surf sessions #15, #16; on politeness and the fallacy of political correctness

wetsuit in the tree = good

wetsuit in the tree = good

#15: Oh, man, the waves were terrible. Seriously. If not the worst I’ve paddled out into, at least close. But I hadn’t surfed in weeks and the air was 68 degrees and the sun was baking the peninsula and I said I’m going. I’m going no matter what. So I did. And it was wonderful. I mean, it was terrible, the waves part, but being in the ocean, paddling, getting smacked around by overhead closeouts – I was reminded of how stupid fun being in the ocean can be. Even when the waves are terrible. The post-session bliss lingered for hours.

#16: I took out a friend who wants to learn to surf, got my truck stuck for a minute while trying to show him around – embarrassing – decided that was probably as valid a reason to choose the spot we were at as any. Waist-high peaks looked inviting. Unfortunately they lacked enough energy at first to make catching them easy. As the tide filled in, however, a nice little (and I do mean little) right started to corner up. I hopped on the carousel and smiled in the sunshine. My friend paddled around, caught some whitewater, practiced standing, practiced reading the ocean – the latter, I explained to him afterwards, is key. Seeing the currents, the peaks, gaining an understanding of how it all works, knowing conditions can change on a dime so that everything you think you know is accurate one second and wrong the next – that’s the head part of surfing. Once you begin to grasp that, you find yourself better able to feed your soul.

In other news, I wrote about intent vs impact a while back, which prompted this response from someone I know:

The only reservation I would have about what you had to say, there, is that I fear “politeness”…
Seems innocuous enough, politeness.
But we don’t love our friends because they BEHAVE

Which I interpreted to mean that if people are too on guard, afraid of offending, friendship suffers; if you can’t be “real” with someone, how can you truly connect? Sometimes people are afraid of debate, turning disagreement with someone’s ideas into labeling that person as inherently disagreeable.

I’m quite possibly wrong in my interpretation, and, of course, being a woman, I felt compelled to point out that girls know better than anyone the pitfalls of politeness. If you are raised to be “polite,” the parallel consequence is, standing up for yourself feels “rude,” which means you can be taken advantage of. People that grew up able to speak their mind don’t understand how the trained among us might find ourselves wordless in the face of abuse, but that is what happens; the cop who hassles you unfairly, the guy who shoves his hands onto your body, the boss who demeans you – if you’ve been discouraged from making others feel uncomfortable, you learn to absorb the discomfort yourself.

But that’s definitely not what my colleague meant, so let’s step back and address politeness between friends. I believe in the higher principle of etiquette; making others feel at ease is a good thing. Being able to assess a situation and respond accordingly is a skill of the highest order. Don’t confront someone at a wedding, for example. Talk to the person who looks lonely. Arrange your face into a sympathetic visage when the child in front of you breaks down into the tantrum to end all tantrums and the mother is helpless in the face of it – if you have children, you know how insane they can be, and if you don’t, revel that you’ll never have to know. In either case, the high road is the right road.

But again, I digress. Who are we with our friends? That, I suppose is the question. And yet still, I tend to err on the side of being polite. I love my friends. They matter to me as much as clean air, drinkable water and windless, sunshiney days. I know that friendship means accepting people when they are less than their best and in return, the same people continue to love you despite your insecurities, flaws, ridiculous drinking habits, but still – if someone loves me so much to tolerate my endless texts about the same tiresome problems, wouldn’t I want to return the favor by being kind, thoughtful? Take our interactions as an opportunity to reenforce how much I value and respect them?

Politeness that results in timidity? Bad.

Politeness as a way of being a functioning, compassionate human? Good.

Maybe it’s all semantics.

Which leads me to the concept of “political correctness.” First, I thought we were done with that term – it seems outdated, a way for the politically conservative to reduce new and important conversations about race and gender to eye-rolling – but then a friend posted a link to a column in which several comedians decried political correctness as “killing comedy.”

I think what’s killing their comedy is a refusal to evolve. Robin Tran wrote a response in xoJane that reflects my own thoughts:

I know lots of comedy fans who are just yearning for something new and different, and they’re tired of hearing the same old clichés and stereotypes. There are only so many times you can hear jokes about black people stealing, Asians’ inability to drive, and heteronormative dating jokes where “women do this but men do that” before it gets exhausting, boring, and unfunny. These comedy fans are generally progressive-leaning, and they’re oftentimes unfairly accused of being humorless.

Many progressives love Inside Amy Schumer, a show that is not “PC” at all, and more liberal-leaning websites are constantly posting articles about what a genius Louis CK is. A few of these liberal comedy fans may take some jokes too personally, but to brush this entire group as humorless and PC is dishonest and lazy.

