Carpe Diem: Haircut Edition

This week, I did something very uncharacteristic. I walked into a salon -- well, more like a SuperCuts -- and asked for a haircut. I conducted minimal research beforehand (only a few guys had reviewed the place on Yelp) and I made NO appointment.

If you're a woman, this is more or less CRAZY.

Things that suck when moving to a new city? Trick question. Many, many things. But among the most annoying are finding a new doctor, a dentist, and a person that cuts your hair. It took me three years to find Camden, my previous stylist in DC, who I stayed with for five and a half years. We used to chat about music and beer and tattoos. I trusted him completely AND I could be myself. 

I knew finding my new Camden would not be easy, so I avoided trying at all. Over Christmas in New Jersey, Alex's sister -- a killer stylist -- kindly gave me a bonafide kitchen cut that tided me over. But five months later, I looked a little rough around the edges and desperately needed a trim. It was finally time for a St. Louis haircut.

Voila! 

Before and after.

Before and after.

First of all, I hate selfies, so forgive my expression. Second, despite chopping off approximately three inches in the middle of the workday, none of my coworkers noticed. They're mostly dudes, but still. They have eyes. Third, I forget why this was a list. Moving on.

My haircut is nothing groundbreaking. I like it, and I liked the woman who cut my hair. I just didn't feel that.... spark, for lack of a better word. Convenience and price were big perks, though, and it felt great to just get a haircut without much fuss. I'll probably go back a second time.

 

Still, here's my general complaint about getting a haircut. If you're even mildly tomboyish (I am) and you walk into most any salon, you can end up feeling like barely a woman.

"All you do is blow dry your hair?"

"Yup, that's it."

"What products do you use?"

"Shampoo and conditioner."

"Are you, in fact, a woman at all?"

"I think so...?"

That's why I tend to look for places where stylists are tattooed, pierced, and alternative. These people get it.

Yes, I am a woman. No, I only spend 5 minutes "doing" my hair. Now please help me look pretty.

Yes, I Skyped With My Dog

Spencer has not handled my going back to work very well. Our unicorn of a dog -- so well-behaved, so quiet and unfussy -- morphed into an emotional wreck three weeks ago. No matter the length of the walk, the intensity of the run, or the amount of playtime, he cries, howls, and barks when he's left alone. Sometimes he starts out quiet, but inevitably deteriorates into one sad, crying mess of a dog.

I told the guy at the pet store about my problems. I asked Reddit for help. I called a doggie daycare and spoke to a trainer. I was ready to try anything (except for a bark collar), but everything we tried failed AND Spencer was regressing.  

So last weekend, we tried Skype. We call Spencer from our phone or laptop and he "auto answers." You, too, can spy on your dog by setting Skype up as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 10.49.49 PM.png

Voila! Spencer on Skype.

"Where are my moms?!" - Spencer

"Where are my moms?!" - Spencer

We're only a few days into using Skype now. It's by no means a cure-all, but man, does takes the edge off our anxiety! We no longer leave the house and wonder if we'll get an angry email from our lawyer friend below. We no longer hope Spencer's not barking. We simply know if he is or isn't by calling him up on with a video call. He can't see us and we tend to leave ourselves on mute, but when he's upset, we try to calm him down with a few words. So far, that's worked amazingly. In combination with our other training and mixing his schedule up with daycare and walks, we hope he'll kick this anxiety for good in the next few weeks.

Am I crazy or am I crazy? 

Don't answer that. We just love the damn dog. 

Excuse the Mess

Gitnerblog has a new face!

Gitnerblog 2.0

Gitnerblog 2.0

I just moved the site from WordPress to Squarespace, and without much forethought, switched my domains over without tidying up first. 

A big thanks to Anthony Sessa, my Georgetown classmate and friend, who helped move me from Blogger (1.0) to WordPress in the first place. He held my hand, if you will, as I registered for domain names, and he even hosted all my content pro bono. Now that he's Lead Developer at PolicyMic and a legitimately big deal, I wanted to rid him of Gitnerblog's burdens. After all, the dude's got better paying gigs than this one. (Zero dollars.) 

4 Things I Love About St. Louis

Now that I've trash talked St. Louis' most beloved structure, how about a little love? Here are some quick things before I leave St. Louis... briefly... for a trip to Florida. First off, I love my neighborhood. I may have forgotten that fact this winter, but spring helped me remember. Here's a recent shot of one of my favorite streets.

Central West End homes

Central West End homes

House porn is everywhere. Almost every home is three stories tall and massive. And worse, some of these homes are relatively affordable. Luckily or unluckily, reminders of the sheer expense of maintaining such huge houses are present, too. Contractors are constantly parked out front and, just a few blocks north, many similarly large homes are in obvious disrepair, if not boarded and abandoned.

Urban vs. Suburban

From these photos, you might think I live in suburbia. Sometimes I feel that way. But the fact is, I live smack in the middle of everything I want and need, which leads me to another reason I love St. Louis: proximity.

Here's a handy chart comparing my life in DC to my life here in St. Louis.

Factor in my new commute to work -- only 3 miles in St. Louis compared to 3.5 miles in DC -- and St. Louis emerges the clear winner in terms of proximity. By bike, all the places on the above chart are easy (and safe) to get to if I avoid busy roads. If I walk, not so much. Roads with fast-moving traffic make short distances feel much longer and less pleasant.

More on that later, since I'm talking about things I like, right?

Forest Park

This deserves its own post, really. On nice days, I can easily spend upwards of two hours running and walking Spencer in Forest Park. Here he is relaxing on the Central Field.

Spencer at Forest Park's Central Fields

Spencer at Forest Park's Central Fields

We can be alone, or not. Forest Park is the one place, ironically, that makes me feel like I live in a big city. While it's always easy to find a space for ourselves, it's also commonplace to see dozens of people running, biking, flying kites, or walking their dogs at any time of day.

Forest Park also boasts the "Best City Golf Course in Mid-America."(Almost sounds like it's the only contender in that category, but let's move on). Golf in St. Louis, compared to other cities where I've played, is accessible, affordable, and unpretentious. No surprise then that Alex and I have gotten back into it. In DC, it was difficult to play without access to a car. Even if we borrowed one, courses were prohibitively expensive and often booked up. Here in St. Louis, we can book a same-day tee time for $13. Incredible!

Fido Friendliness

This is mostly an excuse to post my new favorite photo of Spencer.

