i would’ve had us swerving through those streets

I read a lot, but I also watch a lot of TV. I have TV on while I work, while I clean, while I sew and make jewelry, and sometimes I like to put Netflix on my laptop on the edge of the sink while I’m in the bathtub.

I watch newly-released shows and shows I haven’t seen before, but mostly I watch things I’ve already seen. Give me a line from the X-Files and I can tell you which episode it was, which season that episode was in, and possibly even who wrote it. I can quote nearly entire episodes of Bob’s Burgers or early Simpsons. Sometimes things I say out loud are lines from TV shows that pop out of my mouth without my even realizing it.

My TV-watching used to bother me. A whole lot. I used to beat myself up for the habit, because I was better than that, or I should be writing instead, or successful people don’t watch TV. But mostly I’ve come to terms with it. As I’ve said before, it allows me to not think so much about my own life, and that’s good for my mental state.

Also TV shows are stories, and I love stories in whatever form they take. A well-done television show has plot and character development and themes and subtext to rival plenty of good movies and books. My old English-major habits die hard, and I usually examine the TV I watch as if I were writing a college paper on it.


There is a phrase that I use only in my own head, that I don’t usually tell anyone about. It’s “now is now and it’ll never be now again.” I wish I knew when it first came to me, but as far as I can recall it’s always been there. I say it in my mind when I want to capture and remember specific moments from my life, moments when I am particularly happy or content or when I’m doing something cool I’ve never done before. I say it to myself and I see

a little Texas valley in the winter, as two close friends and I look out over it on horseback

the sunset out the driver’s side window on a highway in Austin, this song on the stereo, a freshly-pressed plaid shirt

late afternoon light reflecting off the frozen Charles River

a red neon sign in Manhattan that blinks CO FF EE over and over, as I’m sitting on a bench talking with a friend

a specific little mailbox on a narrow street in Onset, MA

wooden posts submerged underwater as I glide past in a kayak

watching the sun set over Lake Somerville from the back of a crowded pickup truck

sitting at a sushi bar with friends, bouncing in my seat because the food is so delicious

streetlights mirrored in wet city pavement at night, walking too fast across the street

snow falling on the windshield of my old black Acura

I replay these and other moments in my head when I’m feeling depressed or bored or missing someone. Or sometimes they just pop up unannounced, and it’s like I’m there all over again. Now is now.

But those moments make me a little sad, too, and that’s the second part of the phrase: it’ll never be now again. Sometimes I re-watch my favorite episodes of a TV show over and over again, noticing little things about them that I hadn’t seen before: a billboard in the background, a character’s facial expression, a line I didn’t remember.

I have a freakishly good memory, but I still can’t examine my mental snapshots that way: try as I might to picture what color my horse was or what I was wearing or what street we were on or what the house behind the mailbox looked like, I can’t.

And I know that life can’t always be Good Times, otherwise the Good Times would become just Times, but it still frustrates me that I can’t rewind and watch the best parts of my life over and over again for new details. When I believed in God as a child, I used to say that in my version of heaven, I’d be allowed to sit in front of a TV in the clouds and watch my life unfold all over again on the screen, my finger hovering just over the fast-forward and rewind buttons on the remote.

I have plenty of things to look forward to in my life, of course: upcoming travels, pretty sunsets, seeing friends, watching my nephew learn to walk and talk. But sometimes I’m sitting in an airport or in traffic or on my sofa having normal Times and I think, why can’t now be now again?

(P.S. I made a public Twitter account, so you can follow me there if you like.
P.P.S. Post title is from here.)

i have a prestigious blog, sir

prestigious blog

post title from Party Down, one of the best shows that ever got cancelled

Some of you newer people (are there any newer people? who knows) may not know this, but this website and I used to be kind of internet famous.

Don’t laugh, I’m serious. At its peak (2001-2006), bluishorange got 4,000 unique visitors a day. Blogs were a brand-new thing, I was writing almost every day, and it didn’t hurt that I was young and cute. Sometimes when I sat down to write I would picture all 4,000 people standing together in a room–this was encouraging at times, but other times all those imaginary people were just staring at me expectantly, which was nerve-wracking.

Lots of good things happened to me as a result of that traffic. I met a ton of amazing people (many of whom are now my closest friends), I was nominated for awards, I got to be on a panel at SXSW Interactive. An anonymous reader (and eventual friend) gifted me his used MacBook to take on my road trip in 2007.

But some bad things happened, too, and I’ll tell you about a few of them here.


