Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ya Basic





Say you’re basic.  It’s okay. I’m not really basic, but I’ve got issues. Right now, with the nation a big huge mess, I’ve seen this lovely anti-racist book bingo list going around:




I love this list, but say Ya Basic. Say this list looks a tad too intimidating. I hear you. I mean, I’m a reader—and that list looks, um, hard.

I’d like to humbly suggest that reading great novels (and listening to awesome music) by African-Americans and People of Color can seriously work to help defeat racism! I believe this. I believe in my not-really-basic-but-problematic-heart that reading diversely humanizes “the other.” So here’s my own literary bingo attempt if ya basic or just pretty white. (Some writers wrote two books on my list, and I just like them so much. This is very—like completely—subjective. Some are nonfiction. Some are very much about racism; others are just about people doing people-things. I’ve got movies and music for basic people too. Later.)


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah
James Baldwin: Another Country
Maya Angelou: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Were in Power Eight Years

Esi Edugyan: Washington Black

Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love


Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing
James Baldwin:  Go Tell it On the Mountain

Zora Neale Hurston:  Their Eyes Were Watching God

Spike Lee:  Do the Right Thing

Jamaica Kincaid: “Girl” (it’s a short story.)

John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell: March, Books 1-3

Toni Morrison:  Beloved

Malcolm X:  The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy

Nelson Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom

Toni Morrison:  The Bluest Eye

James McBride:  The Color of Water

Alice Walker: The Color Purple

Trevor Noah: Born a Crime

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad

Solomon Northup: Twelve Years A Slave

Jaqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming

James McBride:  The Good Lord Bird

Colson Whitehead: Zone One



Just read good books!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Jim Krasinski Is Still A Superstar Even Though . . .



Some Good News is now on hiatus.

Aren’t we all on hiatus? The thrill is gone, the novelty of quarantine, my own Hunger Games role-playing DOA. Mostly, I’m dealing with woe-is-me fighting between adolescents with strong but wrong opinions, a mildly demoralized spouse with whom I had a telling quarrel yesterday, and my elderly mom next door who is literally the bearer of bad news, much like a 24/7 weather report in hurricane season in the poor parts of a coastal state.

Some Good News is now on hiatus, and Stay-At-Home Orders expired in Phoenix on May 15 at midnight. All U.S. States are “open” in parts to varying extents. One friend went for sushi. Tim got his beloved haircut. Remote school ended. I allowed the girls to each see a friend. Another friend is flying to Cincinnati. I went to a doctor’s appointment and Trader Joe’s alone.

I confess: This was a pretty good literary week, but there are things in my life that I will now share because I have—for better or worse—committed to a Candor Aesthetic, self-defined (I think), self-absorbed (but serving the greater good), funny (I hope), true (I pray), lovely (I aspire).

I confess: I write, I share, I divulge from a privileged spot. I actually am not one of those people—here I am lacking all humility—who doesn’t appreciate my privilege. I think I do appreciate it. We are employed; there is food on the table; my family is happy if not occasionally difficult, etc., etc., etc. My privileges have allowed me to lament the dumb stuff, even the other stuff: I am privileged enough to get irate over protesters who want to freakin’ go back to work. I am privileged enough to get irate about those folks who have somehow or other Harry-Pottered a magical spell on right-wingers to make them think that masks are civil liberties issues. I am privileged to be mad.

I confess: my privileges, albeit real, are shaky. Let me explain. In school, I was the dumbest of the smart kids. I mean it, sincerely. This meant A LOT of things, and I will now tell you some of them. I did hang out with the smarties. I did have great report cards. I am considered “bright.” GREs? I got tutoring from someone who would get, like, a Ph.D. and a law degree from Stanford, and my scores were terribly average. I got into NYU, and I was wait-listed at Columbia and then not let in. I got into all those big Washington D.C. schools you hear about, except for Georgetown. Rejected immediately. All I wanted was Georgetown and Columbia. I hang with the smart people, but sometimes I make fun of them too because they’re all so freakin’ pompous. I still couldn’t really tell you how the stock market works, and there’s nothing I hate more than reading instruction manuals, figuring out riddles, or discussing why PCs are better than Macs. One of the best decisions I made was to be a failed writer instead of some kind of faux-scholar in politics. I married this super smart guy and his college life was the opposite of mine, so he’s considerably less snobby than I. But, let me tell you this: my husband can deliver speeches to me—and me alone—in a length that rivals Fidel Castro’s before the UN in 1960, where Castro spoke for four and a half hours straight.

