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The gray area of black and white

This entire editorial from New York Times Magazine about the Charleston church shooting is worth reading, but this section about our vocabulary regarding white and black in relation to historical racial violence is really important, especially from a journalistic perspective. How can we write to be more sensitive toward this difference? Awareness that it happens is a start.

“I’m always struck by this hesitance not only to name white terrorism but to name whiteness itself during acts of racial violence. In a recent New York Times article on the history of lynching, the victims are repeatedly described as black. Not once, however, are the violent actors described as they are: white. Instead, the white lynch mobs are simply described as “a group of men” or “a mob.” In an article about racial violence, this erasure of whiteness is absurd. The race of the victims is relevant, but somehow the race of the killers is incidental. If we’re willing to admit that race is a reason blacks were lynched, why are we unwilling to admit that race is a reason whites lynched them? In his remarks following the Charleston shooting, President Obama mentioned whiteness only once — in a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. intended to encourage interracial harmony. Obama vaguely acknowledged that “this is not the first time that black churches have been attacked” but declined to state who has attacked these churches. His passive language echoes this strange vagueness, a reluctance to even name white terrorism, as if black churches have been attacked by some disembodied force, not real people motivated by a racist ideology whose roots stretch past the founding of this country.”

– Britt Bennett / “White Terrorism is as Old as America”

 

Spring, brought to you by Todd Rundgren

We had a yard sale in my neighborhood the other day. I didn’t have a lot to sell. I’ve purged so much in my recent moves that everything I own, which isn’t much, are things I want or need. I try not to buy tchotchkes or meaningless stuff that I’m excited about for a week but then just collects dust on a shelf somewhere.

Picture frames and Made in China sculptures and Mason jars with fake flowers are the misfit toys of adulthood. I will spend extra money on clothes and food and gifts. That’s about it.

I do have a lot of books though. And records. So I set to work picking out ones to  sell. Prepping for a yard sale can be stressful — figuring out what to sell, deciding what to charge for what you do decide to sell, and confronting a mental list of just how insignificant the crap you own is can an existential crisis make.

Adding to the frustration? Masking tape. Why is it so sticky on your fingers but never on the actual thing you need it to stick to? WHY?!

I share a house with four other people. We each live in one corner apartment of the house. The others had filled our backyard on yard sale day with so many goodies! My records and books looked kind of lonely huddled together on my back porch.

About half of my stuff sold. Turns out anything priced for more than $2 at a yard sale is just ridiculous. Who the fuck do you think you are charging $5 for an ornate antique ashtray? The buyer has all the power. He or she knows you’ve gone to all this trouble to pick out this junk, label it with that pestiferous masking tape, and sit outside while strangers dally around like zombies in your back yard. You just want it gone. So how low will you go?

The night before, when I was curating just what of my bookshelves to feed to these deal-seeking wolves, I decided there were a few records in my collection I just couldn’t part with. Surprise, they were the ones with sentimental value.

“Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure: I listened to this album nearly every morning of my sophomore year of college.

“Abbey Road” by The Beatles: An ex-boyfriend got this for me and I still think it’s sweet because everyone has that one person from their early 20s that makes them think of a Beatles song.

“Portrait of Bobby” by Bobby Sherman: Belonged to my teenage mom.

A literal portrait of A Portrait of Bobby. So meta.

A literal portrait of A Portrait of Bobby. So meta.

The Black Keys and John Frusciante and MIA? Sell. Sell. Sell. This stuff’s gotta go! A deal you can’t refuse! But wait there’s more! I’ll sweeten the pot and let you take this masking tape off my hands! No really. Please. Can you rip this tape off my hands?

One album, though, that didn’t get purchased during my yard sale has been the focus of my last few weeks, musically speaking.

Todd

The thing with records is that you can remember where you got most of them. You remember the crazy deal you found them for, or who you pilfered it from, or what barter you made to get it, or which mom wanted you to please, annoying hipster kid, just take them from the basement so there’s less junk down there. I have three editions of “Rumors” by Fleetwood Mac from an ex’s mom’s old collection.

There is a pride to finding classics for so cheap. It is a reminder of their fragility and the way we discard or forget things that once meant so much to us. Sometimes the story means more than the music.

