Fractions Of Moments

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I can’t recognize faces.  I have Prosopagnosia– in my short term-memory, I recognize people by the way they move, the timbre of their voice, context.  Sometimes I have to meet people fifteen or twenty times before it gels who they might be.  Example: If I meet you indoors and you walk outside suddenly wearing a jacket, chances are I’ll have no idea who you are.

I used to joke that I’d be the worst person to pick someone out of a police lineup.

He leaned against the door writing into a notepad.  “Ma’am, do you think you’d recognize the robber if you saw him again?” 


*  *  *  *  *  *

It was dark.  The streets were blanketed in the kind of quiet reserved for after the bars have closed, with barely a whistle of tires on the pavement.

I was walking home in the San Francisco Mission, at nearly midnight on a weekday.  A backpack was slung over my shoulder, and I was alone.

Statistically, these were not my best odds.

*  *  *  *  *  *

“Do you need an ambulance?”

“No, I’m fine,” I responded.  “Just a little bruised.”

“Are you sure?”  The cop asked me.  There were two of them in my studio apartment, dwarfing the space around them.  Glass Moroccan lanterns hung from the ceiling behind their heads.  A tiny toy piano sat at their feet.  It seemed so non-sequitur, these uniformed men in this space.

“Really. I’m okay,” I said.  The tatters of my backpack sat on the bed between us.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Steps echoed behind me on the street.  I couldn’t tell if they were getting faster, but I was suddenly aware of just how dark it was.

It had occurred to me no less than five times that walking home just then, at night, was not the best idea.  You know when you don’t feel safe.  You feel it on your skin, those moments when something in the air is just …wrong.

I quickened my pace, shifting things in my pockets to be harder to get to.  Tightened my grip on my backpack.  Hurried to the corner and stood in the pool of street light, where I was in full sight of the bare traffic, and pretended to look around to figure out where I was.

The steps walked towards me, and then past me.

The frail looking white man who passed regarded me quizzically.  Probably a veteran, probably homeless.

I relaxed.

It was nothing.  Nothing to worry about.  I’m being silly.

I turn the corner–

–and a man is suddenly on top of me.

I’d walked barely a block from the corner, and he came from nowhere, from behind me, from in front of me.  He tried to snatch my backpack from my shoulder, and miraculously, I chose not to let go.  He tried harder to wrest it from me, and we tumbled to the ground, my hands pressing against his chest, his hands fumbling behind me.

“Please, please don’t do this,” I said.

In the fractions of moments, I surveyed what I could.  His untucked shirt.  He didn’t seem to have a weapon.  He wasn’t threatening me.  I clenched my arms at my sides around the straps, pushing him away.

“Please stop,” I begged.  Some part of me thinking I could honestly convince him to stop.  Against all odds, he did not seem to be trying to hurt me– but he was trying very, very hard to rob me.

“Give it all up,” he repeated gently, quietly, over and over. “Just give it all up.”  We were on the ground– how did we get on the ground?– and I had a flash of a memory.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Since I was young, I’ve had reoccurring dreams of being attacked by men.  Usually, they are trying to hurt me.  Usually I cannot stop them.  And usually, I cannot scream.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I scream.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I scream with such abandon, such intensity, I know it sounds like I must be dying.  I am screaming not because I am scared.  I am screaming because pleading with him did not work, and I can only hope to scare him away.  

If I draw attention to myself, and we are within a handful of steps to an open liquor store, standing in front of a row of homes– attention is not what this man wants.

He runs.

Unfortunately, he is running with my laptop in my hand.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He had managed in that last moment to rip apart my backpack, the zipper and fabric torn, and take the most valuable thing I had on me: a Macbook Pro, about three grand a pop.

I calmly gathered my things that were now strewn across the sidewalk.  I walked past the man taking an evening stroll, who gave no glimmer of recognition at the scream he must have heard.  I walked the remaining block home, called 911, and the cops arrived before I even hung up the phone.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I get it.

It’s a rough climate.  People are unemployed, people are having a hard time scrounging out a living.  I understand why someone picks me out of the night scenery in hopes of scoring a few bucks.

I get it.  I do.

I just wish he hadn’t done it.  Some part of me honestly wishes I could’ve talked him out of it, taken him to dinner, had a long talk about he how he got here.  

*  *  *  *  *  *

He might live in my neighborhood.  He probably does.

My chest has long scratch marks where my necklace was broken off, scraping across my skin.  My arm has fingerprint-shaped bruises.

My landlady lives in my building, and said I’m the talk of the immediate neighborhood.  Not once in fifteen years that she’s lived here has someone been robbed on foot, in her backyard. Eight or nine blocks away– but not here. She wrote the police a long letter, and the neighborhood crime watch.