But really, St. Louis is an incredibly dog-friendly city. I thought dog-friendly workplaces were a myth, but I've been to several offices here where employees bring them in. The majority of apartments and houses allows dogs (DC is a loser in this category).  Most bars with outdoor spaces seem to allow dogs, too -- even at night. As a result of all this fido friendliness, we try to incorporate Spencer into as many events as possible, partly to socialize him (not long ago, he was a sad, sad boy) and partly for our own benefit. Could we leave him at home? Yes. Do we want to? No.

St. Louis' Shockingly Embarrassing Monument (For Now)

Here's the kind of image St. Louis loves to flaunt.

The Arch from East St. Louis

The Arch from East St. Louis

Nice, right?

Here's a less flattering view.

Aerial view of the Arch

Aerial view of the Arch

And here's two more photos of the Arch grounds taken from the Arch.

View from the Arch

View from the Arch

Another view from the Arch

Another view from the Arch

St. Louisans and Missourians are fiercely proud of the Arch, which I find odd, because it's one of the least engaging places in the entire city. It's like that fancy couch your parents bought for the formal living room. It's in all the Christmas cards, but you've actually barely sat on it. (Bad analogy alert.)

Howard Stern had some harsh words for the Arch after a visit to St. Louis in 2012:

From my hotel, I could see that Arch thing. I hate to say this because people take such pride in their city, but boy is that a disappointment. (Robin: It looks like the McDonalds sign.) It’s like an aluminum arch... It’s not even lit up cool. Like, any bridge in New York is cooler than that Arch. We have shitty things that nobody looks at that are better and bigger than that. It makes no sense. It doesn’t do anything, I don’t think. Someone told me you can go in there and ride on it... It’s kind of lame. I hate to say that. They so love that Arch. It’s just so not happening. They’ve got to get something better. I mean, it’s not even that beautiful... It’s in the most random place and there’s these ugly signs around it. Nobody’s put any thought into it.

I do think the Arch is beautiful, but other than that, I'm at a loss for compliments. To me, it's this big, static thing that -- at the end of the day -- encourages nothing more than looking and leaving. (And I can look at it from far more engaging places in the city.) The Arch grounds are strangely confusing to access by foot or by bike due to the "massive physical barriers that completely sever this prized public space from the rest of the city: To the west, I-70, a rumbling interstate offering limited and unsightly pedestrian access, and to the east, the Mississippi River, prone to flooding, and dividing downtown from blighted East St. Louis" (FastCo Design).

And did I mention the Museum of Westward Expansion? It's located beneath the Arch and described by some, accurately, in my opinion, as "Disappointingly bad, but free" and "No explanation of anything!" One reviewer writes:

You don’t learn anything here because there are no plaques explaining anything. There are some really nice displays like for example an old carriage, and I was like “what is it, tell me something about it!” Nope. Nothing. I’m sure they could have told me something about stage coach travel, but no. It is not a museum.

CityArchRiver 2015

I'm neither the first to notice nor the first to complain about this shockingly embarrassing American monument. How it existed in its current state for so many years is mind-blowing.

But change is on its way, for better or worse. By October 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Arch, St. Louis should see a one-block "lid" over the highway; an expanded museum with more (and hopefully improved) exhibits; a riverfront promenade with access for bicyclists and pedestrians; and new and improved spaces and pathways.

That all sounds good. Or does it?

Alex Ihnen, editor of the fantastic blog NextSTL, posted a detailed timeline of the CityArchRiver project from 2010 to present, and he argues, quite convincingly, that the "lid" as currently proposed disrupts downtown's city grid and even worsens access to the Arch.

Can it get any worse?

Even if the "lid" is a disaster, the Arch has so much room for improvement that I can't see being disappointed on every front.

Joy + Relief! The Search Is Over

I left my job eight months ago. Yesterday, I was finally hired for a new position. I'll be working beside incredibly smart people at a company that excites me. Now, I feel like that gif + this song. (Edit: this other song is also appropriate.)

Eeeeee!

A huge chunk of those eight months was incredibly relaxing. I worked intermittently on some short-term projects. I traveled to both coasts. I spent lots of time with our new dog, and I explored my new city at a leisurely pace. I'd be lying, though, if I said I wasn't stressed out at times.

This job hunt wasn't easy per se, but it was much, much easier than when I graduated from college. (I was unlucky enough to finish in 2009, when unemployment hit 10%). I applied for a healthy number of jobs and interviewed for about a third of them. A few opportunities really excited me; others... not so much. But, if I was invited to interview, I always went with an open mind and my gameface. (This may have possibly backfired.) Along the way, people shocked me with their kindness and generosity. A podcast listener sent me occasional job postings. A woman I met while touring an office connected me with her network of creative people in the city. A fellow Hoya advised me on transitioning careers. Others simply took me to lunch and offered an ear.

This kindness, thankfully, far outweighed the lack of humanity I sometimes encountered. Though I won't go into detail, I want to emphasize my belief in treating fellow humans with dignity and respect. If you've interviewed an applicant in-person or even on the phone, if they dressed up and drove to your office, I beg of you: please have the decency to reply to their follow-up email or phone call. I have the suspicion that the people who treated me this way have never really been between jobs and either don't know or have forgotten what it was like to be on the other side of the desk. Good luck to them in discovering their own empathy and humanity.

Resources I Used

Job hunting and interviewing is a skill. I'm not an expert, but I found the following tools incredibly helpful on my search and I hope they can be helpful to someone else.

Simply Hired: I don't quite remember how I came to use Simply Hired instead of LinkedIn, Monster and all the rest, but I'm a big fan. Simply Hired delivered a daily digest of both quality and quantity when it came to finding jobs relevant to my skills and location. It ultimately helped me find the position I have today.

Creative Circle: I never used a recruiting agency before, and only found out about this one after a company I was interviewing with hired someone from Creative Circle instead of me. Turned out it was a blessing in disguise. The service is completely free to job seekers (companies pay for access to agency candidates) and, at least in the St. Louis office, is a fast track to interviews at some of the city's most creative companies. The recruiters were very helpful and supportive, and, though it was sometimes tough to swallow, were able to pass on employer feedback after unsuccessful interviews.

LinkedIn: Everyone knows about LinkedIn. Beyond having a nice, clean, shareable profile, it was useful to me in the following ways. First, I checked (where applicable) how popular certain job postings were. Although it certainly felt demoralizing to see that 100+ people applied to the position I was looking at, it was helpful in lowering my expectations. Second, I used it to see the professional backgrounds of my interviewers and of people whose careers I admired. This was always useful in coming up with questions during interviews. Third, networking. At my age and especially in St. Louis, I have a weak and virtually non-existent network, but I occasionally discovered I know a gal who knows a gal.

