For auld lang syne

Okay, so I don’t really believe in time, but Happy New Year!

Look, it's me 9 years ago with sparklers. Can you tell I'm terrified? Photo by Laura Pope.
Look, it’s me 9 years ago with sparklers. Can you tell I’m terrified? Photo by Laura Pope.

Even though I think labelling periods of our lives as generally good or bad (i.e. “This year sucked!” or “What a great day!”) is actually not helpful and overgeneralizes the nuances of life, I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year for myself. For the past few months, I’ve been taking stock of everything that has happened. It’s a lot. It’s amazing how short and yet how expansive 365 days can be. Even more amazing is how vastly different a year can seem, just based on perspective.

When I focus on the struggle, the pain, the mistakes – this year seems awful and exhausting. Another year older, another year full of disillusionment, of hard lessons learned, of heartbreak, and parts of myself – innocence, behavior, ideas, friends, truths – lost.

But when I count my blessings, and there are so, so many – this year seems miraculous. I’ve finally finished filming my short film, got into stand-up comedy, shot over 15 new web videos, co-founded a sketch team, made it as a semi-finalist in a comedy festival, received a promotion at my job (which I love), and I’ve met hundreds of new awesome people and made so many new awesome friends. Not to mention I got in touch with my birth-family, created several new paintings, started eating meat again (I know) and continue to grow every moment as a breathing, living, flesh-and-blood human being.

My gratitude is overwhelming. So instead of going on further about how great my year was and how lucky I feel to be alive, I want to instead brag about some of my wonderful friends. Because they’ve had amazing years as well:

Chris Chianesi  launched his new webseries, #MANNYPROBZ, and he’s hilarious and his costar Leisl is adorable and it’s everything you want in a comedy webseries. Also, I was cinematographer on a couple of them and those shoots were so much fun.

Jessie Evans launched her new series, “Jessie Eats,” and it’s everything you want in a food blog/webseries – which is basically watching her adorably enjoy all sorts of delicious cuisine and drinks and you fall in love with her within seconds.

Taylor Tobin started writing for the website, Brokelyn, and her food listicles are all you’ll ever need while dining in Brooklyn. Her culinary advice has never led me astray.

Christina Stone has started making custom puppets! They are fuzzy, adorable, and hand-sewn. It’s the perfect gift to give to the children and young-at-heart in your life. You can contact her through her website to place an order.

Emily Duncan premiered her new, original musical, “Me and my Birdie,” which premiered at the Bad Theater Festival, and it was touching and hilarious. AND she collaborated with the magnificent Regina Gibson – they co-wrote and composed a new holiday song you can see Regina, who has the voice of Greta Garbo but 10x sexier, perform here.

Rowan Rivers started a new blog where he divulges his magickal insight on tarot card analysis and it’s wonderful. I love his writing.

Check out this touching and very funny video by Glamour Magazine starring the extremely talented Keisha Zollar and Andrew Kimler, as they talk about their first month of marriage.

The incredible Morgan Clarke is the drummer for the awesome band, Worthy Fools, who just released their EP this year, which you can buy on iTunes!

Cartoonist and illustrator Kyle Rose launched his new webcomic, The Working Stiff, and he’s made major progress on his upcoming book, The Comic Book Convention Survival Guide, so stay tuned!

Producer/Actor Andria Kozica released two new web shorts on Funny or Die this year that are hysterical! Go Bag and Meeting Mr. Reich.

And my best friend since 3rd grade, Nicole Sweeney, literally just seconds ago made the Board of Directors for Pure Romance, a company whose mission statement and products I love. You can buy awesome stuff from her here.

Honestly, I can go on and on and on. I’m am so #blessed to know so many amazing, passionate, creative artists and creators. Sometimes I just scroll through my Facebook feed and beam with pride. How lucky are we?

Here are some more friends who are creating awesome work you should check out:

ChEckiT! Dance, headed by the sweet and lovely Allison Brzezinski

Urban Spiritual, by the insightful chief editor/writer Terence Stone

The SoulGlo Project, a podcast and monthly live show with Keisha Zollar, Anna Suzuki, and Emily Schorr Lesnick.

