — these were the people in my world who witnessed my pain and felt able to step in and say something helpful.

One of my old friends, from that group of old friends, wrote a public message to me. She suggested that I call a suicide hotline. (May I just say that if a person is actively suicidal, telling them to call any hotline other than maybe the Samaritans is just plain bad advice? Nobody works at those hotlines any more. It’s all endless hold and busy signals.)

Point: Sometimes you can’t help a person, and you have to step away. If it causes you distress to see a person in that kind of pain, that’s okay. You don’t have to be the person who helps; there are other helpers in the world. But if you can’t be a helper, don’t be a dick. Remember that your suicidal friend will eventually come to her senses, if she lives past the incident. And when she does come to her senses, she won’t think very highly of the person who told her to call a hotline that would probably place her on hold for who knows how long.

Sometimes we can’t help. The main thing, I think, is to work hard to avoid devaluing or invalidating our friends or their feelings or their experiences or their needs.

There’s something in all this about whiteness and privilege, I think.

Neuro-typical folks might have a harder time figuring out what to say to a mental illness sufferer, or a harder time figuring out whether the person is in enough danger to justify calling 911. (Tip: Try “are you okay?” or “hey can I get the phone number of person-close-to-you-who-is-not-911?”)

Heterosexual cisgender folks might have a harder time figuring out what to say when someone comes out with news about a transitioning family member. (Tip: Try “congrats!!!” or “OMG that’s huge! Do you want to talk about it?”)

People who haven’t survived rape or sexual assault might have a harder time figuring out what to do when a guy is a Douchemonger Asshat to one of their friends. (Tip: CALL HIM OUT, or offer to.)

There’s one thing I know really well, one lesson I’ve had to learn in a way maybe most people haven’t: sometimes the only way out is through. You can’t break rape culture without confronting it. You can’t cope with mental illness unless you face it. You can’t keep your transgender friends unless you acknowledge and affirm their realities.

What I’ve realized is this: I can only talk to people, or keep them in my life, if they’re willing to go through with me. (That includes those of you I’ve called out right here.) Maybe that means I’m going to lose even more friends than I’ve already lost, but as a sexual abuse survivor with mental illness and a transgender family member, the only way I know of surviving this world is to ride the freakin’ wave.

Call me if you ever want to ride the wave with me, y’all. It’s not so bad once you get the hang of it.

Posted in content warning, GYOB, memoir-y.

American

PART ONE: DO YOU LIKE AMERICA?

It all started when I disembarked from a flight from Curaçao to Miami. The crew had just informed us we would need to go through customs and security before making our connections — this seemed impossible, considering my connecting flight was scheduled to depart in under two hours.

I was looking down at my phone, reading an article about how Chelsea Manning was facing indefinite solitary confinement for having attempted suicide when suffering from severe depression due to improperly treated gender dysphoria and long-term solitary confinement. Chelsea faces another thirty years — an EXTRA thirty years — just for having made an attempt on her own life. In other words, a symptom of her illness, a manifestation of it, has given Bureau of Prisons personnel an excuse to ramp up their mistreatment of her.

A woman in dark eyeliner greeted me as I walked toward customs. I thought she was going to tell me where to go to make my connection.

“How are you today?” she asked.

“A little annoyed,” I said.

“Why are you annoyed?” she said. I thought, “Who is this random lady and why is she asking me these questions?”

“There were some rude people on my flight,” I said, not mentioning that the rude people were, you know, the ones who made up the schedule in the first place.

“Where are you coming from?”

“Who ARE you?”

Well. It turned out she was a customs agent, and I had just gotten myself “randomly selected” for a “special screening.” For narcotics. Because, you know. As a 5’3″ Asian woman, I look exactly like a drug mule. Or maybe I look nothing like a drug mule. It was, after all, “random.”

No one else on my flight was selected. No one else on my flight was ethnically ambiguous, but maybe this is completely unrelated.

I told her that I had an anxiety condition and was beginning to feel anxious.

One of the other customs officers, who I didn’t even realize was listening to our conversation, started asking me rude questions.

“Do you take medication for your anxiety?”

“Yes.”

“When is the last time you took your medication? What medications do you take?”

“I’m sorry, but that’s very personal medical information, and I’m not comfortable sharing it with you.”

“We are customs, and there are only three questions in the world we are not allowed to ask you: who you voted for in the last election, your religion, and your sexuality. We can — and will — ask detailed questions about everything else,” he said. Beat. Then: “Are you going to get violent?”

“Excuse me?”

“Some people get violent. They cry and they scream and we have to take them away.”

“That is not the case with me,” I said, trying mightily not to let loose any of the rage bubbling up within me.

He apparently thought he ought to console me, so he said, “Do you like America?”

Umm. Yeah. Okay, sure. I wasn’t going to say “no.”

“Do you like being safe?” he pressed on.

“I do, but I don’t feel at all safe right now,” I said, my hackles fully up.

“Why don’t you feel safe? Do you have something to be afraid of?”

… how was I supposed to respond to that?

So I said, “This feels very invasive to me, and it does not make me feel safe.”

And then he said, “If you like to be safe, and you like America, and you want a safe America, you should like us. We keep America safe.”

I’m sorry, dude, but narcotics officers aren’t really part of my pantheon of “helpers.” I did not say this, though. I was just steered onto an AirTrain compartment commandeered by customs officers, in which I was the only non-police-type person there.

The customs folks had me in their care for an hour and a half, maybe two hours. I missed my flight, though they promised I wouldn’t.

“A lot of people complain about selection, but the truth is it’s a privilege. An expedited screening,” said Gomez, the (really not so terrible) woman who guided me through the screening process.

We talked a lot — I had to tell her basically everything about myself, whether I liked it or not, so I sucked it up and told her my mock turtle’s lament.

Abuse. Army brat. Born on an army base, raised on army bases, minister’s kid. Escaping abuse. Suicide all around me. Legally disabled.

“Where do you live? Who do you live with? How do you pay the rent?”

Maybe she should have asked, “You say you have C-PTSD? What are your triggers? Is there anything we should be aware of? Is there anything we can do to help keep you safe while we walk you through this screening?”

But that’s not how they do. What they do is, they intimidate you and tell you:

“Miami airport is so big, you would never have made your flight anyway. You would have gotten lost.”

And, “You’ve traveled internationally before, so obviously you know that we have to perform random checks. Obviously you should have expected this.”

It all sounded a lot like some things I’d heard before. “You were asking for it. You invited this. You brought it on yourself. This is your fault. You should feel special. I chose you. This is normal. Why are you so upset? This is perfectly normal.”

I am blessed with a very, very good memory. I know for a fact that this. is. not. perfectly normal. It’s fucked.

They went through my bags, sorted through my dirty underwear, checked the linings of every bag for drugs (sadly, I had none, other than my prescription medications), and then they repacked the luggage. My meds ended up in my checked baggage somehow.

They promised me they would walk me all the way up to the gate if necessary. “You will not miss your connection,” they promised.

And then, after my bags were packed, they said, “Just go up to the right and around a corner and into line one. You’ll be fine.”

That was it.

PART TWO: THE TERMINAL

Line one turned out to be a rebooking line. I had already missed my flight, and there was no way I would get back through security in the time allotted. The customs agents’ promise to walk me through security? Lie. Lie. Lie.

I told the woman at the American Airlines desk about the customs agents and their promise. She began to laugh out loud.

She booked me on another flight, into La Guardia. “You’ll have to move as quickly as possible, you just barely have time to make it,” she said. Oh, and one more thing: there were no more seats left on flights to JFK that night, or the next morning, or the next day until about 5 p.m., she said. The only plane she could get me on was headed to La Guardia. Fine, it’s NYC. I’ll take it, I said.

I ran, once I got through security again. I ran, and I got to the flight and …

::PAUSE:: Okay, so when I fly I take certain things into consideration, because my anxiety tends to go haywire if I don’t pay attention to little details like where I’m sitting. A window seat is the most isolated from other people, and it’s what I usually choose — looking out the window reminds me there’s a world outside the airplane, and that I won’t be trapped inside it forever. I pay extra for window seats if necessary. This time I paid $40 for a window seat to Curaçao, and $40 for a window seat from Curaçao. It was that important, that I would spend an extra $80 on it.::

I got to my seat. It was a middle seat, and I was already beginning to have a panic attack. My medication was not in my carry-on.

With PTSD, the panic doesn’t necessarily come right away. This is the trick to survivors — we can get through the immediate situation just fine. It’s normalcy we can’t stand, because if everyone afterwards acts like it was all just normal … well, we know better. Sometimes I think of PTSD as a magic dishonesty sensor that, when it goes off, causes a bit of a ruckus.

The man sitting next to me had no shoes on, and he had black socks on, and he had his left foot crossed over his right thigh, and it was in my face, and feet are probably my number one biggest trigger in the world. Well, other than outlandish abuses of power by authority figures.

So the sobbing started, and I tried to breathe in deeply through my nose and out through my mouth, and I jammed my earbuds in as deep as they would go, and I tried so so so hard to collect myself, to be okay.

A woman a few seats over noticed that all was not fine. She ran to the bathroom and got me tissues.

People around me were tittering, but I knew I was not going to survive four hours in a middle seat if I paid them any mind.

Eventually a flight attendant showed up.

“Are you okay? Do you need to get off the plane?” she asked. She then proffered a giant bottle of warm water, which I wouldn’t even been able to hold at that moment. I said I needed some time and could I get back to her in a few minutes when I collected myself. She said, “Press the call button, and I’ll come right back.”

By this time we were taxiing on the runway. There was another flight attendant chatting up someone several rows ahead of me.

After five deep breaths, I pressed the call bell.

No answer.

I waited, and after several minutes of being ignored I unpressed the call bell, and then I pressed it again.

The attendant who had been chatting up another passenger scowled at me, then walked to the front of the plane and picked up the PA:

“To those passengers who are ringing their call bells, please have some patience. Flight attendants are not legally allowed to leave their jump seats while the plane is actively taxiing on the runway.”

About five minutes later, the pilot came on: “We have some bad news. We have logged too many hours and, while we’ve been sitting here on the runway, our time has run out and we are now not legal to fly. We will be returning to the gate. When you arrive at the gate, an agent will tell you what’s next.”

Then we sat on the runway for an hour.

I sobbed for an hour, desperate for a drink of water. I hadn’t had any since about 3:30 p.m., and it was at that point after nine.

Eventually we got back to the terminal. They had us deplane, and then we all watched Hillary Clinton speak, and then they had us board again around 11:30 p.m.

I spoke with the gate agent and managed to get myself a window seat.

This time we might have taxied just a bit, but again we returned to the gate very quickly. This time, the flight attendant didn’t say anything about why it was all happening. She just said the flight was canceled and we should bring all our luggage with us to the terminal. She did say we would be provided with hotel accommodations, ground transportation, and — this is key — access to our checked baggage. As I disembarked, I heard one flight attendant tell another that the second pilot they’d recruited had been “tired” and decided against flying the plane. (I guess it’s good if he felt unsafe to fly that he didn’t want to put us in danger.) He also was bumping up against his maximum allowance of flying hours. Which begs the question: do all these guys work the same schedule?

It turned out we weren’t destined to leave Miami at all that night. No one was, not in the American terminal, anyway. There were hundreds of sad tired people sleeping on floors, waiting in long curling lines trying to book to a new destination.

airport horror

I waited in that line until almost four a.m., by which point a woman had already announced that there were “no hotels in Miami” and that we could sleep in an auditorium if we liked, and that the airline would provide food and blankets.

