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June 2012

She Shines in the Darkness of His Absence

Much like Chris, I won't be contented until I write something about the passing of Karsten Soltauer. And Karsten and I weren't nearly as close as he and Chris were. Though, closeness or the illusion thereof is one of the points made in Chris' terrific blog post. He asks, "how close are any of us," really? "How well do I really know any of my friends?"

That is something I've thinking a lot about since I learned that my friend Kate's partner of nearly fifteen years left her, left us all. A shock like this thrusts the subjects of love, mortality and time into the forefront of our minds, but I've also been thinking about goals, waste, challenges and art.

But, mostly I've been thinking about Kate. And I find myself in awe.


I have no doubt my friend is gutted and riddled with grief about the loss of the love of her life. It's clear to anyone who was around them that Kate loved Karsten with a richness that shined right through her, and he the same for her. Perhaps it is this rich love, in part, that has allowed Kate to harness her mind's power and use it for good. I mean, just read what she wrote in a blog post following Karsten's death:

I think perhaps the key to processing a loss this immense and intense is to embrace the bothness of it: I have never experienced one emotion without the potential for its complement. I am nowhere near the master observer of absurdity that Karsten was, but I have been his student for nearly fifteen years and maybe I can see it a bit more than most. But if devastating loss is a swing to the left from the emotional equilibrium, I sense there is the opening of an often unnoticed rather large area to the right, into gratitude, appreciation, abundance, humor, and moments of joy and peace. 


Like Karsten's "Curvature of the Mind" series, as he later named the swirling marbled pieces, there are treasures to be found in the chaos. You just have to really look for them. And pencil stroke by pencil stroke, you shade out what doesn't contribute to the picture you want to remain. But the bothness of it is that just as the oil and water needed to be mixed to make the paper, and the darker shadowing needs to be drawn in to see the colorful image more clearly, so do the dark emotions bring contrast to the lighter ones, and we can seek those out if we choose to. At least, that's my hope. 

This perspective in the face of tragedy is phenomenal to behold. The sheer hope she displays here is stunning. In just five short days she's taught me invaluable lessons from 2,500 miles away. Witnessing Kate's public reaction to her partner's passing illustrates to me ways I can better live my life and take in the world around me. This is what Karsten did for Kate, too.

What I have been reminded of, loud and clear, is this: we get to choose how we feel about things. We also get to choose how we behave in the face of tragedy. And for each person that will be different, and that is okay. 

I am so grateful to Kate for this gift of insight. Her positivity and outlook during this time is precisely why she enchants nearly every one she meets. 

We lost one of the good ones when Karsten left. In his absence is a darkness Kate will never shake, but that allows her wisdom and attitude to stand out all the more. And oh, how she shines.

[Photo of Karsten and Kate by the talented Chris Wage, who has more photos of Karsten in his Flickr stream]

Stop Saying "Man-Whore"

I hate the term "man-whore" or "male whore." People use it all the time: "That guy slept with everyone on the first floor. He's such a man-whore." It's so sexist and awful. It says, "Only women are capable of being whores. This one guy is an exception. Slutting it up is the ladies' domain, but this guy was as bad as they are."

It's so obviously misogynistic. Stop it.

Ink vs. Keys

I've written almost as long as I've read. I wrote plays in day care*. I scribbled in diaries for most of middle school in efforts to outwit the hormonal horror playing out inside me. And in high school I began filling those composition books with poetry so overwrought and melodramatic that Tori Amos herself would have winced. And I did it all with a pen.

Typewriting was not something that I did regularly until I got to college. That's when my dormmate taught me how to email and do internet relay chat in the computer lab. I was taken with the technology immediately, but when I was feeling angsty, which was a lot, I flopped on my bed opened my insides with a pen.

Homework was typed. Writing, for me, was always done in ink.

Then I got a blog. And then I did almost all my writing online. All of that stuff--years and years of entries--were typed, either initially (usually) or transribed (rarely). 

Now that I've committed to spending a good chunk of time putting words down in an attempt at a writing career, I am experimenting with how best to do it: ink or keys? And while sometimes time or space necessitates pen on paper, I still haven't determined when I should be using longhand and when I should rely on the clack of a keyboard.


Using a pen allows me to be careful, to not rush, to slow down. Sometimes that's a benefit, sometimes it's a hinderance. However, when using my computer to write there are a million temptations just on the other side of the iA Writer application. Dazzling GIFs and new emails and other people's better writing lie just on the other side of my mostly blank white document on the screen. [For instance I *just* checked Gmail and remembered I needed to deposit a check and was nearly sidetracked until I saw this Typepad tab and returned to it!]

So, I'm often torn. Writing in notebooks satisfies a long-ago established urge, and well, it feels downright romantic. Until your wrist begins to cramp.

Writing on a computer is more efficient, but for me computer means INTERNET and it's hard for me to avoid the temptation of distraction on the other side. Because writing is hard work and looking at cats in birthday hats is not.