/r/Jobs: It's easy to feel isolated and alone during a job search, even with a strong support system of friends and family. Reading posts in this subreddit helped me feel that a.) I was incredibly lucky to have interviews and callbacks at all; and b.) other people were experiencing what I was going through, or worse. Reading advice and success stories was always helpful.

Thanks

I need to give a huge shoutout to friends -- both IRL and from the internet -- and family. It's easy to feel ashamed about the job search. Why is it taking so long? Why hasn't something worked out yet? Your emails, tweets, texts and phone calls lifted me up. Thanks to a particular group of friends who endured my play-by-plays in WhatsApp. And above all, as usual, thanks to Alex for perfecting the art of support. When an interview went well, she cheered me on. When it didn't, she said "Fuck 'em." And of course, thanks to my dog, who was like, "Woof. Don't get a job. Stay at home with me forever." Sorry, dog.

Movies I Watched In 2013 (And Some Stats)

Last year, I chose my five favorite films and wrote what I liked about them. This year, something slightly different. Since it's New Years Eve and I'm rushing to get these out there, I'll aim to be more statistical. I've seen 23 movies or documentaries this year, excluding everything I watched that wasn't released in 2013. I think that's a hell of a lot of viewing, and there's still a TON I haven't seen yet. August: Osage CountyDallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Spectacular Now, Philomena... I expect to tackle most of these in the first few weeks of 2014. Now, on to the stats.

Total 2013 Releases (Films and Documentaries) Watched: 23 ...Watched in Theaters: 12 ...Watched via Netflix: 7 ...Watched in December: 6 ...Watched By Myself: 16 (ha!)

Favorite Films of 2013

When I see a movie or even hear a song that really strikes a chord with me, I tend to say "I'm changed." The movie altered the way I think or touched me deeply or stays in my thoughts for several days. Many movies did that for me last year but only a few this year (12 Years A Slave, Nebraska, Stories We Tell). I think the main theme of my favorite films of 2013 is entertainment. I was thoroughly entertained. And so, here are my five favorite movies and documentaries of the year, in no particular order:

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2. 12 Years a Slave

3. American Hustle

4. Gravity

5. Stories We Tell

Other 2013 Releases I Watched (most-liked titles are bolded) 1. Nebraska 2. Elysium 3. Side Effects 4. The English Teacher 5. Man of Steel 6. About Time 7. Bridegroom 8. 56 Up 9. Salinger 10. Manhunt 11. Behind the Candelabra 12. Frances Ha 13. Blue is the Warmest Color 14. The Heat 15. The Wolverine 16. This Is The End 17. The Great Gatsby 18. The Way, Way Back

2013: My Travels in Photos

The bright side of having friends who live far away is that occasionally I get a chance to visit them. If I can't visit their cities, we meet somewhere in the middle. In 2013, I did a lot of traveling -- for bachelorette parties and weddings, to move and to reunite with friends. I'm still learning a lot about my camera and photography, but I tried my best to take good pictures along the way.  Here are some favorite photos from the places I've visited in the last 12 months.

WASHINGTON, DC

 

AUSTIN, TX

 

MILWAUKEE, WI

 

LONG BEACH ISLAND, NJ

 

LUSTER, NORWAY

 

ÅRDAL, NORWAY

 

OSLO, NORWAY

 

GLOUCESTER, MA

 

LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, NH

 

CHICAGO, IL

 

ST. LOUIS, MO

10 Favorite Songs of 2013

This year, I kept a running list of my favorite songs on a Spotify playlist. Out of over 40 tracks, these are my absolute top 10 that I still listen to on repeat. My favorite album of the year was Okkervil River's Silver Gymnasium, so let's start with them. In no particular order...

1. Okkervil River

"Down Down the Deep River" from The Silver Gymnasium

2. Neko Case

"Local Girl" from The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

3. The National

"This Is the Last Time" from Trouble Will Find Me

4. Torres

"Honey" from Torres

5. Caveman

"In the City" from Caveman

6. Aoife O'Donovan

"Red & White & Blue & Gold" from Fossils

7. Drake

"Hold On, We’re Going Home" from Nothing Was the Same

8. Kanye West

"Black Skinhead" from Yeezus

9. Typhoon

"Young Fathers" from White Lighter

10. Rilo Kiley

"About the Moon" from rkives

A History of Recent Thanksgivings

Thanksgiving is an excuse to go home and share a meal with family. Maybe it's been a week, a month or even a year since everyone sat down at the table together. It's been nearly a decade since I celebrated Thanksgiving with both of my parents, and it's been even longer since I spent it with my entire immediate family. It's been four years since my family has gathered for any occasion at all. Both of my parents are alive and still married (to each other), by the way. I'd be lying if I said my family's lack of togetherness wasn't a little destructive. I feel almost wounded at times. I've snapped at friends who've persisted in asking me what I'm doing for Thanksgiving year after year. ("Nothing" was typically my surly answer.) I've interpreted the need to see family as emotional weakness. I've even dubbed the entire Thanksgiving holiday meaningless as a sort of self-preservation technique. But, at the end of the day, I wish my family was a little bit more like everyone else's.

My sister is my savior. She's part sibling, part mother, part friend. At 14 years my senior, she's become the center of my family life. If I have time to visit family, I visit her and and her husband and three kids. If I'm able to visit for the holidays, I make sure to go where she's going. My brother usually does the same and so, it's as close as we get to a traditional family gathering.

I visit my sister several times a year, but I haven't spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with her for quite a while. In retail and in radio, the need for warm bodies is constant. And since I've been employed in both since graduating from college, I've skipped out on almost all recent holidays. Overall, it felt fine and normal to work during those times. I think another person in my situation might've felt sadder than I did. But when work was over, when I went home to watch TV and eat dinner alone, I felt lonely and isolated. It wasn't so much that I was without my family; it was that everyone else was with theirs. The tweets slowed down, no one was on gchat and Facebook and Instagram were a barrage of family photos.

Luckily, movies like You've Got Mail and The Family Stone exist. I watched these fictional families and their fictional coziness, and I wrapped it around myself like a blanket.

The Last Six Thanksgivings

I spent my first Thanksgiving away from family in 2007. I was three months into studying abroad in London. Any sort of trip back home was out of the question and my American friends were all in the same boat, so I didn't feel that bad about it. It helped a lot that life for most Londoners went on as usual. After all, "Thanksgiving" was just a fall Thursday in Britain. I rang in the holiday at a pub with an American friend. We ordered festive sandwiches with chicken, cranberry sauce, stuffing and lettuce -- no turkey, thanks to a bird flu-related shortage that year.

