What I did three days after the lunar eclipse and two days before Xmas in 2010.

So here I am at the office, waiting to jump onto one of the editing stations to finish up episode 25 of iPad Today. It’s the last day of actual work for most of us before the holiday weekend and the editors are all still finishing up other projects, so I’m basically wasting time till one of them caves and leaves.

Before I started writing this post…

I caught up on my Twitter stream.

I caught up on my Tumblr stream.

I answered a Formspring question and deleted the rest in my queue (they were all weird and/or about Justin Bieber).

I checked my Facebook news feed and got a little more annoyed than usual while scanning my high school friends’  baby pictures, because the babies were all wearing Santa hats or dressed like elves. I imagined that these high school friends probably felt equal disdain for me and considered my status updates the lonely rantings of a sad, childless wino.

I discovered that my cat Lucy had been prominently featured in a Techcrunch post.

I checked to see if anyone had left me a question on VYou (they hadn’t).

I glanced at a Jezebel post about Heidi Montag’s plastic surgery scars because every so often I read things like that to remind myself that there are some really terrifying people out there, and even those people regret getting plastic surgery.

I read a post written by a woman in tech complaining that there are too many articles written about how there are too few women in tech. I mostly agreed with the author, but tried not to overanalyze the subject (my general stance is that I’m too busy being a woman in tech to spend too much time thinking about whether or not there are enough women in tech).

I thought about an anonymous commenter in the TWiT chat room while I was producing my live show earlier today who had said something like “This is so stupid. Real geeks don’t care about any of this. Only girls care about this stuff.” My live show was about iPads and I happened to be demo-ing a ridiculous app that had gotten a ridiculous amount of online press in an effort to prove that the app wasn’t really worth it. The comment had bothered me all day because it made it seem like a) my attempt to be entertaining while proving a point about internet buzz being an echo chamber was worthless, and that b) “real geeks” and “girls”  are not terms that can overlap.

I realized that I was thinking too much about being a woman in tech and decided that the commenter who ruffled my pretty pink lady feathers can go take a long walk off a short pier. ($1k says it was a he. Sorry, but I only have $1k to bet. Actually I have way less than that.)

I had a glass of wine. I considered a second.

I checked on the editing stations. They were still occupied.

And now I’m here, writing a blog post about what I did over the last two hours, because this is some really compelling shit, people. No, actually it’s because writing a blog post has become this thing I regard as a chore because it takes more effort and thought than all the other things I almost always choose to do first, and I felt like giving myself a challenge.

And now I remember something: it’s fun to blog. I can blog about anything I want! Nobody is proof-reading this, at all! You think this post is dumb, ha! You should see some of the things I wrote but deleted before I published this! Oh my god!

(It should be noted that nothing I deleted included a section that promised any of you a 15-minute orgasm. No offense intended toward the author of an actual book that does actually promise such a thing, but I don’t know a single woman in tech who’s interested in that. Partly because, well, that’s just silly, think about how long 15 minutes really is, that would be like sawing your arm off, and partly because petticoats are so time-consuming and cumbersome to remove and we’re all so busy being in tech to waste that kind of time when we could be blogging.)

I am yours. You are mine. We are what we are.

Four days ago was the sixth anniversary of my dad’s passing from our mortal world. An unremarkable anniversary, a little late.

A friend of mine gave birth to her first child not long after my father died. A couple weeks afterward, in fact. At the time in 2004, I was a wreck… an autopilot version of myself. Fully functional on the outside, catatonic on the inside. On the precipice of spending a couple of years living someone else’s life in order to escape the great sorrow that consumed me. And I remember how touched my friend was by my experience as she was about to begin her own. Touched in a way I didn’t understand beyond knowing that it’s a big deal to have a child. A happiness I was (and still am) incapable of totally pulling together.

This same friend brought up my father’s death the other night as we were catching up, sipping wine at some trendy bar I had suggested. The topic was completely appropriate and unquestionably appreciated. And I am deeply ashamed to admit that if she hadn’t said anything, the date wouldn’t have triggered anything in my mind. At all. I had forgotten that September 20th was the day my dad died.

I’m not some sort of a monster. I mean, ask me the details of the day my dad died and I’ll tell you that it was a Monday, and it was late, and I was sitting in my living room chatting on IM in my pajamas when the phone rang… and it was a call I expected, so that when the news was delivered I felt some kind of gross satisfaction that yes, this was the exact call I expected to get just now and here it is, I’m right… and then I walked around the block 40 times chain-smoking cigarettes because I had mentally left my body and was immune to reason and judgment and nothing irresponsible I did mattered because all I wanted was to be closer to him. I remember taking a shower to get the smoke off me and thinking that if this was all a dream, I’d be so impressed because oh how it felt so real. I remember that earlier the same day I reluctantly told my boss that I was probably going to have to take some time off, because I knew it was coming, and telling him that made it real, and it didn’t want to have the conversation but by doing it I was being responsible career-wise. And I told him and we both cried. And then what I knew would happen, happened.

I haven’t forgotten any of it. Yet six years later, September 20th was just another day, and I let it go by, and I didn’t call my mother. And I realize that our brains do these things to us because we need protection, we need to go easy on ourselves, we need to forget in order to be productive. We need to be successes and we need to get things done and we just can’t bring the bad stuff into the fray because then we won’t be productive and people will think less of us. I realize all of that. And yet, I’m ashamed.

I miss you, Dad. I’m sorry I forgot. And I wish you were here to smile knowingly at all of this, because I know you would. I got this from you. And then you’d wink at me because you know how much I hate it and I’d yell at you and be SO ANNOYED.

How’s that for my first blog post in four months? Whew. Weight lifted. Shoulders back. Thanks for reading.

Break out the bubbly... I'm joining TWiT!!!

I have some very exciting news. As many of you delicious TWiT fans are already well aware, I’m joining the team!

A little background on how this came to be, presented in a helpful vertical timeline format:

2001 - Leo Laporte and I begin working together on the daily, live, hour-long tech help/how-to/entertainment show “The Screen Savers” on San Francisco-based cable network TechTV.