In late 2000, I quit my job as a web designer to go back to university, and after I quit, a former coworker began to send me lots of emails. They were friendly at first: he wrote responses to things I’d written on my website, or notes about what was happening at my former workplace. Then he asked me out. I politely declined, but the emails kept coming–mostly he was trying to convince me that I should in fact go out with him. We had not been in the same department at work, and though we’d worked in the same room of cubicles, we had never actually spoken in person. But as best I could tell, reading my website had made him feel like he knew me in a way that was very real to him.

Westheimer Street FestivalOne day I made the mistake of mentioning on my website a band that I was going to see at a street festival. I had a few friends in the band, and I’d made their website for them, and I was really excited to see them perform.

You can see where this is going, right? He was there. Of course he was there, and I can’t believe I was surprised by it. He sat under a tree near the stage, and though he was wearing mirrored sunglasses, I could tell that he hardly took his eyes off me. He was a big guy, and to a 22-year-old 125-pound girl like me, he looked a bit menacing. I had come to the festival with a few friends who were enjoying the show, so I didn’t say anything to them or try to get them to leave with me, though I probably should have. When the show ended, he went up to the merchandise table, bought a CD, and then walked away.

I got home that night to another long, desperate email, and (I remember this like it was last week) it ended with, “Please help me, Alison. Please be my friend.”

I replied immediately with, “Please do not contact me ever again,” put all his emails and my responses into an archive folder so I wouldn’t have to look at them in my inbox, and called my father. He insisted we talk to a lawyer (a family friend), who advised me to keep all the emails in case they were needed later, and told me that I needed to take my website down.

I took it down for about two weeks, which was all I could take, but I never again said anything online about places I might be going. The guy emailed me one more time in response to my plea not to contact me. It was full of invective–I was a bitch, and a tease, and I had led him on, and he was just trying to be nice and what the fuck was wrong with me.

Sometimes in my dreams I can still see my reflection in his mirrored sunglasses.


It was mostly easy to not inform the internet of where I was going to be in the future, but harder to avoid everyone knowing that I would be attending a conference I went to at the same time every year.

In the months leading up to SXSW 2003 (or 2004? I can’t remember exactly), there was a guy who would leave lots of comments on my website. The comments were mostly harmless, but his own website was less so. It was more of a home page than a website–he had a lot of different little sections on the page with his favorite quotes, links, and a few of his opinions, most of which were about what races of girls he liked and didn’t like. Fully half of the quotes and links on that page were mine.

He had never emailed me personally, but his apparent level of interest in me reminded me enough of my former coworker that I was pretty freaked out by him.

In a comment a few weeks before SXSW, he informed me that he would be in town during the conference and wanted to meet me. I did not want to meet him, so I ignored the comment, but I worried about the conference itself. I didn’t know what he looked like; would he just come up and blindside me?

I spent most of the conference looking over my shoulder. Eventually my friend Ryan met him briefly outside the convention center, then ran inside to describe him to me and let me know he was nearby and asking where I was. I quickly left the convention center via an exit on the other side of the building, and was lucky enough not to encounter him for the rest of the conference.

This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy. After the conference I remember uploading a lengthy .htaccess file to block his many different IP addresses from accessing my website. Eventually I stopped hearing from him.


There are other stories. A woman from the U.K. used my blog posts and photos of me to construct a fictional online identity, and after she was caught, the guy who had fallen in love with her attempted to transfer his affections to me. I got emails from men telling me that they had seen me out at this concert or that bar or cafe, but they hadn’t worked up the nerve to say hello. I would comb through my memories of those nights, trying to remember having seen someone looking at me.

All of this gave me a constant feeling that I was being watched. The 4,000 people I pictured in the 4,000-person-sized room usually stared at me expectantly, waiting for me to write something good, but other times they just watched. I kept on writing, because I didn’t know how not to write, and 99% of my readers were nice sane people who appreciated what I had to say.

Here is where I remind you that I’ve almost never done any non-blog writing. My stint as a person who writes (I don’t like to say I’m a writer) began with blogging, and continued with blogging, and doesn’t really exist outside of that. People always tell me I should write things just for myself and not post them. But I don’t exactly know how to write something that won’t be shared immediately.

Eventually I did stop writing regularly. Weblogs stopped being the best and easiest way to meet and keep in touch with people, and my site traffic fell. Blog commenting technology improved, allowing me to delete comments I felt were inappropriate or scary, but those comments never really came.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my internet fame from time to time, especially when it happens to my friends and I can see the looks on their faces when someone they’ve never met tells them they like their work. If I hadn’t stopped writing, would I be a professional writer right now? Would I have an agent? A book deal? (There’s an old, old message in my “Other” folder on Facebook from a publisher asking me if I’d be interested in writing a book. I never followed up.)

If I hadn’t stopped writing, would I be safe?


