Friday, January 27, 2017

New Year's Resolutions part 2...or Women's March on Washington resolutions

I enjoyed the March on Washington and I feel quite energized to actually continue marching. I had already been recruited into the Resistance but it was so good to know that over two million people worldwide agreed with my disapproval -- no, my disgust -- with "the orange one."

I was glad my cousin offered me and Mom a ride down to D.C. I was happy for the family bonding time, and spending it at a political march was too perfect. My Mom recruited me into the women's movement early. If I had a picture of me at the march celebrating the Roe v. Wade decision, I would post it, but I don't.

I do have this picture of me.

The crowd was amazing. I haven't seen any news stories dismissing the Women's March as too young, too old, too white, etc., which I take as a good sign that the march was representative of our country as a whole. Yes, I've seen a few posts about some women's bad experiences, and while I didn't see anything in particular I'm not going to deny these things happened. (I wasn't completely sure that I didn't witness something in the Million Micro-Aggressions March post.) However the organizers handed out leaflets to use the inertia for a good cause. So now I have a list of ten things to do in the next 100 days (or 95, given that it's now Thursday, January 26th. However, they push for printing them using THEIR software, and I've already read an essay telling me that I don't NEED fancy card stock quality paper for postcards. I can go buy 4x6 index cards and use them. I've even checked the USPS site and confirmed this. So I *could* just address them all to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and have a few on hand for Representative Clarke and just be able to write my elected officials whenever it seems appropriate (which is more and more often).

Because things are getting scary out there. A friend used Facebook to post a link to H.R. 193, the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017, which would remove the United States of America from the United Nations if it passes. That is an awful idea, and I don't want to think about who would think it is a good idea to remove the world's sole super power from an organization dedicated to maintaining international peace and security. I used this blog to help people who thought their representative MIGHT be behind this bill, in the hopes that people would call, email, contact in any way, the members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to say, "What the goddamned fuck is this?!?"

Yesterday I went to a gallery to see Nancy Chunn's installation Chicken Little and the Culture of Fear and it was both terrifying and fascinating. It is so easy to get hooked into the crowd and start following. Perhaps the best way to protect ourselves is to ensure that we *know* when we start getting carried away and take a moment to contemplate. (When you start running, pull back, sit on the sidelines and THINK about what you're doing!)

The March on Washington was to gather the women who are scared by what President Trump has promised (and has started) to do as President. It was an attempt to say "We do NOT support you, we ARE here." Even if Trump tweets "Why didn't they vote?" we can say, "but we did and you LOST the popular vote." It was an attempt to build momentum, and to get people out from behind their computers and out of their houses to see what momentum could look like. It's important to see how many people (over 3 million worldwide) do NOT support the President and are scared of what he has promised to do. President Obama has started a foundation and you can get involved through that.

Despair is easy. Don't fall prey to it. We can only make a better world if we get off our asses and try.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Many New Yorks

