I seem to write some really good things while in transit, so here goes another attempt.
Right now I am on an Amtrak train headed into the heart of Sacramento, and out of what I can only describe as a burning crater of my life as I knew it in San Francisco.
((right now we are passing by an ex boyfriend’s house in West Oakland))
This year has been a really rough one. The end of 2013/beginning of 2014 saw me through some of the most heinous bullshit that I’ve ever experienced. Between being unceremoniously dumped, the violent death of a good friend, a bunch of medical drama with my family, and felling trapped in a somewhat unfulfilling office job that I’d convinced myself was a “dream job,” I was the most depressed that I can ever remember being.
((right now we are passing by an abandoned building I explored with a beau once))
I would go to work. I would go to social engagements to keep up appearances. And then I would go home and sit in my room in the dark with a bottle of whiskey.
((right now we are passing by the Albany Bulb, where we held Conor’s funeral))
And then a friend invited me to go on a chartered sail on a tall ship that happened to be in the area. I knew that I should, you know, go out and do *things*. So I did.
And because my brain is kind of broken, it attached itself to the idea of sailing on a ship for real. Like a cold broken man overboard trying to lash himself to a lifeboat. My brain hooked onto this idea and suddenly would not let it go. And then the captain told me about the program where anyone could come on for 2 weeks to volunteer and train as a deckhand.
I literally signed up via my phone in the car on the way back.
((right now we are zooming through Vallejo, passing by empty fields with signs that read “Dirt For Sale” stuck into them))
Now, I have completed my two weeks. I joined the crew of the Lady Washington for their transit from Washington state to Oakland CA. I don’t have any words for how incredible that voyage was. I knew that I would find challenge, and I did. I knew that I would find a new view of the ocean I thought I knew well, and I did. I knew I would be changed, and I was. I knew I would be exhausted, and oh God was I.
I didn’t know that I would find a beautiful community of people. I didn’t know that they would welcome me with open arms. And I never thought they’d invite me back.
That, as it turns out, is what happened.
When we came back under the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought that I would feel like I was coming home. But instead I just felt like I was drifting back towards a place where I didn’t belong anymore.
Now, I am on a train heading towards Sacramento to work on another ship in the Gray’s Harbor family, the Hawaiian Chieftain. And there are a lot of things that I’m leaving behind in San Francisco.
((right now we are passing under that great bridge outside of Vallejo that I can never remember the name of but has a great view of the C&H sugar factory))
I am leaving behind stability. I am leaving behind an amazing job working at an incredible bar for an incredibly talented and knowledgeable bartender. I am leaving behind friends. I am leaving behind lovers. I am leaving behind a long burning love that I don’t know how to put out, and if I’m honest with myself, a big part of the reason I’m leaving is so I can try and escape those flames. I am leaving behind something old. I am leaving behind something new. I am leaving behind a home. I’m leaving behind a city I love dearly but is irreparably and rapidly changing in the face of new money from a ballooning tech industry.
I am leaving behind everything I knew, with no real end point. I know my contract says that I’ll be the Chieftain until January, but what about after that?
I don’t know. And that is the most freeing thing I’ve felt in a long time.
What I do know is that for all the things I’m leaving behind, I’m getting something incredible in return. A new opportunity. An adventure. A purpose, and a challenge.
And I can’t wait.
Conor Fahey-Latrope: 10/06/77 – 12/27/13But if you stand and stare across the sea It’s like you’re standing right next to me You’ll hear my whispers carry on the breeze As you close your eyes to sleep Its like you’re lying right next to me
Last Thursday my friend Conor took his own life.
Ever since, I have been trying to string together the pieces, trying to make sense of what a world without Conor looks like.
There are the pieces that exist in memory. There are the memories of me dragging him to Ukiah for an impromptu trip to the shooting range, where in his truck he asked me to recommend good metal and I obliged, blasting Darkest Hour and Children of Bodom the whole drive up. The times where he’d come into the cafe I was working at and just hang out with me at the counter. There was the dinner we shared at my favorite restaurant across from my ex’s house, where he was staying for a while. That was the dinner where he confided in me that despite the troubles he and his wife Ava were facing, that he loved her dearly and wanted to have more children with her. There are so many other memories that I barely dare share on an, ahem, public blog. The shenanigans in Reno hotel rooms. The cocktail parties in the middle of the desert.
