When I was a kid, 10 or 11, I got finches. Zebra finches, probably from the local pet store. I adored them. I think I kept them in my room. I cleaned their tray all the time, fed them. Caught them in a laundry basket when they got out.

After a year or so, I found out you could breed them. I convinced my mother to get me a little nest, and provided some small nesting materials, and waited. And waited, and waited. After a few false starts, I had baby finches. Disgusting at first, and then I think one of the 6 or 8 of them died, but in the end, I had 5 or 6 adorable baby finches, and watched eagerly and nervously as they went to the edge of the nest, and beyond. And then I had constant noise, and adorableness, and chattering, and lots and lots of cleaning. And dealing with them when they got sick. And crying so hard when they died.

Finally, my mother had enough. Maybe she got too sad when they died. Maybe she had to clean up (though I’ve always been a good cleaner…). One Saturday, convincing me that zebra finches were indigenous to the Bay Area, she made me let my finches go. Taking the top off the gorgeous wooden house-shaped bird cage, we waited all day, and it didn’t occur to me to not be joyful as they explored, flitted about, back, about, back, and finally away.

I left the birdcage out for days.

For years, from the balcony off my bedroom, I convinced myself I saw zebra finches.

But really, as my mother said about so many of the horrifically depressing WWI dead animal stories she passed on to us from our grandfather, “those birds would have been long dead by now”.


Republished from LiveJournal. Originally posted 23 March 2011.

A neat story about something that happened to me.
By Marisa Lenhardt, aged 30-cough.

Many moons ago, before some of you were born and before many of you started drinking, I was in high school with a sweet, slightly nuts, talented guy.
After a year or so, he stopped going to my high school, and that was that.

Fast forward a decade or so, add the creation of facebook, stir.

Out of the blue in October I get an email from this guy with whom I went to High School, needing extras for a Francis Ford Coppola film on which he was working. I happily complied, thinking that, at worst, it would be an excellent opportunity for some camping asshattery with some good friends. I put out feelers and got some replies from various folks in my friend and extended circle. A truly lovely mix of people who responded even without knowing who was involved with the production.

We had our initial interview/photos and, a few days later, were called for a screen test.

I followed the woman who did our screen test deep, deep into the recesses behind the public areas of the Rubicon Estate in Napa. I saw my friend from high school, John-Paul and, in a fit of surreality, noted that we looked like the same, but adult, versions of ourselves. It was fantastic to see him, and I was at ease. We slowly gathered and, after a while, were taken in separate vehicles up even further into the wilds to a house. We headed up the stairs and there, seated at a large dinner table, was Mr. Coppola. As we came up, he said “Have a seat. I want to introduce you to my friend Val”. We tried not to stare at the IceMan and took our seats around the dinner table. The 5 of us who’d come up in the initial car filled in the space around the table, acting as casual as possible.  I had had a pretty good idea that Francis (I can call him that, I think) would be there, but hadn’t been prepared for, you know… Doc Hollywood. Francis immediately put us at ease with a volley of intense, intelligent questions, a skill clearly developed with years of human observation. All of the women did readings with Val, during which he made us laugh with fantastic ad libs, and most of us were quite relaxed by the end of our readings. Francis regaled us with tales of filming ‘Apocalypse Now’ (“did you see that?” he asked.).

As we prepared to leave, the assistant director leaned and whispered something into Francis’ ear. Francis then looked at me and said “You’re an opera singer.  What will you sing for me?  Manon Lescaut? La Rondine? No… Gianni Schicchi.” I agreed that Gianni Schicchi certainly provided the best a cappella, and before I knew it, I was standing fewer than 5 feet from the man, as he filmed me singing ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ on his iPhone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Val film it with his iPhone, as well. When I finished, Val said “Well, that was unexpected,” and Francis said “Very nice.” We all left soon after, and I was giddy for hours.

I did not get a speaking role, but I was asked to participate as an extra. I was, of course, disappointed, but was still excited at the prospect of the aforementioned potential camping asshattery.

Fastforward to November.
A group of us were asked, during the coldest few days of the month, to meet for a few days. We arrived at the gorgeous location and began (with help! How strange) to set up camp. We were told that, that evening, Francis would be camping with us.

