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Looking for Lava

While I’ve been to Oahu and Maui numerous times — and consider Kauai my happy place — Hawaii, on the other hand, has been a bit of a mystery to me.

We took an early winter vacation to the Big Island, going on long (and admittedly painful) hikes, looking for lava, staying in cottages at small bed & breakfast retreats, and eating shave ice wherever we went (which is possibly the most important thing about vacationing in Hawaii).

Our nine-day trip began on the Kona Coast, where we stayed on a plantation in Captain Cook. After our time on the island’s west coast, we drove down — through South Point and Green Sand Beach — and east to Volcanoes National Park. After spending a few days hiking and lava-viewing around Volcano, we passed through Hilo and went around the island, eventually arriving on the Kohala Coast, where we spent our final two nights at a posh resort on the only white sand beach we saw.

Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate and it rained for much of the week, but that ultimately wasn’t too bad, as the cooler temperatures made our hikes more bearable.

Here are some photos from the week, taken with my beat-up iPhone 5s. The quality of these images is poor, and these days I’m not really enthusiastic about taking pictures (kind of how I’m apathetic about writing). But I hope they give you an idea of my time on Hawaii — as well as the island’s varied and distinct landscape.

The view from the lanai of the main house at Ka'awa Loa Plantation in Captain Cook.

The view from the lanai of the main house at Ka’awa Loa Plantation in Captain Cook.

The cottage at Ka'awa Loa Plantation: home for the first four nights on the Kona coast.

The cottage at Ka’awa Loa Plantation: home for the first four nights on the Kona coast.

With Dazzle, the plantation's friendly resident cat.

With Dazzle, the plantation’s friendly resident cat.

A palm tree at Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

A palm tree at Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

A boat on display at Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

The living room of the main house at Ka'awa Loa Plantation.

The living room of the main house at Ka’awa Loa Plantation.

Outdoor shower at Ka'awa Loa Plantation, a few steps from the hot tub.

Outdoor shower at Ka’awa Loa Plantation, a few steps from the hot tub.

The leafy interior of one of the outdoor showers.

The leafy interior of one of the outdoor showers.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach, one of four green sand beaches in the world. Stopped here during our drive from Captain Cook to Volcano.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach, one of four green sand beaches in the world. Stopped here during our drive from Captain Cook to Volcano.

Another shot at Papakōlea Green Sand Beach.

Another perspective from Papakōlea Green Sand Beach.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach is the southernmost point in the United States. Feels a bit like the end of the world.

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach is the southernmost point in the United States. Feels a bit like the end of the world.

A quick stop at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach, before arriving at Volcano.

A quick stop at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach, before arriving at Volcano.

While exploring Volcanoes National Park, we stayed at Lotus Garden Cottages B&B for a few nights, in the rainforest of Volcano.

While exploring Volcanoes National Park, we stayed at Lotus Garden Cottages B&B for a few nights, in the rainforest of Volcano.

The exterior of Hula Moon Cottage.

The exterior of Hula Moon Cottage.

Pre-volcano breakfast at Lotus Garden Cottages.

Pre-volcano breakfast at Lotus Garden Cottages.

Exploring Volcanoes National Park and walking on hardened lava flows.

Exploring Volcanoes National Park and walking on hardened lava flows.

The path to Pu‘u Loa, the site of ancient petroglyphs carved into lava rock.

The path to Pu‘u Loa, the site of ancient petroglyphs carved into lava rock.

The petroglyphs at Pu‘u Loa (or, volcanic emoji).

The petroglyphs at Pu‘u Loa (or, volcanic emoji).

The landscape of Volcanoes National Park, somewhere along Chain of Craters Road.

The landscape of Volcanoes National Park, somewhere along Chain of Craters Road.

Primary lava rule: don't annoy the goddess Pele.

Primary lava rule: don’t annoy the goddess Pele.

View at dusk at the Kalapana Flow area, where lava is flowing into the sea.

