Sunday, March 29, 2015

in which i heed the siren call of a dreamy writing workshop

1. nice work if you can get it

It's all fun and postcard views till Mt. Vesuvius gets pissed off again.
This is the view from my window right now (well, it was when I started this post). You might be thinking: What is someone with an eight-week-old child doing tossing back cappuccinos on the Amalfi Coast of Italy? It was certainly a question I asked myself.

As with many things in my literary life, I applied to this workshop called Sirenland on a whim. I heard about it through One Story (Hannah Tinti is one of the conference co-founders), a literary magazine which recently sent me an encouraging rejection. In my mind, “encouraging rejection from One Story” = “various famous writers really want me to hang out with them in Italy.” The pictures of Positano, Italy, where it took place, looked pretty. There was a mermaid motif. I get along well with mermaids.

Trash can at Le Sirenuse. I felt bad putting trash in it.
I found out I was accepted to Sirenland on the same day I talked to Dash’s birthmom for the first time. I have a stupid, self-defeating superstition that when things go well academically, they’re about to take a dive personally. Because why should I get to be a mom and a writer? But here I am (thanks to a birthday/Christmas present from my dad, support from AK and babysitting from Nana), in Positano, working on my memoir about defeating my self-defeating superstitions and becoming a mom.

Nana and Dash reading "Peanut Butter and Jeremy."
Positano: a pastel mosaic of tile-roofed houses built on the side of a cliff, overlooking a beach where bits of terra cotta wash up on the black sand. According to legend, locals built the many, many stone staircases unevenly so that invading pirates would have a hard time chasing them up the mountains. (This would not be a terribly reassuring form of protection, especially since the pursued had to run up the same staircases.) Pirates got their comeuppance when a Byzantine portrait of Madonna and child became possessed and started yelling, “Put me back! Put me back!” They freaked out and dropped her in the ocean. She washed up on the beach and now hangs in the domed church visible from my hotel window.

Beach terra cotta.
More recently, Positano inspired Patricia Highsmith to write The Talented Mr. Ripley and John Steinbeck to write a funny and enticing essay about Positano. It would be a nice club to join.

In this storied little village is a storied little hotel called Le Sirenuse, once the summer home of the storied Sersale family, who converted it to a hotel sometime after the Second World War and who still run it, applying a world traveler’s sensibility and a curator’s eye. It is probably the nicest place I will ever stay, both in terms of luxury and charm. Bougainvillea vines grow up the curved arches of the hotel restaurant. The staff memorizes who you are and what you like to drink immediately.

If I were a mermaid, I would crawl out of the ocean and lurch up the beach just to stay here.

My bed at home is smaller, and frequently sleeps three humans and three cats.
In my room, I recognized the sound of Lamby, Dash’s stuffed sheep who makes soothing ocean noises. Then I realized it was actually the ocean.

After a hot shower—and just showering every day is pretty fancy when you have a baby—I reached for a towel and was surprised by how small it was. Then I realized that was actually the hand towel, and the bath towels—roughly the size of a twin bed—were over there on the heated towel rack.

Most of the attendees were blown away by Positano and Le Sirenuse, but they were nevertheless a somewhat posh crowd, as you can imagine. They tended to be white women of a certain age, some of whom had their supportive, high-earning husbands in tow. I say this without judgment, because most were also kind and worldly and, if the memoir workshop was any indication, had taken their share of lumps in life. And even though I have a tendency to act like Annie in Daddy Warbucks’ mansion (“Oh boy! What do I clean first?!”), privilege is always relative. I was there, after all. I am a white woman of a certain age. As I left, I saw a Facebook post from a Homeboy trainee who was excited and nervous about her first plane ride, to Syracuse, New York.

In the TV room with Tamara, Alice, Lucinda and Katie: incredibly good writers and good company.
Dani Shapiro’s workshop met each day—after a breakfast of smoked salmon, local mozzarella, homemade granola and little tarts full of butter and crushed pistachios—in the “TV room,” a breezy nook with tile floors, elegant chairs and no television in sight. It took on the immediate and lovably absurd intimacy that such things do. A woman cried when we went around the circle and described what we were working on, and it wasn’t even me.