In 2008, I was back in in Washington, DC, finishing my senior year of college. I took the train up to Yonkers, NY to have Thanksgiving at my grandparents. My mom flew out from California, my sister and her family came down from Massachusetts and my brother, cousins, aunts and uncles all gathered for dinner. My dad, of course, stayed home. What I really remember, though, is the train ride back to DC during which I slipped, fell and cried publicly. Not the finest of all Thanksgivings, though it was the last one to date that I spent with family.

2009 was an especially sad one. I was working two jobs, one of which was retail, along with an NPR internship. If you've worked retail, you know the importance of staffing up for Black Friday. I had to be in DC on Wednesday and Friday. Since it definitely wasn't worth going up to New York for the day, I went into NPR and spent Thanksgiving with the Talk of the Nation staff. Like any other Thursday, they had a show to put on and their intern had gone home. I swooped in, ran scripts and tried to do my best to help out, but it felt incredibly lonely. I bought a sad lunch at McDonald's and ate it alone.

2010 was slightly better. I worked Thanksgiving day at Morning Edition, where I'd started about a month earlier. I didn't know anyone that well yet, so I still felt lonely. At least I was making some money, though.

In 2011, I spent Thanksgiving with a coworker who was also stuck working night shift that week. We each crammed in a nap before waking up insanely early -- probably 2PM -- to eat at his aunt and uncle's. His parents and sister had flown in, too, so it was a full and lively table. I was thrilled to do normal family stuff, like play board games and watch football. Later that night, I celebrated a 3AM Thanksgiving with Morning Edition staff. People brought in food -- I brought in two rotisserie chickens -- and set aside a few minutes to eat together. It was as good as a 3AM Thanksgiving could be, decent food and great people with an undercurrent of "at least I'm getting overtime for this."

In 2012, I worked the night shift again and thus, there was a baseline level of surliness. The food, however, was spectacular. Linda Wertheimer was guest hosting as she had the year before, but this time she brought in an amazing roasted turkey (or chicken, I can't remember). I made brussel sprouts. Other coworkers made green bean casserole and a sweet potato dish. Food was aplenty and staff had more time to relax at the table before getting the show on air. I also had a great meal with my roommate, who was also stuck in town for his job. We splurged on a Turducken from Harris Teeter and ate leftovers for the rest of the week.

Chicago Thanksgiving

This year, I'm not working Thanksgiving -- it's strange to say. Even though I have my own little family now (Alex and Spencer) and a quiet Thanksgiving at home would be fantastic, we're driving up to the Chicago area to spend the long weekend with one of my best friends and her family.

Kate's family is loving, generous, smart and eccentric, just like Kate. They're the kind of people you hope your hypothetical kids meet someday. When a group of our friends, including Kate, visited Chicago a few years ago, we stayed at their house and had such a good time, we opted to stay in suburbia instead of going into the city for a second day. They cooked us an incredible meal and joined us for a wine-fueled game of pre-1989 Trivial Pursuit.

I may not be having Thanksgiving with my family this year, but I'm thrilled to spend it with an amazing one.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Why I Almost Cried Outside the Coffee Shop

This afternoon, I held back tears after a barista shooed me out of a coffee shop for bringing my dog. It was advertised as "dog-friendly" on Yelp. Earlier today, I spent an hour on a job application only to be deemed ineligible at the last step: a two-part questionnaire.

This morning, someone on my Twitter newsfeed announced they were hired for a job I had interviewed for. The hiring manager, who had met me in-person and encouraged me to apply for the job, never got in touch to let me know. This is the second time this specific hiring manager has treated me this way.

At least there was the park.

Perusing the Health Insurance Marketplace

For the second time in my life, I'm uninsured. I'm also without a job and, as I browse the health insurance marketplace, I'm increasingly frustrated with my options. There are four types of plans available to me (I was not eligible for Platinum coverage). 1. Catastrophic (pays for nothing until you reach the deductible) 2. Bronze (pays 60% of costs) 3. Silver (pays 70% of costs) 4. Gold (pays 80 % of costs)

To paint a picture of the options I'm looking at, I made a handy chart (click to enlarge). I was presented with 25 total health plan options, and I selected five of them to illustrate the cost and coverage differences. I also included numbers from my previous employer-provided plan, which expired back in August.

As you can see, my employer coverage was fantastic. I realize that costs were probably subsidized in some way, but as far as my wallet is concerned, I payed only $134.38/month for anxiety-free, full coverage health insurance.

On to the health care marketplace plans. The costs don't seem that terrible at first glance, but really consider who the buyers are and what kind of circumstances they're in. They're likely:

1. People who've lost their jobs. 2. People who work part-time jobs and aren't offered health insurance by their employers. 3. Poor people who aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

Catastrophic vs. Bronze vs. Silver vs. Gold

On the surface, catastrophic insurance looks like a pretty good deal. You're in good health and your life is relatively risk-free. You can go to the doctor, but -- uh oh -- if you need a prescription or a specialist, you're out of luck. (What's the point of going to the doctor if you can't get a prescription anyway?) On top of the $1k you pay for premiums, you better be ready to pay the $6500 because absolutely nothing is covered before that.

Again, if you're in a position where you're forced to buy catastrophic insurance, can you even hypothetically afford $7500 in medical bills?

Also notice the difference between the cheapest and most expensive catastrophic insurance offered to me. The benefits are identical, aside from the $20 vs. $40 copay for a Primary Physician, yet the more expensive plan costs $500 more a year. Does this microscopic increase in benefits justify the increase in premiums?  I saw this again and again as I tried to find the right plan for me.

As I looked at Bronze, Silver and Gold plans, I noticed the premiums increased significantly while the cost of services generally stayed the same. Not one plan offered to me covered X-rays/diagnostics until after the deductible was met. The deductible did decrease as plans got more expensive, but as a relatively healthy person with very little income at present, the monthly cost seems to exceed the benefit.

Healthcare.gov Is Not That Bad

Yes, it's a failure of a government website. BUT, for all the complaints about healthcare.gov, it's easy once it works. When I signed up for health insurance after college (because, in 2009, the economy was crap and I couldn't find a full-time job), I had to enter my medical history for the past FIVE YEARS. It asked me for all my past doctors and doctors appointments; what medications I'd taken; any emergency room visits. It was hell. Not only did I not have access to all that information, I felt like the insurance company would find me out and reject my application if I wasn't thorough.

Healthcare.gov asked me for barely any information at all. My address, my income and if I was a smoker. Simple. Easy. Fast. I was approved! I moved on to Step 2. And, after much comparison, step 2 is where I stay for now, in hopes that I ultimately won't need to sign up at all.