I confess: I struggle, almost incessantly, with feelings of inadequacy.

I confess: my privileges are tempered monetarily. I am also the poorest of the rich people. My husband would beg to differ. I think he’d say that we’re very middle class. Maybe. I always feel richer! I always think we’re rich! I mean, yeah, we don’t have money in the bank, and, yeah, I talk about how poor I am, which my rich friends tell me is unbecoming, and, yeah, all of my books are non-sellers, and, yeah, I have to bail out of lunch plans at Pita Jungle periodically, and, yeah, right this second, I’m wearing shorts that I bought at Kohl’s in 2014 and a t-shirt honoring Prince that a friend gave me when he died in 2015, and, yeah, I think Whole Foods is crazy expensive, and, yeah, I haven’t remodeled my 1970’s house, but . . . but . . . but I seriously—and I mean this sincerely—don’t give a shit. The problem is that Tim does give a shit. He laments our “struggle.” He longs for the ease of big vacations, a roomy house that allows him to get away and be with us at the same time, the luxury of stress-free dinners out. Nothing extravagant. Just something a bit easier.

I confess: I really, really, really don’t give a shit. I think we go on awesome vacations! I love Trader Joe’s! We were, it’s true, a little over-the-top in our Gen X-y financial planning; I sorta went to South Africa and decided to be a writer, and Tim dropped out of college a billion times and I know that, sometimes, he wonders why he didn’t become a financial analyst or a broker (what do they do?) instead of a cancer research person, but I’m, like, Don’t You Know I’d Have To Kill Myself If You Only Worked To Make Money? Maybe I don’t quite put it that way. . . And where was I going with this?

I confess: I’m privileged, and all of my thoughts about Covid-19 have sprung from that privilege.  

Speaking of which: we’re still home, but Tim is shifting—and I see it, I see it in his bouts of quietude, the way he’s rubbing his neck which he does when stressed. He was good with our self-quarantine practices for a while, but now he’s telling me that it’s the Third World who’s going to pay for this, as famine spreads and the onslaught of global poverty hits hard. He read some UN reports on food shortages. A video on India from the BBC hit him hard, and I admit that watching it, watching these people in a city shut-down, trying to flee with no way to get to their rural villages and no food to eat and no money, did give me pause—and is the choice so freakin’ brutal? Do we need to decide between feeding people and letting a virus kill the vulnerable?

Speaking of which: Tim’s uncle died. He wasn’t that old. But he had Parkinson’s, Advanced Parkinson’s—and he was in Massachusetts, and he seriously entered a nursing home in March, and then, horribly, Covid-19 took captive nursing homes, of all places. Nursing homes! And Tim’s uncle declined and declined and declined, and his wife couldn’t visit him. She wasn’t allowed. And so there was this final zoom call, family saying goodbye, but saying it like this: We hope we’ll talk again soon. And then we never did speak to him again. I was quiet on the call because I’m pretty much just Tim’s wife. But no one was there and his uncle was non-responsive and he had texted Tim less than two months before and he had been completely cognizant and he died alone. He died in a nursing home, not surrounded by loved ones, even though he had loved ones. It was Tim who started turning this around and around in his head. It wasn’t me. I was thinking, Yeah, we gotta shut this planet down—but then Tim asked what I would do if one of my kids got sick and was hospitalized and dying, and I was told that I couldn’t see her; I couldn’t be there; she has to die alone. We’ve got a Zoom call set up. Can you even imagine?  What would I do?

