Party

West Seattle HeraldLast week Chris and I threw a housewarming party. It used to be that a couple didn’t move in together until they were married and ready to start a family. In the 1950s, my Oma lived in an all-female dormitory, and only came into contact with men her age at specially organized dances, like the one where she met my Opa. Social norms loosened up significantly by the 1980s, but my mom was still living with her sister prior to getting married and moving in with my dad.

Back then, a housewarming party was like a baby shower. It was expected that the new couple needed furnishings and housewares. Furthermore, it used to be much more common that couples settled into their new homes for the long run. Even if they couldn’t afford to buy their house yet, they were investing themselves in a community. They could expect that their future kids would be riding bikes and building forts with the other kids on the block.

Times have changed. In order to move in together, Chris and I didn’t need more housewares, we needed fewer. We whittled down two full sets of household items into one, disposing of the extra couch, coffee grinder, salad bowl, etc. When we sent out the invites to our housewarming party, we specifically requested that guests not bring presents.

Nor do we expect to ultimately settle at our present location. While we hope to own our own home one day, we have to wait until we can somehow afford to in spite of the discouraging housing market. In the meantime, I’m applying to graduate school in the winter, which means that we might need to relocate as soon as next September. And the job market being what it is, it’s never certain when and where professional opportunity might strike, or how long it will last. Like many of our peers, as we each build our careers, we have to stay flexible.

So why even throw a housewarming party?

It started with the neighbors. The very first day we moved into our new house, sweaty and loaded down with box after box of books, our new neighbors made a point of stopping by to say hello and even offer us popsicles and cheesecake. In the following days, when they saw us constructing our bedframe and bookshelves, they offered to let us borrow their power tools. In the following weeks, when the trees carpeted our backyard with rotting plums, they let us deposit them into their yard waste bin, because ours was too small. Not since my childhood in the burbs have I felt so acknowledged and welcomed by my neighbors. That kind of relationship tends to fall to the wayside when you’re accustomed to urban apartment living. It was a nice reminder that, even if our presence in this new community is ephemeral, it still matters. Whether or not we have a relationship with our neighbors will affect all of our experiences of living here. One good reason to throw a party.

In a similar vein, although we are only moving in together—as in, we’re not yet getting married or starting a family—that’s still a big deal to us. Our intimacy advanced to the point that we decided to join forces, combine resources, and weave together our separate strands. Temporary or not, we nested the crap out of our new place, to make it as cozy and functional and reflective of ourselves as we possibly could. It was an act of love towards our relationship, and we were proud of our achievement. All that was left was to bring together our people—his friends and family, my friends and family—under one roof (that isn’t Facebook). Further good reasons to throw a party.

In some ways, Chris and I have grown up in a world that is far more secure than that of our parents and grandparents. In other ways, our world is more temporary and uncertain. Our generation moves through more residences than previous generations did. We take on more shorter-term work. That might make a housewarming party seem less important, but really, it makes it more important. The difference between a house and home is warmth. That’s why you have a housewarming party—to transform a house into a home. If our generation’s world is a series of passing-throughs, then we need something to feel settled. A party.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 09/26/2016.

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Ritual

West Seattle HeraldAt 29, I’m fortunate to have not yet lost very many loved ones. To date: two grandparents, a great aunt, a cousin, an uncle, and a family friend. Having just returned from the funeral of one of those grandparents, I realize that I still haven’t fully wrapped my mind around the end of a life. I feel confused, and conflicted when taking part in the funeral rites which are as much concerned with respecting the dead as with reconciling the living with the general idea of death itself. It makes me wonder about what my own death will mean to the people who love me, how I would prefer that manifest itself, and whether my preference even matters.

I understand parts of the ritual. The loss of an individual life tugs at the social network. Dispersed relatives and friends are drawn together to the empty space the person left behind, and it’s like the weight of our combined presence amplifies the afterimage of that person. We exchange memories and condolences. Well-wishers recognize the burden of the bereaved and offer assistance: a ride to the airport, a prepared dinner. My late grandmother’s jocular neighbor staged rubber turkeys wearing Seahawks scarves in the front yard, to cheer my widowed grandfather’s spirits.