When I got to the counter, I spoke with an irate agent. He had a pointy beard and angry eyes, and he was unkind to me before I even spoke.

He booked me through onto another flight, but he said he could only put me on standby for a flight in the morning and in an actual booked seat for a flight in the afternoon. I had no choice, and the airport was a refugee situation by this point, with people sleeping on the floors and lots of tear-stained cheeks all around and people sobbing hysterically on phones everywhere.

The agent gave me my tickets, and I said, “How can I get access to my checked baggage?”

“You can’t,” he said. “There’s no access. It is in a holding area.”

“My medication is in my baggage, and I need it,” I said. “I am at risk of seizure if I miss it.”

“That’s why you never put your medicine in your checked baggage,” he said. “That’s your own fault.”

He actually said that.

“Okay,” I said, and took a deep breath. “How are you going to make this right?”

“What do you mean, make this right?”

“I mean, the flight attendant on our plane told us we would be provided hotel rooms, access to our luggage, meal vouchers, ground transportation—”

“We do not provide those things!” he said. “This is a weather-related cancellation. This has nothing to do with American Airlines. La Guardia airport is closed because of the weather.”

“Excuse me? This is the first I’m hearing about the weather. We were told our pilots had logged too many hours.”

“No! This is a weather event! La Guardia is closed!”

It was like talking to a belligerent five-year-old Donald Trump supporter.

“Okay, well I see other people with blankets. Can I at least have a blanket and a meal voucher?”

“No vouchers! We don’t provide vouchers for weather events, that is beyond our control. And we don’t give out blankets any more.”

The righteous anger of the gods took over, then. I’m sorry, but it did. I turned around and addressed the long (but less long than earlier) line of weary travelers.

“Hey, you all. Listen, just so you know, this guy here says there are no more blankets or pillows left in the entire airport. So if you needed a blanket, you’re out of luck, because there are none.”

The agent was angry. “There is no need for that, ma’am!”

“I didn’t ask you,” I said, and stalked over to the courtesy phones to find an actual customer service representative who could maybe make some headway for me.

One of the friends I’d made in line, a delightful nursing student named Ellen, pointed out a guy in line at the counter. The agent who’d denied me … anything at all … was giving this random dude a blanket.

Ellen went and got a blanket for me, without telling the agent who it was for. Then she asked him his name. He told her it was Alex. But as he passed by us, going on his break, he flipped his lanyard around so I couldn’t see his name tag. He glared at me and at the unauthorized American Airlines blanket around my shoulders.

My customer relations specialist, another lovely woman named Shaquanna, was aghast. She was on the phone with me even as this happened.

My lack of medication was becoming a more and more pressing concern, but Ellen and another girl, a missionary named Emma, kept me company and made me feel I could possibly maybe stand the increasing jitters for at least another few hours.

In the morning, Ellen (who had a meal voucher), got us coffee and doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts. Then she boarded her flight, and we said a fond farewell, with promises to catch up should she ever be in NYC or should I ever be in Kansas City.

PART THREE: THE GOLDEN TICKET

I was antsy about catching that seven a.m. flight. The way I figured it, I had more medicine at home, and the sooner I could get there the better chance I had of not turning into a banshee.

I lurked all around the gate, and finally my name was called! I had a seat! A WINDOW SEAT! I boarded the plane, happy as I’d been in about 20 hours.

The flight was wonderful in that it took off and flew all the way to New York. I made another friend, a woman from Tampa who used the night in Miami to go partying in South Beach. (This would have been fun had I been, you know, not dealing with a medication malfunction and one of the worst panic attacks/trigger episodes I’ve suffered in several months.)

But all good things must come to an end.

My baggage, you see. I went to baggage claim, very uncertain about whether my bag would have followed me home. It had not done so. I mean, it sort of did.

It got to La Guardia. In fact, it got there before I did. I said, “If my bag was on that flight, why wasn’t I?” There was no satisfactory answer other than, “There probably wasn’t room for you.”

A man next to me at the desk was explaining that all his clothes were in his bag and he was going to need a cash allowance so that he could buy some clothes. This was given to him with no trouble.

I explained that my medicine and clothes and toiletries and everything I needed in life were all in my checked bag. I was offered a travel toothbrush and told my bag should be delivered some time within twenty-four hours. The agent gave me a phone number to call to check up on my bag.

I called this evening and was told by a man named Kye that my bag “might” arrive “some time” tomorrow. Might. Tomorrow. I have no clothes, yo. I can’t wash my FACE (well, not with my preferred cleanser, anyway). And I’m so so lucky that I kept a reserve of medication at home in case of some sort of unpleasant situation.

Like this one.

Here we are, at 11:34 p.m. on July 29, a full twenty-four hours after I was supposed to have arrived at JFK. My bag is still at La Guardia. My medicine is still, to the knowledge of American Airlines, inaccessible. No one asked me if I’m still a seizure risk. Alex at the rebooking center flat-out denied me access to my medication. The flight attendant on my first canceled flight reneged on her promise to return and help me out. I was an airport refugee for an entire night, after an already harrowing/triggering experience with customs.

I suppose you could say I’m a little annoyed.

BUT. I am so happy to be home with my family — Allison, Shumai and Althea. I am medicated, safe, showered, much less smelly. I brushed my teeth with that travel toothbrush that the lost luggage lady gave me. (The heat rash/hives I acquired in yesterday’s stress have not receded yet, due to my bottle of aloe being … get this … in my checked luggage.)

As for my vacation, it was incredible. Ryan de Jongh, who this fall will become Sir Ryan, for his incredible work reforesting the island of Curaçao with mangroves, took me on a delightful private trip from Caracas Bay through the open ocean down through Santa Barbara Bay and onto the Spanish Water*. We visited some of his mangrove islands. I didn’t take photos, because I didn’t trust a ziplock bag to keep my phone safe. And because what was important to me about the trip was the feeling of the water under and around me, of the waves and of the strength of my paddle catching, pulling the boat along just on the powers of nature and hard work. The point of the trip was to get away from twisted, non-functional power structures like the ones operated by American Airlines and by the narcs at customs. And for awhile, I did!

Below are some pretty pictures so you don’t think I’m ONLY a giant crank. I mean, I’m a crank, and I’m still inclined to rant incessantly about the toxins with which my body has been attacking itself since I was triggered at customs yesterday. But it could be worse. I could have to fly American Airlines again at some point in the future.

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*This is where the Spanish first landed on the island in 1499.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Open Letters to Random People: Kimmy Schmidt, Volume Two

Dear Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Sam Means, Allison Silverman, Josh Siegal, Dylan Morgan, Dan Rubin, Leila Strachan, Meredith Scardino and Emily Altman — AKA the writers behind season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt:

Please can you tell me where in my apartment you have placed the various hidden surveillance devices you use to steal my life for your unbearably hilarious comedy? (Previously. See bloviating here and here.)

I want to take a moment to thank you for not glossing over Kimmy’s continuing struggle — and her deep denial in this first stage of recovery where she doesn’t want to admit to having been emotionally impacted by her trauma.

I also say things like “for totally normal reasons” — all the time. In fact, I’m a little freaked out that you purloined that phrase from my life. Like, how did you do it? I thought I invented that phrase!

Honestly, this season has not been as easy or fun for me as last season was. I’m having to take frequent breaks, and I haven’t had one single laugh-out-loud moment yet.

That’s not because it isn’t funny. It’s just also intensely sad. Every episode is packed with reminders that we’re all screwed, and we’re all screwed up.

All screwed: Anything involving Jacqueline, Mimi, and that Christian vampire lady. Most devastating scene so far: Jacqueline realizing in the middle of giving a speech that wealthy white guys just do.not.care. (Nobody wants to have this realization, ever. You want to think there’s at least one well-to-do white dude out there who isn’t a candidate for the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Uh, call me if you spot him. For completely normal reasons that have nothing to do with engaging in class warfare.)

All screwed up: Kimmy continues to accidentally employ self-defense techniques against all her suitors. This is very familiar territory. She needs CBT, STAT. And by that I mean she needs to get into a cognitive behavior therapy program for trauma survivors at a place like St. Luke’s or New York Presbyterian. Although I’m getting a sense that there’s a not-safe-for-in-laws version of that where Kimmy also gets some satisfaction. Can we explore both?

I’m only on like, episode nine, so if you put Kimmy in intensive therapy or a hospital program (day patient first, you ninnies, or I’ll EAT YOU) before the end of this season, my apologies.

Anyway, I’m glad you’re taking time with Kimmy’s story, not rushing her into recovery before a human can actually recover. It validates my own struggles, some. You’re also fleshing her story out a bit, not by telling us about what happened to her but by sharing her freaky reactions to everyday life. You’re showing us that she’s a childhood sexual abuse survivor, and I’ve never seen that on a TV show before. So thank you.

Also, if you don’t have any survivors on your staff already — and since at least one in five American girls is sexually abused before the age of twelve, and at least one in four American women over the age of eighteen is sexually assaulted, you almost certainly do — I’m serious about coming to work for you.

Actually, I’m serious about working for you even if you’ve already got other bunker survivors there whom I will have to battle for supremacy. (I will win. I have Hornberger deltoids. Well, one Hornberger deltoid. )

I’ll even show up on time. Wearing clothes. That’s plural, in case you didn’t notice.

Wait. You guys don’t work in Midtown, do you? Because I really hate Midtown and I kind of have a rule that I don’t go there. Ever. Under any circumstances.

I guess I’d have to change that rule for you. And I guess I’d need to get a new pair of grown-up sized Etymotics* for the subway because there are way too many buskers on the orange lines. Sometimes when there are no buskers, a random person will decide it’s too quiet and stand up and start singing. Like Titus, but insane and with bad pitch.

Anyway, you need me. Face it: You have no idea how to get Kimmy to stop hitting her lovers (those old phones were HEAVY!). And I bet your executive people don’t want to afford Judith Herman. I’m probably WAY cheaper than she is, plus I’m better than an expert trauma psychologist because I’ve spent the better part of twenty years in THERAPY with an expert trauma psychologist! (My therapist even has hair that looks like beautiful curly brown spaghetti!!!)

What I’m saying is: please contact me. Tweet at me (@missbananabiker) or email me (like every other American adult, I have an email address that is firstnamelastname at google-controls-all-human-life-dot-com) or come to my house disguised as a UPS guy so I’ll answer the door or visit me in a dream.

Or come see me at my favorite local coffee shop/lifestyle/concept store (check Instagram for more info). If you show up there one afternoon**, I will give you a free tarot reading while you hire me.

So anyway, get in touch now please or else I will accuse you of being a bunch of rich white dudes and/or gentrifiers.

Much love,
Sabrina Banes
bunker cult survivor

*the kid-sized ones fit my ears better, but they have some sort of “kid-safe” volume limit that absolutely refuses to bust out your eardrums, which I mean you’re already sticking giant electronic Q-tips into your ear canals, why stop there
**it must be an afternoon when I am also there

UPDATE OMG YOU STOLE MY THERAPIST TOO? STALKERS!!!

Posted in memoir-y, OLtRP, TV reviews.

5 Tips for How to Be a Progressive On the Internet: A Rant

Content warning: This entry is about politics, and therefore contains a shit-ton of curse words. If you don’t like naughty words like dickhead or douchebro, you should stop reading now.

