I spare you the twists and turns of my cogitations, for no conclusion was found on the road to Headingly, and I ask you to suppose that I soon found out my mistake about the turning and retraced my steps to Fernham.
--Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)
“Whitley, have you read Mike’s new book? It’s really too much! Do you know that those brokers actually wrote an $800K mortgage for a Mexican strawberry picker?”
“But Sterling, the one that was really over the top was the stripper who was flipping houses on the side!”
“The flipping stripper!”
“I liked the Chinese guy—the one who went to Babson—who thought he was making a killing--”
“Hilarious! That was a great scene—with the Brooklyn guy double-dipping his edamame. Hey, where is Babson again, anyway?”
“Isn’t it in Wellesley?”
“I dated a girl from Wellesley sophomore year. She got to be VP at AIG. Wonder what happened to her….”
Hello kitty kitty kitty¦ Are you an orphan? Are you Sudanese? Chadian? Are you a sub-Saharan African suffering from mild mental retardation? Are you an African woman suffering from the African male? Would you like an Oxfam biscuit? Organic antiretrovirals? Have you been raped? You might not know it, but you are an orphan, a refugee. Can we fly 103 of you to France to be loved? We can breastfeed you. We can make you a Darfur orphan. Even if you are not. If you are black and under 10 years old, please come talk to us.
Come kitty kitty.
Isn’t that fantastic? Especially in light of this Haitian story, in which some of the children reportedly still have parents(!). I love “You might not know it, but you are an orphan.” As with the longer piece on Africa, he cuts right to the core of blind sentimentality, the 21st-century Mrs. Jellybys, so sure that they are offering the best help for those whom they are so sure are desperately in need of it. You can read the whole piece here.
Or, as a commenter in the Times writes:
Don't play poker with a guy named Doc. Don't eat in a restaurant named Mom's. Don't go hiking without a compass near the North Korean Border. Don't travel to Iran to participate in anti-government demonstrations. Don't take a busload of kids across the border without their parents' permission. That's what my Daddy taught me.
In this story King stays up working on an overdue sermon, and when he looks into the refrigerator for a late-night snack he finds ''bright yellow slices of pineapple from Hawaii, truffles from England . . . a half-eaten Mexican tortilla . . . German sauerkraut and schnitzel right beside Tibetan rice . . . macaroni, spaghetti and ravioli favored by Italians.'' Struck by how something as basic and elemental as food can represent the interconnectivity of life, King basks in this revelation only to be brought to earth by his loving wife.
My husband and I had the privilege of hearing Johnson read this story at a conference in Seattle a few years back. It was fantastic.
''Life is already so fragile in Haiti, and to have this on such a massive scale, it's unimaginable how the country will be able to recover from this.''--Edwige Danticat (via Tayari)
It’s easy to forget about Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is so hard to think about—even before this latest castatrophe—that, unless there is a hurricane or a new novel by Danticat, it’s easier to focus elsewhere.
When the only reservation we could get was for 6:00, we hesitated: do we really want to settle for such an unfashionable time? After all, the city has many, many other grand restaurants. My dad and I held fast and, since this was for my birthday, I held the day.
That block of MacDougal Street is still caught in the 80s: falafel shops and beer dives, tourists eating lousy looking nachos, thinking they’re experiencing the West Village. My husband and I walked around the block to see Il Mulino, where Presidents Clinton and Obama had lunched a few weeks back. That was exciting and funny, too: on the one hand, Il Mulino is tucked away. On the other hand, it’s across the street from NYU law. Not hard for them to find, we thought. The Minetta Tavern inside leaves the falafel far behind; it is full of old world charm: just as lovely and hip as Frank Bruni promised.
We walked in at 6:00 and couldn’t be seated right away. It was packed and the energy was young and vibrant. Passing from the bar to the dining room, I overheard one waiter/manager say to another: “San Francisco chef and restaurant owner; position three.” It seemed we were in a happening spot. Little did we know. When our waitress came to take our order, the hostess and maitre d’ were opening and shutting the side door; we could see red flashing lights; our waitress was distracted.