I could go on, but I need to hit the road and besides, funnier and smarter people are already on this one, so let me leave you with a clip from one of my comedy heroes, Aziz Ansari:

all the advice I have to give

2015-06-24 13.47.58

I do a lot. People are always telling me that. It’s true, I do more things than some people. But also that I do much less than others – I think of my friends who work in more demanding fields, or who run their own businesses and simultaneously volunteer a zillion hours at their children’s schools. I think of the people who are on the ground in parts of the world desperately needing to be made better.

The things I do? Largely fun. Mostly rewarding. I have one job that involves creating ways to inspire others to care about the ocean. I have another that consists of writing about music, Humboldt County and mostly anything else I want. I have a semi-regular column offering unasked-for advice! Sometimes they send me to movies. Yesterday I spent seven hours on the Trinity for readers of a future Get Out column. Taking the day off from my regular gig means making up the hours by working early, late and weekends, but the warmth, the sunshine, the waterfall, the wildlife, the occasional rush of ricocheting through the rapids was easily worth it.

I needed it, especially the part about being out of cell service for several hours. Because I have been doing a lot, to the extent that I haven’t disconnected enough and that when I’m engaged in something my brain is thinking of the other things I need to do – you know when you go to visit somewhere you used to live and everyone wants to see you, so you find yourself scheduling in time with way too many people and each social moment becomes compromised because you’re worried about getting to the next one? Like that. Don’t live like this.

When we first moved to Humboldt in 1998, I’d envisioned a more homesteady life. We’d be those people who grow vegetables in our backyard and then put them in jars. Our resourcefulness would provide us a fine life. We’d build and sew and make art and being broke wouldn’t diminish our happiness.

And then a few things happened.

I started surfing, which meant a few hours of each day dedicated to scoring waves. Factor that in with the raising of three children, attending school full-time, working part-time and writing, and something had to give. “Look, if it’s between yanking weeds in the garden or going surfing, I’m going surfing,” I told my (poor, beleaguered) husband.

I also realized that all these Humboldt people whose lifestyles I was trying to emulate were only able to have those lifestyles because they were growing pot – yes, I was naive. I mean, I knew pot was a thing here, but I had no concept of the enormity of the economics or that it was a thing everyone did. For a while, I thought I was just really bad at managing my own money because all the other young parents and students had such nice things, all quality tools and stylish hemp clothes – and they took amazing vacations. The reality turned out to be simply that we needed to make more money and that meant working more.

So I gravitated toward what I’m good at: entertaining people, creating events and the very non-sexy sounding strength of working on political, environmental and social justice issues through writing and organization. These are the opposite of a quiet life at home. Also not very useful skills when civilization collapses; I will be among the first eaten, I am sure.

It must be this new chapter in my life that prompts such assessing of it lately. I’ve always tried to live, as they say, an examined one, but with the kids grown and moved out, and my work life both precarious and expanding, making note of what’s been successful and what hasn’t helps in looking forward. Seeing the path in hindsight affirms my faith that working hard and generally not being an asshole pays off, even if the how, when and where reside in an as-yet-undetermined future.

Trajectories are not always straightforward. I was a wild teenager with no interest in marriage or kids. A few years later, I was a committed mother and saying “I do” to the man I’m still with over two decades later. Who could have foretold? At 21, I started cocktailing in a live music club, which led to a bartending job at another place with bands and thus an ever expanding circle of people in that world, which meant I was prepared to write about it all when the Arcata Eye needed a scene editor, and that job grew to include writing about environmental issues, which grew my circle of contacts, which meant when Ocean Conservancy arrived in town looking for someone to hire, my name came up, which meant I was able to experience an amazing, life-changing job, which enabled me to get hired on at the NEC after my OC program ended – this was not a predictable path. And, with simultaneously trying to be a good mom and wife, the long phase of struggling financially, not an easy one. Never a coal mine, yet I do not want to discount the efforts I put into keeping everything afloat.

All of which comes down to trying to have an answer when people ask, “How do you do it?” I wish I had a snappy response, something profound or, if I can’t be profound, at least something witty. (“Start out rich! Much easier!”) But all my advice is the usual: work really fucking hard, make friends with good people, love your people, be open to all opportunities, don’t be afraid to change directions if something isn’t proving constructive, seek practical solutions, assert your value, never get caught up in your own hype, cross your fingers, hold on.

Oh, and this: As often as possible, walk away from all the screens into the forest, ocean, river, whatever fills you back up. That, do that.

The Reluctant Cyclist: pedal to the meta

Between Mad River Slough Bridge and Jackson Ranch Road. A moment later, a loaded Fox Farm truck passed me, tires on the line.

Between Mad River Slough Bridge and Jackson Ranch Road. A moment later, a loaded Fox Farm truck passed me, tires on the line.

It’s not that I dislike riding a bike. Give me a sunny, 62-degree, windless day and a mostly flat terrain through gorgeous scenery on a car-less path and I like it just fine. But commuting to work involves riding on faith that the cars and trucks whooshing by at 60mph-plus won’t smash me. Add fighting the wind and the extra time and inconvenience, and it’s obvious why, despite acquiring a bicycle expressly for this purpose eight years ago, I’ve never consistently commuted.