Lately a bunch of political bullshit has been spinning around on social media. It kind of makes me hate America. It kind of makes me hate all my friends. It kind of makes me hate YOU.

You don’t want me to hate you, because if I do, I’ll make fun of you on the internet. It’s a proven fact. Sometimes even if I like a person I make fun of them on the internet.

Anyway, here are some tips for how to be a good progressive, a good feminist, a good advocate, a good ally, and a good netizen, along with some examples of how NOT to do those things. There are no links, because this is a rage post, and if you can’t look this stuff up on your own you’re a lost cause anyway:

1. Hillary Clinton is a Democrat running for president. We must be able to disagree with her politics, with her ideology, with her affiliations, with her decisions about who to accept money from — we must be able to criticize these things without being called sexist.

Hi. My name is Sabrina. The first time my father ever slapped me across the face I was thirteen years old, we were in the car, and I had just declared myself a feminist.

You want to question my feminist cred? Fuck you.

That’s me being all Third Wave on your ass. I don’t have to prove to you how much Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin and Susan Faludi and Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Alix Kates-fucking-Shulman I read when I was nineteen. I don’t have to prove a goddamn thing to you, because I am a woman who makes her own damn decisions, like who to vote for, based on complex shit like policy positions, hawkishness, and the money trail.

Fuck you, but let’s still be friends, okay?

2. Gloria Steinem is a goddamn national heroine and her contributions to society shouldn’t be forgotten just because she went on Bill Maher and said something idiotic. The only way it’s possible to speak to Bill Maher is idiotically, which is why all his shows get cancelled eventually, because he goads people into saying mean, stupid, ill-considered bullshit. Which is what Ms. Steinem did this past weekend.

Some of you are holding a grudge against her for some straight-up bigoted nonsense she said in the 1970s about gender identity. She has already apologized for and retracted her past views on transgender issues, so personally I’m going to take her at her word on that.

The thing is, I wouldn’t be here if not for Gloria Steinem. I wouldn’t be the feminist I am if I hadn’t read her writing. I wouldn’t be the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, pro-privacy, pro-internet, pro-speech, amazingly luscious anarcho-communist madwoman I’ve become if not for her. That doesn’t mean I agree now with everything she said in the 1970s, which in case you guys forgot was forty freaking years ago.

Instead of breaking it down point by point, though, which everyone else is definitely going to do, I’m just going to say this: BE NICE TO GLORIA STEINEM.

I mean, she was wrong and she said an asshole thing. But she’s on our side. She has a good heart. She’s trying. She’s an older wealthy white lady — that has been her problem for some time now, although I could take the wealth problem off her hands if she wanted — but she’s trying. Treat her like you’d treat your white grandma if you’ve got one, which in case you don’t is with respect and love and a little bit of forgiveness for the out-of-date -isms that might leak from her mouth. Call out the -isms, but love your elders, especially those elders who admit their mistakes and embrace change.

3. Some Republicans got into the fray — a guy named Roger Stone has formed a PAC that is meant to launch sexual assault allegations at Bill Clinton.

We should be very, very careful here. The allegations are not new, and they are coming from a very fishy place.

But come on. Bill Clinton could be a dude who sexually harasses women. I could see it. He’s a rich white straight dude of a certain age.

We need to accept that this shit is a lot more common in our society than we want to admit. If one in five women is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, one in four women a survivor of rape, it’s not like there’s just This One Awful Guy. We have a problem with rape culture in our society, a sickness. We need to fix it.

Now, can anyone tell me what that has to do with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?

You — dude in the white baseball cap who just pointed out that Hillary Clinton may have “covered up” Bill Clinton’s crimes — umm. When you’re eventually accused of sexual harassment, and you KNOW you will be, do you want your wife to leave you or somehow publicly renounce you? Oh, only if she’s running for president … because … why now? Because it would be inconvenient and annoying for her to have to deal with some crap some man did that has nothing to do with her or her positions on domestic or foreign policy? Fuck you also.

Progressives: This is why Hillary supporters need to not accuse Bernie supporters of not caring about feminist issues. Because then stuff like this comes up, and nobody knows what to do, and so nobody does anything that’s any good. We’ve got ill will between us, and so you Hillary folks think we Bernie folks won’t come to your defense, and we Bernie folks wonder why we should risk our necks to stick up for an old pervert, other than to explain that as long as it’s consensual there’s nothing at all wrong with being perverted and we thought we figured this out already in the nineties when Golden Girls was on TV. We wonder why we, as Bernie fans, are the ones who have to point out that Bill Clinton is not running for president this year.

4. So what are we supposed to talk about, if we progressives are not supposed to rag on each other? Well, for starters, does anybody else get the feeling we’re about to repeat the presidential election of 1856?

Oops, I just made a link for you. Well, in that case I won’t tell you about the crazy racists — and the past president! — who helped this country march right up to a nice bloody civil war. What I will say is that the fascists who have been sucking up all the air lately are part of a great tradition of scary bad dumbasses who are dangerous for one main reason:

They make all the other awful regressive suggestions that people like Rubio and Bush and Kasich are putting forth — they make all of that sound comparably sane. They shift the dialogue.

And I know we progressives think we’re shifting it even further with our Bernie/Hillary stuff, but actually what we’re doing is ignoring the scary stuff that the Republicans are saying.

Since I’m in charge of the world, my advice is this: We’re going to choose Bernie, or choose Hillary. The primary campaigns should be positive. We should say nice things about the candidate we like. We should say mean but true things about Republicans. Sometimes we should team up if the Republicans are being particularly repulsive.

5. We’ve got some real, serious, terrible issues facing our nation. Climate change, which at least a third of the country completely denies even exists. Rising inequality. Racism, another thing a few people like Antonin Scalia apparently think no longer exists but which tries its damnedest to ruin the lives of all those around me. We’ve got dirty water for poor people, we’ve got law enforcement officers committing murder in the streets, we’ve got social isolation and downward mobility contributing to some seriously dysfunctional coping strategies and/or lack of coping strategies. We have a prison population that has increased by eight hundred percent over the last thirty years. We have a surveillance state spying on us, we have unknown prisoners being held at a federal black site next to the freaking Brooklyn Bridge, and our government takes people who reveal important truths about how our the system works and prosecutes them under the goddamn Espionage Act as freaking spies. Meanwhile, nobody on Wall Street … well, you get the idea: there’s trouble now, in River City.

And what I’m saying to all my progressive friends is — let’s focus on those issues. Let’s focus on adding our positive energies into informing people about the issues we personally care most about, into helping create change. Let’s be Beyoncé here, about all this. Let’s make good art, and screw the bullshit.

Instead of beating each other up and coming out so bloody and bruised going into the general election that we end up losing the whole nation to a bunch of fascists — or if we’re lucky a rich Muppet in a zip-up cardigan might sell us to Abu Dhabi — let’s maybe have an actual debate about the issues and stop insulting each other and stop being douchemongers to each other.

Y’all have a nice day, now.

Posted in politics.

Cost of Freedom — a book!

Dear Everyone,

I am in a book! I mean, one of my essays, originally published here on this website, is in a book. The book is called “The Cost of Freedom,” and it was published after a five-day book sprint last week in France. I personally was not in France, but my friend Sumana recommended the essay, and the people in France decided to include it! I would link to the original, but the revised (as in re-worked, by me) version that appears in the book is better, and so you should read it instead:

Download The Cost of Freedom for free in either epub or pdf format! Free! Free as in beer! Also free as in speech! You have no excuse for not downloading this tome! (My essay, “Why I Choose Privacy”, begins on page 105.)

This book sprint was organized in large part on behalf of Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian freedom fighter, open-source software developer, and political prisoner who has been detained since 2012, and who has been missing since early October of this year. Please do whatever you can to support Bassel and those working to locate and free him.

Much love,
me

Posted in Books, infosec, politics, projects.

Gratitude redux

I wanted to say something today, twenty years after my father’s death. Weirdly, this year instead of feeling sad, I have felt intense gratitude for all those who have been there for me in one way or another over the last twenty years. And so today I am making a little list, first names only, of as many people as I can remember to thank:

1. My mother. If I have a shred of grace, humility, or hostessing ability, it is all down to her. If I have a sense of whimsy and an open mind, a sense of righteousness, it’s because of her. She is amazing, and I thank you, Mom, for standing by me all these years.
2. Allison, my girlfriend of 13.5 years, who has supported me through the very worst and hopefully will stick around for the very best.

From here on out the list will be somewhat chronological, if I can manage it, and will purely contain the first names of people I have met who have been especially kind to me over the years. After some reflection, I have decided that to be complete, this list must contain even the names of people I don’t particularly like, so it is a pretty long list.

Linda • Cheryl • Lan • Robin • Dorothy • Theresa • Maria • Elliott • Gwen • Ivars • Chris • Gary • Martha • Steve • Carrie • Rebecca • Kristin • Gregg • KC • Dan • Rob • Martha • Matt • Adam • Liz • Aja • Tim • Pete • Rosie • Stacey • Pete • Esther • Megan • Dorothy • Randy • Heather • Sarah • Drew • Mike • Jason • Jason • Lindsay • Melissa • Ira • Ivan • Andy • Matthew • Stephen • David • Amy • Bansri • Michelle • Katherine • Kerry • Amanda • Arielle • Chris • Jordynne • Irina • Jamie • Stephan • Alex • Jeff • Corey • Ronan • Jim • Kat • David • Alex • Jami • Elaine • Vesna • Sadia • Jen • Rachel • Brian • Ryan • Dalton • Bennett • Mike • Ari • Viv • Rachel • Erica • Dan • Jeff • Matt • Hillary • Ron • Brian • Kristin • Dori • Miriam • Diane • John • Anne • Bruce • Mike • Jim • Bernie • Teresa • Rosanne • Mari • Richard • Maria • Nicole • Sarah • Tel • Laké • Tom • Rose • Emily • Matt • Matt • Dan • Brigid • Andrew • Andrew • John • Mindy • Caroline • Cindy • Josephine • Allison • Trey • Mike • Lauren • Melissa • Alyson • Catie • Sarah • Yochanan • Jason • Michelle • Nancy • Maria • Lori • David • Jason • David • David • Teddy • Jenn • Aster • Elizabeth • Natalya • Serena • Erica • Lindsay • Jarett • Dave • Jananne • Richard • Marian • Mike • Angie • Elaine • Bernie • Michelle • Jim • Bruce • Joan • Becky • Barbara • Carlton • Dan • Chris • Marty • Mike • Neil • Hoa • Bob • Helen • Vesna • Keach • Lauren • Mel • Joan • Julie • Kim • Lesley • Hari • Yael • Libba • Ned • The Mayor • Stan • Eva • Charles • Sumana • Crystal • Sara • Tom • Calvin • Jody • Ben • Lisa • Nicko • Ksenia • Jackie • Sharif • Norman • Lefty/Bless • Brian • Brian • Quincy • Doug • Charlotte • Claire • Lauren • Preston • Heather • Patty • Grandma T • Jaye • Mark • Chloe • Ava • Brendan • Phillippe • Kathy • Angelique • Heike • Shira • Katherine • Ace • Christina • Adrian • Jeanne • Neal

Further, since I cannot remember everyone’s name: my American government professor at Georgetown; the guy with the Mountain Dew tower at WPI; the Koreans from youth group; the blonde coxswain who knew accupressure massage; the dude with the sick komodo dragon; that one guy in the fraternity who set me up on a double date; the Asian guy who spilled a drink on me at that multicultural dance party my sophomore year; the kid I used to make fun of because of his atrocious spelling; my friend’s little brother who was a genius at Literati; the weirdo who once put a picture of me on a fetish site themed around hot girls wearing glasses; the police captains in Port Chester and Greenwich; the lawyer who helped the taxi drivers unionize; the nice people from the Rotary and the DAR; all baristas everywhere; everyone whose house or dorm room I’ve ever slept in; Kai who opened a coffeeshop on my block; the prof who taught my history of film musicals class; the people who worked in the microfilm room at the NYPL in the early 2000s; all young adult novelists; Jacob Bernstein for giving me that interview that one time when I called his apparently unlisted number; all of the Republicans and Democrats and independents and school board candidates of all the villages and towns I’ve ever covered; everyone whose campaign I ever worked on; the people who were paid to answer the phones of every busy person I’ve ever tried to interview; everyone who has ever tried to hire me even if they ultimately failed; everyone I ever dated even if it ended badly; anyone who has ever delivered anything to my home; Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and all the whistleblowers for disclosing information crucial to the public interest; Glenn Greenwald and the myriad folks involved in deciphering, interpreting and disseminating that information; my mom again; my girlfriend again; my cats Althea and Shumai, who insist their personhood is real and not imagined.