View at dusk at the Kalapana Flow area, where lava is flowing into the sea.

After our time in Volcanoes National Park, we drove through Hilo to Umauna Falls, where we ziplined over falls and swimming holes.

After our time in Volcanoes National Park, we drove through Hilo to Umauna Falls, where we ziplined over falls and swimming holes.

A shot on the grounds of Umauna Falls.

A flower on the grounds of Umauna Falls.

It was rainy and overcast most of our trip -- we finally saw the sun on the day we left, on a beach along the Kohala Coast.

We finally saw the sun on the day we left, on the beach of the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast.

The shave ice at Original Big Island Shave Ice Co, housed in a truck in Kawaihae, is probably the best I've ever had.

The shave ice at Original Big Island Shave Ice Co, housed in a truck in Kawaihae, is the best I’ve ever had.

Neon (Again)

Five years ago, I toured the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas for the first time. The post I published from that trip is the most viewed on this blog, even years later. I visited again over Labor Day weekend, this time with my husband and mother-in-law.

I love the colors and textures of these signs, and how they rest together, happily, in this neon graveyard. I love Las Vegas — and how the city reshapes itself over time. It’s a place that means something to me, Nick, and our relationship, and has also evolved into a playground where I can spend time with my parents, who have a love for its controlled chaos in their own way.

Wandering the boneyard, it’s easy to feel the collective history of the city, and to think of Las Vegas as a place where things rise and fall, where potential is often left to dissolve, and where glorious moments are frozen in time.


Imagine each bulb
has a story within it:
win, loss, double down.

We used to be great,
flickering under the moon—
an electric state.

Wired like the ones
unraveling with purpose
in a timeless space.

Alone, we despair.
United, we burn inside—
ruined together.

A light extinguished,
’til the day we meet again
in the desert sun.
















All photos taken with my iPhone 5s. While the other images on my blog are under a CC license, please do not use the images in this post.

Zipping Through the Trees

I’m currently in Whistler, British Columbia, for Automattic’s annual company meetup. Today, some of us went ziplining between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, through an old-growth rainforest high above Whistler Village. The views are stunning from the trails, platforms, and suspension bridges up there. We hung upside down; we cannonballed to go faster; we zoomed though the treetops; we flew above rushing streams weaving through the valley. Such a beautiful place.








Me (in Four-Minute Doses)

I work at Automattic, a distributed company, which means that my nearly 500 colleagues and I work from home, or wherever we may be in the world.

Our company meets in person once a year at our grand meetup, which is approaching in several weeks. (We’re always hiring, by the way.)

Typically, I have a bit of a freakout in these months before. There’s a tradition at the meetup in which everyone gives a short talk — a “flash talk” of up to four minutes — and can talk about or do anything they’d like. They sing. They talk about one of their side projects. They show photos from their last family vacation. They play a prerecorded video. They stand there in complete silence. You learn random, sometimes unexpected things about your coworkers, which is the best part, and the talks help to break the ice when you’re mingling in a room full of people you might know by name or avatar, but haven’t actually met.

I’ve become more laid-back and reserved as I’ve gotten older, especially among large gatherings like these, but over the years, I’ve been generally fine talking in front of an audience if I prepare in advance — and ultimately enjoy it. I can’t “wing it,” talk on the fly, and could never stand in front of people and just talk — if you know me, you know that’s probably my worst nightmare and I’d rather poke an eye out. To make it manageable for myself, I approach flash talks — and public speaking in general — as, well, blog posts. Drafting a four-minute talk is surprisingly challenging, but when viewing it as a spurt of writing, I know how to shape it. Still, it’s a bit stressful in the weeks before as I brainstorm ideas, and then subsequently think each idea is stupid and not good enough.

I also have this internal battle: Keep it simple. No, that’s boring. Keep it simple. No, you need to challenge yourself. Keep it simple. No, there are many people you haven’t met yet so this is your chance to introduce yourself. Keep it simple. No, you’re a perfectionist so make it fucking perfect.