And yet, as they say, the despair is not in falling, but only in falling and failing to rise again. Like the proverbial phoenix, I shall pump up my tires, pack my panniers and fly down the highway. “I’m aiming for twice a week!” I announced to an officemate. She looked at me, thought for a moment. “That might be a lot,” she said. “Maybe once per week?”

Apparently I’m not fooling anyone.

It doesn’t help that I can’t fix a damn thing on my bike. One time I had a flat and spent two hours on Facebook and YouTube getting advice on how to fix it. Finally, I thought I’d succeeded only to watch the tire deflate the second I hopped on. That’s when I told myself, “There are people who enjoy fixing bikes. Why are you depriving them of that pleasure?” I then put the bike in the truck, drove to Revolution, flung my bicycle at them and burst into tears.

Then there was the time my chain wouldn’t work and I left my bike in the common space of the office building – a building full of bike geeks – with a note, “Help me.” (It worked.)

Pathetic! I know. Nonetheless, I still have a bike and a helmet and two panniers, and here we are with long days and lessening winds and really, I have few excuses – the lack of a safe route being the most legitimate. So off I went this morning, once again, hoping to up my eco-groovy game, say hello to the various creatures along the way, and hang on to some semblance of fitness.

I left bed at 6:30 a.m. An hour later, I pedaled away, panniers loaded to the gills:

Just everything I need for an average workday...

Just everything I need for an average workday…

towel and shower supplies;
work shoes, clothes and make up;
lunch (tuna salad sammie, yogurt);
gym shoes and clothes for after work

I packed lighter when I went to Mexico for a week.

A few blocks down the highway, I realized I’d forgotten to turn on my Strava app. Now my ride would appear shorter than it actually was. I’m already a wimp – I can’t afford to lose a foot. But I turned it on, pedaled into the wind, dodged the smashed up car that’s been abandoned on the shoulder, thought for the hundredth time how nice it would be to have a dedicated bike route, gasped as a Fox Farm truck blasted by on the skinniest section between the Mad River Slough and Jackson Ranch Road, tires on the line between me and it, a line that signifies life and death to a cyclist, bounced over potholes through the Bottoms, stopped breathing while passing a dead skunk, smiled to see those little bright yellow birds, the only relief from the otherwise gray-muted tones of the world, arrived at work. Talked bikes in the community shower room. (“Corn starch is amazing for your genitals” was the takeaway.) Launched into the work day.

My two goals, every time I commute, are: 1.) Don’t die; 2.) Remember everything. So far, so good.

1. People say they eschew the safety corridor in favor of bisecting Manila because it's so much prettier. 2. Really, this?

1. People say they eschew the safety corridor in favor of bisecting Manila because it’s so much prettier. 2. Really, this?

Historical reference
The bike-to-work plan – “Because I want this to be a permanent lifestyle change…”
Active Transportation Adventure #1 – “I looked at the bus driver with a “Help!” look on my face…”
Active Transportation Adventure #2 – “I kept imagining myself on the uphill climb, helplessly slowing down and unable to get my feet loose, at which point I’d topple into traffic and get my head squished by a passing semi…”
Active Transportation Adventure #3 – “Not that I’m exactly an ‘average’ working person…”
Active Transportation Adventure #4 – “Sure, a banana slug still probably keeps a better pace than I do…”
Active Transportation Adventure #5 – “I try to read, but the combination of hangover and crowded, swaying bus provokes such nausea that I have to put my book away. I want to drop my head into my lap…”
Active Transportation Adventure #6 – “The sensation that occurs when riding over the bridges has changed from fear to exhilaration…”
20 Steps to Bike Commuting for the First Time in Months
Manila to Arcata bus commute: Worth it?

Ramblin’ Jack Durham offers offers beginning bike commuters much solid advice
More better biking (North Coast Journal) in which I offer advice of my own
Biking on Bridges: Why Can’t Humboldt Get Non-Motorized Transportation Right? (Lost Coast Outpost), a comparison of biking over the Samoa bridges vs the Brooklyn Bridge

an interview with a childless woman who wrote a book

“Thanks for being on the show today!”

“Thank you for having me.”

“So we’re here today to talk about your new book, Rustling Leaves and Other Stories.”

“Yes, it’s quite exciting.”

“Let’s start with the obvious question, the one on everyone’s mind. How did you balance writing a book with your family life?”

“Um, well, I don’t have children.”

“You don’t have children?”


“Hmmm… So how was it to write a book like that?”

“A book like – I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“How was it to write a book without a family?”

“Um, hard? Great? Easier?”

“OK, so you don’t have children – ”


” – so were you worried about that?”

“About not having children?”

