Category: Life

Internet Ancient

Posted by – 09/10/2014


Recently, a number of Taylor Swift fans have been asking that I give them my Tumblr. For a few days I was puzzled by this surge in interest as it wasn’t obvious these young women, who had tracked me down on Twitter, were her fans. Today I realized she has new a song out called Bad Blood, which is also the name of my account.

Revisiting the site, with it’s modest 87 followers, I wonder why I refuse to give it up. What does it mean, to change the name? Why bother to maintain it all? It would make some fangirl ecstatic, however briefly. Yet, I feel a pinprick of stubbornness, like a child digging toes into the sand, sinking deeper just so it takes the ocean a few more seconds to fill in my footprints once I finally step away. A small, strange pleasure. I have been on Tumblr over five years, a place where everything sinks to the bottom, by design. Which means I am some kind of fossil, internet ancient. I want a testament to that, for no other reason than having existed; this absentminded, nearly context-less cascade of other people’s images is still there.

I joined Tumblr on the cusp of my mid-to-late 20s, likely older than these women contacting me now. Tumblr was, to me then, just the latest cool new thing to early-adopt. There had been many other website/network/communities prior to Tumblr, that had burned brighter merely because I needed them more at the time of encounter. So vital in shaping who I became, how I connected with others. All of which have since faded. Listing them here would be like reading from the directory of a large cemetery. I will name one though, a precambrian LiveJournal account, existing now only as a massive PDF file on my hard drive. Later, when I was ready to disembark from readymade communities, there was a version of this blog, also called Soft Graffiti, hosted by an ex who let it quietly disappear after our breakup. I was too dumb to back up the posts so it’s really gone, no PDF. Years and years lost to the ether or what bits can be dredged from the Wayback Machine.

That blog, Soft Graffiti V1, let’s call it, was so much more personal and active than what I sporadically maintain today. Not Livejournal personal, not a diary nor a series of pithy status updates. It was something public yet liberating in it’s nicheness; a conscious presentation open to the world, yet innocent of branding. It had even more ancient roots, inspired by a time when I made zines and DJed freeform college radio.

It was, truthfully, a blog very much of it’s time. Roughly five-to-ten years ago, just before the famous bloggers and their ever-widening wake of affiliates, linkbait, and permanent guest contributors. Before it was normal to see double columns of ads, SEO-friendly titles, and the subtle insidiousness of “sponsored content.”

I am not here to hate on making money from your work (though I will judge your style and ethics). Lately I just want to get back to something reminiscent of the old Soft Graffiti, as well as the online miasma it floated through; when the internet still felt like the blank expanses on Medieval maps. Before this compulsion to tie everything back to your LinkedIn or Facebook profile. To revive a soft anonymity that extends beyond Craigslist encounters and torrent sites. Nostalgia plays a part, sure. But so does the thrill of just putting it out there, to be stumbled upon, thoughtful and lightly polished. Like today.

Still from Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo

I was wrong about OkCupid

Posted by – 02/13/2014


This is the third in a series about what I learned in 2013. The back story is that I started the year with a break-up, moved four times, lived in a warehouse with 13 roommates, traveled to Japan alone and discovered that online dating can be fun. These posts highlight insights gained along the way. You can read the first one, about minimalism, here, and the second one, about being single, here

You know how I started online dating? I took my ex-boyfriend’s advice. Not so much because I thought it was good advice, rather I was annoyed that he seemed so happy about his dating experiences. There, I admit it. I was jealous and after letting that marinate for a bit, I worked up the nerve to get on OkCupid.

The truth is, I had spent prior months moaning about the horror of online dating. Or the prospect of trying to date at all, after nearly a 10 year hiatus. “BUT!” I would whine, “I’m in my 30s and it’s New York City! It will be so hard. And my friends have had such disappointing experiences. Some of them are still single!” Of course, my friends had a good laugh when I became obsessed with online dating last summer. Friends, you deserve those laughs because I was being a drama queen without any drama. A boring, not-dating, scared-ass drama queen. I will now admit something else: I was wrong about OkCupid. It was fun.

I had heard some awful stories, mostly from my single ladies, about hilariously sour dates. A couple friends had referred to the site as OkStupid with the sort of sigh you can only achieve after giving up (temporarily, it turns out) and that stuck with me. I was also told, as if it were a consolation prize, that I would at least get a few dinners out of it. Well, I am here to say I only got one free dinner out of my OkCupid dates but I enjoyed all of them.

The dinner thing is actually a crucial point I need to expand upon. I never made dinner plans for the first meeting. I suggested bars and, if I was choosing the location, I usually picked a lady-centric spot I patronize for it’s laid back atmosphere, roof deck and good music. Also, it was close to the warehouse I was living in at the time a.k.a. an easy escape. I arrived early, texted my roommate with my whereabouts, grabbed a nice table and bought my own drink, leaving my credit card at the bar. I like to think of it as setting the tone. After the guy arrived I would tell him to put his drinks on my tab. If we ended up going somewhere else to eat, I’d usually buy his food or we’d pay for our own. I did this, not out of some reverse chivalry, but to make it subtly clear I didn’t owe him shit should we part ways early.