A particularly outspoken woman named Sarla—a yoga teacher in her early sixties who screamed and gave me a spontaneous hug the day she found out her husband’s roasted coffee had been accepted into Whole Foods—asked me about my boob job on the first day of class. I took it as a compliment. She explained nonchalantly that she’d had two lumpectomies and was getting fed up with it. If she got cancer again, they were coming off. Sarla also asked Tamara, who’d written about her attraction to women, if she was still with her husband (she is).

2. skip this part if you think that reading about writing is boring

I had submitted three excerpts from my memoir-in-progress, about the whole miscarriage-breakdown-cancer-baby thing. Imagine showing up at a party thinking that you’re wearing a stylish outfit that you haven’t yet had tailored, then discovering that, in fact, you wore your underwear. That’s kind of how I felt after my critique.

“But it was really beautiful underwear,” someone told me after I shared this analogy. And it’s true that it wasn’t a harsh critique.

Dani Shapiro: so nice and smart you barely notice that she's telling you it might take five more years to nail this draft.
I heard some things which I probably shouldn’t have had to fly to Italy to figure out; namely, that my draft was underwear. I introduced the project saying that I was taking a “scrapbook” approach—partly because I wanted to play with form (and I still do), partly because I AM LAZY AND WAS HOPING THAT ALL THE GLORIFIED JOURNAL ENTRIES I WROTE STARTING IN 2012 ADDED UP TO A MEMOIR AND ALL I NEEDED TO DO WAS SPELL-CHECK AND ADD A FEW FLASHBACKS.

Yeah, that’s not gonna cut it.

There was a lot of talk throughout the week about voice, some of which I almost tried to tune out because it felt like thinking about driving or breathing. Something that could fuck you in the head if you thought about it too much. But Dani did say a couple of things that I scribbled in big letters in my notebook:
  1. The story is the distance between who you were then and who you are now.
  2. You can use your “now” voice to give words to your “then” character. If you’re writing about childhood, you may describe the light that spread like fire beneath the door whenever your father came in your bedroom at night (that piece was as disturbing as it sounds). The child version of you would have had complex emotions and observations, but would have lacked the language to describe them. You gift the child with language when you inhabit her.
  3. A memoir requires a frame, which could be made by time or theme.
  4. You can write from the center of a thing if you have sufficient self-awareness.
  5. But the notes and journals made at the time may not serve you as well as memory does.
Dani, speaking from her own experience, encouraged me not to get too hung up on the pile of journal entries that got me through my cancer treatment and beyond. I wrote them as if I was looking back from a slightly safer and happier place, a wonderful narrative survival technique that may become a literary clusterfuck. They were written as memoir-from-the-center-of-a-thing, but I don’t know yet how they read. I have an unfortunate habit of not listening to good advice that I’m not ready to hear (I guess most people do), but I’m going to do my best not to let another year or another draft go by before I finally see the red flag Dani was gently waving.

Doodle of Dani's advice to Ana (and all memoirists). (Note previous photo: Dani does not have weird lips in real life.)
After talking with her and taking some cues from my classmates, my next step, I think, is going to be to write the events of 2010 to 2011 in third person. I’m shamelessly stealing that approach from Karen Gentry, a wonderfully spare writer and subversively funny woman in my workshop. I started doing a bit of this my second day in Positano, and it felt right and exciting. It would have to be, in order for me to stay inside despite a sparkling ocean and much of Southern Italy at my disposal.

One of the things I’m writing about is the time when I became a disastrously unreliable narrator in my own life. It’s easier to write about your craziest self in the third person.

After that, I’ll tackle the 2012 to 2015 stuff. What I was surprised to hear in my workshop were comments like “This narrator obviously doesn’t see herself as a victim,” “She compromises over and over but just keeps moving forward” and “She’s so humorous, but I wonder if that’s not a deflection—I want to see some real pain.”

As a person, this is refreshing to hear. I feel like I threw a four-year temper tantrum (“the howl of thwarted ambition,” in the wise words of Carrie Brownstein), so the idea that I might be good-humored, pragmatic and/or uncomplaining often feels like wishful thinking. But here were strangers saying I was just that!

Then again…as a writer, the idea that I might unwittingly perform a coping mechanism on the page is embarrassing, not to mention unproductive from a literary standpoint.

And if I were the person and writer I aspire to be, I probably would have put more pain on the page and spared my family, friends, coworkers and innocent bystanders at Starbucks.

