Netflix & Me

Poster by Evan B. Harris

It had been a few minutes since the credits first appeared, and still the tears fell.

I know what you’re thinking: “What a sap.” And you’re totally right. I wasn’t always this way, however. Growing up, I was the stoic one. Whenever my siblings and I got scolded for something, I was the one staring my father down, expressionless or, if I was feeling especially defiant, with a smile. I was the same with movies. Crying was a sign of weakness, and emerging from a heartwrenching movie dry-eyed among a sea of weepers was a victory. Even worldwide tragedy failed to move me.

It wasn’t that I was heartless, of course. I was just too young to have loved then lost, to have failed at something I’d worked so hard at, to have been humbled. I needed life experience before I could fully empathize with others. At 25, I’m a bit more hardened by my personal underachievements, failed relationships and the knowledge that life changes whether or not you will it to, and there’s no sense in making sense of it.

Whatever triggered it, it was as if I’d been hoarding my tears all those years so my twentysomething self could cry at any hint of sadness in a movie, a TV show or an Olympic moment, whether or not they were deserving of my sap. You know the scene in “Knocked Up” when Leslie Mann finds out Paul Rudd has been sneaking out to play fantasy baseball with the guys, and she, in tears, tells him she also likes “Spider-Man”? Yup, I cried at that.

And in “Sex and the City” when Harry proposes to Charlotte at the singles mixer? I cry every single time. And I own the DVD.

How about in “Marley and Me” when… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you guys, but when Marley, you know? Cried at that, too. And I’m not talking about whimpering-quietly-to-myself-as-tears-rolled-down-my-cheeks crying. It was the kind of crying you should only do alone, except I happened to be in a room with friends. The only thing that prevented me from engaging in raw ugly-face crying was my fear of ridicule.

But yesterday I was fortunate enough to have been alone to enjoy a full-out ugly-face cry. After months of frugality, I finally allowed myself to subscribe to Netflix (Let me just say the instant playback is amazing. My first Netflix experience was back in the days when good ol’ fashioned snail-mailed DVDs were the only option).  I scoured the list of recommendations, which prompted feelings of pure excitement and insult (“You really think I’d watch THAT?”), and settled on the documentary “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.” I knew nothing about it, and that’s how I prefer to watch everything these days. Everything was a surprise.

For 90 minutes I teetered between laughing, crying, horror, crying, disbelief, crying, joy and crying. By the time the credits rolled, I was exhausted. The first thing I wanted to do, which is my litmus test for movies, was tell someone about it. I tweeted, told a friend and my boyfriend about it, but nevertheless it haunted me. It was the most I’d cried over a movie, largely due to the fact that it was constructed so wonderfully, edited in a way in which its audience could feel the filmmaker’s anguish and hope. At one point, I vowed to make an effort to spend more time with loved ones, to help people, to change the world in some way and to galvanize others to join me in my crusade against nothing in particular. What makes it deeply affecting is that all of it actually happened and, incredibly, that those involved were strong enough to rise above their sorrows and help others. They’re perfect examples that courage isn’t about the absence of fear. It’s about knowing and seeing the risks, of all the bad in the world, of the worst that can happen and, in spite of it, living and loving anyway.

To lift my spirits, I watched “Notting Hill” afterward. And you know what? I didn’t cry. is up & running

You can find this smoker & possibly some non-smokers at

You might have noticed I’ve been absent. If you haven’t, then fine. I don’t need you anyway…

(Come back.)

For those of you who have been religiously refreshing my blog in hopes of seeing a new entry — thanks, Dad! — I apologize for the nothingness. I had planned a few entries for the week (and now they’ll hopefully be written this week), but then something amazing happened. Well, two things:

(1) I discovered delicious tiramisu at Trader Joe’s.
(2) I found a job as a writer/researcher for a great company on Union Square, which coincidentally is where Trader Joe’s is located, which means I will have daily access to this delicious tiramisu if I so desired.

The stars have aligned!

Because a full-time job will force me to manage my time a lot more efficiently, I knew I had to get my online portfolio up and running before my first day. I’ve spent the last week doing just that. It’s funny I finally finished it, considering I started working on it before I even moved to New York. It might also have been before my temp job at a law firm, which was back in July. I was that slow.

It wasn’t that anything about the portfolio itself was intricate. In fact, I wanted something so simple that even a beginning HTML-er could construct it. Black text on white? Check. That was my one requirement.

