Friday, November 18, 2016

Let Us Be Perfectly Clear

In response to Mark Lilla's "The End of Identity Liberalism,"
NYTimes, Nov 18th 2016

& the crop of similar, temperate pieces I see popping up these past few days

& the crop of similar, demonstrably less temperate dudes of my acquaintance who are saying truly smart things about the Democrats' neglect of the working poor, while -- in my opinion -- missing a huge opportunity (and being rather hypocritical) by employing an aggro, sneering tone in the direction of we butthurt "Others." (Alienating those who they claim to fight for)

(look, i am sanctimonious, too. but i'm trying to kick it.)

This is in the name of productivity*:

A true, new, intersectional liberalism
wouldn't diminish or dismiss your life
your "box's" life
your "interest group"
wouldn't, in other words, call your breathing an indulgence, a non-priority,
let alone "identity politics" or -- swallow gagging -- "politically correct"
the true, new intersectional liberalism wouldn't shelve You with words, for the sake of other words like "color-blind"
because these words the temperate so prefer? are in fact just the same kind of useless in politics as the diminishers they hurl at us Others
they will not help you breathe, either set of words.

Too, we know if we read Zinn or newspapers, or if we look even halfway-hard at the world outside our windows, there's no blind way to be in America unless you've never known what it feels like to be the Only You in a room
(or, are actually blind)
which of course makes it telling, who prefers that shiny "blind" future rhetoric anyhow
(PSST: it's the blind!)
...But. I. Digress.
The true, new intersectional liberalism of my goony dream heart and present/ future civic energy,
would see the hard fights not diminished, but doubled down on
tripled down on
and the neglected? those who have felt neglected, heretofore?
well, in goony dream heart they come to the table, too
because everybody's invited!
The liberalism gets wider and deeper. Not smaller. Not quieter. Louder.
If you're not here already, you will be asked to care about your fellow man. But don't panic! It won't hurt, and it won't actually make you smaller. We'll all talk slow. We'll listen good. You will not die. We all will grow.
I fear lately that we weren't loud enough before, about that 'fellow man' part?
and also, the invitation
(or I wasn't loud enough before, and am projecting
sigh, allllllll this life we will be shouting)
In any case. This is what I'm willing to cop to this evening: you can come and sit by me.

But what is she saying? She's saying:
to tell the boxes who make up the Party to "pick their battles,"
to make a light shine lesser so it might be more diffuse
that way lies forgetting history
and REALLY stalling progress
and contriving a world, once more, where lots of us feel unseen, I grant you,
but also like physically hunted
(I know we're some of us there already, in that world, but it's really the end if the true, new liberalism  wilts in the discussion of battle-picking, before the war even gets started. This is against that.)
Democracy is compromise, pragmatically speaking, but it is also not and never saying "This whole box of folks is of no concern to Us right now."
That's a different kind of governing, make no mistake.
If you are the white woman, the poor white man, the rural human, the small business-owner, the X factor who is NOT David Duke incarnate:
I want to fight with you, I do. For your livelihoods and business. For your right to be happy and free. But that is only granted you'll fight with me, and us.
This is just how these things go.
In dream heart, not them vs. us. Not us vs. Us. We, here, smiling, together, walking out onto the water, afraid.
But let me perfectly clear: by the grace of your higher power, I will be goddamned if you won't come to meet me on this bridge. I will be goddamned if I walk backwards. Let's just you consider yourself beckoned. And I will greet you. I will call your names and show the way. I will fight with hands and listen with ears in the name of the dark that surrounds us all, but in intersectional country nobody's going an inch backward. People get drawn out or left on the shore.

Finally, to this intersectional point: I want my dream heart liberal president to be this
but if I must compromise, I will take one who makes the most conciliatory mention, names the names, calls human, does not actively hunt
our boxes, groups, we Others; I'll take a President who at least attempts to see
(because another thing the blind don't understand is: words are only words, sure, but they can be quite tonic. The specific, well-chosen best of them can actually make it easier to breathe.)
in my head, this is not too much to ask for. Not even, in fact, so much progress.
But if we're talking about forming a great big rainbow coalition in which it's conveniently forgotten how their parents died of diseases the country wouldn't cure
and their parents died on boats being dragged here
and their parents spent a lifetime trying to get in
and they're suicidal because the country calls their gender "not a priority"
and they're in prison because the country failed them from birth
and they're perpetually diminished by the way they look, talk, walk, breathe
and they died in labor, in labor, everyone in labor, look at all of us in labor all the god-damn time:
this is the way I will shout.

Now sign in blood, and then let's talk about climate change. What concrete thing have you done this week? :-) :-) :-) Call your senators and volunteer, gang! zozo Gossip Girl

*A pertinent note: to buy any of this, you'd need to make a reductive mental leap and pretend that we're in any kind of shape to be standing side by side in America, calling people 'brethren.' I understand not everyone's in a position to think this way. I know in my bones that this country was never and isn't presently a place where all enjoy equal protection under the law, but this goony manifesto is struggling to speak on and for the present climate -- the past, accordingly, is referred to in blanket statements. This is to say, to some extent the suspension of your belief in the inherent brokenness of things may be required to eat this/keep getting out of bed.

*if you put your truck in the electoral college. Which I have here in the name of productivity, but won't in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Some thoughts at the end of the world

So I’m not trying to be Jesus-y.
I am livid, I am fearful, I am exhausted, I am frustrated. I am black, I’m an adult woman who relies on her IUD and ObamaCare-funded health insurance to get by in this world. The America I want to be a part of is relentlessly inclusive, and in it there is equal protection under the law for all minorities, and everyone is entitled to pursue happiness free from discrimination. Except insensate unborn fetuses; especially mentally ill black men on death row and trans teenagers. 

This said:

Much of what I perceive these past few days is rage-centric, and begins with a hate to match the hate the right brought on election day. And make no mistake, the ‘they vs. us’ rhetoric has been employed, conveniently and often for the left in these days -- I don’t exclude myself. Things you hear said/I have said: Those who voted for Trump are racists, categorically. They are idiots, categorically. They hate people, they hate themselves and their own interests. They voted for racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-climate change legislation, to be sure. The final thought is a write-off: “I’m done working with and for these people. Fuck the flyovers. I will unfriend, I will shut down, etc. Had I my drothers, the rust belt would fall into Mt. Dune.”

I find it very tempting to think this way but I have to inspect it, and here’s why: I’m pretty fucking mad at the left, too. I’m mad our voter turn-out was so abysmally low. I’m mad that I, myself, opted out of several opportunities to canvass for votes in Pennsylvania because I felt secure in the results of this election. I’m mad at those who claim to care about the environment and equal rights and decided to aproductively demonstrate this care by voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson (I’ll say in swing states, specifically -- this given the way we know our admittedly flawed two-party system works, has worked, will work until a viable third party candidate shows up. 2020? 3020?). I’m mad at the black people in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the Asian people in Wisconsin and Michigan who stayed home, and the people who stayed home everywhere, I’m mad at The New York Times and their evidently bonkers polling methods, I’m mad at that smug graphic that clogged the front page daily for weeks leading up to last night, which likely encouraged more than a few liberal-leaning to stay home and assume “everything will turn out right,” in lieu of voting. Look, see? This is not a shiny post for platitudes. I, hopefully like you, am Fury. But I am also a citizen, and determined to be. And if my rage revolves, I have to accommodate for what almost feels like a final taboo in my particular, somewhat insular New York circle. This taboo I’m about to talk about? (Some of you will check out right about now.) It demands I demonstrate some grace towards those who would hate me and my friends. Towards some who would see my way of life destroyed.

So we zoom back, to precariously engineer the point. A bit about me:

I am black and a woman and queer and an artist and poor, yet I grew up middle class. I grew up in liberal havens, before receiving my expensive private college education. As another person like me put it on Facebook, my encounters with racism have been constant and lifelong but microaggressive compared to, say, any black man, woman or boy dead by police hands in the past 229 years. Small potatoes, grim potatoes, perhaps, but I have to check my privilege when conversations conflating class and race continue to flutter around me, as they have in the past few years. Basically: I do not and cannot pretend to speak for all Black people when I talk about my experience, chiefly because I’m a Jack n’ Jill Negro. I do not know what it is to grow up wanting food, or being unsure of where I would sleep night to night. Granted the extensive sacrifices my grandparents, parents, and -- yes, she goes there -- enslaved ancestors made so I could live this life. Granted I will still never get as much respect or make as much money or have it as golden as any blonde-born upwardly mobile Wall-Streeter who swings his dick and black Amex around. And yet.

There’s a book going around lately by Nancy Isenberg, called White Trash.  (FD: I haven’t read it yet; there’s a long hold list on it at the library.) But the gist as I understand it is that the book tries to explain the historic link between poor whites and racism, isms of many kinds. You might know this already (depending on where you received your own bourgie education) but there’s an argument that a great deal of racism in America was foisted on the lower class, and quite deliberately. Racism was used as a dividing tool to prevent extant minorities from growing into something strong enough to topple existing power groups -- namely those white men of the Kennedyian last name, the Biltmores, the Rockefellers, their progeny. If you consider labor history in the rust belt, it began with leaders pitting blacks and whites against one another to keep labor costs down. This process also recurred with the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese and -- so we see now -- the Latinx community. Basically, it has always been in the interest of the ruling power to create fractions among the majority have-nots (and incidentally, the Left) so the minority haves might guard the keep.

So after being fed racism, fed the edict that whites have more in common with the people signing their checks than the people working next to them, it stands to a crooked kind of reason that you’d prioritize some glittery, vague idea of economic autonomy over your fellow man who doesn’t look like you -- even given two hundred years of reform language trickling slowly down your pipeline from channels in a distant East. This is to say, I believe there’s an extent to which the suddenly jobless miner in Pennsylvania who may not demonstrate or even feel overt hate in his heart was seduced into the ‘Make America Great Again’ rhetoric, and long long ago -- practically back at the dawn of this country’s industrial life, when this specific community was taught to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and then made to feel preposterous when they could not. Witnessed those groups they’d been taught to malign supposedly transcend (read: not at all transcend) invisible social barriers when measures to protect them (women, minorities) came to Congress, when the media appeared to congregate around their causes. The poor white man is thusly, perpetually defensive, because he was manipulated and then abandoned by the right -- and then chastised, and eventually loathed by my precious left for failing to come to bat for his fellow humans when they cried for liberty. This is not to excuse any open or insidious vitriol in the hearts, minds or ballots of Trump voters: I make no apologies or amends to anyone who’s slur-hurling or worse in their post-election throes. I want to reach instead those who may have voted for Obama and his likewise seductive hope and change in 2008, but saw both sides of the country continue to ignore them after his inauguration and thusly switches gears in 2016, mad as hell. I want to reach instead that well-enough meaning relative who fails to believe “he means it” when Trump talks about pussy-grabbing or mass deportation, and swivels the conversation instead back to the economy, and how the master deal-maker himself might rejuvenate it. I write instead to the disenfranchised poor whites of the rust belt, who -- she did condescend, from her liberal perch -- have historically not known any better, as was the rich white man's prerogative. I mean, did any Democrat bring the exciting renewable energy job creation program to Kentucky? Seriously tell me, I wanna know: did anyone on the left do that?