Have a wedding upcoming or a special event you want captured to remember forever? Hire James Sireno Productions – seriously, Jimmy and his wife, Chelsea, are two of the nicest, most professional, talented videographers I know!

More people you need to keep track of because they’re about to be FAMOUS, they’re that talented:

J.W. Crump, Stephanie BencinMadonna RefugiaTabitha VidaurriDavid MonkCarolyn BusaBilly Bob ThompsonAlyson Leigh RosenfeldKristin Seltman, Miranda KahnBetsy Lippitt, Sarah Knittel, Graham Halstead, Ana Defillo, and actually this is super stressing me out because I have way too many talented friends and not enough time right now to list them all so please just go look at my Facebook friend list because I haven’t even gotten into the hundreds of New York comedians I’ve met this year who are hysterical and exciting.

So congratulations, mazel tov! If you’re reading this, that means you’ve made it through another year. I hope your 2015 was filled with as much love and pain and wonder and life as mine has, and I hope your 2016 is just as full, if not fuller.

Happy New Year!

EDIT: I can’t believe I completely forgot my amazing and talented friend, Hannah Cauhépé who, after doing a daily photo challenge for a year from her home in Paris, has now embarked on a massive world-wide journey and continues to document it with her breath-taking photos. She also has just unveiled her new project, The Lesbian Gaze, where she takes beautiful portraits of lesbian, queer, bi women from all over the world. I forgot because she’s always on the move, currently she’s in Nicaragua! Check out her work!!

I don’t know.

I haven’t written in this blog in a long time. And until just a few moments ago, I couldn’t really tell you why. Being busy, not feeling “inspired,” or not having anything to share are not really accurate excuses. I think it’s because I’ve been hiding.

Photo by A. Pagliaricci
Photo by A. Pagliaricci

I didn’t know I was hiding, not at first. But like a shapeless, dark monster that creeps into your dreams, vignetting what seems to be a fairly standard happy image, I had this growing suspicion that something was not quite right with me. It’s been plaguing me for weeks, this sensation that something is about to fall apart, that I’m not truly alive and aware, that any happiness I’ve felt was false. I’ve talked about it at great lengths with my close friends, my therapist, writing about it in my journal. I could articulate it, yes, but at most it was an intellectual diagnosis. It felt like someone dubbing over my own voice in a foreign language. I knew, but I couldn’t touch it. It hadn’t hit me yet, it floated above me, mockingly. I was pretty sure of what I wanted to eat but I had yet to order it and actually ingest it.

Okay, enough metaphors. You get the idea. But for someone who always has to know the answer to everything, this uncertainty has been difficult for me to live with. So I simply didn’t. In the past 3 months since I’ve last posted, I’ve been quite busy. I held a fundraiser party, I went home for the holidays, I finally wrapped principal photography on my film, I started a writers’ group, produced and acted in a new comedy web-sketch, as well as started developing more web-sketches for PITtv. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to work full-time and go out with friends or on dates. I’ve been very busy. I’ve been barely home. I’ve been rarely alone. Because I’m hiding.

When my best friend suddenly died last June, all I wanted was to be alone. Grief was the most isolating experience of my life. I’ve lived quite an individual life so far, but the alone-ness was palpable. I couldn’t be around anyone, I couldn’t smile for anyone or make small talk with anyone. I just wanted to sit outside and listen to our favorite music and cry. Nurse my grief like it was the last drink I’ll ever have. I walked the streets of New York with a bubble around me, protecting me from interaction, from engagement, from life. I just mourned.

So when I finally came out, when the sun’s rays finally actually got to touch my skin again, when I looked up, it felt miraculous. I slowly started to feel inspired again, the need to be productive, to continue living. After a while, I wanted to see other people. I wanted to start working on my projects again. I would never be the same, but I was back. And once I got my footing, I took off running. I filled my schedule and took on new projects and set up meetings and dates and outings and laughed and talked and acted like my old extroverted self again. But I was hiding.

