Current Events, Nonfiction

Ava Taught Me and First Impressions of 2015.


I wrote something about Ava Duvernay and black women bold enough to interpret history — their own and others’. I published it at Medium, rather than posting it here, because it didn’t feel like it was a fit for this space.

Every January, I reassess what I want to do with this blog. Every year (for the seven it’s been in existence), it serves the purpose it’s meant to.  I was fortunate enough last year to have appearances and publications to announce, as well as meditations on news and culture to publish. I’m not sure what 2015 will hold. Maybe more of the same. Or maybe the landscape will change.

I just know this year has been strange so far.

First, I was paid an extra month’s salary for my last contract job. It was an oversight. But it was I’ve never been on the receiving end of that kind of financial oversight: a full check — directly deposited — for the entire month of December. I didn’t work the month of December; my contract ended on November 30. I really, really could’ve used the money. Seeing my account balance after its deposit really drove home that point. And it wasn’t clear how soon anyone in accounting would catch the error (if ever). Of course I knew I couldn’t keep the money. But knowledge and action found themselves briefly at odds.

The first thing I did was start telling people*. And the first person I decided to tell was a great friend who I suspected — but wasn’t entirely sure — would see things as I did. In situations like these, when I need a minor pep talk to prepare myself to be as ethical as I know I have to be, the people I consult have to be people who won’t tempt me. They can’t be people who’ll remind me that I’m not working or point to the bills I could pay with the money or spend a half-hour calculating an invented New Math about labor-to-time-to-worth-to-pay ratios.

I just need someone who will calmly confirm what I need to do. In this case, I chose the right person and set about doing the right thing. (If that pays off in any obvious, estimable karmic way in the future, I’ll let you know).

What the incident reminded me is how closely we have to monitor our ethics, how intentional we have to be about listening to our consciences. People always talk about listening to your inner voice — and/or to the still, small voice of God — but that isn’t always the immediate, logical response. You have to quiet worry — which is loud — and your propensity for sketchiness, which can be quite imperceptible at first, in order to follow the suggestion of your conscience.

The only other big thing that happened this year is that, in catching up with a friend I rarely get to talk to, I accidentally texted the very person we were discussing. And what I was saying wasn’t glowing. It was hurtful and infuriating to the unintentional recipient and it severed an already taut, hair-thin cord we’d both been working hard to hold up at its ends.

What that incident is teaching me is that I am not the same person to everyone. To some, I’m caring and kind and generous and fair; to others, begrudging, bitchy, and patently unfair in my characterization of them.

As a person who often wants more than anything to please and to remain unobjectionable and inoffensive — even at high personal cost — it bothers me a great deal to know that I can be hurtful and nasty, ferociously unlikable. It scares me, in fact, because I am inclined to believe the worst about myself. If I know that someone I care about finds me hurtful or given to betrayal of confidence, or inflexible or unforgiving, even cruel, I worry that he isn’t the only person who sees me that way — or worse, that I’ll eventually reveal myself to be that way with everyone I love.

But what’s real is that every person views us a bit differently than the next — which means that each encounter with any of them gives us a new opportunity to be the version of ourselves we hope (but often fail) to be, with everyone. We have an inexhaustible capacity to be incredible for some and deeply offensive to others. And when we have been the latter, there may be no convincing the offended party that we can be better to them than they’ve experienced us to be in the past. Sometimes, we have to settle for being someone’s personal definition of terrible.

I apologized. The jury’s still out on whether or not it will be accepted, but I think in accidentally revealing what’s frustrated me, I feel like a more genuine, if less likable, person. Losing my place in a person’s high esteem feels worth it if, in the end, I’m not pretending to be better than I actually am.

… At least that feels like the lesson today. Check back with me in a week or two, and I may sound like someone else entirely.

Read the DuVernay piece. I’ve been told it’s not too shabby. I hope you’ll be able to concur.

* I tell someone nearly everything about myself. I don’t know why; the reasons change. The person changes. It’s part accountability and part confession/absolution. Sometimes I just need confirmation that I’m not irrational — or that I am. I’m not a talker, by any stretch, but as someone who spends as much time close-lipped as I do, I’m a near-full discloser. Secrecy, in my personal experience, has proven overrated. Discretion, on the other hand, has value beyond measure.