'Blue is the Warmest Color': A Recap + Reflection

I just saw Blue is the Warmest Color at my local movie theater after nearly six months of anticipation.  It won the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and finally hit St. Louis theaters this weekend. Six months is a lot of time for expectations to build, but I don't think that's why this film ultimately disappointed me. This was intended as more of a reflection but quickly transformed into a recap + reflection, so be forewarned.

LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD.

Adèle (Adèle Exarcopoulos) is a junior in high school with a robust love of literature and food. She has cherub cheeks and full lips. She's always running to catch the bus and her hair always seems to be in her face. She catches the eye of Thomas, a senior, and she's egged on by her horrible group of friends to pursue him. After talking to him on the bus, it's clear they have nothing in common. He studies science and claims to have read only one book, start to finish, in his entire life. She, on the other hand, loves French literature and just finished a 600-page tome. Still, she agrees to go out with him because, why not? He's an attractive boy who likes her.

On the way to meet Thomas for their first date, Adèle catches her first glimpse of the blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). Emma's with another woman, and Adèle is literally stopped in her tracks by the sight of them. I totally and completely identified with Adèle at that moment. If you're a straight person, you probably can't remember the first time you saw a man and woman kiss. (Hint: It was probably your parents.) If you're gay, you can probably tell me when and where you saw a gay kiss. I first saw two women kissing at a Rilo Kiley concert in 2004. Ha!

Back to the the film now. Thomas and Adèle are in a movie theater, and Thomas kisses her. Adèle's face says, "Hmm. This is happening. I heard it was supposed to be good? I guess I'll keep letting him do it."

At school the next day, her gaggle of horrible friends asks how it went. "Did you fuck?" "You smell like it." Adèle denies it, because it didn't happen. Yet. Fast-forward to her first time with Thomas. We see an erect penis, the first of several unnecessary cameos by genitalia. When it's over, Adèle looks unmoved. "Was it not good?" Thomas asks.

Adèle ends the relationship soon after.

Blue is Taking a While to Get Gay

Adèle is upset that she wasn't happy in that seemingly ideal relationship, but her attention soon turns to another classmate. While smoking at school -- because people do that in France -- one of her female friends casually tells Adèle that she's cute, that she's one of the prettiest girls in their grade. Then she kisses Adèle and walks away. WHOA. (And hot.)

Later, Adèle wants more. She follows the girl into the bathroom and tries to kiss her. The girl responds as graciously as she can in that situation. She says it was a one-time thing, that she was sorry and that she wouldn't tell their horrible group of friends about it.

Adèle is left crying, but now she has a mission -- one that every gay person embarks upon: FIND MORE GAY PEOPLE.

Luckily, she has one non-horrible friend to turn to: Valentin, a gay boy at her school. She asks him to take her to a gay club. It's loud and dark and dancey, and she doesn't seem to be loving it. But WAIT. She spots a group of lesbians outside. She nonchalantly leaves the bar and secretly follows them to a lesbian bar.

This lesbian bar is the lesbian bar of DREAMS. As Adèle walks past the bar, attractive couples are kissing left and right. Those who aren't kissing someone else are checking her out. Rawr. Adèle is uncomfortable, but saddles up to the bar with a beer. A very pretty femme woman starts to chat her up when voilà! Blue-haired Emma appears. We learn she's an art student. She chats with Adèle for a bit before her friends call her away. Before leaving, she asks not for Adèle's phone number but for the name of her high school(?). There seem to be easier ways to track someone down, but before we know it, Emma is there waiting for Adèle to get out of class.

Adèle is shocked and delighted to see Emma, but instead of saying goodbye to all her horrible friends, she ignores them even as they call out her name. Bad move, Adèle. Emma and Adèle chat and get to know each other. Emma reveals she has a girlfriend of two years and, since she's an artist, she does a quick sketch of Adèle. (It's not good, by the way. I wish the camera never showed us what it looked like.) Still, the act of sketching felt intimate. We see Emma looking closely at Adèle's face, and we see Adèle being looked at. The subject of Adèle's sexuality doesn't quite come up, but it's implied. Another great scene that I felt echoed true life! For a young person, labeling one's sexuality often isn't conducive to discovering it.

Back at school, Adèle's horrible friends call her out about leaving with the dykey blue-haired girl. They hatefully call her a lesbian, prompting Adèle to declare she isn't one.

Even so, Adèle goes with Emma to the park again. They talk some more. When they go to part ways, there is a pause. There is beautiful tension, the best in the entire movie. And then, Emma kisses her... on the cheek. DAMMIT.

Then, a third meeting at the park. They are lying on blankets. Adèle turns to Emma and finally kisses her. She laughs.

And then, BAM. SEX. (Not at the park, but in a bed.) Has this director heard of foreplay?

For the next seven minutes, I squinted in disbelief. Mouths and nipples and butts and (prosthetic) vaginas. I turned to my girlfriend at one point during the sex scene and asked, "Have you ever done that?" She said, "No."

Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel upon which the movie is based, publicly criticized the sex scene going as far as to say, "[m]issing on the set: lesbians." After finally seeing it, I'm inclined to agree. What I saw was ca-razy and, without a doubt, reminded me of porn. It was raw and aggressive and, though I believed in their mutual attraction, I didn't believe in their love.

Blue is the Crappiest Relationship

Blue is the Warmest Color needed to sell me on love at that point in the film, because from there, we're transported to several years in the future. Adèle and Emma are now full-fledged couple, presumably in love and living together. (Did they U-Haul? We're not told.) Adèle is a kindergarten teacher and Emma is working as a painter. Adèle is very much Emma's muse, and she often poses nude for her.

Emma is finding success in the art world and lands a show. To celebrate, Emma and Adèle throw a party at their house. We see Adèle cooking spaghetti (Adèle slurps down spaghetti over and over again in this film) and some savory pastries. She puts out champagne and is clearly concerned with every possible detail.

Adèle is an excellent host, if not a comfortable one. She doesn't jive that well with these art people. She doesn't know the work of Egon Schiele, for instance, though I didn't find her art naivete all that convincing. She can only name one modern artist (Picasso), yet she routinely devours sophisticated literature (Pierre de Marivaux's La Vie de Marianne)? I think notWhen everyone finally goes home, she washes a staggering mountain of dishes. (I made a mental note during this scene to thank god for my dishwasher.)