But I just cannot remember how I got “Something/ Anything” by Todd Rundgren. It’s such a random pick and I am not familiar with him except for this album. Hell, I didn’t even know he sings that insurance commercial song “I DON’T WANT TO WORK. I JUST WANT TO BANG ON THE DRUM ALL DAY.” until I was recently Spotifying all his work.

But I have this album completely memorized. This album has been in my rotation for about seven years.  I can’t believe I was trying to sell it for only $2 the other day. Talk about not knowing something’s, anything’s worth.

This album is the ultimate in spring listening. And if there’s a time to be easy and smooth and optimistic, it is the time when spring is folding into summer. You’ve settled into rainy nights and a warmth that feels like a hug rather than a chokehold. “Something/ Anything” makes me feel like I’m on the water. Just laying on my back, eyes closed.

I’m thankful no one bought this up. Sometimes one woman’s trash is actually her own treasure.

See me tonight at this professional panel!

(BYOB because it’s prob more profesh than professional.) Today at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be speaking on a panel with three incredible professionals I just happen to be friends with as we talk about “The Art of Breaking Into Freelancing.” There is a photographer, a writer and two event and marketing consultants on the panel. Things kick off at 6:30 p.m. Run through 8:30 p.m. This is part of the Goose’s The Art of Breaking Into series about art-centric entrepreneurship and how to do it sustainably. More info here! See you tonight.

 

The Art of Breaking Into Freelance

 

A third grade kind of love

Andy was the type of boy who could have been in a boy band if he didn’t live in a small Ohio farming town.

Dark skin as smooth as the stone on the church’s chapel. I prayed every morning that he would be mine.

Turns out he was my cousin. Like, fourth cousin. But I didn’t know that in third grade, which is about the time shit gets real and your heart begins to purr. Plus, I don’t think God would have cared. Look at all the sister wives in the bible.

Edit: I don’t know if there were sister wives in the Bible. We were Catholic and didn’t really read the Bible. 

Andy was actually not the class hottie. That title belonged to Daniel. But I knew enough by third grade to know that I would be the receiver of the hot guy’s less hot best friend’s love. Homely girls, we learn our station early in life.

St. Mary’s Elementary School was all brick and religious self righteousness and insecurity. I felt right at home within its walls. A lilac tree bloomed outside the neighboring white building where the nuns lived. At that time our church had two nuns. The sisters, to me, were an object of pity. Why would you not want to get married? Love seemed like the only thing everyone wanted. Love was the only thing that could spit shine your murky soul. It was born tainted, after all.

Every summer a few weeks before school started, the class lists were posted on the school’s front doors. The class list is the most important document of an 8-year-old’s life in August, perhaps the whole year.

I have three siblings. My older sister was two grades above me, and I was second in line, which meant I always thought I knew more and should be first. Two baby brothers followed, each a two-year stair step apart.

The day the class list posted was rife with ceremony. A big breakfast was gulped down with a glass of anticipation, excitement and anxiety. Who would be our teachers? Who would be in our class? Dear God, please do not separate me from my best friends.

One little, two little, three, four little indians loaded into the minivan, singing a racist song and dreaming bathtub-cleaned white people dreams. Six stoplights and twenty minutes separated us from our destiny.

It’s funny how the nine months of the school year, when you are a kid, feel like 10 years as an adult. Being a kid is like living in dog years—one counts for lessons from seven.

I walked slowly to the doors, letting the younger children fall over themselves to the top of the steps. I wanted to savor the feeling of not knowing.

Jackie Mantey. Third Grade. Mrs. D.

Indeed, this was satisfactory. Excellent, even. As much as I wanted to be considered an individual and different from my older sister, there was safety in having a teacher that had once been hers. The oldest child always gets to test things out first, and sometimes that’s a good thing for the person in the batter’s box.

Andy B. Third Grade. Mrs. D.

God is real!

The minivan took the six stoplights back home. Home always looked different in light of news of the future.

“We’re going to eat lunch and then go get school supplies,” my mother announced as she turned the key and we slid open the van’s doors and piled into the garage choked with summer heat.

If there is anything more exciting to a third grade girl than finding out her new teacher, and her new classroom and that her crush will be spending nine months with both of those things as well, it is the shopping for school supplies.

To this day, the smell of a new notebook can make my eyes wet with fervor. I’m so good at beginnings.

My family owned a dairy farm, and although we did not live on it, we often had a few of its discarded cats roaming our two-acre property. Considering that most farm cats are poor rejects from assholes in the suburbs who have children and decide an animal they said they would take care of just isn’t a part of the “plan” anymore, our house cats were thus the rejects of the rejected.

I had convinced my siblings a year before that I could talk to our cats. And, what’s more, I could tell if a cat was a girl or a boy by feeling its shoulder blades. The latter I actually also believed, having felt the shoulder blades of one boy cat and one girl cat we owned and finding a difference in their shape. I know now that’s because they were unique animals, but I thought this meant that girl cats had a smaller shoulder blade on the right than male cats.

I have never been this confident since. Third grade me had the bravado and self-delusion of a politician.

The hunchback girl cat had had babies one hot day that summer, probably laboring to the sounds of rollerblading children laughing and the smell of 80 degree grass itching at her little huffing nose.

One of the kittens was “retarded.” We still said that then. Slow and wonky eyed, she (it was a she because it had weird shoulder blades) was always last in line for a tit, last in line for a warm spot to sleep, last in line for my siblings’ love. She was my favorite.

After lunch, we ran to the van so we could go three stoplights to Wal-Mart. Slowly, Mom pulled out of the garage, doubling her head back both ways so as not to hit dad’s car beside us or the rearview mirror on the edge of the garage door.

The kitties were walking by this point and semi-independently exploring the mulchy spot just outside the garage door. Pulling out a vehicle was tricky business. One hoped their instincts for survival were on point enough to get out of the way when something was heading toward them. And for most of them, their instincts were correct.

For all except one.

A little bump.

“What was that?” my sister asked from the front seat.

“Don’t look,” Mom said, as she sped up the reverse and looped into the driveway to pull the van into drive.

I shut my eyes immediately, but something inside me had grown up in the last four hours. Something said not to listen to my mother. Something said this is it. You have to look. You have to know. You have to see for yourself.

There was my retarded kitty. Her head had been crushed under the weight of the wheel. She was still alive. Or at least her body was. Head flat, the rest of her completely full, flopping up and down in shock as life beat the last of itself from her bones.

Life just would not give her one final kindness.

For the first time ever that night, I noticed the way the howling wind caused the window near my bed to shake.

****

My glasses were blue. And so were his eyes.

My friend Kate, all knobby and sweet and complete with a plaid uniform jumper, sat beside us on the bean bag. It was raining outside, so we had recess in our classroom.

Andy, Kate and I all had glasses. We knew how to divide numbers and how to tell if cats were boys or girls. We knew everything we needed to know.

“Can I wear yours?” Andy asked me.

He could have anything.

I took them off and we all giggled as we saw the room that was our world through each other’s eyes.

“How can you see in these things?” we all asked.

Andy was my boyfriend for a week. We would date again three years later in sixth grade, a few months before we found out we were cousins when we both showed up for a strange man’s funeral and our parents laughed as they figured out the familial connection.

Star crossed, it seems, has always been my type.

In sixth grade, though, he dumped me on the playground. Or, more accurately, his brother dumped me on the playground for him.

Andy had figured out he was gorgeous and wanted to date someone equally so.

“He wants to go out with,” his brother announced to the group of six or seven girls huddled near the church, his newly-discovered dick hard with the power he held over us, “Joyce. She has better legs.”

She did have better legs. They were smoother and skinnier and tanner.

“Well, that makes sense I guess,” I said, as Joyce comforted me that we could still be friends.

The next year I went to a public school, believing my legs were ugly and in God and several other things that would not save me.

Self Help Sundays

Ironic, isn’t it, that we say, Help Yourself,

and it means two very different things.

“Help yourself!”

Take it all.

Indulge.

You do you you earned it whatever you want have it all be it all eat the whole thing yes yes more more you are in charge don’t hold back live to the fullest take the whole thing at once seize all the moments more have it all you have it all can have it all do it all be it all don’t you want it all!

Oh, you’re choking?

You’re too tired to keep chewing?

Everything hurts?

You probably ate too much.

“Help yourself!”

Make it better you’re in charge do it restrain yourself don’t indulge find balance why did you take the whole thing in the first place lol haha you’re in charge make it better take responsibility be better for yourself know your limits it’s no one’s fault just help yourself don’t take any more.