In Support of a Good Friend

Perhaps the best thing one can feel about one’s friends is the desire to tell everyone you meet, “You ought to know so-and-so,” or “I hope you can meet …,” about them. Even better than that, I suppose, is telling your friends that you think of them in this way. I am grateful that this is a familiar feeling in my life.

I would like all of you to meet my good friend Kat. She is one of the more remarkable people I have met: 20 years old but with many more years than that in life experience, honest up to the point just before it becomes “honest to a fault,” curious, and funny. A good beginning songwriter and keyboard player. She has many ambitions, and one is to study in England; because no one would have given her a chance to attend college at all but she is a student at The New School through her own initiative and work anyway, I think that she will be attending school in England. She needs help with this, however.

She is pursuing her own fundraising this month at this site: Help Kat Study Abroad.

Kat has some details for us:

Attending college was a huge first step into making a better life for myself than the one I had come from. After spending some time in foster care as a kid and constantly feeling the need to fight to be heard, I am adamant about helping others find and share their voice.

Being in college has helped me to start on this journey, but I feel it is important to take my goals a step further. My goal is to study abroad at the University of Sussex next semester, and I need your help!

The University of Sussex is located in Brighton, which is known for its effective role in a variety of social movements. Attending the University of Sussex would develop yet provide opportunities to learn through real life experiences. Some examples of opportunities I plan on getting involved in include an organization called Mind Out, which is a mental health service targeted towards LGBTQ people. As someone who is a member of the LGBTQ community, I feel it needs to be incorporated in my activism.

What follows is an autobiographical essay that Kat wrote earlier this year. It is reprinted with permission.

In My Skin” by Kat McCauley
Nothing felt real. The words that were coming out of my mouth were not my own. I was watching life around me happen, and had no say in the outcome of any of it. If anything was felt, it was discomfort, but even that felt far away. Everything felt far. I was floating further and further away from what was supposed to be my body. It was like going in and out of consciousness. I was told my mind was playing tricks on me. I wanted so badly to feel, but there was nothing gradual about who I was at the time, and any feeling that became present overcame me like a tornado. Before I knew it I was unmanageable and going down a long dark hill at a rapid pace. I was fourteen years old, and had never felt more alone. I was so good at pretending to be social, that no one knew how truly antisocial I had become. I was a chameleon, and could pick up on anyone’s personality. I could be anybody’s best friend. But nobody knew me.

I had been struggling with severe depression and feelings of dissociation for a few years, and had tried to keep it together.

Having just gotten out of foster care, I was learning quickly that suppressing my feelings was not going to work for me anymore. I had tried so hard for so long to be the perfect image. I wanted to control how people saw me, but eventually the truth caught up with me, and I had to learn to feel things as they were happening. It was a huge challenge, for I had never, until being in foster care, had the chance to experience my feelings in a safe environment. Feeling was something I viewed as dangerous and weak. I wanted to persevere. I wanted to be the one who did it all alone. Feelings became completely overwhelming and unintelligible for me. I had spent so long suppressing them, that if a feeling came up, I would go numb. The number I was, the further away I felt from myself.

It was at fourteen years old that I realized I could no longer persevere alone. I showed up to school one morning, something I hadn’t been doing very often, and ended up being sent away to a mental hospital by a guidance counselor who had become aware of how much I had been struggling. Terrified, I was forced back into my own skin, a place unfamiliar and lonely. While this was not the last time I would be sent away, being in the hospital taught me a lot about true bravery and strength. While being away in a safe space I began to face some of the demons that had brought me there in the first place. It gave me breathing room to begin to process some of the trauma I had faced growing up. It gave me the chance to learn how to take care of myself.

I can now see that strength comes in many forms. For me today, strength and courage come in the form allowing myself to be raw and to be seen. This is where the growth happens. This is where I can begin to heal. Through the love of the people who see me, I have been able to reclaim the love I’ve always wanted to have for myself. For a long time, my biggest hope was to want to want to feel safe. I realize now that I wanted to be okay the entire time; I just didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t think that someone like me, someone who came from dysfunction, someone who didn’t even feel connected to a body, could ever even consider the possibility of being safe. Today, I know it is possible to be safe in my skin. I am able to love and be loved in an authentic way. I am able to feel and to process the experiences of everyday life. I am able to live comfortably in my skin. Always Remember: YOU are LOVED. You are important! Most urgent of all, YOU ARE WORTH BEING SEEN.