I was surprised to learn that this is a rare occurrence, the woman paying, at least with the guys I went out with. And, they were stoked. So there you go, ladies. Show the dudes what is up and nonchalantly bust out your wallet. The menfolk will not be emasculated, not the ones you want to see again, anyway.

But, let’s backup. How did I find these eligible men? The first thing I did not do, that I never did, was look at the competition’s profiles. In this case, that means other women who were looking to date men. I would recommend that you never do this either. Make your profile 100% about you. Do not let your competition get into your brain; not the way they might describe themselves or their voice. Think: Why am I awesome and who would I bring home on the first date because I can’t wait for a second? Then start typing your little Bat-signal siren-song to that person.

Instead of perusing other women’s profiles, I read a bunch of men’s profiles and got a thorough understanding of my audience (a.k.a. very smart, very cool, late 20-to-mid 30s foxes with excellent senses of humor). Then, I worked up a profile that was both fun and serious, clear about who I am and who I was looking to meet. My profile was shorter, in length, than the majority of men’s profiles I had seen. Length was key, because I wanted them to actually read the words in addition to judging my photos.

I think I did a good job with the profile as guys talked to me about it on every date. Most told me it was way better than what they usually came across. I had included some silly pop-cultural jokes that the menfolk consistently used as icebreakers. It helped me seem approachable even though I had made it super clear that I have, as the kids say, strong feels about certain aspects of my life and who I wanted to date.

Next, photos. I had read about some study which found that photos of women in red shirts get way more male attention than the same woman wearing any other color shirt. In fact, no other color seemed to affect attention levels except red. So, I made my profile pic one with a red shirt, taken while on vacation, and called it “Tokyo bathroom selfie” which gave guys something else to break the ice with (travel) besides my confession of unironically loving Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” (One total babe, who I am still seeing, sang William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” set to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin’” during our first date. I was a goner after that, obvs). The other photos were fun, recent and showed my figure without being skanky. Apparently, I look better in real life which was another thing men volunteered to tell me was different than their other dates.

Oh yes, other dates. I loved talking about their other dates. Maybe this was weird, but I would usually lead in by saying I had just started dating again after a long hiatus and then headed off the man’s rapidly-growing anxiety about this revelation by asking a million questions about his other dating experiences. Honestly, I just like to know this stuff, because it’s fascinating and sometimes really funny. There was no intell-gathering guile and it was also a great way to put my B.A. in Sociology to work for once. I got the sense that you do not usually talk about other dates on a first date, but whatever. We were humans on OkCupid and the fact we have been dating other people is a major shared similarity, an ice-breaker.

By the end of the date it was always obvious if there was going to be a second one. The tell-tale sign was whether we had made out like adolescents. No snogging, no second date. It just worked out like that. The other sign was how fast I was talking shortly before kissing ensued. Faster talking preluded making out preluded planning another date. I’m sure you will have your own signs and these will become obvious after going out with a few people.

I got into a slightly weird situation toward the end of using the site, where I had gone on first dates with two guys around the same time and then kept going out with both of them for a little over a month. I was completely upfront with both of them about this and it was fine. Meanwhile, I stopped using the site and then stopped seeing one of the guys. The other? Well, he is the sort of early 30s brilliant fox that I was looking for and we’ve been dating for six months. He still enjoys singing to me and I still love hearing him.

Not sure of the photo source, but it looks 1940s

Who Said Lone Wolves Are Lonely?

Posted by – 02/09/2014


This is the second in a series about what I learned in 2013. The back story is that I started the year with a break-up, moved four times, lived in a warehouse with 13 roommates, traveled to Japan alone and discovered that online dating can be fun. These posts highlight insights gained along the way. You can read the first one here.

There was the nagging feeling I had toward the end of two major, cohabiting relationships. It was, simply, that I was alone. Not that I didn’t see the boyfriend every day, not that we lived in silence; yet even in the good moments, the isolation was an undercurrent, a cold throb that made it hard to enjoy pleasant times together. It always begged the question of whether I be happier actually on my own instead of just feeling alone.

It’s gutting to realize you would be better off without the person you’ve invested years in, walking away from the comfortable–and comforting–life you built together. This holds true for friends as well as domestic partners, even family members. The unknown is scary, but even scarier, at first, is the rip-the-band-aid-off pain of severing intimately enmeshed lives. The horror of separating; retiring the concept of ‘we.’ Becoming an I and only an I, in your thoughts and and to others (for what it’s worth, this was my brain on a break-up).