Five minutes later, we could see why: Hillary Clinton came in with two aides.
That was exciting, but it was even more amazing when, a few minutes after that, Chelsea and her boyfriend arrived.
When, ten minutes after that we heard a familiar voice say “Sorry I’m late,” as the Big Dog himself sidled into the booth.
It was very, very exciting! And distracting. And fun. Hillary Clinton looked beautiful—really happy and rested and lovely in a pretty ivory jacket with boucle details on the lapels. Chelsea is very, very pretty, too, in a black sleeveless tank and a gorgeous necklace of gold loops.
It was hard not to gawk or ask for an autograph. We did keep track of their orders—beet salads for the Clintons to start, burger for Chelsea and fish for Bill at dinner. Not a lot of wine at all. (The four of us, on the other hand cruised through a bottle of champagne and 2 reds.) I wanted to meet Hillary Clinton especially, but once it was a family dinner any intrusion seemed cruel and wrong. We giggled that I should start mentioning my days at Wellesley and Yale really loudly, but, in the end, we let them eat in peace. So did everyone else.
That is, until Rob Reiner came in with his family. (I know!!!) Meathead, as I still love to call him, greeted the Clintons and President Clinton greeted the Reiner family while Reiner talked with Hillary.
(Turns out, there was a tiny little Streisand concert at the Village Vanguard last night…)
It is very strange to think of the Clintons as people, to see that they are real. Hillary’s charisma was palpable from the moment she entered: she was powerful, kind, beautiful, and self-posessed. Bill, in tattersall and a blue blazer, was more like charisma in retirement: stunning, but in repose. I have been thinking, this fall, that maybe I’m becoming a New Yorker (with a Jersey zip code) but this knocked me right back. I was utterly star-struck.
And then, Mortenson is such a Western type. He reminds me of guys I used to date—or try to date—out in Seattle. Living in his car, dating a doctor, he grows angry at her desire for a meal. He is saving his pennies to build a school in Pakistan! She should be happy with ramen! Believe me, I’ve been there. I once made ramen and a tuna sandwich for a boyfriend who grew enraged that I had cooked two nights worth of food in one.
But I remembered that Nicholas Kristof (who shares the Western boy ethos but remains a hero) had written a glowing account of Mortenson’s work, founding schools in remote Pakistan and Afghanistan, focusing on girls education. I know, too, I need to know more about Pakistan and that when faced with a more serious article, I tend to skip or skim.
There is quite a bit of The Man Who Would Be King to this tale. There are definitely moments, especially early on, when Mortenson’s story made me uneasy. The son of missionaries (as I am the great-granddaughter of missionaries, so I cast no stones, only recognize the dangers of that drive to set off to elsewhere in the hopes of changing it), Mortenson failed to reach the summit of K2, got lost and disoriented, and, after a long recovery, promised his host village that he’d return to build them a school.
When a fellow American arrives at the construction site and Greg asks him to march around like a “Big Man,” I grew really worried. The account of his detention in Waziristan, too, reads like a scene from any recent Muslim-baiting Hollywood film. (This will be a film, mark my words.)
But there is a lot more here. The prose improves as the story chugs along and the adventures make the lousy prose less obtrusive in later chapters. (Still, if you read it, I counsel you to read fast and for the plot! It could have been so much better.)
Mortenson seems to have learned genuine lessons about cooperation and humility. So, although his charity now trades on his story as the cowboy who singlehandedly built over 60 schools (a major, major achievement, there is no doubt), what I love about the book is the way that he has the village elders cut the ribbon at a school’s inauguration.