“Yes. Did you feel pressured to get your book done in time, clock ticking, all that sort of thing?”

“Well, not exactly – ”

“So you do want children, then?”

“No! I mean, I like children – ”

“You just don’t want any?”

“I don’t – I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Because you’ve been writing your book.”


“Well, looks like we’re out of time – it’s been great talking with you! That was ________, author of Rustling Leaves and Other Stories, her fourth collection of short stories. But no children! What’s that like?”


surf session #14; intent does not mitigate impact

impact > intent

impact > intent (file photo)

It was exactly the way I like it: a user-friendly, uncrowded wave machine. I caught many, I fell off none. I want a hundred more days like that, please. Wait – I did wipe out once. Oh, yeah. Late takeoff, thought I’d made it, pressing my weight into the tail to keep from pearling – well, that was my intent. But my timing was off and the nose caught and wham! I tumbled off the board into the impact zone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between what we mean to have happen and what actually happens.

When the action at hand is physical, the gulf between intent and impact is obvious, and it’s the latter we judge success or failure by.

But when it comes to words, people often emphasize intention as a way to minimize or excuse effect: “I didn’t mean – .”

This comes up in online conversations about sexism and racism, but I hadn’t thought about how intent/impact work in interpersonal relationships until the subject came up in a communication workshop a couple months ago and smacked me in that hard way sometimes obvious truths do.

Because I’ve definitely been guilty of saying something that turns out to be hurtful to someone else and, instead of apologizing, pulled out the “That’s not at all what I intended” defense. Lots of people do this. I’ve also been on the other side, trying to explain how what someone did caused me grief, only to be told, “Only a jerk would intend to hurt you. I’m not a jerk. So if you’re hurt, that’s not my fault.”

Of course this is how we react – we’re all, as my friend would say, the protagonists in our own stories. I definitely prefer the narrative in which I am a kind person who would never thoughtlessly wound another person. So if someone offers evidence to the contrary, what am I supposed to do? Accept that I might have actually been selfish, uncaring, malicious, etc.? I think not!

The problem with this self-defensive approach is: 1.) it keeps the conversation all about me instead of the person who is hurting; 2.) it ignores the actual effect.

Uncomfortable admission: I was recently called out on this.  A while back, several of us were standing around chatting in the bar and a friend of mine mentioned a friend of hers that I’d recently had a bad professional experience with. “Oh, that guy,” I steamrolled in, “I’m not happy with him, no, not happy at all.” I complained for another minute – or two or five – wrapping up with a shake of my head and a sigh. From my point of view, just some reactive and reasonable venting. From hers, I’d embarrassed her by directing my animosity in her direction in front of everyone else.

I truly did not mean to upset her. But she truly was upset, as she let me know a few weeks later when we happened to see each other passing on the street. I felt terrible. I should have immediately said, “Wow, I am so sorry that I behaved in a way that caused you to feel bad.” I should have acknowledged that my ranting was inappropriate. Eventually I apologized properly, but my first reaction was the “Sorry, but I didn’t mean – ” approach.

And I have been on the other side, wanting an apology, wanting things to be made right, and the conversation ricochets around to how can I take things so opposite of how they’re intended? It’s tough to defend yourself against accusations of being too sensitive – how does one respond to, “You’re so easily offended?” without either negating one’s own feelings or validating the accuser? I don’t know. I’m good at self-reflection and lousy at fighting, so I always lose the argument.

But I think about it like this: If we were to barrel around a corner and crash into another person, knocking them to the ground, for most of us, the instinctive response would be, “Oh! Sorry! Are you okay?” Is it really such a stretch to do the same when we inadvertently hurt someone with our words or notice our actions have consequences we didn’t expect?

It shouldn’t be. And maybe the next time, we’ll be better about watching where we’re going.

Manila to Arcata bus commute: worth it?

At least the bus stop has a poetry board.

At least the bus stop has a poetry board.

Several weeks ago I rode my bike to work in what was supposed to be the start of a regular thing. But then friends wanted us to meet them at Richard’s Goat that evening and one thing led to another and then it was dark, so my husband gave me a lift in the car. My bike has patiently sat in the office building since. (Sorry, Bike to Work Month!)

Today, inspired once again, I took the bus to Arcata so that I would be forced to ride my bike home. I take the bus maybe a few times a year at most; my $10 pass lasted from 2013 to last month, when I gave it to my daughter, so I was clueless to the current fare. Good thing I’d shoved some bills into my pocket, because the handful of quarters I’d grabbed wasn’t nearly enough. When the driver asked for $3, my proverbial jaw dropped – to drive the 5.5 miles at $4 per gallon costs me about 64 cents based on my car’s average of 34 mpg.

If I bought a monthly pass for $59, that’s still more than double the $28 the gas would cost. Plus my car gets me to the office door, whereas the nearest bus stop is half a mile away.