I did not know Kat in that difficult period of her life, but all the work she has put into pursuing her truth over these years has given my friends and me one of the most authentic human beings we have been lucky enough to know. You ought to know her. I hope you get to meet her. I hope you can help her.

Requiem for a Sponsor

Thinking of you today, Charles F. Brennan, III, my friend Charlie (November 2, 1960–April 7, 2014). His funeral mass card carried a quote from Emerson: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

I wrote what follows the day he died:
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About My About.me Page, Online Friends, and A New Award

On March 3, I went viral. My “About.me” page was featured on that website’s “popular” list, and my page, which usually receives about 150 views per day, was seen by 3051 other About.me users, 2000 within the first hour of being listed. Another 1300 visited the next day.

It was like being famous, minus the fame or anything fame-like.

According to its own publicity, About.me profiles are viewed 150 million times per month, which sounds an awful lot like publicity. The online identity service has about five million official, registered users, most of whom, like me, use it for free. In 2010, AOL purchased the site, and in 2012, its founders purchased it back from AOL, when AOL discovered (faster than it usually does) that it was not going to become bigger than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn combined just by adding free subscribers.

Even the founders of About.me (the link is to the company’s WordPress blog) do not seem to harbor ambitions for it to be all of those websites rolled into one; instead, it is intended to be an online identity website. It’s a virtual business card service. As you can see from my personal page, it is the only location where one can find a connection to all of my pages (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), and—in several places, at the top of the page, at the bottom of the page, and twice in between—to my blog. The blog you are reading. It has a nice spooky photo that I took at Olana last year and a selfie I took with the laptop I am using right now.

Now, as far as I can see, there is no reason for anyone who is already reading this website right here—my chief means of expression in the whole, wide world—to visit my About.me virtual business card, and I am not advertising for the company here. But what happened on March 3, when I went viral, told me a lot about social media and online expectations. Since I launched this website in January, the number of direct visits from About.me to this blog is 22. Total. This includes that momentous day when thousands viewed my page and saw my links and (mostly) ignored my hints to check out “The Gad About Town.”

There is a show business saying that if a performer is a great enough talent, “you could put him (or her) behind a brick wall and he will still find a way to entertain.” While I believe this to be true in idealistic theory, I also think that not putting him behind a brick wall would be very very helpful. If a website is going to be worth a visit, publicity is going to help get that visit.

When an About.me user visits one’s page, their page appears on yours. I started to see a few users re-appear and then three-appear on mine. About.me added features such as a “Like Your Photo” button, and some of these individuals became correspondents. A few dozen correspondents became Twitter acquaintances. And a handful now communicate with me via “The Gad About Town” and their own blogs. So those 22 visits out of 49,000 views (my total so far since November) are very valuable, as they resulted in real readers who are becoming that rarest of thing: real, online friends.

One of these real, online friends, Tazein Mirza Saad, lives in Singapore and maintains a very energetic, inspiration-filled website with about 3000 followers. She awarded me the fireworks trophy seen at the top of this post, the “Wonderful Team Membership Award,” a name that is a mouthful. But I still accept it.

2014 WordPress Awards Season

As with all of these WordPress awards, there are rules, which include: “1. The Nominee shall display the logo on their post/page/sidebar. 2. The Nominee shall nominate several best team members. 3. The Nominee shall make these rules, or amend rules keeping to the spirit of the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award. 4. The Nominee must finish this sentence and post: ‘A great reader is …'”

Among the readers whom I met first via About.me, then Twitter, and with whom I now communicate via our blogs, I am grateful to have “met” Tazein; Terry Irving, who gave me a big boost on his great website about writing and journalism within a couple weeks of my WordPress debut, and whose first novel “Courier” is due out in April; and Catherine Townsend-Lyon, who has created two huge and hugely helpful websites dedicated to helping people in recovery (“Recovery Ramblings” and “Just a Recovery Author Learning to Be a Better Writer“), and who has shared encouragement with me several times. All three are “great readers,” active readers who generously give other writers encouragement. My thanking them here does not require them to do anything. How’s that for an award?

There are several other writers with whom I communicate via our WordPress blogs, and I only hope both lists continue to grow. We aren’t behind any brick walls here.