2004 - TechTV is sold to Comcast who merges it into Los Angeles-based cable network G4. Leo begins working at G4TechTV in Canada and he and I talk about me joining him there vs. moving to LA to work for G4. For a variety of reasons (one being that I’m not Canadian and somehow unqualified to work at this particular Toronto-based network, and BTW nobody’s ever heard this part of the story before), I move to LA.

2004/5 - Leo begins experimenting with podcasting as an alternative to traditional broadcasting, laying the foundation for what will eventually be known as TWiT.tv, the internet’s tech network and a true pioneer of both subscription-based audio/video downloads and live streaming content.

2007 - After a couple years in LA and another year abroad, I settle back in San Francisco and Leo and I talk about how I might be a good fit to work at TWiT. At the time I also have an offer from then-emerging internet TV network Revision3, founded by a group of my former colleagues and friends who’ve just received enough funding to pay me a salary to help build out their empire. Long story short, I take the job at Revision3.

2008 - The morning after my first ever appearance on TWiT.tv’s flagship show, “This Week in Tech”, Revision3 drastically reduces its in-house budget by laying off a group of employees, me included. Leo and I resume our conversation about how I can come aboard at TWiT and I begin training on the Tricaster, the live camera/audio/graphics switching system Leo uses to run his shows. As both a fun side project and vehicle for technical practice, fellow TechTV/G4/Revision3 alum Martin Sargent and I begin recording the weekly, ridiculous, awesome show “This Week in Fun” on the TWiT network.

2009 - Having gone back and forth on a variety of partnership and show ideas, Leo is hesitant to bring me into a staff position at TWiT.tv due to a recession-fueled, volatile online advertising market. There are no hard feelings; it’s a tough time for web companies in general. We agree to keep our options open as the year progresses, and I accept a job offer from Current TV to build out their tech video presence on the web. In the meantime, I continue to record “This Week in Fun” at TWiT.

February 24th, 2010 - Current TV decides to focus on its cable TV franchises and cuts much of the web production budget, including my Tech channel. Later that day, Leo and I spark back up our years-long conversation of working together again.

June 1st, 2010 - I will join TWiT as a host, show producer, ass-kicker and name-taker. Leo and I are launching an iPad-based show, which will not only be focused on the best little gadget this side of ANYTHING, but will mark an exciting departure from the current TWiT in-studio format. Can you say “live streaming poolside”? Just kidding. Actually I’m not kidding.

I’ll also be co-hosting a show about green technology with my former TechTV colleague, friend, and new fellow TWiT kicker/taker Tom Merritt. It’s been a long time since Tom and I worked together, and I can’t think of a smarter, cooler guy to partner with on a variety of projects going forward. I’m really excited to see what unfolds.

Today - What we’re about to embark on at TWiT is new and fresh and here and now, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tinge of that old gang starting to get back together again. It’s what I’ve secretly always wanted and it finally feels like it’s happening. Plus, I love the TWiT team, love love love them, what they’ve achieved thus far, and what we’re all about to create. I’m so proud and lucky to be a part of TWiT’s next chapter, and I hope you’ll all come along for the ride.

I’ll be co-hosting “This Week in Tech” this Sunday with Leo and Tom and we’ll talk more about the awesomeness then, along with Carol Bartz’s potty mouth issues. Definitely tune in for more info…or perish, alone and penniless. Up to you.

As always I’ll keep you guys up to date any big announcements here. Thanks for reading! I’ve been sitting on this news for too long, and I couldn’t wait any longer to share it with you. I’m really, really happy, and I hope you are too.

Sincerely, Cordially, Affectionately,
Sarah

PS- To be clear, if you watch any of my future shows on TWiT, you are automatically labeled “delicious” in my Internet Rolodex.

My Travel Record is Humiliating.

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a running competition she has with her husband to see who can visit the most countries beyond the USA, their country of residence. They both travel a lot for work so they’re both in the thirties (he just surpassed her with a trip to Lichtenstein). Then she laughed and said “but you’ve obviously got us both beat, you travel hobag” and pushed me out her 4th floor living room window. Miraculously, I suffered nary a scratch or scrape…only a fractured ego.

Just wanted to see if you were ever going to put down that pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk and pay attention. 

All of the above story is true except the violence part. I pride myself on my wanderlustic (made it up) tendencies, but when my friend said she’d been to thirty-something countries, that number sounded pretty high. So I thought I’d list all the countries, beyond the great US of A, that I’ve been to in my life. And I decided to do it in the form of a blog post because I have no idea how to not live in public. I’m also listing them in order of visit. I’m also obviously excluding multiple visits to the same country, even if the destinations within that country varied wildly in distance or type of visit, which sort of sucks, but those are the rules. I’ve also excluded my 1998 visit to Puerto Rico, because of the whole “self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States” thing. 

 

  1. Mexico
  2. Switzerland
  3. Italy
  4. Germany
  5. Austria
  6. Canada
  7. The Netherlands
  8. France
  9. Australia
  10. England
  11. Scotland
  12. Wales
  13. Ireland
  14. Greece
  15. Turkey
  16. Russia
  17. Mongolia
  18. China
  19. Vietnam
  20. Laos
  21. Cambodia
  22. Indonesia
  23. India
  24. Brazil
  25. Argentina
  26. Japan

 

Twenty six. TWENTY MOTHERFREAKING SIX?! I cannot believe I’m getting my ass handed to me by a couple of working stiffs. I mean, they’re totally awesome people and deserve all the happiness in the world, but you get my point. I’m going to go cry into a bottle of wine from New Zealand, a country I haven’t been to yet, now. And convince myself that both my friend and her husband are liars. And reconsider hanging out with them. And maybe start planning a whirlwind tour of every corner of Africa. 

Enjoy your ice cream.