Nonfiction, Parenting


In the gray Nissan Versa that’s hard to afford, my mother sits behind the wheel, our daughter in her lap. I am sprawled behind them, next to the car seat our girl has abandoned for a better view of the lot before us.

For the past ten days, the lot has been transformed from the desolate patch of asphalt outside a mall so skeletal the community keeps vigil around it, waiting for word of its death, to a blinking neon festival of thrills and frights and views from epic heights.

This is its last night in town. We have pulled up and parked just outside the wire fence that surrounds it, our last stop on a customary post-church evening joy ride.

Though we’d planned to bring Story here to see the lights and laughter, the curious gadgetry, acrobatic and colorful, we had no plans to enter. We’d decided she’s still too young. Even the carousel horses seems meant for bigger children. And truth be told, I am relishing the vestiges of her babyhood: the incoherent babbling that still overwhelms her plain-speech; the consternation that crosses her face when confronted with lid-less cups; the way her steady gait becomes a toddle when mounds of grass crumple under her feet. I am often relieved at how the brevity of her attention span exempts us from kids-movie-showings, and so too the carnival feels thankfully premature, the longer we watch the older children prance and twirl and cavort.

But it is the length of time we sit and keep watch that unravels me. The longer we’re there, the more I notice the single fathers, hoisting a child onto their shoulders or pushing a stroller toward lines, entering and exiting Ferris wheel cabins, tucking massive toys under their arms–all the spoils of overpriced games they’d battled and conquered. The longer we’re there, I am inundated with nuclear families: a father, a mother, a toddler and teen; two parents, their twins, and a goldfish.

It’s almost more than I can take, some days, your absence. And this may be because we hear from you each day. This may be because your voice echoes through us as though we are caves. Your email and texts and packages punctuate a kind of loss.

I know to be grateful; I know the work of practiced contentment. It is arduous and long. But it is fashioning within me a bemused patience, a poker face, so we can’t feel the rawness of nerves.

This is my predominant stance, but today there will be no masquerading. Today, the house of mirrors I’ve constructed, so my face will reflect the expressions of those who greet it, is closed.

I crawl out of the car and round the perimeter of the fence. My mother and I have spotted a ride within that is suitable for a girl as small as ours. It’s a series of green baby dragons that rise and go round and round. Each dragon’s hollowed torso holds a mother and child. This is a ride meant for us, a gargoyle built for two.

But I know, even as I near the ticket booth, that I can’t afford this, that I’ll remain on a strict and worrisome budget until my summer adjunct work begins in weeks to come.

Still, I squint at the signs. I take in the pricing: 15 dollars for a modest spool of tickets, 25 for a day-long wristband that would be useless two hours shy of closing.

I stand there, amid excited children, their capable parents, the cars where others sit weighing their options. And I am there far longer than it takes me to do the figuring. This requires no calculus: tonight, the carnival is a luxury I simply cannot afford.

Back in the car, it’s hard to read our daughter’s face. She is unnervingly precocious. Is it possible she’s old enough to be disappointed? Could she comprehend the ways that we have failed her?

It is just a carnival. Questionable rides, paltry parting gifts, empty calories. But is a microcosm of the world I want to give her, the world that recedes as we pull out of our parking spot moments later.

Once we are home, I write a scene in my latest attempt at a novel about conjoined twins wandering a carnival with their mother alone to insulate them. When the last word is typed, I send it to you. You call, having read it, and ask the inspiration. I tell you we stopped at a carnival. I tell you I nearly cried. But it’s hours before we finish the conversation.

— Why’d you almost cry at the carnival? you text.

I type back the description of fathers. I tell you about the budget and resignation.

— Next time, I can send you what you need for the cost of admission. Next time, you should come to me with this.

That isn’t entirely the point, I retort. In some ways, entering the thick of it would’ve been worse than not going in at all.

— It would’ve been a perfect storm of inadequacies.