There the pieces that exist as interrupted memories. There are the text and gchat messages between us from the day before he died, where we were planning to go to an epic punk show at 924 Gilman on Friday. There are those awkward, lingering pieces of digital ephemera that I wish I could take back, like the text I sent him before I got the news asking, “You alive? Gilman tonight?” The text message from Ava that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to delete where she told me the news. There’s the fact that he’s still signed into chat, his name right near the top of my chat list. Like he’s going to suddenly return from away and message me, apologizing for flaking.
I’m sure there are many memories of him that I’ll never remember simply because they seemed insignificant at the time. Things I never thought were worth remembering because I thought they would be repeated, over and over.
There are the visceral and intense pieces that I haven’t quite processed but feel like I needed to experience in order to understand the reality of my friend’s death. Pieces like seeing his apartment before it was cleaned. Pieces like watching a friend spackle over the bullet hole in the ceiling. Pieces like carefully packing away his clothes into a box labeled “FUNERAL.” This is not the first time I’ve experienced the death of a friend, and certainly not the first friend I’ve lost to suicide, but never before have I been involved with the immediate crisis-management process of losing someone suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m incredibly thankful to Ava for letting me be a part of that process, and thankful for all the other friends who showed up and have been helping too (even if it has involved a lot of crying on the floor surrounded by boxes).
There are the little pieces and clues, the things that fit together to form a picture of an impulsive mistake rather than a planned action. The book about how to prepare for a new puppy. Uncashed checks on the counter. Plans that he’d made with me and others. I don’t know if knowing that this was a lapse in judgement, a big stupid mistake, makes any of this any easier. I feel like much of managing my own struggle with depression is finding ways to put as much distance as I can between myself and the opportunity to make a similar impulsive mistake. I’m heartbroken that my friend ultimately got too close to that edge.
There are pieces from people who are better at making sense of things than I am, including this piece from our friend Suzanne that was so on target that I’ve only been able to read it through once: Depression is a disease, and most of us aren’t doctors.
The biggest piece in all of this is what he left behind. A beautiful baby daughter, Finn, and his wife Ava, one of the strongest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Holding Finn on that first day after was a welcome moment of solace in the middle of this incredibly hard storm. They have a huge well of support now, including friends like me who are totally willing to look like a crazy person on BART, sobbing into a paper bag stuffed with sandwiches to deliver to those holding down the fort and packing up his apartment. They’re going to need even more support in the coming months and years. A couple of our quick thinking friends have set up a website here with information on how to help Ava and Finn, including a fundraiser for immediate and long term costs.
I wish I could end this artfully. I wish I could string all these pieces together into something that makes sense, a picture of a life and death that is both complete and comforting. But there are pieces none of us will ever have, explanations and apologies and expressions of love that we will never see.
There is one last piece, I guess.
I love you.
“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” – Euripides
I don’t often use this space to talk about things as deeply personal as my thoughts on mortality and death, so writing this entry feels uncharacteristically awkward. Like I’m typing while wearing big heavy gloves and also juggling a badger. So. Bear with me.
I love trains. I am also, on a primal level, completely terrified of trains. This is why.
I am someone who has struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide for a nontrivial amount of time. I have good weeks. I have fantastic months. I have terrible days. I have worse years. Being honest with myself and the people I love about my current state, whatever it is, is one of the things that helps me navigate the most difficult (for me) part of chronic unmedicated depression: the fluctuation between OK and NOT OK. On the OK end of the scale, there’s a notch labeled “these feelings are hard but I am working through them.” On the NOT OK end of the scale, there’s a notch labeled “nothing is OK and nothing will ever be OK and I’m not sure how I am going to survive.”
The thing is that no matter where on that scale I fall at any given time, I can’t help but think about jumping in front of trains. Bart. Muni. Caltrain. Every single time. On every platform. With every pass of thundering metal. It isn’t so much that I want to jump in front of a train. It is more the realization that I could. The awareness that there is not a single thing stopping me from doing so other than my own willpower.
The dividing line between life and death is as monumental as it is flimsy and easy to cross. We are made of highly impractical, fragile sacks of meat that stand no chance in a fistfight with a rolling mass of steel like a train. Most people stick around through a combination of self preservation and good fortune. But anyone who has ever considered facilitating the demise of their own meatsack is acutely aware that sticking around also involves a heavy dose of self control.
Some days not jumping feels like a victory. A tiny battle won in the war against my brain. Some days not jumping feels like a failure. Most days I just want to use public transit without contemplating the fragility of my continued survival on this planet.