I even understand the somewhat crude but necessary wrap-up. We sift through the stuff left behind by the deceased and everyone goes home with an artifact of sentimental value. A scarf. A cane. A necklace. The rest is dropped off at the nearest Goodwill.

Somehow, it’s the more traditional parts of the ritual that I have trouble digesting. The ceremony, the recital of religious tenets, the reception. These rites come across to me as impersonal, one-size-fits-all, automatic. I have trouble reconciling them with the unique individual whose death brought us together. I sit on my bench, avoid looking at the coffin, and wonder, Is this what I would want? Viewings are quite common in the U.S., but do most people actually cherish the idea of their body being embalmed and on display? And the eulogy! Why is it so often that the person summing up our loved one’s life is someone (usually religious) who didn’t actually know them? Why does the funeral parlor serve ready-made appetizer platters, chips, and macaroni salad on a line of fold-out tables in a generic cafeteria? It all seems very mechanical, mourning via conveyor belt, and it makes me squeamish.

And yet, when I deconstruct these traditions, I can’t dismiss their value. I recognize that some people find closure through seeing and saying goodbye to the physical presence of the person after they’ve passed on. The mourning process is already such a burden, it must be a relief to rely on a culturally-approved, time-tested institution to coordinate the endless series of small tasks that seem impossible to handle when someone close to you has died—the food, the drink, the seating, the programs, parking, accommodations, not to mention the burial. When the depth of your grief leaves you speechless, it helps to have a figure of authority, religious or otherwise, host a service that does justice to a loved one’s memory and addresses the congregation’s grief and existential anxiety. If these rites comfort the bereaved, does it matter whether they reflect the wishes of the dead? And if they do reflect the wishes of the dead, does it matter that they don’t comfort me?

My grandfather smiled throughout the reception, and kept saying, “Grandma would have liked this.” He’s right. And because of that, I’m glad everything went down just the way it did, even though I felt worse after the funeral, instead of better. I guess I’m just not the ideal funeral attendee. I’m distracted by existential questions and a desire to personalize tradition. I’m self-conscious about expressing emotions I’m struggling through. And deep down, I feel like closure is an illusion, that loss can’t be punctuated. I don’t have an easy answer for how to reconcile the desires of the dead with the needs of those left behind. I only hope that the response to my death will better resemble how I experience mourning: an unfolding, an opening, an invitation.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 09/19/2016.

Posted in Journalism, Personal | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments

Social media: At the intersection between normalcy and public-figure-hood

West Seattle HeraldBack in 2007, it seemed only people like me were using social media. College students. We were staying in touch with our friends from high school. We were finding out who was taking Math 221 with us next quarter. We were organizing study groups and house parties. We were socializing in a whole new environment catered to just us barely-adults. Real adults didn’t have Facebook profiles. Real adults had resumes. Social media was where we defined ourselves. It was the clubhouse where Mom and Dad weren’t allowed, where kids could be kids.

I was twenty years old, and just starting my junior year of college, when I arrived in Perugia to study Italian. Because the cottage I lived in didn’t have internet access, I stayed in touch with my family and friends back home by frequenting Internet cafes to use Skype and Gmail. Social media wasn’t really a part of the scene in Perugia yet. We kept in touch with our new classmates by exchanging phone numbers and loitering on the steps of the Duomo in the main square. Even so, I posted pics of the sites I had visited in Germany and Italy—smiling shots of my sister and me, my new roommates and me; silly shots of me pretending to fire a machine gun in a museum, or bashfully pointing my finger at the Statue of David’s business bits. And when I was struck with bouts of homesickness, I looked back at old pics I had posted of family gatherings, of dressing up with my college friends last Halloween. This was the new normal.

A social media platform succeeds when it facilitates what best resembles real-life human interaction. As Data Scientist Nick Berry pointed out to me when I visited the Facebook Seattle office earlier this week, MySpace couldn’t compete with Facebook because Facebook’s users had real names and real faces, which meant social accountability. We demand authenticity from each other on these platforms, and in turn, we withhold condemnation of our friends when they post an embarrassing or silly photo. Social media is just a digital upgrade for old-fashioned community.