This is not to excuse it. This is merely my first and very painful, rather clumsy attempt to understand.

And I know this is 1) a reductive oversimplification and 2) a hard pill to swallow, even where (if) it rings true and useful. I would counter-argue to myself that the black body in America has undergone and continues to experience a vilification far surpassing other minorities in this country -- at least, so far. Yet I do not understand what it feels like to be poor. Face to face with a Klan-robe-clad, impoverished ex-miner in West Virginia, I’m not saying I’d turn that Jesus-y cheek -- but I am in the privileged position (New York City, baby) of saying I can imagine my way into the heads of certain out-of-job folk in the rust belt who do not necessarily feel they carry hate in their hearts but are seduced instead by the rhetoric of a made-over economy, in which there is a place for them. I saw a friend I respect say quite lucidly that the left had forgotten these people, too, when it ought to be their party as much as it ours. We are Other. This particular friend had incidentally been raising obnoxious hell for Bernie (and portending doom after his primary loss) for months. 

Perhaps this is all to say again, I am mad at everyone. But I am the most mad at, in order:

Donald Trump
The rich people who voted for Trump, with their every privilege and assumed education. The people who knew better.
The people who voted for Trump with unabashed hate in their hearts or on their tongues, in their actions.
David Duke, Fox news anchors, any thumping “Build the Wall” vulgarian spewing slurs, garbage monsters et al
the fact that our country is demonstrably not ready to believe a woman can lead
& finally:
my own shock
my party’s own shock

I would rather live in a world -- and perhaps before this week, naively believed I did live in a world -- that was beginning to move past dismissing human beings into foul terms like “identity politics” or “politically incorrect.” I want to live in a world, believed I did, where those who would see their fellow humans unable to access safe reproductive healthcare, unable to choose what to host in their bodies, unable to use fucking bathrooms, unable to seek haven from repressive regimes or poor living qualities -- I want to live in a world, believed I did, where those garbage people were diminishing and draining out like the last bits of sand in an hourglass, or more aptly, the last patch of sludge in a swamp. Those who would endorse rape culture and the killing of black men, the killing of anyone with handguns, can you tell my politics yet?, those who flatly deny science and our one collective job as stewards of this earth -- those people are almost gone, I told myself. The rest of us need only outlive them. We don’t even have to worry about the mythical ex-centrists of yore, those ancient Southern dems of myth, anybody caught in the crossfire  -- not if there is Evil Them, and Righteous Us, in my oh-so-partisan present day. So implied my own paper of record. 

But it isn’t so. And it wasn’t so, quite apparently. And no can or perhaps even should be in clear-eyed agreement at this moment about what to do next, but my instinct says that even in doubling down for the causes I believe in, in doubling down on my pledge to protect and fight for the life and life-rights of those perpetually disenfranchised humans I love and don't love, don't know, merely believe in --  I must do some work (internally and externally) in the next 2-4 years to seduce other people to our side. I think I believe we can make a few people understand that their interests are in fact ours, and their idea of a flourishing economy needn’t and shouldn’t ever come at the expense of our basic right to be alive. But I can’t do that if I hate them, you know? 

EDIT: Then again, perhaps this is all my own mental gymnastics, something I have to believe in to move forward. Perhaps it's denial. Perhaps this what a Pollyanna looks like in 2016. Maybe every Trumper  knew full well what their vote would mean for millions of their fellows, and did it anyway. Maybe they believe women and minorities don't deserve equal protection, and it's no biggie to have a President who speaks this way; maybe they hate us. Even so; I think I have to retain some wide-eyed sense of productivity, some vision of truly bi-partisan discourse. If only to get out of bed.

EDIT 2; a drastic pivot: Watching Paris is Burning and thinking some more. Perhaps grace is not the course. Can fury be productive? Can we blaze onward and harder, abandoning any concession to the broken bipartisan model? I don't actually think I can truck with anyone who actively worked to take away minority rights. This shit has been going on too long already. 

EDIT 3, cantering:  A wiser friend: "Empathy needs to work both ways, and poor white people who broke for Trump this year should be empathized with but they need to consider other people as well, just like POC ave constantly been asked to do." 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To No One, For You Two

Today is a melancholy day, but I refuse to link to the action. Tragedies make me want to hide in notebooks. I remember sitting in a food-filled room after the funeral in my youth, how awful the light was in there. Sometimes you just want to cry in a corner...of the internet.

