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Today in Hanalei, I met a man who was teaching his great-grandson how to surf.  I was trying to ride a boogie board at the time, though, mostly, I was just squawking in the water and getting slapped around by waves.  Part of the problem, the man told me, was that I was starting from the wrong place.  

I’d never done this before, I told him, and he blinked at me several times then said, “I never would have guessed.”

So I followed the man and his great-grandson out a little farther in the water to a sandbar, then promptly gave up with the boogie board so that I could listen to the surfing lesson and watch the kid catch waves (which inspired me to more than once exclaim, “Holy shit!” and “Jesus Christ, you’re kidding me!”).  

The little boy was six years old, and he’d been surfing since he was three. His great-grandfather declined to say how old he was, but told me he’d been surfing sixty-three years.  Surfing is an ego sport, he said, and he was teaching his great-grandson to concentrate on style.  ”If you put your energy into style,” he explained, “technique will develop on its own.”


Then, while I was pondering the profundity of this statement, I inadvertently flashed my nipple at him, which, I like to think, is just a semi-stylish way of saying, “Thanks for the advice.”


I’ve never read Self, but I popped by their website today.  I didn’t stay long, less than a minute, but it was enough time to get the basic gist—Healthy Salad Recipe; Commit to Dropping Ten Pounds; Makeup To Make You Look Like You Don’t Wear Makeup.  You know, just the essential elements that comprise your average Self.

And, yeah, it’s pretty bad when you make fun of a person for running a marathon in a tutu and then find out that person has brain cancer and makes the tutus herself so that she can sell them and donate the proceeds to a charity for children.  

You know what else is not that great?  Making fun of a person for running a marathon in a tutu even if it turns out that person is a run-of-the-mill healthy chick who bought her tutu from the soulless, foreign-owned corporation Tutus R Us.  

But the fact that this publication, which allegedly promotes Women’s Health, would take pictures of women running in a marathon, then print them in a magazine and make fun of their outfits—that doesn’t seem to be the issue.  The issue, the one that has ignited rage and lit up the Internet, is that the woman they made fun of has brain cancer.  

Which makes me wonder—what the fuck is wrong with all of us?  

Is it the Internet, you think?  Or all those chemicals they put in our food?  Or the drugs we’re all on so that we can go to sleep at night and get out of bed in the morning and have sex whenever we feel like it without having to worry we might get pregnant?  

How did we end up in this culture that decrees we must Express Ourselves and Be Individuals and Try New Things and Dare to be Different and Just Do It while simultaneously encouraging us to mock and shame each other for looking silly or being weird or—God Forbid—fucking up? 

I have actually, even in the not-so-distant past, been known to use the word “mean” as a compliment.  ”S/he’s so mean!” I’ve crooned admiringly of someone whose trash-talk I equated with humor or intelligence or fearlessness or wit.  

Lately, though, there’s been a shift.  Now, when I hear someone say something unkind about someone else—even if it’s funny, even if it’s true—I sometimes feel a twist of physical discomfort in my sternum, a tightening in the back of my throat.  That could be me, a voice whimpers in my head, or, more often, That has been me.  I’ve said stupid things, made careless choices, worn silly outfits, posted inappropriate things online while under the influence of alcohol or anger or insecurity or fear.  

The person I really feel sorry for in this whole tutu thing isn’t the chick with brain cancer (except for the part where she has brain cancer—that’s a bummer).  Otherwise, though, she’s a cute girl who runs marathons, rocks a tutu, and has a charity that is now gonna get a shit-ton of attention and support—I bet Self Magazine has made a fairly sizable donation in the last twenty-four hours.  No, the person I feel sorry for is whatever little staff writer got paid to come up with the several snarky lines that ran alongside the tutu-girl’s picture.  I mean, that’s not anybody’s journalistic dream job—making fun of strangers’ clothes in a women’s magazine.  It would be like finishing your MFA at Sarah Lawrence and announcing that your ultimate goal was to move to the big city and scrap together rent by writing recaps of Two and a Half Men for the Huffington Post.  

But the lesson, I think, is one that can benefit all of us. Because we can all think of mean things to say about other people—it’s easy and expected and sometimes kind of fun.  So I have decided to embark on the following challenge:  From now on, whenever that critical comment or derisive dig scurries across my thoughts or perches on my tongue, I’m going to pause before I speak and ask myself, “Would this Mean Thing I am about to say at the expense of someone else still be as funny or clever or deserved if the someone else had brain cancer?”  

Because here’s the thing:  She might.  She might have brain cancer.

Of course, it’s always going to be much more likely that the someone else will be just a regular person with regular problems who often makes regular faux pas while navigating the regular waters of a regular day.  You know, someone like me.  

"In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable—which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us."

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

"Only here’s what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted—? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?…If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement, the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or…is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?"

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Overheard at Happy Hour

On How to Attract Men

Blonde:  We should learn about football.

Brunette:  Totally.

Blonde:   I mean, we really should.  

Other Blonde:  I wanna get into football. Like, for really-real.

Blonde:  My biggest goal is to, like, watch the games and learn about, like, the teams?  Like, who’s on them?

Other Blonde:  I mean, I really wanna.

Blonde:  We should literally start a fantasy team. 

Brunette:  Like, think how much we’d learn! 

Blonde:  We should do it.

Other Blonde:  We literally should.  


On the Absent Friend

Brunette:  She’s the kind of person who when she gains weight, like, gains it everywhere.

Blonde:  Which is better, actually.

Brunette:  She’s so lucky.

Other Blonde:  But she’s lost, like, half her body weight.  She’s basically anorexic now.

Blonde and Brunette (in unison)How?

Other Blonde:  I mean, she doesn’t eat.

Brunette:  She still drinks, I hope.

Other Blonde:  Oh, totally. She actually invented this drink that’s, like, Crystal Light and vodka and Sprite Zero. 

Blonde:  Oh my god.  She’s so smart.  


On the New Anchorman Movie

Brunette:  I feel like, like, like, the hype will be, like, funnier than the actual movie.


On the Absent Frienemy

Blonde:  She totally blew me off for breakfast.

Other Blonde:  Did I tell you what she did to me?

Blonde:  She was like, ‘Let’s get breakfast,’ and I was like, ‘Okay!’ and then she totally blew me off.  

Other Blonde:  But did I tell you what she did to me?

Blonde:  I was all, ‘Hello, are we doing breakfast?’ and she just totally blew me off!

Other Blonde:  But I have to tell you what she did to me!

Brunette:  What did she do?

Other Blonde:  She let me sit through, like, this entire lunch with, like, a piece of mushroom on my face.    

Blonde:  No!

Other Blonde:  I went into the bathroom, and there was, like, this piece of mushroom—on my face!  It was so embarrassing!

Blonde:  No!

Other Blonde:  Yes!  It was so embarrassing!

Brunette:  That right there, like, literally tells you what kind of person she is.

Other Blonde:  I mean, I forgive.  But I won’t ever forget.  


On Walking the Game

Brunette (to Blonde):  I think you talk the game, but I don’t think you actually, like, walk it.  There.  I said it.

Blonde:  Like, what do you mean?

Brunette:  I mean, like, who texted last?

Blonde:  Him!  I was like, ‘It’s snowing!’ and he was like, ‘Let it snow!’ and, I mean, what could I say to that?

Brunette:  So you, like, didn’t say anything?

Blonde:  I totally didn’t say anything!

Brunette:  Well.  That’s something.