I am firmly in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” faction of human thinking, and so I went about the day, and by evening time we were sitting around the fire, eating food that had been prepared for us (how strange!), sharing a drink or two. The hours ticked by, a few people went to sleep, and after a while, a gentleman came down to the campfire, casually, with a couple of younger men, who carried a chair for him. People slowly quieted as they realized who’d arrived, and there was a brief, awkward moment of “ok, now what?”  I did the thing that comes naturally and offered a drink. Francis says “You’re the opera singer. I can tell by the profile.” “Yes,” I replied, “But that doesn’t answer the question. Would you like a drink?” He asked what I had, which was Scotch. He wasn’t interested in that, but agreed to a home-made liqueur provided by a friend. The next few hours were spent sipping drinks, including an absinthe made for Mr. Coppola, trading stories and, for brief and ecstatic moment, Francis getting me to sing “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” and getting him to sing Rudolfo’s “Si”. My dear friend David bore witness to that, and I caught his grin from across the fire.

Soon enough, it was late and cold and we had a long day the next day. We said our goodnights, and a few of us stayed up a bit longer before turning in.

First full day of filming –
I awoke to a craving for fresh fruit and headed up to the communal snack/kitchen area. I brought my company iPad in an attempt to check my email. I was met by Francis, who engaged me in a discussion about the meeting he had with “Steve”, and about Adobe and Apple’s ongoing battle. After showing me a nifty wireless keyboard and syncing it with the iPad, it was time to get ready dressed and meet the costumer.

John Paul finally made it down to say hello to us in camp and, as I painted his nails, he told me that Francis planned to add a scene for me to sing. I couldn’t even register this as possibly being true, so I went about my day as normally as possible, camping in the middle of the week with a film crew. There were giggles, takes, retakes, and everything you ever hear from anyone who’s done extra work – it’s a lot of stand around and wait. But the novelty of it didn’t wear off through the weekend, and there we were, walking the same path over and over again.

At dinner, I set my plate down across from an unattended plate which happened to be Mr. Coppola’s. Sweet Lulu sat next to me, and the two of them talked about burlesque (“My kids got me Dita Von Teese for my birthday.” “That’s a great book!” “I think he means… they actually got him … Dita Von Teese.”) Filming went into the evening, and temperatures dropped below freezing. We huddled around cold propane fires, and Francis asked what I’d sing for him if I were to sing a scene. It began to seem more real. That evening, filming wrapped up and we gathered around the real fire for a bit before heading to sleep.

The next day dawned a bit warmer, and all of us got up in the exact same costumes as the previous day.

It wasn’t too long into filming that Francis said “We’re filming your scene today…what will you sing? Public domain, of course…” It was at this point that I thought it might actually happen. My nervous energy built throughout the day, until I was actually wrapped into a body mic…and then it was real. The costumer was sweet, and supportive, and listened to my nervous ramblings. And then, immediately after a scene during which I had to physically exert myself and without even a chance to get water, I was on. As I prepared, I realized I had no water handy. I turned to David and said “I would kill for a bottle of water right now”. It took a moment to realize that the three people that began running were running to get ME water. I’d forgotten about the mic. Possibly the most surreal moment of the entire shoot. The sun was setting, and Francis sat about 30 feet away…directing. ME. I can’t say what I sang, or what the setting was, or what I wore…but I can tell you that, during the course of the first song, the line of people behind the camera watching went from about 8 to pretty much everyone on-set. And that, when I finished my first song, Francis had to wait until the applause stopped to remind people that we were “still rolling”. He gave very little direction and I felt very comfortable, not nervous at all, as I was simply giving a performance to a few people as the sun went down, echoing  across the lake.

At the end of the third song, Francis said “you can applaud now”, and people did. Then he said “print it”, and that was it…we broke for dinner and I had a small moment of glowing glory as people who are much more accustomed to the short takes of the film industry paid me beautiful compliments… and I glowed, and glowed, through the rest of the filming that went to 2am. I got the chance to ask Val for a copy of the video he had of me and he said that, if I gave him my card and Francis approved it, no problem. Turns out that, because I was in costume, Francis didn’t approve it, but I did get a very nice email from Val’s assistant explaining that. It shows a surprising amount of follow-through.

Giddy from the whole day, I drank with a few of the crew until the sun came up. At one point someone turned to me and said “Hey, you’re the only talent still out drinking!” And I giggled. talent! heh.