It would be interesting to compare output based on the manner in which they were written. I could assign myself a topic and a time frame and write two pieces--one in pen on paper, the other typed into a machine--and compare the two.

That I just might do.

*So what if they were near replicas of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty? I was stealing like an artist

Check, Please Don't Fight About It

"May I take this for you?" I grabbed the little glass cup with his ticket and a credit card poking out of it.

"Sure. You saw what he did, though, right? The ol' bathroom trick. Took off when the check came."

He was saying it with a smile. But intentionally or not, he was right. His date that night had pulled the classic Powder Room Pull Out, the deft act of excusing one's self to the restroom when it's time to pay the tab at a restaurant. It's not a common occurance, but it no doubt happens from time to time; enough that I overhear people talk about trying it while their dinnermate is out of earshot.

Who is going to pay for dinner? Whether on first dates or business lunches or simple, friendly, spur-of-the-moment outings, the question looms large.

People ask themselves: "What is the best way to pay for this meal we have shared without seeming like a complete tightwad?" Or "I paid last time, can I count on him to cover it now?" Or the even more complicated, "We are dating so perhaps he should pay, not every time, but maybe on occasion, like this one, but if I don't offer will I totally blow it, ohmygodwhatdoIdo?" I've seen tell-tale signs of all these internal questions being asked on the faces of those who see me coming with the check.

Check 044933

Thing is, I'm a server, and even I don't think there are hard and fast rules about who pays and when to split it down the middle and when to go so far as to ask to pay separately down to the penny. Each situation is unique. And let me tell you, watching people hash out what to do about that inconvenient money part at the end can be pure spectacle. 

The most dramatic (and my least favorite, by far) of all the things people do when the check comes is the Big, Loud Fight. That ridiculous thing diners do when they snatch the bill off the table (or even out of my hand) and hold it aloft in the air screeching loudly that they've "got it." Inevitably, because the production demands an equally showy response, the other person at the table tries with exaggerated movements to take the check from the person who has now hidden the check behind his back. Things escalate. There is lots of hemming and hawing and NO, NO, NO, and finally, after much ado, one person relents and in turn gets a free steak. 

I dislike the Big, Loud Fight because they often get me involved in their fake war. "Don't take it from him! Don't take his card. I demand that you let me pay," all while the other guy is saying the exact same words. I'm there to provide service to both guests and asking me to pick who pays is just unfair. I have no idea who paid last week or who makes more money or whose turn it is. Leave me out of it.

That said, there is a sly way to go about paying for dinner without a lot of fuss. Be smooth. Keep your card in your hand from the outset and when your server comes to tell you about wines, make eye contact, then quickly hand it to her. If you don't trust your server to hang onto your credit or debit card for the length of the meal, even just signaling to her that you have the card out and ready will result in a smart server bringing the tab discreetly to you at the meal's finish. 

But people love to put on airs. The Big, Loud Fight over the tab is often cultural, too, with some families going to great lengths to attempt to pay the bill in order to save "face." To not make grand gestures to pick up the tab is considered gauche in many circles, and so I've learned to sit back and watch rather than let it bother me.

Except when I'm in the weeds. In which case, let me know when you've got things sorted out. You play Tug of War, I have to go pour 15 waters.

[Photo by Steve Snodgrass]

"Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale of all."

It's been almost six months since I left. 

I was reminded of this blog I created while I was there today. I hadn't looked at it in many, many weeks. I barely looked at it while I was making it.

I see it now and I see a good amount of sadness. I also see just a skimming of the surface of what was.

I have so many stories to tell, stories that need to be jostled out of me, but that are true and honest and more fantastic and more fucked up than fiction.

I Never Knew It Would Be In Their Faces

My tattoo is new, less than a year old, but I didn't know when I got it that I would soon be waiting tables again. I never dreamed I'd be sticking my forearm in front of the faces of people as I clear their plates or pour them more tea.


My tattoo is small, just text, just big enough for me to read. But they can see the line of ink on pale skin fluttering in and out of their field of vision and so I'm often asked, "What does your tattoo say?"

The way out is through. 

Many seem dissatisfied with the answer. "Through what?," they ask. "Just through," I say.

Now I've taken to quickly adding, "It's an amended Robert Frost quote."

I think the girl I used to be wants to be sure everyone knows her tattoo has pedigree. This is no butterfly on my ankle, you see. This line is a long time coming.

I Can't Because It's Gone

Back then we didn't recycle plastic bottles, we threw them, half full, out of car windows at street signs. Upon impact a pop, then a fizzy explosion followed by the triumphant trills of teenagers.

Tasmania 410

There was nothing else to do, so we just drove and drove and drove. Back roads winding like coils, we knew them all. Our cars had memorized their curves and lines and so abandon was thrown to the wind.

