Category Archives: Looking back

What’s All the Hoopla?

In November 2017 I wrote about trying to work more exercise into my routine. At the time, I was enamored with the jump rope, which was fine and fun, until I realized I had to stop drinking anything after 2 pm, and I don’t mean just alcohol. If I didn’t, my after work jumping was, well, let’s just say maybe Muhammad Ali floated like a butterfly, but I come down more like a wildebeest pounding the ground as if a cheetah wants me for lunch. All that gravity is a little too much on my system, if you know what I mean. And I am not wearing Depends unless I’m traveling cross-country to punch out a bitch who’s getting it on with my man. Neither scenario — without or with Depends — has any dignity, but the second version makes a better story and comes with three square meals a day, and we all know that’s what really counts.

When I bought the jump rope, I also got a hula hoop at a toy store. I had done a little research online, but you know how fitness crazes are — people claiming to be an authority on hula hooping insist you must have fancy, expensive equipment. First of all, how do you even fact check that? Is there an official American Association of Hula Hoop Instructors? And what if there were? What self-respecting person would even believe that? Kids, don’t believe everything on the internet.

I tried my hula hoop a few times and then brought it to a friend’s house. I kept forgetting about it, until I finally remembered after about a year. By this time I had stopped jumping and was pretending to try other types of exercise, which was mostly just walking 4 to 5 miles a day. That sounds good on paper, but I walk leisurely and I can still lose my breath walking up two flights of stairs. The hard, cold, brutal fact is that as you get older, you have to work harder for less results. And doing nothing gets you in one of those Wal-Mart scooters and seeing 6 specialists for things called “comorbidities” in about 6 months. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

I got the hoop back and decided to give the internet a chance to show me how to use it — maybe that’s why I was having trouble getting the thing to glide around my waist like it did when I was 8 years old.  It was my technique that was lacking. I watched one video that talked about making sure you move either forward and back or side to side, and not an actual hula movement. So confusing. Still, though a part of me thought, I used to do this effortlessly as a kid. How hard can it be? Turns out as hard as anything you haven’t done in 45 years in a completely different body.  Also, muscle memory could very well be a lie.

Undaunted, I started on Monday after work, spun the hoop, and started rocking. Within minutes, I was out of breath, mostly from having to bend over and pick up the hoop from the floor every 2 seconds. After about 5 minutes, I put it away and decided to try again tomorrow. The next night I did try it again. Yay me! #lowbar. This time I was able to keep it up for about 5 seconds. I was buoyed by my success, only to immediately go back to my 2 seconds and retrieving the hoop from the floor. The third day I noticed my stomach muscles were sore — that’s got to be a good thing, right? Maybe I didnb’t do enough research. I decided to find a video of someone who looked like they were actually hula hooping. No trick camera angles. Intellectually I understood I needed to get a back-and-forth rhythm going, but I wasn’t understanding it in my body. The woman talked about pushing out with your belly. I really pushed my belly out and scrunched up my face like I was in pain, which was some clever foreshadowing on my part. I could keep the hoop up for 7 seven seconds, but then it would mysteriously slow down and drop unceremoniously to the floor. I wanted to quit, but that seemed lame. It’s a kid’s toy for crying out loud. I gave it one more whirl, really pushing my stomach out. Suddenly, my muscle yelled, and then I yelled, and it all came crashing down.

Yes, I pulled a muscle in my belly hula hooping, as if I haven’t suffered enough indignities of being middle-aged. An unhelpful friend asked, “How could that happen? My 5-year-old niece can do it on her arms and her legs. It’s so easy!” Little bitch.

So back to the internet, and apparently size does matter. The smaller the hoop the harder it is for an adult to make it go—seemed like there was enough physics to make it sound true for a layperson, so I sucked it up, measured, and ordered a grown-ass hoola hoop. I’m going with this: I’m an adult and am entitled to custom hoola hoops, fine red wine, and ice cream any damn time I feel like it. Take that, little hoop bitches!

If I can’t make the bigger hoop work, I figure there must be reciprocity. Small hoops are harder for adults, ergo. big hoops harder for kids? I could give it to a kid and hula hoop hope.

Under the Influence

Long, long ago, in a young adulthood far, far away, an aspiring writer read a short story in the Boston Globe Magazine. She can’t recall what is was about — probably it involved a young woman, but a line struck her and has stayed with her to this day: “We spend all our lives remembering the most basic things.”

I can’t tell you how many life lessons I’ve learned, often quite smugly I might add, only to get gobsmacked by the same problem a few years later. If I’m lucky, I remember what I did before and soldier on through; sometimes I don’t and need a second gobsmacking. I don’t recommend this.

I have several writer friends, and we check in with each other as a way to keep ourselves on track. It’s like having an exercise buddy, but way less sweaty. They will often tell me they were only able to write a little, but were reading a lot. They’ll tell me some quotes from writers that encouraged them or made them think or made them ask why? All good tendencies in a writer.

And I thought, huh. I used to do that. When did I stop doing that? Oh, yeah, when I had a husband, a kid, and a mother-in-law in assisted living. Right. Sure, now I have older parents, but I am no longer the first responder, and we have help. I still have the kid and he is away at school. And while he still needs support, I don’t have to go to back to school nights, or parent-teacher conferences, or god help us, math night. Can’t the math people go to math night and I’ll go to word night? I don’t even care what type of words they are — fiction, rap, poetry, monologues. OK, so maybe I haven’t quite let go of that stuff. Maybe I should read up on that. But what about writing?

When I thought of what I could read to be inspired, I was like, meh. I can barely keep up with my book group and romance novels. Reading about writing seems like a lot of work.

That aspiring writer from long ago is seriously rolling her eyes at me.

I actually didn’t have to go that far. If I had bothered to read my own “About” page, I would see: “I aspire to be the love child of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris. But I also have a serious bent that sneaks in between the laughs.” I should also add:  And I have memory gaps you can drive a truck through. But that’s not how I remembered how much I love, love, love David Sedaris. It was my friend Mike inviting me to hear David read in Boston recently. I have only heard him on the radio in snippets and never seen him in person. His essays make me laugh so hard, once when I was listening to him in the car, I almost drove off the road. He’d like that, I think. I have 4 of his books, and now I remember I got another for a gift that I didn’t like. So I think it was like, OK, that’s done.

But hearing pieces from his new book made me laugh out loud and my writing heart soar. He is about my age and tackling similar life things like midlife and aging parents in his irreverent, sarcastic, and sneakily self-effacing way. Yes, that’s how it’s done! He spares no one from his witty judging, especially himself. How could this love child get so lost on her own path? I could blame Cheeto flea, but really it’s more like my own smugness. Look! I write a blog! Every week! I don’t have writer’s block — I planned to have those cute hamster pictures in my editorial calendar. I have made it my friends. I don’t need writing advice. I am a writer. See my blog?

Somewhere along the way I went from being an insecure young writer to an overconfident older writer. Neither one is a good look, and everyone can use a role model. Especially one who writes like this: In the essay, “Jesus Shaves,” from the book Me Talk Pretty One Day, published in 2000, he writes about a French class he is taking in Paris with people from many other countries, and the students must explain Easter in their broken French:

”The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. ‘It is,’ said one, ‘a party for a little boy of God who calls his self Jesus and …oh shit.” She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid.

‘He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two  … morsels of … lumber.’

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

‘He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.’

‘He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here to say hello to the peoples.’

‘He nice, the Jesus.’

‘He make the good things, and on Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.’

Part of the problem had to do with vocabulary. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as ‘to give of yourself your only begotten son.’ Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.” 

David goes on to describe how he says the rabbit of Easter brings the chocolate, but the teacher tells him in France that chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome.

“[The Easter bunny is] someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there is no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog — and even then he’d need papers. It just didn’t add up.”

As soon as I got home from hearing David, I ordered his new book, Calypso, and one he published a few years ago, Theft by Finding. It’s like I discovered my favorite show just added two new seasons on Netflix. I can’t wait to binge. And this time, I’m not going to forget this most basic thing: I am the love child of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris and I’m going to make them proud.

 

 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Browse?

When I took that class a few months ago on white privilege and fighting racism, one of the reading assignments was on a website called Medium, which aims to curate “Stories to keep you informed, sane, and entertained,” with a liberal bent. It’s definitely a quality site with respected sources, and they send me daily emails with stories that cover the gamut of racism, Black experience, women’s rights, and lighter fair in dating and relationships. The daily feed is a bit too much content for me — I’m a delicate flower and these days it doesn’t take much to push me into overstimulation. But as long as I can browse and pick and choose, I’m good. Kind of like radio, you know that old-fashioned thing — I pick the station like Emerson College radio or classic rock and they do the rest.

But then I got an email that said, “Hey, we noticed you read some articles on this topic, here’s a bunch more for you.”

Wait, what? No, no, no! Don’t algorithm me! This is why I stopped liking songs on my Pandora Donna Summer station. I was young and naive when I first started listening, so I clicked on the little thumbs up icon and “liked” an ABBA song, and suddenly I was deluged by ABBA deep cuts. No, no, no! I don’t like them that much, I was just being electronically nice. So now, I don’t “like” anything, and am content to listen to repeat songs after an hour of listening. It’s a small price to pay, and feels a lot like an actual radio station.

I get that a lot of people want to control every aspect of their lives. In certain aspects of my life, I’m looking for less control. Job, family, and friends take a lot of my energy, which is good and right. Do I want to spend what’s left on micromanaging my music and reading? Not really. If I want to hear or read something specific, I’ll go find it myself. Otherwise, I kind of want you, Pandora station and Medium articles, to throw random things at me. I’m cool with it, really.

But the algorithms are on the prowl, and trying to turn me into a more narrow reader than I already am. Talk about the “echo chamber” effect. This is like the echo of the echo. I’m already a lefty leaning snowflake, so please don’t make it worse by just sending me the stuff I read. I’m not really the best judge — if I had my druthers, I’d mostly read funny articles about bad dates. But I do have some curiosity and if you show me something well-written on another topic, I may read that. But then I may be done, or I may want to know more. But I don’t know that until I get there.

While I’m browsing the shelves at the library or a bookstore, sometimes I prefer to wander the aisles and see what catches my eye. This is how I stumble upon a book I wouldn’t normally read. Or I may go right to the bodice rippers section and dive in, cuz that’s what’s on for this week. But I don’t want the librarian or the bookshop person to see my books and start telling me all the books that are similar. Unless I ask first. See how that works?

I get that places like to customize the customers experience — what with that incomprehensible alphabet soup of “UX” and “UI” and UTI, oh, wait, that’s something else. But maybe you can give me a choice first? You can even make fun of me. I would totally check a box that says, “I grew up with the randomness of radio and get crabby about having my echo chamber double echoed back at me. Please keep your algorithms to yourself.” Look you can even roll it into your goofy “branding.” Like the store Moosejaw (HQ in Michigan, don’t ya know) where I bought a coat online and had to call customer service about an issue. Those poor souls have to answer the phone, “Welcome to Mooooooooose (higher pitch) jaaaw (lower pitch).” They could make the option say, “Would you like our Mooooooooose jaw antlers to stay out of your coat buying choices? Then go ahead and click on the moose hoof. We don’t mind!”

That would actually make me crazy too, but I’m trying find a compromise here. I’m not quite sure what to do about Medium; Pandora at least gives me an option to not press the like button. How do I not read articles? Or do I have to read all of them and go crazy, or do I have to go to the main website and sift through pages of filter choices (if they even have them). Ah yes, turns out I do:

  • Recommended stories
    Featured stories, columns, and collections that we think you’ll enjoy based on your reading history
    OnOff

Off, please! OK. fine. That works. I’m still crabby that I had to go to the site in the first place to turn off something I didn’t ask for. If your algorithm really worked, you should have known that about me and turned it off yourself. Or you could at least use my wording — that’s a customization I can get behind.