The next day dawned harsh and cruel, as DK, Jocelyn and I slowly and steadily packed up, far fewer people to help with this process than with the setup. The ride home was slowly waking from a dream, and Luke sweetly unpacked the truck for me as my left knee had completely given out.

Today, I go with a few of these folks to watch the first screening of the film. My scene is still in it. I hope it stays.

“Gold’s a devilish sort of thing. You lose your sense of values and character changes entirely. Your soul stops being the same as it was before.”  – Treasure of the Sierra Madre

We work in an old building, one built in 1905 by a company founded in a tent in Fort Sutter in 1849, to supply tools to miners, get-rich-quickers. Baker & Hamilton supplied picks and shovels, knives, saws, hammers, to people inundating California in hopes of hitting it big. Despite the fact that the gold rush was over before Baker & Hamilton built our gorgeous building, the company remained, providing tools for industries far beyond the greed of dead miners. Our building still has axe-marks in the pillars, where workers tested their tools and probably lost fingers while they were at it.

Tools weren’t the only industry that benefited from greed. Transportation, hospitality (yes, that means what you think it does), and real estate all grew massively as a result of the human feeling of entitlement to a large payoff with little work. And, if we’ve learned anything about humanity over the course of our evolution it’s that, for all the trappings of our technology, we are basic, greedy, rape-y, gross, gross animals who will do as little as we can in hopes of getting as much as we can, and in this way the craftsman, the poet, the artist, the careful creator of thoughtful, beautiful things, dies.

That’s earlier than usual for a depressing digression.

So. Here we are. It’s 2016. We have the joy of working in this amazing, national historical register place, and we’re making tools.

(Bear with me; I know it’s a heavy-handed analogy.)

We’ve been making tools for decades which, in the software world, is basically since 1849. We provided the tools for the last few tech booms and, not without bruising, we’re still around, and we’re better for it. We’ve adapted our tools to the changing needs of our customers, we’ve pivoted our entire business model, we’ve continued to grow, change, adapt, and remain relevant.

We’ve seen the pets.coms and the sidecars and everything in between and, it turns out, getting comfortable slowly beats out getting rich never every day of the week. Getting comfortable is deliberate. It takes into account all the factors, including the ecosystem into which you’ve grown your business, both in the cloud and on the ground.

The first Gold Rush was responsible for huge cultural growth in San Francisco. It was also responsible for the slaying abuse of the indigenous population. Many of us, the author included, are here as a result of Gold Rush 1.0, my family arriving in Grass Valley in the mid 1800’s. Gold Rush 2.0, while less physically violent, is ideologically no different. We natives have gotten comfortable with a place, feel entitled to our place and, regardless of how comfortable and entitled we may feel to it, more entitled, more greedy people will come in and “ruin” it. They won’t care about our native lands, our quirky cafes, our sacred grounds, our museums, our humble homes. They will raze everything to their benefit without a single reservation or tax-deductible donation to preserve the place they’re destroying.

When they leave, and they will, are beginning to leave as VC funding gets smarter, it will not look the same ever again. The quality, the character, the art, the humanity, will suffer. But our gorgeous San Francisco Bay Area, with its many incarnations, has suffered worse, with worse crimes committed by the greedy than a claimed owner-move-in on a 95-year-old woman living in a rent-controlled apartment in the Mission. Regardless, we will fare better than the first residents of this gorgeous place. People looking to get rich from a start-up care as much about us as the 49ers cared about the indigenous. But, in many ways, we’re still in the wild west; we’re creating the unfathomable, we’re building the impossible, we are in the central nervous system of world-changing concepts led by brilliant people. Creativity is the coin of the realm, and the rest of the consumer world exists on the backs of a kernel of creativity – new code, a stunning painting, an amazing bass line, a pocket computer.

The only hope we have is to invest in people. Invest in creation you don’t understand. Go to live theater, pay for art. There is an arts community and a small shop in your neighborhood. If you need help finding it, ask your social network. Create something yourself; learn to respect the process of creation. Produce an event, learn an instrument, draw something. It is in this way that you will learn to put a premium on creation (and not haggle with creators). This is how we can survive this second Gold Rush without allowing our indigenous to move out, to move away, to be driven to the wilds of the world, leaving us to our accounting team with nothing to account for, our human resources with no humans.

I’m having trouble re-integrating.

