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Ordinary Canary Posts

Easter Passes Me Over

I have been off of work for the last week, as Baba’s day care has been closed for the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not being a Christian nor a Jew means that this mostly turns into another one of of those holidays where everyone seems to need to be somewhere, but I’m not entirely certain where that is.

Apparently people get together for Easter?  And they eat food?  Also, sort of the same thing for Passover?

I’m not so culturally tone-deaf as to not understand that there are some significantly different religious underpinnings there, but my understanding is pretty vague.  Jesus rose from the dead; a miracle is celebrated.  The Jews were spared from the plagues that God visited on the Egyptians and were liberated from slavery — another miracle.  These are fabulous and powerful stories, even if you don’t share the faith behind them.

And I must admit that I rather like the idea of miracles these days.

These shoes were made for walkin’…on mulch.

Our celebrations were more pagan.  Baba was sent a chocolate rabbit and some bunny ears, which led to a full day of listening to Baba declaring her newfound love of chocolate. I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt in the garden and trying out my new garden shoes. (Sloggers!  Recommend!)  The house that we bought was uninhabited for four years before we moved in and the yard is showing the neglect.  I don’t know a great deal about gardening, as you could spit across the entire yard of our last house without really even trying, but I’ve taken on fixing this yard as a personal vendetta project.  I’ve been learning a lot about eradicating crabgrass and annihilating dandelions, which is very much the dark side of gardening.

Still, there are worse ways to celebrate a fertility festival than by making room for new things to grow.  Tonight, I sleep the sleep of the just, even if we still haven’t figured out how to make our mysteriously 9-zone sprinkler system work.

It has been really relaxing to be away from my normal routine for so long.  My grandparents were visiting for the week, which made my time with Baba very pleasant.  She has very much become a 2 year old, with the attendant fits and dramas that limited language and a whole lot of will power entail, and the extra adult hands around were greatly appreciated.  Our entertainments were pretty mellow, with many trips to the park and the grocery store and the back yard.  The weather finally turned for the season and, for the first time since we bought the house,  I’ve actually been spending time just sitting in the back yard, enjoying our tiny private patch of outdoor space.  I bought Baba some chalk and we’ve been working on decorating all of the bricks in the patio, which is just the sort of life goal that I’ve needed for some time.

Perhaps the lessons of Easter and Passover aren’t for my family, but all of the time together with Baba and my grandparents has felt very sacred, all the same.

 

Nap refusal is never pretty.
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Cancer Sucks: A Goodbye

I had a dream the other night about a woman who was coming after my family.  She was long haired and thin and she kept knocking on the door to our house, which kept opening, over and over and over.  I tried relentlessly, but I was powerless to stop her as she walked in and she would touched my family, wrapping her long fingernails around the face of a child that I was supposed to protect.  I was so afraid of her, because I knew that that this woman was a murderer — and try as hard as I might, I could not keep her out of my house.

I woke up, in the guest bedroom, terrified and shaking.  It took me a moment to remember where I was, as I’ve only slept there once or twice.  Each time was so that I could sleep with my younger cat, who has been very, very sick.

And that was when I realized that the woman in the dream was cancer, coming after my family again, so relentlessly.  It has been less than a year since I lost my young uncle and my brother-in-law to different forms of cancer.  And last week, on St. Patrick’s Day, our vet told me that my cat Morghan had it too.

It could be cancer or a polyp, he said.  And since she’s 18 years old, he said, we’re not going to do surgery to remove the tumor in her bladder.

No, I agreed.  We all know that I’ve been lucky to have her in my life this long.

So you have two choices, he said, you can manage her pain or we can talk about euthanasia.

Ah.

My beautiful Morghan.

I opted for pain management, though I know I will spend many hours wondering if that was selfish.  When I picked her up from her day of examinations, the vet who met me asked me if I had any questions as he explained the regimen of pills.  I know she’s terminal, I said.  I know that.  But how do I know when it’s time…?

Oh, you’ll know when, he said.

This last week has been a hard one, as I woke every morning to check on Morghan and see if the tumor had done terrible things to her in the night.  It hadn’t, and since she was still active enough to chase me around the house just waiting for me to sit down, I tried to convince myself that she would be okay, for a while at least.  Then she stopped eating. When I took her back for her check-up a week later, she had lost a full pound, which she didn’t have to lose in the first place.  When the vet tech weighed her in at six pounds, I cried again, because I had told myself that if she’d lost weight, then I’d really know that it was time.  I took her and her anti-nausea medicine home with me, but I still could not get her to eat.