This is a list that can only get longer, never shorter, so I’m going to stop now. Thank you to all those who have made life more bearable these last twenty years. I am in your debt and hope to remain so for a good long time.

Posted in GYOB, memoir-y.

Love, Actually: Reactions for my friend Jim

Goddammit, Jim Wolfe. You made me watch Love, Actually, and I watched it twice, and the second time I took notes because I wanted to write it up for you, you jerk.

Notes from the first hour of Love, Actually:

* The film opens with a crazy old musician guy who is obviously going to be awesome.

* Colin Firth leaves his sick girlfriend home in bed.

* Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson are buds. Neeson’s wife just died.

* Dorky guy thinks he has trouble getting laid because British girls are too stuck up.

* Two soft-core porn stars make boring small talk.

* The Hot Black Dude From Serenity is best buds with a white dude. It’s the Hot Black Dude’s wedding day. He marries a hot chick.

* There’s a new prime minister, and he’s Hugh Grant. When he meets his household stuff, he is immediately enchanted by a young woman who accidentally says the words “shit,” “fuck” and “piss” during their brief interaction.

* There is this really amazing moment at the wedding that if you haven’t seen I won’t ruin for you, although you shouldn’t be reading a summary of a movie you’ve never seen.

* Colin Firth comes home to discover his brother is shagging his girlfriend!

* Alan Rickman tells a homely shy woman to ask out some guy named Carl.

* Alan Rickman’s secretary is a super-hot chick who wants to have sex with him.

* Liam Neeson’s stepson is in love!

* Thirty-seven minutes in — first WTF moment as follows:

The hot PA is sitting in an office chair and she spreads her legs to indicate to Alan Rickman that she is hot for his bod. Here is a true story: NO woman will ever do that. Because we don’t think it’s hot. Men are the ones obsessed with showing off their crotches.

* Moment that is awesome for the wrong reason: Hugh Grant disses the US president, who is a jerkface who felt up the catering girl with the potty mouth even though she obviously was not consenting to any such thing. Hugh Grant disses American president seemingly ONLY because he wants to impress hot catering girl.

* Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman are married but have much less chemistry than Thompson and Neeson do. Their daughter is going to be a lobster in the Christmas nativity scene.

* Hugh Grant dances around 10 Downing Street like he’s in a movie or something.

* Colin Firth gets a maid at some house where he’s writing in the country! Firth’s character speaks English, Spanish, French, and a bit of Turkish. The maid speaks only Portugese. Colin Firth does not speak Portugese. They fall in love, obviously, because two people who can’t understand each other can’t hear what rude things are actually being said or implied. Also Colin Firth is an idiot who types his manuscript on a typewriter and makes no backup and so they have to take off their clothes and jump in a lake to rescue water-logged and probably illegible manuscript pages.

Is this just an excuse to get them in a lake?

* Hot Married Chick asks hubby’s BFF for his personal wedding video. He’s rude to her, and she thinks he hates her because he’s always so curt with her. Then she watches the wedding video and the camera never leaves her! It is making love to her, the camera is!

A Dido song plays. Remember what kind of movie this is, it says.

*
One hour in and I’ve given up note-taking for live-blogging — It is creepy to pretend to be Leonardo DiCaprio to your step-son’s Kate Winslet, even if you are helping your step-son nurse a terrible crush, and said crush is moving back to America after the upcoming Christmas concert.

*
The fact that there are too many actors in this film makes it too long by about half an hour. When you’re an hour in and you realize you’ve an hour to go, it’s not a great moment.

*
Colin Firth’s Portugese maid goes back to Portugal. Or maybe he just goes back to England. Regardless, they part ways.

*

MUSICIAN DUDE IS AWESOME AND MAKES HILARIOUS REX MANNING MUSIC VIDEO

*
But here is where movie becomes worth it: Child learns to play drums to woo his crush. Hard work is crucial to romance! Woo!

*
Moving back to that chick Alan Rickman told to ask out Carl — and then back to Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and the lady in harlot-face.

Harlot Face is wearing a demon headband, which is not particularly Christmasy. And here’s the thing: this could be very hot. Super sexy. But we’re supposed to feel ashamed of Alan Rickman for going for it, because apparently people in good monogamous relationships are not allowed to be sexually attracted to other people, even if it is a natural human impulse? WTF. She is super hot, tho.

*
The prime minister is lonely and is watching the awesome aged musician on television.

God, Alan Rickman dances with Harlot Face in front of his wife??? Has he no taste? Do he and Emma have an open relationship? Is he just taking it too far? Is he just bad at understanding and negotiating boundaries? Is Harlot Face trampling those boundaries, and if so, why doesn’t he lay down the law?

*
The homely chick is finally dancing with Carl. Oh! And she brought him home on a whim! NICE. Her apartment is super cute. Time to score! Carl is hot, but in kind of a pretty-boy shallow way with the muscles and the … oops. Phone!

Oh no. Homely chick’s mentally ill brother calls in the middle of a sexy moment. Wow, mentally ill people are such drags, aren’t they? I mean, can’t he go have his breakdown to someone else? Carl obviously thinks he should. Carl seems impatient with all this mentally ill brother shit. Totally impatient like he doesn’t even care. Shallow muscle freak. He should be comforting her, but she’s comforting him!!!

Did they grease him up for this scene? Does he use self-tanner? Is he SERIOUSLY suggesting that she not take this call? Her brother is like threatening suicide or some shit and Carl looks like he’s been dumped or something. Dickhead.

*
Emma Thompson comments on Harlot Face, whose name is Mia. “Be careful there,” she says. I can’t tell if that’s the sign of an open relationship or the sign of a woman saying, “We are monagamous, and don’t you go near that harlot-faced harlot!”

*
Homely chick is very good with her mentally ill brother and knows exactly how to handle his behavior.

*
Emma Thompson is awake in the middle of the night.

*
Alan Rickman’s secretary wants a Christmas present. She also really, really wants to have a lot of incredibly hot sex. He should get it on with her, except he’s married to a woman who was just depicted lying in bed, not sleeping.

Alan Rickman buys his secretary a gold necklace from Mr. Bean … who wraps it very very carefully and takes just about forever, almost catching him out. Because his wife definitely doesn’t know about the gold necklace. What the hell. What the ever-loving hell. Who buys a $400 gold necklace for an office hottie? You buy that for your WIFE, you dumbass. The office hottie gets a pair of panties to replace the ones you tore off. That’s all she gets. Maybe some chocolate.

But number one rule of open relationships: YOUR PRIMARY PARTNER TAKES PRIORITY ALWAYS FOREVER.

Jesus. Mr. Bean is making this even more of a horror than usual and EMMA SEES ALAN RICKMAN IN THE JEWELRY SECTION.

*
Colin the dorky guy who can’t get it on with anyone is preparing to go off to America and find girls to shag.

*
The pornographers are having nice conversations, and while she is giving him fake fellatio he asks her out and she says yes.

*
Liam Neeson wishes his step-son wouldn’t practice his drums so much.

*
Emma Thompson finds the goddamn gold necklace WHY ARE YOU SUCH AN IDIOT ALAN RICKMAN

*
Colin Firth takes Portugese lessons

*
Emma Thompson sees a box under the tree just like the one with the gold necklace in it, and she looks excited.


Dorky guy flies off to America and upon arriving in Milwaukee is immediately surrounded by hot Wisconsin chicks with whom he has seriously orgiastic sex. I say orgiastic because it’s a freakin orgy, including January Jones!!! I would totally have an orgy with January Jones. Well, except I’d be too indimidated becasue she’s so thin.

It’s true — I have never met a British guy in the US who didn’t have an easy time getting laid because we really do find their accents super cute which is why so many of us fell for Hugh Grant for so many years.

Still, there is something deeply sexist about this scene. Hey guy! Go to America! Get it on with slutty American chicks who will have orgies with you! BECAUSE THAT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME HERE. (Do you not know we are a nation of puritans who find your language appallingly filthy and who only engage in shameful sex unless of course we are married in which case we get to say it’s not shameful even though we are really still ashamed?)

*
Emma Thompson opens her Christmas gift and it’s a Joni Mitchell CD. WHAT.

*
Hot Harlot Face is wearing red panties in front of a mirror and putting on that gold necklace.

Goddammit the Rickman/Thompson relationship is definitely not open.This is bullshit.

*
Liam Neeson and his step-son are hanging out and Liam has no love life, even though he should obviously be shagging Emma Thompson.

*
Billy Mac, the crazy old dried up musician, has the number one Christmas single!!! He gets an invite to Elton John’s Christmas party and disses his longtime manager in the process.

*
The pornographers have an awkward first date. This is cute because we’re supposed to believe, what? That pornographers are clinical about sex and therefore incapable of romance?

I’m sorry. I really enjoyed this movie. I really, really liked it.

*
Colin Firth ditches his family at Christmas and goes … to Portugal? Then why does the cab say “Marseille”?

*
Carl doesn’t seem interested in homely lady — actually he is just a douche about the whole thing as if he’s somehow been shunned because she has family obligations???

*
Hugh Grant is alone at 10 Downing Street.

*
The kid with the love and the drums is not hungry and won’t eat dinner.

*
Homely girl spends time with her brother.

*
HOT CHICK is with her husband, Hot Black Dude From Serenity, when his best friend shows up at the door with a boombox. It’s carol singers, she says to her hubby, because lying is a great thing to do. Best friend uses cue cards to indicate he is madly in love with HOT CHICK — oh she’s Keira Knightley, btw — and that he has no expectations but he just wants her to know.

THIS IS AWESOME.

She kind of ruins it by running after him and kissing him. He loves her, and that’s sweet, and he told her, and that’s great, but she just got MARRIED and needs to … oh, who knows what kind of relationship she and the dude from Serenity have.

*
CRAZY MUSICIAN DITCHES ELTON JOHN AND MAKES HEARTFELT CONFESSION OF LOVE TO HIS MANAGER. Gay joke because gayness is … what? Hilarious and terrifying? Bite me.

What kind of an asshole calls his manager and best friend “Chubs”?

