January 20, 2017

My President Was Black.

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Yes yes yes he was. Hard not to mourn and I don't have much else to add to what's already been said. I am sad and scared but also energized and not willing to give up just yet. Comforted by many people who feel the same and inspired by them to stay vigilant.

An elegiac piece. (Coates' description.)

"The ties between the Obama White House and the hip-hop community are genuine. The Obamas are social with BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z. They hosted Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean at a state dinner, and last year invited Swizz Beatz, Busta Rhymes, and Ludacris, among others, to discuss criminal-justice reform and other initiatives. Obama once stood in the Rose Garden passing large flash cards to the Hamilton creator and rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda, who then freestyled using each word on the cards. “Drop the beat,” Obama said, inaugurating the session. At 55, Obama is younger than pioneering hip-hop artists like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and Kurtis Blow. If Obama’s enormous symbolic power draws primarily from being the country’s first black president, it also draws from his membership in hip-hop’s foundational generation.
That night, the men were sharp in their gray or black suits and optional ties. Those who were not in suits had chosen to make a statement, like the dark-skinned young man who strolled in, sockless, with blue jeans cuffed so as to accentuate his gorgeous black-suede loafers. Everything in his ensemble seemed to say, “My fellow Americans, do not try this at home.” There were women in fur jackets and high heels; others with sculpted naturals, the sides shaved close, the tops blooming into curls; others still in gold bamboo earrings and long blond dreads. When the actor Jesse Williams took the stage, seemingly awed before such black excellence, before such black opulence, assembled just feet from where slaves had once toiled, he simply said, “Look where we are. Look where we are right now.” This would not happen again, and everyone knew it. It was not just that there might never be another African American president of the United States. It was the feeling that this particular black family, the Obamas, represented the best of black people, the ultimate credit to the race, incomparable in elegance and bearing."

"For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell."

"And I also knew that the man who could not countenance such a thing in his America had been responsible for the only time in my life when I felt, as the first lady had once said, proud of my country, and I knew that it was his very lack of countenance, his incredible faith, his improbable trust in his countrymen, that had made that feeling possible. The feeling was that little black boy touching the president's hair. It was watching Obama on the campaign trail, always expecting the worst and amazed that the worst never happened. It was how I'd felt seeing Barack and Michelle during the inauguration, the car slow-dragging down Pennsylvania Avenue, the crowd cheering, and then the two of them rising up out of the limo, rising up from fear, smiling, waving, defying despair, defying history, defying gravity." 

Plus, here is a nice interview Coates does with Trevor Noah where he talks more about this piece and Obama as our first black president.

This sounds like yet another story clearly outlining how fly Barack Obama is, but it’s not. Because Barack Obama is not cool. Barack Obama is fucking remarkable.

Barack Obama Is Not Cool
By Rembert Browne

Great Rembert.

"This may sound like an unnecessary pile on in these terrifying final hours, but there’s actually a gigantic compliment hiding in this. Saying Barack Obama is “cool” diminishes all that he actually is. What’s true: Barack Obama is one of the most capable public figures that the United States has ever seen. In some ways, he is the greatest actor of the past eight years. He can bury himself in a role like Daniel Day-Lewis. He can orate and inspire like Martin Luther King Jr. He can ease a crowd with a laugh and a smile like Denzel Washington. He can nerd out like Neil deGrasse Tyson. And when he wants to, he can strut like Jeff Goldblum struts at the end of Independence Day."

"This sounds like yet another story clearly outlining how fly Barack Obama is, but it’s not. Because Barack Obama is not cool. Barack Obama is fucking remarkable."

January 17, 2017

But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him
By Michiko Kakutani

I thought I could not love him any more.

"I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

And so even though by the time I graduated I knew I wanted to be involved in public policy, or I had these vague notions of organizing, the idea of continuing to write and tell stories as part of that was valuable to me. And so I would come home from work, and I would write in my journal or write a story or two.

The great thing was that it was useful in my organizing work. Because when I got there, the guy who had hired me said that the thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories. And he told me that if you learn how to listen to people’s stories and can find what’s sacred in other people’s stories, then you’ll be able to forge a relationship that lasts.

But my interest in public service and politics then merged with the idea of storytelling."

January 12, 2017

Keeping a calm space for yourself, where you remember what matters, where you believe in the goodness of people, is fundamental.

One more. Much of my time now is spent tuning in to what's happening in the world, and especially what's happening in our country. What happened. I feel very anxious and desperate and terrified and helpless about it all. I felt those emotions strongly again yesterday after watching the president-elect's first press conference in six months. I'm still trying to gather the courage to contribute some goodness. (I think of James Baldwin's words often.) I know I'm not the only one who is concernedmuch of my news-gathering these days comes via various sources on Twitter, where it seems like we're all SCREAMING into the voidbut I haven't had much of an opportunity to voice my fears aloud, so it's like they're bubbling up inside. And I'm also trying to sort out my future. I'm a bit calmer today because I've been spending time outside (it's beautiful: 80 degrees and sunny) and because I haven't really checked the news at all today.

Havrilesky's response to Ask Polly: How do I live in a world gone mad? is a good place to start when I'm not sure how.

"But we don’t have much time on this planet, and we have to make the most with the time we have. There will always be trouble in the world. As long as you’re vocal and you’re unafraid to speak out against injustice, that’s a start. You can only be wide awake if you’re also getting enough sleep at night. Remembering that good things are still happening out there, supporting and loving the people around you, living in the moment: These things are even more important when the world looks extra bleak. You were not put on this planet to tune out the most gratifying, most gorgeously imperfect moments of your life and focus on nightmares instead. And if you expect to do anything worthwhile with your time, your mind needs to be a calm, placid sea.

Keeping a calm space for yourself, where you remember what matters, where you believe in the goodness of people, is fundamental. Our survival depends on it, more than ever. We have to reach out to each other and believe in each other. We have to believe that we can make our way through this shit storm, and fix what’s broken.

We don’t owe it to the world to wallow in the darkness, to stay depressed, to mourn indefinitely. We owe it to the world to believe in this day, and to believe in the future."

We are all so completely poleaxed by our own longing, by our own magical thinking, by our own physical resistance to hard work.

I should note that my introduction to Ask Polly, and to Heather, was earlier last year through one of her columns on The Cut that didn't make it into her book. A letter and response that I am sort of embarrassed to admit I related (still relate?) to. But I can't deny her words helped me put things in perspective and try to get it together.

"You can’t hang out with people and have a good time — as you state is your goal — until you show them respect. That means you have to stop putting yourself at the center of every picture. That means you have to appreciate pictures even when you’re not in them. You don’t need to be everything to everyone. You just have to matter to yourself. Once you care about yourself, you’ll have room to care about other people — as human beings, not as mirrors or escape fantasies or imaginary rivals or ciphers or scapegoats.
I have two daughters, and this, for some reason, is my biggest fear when it comes to them, that they’ll waste their lives chasing men in circles instead of recognizing how much sunshine and genius and expansive, outrageous possibility they carry around with them everywhere they go. But this anxiety of mine isn’t just about young women and their tendency to ignore their own value and worth and potential. It’s also about 30-something men and 40-somethings and 50-somethings and everyone under the goddamned sun. We are all so completely poleaxed by our own longing, by our own magical thinking, by our own physical resistance to hard work. We put our faith in prefabricated fantasies instead of reality; we believe in easy answers and short cuts instead of craft; we admire popularity instead of originality; we find ourselves reaching for shiny dreamworlds and ignoring human beings. The world tells us that we should be disappointed in ourselves, every single day. The best party is across town. The best party is across the universe. We should be fucking a ghost that looks like Chris Hemsworth, gently, in some galaxy far away.
Let’s just be ourselves instead, broken but hopeful, and let’s be right here, right now. Let’s look around and see the scrappy, mediocre, mundane details of our lives and proclaim them exalted and glorious. Imagine for a moment that I can see you clearly for the first time. I can see you clearly, and you are radiating pure, lusty, brilliant grace and divinity. Feel it. Believe it. Carry it with you."

Full letter --> Ask Polly: Why do I always want unavailable men?

Now the women I admire most are women who never pretend to be different than they are.

How to be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life
By Heather Havrilesky

I know it's not fair, but I can't help compare this compilation of letters to Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. Strayed masters language and storytelling in a way that exceeds everything/one else in this category. But that's not to say Havrilesky's words haven't also resonated with me deeply.

The good and bad thing about me abandoning everything/taking time off/being alone is confronting myself every day. Especially my flaws. Am I always nice? No. Do I try to be? Always. Am I nice because I think that's an honorable trait? Yes. Am I also "too nice" because I hate being disliked and because confrontations and conflict make me uncomfortable? Also yes.

I'm working on being less of the latter nice. Havrilesky's advice:

"Experiments in asking for exactly what you want will go badly. Do it anyway. Do it and expect people to react badly. Because you're sensitive, you won't like this. Think about how they feel, and try to empathize. Think about how you might soften your message. Watch how other people do it. I know it sounds like a management technique, but good communicators usually start with something positive, then move to the negative gently: "I love this about you, but I have to draw the line here." "I know you're trying your best, but this is what I still need from you." "I care about you so much and you're such an important friend to me, but I don't think I can do this one thing."
Listen closely when someone asserts his or her boundaries. Because that's healthy behavior, even if it's not to your taste at this point. Learn from them. Because most people avoid problems instead of asserting themselves. They clam up. They disappear. That's the coward's path, even if it's a path a lot of us take.
I used to admire people who could hang with anything. Now the women I admire most are women who never pretend to be different than they are. Women like that express their anger. They admit when they're down. They don't beat themselves up over their bad moods. They allow themselves to be grumpy sometimes. They grant themselves the right to be grouchy, or to say nothing, or to decline your offer without a lengthy explanation.
Sometimes it seems like the rest of us are on a never-ending self improvement conveyor belt. We're running faster and faster, struggling to be our best selves, but every day we fail and we hate ourselves for it.
Fuck that. Let's be mortal. Let's not be sexy warrior princesses or burlesque dancers in burkas or conquistadors with cookies in the oven. How many years do we have to wait just to speak our minds? Let's be flinty and unreasonable instead. Let's tell the truth, without a smile. Let's let our words drip, one by one, without explanation, without apology, like the first few pebbles before a landslide."
(pp. 84-5).

January 05, 2017

Wishes for a year as wonderful as you.

Inscriptions from left to right: Wishing you the happiest of birthdays! / Wishes for a year as wonderful as you. Happy Birthday / May your birthday be filled with sunshine, love and laughter. / Happy Birthday, It's your time to shine! / Happy Birthday to an original.
Cards are the best and I could spend hours in a shop reading good ones. Really loving these Shannon Martin birthday cards using old family photos. I've probably mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I have five close friends with birthdays in January so I purchased a handful of these from a boutique in Austin last month. Can't wait to mail them. My understanding is Martin uses photos of her family and friends to design cards for all occasions but it'd be a treat to open these up to fans as well for a diversity of submissions. I can think of a few of our own I'd be so happy to see on a card.

January 03, 2017

I could no longer be concerned about how standing up for myself was going to impact someone who didn't care all that much about belittling me.

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Have to Explain
By Phoebe Robinson

Excerpt from what I believe to be the most powerful chapter in this book:

"I felt sorry that he cared more about someone thinking he's racist as opposed to correcting the behavior that would lead someone to feel that way. I felt sorry that after asking two black people to explain why what he did was wrong, he learned nothing from either of us. And most of all, I felt sorry because he was so self-absorbed, he will, most likely, do something like this to someone else--and that person might not be able to handle it as well as I did. And when I couldn't feel sorry anymore, I just wanted to laugh because this bizarre rite of passage of being called "uppity" wasn't even mine to claim at this point, because he had made it all about him. I was just a witness to his emotional breakdown. I was also concerned: Since there were more episodes to shoot, how would the dynamic change on set? What would happen if I left the show? How would that affect the crew? How would my character's absence be explained in the remaining episodes?
After a while, I told myself to stop with the questions. I could no longer be concerned about how standing up for myself was going to impact someone who didn't care all that much about belittling me. At the same time, though, my thoughts kept returning to the rest of the cast, which was, by far, the most diverse one I had ever worked with. Who knew when I was going to get an opportunity like that again? After all, acting with a cast that was intentionally designed to depict POCs and gays as regular people is something that doesn't happen all too often. So I weighed the options: finish what I started or tell White Director I was moving on. I chose to shoot my last episode, which not only allowed me to spend more time with the sea of brown faces in the cast, but, in a stroke of luck, also turned into a paid gig. WD felt guilty enough to compensate the entire cast for the first three episodes we had performed in, marking the first time in history that reparations happened faster than the time it takes to have an item shipped to your house via Amazon Prime. In all seriousness, it turned out that being a team player paid off. Literally, which was nice, but I didn't care about the money, even though I was thrilled my making a stand benefited the rest of the cast. What I cared about was my Sidney Poitier-esque stoicism that was on full display during the showdown with the reality TV judges had morphed into something different. More powerful, direct, and better.
Don't get me wrong: remaining steadfast and not letting others see you break is one version of noble. One form of brave. And perhaps given how brutal the world is, this stoicism may even be necessary and the only reliable protection one has. This protection seems to be something that comes preinstalled in me and possibly in the souls of all black folks. It allows us, much like the adamantium that courses through Wolverine's skeleton, to be self-healing in the face of the daily micro- and macro-aggressions, to remind us to carry on, my wayward son. But it turns out for me that carrying on isn't enough. Holding my head high and rising above doesn't make me feel strong or fierce. It makes me feel stifled. Almost as if I'm choking on a tiny injustice and that one of these days, the right injustice in the right shape and size is going to lodge itself in my throat and take my voice and my very last breath. Therefore, the only reliable protection for me is to speak up. On that day with that White Director, I made the choice to never again be quiet, to never again suck it up. I challenged him. And I will do it again. If that makes me uppity, so be it. At least people know I'm no longer a vessel that they can use to act out their racist feelings. They will know that I think I'm worth fighting for. They will know that I have a fire burning inside me. They will know that I'm alive."
(pp. 156-8)