When had come.

Eighteen years is a long time to share your life with someone.  I have no one in my life who has been there as long and as constantly, as steadily there for me as my two cats.  The wonderful thing about a pet is that there’s no judgement; no matter how terrible your day was or what terrible mistakes you made, your cat just loves you.  She has been there for my entire adult life, ever since I took her home as an 18-year-old to my first apartment.  She fit in my hand that day, a tiny little creature that had been dumped in a parking lot, weeks before she should have been separated from her mother.  I taught her how to bathe, to some extent, and spent hours and hours detangling her fur and picking out knots.  She was never very good at being a cat — she never caught a thing in her life — but she was a wonderful companion and friend.  She came with me when I moved around and then, finally, to New York. I cried in her fur at every terrible break-up I went through.  No matter what the problem was, coming home to pick her up comforted me, because I clearly mattered so much to her.  Her quiet purr, broken and nearly silent at the best of times, was always there.

I have never had to put a cat to sleep before.  I’ve dreaded the idea of having to make that decision for years now, hoping that Morghan would pass the way my fifteen year old cat Mushu did right after Hurricane Sandy.  My Beloved discovered Mushu outside, looking  as surprised as a cat can.  We presumed it was a heart attack and buried her under a pear tree in the yard, comforted knowing that her last moments were brief and out of doors.  Selfishly, I appreciated that I did not have to choose when, that that decision had been made for me.

But not for Morghan.  I said goodbye to Morghan in the car outside of the veterinary office.  I had let her roam free in the car on the drive over, which she took full advantage of, peering out the window and making me wonder if I was making up how sick she was.  But then I held her bony body, which had once been three times the size that she was on Saturday, and I could no longer deny that it was time.  I thanked her and kissed her and cried some more, in the quiet space of the car.  Then we went inside, where the staff were quick to usher us into a room.

Still, Morghan shook in fear, the tremors running down her thin shoulders.  I put her in my lap so that she could put her face in my elbow, which has always calmed her down.  Don’t be afraid, I said, petting her thick fur and desperately wishing that I believed in some sort of afterlife.  Please, love, just don’t be afraid.

When the vet gave Morghan the anaesthesia that knocked her unconscious, I was holding her against my body.  I felt her muscles relax as she crumpled against me, falling down onto the soft yellow blanket that I had insisted on.  I gently caught her and laid her down, pulling her tail out from under her and settling her legs into a more comfortable position.

Don’t be afraid, I said.  Please, don’t be afraid.

As the vet released a vial of bubble gum pink barbiturates into Morghan’s leg, I put my hands on her, holding as much of her as I could.  She did not twitch or shudder and, after a moment, the vet put her stethoscope up to Morghan’s thin chest and told me that she was gone.  My sweet girl had gone completely still, but her body was still warm and it didn’t seem like it could be true.  I tried to close her eyes, but I couldn’t, and that’s when I knew.

Morghan and Mushu, a lifetime ago

I brought her body home, keeping a hand on the box she was in for the entire drive.  I left her body in the car while we put Baba to bed for the night, and then my Beloved dug a hole in the front yard underneath the Japanese maple tree that made me fall in love with this house we bought.  We put her in it, placing her carefully, since when my last cat passes, it will become a double grave.

And so I carry on, holding my sweet girl in my heart, since I can no longer hold her in my hand.  When I walk to and from my door, I look at her grave and I am comforted that she is home.

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Hesitating Before the Dive

There is a moment in Olympic diving that every diver takes as they walk out to compete on the world stage.  They climb up to the diving board, then breathe in deep and square their shoulders.  After this moment, they walk out confidently onto the board, which bounces predictably beneath their weight, the way it has done thousands of times before, and then they take their shot.

Although my athletic prowess is limited to being able to run three consecutive 10 minute miles without immediately dying, I love watching Olympic sports.  The divers are a particular favorite, as they combine gymnastics and swimming — two areas far beyond my wildest dreams of ability — and fly through the air, bending their bodies in ways that seem impossible and then slip into the water with barely a splash to mark their passing.  They inspire my imagination, even as they please my love of beauty.  They are tremendous, frightening, inspiring people.

I’ve been thinking a lot of that sigh at the beginning lately.  I haven’t spoken much of it here, but I am at a similar point in my writing.  I’ve spent the last three months deep in research and plot, scrambling to work in the small bits of time that I have each day for writing, and putting together a framework that I can only hope will be strong enough to carry the weight of the story that I want to tell.  It’s a story that I’ve already told many times, over glasses of wine and lunches, to friends and family who listen politely and nod and tell me that it all sounds very interesting and they can’t wait to read it.

And now it is time to begin the actual writing.  Yet I’ve found myself delaying over the last few days, as I’ve taken a much needed break away from the ideas so that I can approach them again in a fresh and objective frame of mind.  I’ve never been the kind of writer that falls in love with the sound of her own voice; I will actually cringe my way through most of the rereading that I’ll do before hitting publish on this post.  And this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried to tell this story, so I keep hearing the echoes of where the past efforts have stuttered out, even though I know that my new angle is much stronger.

Wasn’t it Thomas Edison who said he never failed, but just found a thousand ways not to light a lightbulb?  I certainly have learned from the two previous beginnings, but there are only so many times you can take 40,000 words and throw them into a folder that you’ve named “Old Manuscript” without wanting to shy away from similar grandiose sacrifices. 

And so, here I am, having climbed the rungs of the ladder, trying to take that deep breath that will propel me out onto the board, to bounce in a place that is more familiar to me than standing here on the edge, wondering if I have the courage to go on. In another day or two, I will come back to the page and take those first steps out onto the board, just praying that this time, my mistakes will only propel me forward, as I finally learn what it is to write a full novel.

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Human Moments, No. 11

Baba stands up in her sleep sack and balances precariously on the rocking chair.  She reaches out for the light, which I have just switched back on in order to let her turn it off again.  She twists the switch, then settles again in my lap and throws her head back into mine.

“What song will we sing?” I ask her, as I always do.

She doesn’t answer.

“See saw?” I ask.

“No,” she says, giggling.

“ABC song?”

“No, no ABC song.”

“Twinkle, twinkle?”

“NO TWINKLE TWINKLE.”

“How about horsies?”

She’s silent for a moment and I take my chance.

Hush-a-bye,” I sing.  “Don’t you cry.  Go to sleep, my little baby.”

“No baby!” Baba says agreeably.

“When you wake, you will have all the pretty little horses.”

“No horses!”

Blacks and greys, dapples and bays–

“No bays!”

“All the pretty little hor-es-ses.”

“No horses,” she says, snuggling into my armpit.  “No horses.”

 

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Human Moments, No. 10

“I think that we’re the bourgeoisie.”

“The what now?”

“You know.  Like Lenin and the Communist Revolution.  The great experiment of the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie.  I think we’re the bourgeoisie.  We’re the bad guys.  Look at this house.”

“…..yeeeeeeeaaaah?”  My Beloved’s eyebrows wag.

“We have two bedrooms we don’t even use.”

“They’re guest rooms.”

“Exactly.”

“If having guest rooms makes us bad guys, I think…I can get used to being the bad guys.”

My Beloved rolls over on his half of our new king sized mattress and promptly begins to snore.  I lie awake longer, wary in our new house, uncertain when it will begin to feel like home.

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May You Live in Interesting Times

This is not a great time to be a sensitive person walking the world.

I’ve read a number of lovely blog posts that are clinging to hope, despite the dark and interesting times that our new administration seems to have put us in.  I’ve read poems and shared in the general outcry of the many, many people that are horrified at the recent actions of our country to tear apart Muslim families.  As the wife of a former green card holder, it’s been difficult not to walk around in panic, because our story can’t be told without also being an immigrant story that is very much like the people that I am reading about now — people who are being detained not 10 miles from my house.

My heart is not light, so I’m finding it hard to write light-hearted.  I have half a dozen blog posts that are queued up in draft, because I can’t quite seem to get to the right frame of mind to put something silly and frivolous into the world.

There is much that I could tell you about, much that I should have told you about by now.  We moved into a new house at Hallowe’en and settled into it. There were new couches and holidays and visitors and movies and books. I’ve been deep in research for a big writing project that’s now transitioning into plotting and draft writing.  I even went to a really big feminist party the day after the inauguration and cried at the sight of the hundreds of thousands of people with me that were standing up to say that they were watching the new administration.

I even got a new hat.

