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26 Hours

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So, I did it. I joined Substack like all the cool kids and published my first post.

Or I published my first edition. Or installment. Or letter. Or whatever it is. Because I’m not entirely sure how Substack works.

What I do know is that it’s relatively easy to set up if you just want to write stuff, start a newsletter, build an audience, and make money from subscriptions. And you can move your existing email list or content over.

I don’t have much of a monetization plan — I’m just curious and along for the ride. The theme of the newsletter is inspired by one of my blog posts here from years ago, “26 Hours,” and loosely focused around time. Read the welcome message I published last night, and if you’re interested in following along there, please subscribe! Given my typically slow publishing pace, you’ll probably receive the newsletter very occasionally, like every two to three weeks, as I feel out what I want to do with it, if anything.

To be super-clear, this new newsletter is separate from this blog. You’ll need to subscribe to it by going to my Substack and entering your email address, and that content will be emailed to you. That said, am I completely abandoning this blog? No, I don’t think so. But if I make big changes like that, I’ll let you know.

Nick Cave on Shyness

I thought to share quotes from some of the stories and articles I’ve read this week, but they were mostly depressing and/or terrifying (like the Atlantic piece on the election). Instead, I wanted to share a site that I love to explore, especially when the news gets to be too much (which is often). It’s The Red Hand Files, a personal blog where singer/songwriter Nick Cave answers questions from readers and fans about anything from writing to death.

Daniel from Sydney, Australia, asked: What is shyness?

Here is part of Cave’s response:

Shyness is the tentative sound of the orchestra tuning up before the symphony begins. It is a beautiful, fractured piece of music in itself. It is the orchestra attempting to find its shared intent and is over all too quickly if you ask me.

He occasionally combines readers’ questions, which he does here, also answering the question, “What was your first date with your wife like?”

My wife, Susie, has a hummingbird shyness. In social situations she displays herself for a magical, weightless moment then darts away.

The remainder of his response is just as beautiful.

Cave’s writing grounds and calms me. The Red Hand Files is a lovely little space he’s created on the internet. I recommend it, even if you’re not necessarily a fan of his music.

Inside the Chaos of the Immigration Court System in the U.S.

After a long break, I dove back into editing for Longreads, and this morning published journalist Gabriel Thompson’s story on San Francisco Immigration Court, where he spent time last winter observing hearings and interviewing judges, attorneys, and immigrants. Of all the things I do at Automattic, getting to immerse myself in pieces like this is the most rewarding: I’m grateful to be able to work with and learn from hard-working, prolific writers (and fact-checkers!) and share these important stories with a wider audience.

The piece is nearly 7K words; here’s a snippet:

Crowded courtrooms were eventually shut down and most have remained closed to date. But inside detention centers, where some immigrants are held as their cases proceed and where social distancing is virtually impossible, the virus has spread rapidly. To date, more than 5,000 detained immigrants have tested positive for COVID-19, likely a severe undercount since testing has been patchy; and at least five, according to ICE, have died from the virus. Meanwhile, Trump has used the pandemic as yet another weapon against asylum seekers, introducing in July a proposal that would ban people from seeking asylum if they were from countries where an outbreak is “prevalent or epidemic.” 

COVID-19 has profoundly disrupted immigration courts, just as it has disrupted every other aspect of life in the United States. We long for a vaccine, anticipating that it will return us to our previous lives, where some sense of order and routine existed, where life felt (at least sometimes) sustainable. Immigration court is different. The coronavirus has essentially frozen hundreds of thousands of immigration cases. Those cases are now beginning to thaw, as more courts across the country reopen — including San Francisco, which is set to resume normal operations on September 28. When immigration courts return in their previous form, there will be nothing orderly or sustainable about them. 

I created the featured image at the top of the piece, which I display above — not bad for a non-designer, eh?

Do the Right Thing

My friend Angel and her husband Mitya have an outdoor advertising company in Brooklyn called Overall Murals. With their backgrounds in art and advertising, over the past 10 years they’ve built this business from a small hand-painted sign shop to a multi-team, bicoastal company, transforming bare walls into large-scale custom murals. It’s been awesome to watch them establish themselves in their industry over the years.

I love their recent project, Do the Right Thing, painted across their largest set of walls near Domino Park in Williamsburg. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking — you’ll see this massive piece weaves in images, phrases, and messaging that together sum up the clusterfuck that 2020 has been so far. Angel explains more about their process in a recent post.

