Thursday, December 31, 2015

my six favorite books of 2015, and all the movies i saw

AK took the kid to the park so I could blog, meaning I only have as long as it takes for Dash to get his pants filthy, crawl after a half dozen big kids and lick several pieces of playground equipment. Poignant reflections on 2015 will have to wait. Instead I’m going to post my annual list of favorite books and movies I’ve read/seen this year.

The catch is that I only read twelve books and saw seven movies in the theater. I’m actually pretty impressed I got even that much culture in. And they were mostly good ones—the theme this year is quality over quantity, I suppose. Can you choose six top books when you only read twelve? Can you just list all the movies you saw? Yes, you can, because this is a blogocracy.

Top six books I read in 2015:

1. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: Maggie Nelson says exactly what I didn't even know I was thinking, but better and smarter. I would resent her for it if I didn't feel so grateful. Here, she takes on the subjects of parenthood, step-parenthood, queer parenthood, love and happiness...but as someone who sees and knows darkness, who distrusts narrative. My Kindle version of this book is basically one big highlighted block.

2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: You know that thing where you're reading four books at once and then one of them takes the lead and you put all the others aside? This is that book. Karen Joy Fowler is a masterful storyteller, playing with time and memory to tell this story of a family torn apart by a sister's disappearance. She layers mysteries like a chef would layer pastry; the result is elegant and buttery, and you would never know how much work probably went into it. I don't want to give away too much (there are several twists, but even the semi-obvious one took me by surprise), so I'll just say that it's hard to write about animals and their rights (or lack thereof) without getting maudlin, cutesy or dogmatic. This book is none of those things.

3. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle: For most of the time I spent reading this book, I thought of it as a novel about imagination. As the narrator, a recluse disfigured by an unnamed "accident" as a teen, reckons with the real-world fallout of a role-playing game he invented, he (and we) contemplates the nature of imagination. Darnielle depicts a childhood both haunted and saved by an active imagination (I related, as I suspect most artists would, and maybe most people). He engages with the sublime without trying to explain it; it's a book against explaining, in a way.

But as the book meanders backward to the aforementioned accident, I started to read it as a story about choices (paralleling the many paths in the narrator's invented game) and how each choice is comprised of a million mini choices and influences.

The novel is strange and ambitious, sometimes existing almost too much in the realm of dream but pulled forward by a pretty damn compelling plot. I think the plot is a bit of a red herring; I think the book is a treatise about how plot is always a red herring, yet also the only thing that tethers us to the world.

4. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: Some things I have in common with Lena Dunham: hypochondria, envy, a tendency to binge eat and journal about it, a certain eager-puppy hard-worker quality, a desire to say fuck you to those who deserve it, awareness of my own privilege. Things I do not have in common with Lena Dunham: a boho Soho childhood, an HBO show. But I won't hold the latter against her (despite my envious nature); actually, I think Lena Dunham is one of those rare hyped wunderkinds who lives up to her reputation. Or defies it, if you are on Team Backlash. Perhaps more importantly, she's a person committed to lifelong learning, and she learns by creating, and she's not afraid to fall down or hold herself up for ridicule along the way. Those are qualities that will get anyone far in life, and they also make for very funny, wise essays, peppered with perfectly chosen details.

5. Devotion by Dani Shapiro: Sometimes the exact book that you need to read finds you. I have questions about death and God and trying not to live in fear after you've narrowly dodged a bullet. So does Dani Shapiro. They may not be answerable questions, but she writes about them beautifully and honestly, threading together stories about her parents, her son, the religion Orthodox Judaism of her youth, and the yoga and meditation of her adulthood.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"I come from a long line of religious people who aren't so sure the sun will rise in the east and set in the west--much less that their own lives will unfold predictably. I was born and bred to fear the worst. And I know that the worst either happens or it doesn't. Worry isn't a form of protection. So who's the fool?"

"As I looked around any given dingy church basement, it would occur to me that perhaps this *was* God.... In the eloquence of rising out of despair, the laughter out of darkness. The nodding heads, the clasping hands. The kindness extended to strangers. The sense--each and every time--of *Me too, I've been there too.*"

"Their stories stirred up the old terror, the latent fear--and yet what I felt beneath all that was the simple beauty of human connection.... It wasn't everything, but it was something--wasn't it? The reaching out--needing to believe that a hand would be there?"

"Where else was a sensible person to live, but on the edge of sorrow?"


In an era of big dresses and wood-burning stoves, Dr. Mutter had plenty of business.

6. Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz: I started Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz's biography of Thomas Dent Mutter because I have a thing for the macabre, and I knew that the museum bearing his name was full of horned skulls and giants' skeletons. What I didn't know is that Dr. Mutter was a hero and a trailblazer: Medicine in the first half of the 19th century was a bloody, screaming, disrespectful mess until Dr. Mutter came along with the radical ideas that 1) doctors should be kind to their patients and explain procedures, 2) doctors should wash their hands and tools (hygiene was for pussies as far as many of his contemporaries were concerned) and 3) patients should receive medical care after surgery. Aptowicz's book is intriguing, engaging and makes a solid case for Mutter as someone to whom any 21st century patient should be eternally grateful.
 
You call it captivity, I call it co-sleeping.

All the movies I saw in the theater in 2015, in descending order of how much I liked them, but I liked them all a lot. Hell yes, even Fast & Furious.

Room
Carol
Spotlight
Inside Out
Grandma
Straight Outta Compton
Fast & Furious 7

Monday, December 21, 2015

a well behaved woman does a small right thing

My friend Sierra and I decided to borrow some writing prompts from Cheryl Strayed. The first one was: Write about a time you did the right thing. Here goes.

First, let me say this: I’m a goody-two-shoes. Or I was. I was so good that my sister and I used to sigh when we saw bumper stickers that said Well behaved women rarely make history. There went our chance for fame.

Arguably, I have a ton of Doing The Right Thing examples to choose from. Except I haven’t done the right thing so much as I’ve not done the wrong thing. I’ve never dropped out, blacked out, abandoned, cheated, or stolen. But, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, Nice is different than good.

Doing the right thing, to me, means taking a risk or going against the grain. It means behaving badly at times. For it to count (or at least for it to make for good reading), something has to be at stake.

So here’s what I’ve come up with: I took a year off between undergrad and grad school.

I know.