Speaking of which: What did you do . . . with your stimulus check? So, yeah, Tim and I got into it yesterday, and we really try not to fight because we did it so much for, like, a decade—and it was such bullshit. So, if we get into it now, it burns out pretty quickly—each of us supremely adept at smoothing things out and dealing with each other’s more extreme sides. We got our stimulus check—ours was, indeed, a paper check with Trump’s name on it—and I wanted to pay off debt! Because, remember, we’re the poorest of the rich people—and we’re in debt! So, yeah, my kitchen sink is practically rotting and Tim’s sneakers have a hole in the big toe that he’s sewed up, like, three times, and I waited about eight months to fix the A/C in my car because it wasn’t hot outside and it cost a million bucks, BUT—remember, and remember it well—I don’t give a shit. However, if Donald J. Trump is going to send me a check, I’m going to pay off some debt. Damn Straight. Well, Tim wanted to party! And, by party, I mean, bring home McDonald’s McFlurries for the kids. And, yes, we each flipped-the-fuck-out. And, yes, once again, Daddy was the fun one. And, yes, once again, I said, Eat an orange for dessert. You better believe I paid Visa. Somehow—and I’m not exactly sure how—this quarrel (we’re so over it now)—illustrates exactly where we are, though maybe not exactly. One would think I’m the big conservative and he’s the big liberal but, actually, it’s the other way around—and it’s another piece altogether. But what I can say now, and what I will say now, is that we talk politics every day on our morning walks. And, yeah, we’re shifting. We’re wondering if the world is going to see the worst famine we’ve ever seen. We’re wondering if people in nursing homes should have no visitors. We’re wondering about the psychological effects on our kids of not seeing friends, on Tim who just continues his work within the confines of his ridiculously hot home office, on some people I know in the Hispanic community who have no work and are pretty much quiet while us white people shout at each other over wearing masks—hoping we work it out soon, so they can return to work.

I confess: Maybe I’m wondering about it all.

Speaking of which: It was a grand act of symbolic value, and I’m pretty sure that it was only me who suddenly felt metaphorically hollowed out. My mom—more sequestered than all of us because she’s one of the vulnerable ones—finally had a friend over! Two old ladies! They sat outside, and you know that Arizona is boiling after 8:15 a.m., so it was about 7:30 a.m. They were in their chairs. I guess they drank coffee and ate brownies. Then they wore their masks. But it happened . . . The friend had to go to the bathroom. But here they were, inundated with reports of the sick and the sanitizer wipe shortages and the meat processing plants and Brazil and Trump and Fauci and the CDC—and, seriously, folks, the friend was about to go home because, well, no one was going to pee on the toilet in my mom’s place—and so, risk be damned, I let her use my bathroom. Then, they continued outside. And, well, that was it for me. That was my breaking point. I think Tim’s epiphany was more noble, more complex: the Zoom call before death sent him a-thinkin’. And mine was the fear of using the bathroom. That’s it! I threw in my towel! I wasn’t ripping off my mask—no freakin’ way—but maybe it was like that old movie. Who the hell saw it? Who saw John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, a TV movie in 1976, that apparently stuck with me for over forty years? He lived in a bubble because of an immune-thing. Spoiler: he stepped out of the bubble, probably to die.

Speaking of which: Doesn’t New Hampshire have that Live Free or Die thing, which I’ve always regarded as a bit whacky?

Speaking of which: Should we just step out of the bubble? Live free or die?

Speaking of which: My kids are committed to baking elaborate cakes all summer long in lieu of seeing friends and going on middle class vacations. They always choose recipes that call for a ton of butter. So much butter. Who knew these recipes called for so many sticks of butter? If you love what you’re eating, it’s probably because of butter. That’s all so random. But so is this rant.


I confess: In my Covid-19 thinking, I’m shifting. I’m turning. I’m wondering what we should be doing now that SGN is on hiatus.