Monday, April 5, 2021


But the Victorian manner is perhaps - I am not sure - a disadvantage in writing. When I read my old Literary Supplement articles, I lay the blame for . . . their politeness, their sidelong approach, to my tea-table training. I see myself, not reviewing a book, but handing plates of buns to shy young men and asking: do they take cream and sugar?                                                                 - from "A Sketch of the Past" by Virginia Woolf (in Moments of Being)

A few months ago, I was putting on my shoes and Ellis said, "Where are you going?" I started to answer, "I have to go . . . "
then drifted off, forgetting to finish my sentence. He did it for me. "To the Dollar Tree?" he said. It was such a sad, sweet glimpse into our lives, I wrote it down to memorialize the days when I did not leave the house, the weeks when my children refused to get in the car. Things are much better now that we can legitimately go outside for hours at a time, when daffodils push through the ground and Ellis takes the air after lunch while upright in our turquoise hammock, a cat balanced on the edge of sleep, a little Buddha in the sun. Tim and I have both been vaccinated and I'm dreaming now of cross-continental trips.   

A few weeks ago, Samantha said, "Our bathroom looks like a haunted house." I laughed and she said, "What's so funny?" She was not teasing me for my embrace of dust bunnies, but trying accurately to summarize the state of things. It really did look like a haunted house, dirt-filled corners and cobwebs around light bulbs. The day a spider tried to build its web in the middle of my shower, that was enough for us to finally clean.

This winter was a revelation. It was so cold some days that we could not go outside. Samantha's teachers led her through meditation exercises, and while I've always felt it was a little silly to teach a child to be more free, more awake to their "essential nature," when Samantha one day noticed me yelling, she sweetly offered this advice: "Maybe you could try some of my breathing exercises, Mama." I paused, ready to dismiss them as flimsy stand-ins, and then realized that she was right. I could not have a four-day yoga retreat, but a minute with my own thoughts was more than called for.

Around the same time, we started watching Mr. Rogers on DVD, and I doubled down by watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Matthew Rhys (and Tom Hanks, whose name is a bit of a dirty word in our house) by myself. I find Matthew Rhys so emotive, I could watch him sleep, and made Tim re-watch The Post just to see Rhys on screen again. This led to a re-watch of Spotlight, which I loved as much as The Post when I first saw it. From there it was on to Dark Waters, and more Mark Ruffalo, about the corporate defense attorney who went after Dupont after they covered up toxic pollution for decades.   

I re-read Gatsby, enthralled by its language, its dialogue, and its terrible plot point about Gatsby and Tom switching cars at the end. I also felt pretty bad about myself as a writer while reading and teased myself all day long: Oh yes, poor you, you aren't Fitzgerald. Tim sat through a re-watch of Redford with dewy-eyed Mia Farrow in the 1974 production, in which Bruce Dern absolutely crushes every scene he's in. Tim: "The reason he's so appealing is because he's so Bruce Dern, but he's younger and therefore mesmerizing." I disagree. There is something so handsome but rattish about Dern as Tom, I can't look away and believe I would feel the same, even if I didn't know his later work. We then lobbed the name "Bob" around the house for days, as if we were bffs with Redford. While watching, I said, "Is Redford a terrible actor?" Tim said, "Yes, but he's trying less than someone like Costner, so you don't notice it as much."

I remembered the article Tim had once mentioned, "Was Gatsby Black?", in which an academic reads as if Jay is passing as a white man, an idea I found pretty fascinating. Then I got to the end of the book and realized how much it is, in fact, about the Midwest. What seems to be about New York and east coast greed and elegance in fact leads you to this passage at the end:

"One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went further than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o'clock of a December evening. . . .When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows . . . That's my Middle West - not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns . . ."

Here's the end of that paragraph:

"I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all - Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life."

When I read those lines, I forgot all about the passing-as-white theory. While so much textual evidence is there - if not authorial intent - I found myself recasting the narrative in a caul of Midwestern literature and couldn't go back. 

Also, near the last page of Gatsby, I marveled at Fitzgerald's outrageous use of an adverb: "On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight, and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone."

Raspingly?!?!? I'm embarrassed when I use the word "quietly" to indicate the volume with which a character says something. It seems I've been missing all the fun.

I'm having trouble recalling all that I read this winter. I've been enjoying Jerald Walker's How to Make a Slave and Other Essays and was so happy to discover The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation, by Anna Malaika Tubbs, as Malcom's mother was committed to the mental hospital here in town (from the book, it sounds like against her will). For a town rife with writers and liberal leanings, I frankly don't hear enough about this dark chapter.

I started Zadie Smith's pandemic-themed thoughts, Intimations, and love her description of how her art is, basically, "something to do." In an essay of the same name, she examines the internet fever of baking banana bread when the lockdown began and writes: "The something that artists have always done is more usually cordoned off from the rest of society, and by mutual agreement this space is considered a sort of charming but basically useless playpen, in which adults get to behave like children - making up stories and drawing pictures and so on - though at least they provide some form of pleasure to serious people, doing actual jobs."

She accuses herself of being unable to sufficiently fill time without access to her old hidey-holes, and from there goes on to other entertaining thoughts. Her summation made me laugh and also think of the derision that our capitalist structures have for the time, patience, anxiety, and spiritual deaths necessary to create art. The more time that passes since I read Eula Biss's On Having and Being Had over Thanksgiving, the more I recall and appreciate her examination of capitalism.

"Every year," Biss writes, "I'm required to fill out a form for the university that lists my contributions and accomplishments. What I want to report is that I've done absolutely nothing of value and that is my accomplishment." 

On the topic of Biss and class privilege, we watched The White Tiger, based on the book by Aravind Adiga, and loved it. I also devoured Danielle Evans's first collection of stories, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, which I accidentally checked out on Ellis's library card and thereafter received notices that this title was ready for my three year-old. I re-read Sally Rooney's Normal People nearly a year after I read her first book, right before Michigan went into lockdown. My mother was visiting when I started Conversations with Friends, and I toggled between slices of birthday cake and Rooney's addictive pages. A few weeks later, a friend recommended Normal People after Ellis got the flu, Tim came down with a mysterious illness, and Samantha went online. I liked Normal People even more the second time around and promptly fell into a puddle of obsession with its adaptation on Hulu, in which I'm still happily splashing.

Someone dressed themselves in our house recently, saying, "Sparkles go with sparkles!" a statement made while sweeping grandly into the room and also one with which my twenty-year-old self would have definitely agreed.  Sometime during our Mr. Rogers heyday, Samantha watched an episode in which the host explored public escalators in a mall. "Mr. Rogers is so lucky he doesn't have to wear a mask," she said, 100% serious.

Here's a picture of me laughing at an attempt to take my picture next to some sea oats. The desired photo didn't turn out, but I got a great shot of my toupee. Finally, my friend Thisbe's new book is out. It's a collection of stories called How Other People Make Love and I can't wait to read it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

N is for Netflix

These days, Clarissa believes, you measure people first by their kindness and their capacity for devotion. You get tired, sometimes, of wit and intellect; everybody's little display of genius. 
- The Hours, Michael Cunningham

I read The Hours for the first time, and it struck me how faithful the movie was to the book. I saw the movie first a few years ago, and it has the most amazing flood scene in a hotel, which I watched and rewound over and over when I saw it. I read a Cunningham story in graduate school that felt so beautiful to me then that it hurt. Reading The Hours, I kept thinking, how does someone get to be so good? I loved it.

French Exit, the novel by Patrick DeWitt, entertained me royally this fall for days. I had seen it at the library during its opening this summer, but didn't know if I would like the book. Would it be too clever? The author photo was unnervingly great. (The library has closed again for safety, though employees still run books out to cars while in masks, after being texted by their masked patrons. The whole thing is a miracle run by people I consider angels. I can hardly think of a service for which I'm more grateful.)

French Exit is about an upper crust New Yorker whose money has run out; her morose, unemployed son; and their cat who is actually her reincarnated husband.
I was not only up for the task of reading it, it's fair to say I worshipped at its feet. It employs kooky, ensemble tropes to wondrous effect in its second half, when the protagonist and her son (and their cat) move to Paris, where they live freely in a friend's apartment. The ending is a little morose, if I'm being honest with myself, but I looked the other way since I had loved the rest of the book, its whole tone, its arch humor, and its surprising, disciplined moments of heart.

After French Exit, I became obsessed with one of Dewitt's earlier novels, The Sisters Brothers. It is also a film but I am frightened to see it, because it stars Joaquin Phoenix. (Remember his 2020 Oscars acceptance speech? I worried he might cry while talking about cow milk.) It seems French Exit has also been made into a film, starring Michelle Pfieffer no less, and while I'm sure it's good, I can't imagine it exceeding the poetic, western-slash-depressive's diary that is The Sisters Brothers book.

After finishing The Hours, I buckled down for Mrs. Dalloway but found myself drifting quickly to academic writing about Woolf. I also found myself studying Woolf's use of semicolons, thinking, "Where does she get off!" Haha.

I read Robyin Crawford's memoir, A Song for You, about her friendship with Whitney Houston and finished it in one night - a night that Tim kept waking and finding the light still on, much to his confusion. I read Eula Biss's new book, Having and Being Had, which sometimes felt more like a self-flagellation than an examination of life under capitalism, but I always like to hear her think about writing, how she pits income against writing hours in her life. I'm not sure I hold the same theories about art, or life for that matter, but I always find her process fascinating.  

Samantha and I read a kids series called The Squatchicorns, by Ellen Potter, which was very cute and entertaining enough that Ellis sat through many pages without pictures. We started on The Little House books after receiving a copy of Little House in the Big Woods as a Christmas present. Samantha was a big fan and it was sweet to read together, but I got a little tired of reading about Pa's gun. I was joking so much about the ubiquity of that topic that, when a few strands of lights on our Christmas tree went out, Samantha said, "And then Pa got his gun and fixed the lights." I pretty much died laughing.

A week or so later, Tim heard her reading an alphabet book to Ellis, and she said, "N is for Netflix" instead of "nest," which was pictured in the book. Please email us for copies of our book on parenting!

I'm listening to a few podcasts featuring women and no celebrities, but for some reason I really loved this episode of Homophilia with Isaac Mizrahi. I think I like Mizrahi's intensity, his New York accent, and the way he embraces his eccentricities. Plus, I love hearing him talk about film, and the need for a deep education in cinema when he was younger. I could listen to him rave about classic films for days. At one point he says something like, "Was that a rant? It was. It was a rant." What can I say? I'm all for big, opinionated (talented) artists who can't help but shout.  

Is now the time to tell you that, as we went into a store recently, I said to Tim, "I want to look for some driving gloves." He cackled madly and said, "Yeah, let's look for a smoking jacket for me, too." Haha! Also, how dare he? Fleece mittens slide when operate a steering wheel, thank you very much.

Ellis yawned one morning not long ago and sleepily leaned over his cereal bowl. "I'm tired from all that sleeping," he said. He also thinks video calls are a verb called "Thanksgiving," even though our only Zoom calls this year happened over Christmas. Whenever I muse aloud that I miss someone, like the friends whose past holiday cards perch in my cookbook (often near chocolate chip cookies or brownies, if you must know), Ellis looks at me and says, "But you can Thanksgiving them!" and I say, "Yes, yes I can."

I checked out a great book about Laura Ingalls Wilder called Libertarians on the Prairie, because it chronicles the life of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was, it seems, quite involved as her mother's writing partner, though that story isn't well known. Libertarians on the Prairie is by Christine Woodside, and I haven't finished it, but so far it's everything I want to know about the Little House books. I've never been sold on the rosy glow of those books, though I do like them and certainly understand their appeal, so when I read the following blurb on the back of the book, I was stunned:

Libertarians on the Prairie is a fascinating expose of the ideological underpinnings of one of America's best-loved stories. Who knew the Laura Ingalls Wilder franchise was actually political propaganda? (Jane Mayer)

I don't mean to be obnoxious but, like, who doesn't know that the Little House franchise is propaganda?? Maybe we don't associate it with libertarian leanings or economic viewpoints, but it is absolutely, chillingly American propaganda in my mind, not to mention disturbingly racist in many ways.

Anyway, I digress. The end of Little House in the Big Woods is fascinatingly zen. Wilder writes, "Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods . . . . She thought to herself, 'This is now.'"

I earmarked the passage when I read it with Samantha, and then read in Libertarians on the Prairie that Rose returned from living abroad to her parents farm in Missouri: "She would stay busy and study languages," Woodside writes. "She would try living in the present, removing the 'weight of tomorrow.'" Reading that detail, I recalled the ending of her mother's first book, whom many believed Rose edited heavily and helped shape. 

I'm done with my deep dive into Laura Ingalls Wilder in this space (hopefully?). I'll leave you with the latest from our house, where we are frequently treated to ballerina performances. Sometimes one of the dancers plays keyboard while the other entrances us with homemade moves, and performances can include coloring contests judged by one of the ballerinas herself. Parents tie, lose, come in second place - you get the idea. All's fair in love and coloring. My favorite is when a ballerina breaks the fourth wall and joins in the coloring herself. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

About Last Night

Thanksgiving has traditionally been one of my favorite holidays because it's cozy and about food, but I think it's important now more than ever to acknowledge the actual history of Thanksgiving. As we finally start to bring the skeletons out of our country's closet, it's useful to remember that Thanksgiving is not a rosy time for everyone and is, in fact, a source of trauma for many native people.

"No matter where you are in North America, you are on indigenous land," reminds Sean Sherman, author of The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, in this Time piece. It's a beautiful reminder that I find more powerful than ever, as institutions around us increasingly acknowledge this fact. With that in mind, here are two articles that tackle the topic of how we talk about - and teach children - the history of Thanksgiving in the U.S. The first is a high-level ditty by NYT. The second is more involved, and arguably more stimulating, from The Smithsonian.

I grabbed Notes on a Silencing, by Lacy Crawford, after spying the moody cover and title, and it's weird to say I devoured it. A memoir about Crawford's rape as a young student at a prep school in New England, the book is framed by a discovery of the school's coverup of the incident and its long history of protecting predatory males. While the coverup - and assault - is unconscionable, the real winner here is Crawford's self-awareness as an adult. Her ability to write about that period in her life with such lucidity is a gift. In her hands, the campus itself becomes its own character, and while the subject of the book is utterly disturbing, in Crawford's patient, sturdy retelling, it reads as a sustained, clarifying look at something very difficult to talk about. I highly recommend it.

I finally got to read Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Ackner, after eyeing it some time ago at our local bookstore, and it is truly so funny, sexy, and smart. I happen to love the cover, which Tim knocked last night when he picked up the book and said, "Something about this cover really bothers me." Ha! First of all, who asked you? Second of all, who asked you? I'm kidding. It's almost as important what my partner thinks of my covers, since we are faced with each other's books daily, and literally. Instead of finding each other when we walk into a room, we are often met with the cover of someone's latest read. I finished Fleishman late one night, a little stunned by how much the third section reminded me of Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Both have some very powerful things to say about marriage and feminism, and I was enthralled by them both.

Get ready with your shocked face: Last month, I was elbow deep in books about classic rock. I finally got around to Stephen Davis's scintillating account of Led Zepplin's rise to fame, Hammer of the Gods, while simultaneously lapping up Minneapolis-based rock critic Steven Hyden's second book, Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock, which delves into the mythology behind such monstrously famous musicians as Neil Young, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney. While it helped me understand why people love Bruce Springsteen so dang much - I mean, I recognize Bruce, but don't lose my mind over him like some people do, I was ready for Twilight of the Gods to wrap it up when it bridged into a discussion of Phish. Give me Neil or give me death! Sidebar: I once heard someone disparaging Neil Young and knew right then our friendship was going nowhere. But if you like discussions of Dylan and The Band, early Pearl Jam memories, and jokes about David Grohl's omnipresence, Twilight of the Gods may be for you.

I also watched About Last Night er, one night, suckering Tim into half of it before he gave up and went to bed. I was weirdly moved by the film, which captured a different era of movie-making and reminded me other films I loved to watch on repeat before I had kids (looking at you, When Harry Met Sally). I especially liked the junky interiors in About Last Night. No one would deign to let an apartment appear as cluttered as the one that Demi Moore's character shares with Elizabeth Perkins now. Perkins slays, by the way, in her bathrobe game, and I want a basement or attic office that look like this someday - Jim Belushi leaning smugly over my shoulder, though, optional.

Don't get me wrong: the heteronormativity in About Last Night is yikesville, but there are enough shots of Rob Lowe deshabille to cover the cost. More importantly, he sports the most amazing messy mullet. As I watched all I could think was: That is nothing if not well-styled pandemic hair.

Soon after my 80's binge, Tim put on Friends from College, starring Keegan Michael-Key, Fred Savage, Nat Faxon, and a bunch of actresses I didn't know but came to love, especially Annie Parisse, and we got to rock out to the most egregious 90's playlist known to humanity, including Oasis, Wilco, Counting Crows, and Eels. Normally Michael-Key is a too high-energy for me, but I liked him in this series. The first episodes were delicious and then, all of the sudden, some were just off, like an episode that featured drunk driving. I thought we all agreed there's nothing funny about that?? I haven't seen Fred Savage basically since The Princess Bride and by the end of the series, I was a real stan.  

Looking for Lindy West's newest book, Sh*t, Actually, I came across 2019's The Witches Are Coming and, halfway through the second essay, realized I had read the whole book and forgotten (!) I really loved it this time and dog-eared it a thousand times. Everything in it felt important right now, even more than when the book came out, a year ago. It had me thinking that West is a gd genius. Her facility with humor and forwarding truly smart arguments in clear, rolling prose cannot be overstated, imho.

I was living in the bathtub for a couple of weeks there, but I'm back to cooking and whatever else I call life these days. Ellis started listening to his parents recently, a welcome miracle in our house though I do still walk into a room and wonder who hired seven dogs to tear it apart. At all times, there are fifty-six books on any surface in a room, including and especially the floor. I watched the Dolly Parton documentary on Netflix the day after the election and it soothed me as we waited for the results (and waited, and waited). We have such a long way to go, as a country, but I believe that the mess of this pandemic is making us realize how connected we all are. That's my prayer, at least.

Ellis drew an excellent boat on our chalkboard yesterday, which we all praised. With one hand on his hip, he stood back and summarized the effort. He talks pretty low for a kid, and takes a while to get his words out. "Um," he started, several times. Finally he stated his artistic vision: "I tried to do my best." Samantha later reported - accurately - that I respond to any request with the words "One second." It's never okay or sure thing, no. My first response is always some version of hang on, both because I have more than one kid and also because I would lose my mind if I operated on their sped-up, yet somehow glacial, schedules. As Tim likes to joke, no parent ends a pandemic day and says, "Well, that was easy." I'm grateful something good has made it through the fog of our days to Ellis's little brain. I'm sure the message of doing your best - and its even better sister message, accepting what results that yields - came not from some zen advice we imparted to our child but from one of the many books breeding on the tables of our living room right now. Still, it made me happy.   

With that, I give you . . . drum roll, please . . . a double laundry basket. Not for amateurs, people! And yes, I took this blurry photo. I tried to do my best.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Gettin Personal

It's October, drizzly and cool, the start of beloved blanket time in our house, although I've been known to ensconce myself in fleece on June mornings, trying to capture some sleepy snippet of comfort. In many ways, it's how I spend my hours these days - not ensconced in fleece, sadly, but in pursuit of some reprieve. They are few and far between, these moments, and I know the world feels the same.

What can I add to the dumpster fire that is our newsscape these days? I'll start by saying I watched The Social Dilemma last night. Did anyone else think that dilemma was spelled dilemna, until they saw it spelled on the title screen? No? Just me then, great. Well, nothing much surprised me in the documentary about how social media was designed by young (mostly male) programmers with zero discussion of the ethics and responsibilities of unleashing such addictive technologies on the world, but I did find the whole thing really well done. I especially loved where it ended, with many people emphatically stating that we have to change our current business models, which privilege private profit over public good and ecological sustainability, if we are going to make it as a species on the earth.

I found a few of the predictions made in the film a little dire but, in principle, agreed with almost all the perspectives shared. We are experiencing unprecedented chaos, incivility, and disinformation right now - something anyone with a pulse could tell you - but something I didn't really understand is that it's not an accident. According to the people interviewed - programmers, developers, and Silicon Valley executives, among academics, investors, and veterans of the tech world - these apps were deliberately built on advertising models that reward disinformation, conspiracy theories, and unchallenged niche viewpoints. Scared yet? The more I think about the film, the more I like it, and think it's an important one.

You'll be relieved to know that I put back my file cabinet where it belongs. Barring extreme athletic shenanigans - of which my kids are surely capable - it's no longer in its former, prime, bang-your-noggin locale. The linchpin of my decorating scheme (HA), the cabinet is now a tower of novels, nonfiction, and potty training books, and I'm currently embroiled in a discussion with Tim about whether bookshelves can keep me from setting myself on fire in the middle of my home. The real downer of no longer keeping a file cabinet in the middle of my dining room is that I've been forced to split up a cherished nook, where I previously scrawled tomes at an antique desk, hiding while my children gorged on The Octonauts. The nook housed my print of an old clipper ship titled In Full Sail, which we jokingly call Engorged, and now my poor mighty ship is at the helm of a hulking column of banged-up metal. Le sigh.

I watched the Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, a million years ago when it made it to Netflix and got hooked on all the vintage images of my childhood. I feel like one of my brothers even had a poster of Jordan flying through the air with his tongue out, at some point. I liked watching how gracious Jordan was with all the reporters and fans, and was genuinely chilled by scenes of him being swarmed by video cameras, photographers, and sports reporters. But my favorite part was saying to Tim, in a deep voice for weeks after the movie, "It became personal for me," which it seemed like Jordan said about every opponent toward the end of the film. The man can hold a grudge/vendetta, and while that must be a painful way to live, it makes sense that Jordan fabricated reasons to slaughter other people on the court, driving his greatness. It made me want to know more about his childhood, which the movie touched on briefly. Revisiting his father's death on the side of a road, which I remember finding so sad at the time it happened, was just as heartbreaking the second time around.