Both my parents had master’s degrees, and so did at least one of their parents. If I have any cultural heritage, it is that I come from a long line of nerds. My mom went to library school in part because she didn’t date a lot. My dad got a physics degree partly because he’s somewhere On The Spectrum, I suspect.

We have humble educations—state schools, all of us—but we read and think and geek out hard. Back before the internet, one of my parents was always jumping up from the dinner table to look up something in our musty encyclopedia. My dad and sister have never put birthday candles on a cake that didn’t require some kind of mathematical code to uncrack. The wax melts into the frosting as they ponder whether the blue candles each count for ten and the pink candles count for one, or whatever.

It was a given that I would go to college. Every year my high school published a map showing where people were going to school. Being a public high school in an upper middle class city in California, there were a lot of UC’s, a lot of Cal States, a peppering of private schools and a long list of people heading off to community college. There was also a short list of people entering the military or the “workforce.” The latter struck us college-bound kids as utterly alien and snicker-worthy. It might as well have said “joining a cult.”

Midway through my run at UCLA, I figured I’d go to grad school, too. I was thinking I’d study journalism, since I worked for the Daily Bruin. Then I read a Rolling Stone cover story about how journalism schools were increasingly merging with media and communication schools, i.e. PR. Purists that we were at the Bruin, we considered publicists to be the devil. I had seen Rent too many times to be a sellout, dammit!

So I turned to MFA creative writing programs. I wanted to go to Columbia or NYU and live la vie boheme but without the AIDS part. I also applied to the Iowa Writers Workshop because it was at the top of U.S. News & World Report’s list. I applied to San Francisco State and Cal Arts because they were in California, and I liked the idea of going to an arts school.

Viva la vie boheme!
My research was shitty and my motives were dubious. I got four rejection letters in a row, while one of my best friends got a full ride to Stanford’s journalism school. I stewed in envy.

Then I got one acceptance letter, in a large envelope with an orange-striped border. CalArts—a relatively new and therefore less competitive program—wanted me.

Hallelujah!
During the application process, I’d talked to my creative writing professors about getting an MFA. They agreed to write me letters of recommendation, but despite having MFA’s themselves, they’d been lukewarm in their encouragement. (No one hates the world to which they belong more than MFA writing professors, except for maybe hipsters.) Why pay thousands of dollars to learn what I could learn just by living? Do the old-timey thing: Be poor, read books, go to poetry readings, read more books, have love affairs, travel, read more books.

They had a point.

Plus, imagine what they saw: A chubby blue-eyed 21-year-old who dressed like a cross between a rave kid and 1972, who wrote precociously but didn’t have much to write about beyond her own privilege-guilt. (E.g., in my 1999 journal, you’ll find a long poem about the time some cholos rubbed up on me at a Downtown club. You would have thought giving them the brush-off on the dance floor was tantamount to Cortes destroying the Aztec empire.) It wasn’t that I didn’t have “a story”—my own shit, my own trauma, my passions—but I hadn’t discovered it yet.

My race guilt and my internalized gender oppression did a pas de deux on the dance floor at the Mayan.
I knew this and I didn’t. The future and what I might or might not have to write about was full of unknown unknowns. I was worried about finding a job, about completely supporting myself financially for the first time, about dating, about my unresolved sexuality, and how was I going to afford to see every new musical that came to the Ahmanson on an $8-an-hour job?

School would have been a comfortable refuge, even if I had to pay for it myself. But perhaps because the same parents who’d always taught me to be good had also taught me to endure a certain amount of drudgery and discomfort in the name of getting what you wanted, I knew that sliding directly into grad school would have been too easy.

One afternoon I wrote an emotional letter to CalArts, telling them I really and truly appreciated their offer, but I needed to go live my life. I’d like to defer, I told them, although I imagined such a thing wasn’t allowed. I put it in an envelope and sobbed in a heap on the floor of the apartment I shared with three other girls.

(Three out of four of us were virgins. This feels like relevant information. Also possibly relevant: the night I wrung my hands over the fact that I’d learned Prop. 13 was bad for California, but I knew for a fact my parents wouldn’t have had a second child if it hadn’t passed, thereby lifting their tax burden, and I loved my sister! My roommate Stephanie told me to calm down; her parents were Chinese, and she wouldn’t have been born if the U.S. hadn’t bombed Japan and ended its occupation of China, but that didn’t mean she was pro-nuclear-bomb.)

The bomb will bring us together?
As it turned out, CalArts was fine with my deferral, which makes this story a little anti-climactic. But in that moment of sealing the letter, I sensed I was doing something noble and brave.

I took my year. I interviewed for a bunch of dot-com jobs at companies with names like Lemon Pop, who wanted to know if I could write content about vampires. After a slow summer interning at Entertainment Weekly—during which I mostly watched the fax machine, ordered lunch and read L.A. Weekly in an office bigger than my current one—I began writing profiles of WB stars (or “stars”) for Zap2it.com.

I occasionally worked weekends at Book Soup, a delightfully crammed bookstore on Sunset, full of drunk and queer and homeless customers. I nursed a crush on a wannabe TV writer named Nancy.

I nursed a waning crush on my roommate in the Miracle Mile, a gay guy named Tommy who made Vietnamese spring rolls and said we should class up our apartment by getting rid of our inflatable furniture.

I went dancing with my friends from Zap2it. I dated a guy named Alex who liked attending weird Christian events ironically. I more or less lost my virginity. I super-briefly dated a guy named Michael who was 31 and wanted to buy a house, and even though he turned me on to some good music, I could not have been more turned off by the idea of dating someone with such a boring name and such Republican ambitions as property ownership.

I earned $31,000 a year at Zap2it, and even though I still hoarded used paper clips, it felt like a fortune. It was, in a way. Rent was cheap (though we’d be priced out of the area two years later) and I had no debt. I bought CD’s and second hand clothes from the dollar pile at Jet Rag on La Brea. I bought a lot of caramel frappuccinos and sugary drinks at clubs. When my 1987 Toyota Tercel broke down, my dad could usually fix it.

You can get four items of clothing for the price of one frappuccino.
It wasn’t exactly a year in the Peace Corps, but it was the right decision. It was a small leap away from the world I knew, but it paved the way for bigger ones. That was the year I finally decided to date women. That was the year my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I could walk those roads with a little bit of bravery because I’d had practice—which is what resiliency is, as they speak about it in clinical terms. A baby falls on his diapered butt so, someday, he can withstand his first heartbreak. Or lose a job. Or lose a war.

