On Optimism


I remember the first time I saw violence. I was 3 years old and I watched my babysitter's husband slam her head against the wall — once, twice, four times — and wrap his hand around her neck. Their three children were hiding in the oldest child's room, sobbing, while I peeked around the corner to see if the silence that hung in the apartment was a sign of safety. Clearly, it was not. 

The first time I saw racism, I was 8. I was at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta on a school field trip and we were viewing an exhibit on the history of lynchings in the south. There were rows and rows of black and white photos — photos of someone's husband, brother, wife, sister, child — dangling lifelessly from the trees. And throughout the exhibit, Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" played. I didn't sleep a wink that night. And to this day, I can't hear "Strange Fruit" or Billie's voice without feeling a shiver down my spine. 

I was reminded of these memories when I watched Raoul Peck's documentary on James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro. It was a sobering and much-needed watch because it reminded me that while I may feel that things are especially bad now, it's not new. The only difference is that I've gotten better at recognizing it. I also left the film feeling a deep connection to Baldwin. Here was a man who is weary of the world. He was the son of a country that often refused to legitimize him, so he left Harlem for Paris. But as much as he tried, he could not separate himself from his people, so he returned. In the process, he lost friends and lovers. The FBI even tried to label him as a threat to national security. But he persisted. And he wrote.

"I can't be a pessimist because I am alive," he once said during an interview. "To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I'm forced to be an optimist. I'm forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive. But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and our representatives -- it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face, and deal with, and embrace this stranger whom they maligned so long."

"I can't be a pessimist because I am alive." That is now my motto for 2017. And yes, it is entirely up to us to deal with the blemishes that the American experiment comes with. It is already beginning to make a world of difference: 

  1. Thanks to efforts of the #GrabYourWallet campaign, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus are dropping Ivanka Trump's fashion line.

  2. HR621 has been pulled, so the land grab of 3.3 million national land acres has been dropped.

  3. The ACLU has received over $24 million in donations in one weekend — that's 7x the amount raised in the 2015 alone.

  4. The city of Seattle will divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo for NoDAPL.

  5. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski says constituent calls to her office against DeVos were a major reason why she is voting against her nomination.

    [S/O to my friend Monica for pointing these silver linings out to me.]

And that's only the beginning.

I do not accept the premise that this recent surge of activism and fight is too little, too late. It is only late when we are all dead. To find something worth fighting for is life itself. It provides sustenance for the soul. I may be fatigued and worried about the state of the world, but I have never felt more alive or been filled with more purpose. There may come a day where someone somewhere will prove my optimism to be foolish, but until that day comes, I will let my existence be my battle cry.

Further reading:

"There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him." – Former Department of State counselor from the Bush Administration, Eliot A. Cohen, on Trump underestimating the resilience of Americans and their institutions. 

James Baldwin was not only a novelist, but an essayist and part-time film critic. His piece, "The Devil Finds Work" is a sharp analysis of race and America and cinema. I'll never look at The Exorcist the same way again. 

On a lighter note, The New Yorker essay "I Work from Home" hits way too close to home. 

Beautifully and thoughtfully designed by its owner, James F. Carter, this house has bookshelves by the stairs, in nooks, and crannies. It's the stuff of my dreams. 

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Originally posted on February 4, 2017 at Alwaysatodds.com.

On Holding Steady

ANONYMOUS: What is the fucking point anymore? Protests ended. People are becoming numb. No one cares to speak up anymore? Are we not going to fight?
COQUETTE: The point is to live. The point is to keep going. It's okay to let the vigilance mellow into something less acute. It's not about intensity anymore; it's about stamina. Dig in, hold fast, and keep a calm and constant pressure as the pendulum swings.

Sooo things are not great right now. We have a figurehead who blatantly ignores facts and lies to the public, prioritizes popularity over policy, nominated woefully unqualified candidates to staff his cabinet, is actually directing federal tax money to move forward on his plans to build a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ANGRY. 


Because as one (fictional) American President once said, "America isn't easy". And for some time now, we've forgotten about that. We've forgotten that the path to progress isn't a straight, paved road — it's rough, filled with valleys and peaks, quagmires, and bumps. We've forgotten that we cannot rest on our laurels — that keeping the rights and privileges we get to enjoy is a constant battle. And while I don't normally like taking on an alarmist tone, liberty is always under threat.

But that doesn't mean life as we know it is over. [If life was a Disney movie, this is probably the point where I'd break into song. But alas, it is not.]

I refuse to be apathetic. I'm gonna live. And goddammit, I'm gonna be kind. I will choose to be delighted, every. Day. When things get hard, art will be my god. I will find sanctuary in the works of writers and artists to make sense of complicated emotions. I will do my best to be intentional. I will avoid matching vitriol with venom. The anger and despair I feel after reading the latest news headlines? I won't allow them to wash over me. I will absorb it. I will tap into its reserves to contact my senators and representatives. I will go to more rallies. I will read more books and essays on conservative ideology. I will tell my mom I love her, even when she breaks my heart by parroting chyrons from Fox News.

Don't mistake my optimism for acceptance or delusion. I'm choosing to fight for tiny victories. Some fights aren't won by being the most intense or powerful person in the ring. Some fights are won simply by digging your heels in and holding steady. 

Hemingway knows what’s up. (via    Kottke   )

Hemingway knows what’s up. (via Kottke)

Further reading:

Hemingway's Cocktail for bad times is not only the alcoholic balm we need, it contains some of the most poetic prose I've ever seen in a recipe: 

Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice.

Lace this broken debris with 4 good purple splashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of 1 green lime, and fill glass almost full with Holland gin...

No sugar, no fancying. It's strong, it's bitter — but so is English ale
strong and bitter in many cases. 

We don't add sugar to ale, and we don't need sugar in a "Death in the Gulf Stream" — or at least not more than 1 tsp. Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm. 

Proposed anthem of the resistance: when you're so angry and you gotta dance it out, I recommend Ariana Grande's "Be Alright". You laugh, but I dare you not to move during the chorus

"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite short stories by one of my favorite writers. It's never seemed more appropriate or poignant than ever.

CNN's Van Jones might be onto something here — there may be virtue in trying to understand how Trump operates. 

Good Magazine has put together a guide to coping and acting in a Donald Trump presidency. 

List of books to change a conservative or liberal's mind. I have The Righteous Mind by John Haidt as my next read. 

Originally published on January 26, 2017 at Alwaysatodds.com.

On Making Your Own Uncool

Learn to say "fuck you" to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, grumbling, bumbling, stumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose-sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding grinding grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just do. Don't worry about cool. Make your own uncool. Make your own world.

— Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse

Newish year. New project.

Originally published January 16, 2017 on Alwaysatodds.com.