I am most moved, however, by how this man grew to recognize the power of educating women. When he sets off to build that first school, the town surprises—and frustrates—him by asking for a bridge first. But that bridge suddenly permits women to walk home to their mothers every Friday. In a remote, craggy region where marriage often means saying goodbye forever, this is a huge gift to a community: young wives remain connected and, through this connection, are happier people. When he returns, years later, a young girl marches into a council of elders and demands tuition for a certificate program in maternal health. Now. Mortenson first puts her off, but then suddenly sees that she represents all he has been working for: a young woman, leapfrogging over centuries of patriarchy, to stand up for herself and the women of her village, proud, confident, and utterly unafraid of men. It is hard not to see the goodness—the greatness of this.
Education matters and it matters most among those who have so little access to it.
If, as Kristof argues, as Mortenson shows, we cared more about education and less about bombs, we might just remake the world. For all the posturing and purple prose, I came away impressed by the book.
If personality-driven charities make you more allergic, Kristof also recommends this one, Developments in Literacy, run by Pakistani-Americans. It’s all about the kids.
Don't get me wrong. I admire Caroline Kennedy. I feel for her many losses. I think she is beautiful, smart, classy. She has handled her life in the public eye with grace and with a deep commitment to service. She is also a scion of America's greatest political family.
We bid goodbye yesterday to a horrible president whose main claim to power was that he was a president's son.
The election to replace him saw the failed bid of a supremely qualified woman who came to our attention primarily as a First Lady.
Now, a woman who wanted the former First Lady's seat has withdrawn. Her main claim to fame is as the daughter of a president.
This is a democracy.
It feels divine to put nepotism to rest.
Divine but also problematic for women: it's been hard in this patriarchal nation for women to find paths to power without the authorization of men. Being a daughter or a wife marks a woman as acceptable; it marks her ambition as an understandable family trait: the tomboy daughter, the wife who learned from the sidelines. Unmarried woman like Condi Rice or Janet Napolitano, are suspect. Married women, well, let's talk about married and partnered women.
See, there is this whole problem of child-bearing, child-rearing, childcare, that comes right at a really strong moment in women's lives. Just when your career seems to be taking hold--BOOM!--you're spending five or six pretty intense years wiping bottoms and wiping tears. Or, maybe you have your kids on the early side and, when jobs beckon you back, there is nothing on your resume to catch anyone's eye, so you end up with a dull job, a job with no leadership potential.
I have no doubt that both Hillary Clinton and Caroline Kennedy were able to fulfill the posts that they sought and, for different reasons did not get. I do not doubt, either, that Obama will be a better President, that Clinton was a better Senator than C. Kennedy.
It just feels more democratic, better, more redemptive, and more politically right to have elected someone who fought for the post out of intelligence, canniness, and good policy.
It's too bad that we're still a long way from having a path for women that permits a Barack Obama to emerge.
That flatness has faded. I am excited again. I read on Jezebel that Obama’s letter to his daughters in Parade magazine was unbelievably adorable; Girls Write Now’s Twitter feed confessed to tearing up. On the strength of that, I decided to read it. But it didn’t come up on my iPhone before the train drifted out of range. I read it aloud to my 6 y.o. daughter as part of her bedtime reading, tears streaming down my face. She thought it was nice, but beloved children are used to hearing our outsized hopes for them and their future. It’s the grown-ups, parents or not, who understand the odds against those dreams coming true and the faith it takes to commit yourself to working toward dreams in spite of those odds.
The next day, I asked her to write a letter to the President. She came up with a sweet, noir note that makes Jersey City sound like Dodge:
"Dear Presudint Obama I am vere happy that you are going to be ourI find this both odd and dear: not a letter for the ages, not really about a top pressing issue for the nation or even for our lives here. Still, I’ll stick it in an envelope with our fervent prayers for some of the promises of this election to be fulfilled.
Presudint love Olivia age 6
In a town wer crims are arownd evre cornr ples make those crims stop."
That is, in conventional spelling:
Dear President Obama, I am very happy that you are going to be our President….In a town where crimes are around every corner, please make theose crimes stop.”