I laugh at my 21-year-old self, but I laugh with affection. I don’t see her as privileged and despicable anymore. My youthful naivete walked alongside my youthful wisdom. I was just a dumb kid, but I was no dummy.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

the world is full of terrible things and i’m thinking about growing my hair out

1. rooms and wings

On Thanksgiving night, AK, her sister and I went to see Room in a nearly empty theater in Irvine while AK’s mom rocked Dash and put him to bed in his pack-n-play. I read and loved the book years ago, and for the most part, the movie delivered a similar mix of beauty, suspense and underlying terror.

If you don’t know the story, it’s this: Five-year-old Jack lives with his mother in Room, which (we learn by reading between the lines of his narration) is actually a homemade bunker built by the man who kidnapped, raped and impregnated his mom. Employing a miraculous mix of creativity and fierce determination, she’s protected him from the ugliness of their situation and created a fairly normal childhood for him. They exercise and take vitamins. They do crafts and watch TV. She tells him stories—one is the story of Samson, whose strength resides in his hair.* Jack’s has never been cut.

Egg Snake: the fun craft that is also a tally of how long you've been imprisoned!
I’m kind of proud to say that Room the movie didn’t hit me much differently from Room the book, despite the fact that I became a mother in between. I’m proud because I hated and hate the notion that only parents truly understand the human condition—that parenthood, and especially motherhood, is this magical, exclusive club.

Okay, so maybe during the scary parts AK had to lean over and whisper, “It’s okay—Dashaboo is home cuddling with his Nana.” But love and empathy are accessible to all humans.

Emma Donaghue wrote the screenplay as well as the novel, and she makes all the right choices, saving Jack from being cloying and his mother from being a Law & Order: SVU-type victim. The story functions as a metaphor for parenting in general—you protect your child from the horror of the world in order to prepare him to face it.** It’s also a portrait of the “good enough” mother. Jack’s mom is arguably the best mother in the world, but she has “gone days” when she curls up in bed and succumbs to the hopelessness of their situation. Jack entertains himself and is okay.

Later she says, “I wasn’t a good enough mother.”

He says, “It’s okay. You’re Ma.”

When she needs strength, he lends her his hair.

2. give me down-to-there hair

There’s plenty of real-life awfulness happening today. Some people shot up a holiday party at a center that helps people with developmental disabilities; why not just kill Santa and Jesus while you’re at it?

I was already in a jumpy mood because I have a cancer check-up coming up. Just writing about it beforehand makes me superstitious—I’d much rather talk about my anxiety in relieved hindsight than in real time. But I’m trying to be brave, for whatever it’s worth. Quite possibly nothing.

In very important news, I’ve been thinking of growing my hair out. When I asked my friend Kenny to cut it just before I started chemo, I was surprised how much I liked it. Keeping it short since then has been a stylistic choice and also my way of saying, “I have short hair because I want to, not because cancer is keeping me from long hair.”

My current awkward 'do. Dash is growing out his hair too, but somehow it looks cuter on him.
Behind that statement, though, is this whispered, opposite one: “Why grow my hair out if I’m going to lose it again anyway?” Why wear your hope right there on your head for everyone to see?

But maybe the brave thing, now, is to be vulnerable. To love (my hair) knowing that it’s better to love and lose (my hair) than never to love at all.

Also, I’m really fucking lazy about getting haircuts.

I was debating my hair choices out loud and Kendra said, “Growing it out could be a good fuck-you to cancer.”

It feels like the opposite—an admission that cancer didn’t just change me in good, wisdom-y ways, that I am scared, that I miss what I lost—but now I think maybe it’s this third thing, and in my experience, the third thing is always where it’s at. Maybe it can be my strength and my weakness at the same time.


*See Susan Straight’s A Million Nightingales for another amazing story of parenting in captivity and the possible magical qualities of hair.

**I didn’t make up that theory. But here’s one I did (theory includes spoilers, but none that aren’t also in the trailer): Room is a little bit of an adoption story (in the book Jack’s mom was adopted by her parents, which she mentions in passing), or at least a love-makes-a-family story. When a reporter asks Ma what she’ll do when Jack asks about his father, she growls, “He is not his father. A father is someone who cares for his child.” And it’s Jack’s step-grandpa who plays the most grandfatherly role in his life.

Monday, November 23, 2015

10 things never to say: a rant and manifesto

1. humans vs. assholes

The other day, a writer I’m Facebook friends with posted: “I’m tired of personal essays. I really don’t need to know anything else about any stranger’s breakup, dysfunctional friendships, epiphanies, condescending cultural affiliations, or childhoods. Can the age of the universalizing snowflake transition into something else now?”

I basically agree; the thread that followed attached some qualifiers, and I admitted I like reading and writing personal essays when they’re good (well, I like reading them when they’re good; I probably like writing them even when they’re bad). But two things became evident: First, the universalizing snowflakes in question are usually middle class white women, rapidly turning their angst into a bid for internet fame. Guilty as charged, Your Honor.

Let me tell you all about my night and how dark and stormy it was.
Second, there’s a particular subgenre of the universalizing snowflake personal essay that especially bugs me, and that is the What Not To Say essay.

I just Googled “10 Things Never To Say” and here are some actual articles that came up:

10 Things to Never Say to a Woman Who Has Had a C-section
10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who’s Asexual
10 Things to Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder
10 Things You Should Never Say to a Tall Person
10 Things to Never, Ever Say to Someone Struggling Financially
10 Things You Should Never Say to a Guest in a Worship Service

They have the prettiest What Not To Say lists.
Look, I’m not advocating that you tell your financially struggling friend to get a job, or your asexual friend that he just hasn’t met the right person yet. (I didn’t click on these links, but I and most non-assholes can make educated guesses about what not to say.) But the prevalence of such articles seems like a giant passive aggressive move on the part of people with hurt feelings. Maybe when someone asked the tall person what the weather was like up there, she replied that actually, she’d heard that one before. Or she laughed politely and then wrote a list for the internet.

My real beef, though, is with the implicit idea that if you study hard enough, you’ll avoid getting it wrong, and that getting it wrong is a thing only insensitive jerks do. Because that’s not the world I want to live in.

I have been on the receiving end of some ignorant questions and comments—about gay people, about cancer, about the adoption process—and at times I’ve been offended. Can I tell you how many times people have said, re: Dash’s birthmom, “So, are you still in touch with the mother?” (If you mean AK, the answer is yes. If you mean Erica, who is certainly a mother of his, but by no means the mother, the answer is yes.) Much more often, people have said sincere, respectful things. Because I know a lot of humans but very few assholes.

And guess what—it’s all good. It’s okay to fuck up and say something offensive. It’s okay to get offended. And then you talk about it and you both move on. Ideally.

I’m feeling a little cautious about this post, because I realize it could be a slippery slope to complaining about how “the PC police are taking away my right to make racist jokes and it’s so unfaaaaaair.” Regarding people who freak out over political correctness, I’ll repeat what a friend of mine said in college: “If you knew someone named Joe, and one day he wanted you to call him Bob, wouldn’t you just do it? Because he gets to decide what his own name is?”

I’m not saying it’s cool to be a jerk on purpose, to prioritize your own agenda at the expense of someone else’s emotional wellbeing, but, well, I am saying it’s better to call Bob “Joe” accidentally than it is not to call him. It’s okay to ask Bob why he wants to go by Bob, as long as you’re really willing to listen to the answer.

2. the repair manifesto

In the world of trauma therapies (a world I only half know, a world I get wrong all the time), people say it’s not about how trauma fucks you up, but about if and how you repair it. This idea gives me a lot of hope.

I spent the first twenty-ish years of my life afraid to rebel, because I thought that if I got in trouble, my dad would never forgive me. In a way, it’s a shame I never put it to the test, because now I have no doubt that he would have. Slowly, but he would have. I’m not such a goody-two-shoes these days, but I still haven’t gotten over my desire to be perfect. All I can say is that now I know it’s a losing battle.

Raisins contain antioxidants and anti-zombie properties.
So, repair. Maybe you managed to take some long walks and cook a couple of healthy meals over the course of your much-needed weekend. But then when the kid woke up at 3 am, you just started pounding cinnamon raisin bread and Trader Joe’s chocolate honey mints as if your mouth were some sort of bunker and carbs were going to be in short supply after the zombie apocalypse.

Repair it. Ignore your jiggly belly for now and eat some fruit and whole wheat toast for breakfast.

Maybe your partner was stressing out about some work stuff and you did the wrong things with your eyebrows and it led to a big fight.

The price of salt and kids' train sets.
Repair it. Remind yourself that she’s always been rattled by big changes and there’s a lot of change right now, and it’s okay and reasonable for her to be stressed out. It’s also okay and reasonable for you to get tired and resentful sometimes.

Ask Alberto—the aswesomest friend and godfather ever—to babysit and go eat pupusas at your neighbors’ house and go see Carol, a beautiful movie that pushes against the queer tragedy narratives of the past and the everything-is-awesome queer narratives of the present. Remember how much you love love love going to the movies together.

Monday, November 09, 2015

village people

The other day at work, in an admittedly cynical moment, someone said: “Let’s start a drinking game at staff meetings—every time someone says ‘It takes a village,’ we do a shot.”

Let's talk about this mother of at least two and her 19" waist.
Today I brought Dash to work with me and asked one of my coworkers to watch him while I met with a foundation officer. He was cuddled by coworker after friendly, generous coworker, and when someone asked how he’d spent the past hour, I found myself saying, “It takes a village.”

I also used to joke that It takes a village to raise a Cheryl. This was during the time when I had two oncologists, a radiologist, a reconstructive surgeon, a physical therapist, a regular therapist, a couples therapist, a hypnotherapist, a nice lady at church named Margot and a couple of cancer pen pals, all working overtime to keep me alive and sane.

High five.
Three years ago today, an ultrasound tech told me the doctor wanted to do a biopsy on what looked like early stage breast cancer, and I nearly blacked out from fear. My memories from that day are impressionistic flashes, but I remember sitting in AK’s car, begging her to promise me we could still try to have a kid, one way or another, even if I had cancer.

Four years ago this week was the Squeakies’ due date, 11/11/11, although they would have inevitably been born earlier. I think of them every time the clock says 11:11, and also when it doesn’t.

Put a bird on it.
This is the month of the “Gratitude Challenge”—which can come across trite or even braggy, but is undeniably less obnoxious than the “Selfie Challenge” I saw making the rounds last month (isn’t taking selfies almost by definition the least challenging thing a person can do?). But trying to wrap my mind around my gratitude feels like looking at the surface of the sun, a thing not to be done head on.

Almost immediately I get tangled up in existential questions and survivor guilt. Or my good luck seems as random as my bad luck—and it is; oh, it is all so fucking random—and then what? The best thing I can do—the real Gratitude Challenge—is stay humble and realize that life isn’t so much a story you write as a giant Exquisite Corpse poem.

The other best thing I can do is make something useful out of my continued existence. On one hand, I think I’m a pretty decent person. I’m nice(ish) to my family and friends and I get grants from the rich to give to the poor and I recycle when it’s convenient. On the other hand, I feel like the world is overpopulated, and I’m not sure that any of my good deeds have made up for my carbon footprint. But I’ve done enough therapy that I can accept my tendency toward self-preservation for what it is: animalistic and just fine.

This was going to be a post about World Adoption Day, but I’m not sure what I have to say. I’m so grateful to be alive and in partial charge of a small friendly human that I could cry. And also: Various types of injustice are at the root of most adoption situations. And also: This week feels heavy with the weight of what might have been. If the village hadn’t stepped in. If I’d lived in a different village.

And I still don’t know what the future holds. My mantra—one of the few phrases that has ever felt semi-divinely planted in my head at the time it was first needed—is hold it lightly. I’m not even totally sure what I mean by that, but I picture cupped hands.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

the halloweens of my people

1. turnips and sugar skulls

The other day I caught a lighthearted BBC News Hour story on Halloween. Two reporters with crisp English accents discussed the fact that Halloween had been exported from Ireland and Scotland to North America, altered, then re-exported back to the British Isles.

“Pumpkins are a new world vegetable,” one of the reporters said. “If we wanted to truly celebrate a local holiday, we’d be carving turnips.”

“Turnips!” the other exclaimed. “Well, that sounds quite mushy.”

Turnip spice latte, anyone?
Around the same time, I read a Huffington Post piece titled “Dia de los Muertos is Not Halloween,” which included some good (and sadly not obvious?) points like: Dia de los Muertos is about “paying respects to late loved ones, honoring their lives, and acknowledging the fragility of life,” not just painting your face like a calavera and partying.

Fair enough. But one (white) activist in my Facebook feed posted a long admonishment to her fellow non-Latinos, telling them that if Dia de los Muertos wasn’t “their” culture, best to just stay away. If invited to a DdlM celebration, you could attend, she said, but to actively participate would be to engage in cultural appropriation and racism.

In heaven there's always a bike lane.
I agree that white people could stand to contemplate the radical notion that they don’t have to put their grubby little hands all over every interesting thing that comes along. But thinking back to some of the non-Latino-specific altars I saw at Hollywood Forever last year—the ghost bikes honoring fallen cyclists, a tribute to Robin Williams—I was irked, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

I asked AK what she thought, since after all, I’m not Latino and I shouldn’t be the one who decides what my activist Facebook friend doesn’t get to decide.

AK paraphrased something she’d heard Lalo Alcaraz say on KPCC that morning, which was that Dia de los Muertos, while having roots in indigenous practices merged with Catholicism, has always been a Mexican-American holiday. Its modern incarnation, he said, was the result of a back-and-forth dialogue between Mexicans in the U.S. and Mexicans in Mexico.

As for the “non-Latinos should opt out” stance, AK said: “There’s kind of a hipster quality to it. It’s like not participating in cultures that aren’t your own is the new participating. Like saying you liked that band before everyone else did, and now you’re over them.”

To me, it seems like a bolder choice to have to get your hands dirty when it comes to cultural phenomena—to have to risk exposing your own ignorance or maybe even hurting someone in order to live in the world as it is: blended, postmodern, a salad bowl with some rotten tomatoes. There hasn’t been such a thing as cultural purity for as long as there have been boats (maybe longer), and in my book that’s not inherently a bad thing.

2. alter/altar

When I see Homeboy’s own Dia de los Muertos altar, I see the darkness and the beauty inherent in cultures pushing against each other, falling into each other’s arms, leaving scratches.

Los muertos.
About 80 percent of the homies I work with are Latino, and the majority of those are American-born (or at least American-raised) Mexicans. They grew up speaking English or Spanglish. Colonialism and other forms of oppression have contributed directly or indirectly to whatever landed them in gangs or prison—immigrant parents who worked too hard to properly supervise their children, or a “justice” system that levies heavier sentences on people of color. As a group, many of them haven’t grown up thinking they’re part of a rich tradition—quite the opposite—and so their loyalties lie with their neighborhoods, not with ancient Aztecs.

I would venture, then, that Dia de los Muertos, for many (though certainly not all) of the Mexican Americans in my little workplace, is a rediscovered, reclaimed holiday. But do these folks with their arms and necks and eyebrows tattooed with the cursive names of the fallen know about “paying respects to late loved ones, honoring their lives, and acknowledging the fragility of life”?

Hell yes.


Do I? I can rattle off a dozen ways that my privilege has shielded me and my loved ones from death, but also…it hasn’t. Lady Death in her flowered hat comes for all of us. Death took my mom and my babies, even if they weren’t gunned down or even born yet. It came for me, even if it didn’t get super close (knockonwood). So I’m gonna say it: hell yes.

I don’t think anyone is saying that non-Latinos shouldn’t mourn their dead; I’m just adding that when you find a ritual that speaks to you, even if it’s not one you’re born into, maybe it’s okay to respectfully speak back.

Our famous last words may be "Nice hat."
So my mom’s picture and a post-it shout-out to the Squeakies (because I have nothing concrete to remember them by) reside alongside the pictures of young black and Latino men who died too young and for stupid reasons. They’re surrounded by marigolds.

3. pussy riot

Friday night, AK and Dash and I, and our friends Andrew and Danny, went to KillJoy’s Kastle, the lesbian feminist haunted house art installation that had been getting rave reviews. Here I had no doubts: This was my culture, and I could relax into it. Queers, feminists, artists. And no, I didn’t mind that there were men and straight people there. I even brought one very small man.

No male babies were harmed in the making of the Emasculator.
Our group—we named ourselves the Drooling Screampuffs—listened to a spoken word artist/singer-songwriter while we waited our turn to go into the castle (a.k.a. the Plummer Park Community Center). She had us do a silly-serious-ish call-and-response number about the power of the pussy.

“Why do we say someone has ‘balls’ if they’re strong and call someone a ‘pussy’ if they’re a coward?” she demanded.

I was dancing with Dash on a bale of hay, enjoying the warm night and thinking about how this was the exact life I always wanted to live. I was acutely aware that I had previous generations of feminists and queer activists to thank for the fact that I could be here, alive, open, with my female spouse and our adopted kid. I loved being part of something so clever and fun and CalArtsy.

Then the spoken word artist/singer-songwriter started in on how we should celebrate the egg, giver of all life!

She was joking, mostly, but it brought out the grr in me nevertheless. Or maybe the grrl. I don’t think I was really radicalized (whatever that means—but I think it means that something in you decides to hit back) until I started seeing how much society, and the parts of society I have internalized, valued me based on how functional my tits and ovaries were or weren’t. Fucking egg-based essentialism, I thought. I’m no giver of life, but so the fuck what?

Resting in varying degrees of peace.
With that, the whole point of KillJoy’s Kastle (I think) was playing out in my head. All the wise winks to lesbian feminist history that followed—from naked ladies checking out their genitalia with mirrors to a graveyard for the good (the Woman’s Building) and the bad (the gender binary)—evoked a mix of gratitude and mild squirminess.

Honestly, it was the perfect art exhibition: thought-provoking, well crafted, collaborative, interactive, hilarious, self-aware and friendly to all. And even though I had no role in it personally, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit proud that my people had created it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

the old college try

Today I sat in on the creative writing class at Homeboy (yeah, the one I used to teach; another teacher took over while I was on maternity leave and ended up staying, and I try not to have an ego about it), and the topic was: Write about a place. I've already written about all the L.A. neighborhoods I've lived in and about the South Bay, where I grew up, so I decided to write about dorm life. 