 

Let Us Now Praise Spike Lee

Today I want to sing the praises of Spike Lee. I have been a big fan of his work since I saw “She’s Gotta have It” in 1986. As I started to write this blog, I felt like I was repeating myself, which is either a sign I’ve written about him before and forgot (plausible), or I keep writing about him in my head, and I can’t access my Jedi powers well enough to just transmit that to the blog without typing (also semi-plausible and a writer’s occupational hazard). I  searched my posts, and so far I have only mentioned him a few times. So this is way overdue.

I’m so happy that he and his fellow writers (Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtell), won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”; the movie is based on a true story of a Black undercover cop in the 70s who infiltrated the KKK using his white voice (echoes of “Sorry to Bother You”) and his white, Jewish partner. I never watch these award shows — they make me stay up too late for movies that I like, don’t like, or won’t be seeing. What do I care if they win a prize? And that’s not just the sour grapes talking because the movies I like don’t often win awards — like most of Spike Lee’s movies. I know some people don’t even watch it for the movies, but for the fashion, which it also lost on me. Nice dress! Weird dress! Red dress! Repeat!

I tend to tune the whole thing out, so as it happens, I learned Spike Lee won by reading about the comments about his acceptance speech. That’s kind of messed up, but here we are. This broke down in two ways: white people — He’s too political! He’s racist! (Because apparently talking about race is racist.) He’s using the platform inappropriately! And of course Cheeto flea had to tweet his illiterate nonsense. The Black people were more like: Yes! Thank you, Spike! We love you! Actually I think they said it in a cooler way, that was me white paraphrasing.

Now I was intrigued. Hmmmm. What did that fiery artist say now? He has always been outspoken about race and social justice — have you seen the pivotal scene near the end of “Do the Right Thing” where his usually non-threatening character has to decide — does he join a riot prompted by the unjust death of a Black man in his neighborhood or hold back and not destroy the pizza shop window of his white employer? As I was leaving the theater after that movie, all the black people were pumped up, and all the white people looked pale and uncomfortable. As they should. Spike has been telling us what’s what for more than 30 years now, He’s directed more than 24 movies and produced and created even more short films and documentaries. There’s even a Netflix series, based on the movie “She’s Gotta have It,” but I haven’t seen it — I’m experiencing FOMMM (fear of messing with my movie).

What does my artistic role model and inspiration have to say now in 2019, such as we are? I watched the clip, with some anticipation.

And there he was, a man of middle age, gripping a piece of paper, visibly shaking and doing his best to speak the Truth in his allotted time of almost 3 minutes. And what did he say that got some people’s panties in a twist? Calling on remembering the slave ancestors and the sacrifices they made. He named his grandmother, the daughter of a slave and graduate of Spelman College, and thanked her for saving her social security checks so he could go to Morehouse and NYU. She called him Spikey Poo. He called for remembering the genocide of the native people and said connecting with our ancestors would bring us wisdom and help us regain our humanity. Oh, and there was a bit about 2020 presidential election being right around the corner: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate.” Then he said “Do the Right Thing,” and he laughed, “You know I had to get that in there!”

So, yes, it was altogether shockingly … calm? Inspiring? Heartfelt with personal thanks to his grandma? Funny? Similar to what any non-Trump supporter is saying about 2020? Rooted in facts that are already established? Yes, Black people were brought here from Africa as slaves, Natives were definitely killed en masse, and there is documented hate going around.

I can totally see how shouting out to your grandmother is really just wasting people’s time with useless personal thanks. Thank your industry buds, your spouse, and move it along.

None of it matters. Spike Lee, after 5 nominations finally was recognized for the work he has been doing tirelessly, with integrity, honesty, and passion. Thanks Spike for your inspiration and for setting this white girl on a path of better understanding 30 years ago about what it means to be Black in America. And thank you for doing it with humor, music, clear-eyed Truth, and without apology. I’m going to watch your video again and get to work.