We don’t treat public figures the same way. Politicians and celebrities, we assume, are equipped with PR teams to address the pros and cons of a lifestyle of overwhelming scrutiny. Every tweet is vetted. Every Instagram photo carefully cropped. We demand authenticity from them—we reject celebrity profiles that are too white-washed—but we also hurl judgment at the slightest indiscretion. But that’s the life of a celebrity, right? It’s convenient to think that there are two kinds of people—public figures and the rest of us. But it isn’t that simple. Social media has blurred the line between public and private, peer and stranger.

The line between normalcy and public-figure-hood is ever-narrowing. Whether we know it or not, all of us are all teetering at the edge of public-figure-hood, the slightest push could plunge us into the spotlight, and we don’t have PR teams to hide behind. I know because it happened to me.

At the heart of both a wrongful conviction and a tabloid article is tunnel vision: the journalist or investigator targets a suspect, draws a conclusion about them, and looks only for evidence to support that conclusion. What causes tunnel vision? Profit, pride, pressure and sometimes just ignorance, laziness, or lack of resources. Reliable evidence is cherry picked and re-contextualized so that it no longer resembles itself. Unreliable evidence is treated as reliable. They opt for a false, but compelling conclusion. The truth is often too complex or boring to make a clickbait headline.

There are individuals like me who occupy the intersection between normalcy and public-figure-hood. I want to be myself on social media, but I’ve learned I have to be very careful about what I post, because the tabloids make their living by taking things out of context. This is why my Facebook and Instagram profiles are private. Even so, I have to worry about the pictures my friends and family post, because the tabloids also dredge their profiles for anything that could be twisted into a lurid headline.

When we click on those headlines, we contribute to the dehumanization of another person, who may have been, moments ago, just as anonymous as the rest of us. Our social-media-enhanced society is still in its adolescence. We have yet to establish robust ethics and etiquette. This limbo between normalcy and public-figure-hood highlights how we need to mature. Could and should Facebook auto-copyright all the photos we post under our own names? Would that protect us? I don’t have the answer. But if my only option to be safe from tabloid tunnel vision is to opt out of social media entirely, then our social media is fundamentally flawed. This is because all of us are a moment away from being unwittingly and unwillingly pitched into public-figure-hood, at risk of being condemned for whatever narrative can be created out of our public selves.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 09/12/2016.

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Others’ eyes

West Seattle HeraldI may be the oldest of all my siblings and cousins, but it’s not super often that I get to whip out my big-sister powers. Deanna’s just way better at it. She knows how to do hair and makeup, likes to go shopping at the mall, is good at keeping secrets, and isn’t insufferably analytical about everything, especially when you just want to be heard. Me, well…I’m good at helping out with homework assignments.

Just this past week I helped my cousin Ryan clean up the rough draft of his college application essay. It’s an assignment I particularly love to help out with, because I learn a lot about my younger relatives through their writing, and because the act of editing feels loving to me. Like good listening, editing involves reading what’s actually written on the page, understanding what was intended, and proposing solutions for closing the gap. It’s so hard to do that work for your own writing, so easy to second guess yourself, and second guess your second guesses. And many people, myself included, start writing without actually knowing what we want to say! It’s a relief when you can rely on someone to read your work, and say, “Oh, your thesis is X, Y, and Z. How about you cut out that tangent there, clarify your wording here, and reorder your evidence so it presents the causal relationship you’re trying to suggest?” Or even, “Huh. I can’t really get a read on your tone. Were you trying to sound so critical?”

I know, because my own work really suffers without others’ eyes. Just take my last column, about visiting the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire. My intention was to convey my happy immersion in a place that was impressive for its craft, occasionally imperfect in its artifice, and inspiringly authentic in its spirit. I wanted to describe the curious, functional mashup of fantasy, history, and modernity. I wanted to celebrate the serious silliness it takes for grown-ups to play pretend together, no matter the cost, or the insane heat. I typed it up, sent it in, and didn’t look back.

At least, I didn’t look back until a friend of mine read the published column and asked me whether I had enjoyed the faire or not. “Of course I did!” I exclaimed, inwardly panicking. I brought up the column, read it through again, and cringed. I still saw what I had intended to convey, but I also saw how one could read what I had written as an indictment against the faire for being only, and these were my own words, “sort of renaissance-y.” A somewhat random anecdote about being called “hun” by the nice crepe-stand-girl and how it made me think about the curious malleability of the English language came across as kind of bitchy. And I certainly didn’t do the Cirque du Sewer justice for how heartwarming the show was precisely because the animals were too adorably hot and sleepy to perform.