I was hiding because I was afraid of being alone again. If I was alone, then I would think. And if I thought, I would think about Matt. And if I thought about Matt, I feared I would slip back into that dark yet brightly-lit, stark, empty room of despair again. I still am. I’m afraid. I’m afraid to be sad. I’m afraid to let myself continue to grieve. I’m afraid I won’t come out of it again. It’s been 8 months and 17 days since Matt died and I’m not still fully healed. I’m not over it. That’s okay. I’m never going to be over this. People tell you about that deep loss. I know this. But I might not also fully heal from this.

Why do we look at wounds as things that need to heal? I kept trying to become this holier-than-thou totally enlightened wise being in the last several months. How pretentious of me to go on and on about how my best friend’s death changed me? I would wax poetic about death and the meaning of life like I suddenly had all the answers now that I’ve experience such profound, tragic loss. (My friends know exactly what I’m talking about. Thank you for not slapping me, but god somebody please slap me next time.)

That is total bullshit. Okay, not total, but I was missing the point, I see that now. That was me trying to tie everything up neatly with a bow again. That was the same Katie that pretended to give eloquent interviews about world issues to the mirror when she was 9 (okay 15… okay 21… okay fine, last night) but still – I have this need to romanticize everything in my life, to package it neatly and analyze it and understand it all, but the truth is, I really don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know anything at all.

Photo by danabooo
Photo by danabooo

I’m a mess. I’m a flawed, messy, emotional human being. Made of flesh and blood and bones and chemicals and weird shit like that and I’m trying to figure it out desperately like everyone else. I miss my best friend and I still grieve for him but also sometimes I don’t think about him. And yeah, I feel guilty about that too. I don’t always stick to my diet and sometimes I get drunk on weeknights and I date the wrong people and I can be flaky and I don’t call my parents nearly as much as I should. I make snap judgments and I say things sometimes just to get a rise out of people and I get secretly possessive over my food. I have hateful thoughts sometimes and I’m mad at my best friend for dying on me and I miss him so frickin’ much and I worry way too much and I really do want love and children and a family someday. I cry at the drop of a hat and I have dry skin and I don’t like to follow rules and I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m a human. I am not a saint, I am not the Buddha, I will not rise out of this like a glorious wise martyr. I am ugly sometimes, and I have ugly emotions sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. I’m allowed to be ugly. I’m allowed to be human. I’m allowed to let this wound fester a bit.

This all came to a head while I was listening to the Strangers podcast while at work.  I highly recommend everyone listen to this episode. When I first started researching about grief in the initial months after Matt’s death, I would scoff at those articles about broken hearts. “Who cares about a break-up? I f*cking lost my best friend – he f*cking died! We can’t ever see or talk to each other again because he doesn’t exist on this planet anymore!” But the fact is, a broken heart is a broken heart. Listening to these storytellers talk about their own experiences after a devastating break-up, it echoed exactly what I went through last summer. When Annie McEwen and Lea Thau said that even waking up is hard, realizing that this is the world you live in now, that’s exactly how it felt waking up every day last summer. And in Annie’s story, when the female character mentions just living with her lost love, not being consumed by it but giving it space and just knowing that she has to live with this feeling, without him, every day – it resonated with me.

Like these two women, my heart is broken. And I agree with Annie, I don’t think I’ll ever love the same way again. I don’t think losing Matt is something I’ll ever fully heal from. What Matt and I had was special, our friendship was truly one-of-a-kind. But I don’t think I’m necessarily a better person for having lived through this experience. I am a person. And it has deeply affected me. That’s really all I can say. But like Annie, I am more compassionate than I ever have been, and I’m finally going to start being compassionate with the one person I’ve been hardest on my entire life: yep, myself. Me. I’m going to do that by letting myself have flaws. By letting myself be messy. By letting myself grieve and cry and scream and laugh and dance and drink and eat carbs – and do whatever I need to do.

Death sucks. Break-ups suck. Having your heart ripped from your chest and stomped on really frickin’ blows. And I can’t tell you why. I have no idea why life is so unfair. I don’t know. I really don’t know. And that’s okay.