After the usual back-and-forth I have with myself, I finally settled on a topic.

And so I now have a list of 11 abandoned flash talks, which now sit in Simplenote like my many half-ripe ideas and drafts in my dashboard. Some of the talks never got past the idea stage, while others were fully drafted — with completed Keynote slides, too — before I decided I hated them:

  • The secrets of my family’s adobo recipes (my sister-in-law Stephanie adds a bit of coconut milk to hers, while my cousin Jacque makes the most incredible pork spare ribs)
  • Wine tasting notes (a selection of wines I’ve liked and have described in ridiculous ways — “it’s what you’d wean baby vampires on”)
  • The junk art and sculptures of Patrick Amiot around my town
  • My personal collection of “stock images” — or my go-to images that I use again and again, like these:
  • Things I like (an abridged version of this list)
  • Things I’m scared of (I really liked this topic, but ultimately decided to avoid something negative — for the record, I’m terrified of snakes, black-bottom pools, and looking at mirrors in the dark, among other phobias)
  • The playlist of my life thus far (10 albums representing defining years or moments, including Bel Biv DeVoe’s Poison (1990), Bjork’s Debut (1996), Urbal Beats, Vol. 1 (1997), and Sasha and Digweed’s Northern Exposure (East Coast Edition) (1998))
  • 10 things about me
  • My 10 all-time favorite travel photos
  • 10 things about me, in snapshots (this talk combined the two previous ideas)
  • Utah and Arizona via iPhone lens (which pretty much repurposed this)

It’s worth noting that my talk from last year, which you can watch below, was “Ten Topics I Considered For My Flash Talk” . . . so I suppose even list-making tendencies and indecisiveness can bear fruit.

Flash talks

I’d never thought to share my talks from previous years on my blog, and rarely post videos here in general, so here they are:

Making Shit Up: Lying in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction (2013)

On Home, Space, and a Tiny House (2014)

Ten Topics I Considered For My Flash Talk (2015)

On Editing, Blogging, Writing, Working

Last week on Longreads, I edited and published an essay by Richard Gilbert, “Why I Hate My Dog.” It’s a piece about Richard’s rescue dog, Belle Krendl (and a bit about his previous dog, Jack Gilbert). I’ve never had a dog, and am very much a cat person — I still miss Striper, my cat from my childhood-to-early college years — but Richard’s essay touches on the larger bond between humans and their animals, and I was happy to have the opportunity to work on it.

I met Richard while working on my MFA in creative nonfiction at Goucher College, from 2005–07. Goucher’s MFA is a limited-residency program — our class of 2007 met in person over a few summers, during an intensive period of lectures and workshops on its lovely Maryland campus. Then, for each of our four semesters, we returned to our home bases — across the US, in South Africa, in Switzerland, and other locations — to dive into writing, reading, and working on our manuscripts. We were assigned to a different mentor each semester, who then led a small group of writers. Richard and I got to know each other in our third semester, while working under author and River Teeth cofounder Joe Mackall.

I’ve written in the past about how I’ve felt I wasn’t ready for that MFA program, but ten years later, I still don’t feel I’m ready. Actually, scratch that — if I were given the opportunity to do another MFA or other sort of immersive writing experience, I’d probably not take it. You have to want to write. You need that drive, that passion. I had both then; I don’t have either now. But that’s a post for another time. (Or maybe I’ve written it before?)


At Goucher, Richard was working on a manuscript about his life on a farm in Ohio. I enjoyed reading about things I knew absolutely nothing about — did you know hoofed mammals are called ungulates? — and, over time and from afar, seeing his manuscript evolve into his published memoir, Shepherd.

After working on his essay for Longreads, Richard asked me a few questions about editing, blogging, and writing, as well as my work at Automattic, which is the company behind this blogging platform, You can read the Q&A on his blog, Draft No. 4.