Since I can’t recognize faces, I’ve seen a dozen men who could be him.

These things happen.  It could have been worse.  The most interesting thing is, you always wonder what you’d do if something
like this happened.

And now, I know.

Where I Find New Music

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Until about a year and a half ago, I used to run a music blog called the Fabulist. I actively pored through various outlets prowling for new music, including other blogs, radio, magazines, television, friends– you name it. I was on the hunt.

When I stopped actively contributing to the blog, I turned my efforts elsewhere and my ravenous appetite for new music waned. And so did my up-to-the-minute awareness of where individuals hunt for new music now.

A friend of mine yesterday sent me to the HypeMachine popular list. I’m deeply familiar with the HypeMachine; I got in early on their blog lists with the Fabulist and emailed Anthony, one of the individuals at the helm, a fair bit back and forth in the beginning. The HypeMachine is a good snapshot of current popular music– but it’s a snapshot of a particular niche of music-lovers. And it’s a far different snapshot than, say, the charts at Last.FM And different yet again from the charts on Spotify.

Each place you go hunting for music gives you a different overlay, a different niche audience of music-lovers. It used to be the case that most people got their music recommendations from a small number of sources: homogenized radio stations, MTV, a few major record labels.

Now, there are an infinite number of places to find channels of music distribution. Out of curiosity, I did a very informal, very unscientic survey of about twenty-seven people on Twitter, and asked: “How do you normally find out about new music? Also, if you normally find new music through blogs, what blogs do you read?”

Surprise: almost everyone named a completely different source for music discovery. There is no one place or one person.


Individuals– either friend connections or trusted connections– and “the internet” rank highest. But both of those categories are made up of very specific different details– each person has a different friend they rely on, or a different trusted source. A different music blog they love or Twitter feed they follow.

Which is to say, we have all become hunters and gatherers of music.


I’m asking for selfish reasons. The back of my brain spends a lot of time whirring over music marketing: how to do it, where, what’s most effective. Which mountain should you climb to the top of and what kind of bullhorn should you use?

After you have a shiny stack of hopefully good music in hand, there are an equally infinite number of marketing strategies as there are current music distribution channels. Everyone is guessing at the next move, and stacking up their chips accordingly on what is, effectively, a risky bet.

But: people are consuming more music than ever before. The music industry has gone through the equivalent of the Big Bang. And everyone has scattered to their own private corner of the universe, with their fractional piece of the music world.

What does that mean? Pay attention to everything? Pay attention to nothing, find your own corner of like-minded peers and drill down? Both? Neither?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe the lesson here is to be flexible, adaptive, and not marry any one method. If most people find new music from their trusted connections and the internet– which probably have a lot of overlap between them– then the answer is to make good music, and trust that if you put it anywhere, then it should find its way into the hands of the people who will love it by word of mouth. Spreading your music across multiple sources just ups the chances it will get seen.

But ultimately: “The number one success-driving factor in your online exposure is NOT what station you broadcast on, but how strong your signal is.” *

#whereifindnewmusic tweets

kylecassidy: @olganunes the “current music” tag on livejournal posts by people who seem cool. or i find cd’s on the street.

klagor: @olganunes from @toosunnyouthere frequently (impeccable taste), artist/writer blogs, going to random shows, @fm949sd #twitterpoll

towelinmonk: @olganunes Historically either by listening to the radio (@phantom1052 , specifically) or via friends

tumblenc: @olganunes through friend recommendations, or from bands who go: “oh this is amazing! They toured with me!” and usually it’s good ^^

vampandora: @olganunes in the last year or 2 it seems to be from @neilhimself or a degree removed! 🙂

MsRedPen: Music blogs are my primary source. –> RT @olganunes: How do you normally find out about new music? #twitterpoll

PenguinOfWar: @olganunes Browsing @Spotify. Discovered two bands this week.