 

 

But it all feels very trivial, when turning to news or Facebook is such an onslaught of terrible things.  I found myself crying at work as I came across an article of a breastfeeding 11-month-old that was separated from her mother for a full day because of Trump’s Muslim travel ban.  Each story of adult children just trying to get their elderly parents back home or spouses trying to reunite or refugees that nearly made it onto what were once safe shores has hit me so hard. My Irish in-laws keep asking me what is going on in my country and I am terrified by all the answers that keep coming out of my mouth.

It is very tempting to go hide in fiction for the next four years.  That is, actually, part of what I’ve been doing to restore myself.  Each night, after we talk at dinner of all the terrible things that have happened each day, I hide on the couch and cover myself in blankets and let myself luxuriate in story telling.  If I close my eyes, will it just go away?

Unfortunately not, not if I want the world to be a place for Baba, with her double passports and international family.  Not if I want to lift my head and look back at these days and respect myself for not standing by the side and letting others speak out against deep injustice.

And so.  There is work to do, even if it feels like my efforts accomplish very little.  I saw a tweet recently quoted somewhere that said that if you always wondered how you would have behaved as you read about history, then you’re getting a good chance to know, because whatever it is that you’re doing now is what you would have done then.

That’s stuck with me – as both a calling and a command.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016: A Year in Books

Historical Fiction

  • Mozart’s Sister, A.M. Baud
  • The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • War Brides, Helen Bryan
  • At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier
  • The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende
  • The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, Louise Erdich
  • Belgravia, Julian Fellowes
  • Mozart’s Sister, Rita Charbonnier

Perhaps it is the events of 2016 that have thrown me into a desire to see the past brought to life, in only the way that historical fiction can. But, looking at the list, I can see that it’s more that some favorite authors put out books this year.  Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, wrote a beautiful novel about a terrible family dysfunction that was haunting and terrible, in the most meaningful sense of the word.  Louise Erdich’s The Master Butcher’s Singing Club puts together the story of a town between World Wars, where the daughter of the town’s drunk returns home and finds an unlikely life among German immigrants.  Isabel Allende, who I loved for her novel The House of Spirits, took on the fortunes of two very different families affected by the Japanese internment camps during World War II.  These were all memorable novels, written by authors that are masters of their craft and genre and they move the reader by reminding us of some of the best parts of being human, even when confronted with the worst of history.

Speculative Fiction

In speculative fiction, I spent a year thinking about The Gate to Women’s Country, which is a novel unlike any that I’ve ever read before.  It came to me as a recommendation that I might enjoy and it’s true; it haunted me all year and gave me a lot of food for thought, which is exactly what good speculative fiction should do.  This year also had retreads of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Johnson’s In Another Life.  Both were worth it.

 

Mystery & Crime

  • The Second Stage of Grief, Katherine Hayton
  • Broken Harbor, Tana French
  • The Secret Place, Tana French

Tana French continues to be a favorite writer in crime.  It’s not a genre that I’ve read much of since the days when I shelved books in a mystery section as a volunteer high school student, but I’ve always loved French’s police procedurals for their deep dives into human psychology.  Her newest novel, The Trespasser, came out this year, which I am really looking forward to reading in 2017.

 

 

Contemporary Fiction

  • Three Weissmans of Westport, Cathleen Shine
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
  • The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout
  • Her Name is Rose, Christine Breen
  • Monkey Bridge, Lin Cao
  • The Taming of Roses with Thorns, Margaret Dilloway

In contemporary fiction, A Visit from the Goon Squad took the cake, even though I wouldn’t have picked it up without a nudge from a book club.  Egan took on the rock n roll industry, writing a novel of interrelated short stories about the people surrounding an aging record executive.  The experimental nature of the book adds some fun to the story as well, with an entire story told via a Powerpoint slide.  It does actually work.  The Burgess Boys was another favorite, though much of that came from how well Strout managed to peg the New York import’s feelings about New York.  As an aging import myself, I found myself nodding and laughing along with some great passages.

 

Classics

  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

I always know that the world is unsettling when I feel a need to reread Pride and Prejudice, which happens at least once every few years.  I’ve spent hours wondering what it is about this particular novel that is so delightful and could probably spend at least a few coffee dates speculating.  I love Austen’s work very much, but Pride and Prejudice is definitely the literary equivalent of your mom’s mac n cheese.  Little Women was a new read for me, though – a novel I’d always meant to get around to and somehow missed.  Although some aspects of the story have aged over the century and a half since it was published, I really understand how it has such a following.  The sequels are on my reading list for the future.

