The Evolution of Mourning

Photo: Colin Brough

I was on the KFOG Morning Show yesterday, and like all things that require me to think on my feet, I’m not very satisfied with my answers. I mean, it was totally fun and fine, but now I find myself running over the questions I was asked and revising them for nobody. Specifically I was thinking about Steve Jobs. The host asked me what I thought about people mourning Steve Jobs on Facebook. I rarely ever mourn for celebrities. Although I thought Steve Jobs was a great man. I saw a really inspiring speech he gave to Stanford graduates, even though he never graduated himself. I’ve owned several Macs, iPods, iPhones, and other Apple products. But this didn’t at all make me feel entitled to comment on someone else’s life and legacy. So I didn’t. I scrolled through the links, videos, and tributes, but I said nothing.

Some people left flowers in the doorway of the Apple store in downtown San Francisco. Some people didn’t know where to go, or how to express all the pain and loss they were feeling for a great man dying young. Whenever someone dies, we are immediately confronted with our own mortality. This scares the shit out of us. We rarely talk about dying or grief, even though it’s a reality we all eventually face. It’s considered impolite. We only talk about it like it’s something we should recover from. Like an illness. Social media, perhaps more than any new technology, allows us to feel close to people we hardly know. I think this is truly wonderful sometimes, that we have a medium to publicly express our grief, but it also leads to a lot of confusion, and big, misplaced feelings.

When Amy Winehouse died a few months ago, it happened at the same time as the bombings in Norway. People on Facebook were pissed that Amy Winehouse, a junkie punchline, was taking the spotlight away from the 80 or so innocent victims of a terrorist attack. This reaction shocked me. As if there is a death hierarchy, as if someone who was struggling with addiction didn’t deserve an ounce of sympathy. (PS: A toxicology report revealed Amy Winehouse had no illegal substances in her body when she died.) Tragedy isn’t a zero-sum game. Mourning one loss doesn’t detract from the loss of others. These kinds of reactions though, the vitriol, the blaming, the sense of entitlement we feel about people and events so far removed from our everyday realities, are becoming increasingly common thanks to social media. I know for a fact that none of my Facebook friends would ever say, “Eh, we all saw that coming,” in response to a death of someone they actually knew. So what is it about the medium, the third-party distance that seems to absolve us from our otherwise functioning sense of humanity?

This is what I’ve been thinking about. I don’t mean to belittle or challenge the way others react to situations online. But I am curious about how technology is changing us. If Facebook gets us talking about death in a substantial way, maybe the confusion and anger are worthwhile.

Here’s a beautiful vignette on death by Paul Madonna and Cheryl Strayed.

I’ve been thinking too about connection, and that in order to be successful in social media, you have to care about helping other people. You have to give as much as get. And yeah, I know the Internet is mostly made of cats and repurposed memes from the 80s, but what makes things like Twitter meaningful are those glimpses of community, when you can reach out on behalf of someone else and say, “This moved me.”

This week’s AfterEllen column could be summed up in two words: Walk away. But, of course, there’s lots more to it than that.

A friend of mine recently said she felt like she didn’t know how to set up her writerly self in a new city. “What did you do?” she asked. I told her that I spent the first five months here watching The Bachelor. In there, my dad also got cancer. And my relationship fell apart. San Francisco taught me that a lot of things in my life had to end before I could begin again. And the only way I knew how to do that was to write.

As Steve Jobs put it, “[D]eath is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Hear, hear?

Wikimedia Commons

Seal, he of Batman song and Heidi Klum baby daddy fame, never includes lyrics to his songs in the liner notes. (Sidenote: liner notes! How quaint. Who buys CDs anymore?)  He wants listeners to always wonder and speculate. I thought for a long time that was lazy, and frankly, a little mean to deafies like me, not that I’ve listened to Seal since 1996. Plus, his lyrics always struck me as nonsensical: “I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.” Wha?

But then I realized that some of my favorite lyrics have been ones that I’ve misheard. When I learned the real lyrics, I often still preferred the ones my brain misinterpreted. I thought too about how the truth is just a story and everyone believes their own version. I have a friend who told me she was inappropriately hit on by another friend. That friend says, no, actually, it was the other way around. I believe the truth lies somewhere outside their convictions, but I’ll never know for sure.