*
HUGH GRANT is still lonely and starts looking at his holiday cards, and there’s one from the hot chick he had reassigned after the president of the United States felt her up. She confesses love in a Christmas card, but there’s no address. Being the prime minister, he has access to a car but apparently not to his employees’ addresses????

So he wanders around an area known as Wandsworth and literally goes door to door to find his Christmas sweetheart. While he’s at it, he sings a Christmas carol to some children, because that will make us believe he’s not an asshole. His protective service guy is a great singer. He knocks on Harlot Face’s door, and she tells him where Natalie (the catering girl he lurrves) lives. She comes down the stairs cursing in front of her whole family. They are late for the school Christmas concert!

They are in a car with a child dressed as an Octopus between them.

Wait. Why is she apologizing for the fact that the president of the United States felt her up, as if it’s HER fault??? Why doesn’t he say, “Jesus God, Natalie, it’s not your fault the prez is a douchemonger. It’s not your fault your last boyfriend said you were fat. It’s not your fault people keep treating you like shit, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way by anyone, and I want to be around to punch the next guy who tries it on you.” WHY DOES HE NOT SAY THESE THINGS?

*
Everyone except Colin Firth is at the Christmas concert. Is there a large Portugese community in Marseille?

*
Emma Thompson sees her brother, the prime minister, at school! She’s so happy he’s there. He’s not really there for her but for his new rando girlfriend with the potty mouth, so he’s going to try to hide himself somewhere. Emma Thompson is really happy to see him because she’s just had her heart broken by Alan Rickman. God, what an idiot.

*
There’s an octopus and two lobsters in the nativity scene. Also … a … jellyfish?

*
Then there’s a rock band. And the rock band’s drummer is The Kid in Love, and the lead singer is The Girl He Loves. She’s super talented and kind of acting all sexy, which is weird as she’s some sort of tween. It’s not a miracle or anything that her band needed a drummer and that The Kid was able to learn how to play drums in like two weeks. He’s basically a pro now. That’s totally plausible. Learning an instrument is definitely a thing you can do overnight.

*
Then a curtain opens and shows the prime minister kissing his hottie, and they’re both okay with it and there’s no fall-out, and she doesn’t get called a slut by everyone in England, and ….

*
Oh, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are arguing finally. Emma wants to know “if it’s just a necklace, or if it’s sex and a necklace, or if worst of all it’s love.”

Honey, sometimes it’s love. Sometimes it’s sex. There shouldn’t ever be a necklace, but sometimes there’s love and sometimes there’s sex, but that doesn’t HAVE TO diminish what you and Alan Rickman have, which is apparently a companionable and predictable life together that you seem to like all right. If you’re not happy with him, leave him. But you are happy with him, no? You two don’t seem to hate one another.

To quote Titus Andromedon: “Everybody kisses things. White people kiss their dogs.”

“Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse?” asks Emma. Alan, fortunately, realizes he is a total dick who has really done badly by a woman with whom it turns out he definitely has a totally monogamous relationship. Dumbasses, the both of them.

*
The Little Drummer Boy is about to miss his chance to tell the girl he’s got a crush on that he loves her. So he and Liam Neeson are going to drive off to Heathrow when suddenly Neeson meets a chick who looks just like Claudia Schiffer. Apparently this was the plan all along, but The Drummer Boy does genuinely want to go after his American chick.

*
Colin Firth shows up at the home of a Portugese man and says he wants to marry his daughter. In Portugese. The whole village joins together to follow Colin Firth to her place of employment. The old man calls his other daughter “Miss Dunkin’ Donuts 2003,” because fat jokes are awesome and hilarious.

*
Drummer Boy runs past security at the airport!!! He’s not just a naturally gifted drummer, he’s also a very fast runner!

*
The entire village is spreading rumors that Colin Firth is going to kill Aurelia or that her father is selling her into slavery.

*
The Drummer Kid gets to run past even more security when AWESOME MUSICIAN strips naked on live TV, which he promised to do if he got the number one single.

*
Security catches up with Drummer Boy, but then Joanna, the girl he likes, runs after him and kisses him on the cheek before she flies off to America.

*
Colin Firth tries to propose to this Aurelia chick in Portugese. She is standing on a balconette, because that is normal. “I know I seems an insane person because I hardly know you,” he says, and YES HE DOES. But she says — in English! She’s been learning English! — “Yes is being my answer.”

Okay, fine. I mean, I don’t generally go for this kind of romance because there’s a weird power dynamic that can occur when two people don’t speak the same language, particularly if one person takes the other person away from her country and family and various support systems, but maybe Colin Firth is the one man on earth capable of not taking advantage of such a dynamic in the long-run.

*
ONE MONTH LATER at airport again

Awesome musician is with his manager, introducing him to latest hot chick whose name doesn’t particularly matter.

Aurelia and Colin meet up with Keira Knightley and her two lovers. Maybe Keira Knightley’s lovers are cooler than Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman? Unknown.

Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are maybe starting to get back on track or something? Do we even want them together?

Drummer Boy sees his American girlfriend! Liam Neeson is with Claudia Schiffer, which is annoying because he should be with Emma Thompson.

The pornographers got married? This is funny, that pornographers might do something so traditional. Everybody laugh now.

The dorky guy brought a girlfriend back from Texas, along with her hot sister who is going to hang with dorky guy’s best friend because of how women are hotness objects and that’s just fine. Y’all keep laughing.

Hugh Grant — the prime minister — kisses his girlfriend at the airport. She practically mounts him, actually. This is undignified.

This is a happy ending.

***

What I have to say: I think maybe rom-coms are fundamentally conservative in their point of view? There were no gay couples in this film. NONE. There were no non-traditional couples of any kind in this film. It was all hetero monogamy, sometimes with problematic power dynamics thrown in.

Dating the prime minister is ALWAYS going to be fraught. And mounting him at the airport is probably not prime-minister-girlfriend behavior.

NO WOMAN OPENS HER LEGS LIKE THAT BECAUSE IT IS UNATTRACTIVE. Did a man think that was attractive? Because I can tell you, crotches are not what women show off. We go for tits. We are much more comfortable with you seeing our tits.

Emma Thompson is wonderful and deserves someone who is not bored with her. She and Alan Rickman obviously need rules and boundaries that take both of their needs into account. Also she should leave him for Liam Neeson. Am I judgy? Yes, but absurdly not because I think there’s anything wrong with an affair. There’s something very wrong with dishonesty, though, or with prioritizing your mistress over your primary partner in the Christmas gift department.

See, this is why my morality is never going to be represented by a rom-com — because to me the biggest crimes in the film were that so many people were so unfulfilled because of dishonesty, because of other people’s expectations, and because of un-negotiated boundaries.

I guess my idea of what love is … is weird. I think love is being willing to pull the bezoar out of the shower drain. I think love is ordering from that restaurant you hate because your partner has been entertaining your food freak habits for days now. I know my girlfriend loves me because there is always plenty of coffee when I wake up in the morning. She does that *for* me. No one else in the world would do that for me, because no one else knows what kind of monster I am without coffee. And there is no one else with whom I would be willing to create a joint bezoar that forms in the shower drain and which it is my responsibility to remove from said drain.

Then there’s romance. That’s a separate thing. You can have love long after romance fades, and you can have romance that never fully blossoms into love. Like the romance between Carl and the chick with the mentally ill brother who thinks the nurses are trying to kill him. Poor guy. But we’re supposed to think, “Poor her. She doesn’t deserve to have her life ruled by some crazy person!” Which is bullshit. Or are we supposed to think, “Poor her! She doesn’t get to have romance because her life is ruled by some crazy person!”? That’s not a better message. Fuck that whole entire storyline.

And finally there’s sex, which obviously you can have with or without love or romance. The best storyline from this perspective is that of the Dorky Guy who goes off to America and has freaky sex. But it’s also the most sexist storyline. Because there are no female characters in the movie who seem to have that desire. Not characters, not actual characters.

In fact, the only woman in the movie with any kind of a unique personality … is Ms. Harlot Face!

I get it. I get it. Women are meat, and men are too stupid to even keep their manuscript in a folder.

This is why I stopped watching these awful movies, Jim. This is why I ditched them. Not because I don’t believe in true love, but because I don’t like the notions attached to the films. I don’t like when women are just “homely and shy but super sweet” or “motherly and smart” or “damsel in distress” or “hot chick from Texas.” I don’t like that shit. I just do not.

Also are we really supposed to think that it’s funny or something that pornographers can have romance, too? Is that really what we’re supposed to think? Or are we supposed to think it’s sweet, like we never thought a sex worker might be capable of emotions but now we totally get it?

This movie, Jim. I loved it, and I hate it. It’s a terrible movie, sexist, full of flawed premises and outdated notions. I cried I think four or five times.

Posted in movies, projects.

The option of privacy

I publish my work here under my full name. I write about my life without holding back, except where innocent people might be harmed as a result of my writing about them.

You might wonder why I advocate so passionately for internet privacy when I tell the whole world all my secrets without restraint.

1. I have always had the option of keeping my secrets. For years I was forced to keep secrets, and then I continued to do so because I was afraid of people’s reactions.

I personally don’t care if you think I’m a weirdo any more, because I am a weirdo, and I’m fine with that. In fact, my weirdness is what I have to offer the world.

2. So my weirdness, and my truth, are things I talk about because it’s what I have to contribute, and because I’m tired of forced silence. I want to exercise my own free speech. I want to tell people about my experiences. I hope that maybe some of you will get ideas from all this for how to spark change in your own worlds, even if all you do is teach your kids that they have the right to establish firm boundaries.

3. But privacy is important. I have the right to be a private person if I choose to do so, and for about eighteen years I did choose to do so. I did that for my own safety. I have a right to preserve my own safety.

4. When it comes to the state spying on me, I admit I don’t have much “to hide.” There are things I would be a little embarrassed about if you learned them, but for me personally, state surveillance is not my biggest fear.

5. I personally am more afraid of all the trackers from Facebook and Amazon and other companies with which I do business. And that’s why I flush my cookies with the frequency of a true paranoiac and use all sorts of browser extensions to protect myself to whatever degree I can.

6. But there are people, a lot of people, who have genuine reason to fear state surveillance. I could easily be one of them. And I think it’s important that you all read, for instance, about a really gross spying bill that passed the Senate yesterday with only twenty-one votes against it.

7. Here’s what Edward Snowden has to say about that bill: “What it allows is for the companies you interact with every day – visibly, like Facebook, or invisibly, like AT&T – to indiscriminately share private records about your interactions and activities with the government.” Actually, the bill *requires* those companies to share your info with the NSA. Seriously.

8. Now you understand maybe why I am paranoid about my business-facing cookies.

9. If the government spies on citizens without our consent, without our knowledge, without valid reason, we all lose something precious. We lose the right to be flawed people. We all become criminals by default.

10. As an abuse survivor, I’ve lived under circumstances like that, where every move was monitored. And I have to tell you, living under a microscope like that is definitely not being free. As a former preacher’s daughter I can tell you that I’ve lived in a fishbowl, and fishbowls are not free places either.

11. As an army brat, I was raised to believe that the US government is some sort of heroic institution that exports freedom and democracy to the rest of the world. The first lessons I learned in my DoD school were about freedom and its importance.

12. As an abuse survivor, I value justice. It’s just super important to me that people be treated fairly and humanely and that their basic rights be respected.