DiabaLorena: @olganunes I download ALL free songs from If I listen to anything interesting,I look for further information about the artist.

klagor: @olganunes sometimes pitchfork, found AFP through Neil’s blog,@sddialedin’s blog’s great, boing boing

thisfred: @olganunes:,, cmj new music monthly, paste magazine #whereifindnewmusic

thisfred: @olganunes: also I wrote a spider that keeps track of mp3 blogs for me so I don’t have to: (expand) #whereifindnewmusic

thisfred: @olganunes: oh, and the always excellent (but Dutch language only) #whereifindnewmusic

jamesmcgraw: @olganunes #whereifindnewmusic is the internet, or by listening to what is playing in Yumchaa (lovely London tea shop)

Athenasbanquet: @olganunes Mostly Pandora, but Joss Whedon’s shows are almost always good for a new band too.

lbc42a: @olganunes a lot I find music in commercials or movies and then research out from there. #whereifindnewmusic

dwneylonsr: @olganunes blogs, tweets, youtube, facebook and always the traditional “you’ve GOT to hear this!” 🙂 #whereifindnewmusic

mollydot: @olganunes You & AFP thru NG’s blog, tho Dolls on radio 1st. Boekbinder thru AFP. Emile Autumn on youtube. Florence & the Machine via friend

mollydot: @olganunes In summary, mostly through social media, whether via someone I know or not.

pcbeard: @olganunes Groove Salad.

everyueveryme: @olganunes Usually,via random links at HypeMachine & Last.FM.Also spying on other peoples’ profiles at social networks#whereifindnewmusic

neilhimself: @olganunes from You.

herasings: @olganunes miss the fabulist… through friends, blogs and sometimes just walking by (love shazam for iphone) #whereifindnewmusic

herasings: @olganunes good for finding out what song that snippet in the ad/movie/random place is.. but mostly online stumblings..

Kambrieldesign: Often new bands will come to me for stagewear & I end up liking their music as much as they like my designs! @olganunes #whereifindnewmusic

skyekat: @olganunes Does the back matter in Phonogram count as “from a public individual whose taste you trust” or via comics? #whereifindnewmusic

LATACO: @olganunes going to shows, xmu radio, music blogs, Twitter

Nullh: @olganunes BBC Radio 6 Music! They’ve pointed me at some great stuff, most recently Josh Rouse. #whereifindnewmusic #save6music

shipwrekmusic: @olganunes Mostly soundcloud. #whereifindnewmusic

musictwig: @olganunes Recs from friends mostly, also weekly free downloads from various websites #whereifindnewmusic

FenGar: @olganunes Nobody’s said “radio”? I don’t often go looking for new music, so #whereifindnewmusic is usually movies and TV shows.

oneiromantics: @olganunes Used to find great stuff when I was a Sirius radio subscriber, mostly on XMU. These days, no car, no radio. #whereifindnewmusic

bobbikey: @olganunes college radio

Cillygrrl14: @olganunes band forums, supporting bands, facebook groups, YouTube, last fm categories, Twitter… & mix CDs & friends! #whereifindnewmusic

* quoted from Jason Seigler.

We Love xkcd

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Olga Nunes is a singer and songwriter. Now that you’re here, why don’t you check out a music video of one of Olga’s songs? It’s here: A Dream of Gardens. (It has lyrics by Neil Gaiman. It was directed by Team Genius.) You can download this song for free over on the music page, along with 23 other songs, and Olga singing the xkcd boomdeyada song. Thanks for stopping by!

* * * * * * * * 

Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton, Cory Doctorow
Lawrence Lessig, Bruce Schneier, Jason Kottke
Google Zurich, Hank Green, MC Frontalot, Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Mr. Toast
Miss Cellania, Team Genius, Phil Plait, Allan Amato, Maddy Gaiman, Charissa Gilreath
Belinda Casas, Chuck Martinez, Jeremy James, Joanna Gaunder, Lee Israel
& Octavio Coleman Esq. of The Jejune Institute


Creative Commons License

01. We love momentum – Elaine Doyle & Olga Nunes
02. I love to engineer – David Beaumont & Google Zurich
03. I love this bakery — Hank Green (Brotherhood2.0, Nerdfighters)
04. I love the blogosphere — Cory Doctorow (BoingBoing)
05. I love the whole world – Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy)
06. And all its messed up folks — Lawrence Lessig
07. Boomdeyada Boomdeyada — Miss Cellania (Neatorama)
08. I love your suffering — Allan Amato
09. I love cryptography — Bruce Schneier
10. I love entangled sheets — Olga Nunes, Belinda Casas, Chuck Martinez, Jeremy James, Joanna Gaunder, Lee Israel
11. And kite photography — Charissa Gilreath
12. I love the whole world — Jason Kottke (
13. I love a mystery  — Neil Gaiman
14. Boomdeyada Boomdeyada  — Mr. Toast
15. Boomdeyada Boomdeyada  — MC Frontalot
16. I love elections – Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden  (Making Light)
17. I love transistors — MC Frontalot
18. I love weird pillow talk — Team Genius
19. I love your sister   — Neil Gaiman & Maddy Gaiman
20. I love the whole world — Octavio Coleman Esq.
21. The future’s pretty cool – Wil Wheaton
22. Boomdeyada Boomdeyada – Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden  (Making Light)
23. Boomdeyada Boomdeyada – Team Genius

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

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2009 was the year I fell off the face of the planet.
It started
somewhere in the detention room of London Heathrow airport, locked
inside with a crying teenager and a distraught Asian woman.  I was
staring at a poster of a unicorn, and waiting.  