I’m really just recording this for posterity, because it feels good to have this visceral, intense feeling that I’m familiar with out in writing (I’m making words out of my feelings! Like a real adult!). Also, between last week’s Bart suicide and the ongoing saga of M’s neighbor’s suicide and resulting apartment cleaning nightmare these things have been on my mind lately. Now I’m left wondering how many other people have a similar relationship with trains.
When I first moved to San Francisco, some of the first people I met were ones who had hands in making big art. I was lucky. My first acclimation to the art and maker scene in this city was watching my (mostly new) friends build something insane and beautiful called Syzygryd. I was too new and too on the fringes to be involved in a meaningful way, but I definitely remember watching a steady stream of photos and updates come from people like Slim and thinking, “Wow. So this is how they make art in San Francisco!”
If I have one complaint about large scale performance or installation art in this city, it is that the novelty seems to wear off fast for those involved in building it. I’m thankful that I’m still new enough to this to be enchanted by the supreme weirdness that characterizes a lot of the things I help out with. But even I’m not immune. When I ran the Bad Reggretts Tattoo truck at the last Lost Horizon Night Market (along with the unstoppable Colin Fahrion), it was magical and exciting and fun, but even I was a little blasé. I have a phrase I use in situations like this. It’s called “knowing how the sausage gets made.” Once you’ve seen the process, once you know how these things get assembled… well, the final product can lose some of its charm. “Knowing how the sausage gets made” is another way of saying that you’re solidly “in on the joke.”
In San Francisco, there are a huge number of artists are who in on the joke. They get it. Doing something spectacular and complicated on a large scale isn’t intimidating. It is just what they do, and they are good at it.
So when I offered to help my friend Paige with her crazy idea to outfit twelve girls in stylized ant costumes to serve as passport agents for the All World’s Fair, I thought I knew what I was getting into.
You guys- I was terribly, terribly wrong.
Over the course of a few weeks, I went from helping buy fabric to sewing some pieces of our costumes to running errands to painting set pieces to stage managing a group of completely stellar performance artists who put on a highly coordinated and whimsical act. The whole time, I thought I was in on the joke. The whole time, I was thinking that I knew how it worked, and knew what I was getting into. Costumes. Performance. Set fabrication. Audience interaction. I have done these things before, and I thought I had a pretty good idea what the result would be. I’m willing to bet a fair number of the audience thought they were in on the joke too.
You guys- we were all so terribly, gloriously wrong.
What we ended up creating was something so thoroughly, profoundly magical that no one (audience member or performer) could have known what they were getting into. We created something so massive and multifaceted that I don’t think anyone could have seen the whole picture from one vantage point. We made something so unique and on such an unprecedented scale that no one, not even the ones in charge, could have possibly been in on the joke.
There were a few really special moments for me that I feel the need to record for posterity, even if they reveal a tiny bit about how this sausage got made.
- One of the few things that actually went wrong before the event was a can of paint that got spilled in the green room, effectively blocking the path that the passport laides had planned to walk out. People were freaking out, when someone (Sly?) came up with the idea of leading the ant ladies out the back loading dock door and entering from behind the line of audience members waiting to get in. The effect was so great that it turned into a part of our performance for the rest of the fair.
- Twice, we managed to get dangerously low on the nonsensical immigration forms that we were handing out. The first night we were saved by Simon, who showed up to the green room toting a stack. The second night we were saved by friend and roommate Reed, who showed up with an office box of forms he printed out minutes before. Both times, the group of passport ants descended upon them in joyous celebration, screaming “FORMS! YAY FORMS! GOOD FORMS” in a completely unplanned and spontaneous in-character display.
- After the passport ants sent the last group of ticket-holders inside, we were done and got the chance to explore the rest of the fair. Getting to interact with the other artists while still in character was a lot of fun, but what made it really special was when the invitation to “fall asleep” with the rest of the basement actors during the “ascension” phase was extended to us. I remember laying down in the hallway and one of the audience members coming up to me to “see if I was OK.” She poked me and I got to sleepily mutter something along the lines “Good forms… dreaming of good forms…”
So, thank you. To everyone. To Paige: thank you for being such an amazing creative force, and thank you for letting me collaborate on this with you. To all the organizers, docents, and crew who kept us on track and cared for. To Tatiana: thank you for being a true professional stage manager. To Rubin and Sly: thank you being our timekeepers and sanity-preservers. To the dudes on the Arbollax crew: thank you for helping us assemble our passport desks and signs. Thanks to every single traveller who loved or hated our heroic dose of bureaucracy, with special thanks to those who made a special effort to fill out their forms in creative and entertaining ways (though most of them got ripped up, your collective wit did not go unnoticed). Here’s a whole list of credits– every single person on that list deserves props and a personal cake delivered via unicorn.