At the XOXOFest closing party, I was talking with my friend Casey about Anita Sarkeesian. She’d spoken at the festival despite the numerous threats to her life and family she’d received in response to her video series about women in gaming culture, and Casey and I were discussing how impressed we were by her work, her tenacity and fortitude. I told Casey that if I had to deal with what Sarkeesian has, I would just have curled up into a ball on my bathroom floor and stayed there forever. No way would I have been able to continue my work as she has.

And I guess I didn’t continue my work. Granted, that was more about my depression than my online creeps, and my online creeps were of a different caliber and much smaller magnitude than hers are, but I can still see the comparison.

I realized while talking with Casey that in not writing about my online creeps back in 2000-2004, I missed an opportunity to expand (start?) the discussion about What It’s Like For Women On The Interwebs. What it was like is that I wrote about myself, about being a college student and a waitress, about traveling, about living with depression and anxiety, and people (men) thought this meant that I owed them something. But I don’t owe anyone anything. I’m not sure what Sarkeesian’s harassers want from her (silence? an apology? I doubt they actually know what they want), but she doesn’t owe them anything either.

I’m glad that other people are now writing and talking about this issue and doing it better than I could have.


1540438_10151980970316512_7186835111739154299_oMaude is dead. I’m 36 today.

I’m 36 today, my best friend is dead, I am underemployed, broke, living paycheck to paycheck, borrowing money from family to make ends meet.

Sunday at a wedding I was sitting with two other friends of mine. One friend was describing her recent good fortune. “Good things seem to keep happening to me. I just wonder when it’s all going to stop.”

The other friend said, “Oh, come on. You’re a good person, and you deserve to be happy! You’ve got good karma. Good for you.”

I sat in silence, thinking, so I’m a bad person who doesn’t deserve to be happy? That’s why bad things keep happening to me?

Most of my friends are doing pretty well financially. They own houses and cars and have children and go on vacations both here and abroad. They buy things. I’m happy for them; they are, to borrow a phrase, good people who deserve to be happy. But sometimes I feel like if I hear another one of them say that something “only” costs $500, “only” costs $100, “only” costs $20, I will scream and throw something.

They do things together that cost too much money for me to be able to do. I am torn: do I want them to invite me so I can feel included and have the opportunity to say no? Or do I want them to not mention it at all so I don’t feel bad? Sometimes I still hear about it later.

I have my own jewelry business, but until I can make ends meet I can’t afford to market it properly, so there it sits, semi-dormant for now. I am mostly okay with this. I have other things to worry about, like paying as much of the electricity bill as it takes to keep the lights on.

I apply for jobs. I hear from interviewers, I dress in my job interview pants and blouse and go get interviewed. I send my usual “thank you for the interview” email, to which I never get a response.

To apply for jobs is to live a thousand different lives in one’s head. I interview for a job at a financial company in Northwest Austin, and I picture myself driving there, parking, working at one of the desks in their cubicle farm. I interview for a job downtown and imagine myself taking the bus so I don’t have to park. I interview for a job at the University of Texas, and picture myself working in one of the red-roofed stucco buildings near the tower. But those lives never happen.

I am broke; I have no savings or assets or prospects, but I am not poor. Poverty is not what this is. Poverty means not having family support. It means not having a college education or marketable job skills. It means not having friends who would intervene if I were unable to get food, or if I were to become homeless. It means not being able to apply for jobs or dress in job interview pants or go to interviews or send thank-you emails. It means having my depression go untreated, which luckily it doesn’t. And I know I am lucky to have the skills and support and tools I need to get by, however marginal my “getting by” is.

But if this isn’t poverty, what is it? I think I’m a victim of the eroding middle class, of income inequality, of job scarcity, of the trimming away of workers’ rights, of living in a growing tech city with low unemployment, high competition for jobs, and skyrocketing costs. I could move, but that would be much more complicated than it sounds.

So I am your anecdote. When you are with your friends or family and the economy comes up, you can say, “I have a friend who can’t find a job…” You can explain my situation and make your point that the economy still has a long way to go. You can make your point that sometimes even a college education and 15 years of work experience isn’t enough. Or you can joke about how an English degree isn’t good for anything. It’s up to you.

Maude died on April 15, nearly ten years to the day since I brought her home for the first time. It was recent enough that when it’s time to give Moki a treat, I still grab two treats from the canister without thinking. I can still remember what the fur felt like under Maude’s chin. I can still feel her wiggle her little head back and forth as she buried her face in my hair to sleep at night. I can still hear the little barks she made in her sleep sometimes. I can still picture the way she bounced around the room whenever I came home, so happy to see me.

I wrote those last four sentences in the present tense, and I had to go back and correct them.

So I’m 36 today, but you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I don’t feel like celebrating.