13. I have always wanted our nation to be one that values freedom. I have always thought that the most important line ever written by our founding fathers was not in the Constitution but in the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

14. With the spying, they’re taking our liberty and chilling our pursuit of happiness. By spying on us, they’ve put us in a position where we are constantly trying to cover our tracks. Even flushing your cookies is evidence you’re suffering from a chilling effect. You shouldn’t have to cover your tracks unless you’re hiding from something.

15. This is also why you should be very, very worried about treaties like TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. The spying bill, CISA, lays some of the groundwork for those treaties, helps foster an environment that would allow our government — and, with the treaties, the governments and corporations of many of the world’s nations — to encroach on our liberties even more.

16. I’m almost done here, I swear. As someone who has survived tyranny, the most important thing to me is never living under it again. As someone who is free with my opinions, it’s important to me that I have the right to be free with my opinions.

17. Internet freedom is a women’s issue. Have you read the 1972 Johnnie Tillmon piece, Welfare is a Women’s Issue? You should. It explains why access to food and shelter are vitally important to women.

18. If your abusive partner has installed a keystroke logger on your computer, you have no freedom. We can all see this quite clearly, that if you are being monitored constantly by someone you love who is supposed to love you, then you are being stripped of basic human rights.

19. The government and some of the bigger corporations have basically installed keystroke loggers on us, except they’ve done it in tricky ways we don’t discover until after our privacy has already been compromised.

20. Edward Snowden recently said on Twitter, “Surveillance is not about safety. It’s about power. It’s about control.”

You could replace the word “surveillance” with “abuse” and you’d have the same statement. This is why a free internet is so important to me. This is why the right to privacy is so fundamental in my opinion. Because we all deserve to be free from those who would hold us captive, whether those folks are our bizarrely cruel fathers or the people who’ve built a surveillance apparatus that makes the Stasi look like amateur hour.

We all deserve that freedom. Anyone who is a survivor should value that freedom, and anyone who is a woman or a member of a minority group should viscerally understand why, and anyone who is human should do whatever they can to protect that freedom.

Posted in infosec, memoir-y, politics.

I totally hate everyone

Listen, you can’t ever tell anyone I said this, but I’ve been feeling … grateful.

Shut up! I am a misanthrope. A hopeless misanthrope.

But I have spent thirty-six years on this earth, twenty of those as an abuse survivor, and I am grateful for a bunch of different little beautiful things I’ve got in my life.

My girlfriend of thirteen and a half years is the most amazing woman in the world, and I’m grateful not only for her continual presence in my life but also for the journey we’ve shared together. We’ve been through some Weird Shit, and yet we’re still here.

I’ve known my therapist for even longer than I’ve known my girlfriend, and I am grateful to have a therapeutic relationship that has lasted so long and been so beneficial to me.

My psychiatrist has been my doctor since the year Allison and I met, and I’m grateful for him, too. I’m just generally grateful for having consistent care in that realm. It’s the one thing that has kept me here on this earth, is having doctors who know me well enough to look out for me at certain times of year and to differentiate a good mood from a medication malfunction.

I have a mother who is kind and loving and generous and whom I adore even if I don’t say it often enough or like, ever. But you can’t go around telling your mom you love her and that she’s amazing and that you are proud of her without sounding like a sap. And I’m not a sap.

I am a person who hates everything and everyone. Except my cats, but that’s because cats are merciless killers who don’t differentiate between cuddles and murder.

My best friend — other than Allison — is a guy I first met when I was thirteen and he was eleven. We grew close in high school, around the time that my father died. We both have slightly insane personalities, so it is something of a miracle that we have never killed each other. (To be fair, we came quite close once, on a misguided road trip from New Orleans to New York. After which we didn’t speak for something like seven years.)

But the reason that we’re in each other’s lives now that we’re grown-ass adults is that we’re kindred spirits, even if he is a moderate Democrat who might well vote for Hillary Clinton in a primary election. We disagree on a lot of things, but our souls are alike.

Oh my God. Kill me now. Did I say that? Our souls are alike?

Look, the truth is there are folks out there who have been really kind to me over the last few years. Your kindness has sustained me. I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for the coping skills I’ve learned, too. October has been easier this year than it usually is, and that’s not just an accident — it’s something I’ve worked toward. Something everyone in my life has helped me work toward.

Excuse me. To make up for all this gratitude nonsense I’ve just spewed I’m going to have to go spend at least an hour trolling people in bad parts of the internet.

Posted in GYOB, memoir-y.

Lessons from rom coms previously summarized here

Sabrina, 1954: If you go bonkers for a guy, his hotter smarter older brother will marry you.

Pillow Talk, 1959: Lying to a lover about your identity is a good idea.

Working Girl, 1988: Lying about your identity at work is a good idea.

When Harry Met Sally, 1989: That guy you hated in college is your best bet.

Pretty Woman, 1990: Capitalism.

The Cutting Edge, 1992: Lying about your feelings is the only way to start a lasting relationship.

Groundhog Day, 1993: Andie MacDowell has excellent hair.

Sleepless in Seattle, 1993: You should drop everything when you think you might be in love with a stranger you heard once on the radio.

Speechless, 1994: Insomnia = true love.

The American President, 1995: The traffic in Dupont Circle is a nightmare.

French Kiss, 1995: Lying about your identity and criminal behavior will lead to true love in a vineyard.

While You Were Sleeping, 1995: Lying about your relationship with a man will lead his brother to fall in love with you.

Sabrina (1995): Going bonkers for a hot guy means his older hotter smarter brother will move to Paris with you.

Clueless (1995): It sucks when you fall for someone who isn’t into your gender.

One Fine Day, 1996: People who hate each other should be together forever.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs, 1996: Lying about your identity is a good idea if you don’t look like Uma Thurman.

My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997: Screwing up your best friend’s wedding means your other best friend — the gay one — is going to have to come bail you out.

Ever After, 1998: Lying to a prince about your identity is a good idea.

You’ve Got Mail, 1998: When a women learns a man’s true identity, capitalism.

10 Things I Hate About You, 1999: Grumpy people deserve each other.

Never Been Kissed, 1999: If you lie about your identity when you’re a reporter, it’s fine as long as you write a story explaining what you did.

Notting Hill, 1999: We are supposed to believe Hugh Grant is only a mild asshole.

She’s All That, 1999: It’s okay to lie to someone about your intentions — really, it’s fine as long as you fall in love at the end.

What Women Want, 2000: The only way a man will ever treat a woman right is if he is struck by lightning while using cosmetics for the first time.

Serendipity, 2001: Just don’t go to 59th Street, okay?

Kate and Leopold, 2001: True love is a sham.

Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001: Renee Zellweger gained a bunch of weight to look normal, because skinny women aren’t neurotic.

The Wedding Planner, 2001: J. Lo can be in rom coms too.

Maid in Manhattan, 2002: Capitalism. Lying about your identity is a good idea, particularly if you’re a hotel maid, because eww.

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, 2003: Rich people lie about their intentions all the time. Also true love is a sham.

500 Days of Summer, 2009: This is not even a movie.

Posted in movies, projects.

Short summaries of romantic comedies

Sabrina, 1954: Audrey Hepburn tries to commit suicide in a very large garage, which leads Humphrey Bogart to fall in love with her.

Pillow Talk, 1959: Doris Day trashes Rock Hudson’s apartment. Alcoholism is funny.

Working Girl, 1988: Sigourney Weaver has really nice stuff. Melanie Griffith is from Staten Island.

When Harry Met Sally, 1989: Two sad people get together so they won’t “die one of those New York deaths that nobody notices until two weeks later when the smell drifts into the hallway.” Princess Leia marries Bruno Kirby.

Pretty Woman, 1990: The prostitute-next-door gets a makeover and takes a bubble bath, but must also cope with Richard Gere’s existence.

The Cutting Edge, 1992: DB Sweeney — or is it Paul Rudd, and can you even tell the difference? — learns how to use a toe-pick even though he’s a fully grown man and should know that shit by now.

Groundhog Day, 1993: Andie MacDowell has excellent hair.

Sleepless in Seattle, 1993: A crazy woman dumps Bill Pullman for a stranger she’s never met. The stranger’s young son has a pretty cool chair in his bedroom.

Speechless, 1994: A smart, successful political speechwriter risks her whole career by hooking up with a Republican. The Republican is played by Michael Keaton just a few years post-Batman, so it’s normal for her to do that.

The American President, 1995: A crazy lady dates the president of the United States, who is also crazy and sends her a ham because the florist passed out when she saw him. Annette Bening has the most beautiful shoulders of anyone in history.

French Kiss, 1995: Meg Ryan gets stranded in France, then helps cover up a felony.

While You Were Sleeping, 1995: A crazy woman who doesn’t even have her own coat cons a whole family into thinking she is engaged to their rich, comatose son. Bill Pullman splits his pants on icy pavement.

Sabrina (1995): People have chauffeurs who they let live on their property and whose daughters they acknowledge are human. Harrison Ford.

Clueless (1995): Alicia Silverstone plays a girl named “Cher,” and we’re all relieved when she finally hooks up with her step-brother, Paul Rudd. (Or is it DB Sweeney? What if they’re actually the same person???)

One Fine Day, 1996: Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney are both single parents and busy people, so they go to Serendipity 3 for iced hot chocolate.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs, 1996: Janeane Garofalo is not Uma Thurman, and therefore only deserves to date actors you’ve never heard of, and even then only because she’s funny.

My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997: Julia Roberts is insane, and mean, and insane, and tries to ruin a wedding, and this isn’t romance, and it’s not comedy, and I don’t know why it’s on this list.

Ever After, 1998: Drew Barrymore carries a prince and convinces him to establish a public university system. But, you know, this is literally a Cinderella story.

You’ve Got Mail, 1998: Bookstores exist, and people use AOL. This is the last tolerable Meg Ryan movie ever made.

10 Things I Hate About You, 1999: Julia Stiles is a grumpy high schooler, and so is Heath Ledger, so obviously they should date. Bonus Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Never Been Kissed, 1999: Drew Barrymore is a reporter who goes undercover as a high school student and falls in love with her English teacher. We’re fine with the fact that he’s a teacher and she’s his student and they’re in love, and also with her lying about her age and identity.

Notting Hill, 1999: We are supposed to believe Hugh Grant is only a mild asshole.

She’s All That, 1999: Reverse Carrie. High school proms include bizarre but enchanting choreographed dance routines.

What Women Want, 2000: We don’t know yet that Mel Gibson is a crazy misogynist.

Serendipity, 2001: John Cusack is still hot. That stupid ice cream restaurant has another moment in the spotlight, making the area even more unbearable for pedestrians who have places to be.

Kate and Leopold, 2001: Why are you still watching Meg Ryan movies, y’all? The writers are now trying to tell us that Meg can only have romantic love if it comes with time travel and probably typhoid. This is definitely because of the thing with Russell Crowe.

Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001: The most insane woman in the history of the genre dates her boss, Hugh Grant, who is of course an asshole and doesn’t deserve her (or anyone), so instead she hooks up with Mr. Darcy.

The Wedding Planner, 2001: Early J. Lo in an ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ role. She screws up an incredibly expensive wedding and probably loses her most of her clientele.

Maid in Manhattan, 2002: Nothing says hot sexy romance like J. Lo working as a hotel maid and a single mother. She’s living either in poverty or on the very edge of it, but it’s all good because then she finds a rich politician to adopt her.

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, 2003: Two rich, egomaniacal assholes have shower sex on Staten Island. A Gin Blossoms song plays during the denouement.