 

I’ve ended this year with the same regret as last year; I simply wish that I had read more.  I still can’t read with Baba around, because if she sees me reading a book without pictures, she pushes it out of my hands and brings me one of my books to read to her.  And so, if we’re counting board books, my number would triple.  I’ve read five books just today, in fact!  And there is much to admire in such simple story telling.  Some of the books that we read are just beautiful, between the artwork and the storytelling.  They may not be designed for adults, but this adult has really come to love books made for very small children.

As it is, this is the time for New Year’s Resolutions and, also, a new Goodreads reading challenge.  I have some books that I’ve really been looking forward to on my next-to-read list, like Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria and Elizabeth Strout’s much-talked-about Olive Kitteridge.  I’m halfway through Annie Proulx’s Barkskins and have just begun a biography of the Mozart family by Ruth Halliwell.   I’d love some recommendations — what have you read this year that blew your mind?

 

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The Dark Days of Winter

december-solstice-winterThese are dark days.

I mean that literally and figuratively; the winter solstice is, after all, upon us.  I am headed towards Manhattan in a grey and bleak morning that has barely lifted into day.  It’s raining, just enough to make me seem strange without an umbrella, but not enough to inspire me to take it out.  I am alone in this, one bare head in an army of black umbrellas.

Like most of the world, I’ve also been reeling from the U.S. Presidential election for the last month.  I’m sure it’s not hard for regular readers to guess which way I voted, so I’ll spare everyone all of that.  Watching the post-mortem has been painful, as the pundits looking for ratings try to blame someone or explain away a result that very few people predicted.  I, for one, am tired of trying to dissect American psychology, like we are all one big mass.  I’m even tired of reading explanations about the white working class or white middle-aged women or Latinos for Trump!, because it all simplifies the picture and does not lead to much listening.  It doesn’t even ring true.  I have a white working class husband who would never vote for the anti-union candidate.  I am a white woman who has been walking through the world with a new level of fear and anxiety.  For the first week, my stomach literally ached.  As the high level administration appointments have been coming in, starting with a literal neo-Nazi, I’ve had a hard time thinking about much else.  This is not who we are, except that it is apparently exactly who we are.  It is not who I want us to be.  Maybe I am just naive, but I’d thought we could all at least agree on the Nazis.

This anxiety is not sustainable.

I want to reach across the aisle and listen – and to reach across the aisle and be heard – but how do you do that with so many people shouting?  How do you do that when our elected officials are looking at the Japanese internment camps of World War II as a legal precedent?  How do you shut your eyes and ears when a man who ran a “news” site that runs articles like “How to Make Women Happy: Uninvent the Washing Machine and the Pill” is now one of the chief advisors of one of the most influential and powerful people in the world?  Just yesterday I read an article about a man with a gun showing up on a street that I know well because he chose to believe the vilest of Internet rumors.  A childhood friend’s family church was vandalized with white supremacist graffiti within days of the election. Another friend’s cousin, living on the other side of the country, had a swastika painted on her garage.  Closer to home, the NYPD is dealing with such a large spike in hate crimes that they are creating a special division just to deal with them.

I am afraid to shut my eyes.  I’m afraid that if I don’t shut my eyes, I will never live a normal life again.  How do you strike the balance?

I haven’t a clue.  I put big pink safety pins on all my jackets and purses.  In those first few days after the election, I was terrified to wear them, but I swallowed the fear and thought about how much braver it is to wear a hijab right now.  It is a little enough thing to put a pin on my clothes – a pin that can easily be removed to let me blend into the crowd where my pale skin and blue eyes will protect me. The KKK has been dropping flyers on my train.  Yesterday, another woman on the subway was attacked for wearing a hijab. When I tell myself that adding a safety pin to my clothing is the least that I can do, it really is the absolute least that I can do.  I have decided to be accountable to my pin, that I will not blend into the background when I see that someone is afraid, but I also despair that I won’t live up to it.

So here we are in the literal darkest days of the year, trying to find a way to creep back towards the light of summer.  On Sunday, we put up a Christmas tree in our new home, right in the giant bay window that I have fallen in love with.  When I turn the corner at night, I see it shining its manufactured light out into a world of darkness.  In a normal year, it would give me hope.  This year, I am trying hard to open myself up to be able to see its light.