This, on the other hand, is so true:

I keep giving advice, hoping it’ll make me wise. It won’t. Only living makes you wise. And mistakes. I prefer to learn things the hard way. I’d rather be wrong than sorry.

#242

My heart has grown

complacent. I dare not touch it,

not even with words.

______________

At SF Weekly, my column had its birthday. Right on the heels of my own birthday, which is next Tuesday. Birthdays are so loaded.  I also wrote about whether using Groupon on dates makes you a cheap asshole.

There’s been a friend theme the past few weeks at AfterEllen. And at the RedEye, I asked a pro domme how to be more dominant in bed. Rawr.

Here’s a video of me reading this story at Quiet Lightning over Labor Day. You can buy a book of the night’s readings here for a mere $10. That’s two beers, folks.

I’d write more, but I’m sick. I stayed home from work the past few days and had fever dreams that I was a detective and whenever I turned over, I came one step closer to solving the case, which after several hours, turned out to be: what is the true identity of Paddington Bear.

He continues to elude me, however.

PS: Oh my god. I just learned that Seal is from Paddington!

Notable for its ability to bestride!

best sf mural ever?

I don’t know why this exists, but I love it. The best part is that the smallest one is saying “GOAT.” Who said Union Square was square?

Also found this today on my walk to the bus. Posting it mostly to freak my parents out. Just kidding, ‘rents! SF is totes safe. We just like to be naked and on drugs a lot, apparently.

Other shit you may have missed on the interwebs

At SF Weekly:

At After Ellen:

Elsewhere:

Plus!

Solipsistic gerbils, and other nonsequiturs

Poster from the Portuguese Artist Colony reading last Sunday! Someone recorded it, I’m told, so be on the lookout for that soon. There will also be a video of me from the Bawdy Storytelling event telling the story of my first strap-on sex experience (hint: it was disastrous).

What you’ve missed around the interwebs

At SF Weekly:

At After Ellen:

Generally awesome shtuff you might enjoy:

Happy Anniversary To Me

I recently celebrated my year anniversary giving advice to lady lovin’ ladies at After Ellen. I can’t believe it’s been a year already, and that it’s been almost four years since I’ve been an advice columnist, starting way back at Centerstage Chicago, where my first column addressed the very pressing issues of hairy armpits and tips for gay teens. Also, just look at my fucking hipster author photo. My god.

Anyway, read my latest AE column, on dating straight women and how to bust polyamory myths. Bonus: includes my new favorite comment ever, from fellow AE writer Dara Nai:

And here’s a roundup of some of my favorite columns from this year:

Hook Up 11: How to give a lap dance. Nuff said.

Hook Up 13: Advice to Aussie readers, plus a quote from one of my favorite Rilke poems. This column also produced a really sweet fan email.

Hook Up 8: Using awkwardness to justify Weezer’s existence, and why flirtation should involve more three-legged races (not a threesome euphemism)

Hook Up 4: My mom is quoted in this one. Not about peyote. This time.

Hook Up 2: I really wish there was a lez porn flick called Saturday Night Beaver.

Hook Up 25: Our greatest vulnerability in life is when we risk nothing.

Thanks for reading and sending questions and helping me crowd source the best lap dance songs. I am eternally grateful that I get to write about things that make me happy.

Insemination rituals and such

I am so unmotivated today, I couldn’t even post a Facebook status update about how unmotivated I am. Also, last night I went to a public insemination ritual / performance art show / orgy and I’m probably the only one in the world who thought bringing their ex to that would be a good idea. “I kind of hate you right now” is a quote from her. But then she ended up having a good time, so sucka that. (Article for The Bay Citizen on the show forthcumming!) Plus, we drank coconut water out of actual coconuts, and then someone took a hammer to mine to get the meat out, but she effectively bludgeoned it to death and I kind of wanted to take a picture of it, but they took our phones for the night, so I couldn’t. I have no idea where I was going with that.

Anyway. I figured I could probably at least post some links.

SF Weekly:

I interviewed my east coast bestie Jami Howard on how to make a kickass Facebook page.

Before that, I quelled the world’s nerves by confirming that social media is not, in fact, ruining our lives.

Before that, I invented a southern cooking show called Squirrels Gone Wild. It’s about Twitter, obviously.

AfterEllen:

Amanda Palmer didn’t ask me out this week, but the advice is still solid, I assure you.

Mother Jones:

I wrote a pot roundup for 4/20 because we really try to buck the stereotypes at Mother Jones.