I finally read Americanah, the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel that swept the world by storm a few years ago, and really really loved it. It was like sinking into a Henry James novel or something, such lush scenes, taking their time, such minute detail building to such skillful portraits. I loved reading about the narrator's relatives and all that becomes of them over time, and about the changes that peck at Nigeria and the imagined lives of Nigerians abroad. It's a sweet, funny, and, I thought, very moving novel. I can't recommend it enough.

I also gobbled up The Fixed Stars, Molly Wizenberg's new memoir about divorce, falling in love with women, and making her way as a single mom. When I read her second book, Delancey, about her husband starting a restaurant when Wizenberg wasn't entirely sold on the idea, all I could think was, Uh-oh. I was sad for everyone. It seemed like a situation ripe for falling apart, and The Fixed Stars explores what happened when Wizenberg woke up to her own unhappiness. I'm not saying it was pre-ordained, though I have heard that the restaurant business is rough on families, but I just felt, reading this book, that I was in the presence of someone who was doing a lot of work on herself, asking very hard questions and answering them honestly. It was like standing in a strong, cold, healing wind, and I adored it.

I read a beautiful portrait of poet Jericho Brown by one of my favorite magazine writers. At first I was just like, Those pictures!! Such drama in the garden!! Who is this person?

photo: Audra Melton for Garden & Gun

photo: Audra Melton for Garden & Gun

I couldn't nail those antics if I'd had seven beers. Then I read the piece and was like, okay, wow this guy sounds amazing. He calls friends in the middle of the night to read from what he's writing, and they pick up, because they know how beautiful it will be. And he saves potential lines in baggies, rooms full of tumbleweeds he's typed and sorted by theme which he then makes into poems. I'M IN. I checked out his latest collection, The Tradition and, well, Brown is amazing, and not just for his modeling skillz. He read at a nearby university years ago. Tim went and said Brown was brilliant and gracious, such a pro. So: poets for president? At the very least, I'll take The Tradition's cover as a flag for my home, please:  

On a different note, I learned, at the end of August, that a musician I had a lot of admiration for died, probably from a drug overdose, at home by himself in Nashville. I was heavy-hearted for days. RIP Justin Townes Earle.

Speaking of heavy-hearted, I started Morgan Jerkins's new book, Wandering in Strange Lands, about a northerner's exploration of her black family's roots in the south. I would describe Jerkins's writing as more academic or intellectual, but the narrative is driven by personal reflection and I really loved reading about the people she interviewed for her research. I haven't finished the book yet, but I find reading about slave history and de facto historians whose work has been somewhat ignored by state legislature bracing, necessary, and healing in many ways, like reading a travel magazine with all the facts present, all of the ads sent packing. I'm here for this sort of truth-telling, and look forward to reading the rest of the book soon.

In the meantime, we're laundering and grocering and tooth brushing and cooking and Tim is pretending to be a runner and I'm freebasing tumeric while recovering from a mysterious knee injury. Sometimes, sometimes we're breathing. It's a grief-filled time for our country, maybe our whole world, and it's hard work, but maybe necessary, like getting sober. May we find what comforts, what heals. May this chaos be part of the unwinding, so we can choose more consciously how to move forward. May we all keep asking the hard questions. May we find the courage to look at the answers with clear eyes.


Foreday in the Morning
by Jericho Brown    (from The Tradition)

My mother grew morning glories that spilled onto the walkway
            toward her porch
Because she was a woman with land who showed as much by giving it
She told me I could have whatever I worked for. That means she was
            an American.
But she'd say it was because she believed
In God. I am ashamed of America
And confounded by God. I thank God for my citizenship in spite
Of the timer set on my life to write
These words: I love my mother. I love black women
Who plant flowers as sheepish as their sons. By the time the blooms
Unfurl themselves for a few hours of light, the women who tend them
Are already at work. Blue. I'll never know who started the lie that we
            are lazy,
But I'd love to wake that bastard up
At foreday in the morning, toss him in a truck, and drive him under
Past every bus stop in America to see all those black folk
Waiting to go work for whatever they want. A house? A boy
To keep the lawn cut? Some color in the yard? My God, we leave
            things green.