I wouldn't do it. My arm was too weak. I knew they'd laugh, so I drank all my Mountain Dew down until it was gone.

[Photo by Enrique A. Gomez]

Wine and Punishment

I'm not proud of this, but yesterday I had the mother of all hangovers. The sort of hangover that reminds you each second of your constant decaying and messy mortality. The kind of hangover where you can't even eat. The one where you wake up still slightly drunk, so you have no idea how unfathomably horrible the rest of your day will be, your trauma building and building as the minutes creep up and punch you in the temples.

The reason for this beast of a hangover is my own idiocy. I'm 34, not 21. And frankly, no one any age should mix the kinds of alcohol I did the other night. White wine and tequila? Champagne and whiskey? Yep, I was that stupid.

And, oh, did I pay. I woke up to the phone ringing. It took me a solid ten minutes to reach the foot of the bed for the phone still in my jacket from the night before, barely alive with 8% battery power. It was work. There was a fire in West Oakland and thus the BART system was unable to take commuters either to or from the East Bay. The opening server was stuck in Berkeley. My boss was calling to see if I could come in early.

I assessed the damage. I decided it wasn't too bad. In retrospect, I was still intoxicated, because I was worse than bad. I just didn't know it yet.

I called back and said I'd be there as soon as I could. Still, I sat in bed a solid fifteen minutes trying to move my limbs to the floor. I was finally able to clothe myself and walk the 6 or so blocks to pick up the 9-Bruno.

Staggering into the sunlight, I dragged my body the length of the five-minute walk with immense effort. Naturally, as soon as I boarded the bus and it began its bumpy route, a crashing wave of nausea rose inside me.

"Are you tired or something?," a man asked me.

"Sir, please don't talk to me right now," I pleaded, and he scooted backwards in his seat.

A vagrant who smelled distinctly of pee took the seat right under where I was standing. I choked back the urge to puke. He asked me if I wanted to buy any menthol singles.

"The very idea makes me want to vomit," I told him honestly, my voice ragged.

"Damn. Okay, then," he said back and left me to sway, my face turning ever greener.

A large man dressed like a woman mercifully got up from a corner seat, which I immediately snagged. I watched a young black man in well-tailored pants and a perfect-fitting sweater board the bus. As he did the driver accelerated and he stumbled, stepping on the foot of a dirty white guy listening to a Walkman and drinking Arizona tea from a tall, hot pink can.

"You stepped right on my toe!," the white guy yelled.

"That's why I said excuse me," replied the black man.

Then the white guy began to shout, but the black man quickly eclipsed him with his own shouting of, "Don't TRY ME. Don't TRY ME. Don't TRY ME," until the white guy was quiet.

When the driver stopped to give a passenger bus route information the white guy turned his annoyance toward her. "JUST DO YOUR FUCKING JOB, LADY, AND DRIVE THE BUS. YOUR JOB IS NOT TO ARGUE."

I put my head in my hands.

I then heard more arguing from the front: "Fuck you!" 

"No, fuck you!"

I looked up from trying to hold it together to see two senior women, each well above the age of 70, in a shouting match with one another.

"Is that...two old people yelling?," a teenaged girl asked her mother, who was wagging her head at the entire scene. "Yep," she replied. And then the teenaged girl mused about what the world is coming to.

Even more verbal fights erupted before I dismembarked and 5th and Market. With lead legs I lumbered through the crowd. The sous chef and another cook stood at the doors smoking cigarettes. They laughed as they saw me coming.

"One foot in front of the other, Brittney. You can do it," one of them cheered.

And I did do it. I waited tables, albeit few of them--BART being down really cut into our lunch business--then went home and napped, trying to rally for an art show I promised I'd attend. And I did go, but had to bail after just half an hour. 

The moral of this story is: Don't be a complete moron like me. And that even if a hangover commute makes for a good story, your liver asks that you consider the consequences. Which? So very not worth it.

Stuff! Things! A List!

  • Squash Blossoms in the Hallway is the new front runner for the name of my first (ha!) novel. Today my boss asked the sous chef, "Why are there squash blossoms in the hallway?" and the words just sounded so great together--squash blossoms in the hallway--that I can't stop thinking about them. Especially since the answer is "because there are bees in them."
  • Twitter changed its bird logo and wrote a whole blog post about why, and I appreciate both the change and the explanation, but the fact that this exist already makes me laugh so hard.
  • Gossip Girl is goddamned ridiculous. 
  • Are you following me on Twitter? You should be following me on Twitter.
  • Today I waited on two ladies, one of whom asked me at the end of the meal: "Are you from here?" I told her I'd been in the Bay Area around three years. She said, "I can tell. You are too sweet to be from the Bay Area. Never lose that." 
  • Hilarious. I'm sorry I didn't text this.
  • At work, there's a dish with pig ear in it. Every single day people ask me: "What is pig ear?"
  • I went to the park: