Dear Craig #1: Love in the Time of Craigslist

 

By Levi Bridges and Graelyn Brashear

In the middle of the night last Labor Day, Ava Williams was 10 drinks deep and cuddled up on her couch next to a guy she just met at the bar.

Settled in next to her potential paramour, Ava, 30, felt enraptured by that magical first flickering of attraction. The feeling distracted her from the inevitable hangover to come, the logistics of making it to work the next day and the fact that she had just come home with a complete stranger.

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Over 50 million Americans have tried some form of online dating (Photo by Levi Bridges)

It also helped Ava forget about her boyfriend, who was out of town on a business trip.

“He’s a really good, solid dude,” Ava said about her current boyfriend. “But I generally feel not well understood. And I feel like I should be better understood at this point in our relationship.”

Ava said she didn’t cheat on her boyfriend. She just cozied up with the guy from the bar on her couch, had a deep conversation and fell asleep.

Reality kicked in the next morning. Ava showed the man to the door. They did not exchange numbers. Ava barely remembers what he looks like.

Now she wants to find him.

“I have thought about posting an actual printed flyer right in front of the bar,” Ava said, “like you would for a missing cat. Like, ‘Met a guy! Here! Last Week! Here’s a number to call.’”

Instead, she posted on Craigslist’s Missed Connections.

The original online dating

Missed Connections, a strange and sometimes beautiful back eddy of the Internet, has become the de facto place that people all over the country go when they hope to somehow beat the odds and find that random stranger who caught their eye on the subway or supermarket checkout line. Hundreds, maybe thousands of these posts go live every day: I saw you on the bus. We were waiting in line together at the supermarket. You’re beautiful. Let’s meet.

Ironically, the Missed Connections pages have also become an online forum that attracts people who have become fed up with online dating, which has transformed how we meet and fall in love. An estimated 50 million Americans, roughly 15 percent of the adult population of the United States, have tried using a dating site. Online dating now generates $1.8 billion a year.

But not everyone is convinced that swiping right can buy happiness. The people we spoke with as we launched Dear Craig—a new podcast about love and the Internet—said they felt dating apps were killing the magic of meeting people. They longed for that electric experience of a serendipitous meeting at a party, on the train or the back row of English class.

This feeling of missing out on something important by turning to online dating was a big part of why Ava Williams ended up back at her apartment with a guy she picked up at the bar.

Bringing back the magic

For Daniel Quintana, another 30-year-old from San Francisco, that same sense of interpersonal stalemate ended on public transit.

Quintana gave up on online dating last spring after a few years of using a bunch of apps. He felt like dating had infiltrated his unromantic world, mainly because men he went on dates with naturally become Facebook friends. So Quintana went offline completely, deleting all his apps and even deactivating his Facebook account.

Several months passed before Quintana felt a spark for someone again. It happened with a guy he made eye contact with on the L train on his commute home to the Sunset one evening. The two glanced back and forth and smiled the whole ride, but Quintana did not get his number. The experience was so refreshing and fun that he posted a Missed Connection.

He described the process of posting on Craigslist as feeling way more natural than messaging people on dating apps.

“Before I was kind of forcing this inorganic process to happen,” Quintana said, “and I think in some way I was kind of blaming the websites.”

Missed Connections might be the modern antidote to online dating, but there is far more to it than pithy posts describing fleeting attraction. You’ll also find electronic epistles unloading grievances to the universe about an unnamed ex, follow-ups to conversations that started on dating apps and free sexual services.

There is a reason that Missed Connections have maintained a home on the Craigslist website that has remained largely unchanged for a decade and a half. Perusing these posts inspires a mixed sense of both voyeurism and solidarity, a window into how strangers experience that first inkling of attraction for another human being—and the enigmatic possibility of finding love—that most people have felt at some point in their lives.

For people like Ava and Daniel, love in the time of Craigslist has become a sort of battle between remaining patient for the right one to come along and the temptation to search for that person on the Internet in the meantime.

But for many older millenials thinking about settling down, crossing paths with someone in real life still has more appeal.

Ava compared online dating with just naturally hitting it off with someone at the bar as similar to walking through a bookstore.