Thank you. Thank you all for making something that made me question how in on the joke I was.
This is a repost of a short blog entry I contributed to the fine folks who run The Edwardian Ball, a yearly event that describes itself as an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author Edward Gorey. You can find the original post here.
This year I’ll be wearing black to the Edwardian Ball.
Now, this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. Anyone who has taken a cursory look through my wardrobe can tell you that I make my way through life clad in varying shades of black and ash. Every once in a while I get really crazy and throw a streak of crimson into the mix. This has led to an occasional, incredibly specific sort of cat call when I’m out in public. “Hey babe,” I’ll hear someone shout on the street corner. “You going to a funeral or what?”
Well, if anyone asks me that while I make my way to the Edwardian Ball, I can confidently reply that I am. Why? Because for me, the Edwardian Ball is my own personal funeral for Boring.
There is no other city on earth and no other community I can imagine as vivacious and creative as what I’ve found in San Francisco. The Edwardian Ball serves as a perfect stage of all the whimsy, decadence, and playfulness I’ve come to love about living here. I can’t think of another event or another place on earth that has done such a thorough job of banishing boring from its boundaries.
For me, boring died years ago when I decided that I wanted to live in a city full of weirdos, artists, game changers, and troublemakers. Boring really needed to die. Boring brought complacency and blandness to my life. If I had kept boring alive for much longer I might have stayed in my sleepy hometown. If I had kept boring alive I probably would have scoffed and rolled my eyes if someone described an event like the Edwardian Ball to me.
This year’s Edwardian Ball is an especially important funeral for me. Over 2012 I lost a lot of things. Relationships, family members, and friendships died both literally and metaphorically. I’ve recently found myself wishing I could resurrect boring and go back to another place and time where things were calmer.
Then I thought about it and realized that dancing until dawn surrounded by circus performers, ballroom dancing, and ladies clad in corsets sounds like a much better time.
don’t mean for this funeral to be a somber affair. Quite the opposite, actually. This funeral is far less of the lily-scented, sobbing-into-a-tissue event and more of a raucous, joyful, sazerac-soaked jazz funeral celebration of a life without boring. The Edwardian Ball is where freaks of all flavors come out to shove boring across the river Styx. This is where we come to put on our dancing shoes and ring boring out from our lives with dancing, singing, laughing, and aerial-silk-swinging.
You don’t have to dress in your finest to attend this funeral. You don’t even have to wear black. Your attendance and participation is your way of paying your last respects to boring. By attending, you are also solidifying your place in a community so vibrant and rich that there is no chance of boring ever rising from its grave.
Come with us and dance upon the grave of boring. I’ll be there, wearing black.
San Francisco State University is a fortress of academia painted in grey. Concrete buildings and foggy skies run seamlessly into another. I see the same starkness in the faces of most of the people I pass on the grounds. I often feel overwhelmed. I usually feel like I am swimming alone through an ocean of living granite slabs. They are there, spending their parents’ money on a degree chosen because of its potential to earn a salary. I have chosen an altogether different path. When I decided to pursue a Journalism major, obviously affluence was not a goal. This commitment to a modest income was further confirmed when I chose to round out my education with a minor in Philosophy.
Today I walked back onto this campus. Today was the beginning of the end. Today I started my last semester as an undergraduate.
Today, I wore heels.
These are not “fuck me” heels. If anything, these are my “I am not fucking around” heels.
It may seem like a trivial thing, but choosing to wear heels was a something I put a fair amount of thought into. At least, slightly more thought than I usually put into footwear. When I wear heels, it changes me in a measurable way. I am forced to stand up straighter. I am made to think about how I am placing my feet. I have no choice but to walk with purpose. I am a chronic speedwalker, but heels force me to slow down and compose myself, lest I tumble onto the pavement in front of a crowd.
Though this isn’t the first time I’ve stepped onto the SFSU campus by a long shot, I realize that a new semester affords a certain opportunities to make a good impression. Now, understand that this doesn’t mean I am terribly concerned with what others think of me. Instead, I am more concerned with setting the bar for myself that I will try and meet throughout the rest of the semester. And damn it, if I can drag myself out of bed and trudge all the way to Parkmerced on a Monday morning while wearing heels, I damn well can complete this semester with flying colors.