I’m really proud of them and just wanted to share their work. It will be up for a few more weeks, so if you’re in NYC, check it out. Obviously I haven’t traveled anywhere recently — all the photos below are courtesy of Overall Murals. Wish I could see this one in person.

They’re donating mural-related bandanas and prints on their online shop to the organization Art Start.

You can see more photos on their Flickr account and other work they’ve done on their website — their huge murals on the sides of massive buildings are pretty impressive! #KillThePixel

As the Garden Grows

As mentioned in one of my posts last month, I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. As we head deep into summer, I’ve been measuring time with the vegetables growing in our raised beds. I love watching our garden transform — it brings me a little bit of joy each day even when everything else in the world has gone to shit.

Some images, from March to now (with the two-year-old making an appearance here and there, usually running away from me):

Early March when the raised beds were still bare.
Lettuce sprouts.
Wandering in early spring.
Lettuce and kale bed on left; potatoes, green beans, and onions on right.
Lemon balm.
Another view of the kale and lettuce.
Exploring the raised beds. Catmint blooming on the right.
The last of the Meyer lemons with the first of the strawberries (and lemon verbena).
Green beans.
Tomatoes in the foreground.
Strawberries.
Onions on left; green beans and potatoes on right.
The kale and lettuce (and parsley) growing steadily.
Carrots and beets and overgrown thyme.
Kale and lettuce heads.
Heading to her meeting with the gnomes.
Our patch of lavender. Lots of bees currently buzzing about.
Our first harvest of beans a few days ago.
A quiet long weekend with just butterflies and hummingbirds.

iGoodbye

I keep thinking about a recent essay in Popula by Danuta Hinc, “Beneath the Black Rocks,” where she writes about her mother’s death — and how she just left.

 I think of the underground mountain, how it expands towards the center of the earth, how it pushes deep into the waves towards the horizon, and I wonder if she even died.

It happened two decades ago. My father told me on the phone that Sunday that my mother kind of left. This is exactly how he described it, she left. 

It’s a beautiful piece about her mother (and father and family), and I’m drawn to the parts where she also writes about people dying of COVID-19, alone, with their loved ones forced to watch from afar:

I am fortunate to be able to say that none of my friends or family have died of the virus, but when I reach the black rocks on my walks, when I stand there thinking about how much of the rock is below the sea level, I think of those who died, and of how much will never be discovered. Did they see blooming flowers on their nurse’s scrubs? Did roses open for them and spill on their beds? The same unknown that makes me nurse the thought of my mother’s death, makes me think of the loneliness of everyone who died of the virus. 

I’m reminded of a series of tweets I read this week from Laurie Kilmartin, whose mother just died of COVID. I started following her after someone had retweeted one of her tweets to ex-San Francisco Giant Aubrey Huff (who I didn’t realize was a racist, misogynistic asshole):

Laurie basically live-tweeted her mother’s death, which she and her sister watched on an iPad. It’s uncomfortable and devastating and surreal, yet also so quiet and banal — ending with the tap of a finger on an iPad screen. The images she posted — like the iPad open on her desk, with her mother on the screen, or the message on her device after the doctor ended the 69-hour FaceTime call — look so ordinary at a glance, but they’re anything but.

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it all — sharing their final, intimate moments like this. They’re very hard to read, very hard to look at. You will probably cry like I did. But people are dying this way — alone, livestreamed — with loved ones saying their final goodbyes virtually.

Her tweets aren’t all sad, and it’s actually her humor through it all that makes it even more poignant.

If you’re on Twitter, she’s an interesting person to follow right now.

The Dream Rests on Our Backs

“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in Between the World and Me, his 2015 book written as a letter to his son.

Thanks to Kate Gavino for the illustration below — she created author portraits with quotes for people who made recent donations to Black Visions Collective. It’s a nice way to raise funds for one of the organizations out there fighting against injustice and police brutality.

So many lines from Coates’ book are stuck in my head — it was hard to choose, but this one, in the beginning of the book, is so haunting and so powerful.

When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

What Time Looks Like

I love how Terry Pitts, the writer on the blog Vertigo, writes about time:

The cinematic version of time passing, which often shows a succession of calendar pages disappearing off the screen, blown away by the breeze, was never how I understood time. For me, it’s the constant repetition, the endless mimetic motion of the hand up and down, left to right, the same gesture day after day after day. That feels like time.