While I’ve questioned the value and timing of those two MFA years, I ultimately don’t regret it: I documented hundreds and hundreds of pages on experiences that I’ve since forgotten, and also met some fantastic writers, like Richard. Thinking back on this limited-residency MFA experience, I’ve also just realized how this setup of learning is similar to my current work environment at Automattic, which is a distributed company (in other words, my colleagues and I work from home and from anywhere in the world). I talk a bit about this in the Q&A — and realize how over the years, I’ve chosen paths that nurture my introverted nature, whether though solo traveling, freelancing, graduate school (I chose Goucher over Sarah Lawrence, a traditional full-time program), and my current job.

Anyway, I’ve been spending a lot of time these past several years featuring and interviewing writers, so it feels a bit weird being the subject of an interview this time around.

Read the Q&A: “My editor speaks


Today, I published a short interview with Divyakshi Gupta, a photographer and blogger from Mumbai.

When I first came upon Divsi’s blog, I was drawn to her use of textures and colors, and also realized we share an obsession for photographing doors. I like what she says about them: “Doors are more than mere photographic subjects or pretty frames. They are stories.”

Viewing her beautiful door images from India has inspired me to gather some of my own photographs of doors over the years. I have many more in my archives — these are just a handful.

A bright blue door in the town of St. George's, Bermuda.

A bright blue door in the town of St. George’s, Bermuda.

A green door in Malta.

A green door in Malta.

Freddie's Saloon, Malta.

Freddie’s Saloon, Malta.

A pair of doors in Valletta, Malta.

A pair of doors in Valletta, Malta.

Old green door in Valletta, Malta.

Old green door in Valletta, Malta.

A door in Chipping Campden, the Cotswolds, England.

A door in Chipping Campden, the Cotswolds, England.

High Street, Chipping Campden, the Cotswolds, England.

High Street, Chipping Campden, the Cotswolds, England.

A door at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul.

A door at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul.

The bathroom door in an Airbnb in Portland, Oregon.

The bathroom door in an Airbnb in Portland, Oregon.

A door in the Albayzin, Granada, Spain.

A door in the Albayzin, Granada, Spain.

A tagged door in Lisbon, Portugal.

A tagged door in Lisbon, Portugal.

A door detail in Cairo, Egypt.

A door detail in Cairo, Egypt.

A door of despair along Brick Lane, London.

A door of despair along Brick Lane, London.

Alhambra door

A door at the Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain.

Tiny door (and window) on Albion Street, San Francisco.

Tiny door (and window) on Albion Street, San Francisco.

Mailbox on a door in Quebec City.

Mailbox on a door in Quebec City.

A closed storefront in the town of Coloane, Macau.

A closed storefront in the town of Coloane, Macau.

The entrance of a small temple in the town of Coloane, Macau.

The entrance of a small temple in the town of Coloane, Macau.

The exit of La Pedrera, Barcelona, Spain.

The exit of La Pedrera, Barcelona, Spain.

A doorway in the now-gone Kunsthaus Tacheles, Berlin, Germany.

A doorway in the now-gone Kunsthaus Tacheles, Berlin, Germany.

A blue door in the Alfama district of Lisbon, Portugal.

A blue door in the Alfama district of Lisbon, Portugal.

The tomato red door of my tiny house in Sonoma County, California.

The tomato red door of my tiny house in Sonoma County, California.

Taken with an iPhone 5s or Canon G11. Top featured image from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda.

Oregon, iPhoneographed

I’ve been in Oregon for the past week, first in Portland and now in Bend.

Except for half-days of work here and there, it’s been somewhat of a vacation, and despite the recent Memorial Day holiday in the US, the roads of Oregon have been pretty tolerable. (I’m realizing, perhaps, that horrible three-day weekend traffic might just be a California thing.)

From Portland, we drove on the Historic Columbia River Highway along the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River, then south through Mt. Hood National Forest and into central Oregon. Snow-covered Mt. Hood, off in the distance, is an impressive sight.