“It’s the difference between reading the back of a book,” Ava said, “and deciding to read it vs. picking one up off the shelf and just really liking the story without knowing anything about it.”

Ava paused for a moment, reflecting on the experience of meeting someone offline.

“That’s magic,” she said.

Some names in this story have been changed.

Written and produced by Levi Bridges and Graelyn Brashear. Special thanks to Lacy Jane Roberts, Matt Beagle, Gabriel Tolliver, Katherine Rose and Joshua Johnson.

Music: Tres Tristes’ DBronx Tanz, Planta Baja and Ojos Negros.

Dr. Doe Sexplains It All

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Let’s get it on, copulate, intercourse, coitus, making love, making whoopee,  knocking boots, bumping uglies. — all euphemism for sex, an act that historical has played a major role in humanity’s survival – yet do we know what we are doing?

Dr. Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist has dedicated her life to studying human sexuality and sharing her knowledge with others through her youtube series titled, “Sexplanations.”

Having grown up on a boarding school campus, Doe says, she was attracted to knowledge about sexuality at an early age, and discovered that “a lot of people didn’t have a lot of knowledge about [sex] so I could build that niche.”

Doe explained that her parents were very supportive of her curiosity. Not that they encouraged her to masturbate, rather they “encouraged me to see masturbation as a normal healthy behavior,” Doe says. With a supportive home environment she was allowed to ask questions.

Her interest in sexuality led her to pursue a degree in Health and Human performance and then later received her doctorate in Human sexuality.

Fortunately for Doe, it was when Hank of the Hank and John Green duo which the internet world has nicknamed the vlogbrothers attended Doe’s human sexuality class, and saw her teach her students did the idea of a youtube series dedicated to sexology come about and “Sexplanations” came to be.

Doe, says her youtube series allows her to escape her real life, stating that Sexplanations allows her to talk about one of her favorite subjects — sex. Talking about sex for her series reminds her “about all the cool things on the planet,” Doe says.

With her youtube series reaching two hundred and twenty countries, the youtube series covers topics anywhere from Toy Vaginas to Age of Consent. Sexplanations releases one episode every week. Doe says she is dedicated to creating a sex-positive environment explaining that “Sex positivity is holding space for other expressions of sexuality.”

The Joke #1: Marilyn Pittman

 

We created this podcast to explore the stories behind jokes. Comedians write and perform jokes in a particular time and place and studying the life and death of a joke reveals the short window of time where it is current, edgy, yet appropriate enough to get laughs. A joke is more than just a laugh line, it is a time capsule.

You wouldn’t necessarily think this about Marilyn Pittman’s joke, The Joy of Lesbian Sex, which includes a demonstration of foreplay with a hair dryer, but hear us out….

Marilyn Pittman moved to San Francisco in the 1980’s to become a stand-up comedian. With comics like Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Ellen DeGeneres and Margaret Cho on stage every night, Pittman refers to 1980’s San Francisco as, “comedy mecca.”

Except it wasn’t the promised land for everyone. Pittman has always been an openly gay performer. She says, despite San Francisco’s identity as a global capital of gay culture, the comedy world was segregated.

There were few openly gay comedians and even fewer opportunities for them to perform in front of mainstream audiences. Even Ellen was in the closet back then.

Pittman says there was pressure to conform to reach a bigger audience, “I would try not to be gay. One time I got up and said ‘my boyfriend’ and it was just not funny. So I kind of realized I was only funny if I was honest.”

Pittman wrote material specific to her experience, but was resigned to performing for gay audiences at fringe clubs.

Then, she discovered a book that would change the course of her career.

While lounging on a Saturday, a friend of Marilyn’s produced the 1978 book, “The Joy of Lesbian Sex,” written by Emily L. Sisley and Bertha Harris. The book is billed as, “a tender and liberated guide to the pleasures and problems of the lesbian lifestyle,” but Pittman knew it was comic gold.

“We start flipping through this book. And we’re just falling over laughing at how ridiculous this book is, and how stupid it is and how goofy and surreal it is.”

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(Marilyn Pittman’s copy of, The Joy of Lesbian Sex)

Pittman marked her favorite sections with post-it notes and started bringing the book on stage with her, reading passages and commenting on them. She didn’t have to do much. One of the first lines reads, “Lesbianism in the popular imagination has been a phenomenon somewhat like China. A vast sequestered territory, at once terrifying and inviting, like China there has been a great wall around the lesbian.”