Whoops.

Mea culpa, my friends. I admit I still need others’ eyes, my own big-sister-figures looking over my shoulder, and a little (or lot of) editing love to say what I mean. In the meantime, thanks for understanding.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 09/05/2016.

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Renaissance Faire

West Seattle HeraldOn a +95° cloudless day, the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire was a bustling strip stretched across a vast, dry, grassy, farming plot. Devotion won over reasonableness. A court of Lords and Ladies in full outfit—petticoats and collars—paraded to-and-fro between the royal tent and the half-timber towers of the front gate. Knights in full leather, chain mail, and plate armor grappled in the jousting field. Even the paying visitors braved the heat in wool cloaks and furr wraps.

The cashier at the crepe stand must have been no older than sixteen. She wore green eye-shadow, a brown, felt, lace-up vest over a frilly peasant dress, and corn-row braids on the just the right side of her blond head. So, sort-of renaissance-y. In this way she fit in with much of the rest, where decoration depended as much upon historical accuracy as fantasy and budget. The Red Dragon Pub was really a beer garden with a fence around it. Canvas cubicle shops sold everything from steel swords to paper parasols. Costumes ranged in authenticity from hand-embroidered leather to LED fairy wings. Alongside vendors offering smoked turkey legs and meat pies were those offering ice cream and pizza.

I remembered the crepe-girl because her stand was the only one that served iced coffee, and she kept calling me “hun.” This prompted my partner Chris and I to note the lack of codification of terms of social rank in English. For instance, there is no official English equivalent for the Japanese suffixes “chan” or “san,” nor are there ranked “you” conjugations like the “tu” and “usted”/“vous”/“Lei” of Romance languages. Instead, we have terms which tend to but not necessarily connote endearment/insult, respect/condescension, depending on who is saying them to whom in what context and in what tone. Calling a grown man “son” is different than calling him “sir,” and I was struck, to be called “honey” by a sixteen-year-old, when had she been sixty, I would not. Was she attempting to sound old-timey, perhaps?

I looked forward to Cirque du Sewer, supposedly the world’s one-and-only acrobat, cat and rat performance. At the hottest hour of the afternoon, acrobat Melissa Arleth wore her black bloomers with red polka dots and a matching corset over a red peasant top. Her hair was wound up in two buns, like rat ears. Sweat hovered on her face as she performed splits, handstands and walked the slack line. Pad Kee Meow, the acro-cat, reluctantly balanced on Arleth’s head, desperately panting. Of the acro-rats, only sprightly Bubonique could be coaxed off her chilled sleeping pad to run the gauntlet.

The knights! I was friends with a few of the knights—they throw awesome, Viking-themed birthday parties—, so I made sure to show up early and secure a front row seat on the bleachers for their jousting contest. The knights were divided into four teams representing England, France, Spain and Germany, and one knight from each team competed on horse, doing everything from chopping at rotten cabbages nailed to a post, throwing spears at targets on hay bales, spearing wicker hoops with their swords, and, of course, jousting. In between these events, ground-fighting knights squared off with swords, spears, daggers…

Of course, I understood that the stakes in these games weren’t “authentic.” Back in time, knights rode hard and aimed to break their lances against each other, often risking their lives in the process. Not so here, where the knights aimed to strike the other with as little impact as possible. Here, the ground-fighting was rough-and-tumble, but still a choreographed dance.

Even so, I was struck by how authentic the experience was. I cried myself hoarse, cheering, “Vive la France!” I winced at the bang of lance impacting shield. I had to concede that Spain’s rider the best, because of how precisely he sliced those cabbages in half. Back in time, people came from far-and-wide, and in their best costumes, to brave the heat and cheer on these exact same games. In my frilly skirts, I could be the Medieval Italian peasant girl Berenice for the day. Don’t mind my cellphone or rose-tinted sunglasses. They’re magic from the fairies.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 08/29/2016.