I’d been to Portland once before this, on a trip in 2008. Exploring it this time around, it’s a gorgeously green city, and I’m in love with the leafy residential streets and adorable bungalows in Southeast Portland. But it doesn’t feel like a city I could live in. Too small? Too homogeneous? Too wholesome?

Bend, actually, feels a bit too wholesome — if that makes any sense. It’s incredibly picturesque, and I love the immediate access to the outdoors and the opportunity for such an active daily lifestyle, yet despite my love for both, I don’t think I’d quite fit here. I’ve been to Bend twice, but both were very short visits — so it’s been nice to hang out with a good friend and her husband and kids, and enjoy the hot weather along the Deschutes River.

Looking forward to summer.

Pioneer Courthouse Square sign

Signpost at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland.


Our Airbnb in SE Portland’s Ladd’s Addition was an awesome basement full of quirky art.


The door into our bathroom at our Airbnb in SE Portland.

Basementbnb-living room

Part of the “living room” in our Airbnb.


A painting on one of the basement’s brick columns.

Bathroom ceiling-selfie

Our Airbnb’s bathroom ceiling was a collage of paintings, mixed media, newspapers, and more.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

The Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland’s Chinatown.

Voodoo Doughnut exterior

Donuts at Voodoo Doughnut. We ended up buying six: two glazed, two Portland Creams, one chocolate, one old-fashioned maple. And yes, we bought too much.

Voodoo interior

I’ve since spent the following five days walking and hiking off the donuts I ate.

Cider tasting

Flights of cider (and dominoes) at Cider Bite in downtown Portland.

Multnomah Falls

The view of Multnomah Falls, which is on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Top of Multnomah Falls

At the top of Multnomah Falls — a 1.2 mile hike up. The view of the falls from the top is pretty anticlimactic, but the hike itself is beautiful.

Deschutes River

A Memorial Day hike along the Deschutes River Trail. I’m amazed and jealous that people in Bend have access to this right from town.


Sunbathing on my stand-up paddleboard on the Deschutes River.

Fishing on the Deschutes

Fishing on the Deschutes River.

All photos taken with an iPhone 5s.



This is a post in my 1997 series. The first section is part of Chapter IX in my original manuscript, set in mid-1998. Some first names have been changed. For more on this project, read the introduction.


As I neared the end of my first year of raves, I still wasn’t clear what to call the music in general. I stopped calling it, simply, “rave music.” In fact, it started to irk me when my non-raver friends referred to it that way. From reading magazines that catered to the rave culture, like Lotus and URB, and wandering aisles at Tower Records and the Wherehouse, I saw that the rave section was usually labeled “rave,” “electronica,” “electronic dance,” or “dance.” Music reviews in magazines and online postings of upcoming parties on the SFRaves Calendar, which I surfed multiple times a day, used all sorts of genres to describe the music, including trance, house, jungle, and drum and bass, which I started to distinguish from each other. But there was so much more.

I removed “rave” from my vocabulary altogether. I was learning to gauge, from how people talked at parties, who had partied longer than others, which scenes they were into, and, more importantly, if I partied more than they did. I noticed how kids, who seemed to have more experience, talked about the music; sometimes strangers I smoked with in chill rooms busted out names of house DJs I didn’t know, or names of breakbeat parties I hadn’t gone to, and they’d flick their cigarettes with attitude.

Granted, I wasn’t as versed in the lingo as they were. I began to refer to all of the music as “techno,” though I realized, after being shot down for my misuse one night by a stranger at Home Base, that that wasn’t the case for everyone. I later read that “techno” was actually a genre — the pure, minimalist, synthesizer-heavy style born in Detroit in the eighties and nurtured under producing pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson as somewhat of a response to the house music taking over Chicago in the city’s transition from the seventies to the eighties. I knew little about the history and technicalities of techno, and even less about house; Dan and Todd weren’t really into house, and many of the ravers I talked to preferred trance, which I started to like more as the year progressed.