It devolves from there. By the end of Pittman’s act, she’s dancing a jig, acting out instructions on how to please multiple lovers with one’s feet.

Pittman says the joke was especially potent with lesbian audiences because, “lesbians felt paid attention to and felt that they got to have their sexuality talked about and be made fun of by one of them.”

The joke became Pittman’s signature piece, and she performed it to adoring audiences for years, culminating in a 1999 Boston performance in front of thousands.

This performance would be one of the last times Pittman told the joke on stage for several years. What happened?

Two things:

One, after doing it for more than a decade, Pittman got bored of the joke. She says, “I was so glad not to do it anymore! It was like asking someone to do the hit they had 30 years ago, no they want to focus on the new thing!”

Two, Stand up comedy changed. Comedy in the eighties and nineties relied on characters, props, and acts, but a more stripped-down, authentic storytelling became the norm in the early 2000’s. Pittman’s joke felt old and dated.

But something else happened. The rise of openly gay and queer comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Margaret Cho helped integrate comedy audiences. Pittman had more opportunities to perform for straight audiences and a new demographic to entertain.

She wanted to prove her joke was universal, so she performed The Joy of Lesbian Sex for a mixed crowd at San Francisco’s Purple Onion in the early 2000’s. Pittman says, “They just went crazy! Heterosexual people felt let in and they got to laugh at lesbians, which everyone wants to laugh at lesbians! It’s about time someone made fun of them and who better than me?”

Now, Pittman rarely performs the joke, except every once in awhile as a special request.  She’s developing one-woman shows, promoting her book on voice coaching and thinking about what’s next. The Joy of Lesbian Sex is stashed away, but still marked with post it notes, ready to inform crowds.

 

VIBRATIONAL COOKING

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Nabolom Bakery is a burgeoning Berkeley institution and owners Julia Elliott and Sabra Stepak have a unique way of making pizza. The owners have known each other for 30 years and reunited years later to operate the bakery, Nabolom.

The Nabolom approach takes some inspiration from the concept of “Vibration Cooking” – a term coined by the late Vertamae Smart-Grovesnor, a noted culinary anthropologist. Vibration cooking is about infusing positive “vibes” into all that is good into whatever you’re making and relying on soul and love as an intangible spiritual ingredient.

“I love the food”, Elliot said, “You know when you’re making the bread, you have to tell it that it’s the best bread!”

Elliot is a veteran of the legendary Cheeseboard Pizza Collective in Berkeley and adopted their style of pizza from her time there.

Piero Amadeo Infante, a Bay Area musician and long time friend of Julia and Sabra, described eating at Nabolom as he hung out in the kitchen, “It’s so comforting- this pizza is chewy and tangy and delicious,” he said, “,  the vegetables are fresh, it’s like having a five or six course meal kind of in one place.” Piero also remarked on the sourdough crust,

“I can just eat that dough by itself uncooked I come over and ask them for it sometimes and they won’t give it to me, but when its got cheese and all those other ingredients on it, it’s just a celestial experience. I’m not sure if my vocabulary has the skill to explain quite how good the pizza is.”

Stepak agrees. She says the food has a personal element for every person eating it,“We just wanna serve good food and treat people like human beings,” she said, “You know, we care. So I guess that’s what we think is important.”

Nabolom is located at 2708 Russell St in Berkeley.

 

Dr. Doe Sexplains

 

Dr. Lindsay Doe is a clinical sexologist, a path she says she’s been on since the day she was born. Since she was a kid, she’s gathered and shared every fact about sex she could find – from birth control to anatomy to blow job techniques. Since 2013, when she launched her Youtube channel Sexplanations, Dr. Doe’s patient base grew from those she serves in her small private practice in Missoula, Montana, to hundreds of thousands of people living in over 200 countries.

Lacy Jane Roberts and Manjula Varghese sat down for a Google Hangout with Dr. Doe to find out how she went from private practice to Youtube star.

Dr. Doe’s Youtube foray started in her classroom. She was teaching a Human Sexuality class for college students at the University of Montana. For one of her classes, she invited fellow Missoula townie Hank Green to speak to her class on a panel about identity. Hank Green is perhaps less famous in Missoula, Montana than he is on the internet. He’s half of the video-blogging duo the Vlogbrothers (with his brother John Green, known for writing young adult bestsellers like A Fault in Our Stars) and is responsible for a Youtube channel empire, with channels like SciShow and Crash Course. After watching Dr. Doe teach, he told her she’d make “great talent.” Soon after, with his help, Sexplanations was born.

On Sexplanations, Dr. Doe puts out a new video every week tackling topics like consent, trans sex, sex toys, sex how-to’s, and she often answers questions submitted by viewers. Lacy and Manjula were curious – what is it like to be a woman speaking frankly about sex on the internet, where trolls run rampant and threats to outspoken women aren’t rare. Dr. Doe also talked about the differences between her online persona and the real Lindsay Doe.

You can find Sexplanations on her channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/sexplanations.

Fight or Flight #1: Kate

Downtown Palo Alto. Image courtesy of meligrosa/Creative Commons. http://bit.ly/2cWxAYs

Downtown Palo Alto. Image courtesy of meligrosa/Creative Commons. http://bit.ly/2cWxAYs

Welcome to Fight or Flight, a new podcast that explores what we all really do when the pressure’s on. For our first episode we decided to talk to Kate Downing, a small-time city government official who went rogue—and then viral—when she published her scathing resignation letter online. Her mic drop brought renewed attention to Silicon Valley’s housing crisis, months before a pivotal local election.

When you think of affordable housing crises, Downing’s not exactly the victim who comes to mind. She’s a corporate lawyer and Jewish refugee who identifies as a top two percent income earner. Downing and her husband moved to Palo Alto five years ago for positions at tech companies, and she spent two of those years serving on the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission, which recommends zoning reforms and housing policies.

Despite her wealth and local influence, Downing announced in her resignation letter, published August 9, that she and her husband were moving to Santa Cruz. She claimed in the letter that they couldn’t afford to buy a “middle-class” home in Palo Alto.

“It’s clear that if professionals like me cannot raise a family here, then all of our teachers, first responders, and service workers are in dire straits,” wrote Downing.

Palo Alto is arguably at the heart of the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis. Over the past several decades, the boom in Silicon Valley has attracted hundreds of thousands of new tech workers, and housing development hasn’t kept up. The rents and prices on the housing that is available is skyrocketing, pushing working class, middle class and upper middle class residents out of their communities. Downing argues that Silicon Valley’s cities need to build more housing—fast—to bring them back down.

[People] who work in Palo Alto, Mountain View, they push out the people who are in SF,” Downing said in our interview. “Those people in SF, they push out people in Oakland. How far are they supposed to drive? If the professional is only supposed to drive a half and hour, how far is the teacher supposed to drive? How far is the electrician supposed to drive?

“At what point do we say this is too much, this is insane?”

Downing’s political opponents in Palo Alto are suspicious of her argument. An organized group of homeowners who call themselves the Residentialists claim that increased housing development would ruin the character of their city, and they’re skeptical that it would actually help the underprivileged residents who need it most.

They also accuse Downing of hypocritically acting in her own financial self-interest. Zelda Bronstein is a Berkeley-based journalist and housing advocate who’s worked closely with Palo Alto’s Residentialists. In an extensive response to Downing’s resignation letter, she published previously unseen details about Downing’s new home in Santa Cruz. It’s a four-bedroom, 2.5 bath house with a view of the beach, which she and her husband bought for $1.5 million.

“She was not forthright about what she was doing,” said Bronstein in an interview. “Kate Downing wants a starter house in Palo Alto to be a four bedroom 2 and a half bath house. That’s ridiculous!”

Of course, Downing claims that the Residentialists are acting in their own self interest as well. The tech boom has made them “land rich”—their homes are now worth millions of dollars, and more development would decrease that value. The housing fight in Palo Alto quickly escalated into a fight between privileged techies and wealthier homeowners over what policies best for poor people.

You can listen to an excerpt from our interview with Bronstein here:

You can read more about the fallout from Downing’s resignation letter here, and more about the Bay Area’s housing crisis here and here.