 

Japan Part San: The Nara Period

There are sort of two ways of approaching the main draws of Honshu (Japan’s “Big Island”): go full urban and experience the modern city life, or try to capture the Japanese ancient history side of things. Luckily, MG and I allowed ourselves time for both, and I’m glad, because the two experiences could not possibly be more different.

Having already survived the neon/cherry blossom jungle of Tokyo and then escaping into the snowy wilderness north of Nagano for a few days, we’d gotten a sense of how Japanese country life is alive and well, but not in that quintessential, “former capital of Japan from 710 to 784” kind of way. So we headed south to Nara.

As I explained in my previous post, I knew before we arrived that there was some sort of wonderful park in Nara where friendly deer roamed freely and ate out of people’s hands. And since I’m a sucker, that’s one place I simply had to see. Turns out that Nara, while indeed very ancient, is a pretty big city these days, well-traveled, and by no means undiscovered. The hotel I had booked was a little hard to find, and once we were settled, a lot overpriced. It was already dark after a long day of train travel, and we were only in town for one night. Why did I make us come here again? I felt bad.

All was not lost, for Nara marked the first OKONOMIYAKI!!!! (emphasis mine, emphasis necessary) dinner that MG and I had. Okonomiyaki is often described as a Japanese pizza or pancake, but it’s more like a savory omelette stuffed with meat/fish/cabbage, and covered in Worcestershire-type sauce/mayonnaise, which sounds disgusting but is just the opposite. Okonomiyaki is a fatty fatty culinary delight, and also a fun word to yell at high volume over and over, preferably in a residential area.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel, stored our luggage at the front desk, and went off in search of the deer park.

The deer are not hard to find. They’re adorable. They have little mouths and tiny teeth and eat very delicately out of your hand (vendors are scattered everywhere selling rice crackers to feed the deer, which they love, though I suspect they’d eat just about anything).

They’re also really used to humans and tend to swarm you once they’ve spotted rice crackers in your hand. A couple of the dudes kept head-butting me, which might have been similar to murdering me with a trident had their antlers not been cut within the last year - apparently this happens as part of an annual festival so that the male deer don’t stab people to death over rice crackers. Instead, little furry antler stumps. Adorable.

The largest Buddha statue in JapanNara’s park is full of more than just deer; its temples are the main attraction. We picked a few to focus on, and as we made our way through hoards of tourists (it was conveniently a Saturday) I had to remind myself that that’s how these things go, we aren’t going to get Japan’s biggest Buddha statue all to ourselves, roll with it, embrace our touring peers, because here we all are, in an awesome place. And we did and it was great.

Next, MG and I hunted down the Harushika brewery for some sake tasting in a old, beautiful part of Nara. It was supposed to be 400 yen for 6 tastings, but we didn’t realize that until after we’d already tasted everything, and because of the language barrier we couldn’t seem to explain to anyone that we owed them money. So we bought a big bottle of the sake we liked the best and drank the whole thing in 24 hours. I’m calling it even.

Sake tasting in Nara

In hindsight, Nara really needs more than a day if you truly want to get a feel for the city and not rush through history. But that’s all the time we had before hopping on a local train into Osaka, and I think we did ok for our first stab (haha, get it? DEER ANTLER JOKE!) at taking in a Japan of yesteryear.

Sorry these updates are trickling in so slowly, btw. I’m drawing the whole thing out specifically to torture you. Hope that’s cool.

Japan Part Ni: The Hills

My friends, I’ve accumulated quite the story since my initial Japan post. Like to hear it? Here it goes!

LAKE NOJIRI

Look it up on a map and the location seems a bit random - it’s the second largest glacial lake in Japan, north of Nagano in the mountains, not on the way to anywhere in particular - why Lake Nojiri? Well, as a matter of fact there’s kind of a funny story behind that. Back in February, MG got shafted by Expedia after booking a Valentine’s weekend getaway, and consequently wrote a… well, let’s just call it a bitter account of what went wrong (for the record, we still had a lovely time). Anyway, because of that post someone from Tablet Hotels reached out to him, kind of just to say “hey, not all online hotel booking sucks, give us a look”. We ended up liking Tablet’s website and using it to research their featured hotels in Japan, one of which just happened to be on Lake Nojiri. And it seemed weird and off the beaten path enough to sound like a good idea. So we booked it for two nights, figuring that after four days in Tokyo we’d welcome the change of atmosphere.

Our first Shinkansen (bullet train) experience took us from Tokyo to Nagano, and we barely made that mofo because Japan’s trains leave exactly when they’re scheduled to, absolutely no exceptions. If you’re not in your seat by 11:34, too bad, because your train’s pulling away without you. Great for dependability in keeping to schedule, stressful if you can’t find your platform in one of the biggest train stations in the world. We ended up boarding within a couple minutes of departure in a sweaty frenzy. Good times.

Shinkansen trains aren’t just fast (really really fast), but also efficient and classy. I spent three months traveling via India’s railway system so believe me, I know a pristine train toilet when I see one. It’s like what airplanes should feel like, but never do.

We had to switch to a local train line once we reached Nagano, which was totally ok with me as I love trains and, truth be told, have a particular affinity for the less-glossy variety. This particular route got rural, quickly. You may recall that Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1998, but getting out of the city it’s obvious that much of the greater region remains undeveloped, especially to tourism. As we trudged up a grade through little town after little town, we passed through apple orchards adjacent to the train tracks! Now, this probably isn’t that exciting a view for most people, but I grew up among apple orchards in Northern California, so to see the Japanese version was a real treat in a bizarro-world sort of way. I learned later that they were mostly fujis (duh). At our train stop, a representative from our hotel picked us up in a shuttle van, which was not only appreciated but probably necessary. It was a windy drive up a small mountain road to reach our hotel, we really had no idea where we were, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t a whole lot of local taxis doing business in April, because up there it’s still snowing.

We were upgraded to a suite upon check-in at our hotel, which we absolutely did not pay for. However, we were also the very first guests of the entire season (they close down for the winter and we arrived on opening day) and the hotel staff made a huge fuss over us and took pictures and put us in a suite they obviously weren’t using anyway. Kanpai to that!