If one factors in the entire cost of car ownership (insurance, registration, maintenance, car payment) then yes, eschewing a personal auto in favor of bus riding seems brilliant – until considering the infrequency of bus service to the peninsula. The Redwood Transit System includes only five stops in 13 hours. I suppose I could just leave the house less, but let’s be real. Even if I bussed to work five times per week, I’d need a car for everything else.

I realize none of this is a new or previously unnoticed reality, but experiencing it this morning made me sad because I’m a fan, in principle, of public transit and for those of us who have a choice, public transit is too expensive and inconvenient to make the switch. For the folks who don’t – ouch – and as soon as they do, they’ll likely opt out. This keeps the public transport option in an ineffective and marginalized zone.

The bicycle, now that’s a fine and cost-effective option. Except for the lack of an adequately safe route from the spit to town…


But I’m aiming for twice a week via bike. It’s summer. It should be doable. And I’ll save $2.54 on gas – almost enough for one-way bus fare.

‘Tits,’ ‘Bitch’ and ‘POS': The Public Flogging of Kim Steele

Word Cloud Visualization by Mike Dronkers

Word Cloud Visualization by Mike Dronkers

“self proclaimed thug bitch”

“hope one of your trash junkie thugs takes you out before our tax dollars get wasted”

 “dumb bitch. she should be in jail, not whining to lost coast.”

“Kim Steele should get a bullet to the head and be left to bleed out slowly.”

I learned this these things because neither my “Shut Up” app nor Lost Coast Outpost’s own “Zen Silence” option eliminates the website’s comments sidebar and, given that I’m a compulsive reader, my eyes were therefore yanked sideways by that last one. Equally appalled and – somewhat to my chagrin – curious, I clicked into the pool of hatred Steele’s interview with Ryan Burns prompted* and found myself fascinated, both by what she thought she was getting herself into with asking for the attention and by that attention itself**.

“she is the kind of low life killing our country. Bet she gets assistance from state.”

 “I bet no one will be doing business with her anytime soon dumb fucking cunt!!!!”

 “I just have to put it out there… needs to have a lil taste of… let’s say curb!! Wire that pie hole on her face shut!… DEATH IS TOO GOOD FOR SOME PEOPLE! Feel me?”

Do you feel it?

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way:

  • Steele had called Lost Coast Outpost saying she wanted to tell her side of the story because, according to the LoCO post, she felt that the press releases published in local media made her “sound like somebody she’s not – a bad person.”
  • Like the excellent journalist he is – and even the most novice reporter should know to do this much – Ryan Burns said yes to interviewing a person involved in a murder who wanted to tell all.
  • None of us know the truth of what happened.
  • We can agree – based on Steele’s own words – that her lifestyle choices have been unhealthy at best and have culminated to her being at the scene of this recent homicide.
  • Whatever the circumstances of the matter, murder is an ugly thing.
  • Especially horrific for a mother who saw her son killed in front of her.

If Steele’s version of what happened is true, then she’s clearly in a bad habit of walking into a situation thinking it will benefit her only to have things go severely awry. Because for her to approach Lost Coast Outpost – a site that is both beloved and reviled for its “gritty, largely unfiltered and poorly punctuated word from the street” comments – as a means to repair her reputation indicates that clearly she does not understand how the Internet – or LoCO – works.

 “dumb fucking cunt!!!!”

 “This bitch is shady”

 “Back to jail bitch!!”

 “ruined bitches like her”

 “Human trash.”

In a result that should surprise no one, the response was far from supportive. That she thought explaining her involvement in someone’s murder, which she clearly, wittingly or not, criminally or not, was, at the very least, connected to, would garner sympathy, displays a level of either ignorance or self-involvement (or both) that’s impossible to react to with anything other than, What the hell was she thinking? Because, of course, she got this:

“piece of shit”

“low-life POS”

“What a POS”

“this POS”

 “Repulsive disgusting pos of a human.”

 bullshit chickenshit bitch.”

 “sketchy tweaker junkie bitch trying to cover her ass”

 “Dumb biotch”

 “piece of dope fiend trash”

 “sub-humans like this”

 And, oh, that photo. This, it turns out, was at LoCO’s urging. According to Burns, “We asked her if we could take her photo. It wasn’t her idea.”

She should have said no, wow, she should have said no, because whether she’s truly horrible or just abysmally clueless, a man was killed by people she brought to his house and therefore it’s excruciatingly obvious that nothing good at all could have come from her posing like she’s taking a belated senior portrait – was she so embarrassed by how unflattering her mugshot was that she wanted to get a more glamorous picture out there? 

There is a time for vanity. When you’re talking about watching a man get gunned down during a drug deal you arranged is not that time. The hordes, of course, were delighted:

“this fucking evil cunt’s psychopath smirk… with her tits out.”