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The Loss of Civility

There’s a new coffee shop by the train station that opened over the summer.  In a world of Starbucks and Walmarts, it is a welcome relief to the monotony of grande cups and jazzy backgrounds.  It is in a tiny space, which previously belonged to a failed news stand and, before that, a coffee stand that only served cold bagels.

Sometimes I think that I have been in this town too long, now that I can remember the history of spaces.

But I like this shop.  It’s taken the craft approach, offering everything that you’d find at Starbucks at higher quality.  The pumpkin latte leaves a smudge of actual squash in the bottom of your cup.  The baked goods are kosher yogurt muffins where you can sink your teeth into the actual fruit.  I’ve been determined to help it thrive, which is helped by the fact that I’ve been horrible at getting out of bed lately, and often arrive at the train station needing breakfast.

The baristas take their jobs as coffee artists so seriously that I imagine that they’re all part owners. It might be so.  Every morning that I forget my breakfast, I go and choose between the big muffin and the small muffin, and I make such a stink out of it that the big blonde fellow grins every time I go for the big one.

One morning, a new customer came in behind me.  Most of America would know the type.  He was dressed for work, in an outfit that tells you that this is a man who worked with his hands.  Perhaps a mechanic, perhaps in the trades.  His jacket was the tough rough leather of a welder’s jacket and he wore jeans made for work.  When he ordered, he asked for a small coffee with sugar and a corn muffin.  He pointed at the glass display.

“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s a lime coconut yogurt muffin,” my favorite Viking told him.

“What?” He looked closer at the muffins, where a sign declared the new world order in a bubbly script.  “Don’t you have corn muffins?”

“No, sir.  Just what’s there, sir.”

The man looked over the selection, then shook his head.  “Forget it.  Just the coffee.”

When he left, he was shaking his head.  And, because I am in Trump country, I thought, Is he a Trump voter?  Is this the demographic?  The man just wanted a corn muffin and a coffee, like he’s probably been ordering at his favorite deli for 30 years, but now he can’t have it.  He could have lime coconut or apple yogurt or pumpkin spice loaf, but the classics have disappeared from our offerings.

I watched him walk away without his breakfast, embarrassed for the coffee shop, although it is just a symbol of its time.  Why should they carry a product that isn’t exciting and new?  They have to compete with the green mermaid machine, like everyone else.

Before Hurricane Sandy, there was a real New York deli right there that would have blown this coffee shop out of business in a matter of weeks.  But their store was destroyed by the storm, so they packed up and found a new location two towns away, much too far for the commuters at my station.  We have had to shift without our classic bagels and eggs and plain coffees with milk and sugar.  And the world that rebuilt never filled those needs again.  My new little coffee shop is the closest, but it doesn’t suit everyone.

And watching this man, I understood a little better about all the people who have been left behind by our shifting economics.

The man just wanted a corn muffin.  What’s so bad about that?

 


 

Living through this Presidential election season has been hard for me.  I have been joking-not-joking that 2016 is the year that White America discovered that racism is still a thing, as Trump’s candidacy grew ever more blunt about its willingness to incite anti-immigrant fervor. As the wife of an immigrant and the mother of a child with dual citizenship, this has been terrifying.  Even though I know that no one is thinking of the big Irish guy when they’re spouting off about “the Mexicans” or “the terrorists,” it’s hard to watch the violence and the ugliness of the rhetoric.  And it has been surprising to me, even though I live in a neighborhood that is deeply religious, to find out how many people have been willing to give a pass to the nastier things that he’s been saying because of how much they hate Hilary Clinton.

As the election progressed, Trump signs sprouted like daffodils on the lawns of my neighbors.  Every time I passed one, it felt like a slap in the face, as people that I’d liked shouted their support.  And I am trying to be better than this, but it’s difficult for me to look past a willingness to ignore such dangerous rhetoric.

Except.

Except there is a part of me that must be honest enough to myself to admit that there have been times where I have reacted to the injustices suffered by Black Americans with gratitude that that sort of thing was not my problem.  Until not so long ago, it happened every time an unarmed Black man was shot by the police under suspicious circumstances.  It happened when Rodney King was beaten in the early 90s.  I would shake my head and be enraged by the injustice of it, by how unstoppable the system seemed.  And then I would think, “Thank God that won’t happen to me,” and go on with my day.