The other day I learned that a girl I used to jokingly refer to as my “nemesis” in college had committed suicide. I had not seen this woman for many years, and we had never been close. A few days before this day, a friend remarked that there was something perhaps-dangerously disingenuous about our social media culture's casual relationship to tragedy. How the Facebook feeds, the Twitter statuses, all those RIPs shouted into the void, how they had a suspect genesis – for what's our goal, when we express vague condolences on the internet? When our profiles are so closely linked to our own cosmic cries for attention, a dark soul has to wonder if all the public well-wishing isn't utterly empty, more concerned with the author than any alleged recipient. An optimistic girl on my Facebook feed is out to quell the cynics: she tells her followers, “posting about Robin Williams['] passing doesn't mean any of us are looking for 'likes' or 'attention,' so shut your bitter, wannabe nonconformist mouths.” Well said, Brittany. (Her name is Brittany, too.) Sometimes we say things just because we feel them; sometimes we feel things just to feel.

Yet here I am, on a curious pulpit for rumination, here on this blog that no one checks anymore. I am also here because today I was supposed to write a dozen things – most of them ostensibly for money or at least attention, because nowadays I am a freelance writer and so everything I write is suddenly of merit. Every idea I have nowadays seems necessarily linked to a finished project, for one thing – which means every idea I have is linked to the notion of scrutiny. This is primarily a problem because I am not so good at finishing projects. But here are some things I really love: being complimented, being paid, being right, being thought wise. Now that my writing (and the swells of commenters on said writing) can sate some of these desires, I'm addicted to the end goal. It's been harder to rationalize winding rafts of un-researched pop-philosophy because people don't read those, and nobody pays me to write them.*

So I was feeling listless about this art life, as per usual. Then a good one died, and this made me think some more about myself because my relationship to the world is insufficiently developed. Let me also catch this before it drifts too far away: listening to Gene Clark's No Other, a bit of lyric: “Words can be empty or filled with sound.” I will cut the crap and attempt to fill the words with sound. And so what if no one is here to hear! The point is to remember that an audience is not always the point.


This already feels forced. All I'm able to remember about my classmate is how she was beautiful, and very talented, and such things already indicate a tragic heroine. But it's true: a lot of people liked her. A lot of people thought her very special. I did, if I am being honest. This woman had a light so affecting that I was insanely jealous of everything she did during our first few years of concurrent education, even though we didn't take a class together or ever hang out during this time. Jealousy is such an ugly feeling, it feels odd to admit out loud. Ha – 'out loud.' Here we go again.

Like Robin Williams, little bright star suffered from mental illness, as I understand it – but I will walk away from comparing what I don't understand, in this moment. If the warring factions of Facebookers with divergent opinions on how-to-handle-public-deaths agree on anything, it's the injustice and universality of mental illness. Today is a good day to scribble down hotline information, or reach out for a friend. In this instance, death masquerades as some helpful unifier. That is, if anyone really reaches, or really calls.

This girl didn't have a Facebook for many years, which these days feels like something that is worth note. Her pictures, the shape of her face, her smile – these images were erased for me a long time ago. I hadn't seen her since I'd last actually seen her, in the flesh. If she had changed much in the past four years, I would not know. I will never know. As a result, the void she has left remains quiet, unheralded in this garish world wide web.


Naturally, when you occupy a larger spot of the public's imagination, more people have more opinions about what to do with you when you're gone. What I'm most mystified by in the whole celebrity-death concept on a large scale and Robin Williams' recent death on a smaller scale, is the section of the population who seem determined to assert just how much they didn't care about the deceased. Sure, there's something level-headed and briefly refreshing about people who are honest – I'm talking about statuses like, “Remember I didn't know him personally, and neither did you.” But as opposed to the other Brittany, who tells us she is basking in her lonely feelings just to bask, I wonder about the naysayers' goal. What do they hope to accomplish in pointing out the obvious? For it is pointing out the obvious: few of us “really knew” Robin Williams. Then again, few of us “really knew” my college classmate. There are of course varying depths of grief, but I really want to know: why point any of that out, at a time like this? What's the harm in letting people be in their own pain, or even in their showcase of affected or exaggerated pain? Why is privately experienced emotion seen as the more noble, the more genuine? It's as if in opening our feelings to public scrutiny, they become part of a 'trend.' They are no longer merely ours, in some way.

I wrote a few paragraphs above, 'certain kinds of internet condolences seem more concerned with the author than the recipient.' But isn't this always the case, with any condolence? The recipient will never receive the condolence, is the thing. Maybe that's what makes the whole enterprise so hollow.


Yet were it not for the internet, there are so many deaths we wouldn't know about. Here is an argument for the realists: what about all the celebrity deaths or friends of distant friends' deaths that occur on the daily, which we would otherwise know nothing about until some later college reunion or the Oscars 'In Memoriam' montage or never? I wonder if the instant way we receive our information now has a relationship to the grief it produces; if timely access to a tragedy enables us to experience sorrow at some increased rate. There is the shock-factor, when you learn something immediately: you find out, and if it is Facebook, soon everyone has found out. You are presumably all in your own rooms at the exact same moment, finding out, then being surprised, then flocking to video montages of the deceased as one huge virtual unit. I remember attempting to buy a vinyl pressing of Thriller the day Michael Jackson died; I remember the object's price increasing exponentially every time I refreshed the page. A community can whip itself into a frenzy far more efficiently than an individual.

And here is an argument for the people who like to feel things-then tell other people what they've felt: there is so much to feel! You will always have your Tweets cut out for you. Your heart should bleed, always, if you refresh your page with regularity.