“why are her tits all out? real classy. no one cares about your tits, junkie snitch.”

“Really-what a bizarre message she is sending showing us her cleavage. I’m guessing they have gotten her out of messes in the past.”

“Maybe cleavage makes her smile. I know it works for me. I guess she thinks she has killer cleavage.”

“Having bodacious ta tas may convince some.”

“Without the bra it probably resembles the old lady in the Playboy cartoons!”

 “to show off her tits”

 “But the cleavage! Not.”

 “Major boobage and cute lil flower.”

 “put your your tit’s away. your an acomplis to murder”

 “a smirky smile”

 “this POS, and she sits there with that damn smug smile on her face”

 “SHUT THE F UP, and button up your shirt, stupid”

 To repeat for the sake of emphasis – none of us know what really happened. That is part of the interview’s appeal, to hear at least one version of what went down that fateful night. Steele wants to persuade people she’s innocent, to not be associated with this crime. Understandable. Many people who’ve had their mugshots posted on LoCO only to have the charges later dropped have felt the same way. But Steele’s attempt to clear her name was akin to digging her own grave – and LoCO’s commenters were happy to help bury her.

“What a shit bag…Charge the bitch!”

“Too bad you weren’t the one that somehow got an ‘unplanned’ bullet”

“Hope this fat bitch gets the Death Penalty.”

“justice will be served: behind bars and on the street.”

“She is shady as fuck and needs to go DOWN.”

“… a waste of resources and human flesh in a crowded world. Can we please just put these mad dogs down?”

“sick twisted cunt!!! Im shocked she hasnt had the breaks beat off her ass yet.”

“I hope you… get killed…”

“Audios Kimberly Steele, hope you have eyes in the back of your head so you can see that sharpened piece of scrap metal or plastic that will be sent through your neck in the prison showers!”

“will likely get killed in jail if it doesn’t happen on the outside before she get’s sentenced. I love it.”

“here might be some bad ass Humboldt acquaintances… come looking for you”

“Kimberly Steele, I hope you get it slow and painful”

“doubt anyone will care when you disappear”

“an eye for an eye whether you pulled the trigger or not.”

“when you get stabbed to pieces with sketchy little prison knives that will break off in your face and take about 100 stabs to make you slowly bleed to death through many small cuts? …you will die among pointing fingers, high-fives, laughter, and people yelling ‘die snitch, thanks for the coffee.’ … you trashpile junkie murderer!”

“hope you have eyes in the back of your head so you can see that sharpened piece of scrap metal or plastic that will be sent through your neck”

The mob is so gleeful. Maybe it’s because I just watched Wolf Hall that the vision of a crowd gathered round lusting for a drawn-out death is so vivid. The willingness to – the pleasure in – not only judging Steele but calling for, hoping for, the detailed destruction of her person is ugly. Even if we believe Steele completely responsible for the death of Trevor Harrison – and unlike LoCO’s commenters, I find that writing about these real people, these events unfolding in real time, makes me extra sensitive – this reaction to her story says much about us and how, even if our justice system has evolved, we have not.

Speaking of evolution, in addition to the “tits” comments above, Steele’s story brought forth specifically gendered insults and threats, as well as assumptions about Steele’s relationship to social services and her worth as a mother. To be sure, knowing the direction in which LoCO commenters prefer to go, the hate and judgment would likely have flowed as strongly if the antagonist had been a man, but we wouldn’t see comments like these:

“Maybe she blew the detective. Seems like that kinda girl.”

“I was thinking would like to meet this Kim Steele babe and offer her a fresh start. I could use some of that. I am not straight and narrow, tho, I am straight and thick.”

“Must be nice to be a woman and get a full media press and whirlwind book tour and Lifetime movie for committing murder. It really sucks being held accountable for my own actions.”

“Now let’s see a follow up story on how much public money this bitch has received from the government over the last 10 years. Welfare, food stamps, child care, etc.”

“I’ll bet she listed herself as unemployed on all kinds of assistance documents. With two little kids she could get a pretty good monthly check.”

“I hope you get your welfare taken away.”

“…miss trash twot”

“…that Steele bitch”

“…crack head bitch”

“This bitch…”

“…that bitch”

“…selfish, cold ass bitch”

“…silly bitch”


“…a lying bitch”

“Dumb BITCH!”

I finally emerged from scrolling through the comments, left the toxic muck and arose back into the larger world, the one with sunsets and snuggly cats and husbands to make out with and a job where investigating garbage is, perhaps thankfully, more literal – it’s easier to pick up trash than it is to eradicate hate.

When I brought all this up to Burns (disclaimer: Ryan is one of my closest friends), he responded to say, “I personally found her story fascinating – a glimpse into a criminal lifestyle that’s obviously quite common around here….”