Posted in Journalism, Personal | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

And for my next tattoo…

West Seattle HeraldIn a parallel, not-so-distant universe, I might have been a tattoo artist. In this one, I’m merely a tattoo person. I don’t have spider webs on my elbows or a big Chinese dragon coiled across my back. I don’t style my life or identity around being inked. That’s cool; just not for me. What I am is an enthusiast of the body as a canvas. I’m an admirer of the artistry. And I encourage everyone who’s on the fence about getting a tattoo to go for it. Just, be smart.

This past weekend my littlest sister, Delaney, turned eighteen, and to celebrate, she asked us—her three older sisters—to get a tattoo with her. It was chaos. In the days leading up to the big day, Delaney was out of town and incommunicado. Deanna, Ashley and I each separately called and visited the tattoo parlor multiple times, and offered the staff contradictory information. We changed our minds about the final design up to the last minute. We acted like a gaggle of newbs, except we weren’t. Between the three of us, we already had ten tattoos, and a bit of knowledge about the do’s and don’ts, the good and bad, and the right perspective to carry our littlest sister through her first tattoo.

Bit of knowledge #1: You’re a tattoo person.

A lot of people don’t fancy themselves tattoo people because they think you have to be invested in a very specific kind of lifestyle to get a tattoo. Like a criminal, or a hipster. Not true. Just like tattoo people, tattoos come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Depending on the placement, they can be public or private. Depending on the design, their meaning can be obvious or cryptic. A tattoo is art that becomes a part of you, but it doesn’t define you, or change who you are. So unless you’re allergic to tattoo ink, or may be traumatized by the sight of a little blood and/or the experience of being pricked with a needle over and over (kind of like a prolonged bee sting?), you’re a tattoo person.

Bit of knowledge #2: It’s all about working with an artist.

When I got my first tattoo at nineteen (with my aunt, Mom, and Deanna for her eighteenth birthday), due diligence compelled me to research parlors for their cleanliness and quality. It never occurred to me to research tattoo artists. I showed up to my appointment never having met or spoken with my artist, and brandishing a print-out from a Google image search. The artist was graceful and the tattoo came out well. But it was only when I got my second tattoo, years later and under very different circumstances, that I realized I had missed out the first time on the best part of the experience of getting a tattoo—collaboration.

I knew I should get my second tattoo because an idea compelled me. That idea was gentle victory, the survival of the prey, the ultimate triumph of the victim. I needed to affirm that idea as a part of me and the course of my life at the time I felt most hunted and victimized. I needed a tattoo talisman. But I only vaguely imagined what it might look like.

I knew my image didn’t exist yet, that no Google search would produce a result that could speak directly to my idea. Instead, I needed to find an artist whose work and style spoke to me. My friend Madison happened to introduce me to my eventual artist through the artist’s website, but in general I’d recommend just taking to Instagram and tumbling down a few long rabbit holes starting with #tattoo.

Just like reading makes you a better writer, so does scrolling through hundreds of tattoo art make you a better tattoo client. The designs of others will help you hone the idea of your personal image, and once you’ve settled on an artist, you will have much to reference as inspiration for the design they will craft for you.

Bit of knowledge #3: Tattoos are excellent reminders to keep perspective.  

It’s impossible to know if an idea/image that you are compelled by now is going to compel you for the rest of your life. Inevitably, all of us grow and change, in personality, trajectory, priority and aesthetic. The tattoo you would get at eighteen is almost certainly not the tattoo you would get at thirty-eight or eighty-eight.

The image I choose for my first tattoo was the symbol for Swadhishtana, the chakra associated with love, empathy, and relationships. It was very representative of that time of my life, when I was young underclassman in college nurturing new relationships and practicing a lot of yoga. I’ve experienced a lot of life since then, and much has changed, so much so that the idea of the chakra doesn’t speak to me in the way that it used to. Even so, I my chakra reminds to look back on myself and appreciate who I was in relation to who I have become, and then, to who I eventually hope to be.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 08/22/2016.

Posted in Journalism | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Winning back Sylvia

West Seattle Herald“You should grab…that thing…that you know for sure…and put an exclamation mark…around it…and that’s the end…of that. Put the secret…around it…and whatever was…a secret…make it…for sure.”