Things we can widely agree on: It is good not to be a jerk. It is good to have feelings. It is sometimes good to interrogate these feelings, and where they come from.
Would it be different, the patch in my heart where my classmate used to be, if I were able to be saturated in memories of her at this moment? If she had Facebook, perhaps a flood of remembered days and nights, the shape of her face, would rush to the surface and coax more from me. But then, what is 'more?' All I have now is that time we rehearsed a scene in a dorm basement, when there must have been some laughter. Those two different times when we went out for the same part and she totally got it. Various hallway brush-ins, seemingly heartfelt compliments exchanged. If I had been a better person, it's not impossible that we could have been friends. (The macabre, recalibrating thoughts of a left-behind.)

And would it be different, the patch in my heart where Robin Williams used to be, if I wasn't presently inundated with Netflix suggestions of his best work, with lengthy eulogies from friends and columnists, with montages and images galore? I have to imagine that it would be. While I do not think my vague sadness would go quietly into that good night, I'd be thinking only of my memories: of Mrs. Doubtfire. Of a certain seemingly coke-addled Today Show interview. As is, I am thinking of a filmography. A canon. Art objects and experiences that do not feel personal to me, but make up the blurry picture of many peoples' memories. I suppose this kind of public grieving is like any funeral, where everyone in a waiting queue can speak their piece. Without her own public funeral, perhaps my classmate will fade into the small burning star of everyone's private moments with her. We will paint no unifying mural, we will mythologize not one vaguely outlined idea of a sketch of a lady but dozens and dozens of fractal limbs. The eulogies of distant acquaintances will go unheard, and none will be the wiser.
Except maybe the distant acquaintances.


It doesn't really matter, of course. What I think. I want the people who got closest to “knowing” the deceased parties to feel minimal pain. I want them surrounded by other loved ones and all small solaces. That's another thing: funerals and condolences are for the survivors, don't forget.

One thing people have been writing on the public walls, to Robin Williams, is “thank you.” “Thank you, you made me want to be an actor/comedian/pirate captain.” Thank you seems appropriate in a way that RIP doesn't, quite. Thank you connotes attention paid to time lived, deeds done, thoughts affected. It seems more personal, somehow; and personal is the nature of grief. I say thank you to the girl I used to know, not for something so overt as “making me want to be a better actor, and for putting good work into the world” because this doesn't ring entirely true, but fuck it as it's just between us? For fanning a flame. For light, your own. I did not know you well, but I am sorry you're not in the world anymore.


Finally – and this is important, directed to the hotline posters – there is the weight of depression on both these individuals. Depression is a thing endured so privately, to see its effects made public has always been taboo. The solidarity in the all-of-us-posting-together approach seems especially attractive here. Everyone who suffers emotional pain that renders them unable to see light should be granted light, as much as possible, so at the very least they have a place they feel they can speak, if they want to. But this line of thinking is also broad rhetoric, the kind of thing individuals in pain can't easily metabolize. Perhaps it resolves like so: though we necessarily suffer alone, there must be something in knowing that we all suffer. Though we cannot ever get close enough to another human being, there is something in trying. And frankly? Loud as we shout, there seems to be little catharsis in any of it – for whether to Facebook or nowhere, we are still shouting for the benefit of hearing ourselves out loud. And whether rendered as shout or whisper, that goal is always, always the same: it is attempting to fill a silence.

*Then again – why are these “rafts” (WC) of pop-philosophy so very un-researched, so very winding? One wonders if the author should rethink everything she's ever done.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Know a New Country

  • In this new place (or this very very old place, that is only new to you) hotel doormen say “Welcome home, love!” and customs officers ask with interest about your acting career before bidding you “Cheers!” Now we all know what they say about the skewed gaze of the first impression – plus, a friend will remind you later that it's not just a little insulting to think of the once greatest civilization as “quaint” – yet. YET! Across the pond, it seems that daily life is conducted with a reverence for politic and tradition. A conspicuous weight is placed on accommodating the other. And as a result it strikes you, traveler, that it's possible for faith to come as first instinct, instead of suspicion. This message is reinforced at the U.S Border Patrol, where an officer takes off his glasses to peer down his nose at you when your smile is a tad too eager.

  • In this new place (or this place you've heard a lot of good rumors about and spent but a layover in once, years ago) you must parse out what is true in fiction. People have always described this enigmatic country to you in technicolor, in iambic pentameter, in melodic hook. From this you figured the place was flawless, dainty, full of sweet nothings and little cakes...and mostly you figured this country looked and felt the same to every visitor on some subterranean human level. You figured that here you would always know just what to say and how to be. You figured you would see it in the sun; you figured it would be so. You figured you would follow the same template of all of those poets through all of that history and reap the same reward from this place and then have the same trouble explaining it well, when people asked how it was here and what you've been doing. And if you didn't quite belong in this strange new country, you would know immediately and find your exit with grace. You would find some way to avoid all of the prickles on all of the trees there. And you wouldn't fear those alleys and dark corners you didn't recognize. You'd announce your presence to locals from the hilltops, instead of being a furtive tourist, hiding away your maps. You'd be so fearless. 
But like all good things, the new world is not at all what you expected. Because it turns out that no one anywhere has ever experienced what you're experiencing now, and so the new country is not a 'country' at all but just a few dozen remarkable pages in a little girl's diary. You deduce this because what you've been doing on your trip is not quite in line with sonnets or sitcoms: it's not birds lilting in trees, this terror on top of comfort on top of glee. No one else has ever slow-danced in a living room to Thelonius Monk in afternoon light. No one else has ever walked in silence for eight blocks and almost died, felt like dying, from the floundering feeling in not knowing quite how to apologize, or for what. No one else has a series of Photobooth pictures that maddeningly capture all of your feelings and thoughts in four monochromatic frames. No one's ever been as impressed by anything anyone else has said at an art museum, and no one's ever slept and not slept like this, and no one's ever been this tethered and this free. And no, you cannot explain it perfectly. You cannot explain it at all. But drunk on your uniqueness, the perfect prescience of your own thoughts, you make plans to move ahead on your trek with the deep faith of England's tourism engine. Because you believe that the world should be a considerate place and oh, you want to have faith. You want to go everywhere. You want to tumble forward like a falling tree. Yettttttt, because you are you you cannot quite keep from making these lists and petitions, attempting to suss out the science behind whatever comet this is come stumping across your transom. You mind your borders like a good American. And heck, not entirely without cause! There have been recent tragic events, after all. 
  • In this new place (though really it is the same place as usual, except everyone is suddenly wearing shorts and the occasional tree makes its presence known), you own time and all of the sunny days. You own Lou Reed and Bedford Avenue at dusk, you own your fire escape, you own your body and your voice and your magnniiifffffffficent thoughts and there are days within days where the world seems to electrify with possibility and and other days where you delight in and spin around in the smallest almost-pragmatism: buying flowers (like Mrs. Dalloway!), putting these in jars. And on sunny days, it is easiest to read your book in the park and let all the good luck shine into you, it is easiest to thank whatever force is responsible, it is easiest to believe in anything, the rightness and sincerity of your whole present life. And it seems that on sunny days, above all, you must write your adventures down. Because you will want them in bottles someday. 

Monday, February 11, 2013


Come on, Pilgrim. If you set word count requirements and meet them don't you know a Greek chorus will rain blessings down on all of your job applications? And I say Greek chorus, I mean like modern-day Greek soccer players. Their chins like planks of wood – as irrefutable, as able to hold weight, corners implied. And this chorus will wear loin cloths so you will be able to imagine what Rodin and Michelangelo make a tad too plain: I'm talking bratwurst, tennis ball containers...

Look homeward, angel. Listen to the radio: it's When Yer Twenty-Two. Go and look up the words; it could be absolutely nothing but proof of God:
stuck in the perpetual motion (okay!)
dying against the machine (well I actually follow my bliss, so...)
the whole thing leaves you a nothing instead of a these (that can't be right, Lyricsfreak...)
the sun is black and the black halos fly (lost. Lost, lost lost)
The sound is so cute when you're twenty-two. When you're twenty-two.
Take a while. Think you get it. Get it, get up, get another Maker's Mark. It's 1:01 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, from here on in I shoot without a script.

The Project feels like it's disintegrating sometimes. Going back and reading The Project elicits mostly this face (Imagine a really embarrassed smirk) – it's your own cloying voice, so wound in on itself that it can't fly. It's your so-called “self-awareness,” which stymies in its way. It's Lena Dunham and all the other innovators making diary theatre and thinly-veiled confessions oh-so-trendy, oh-so-GROUNDBREAKING. It's too easy, what you reach for. You know who it's not? George Saunders. Riddle me this.

So maybe the trouble is to do with your brain. You ought to expand your brain. You should go to all of the museums and download all of the podcasts. You should read all of the newspapers, ponder world events at length, research those threads of history that articles imply. You know what you should do is practice guitar. You should read comic books and watch documentaries and try on different eccentric catsuits. Call these Von Trier-ian imposed limits: maybe in this skin, I'll get this character. I'll know this new thing about time and space and being a person in the world. You should listen to all of the music and read all of the fiction from the era you sometimes feel you ought to have been born into (magic): it's 1983 in here now! That makes you thirtysomething! Congrats, thirtysomething! The best part of being thirtysomething is being smug. You've kind of done it all, and you know that this trainwreck ends and apologizes and from its wiser ashes grow...

Can't even TRICK myself...Is it that yer twenty-two and trying The Project at all? A lot of things are de facto and inevitable: ignorance, ego, rashness, certain words and phrases, their overuse, self-pity, ampersands...

Other laurels include familiar phrases like 'harping coda.' So harping coda, go:

It's hard out here for a pimp.

Okay, go some more. To a secondary location! To the boy's house! To Girl's Night! To the comedy club and the movies! Go to places where you can sit down, at least, because you actually are a little bit of an old woman. Go like a metaphor. Go like a concept. Go fishing. Go away.

Philosophers are content with endings like this. So are people fooled by soundtracks. Don't you get the joke???