And that, to me is the thing this interview offered – a look into a lifestyle that may be unfamiliar to many of us, but one in which so many people few degrees removed from us are involved. Instead of forming a virtual lynch mob, lighting a bonfire and fantasizing about watching Steele burn, we could have turned to our own families and friends, discussed our community and how to better it – or how to better protect it. Maybe some of those discussions happened offline. I hope so.


*All comments gathered from the two posts at and Over 60 comments were ultimately deleted by LoCO staff, including many referenced above.

**This blog post was formally blessed by LoCO editor Hank Sims.

writing exercise #52: I always see ghosts

I always see ghosts. I can’t help it. I lie awake at night staring above me – how many times will I count the ceiling tiles? – and alternate between conversations with my great aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousin Joseph who passed away last year, and scolding myself for my imagination.

Your thoughts are not who you are, I tell myself. I know this because I am reading an article in a magazine in the doctor’s office about how to worry less. I want to worry less. I worry so much. That’s why I’m here to see the doctor.

All my girlfriends take Xanax. For anxiety. They say it’s great. Some of them go through it quickly then complain the doctor won’t refill their prescriptions fast enough, others make a single prescription last for a year. “I just take it when I’m traveling and can’t fall asleep in a strange place,” one says. That sounds fine to me. Except I feel like I’m traveling every time I curl up in bed, one pillow under my head, another between my knees. I might need more than the doctor is willing to provide.

The door opens. My name is called. I rise, shifting my purse strap on my shoulder and clench the magazine in my fist. I realize I am clenching, take a breath and hold it more loosely, like a woman on vacation contemplating sunscreen. “Hello,” I say, walking forward. The nurse – is she a nurse? Assistant? I have no idea these days. Whatever she is, her smile is kind as she ushers me to the scale and lets me take my shoes off before stepping aboard.

Her smile remains steady through a blood pressure check and a pulse read. I wonder why they never tell you the numbers and whether they’re good or bad, just take your vitals, make their notes and move on. Who doesn’t want to know? High? Low? It’s insulting to have to ask, so I don’t.

I’m left sitting on a paper-covered table, feet dangling like a child’s, back aching from nothing to lean against, flipping though this magazine I’ve glommed onto. Apparently I am not moisturizing my skin enough. I should also be consuming more olive oil, but less sugar. Here is a smoothie with olive oil and apples and, of course, kale. And lemon. If I drink this every morning, my skin will glow.

My grandmother comes into the room. “I told you to eat lemons,” she says. Her eyes shimmer bright green like they always have. “Look at my hands,” she says. “All those years cooking for the family, you’d think they’d be nothing but dried up prunes, but no. Every meal I used olive oil. Every time I poured it in the pan, I rubbed it into my hands. Look. Do these look like the hands of an old lady?”

I look. Her hands look suspiciously young. “Maybe they have special lotion in Heaven,” I joke.

Grandmother narrows her eyes, her brows knit together. “You mock at your own peril,” she says. Before I can protest, explain, she vanishes.

My heart lurches a bit. I always loved her, admired her beauty and no-nonsense way. She would yell at my grandfather to help with the dishes when all the other men were hunkered down around the TV, hollering at the football game.

My mouth feels like sandpaper. Probably the residue of last night’s margarita binge. I search around for a paper cup, no luck, so I angle my head under the faucet, turn on the tap and inhale. The water tastes disgusting.

“You think that’s bad,” cousin Joseph says. “You should have come with us to Manzanillo in ’87. Man, that was an excellent trip, even if I did spent two days puking because I drank the water. Too much tequila, woke up in the middle of the night all cotton-mouthed, did what you just did, sucked the water right out of the tap. Only difference is, I could have died. You’re just put off because it’s not some kind of artisanal H20.”

I want to argue, but, well, he is kind of right. While I mull it over, he leaves without saying goodbye. Ghosts are like that.

Finally the doctor comes in. Asks me a few questions, makes a few notes. I stammer asking for the Xanax, overexplain my anxiety and why it would be okay, I’m not the addictive type, I don’t want her to think I’m some sort of junkie. She pauses, looks at me, opens her mouth like she wants to say something, then closes it. Finishes scribbling out the prescription, hands it to me.

I thank her. Hand the receptionist the $20 co-pay on the way out. Take the magazine with me, nonchalantly, the way I used to walk out of the drugstore with a tube of mascara and bottle of 151.

I’m not an addict. I’ll get the prescription filled tomorrow. I can wait. I drive home with Aunt Jane in the passenger seat telling me I need to eat more, am looking thin. The rearview mirror glows orange as dusk turns to evening turns to dark.

The sun sets and that was that.

coconut flour fails as a wheat replacement, threatens my identity; other news from the kitchen

I make cookies. It’s one of my things. I make iced oatmeal cookies better than your Mother’s, snickerdoodles soft as heaven and chewy chocolate chip cookies with browned butter that make almost all most other chocolate chip cookies taste like a faint idea of what a chocolate chip cookie should taste like.