I don’t feel that way any more.

Thanks to Trump, I have discovered just how many of the people in my life are okay with the way things are.  That is white privilege in a nutshell.  The Trump supporters that I know are not evil people.  But they are people who have made peace with a man who says vile things, who are content to let the problems of other people be their problems.  And they have made me feel afraid, in a way that has opened my eyes to the feelings of many dark skinned Americans.

And that was before his tape with Billy Bush leaked.

 


 

It is good that we are having big national conversations about sexual assault.   One of the best parts of the way that our culture is changing is that we’re starting to talk about rape culture, which was a phrase I’d never even heard until I was in my 20s.  I remember the epiphany, as a young woman, that we should be asking men to talk to men about rape, rather than spending our lives trying to protect ourselves from it.  It was a radical notion, this thought that men could be responsible for fixing this problem that predominantly affects women.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we have come, in a relatively short period of time.  It was only a hundred years ago that we even gained the vote, much less the right to sue for sexual harassment or spousal rape.

Since the tape leaked, I have been thinking of the times when a man has forced a kiss on me, in the way that Trump described.  I spent about a week vividely reliving those moments — the fear and the anger that came with it.  When a coworker made a joke about locker room talk, I know I was supposed to laugh, but I could only shudder.  I’ve been fortunate in my life and have only suffered the garden variety level of sexual harassment.  I don’t consider myself traumatized in any way by these experiences, though I am nervous when I encounter strange men.  The events that I’ve been thinking about were both strangers, who pushed themselves onto me in public places.  In the first, I was a sixteen year old girl sitting at a bus stop.  The man had been bothering me for several days, so I asked him to just leave me alone and to go away.  There were others there, and I remember their faces distinctly because after he kissed me,  I jumped up and screamed at him while they stared at me like I was the problem.

And not one of them got up to help me, because it was not their problem.  It was not happening to them.

The second incident happened one night on the subway here in New York.  It was about ten o’clock at night on a week night and I was coming home from a dinner out with friends.  Sitting in a nearly empty train car, I was studying for work.  The man approached me and asked for money, over and over again.  He wouldn’t go away, so I finally gave him some change to make him leave me alone.  When I did, he decided to kiss me.  Years later, I can still feel the wet imprint of his lips on my forearm, which I threw up above my head to deflect him and defend myself.  I remember the faces of the two women who got on the train at the next stop, who I asked to switch cars for their own safety.

Garden variety harassment, as I mentioned.  I do not know a single woman who has not had multiple experiences like these.

No real harm done, except…except that I have a certain distrust of men that I do not know, because of all the times that men have behaved this way around me.  When I first heard “The Story,” a song by The Great Ani, I thought, “Oh.  Oh yes, this.  This is exactly it.”  The lyrics are a bit of poetry:

Ani DifrancoI would have returned your greeting
if it weren’t for the way you were looking at me
this street is not a market
and I am not a commodity
don’t you find it sad that we can’t even say hello
’cause you’re a man
and I’m a woman
and the sun is getting low
there are some places that I can’t go
as a woman I can’t go there
and as a person I don’t care
I don’t go for the hey baby what’s your name
and I’d alone thank you
just the same

 

Since the tape leaked, the Trump signs in my neighborhood have come down.  I am filled with gratitude for that, as it lets me stop thinking of the men that have objectified and attacked me and all the people that look like me.

Maybe that is a start.  Maybe it’s a move towards the empathy that we need to create a kinder world where your problems are my problems. I can only hope that at the end of all this ugliness, we’ll all have learned something about ourselves and the country and culture we want to create.

As the Great Ani sings:

we’re all citizens of the womb
before we subdivide
into sexes and shades
this side
that side
and I don’t need to tell you
what this is about
Undressing for the fan
Like it was a man
Wondering about all the things
That I’ll never understand
there are some things that you can’t know
unless you’ve been there
but oh how far we could go
if we started to share
I don’t need to tell you
what it is about
you just start on the inside
you just start on the inside
and work your way out
“Work Your Way Out,” Ani DiFranco
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A Little Story

It is October and I have been writing short stories for most of the past year, among other things. More on that later. But I was reminded the other day of my favorite Hallowe’en story, read by one of my favorite authors, so I thought I would share it with you.

The world might be dark and scary outside, but I just wanted to remind you that literature can make it even scarier.

Happy Hallowe’en!

 

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