Monthly Archives: February 2014

My virtual life

Something disturbing happened to me earlier today, and I didn’t know how to explain it to my husband without it sounding at best, frivolous, and at worst, narcissistic. Nonetheless, I called him at work and tried not to sound as upset as I was.

“Al,” I said, “I just accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from my Facebook wall.”

There was a silence while Al tried to figure out how to react to this bombshell. “Oh no,” he said. “Sorry?” (He’s pretty good at guessing the right responses to things).

I explained to him that I was so upset about it because I had linked my Twitter account to my Facebook account years ago, which meant that 99% of all content I had ever posted on Facebook had actually been posted via Twitter. Thus, when I accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from Facebook, I deleted a huge online record of my life. And this, it turned out, was upsetting. Al consoled me as best he could, telling me that maybe the posts were salvageable (turns out, they weren’t). After that, there was really nothing more he could say. The record of my online activity was gone, and I had to accept it. Man.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.28.20 PM

After scouring through my Facebook wall, I realized that I had only deleted all of my posts since July 2013 — so, only the last seven months of my online life. But those last seven months had contained so much! My entire time in London: gone. All of the articles and essays that had spoken to me: gone. And, the real tragedy, all of the funny jokes I had made: gone. Gone with the virtual wind!

I felt strangely bereft about this, and then, right on cue, felt guilty for being so self-obsessed. On the surface, losing seven months of one’s searing witticisms (and, more importantly, one’s friends’ reactions to said searing witticisms) should not be a big deal, unless one is a huge, self-involved narcissist. Which I’m totally not, I SWEAR. But I am a writer, and my Twitter feed, which was broadcast to a more personal audience via my Facebook, was, in a way, a body of my written work, however fluffy and silly it was. And, more importantly, it was a conversation between me and people who know me (and who care enough to comment on the stuff I put on social media). Yes, the Twitter feed itself still exists (on Twitter, no less), but the mingling of my Twitter posts with my friends’ reactions on my Facebook wall is gone forever. There were some really good debates, funny back-and-forths, and challenging discussions on that Facebook wall, and now they’re lost. Which begs the question: if a social media exchange falls into the internet hole and no one’s there to re-read it, did it make a sound? Did it ever even happen?

[Side note: I realize that I’m not doing a great job at making the case that I’m not a giant narcissist, but you’ll have to take my word for it. And plus, aren’t we all a bit narcissistic online? Part of the fun of social media is having one’s own wit and good cheer reflected back at one through the validation of one’s social networks. Right? Or is that just me?]

In any case, I’m not sure why I find this experience so unsettling. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, to speak in terribly broad cliches for just a moment, a large chunk of my life really is lived online. I work at home, by myself, and I’m a writer. Throughout the day, I interact with the world by sharing my thoughts (and, if I dare, my feelings) with people online, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I know virtually, and some of whom I know not at all. Those interactions are then preserved in the amber of the internet, most prominently through my Facebook wall. Some people, especially people of my parents’ generation and older, find this concept horrifying, that one’s personal conversations, thoughts, and feelings could be captured on the Internet for all to see, potentially forever (or at least until the grid goes down), but I find it comforting. I can go back to my wall posts from four, five, seven, even ten years ago, and see what my friends and I were talking about, or what movie I had seen, or what book I had read. It’s all there, whether I remember it or not. It’s both a personal reminder of what I’ve gotten up to, and a specimen that’s been polished and presented for public consumption.

Whether all of this archival of my personal life is a good thing or a bad thing is, I suppose, up for debate, but I don’t find that debate to be particularly interesting, mostly because I tend to be, if not judicious, at least mindful about what I post online. If I share a tweet on my Facebook wall, generally, it’s because I think my friends will enjoy it, and I don’t tend to post particularly controversial or revealing things on social media. I’m old enough and (sort of) wise enough — or, at least, experienced enough with social media — at this point not to post anything that will later embarrass me or prevent me from holding public office (I think). And if the NSA wants to read my Facebook wall, I find it hard to get worked up about it. Yes, in theory, it’s scary to think about strangers having access to my social media offerings, but in another way, it’s kind of flattering. I mean, is it so wrong that I hope the NSA thinks I’m funny?

I guess it all boils down to the fact Facebook has been a deeply ingrained part of my life for the last decade (literally). I signed up for Facebook in March 2004, as a senior in college, and I’ve been using it consistently ever since. I’m an active and enthusiastic user, although I’ve adapted and polished the way I use it over the years (for example: I now post far fewer photos than I used to and look at far fewer people’s actual profiles). A large part of Facebook’s role in my life has been as a type of online repository for my memories: an interactive scrapbook filled with photos, videos, discussions, greetings, and jokes. It was always available for me to page back through whenever I was in need of a nostalgia boost. Losing seven months of that scrapbook is not the end of the world, of course, but it’s a little sad. I wish I were one of those aloof, “Oh, I never check Facebook; I’m too busy bicycling around North America” people, but I’m not. I’m someone who enjoys and appreciates social media in my own life and I rely on it to always be available to me. It’s disturbing to see how easily this record of my life online can vanish, and how utterly unable I am to piece it back together without the aid of the internet.