I have been thinking since November about what this Obama victory means. Those thoughts are on two tracks: one is about race and identity, one is about competence and ideas. As for competence and ideas, I am moved and humbled and also angered to feel the tremendous relief of knowing that Obama’s election brings some grown-ups back to Washington. On the one hand, he calls us to be more engaged in our country. On the other, I can relax in the assurance that my President is not actively seeking ways to begin wars, to circumvent the Constitution, to ignore the entrenched problems of poverty.
As for race and identity, I am so relieved to move a new generation into the White House. It’s moving and meaningful to me, as the working mother of two little girls, to think that my concerns are not far at all from their concerns. For all that is incredible, outsized, and amazing about the Obamas, I have more in common with them than with any other First Family in U.S. history. Selfishly, this makes me hopeful that issues that matter to me will also naturally occur to him to work on. But I have not failed to notice race, of course. And that matters more than I can say with any great intelligence or insight.
I do however, think about two crucial facts of my elementary school days and how different they will be from now on: Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month. Both celebrations, central to my schooling forever, were always accompanied by some grouchy, skeptical racist mumbling from somewhere in the back of the room. Now, think how that curriculum can change to shut up the doubters. Even in the most conservative corner of the most conservative state, the narrative has a happy and victorious chapter. This is not the whole story, by any means, but it’s a useful piece, especially for those children under ten: to be able to say, “….and then, 40 years after 1968, Barack Obama was elected President.”
I keep thinking about the shoebox diorama I lovingly made in my 4th grade class. Toilet paper rolls for tree trunks, moss growing on the north side of the tree, Harriet Tubman running sure-footedly through the forest. What is Mrs. Goings thinking this week? What would Harriet Tubman make of this? I was raised on hope. I’m a sentimental West Coast girl. I can’t say this moment surprises me, but it moves me deeply and I do think it changes the world for the good in profound ways.
What will my daughters’ dioramas look like?
Other issues facing the state — what some people consider to be inaccurate — how would I put that — listings of certain Alaskan animals as endangered or what is that second term that they use? They’re at risk? No… That’s not the technical term. Anyway, there’s two listings there specifically dealing with polar bears and there’s also the issue with beluga whales. So there’s different things and the issue there is of course wanting to provide a substantive lifestyle for our first Alaskans here which are the indigenous people and also wanting to protect our environment wanting to be good stewards to that and to take care of the animals that make Alaska. What it is however if they are improperly categorized then that can run snags on other types of development that would benefit not only people of Alaska but the world such as depending on certain kinds of drilling that we do off-shore either or people are in a hurry to list groups of whales as endangered or at risk than that might impede the progress that we’d be making to free or to lighten the the load that America has us obtaining oil from overseas. Emphasis addedI don't know whether to be amused or alarmed by the utter lack of knowledge--and lack of embarrassment about that lack. Or the free-floating "also" and "anyway" and "of course" as filler. Or all the sentences that begin one way and then veer off in an entirely new grammatical direction.
Putin may not be rearing his head, but literate people everywhere have their sights trained on Alaska. Oh Alaska!
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly--Ennio Morricone—because that whistling makes me feel tough.
- The James Bond Theme (Original Version)--City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra—you have no idea how awesome, in a Clark Kentish way, it feels to be riding a crowded train in my little jacket, burdened down with groceries and papers to grade, with James Bond blasting in my ears. Besides, like Obama, it's just cool. And a little nerdy.
- La Ronda--Marta Gómez—a gorgeous acoustic song, “Dame un besito…”
- Green Light (feat. Andre 3000)--John Legend—the Starbucks freebie (with $4.06 latte) a few weeks back, but it features the line “Even Steven Wonder got down sometimes” which makes me smile so hard.
- Galveston--Glen Campbell—which I downloaded when the hurricane hit. It’s a great retro-country song and it reminds me to remember Katrina, to remember the neediest.
- A Prayer For Our Time--Vusi Mahlasela—I love Mahlasela’s sweet sincerity and this came up when I was searching for the Sondheim so I added it in.