At night, when Adèle climbs into bed -- naked, of course -- next to an also naked Emma, they recap the night's events, the people, the conversations. This is especially necessary since Emma spent ZERO time with Adèle at the party. They return to one conversation in particular, and Emma prods Adèle to try writing. Though Adèle doesn't dislike teaching, Emma wants her to try something that makes her happy. Adèle tells Emma to lay off, that she doesn't want to write and that it's Emma -- not her job -- who makes her happy. It's a small spat with big implications. Adèle then tries to initiate sex ("I want you"), but Emma makes an excuse ("I'm on my period"), the validity of which is very questionable.

There may have been an hour remaining at this point, but the movie essentially ended here for me. When they eventually break up, I'm unmoved. I shed no tears. (That's huge, considering I once started bawling while telling someone how Gran Torino ends.)

I never felt invested in Emma and Adèle's relationship, although I was very invested in Adèle. I felt for her when, months after the breakup, she cries over loneliness. I felt for her when she meets Emma in a cafe and tries to get back together with her. I wanted to be there in the moment with Adèle as she cried and cried over Emma and the final realization that they were done forever, but my empathy was tested to the limit by the copious amount of snot pouring out of Adèle's nose. It was a Blair Witch Project callback of sorts. Ultimately, I just wanted her to wipe her damn nose. After several agonizing minutes, she did. This was the real climax and resolution.

Blue is the Longest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color was way too long. I was disappointed in the sex scene. I was disappointed in the portrayal of the relationship. But if this is a movie meant to focus solely on Adèle and her journey, then it was a success.

I had read on Twitter and Facebook that Blue is the Warmest Color had a "sad" ending. "Sad" feels like an exaggeration to me. This film told the story of a young woman realizing her sexuality through a passionate first relationship and experiencing that relationship's end. The first one is the hardest. And after that, life eventually goes on. And so, I want to believe that when Adèle left that gallery and turned that corner, she began her life as a single young lesbian.

 

Complainer: St. Louisans and Parking

St. Louisans park wherever the hell they want. Exhibit A: Lindell Blvd. in St. Louis.

You can't tell from this Google Street view screenshot, but Lindell Blvd. is a busy east-west route, running along the northern part of Forest Park. Although the speed limit is 30 mph (I think), drivers tend to go much faster since this part of Lindell looks and feels like a highway.

Who cares?! It's also a convenient and easy place to park! (See that small SUV on the left?) I'm led to believe it's actually legal to park here on weekends. But being funemployed as I am, I routinely see people park there on weekdays so they can make their very own convenient entrance into Forest Park.

Try harder, St. Louisans.

Exhibit B: Parking near stop signs.

Ok, fine. I don't have an actual exhibit. I do, however, have an anecdote. I was driving on Morganford Road in Tower Grove South area. I had never been there before, so I was pleasantly surprised to see coffee shops, restaurants and a bike store -- really cute street. I was thoroughly enjoying myself behind the wheel when *HONK HONK*.

Again, what the f*ck?

Hmm. There's a stop sign on his side, a stop sign across the street, a stop sign to my left and, on my side...  a semi-truck parked at the corner. It had entirely obscured my stop sign, which I only saw in my rearview. I guess they make that law about not parking near stop signs for a reason? Ah, f*ck. I wanted to yell at that guy who honked, "Hey asshole! I'm not the asshole. The truck driver is!" Alas, a road rage fantasy unrealized.

Yes, this is a pathetic, complain-y post. But in the absence of real human contact, I'm dwelling. I don't miss driving in DC (when I was fortunate enough to borrow a car, that is), but I DO have a new appreciation for common-sense parking.

St. Louisans, you have it pretty great. You have the amenities of a city, AND it's pretty easy to drive and park wherever you want. Please take the two extra minutes to find a better (and safer) parking space.

Rant over.

The Mundane and the Magical

Oops. More than two months have passed since I published my last post. I hesitate to characterize those months as "interesting." I've been mostly at home, cooking meals, watching Netflix and applying to jobs. But, there've been some brights spots.

Back in September, I visited New Hampshire for the first time to attend the my friend Laura's beautiful Sandy Island wedding. (I wrote about Laura's departure from DC -- and my subsequent devastation -- back in 2011.) I wasn't brave enough to swim in the cold waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, so I stuck to taking pictures.

 

I reunited with best friends, all of whom I met at Georgetown eight years ago and many who have now scattered to various parts of the country.

Last but not least, I snuck in a little family time.

Nothing quite matches the joy of gathering with friends and family. And nothing quite punches you in the gut like that gathering's end.

Back in St. Louis

Now, I'm living the life of a retiree, minus the life savings. I work sporadically, think too much about home decor and largely plan my schedule around my dog Spencer and his "needs." He needed an organic hemp collar since his nylon one gave him a neck rash. He needed a seat belt leash, because his enthusiasm for car rides is unnervingly boundless. And he needs to get in a good run at least once a day. On rainy days, this annoys me. But, it's ultimately good for him and for me and my mental health.

Most often, we play catch in the patch of grass and weeds across the way. Sometimes we attempt to go running. Spencer is most inspired, though, by Forest Park, particularly the soccer fields which -- at 11AM on a weekday -- are ideal for going nuts. He speeds and sprints, cutting left and right, occasionally joining a running group. He doesn't always come back immediately, but he always comes back.

On weekends, we try to step up our game with a doggie play date or a trip somewhere special. Last month we went to Laumeier Sculpture Park, a magical 105-acre park outside of St. Louis. If Missouri has one thing, it's space and I've been delighted since moving here to discover all the spaces here dedicated to art and weird stuff. There's a giant eyeball, a row of 55 steel marine buoys and a 65-foot red sculpture (seen right) made from salvaged steel oil tanks. Even Alex, not one to seek out art on her own volition, was wowed.

Me, Myself and I (and Spencer)

Working the night shift really prepared me for the isolation of moving to a new city where I hardly know anyone. I haven't met any friends yet, at least not the kind I can text or email to hang out. I joined a few MeetUp groups and sought out some local Pop Culture Happy Hour fans, but it's still coming along. I feel like I'm constantly selling myself -- to potential employers, to potential friends -- and exposing myself to repeated rejection. I will do whatever it takes to have both of these things, but that doesn't mean it's not exhausting.

In the absence of friends, I look to Spencer and my camera. Both are excuses to get out of the house and explore. A few weeks ago, I took some pictures of all the decaying properties I noticed near my apartment. I live in Central West End, largely thought of as one of St. Louis' "most successful" neighborhoods, but it still shows signs of the city's slowly recovering population shrinkage. The northern part of the neighborhood has a lot of unused and boarded up properties, including this basketball court.