I just realized that living in a triple at UCLA is not unlike living in a two-bedroom with minimal storage space and a baby.
We were stacked three to a room in ten-story residence halls, concrete walls as thick as our freshman skulls. The carpet hid stains. Our mini fridges were stocked with diet soda and apples growing soft, as we filled up on waffle fries, Froot Loops and build-your-own omelets.

We'd fled the suburbs to be here--Manhattan Beach, La Jolla, El Cajon, Walnut Grove. We circled the city, curious about its secrets but still removed. A guy down the hall from me said he was on the Palestinian Olympic karate team. A guy in the other direction had a mattress-sized Israeli flag on the wall above his bed.

The halls smelled like Lysol and microwave popcorn. A guy named Matti stayed awake for three days playing video games, then disappeared from school. Or that's how I remember it. Some other guys pooled their money and bought an old boat of a car for $200. We rode around the parking lot, sinking into its vast swaths of duct dape.

Squish into mah sweet ride.
My roommate had wanted to go to Rice, but couldn't afford it; she held it against us that she was here. My other roommate sang "Nacho, nacho day" to the tune of "Macho Man" every time they served them in the cafeteria.

We were young and dumb and smart. There was email, but nothing good yet on the internet. We watched The Simpsons and had deep conversations. If I wasn't deep enough, Andy would let me know. He was an IRA sympathizer and a sophomore.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

find a stranger

When I was in high school, I usually walked home with my friend Karen, who was taking creative writing as an elective. She was working on a novel.

“It’s about four girls who are best friends, and then one of them gets AIDS and dies,” she said.

At the time, it struck me as both melodramatic (I was pretty sure Karen’s experience of AIDS, like mine, was limited to watching And the Band Played On in health class) and genius.

Googling '80s YA book covers is actually really getting me in the mood to write. It's Pavlovian.
Over the years, I’ve started hundreds of novels in my head. Most of them are terrible, influenced more by sitcoms and eighties YA books than by the authors I name-check as my favorites now. The low-stakes playing-around is the whole point.

A lot of the bad-novels-in-my-head are variations on Karen’s theme. Not the AIDS part, necessarily, but the best friends and how they turn out. I’m a little bit obsessed with the idea, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because part of me is perpetually a high school student, waiting anxiously to see what my adult life will look like.

Four friends! What will happen to them??
When I was having my four-year temper tantrum about not being a mom, I imagined a sort of Tale of Four Women, in which the one who seemed to have it all and to work the hardest saw her life go to shit, and the one who was a trouble maker or a wild child or an asshole got everything she wanted. Moral of the story: Life is unpredictable.

More recently, I actually started writing—in the most casual, noncommittal way—vignettes from a novel I called Turning Out. Again, four female high school friends, now grown up and facing their twentieth reunion. One of them was mysteriously missing, and another became obsessed with finding her. Or something. I imagined that the missing one had maybe been an alcoholic for a while and then some sort of ascetic for a while, but didn’t really have the answers any more than her more boring friends.

Don't do drugs!
The theme was going to be something about how the longer you live, the less life has a predictable narrative arc.

Because this is true.

On Saturday, I went to my actual twenty-year high school reunion. The disjunction between what I would have imagined thirty-eight looked and felt like in 1995 and what it actually looks and feels like is pretty much indescribable, but if you’re old enough to feel old, you get it.

Seven or eight years ago, I went to a casual, unofficial reunion that was basically beer pong at the Neptunian Women’s Club. Any fantasies I’d had about all the popular kids coming up to me and demanding to know what I’d made of my life were quickly shattered. I spent most of the night yelling over the bad music so I could talk to Kristy, the member of my high school group with whom I’d had the least in common.

Has someone taken Jessica's place as "most popular girl"?
I expected the twenty-year reunion to be equally boring, more expensive and pretty much unnecessary in the wake of Facebook. But I’ve hung out with my friend-since-third-grade Bonnie a couple of times lately, and I’ve been impressed with what a kind and thoughtful person she’s grown into, and she was interested in going.

So when they lowered the price from $100 to $10, I decided I would Go For Bonnie. As in middle school and high school, though, she was much more at ease talking to people from all social groups, and I just sort of hung around like a sidekick. I felt mildly frustrated: No, I’m totally comfortable in my skin! I’m not an awkward hanger-on!

Novels about BFF drama were right up my proto-lesbian alley.
Monica, the perky girl who’d tried to give me a scholarship to our ten-year reunion, saw me and said: “Cheryl! You’re so cute with the glasses and short hair! I would totally talk to you right now, but I have to go play a prank on someone on the balcony. Otherwise I’d really want to catch up.”

I don’t think Monica and I have ever had a full conversation in our lives, but sure, let’s catch up.

Mostly, though, there wasn’t much to be angsty about. I had a nice conversation with Stuart Sellers’ wife and a woman named Lianne about legal billing. In the same way that you might end up in a conversation about legal billing with some nice strangers at a party.

I observed, for the zillionth time, that people from Manhattan Beach don’t get fat. In fact, as Bonnie noticed too, our fellow cheerleader Sarah appeared to have spent every day of her life since 1995 doing yoga or playing beach volleyball, except for maybe the day she spent getting a perfect haircut.

If Blubber had gone to Costa, she'd be a yoga teacher now.
I actually did catch up with Kristin, the friend who’d gotten me through regular P.E. after I’d dropped out of track. I have fond memories of standing on a tennis court, rackets dangling, and gossiping while not playing tennis. She’s a teacher now, after having worked in museums for a while, and is married to a guy from my sister’s grade, who was also really nice and who got into a low-level debate with someone’s douchey-seeming husband about whether climate change or El Nino caused warm-water lobsters to appear locally.

My big takeaway from the evening was: Huh. Well, that was a bunch of people in a room.

I think this is a book about someone searching for her birthmom, so I guess I should reread it. It seems to also be the story of women with Brooke Shields eyebrows.
A few waves of the aforementioned high school feelings aside, I felt very neutral about the experience going in, neutral while I was there and neutral in retrospect. Despite having made complete peace with the fact that I absolutely do want to show all the popular kids that I’m much better than them now. That neutrality—that gut-level feeling that these were in fact just people, if generally well preserved, slightly provincial and upper-middle-class people—convinced me that maybe I have had some success in smacking down my ego in the past few years.

I was willing to believe that Gina B. didn’t remember me as pathetic and that if we had lunch together, I’d probably think she was a lovely and genuine person.