“Miss Nunes?”  The man with the moustache had come for me.  He
gestured we sit at one of the long tables in the sterile, white room. 
“We’ve weighed all the possibilities, and while you’ve done nothing
illegal we’ve elected not to allow you to enter into the United Kingdom
today.  Would you prefer to take the next immediate flight back to the
United States?  Otherwise you can take a flight in the morning, but
that means you’ll have to sleep in our detention center, and I can’t
assure you there will be beds, it’s very crowded right now.  Which of
those is better for you?”  The man asked, consulting his paperwork.

“Excuse me.. wait. You’re not letting me in the country?”
“No,” the man said briskly.
“Isn’t there some recourse?  Why am I not being let in?”
You have no money, he said.  You have no way to support yourself, he said.

“If you give me two seconds and a computer with internet, I can disprove that,” I said.
“No, Miss, you have to understand, we’ve already made our decision–“
I go into London for tonight, at least, and you can keep my passport
and documents– or is there some sort of tracking device, so you know
I’ll come right back?  Anything?”

I took a very long, very deep breath.
“We need you to make a decision now, Miss,” he said.  “I’d need to arrange flights, so this needs to be dealt with immediately.”

“Can I– can I have a moment?” I asked.
The man grumpily agreed, and said he’d be back in twenty minutes.
* * *
It had been a pretty good year so far.  
1st, 2009 found me in a car driving into the sunrise somewhere in New
York City.  Beth Hommel was at the wheel,  Amanda Palmer was squeezed
into my lap, and the rest of the tiny car was filled to the brim with
suitcases and musical instruments.  We were driving back from Amanda’s
all night New Year’s Eve gig, bleary-eyed and watching the city slowly
bathed in the first dawn of the year.

It had been an amazing night.
At midnight I had been
surrounded by a few friends and a hundred or so strangers at Amanda’s
art loft party in Greenwich Village.   We sat cross-legged on the
floor, writing down what we wanted to banish from the New Year on tiny
slips of paper.  What did I want to let slip out the back door of 2008,
never to be seen or heard from again?

I took my scrap of paper, and scrawled the word “fear” on it in blue ink.  I was done with that shit.
silently set our bits of paper on fire, passing candles around the
room.  At the stroke of midnight, cheers rang out in the darkness of
the city, but we quietly continued our ritual, making sure every last
unwanted remnant of 2008 was put to ash.

Later, in a club elsewhere in the city, Beth grabbed my hand and
pulled me urgently backstage, past the security guards, looking as
though we were supposed to be there.  We had no backstage passes to
flash at the guards but Beth blazed through with me anyway, radiating
authority.  In moments she brought me onstage with the Danger Ensemble,
and we pantomimed being at a private party somewhere, watching Amanda
and Brian Viglione sing the first song of the night from chairs

I was happy.  I’d spent all of 2008 bouncing around Europe, and now
was in a new city surrounded by shining new faces, and ready to face a
new year.  
In a couple of months, I’d get on a plane and go
back to London, ready to record an album and get back to seriously
making music.

There was only one problem.
London wasn’t interested in having me.  

* * *
guards escorted me through the airport, having confiscated my passport
and any ID I had with me.  They locked me behind bars in the back of a
van, and drove me directly to the plane on the tarmac, handing me and
my documents off to a stewardess who took me to my seat.  

Fourteen hours later, I was at an all-night diner in Brooklyn, eating french fries with Beth.
“What are you going to do now?” She asked me.
I have no idea what I answered.  I had no idea what to do next.

I had been in some variation of unofficial homelessness for a few
years now, so getting kicked back to another country with my suitcase
wasn’t completely alarming.  But the grand plan of returning to England
for the next six months to record and finish an album was a good one,
and making that happen now was a bit harder.

Thankfully, there was a Plan B.  
* * *
My mother is
Spanish.  All I had to do was claim Spanish citizenship, get an EU
passport, and the UK would gladly open their arms and their hearts and
— most importantly– their borders to little ole me.

Which couldn’t take more than a few weeks on the outside.
* * *
returned to South Florida to stay with my family, applied, and waited. 
A few weeks passed and I bought a MIDI keyboard, so I could write some
music.  I ate empanadas.  I swam in the pool. I soaked in the fierce
sun, which London only dreams about.