A couple hours later, we were back in the shuttle van on our way to a local ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) to enjoy our very first onsen (Japanese hot spring) experience. Except that now there was an old couple in the van with us. No idea where they came from. Maybe they were locals? Or checked into the hotel after us? Anyway, their presence turned out to be a blessing because not only is the onsen experience very specific ritual-wise, but also gender separated. MG and I would have been totally clueless without that old couple to guide us through the various steps of the process on our respective sides of the wall.

The old woman and I got to be fast friends, as you tend to do when you’re squatting naked next to someone dousing you in hot water out of a wooden bucket. She spoke no English, and I spoke no Japanese, but she was really nice and I followed her lead pretty well. We managed to communicate to each other our ages, our names (June-ko and Sarah-san), agree that we both liked skiiing, and that she lives somewhere in western Japan and is familiar with San Francisco. The actual onsen was an indoor-outdoor soaking bath/shower/scrub ensemble and totally relaxing. Apparently MG and the old man got along fine as well, because he enjoyed his onsen, and while comparing notes afterward it was obvious we’d gone through the same rituals.

For the next couple of days, we stayed at our hotel in the middle of nowhere on a lake eating, drinking, and being merrily slovenly. The hotel meals were over the top. We took a footpath partially covered in snow down to the water one afternoon, but that’s about it as far as physical activity goes, unless you count eyeball lifts watching snowflakes fall through the window. In a word, fantastic. Oh, and after the restaurant and lounge closed, we had access to a vending machine on our empty floor stocked with beer. So.

Our next destination was Nara in the Kansai region (way south), so it was a long day of travel back down to Nagano, then south to Nagoya via the Shinano Express - if you’re a lover of trains, please take this route someday if you find yourself in Japan, you’ll thank me, I pinky promise. From Nagoya we took a Nozomi train (the fastest type of Shinkansen) to Kyoto, which was so fast it made me slightly sick in the way a wobbly plane might, and then transferred to a local line for our last leg from Kyoto to Nara, filled with schoolkids on their way home who stole glances at us and giggled amongst themselves. So cute.

A word before I sign off on this post, because this seems like a great time to stop blabbering on about nothing - I blame Veronica Belmont for making me go to Nara, because she’s the one who told me about some deer park where the deer come right up to you and you can feed them little crackers, and I freaking love deer and deer have never come up to me, ever, and so because of her story I was forced to go to Nara to feed the deer BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. And I fell in love with every single one of them and am now extremely upset that I can’t bring them all back with me through customs. But that’s a whole nother post.

Write soon.

Japan Part Ichi: Tokyo Drift

I’m several days into a 16-day Japan trip, and thought you might like to hear about what I’ve been up to. If so, you’re in luck!

MG and I got off the plane at what would have been about 10 pm in San Francisco, except that in Tokyo it was 2 pm the following day. I was already hitting the wall as we waited in world’s longest customs line. After grabbing our luggage and wandering in circles at the airport for several minutes, we figured out how to get where we needed to go and boarded a rapid train from Narita airport into Tokyo.

Narita airport is a lot farther away from the city than you’d think… the train ride was a good 90 minutes to Tokyo station, and the first 45 minutes were mostly spent zipping through farmlands and making stops at smallish suburban outposts. MG and I mostly stayed silent, looking out our respective windows and taking it all in. I’m all too familiar with this time zone fatigue, knowing that it’s only going to get weirder for a while as my body fights to get on schedule as I slowly go insane and that pretty soon I’ll need to start figuring some things out - important things, like I NEED A SHOWER SO BAD WHERE THE EFF IS THIS HOTEL - by gesturing wildly to someone of whose native tongue I only speak several words (because I listened to Devo as a kid and also went through a phase where I taught myself to count to ten in as many languages as possible and Japanese was one of them…this is the type of activity that ‘only children’ like me come up with when they’re out of ideas, btw).

Thankfully, our hotel was a simple metro transfer and a couple shorts blocks down a narrow street in Akasaka, a neighborhood alive with both Japanese restaurants and international cuisine. I say simple because as soon as we arrived at Tokyo station and started studying a subway map on the wall, our expressions gruesomely contorted by confusion and exhaustion, an old man appeared out of nowhere and pointed us in the right direction (this was just the first of several instances now that folks have offered us unsolicited help or advice, simply because they’re being friendly. Japanese people have a reputation for being overly nice and polite… very true. Someone will notice I’m holding a camera and offer to take our picture. I won’t even have made eye contact. Amazing).

The hotel was nice… corner room with huge windows, great shower, and a heated toilet seat (which I now understand is commonplace in Japan, but you can imagine my oohing and ahhing upon first sit). The bed was wider than it was long, and the room came complete with a foot massager that I enjoyed immensely but ended up bruising MG’s huge American feet to the point that he’s been hobbling around for days since. Japan is built for small people. My people.

We ended up eating our first meal at a small noodle soup house down our street, which was simple and delicious and way too much food. The place was packed and nobody else seemed to have a problem finishing their portions. How are people eating this much pasta and sodium in one sitting on a regular basis and not obese, we mused.

Speaking of genetics, Japan is an incredibly homogenous country, which I assume has to at least partially factor into Tokyo’s crazy fashion sense. I’ve never seen so much color and offbeat outfits and crazy hair in seeming attempts to stand out from the crowd, on the subway as much as in and around Harajuku, Tokyo’s “cosplay” (costume play) scene and overall tragically hip shopping area. Which definitely exists, by the way… Gwen Stefani was telling the truth.

Adjacent to Harajuku’s fashion hub lies Yoyogi Park, where we headed to check out the cherry blossoms on our first “full” day in Tokyo, which just so happened to fall on a Sunday, which just so happens to be the day of the week that thousands of people swarm into the park with bottles of champagne, kegs of beer, food, wine, and boom boxes, throw down plastic tarps, and start partying under said blossoms. Young and old, babies, grandmothers…I’ve never seen so many enthusiastic/drunk picnickers. Kind of an exaggerated dichotomy between the serenity of nature and long bathroom lines. And lots of garbage.