The only impression I’m concerned about making is the one I make on myself when I look in the mirror in the morning. And when I wear heels, I see someone powerful. I see someone who looks like they are in control. I see someone who looks elegant. I see someone who is determined. After spending about two months being berated on the internet because of my work on confronting harassment at hacker conferences, I don’t feel as powerful or in control as I once did. As I face graduating and the inevitable plunge into a volatile and competitive job market, I feel as it my determination may be wavering. There are other factors that have been slowly eating away at my resolve over the last few months that I don’t feel like talking about on this blog. Suffice to say anything that helps me find a little strength is a welcome thing.
And today? Today that little bit of strength came from a fantastic pair of heels.
I have been trying to write about my grandmother Alice’s death ever since the end of April when she passed. I’ve had a draft saved in WordPress since then with a single sentence that went no where. I’ve wanted to write about her and her impact on my life every since I dropped everything and made the dreaded public transit pilgrimage an hour north to be with my family. I have wanted to say something, anything, since I spent the afternoon with my mother going through her apartment and sorting through the artifacts of her rich life. But months have passed where I have simply been unable to put into words just who Alice was and who she still is.
Death is fucking inconvenient. And there is nothing about a posthumous tribute that can ever capture the essence of someone who truly lived well. Still, I feel like I have some obligation to try. Alice was the last of my living grandparents. In a family full of loved ones that die and marry often, this is saying something. Aside from my patriarchal grandmother Bert, she’s the only one of my grandparents I remember in any nuanced and developed way. I spent a childhood full of taking Amtrak down to her home in Pismo Beach. Then I spent the last few years witnessing her health decline as she moved away from her big house and into an assisted living facility near my my parents.
I don’t think I’m interested in writing a “goodbye,” but I have been feeling like I want to say something. And then my mother sent me a manila envelope full of her old passports and it occurred to me that (aside from a beautiful Chinese apothecary chest she owned) these were really the only possessions of hers that I cared about inheriting.
The personality trait that I remember most about Alice was that she loved to travel. Her home was a testament to this. It was filled with antiques and pictures from places that even I might have a hard time placing on a map. There are the artifacts from places that I’ve never been but nonetheless feel familiar to me. After years of hearing stories from her time spent in South Korea and so much time spent admiring the prints and photos she brought back, I felt like I had a rough outline of what things were like there. More importantly, it sparked the desire to travel there myself and paint my own picture. Seoul never would be on my list of places I would like to see before I die, but now it resides very near the top.
In January 2011, I flew to Zurich, Switzerland. I had met an amazing man a handful of months before, and now I was flying across the world to a country I had never visited before just for the sake of seeing him. Around this same time my grandmother fell seriously ill and was hospitalized. I remember visiting her before I left, in the ICU heavy with the smell of anxiety and applesauce. Her speech was strained and she was having an increasingly difficult time maintaining lucidity. It was a complete departure from her trademark sass and stubbornness, which I remember would often trigger my mom to half-shake her head and shoot me a sideways glance that I knew was paired with the inner dialogue of “Oh… jeez… Oh, Alice…”
In what little small talk we managed, I told her I was going to Zurich soon. I told her how excited I was. I told her about the boy who was waiting for me there and how wonderful he is. After questioning my sanity in the gentle way only a grandmother can (“You’re flying there to see a boy? Well heavens tibestsey. Is your mother OK with that?”), she said…
“Switzerland… I’ve been there. A long time ago.”
That was really as much as she said about her travels in Switzerland. I never found out what she saw there. Barring stumbling over holiday snaps in the volumes of photo albums we have yet to sift through, I’ll never know if she saw Rodin’s Gates Of Hell at the Kunsthaus. I’ll never know if she was as taken by the crystal-covered Swaroski tree at the Christmas markets as I was, or if she was even in Zurich around the holidays to see it. I’ll never know if she dined at the now-closed French steakhouse that only served one kind of steak one way. I’ll never know if she fell in love with that city the way that I fell in love with it.
I realize now that the only thing I’ll ever know for sure is that each time I travel somewhere, I’ll be thinking of her and trying to see the landscape through her eyes. I am fine with this. She had fantastic taste, and the challenge to travel well in her memory is one that I am all but happy to meet.
One other thing is for sure. The next time I travel, I’ll be carrying one of her old passports with me for luck.