That may sound like bragging, so I will share the reason I excel at making cookies: I find good recipes and follow them. Anyone can do this. Here, make the cookies yourself.

The key words are “good” and “follow.” If the recipe is only mediocre, obviously your friends will not be amazed and grateful and salivate like Pavlov’s dogs every time you walk in their office because they’ve become trained to associate you with sweetness. And a good recipe can always be ruined. Baking, in particular, demands respect to the measurements and tolerates few substitutes.

Which I was reminded of yesterday when, in the midst of mixing cookie dough – the aforementioned Astoundingly Good Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies – to make cookies to take to our friends’ house for a taco night potluck, I realized I was almost out of white flour. Well, hell. And no time to run to the store. I don’t bake nearly as much as I did when the children were small and every day was pancakes, waffles, cookies and crepes, so I don’t pay as much attention to what supplies are on hand.

What I had was an unopened bag of coconut flour I’d picked up cheap at Grocery Outlet – you know how it is when you see normally expensive items there. You grab them, sure they’ll come in handy some day. So I said to myself, “What the heck!” and dumped two cups’ worth into the bowl.

This result felt gritty instead of the usual smoothness, and a bit dry, but I forged ahead, squishing blobs together with my hands and shoving the pan in the oven. When I took them out, this:

IMG_0002Do those look like Astoundingly Good Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies? No, no, they do not. Did they taste good enough to take over anyway? Should I abandon the cause, race to the nearest liquor store for a bottle of tequila instead? They were… okay. Which was sort of worse than being inedible because it meant I would show up with mediocre cookies instead of my usual amazing ones.

They swore that the cookies were good and the coconut flavor delightful (they were kind), and I didn’t lose sleep over this, but it did make me think about how when we figure out something we’re good at in life, how we focus on those things and they become what defines us. One batch of failed cookies is nothing much itself, but in the context of me fulfilling my role as Bringing of Things Sweet and Facilitator of Good Times and How Does She Possibly Find Time To Bake The Best Cookies?! the disappointment gave me pause.

Identity, how we’re perceived by our peers and others, ourselves, fascinates me. Once people have labeled you, trying to define yourself differently can feel impossible. And yet individuals redefine themselves all the time, some blatantly – I had a friend who would morph into a new person with each fresh boyfriend – and some simply because they evolve over time. Or because the role they’d been trying to fit into never really suited them and eventually they settled more into themselves. So much of life is that figuring out who we are and what that looks like and how to be this person inhabiting us when maybe we wish we were smarter, skinnier, more successful, richer, more confident, anything but the actual goofy flaw-ridden human being actually hanging out in our head. Factor in growth and change and challenge and devastation and success and love – no wonder some people seem stunned by life and others hardened or transcendent, depending.

I assess myself and move forward.

This morning’s kitchen moment fared better – although someone please tell me a trick for getting all the goat cheese off the plastic without making a huge mess. Unlike baking, random cooking can handle some experimentation, and I’ve been on this kick of making fancy toast (a slice of good bread layered with nut butter and thinly sliced apple, yogurt drizzled on top) or breakfast tortillas, which today resulted in a heated corn tortilla smeared with goat cheese and carefully cut Bartlett pear (on sale at the Co-op) with a dash of Humboldt Hot Sauce, Island Style.

How to do the cheese less messy?

        How to do the cheese less messy?

I recommend.

surf sessions #12, #13: Shelter Cove, Bandon

(If you haven’t read Ryan Burns’ story on Shelter Cove, please do that now. It’s well worth the scrolling.)


#12: I found myself paddling out at Deadman’s for the third, maybe fourth time. I haven’t spent much time at the Cove, just a taste here and there. It’s the kind of place that even if one isn’t catching waves, to be in the water, with that view, is enough to make you believe in a benevolent universe. And then a set comes, that south swell rolling in all burly and spitting, and you think you’re going to get epic and instead you catch a rail and get smashed into the bottom and your husband’s going to be annoyed that, once again, you’ve dinged up his board, but jesus, what a view.


#13: I’d never surfed in Oregon before, so what fine luck to be invited to a house on the beach with a surf break right in front. Rights, even. We marched over the morass of velellas, plunged into the 49 degree water, angled into what looked like a channel along the rocks, paddled through the oncoming sets and eventually reached the outside.

I love California, am loyal to the Golden State, but the way Oregon’s coastline sweeps around, jagged seastacks and rugged cliffs, never fails to impress. A fine place to wait for a wave. After a few false starts, I dialed in the takeoff spot and caught a fine right that held up long enough for me to think, “This is great!”

It was great, great enough that despite the remainder of my attempts resulting in failure – the waves started pitching and I’d paddled out on my longboard and couldn’t make the drops adequately, wiped out repeatedly, found myself freezing and over it a mere 45 minutes into the session – that the experience felt like a success. 


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