Let’s talk about garbage while we’re on the subject. In general, Japan is very clean and there’s a lot of emphasis on better-than-average sanitation and sterilization, which I’m a big fan of in theory. Except that this translates into disposable items being disposed of REALLY OFTEN. For example, every single day when making up our room, the hotel staff supplied both of us with new toothbrushes, sealed in plastic. Every day for four days! That’s ridiculous. Or let’s say it’s raining outside and you walk into a department store - there are tube-shaped plastic sheaths provided at the entrance to stuff your wet umbrella into while you shop, then trash on your way out. You get the idea. Anyone for whom recycling is a way of life will find Japanese rituals like these a bit unnerving.

Tokyo’s metro system is faaaantastic. The trains run often and on time. They’re clean. They cover every inch of the city and are easy to navigate. I’m not sure if the rumors about people being stuffed into cars and women getting groped during rush hour are true, but I never rode in an uncomfortably crowded car… in fact, most of the time I could snag a seat. Although I did notice that during morning commute times, cars on either end are designated “women only”, so maybe I’ve just been lucky.

Before our trip started, MG and I had been joking about doing the Tokyo “Lost in Translation” tour - getting a drink at the New York bar in the Park Hyatt, getting lost at Shibuya crossing, singing at a karaoke bar, etc. - but we actually ran right into a traditional wedding procession at the Meiji Temple on our second day, which was magical.

As for eating, besides one misstep after a long day of walking where we ended up at an Italian-themed joint slurping up seafood pasta in cream sauce with chopsticks (it was actually really good, just not what we were looking for), the food in Tokyo has been outstanding. Freshest sushi ever. Excellent ramen. Lots of soups with rice and fish and tofu and a shitload of salt. I keep overdoing it and going into post-meal food comas. One night we took the metro to Roppongi and ate dinner at the restaurant where they shot the O Ren Ishi fight/bloodbath scenes from Kill Bill Part 1. Well, actually they shot it in a replica of the restaurant because, according to MG’s research, the owner didn’t want Tarantino making a mess in there. Regardless, the restaurant looks exactly like it does in the movie and as Kill Bill fans we thought it was kind of the coolest thing ever.

We spent our final day in Tokyo (for now anyway, we’ll be back there for three more days at the end of our trip) doing some touristy things: taking in the cityscapes from Tokyo Tower, getting a drink in the observatory of the Metropolitan Government building, and marveling at the cherry blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen, which made Yoyogi Park look like amateur hour. I took roughly 5 million photos of cherry blossoms within an hour, though it’s impossible to really get a sense of how beautiful they are in photographs. Blossoms everywhere, in whites and pinks, falling everywhere like snow.

Yesterday we took a Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nagano, where we transferred to a local train that took us up into the mountains along Lake Nojiri, where we’ve been chilling far away from civilization the last couple days. Well, except for the wifi part. Whatever, it’s 2010.

There's an LL Cool J Chartbeat joke in here somewhere. There has to be.

I just installed a little Chartbeat code here at sarahlane.com to watch real-time stats of engagement here. So far it’s only served to make me feel bad about myself because I don’t write enough (I see you, person in Lousiana reading the blog post right before this one…I see you!!!).

But man oh man this service is awesomely addictive in a visual way, especially if you’re a super-narcissist. Read up on the latest features (traffic sources/locations, reading/writing/idling, Twitter search tracking, to name a few) and if you think it’s right for you, get a 30-day free trial here or give the iTunes app a try (caution- you’ll have to enter CC info and opt-out later on). 

Note- I spent the better part of an hour trying to come up with a clever “heartbeat” song reference for the title of this blog post. Swing and a miss. If you have anything you want to hand over (I’m just a small, pea-brained woman, after all) I’ll update the post and thank you.

Springing forward

It’s that time of year in San Francisco where the weather can go any which way… sunny and hot, rainy and muggy, foggy and windy, or a combination of all three scenarios within any four hours. Which is one of the main reasons I live here. The unpredictability of how it will all end keeps things interesting, like relationships, or this

Other things I love about San Francisco (a not-at-all complete list):

  1. You can wear jeans anywhere. If a venue is a no-jeans place, it’s probably one of those douchey, dress to impress B&T clubs anyway. Now, I completely understand that it’s nice to put on something besides jeans when you’re in the mood, totally get that. But listen here and listen good: jeans can be made plenty dressy, people. I own jeans that have set me back over $200, and I know that makes me psychotic, I’m acutely aware that I will most likely never own a home because of my frivolous, compulsive, sickening behavior, but it also means that I WILL WEAR JEANS IF I SO DESIRE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH THE END. So, SF works for me in that respect where other cities do not. Mad/psychotic props. 
  2. Day drinking: not frowned upon. Encouraged. Applauded, even. 
  3. Victorian architecture. I had a friend (originally from the Bay Area, as I am) tell me the other day that she’s “kinda over” Victorians. I don’t get that at all. The longer I live here the more I appreciate the color/uniqueness/detail of it all. 14 foot ceilings, bitches! Gold crown moldings! GOLD! 
  4. It’s-Its - if you live in SF and have never enjoyed a mint It’s-It, then you either moved here within the last three years and have lazy local friends, or are some sort of weird person who claims they don’t like ice cream. I don’t believe you, btw. 
  5. Eucalyptus trees - which are not native to Northern California, a fun little trivia nugget a lot of folks (even Californians) don’t know… they were brought in from Australia back in the 1850s and planted far and wide, thought to be great sources for timber. Turns out they’re shit for timber and don’t fare well in fires or storms. Still, I grew up among eucalyptus trees. They’re beautiful, they smell great, and, imported or not, have been fragrantly abundant in San Francisco parks a lot longer than any of us have.
  6. Food! Glorious food! San Francisco is a culinary mecca. You will eat well here. Even those who preach about how SF is so dirty and full of hippies will still agree with me on this point. 
  7. Proximity to wine country/dense redwood forests/idyllic beaches/snowy mountains/and so on. I’m not saying a lot of other cities aren’t also in close proximity to the whole nature thing, but I think the Bay Area has everybody beat in terms of a 3-hour drive radius. And I’ve been to a lot of cities. If you think I’m wrong, let me know… but I don’t think I’m wrong.
  8. In general, the residents of this city will not look down upon you for using your iPhone/Android/Palm-hahaha just kidding, good one Sarah/smartphone in mixed company. Yes, there are a few restaurants who uphold the whole “we reserve the right to kick you out for using your cell” policy, which I tend to support because they’re talking about those assholes who talk loudly on their phones. That’s not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about nerds checking into location-based apps, updating social network statuses, etc. The gadget-gazers. The people who consider themselves social butterflies but go out of their way not to actually have to make phone calls. My people. 
  9. I’ve heard both women and men complain about how hard it is to meet that special someone in San Francisco. I don’t really understand what the issue is. In my humble but also extremely intelligent opinion, this city is chock full of attractive souls doing fascinating things and being generally nice to one another. Everybody’s cute and happy and wearing jeans. Don’t count on meeting Mr(s) Right in the bathroom line at McTeague’s and I think you’ll be ok. 
  10. Did I mention this