And I waited.
I operated more or less in limbo.   When
you’re waiting for something, I guess, you don’t launch into anything
full steam.  You just wait.
I spent time with family.  I saw a few friends.  I wrote a handful of half-songs. Weeks passed.  

And then months.  The paperwork would arrive any day now, I was told.
I flew to Los Angeles, saw a few more friends, wrote a few more half-songs, and waited some more.
And then it was September.  
The fuck?  How did that happen?  September?
Spanish citizenship documents finally arrived.  Except now it was
September, and going back to London as winter began to set in wasn’t
going to work.
* * *

A note:  I deal notoriously badly with UK winters.  I have the SADs.  
Going back to London in time for winter would be like placing a curly-headed Olga frog into a pot of slow-boiling water.  
* * *

So I went with Plan C.
I moved to San Francisco, like a migratory bird, waiting for the cold and snow and dark to subside in the United Kingdom.
And noticed, a little bewildered, that I had fallen off the face of the earth for most of 2009 and wasn’t sure exactly how.

It’s a really weird feeling, losing an entire year.  (Where the
fuck did I put it?  In the fridge?  In the pocket of my other jacket?)
I had stopped calling friends– except, of course, those I happened to be staying with.  I had stopped finishing music.  

Something about the nature of waiting had entered into the fabric
of how I dealt with time, and I began to put everything on hold.

* * *
I had done some things with 2009:
Saw my first musical on Broadway
Saw snow in New York
And Central Park, skating in Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn
Swam in the Pacific in the middle of winter
Swam in the Atlantic in the middle of winter
Went to the LA Coraline premiere
Took a road trip to Portland
And Lucky Devil and Voodoo Donuts
Got interviewed on Irish radio
Almost fell off the side of a mountain while narrowly avoiding getting bitten by a rattlesnake
Adventure week of learning French, doing yoga, and meditating every day
Went to a real speakeasy
Got kicked out of Britain
And, most notably:
did not finish a single song.
* * *


* * *
not sure if there’s a grand moral to this.  I’m not sure if, in that
beautiful art loft in Greenwich village, I managed to burn away the
threads that kept me from fearlessness.

I have my suspicions I still have some work to do.
But there’s an upside to what time seems to do, regardless of your opinion or thoughts on the matter.
It marches on.

* * *

December 31st, 2009 found me in an apartment in the Mission with two of my oldest friends.  

We had no rituals.  There were no crowds.  We were all sick with
some sort of horrendous illness, and quarantined with several bottles
of Nyquil and some Mission burritos.
Mostly, we embarked on the grand adventure of sleeping.

At the stroke of midnight, cheers rang out in the darkness of the
city, while we were deliriously curled in our blankets and tissue paper.
Next door, a single voice began to sing Happy Birthday in Spanish.

And I decided, silently there in the dark, that I was done waiting.


By | Blog | 2 Comments

Zoe passed away this morning. Neil blogs about it here.

A woman named Lisa emailed me yesterday. She told me, there’s no such thing as “just a cat.” That’s like trying to quantify love. It can’t be done.

And more or less, that’s the upshot of all of this. Zoe was this small, furry beacon of love. And, regardless of the source, that love is immeasurable.

I was deeply glad to have seen her again, and to sleep curled next to her one last time.

She was a wonderful friend.


By | Blog | 27 Comments

I almost didn’t come.

I kept saying to myself: but she’s a cat! You are flying 2000 miles to see a cat!

And then trying not to cry.

My best friend Jason put it this way:

If a friend of yours was dying, you would go to her side and be there for her…

…and your friend just happens to be a cat.

And he’s right.

So I’ve been sitting with my friend all day, alternately petting her or watching as she politely and sluggishly walks a little distance away to throw up. She’s been throwing up more and more frequently as the day goes on. I clean up after her, and then watch to see if she needs anything.

Lorraine came by this morning to administer a subcutaneous dose of fluids. She showed me where to inject the needle, and how much to give her, in case Zoe needed another shot in the night.

And we wait.