I read about it somewhere, maybe it was the Times…

So I’m going to hold off on my previously planned blog post to address something that is a little more timely and quite frankly, pisses me off has me quite confuddled. (I just made up that word, it’s a mix between confused and befuddled. You’re welcome, and you may use it.)

If you haven’t checked your Facebook or other social media site yet, TIME magazine released a poll with a list of words to ban for 2015. On it, there are several obvious choices stemming from internet slang and memes, such as “YAAASS” or “Om Nom Nom Nom.” Most of these my friends would say, “Wait, what do these mean?” (Yes, I’m only friends with 80-year-old grandparents.) But to many people’s shock and dismay, they also have another hot-ticket word on the poll, nestled ever so delicately between “disrupt” and “I can’t even,”…

Feminism.

Yes, TIME magazine, ever so relevant and witty, is equating a civil rights movement that is just about 6 years shy of celebrating its centennial birthday, that happens to address gender and the social, political, and economic rights of half of America’s population.

Stay classy, TIME magazine.

I could go into a big, sarcastic, angry tirade, but I want to actually address something bigger – why they felt the need to add that word to their poll. It’s true, as a liberal, intelligent artist who lives in New York, the bulk of my Facebook feed nowadays tends to be posts addressing sociological or political injustices. My queer friends post about trans* phobia. My feminist friends post about slut-shaming. My friends of color post about racism, or exploitation of minorities in the media. A lot of my friends fall into multiple categories, as do I, and they are passionate, well-read, and well-intentioned. I’m very lucky to have such smart, relevant friends. But it can also be overwhelmingly depressing, as I scroll through my daily news source (yes, I’m still talking about Facebook), and see nothing but articles about the offensive, discriminatory, oppressive evil Man keeping us down.

Please be clear, I’m not saying that I disagree with all of these articles or points, but I think we’re all starting to “Devil’s Advocate” ourselves into the ground. In specifically addressing feminism, we are in danger of becoming like those ghosts on Portlandia, and we are going to confuse our movement to death, if we haven’t already. (Yes, the new season is on Netflix, and yes, it’s fine for you to finish reading this later after you go binge watch all of them now.)

Let’s just look at one example:

Recently, Hollaback released a video of a woman walking through the streets of NYC for 10 hours, and recorded secretly the various instances of “catcalling” she experienced. Yeah, you’ve seen it. If you do click on the video link above, don’t read the comments, I don’t want you to have a rage stroke. (Comment boards are where humanity goes to die, but that’s another topic.)

This video has over 35 million views, and countless follow-up parodies and articles dissecting the impact of this video. At its heart, Hollaback’s video had a simple message: women experience catcalling just walking down the street (while wearing plain black clothing) and here is proof. That is a valid point in and of itself. When it first hit the web, I even posted it on my own Facebook, I thought it was great (and I totally liked it before it was cool.)

Here's a stock photo of defiant fists in the air and for all you know, they are all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes, so you can't get offended you're not included.
Here’s a stock photo of defiant fists in the air and for all you know, they are all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes, so you can’t get offended you’re not included.

But now, the masses have spoken, and the video is racist and exclusionary and unfair and rigged. Slate writer Hanna Rosin released an article shortly after the video was released, stating, “the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.” While this is a valid point, it seems like the majority of people have latched on to this sentiment while ignoring a very important statement she makes just a paragraph later, “Activism is never perfectly executed. We can just conclude that they caught a small slice of catcallers, and lots of other men do it, too.” While she has a problem that this video does not address its target audience correctly (by excluding white upper/middle class men, they can feel exempt from any wrongdoing seen in this video), she is absolutely right.

Activism is never perfectly executed. Feminism has long been criticized as only for white women and exclusionary to women of color. And for the most part, in America, it is. Absolutely race should always be addressed. And class. And sizeism. And religion. And sexuality. And gender. Wait… wasn’t that what we were talking about?

The thing is, ALL of these issues are connected. You can’t talk about one without the other coming up. Because no one is Just a Girl. (Sorry, Gwen Stefani) And anytime you talk about major social topics, you run into a problematic er… problem. How do you address something so personal, but on a public level? My experience is unique only to myself. Something that offends me might not offend another of my “group” – but – and here’s my issue – something does offend someone, everywhere, all the time, always.