I laughed like I did, but between you me and the lamppost: Nosireeba. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Icarus Tries Westville

At St. Dymphna's on Sunday night the aspiring Wayne Coyne in the corner was hunched over a book that I figured from the fatness was House of Leaves. We became insta-friends when the aspiring Wayne Coyne (briefly henceforth, TAWC) slammed his book down in front of me and said, “Did you know Pepe II of Ancient Egypt had such a crippling fear of flies that he used to cover his surrounding slaves with honey? So they wouldn't bite him? It's sort of hilarious. I mean it's very upsetting, but also hilarious.”
“More flies with honey,” I said, being cool. (I am so cool, everyone.)
“You look kind of Egyptian to me. Are you a time traveler from Ancient Egypt?”
Soon it's Dennis Cooper and Chuck Palahniuk and Henry Miller (of course. Of COURSE), and somewhere even farther down this timeline TAWC morphs into a person with a good Christian name. Only his friends call him 'Spud.' And now we're talking about Dune. And did I know that The Cars and Weezer had the same producer for their first record, which goes a way to explain something don't I think? And while we're on the subject, do we think it's called flanorexia if you only eat flan?
I meet some more people, many named Dave. There are Too Many Daves. There is a bucket of KFC and shortly after this there is last call. Exceptions to the Dave grain include Photographer Alex and Jedediah, who is our bloodstream – Jedediah “has connections” at every bar I've ever heard of. And aren't we all going to Sway after this? Oh, it's only the best after-after hours club in the West Village. And for reasons cousins with those three Delirium Tremens I did not pay for, I am suddenly shifting into a cab with all of my new friends. A stunning Japanese girl who speaks in sotto is my only cohort in chromosome repping, and I think as we cut West: I really don't do things like this very often.

So Sway is a sweatbox. Sway is a lawless den of sin. Sway is 1983. Jedediah introduces me to everyone. The bartender's name is Dave (!). The deejay is less a deejay than the person at the party who happened to put on the whole of The Queen is Dead. Sway is a certain kind of man who will never make it easy for anyone. Terrible improv partners, sway:
“I'm Brittany.”
“I'm grave.”
“Come again?”
(Could be a cricket)
“So what do you do...George?”
“I'm a musician.” (In a seemingly blow off gesture, G[?] pulls out an iPhone and heads to youtube. After a beat:) “I bartend here sometimes.”
“Oh cool! What kind of musician?”
“I play everything. I have a drum machine.”
“So you're kind of a one man band, huh?”
(Could be 40,000 crickets)
(G[?] suddenly leans over after a pause so long that I supposed it could only be the curdling death of this intro gone south... G [?] presents an unloaded youtube video)
“This is me.”
“Looks like it's not loading.”
“You want a drink?”
“Thanks! Whiskey something?”

G [?] vanishes into the the ether. I glimpse him later not-quite-murmuring to an aspiring Courtney Love.
Other friends are disappearing and reappearing, like buoys in storms. Spud is allegedly off somewhere with the beautiful Japanese girl. He loves her, I can see it. A guy named Malik is passing out clove cigarettes. Jedediah wants to know how am I supposed to dance with my coat still on. I want to know how am I supposed to dance to Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now. I find Photographer Alex in a corner wedge booth with a view.
“Welcome to the AV club,” he says.
Now these are actually the perks of being a wallflower: Photographer Alex and I talk about Deep Space Nine and Israel. We belt all of the words to Heroes when it comes on and boogie without standing up. Some parts of “Brooklyn” are okay, you know. You can really find your people here. With allies like Photographer Alex even the most uninformed ruminations on the debt crisis, the silliest hats – they become bearable. Become humorous. Become real.

And at 5:30 or so as the bouncers make their final sweep, just the original crowd is left. We have lain claim to the back bench. When porters walk our way, we hold our ground: Just say you're with J.
But just like I knew when and why to come here, I know when and why to leave. I stand. They kiss me on the cheek, they give me their business cards, they beg me to stay. “Tomorrow is such and such a raid on Lit lounge. So and so works there. Come.” Come is command. And maybe I will, maybe I won't (I probably won't) but in any case the sun's coming up lickety-split in the East now. In my cab, I head East. East to the river and no friggin regrets.

Sometimes in New York it feels like there's a mystery set of other people always off having the kind of adventures you assumed you'd be beating off with a stick when you moved here. They say anything can happen in this town, but it turns out anything is very rarely magic. Yet look! My fraidy-cat fontanelle is closing up! There is a pretty ridiculous movie called We Bought a Zoo existing on clearance rack DVD somewhere, there's a quote from this movie that here applies: “[To do anything] All it really takes is fifteen seconds of crucial courage. Fifteen seconds of being brave.” Less, if you think about it. It only takes a heartbeat to say 'yes.'

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Book Party

I am at the Neue gallery in cocktail attire, hob-nobbing with the literary elite of the Upper East Side. Well, sort of. By hob-nobbing I mean sitting at a desk attempting to sell Gerald Stern's new book of essays, by “literary elite” I mean a very particular club of New York-based Jewish-American poets who were best known in the 1960s. Mr. Stern is throwing a launch party here at the gallery tonight. I have met the man already, in one of those totally cliché accidentally-meeting-a-famous-person gaffy exchanges; I was reading his book here at my little table and he, unrecognizable from the cover picture, snuck up behind me and asked 'how is it?' before introducing himself as 'Jerry.'

I've made friends with the catering team. They keep lingering by my area on the edge of the party just long enough for me to snatch a salmon pinwheel...or four. A Hector Elizondo-esque gallery manager circles, hawk-like, protective but somehow redundant. I keep thinking I'll see personalities I recognize – Joan Didion, perhaps? Woody Allen? – but typical to the restrictions of 'writer celebrity,' I can't pin a single face down. I may have read some of these people in English classes (it's actually becoming more likely that a lot of folks here helped publish people I read in English classes) but now these men – if these men are those men – walk with canes. They impudently wear their hats inside and bray their Brooklyn drawls out to this austere Austrian stronghold, defying an elitism they have always embodied for me.