By | Blog | 69 Comments

I spent a summer in the Midwest a handful of years ago.  I would go over to my friend Neil’s house, to watch television or hang out.  There were cats everywhere.  Mad white cats that would get you stitches if you so much as looked at them wrong.  Accident-prone black cats that skulked in the yard.  Cats in the attic.  Cats in the library.  I tried to count how many cats were in the house several times, and failed.
   One day while visiting, a tiny ball of fur came creeping out of the shadows towards me.  I was sitting on the floor somewhere in the house, doing nothing in particular, and the fur pile crept cautiously closer and closer.  She was a new cat I hadn’t seen before, and I was fairly sure I’d seen all the cats in the house. She crawled into my lap, situated herself into a comfy mound, and proceeded to make a noise like a lawnmower.  
 After that day, any time I was in the house, she would hear me, come out of hiding, and try to affix herself to my lap.  If I wandered around the house she would follow me.  Neil told me her name was Zoe, and she hated strangers.  Whenever a car sounded in the yard– usually a UPS truck– Zoe would vanish back into whatever shadow she had come out of.
I was told she had arthritis in her back legs, and wasn’t as agile as the other cats.  The arthritis had gotten so bad at one point, she’d had a titanium joint put in one of them.  “The doctor said the options were to amputate, or give her a titanium joint,” Neil told me.  “Any other cat and she’d only have three legs.”
And I got it.  Because she was the sweetest, most human cat I’d ever met: she was brimming with unconditional affection and none of the haughty indifference that was trademark to other cats.


At the end of the summer I moved to Los Angeles, and a few months later I got a phone call.  Zoe had come down with an infection and had to eat special food– only the other cats weren’t letting her anywhere near her bowl.  Neil had taken to keeping her in own room, but at this rate, they were going to have to give her away.  “Do you want Zoe to come live with you?” Neil asked.
And I did.  
Any other cat and I would have said no.
My friend Kitty brought her to me by plane.  Zoe was so delirious I swore she didn’t have long to live, and joked that I was operating as a hospice home for cats.  I lived in a tiny studio the size of a broom closet, and when I walked from one corner of the apartment to the other, Zoe would follow me, glued to my leg, lost and nervous.
Gradually, she grew healthier and more confident.  She became Zoe the amazing barnacle kitty.  When people visited, she insistently crawled into their laps to cuddle.  She would not move from her chosen perch, even when the object of her affection had stood up to go– she would purr in denial, clinging ever tighter as the lap became a ninety-degree incline.
She only hid when she heard a UPS truck in the street.
She spent most nights sleeping on my face.   I should probably mention, I’m terribly allergic to cats.
I fell desperately in love with her.  It was the first time I’d lived alone, but I wasn’t alone really, because I had this cat-shaped flood of love and affection with me.
I found out yesterday she’s dying. Tomorrow I go to see her to say goodbye.  And it’s harder than I ever would have expected.

The Story Of The Key

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My wonderful dear friend Allan Amato took this photograph of me a couple of months ago.  I put it online today, and someone said, “I know the story of the key.” 

I’d forgotten what she meant:  I’d shown her a private story, years
ago, that I’d written.   It probably doesn’t need to be private anymore.  Sometimes privacy has an expiration date. 
Here it is, written
in September 2005.

The earth was damp, and dark.  My hands sunk into the dirt, fingers deep in the soil like roots.  My skin felt cool there, and clean, though my arms were stained black from the ground.

When you grow up, you forget things like that.  The way that dirt can make you feel clean.

I was eleven, and my backyard may as well have been a forest.  An acre stretch, the yard was covered with green, and climbing trees, and patches of
dry mysterious earth where nothing grew, and rabbits, and turtles, and
flowers.  It was mystical.  I would spend hours exploring the tiny world of the fraction of land.  I remember a whole day dedicated to watering a patch of ground, digging, and scraping the dirt into mounds and valleys, just to see how the river cut across the brown.

I had already discovered boys, and sex.  A silver box was
hidden under my bed, filled with cigarettes, and condoms, and Halloween
candy.  I had not had sex yet, but I knew condoms were necessary, and the cigarettes made me feel more grown-up.  I loved inhaling the smell of unlit cigarettes, the taste of the tobacco in my mouth.  I never lit them.

Although I was prepared to have sex for the
first time at any moment, I still played with dolls.  I believed firmly
that my dolls were alive, but in a secret doll pact could not reveal this to me.  I was sure they moved about the room while I was away, and often tried to sneak into my bedroom to catch them in the act.

I never did.
But I believed.  As strongly as I believed there was magic in the earth behind my house, that Halloween candy should be rationed for months to savor the occasion, and that I would be deflowered before my twelfth birthday.

On a day that was warm and wet, I sat on the ground, fingers scraping against the soil.  My nails would catch bits of hard clay, and rock, and eventually struck an unfamiliar shape.  I dug around the shape, wiping the crusted earth from its surface.

It was a key.
An old skeleton key, rust-brown and small, fitting just inside my hand.  I held it with wonder, and knew that it was magic.