You can write to figure out what you think (did Joan Didion say that?), and I did/do. It might be harder to write to figure out what you feel. 

3. life beyond le sirenuse

When I wasn’t contemplating my underwear-clusterfuck of a memoir, I was usually eating seafood or pasta, or drinking wine or a Negroni. On Thursday night I had a lovely dinner with Frank, the father of co-worker Alexa, who just happens to live in Positano. Over a huge dish of seafood soup, swimming with miniature lobsters and tiny purple octopi, he told me most of the Positano facts and legends mentioned above. He grew up in New York, the kid of Italian immigrants, but he’s lived in Positano for something like fifteen years. He knew everyone who passed by our table, from waiters to tourists.

Appetizer at Tres Sorelle restaurant.

Negroni at the hotel bar. New favorite drink alert!
We talked about the double-edged sword of American ambition, meditation and UFO’s.

Earlier that day, I did my one big calorie-burner of the week, a two-hour hike along the Walk of the Gods, a trail at the top of the bluffs. It goes for quite a ways, but my workshop-mate Tamara and I just did the part between Positano and Priano, which was plenty. Tamara is an Australian who calls England home but currently lives in Jordan. She submitted a beautiful and tightly written essay about being a “hasbian” speculating about the sexuality of her personal trainer in a conservative Muslim country. It’s good stuff, and I hope she writes a whole book.

We talked about identity, rebellion and motherhood—whether it ambushes you or eludes you, and how similar those things can feel—and L.A. and Jordan and The L Word.

Mortal on the Walk of the Gods.

The vertical life.
We stopped for cake and lemonade at a tiny cliff-side shack. We ran into a herd of goats wearing bells and their minder, who all seemed straight out of another century. Another hiker described them as “full of latte.” I wouldn’t have minded a grande at that point.

We made our way on jello legs to the small town of Priano, a place of cobblestone streets and moth-eaten sweaters, where young kids played soccer in a church courtyard.

Most of the world has too little and some of the world has too much, but you get the feeling that Southern Italy has unintentionally found some sort of sustainable middle ground. Everyone was growing cabbage and lemons in small tiered plots on the side of the hill.

We asked about a cab, and they summoned a professorial-looking man who was eating an orange popsicle. He called a friend and soon we had a ride back to Le Sirenuse.

I think everyone at Sirenland would agree that the best night was Wednesday, when the Sersales hosted dinner and an open mic at their home, which looks like an extension of Le Sirenuse, right down to the colorful embroidered pillows. We ate pasta and prawns and tiny cakes sopping wet with some sort of delicious liqueur.

Students stood in front of the fireplace and read pieces that were funny (see Jonathan’s “The Panther in the Closet” and Karen’s meta piece about trying to describe a writing workshop to her husband over a bad phone connection: “It’s not crying like ‘boo hoo hoo,’ it’s crying like ‘the beauty, the humanity’”) or intense (Sandra’s story about a bulimic teenage girl who daydreams about being a high-priced prostitute) or sad (Antonio Sersale’s homage to his late father, whom many of the people present knew). Lauren ended the night by playing “Over the Rainbow” on her guitar, and I thought of my mom and felt grateful and sad.

There were times this week when I missed Dash so much I thought he was a figment of my imagination (although how egotistical is that?)—when it felt like I would somehow be starting from scratch upon returning home—but I’m just a few hours away now.

[Editor’s note: Home at last! Happy to return to the land of Dashaboo and AK, cats and friends, and readily available almond milk.]

Good night, everyone.

Friday, March 13, 2015

mise en garde!, or: baby stuff and the cathedral of time

1. watching yourself watch the leaves

Right now—when I’m not reading People Magazine or federal grant proposal requests—I’m reading Devotion, in which Dani Shapiro tries to address her lurking anxiety through a spiritual lens that includes the Orthodox Judaism of her childhood and a variety of Eastern practices that can (or maybe can’t) be boiled down to mindfulness.

Read this book if you're the kind of person who's drawn to AA meetings even though you barely drink.
I picked up the book because I’ll be taking a workshop with Dani Shapiro soon, and I didn’t feel like reading her more recent memoir, Still Writing, because reading about writing sometimes stresses me out.

Devotion really speaks to me, though. Some of Dani’s anxiety is a holdover from a serious illness her son had as an infant, and my own anxiety (well, arguably everyone’s) is equally bound up in birth and death. As grateful as I am for the medical and psychological approaches that have helped me tackle it, spiritual and philosophical questions seem to be the most fundamental ones, not to mention more interesting.