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be a high of 68, which may or may not be the case come tomorrow. Ok with me, SF. Do your worst.  

This Week in FUN - hibernatin'

Wanted to update everybody regarding This Week in FUN, the weekly show I do with my BFF Martin Sargent on the TWiT network each week. If you’re a fan of the show, the following probably isn’t going to make you happy, but if you hate us and think we’re the devil’s spawn (thx for the emails, btw, I absolutely adore being compared to Satan, best compliment ever), this will probably make your night:

TWiF is going on hiatus!

Here’s why - as many of you already know, Martin started his new rockstar job this week, which is awesome… and has also severely limited his free time to do things such as shooting TWiF on Friday afternoons. It’s totally probable that in time we’ll figure out how to carve out the necessary amount of time each week to restart the show, but at this point, we can’t say exactly when.

We’ve also been contemplating the future of TWiF with Leo and his team ever since the show had to switch gears in October, when I lost my driver’s license and was unable to drive to Petaluma to shoot the show in person. Netcams are great and all, but the overall quality of the show has suffered, and as a result, so have our viewership numbers. Because of the way TWiT is set up and because my hands are tied, it makes sense not to continue with a less than stellar product, for us and for you.

So we’re going dark for a bit. Hopefully we’ll resurface sooner than later. I love you all and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support. If I could bake a cake that showed how much I appreciate your support, it would be the BIGGEST CAKE EVER, SO BIG OMG SO BIG. SO. BIG. 

I hate saying this, but… stay tuned. If you have any great ideas or wisdom to share with us in the meantime, here’s the place. God save the Queen.

2010: A New Hope.

I meant for the following post to be written before 2009 ended, but since I’m still asking myself what year it is and walking in circles, I figure I’m still within an acceptable time period to participate in the whole year-end blog nonsense. And I’m way past due to write something here anyway, partly because I haven’t since November when I basically said life was peachy and let’s ride off into the sunset, and partly because formspring.me is dumb.

You know what else is dumb? 2009. What a shit year, amirite? Ok, that’s not completely true, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list (1990, for example? Great year. Top 5. I went to the Washington Monument!)

For a brief but dreadful part of 2009, I was afraid I was going to die, and although I’ve experienced the process of death from very close range in the past, I’ve never felt as though my own time could be up any second. That was a pretty heavy time period for me psychologically, and I spent too much of it being overly anxious about relapsing, popping lorazepam at the encouragement of my neurologist only to become dependent on it to sleep through the night, and feeling disappointed by a few people I cared about that didn’t (in my eyes anyway) end up being very supportive. Let’s just say I felt lost and alone at times, blah blah.

Then my brain got better and I was really really happy and full of a renewed lust for life, which led me to do some impulsive things, like fly to Paris for eight days without enough seizure medication to last me because I was in some sort of you-can’t-kill-me-I’m-unkillable mania and forgot to refill my prescription, which forced my mother to have to visit my neurologist’s office, pick up my drugs, and smuggle a few days’ worth via FedEx (in order for it not to be seized at French customs, she listed the contents as “plastic toy” and you can imagine the looks I got at the FedEx office in Paris when I picked it up. Whatever, France, all your fashion models are topless, lighten up). Paris was maybe the BEST WEEK EVER.

Thanks, Mom. You were already the best mom to ever walk the great Earth, but now you’re the best mom who throws French laws about transporting prescription medication to the wind so that her daughter can ride on the back of strangers’ scooters and dance on Parisian tables without worrying about ending up in the hospital unconscious and convulsing. Badass.

If anyone from the French government is reading this, I’m totally kidding.

But by getting “better” my life hasn’t exactly returned to how it was before, which has been a difficult transition for me into this new year. Even though I’ve come to tolerate my medication pretty well and it’s become part of my routine, it still makes me feel slow and dizzy and I find that I’m pretty much useless unless I take it right before bed and sleep off the worst of it. I also still can’t drive. I expect to be able to sooner than later, but the DMV paperwork to get your license back in situations like mine is ridiculous. Also, I own a Saab, which just makes the whole thing funnier.

Oh, and the infectious disease specialist that I said I was going to see in my previous post? A real pro, loved her. What she told me - and I think if anyone knows this, it’s her - is that if for any reason I stop taking my seizure meds, that due to the residue in my brain, the likelihood that I’ll suffer another seizure hovers around 50%.

50%? Those are not good odds. I have to take this medication for the rest of my life? Huge bummer. But it’s worth it if it means I’m cool and can soon manhandle the Saab through the streets of San Francisco like the champ that I am. Still coming to terms with that.