I walked into the front yard, and climbed the tree that sprawled and leaned against the side of the garage.  Up in the bough of the tree, a giant padlock was fixed around one of the branches.  It was a modern padlock, and the skeleton key, falling short of it’s name, did not fit.  The tree branch had swollen and grown into the metal, the padlock constricting the wood.  I stared for a long time at the key and padlock, and thought that something important had happened, although I couldn’t figure out what.

Years passed, and I kept the tiny key in a plastic pink jewelry box.  I reached high school.  I met a boy and fell in love, and I gave him tiny tokens of my affection.  One day I reached in the back of my plastic pink jewelry box and removed the key, giving it to him as a gift.  He tied a black silk cord to it and wore it around his neck.

One day he gave me a present: a tiny rust skeleton key
found in an old antique shop.  It was different than mine, slightly
bigger, but they were nearly twins.  He gave it to me on a cord, and I
wore it around my neck.

There were no locks between us, only keys.

At twenty I worked full time from home doing various graphic design projects for a firm in Los Angeles.
I had taken up smoking, and decided I hated condoms.  I had lost the little key that I had worn around my neck for so long.

He was leaving me.
I spent too much time alone, and wondered if I was brave enough to leave him, or leave the world.  I was tired, and had lost most of my magic.  I wrote when I wasn’t crying, I cried when I couldn’t write anymore.

She was thinner, and smaller and more beautiful than me.  She made him shine.
I needed to scrape together some magic to get through this.  I reached back into my childhood, and made a decision.  The next day a tall man tattooed a key between my breasts, where the key he gave me used to hang.

I wouldn’t ever lose it again.

Now.  I am in the dark with a stranger, and he is kissing my chest slowly, his hands soft on my rib cage.  He stops and looks at the key
inked on my skin, tracing it with his fingers.  He is memorizing it
with his gaze, and I can tell he is wondering what it means.

“I open things.” I tell him.
He nods, solemn, unquestioning.  Of course I open things.  I opened him.
He leans forward silently, pressing his lips to my key.

I am three thousand miles from my first love, and the key that he carries to remind him of me is no longer around his neck.  I meet men shaped like locks and fall in love with the way they open.

I fall in love with them.
I push through my life like doors and everything slides out of the way, clicks undone and gives way under my hands.

When I was a little girl, I found my key, and when I became older my first love taught me what it was for.

Fourth Of July

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It was early Saturday morning.  The three of us has just climbed onto a
sandbar at the edge of the river, trailing our inner tubes behind us. 
“Can you see a way up?”  I asked.

They shook their heads, and
Tom went off in one direction, and Allan in another.  I watched Allan
as he gripped the giant boulder with his hands and hoisted himself up
the ten or so feet to the top.  “I can’t see the road from here,” he
called down, “but it looks like we could climb it pretty easily.”

had just floated down the Feather River on a makeshift raft, two inner
tubes tied together with bungee cords.  I straddled the center and they
sat on either side, taking in some of the most ridiculously beautiful
scenery I’ve ever seen.  The current stole us down through a cathedral
of trees, and mountains, and perfect sky. 

And now we were
here.  We’d gone too far down the river and passed our campsite, but we
figured we could always find the main road back– the road went
parallel to the river, after all.  We’d left behind an entire festival
of tents covered in twinkly lights, stages draped in lanterns and
colored cloth, and hundreds of excited people all gathered together to
celebrate the summer.

But we wanted to go hiking.

I called out.  “Allan found a way up!”  He grabbed the inner tubes and
followed me, as my fingers sunk into the rock, climbing up.  Thank God
Sam decided he needed to teach me how to rock climb three years ago. 
This was the first time I’d ever used it in the wild. 

shimmied up, and Tom after me, and the three of us proceeded up towards
the plateau we could see a little ways up the mountain, figuring that
must be the road.  The mountain was a near vertical incline, but it
wasn’t that far up, we thought.  I was kind of proud we’d gotten this

Earlier, the morning had found me sitting cross-legged on a
rock in the middle of the river, the raging current creating my own
personal wake.  I’d decided I’d wanted to meditate there, thirty or so
feet out, and was sitting near level with the surface of the water. The
walk across was slow and careful, thinking all the while of Philippe
Petit. If he could tightrope between impossibly tall buildings, I could
wade through a mildly angry river.  People laughed and smiled and waved
when they saw me from the shore.  I’d thought I was being pretty brave.

three of us had talked about near-death misses riding down lazily on
the inner tube, far from our campsite, chasing adventure.  I’d thought
I was being even braver, then.

But then I found myself
scrambling up the side of the mountain, which we quickly realized was
made of shale: each step dislodged rock, and sand, and meant we nearly
slipped and fell.  There was little to hold on to, and slipping could
mean a twenty foot fall.  Or thirty feet.  Or forty. 