Shoes feel weird on my feet. I’m not in the habit of putting on shoes anymore and, when I go outside in sandals, it is just slightly too cold, as though I cannot gauge what it would take to make myself comfortable, and can only almost get myself there.

I don’t understand cruelty. I realize I never have.

I can’t sleep through sirens, now.

The casual indifference of interaction with those with whom we share our space is overwhelmingly unnatural.

I cannot make the leap of wishing someone were other than they are, rather than appreciating them for who they are, now. I have been this way since longer than I can remember. I don’t understand putting energy into wishing otherwise, aloud or to myself. I think differences are gorgeous, many times, as long as we remove ourselves from expectation, from want, from desire, from the root of suffering.

I have embraced live and let live in a way that enables me to jump out of a sinking boat and let others make their own decisions with all of the same information.

I don’t assume that someone standing in what I consider to be my personal space is being rude; I understand that it’s probably because they were raised in a different culture and it doesn’t mean the same thing to them that it does to me. But I’ll still move away from them.

Defaulting to kindness and the assumption of positive intent has never done any harm, anywhere.

The simple allowance of existence is deep within me in a way that finally feels unshakable. We will see how long it lasts in a place that consistently tells others how to exist.

My boundaries are firmer, and more gently guarded, than ever before. I am no longer unsure of them and their spikes have receded. I hope this manifests as that calm confidence I’ve always hoped to attain.

I still don’t like turbulence, but I made it through a 6 and then 14.5 hour flight, both fraught with it, and I didn’t post on the internet beforehand about how nervous I was. These steps are tiny and significant.

For forty days, I did not fear physical violence against my person. Can you even conceive of that? Returning is immersion, and ice cold.

I need to create art more, in whatever part of the world I find myself. I need your help doing this.

Being misunderstood is still a chief frustration, but I am not shy or exhausted by explaining gently, as if to a child, repeatedly if necessary… especially if I suspect the misunderstander is being deliberately obtuse, because I am a brat.

Years of wearing my badass on the outside have turned me into a fierce person who can, finally, endlessly, wear that fierceness beneath the surface under a gentle kindness with which I choose to face the world. I will, of course, falter, but the bones I want are there.

I feel, without a doubt, unequivocally, loved, in so many ways. I must never take this for granted.

Shoes feel weird on my feet.

I was raised not to have hope.
In fact, the working file name for this book is “Attempt”. Like “reach” versus “grab” or “try” versus “succeed”.
My mother instilled this; a child of war, her hope shattered with the death of her younger brother, at the age of nine.
Never mind that this death was likely preventable; she sapped the hope out of life and replaced it with fear, and so, for forty years, this has been my inheritance.
Can I change my inheritance? I’m trying. I try. (succeed?)
When I went for my first audition, at the age of 7, for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, where another parent might have put words of encouragement, my mother put caution. “Don’t get too excited,” she said. “It’s a professional group. Don’t get your hopes up.” Even after I got placed in the Training Group (not even the lowest level), when I went for the first rehearsal she cautioned me to not feel badly that the other girls were going to be so much better than I was.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” was the mantra for my childhood.
Instead of not getting them up, I got them down. Instead of fantasizing about a world in which I would be a famous singer, I envisioned shattered dreams. And, as my dreams grew, so, too, did the images of the dreams shattering; from typical naked performance dreams, to terrified “never seen the music before” solo nightmares, to visions of my loved ones dying.
I wish I could have taken it to heart.
When your mother dies when you are 22, older people who haven’t experienced anything remotely like what you are going through, older people with two living parents or who got to have their parents into their forties or later, who got to work through their issues with their parents to any degree at all, even if that degree was “they’re assholes and we’re not talking anymore”, say some really asinine shit. Things like “prepare yourself”.
This is bullshit.
Newsflash – there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself. And, very close to the final, choking moments of death-by-lung-cancer (non-smoking inflicted, to answer your silent question), we found ourselves with hope. Still with hope. Aging, graceless, grasping, blinders-on hope.
This is what you do when your mother dies at 56. Logically, you know that there is no way out. You know that this is not a game of odds. But it doesn’t matter, because the alternative is unthinkable. And so you hope. And you will tell yourself not to, but you will hope anyway, and you won’t believe it’s over, even when your sister holds a stethoscope to your mother’s heart, hearing its final beat, and, finally, after two minutes of no heartbeat, says “she’s gone”.
The moments between the last heartbeat and the waiting for the next heartbeat, you will know two things at once. You will know that this is the only peaceful finale to a messy, messy symphony. And you will know that you would turn heaven and earth, jump into the fire, sacrifice yourself if you could, to alter this course.
That is hope.
It is a temptress, a vixen, a cruel master, yet one we all obey if we are to exist in this world at all.
So here I am, on the tail-end of this journey, a different person than set foot into a second (functional) longtail at Pak Meng pier 11 days ago, different still than the person who got on a plane on December 26, and yet still I fear. And I have had more than one inexplicable opportunity on this voyage to face this fear, this pervasive thing in my life, that tells me not to get my hopes up, tells me I don’t to have this amazing, seeking voyage without dying in a plane crash at the end of it because, you know what? The universe requires balance. And I have been witness to and experienced so much beauty, earthly and otherwise, that I fear the pendulum swing.

A friend who recently started in tech from another industry posted about…well, what sounded like a pretty normal week in tech. I had a response I thought I’d share. And I wish someone had shared this with me 6 years ago when I was crazy deep in the weeds. They probably tried. Anyway, my response to this friend is here. Maybe it’ll help someone.


I watched this great master class with Pavarotti, you know, back in the day. And a student asked “what would you tell a director who cast you in something that wasn’t right for you?” And he said “the director is right. You trust the director. The director hears things, knows things, you don’t know, you can’t hear, sees things you can’t see. You have to trust the director.”

Tech is hard. It’s fucking fast, it’s insane, it’s exhausting, it’s ego-destroying, demoralizing, and insanely rewarding, especially if you’re the kind of person who is motivated by working on OMFG cool things with amazing, amazing people.

YOU ARE one of those people. You are one of those amazing people. YOU CANNOT BE MISCAST BECAUSE YOU WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT THROUGH THE INTERVIEW PROCESS, LET ALONE 7 WEEKS without being right for the job. *I promise you*. I still have days like this after 13 years in tech and nearly 3 years on my team. Because it’s FUCKING CHALLENGING. It’s never comfortable.

But you are NOT in the wrong role. You can’t be. You were not hired for your knowledge of tech; everyone knows that. You were hired for your brain, your unique take on things, how you view the world and your work, your character. I don’t need to talk to your hiring team to know that; I know that. The ONLY thing that will kill this for you is if YOU allow these thoughts to undermine you. Because when you second-guess yourself, your character, whether or not you belong there, you undermine the very character and qualities for which you were hired. So *don’t* do that. Have faith in not knowing. Have faith in the process. We’re all learning. How you handle this part, NOT how much you know, is what will decide your future. So go strong. Remember why you are here. And, if you need to remind yourself, come back and read this thread.

The hardest, hardest part of the rehearsal process is the first time through off-book. In front of people, you test your memorization of the role. It’s HUMILIATING. It’s wrong, and you know it, and everyone who is looking at the score knows it. But YOU aren’t looking at the score. You’re face-first into the fire, you’re DOING it. And, before long, you’ll be popping off APIs and SDKs like a fucking pro, and if you remember why you were hired, you are going to be a rockstar. You ARE a rockstar. As said above; you’re still learning the songs.

I love you. You’re not miscast, because that’s impossible. You HAVE THIS. And this is PART of it. The suckiest part. But a part that, the more comfortable you get with it, the more you’ll grow. I feel like this *a lot* and, every time I feel like this, my career takes another shot forward. Deep breath.

What if women paid 82% for everything in the U.S. until the gender pay gap was rectified?

I shut down a mailing list at work. I do this occasionally, because I see the appropriateness line in my rearview mirror, especially if I think something needs to be called out. Someone else started a thread with this article about women in San Francisco paying 70% more for car repair. I wish this were more surprising.

Someone else mentioned a woman-owned car repair shop.

I said “Shouldn’t we only have to pay 78%?!”
This was way off-base. It’s actually, according to the 2013 census, 82%. So, my bad. This effectively shut down the (fun, non-business) mailing list; no one’s responded.

So, what if women paid 82%? What if what we paid for goods and services, vehicles, groceries, travel, tuition…everything except tampons…was 82% of what men pay? It’s a fantasy. It will never happen, and the logistics are laughably impractical. But, damn, it would solve that pay gap quickly.