This was the response my grandmother, Sylvia, murmured to me from her hospital bed when I asked her for a piece of winning advice. If it sounds cryptic, it’s because she was recovering from chemotherapy and a stroke. Each word came slowly, painstakingly, and there were drawn-out pauses that made me worry she had lost her train of thought.

This was very unlike the Sylvia I knew. The Sylvia I knew was gregarious, chatty, people-oriented, especially if those people were family. She knew the names of all the beauticians at the nail salon in the local strip mall. Her neighbors were intimate friends. To me, she was like all that’s good about a Hallmark card—sweet, sentimental, sincere, reliable, communicative, though lacking subtlety. Because she lives a seven-and-a-half-hour drive away in Montana, I even associate her with the holidays.

Last weekend, my sisters and I made that seven-and-a-half-hour drive to visit her in the hospital, after her health suddenly and unexpectedly took a turn for the worse. We had been cautioned to expect changes, especially resulting from the chemotherapy, but even so, it was shocking to take in the loss of not just her hair and weight, but her energy, and seemingly, her spirit. At first sight, it was like Sylvia had collapsed inward like an old mineshaft.

My sisters and I floundered for a bit. What could we say, when it was like Sylvia could barely hear us? What could we do, when it seemed like it took all of Sylvia’s energy just to exist? With Sylvia in such a state, and barely recognizable, how could we relate to her enough to interact with her?

We knew Sylvia was in there, and we imagined we just needed to give her a hand to draw her back out. I asked her if she wanted to write a column with me, imagining she might want to take up a genuine offer to be heard, about anything. I was even willing to hear her opinion about voting for Trump. Sylvia seemed interested, so I asked her what we should write about.

“Winning,” she said.

“OK. What about winning?”

“You keep on…”

“You keep on keeping on?” This was a Sylvia-ism. My sisters and I exchanged encouraged looks.

“One step at a time.”

I pressed on, trying to encourage Sylvia to examine the subject of winning from many different angles. How do you win? How do you know you’ve won? Do you have any winning advice? Her answers were either short and repetitive, or wandering and cryptic. She struggled with complex or distant concepts, like the past, or her own spirituality. It became apparent that Sylvia was firmly locked in her present moment, and her mind was almost entirely occupied with a necessary mantra: “Keep on keeping on. One step at a time.”

It reminded me of climbing a steep hill on my bike. To get through the pain and maintain the necessary momentum, I automatically fall into a hyper-focused rhythm. My mind thinks, “I think I can, I think I can,” and with each “think” and “can,” my feet push down on the pedals. “I think I can” and nothing else, all the way up to the top.

Sylvia wasn’t just existing. She was in the midst of a lonely, painful journey through her body and through time. And whether or not her body would follow, her mind was bent on making it. Hers was a whole other plane of existence, without distraction, without doubt. A survivor, surviving.

She did have room for one more coherent thought, though. I asked her, in her whole life, what was her greatest victory?

“Now,” she said. “You all are here now.”

As far away as Sylvia was, it turned out that what she really valued outside of her focus was us. Entrenched though we were in our distracted, complicated world, Sylvia needed our connection, because her love for us was such a big part of who she is. We were her world outside of the collapsed mineshaft, and she needed to know that we were there to witness her win herself back, “one step at a time.” The victory was in sharing it.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 08/15/2016.

Posted in Journalism, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hurts to hear

West Seattle HeraldAbout a fortnight ago, some friends and I decided to watch The Maltese Falcon together. Seeing as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has always been one of my favorites, I thought I would like it. Instead, I ended up storming out of the living room. It turned out I couldn’t stomach sitting through this moment:

Brigid: It’s more than I can ever offer you if I have to bid for your loyalty.
Spade: That’s good coming from you. What have you ever given me beside money? Have you ever given me any of your confidence, any of the truth? Haven’t you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else?
Brigid: What else is there I can buy you with?
[Spade kisses her roughly]

Let’s back up. The Maltese Falcon is a 1941 film noir based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett. The hero, Sam Spade, is a private detective investigating the case of a beautiful and mysterious client, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. From the get-go, Spade is portrayed as hyper-masculine. After his partner is murdered, he demonstrates no emotion except controlled aggression, because “it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it.” He openly despises effeminate henchmen like Dr. Cairo, who he can easily disarm. As for the women in his life, Spade’s demeanor depends on his sexual relationship with them. Spade patronizes his strictly-professional secretary, calling her “angel.” He barely disguises his contempt for Iva, his clingy ex-lover. And finally, Spade showers the principal femme fatale, Brigid, with judgement and possessive lust.