Real Life:

I went to Facebook headquarters and took pictures of hardboiled eggs and their parking lot. It was much more amusing than it sounds. I think. But I’m too lazy to write about it. You can watch the panel though that my coworker was on, about social media and journalism. I get a brief shout out somewhere in this hour-and-a-half long video, so, you know, totally worth it to watch the whole thing. Also, if you want to see pics from my Aorta Mag reading at Million Fishes, whereby I manage to look both stoic AND possessed, then do so here. And like me!

High Waist Shorts Is Inspired

I’ve been getting a lot of spam lately on the blog, which means I’ve made it as a blogger, probably. The comments are always inane and riddled with non-English spambot typos, but their “names” are often really amusing. For instance, High Waist Shorts wanted me to know, “You really inspired me.”

My work is done.

Except, of course, it isn’t. I won’t rest until I’ve reached every Online Diet Pill and Bunion Laser Removal on the world wide web. So, on that note, this is what you missed for the past few weeks.

  • This is pretty much the most amazing OkCupid message ever. It involves crane suspension and cookies.

At SF Weekly

At The Bay Citizen

  • For my debut post, I watched two artists make out in a museum for 7 hours. Really.

At AfterEllen

Things I didn’t write/make but are awesome

It’s Evolution, Baby!

This orgy post just keeps on giving. Here’s a snippet from an email I got from someone who read it, after he told me about his adopted Korean grandchildren:

So, having a small, Green pad, doing your 16 hours in medical research/week, performing your role at the community theater tonight, bringing a couple of people who liked your style over for relaxation, some karaoke, and an active night over, would be one wonderful way to evolve the next stage of humanity.

I…don’t even know. But look!

Suck on that, crisis in Japan! I’m kidding. Y’all should go donate right now. Here are some charities doing good work over there.

In other news, I haz a Facebook page. Plz 2 like me. Kthx.

Other stuff you may have missed due to the world collapsing and shit

At SF Weekly:

At AfterEllen:

At MoJo:

At That’s Punny:

 

Don’t stop, get it (get it):

Deaf Sentence

Photo by Patrick Hajzler

So, I need to write a bonafide post about this, but for now, here’s an abbreviated story. I’m pretty deaf. It affects me every day, in some ways more profoundly than others. Usually it’s something I can laugh off, as in the case of mishearing song lyrics or when I’m in charge of taking minutes at a meeting and my boss sends me back questions about why I would write down “7 wives?” when we were talking about taxes, but other times my deafness has put me in really uncomfortable situations that are difficult or even downright dangerous. Once I ended up on the back of a strange man’s motorcycle when I was in high school. Another time I “agreed” to let a dude come home with me after we’d made out in a bar for two minutes. You can imagine my surprise when I got out of the cab and saw this random guy trailing me on his scooter, yelling my name. But, more often than not, mishearing friends and lovers and coworkers is just plain embarrassing. Witness a conversation I had recently with a friend who, after several whiskeys and PBRs, put forth the existential and morbid question of whether I wanted to die. To my credit, it was a non-sequitur question. We weren’t talking about death. In fact, I think we were talking about vague life goals and accomplishments of twentysomethings. But the question I heard was, Do you want to date?

After about two solid minutes of me rambling off reasons why I am currently undateable, my baffled friend stepped in and asked what the hell I was talking about.

Oh, do I want to die? Why yes, as a matter of fact. Right now would be fantastic. Thanks.

And on a totally unrelated note, here’s the stuff I’ve been writing lately.

At SF Weekly:

At AfterEllen:

At AlterNet:

Warm Fuzzies

So apparently I have an inbox at AfterEllen that has had messages in it since last May that I was totally unaware of! Most of them were relationship questions, but one was a supernice letter from a woman I gave advice to in December. I wanted to share it with y’all.

Hi. I just wanted to say thanks for the incredibly beautiful column you wrote in response to my dilemma. I realized after reading it that there must be so many other compassionate, creative and like-minded people who I have not yet encountered. I am the kind of person that given a small amount of heartfelt encouragement, it can and does serve as an immense and ongoing impetus to achieve great things. The future suddenly looks much brighter.

Isn’t that sweet? It warms this single gal’s bitter heart. This is the question I answered for her.

Much light and love to all of you on this cold January evening.

xoxo,

Anna