I’ll close with a disclaimer: I continue to be proud and amazed at how many of my friends and acquaintances worked at all levels of the campaign. No such work here: with two jobs and two little ones, it was all I could do to boost Obama from this little blog, blog once in a while over at DailyKos, and send all my spare change to Barack. I did what I could. I'm relieved my little was enough and I'm SO grateful to all who did more.
I'm still exhausted and overwhelmed. And just now, in my little stolen hour (my husband took the kids to the park), I'm listening to Jonathan Schwartz' very old-fashioned standards on WNYC. Critics say it's like being stuck all afternoon at a stuffy great-aunt's house, but I love all the Sinatra and Sondheim.
He's been playing a version of "It's not Easy Being Green" for weeks, one in which the singer stops to talk & says, "Maybe one day, we'll even have a green president. Hmmm...a president of color...." It's very dear--just as dear and touching as the song has been for 40 years.
Today, though, he opened with Sondheim: "Our Time" from "Merrily We Roll Along."
Something is stirring,
Shifting ground …
It's just begun.
Edges are blurring
And yesterday is done.
Feel the flow,
Hear what's happening:
We're what's happening.
Don't you know?
We're the movers and we're the shapers.
We're the names in tomorrow's papers.
Up to us, man, to show 'em …
Oh, I'm weeping like a baby. And not for the first time this week. So happy. So relieved.
When Obama talks about tax reform and tax breaks on the middle class (those making annual salaries less than Sarah Palin's wardrobe & make-up allowance for early October, say), it's not so much Marx as it is a revisitation of JFK's modernisation of a verse from the Bible.
I'm just saying.
Luckily for me, a friend passed along this link to an essay in The Brooklyn Rail. The author, Alex Gallo-Brown, writes about his continuing optimism and admiration for Obama. It’s a stirring testimony from a young writer eager to move into a new era of race relations, one that keeps its main focus more on the promise of the future, that seeks to emerge from what Obama calls a 40-year stalemate, not by forgetting, but by looking to the hope and power of youth, of the future.
In a week when the Republican ticket has been so despicable in its invocation of past hatred and fear, it’s quite stirring to remind ourselves that we can know about racism, current and past, without succumbing to it. We might, maybe, even be able to push ourselves forward into a future that looked brighter for all.
He writes about the effect of his time at Garfield High School on his perceptions of race, too. I’m a lot older, but I’m a Garfield alum, too. I’ve written about Garfield a couple of times here, but I’ve never captured the feeling of a Garfield assembly as well as he did in these paragraphs:
In February of my freshman year, we had an assembly to honor Martin Luther King Day. It wasn’t very much different from previous assemblies held at my middle school: A black girl performed a soulful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner; a white boy gave a platitudinous speech about leadership or hard work, I can’t remember which. (There was one novelty, a troupe of Ethiopian girls who shook their asses so fast they managed to titillate the audience and inspire a sense of cultural appreciation all at once.) Then there was more singing, more dancing, more speeches.I don’t quite know how to explain it any better. I am amazed and moved to think that the ethos of my Garfield persists. But he is utterly right: Barack’s Yes We Can! seems deeply, deeply familiar to me, and I think it comes out of those assemblies in that old gym. A willful, intense sense of power: aggressive, occasionally even a little angry, a little naive, but full of hope. And that, for me, is the best argument I know for strong, diverse public schools: they help a diverse world full of difference feel like home. They can show young people that their job is to know our history and change our world for the better.
I don’t remember exactly what it was about that day; but I do remember the feeling as I stood in the bleachers of the Garfield gym, this surge of emotion. It said—and we said back!—we are here, and we are different than what came before.
It said that we weren’t like our parents, or our parents’ parents—we weren’t subject to their prejudices or preconceptions. We weren’t connected to the America that practiced slavery and put people in internment camps, slaughtered Native Americans and tolerated the laws of Jim Crow.
It said that we have this power—awesome power—to make something new.
Such were my feelings in high school. Then I went to college, the first of three I would attend, and quickly received a remedial education in small-mindedness and unconscious bigotry.