Going it alone requires tremendous fortitude, a fuck-it meets can-do attitude. You must be willing to admit all the ways you were wrong–and, perhaps harder, all the ways the other person was right–as well as accepting the myriad future mistakes to be made. Most of all, it requires the strength to love your flawed, humble self. It’s a phoenix process, dusting the char off your wings as you confront a new set of possibilities.

Obviously, being alone can be hard. If you just went through a major break-up, some of your couple friends may fade out faster than a one-night stand. Your grandma may fret about your mental state and family-making prospects, while near strangers give you pep talks about how the right person is out there, presumably in cryogenic stasis awaiting your fairy-tale arrival to set them free. And, in a continuing challenge to your social graces, well-meaning co-workers, acquaintances and even really good friends will try to hook you up with awkward singles solely because you are both not in a relationship right now.

But, more often, being alone is awesome. After dragging yourself out of bewilderment and self pity, you are forced to become someone new and improved: the Ultra You. All that emotional hard work of figuring out why things turned out the way it did puts you far more in touch with yourself. In the realm of daily pragmatic matters, you discover the true extent of your capabilities, as things the other person took care of are now something you have to do. You chance upon hitherto unimaginable passions like redecorating your walls just to use the beast power drill you splurged on as a symbol of self-reliance. Or you start making increasingly ambitious meals until it dawns that your friends are not just being polite when they compliment your cooking. Or you get over your stage fright and blossom into a famous stand-up comedian thanks to all your failed relationship fodder. Personally, I took an eight-day trip to Japan solo and then spent a summer living in a huge communal warehouse, experiences that dragged me right out of my comfy, hyper-self-analytical shell. These are just a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of what you could do. Alone.

Mostly though, you get through life the best you can. You focus on enriching your existing relationships, making new ones and, if you’re lucky (and it’s healthy) reconnecting with that person you were with before in some fresh form. You are older, wiser, solidified and open to whatever comes your way. You got this.

Photo collage from Grete Stern’s Dream series

What You Don’t Need Won’t Kill You

Posted by – 01/21/2014


This is the first in a series about what I learned in 2013. The back story is that I started the year with a break-up, moved four times, lived in a warehouse with 13 roommates, traveled to Japan alone and discovered that online dating can be fun. These posts highlight insights gained along the way.

Curate > Accumulate

Between February and August of 2013, I moved four times, doubling the number of places I’ve lived in New York. It was an unsettling experience (yes, bad joke) yet offered a rare opportunity for hardcore reflection while boxing up my life again and again.

When I had the luxury, I started sorting early, making piles of things to keep or not keep or maybe keep. At times, it felt endless, this weary shuffling of items between piles, wavering over the finality of decisions. ‘Maybe’ started to feel like a dirty word. ‘Maybe’ items became a burden. Owning unnecessary things was suddenly revealed as supremely stressful. Crazy-making, even.

For inspiration, I indulged in a favorite online pastime of perusing tiny house sites. Tiny House Swoon & Cabin Porn are great for eye candy while Tiny House Blog gets into the nitty gritty of building and living in a petite space. Though I am not quite ready to buy a compostable toilet and move into a houseboat (one day!), there are a lot of ideas that can be adapted for the renter’s reality.

As much of a drag as packing is, it was still kind of fun. There’s the novelty of rediscovery–Oh hey, third grade school photo. Man, the 80s were hilarious!–but once that wore off, there was just all this stuff accrued like barnacles on the bottom of some ancient ship. A forgotten world I faced either dragging along to the next place or scraping away. There were panicked moments: thoughts of fleeing to a pre-industrial cottage, fervent dedications to rugged minimalism, urges to shove everything I owned into black contractor bags neatly lining the curb. Instead, sneezing in the wake of dust billowing from excavated closets and corners, I persevered. What was important started to manifest. What was left mattered.

So what went on the whirlwind tour of Brooklyn? Books I was going to read again or hadn’t read yet or had nice pictures. Family heirlooms, a sizeable small-rock collection gleaned from various Northeast beach visits, a bike, plants, not even a closet’s worth of clothes and shoes, beloved vintage tchotkes, cut-glass perfume bottles, way too much kitchen stuff for a single person, old notebooks, music, a few items of furniture.

The rest found good homes through friends, Book Thug Nation, Beacon’s Closet or my fellow trash night scavengers (seriously, New Yorkers throw out next-level amazing stuff. It would be scandalous if it weren’t such a boon).

Starting with the first move, the great purge, everything fit easily into a small moving van requiring just one other person’s help to transport. It felt like a triumph, seeing the extra space in the van, a tiny yet victorious stand against the consumerist hysteria of modern life. Setting up in new digs was exciting as I found the perfect spot for my favorite and most useful things. Tightly-curated possessions helped make those unfamiliar places quickly feel like home as only the vital things remained.

Photo of the portable, inflatable BubbleTree