A human rights group posts a video or a blogger writes an article or a TV personality has a hit series – they address the lives and issues of a marginalized group and educate the masses in a way that hasn’t been done before. We all know their intentions are well-placed, and for the most part, they’re effective.

But then comes the concerned, hipster trolls. Well, this video is great, but it stars a White woman, what about Black women? What about Latino women? What about women from the South Pacific? What about Sikh women? What about trans* women? What about lesbians? What about bisexuals? What about Mormons? What about Amish women? What about fat women? You can’t say fat, that’s fat-shaming. No, you should say “fat”, it’s empowering!  Stop saying “fat”, you’re just skinny-shaming! This video is slut-shaming! It promotes rape culture! I’M ANGRY!

How the hell can we move forward and make progress as a human race if we keep holding ourselves back to make sure that we don’t step on anyone’s psychological toes? NO ACTIVIST ACT, VIDEO, ARTICLE, etc. is EVER GOING TO BE COMPLETELY INCLUSIVE and COVER ALL GROUND. I don’t mean to yell, but geez louise, we can’t ever win! Humanity and human rights is a complicated, sticky, giant area to discuss and no one thing is ever going to cover all of it. Don’t you see? We’re not helping ourselves by constantly picking each other apart – we’re supposed to be all on the same team! Remember who the real enemy is. (Yes, it’s President Snow.)

Of course, we should always be discussing these issues, it’s amazing that we do and can in the first place. But let’s stop dragging each other down through the politically incorrect muck when we are all trying to achieve the same thing. If you don’t see yourself represented, then YOU release a video, write another article, or whatever. I believe that life usually is better when you just follow the rule of Improv: “Yes, and…” As in, “YES, this addresses an important issue well, AND here’s another take on this issue that should also be discussed.”

And for the love of your god, can we please stop throwing around the “shaming” words? Calvin Klein released photos of their new model, who is gorgeous and a size 10, and now they’re being criticized because Elle (not CK) called the model plus-size  and she’s getting flack because she’s not big enough! Why not just celebrate the fact that CK hired a beautiful woman who isn’t a size 0-2? One step at a time, people. They may be fat-shaming, but keep in mind, they are fat-shaming considerably less than they used to with their size 0 models, right? It’s a small victory, right?

And people can criticize Kim Kardashian’s cover on Paper magazine without it being slut-shaming too, people. Yes, using the fact that she is now a mother as a point to why the photos are bad is unfair and frankly, completely beside the point. It’s just really um, gross. It’s distasteful on purely an artistic level (and of course, that’s just my opinion.) But I’m not a bad feminist for thinking so. I hesitate to say this, but not everything is sexist. EDIT: Further research into this Kim Kardashian photo spread (ugh, I know) actually brings up some really important information that I think is actually relevant and quite illuminating. It kind of makes me feel bad for her, poor girl most likely had no idea what she was doing…

As my good friend and writer Taylor Tobin said to me yesterday, “The egregious use of “slut-shaming” irritates me to no end. There is a DIFFERENCE between slut-shaming and saying that someone took a photograph that’s in poor taste. It’s like those high school girls who insist that their school dress codes are SLUT-SHAMING them. if the administration uses gendered terms to explain the dress code, that’s a problem. But if you’re not allowed to wear booty shorts and crop tops to school, SRY BITCHES, THAT’S LIFE.”

But Kate, you might say, how do I know what’s truly sexist and what’s not? Well, that’s complicated, but the magnificent and kickass Caitlin Moran breaks it down pretty well. Like Caitlin, I just ask myself, “Well, are boys doing it? Are men also being affected by this?” And if so, it’s probably just a human issue, not a sexist issue. I’m sure if Kanye West did a photo shoot like Kim did, we’d all be just as disgusted. And I’m sure the school administrations who ban crop tops and booty shorts are also banning boys from wearing them, as well as baggy jeans and wallet chains (we’re still in 1996, right?).

