Friday, August 29, 2014

Home Sweet Home Challenge

Thought I am not there physically - and I was not there nine years ago, either - this is the ninth anniversary of the levee breaches in New Orleans and the start of a hard Gulf Coast area recovery that for too many continues to this very day.

I read Bill Loehfelm's post today, however, and was reminded that, this many years on, our greatest impulse in the face of such tragedy must still be to live…

I bet most of you, if not all of you, have something you want to do that you’ve been putting off - until you get the time, until you get the money, you know the drill. Not something big, not the trip to Mexico or Paris, but something small around where you live that caught your interest and your imagination: a matinee on a weekday, a new restaurant or an old favorite you’ve neglected, an exhibition at a gallery downtown, a hike in the state park, a concert at a club that maybe means staying out a bit too late. That thing that makes you say, Man, I’d really like to…Man, I wish I could…

My challenge to you? Let the good times roll.

Do it. Do it today. Do it this weekend. Do it with someone you love. Call out sick. Spend the money. Because next week, next month, tomorrow - they usually come, they probably will, but sometimes they don’t and you’re left with the saddest words: “If only … “

Whatever it is, do it. As soon as you can. One never knows what will happen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Betrayal, Grudge, Envy, Gossip, Lies…Silence

Because I am an incurable Twitter addict, I have been getting eyefuls of Ferguson, Missouri coverage and reactions in my timeline and have been repeatedly shaking my head over mistake after sick, violent mistake that keeps getting made by authorities in the wake of yet another senseless death of a black teenager.

Because I am an addict of the printed word, I am getting around to reading some of my books whose spines I haven't yet cracked (incidentally, one absolute beauty of Nick Hornby's Believer magazine book columns is in the lists he maintains of books purchased and books read; all avid readers will nod at the very existence of both lists) and have picked up a few novels by Dara Horn, one of which contains the following passage on the "science" of some of the baser human actions, explored by a soon-to-be human in the time before birth:
One time, they had to plant microscopic cells of betrayal in petri dishes, inspecting their growth over the course of the class. Daniel stared at the dish and was astonished at how quickly the cells multiplied, by how a surface that was pristine moments before metamorphosed within minutes into a gangrenous plate of rot. A similar experiment was done involving a grudge, with identical results. Envy, on the other hand, proved itself not to be contagious at all; instead, it ate its carrier alive. Another lab result that intrigued Daniel was when the class measured the speed of gossip as it traveled through various media, determining how its speed was affected by whether it was transmitted through speech, writing, broadcast, or silence. To his surprise, the fastest means of travel was silence, which allowed the gossip to move faster simply by refusing to stop it, facilitated through listeners who should have created some kind of friction to slow it down but instead failed to rise to the subject's defense. Daniel was slightly repulsed by the lab involving the dissection of lies, a gory procedure in which he and a partner had to slice through layers of smooth skinlike surfaces and pin them back to reveal the innards, which mostly consisted of disgusting rotting guts of self-loathing and fear. (Some not-yets had asked for permission to sit out the dissections, claiming that it was against their religious beliefs. Permission was never granted.)
It heartens me that Twitter is not silent about Ferguson, because that is the last thing that is needed right now, but Twitter is, ultimately, a human engine, displaying just as many fears and instances of loathing as it does hopes and truths. Get past the shiny surfaces of bright lies and one thing does remain: we treat those who look different as lesser beings. Long after the civil rights movement and Great Society legislation supposedly made that wrong, it still happens with insidious regularity.