The thing that held me back, however, was the idea of having an online portfolio. I know it’s weird to say this, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of bragging about myself. Yes, I promote myself through blogs (which is fun) and list my work history on Facebook, which used to be is fun, but an online portfolio is basically a collection of your best work, your supposed successes, and a chance to tell the world, “Hey, look at me! I am awesome!”

There are the lucky few who don’t really need a portfolio to tell the world that. I, unfortunately, do. I’m a writer, yes, and my byline has appeared in hundreds of articles. The byline, of course, is the author’s name in tiny, tiny font at the top of the article. Most people don’t even look at it. It’s a way to stamp your work without drawing attention to yourself. I’m perfectly comfortable drawing attention to my writing (though some articles have given me night sweats and insomnia in anticipation of publishing something potentially controversial), but unless I’m being funny (at least in my head) or doing a cool jig, I’m not comfortable drawing attention to myself as “Karen Bolipata, the writer of awesome things.”

With that said, I know that marketing is a major part of freelancing. So, I had to get over it. Here I am, getting over it. Please check out my portfolio. Feedback is much appreciated.

And oh, if you need writing services, hire me.

Conversations with Strangers

Albert was in his 50s, or given Asians’ tendency to look perpetually young, maybe even older.

He sat next to me on the plane, and as I’d gotten very little sleep before my flight (I’d spent the morning running errands and 30 minutes of it  packing), I was in no mood for small talk. I pulled out a book, turned on my ipod and hoped the plane would lull me to sleep.

But Albert was persistent. I can’t remember how the conversation started or what in my “I’m busy” demeanor gave him the indication that I welcomed conversation, but almost instantly the questions began. And they didn’t stop for much of our 12-hour flight.

He was curious about the dozens of college students on the same flight to Spain and perhaps he could sense my apprehension. At 22, I’d traveled little, as my parents could barely afford to send my siblings and me to college, let alone plan overseas excursions outside of going to the homeland to attend funerals (and for all those trips my mom went solo). I’d held jobs in high school and college, having to rely on those paltry earnings to fund my own excursions (which in college translated to beer, food, gas and more beer).

Though it was my first time alone on a plane, I’d always been independent. My parents didn’t like that. In fact, they discouraged anything I wanted to do that didn’t involve staying home until I was whisked away by a suitor, preferably Filipino, in some respectable profession. They especially couldn’t fathom how their youngest daughter could survive four months in a huge city like Barcelona.

“You have good parents,” Albert told me, “for letting you do this.”

And just like that, he put things in perspective.

When we landed we said our goodbyes, and I watched him disappear into the crowd.

* * *

Though journalism is in a downward spiral, I haven’t regretted pursuing it. Through it, I’ve grown accustomed to talking to strangers and developing an insight into all sorts of people. Albert was different because I didn’t need a story from him, and he actually taught me a thing or two about traveling (Lesson 1: Conversations with strangers en route might actually be quite meaningful).

I’ve applied that to everyday life. I can’t say I make friends with everyone I meet or that I haphazardly go to bars to talk to strangers, but when the situation presents itself I consider it an opportunity to potentially learn from someone. That’s not to say I don’t take necessary precautions or stay aware of my surroundings.

Naturally, it’s drawn some criticism from friends who don’t share the same view. Often they tell me horror stories of kidnappings and murders, with the implication I will meet the same fate unless I bring a weapon or bodyguard. But journalists are always on their own, I tell them. Though they write for news organizations and may be accompanied by a crew, journalists do much of the reporting alone before the cameras roll. It’s probably in their best interests not to venture to war-torn countries, but how else will these stories get told?

I haven’t been anywhere close to that kind of danger, but I’ve gone to strangers’ houses, been verbally threatened, taken rides with sources and have driven through desolate country roads to even more desolate spots past midnight with only a map in hand, vague directions and no phone service.

I’ve survived unscathed, I tell them.

“But you’re in New York,” they say, as if all the crazy people in the world congregated in this city and nowhere else (though city crime rankings seem to think it’s pretty safe here). They think of the crack epidemic that plagued New York in years past, not the current gentrified  Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn that have displaced the very people who are actually from New York.

I find it funny that my encounters are met with such cynicism amid our culture of oversharing on Facebook and the heyday of Craigslist, with people willing to live with total strangers. I stand by my belief that crazy things happen everywhere, whether you’re in New York or in a small unheard of town.

Sure, I can choose to hide in my illusion of safety and keep a closed off, cynical view of the world, never allowing myself to experience anything I can’t directly control. Or I can be smart about things and still revel in the unknown.

I choose to be the latter.