 

Quilt Trading

Although I don’t have a comforter, I own 2 store-bought blankets, one of which is the infamous, 70’s polyester indestructible f***ing pink blanket, reserved for outdoor movies at the Hatch Shell in Boston. The other is a more conventional cotton number that is on my bed, but before you start a gofundme for blankets, know that I am not bereft of warmth, and that I don’t need to depend on my occasional night hot flashes. What have served as my blankets and bedspreads (do people even use that word any more?) and, yes, comforters?

Quilts. Specifically, ones made by my grandmother and my mother. Most of them are at least 30 years old, but there are a few younger ones. At least one, what we used to call a car blanket, is older than me. You put it in the back of the station wagon to pad the four kids rolling around back there unbuckled on long car rides. Then we pulled over on the side of the road to eat bark in caves. Go ahead and laugh, I’m still alive and use it as a picnic and beach blanket.

My Memere passed away in 1994, and my mom is now 88 and has Alzheimer’s and has lost a lot of her sewing ability. But I still have their quilts, and by proxy pieces of their happiest moments. As a kid my Memere made us summer quilts and winter quilts. When I was a teenager, she took requests, and I asked for with one with horses, which I still have. I received a larger one as a wedding present (it’s the one on the far right in the top photo). The marriage dissolved at the 20-year mark, but the quilt is still around — a little worn in places, but it still works and still has the tiny stitches Memere lovingly sewed all those years ago. Then my mom picked up the quilting bug, and so I have a smaller fun quilt she made that folds into a pillow for those trips to see movies at the Hatch Shell. She made it after coming with us a few times when she visited. She was so excited to find the pattern. It’s a perfect annex to the pink blanket, and more recently has started to serve as a warm place to sit in my wood floor for meditation. Then when her grandson came along, she showered him with several baby quilts and then a quilt for his “big boy” bed. As a teen, he got another quilt with colors he picked  himself.

My mom found a bunch of quilt tops Memere never finished, so she started on those. Those are amazing twofers because they have the stitches and love of both. My favorite is made up of Memere’s handkerchiefs. Back in the day no respectable lady was without a handkerchief. She had many of all designs — scalloped edges, birds, flowers, and even states. After I divorced, I changed out my wedding quilt for the handkerchief one. When I moved last year, I noticed that some of the delicate handkerchiefs had holes and were worn. I told my mom, and she still had some of Memere’s handkerchiefs and sent them to me in the mail.

My preferred fiber arts activity is crocheting, which Memere also did; despite my rich legacy, sewing for me is a utilitarian skill — buttons and small holes primarily. For a good year, I looked at the quilt and then looked at the replacement handkerchiefs, felt fear in my heart and then picked up a book or the remote and told myself I’d tackle it another day. So many tiny stitches all in perfect straight lines or perfect curves! So many tiny stitches. I liked the idea of adding my stitches, but I also didn’t want poor Memere to roll in her grave when they came out all big and uneven. My mom continued to encourage me and tell me it didn’t have to be perfect, which is easy to say for people who make perfect stitches. I knew she was right, though, so I started asking her about the steps, and what I had to do. Finally, I took a deep breath and dove in. The easier part was removing the damaged handkerchiefs. A seam ripper and several episodes of Modern Family are all you really need and are quite cathartic. A little more challenging was picking new handkerchiefs, placing and pinning them and sewing around the edges. I started that last winter and just recently finished. I bought some time by declaring the summer too hot to work on a big quilt that has to be spread on your lap.

I rested on my laurels a bit, but those darn seasons keep coming and soon it was winter again, and I had to stare down the barrel of the actual quilting — this is the free-form thread that either follows the along with the pattern of the fabric or can just be an outline of an object like a heart. Unlike the stitches around the border of the handkerchief, which are not the focus of the quilt and can hide on the sidelines, the quilting itself is like the front and center cheerleader, at the top of the pyramid, doing a split. Did I mention I favor crocheting? But my mom kept telling me to not worry and just put the stitches anywhere and have fun. I told her I might even use bright, colored thread, just for kicks. She was delighted. On this snowy Presidents Day I took the plunge — making the initial “L” for mom and Memere’s names (Lorette and Lumina), and then I’ll spell out Memere and Mom. Wish me luck (you can already see “Memere” ain’t gonna fit in that space)!