Despite what veterans said and what I read, using “techno” as an umbrella term for the music made sense to me. It originated from computers and synthesizers, unlike most of the rock on the radio I used to listen to in high school. Ever since that fantastic night at Big Floor, when I felt the presence of a machine, I started to hear the beat differently; I didn’t identify it with the face of a guitarist, drummer, or violinist — it transformed into the actual voice of the technology the DJ manipulated, and it talked to me, shapeless and mysterious, so I could mold it however I wanted.


Last week on Twitter, Nathan Jurgenson shared a French documentary from 1996 called Universal Techno. I’d never seen it before, so it was a real treat to watch — it felt like I opened up a time capsule.

Detroit, probably as you noticed, is somewhat of a depressed, post-industrial city. I think that the general attitude here with that powers that be, with the local government, is that industry must die to make way for technology. I think Detroit is a city in North America that’s probably experienced the technological revolution first, and I think that it affects all of the occupants of Detroit, including artists, musicians… We probably wouldn’t have developed this sound in any other city in America other than Detroit. [18:32]

It’s all about Detroit, the techno sound, the scene that was born and has evolved there, and the role of industry and machinery in music and art. It’s worth your time if you’re interested in this sort of thing.


In the years I lived in San Francisco, and the many years before moving to the city when I commuted up and down the Peninsula, I became a confident, aggressive driver.

I used to love driving through San Francisco, knowing its one-way streets and shortcuts, sailing up Franklin and down Gough through their timed stoplight flows. But somehow, over time, navigating on busy streets and across intersections with lots of pedestrians has made me incredibly anxious. Looking for parking in crowded areas also stresses me out — and this is coming from someone who, like George Costanza, loved finding and snagging the best parking spots. (New anxieties aside, I still have mad parallel parking skills.)

Moving further north to Sonoma County was a great move, and I can’t believe it took me this long to discover that I prefer this part of Northern California. My family remains south, so I make the two-hour drive for regular visits, through San Francisco and down the Peninsula. One thing I notice from all these drives is how much calmer I become on my way back, once I cross the Golden Gate Bridge and head into Marin County, which is the county in between San Francisco and Sonoma.

I know there are asshole drivers everywhere — I won’t start on the ridiculously big pickup trucks all over Sonoma that tail you like they’re going to plow over you. But as a whole, the roads up here are less crowded, and the drivers are more considerate. I’ve driven through San Francisco so many times over the past few years and seem to curse every car around me — somehow, we’re all so fucking important and need to be somewhere and no longer pay attention to anyone else around us.

So, yeah. I enjoy living up here. Out of the Bay Area. Away from the crowds. Where you can see the stars and hear different kinds of owls and watch lizards do push-ups on logs and spot bunnies nibbling on grass in the garden. When we were planning our move and building our little house in 2014, I honestly didn’t know how I’d acclimate to a rural area, but after nine months of living in a small town, I love it. It’s just what I’ve needed, and it feels like home.


Russian River Vineyards, a winery not far from my house, on the way to Forestville.


The same trees from the very first image, sans blossoms, at 6 am. Taken earlier this year.

sonoma coast state park

Growing up in Northern California, I’ve always lived “near the coast,” although now I’m even closer — the beaches of the Sonoma Coast are 20 minutes away.

Russian River Valley

A vineyard not too far from Olivet Lane in the Russian River Valley.

from the garden

My house, from across the garden. I currently live on a five-acre farm in Sebastopol.

front porch

A shot from my front porch on a recent rainy day.

tiny neighbor

The view from my front porch, looking across the garden to another tiny home.


These mushrooms have since disappeared — this was taken earlier this year. Some of them were bigger than my head.

valley view

This is the neighboring tiny house, but we face and see the same view. I’m grateful to currently live in this beautiful spot.

All images taken with an iPhone 5s.


This is a post in my 1997 series: the first part is an excerpt from Chapter XI, which takes place in May 1998. I was back home in the Bay Area after my first year in college, and my one-year rave anniversary was approaching. For background on 1997, read the introduction. A few names below have been changed.