Paraphrasing another writer, she talks about the two axes on which we live: the world of time and the world of things. Time can be a cathedral, the writer says. And every American who needs to clean out a closet or two is aware that materialism can be a prison—even as Dani confesses that she doesn’t really want to stop coveting cashmere sweaters, which makes me like her as well as envy her book sales a bit.

But the time thing—how to make it a cathedral and not just a list of task we do each day until we fall in bed each night, exhausted?

I am a sucker for all things ombre.
She takes a road trip with her husband and son, and delights in beautiful fall leaves and her son calling her “Mommy,” but she’s aware of her own awareness the whole time. How do you savor something without going all meta and losing the thing you’re chasing?

2. target women

When I posted about Dash’s birth, one of AK’s college friends (who has four children) commented: “You are moms so enjoy the good parts and suffer through the bad parts, people who say you have to enjoy every moment miss the worst and best parts of mothering because it all gets watered down. And you deserve to just be his mom, without having to enjoy every second because he finally found you!”

Sweet and wise words.

One of my first parent-related observations was that I was going to Target almost every day. When I think of my own childhood and even my teen years, I think of going to Target with my mom, and before Target was Target,* we went to FedMart together, in the same box of a building.

It’s easy to get mired in the world of things, because although everyone says “babies don’t need much,” there are a lot of baby things out there, and figuring out which ones they need and which they don’t—and by they I mean we—is a task in itself. My parental daydreams always involved the purchasing of cute baby clothes and tiny shoes, but as my superego got thinned and squashed during our wait, the things (and the ideas of perfection they represented; thank you, advertising) became less and less a part of the picture.

World's shortest, saddest short story: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."
I’ve been reluctant to reengage, because the dialogue around the world of things—what stroller do you like, what carrier, what bottle—seems to push away the essence of being a big creature taking care of a small creature. It turns parenting into a series of brand loyalties, and each consumer choice is shorthand for the kind of parent you’re trying to be. Tiger Mom, Free Range Mom, Helicopter Mom, French Women Don’t Get Fat Mom, all those terms that I seem to know without voluntarily participating in any of it.

But if you read between the lines of the baby things, that whisper of birth and death is still there. Almost every single baby item we own is equipped with a giant warning label in multiple languages.

That's some solid advice right there.
“Mise en garde!” I announced to Dash this morning as I buckled him into his car seat. The label (the English part) reminded me that children have strangled while sitting in unbuckled seats. Other products let me know that babies can fall off changing tables, drown in one drop of water, choke on teddy bear eyeballs.

The subtext of every baby product is: This will make your baby happy and healthy and make you a fantastic and relaxed parent. The text of every baby product is: This can kill your baby.

Baby-wearing is the thing now, and we are fond of our Baby K’Tan, which is essentially two infinity scarves bound together by a fabric loop. It cost about $40, which is on the low end of baby carrier prices. When I wrap Dash close to my chest, I feel snuggly, primal and vaguely European. Like, this is what being a parent is all about.

You are a fantastic and relaxed parent.
Dash’s car seat, on the other hand, is bulky, heavy and plastic. It has been heavily tested to withstand impact from various angles at various speeds. He is small in the middle of this big protective pod. When he’s in it, he seems safe, protected, American. I’m like, this is what being a parent is all about.

I dunno. It’s all too early to have any kind of real takeaway. I should add, maybe, that while I may have a certain immunity to the world of things, I have very few defenses built up against the digital world, and my personal battle may be to not scroll through Facebook with one hand and hold a bottle with the other (a battle I’ve already lost many times). Hey, at least Dash is learning a little French and Spanish.

*When Target moved in, I must have been around seven. From the name, I was worried they sold guns. Later I learned that’s Wal-Mart.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

never place a period where god has placed a dash*

1. acceptance. speeches.

I’ve been thinking about humility, and not just because we’re at the tail end of awards season, a time when people make tearful speeches about how humbled they are. I really liked Common and John Legend’s acceptance speech for the Selma song. They were humble not just in the way that is the opposite of bragging, which is how I’ve thought about humility in the past, but in a way that acknowledges they didn’t get there alone. They are part of a continuing history of struggle. They are part of a community, and they’re holding a statue because others have taken punches or even bullets.**

What I’m trying to say is, I think humility is knowing you’re just a character in a story. Humility is arriving at a chapter in that story a different person than you were on page one, and the values you had back then almost feel irrelevant, or at least foreign.

What I’m trying to say is, on Oscar night? Here is how I watched.

2. santa barbara

In December, AK and I started talking to an expectant mom I’ll call Erica. Like so many of the e-moms we’ve talked to in the past couple of years, she was friendly and sweet and seemed enthusiastic about possibly placing her baby with us. A couple of factors made us extra (cautiously!) hopeful: She was almost eight months along (I still remember talking to an e-mom who’d known she was pregnant for ONE WEEK, which is sort of like calling a publisher because you have an idea for a book). And she lived in Santa Barbara. She was only our second California contact, and our first fellow SoCal girl. Something about that connection made all three of us feel like, Yep, you get it.

We drove up to the leafy, tile-roofed outskirts of Santa Barbara and had a nice sushi lunch with her. Erica was easy to talk to, a person who seemed to inhabit our world.

Actually, sushi is usually not harmful to babies. Just look at these guys.
We had our official “match meeting” with her and our agency on January 23. We were all exhausted by the end of it. Erica drove home, ordered a pizza and then her water broke.

In a state of adrenaline-fueled delirium, AK and I packed her car with the unopened car seat we’d barely had time to order on Amazon and the gifts Jamie had just given me: a bag of baby odds and ends like diaper cream and gas drops, and a bunch of unisex baby clothes recently outgrown by her youngest daughter. All very useful things if you have a baby in your home. Not really necessary at the hospital, but we were basically chickens without heads. Imagine every sitcom dad you’ve seen, but turn him into two women who have a two-hour drive which they use to argue about whether someone needs to buy a changing table stat.

Are changing tables really necessary? Just one of the hot debates of modern parenthood.
We arrived at the quiet, tile-roofed hospital (everything in Santa Barbara has a tile roof) around 11 p.m. We found Erica in a softly lit room with the gentlest nurse you’ve ever met. Just after 1 a.m. on January 24, she gave birth to a baby boy we named Dashiell Taylor. First name because we like it and it’s literary and he certainly Dashed into the world (ha!). Middle name because it is my mom’s maiden name, not because we are fans of Swift or Lautner.

Dash in his hospital casserole dish.
Erica said, “Congratulations. You have a son.”

3. in the wise words of ‘90s band semisonic

So far, Dash has been one of those “easy” babies you hear about. My dad has been reminding me since I was about five what a loud baby I was, so I figured it was my karma to get a screamer. But if I’ve learned one thing these past four years, it’s that karma—at least in the simple, pop culture sense—is bullshit. You don’t get the child you “deserve” any more than you get a child because you deserve one.

We got Dash: calm, bright-eyed, curious and “athletic”—to quote his pediatrician upon witnessing tummy time—in the way you might expect of a kid whose mom went for a hike the day after giving birth. He’s really effing handsome. I’m biased, of course, but that’s not bragging because it’s not my DNA. He makes me laugh a lot. When I cry or freak out, it’s because I’m scared something or someone will take him away, but around Dash himself, I usually feel pretty calm. He has that effect on me, even though it’s not his job to heal me. It’s his job to learn to be Dash.

Bath time, Dash time.
This is like that song “Closing Time,” a song AK is considering adding to her regular karaoke rotation. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I’m feeling very humbled, which for me is a mix of gratitude, connection and mild bafflement.

(Across from me, in his bouncy seat, Dash just farted and rolled his eyes as if to say, Mommy, let’s not get too mushy here.)

4. i’d like to thank the academy

And now I would like to thank some people—and inevitably, in true awards season tradition, forget some key players.

The obvious: AK, who didn’t give up on me. Erica, who trusted us to raise her son. The people I could say the most about, I have to say the least about here. There is too much. There are volumes and volumes.

(Dash just shared two long farts.)

A man of many expressions.
My dad, who has modeled parenthood by giving everything he can to make this happen, both financially and emotionally. My sister, who doesn’t always get me, but always gets me.

Both of our dads are a little bit like, Um, what are you supposed to do with a newborn?
My therapist, who told me this could happen every week, over and over, fanning the flame of hope every time it flickered and waned.

Our couples therapist, herself an open-adopter, who got AK and I through the roughest of rough patches and helped us truly rebuild the dynamics of our relationship.

The friends who held me through my darkest, bitterest moments. There are many of them, and I won’t list them all, but very especially:
  • Nicole, who always has my back so fiercely that sometimes I end up defending my own enemies to her;
  • Jamie, who endured my palpable envy and frequent workplace tears with more patience than I deserved, and taught me that friendships can ebb and flow and heal;
  • Amy, who GETS IT, who ranted with me about easily-pregnant friends until the day she sent me an email with the subject line the dreaded email – i’m pregnant. Even then, she listened to me sob on the phone to her; she gave me space but never used “space” as an excuse to slowly excise me from her life;
  • Meehan, who has stalwartly and subtly insisted on being my friend for years now, even when I’m like, Wait, you are such a wunderkind, why do you even want to talk to me?;
  • Alberto, Pedro, Stephen—Dash’s uncles, the men I would love to see him emulate in so many ways, the tall strong good listeners I leaned on when I hated everyone with a uterus;
  • Keely, whom I haven’t heard from in a year, but who got me through the early days of wondering what motherhood was all about, and knitted me beautiful things;
  • Kim, my sponsor in Hypochondriacs Anonymous, because the miscarriage/breakdown/cancer/baby story is all one story;
  • Joewon, who also GETS IT—the anxiety and cancer and fear of loneliness 
  • Wendy, the kind of friend you can call when you just desperately need someone to tell you that you are a good and deserving and talented person; 
  • D, who understands loss, sends me light, and is also a pet psychic. 

AK’s family, especially her sister, who also gets it. AK’s mom, a.k.a. Nana, has the patience to hold Dash in her glow for hours on end.

Nana, a.k.a the Baby Whisperer.
My Uncle Robin and Aunt Connee, who gave me hours of free therapy (literally; they’re both licensed therapists) when I hit bottom. My Aunt Vanessa, who is so quick and generous with her love that she’s fallen for Dash in just a few cell phone pictures; I like that the “Taylor” part of his name honors her a bit too.

The Squeakies, the first babies who taught me how to be a mom. I would have been a much more neurotic, confused mother to them—they took one for the team in the way that all firstborns (and first never-borns) do—but no less loving. I love them. I still do. Their presence isn’t such a daily pulse in my life anymore, but I will always love them. They were real. They are my babies.

My Homeboy family, who have held me and lived out the worldview I am trying to practice in this phase of my life. Especially my bad-ass boss Jacki, who never batted an eye at the prospect of an impromptu maternity leave and cheered me on at every step; Mary Ellen, an old soul who open-adopted her daughter twenty years ago, and Alexa, herself a late-blooming mom, who promised me it would happen and enshrouded me with warmth and wisdom.

Don't mess with our squabs.
My online support community, a fierce and diverse collective of Pigeon Moms. They GET IT too. They speak the shorthand of e-moms, b-moms, matches and TPRs. They say, at every turn, Keep swimming. It will happen. I never thought it would either, and then it did. KEEP SWIMMING. They are willing to analyze the minutia of e-mom communications like a swarm of schoolgirls looking at a text from a boy. They are willing to do mild surveillance work on sketchy e-moms. They would die for their children, but they also get that attachment takes a while and motherhood is rocky and weird even under “normal” circumstances. They all like drama just a little bit. They are my tribe.

In this picture, you can't tell that I have spit-up on my dress.
Going forward, I don’t want to turn Bread and Bread into a mommy blog any more than I wanted to turn it into a cancer blog—which is to say that you’ll be seeing a lot of mom posts just as you saw a shitload of cancer posts. I’m going to try to keep the pics of and stories about Dash to a minimum, for the sake of both privacy and obnoxiousness avoidance. His story is his own. He’s just started to write it. Mostly in farts.

*I couldn’t resist this riff on that sign you see outside progressive churches (“Never place a period where God has placed a comma”; i.e., don’t interpret the bible as literal, immovable fact), but I feel compelled to add that I don’t think God “brought” us Dash. I don’t think that’s how God works. I think God is love and lives in us and Erica and Dash.

**Which is not to equate my own cranky story with the Civil Rights Movement. But I did once write a college entrance essay using Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” to describe my experience not making drill team the first time I tried out. Strangely, I was accepted into that college anyway.