quilting

So while the handkerchief quilt is being repaired, I put my old wedding quilt back on the bed, but it too was fraying and in a way that is not as easily repaired — “easy”! Ha! While I have a decent quantity of quilts, only those 2 fit on my queen bed. Just buy one, you might say, and I might say, after all this time, I’ve been spoiled and am a handmade quilt snob. I’m not putting any mass production quilt on my bed — it might give me hives — or heaven help us a “comforter,” which is hot and heavy, and not in a good way. What can I say? I’m a delicate snowflake flower.

Then I thought of my aunt who caught the quilting bug and does beautiful machine quilting. She laughingly declares she doesn’t have the patience for hand quilting, and after quilting the letters “L” and “M” today, I am totally in her camp. In our little quilting world, machine quilting is on the edge of blasphemous, but I’ve seen her work, and it’s stunning. I also love her passion and that she is carrying on the tradition in her own way. I thought I might commission a quilt from her.

Before I could though, my sister said she had a quilt that mom made that never really fit on her bed, and that it was actually making her sad because of mom’s decline. Was I interested? She sent me a picture.

It was perfect. It’s my mother’s Quilting Opus — made of 56 squares that feature a different quilt pattern, with fabulous names like log cabin, bear’s paw, crazy house, and windmill. So the quilt made its way to me — no hives, just gorgeous, artistic comfort.

quilt3

And the trading doesn’t stop there. My brother has a few decorative quilts my mom made to hang on the wall, and when I moved to my current apartment, he gave me one that he didn’t have room for. I’m still deciding on the perfect spot. I’m sure as we reconfigure our homes and lives, we’ll continue to trade, swap, and share the quilts.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of crazy quilting to do.

Photo: Left to right, my sister’s weding quilt, the handkerchief quilt, and my wedding quilt.

You Stink

In the snowflake state of Massachusetts, we legalized medicinal marijuana in 2012, and recreational marijuana in 2016. Although, I guess now we’re professionally calling it “cannabis,” and if you are a recreational user, “weed” or 420. My teen has informed me only old farts like me still call it “pot.” Whatever you call it, it’s not really my thing. The one time I tried it as a teenager, it made me laugh so hard, I annoyed myself. I didn’t like the untethered feeling it gave me, and as I was floating around, I remember thinking, god, who is laughing so much, and why doesn’t she shut up? Then I realized it was me. This was followed by a very intense case of the munchies, where mass quantities of chips were consumed. I have always had a slow metabolism. I could barely afford that level of eating then, never mind now.

Be that as it may, I have no feelings either way about other people who partake, except for one. Your habit smells like skunk. It really does. Maybe you don’t smell it because as you puff away on that weird kazoo thing, you’re leaving the potent, smelly molecules behind you. But I come along, minutes or hours later and it stinks like skunk — it’s not really clear how long the smell sticks around because when I get a big whiff of skunk, I have yet to see anyone actually smoking. It’s kind of maddening. I get hit with the intense smell, and I whip my head  around, to see if I can either 1) go in the opposite direction of you, or 2) grab that kazoo thing you are using to smoke it and throw it dramatically in the street so it will get run over.

But no. The weed is like a cloak of invisibility for you, while I have to smell skunk for several blocks. It didn’t always smell so bad. It always a distinct smell, but whatever it is they are cooking now, that crap is more intense. Look, the cars have had to lessen their smelly exhaust, and cigarette smokers have been pretty much run off, so let’s not take an olfactory step back, OK?

It’s not just me who smells skunk. My friend who was a big pot head (there I said it) in college asked where the skunk was as we were walking down the Boston street. You’d think she’d know. While it’s true you can sometimes smell skunks in urban neighborhoods as they root about in the trash, they tend not to hang out on main Boston thoroughfares.