Maybe the solution is that I start writing in a diary, or composing old-fashioned pen-and-ink letters to my friends, or taking photos with a non-digital camera and developing them in a dark room. Or maybe the solution is just to accept that I can’t rely on an external service to preserve my memories for me. Or maybe I just need to take a step back and realize that my stupid tweets are not as interesting or important as I think they are. Or maybe it’s all of the above. For now, though, I’ll stick to shaking my fist at the sky and cursing Mark Zuckerberg, whose fault all of this is, anyway.

Happy tweeting and Facebooking to you all. Hug your tweets close tonight.



My ancestry

For Christmas a few years ago, Al got me a 23andMe genetic testing kit. I let it languish on the shelf until this past Christmas when I was back in San Francisco, when I finally got up the nerve to spit into a container and send it in to their lab. I had been avoiding it because I had convinced myself that the results would state clearly that I was a genetic ticking timebomb and then I’d never be able to unsee all the weird diseases I was no doubt carrying. (Some say that I have a bit of a tendency toward hypochondria, but let me go check WebMD). Several months later, I finally got the results of my genetic testing, which have been absolutely fascinating.

In case you’re not familiar, 23andMe is a company that does personal DNA mapping. For about $100, you can have all 23 of your chromosomes mapped and receive a wealth of information about your ancestry and your health (traits, risks, and so on). However, recently the FDA passed a totally BS ruling that prevents 23andMe from distributing health reports to its customers, so if you buy a kit now, you won’t receive detailed health reports, only ancestry information. The FDA decision didn’t apply to me since Al had gotten me the kit before the decision came down, so I got both detailed health reports and information about my ancestry.

While the health stuff was interesting for me (and a big relief, since I’m not a carrier for any of the horrifying genetic disorders they test for, despite my fatalistic attitude), the ancestry information was much more surprising. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping things I’ve learned about my genes.


1. I’m 5.8% East Asian/Native American. Within that breakdown, 4.1% is Native American, and 1.7% is “nonspecific East Asian and Native American.” The Native American bit is actually Native Mexican, since my grandfather was Mexican-American. However, while I knew intellectually that Pop had Aztec blood, I didn’t realize how much; according to these numbers, a quarter of his genes must have been ethnically indigenous. Wow!

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

It’s funny; I feel like every American wants to be part Native American (there was a great Happy Endings episode about this where Dave discovers he’s 1/16 Navajo and starts wearing a fringed jacket out of respect). But personally, I think it’s pretty badass to be part Aztec. My people were ripping still-beating hearts out of chests before it was cool. Also, they built huge temples and invented face knives, so, you know, that’s pretty sweet.

2. I’m .3% Sub-Saharan African, .2% of which is specifically West-African. This is a real head-scratcher. My dad, my husband, and I all came up with theories about where this Sub-Saharan ancestry is coming from, but we actually have NO idea, given what we know about my family history. To my knowledge, there weren’t a lot of Sub-Saharan Africans hanging around in Ireland, Mexico, or Italy, the places where my genes most recently hail from. For a second, we thought maybe it had to do with the Moors conquering Spain and then the Spanish going on to Mexico, but the genetic report is pretty clear that I have no North African or Middle Eastern ancestry, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Now, obviously, I want both of my parents to map their genes so we can see whether the African blood is coming from my dad or my mom’s side. Given my parents’ respective melanin content, I’m gonna take a wild stab and guess it’s coming from my mom’s side, but one never knows.

My mom IS super tan.

My mom IS super tan.

3. I’m 87.6% European, 40.7% of which is Northern European, 12.1% is Southern European, and 34.9% of which is “nonspecific European.” The European piece of my ancestry isn’t that surprising (especially considering that I have two European-born grandparents) but the more specific breakdown of the ancestry is kind of interesting, because even though my dad’s mom is from Abruzzo, Italy, only 2.5% of my genes are Italian. I guess this means that my Italian grandmother wasn’t purely ethnically Italian, which makes sense given Italy’s history and demographics. Guess I can stop taking credit for all of those Roman aqueducts now.

4. I’m 2.9% Neanderthal. And yes, that’s on the high end (80th percentile, to be exact). My husband is gleeful about the fact that I am, as he puts it, “2.9% beast,” but I find it a bit unsettling. According to 23andMe, “traces of [Neanderthal] DNA — between 1 percent and 4 percent — are found in all modern humans outside of Africa.” At least I’m not 4% Neanderthal. I told my husband that, given my ethnic background and now this Neanderthal business, I could have fared MUCH worse in the body hair department. And I have no noticeable brow ridge!

So, this has all been very interesting for me. Have you done DNA testing or genetic mapping? Did you find out anything cool?


Soundtrack to my life, part 3: kicking ass and taking names

When I set out to imagine the soundtrack to the many moods and experiences of my life, initially I figured I’d better include a list of my favorite relaxing music (because there are certain songs and even albums that will put me into a medical-grade coma if I listen to them long enough — hi, Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing), but then I realized that sharing my chill-out playlist would be boring and self-indulgent and decided to just skip straight ahead to a list of songs that make me feel powerful (so — just self-indulgent). So here, in no particular order, are ten songs that make me want to stride forth into the world and take it by the lapels, or whatever.