But I’m not about to find out. I left after about an hour and a half, bought a fast food churro and drove home to my real life-in-progress.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

the face of acceptance, the belly of someone who likes bagels

1. embracing your wiggly kid (even if he wiggles right out of your arms)

Dash is super wiggly these days. Whereas once the edge of the changing table was a place to put diaper cream and hand sanitizer and something called “bottom spray” that is just a made-up product invented for baby registries, Dash now sees those things as clay pigeons for him to knock over with one sweep of his magnificent grabbing arm.

This guy will steal the glasses right off your face.
I imagined his near future as a wiggly bigger baby and then a wiggly, curious, running-everywhere toddler. I thought of Matea, Jamie’s year-old daughter, who is gentle and cuddly, though plenty curious as well. I thought about how it wouldn’t be hard, if you were so inclined, to mourn the not-having of a certain kind of baby. Bouncy if you wanted cuddly, cuddly if you wanted bouncy. But just as quickly I dismissed the thought. It would be so much work wishing for another kind of kid! You’d waste so much time! You’d be anxious instead of excited to see what the future held for your particular brand of kid!

This is easy for me to say, since I have a great kid (ahem). But I also know that love is what makes acceptance, is what makes your own kid seem great. A couple of years ago, when artist J. Michael Walker photographed me all bald and proudly chemo-skinny, he described the look on my face as “pure acceptance.” I laughed, because I kicked and screamed my way through cancer. Acceptance, when applied to one’s own life, always struck me as an admission of defeat—the thing that society pushed on you because it wanted you to shut up and be quiet.

Then again, acceptance can be like what Dani Shapiro describes in Devotion: After trying and trying to have a second child, she takes a good long look at her only son and thinks, This is my LIFE, and it is a joyful and obvious thought. I imagine her thinking, Oh, so I’m in the story/universe where I have one child, not the one where I have two.

2. rejecting your aspirational pants

When I can back up and see my life as a story I’m living, not one I’m writing per se, acceptance becomes the only way, even for the stubborn. Especially for the stubborn. Just as I like to get the most bang for my buck, I like to get the most out of my life, and to do so, you have to steer into the swerve sometimes. You have to fall off your bike and shout “I meant to do that!”

What I’m trying to say is that—following up on a post I wrote a couple of months ago about my adoptive-mom-bod—I have decided to accept the fact that I am not an anxiety-chic size 3/4. I am a busy, chocolate-loving “American” 6/8 (meaning that before courtesy sizing, I probably would have been a 10 or 12).

Last night I purged four bags of clothes. Goodbye, butter-yellow Anthropologie pants I wore only once. Goodbye, tiny jeans I wore horseback riding in Puerto Rico. Goodbye, burgundy lace dress that demands a flat stomach.

We'll always have PR.
It hurt a little. But not that much.

It feels weird not having a semi-unachievable goal hanging over me, fucking up my otherwise nice days. I immediately logged onto Amazon and ordered a pair of Lucky Brand jeans in my current size, plus some tops for work (eBay) and some new shoes (DSW) just because. And though I still hunted down bargains, I bought brands I knew would be flattering versus the fashion fixer-uppers I’m always drawn to. (I’m the fashion equivalent of the girl who can’t stop dating alcoholic biker dudes.) It was almost as much fun as shopping for my skinny-mini body, simply because I wasn’t punishing myself.

I’ve been eating about 83% healthy with no bingeing spirals for a couple of months. I haven’t lost weight, but I do feel like I’m doing right by Dash and myself. In a way, I think my new acceptance diet thingy will actually help me, because I’m not pretending Tomorrow Will Be Different. Whatever decisions I make today—about parenting or writing or nutrition or exercise—This Is My LIFE.

I mean, this all sounds pathetically obvious. How many “Best Jeans for Every Body” articles have I read in my life? But there’s always such a huge gap between knowing something intellectually and knowing it in your now-less-visible bones. Maybe it’s just the lovely fall weather, but I feel like I’m turning a corner, and steering into it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

the demons of exhaustion: kate gale and white sloppiness

1. first, a bit about MEEEE

I’m starting this post a little after 5 am; I’ve already been up for an hour with Dash, who is teething or mildly hungry or maybe just needs to pontificate. His new thing is closing his eyes and waving his arms while shouting, “Ah blah blah wah!” I think he may be doing an impression of me.

My point is I know a thing or two about being a tired white person. The past week included mind-numbingly boring yet crazy-making home repairs that resulted in me doing three solid hours of dusting; lots of emotional work stress on AK’s end; and an all-clear cancer check (woo!) that was front-loaded with a ton of anxiety and a margarita and a Klonopin and an emergency mini session with one of Homeboy’s therapists. (“I think I need a quick dose of some of that trauma-informed therapy I’m always writing grants about,” I emailed Theresa.)

By yesterday afternoon I felt like I could happily sleep six hours, wake up, eat cereal and go back to sleep—and repeat this cycle for a week.

2. kate gale is us

By now, those of you who are more in the literary loop than I am have read Kate Gale’s post “AWP Is Us,” which started as a riff on her blog and then ran in the Huffington Post (which really needs to stop passing off blog riffs and press releases as journalistic essays…but that’s another post). To summarize: Kate’s point—I think—was that people are always complaining that AWP is misrepresenting or under-representing them, and they act as if AWP is The Man rather than a membership organization made up of writers, including those doing much of the complaining.

Kate in a great necklace.
I do think that academics have a habit of critiquing their own ivory towers so intensely that they fail to do more than glance at the brambles and villages around the towers.

But Kate’s point was quickly lost by the odd and sloppy satire-type riff that followed, in which she adopted the stance of one of the complainers, using her own identity (half Jewish, “30% gay”) as an example. It was weird. It didn’t make much sense. It touched down in touchy territory and then flitted away. It read like a part of a dialogue I’m only on the margins of, and I think that’s part of the problem. It’s inside-baseball in a world where there are only like six people on the field and a zillion in the dugout and the stands.*

Meh, I'm like 87% gay.
She’s since deleted the post and apologized, and the literary internet has blown up, and writers of color have posted outraged and thoughtful and outraged-and-thoughtful replies. Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s blog post on the subject is especially personal and honest, while illuminating the larger issues at play (hint: Kate’s awkward humor is the least of our problems).