All of it aside, I’ve stumbled into this new year a changed woman, at least on the inside. Trite but true. I’m really interested to see how things play out where I can flex this newfound love for everything because I welcome it all, including a free trip to Japan that I earned over 10 years of miles accumulated on shit flights on United (winky face, United!!). And get out your barf bags, but once again I need to thank you all for your undying (really) support throughout all of this. Never have I felt more loved, and I mean that.

A highly condensed version of things I wrote to myself to strive for in twenty-ten:

  1. Get back into a regular excercise routine, shell of a woman. YOU NEED MUSCLE.
  2. Let it roll off your back (that’s how I’m saying ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ in 2010, shut up it’s totally better)
  3. Live your life forward, not backward
  4. Love and be loved
  5. Go on a date with Jennifer Aniston (where the f was she in 09?)

That’s pretty much it. Happy New Year, universe. Happy to be here, happy to know you all.

Also? I detoxed off lorazepam on my own and no longer take it to calm myself down or fall asleep. Stay in 2009 where you belong, shithead. I DON’T NEED YOU ANYMORE!

Sarah Lane's Tumor Ruin: All Signs Point to No

I got some good news today. Really great news. The kind of exceptional news where afterward your only real choice is to throw some Daft Punk on Pandora, put the headphones in, and just start skipping down the street, smiling at everyone. (I actually did that, btw. If you saw a small, maniacal, skipping woman wearing super cute green/pink Pumas on Fillmore today between Clay and Page, that was me, dawg! And I was smiling at YOU.)

I had my 5th MRI yesterday, the one that was supposed to tell me if my parasitic nightmare and ensuing slightly embarrassing overshare (um, sorry, btw, wow) was all worth it, and if the neurocysticercosis had filed for bankruptcy and foreclosed my house.

And guess what? I met with my new neurologist today, and we went over yesterday’s scans in detail, and…. it looks like my tumors bought in the height of the market, and they thought they were really scoring, and then the bottom dropped out of their neighborhood, rendering them yet another statistic in this national recession of fallen property values.

But seriously, between the radiologist’s and neurologist’s notes, I was told there was “progressive reduction”.. indicating that not only had my tumors already diminished, but that they are expected to continue to.

O, happy, blessed day. Seriously. You don’t get that kind of news every day. I don’t, anyway.

The next step is to meet with a highly specialized infectious disease doctor (I guess they have those and these people spend their entire lives researching people like me, which is rad) and make sure that she doesn’t think I need another round of Albendazole/Prednisone, just to make sure the killers are really truly dead. I guess my particular disease is one that’s still being figured out and the treatment options modified regularly.

Basically I got the best news I could possibly get at this point. If the parasite in my brain that manifested into the tumors that gave me an epilepsy is truly dead or soon to be dead, then if I’m lucky (and I don’t need to be all that lucky since the odds are 80% in my favor), the resulting brain scar tissue from this whole ordeal will stay in my brain, but cease to cause me further issue.

Obviously the whole thing will be closely monitored. For example, I still get the headaches I started getting before my seizure, and that always worries me a little. My neurologist thinks it’s likely residual pain from all that radiation I went through. If anything in that department gets weird, I’ll get looked at. But at this point, I’m considered “on the mend”.

I can’t believe it, and yet I can… because as insignificant and brief my ordeal has been in the grand scheme of human suffering, I consider the entire experience a gift to a vain, materialistic, silly woman like me who really needed a little perspective. It worked, UNIVERSE! GOT IT! I love life and I love being here. It’s all very obvious to me now, and if it’s always been obvious to you, then I’m so happy to belatedly be in the club.

Jill Bolte Taylor & me: we're like THIS

Sup Internet! Sarah’s brain here. Feeling shitty after a loooong bout with anti-parasite medication and steroids. What up y’all?

Just kidding, it’s not really my brain talking, it’s just me (my brain doesn’t get talking rights anymore, stupid thing doesn’t even work). I don’t want to make this sound too dramatic, but Prednisone? Horrible steroid, makes people go completely insane. I know this because I’m one of those people. For example: I had a tantrum, directed at my own mother, in the street. A street with a lot of people walking around and noticing. A tantrum. You think to yourself, “oh haha, she’s just calling it a tantrum but that only happens with babies and toddlers”…. I. HAD. A. TANTRUM. I actually had several if we’re keeping track. I was only on the Prednisone to combat the Albendazole I was taking in an attempt to kill my parasitic tumors, so… you know. It just felt unfair overall.

Today was my last day on Prednisone (I had to spend five days tapering off because apparently just stopping cold turkey would make me devour a birdhouse and then cry about it and then maybe punch an elderly person), and I couldn’t be happier. I hope I never have to take that drug again. It gave me equal parts mania, despair, confusion, hunger, nausea, and a lot of tears. The kind of situation where you can tell yourself that it’s the drugs, it’s not you, but the thoughts in your head are still there and cannot quite be ignored. Scary. A lot of friends and strangers have come forward with their own Prednisone stories… people take it for asthma, lupus, all sorts of things. Sounds like some people tolerate it pretty well, and others don’t.

Real quick for anyone wondering, I have yet another MRI on Monday morning to see how things look upstairs after this whole radiation/steroid treatment, and if my tumors are 1) smaller, 2) unchanged, or 3) worse. I’ll let you know either way. I think I said a few weeks ago that I didn’t want my blog to become a wasteland of medical details, but hey. At least I’ve got something meaningful to write about. And it makes me feel better to share all of this with all of you, so I’ll keep at it, and you can stay along for the ride as long as you like, until you start vomiting (and you will eventually, I assure you).

I did something sort of weird today, and against my better judgement I’m going to share it with you. If it seems narcissistic or crazy or otherwise just really bizarre and unnecessary, could you do me a favor and just chalk it up to me being a narcissistic, crazy, bizarre, and unnecessary person who is on way too much medication and may not be thinking completely lucidly? Thanks in advance.