For these men (and women, but fewer women) are writers, sitting on comfortable success and comparative acclaim...whoops, G. Stern has come my way to insist I'm sitting on his man purse. I am not. His friends nearby wink in a kind of apology, the matter is laughed off.

Hector Elizondo – his name is Tom in real life – asks if I've gotten a chance to see upstairs yet. I motion to the books, as if they need constant tending. H tells me there are three Klimt, when I get a chance. He seems proud.

I got this gig through my friend Darcy, who is one of those fabulous born and bred New Yorker types who calls me three or four times a year for some really excellent reason: dinner with her family at a LES inoteca, birthday trip to Mohonk Mountain, brother's film premiere launch party at Silvercup. Darce is in charge of The List, because a pushy woman noticed that she was dressed more “weather appropriate” than me and so oughta take the door. It's true, my feathers stick out: when people say cocktail attire I assume the bright lime Diane von Furstenberg wrap-dress from 2000 and my junior green Jackie O coat. D and me wink at one another across the marble lobby. Luckily I don't feel out of place because I wasn't really invited to this party; also, I am ridiculous.

Last week my mom saw Zadie Smith speak at Politics and Prose, and allegedly my favorite teach REMEMBERED me. Quote: “Of course I know Brittany, she's brilliant!” I am bragging this out to you now when clearly Zadie Smith is from England where brilliant doesn't always mean brilliant and of course if a mother asks if you remember her daughter in a book-signing line there is but one clear response, obvi...still. Still! Still, I think! Another sign, for those who mark their lives in signs: Monday I was at the Strand book-shopping with a buddy and a man, a stranger, actually did a double take and said, “I thought you WERE Zadie Smith!” This is a theatrical-seeming coincidence, no? She's not that well-known. Not everyone knows what she looks like. Buddy huffed the stranger's remark off as petty racism – which is what well-meaning caucasian friends sometimes do whenever a person of color is said to look like another person of color , teehee – but I dreamt big for a moment. Maybe I could be Zadie Smith. Maybe I am her. What if I just borrowed her vision one day and slipped into her life and fabulous headwear? Back at the party, I think I see Anne Meara! It is not Anne Meara after all.

People are spilling out of the gallery. The reading is over. This morning I went to brunch with a poet/librarian, and we spoke about the books on our nightstands and that harping rhetorical, “is it possible to really delve into/give your soul to two things at once? Let alone, like, four?” I thought about the renaissance people I know, the janes and jacks of many trades. I thought about discipline. I thought about choice. I thought about which way is “taking it easy on yourself,” vs. which way is “selling out.” I thought about the pragmatics of having only just enough time on the earth, and presumably just enough activity, energy, to squeeze into this big countdown.

This party is the Book World, or a country in it. This party is Eileen Fisher and chunky jewelry and booties and a few patent eccentrics. The reading at the gallery for two hundred of your nearest and dearest is a worthwhile success marker for many writers, maybe most. So dramatic hypothetical: were this the particular life the one I wanted, decided to pursue, I would inevitably find myself at more events like this. Down the road. As opposed to other kinds of parties, for there are as many kinds of parties as there are guests. This one is in a fancy gallery and it's clear we won't be staying too late or speaking too loud. In a very superficial and very reductive sense, in a certain equation of my future this party would be something I'd need to get used to, or become something I'd want.

I drink champagne.

The problem with the scary question (DEARGODWHATDOIDOWITHMYLIFE) when you have a lot of “options” (read:flights of fancy, ardent delusions, overconfidence, earnestness at least) is that there's no point. Asking the question itself is a means of dillydallying; in all the time I spend sighing to you about where will I go Rhett what will I do, I might have written a chapbook OR gone on thirty auditions. A lot of the jacks and janes I know – whose gumption I so admire – are fantastic, talented people, but a little too content with their crappy service jobs. Myself included. And I do believe the world is changing. The goals for the art-maker or the philosopher are no longer tied to money, if they ever were. But there is also such freedom and some romance in this. It seems we have borrowed more time with which to decide on or juggle various projects, and the stakes not being as dire as “make money with this!” WE are free to put our art on the back-burner, or perfect it over years, or tell people we're doing it when we're not howsoever we choose. No one is waiting. We are making no one wait. Yet I think there will come a point when you start dreaming of your own stuffy book party. I think it happened to the men of Gerald Stern's generation. I do not think it's the same as “selling out,” but by 'it' I mean lingering on but one bliss...if you are the kind of person who wants to move and shake. Strike that, reverse it: I do not quite believe that the answer to the scary question is as simple as “you can't do everything, pick one.” Quentin Tarantino is also a successful dude rancher, after all. But I do think some of our serious, semi-delusional energy might be thrown harder behind the things we want to achieve. Take yourself seriously. Do not talk about the work; do the work.

Hector, seeing me scribble, glances over at one point and asks me if I'm a writer. Usually I hem and haw at this question, or give people information they didn't ask for: I am a / and a / and a/, or trying to be. Today I say 'yes,' and while it clicks it also hurts – a selection is an edit after all – but Hector just smiles. He says, “well, you're in the right place.”

Hmm. Maybe I am.