500 Days of Summer, 2009: Nope. We’re done here.

Posted in movies, projects.

Open Letters: For Sumana on comedy

Dear Sumana,

Today I’m going to try to delve into things that are (a) offensive, but (b) still funny.

We’ll start with some good old yellowface: Mickey Rooney is Mr. Yunioshi in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I first saw this movie when I was too young to understand racism. I saw this not knowing that the man playing Mr. Yunioshi was in fact Mickey Rooney, a white dude. I saw this, and I laughed.

Mr. Yunioshi is Audrey Hepburn’s upstairs neighbor, always disturbed by the doorbell buzzing at all hours, always yelling, “Miss-a-Go-Rightry!”

This is hilarious to the uneducated viewer. It’s hilarious because he’s Asian and so he talks funny, and also he has poor eyesight and buck teeth, and he bathes with a chef’s knife, and his scenes are accompanied by pentatonic scales. This weird video pretty thoroughly sums it up.

Yes, I laughed then. But would I laugh now, knowing as I do that Mickey Rooney is acting out harmful stereotypes? Would I even like the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s if I saw it for the first time now, after having learned all that I have about bigotry? Maybe the only reason I laughed is that I was ignorant, in the same way the filmmakers were ignorant, that I was racist against my own damn self, that I was willing to accept having these stereotypes about people of East Asian descent floating around in the world.

Anyway, that was 1961. Things have progressed since then when it comes to depictions of Asians in film. For instance, in 1984 we got the treat of a lifetime with Long Duk Dong, who not only has pentatonic scales and a funny accent, but is also played by an actual Asian actor who is only being forced to Amos n Andy himself. Oh, and he’s introduced with a goddamn GONG.

I laughed. When I first saw this movie, I laughed so hard I peed a little. In fact, I still laugh at Long Duk Dong. Gedde Watanabe is a good actor, pulling off a great imitation of a very harmful stereotype and doing it with personality and charm.

But if I saw Sixteen Candles for the first time in 2015, would I laugh? I mean, it was funny when I was a kid, but is it funny now?

There are reasons this is legitimately difficult. Amos n Andy was one of the first rich representations of black American culture on television, and for me, as a kid, the only Asian actors I ever saw were Gedde Watanabe and Margaret Cho, both of whom for some years made a living from mocking their own heritages. For me, seeing Long Duk Dong on the screen as a kid was (a) an indication that there were other Asian people in America besides myself, and (b) an indication that everyone thought all Asians were weird, and so a vindication of sorts for my own freakishness. It was genuinely a treat for me to see an Asian guy in a teen movie, in any role at all. And it’s hard for me to judge the whole thing too harshly considering that (a) teen movies are by definition movies about stereotypes, and (b) it was the 80s, for crying out loud.

Which brings me to today. Just this past year we had Kimmy Goes on a Date!, an episode of television in which Titus Andromedon tries to hide his recent cash windfall from his landlady Lilian, and the two end up attending a Korean funeral together.

Lilian and Titus show up for a graveside service at a local cemetery, where Titus has claimed he is singing, and then they see a picture of the deceased, an old Korean man named “Son Hae Sop Kim.” Lilian is surprised that this man was Titus’s friend but tells him to perform a Boys II Men song. The minister drones on in Korean. Everybody in the audience is Korean, except Lilian and Titus. He takes the microphone away from the minister (in the middle of a prayer!) and begins to sing a Boys II Men song … only he mixes them up and accidentally launches into the wrong Boys II Men tune.

I laughed at this! I laughed really hard! I basically could not stop laughing. It didn’t seem like it was full of harmful stereotypes. First of all, a Jewish woman and a gay black man crashed a Korean funeral, which makes them the interlopers instead of the other way around like with Long Duk Dong. Second, the Koreans are speaking Korean and doing Korean things! I appreciate this level of understanding. For so many years, all East Asian cultures have been treated as if they are interchangeable. Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi is, I think, supposed to be Japanese, but you’re not supposed to question which East Asian nation he’s from. You’re not supposed to think that hard. Gedde Watanabe played a Chinese character when he took the role of Long Duk Dong. When it comes to making comedy about ethnic minorities, there are certain signs of good will, like (a) giving the roles to people who are actually members of the minority at hand, and (b) putting some actual cultural references in there. (I have heard many, many Korean ministers pray, and they all pray basically exactly like the dude in this episode of Kimmy Schmidt.)

But the joke isn’t ON the Koreans, it’s on Titus and Lilian, and again, that is the part that makes it funny and okay. It’s Titus’s fault he crashes a Korean funeral, it’s Titus’s fault he snatches the mic away during a prayer, it’s Titus’s fault he sings the wrong Boys II Men song. The Koreans are just people Titus has managed to offend, not people bathing with giant knives. (Seriously, who even DOES that? Has anyone ever done that in the history of the world?)

So the first answer to the question of whether a thing can be offensive and funny at the same time is, “Definitely if you don’t know it’s offensive.” The second answer is, “Less so if you do know.” The third answer is, “It doesn’t have to be offensive if you do it right, so do it right.”

*

Next question: What about things that are both offensive — terribly so — and funny — ridiculously so? There are only a few of these I can bring to mind, so of course we’re going with Kimmy Schmidt again, this time from “Kimmy’s in a Love Triangle!” Here are the lyrics to the faux-opening of the supposed 1938 film musical Daddy’s Boy:

“Listen to the twiddle of the little dickie bird
Sometimes what you think you hear is not quite what you heard
Twiddle dee twit twoo means I love you
Tweet twoo twiddle dee means get off of me
Twitty twitty twitty means you’re my little sweetie
Twatty twitty twiddle means to your right a little
Oh dickie bird, dickie bird, dickie bird, do
Trying to tell you that I love you
Like the dickie bird do!”

This song, this whole bit, is super duper offensive! It’s a joke about how funny it is when a man has sex with his son! It’s a joke about how cops don’t do anything about it. It is the rapiest of rape jokes.

And it’s good. Wait! Don’t go running off and dismissing everything I’ve said so far. I know it sounds crazy that THIS does not offend me when basically everything else does. I mean, I am offended, except …

My take on the lyrics and the mood of this “Daddy’s Boy” routine is that the jokes here, just like most of the humor on Kimmy Schmidt, come from a place of personal experience and understanding. If you’ve been in an abuse situation, you totally get the line, “what you think you hear isn’t really what you heard” — and you know that it’s at least attempting to identify with the oppressed because it’s something any abuse survivor can tell you is a common refrain. “Tweet twoo twiddle dee means get off of me” — that’s also a very common refrain for an abuse survivor. Not only are there things that you think you heard, but there are also things you think you said, and nobody pays any attention to the fact you’ve said them.

It’s my personal opinion that the “Daddy’s Boy” bit could only be written by a person who knows more than they want to know about abuse. In fact, the whole show comes from that perspective. “I don’t want to have been locked in a bunker with a cult leader for fifteen years, but … that’s what happened.”

When you’re making comedy that mocks tragedy, you have to be extra-careful that your comedy is self-aware. You have to be extra-careful that nobody thinks you identify with the perpetrator. But if you do pay attention to the perspective behind your jokes, and if you do it well, I get to laugh as much as I want, because goddammit, “tweet twoo twiddle dee” does in fact mean get off of me! Because I get it, I know it, I lived it, and I’m down with it.

Here’s the thing that comes across to me: Some people will think the “Daddy’s Boy” routine is not at all remotely even a little humorous. Some people have no experience with abuse, or only very shallow experience witnessing a survivor struggle from afar, so they think making jokes about this topic is going a bridge too far. But making comedy is all about re-framing tragedy, and for that reason the bit not only works, it resonates with me on a personal level.

Of course Kimmy Schmidt doesn’t get a total free pass, particularly on the Asian stuff. There is, of course, an Asian (Vietnamese) character named Dong in the series, and he does, of course, get his share of pentatonic scale action.

Only — and I’m not sure about this, but I’d wager a few bucks on it — I am pretty sure there must be a person of Vietnamese heritage in the writers room for this show. There are too many smart jokes to allow for any other explanation, and truthfully, even the pentatonic scale is a joke that shows a familiarity with harmful stereotypes of Asian Americans.

Example: Kimmy meets Dong in GED class. She seems to want to tell him his name means “penis,” but he beats her to the punch and informs her that her name means “penis” in Vietnamese.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s too soon to tell how the Dong storyline might go in a second season, to know whether his character will deepen appropriately or remain a broad pastiche. I also find it just slightly annoying that the actor is Korean-American but plays a Vietnamese dude, though I guess at least he isn’t Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese dude. Here’s a pretty good article from Code Switch that delves into the Dong debacle.

At the end of the day, I think the answer to your questions is simpler than you wanted it to be. I think the answer is just to be as compassionate as you can be, to make jokes that hurt the oppressors and not the oppressed, to analyze your comedy to ensure you’re attacking the right targets, to question whether you are joking about your own lived experience or whether you’re joking about something that you don’t know enough about.

I think the key is, as Vonnegut would say, “Dammit, you’ve got to be kind.”

We all fail at this sometimes, probably more often than any of us want to admit. The folks behind Kimmy Schmidt made a very serious error in judgment when they had Martin Short parody Dr. Frederic Brandt in “Kimmy Goes to the Doctor!” They got mean when they did that bit, and though I wouldn’t hold them personally responsible for his subsequent suicide death, I wouldn’t say they helped. They attacked someone who didn’t really have a way of fighting back. It was like making fun of the nerdy kid, only with more tragic results than usual.

So, that’s all I think I have to say about humor. Be kind whenever you possibly can. Be mean only to those who really deserve it, like Dick Cheney. If you’re going to make fun of Donald Trump, do it because of the words that come out of his mouth and not because he has an unfortunate hair situation. And if you’re going to make jokes about delicate or controversial shit — like Asians or sexual abuse — you’d damn well better be coming from a place of experience.

Like the dickie bird do!
sabrina

Posted in GYOB, OLtRP, TV reviews.

Funny versus mean: Joking with intent

This entry is for my friend Sumana, who asked me to write about comedy, about what makes a joke funny instead of offensive, about what makes a joke offensive instead of funny, about when and if those two ever overlap and whether an offensive joke can ever be so funny it transcends the offense.

I’ll try to get to those points, but first I’ll start out with how I learned to be funny.

The first thing I should say is that my father had a lot of jokes memorized, all off-color, which he would tell any time people were gathered around. A lot of people said he was very funny. But basically all of his humor was mean.

Example, my dad’s favorite joke:

A young Korean man moves to New York City and tries to make a better life for himself. He starts a fruit stand and is successful enough at his work to bring his elderly father to live with him.

One day there’s some sort of emergency, and the guy has no choice but to leave his father, who speaks no English, running the fruit stand. His father protests, saying, “What am I supposed to do when people ask me for things? I don’t know what to say!”

The young man has little time, so he teaches his father three short phrases. “One for a nickel, two for a dime,” was the first phrase — the cost of any item a person might try to buy. The second question people always asked the young man was how they were supposed to take the fruit home, so he told his father to answer with the phrase, “Right there in that bag.” The third and final question was always, “Why should I buy this?” So, he said, if the person asked another question without offering money, his dad should say, “If you don’t, somebody else will.”

The old man takes his place at the fruit stand and his son rushes off. Eventually, a man comes along and speaks to him.