* * *

I anticipated Westside Crewsade and Feel Good Forever1 all week as I worked my shifts at Tower Records in San Mateo, where I’d shopped since middle school. After my first party a year ago, I’d scoured their counters for flyers and “dance and electronica” section for CDs, so getting hired was an accomplishment.

Earlier that month, I’d arrived for my interview in a nice blouse and black slacks. The general manager had looked at me funny as I sat in the chair in his office, then offered me a job after he said I “dressed real nice.” I walked out of the employee lounge, and I scanned the store for my future co-workers. The eclectic staff of wage slaves was composed of teenagers, older kids at local community colleges, skaters, and clubbers. One of the supervisors was draped in black mesh and leather and scurried up and down the aisles, his long black tresses swaying in the breeze he created. The past few times I’d visited the store, I saw a couple ravers working a shift, and several younger boys from Dan’s high school who played in local bands. Feeling hip, I left the store and couldn’t wait to work.

I learned a lot about music just in my first few weeks as I wandered the aisles to alphabetize CDs and tapes. Employees were instructed to organize specific sections on the sales floor, but I gravitated to the several shelves of DJs and dance artists when my supervisors didn’t pay attention, which was often. After examining the section each day, I realized the dance genre included an array of dialects I needed to master: chill-out, downtempo, ambient, speed garage, Goa trance, acid trance, Ibiza trance, progressive trance, two-step, jump-up, hardstep, NRG, hardcore, Asian Underground, progressive house, tech house, acid house, funky house, big beat, funky breaks, Nu school breaks, electro, dirty electro, ghetto tech, tribal tech-house, deep house. And there were even more.

The music was developing into a second language, what neuroscientist Daniel Levitin refers to in This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession as a “musical grammar” for a specialized culture. The music was full of beats of various tempos, layers of noise, high-pitched synthesizers, and melodic build-ups with bells, thumps, scratches, and sometimes knocks. These elements piled over the heartbeat of a song, which older ravers called a bassline.

With trance, for instance, the sound was precise; if it was tangible, its edges were sharp, like slants of a blade piercing me at various pressure points. Other times, the music’s bass, as with house, a style I wasn’t that into, felt more encompassing — it massaged my entire body and was soulful, deep, and even sensual. But house felt too slow and never made me want to dance, so at every party we went to, I steered clear of that room. Ravers in the house room were different, and some noticeably older.2 The havoc of drum and bass, on the other hand, was still daunting, and it was difficult to wrap my body around the sound, but I sensed an organization to it, so I kept listening and studying. I wanted to get drum and bass like Dan and his friends did.3

At the end of the work week, I stood behind the front counter. I was barely over five feet tall, so my supervisor had suggested I stand on one of the unused crates from the storage room whenever it was my stint behind the counter.

I twirled my ponytail as I waited to ring a customer up. A girl with short hair approached the counter, and she wanted to purchase a ticket for a party. She peered at some flyers on the counter, and her eyes locked on the Feel Good Forever flyer.

“Are you going to that?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she exclaimed. We chatted about the lineup, and after the transaction, she smiled and walked off. Paige, one of the older employees who I hadn’t really talked to much, stood behind the other register. I had the feeling she’d worked at the store for a good while. She stared at me as I balanced myself on the crate.

“You go to parties?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m so excited. This is gonna be my one-year anniversary,” I said as I motioned to the flyer on the counter. “It’s kind of a big deal for me.”

“That’s cool,” she answered. I figured she probably had no idea what I was talking about, so I excused her apathy. My break was coming up soon, and Sara was supposed to visit, so I peeked through the window into the parking lot. I felt Paige’s eyes on me.

“You ever go to the Wicked parties?” she asked.

“The what?” I asked.

“The Wicked full moon parties back in the day, like on Baker Beach,” she continued.

“No,” I said.

“Come-Unity?” she asked.


“The Gathering?”

I shook my head.

Those were parties.” Her gaze drilled a hole into me, and she strolled onto the sales floor.