3. cheese & crackers

No one really needs me to weigh in on this, but hey, isn’t that what we do as white people? Add our own ah blah blah wah! to the conversation? So here goes.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine started hosting Cheese & Crackers nights for white people (crackers, get it?) to discuss racial issues. At first I was skeptical—yes, the world desperately needs to talk about and act upon racial injustice. But how could a handful of liberal white queer women talking over wine and snacks possible help anything? Wasn’t the idea just kind of…embarrassing? Cautiously intrigued, I left my Mexican esposa (who likes to be invited to the party, both literally and figuratively) at home with my Mexican baby and went to the first official whites-only event I’d ever been to.**

The cracker blues.
When I asked my friend why she decided not to include people of color in her get-together, she said: “I know myself, and if there were people of color in the room, some small part of me would be trying to show how down I am. I want to be liked. So I want to make a space where that’s not my prevailing intention, and I don’t think any person of color should have to ‘represent’ their race while I sit here trying to work my shit out.”

Good point, I conceded.

The topic of the night was white fragility, another concept I was a little vague on, but when it was reframed as wanting-to-be-down-and-liked, it made all too much sense to me.

I think Kate Gale wants to be down and liked.***

4. having it all

I’ve known Kate for about a dozen years, and I count her as a casual friend. Ironically or not, Red Hen Press (which she co-founded and runs with her husband Mark Cull) probably has one of the more diverse rosters of authors out there. I’ve always been inspired by how much she does: In addition to running a press, she teaches, travels, raises kids (now grown), sits on panels, runs marathons, and writes and writes. She blogs almost every day. Or maybe every single day. I don’t know because I don’t even read as much as she writes.

I’ve also always been a little suspicious of the breadth of her endeavors. Maybe this is my envy talking, but for once I don’t think so. Can you really do all of that without a lot of cutting corners and/or semi-invisible help? Like so many arts organizations and nonprofits in general, Red Hen is largely powered by unpaid interns. And I think Kate would be the first to admit that she often writes her blog on planes or while watching movies in hotel rooms. I.e., she writes off-the-cuff and when she’s exhausted.

The blog’s raw, clever, loving-my-full-crazy-life tone is part of what I’ve always enjoyed about it; it’s what I like about her poetry too, although her poetry is much more distilled and thought-out. Poetry is the opposite of blog. As such, that particular blog post was a window into how many white people act when they let their guard down. They admit—just-between-us-white-folks-and-the-internet?—that they’re tired of the tiredness of people of color. Even if they don’t think they are.

Of course, when a white person gets tired and sloppy and slips up, the cost is hurt feelings and some internet yelling. When a person of color gets tired and sloppy and slips up, the cost is occasionally but too often life.

Spend five minutes around Kate and you will know that her daughter is gay and kinda militant about it; I think she’s been out since she was a young teenager. Kate shares this information like any proud mama, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with how quickly she volunteers it. Was she trying to ingratiate herself by showing how un-homophobic she was? She always gave off a bi vibe herself (30%!); was she flirting? No, that wasn’t it either. I think she just wanted to be part of an us, while also perhaps enjoying the perks of other identities.

She once told me a story about traveling to South America to bring home her nanny’s relatives, who were in some kind of danger. Kate Gale has always struck me as the kind of person who has a nanny, feels a little weird about having a nanny and will genuinely put her neck on the line for said nanny, but will then make sure you know about it.

What she isn’t: a textbook racist, uncaring, all talk.

What she also isn’t: someone who can be content doing just one or two things, a good listener.

5. the only bravery

How we act when we’re tired and stressed says a lot. Once, in the midst of a tearful phone call with my friend Amy—when she was pregnant with her twins and I had just been the subject of another birthmom disappearing act—I confessed, “I’m a really good winner. I can be so kind and generous when I don’t feel threatened. But right now I’m not the winner.”

In this moment, I feel like a winner. I have my family and my health; I’ve fought incredibly hard for both, but I also know that a huge, humbling part of my current good life is out of my control.

This past Tuesday night, I didn’t feel like a winner. I felt a little like I imagine Xochitl felt when she thought, upon realizing that the press that had accepted her work wasn’t going to serve her or her community well, I can’t have nice things. Because I had one nice thing (family), I was superstitious that I couldn’t have another (health).

This is what comes up when you Google-image-search "family health." I love it when we all watch Dad and Sis play pat-a-cake for hours!
I pulled into Dash’s daycare after work with teary red eyes. My Babadook was so fucking huge, just a terrible tank I was drowning in. I stepped into the heat and walked a hallway of waist-high cubbies with names written on cards: Ixchelle, Micah, Mia, Juliette, a half dozen Owens.

It hit me—all over again and also sort of for the first time—that I was trying to raise a baby and have a mental health crisis at the same time. Who the fuck did I think I was? I knew I had to choose my baby, and yet I also desperately wanted to be a baby, to just curl up in a fetal position and not have to witness other people living their nice lives while I proceeded to die of cancer.

Fr. Greg says kindness is the only bravery there is.

On Tuesday night that meant chatting with Dash’s daycare teachers and hugging him and feeding him and getting the both of us to Villa Sombrero and handing him and the keys to AK before my margarita-and-half-a-Klonopin cocktail kicked in. It was the only way I could be kind to both of us. It meant joining AK for a margarita rather than hounding her to parrot reassuring cancer statistics back at me.

I won’t pathologize Kate too much, but I know she has her demons, and I suspect they fuel her best actions—the true and good work she does to make sure that queer writers, writers of color and otherwise outsider writers are heard. She probably knows what it’s like not to be heard. But I bet those same demons mix dangerously with her privilege at times, and she gets too busy trying to have it all to recognize that the kinder, braver thing to do would be to pause and listen.

Xochitl in a great dress.
By walking away from Red Hen’s offer to publish her book, Xochitl is being brave by being kind to herself and to her community. It might not feel like an act of self-care in the moment, but every time a writer refuses to say “how high” when a publisher says “jump,” it serves us all.



*What? I don’t know how many people are on a baseball field. DON’T MAKE ME UNDERSTAND SPORTS.

**I say “first official” because, well, I did spend the first eighteen years of my life in Manhattan Beach.

***Isn’t that part of why I’m posting this post? To think things through, yes, but also because I want to distance myself from Kate on some level and therefore ingratiate myself to the writers of color I know and respect. Because it’s all about me, right?