At forty, Tom took a step and made a noise.  “What?”  I asked, a little panicked.



almost stepped on a rattlesnake.  It’s okay though.  It’s more scared
of me than I am of it,” he said, poking at it with a stick.  I could
see the snake from where I was standing, curled back into itself and
hissing.  I was suddenly terrified. 

“Can you.. stop that?”  I asked. 


“I’m suddenly scared it’s going to run away from you towards me.”

stopped, and I slowly, ever more slowly, climbed upwards and away from
him, noticing the mountain was getting steeper and steeper.  Allan was
still fifteen or so feet behind, wrestling with how to climb holding
the inner tube around his waist, all the while nursing a bad hip. 

I decided not to mention the snake.

Allan got up to where Tom and I were, and we stood on the first patch
of almost flat ground since starting the climb.  “Do you see the road


“Maybe one of us should go ahead and check, so we can see how much
farther we’ve got left.”  We had already been hiking upwards for thirty
minutes.  The river was already distant, and small.  Tom decided to go
on ahead.   Allan and I stood, resting.  I told him about the snake.

“It’s too bad there’s no reception out here.  I could be twittering this,” I said, laughing.

“…Yeah.  I can just imagine,” said Allan.  “‘RATTLESNAKE. LOLZ.'”

“Doesn’t look like Tom’s finding a road, either.  I guess… we could go back down? We’d have to slide down, I guess.”

“Yeah, if we can just not get torn up by the shale and manage to avoid
the snake while we slide down fifty feet, it’ll probably be fine.”

Tom came back.  He’d been gone fifteen minutes.  He hadn’t found a
road.  Allan pointed out something.  One the way up, we’d driven
through several tunnels that cut through the mountains.  It was
entirely possible we’d managed to climb up the only spot where there
was no road, but a tunnel.  We had literally been climbing OVER the
road for the last hour.


“Well.  I could see the train tracks from up there.  We could probably
keep climbing up until we got to the tracks and follow them back to the

“…Hike…along the train tracks?  On the side of a mountain?”

“Or we could go back down.  Your choice.”

“Are the tracks close?”

“…No.  But I can see them from up there.”

“Closer than the river?”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Tom.

“I vote train tracks.  Might as well keep going up,” Allan said.

We’re fucked either way, aren’t we?” I asked.

“Pretty much.”

“Jesus.  Okay.  Train tracks, I guess.  I’m just scared I’m going to fall.”

“I’ll walk behind you,” Tom offered.  I took several steps, and slid.


My hands were losing their grip and I didn’t have a toehold.  We were
seventy feet or so up by now.  Out of nowhere, hands came up and cupped
my behind, holding me firmly in place.

“Sorry for grabbing your–” Tom started.

“Tom, honey, you could have your fingers knuckle deep in my vagina
right now, I could give a damn.  Just keep me from falling down this
mountain and breaking my neck.  God BLESS you.  What the hell are you
even standing on?”

“I’m a cat,”  Tom said.

“Damn right you are.” 

He stood there, patiently, while I slowly stepped up and across,
getting a foothold.  We managed to get to semi-flat path, about two
feet or so across.

“Oh this is good.  We’re on a cat path now,”  said Tom.


“You know.  Wild cats.  Mountain lions, that sort of thing.”

“Shut.  Up.”

“No, it’s fine.  They won’t bother us,” Tom said.  Allan was a good way
ahead of us by now.  I took another step, and fell.  Tom’s hands came
out of nowhere a second time, steadying me.  We made it over to a
nearby tree, using it to brace ourselves for a moment.  I was getting
more and more panicked.

I took a deep breath.

“You know,” I said. “I was thinking earlier.  There’s this line in a
Bjork song that never particularly made sense to me until today.  ‘It takes courage, to enjoy it.’  I’m terrified I’m going to fall down this mountain and die or break my leg, but Jesus… it’s fucking beautiful
up here.  Everything is intensely beautiful, and I’m never going to
stand here again, and I know it sounds stupid, but I have to literally
have courage to enjoy this.”

Tom smiled.  “It is beautiful up here.”

I took another step. And another.  And we kept going until we got to
the other side of a particularly large boulder and finally saw the
train tracks, with Allan waiting on the other side.  I slid down the
last bit of path, catching burrs on my bikini bottom and scratching up
my legs.  Tom followed after, and we all grinned hugely.  We did not
die!  This was success!

We walked along the tracks back to camp, laughing about it.  We felt
like superheroes, suddenly.  I picked up a train nail as a souvenir.

The three of us strode back into camp like the end of Independence Day.  All that was missing was the cigars.