It’s one thing to know, on an intellectual level, that women have always been subordinated, degraded, and objectified by men. It’s another thing to see it with your own eyes, particularly when it is so taken for granted. What most struck me about the misogyny of The Maltese Falcon was how it didn’t pronounce itself. It just was.

It reminds me of my conflicted feelings when listening to one of my favorite genres of music: R&B. The soulful crooning of my favorite singers—Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Ray Charles—portrays a deeply misogynist America.

There are some obviously misogynist songs, like Jimmy Soul’s “If You Want to Be Happy.” He says women are untrustworthy because they’re not properly subordinate. Unless, of course, they are ugly:

A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall
As soon as he married her and then she starts
To do the things that will break his heart
But if you make an ugly woman your wife
You’ll be happy for the rest of your life
An ugly woman cooks meals on time
And she’ll always give you peace of mind

Barbara Streisand’s “My Man,” portraying the woman’s side, is even more devastating:

I don’t know why I should
He isn’t true
He beats me, too
What can I do?
Oh, my man, I love him so
He’ll never know
All my life is just despair
But I don’t care
When he takes me in his arms
The world is bright

These kinds of lyrics are occasional, and stand out as cringe-worthy—a kind of sweet, lullaby version of today’s pimps and hoes. Insidious are the much more common and seemingly innocuous lyrics about unrequited love. The man can’t afford his woman. The good woman’s place is in the home. The bad woman wants to be free. Oh, I just can’t live without him…

Nowadays, we’re used to hearing about bitches and sexual violence. It took me until my mid-to-late-twenties to come to appreciate much of hip hop and rap because I felt so alienated by its content in my more tender, impressionable youth. I internalized, rather, the subtler misogyny pervasive throughout classic entertainment—Dean Martin and Disney. Only with years of experience and introspection have I been able to reconstruct my own perspective and observe misogyny from a distance, so that it doesn’t hurt to hear.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 08/08/2016.

Posted in Journalism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Moving Out, Moving On

West Seattle HeraldBy my weary, vacant look, you wouldn’t guess at how thrilled I am. I’m so exhausted, I forget myself. This is because all this past week, my partner Chris and I have been organizing, gathering, and boxing our separate households to move in together. We’ve been looking forward to the big day for a while, and now that it’s come, it’s easy to feel physically and emotionally overwhelmed.

I didn’t really realize, for instance, how much cumbersome stuff I had—and how heavy it was—until I tried to play Tetris with it. And, stuff is emotional. Packing up my belongings feels like packing up my history. As I disassemble, I’m reminded of what kind of person I am by the kinds of things that take up my personal space. By far, I have more books and clothing than any other kind of material possession. These are the things that feel most infused with my sense of self—hence my reticence to shed myself of them. Interestingly, books and clothes are also the majority of Chris’s possessions, and we’re enjoying anticipating the challenge of shared bookshelves and closets.

The cumulative effect is utter exhaustion, but as I take a writing break from the packing tape, I feel compelled to appreciate my other feelings. This is a momentous moment in Chris’s and my partnership. The coming together of homes has finally caught up with the coming together of minds and hearts. If all goes well, and we work really really hard, there won’t ever be another home for us without each other. Bam!

I’m excited to discover what our shared space will be like, because just as our relationship is more than the sum of Chris and Amanda, so must our home be more than the sum of our stuff.

I’m reminded of how my cell in Capanne prison transformed in character with the arrival or release of even just one prisoner. While none of us was allowed much in the way of material possessions, our combined emotional baggage, when bashed together without consideration, could make an already inescapable situation insufferable, even dangerous.

And that’s the other thing. As I sit here in a bookstore-café, sipping a Cortado, tapping away on my laptop in a line of similarly industrious mid-to-late-twenty-year-olds, I appreciate how normal this is. Momentous, yes, but normal.

It’s been four and a half years since I returned to Seattle from Italy. Until recently, those years were a nightmare roller coaster ride of unresolved legal drama. There was no feeling settled, hard as I tried. I graduated from college, set out on a career path. I fell in love, fell in love again, and again. All this in the time it took the Italian legal system to run its course, and in its wake, for me to recover myself.