In “Pandemic Time,” Terry mentions the art and calendar work of German artist Hanne Darboven. I love this description of the rise and fall of the continuous wavy lines on one of Darboven’s calendars from the early 1970s:

This line is repeated time after time, filling the allotted space. It’s a recognition of the underlying sameness of every cycle of day and night, followed by another day and night.

I’m reminded of a tweet I read several weeks ago, before the Black Lives Matter protests began, from a mother who said the biggest challenge wasn’t the actual juggling of child care and full-time work, but the monotony of it all.

Doing the same day over and over, confined to the much smaller universe of my home.

Two months into our shelter-in-place, just before Mother’s Day, I finally broke down. Taking care of a nearly two-year-old is challenging, but it was the feeling of being stuck on a conveyor belt, all through the week, that really did it. I became numb, and then so heavy, that I snapped. I think of Phil in Groundhog Day and Nadia in Russian Doll. When did they crack the first time?

And then, sometime after, I broke down again.

I felt better afterward, both times.

I then wondered: at what point did Phil and Nadia get creative? When did they realize they could use their very own eternities to enjoy themselves, to learn things, to change course? How did they figure out they could break free from that cycle?

I would have probably broken free of that loop and started to find real productivity and inspiration in monotony. But then June came along, and it shattered the Groundhog Day-ness of it all.

As I follow the news, as I’ve finally given in to Twitter after years of being unplugged from its IV drip, as I read and watch and listen and cry and hope, I’m not sure what time looks like now. I no longer see the repetitive undulating patterns of Darboven’s calendar in my mind. It’s more like jagged lines on a heart monitor: ever-changing and unpredictable.

Monotony Is a Luxury: Walking While Black

I first read “Walking While Black,” a beautiful and poignant essay in LitHub by Garnette Cadogan, a few years ago. It’s about the complicated act of walking while black, both as a child on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, and as an older man in New Orleans and New York City. I remembered it over the weekend.

When we first learn to walk, the world around us threatens to crash into us. Every step is risky. We train ourselves to walk without crashing by being attentive to our movements, and extra-attentive to the world around us. As adults we walk without thinking, really. But as a black adult I am often returned to that moment in childhood when I’m just learning to walk. I am once again on high alert, vigilant. 

Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flâneurs I had read about and hoped to join.

Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black. Walking alone has been anything but monotonous for me; monotony is a luxury.

As I posted on Instagram this morning, I stand against racism and these acts of violence on black people. And I fully support those that are physically protesting injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism in the U.S. In the past, I’ve never used my voice or any personal online platforms to explicitly say this. And that is a problem. I need to do better, to speak up, to show up. If you want to show your support but aren’t sure how, my colleague Michelle has pulled together links to bail funds, organizations, reading lists, black-owned businesses, and resources on how to act.

What You Don’t See

If you follow me on Instagram, from the photos of my home and garden you’d think my life while sheltering in place has been pretty chill and stress-free. After reading a NYT parenting article on the social media performance of parenthood, I started writing about the things in my life that you don’t see: the outtakes, the lulls between images, the breakdowns.

I described how bedtime with a 23-month-old is hard. How I eat food off the floor because it’s easier than cleaning it up. How my mouth is full of canker sores from stress and my back aches because I don’t have time to do yoga anymore. How Emilia throws my phone across the room because she constantly sees me on it and knows she competes with it for my attention. How I can’t wait each day to escape to the tiny house to work — and not be the one on toddler duty. How I cry and tell myself I’m not a mother.

I went on and on, even using the repetition of “what you don’t see” to make it more dramatic, and it just felt off. I let it sit for a while, then revisited it last night and deleted it. How can I complain about my life at a time like this, when people are dying and families are trying to survive?

Last month, a quote came up in my Instagram feed, in one of Mary Laura Philpott’s posts:

One person’s more-sad doesn’t cancel out another person’s less-sad… Our personal concerns don’t go away just because the world is going up in flames on a global scale. That’s not how it works.

I Miss You When I Blink

In her caption, she wrote:

“If you feel bad about feeling bad about something that’s bad but not THAT bad… you’re not bad. There’s a wiiiiiiide range of hurt out there, now and always. We’re capable of feeling for ourselves, feeling for others, and feeling for the world at large. 💗

I was reminded of this — that there’s a wide range of hurt out there, and that it’s okay for me to admit and say out loud that I’m struggling right now. I’m currently safe, I’m currently healthy, I have a home, I have a job, and my loved ones are fine so far.

But I’m still struggling.