“So where are you from?” The new guy asked me. I eyed him carefully. He was probably old enough to be my father (though I wasn’t yet old enough to be a good judge of other people’s age) and I just figured he spotted me for a newbie, an immigrant to our fair city, and it was my job to set him straight.
“Me? I’m from New York,” with no uncertain amount of pride. Who cares that over 2 million people are born here every year? (I am totally making that number up.) I probably didn’t deserve any credit for being from the Big Apple, but I wanted to claim it as my own, just the same. The old guy looked at incredulously.
“You’re not from New York!” He cried. “Nobody is actually *from* New York!” I smiled at him. I was, and I knew it. I’d seen the City in its darkest times and I’d been mugged on the streets and I had my New York, certainly more than this man, who (I figured) had come to New York from Ohio, or maybe even Missouri (the OTHER side of the OTHER river). I had Steinberg’s view of the world. My mother had hung a poster of the New Yorker cover on the wall of our floor of our apartment building.
I didn’t even know how to drive. That’s how much of a New Yorker I was. All of you who live elsewhere in this country, have you ever even heard of such a thing? A young woman who is almost proud of the fact that she’s been legally allowed to buy alcohol for over a year, but doesn’t know how to park a car?
My New York City had improved over the years. I was born two days after the Watergate Break In, which means President Ford refused to bail out my home town before I started elementary school (my father even worked for the newspaper which ran the headline, “Ford to City, ‘Drop Dead’”). I remember Needle Park, the junkie who died on my very block, unfortunately in the spot between Broadway and the entrance to my elementary school, so too many parents had to explain to their children who the man who didn’t look like he was sleeping was doing in the alley. By the mid 90s New York had reinvented itself a few times, and Mayor Giuliani was busy criminalizing homeless behavior, so as to push the homeless into prisons and hospitals, to make the city SEEM like it was doing better, without having to actually improve it.
New York City had changed many times in the past 40 some years. So I had many New Yorks. The New York of the mid 70s, when my Dad would walk me to a Nursery School on 122nd street. I remember him holding my hand as I walked on a railing belonging to Teachers’ College, and I could see the Manhattan Valley open up before me; so many buildings and people living their lives. It didn’t matter that this was not the New York that people travelled to see, this was where I was going, this was the world I entered; diverse, full of smells from all over, with an elevated subway that would rattle just loudly enough to cover all the arguments people were having. That New York smelled of pot, dashed dreams, and fresh bread from the store across the street. Why would we have been walking down what was, by the time we’d passed the hill, the WRONG side of Broadway? I don’t know, but I can still smell the freshly baked bread, and I think I remember seeing the store still there in the waning days of the 20th century. What was it called? Oh, yes, The Bread Store.
Then there was 57th street; which my father made us walk across every six weeks for 5 years, while I was having my teeth fixed. We would exit the 7th Avenue IRT stop at the southern end, on 57th street, and turn east, passing Carnegie Hall, the Plaza was a few blocks to the North, Tiffany’s was right there, and we would have seen Alexander’s, but I wasn’t paying attention to clothes yet, so I never noticed it. We saw people being driven in Hansom Cabs around those few tony blocks where the Upper East Side slipped into midtown. I had seen the Arena at Columbus Circle when there was a huge fair with Chinese arts and crafts there. It was the New York that promised “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere,” like Frank Sinatra sang, but it also decayed into a city that inspired fear in many. 57th street smelled like Daisy Buchanan’s voice, it smelled of money. Yes, my father remembered walking along 125th street and being greeted by Adam Clayton Powell. “How you doin, buddy?” Mr. Powell would say. Yes, the cultural mecca of New York remained, but it got gritty and hard. Reaganomics spread poverty over the city as mom spread cream cheese on her toasted bagel. Drugs hit our city hard, and the junkie who died on my school’s corner was just one victim of the Drug War. How did we survive?
We didn’t know any better. We didn’t talk to strangers. This was our normal, panhandlers on the corner, don’t go out after dark, call your father when you get to your friend’s house, look like you know where you’re going, particularly when you don’t.
But also, we had our corners, our little worlds: The bodega where the cashier knew us; The stationary store run by our next door neighbor; The little luncheonette across the street that got written up in the New York Times (not some local tabloid, the fucking Newspaper of Record), and the crazy people who sat on the park benches were part of our world, too. Many of these institutions would change, owners would retire or be bought out; stores would become local chains challenging the bigger supermarkets. Even the local crazies eventually died off, and we would notice, but know not to ask anyone what exactly had happened. My parents’ friends left Manhattan for Brooklyn, and we would see them a few times a year. Then the friends would move to New Jersey (technically closer to us than Brooklyn) and we would never see them again.
There is the Astoria of my early adulthood, where the bagel shop knew my order and would call it out when I entered the store. This Astoria is affordable, with cute little houses and illegal sublets. It smells of youthful exuberance and cigarette smoke. It is also SO 20th Century, because by the time I returned to New York City from Texas, Astoria was just another expensive neighborhood in a ridiculously expensive town.
There is the Brooklyn of now, which smells of young people starting families (you think fertility doesn't smell? Have you ever been to a playground?). This Brooklyn smells like a melting pot, of the new people, more new to New York City than new to the 'hood, but also new to America at all. It smells of the people who've lived there forever, and who glare at me for being an infiltrator, or, more likely, part of the gentrification. I'll bet this Brooklyn smells differently than the Brooklyn Heights of the 80s, which I went to....three times, perhaps? Twice to visit the people who later moved to New Jersey, and once for a class party in elementary school. That Brooklyn's smell has been drowned among other smells of childhood. The New York of my youth has priced itself out. It doesn’t exist anymore, as people can’t afford to live anywhere on the salaries they get paid. But I know The Mill Korean Restaurant is a second generation immigrant spot. The owners I knew were Concentration Camp survivors who saw things I can’t imagine, but managed to come to The Big Apple and make a success story of their lives, eventually selling the shop and retiring to (where else?) Florida.
That didn’t mean that the neighborhood amenities were unpleasant. My experience has always been that the people who see you every day are nice to you, provided you are nice to them. The waitress will memorize your order, if you’re so dull as to order the same brunch every week. The employees of Rainbow Chicken, on 108th street and Broadway, would spot my father opening the door and call out, “One whole chicken. No cut!” because my father didn’t want them to hack his dinner into tiny pieces and they knew that.
My home town. New Yorkers don’t know you when you move there, but stay here long enough, and we’ll all recognize our own.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Struggling through Winter

It's been pitch dark for more than three hours and I spent those three hours in well-lit places. I ate dinner and exercised in order to fight off the winter blues, and I came home to sit in the light when I just want to sleep for twelve hours. I should write my second week essay, or I should finish the book I'm enjoying, but I want to stare at the car wreck that is our democracy in the beginning of 2017.

Wrestling between things you want to do and things you feel you ought to do is never fun. It's slightly more enjoyable to wrestle between things you want to do when the things you ought to do are equally enjoyable. That's one reason why a person should try (if she can) to find a profession she will enjoy doing, so she will enjoy doing what she is obligated to do (I give thanks to Mark Twain for putting me on to this). Enjoying what you are obligated to do is never more important than during the summer months; if I must spend precious daylight filled hours indoors doing something, please let it be something I enjoy.

But the darkness calls me in, telling me it's OK to feel bad and lets the obligations weigh more than they should. And it is cold and dark and it *is* that much harder to get up and go and you must find ways to take joy in your obligations during these winter months. Look back on your New Years' Resolutions to remember the warmth of holiday fun, or of holidays past. Be spiteful to the people who are worse off and don't know it. Know that these are the dark days and you just gotta pull through.

Indulge the lesser evils. Know that other people's vices are worse than yours. but try to be kind. The darkness will give everyone an opportunity to hold on to grudges, and perhaps you should take the moment to fight that. I'm not sure if this is a good enough essay, but as of right now it's the best I can muster.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


“Did you make any resolutions?” Jack Baker asks.
“No,” Suzie Diamond replies. “I figured all that stuff’s a load of crap.” She takes a drag off her cigarette “I mean, you do what you do, right?”

This is not my attitude toward New Year’s resolutions, really. I am fond of navel gazing, and New Year’s Resolutions are a type of navel gazing. They’re reflective, and they are all about YOU. How you want to be better, and think you actually can become better. There’s an age when you become realistic about your resolutions. One year I resolved to quit smoking. The next year I resolved to quit smoking 3 times. Realism is important to resolutions, because it’s how you understand your limitations, or negotiate between your ideals and your limitations.

I think New Year’s Resolutions are poorly timed. We’re 10 days past the shortest day of the year. We’re just trying to sleep through the night, which we think is getting shorter, but we can’t tell exactly. Who wants to try to better yourself when you’re just trying to keep from going batshit crazy in the middle of winter? Who plans that timing?
New Year’s Resolutions should be made in the Spring; the days are getting noticeably longer. The weather is warmer and things seem to be getting better. It’s easier, in March, to think that maybe the changes you make will have a positive impression on the world. On January 2nd? Really, THIS is when you want to start going to the gym every day? When it’s still below freezing when you GET to work, never mind in the 3 hours beforehand when you are probably getting to the gym in the first place? (Caveat: I am a morning person.)
If we made our New Year’s Resolutions in the Spring, mid March perhaps, we would be buoyed by the positive inertia of the seasons. This would keep us going. You try to start going to the gym regularly when the next blizzard is coming, and you are setting yourself up for a fall and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. But the Spring? The Earth is reviving itself, everything is going through its own natural rebirth, why shouldn’t we? Why shouldn’t we take Mid March to make our New Year’s Resoultions?
Cognitive psychologists (perhaps I’ve got the wrong specialty) would warn us about the WHOLE New Year’s Resolution as setting the bar too high. Why say that “I’m going to exercise 5 times a week ALL YEAR!” when you’ve now got all year to fall back on not doing it, and the minute you start to fail, well, you’ve not met your resolution and you just give up altogether. Why not make monthly resolutions? Better yet, make monthly resolutions for the things you think you’ll be successful at, and resolve to quit the harder stuff (I’m looking at you, smokers!) every other week or two. “I resolve to smoke a pack a day three times this week. The other four days, I’ll only smoke 10 cigarettes.” See? That’s doable. You can succeed at that.
And that’s the problem with the New Year’s Resolutions. WE typically pick big things that we KNOW we won’t be able to do, and we’re soft on ourselves when we fail, because we never expected to succeed in the first place. So pick something easy. Smile more at your sister’s jokes. Succeed at the small stuff, because inertia enjoys success and if you can succeed on the small stuff, you might be able to quit smoking. Well, at least for one week a month, at any rate. #52Essays2017