I'm tired of turning on the news and seeing a story of some unarmed black person gunned down or otherwise killed, and being horrified, but even more horrifically, not all that surprised.  I have never faced that sort of violent hostility in my life, and I would never intend to imply that anything I've ever experienced even comes close.  But I've faced enough ... racial skepticism, I guess you could call it, so that these stories sadly never surprise me. 
I'm tired of people telling me that "Karen, you just see these things because you live in the South.  It's not like that anywhere else."  I'm here to tell you, Ferguson isn't the south.  Nor is Dayton, Ohio.  Nor is Dearborn, Michigan.  Nor, nor, nor. 
I'm tired of worrying about my daughter and other black children of friends of mine, afraid that the world might be no different when they go out into it as teenagers and young adults -- because their teenage- and young-adult-years aren't that far away anymore.  I'm tired of worrying that America might view our children as expendable. 
I'm tired of every time my little girl doesn't try her best at school, my yelling at her invariably includes a lecture that people are looking for her to fail because she's black and she's a girl, and she's way too effing brilliant of a kid to let people write her off due to her blackness and her girlness.  That she needs to make them work really, really hard before they write her off in any way.  I'm just tired of the work-twice-as-hard-to-be-considered-half-as-good conversation that I believe is still a necessary concept for her to understand. 
I'm tired of walking through the world constantly aware of how my blackness is being perceived, how my interracial marriage is being perceived.  The fact is, whether it is being perceived positively or negatively, if I'm in the United States, I am always aware of it, and I'm tired.
"It's not like that anywhere else"? Yes, the South has had its Jenas, its Danziger Bridges, but New York City has had Amadou Diallo, Crown Heights, racial profiling out the wazoo. This is happening all over this country, exacerbated by the Section 1033 post-September 11 arsenals local police departments have been amassing.

We could indeed use far more scientific dissection of these matters and less pompously righteous religiosity.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Texas: Remembered and Seen

My parents and I used to do the drive I took to my new home in reverse, going from southwest Houston to my grandparents' in Knoxville with the windows down, the Beach Boys, John Denver, or Fleetwood Mac blasting on the tape deck, and my dad venturing to chat with truckers on the CB radio late at night to keep him driving. New Orleans would be bypassed entirely for speed reasons and because Dad didn't like the city, anyway, having only seen Bourbon Street at night between seminars in the daytime at one long-ago convention he attended. It's only taken me 25 years - and another six hours of driving atop that - for me to end up a half-hour away from where I grew up.

I'm in a neighborhood with very little street lighting, nearly no sidewalks, and mostly strip malls within walking distance. We are so starved for a good bar in the 'hood, we are grasping at anything; a place only a month old that calls itself a "drinkery" and sports a snarky billboard on its sidewalk that wouldn't be out of place in front of Henry's or the Prytania Bar looks promising to Dan, but I'm skeptical.

Get in the car and worlds open, something that hasn't changed in a quarter century of being away from this city. A Twitter personage joked we were in an area with two Wal-Marts within a mile, which is not quite true. As we are at the edge of Swanky Haciendaland, it's more like three Starbucks within that mile. An Alamo Drafthouse is in the area, which has lifted my spirits considerably. I am pulled back to reality, however, by an old family restaurant reminiscent of Golden Corrals & Bob Evans' situated next door to the Critter Fixer Animal Hospital. If the critters aren't fixed, where do they end up?

As a kid, local TV ads constantly shilled for businesses on the Eastex Freeway, the Katy Freeway, or FM 1960, which seemed like faraway places to me, as did a Girl Scout camp I attended in New Caney a few times. Now we live near those areas, and they are hopping. Local ads now feature…Lyle Lovett. Shilling for KHOU-TV. It just makes me miss Marvin Zindler.

I know Nolan Ryan has always been an Alvin country boy at heart and in fact, but I balk at eating burgers made from "Nolan Ryan's all-natural beef." I'd tempt a giant armadillo with a trunk full of Lone Star beer first. Incidentally, there are craft breweries and brewpubs opening up in the greater Houston area every week, it seems. It makes Lone Star look like Natty Light at this point.

Dan is annoyed that Texans don't pronounce it "ya-SEEN-toh" in these parts, which brings out a touch of the dormant chauvinistic Texan in me.

*sigh* "It's just 'San Jacinto' here, honey, pronounced like it's spelled."

"This city is so cosmopolitan, it's devoid of any identity. Plunk a Houstonian anywhere else in the country and you cannot tell they're from Houston."

I point to myself. "Case in point?"



Robin Williams' passing has brought many concerns about depression and how society treats its depressed members to the forefront for a New York minute. It makes it worth posting this C-SPAN panel on depression issues that features Mike Wallace, Kay Redfield Jamison, Alma Powell, William Styron, and others. I saw it not long after I began taking SSRIs for my own depression. If more people understood that depression can be lifelong, and if it were treated like any other chronic physiological condition, we'd all be better off. Perhaps our best, brightest, and funniest might be able to stick around for far longer, too.