* * *

I love thinking about the cycles of a movement. In Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, Matthew Collin writes that all rave movements of the past, present, and future will go through their own honeymoon, excess, comedown, and re-entry phases. At first, crawling out of this world was hard. Really hard. A comedown that spanned many years, a long moment between the past and the future. These days, I still go out to dance, but my place is on the periphery, peering in.

Last night at the Fox Theater in Oakland, I watched Underworld live for the first time in all of these years. They’ve been in the lineup at a number of festivals I’ve been to, but I’d never stopped to watch their set, perhaps because I’ve thought they’d always be around. When I arrived and met my friends outside of the Fox, they were laughing, as someone with a cane had just walked in. Later, as we waited near the stage during the sound check, it seemed like there was no one under 30 inside — except for the occasional tween, who had accompanied a parent on an aging raver’s night out.

Underworld put on an incredible show. I wasn’t expecting that, and I don’t know what I was expecting, but I got all emotional and it felt like everyone around me did, too. I love how music from then so effortlessly stirs up the best memories. How on earth could “Born Slippy” or “Dirty Epic” or “Cowgirl” not stir up the good?

You bring light in, you bring light in, you bring light in, you bring light in…

Ten years ago, when I was retelling these experiences on paper for the first time, I was scared that they were ultimately empty and disgraceful. I was ashamed, seeing myself under a harsh light. I wasn’t proud of the manuscript, as a person and as a writer, and couldn’t share it freely with family and friends once finished. It’s just not a story you want your mom to read, you know? But I was reminded last night: there was beauty here. When you strip everything away — including, or especially, the drugs — the vestiges from this experience are sweet and light, found in the voice of Underworld frontman Karl Hyde in “Two Months Off.” In the bouncy steps of the 50-year-old man dancing near us. But also in my younger cousin, Terrence, who now experiences his own version of this. Terrence is nearly fifteen years younger than I am, but we’ve bonded through dance music, through dancing, through this, whatever this is — and though our experiences have been very different, and span many years, the core and heart are the same: To be deeply moved by music. To connect with others, no matter who they are. To find and recognize the good in our lives. To be part of something bigger.

This hit me hard this past December, at the Weather Festival in Paris, as I wandered the concrete playground of the Paris Event Center with Terrence and his friends. I was in a place I’d never been, dancing in a crowd of young, sweaty Parisians, and at times feeling noticeably older (Terrence laughed when he saw that I carried hand sanitizer in my pocket).

But still, in those nocturnal hours, I felt like I’d come home.


When I got the idea to revisit this older writing, just several posts ago, I thought I was embarking on a big personal writing project — one that would challenge me to write, to explore big ideas in my head, and to quiet the parts of me I’d neglected for so long. But to be honest, I’m not sure how much more I need to probe my insides with a stick. It’s not that there’s nothing there. Quite the opposite: it’s all there, swirling in my gut, in my heart, and in my head. This experience continues to mold me and shape anything that I write. There’s a bit of that romantic writer in me that has felt the need to find closure. But last night, feeling everything that I love about this scene in the sound of Underworld, I’m reminded again that this moment continues to evolve, and as long as I’m able to stay up past midnight on occasion, I’m still a part of it.

And so I don’t think I can turn the last page in this book; I don’t think there’s a point where I can say, okay, this 1997 series is done. Instead, I’ve screwed on a permanent soft filter on the lens I use to write about my life and the world.


Underworld, Fox Theater, Oakland, April 2016.

  1. Westside Crewside was an upcoming LA vs. SF jungle party (R.A.W and Machete vs. Phunckateck and the B.A.S.S. Kru), and Feel Good Forever was a big warehouse party — and my one-year anniversary rave. 
  2. I’m laughing. Because I’ve become one of those old people. 
  3. I eventually got it. Today, jungle and drum and bass keep me sane — D&B has become quite cerebral, and my favorite music to listen to when I work and write. I haven’t ventured out to listen to D&B since the Planet of the Drums tour at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco in January 2014, pictured in the featured image above.