“Hey,” he says, “You got the time?”
“One for a nickel, two for a dime,” the old man says.
“You got any brains, buddy?” asks the stranger, agitated.
“Right there in that bag,” says the father.
“I oughta deck you!” the stranger says.
“If you don’t, somebody else will,” answers the old man.

The punchline was something about the poor little old Asian man getting a black eye from a racist dickhead and the young man running up to find his stand in disarray.

It’s mean. The whole joke is mean. It’s also ignorant. It shows that the person telling it doesn’t care about the young hardworking fruit stand owner, or about his elderly father. Also it shows that the joke-teller hasn’t bothered learning a new language, and doesn’t expect his audience to know anything about languages other than that some people don’t speak English.

Jokes are about perspective. What we think is funny depends on who we think deserves a kick in the pants. If you think immigrants deserve a kick in the pants, and you’re a monstrous doucheface, you tell that joke in front of your Asian wife and daughter. See, the young man didn’t do anything wrong. And the old man didn’t do anything wrong. But for being outsiders, they paid a price.

*

When I moved to Mississippi, I started to get bullied a lot for the first time ever. In Germany, there were isolated bullies, but we lived on an army base and had a fairly standard way of working that stuff out. It involved meeting in front of the flagpole after school. In Mississippi though, you weren’t allowed to be violent to your bullies. This was somehow considered impolite.

I found this out in the fifth grade, which was miserable from a classroom perspective. My teachers seemed to hate me, and I had no idea why. It seriously never occurred to me that people were racist until one day we were studying the many uses of kelp in science class, so I brought in a pot of rice and some nori and tried to get the kids to eat it. They were pretty much universal in their disdain and disgust. I bet they have a sushi restaurant in their town now.

Even then, I brushed it off. That’s what I was taught to do, was try to pretend people weren’t laughing at me all the time.

This resulted in me hanging my head in shame for most of fifth and almost all of sixth grades. The thing is, the bullying got so bad in the sixth grade that I had to find a way of making it stop. Our lunch table was seated alphabetically by homeroom, so I had to eat lunch with a group of boys whose favorite game was, “Think of things to tell Sabrina to go rotate on.” They’d tell me to “go rotate on” a cucumber, a Bible, Mars, the Statue of Liberty, or any other thing they could name. Problem: I had no idea what it meant to “go rotate on” a thing, and no adults would answer my fucking question. Since I had no friends, there weren’t any peers I could ask.

No friends. None. Having no friends is what made me try to be funny.

I knew the kids were making fun of me, I knew I was their favorite clueless victim, and I needed a way of poking back. I had tried patience, I had tried kindness, I had tried acting like the bigger person, I had tried appealing to adults, I had tried every damn thing an adult might advise.

And I was always clueless. I was always the new kid. I didn’t know what was on television, or what had been on television for the last five years, seeing as I’d spent those years on a military base in Germany where we only had one television station. I didn’t know what music people listened to, because I wasn’t allowed to listen to most secular music. Even though I was working pretty hard at catching up, I knew I couldn’t do it all overnight. There were going to be times when people were jerks to me.

Our homeroom’s lunch table was occupied, at the very end, by the homeroom of developmentally disabled kids, most of whom needed one-on-one attention and who were therefore surrounded by teachers. I spent most of sixth grade hanging out with them. I got my teacher to excuse me from gym so I didn’t have to deal with people always throwing balls at my head, and I spent every gym class in the resource room. Eventually I started eating lunch down at that end of the table, too. But then the school principal sat me down in her office and told me it was important for me to “socialize.”

So I tried a new approach, back at my old seat. When people asked me rude questions, I gave them rude answers. When people told me to go rotate on Mars, I told them to go rotate on the paddle Mrs. S kept in her desk for people who tell girls to go rotate on things.

I got mean. I got mean because I was angry and I was tired and I was sick of being treated like dirt by a bunch of jerk boys. I got mean, and I won. Because for once, the other kids at the lunch table were laughing at something I said on purpose.

But then I discovered that being funny could also make a girl friends. It didn’t have to be mean, I learned. Or it could be mean, but only toward people who deserved it, like that one band teacher who was always absent-mindedly rolling his baton up and down his butt cheeks like it was some kind of massage tool. (In Mississippi, we had five band teachers just for the seventh and eighth graders. It was heaven!)

By seventh grade, I was no longer friendless, and it’s all because I started cracking jokes. And also because I joined band, where all the nerds finally wised up to the idea of teaming up.

*

I have now watched the entire first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt five times. As I’ve mentioned, I think it’s the funniest thing ever. As with any show, of course there are parts that don’t work for me. And that’s why I think it’s the best frame through which to examine humor: because it’s easier to criticize things about which you feel generally positive.

My very favorite episode is called, “Kimmy Kisses a Boy!” — this is not the pilot, so don’t start with it, but this episode is the one that makes me snort-laugh for a half hour straight, and then sometimes for another ten minutes after.

I’m going to break some of it down for you: Kimmy’s friend Cyndee, whom she knows from the bunker they lived in together, arranges to visit NYC. Meanwhile, at work, Kimmy kisses a boy. He later butt-dials her and makes what she thinks is a confession of true love. Cyndee shows up with a Very Gay boyfriend in tow, and Kimmy’s gay roommate Titus tries to catch him out. Meanwhile, in a b plot, Titus worries he is losing his touch and might be turning into a wise old magical black man.

You know how a Tina Fey vehicle works: Every joke is actually two or three jokes packed together, and everything is so tight-knit that you don’t have time to catch a breath between laughs.

Kimmy’s whole bit with the guy she kisses is brilliant. This one line sums it up:

Kimmy: And I made everything weird, because I’m weird, and now you’re looking at me like I’m Jesus’s crazy brother Terry–that’s not in the Bible, is it?

I like it because Kimmy is making fun of herself, and the writers are clearly making fun of themselves. I’m weird, she says, and then demonstrates how she’s weird by talking about Jesus’s brother Terry. Also in this episode Kimmy says the phrase “kissing hole,” which is horrifying and delightfully hilarious at the same time.

It is beginning to occur to me that it may be impossible for me to go through this entire series and point out all the bits that make it so delightful to me, or even to use it as a framework through which to address every point you’ve asked me to cover. But so far I think we’ve done (a) punching down like my dad did, (b) punching bullies, and (c) punching oneself. The first is hurtful and therefore offensive, while the second two are fairly good starting points when it comes to comedy.

I’m going to end this piece because it’s getting too long — I will address the latter two questions in a future entry. But just two more things before I go:

1. I think the general rule at the end of the day is this: Make fun of yourself. Make fun of your prejudices, your ignorance, your failings. Don’t make fun of the failings of people who have less than you do. Don’t make fun of the friendless.

2. If you have not watched this, would you be interested in doing a Mystery Theater 3000-type simul-watch of this show? We could make a podcast out of discussing the best and worst jokes of each episode.

Posted in GYOB, memoir-y, projects, TV reviews.

How October Works

Content warning: This entry may include discussion of C-PTSD, depression, domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and/or suicide. Also, like, major rage issues on my part.

It’s October.

No, really, listen. It’s October.

Okay, I feel like you aren’t fully hearing me: Currently, now, at this moment, we are in a month known in the United States as October, which is when the pumpkin spice latte girls show up and everyone is mean to them for being enthusiastic, and when the sexy pizza rat costumes makes us laugh and wish we were size twos, and when we debate whether or not to take out our air conditioning window units this weekend or wait another week. Then, at the end of the month is a gigantic celebration known as Halloween.

Halloween is also:

• Known as Reformation Day to certain Christians of the insane persuasion
• My father’s birthday; this year he would be 69
• This year it is also the twentieth anniversary of me telling my high school guidance counselor I wanted to become an emancipated youth
• And the twentieth anniversary of the day I admitted to my mother I was being sexually abused
• And the twentieth anniversary of the day the abuse stopped forever
• And the twentieth anniversary of my mother and I agreeing secretly that we would pursue our freedom the very next day

You think you’re in the clear once the calendar ticks over to November, but you’re wrong, obviously. Because there’s another anniversary exactly a week after the first:

• November 7, 2015 is the twentieth anniversary of the day the cops found my father’s dead body on my bedroom floor, surrounded by candles and photos of me and my mother and a Bible and a Father’s Day card from me.

***

People, no matter how many times I tell them this, don’t seem to believe me when I explain that I have HARD BOUNDARIES set up around the month of October. They don’t seem to understand that actual bad things happen to me in October, almost every year, quite reliably. They don’t understand I am doing preventive medicine on myself by having these hard boundaries. They don’t understand it’s all completely necessary.

Let’s start here: When I say I see disembodied feet, I’m not being metaphorical. I see, with my eyes, disembodied feet. I see, with my eyes, a grey/white lady. Sometimes I see, with my eyes, my father on the subway or the street. Fortunately, I know these are only apparitions, and my brain is so well-trained in CBT (thanks to many years of therapy) that it’s an almost automatic habit now to notice it, shoot it down and move on with my day. But it still hurts, even if I know how to treat it.

In October, the PTSD mounts up so high with all the triggers — I used to love the smell of leaves burning, and the colors they’d turn as they fell, and all those stupid annoying things about autumn because goddammit I would be a pumpkin spice latte girl if not for my stupid father’s stupid suicide, but now all those little signs of autumn are triggers, which sucks — in October, the PTSD mounts up so high that I literally hide in the closet or under the bed and bang my head on hard things. I literally sleep on the floor because my back hurts so much I can hardly breathe. I am not making this shit up. I am not exaggerating. This is my health, and in the month of October my main and really only quest is preserving my life.

I’ve been hospitalized three times. Two of those three times it was this exact October-November shit that put me in there.

When I cope with October, I’m not doing it because I think it makes me look cool or because I want your attention.

I am doing it to survive. And I only really even want to survive so badly during the October-November cycle, and then only because I refuse to leave this world on or near the anniversary of my freedom.

After we left my dad, here are some things I was able to do for the first time:

• Attend a full Model Congress weekend and not have to leave before it was over
• Go to secular rock shows with my friends
• Date a boy and go over to his house to hang out and not hide it from my mom
• Eat at restaurants other than Pizza Hut and Red Lobster
• Go on college tours
• Apply to college
• Visit family
• Go out with my friends at night on the weekends
• Listen to any music I pleased
• Buy name-brand clothing if I wanted
• Not be molested every day
• Seriously, that last one was a pretty big deal

So since this is the anniversary of my freedom, I refuse to be taken down by the health conditions associated with my captivity right at this particular moment. This means doing what I must to preserve my health.

If you tell me to “move on” from my goddamn debilitating C-PTSD during the month of October, chances are I will never speak to you again. (This is probably good to remember for people who want to never speak to me again.)

Obviously, this has happened to me, this being told to “focus on the present” stuff, and recently. All I can say is, that’s not how my life works, with the moving on and enjoying the present tense stuff. I don’t have the moving-on privilege. I have no choice but to face the truth in all its ugliness and hilarity. Like for example: how my father told me that nobody in neighboring cars could see him groping me through the window of our 1990 Ford Taurus, until one day when I was sixteen we were at a red light and a trucker in the next lane honked at us and I told my dad to stop groping me and he said, said he, “That trucker doesn’t know I’m your father!”

See? Hilarious.

Listen, if you got a magic wand or a time machine or some other thing that can cure all of this, I’m down. Count me in. Just don’t make me pay money for it, because I don’t have any money. But until then? Don’t. Tell. Me. To. Move. On.

Posted in content warning, memoir-y.