1. “Telephone,” by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Everything about this song screams lady empowerment. The lyrics are about how Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are sick of your insistent phone calls, everyone. They’re too busy out in da club sippin’ dat bub (I think?) to bother picking up their phones so just give it a rest, okay? This song allows me to imagine what it would be like if I were wildly popular and pursued by many admirers. I think I’d enjoy it. Also, it must be said that the beat is amazing, especially when you’re working out and your energy is starting to flag. This will perk you right up!

2. “Walk Away,” by Kelly Clarkson. I unabashedly love Kelly Clarkson. She is one of the few American Idols that have not been an embarrassment to our country (looking at you, Taylor Hicks). Her songs are consistently catchy and I particularly love the ones where she gets a little sassy. “Walk Away” is one of those.

3. “Burn It Down,” by AWOLNATION. I first heard this song, appropriately enough, on an episode of Sons of Anarchy, during one of that show’s many high stakes motorcycle chase scenes. And that pretty much sums up the tone of the song, which is sort of shout-y and involves clapping, enthusiastic drums, and inscrutable lyrics that I think might be referring to some weird sex thing (but I’m cool with it).

4. “Titanium” by David Guetta, feat. Sia. First of all, I’m a big Sia fan. In case you’re not familiar, she is weird as hell and all of her videos give me the creeps, but dang, lady’s got a pair of pipes on her. This particular song was really popular when I lived in South Africa, and I used to listen to it while working out at my shitty Joburg gym along with some scarily muscled Afrikaans dudes and a smattering of old ladies. With lyrics like “You shoot me down, but I won’t fall; I am titanium,” it’s kind of hard not to get pumped up while listening to it, am I right?

5. “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” by U2. Even though “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” my all-time favorite U2 song, is about resisting violence and promoting peace in the face of the misery of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, something about it makes me want to strap on a gun and march into battle. Any battle! I know that’s not the point of the song — in fact, it’s the opposite of the point of the song — but that infectious, warlike drumbeat — who can resist it?

6. “The Distance,” by Cake. Here’s the thing about Cake: you either love ’em, or you hate ’em. Me? I love ’em. Like I said in my last post, I’m a sucker for a good horns section“The Distance” not only has horns, but it has special meaning for me because it was my high school cross-country team’s pump-up song one year, and what a pump-up song it was! (Incidentally, my own personal pump-up song for the last two years of high school track — and please don’t judge me for this — was Sisqo’s “The Thong Song.” To this day, whenever I hear “The Thong Song,” I want to go run 3200 m. as fast as I can).

7. “Forgot About Dre,” by Dr. Dre and Eminem. I probably shouldn’t like this song, since it has zero relevance to my life and, now that I think of it, zero relevance to probably to 99.9% of humanity’s lives. It’s pretty much only relevant to Dr. Dre’s life. But what can I say? I have a soft spot for Eminem (Detroit, what), despite his many flaws. Plus, this song includes some of my favorite rap lyrics ever (despite the poor grammar involved): “So where’s all the mad rappers at? It’s like a jungle in this habitat. But all you savage cats knew that I was strapped with gats when you were cuddling a Cabbage Patch.” Bless Dr. Dre’s heart for finding a way to incorporate both Cabbage Patch dolls AND gats into one phrase!

8. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” by Dropkick Murphys. I lived in Boston (okay, Cambridge — lay off me!) for three years and while I lived there, I used to take this amazing spinning class at the law school rec center. The instructor, a real Boston girl, would always play this song during the hardest part of the workout and, needless to say, everyone loved it. It’s catchy AND motivational: imagining a sailor looking for his leg (which he lost climbing up the topsails, by the way) really puts the difficulty of a tough spinning class into perspective. “At least I have both my legs,” I’d always think to myself. “Things aren’t so bad.”

dropkick murphys

9. “Mala Gente,” by Juanes. I wasn’t kidding about being a big Juanes fan. “Mala Gente” is from that same life-changing album as “Luna,” Un Día Normal. “Mala Gente” (“Bad People”) is about Juanes telling a lying woman to take a hike, and also letting her know she sucks. It’s very satisfying.

10. “A Quien Le Importa?” by Thalía. The title of this song translates as “Who cares?” As the title suggests, it’s a ballad about not giving an eff about what people think, and it rocks. Thalía (Mexican pop goddess and wife of Tommy Mottola) has a bunch of great songs (one of which, “Seducción,” has been my ringtone for, like, seven years) but this one is the most kick-ass of them all. Lyrics include: “My destiny is what I choose,” and “I’m this way, I’ll continue to be this way, and I’ll never change.” Go girl!

Well, looking back on this list, I can say with some confidence that it’s totally random and arbitrary. However, every one of these songs, in its own way, pumps me up. What are your favorite blood-pumping ballads? And am I the only one who has that perverse reaction to “Sunday, Bloody Sunday?” Does anyone else like Cake? Let me know.