My loved ones have stood by me through a decade of overcoming internal and external obstacles. Their struggle didn’t neatly wrap up with my return home, though they needn’t pass through prison barriers just to see me anymore. We were all surprised to discover leftover emotional and psychological barriers that had to be navigated for them to reach me, and vice versa. Not to mention the barriers that come between you and the rest of society when you’re a public figure. For better or for worse, I haven’t felt like any-other-person-my-age for a long time.

Slowly, bit by bit, I’m recovering. It may still be the case that, when I call Puget Sound Energy to set up a new utility account, I’m reminded that I’m “That girl in Italy?! That Amanda Knox?!” Yeah, I’m her. I’m also the Amanda Knox who is so excited to be living my life alongside people I love and respect, lugging furniture, scooping cat poop, paying the bills, moving on.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 08/01/2016.

Posted in Journalism, Personal | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Are we leeches?

West Seattle HeraldThe paparazzi like to describe their relationship with celebrities as symbiotic, and when you look at the Kardashians, that seems like a reasonable way to frame it. But just because a few socialites have learned to exploit their own exploitation, as doctors have discovered medical uses for the leech, does not make the celebrity-paparazzi relationship mutually beneficial.

Do most celebrities sign up for their entire lives to be fodder for entertainment? Perhaps some do. And yes, famous actors and musicians benefit from being recognizable for their work. But the current media culture isn’t satisfied with covering just the art they make. The paparazzi interfere in their personal lives, humiliate, glamorize, defame and dehumanize them. Why? Because we want them to.

I’m not talking about the First Amendment. The paparazzi have the right to take pictures and report on anyone who happens to be in the public. I’m talking about the media culture we have jointly created as consumers. By desiring to live vicariously through celebrities, we deny them the right to lead normal lives. By paying to read about their intimacies and scandals, we dehumanize public figures.

It’s almost inevitable. At the check-out counter you glimpse the close-up of J-Law’s pores and skim the tantalizing headlines. You’re already reading it, so you might as well toss the rag onto the conveyor belt along with the Organic kale and Greek yogurt. It’s a guilty pleasure—like wasting an hour of the day watching a soap opera. It’s unproductive; it’s probably all made-up anyway. But it’s cheap, it’s entertaining. It feels better to know that even Jennifer Aniston hasn’t escaped wrinkles and cellulite. And the royal baby! How cute! What’s the harm? Plus, the tabloids would exist whether you bought them or not, right?

Except, that’s not how it works. If we didn’t consume it, it wouldn’t exist. But the consequences of our consumption seem so distant, as distant as the caliber of the lives of the celebrities themselves. And yet, we know Princess Di died trying to escape the harassment of the paparazzi pursuing her, and the flashing of their cameras was the last thing she saw in this world.

We tell ourselves that celebrities ultimately benefit from it, or, at worst, that it’s a necessary cost of being famous. Indeed, many people argue this in defense of paparazzi. I disagree, and I think how we zoom our lens says more about us than the celebrities we judge. Whether or not Johnny Depp, by acting in films, signed up to have his divorce scrutinized, is a question worth debating. What seems indefensible to me is that the media culture we have created also preys upon those who never signed up for the spotlight.

Some people have celebrity thrust upon them. They are often ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the pressure and impact on their life. That happened to me. All it takes is for other people to shine the spotlight on you, point the lens at you, speculate about you, and you are public figure. And as a public figure, you have less right to privacy than the average citizen. You have no legal recourse to prevent paparazzi from interrupting your day-to-day life, harassing your loved ones, or defaming you, unless you can prove malicious intent, which is notoriously difficult to prove. There was nothing I could do to stop people from defining me as a man-eater, slut, manipulative witch, and psychopath.

When we buy Star magazine and read TMZ.com, which invade the private lives of actors and musicians, we are preying upon them, and we are supporting a paparazzi culture that at its whim may prey upon any one of us. We have the right to be complicit in this kind of culture, as the paparazzi have the right to take the photos we pay them for, but is this the world that we want to live in?

Published by the West Seattle Herald 07/25/2016.

Posted in Journalism, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments