I Spy (Or Am Spied, Or Am Near a Spy, Or Something Else Spy-Related)

Friday, March 29, 2013

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I'd been in D.C. for only about two hours when my old stomping grounds (hate that phrase) did me a favor by being really, really weird, just like I'd remembered it to be.

I was sitting in a little faux-park in Dupont Circle, one of those cement spaces with benches & pigeons where businesspeople can escape their cubicles & eat lunch outside on sunny days, smack in the middle of crazy traffic of both the vehicular & pedestrian varieties. I was eating a bowl of meatballs & rice from Shophouse, which I lovingly refer to as "Asian Chipotle," while waiting for a friend to join me, when a normal-looking middle-aged woman sat down on the bench next to me.

She was... well, a normal-looking middle-aged woman in every sense of the word. Chin-length grey hair, yoga capris, a puffy jacket, clogs. She looked like she could've been my mother, if I permitted my mother to leave the house wearing clogs (love you, Mom). I wouldn't have thought anything special of her, except...

When she sat down, I heard her mutter, "No change" - but still, nothing registered on my weird-o-meter. Maybe she had a meter to feed & was aggravated to realize she couldn't? Or hates Barack Obama? Or... something? Sometimes people talk to themselves (love you, Mom). NBD, right?

Thirty seconds later, I heard her say it again: "No change." I couldn't see a phone or an earpiece, but I assumed she was taking a call by Bluetooth - or was a crazy person. DC is prone to both of those types of individuals, so again, not a huge deal.

But then, for the third time: "Still no change."

That's when it hit me: This woman was surveilling something - or someone. As I tried to process what was happening, she spotted her target. Though I couldn't make out everything she said over the jackhammering going on a block away, what I made out was approximately this: "Subject is approaching near Metro. He's wearing a short leather jacket and brown shoes. He has a military-style haircut & appears to be about 30 years old." Unfortunately, try as I might to identify the subject of her surveillance, I couldn't figure out who she was talking about without looking like a total busybody. 

Obviously, my train of thought from there went like this:
  1. "Am I on Betty White's Off Their Rockers? That show where old people prank young people? That could totally be happening right now. Play it cool, Kate, play it cool."
  2. "Holy shit, this is just like Law and Order. Plainclothes detectives! Who else within my line of sight is an undercover police officer? Is this a drug bust or a sex scandal? Wait, is this Scandal?!"
  3. "Tweet this immediately. Duh."
  4. "Things like this happen all the time in D.C., remember? My God, I miss this shit."
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She Who Had a Why to Live

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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The last time I saw my friend Elissa - really saw her, before the illness came back - was in December 2011, in Washington, D.C. I was in town to staff a conference put on by the organization I work for (which she also used to work for), & Elissa took time out of her own work/life schedule to attend. When she asked if she could crash with me in my work-paid hotel room, I of course said yes; having Elissa around was a joy, & I felt honored, even, that she'd want to spend the time with me. Unfortunately, my busy schedule while at the conference meant we didn't see much of one another, but we did get a little bit of time to catch up - & when she took off, before I could say goodbye to her, she left behind a package of chocolate-covered Peeps from the Just Born store around the corner & a sweet thank-you note for hosting her.

In February 2012, when I was living in New Hampshire, Elissa emailed to ask me if I had time to spend a free day with her in Boston while she was in town for work, but I had to decline, as I was to be in Israel at that time staffing a Birthright trip. When I think now that I missed the opportunity to spend this one-on-one time with her, even to do something as special as leading a trip to Israel, I feel physically ill. That same week, after Boston, Elissa flew to Atlanta, where she became sick, & then to Chicago, where she checked herself into the hospital - & never left it.

The next time I saw Elissa was in August of 2012 in Chicago, & by that point, she'd already been in the hospital for four months. She was awake but not necessarily alert; she knew I was there & engaged in conversation with me, but mostly, she asked me to talk, & she just listened. I caught her up on all the juicy-but-harmless gossip I could think of, friends' engagements & weddings & new jobs & moves. We talked a little bit about rabbinical school, which she'd been slated to attend that fall - & the fall before - but would have to defer yet again because of her health; Elissa was rarely angry, but I could tell that her continued delay in attending seminary was a tough subject for her to talk about or even think of. We talked about actor & comedian Jeff Garlin, who'd come to visit her in the hospital because he heard she loved Arrested Development, sat in the corner of the room & tried (& succeeded!) to make her laugh for a few hours. When I left her that day, I said I'd try to come back the next - but I didn't. You can bet I'm kicking myself for that now.

Elissa died on Friday of complications originally stemming from Hodgkins Lymphoma; she just couldn't get well again. But to speak of Elissa's illness as though it was the biggest thing about her does a disservice to this remarkable woman who defied all cliches & truly would've gone on to change the world. In her 29 short years on this earth, Elissa did so much more than most of us ever dream of doing, filling her days with kindness & love & a keen sense of what is right. She endeared everyone she met to her personality & her passions, & she fought for social justice in a tangible, change-making way - all while retaining an unrivaled sense of humor.

Yes, Elissa was truly a person unparalleled in humor, compassion, & sense of justice, & as such, there is so much to say about her. I could tell you all about Elissa as social justice hero, because she was - for me, for so many others, for people she never even met. I could tell you all about the incredible things Elissa did for the world, because she did - on reproductive rights, equality, immigration, gun violence prevention, & so many more, she fought hard, made a difference, & would've continued to. I could tell you about what a righteous Jewish woman Elissa was, because it's true, in a sense of the word "righteous" that is almost beyond by comprehension. But someone else can tell you about those things, like in these two beautiful, fitting tributes to Elissa given at her funeral on Sunday. What I want to tell you about is Elissa as my friend, as a humble, down-to-earth person who never sat on any high horse but found a way to relate to every person in a unique way - someone who made you feel special, like you were one of her best friends, even if you were just one of many in a sea of people who loved her.

One of my favorite memories of Elissa is of the time we saw one of the Twilight films together at the Uptown in D.C., neither of us too embarrassed to see it alone but both knowing it would be much more fun together. We silent-laughed throughout most of it, trying hard not to be disrespectful to other viewers by being too loud - & when the movie ended, we both agreed that the Harry Potter preview was the best part of the whole experience (aside from Taylor Lautner's abs, which we both felt creepy about). We walked toward home together in the dark, discussing dating & cancer & how tough it was for her to make the two work with one another; that was the first time - & maybe the only time - Elissa & I ever talked about the possibility of her dying.

I remember the time Elissa avoided attending an event I'd be at because she was wearing my favorite dress - & she was afraid I'd be upset with her. In an email to be titled "Mea culpa," she wrote, "I ask for your forgiveness: I am weak, and too full of admiration for your awesome stylin' self to have not purchased the dress." I laughed & laughed at the absurdity both of my being upset with her &, the idea of us buying the same outfit from a Dress Barn, & we promised to consult each other if ever we planned to wear the dress & might run into each other. We did this so well, in fact, that I can recall zero instances in which we showed up in the same place in the same frock - which feels, in retrospect, like a disappointment, as I know this would've become a cherished photo.

I remember the time Elissa asked Emily & I to teach her about blogging, to help her find a new layout & to make her blog, She Who Has a Why, more accessible to readers so she could most effectively convey her cancer journey with friends & family. I remember the time Elissa read my tweet about fear of an upcoming MRI & offered to attend it with me, allaying so much of my anxiety & reading the then-newly released Babysitters Club prequel while she waited. I remember when she hosted a few of our friends for a small, intimate Rosh HaShanah dinner at her apartment, serving, among other things, the most delicious kugel I've ever tasted - & sending me the recipe to it later. I remember when I was having terrible back pain & Elissa offered me Vicodin from her personal stash. "You have cancer!" I told her, refusing to take them. "Which means I can get more!" she insisted, making me.

I remember excitedly making plans with Elissa to see Newsies on Broadway, as she was one of only two people I know whose love for it rivaled mine, but she was already in the hospital when her ticket date (March 31st of last year) rolled around. I remember staffing these ridiculously draining seminars with her for another Jewish organization, because we couldn't pass up the money but also couldn't really bear to do them, except that they gave us some time together. I remember quoting 30 Rock back & forth in person & by email & on Facebook because neither of us could get enough of Kenneth Parcell or "werewolf bar mitzvah." I remember the way her voice sounded & how easy her laugh was & what a victory it felt like to get it out of her, these happy, loud belly laughs that made everyone else laugh, too.

I remember so many things, but I wish I remembered more because truly, no amount of time with Elissa could ever make up for a lifetime without her.

Rest easy, my dear friend. Let us all be worthy of carrying on your legacy.

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Brooklyn: I Spent a Month There One Night

Friday, March 22, 2013

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I like sleeping a lot, so weekends are sort of a struggle for me in that I really want to spend them in bed but recognize that I should be, like, more of a person. A person who does stuff. Last weekend, Nathan & I did stuff, & it turned out to be so much better than napping. We spent the night at a surprisingly uncrappy hotel in Bushwick, sharing a room with his brother & soon-to-be sister-in-law, who were in town for the night from Philly. We ate some mediocre Thai food & went to a Doctor Who bar with a TARDIS bathroom & tried Lay's weird new chicken-&-waffle-flavored chips (verdict: I wish they were just waffle-flavored).

After they left early the next morning, Nathan & I wandered Brooklyn, making our way to an eerily empty Williamsburg on a lightly snowy Saturday. As we killed time before an afternoon showing of Silver Linings Playbook at the amazing Nitehawk Cinema (they serve craft beer & homemade jerky, among other things, while you watch the movie), I snapped copious iPhone photos of beautiful Brooklyn while Nathan mostly rolled his eyes a lot & indulged my repeated insistence that "It's for the blog!"

Recently, I was shocked to learn that a lot of my friends have never been to New York City, which means they've certainly never been to Brooklyn, & I'm just now beginning to explore it myself. I was so taken by the crazy, beautiful urban art on every corner of Williamsburg that I wanted to share a little bit of our day with you in case you've never been there, either, & in the hope that you'll find yourself just as taken.


PS: Bonus points & all my love if you know where the title of this post comes from.
PPS: We have no plans this weekend. Please do not bother be before 11am on either day.

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All Adventurous Women Do: On Being Hannah Horvath

Thursday, March 21, 2013

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Everyone hates HBO's Girls, right? It's become, like, A Thing. People, especially those who dwell primarily on the Internet (like me...), love to hate on the show, its creator, its creator's body, & every plot line said creator comes up with, from maybe-rape (by the way, totally rape) to the lack of characters of color to that whole "voice of a generation" line that first started getting everyone's undies in a bunch.

Yeah, I get it. It's become trendy to hate Girls. So trendy, in fact, that whenever I mention my love of it - or, hell, even just that I watch it, regardless of how I actually feel about it - someone responds to tell me how awful the show is & how awful my taste must be if I happen to enjoy it. Because Hannah is self-absorbed & every other character is vapid & there are no black people & whatever other reasons people hate it for. And look, I get it; I really do. I don't have such pop culture blinders on that I fail to recognize the flaws & misgivings of the pieces of work I love - but mostly, I just love them anyway.

I am woefully aware of how uncomfortable this season of Girls has been, & I've noted it myself. The episode when Marnie sang Kanye at her ex-boyfriend's hip office party was the stuff real-life horror is made of; the truly heinous jumpsuit Hannah wore in the weird episode when she played house with a middle-aged doctor stranger was, well, truly heinous. And the arguments about vanity, race, & everything except Lena Dunham's body are, to varying extents, totally valid. I'm not saying they're not. What I'm saying is that for so many viewers - myself included - Girls & the girls in it are, if not the voices of our generation as a whole, at least the voices inside our heads.

In Hannah, I see so much of myself. Does that make me self-absorbed? Well, OK, I guess I'll cop to that sometimes, because I'm 28 & a lot of twentysomethings, privileged or not, use theirs 20s to discover themselves, & sometimes self-discovery veers into that territory before you learn better. Am I as self-absorbed as Hannah? I sure as hell like to think I'm not, but let's not forget that Girls is a TV show & Hannah Horvath is not a real person, so caricatures are to be expected. Still, the similarities are enough that I feel a fondness toward Hannah in a way that's unexpected & even uncomfortable, from the time she fooled around with a stranger who was just barely of age to the way she reacts to returning to her Midwestern hometown to the fact that if anyone ever read my personal journal aloud on stage set to music, everyone who loves me would start to loathe me. And while I've never cut my own hair, I did have a life crisis & shave my head, which might actually be worse.

Though her quirky quips occasionally remind me of myself in a good way, Hannah overwhelmingly reminds me of the worst of me, the parts I wish weren't there. Much as I wish I didn't, I understand all too well being a person who appears to be fully functional & even smart & with-it who is essentially a jumble of rubble inside, a house that looks safe & comfortable but is full of asbestos that threatens to asphyxiate its inhabitants. I understand turning yourself into a human guinea pig for the sake of the experience, living for the story that you can't even bring yourself to actually write about. I understand the bizarre mix of ego & anxiety, putting up a front that you don't even realize is a front, coming off as self-absorbed because you're actually so full of self-loathing that you can't help but give it all your attention in an effort to, you know, change... all while trying to soothe yourself by saying - & believing, & trying to accept - that this is just who you are. When Hannah's neighbor Laird tells her she's "rotten inside," I hurt for her because I've been there, in a place where the people outside of me can't see the goodness inside of me, where I seem like a raging asshole because, well, what's coming out of my mouth sure makes me seem that way, even if I know, in my heart, that it doesn't match up the way I really feel or am.

Like so many others, I've been hanging on this whole awkward season of Girls, waiting for that quirky season-one spunk to return to the show, for some of the melancholy to lift, for the discomfort to subside. I've been waiting in earnest, & last Sunday, during the season finale, that didn't happen. You know what did happen? In the finale scene - when Hannah's ex-boyfriend Adam recognizes the pain in her voice & the mental illness seeping through whatever facade she sometimes-not-really manages to put up, when he runs through Brooklyn shirtless to get to her, to break her door down, to pick her up & comfort her while she cries & panics - in that scene, I saw life. Not a life that ties up neatly with the happy endings or plot-twisting cliffhangers we expect from highly rated cable TV, but actual life, the kind that is sometimes fantastic & sometimes horrific, & usually someplace in between. (And Dear The Atlantic: This is not "happily ever after." Are you fucking nuts?)

My insightful & eloquent friend Lexa wrote about the Hannah/Adam scene in a way that I respect but don't really agree with, mostly because I think all the people writing about this non-couple's romance have it all wrong. This scene wasn't about romance. It was about rescue, about need, about recognizing another human being on the edge & caring enough for that person to be absolutely fucking nuts in your insistence upon making sure they don't fall apart in an irrevocable or irreparable way. I'm not discounting the idea that maybe Adam ran half-naked through the city because he loves Hannah in some re-realized girlfriendy way (he's not a real person, so I don't really know), but what I saw in that scene was someone who loves someone else, period, & doesn't want that person to fall off the edge. I think that if you're scared enough for somebody, you go a little nuts, shirtless on the subway & all, because you will do whatever the hell it takes to make sure that person knows that someone cares & that she is not alone.

My boyfriend said during the season finale of Hannah's recently revealed (& relapsed) OCD, "I feel like this came out of nowhere, like they made it up for the storyline." But that's how mental illness works, & that's what makes it such a dangerous beast. Those on the outside can't always see it there, & if a person with mental illness is mostly functioning "normally," that mental illness appears not to exist. That means that all the crazy things a person does as a result of it, or as a result of trying to get it under control? Just makes them look crazy - and no one else can tell the difference. In that final scene on Sunday, in Hannah, I saw me, just a few years ago, terrified of my own mind & unable to express what was inside of it to those who loved me. I recognized that fear & pain that comes with actual mental illness, not just standard twentysomething vapidity or self-absorption. I remembered what it felt like to be at that end of the life spectrum, the end that feels like the end, when you're not sure if you'll keep going & make your way through or if you're going to actually just give up & be done with it. I remember crying at night & praying that someone, anyone, would somehow just know that I needed them, really needed them, that even though I was probably being crazy & dramatic, I wasn't just being crazy & dramatic. I was stuck, & I was scared, & sometimes that's how those things manifest themselves.

People rescued me. Maybe not in the grandiose, "romantic" way that Adam did Hannah on Girls last weekend, but they did. One night in college, when I cut myself too deep, my sorority big came over, washed off the blood & put me to bed & promised to be there in the morning. The day Dave died, three of my best friends got in a car & drove to get me, not trusting me to do it alone. And when I was falling, falling, falling, in a crazy way I can scarcely explain at this stage in my life because it's just so far removed from my current state of mind, I stayed put because I knew, somewhere in there in a place I couldn't find but still knew existed, that a few vital people loved me & needed me around, even if I was convinced they all hated me (& even if they sometimes really did, because frankly, crazy people are often hateable).

I don't hate Hannah Horvath because it would be, I think, too much like hating myself, & I'm just so tired of that. I can't hate myself anymore; I haven't for a long time, even on the days when I think I do. I make bad decisions sometimes, still stuck with anxiety issues & impulse control problems & fear of commitment & whatever the hell else might be residually wrong with me (I probably need a therapist, I know). I don't hate myself, & I can't hate other people who are sick like I was, even if they seem totally insane & unlovable & batshit crazy - because crazy is hard & hurts really badly, & I believe that most of those people just need love & maybe some medication to find their way back to some modicum of sanity. Like I did.

I read once that someone referred to Hannah as an "unlikeable protagonist," & I think this is sort of an apt description but also sort of not at all, because we're all the protagonists in our own lives, but are any of us wholly unlikeable? And do you want your TV characters to be so whitewashed & unrealistic that they are? Because, look, if you want that, there are a host of other shows that I can suggest you watch instead. But I'm going to keep watching this one because it reminds me of who I am & who I was & who I'm not anymore & who I never want to be again - but keeps me grounded enough to remember that some people are still that person, & maybe they need people like Adam & me to reassure them that they won't always be.

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Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness, or at Least the Opposite of Dirtiness

Sunday, March 17, 2013

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Are you convinced? No? Me neither.
Nathan is cleaner than I am. I hate saying it this way because it sounds like I'm, you know, filthy, & I'm not actually that bad, but the reality is simply that my boyfriend is a cleaner, neater, more organized individual than I. Blame it on the military, if you will ("If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean," he sometimes says, which he surely learned in the Coast Guard), but it's just not a level of cleanliness that I've got in me. He's forever asking me to unload the dishwasher or do the litterbox or unpack a suitcase from that trip I took two weeks ago, & I do my best to keep up because I'm not dirty, thankyouverymuch, but without him around, I'd just, um, move more slowly on these things. Anyway, I appreciate it & think it's great that one of us, at least, care about things like "dusting the horizontals."

This afternoon, we grabbed lunch at the Cinnamon Snail, my favorite (vegan!) food truck in all the land, & then decided to wander around downtown Red Bank & check out some of the places we rarely get to. After two hours of exploring, we made it home fired up &, surprisingly, ready to clean. Maybe it's the spring air or my new-found dedication to saving/making/finding money for a trip to Spain next year that's driving this, but lately, I'm all-hands-on-deck when it comes to getting organized & even minimalizing (which has previously been, shall we say, Not My Thing). I've been making piles of things to sell, things to donate, things to throw away forever, things to shred... so many things. I just want to get all the things in place, even & especially if that place is not in my home. Anyway, I came home from this long walk & felt inspired to do something moderately meaningful or at least, like, useful, & I decided that cleaning would be that thing.

I realized today that I have a few requirements for being a decent cleaner, most of them having to do with wardrobe:
  1. On days I want to get a lot of housework done, I cannot take a shower. I mean, I can when I'm done, but usually, I'm a person who showers every morning (or, OK, on my lunch break), & ironically, if I want to be super-clean, I cannot clean, well, me. If I shower, get dressed, & put on makeup, I feel too prissy to get down & dirty. I don't want to waste a shower, yanno? Err... no? Just me?
  2. Though I cannot shower on big cleaning days, I also cannot be a total hobo. If I stay in my pajamas & try to start cleaning, I'm always two steps away from taking a nap. When I sit down to sort through bills, I might just stay down... & start watching TV. Instead, I have to put on workout clothes -  usually leggings & a sports bras & a T-shirt - so that I feel like I ought to be moving.
  3. Also, shoes. I have to wear shoes if I want to be serious about the cleaning. The logic here is that if I'm shoeless, I'm more inclined to take a nap. "That bed looks so nice now that I've made it! Perhaps I should give it a try?" But if I'm wearing sneakers, I always feel like I'm on the go, like I've got somewhere to be & simply cannot take the time to sit down on that newly lint-rolled couch with the recently fluffed pillows.
I got a lot done today. I'm still wearing my shoes as I type this, actually, because I wanted to feel compelled to finish it. Perhaps I've discovered the secret to my own all-around productivity...
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I Can Make It On My Own, But My Heart is In Ohio

Thursday, March 7, 2013

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I took a week off of work to go on a "vacation" to Ohio, but then, because I'm sort of inept & disorganized when it comes to the whole Being An Adult thing, I realized I'd double-booked my trip back to the Buckeye State at the same time as I was supposed to be in Austin for SXSW Interactive. I'd already bought plane tickets & registered for the conference, yet I still somehow thought it was in April, so when my friend Sean said, "See you at SXSW in three weeks!" & I had no idea what he was talking about, you can only imagine my surprise.

Anyway, it's three weeks later now, & the Ohio portion of my trip - the vacation part - is over. Cue the sad trombone. But all back-to-the-real-world mopiness aside, I'm really, really proud of myself for disconnecting as well as I did. In a move nearly unprecedented for me - me, who sometimes puts up "out of office messages" on the weekends out of guilt about not getting back to people quickly enough - I turned my work email off of my iPhone & only checked it once, from my laptop, for half an hour. Despite the occasional niggling panic about all the things I wasn't getting done in the office, I managed to do almost no work while I was away, which is, you know, how vacation ought to be. After a really rough few weeks at work - a few weeks that, frankly, had left me emotionally barren & professionally burned out - this trip back home was exactly what I needed.

I came back with so much to say, too. I fell asleep at night, in my childhood bed but with Nathan next to me, thinking of things to say & write & do, changes to make, steps to take. I woke up enthusiastic & inspired & excited about life - or, at least, about vacation. I thought a lot about myself & my ambitions & who I was versus who I am & whatever all of that that means, basically, in the grand scheme of My Whole Life & the subcategory of What Comes Next. As cliche as it sounds, I feel like this visit gave me a real understanding of what people mean when they say they need to "recharge their batteries."

Needless to say, there are a lot of posts swimming through my head now. There are a lot of things to say. And in true-to-me fashion, I feel like I need to say them all now or that they'll become irrelevant & untimely, so I'm tempted to just start writing each & every single one of them this very minute. But for now, for the next three hours, while I wait in a cafe at the Austin airport for Sean & our friend Daphne to get in 8:30, I'm going to check in on some work stuff, & then I'm going to close my computer & get back to reading the book I took on the plane, Dark Places by the brilliant Gillian Flynn. I know that being at SXSWi for the next few days will mean all systems go, all the time, & that certainly includes my hard drive - but I'm going to savor the remnants of my vacation while I can.

In the meantime, here are some pictures. Ohio, I love you. Thanks for restoring my sanity.

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Things That Are Super Not OK

Friday, March 1, 2013

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Just a few moments ago, from my iPhone (which is why I can't figure out how to better place the photo) while on a road trip (I'm not driving, fear not), I sent this email to the people at Solid Gold Bomb, a company that saw fit to produce & sell this shirt & a number of similar ones on Amazon UK.

I'm sure a few people will comment saying there are bigger world problems to worry about, & hey, I'm worried about those, too. But I think it's important to speak out when things are not OK, & this is one of those things that's really, really easy to speak out about. If you want to do so, I encourage you to send an email to service@solidgoldbomb.com expressing your concern slash disgust.

Hi, Solid Gold Bomb folks,

I know you're hearing from a great many people about your variety of "Keep Calm & Rape..." shirts being sold by Amazon UK, & I'd like to add my voice to the mix. As you're surely aware, sexual violence affects million of women worldwide. In the United States alone, one in three women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, totaling more than 17.7 million. And it's not just women: One in 33 men is the victim of sexual violence.

Your shirts, likely intended to be light-hearted & funny, trivialize a heinous crime that traumatizes victims & ruins lives. I very much hope you'll pull these offensive shirts from the market & cease production & sales of them, as well as issuing a public apology that indicates that your company understands the severity & impact of this "joke." Going forward, I hope Solid Gold Bomb will pay close attention to how its statements may be received by the public & act with more forethought & compassion.

Thank you for your time & consideration.

Kate B.

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