I am by no means a good photographer -- I don't have professional editing software and therefore don't shoot in RAW--  but I'm learning. Photography has been an amazing distraction to focus on while the rest of life works itself out. I like the trial and error of it. I like that I can do it alone. And I like that there's infinite ways to improve over a lifetime. The St. Louis Photographers MeetUp group is absolutely incredible. I joined hoping to learn a thing or two and maybe make a few friends. Considering the majority of the group is over 50, the friend thing probably won't work out. But, I'm learning more about photography than I have since first getting my D-SLR, and I feel inspired to get out there and take more shots.

Speaking of which, Alex loves being photographed.

She may not be my most willing subject, but she is my most available. Here she's studying for a test while I play with my speedlight.

Alex puts up with a lot, and I know it. She let me rush into getting a dog, whose poop she picks up as often or more often than I do. She is the victim of my bedtime bully alter-ego, who steals blankets and pummels her with a flailing limb. And, most importantly, she is usually the only human I to talk to every day. I'm the first to admit that's a hefty weight to deal with. I try to make it up to her by streamlining her life as much as I can--  cooking, cleaning, laundry, the little things.

And it IS the little things that make me happy. When Alex likes something I cook, a nice walk, a song discovery, a good phone call or Gchat sesshion. Cliché, but what else is there? (Money, shhh.) Life is amazing, but it's also a slog. At times, I feel like I just graduated from college again, sweaty-palmed and desperate for a chance.

Hopefully I'll have good news regarding friends and a job in the near future. In the meantime, thank god for Alex. Thank god for Spencer. And thank god for old friends (far away as they may be), sisters, cooking, art, books, music, television, parks and bike rides. Without these, I might go crazy. For now, I'm staying sane.

Doggie's First Days

It's been five days since I became a dog owner.

Spencer is a perplexing little guy. I've spent time with plenty of dogs, but never met one quite like him. The day we brought him home, he did not pee or poop for more than 12 hours. He does not appear motivated by food. When he does accept a treat, he takes it so gingerly and gently that it might as well be a baby bird. He barely eats his kibble -- even when slathered with chicken drippings. (I still cannot comprehend this.)

He's a skittish dog. If we stand straight up or approach too quickly, he cowers and backs away. In my experience, a scared dog is often an aggressive dog. Not so with Spencer. I can touch his paws and fiddle with his toes with virtually no response. Even when he is cowering, he lets us pick him up with absolutely zero struggle. He's a wet noodle to the extent that if we place him back on the ground, he won't stand on his feet; his legs fold beneath him instead.

Alex said she's seen similar behavior before in the rats she worked with in a depression study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She called it "learned helplessness." Essentially, the animal is subjected to a negative stimulus from which it cannot escape. Animal instinct means it should still TRY avoid the stimulus. But because the outcome is always the same (a shock or beating or other negative stimulus), the animal realizes there is no way to escape and stops trying -- EVEN when later presented with opportunities to get away.

We don't know much about Spencer's life prior to the animal shelter and the rescue organization, but we suspect it wasn't great. He's a depressed little guy. (See my friend's dog Tick compared to Spencer, on the right.) Even so, we're seeing some improvement. He seems a little happier with each day. He's starting to become more enthusiastic about treats, and he's taken more of an interest in grooming himself. (When we brought him home, his toe was bleeding. A normal dog would lick it. Spencer ignored the wound completely.)

When we first got Spencer, we had to carry him everywhere. He's only 26 pounds, but it can be tiring for those of us lacking in the bicep department. Now, he's walking on the leash pretty well. We've picked up the pace on our morning walks around the block. They take only 20 minutes, down from half an hour. He's taken a liking to the few toys we've gotten him. And although he doesn't like to play with us, sometimes we'll catch him trotting around with the ball in his mouth. (He is scared if we try to throw it.)

Perhaps Spencer is not quite as fun as your average dog, but he's certainly easy at the get-go and we welcome that as first-time dog owners. He doesn't bark at noises or whine when we put him in his crate. He never begs for food. And he's begun to display a bit of a mischievous side. He stole some trash out of the bathroom and brought our shoes to his bed. All harmless stuff, which we take as a sign that he might be a normal, happy dog after all. We hope one day he'll run and play, too.

Big Moves

I moved to Washington, DC from California in August of 2005 to attend college. Georgetown had laid out a meticulous schedule for new students and parents. It went something like this: 11:00PM - New Student Convocation

12:00PM - Lunch at Leo O'Donovan Hall

1:00PM - Parent/Student Goodbye

1:10PM - Cry Alone Behind Historic Building*

1:12PM - Pull Your Shit Together*

1:15PM - SOME FUN ICEBREAKER ACTIVITY!

*Not actually on the schedule

Most parents might read that farewell time slot as a mere suggestion. My parents are not most parents. Our goodbye was public. I cried, they cried and I told them to "just go" so that I could pull it together before the next activity.

Fast forward.

This photo is from a few weeks later. I'm 18. I'm HAPPY! I love life and college!

(Lies). I am traumatized and in a near constant state of anxiety. But this is college. It costs thousands and thousands of dollars. Even before Instagram, it was my impression that I was supposed to at least pretend like I was having a blast.

Fast forward again.

I'm 26. I've spent eight mostly wonderful years in DC. After filling out paperwork to transfer to school in New York City, I fall in love with Georgetown. A few years later, I fall in love with a Hoya. It's that Hoya whom I follow here to St. Louis, Missouri.

Thanks to all the friends who spent some extra time with me during my final weeks in DC. This time, the "goodbye's" were easier.

One of my favorite farewells went something like this:

K: "Ok, well, I love you... you don't have to say it back." [SILENCE] Me: (laughs) "Ok. I mean, yes, I do love you, too."

Though I may have stumbled in my individual admissions, I love a whole lot of you.

After The Night Shift

I've been sleeping at night for a full three weeks now. At the time I left my job, I had worked 10 consecutive months of night shifts. I routinely stayed up for 24 hours or more. I largely excused myself from weekday social engagements and, if I woke up for an event, I was often half asleep and disengaged.

To every cloud, though, there is a silver lining: my fellow overnite coworkers, my surrogate family, with whom I spent the last three Thanksgivings, Christmases and New Years. They made the schedule... fun, actually. We were on our own deserted, time-shifted island.

Alone together.

Because at 3AM, there is no one. No one to call or gchat. Friends on both coasts have gone to bed or haven't woken up yet. Even the internet is sleeping.

There are only your coworkers, and they, too, are alone. They, too, have no one else to talk to. And thus, they become much more.