All I’m saying is, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, ladies, and gents, and others. We are letting ourselves get distracted from the real issues. We need to stop crying, “Discrimination!” every 5 seconds and really think – THINK before reacting to something. By saying every little thing is an oppressive injustice, we lessen the actual meaning of those words. They become cheap, overused, and subsequently ignored. Let’s get “feminism” off that stupid poll by using it intelligently. Let’s keep building each other up instead of knocking each other down. Let’s keep saying, “YES, AND!”

Inspired during an early evening commute home…

Every single writer, poet, filmmaker, musician, and artist who has ever lived in New York has tried to express how much they love New York. Or how much they hate New York. It can be the most magical place on earth or it can make you want to jump into the tracks of an oncoming train. The skyscrapers and glittering lights can inspire and enlighten or it can feel as though you carry the weight of many tons of steel and iron upon your shoulders. However, one thing can always be said about New York: there is so much life here. It’s every where, at every block, every building, stoop, subway platform, alleyway, and corner- there is so much life. At any one time, there are over 5 million stories happening.

Most of those stories are right out in the open for all to see. The woman crying on the phone as she walks east on 52nd st. The homeless boy in the blue coat with a bent cardboard sign on 8th avenue. The 30-something woman whose pink jogging jacket match her purebred chihuahua’s little boots on 6th avenue. The smiling man with large boils on his face sitting on the Canal st train platform. Life is every where you look here. No matter the time or day, life is happening here. Stories are being written here. For any artist, it’s absolutely thrilling. But in a place with so much life, there is so much death – so much decay. Sometimes the amount of life and death is too much for one human to withstand. It can overwhelm, like a cacophony of disheartening news reports that grows so loud one cannot hear anything but the din of sadness and suffering. For life is suffering, as the Buddhists believe, and for a city full of so much life, it is also filled with so much suffering.

Imagine being acutely aware of ever single moment of emotional and physical pain in the world as it is happening. To be so sensitive would surely break one’s heart so completely so many times. It would drive any normal mortal to end the pain as soon as possible. But why is it a bad thing to feel sadness? Is a typically “happy person” more in tune with the universe and more generous? Is a mostly “sad person” selfish and a pessimist? Or is the happy one merely in denial and the sad one more intuitive? Maybe it’s more complicated than that. No one likes to feel sad. Many try to avoid feeling sad as much as possible, whether that means diverting and distracting feelings, emotional strong-holding, or resorting to substances to dull the senses and pain. Is this healthy though? Is there a way to stay with the pain, accept the sadness, and not want to kill oneself every waking moment? Can you feel sadness but not become sadness?

There are many institutions that have formed over the centuries to help alleviate everyday sadness. Religion, spirituality, sports and exercise methods, the arts – they all serve to give us a greater sense of purpose. Without purpose, our egos start to flail and our sense of self begins to spiral. Religion gives us an explanation of the sadness and suffering. The old books of old prophets tell us why and what’s next. It seems we humans have a very hard time functioning with the knowledge that life could just be random chaos, that our suffering was senseless and never-ending, with no reason or goal to look forward to. But what if there was no sense to it at all? Perhaps that’s what the Buddhists meant when they said that Life is Suffering. It is not a means to an end or even something to be explained, but rather it just is.

I myself cannot begin to even pretend to know the truth behind what we feel and what we are. The only supposed “truths” I can begin to understand are as follows:

1) I am here.
2) I feel pain. I feel happiness.
3) Things that seem and feel awful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
4) Things that seem and feel wonderful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
5) But no matter what happens, it is my judgement that deems it “bad” or “good.”
6) And regardless of all of the points above, everything is impermanent. Nothing is forever and everything changes.

It can seem hopeless to think that one could spend years and years building an empire or creating a work of art or nurturing a family – and in one instant, it all could be destroyed and cease to exist. But that thought can also be incredibly freeing. It doesn’t necessarily mean one shouldn’t strive for anything or the human race shouldn’t progress and evolve, but like the rhythms of the city – the way the garbage and snow will pile up and then seemingly disappear within a day, the way real estate here can seem to change ownership every month – it might just be worth it for us to continually try to be conscious. Conscious that we are all part of this life, this suffering, and even more so, this impermanence.