So please, cannabis users, can you please smoke or vape or whatever at home? Or if you must do it while you are walking around in public, can’t you buy edibles at those new fancy dispensaries? Although I’m just judgey enough to point out that I’d have to drink my wine from a paper bag, so you, what, don’t have to look at me imbibing? Well, I shouldn’t have to smell you partaking. Just saying.

I and all of those with noses thank you for your consideration. Cuz, seriously. You stink.

 

Nod to Elton John: This Blog Has No Title

I’ve been sitting here trying to find a pithy title to this blog. And then Elton John’s song popped in my head:  This Song Has No Title.   When I say popped, I mean up from the recesses of my adolescent brain. I haven’t thought about this song in years, but the album it’s on, Yellow Brick Road, is part of the soundtrack of my youth — it was etched into me before I understood music could do that. It was my sister’s album, and she listened to it a lot. And I loved the double album artwork, so I as I gazed at it and read the lyrics, I listened to it when she wasn’t there. As I listened to the song just now, after at least 40 years, I air pianoed in all the right places. It seems relevant still:

“And each day I learn just a little bit more
I don’t know why but I do know what for
If we’re all going somewhere let’s get there soon
Oh this song’s got no title just words and a tune”

I’m stalling. I’ve been taking a class called “White People Challenging Racism: Moving from Talk to Action,” and just so there is no misunderstanding, we’re against racism and are looking at our white privilege. The way it’s worded and in today’s Cheeto flea world, I want to confirm that it doesn’t mean we are challenging the legitimacy of racism. So all you MAGA people, move up or move on back. Preferably get a clue, but that’s probably not gonna happen. And Black folks, we’re trying to work out our white junk so we can be better allies to you and make sure our baggage fits in the overhead compartment.

And I want to talk about it, but it’s messing with my head, making me look for words, which for a writer is like being a carpenter without wood. I’m angry, sad, puzzled, tired, exposed, struggling. Where the hell is the wood?

I’m a good white person. I need you to know that, and that’s part of the problem, see? This isn’t about good white person = non-racist. I can be a good person and still have racist ideas and thoughts and assumptions. And I’m squirming and struggling against the idea like one of Pepe Le Pew’s victims. I had the great fortune of having a best friend in college who let me into her Black world. I am an empathetic person by nature. I got it, I believed it when she told me how life was for her being Black. We analyzed when she was a new lawyer at a big Boston firm. Was the interaction because she Black? a woman? Low lawyer on the ladder?

I grew up working class, from immigrants. First generation on one side, 2nd on the other. College was a goal, not a given. I worked all during college, two of those years about 30 hours a week. I graduated with tons of loans, worked in nonprofits — a professional who was not out to make money, but a difference. I did not own property until I was 37. It was in an affordable, but less desirable Boston-area town. My then husband and I didn’t have parents who could give us a down payment, so we took the money out from our 403Bs.

I know white privilege exists on a systemic level. I can’t have listened to a Black person’s experience and doubted it. Ah, so comfy, from my “less privileged” place. I didn’t have money or social standing. I’m good, I’m cool, right? I’m not like those clueless rich white people. Am I?

I defer to my alter ego Blanche, because she likes to laugh at me when I’m being stupid. She sits at the bar drinking gin and taking long contemplative drags on her ciggies.

Blanchesmoking

Poor, Blanche. She just fell off her stool, she’s laughing so hard. Luckily, she’s a tough bird. She’ll be OK. Plus, she likes laughing at me, so she wants nothing better than to get on that stool and in position for my next misstep.

Blanche says, “You’re white, girlie. Hide behind your ‘working class, immigrant’ shield all you want. The fact is, no one has followed your sorry ass in a store, even when you had no money to spend. No one ever thought at work that you were only there because of affirmative action. Once they meet you, your coffee slurping may annoy them, but that’s just being a bad office mate. You uncomfortable? That’s sounds about right.”

Blanch takes a long drag on her ciggie and looks me in the eye as she stubs it out, “You ain’t perfect, babe, let it ride. I’ll stop laughing when you talk sense.” She downs her shot and slams it on the bar. “Or not,” her smokey, throaty laugh echoes in stale air.