When arriving to work around midnight, they not only asked "How was your day?"; they asked, "How was your sleep?" Not your average water cooler questions. Exhaustion made way for stripped down versions of ourselves. More casual, literally and figuratively. Few of us bothered with makeup. No bullshit. Just good work and good people.

Leaving those hours behind was easy; leaving those people was not.

In The Heartland (I Think)

Now, here I am in St. Louis. A city, yes, with a suburban feel and many suburban perks. Our apartment is bigger than we could ever dream of affording in DC and easy parking is a given. Hop on the highway and in 10 (mostly) traffic-free minutes, we'll be at REI, Macy's, Trader Joe's, Target, The Container Store and more. Life is, in many ways, easier than it was in DC.

Nevertheless, I found myself having a mini-meltdown after my first full day here. WHERE IS THE STUFF? WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE? WHERE ARE THE SHOPS? We had driven around all day running errands at those big box stores, and I had yet to see a semblance of a real neighborhood. Worse: I was to blame. I'd chosen our apartment online, sight unseen.

Luckily, my freakout was nothing a bike ride couldn't cure. We pedaled 10 minutes to nearby Forest Park, a public green space in St. Louis one and a half times the size of New York City's Central Park. It houses the zoo, a science center, an art museum and much more. I didn't see a ton from the bike path, but what a relief. Closer to home, we saw a small area with restaurants and shops and, in our immediate neighborhood, a local coffee shop and a pub-style restaurant.

By car, things go by too fast. I'm intolerant of mistakes and feel frustrated by wrong turns. By bike, everything is exploration. My horrible sense of direction is slightly less horrible, and it's easier to process the sights passing me by.

What's Next

When people -- primarily strangers on Twitter -- ask me what I'm doing in St. Louis, I often answer "stay-at-home dog mom." Mostly a joke, but there's truth there.

I'm currently searching for a new job. Having taken two weeks of vacation in the past three years, I'm allowing myself to move at a leisurely pace. This time is mine. Make no mistake, there's still some anxiety. It's incredibly difficult to separate self-worth from employment, and it's tough to have no immediate community. But it's also incredibly liberating.

My days here are mostly unstructured. I wake up when I feel rested and I go to sleep (AT NIGHT!) when I feel tired. I bike to the local grocery store -- just two blocks away -- a few times a week, and I'm cooking every night. I'm watching Six Feet Under for the first time. I listen to music all day, and I play guitar in the evening. A week and a half after arriving, The big errands are mostly over. Our apartment looks and feels like home, though we're awaiting one final addition, Spencer, who comes home in three days.

I am beyond excited for our 25-pound bundle of joy. I've caught myself staring lovingly at his future crate and his future bed and his future toys. Some might argue -- and have argued -- that I'm rushing into the dog thing, but people who know me know this is something I've wanted for a long time. In some ways, we'll rescue each other: me, from Spencer's stressful life at a shelter, and he, from the emotional highs and lows of this job hunt.

If you've reached the end of this post, thanks for reading. I hope to blog more frequently now that I have more time (and more feelings, ha). I hope to answer some hard-hitting questions, like "Are people in the Midwest really friendlier?" "Is the St. Louis native vs. transplant culture really a thing?" (Spoiler:  Despite little firsthand evidence, I think it is because this group exists... and I might join.)

Most of all, I hope to be honest and candid about the good and the bad of starting over in a new place.  Thanks to the people who have already made this transition easier by reaching out to me with emails and invitations to meet. And thanks to Alex for doing the dishes, for letting a dog join our family and for suffering through my penny pinching.

Onward and woof.

How I Almost Killed My Father

The last time I saw my dad was September 28th, 2011. No, he's not dead. He lives in California; I live in DC. And during my last visit home, I was briefly convinced that I killed him. With this photo and a tweet.

I'm not exactly sure WHAT I wrote. The tweet has since been deleted at the request of my poor mother. It was probably something snarky about this room, supposedly for guests, now filled with junk and more junk.

At this point, the specifics don't really matter. What does, at least to me, is that when my dad saw this photo on the internet, he stormed downstairs as I sat on the couch watching TV. He proceeded to scream at me in a way that was frightening yet not unexpected. We circled the couch, him yelling, me yelling back. Holding back tears and failing.

He demanded I delete the tweet. I refused citing principle (yes, it's true), while my mom pleaded with us both to calm down. Could I just delete the damn picture? Could I just make it go away? She was mad at me for causing this, too. As I write this now, the stupidity of this incident does not escape me. Yelling and screaming. OVER A TWEET.

Still, when I posted it in the first place, I had hoped it would have some effect -- if not this exact one. I knew that this photo, as small as it was, would get to him because I would expose his room full of crap to the world at large, or at least my modest number of Twitter followers. It was a very ugly truth, I thought, and I knew he'd be embarrassed. Perhaps embarrassed enough to get a jump start on minimizing the junk, making a life a life change even? I know now that this was an ill-conceived strategy.

I've written before about my parents' hulking California home. How it's too big for them. How it's a matter of years before it becomes some kind of version of Grey Gardens. My siblings and I have tried most everything besides buckets of cash to get them to leave. But the force of inertia is too great. 100 percent of their families live on the East coast. I live the "closest" at just under 3000 miles away. Yet, no movement whatsoever to downsize, to move toward the family who can take care of them as they age.

Now, back to how I almost killed my dad.

Following our argument (this is a more civil term for it than it deserves), I declared I'd never visit home again (I haven't). I contemplated catching an earlier  flight back to DC, but decided it wasn't worth a couple hundred dollars. I also thought about calling a high school friend and seeing if I could stay with her parents. That option, while attractive for its resolve, was too cruel to my mom, I thought. So, I stayed at home.

The next morning, my mom knocked on my bedroom door. "Jess, I need you to wake up."

I get up.

"If EMTs come to the door, I need you to let them in."

Umm. Ok. Adrenaline starts to kick in. I ask my mom what the fuck she's talking about.

"Your father is having chest pains and can't get up."

It probably took seconds for the conclusions to start forming in my head. I made my dad angry. He is having a heart attack. He is having a heart attack because I made him angry.

As I wait for the ambulance to come, I peek into my parents room. I hear my dad groaning. I see his feet, but I don't want to see more. I start trying to come to terms with the fact that, if he dies, I am the one who killed him.

The EMTs come. They put him in this tarp-like thing to carry him down the stairs. As they walk him down, I tell him I love him. He says nothing.

My mom rides to the hospital behind the ambulance. I am left alone at home to contemplate my thoughts as a now-murderer.

And several hours later, my mom and dad come home. No heart attack, she says. Maybe vertigo?

Jesus Christ.