So. I watched a particular TED talk at the insistence of a dear friend who knew I would get a lot out of it. He kept insisting that I watch, hammering it home, annoying me about it even, because he knows me and knows that people are always sending me links to “world’s most amazing video” and often times I just don’t get to it. You know how that goes. You say you’ll watch “world’s most amazing video”, but you end up not ever getting around to it, and it doesn’t matter because there’s this other video you did watch involving a cat who eats with chopsticks and SOMETIMES WE JUST HAVE TO CHOOSE WHAT TO DO WITH OUR TIME, AMIRITE?

This is the video I watched: a speech by a crazy smart brain scientist named Jill Bolte Taylor who had a very unique experience that is not at all the same experience that I had, but that still spoke to me in ways that would never have been possible before I had a seizure and realized how fragile our brains (and our lives) actually are.

So, this friend I told you about? The one who knows me well enough to know that maybe I wouldn’t watch this amazing video because I might get caught up in, I don’t know, registering for Gowalla or some stupid shit like that (no offense to Gowalla, really, but I did actually register for that today)? I wanted to prove to him that I did indeed watch the dumb video he sent, and because we’re Internet nerds who do things like save chat logs to prove each other wrong and take screen shots of websites that have errors and laugh and feel superior and such, I decided to record myself watching the video to send to him later so he’d have proof that I really did watch.

Here is that video. The first couple minutes are cut off, but maybe you’re really creative or stoned and want to try to match up the video above with my reaction video? If neither, don’t worry, I captured the audio which I think captures the essence of what I’m trying to convey.

 

I was very moved by this woman, this stranger, this person who I could have never heard of or seen or known existed and been totally fine. Totally fine meaning possibly dying of a brain tumor, but you get my drift. But I think it’s worth it, and as I’ve had a lot of downtime lately and been experimenting more with video and life and the organicness (is that a word?) of it all, I just feel like I’m ok sharing my actual experience with you, here, now.

Not ok? Narcissistic/crazy/bizarre/unnecessary? Well then forgive me Father, for I am drugged. It has been 33 years since my last confession.

Getting proper healthcare is utterly baffling. It really is.

In my already exhaustively exhaustive (I’m exhausted) play-by-play of my brain activity within the past four weeks, there is one part of the story I’ve neglected to mention. I know this doesn’t seem possible, because I have mentioned every detail that could ever be applied to any story, anywhere, and I also added links. But this particular detail might apply to you more than the rest, or just interest you, because by golly it involves HEALTHCARE and INSURANCE, two of our favorite things!

When I had an allergic reaction to Dilantin, the anti-seizure med from hell, and was switched by my neurologist to the infinity more pleasant Keppra XR, I still needed my insurance company’s approval to cover the cost as part of my insurance plan (a good one through Current TV, btw). It would have probably taken a day or two to push through, but because of what the neuro considered a very timely situation, she started me on Keppra XR right away. How? The office had a drawerful of samples that some rep from the manufacturer had left for people like me to try out. I took a week’s worth.

But then my insurance company denied me coverage for Keppra XR, apparently because they didn’t feel there was enough research to prove that the XR (“extended release”) version was that much more beneficial.

Here’s the thing about extended release medicine if you’re not familiar… having a drug release the good stuff more slowly and over a longer period of time can really help overall stability and “coverage”… especially when I have barely enough short-term memory to remember to take multiple doses of anything. Or drink water. Or blink.

So the doctor’s office appealed my insurance company’s rejection with what I imagine was a stern doctor’s note about how my condition is unstable complete with medical records and just put the damn thing through we’re already started here kind of stuff.  By this time, I had run out of Keppra XR samples, but my doctor’s office had more in the drawer! Another week’s worth! Crisis averted.

And then my neurologist’s appeal got denied. I was basically freeloading off the drug manufacturer because my doctor gave me free samples of a drug that worked well for me and my insurance company basically told us all to eff off. Now, mind you- this does not mean I wouldn’t have been able to BUY Keppra XR myself, I mean, I have a prescription, but it’s hundreds of dollars per month.

The doctor’s office announced the tragic news to me but nobody over there seemed all that upset or worried (there were still more samples in the drawer, and my doctor was going to call someone over at the ins. company directly). But, you know, these processes always take forever. There are archaic practices still in use, like FAXING and HAND-WRITTEN PRESCRIPTION NOTES THAT USE ROMAN NUMERALS, NOT EVEN KIDDING. I just felt very bounced around in a loophole. And Keppra XR is not like some fun, “woohoo I scored” kind of drug that people really want, by the way. Its highlights include confusion and walking into walls, and not having seizures in the street.

Then I got a call from some very nice gal at my insurance company (is it weird not to say the name of the company, btw? This is post is not meant to drag anyone through the mud), who informed me that although my Keppra XR coverage had been denied, and then its appeal denied, that I still had the option to file MY VERY OWN PERSONAL APPEAL! Because I’d probably come up with a more harrowing jungle story about escaping a wild pack of porkworms than my neurologist did? Because I even know a single ingredient inside a Keppra XR? Not sure. But I filed an appeal anyway. This is roughly how it went: “I can do that? Even after …. ok, yes, yes I would. Consider me appealing. Do I need to tell you any… alright then you have a good day as well. Thank you?”

Four days later I got approved. I got approved for refills through 2099, to be exact. I’m not paying for Keppra XR for another 90 years, mothereffers! Can anyone even play that much mah jong? Both my doctor’s office and my insurance company called me to tell me the good news within the last hour. Virtual high fives!

Do you see how many insane ways this story is insane, though? I mean, WHAT. IS. GOING. ON. behind the scenes back there? Are these companies so large/mismanaged/confused that I, Sarah Lane, have 11th hour 2nd appeal powers above my own medical team? This whole dumb saga turned out well for me, but I don’t actually know how. I do know that many of you who’ve left me emails/comments/tweets/nice thoughts are no strangers to the this world of approvals and denials, but I certainly am, and am just baffled.

Also? I start tapering off my Prednisone tomorrow so let’s all hope Sarah the Hulk tapers off too. I tore up an entire mahogany dining set while writing this blog post.